Wednesday, June 17, 2009

God's divination abilities- deterministic, causal or inductional?

One of the many phenomenons that God is able to practice is divination- the ability to predict a future outcome. This phenomenal ability has implications to our understanding of how time or the physical mechanism of reality works. In this article, I seek to find an explanation for the divination power of God and to evaluate its cogency with the notions of free will and the goodness of God.

In biblical accounts, the reader would encounter scenerios whereby God is able to predict the morality of an individual or a group of individuals even before there is any clear evidence that they would commit their actions. For example, God was able to predict that the descendents after the first generation israelites that were brought out of Egypt by Moses would go astray from God's principles. Jesus was able to predict Peter's denial of him even under Peter's strong insistence that he would not do so. I am curious to know how one's morals can be predicted by God even when that present moment offers no clear indication that the future event would happen as according to the prediction.

One possible explanation for God's ability to predict morals is that the mechanism of morality is a deterministic process. Consider an experiment whereby I roll one ball towards a stationary one. I can predict based on the rules of physical laws, that when the ball I rolled collides wiht the stationary ball, it would cause the stationary ball to be propagated into motion as force is exerted from the first ball onto the stationary one. Given the information of the different variables present, such as the individual masses of the two balls, the friction between the balls and the surface on which the balls move, the angle at which the balls collide etc., we can make accurate predictions of the directions, speed, distance and time at which the balls in the set up will move. In the case of complex concepts such as morality, it might work in the same deterministic way as the way balls collide in the experiment I had described. Given knowledge of the many variables that control morality, one can predict outcomes pertaining to it. God, with his perfect knowledge of reality and the variables that control morality, would hence be able to predict the morality of an individual

However, this explanation is in contrary to the notion of free will which proposes that the morality of individuals are within the individual's ability to make choices, and that the ability to make choice is independent of any variables of the environment. My use of the term 'environment' here does not pertain only to an external environment separate from the individual's body, but also includes the composition that makes the body- The brain, the biological chemicals of the body, right down to the irreducible atomic constituents that the body is composed of. All physical components of an individual are compliant to deterministic laws. At the macro level, the human body is subjected to physical laws such as force and gravity. At the micro atomic level, atoms operate according to the physical laws that dictate the behaviors of atomic particles. The notion of free will proposes that morality must be independent of all these. If God can predict an individual's morality by taking into consideration all the variables that composes the human body and the external environment and then make predictions, it suggests that morality is determined by all these variables and that there is no free will to choose one's morality. I am opposed to the notion that morality is not a matter of free will because this absolves an individual from any responsiblity for his actions whether the actions be good or bad.

The next possible explanation for God's divination ability is that it has a causal relationship with the outcome. God predicts the future and then causes it to happen. Let's take the experiment of the two balls. The setup of the experiment is that both balls are stationary at the start of the experiment. Now, I can make a prediction that one ball would move and hit the other. I can then make the prediction come true by pushing one of the balls with my hand to make it move such that it would hit the other ball. In the same way, God may be the cause of the outcome of his predictions. When he predicts the successions of kingdoms in the book of Daniel, the reason why the events unfolded as they did is due to the Lord causing them to happen as such. However, the notion of God intervening in the morality of a person is once again in conflict with the notion of free will and the characteristic of God's goodness. How did God predict that the punishment for King David for his adulterous sin would be the rape of his concubines by his son Absalom? Going by the theory of causal relationship between God's divination and the event that unfolded, the conclusion is that God caused the punishment. As in regards to those divinations regarding the morality of the subject, the conclusion would be that God caused the morality of the individual- An individual does evil because God caused him to do evil. This is against common sense, and it is against the notions of free will and the goodness of God.

The third possible explanation for God's divination power is that God is merely presenting a possible future scenerio which can be changed. For example, when David asked of God whether the people of Keilah would betray him and turn him over to Saul, God predicted that they would. David is then able to change that outcome by escaping to another place. The prediction that God made did not take place because David chose an action that did not allow that event to take place. Another example would be that you see me in my school uniform and carrying my school bag and predict that I am going to school. However, I may decide to play truant and not go to school. Yet another example would be the inductive logic that the Sun would rise from the East tomorrow because it has always been rising from the east. However, an external event such as the entry of an external body may cause a different gravitational pull on the earth and hence disrupt the orbit of the earth around the sun, causing the sun to rise differently the next day. The fulfilment of these predictions do not depend on a causal relationship with the predictor, nor does it require a full knowledge of the determining factors. Likewise, God may predict the morality of an individual. His prediction may just be a representation in his mind of what may happen. It may not happen.

However, the seemingly complete dearth of information makes it difficult for us as humans to reason out how God could make any predictions accurately. This theory also supposes that God can be wrong and that circumstances can turn out differently from God's prediction. Without a determining factor or causal factor to the predicted event, the prediction is purely guesswork.

My explanation for God's divination ability is that it is causal at some occassions and deterministic at others. When God prophesizes that his blessings or curses would be on a particular group of people of the future, that divination is causal as God is the one who causes the blessing or curse. When God predicts a chain of misfortunate event for a person or group of people, of which the misfortune is evil in nature, God's divination is deterministic. The fact that the evil of the misfortune is deterministic absolves responsibility from God as the cause of the evil. How can the divination be deterministic?

The proposition I would like to introduce here is that evil is deterministic in the absence of God. There is no way an individual can escape evil when there is an absence of God. David's cocubines were raped by his son Absalom and there was no way that could be changed because God is absent to give the individuals free will to stop the evil. The ability to do either good or evil is part of free will only when God is present.

Hence, God can make the accurate prediction of evil in the future without the compromising on his nature as a good god because he is not the cause of the evil. His absence only allows the deterministic nature of evil to take place.

I doubt that God's divination abilities are mere inductions because inductions are not certain. With God's perfect knowledge and almighty powers, there is no need to rely on inductions. We can induce that the sun from the east because it has risen from the east for the past many days in history, or we can deduce that the sun rises from the east based on our knowledge of the physical laws(eg:gravitation) that governs the way the earth orbits around the sun to produce the effect of the sun rising from the east. God deduces, not induces.

Questions I am considering
1. What if you take it that God's absence is to be implied as causal in nature, and that his absence does not absolve him from the responsibility of the evil?

2. How did God predict that the 2nd generation israelites would go astray? According to my theory, it suggests that God was not with them. If God was with them and free will existed, then God would not have been able to make predictions on deterministic grounds.

3. How do I prove that evil is deterministic without God? Isn't this a speculation?

Monday, May 25, 2009

A rejection of Nietzche

One philosopher whose philosophy I find reprehensible is Nietzche's. His philosophy revolves around the mission of finding the meaning of life without the presupposition of a god. I believe that such a pursuit to find the meaning of life independent of the existence of god to be a worthwhile philosophical pursuit by man to attempt to see if indeed, a meaning of life can exist without God, and Nietzche had bothered to take up the initiative. However, the conclusion that he had drawn from his philosophizing is so pessimistic that I would think it better for humans to be deluded by a moralistic religion even if it does not exist.

Alot of virtues are derived from the belief that they are universal concepts; perhaps they be of the divine or intrinsically good by their own quality. When one begins on a quest to answer the question of whether the meaning of life can exist without God , one would need to do away with the presupposition that they come from a divine. However, if virtues are not transcendental, in that they are not conferred upon us from some other realm, then where do they come from? They must be conceived from the minds of Man. But why do humans come up with the concepts of morality and virtues? My hypothesis is that if virtues and all codes of morality derive from Man, and the reason for any characteristics or inventions to persist is that they enhance the survivability of the subject, then the reason Man derives virtues is due to the benefits that they bring to those who uphold virtues over those who do not. Morality is hence a utilitarian dialetics, and what brings about good to a society or to humanity is deemd as virtue. In fact, virtues such as altruism and selflessness come about due to the utility they bring overall to society and that is why they exist. A possible evidence that would confound the reasons for the existence of virtues is if they do not bring as much benefits as if vices were practiced. Moralist philosophers like Socrates would claim that virtue is a good in itself and should exist even if they do not bring about extraeneous benefits. On my part, I believe that it is sufficient that virtues can exist solely on their utility.

Nietzche however, came to a different conclusion from mine. He saw the code of morality that exists as a gross diversion from a more anarchical state of affair that is better at progressing humanity. In Nietzche's point of view, progress is a result of anthropological evolution where the strong triumphs over the weak. The strong would eliminate the weak and subsequently propagate their characteristics of strength. Moral code of conducts, such as those expousing 'slave-like' virtues of selfless serving, is in contrary to this process of anthropological evololution that has led to the progress of humanity. Such morals are notable preached by religious figures such as Jesus. Following from this line of argument, Nietzche concludes that the meaning of life is the triumph of the individual's will over the will of others. Life would find fulfilment when an individual is able to discover his will to power and express it. It is the competitions of wills whereby the strong will win and the weak should most welcome its defeat.

Even if go by Nietzche's line of reasoning, I see virtues as an organic development to humanity and not an unnaturally imposed development by moralists. We can just rationalise the existence of virtues using Nietzche's own logic as the will of virtues triumphing the will of selfish individualism.

However, even if virtues is indeed less beneficial than selfish ambitions, I am not pleased with Nietzche's philosophy that the spontaneous exercise of one's individual will would bring to one fulfilment and the meaning of living. I question the meaning of striving to impose one's will when the impermanence of life renders such a pursuit transient. Nietzche would answer that a life is fulfilling for its own sake and is not to be understood for anything else. I do not find this explanation convincing as I find existence of life to be contingent ( why is there life instead of nothing?), and to confer any absolute meaning of living is artificial and dogmatic.

I also do not suscribe to Nietzche's theory that the aggressive pursuits of individual wills and the triumph of the stronger over the weaker would lead to anthropological evolution and societal progress. Nietzche had proposed it himself that the struggle of wills exists not only in the political and military fields, but in the cultural field as well. The struggle of wills is hence not one-dimensional and can have external effects on other endeavours of humanity. A triumph of military will can degrade cultural will, and certainly, this is a regression of humanity than a progression. Think about the barbarian invasion of Rome that led to the Dark Ages, or the near decimation of Europe from the warfaring but culturally-deficited Mongols. If indeed, the Mongol leader Ogadai had not died and continued his expansion, the military powerful Mongols would have overruned Europe and destroyed whatever cultural remnants of Western Civilization that survived the Dark Ages. In today's context, even if North Korea were to win the war against capitalist countries by developing and using nuclear weapons, it would not atone for the deficits that exists in its communist system but only establish a fact that it is military superior. By evidences provided by history and by reasons, I find it hard to believe that progression of society can be achieved by allowing for an ammoral world where the strong is to triumph over the weak.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Morality with or without religion

Why should one practice immorality if he does not believe in God? It is illogical to do so out of spite for God because this would acknowledge that God exists and if so, why predispose yourself to his disfavourment instead of looking of ways to gain his favour so that he might grant you what you want? It is also illogical to do so as a belief of atheism because an atheist should be looking for ways to exercise morality without the jurisdiction of religion. Since morality brings about benefits for humanity as a whole, even if atheism was indeed true, it would have to consolidate its philosophy with morality to be practical to the world. Otherwise, it would be better to be deluded by religion than to be enlightened by an ammoral atheistic philosophy that brings nothing but a despairing viewpoint of the way the world works. Either way, one should pursue a moral life, whether he believes in God or not.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On the mind and the afterlife

Death is an inescapable end of a human life. In death, the physical body of the individual dies and all his possessions remains on earth, his presence of mind lost to a netherworld and is unable to experience the material comforts sustained on earth. For a Christian like me, I believe that the soul of a human being is distinct from its physical body. For those that God loves, he would give them deliver them to heaven and for the rest, he puts them into hell.

Yet I ask, is the soul and the mind distinct or the same thing? The mind consists of the individual’s memory of his experience. If soul and mind are one, and we should say that that the soul survives death, then the mind survives death as well. If we should say that soul and mind are separate, and that the soul survives but the mind perishes in death, then what would characterize ourselves in the afterlife? If we find ourselves in heaven without our memories of our experience acquired during our living days, can we say that we are the same being in heaven as we were on earth?

The biologist would claim that soul and mind are separate, and the mind is nothing but a physical matter called the brain which contains all the memories and experiences accumulated in our living days. A man can suffer amnesia when he sustains injuries to his brain in his living hours. If this is so, then it is inferred that all memories are lost in death when the brain dies. What reason then is there for us to suppose that we would be characterized by our memories in the afterlife?

I would like to believe that the mind is a spiritual matter and like the soul, survives death and transpires into the afterlife. I read the Bible and notice the characteristic of a homogenous mind and soul complex when a man dies and crosses into the afterlife. In Luke 16:19, Jesus tells of a parable of a rich man who went to hell and who still had his presence of mind to ask of God to send someone to earth to warn his brothers. If he had not his mind, he would not have his memory and would have seen himself in hell as the beginning of his experience and he would not have the concern to ask of God to save his brothers. Even though his wealth did not travel with him to heaven, yet his mind did and his awareness was not a state of tabula rasa. It is a phenomenon that memories exists in the afterlife when the realist associates all matters of mind to the physical object called the brain.

Let’s presume that the mind does indeed escape brain death. What pursuit in life would then be considered to have a tangible amount of meaning to it as it can survive death and transcend into the afterlife? Objects that are separate from the soul would remain on earth. I would hence say that the pursuit of possession in only meaningful to the extent that we enjoy our possessions. At least we experience their comforts while living and are able to take these memories of comforts with us to the spiritual realm. But if there is anything more worthwhile than comfort experience, it is knowledge. I would believe that the scientific laws governing earth applies in heaven as well. One plus one is equal to two, whether this be in heaven or on earth. If we know about universal truths that applies to both earth and heaven, our knowledge would be as pertinent to us when we were on earth as it would be in heaven. I am sure heaven is a paradise of learning. Imagine the joy of Einstein when he observes the principles of physics being applied in the heavenly realms as well. Imagine his joy when God finally reveals to him the deterministic mechanism of quantum theory, affirming Einstein’s belief that ‘God does not play dice’ and dispelling the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle which Einstein had always a deep suspicion of. Men of the different fields of knowledge would step into heaven and marvel at the knowledge and skills of God. The artist would see the beauty of heaven and praise God as the God of art. The musician would hear beautiful songs of the angels and praise God as the God of music. For an economist which I will be, I will witness the perfection of a material abundant economic system where the fundamental problem of economics, scarcity, is absent. On second thoughts, my knowledge of economics would become meaningless because a system devoid of scarcity is not an economy at all. Oh well, I might take up philosophy then for who is more knowledgeable about difficult questions such as the meaning of existence other than God, the philosopher-king of philosopher-kings.

I have a hunch that many knowledges may become meaningless in heaven because God would provide every solutions to every problems of humanity possible. How about literature? Surely man can enjoy a good novel in heaven. Surely God would have a great library in heaven with Pride and Prejudice in the bookshelves. But seriously, what use is literature when the state of heaven does not reflect the state of human realities in the world? They are only remnants of a world of injustice, conflict and tragedy. How about mathematics? I am sure Pythagoras Theorem as well as the other models of mathematics would still apply in heaven. I find it impossible for mathematics to not work in the dimensions of one’s existence.

And what would knowledge serve as in heaven? I doubt that any knowledge created by man is impervious to the mind of God. Hence, I see heaven as a place already perfected of God’s perfect knowledge and all knowledge created by man are merely for entertainment purpose in heaven. I would study history in heaven because since everything is already known in heaven, the only thing left to do is to retrace our story from the beginning and to enjoy the whole experience again.

However, why should it be that only the acquisitions of mental pursuits are transpired in death to the afterlife? I would find this very unfair for those whose talents are not their mental faculties but their physical faculties. The strongman, unlike the intellect, spends his time and effort in the development of his physique. Wouldn’t God be prejudiced then if he allows the intellect to acquire knowledge and take knowledge with him in death but not the strongman who had pursued strength to take his strength with him in death? For God made individuals with different gifts and talents and the quality of the mind is not a gift of every individual.

God devises the phenomenon that accompanies the afterlife. He creates what transcends death and what does not. Perhaps the transcending of knowledge to the afterlife is limited and knowledge not pertaining to God’s will is forfeited just like the physical possessions. I do not know the nature of the afterlife, but if the mind is not what it is in heaven as it is on earth, I find that one’s personal identity is not the same and one cannot be called as being himself if his mind is different.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A flaw of the 1-man-1-vote system in a proportionally-representative electoral system involving more than 2 contestants

In a democratic political system with more than 2 political parties, a proportionally-representative voting system will not necessarily lead to the most socially optimal outcome. Let me use an example to illustrate this. For example, Thailand has 3 political parties – the rural populist People's Power Party(PPP), the royalist Democrat Party (DP) and the neutral party For The Motherland (FTM). Next, we have two major supporter groups with different preferences of political parties to form the government- The National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship(UDD) which is pro-PPP and anti-DP, and the People's Alliance for Democracy(PAD) which is Pro-DP and Anti-PPP. The neutral FTM party is ranked second in preference to both political support groups. Here is a table showing the ranking of the preferences of the 2 groups of supporters.

The objective of an electoral system is to obtain a government that is most socially optimal, that is that the majority of the voters can be reasonably happy with the elected government. If we interpret “reasonably happy” as the voter being able to get his first or second choice, then the most socially optimal political group would be the FTM as it is ranked second in preference for both support groups. Both support groups would be contented with a FTM government than to have a government of the political party they oppose.

However, in an electoral system with only one vote per person,an individual does not have the ability to reflect his preference of the second-best government. Only the top preference of an individual is reflected in the votes. When the votes are tallied up, the results is that the FTM garners the least votes as people from the UDD and the PAD spend their votes on their respective topmost preferred political party. The FTM would hence lose out in the political race.

Such a flaw in the voting system can also be applied to public-polled popularity competitions such as Singapore idol. A contestant who is generally well-liked by the general public may still have a higher chance of being eliminated than a contestant with a smaller but more fervent fan base.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Economics- Game theory applied to Evolutionary theory

I studied H3 Economics as an additional academic course at SMU during my JC2 year. The course focused on a specific topic known as game theory which was popularized by the film “A Beautiful Mind” that featured Russell Crowe as the eminent Nobel Laureate John Nash.

One interesting concept that I learnt from the course is the Nash Equilibrium. The Nash Equilibrium is defined as the stable state in which the players of the game have no tendency to change their strategies given their knowledge of the strategies of their opponents. This concept can be illustrated by the notable game model known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma which is usually used to explain concepts such as deterrence in political science.

Now, what I found interesting in game theory is its application to the theory of evolution. The variations of genetics of a given species can be likened to the different strategies of the players. In the case of the evolution game model, the players are the genes possessed by individual species. These genes play against one another in a given environment with the better gene, or to put it in game theoretical term as the better strategy, winning the war of attrition and is therefore deemed fitter to survive and hence propagate that better gene. The process of evolution involves the various genes of the species finding that Nash Equilibrium whereby the better gene is retained as it dominates over inferior genes.

However in game theory, it is not necessary that only one Nash Equilibrium exists (eg: Hawk-Dove game model). It is possible for players to use more than one strategy as there is no sole dominant strategy. My idea regarding this concept is that it explains why supposedly ‘inferior’ genes are allowed to be expressed in reality. This is because these ‘inferior’ genes might be fitter in a given environmental condition. This environmental condition may also be dependent on the demographics of the different strategies present in the population as shown in the Macho-wimp game model.

Take for example the genetic characteristic known as introversion that is deemed to be inferior to the characteristic of extraversion in society. The demographics of introverts to extroverts is 1 is to 3. Obviously, nature has a way of telling us that introversion is less adaptable to the human environment and hence its minority. But why do introverts continue to exist? I postulate 2 possible reasons

1. This is a transitional evolutionary stage and the ultimate evolutionary stable state (ESS) is one where introverts are eliminated and the extraversion gene dominates.

2. A complete extrovert population is not an evolutionary stable state. Instead, the evolutionary stable state is one where there is a mixture of introverts and extroverts

The second line of argument is deemed plausible in game theory by the Macho-Wimp game model. Let me illustrate how this is so using a game model. First of all, let’s assume that extroverts dominate over introverts all the time. This is quite an observable social reality whereby extroverts are usually placed in leadership positions over introverts and are better able to attain power and influence through their more dominating personality. So in my Extrovert-Introvert game model, let’s assign a value of 5 to the player that uses the extrovert and a value of 3 to the player who uses the introvert. In the game theory model, payoffs are used to denote the ‘utility’ that each player gets from using that particular strategy. Of course, a rational player seeks to maximize his utility.

As seen in the table above, when player 1 is an introvert and player 2 is an extrovert, the payoff of 3 goes to player 1 and the payoff of 5 goes to player 2, vice versa. The payoff on the left of the comma is to player 1 and the payoff on the right of the comma is to player 2.

However, when an extrovert meets an extrovert, neither of them does as well than if they should individually meet an introvert. Put this assumption into the context of reality, a pure extrovert meeting a pure extrovert rarely get any work done and are unproductive. Or perhaps the power-struggle between two extroverts is destructive to both of them. So we shall assign a value of 2 to each player when extrovert meets an extrovert

On the other hand, when an introvert meets an introvert, both of them proceed with their task individually and produce their own work. Both do fairly well on their own without encountering an extrovert. For that matter, let’s assign a value of 4 to each player when an introvert meets an introvert.

Now, let me introduce the concept of Nash Equilibria which I had learnt. A player should choose the best response given his knowledge of the other player’s strategy. For example, if you are player 1 and you know player 2 is an extrovert, what strategy should you play then to maximize your payoff? The answer is to play the introvert strategy which would give you a payoff of 3 as compared to 2 should you have used an extrovert strategy. And if you know that your opponent is an introvert, then in order to maximize your payoff, you should choose an extrovert strategy which would get you a 5 as compared to a 4 if you choose introvert. In an evolutionary game model, individuals do not have control over whether they choose to be an extrovert or an introvert. Such characteristics are all determined by genetics and it is the genetics which play the game.

By using the best-response method which I had listed above, we can derive the 2 Nash Equilibriums which I have shaded in orange. The Nash Equilibriums denote the Evolutionary Stable States(ESS). The model shows that the Evolutionary stable states are when both players are unlike; when one player is an ‘introvert’ and the other an ‘extrovert’.

Why are the shaded cells the evolutionary stable states? First of all, the process of evolution is a dynamic procedure over a period of time. In an evolutionary game model, a population exists consisting of extroverts and introverts. The players of the population pair up randomly and the game is repeated between 2 random pairs. If there are too many extroverts, an introvert can successfully invade the population as it would get the payoff of 3 compared to many other extroverts who are getting a payoff of 2 from the extrovert-extrovert game. Over time, the introvert population would increase due to it being a better strategy and hence propagating itself. Similarly, an extrovert can successfully invade a population of introvert as the extrovert is able to exploit the pure introvert population and get a payoff of 5 most of the time which is higher than the 4 that an introvert gets from an introvert-introvert game. The population would tend towards the Nash Equilibrium, also known as the evolutionary stable state, where there is no tendency for either the extrovert population or introvert population to grow.


This is a simple game model which explains why 2 or more strategies may exist in a game. By applying this concept to the evolutionary model, I have a better understanding of what the theory of evolution is about; that the model of ‘superior’ genes and mere ‘war of attrition’ is too simplistic a postulation about the game of evolution. I have come to appreciate diversity more through my understanding of game theory; that everyone has a place in this reality. I have also come to accept certain characteristics of my own

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