Can "why" exist?

Joe_Canon
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Can "why" exist?

A question perplexes me and I'd love for both theists and atheists alike to respond to this if they would. As far as I understand evolution (and, by extension, atheism?), there is no "why." Things exist and that is all. Based on certain conditions (eternal matter; cosmic forces; etc.) the earth came into existence and so did life. There is still no "why"; there just "is." Through evolution, life made its way up to the state it is now. Still, there is no "why"; there only "is." And yet, humanity is plagued with the question of why the universe exists (some cultures focus more upon it than others, to be sure). Here is my question then: Can a concept exist if it has no objective reality? If there is no meaning (beyond that which we attach through our mind, self, consciousness, whatever) then how can we even conceive of the concept of meaning? How can "why" exist (or, I suppose, have so much significance) for creatures begotten through a process with no intrinsic meaning? Thoughts?


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"Why" requires intent, and

"Why" requires intent, and therefore some kind of conscious choice must be made to do a thing, rather than to be helplessly compelled to do so as a natural consequence of forces already in motion. This brings up the question of causal determinism, and whether there is such a thing as choice. But... subjectively speaking, all the "whys" we experience are our own; whether they're our own choices, or projections onto fellow creatures, or natural events.

 


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"How" is more important. As

"How" is more important. As an atheist why we exist does not matter because it indicates choice which is only possible if there was a god which there isn't. If you were christian you might say that we exist because god is very needy and requires validation so he created humans to love and worship him yet can't be bothered showing himself (apparently he has a complex, disturbed psyche).

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Joe_Canon wrote:Here is my

Joe_Canon wrote:
Here is my question then: Can a concept exist if it has no objective reality?

Of course! Otherwise we would have no invention. Unicorns and leprechans couldn't be concepts either if we weren't able to conceive of things different from reality.

Joe_Canon wrote:
If there is no meaning (beyond that which we attach through our mind, self, consciousness, whatever) then how can we even conceive of the concept of meaning?

I guess you mean meaning should then come from somewhere other than us, but from where?

Joe_Canon wrote:
How can "why" exist (or, I suppose, have so much significance) for creatures begotten through a process with no intrinsic meaning?

Because!

Okay, I'm kidding. We have the capacity for planning and reasoning (implying an understanding of time stretching from past to future), so "why" makes its way into our thought process, since an explanation involving cause-and-effect comforts us. Watch CNBC to see this in action. People talk about the money supply and interest rates to explain the collapse of the US dollar, but there are thousands of things that contribute. In reality, there is a simultaneity of many unknowns that contribute to the price action of any commodity, so ultimately the explanations on television are anything from an educated guess to an argument from ignorance.

We can imagine "why" in the same way we can imagine unicorns. Cause and effect is a way of looking at a world that simply "is". "Why" is a question asked to bring comfort. 

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Joe, do you know what an

Joe, do you know what an equivocation is?  It's a very common logical error that just about everybody makes all the time.  It's when we use one word that has two or more meanings, and then try to prove something by switching the meanings around.

For instance:

1. I have loved my father every day of my life.

2. I made love to my girlfriend last night.

3.  OOOOOH.... GROSS!!!  That dude has sex with his father!!

Clearly, the meaning of love is different in #1 and #2, so there's no way that we can deduce anything meaningful from the two statements.  That's a really silly version of an equivocation.

"Why" has several meanings.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  Because he had the purpose of getting to the other side.  Why does the sun shine?  Because the consequence of nuclear fusion is visible radiation.

Purpose requires intent, which requires consciousness.  There is no evidence that there is consciousness which made or rules over or otherwise influences the universe as a whole.  Beyond that, there's a lot of evidence against it.  Consciousness requires life, which is organic, which requires matter.  Before the universe was created**, there was no suitable arrangement of matter and energy from which life could have evolved.  Without further evidence, it's a pretty rock solid case.

So, there is no "Why" (purpose) to the universe.

Life evolved through a set of events which were not consciously set into motion.  However, just as there was a time win lungs didn't exist, there was also a time when purpose didn't exist.  Purpose is a result of the ability to think, which hasn't always existed.  There's no reason that purpose must have always existed for it to exist today.

Quote:
Can a concept exist if it has no objective reality?

A concept is an objective reality, so no.  There are many things that exist only in the minds of conscious beings.  Math, for instance.  Math is nothing more than a game that humans play to help quantify the world around them.  I can show you one apple, but I cannot show you one.  One exists only as a concept.  However, it does exist.

Where people often get confused is in thinking that a concept must have a basis in objective reality.  In other words, it's the old, "If I can conceive of God, then he must exist, for how else could I conceive of that which is beyond conception?"

This is just semantic nonsense.  I have just made up the word "Fliinglobberal."  It is now a concept in my head.  Furthermore, I've just decided that fliinglobberal is the funkstification of transcendent invisible green non-light.  Here's the thing.  Fliinglobberal has no basis in reality.  Non-light cannot be green, for green is inherently light-based.  Transcendent of what?  What the hell is funkstification?  It is a nonsense sentence.

Even though this thing cannot possibly exist, my mind has done a strange thing.  It has made a box in my memory for fliinglobberal.  If you ask me in an hour, I can recall this conversation and explain again, in more or less the same detail, exactly what it is.  The concept exists as an objective reality in my brain, but has no corresponding material existence.

 

** (Added this in edit because I'm too dense to remember on the first try.)  I used the word "created" on purpose to illustrate a point.  Created and made have extremely similar meanings, and we often use them interchangeably.  "Look ma!  I made a sand castle!"  "Look, ma! I created a sand castle!"  Same thing, right?  Ok, the thing is, we can also use made for non-purpose.  "Look, ma!  The waves made a shape like a dragon's tail!"  It's tempting to just randomly use the words create and make, since they both mean essentially the same thing.  Many creationist types will jump all over someone who uses the word create.  They will say, "See!  You admit the universe has purpose!"  In reality, it's just another example of equivocation.  When someone absentmindedly uses create in a non-purpose way, and someone else interprets it as purpose, it's a neato little interpersonal equivocation.

 

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Hambydammit

Hambydammit wrote:

Furthermore, I've just decided that fliinglobberal is the funkstification of transcendent invisible green non-light.

I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but I'm made of roughly 75% funkstification.

Saint Will: no gyration without funkstification.
fabulae! nil satis firmi video quam ob rem accipere hunc mi expediat metum. - Terence


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Quote:I'm not sure if you're

Quote:
I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but I'm made of roughly 75% funkstification.

Damn Onion reader!

 

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Hambydammit wrote:Damn Onion

Hambydammit wrote:

Damn Onion reader!

Today: Delicious Snacks Distract Congressman from Horrors of War

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fabulae! nil satis firmi video quam ob rem accipere hunc mi expediat metum. - Terence


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imprecision

I fear your lesson in equivocation was the fault of poor wording. When I mentioned "why" I should have mentioned "meaning." That is what I was ultimately wondering about. I also figured Kant's ideas would be looming large upon this horizon. I guess what I was also after was a more definite understanding of how the concept of meaning relates to consciousness-- why something like meaning would come to dominate a species in the meaningless system of evolution, instead of humanity remaining instinctual like animal kin. I'm still not sure I'm convinced it could have arisen in a meaningless system, but I appreciate some of the answers here. Many are worth considering.


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All I know is that

All I know is that "Why" can go on forever, since you can never reach a singularity/answer it really has no meaning(which is a scary thought). The Universe knows nothing of "why", it just does what it does...

Slimm, 

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Joe_Canon wrote:I fear your

Joe_Canon wrote:
I fear your lesson in equivocation was the fault of poor wording.  When I mentioned "why" I should have mentioned "meaning."

Okay, but it's not equivocation when it's miscommunication.

Joe_Canon wrote:
I also figured Kant's ideas would be looming large upon this horizon.

Not necessarily. Kant has the problem of starting with an assumption and then being brilliant after that. It makes it difficult to say, "Oh, can we just forget Kant?" but at the same time, his reasoning incorporated so much supernatural assumption that for the purposes of these discussions, he's totally misleading.

Joe_Canon wrote:
I guess what I was also after was a more definite understanding of how the concept of meaning relates to consciousness-- why something like meaning would come to dominate a species in the meaningless system of evolution, instead of humanity remaining instinctual like animal kin.

But evolution is a very focused system. You would be confused on the issue if you thought it lacked meaning. Maybe a quick read of Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene" would help. He's a better biologist than a metaphysician - there's no God stuff in there that I recall. It might give you a better idea of evolution instead of calling the process meaningless.

Your definition of meaning is unclear to me. You don't need to cite a dictionary or encyclopedia - your definition is good enough, since it's your understanding of meaning that's important. I'm not about to pick apart a definition unless it's to understand exactly what your idea of meaning is better.

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Consciousness is simply a

Consciousness is simply a product of evolution.  There does not need to be a specific intended meaning behind it.  It simply exists as a result of the genes that produced it being able to mate better than the genes that could not.  Many species think and are aware on different levels, and it should be obvious that in todays evolutionary state that those species would not survive without their level of thinking skills.  Humans have taken that to a further degree than a lot of animals.  I don't think there needs to be a "why" answered here though so much as a "how".  How did we develop this? How unique is our consciousness or is it developing in other species in that it could eventually match our own?

Searching for intent behind something does not provide information, it just presents ideas and stories.  When there is a murder trial, the "why" question will come up but is meaningless without the evidence that a person exists, the person could have feasibly committed the crime, as well as evidence to suggest that they did.  Discovering the intent or the "why" does not affect the conclusion of "if" or "how".  It does not provide information, it just provides meta-data and perhaps context. 

If you ask the question of "why" without any information that would lead to "if" then you are doing nothing more than inventing stories. 

This is an area where I think theists and atheists should easily find ground to work on, though it has never been true.  If a theist wanted to find a deity solving the question of "how" would sure help lead them on the road to then solving the "if" question prior to attempting to answer the "why". Find out "how" the crime was committed, find out "who/if" committed the crime first.  Then you'll find that your search for meaning, regardless of your belief in a deity, is premature.

 

*Note: I know that the process in solving a murder is not quite that linear, but I hope that my intended meaning is there none-the-less.


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Quote:I fear your lesson in

Quote:
I fear your lesson in equivocation was the fault of poor wording.

It's a good lesson, nonetheless.  I'm sure someone reading this was in need.

Quote:
I guess what I was also after was a more definite understanding of how the concept of meaning relates to consciousness-- why something like meaning would come to dominate a species in the meaningless system of evolution, instead of humanity remaining instinctual like animal kin.

Because of the ability to understand abstraction.

Next question?

 

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hiswillness

HisWillness wrote:

[

Joe_Canon wrote:
I also figured Kant's ideas would be looming large upon this horizon.

HisWillness wrote:
Not necessarily. Kant has the problem of starting with an assumption and then being brilliant after that. It makes it difficult to say, "Oh, can we just forget Kant?" but at the same time, his reasoning incorporated so much supernatural assumption that for the purposes of these discussions, he's totally misleading.

I didn't mean all of Kant's arguments or ideas; but rather, his specific address to the ontological argument of Anselm upon which I thought my idea might be sharing a common border or precept. 

HisWillness wrote:
But evolution is a very focused system. You would be confused on the issue if you thought it lacked meaning. Maybe a quick read of Dawkins's "The Selfish Gene" would help. He's a better biologist than a metaphysician - there's no God stuff in there that I recall. It might give you a better idea of evolution instead of calling the process meaningless.

This is branching into a different idea, but let me ask- what meaning does it have?  Other than the meaning which we apply (and perhaps we are arguing the same thing) as humans, what ultimate purpose is there?  There is propagation of species, survival, etc.  But there is nothing significant about this process (I am not saying that in a negative way).  This brings a question to my mind.  If atheism insists (and I have read many posts here that do) that humans must find  meaning apart from religion, what do those do who have tried athiesm/rationalism/materialism and found it wanting?  Are they just not smart enough or good enough at applying meaning to their lives? 

 

HisWillness wrote:
Your definition of meaning is unclear to me. You don't need to cite a dictionary or encyclopedia - your definition is good enough, since it's your understanding of meaning that's important. I'm not about to pick apart a definition unless it's to understand exactly what your idea of meaning is bette/r.

I am unsure what you are asking here.  My definition was unclear to you but good enough for you?   I did not consult  a dictionary for a defintion, but should I have? 

 


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Quote:If atheism insists

Quote:
If atheism insists (and I have read many posts here that do) that humans must find  meaning apart from religion, what do those do who have tried athiesm/rationalism/materialism and found it wanting?  Are they just not smart enough or good enough at applying meaning to their lives?

Regardless of what particular atheists say, there is no "must" about it.  Everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, finds meaning.  The difference between atheists and theists is that theists make an anthropomorphic error and think that because they find individual meaning, that there must be a "higher meaning."

I already answered your question.  The ability to abstract makes purpose possible.  A plant grows because that is what plants do.  A human can say that the plant is growing so that it can reproduce, but this is no more a part of the plant's agenda then anything else.  It has no agenda.  It is simply doing what plants do.  People, on the other hand, can imagine future events (abstract reasoning) and predict a consequence of a series of events.  This is the cause of the existence of purpose.

Clearly, since before any being had an abstract thought, there was no purpose, there could be no purpose behind the emergence of purpose in life.

 

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I follow; I follow.  Those

I follow; I follow.  Those who say there is no ultimate (religious) meaning have the right answer.  But what of those who pursue this meaning (or non-meaning)/explanation for life and find it unsatisfactory?  Are they just not as good at filling life with non-religious meaning as atheists?  Are they not as enlightened?


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Quote:  Are they just not

Quote:
  Are they just not as good at filling life with non-religious meaning as atheists?  Are they not as enlightened?

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If that were true, would it prove anything?

 

 

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Thanks OP , and so next

  Thanks OP ,  and so next time you / me , suck / eat on another , WHY feel guilty ???   


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Joe_Canon wrote:I didn't

Joe_Canon wrote:
I didn't mean all of Kant's arguments or ideas; but rather, his specific address to the ontological argument of Anselm upon which I thought my idea might be sharing a common border or precept.

Could be. Let me know what you find out. I'm not sure what your ontological argument is, so ...

Joe_Canon wrote:
This is branching into a different idea, but let me ask- what meaning does it have?

We're the only creature that demands (and thus creates) meaning. You may have been raised in an environment wherein there are other creatures that define meaning, but their existence is controversial to say the least. So what I'm thinking is you may need someone apart from yourself to define your meaning, and that might be a psychological need.

Joe_Canon wrote:
This brings a question to my mind.  If atheism insists (and I have read many posts here that do) that humans must find  meaning apart from religion, what do those do who have tried athiesm/rationalism/materialism and found it wanting?  Are they just not smart enough or good enough at applying meaning to their lives?

This is getting pretty hypothetical. It's to to the point where I can't actually answer the question. What happens when it's difficult to find meaning? Um, read some Viktor Frankl? I'm not sure. The mechanism you bring up with religion is interesting, though. We seem to demand explanations for things (as I think I mentioned, it's comforting) so when we get desperate enough, we'll accept a crappy explanation. Thus religion. But "meaning" - I'm guessing you're talking about "purpose"? Or ... actually, I don't know.

Joe_Canon wrote:
I am unsure what you are asking here.  My definition was unclear to you but good enough for you?   I did not consult  a dictionary for a defintion, but should I have?

No, you never defined "meaning". I was just telling you that whatever definition of "meaning" you wanted to use for the purposes of this discussion was okay.

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Joe_Canon wrote:A question

Joe_Canon wrote:

A question perplexes me and I'd love for both theists and atheists alike to respond to this if they would. As far as I understand evolution (and, by extension, atheism?), there is no "why." Things exist and that is all. Based on certain conditions (eternal matter; cosmic forces; etc.) the earth came into existence and so did life. There is still no "why"; there just "is." Through evolution, life made its way up to the state it is now. Still, there is no "why"; there only "is." And yet, humanity is plagued with the question of why the universe exists (some cultures focus more upon it than others, to be sure). Here is my question then: Can a concept exist if it has no objective reality? If there is no meaning (beyond that which we attach through our mind, self, consciousness, whatever) then how can we even conceive of the concept of meaning? How can "why" exist (or, I suppose, have so much significance) for creatures begotten through a process with no intrinsic meaning? Thoughts?

 

Human beings tend to think in the abstract. Often, a technical answer doesn't satisfy us. Life, for example, exists to reproduce. It continues to exist because it reproduces, but this answer really only satisfies those of us with a scientific world view who frankly don't expect that life has a meaning as is colloquially considered. We don't think of the universe as analogous to a book, a painting, or anything else that was designed, because the universe was not designed.

“It is true that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. It is equally true that in the land of the blind, the two-eyed man is an enemy of the state, the people, and domestic tranquility… and necessarily so. Someone has to rearrange the furniture.”


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   FulltimeDefendent  ,

   FulltimeDefendent  , yeah ,   ... "because the universe was not designed"

, yup, as there was no beginning , as far I can figure from the evidence ..... I thank GAWED, there is no god of abe !  ..... thank you, thank you,  science !  

 


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Hambydammit wrote:Quote: 

Hambydammit wrote:

Quote:
  Are they just not as good at filling life with non-religious meaning as atheists?  Are they not as enlightened?

Reply

If that were true, would it prove anything?

 

 

 

touche, question with a question.  But I asked first.  What do you think?  Are those who cannot find the correct meaning(s) in life (non-religious) not as capable as those who can?


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Quote:touche, question with

Quote:
touche, question with a question.  But I asked first.  What do you think?  Are those who cannot find the correct meaning(s) in life (non-religious) not as capable as those who can?

I'll answer, but then you have to answer my question.

If, by correct, you mean "most inherently rational and empirical," then yes, those who find less rational answers to life's questions are less capable rationalists than those who find more rational answers.

If, by correct, you mean "The One True Meaning In Life,"  well... duh.  That's a theist belief, not an atheist belief, so your question is meaningless to me.  I don't believe in one correct purpose in life.

Now, your turn.  If I am right, and some people are better than others at answering questions correctly, what does that prove, other than the obvious fact that some people are smarter than others?

 

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well said, well said

You have answered.  And for that I am in your debt.  The true significance in life lies not in finding religious meaning;  by rationalist/atheist standards, one is obligated to pursue only rational meaning in life.  Those who try the atheist metaphysics and fail to find their lives meaningful have only themselves to blame.  They are not as smart. 

To answer your question: it proves nothing.  I was just exploring the idea and its implications.  Pondering my ignorance!


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Joe_Canon wrote:Those who

Joe_Canon wrote:
Those who try the atheist metaphysics and fail to find their lives meaningful have only themselves to blame.  They are not as smart. 

Oh c'mon. Anyone who tries metaphysics, no matter how smart, has to smell a little bullshit. It's more of a way of discussing things than a way to find reality.

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My understanding of the term

My understanding of the term is: "the study of reality."  Rationalism would fall into this category, as it makes certain claims and assumptions about the nature of reality; it studies reality.  Perhaps that definition is false though.  I am at least assuming you meant something a little broader.


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Joe_Canon, you assume too

Joe_Canon, you assume too much from my answer.  I do not claim to have a more meaningful life or a better life than someone who has never even heard the words 'metaphysical' or 'atheist.'  It may sound paradoxical, but only if you believe that life is objectively better when you find external or internal 'meaning' does the search for meaning become important.  To those who don't particularly care about finding meaning, their life, ironically, has its own meaning.

You asked an almost tautological question:  Are those who get better objective answers about the nature of reality better at answering questions than those who don't?  Well, duh.  That's how we measure how good someone is at answering questions.

I said nothing about the relative quality of life of an atheist who gets the answers right and someone who doesn't understand the answers.

 

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Quote:The true significance

Quote:
The true significance in life lies not in finding religious meaning;  by rationalist/atheist standards, one is obligated to pursue only rational meaning in life.

True, in the epistemological sense, but you must not extend this farther than it belongs.  A person who espouses rationalism can still believe in the tooth fairy if he desires.  There are no 'rationalist police' that will arrest him, as the obligation is simply the nature of rationalism itself.  The only potential problem will come if he makes his belief public to other rationalists, at which time, he will be properly chided for his lack of rationality.

Put another way, a rationalist being, by definition, one who believes in the inherent correctness of rationalism, is not forcing himself against his will to think rationally.  He is doing it because he believes it to be the best way to think.  The word, 'obligation,' makes it sound as if he's doing something distasteful or contrary to his desires.

 

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touche, hambi, touche. 

touche, hambi, touche.  Your points are well made.  They will be well considered.


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Joe_Canon wrote:My

Joe_Canon wrote:
My understanding of the term [metaphysics] is: "the study of reality."  Rationalism would fall into this category, as it makes certain claims and assumptions about the nature of reality; it studies reality.  Perhaps that definition is false though.  I am at least assuming you meant something a little broader.

I was contrasting the success of metaphysics and, oh ... say ... physics at actually ascertaining the nature of reality.

Physics: mechanics, electromagnetics, relativity, quantum theory

Metaphysics: logically manipulating sometimes valid statements

Thanks for nothing, metaphysics.

Saint Will: no gyration without funkstification.
fabulae! nil satis firmi video quam ob rem accipere hunc mi expediat metum. - Terence


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Quote:Physics: mechanics,

Quote:

Physics: mechanics, electromagnetics, relativity, quantum theory

Metaphysics: logically manipulating sometimes valid statements

Thanks for nothing, metaphysics.

Praise be to the Great Funkstifier!  I feel the funk!

 

 

(It's nothing a shower and shave won't cure... I'm sure...)

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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I'll restate that.

Those who adopt the conception of reality as proposed by materialists and find it an unsatisfactory or unfullfilling way to live are not as good at understanding reality.


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Yes , agree , there

   Those who reject materialism are indeed strange thinkers ? Was that it Joe ? If so ,

Yes , agree ,  there is no such thing as "nothing" .... and so, no beginning, no purpose, no creator, NO  MASTER .....  we are on our own ..... go science ..... faster faster evolution .....     

Hey, but we could start a religion about the something from nothing .....

and call it GOD-MA .....   ummmm, now why would anyone do that  ? ? ? ?  Oh mommy mommy ..... Ma Ma Papa Papa , I AM afraid  ,  born terrified  !      

Hamby the dammit , RRS author , knows a little  !!!!!        


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Joe_Canon wrote:Those who

Joe_Canon wrote:

Those who adopt the conception of reality as proposed by materialists and find it an unsatisfactory or unfullfilling way to live are not as good at understanding reality.

Is that a complicated false dichotomy? Anyone?

Hypothetical unsatisfied materialist isn't good at understanding reality? Hey, I'd be unfulfilled if I was a materialist and I couldn't understand reality. Is that what you're driving at?

C'mon. Materialism is just accepting matter as the stuff everything is made of. That's it. If you want to get more complicated, that includes the energy-matter equivalence. What's so rough about that?

Saint Will: no gyration without funkstification.
fabulae! nil satis firmi video quam ob rem accipere hunc mi expediat metum. - Terence


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Quote:Those who adopt the

Quote:
Those who adopt the conception of reality as proposed by materialists and find it an unsatisfactory or unfullfilling way to live are not as good at understanding reality.

False Assumption 1: Reality is here to make humans satisfied and fulfilled.

False Assumption 2: Understanding Reality = Being Fulfilled

 

Many understand reality very well and find it depressing and unfulfilling.  Many understand reality poorly and lead very happy and fulfilled lives.  Many understand reality and revel in it.  Many understand reality poorly and are depressed.

No connection.

 

 

 

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Well, I'm no philosophy

Well, I'm no philosophy major or anything, in fact I'm a high school student, but non existence always seemed like a paradox to me, well not a paradox maybe - but something totally unimaginable.

I try not to think a lot about it because really I have no good answer, but w/e - I'm here and I exist and instead of trying to find out how I got here I concentrate on where I'm going.

 


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Hamby, as a borderline

Hamby, as a borderline rationalist/theist what does one do with data that points away from materialism?  I have difficulty believing (and I realize this does not make it true one way or the other) that the miraculous claims I have been privy to are all either false testimony or a projection of the mind.  On the one hand, the people reporting many of these are some of the most genuine people I know.  On the other hand, the miracles they have mentioned are not something that could simply be a projection of the mind.  They are tangible events not just apparitions or ghosts. 

Thoughts?


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   ummm, Luther's, "Pluck

   ummm, Luther's, "Pluck out the eye of reason", takes on a new meaning for me , like buddha saying its all a miracle , so what !     .... as some would call their superstition reasoning.

 (( BTW, ST. Martin Luther was NUTS and an extreme Jew hater.... a devil freak , an honored religious Saint !  The Lutheran church ..... geezzzz  

What miracles ?????  Is one thing a miracle , and another not ? All is ONE ....


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Joe_Canon wrote:I have

Joe_Canon wrote:
I have difficulty believing (and I realize this does not make it true one way or the other) that the miraculous claims I have been privy to are all either false testimony or a projection of the mind.  On the one hand, the people reporting many of these are some of the most genuine people I know.

As you say, it doesn't make it true one way or the other. If you want to know that it's true, then there's a greater amount of work to be done than trusting that because someone is genuine, that they aren't making it up or under some complicated delusion. It's not really "data" until you start entering the realm of data collection and statistical consideration. What you have until then is anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence is still evidence, it's just not sufficient to a degree that would pass muster in the realm of really knowing (science).

Joe_Canon wrote:
On the other hand, the miracles they have mentioned are not something that could simply be a projection of the mind.  They are tangible events not just apparitions or ghosts.

You'd be amazed what people can believe (or think they see).

Saint Will: no gyration without funkstification.
fabulae! nil satis firmi video quam ob rem accipere hunc mi expediat metum. - Terence


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Quote:Hamby, as a borderline

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Hamby, as a borderline rationalist/theist what does one do with data that points away from materialism?

The same thing one does with any data.  Subject it to rigorous testing to see if it is valid, falsifiable, and repeatable.  If it does not meet these criteria, one discards it, regardless of the emotional desire to believe it.

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I have difficulty believing (and I realize this does not make it true one way or the other) that the miraculous claims I have been privy to are all either false testimony or a projection of the mind.

The human mind did not evolve with the goal of making us rational creatures.  To the contrary, much of what science and logic tells us is contrary to our emotional and intuitive sense.  Our intuition evolved as a selective adaptation to the demands of surviving as hunter-gatherers.  Expedience was more valuable than abstract logical correctness.  (As an example, our fight or flight instinct is quite contrary to many demands today.  We know we will not die when we approach a microphone in front of a huge crowd, but we still have the instinct to flee.  In pre-agricultural society, the tendency to run from anything that might be a tiger proved very valuable, even if it was wrong a lot of the time.)

This is a strong piece of empirical data that must be weighed when we are emotionally drawn to a conclusion.

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They are tangible events not just apparitions or ghosts.

You'd be amazed at how easily mathematics, confirmation bias, and perception bias can explain pretty much any perceived miracle.  Without knowing specifically what your friends have claimed to see, I can't offer any possible explanations, but here's a brief example to let you know what I'm talking about.

 

Suppose that I'm listening to the radio while driving today, and a song I haven't heard in 20 years comes on.  It's a song I particularly liked.  As the song ends, I get out of my car.  To my shock, standing right in front of me is my childhood friend from 20 years ago, who I haven't seen since, and as it turns out, the first song we ever played in our first garage band was the one I was just hearing!

Ok.  What are the odds of this particular event happening?  Astronomically bad.  At first glance, there are millions of songs, billions of people, and the globe itself is huge.  The odds of this particular event happening are so staggeringly bad that it must be more than coincidence.

On further examination, it's not quite as miraculous.  First, when I drive, I constantly change the radio station until I hear a song I like.  I have biased the odds significantly by only listening to songs I enjoy and remember.  Second, the nostalgia industry is very big in music.  Station managers are always looking for "lost gems" from yesteryear, and I'm right in the middle of their target demographic.  Third, if I am not actively searching through the radio, it is likely that I am paying close attention to my driving, which means I will be very unlikely to notice any songs from 20 years ago that I didn't particularly like, or didn't notice then.  In other words, I may have heard ten songs in the last three days that were from the same period, and not only did I not notice them, nothing coincidental happened in conjunction with them. 

While we're on that subject, I listen to the radio every time I get into my car.  I've heard songs from 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 years ago hundreds, maybe thousands of times, and nothing coincidental has happened.  Furthermore, any one of those songs has dozens of memories attached to them.  I knew lots of people as a child, and experienced many events.  I could have heard another song, and spotted a woman wearing a necklace just like my gradeschool sweetheart wore when we heard the song.  I could literally list thousands, maybe tens of thousands of events that could happen that would be perceived as coincidental.

Furthermore, though the world is huge, and there are billions of people, I don't notice 99% of them, and my own circle of people is limited to one area of the world, and most concentrate in one region.  On any given day, it is relatively likely that I will see someone who I saw in the past.  Remember, I would have thought it coincidence if I saw my friend even after an absence of two or three years, and I would have thought it amazing to see anyone associated with that song.  I haven't seen any of them in just as long.  I would wager that I've seen tens of thousands of people after long breaks.  I didn't consider any of those encounters coincidental because I had no memory of the people, and nothing triggered a sense of nostalgia before seeing them.

Furthermore, this coincidence is only one of tens of thousands that would seem significant to me.  Furthermore, every moment of every day is another chance for any coincidence to happen.  I have literally had millions of opportunities for something highly unlikely to happen to me, and finally, the dice have rolled one up.

Now, consider my interpretation of the event.  How long after I heard the song would I consider it a coincidence to meet an old friend?  A minute?  A day?  A month?  What if I didn't actually hear the song, but another song I heard made me think of it, and it was stuck in my head for a week? 

You see, miracles are things that people want to believe in.  We are certain that when something fortuitous happens, it must have been for our benefit, yet when we look around, we see that with 6 billion people on the planet, and trillions upon trillions of potentially coincidental events possible, and an inherent interpretation bias towards believing in providence, these events become much less extraordinary.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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well said

Again, well said.  A few things strike me, however.  There does seem to be a discernible pattern involving miraculous events.  The last two hundred years have brought an explosion of missionary activity and, consequently, an entire branch of study exclusive to missions.  One thing that has been demonstrated time and again is this (and one may accept this or not): whenever Christianity encounters areas with low to non proliferation of the gospel, miraculous encounters tend to occur.  This is a widely accepted statistic among people  studying this sort of field.

Regarding miracles as testable material-- this seems to be a critical impasse in the discussion between materialists and theists.  Miracles (and I am meaning things like healing the blind, lame, etc.) are by nature one time deals.  A man that was miraculously cured of blindness would have a terrible time if it had to be demonstrated over and over again.  Blind, sight, blind, sight, blind, sight, repeat?  However, I understand this is the basis of knowledge for materialists (and, with all due respect, it has produced amazing things--the internet for one!).  For a materialist, things must be repeatable.  But this does not seem to be the nature of the miraculous.  How then can these things dialogue?  

The last miraculous claim that burns strongly in my mind is that of a blind man being healed.  It's anecdotal, but it's still there.  A man who came with a crowd of people was blind upon arrival, and could see after he left.  The crowd was ecstatic he could actually see.  Another, and less strong claim in my mind, is a Christian-Indian couple who were poisoned by a man to see if their god could actually save them.  Either God did or the poison was not strong enough (very possibly the latter, I understand), because they told me their story in person. 


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also

your point regarding bias is well stated. 


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Quote:There does seem to be

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There does seem to be a discernible pattern involving miraculous events.

Unfortunately, humans are built to discern patterns, even when none are there.  Correlation and causation are entirely different.  For instance, there was one pseudo-scientist a few years ago who noted a correlation between the degree of arc in the DNA double helix and the orbit of some planetary bodies.  He developed a rather elaborate explanation of how this was caused by some mumbo-jumbo extra-something-or-other force.  Of course, it's bollocks.  There is certainly a correlation, but there is no relation.

It's been said, and I'm pretty sure it's true, that any book with enough words in it can yield its own Davinci Code, for instance.  Science works very hard to determine if patterns correspond to any causal relationship, or if they are simply the result of our tendency to notice patterns.

Quote:
One thing that has been demonstrated time and again is this (and one may accept this or not): whenever Christianity encounters areas with low to non proliferation of the gospel, miraculous encounters tend to occur.

Let's be careful here.  Miraculous encounters tend to be reported.

Quote:
This is a widely accepted statistic among people  studying this sort of field.

Does it surprise you that in places where people don't know about Christianity (which would be predominately third world, low education, etc....) that when people with lots of money from America show up promising miracles, that people believe they are seeing miracles?  Is it even less surprising when we take into account the fact that most of these people already have the predisposition to believe in miracles, since they have their own religions?

Quote:
Regarding miracles as testable material-- this seems to be a critical impasse in the discussion between materialists and theists.  Miracles (and I am meaning things like healing the blind, lame, etc.) are by nature one time deals.

But you just said they happen all the time with missionaries.

Here is where the disconnect happens.  A scientist seeking to discover if real miracles were occurring would do the following:

1) Travel with a missionary for a suitable period of time.  If he had reported ten miracles in five years, a five year study would be a good starting point.

2) In any case of an alleged miracle, he would rigorously test the claim, both medically, psychologically, and factually.  He would take into account the placebo effect, confirmation bias, perception bias, and would create controls to eliminate these as possibilities.

3) In the case of alleged miracles with a lack of falsifiable information, he would keep a separate file on all of these, and at the conclusion of his study, he would examine them for any empirically testable commonality.

This would go on until the scientist had either ruled out the possibility of non-natural cause, or he had something empirical to submit to the scientific community.  The science community would then go over his research, step by step, searching for any errors in method or data.  If they found any, they would demand accurate research before making any conclusions, and the whole process would start again.

 

For a theist, it's simple.  Lots of people say there are miracles, so there must be.

Quote:
For a materialist, things must be repeatable.  But this does not seem to be the nature of the miraculous.  How then can these things dialogue?

There are six billion people on the planet.  Considering the number of claims I've heard for people being cured of blindness, I think it is fair to say that we don't need just one person.

At this point, the theist is likely to respond that the very nature of a miracle is that it eludes science.  God only performs miracles when we aren't trying to nail him to the empirical cross.  If this argument is made, then the conversation is truly over, for there is no way to respond to this other than to start calling the theist names.  Might as well argue that kitchen gnomes live in my refrigerator, but only when nobody is looking for them.  Kitchen gnomes are responsible for healing blind people.  God has nothing to do with it.  Since you can't prove that it's not kitchen gnomes, you must believe me.

Quote:
The last miraculous claim that burns strongly in my mind is that of a blind man being healed.  It's anecdotal, but it's still there.  A man who came with a crowd of people was blind upon arrival, and could see after he left.

I've heard these stories before.  The best option, of course, is that the man wasn't blind to begin with, and it was a setup.  There are also conditions that cause temporary blindness, and if that guy spent a lot of time in church, the odds of him regaining his sight in church were pretty high.  It's pretty hard to convince yourself you're blind when you're not, so self-deception is probably not a very good explanation.

The most likely explanation then is a scam.  Before you protest that these are honest people, ask yourself, how many con artists make their living by convincing people they're con artists and THEN trying to scam them?

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Joe_Canon wrote:A question

Joe_Canon wrote:
A question perplexes me and I'd love for both theists and atheists alike to respond to this if they would. As far as I understand evolution (and, by extension, atheism?), there is no "why." Things exist and that is all. Based on certain conditions (eternal matter; cosmic forces; etc.) the earth came into existence and so did life. There is still no "why"; there just "is." Through evolution, life made its way up to the state it is now. Still, there is no "why"; there only "is." And yet, humanity is plagued with the question of why the universe exists (some cultures focus more upon it than others, to be sure). Here is my question then: Can a concept exist if it has no objective reality? If there is no meaning (beyond that which we attach through our mind, self, consciousness, whatever) then how can we even conceive of the concept of meaning? How can "why" exist (or, I suppose, have so much significance) for creatures begotten through a process with no intrinsic meaning? Thoughts?

 

Seeing as how no 'theist' has yet given a response, here are two pennies. I think you are raising a sincere inquiry here. From what I understand you to be getting at, the question of why- which tries to look for a reason for what simply is- has no place in reality.

So, then, why is 'why' so important??

That should probably be the RRS koan for the month.


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Joe_Canon wrote:Hamby, as a

Joe_Canon wrote:

Hamby, as a borderline rationalist/theist what does one do with data that points away from materialism?  I have difficulty believing (and I realize this does not make it true one way or the other) that the miraculous claims I have been privy to are all either false testimony or a projection of the mind.  On the one hand, the people reporting many of these are some of the most genuine people I know.  On the other hand, the miracles they have mentioned are not something that could simply be a projection of the mind.  They are tangible events not just apparitions or ghosts. 

Thoughts?

 

Ok, I'm new here so not to sure on what you guys are talking about with the whole materialism thing. Here are my thoughts on the rest if you have a mind to read it.  Growing up in a super religious house, and being in church all the time I personally know "the power of suggestion".  When people are in such an emotionally charged atmosphere earnestly seeking a solution to this crazy life we live, they are fully capable of fabricating a host of things to see, hear, and feel.


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I think it's fair to say

I think it's fair to say that everyone on RRS finds meaning in their lives... but they don't assume it's the same meaning found by anyone else, in the RRS or in the rest of the world. If your question, whether a concept can exist without being objectively real, is taken to its logical extreme, then why have so many people come up with different "meanings" of life that they've tried to pass off to others, who later come in conflict with those who believe differently? If there was some sort of objective meaning to life, and if a concept couldn't exist without a basis in objective reality, then shouldn't we all agree on what that meaning is?

 

The fact that we don't means that such attempts are pure sophistry...

 

That was the Ontological Argument, right?

“It is true that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. It is equally true that in the land of the blind, the two-eyed man is an enemy of the state, the people, and domestic tranquility… and necessarily so. Someone has to rearrange the furniture.”


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Aahhh the existential

Aahhh the existential dilemma. When the human condition got to the point of communication in the form of language, someone way back when said to someone else "why did you do that". That is a question that can be answered. The question you ask cannot be answered by anyone but you. In reality you are using the word "Why" incorrectly, you put it in place of "what am I doing here?"

bodhi


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why not...

 or you could just go with that.