Sam Harris and Fundamental Beliefs


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I listened to a podcast recently by Sam Harris.


As some of you may know arguments might be sound but that does not mean they prove anything to anyone.    Why?  Because people might not believe the premises.   I blogged about the difference between a proof and sound argument here:


The limitations on these premises presents the questions what are our ultimate goals or beliefs?  This was somewhat explored in that podcast starting around 50 minutes in.   Rebecca Goldstein I think correctly identifies some beliefs that we can’t give up without becoming incoherent – such as belief in the rules of logic.  But beyond that what fundamental beliefs would she hold?


She mentions belief in an external world and the laws of nature.   That was interesting to me because I have considered that one myself and rejected as not as important as the belief that a rational person can reliably find out what I am supposed to do in life.    I want to explore why I think that here.


They also mentioned belief in moral realism as one that is fairly fundamental.   I think this sort of belief is what religious people will often adopt.  I think non-religious people will often try to reduce the importance of morality in forming our beliefs.  I think that is error.

There is a motivational aspect as to how we shape our beliefs and consciences.     I would offer two noble goals in what we want our beliefs to be:

1) People want to believe what is true

2) People want to believe things that lead them to do the right thing

Both of these are noble motivations.  And we obviously should try to form our beliefs with both of these in mind.  But what if certain beliefs lead you to the conclusion there is no right way to act?  That is certain beliefs lead you to believe what is wrong is not wrong because nothing is wrong?  Does a rational person have a good reason to reject that belief?   I think they do.

Now that might violate the first noble motivation.  But let’s think about that motivation just a bit and I think we will see it really is subservient to the second.

The idea that we are here to fill our heads with true beliefs and expunge false beliefs is odd.  If I just tried to memorize phone books few people would say that was really a good way to fill my head, or spend my time, even if I could fill my head with billions of true beliefs that way.    We all understand that knowing certain facts are more important than knowing others.  Just like some false beliefs are more problematic than other false beliefs.


But why?  Believing any true fact seems to fit the first noble purpose.   If it is a known fact then it has the quality of being true just as much as any other fact.   So why is it that truly believing some facts are more important, and why does it seem correctly believing other facts is extremely unimportant?   To the extent all the beliefs accord with reality, they are all true, and it is not as though some are “truer” than others.   So it is not the extent of “truthiness” that explains this.

I think ultimately the answer is that believing some facts leads us to live a good life and some falsehoods lead us to a bad life.   And I think this shows the second purpose is naturally more important.

What about some beliefs about morals being more important than other beliefs about morals?   Someone may view it as immoral to hunt deer.  The same person might also think it is immoral to round people up and kill them as was done in Poland at various times.   We do not treat the belief about hunting deer as important as the belief about killing people.  What explains this?  Again the person might believe both are immoral.  But the difference is the latter is more immoral.  So it is still the morality of the issue that makes us view the second belief as more important.  This I believe fairly clearly shows that morality is the more important goal that we want from our beliefs.


I think religious people tend to know this truth.  Certain atheists sometimes seem to miss it.  But then after they discuss their science, they tend to drift over to issues of morality and what we should be doing.   Science is great and it answers many interesting questions.  But having true beliefs about “what is” in the observable scientific realm, is not as important as knowing what we should do.  It is forever stuck with a supporting role to the star philosophical/religious question of what we should do.



Faith defined


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What does Faith mean?   Of course many people say “faith” is the same thing as what I would call “blind faith.”  Believing something with no evidence or even despite of the evidence to the contrary.  As a Christian we want to know what God wants us to do when he says we should “have faith” or “believe”.  So I have investigated what the New Testament authors/Holy Spirit would have meant by “faith” when they enjoin us to believe and/or have faith.   The conclusion I have reached is a fairly straightforward definition.  Faith is belief and trust in God.   It might be blind faith but that is not the expected variety of faith.  In acts we see Paul would normally reason with people to try to help them become Christian.

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.” (emphasis added)

Acts 17, 2-4

Of course, there are places where it appears Paul worked miracles and people gained faith through witness of those miracles.  Which, of course, seems a perfectly rational way to gain faith and would likely be more convincing.  But as the above passage states his “custom” was to spread the faith through reason.


Why is there this misunderstanding of faith?   Well there are various reasons.  Obviously Christian detractors would like to label everyone of faith as being irrational so their motivation can be obvious.  But that clearly is not even close to the whole story.  Although most early church fathers and apostles were in favor or reason, some early church fathers emphasized a sort of rejection of reason such as Tertullian.  During the protestant reformation protestant churches seemed to take a hard turn against faith and reason coexisting.  Eg.,  Martin Luther “Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding,…”  Calvin seemed to have them operating as two completely different types of belief.  The Catholic Church has clearly emphasized that they work together and are never in conflict.  Pope John Paul II even described them as two wings for the human spirit.  It is obvious that certain evangelical faiths also want to embrace reason.


But lets get to scripture and what was meant.  The word that was translated as “faith” in Paul’s writing is the Greek word “Pistis”.   The word “believe” in John’s Gospel is the word Greek word  pisteuō.” I don’t intend to dive into that too much here but it is worth noting that these words had meanings and were not completely made up when the new testament was written.


Now I would like to look at scripture and address one interpretation that of a verse that I think is the most often cited by those who would claim Faith is irrational.  It comes from Hebrews 11:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” King James version.


No doubt this is a rather odd wording.  And if we just examine this phrase without the context it may lead people to think the author is saying our belief itself is the evidence for our belief in God.  But in context I think it is pretty clear (albeit still admitting the passage could be more clear) that the author is saying that the faith of the people who came before, and Gods treatment of them, is evidence for us.   To understand my point ask yourself “whose faith?” is the author referring to?  If you read the entire chapter you will see he is referring to the faith of the ancient Jews and describing how they were rewarded by God.  The fact that God was trustworthy to them is evidence that he will be trustworthy for us.


The overall tenure of the Hebrews seems to be one of a spiritual pep talk.    In Chapter 11 the author explains how many of the earlier Jews were rewarded by God by taking his word.  Moses, Abraham, Elijah etc.  These people all had faith in God and were rewarded.  Accordingly their faith is evidence for us that God is and God can be trusted.  This is actually quite reasonable.  If someone has proven to be trustworthy time and again and several people trust (have faith in) that person, well their trust is evidence for us.  The author makes this explicit when he says:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  Hebrews 12.


Relying on the witnesses that God is trustworthy is not unreasonable and relying on witnesses is not believing with no evidence.


But what about my definition.  Well that definition is actually in Hebrews as well.  We see the two elements (belief and trust in God) spelled out in Hebrews 11 verse 6.

“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”


So the author identifies two beliefs both of which must be held in order to have faith.  1. “that he (God) is” and 2. “that he (God) is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”    If you believe in God and diligently seek him,  I think this is tantamount to saying you believe he exists and trust him.

The Conjunction Fallacy and the Burden of Proof


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As you know I think the philosophical burden of proof is a notion harmful to clear thinking.  My first post about it was here.  And here is a blog from someone who thinks very much the same way.  Here I will try to score some further points by undercutting common arguments used to support the view that having a burden of proof is helpful.


But first some background, what is the conjunction fallacy? Consider this example from Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman copied from Wikipedia:
“Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Which is more probable?

1) Linda is a bank teller.
2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.”

If you thought 2 was more probable, then you committed this fallacy.  It is a formal fallacy.  And it basically says that the probability of A+B will always lower or equal than the probability of A. As we add conditions the probability can only go down never up.

Why is this tricky to some people? (apparently most people chose option 2) Given the description of Linda many people might think she sounds like a feminist. Moreover, she does not sound like a bank teller. So the first option seems to only have what people think is unlikely.  Even though second option has what seems unlikely it also has what seem likely too. So the second option may seem preferable. But mathematically the second option will never be more likely than the first, because every time the second option holds true the first does as well.

When we add details to a claim the probability tends to drop. The probability that I am in front of my computer now, is greater than the probability that I am now in front of my computer wearing a shirt, which is greater then the probability that I am now in front of my computer wearing a brown shirt. This is just how logic works.  I think many of us know this and build this into our understanding of the world. So what does this have to do with the burden of proof?

If you go to youtube and type in burden of proof the first video to come up will be this one:

Listen to the first 20 seconds.
What is happening?  Well if you notice the person is not just asking whether “something” exists “in space” that we don’t have evidence of and whether we should believe that. Which I tend to think is true. But how would that help his case for “the burden of proof”? Of course it wouldn’t.

So he doesn’t just ask whether a general thing exists.   Instead he gets absurdly detailed with his description.  It is not something we don’t know about somewhere in space but under the surface of Pluto! And it is not just “something” its not even just some form of life, but a walrus. And of course even that is not enough. It is a “tiny” “were” walrus. But not only that it is a “psychic” tiny “wer”walrus. But no only that it is a tiny psychic werewalrus that “sends them psychic messages.” But not only that the messages come “every midnight.” And not only that but it does this while juggling skulls…..


Ok. So by now if you understand the conjunction fallacy  then you will know that amount of detail alone will drastically drive down the probability. There is no need to appeal any “burden of proof” to not believe in this creature. The probability is naturally driven down just by understanding the fallacy of conjunction.

It’s amazing that this video received 13,000 likes when it is really just an obvious play on this formal fallacy. Now if you are like me you will see this quite often from atheists. The other day when I said there is no philosophical burden of proof I was asked whether I believe “that there is an imperceptible penguin named “Percival” standing right across the room from me, wearing his imperceptible tuxedo and his imperceptible monocle and his imperceptible derby hat, holding his imperceptible pocket-watch.”

Now I want to point out that the proponents of a burden of proof who use these examples are not themselves committing the conjunction fallacy. But rather they just seem oblivious to its logic. It is the logic that makes the conjunction fallacy a formal fallacy that makes the probability of their examples quite low. So when you see these examples the response is not that they are committing a fallacy. Rather the response is more like yes the conjunction fallacy is indeed a fallacy so the probability of your extremely detailed scenario is low.

If you express doubts about “the philosophical burden of proof” you can expect this sort of thing. They won’t ask whether you can believe there is something somewhere we do not have evidence for. No, they will not even ask whether there is some species of life we have no evidence of yet. Rather they will ask about a particular horse that we have no evidence of. But not just a horse, but a horned horse, but not just a horned horse, but a horned horse with exactly one straight long horn coming out of its head. And often even that won’t be enough the horned horse will have to be pink.

And you might respond explaining this fallacy and ask them whether they believe there is something somewhere he/she does not yet have evidence of. I certainly believe there are things that exist that I have no evidence of. For example there very well may be a particular cricket in the southwest United States that I have no evidence of.

Which brings me to another point here. There is more than just the conjunction fallacy at work here. There are also background beliefs. There are probably crickets in the southwest United States. But when and how did a walrus get to Pluto? (forget the whole juggling psychic were bit)

Perhaps the classic example of this sort of argument is Russel’s Teapot. Russel said:
“ … nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.”

So again, its not just something in space we don’t have evidence of.  It is something between the Earth and Mars and revolving in an elliptical orbit. It is not just something but a piece of China. And it is not just China but a China teapot. So we can see the logic of  conjunction fallacy at work reducing the probability.

But we also have background beliefs and evidence at work as well. Plantinga wrote:
“Clearly we have a great deal of evidence against teapotism. For example, as far as we know, the only way a teapot could have gotten into orbit around the sun would be if some country with sufficiently developed space-shot capabilities had shot this pot into orbit. No country with such capabilities is sufficiently frivolous to waste its resources by trying to send a teapot into orbit. Furthermore, if some country had done so, it would have been all over the news; we would certainly have heard about it. But we haven’t. And so on. There is plenty of evidence against teapotism.”

Another example might be if I say if we randomly pick a house in a New York suburb will there be three black horses in the Garage? You might say no. One reason would be conjunction fallacy. But also you would have back ground beliefs about what suburban houses likely have in their garage. If I asked does that house have light fixtures in it, well then you might say yes.

So Plantinga brings up evidence. And I think that may be a good way to describe what he is doing. But sometimes there are things that just don’t accord with our background beliefs. Now maybe these background beliefs are rational maybe they are not. Sometimes it may be difficult to completely understand or articulate why a certain claim seems true or untrue. Is there something beyond the known universe? In any case we have far more beliefs than we may even consciously realize.

For example, I never realized I believe plaid cats do not exist until last month. But I suppose I always believed it. (that is I was inclined to act in a way that accorded with the statement “there are no plaid cats”) This may be a sad fact of this kluge we call our brains. But it does not justify erecting some imagined burden of proof.  That is just piling error on top of error. When we consider 1) our background beliefs, 2) evidence and 3) the logic of the conjunction fallacy there is no reason to appeal to the burden of proof.

If you are so inclined I would love it if people would post a link to this blog in the comments of the above youtube video. Perhaps we can get a discussion going and deepen everyone’s understanding of this issue.

What is the Law on these Political Issues?


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There is no law against “collusion” unless you are talking about anti-trust issues between corporations.  Basically what we are really looking for is whether there was a “conspiracy.”  Conspiracy is best understood simply as an agreement to commit a crime.

If Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump “conspired” then they must have agreed with another person to have a crime committed.    For Trump one crime might be to have hacked the DNC computers.  But it does not appear he was really involved in the actual hacking of those computers.


However, there is a quite broad statute preventing foreign nationals from contributing or donating anything of value to a campaign.  52 usc 30121:


§30121. Contributions and donations by foreign nationals

(a) Prohibition

It shall be unlawful for—

(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—

(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;

(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or

(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or

(2) a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.

(b) “Foreign national” defined

As used in this section, the term “foreign national” means—

(1) a foreign principal, as such term is defined by section 611(b) of title 22, except that the term “foreign national” shall not include any individual who is a citizen of the United States; or

(2) an individual who is not a citizen of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 1101(a)(22) of title 8) and who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined by section 1101(a)(20) of title 8.




So right off the bat we can see that section 1 is extremely broad.  Honestly I am not sure this is healthy for a free society.  And would invite comments in that regard.


Here is 2 usc 441e

§441e. Contributions by foreign nationals

(a) It shall be unlawful for a foreign national directly or through any other person to make any contribution of money or other thing of value, or to promise expressly or impliedly to make any such contribution, in connection with an election to any political office or in connection with any primary election, convention, or caucus held to select candidates for any political office; or for any person to solicit, accept, or receive any such contribution from a foreign national.

(b) As used in this section, the term “foreign national” means—

(1) a foreign principal, as such term is defined by section 611(b) of title 22, except that the term “foreign national” shall not include any individual who is a citizen of the United States; or

(2) an individual who is not a citizen of the United States and who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined by section 1101(a)(20) of title 8.

(Pub. L. 92–225, title III, §319, formerly §324, as added Pub. L. 94–283, title I, §112(2), May 11, 1976, 90 Stat. 493; renumbered §319, Pub. L. 96–187, title I, §105(5), Jan. 8, 1980, 93 Stat. 1354.)


Regulations go into more detail on these terms specifically regulation

11 CFR 110.20

  1. Definitions.For purposes of this section, the following definitions apply:

    1. 1.Disbursement has the same meaning as in 11 CFR 300.2(d).

    2. 2.Donation has the same meaning as in 11 CFR 300.2(e).

    3. 3.Foreign national means—

      1. i.A foreign principal, as defined in 22 U.S.C. 611(b); or

      2. ii.An individual who is not a citizen of the United States and who is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence, as defined in 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(20); however,

      3. iii.Foreign nationalshall not include any individual who is a citizen of the United States, or who is a national of the United States as defined in 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(22).

    4. 4.Knowingly means that a person must:

      1. i.Have actual knowledge that the source of the funds solicited, accepted or received is a foreign national;

      2. ii.Be aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that there is a substantial probability that the source of the funds solicited, accepted or received is a foreign national; or

      3. iii.Be aware of facts that would lead a reasonable person to inquire whether the source of the funds solicited, accepted or received is a foreign national, but the person failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry.

    5. 5.For purposes of paragraph (a)(4) of this section, pertinent facts include, but are not limited to:

      1. i.The contributor or donor uses a foreign passport or passport number for identification purposes;

      2. ii.The contributor or donor provides a foreign address;

      3. iii.The contributor or donor makes a contribution or donation by means of a check or other written instrument drawn on a foreign bank or by a wire transfer from a foreign bank; or

      4. iv.The contributor or donor resides abroad.

    6. 6.Solicit has the same meaning as in 11 CFR 300.2(m).

    7. 7.SAFE HARBOR.For purposes of paragraph (a)(4)(iii) of this section, a person shall be deemed to have conducted a reasonable inquiry if he or she seeks and obtains copies of current and valid U.S. passport papers for U.S. citizens who are contributors or donors described in paragraphs (a)(5)(i) through (iv) of this section. No person may rely on this safe harbor if he or she has actual knowledge that the source of the funds solicited, accepted, or received is a foreign national.

  2. b.Contributions and donations by foreign nationals in connection with elections.A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.

  3. c.Contributions and donations by foreign nationals to political committees and organizations of political parties.A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or donation to:

    1. 1.A political committee of a political party, including a national party committee, a national congressional campaign committee, or a State, district, or local party committee, including a non-Federal account of a State, district, or local party committee, or

    2. 2.An organization of a political party whether or not the organization is a political committee under 11 CFR 100.5.

  4. d.Contributions and donations by foreign nationals for office buildings.A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party for the purchase or construction of an office building. See 11 CFR 300.10 and 300.35.

  5. e.Disbursements by foreign nationals for electioneering communications.A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make any disbursement for an electioneering communication as defined in 11 CFR 100.29.

  6. f.Expenditures, independent expenditures, or disbursements by foreign nationals in connection with elections.A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make any expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.

  7. g.Solicitation, acceptance, or receipt of contributions and donations from foreign nationals.No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by paragraphs (b) through (d) of this section.

  8. h.Providing substantial assistance.

    1. 1.No person shall knowingly provide substantial assistance in the solicitation, making, acceptance, or receipt of a contribution or donation prohibited by paragraphs (b) through (d), and (g) of this section.

    2. 2.No person shall knowingly provide substantial assistance in the making of an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement prohibited by paragraphs (e) and (f) of this section.

  9. i.Participation by foreign nationals in decisions involving election-related activities.A foreign national shall not direct, dictate, control, or directly or indirectly participate in the decision-making process of any person, such as a corporation, labor organization, political committee, or political organization with regard to such person’s Federal or non-Federal election-related activities, such as decisions concerning the making of contributions, donations, expenditures, or disbursements in connection with elections for any Federal, State, or local office or decisions concerning the administration of a political committee.

  10. j.Donations by foreign nationals to inaugural committees.A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a donation to an inaugural committee, as defined in 11 CFR 104.21(a)(1). No person shall knowingly accept from a foreign national any donation to an inaugural committee.


So we have two main cases that seem relevant at this point.  The dirt on Hillary that “the Russians” may have offered to Trump.  And the dirt that on Trump that Steele, a foreign national, seems to have delivered to Clinton.


Now lets assume the dirt against an opponent is a “thing of value”  Again if this is a faulty assumption then please express that in the comment section.   If so then getting dirt from a foreign national is a crime.  Now was there an agreement to get this from a foreign national in either case?


In the case of Clinton it seems there was.   At least Fusion GPS seemed to hire Steele a foreign national for this very purpose.  Did Clinton know they were doing this?  Well that would need to be established.

Now what about Trump?

So this might revolve around promises from different Russians to different people in the Trump campaign.  For example the leads that George Papadopoulos seemed to be pursuing. And perhaps even what Trump Junior was up to.


It seems that no dirt was ever delivered in either case.  But there still may have been an agreement to deliver dirt.   Was the dirt a thing a value?  Well normally we would say yes.  But here since no dirt was actually delivered we don’t even know what the dirt was.  So it seems quite a few more dots need connecting against Trump at this point.




In Support of Religious Extremism


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No I don’t want to be violent.  And of course, there is no logical reason to think religious extremism means violence.

Many in religious orders give away everything they own and dedicate their lives to Christ including an oath of celibacy.  That’s extreme.   Some monks and sisters dedicate their lives to prayer, and some even take a vow of silence.  That’s extreme.  Those many martyrs present and past could avoid death by simply saying words that would run counter to their religion.  That’s Extreme.   People like Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., chose to be arrested and put their lives in jeopardy in order to act as they believed their religion required.  (Anyone who thinks his actions were not religiously motivated should listen to A Knock at Midnight.)   What about Jainism?  Some practitioners are so non-violent that they were a mask so as not to kill any bugs through breathing and sweep the floor before they walk so as not to tread on any insects.   All of this is extreme religion and has nothing to do with violence.   I could go on with examples but hopefully by now you can see that it is odd to equate religious extremism with violence.


So why has our language developed as if “religious extremism” is violent when obviously this does not fit?  There are at least two reasons.


  • It diverts attention away from Islam for the violence perpetrated in it’s name.
  • It sends the message that religion is fine just don’t take it too seriously.

Of course, these goals fit well with different agendas people have.  What’s my point?  My point is mainly that people recognize how language is being manipulated.  Hopefully, now when you read my title you will have a different and truer impression of what I am saying.


Finally, I will say that this post was inspired by a you tube video by Sam Harris.  Yes, I have been critical of him in many places but I think he made a good point here.

Scientific Imperialism:  What is a “fact”?


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I was listening to a BBC report on “The March for Science.”  And I was wondering what message they were trying to convey.  It apparently had a tie in with “earth day” and global warming.  But anyway one of the people interviewed by the BBC said that to them an important message was that a “fact” is something that is verifiable and testable.  Now I have heard this definition by quite a few others who might say it is verifiable by observation etc.   So I thought I would address the problems with that definition in this blog.

Now this may be the way scientists view what a “fact” is but I would say that is a change from what it traditionally means.   Moreover, I think adopting that definition in a more general sense means all facts are scientific facts.  And that is problematic.  I would point out that I have nothing against science and indeed I always had a higher aptitude for science than any other subject.  But I admit being somewhat annoyed by scientists who seem to know nothing other than science telling the world how everything should be.  Science is not the answer to every question.

Now before we go into analyzing her definition. (I will call it the “scientific definition” for simplicity sake).  I would like to give some idea as to a traditional and legal definition of a fact.  So for just a dictionary definition we can see this:

The Blacks Law definition offers this:

“A thing done; an action performed or an incident transpiring; and event or circumstance; an actual occurrence; an actual happening in time or space or an event or mental or physical; that which has taken pace…. A fact is either a state of things, that is, an existence, or a motion , that is, an event.  The quality of being actual; actual existence or occurrence….” (citations omitted)


So you can see that the legal definition and the traditional definition have a focus on what actually happened or what actually is the case.  It is not dependent on whether this can be proven or verified or not.    So even if everyone agrees the evidence verifies that Martin Luther said “here I stand, I can do no other” in 1521.    If he did not actually say that then it is not a fact.   In other words facts are not dependent on what we can verify.


It was a fact that Jupiter had moons in 1510 just like it was a fact that Jupiter had moons in 1610 after Galileo saw them with his telescope.  If someone in 1510 said it is not a fact that Jupiter has moons, then I would say he got his facts wrong.  Because the moons were actually existing, they in fact existed.


To make facts dependent on verification actually makes them subjective.  This is because often what will be a proof (or verification) to one person will not be a proof or verification to another.  What is a proof will depend on what premises each of us accepts. (If you not sure on this check out my earlier blog here:  But I think we all want facts to be objective.  So its unclear that she sees how badly she and others are botching the idea of a fact.


But I would point out another issue.  Not because I have a strong view on it, but just because I think it’s interesting.  Typically, in the law, a fact is something that is in the present or in the past.  Future events are not facts.   Some scientists want say certain theories are “facts” – like lets say gravity is a fact.  That might mean different things.  That gravity caused apples to fall in the past is a fact.  That gravity is causing my book to remain on my desk is a fact.  But that gravity will cause my book to stay on my desk tomorrow – is not a fact.  It would seem that is not a fact under any definition.  And in my opinion that is how it should be.  We can say with lots of certainty that certain things will happen in the future.  But they are not facts.


The bottom line with all of this is that certain scientists want people to place more importance on scientific views.  So what they co-opt language so they and only they can have “facts” on their side.  Changing what words mean to support your agenda almost always leads to more heat than light.  I like science and appreciate its method, but there is no need to butcher what words mean on its altar.

Willi Graf


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Today 99 years ago Willi Graf was born.  Willi was a member of the White Rose Society.  This society was a Nazi resistance group.  The core members were students Hans and Sophie Scholl, Alex Schmorrel, Christof Probst, and Willi Graf.


All of these core members had very interesting – if short – lives.   Hans and Sophie were Lutheran, Schmorrel was Orthodox, (He is officially an Orthodox Saint) Willi was Catholic and Christof Probst became Catholic just before he died.  I found all of these members to be inspirational.    They got together through a connection to the University of Munich.   Alex Hans and Willi were Medics and served together on the eastern front.


Left to right: Hubert Furtwangler, Hans Scholl, Willie Graf and Alexander Schmorell on the Eastern Front (1942)



Left to right: Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst.

They published leaflets trying to change germans’ minds about the Nazis.  They would also spray paint “Down with Hitler”  And “Freedom!” throughout the city.  They would write and print out the leaflets and then they would mail them to people who they thought would be influential, or just leave them throughout different cities.  Willi was not the author of the leaflets but instead he would form contacts in other cities.  They would distribute the leaflets at the same time in different cities so it appeared to be larger than it was.


Before the white rose was even formed, Sophie and Hans Scholl were influenced by Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen.  There was a transcript of one of his sermons condemning the Nazis pogrom against disabled people.  They actually distributed his sermon just as they would later distribute their own work as the White Rose.

Here are some excerpts from the leaflets:

The first leaflet Said: “…Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance – resistance – wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late,..”


The Second leaflet said “…Why tell you these things, since you are fully aware of them – or if not of these, then of other equally grave crimes committed by this frightful sub-humanity? Because here we touch on a problem which involves us deeply and forces us all to take thought. Why do the German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminals, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt. For through his apathetic behavior he gives these evil men the opportunity to act as they do; he tolerates this government which has taken upon itself such an infinitely great burden of guilt; indeed, he himself is to blame for the fact that it came about at all! Each man wants to be exonerated of a guilt of this kind, each one continues on his way with the most placid, the calmest conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!”


The third leaflet again tried to trigger the conscience of their fellow Germans ending with  “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”


The Fourth Leaflet said:

“…Every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed. True, we must conduct a struggle against the National Socialist terrorist state with rational means; but whoever today still doubts the reality, the existence of demonic powers, has failed by a wide margin to understand the metaphysical background of this war. Behind the concrete, the visible events, behind all objective, logical considerations, we find the irrational element: The struggle against the demon, against the servants of the Antichrist. Everywhere and at all times demons have been lurking in the dark, waiting for the moment when man is weak; when of his own volition he leaves his place in the order of Creation as founded for him by God in freedom; when he yields to the force of evil, separates himself from the powers of a higher order; and after voluntarily taking the first step, he is driven on to the next and the next at a furiously accelerating rate. Everywhere and at all times of greatest trial men have appeared, prophets and saints who cherished their freedom, who preached the One God and who His help brought the people to a reversal of their downward course. Man is free, to be sure, but without the true God he is defenceless against the principle of evil. He is a like rudderless ship, at the mercy of the storm, an infant without his mother, a cloud dissolving into thin air….”



Here is a bit from the 6th Leaflet:

“…The Hitler Youth, the SA, the SS have tried to drug us, to revolutionise us, to regiment us in the most promising young years of our lives. “Philosophical training” is the name given to the despicable method by which our budding intellectual development is muffled in a fog of empty phrases. A system of selection of leaders at once unimaginably devilish and narrow-minded trains up its future party bigwigs in the “Castles of the Knightly Order” to become Godless, impudent, and conscienceless exploiters and executioners – blind, stupid hangers-on of the Fuhrer…”

Willi Graf in Particular:

One thing I found interesting about Willi Graf, is that he did not seem to have any authority figure or other adult to lead him to his courageous life.


Hans and Sophie had their father who was a conscientious objector to fighting in WWI.  He did not want them participate in anything Nazi.   Hans however was initially beguiled by the Nazis and became a leader in the Hitler Youth.    Sophie, also initially joined a nazi girl’s group.  However their father seemed to have a clear head and did push them in the other direction.  Their sister Inge Scholl wrote of this later:


“But there was something else that drew us with mysterious power and swept us along: the closed ranks of marching youth with banners waving, eyes fixed straight ahead, keeping time to drumbeat and song. Was not this sense of fellowship overpowering? It is not surprising that all of us, Hans and Sophie and the others, joined the Hitler Youth? We entered into it with body and soul, and we could not understand why our father did not approve, why he was not happy and proud. On the contrary, he was quite displeased with us.”

— Inge Scholl, The White Rose


Alexander Shmorrel was half Russian and so it is no surprise he came to find Nazis revolting – considering he spent time on the Eastern front.     And Probst’s stepmother was Jewish so he presumably would have a strong counterinfluence at home as well.


But Willi’s youth seemed a bit different.  It appeared that his anti-nazi views came solely from his belief that it was inconsistent with his faith.  He joined catholic youth organizations and remained with them even when they were illegal.  He also refused to join Hitler youth when it was mandatory.  Not only that but he would cross his acquaintances names out of his personal address book if they joined the Hitler Youth.   In some of my reading it seemed as though his actions went against his parents wishes.  Not that his parents were  Nazis but that they just wanted the best for him and wanted him to get along.  I should point out that one source says his father was a Nazi leader but I was not able to verify this or get the fuller story.


When Willi was seventeen he marched in a Mayday parade.  But whereas there was a sea of brown marching in step giving “heil Hitler’s” and carrying Swastika flags, he and his friends marched purposely out of step, did not wear brown, and carried their tattered school flag.


A friend commented: “Willie Graf… was one of those young people who have always found it impossible to remain indifferent in the face of injustice.”  This obstinate refusal to comply would lead to fights where it was said Willi would give as good as he would get.

And all of this was before he witnessed the horrors on the eastern front.


To his sister he wrote from the Eastern front “The war here in the East leads to things so terrible I would never have thought them possible… Some things have occurred… that have disturbed me deeply… I can’t begin to give you the details… It is simply unthinkable that such things exist… I wish I hadn’t had to see what I have seen…. I could tell you much more but do not want to trust it to a letter.”


Even though I live at a time where it is much easier to live a good Christian life I still can relate to him when he wrote in his journal: “To be a Christian, is perhaps the hardest thing to ever become in life.” He was devoutly Catholic and it was said he would attend mass every Sunday even as a college student.  He was interested in the liturgy and composed some alternate liturgies that could be used at mass.   He was also chess player and philosopher.


But perhaps what I admire most about him is that despite harboring doubts he made a decision as to how to live and stuck to it even when it meant death.  He wrote in his journal: “Sometimes, I am certain of the rightness of my course. Sometimes I doubt it. But I take it upon myself nevertheless, no matter how burdensome it may be.”, and  “Sometimes you can’t just go where favoring winds send you. Sometimes one must take a direction which isn’t that easy. You can’t allow yourself to be continually blown about.”


He was not as eloquent at his trial as Sophie or Hans Scholl.   However, despite being interrogated the longest he never gave additional names of any his contacts.   All of the members of the white rose remained loyal to each other throughout their interrogations.  This reminds me of John 15:13  “ There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

In the movie Sophie Scholl last days they make it appear that Willi was very vocal against the actions Sophie and Hans took, which lead to all the arrests.  But even, if this is true, nothing I have read suggests he ever held it against them.   I think they all decided it was just a matter of time before they were caught and killed.

We must remember that Willi and his friends were still quite young during this time.  They died at ages ranging from 21 to 25.  I think as I am older and wiser, not only from an age perspective but a historical one,  I can see how what they did was necessary.  But when I consider the inevitable doubts of the moment to go against all of society, at such a young age, and with full knowledge of the dire consequences, I can only marvel at the dedication of these young men and women.


I have been pondering their lives for a few months now and I am still looking for more information – especially on Willi Graf.  I know there has been a book written on him but it is in German.  I would love to get a translation.


My thoughts here were based on a 2 books,  “A Noble treason” by Richard Hasner and “At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl”  Hardcover – August, 1987 by Hans Scholl  (Author), Sophie Scholl (Author), as well as the movie The last days of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose.


There are also numerouse webpages that I read as well including the following:

Is Religious Discrimination Different?


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Generally I think our United States Supreme Court is overly concerned with laws establishing religion and too little concerned with laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  A study of the history of the establishment clause demonstrates the Supreme Court has basically turned the establishment clause on it’s head. ( see Scalia’s concurring opinion)  But that is another discussion.  For now, I don’t want to get involved with how the amendment is interpreted but rather the more basic question of when certain distinctions may be warranted.


If we consider discrimination against race, gender or disability we can see that it is irrational because, it is wrong to blame someone for something they didn’t choose.  Moreover, the mere fact of a difference in race gender or disability does not seem to effect whether someone will act morally – however we want to define morality.


But what about religion?  It seems that it is both chosen and it does, at least potentially, effect how people will act.  This difference is indicated by the different cultures that develop based on different religious beliefs.     Is cultural discrimination a bad thing?  I would agree that someone would have to be narrow minded to not like anything about a culture – even Nazi or Soviet culture –  but on the whole it would seem ok if your dislikes of a culture outweigh what you do like about it.


While it might be nice if there were clear lines to draw about religious beliefs and how they should be treated by the state and individuals, it seems reality is a bit more complicated.  I will probably post more on this in the future but for right now the question remains whether religious discrimination should be treated differently then, say, race, gender or disability discrimination.

Gates of Hell and Protestant Church History


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Generally speaking I enjoy the topics surrounding Atheism versus Theism and spend most of my time on those.  I will say that I am quite happy with the discussions with non-believers and have found many to be quite cordial despite the topics.  I consider many to be my friends.


I also enjoy discussing the issues surrounding Catholic versus Protestant versus Orthodox.   And this will be the first of what I hope are many posts I will make on this topic.  I am a Catholic and a fairly committed one at that.    But just as I do not think theism is an intellectual slam dunk I do not think Catholicism is a slam dunk either.  In other words, I think there are some good reasons to be atheist, protestant and/or orthodox.     My children go to a Lutheran School.  One that I love.  But sometimes when I see what they are taught I think many protestants must wonder what is he thinking!?  Why is he Catholic?  Well here I would like to offer some insights.  There are few other fairly large reasons but this is a big one.  Lets call this the historical argument.


Ok so let us start with a passage that I believe does lead me to be Catholic or Orthodox.  Actually, I will freely admit that the reasons I prefer Catholicism over Orthodoxy are fairly minor.    I think it’s well past time to end the schism.   But anyway today I want to poke at my fellow protestant readers.


“…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”


Now before this quote Peter says something to Jesus and Jesus says he is Peter an “on this rock” I will build my church.  A lot has already been written on what “this rock” is.  I want to focus on the second part.  Did he build a church?   If so when?    What sort of Church did Christ build?  And finally, have the gates of hell prevailed against his church?



Ok so I think most Christians would agree Christ did in fact found a church.  Moreover, he did it before the New Testament was written.  We see references to the Church in Paul’s letters which are believed to be the earliest NT scriptures.   So it would seem the Church Christ founded could not have been a “biblical church” i.e., one that claims its only authority comes from the bible.  Right?


The Church founded by Christ had to have some other authority beyond “scripture alone.”  If the church Christ founded, is now limited to the bible alone when did this change happen? Did this change right after the scriptures were written?  Or was it after they were considered to be the bible by …I don’t know, someone, a church, Martin Luther  – again I don’t know.

The bible does not say what books are supposed to be in the bible.  Would you agree that Christ’s church has the authority to decide this issue? Or is there some other way to determine what books were inspired by the Holy Spirit and should be in the bible?    There is a dispute, as many of you likely know, between Protestants Catholics and even Orthodox (each bible growing larger) as to which books belong in the bible.  Although this dispute only involves the Old Testament, we do have different bibles.

How can anyone maintain it is “the bible alone” when the bible does not even say what books belong in it and there is a dispute?

Now some maintain that the church is invisible.  If the Church was/is entirely hidden then how would this passage make sense?


“If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:17


If we follow this advice what church should we go to?  Who can tell us, for example, what books belong in the bible?  Do we ask the Jews?  Nothing against the Jews but that seems odd as that is really a different religion and not surprisingly they did not include the New Testament.  Why would we ask the Jews instead of Christ’s Church?   So which of the 33,000 plus churches is Christ’s Church?


Did the Gates of Hell prevail?


The problem I have here is that it seems the protestants took such a hard line against the Catholic Church and sort of forced this issue.  If Martin Luther (and just about every other early protestant church reformer) was right and the Bishopric of Rome was indeed the seat of the anti-christ, it is hard to see how we can deny that the Gates of hell prevailed against the Catholic Church.   If you don’t think the gates of hell prevailed then what happened to Christs Church before the reformation?  Was the bishopric of Rome always the seat of the anti-christ?   I have read some protestants claim all the heretics who were persecuted by the Catholic Church were the actual true church.   Is that still a viable position among rational Christians today?  That seems a bit of stretch, but what would the alternative view be?

Of course, the Orthodox Church has an easy answer here.  Although relations have not always been rainbows and lollipops, I don’t think the Orthodox Church ever taught that the Bishopric of Rome was the seat of the Anti-Christ.  But if protestants think the Orthodox Church is a contender for being the Church founded by Christ, which the gates of Hell never prevailed against, why reject Orthodoxy?   It seems to offer a historically coherent view without requiring commitment to as many different Doctrines as Catholicism.