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Ocean
06-25-2011, 11:32 AM
I don't remember whether this topic was discussed here, in a diavlog or in the forum. I don't think it was.

It looks like Possibilianism (http://www.eagleman.com/eagleman-blog/93-poptech2010) has gathered some popularity. After learning what it means, I wondered what the difference is with agnosticism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism). In this video, the creator of the term, really dismisses agnosticism based on one of its acceptions, but not the original (Huxley's) one. I have always used the term agnosticism* to define my own position as an acknowledgment that we can't disprove the existence of something (immaterial) that is not accessible to scientific inquiry. It's not a doubt or indecision, it's a technicality. From that perspective, there wouldn't be much difference with the basic proposition of possibilianism.

However, it seems that Possibilianism is a bit more. It's expanded to include other beliefs, or possibilities that are still obscure or inaccessible to inquiry. And it also adds another component, it calls for scientific inquiry. So it isn't just a philosophical/ religious position but a proposition of scientific inquiry which accepts the premise that uncertainty exists.


*Addendum: for my fellow commenters who always like to cite Russell:

As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God.

On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

AemJeff
06-25-2011, 11:37 AM
I don't remember whether this topic was discussed here, in a diavlog or in the forum. I don't think it was.

It looks like Possibilianism (http://www.eagleman.com/eagleman-blog/93-poptech2010) has gathered some popularity. After learning what it means, I wondered what the difference is with agnosticism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism). In this video, the creator of the term, really dismisses agnosticism based on one of its acceptions, but not the original (Huxley's) one. I have always used the term agnosticism* to define my own position as an acknowledgment that we can't disprove the existence of something (immaterial) that is not accessible to scientific inquiry. It's not a doubt or indecision, it's a technicality. From that perspective, there wouldn't be much difference with the basic proposition of possibilianism.

However, it seems that Possibilianism is a bit more. It's expanded to include other beliefs, or possibilities that are still obscure or inaccessible to inquiry. And it also adds another component, it calls for scientific inquiry. So it isn't just a philosophical/ religious position but a proposition of scientific inquiry which accepts the premise that uncertainty exists.


*Addendum: for my fellow commenters who always like to cite Russell:

You know I almost always cite that very passage from Russell, whenever I whip it out, right? ;)

Ocean
06-25-2011, 11:44 AM
You know I almost always cite that very passage from Russell, whenever I whip it out, right? ;)

Yes. Or you make some allusion to Russell's proverbial teapot. Mine was a preemptive strike, before you whip it out. :)

AemJeff
06-25-2011, 12:29 PM
I don't remember whether this topic was discussed here, in a diavlog or in the forum. I don't think it was.

It looks like Possibilianism (http://www.eagleman.com/eagleman-blog/93-poptech2010) has gathered some popularity. After learning what it means, I wondered what the difference is with agnosticism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism). In this video, the creator of the term, really dismisses agnosticism based on one of its acceptions, but not the original (Huxley's) one. I have always used the term agnosticism* to define my own position as an acknowledgment that we can't disprove the existence of something (immaterial) that is not accessible to scientific inquiry. It's not a doubt or indecision, it's a technicality. From that perspective, there wouldn't be much difference with the basic proposition of possibilianism.

However, it seems that Possibilianism is a bit more. It's expanded to include other beliefs, or possibilities that are still obscure or inaccessible to inquiry. And it also adds another component, it calls for scientific inquiry. So it isn't just a philosophical/ religious position but a proposition of scientific inquiry which accepts the premise that uncertainty exists.


*Addendum: for my fellow commenters who always like to cite Russell:

I don't know! I agree with one of the commenters on the video page that what he's saying is indistinguishable from reasonable skepticism. I do know for sure that I hate the word "Possibilianism!" On the other hand his call for humility is exactly on point. I didn't fully understand his point about the "possibility space," which I think can be emphasized in really unhelpful ways - I mean the point is we don't know what we don't know. Making a big deal about "sculpting" that space seems to imply that we can apply what we already know in such a way to meaningfully affect our conception f that space. Yet, the things we can probably assert are infinitesimal in comparison to the vast (infinite?) reaches of it, about which we know infinitely less than nothing. But, it's intriguing, and I'm interested in knowing a bit more about his point of view, if only to achieve more clarity on that point.

Ocean
06-25-2011, 01:26 PM
I don't know! I agree with one of the commenters on the video page that what he's saying is indistinguishable from reasonable skepticism. I do know for sure that I hate the word "Possibilianism!" On the other hand his call for humility is exactly on point. I didn't fully understand his point about the "possibility space," which I think can be emphasized in really unhelpful ways - I mean the point is we don't know what we don't know. Making a big deal about "sculpting" that space seems to imply that we can apply what we already know in such a way to meaningfully affect our conception f that space. Yet, the things we can probably assert are infinitesimal in comparison to the vast (infinite?) reaches of it, about which we know infinitely less than nothing. But, it's intriguing, and I'm interested in knowing a bit more about his point of view, if only to achieve more clarity on that point.

If you're interested, there was a recent (April 2011) article in the New Yorker about possibilianism. I actually liked this talk better than the article. You raise good points, but I don't think those are in opposition to what he's saying.

My take on it is, that by using a new word which caught on, he's attracting lots of people who aren't willing to self define as atheists or even agnostics. He's saying that there is a realm of possibilities about the unknown undiscovered universe. But like you said above science can sculpt away false beliefs.

There may be a group of people who are finding here a new "method" (skepticism and science) that although it's been there all the time for most of us, may not have been for them. Again, I think it's a bridge, an outlet for people who have religious roots, realize that their tenets don't make sense in light of what we know, and want to move into science supported standards, but still can't let go completely of the "possibility".

It will be interesting to watch if indeed, it catches on or dies soon.

sugarkang
06-25-2011, 01:50 PM
I think this is cool. When there are more ways to nuance arguments, I think it adds to the toolbox for understanding. However, one thing I wish people would focus a bit more on is the actual utility of religion. I think atheists (I'm an atheist, pretty much on the same level as Dawkins) have gotten too caught up in the whether or not God exists and haven't asked about the usefulness of religion. I don't mean to say that the existence question shouldn't be debated. I just wish the utility question was debated more.

I watched a lady on Nightly News, a black Christian in the South, who formed a relationship with a man who had killed her son. She said that she had to forgive him (the murderer) for her own selfish reasons, i.e., the hate was destroying her. Now, this isn't novel, of course. We know Christians have a doctrine of forgiveness that is a fact of their religion whether or not Christians are behaving like total fuckwads. But it just struck me that there's a wisdom built into that forgiveness that atheists don't seem to have.

I wonder if atheists have spent a bit too much time rejecting everything about religion based on existence or non-existence. The argument seemed to be: there is no God, ergo, your book is invalid and your moral code is invalid. But, I'm starting to think this isn't right. I wonder to what extent Bob Wright has addressed this in Evolution of God, but I suspect that the argument of that book is just on the character of religion changing over time, not the actual utility of religion in terms of say, psychology, sociology, etc.

Sorry, if this is somewhat tangential to Possibilianism.

Ocean
06-25-2011, 02:24 PM
I think this is cool. When there are more ways to nuance arguments, I think it adds to the toolbox for understanding. However, one thing I wish people would focus a bit more on is the actual utility of religion. I think atheists (I'm an atheist, pretty much on the same level as Dawkins) have gotten too caught up in the whether or not God exists and haven't asked about the usefulness of religion. I don't mean to say that the existence question shouldn't be debated. I just wish the utility question was debated more.

There has been quite a bit of discussion regarding utility of religion, both in debates with participation of atheists, and in this forum. Hitchens, of course, comes to mind as one of the most vocal people against religion, with strong arguments about negative net effects of religion on civilization (wars for example).

Although I agree that there have been wars and atrocities carried out in the name of religion, I also see the positive side resulting from some of the functions that religions have adopted throughout history.

I watched a lady on Nightly News, a black Christian in the South, who formed a relationship with a man who had killed her son. She said that she had to forgive him (the murderer) for her own selfish reasons, i.e., the hate was destroying her. Now, this isn't novel, of course. We know Christians have a doctrine of forgiveness that is a fact of their religion whether or not Christians are behaving like total fuckwads. But it just struck me that there's a wisdom built into that forgiveness that atheists don't seem to have.

Forgiveness serves more than one purpose, some selfish as you mentioned, some about how we relate to others. I think I've heard the story that you're referring to.

I suspect that the most vocal atheists are coming from significantly religious upbringing and reacting to it, or have been subjected to discrimination for their lack of religious affiliation. Possibly the younger generations will be more accepting of non-believers, and there will be fewer people that need to "fight" for their atheism. However that is contingent on other factors. If religious groups continue to try to push their religious agenda on others, then there may be a continued tension between groups.


I wonder if atheists have spent a bit too much time rejecting everything about religion based on existence or non-existence. The argument seemed to be: there is no God, ergo, your book is invalid and your moral code is invalid. But, I'm starting to think this isn't right. I wonder to what extent Bob Wright has addressed this in Evolution of God, but I suspect that the argument of that book is just on the character of religion changing over time, not the actual utility of religion in terms of say, psychology, sociology, etc.

Sorry, if this is somewhat tangential to Possibilianism.

Religion, from a non-believer's perspective, is a human product. Obviously it has served multiple needs. Those needs may have changed over time, but some still exist. It is possible that the same needs can be channeled through non-religious means (Art, philosophy, morality, community, etc.)

sugarkang
06-25-2011, 02:58 PM
There has been quite a bit of discussion regarding utility of religion, both in debates with participation of atheists, and in this forum. Hitchens, of course, comes to mind as one of the most vocal people against religion, with strong arguments about negative net effects of religion on civilization (wars for example).

Right, but I think that's positing the idea that religion is disutility. The argument I'm making is that religion is more useful than Hitchens gives credit. Bob Wright seemed to say that religion isn't all that bad, and gets less bad as civilization progresses, but I don't think his emphasis was on positive social utility.

Wright's basic argument just seemed to be that religion becomes tempered over time. Orthodoxy must give way to moderate forms for the purpose of staying relevant to the cultural norms of the time. What is lacking in public discourse, however, is an argument from atheists or even religious figures to really recognize the utility of religion in a more academic way.

Maybe religious people see that their deeds "speak for themselves." I think many atheists follow this line of reasoning:

1. You cannot prove God exists.
2. Your religious code and traditions are based on a false premise.
3. You can be outright rejected.

I accept number 1 and 2. I cannot accept #3. Not that I expect it, but I think there's a lot to be studied here. I can accept Hitchens' argument that God Is Not Great. However, I cannot readily accept that we'd be better off without religion. That is a general idea that I think atheists have in common, whether or not they are reacting angrily to religion.

An analogy:
What if the greatest math teacher in the world were also a murdering rapist? Should we execute him before we learn his math teaching gifts?

I realize that isn't the point of this thread, but I wanted to clarify the idea I was putting forward.

Ocean
06-25-2011, 03:36 PM
... What is lacking in public discourse, however, is an argument from atheists or even religious figures to really recognize the utility of religion in a more academic way.

[...]

Not that I expect it, but I think there's a lot to be studied here. I can accept Hitchens' argument that God Is Not Great. However, I cannot readily accept that we'd be better off without religion.

Yes, I understand what you're saying. I don't know whether this isn't being studied. I agree that it's an aspect that we don't hear about a lot.

I can imagine that if there was some event that made people abandon their religion, let's say tomorrow, it would create quite a lot of havoc. Religious people would be confused and would feel that something very essential to their existence has been taken away. But, if people slowly and gradually, over the next couple of generations start to live their lives without having religion as a significant component, they will look for their needs to be met in other ways. Moral values come from their community. A sense of community or belonging can be met in other ways.

There are many countries where the number of non believers is significantly high and there doesn't seem to be much evidence of maladjustment or other societal ailments. But, it would be good to have data on all that since we probably have the means to measure some parameters.

AemJeff
06-25-2011, 03:38 PM
Right, but I think that's positing the idea that religion is disutility. The argument I'm making is that religion is more useful than Hitchens gives credit. Bob Wright seemed to say that religion isn't all that bad, and gets less bad as civilization progresses, but I don't think his emphasis was on positive social utility.

Wright's basic argument just seemed to be that religion becomes tempered over time. Orthodoxy must give way to moderate forms for the purpose of staying relevant to the cultural norms of the time. What is lacking in public discourse, however, is an argument from atheists or even religious figures to really recognize the utility of religion in a more academic way.

Maybe religious people see that their deeds "speak for themselves." I think many atheists follow this line of reasoning:

1. You cannot prove God exists.
2. Your religious code and traditions are based on a false premise.
3. You can be outright rejected.

I accept number 1 and 2. I cannot accept #3. Not that I expect it, but I think there's a lot to be studied here. I can accept Hitchens' argument that God Is Not Great. However, I cannot readily accept that we'd be better off without religion. That is a general idea that I think atheists have in common, whether or not they are reacting angrily to religion.

An analogy:
What if the greatest math teacher in the world were also a murdering rapist? Should we execute him before we learn his math teaching gifts?

I realize that isn't the point of this thread, but I wanted to clarify the idea I was putting forward.

It isn't just not to the point, it's a non-sequitur. You're having what appears to be an imaginary argument with a point of view that hasn't been expressed - certainly not here, and not, as far as I can tell by anybody else whose arguments have been taken seriously. (It certainly doesn't answer Hitchens' arguments about the evil that can be attributed to organized religious belief, which is probably the most closely analogous argument that's been made by somebody who seems to have something serious to add to the conversation.) Ultimately this isn't about utilitarian questions at all, it's epistemology that's at issue.

sugarkang
06-25-2011, 03:58 PM
Yes, I understand what you're saying.
Thanks for entertaining my comments. I really didn't mean to hijack the thread. Tell the other guy not to be so mad?

Ocean
06-25-2011, 04:23 PM
Thanks for entertaining my comments. I really didn't mean to hijack the thread. Tell the other guy not to be so mad?

Okay.

Ocean
06-25-2011, 04:33 PM
It isn't just not to the point, it's a non-sequitur. You're having what appears to be an imaginary argument with a point of view that hasn't been expressed - certainly not here, and not, as far as I can tell by anybody else whose arguments have been taken seriously. (It certainly doesn't answer Hitchens' arguments about the evil that can be attributed to organized religious belief, which is probably the most closely analogous argument that's been made by somebody who seems to have something serious to add to the conversation.) Ultimately this isn't about utilitarian questions at all, it's epistemology that's at issue.

Sugarkang asks that you not be so mad.

http://smileys.smileycentral.com/cat/3/3_8_13.gif

AemJeff
06-25-2011, 04:36 PM
Sugarkang asks that you not be so mad.

http://smileys.smileycentral.com/cat/3/3_8_13.gif

Yeah, sorry about those uncontrollable rages. I just can't help myself!

Ocean
06-25-2011, 04:40 PM
Yeah, sorry about those uncontrollable rages. I just can't help myself!

Yeah, and who can afford your budget for computers and broken windows?!

AemJeff
06-25-2011, 04:44 PM
Yeah, and who can afford your budget for computers and broken windows?!

I have a team working on an answer to that question. We'll get back to you!

http://smileys.smileycentral.com/cat/3/3_8_15.gif

Wonderment
06-25-2011, 06:29 PM
I don't know! I agree with one of the commenters on the video page that what he's saying is indistinguishable from reasonable skepticism. I do know for sure that I hate the word "Possibilianism!" On the other hand his call for humility is exactly on point. I didn't fully understand his point about the "possibility space," which I think can be emphasized in really unhelpful ways - I mean the point is we don't know what we don't know. Making a big deal about "sculpting" that space seems to imply that we can apply what we already know in such a way to meaningfully affect our conception f that space. Yet, the things we can probably assert are infinitesimal in comparison to the vast (infinite?) reaches of it, about which we know infinitely less than nothing.

I agree. The New Yorker article was chock full of interesting science that David Eagleman is engaged in and it profiled him nicely, but I found nothing much of interest in the 20-minute intro to "Possibilianism." It might be good as a pep talk for high school kids thinking of careers in science, but it was otherwise uninspiring and really presented nothing new that an ordinary skeptic would be troubled by.

I'm still quite comfortable calling myself an atheist, although I do generally find the New Atheists tedious, tendentious, vindictive and arrogant (especially Hitchens and Harris).

To address the other points that came up here I think of religion as a net good for humanity (not that I could prove that empirically). I'm disinclined to debunk faith gratuitously, except when it goes toxic and tries to impose beliefs on others.

Ocean
06-25-2011, 06:41 PM
I agree. The New Yorker article was chock full of interesting science that David Eagleman is engaged in and it profiled him nicely, but I found nothing much of interest in the 20-minute intro to "Possibilianism." It might be good as a pep talk for high school kids thinking of careers in science, but it was otherwise uninspiring and really presented nothing new that an ordinary skeptic would be troubled by.

I don't think his audience was high school kids. But, I agree, there was nothing highly technical or intellectual about this talk. However, what's interesting to me is that it has created enough interest that the New Yorker published an extensive article about it (although most of the article wasn't directly about possibilianism).


I'm still quite comfortable calling myself an atheist, although I do generally find the New Atheists tedious, tendentious, vindictive and arrogant (especially Hitchens and Harris).

I don't think that this new term makes sense for those who are already well defined as non-believers. It seems to be an outlet for those who feel they're transitioning.

To address the other points that came up here I think of religion as a net good for humanity (not that I could prove that empirically). I'm disinclined to debunk faith gratuitously, except when it goes toxic and tries to impose beliefs on others.

I pretty much agree with your last sentence, perhaps would consider the first if we include everything that has developed from and through religions, and also agree that we can't quantify good and bad and come up with an arithmetic result.

stephanie
06-27-2011, 11:20 AM
Bob Wright seemed to say that religion isn't all that bad, and gets less bad as civilization progresses, but I don't think his emphasis was on positive social utility.

I think Bob's argument includes the following points: (1) we can't know how positive or negative the influence of religion is, as we can't separate out religion from all the other influences; and (2) religion can have both positive and negative influences, and material forces tend to determine which type it has.

Wright's basic argument just seemed to be that religion becomes tempered over time.

I think he sees this, but not as some consistent evolution or necessary one. The type of society one is in influences the religion. I suspect he gives too little credence to the extent to which religion (and other ideas) act as an influence also -- they are influenced by material concerns but that doesn't mean ideas don't have a real influence of their own. But I do agree with his major points.