Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

You Gotta Have Faith

In response to yesterday's post, Freedomslave came back with an interesting comment, and I think it warrants a post of its own.

Now I hate bible thumpers as much as the next guy, and I don’t go to church (except on Christmas). But the one thing I know for sure is that you have to have faith. Your faith might be that when a species hits a point in its evolution that the DNA mutates and evolves into a higher form of life. Just like the bible thumper you need a certain amount of faith to believe that, epically with all the inconclusive DNA evidence that now exists and the lack of fossil evidence to verify it.

You have to have faith. With this, I wholeheartedly agree. This wasn't always the case. I used to believe that faith is a crutch, kind of a get out of jail free card for when reality doesn't go your way. In a lot of ways, I still believe this. I don't subscribe to the notion that just because many big questions are still unanswered we have to use faith to believe in something. It's like we're saying we can't get by without embracing some worldview, and our only options are all debatable as to their merit. This is simply false. We can do very well in life without buying into big-picture concepts that don't add up logically. But it requires us to put aside our inherent need to explain our surroundings.

I've talked before about the evolution of hope and despair. The gist of the concept is that our minds have a built-in ability to assess our environment in terms of whether or not it bodes well for our plans, which in caveman days were simple - survive long enough to reproduce. Situations that bode well generate hope, which keeps us clocked in and active. Situations that look bad generate despair, which prompts us to explore our options and do something different. But before hope and despair can do their jobs, our minds have to make that assessment. Thinking about the hostile environment of ancient times, it's clear that decisions had to be made - if you stood too long weighing every little option, bad things could (and often did) happen. Statistically speaking, then as now, it is almost always better to do something than nothing when your life is on the line. Thus emerges our need to explain our world.

But our modern world, as this blog routinely espouses, is nothing like that of our cave-dwelling ancestors. Indecision isn't the perilous circumstance it once was. We have the benefit of nearly assured safety, and we have easy access to food and shelter. Nevertheless, the genes that make our minds are still cranking out models that insist upon satisfied curiosity. This, I am convinced, is why people buy into all manner of odd ideas. Anything to feel certain. And the concept of faith has been so sancitified that it offers the perfect excuse to settle on whatever floats your boat. I would argue, however, that faith isn't all it's cracked up to be, at least not most of the time.

For the most part, faith is exactly as I have always seen it - an excuse to believe whatever makes you feel best. In that case, it's a fast path to intellectual laziness. If something requires faith to believe in it, isn't it worth asking why having faith suddenly makes it believable? What's the old Churchill saying: "If you say a dog's tail is a leg, how many legs does he have? Most people answer five, but it's four. Just saying a tail is a leg doesn't make it so." Or something like that. Anyhow, reality is what it is. In my book, there's never anything to be gained by denying it. But...but...but.

As I said, I am actually now on board with the whole faith thing. I have been for two or three years now, but the only thing I have faith in is reason. As it happens, there's really no other way. You see, reason will only get you so far. You can be the master of all masters at logical deduction and still reason will fail you. It will fail you when you get to the land of quarks and leptons. At the subatomic level, there's no way to really measure what's going on, and this makes all the difference when you're trying to use reason to prove the world is as we think it is.

Think about how many physics equations use time as a variable. But what is time? Or, better yet, what is a second? We just assume that our standard units of measurement make sense, but do they? By definition, a second is the time needed for a cesium-133 atom to perform 9,192,631,770 complete oscillations. Fair enough. But how can we tell a cesium-133 atom from a cesium-132 atom? We certainly can't pick the former out of a subatomic lineup. We use statistics and probabilities to tell them apart. Aye, there's the rub. We're guessing. Our guesses are good, mind you, but we're guessing nonetheless. So here we are faithless, relying upon reason to guide us in our estimation of everything, and we can't even get the most basic things right. This is where faith earns its stripes.

If I must have faith, and it appears that I must, it has to be solely in the notion that reason will not fail me, in the notion that even though logic holds up under the most dire of circumstances, I can't expect too much of it. In the end, it was Karl Popper who helped me with this (me and David Hume, although Hume was long dead when Popper came along.)

David Hume worried so much about his problem of induction that he ended up rejecting rationalism altogether. His hang-up was founded in the idea that even though something (like the sun rising) has happened for 1000 days, it is illogical to suppose that it will happen on the 1001st. Since we're only privy to part of truth of this world, we could have been wrong lo those 1000 days. Tomorrow, things could change, so it doesn't make sense to make predictions. Ergo, rationalism doesn't work. (Given Hume's popularity in the old days, it's no surprise that there was a decidedly anti-rational movement that succeeded his death and the Enlightenment. I believe they call it Romanticism. Yes, critics, the French Revolution might have also had something to do with it.) Popper, however, having seen the mental cancer that was irrationalism, took a different approach.

Popper conceded from the outset that making predictions based upon some supposed certainty that was obtained by way of reason was illogical. He acknowledged that certainty, in itself, is unattainable, but he also acknowledged that we have to do something in life. So we use reason to evaluate our alternatives and we choose the best one. In that way, we don't ask too much of it, and we keep ourselves as tuned into reality as possible. The only thing required is a healthy faith in reason. That's where I am these days.

I rejoice in the mystery of our world. I'm thrilled to know that there will always be things to be curious about. I'm thrilled to know that there's always a chance that something big and heretofore established will come crumbling down in the face of new evidence. I also watch car chases - maybe it's me. In any case, my explanation for this world is simple - it's all explainable (not explained, but explainable). It's up to us to chip away at it so that we can keep handing what we learn down through the generations. I really don't need anything more than that, and I firmly believe that most people, if they'd take a deep breath and give it a try, wouldn't either.

117 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hume's problem was that we have a theory that explains why the sun will rise on the 1001st day, and it had been in place for centuries before he threw up his hands at the problem. He'd have been better off to use that old tired example, the black swans.

Induction works in the realm of fuzzy logic and probabilities.

And all mental constructs - logic, math, etc, are good in their own realm, but to explain the physical world you absolutely have to revert to the physical data. To reason about the physical realm you can't contradict the physical data.

And - so maybe it IS turtles all the way down. That doesn't mean reason has failed you. It means you're up against an infinite series. Or maybe need a cognitive leap. For example, people born in 1900 had trouble with relativity; I grew up with it and find it perfectly rational (within its own sphere - the cosmos.)

But yes, we're pattern-making beasties, and those who ignore or deny the existence of the mythic level within human beings including themselves do so at our peril. Like physical urges, it is there, wired into our little ape brains.

Pat

5/02/2005 08:15:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Hi Chris,

I've not digested your whole argument, but I'm up to my neck in the same one on another discussion forum.

The person you're quoting to start with is wrong .. Faith and belief are different - it's quite simply a question of "why" you believe. Those of us that believe "scientific" things that have not been empirically demonstrated to us personally, are using more than faith. We're using the "quality" of explanation" given and the fact that that "fits" with as much consistency as the rest of what we already believe - or in Popperian terms - fixes a problem with the consistency of what we previously believed. What is believed by reasonable explanation evolves in this way. Religious faith offers no such explanations.

David Deutsch "Fabric of Reality" is something I blogged about most recently on this - a very convincing read, even if the multivers is a hard concept to fit into your everyday word view. (He draws on Popper a lot, but points out the misunderstanding that "there is no problem of induction".)

And you're right about one very importnat thing - we are beings that "need" to explain our surroundings - the forum I'm in at the moment is full of quotes on that matter.

Vonnegut said (in Cat's Cradle) "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder 'why, why,
why?' Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land; Man got to tell himself he
understand."

Feyman said "I wonder why I wonder why I wonder why" (metawondering)

Interestingly - I made a link to "The Particvle Adventure" a few months ago.

Ian G

5/02/2005 10:24:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"Religious faith offers no such explanations"

I would assume the end to that statement would be "for me".
Because for the majority of humans on this planet religion fits beautifully with what they already believe....that this life is merely a prelude to a greater and perfect existence which needs to be earned. That this cannot, no way, be all there is.

5/02/2005 11:48:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

OK, Alice - I'm game ...

Assuming your sincerity - dangerous I know - where is that any kind of an "explanation". Consistent with one almighty existing belief, but what about the rest of experience.

"this cannot, no way, be all there is" sounds more like, exactly like, wishful thinking. Understandable wish, but wishful nonetheless.

I actually hold strongly with Chris's closing statement "In any case, my explanation for this world is simple - it's all explainable (not explained, but explainable). It's up to us to chip away at it so that we can keep handing what we learn down through the generations. I really don't need anything more than that, and I firmly believe that most people, if they'd take a deep breath and give it a try, wouldn't either."

5/02/2005 11:55:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

I am entirely sincere in my allegation that most humans believe that this is not all there is. You, yourself, say that it is an understandable wish. It would be interesting to explore why that is.

Religion, in all of its myriad manifestations, dovetails with the educated and uneducated beliefs of humanity.[It]"fixes a problem with the consistency of what we previously believed."

As for Chris's statement that all things are explainable, I would counter with a thought from Pinker, a writer I know you like, that states that our minds may be able to conjure up questions which cannot be answered by those same minds.

5/02/2005 12:25:00 PM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

Alice,

I am entirely sincere in my allegation that most humans believe that this is not all there is. You, yourself, say that it is an understandable wish. It would be interesting to explore why that is.

The two words I highlighted are the thorns there. I believe that 2 + 2 = 4 because we made it that way. I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow because the preponderance of evidence leads me to do so.

I wish people were smarter and good because there is nothing to lead me to believe it to be true.

Religion, in all of its myriad manifestations, dovetails with the educated and uneducated beliefs of humanity.[It]"fixes a problem with the consistency of what we previously believed."

No, it's a salve for a troubled mind. It offers an analgesic, and anasthetic, not an antidote.

As for Chris's statement that all things are explainable, I would counter with a thought from Pinker, a writer I know you like, that states that our minds may be able to conjure up questions which cannot be answered by those same minds.

One could infer that it may be explainable to a more evolved intellect now couldn't one?

5/02/2005 12:43:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"No, it's a salve for a troubled mind. It offers an analgesic, and anasthetic, not an antidote."

I did not say that religion is an antidote. I was following up on Psybertron's statement:"We're using the "quality" of explanation" given and the fact that that "fits" with as much consistency as the rest of what we already believe." I was stating that given this definition, religion fits the bill.


"One could infer that it may be explainable to a more evolved intellect now couldn't one?"

There is nothing in my quote of Pinker's statement which infers your assertion.


"more evolved intellect"

You wouldn't be refering to yourself, would you?

5/02/2005 04:09:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

I believe in some sort of god or higher power or higher being or something else because I find it is logical. If we're all a bunch of atoms, the thoughts in my head don't really make sense. What is conceptualizing that thought and so on... Optometrists still fail to explain exactly what conceptualizes vision and it is such a basic thing. There is some higher reason or explanation for what makes us different from rocks (soul I guess). Just because we have nothing to cross-index it against, doesn't mean shit. The fly on the wheel thinks he is kicking up all that dust. There's just a better explanation than atoms and matter for everything that exists in the world.

5/02/2005 05:58:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"I believe in some sort of god or higher power or higher being or something else because I find it is logical."

And out of the blue, up steps Clupbert to illustrate my point exactly.

5/02/2005 06:55:00 PM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

Alice...

I did not say that religion is an antidote. I was following up on Psybertron's statement:"We're using the "quality" of explanation" given and the fact that that "fits" with as much consistency as the rest of what we already believe." I was stating that given this definition, religion fits the bill.

The difference being that science and theory are rooted in something other than the musings of a purported prophet.

I'll trust Einstein before I'll trust Joseph Smith.

"One could infer that it may be explainable to a more evolved intellect now couldn't one?"

There is nothing in my quote of Pinker's statement which infers your assertion.


I wasn't saying that it implied anything except by its very avoidance of stating whether those minds exist elsewhere or could be the product of us giving up our caveman mind.

"more evolved intellect"

You wouldn't be refering to yourself, would you?


Only obliquely. See immediately above.

Clupbert...

I believe in some sort of god or higher power or higher being or something else because I find it is logical.

Why? Where is the causal chain that leads you to this assertion? A lack of a proof of one thing doesn't imply the existance of something unproven or unprovable.

If we're all a bunch of atoms, the thoughts in my head don't really make sense.

So you're saying that if we aren't atoms that you would be making sense of things?

What is conceptualizing that thought and so on... Optometrists still fail to explain exactly what conceptualizes vision and it is such a basic thing.

Don't let confusion or ignorance about metacognition force you to jump into the bible for a rationale. Ten years ago we weren't even really aware of the existence of stem cells and now we're using them to restore mobility in spinal damaged mice.

There is some higher reason or explanation for what makes us different from rocks (soul I guess).

Why do you believe that?

Just because we have nothing to cross-index it against, doesn't mean shit.

That's what I'm trying to say as well. It's just that I have no reason to make 'shit' up. Either we'll figure it out in time or something will come along to make the point moot. Why resort to fiction?

The fly on the wheel thinks he is kicking up all that dust.

I'm willing to bet that a retreating cloud of dust is of little consequence to a fly. He's probably more interested in that 'shit' that you keep mentioning.

There's just a better explanation than atoms and matter for everything that exists in the world.

Where?

5/02/2005 09:01:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

This is looks like a fun place to jump in!

Suppose that belief and faith are distinct. Belief is more akin to an educated guess or deductive reasoning, before a hypothesis has been tested; in essence, assent without proof. Faith (according to the Bible) is imputed knowledge, or “receive wisdom” from a/the Deity.

Before you discount such a possibility, consider the attributes of a supernatural entity: sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient. There really are only two options; either a God exists or does not. If not, then the natural sciences predominate. If so, logic and reason still apply, but one must begin with a mystical premise.

Either way, the burden of proof lies with the “believer”. The irony is that such evidence is not transferable or demonstrable. This is why I don’t indoctrinate my kids; I only expect them to excel academically. When they are adults, they can shape their own thinking.

5/02/2005 09:09:00 PM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Alice, if Clupbert piping up and saying "I find god logical" is an illustration ...

I say what kind of an explanation is that ? None at all.

(Yes human nature want's to understand, and in doing so plugs gaps in what it knows - but that doesn't mean it's true.)

Wow - I though EC was a god-free zone. Is nowhere sacred these days ?

5/03/2005 02:39:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Ha. The lack of a causal chain? I mean the universe seems pretty organized doesn't it? We're pretty organized? So I would guess that something similar to us, only with greater capabilities created the universe. What is your explanation for the beginning of time? It is so beyond your grasp that you can't even guess. Because of these facts, I deduce that there is probably a greater force at play. I mean ancient greeks guessed that atoms existed by merely guessing without almost any real evidence at all. We "resort to fiction" (like they did when they theorized atoms) because hypotheses and educated guesses are at the nature of science. You have a question, you use all available evidence and tools to make the best guess possible, and you test it out. Since we have no capability to test it out, like the greeks did, I think me using reasoning to figure it out is sufficient enough. It would also make sense for me to apply my hypothesis to everyday life. If I believe there is some sort of "mystical" being for my fellow man, then I think I am much more likely to believe in compassion and other things useful to society. If all we are is rocks and minerals mixed up in different ways, why not just kill whoever I want when I want. There is no reason for existing. It doesn't seem logical to me that everything is just a snowball that appeared of nowhere which then rolled down a hill to create what we are today. Ten bucks somebody packed that snowball and knew where to roll it.

5/03/2005 02:48:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Troubleshooter - Einstein is an unfortunate example, he believed in god, fiddled his maths and denied the evidence of awesome physics, to his death.

Erwin Schroedinger, say, would be a better example to make your point, or more up to date, David Deutsch.

5/03/2005 02:49:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Clupbert,

I say causality is over-rated. A useful common-sense level metaphor to make day to day life predictable, but it went out of physics when quantum non-locality came in almost a hundred years or so ago

There are much better scientific explanations than that.

(Another of my bugbears - faithful who use outdated physics and false logic to support their cases.)

5/03/2005 02:55:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

No actually, there aren't. Where'd the matter from the big bang come from?

5/03/2005 03:00:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Robert, I like your line ...

It is about how you arrive at the "hypothesis" and explain it, and then

"the burden of proof lies with the believer" (where in practice scientific duty is to try your hardest to disprove) What is currently not disproved (supported bya credible argument) is as good as it gets.

The Deutsch book has a good line the hypothesis process.

So Clupbert, whether or not I choose to respond to your "matter" question, and whether or not my amateur answer is any good, you still have to explain why you think some "god" created it. Do you understand that point, first ?

(It's a theistic Catch-22 science keeps falling for unfortunately.)

5/03/2005 03:14:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

And what the hell does quantum nonlocality have anything to do with anything? The fact that there is a holistic connectedness in the world means you can't make common sense projections about the origins of the world? Everything in the world having some force that binds it all together without regard to space or time only reinforces my opinion. And the people who invented nonlocality (some swiss patent clerk) still made common sense projections about tons of things, it's how he started theoretical physics in the first place. What a ridiculous argument that I can't make simple deductions about something so unknown.

5/03/2005 03:14:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

The simple fact that everything is in such order and complexity leads me to believe that something with a capacity to think created it. It's like finding a computer in a field. Would you come upon the computer and suppose that matter came together at some point and just formed the computer, or would you guess that someone made the computer and left it there?

5/03/2005 03:18:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Clupbert,

Where did that come from - did I strike a nerve ?

You ask a question loaded with pejorative additions, then dive in ridiculing any possible interest in any possible answers.

Let's proceed constructively please.

5/03/2005 03:18:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Clupbert,

"leads me to believe that" is no explanation.

The "watchmaker" is a tried and tested battleground for the intelligent designer debate. Don't start it, if you are not prepared to offer explanations.

5/03/2005 03:20:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Your procedure for constructive discussion is to simple ridicule my argument and throw out big words to make an argument, that I cannot even argue. The fact that quantum physics exists does not throw out my argument as you seemed to suggest.

(Another of my bugbears - faithful who use outdated physics and false logic to support their cases.)

This is false logic, it is basically name calling. So how about you use your own advice? And I wasn't using the physics, I was simply using a historical analogy.

5/03/2005 03:21:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

"There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.

Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved,' Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?' "

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory?id=315976

And that comes from a man who wrote a book about how you must suppose atheism.

5/03/2005 03:27:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Clupbert - where am I ridiculing your argument - no don't answer that ...

(The aside about my bug-bear was a general admission on my part, in parenthesis.)

I am saying so far you've offered no argument. (Neither have I, but I have set some ground rules about what such an argument needs to do)

OK, proceeding constructively, let's answer one of the simpler questions we've (each) inserted.

Take it away.

5/03/2005 03:31:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Alright.

"did I strike a nerve ?"

No, you did not.

Your turn.

5/03/2005 03:33:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Clupbert,

For the record, I'm aware of the "Flew" story and the origins of the ABC newswire version.

Fact is by careful editing an "as if" has been omitted, and the conclusion mis-represented.

Not that an appeal to the "authority" of an ABC Newswire is any kind of argument either.

Anyway, you seem to be intent on the watchmaker debate (vis - if I find a watch in a field I must infer and intelligent watchmaker, etc.) ?

Ian

5/03/2005 03:38:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

The fact is logical conclusions for both sides will just be incorrect. Atheists' whole doctrine is devoted to disproving theists. They give no suppositiong for the origin of the universe.

5/03/2005 03:50:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Because I personally don't have a logical explanation doesn't mean one doesn't exist.

5/03/2005 03:50:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Clupbert, your last two posts.

Firstly I didn't mention "logic" - I just asked for explanation of what you believed, use any form or "rationale" you like. Our progress will hinge on the quality of such argument

The fact you don't have an explanation doesn't mean one doesn't exist - can't argue with that - but we must both agree to debate by the same rules.

If one of us wants to assert something as true / valid, you must provide at least some explanation - or the other is entitled to ignore it, unless he indicates he already accepts it.

Fair ?

5/03/2005 04:04:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Fair. Let's hear your atheistic explanation for the origin of the universe.

5/03/2005 04:05:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Clupbert

I'm not sure I call it constructive to start with the hardest question first. Cosntruction uses building blocks where I come from. I'm not hopeful of much progress. I might even call foul. (Personally on the quest to answering that question - I'm at the stage of answering - what exists and how do I know ?)

The answers to your question have more to do with understanding what we realy mean by two important words in your sentence

"origin" and "universe".

People greater than I have written whole books on each, and I've read quite a lot of them.

So for starters, in all seriousness, how about my answer is ....

A- I don't know, at least I'm not sure yet. What do you think ?

Ian

5/03/2005 04:49:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Well really what I think is that it doesn't matter. The only thing with implications is purpose or actions that have labels and just don't "exist". If there is no God or higher purpose, or any action is the same morally as any other, then government and everything we know as human beings is meaningless. There's no reason to simply survive or talk to your children or raise your children or anything. These things seem such a hard reality to me that I can't fathom that they are just a mere consequence of some explosion of matter. I have to go watchmaker(or higher form or anything, it doesn't have to be a being, it is beyond us to conceptualize I suspect) because it is the only thing that makes sense knowing everything I know and feel. Because it can be proven with science doesn't mean anything to me because throughout history, all the laws of science have existed, yet couldn't be proven and it will continue to be this way for a long time.

5/03/2005 04:58:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Clupbert,

You say several different things there, that may not be entirely consistent, but many of which I agree with - so we may have some progress.

"It doesn't matter" - Really, so why are we having this argument?

Far from being an athesist whose purpose is to prove theists wrong - I can assure you my life would be far easier if athesist who thought what we believe didn't matter just went away and minded their own business :-) Unfortunately there are an awful lot of theists in positions of influence, so I for one can't ignore what I believe matters. Sorry.

Anyway - I suspect you didn't really mean exactly that.

Perhaps you meant the answer to your specific quetion about the "origin of the universe" isn't all that important. If that is what you meant, I kind of agree - but I'd have to explain something about my view of the limits to "fundamental" knowledge, to explain why - (later). (But it is strange that the question you chose to ask me, is one that doesn't matter - odd wouldn't you say?)

Next you seem to say the most real things are purposes and actions. I'm OK with that - my entire world view is a process and intent centred model.

Next you have "If there is no god .... everything we know is meaningless" Sorry but I don't follow you. I'm happy with the idea there is no overriding transcendental purpose to the world as a whole (god or not). But we do have meaning and reason, knowledge that matters and has value, etc.

Then you say "There is no reason to survive, raise children etc .." You can appreciate I hope, that I find that a scary suggestion from a theist.

Before I dive in with what I think here - I need to ask you about this another way.

Do you value humanity ?
Do you value the planet ?

(OK, I'm not asking if these are the most important things in existence, and I'm still happy with there not being a "purpose" to the universe as a whole. Just, do these things have value to you ?

You go on to talk about things you can't fathom and things that mean nothing to you - which is honest enough, can't fault that - and you conclude with "Because it can be proven with science doesn't mean anything to me ....". Well apart from the "because" that doesn't seem to follow from anything else - I say science is incapable of proving anything - full stop. It's one of those lay person misunderstandings that theists often presume wrong - my bug-bear remember.

Progress I feel. To make more, I think we'll need to go onto the edges of what can be known, and why it might not matter much if we can't get beyond that - always asuming you care :-) (Hence the scary questions in the middle.)

5/03/2005 07:17:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Alice,

We left one hanging back there when Clupbert gave you the example ammunition that's kept me pinned down the rest of the day.

You said
Pinker, a writer I know you like, that states that our minds may be able to conjure up questions which cannot be answered by those same minds.

I say - I do indeed find Pinker very credible (and readable) - but two objections.

(1) He says "may" - he's being a bit speculative, (Same with Google too it's suggested - answers to question no human could ask.) anyway, however,

(2) I'm not sure "our minds" are the final say in what can be explained - there's a few thousand more millenia yet for some other conscousness to either evolve or arrive at ZZ9 Plura Alpah9 and suggest the explanations.

(But there are limits to what can be known anyway - pick-up the thread with Cuplert.)

5/03/2005 07:40:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

Psybertron, I am amused that you would assume I believe in God based on what I wrote. Not only do you misjudge, but are pretty pissed off as well.

I was merely attacking your statement: Those of us that believe "scientific" things that have not been empirically demonstrated to us personally, are using more than faith. We're using the "quality" of explanation" given and the fact that that "fits" with as much consistency as the rest of what we already believe - or in Popperian terms - fixes a problem with the consistency of what we previously believed. What is believed by reasonable explanation evolves in this way. Religious faith offers no such explanations."

I wanted you to qualify the last sentence with "for me" because based on your statement, religious faith does fit consistently with what people (billions of them, mind you) already believe.

The human mind seems to be quite suited to dreaming up "reasons" for the phenomenon they see in their lives. Scientific types, like yourself, although admittedly not a real scientist, fall down on the side of science for these exlanations. You really have no idea if what you believe is true because you've never actually seen a gene mutate and evolve into another species, but it makes sense to you. Just as it makes sense to a religious person that god loves them and has a plan for them.

Shall we talk about which is better?

You obviously believe that your way of assimilating phenomenon is.
I, too, am more intrigued by the idea that we are only here for a flash and then we're gone. Cruel joke, given our awareness, but one I can live with and even celebrate.

What I am saying is that your belief system, unless I misjudge you and you spend all your time in a laboratory, is based on intuition and feelings just as a religious person's is.

5/03/2005 11:18:00 AM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

Ok, on a lighter note, I ran across a comic that adds a slightly different perspective to the origins argument.

Check it out at http://www.thepaincomics.com/weekly041229a.htm .

Please, it's damn funny, and the perspective shift might bring the thread back to the caveman theme a bit as well.

5/03/2005 11:58:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Well the point I make is: If all we are is what science can explain, which is just pretty much spats of energy built up in to some sort of complexity, then our feelings are mere illusions. It doesn't matter what you value in the atheistic world because nothing has value, it just is. There is no good or bad or happy or sad. These are illusions that are a consequence of natural law and evolution as is humanity.

5/03/2005 12:14:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

I would have to agree with most of what you say Clupbert. I'm not sure about the feelings being illusions part because emotions show up and can be seen as brain waves that do actually exist.

But as far as nothing having "value". Yes, I agree with that... with the addition of "except what you give value to". But nothing inherently has value, in my opinion.

5/03/2005 01:09:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Jeez - I leave you crazy fucks for 24 hours and look what happens. Allow me to interject:

1. Faith versus Belief. In my book, faith is just one of many ways to come to belief. We must accept from the outset that there is absolutely no connection between what we believe and what is (reality). If we use faith to come to believe, it only means that the process by which we get there may or may not include rationality, but it is certainly *not* dependent on it. I argue that this path to belief is foolish because it necessarily forces us to reject or ignore reason and logic in the final analysis (else it wouldn't require faith). It puts us at odds with the mode of thinking that gets us farthest in life. As Dawkins says, the reason airplanes don't fall from the sky is because engineers have got their sums right. The only useful faith is faith in reason.

2. Intelligent Design - Clupbert, my man, I have to send you to my archives. I have three separate posts on evolution versus creationism and one (a long one, so be warned) deals specifically with the notion that things are so complex that there must be a higher power explaining.

In summary, let me pose this to you - as you say, if you walked upon a computer in the woods, you'd have to believe an intelligent force created it. Fair enough (but still not necessarily relevant). Suppose you walked upon the US Tax Code, all 6000 pages of it, you would assume that it was created by some intelligent designer, right? Putting aside the obvious conflict of considering policy-makers terribly intelligent, I still think not. It is the result of countless revisions, mutations, and selections.

Even on the strongest acid known to man, I don't think anyone could conceive a set of regulations so complex and riddled with contradictions. Point is - you can't throw up your hands in the face of complexity and say, "It must be God." We have a real problem in that regard - we lack the observational technology and the imaginations to conceive of reality in all its grandeur. No reason to fall back on God. It's the easy way out, but ironically it ends up being hardest.

3. The Big Bang. Everyone please read Lidsey's The Bigger Bang. It's short and it's hands down the best explanation of how things got from the infinite point of density to now. It dabbles in string theory and parallel universes, too, for those of you who keep a bong by your bookshelf.

I'm totally cool with postulating a higher power pre-Big Bang. The question as to where the infinite point of density comes from has merit. However, I'm psychologically inclined to believe that the answer, when it is found, will fit neatly into the physical model of the universe that we observe today, at least in broad brushstrokes.

Anyway, the reason I bring up Lidsey's book is because it offers a very plausible (and scientifically sound) alternative to the notion that someone rolled the snowball and pointed it in the right direction. Clup, should we place a bet on Longbets.com? Maybe 40 generations hence, someone will have to pay up.

4. The Human Mind. If there's one thing that pervades my thinking, it is that my mind is aware for opportunistic reasons (that benefit my genes). Just because it has the benefit of residing in a culture where a solid body of knowledge exists as to the nature of our world, a body of knowledge that reinforces itself with every passing year, doesn't mean that it should be omnicient. We're damned lucky that things turned out this way. We could have been viruses, with no awareness whatsoever. The point is that this tendency to attribute too much import to humanity's concsciousness is what leads people to the default, but incorrect, response to elusive mysteries - if I can't figure it out, it must be God.

Better to say, if I can't figure it out, let me add it to the list, which happens to be orders of magnitude longer than the list of things I *can* figure out.

5. Intellectual discourse - people, let's use this as a guide.
a. if someone makes a statement you disagree with - cite the statement and your counterargument. Avoid any reference to the person making the statement - treat it as if it was found on a piece of paper somewhere.
b. if someone makes a statement you don't understand, cite the statement and ask for clarification.
c. if someone says something you deem to be nonsense, enlighten them with your perspective and leave it at that.
d. none of this applies to me. my bat, my ball, my backyard and all.

5/03/2005 01:23:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"...then our feelings are mere illusions."

YES! Exactly so. Dennett (and probably others) call it the theorist's fiction.

"It doesn't matter what you value in the atheistic world because nothing has value, it just is. There is no good or bad or happy or sad. These are illusions that are a consequence of natural law and evolution as is humanity."

Dude, are you Jean Paul Sartre reincarnated? Here's how I see it. Yes, our feelings and values are all contrived, so to speak. But, and this is the important part, they're *shared* amongst most of us. And, at the end of the day, we have to be practical. You can't let some existentialist notions translate into the elimination of value.

Value, at its core, is about an assessment of an idea or situation with respect to *goals*. What we feel has tremendous value because it determines what we'll do, which determines whether we'll reach our goals or not. So, regardless of whether our entire conscious existence is nothing more than an elaborate version of the Matrix, it all still matters a lot. It's all we've got.

5/03/2005 01:31:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"I'm totally cool with postulating a higher power pre-Big Bang."

Holy Moses!

And that is where you will go with any religious person who is worth talking to...what is the first cause?

I, too, assume that any explanation of that cause will follow nicely with all that is known scientifically heretofore, but until then, the religious do have a point. At least you gotta give 'em that.

5/03/2005 01:47:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/03/2005 02:32:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"You can't let some existentialist notions translate into the elimination of value."

But this could be a first step in shocking oneself out of one's illusions. We know that most people hold to the belief of some grand design, etc. That belief is so imbedded in most of our cultures/consciousness that for me it takes a dose of stark, dark reality to shake it loose.

Then one can build from there....other illusions more closely alligned with reality. But truly, truly nothing has inherent value.

One more thing we might want to consider as a rule of discussion is defintion of terms.

Value, for instance.

5/03/2005 03:23:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

One more thing we might want to consider as a rule of discussion is definition of terms.

Without question…discourse if futile absent such agreement. So here goes (just for kicks).

1. Faith versus Belief. In my book, faith is just one of many ways to come to belief. We must accept from the outset that there is absolutely no connection between what we believe and what is (reality). If we use faith to come to believe, it only means that the process by which we get there may or may not include rationality, but it is certainly *not* dependent on it.

I think that “we” pour different meanings into the word faith. The way in which you use it implies intellectual laziness, e.g. “take my word for it” or “trust me, it’s the truth”. In this sense, any semblance of skepticism is gone. When healthy doubt is no longer a part of the mental faculty, the game is over…one has lost. If faith, on the other hand, is substantive “enlightenment” (as I suggested earlier) and therefore evidence (albeit intangible, per se), then such has the potential of representing actual reality. That said, for many (if not a vast majority) the notion of God/higher being comes from the former definition of faith. So, I’m fully aware of the perceived incredulity that the latter meets.

I wonder if, as scientifically minded folks, you find it reasonable to reject extra-natural phenomenon out of hand, simply because:
A. no sufficient proof has been produced…as yet
B. the typical “believer” is not prone to skepticism and/or introspection
C. reason suggests that matter and energy are the essence of the universe, so the answers lie in nature (biology and physics)

As was noted previously, Einstein rejected quantum theory, but it’s now gospel. How might string theory be seen 100 years hence? My point is that (for thinking individuals) all possibilities ought to be explored with a skeptical eye. That which is disprovable must be set aside, but discounting concepts because they “seem” implausible (by current thinking) is a bit short-sighted. For the record, I have little or no respect for those that assent to any religious construct or theism without constantly and skeptically reexamining their thoughts on the matter. After all, I did drop a lot of acid in high school.

5/03/2005 05:17:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"substantive “enlightenment”"

"After all, I did drop a lot of acid in high school."

Could these two things be related?

At the end of the day, dear ones, it matters not what we believe, unless you subscribe to the "tortures of hell" theory. We do what we do, we find out what we find out, we discover, we laugh, we cry and then we die and are never heard from again.

It's really quite beautiful.

5/03/2005 06:31:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

...just visit the Grand Canyon some time and you'll see what I mean.

5/03/2005 06:55:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

"I'm totally cool with postulating a higher power pre-Big Bang. The question as to where the infinite point of density comes from has merit. However, I'm psychologically inclined to believe that the answer, when it is found, will fit neatly into the physical model of the universe that we observe today, at least in broad brushstrokes."

Yes this is what I believe. Pre-big bang higher power. Let's not make it sound like I am some religious nut. I just find it probable with all my knowledge that the universe is ordered. I think this because solely because of human awareness and just how I feel. The improbability of a complex universe doesn't fly with me as an argument because of the give a thousand monkeys a thousand typewriters... blah blah you get the point. I just think that there is something that separates us as humans from everything (or at least almost everything, sorry Koko) else. I just find no reasonable explanation among science for things like awareness and consciousness. My Aunt was secular until she went to school to become an optometrist only to realize they can't explain vision at all but merely describe it. She dropped out and found God. I am not going that radical but science has failed me so far and I understand that you're supposed to assume "no higher power" but I don't care because I am not a philosopher, I am a political scientist. I deal only with making society more efficient and societal values and more importantly, higher power inspired values. They work better and make more sense for my purposes.

5/03/2005 07:01:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Could these two things be related?

…bait the hook, then wait…

At the end of the day, dear ones, it matters not what we believe, unless you subscribe to the "tortures of hell" theory. We do what we do, we find out what we find out, we discover, we laugh, we cry and then we die and are never heard from again.

Well yes, but I thought this discussion had more to do with objective epistemology, than subjective warm-and-fuzziness.

5/03/2005 07:58:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"objective epistemology"

a branch of philosophy which investigates the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge.

How dare you call my post warm and fuzzy. I'm going to tell Chris on you!!!

I guess I am feeling a little existential today and given that, I realize that none of this bullshit really matters. It's just words on the page or 1's and 0's in cyber- space. I guess I just don't feel up to arguing with you big boys.

Hell, I had to look up epistemology. What a moron!

I still like the image of the Grand Canyon as the answer to the problem of human existence.

5/03/2005 08:44:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Oh Alice, it’s all in good fun.

It would take a void much larger than the Grand Canyon to contain all that I DON’T know. I’m here to learn a thing or two. ;-)

5/03/2005 10:06:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Okay Robert, maybe we're splitting atoms here, but let's get to it.

Faith - Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

All I'm saying is that I aim to never *ever* believe anything of any importance using faith, with the one exception of believing that reason will continue to work tomorrow and the days after. I say anything of importance because you can't let this shit weigh you down. If I hear that Paula Abdul got boned by one of the American Idol contestants last year, I am liable to believe it - without any evidence whatsoever. Why? Because it really doesn't mean anything one way or another to me. But important things, like religion, require more rigor.

I don't think I get what you're saying about faith as substantive enlightenment and being able to represent reality. So let's try this in my simplistic way.

Start with a proposition, any proposition will do. We acknowledge right away that we cannot, with absolute certainty, determine the truth or falsehood of it. But that doesn't mean there is no truth or falsehood. There *is* reality, or absolute truth. It's just that our minds and our perceptive abilities preclude us from making the determination. That said, it *is* possible to get pretty damned close to absolute truth, particularly when we use reason in our pursuit of it. So back to the proposition.

Our three choices are:
1. believe
2. disbelieve
3. abstain from deciding

That's it. Faith only comes into play with respect to number 1. In cases where you would normally disbelieve or abstain, faith is invoked to get you to belief. Think about it - if reason can get you there, you don't need faith.

My buddy tells me the other day - "I know you'll bring that CD back to me. I have faith in you." I say, "Bullshit. Given two choices - either I'll go against what I said I'd do or I won't - you choose the best option, the one you have witnessed for years. There's no faith - only a critically rational assessment." "Fuck you," he says, "just bring the goddamned thing back."

Point is, faith is necessarily contrary to reason, and I am totally confused by the idea that that which is believed by faith can in some way reflect reality. The bottom line is that for every "supernatural" explanation for some phenomenon in life, I'll give you ten quasi-plausible natural explanations. It's all about choosing from among alternatives. The supernatural alternative simply doesn't stack up because it is an intellectual island with nothing to support it. The physical alternatives are all supported by other, more established pieces of science.

Just think about it for a second. How many things that we know (relatively speaking, of course) to be true have to be untrue to fit two of every animal on a freaking boat to ride out a *flash* flood that covers the Earth, but doesn't last so long that the ground is no longer habitable when the waters subside?

See what I mean?

5/03/2005 10:13:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Clupbert - I could sit with a grad student in optical physics and construct a pretty solid model for exactly how the eye does its thing all the way to where the optic nerve interfaces with the brain. The way information is represented in the brain is also reasonably understood. What eludes is the computation necessary to know what to focus on and to manage the constant saccades of the eye. Pinker's, How The Mind Works, opens with something on this. If your (and your aunt's) hang-up is the complexity of the brain, join the club...bert. Couldn't resist.

Here's the message I would like to drive into your mind - it's not about evaluating what we're trying to explain. It's about evaluating the explanations we consider for explaining things. So what if you're not a scientist or philosopher. You're a guy that likes to think, so you should do it properly.

In addition to the wide range of explanations for any given phenomenon, there is *always* this one - "I don't have enough info to make a good decision." To me, it is one of the hallmarks of maturity to be comfortable with this. Once it is inextricably resident mentally (and emotionally) when you're considering life's mysteries, you find yourself falling back on it when you might otherwise fall back on God.

I've taken a stab at consciousness (see the archives...again), and the only reason I did it was to offer some sort of way of conceptualizing something that is well beyond the carrying capacity of our feeble minds.

This is what I used to do when I was still seriously considering the existence of a personal God - every time something boggled the mind and got me to thinking it must be God, I'd stop and say, "I don't know." Pretty soon, I factored God out, and went straight from phenomenon to uncertainty. Works for me.

5/03/2005 10:28:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Alice - I always like your flowery summations, philosophers and their fancy words be damned. But this time, I have to disagree. It does matter what we believe because what we believe directly influences what we do. If we believe God will save us from the flood, then we don't bother to get to higher ground. There really is a point to all this chatter.

I will, however, concede the Grand Canyon point. Back in January when I was there doing my annual liver stress test (passed, no problem), I took the helicopter tour that flies you there and lands in the Canyon for a while. The coolest - well worth the money.

5/03/2005 10:34:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

I want to back up to Ian and Alice's early sparring match.

In constrasting religion with science, Ian says a scientific explanation..."fixes a problem with the consistency of what we previously believed. What is believed by reasonable explanation evolves in this way. Religious faith offers no such explanations."

The key here is fixes, as in, identifies the locations of. This is important. Alice, you can't make this a qualitative statement. It's purely quantitative from the standpoint of logic. Even if we can't tell Cesium-133 from Cesium-134, we have enough circumstantial evidence (probabilities, etc.) to *prefer* one over the other. It's not faith because we're not deciding in a way that ignores reason or evidence. We're using as much evidence as we can get our hands on. This is what Ian is saying by the idea that religion offers nothing of this sort.

Religious explanations constantly fly in the face of so many physical laws that are well understood. Creationism is replete with notions that would cause us to upend physics by 100 years were they true.

We want parsimonious explanations. (There's another nickel word for you.) Occam's razor is usually invoked when people say you should look for the simplest explanation, but that's a little *too* simplistic.

The idea is that we should look for explanations that don't force us to give up what we know. Science, via the use of logic, gives us explanations that fit. We're not trying to get the facts to fit our biases; we're just confident enough in our past assesssments of what is believable that we don't want to contradict outselves. This is not a personal thing - it's a fact thing.

5/03/2005 11:01:00 PM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

Well the fact is that there is not enough information to make an even closer to accurate hypothesis at the origin of the universe. Logic and reason are mere tools, but information is our materials. When ancient greeks tried to describe everything from the classification of animals to the meaning of existence, they got it horribly wrong because of the lack of information about natural laws and whatnot. Everytime I guess creator and you guys cite, "lack of evidence", doesn't mean that the evidence is not there because we don't know it or we can't cite it. We both acknowledge that there is little evidence either way but the main difference is that you assume not and I am sure that this is the more logical position. But to me it is the same thing as assuming not guilty in a court case. Although it is the logical position and the correct one, many more times than not, the defendant is guilty. We've just decided that when coming to a question we need to assume no action or inaction in order to best solve the question. This is the practical method for solving the question. I don't care about the practicality because there will be no solution to it in my lifetime. I will just say guilty because to me it is the more probable choice. As for the thing about the eye, all I know is in my most recent psych 101 class, the professor also admitted that the concept of vision is still not that well understood (because we have an Optic research center at Oakland University). He talked a good deal about how it isn't.

5/04/2005 12:29:00 AM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Alright, I’ll play…but it’s a little lengthy. It would warrant a post on my blog, but I don’t want to alienate “both” of my regulars. ;)

Faith - Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.

I’m not disputing that such a definition of Faith is widely used and understood. This is why I attempted to offer another…one that more accurately describes my thinking. Perhaps a new word is needed: knowledge. Don’t laugh; I’ll try to substantiate it.

In cases where you would normally disbelieve or abstain, faith is invoked to get you to belief. Think about it - if reason can get you there, you don't need faith.

Heretofore, I’ve not introduced the Bible as evidence. The reason is quite simple; the logic is often circular…God’s existence hinges on the Bible’s veracity and vise versa. Obviously, that doesn’t hold water. So, your definition of Faith is likely responsible for the majority of Americans’ claim of belief in God and the Bible. Such is not responsible for what I think. Why am I convinced of God’s existence? It’s rather like any other bit of knowledge, only I came by it (or vise versa) in an “unnatural” way…I’m not unique in this.

With conventional knowledge, rational minds employ reason and logic to weigh and sift information, thereby receiving the good and rejecting the bad (to put it crudely). Conversely, “spiritual enlightenment” is knowledge that is imputed directly into the mind. This sounds like science fiction, I realize, because I have a vivid recollection of the atheistic/agnostic mindset of my early twenties. Also, after speaking with Mormons, JWs or Catholics, I worry that I sound as ridiculous to atheist. But no, I didn’t “drink the kool-aid”. As I said before, I don’t attend church, nor do I accept the pap they sell. What I’m suggesting is not unlike an epiphany. For fun, I’ll reckon it to Neo, in the first Matrix, when he “learned” kung-fu in one gulp (see, it is science fiction). Seriously though, the reason that I find the Bible to be credible is rather in spite of the humans that “took dictation” and those that subsequently translated and retranslated it. Using my mental faculty (such as it is) to the fullest, I’m continually looking for flaws and/or inconsistencies. I’ll mention two examples of “conversion” experiences that are similar to mine (that I only became aware of after my own, which precludes the possibility of “me too-ism”).

1. When Jesus asked Peter: “who do you say that I am”, Peter said that He was the Christ (Messiah). Jesus’ response was telling; He said that Peter did not reason this by conventional intellectual means, but he was “enlightened” by God. (yes, Jesus had been telling everyone that would listen that He was the Messiah, but thinking people really didn’t buy it…including Peter, but after his “regeneration” [conversion] and the crucifixion/resurrection, he never recanted, though it cost his life.)
2. Paul, in a former life, was called Saul and was from the sect of Pharisees that disposed of Jesus. By his own account, his thinking was altered from the inside-out. He, like Peter, was executed by Rome for causing unrest by teaching the resurrection of Christ.

To be sure, the above can be said to be anecdotal and/or here say; fair enough. For me, such is consistent with my own experience and thinking. Yes, experience is a poor teacher, but the type of which I speak is intrinsic to the fabric of my mind. Now, could it be my imagination? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. That said, I’m as skeptical as anybody; introspection is a must. I’m not one that wants to be fooled, not even by my own mind. What I’ve found though, is that with rigorous scrutiny, flaws in religious constructs (with their dogma and traditions) have been self evident, but not so with the Bible.

One more thing to consider: for those of us that don’t conduct experiments and studies personally, a written explanation tends to suffice. The same can be said for historical accounts and even current events. In all of these cases, it is incumbent upon intelligent individuals to read critically to weed out erroneous data. Why should the Bible be any different? Don’t context and the rules of logic apply? Of course they do. As with much of the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) “Noah’s flood” was most likely allegorical. Again, any text must be understood in the sense in which it was intended…not always in a wooden-literal sense. That’s not to say that none of it is to be taken literally, just that context is key.

Needless to say, the power of persuasion, (not that I posses it) is not a catalyst for “spiritual understanding”, because it is the purview of God. Again, I’m not reciting talking points from some sect or other…I reject most, if not all, of the ones of which I’m aware. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if I sound delusional or not; if my logic is faulty or not. Just remember that I’m working from a premise the same way that Darwinists “assume” that the first organisms acted predictably or theoretical physicists “assume” that a singularity exploded ions ago; except I claim that my premise is dynamic rather than deduction. Why does presupposing a God seem more far-fetched than the (causeless) infinite regression of atomic expansion and collapse?...not that I dispute the premises of biology or physics...just sayin’.

5/04/2005 12:36:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"Well the fact is that there is not enough information to make an even closer to accurate hypothesis at the origin of the universe."

If you're talking about pre-Big Bang, I'm with you. But even then, from that infinite point of density, the physics of the situation are pretty well understood. Like I said before, Lidsey's book is an excellent (and short) explanation of it all.

The point I think Ian and I have been making is that it's just too damned hard to square creationism with that very same physics. It's not like we're choosing between two equally reasonable alternatives. Creationism would force us to abandon *a lot* of established science, the same science that is behind particle accelerators (which work) and evolution (which can be demonstrated experimentally). So the argument in my mind is simple - one alternative "fits" and the other doesn't.

"I don't care about the practicality because there will be no solution to it in my lifetime."

Fair enough. I think we'll all be happy if you just admit that you prefer supernatural explanations, even though they contradict much of what we know today. You wouldn't be the first to make that choice - just among the first to admit it.

Robert - I have a Jewish friend who claims to have had the sort of experiences you refer to. Though he is a practicing Jew (mainly for family reasons - recently got him to admit that), he is "spiritual" because of his religious experiences. That's why he has faith, so I can understand where you're coming from. Hooooowever...

I think these kinds of experiences are explicable in the context of how our emotions interact with our consciousness. Suppose you perceive something that is beyond any experience you've ever had. At the moment the experience comes on you, your mind's "comfort meter" starts to go crazy. It has no explanation for what is happening, and given the human need to grab onto *some* explanation (preferably a hopeful one), your consciousness explores the solution space of possibilities.

One ever-present one, considering religion's role in our culture, is a supernatural power. Whamo! Your mind now has an explanation, one that is particularly profound because it has stark implications on your overall worldview. Next thing you know, you're religious.

And the experience itself. What is that, you might ask? I don't know, but I do know (from my own share of acid trips) that the slightest little chemical imbalance in the brain can cause unbelievable reverberations in perceptions and the thoughts that flow from them. I've seen my share of folks have "religious experiences" on drugs.

Who knows? Maybe you're religious because of a flashback. Now *that* would be something to study.

5/04/2005 01:57:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

"And that is where you will go with any religious person who is worth talking to...what is the first cause?"

I'd say Robert and Clupbert are imminently worth talking to. To me, all it takes is an open mind. (I know you didn't mean that, Alice. Kind soul as I know you to be.)

And yes, you could call me a deist. Maybe an agnostic deist leaning toward atheism. Kind of like a non-fat half-caff latte.

5/04/2005 02:02:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Alice, Chris, Clupbert et al,

And I leave it for under 24 hours and it more than doubles again.

Sorry I didn't run away from the argument - I just had a day job to attend to.

BUT - I'll probably not be pursuing the argument anymore Clupbert (I posted why on my own blog, but don't go there if my rejection will offend) I see Chris has challenged you since I last responded - so I'm going to butt out.

Alice however, I would still like to debate your response.

I suspected you were being "lateral" in your first response, but knowing how easy it is to offend theists, I did check your "sincerity".

Anyway seems I still misunderstood you.

And you me.

I will still argue my "belief" is different to "faith", and I don't accept it's just based on "feelings". I know you know a little of my thinking already, so you know I see a "subjective" and a "value-based" element to the (any) argument - but it's about "quality".

(Investigating the "subjectivity" of a good rationale is my main thesis of course - which doesn't mean I have any snappy answers, yet.)

I'd be interested to debate your "feelings" claim further is we can find the bandwidth.

5/04/2005 06:18:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Robert, I'm all out of bandwidth, so I barely scanned your last long post - but you make a very important aside at the beginning which plays right to my agenda (and my most recent blog).

You put your argument in this blog thread, rather than you own.

Well I say well done. That is absolutely correct - I've already made the mistake of letting religion into my public blog - even though I deliberately avoided religion (and politics) steadfastly for a good three years. Once you crack everything is literally at risk.

(Call me paranoid - But I'm the very antithesis of a conspiracy theorist. Slartibartfast is good on paranoia I seem to recall.)

5/04/2005 06:27:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Alice,

Call me a dummy.

I see your "for me" is just your way of pointing out the "subjectivity".

I've usually tended to ignore that kind of comment if I can - because my standard response to it is "obviously everything I say is just - in my opinion"

But anyway I missed your (not-so-)subtlety. Doh !

Obviously I did that so you could see I was fallible and honest, honest :-)

5/04/2005 06:33:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Sorry folks I gotta go, but Chris, two observations ..

(1) In all your own posts you responded to Alice, Robert and Clupbert, but I can't see one mention agreeing or disagreeing with anything I said - or did I miss something ?

(2) there are still several loose ends and hooks in this thread I'd love to come back to - some great concepts I'd like to suggest a slightly different angle on.

Bye for now.

5/04/2005 06:45:00 AM

 
Blogger Robert said...

I have a Jewish friend who claims to have had the sort of experiences you refer to. Though he is a practicing Jew (mainly for family reasons - recently got him to admit that), he is "spiritual" because of his religious experiences. That's why he has faith, so I can understand where you're coming from.

And the experience itself. What is that, you might ask? I don't know, but I do know (from my own share of acid trips) that the slightest little chemical imbalance in the brain can cause unbelievable reverberations in perceptions and the thoughts that flow from them. I've seen my share of folks have "religious experiences" on drugs.


Chris, your point is not without merit and is likely the case for a great many religionists (I’m not religious, per se). As if the horse weren’t already dead, I’ll strike it again. I may have used “experience” a bit too loosely (notice a pattern?) and failed to consider those such as your friend. I’ve been in love, been married (mutually exclusive?), witnessed the birth of my kids…first hand, enjoyed concurrence, and so forth. I draw a distinction between warm emotion and cool logic. So, I wouldn’t place my theology/philosophy in the same category. I’m quite sure that for some/many, emotion laden experience is the explanation for their theism; for me, it’s calculated and dispassionate. I don’t draw on a specific experience in time as much as conclusions I’ve drawn over many years.

Imagine trying to convince yourself (as moralists do) that Darwin was delusional or for a homosexual to deny their own natural proclivities. Such is my worldview…the pieces fit and the logic works as I see it. That said, I’m mindful of (at least) two things. You’ll not be convinced by my conviction and we’ve not agreed on the initial premise…theism v. atheism. No worries, we’re still “young” and either (or both) of us is subject to entertain new or better information. One should always keep an open mind…even theists.

And yes, you could call me a deist. Maybe an agnostic deist leaning toward atheism. Kind of like a non-fat half-caff latte.

…damn it…I was all set to challenge you to support the claim of atheism, instead of the more honest agnosticism. Remember, I’ve already said “uncle” with respect to the possibility of irrefutable evidence for my flavor of theism.

5/04/2005 09:03:00 AM

 
Blogger zahi said...

don't get stuck in the rationalism vs. faith/belief trap. that has been argued for centuries and everywhere on the internet with few conversions.

i notice you say "thrilled" a couple times at the end of your post. isn't that your inner (outer?) caveman body giving you a small dose of dopamine and norepinephrine to encourage your brain to solve more problems, (rationally), because you evolved from ancestors who gained an advantage over his neighbors? isn't your primary thesis that evolutionary trends should be surpressed in favor of pure, mathematical logic?

therin lies the problem. without emotional, (innate, subconcious), motivations, what drives reason forward? and isn't "faith" also based on emotional survival instinct to uncertainties in the world?

-- i had been thinking of writing a short story about someone who totally eliminates neurological impulses through body-part replacement, achieves immortality and in so doing, loses the will to advance any further. a being of pure logic, once completed, doesn't have any logical reason to ask questions or move forward from that point --

asking about motivation leads you away from rationalism and into humanism or naturalism or objectivism, (or even existentialism).

i view the question of religion in as a macrocosm of the question of self-conciousness. the latest neurological exploration has shown that our sense of "self" or "mind", is purely an illusion, but an illusion that evolution found useful to associate an individual with his or her environment. in the same way, the focus and method of religions, (not the subject), is the group mind. more recent evolution has found it to be an advantage for a society to forge a set of ethics and morality, (and a strong emotional investment), to structure a community around. while it may be an illusion, it is a useful abstraction for the practical purpose of giving unrelated people a common purpose and to definition.

5/04/2005 09:16:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"Flowery summations" the cruelest cut of all!!

And I know what parsimonious means...I just want to make that very clear.

And the Grand Canyon reference is not about it being big enough to hold all that we don't know or the beautiful scenery....
it's about that we don't matter....at all.... which is the thing which we just can't seem to get over.

All religious ideas come from the inability to accept our rightful unimportant place in the universe. We have made up this enormous story (and more than one at that) about how we are actually fallen princes and princesses just waiting to be taken back to our castles in the sky. We think that the world which humans have created is significant to the universe and it isn't.

That's why it's good to sit at the rim of the Grand Canyon (not helecoptor in) and have a look at the millions of years which have gone before you and infer from that the millions of years which will come after you and realize that you don't matter.

But maybe I am relegating my thoughts about religiousity to the idea of a "personal" god. Fair for me to do since that is the most common manifestation of religion.

It sounds to me, Robert, like you are talking of some kind of theoretical god. One you don't have to pray to or be afraid of or try to please. Maybe the Eastern type of God, Buddah perhaps. Sort of impersonal, sort of philosophical. "one hand clapping" and all that. Maybe you would like to tell us about that. I just have a problem with anything which infers an overarching purpose to any of this.

I think we are stuck with the job of creating purpose for ourselves. There is no inherent "reason" except that we just "are".

I am brought back to your original thesis, Caveman. We have this huge computational aparatus, our brain, no longer caught up in its original function of survival. What do we do now? We create, we struggle. We use up our time until we die.

I was thinking about Pinker's idea that we are capable of asking questions which we can't answer... I think this goes to what you, Caveman, were saying about being parsimonious (see, I used it in a sentence). We sometimes ask the wrong questions...questions which can't be answered because they don't follow the line of accumulated knowledge so far.

Johnny Cochran was so much easier.

5/04/2005 10:56:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Ian - I referenced your comments a couple of times. I generally agree with you so it's hard to go on much about that.

Zahi - I don't recognize you, so I'll assume you're sort of new to this blog. Don't confuse my stance that there are aspects of our caveman heritage that need to be overcome with the notion that all of them need to be overcome. Love, for example, exists to push us to procreate and to promote Male Parental Investment and a female's choosiness. I'd sooner give up air than love.

The trick to this whole thing is to figure out what aspects of our history are causing us problems. The quest for status is very problematic *in some circumstances* (such as keeping up with the Joneses) and it very useful in other (such as excelling as an athlete - we'll leave the drive behind wanting to do this alone for now). Then, once we decide what's helping and what's hurting, we have to come up with strategies to overcome. We can't do away with our genetic drives, so we have to co-opt them and redirect them in some way to allow us to realize our rationally conceived goals.

Just know that I am not advocating doing away with our humanity. I only want to enhance it.

Alice I wholeheartedly agree with you about the Grand Canyon. It's actually pretty dramatic to land down in it because from up high you see the river and it looks 10 ft across. Then, as you descend, it keeps getting wider and wider, until you realize that all scale is gone and you are looking at something so immense, your eyes can't even grasp it. It's a good way to feel very small, which is nice (unless you're looking at your Johnson).

Did I say that out loud? Yikes.

5/04/2005 01:24:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

It sounds to me, Robert, like you are talking of some kind of theoretical god. One you don't have to pray to or be afraid of or try to please. Maybe the Eastern type of God, Buddha perhaps. Sort of impersonal, sort of philosophical. "one hand clapping" and all that.

I can understand how you might think that, but no. This thread has drawn me out a bit more that I normally care to be. The short answer is that I believe in the God of the Bible (Jesus, the Trinity et al) and that He is the epitome of and responsible for reality (not necessarily conventional creationism); that He is sovereign, omnipotent and omniscient… extremely personal and non-theoretical.

I find the eastern philosophies to be lacking in substance and highly subjective. Moreover, most “religious” constructs form around some “god idea” and bare very little resemblance to biblical texts. This would include all of the main stream and secondary (Mormon, JW, Christian Science, etc) Judea-Christian sects from 3rd Century Rome to the present. I respect the content of the Bible, but am repulsed by millennia of layers upon layers of extra-biblical tradition and ritual.

My standard contribution to discussions of this sort is that I believe what I do, but I can’t prove it empirically. That said, I’m convinced that agnosticism is the default state of the human mind from birth. I raise my kids accordingly…as though the physical world is the extent of existence. So, I expect them to explore nature and their minds to the fullest.

But, it is sometimes fun to spar with smart secular folks that are up for it. Those that call themselves Christians are much more rigid and therefore communication is difficult. So…am I kicked out of the thinker’s club because I’m a backward buffoon?

5/04/2005 02:43:00 PM

 
Blogger diceymatters said...

Forgive me for not reading the entire chain of posts.

Faith.

Why not simply have faith that:

"There is has always will be a continuous stratum of somethingness between and among the universe not excluding you or me."

In other words, just have faith that things are, have always been, and always will be, exactly as they are...

...And learn to perceive other dimensions through direct experience.

Your 'reason' is pretty much a delusion. It implies a time dependent conceptual framework and is inherently biased toward matter for which there is 'evidence'.

For most 'intellectuals' who profess a faith in reason, there is a hidden faith in 'progress' - the faith that there is some purpuse toward which we are striving through historical time - that we are progressively approaching some end.

We are all so afraid that a lack of faith is coequal to nihilism. This is just your mind talking to you.

Your thoughts are mere thoughts.

"No matter how much the knower knows, they will never be more than a mere knower." (Quoting me myself)

5/04/2005 06:43:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Robert - I think what matters most on these, the most unsolvable of mysteries, is that we are willing to examine what we believe and get to some place we can live with. From there, discussion is just discussion.

As far as I'm concerned, your approach to religion is pretty intriguing. I've read your blog, so I know you're no baffoon. The club is not the thinkers club; it's the open minds club.

Dicey - your points are addressed in varying proportions in the rest of the comments. The content is free - the installation is not.

5/04/2005 11:13:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

Could we be breaking some record here?

Robert, I just went back and read all that has been written. I just love this stuff... At any rate forgive me for asking you a question you had already answered and quite eloquently at that...about your religious beliefs.

The problem I see with faith as you describe it...is the unfairness of it all and if there is a God then of course he/she would have to be fair(because God is made in our image. JK) It is bestowed upon some and not upon others, and yet one is then judged based upon whether or not one has it.

Suffice it to say I don't.

Apparently what I have faith in is the what geologists say about how the earth was formed although I have never seen a subduction zone or a spreading center with my own eyes and even if I did, I wouldn't know what it meant. I have to believe, have faith that these guys know what they are talking about... and then they go and change their minds all the time!

And I have faith that Darwin was correct about the evolution of the species although I wouldn't know a DNA strand if it hit me in the face. I just happen to like the guy and the whole thing seems nicely packaged and understandable (if you don't use any big words)

As far as physics and astronomy...Greek to me except I know all those scientists hang around together and argue with each other so hopefully they are keeping an eye on each other and will let me know if anything funny is going on.

I guess I would have to say I have pretty blind faith in science or scientists or in what I think scientists are saying.

Thanks, Robert, for your candor and a buffoon you are not.

5/04/2005 11:32:00 PM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Just a couple of points - there are so many in this thread ...

(Chris - thanks for the feedback. It's so easy to offend in this subject area, and I was concerned I might have offended you, and in your own home too.)

Dicey - when you say - just have faith that things are, have always been, and always will be, exactly as they are ...

I say, that's "mostly harmless", but how useful it is, kind of depends on what you're planning to do next in life, and how much you might need to justify "Why?" to someone else - your boss, your electorate, your flock, yourself, whatever. Just a thought. That's my main concern - decisions, decisions.

Alice and others - the "Grand Canyon" metaphor - I think the enormity of geological (and cosmologial) time and energy are truly awesome to consider, and worth considering for that very reason. It's easy to conclude - so we don't really matter - but I don't buy that.

Deutsch's conslusion (which I summarised only a couple of weeks ago) is that in fact "life" is probably the most fundamental force now (ie now as in since any life, not just bio-carbon-life evolved anywhere) shaping the future of the entire universe. Plate tectonics, suns, comets and sundry catastrophes will come and go, gravity and entropy will grind boringly on, but life - well it's going some place - I'm along for the ride, and I for one don't wish to be a passive tourist or spectator, thanks very much.

How 'bout you.

(PS - Robert thanks for your feedback - I shall be checking out your blog soon too.)

5/05/2005 12:20:00 AM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Aw shucks, you guys. ;-)

5/05/2005 12:20:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Alice - your last post brought faith & belief back as the main subject. Good.

You talk about things you do have faith in and things you don't.

First point - Now faith and belief are just words, tokens of what we are signifying. I am just choosing to use belief where I do (believe) and faith where I see that other people do, but where I cannot see any "reason" to (believe).

Second point - you talk about "having faith in" (believing) sceintists, even where the subject matter is beyond your own comprehension. Now this is crucial - Why ? It's a kind of "intuitive induction". Some clever people made your car work, and the TV, oh, and the internet, and penicillin, and, and ... etc. So on balance the scientists and technologists do seem to know what they're talking about, what they're doing, they've dropped a few clangers along the way, but on the whole ...

So you / I / we suspend disbelief when a "respectable" scientific source tells us something we can't (yet) understand.

I think this view is quite simple and resonable - I would wouldn't I, its my view :-)

But the trap is not to forget you are only "suspending" disbelief, on account as it were, not offering unconditional blind faith. If that same scientist (the one you don't understand) comes back to you a week later and says

"I need to borrow a billion dollars and flatten 10,000 square miles of rain forest to built that thing I was telling you about"

Assuming you didn't suspect he was having a laugh - your next question would probaly be something like ..

"In that case, you'd better explain what you mean - it doesn't sound like a very good idea to me, etc."

The difference between faith and belief is the quality of explanation. (As I may have said already.)

Ian

5/05/2005 12:47:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

If I may presume to summarise ...

So we have two questions.

One about "first cause" - a kind of metaphysical question about whether there is one, whether it matters, and if it does, what is it ? (I call it the "bootstrapping problem")

The second about "explanation / justification / evidence / proof / reasons-to-believe", almost notwithstanding the first question. (I call this the "quality of explanation" problem.)

5/05/2005 12:54:00 AM

 
Blogger Sladersaan said...

Chris,

As much as I would like to join in on the last 2 posts and subsequent comments, I cannot keep up with your fellow bloggers.

I cannot visit this site long enough to maintain any type of consistency. Interesting reads but I have a job. Sorry man. Glad things seem to be going well for you.

My belief and faith are pretty simple. That is what drives my friends crazy. I have a personal relationship with Jesus. I spend time with him on a daily basis. That's it. I believe. I know him. That is how I know it to be true.

See you tomorrow night.

Slade

5/05/2005 09:19:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"quality of explanation"

Ah yes this is where I came in the first time and all hell broke loose. (Clupbert, where are you now?) But at this time, now that the dust has settled....maybe I can tell you the background I used for my comment.

To me, science makes sense for all the reasons you give. To me, the idea of God as told in the Bible, which is the place I am most familiar with, doesn't make sense.

(That's why I like to go to the "we don't matter" place. It's a little like shaking off any remnants I might still have of religion in my psyche... Start with a clean slate and all that...I do like what you said about life being the "cutting edge" in the universe. I'll have to try that on for size.)

But I also know that there are many brilliant thinkers who are religious. C.S. Lewis, one of your countrymen, was one. And there are thousands more....brilliant people who have considered the evidence and have come down on the side of God and Christ et al.For them the quality of the explanation fits with what they have believed previously, right or wrong...that this a creation of a supreme being.

For that reason alone, I cannot totally discount religion.So maybe for me brilliant thinkers who believe in God are the evidence that there may be someting to it or at least it should never be ridiculed.

I may still not be getting what you are saying, but at least now you know what I am saying.

5/05/2005 09:28:00 AM

 
Blogger diceymatters said...

What is the origin of this 'belief' or 'faith' in 'God'. It is a cognitive phenomenon, of course. As such, it serves a cognitive purpose (i.e., it serves a psycological need).

Human self awareness of the inevitability of death and the inherent uncertainty of life; that death could happen in the very next moment, in the words of Jim Morrison, "The future is uncertain/The end is always near," is responsible for a baseline level of existential angst, the experience of which is a form of pain that we quite reflexively and unconsciously seek to avoid. Therein lies the force behind the human tendency to believe in an omnipotent, omnicient God; because we can't deal with pervasive uncertainty, we imagine a being who is in control, and thereby, as it turns out, reduce the pain associated with existential angst, reinforcing the belief in (and more inportantly, the practice or act of believing in) the 'God'. So, yes, in my view, the belief in God is very much of the nature of an addiction to an opiate, in that their appeal is essentaily for their analgesic effects.

Our 'rational' mind struggles to square itself with our identification with the belief, and without any 'evidence' it settles on 'faith', sometimes with a wonderful poetic fallout, as in the case of Chardin.

Whether human self awareness was a sort of evolutionary accident (the scientific view) or whether it was the result of the 'original sin' when Eve was seduced by the serpent to eat that very special fruit (why did God put such a fruit there in the first place? Also, BTW The fruit was a psychoactive mushroom, perhaps?), in either case it seems to have doomed us into a life burdenened by existential angst, and a tendency to believe in God.

Ironically for someone such as myself seeing things as I do, I probably have more respect for Jesus than most "Christians". Jesus was a man, killed by imperial power. Jesus perhaps came into an awareness that any separation between the individual and the divine (or, the 'oneness of everything') is an illusion, yet his followers made a fundamental mistake in thinking that it was only Jesus who was divine, and then through history they were duped by 'religious' and secular institutions who to this very day basically commit an act of terrorism against the great masses of humanity by saying "Jesus died for your sins. He endured that pain because you are BAD."

The subtext of course, is this: "If you behave like Jesus did, if you try to shake things up and go around telling people that they are essentially divine and thereby undermine the power of the established order, you will be subjected to torture and agonizing death."

Ok, down here off my soap box, I'll say this about the need for understanding, the practice or act of seeking an explanation for how things came to be as they are: There's nothing wrong with the 'scientific' approach of caveman or the 'logic' approach of clupbert the 'faith' approach of robert; on some level they are exactly the same thing - they are just you there in the present moment being as you are. The trick, if there is such a thing, is to not mistake the act of seeking for the actuality of what is happening by the fact of you there seeking. If I was to label my approach, it would probably be that of 'Zen'. The practice of sitting still; the experience of what happens when doing so.

Thank you all for engaging in this very interesting blog. I'm new to this world, and may not know the proper etiquette...

5/05/2005 02:04:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

Good stuff, Dicey. I followed you right up to here:

"The trick, if there is such a thing, is to not mistake the act of seeking for the actuality of what is happening by the fact of you there seeking."

Sounds like a poster I saw in the 60's. There was a smiling guy with the words "be here now" written underneath.

I think I may be way too "A" type
for this approach although every once in while I catch myself just "being" The problem is once you catch yourself, it's gone. Damn this big brain, anyway!

Your etiquette is perfect.

5/05/2005 02:55:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

What is the origin of this 'belief' or 'faith' in 'God'. It is a cognitive phenomenon, of course. As such, it serves a cognitive purpose (i.e., it serves a psychological need).

First of all, your comment is very interesting and thoughtful. That said, I’d like to challenge the essence of your point. The implication is that any certitude of an extra natural entity is merely illusion; the construction of emotion and the desire for hope.

With all respect, such a response is rather easy. If logic and reason are our tools, let’s use them. The rejection of a claim requires more than mere negative assertions. Since I’ve admitted that no conventional positive evidence can readily be produced for anything beyond the natural realm, is it not incumbent upon atheists to demonstrate the impossibility of mysticism? As I suggested, agnosticism is the only honest position…unless a glaring contradiction can be proffered to dispel the foolish notion that God is responsible for the very matter and energy that is the universe. I’m truly curious about reality as it is, rather than how one would like it to be.

Any takers? Can the possibility of mystical ideas be rationally debunked...with logic and hard evidence?

5/05/2005 10:12:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

Robert - you contradict yourself, I think.

"...is it not incumbent upon atheists to demonstrate the impossibility of mysticism?"

Uh, actually it isn't. One who is an atheist is one who does not believe in the existence of a supernatural power. It says nothing about whether that person believes a supernatural power *does not exist*, which is what you are asking him or her to demonstrate.

For example, I do not believe in the Abominable Snowman or Big Foot, as it is sometimes called. In holding that belief, there is no intellectual responsibility on my part to prove that the creature does not exist. On the contrary, it is incumbent upon anyone who wishes to change my mind to prove the opposite.

So atheism and agnosticism are on an equal plane with respect to intellectual honesty.

"That is what drives my friends crazy. I have a personal relationship with Jesus. I spend time with him on a daily basis."

Yes, Sladersaan, this does indeed drive us crazy. If you changed the name of your invisible friend to Joey, you'd likely be committed in short order. Kind of adds a new twist to Shakespeare's question, "What's in a name?"

Alas, you're a happy guy, so who am I to judge?

Dicey - thanks for your thoughtful post. But I must say I'm a bit perplexed by it. I sense a sentiment similar to that which imbues multiculturalism - everything is as good as everything else. Our biases make us *think* our way is better, but in the end, we're all dust. Is that about right?

I suppose that kind of worldview has its benefits, but it seems incapable of translating usefully into how we act on a daily basis. From my standpoint, how we think, namely whether we use logic and reason or not, has everything to do with how likely it is that we'll attain happiness in life.

One who's behavior is dominated mostly by the passions will have a harder time of it than one who has some degree of control over his or her emotions. Living in this civilized and highly prosperous world gives us the impression that we've mastered the animal within us, but I say we still have far to go.

In terms of religion, for most mainstream religions, believing brings with it's own definition of decorum. It adds another layer of behavior filtering that, in many ways, requires a significant level of effort, effort that could otherwise be applied in other areas of life. So I think it does matter how we think about these things.

If we buy into something that doesn't make sense, we're likely to waste a lot of time and emotional energy in the service of futility. Furthermore, for many people, religion divides the population into acceptable people and unacceptable people. That, too, diminishes what we can get out of life.

It may be polite to lump all the views expressed here into one big group of ideas, with none better than any other - it's hard to offend anyone when everyone's view has equal merit - but progress does not get made when everyone is right. I'm not saying *I* have to be right - but I think someone should be.

Alice - I would like to nominate you to be the site's Welcoming Wench (no offense - just working off the caveman theme). No new duties, just a fancy title. You game?

5/06/2005 12:20:00 AM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Uh, actually it isn't. One who is an atheist is one who does not believe in the existence of a supernatural power. It says nothing about whether that person believes a supernatural power *does not exist*, which is what you are asking him or her to demonstrate.

This is a bit slippery, no? Words must have meaning for communication to be possible. I’ve never heard atheism and agnosticism used synonymously. Regardless, the gist of this thread has been, in essence, a dismissal of theism…or so it seems to me. Mind you, this isn’t offensive to me, because I realize that I’m swimming up-stream here. If anything, I’d like to know if my position is in fact refutable, so that I may change course if necessary.

5/06/2005 12:59:00 AM

 
Blogger Clupbert said...

I thought I'd just leave a comment because this post is embarassingly void of them. Thank god I did this.

5/06/2005 01:05:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"From my standpoint, how we think, namely whether we use logic and reason or not, has everything to do with how likely it is that we'll attain happiness in life."

So you think reason and logic drive happiness? I guess, having read a lot of what you have written, that you do. In fact this is the core of the enlightened caveman philosophy.

"In terms of religion, for most mainstream religions, believing brings with it's own definition of decorum. It adds another layer of behavior filtering that, in many ways, requires a significant level of effort, effort that could otherwise be applied in other areas of life."

But there are things which occur when persons practice religion which enhance their happiness. You might say that those things are available without religion, but if those things occur while a person is practicing religion then the important thing is that those things are occuring. Why does the vehicle matter? I really don't think that the practice of religion takes anything away from the whole. And as I have said before, religion has inspired a great number of magnificent things...art, music and literature. I would venture to say that until now, religiously inspired music far surpasses in quantity and quality secular music. Again, this music "could have" been created without religious inspiration...but it wasn't.

" but progress does not get made when everyone is right. I'm not saying *I* have to be right - but I think someone should be."

I'm not sure what you mean by "progress". If you are talking about medical advances which prevent disease and technological advances which improve efficiency, then yes, someone has to be "right" in order for progress to be made.

But as far as "lifestyle" progress, no one has to be right and given our history it isn't likely that anyone will ever be willing to cede their "rightness" to someone else.

I think I am beginning to understand more about the world you envision. But just ask yourself...Did Dr. Spock look happy to you?

5/06/2005 02:19:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Alice,

Your point about CS Lewis et al, (The Inklings) and McLuhan too - being or going religious. Is a very interesting subject - one I'm still researching - some blogs going back 2 and 3 years -if yu search my blog.

Ian

5/06/2005 06:04:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

Ian,

I have visited your site before and have done so today, but something is awry.

Anyway, is there a way to search for the subject? It would take me days to slog through what you have on the site.

And for curiosity sake, are you a management consutant?

PS. so glad you didn't laugh at my CS Lewis comment. I was afraid you might think of him as a mediocre writer of children's books.

5/06/2005 09:32:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"If anything, I’d like to know if my position is in fact refutable, so that I may change course if necessary."

refute: to prove (a person) to be in error.

Robert, I do think that the belief in the existence of God is refutable. But it must be done by the person him/herself. Only you know why you believe in God.

I have gone through the process of refuting my belief in the existence of God. The only God I have ever known much about is the one which is described in the Bible. As a child I had unquestioned faith in that God. As a teen and young adult, although I didn't really actively practice the religion of my youth, when asked I would have said I believed in God, but I was pulling away from Christianity, because it didn't make sense to me any more.

I remember the day when I adamently told someone that I didn't care if I went to hell, because I thought the idea of hell was ridiculous and if the god of the universe sent me there it just went to show what a ridiculous god that was. This may seem unimportant, but to me it was the point at which I felt I "could" stand up to this God and not be afraid, something which had been my over-riding feeling before this.
So for me that was the first step...to allow myself to question and not be afraid of the results.

What I have mostly done is look at what I consider the illogical claims of relgion and see them for that.

Take prayer for example..."My mother is sick, please pray for her"

So God will help your mother if a lot of people pray for her...but won't if people don't...So God is interested in the popularity of the person.

And God needs to be asked in order to help? Will God help if not asked? And if your mother dies, does that mean God helped by letting her die or didn't help at all so therefore she died? There are never clearcut rules of engagemnet when speaking about God's behavior, except that "God loves us" and whatever happens is "God's will".

And then there is the Jesus thing. God made a race of people with minds which are capable of questioning. The first time they dare to question, however, they are thrown out into the darkness. In order for those people to regain their rightful place at God's side they must believe in his son who came to earth and sufferd and died. Why did he die?....to make a sacrifice to the very God who needed to be placated because he was angry that his people had disobeyed him.. the people themselves couldn't make the sacrifice, because they were not worthy...so God made a sacrifice to himself, with himself, so that the people could come back to him and live forever in paradise, which they rejected in the beginning because it was probably not a very interesting place because they couldn't consider the knowledge of good and evil, which is probably one of the most interesting subjects there is.

I think my refutation of the existence of god is what you might call an inductive argument. I have looked at all of this and to me it's a big fairy tale... an interesting fairy tale, full of truths about human nature...but that is because it was created by humans.

You cited some New Testament quotes prior to this... But the New Testament was written with a huge agenda...to convince the people of the times that this guy, Jesus, was the Messiah, so everything that is written there has to be looked at with great skepticism.

So that is how I refute belief in God for myself. If the evidence for God is in the Bible or in religion, I don't see it and so therefore I reject the idea of God. (am I going to hell???)

I know there are far more eloquent arguments. EO Wilson does a wonderful job of it in his book "Consilience" in the chapter entitled "Ethics and Religion", but this is the one which I have used for myself....along with continuing my education in the
sciences.

5/06/2005 11:07:00 AM

 
Blogger diceymatters said...

Alice, I think you sum it all up with you say, ‘Damn this big brain anyway.’ At some point the mind gets in the way of our ‘enlightenment’…

Robert, I am not speaking as an atheist or as an agnostic when I say any conception of "God" is a cognitive phenomenon. I don't feel there's any imperative to be identified with any of those positions. Any belief in or about anything is a cognitive phenomenon. How can we ever know if two 'Christians' who profess 'a direct relationship with Jesus' believe in the 'same thing'. They share the same symbols, when they utter a faith in Jesus or God they make similar sounds, but who is to say that they actually believe the same thing. This is why, I think it was Nietzsche, said "The first and last Christian died on the Cross". The belief in "God" or "Jesus" has no grounding in actuality, except of course the actuality of the cognitive phenomenon going on in the believer's mind.

There may be some profound mystical harmonies that are going on around us, and we can perceive these things directly, but to ascribe a word or concept to them, and then to profess a 'belief' or 'faith' in the word or concept, is to leave the mystical realm and enter the realm of delusion. There is the thing itself, and then there is the phenomenon of our conception, perception or understanding of it. We like to think that our understanding of actuality is somehow an accurate representation of actuality, that it is actuality itself. And then the egoic mind wants to be identified with a particular 'ism' because doing so creates the very comforting illusion of permanence, of a Self that is not fleeting. On this level, an ‘atheist’ or an ‘agnostic’ is exactly the same as a believer. They are all identified with an idea of how things are (or are not).

People speak of having a 'direct relationship' with Jesus. To them I'd say, "Something is happening in your mind, and this something may be profound and spiritual, etc., but your belief that it has something to do with 'Jesus' is an illusion.” I would never try to deny that there’s ‘mystical’ stuff going on – stuff that is unexplainable and will never in fact be explained, but this is because we the explainers are of the thing about which we try to explain. We are of the mystery. You there trying to explain the mystery is part of the thing you are trying to explain. You cannot step outside of actuality. At some point things must get poetic: you are the rhythm that chants the way

If you are interested in reality as it is, try to turn off the part of your mind that wants to label the mystical things that are happening as 'mystical' 'supernatural, or as ‘intangible evidence of God'. Just sit and experience the is, without labeling it an 'isser' or an ‘ism’. Notice your thoughts themselves come and go through your mind. Huxley pointed out that 'knowledge is a function of being'. In other words, your way of being will determine the nature and extent of your knowledge. Your perceptual and cognitive viewpoint will depend on your way of being. That's why the mystics meditated, fasted, or chanted. It's not a matter of belief. Its a matter of matter - of the actual phenomenal world. It's a matter of turning off belief, and foregoing any attachment to some idea of how things are. Most secular people don't do this either. Because they 'believe' in being secular, or somewhere in between. I'd suggest checking out a book called the Power of Now by Eckart Tolle. This is not to say I'm a Tolleian or a Tolleist or that I believe in Tolleism.

Enlightenedcaveman, as an aside, I dusted off a copy of The Moral Animal from my shelf. I look forward to reading it for the first time. I enjoyed Wright’s more recent book Nonzero with the wonderful subtitle ‘The Logic of Human Destiny’. Perhaps try thinking about your views of ‘multiculturalism’ in light of that book.

When I equate the three approaches of ‘science’ 'logic’ and ‘faith', I am merely suggesting that at least on some level they are all the same. This is not to say that they are the same on every level. It occurs to me that you might want to take a look at a book called The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion by Ken Wilber. It is a bit tough going, but I think you might find it interesting. Don’t worry, Wilber dismisses out of hand religious dogma. I guess you could say he puts forth a multi dimensional approach for understanding what is apparently a multi dimensional actuality.

I agree that it is a waste of time to buy into something that doesn’t make sense. I also think it is a waste of time to buy into something that does make sense. I say resist attachment to any particular approach. This is not to say you shouldn’t use the faculties that you would refer to as ‘reason’ or ‘logic’. However, by using those faculties, remember that you are still the one choosing the purpose for which those faculties are being used. And accept the inherent limitations of those faculties. To ‘believe’ in science, logic or faith is to be deluded. To use science, logic or faith is not to be deluded. Science and logic are useful for a lot of things. Faith seems to be primarily useful for numbing the pain of existence. To the faithful I say, “Remember that you are using your ‘faith’ to numb the pain of your existence. And by the way, DO NOT enlist state power to enforce your conception of morality upon me. Doing so is tantamount to a declaration of war.”

5/06/2005 01:17:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Alice, your points are not at all unreasonable. In fact, I too became an apostate after having been indoctrinated as a kid. I think that I addressed the essence of your argument in an earlier comment:

This sounds like science fiction, I realize, because I have a vivid recollection of the atheistic/agnostic mindset of my early twenties. Also, after speaking with Mormons, JWs or Catholics, I worry that I sound as ridiculous to atheist. But no, I didn’t “drink the kool-aid”.

Moreover, most “religious” constructs form around some “god idea” and bare very little resemblance to biblical texts. This would include all of the main stream and secondary (Mormon, JW, Christian Science, etc) Judea-Christian sects from 3rd Century Rome to the present. I respect the content of the Bible, but am repulsed by millennia of layers upon layers of extra-biblical tradition and ritual.


So, what my challenge was really getting at is…whether the possibility of any supernatural entity or phenomenon can be, once and for all, shown to be rubbish.

The discussion gets side-tracked when one leaps-frogs the premise in order to argue this point or that. Moreover, (with all respect) the impression of the Bible that you’ve received from your childhood and/or the broader “Christian Culture” is likely skewed. That notwithstanding, the issue is really more to do with the most basic question of naturalism v. theism or deism.

5/06/2005 01:20:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Diceymatters, your comment is as cordial as it is eloquent. So, I’ll try to respond in kind.

Any belief in or about anything is a cognitive phenomenon. How can we ever know if two 'Christians' who profess 'a direct relationship with Jesus' believe in the 'same thing'.

Well, yes, cognition is the way in which one perceives reality. Christians, as with physicists, ought to justify their position with an appeal to objectivity.

This is why, I think it was Nietzsche, said "The first and last Christian died on the Cross". The belief in "God" or "Jesus" has no grounding in actuality, except of course the actuality of the cognitive phenomenon going on in the believer's mind.

No doubt, Nietzsche was a brilliant philosopher, but his critique of God was hardly without bias. Think of Pope Benedict XVI sharing his view of contraception or celibacy.

In other words, your way of being will determine the nature and extent of your knowledge. Your perceptual and cognitive viewpoint will depend on your way of being.

People speak of having a 'direct relationship' with Jesus. To them I'd say, "Something is happening in your mind, and this something may be profound and spiritual, etc., but your belief that it has something to do with 'Jesus' is an illusion.”


In the former, you seem to reject the possibility of emphatic assertions of fact, or that knowledge is essentially subjective. In the latter, you proceed to make an emphatic assertion of fact, which is not accompanied by any evidence, but purely speculative.

In part, this is how communication breaks down. Granted, it’s typically religionists or moralists that make blanket statements and fail to support them. Also, I’ll not deny the possibility that, for many, the concept of a god is the product of their mind. It’s simply fallacious to presume that: if some, then all.

5/06/2005 02:05:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

"So, what my challenge was really getting at is…whether the possibility of any supernatural entity or phenomenon can be, once and for all, shown to be rubbish."

You say I leapfrogged from the premise to this point or that.

So what is the premise?....that a supernatural entity cannot be shown to be rubbish?

I guess I would have to say to that ...that all of the evidence of the existence of said supernatural entity is rubbish. But I wouldn't use that word, rather fiction.

So until there is better evidence for the existence of god, I guess it's safe to assume he/she doesn't exist.

But you did use that word possibility. So I guess you would have to show me evidence for the existence of the possibility.

Your ball.

5/06/2005 05:11:00 PM

 
Blogger diceymatters said...

The 'emphatic' nature of my assertion is merely a 'style' of writing. I admit it is merely the viewpoint of someone who sees things as I do. There’s no contradiction, and even if there was, it would not make it any more or less likely that the believer does in fact, in actuality, have a ‘direct connection with Jesus’. In fact, I believe that we all are in direct connection with everything. As a belief, it is a mere cognition. Where I am sitting at this moment as I type these words I am literally encased within a continuous stratum of somethingness that in fact is also enveloping you at this very moment as you read these words. The same stratum is also enveloping the Pope and Osama bin Laden and everyone and everything else between and among the universe. What is my evidence? Stop thinking for 10 minutes and perhaps you will sense it to be true. Perhaps you won't. That’s fine too. Can you even imagine the nature of the evidence that I could conceivably present that would prove the assertion that any belief in God or Jesus is an illusion? Where should I look for this evidence? In the brain of the believer? I guess we’ll all know when we die. So there’s one way to find your evidence, if the evidence is really so important. Where did Jefferson look to establish evidence that ‘all men are created equal’? He referred to it as ‘self evident’. The rhythm of the words hold their truth.

If there is a God his name is not God. When you worship God you worship a thought in your own mind.

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”
Lao Tsu

5/06/2005 07:32:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

In a nutshell, I’m really trying to shed light on the absurdity of declaring that X does not or cannot exist, simply because no evidence has been produced to support X (whether natural or not). What I’ve stated before (and I think we all agree) is that it’s folly to accept, as truth or fact, that which can’t be supported. But to then reject, out of hand, the possibility of such, without sufficient reason, (only speculation and conjecture) is equally foolish.

Science has taught us to be at once skeptical and optimistic. Skeptical because of our limitations and the limitations of nature; optimistic because of the fast pace of discovery in all areas…many that debunk previous findings. The original premise that I postulated was that agnosticism (no knowledge) was much more of a supportable position than atheism (no God). The latter is rather bold and, I think, requires substantiation.

Why does this matter? Well, as one caught between worlds, if you will, I see a pattern of presumption from knee-jerk theists as well as dogmatic atheists. I’ve already said what I think of mindless religionists. Although, I’m curious about self described atheists, in that they are typically the brightest minds among us…dare I say, those of you engaged in this very discussion. Therefore, it seems odd to presuppose that one (me for example) is delusional for entertaining the possibility that a force beyond our natural realm exists. Especially when no case has been made to the contrary, other than to insist that: If there is a God his name is not God. When you worship God you worship a thought in your own mind. Maybe it’s just me, but a little proof would be nice before I have myself committed into the asylum.

5/06/2005 08:51:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

I was just going to say that it is very difficult to prove a negative. What made me think of this was a story on the radio about Michael Jackson. It is the genius of our legal system which makes the prosecutor prove the guilt {that he did it}...rather than Jackson having to prove innocence (that he didn't)

So I could ask you to prove that Michael Jackson didn't molest that boy and it would be the same as you asking me to prove that there is not a possibility of a god.

The very best you could do is impune the evidence that was given that he did. And the very best I can do is impune the evidence that god exists or that the possibility of god exists.

So do you have any that I can impune????

I don't think you are delusional. In fact I am intrigued. I have thought about this stuff a lot. I think I have a very good idea of what is contained in the Bible because I have read quite a bit of it and about it. I wanted to believe, I just couldn't.

5/06/2005 09:25:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Alice, you’re absolutely correct, a negative cannot be proven. This is why I say that atheism is as unsupportable as theism. The difference between atheism and a criminal indictment is that the former presupposes omniscience (e.g. since one is all knowing, one can confidently assert the nonexistence of a god); the latter is the accusation of a violation of law that is punishable by the state…the need for the presumption of innocence is self evident.

Again, it’s eminently rational to doubt supernatural phenomenon. However, moving from doubt to conviction is a giant leap. As Chris mentioned earlier, most people see little cause for a distinction between atheism and agnosticism, but there is at least one (myself) for whom the line of demarcation is stark.

For reasons that are quite obvious, it’s easier to remain ambiguous about personal theism…whether one fakes it within the religious community or without; whether ostracized by the religious or by the secular . I’ve chosen to be honest about my thoughts and let the chips fall where they may. My sister married a protestant pastor and my entire family has been affiliated with some church or another since well before I came along. Needless to say, I’m not exactly understood by my relatives, or my secular friends either for that matter. But in the final analysis, I live with my mind, thoughts and theistic philosophy; I’ll not submit to cognition by committee.

5/06/2005 10:20:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

I think you had this converstaion with Caveman, but I promise not to use any of his assertions to back up mine. Since I am new to this I wonder about Ian's comment that this type of discussion is anathema to him. I will assume that he has engaged in it before and he realizes that it can't go anywhere. But I will test my wits until, of course, Caveman pulls the plug on it (94 comments!). I find it a great challenge and I know I may fall on my face but nevertheless....

"The difference between atheism and a criminal indictment is that the former presupposes omniscience (e.g. since one is all knowing, one can confidently assert the nonexistence of a god)"

I don't agree that atheism presupposes omniscience. Since there is no such thing as omniscience anyway. Saying that there is no god says only that until this point, no satisfactory evidence has been presented. Is the idea of god so compelling that it always lingers in the background...just waiting to be discovered? And therefore it would take an omniscient person to say "GOD IS SIMPLY NOT THERE. I HAVE LOOKED AND THERE IS DEFINITELY NO GOD"

In my estimation, because of what we now know, the idea that god made this world (which is what the bible says and you say you believe in the god of the bible) doesn't have any credence. Now I have to end that sentence with "for me", because of my limited knowledge of science. Maybe there is someone in some laboratory today who is looking at some sure evidence that god created the earth....but I don't know about it and I really doubt it and so for me there is no possibility that there is a god.

I keep trying to wrack my brain for an analogy which will suit and there seems to be something about the idea of god which is so different from everything else that it defies analogy. Caveman used Bigfoot. And although I promised not to use his assertion, maybe I'll just borrow the idea and argue from there.

I say there is no such thing as Bigfoot because there is no credible evidence that Bigfoot exists. I do not have to search every square inch of the planet to confidently say this. I can use other evidence, such as the fact that there has never been a carcass of this creature found and there is nothing to suggest that there are records of communities of bigfoots (feet?). I could go on, but I think you get what I mean.

And so I can say the same for god. No evidence, no need to believe. Unless you are saying that in order to be rational...one has to entertain the possibility of the existence of absolutely everthing. You wouldn't be saying this, would you?

5/06/2005 11:44:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

PS. Is there a way to be neither a theist nor an atheist, nor an agnostic? Is it incumbent upon a human being to declare oneself?

5/07/2005 12:02:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

PPS.
And is there a difference between saying "I don't believe in god" and "I don't believe there is a god."?

5/07/2005 12:18:00 AM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

At about 75 comments, I thought about declaring an end to this thread. I'm glad I abstained. We're sort of going in circles, but every time we pull in a little more detail and get a little more clarity. Let's keep it rolling:

1. Once more - with feeling...Theism *does not* equal believing there is no God. This is an unsupportable position, as unsupportable as believing there is a God. So Robert, if you're asking if there is a way to legitimately argue that there is no God, the answer is a resounding no. Hume's problem of induction is the reason - given limited access to reality, it's illogical. But, so what?

From an intellectual honesty perspective, you don't get to feel good about believing in God because the alternative is equally beyond substantiation. There is a middle ground, and the middle ground is the only ground that agrees with rationality - God's existence is a mystery, but the preponderance of evidence advises against buying into anything that requires a deviation from the natural, but harmless, course of things.

2. Yes, Alice, buying into religion may yield benefits that might not otherwise occur, but we're talking about people who've not had this conversation. Simply by exploring the credibility of piety, we no longer get to be its unwitting beneficiaries. We're officially bound to either choose a side or deny reality. You've chosen, and I'm right there with you. And your summation of the absurdity of it all is as poignant as we've seen from you, and that's saying a lot.

3. Dicey - you intrigue me. It's as if you have no need for anchors. You seem content to float in an existential existence and take it as it comes. (I'm breaking my ad hominem rule, but like I said, it's my ball and my backyard.) I wonder how much of this philosophical worldview manifests itself in your navigation of everyday life. I can't imagine.

I have a desperate need for rationality, precisely because it establishes a beachhead in reality that is beyond whatever cognition I may be experiencing. You can say that my thoughts are just thoughts, and as such are no better or worse than anyone else's, but my thoughts are grounded in how things are, or at the very least, they add up.

I really don't think we're all connected. There are those who use a certain criteria to decide what they'll believe in, and there are those believe whatever makes them feel good, and then there's most everyone else - they vacillate opportunistically between the two. Each strategy is connected more or less tightly to reality than the others.

Kant believed that the human mind was dealing with what we'd understand as the Matrix - a contrived model of the world. He went so far as to say that our model bears no resemblance to the real thing. Space and time are creations of the human mind, says Kant. If minds went away, so would they. This, I think, is where your argument, if I understand it, gets you.

But I think it's too extreme. Mainly because our model of the world happens to allow us to predict a great deal about the physical world. If we suppose we are all experiencing the same collective delusion, it becomes very hard to explain how it's the same *enough* for totally disparate (geographically and/or experientially) people to use the same intellectual methodology (the scientific method) to come to the same predictions about the same phenomena. There *is* absolute truth, which means we *do* have a yardstick by which to judge our ruminations.

In any case, your narratives are lyrical, and I'm down with your first-principles approach to freedom to do what you want with your body (check out dicey's blog - http://diceymatters.blogspot.com/).

I'll finish with a funny, but off-color story that I think applies - an ex-roomate once convinced a vuluptuous friend of ours to join him in a baby-oil romp on his waterbed. Room a wreck, bed stripped of sheets and glistening from the oil, his comment the next day - "it was great and not great at the very same time. Here I was with this sumptuous girl, but I couldn't get a grip on her or anything else, so we just went through a comedy of errors in pursuit of what we aimed for, and ended up falling asleep exhausted and unfulfilled."

This, to me, is what a life without anchors must be like.

5/07/2005 02:31:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"And so I can say the same for god. No evidence, no need to believe. Unless you are saying that in order to be rational...one has to entertain the possibility of the existence of absolutely everthing. You wouldn't be saying this, would you?"

This is the last paragraph in my last post...and I wanted to ask...is this where Hume threw up his hands? Because as Robert points out it is impossible to prove some things. I know you say, Caveman, that we don't have to and all that...I was just wondering mostly about Hume.

5/07/2005 10:52:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"Maybe philosophical problems are hard not because they are divine or irreducible or meaningless or workaday science, but because the mind of Homo sapiens lacks the cognitive equipment to solve them. We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not pipelines to the truth. Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life and death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness or to answer any questions we are capable of asking."

"How the Mind Works" Steven Pinker

5/07/2005 11:40:00 AM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Great points, all…I was wondering about your silence, Chris. ;-)

A slight clarification/confession, if I may. I’m fully aware of the fruitlessness of such a debate as this. That is, I don’t expect for one to produce evidence (positive or negative) about anything that is non-natural. It’s simply impossible, just as Chris pointed out.

"And so I can say the same for god. No evidence, no need to believe. Unless you are saying that in order to be rational...one has to entertain the possibility of the existence of absolutely everything. You wouldn't be saying this, would you?"

Point taken. I’ll try to answer your question intelligibly, if I can. I see two distinct aspects of the age old wonder about existence. The line of demarcation is, theoretically, pre/post inception of the “universe”. Scientists and rational lay people necessarily concentrate on nature. Obviously, this is what can be observed and tested, proven or falsified. With such, I have no quibble.

There is however, the nagging question about the origin of matter and energy…indeed the very stuff of the mind (I simply don’t buy that reality in a construct of the mind). While I acknowledge the lack of empirical data for our origins, I doubt that matter is eternal. Since from nothing, nothing can come, the universe must have had a beginning. Suppose there never was a Bible or any other specific suggestion of a creator, save for various competing superstitions (e.g. before the Bible was written), the existential question still remains.

Theology not withstanding, refusing to think that there was ever a time when matter was nonexistent is odd. As I said, this does not presuppose a specific deity or even a deity at all. But to assume that matter and energy have always been or rather to ignore the question altogether is not rational. Like Chris, I’m interested in what is rather than simply what feels good (my ideas are NOT a mechanism with which to ignore reality). To say that an infinite density just lingered-waiting to explode ions ago, but not to even wonder what was before, how did it come to be, who or what was responsible, in what environment did it linger-is a bit short sighted (I don’t think anyone would accuse Bigfoot of having a hand in creation…sorry, I couldn’t resist). Can one “know” for sure (have conventional evidence), NO. The point I’ve been laboring, in several comments, is that the consensus seems to be that anyone that ponders our origins must be delusional, unintelligent or both. Is this altogether different from authoritarian religious sects, from history and the present, that condemn “heretical atheists” for not assenting to the “truth” of their dogma, with unwavering obedience?

Science and philosophy are fluid and ever evolving, with new discoveries and the refutation of previous misconceptions. What I’ve attempted to demonstrate (unsuccessfully) is that the point at which one eliminates a possibility due to the lack of evidence, one creates a handicap. Such narrow mindedness is attributable to religionists…hopefully not to thinkers. To be sure, this in no way suggests that one ought to factor intangible supernatural phenomena into experimentation. I’m merely saying that to emphatically reject its possibility is presumptuous, not to mention arrogant, in that it purports a higher degree of ability than the human mind posses...at least mine.

5/07/2005 01:49:00 PM

 
Blogger Robert said...

Just one more capricious comment: Christian Science (for example) is neither Christian nor science. I think it’s a bit unfair to judge either by false criteria (not that any here have…just sayin’). All things ought to be evaluated objectively and on the merits. In other words, I don’t claim association with any religious sect or its interpretation of the Bible…or world-view for that matter. The Bible, as text, is subject to all of the normal rules of interpretation, such as context, intent and so forth, which is separate from the veracity of the content. Anyway, I’m just trying to consider all of the implications of our existence.

5/07/2005 02:52:00 PM

 
Blogger Freedomslave said...

Faith in the data...thats what we all need!

We shall proclaim destruction-why? why?-well, because the idea is so fascinating! But-we must get a little exercise. We’ll have a few fires-we’ll spread a few legends…..And the whole earth will resound with a cry: “A new and righteous law is coming!”
Dostoevsky, (The Devils)

Wow did this discussion get out of control, we have everything from mans need to understand and explain his environment, to Atheistic/Christian doctrinal debate.

When I read these posts I feel like George Patton:
Lead me, Follow me, or get out of my way!


Religions sole purpose, or creation, or invention, or whatever we each decide to believe, serves only one rational:
To eliminate mans/woman’s fear of death.
(Ocam’s Razor Again!)


I’m sorry guys but’s that’s all there is. I read the bible, I studied the Torah, I read the book of Mormon, and I even glanced over the Koran. That is their sole and only purpose. They are all an excellent source of history filled with anecdotal human interaction, and should be taught in every school from kindergarten on up (Just not in science class!)

EC wrote:
Religious explanations constantly fly in the face of so many physical laws that are well understood. Creationism is replete with notions that would cause us to upend physics by 100 years were they true.

I couldn’t disagree more! Science, Astrophysics even Calculus when correctly applied to religion are no more speculative than estimating the core temperature of the boomerang nebula or the speed of a dying star. It breaks my heart that we have become so disillusioned and prejudiced with religion that our greatest scientific minds don’t even bother to take the time to research creationism. Even if we take the bible metaphorically we can easily explain the events with science. Religion is the ultimate human genome, and we don’t have the funding or the desire to unravel it.

EC wrote:
It does matter what we believe because what we believe directly influences what we do.

Exactly but what you missed in the bible is that most of the time Mankind does what HE WANTS to do.....not what the bible tells him to. “The lord helps those who help themselves” is not a proclamation to stand in a flood zone and drown, while steadfastly awaiting heavenly intervention. It means get your ass out of the way! (Patton again!)

EC wrote:
So atheism and agnosticism are on an equal plane with respect to intellectual honesty.
Amen! They both need a “Leap of Faith”!, if you will, and the irony is that neither side can see the blantant hypocrisy of the other! (I find that hysterical)

Alice wrote:
Take prayer for example..."My mother is sick, please pray for her"

So God will help your mother if a lot of people pray for her...but won't if people don't...So God is interested in the popularity of the person.

The factual evidence suggests that people who pray during stressful traumatic experiences do get better faster and have shorter recovery times than people who don’t. I’m not mentioning this to refute your belief system Alice, only to point out that their beliefs helped them recover.
As EC has already pointed out Alice, you already have your faith, just not in God!

5/07/2005 08:42:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

OK here's at least one more try. I feel like the door may be closing soon.....

"I see two distinct aspects of the age old wonder about existence. The line of demarcation is, theoretically, pre/post inception of the “universe”."

Please know that my education is lacking in this subject, but I think that is probably a rather recent demarcation line. Before the philosophers began hacking away at questions about existence, humans had already created god. They feared him and bargained with him to obtain the things they wanted because they thought that he controlled every aspect of their existence. They just didn't know any better. And it seems perfectly logical, given their vulnerable state that they would seize upon the idea of god/gods.

So I don't think the idea of god originated as an answer to the great questions of existence. It originated as a place people could turn to for assistance in the very act of existence.

That idea is so entrenched in our psyches that it does seem like blasphemy and folly (lest it be true) to reject it.

But our discoveries of the nature of the universe have revealed much. The idea of god has gotten in the way a lot...just ask Galileo. It would be nice to think that if there is a god of the universe he/she would be tolerant enough to know that we have this terrific need to find things out for ourselves and not to punish us if we think the wrong way.

5/07/2005 08:56:00 PM

 
Blogger Freedomslave said...

Christophobia the final intellectual frontier?

Alice wrote:
But our discoveries of the nature of the universe have revealed much. The idea of god has gotten in the way a lot...just ask Galileo. It would be nice to think that if there is a god of the universe he/she would be tolerant enough to know that we have this terrific need to find things out for ourselves and not to punish us if we think the wrong way.

Oh contraire Alice!, the fundamental basis of religion that pervades your everyday life at this very moment:
Thou shall not kill
Thou shall not steal
Thou shall not lie
These biblical tenants that pervade our government and most civilized governments of the world have directly resulted in mans ability to reason beyond killing his neighbor to steal their food. The strong ruling the weak was the only law of the land prior to Godly interference (Remember tribal law!). It’s precisely the FREEDOM that biblical civil law extends its citizens foremost the ability to reason beyond the very essence of their own creation, that makes it so powerful.
You even have the right to demand a tolerant creator and exclusion from all biblical teachings! Has religion ever interfered with Freedom? Hell yes, but GOVERNMENT killed 120 million last century and they are still going strong. (Been to Sudan lately?)

BTW I hate it when people use the word “Tolerant” it was a crappy liberal catch phrase of the 90’s like “don’t go there” or “TMI”. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. “Acceptance” was the word I would have chosen, and it would have conveyed your point better.

Plato’s Republic:
Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they grow up? We cannot, for anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable!

Don’t ever discount the basis for your freedom Alice; it is not bestowed by any government, it is granted by some higher authority!

5/08/2005 01:40:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

freedomslave,
You should read EC's story about the couple who tried to make love with baby oil on their bodies. They kept trying, but just couldn't get a hold of each other long enough for anything to happen.

That's how I feel when I read your posts...every time I think I know what you are saying, you say something which to me doesn't follow.

PS. I like the word tolerate and it expresses exactly what I meant.

tolerate: to allow the existence, presence, practice or act of without prohibition or hindrance.

..then I refined the definition by adding "punishment"

5/08/2005 09:31:00 AM

 
Blogger alice said...

"Thou shall not kill
Thou shall not steal
Thou shall not lie
These biblical tenants that pervade our government and most civilized governments of the world have directly resulted in mans ability to reason beyond killing his neighbor to steal their food."

But I will say this... I think you have this wrong. I would say that man's ability to reason has enabled him to go beyond killing his neighbor to steal their food. Man realized quite early on that it is in his best interest to cooperate. This might not be totally a result of reason either because at some level all animals cooperate. I think we have taken it to a much more refined level which is the result of our more refined brain.

At the end of the day, I don't think reason is actually a separate thing...It is the way our computational brains work, rather than it being a gift bestowed from above.

5/08/2005 10:24:00 AM

 
Blogger diceymatters said...

Chris,

Hopefully this will illustrate where we agree and where we disagree:

Lets say you are going to boil water because you rationally know that doing so will kill the bacteria in it. So you do it, and then drink the water and don't get sick. Someone else boils the water because they believe that God wants them to boil the water, and they also don't get sick. Perhaps the Priest, or Shaman discovered that boiling water makes it safer, but told the believer that it is God who wants the believer to boil the water. So it is the Priest or Shaman who is 'rational' (and a good storyteller) and they want people to not get sick because sick people don't have enough energy to build the palaces and temples for the Priest or Shaman. The rational person and the religious person come out even. Their beliefs are different, but they are both believers, and in this case their beliefs lead to the same result: not getting sick. The point is not the belief, but the practice. You used your rationality to guide your practice, but it is the practice and not the belief that prevented you from getting sick.

Now lets say you are horny and feel compelled to have intercourse. Being rational, you use a condom, and you don't contract HIV and you don't die of AIDs. Someone else is horny and feels compelled to have intercourse. But because they believe that it is a 'sin' to use contraception, they forego the condom, contract HIV and die of AIDs. Now of course it was the Priest who told the believer that it is a sin to use contraception, because the Priest knows that families who have more kids than they can afford are generally desperate and miserable in a way that makes them very susceptible to following the Priest's commands (i.e., "the word of God"). In this case your rational belief had a big advantage over the belief of the religious person, and while you are a sinner who will burn in hell forever, at least as a small consolation you are alive for now and will be able to experience the rest of your life. However, it was not the belief, it was the practice of using the condom that saved you. Who knows, maybe someday God will decide that he wants people to use condoms.

So my point is that it is sort of a quasi religious thing to 'believe' in the rationality of boiling water or using condoms. In a sense the belief is the same as the religious person who does or doesn't believe in the same practice. But I am not equating them completely. By all means, do the rational thing. But remember, it is the doing of the rational thing that is important, not the belief in rationality.

In the short term it is sometimes better to be irrational for a moment or two. Was it rational for Charles Darwin to sign up for a five year voyage on the Beagle? At the time it was probably somewhat crazy. The rational mind doesn't know when it is better to be irrational. I think quantum physics probably 'proves' this point. That's why I say, don't be dogmatic about rationality. By all means use it. And sometimes choose not to use it, without guilt.

I'm not against anchors, but I'm not going to be tied to them at all times. Sometimes I'm going to deviate, and when I do I gain insights that can be used by my rational mind. In other words, I wouldn't mind an experience like your ex roommate's once in a while, but this is not to say that sometimes I won't forgo the oil for some handcuffs and whipped cream.

5/08/2005 03:23:00 PM

 
Blogger enlightenedcaveman said...

This could go on forever, but I feel compelled to put this gimp horse down. We've ridden her well, but she's had it. Let me just close with this -

1. Slave (since you started this whole thing, I'll spend some time here) - You should read Micheal Shermer's, The Science of Good and Evil. The gist of the book is that human morality existed long before religion, *especially* monotheistic religion, and that it was all based upon the golden rule. This, Shermer argues, was perhaps *the* competitive advantage that put Homo sapiens above all other hominids. It was only thousands of years later that religious men came along and co-opted and codified the long-existing morality for their own personal use that religion, as we know it, came into existence.

You assert that the basis of the bible - thou shalt not whatever - is what has led humanity to its esteemed place. To that, I can only say...paaaaleeeese. Note that thou shalt not kill is *number 5* in the ten commandments. Before that, we have the commandments that any God, aware of the precariousness of his con, should put on page one of his contracts - have no other Gods, don't take my name in vain, do what mom and pop tell you (cause they'll squash any young rebellion), observe the sabbath (i.e. - never stray from me longer than a week), and so on.

The point is that it is pretty much a canard at this point that Christianity is the reason we're so civilized. Christianity is just like anything else that grows above a certain size and gets "humanitized" (my word, I think) - whatever originally brought everyone together gets pushed aside to make room for the opportunistic angling of individuals looking to get over on the system.

Notice the common denominator? Yep - humans, doing the same human shit they've done forever, including buying into senseless ideas because someone they perceived to be an authority told them to.

"'So atheism and agnosticism are on an equal plane with respect to intellectual honesty.'
Amen! They both need a 'Leap of Faith'!, if you will, and the irony is that neither side can see the blantant hypocrisy of the other! (I find that hysterical)."

Three options:
1. Believe in a supernatural God
2. Do not believe in a supernatural God (atheist)
3. Leave the matter unsettled (agnostic)

Each requires faith - yes, you're right. I'd agree that many athiests and agnostics view themselves as rational from rooter to tooter, which is somewhat comical. However, I don't know that you get to wax indignant at their hypocrisy when their belief requires a teaspoon of faith, while option number 1 requires a water tower full.

BTW - I love the Plato quote, but what I love most is that you don't take it as a warning against early indoctrination of religion. Instead, it prompts you (apparently) to somehow infer that it is conveying the notion that a "higher power" grants freedom. Uh, wha?

Freedom comes from this - like minded people agreeing on what rights they as individuals get by virtue of being alive and agreeing on the rules that they as individuals within a larger order will use to protect those rights. Though anyone may invoke a higher power as the basis for whatever they believe to be our baseline human rights, in the end, it doesn't matter. What matters is that everyone agrees what they are and they agree on how they'll live together and respect them. Higher power or no, you get enough smart people with balls (figuratively speaking, of course) together and you'll have freedom.

"Even if we take the bible metaphorically we can easily explain the events with science. "

Now that's funny. For one thing, the wackjobs who push creationism *don't* take the Bible metaphorically, so how does it make sense that we should in dissenting against their nonsense? If we take the Bible metaphorically, I'm sure we can square it with Dr. Seuss. (Don't Clup. Just don't. This thing needs to end.)

I have deconstructed Creationism here before. Please look back through my archives and do let me know where I'm going wrong. Bottom line, it is simply not possible to reconcile creationism with science. Not only is it wrong, but it's just freaking stupid. Sorry - if you pull too many punches, you end up punching yourself.

2. Dicey - I think I get what you're saying, and I agree wholeheartedly that it all comes down to action. You're right that it doesn't matter if you came to act via rational consideration or otherwise. And we may even be in agreement on not getting hung up on being rational.

Malcolm Gladwell's newest book, Blink, kind of sends that message. The idea is that our minds are doing all kinds of computation below the radar of our consciousness, and they do a damned good job on quite a lot of things. So, sometimes, it's best to just follow your impulses. Rational analysis can end up being nothing more than overthinking, which wastes time and yields pitiful results.

I'm all about trying to figure out, if it's possible, when rationality makes sense and when it doesn't - not for everyone, but for me personally. I've already discovered areas where I know better than to think - when cycling through the traffic in midtown Atlanta, for example. I just keep a high level of awareness and then react to whatever occurs. It works. So far.

3. "And so I can say the same for god. No evidence, no need to believe. Unless you are saying that in order to be rational...one has to entertain the possibility of the existence of absolutely everthing. You wouldn't be saying this, would you?"

Remember - in my world, it's all about choosing from among alternatives. If some proposition has no evidence, it does not fare well against others that do. However, if all alternatives are equally unsubstantiated, then my decision is to abstain and wait for evidence.

On the God issue, I think I have enough to form a belief - I am an atheist (in the literal sense - I don't believe in a supernatural God - not saying there isn't one - just saying I don't believe it). I find this position *preferable* because it aligns with many other things I believe to be true - in short, the universe is explainable, therefore, God is superfluous. I choose to be atheist rather than agnostic because putting believing in a supernatural power on par with not believeing in a supernatural power gives the former idea credence that just seems wrong to me. Proportionally speaking, it costs more to believe than to disbelieve.

Alice - to answer your question directly - in order to be rational, you have to use evidence and logic in forming conclusions about things you consider. I don't put anything more than that into it.

5. From Robert: "There is however, the nagging question about the origin of matter and energy…indeed the very stuff of the mind (I simply don’t buy that reality in a construct of the mind)."

I don't think anyone wants to argue about what happened before the Big Bang. I know I don't. But if I *did* want to argue about it, I'd dispense with this kind of logic altogether:

"Since from nothing, nothing can come, the universe must have had a beginning."

This is only true if physics and the laws of nature as we know them hold true in pre-Big Bang times (oops, there's no time). That's a lot to assume, especially considering how far from our usual areas of solution space we have to be to even consider this. Who's to say that the process for universes that differ from ours doesn't *end" in an infinite point of density, only to begin another universe when the bang happens (for whatever reason)? You can get way out there on this if you have the time and the right buzz.

The point: pre-Big Bang is anyone's guess and any guess is as good as any other. In fact, the Big Bang itself is pretty damned speculative. It's preferable nonetheless.



OK - so here's the deal. This post is officially over, except for this. You can respond one last time - but you have to choose from among the following choices.

a. This matter is settled (for now) for me and my mind has been changed significantly.

b. This matter is unsettled for me, though this discussion has given me lots more to ponder.

c. This matter is, and has been, settled for me and has not been significantly altered from this discussion.

d. This matter is, and has been, unsettled for me and this has been one giant meaningless act of intellectual masturbation.

e. I have more to say/ask before I could choose one of these options.

f. I am glad they got high-speed Internet on the psych wing.

g. I'm glad Johnny Cochran's dead.

Cheers to all for a record-breaker - mainly to Clupbert and Ian for jacking up the comment count early on when things were still touch and go. And Alice, every site should have a welcoming wench of your calibre:-)

5/08/2005 11:42:00 PM

 
Blogger alice said...

b.

and I just want to thank all of the wonderful people who have made this possible.

cute, huh?

5/09/2005 12:05:00 AM

 
Blogger Troubleshooter said...

e - and that's why I keep coming back,

g - you didn't say we could only pick one and this one goes without saying.

5/09/2005 11:14:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

To Dicey,

You said
If there is a God his name is not God. When you worship God you worship a thought in your own mind. “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”
Lao Tsu

I say, please don't confuse Tao with the idea of a god - the point about the "god", in name or thought, is what you think it is being signified by the name. If it is some omniscient, causal, purposeful entity then - sorry it just does not exist - I have seen not one scrap of evidence in 49 years.

Tao is simply the Zen Buddhist "way" of looking at the reality of the world and life in it. Something useful and pragmatic, not based on theistic fantasy.

Alice ...

My web-site - yes, broken the same day I posted my long "Why it's pointless to argue with theists" post. Spooky, but I'm re-building.

Am I a "management consultant" - kind of I guess, in spirit anyway.

5/12/2005 05:35:00 AM

 
Blogger Psybertron said...

Chris,

I'm going for (f)

It's the advantage we have over Robert Pirsig.

Ian

5/12/2005 05:37:00 AM

 
Blogger Peter Gaffney said...

Most of us (most of the time, at least) have no idea how thoroughly clouded our perception of "reality" is -- by inattention, unacknowledged assumptions, neurotic delusions, the straitjacket of language, etc. At least according to the most recent science I've come across, the world we experience in consciousness is not the world our senses perceive; rather, our brains take the sensory input and combine it with material already present (e.g., remembered faces) to synthesize what appears to be unmediated reality.

I don't recommend taking LSD, but for me the experience was a profound revelation. It's not that I believe it brought me to some higher state of consciousness, but it did forever shatter my complacent assumption that things are what they seem. (I've always been intrigued by the observation of a Zen master that "Things are not as they seem; nor are they otherwise.")

As far as everyday life goes, our internal picture of reality -- however artificial -- serves us pretty well (agreed, of course, that it is massively out-of-date), but we should recognize that its function is to help us survive, not to produce a complete, accurate rendering of the "real" world around us. (In fact, some types of mental illness seem to be characterized by sensory overload -- an inability of the brain to tone down, filter and organize the raw input from our senses.)

All of this suggests to me that we're really out of our depth when we start talking about God. What makes the concept of God at all meaningful is not Its omnipresence, omnipotence or even omniscience but rather that It is in some sense a person, a mind, a being. This personal quality is pretty much a total mystery in ourselves -- so how much more so when we try to think about it on a universal scale?!

In the absence of the ability to ssy anything very meaningful on the subject of God, one is left with Faith as an attitude toward life, and I think perhaps it IS meaningful, at least to me, in suggesting an acceptance, a relaxation of the ego's fearful hold on everything, a letting go of worries, obsessions, the past and the future, neurotic attachments of all kinds, certainties, an opening of the mind and heart, etc., etc. I think of Matthew 6:25-34 ("...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin...") or the idea of living in harmony with the Tao or AA's Serenity Prayer. (Not the avoidance of action or difficulty, just of the accompanying anxiety; not the surrender of all material possessions, just of possessiveness.)

5/21/2005 06:58:00 PM

 
Blogger Peter Gaffney said...

Most of us (most of the time, at least) have no idea how thoroughly clouded our perception of "reality" is -- by inattention, unacknowledged assumptions, neurotic delusions, the straitjacket of language, etc. At least according to the most recent science I've come across, the world we experience in consciousness is not the world our senses perceive; rather, our brains take the sensory input and combine it with material already present (e.g., remembered faces) to synthesize what appears to be unmediated reality.

I don't recommend taking LSD, but for me the experience was a profound revelation. It's not that I believe it brought me to some higher state of consciousness, but it did forever shatter my complacent assumption that things are what they seem. (I've always been intrigued by the observation of a Zen master that "Things are not as they seem; nor are they otherwise.")

As far as everyday life goes, our internal picture of reality -- however artificial -- serves us pretty well (agreed, of course, that it is massively out-of-date), but we should recognize that its function is to help us survive, not to produce a complete, accurate rendering of the "real" world around us. (In fact, some types of mental illness seem to be characterized by sensory overload -- an inability of the brain to tone down, filter and organize the raw input from our senses.)

All of this suggests to me that we're really out of our depth when we start talking about God. What makes the concept of God at all meaningful is not Its omnipresence, omnipotence or even omniscience but rather that It is in some sense a person, a mind, a being. This personal quality is pretty much a total mystery in ourselves -- so how much more so when we try to think about it on a universal scale?!

In the absence of the ability to ssy anything very meaningful on the subject of God, one is left with Faith as an attitude toward life, and I think perhaps it IS meaningful, at least to me, in suggesting an acceptance, a relaxation of the ego's fearful hold on everything, a letting go of worries, obsessions, the past and the future, neurotic attachments of all kinds, certainties, an opening of the mind and heart, etc., etc. I think of Matthew 6:25-34 ("...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin...") or the idea of living in harmony with the Tao or AA's Serenity Prayer. (Not the avoidance of action or difficulty, just of the accompanying anxiety; not the surrender of all material possessions, just of possessiveness.)

5/21/2005 06:59:00 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm coming in a little late to the discussion, but I have made a few observations regarding those who place their belief in the hands of faith and those who place their belief at the hands of reason.

The two can argue with each other endlessly, and be mere trains passing in the night. The two argue on compeltely different premises. Those who hold to reason argue with logic and logic and reason are not the currency of those who hold to faith. Hence you can reason and argue all you want, but you will never make inroads into the realm of faith using reason as your guide.

At the same time, those who hold to faith argue in terms of enlightenment, seeing the light, awakening, etc. but without a shared means of communication, are unable to get the message across to the reasoning person.

The issue is much like trying to explain to one who has been blind all their life that the sky is blue. Color has no meaning to him, and using color as a means by which to get the message of a sky to him is a worthless endeavor. Along the same lines, you have those who will use their senses to percieve reality, and those who use faith to percieve reality while abandoning their senses. That is the impass of reason vs. faith.

Reason being an unsuitable tool with which to argue with one with faith, the only person who can argue with him in a common currency is another person of faith. When those faiths differ, neither have a way of proving their point, and thus need to resort to the sword to prove whose deity and faith in that deity is greater. Thus you have a perfect illustration of human history where arguments of faith have run amok while reason, which needs no sword to prove it's point sits at the sidelines and ponders the issue.

5/31/2005 03:46:00 PM

 
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