Monday, November 1, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 65

Hitting the dic- section has brought out my inner Beavis and Butthead. Unforseen circumstances of research

dianoia - the mental faculty used in discursive reasoning.

diaphoretic - producing perspiration.

- a volcanic vent produced in a solid rock structure by the explosive energy of gases in magmas.

Or from a diet of refried beans

- detective


Dick test - a test for determining immunity or susceptibility to scarlet fever in which scarlet fever toxin is injected into the skin, susceptibility being characterized by redness at the injection area.

I think I'll put this definition on Urban Dictionary

digitalism - the abnormal condition resulting from an overconsumption of digitalis.

Symptoms include the inability to read analog clocks

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 64

desorb - to remove an absorbate or adsorbate from (an absorbent or adsorbent).

despiteful - spiteful

Spiteful and despiteful mean the same thing?

destool - to remove (a West African ruler) from office.

I just thought it meant to take a laxative

destrier - a war-horse; charger.

detritivore - an organism that uses organic waste as a food source, as certain insects.

diabolo - a game in which a toplike object is spun, thrown, and caught by or balanced on and whirled along a string the ends of which are fastened to the ends of two sticks that are manipulated by hand.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 63

dendrophagous - feeding on the wood of trees, as certain insects.

dent corn - a variety of field corn, Zea mays indentata, having yellow or white kernels that become indented as they ripen.

depth psychology - any approach to psychology that postulates and studies personality from the standpoint of dynamic and unconscious motivation.

deratization - extermination of rats, esp. aboard a merchant vessel.

derma - beef or fowl intestine used as a casing in preparing certain savory dishes, esp. kishke.

Now they spoiled kishke for me. And I thought that was such good stuff

desmid - any single-celled freshwater algae of the family Desmidiaceae, characterized by a division of the body into mirror-image halves joined by a bridge containing the nucleus, and having a spiny or bristly exterior: sometimes forming into colonies or branching filaments.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 62

deformed bar - a rod for reinforcing concrete, having surface irregularities, as transverse ridges, to improve the bond

Using a deformed bar to keep concrete from becoming deformed

dehisce - to burst open, as capsules of plants; gape.

dekko - (British slang) a look or glance

Take a dekko at Mr. Gekko.

Delhi belly - diarrhea experienced by travelers in a foreign country, who are not accustomed to the local food and water.

Not to be confused with Deli belly

demimetope - the space between the end of a Doric frieze and the first triglyph.

I feel like this is from some weird sci-fi geek site

demisemiquaver - a thirty-second note.

Only you musicians out there would know the obscure names for these notes.

de Moivre's theorem - the theorem that a complex number raised to a given positive integral power is equal to the modulus of the number raised to the power and multiplied by the amplitude times the given power.

Well, DUH!

dendrology - the branch of botany dealing with trees and shrubs.

For this experiment, I'll need. . .another shrubbery!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 61

decollate snail - a cone-shaped, burrowing snail, Rumina decollata, that feeds on common brown garden snails.

I wonder if it has a taste for escargot?

deconstruction - a philosophical and critical movement, starting in the 1960s and esp. applied to the study of literature, that questions all traditional assumptions about the ability of language to represent reality and emphasizes that a text has no stable reference or identification because words essentially only refer to other words and therefore a reader must approach a text by eliminating any metaphysical or ethnocentric assumptions through an active role of defining meaning, sometimes by a reliance on new word construction, etymology, puns, and other word play.

Not quite the same meaning as disassembly

deep fat - hot fat used for deep-frying food.

As opposed to shallow fat?

defender of the bond - an official appointed in each diocese to uphold marriages of disputed validity.

defensive medicine - the practice by a physician of ordering many tests or consultations as a means of self-protection against charges of malpractice in the event of an unfavorable outcome of treatment.

definitive host - the host in or on which a parasite spends the sexual stage of its life cycle.

Normal parties have a host. Frat parties have a definitive host

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 60

Dawson Creek - a village in NE British Columbia, Canada, at the SE terminus of the Alaska Highway.

A little cold of a climate for James Van Der Beek

dayan - a judge in a Jewish religious court or a person knowledgeable in Talmudic law whose advice on religious questions is often sought by rabbis.

Biblical Judges usurped by Rabbinic overlords

daymare - a distressing experience, similar to a bad dream, occurring while one is awake.

dead-man's float - a prone floating position, used esp. by beginning swimmers, with face downward, legs extended backward, and arms stretched forward.

Why is it the early survival swimming techniques are the ones with your face underwater

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 59

dactyl - Prosody . a foot of three syllables, one long followed by two short in quantitative meter, or one stressed followed by two unstressed in accentual meter, as in gently and humanly. 

Dago - a person of Italian or sometimes spanish origin or descent.

. . . as the Dagoes buy

dagoba -  a dome-shaped memorial alleged to contain relics of Buddha or a Buddhist saint; stupa; chaitya.

and you thought the Star Wars names were picked arbitrarily

Dam - ( Carl Peter ) Henrik  (ˈhɛnrəɡ). 1895--1976, Danish biochemist who discovered vitamin K (1934): Nobel prize for physiology or medicine 1943

and a Dam fine job he did

D and C - a surgical method for the removal of diseased tissue or an early embryo from the lining of the uterus by means of scraping.

D&D - Dungeons and Dragons

The uncaring Goth kid played some D&D while his mom was having a D and C

dangleberry - blueberry

not to be confused with dingleberry

darn - to mend, as torn clothing, with rows of stitches, sometimes by crossing and interweaving rows to span a gap.

darn this torn coat! 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stephen Jay Gould and NOMA

Stephen Jay Gould is famous for his concept of NOMA, stating that religion and science cover non-overlapping subjects. While this may sound appealing, the devil is in the details. To quote Gould:
The first commandment for all version of NOMA might be summarized by stating: "Thou shalt not mix the magestiria by claiming that God driectly ordains important events in the history of nature by special interference knowable only through revelation and not accessible to science."
In other words, science gets to impose metaphysical naturalim on all matters of fact, while religion gets dominion over only matters of feeling.

This is "separate but equal" of the Apartheid variety.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 58

currency principle - the principle that banks should be permitted to issue notes only against bullion or coin.

Becuase if it read "booty, coin, or plunder" it would have been the pirate currency principle.

curtate - shortened; reduced; abbreviated.

curule chair - (in ancient Rome) a folding seat with curved legs and no back, often ornamented with ivory, used only by certain high officials.

That's right. The uncomfortable folding chair with no back is for the high officials. I'll bet they had bad backs.

curvaceous - (of a woman) having a well-shaped figure with voluptuous curves.

I am going to start telling women that they are looking rather curvaceous today. I cannot imagine how this could lead to trouble.

cush-cush - yampee

Lotta help there, Mr. Dictionary

cyclopedia - an encyclopedia

Which I will tackle after I finish the dictionary

cywydd - a form of meter in Welsh poetry consisting of rhyming couplets, each line having seven syllables: first used in the 14th century.

And the C-section is complete. It will take some time to recover. I hope I don't die of an infection in the process.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dictionary Highlights Update

The original purpose of Dictionary Highlights was to help me get through my goal of reading the entire dictionary in one year. After realizing that's not feasible given all the other things I have going on, I'm going to take this at a slower pace.

Basically, I'll post updates on days that I have the time to read the daily prescription of 8 pages. Not sure when I'll be done, so let's just enjoy the ride.

Dictionary Highlights: Day 57

crowdy - a dish of meal, esp. oatmeal and water, or sometimes milk, stirred together; gruel; brose; porridge.

cruller - Also called French cruller. a rich, light, raised doughnut, often with a ridged surface and sometimes topped with white icing.

Why is it whenever I see the word French in front of something, my mind immediately dives into the gutter?

cruor - coagulated blood, or the portion of the blood that forms the clot.

I thought Japan had laws against cruor and unusuor punishment

cryohydrate - a mixture of ice and another substance in definite proportions such that a minimum melting or freezing point is attained.

Does your diet have the right balance of cryohydrates?

cryotron - a cryogenic device that uses the principle that a varying magnetic field can cause the resistance of a superconducting element to change rapidly between its high normal and low superconductive values: used as a switch and as a computer-memory element.

Also a potential villain for the next Transformers movie

crypotozoology - the study of evidence tending to substantiate the existence of, or the search for, creatures whose reported existence is unproved, as the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness monster.

This is science?

Cubba - a female day name for Wednesday

cuckoo spit - Also called frog spit. a frothy secretion found on plants, exuded by the young of certain insects, as the froghoppers, and serving as a protective covering.

cuittle - to wheedle, cajole, or coax.

That's three more words to look up. Big help there, dictionary!

culex - any of numerous mosquitoes constituting the widespread genus Culex, distinguished by the habit in the adult of holding the body parallel to the feeding or resting surface, as the common house mosquito, C. pipiens.

From Nickelodeon's The Tomorrow People.

cummingtonite - an amphibole mineral, magnesium-iron silicate, similar in composition to anthophyllite but richer in iron.

That shipment of minerals I ordered a week ago, is it cummingtonite?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Broken Window Fallacy

One of the most annoying fallacies people spread around. You hear this nonsense all over the news, claiming how these public works projects will create wealth and give people jobs. But in the end, government can only spend money that it takes from the people either through taxation, interest rates, or inflating the currency. In any case, it is like trying to gain nutrition by drinking your own blood.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Ontological Argument

Disclaimer: There is very little that can be known with absolute certainty. Logical and mathematical proofs might be among them, but almost any proposition can be shot down with enough hyperskepticism. I could deny many propositions that virtually everyone else would agree are true; that other minds exist, that the outside world is real, that George Washington was the first US President. While there is no absolute proof that these things I might be trying to deny are true, there is good reason to believe them, because the evidence better supports them than it supports their negations.

Deductive logic operates on deriving a conclusion from premises. If each premise is more plausible than its negation, and the connection between the premises and the conclusion is valid, then the conclusion follows logically and inescapably.

Here are the Big Four arguments in natural theology and what they attempt to demonstrate:

Kalam Cosmological Argument: There cannot be an actually infinite number of past events, therefore, matter cannot be eternal. There was a first event. The first event had to be caused. The cause for the first event had to be uncaused, nonphysical and had to have the properties of volition and causal potency.

Teleological Argument: That from which reality came had to possess intelligence, volition, and causal potency

Ontological Argument: The greatest possible being actually exists in all possible worlds

Moral Argument: Objective morality exists, and that from which objective morality came had to possess the property of morality

The Set-Up
The Ontological Argument is a very brainy argument that at first seems like a philosophical trick. Yet, to those that understand it, this is the most powerful argument in all of natural theology. Unfortunately, without some background in modal logic, this argument is unintelligible, so I am going to give a crash course in modal logic before presenting this argument.

Possible Worlds
A possible world is basically a hypothetical situation. Calling it a possible world is not to say that such a world actually exists. It's just a description of what reality might be; a way for philosophers to see what ideas are coherent and what ideas are not. If something is possible, then we say that it exists in some possible world.

Possibility, Necessity, and Contingency
In metaphysics, the term "possible" has an entirely different meaning than in epistemology. In epistemology, you could look at a difficult math problem and say "it's possible that there is a solution for it" which is like saying "for all I know, there is a solution to this problem." In metaphysics, something is possible if it is logically coherent. For example, my wearing a red shirt is possible, but the existence of square circles is not possible.

Possible - If something is possible, it exists in some possible world.
Necessary - If something is necessary, it cannot not exist, so it exists in all possible worlds. Logical and mathematical truths exist necessarily.
Contingent - If something is contingent, it exists in some possible worlds but not in others. This is to say that it is possible but not necessary.
Impossible - If something is impossible, it exists in no possible worlds. Logically contradictory things like married bachelors are impossible.

For this argument, we are using the metaphysical definition of "possible" so if I say "it's possible that 1+1=2" this doesn't imply "it's possible that 1+1 does not equal 2" Something can be both possible and necessary.

To say that A entails B is to say that if A is true, then B has to be true.

Perfection - A property that it is better to have than to lack
Imperfection - A property that it is better to lack than to have
Neutral - A property that is neither a perfection nor an imperfection

Maximal Greatness
Maximal Greatness - The state of having all perfections. A maximally great being would have properties such as omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, and necessary existence, to name a few. Nothing that exists contingently can be Maximally Great. This is not to say that something has to exist to be Maximally Great. Instead, if something that is Maximally Great exists, then it exists necessarily.

The Ontological Argument
This argument is a deductive argument with 5 premises, that if true, entail the conclusion.

Premise 1: It is possible that a Maximally Great Being (MGB) exists
Premise 2: If it is possible that a MGB exists, then a MGB exists in some possible world
Premise 3: If a MGB exists in some possible world, then a MGB exists in all possible worlds
Premise 4: If a MGB exists in all possible worlds, then a MGB exists in the actual world
Premise 5: If a MGB exists in the actual world, then a MGB exists
Conclusion: A MGB exists.

Interestingly enough, premises 2 through 5 are pretty uncontroversial. They are more or less restatements of the laws of modal logic, and are accepted by theist and atheist philosophers alike.
Premise 2 is just a restatement of what it means for something to possibly exist.
Premise 3 restates the definition of what Maximal Greatness is. If something exists contingently, then it cannot be Maximally Great. Therefore, its existence is either necessary or impossible.

So the question remains: is it possible that a Maximally Great Being exists? Generally, the atheist position has been: "no", but recently the logician Robert Maydole slammed the door on that position by showing that such a response leads to a contradiction.

Why it is Possible that a Maximally Great Being Exists
(A) If a property (P) is a perfection, its negation (~P) is an imperfection
(B) If a property P is a perfection and P entails Q, Q is not an imperfection
(C) Maximal Greatness (we'll call it M) is a perfection
Conclusion 1: M cannot entail ~M

Here's the reason: If a property is a perfection, anything it entails not an imperfection. But since a perfection's negation is an imperfection, no perfection can entail its own negation.

Here is why this is relevant:

It is perfectly within the laws of modal logic for a property (which is not a perfection) to entail its negation. If a property is an incoherent (or impossible) property (square-circleness is an example, so we'll call this S), then it's necessary that everything has the negation of S (we'll call this ~S) as a property. That's what it means for a property to be impossible. But if everything has ~S, that means that every property entails ~S. If it didn't, then something could have some other property and not have ~S, which means it would have S, which means S would be a possible property. But if every property entails ~S, then S also entails ~S. This is consistent with the Principle of Explosion, which states that if you assert a contradiction, you can logically infer anything from it.

So if Premise 1 of the Ontological Argument is false, then
(X) It is not possible that something with M exists; which is the same as saying
(Y) Necessarily, all things have ~M; and if that's the case, then
(Z) All properties entail ~M; and since M is a property, then
Conclusion 2: M entails ~M
But we just established that M cannot entail ~M
So Premise 1 of the Ontological Argument cannot be false.

For the minority of philosophers who do not believe in the Principle of Explosion, here is another way to think of it:

If M is an impossible property, then everything necessarily has ~M. This means that every property entails ~M. ~M is an imperfection, and perfections cannot entail imperfections. This means that if M is impossible, then no property is a perfection. This means that there are no good properties, only bad ones. But this is ridiculous. Aren't some properties, like goodness, intelligence, and wisdom better to have than to lack?
So again, Premise 1 of the Ontological Argument cannot be false.

The Consequences
But if that is the case, then it is possible that a being with Maximal Greatness exists. But then that entails that this Maximally Great Being exist in some possible world, which means that it exists in all possible world, which means that it exists in this world.

Which means that a Maximally Great Being exists. And since this being must exist in all possible worlds, including ones with odd space/time curvatures and worlds that lack space itself, this being transcends physical limitations, and therefore cannot be physical. And since some of these properties such as omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection entail personality, then it follows that this Maximally Great Being must be personal. But that's the definition of a personal God.

The greatest possible being actually exists in all possible worlds, which means that a personal God exists in this world. His existence is as necessary and certain as the laws of logic themselves, and atheism is a logical impossibility.

Most objections to the Ontological Argument try to parody the argument to show that it proves too much. Let's see if any of them are sound.

Dawkins' Delusion
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins attempts to use this argument to disprove the existence of God. He says that if God is the greatest possible being, then wouldn't it be greater for God to not exist and still bring the universe into being? But far from undermining the Ontological Argument, it shows its coherence.

To answer Dawkins: Greater? Maybe. Possible? No. For in what possible world does a non-existent being exist?

A Maximally Great Island
What if I state that a Maximally Great Island (MGI) exists by its definition? Wouldn't its Maximal Greatness entail its existence?

First, we have already established that anything which is Maximally Great cannot be physical, due to the problem of space. But this concept also fails because a MGI is incoherent. While the properties that make up a Maximally Greatness have maximum values (knowledge tops out at omniscience), the properties that make an island great do not. You could always add more good things (beverages, dancing, etc.) to any given island to make it greater.

A Quasi-Maximally Great Being
What if a being has all the other perfections but did not exist in every possible world? Or what if this necessary being had all the perfections except one, such as omniscience? Neither one is possible. Here's why:

Some of the properties possessed by a Maximally Great Being cannot exist in more than one being in any possible world. Omnipotence is one example. If multiple beings are omnipotent, then a logical contradiction follows if their wills come into conflict. If one omnipotent being chooses to bring about a state of affairs where a green elephant exists, then such a state of affairs will be actualized. But if another omnipotent being in the same world wants to bring about a state of affairs where a green elephant does not exist, then that state of affairs will be actualized. So in this world, a green elephant would both exist and not exist, but no possible world can contain such a contradictory state of affairs. So no possible world can have multiple omnipotent beings.

But what if it was metaphysically impossible that their wills could come into conflict? If it is not even possible that the wills of these two omnipotent beings could come into conflict, then we are not talking about two different wills, but one will being described two ways. And if there is only one will, then that collapses the two beings into one.

And if the Quasi Maximally Great being was not omnipotent, then that being cannot exist necessarily. If an omnipotent being exists, then nothing else can exist except by the will of the omnipotent being. Since the Maximally Great being is by definition omnipotent and personal, it would be able to refrain from allowing anything else to exist, so there would be possible worlds where only the Maximally Great Being exists.

So no Quasi Maximally Great being can exist necessarily.

This has the side effect of eliminating polytheism. If God exists, then other gods (who by definition have to exist necessarily in order to be gods) cannot exist. So when an atheist tells you "You don't believe in Thor or Wotan. So when you understand why you reject those gods, you'll understand why I reject yours" you will know how to respond.

For further reading on this subject, the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology is now available.
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Monday, July 5, 2010

My Contribution to the Kalam Argument

Dr. Craig's main argument for the existence of God has been the Kalam Argument. He worked on it for his Ph.D. in philosophy.

It goes like this.

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
2. The Universe began to exist
Conclusion: The Universe had a cause

He explains that Premise 1 is well accepted by philosophers as not only true, but necessarily true (meaning that it cannot be false)
He gives two arguments from science and two arguments from mathematics that the physical world cannot be eternal in the past but must have had a beginning. He says that the conclusion of this argument lets you draw a lot of conclusions about the Creator: that He is spaceless, timeless, extraordinarily powerful, and personal.

However, he said that it does not prove that God exists necessarily (that He cannot not exist)

So I asked him: "Why not? If the mathematical arguments are sound, then it is impossible for any physical world to be eternal in the past. If so, then both premises are not just true, but necessarily true. Which means the conclusion is necessarily true."
Or more specifically: Any possible world in which anything physical exists must have a transcendent personal creator.

A smile crept on Dr. Craig's face as he told me: "That's...true. Did you think of that yourself or did someone tell you this?"
I told him that I thought of this myself.
He then said: "I never thought of that before, and no one told me it, either. I'm going to add that to my presentations on the Kalam Argument"

It's really awesome being able to make a contribution to the philosophy of religion field.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Is Belief in God Rational? Debate at CSU

Yesterday, I attended a debate at CSU, where a philosophy student and a teacher at a local church debated against CSU's atheist organization called the Non-Prophets.

Weighing in on the Theist side is Jason Moore, a first-year graduate student majoring in Philosophy with a concentration in Bioethics. Also weighing in for the Theist side is Phil Karayan, a teacher at Grace Church.

For the Atheist side, four representatives of CSU's Non-Prophets, an atheist student organization emphasizing freedom from religion.

Theist Opening Arguments

The universe has three possible explanations for its existence:
1. Came into being by chance
2. Existed eternally
3. Creation by God

The universe could not have come into being by chance. To begin with an atheistic big bang cosmology and expect the order and complexity in the universe is like expecting a tornado moving through a junkyard to produce an operational Boeing 747.

The universe also could not have been eternal. The second law of thermodynamics states that the universe is winding down, and the amount of usable energy is being consumed. Eternal things do not wind down. Second, the expansion of the universe precludes it from being eternal. According to Stephen Hawking, almost every cosmologist now believes that the universe and time itself had a beginning at the singularity.

There is a difference between something existing necessarily and existing contingently. As Thomas Aquinas argued, nothing in the universe exists necessarily. Therefore, the existence of the universe must be grounded in a necessary being.

Atheist Opening Arguments

Rarity of existence is not evidence for design. Imagine a leaky window air conditioner in an office in the desert. The water from the air conditioner drips on one spot on the ground, making it fertile. If a plant grew in that fertile spot and were conscious, wouldn't that plant think: "I live in the only fertile spot as far as I can see. Surely this spot was designed just for me!"? Design arguments are fallacious, because they assign probability to events after the fact.

The universe came into existence without a personal cause. It is not true that whatever begins to exist has a cause, and just because time had a beginning does not mean God did it. God is a placeholder and an artificial construct of our minds. Positing him to explain anything does not advance knowledge, but is instead a God-of-the gaps argument.

Rational belief is anchored in what can be observed and tested scientifically. Since God is beyond the scope of science, belief in him is irrational.

If an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God existed, why does evil exist? An all-powerful God would be able to prevent evil from existing. An all-knowing God would know how to prevent evil from existing. An all-loving God would want to prevent evil from existing. Why then is there evil in the universe? Is it because of free will? Then why is it that we experience natural evil, such as tornadoes, earthquakes, and watching young children die slow and painful deaths of cancer?

Points of discussion during the cross-examination

Can we reach a conclusion as to whether God exists based on evidence, or is belief in God subjective, being neither verifiable nor falsifiable?

What is evil? The atheist group defined it as human suffering without justification.

In 2 Kings 2:22-24, the prophet Elisha was being insulted by a group of youths, mocking him for his baldness. God then called a group of bears to maul the youths to death. If this is the God of the universe, then is he worthy of worship, or should he be rejected?

Theist Rebuttal
The design arguments answer the question: "Is our situation the result of intelligence or non-intelligence?" The design arguments show that certain aspects of the universe, and even life itself, are better explained as being the product of intelligence than of necessity and chance alone.

The existence of natural evils does not mean that there is no creator. No religion claims that no evil exists. Also, the argument that suffering happens without a reason is unjustified. It starts with "I cannot see any reason why God would permit this" and commits a leap in logic to conclude "therefore there are no reasons why God would permit this."

Atheist Rebuttal
The theist argues that we live in an ordered universe, but what does a disordered universe look like. If you fill a balloon with sand and water and then pop it, the explosion will produce what looks like patterns, even though it is random.

Furthermore, even if there is fine-tuning in the universe that requires explanation, isn't God's fine-tuning in need of explanation as well?

Theist 2nd Rebuttal
Atheism leads inescapably to nihilism. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. In an atheistic universe, where would any sort of objective and prescriptive ought even come from?

The atheist will often assert that God has to be bound by the laws of the universe in order to act in it. Not at all. The relationship between God and the universe is like the relationship between an artist and his painting. The artist is free to create and interact with his painting without himself being bound by the painting.

The atheist believes that the God of the Bible is acting unjustifiably. Not so. Doesn't the owner of a house have authority over it? If God is the creator of the universe, then it is his universe, and he has the right to do with it as he pleases.

In regards to the design argument. If design exists, then by definition the existence of a designer follows necessarily and inescapably. And there is evidence of design. If you found a watch lying there in the forest, you would not think that it was the product of time and chance. Instead, you would instantly recognize its design. Similarly, highly complex machinery like the cell or the eye show more design than the watch.

Atheist 2nd Rebuttal
To say that atheism leads to nihilism is a very small-minded concept. Atheism can cope and be reconciled with moral realism. Since morality is simply the idea of minimizing suffering, why does God need to enter the picture?

It is the idea that morals are grounded in God that is incoherent. If God is a morally perfect being, then does he do good actions because they are good, or are the actions good because God does them. If the former, then morality isn't anchored in God after all. If the latter, then morality is arbitrary, for God could ordain rape, torture, and murder, and those would become the good. Atheists can also live very moral lives, and are underrepresented in prisons.

The watchmaker argument has been undercut by evolution. We know how simple things can gain the appearance of design through nothing more than time and chance. Our bodies also seem to be designed imperfectly, such as the eye, and therefore, could not have been designed.

Finally, God has no scientific basis of existing. so how can belief in him be rational?

My Thoughts
A good showing for both sides. The two sides engaged each other's arguments respectfully, without resort to personal attacks. This led to a very productive debate.

As you can see from the previous section, the debate was fairly one-sided. The theistic side gave four arguments for its position arguments for its position:

1. An argument from necessity
2. The Kalam Argument
3. A series of design arguments
4. A moral argument

The atheist side gave two arguments in favor of its position:

1. Argument from evil
2. Belief in God is not evidence-based

So we have four solid arguments on the theist side against one solid argument and one fallacious argument on the atheist side. Why is the second argument fallacious? Because there are things we all believe in that are not based on evidence. Specifically, the criteria for what counts as evidence are themselves not based on evidence, lest we be arguing in a circle.

So really it's four theistic arguments against one atheistic argument. Let's see how well they did:

Argument from necessity - Went unanswered. This argument goes through

Kalam argument - Challenged the premise that whatever begins to exist has a cause. When asked what can begin to exist without a cause, reply was "the universe." That's question-begging. However, since no arguments were given to support this premise, I'm not sure if this argument goes through.

Teleological Arguments - The watchmaker argument was properly answered. However, the argument from the initial conditions was answered with a blanket statement of "you can't calculate probability afterwards." Anyone who believes this statement should avoid a career in gambling enforcement. How can you possibly catch a cheater if you can't calculate probability afterwards? Another objection is that God requires just as much fine-tuning, although it was never shown why God would require such fine-tuning (and wouldn't any fine-tuning or complexity be explainable by necessity, anyway). This argument goes through.

Moral Argument - The theist side challenged that if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. The atheist side responded that there is an objective moral value system apart from God, namely, reducing suffering. No response to this objection from the theist side. This argument is answered.

Argument From Evil - The atheist side argued that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God would not allow evil to exist. The theist side responded that first, this argument does nothing to refute the existence of a creator. Also, if it is possible that God has sufficient reasons for allowing evil, then God is compatible with evil, and just because you can't see any reasons why God would allow evil does not mean that there are no such reasons. This argument is answered.

This debate was a lot of fun to watch, and I look forward to many more debates.

Bonus: Dan's Disastrous Downfall
The Kalam Cosmological argument is one of the most misunderstood arguments out there. Dan Barker in particular, whose arguments the atheist side borrowed, badly misunderstands why something that begins to exist needs a cause. First, let me lay out three assumptions that I share with Barker.

1. An event is a change in the state of affairs. When an electron moves around a nucleus, that is an event. When light moves through space, that is an event. When a mind produces a thought, that is an event.

2. Time is a sequence of events occurring one after another. When there are no events, there is no time.

3. There is not an infinite number of past events. The past is finite, meaning that there was a first event.

Barker's booming blunder is his assumption that because time began to exist, there is no state of affairs before the first event, and therefore the universe can exist necessarily because there was no time before the universe was. "Asking what existed before the first event is like asking what is north of the north pole." Barker confuses the fact that there was no time before the first event (indeed, the idea of events before the first event is self-contradictory) with the notion that there was no state of affairs before the first event. In fact, if there was a first event, then there had to be some unchanging and therefore timeless state of affairs prior to it. The question is: what was that state of affairs?

On an atheistic view, there was nothing, except perhaps abstract objects such as numbers. How then did this state of affairs give rise to matter, energy, time, and space? If the cause was an impersonal set of sufficient conditions, then it can't exist timelessly, as it is inseparable from its effect. Only a personal agent, an unembodied consciousness can exist timelessly, and then act.

Once you realize this, then admission to those three assumptions leads necessarily and inescapably to a personal creator.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is the Universe Teeming With Extraterrestrial Life?

The Problem
Randall Munroe, of xkcd fame, has been obsessed with this idea that the universe is brimming with other life, and the fact that there isn't much evidence for it. This is known as Fermi's Paradox. There are over 10^11 stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and over 10^22 stars in the observable universe. Our galaxy has had 13 billion years to produce spacefaring civilizations. Even if only a very small percentage of those planets is capable of producing life, certainly we would have found evidence of this by now. Of course, this assumes that the Earth is just a typical planet, that there is nothing special about it or its inhabitants. This is called the mediocrity principle.

So What?
So why would I care whether or not extraterrestrial life exists, let alone whether or not anyone else believes in it? There's nothing at stake religiously. Theism is perfectly compatible with extraterrestrial life. The Bible is silent on the issue (although technically, angels are extraterrestrial beings), so even a Biblicist Fundamentalism is not at odds with a universe brimming with extraterrestrial life. So why then do I care enough about this issue to post on it?

I'm not sure I fully understand it myself, but among metaphysical naturalists like Carl Sagan, it seems necessary to their view that the universe contain abundant extraterrestrial life.

I think the argument is as follows:

1. If the mediocrity principle is true (Earth and humanity are not special), then the universe is teeming with extraterrestrial life

2. The mediocrity principle is true

Conclusion: The universe is teeming with extraterrestrial life

So what's at stake here is the mediocrity principle itself. If it is not true, then such evidence would suggest that we are not the products of random chance, but were designed, and the metaphysical naturalist certainly can't have any of that!

The Odds Against Extraterrestrial Life
What are the odds that extraterrestrial life exists elsewhere in the universe? Carl Sagan believed that it was very high, because he thought that only a few factors were necessary for life to exist, such as right distance from the star and the presence of water. Modern cosmology has advanced significantly since Sagan's days.

The first issue is: what kind of life are we talking about? I am going to define life as "self-replicating organisms that can adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, and use some sort of metabolism." There are three known elements that are candidates for being a base for life: carbon, silicon, and boron. Robert H. Dicke noted various problems with silicon and boron. Silicon is capable of forming far fewer configurations than carbon. Silicon cannot form strings of more than about 100 amino acids, far too short for anything like DNA to form. Boron has other problems: everywhere in the universe, it is enormously scarcer than carbon, and in concentration is toxic to certain life-critical reactions. This is why Dicke deduced that if one wants any sort of advanced life, it must be carbon-based.

Since the 1960s, the list of parameters necessary for a planet being able to sustain life has grown from two to over 320. As science advances, its understanding of what a planet needs to sustain self-replicating molecules has made the prospects of extraterrestrial life increasingly grim.

In fact, the probability that any given planet has the conditions necessary to support life is around 1 in 10^304. There are around 10^22 stars in the observable universe.

Therefore, the probability that any planet anywhere in the observable universe has the ability to sustain life is around 1 in 10^282. Compare that to the chance that you will be killed while reading this blog post by a sudden reversal of the second law of thermodynamics, which is around 1 in 10^80.

What About An Actually Infinite Universe?
Has the existence of extraterrestrial life in the universe been shown to be a near certainty as Amir D. Aczel argues in his book: Probability 1?

Aczel assumes the probability of life existing on any given star system is 1 in 10^14 (a figure that Aczel admits is his own arbitrary guess), that intelligent life will inevitably evolve out of primitive life, and that we are the most advanced civilization in the universe. These are assumed without argument.

Hugh Ross responds to Amir Aczel

But let's examine the argument from Amazon's review page: "In an infinitely large universe, what is the probability of intelligent life on another planet?" It seems to be a certainty. But is it possible that we live in an infinitely large universe?

Mathematical Issues With Actual Infinites
Can an actually infinite number of things exist in reality? I think the very notion is self-contradictory. I addressed this issue in the Kalam Cosmological Argument, but let's briefly go over the issues with actual infinites.

If I had an actually infinite number of marbles, and I gave you half, I would be subtracting actual infinity from actual infinity and end up with actual infinity. If I had an actually infinite number of marbles and I gave you all but 3, then I would be subtracting actual infinity from actual infinity and ending up with a finite number. If I instead gave you all marbles, I'd be subtracting actual infinity from actual infinity and ending up with zero.

In all cases, I am subtracting identical quantities from identical quantities and getting different answers. The distance between any two points can be divided in half, and then in half again, on and on without limit. This is a potential infinite, not an actual infinite. To presuppose that any distance is composed of an actually infinite number of parts is begging the question.

Scientific Issues With An Actually Infinite Universe
The main issue with an actually infinitely large universe is that the universe is not infinitely old. Both the expansion rate and the background radiation show that the universe began to exist about 14 billion years ago.

But this creates an insurmountable problem for any proponent of an actually infinitely large universe. Exactly how much mass did the universe contain the moment after the big bang? It would appear: infinite. But how does an infinite mass even expand and not just collapse into a black hole? Further problems: exactly how quickly does an infinite universe need to expand in order to cross the threshold from finite size to infinite size, and when did the universe cross this threshold?

The red shift in the other galaxies shows that they are receding from us at a finite rate. In fact, astrophysicists can observe the universe at different stages of its life. If the universe expanded at an infinite rate, why are other galaxies observable?

The Travel Problem
The odds are virtually nil that any other planet will by chance alone be able to support life. If there does exist life elsewhere in the galaxy, it would be evidence of design. But what if other life was designed elsewhere? Could it explain UFOs and close encounters?

The mere existence of extraterrestrial life does not mean that extraterrestrial visitors are the cause of UFO phenomena. For any extraterrestrial to visit us, it would have to overcome the problem of traveling from some distant star system to Earth.

In order to reach Earth, extraterrestrial life would have to travel at least hundreds of light years. SETI has eliminated all star systems within 155 light years of Earth as candidates for supporting extraterrestrial life.

In order to transport life across these distances, there is a problem keeping them alive. Outer space contains an enormous amount of radiation and debris. The faster you travel, the greater the damage any craft will sustain, proportional to the square of the craft's velocity. Every time you double the speed, the damage goes up four times. For even the most heavily armored ultra high tech spacecraft, the maximum travel speed will be about 10% the speed of light.

Here's the problem. One speculation for overcoming the time it takes to travel to distant galaxies is to rely on time dilation. When an object is moving close to the speed of light, time slows down. If you could reach speeds very close to the speed of light, a trek from one star system to the next may take a million years, but only seem to the inhabitants of the space ship like it took a few hours. If you can only reach speeds around 10% of the speed of light, time dilation is negligible, so a 1550 year journey will seem like around 1550 years.

Can Wormholes Circumvent the Travel Problem?
A wormhole is a black hole singularity attached to another black hole singularity, where the tails connect. The odds against the tails of these two black holes ever connecting is very remote. The odds of two connected tails remaining connected for any length of time is also remote. Finally, nothing larger than an electron can travel though a wormhole.

Revisiting The Mediocrity Principle

One Man's Modus Ponens Is Another Man's Modus Tollens
In an if a then b statement, modus ponens says "if a is true, then b is true." Modus tollens is the reverse, saying b is false, then a is false.

With the evidence pointing so strongly against extraterrestrial life, we can revise the previous argument as follows:

1. If the mediocrity principle is true (Earth and humanity are not special), then the universe is teeming with extraterrestrial life

2. The universe is not teeming with extraterrestrial life

Conclusion: The mediocrity principle is not true

And why should the mediocrity principle be true in the first place?

Metaphysical Naturalism and Causal Closure: Why Presuppose Them?
Metaphysical Naturalism - a world view and belief system that holds that there is nothing but natural things, forces, and causes of the kind studied by the natural sciences.

Causal Closure - No physical event has a cause outside the physical domain.

I believe that the main reason that the mediocrity principle is asserted in the first place is to protect these two views. If the mediocrity principle is false, then one has to deal with the very real possibility that nature itself was designed by a supernatural entity or entities. Is there any good evidence that either of these notions is true?

I have only come across one argument for either of these notions that does not beg the question, and that is the argument from the success of science. This argument states that the methodology of science, which presupposes that natural effects have only natural causes, has been so successful, that one is justified in asserting that this presupposition is true. I beg to differ.

Suppose a scientist mixes one gram of salt into a glass of water. A miracle (physical event with a cause outside the physical domain) occurs and the amount of salt in the water doubles. The scientist boils the water and finds out that two grams of salt remain. What will the scientist conclude from the experiment? Do you think he will conclude that a miracle occurred, or that, perhaps, he messed up the experiment and forgot to use de-ionized water?

Let's say that these anomalies occur repeatedly. Would a scientist then conclude that something supernatural is occurring? In 1979, two mental magicians, Banachek and Michael Edwards, tricked psionics researchers at Project Alpha that the two really had the ability to manipulate objects such as cameras with their thoughts. While the researchers thought they had a confirmed case of psychic powers, they believed these phenomena were due to naturalistic brain wave activity, not anything supernatural.

Since science is blind to supernatural processes, using science to argue against the supernatural is reasoning in a circle.

So What Are These Encounters, Anyway?
About 95-99% of UFOs have natural explanations. They're really identified objects, such as meteors and the planet Venus. Others are military aircraft, and a few are even hoaxes. What about close encounters?

A close encounter of the first kind is a close visual sighting
A close encounter of the second kind has observable effects on the surrounding environment
A close encounter of the third kind is contact with a UFO being
A close encounter of the fourth kind is an abduction experience
A close encounter of the fifth kind brings physical injury or death

Another possible explanation for these encounters is visitation from beings outside our universe. Given the likelihood that the universe is not a closed system under physics, I believe this is the most plausible explanation.

There are thousands of reports of close encounters, and most of them result in some sort of physical or psychological injury. Objects have been reported to defy the laws of physics, disintegrating and then reassembling, or blacking out radios without any detectable electromagnetic emissions.

The common denominator among these encounters is involvement in the occult. Virtually all close encounters are experienced by individuals involved in spirit channeling and mysticism, astrology, tarot, and crystalology. It is not the astronomers who log thousands of hours each year looking at the night sky who experience such phenomena. The technological knowledge of these visitors seems to be advancing at the same pace as modern science, slightly ahead of lay knowledge, but slightly behind the knowledge of physicists.

The Flake Equation is Useful After All

And this is where the irony sets in. The atheist who mocks the idea of supernatural encounters still might believe that we have overwhelming evidence that we have been visited by extraterrestrial life. But the argument in this panel applies just as well to reports of and visitations by supernatural entities! In other words, there is plenty of credible evidence of supernatural events to anyone who wants to believe.

Further Reading and Viewing

Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men

The rUFO Hypothesis

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 56

clay eater - a poor, uneducated person from a rural area.

clem - to starve

Clintonomics - the economic policies set forth by President Bill Clinton.

and another portmanteau makes it into the dictionary!

Clotho - the Fate who spins the thread of life.

Coca-colonize - to bring (a foreign country) under the influence of U.S. trade, popular culture, and attitudes.

My kind of colonization

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 55

chyme - the semifluid mass into which food is converted by gastric secretion and which passes from the stomach into the small intestine.

circular file - a wastebasket.

Crice -
1.Also, Kirke. Also called Aeaea. Classical Mythology. the enchantress represented by Homer as turning the companions of Odysseus into swine by means of a magic drink.
2.a dangerously or irresistibly fascinating woman.

cisco - any of several whitefishes of the genus Coregonus, of the Great Lakes and smaller lakes of eastern North America.

circle jerk - mutual masturbation among three or more persons. Also applied analogically as stated by Urban Dictionary: When a bunch of blowhards - usually politicians - get together for a debate but usually end up agreeing with each other's viewpoints to the point of redundancy, stroking each other's egos. Basically, it's what happens when the choir preaches to itself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 54

chlorosis - an abnormally yellow color of plant tissues, resulting from partial failure to develop chlorophyll, caused by a nutrient deficiencyor the activities of a pathogen.
2. Also called greensickness. Pathology. a benign type of iron-deficiency anemia in adolescent girls, marked by a pale yellow-green complexion.

Two completely unrelated definitions for the same word.

chocolate soldier -a nonfighting soldier; a serviceman not assigned to combat duty.

cholent - a stewed or baked dish, esp. of meat and beans, served on the Sabbath but cooked the day before or overnight over a slow fire.

I like to make mine with bacon, for irony.

chow-chow -1. a Chinese mixed fruit preserve.
2. a relish of chopped mixed pickles in mustard sauce.

christcross-row - The alphabet

and for one that isn't in the dictionary, but should be:

Chocolate Rain - A horrible and annoying song that became an internet meme because the artist looks like a teenager and has a deep voice. Get over it.

Dictionary Highlights: Day 51

cheese - (slang) to stop; desist.

chilblain - an inflammation of the hands and feet caused by exposure to cold and moisture.

chiller-diller - a frightening or suspenseful story or film; melodrama.

Chinese Chess - a Chinese game, resembling chess, played on a board consisting of two halves, each eight squares by four, with a strip separating them: pieces representing the military of ancient China are placed on the intersections of the lines and the game is won when a general is checkmated

Chinese copy - an exact copy, including all errors.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Genesis and the Big Bang

How old is the universe? Six thousand years? Fourteen billion years? Neither? Both?

Those of you who know my theology know that I hold to Old Earth or Progressive Creationism. I take the creation days to be eras, since the sun does not appear until Day 4, and since Genesis 1 does not give an ending to Day 7.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder has a different idea, however. As an Orthodox Jew, he is committed to the authority of the Talmud, whose authors unanimously agree that "day" means "24 hour period." So he has to either discount Scripture or discount science, right? In an article harmonizing the literal reading of Genesis 1 with the observed age of the universe, he uses time dilation to show how one observer can measure an event as taking 144 hours, while another can measure the same event as taking 14 billion years.

The issue I hold with this interpretation was brought up by the Karaite Jewish scholar Shawn Lichaa. The 3500 year old dialect of Hebrew in which the Pentateuch was written is a lost language. We don't know for sure the exact meaning of every word or its usage, except in the context of other areas of the Bible in which it is used. In the Biblical contexts in which it is used, "yom" always means day, but we don't really know if it had any secondary meanings, or what those meanings were.

The following 50 minute video gives a detailed account of Schroeder's case. It gives a lot of insight into both the nature of relativity and the history of the Talmudists' interpretation of Genesis 1.

Dictionary Highlights: Day 50

cess - luck (usually used in the expression bad cess to): Bad cess to them!

chai - (French) a shed or other aboveground building where a winemaker stores wine in casks.

chairbed - a chair that can be opened out to form a bed.

champagne - (initial capital letter) the sparkling, dry, white table wine from the region of Champagne in France.

champaign - level, open country; plain.

champers - British slang for Champagne

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 48

centillion - a cardinal number represented in the U.S. by 1 followed by 303 zeros, and in Great Britain by 1 followed by 600 zeros.

This would lead to confusion if this number was ever actually used

ceratoid - hornlike; horny.

I can only imagine an English professor using this. "Honey, I'm feeling very ceratoid right now"

cerebrate - to use the mind; think or think about.

Dance to the music. Oh, yeah.

Cerenkov Radiation - radiation produced by a particle passing through a medium at a speed greater than that of light through the medium.

I guessed that this effect was impossible for a particle with mass to accomplish. I guessed wrong.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 47

Catholic Apostolic Church - a nearly extinct English Protestant church established between 1832 and 1835, stressing the imminent coming of the millennium and the reestablishment of the primitive church's ministries.

When your main dogma is that your organization will soon be obsolete, that tends to come true.

cat's pajamas - someone or something wonderful or remarkable. (also cat's meow)

This expression is the bee's knees!

Caucasus - A region between the Black and Caspian seas that includes southwest Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and that forms part of the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia. Inhabited before 2000 B.C., it was the scene of countless invasions over the millennia. Conquered by Russia during the 18th and 19th centuries, the region has vast oil resources, which were a major German objective in World War II. Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the region became the site of various secessionist movements.

Where the term "caucasian" comes from. So I guess I'll visit the mother land in Azerbaijan.

cave canem - Latin for beware of the dog

If I ever get a dog, I will put this on the sign in front of my house.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Dictionary Highlights: Day 39

bush bean - a variety of the common edible bean, Phaseolus vulgaris humilis, characterized by its bushy growth.

butter-and-egg-man - a prosperous businessman from a small town or a farmer who spends his money ostentatiously on visits to a big city.

butterscotch -
1. a flavor produced in puddings, frostings, ice cream, etc., by combining brown sugar, vanilla extract, and butter with other ingredients.
2. a hard, brittle taffy made with butter, brown sugar, etc.
3. a golden brown color.

butts and bounds - the boundary lines of a piece of land, as used in deeds, titles, etc.

butt weld - a weld between two pieces of metal butted together with the abutted ends shortened and thickened and fused together under heat.

Buys-Baller's law - the law stating that if one stands with one's back to the wind, in the Northern Hemisphere the atmospheric pressure will be lower on one's left and in the Southern Hemisphere it will be lower on one's right: descriptive of the relationship of horizontal winds to atmospheric pressure.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 34

brevicaudate - having a short tail.

brisance - the shattering effect of a high explosive.

Brittany - a region in NW France, on a peninsula between the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay: a former duchy and province.

Broadview Heights - a town in N Ohio. 10,920.

brolly - an umbrella

brood parasitism - a form of social parasitism practiced by certain birds, as cuckoos and cowbirds, in which eggs are laid in the nests of other birds, causing them to be hatched and the young reared by the hosts, often at the cost of the hosts' own young.

broomrape - any of various parasitic plants, esp. of the genus Orobanche, living on the roots of broom and other plants.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dictionary Highlights: Day 33

brain drain - a loss of trained professional personnel to another company, nation, etc., that offers greater opportunity.

brandy mint - peppermint

But I much prefer asking for a brandy mint patty. It makes me sound like an alcoholic

brass-collar - unwaveringly faithful to a political party; voting the straight ticket: a brass-collar Republican.

bread-and-butter pickle - an unpeeled slice of cucumber marinated in salt water and boiled with vinegar, celery seed, spices, and brown sugar.

breastwork - a defensive work, usually breast high.

This is the problem with having mixed gender units. "I'm impressed, Private. This is your breast...I mean best work"

Brecksville - a town in N Ohio. 10,132.

Yay for being in the dictionary

break -
–verb (used with object)
1. to smash, split, or divide into parts violently; reduce to pieces or fragments: He broke a vase.
2. to infringe, ignore, or act contrary to (a law, rule, promise, etc.): She broke her promise.
3. to dissolve or annul (often fol. by off): to break off friendly relations with another country.
4. to fracture a bone of (some part of the body): He broke his leg.
5. to lacerate; wound: to break the skin.
6. to destroy or interrupt the regularity, uniformity, continuity, or arrangement of; interrupt: The bleating of a foghorn broke the silence. The troops broke formation.
7. to put an end to; overcome; stop: His touchdown run broke the tie. She found it hard to break the cigarette habit.
8. to discover the system, key, method, etc., for decoding or deciphering (a cryptogram), esp. by the methods of cryptanalysis.
9. to remove a part from (a set or collection): She had to break the set to sell me the two red ones I wanted.
10. to exchange for or divide into smaller units or components: She broke a dollar bill into change. The prism broke the light into all the colors of the rainbow.
11. to make a way through; penetrate: The stone broke the surface of the water.
12. Law.
a. to open or force one's way into (a dwelling, store, etc.).
b. to contest (a will) successfully by judicial action.
13. to make one's way out of, esp. by force: to break jail.
14. to better (a given score or record): He never broke 200 in bowling or 80 in golf.
15. to disclose or divulge personally in speech or writing: He broke the good news to her at dinner.
16. to solve: The police needed only a week to break that case.
17. to rupture (a blood vessel): She almost broke a blood vessel from laughing so hard.
18. to disable or destroy by or as if by shattering or crushing: to break a watch.
19. to cause (a blister, boil, or the like) to burst, as by puncturing: She broke the blister with a needle.
20. to ruin financially; make bankrupt: They threatened to break him if he didn't stop discounting their products.
21. to overcome or wear down the spirit, strength, or resistance of; to cause to yield, esp. under pressure, torture, or the like: They broke him by the threat of blackmail.
22. to dismiss or reduce in rank.
23. to impair or weaken the power, effect, or intensity of: His arm broke the blow.
24. to train to obedience; tame: to break a horse.
25. to train away from a habit or practice (usually fol. by of).
26. Electricity. to render (a circuit) incomplete; stop the flow of (a current).
27. Journalism.
a. to release (a story) for publication or airing on radio or television: They will break the story tomorrow.
b. to continue (a story or article) on another page, esp. when the page is not the following one.
28. Pool. to cause (racked billiard balls) to scatter by striking with the cue ball.
29. Sports.
a. (of a pitcher, bowler, etc.) to hurl (a ball) in such a way as to cause it to change direction after leaving the hand: He broke a curve over the plate for a strike.
b. (in tennis and other racket games) to score frequently or win against (an opponent's serve).
30. Nautical. to unfurl (a flag) suddenly by an easily released knot.
31. to prove the falsity or show the lack of logic of: The FBI broke his alibi by proving he knew how to shoot a pistol.
32. to begin or initiate (a plan or campaign), esp. with much publicity: They were going to break the sales campaign with a parade in April.
33. to open the breech or action of (a shotgun, rifle, or revolver), as by snapping open the hinge between the barrel and the butt.
–verb (used without object)
34. to shatter, burst, or become broken; separate into parts or fragments, esp. suddenly and violently: The glass broke on the floor.
35. to become suddenly discontinuous or interrupted; stop abruptly: She pulled too hard and the string broke.
36. to become detached, separated, or disassociated (usually fol. by away, off, or from): The knob broke off in his hand.
37. to become inoperative or to malfunction, as through wear or damage: The television set broke this afternoon.
38. to begin suddenly or violently or change abruptly into something else: War broke over Europe.
39. to begin uttering a sound or series of sounds or to be uttered suddenly: She broke into song. When they entered, a cheer broke from the audience.
40. to express or start to express an emotion or mood: His face broke into a smile.
41. to free oneself or escape suddenly, as from restraint or dependency (often fol. by away): He broke away from the arresting officer. She finally broke away from her parents and got an apartment of her own.
42. to run or dash toward something suddenly (usually fol. by for): The pass receiver broke for the goal line.
43. to force a way (usually fol. by in, into, or through): The hunters broke through the underbrush.
44. to burst or rupture: A blood vessel broke in his nose. The blister broke when he pricked it.
45. to interrupt or halt an activity (usually fol. by in, into, forth, or from): Don't break in on the conversation. Let's break for lunch.
46. to appear or arrive suddenly (usually fol. by in, into, or out): A deer broke into the clearing. A rash broke out on her arm.
47. to dawn: The day broke hot and sultry.
48. to begin violently and suddenly: The storm broke.
49. (of a storm, foul weather, etc.) to cease: The weather broke after a week, and we were able to sail for home.
50. to part the surface of water, as a jumping fish or surfacing submarine.
51. to give way or fail, as health, strength, or spirit; collapse: After years of hardship and worry, his health broke.
52. to yield or submit to pressure, torture, or the like: He broke under questioning.
53. (of the heart) to be overwhelmed with sorrow: Her heart broke when he told her that he no longer loved her.
54. (of the voice or a musical instrument) to change harshly from one register or pitch to another: After his voice broke, he could no longer sing soprano parts.
55. (of the voice) to cease, waver, or change tone abruptly, esp. from emotional strain: His voice broke when he mentioned her name.
56. (of value or prices) to drop sharply and considerably.
57. to disperse or collapse by colliding with something: The waves broke on the shore.
58. to break dance.
59. (of a horse in a harness race) to fail to keep to a trot or pace, as by starting to gallop.
60. Botany. to mutate; sport.
61. Linguistics. to undergo breaking.
62. Billiards, Pool. to make a break; take the first turn in a game.
63. Sports. (of a pitched or bowled ball) to change direction: The ball broke over the plate.
64. Horse Racing, Track. to leave the starting point: The horses broke fast from the gate.
65. Boxing. to step back or separate from a clinch: The fighters fell into a clinch and broke on the referee's order.
66. to take place; occur.
67. Journalism. to become known, published, or aired: The story broke in the morning papers.
68. Horticulture. to produce flowers or leaves.
69. an act or instance of breaking; disruption or separation of parts; fracture; rupture: There was a break in the window.
70. an opening made by breaking; gap: The break in the wall had not been repaired.
71. a rush away from a place; an attempt to escape: a break for freedom.
72. a sudden dash or rush, as toward something: When the rain lessened, I made a break for home.
73. a suspension of or sudden rupture in friendly relations.
74. an interruption of continuity; departure from or rupture with: Abstract painters made a break with the traditions of the past.
75. an abrupt or marked change, as in sound or direction, or a brief pause: They noticed a curious break in his voice.
76. Informal.
a. an opportunity or stroke of fortune, esp. a lucky one.
b. a chance to improve one's lot, esp. one unlooked for or undeserved.
77. the breaks, Informal. the way things happen; fate: Sorry to hear about your bad luck, but I guess those are the breaks.
78. a brief rest, as from work: The actors took a ten-minute break from rehearsal.
79. Radio, Television. a brief, scheduled interruption of a program or broadcasting period for the announcement of advertising or station identification.
80. Prosody. a pause or caesura.
81. Jazz. a solo passage, usually of from 2 to 12 bars, during which the rest of the instruments are silent.
82. Music. the point in the scale where the quality of voice of one register changes to that of another, as from chest to head.
83. break dancing.
84. a sharp and considerable drop in the prices of stock issues.
85. Electricity. an opening or discontinuity in a circuit.
86. Printing.
a. one or more blank lines between two paragraphs.
b. breaks. suspension points.
87. the place, after a letter, where a word is or may be divided at the end of a line.
88. a collapse of health, strength, or spirit; breakdown.
89. Informal. an indiscreet or awkward remark or action; social blunder; faux pas.
90. Billiards, Pool. a series of successful strokes; run.
91. Pool. the opening play, in which the cue ball is shot to scatter the balls.
92. Sports. a change in direction of a pitched or bowled ball.
93. Horse Racing, Track. the start of a race.
94. (in harness racing) an act or instance of a horse's changing from a trot or pace into a gallop or other step.
95. Bowling. a failure to knock down all ten pins in a single frame.
96. Boxing. an act or instance of stepping back or separating from a clinch: a clean break.
97. any of several stages in the grinding of grain in which the bran is separated from the kernel.
98. Botany. a sport.
99. Journalism. the point at the bottom of a column where a printed story is carried over to another column or page.
100. Nautical. the place at which a superstructure, deckhouse, or the like, rises from the main deck of a vessel.
101. breaks, Physical Geography. an area dissected by small ravines and gullies.
102. Mining. a fault or offset, as in a vein or bed of ore.
103. break away,
a. to leave or escape, esp. suddenly or hurriedly.
b. to sever connections or allegiance, as to tradition or a political group.
c. to start prematurely: The horse broke away from the starting gate.
104. break back, Tennis. to win a game served by an opponent immediately after the opponent has done so against one's own serve.
105. break down,
a. to become ineffective.
b. to lose control; weaken: He broke down and wept at the sad news.
c. to have a physical or mental collapse.
d. to cease to function: The car broke down.
e. to itemize: to break down a hotel bill into daily charges.
f. Chemistry. to separate (a compound) into its constituent molecules.
g. Electricity. (of an insulator) to fail, as when subjected to excessively high voltage, permitting a current to pass.
h. to decompose.
i. to analyze.
j. to classify.
k. to separate into constituent parts: to break down a beef carcass into basic cuts.
106. break in,
a. to enter by force or craft: Someone broke in and made off with all the furniture.
b. to train or instruct; initiate: The boss is breaking in a new assistant.
c. to begin to wear or use in order to make comfortable: These shoes haven't been broken in.
d. to interrupt: He broke in with a ridiculous objection.
e. to run (new machinery) initially under reduced load and speed, until any stiffness of motion has departed and all parts are ready to operate under normal service conditions; run in; wear in.
107. break in on or upon, to enter with force upon or accidentally interrupt; intrude upon: The visitor opened the wrong door and broke in on a private conference.
108. break into,
a. to interpose; interrupt: He broke into the conversation at a crucial moment.
b. to begin some activity.
c. to be admitted into; enter, as a business or profession: It is difficult to break into the theater.
d. to enter by force: They broke into the store and stole the safe.
109. break off,
a. to sever by breaking.
b. to stop suddenly; discontinue: to break off a conversation; to break off relations with one's neighbors.
110. break out,
a. to begin abruptly; arise: An epidemic broke out.
b. Pathology. (of certain diseases) to appear in eruptions.
c. (of a person) to manifest a skin eruption.
d. to prepare for use: to break out the parachutes.
e. to take out of (storage, concealment, etc.) for consumption: to break out one's best wine.
f. Nautical. to dislodge (the anchor) from the bottom.
g. to escape; flee: He spent three years in prison before he broke out.
h. to separate into categories or list specific items: to break out gift ideas according to price range; The report breaks out quarterly profits and losses.
111. break up,
a. to separate; scatter.
b. to put an end to; discontinue.
c. to divide or become divided into pieces.
d. to dissolve.
e. to disrupt; upset: Television commercials during a dramatic presentation break up the continuity of effect.
f. (of a personal relationship) to end: to break up a friendship; Their marriage broke up last year.
g. to end a personal relationship: Bob and Mary broke up last month.
h. to be or cause to be overcome with laughter: The comedian told several jokes that broke up the audience.
112. break with,
a. to sever relations with; separate from: to break with one's family.
b. to depart from; repudiate: to break with tradition.
113. break bulk, Nautical. to remove a cargo wholly or in part.
114. break camp, to pack up tents and equipment and resume a journey or march: They broke camp at dawn and proceeded toward the mountains.
115. break even, to finish a business transaction, period of gambling, series of games, etc., with no loss or gain: He played poker all night and broke even.
116. break ground,
a. to begin construction, esp. of a building or group of buildings: to break ground for a new housing development.
b. Nautical. to free an anchor from the bottom; break out.
117. break it down, Australian Slang.
a. stop it; calm down.
b. (used as an exclamation of disbelief) that can't be true!
118. break one's heart. heart (def. 20).
119. break service, Tennis. to win a game served by one's opponent.
120. break sheer, Nautical. (of an anchored vessel) to drift into such a position as to risk fouling the anchor or anchor cable. Compare sheer 2 (def. 6).
121. break step. step (def. 37).
122. break wind. wind 1 (def. 26).

Funny thing is, most of these definitions are just figurative usages of the primary definition.