Saturday, October 23, 2010

Questions for Atheists

OK, the Discovery Institute (those are the guys that are trying to push ID) posted a quiz, lets see what my answers are.

1) Why is there anything?

I don't know. However, I suspect that for there to be nothing, there would have had to be precisely nothing. Exactly zero anything. If there had been even 1x10^1000 of anything, effects would have accumulated. However, this is just a suspicion, and I claim no knowledge.

2) What caused the Universe?

The universe is it's own cause, I suspect. It is the only thing that makes sense, and it has the advantage of not falling to to the infinite regression problem. many people claim God did not need a cause outside of himself, but why did he not? The answer is usually something like "Because he is God!" which is not an answer. I can say that the universe did not need a first cause outside of itself, and defend it by saying 'Because it is the universe!" I think it is obvious that my response would not have been an answer.

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

I suspect that if any universe had come into being without regularity of physical law, it would have not come to anything. We might be the billionth universe, but only the first to get it right. Remember, time may be a quality of the universe and may have come into being with the universe. If there was no time, or an infinite amount of time before the universe, there could have been billions of failed (or successful and now long dead) universes before this one.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

I had to read up to see what this question meant.
a) Material causes exist. If you have a trombone, brass has to exist.
b) Efficient causes exist. For something to fall down, you need gravity.
c) Final causes do not exist, that is, things are not meant for anything except when a person makes them for that purpose. Even then, they are not meant for anything except in that person's mind. The intended purpose of a thing is not a quality of that thing. It is a quality of the mind that is thinking about that thing, and thoughts are extremely mutable. Thoughts do not create reality.
A butter-knife, which (we would assume) has the final cause of spreading butter, can turn a screw. I doubt anyone would assign to a butter-knife the final cause of "turning screws".
d) Formal causes only exist in that things happen to be suited for their tasks by how they are structured. A pile of rocks can serve as a landmark, even if it was not meant to be one. We would not use a butter knife to turn screws if it did not happen to work fairly well in a pinch.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Because we have brains that interpret sensory information imperfectly based on limited information.

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

I am not a philosopher, I am an accountant. I think this question is asking, "How can the mind have goals?" Well, if it did not have goals, it would never do anything. Other than that, ask a psychologist.

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

Absolute moral law does not exist. It is all situational. I have never seen a convincing example of absolute morality. "Killing is wrong" except sometimes it is OK, such as in self-defense or in punishments for certain crimes. "Theft is wrong" unless it is to feed the hungry (see Robin Hood). "Lying is wrong", unless you are hiding Jews from the Nazi's. This list is endless. Just read the Old Testament. "Thou shall not kill", except all the times God (or the priesthood How do you know the priests just aren't claiming God said something?) says it is OK.

8) Why is there evil?

Because people often want things that other people are not willing to give them. When their desire for the thing overpowers the desire to not hurt people, they commit evil. However, evil is not a substance, it is a adjective and it is subjective. What is evil to one is good to another. A better question is "Why is there good?" The answer is, without good, we would have all died out. Humans do not survive well in isolation. To survive in a society, people must treat each other with a certain amount of kindness. Any society without goodness dies out quickly. Hence all the societies that survived had some sort of goodness.

I am sure most folks without a philosophical education could do better. You don't get any points for answering "It is that way because I (or my invisible/absent friend) says so." I don't claim to know the answers to any of these questions. These are my suspicions about what might be the answers. Unlike some people, I do not make up an answer and then declare it THE TRUTH. Really, I don't know the answers, and neither do you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Comparison of "Let Me In" and the original "Let the Right One In"

Last weekend I watched both the theatrical release of "Let Me In" and the original Swedish film "Let The Right One In". I disagree with the critics and think the new film is the better of the two. The original film is a good work of horror, but the American film is scarier, more coherent, and included better performances. Lots of critics are saying the new film does not compare to the original, but I think it is an obvious case of critics being required to prefer foreign films over American ones. I think it is a law.
The films are 90% the same, and there are just a few differences, but I think the American film is better.
Here are my problems with the original.
1. The kids can't act. Whether it was the skill of the director or the talent of the stars, the kids in the original spend most of the film standing around awkwardly, shuffling their feet and staring off camera, looking like kids in a middle school play who have forgotten their lines. I understand that they were 13 at the time. They certainly acted it.
Chloe Moretz is a pretty good actor for 13, and it shows. One could tell from her performance that Abby, the vampire, does not enjoy having to kill. In the original, Eli is so stiff that you can only tell she regrets her lifestyle from direct statements of that fact in dialogue and more obvious blocking.
2. The Father in the original is the worst serial killer ever. Assuming he has been friends with Eli for a long time, and has killed and drained a lot of people, he is astonishingly bad at it. Both killings in this film are ruined by bad planning, and I find it hard to believe that anyone would allow a stranger to walk up top them with a gas canister attached to a breathing mask and just stick it over their face.
The Father in the American film is scary. He has a routine that works which involves sneaking up on his victims stealthily and attacking them when they are alone and vulnerable, something that is not necessary when hunting passive Swedes with no survival instincts. He does botch one attack, but it is less through bad planning than through bad luck, and it has some black humor included at no extra cost.
4. Eli is not very good at hunting. Assuming Eli has been "twelve for a very long time", and that she had to hunt for blood on her own before finding her "dad", she is also really bad at it. She kills a victim in plain sight of one of her neighbors, across the street from her home. She makes a minimal attempt at stealth and chooses a really bad spot where she can be seen, and is seen. Perhaps she was relying on number 4.
Abby, in the American film, is much scarier. When she kills her victim in the pedestrian underpass, it is frightening and unobserved.
4. Apparently, Swedish people do not call the police or go to the hospital when things go horribly wrong. In the Swedish film, Eli kills a neighbor in order to feed after her "father" screws up. The crazy cat man at her apartment sees the whole thing, and refuses to call the cops because he is afraid of being interrogated. He does tell the victim's best friend, who also does not call the cops, even after they find a large pool of blood or after the victim's body is found. They all just sit around and drink and mourn poor Jocke. When another attack is witnessed, not only are the police not called, but no one takes the victim, who has large bleeding wounds on her neck, to the hospital. They just slap some toilet paper over the wound and send her to bed. This second fact lead to an interesting bit involving some cats, but even then, the displayed passivity of the Swedish bothers me. In good old America, when a dozen cats are trying to eat your wife, you react. Is it not so in Sweden?
In the American film, Abby's first kill is un-witnessed, and the second victim ends up in the hospital. Due to all this violence, there is actually a cop in the American film who is trying to get to the bottom of everything. He is not a terribly skilled cop, but he at least has to advantage of existing.
5. The cinematography in the American film is better. The Swedish director had too many uninteresting shots.
6. The production values of the American film are better. I don't want to hold this against the Swedish film, perhaps they had a small budget, and did the best they could.
Here are my problems with the new film.
1. The director inserted a bunch of clumsy religious references that were not in the original. The cop asks "Are you a Satanist?" to the father while he is in the hospital. The writer set this in the 80's for no reason I can see other than to include Reagan's "Good and Evil" speech and references to Satanic cults, which were the paranoid delusion of middle America at the time. It just seemed extraneous.
I know all the artsy-fartsies will be required by contract to poo-poo the American film, but it is a superior piece of work for both artistic and geeky reasons.