Hellow from the Pacific NW!

skeptic23
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Hellow from the Pacific NW!

Glad to find this place. I'm a former Christian coming out of a 15-year period of reevaluating of all my beliefs from scratch, down to the very existence of God. In the process I've spent a fair amount of time reading and listening to atheists. I figured that atheists would be better acquainted with the reasons for not believing in gods than anyone else. I've been frustrated in that effort. I hope there are those here who can help me with that.

Just to clear the air, I'm not a covert theist operative, as some have taken me for elsewhere. I understand why they did: my thinking tends to be hard to categorize. I ask questions about things a lot of people take for granted. It's interesting how much suspicion gets aroused when you question the "obvious" or suspend belief for longer than others are comfortable with.

I went on the About.com Agnosticism / Atheism forum a couple of years ago trying to understand why atheists choose atheism. At the time, it seemed strange to me that an intellectual/theoretical position would label and define itself by reference to what it denied. If atheism doesn't depend on the existence of theism in order to define itself, what does it mean to be an "atheist?" How could LACK of something ("a" - without, "theism" - belief in god[s]) form the basis for collective identity and provide anything cohesive enough to maintain a sense of belonging and shared interest?

I got schooled. What I learned there is that atheism for the folks I conversed with was actually a kind of anti-theism, but not as an intellectual position. I was given to believe that apart from the influence--even pressure--of theists, atheists would simply think of themselves as  human beings. In other words, "atheism" = normal human thinking, "theism" = human thinking corrupted by the addition of belief in gods. In my residual theistic bias, I had made atheism = lack of theism, while atheists seem not to have any sense of lack (gee, go figure...) I guess I can be forgiven for my presumption, since I spent most of my life in Christian circles. To me the question of God's existence was a valid question. To the atheists on that forum, the question itself was symptomatic of a problem in thinking.

That brought me to an interesting and revealing insight. I experienced the same kind of reaction more than once in my life from theists when I brought their basic beliefs (foundational, self-evident, I-have-no-justification-for-them beliefs) into question, even though I was sympathetic to them. I realized that theists consider the question of atheism as an aberration of thought and atheists consider the question of theism as an aberration of thought. Given that, how could there ever be meaningful discussion between the two positions?

What I really hope to do here is understand why atheists choose to become atheists. I expect that the reasons are wide and varied, but they all have one thing in common: they all result in atheism. I already understand a great deal about why theists choose to become theists. My frustration with understanding atheists so far is that they exhibit the same reluctance to examine their foundational beliefs that theists do. Most of what I've read and heard atheists say boils down to reasons why it doesn't make sense to seriously entertain the possibility of the existence of gods. This seems like the flip side of the theistic refusal to seriously entertain the possibility that gods do not exist. Both seem like opposing sides of the same coin of denial.

What both theists and atheists have in common is that we all went through a process to arrive at our respective positions. One striking difference between theists and atheists is the way that they talk about their individual processes. The processes described by theists tend to focus on constructive elements (what did happen, what it did mean) while those of atheists seem to focus on deconstructive elements (realizing what didn't happen, realizing that it didn't mean what it seemed to mean.)

As an example of the latter, consider Sir Bertrand Russell's description of his own process. It is from a 1959 interview in which he is asked about his atheism. Here is Richard Dawkins' page with a link to the interview: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/4833. In response to the question, "…when did you first decide that you did not want to remain a believer in the Christian ethic?" Russell said:

"I never decided that I didn't want to remain a believer, I decided… Between the ages of 15 and 18, I spent almost all my spare time thinking about Christian dogmas and trying to find out whether there was any reason to believe them. And by the time I was 18, I had discarded the last of them. "

What has always struck me about this answer is not that he rejected Christian dogmas, but some more basic things that I have yet to read or hear him comment about. For example, what motivated him to spend so much time and energy evaluating Christian dogmas? I can't think of many Christians who have put that kind of effort into evaluating the very dogmas that they claim to believe. That was some serious motivation. And why did he focus on dogmas in the first place? In other words, why did he conceive of the question in terms of dogma? Did he consider alternative ways to frame the question? Why did he think that disposing of Christian dogmas would mean that he had disposed of Christianity?

If we don't understand the basic beliefs and motivations that prompted us to start our processes and drove us through them, we don't really understand why we ended up in our current positions, and to that degree we don't understand the positions themselves. I want to talk to people about their processes in order to understand them and to understand myself. That's why I'm here.

Am I in the right place?

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


cj
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Portland, OR, here

Where are you?

People here will talk your ears off.  Might as well start with me, I suppose.

To briefly summarize my history, my family was of the "we believe in god, but not in religion" school of christianity.  So my upbringing was not heavily chruchified.  We went to the Methodist church for a couple of years when I was five.  When I was in junior high, about age 11-12, my best friend was a preacher's kid, so I went to her dad's church, Foursquare Gospel.  When her family moved on to a larger church - they were literally eating plain boiled rice three times a day - the older retired couple who took over just didn't click with me at age 13.  When I was told the devil would leap out of the cards I was using to play solitaire in my own home, I realized this wackiness wasn't for me and I quit going.  When I was a young mother at about age 26, my ex-husband was military and I went to base chapel for awhile.  Base chapel is supposed to be ecumenical, but each base has its own flavor.  The one I went to was very mainstream.  And I convinced the Lutheran pastor to baptize me and the children.  3 years later I stopped going, and 5 years later I was an atheist.

Part of it was understanding me.  I am logical-analytical in thought processes.  I eventually got an engineering degree and I have been working in IT for over 20 years.  Mysticism holds no appeal for me - I had a hard time in the late 60s-early 70s when all my acquaintances were into new age stuff and I just could not buy that, either.  I'm more of the school of "random shit happens" and there doesn't have to be a reason or cause or plan.  And is it for your own good that your dog died, your oldest is in jail, your husband left you for a young hooker, you gained 50 pounds last month, and the baby is a limb of satan?  Please.

I am also stubbornly independent.  I had the word "obey" removed from my wedding vows.  The idea of giving my life up to someone I can't see or hear and doesn't give me a chance to review the plan in advance, just gives me the willies.  And then to sit on your hands and snivel that "god (or Jesus) will provide" is just disgusting.  Get up off your lazy ass and fix your own damn problems.  I believe this is one of the main reasons divorce is higher in those areas with more church going folks.

Those are reasons enough for me to be at least agnostic.  The clincher for me is the systematic (if god/s/dess exists) torture of children.  Children.  Who didn't ask to be born.  Who are certainly innocent of any crimes.  Who don't deserve to die of starvation/dehydration/disease/beatings/rape.  My anger with the entire concept of a god/s/dess who supposedly has your well being at heart flared one evening.  My youngest son is learning disabled.  He was about 6 one evening about 9pm, sitting at the kitchen table, trying his best to get through his homework.  And he was crying.  He knew he was not like the other children.  He knew they had finished everything while at school that day.  He had worked as hard as he could all day, was exhausted, and he still had more work to do.  Okay, so god/s/dess doesn't give me any more pain than I can handle.  But what about my son?  What did he do to deserve this?  How come he was in more pain that he could handle?

Note - I went from peaceful agnostic to angry atheist in about 2 seconds.

And that is where my anger lies.  "It's all god's will" - yeah to have 5 year old girls sold by their mother to a man who rapes and tortures the baby to death.  (Actual news story this last year.)  To have millions of children - many of them from christian families - die of starvation every year.  And s/he/it is all powerful.  And s/he/it could fix it if they really wanted to.  But we have free will and that is why all those babies starve.  And god/s/dess is just calling those babies home - but do they have to be tortured first?  Couldn't god/s/dess just bring them peacefully without pain?

It was god/s/dess who said Adam's and Eve's children would be punished and on through the generations with pain and suffering because they ate an apple.  I can't accept this.  Original sin has always seemed to me to be the ultimate in insanity and was one of my biggest hangups when I attended church.

It is much less stressful for me to reject all belief in an insane god/s/dess and just go with "shit happens and we cause a lot of our own pain".  So that is what I do.

And the up side is I don't have to reject science.  I can solve my own problems.  And I can make my own plans and live my own life truly free.

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

"If death isn't sweet oblivion, I will be severely disappointed" - Ruth M.


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skeptic23 wrote: Glad to

skeptic23 wrote:

Glad to find this place. I'm a former Christian coming out of a 15-year period of reevaluating of all my beliefs from scratch, down to the very existence of God. In the process I've spent a fair amount of time reading and listening to atheists. I figured that atheists would be better acquainted with the reasons for not believing in gods than anyone else. I've been frustrated in that effort. I hope there are those here who can help me with that.

We'll try, I reckon. I think you'll find us generally pleasant, or at least not too abrasive.

Meanwhile: welcome!

Quote:

I went on the About.com Agnosticism / Atheism forum a couple of years ago trying to understand why atheists choose atheism. At the time, it seemed strange to me that an intellectual/theoretical position would label and define itself by reference to what it denied. If atheism doesn't depend on the existence of theism in order to define itself, what does it mean to be an "atheist?" How could LACK of something ("a" - without, "theism" - belief in god[s]) form the basis for collective identity and provide anything cohesive enough to maintain a sense of belonging and shared interest?

I got schooled. What I learned there is that atheism for the folks I conversed with was actually a kind of anti-theism, but not as an intellectual position. I was given to believe that apart from the influence--even pressure--of theists, atheists would simply think of themselves as  human beings. In other words, "atheism" = normal human thinking, "theism" = human thinking corrupted by the addition of belief in gods. In my residual theistic bias, I had made atheism = lack of theism, while atheists seem not to have any sense of lack (gee, go figure...) I guess I can be forgiven for my presumption, since I spent most of my life in Christian circles. To me the question of God's existence was a valid question. To the atheists on that forum, the question itself was symptomatic of a problem in thinking.

The reason the word atheism can be a label is due to the large percentage of theists in our culture. Atheists tend to be outnumbered in general get-togethers. It is a symptom of our culture that the lack of belief in something is an identifying trait.

There are many different reasons people come to atheism. Me, I've never believed in god, that I can recall. It seems to me, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and so far, there's no evidence whatsoever that god might exist. I think you'll find that a common reason why many don't believe in god.

If you look there, though, you'll realize this conclusion, this burden of proof, is common mostly to a particular type of person: one who values reason and truth above a comforting untruth. And that alone is reason for folks to come together, while we are in the minority.

Quote:

That brought me to an interesting and revealing insight. I experienced the same kind of reaction more than once in my life from theists when I brought their basic beliefs (foundational, self-evident, I-have-no-justification-for-them beliefs) into question, even though I was sympathetic to them. I realized that theists consider the question of atheism as an aberration of thought and atheists consider the question of theism as an aberration of thought. Given that, how could there ever be meaningful discussion between the two positions?

What I really hope to do here is understand why atheists choose to become atheists. I expect that the reasons are wide and varied, but they all have one thing in common: they all result in atheism. I already understand a great deal about why theists choose to become theists. My frustration with understanding atheists so far is that they exhibit the same reluctance to examine their foundational beliefs that theists do. Most of what I've read and heard atheists say boils down to reasons why it doesn't make sense to seriously entertain the possibility of the existence of gods. This seems like the flip side of the theistic refusal to seriously entertain the possibility that gods do not exist. Both seem like opposing sides of the same coin of denial.

Why? On one side, the side of the theists, you have a willingness to believe in something without proper evidence. While they might feel they are right, so many people feel they are right when they are, in fact, quite wrong. There is no proper reason to believe any god exists. And when you end up with specific theological claims, you are far outside the realm of rationality, and firmly in a fantasy world.

That one simple epistemological tool, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, is the dividing line. Either you are willing to accept extraordinary claims with no evidence, or you accept questionable evidence (such as a feeling).

Or you don't believe in god.

That doesn't mean you have to deny god exists. It just means you recognize that a justified belief in god requires some pretty strong evidence. And since there has not been one shred of evidence presented in support of god, theists start from a poor position.

There is a subtle lie in our culture today. Really, there are two lies, both related. One lie is that every story has two sides, both equally valid. This is patently false. The second lie is similar: that every person has a "world view," and that all world-views are equally valid. This is also patently false.

There is only one objective world. To suppose otherwise is to admit to solipsism, which leads to epistemological chaos. If there is only one objective world, there can only be one "correct" world-view. So all world-views are not equal. The ones that approximately model objective reality are closer to truth than those that do not.

This isn't a coin. There are not two sides. Either your understanding of the universe is closer to the objective truth than mine, or not.

Quote:

If we don't understand the basic beliefs and motivations that prompted us to start our processes and drove us through them, we don't really understand why we ended up in our current positions, and to that degree we don't understand the positions themselves. I want to talk to people about their processes in order to understand them and to understand myself. That's why I'm here.

As I don't recall believing in god at all (my parents not being strong believers themselves), there was never a process of stripping away. There was nothing "destructive" about my atheism, because there was nothing to divest from myself.

What you were calling "destructive" isn't destructive at all, no more that sculpting is destructive. It is the paring away of that which doesn't belong. That's why Russell concentrated on the dogma -- it was the easiest to eliminate, as it is the most obviously incorrect. Once the dogma has been reviewed and discarded, you are left with the evaluation of what is left. Russell indicates there was nothing left for him.

There are many positive accounts of becoming an atheist. I have read several folks here on RRS who said they felt relieved once they were able to remove the burden of belief. I have seen at least one person explain that the universe suddenly became very beautiful for them. The belief in god had held back their awe in the vastness and the beauty of our universe.

It's not like they chose not to believe in god, either. If you fundamentally cannot believe in something for which there is no evidence, you have no hope of believing in god. You wouldn't want to believe in god.

On the other hand, a Christian may choose to educate themselves on matters with which they disagree (evolution, as an example), but the only thing that can cause them to change their belief is to suffer a change in how they view their beliefs. As long as they feel their beliefs make them special, and they desire to be special, they are not likely to choose to not believe in god.

Belief or non-belief is not something you choose. At most, you can choose to educate yourself.

Note that many arguments for belief are not arguments from truth, but from desire. For instance, a common argument for belief goes something like, "But how can you have a morality without god?" Notice the question isn't about the nature of morality; it's about the necessity of god for a morality. It isn't a question of whether or not god really exists. It's an assumption that morality cannot exist without god, and the implied desire for a morality.

This ignores the fact that a morality handed down from authority is no morality at all; it is law.

As for destructive: I have been asked many times why I want to go to hell when I die. Hell is one of the most destructive concepts I can imagine.

Quote:

Am I in the right place?

I sure hope so. You ask intelligent questions.

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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There is one simply reason

There is one simple reason to reject ALL god claims. What theists can't do is cut to the chase as to the ultimate core belief they have.

They all believe in a non-material disembodied brain with no brain, no cerebellum, no neurons, no location, that resides everywhere and nowhere at the same time, which has magical super powers.

Deity belief is not a mystery or hard to debunk at all. It is merely human imagination in projecting human qualities on the world around them in hopes for a super hero. It is a placebo, a sugar pill and nothing but wishful thinking.

The early god/s were earthy, such as animals and volcanos and weather. That lead to human like polythiesm, then onto monotheism. Newer crap tries to avoid the old baggage by claiming the universe is a thinking being itself. All of it is the same. The ego of the human and an infantile reflection of our species narcissism in thinking we are special.

The only recourse the believer has is to distract you with labels and tradition and myth. In the end it is still nothing but a self delusion based on willful ignorance.

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
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Hi cj!

 I'm in Seattle, not too far from you.

Thanks for telling me a bit about your journey. I and my children survived a horrendous custody battle with my ex, who is still in the "church" that fomented the trouble between us that led to our divorce. I know the anger you described. I'm still angry with god/spirit/kosmos/whatever, just not like I used to be. My boys did nothing to warrant what they experienced or to inherit a broken home, and that in the name of Christ! 15 years later, I'm so jazzed about the kind of human beings they are turning out to be, I'd be hard pressed to choose an alternate past if I wasn't sure they would grow up to be the young men they are. Who can say what staying in close association (their mom would have ensured that) with a manipulative, indoctrinating environment would have done to them?

There are problems, of course, with using the argument that gods didn't do what we think they should do therefore gods don't exist. It's so interesting, though, that it is mentioned so often by atheists. The logical response to misbehaving/evil/insane gods would be to punish or censure them somehow. Denying their existence seems misplaced, as if the only way we would accept the existence of gods is if they were created in our image, i.e., to behave as we deem would be appropriate for them to behave.

The bad gods argument seems more like an argument of the heart than a rational one. I have a close friend, an atheist, who used to work the ER in Portland (Portland General? not sure...) She has held infants in her arms who had been beaten to death by their fathers. When she brought that up one time, there was no further discussion about the existence of god. I could only silently empathize as she recalled those painful memories, and I could feel her anger, more like righteous rage, long distance. It made me realize that our discussions about god usually take place at a much more superficial level than where our real beliefs lie.

So a couple of comments.

I see no reason for theists to reject science or for atheism to be a requirement to accept it, unless by science you mean a science inextricably entwined with atheism. Although I admit our sciences have been very atheistic, they don't need to be such. I'm seeing some very interesting behavior in the scientific arena that seems to be a direct result of the modern insistence on atheism. I'm not saying that scientists are atheists, but that the basic beliefs of most scientists, whether theist or atheist, explicitly exclude the possibility of gods' involvement in phenomena subject to scientific scrutiny. This exclusion is made pre-scientifically and I would argue pre-rationally, and seems to be the reason that so much has been made of the "anthropic principle" lately. The anthropic principle is being invoked to resolve a problem that only atheistic scientists would have: the incredible improbability of the universe and life within it being such as they are as the result of the Big Bang, chance, and lots and lots of time for complexity to arise.

About your quote on feeling better having stopped trying to believe: I know well that kind of "belief" and why it feels so bad to try to "believe" that way. However, that's not the only kind of believing that there is. We believe those we trust. We believe our own conclusions (usually!) We believe lots of things. Why would believing in gods be different? It isn't life or gods or experience or even the Bible that teaches us that there is a certain kind of believing required when it comes to gods (and it just so happens to be the feeling bad kind.) That's taught by organized religions as part of their myths which have not helped humanity, but have certainly allowed them to control obscenely large shares of the earth's resources and wealth by exploiting their adherents who are trying to "believe."

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


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Brian!!!!

Brian37 wrote:

There is one simple reason to reject ALL god claims. What theists can't do is cut to the chase as to the ultimate core belief they have.

They all believe in a non-material disembodied brain with no brain, no cerebellum, no neurons, no location, that resides everywhere and nowhere at the same time, which has magical super powers.

Deity belief is not a mystery or hard to debunk at all. It is merely human imagination in projecting human qualities on the world around them in hopes for a super hero. It is a placebo, a sugar pill and nothing but wishful thinking.

The early god/s were earthy, such as animals and volcanos and weather. That lead to human like polythiesm, then onto monotheism. Newer crap tries to avoid the old baggage by claiming the universe is a thinking being itself. All of it is the same. The ego of the human and an infantile reflection of our species narcissism in thinking we are special.

The only recourse the believer has is to distract you with labels and tradition and myth. In the end it is still nothing but a self delusion based on willful ignorance.

 

 

             Brian 37   check your personal messages.   Then get back to me!

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@OP: Welcome!I would not

@OP: Welcome!

I would not consider theism to be, 'abnormal' or anything. I think it is wrong and without intellectual support, but obviously theism is 'normal'. Someone who claims theism is some sort of aberration probably can't support that accusation in any kind of debate. I can't imagine how a materialist/physicalists could support any idea as 'abnormal'. Religion is, for better or worse, obviously a part of basic human thought.

 

As for myself, I was raised in a fundamentalist protestant Christian family. I went to private religious schools from preschool until my Jr. year of high school.  I was, 'born again' at a very young age.  I actually remember asking Jesus into my heart in grade school, and being surprised that nothing seemed to happen, I didn't feel any different after than I did before.  I think my true deconversion started with arguments I had with my friends about the nature of hell. The whole idea just didn't make any sense to me, now with some education I realize I ran into the classic, 'problem of evil'. Those debates started a line of research about my own religion that eventually led me to investigate other religions because I could not find a basis in truth for my own. I looked at pretty much everything you can think of, Buddhism, Islam, Scientology, Wicca (I still have a soft spot for Wicca, even though it is at least as silly as the other religions...maybe because I dated a Wiccan for a while *shrug*), etc. What I found is that the only parts of religion I liked were the parts they all had in common...basically variants of the golden rule. The rest of the dogma always seemed to turn to poo at some point and get into magic, sexual law that didn't make sense, stuff like that.

I really was a believer though.  My path from theism to atheism was terrifying to me, I was scared I was damning myself, I had nightmares about hell, I would work myself into an emotional panic when I would think about my religion not making sense...yuck.

So after a year or so of that I started digging into agnosticism and eventually started calling myself agnostic. I didn't think you could prove a god existed, but I thought that such a thing might be so. After a year or so of that I started dabbling in counter-apologetics and I realized that every argument for the existence of God was...not very good. About that point I started calling myself a weak atheist and started getting involved in modern atheism. After a while of that I came to where I am today, which is basically where Dawkins and his ilk are...a teapot atheist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_teapot. A god might exist, theoretically, but the chances of such a being are terribly low, and even if one did exist it is nothing like any human concept of a deity.

Essentially, I am a strong atheist about every anthropomorphized deity in existence. The only reason I don't say I'm 100% certain god does not exist, is that I don't feel I know enough about pre-big bang stuff to really speculate on anything. Whatever existed before (if there was a before, or if before has any meaning in that context) our universe might or might not have had attributes of a god. I doubt it though, and I can't imagine a scenario where such a thing exists.

 

I'm far happier now than I was before.  The world might not be a 'good' place, but the world makes sense now.  I have a good marriage, a great daughter and a nice job, and my life is pretty darn good.  I still deal with my theistic upbringing (brain washing?) on a regular basis.

 

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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skeptic23 wrote:I see no

skeptic23 wrote:
I see no reason for theists to reject science or for atheism to be a requirement to accept it, unless by science you mean a science inextricably entwined with atheism. Although I admit our sciences have been very atheistic, they don't need to be such. I'm seeing some very interesting behavior in the scientific arena that seems to be a direct result of the modern insistence on atheism. I'm not saying that scientists are atheists, but that the basic beliefs of most scientists, whether theist or atheist, explicitly exclude the possibility of gods' involvement in phenomena subject to scientific scrutiny. This exclusion is made pre-scientifically and I would argue pre-rationally, and seems to be the reason that so much has been made of the "anthropic principle" lately. The anthropic principle is being invoked to resolve a problem that only atheistic scientists would have: the incredible improbability of the universe and life within it being such as they are as the result of the Big Bang, chance, and lots and lots of time for complexity to arise.

Science is based entirely on the assumption that we can observe reality, and that reality behaves consistently. Without both of those assumptions, science just wouldn't work.

The reasons science usually excludes the possibility of involvement of a god is simple: as there is no current evidence for a god, you cannot assume a god exists. Therefore, no conclusion should include god as an a priori assumption. Evidence may come to light that will require a god to explain it. But that has not happened yet. So you are left without the possibility of god's involvement, at least until overwhelming evidence suggests god exists.

This is fundamentally necessary to practice science. Period. It's the way science works, and the way it necessarily works.

Second: the anthropic principle is a strawman. There is no evidence there is an "incredible improbability of the universe and life within it". Part of this comes from an early computer model, in which cosmological constants were varied slightly, one at a time, and the universe became less interesting (matter could not form, for instance). However, when you modify all cosmological constants, there are huge swaths of "settings" that turn out to be interesting. It is not nearly as improbable as many theists seem to think. And that doesn't even cover the cases in which the universe may be simply one universe among an infinite number of universes, and so life would only evolve in one that seems fine-tuned, but is really just a highly-probable oasis among a desert of blank universes.

Third, it isn't just chance that led to life. It was inevitability. Chemical reactions occur across much of the universe. (Nuclear reactions occur across much more, but that's not important at the moment). That's all life is: a self-propagating chemical reaction. You are part of a specific chemical reaction that started 3.5 billion years ago. But that's essentially what it is.

It isn't just chance involved. Sure, it's just chance that you exist, as a specific entity. But the fact that life exists in general is not just chance. Chance plays only one role, and a surprisingly small one. Selection plays another role. There are other, far subtler processes at work as well.

Gotta go -- there's a whole lot more to write about on this topic, but the wife awaits, and it's $1.50 taco night at a local dive bar.

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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Hello!One of the most

Hello!
Although this seems like one of these TL/DR topics, I can honestly say I had read everything and so I'd allow myself to write long as well, which is my bad habit.

One of the most troubling questions I was asked here two years ago, was whether I believe in God or not. Atheist or theist? Theist or atheist! Admit that! Pick a side! Or we will pick it for you! (OK, I'm paraphrasing a little, but I'm a provocative person) Eventually I decided that what I do is not believing in God. But not because I'd reject the idea of God, but because I reject belief and prefer open-minded uncertainity of various degrees. How can the belief help you know anything even partially for sure? No way. So I consider myself an unbeliever, but positively interested in the question of God nonetheless.

My idea of God is so un-godlike, that it can hardly be called God at all. It means, that all the energy of universe plus all natural laws governing that energy is something that could be called God. It says, that the fundamental nature of consciousness and life is energy, and there is energy inherent in all matter. Therefore the universe may have a consciousness of some kind. And sum of that consciousness... you get the idea. Is that true, for real? I'm not sure, that's what I mean. Even if that's true, it's so unlike biblical Yahweh, that we're 100% safe from Hell and Heaven.

But I'm always surprised by these people who say, God doesn't exist because he wouldn't let happen so much evil, if he would exist. I wonder what they expect, that God will magically tell these people to not do bad things? For all we don't know,
a) either he enjoys the show and then throws people to Hell, (Yahweh is a big prick enough for that) or
b) doesn't exist or
c) wants people to to stop doing bad things because they'll use their brains to recognize it's bad, not because big daddy in the sky says so. Or,
d) God also doesn't know what's right or wrong, and lets people figure that out,
e) dwells within the murderer and murdered, within rock falling and person being crushed.

I think there is well enough of space for both, belief and disbelief to work and produce good results, there are some fundamental principles that involve everyone, they're just differently described by various opinions.
People lose beliefs and become happier, or they find beliefs and also become happier, it happens all the time. That's a paradox, they're opposite actions and have the same result. I think what is really happening, is that the people found their true self-expression. They were atheistic types with religion, and religional types with atheism. By becoming what they truly are, they become happier. This doesn't have to do directly with objective reality, but with personal nature. The most important is, being what you really are. The best approach to that great question is your truly own, while you keep other people unharmed. And managing that is not easy.

Objective reality is another problem, and here I admit I favor atheism, because it's more based on facts, and it's nice if people will learn after several millenia to use their own brains. That already opens new possibilities which distantly resemble spirituality returing through back door, reconciliation of spirituality and science, which fervent atheists can't stand. But I never said that logical intellect is the end of all mental evolution, I only think it's a necessary step forward from faith. Is there anything better? Yes, my information is, that logical analysis will become subconscious and new discipline of intuitive knowledge will arise.

Beings who deserve worship don't demand it. Beings who demand worship don't deserve it.


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skeptic23 wrote: I'm in

skeptic23 wrote:

 I'm in Seattle, not too far from you.

Thanks for telling me a bit about your journey. I and my children survived a horrendous custody battle with my ex, who is still in the "church" that fomented the trouble between us that led to our divorce. I know the anger you described. I'm still angry with god/spirit/kosmos/whatever, just not like I used to be. My boys did nothing to warrant what they experienced or to inherit a broken home, and that in the name of Christ! 15 years later, I'm so jazzed about the kind of human beings they are turning out to be, I'd be hard pressed to choose an alternate past if I wasn't sure they would grow up to be the young men they are. Who can say what staying in close association (their mom would have ensured that) with a manipulative, indoctrinating environment would have done to them?

There are problems, of course, with using the argument that gods didn't do what we think they should do therefore gods don't exist. It's so interesting, though, that it is mentioned so often by atheists. The logical response to misbehaving/evil/insane gods would be to punish or censure them somehow. Denying their existence seems misplaced, as if the only way we would accept the existence of gods is if they were created in our image, i.e., to behave as we deem would be appropriate for them to behave.

The bad gods argument seems more like an argument of the heart than a rational one. I have a close friend, an atheist, who used to work the ER in Portland (Portland General? not sure...) She has held infants in her arms who had been beaten to death by their fathers. When she brought that up one time, there was no further discussion about the existence of god. I could only silently empathize as she recalled those painful memories, and I could feel her anger, more like righteous rage, long distance. It made me realize that our discussions about god usually take place at a much more superficial level than where our real beliefs lie.

So a couple of comments.

I see no reason for theists to reject science or for atheism to be a requirement to accept it, unless by science you mean a science inextricably entwined with atheism. Although I admit our sciences have been very atheistic, they don't need to be such. I'm seeing some very interesting behavior in the scientific arena that seems to be a direct result of the modern insistence on atheism. I'm not saying that scientists are atheists, but that the basic beliefs of most scientists, whether theist or atheist, explicitly exclude the possibility of gods' involvement in phenomena subject to scientific scrutiny. This exclusion is made pre-scientifically and I would argue pre-rationally, and seems to be the reason that so much has been made of the "anthropic principle" lately. The anthropic principle is being invoked to resolve a problem that only atheistic scientists would have: the incredible improbability of the universe and life within it being such as they are as the result of the Big Bang, chance, and lots and lots of time for complexity to arise.

About your quote on feeling better having stopped trying to believe: I know well that kind of "belief" and why it feels so bad to try to "believe" that way. However, that's not the only kind of believing that there is. We believe those we trust. We believe our own conclusions (usually!) We believe lots of things. Why would believing in gods be different? It isn't life or gods or experience or even the Bible that teaches us that there is a certain kind of believing required when it comes to gods (and it just so happens to be the feeling bad kind.) That's taught by organized religions as part of their myths which have not helped humanity, but have certainly allowed them to control obscenely large shares of the earth's resources and wealth by exploiting their adherents who are trying to "believe."

 

Just a note, I would caution you against thinking CJ (or anyone else) is a 'single issue' atheist with only one reason for disbelief.  Personally, I listed the reason for the beginning of my journey (problem of evil) but that only started the journey.  Since then I believe I've seen every mainstream (and many non-mainstream!) apologetics argument for the existence of God and have found they are all flawed.  This site is actually mostly about debate on those very issues.

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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I never really bought the

I never really bought the God idea, thanks at least partly, I assume, to a non-believing father and a mother who 'believed' only in the conventional 'social' sense.

I think I always thought of God in something like the same category as Santa and the Tooth Fairy, IOW just fun stories that were floating around in peoples minds for some reason, that you told to children.

The more I read about it the more it seemed to be just a myth, maybe an allegory.

There was certainly no choice involved, just following where the stuff I was learning seemed to point.

I think this sort of path is helped by a specific unwillingness to accept something as true purely because someone in some sort of position of authority says it is, which I can remember feeling from an early age. And its not just a matter of someone pointing to some raw facts as evidence one way or the other, I have to be able to see how the argument actually works.

And it really does NOT matter the exact path by which you came to a particular conclusion, it is the strength of the argument you can currently put to justify it, that counts.

Atheism is usually not the initial choice in leading to a non-believing world-view, rather an inherent skepticism (not accepting uncritically what others tell you) and a desire to 'know' what is true,typically leads to an atheist position.

Another comment: The "anthropic principle" resolves nothing - it is merely a proposal initially inspired by a superficial investigation, as nigelTheBold described.

 

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

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Luminon wrote:Hello!Although

Luminon wrote:

Hello!
Although this seems like one of these TL/DR topics, I can honestly say I had read everything and so I'd allow myself to write long as well, which is my bad habit.

One of the most troubling questions I was asked here two years ago, was whether I believe in God or not. Atheist or theist? Theist or atheist! Admit that! Pick a side! Or we will pick it for you! (OK, I'm paraphrasing a little, but I'm a provocative person) Eventually I decided that what I do is not believing in God. But not because I'd reject the idea of God, but because I reject belief and prefer open-minded uncertainity of various degrees. How can the belief help you know anything even partially for sure? No way. So I consider myself an unbeliever, but positively interested in the question of God nonetheless.

My idea of God is so un-godlike, that it can hardly be called God at all. It means, that all the energy of universe plus all natural laws governing that energy is something that could be called God. It says, that the fundamental nature of consciousness and life is energy, and there is energy inherent in all matter. Therefore the universe may have a consciousness of some kind. And sum of that consciousness... you get the idea. Is that true, for real? I'm not sure, that's what I mean. Even if that's true, it's so unlike biblical Yahweh, that we're 100% safe from Hell and Heaven.

But I'm always surprised by these people who say, God doesn't exist because he wouldn't let happen so much evil, if he would exist. I wonder what they expect, that God will magically tell these people to not do bad things? For all we don't know,
a) either he enjoys the show and then throws people to Hell, (Yahweh is a big prick enough for that) or
b) doesn't exist or
c) wants people to to stop doing bad things because they'll use their brains to recognize it's bad, not because big daddy in the sky says so. Or,
d) God also doesn't know what's right or wrong, and lets people figure that out,
e) dwells within the murderer and murdered, within rock falling and person being crushed.

I think there is well enough of space for both, belief and disbelief to work and produce good results, there are some fundamental principles that involve everyone, they're just differently described by various opinions.
People lose beliefs and become happier, or they find beliefs and also become happier, it happens all the time. That's a paradox, they're opposite actions and have the same result. I think what is really happening, is that the people found their true self-expression. They were atheistic types with religion, and religional types with atheism. By becoming what they truly are, they become happier. This doesn't have to do directly with objective reality, but with personal nature. The most important is, being what you really are. The best approach to that great question is your truly own, while you keep other people unharmed. And managing that is not easy.

Objective reality is another problem, and here I admit I favor atheism, because it's more based on facts, and it's nice if people will learn after several millenia to use their own brains. That already opens new possibilities which distantly resemble spirituality returing through back door, reconciliation of spirituality and science, which fervent atheists can't stand. But I never said that logical intellect is the end of all mental evolution, I only think it's a necessary step forward from faith. Is there anything better? Yes, my information is, that logical analysis will become subconscious and new discipline of intuitive knowledge will arise.

Luminon, you know better.  When people say the problem of evil led them away from God they are talking about the modern Christian version of God.  The problem of evil does not deny a deistic God, a god who is a prick, a pantheistic god, or your woo.

Like I said, you know better, you've seen the debate about that concept many times here.  Hell, I would personally argue with any atheist who thinks the problem of evil disproves theism in general...but I've not seen anyone here make that claim.

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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It has just occurred to me

It has just occurred to me that another thing which probably contributed to my path was having a collection of story books which included a volume on stories of the Greek and Roman Gods.

I found many of these stories fascinating and fun.

After that, it was just too easy to see the Christian story as a less interesting version of the same kind of narrative. If it hadn't had all the miracle stuff in it, I actually might have taken the whole thing more seriously.

 

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

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Haha, I love it!

 

 

 

 

 

Nigel, thanks for your welcome and your comments! I'm liking this so far...

 

nigelTheBold wrote:

skeptic23 wrote:

My frustration with understanding atheists so far is that they exhibit the same reluctance to examine their foundational beliefs that theists do. Most of what I've read and heard atheists say boils down to reasons why it doesn't make sense to seriously entertain the possibility of the existence of gods. This seems like the flip side of the theistic refusal to seriously entertain the possibility that gods do not exist. Both seem like opposing sides of the same coin of denial.

Why? On one side, the side of the theists, you have a willingness to believe in something without proper evidence. While they might feel they are right, so many people feel they are right when they are, in fact, quite wrong. There is no proper reason to believe any god exists. And when you end up with specific theological claims, you are far outside the realm of rationality, and firmly in a fantasy world.

That one simple epistemological tool, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, is the dividing line. Either you are willing to accept extraordinary claims with no evidence, or you accept questionable evidence (such as a feeling).

Or you don't believe in god.

That doesn't mean you have to deny god exists. It just means you recognize that a justified belief in god requires some pretty strong evidence. And since there has not been one shred of evidence presented in support of god, theists start from a poor position.

I think you misunderstood me. The denial I mentioned referred to resistance to seriously entertaining the possibility that the other side is right and my side (whichever that might happen to be) is wrong. Like I said, I find that many atheists' arguments serve to dismiss the the question rather than address the question. The issue of evidence is an example of that to me, if I understood you.

Prior to delving into details, let me state that I distinguish between opinions, which might or might not have commensurate evidence supporting them, and beliefs, for which I require commensurate evidence before I'll call them such, whether mine or anyone else's. This is just about 180 degrees converse to the typical notion of “belief.” cj's little quote about feeling better when I stopped trying to believe is an example of what I consider the typical notion of belief.

I am still forming my views on “god” or whatever monicker we might choose. Part of the problem, as another good atheist friend of mine loves to point out, (always as far as he's concerned; often as far as I'm concerned,) the term “god” is a non-referent. I've sometimes used “blurf” in place of “god” in talking to people just to make the point.

My current beliefs about blurf are all based on commensurate evidence. I'm willing to bet that you and I have some definitional discussion about what we mean by “evidence” however. Here are some of the terms and phrases you used:

proper evidence; extraordinary evidence; accept extraordinary claims with no evidence; questionable evidence; pretty strong evidence; there has not been one shred of evidence presented in support of god –

What you wrote leads me to think that you have some clear notions about what is and isn't evidence and a sense for various degrees of strength or reliability of different kinds of evidence. Could you elaborate. You did give one example of “questionable evidence,” which was “feeling.”

My experience with atheists and with scientists and philosophers who assume at least a working atheism is that there are often problems in their assumptions about evidence. They will not allow certain things to be construed as evidence. It just happens to sort out so that they will accept only the types of things that by definition or by nature could not serve as evidence for the existence of blurf as bona fide evidence, while anything that possibly could serve as evidence they rule out as unacceptable. This is a tidy situation, but circular. If the rules for admitting evidence preclude anything that has a hope of proving the theist's point, he might be screwed but he hasn't been proven wrong. A gross but common example of this is to start, as many scientists do, with the belief that the only things that actually exist are physical in nature. Since blurf is supposedly not physical in nature, what kind of evidence could there possibly be to support its existence?

What kinds of evidence would serve to prove the existence of blurf if you were to encounter them?

(Ok, enough with the blurf.)

Quote:

There is a subtle lie in our culture today. Really, there are two lies, both related. One lie is that every story has two sides, both equally valid. This is patently false. The second lie is similar: that every person has a "world view," and that all world-views are equally valid. This is also patently false.

Agreed.

Quote:

There is only one objective world. To suppose otherwise is to admit to solipsism, which leads to epistemological chaos.

Actually, “objective world” is a loaded term, but I take you to mean that there is only one existence which includes everything that actually does exist. Since we have no way of getting outside our respective, subjective, individual cognitions, there is really no empirical way to determine objectively that there is only one “world” or what it's like. We do the best that we can, but everything we know is filtered, even scientific research and testing. Even if you were able to assimilate all our cognitions Borg-like into a collective, it would still be limited and filtered, especially by time. We don't live that long and we haven't been compiling knowledge for that long either. Solipsism is actually not a necessary result of rejecting the notion that there is only one objective world, but I follow where you're headed and agree that at least we all act like there is a real world out there that doesn't change just because we think it does and doesn't exist wholly in our minds.

I like to use the term “existence” to refer to everything that actually exists, and “reality” to refer to what we interact with cognitively when we have contact with existence. They can be very different, but even when they are, we still act like reality is what is really there. Existence is what it is. Realities involving the same existence can differ to the only entities in the universe that we have a primary and overriding concern for: us! That makes the distinction worthwhile in my mind. Our realities are really, really real to us, even when they are wrong. It is exactly that realness that motivates us to try to verify the best we can how closely our realities resemble existence, and especially how far apart they might be from existence, because that's the problem that usually bites us in the butts.

Quote:

If there is only one objective world, there can only be one "correct" world-view. So all world-views are not equal. The ones that approximately model objective reality are closer to truth than those that do not.

On that we disagree, mostly because your “correct” world view doesn't allow for variations between individual cognitions and variations within the same individual's cognition over time. Even though we might interact with exactly the same part of existence, our realities can differ depending on a myriad of factors, so that our views of that part of existence can also differ. The differences can be due to error (I see white when I look at something black) but they can also be due to the simple fact that our cognitions are limited (I can't see through the back of my head.) We filter things out, we focus on things, we can only process so many things at a time so others get left unprocessed, we forget.

Given our limitations, how could we determine a “correct” world-view without it being a holy grail of perfectly complete perception, one which all of us together if we were perfectly hooked up to each other across all times into a giant mind could still not achieve?

Quote:

This isn't a coin. There are not two sides. Either your understanding of the universe is closer to the objective truth than mine, or not.

Again, I was talking about a different coin. But that aside, I would argue that there are umpteen zillion sides of the coin that you are talking about. It happens on two levels. First, even if our perceptions/understandings were perfectly correct, they would be different because they are limited. Expecting two or more perfectly correct understandings to be the same wherever they overlap, i.e., wherever they deal with the same part of existence, assumes a very simplistic notion of our cognitions and the kinds of limitations entailed by them. Second, the only way to determine how close or far from “objective truth” your understanding is compared to mine must attempt that determination by means of our same, limited, fallible cognitions. We could conceive of a supermind that might be able to manage such a determination, but that gets very close to something like a god.

Quote:

As I don't recall believing in god at all (my parents not being strong believers themselves), there was never a process of stripping away. There was nothing "destructive" about my atheism, because there was nothing to divest from myself.

What you were calling "destructive" isn't destructive at all, no more that sculpting is destructive. It is the paring away of that which doesn't belong. That's why Russell concentrated on the dogma -- it was the easiest to eliminate, as it is the most obviously incorrect. Once the dogma has been reviewed and discarded, you are left with the evaluation of what is left. Russell indicates there was nothing left for him.

Haha, I used the term “deconstructive” not “destructive,” easy miss. What I meant was that personal processes of discovery which result in atheism tend to involve removal or dismantling of notions and beliefs related to gods, while processes which lead to theism tend to involve installation and assembly of such notions and beliefs. Just think about how atheists harp on the notion that evidence for the existence of gods does not exist. Theists harp on the “fact” (at least to them) that evidence does exist, even plenty of it. Atheists don't say, “I have evidence that gods do not exist,” and theists don't say, “I believe in god because no evidence exists that says I shouldn't.” I guess what I'm saying echoes what you said earlier, that “not all world-views are equal,” except here I'm saying that about the processes which result in one position as compared to the other, and I am also observing something particular about the difference.

What you said in the second paragraph quoted above about eliminating dogma is exactly what I'm talking about as “deconstructive.” It's not a negative term, it just indicates the converse of constructive.

Quote:

There are many positive accounts of becoming an atheist. I have read several folks here on RRS who said they felt relieved once they were able to remove the burden of belief. I have seen at least one person explain that the universe suddenly became very beautiful for them. The belief in god had held back their awe in the vastness and the beauty of our universe.

I became aware of what you wrote here when I watched Ben Stein's “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” movie. Whatever you might think about that movie, it was interesting for the interviews he had with many different scientists. Several of the atheists described experiences similar to what you wrote. That just reinforced to me that organized religions have done a masterful job at guilting us poor fools who were so silly as to believe them. What if true belief were actually, positively energizing and empowering instead of being a burden? After spending almost a quarter century in Christianity, I know what the burden of belief is about. I ended up in a very high-control, manipulative group. My experience of coming out of it was just like the person's you referred to. It was like coming out of a dark cave. I thought I could see colors before, but after I emerged... WOW!

Quote:

It's not like they chose not to believe in god, either. If you fundamentally cannot believe in something for which there is no evidence, you have no hope of believing in god. You wouldn't want to believe in god.

On the other hand, a Christian may choose to educate themselves on matters with which they disagree (evolution, as an example), but the only thing that can cause them to change their belief is to suffer a change in how they view their beliefs. As long as they feel their beliefs make them special, and they desire to be special, they are not likely to choose to not believe in god.

Belief or non-belief is not something you choose. At most, you can choose to educate yourself.

I'm sure we're dealing with terminology again, but I firmly believe that we can choose our beliefs, and I have evidence for that, because I just chose to believe that belief! Eye-wink

Seriously, I do think we can choose our beliefs, but it's on a kind of sliding scale. If you tell me that you shaved off your beard, I can choose whether or not to believe you. My choice would instantly determine my belief about whether your beard is still on your face or not. A bit further along the scale, I have formed the impression of you from what you wrote that you are an open, intelligent, and thoughtful person. I choose to believe that. If I met you and you turned out to be mean, I would have to reevaluate my impression of you and decide what to believe. Were you just having a bad day? Was your behavior indicative of who you really are? Was I misinterpreting you? Why the marked difference from the impression I got from your writing? It would take more information to get me to change my belief about the kind of person that you are than it would about whether your beard is still on your face. And so on, until we get to things that for me have been informed by decades of experience and careful thought with the intent to know and understand the truth. If you were to tell me that the sun will not rise tomorrow, I probably would not be able to simply choose to believe you even if I wanted to. Your statement is simply up against way too much information to the contrary.

All of that jives well with your comments on educating ourselves, which I generalize to informing ourselves. That's why I think we're running into terminology problems again. Could you elaborate on what you mean by “belief” when you refer to the kind that can't be changed by choice?

Quote:

Note that many arguments for belief are not arguments from truth, but from desire. For instance, a common argument for belief goes something like, "But how can you have a morality without god?" Notice the question isn't about the nature of morality; it's about the necessity of god for a morality. It isn't a question of whether or not god really exists. It's an assumption that morality cannot exist without god, and the implied desire for a morality.

This ignores the fact that a morality handed down from authority is no morality at all; it is law.

I agree to a point. Here's where I have a personal peeve with philosophical thinking.

Often, when people talk about thinking rationally, they mean precisely that emotional considerations have been removed from that thinking. Of course, they also mean that the thinking is logical, along with other pesky details. Eye-wink This is just stupid as far as I'm concerned, sorry, and with apologies to all the great philosophers, except maybe to Socrates, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. I can't say I've read anyone else that actually had some passion in his philosophy. Kierkegaard is my favorite. Kant, well forget about it. Maybe Ayn Rand should be included, but I've never read her, just read about her. She was supposed to be all about passion, wasn't she?

Without emotions we have no idea what to think about and no reason to do the thinking. Emotions dictate what directions we pay attention to before we've done any thinking at all. My evidence that emotions are intimately involved in philosophy? Just ridicule a philosophical idea that is dear to someone, especially if he or she considers himself or herself a philosopher and especially if it's his or her idea. Wanna see emotions, do ya? The key word is "ridicule." That was their baby you just mocked. Dispassionate? Yeah, right.

The one thing that philosophers almost NEVER do is discuss their motivations for doing philosophy at all. They just jump right in and start spinning their respective systems as if ordained to the task by god himself. There were reasons why each philosopher did philosophy, and it would be naïve to assume that the reasons were all innocent and well-intentioned or even that they all shared the same reasons. If that were true, we could make a case that philosophers possess a higher comparative human worth than do politicians. As tempting as that might be, you should meet a few philosophers first before rushing to judgment. Some people quip that Jean-Paul Sartre only did it for the women, and you'd see why if you saw a photo of the guy.

If a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest, (thank you S&G!) wouldn't it be a good thing to know what we wanted to hear prior to creating a philosophy and deciding that what we "heard" (i.e., the cognitive material that informed the philosophy) was The Truth?

Off soapbox now. Here is where I look at arguments from desire a little differently than you. Your god-required-for-morality is a good example. Logically speaking, you are correct. If no gods exist and we accept that it means therefore that there is no basis for morality, merely because we want morality doesn't mean we can arbitrarily decide that gods must exist. However, what if our need for morality runs so deep that we cannot exist without it? Still, that doesn't logically require that gods exist, but it does mean that without gods we can't exist, since morality then couldn't exist. When it comes to that argument, I don't make it quite like you described, and I don't make it to prove one side or the other of the god question. I just point out that if atheists want morality, then they had better show (by the same token that theists need to show what they want) that there is some other basis for morality than gods OR they need to stop pretending that they are moral beings and stop expecting everyone else to act morally as well. This is a can't have your cake and eat it too situation.

Actually, along those lines, I made an argument to press the point to my friend (who's all about non-referents) that genocidists are the most moral people in all history, since they have done the most to curtail the population growth of some of the least valuable specimens of humanity on the planet. The intellectuals and dissidents they did away with were just regrettable collateral damage, but not too regrettable. See? We're doing quite well without them now.

When you bring things a little closer to home, they look a little different.

Finally, I'm right there with you on the hell thing. Bullshit if I've ever heard it. Who ever loved another in a true sense because he was trying to avoid something bad? Loving people in order to avoid hell or anything else involves objectifying them first. They become the objects which, if I treat them correctly, will result in escaping hell, or getting into heaven for that matter. I guess it doesn't even need to be negative/destructive. If the reason I do you a good deed is so that I can get inside the pearly gates, anyone else would do just as well. So I really didn't do it to you. It wasn't about you at all; it was about me. I did it to an object of my good deed, not to a unique and valuable person who I appreciate. How is that love or any other kind of goodness?

 

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


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Floating immaterial brain

Brian, Haha! I liked your image.

I can see I have to be much shorter and quicker. Damn! I can't believe the activity here! Cool!

Where I'm at, I'd have to say, "Blurf is out there and in me." I can't speak to brain or no brain, non-material (and what precisely is "material" anyway?) or anything else except for some overriding things I've become absolutely convinced about. One of them is benevolence. I know that might trigger reactions from people like cj who don't see much benevolence in what goes on in this world, and I'm not foreign to evil or tragedy, but I'm convinced after much deliberation and it's still ongoing. I'm always testing this stuff. 

What I'm impressed by, though, is the low evidence-to-ridicule ratio in what you wrote. Statements about "they all" and the narcissism of the species, etc., would require a lot of evidence. And please understand that I actually agree with you, but I'm pretty anal about the evidence thing. For example, what is your evidence about the position that believers take that in the end "is still nothing but a self delusion based on willful ignorance," or is that just your opinion?

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


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I have to ask though

I have to ask though skeptic, you seem to hold some contempt for the idea that theists don't have any good arguments or evidence. Can you elaborate on what you think theists have that might be convincing? What is it about theism that keeps you on the fence? I'm getting the impression that you feel you have some intellectual high ground by thinking some sort of theism is a possibility that should not be discounted.

 

And if you think you are spiritual, but not religious, or some other terminology, just replace 'theism' with your self-descriptive word and ask the same question. I'm curious.  Your response to Brian specifically is what prompts my curiosity...to rebuke his statement with such 'passion' makes me want to ask what you know that makes his statement so obviously worthy of such a rebuke.

 

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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Thanks all!

cj, Nigel, Brian, mellestad, Luminon, BobSpence, et al,

Thank you for the warm and INFORMATIVE responses! You made me feel "right at home." 

I liked the gist of what you all wrote. Like I have told atheists I've talked to, "I agree, I don't believe in those gods either." I found myself relating to some of what Luminon wrote, and to the open-mindedness I got from all of you. The one thing that I would add is a sense of the unknown and of discovery. One of the biggest mistakes that we make is wanting to constrain the problem space. We want to put the problem into a defined space inside which we can work with it. Well, when we are talking about things like existence, god, universe, etc., we are absolutely talking about things that go far beyond any domain that we can conceive of and that certainly go beyond our capability to detect, much less measure. It's good to allow that we don't know much, and that much of what we don't know is out there. That is the direction I take to address Russell's teapot. Having evidence is required if we're going to be sure that we have more than just an opinion. Not having evidence indicates something about our own limitations, but it signifies next to nothing about what is out there. 

In a way, the god question is kind of laughable. Here we are arguing about these narrow, anthropomorphic notions that are the best that we have managed to approximate a vague notion of what gods might be and whether or not they actually exist. Some say that they do exist, but they've never seen them. Some have never seen them, so they say that they don't exist. Never was so much decided on the basis of so little. And all the while there is a HUGE unknown out there waiting to be discovered. I'm here to say (and I wasn't planning to at this early stage, but there ya go, you inspired me!) that it's benevolent, and I believe I have evidence. What's more, I don't think that it's anything different than evidence that you have.

My problem with scientists is that they see everything with "god not allowed" spectacles on, even if the gods they don't allow shouldn't be allowed. With such a strong emphasis on avoiding any notion of "non-material" things in their work, what makes them so sure that only "physical" things are proper subjects of scientific inquiry? I'm not suggesting that scientists go around daily trying to avoid "non-material" things. No, that is a deliberate omission made up front that they rarely think about. They rarely need to, the way everything in science is oriented, SETI excepted. As a matter of fact, they are proud of it. They usually engage in avoidance behavior only when someone or something suggests that they should pay attention to what they consider to be "non-material" or "non-physical" or even just "unrealistic."

What makes scientists so sure that they haven't avoided detectable things that currently seem non-material? You ask what something like that might be? (Thought you'd never ask.) Try gravity, except now we think that it is material, physical. We didn't always. It's still undetectable and unmeasurable. We can only detect and measure its effects on material things. What makes us so sure that it falls within the bailiwick of science? We still don't know what it is or if it's really there. 500 years ago we thought some even stranger things about it. Or how about dark matter and dark energy, "dark" precisely because we are sure that they must be there, because what we think we know requires it? Hmmm... sounds a little bit like a certain morality-requires-God argument I've heard about. 500 years from now what more will we have discovered that today is "non-material" and its existence is denied, if we're even aware now that something is there to consider the existence of?

My point is that we should be investigating not "what is" out there, but what might be out there. Maybe then we would find more of it.

My other point is that the open, let's-find-out-what-might-be-out-there approach often seems to come to a full stop as soon as what "might be" approaches things that we find, well, ridiculous. Like gods or ghosts or angels or whatever. Let's find out what might be out there, sure, unless we're considering that silly stuff of fairy tales for which we have no evidence and which we are pretty sure, even damned sure, doesn't exist anyway. In dismissing those might-bes out of hand, we also dismiss out of hand the experiences of other human beings whose lives and perceptions are not inferior to ours, at least we have no evidence to think so, who claim that they experienced things which can only be explained by x god or y spirit or z angel or some other notion.

Explanations are fair game to my way of thinking. If you tell a story, you'd better make it a good one. But a person's experience is sacrosanct. I can take issue with what you said your experience meant, but denying that you had one is something else altogether. Denying a person's experience is to erase him as an experiencer at a point in space and time. To characterize the experiences of another human being as delusion or insanity or even significant misperception had better be done with good evidence. When it is done as a policy towards certain types of experience, I would argue that it's just the converse of the same kind of thinking that atheists love to hate overbearing Christians for when the Christians have decided--as a policy towards everyone who does not accept their "faith"--that the atheists are going to hell. 

About Nigel's comments about science: The mere fact that such a big deal is being made over the anthropic principle was a red flag to me, precisely because it resolves nothing. I wouldn't call it a strawman, because they aren't knocking it down, but the problem it's being used to "explain" is a strawman. The fine-tuning of constants is just one thing, and I don't dismiss it because smart scientists don't dismiss it, even though they would ideologically have an interest in doing so. I don't get the impression that they think it's trivial. Plain old complexity is another. It doesn't pose a logical challenge to physicalism/materialism, but it does pose a challenge to our credulity. It is an incredible improbability that it all just self-organized. Why they would grasp at a straw like the anthropic principle is beyond me, unless they are simply at their wits' ends. Or, maybe it's a diabolical scheme on the part of a lot of atheistic scientists to make a big deal about the improbabilities. After all, that's one of the more potent Creationist/ID arguments. Maybe it isn't a strong argument to well-considered atheists, but it certainly is a convincing one for John Q Public when you show him all those RNA strands replicating DNA in our little cell factories and ask him how that could all just happen by chance. So, admit the improbability, then turn the tables on the Creationists by accepting those "facts" but repackaging them in atheistic "explanations" such as the anthropic principle. I'm not sure which one is more of a stretch. Eye-wink The jury's still out.

I've adopted a new favorite word: illuminate. I love explanations and information that help us better understand issues so that we can better deal with them. That's illumination. I'm getting short of patience with "explanations" that explain things away or categorize them with convenient labels or dismiss them with pat answers; in short, everything that excuses us from having to deal with the issues. I often don't even wait to hear all of the details once I can see that an "explanation" is going in the direction of "let's let it lie in the dark and say that we didn't." I'm getting old and cranky, I guess, because I'm just two short steps from calling that just so much bullshit. If it doesn't illuminate, why are we wasting our time? And if we don't want to better deal with things, then we're part of the problem.

Haha! And I was never a preacher, either, believe it or not. Ya got me going! I like it. I've been in a writing slump for a couple of months. Couldn't tell now.

 

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


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skeptic23 wrote:What I

skeptic23 wrote:

What I really hope to do here is understand why atheists choose to become atheists. I expect that the reasons are wide and varied, but they all have one thing in common: they all result in atheism. I already understand a great deal about why theists choose to become theists. My frustration with understanding atheists so far is that they exhibit the same reluctance to examine their foundational beliefs that theists do. Most of what I've read and heard atheists say boils down to reasons why it doesn't make sense to seriously entertain the possibility of the existence of gods. This seems like the flip side of the theistic refusal to seriously entertain the possibility that gods do not exist. Both seem like opposing sides of the same coin of denial.

What both theists and atheists have in common is that we all went through a process to arrive at our respective positions. One striking difference between theists and atheists is the way that they talk about their individual processes. The processes described by theists tend to focus on constructive elements (what did happen, what it did mean) while those of atheists seem to focus on deconstructive elements (realizing what didn't happen, realizing that it didn't mean what it seemed to mean.)

 

In my humble opinion I don't think people "choose" to become atheists.  They are just built not to believe in the ridiculous supernatural explanations that ALL religions propose.   A-Theist isn't even a great word, though most use it because it is the most recognizable...some use naturalist, PEARL-ist, etc.  I am an aniti-theist (for lack of better term) because I wouldn't even want theism to be true.  In other words, some atheists won't believe because there is NO evidence, but they wouldn't mind if it was true and evidence showed it so (heaven and god and all that supernatural magic stuff).  I think if god did exist and had a place like "heaven" it would NOT be a good thing.  Ever read the bible?

 

You say - " I've read and heard atheists say ["choosing" atheism] boils down to reasons why it doesn't make sense to seriously entertain the possibility of the existence of gods"....as if this was the only other alternative.  Either there are "gods" or there are "no gods"...what about aliens?  What about another explanation for the universe and existence?  With all we know because of science, biology and physics, to stick god in the "gaps" that we still don't understand is lazy and retarded.  People who need this belief are weak.

 

I didn't really go through " a process" (as you say) to arrive at my belief.  Belief isn't even the right word...atheism isn't a claim...it's the LACK of a belief.  Of course as I like to tell my religious friends - I am as sure that there is NO god as you are sure that your magic sky daddy and jeebus actually existed (which is to say - pretty fricking sure).  For christians anyway.  I never believed and can't remember ever believing...yes of course they tried to indoctrinate me as a child, but it never "took".  Some are just made not to believe.

 

I hope you find what you are looking for here.

 

Inver

 

Time and I against any other two. - Beltazar Gracian
Beware the fury of a patient man. - John Dryden
It requires ages to destroy a popular opinion. - Voltaire
There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world: and that is an idea whose time has come. - V. Hugo
When in doubt, squat and run hills. - Jim Wendler


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BobSpence1 wrote:It has just

BobSpence1 wrote:

It has just occurred to me that another thing which probably contributed to my path was having a collection of story books which included a volume on stories of the Greek and Roman Gods.

I found many of these stories fascinating and fun.

After that, it was just too easy to see the Christian story as a less interesting version of the same kind of narrative. If it hadn't had all the miracle stuff in it, I actually might have taken the whole thing more seriously.

 

 I had several roman history books and greek/roman story books as well. So we do have something in common, lol.

One huge mistake my parents made was giving me a book called "Our Continent" (a natural history of north america)  from the national geographic society.. I still have this book, it was printed in 76'. It's a big hardcover authored by 14 scientists, Stephen Jay Gould among them.

Faith is the word but next to that snugged up closely "lie's" the want.
"By simple common sense I don't believe in god, in none."-Charlie Chaplin


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Brian's post

mellested and brian,

I was surprised to see mellested use "rebuke" about my repsonse to Brian. If that's how it came across, I apologize. It was truly an observation with just a leeetle bit of poke in it. Brian's post seemed pretty passionate to me. That along with so many declarations about the truth of the matter concerning theists prompted my "evidence-to-ridicule ratio" quip.

I don't have contempt for the idea that theists don't have any good arguments or evidence. Contempt is something I reserve for people I believe are insincere and how pose some threat to honest people. That doesn't apply to anyone in this discussion from my perspective. What I do believe and sometime soon (I gotta get some food!) would like to discuss is what often happens and that I see as a prejudicial narrowing of what evidence is allowed into discussion, with the effect that what's left by definition or by its very nature is irrelevant to the question. It isn't a simple issue. Some of the problem I think has to do with our arbitrary dualism between "material" and "non-material." I've studied this for some time. Recently I obtained a copy of Andrew Melnyk's The Physicalist Manifesto: A Thoroughly Modern Materialism. Right up front he admits that the definition of "physical" is problematic. His solution is to defer to "current science." In other words, what current science deems to be physical constitutes the definition of "physical" at any point in time. The circularity isn't lost on him. That's why it's not a trivial problem.

My exception is to the idea that theists don't have any good evidence. (Arguments "proving" the existence of gods are what they are.) I'm not making the claim that theists do have good evidence. I'm saying that more often than not when I hear someone claim that theists don't have any good evidence, that person has done several things:

1. Prejudicially restricted what evidence can be considered "good" or "proper" or otherwise acceptable. At least in our court system we have a judicial process for deciding what evidence to allow and what to dismiss before a case is tried. How many times have you heard an atheist/theist argument start out by finding a common definition of what acceptable evidence is? And it's often the atheists who presume the definition to the exclusion of things that are meaningful to a theist. Saying, "only physical evidence is allowed," as a crude example, closes the discussion before it starts, because any tie between physical and gods is problematic, with one exception: miracles. If the theists actually did "know god" you would think there would be a lot more of those happening. But again, lack of evidence doesn't doesn't demonstrate absence, it just makes you, and me, and Russell, wonder a great deal. 

2. Maintains a double-standard, discounting evidence proffered if it would support the existence of gods by subjecting it to a standard that he does not subject evidence to if it undermines the existence of gods or supports a scientific theory or supports the fact that he wants to believe that a hot girl just made eyes at him. The common atheistic harping on "burden of proof" is an example.

3. Maintains a notion of dualism that I believe is mistaken, whether it's material/non-material, mind/body, spiritual/physical, this worldly/other worldly, this creation/new creation, etc. This is the mistaken basis on which evidence gets prejudicially restricted.

4. Overly emphasize the "objective." This actually is a philosophical problem, not a god problem. I am working on how to explain it. In short, we have given up our rights to rely on our hearts by our insistence on "objectivity." This doesn't apply just to god, but to all kinds of areas of life. We've become a society that is afraid to say "I know" because it might be a mistake. We need more gumption (thanks Mom! By the way, I talk to her too, sometimes. She passed in 1997.)

I'm not on any high ground, nor do I have in mind that "some sort of theism is a possibility that should not be discounted." I'm just after answers and I get miffed when I get frustrated by non-illuminating arguments, let alone mystification or trickery, which I'll have you know hasn't even come close to happening here so far. I don't claim to know that something is so much as I claim that we don't know enough to say that such-and-such isn't and prejudicially restrict anything. I'm an explorer: let's go see!

My personal faith in blurf is that blurf is benevolent. I kind of waft in and out of thinking and talking to blurf as I used to do when I believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, except you wouldn't call this praying; it's talking. As a matter of fact, I would say that I still do believe in their god, although I don't think we would necessarily agree on what we think about blurf (naming problems being one point of contention) and I'm still working through that whole sacrifice of Isaac thing. (If you want to really stump a Bible-literalist Christian, I mean seriously stump him, get him to actually visualize himself (or herself) taking his own son up to a mountain because god told him to kill the boy. Walk him through it. Then ask him how he would satisfy himself whether a) God spoke to him, or b) he had a psychotic episode, or c) the devil spoke to him. Remember, he believes that it actually happened just like it's written, and now you've engaged him emotionally in the first person. Fun times!) Other times I'm still talking/thinking to blurf, but it's more along the lines of what Luminon described: "the energy of universe plus all natural laws governing that energy is something that could be called God." I'd just add intentionality to that mix. And benevolence. Like I said, I waft between the two, between personal monolithic God and the Kozmos, across whatever lines someone might think lie there, just like a national border, except no guards demand information and justification from me before they'll let me cross. The border between the spiritual and the "earthly", the non-material and the material, seems just as artificial to me as the one between here and Vancouver. Maybe it isn't really there at all!

By the way, one of my best friends is a Wiccan! My Kozmos side relates with her well.

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


cj
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A couple of other people

A couple of other people have replied to this post.  Let me take a moment to speak for myself.

 

skeptic23 wrote:

 I'm in Seattle, not too far from you.

Thanks for telling me a bit about your journey. I and my children survived a horrendous custody battle with my ex, who is still in the "church" that fomented the trouble between us that led to our divorce. I know the anger you described. I'm still angry with god/spirit/kosmos/whatever, just not like I used to be. My boys did nothing to warrant what they experienced or to inherit a broken home, and that in the name of Christ! 15 years later, I'm so jazzed about the kind of human beings they are turning out to be, I'd be hard pressed to choose an alternate past if I wasn't sure they would grow up to be the young men they are. Who can say what staying in close association (their mom would have ensured that) with a manipulative, indoctrinating environment would have done to them?

 

Marital breakups are the pits.  My divorce was relatively calm.  My parents' divorce involved doors broken down, rifles being fired and the police called.  My sons are wonderful adult men and only a little messed up over the divorce.  And all are atheists, as well as my grandson.  It is always good to get past the bad times and live through some good.

 

skeptic23 wrote:

There are problems, of course, with using the argument that gods didn't do what we think they should do therefore gods don't exist. It's so interesting, though, that it is mentioned so often by atheists. The logical response to misbehaving/evil/insane gods would be to punish or censure them somehow. Denying their existence seems misplaced, as if the only way we would accept the existence of gods is if they were created in our image, i.e., to behave as we deem would be appropriate for them to behave.

The bad gods argument seems more like an argument of the heart than a rational one. I have a close friend, an atheist, who used to work the ER in Portland (Portland General? not sure...) She has held infants in her arms who had been beaten to death by their fathers. When she brought that up one time, there was no further discussion about the existence of god. I could only silently empathize as she recalled those painful memories, and I could feel her anger, more like righteous rage, long distance. It made me realize that our discussions about god usually take place at a much more superficial level than where our real beliefs lie.

 

The insane malignant god was an epiphany.  It was a summation of all the problems I had with the idea of a god/s/dess plus my anger for my son.  I see even less reason to worship a god/s/dess who is malignant than to worship one who is nice.  When you examine religions where the god/s/dess are obviously not human and do not act like any human you would associate with, I have even less understanding of why people choose to worship such a creature.

There are a number of fantasy stories about gods who diminish as their worshipers diminish in number.  Until eventually, the god/s/dess no longer exists in any definition, in any plane of existence, in any dimension.  Sounds good to me - if you can't deliver on your promises, you should go away, vanish, cease to exist.

I think a lot of the anger comes from the constant bombardment of how good the christian god is supposed to be.  How loving, how supportive.  How he has a plan and all this pain and suffering is for a good reason.  The ends justify the means.  And then one day, you have just had it.  You look around and realize there is no rhyme or reason for all of this pain.  And when you really pay attention, you realize just how much pain there is and you become angry.  And since you are not about to go shoot up or blow up churches, you get angry with the christian god.

 

skeptic23 wrote:

So a couple of comments.

I see no reason for theists to reject science or for atheism to be a requirement to accept it, unless by science you mean a science inextricably entwined with atheism. Although I admit our sciences have been very atheistic, they don't need to be such. I'm seeing some very interesting behavior in the scientific arena that seems to be a direct result of the modern insistence on atheism. I'm not saying that scientists are atheists, but that the basic beliefs of most scientists, whether theist or atheist, explicitly exclude the possibility of gods' involvement in phenomena subject to scientific scrutiny. This exclusion is made pre-scientifically and I would argue pre-rationally, and seems to be the reason that so much has been made of the "anthropic principle" lately. The anthropic principle is being invoked to resolve a problem that only atheistic scientists would have: the incredible improbability of the universe and life within it being such as they are as the result of the Big Bang, chance, and lots and lots of time for complexity to arise.

 

Science relies on repeatable, observable evidence.  From one of your other posts, I realize you may be struggling with this.  The idea is to have many different people in many different labs examining the same hypothesis.  If you all can't come to some similar conclusions, then you had better reexamine your hypothesis.  Doesn't matter what your religious beliefs are or are not, it is first, foremost and always the results of your experiments that are important. 

God/s/dess could be part of the experiment.  Since no one has observed s/he/it in any objective manner, then an experiment waiting around for s/he/it to get off the stick and do something seems like a waste of time to me.  By objective, I mean in some fashion that is repeatable and verifiable.  It does me no good if someone says they saw god/s/dess.  Fine.  I haven't.  How could I go about envisioning this entity?  "By opening your heart."  Not very helpful and way far from objective in any sense of the word.

My reference to science was actually very specific.  I have always enjoyed reading about history and evolution.  Even when I was church going, I was reading about the latest discoveries in Scientific American and Natural History magazines.  There were a number of people who pointed out to me how this did not jive with their vision of what the bible said.  I had a constant struggle with myself over whether I believed in Genesis or not.  Was it a 1000 years was one day?  Still not enough time.  Was it some other definition of "day".  Was it a simplification of what really happened?  Why was the order of creation so illogical?  Note, I never had to struggle over evolution.  It has always made sense to me.

 

skeptic23 wrote:

About your quote on feeling better having stopped trying to believe: I know well that kind of "belief" and why it feels so bad to try to "believe" that way. However, that's not the only kind of believing that there is. We believe those we trust. We believe our own conclusions (usually!) We believe lots of things. Why would believing in gods be different? It isn't life or gods or experience or even the Bible that teaches us that there is a certain kind of believing required when it comes to gods (and it just so happens to be the feeling bad kind.) That's taught by organized religions as part of their myths which have not helped humanity, but have certainly allowed them to control obscenely large shares of the earth's resources and wealth by exploiting their adherents who are trying to "believe."

 

That is my quote.  My own.  I feel that way because I had to work to believe in god/s/dess.  I had to turn off my brain - literally stop myself from thinking about how wrong the bible was in so many ways.  Literally turn away from contradictions and the pain in the world to try to make myself believe that there was some sort of a plan that was good for us because god was good.  I had to force myself to try to put my life in Jesus' hands.  And I never succeeded.  I never felt comfortable or secure or "happy in the lord".  Letting go of all that, feeling free to be myself, to pursue my interests and believe what I am comfortable with.  That is the source of my quote. 

I realize a large part of my discomfort revolves around christianity.  It is what I have been exposed to.  But I have never heard of a religion or god/s/dess belief that makes any sense to me.  A pantheon of gods and goddesses?  Some neuronless "mind" in the interstices between matter, what some call "dark matter", may be the supreme being?  The Jungian consciousness?  Blech.

You want to see me become a believer in god/s/dess?  Give me some physical evidence.  A tick on a meter.  A mark on a chart.  Sheeze, flaming letters written on the sky by winged beings filmed in technicolor by three or four different TV news crews.  A burning bush that never goes out and the fire department can't make it go out.  An amputee that miraculously regrows their missing limb.  I'll reconsider my beliefs at that point.

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

"If death isn't sweet oblivion, I will be severely disappointed" - Ruth M.


cj
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skeptic23 wrote:1.

skeptic23 wrote:

1. Prejudicially restricted what evidence can be considered "good" or "proper" or otherwise acceptable. At least in our court system we have a judicial process for deciding what evidence to allow and what to dismiss before a case is tried. How many times have you heard an atheist/theist argument start out by finding a common definition of what acceptable evidence is? And it's often the atheists who presume the definition to the exclusion of things that are meaningful to a theist. Saying, "only physical evidence is allowed," as a crude example, closes the discussion before it starts, because any tie between physical and gods is problematic, with one exception: miracles. If the theists actually did "know god" you would think there would be a lot more of those happening. But again, lack of evidence doesn't doesn't demonstrate absence, it just makes you, and me, and Russell, wonder a great deal. 

 

I will now leave this particular topic with the conclusion of my reply to this post.  I'm a realistic pragmatist or a pragmatic realist.  Take your pick.  And I will not accept non-physical evidence.  I realize this is stopping the conversation between you and I before it has fairly started.  My apologies.

 

skeptic23 wrote:

2. Maintains a double-standard, discounting evidence proffered if it would support the existence of gods by subjecting it to a standard that he does not subject evidence to if it undermines the existence of gods or supports a scientific theory or supports the fact that he wants to believe that a hot girl just made eyes at him. The common atheistic harping on "burden of proof" is an example.

 

This makes no sense.  If you wanted to pursue a case for the existence pink flying unicorns, I think I would be justified in asking you to prove them rather I having to disprove them.

 

skeptic23 wrote:

3. Maintains a notion of dualism that I believe is mistaken, whether it's material/non-material, mind/body, spiritual/physical, this worldly/other worldly, this creation/new creation, etc. This is the mistaken basis on which evidence gets prejudicially restricted.

 

That you believe is mistaken.  Ah, we have to accept that there is no difference between material/non-material, etc.  Sayonara, buddy.

 

skeptic23 wrote:

4. Overly emphasize the "objective." This actually is a philosophical problem, not a god problem. I am working on how to explain it. In short, we have given up our rights to rely on our hearts by our insistence on "objectivity." This doesn't apply just to god, but to all kinds of areas of life. We've become a society that is afraid to say "I know" because it might be a mistake. We need more gumption (thanks Mom! By the way, I talk to her too, sometimes. She passed in 1997.)

 

I have to say "I know" all the time in my profession.  And I say a lot of "I don't know" as well.  I rely on my heart for those questions that are appropriate to ask it and it says - no god/s/dess, nope, not one.  Not now, not ever.  Done.

 

-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

"If death isn't sweet oblivion, I will be severely disappointed" - Ruth M.


mellestad
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@skeptic:  I'll try to keep

@skeptic:  I'll try to keep this short and see if I can boil it down enough and retain my central line of thought.

 

This will sound blunt, please don't be insulted.

 

I'm hearing a lot of new-agey Deepak Chopra stuff in what you are writing.  Materialism/dualism is a grey area for you, objective reality cannot be agreed on because subjective experience might be more real, you feel Blurf is benevolent, or maybe benevolence is Blurf, your concept of deity doesn't seem to be defined in any way and you think it might not be possible to define it and you are fine with that and think such a thing still has value, you seem to dislike people denying things that have no definition or physical evidence, etc.

So my question is simple:  What evidence do you find compelling  that leads you to think a whatever-it-is exists in theory, much less has a high enough probability that you feel justified speaking to it at times?  To me, the default position is one of open inquiry but a lack of belief until something has a proper hypothesis with some evidence.  What is your standard of belief and what evidence do you see that makes Blurf meet that standard?  Is Blurf a conscious entity that you think is willing to involve itself in your life?  What makes you think so?  If not, why bother with it?

I get a lot of contradictions reading your writing.  For example, you say investigating god is laughable because the very idea is likely beyond our human minds and we are flawed for anthropomorphizing such a thing, then you go on to anthropomorphous it yourself by invoking the emotion of benevolence and attempting to communicate with Blurf (which assumes Blurf cares about you as well and has capacity for action).  You mention the spiritual like it is an obviously real thing but you don't define it or defend it and then you criticize others who classify everything as material.

 

I think I would like to see a more grounded explanation of what you believe and why that did not use so much ambiguous language.  I am having a hard time pinning down what you believe and why you believe it even though you've written at length on the topic.  If I am totally wrong just let me know.

 

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


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Welcome to the forum,

Welcome to the forum, skeptic23. This is turning out to be a great thread; don't mind if I jump in.

skeptic23 wrote:
I went on the About.com Agnosticism / Atheism forum a couple of years ago trying to understand why atheists choose atheism. At the time, it seemed strange to me that an intellectual/theoretical position would label and define itself by reference to what it denied. If atheism doesn't depend on the existence of theism in order to define itself, what does it mean to be an "atheist?" How could LACK of something ("a" - without, "theism" - belief in god[s]) form the basis for collective identity and provide anything cohesive enough to maintain a sense of belonging and shared interest?

I got schooled. What I learned there is that atheism for the folks I conversed with was actually a kind of anti-theism, but not as an intellectual position. I was given to believe that apart from the influence--even pressure--of theists, atheists would simply think of themselves as  human beings. In other words, "atheism" = normal human thinking, "theism" = human thinking corrupted by the addition of belief in gods. In my residual theistic bias, I had made atheism = lack of theism, while atheists seem not to have any sense of lack (gee, go figure...) I guess I can be forgiven for my presumption, since I spent most of my life in Christian circles. To me the question of God's existence was a valid question. To the atheists on that forum, the question itself was symptomatic of a problem in thinking.

Right.

The lack of theism is a good, broad definition for atheism. But, emphasizing atheism is probably not an effective way for theists to understand atheists; is that essentially what you're saying?

Here is how I understand it. A lot of theists beg the question of the importance of God in discussions and trains of thought. They consider God to be infinitely important, and even if someone didn't believe in a God, the question of his existence should be infinitely important. So, it is very hard for them to grasp that there are so many people who would simply not believe, the same way that they don't believe in Santa Claus or fairies. Thus, they sometimes make a strange blunder; when they hear us calling ourselves "atheists," they unintentionally constuct a strawman by projecting their "significance of God" onto us. They convince themselves that the term atheism is not just any non-belief, but that our entire worldview is centered around rejecting God. This is completely wrong.

Of course, publicizing atheism IS more important than publicizing a-Santa Clausism or a-fairiesm, but only because there are more theists with more power than Santa Clausists and Fairiests. Atheism is only important to the extent that holding the reins on theism is important. Without theism, atheism is....well....nothing. In fact, if most of the people in the world worshiped fairies rather than Gods and tried to enact social policy, politics, etc. based on what their fairies told them, scientific naturalists like us would probably call ourselves a-fairiests rather than a-theists. It's like:

"Oh hai, I don't believe in fairies." 

"Really? Cool, me either." 

skeptic23 wrote:
Most of what I've read and heard atheists say boils down to reasons why it doesn't make sense to seriously entertain the possibility of the existence of gods.

I do not think anyone here believes that a God is impossibe or that God certainly doesn't exist. What we believe is that most Gods are improbable and that existence must be demonstrated.

I think it is possible for a God to exist. I'm not sure what it means to "seriously entertain" it though.

If this is just a matter of semantics, you can call us agnostics if you want.

skeptic23 wrote:
Am I in the right place?

My experience with this is...if you abandon this website in disgust, then you were probably the douche. 

 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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mellestad wrote:I'm hearing

mellestad wrote:
I'm hearing a lot of new-agey Deepak Chopra stuff in what you are writing.  Materialism/dualism is a grey area for you, objective reality cannot be agreed on because subjective experience might be more real, you feel Blurf is benevolent, or maybe benevolence is Blurf, your concept of deity doesn't seem to be defined in any way and you think it might not be possible to define it and you are fine with that and think such a thing still has value, you seem to dislike people denying things that have no definition or physical evidence, etc.

I will pray to God that we can have a productive discussion with this guy and that he doesn't turn out like Epistemologist. *shudder*

 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


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I'm going to try to trim

I'm going to try to trim this up and stick to one or two ideas, rather than try to tackle everything at once. If I miss something important, or take something out of context, please call me out on it.

skeptic23 wrote:
I am still forming my views on “god” or whatever monicker we might choose. Part of the problem, as another good atheist friend of mine loves to point out, (always as far as he's concerned; often as far as I'm concerned,) the term “god” is a non-referent. I've sometimes used “blurf” in place of “god” in talking to people just to make the point.

Your friend has an excellent point, with important epistemic ramifications. This will tie in later when I discuss what "evidence" is, and what it is not -- and what you can do with that evidence.

For the moment, it is sufficient to say, "How can you claim something exists if you have no idea what it is you are claiming?" Notice that this is a question about the quality of your knowledge, not the existence or non-existence of the undefined thing.

Quote:

What you wrote leads me to think that you have some clear notions about what is and isn't evidence and a sense for various degrees of strength or reliability of different kinds of evidence. Could you elaborate. You did give one example of “questionable evidence,” which was “feeling.”

I'm going to use the world "reality" as "that which exists independently of observation and interpretation." This is a bit different than your use, but I believe it is important to ensure the word "real" is used consistently. I shall call the model of the world an individual holds as her "world-view." I dislike that word, but it seems to be in vogue these days.

"Evidence" is merely observation applied to propositions. This is important: it must be observed for it to be evidence. That which is unobserved is not evidence. The observation becomes evidence when it is used to support or contra-indicate a proposition (especially if that proposition is an hypothesis). Also, evidence has a domain. So, while a theist can observe that they "feel the presence of God," that is not evidence of God, but evidence of the theist's internal emotional state. The same is true of anything that is based on introspection. The domain of introspection is the realm of one's own mind. This is why much of what Luminon (whom I like a lot) writes is not indicative of the external world, but only his own internal state.

This domain-specificity of evidence is why quantum mechanics doesn't supersede chemistry. It's also why Newtonian physics is still considered valid, as Newtonian physics is sufficiently accurate within its domain.

That doesn't mean internal observation can't be indicative of something in the objective world. This is the subject of much SF, in fact. For instance, someone who can look inward and observe something happening elsewhere (remote viewing) would show that at least one type of introspection is evidence of something other than simple internal state. All experiments to demonstrate this sort of phenomena have failed so far. So far, all external objective evidence indicates introspection is evidence limited to descriptions of our own internal states.

So there's the domain of the evidence. After the domain, there's the reliability of the evidence. This is merely the repeatability of the observation, and the variance between observations. If you have one person who once dreamed about a plane crash, and the next day a plane crashes, the dream may have been a premonition, but the reliability is quite low, as the repeatability is low, and the incidence of false positives (people dreaming of airplanes crashing when no crash subsequently occurs) is quite high.

The final criteria for evidence isn't quite as objective as the first two. It is usefulness. If the evidence doesn't help extend our knowledge, it is useless. Worse, it can cause you to come to the wrong conclusions.

As an example, take the idea the world is flat. The evidence is right before your eyes: the land before you is flat. Now, just because a person believes the world is flat doesn't make it so. No amount of wishful thinking will make the world flat. Their world-view is not consistent with reality, no matter how fervently they believe it is so.

Quote:

My experience with atheists and with scientists and philosophers who assume at least a working atheism is that there are often problems in their assumptions about evidence. They will not allow certain things to be construed as evidence. It just happens to sort out so that they will accept only the types of things that by definition or by nature could not serve as evidence for the existence of blurf as bona fide evidence, while anything that possibly could serve as evidence they rule out as unacceptable. This is a tidy situation, but circular. If the rules for admitting evidence preclude anything that has a hope of proving the theist's point, he might be screwed but he hasn't been proven wrong. A gross but common example of this is to start, as many scientists do, with the belief that the only things that actually exist are physical in nature. Since blurf is supposedly not physical in nature, what kind of evidence could there possibly be to support its existence?

What kinds of evidence would serve to prove the existence of blurf if you were to encounter them?

(Ok, enough with the blurf.)

This comes back to epistemology. "How do you justify what you know?"

Everything we know is built on things we knew before. The discovery of quantum mechanics was based on the study of the atom, and the study of light. QM turns out to be quite a bit different from everything known before, a whole new realm; but it was discovered because we understood everything necessary to get there. Although it seems it was discovered suddenly, it was not. The fact we discovered QM so unexpectedly indicates our knowledge leading up to the discovery is fairly accurate and reliable. So, one hallmark of a good model of reality is the ability to discover new knowledge.

The same is true of evolution, and genetics, and computers. These discoveries are there because we had mapped out knowledge to the point of discovery of new territory.

This is where the quality of evidence becomes, well, evident. Does your evidence help discover new things? New, reliable things that also produce their own observations, their own evidence?

Back in the QM realm, there's lots of ways of interpreting our current knowledge of the facts of QM. There's string theory, which really isn't a theory. There's causal dynamical triangulations. There's loop quantum gravity. There are even some interesting, purely-classical models that might work. None of these models, which are based on current evidence, are considered "good" until they produce a prediction of something currently unknown. At that point, they move from "proposition" to "hypothesis." Observations can then be made to determine the accuracy of the predictions. Those observations will then become either evidence for, or evidence against, the hypothesis making the predictions. In either case, the new observations are taken into account, and perhaps new propositions can be made.

This movement from observation to hypothesis is an important one. The observations are as objective as possible. The more objective, the more reliable, the better they are for creating propositions with explanatory powers. However, all this must be based on things we know.

Why must it be based on things we know? Why can't we just make a proposition such as, "God did it?"

Because the proposition of "God" hasn't been established. You can't use one unknown entity to establish a proposition. The proposition must extend that which is known to include the evidence for that which is unknown.

Otherwise, you're just making shit up.

So you can't use "God" as the basis for a proposition.

To get to God, you'd have to extend knowledge until we have evidence that God exists. This evidence can't be something subjective like, "The universe is complex, so God must exist." "Complexity" is a subjective term, and there might other explanations for the perceived complexity. (Plus, there is a self-refuting logical flaw in the complexity argument.)

To get to "acceptable evidence for God," you'd first have to have observations which extend our current knowledge, but cannot be explained by any other means.

One example I might accept as provisional evidence for God: the power of prayer. If prayer could be shown to be effective beyond the placebo effect, this would give rise to a couple of competing hypothesis, one of which could effectively be "God." At this point, you'd have to show it wasn't some other effect, by demonstrating the power of prayer to affect, say, the remission of cancer in subjects that don't even know they are being prayed for. Then you'd have to rule out some psi effect.

You'd have to come up with a precise definition of God, and that's where your friend's observation about the non-referent comes in. You'd have to propose the specific attributes of God that provide for the power of prayer, and offer a mechanism by which it works.  And then, to move the God hypothesis into theory territory, you'd have to use the God hypothesis to predict new evidence, and run the experiments that would produce evidence that would either support or contradict the God hypothesis.

This wouldn't entirely prove the existence of God, but it would go a long way to introducing God as a viable hypothesis. As you can see, it's a tall, tall order.

One of the biggest pieces of evidence against almost all conceptions of God is the variance within God-beliefs. If there was a God who truly wished to be known, all religious beliefs would have some common threads. As it is, the aggregate of religious beliefs amount to white noise. There is no single thread consistent across all beliefs. This pretty much rules out revelation as a source of knowledge of God.

There are some deistic or even panentheistic formulations for God that sidestep this little problem, but a God that does nothing is essentially a God that doesn't exist.

Quote:

Actually, “objective world” is a loaded term, but I take you to mean that there is only one existence which includes everything that actually does exist. Since we have no way of getting outside our respective, subjective, individual cognitions, there is really no empirical way to determine objectively that there is only one “world” or what it's like. We do the best that we can, but everything we know is filtered, even scientific research and testing. Even if you were able to assimilate all our cognitions Borg-like into a collective, it would still be limited and filtered, especially by time. We don't live that long and we haven't been compiling knowledge for that long either. Solipsism is actually not a necessary result of rejecting the notion that there is only one objective world, but I follow where you're headed and agree that at least we all act like there is a real world out there that doesn't change just because we think it does and doesn't exist wholly in our minds.

As I said, the alternative is solipsism. At that point, it doesn't matter what you believe, and epistemology, metaphysics, science, and knowledge are useless. If I am a brain in a jar, or if I am God strung out on peyote, there is no difference. In that case, life truly is meaningless, and fantasy is the only truth.

While I don't discount the possibility, the fact that science works, and works consistently, indicates there is an objective reality. It is the only epistemology that assumes the objectivity of reality, and it is the only epistemology that has proven effective at generating new knowledge. So in that respect, we do have evidence that an object reality exists outside our cognition. That evidence is all around you, from the good (like computers) to the bad (like computers, and megacorps capable of decimating entire ecosystems).

All of this is based on the assumption we can overcome the bias of cognition. By identifying our flaws and implementing procedures that compensate for those flaws, we have discovered a realm below the atomic, and a universe filled with planets. It's slow, laborious work, but it works. It works consistently, it works reliably, and it works practically.

There is nothing else that works, period. So the base assumption of objectivity on which science rests is our best working model.

Quote:

I like to use the term “existence” to refer to everything that actually exists, and “reality” to refer to what we interact with cognitively when we have contact with existence. They can be very different, but even when they are, we still act like reality is what is really there. Existence is what it is. Realities involving the same existence can differ to the only entities in the universe that we have a primary and overriding concern for: us! That makes the distinction worthwhile in my mind. Our realities are really, really real to us, even when they are wrong. It is exactly that realness that motivates us to try to verify the best we can how closely our realities resemble existence, and especially how far apart they might be from existence, because that's the problem that usually bites us in the butts.

I think we are saying essentially the same thing. I hope so, at least.

This is why I believe the "correctness" of our worldview is important. The more accurately it models reality (or "existence" if you prefer), the better off we are. And the only way we can establish that our worldview accurately models objective existence is by verification. The only way to verify that model of reality is to compare it against existence itself.

Quote:

On that we disagree, mostly because your “correct” world view doesn't allow for variations between individual cognitions and variations within the same individual's cognition over time. Even though we might interact with exactly the same part of existence, our realities can differ depending on a myriad of factors, so that our views of that part of existence can also differ. The differences can be due to error (I see white when I look at something black) but they can also be due to the simple fact that our cognitions are limited (I can't see through the back of my head.) We filter things out, we focus on things, we can only process so many things at a time so others get left unprocessed, we forget.

Cognition doesn't matter. A mental patient who believes he is King Louis VIII is not King Louis VIII, just because she believes it is so. Your cognition might indicate you are in fine health, but in fact you might have pancreatic cancer. Incorrect perceptions of reality (or existence, if you prefer) are potentially dangerous.

This doesn't mean there can't be variance in world-views. For instance, starting with the exact same objective data, we can come to different conclusions about subjective matters. (Some truly freakish individuals don't like beer, for instance.) Also, we are stuck with ignorance as well, and that ignorance can lead to debates about the best social systems. Especially in the realm of social interaction, which is a chaotic system, objective knowledge is not sufficient. Hell, I'm not sure I'd want a single objective society. (But again, that's me pulling out the old ought/is problem.)

I don't believe there is only one "mostly correct" worldview. There are many that are equally correct, with great variance between them all. It just behooves us to know what is actual knowledge, what is conjecture, and what is simply subjective preference.

Quote:
Given our limitations, how could we determine a “correct” world-view without it being a holy grail of perfectly complete perception, one which all of us together if we were perfectly hooked up to each other across all times into a giant mind could still not achieve?

Yep. I think we agree on this.

Not sure how it relates to the desirability of believing in a god that doesn't exist, though.

Quote:

Haha, I used the term “deconstructive” not “destructive,” easy miss. What I meant was that personal processes of discovery which result in atheism tend to involve removal or dismantling of notions and beliefs related to gods, while processes which lead to theism tend to involve installation and assembly of such notions and beliefs. Just think about how atheists harp on the notion that evidence for the existence of gods does not exist. Theists harp on the “fact” (at least to them) that evidence does exist, even plenty of it. Atheists don't say, “I have evidence that gods do not exist,” and theists don't say, “I believe in god because no evidence exists that says I shouldn't.” I guess what I'm saying echoes what you said earlier, that “not all world-views are equal,” except here I'm saying that about the processes which result in one position as compared to the other, and I am also observing something particular about the difference.

Damn! Sorry about that. Thanks for the correction. I must be getting old, poor of eyesight and senile of mind.

I'd just like to point out (essentially what I said the first time) that that's one of the most common processes you can use to go from belief to non-belief, the deconstruction of the positive belief to the lack of the positive belief. I guess I just don't see it as that odd, or even indicative of the resulting world-view.

 

 

There's a lot more after, but I have to get to work. I think this pretty much encapsulates my world-view, and I think gives a pretty good defense of the scientific concept of "evidence." (There's a lot more to the scientific end of things, of course.)

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


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Mellestad: blunt? You gotta do more to get thru this ol' hide...

 

mellestad wrote:

This will sound blunt, please don't be insulted.

Hey, I found not the least bit of insulting stuff in your post.

Quote:

I'm hearing a lot of new-agey Deepak Chopra stuff in what you are writing. Materialism/dualism is a grey area for you, objective reality cannot be agreed on because subjective experience might be more real, you feel Blurf is benevolent, or maybe benevolence is Blurf...

Deepak Chopra?!? Please, say it ain't so! That guy gives me the heebie-jeebies, as do most New Age purveyors. I've looked into some of them them (Dyer, Hay, Tolle, Braden, etc.) primarily because of my Wiccan friend. My opinion at this point is that they have performed modern versions of Jesus' fish and bread miracles: feeding millions on just a few concepts, masterfully variegated and nicely packaged for mass consumption.

Materialism/dualism isn't really a “grey” area for me, I find fault with it! Of course, if dualism is rejected, what we're left with might seem “grey” from the point of view that made dualism look sensible. I am working out an alternative to that point of view, still in the oven. I'll just say here that dualism says more about the way that we insist on looking at existence than it does about the nature of existence.

The rest of your description is pretty accurate. Like I said, I'm reevaluating. What I described in my previous posts was an elaboration of what I stated in my first post: my thinking at this point defies categorization. I don't have a secret agenda hidden by my apparent lack of clarity. I am DECONSTRUCTING at a level where most people just take their assumptions for granted, like dualism, like definitions of evidence, etc.

Quote:

...your concept of deity doesn't seem to be defined in any way and you think it might not be possible to define it and you are fine with that and think such a thing still has value, you seem to dislike people denying things that have no definition or physical evidence, etc.

Yes, my concept of deity remains deliberately undefined PRECISELY because I want to keep my beliefs about blurf based on evidence! It's interesting to me that, though I clearly wrote that I believe that I have evidence for my belief that blurf is benevolent, rather than ask me about that evidence or challenge me to produce it, you focused on the fact that my definitional categories are mushy. You do get to evidence below, but in a very different context.

I'm not sure how I implied that it “might not be possible to define” my concept of deity. I certainly believe that we can do that. I certainly will not do that without evidence. Nor did I mean to imply that I am “fine” with a poorly defined concept of deity. I'm not fine with it at all. Given the currently dismal state of the evidence that I do have, I am fine with my definition of deity as it now is, mushy and undefined as it is, because that is all that my evidence can support. What I need to do and am doing is to get more evidence, not elaborate beyond what I can support with evidence.

Let me generalize this. Am I fine with the general state of evidence for or against deity? Absolutely not. I'll repeat: never has so much been decided on the basis of so little. The god debate is it usually occurs is a debate of ignorance, not of knowledge, on BOTH sides. I think that we should be going about getting more knowledge, more evidence, not arguing on the pitifully small evidentiary basis that we have or even, sometimes, on no basis at all! Sadly, gathering evidence is hugely hampered by the preconceived, baseless ideas that we all seem to have about who/what gods are/are not, and especially about what reality is/is not and whether it is even the kind of thing in which gods could possibly be. Provisional beliefs for or against? OK. Working theories about existence or lack of it? Fine. But you can detect little sense of that kind of epistemological tentativeness in the god debate. Everyone is just so damned sure of themselves. Shame on us.

Once fundamental decisions are made without evidence, all the evidence that comes afterward is “fruit of the poisonous tree.” That goes for all of us. We all tend to start with fundamental beliefs that are not supported by any evidence whatsoever, like the belief that only physical things exist or the belief that non-material things exist. We all start there. We don't have much choice about that. The problem is when we won't move past where we started, especially when we excuse the fact we won't move, i.e., examine those basic beliefs and find some evidence for them or else find alternatives that do have some evidence for them. Maybe if we did we'd find out that we were right and our “trees” actually aren't poisonous, but very healthy. Unless we look, we'll never know. Like I mentioned in a prior post, it is very difficult to get people to step back and take a look at their fundamental beliefs. We'd rather cling to the ones that we have, even though they might be poisonous, than examine them and make sure that they aren't. The devil you know, I guess. Some people don't even think that they have any fundamental beliefs. Few are eager to look at the fact that they have no evidence to support them.

Quote:

So my question is simple: What evidence do you find compelling that leads you to think a whatever-it-is exists in theory, much less has a high enough probability that you feel justified speaking to it at times? To me, the default position is one of open inquiry but a lack of belief until something has a proper hypothesis with some evidence. What is your standard of belief and what evidence do you see that makes Blurf meet that standard? Is Blurf a conscious entity that you think is willing to involve itself in your life? What makes you think so? If not, why bother with it?

mellestad, here I get a little shy, not because I want to hide anything, but because I hardly know you and you are asking me to reveal some deeply personal information. Please let me explain. Asking me for the evidence which leads me to the relationship that I have with blurf is asking me about an intimate, intensely personal and private relationship. We've been carrying on since 1972, you know. I wouldn't share personal information about my relationship with my love partner in a public forum. My relationship with blurf is no different.

However, I think I understand your intent. There are things that I believe about blurf, such as that blurf is benevolent, that I want to discuss. I don't think that discussion would satisfy your request, however. Your request is more general and is couched in a particular perspective, one that is obviously different than mine. I will try to describe this, but let me respond to the rest of your comments first.

(By the way, I'm well aware of the dissonance between using the term “blurf” and describing “carrying on” an “intensely personal and private” with it/him/her. I just love the Cohen brothers. What? You think that you are more internally self-consistent and less ridiculous? Eye-wink Haha, I trust you find yourself along with the rest of us, dazed and confused in large part.)

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I get a lot of contradictions reading your writing. For example, you say investigating god is laughable because the very idea is likely beyond our human minds and we are flawed for anthropomorphizing such a thing, then you go on to anthropomorphous it yourself by invoking the emotion of benevolence and attempting to communicate with Blurf (which assumes Blurf cares about you as well and has capacity for action). You mention the spiritual like it is an obviously real thing but you don't define it or defend it and then you criticize others who classify everything as material.

Contradictions gallore! The only way for there to be a contradiction is to have a context in which two things can both be understood. In that context, the understanding that we have of those two things is such that they cannot both be true at once, thus the contradiction. Some contradictions can be eliminated by changing the context, usually by broadening it, but sometimes by reinventing it like Einstein did to Newtonian physics. Relativity solved many problems by changing the context. Many contradictions under Newton are no longer contradictions under relativity. You can't be sure that a contradiction is fundamental unless it holds in all the contexts that you care about. I'm in the process of changing and checking out contexts. Contradictions are my friends, because finding a new context that eliminates a contradiction is a good sign that you've found some fertile ground to plow, a new perspective that is worth investigating.

I didn't write that investigating god is laughable. Just the opposite. What I find laughable are the excuses that both atheists and theists use PRECISELY for the purpose of avoiding the need to investigate god. I don't find atheists or theists laughable, I just find those excuses laughable. I don't find the excuses laughable because I am above all that or know better or some such nonesense—I'm not—but because the excuses seem silly when you look at them. When you see them for what they are, they're funny. And when you look at what we try to make them do for us, it's laughable. It's just difficult to get people to actually look at them.

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I think I would like to see a more grounded explanation of what you believe and why that did not use so much ambiguous language. I am having a hard time pinning down what you believe and why you believe it even though you've written at length on the topic. If I am totally wrong just let me know.

Sorry, can't oblige much better at this point. My ramblings weren't intended to establish my position but to give you a glimpse into where my thinking is at at the moment. Your request amounts to asking me to skip my commitment to evidence and just slap together a position for you. Can't do it. I'm just glad to find a group that actually engages with me in spite of the kinds of comments/complaints you raised about my amorphous thinking.

What I would love is to focus on specifics. You'll find that I'm not amorphous about specific fundamental issues, for example, the four points I wrote a couple of posts back. It isn't necessary to have a full-blown position on the Almighty in order to talk about the problems with double standards or why dualism is a mistake or why “objectivity” is overrated.

It's ironic, but even the most scientifically-minded of us seem to abandon empiricism when we get into philosophical thinking. (Not a comment about you, but your comments prompted me to think about this.) When we start talking about the big issues, it's like we release ourselves from the requirement that our conceptions actually do need to bear some connection to reality. It can lead to some interesting contradictions. An example is the willingness that we have to accept such bizarre notions as string theory and multiverses (based on what evidence?) while at the same time we dismiss beliefs in ghosts or heaven because those beliefs have no evidence. What? Do intelligent people really miss the connection? Yup.

After reading Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer (great take on religion from a mixed perspective of anthropology and neuroscience), I am really liking the idea that our brains have a single prime directive: organize. I used to think that their prime directive was “make sense” but I've revised it. “Organize” is more illuminating. Our brains organize stuff whether we like it or not, even when we don't like it, e.g., anxiety and dread, and they often do it in ways that don't help us. Our brains get so pleased with themselves when they have found a way to organize a matter, i.e.,figured something out or made sense of it, that they reward themselves for the fact that organization was achieved without any regard to whether the organization is correct or if it will be beneficial.

Determining correctness is a whole process in itself that we often skip. It's not as much fun as organizing. It doesn't offer the same kinds of reward. Anyone who has done software or materials testing knows that it is at best a thankless job. Non-testers think that a successful test is one where the test subject “passes.” Actually, a successful test is one that breaks something or detects a flaw in the test subject. Testing is all about bad things happening. Finding flaws or weaknesses is the only reason for doing it. Breaking something or finding a flaw is the only result that validates testing as a worthwhile undertaking. If a test process goes through an unusually long spell of passing results, testing starts to get lax. Testers start wondering what the point of doing another test is. They start thinking, “It's just gonna pass anyway,” until maybe it doesn't and then they feel vindicated and excited all over again. Except in situations where testing has been formalized with predefined criteria that determine when testing is “complete,” testing always ends in a kind of frustration that just peters out. How much testing is enough? When do we draw the line? No matter where we draw the line and stamp it “tested” there is always another test that could have been performed, and every test could be performed “just one more time.” That next test, the one you didn't do, just might be the one to reveal a flaw. But you didn't do it, so now you won't know until the flaw is revealed out there where you don't want it, where others can see it. Software coders who do their own unit testing know all about this. Detroit recalls and Microsoft software have amply demonstrated what happens when you don't test enough (even if it is a killer marketing strategy, Bill.

What would we think of scientists who don't test their hypotheses or those who get the results that they are looking for (who says scientists are unbiased?) from their initials tests and summarily declare their hypotheses proven? Why do we do exactly that with our philosophical and religious beliefs? We need to start requiring evidence. Evidence is easy compared to proof. I'm not asking for proof of anything, because we are ALL a long way from proof. But maybe, if we start paying attention to evidence, we'll eventually gather enough evidence to form a basis from which to attempt proof. In the meantime, let's not run ahead of our evidence.

So, about our difference in perspectives on your requests for info. On one hand your request represented something intensely person to me, and on the other hand your request would require me to make things up out of thin air, i.e., without evidence. This points out that we have very different regards for what we're talking about. To be frank but I hope not blunt, this is a topic for you. You are treating it like you would a significant topic. I'm not yet sure how important it is to you, but at least it's important enough to warrant your time and interest in this discussion. What's more, being an atheist, it's probably not a topic about something that you think is or even could be real or have real consequences for your life. Most atheists I talk to see the real consequences for their lives coming not from gods but from believers in gods. I recognize this and I have no problem with it. It would be the same for me if I saw things the same way. What I would ask is that you recognize the very personal nature of the topic to me and understand that for me, we're not just talking about a topic. Just consider blurf as on a par with my wife or my father. No excuses, just an explanation why I might need to ease into discussing some things which, for me, are personal.

So, into something specific: evidence. Please allow me to walk you through my little journey on that point.

My long experience in talking to agnostics and atheists about my experience with blurf has shown me how easy it is for people to dismiss other people. As a brand, spanking new baby Christian in 1972, I used to tell everyone I could that I was born again and about the events leading up to it. I didn't just decide that believing was a good idea. Friends and my brother had talked and argued with me over the space of 3 years about God and Christ. I was such a skeptic that my friends refused to believe that I had been converted. I didn't go down easily. I knew it and I knew exactly why I'd changed my mind. At a point in the spring of 1972, I made an unconscious, subtle shift. I started considering what my brother and my friends were telling me. I didn't accept it; I just accepted that it was worth considering. Up to that point, I was all about (and pretty much only about) finding ways to disprove everything that they told me about God.

Over the next several weeks, I couldn't deny what I experienced and the evidence that it represented to me. It took several weeks. Finally, I decided that the only way that the events of the prior weeks could have happened was if there had been a very powerful “hand” behind them. Something knew exactly what was going on in my head and in my heart, things no living soul could have had knowledge about much less respond to by creating the events I experienced. I believed and experienced religious conversion, which is a very similar experience to religious deconversion (to atheism.) The relief/joy/ecstasy involved in either is as much if not more about the fact that our brains have lit onto a new organizational scheme than it is about the nature of that scheme or what it implies about reality.

So, I did all the usual things: freaked my parents and family and friends out with a rush of exuberance and goodwill, harassed them about their spiritual states, etc. In the process, I talked to a lot of people who were not necessarily sympathetic to my claims. I was among evangelicals, so I did all kinds of evangelism, even the door-to-door thing, which was no more fun than when I tried selling Fuller brushes. When I'd relate my experiences to people, over and over again they would dismiss them. “That's not evidence. It could have happened for X reason or for Y reason. You have no proof that God was behind it.”

I learned well from atheists and agnostics back then. They taught me that all they needed to do to discount my evidence was to posit an alternate explanation. Their alternate explanations didn't need to be supported by evidence, they only needed to be mentioned. Any explanation did just fine as long as it was a “reasonable” alternative. If I told someone that God answered a specific prayer that I had prayed and showed them the answer, all they seemed to think that they had to do was find another way to explain it and, Presto! No more God involved. Coincidence? Sure. Serendipity? OK. Fluke? No doubt. Answered prayer? Not unless I had “proof,” which apparently meant evidence that precluded every alternate explanation that they might manage to think of. It didn't seem fair and it still doesn't. Which of their own ideas did they subject to such an exacting standard?

If I told them about a healing or about encountering an angel or about being saved from a head-on collision on a highway or about having an encounter with God himself, they always managed to discount my evidence simply by finding something other than God that they could attribute it to. It was frustrating. No one likes being dismissed, especially not over something that's important to them. It's counterproductive. But something more was going on. It was very clear that the people who did this weren't interested in finding out the truth about the matter. That was clear because they really didn't care much what alternate explanation they came up with. Some people would jump from one explanation that I countered to another that I countered to another. It was like trying to follow the little bouncing ball in a sing-along. “You don't like that card? OK,” tossing it, ”Here's another one! I got a million of 'em!” The various alternate explanations that they would bounce between had little to no relevance to each other. In fact, they were sometimes contradictory. It perplexed me deeply. I eventually recognized it as avoidance behavior, but that wasn't until after my boys got to be teenagers. Eye-wink

I'm obviously not in the same position now as I was then, but I wanted to give some background for my circumspection about divulging certain information. I would like to avoid the counterproductivity, so I would like to talk about evidence in general first, even suggest some ground rules.

Several things about the alternate explanations trick.

Radiohead sings, “Just because you feel it doesn't mean it's there.” Just because you think it doesn't mean it's there, either. Conversely, just because it's a feeling doesn't mean there's nothing to it. Actually, feeling it does mean that something is there, just maybe not what we think that “it” is. We call feelings and thoughts that are totally disconnected from reality things like “delusions” or "panic attacks" or “psychotic episodes” or “paranoia.” All our other feelings actually do mean that something is there. So do our thoughts, unless we are consciously imagining or lying. Our brains are just wired so that it's really hard to think about nothing. That's one reason that Descartes came up with, “I think, therefore I am.” Recognizing that something is there is easy. Figuring out what it is and what to do about it is the challenge.

So, coming up with alternate explanations is really a back-handed confirmation that there is evidence. It recognizes that enough evidence is there to warrant an alternate explanation, otherwise we'd just laugh it off as ridiculous. The problem is that the alternate explanation is often misapplied. Offering an alternate explanation doesn't make any argument at all about whether there is evidence, it only shows that alternate interpretations are possible for the evidence given. It only raises question about what the evidence means. And then? And then? In my experience, often, and then nothing. Somehow, mentioning an alternate explanation entitled the one who mentioned it to walk away. Not only wasn't the answer interesting enough to stick around for and figure out, they acted as if there was nothing there worth questioning. They clearly seemed uninterested in determining which of the alternate explanations was the case. That would take investigation, precisely what they seemed intent on avoiding. No illumination there, I'm afraid.

The trickery in the alternate explanation response as I've described it is that merely offering the alternative gives the impression that “we're all done here.” That impression relies on the presumption (and I call it a presumption, not an assumption,) that only proof or something close to it would warrant further investigation. The fact that these people could mention an alternative, any alternative, to the theistic interpretation was all that they cared about. It established (in their minds, not mine) that there was no “proof” so they discounted my theistic interpretation as “just your interpretation” or something else just as dismissive. Please understand that I'm not attributing intention or making judgments about everyone who behaves this way, I'm just drawing conclusions from lots of experience with people who actually behaved this way.

Realizing this made something else clear. We don't behave this way when we want something to be true. Atheists quickly recognize this when theists go off into never-never land with their beliefs. It happens on a much more mundane level, though. Two guys are at a bar and one says to the other, “That girl is trying to get my attention.” The other guys says, “Naw, she was looking at that guy behind us,” or, “Naw, she thought you were someone else,” or, “Naw, you're just imagining things.” The first guy is not likely to accept those alternate explanations just because they were mentioned. He will probably investigate: see if she looks at him again, how often, pay attention to her expression, etc. If he gets convinced that she actually is trying to get his attention, any further alternate explanations from his friend might be met with, “Fuck off!” (something I often felt like saying to atheists except I wasn't allowed to, being a Christian and all.) However, if she's not his type or even a bit repulsive, especially if he's pretty sure that she IS trying to get his attention, he might latch onto any of his friend's alternate explanations as an excuse to avoid her, and it really wouldn't matter which. One thing is certain. There would be only one way to find out for sure one way or the other: go over and see if she in fact wanted his attention. But he wouldn't do that unless he wanted it to be a fact. If he wanted it not to be a fact, he'd just find a way to dismiss the evidence.

This led me to wonder whether I was getting this kind of behavior from atheists simply because they really did not want me to have any evidence about God, or even worse, because they were concerned that I actually might have some. Otherwise intelligent people acting satisfied with a hypothetical possibility as an alternative to experiential data? It didn't and still doesn't make sense.

Add to that the double-standard thing. If it concerned something that interested them and was important to them, such as their loved one, and I dismissed their experience in the same way that they were dismissing mine, they probably would not have stood for it. No self-respecting person would.

My wife loves me so much!”

What makes you say that?”

Look at the note she left me!”

Aw, she just wants to butter you up. Maybe she's going to ask for a weekend away from you. Or maybe she's got her eye on a new outfit. Or maybe she's feeling guilty about something. That's note isn't about loving you; it's about what she wants.”

You've got to look past the corny dialog, but you get the point. Expecting me to stand for similar dismissal implied to me that people who employed the alternate explanation gambit didn't expect me to exhibit self-respect. They seemed to expect instead that I should accept their dismissals. Maybe they thought that I was supposed to go along with the doormat interpretation of humility and turn the other cheek. As sorry as I was to disappoint them, haha, I've never been that kind of person.

So I started asking myself: Why did any of them think that dismissing evidence accomplished anything in the first place, especially when they did it on such flimsy grounds as merely forming a hypothesis, i.e., an alternate explanation? Where was the testing? Where was the interest in testing? After all, if we incorrectly dismiss evidence, it is actually still there. Unless we take some steps to make sure that we were correct to dismiss it, we are no more than choosing to be ignorant of it. If it can bite us in the butts at all, it can do that whether we stick our heads in the sand or not. With our heads in the sand, we'll just be in blissful ignorance until it happens.

There is only one reason that I would summarily dismiss evidence like that, and it isn't a good one. It wouldn't be because I believe that the import of the evidence is wrong. It would be because I don't want to allow that it could possibly be right. Big difference. It isn't a position taken about truth and reality. It's a position taken about epistemology. Lightly dismissed evidence is evidence of something else, evidence that we don't want to know the truth about the evidence, so we dismiss it. That's something very different from investigating the truth.

This is similar to dismissing gods because we don't like the way that they behave. It is an act of denial, not knowledge.

Long story to get here, I know. Thanks for reading.

So how about 2 simple ground rules, now that you know where I'm coming from?

1) I'll respect yours if you'll respect mine.

2) I'll show you mine as you show me yours.

 

 

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


mellestad
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Jesus Christ.  I'll read

Jesus Christ.  I'll read and respond after finals.  Maybe this weekend.

 

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


skeptic23
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mellestad--haha! Sorry, he can't help ya!

 Good luck with finals! Whatchya studying?


mellestad
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skeptic23 wrote: Good luck

skeptic23 wrote:

 Good luck with finals! Whatchya studying?

I'm not majoring in anything, my job pays for college tuition so I've usually got a class going on just so I can feel intellectually superior and elitist.  The last few quarters have been political science but I think I'm pretty much sick of that now, so this will be my last class in that for a while.

 

I appreciate the effort you put into your response!

Everything makes more sense now that I've stopped believing.


skeptic23
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 butterbattle wrote: The

 

butterbattle wrote:

The lack of theism is a good, broad definition for atheism. But, emphasizing atheism is probably not an effective way for theists to understand atheists; is that essentially what you're saying?

Pretty much. I'd add that “lack of theism” or “lack of belief” is misleading. Atheists have just as many beliefs as anyone else, just about different things. For every theistic belief, there is an atheistic belief that the theistic belief is incorrect, ridiculous (as Bill Maher likes to point out), not worth the time, or something else. Everyone thinks that they have justification for those beliefs. I just think that, as the “lack of belief” line indicates, atheists should be more up front about the beliefs that they DO have.

Consider the viewpoint that we all have the same human cognition. The variations between our respective cognitive capabilities seem significant to all us ants only because we're down here comparing ourselves to each other. Viewed from 30,000 feet, we all think and act pretty much the same. To our successors 1000 years from now, (or maybe only 100 if Kurtzweil and others are correct about exponential development,) we'll all seem like cavemen. Anyway, given common cognition, atheists have roughly the same psychological needs as theists do, including the needs that belief satisfies. Atheists haven't eliminated those needs, they just meet them with different beliefs.

Quote:

Here is how I understand it. A lot of theists beg the question of the importance of God in discussions and trains of thought. They consider God to be infinitely important, and even if someone didn't believe in a God, the question of his existence should be infinitely important. So, it is very hard for them to grasp that there are so many people who would simply not believe, the same way that they don't believe in Santa Claus or fairies. Thus, they sometimes make a strange blunder; when they hear us calling ourselves "atheists," they unintentionally constuct a strawman by projecting their "significance of God" onto us. They convince themselves that the term atheism is not just any non-belief, but that our entire worldview is centered around rejecting God. This is completely wrong.

Haha! You hit the nail on the head. That was me on that discussion forum a few years ago.

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Of course, publicizing atheism IS more important than publicizing a-Santa Clausism or a-fairiesm, but only because there are more theists with more power than Santa Clausists and Fairiests. Atheism is only important to the extent that holding the reins on theism is important. Without theism, atheism is....well....nothing. In fact, if most of the people in the world worshiped fairies rather than Gods and tried to enact social policy, politics, etc. based on what their fairies told them, scientific naturalists like us would probably call ourselves a-fairiests rather than a-theists. It's like:

I agree as far as that goes. What I think it doesn't cover is that several thousand years of overwhelmingly theistic human experience attest to something. The all too common atheistic opinion that theistic experience or thinking is mistaken or even delusional is dismissive and deeply offensive to theists. Given that, is it surprising that they consider atheists as a kind of enemy? What I advocate is understanding on both sides, which requires respect for each others' experiences and cognition. That, by the way, precludes much of the attitudes and behavior that come from the Christian Right or the Moral Majority or whatever else they are calling themselves these days. Experience and cognition are sacred, because we all alike depend on them. What I do to yours I affirm, by doing it, that it can be done to mine. What we say about our experiences is fair game.

And what is the danger of listening to someone who claims that God spoke to them? Maybe they heard something worth hearing. And if they did, does it really matter to you or me if they heard it from a guy in the sky with a big, white beard or from a forest nymph or made it up? And if it was just a pile of horse pucky, does it really matter to you or me if they heard it from a guy in the sky with a big, white beard or from a forest nymph or made it up? We have a real epistemological problem with authority in Western thinking, and I'll give you three guesses where I think it came from.

By the way, here is a test for uncorrupted atheism:

One guy comes up to you and tells you that God has given him a message for you. You might be curious, but you probably wouldn't take it too seriously. You certainly wouldn't lose sleep over it. The next day a different guy comes up to you and tells you that a demon has given him a message for you. Would you regard the second guy any differently than the first guy? More sane, less sane, more scary, less scary, all the same, more interesting, less interesting?

The test isn't just about whether you would think or do anything differently with the second guy. The test is also about whether you would feel any differently while you thought it or did it.

Then compare those two to a guy who comes up to you and tells you that Santa Claus has given him a message for you. Any differences?

Theoretically, it should all be the same to an atheist. If you detect differences, it might be some residual theism still hanging around to bother you, like Woody Allen's priest in “All You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.”

Quote:

I do not think anyone here believes that a God is impossibe or that God certainly doesn't exist. What we believe is that most Gods are improbable and that existence must be demonstrated.

I think it is possible for a God to exist. I'm not sure what it means to "seriously entertain" it though.

Then I am on the same page with you and everyone who agrees with you. It isn't about semantics, it's about behavior. When discussions turn circular or valid points are ignored or dismissed or ridiculed (been there, experienced that) it isn't about semantics. When people go round and round avoiding elephants by pointing at mice, it's obvious. When people connect and communicate, it's all good. If we come out of a discussion disagreed but more appreciative and smarter, what more could we ask? If we pay attention to the truth, to reality, to science done right, to the experiences of others as well as our own, I believe that we'll be fine, even that we'll eventually come closer together. Ya never know, we might be stuck together for eternity! Eye-wink

"Seriously entertain" is to seriously hypothesize and test. I'm not saying that anyone has to do that or that everyone should. What I'm saying is that I'm just flabbergasted by how unwilling people are to do it, again, on BOTH sides of the god question. Come on! It's actually fun and you learn stuff. I think that atheists are more open than theists to this, being in general more scientifically minded. Suggest doing a little hypothetical thinking to some people and you'd think you just threatened to steal their souls with a diabolical camera or something. And after all atheists don't have the devil trying to deceive them and trap them in hell if they “open themselves to evil thoughts or spirits.” Yeah, there are still plenty of people today who think just like that. I know many.

On the other hand, atheists can be less willing to seriously hypothesize because they think that they've already gone through the process and deliberated and resolved the issue. Many of them have, once. Some maybe even twice. Why are they so sure that they did a good job of it, especially if their decisions were made four score or twenty years ago? That's why I like to use Lord Russell as an example.

 

Considering and rejecting all the Christian dogmas, (and I have to believe that Russell did a smashing job of it,) only means that you've rejected Christian dogmas. What if Christian dogmas have nothing at all to do with God but were devised by religious power-mongers precisely to separate people from God, repress them under guilt and burden to believe, and ensure that the Church would be the power broker that stood between “the faithful” and God? That, by the way, is precisely what I do believe, I have evidence, and I can defend it. If that were the case, Russell did no more than reject one brand of organized religion, which I did right along with him, just several decades later. Rejecting dogmas could only conceivably deal with God if God could be completely reduced to dogmas. What if God were something else, something more? 

To me this is about discovery. I have reason to believe (and we're getting to the reasons) that there is something huge over them thar hills. I'm on my way to investigate. Sorry, can't tell you exactly what it is, but I can tell you what I believe and have evidence for and I can tell you my opinions, for what they are worth. Does that mean it's not there? I don't think so. Wanna come along? Cool! Don't wanna come along? That's cool, too. I'd just like it if you didn't call me or other explorers crazy. I agree with you that the religious camp over yonder, the one that says that they already know what's over them thar hills even though they have never been there to see and know that they are right "by faith" is full of shit. By the way, not all those who associate with them think that way. And some of those who think that way don't ONLY think that way. All but the hypocrites have lived and understood something, maybe even them too. The rest of us have a little hypocrite in us, too. Wait! He looks just like that priest from Woody Allen's movie!

The fact that the religious camp says that they already know what's over them thar hills doesn't mean squat about what's over there, any more than anyone from the atheists' camp saying that he knows there's nothing over there. But I'll listen to ANYONE who has some evidence. Meanwhile, I'm on my way...

This is why it strikes me as odd for atheists to expect a clear definition of god from theists or anybody else, but especially from the very theists that they think have gotten it all wrong. Dealing with their formulations of deity simply means that you've dealt with those formulations, and by the way, those formulations came from those crazy theists. Why would you take their words for it?

 


When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


robj101
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My worldview is not based on

My worldview is not based on a rejection of any gods, being in a sea of stupid however does impact my little world. Ok maybe not stupid but it sounded good.

Faith is the word but next to that snugged up closely "lie's" the want.
"By simple common sense I don't believe in god, in none."-Charlie Chaplin


BobSpence
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skeptic23 wrote:Some

skeptic23 wrote:

Some contradictions can be eliminated by changing the context, usually by broadening it, but sometimes by reinventing it like Einstein did to Newtonian physics. Relativity solved many problems by changing the context. Many contradictions under Newton are no longer contradictions under relativity. 

I don't think that is a meaningful or useful way to characterise the transition from Newton's ideas to Einstein's.

There are no actual 'contradictions' in Newton's theories. Certainly not in the sense being used in arguments for the impossibility of many of the assumed attributes of God.

It is just that Einstein's theories more accurately describe and predict what is observed, especially at extreme conditions of velocity, acceleration and gravitational intensity. Newton's basic assumptions were too simple to describe reality as accurately as Einstein's theories. But that is perfectly ok, science should always use the simplest possible assumptions that 'work' to a satisfactory level of accuracy, and only add refinements or revisions when clear anomalies or inaccuracies show up.

If you want to characterise 'anomalies' in old theories as 'contradictions' that may be technically correct, but mostly it is due to the old theory producing significantly erroneous predictions under some conditions. It really would be very misleading to describe such inaccuracies as 'contradictions', even if technically that would be correct, in that the 'true' value of some effect cannot be both 3 and 3.4, for example.

What do you see as explicit 'contradictions' under Newtonian physics?

Under 'normal' ranges of velocity and gravitational field strength, Newton's theories are perfectly satisfactory, unless we require the maximum possible accuracy.

Can you provide a better example of what you were trying to say there?

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Science -> Philosophy -> Theology


skeptic23
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Hey Nigel! thanks for your thoughtful reponses...

 

nigelTheBold wrote:

For the moment, it is sufficient to say, "How can you claim something exists if you have no idea what it is you are claiming?" Notice that this is a question about the quality of your knowledge, not the existence or non-existence of the undefined thing.

Nigel, I know you've read my posts. They are clear that I don't have “no idea” about what it is I'm claiming to exist. I just don't have a very good idea, thanks to almost 25 years largely lost to Christian dogmas. Thank blurf that it wasn't only about dogmas for me. Actually, it's never really been about dogmas at all. I hate dogmas. Dogmatic people really are no fun at all, theist or atheist! But I certainly let the theists crimp my style and make me burn lots of necessary cycles over their BS all those years.

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I'm going to use the world "reality" as "that which exists independently of observation and interpretation." This is a bit different than your use, but I believe it is important to ensure the word "real" is used consistently. I shall call the model of the world an individual holds as her "world-view." I dislike that word, but it seems to be in vogue these days.

Cool, as long as doing so doesn't lose or mix up the distinction I made between “existence” and “reality”, which distinction accounts for cognition. Let's see where you go with it...

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"Evidence" is merely observation applied to propositions. This is important: it must be observed for it to be evidence. That which is unobserved is not evidence. The observation becomes evidence when it is used to support or contra-indicate a proposition (especially if that proposition is an hypothesis).

We're cool.

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Also, evidence has a domain. So, while a theist can observe that they "feel the presence of God," that is not evidence of God, but evidence of the theist's internal emotional state.

OK,

1) How did you determine that about your hypothetical theist?

2) Are you saying that no one can sense anything like God's presence, because all of them are only sensing their own emotional states? That would require LOTS of evidence about LOTS of people.

3) Or are you saying that you know of some scientific law or theory that precludes the possibility that anyone can sense anything like God's presence? That would also require LOTS of evidence about LOTS of people.

4) Or are you saying that your hypothetical theist who says that he "feel[s] the presence of God” is only sensing his own emotional state? After all, you made him up. If so, no problem. I might then hypothesize a theist who doesn't feel his internal emotional state but actually senses a God that objectively exists wholly within him and within every other theist, who collectively represent enough energy of God to effect change in the objective/external world.

5) How do you understand the difference between “feeling” and “observing?” Could you explain? I comment on that below.

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The same is true of anything that is based on introspection. The domain of introspection is the realm of one's own mind. This is why much of what Luminon (whom I like a lot) writes is not indicative of the external world, but only his own internal state.

OK, careful here. I've been reading up on the mind-body problem. It's a BIG problem for materialists (holding that only material things are real) to demonstrate that there is any such thing as mind beyond a physical function of the brain, which is what we normally mean by “mind,” i.e., mind-body dualism intact. There are complimentary problems if you decide to reduce the mind to a physical process, i.e., no dualism because no "mind." We have no more evidence for the existence of mind than we do for the existence of gods. But I completely get your comments about domain, choice of example aside.

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This domain-specificity of evidence is why quantum mechanics doesn't supersede chemistry. It's also why Newtonian physics is still considered valid, as Newtonian physics is sufficiently accurate within its domain.

I liked that!

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That doesn't mean internal observation can't be indicative of something in the objective world. This is the subject of much SF, in fact. For instance, someone who can look inward and observe something happening elsewhere (remote viewing) would show that at least one type of introspection is evidence of something other than simple internal state. All experiments to demonstrate this sort of phenomena have failed so far. So far, all external objective evidence indicates introspection is evidence limited to descriptions of our own internal states.

So there's the domain of the evidence. After the domain, there's the reliability of the evidence. This is merely the repeatability of the observation, and the variance between observations. If you have one person who once dreamed about a plane crash, and the next day a plane crashes, the dream may have been a premonition, but the reliability is quite low, as the repeatability is low, and the incidence of false positives (people dreaming of airplanes crashing when no crash subsequently occurs) is quite high.

The final criteria for evidence isn't quite as objective as the first two. It is usefulness. If the evidence doesn't help extend our knowledge, it is useless. Worse, it can cause you to come to the wrong conclusions.

As an example, take the idea the world is flat. The evidence is right before your eyes: the land before you is flat. Now, just because a person believes the world is flat doesn't make it so. No amount of wishful thinking will make the world flat. Their world-view is not consistent with reality, no matter how fervently they believe it is so.

Agreed on all counts, sort of, with a teensy twist. Observation = feeling = sensing = we've got 5 of them, 6 if you count intuition. I've already mentioned some things about feeling ala Radiohead. The twist is that it cuts both ways. Whatever reasons that you have for preferring “external” and “objective” over “internal” and “subjective also work against that preference by simply turning the tables. You didn't make it clear, but it seems like you were implying that “internal observations” should be excluded from the domain of evidence except for your remote viewing example. If so, why and what's your evidence? I will bet ahead of time that whatever reasons you give could be applied to exclude what I'm sure that you mean by “evidence” that is “observed” and that you would prefer to include in the domain.

Actually, I just don't get your apparent preference for externally observed stuff. We have gobs of research that shows how unreliable our senses are and how unreliable our instruments are and how unreliable the minds of those to use and interpret both of them are. Your flat world is another example. Whether you direct that fallibility “externally” or “internally” doesn't matter. We have the same problems either way, not more one way than the other.

These comments are not intended to say that we don't or can't know anything by observation. I'm just saying that we can know and have the same problems with knowledge whether we look “inside” or “outside.”

Just to make a point, feel free to treat the following as rhetorical as you like. What is the difference between external and internal, anyway? Division line at the epidermis? Isn't my stomach external to my mind? If so, my senses of the state of my stomach would be external evidence, within your domain. But then what is the difference between those senses/feelings and any other senses/feelings about any other part of my anatomy? Isn't the state of my entire body “external” to my mind? Or is my body wholly encompassed by my mind, making my body internal to my mind? Is my brain within my mind or vice versa?

My point here is not to open a can of worms, but just to show that your comments appear to be clear and straightforward ONLY if they are taken from a particular perspective and that there are other valid perspectives, lots of them. It raises the question of what "internal" and "external" mean and what they are relative to. In short, your comments lie atop a can of definitional worms. We need to eventually get into it, but I'm not ready to dive into those right now.

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This is where the quality of evidence becomes, well, evident. Does your evidence help discover new things? New, reliable things that also produce their own observations, their own evidence?

I agree. That's why it's so frustrating when people preemptively, prejudicially restrict what they will accept as evidence. How does that help us discover new things? See my recent response to butterbattle.

I'm with you all the way (pretty much; don't know about causal dynamical triangulations or loop quantum gravity; now on the reading list,) to the next quote:

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To get to God, you'd have to extend knowledge until we have evidence that God exists. This evidence can't be something subjective like, "The universe is complex, so God must exist." "Complexity" is a subjective term, and there might other explanations for the perceived complexity. (Plus, there is a self-refuting logical flaw in the complexity argument.)

To get to "acceptable evidence for God," you'd first have to have observations which extend our current knowledge, but cannot be explained by any other means.

Just so you know, I do have an agenda that has nothing to do directly with the god question: our overemphasis on “objectivity.” Sounds like a good topic to tackle soon. Teaser: all of the really important decisions in the life of every human being are subjectively made based on subjective criteria and subjective evidence. Love knows no objectivity. Well, no, that's not right. Love starts with subjectivity, is sustained by subjectivity, and is at least half guided by subjectivity, usually more. Love uses objectivity as a planning component and a double-check. (That's not really better, but it's more accurate.)

And I really want to hear about the self-refuting flaw in the complexity argument.

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One example I might accept as provisional evidence for God: the power of prayer. If prayer could be shown to be effective beyond the placebo effect, this would give rise to a couple of competing hypothesis, one of which could effectively be "God." At this point, you'd have to show it wasn't some other effect, by demonstrating the power of prayer to affect, say, the remission of cancer in subjects that don't even know they are being prayed for. Then you'd have to rule out some psi effect.

You'd have to come up with a precise definition of God, and that's where your friend's observation about the non-referent comes in. You'd have to propose the specific attributes of God that provide for the power of prayer, and offer a mechanism by which it works. And then, to move the God hypothesis into theory territory, you'd have to use the God hypothesis to predict new evidence, and run the experiments that would produce evidence that would either support or contradict the God hypothesis.

This wouldn't entirely prove the existence of God, but it would go a long way to introducing God as a viable hypothesis. As you can see, it's a tall, tall order.

One of the biggest pieces of evidence against almost all conceptions of God is the variance within God-beliefs. If there was a God who truly wished to be known, all religious beliefs would have some common threads. As it is, the aggregate of religious beliefs amount to white noise. There is no single thread consistent across all beliefs. This pretty much rules out revelation as a source of knowledge of God.

 

 

Interesting, you and cj both say that miracles, which is how I categorize answered prayer, would change your views on God. How would you know/determine that it was God and not some other effect? Psi effect I assume as in psyops? How would you rule those out?

A precise definition of God would only be required if the hypothesis concerned a specific god. There could also be a more general hypothesis that didn't involve a precise definition, but rather more of a place holder like “something that we have no other explanation for” or some such. Not evidence for god per se, but a step towards something that could be god. That would be more than we have now. What would you think about that?

You are half correct about the variance argument. It is a big argument for those who focus on the variances, of which there are plenty, it's not just the whole story. Those who focus on the commonalities have plenty to work with, too, even down to some details, like some Old Testament stories that show up in some very different religions that there is no evidence had contact with each other.

The thing that strikes most people who study comparative religions is that, at a macro level, there are so many commonalities. In particular Buddha's teachings and Jesus' teachings have surprising similarities. Some suggest that Jesus is repackaged Buddha. As a matter of fact, the commonalities are used as an argument pro-God.

Just another example of where both sides look at the same phenomenon and come out diametrically opposed about its import for their respective cases. Glass half-full or half-empty?

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I think we are saying essentially the same thing. I hope so, at least.

Agreed down to next quote.

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Cognition doesn't matter. A mental patient who believes he is King Louis VIII is not King Louis VIII, just because she believes it is so. Your cognition might indicate you are in fine health, but in fact you might have pancreatic cancer. Incorrect perceptions of reality (or existence, if you prefer) are potentially dangerous.

Here I disagree strongly and on two levels.

First, cognition is everything. It's this little space that everything that we do know gets squished into, even the belief that there is something out there that really exists. I'm nowhere close to an idealist, which is what I hold as on the other end of the scale to materialism. Solipsism is either an epistemological position or an ontological position, depending. It is a type of idealism, so I refer to idealism since it's more general.

I'm not a solipsist primarily because I disagree with the method that Descartes used to doubt everything except himself. Even if I didn't agree with his method, which I'll call the Ultimate Reverse Straw Man Method, (i.e., try to knock everything down and only rely on what's left standing,) I think he played a trick and stopped. He should have continued on, doubting his assumptions that an “I” existed to do the thinking, that he had a clear notion of what “thinking” was, that whatever was doing whatever “thinking” was had any connection to this thing he called “I” that he seemed to identify with himself, whatever he/himself was and whatever it might mean to identify one with the other, if indeed there was anything to identify with or identify at all. I think that by his method all that he could legitimately arrive at would be, “Something does something, so something is” which should be condensed, since we don't really know what “doing” is or what the difference between the three “somethings” is, to “something is.” I think that he could have defended “something.” I think that's all he was entitled to conclude by his own method.

My problem with skepticism is that no one thinks that way except in a very narrow range of human experience: ensuring against mistakes. I admit that some people become obsessed with it. Skepticism is something that I know something about. I haven't used my screen name for almost 20 years for no reason. It is the ultimate form of anti-creativity. Even destruction is a type of creativity, though I don't argue that its results are preferable to skepticism. Destruction is a male infant's first creative act, maybe apart from what he does in his diapers. I don't know much about infant girls; never had one. Even so, sometimes we've all gotta just break something, and we feel so much better when we do. Picture guys, TV, and shotgun. Fun times. Actually, my boys have done that; me never.

Skepticism is great in that narrow range of cover-your-ass activity. But no one ever loved by skepticism. No one ever created a work of art by it or did a good deed by it or won a Nobel Prize by it. No one ever hypothesized by skepticism! Tested, yes, yet even test planning requires creativity. Creative, imaginative cognitive processes are very, very different from skeptical processes.

I value skepticism and indulge in a lot of it. I don't like making mistakes any more than the next guy. However, it is a terrible basis for an epistemology.

OK, back to cognition. It's our only tool for any of this stuff, so of course it's important. What's more, it's our only tool for checking the tool. 2 LEVELS OF IMPORT; double-whammy. Recursive, but such is self-reflection, and by that I don't mean just the emo kind. Skepticism includes self-reflection and is actually motivated by its results, which are: we make lots of cognitive errors. Everything we do involves cognition. Everything we do to make sure what we did or do or are about to do was or is or will be correct involves cognizing about our cognition. Talk about potential for compound error!

That's why I make a big deal about the distinction between existence and reality. This way I can account for valid or erroneous cognitive differences about the same part of existence, since I have a place for them and terminology to distinguish them from existence-as-it-is, without marginalizing the realness and visceral importance of those possibly varied and/or mistaken cognitive representations to the individual who lives by them. "Reality" still sounds real like it actually seems to us, even though it is actually a representation of existence in our brains, an abstraction, and therefore one step removed from the existence it represents.

It also lets me say cool stuff like, "Reality is all in your mind; existence isn't," as long as no one goes after what I mean by "mind." Or how about, "There is only one existence, but there are unending realities." I just made that up. I'm curious if it sounds like anything, but I'm not sure it means much. mellestad might say it's more New Age stuff. Maybe I've been infected? By the way, there is ONLY ONE existence, by definition. It's EVERYTHING that exists, whatever that turns out to be, including gods. Hey, I'm not below making up my own terms.

It also allows me to point out that every statement about existence is a statement by someone about existence from their particular, finite, fallible perspective. NONE of us gets to escape our finite, fallible cognitions, and I call people on it when they pretend that they can. None of us can legitimately take the "divine perspective" except as a hypothetical perspective. We can say how it might be from a point of view outside my and your and everybody's particular perspectives, but we CANNOT legitimately say that it IS that way.

This is how I'd qualify your "A mental patient who believes he is King Louis VIII is not King Louis VIII, just because she believes it is so." If she really believes that it is so, then in her reality it is so. In your reality or my reality she definitely isn't King Louis VIII, and maybe everyone else in the world would agree with us. That doesn't change her reality, not one whit. She would need additional information in order to change her reality, unless it's a temporary neural state, in which case tomorrow she'll be Henry VIII. If we don't allow her to have her reality, i.e., if we dismiss her reality, we have opened a Pandora's box, and one day one of those little buggers that gets out is going to come around and undermine our own realities. At the least, we have no right to expect that it shouldn't or be upset if it does, because we just got done doing it to Louis, or Henry, or whoever she happens to be at the time. I'm very set on this, because it seems like the very kernel--the core and the essence--of respect for individual dignity. And besides, there's no down side to it, so why would we have a problem with it?

I just don't see how you can get around cognition and its representation of existence to each of us. Explain it to me if you you can or otherwise comment.

I also think that this point is very important because it is precisely the loss of awareness of our own finite, fallible perspectives that seems to be key in some long-term psychological pathologies. Some of the characteristics of fanaticism and "cult" involvement/mindset also (or therefore?) involve precisely the loss of self as a separate, responsible entity, the flip side of which is adopting a "divine perspective." How many power addicts have characterized themselves as gods or god's agents? Maybe better asked is how many have avoided it? The latter are probably in the minority.

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This doesn't mean there can't be variance in world-views. For instance, starting with the exact same objective data, we can come to different conclusions about subjective matters. (Some truly freakish individuals don't like beer, for instance.) Also, we are stuck with ignorance as well, and that ignorance can lead to debates about the best social systems. Especially in the realm of social interaction, which is a chaotic system, objective knowledge is not sufficient. Hell, I'm not sure I'd want a single objective society. (But again, that's me pulling out the old ought/is problem.)

I don't believe there is only one "mostly correct" worldview. There are many that are equally correct, with great variance between them all. It just behooves us to know what is actual knowledge, what is conjecture, and what is simply subjective preference.

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Given our limitations, how could we determine a “correct” world-view without it being a holy grail of perfectly complete perception, one which all of us together if we were perfectly hooked up to each other across all times into a giant mind could still not achieve?

Yep. I think we agree on this.

Not sure how it relates to the desirability of believing in a god that doesn't exist, though.

I'm fine that we agree in large part. I just find your approach a bit inflexible.

I've been thinking that it's interesting how the tables turn. I grew up while relativity theory was trickling down (or percolating up, your choice) into popular culture with “Do your own thing,” “Truth is relative,” “What's true for you is true for you,” etc. It was the Christians who were harping on there being one Absolute Truth and the atheists/agnostics laughing at their old-fashioned ideas. Here we are, me more theistic than you anyway, I'm the relativist and you the absolutist. Eye-wink

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I'd just like to point out (essentially what I said the first time) that that's one of the most common processes you can use to go from belief to non-belief, the deconstruction of the positive belief to the lack of the positive belief. I guess I just don't see it as that odd, or even indicative of the resulting world-view.

My comments on deconstruction intended to point out a consistent difference in the respective processes of atheists and theists to come to their beliefs.

I guess the first step would be whether or not you agree?

The second step would be to talk about what to make of it, if anything. I'm wondering (not even an opinion) whether becoming an atheist at least for some has a lot to do with extricating themselves from theistic bullshit, thus the focus on deconstruction. Some of what atheists tell me would indicate that this is true, but of course not for all. It makes me wonder what would have happened had it not been for the theistic bullshit in the first place. What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


skeptic23
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Bob, conceded...

What I meant was actually a negative way of putting what you said. I used "contradiction" poorly, but what I was meant was observations that "contradicted" Newton, not internal contradictions. Better said like you did, or that there were things that Newton's theories couldn't explain that Einstein's did. I'm not sure it's even correct to say that there were observations couldn't be explained by Newton. We know that now, but were there actually observations that people were scratching their heads about that relativity showed up to explain? That shows my lack of knowledge about the history. What motivated Einstein to do all that work in his spare time? Incredible passion. There must have been reasons why he decided to start looking beyond Newton, and that would have been long before he published anything.

But don't lose the forest for a tree. My point was basically about the power of "paradigm-shifting" to radically change our views on the same thing and that different views have more to do with our chosen paradigms than with "facts," (although I don't really like the word "paradigm" thanks to its use/overuse/misuse while I was in corporate America.)

Hey, I'd like to see an oxymoron about war. Necessary? Civil? I don't know. Someone must have made a good one.

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


BobSpence
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I think shifting from the

I think shifting from the Theist perspective to the more open view, without that presupposition, has been one of the most significant in recent centuries.

The implications of Quantum Physics have required a very profound shift, but mainly restricted to people who have had a significant education in the relevant subjects.

The ideas of 'cause and effect', of determinism and indeterminism, have been profoundly changed from the medieval metaphysical concepts, to the point of rendering ideas of most older philosophers of only historical interest.

The study of complexity, chaotic systems (the stuff behind the popular 'Butterfly Effect' ), the ultimate incompleteness of formal systems revealed by Göedel, have similarly produced upheavals.

 

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Science -> Philosophy -> Theology


butterbattle
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Whoa. You either think and

Whoa. You either think and type super duper fast or you have a ton of free time.

Btw, I'm in the Pacific Northwest too. I'm currently attending the University of Washington, Seattle. 

skeptic23 wrote:
I just think that, as the “lack of belief” line indicates, atheists should be more up front about the beliefs that they DO have.

Yes, probably.

skeptic23 wrote:
Consider the viewpoint that we all have the same human cognition. The variations between our respective cognitive capabilities seem significant to all us ants only because we're down here comparing ourselves to each other. Viewed from 30,000 feet, we all think and act pretty much the same. To our successors 1000 years from now, (or maybe only 100 if Kurtzweil and others are correct about exponential development,) we'll all seem like cavemen. Anyway, given common cognition, atheists have roughly the same psychological needs as theists do, including the needs that belief satisfies. Atheists haven't eliminated those needs, they just meet them with different beliefs.

Right.

skeptic23 wrote:
I agree as far as that goes. What I think it doesn't cover is that several thousand years of overwhelmingly theistic human experience attest to something. The all too common atheistic opinion that theistic experience or thinking is mistaken or even delusional is dismissive and deeply offensive to theists. Given that, is it surprising that they consider atheists as a kind of enemy? What I advocate is understanding on both sides, which requires respect for each others' experiences and cognition. That, by the way, precludes much of the attitudes and behavior that come from the Christian Right or the Moral Majority or whatever else they are calling themselves these days. Experience and cognition are sacred, because we all alike depend on them. What I do to yours I affirm, by doing it, that it can be done to mine. What we say about our experiences is fair game.

I am aware of the difference between their experiences and their interpretations of these experiences. I have little doubt that theists have mysterious and interesting experiences that they want to explain with their religion and/or don't know how to explain otherwise. So, I don't think their experiences are usually "mistaken" or delusions. However, the conclusions that they derive from these experiences are often based on non sequiturs.

This might be especially true for NDEs. Suppose that a Christian gets into a bad car accident, and he goes into cardiac arrest when he is in the hospital. As his brain malfunctions, he sees himself walking towards a light at the end of a tunnel; as he gets closer, he sees a figure dressed in white at the end of the tunnel. If the doctors rescucitated him at this point, and he survived the ordeal, he might conclude that the figure was Jesus and that God had given him a second chance at life. Even though his experience, logically, does almost nothing to justify Christianity, the experience nevertheless becomes indispensible proof, for him, of the truth of his worldview. The same kind of thing happens for people from all kinds of different religions.

So, I do not deny that they experienced what they experienced, but I do deny their interpretation of it. Unfortunately, they cannot separate their experiences from their interpretation of them, so from their perspective, I AM denying their experience. Obviously, my opinion becomes rather offensive to them in that case, but I'm not going to withhold my opinion because of that. What is true and what is offensive is not dichotomy; when they conflict, what is true must come first. I'm a pretty laid back guy, but I don't like sugarcoating my opinions, especially when it comes to religion and science.

skeptic23 wrote:
And what is the danger of listening to someone who claims that God spoke to them? Maybe they heard something worth hearing. And if they did, does it really matter to you or me if they heard it from a guy in the sky with a big, white beard or from a forest nymph or made it up? And if it was just a pile of horse pucky, does it really matter to you or me if they heard it from a guy in the sky with a big, white beard or from a forest nymph or made it up? We have a real epistemological problem with authority in Western thinking, and I'll give you three guesses where I think it came from.

Sure, it does not matter what authority they think spoke to them, provided that they believe it is an absolute authority. What they believe they hear is what matters, because that can inform their actions.

skeptic23 wrote:
By the way, here is a test for uncorrupted atheism:

One guy comes up to you and tells you that God has given him a message for you. You might be curious, but you probably wouldn't take it too seriously. You certainly wouldn't lose sleep over it. The next day a different guy comes up to you and tells you that a demon has given him a message for you. Would you regard the second guy any differently than the first guy? More sane, less sane, more scary, less scary, all the same, more interesting, less interesting?

The test isn't just about whether you would think or do anything differently with the second guy. The test is also about whether you would feel any differently while you thought it or did it.

Then compare those two to a guy who comes up to you and tells you that Santa Claus has given him a message for you. Any differences?

Theoretically, it should all be the same to an atheist. If you detect differences, it might be some residual theism still hanging around to bother you, like Woody Allen's priest in “All You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.”

Lol.

Yes, I would feel different in each of those cases. The Santa Claus one would be the funniest. The God one would not be funny. The demon one would make me slightly uncomfortable.

I was never a theist (almost became a theist at one point, but not quite), so perhaps I don't have any residual theism? But, it's not as simple as that anyways. We don't need to have had believed any of them at any point for there to be a noticeable different in how we would react. Santa Claus, demons, and God all have different definitions. We imagine different things when we think about them, and we associate each of them with different characteristics, so we'd inevitably feel different in each of your hypothetical situations.

skeptic23 wrote:
The fact that the religious camp says that they already know what's over them thar hills doesn't mean squat about what's over there, any more than anyone from the atheists' camp saying that he knows there's nothing over there. But I'll listen to ANYONE who has some evidence. Meanwhile, I'm on my way...

I think you'd appreciate this article. http://www.cracked.com/article_15759_10-things-christians-atheists-can-and-must-agree-on.html

Anyways, oooohhhh, so you're a non-religious theist? I'm curious about what you believe.

Now, when you claim that atheists are saying that there is nothing over those hills, that's referring to the existence of God, right? I've already explained that I think it is possible that there is a God (more or less, depending on the definition). However, it is the claimant that must provide positive evidence, innocent until proven guilty. In your opinion, then, am I an atheist?

So, get ready now, I am throwing down the gaultlet!!!!111oneoneone. You claimed that religious dogmas are separating people from the actual God. So, my question is, what is your definition of God? 

Your posts, up to this point, have been really friendly and logical. Please don't disappoint me. I'm almost begging you.  (almost)

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare


skeptic23
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butterbattle: yeah, lazy bum here...

butterbattle wrote:

Whoa. You either think and type super duper fast or you have a ton of free time.

Btw, I'm in the Pacific Northwest too. I'm currently attending the University of Washington, Seattle.

Haha, both! I have sh__loads of time right now, and I love this stuff. And now that my bonehead son (he's a great kid) called me at 1:30 AM and I can't get back to sleep, here I am back again. Good thing, maybe, because it's a big family weekend, so I probably won't be back again until next week.

Quote:

I am aware of the difference between their experiences and their interpretations of these experiences. I have little doubt that theists have mysterious and interesting experiences that they want to explain with their religion and/or don't know how to explain otherwise. So, I don't think their experiences are usually "mistaken" or delusions. However, the conclusions that they derive from these experiences are often based on non sequiturs.

This might be especially true for NDEs. Suppose that a Christian gets into a bad car accident, and he goes into cardiac arrest when he is in the hospital. As his brain malfunctions, he sees himself walking towards a light at the end of a tunnel; as he gets closer, he sees a figure dressed in white at the end of the tunnel. If the doctors rescucitated him at this point, and he survived the ordeal, he might conclude that the figure was Jesus and that God had given him a second chance at life. Even though his experience, logically, does almost nothing to justify Christianity, the experience nevertheless becomes indispensible proof, for him, of the truth of his worldview. The same kind of thing happens for people from all kinds of different religions.

So, I do not deny that they experienced what they experienced, but I do deny their interpretation of it. Unfortunately, they cannot separate their experiences from their interpretation of them, so from their perspective, I AM denying their experience. Obviously, my opinion becomes rather offensive to them in that case, but I'm not going to withhold my opinion because of that. What is true and what is offensive is not dichotomy; when they conflict, what is true must come first. I'm a pretty laid back guy, but I don't like sugarcoating my opinions, especially when it comes to religion and science.

Great example, spot on.

This shows why I like to differentiate reality from existence. I encounter (and have done) a lot of erroneous thinking that comes by disregarding the distinction and confusing one for the other.

You add another distinction that belongs to a person's reality, their experience, plus a person's interpretation of the experience. Interpretations are almost always stories, unless you're a logician, mathematician, or someone else that loves to try to describe things with a more formalized symbolic system than natural language. I suppose software developers would fall in with these if they tried to replicate or explain their experience with software.

Anyway, I like the term stories, because we almost always use them, even if just to explain/interpret something to ourselves. And I like to flip “stories” to INCLUDE everything that we say about our experiences and our realities. The only times that we say something without intent to communicate meaning about something are times we wish we'd said nothing at all, so we can ignore those unless we're interested in slips of the tongue. Otherwise, everything else including knowledge fields like science are stories, elaborate though they might be.

So, I would rephrase your NDE guy to have had an experience, as real as anything you or I experience, and he tells a story about it. Part of the story is a description of the details of what he experienced. We usually know that we are describing, because it's usually a series, often time-sequenced, of details without much or any editorializing. Interpretations are different. We usually stop describing details when we start interpreting, and then we start referring to blocks of the experience that were significant enough to interpret, blocks that include multiple details. We even give the blocks names, or at least label them with convenient, short series of details that help identify each block. We have to do that because what we are doing when we interpret is we are organizing: categorizing things, characterizing them according to those categories or in order to categorize, relating blocks to each other and characterizing those relationships.

Description and interpretation are two very different cognitive processes. Description is more about accessing memory. Interpretation involves a different mix of subsystems in our brains that I'm not competent to describe. In his Religion Explained book, Boyer Pascal gets into this and calls these sub-systems “inference systems.” The interaction of inference systems with each other can be surprisingly complicated even for an apparently simple cognitive task.

When you read religious writings, (I'm most familiar with the Bible,) there is a marked difference between descriptions and interpretations. I think one of the challenges/affronts that the Bible represents to secular minds—and I consider all minds to be secular prior to getting religion—is that it presents apparently supernatural details along with very natural details in the same description. This mix is unsettling somehow. If a description consisted solely of natural details, no problem: it was something that happened. If a description consisted solely of supernatural details, no problem: it's an allegory or a fable or a metaphor. Even if the description consists of subordinate natural details, e.g., Zeus reclining and eating grapes, these seem to get overshadowed by the fact that Zeus is a god and he's not eating grapes in a banquet room in Athens; he's on Mt. Olympus! But mixing natural and supernatural does interesting things in our brains, e.g., Zeus was in my living room last night eating grapes just before he flew back to Mt. Olympus.

So, long road to frame a comment and a question that I have about what you wrote.

> First, I really liked your observation about “them” not being able to separate their experiences from their interpretations, so they think that you threw their babies of experience out with the bathwater of interpretation. I take it that “them” is Christians. You might generalize that to all theists, but I'm not sure how appropriate that would be for Buddhists or Hindus or Taoists, etc. The Buddhists I've talked to (only a few) might say that realizing the distinction is a step on the way to enlightenment.

I'd like to point out that people who think highly of science and materialists in general have the same problem separating things when it comes to their interpretations of their observations, especially scientific observations, using terms like laws of science, scientific fact, scientific principle, etc., all of which refer to interpretations, however empirically tested, well evidenced, and widely accepted they might be. Explaining a scientific law is cognitively no different than explaining karma or forgiveness of sins. The differences lie in how the information being explained was developed and in the sources of authority we appeal to for our confidence in the information. The information is always developed through a process, and we always have sources of authority from which we derive our confidence in it.

> Why do you deny their interpretations? This is what I meant when I wrote, “what is the danger of listening to someone who claims that God spoke to them?” which you quote below. It seems like overreaching to take a position on someone's story about their own experience. If there are factors that degrade their interpretation so that it isn't worth your credence, certainly those same factors are involved in your interpretation of their interpretation, compounded by the fact that all of the information feeding your interpretation is second-hand, while much or most or all of the information feeding their interpretation is first-hand. It's their experience, not yours, after all. Wouldn't you feel some offense if you told a theist how much your lover loves you, for example, and instead of accepting your interpretation of your lover's feelings towards you, the theist denied it by overruling it with his own interpretation, insisting that God was speaking to you through the love of your lover?

This is why I don't like it when atheists maintain a “lack of belief” story about their views. The “we just lack” story makes it seem like atheistic denial of theistic interpretations might be less offensive than theistic overruling of atheistic interpretations, because atheism isn't forcing beliefs on the theists like they are doing to atheists. Now that is a what I consider an actual issue of semantics. The atheistic world-views, “lack of belief” or not, impose just as much belief on theists as vice versa, because their world-views entail some definite, substantive beliefs that theists object to, such as materialism: true reality is entirely material in nature (matter and energy.) To a theist that doesn't represent a lack of belief in the non-material, it represents a definite presence of belief in an entirely different kind of existence, one that is exclusively material in nature.

Bottom line, it seems like both sides cross a line and get into the other side's business (and heads) when they start making truth declarations about the other's experiences and what they interpret them to mean.

On top of that, what is the down side if we don't deny each other? Theists and atheists both have this tendency. I think it's a pretty general human tendency, and I wonder whether it isn't our brains again insisting on over-organizing. If you don't believe in God and I believe God is there, it doesn't change anything. God is still there and he isn't perturbed that you don't think so. If he isn't perturbed, why would I be? The Christian might have merely experienced neurochemical reactions that interact with the optic nerve at death (bright light and tunnel) and some dream-like stuff (Jesus.) Why does his interpretation that he met with God represent anything for you to deny? Why does it even occur to you pass judgment on it or decide a disposition for it? I'm wondering if there is something going on like this, if you'll allow me to brazenly put words into an imaginary bubble over your head: If I allow that he met God, then that implies that God exists, but God doesn't exist, so I can't allow that he met God,” or something like that? (Always risky to do that. I'm probably about to be schooled again.) Eye-wink

This thing of you or me denying stuff that really has nothing to do with you or with me gets right to the motivations for the theistic behavior that everybody finds so offensive. I say “everybody” because it's just as offensive to theists when it comes from other theists that they disagree with or from atheists who deny their theistic beliefs. It isn't just about denial, either. Offensive evangelism is the affirmative side of the same coin, and now we have atheistic evangelism going on that isn't much less offensive, like that Cracked article you mentioned shows. Great stuff by the way, thanks!

I think that what's key and in common with all this offensive behavior is that people feel boundary violations going on. It can be very subtle. Hope you don't mind me using what you wrote as an example: “So, I do not deny that they experienced what they experienced, but I do deny their interpretation of it.” There are two sorts of denial that you could mean in that statement, one that would probably be offensive to the NDE guy and the other probably not.

Offensive: You deny that the white figure at the end of the tunnel was Jesus and that God gave him a second chance at life.

Not offensive: You deny that you would have interpreted the same experience the way that he did, since you don't believe in Jesus or God.

In the first denial, you crossed the line into his reality to tell him that he didn't experience what he said he experienced. That's how he hears it. In the second denial, you didn't cross that line. The first denial doesn't just deny his interpretation, it denies that it was his experience to interpret and it denies that, therefore, his interpretation should take priority, all things being equal. The second denial does not involve either of these additional denials.

I understand our tendency to cross the line into another's reality very well. I did it for decades. We all find it extremely easy to do with children. We tell them everything: what they saw, what they heard, what they felt, and what to think about it. I'm starting to think that this isn't a good thing. There other ways and it isn't necessary.

So I wonder what motivates us to cross that line? We just can't stand others being different? No, we navigate tremendous differences all the time when we have a context in which we can organize and understand how to navigate those differences. Do our contexts require an either/or for certain subjects like politics and religion: either we agree or we marginalize each other's realities and interpretations? Apparently so, judging from our usual behavior. Must all contexts require this? I doubt it, and we should all hope not, otherwise war and violence will probably not end until we figure out some that don't require it.

I also wonder whether some brain inference system dissonance is going on over allowing another person to have notions be true in his reality that are radically different than those that are true in ours. It's great if the other person's interpretations are the same as ours. It's a problem if another person's interpretations are different than ours, but we make it OK by denying, dismissing, or rationalizing those interpretations. For some reason we have a real problem with just allowing the other person's interpretations to coexist with ours, even though I can't see a down side to us if we did allow it.

Hope you don't feel like a guinea pig by now. I used your statements, but my queries are as much about me and all of us as you. These are real questions to me. Anyone who has raised teenagers or worked with them knows how incapable they are of tolerating differences that matter to them. I have a few of those (teenagers) still around. It is really hard for them to conceive that their strong impressions or carefully analyzed interpretations don't necessarily need to be other people's impressions and interpretations. (Teenage life seems like a long string of impressions, a primordial, seething ooze that reasonable interpretations are trying to emerge from.) When they encounter significant differences that they care about, it's like an either/or for them: either get rid of the difference by changing the other person's mind or by labeling them or their difference as bad or wrong, or change their own mind because the difference is bad or wrong. It's nearly impossible for them up to a certain age to allow both their version and the other person's version to coexist when it concerns important things, especially those that would reflect on them socially, e.g., things that could embarrass them.

Quote:

skeptic23 wrote:

And what is the danger of listening to someone who claims that God spoke to them? Maybe they heard something worth hearing. And if they did, does it really matter to you or me if they heard it from a guy in the sky with a big, white beard or from a forest nymph or made it up? And if it was just a pile of horse pucky, does it really matter to you or me if they heard it from a guy in the sky with a big, white beard or from a forest nymph or made it up? We have a real epistemological problem with authority in Western thinking, and I'll give you three guesses where I think it came from.

Sure, it does not matter what authority they think spoke to them, provided that they believe it is an absolute authority. What they believe they hear is what matters, because that can inform their actions.

Actually, what I wrote was not about what they believe spoke to them, it was to say that it doesn't matter what they believe if what they heard was worthwhile. We all have a cognitive thing going on that makes us stop listening to a person once we decide, for whatever reason, that he is “wrong” even when what he says is right and worthwhile. My hypothetical tried to point out the possibility that we can hear good things from “bad” sources, and also to ask why we are so quick to discount everything we hear once we categorize the person as “one of those.”

Quote:

Anyways, oooohhhh, so you're a non-religious theist? I'm curious about what you believe.

Now, when you claim that atheists are saying that there is nothing over those hills, that's referring to the existence of God, right? I've already explained that I think it is possible that there is a God (more or less, depending on the definition). However, it is the claimant that must provide positive evidence, innocent until proven guilty. In your opinion, then, am I an atheist?

So, get ready now, I am throwing down the gaultlet!!!!111oneoneone. You claimed that religious dogmas are separating people from the actual God. So, my question is, what is your definition of God?

Your posts, up to this point, have been really friendly and logical. Please don't disappoint me. I'm almost begging you. (almost)

I think most people here would consider me a theist. Some of your question is already answered in my other posts, including “what I believe” god to be and “how I define” god. My little them thar hills allegory is exactly about my status on those two questions. I don't have much definitive to say because that's how little I know. It actually amuses me somewhat, because my non-referential friend is always asking me the same thing, like I'm holding something back. I'm not. I haven't told you all there is to know about me (yawn) but I'm not strategically keeping everyone in suspense or anything. And what is so strange about that, anyway? If I talk to blurf and don't have a clue as to blurf's true nature, why is that a problem? Is everyone concerned that I'm mistaking blarf for blurf, or that I should be talking to fribble? Other than make it easier to categorize me, I'm not sure what purpose more definitive info would serve at this point. I believe that blurf is benevolent, but we all know nature doesn't suffer fools, so I think that's characteristic of blurf, too, if there's any difference between the two. I know that I am being cared for by something that is much bigger than all of us, but that isn't the most impressive thing. I have had a sense for a long time that has become a conviction: something knows me and cares deeply for me. Something beyond you or me or all of us.

Pretty nebulous, I know, but now let me push back on the definitional requests a bit.

Christians want clear, definitive statements of belief, too, big time. The first thing a fundamentalist wants to know is your beliefs, your doctrine. If you believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the death and resurrection of Jesus, you know, the core beliefs, then you're in. You might be a pedophile. You might have just raped someone or beat your wife. Not only can the fundamentalist not discern that you are the kind of person that does that kind of thing, he doesn't really care. Of course, he would care if he happened to find out, because then he'd be responsible for the knowledge, but if you meet the minimum requirements to board the glory train, it's “All aboard!” and you're in. He has no interest in checking you out further for god purposes. Now if you start hanging around his children, he'll be more aware, but nothing like the scrutiny he would subject an atheist to, if he'd even allow the atheist in proximity of his kids.

So, just what does all that belief clarification really have to do with things that matter? How much does a man have clearly defined about a woman's beliefs when he falls head over heels for her? If he's smart, he'll find out about those beliefs sometime, but that doesn't stop anything from getting started. He still thinks he'll die if he can't have her. People carry on relationships for decades and find out that their partners have whole sides to their personalities/beings that they never knew about. Sometimes that's not a good thing, but my point is that it didn't stop them from being partners for decades.

So why is it strange if my theism involves a god (if that's what blurf is) of which I only have a nebulous concept? Does that need to be different at this point?

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


BobSpence
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Skeptic23, I do not like

Skeptic23, I do not like your use of the word 'reality' to refer to what is really our personal model of reality, progressively built up and refined from our personal experience and what we digest from other people's accounts of their experiences, ideas, and beliefs. It confuses the issue to use the word that way.

All we can have in our minds is such a model, always a more-or-less crude approximation to that small fraction of reality we have some imperfect perception of.

It seems to me that your idea explicitly abuses the normal usage of the word, as in my dictionary: (The New Oxford American Dictionary, online on my Mac )

Quote:
 1. the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them : he refuses to face reality | Laura was losing touch with reality.

It is part of reality that we have this model, this approximation, to actual external reality and the internal reality of what our brain contains and how it actually works.

from the same source, re existence ( at least the particular usage which seems relevant here) :

Quote:
• all that exists.

So, of course, there is a subtle distinction in the way the two words refer to reality, to 'what exists', but they really are referring to the same thing.

I do not like abuse of words in this way, it is a fundamental contribution to misunderstanding and confusion.

I hope we have straightened you out on your misunderstanding of 'atheism' displayed in your OP...

Have you read any books by Douglas Hofstadter? He deals with much of what seems to interest you. And me, for that matter - I like where he is coming from.

 

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Science -> Philosophy -> Theology


skeptic23
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Missed a couple of your questions

Do I think you are an atheist? From what you say, you seem content with no gods but allow that they could be there. Is that about right? I guess I'll let you label yourself. You can see how fond I am of categorizing and labeling.

Quote:

You claimed that religious dogmas are separating people from the actual God.

I didn't mean that exactly, as if I know which god is really there and that they were separated from it. Rather, I'd say that religious dogmas are used by organized religions to replace god or what they could experience god to be in the minds of believers. I call the Bible a Paper Pope. It's almost literally like putting a cardboard cutout of something in front of people, calling it god, and then telling them what to think about it and how to behave around it. With it in front of them, people don't look any further for god. They think they have him already. So when things happen that might enlighten them about a god that might truly be there, they are inclined to dismiss it because it's not the god that they already know. A couple things are significant about this.

First, god, whatever a person thinks god is or isn't, becomes external to them, outside of them, separate from them. Whatever god might be, god is other than you. I think the separation is a big deal. It's required to set up the whole alienation/rebellion thing for us to feel guilty about and repent for. What if god is what the Bible actually says: not far away or up in heaven so that you have to wonder how to bring it down, but near you, in your minds and in your hearts?

Second, the whole situation sets you up and conditions you to expect the rule of law, and incidentally, the church as the spiritual enforcers. The Bible itself (Paul and the writer of Hebrews) takes great pains to contrast laws vs. love and faith. Two very different approaches to life. Churches rely on laws. You should love because you are supposed to: God said so. That's all that most people ever experience religion to be. No wonder there's so much sense of burden! Anyone who has experienced real love knows that it has nothing to do with shoulds and supposed-tos. We love because we care and because the people we love are precious. They are the reason we love them, not some law and threat of punishment if we don't.

 

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


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Hey, skeptic23,I don't have

Hey, skeptic23,

I don't have a lot of time to reply today, as the Real World interferes. Gotta make the donuts, you know. But, I wanted to give a quick response to a couple of the most salient (and most excellent) questions. I will attempt to get back to the full post this weekend. I just didn't want to leave you hanging.

skeptic23 wrote:


nigelTheBold wrote:
Also, evidence has a domain. So, while a theist can observe that they "feel the presence of God," that is not evidence of God, but evidence of the theist's internal emotional state.


OK,

1) How did you determine that about your hypothetical theist?



That they feel the presence of God? That was just arbitrary. I'm sure many theists never feel the "presence of God." But, I often hear theist friends mention how they "feel God is with them," or similar claims. However, "I have felt X, and so it objectively exists" is a common claim for unproven entity X.

Quote:


2) Are you saying that no one can sense anything like God's presence, because all of them are only sensing their own emotional states? That would require LOTS of evidence about LOTS of people.



I'm saying the default position must be that they are only sensing their own emotional state, until such time as the objective existence of God can be established. As all experiments involving introspection have shown that introspection is extremely unreliable, introspection cannot be used as reliable evidence for objective existence of anything but internal states.

This isn't just an arbitrary rule. When I talked about the reliability of observations, I wasn't talking about some subjective judgment. You can assign actual numbers to the reliability of certain observations. Statistical analysis of observations help establish the reliability of observations, and so help determine the strength of the evidence. Introspection is extremely unreliable about revealing new knowledge of objective existence. That's not just opinion. That's measured, and tested.

That also has some ramifications about certainty and relativity, which I'll get to. Science isn't nearly as certain as we make it sound.

Quote:


3) Or are you saying that you know of some scientific law or theory that precludes the possibility that anyone can sense anything like God's presence? That would also require LOTS of evidence about LOTS of people.



It's not a law or theory. It's the practice of science, based on the epistemology of science. Introspection is very, very weak evidence for anything, other than internal subjective states.

But, it goes even deeper than that. Let's assume we accept the proposition that feeling "the presence of God" is evidence that God truly exists. For this to become an hypothesis, the proposition would have to result in specific conclusions that can be positively tested. Or, in a more Popperian sense, it'd have to have a method of negation. We'd have to have a method of proving God doesn't exist, using only the fact that people feel "the presence of God."

There's no way to do that.

So, the proposition of the link between a feeling of God, and the actual existence of God, cannot be promoted to the rank of hypothesis. It can't be tested.

Actually, it can, because there is one specific prediction you might be able to make from feeling "the existence of God" that would negate that link. If there were an objective God, and the feeling of the existence of God was a direct cause of the objective existence of God, you would expect that subjective experience to be homogeneous throughout all the experiences. That is, everyone who experiences God would experience the same God.

This is quite obviously not the case. Although some experiences seem similar, they differ from culture to culture, indicating the experience of God is cultural in nature, and not objective. This doesn't preclude the objective existence of God (nothing can really do that). But it does reduce the reliability of the evidence presented by introspection. That evidence simply further supports the hypothesis that introspection is far more reliable at observing internal states than external states.

Quote:


4) Or are you saying that your hypothetical theist who says that he "feel[s] the presence of God” is only sensing his own emotional state? After all, you made him up. If so, no problem. I might then hypothesize a theist who doesn't feel his internal emotional state but actually senses a God that objectively exists wholly within him and within every other theist, who collectively represent enough energy of God to effect change in the objective/external world.



You certainly can assert that proposition. At that point, I'd have to ask, what is your epistemic support for this proposition? How would you test the validity of that assertion?

From a scientific standpoint, your proposition makes specific claims about the nature of God.

First, you are claiming that God exists within theists. What about atheists? Is belief necessary for God to exist? If so, what is it about the belief that manifests God?

Second, you are claiming God either contains, or is made of (I'm not clear on that), energy. What is this energy? What are its potentials, and how does it move between potentials?

The proposition claims that this energy can somehow effect change. What change, and how does this change differ from that obtainable by simple intention? I will definitely agree that theistic belief affects individual intention, and so belief does effect change. Sometimes that change is good, such as charity. Other times it is bad, such as the way Mother Theresa denied health care to the sick, or the way the Mormons funded proposition 8 in California, or 9/11 (though 9/11 was also partially political). What does this energy do that is different from just regular old actions?

The proposition indicates that theists actually experience God. Why are those experiences different depending on culture?

Quote:


5) How do you understand the difference between “feeling” and “observing?” Could you explain? I comment on that below.



I apologize; I thought I was clear on that. Sometimes I forget to explicate some things. "Feeling" is observation. It is data concerning your internal state. In that realm, it is relatively reliable observation. (Actually, even in that realm it is unreliable. For instance, I often feel hungry when depressed, even immediately after a meal. Worse, I often don't recognize I am depressed until my wife tells me, and suddenly I realize I am. My objective tells in the real world are often more reliable about my internal states than my own observations of my internal state.

I have other examples: I have a friend who gets cranky when he gets hungry, but never realizes he's hungry or cranky until someone mentions it. I can stay up very late playing video games or coding, and don't realize I'm damned tired until I take a break. And so on.

So, while feelings are observations, they are demonstrably (and measurably) unreliable.

Quote:


Quote:


The same is true of anything that is based on introspection. The domain of introspection is the realm of one's own mind. This is why much of what Luminon (whom I like a lot) writes is not indicative of the external world, but only his own internal state.



OK, careful here. I've been reading up on the mind-body problem. It's a BIG problem for materialists (holding that only material things are real) to demonstrate that there is any such thing as mind beyond a physical function of the brain, which is what we normally mean by “mind,” i.e., mind-body dualism intact. There are complimentary problems if you decide to reduce the mind to a physical process, i.e., no dualism because no "mind." We have no more evidence for the existence of mind than we do for the existence of gods. But I completely get your comments about domain, choice of example aside.



Why is the mind-body problem a BIG problem for materialists? It is only a problem if you assume there is no physical way for "mind" to exist.

In reality (or existence, if you prefer), it has been well-demonstrated that mind is tied specifically to the brain. Physical changes to the brain affect the performance of the mind. This indicates dualism is a red herring.

Science has progressed quite far in determining how the mind works. Consciousness appears to be nothing more than the brain monitoring its own states, and processing that data. These states are information-based. The only dualism is in the fact that information exists, and it is nothing more than relationships between configurations of matter, and the changing states between those configurations.

As Bob has said, materialism has come quite a long way in the last 100 years. It's even come a long way in the last 30, since "information science" became a real science, and not limited to computers.

Quote:


Agreed on all counts, sort of, with a teensy twist. Observation = feeling = sensing = we've got 5 of them, 6 if you count intuition. I've already mentioned some things about feeling ala Radiohead. The twist is that it cuts both ways. Whatever reasons that you have for preferring “external” and “objective” over “internal” and “subjective also work against that preference by simply turning the tables. You didn't make it clear, but it seems like you were implying that “internal observations” should be excluded from the domain of evidence except for your remote viewing example. If so, why and what's your evidence? I will bet ahead of time that whatever reasons you give could be applied to exclude what I'm sure that you mean by “evidence” that is “observed” and that you would prefer to include in the domain.



Oh, sorry again -- I tried to make it clean that introspection is quite valid as observation, for internal states.

I wouldn't count "intuition" as a sense. It's more of a shortcut to conclusions from evidence. Your mind is an excellent information processor. (I use "mind" as shorthand for "processing of the brain." I do not intend to indicate the mind exists apart from the brain, any more than I believe the flow of blood exists apart from your circulatory system.) Given very scant data, it can provide very quick conclusions based on that data, often quite accurate.

Here is the crux of our differences, I believe. And it all lies in the reliability of data.

When you consider data consciously, do you treat all data as being equally valid? For instance, would you consider medical advice from an accountant to have the same weight as that from a doctor?

That was a trick question. If I were morbidly obese, and the accountant said, "Dude, you should really lose some weight if you want to be healthier," that advice would carry the exact same weight as that from a doctor. Why? Because I know that being overweight is not very healthy. I know the observation (that I am overweight) and the conclusion (I should lose weight if I wish to be healthier) are valid based on that which I have already established as "truth."

Now here's where it gets strange.

What we know (that being overweight is bad for our health) is not always true. At least, not in the lifespan/quality of life arena. If I were at 250 lbs, say, I might be perfectly healthy, if overweight. I might have decent stamina, no heart problems, and I might live out a normal lifespan. But, we have an idea what my chances are. There is a percentage attached to the statement that being overweight is unhealthy: 83.2% of overweight people die from heart attacks, compared to only 62.5% of the non-overweight population. (I'm making those numbers up. I have no clue how close to true they are, and I'm lazy.)

You can do this sort of statistical analysis with essentially all data. Even that data that comes from introspection. For instance, there's the Dunning-Kruger effect, a very interesting experiment that indicates that the more you know, the less sure you are of your own competencies. (That is an excellent example of good use of introspection as valid data.)

Quote:


Actually, I just don't get your apparent preference for externally observed stuff. We have gobs of research that shows how unreliable our senses are and how unreliable our instruments are and how unreliable the minds of those to use and interpret both of them are. Your flat world is another example. Whether you direct that fallibility “externally” or “internally” doesn't matter. We have the same problems either way, not more one way than the other.

These comments are not intended to say that we don't or can't know anything by observation. I'm just saying that we can know and have the same problems with knowledge whether we look “inside” or “outside.”

Just to make a point, feel free to treat the following as rhetorical as you like. What is the difference between external and internal, anyway? Division line at the epidermis? Isn't my stomach external to my mind? If so, my senses of the state of my stomach would be external evidence, within your domain. But then what is the difference between those senses/feelings and any other senses/feelings about any other part of my anatomy? Isn't the state of my entire body “external” to my mind? Or is my body wholly encompassed by my mind, making my body internal to my mind? Is my brain within my mind or vice versa?



This'll have to be the last response for now. I'm quickly running out of time. I do apologize for not being able to give the rest of your post an immediate response.

Everything I've talked about up 'til now has been priming the most important part of my response.

The unreliability of our senses is key to the process of science. The epistemology of science is based on an objective, observable, consistent universe. It assumes there is something to study outside our own bodies. The practice of science recognizes that our observations are not perfect. The bulk of the practice of science is devoted to reducing and measuring observational errors. That's why repeatability is so important to research. If you can't repeat something, and have others repeat that exact same thing, you cannot validate your conclusions. Hell, you really don't even have a sound basis on which to build conclusions if you can't repeat something.

Repeatability is one way to help remove the unreliability of individual cognition. A perfect example of how this works in practice is by the Pons and Fleischmann cold fusion experiment in '89. They were excited by their results, as they had discovered cold fusion. However, as others tried (and failed) to reproduce their experiment, it was concluded there was something wrong with their experiment. Several other experiments have shown how the excess heat produced by their experiment quite likely came from poor testing practices.

Does that mean cold fusion is not possible? No. All it means is Pons and Fleischmann most likely did not produce cold fusion.

Note how I stated that. I did not outright claim they did not produce cold fusion. All I have stated is that there has been no reproducibility to the claim that their experiment produces cold fusion. It is entirely possible they managed, in one experimental run, to produce cold fusion. However, as it has been demonstrated that flaws in their test setup could produce their results without cold fusion, that is the more likely conclusion.

And science is like that. All of science is built of observation, with each observation given a probability. Very, very few observations are rated at 100% certain. As it turns out, you really can't prove anything 100% certain. Many things can't even be proven 100% impossible. So nothing is certain in science.

In spite of that, you can assign a probability of certainty. The observation that gravity is an attractive force, between masses, that follows a specific mathematical formula is one observation that is so close to 100%, it's considered effectively 100% certain. The proposition that a specific chemical (DNA) is responsible for the development of each living creature on earth is another that approaches 100%.

Other scientific propositions approach 0% certainty. As an example, it is almost 0% certain that a human individual can exist in a vacuum without some form of protective life support. It is close to 0% certain that a supernatural entity hurls lightning bolts at gigantic styrofoam statues.

And so, science can account for our unreliability in observation. As far as I can see, it is the only practical application of epistemology that does so. Knowledge within science is relative, but there are calculations that give an indication of exactly how relative a proposition might be. Every time a proposition makes a prediction about objective knowledge we don't yet have, and every time that prediction does not fail, the proposition inches higher in reliability.

So when it comes to claims such as, "I feel that X exists, and so it exists," I am quite skeptical. Unless there is some evidence with higher reliability, there is no reason to assume X actually exists. That's why the remote viewing example works: there's corroborating physical evidence that increases reliability.

To refer back to "intuition:" this is actually very much how both your intuition and your conscious decision making tend to work. You judge the reliability of your data, you formulate plans, you calculate the probable outcome of each plan based on the reliability of your data, and choose a course of action. (Sometimes that choice is, 'I have no clue, so I shall not act.') Personal preference affects the decision making process, of course, and so different people come to different conclusions based on the same data, but the process often follows this same general outline. The major difference between your intuition and your conscious decisions is that intuition short-circuits much of the actual planning and comes to (often correct) conclusions based on poor data.

Intuition is freakin' cool, especially when it works.

One final note: if something cannot be measured, if something has no observable effects on objective reality (or existence, if you prefer), it is effectively non-existent. Your internal states can be measured, and so your feelings and intuitions are real. They are measurable. They have effects on objective reality, inasmuch as you act on your feelings and intuitions. However, the targets of your feelings might not exist outside the confines of your own imagination. That's why some people are afraid of the dark -- they aren't necessarily afraid of the dark itself, but of the things they feel are hiding in the dark. Their fear is real; the bigfoot of which they fear is not. And yet their actions based on that fear are also quite real.

Anyway, gotta go. I'm way late getting started on my day, but I'm really pleased you take the time and effort to engage us.

Oh, and BTW: though I sound like I am professing Absolute Truth, I am really just presenting my concept of how science works, and how I try to approach the objective world. I approach my personal life quite differently, though I try to base my decisions on the most accurate data possible. I often allow my emotions to drive decisions.

"Yes, I seriously believe that consciousness is a product of a natural process. I find that the neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers who proceed from that premise are the ones who are actually making useful contributions to our understanding of the mind." - PZ Myers


skeptic23
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Hey Bob!

BobSpence1 wrote:

Skeptic23, I do not like your use of the word 'reality' to refer to what is really our personal model of reality, progressively built up and refined from our personal experience and what we digest from other people's accounts of their experiences, ideas, and beliefs. It confuses the issue to use the word that way.

I don't use it the way you seem to have taken my use of it. Mental models are cognitive products, artifacts if you will. When I say that reality is our cognitive representation of existence, I'm talking about what we're learning about how the brain works. The brain actually doesn't process light photons: our retina does that. What we "see" as light is the result of our retinas sending non-photonic signals to our brains via the optic nerves. What our brains process as "light" is actually a representation of light, not light itself. And so on for all our senses. By the time the brain has all the info it needs to actually patch together what I experience as a scene--sights, sounds, smells, temperature, tactile, etc.--it's ALL a representation. Actually, it's at least a two-fold representation. One, it's all formed by neural signals that REPRESENT the original stimuli. Second, it's a pattern-organizing process by our brains to assemble all those discrete representations into a representation of the whole scene, a representation of assembled representations of signals sensed by my sensory organs.

I think the distinction is very important because, with apologies to any rationalists out there, MUCH of what determines our thinking happens down there where all those subordinate representations are being translated, transferred, and assembled. We don't have a clue how much. I always go by the iceberg rule: if you can see anything at all, it's no more than 1/4 the whole, the rest of which lies hidden.

I think of models you mentioned as abstractions, way up the abstraction/representation chain from the level of "representation" which I identify with our "realities."

Quote:

It seems to me that your idea explicitly abuses the normal usage of the word, as in my dictionary: (The New Oxford American Dictionary, online on my Mac )

Haha! It wouldn't be the first time, and it won't be the last. I find the dictionary helpful, not authoritative. In fact, dictionaries attempt to track current usage. Language has become too fluid to admit an authority any longer, and it's only going to become moreso as language barriers are bridged and knowledge increases require new vocabularies.

Quote:

It is part of reality that we have this model, this approximation, to actual external reality and the internal reality of what our brain contains and how it actually works.

Please see my response to Nigel where I try for effect to tongue-twist myself with the keyboard about mind and body and internal and external. They are clear notions only once we have made some usually unstated decisions about reference and context.

Quote:

So, of course, there is a subtle distinction in the way the two words refer to reality, to 'what exists', but they really are referring to the same thing.

I do not like abuse of words in this way, it is a fundamental contribution to misunderstanding and confusion.

I hope we have straightened you out on your misunderstanding of 'atheism' displayed in your OP...

In order...

I think I've made it clear why I don't think they are the same thing. I'm not hung up on the terms "existense" and "reality" but I haven't encountered improvements. I'm pretty stuck on the categories, though, regardless of terms, until someone can show me an improvement. Like I've mentioned a couple of times, significant errors in our thinking can result from not making a distinction between existence and our immediate, cognitive representation of it, which representation is all we have access to in order to gain knowledge about existence.

I do not consider my usage abuse at all. "Abuse" sounds a bit inflammatory, anyway. What have I abused, i.e., what has been damaged, by my usage?

As to being straightened out, I came asking questions and describing my ideas in order to get feedback, not pushing my views. I did describe some of the mistakes I made in the past. Is that what you are referring to?

Frankly, by using expressions like "abuse" and "straightened you out" I feel a little like you just tried to slap my hand. If so, how come? It isn't called for; I'm not trying to push anything or offend anyone. If not, my apologies for having a thinner hide than I claimed earlier!

Quote:

Have you read any books by Douglas Hofstadter? He deals with much of what seems to interest you. And me, for that matter - I like where he is coming from.

Cool! Thanks, he's on the reading list now...

 

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


BobSpence
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The "gobs of evidence" that

The "gobs of evidence" that our senses are unreliable were obtained through empirical observation and the use of instruments, which we have "gobs of evidence' for being much more reliable than our senses.

However, even if all available channels are fairly unreliable, we have techniques which allow us to build up a core of highly reliable data, by cross-checking and correlation and repetition in different modes among the different ways we can acquire data about a specific thing. The less reliable, the more 'noisy' the data, the longer it takes.

Similarly with the "Gobs of evidence" that introspection is unreliable. Unless that introspection can be related to some externally, separately observable information, it represents only one channel of information, so is not verifiable in the way sensory data about the external world can be. In fact, as Nigel commented, 'remote viewing' would represent, in effect another sense accessing reality (I will continue to use that word in the normal, valid way, sorry ) so it could be validated or refuted in the same way the normal senses can be.

Even if some experience was the effect of an external 'transcendent' being, unless it is accompanied by physical manifestations, there is simply no logical way to distinguish a 'true' communication with such a hypothetical being from something entirely generated within the brain, such as hallucinations or vivid dreams.

If you want to suggest that there may be something you want to label God inside people, what makes that different from simply saying our mind has an aspect, a capability, that has the same effect? What would that assertion actually mean, if each such 'God' is entirely contained within each individual? I see that idea as essentially vacuous.

I don't see mind as being 'reduced' to the material, I see the material, ie matter, as what makes things like mind possible, since it is matter that gives persistent structure to existence, by definition, and complex structure is necessary to support complex processing, which is what is necessary to allow phenomena such as mind and consciousness to emerge. Matter rules!

Don't confuse that idea with 'reductive materialism', which does not recognise the more complex referents, such as pattern and process and information that materiality makes possible as being also real, but in a different category from matter itself. Just as height, weight and velocity are real physical concepts, but not material objects themselves.

 

God is a worse than useless idea, it is positively misleading, it gets in the way of pursuit of truth.

 

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Science -> Philosophy -> Theology


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Struggling to understand here

BobSpence1 wrote:

The "gobs of evidence" that our senses are unreliable were obtained through empirical observation and the use of instruments, which we have "gobs of evidence' for being much more reliable than our senses.

However, even if all available channels are fairly unreliable, we have techniques which allow us to build up a core of highly reliable data, by cross-checking and correlation and repetition in different modes among the different ways we can acquire data about a specific thing. The less reliable, the more 'noisy' the data, the longer it takes.

Similarly with the "Gobs of evidence" that introspection is unreliable. Unless that introspection can be related to some externally, separately observable information, it represents only one channel of information, so is not verifiable in the way sensory data about the external world can be. In fact, as Nigel commented, 'remote viewing' would represent, in effect another sense accessing reality (I will continue to use that word in the normal, valid way, sorry ) so it could be validated or refuted in the same way the normal senses can be.

Bob, please don't misquote me. Here is what I wrote, the only time I have used the word "gobs" in any of my posts.

Quote:

We have gobs of research that shows how unreliable our senses are and how unreliable our instruments are and how unreliable the minds of those to use and interpret both of them are. 

We do have research that shows all those things, unreliable in two ways: producing erroneous results and severely limited in power and range compared to what we need in order to answer the questions we have. Are you denying this?

I'm wondering what are you reacting to? I didn't compare the relative reliability of our senses vs. instrumentation, nor did I mention the quality of our "core" of data. You seem to feel the need to affirm these things as if I had mentioned them somehow. What with misquoting me and responding to statements I didn't make, I'm groping in the dark here trying to understand your comments. What are you actually arguing against? Please be explicit.

Quote:

 

Even if some experience was the effect of an external 'transcendent' being, unless it is accompanied by physical manifestations, there is simply no logical way to distinguish a 'true' communication with such a hypothetical being from something entirely generated within the brain, such as hallucinations or vivid dreams.

If you want to suggest that there may be something you want to label God inside people, what makes that different from simply saying our mind has an aspect, a capability, that has the same effect? What would that assertion actually mean, if each such 'God' is entirely contained within each individual? I see that idea as essentially vacuous.

I don't see mind as being 'reduced' to the material, I see the material, ie matter, as what makes things like mind possible, since it is matter that gives persistent structure to existence, by definition, and complex structure is necessary to support complex processing, which is what is necessary to allow phenomena such as mind and consciousness to emerge. Matter rules!

Don't confuse that idea with 'reductive materialism', which does not recognise the more complex referents, such as pattern and process and information that materiality makes possible as being also real, but in a different category from matter itself. Just as height, weight and velocity are real physical concepts, but not material objects themselves.

 

Over all, your post struck me a bit sermon-like: lots of assertions with little explanation or evidence to support it.

I'd love to hear explanations of the following:

  1. What you mean by "introspection"
  2. How introspection has been show to be "unreliable"
  3. How we can relate introspection to externally, separately observable information
  4. How relating introspection to externally, separately observable information makes it more verifiable than it would be unrelated
  5. How separately observable information is more verifiable than introspection, assuming you think it is (you seem to imply it)
  6. How sensory data about the external world is more easily verified than introspection
  7. How we can verify sensory data about the external world in a way that ensures that it isn't entirely generated within the brain, such as hallucinations or vivid dreams
  8. How stating that our mind has an aspect, a capability, that "has the same effect" as God inside people is less vacuous than stating that there is something inside people that I label God, if there is no difference as you imply
  9. How pattern, process, information, and structure are somehow real apart from matter itself. You seem to confuse them as things that exist in their own right rather than as attributes of matter. 

Also, please explain what you mean by "real physical concepts". In what way are concepts "physical"? Or did you mean concepts about real physical things?

Quote:

God is a worse than useless idea, it is positively misleading, it gets in the way of pursuit of truth.

How does the idea of god mislead and get in the way of pursuit of truth?

Thanks!

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


skeptic23
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Nigel, great post thanks!

Haha, I decided to take matters into my own hands to bend the real world to my will. That didn't work, so I just ran away. It bothers me much less now than it used to.

So now I know I need to be careful about throwing things out there for effect; you respond to everything! I really appreciate your responses, too, because they are helping me understand your way of looking at things. I wish we had something better than language to use to communicate with each other. One day we will. For now it's a catch-22 of inferring tons from a little language (very risky proposition if communication is important to you) or take incredible time and effort and use lots and lots of language to triangulate on what the verbiage actually signifies to the speaker and filter out misunderstandings. So, I opt for the latter.

 -- By the way, I wrote what follows BEFORE I discovered that you are a coder... Eye-wink

I have an incredible range for comprehending levels of abstraction. I found this out while working in IT. Any piece of software can have dozens, hundreds of levels of abstraction embedded in it. The larger systems have thousands, maybe more. I never tried to count. It was a learned skill, brought on by those unit tests that passed with flying colors only to find out that the whole routine was worthless because the guy working on the routine that called the routine that called the routine that I was working on misunderstood the requirements and asked us to pass him data that it turns out he didn't need.

I could have finger-pointed along with the rest, but I was more interested in understanding how to improve our methodology so that not only would this not keep happening, but maybe eliminate the possibility of it happening. Maybe it wasn't the guy's fault that he misunderstood the requirements. Maybe the requirements were ambiguous. Haha! Watch out! Now I had the systems analyst who wrote the requirements pissed off at me, the measly programmer. So I became a systems analyst. Then a systems architect, then a data architect, because I realized that the data structures were the fundamental constraint on development and because data definitions were kind of a sweet spot where clients were most forthcoming about business intelligence at a level where they didn't feel politically threatened. I love data structures, but they can get really boring, so I moved onto information structures.

I eventually ended up doing IT management consulting in “information management” when IT, library science, and management science (geez, if ever there was an oxymoron,) were realizing that they were going to have to work together or duke it out over whose domain IM belonged to. Same old story everywhere. Everybody knew their jobs, everybody new their requirements, everybody knew what they needed to do to meet those requirements, and everybody was adamant that their work products did just that. And over and over again we had 50%, 100%, 500% development cost and schedule overruns, and that's for the projects that weren't scrapped. And then it was right back to another cycle of development to fix serious issues with what we delivered because it didn't do what the users needed, often because it wasn't what they asked for or all that they asked for, and often because in the time burned between planned development and slid schedules, the business needs had changed.

I can track large quantities of details, but I have an annoying limit when faced with details that I intuit belong to a domain that doesn't make sense. I'm compulsive, I can't help it. I have to stop and ask why the domain doesn't make sense. That's part of why I got out of IT. Surrounded by a bunch of people trying to meet a deadline, doing that doesn't exactly make you popular. Going further up the corporate ladder was odious/noxious to me; I was looking for more rationality, not less. So, I started a residential remodeling business.

Anyway, enough. All that to say that I need to pull things back up for my own sanity's sake and risk possibly pissing people off, although I'm quite sure that doesn't include you. And that being the case, I hope you don't mind me using some of your statements about details to ask some larger questions.

Before I do that, I did want to make specific responses to your last post, so I'll do that here, then get into the rest in a separate post.

nigelTheBold wrote:

It's not a law or theory. It's the practice of science, based on the epistemology of science. Introspection is very, very weak evidence for anything, other than internal subjective states.

But, it goes even deeper than that. Let's assume we accept the proposition that feeling "the presence of God" is evidence that God truly exists. For this to become an hypothesis, the proposition would have to result in specific conclusions that can be positively tested. Or, in a more Popperian sense, it'd have to have a method of negation. We'd have to have a method of proving God doesn't exist, using only the fact that people feel "the presence of God."

I'm glad you brought up epistemology of science and Popper. I think that they might get at what is troubling me. I'm still trying to formulate an intelligible question about this. It probably goes something like: How can we apply the epistemological assumptions of conventional science and falsification requirements to a domain that by definition lies outside the domain of science and by common agreement cannot be falsified, primarily because by definition it cannot be controlled? This is what I'll get into in a separate post.

Quote:

Actually, it can [be tested?], because there is one specific prediction you might be able to make from feeling "the existence of God" that would negate that link. If there were an objective God, and the feeling of the existence of God was a direct cause of the objective existence of God, you would expect that subjective experience to be homogeneous throughout all the experiences. That is, everyone who experiences God would experience the same God.

Here I think you are a bit unclear. There seems to be several assumptions buried in what you wrote, e.g., that if everyone experienced the same God, they would all have the same experience and that they would interpret that experience the same way, and that their reports of their experiences and interpretations would be very much alike. People don't to do that when they all see the same, simple picture. Why would they do it if they encountered the same god, unless you added yet another assumption, that god would be the kind of god that would make sure that they did, since presumably that would be within his power to do.

nigelTheBold wrote:

skeptic23 wrote:

4) Or are you saying that your hypothetical theist who says that he "feel[s] the presence of God” is only sensing his own emotional state? After all, you made him up. If so, no problem. I might then hypothesize a theist who doesn't feel his internal emotional state but actually senses a God that objectively exists wholly within him and within every other theist, who collectively represent enough energy of God to effect change in the objective/external world.

You certainly can assert that proposition. At that point, I'd have to ask, what is your epistemic support for this proposition? How would you test the validity of that assertion?

From a scientific standpoint, your proposition makes specific claims about the nature of God.

First, you are claiming that God exists within theists. What about atheists? Is belief necessary for God to exist? If so, what is it about the belief that manifests God?

Second, you are claiming God either contains, or is made of (I'm not clear on that), energy. What is this energy? What are its potentials, and how does it move between potentials?

The proposition claims that this energy can somehow effect change. What change, and how does this change differ from that obtainable by simple intention? I will definitely agree that theistic belief affects individual intention, and so belief does effect change. Sometimes that change is good, such as charity. Other times it is bad, such as the way Mother Theresa denied health care to the sick, or the way the Mormons funded proposition 8 in California, or 9/11 (though 9/11 was also partially political). What does this energy do that is different from just regular old actions?

The proposition indicates that theists actually experience God. Why are those experiences different depending on culture?

Haha! I've gotta be careful with you. You take me to task on everything! Eye-wink Actually, I wasn't seriously proposing that hypothesis. I stated it exactly because I think it's preposterous and thought that you would agree. My point was that if you were merely throwing a hypothesis out there, i.e., your particular theist was feeling his emotional state, that it has no more bearing on what I think the real issue is—whether feeling is restricted to informing us about emotional states—than the one I threw out about my hypothetical theist who in my formulation was feeling something more than an emotional state. In other words, simply positing your hypothetical theist doesn't further the discussion any more than I do if I posit mine.

This goes back to a prior post:

 

skeptic23 wrote:

nigelTheBold wrote:
Also, evidence has a domain. So, while a theist can observe that they "feel the presence of God," that is not evidence of God, but evidence of the theist's internal emotional state.

OK,

1) How did you determine that about your hypothetical theist?

2) Are you saying that no one can sense anything like God's presence, because all of them are only sensing their own emotional states? That would require LOTS of evidence about LOTS of people.

3) Or are you saying that you know of some scientific law or theory that precludes the possibility that anyone can sense anything like God's presence? That would also require LOTS of evidence about LOTS of people.

4) Or are you saying that your hypothetical theist who says that he "feel[s] the presence of God” is only sensing his own emotional state? After all, you made him up. If so, no problem. I might then hypothesize a theist who doesn't feel his internal emotional state but actually senses a God that objectively exists wholly within him and within every other theist, who collectively represent enough energy of God to effect change in the objective/external world.

What I was trying to do is get you into a corner. Eye-wink I still think I can, so let's see.

 -- NOTE: I have to take off to a family function, so the rest of this didn't get proofed! Be kind! I don't want to wait to post, so I'll check later and reserve the right to reverse myself on any bloopers that might follow... Eye-wink

#1 was intended to get you to admit that there was no “how” you determined anything. The theist was hypothetical.

#2 was intended to set you up for my inevitable requirement for all truth statements: show us the evidence. By the way, I fully expect people to challenge me for evidence about the truth statements I make. Ironically, this forum's interest in getting to declare myself on the definition of god and what I believe about god denotes an interest in getting me to go beyond my own evidence. I'm not faulting anyone for that, because at this stage of life I should have a lot more than I do. Notice how the conventional notion of religious faith and belief is set up to provide a standing disincentive to gathering any evidence at all, much less a lot of it!

#3 was intended to do the same, except in spades. It's one thing to make a claim about everybody. It's another to say that you didn't just make an observational claim, but that your claim involves an essential feature of reality (ala your definition of reality—I'm flexible) that precludes it being otherwise.

#4 is all that I can see is left to you: you posited a hypothetical theist whose feeling of god is mistaken because he is only feeling his emotional state. Simply positing this hypothetical doesn't support what I clearly hearing you say: that there is a rule or principle or law that feelings are restricted to informing us about internal states, emotional states being an example of one. A hypothetical example doesn't prove a rule, because see? I can provide a hypothetical example that falsifies the rule, one that I think is preposterous and that I'm sure you will agree is preposterous and does nothing of the sort. The problem is that your hypothetical example offers no more logical, rational cause to support for your rule than mine has logical, rational cause to falsify it.

nigelTheBold wrote:

skeptic23 wrote:
5) How do you understand the difference between “feeling” and “observing?” Could you explain? I comment on that below.

I apologize; I thought I was clear on that. Sometimes I forget to explicate some things. "Feeling" is observation. It is data concerning your internal state. In that realm, it is relatively reliable observation. (Actually, even in that realm it is unreliable. For instance, I often feel hungry when depressed, even immediately after a meal. Worse, I often don't recognize I am depressed until my wife tells me, and suddenly I realize I am. My objective tells in the real world are often more reliable about my internal states than my own observations of my internal state.

I have other examples: I have a friend who gets cranky when he gets hungry, but never realizes he's hungry or cranky until someone mentions it. I can stay up very late playing video games or coding, and don't realize I'm damned tired until I take a break. And so on.

So, while feelings are observations, they are demonstrably (and measurably) unreliable.

Haha! Another software nut! No wonder we're getting along. Coding does something to your brain, I swear, and I haven't decided that it's all good. The extroverts in my life keep implying that they are pretty sure it isn't!

That was great. It helped me focus in on what seems to me to be an important distinction I don't think we've been making. In butterbattle's terminology, I'd put it like this: feeling is notoriously reliable in indicating that there is something there to pay attention to, but feeling is notoriously bad at interpreting to us what is there, especially when it concerns external reality (ala your def.)

So now I'm wondering if we have a domain of evidence problem. Feelings are exactly what initially gets us to realize that there is something there to pay attention to and feelings are exactly what guide our attention-paying cognitive processes to focus on what it is. This all happens long before we are clear enough about what “it” is to say anything about it.

Maybe feelings are not designed to give us evidence about what something is, just about the fact that something is and, if we're lucky, where to look for it. We need other cognitive faculties to figure out the questions of what triggered the feeling, where to look for it, what to make of it, and what to do about it.

What do you think about that? Illuminate anything for you? It does for me.

nigelTheBold wrote:

Why is the mind-body problem a BIG problem for materialists? It is only a problem if you assume there is no physical way for "mind" to exist.

It's not a problem within a materialistic view of things, but it's a problem when you try to start from that view and rationally derive a basis for things like the conventional notion of a non-material mind, personal identity, human values, in fact, ethics itself or “morality” if you prefer. The problem is that we “read things into” notions that seem very intimately involved in our own will to survive, things that require non-material realities which, when we strip them away, make things like personal identity and ethics very different than the kinds of things that would support human behavior that respects personal identities and complies with ethics or morality.

This gets right to my primary motivation for getting involved on this forum. I find that materialism tends to strip life of meaning, ignoring the compartmentalization that many people use to insulate things the meaning and values that are important to them from those effects. The compartmentalization isn't supported by any logic that I can discern. Besides, I've never been good at compartmentalization anyway. The other way that materialists deal with meaning is to rationalize paths that allow them to support meaning with a view to things that are far from intrinsically attractive. For example, we need ethics because it is good for evolutionary progress. Those rationalizations are inherently NOT the kind of thing that would motivate anyone to do anything that might improve their own lot, much less the lot of all of us.

I find that theistic views tend to strip life of rationality and introduce bogus formulations of “meaning” that are not beneficial to anyone.

Rather than choose one or the other or throw my hands up and become a hermit, (which I was on my way to doing when I was 17 years old for precisely this reason, although I couldn't articulate it at the time,) I have decided to look for a solution. Part of the solution has to lie with atheists, so here I am. I talk to lots of theists, too. I have a family full of 'em!

I look forward to your comments. Family duties call, so this is all I'll get to do today. I'll post my “let's take it up a few thousand feet” attempt in a day or two.

 

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


BobSpence
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Skeptic23, I have deleted my

Skeptic23, I have deleted my last response to you, because I am having formatting problems with it. The software for this forum is crap - I speak as a programmer.

I will shortly have another attempt at getting it to appear as I want - I have copied it to another editor.

 

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

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The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

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BobSpence
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skeptic23 wrote:BobSpence1

skeptic23 wrote:

BobSpence1 wrote:

The "gobs of evidence" that our senses are unreliable were obtained through empirical observation and the use of instruments, which we have "gobs of evidence' for being much more reliable than our senses.

However, even if all available channels are fairly unreliable, we have techniques which allow us to build up a core of highly reliable data, by cross-checking and correlation and repetition in different modes among the different ways we can acquire data about a specific thing. The less reliable, the more 'noisy' the data, the longer it takes.

Similarly with the "Gobs of evidence" that introspection is unreliable. Unless that introspection can be related to some externally, separately observable information, it represents only one channel of information, so is not verifiable in the way sensory data about the external world can be. In fact, as Nigel commented, 'remote viewing' would represent, in effect another sense accessing reality (I will continue to use that word in the normal, valid way, sorry ) so it could be validated or refuted in the same way the normal senses can be.

Bob, please don't misquote me. Here is what I wrote, the only time I have used the word "gobs" in any of my posts.

Quote:

We have gobs of research that shows how unreliable our senses are and how unreliable our instruments are and how unreliable the minds of those to use and interpret both of them are. 

We do have research that shows all those things, unreliable in two ways: producing erroneous results and severely limited in power and range compared to what we need in order to answer the questions we have. Are you denying this?

First, a small apology - I did not have the time to read through all your very long posts, so my response was mostly based on reading nigel's response, including the fragments of your posts he quoted. So I will be making sure in this response I check at least the more relevant parts of your posts before formulating my response. I acknowledge you said "research", not "evidence". To that extent it was a misquote. 

I think I will have to break my response into two or more sections, from considerations of my available time, and out of respect to yourself, as someone who appears to a serious and polite participant, and so that may I give serious consideration to your points.

Now, to my response:

Yes I am pretty much denying what you said at the end there, at least in the somewhat simplistic, over-stated and over-generalised way you put it. Unless you include some indication of degree of inaccuracy and error, what you say is actually devoid of useful information or meaning.

Of course, all our perceptions, our introspective perceptions of the workings of our own mind, all our instruments, are imperfect, flawed, open to actual fault or failure. That is a given.

A more useful discussion would compare our best estimates of the effect of those imperfections on the confidence we can have in whatever conclusions we come to based on the evidence we gather from a particular source. This requires considering the actual degree of error in each source relative to what we are trying to observe. If you are seriously trying to suggest that our instruments are typically at least as inaccurate as our senses, you are seriously misinformed, and I reckon you should provide references to back that up.

Quote:

I'm wondering what are you reacting to? I didn't compare the relative reliability of our senses vs. instrumentation, nor did I mention the quality of our "core" of data. You seem to feel the need to affirm these things as if I had mentioned them somehow. What with misquoting me and responding to statements I didn't make, I'm groping in the dark here trying to understand your comments. What are you actually arguing against? Please be explicit.

I am reacting to what I quoted, plus this: 

Quote:

Whether you direct that fallibility “externally” or “internally” doesn't matter. We have the same problems either way, not more one way than the other.

I am reacting to your apparent attempt to put theories about the nature of reality beyond the world of our imagination and intuition that are based on, supported by, data ultimately derived thru our senses, ie from the world and our limited ability to observe the workings of our own mind, on the same level of validity and certainty as ideas derived purely from our imagination and intuition.

Both are limited, but at least our senses convey some data from that external world, and they can be massively increased in extent and reliability and sensitivity via instrumentation, which translates that data into forms which our senses cannot distort.

Quote:

Quote:

Even if some experience was the effect of an external 'transcendent' being, unless it is accompanied by physical manifestations, there is simply no logical way to distinguish a 'true' communication with such a hypothetical being from something entirely generated within the brain, such as hallucinations or vivid dreams.

If you want to suggest that there may be something you want to label God inside people, what makes that different from simply saying our mind has an aspect, a capability, that has the same effect? What would that assertion actually mean, if each such 'God' is entirely contained within each individual? I see that idea as essentially vacuous.

I don't see mind as being 'reduced' to the material, I see the material, ie matter, as what makes things like mind possible, since it is matter that gives persistent structure to existence, by definition, and complex structure is necessary to support complex processing, which is what is necessary to allow phenomena such as mind and consciousness to emerge. Matter rules!

Don't confuse that idea with 'reductive materialism', which does not recognise the more complex referents, such as pattern and process and information that materiality makes possible as being also real, but in a different category from matter itself. Just as height, weight and velocity are real physical concepts, but not material objects themselves.

Over all, your post struck me a bit sermon-like: lots of assertions with little explanation or evidence to support it.

Curious, I have seen your posts in the somewhat similar terms...

Can you explain how would you validate internal experience? How could you distinguish a vivid dream from an actual communication from a 'real' transcendental being, or however you would think of a 'God'?

Quote:

I'd love to hear explanations of the following:

  1. What you mean by "introspection"
  2. How introspection has been show to be "unreliable"
  3. How we can relate introspection to externally, separately observable information
  4. How relating introspection to externally, separately observable information makes it more verifiable than it would be unrelated
  5. How separately observable information is more verifiable than introspection, assuming you think it is (you seem to imply it)
  6. How sensory data about the external world is more easily verified than introspection
  7. How we can verify sensory data about the external world in a way that ensures that it isn't entirely generated within the brain, such as hallucinations or vivid dreams
  8. How stating that our mind has an aspect, a capability, that "has the same effect" as God inside people is less vacuous than stating that there is something inside people that I label God, if there is no difference as you imply
  9. How pattern, process, information, and structure are somehow real apart from matter itself. You seem to confuse them as things that exist in their own right rather than as attributes of matter. 

 

1. introspection: the examination or observation of one's own mental and emotional processes. (New Oxford American Dictionary).

2. By many, many psychological and neuroscience studies, especially of pathologies  of the brain, such as 'split-brain' patients. This apart from the basic point that there are many processes going on at a non-conscious level which are inherently not accessible to conscious introspection.

3. If we have some experience that involves refers to the existence or state of some entity that exists outside our imagination, that can be verified by investigtaion, or repeatedly predicts some specific event or series of events which are observable by others.

4. Are you serious?

5. Because otherwise you left trying to validate some introspective insight by another similar insight. All one can do there is show by logic whether the two ideas are mutually consistent or not, not whether they are more than just ideas. It is far worse than the classic 'problem of induction'.

6 see 5. 

7. Ultimately we can't, hence the scenario of 'The Matrix'. However, observing the behaviour and interactions of other apparently conscious entities, and the complexity of 'reality'.  The 'Matrix' scenario, or full-blown solipsism, become so much less plausible than the alternative, less 'parsimonious' in the sense of Occam's Razor, that it is sensible and rational to assume there is a reality 'out there'.

8. Occam would shoot you. It adds nothing to any explanation of our experiences but a bunch of obsolete intellectual baggage in the form of all the associations, presuppositions, and so on attached to that word, that concept.

9. 'Pattern, process, and structure' are relationships, temporal and/or spatial, between physical objects, and events involving interactions between physical objects, that seem to have an order that an arbitrary or random assemblage of bits of matter do not. 'Information' is a way of 'encoding' such descriptions. They have the same 'ontological' status as the language, the grammar, the words with which we are communication now. Would you say there is no such 'thing' as language, or that is not real, does not exist, or exists only in some transcendent, ethereal, or supernatural sense?? 

Quote:

Also, please explain what you mean by "real physical concepts". In what way are concepts "physical"? Or did you mean concepts about real physical things?

I would say concepts about real objects and events and the relationships between them. Including the concepts of 'forces', 'energy', which only manifest when they affect material particles ( hadrons and leptons, at the fundamental level ).

Quote:

Quote:

God is a worse than useless idea, it is positively misleading, it gets in the way of pursuit of truth.

How does the idea of god mislead and get in the way of pursuit of truth?

Thanks!

Mainly because it is a primitive, incoherent idea, that in the modern context of scientific understanding, raises and begs more questions than it answers, and inherently is not in any way an ultimate answer to any 'problem of existence', rather it is a road-block, it just confuses so many issues.

Hmmm... looking back at that post, now that I have actually read through and thought about your list of points, I see little point in additional posts, until I see your response, if any, to this. 

 

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Science -> Philosophy -> Theology


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skeptic23 wrote: One of the

skeptic23 wrote:
One of the biggest pieces of evidence against almost all conceptions of God is the variance within God-beliefs. If there was a God who truly wished to be known, all religious beliefs would have some common threads. As it is, the aggregate of religious beliefs amount to white noise. There is no single thread consistent across all beliefs. This pretty much rules out revelation as a source of knowledge of God.
I don't think so. The reason why religions are so different, is because they were shaped according to needs of rulers for many centuries. Having a different religion of your own is wonderful, it means that people will pay and obey you, instead of some central religious authority abroad. It also allows you to ambush people abroad because they have different (wrong) religion. Also, if a religion is well designed, it creates fear, obedience and stupidity. These are reasons why authorities liked to change and create many different organized religions. I hope we all know that, so seekers of truth should not seek in these organized religions.

But where? Every bigger religion has mystical precedessors and offshoots. These mystical sects are not mainstream,they were not so much altered for selfish purposes. The divine revelation in their teachings is much more pure and consistent than in mainstream religion. And the most important thing is, that many mystical teachings are the same! The experience of mystics leads pretty much to the same results. Parallels and equivalents between various traditions are well pointed out in Annie Besant's Ancient Wisdom introductory book. What I mean isn't Christianity, Islam, Judaism and so on, but Gnosticism, Rosicrucianism, Sufism, Kabbalah, and so on. But most importantly, eastern religions like Hinduism or Buddhism are much better mystical source than western.

To demonstrate how great the difference is, Christian church fathers propagated the idea of reincarnation, specially Origenes. It was, as is my information, originally a part of Biblic texts and also commonly widespread belief in Judea of that (Jesus') time. But emperor Justinian, his wife and clique around them forced the church fathers to denounce the doctrine of reincarnation and instead accept the doctrine of Heaven, Hell and eternal damnation. How useful. That was in 533 AD in Constantinopolis. Now almost all mentions of reincarnation from Bible are gone. That is why Christianity doesn't give sense since then.

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Hey Luminon

 

FYI, The quoted statement you disagreed with was nigelTheBold's statement, not mine.

I liked what you wrote and agree with you on the points I am familiar with. Your comments on mysticism were intriguing. Do you have sources for that observation, or is it an observation from your own reading? If what you said is true, it would be huge.

Also, I have never heard that Christian church fathers propagated the idea of reincarnation. Could you point me to sources on that? I've never read Origenes. Could you suggest a place to start? I'd like to look into that. Thanks.

 

When The Church, i.e., organized religion collectively, divests itself of its obscene wealth, gives it all to feed the poor, and releases its death grip on the minds of its adherents, I will once again listen to what it has to say, which at that point I'm sure will be very little.

Man has to awaken to wonder — and so perhaps do peoples.
Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus


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skeptic23 wrote:FYI, The

skeptic23 wrote:

FYI, The quoted statement you disagreed with was nigelTheBold's statement, not mine.

I'm sorry, this topic is big and as I'm reading through it all, I sometimes have to look up which one's IT engineer's post I'm reading Smiling But I find your texts enlightened, patient, and highly skilled. You do a good job of communicating with skeptics. It's not easy, if I say too little, they lose interest. If I say too much, they will classify me as 'one of them' and lose interest too. It's exactly as you pointed it out, the unfortunate tendency to mention alternative explanations and not care about the topic any more.

skeptic23 wrote:
I liked what you wrote and agree with you on the points I am familiar with. Your comments on mysticism were intriguing. Do you have sources for that observation, or is it an observation from your own reading? If what you said is true, it would be huge.
Yes, I do have sources. My main source is personal research of a civil association with which I work. We get a lot of our theory from teachings written down by several theosophic leaders, but also other people independently on them. Our research is about verifying and using that theory in practice. We do that generally for more than 20 years, more organizedly for about 10 years.

The result is, that I know what you are talking about very well, I know many people like you. I know what blurf is, where it is, what it does with people, what it wants, how to communicate with it, and how to work with it. I've observed it on myself, on some members of my family and members of our club. Once you know the signs, you can tell if someone experienced the blurf, no matter if the person is theist or atheist.
We have, it could be said, theory of blurf. Thanks to my own investigation, I can also to some degre suggest a reasonable scientific framework for it.
It's a big thing, in total big enough for several years of college courses. But there are introductory books and those who have experiences to compare it to, may find it extremely interesting. Sorry for the bold statements, but there are many years of many people's work behind them.

skeptic23 wrote:
Also, I have never heard that Christian church fathers propagated the idea of reincarnation. Could you point me to sources on that? I've never read Origenes. Could you suggest a place to start? I'd like to look into that. Thanks.
It's actually a piece of knowledge that was around occult culture for a long time and multiple authors mention that. For example, american sociologist Kyriacos C. Markides describes a mystic from Cyprus who believed himself to be reincarnated Origen. But there's little official evidence for that, though there still are some quotes in Bible that survived the censorship. You can read this article to get the idea. As for the quotes, I'm not a Bible expert, but I remember two.
The first is John 9:2: "Rabbi," his disciples asked him, "why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents' sins?"
"It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins," Jesus answered. "This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.


Matthew 17:12: But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands."

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skeptic23 wrote:First, I

skeptic23 wrote:
First, I really liked your observation about “them” not being able to separate their experiences from their interpretations, so they think that you threw their babies of experience out with the bathwater of interpretation. I take it that “them” is Christians. You might generalize that to all theists, but I'm not sure how appropriate that would be for Buddhists or Hindus or Taoists, etc. The Buddhists I've talked to (only a few) might say that realizing the distinction is a step on the way to enlightenment.

Well, you can just think of my observation as applying to anyone that qualifies. The groups and individuals that my observation does not apply to are not included, whoever they are.

skeptic23 wrote:
I'd like to point out that people who think highly of science and materialists in general have the same problem separating things when it comes to their interpretations of their observations, especially scientific observations, using terms like laws of science, scientific fact, scientific principle, etc., all of which refer to interpretations, however empirically tested, well evidenced, and widely accepted they might be.

To an extent, maybe, but it’s not the same as in religion. For the most part, I think it’s just presented that way for convenience or practicality or a slip of the tongue. E.g. , sometimes, a conclusion is supported by so much strong inductive evidence, that it’s just convenient to assume they are denying the evidence if they deny the conclusion.   If you explained this to pretty much any natural scientist, I think they would agree that their interpretation of the physical evidence is not the same as the evidence itself.

skeptic23 wrote:
Explaining a scientific law is cognitively no different than explaining karma or forgiveness of sins. The differences lie in how the information being explained was developed and in the sources of authority we appeal to for our confidence in the information. The information is always developed through a process, and we always have sources of authority from which we derive our confidence in it.

Sure.

skeptic23 wrote:
Offensive: You deny that the white figure at the end of the tunnel was Jesus and that God gave him a second chance at life.

Not offensive: You deny that you would have interpreted the same experience the way that he did, since you don't believe in Jesus or God.

There is no “his” reality or “my” reality; there is only one reality. Either his interpretation is correct or it is not. To say that I would not interpret his experience the same way he interpreted it is to imply that I consider his interpretation to be incorrect, and it implies that I have some correct alternative interpretation.

If you agree that there is an objective reality, then you know this has to be the case.
The latter statement is not much more than a euphemism of the former statement. In the first one, I’m explicitly denying his interpretation of his experience. In the second one, I’m implicitly denying his interpretation. That’s all; I mean, why would I have a different opinion than him if I didn’t think he was wrong? Again, it seems that I’m saying the same thing in both situations, but that the latter is merely less offensive because it’s less direct. In the first one, I’m saying, “You’re wrong.” In the second one, I’m saying, “Well, I have a different opinion.” Objectively, there is very little difference in what I’m saying; the only difference is in the presentation.

If all you’re saying is that we should try not to offend each other so much, then okay, I mostly agree. One of our primary goals should be to open the lines of communication and to try to understand each other, but I feel like many atheists sometimes just give up trying to communicate and start hurling pointless insults out of frustration. I’ve been guilty of this as well. So, I think we should strive to be impartial and polite, so as to break down the walls between us.

But, I also think there is a limit to that because another one of our primary goals should be to spread reason, skepticism, etc. If I implied to the NDE individual that I thought his interpretation of the tunnel with the light at the end was just as valid as my interpretation, I would be lying through my teeth. His interpretation of the experience is completely unreasonable. If that offends him, then he can go crying to his mommy. I will only strip down the harshness of my voice until it begins to significantly impact the clarity of my thoughts, no further.   

skeptics23 wrote:
We just can't stand others being different?

They can believe what they want, but if they ask me what I think, I will tell them what I think. I can’t stand being dishonest. I can’t stand telling people what they want to hear rather than what I really think.

“Do these jeans make my butt look fat?”
“No. However, your fat butt DOES make your butt look fat.”

That’s what I want to say.

Unless I’m a situation where I’m with potentially hostile people in person and when I don’t feel like experiencing the repercussions of expressing exactly what I’m thinking, I intend to try to express what I think. If I don’t, not only do I feel like I’m bending over just to preserve others’ egos, I feel like I’m compromising my own integrity.

skeptic23 wrote:
When they encounter significant differences that they care about, it's like an either/or for them: either get rid of the difference by changing the other person's mind or by labeling them or their difference as bad or wrong, or change their own mind because the difference is bad or wrong.

Anyone that takes a clear position on anything is either right or wrong.

Do you not think I’m wrong about the existence of God?

skeptic23 wrote:
I believe that blurf is benevolent, but we all know nature doesn't suffer fools, so I think that's characteristic of blurf, too, if there's any difference between the two.

Okay, so you think God is an intelligent being. You believe God is benevolent and just.

What are your reasons for believing this?

skeptic23 wrote:
So, just what does all that belief clarification really have to do with things that matter?

On this forum, I don’t think anything we talk about is going to matter much. Outside of the Internet, in real life, beliefs do matter though. Whether or not the theist thinks God hates homosexuals or thinks women are inferior or allows people to work on Sunday matters.

But, of course, we’re not here just to talk about things that matter. We’re also here just because we enjoy discussing and thinking about these things; it’s fun.
 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits, and | Are melted into air, into thin air; | And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, | The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, | The solemn temples, the great globe itself, - Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, | And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, | Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep. - Shakespeare