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View Full Version : PZ Myers Gives Wright the Bird!


Baltimoron
11-30-2009, 12:35 AM
Does this mean PZ won't be back on bhTV anytime soon (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/11/dennett_harris_hitchens_vs_bot.php)?

Whatfur
11-30-2009, 10:34 AM
:)

graz
11-30-2009, 11:50 AM
:)

Please explain.

look
11-30-2009, 11:59 AM
Does this mean PZ won't be back on bhTV anytime soon (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/11/dennett_harris_hitchens_vs_bot.php)?
PZ didn't impress me the couple times he appeared, so no great loss.

nikkibong
11-30-2009, 12:53 PM
Myers deeply needs anger management classes.

look
11-30-2009, 01:05 PM
I found this while looking for something else. It's not signing the wafer that caught my attention, but his sarcastic mocking of the woman's laugh:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=av8CCueUbXo

rcocean
11-30-2009, 01:34 PM
He can't talk or debate, he just makes snarky comments & talks to his "Base". I doubt he's ever convinced anyone on the other side that he was right.

If he didn't pull weird attention-getting stunts or attack famous people he'd be unknown.

nikkibong
11-30-2009, 01:38 PM
I doubt he's ever convinced anyone on the other side that he was right.



Actually, it's even worse than that.

I'm predisposed to agree with Myers' (and, ugh, Hitchens') "side." But I find him so revolting in his "style", that, everytime I come across him, I actually want to embrace, say, fundamentalist Christianity.

I can't imagine a worse spokesman for any cause.

ADDED DIMESTORE PSYCHOANALYSIS: It must be painful for Myers that he's not included among the "four horsemen." While Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins and Dennet are heralded as the "new atheists," Myers is generally forgotten.

That's probably why he brays the loudest.

TwinSwords
11-30-2009, 03:16 PM
I found this while looking for something else. It's not signing the wafer that caught my attention, but his sarcastic mocking of the woman's laugh.

You're projecting your own feelings of victimhood onto the woman recording the video, but the woman recording the video is actually a PZ supporter. Check out her YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/healthyaddict) and this will be instantly apparent. PZ was not mocking her — he was laughing in response to something said by the kid to his left.

Interesting Rorschach, though!

uncle ebeneezer
11-30-2009, 04:04 PM
I think alot of people misinterpret PZ's snark when they read him. He definitely has an edgy sense of humor and isn't afraid to call out the people (or arguments) that he finds silly. But while I used to see him as an angry guy, after watching his diavlog on BHTV and seeing/listening to some other interviews with him, he comes across as a pretty amiable guy. While he may not get the attention that Dawkins, et al., get on a regular basis, I feel like PZ is not only the grunt who does the dirty work of following up with just about every ridiculous religious claim that is out there, but his websiter is also the central location for any of us faithless who find these things amusing. I actually find Hitchens to be far more arrogant than PZ, and I can see why many people would be very repelled by Hitchens.

I hope Myers will come back on BHTV and possibly debate Bob. We've had so many faith/religion proponents on here throughout the Evolution of God marketing push, that it would be nice to get an actual atheist on to represent the rest of us.

Ocean
11-30-2009, 08:39 PM
Has anybody in this forum actually listened/watched the videotaped discussion?

TwinSwords
11-30-2009, 09:01 PM
Has anybody in this forum actually listened/watched the videotaped discussion?
I only watched the segments with Wright. I certainly wouldn't waste my time listening to anything the proponents of religion have to say, and to be honest, while I support the political goals of the atheists, I don't see much point in listening to them go on and on about their atheism. You might as well form a panel of people to scream about whether they prefer spaghetti or fettuccine.

While I often wonder if Bob Wright might be right -- that the belligerent posture of the "new atheists" might do more harm than good -- I refrain from criticism in hopes that they actually do succeed in prying people away from belief in magic.

Ocean
11-30-2009, 10:28 PM
I only watched the segments with Wright. I certainly wouldn't waste my time listening to anything the proponents of religion have to say, and to be honest, while I support the political goals of the atheists, I don't see much point in listening to them go on and on about their atheism. You might as well form a panel of people to scream about whether they prefer spaghetti or fettuccine.

While I often wonder if Bob Wright might be right -- that the belligerent posture of the "new atheists" might do more harm than good -- I refrain from criticism in hopes that they actually do succeed in prying people away from belief in magic.

I just finished watching the whole debate.

Boteach is to be skipped for one's own sanity.

D'Souza seems smart but sleazy or truly has a very poor understanding of science.

Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are presenting the usual atheists' arguments, although at times it seemed that they weren't presenting the better ones. I liked Dennett and Hitchens better on this one.

Bob was Bob. I think he finally stated something that made more sense to me than what he has said in other talks, or at least at other times had gotten lost in his sea of ideas: this is about his personal quest to reconcile his religious upbringing and his mature skeptical mind. He may be going through a midlife crisis too... :)

I enjoyed what Myers dismissed/missed, the comments in Spanish. Most of them were very interesting.

Wonderment
11-30-2009, 10:58 PM
Was this an all-male gathering?

Sounds worse than the White House War Room. At least Hillary got a phone call:

After months of deliberations, Obama informed senior war advisers Sunday evening of his decision in an Oval Office meeting attended by Vice President Biden; national security adviser James L. Jones; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman; Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command; and White House Chief Of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Obama also telephoned Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and spoke with McChrystal and Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and ordered ground commanders to begin carrying out his plan.

Ocean
11-30-2009, 11:12 PM
Yes, the vast majority were men. There was one woman who made a comment in Spanish about Mother Teresa, and what God asked her to do, and some sort of miracle of light while the BBC was filming... Not inspiring though.

uncle ebeneezer
12-02-2009, 12:05 AM
I watched the first half and wasn't much impressed. Perhaps it's because I've seen and heard all these arguments so many times before. Bob and Dennett were probably the most enjoyable.

The main question that I always walk away from something like this thinking, and one that I have never received a good answer to is: why is it that the burden of proof for a claim that something is true or that something exists, lies on the person who makes the claim (ie- if I say that X exists, the next step is to show proof or at least reason for my view), and this is true for nearly everything in the Universe, but somehow the onus of proof when it comes to the existence of God gets reversed and the atheist is expected to perform a miracle of proving a negative (which by definition is impossible.) Even Bob somewhat takes this position that well, you can't prove that God doesn't exist, so it's reasonable to assume that he does. And this is considered one of the strongest arguments for God's existence? Weak sauce. And I'm always surprised at how many people willingly embrace it.

AemJeff
12-02-2009, 12:12 AM
I watched the first half and wasn't much impressed. Perhaps it's because I've seen and heard all these arguments so many times before. Bob and Dennett were probably the most enjoyable.

The main question that I always walk away from something like this thinking, and one that I have never received a good answer to is: why is it that the burden of proof for a claim that something is true or that something exists, lies on the person who makes the claim (ie- if I say that X exists, the next step is to show proof or at least reason for my view), and this is true for nearly everything in the Universe, but somehow the onus of proof when it comes to the existence of God gets reversed and the atheist is expected to perform a miracle of proving a negative (which by definition is impossible.) Even Bob somewhat takes this position that well, you can't prove that God doesn't exist, so it's reasonable to assume that he does. And this is considered one of the strongest arguments for God's existence? Weak sauce. And I'm always surprised at how many people willingly embrace it.

It's the difference between epistemology and desire.

Wonderment
12-02-2009, 01:24 AM
Even Bob somewhat takes this position that well, you can't prove that God doesn't exist, so it's reasonable to assume that he does.

A maxim I picked up somewhere (from Bertrand Russell?) -- "Never believe anything for which there's no evidence" -- works pretty well in life.

Of course, Bob will argue that there is evidence for "God" or a "moral order," (next best Thing), but like every other argument for the existence of God it is ultimately unpersuasive. (There's no there there.)

I have noticed, however, that Bob spelled backwards is Bob. That must mean something.

Bobby G
12-02-2009, 02:24 AM
First, the burden of proof isn't always thought to be on the atheist. Many atheists, for instance, don't think this. But some theists agree, for instance Richard Swinburne.

Second, it's not clear, not to me, anyway, what it means for the burden of proof to be on one side or the other in this case. If you're an atheist and I'm a theist, and we're arguing about whether God exists, then certainly I need to give you evidence if I want to persuade you. Similarly, it seems to me, you should give me evidence if you want to persuade me. But here, I think, is where many atheists chafe: they--Antony Flew, for one--think that atheism is the default position. That is, since theists are asserting the existence of some entity, then the burden of proof is on them. What does this amount to? What it amounts to, I think, is that theists are obligated to give evidence to atheists, but atheists aren't obligated to give evidence to theists.

Let's say that's fine. What's the next step? What if a theist thinks that his evidence for theism is good, but the atheist doesn't think it's good? Is the theist then obligated to give up his theism? I should think not.

Third, it could be that theism is a research program but atheism is not. That is, theism is the starting presupposition for some people's reasoning, whereas for others, atheistic naturalism is, where atheistic naturalism is the view that we ought to believe in the existence only of entities posited by natural science. It's not clear to me that this view can be argued for so much as assumed as a starting point.

Anyway, a lot more of my third point is elaborated in Michael Rea's excellent book, World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism.

Which is why we should get Rea on BHtv, dammit!

JonIrenicus
12-02-2009, 03:14 AM
where is it?


add this to the end of the link (minus the & and all after it)


#t=00m00s

where the zeros are replaced by the obvious



don't worry, I am not one of bobs enemies that hates him enough to download this and play it back on a loop as his screensaver

uncle ebeneezer
12-02-2009, 03:22 AM
I think that as soon as either side mentions "evidence" it becomes inherently assumed that statements about the nature of the universe (ie- something exists, objects move according to laws etc., etc.) are more likely true based on the amount of information that can be gathered that supports the statement. Conversely, a statement that has little or no supporting evidence is less likely to be true. The relationship between evidence and the likelihood of truth of a given proposition has already been embraced by both sides. Evidence is the difference between verification and conjecture. Otherwise, as it is said about String Theory "everything is possible? because nothing can be disproven, therefore there is no point to even looking at evidence (if complete lack of evidence doesn't make something less likely to exist than the whole discussion is meaningless because there is always the out provided by the impossibility of proving a negative.)

Just a couple questions for you:

Do you think that absent evidence of something's non-existence, that it is safe to assume that it exists?

If yes, do you believe it is rational to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Nessie, Abominable Snowman, regardless of supporting evidence?

If I told you that the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light but it's impossible for anyone to see any evidence now or forever, do you think that believing/not-believing my theory are equally rational? Equally likely?

If I point to your inability to disprove my theory as an argument for why my theory is true, would that sway you in any way?

I for one, take my position just as Wonderment put it. I find the evidence for God's existence unconvincing (I've seen nothing that would qualify as "evidence"). The same evidence for any other thing: unicorns, dark matter, quantum mechanics etc. would yield the same result. I don't think this is a debate positioning tactic, it's just the way we perceive the world. Our senses tell us what exists. Then we have to learn that our senses don't necesarrily give us the entire picture and take a more refined approach. So we find other ways to gage the universe around us. But still the process always involves collection of information to separate what is likely to exist (up to the point of certainty) from what simply can't be proven NOT to exist (everything else.)

Thanks for the suggestion re: point 3. I will check that out. I found the Josh Knobe diavlog where they discussed the apparently "natural" predisposition of infants to believe in supernatural/spiritual entities to be pretty fascinating. This would explain alot of human's gut beliefs about the existence of God.

uncle ebeneezer
12-02-2009, 03:24 AM
do you mean the debate? It's here:

http://www.ciudaddelasideas.com/2009/English/blog/?p=76

uncle ebeneezer
12-02-2009, 03:32 AM
On related notes (thanks to PZM):
He's alot like us!! (http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/11/creating_god_in_ones_own_image.php)

And The Similarities are...unimpressive. (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/day-age_creationism_is_almost.php)

Ocean
12-02-2009, 08:42 AM
I liked this paragraph that Bobby G. wrote:

Second, it's not clear, not to me, anyway, what it means for the burden of proof to be on one side or the other in this case. If you're an atheist and I'm a theist, and we're arguing about whether God exists, then certainly I need to give you evidence if I want to persuade you. Similarly, it seems to me, you should give me evidence if you want to persuade me. But here, I think, is where many atheists chafe: they--Antony Flew, for one--think that atheism is the default position. That is, since theists are asserting the existence of some entity, then the burden of proof is on them. What does this amount to? What it amounts to, I think, is that theists are obligated to give evidence to atheists, but atheists aren't obligated to give evidence to theists.

It describes pretty well the problem of the 'evidence' in the sense that the burden of proof or, perhaps the burden of argument lies on those who want to persuade the other side.


I also liked your point here:

I think that as soon as either side mentions "evidence" it becomes inherently assumed that statements about the nature of the universe (ie- something exists, objects move according to laws etc., etc.) are more likely true based on the amount of information that can be gathered that supports the statement. Conversely, a statement that has little or no supporting evidence is less likely to be true.

Here you emphasize the trouble that religious people get into when they start to talk about "evidence" that supports their belief. As you pointed out, once they try to prove the existence of God scientifically, they lose credibility (as long as there is no scientific evidence).

The problem resides elsewhere, in my opinion. Science relies in the scientific method to acquire 'knowledge' and doesn't have anything to say about such things for which there is no evidence, other than just that: there is no evidence.

In order to believe in something for which there is no evidence someone has to accept a different method for acquiring knowledge: faith.

Most of the time people are introduced to religious belief at an early age, before they can rationally make a decision about what method of knowledge they are going to accept. Many may never get around to even understanding that those methods exist and are very different. So by the time that they are confronted with an opposite position, they tend to revert to their original beliefs, without challenging them. Of course, many do challenge that belief, and at least some of them may change their mind. But you probably know about that part...

popcorn_karate
12-02-2009, 01:01 PM
do the questions of free will and consciousness ever bother you?

how do you get to a point of thinking that you have the ability to make a decision in a purely materialist universe?

check this out if you have not looked into this too much before
http://consc.net/papers/nature.html

It seems to me that materialism 1) does not explain consciousness, which means that it does not explain the only fact of your existence that is worth explaining (in that without it you would not need or want "explanation" of anything else) and 2) all of our observations of, interactions with, and experiments on materials are performed while ignoring 95% of the matter in the universe (dark matter) which means that we are woefully ignorant of the vast majority of reality.

given the state of our ignorance, any confidence in the existence or nonexistence of god is based on belief, not facts.

uncle ebeneezer
12-02-2009, 01:40 PM
PK- no, free-will and consciousness don't really cause me to alter my materialist view one bit. They are interesting puzzles, but I have never felt that our ignorance (which is exactly what would be predicted by a materialistic viewpoint that makes us products of evolution) gives any reason to abandon the system that has worked so wonderfully at explaining the stuff that we CAN see, in lieu of something that magically tries to take into account all that we CAN'T see. I have issues with dark matter for precisely the same reason. It is theoretical and helps to make the universal ledgers balance nicely, but we don't have evidence of it's existence in any hard fashion (I'm no expert, I admit.) However, our assumption that it is out there is based on our observations about the laws of the universe (mass, temp, expansion etc.) This to me puts something inperceivable (dark matter) on much greater evidenciary foundation than something like God. At least with dark matter we can make guesses as to properties it should have and how it would interact with stuff that we can perceive. At this point, that is the most rationally we can approach it until we get more data. So to summarize, even if you are right that we only measure 5% of all the stuff that's out there, that's the stuff I think that we should formulate our opinions on. It used to seem inconceivable to me that taking a small random sampling of opinions could accurately predict the overall opinions of a population, but as the years have added up I have become convinced that that is simply because Statistics is hard for me to wrap my head around, not because it doesn't work. You can find out alot about a large body of information with only a small amount of data. Either way, I see little point in worrying about the remaining 95% when the 5% that we can observe has been SO effective at helping us reach conclusions that bear supported results.

I also don't share your view on the importance of the explanation of consciousness. I can agree that from a self-centered standpoint it may be more intriguing than other matters, but that is more a statement of our point-of-view rather than any greater importance of the question or suggested correlation to the existence of a supernatural being. I could just as easily say "we can't explain consciousness, therefore there is no God." There's no reason to believe that our progress (or inability to) figure out consciousness says anything at all about God's existence. No more so than the old "life is beautiful" argument that suggests that because we experience joy, love, friendship etc., that that is some argument for Something Else. Our perceptual experience is what it is. Why the particular flavor of our experience would suggest anything about the Supernatural, is something that I have never heard a good argument for.

But I think I get your point about consciousness as being the principle question because it enables all other questions. Sorry if I went off-topic. My main response to the fact that materialism can't explain consiousness is: 1.) so what, there's lots of stuff that materialism can't explain. And materialism has had many times proven to overcome other things that were seemingly inexpliccable. And 2.) neither does God. I mean, does using God as an answer really explain anything. To me it just seems like kicking the can down the road or giving up.

Bobby G
12-02-2009, 03:02 PM
Hi Ocean and uncle,

I'm going to respond to your posts today, I hope, but in the meantime you may want to read Duke philosopher Alexander Rosenberg's very interesting post on naturalism without illusions:

http://onthehuman.org/2009/11/the-disenchanted-naturalists-guide-to-reality/

Starwatcher162536
12-02-2009, 03:30 PM
The question of if there is or isn't God(s) is a rather played out, and frankly, boring question.

A much better question I think, is given the assumption of God(s) existence, why should I care?

There doesn't seem to be much evidence of interventionist God(s), nor does there seem to be an obvious connection between the existence of God(s) and the existence of an afterlife.

popcorn_karate
12-02-2009, 04:14 PM
PK- no, free-will and consciousness don't really cause me to alter my materialist view one bit.

you didn't happen to take a look at that link did you?

if so what do you think about the color blind scientist thought experiment?

JonIrenicus
12-02-2009, 04:18 PM
I just finished watching the whole debate.

Boteach is to be skipped for one's own sanity.

D'Souza seems smart but sleazy or truly has a very poor understanding of science.

Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are presenting the usual atheists' arguments, although at times it seemed that they weren't presenting the better ones. I liked Dennett and Hitchens better on this one.

Bob was Bob. I think he finally stated something that made more sense to me than what he has said in other talks, or at least at other times had gotten lost in his sea of ideas: this is about his personal quest to reconcile his religious upbringing and his mature skeptical mind. He may be going through a midlife crisis too... :)

I enjoyed what Myers dismissed/missed, the comments in Spanish. Most of them were very interesting.


Bob was all off by himself, he even sat separate and apart from the rest. Bob really needs some people in the trenches with him on his ideas. That or pick a side that has more proponents, it is a lonely road he walks.

The "new" atheists at least have each other, and to some extent go to bat for and defend each other, the religious guys have the common ethical framework on top of a non secular view to bond them. And then, there is Bob. An island surrounded by ocean encircled by nothingness.

Nasim was incomprehensible for the most part. He is not a good public speaker, at all, so at least that solitary island is not the worst it could be.

popcorn_karate
12-02-2009, 04:24 PM
I also don't share your view on the importance of the explanation of consciousness. I can agree that from a self-centered standpoint it may be more intriguing than other matters, but that is more a statement of our point-of-view rather than any greater importance of the question or suggested correlation to the existence of a supernatural being. I could just as easily say "we can't explain consciousness, therefore there is no God."

when your philosophy can not explain the most elementary part of your existence (the fact that you think you exist), it seems that some humility about how much you truly "know" is in order.

the only bearing that has on "does god exist", is that it should make people a bit less certain about any opinion they have on the subject.

AemJeff
12-02-2009, 04:32 PM
when your philosophy can not explain the most elementary part of your existence (the fact that you think you exist), it seems that some humility about how much you truly "know" is in order.

the only bearing that has on "does god exist", is that it should make people a bit less certain about any opinion they have on the subject.

You've just described the salient features of a scientific worldview, PK. Epistemic humility is the key.

TwinSwords
12-02-2009, 05:26 PM
when your philosophy can not explain the most elementary part of your existence (the fact that you think you exist), it seems that some humility about how much you truly "know" is in order.

the only bearing that has on "does god exist", is that it should make people a bit less certain about any opinion they have on the subject.

Right. In other words, for all you know, the universe was created by the Easter Bunny.

Jeff said it better, though. The thought process you just described should not be leading you into the practice of religion, but away from it.

claymisher
12-02-2009, 05:34 PM
Right. In other words, for all you know, the universe was created by the Easter Bunny.

Jeff said it better, though. The thought process you just described should not be leading you into the practice of religion, but away from it.

I always worry that God is like a harried waitress, and will get really mad if you nag her too much. That's why I never pray.

uncle ebeneezer
12-02-2009, 05:39 PM
PK, sorry I didn't check it out yet. I will later. Thanks for the reminder.

popcorn_karate
12-02-2009, 06:05 PM
Right. In other words, for all you know, the universe was created by the Easter Bunny.

Jeff said it better, though. The thought process you just described should not be leading you into the practice of religion, but away from it.

it leads me away from practicing religion and away from espousing atheism with equal strength.

TwinSwords
12-02-2009, 06:36 PM
it leads me away from practicing religion and away from espousing atheism with equal strength.

Are you saying you're an agnositic?

Sorry if I'm asking you something I should already know; I tend to stay out of all these non-stop discussions of religion. I got all of that out of my system between ages 11 and 22.

TwinSwords
12-02-2009, 06:39 PM
I always worry that God is like a harried waitress, and will get really mad if you nag her too much. That's why I never pray.

LOL! Not to mention, God would already know everything you were going to ask for. As well as whether he was going to grant your prayers. The whole concept of prayer makes absolutely no sense even on the terms of the mythology as it is understood by its own practitioners. I honestly don't know how anyone can reach young adulthood holding onto religious conviction of any kind. I'll grant that I sometimes feel a wish for a God who will ensure a just moral universe, and give me eternal life with eternal bliss. But I wish for a lot of things.

TwinSwords
12-02-2009, 06:41 PM
Hey, Starwatcher, can you fix your post title so the forum display isn't all screwed up?

I suspect this formatting problem (caused by the absence of a post title in your last post) only manifests in Internet Explorer, so if you're using Firefox or something else, you might not realize it's happening.

popcorn_karate
12-02-2009, 06:59 PM
yes, i'm agnostic.

I don't see that atheism or theism can be defended on rational grounds.

but it all gets a bit muddled since many atheists claim that they don't completely exclude the idea of god's existence, but they are 99.999% sure a deity does not exist. that position is - well i'll say it seems odd to me. That sort of atheism does not make a theological claim - which the 100% sure position would require, but it does make, to my mind, some odd leaps of logic that rely on some hubristic ideas about the state of our knowledge about the universe.

I think the basic problems of free will and consciousness in a materialist universe should be enough for anyone to discard their notions that much of anything is truly nailed down in our scientific understanding of the universe.

clearly others that are quite intelligent and have my respect disagree with that assessment, but it is a bit hard for me to see their point of view as not being based on hubris.

Ocean
12-02-2009, 07:12 PM
Bob was all off by himself, he even sat separate and apart from the rest. Bob really needs some people in the trenches with him on his ideas. That or pick a side that has more proponents, it is a lonely road he walks.

I couldn't possibly deny that he seemed to be lonely.

The "new" atheists at least have each other, and to some extent go to bat for and defend each other, ...

True.

...the religious guys have the common ethical framework on top of a non secular view to bond them.

They have a common faith-driven framework. They also share a very poor understanding of the scientific method and what evidence means.


And then, there is Bob. An island surrounded by ocean encircled by nothingness.

Yeah, yeah, poor soul surrounded by ocean...

Nasim was incomprehensible for the most part. He is not a good public speaker, at all, so at least that solitary island is not the worst it could be.

This metaphor doesn't include ocean waters. Perhaps you are implying his talk was dry?

:)

uncle ebeneezer
12-02-2009, 07:29 PM
We all know that Bob is the man! And no man is an island.

TwinSwords
12-02-2009, 07:49 PM
yes, i'm agnostic.

I don't see that atheism or theism can be defended on rational grounds.
I'm an agnostic, too, in the sense that you are using the term: I don't claim to know with certainty that there is a god, or that there is not a god.

However, as you say ...

but it all gets a bit muddled since many atheists claim that they don't completely exclude the idea of god's existence, but they are [almost completely] sure a deity does not exist.

And if we're defining atheism in this looser sense, the way some of the atheists on this board do, then I would consider myself an atheist as well. I'm not going to get hung up on semantics. If people want to define agnosticism and atheism the way you do, I will call myself an agnostic and say (like you) that atheism is much of a system of faith as theism. But if people want to define atheism the way, say, Brendan does, then I'll call myself an atheist.

I don't exclude entirely the possibility that the heavens are ruled by the tooth fairy, the easter bunny, and my long lost collection of stuffed animals from childhood, but I don't have any reason to believe it, and don't even feel any particular need to remain open minded about the possibility of it.

I think we all probably agree on this and are just fighting over which definitions we're using. But we can skip the definitions and just say what we believe:

(1) There may or may not be a god, and we don't have any evidence to prove the case one way or the other.

(2) For "a god," substitute any of the following: Jesus, The Holy Trinity, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, The Tooth Fairy, Cthulu, etc. etc. etc.


that position is - well i'll say it seems odd to me. That sort of atheism does not make a theological claim - which the 100% sure position would require, but it does make, to my mind, some odd leaps of logic that rely on some hubristic ideas about the state of our knowledge about the universe.
What odd leaps of faith or hubristic ideas does this form of atheism make?


I think the basic problems of free will and consciousness in a materialist universe should be enough for anyone to discard their notions that much of anything is truly nailed down in our scientific understanding of the universe.
Yes, that sounds right to me. Do the atheists here disagree with this? (Again, I apologize if this is ground you've covered; I have avoided almost all of these conversations.)


clearly others that are quite intelligent and have my respect disagree with that assessment, but it is a bit hard for me to see their point of view as not being based on hubris.
I'd be interested to here you expand on the kind of hubris you think they are guilty of. And I'd be especially interested if you only get this sense of their hubris when they cavalierly dismiss, say, the tenets of Christianity, but not so much when they dismiss, say, the tenets of Islam. If this were the case -- and I have no reason to believe it is; I'm only thinking out loud here -- it would seem to suggest that you are not strictly speaking agnostic, but that you have some lingering emotional attachment to Christianity.

So: Do you think it's hubristic to assert with 99.999% certainty that the Tooth Fairy is not also God?

SkepticDoc
12-02-2009, 10:25 PM
For the Spanish-impaired: http://www.ciudaddelasideas.com/2009/English/blog/index.html

popcorn_karate
12-03-2009, 01:50 PM
I'd be interested to here you expand on the kind of hubris you think they are guilty of. And I'd be especially interested if you only get this sense of their hubris when they cavalierly dismiss, say, the tenets of Christianity, but not so much when they dismiss, say, the tenets of Islam. If this were the case -- and I have no reason to believe it is; I'm only thinking out loud here -- it would seem to suggest that you are not strictly speaking agnostic, but that you have some lingering emotional attachment to Christianity

no, perhaps the opposite is closer to the truth. I've never been to a church service, but I've had quite a few negative interactions with christians. So if anything, i'd say its harder, emotionally, to give christians the benefit of the doubt compared to other religious people.

I'd also say that some of the more strident atheists are really the ones with an emotional hangover from christianity, I think it often clouds their judgment about this issue.



And if we're defining atheism in this looser sense, the way some of the atheists on this board do, then I would consider myself an atheist as well. I'm not going to get hung up on semantics. If people want to define agnosticism and atheism the way you do, I will call myself an agnostic and say (like you) that atheism is much of a system of faith as theism. But if people want to define atheism the way, say, Brendan does, then I'll call myself an atheist.

ok. i don't have the same level of confidence in the negative proposition as the rest of you - but i'm over fighting about definitions.



What odd leaps of faith or hubristic ideas does this form of atheism make?

the idea that you can have (almost)certainty that you are right on the issue seems to be based in hubris to me. That is why i mentioned dark matter and energy and the problem of consciousness/free will.

its like the blind guys and the elephant - is it a snake, a tree etc. we have our hands and minds on such an incredibly tiny subset of reality that making statements about the 99% of reality we don't understand/see with confidence, or worse with a chip on your shoulder, seems to be a clear case of hubris.



So: Do you think it's hubristic to assert with 99.999% certainty that the Tooth Fairy is not also God?

can you define "tooth fairy"? ; )

AemJeff
12-03-2009, 02:24 PM
...



can you define "tooth fairy"? ; )

Can you define "God?"
:)

popcorn_karate
12-03-2009, 02:47 PM
that was exactly the point jeff.

you do love to restate my points as if they were your own, don't you?

quite odd. but whatever floats your boat.

AemJeff
12-03-2009, 02:56 PM
that was exactly the point jeff.

you do love to restate my points as if they were your own, don't you?

quite odd. but whatever floats your boat.

I think your microscopic sense of humor, at least in regard to yourself, makes you less fun to interact with than I've wanted to assume was the case. No problem.

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 03:26 PM
I think that as soon as either side mentions "evidence" it becomes inherently assumed that statements about the nature of the universe (ie- something exists, objects move according to laws etc., etc.) are more likely true based on the amount of information that can be gathered that supports the statement.

I don't mean to be nitpicky, but surely the kind of information, and not just the amount, is relevant to whether or not a statement is true. So, for instance, if you know that a plane I was on crashed in the ocean, and you know that 99.99873% of all people on planes who crash into the ocean die, and you know that I can't swim, you have a lot more information than I have for the claim that I am now dead. Against the claim that I am dead, I have only this bit of evidence: I know that I am hanging onto a life-preserver in the middle of the ocean, only fifty feet from what looks like a habitable island. Clearly, even though I have less information than you, the information I have is much better at supporting the claim that I am not dead.

Conversely, a statement that has little or no supporting evidence is less likely to be true.

What you're saying, I think, is what I shall call The Evidentialist Claim: "the better the evidence we have in support of some claim P, the more likely it is that P is true." This seems true to me, although I wonder what evidence we have for The Evidentialist Claim. Or does the Evidentialist Claim itself not need evidence? If so, why not?

Evidence is the difference between verification and conjecture. Otherwise, as it is said about String Theory "everything is possible? because nothing can be disproven, therefore there is no point to even looking at evidence

Here you're making a conceptual claim: if something E counts as evidence, then E can be verified. There cannot be evidence for this claim, for this is a claim about what counts as evidence in the first place. Regardless, I don't know whether I believe this claim, because I don't know what you mean by "verified".

Do you think that absent evidence of something's non-existence, that it is safe to assume that it exists?

Well, again, I don't know what you mean by evidence or by "safe". I'll interpret "safe" to mean "rationally warranted". By and large, if there is no evidence (whatever that is) for the existence of something, then it is generally not rationally warranted to believe in its existence. I don't think this is true of all claims, though; there could be claims that we are rationally warranted in believing for which we don't have evidence. For instance, the claim that good will win out in the end. It could be rationally warranted to believe in this claim even if we don't have evidence for it, because if we don't believe in this, it might make certain kinds of life-projects (e.g., devoting yourself to aiding the world's poor) senseless.

Or take a more down-to-earth example. Suppose you've practiced long-jumping, and the most you've ever jumped is 20 feet. The evidence indicates that you can't jump more than 20 feet. Now, imagine you're being chased by a bear. And imagine the bear chases you to the edge of a cliff. As you approach the edge of the cliff, you realize that 25 or so feet separates it from another cliff. Here's the question: what if it's the case that if you believe that you can jump the cliff, you'll be able to jump the cliff? Should you, in that case, try to convince yourself that you can do it? Doing so would go against all your past evidence, but it might for all that be rationally warranted to tell yourself that you can jump over the chasm.

If yes, do you believe it is rational to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Nessie, Abominable Snowman, regardless of supporting evidence?

Well, you've seen the examples of claims in which I think it's permissible to believe without evidence. Abominable Snowman, Nessie, etc., don't qualify because they are thought to be empirically verifiable entities. E.g., Nessie and Abominable Snowman are thought to have a certain size, weight, etc. The standard rules for detecting such beings therefore apply to them. As for FSM, I don't know enough about pastafarianism to know whether he's supposed to have a certain weight, shape, etc., though I should think he does, given that he has noodley appendages, etc.

If I told you that the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light but it's impossible for anyone to see any evidence now or forever, do you think that believing/not-believing my theory are equally rational? Equally likely?

Nope, for the same reasons that I don't believe in Nessie, et al.

If I point to your inability to disprove my theory as an argument for why my theory is true, would that sway you in any way?

It depends. There are certain evidential canons for what counts as a disproof. In empirical cases, showing that a theory doesn't accurately make certain predictions counts as disproof. But I take it you're using a more straightforward sense of disproof, and if you take that, then my inability to disprove your view would not make me more likely to believe it.

I should say, though, that there have been some eccentric philosophical theories I have encountered that I thought I would be able to disprove easily. When I couldn't, it made me take them more seriously.

Our senses tell us what exists. Then we have to learn that our senses don't necesarrily give us the entire picture and take a more refined approach. So we find other ways to gage the universe around us. But still the process always involves collection of information to separate what is likely to exist (up to the point of certainty) from what simply can't be proven NOT to exist (everything else.)

Yeah, I don't agree that our senses alone tell us what exists. I think there can be other reasons--say, ones coming from metaphysics--for believing something.

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 03:29 PM
The problem resides elsewhere, in my opinion. Science relies in the scientific method to acquire 'knowledge' and doesn't have anything to say about such things for which there is no evidence, other than just that: there is no evidence.

In order to believe in something for which there is no evidence someone has to accept a different method for acquiring knowledge: faith.

No, there are other methods. For instance, why do you believe in the deliverances of science? Perhaps because of something like, "science makes extremely accurate predictions. If a theory makes extremely accurate predictions, then that theory is more likely to be true."

Just out of curiosity, why do you believe that? Would you say you take it on faith? I doubt it. Can you say you take it because it's evidentially supported? I doubt it, because we presuppose that claim in deciding to take certain propositions as evidence for other propositions.

Ocean
12-03-2009, 03:52 PM
No, there are other methods. For instance, why do you believe in the deliverances of science? Perhaps because of something like, "science makes extremely accurate predictions. If a theory makes extremely accurate predictions, then that theory is more likely to be true."

Just out of curiosity, why do you believe that? Would you say you take it on faith? I doubt it. Can you say you take it because it's evidentially supported? I doubt it, because we presuppose that claim in deciding to take certain propositions as evidence for other propositions.

I have to 'presuppose' that the information that is available to me and that originates from legitimate scientific sources is supported by evidence. Why do I accept that is the case? Because I made a decision to trust those sources. But, that trust isn't blind, and may be subject to revision and testing.

Are you equating that kind of trust to faith? Or are you talking about something else?

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 04:19 PM
Are you equating that kind of trust to faith? Or are you talking about something else?

I may be equating it to faith, if by "faith" you mean something like this:

Smith has faith in X if and only if Smith's belief in X does not depend on evidence.

Is that what you mean by faith?

AemJeff
12-03-2009, 04:39 PM
...


Yeah, I don't agree that our senses alone tell us what exists. I think there can be other reasons--say, ones coming from metaphysics--for believing something.

I'm curious about why you think that metaphysical beliefs should be exempt from an evidentiary requirement. How do you distinguish a speculative metaphysical belief from an unquestionably true one? What if two people hold incompatible beliefs? How do you decide whose isn't true?

popcorn_karate
12-03-2009, 04:50 PM
sorry i didn't get your tone.

keep trying, we just might get to understand each other yet.

Ocean
12-03-2009, 04:51 PM
I may be equating it to faith, if by "faith" you mean something like this:

Smith has faith in X if and only if Smith's belief in X does not depend on evidence.

Is that what you mean by faith?

Yes, something like that.

So, besides the 'belief' that depends on scientific evidence, there is a belief that we call faith, which doesn't depend on evidence. What other kinds of 'beliefs' do you think there are?

Ocean
12-03-2009, 05:10 PM
I don't mean to be nitpicky,

Sorry to say, you are.

But I think it's 'la maladie du philosopher'.

For instance, the claim that good will win out in the end. It could be rationally warranted to believe in this claim even if we don't have evidence for it, because if we don't believe in this, it might make certain kinds of life-projects (e.g., devoting yourself to aiding the world's poor) senseless.

When someone says that good will win out in the end, he/she is making a speculative claim about a possible future outcome. I would say that most of the time, the person who makes the statement and his/her audience understands that this is not necessarily based on evidence, and that it approximates what we call 'wishful thinking', optimistic claim, or something of that sort, which is meant to elicit an effect rather than to make a statement of fact.

Or take a more down-to-earth example. Suppose you've practiced long-jumping, and the most you've ever jumped is 20 feet. The evidence indicates that you can't jump more than 20 feet. Now, imagine you're being chased by a bear. And imagine the bear chases you to the edge of a cliff. As you approach the edge of the cliff, you realize that 25 or so feet separates it from another cliff. Here's the question: what if it's the case that if you believe that you can jump the cliff, you'll be able to jump the cliff? Should you, in that case, try to convince yourself that you can do it? Doing so would go against all your past evidence, but it might for all that be rationally warranted to tell yourself that you can jump over the chasm.


In this case, again, you are describing decision making in a life threatening situation that requires a choice between two similarly dangerous possible outcomes. The decision to jump may be made on the basis of preference to take the risk of dying from the fall, versus dying by being attacked by the bear. I'm not sure how likely a comparative assessment of risk would be in that situation.

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 06:52 PM
I'm curious about why you think that metaphysical beliefs should be exempt from an evidentiary requirement. How do you distinguish a speculative metaphysical belief from an unquestionably true one? What if two people hold incompatible beliefs? How do you decide whose isn't true?

Good questions. Just to put some flesh on the bones, I'll give some examples of non-evidentially supported beliefs that allow us to posit things (in the broad sense of thing) we don't otherwise have evidence for:

A. If a theory explains a wide variety of data better than any other theory, and if the way it does this is to posit the existence of some objects that we cannot have any experience of, then it is permissible to posit these objects.

David Lewis, arguably the greatest philosopher after 1950, employs this principle in his magisterial On the Plurality of Worlds. It was his claim that sentences like, "possibly, a unicorn could exist" or true because there are actual spatio-temporal worlds that exist, at least one of which contains a unicorn. These worlds, however, are completely causally cut off from our world, so it is absolutely impossible for us to have an experience of them. He claimed that positing these worlds solved a number of otherwise insoluble puzzles, so we should believe that they exist. Obviously, not every philosopher agreed with him--indeed, I know of only two who did--but it's not clear how to argue against that principle. Either you accept it or you don't, and what determines whether you accept it are things like your most fundamental principles of reasoning about the world. And when you get to fundamentals, it's hard to argue.

Here's a more metaphysical principle:

B. Every event has a cause that explains why it came to be.

Now, this isn't the sort of claim that can be proved by experience. After all, you're saying every event, at all times and places, in the future and the past. And the only way you can know that even future events have a cause for why they come into existence is by assuming that the future will resemble the present and the past in this respect. But how do you convince someone of that if they don't already believe it?

Moreover, it looks like this principle has been falsified. Many physicists claim that some electrons come into existence at a particular time without being caused to do by any prior event. They may indeed be right--but some philosophers, and more important, some physicists, don't think they are. They think the idea of something popping into existence without explanation is so bizarre that they posit, like Bohm, hidden variables that explain why the electron popped into existence when it did. How do we settle this argument?

I don't know how to settle these arguments. All I can do is see which of my intuitions are most fundamental, trust them, and try to build a consistent picture of the world using them.

One thing I don't think we can say, though, is this:

C. If there is disagreement over non-empirical phenomena, and it looks like there is no way to rationally reach consensus regarding those phenomena, then there is no fact of the matter regarding the phenomena.

C is itself a controversial non-empirical claim, so it undercuts itself. But more important, it strikes me as exceedingly odd to claim that there is no fact of the matter about, say, whether every event has a cause or not.

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 06:55 PM
I don't know if there are any other kinds of beliefs! It could be that none of us can avoid "faith" in the sense that you and I are discussing (indeed, that's my sense). I'm not sure that that's the sense of faith religious believers have in mind, though.

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 06:57 PM
When someone says that good will win out in the end, he/she is making a speculative claim about a possible future outcome. I would say that most of the time, the person who makes the statement and his/her audience understands that this is not necessarily based on evidence, and that it approximates what we call 'wishful thinking', optimistic claim, or something of that sort, which is meant to elicit an effect rather than to make a statement of fact.




In this case, again, you are describing decision making in a life threatening situation that requires a choice between two similarly dangerous possible outcomes. The decision to jump may be made on the basis of preference to take the risk of dying from the fall, versus dying by being attacked by the bear. I'm not sure how likely a comparative assessment of risk would be in that situation.

I have to admit, I don't see how what you're saying here is a response to what I wrote. Are you saying that neither of these beliefs is rationally warranted, or are you challenging what rational warrant is, or ... ?

Wonderment
12-03-2009, 07:13 PM
I'm not sure that that's the sense of faith religious believers have in mind, though.

One has to really unpack "faith" rather carefully.

There is a pathological and fact-denying faith that both theists and atheists ought to jointly condemn ("God hates faggots; white people were chosen by God to use non-whites as slaves, evolution is a lie," etc.)

There is a credo type non-toxic faith which is easy for atheists to ridicule and dismiss as childish, but which many choose to respect or tolerate in the name of diversity and religious freedom. ("I believe when I die I will go to heaven; miracles happen," etc. )

Then there is a more generalized faith in a spiritual or moral significance to human existence, which is harder for atheists to critique since they usually tacitly share it, even if they would articulate it differently than a theologian would.

Finally there's a generalized emotional-health faith or optimism about life (despite its relentlessly fatal outcome). We believe in felicitous outcomes to our endeavors; we believe life is neither awful nor absurd. The opposite end of this spectrum is suicidal or catatonic despair. No human being can avoid this kind of faith lens on existence. One must be somewhere on the "faith" spectrum, and there's a minimal FQ (faith quotient) without which you can't function.

Ocean
12-03-2009, 07:25 PM
I don't know if there are any other kinds of beliefs! It could be that none of us can avoid "faith" in the sense that you and I are discussing (indeed, that's my sense). I'm not sure that that's the sense of faith religious believers have in mind, though.

OK, then we agree on this one.

Not to be nitpicky but my initial statement was:

The problem resides elsewhere, in my opinion. Science relies in the scientific method to acquire 'knowledge' and doesn't have anything to say about such things for which there is no evidence, other than just that: there is no evidence.

In order to believe in something for which there is no evidence someone has to accept a different method for acquiring knowledge: faith.

And you answered:

No, there are other methods. For instance, ...

So, can we conclude, now that we know what we mean by faith, that there are no other methods?

Ocean
12-03-2009, 07:42 PM
Very interesting analysis.


One has to really unpack "faith" rather carefully.

There is a pathological and fact-denying faith that both theists and atheists ought to jointly condemn ("God hates faggots; white people were chosen by God to use non-whites as slaves, evolution is a lie," etc.)

I would say that many people, either theists or atheists, have concluded that the above two first principles are not moral, and the last one is not scientifically accurate. The departure from a religious text, in terms of moral principles, is one of the most important developments in our understanding of morality. Although there may be all kinds of rationalizations about why that departure occurs, it is one of the strongest arguments to challenge credo.

There is a credo type non-toxic faith which is easy for atheists to ridicule and dismiss as childish, but which many choose to respect or tolerate in the name of diversity and religious freedom. ("I believe when I die I will go to heaven; miracles happen," etc. )

I'm not sure what to think about this one. You may be right or it may belong to the 'slippery slope' if the belief is too literal.

Then there is a more generalized faith in a spiritual or moral significance to human existence, which is harder for atheists to critique since they usually tacitly share it, even if they would articulate it differently than a theologian would.

Yes, and here is where the atheist perspective can find these aspects, at least partly, as a product of our own development.

Finally there's a generalized emotional-health faith or optimism about life (despite its relentlessly fatal outcome). We believe in felicitous outcomes to our endeavors; we believe life is neither awful nor absurd. The opposite end of this spectrum is suicidal or catatonic despair. No human being can avoid this kind of faith lens on existence. One must be somewhere on the "faith" spectrum, and there's a minimal FQ (faith quotient) without which you can't function.

I agree with this. And this kind of optimism, which I also call positive thinking, can act as a motivator during difficult or challenging times. Some people argue that it is self-delusion. Perhaps it is, but it can be a conscious, deliberate self-delusion. For example an athlete may have to convince himself/herself that he/she can break the record, or go beyond the previous performance, in order to improve it.

Ocean
12-03-2009, 07:49 PM
I have to admit, I don't see how what you're saying here is a response to what I wrote. Are you saying that neither of these beliefs is rationally warranted, or are you challenging what rational warrant is, or ... ?

As I understood it, you were giving examples of situations when people may hold beliefs that are not supported by evidence, but that they may be 'rationally warranted'. I tried to explore what that 'rationally warranted' meant in those situations, since they appeared to be very different from what 'rationally warranted' (but not supported by evidence) may mean in reference to asserting the existence of a god.

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 07:59 PM
Ah. Thanks for the clarification.

I'm not sure that belief in the existence of a God is all that different from belief in the claim that good will out in the end. Obviously, the content of those claims is very different, but they're both asserting the existence of something--in one case, the existence of a worship-worthy being, and in the other, the future existence of a particular state of affairs.

As it happens, Kant's argument for belief in the existence of God was very similar to the claim I made earlier, that we have to believe that good will win out in the end, for otherwise our moral beliefs will lack a certain kind of important support. That is, when we obey what we take our moral obligations to be, we take those obligations to be ones we can actually carry out. If we didn't think we could carry them out, then we wouldn't undertake them. Now, if you concluded that morality tells you to work for a specific outcome, and you take moral deliverances very seriously, and you also believe that it is extremely unlikely that this outcome could come to pass without the aid of a powerful, knowledgeable, good being (i.e., God), then you could have moral warrant for believing in God. That is, because you are sure of your moral beliefs, but you can't work to discharge them unless you believed in a God, you have moral warrant to believe in God.

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 08:03 PM
Not to be nitpicky but ...

Now, why would you go and say a thing like that when you know I get paid to pick nits?! It makes it seem as though my job isn't all that socially useful... (smiley emoticon).

So, can we conclude, now that we know what we mean by faith, that there are no other methods?

OK, when I wrote that about other methods, I thought you were using Mark Twain's disparaging characterization of faith as "believing what you know ain't true."

Other than experience and what we're calling faith, no, I'm not sure there is any other way to come to know things. That said, we might want to unpack faith in a different way from how Wonderment characterized it. We might say that there are certain ways of looking at the world that are hard-wired into us (for instance, seeing the world as composed of substances that are in causal interaction with one another) versus those kinds of faith that we develop as a result of our experiences, but that are not themselves experientially based (e.g., Occam's Razor).

Ocean
12-03-2009, 08:32 PM
Ah. Thanks for the clarification.

You're welcome.

The quality of belief in God that you are describing here is instrumental.

I'm not sure that belief in the existence of a God is all that different from belief in the claim that good will out in the end. Obviously, the content of those claims is very different, but they're both asserting the existence of something--in one case, the existence of a worship-worthy being, and in the other, the future existence of a particular state of affairs.

Here it appears that both beliefs would be instruments to bring comfort.

As it happens, Kant's argument for belief in the existence of God was very similar to the claim I made earlier, that we have to believe that good will win out in the end, for otherwise our moral beliefs will lack a certain kind of important support. That is, when we obey what we take our moral obligations to be, we take those obligations to be ones we can actually carry out. If we didn't think we could carry them out, then we wouldn't undertake them. Now, if you concluded that morality tells you to work for a specific outcome, and you take moral deliverances very seriously, and you also believe that it is extremely unlikely that this outcome could come to pass without the aid of a powerful, knowledgeable, good being (i.e., God), then you could have moral warrant for believing in God. That is, because you are sure of your moral beliefs, but you can't work to discharge them unless you believed in a God, you have moral warrant to believe in God.

Here God would be an instrument for the deliverance of moral principles.

AemJeff
12-03-2009, 09:21 PM
... versus those kinds of faith that we develop as a result of our experiences, but that are not themselves experientially based (e.g., Occam's Razor).

I have to say: I don't think heuristics and faith are the same thing at all.

AemJeff
12-03-2009, 09:48 PM
Good questions. Just to put some flesh on the bones, I'll give some examples of non-evidentially supported beliefs that allow us to posit things (in the broad sense of thing) we don't otherwise have evidence for:

A. If a theory explains a wide variety of data better than any other theory, and if the way it does this is to posit the existence of some objects that we cannot have any experience of, then it is permissible to posit these objects.

David Lewis, arguably the greatest philosopher after 1950, employs this principle in his magisterial On the Plurality of Worlds. It was his claim that sentences like, "possibly, a unicorn could exist" or true because there are actual spatio-temporal worlds that exist, at least one of which contains a unicorn. These worlds, however, are completely causally cut off from our world, so it is absolutely impossible for us to have an experience of them. He claimed that positing these worlds solved a number of otherwise insoluble puzzles, so we should believe that they exist. Obviously, not every philosopher agreed with him--indeed, I know of only two who did--but it's not clear how to argue against that principle. Either you accept it or you don't, and what determines whether you accept it are things like your most fundamental principles of reasoning about the world. And when you get to fundamentals, it's hard to argue.

Here's a more metaphysical principle:

B. Every event has a cause that explains why it came to be.

Now, this isn't the sort of claim that can be proved by experience. After all, you're saying every event, at all times and places, in the future and the past. And the only way you can know that even future events have a cause for why they come into existence is by assuming that the future will resemble the present and the past in this respect. But how do you convince someone of that if they don't already believe it?

Moreover, it looks like this principle has been falsified. Many physicists claim that some electrons come into existence at a particular time without being caused to do by any prior event. They may indeed be right--but some philosophers, and more important, some physicists, don't think they are. They think the idea of something popping into existence without explanation is so bizarre that they posit, like Bohm, hidden variables that explain why the electron popped into existence when it did. How do we settle this argument?

I don't know how to settle these arguments. All I can do is see which of my intuitions are most fundamental, trust them, and try to build a consistent picture of the world using them.

One thing I don't think we can say, though, is this:

C. If there is disagreement over non-empirical phenomena, and it looks like there is no way to rationally reach consensus regarding those phenomena, then there is no fact of the matter regarding the phenomena.

C is itself a controversial non-empirical claim, so it undercuts itself. But more important, it strikes me as exceedingly odd to claim that there is no fact of the matter about, say, whether every event has a cause or not.

Bohm's hidden variable hypothesis was disproved by John Bell, I should note. And a hypothesis like that posited by Lewis is just a hypothesis, unless a test can devised. Seeming to help solve problems hasn't changed the status of string theory, either. To say that there's a theory that states that particles "pop" into existence from nothing isn't quite quite right. The idea of "vacuum energy" infusing empty space is an important part of that notion. Rather than something from nothing, it's more accurate to say that it implies something from something mostly unknown and not understood.

I think I should assert that I don't think science ever proves anything, in the ontological sense. As scientific proof shows us that a theory is consistent with evidence. Such a theory can stand as a model of the world, but it can't ever, in my opinion, be considered to be identical to the world.

We should distinguish between the world and what is known about the world; and, I strongly believe, what is knowable about the world.

Bobby G
12-03-2009, 10:52 PM
Bohm's hidden variable hypothesis was disproved by John Bell, I should note.

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_variable) says otherwise: "Bell's theorem would prove (in the opinion of most physicists and contrary to Einstein's assertion) that local hidden variables are impossible." Notice not all. The article goes on to note: "Although determinism was initially a major motivation for physicists looking for hidden variable theories, nondeterministic theories trying to explain what the supposed reality underlying the quantum mechanics formalism looks like are also considered hidden variable theories; for example Edward Nelson's stochastic mechanics."

And a hypothesis like that posited by Lewis is just a hypothesis, unless a test can devised. Seeming to help solve problems hasn't changed the status of string theory, either.

Well, lots and lots of physicists think that string theory has to be right because it unifies so much. In other words, they seem to think that one kind of evidence for a theory, or at least a good reason for believing a theory, is its explanatory power.

To say that there's a theory that states that particles "pop" into existence from nothing isn't quite quite right. The idea of "vacuum energy" infusing empty space is an important part of that notion. Rather than something from nothing, it's more accurate to say that it implies something from something mostly unknown and not understood.

Sorry, by saying that quantum particles are uncaused, I didn't mean to suggest that no substance brings them about. Rather, why they come into existence at time t1 rather than time t2 cannot be explained, other than to say that they are non-deterministically (i.e., probabilistically) caused to come into existence. In other words, no substance just comes from nothing, but why a substance comes into being at one time rather than another might not be undetermined.

I think I should assert that I don't think science ever proves anything, in the ontological sense. As scientific proof shows us that a theory is consistent with evidence. Such a theory can stand as a model of the world, but it can't ever, in my opinion, be considered to be identical to the world.

We should distinguish between the world and what is known about the world; and, I strongly believe, what is knowable about the world.

Well, if theories can't ever be "identical" to the world--i.e., isomorphic to the world--then I take it you think that nothing is knowable about the world? Or are at least our sense-perceptions--say, that I'm having a sense-perception right now--things we can know we're having?

AemJeff
12-03-2009, 11:50 PM
Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_variable) says otherwise: "Bell's theorem would prove (in the opinion of most physicists and contrary to Einstein's assertion) that local hidden variables are impossible." Notice not all. The article goes on to note: "Although determinism was initially a major motivation for physicists looking for hidden variable theories, nondeterministic theories trying to explain what the supposed reality underlying the quantum mechanics formalism looks like are also considered hidden variable theories; for example Edward Nelson's stochastic mechanics."



Well, lots and lots of physicists think that string theory has to be right because it unifies so much. In other words, they seem to think that one kind of evidence for a theory, or at least a good reason for believing a theory, is its explanatory power.



Sorry, by saying that quantum particles are uncaused, I didn't mean to suggest that no substance brings them about. Rather, why they come into existence at time t1 rather than time t2 cannot be explained, other than to say that they are non-deterministically (i.e., probabilistically) caused to come into existence. In other words, no substance just comes from nothing, but why a substance comes into being at one time rather than another might not be undetermined.



Well, if theories can't ever be "identical" to the world--i.e., isomorphic to the world--then I take it you think that nothing is knowable about the world? Or are at least our sense-perceptions--say, that I'm having a sense-perception right now--things we can know we're having?

"Isomorphism" and identity are distinct ideas, do you agree? Scientific theory may indeed be isomorphic to aspects of the world. But without the ability to form the basis of an ontological claim (as I assert), there's no basis for a stronger claim than that. (X may be isomorphic to Y.)

I think Bell's math is hard to argue against with much force. An interesting aspect of his result is that, while it's subtle, and kind of hard to wrap your head around initially - mathematically it's well within the grasp of most people. What I think the lack of unanimity in regard to its truth shows is that even scientists aren't immune to wishful, or magical, thinking. Einstein spent the last half of his life opposing the most accurate (in terms of conformance with observation), and successful scientific theory ever devised (quantum mechanics) because that theory violates notions of the world that were fundamental to his understanding of it. And why shouldn't Einstein feel as if the underpinnings of his worldview were near inviolate? Who had contributed more to a consistent understanding on a more fundamental level? But science is contingent, and nobody, not even Albert Einstein, gets the last word.

There are certainly scientists who believe that string theory is "right" and true. If they didn't think that might be the case, they wouldn't be motivated to spend to their lives trying to solve the enormous problems required to show that that might be the case. But no matter what, scientific belief is a contingent thing, always subject to the next observation, and the implications of the next theory.

Bobby G
12-04-2009, 03:26 AM
Yeah, I think you're right. The things we're hard-wired with Kant called categories. Then there are heuristics. Perhaps faith has to do with attitudfes to persons, namely regarding how strong or reliable a relationship is?

Regardless, we're not going to figure it out in a few comment posts.

Bobby G
12-04-2009, 03:30 AM
"Isomorphism" and identity are distinct ideas, do you agree? Scientific theory may indeed be isomorphic to aspects of the world. But without the ability to form the basis of an ontological claim (as I assert), there's no basis for a stronger claim than that. (X may be isomorphic to Y.)

I don't get your resistance to ontology, given that you admit the possibility of isomorphic theory. If a theory is isomorphic to the world described by the theory, then the entities posited by the theory resemble entities in the world. Therefore, we can assume that those entities exist, and have the features ascribed to them by natural science. And these claims--that the real world is accurately described by natural science--are ontological, no?

AemJeff
12-04-2009, 09:27 AM
I don't get your resistance to ontology, given that you admit the possibility of isomorphic theory. If a theory is isomorphic to the world described by the theory, then the entities posited by the theory resemble entities in the world. Therefore, we can assume that those entities exist, and have the features ascribed to them by natural science. And these claims--that the real world is accurately described by natural science--are ontological, no?

But I only admit the abstract possibility of isomorphism. We could have a theory that exactly described the world; but how could we know that? All we can know is that theory and observation are consistent. We certainly once believed that Newtonian mechanics was a very good general description of the world. But Newtonian mechanics really doesn't describe the world - it just models the behavior or certain of its aspects under particular conditions.

The claim that science describes the world is certainly ontological. But it's not scientific. Science only claims to provide models that allow us to predict observations. Any further claims exist outside the definition of science. (Do I sound like a Positivist?)

Bobby G
12-04-2009, 02:54 PM
The claim that science describes the world is certainly ontological. But it's not scientific. Science only claims to provide models that allow us to predict observations. Any further claims exist outside the definition of science. (Do I sound like a Positivist?)

Most important things first: you don't sound like a positivist. If you were a positivist, you would claim that the notion of an external world is literally meaningless--like saying that "brilig" or some other bit of gibberish. If anything, you sound like a modern philosopher--i.e., a philosopher from the 17th and 18th centuries. You appear to take the "Veil of perception" view--the view, that is, that we have sense-data, and all we can know directly is our sense-data, and from that sense-data we have to infer to the existence of a cause outside ourselves that explains it, but that we can't know what that cause is like. This is basically John Locke's view. I should note, not that I imagine you'd care, that very few philosophers take the veil of perception view anymore, finding it too riddled with problems. For what it's worth, though, I am one of the few philosophers who finds it attractive. Of course, I also find it plausible to deny that there is any external world.

All we can know is that theory and observation are consistent. We certainly once believed that Newtonian mechanics was a very good general description of the world. But Newtonian mechanics really doesn't describe the world - it just models the behavior or certain of its aspects under particular conditions.

This move is called "pessimistic" or "skeptical meta-induction about science". It amounts to saying: science has been wrong about all its grand theories in the past; therefore, the science we have is probably wrong now; therefore, we can't say we know what science tells us.

If this is your view, then it's hyperbolic. Just because science has always been wrong about its grand theories doesn't mean it's wrong about some of its more particular deliverances. For instance, I doubt very much that we're ever going to overturn the conclusion that water=H2O, even if our understanding of what molecules are changes. Surely any number of particular claims about science will remain with us as well.

Now, we should take your view about scientific theories that concern the most basic elements of reality--string theory and quantum mechanics, for example. But what about evolutionary theory? (I say yes, we should be skeptical that we have the final form of it--this is not to say that I think the final form will include ID, though; I'm quite doubtful of that.) What about Kepler's law? (I say no, we shouldn't be skeptical of that.)

look
12-04-2009, 03:22 PM
Hi Ocean and uncle,

I'm going to respond to your posts today, I hope, but in the meantime you may want to read Duke philosopher Alexander Rosenberg's very interesting post on naturalism without illusions:

http://onthehuman.org/2009/11/the-disenchanted-naturalists-guide-to-reality/Bobby, I read the article, and found it interesting, and at this point in the article, filled with a sense of unease:

Nevertheless, if the mind is the brain (and scientism can’t allow that it is anything else), we have to stop taking consciousness seriously as a source of knowledge or understanding about the mind, or the behavior the brain produces. And we have to stop taking our selves seriously too. We have to realize that there is no self, soul or enduring agent, no subject of the first-person pronoun, tracking its interior life while it also tracks much of what is going on around us. This self cannot be the whole body, or its brain, and there is no part of either that qualifies for being the self by way of numerical-identity over time. There seems to be only oneway we make sense of the person whose identity endures over time and over bodily change. This way is by positing a concrete but non-spatial entity with a point of view somewhere behind the eyes and between the ears in the middle of our heads. Since physics has excluded the existence of anything concrete but nonspatial, and since physics fixes all the facts, we have to give up this last illusion consciousness foists on us. But of course Scientism can explain away the illusion of an enduring self as one that natural selection imposed on our introspections, along with an accompanying penchant for stories. After all it is pretty clear that they solve a couple of major design problems for anything that has to hang around long enough to leave copies of its genes and protect them while they are growing up.

But in the comments for this article, the third commenter, Gillespie, made it all right again...it seems that we are in a paradoxical mobius strip of an existence, which reminds me of what Franc said in the Wright/Pinker comments, we are caught between math and language.

What do you think of that book you mentioned above? Can't recall if you're reading it or about to read it, but it looks very interesting on the Amazon page.

AemJeff
12-04-2009, 04:26 PM
Most important things first: you don't sound like a positivist. If you were a positivist, you would claim that the notion of an external world is literally meaningless--like saying that "brilig" or some other bit of gibberish. If anything, you sound like a modern philosopher--i.e., a philosopher from the 17th and 18th centuries. You appear to take the "Veil of perception" view--the view, that is, that we have sense-data, and all we can know directly is our sense-data, and from that sense-data we have to infer to the existence of a cause outside ourselves that explains it, but that we can't know what that cause is like. This is basically John Locke's view. I should note, not that I imagine you'd care, that very few philosophers take the veil of perception view anymore, finding it too riddled with problems. For what it's worth, though, I am one of the few philosophers who finds it attractive. Of course, I also find it plausible to deny that there is any external world.



This move is called "pessimistic" or "skeptical meta-induction about science". It amounts to saying: science has been wrong about all its grand theories in the past; therefore, the science we have is probably wrong now; therefore, we can't say we know what science tells us.

If this is your view, then it's hyperbolic. Just because science has always been wrong about its grand theories doesn't mean it's wrong about some of its more particular deliverances. For instance, I doubt very much that we're ever going to overturn the conclusion that water=H2O, even if our understanding of what molecules are changes. Surely any number of particular claims about science will remain with us as well.

Now, we should take your view about scientific theories that concern the most basic elements of reality--string theory and quantum mechanics, for example. But what about evolutionary theory? (I say yes, we should be skeptical that we have the final form of it--this is not to say that I think the final form will include ID, though; I'm quite doubtful of that.) What about Kepler's law? (I say no, we shouldn't be skeptical of that.)
Sometimes I feel like I sound like a Positivist because I spend so much energy asserting (what I believe to be) the effectively unbridgeable distance between what's perceivable and what's real. But you're right, although I'd say that Hume has had a more direct effect on my point of view than Locke.

I’m not saying because science has been “wrong” in the past, that we should therefore conclude it’s still “wrong.” I’m saying that science is in the business of creating models. The criteria by which those models can be judged are conformance to observation. I don’t see how that process leads to a state in which the current models are declared “final.” Water is H20, by definition. H and O are arrangements of quarks, gluons, electrons, and photons. What those things are is very much a matter of speculation and hypothesis. Evolution has a similar problem with definitions that are dependent on other definitions. We know very well what an “organism” is, because it’s a matter of definition. When you start to think in terms of self-replicating systems, in the abstract, and consider the overlap between life-science and information theory, for example; it becomes a lot less clear that we really have a solid basis underlying what we know about anything. The issue isn’t whether we understand molecules or the laws of genetic inheritance, in their own terms – it’s that if you look at the ideas deeply enough, it will always become obvious that they don’t have a solid foundation. Eventually you always reach a point where there be dragons. I think that Gödel, and Wittgenstein to a certain extent, showed that that really isn’t merely because we haven’t learned enough, yet.

uncle ebeneezer
12-09-2009, 01:45 PM
On a related note to this thread:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/isaac_asimov_and_the_fuzzy_nat.php

Check out the whole Asimov post. As PZ suggests, it's worth it.

bjkeefe
12-09-2009, 02:01 PM
On a related note to this thread:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/isaac_asimov_and_the_fuzzy_nat.php

Check out the whole Asimov post. As PZ suggests, it's worth it.

Agreed. Thanks for the link. I always did like the way Asimov explained things.

uncle ebeneezer
12-09-2009, 02:02 PM
Well, if nothing PZ said before guaranteed that we wouldn't see him here again, this might. (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/kings_and_queens_of_the_ther.php)

Incidentally, I put my favorite part in itallics.

One of the eminent God Buts is Karen Armstrong, who I've laughed at before. Another is Robert Wright, who is becoming increasingly shrill, militant, and strident himself in his criticisms of New Atheists. This is a telling point, too: these defenders of religion never seem to get as riled up about the ranting fundamentalists as they do a few outspoken atheists. Wright's latest is full of fury and claims that the atheists are doomed, also citing a familiar complain: atheists are hurting the cause!

"And this year doubts about that mission have taken root among the New Atheists' key demographic: intellectuals who aren't religious and aren't conservative. Even on the secular left, the alarming implications of the "crusade against religion" are becoming apparent: Though the New Atheists claim to be a progressive force, they often abet fundamentalists and reactionaries, from the heartland of America to the Middle East.

If you're a Midwestern American, fighting to keep Darwin in the public schools and intelligent design out, the case you make to conservative Christians is that teaching evolution won't turn their children into atheists. So the last thing you need is for the world's most famous teacher of evolution, Richard Dawkins, to be among the world's most zealously proselytizing atheists. These atmospherics only empower your enemies."

So, we have a rising tide of liberal secularists who dislike atheists…wait, no we don't. These are the same old conciliatory apologists who have been around for ages, the Atheist Buts. A chorus of whining from the nags and scolds who are ashamed of atheism isn't going to dissuade anyone, although Wright may find comfort in it.

That last paragraph, though, is the crux of the problem. Children might leave the faith of their fathers, and this is a horrible, evil, scary possibility, since, after all, atheists are monsters. What we should do is ask all those scary atheists to go hide their scary faces so the God Buts and the God Firsts and even the Atheist Buts can continue to freely demonize them. Only Good Christians should be promoting evolution. That Dawkins can be both an atheist and a scientist, and even worse, explains that science led to his atheism, is going to empower creationists.

Bullshit.

Evolution has implications about how the world works. If you deny them, if you pretend evolution is cheerily compatible with the god-is-a-loving-creator nonsense religions peddle, you aren't teaching evolution. You are pouring more mush into the brains of young people. If you are a conservative Christian, it's entirely understandable that you would fight evolution, because the truth does not favor your position. If you are a moderate Christian, you are not helping science education by enabling fear of atheism by continuing to lie to people, assuring them that science isn't going to challenge their religious beliefs. It will, or the teachers are doing it wrong.

Unfortunately, Wright's message is that we can't challenge religion.

"All the great religions have shown time and again that they're capable of tolerance and civility when their adherents don't feel threatened or disrespected. At the same time, as some New Atheists have now shown, you don't have to believe in God to exhibit intolerance and incivility."

Flip it around; that's an admission that the religions feel intolerance is justified when they're not coddled and respected. That's part of the problem, too. I don't respond well to extortion from god-bothering zealots, sorry. What the New Atheists (who are the same as the old atheists) have shown, though, is that they can be subjected to generations of intolerance and to continued denigration by people like Wright, who think their call for atheists to be silent and modest is a liberal attitude, and yet we manage to cope without resorting to violence or threats to shut up our critics. That's something the apologists for faith need to learn, too: religion should be strong enough to stand against academic rudeness and mockery without this pathetic bleating for shelter from skepticism. It's easy to be tolerant and civil when you've compelled everyone to be agreeable with you; the challenge is to do the same when you're being denounced.

All the Atheist Buts and God Buts are missing the key point, too. We don't care if you think religion is good for you, or if you love your faith, or if you think rituals are lovely, or if believers have done good in history, or if a lack of praise for Jesus irritates the Baptists. That's not the issue. The central, fundamental question is whether anyone has any reasonable evidence for the existence of any gods, especially the gods that everyone is so busy propitiating. You haven't got any? Then we'll continue pointing out that you're chasing leprechauns, no matter how annoying you find it. It's the truth. Argue against that with evidence — anything else is fluff and noise.

They can't do that, though. They've decided that they can't compete on that ground, and instead have rushed to occupy a meaningless middle…an intellectually empty wasteland with no approximation to the truth, only a comforting distance from the real crazies of the devout. They're nothing but the lords of vapor, the kings and queens of the æther, too frightened by the retreating ghosts of old myths to join us in reality.

AemJeff
12-09-2009, 02:13 PM
Well, if nothing PZ said before guaranteed that we wouldn't see him here again, this might. (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/kings_and_queens_of_the_ther.php)

Incidentally, I put my favorite part in itallics.

If I were Bob Wright - and assuming that I understand him at all (I'll posit that the odds of that being true aren't all that good) - this would make me more likely to have PZ back here, rather than less - assuming PZ himself was willing, of course. I'll admit that I hope, regardless of the accuracy of my judgment, that I'm right about that.

The whole but, btw, was well said - PZ might have a talent for annoying the faithful, but he sure can his finger on the crux of this debate.

bjkeefe
12-09-2009, 02:15 PM
Well, if nothing PZ said before guaranteed that we wouldn't see him here again, this might. (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/kings_and_queens_of_the_ther.php)

Incidentally, I put my favorite part in itallics.

Thanks for that, too. I agree that Bob is becoming shrill (and not in the good Krugman way (http://www.google.com/cse?cx=007432832765683203066%3Aw5evdpfzlks&ie=UTF-8&q=the+shrill+one&sa=Search&siteurl=www.google.com%2Fcse%2Fhome%3Fcx%3D0074328 32765683203066%253Aw5evdpfzlks)) about the so-called "New Atheists." He's got somewhat of a point, but he has gone way around the bend.

P.S. To others: don't fail to click on the PZ link. He's got a great Jesus and Mo cartoon there, too.

Wonderment
12-09-2009, 05:14 PM
Glad to see PZ has his priorities in order: Bashing Bob is certainly way more important than say taking on President Obama Inauguration speaker and gay-hating loon Rick Warren.

Warren had this to say on the Uganda Kill-the-Gays legislation:

“It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere with the political process of other nations.”

I suppose PZ would say that the thousands of liberal clergy (including Evangelicals) who have denounced in the strongest terms the Ugandan proposals are just more folks who believe in unicorns. Six of one, half dozen of the other.

uncle ebeneezer
12-09-2009, 06:15 PM
Well PZ has a pretty established range of topics that he writes about. So while I agree, there are bigger issues, it is his blog. That said he has apparently pestered Warren before. (http://www.atheistmissionary.com/2009/08/i-thought-rick-warren-loved-unbelievers.html)

Ocean
12-09-2009, 07:17 PM
Uncle,

I'm not sure why you attached your comment to mine. But since you did, and I happened to read PZ's piece, now I feel compelled to answer.

I'm agnostic. I was raised by an atheist father and undefined non-religious mother. Religion was never part of my life. I grew up hearing my father argue about religion with everybody. If you think about all the arguments that the "New Atheists" make, I've been hearing them since I have memory. Some people are persuaded by them, and others aren't. Some people adhere to their religious credo, while others have a more abstract belief.

I don't think that ridiculing and making fun of others, or making assumptions about what others believe is in any way constructive. That's why I don't enjoy reading PZ Myers. His discourse sounds arrogant and, it has the effect, at least for me and most likely others, to discourage reading what he has to say. It's possible that I just don't understand his quest. I'm also sure he has an audience that is receptive to his ideas and style.

I don't know what is driving Bob in his current quest. I said before that it may have to do with something personal that he has to resolve. I just wouldn't like to endorse motives that I'm not aware of.

But when I watch these quarrels, I'm left wondering about their purpose. And the more they argue, the less clear it becomes. In my humble opinion, it's a waste of time.

popcorn_karate
12-09-2009, 07:44 PM
I don't think that ridiculing and making fun of others, or making assumptions about what others believe is in any way constructive. That's why I don't enjoy reading PZ Myers. His discourse sounds arrogant and, it has the effect, at least for me and most likely others, to discourage reading what he has to say.

yep.

I think people that felt subjugated by their religion at one point in their lives feel more reactionary about it. Kinda like a girl i knew that had a crappy childhood with alcoholic parents - she could not be around anybody even drinking one beer without being emotionally negative about it. understandable, but not necessarily entirely reasonable either.

hmmm... the more i think about that the more i like that analogy. religion and alcohol. not things that have a real good reason for being so widespread in culture, they have dramatically bad effects on some, but most people enjoy it and seem to have little in the way of negative effects. social lubricants and bonding rituals.

religion is the beer, not the opiate, of the masses.

of course, beer is the beer of the masses too. but that really doesn't sound very insightful ; )

uncle ebeneezer
12-09-2009, 07:55 PM
Ocean, I didn't mean to link to your comment. I actually agree with much of what you say, but I have always appreciated the people on any side of an issue who are willing to push-back and call bullshit when they see it. In every arena of discussion, so much goes by without anyone ever calling attention to the tricks played by either side, that I think it is extremely valuable to have people on either side who are willing to have others find them less-than-pleasant for saying what needs to be said. So I love that fighting spirit. And while PZ may not convince many theists to change their views on God, I think he is an excellent defender of science.

On a more personal level, I have always found the superior, self-righteous attitude of the faithfaul towards we atheists (and ANYONE with differing views from their own) to be really annoying, so I always root for anyone who can be a bit of a thorn in their side (or crown.) What can I say, nobody's perfect.

Ocean
12-09-2009, 08:05 PM
I actually agree with much of what you say, but I have always appreciated the people on any side of an issue who are willing to push-back and call bullshit when they see it. In every arena of discussion, so much goes by without anyone ever calling attention to the tricks played by either side, that I think it is extremely valuable to have people on either side who are willing to have others find them less-than-pleasant for saying what needs to be said. So I love that fighting spirit. And while PZ may not convince many theists to change their views on God, I think he is an excellent defender of science.

Yes, as I said, I'm sure there is an audience receptive to his style. I think it serves a purpose of emotional release more than an argument for persuasion.

On a more personal level, I have always found the superior, self-righteous attitude of the faithfaul towards we atheists (and ANYONE with differing views from their own) to be really annoying, so I always root for anyone who can be a bit of a thorn in their side (or crown.) What can I say, nobody's perfect.

I understand that too. Again, I grew up in a predominantly non-religious environment, so I wasn't exposed to that kind of problem early on. By the time I came to the U.S., I had to adjust to the attitude that religious people had about it, but it didn't affect me too much.

uncle ebeneezer
12-09-2009, 08:48 PM
religion is the beer, not the opiate, of the masses.

of course, beer is the beer of the masses too. but that really doesn't sound very insightful ; )

Well Opium Beer would be the real answer!!

osmium
12-10-2009, 05:06 PM
But when I watch these quarrels, I'm left wondering about their purpose. And the more they argue, the less clear it becomes. In my humble opinion, it's a waste of time.

When I read Myers, it sounds so religious.

And I kind of don't like saying that, because whenever you disagree with a "new atheist" the first thing they do is ask you why you're so religious. Because that's a passive-aggressive insult. (EDIT: or maybe just the ones I know?)

Ocean
12-10-2009, 07:12 PM
When I read Myers, it sounds so religious.

And I kind of don't like saying that, because whenever you disagree with a "new atheist" the first thing they do is ask you why you're so religious. Because that's a passive-aggressive insult. (EDIT: or maybe just the ones I know?)

I think of it as saying: "either you are as radical as I am or you are on the opposite side." Or in our previous president's (and others') words: "you are either with us or against us." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You%27re_either_with_us,_or_against_us) Same thing.

uncle ebeneezer
12-11-2009, 02:49 AM
I don't know if any of you are atheists, and if so if you openly admit it in public social situations, but I generally do. And I am treated differently because of it. I'm not claiming that atheists bear the same stigma or oppression that blacks or women or gays have been subject to over the years, but we are still very much a minority in this country. If you don't believe me, try declaring your atheism at every opportunity that faith comes up (whenever someone else brings up god or Jesus etc.) and see how it goes. Tell people at a wedding why you don't feel comfortable saying the prayers along with everybody else. Tell the girl your dating that you hypothetically would not let her force your kids to go to church if you ever decided to procreate. The response will not be a burning at the stake, but their will certainly be a response. And sometimes it's downright uncomfortable. Then listen to the people who pass judgment on your morals or tell you how your life lacks meaning or purpose. Then ask yourself if you told them you had faith but just another kind (different denomination) whether they would be comfortable making such pronouncements. I doubt it. Regardless of what might be said behind people's backs, I have rarely if ever seen two people of faith openly judge one another with such ease as people frequently do to atheists. Now look at the mega-church preachers and the family values sect and listen to what they say about atheists every day in their press releases, sermons and school-board lawsuits. We are treated differently. And the more proudly we represent our beliefs the more likely it is that we will be asked to not be so vocal or to try to get along with the faithful. It is for these reasons that I think PZ Myers is so valuable. I suffer no illusions that his arguments will convince anyone to change their stance. But I think it is a very healthy thing for kids who don't buy into the beliefs of their parents or their community (especially those who live in backwoods Bible-belt America, where you had better believe in God if you know what's good for you) to have a place where they can go and realize that there are others out there like them, and that atheism is not only a perfectly normal way of thinking, but that there's a whole host of rational reasons for taking such a position. And when the bible-beaters make outrageous statements of intolerance, somebody needs to point out why they are wrong and tell them to fuck off, when it's appropriate.

For all the numerous people of faith who dominate the air-waves, influence our law-makers, collect MAJOR $, and preach messages that stray dangerously close to intolerance, I still am always baffled at why 4 horsemen and a biology instructor from Kentucky, are so often singled out as the sources of our problems. So long as atheists are treated any differently than the rest of society, I am glad that there are voices out there representing the minority view. Not all debates have a goal of reconciliation. Sometimes it's just important for the alternative point of view to be heard.

Bobby G
12-11-2009, 03:52 AM
Well, you may think it intolerant for believers not to trust atheists, but do you trust fundamentalist Christians? I've heard people say that once they learn that someone believes in ID, they refuse to support him for anything.

To many believers, there is a rational connection between God's (or "something more's") existing and there being an objective morality. This doesn't mean that they believe that non-religious atheists are less moral than religious theists, but rather that they think it's not rationally warranted to be an atheist and to believe in objective morals. Consequently, they fear that if non-religious atheism became publicly accepted that eventually people would stop believing in objective morality, and that if people stopped believing in objective morality terrible consequences would eventually ensure.

Now, personal experience shows me that a belief in objective morality is no longer the norm, although action belies that. In other words, my students generally tell me that what's morally right or wrong is just a matter of opinion, and that it makes no sense to say that something is moral or immoral--all you can say is that something is moral or immoral for person P. Of course, should you then say that gay marriage shouldn't be permitted, or that there should be no right to abortion, you're often met with indignation. The difference is supposed to be that it's OK for you not to like abortion, but it's another matter entirely to say that other people should be legally prohibited. In other words, it's a fact that we ought to make abortion legally permissible--that's not a matter of opinion; that's not a fact for person P. That's a fact for everyone. And as for gay marriage, some moral relativists will go so far as to say that it's not OK for a person to personally oppose gay marriage, even if they think it should be legally permissible. In other words, that "gay marriage is morally permissible" is not something that is true only for P; that is true for everyone, even though all moral claims are true only for particular people.

It's very confusing to me.

Ocean
12-11-2009, 08:36 AM
... And I am treated differently because of it...

I am a woman. I am an immigrant. I have an accent. I am treated differently before I can finish a sentence disclosing I'm not religious. You just get used to it.

osmium
12-11-2009, 10:26 AM
Then listen to the people who pass judgment on your morals or tell you how your life lacks meaning or purpose. Then ask yourself if you told them you had faith but just another kind (different denomination) whether they would be comfortable making such pronouncements.

Uncle, I think it might be a difference between our daily environments. (I thought I knew where you lived, but maybe I have forgotten.)

I grew up without religion in a small town of 3000 people in the south, and I was the only child around my age who answered "I don't" to the question "where do you go to church." People were sometimes shitty about it (I remember crying in 4th grade because a group of kids started asking me demanding questions about Jesus... poor me!), and when I was in high school sometimes the teachers, usually coaches teaching history, would have a go at me. But by then I could handle it.

I have a lifelong dedication to being weird, however, so I tried going to church for about a year, in my rebellious phase, around 18. It was a Methodist church. Everyone knew I was the kid from the weird atheist family, but I have never forgotten this: the people actually AT the church were always really nice to me.

But anyway, fast forward, yes I am an atheist, it's just not for me and never was. I run on Sunday mornings--does me a lot of good, more than I can imagine church ever doing.

Maybe it's New York, and maybe it's because I am academic, but if you say you go to church, you get the same reaction here as I got back home being an atheist. I have a couple scientist friends who are Catholic--like for real, they believe it (and they are also good scientists BTW)--and people prod and poke at them and ask them gotcha questions and mildly deride them. It's sort of all in good clean fun, but then if you get a beer in them and ask them, they say the same kind of stuff you said above about being treated differently and being looked down upon, etc.

I dunno: my attitude is w/e. I try to carefully maintain that. I hate the same people you do: holier-than-thou assholes. But I also don't like it when atheists act holier-than-thou. At some point I was having this conversation with someone, and their answer to me was "Why are you religious," and so now that's on my list: Do all atheists understand that there are two ways to be an atheist: 1) proselytize and celebrate your community or 2) just go on knowing you could care less. I'm not saying you don't know that, I know you do. But I think Myers doesn't know that, because of this sugar high he seems to be on every time I click on him. I could be wrong.

Whatfur
12-11-2009, 10:47 AM
... I could be wrong.

I with you (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=128837#poststop)...Nope, I think you nailed it.

osmium
12-11-2009, 11:17 AM
I with you (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=128837#poststop)...Nope, I think you nailed it.

Thank you. But you say in your post that atheists are seldom interesting, and I don't think that's true at all. Do you believe that, or are you being provocative? Interesting is as interesting does. Carl Sagan is one of my favorite people ... ?

uncle ebeneezer
12-11-2009, 12:53 PM
Combining responses here:

Ocean, you face far more discrimination than I could ever imagine as a white, educated, male from an upper-mid class family. For me, atheism has been the only aspect in which I have ever been treated differently and that's why I cite it as my example. It's the only data point I have for that sortof thing. Treating people differently based on stuff like this annoys me. That's why I like those who speak out about any of it (wether it's gender, race, religion etc.). And in many cases I like the fact that the spokesperson be unapologetic about. Perhaps we atheists are just over-sensitive about it, but when the unwritten advice of our society seems to be that we should just keep our beliefs to ourselves, in combination with the subtle reproaches one frequently recieves from the faithful it gets to the point wher you start wondering "why do I have to keep a lid on it when our culture not only tolerates but seems to welcome grandiose displays of the other side?" So it's more about being unapologetic and proud of our beliefs as much as any other person has a right to be. Now, people like PZ also engage in the fights, and I love a good fight, so that might be another reason why I enjoy him.

Osmium, first, big ups for your quest of being wierd. Along with a fighting spirit, this is another quality that I always applaud (and thanks for the great posts in the GW threads.) I can definitely imagine judgmental attitudes in academia towards people of faith. I live in LA and run with a very secular crowd of musicians, writers, actors etc. So I've seen that sort of thing too, and it's just as annoying.

Bobby G, per usual your moral philosophy is above my pay grade. You sum it up well when you say "it's all confusing." When I have some time I'll try and dig into your post (and the other ones up-thread) and give them a full rebuttal (or agreement.)

The main thing I was trying to do in this thread is try to figure out why I don't find Myers offensive, whereas so many others do. It's something I just don't get. That's all for now. Happy Friday all!!

Ocean
12-11-2009, 01:17 PM
And in many cases I like the fact that the spokesperson be unapologetic about. Perhaps we atheists are just over-sensitive about it, but when the unwritten advice of our society seems to be that we should just keep our beliefs to ourselves, in combination with the subtle reproaches one frequently recieves from the faithful it gets to the point wher you start wondering "why do I have to keep a lid on it when our culture not only tolerates but seems to welcome grandiose displays of the other side?" So it's more about being unapologetic and proud of our beliefs as much as any other person has a right to be.


Just in case it hasn't been clear before, I don't advocate that you hide your ideas. I think it's perfectly fine that you are vocal and feel proud of them. You will figure whether there are circumstances when you decide to be quieter or louder about what you think. It's the same as your political views or other topics that are subject to different opinions.

Now, people like PZ also engage in the fights, and I love a good fight, so that might be another reason why I enjoy him.

Here we may disagree. First, there is the issue of how much of a 'fight' one may like. Second, there is a style of 'fighting' that some (I, among them) may object to. In my opinion, a good fight addresses the disagreement without ridiculing and without making assumptions about the other side.

The main thing I was trying to do in this thread is try to figure out why I don't find Myers offensive, whereas so many others do. It's something I just don't get. That's all for now. Happy Friday all!!

I would suggest you think about what emotional needs his style may be gratifying. And also you may need to understand that not everybody has the same emotional needs, at least about this particular topic.

uncle ebeneezer
12-11-2009, 01:25 PM
I would suggest you think about what emotional needs his style may be gratifying. And also you may need to understand that not everybody has the same emotional needs, at least about this particular topic.

Boy, you're good. It would have taken a couple sessions with my therapist to get such advice ;-)

Actualliy, I already have. Not because I think my taste for a certain style of debate/argument/fight is unhealthy, but more out of intellectual curiosity. I'm not sure why atheist/religious debate gets me so riled up. Frankly, my experiences have been very tame. And as I meant to say before, I have had people of faith reach out to me in incredibly positive ways and I have always appreciated them. Some times it was their faith that led them to such acts, and that is the part of religion that I totally applaud.

Ocean
12-11-2009, 01:34 PM
Boy, you're good. It would have taken a couple sessions with my therapist to get such advice ;-)

At least my couple of sentences are free...

Actualliy, I already have. Not because I think my taste for a certain style of debate/argument/fight is unhealthy, but more out of intellectual curiosity. I'm not sure why atheist/religious debate gets me so riled up. Frankly, my experiences have been very tame. And as I meant to say before, I have had people of faith reach out to me in incredibly positive ways and I have always appreciated them. Some times it was their faith that led them to such acts, and that is the part of religion that I totally applaud.

Right there, you're taming the monster!

uncle ebeneezer
12-11-2009, 02:11 PM
Ask, and ye shall receive:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/12/rick_warren_finally.php

Ocean
12-11-2009, 02:15 PM
Somewhat tangential but not completely unrelated to the topic, here's (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-psychology-of-social) an article that addresses agression/ status/ cooperation in groups.

popcorn_karate
12-11-2009, 02:19 PM
ocean - you are where i want to be emotionally.

uncle eb - i was ready for fighting, bro!

but all Ocean's sweetness has made it seem less inviting, and perhaps a bit pathetic.

<sigh>

peace y'all

uncle ebeneezer
12-11-2009, 08:10 PM
She is one pacific Ocean...sorry I couldn't resist.

Ocean
12-11-2009, 08:29 PM
She is one pacific Ocean...sorry I couldn't resist.

<blushing>

Not always, though...

<sigh>