Theology

Let me start off by saying that I think I am a little anti-religious because of my Catholic upbringing and the horrific track record of most religions. I’d like to think that the human race can grow beyond the need for religion, but that’s neither here nor there. As such, I consider myself an atheist and rational humanist.

My thoughts about atheism are thus: I think that any rational atheist has to concede that, in an infinite universe, you cannot rule out the possibility of a being with godlike powers. I’m open to the possibility that a being or beings with godlike powers exist. Why couldn’t a being that exists outside of our known dimensions perform “miracles” beyond the boundaries of space and time? Science could allow for that.

So now, the questions are:

– Did a godlike being or beings “create” the Earth?
– Was there a plan for this creation?
– Am I, as a sentient being with the perception of free will, part of a plan?

None of these questions is provable; I’m therefore not interested in looking for the answers. But I honestly think that if I were ever confronted by a godlike being that attempted to prove the answers to these questions to me, I would probably still tell the godlike being to go shove it. I have no interest in worshipping a godlike being or being part of its plan. I have my own desires and my own purpose, and that’s enough for me.

That’s how I define my atheism.

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72 Responses to Theology

  1. sirroxton says:

    Proper theism is based on the premise that there is some apodictic standard to which our souls are intrinsically linked. By denying God and this standard, you betray your own soul, and the inherent meaning of the universe is denied for you, creating endless torment for your soul which echoes in frustrations in this life. Eventually you drown out the dictates of your “true” conscience, believing lies and the wisdom fabricated by yourself and the other self-consistent signifiers of this world until you can’t even hear your own soul anymore. By the time you’re dead, your soul’s already in hell, stifled by the absence of God and the denial of purpose.

    Personally, I think that’s bullshit. šŸ™‚ But you just have to realize that the world-view you consider isn’t all-incorporating of all possible valid premises and assumptions. A lot of people miss that point, though I’m not necessarily counting you among them.

    -Adam

  2. shogunhb says:

    Some might argue that that is agnosticism, but I happen to agree with you (we’ve had this discussion).

    The great thing about atheism is not necessarily that you believe there is no GOD, but that you don’t Believe in God. I am not going to sit here and say “There is no God.” What I say is simply “I do not believe in God.” There is a fundamental difference.

    GOD, as it is proposed by nearly every religion, has one thing in common… it cares. The world must have been created by something, and that thing was God… there must have been a reason, and we must be part of that reason.

    This is metaphysical crap. If we presume that something powerful created the universe, why must it follow that we matter to it in the slightest?

    The universe is a big place. I don’t believe in a godlike being that created the universe and cares about us and gives us purpose. I am willing to admit that it’s possible, but I don’t believe it. Give me solid proof, and I still wouldn’t worship this hypothetical God. I’d give it it’s due respect and then ask it kindly to leave us the fuck alone.

    • gower says:

      >GOD, as it is proposed by nearly every religion, has one thing in >common… it cares. The world must have been created by something, >and that thing was God… there must have been a reason, and we must >be part of that reason.

      Do the Greek gods fit that schema? There are gods in that pantheon that had nothing to do with the creation of the world. And lots of them don’t “care,” either, as you seem to be defining it.

      • shogunhb says:

        Oh, they cared. Humans were their playthings. I don’t mean cared as in loved… I mean, mattered. Took notice of. It mattered to them whether they were worshipped by man or not.

        Also, most pantheons have one creator.. but the rest personify natural forces, which is largely the same thing.

        • da_popa says:

          Uncaring Gods (Creator and Otherwise)

          I’m pretty sure that many pantheons had deities who really didn’t care about humans. I seem to remember a Hindi god who only took notice of humans when their noise disturbed his sleep (then he wanted to obliterate them so he could sleep).

          Also, in Egyptian mythology, for example, there were some gods who were the physical basis of the universe. It is believed that they might not have even been aware of humans, let alone cared to be worshiped.

          Further, in many Creation Myths , humans weren’t part of the original plan; often some other god comes along and decides to create them, or they are an accidental offspring of some battle or something. Heck, in many myths the universe itself wasn’t intentionally created. The idea of there being a careful, caring, creator god who planned and created the universe and humans is actually pretty rare.

          • shogunhb says:

            Re: Uncaring Gods (Creator and Otherwise)

            If there is a powerful being that neither created the world (or any aspect of if) nor takes notice or care about people, then why would anyone worship it? At that point it becomes mythology rather than religion. I guess you could have faith that these creatures do, in actuality, exist, but somehow I don’t think that fits our basic arguement.

            For a religion to exist around a God or Gods, those gods MUST be able to play a role in the lives of the worshippers. (If only not to wake up and destroy them). This implies an active role and therefore a reason to worship.

            • da_popa says:

              Re: Uncaring Gods (Creator and Otherwise)

              What about religions where the divine is either not personified (as in an “energy”) or absent (as in deistic religions)? In both these cases, the divine is not active, yet worship occurs for various reasons (ex. desire of reconnection, respect/love/gratitude, maintenance of cosmic order/balance).

              Maybe I’m missing the basic argument, but I’m unclear on the debate of myth vs. religion; mythology consists of stories about the divine and religion is a method of reconnection to the divine.

              • shogunhb says:

                Re: Uncaring Gods (Creator and Otherwise)

                Ok, if I understand what you’re trying to say, we’re arguing 2 different things here.

                You imply that a sense of the divine, and therefore religion does not require a knowing object of worship. Whether knowing or not, it MUST by it’s very nature take an active (or actively inactive by not destroying you) role in the lives of its worshippers.

                What of deities that take no notice of people? Think of the Titans that created the Earth in Greek or is it Roman, religion. Nobody worshipped the Titans. The Titans were part of the creation myth. but it was the pantheon of personified Gods on Mt. Olympus that they worshipped. Why? Because those gods took an active role in their lives and actually ‘listened’ to their prayers.

                What of the “absolute set of intrinsic values” that has been mentioned in these posts? The Divine is a natural force that defines life and morality in the universe without personification. Worship is meant, not to contact this force, but to become more in tune with it and thus more like it. Well, I did say ‘most’ in my original post.

                However, I would argue that in a sense, even this divine force ‘cares’ in the sense that its actions act directly upon the worshipper as a result of worship. Meaning and purpose come from personifying it, not with a human shape and goals, but with human morality and values.

                But then, my original point was that the whole arguement of theism vs. atheism is defined only by FAITH. You either have faith that there’s something divine out there, or you don’t. We can argue the form of that divine all day long without changing the basic, underlying fact that either you believe it exists or you don’t.

                • da_popa says:

                  Uncaring & Amoral Deities

                  Hehe, I agree we could go back & forth, and I kind of did forget the original gist, sorry to all. =)

                  Actually, some people in the Greco-Roman world did worship the Titans, as part of the cthonic cults (“cthonic” means ‘earth’ and has connotations of ‘primitive’ or ‘occult’); the Titans represented a force of primeval power and, as you suggested, by acts of worship, worshipers could seek to embody such powers.

                  Even if the Titans took no notice of humans at all, a belief system could still exist which would allow worshipers to either “tap in” to the apathetic Titans’ power (much like using an impersonal energy, like electricity) or lend the Titans’ their own power (through “channeling” their own power of faith, sacrifices, rituals, etc.,).

                  The opposite are deities whose perception is so vast (to encompass all) that it pays humans no particular mind (an “OverGod”). Such deities were often still worshiped, as by invoking these deities, one was, in essence, shoring up the foundations the universe was built upon. (Again, not through any active divine intervention, but via metaphysical “natural” laws).

                  I don’t think deities necessarily personify morality. The Olympian gods acted upon their dike or “way.” It was simply the way of Ares to lose his temper and slaughter others, for example; it was neither right nor wrong, it was just his way (and humans could not commit similar acts and claim that piety or morality was on their side, for that is not “the way” of humans to act).

                  Thus, I don’t see a necessary connection between faith and morality. Is there a chance you could repost or point me to the the “absolute set of intrinsic values” discussed as I cannot find them…oops. Thanks. =)

  3. etherial says:

    Hmm…

    I think the proper comment here is: Welcome to the Church of Agnopathy.

  4. beastlord says:

    Theology GOD-logic

    In my humble opinion, atheism is a cop-out. To not believe that GOD exists is to deny any sort of responsibility for one’s actions. Thus, one could say that he/she is sinless because there is no right or wrong. One might go into how we have laws on this earth, but then one would have to ask why are there laws and why is there moral and ethical responsibility. Where did the idea of right and wrong come from? Why are there absolutes? Why are there consequences? The simple root of this is GOD. GOD is the absolute. GOD is what we are all measured by. We are here to try to be like GOD (for instance, “Christian” means “Christ-like”, so true Christians are trying to be like Christ, and therefore, like GOD. They are making an unselfish honest effort to improve themselves in order to improve te lives of those around them). Atheism cuts out the meaning of life.

    People think that the “meaning of life” is this vast tome of knowledge that takes years and years to comprehend. In fact it is very simple. Solomon put it best I think: “Fear GOD and keep His commandments.” To believe that there is a GOD is to have faith in the laws that GOD has ordained.

    Believing that GOD is does not mean that one must to go bow down and kow-tow somewhere like a Catholic or a Muslim or a Hindu or what have you. Believing in GOD means that one is making a faithful attempt at being like GOD; i.e. doing good things for other people UNSELFISHLY. And once one can see that that way of life is a good if not better choice compared to others, then one can appreciate what other people have done for him/her. In the case of Christians, this would be appreciation and acceptance through faith of the fact that Jesus died for the world’s sins.

    Living a life requires FAITH in something. Any normal civilized human being these days has faith. Flick the light-switch, and you have power. If you didn’t believe that there would be light emitted as a result of your action, why bother to flick the switch in the first place? This is atheism. To not even try to have faith in something. If you can have faith in electricity, why not have faith in who created it? And in answering this question of faith in a Creator, if one cannot bring up evolution, then so be it. Evolution is still a theory, not fact, and to believe in a theory (“A belief or principle that guides action or assists comprehension or judgment.” “An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.” dictionary.com definition #5,6)BY DEFINITION requires belief, and therefore faith. Scientists must place a whole lot of faith in that theory to base their entire careers on it. So even people who claim that they don’t believe in GOD and that science proves such must have faith. Any belief system requires faith, but is it necessarily the RIGHT thing to believe in?

    • mik3cap says:

      Re: Theology GOD-logic

      I’m not denying the existence of belief or faith. I’m not even denying the existence of a godlike being. I do not agree that a godlike being is necessary for people to obey law and have responsibility – morality is not exclusive to divine ordinance.

      I just find meaning in my own existence all by itself. I’ve never found a need to have a “higher” meaning to justify my acts.

      • origamijoe says:

        God and good

        So… Beastlord is saying:
        One has morals if and only if they believe in God?
        If you are a moral person than you must believe in God.
        If you are an immoral person you are an athiest.
        If you do not believe in God, you are immoral.

        Is that what you’re saying?
        (I’m not tryin to be a jerk. It just sounds like that’s what you started to say. But if I keep reading down your post you seem to word it differently.)

        I believe:
        God is a concept. God is an idealistic idea. God is a poetic concept.
        It is what a lot of people strive for. (I can’t say most people though.)
        One can believe that they can be a better person without believing in God(tm). One can do good things because they are good things and they gain enjoyment from doing good things. Not because God told them to, or they thing that Hell awaits those who are bad. (That would be selfish.)
        I think ultimately, people do good things because it makes them feel good, and it makes the world a better place to live in. And that’s faith in the potential goodness of humanity, not God. That’s an idea that is more powerful than the idea of a God to me.
        I believe that religious people believe that a God has given them that idea and they say to themselves, wow, great idea, or that idea is somehow connected to their belief in a God. And Athiests like Mikey believe that they came to that conclusion through their own experiences.
        Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares?

    • shogunhb says:

      Re: Theology GOD-logic

      You don’t need a God to have cause and effect. Cause and effect dictate responsibility for our actions.

      I’m not even getting into “sin” I don’t believe it.

      Why do we have laws? Social contract. Simple as that. It’s easy enough to extrapolate one’s actions as having an effect on oneself. The ability to consider past actions and future consequences is a very specific capability that is inherent to only a few species. Even prarie dogs display altruism. One dog will stand up and scream to coax predators toward it while all the other prarie dogs run for cover. Then, hopefully, the altruistic prarie dog gets below ground before he’s eaten. Is this evidence of the rightness and justice of God’s plan for prarie dogs? No. It’s a simple learned response, a rudimentary social contract. Granted, the prairie dogs don’t think of it as such, it’s just a patterned behavior, but the benefit to the species is why it persists. What is good for the community is good for the individual.

      There is a THEORY that altruism derives very simply as an extension of parental instinct. By protecting your offspring, you protect your genes. A mother lion will die to protect her cubs. Why? Because it is just and loving? Because it is the right thing to do? No, because survival of the species depends on altruism in the individual.

      There is no absolute right and wrong. We derive our meanings of right and wrong from our communities. It changes over time. Religion has sanctioned slavery and war, prostitution and torture. If right and wrong were absolute, then morality would not change over time, and it clearly HAS. What is “right” today is more a dynamic function of the development of our society. Oh, some things remain largely constant, but the very concept of human rights is both older than Jesus (ancient greece anyone?) and only a few centuries old.

      All of this ties back to one simple “RULE”. Do unto others. Why should this be such a seeming absolute? Because evolutionarily it makes sense. Once a species develops identity and a concept of past and future, it is capable of empathy. You know that murder is wrong because you KNOW that you DON’T WANT TO BE MURDERED. This doesn’t make it “right” it just makes it reasonable assumption.

      Faith is an important part of many people’s lives. It gives them purpose and meaning. They want to feel that there is something greater than them that watches over them, that cares about them and their lives; that there’s a reason that they do the things they do. If that works for you, then more power to you.

      Having faith the what you can see and hear and feel and explain is hardly the same as believing in a God-creator. Working from the assumption of a theory should not becomes dogmatic in science. It has in many cases, but that’s largely a result of a human tendency to take a personal stake in it’s ideas and judegements. Believing that the sun will come up and that the light will come on when you flick the switch is not FAITH in the sense of the word that you’re using. FAITH by it’s definition does not require proof. Babies don’t have faith that the light will come on, until they have experienced it repeatedly. Establishing a basis for assumption is not FAITH.

      In my humble opionion, faith is a cop-out.

      • da_popa says:

        Two quick questions

        1. You cite genetic evolution as a proof of altruism/morality/social awareness being a result of “the selfish gene” wishing to survive. But isn’t evolution a theory? How can a theory based upon a theory be used as absolute proof of the falsity of another theory?

        (Also, altruism as a theory of evolutionary survival breaks down at a certain point because those who take advantage of others’ altruism often gain a greater benefit for their genes’ than those of the altruists’.)

        2. You mention that since our ideas of morality are different based on time and place, there must be no absolute morality. But our ideas regarding the gravity, combustibility, and even time/space have changed as well. Wouldn’t this mean that these things are not absolute either?

        Thanks for these great posts to think about; it definitely made my night more interesting than playing CastleVania. =)

        • shogunhb says:

          Re: Two quick questions

          My point in bringing up the survival traits of altruism is not that I’m right, simply that the only possible explanation of morality is not an “absolute morality” as many Christians would have us believe.

          altruism as a theory of evolutionary survival breaks down…

          No. It really doesn’t. Assuming an “altruism” gene set, there would be a natural frequency in the population that would be need to be maintained for survival of the species. Assume a frequency of .5 for each gene set (altruism vs. selfishness)
          One half of the population displays altruistic characteristics. They bring food back to the pack and protect their young from harm at the risk of their own lives.
          The other half stay at home, breed, and eat the food that’s brought to them, while avoiding predators at all costs.
          Let’s say that each generation, half of the altruists die protecting and serving the pack. Where does this leave us in the long run? Well, eventually, the whole pack dies. Eventually you have only selfish individuals left, and their young die the first time a predator comes along. But, this would never happen. You’d reach a balancing point at which altruism once again becomes a survival trait for the entire pack. However, since the ‘selfish’ gene is a survival trait for an individual, this gene set maintains a frequency in the population as well. Since only early-lethal dominant genes are completely eliminated from any population, you would always have a fluctuating frequency of both gene sets, balanced by current survival conditions.

          2. Good semantic point, but it falls apart. Just because you can get a lot of people to AGREE on something, doesn’t mean it’s correct. Gravity makes you fall down, regardless of how our understanding of its mechanisms have changed over the years. The world is round, no matter what Columbus’ contemporiaries thought.
          If morality were an absolute force in the universe, there would be measurable effects. Even if we couldn’t agree on its origins or mechanisms. Like, Evil would fall down, Good would rise to the top. It would affect EVERYONE the SAME WAY, regardless of whether they believed in it or not.

          Like chemistry, like physics. Our understanding of these things change and continue to change, but not the effect they have on the universe around us. If there were some karmic balance that could be measured and quantified, then I’d be willing to accept the existence of an absolute system of morality. And someone would find a way to run a generator off of it.

          • da_popa says:

            Re: Two quick questions

            1. I understand that pure selfishness might not work, as, if no warning were given, many more would die. But how does altruism ever survive as a genetic trait? If one gets eaten, its almost always going to be an altruist giving a warning, and, given enough predators, this would eventually result in this gene’s demise. Also, how does a gene set “maintain a frequency”? This seems to imply intention and make gene sets active and perceiving entities. Even if altruism were suddenly desired, if most of them were already killed, what advantage do they have over the selfish to reassert themselves in a given population?
            The only way I can see altruism reasserting itself is if being an altruist had some other benefits; for example, perhaps children raised by an altruist family are more likely to survive illness and such than one in a selfish environment, which might counteract the loss to predators, but I have never seen this explored in Dawkin’s book or any of his exponents I encountered. I suppose another way to survive would be to prevent the altruistic behavior until one procreates or if altruism can result from selfish parents. Both of these examples, however, would seem to imply learned behavior rather than genetic instinct.

            2. Who’s to say there are not measurable effects? While it is possible, I think it’s more likely that there are undetectable causes rather than effects. Without getting into after-life discussions (about which we can really say nothing), can’t one examine, for example, the differences between cultures and their morality or laws? Can’t we look at the US and say, “Hmm, it’s odd that there are more gun-related deaths here than in any other country, and at a disproportionate amount as well.” Now, just because we haven’t developed our perceptions well enough to detect the cause, doesn’t mean there aren’t any, just as things still fell before the Law of Gravity was discovered. Why can we admit there are as yet undetectable causes here in this particular problem with moral implications, but not in morality in general? In citing the falsity of the flat-world hypothesis, shouldn’t that also lead us to believe that much of the untested beliefs we currently hold to be true could be false as well?

            Either belief, that “there are things which exist that we can not perceive” or “nothing exists which cannot eventually be perceived” are both statements of faith.

            • mik3cap says:

              Re: Two quick questions

              Either belief, that “there are things which exist that we can not perceive” or “nothing exists which cannot eventually be perceived” are both statements of faith.

              I would submit that faith in the unproveable is a vastly different thing than faith in the proveable. When there is a testable framework upon which one’s beliefs rest, there is a much greater correlation between the model of beliefs and reality itself.

              I know that people love to say things like “science is just another religion” and “you just have your own set of beliefs” et cetera, et cetera. But no one ever says “religion is just another science”. And really, it is – it tries to make a model of reality according to its own prerogative; it has procedures and laws and theories. But religion is a science that doesn’t actually make good hypotheses and test them and have predictable, reproduceable, objective results. Any actual approximation between its model and reality cannot be viewed as anything more than coincidence because all of its precepts are unproveable – the other side of the coin actually has a true, proven framework to refer to.

              That’s a fundamental difference. Ignoring that is patently absurd.

              • da_popa says:

                Re: Two quick questions

                Yes, but “faith only in the provable” is much different than “faith in the provable” and ignoring that difference will lead to a lot of problems. Besides, whose epistemology are we using for the word “provable”? If someone had a religious experience, you’d call it a delusion; if you explain the difference between red and green to a color-blind person, why should he think otherwise?

                I wouldn’t say that science is a religion, but scientism (the belief that only science contains the truth and that it contains all possible truths) is. I would also agree that, in so far as both theology and science attempt to discern the nature of their field through reason and reference, they are both alike.

                Here is the problem, science uses physical means to assess physical phenomenon so its only natural that it would measure it physically, correct? How can you a subject that encompasses the non-physical for not having the same physical results or methods? Anyway, even if someone claimed a physical result from a religious experience, it would be readily discounted by attributing to something else which is more palatable.

                In psychology, we know and accept that humans are not as readily and predictably affected by the same phenomenon but it is still a science (though I suspect many don’t consider it a “real” science). We simply understand that the human mind is more complex than we can currently comprehend. Why not accept the possibility of that same truth for something as seemingly more complex as the subjects of religion?

                I’m not saying that we can “prove” religion or its effects as readily as we can with science; I am arguing that we cannot deny its possibility based on not being verifiable by science. Also, I don’t see how one can call the idea nirvana or heaven ridiculous while advocating the “scientific” belief in parallel universes.

                • shogunhb says:

                  Re: Two quick questions

                  In so far as both theology and science attempt to discern the nature of their field through reason and reference, they are both alike.

                  That’s like saying a gravedigger and a gardener are the same because they both dig holes.
                  Yes, both theology and science try to describe the world around us. Yes, they try to be internally consistent. Yes, they both build off the work that has come before. But you can’t suggest that they are the same thing. A fantasy novel obeys the same basic tenants. If I make a provable claim, I don’t have to justify it, I can prove it. Since you can not prove the claims of religion, then you must justify them. Justification is not the same as proof.

                  Also, I don’t see how one can call the idea nirvana or heaven ridiculous while advocating the “scientific” belief in parallel universes.

                  I don’t believe in Narnia, Pern, or Middle-Earth either. At least parallel universes (I still need to see some concrete evidence on that theory) obey measurable physical laws. Heaven is eternal bliss in the sight of an omnipotent creator. Heaven was invented by people who were afraid that death was the end of their pitiful dirt-bodies.

                  Heaven is about as subjective a theory as can possibly exist and you can’t see the difference between it and parallel universe theory? I can presume that since ceramic mug falls once, it will fall again. I can even suppose that it will fall whether I am on a mountain or in vacuum. I can suppose other universes where it will fall. But Heaven suggests that, once the mug hits the ground and shatters, it can fly… but you can’t see it fly… you just have to trust that it does.

                  • da_popa says:

                    Re: Two quick questions

                    I made the “science & religion are alike” statement in response to ‘s statement:

                    …But no one ever says “religion is just another science”. And really, it is – it tries to make a model of reality according to its own prerogative; it has procedures and laws and theories.

                    In this context, I think my statement is appropriate.

                    In truth, no, I really do not see more plausibility in parallel universes than in Heaven.
                    Here are the possibilities I see regarding the truth of Heaven:
                    1. It is a truth revealed by God
                    2. It is a truth perceived by an elite few who disseminated it to others
                    3. It is a truth which we have no proof of (i.e. we believe it is true, and it just so happens to be true)
                    4. It is partially true (i.e. our understanding of it is incomplete or false)
                    5. It is pure bull.

                    With parallel universes, the only change I would make is to substitute this for #1:
                    1. It is true according to our understanding of the data, but in reality it is false. Our interpretation of the data and/or its meaning are mistaken or incomplete.
                    In other words, it’s like forcing reality to conform to the calculation, rather than forcing the calculation to conform to reality. I believe that this may be the case for paralell universes and other similar theories.

                    (BTW, the comparison of Heaven to Narnia et. al. seems superfluous; the authors of Narnia and such never claimed they were anything but fiction, the same cannot be said for those who wrote about Heaven.
                    Regarding the mug analogy, Heaven doesn’t suggest that nobody could see the mug fly, it suggests that someone also in Heaven could see it fly, just as you would have to be in the same parallel universe to see that parallel mug crash.)

                    (I hate to point this out, but in almost every post I see matter-of-fact statements like “Heaven was invented by people who….” These statements are counter-productive and beg the question. If we are attempting to examine the truth and validity of beliefs, we won’t get anywhere with pre-judged assertions like this. Thanks for understanding.)

            • shogunhb says:

              Addressing one point at a time

              We’re not talking evolution theory, but genetics, which can be experimentally proven a half dozen ways before breakfast. The positive and negative selection of survival traits within a population is not theory, but proven fact. Whether or not you believe that a new species can develop from an existing one, and especially whether or not you believe that we evolved from primordial ooze, the fact remains that genetics is a proven science.

              1. Think of altruism as an extension on the maternal instinct. Young that are left to fend for themselves die, those that are protected survive. Therefore, the altruism “gene” or altruism behavior is a DIRECT survival trait, and propogates. Other behavioral effects of altruism may, in fact, simply be secondary effects that have no direct effect on survivability. Even detrimental effects of the “gene” are outweighed enough that they have little effect on the increased frequency of it appearance in the population.

              A perfect example is sickle cell anemia. It is a survival trait against malaria. The genes for sickle cell anemia increase in frequency due to their survival effect, even though the gene alone is detrimental.

              Genes maintain balanced frequencies in populations based on their selection criteria. It is not deliberate. It’s simple math.
              http://www.gate.net/~rwms/diploid_cost.html

              Unless a specific Dominant or co-dominant trait is EXTREMELY detrimental (usually embryonic lethal), it will hardly EVER be removed from a population entirely… it maintains at a resting frequency. Recessive traits conversely have to be EXTREMELY beneficial (homozygous recessive) to completely eliminate a dominant gene.

              • da_popa says:

                Re: Addressing one point at a time

                Thanks for the info. I agree with pretty much everything here, though I must admit that the link made about as much sense to me as Sanskrit. =)

                I understand the benefit of altruism in general. I have a harder time with the Dawkins’ example of altruism meaning one who will give a warning to draw attention away from others at the risk of its own life. My concern is this: if we assume that those who give warnings are the ones eaten during a warning and that others are only eaten when those who give warnings fail, what exactly prevents those who don’t give warnings from eventually dominating? Wouldn’t not giving a warning eventually be selected for, as they would almost never be eaten? Of course, wouldn’t this accelerate the destruction of the population as, if there is no warning, then both types of organisms would be eaten indiscriminately? What maintains the proper ratio (if there is one)?

                Also, since those who give warnings will almost always be the ones eaten (as they draw attention to themselves while others run), do you think this trait is correlated to species with a high birth rate and both parents being caretakers? (As if you are related to yourself 100%, parents and children 50%, and siblings 25%, you would need at least 4 siblings, or 2 parents, or 2 children, or some combination thereof to make your sacrifice break even.)

                Thanks for the help.

                • shogunhb says:

                  Re: Addressing one point at a time

                  First of all, giving warning is not the same as committing suicude. If you want to use prarie dogs as the example, the individuals that do the warning almost always do so from a position extremely close (if not in) the entrance to a burrow. They operate from a poistion of safety and are very rarely actually eaten. If the warning instinct operated independently from survival instinct, those individauls would undoubtably die. This is not, however, the case, so it’s moot.

                  Can we assume that the trait eventually developed so that a MOTHER or FATHER prarie dog would warn its offspring to saftey, thus protecting its genetic investment. The fact that the entire community takes advantage of this is moot. Not every emergent behavior is a direct result of selection, some are simply side effects.

                  • da_popa says:

                    Re: Addressing one point at a time

                    Sorry for the over-broad statement of warning=suicide, that was not my intent; thanks for the correction. (Also, in referring to this whole thing only being a theory, I was referring to altruism being a genetic trait, not genetics in general.)

                    As for whether it’s a parent warning its offspring or not, I was taught that most animals, in trying to protect their relatives, often extend such feelings and behaviors to the whole community. Is this what you mean by a side effect?

                    Thanks again.

    • sirroxton says:

      Re: Theology GOD-logic

      In your mind, there’s this vast library of absolutes, shoulds, and musts instrinsically linked to the nature of the universe, personified by a God. An impassioned understanding of the world around you and the inspiration of the holy spirit sheds light on this apodictic (good word — look it up) truth. If we could all just follow the requirements, we would live in a state of perfect utopia, but the presence of sin in the world due to man’s fall prevents us from achieving that on earth. Such a utopia only now exists in heaven, with echoes on Earth due to personal holiness and God’s grace.

      You think not believing in that is a cop-out? Look at Sartre. He craps his pants every morning because the onus of defining what is right and wrong is placed squarely on his shoulders.

      All people that don’t believe in God have is a self-consistent set of rules that resonate and appeal to the values incorporated into their own humanity. Some don’t recognize that, and still try to talk as if they’re manufacturing absolutes in spite of their lack of belief in God-related apodictic truths.

      The people that do recognize that are forced to realize that all their ethical choices, while perhaps rationally formulated, are based on a set of re-imagined and stated assumptions on their own subjective (not arbitrary!) values.

      These people are forced to recognize that it is only by the nature of the fact that we’re all very similar as human beings that we find Hitler repulsive. We’re forced to recognize that the only grounds we have for fighting and killing in WW2 are the subjective impulses that exist in our own minds. Killing for “subjective” faith? You think that’s an easy frickin’ cop-out? By comparison, having a belief in a set of existing rules that fully justify your actions seems like the cop-out.

      Some people are even worse cop-outs, though, than either system just described. Follow the logic of Jen Savage to its brutal extreme (which she almost certainly does not) — a belief system that fits your needs in a moment of time. By failing to stabilize your values, you make yourself brutally prone to adjusting your values for convenience, which gets easier every time you do it. Sure, maybe you don’t think you’re doing it for convenience, but these things operate on a level of the brain much lower than introspection can uncover. The rule of thumb for me is, yes, you can change your philosophy — it’s an important part of growth, but wait until the element of convenience is gone. Do it with intense deliberation. Build your philosophy around your values and perception of life and society at the moment, not around your needs. If you change for your needs in an instant, you’ll be the last person I’ll employ, the last person I’d want to give a gun, the last person I want on my MQP project, and the last person I’d want to spend the rest of my life with.

      This isn’t a fiction. People who build their personal moral philosophy on their needs are the first people who go downhill when life gets unfair. They’re too prone to human weakness, and while they may think themselves intelligent, without moral stamina, the shit-waves of life knock them into the gutter. They recognize it, and they can’t pull themselves out of the gutter because their backbone has no rigidity. It’s people like this that Christians are most effective at targeting with their witnessing. And you know what? I’m really, really glad that they do. The premanufactured Christian spine has revitalized and given purpose to so many people who would have otherwise committed suicide long ago.

      And who knows, maybe the Christians are right. I just wish they had the sense to realize that apodictic truths aren’t a requirement of reasonable discourse. Christians can make great scientists. Apodictic truths aren’t useful in solving ground water problems. But Christians in sociological matters? Education? Government? It’s like they live on their own isolated island of discourse because of this apodictic requirement in their discussions. You know what? That’s okay. I’m just glad that bible-belt fundamentalists aren’t in the national majority.

      • da_popa says:

        Subjective but not Arbitrary Morality

        Very interesting post! I have a question though that I have been trying to find an answer to for years.

        You mention the risk of a personally designed morality falling into self-serving justifications, and that is my fear as well. For, even given the shortcomings of religious, social, and other “pre-constructed” sets of morality, at least they give a person something to challenge their decisions with. Against what can a person with a self-designed morality test their beliefs?

        In other words, if I consider myself to be an Egalitarian and Catholic, and my sense of equality leads me to disagree with my church’s stance on homosexuality, I need to do some serious thinking over what I really interpret my sense of morality to be about (which, of course, is a subjective judgment on objective systems, and could lead to further discussions on examining if this is truly any different from a self-designed morality). But if I design my own system, how do I ensure that my decisions are moral and not self-serving? At first, I thought something as simple as a paraphrased version of Kant’s Categorical Imperative would work (“An action is only not immoral if you would allow and approve of all others doing the same.”) But after working with sociopathic and psychotic patients, I know that they would often arrive at much different conclusions than what almost anyone else would consider reasonable or moral.

        I think another problem with giving someone no moral system at all (especially when young) is that it means they have no internal sense of morality and all moral decisions will be based on external costs and benefits. It has been shown that if one has no internalized sense of morality and the external motivation for morality is removed, then one also removes the desire to behave accordingly. Thus, wouldn’t it be better to give a child a moral system (that they can modify and examine as they develop) than to give them none at all?

        BTW, much as you said, I’d much rather have a rational and caring person of any or no religion planning society than a irrational and vengeful person who happens to pin the same religious label on himself that I do.

        • sirroxton says:

          Re: Subjective but not Arbitrary Morality

          No easy answer to that one. Kantian Categorical Imperative is a good start, but like you said, a sociopath would develop a system of imperatives that deny trust and good will, ultimately leading to a life of misery.

          As for developing your own system of beliefs, you kind of have to start with what you feel. Is it giving you anything? Does it make you feel more self-assured? Start marking down low-level assumptions.

          “Jimmy stealing from Mr. Gower is wrong,” can be an assumption, but it’s really poor, situational, and rather useless.

          “Stealing is wrong,” is better, but it overlooks corner cases.

          I suggest that this is the wrong track. Maybe the trick is limiting the amount of requirements we put on ourselves and others. The only obligations we have to other people exist according to the agreements we make with them. Likewise, the only permissible contact we can have with another person is that which they give to us. This is essentially Social Contract theory. It’s a nice model, but like most models, it stops producing answers at the corner cases. [Examples: What about people who can’t be responsible for themselves, such as children. What about public places where contact can’t be avoided.] This is the kind of thing that makes the study of law interesting; all the corner cases are more or less codified in more or less rational ways.

          There are all kinds of models for how people can interoperate and communicate. Rather than have an expectation, you can try to gauge a man by what protocol he uses. It’s like trying to establish a connection with the modem. Start at your gold standard of 28.8kbps, and if he fails to meet that, try 14.4kbps, until you get to 300bps – sociopath and limit the level of contact you permit. It’s a bad analogy, because unlike computers, a personal protocol isn’t necessarily better; it’s just one that you prefer.

          You can construct your outlook from your values. I don’t have any really good examples, but a while ago, I was arguing with a friend about the nature of honesty and the faith we put in people. I rather quickly came up with this:

          [We’d come to a tentative definition of faith here as their expectations of you, be they well-founded or otherwise.]
          —-
          Are we responsible for another person’s faith? No! But if Person A has any amount of good will towards Person B, Person A doesn’t want to see Person B needlessly hurt. If Person A violates misplaced faith in Person B, then Person B is needlessly hurt. Therefore, Person A should proactively make an effort to instruct Person B about any misplaced faith that Person B has in Person A.

          Therefore! If Person A has goodwill towards Person B, Person A is responsible for correcting the terms of faith of Person B in Person A of which Person A is aware.

          (Example: Leading on a girl who you know is only with you because she thinks you’re interested in marrying of her in exchange for sex is a violation of the goodwill argument if you make no effort to correct her misperception.)

          So you are responsible, at least in part, for other people’s faith in you.

          So either:
          A) Machiavelli doesn’t have good will towards his citizens
          OR (INCLUSIVE)
          B) Machiavelli feels that causing hurt [in people towards which he has good will] through violation of faith is *NOT* needless.

          —-

          This is value-based commentary, and yet it’s marginally formalized. The two are not incompatible.

          Maybe that answered your question in part, or perhaps it left you completely jaded of the hope of ever finding a good answer.

          • da_popa says:

            This is Probably why I go for Natural Law Theory =)

            I think a problem with Social Contract theory is that there are tons of people you will encounter whom you do not enter into negotiations with; do you have to ask someone if it’s ok to insult/mug/rape/murder/abort them? What if they can’t respond? Are we able to do what we wish? If not, then we have to refer back to some other base system of morality to give us the “default” answer.

            If that default answer is a sort of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” theory, that might break apart as you’d get guys who, for example, might justify rape by saying, “Well personally, I’d love to have a stranger of the opposite sex climb into my bed in the middle of the night….”

            Of course, a possible solution to this is to recognize that the truer concept that person is expressing is that “I would like people to interact with me in a manner I desire,” which by definition would exclude rape, but allow for desirable strangers to randomly crawl into their bed (reality non-withstanding). =)

            I also question designing a morality based upon what makes you feel more “self-assured;” just think of a power/money hungry person whose harmful actions reassure their sense of self-worth (ex. “Greed is Good.”) I like the psychological theory of Self-Actualization, but I think it needs to include a moral component as well.

            • sirroxton says:

              Re: This is Probably why I go for Natural Law Theory =)

              Careful. Social contracts don’t define what you can’t do to another. They define what you can do. So it does provide a solution with respect to mugging, raping, et. al.

              But the “default morality” issue does come up. It’s not like you can avoid seeing people in public, and since we can be affected by appearances, the system of autonomy under which social contracts rely isn’t complete. So we do find ourselves with precanned social standards, such as public decency laws, applied to the public domain.

              Some have tried to reconcile this theory by stating that all land should be private, and the person who owns the land makes the rules. Social contract theory drawn to the extreme can be found in Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, which is somewhat akin to hardline Libertarianism. I can’t say I’m a fan.

              Maybe it’s best just to say that in public spaces, you subject yourself to the tyranny of the majority as defined in an instant of time, but to apply basic contractualism elsewhere.

              Where “norms” come into play is in the general expectation of what constitutes a friendship, a business relationship, or a safely manufactured toy. People don’t have to have the same expectations, but the existence of a variety of norms give us language to describe standards and describe the differences in our philosophy from those standards as kind of a shortcut.

              And the self-assured thing — I started writing one concept, then changed to another without deleting everything I’d written. I was going to say that if something made you self-assured or was otherwise convenient, it would be highly suspect, but it’s easier to escape such influences if you go down to really low-level, non-situational assumptions.

              • sirroxton says:

                Natural Law

                Well, what better reflection of a personal value and belief system than a person delusion of inherent values in the universe? You might think you’re harvesting existing truths, and the traditional “humanist” might think you’re harvesting your own impulsive values. The result, however, is great either way, for you, because you’ve found the truth, and for the “humanist”, because you’ve managed to create a rigid, useful set of morals from your innate humanity.

                So by all means, stick with Natural Law, whatever it ultimately means. šŸ™‚

                • da_popa says:

                  Re: Natural Law

                  The problem is that without an objective set of morality, you can never rightfully fight injustice. (In fact, justice itself would just become mob opinion or elitist decree.)

                  Without an objective morality, all the discussions over slavery, abortion, equality, exploitation, privacy issues, etc., mean absolutely nothing. Ultimately, the only rational and consistent argument one can make on subjective moral grounds is, “I don’t like that.” All discussions of fairness, right and wrong, etc. must refer back to an ideal/objective, or else “Slavery is wrong” carries just as much weight in an argument as “I dislike ice cream.”

                  I don’t see why the belief in objective morality is any more delusional than the belief that science will discover all there is to know; the scientific method is, itself, unprovable by science.

        • sirroxton says:

          Re: Subjective but not Arbitrary Morality

          As for raising children, I don’t think I have any good answers there. Maybe the goal of raising a child is to give it a healthy body and a healthy mind, which, perhaps, might just mean adhering to your instincts, as any attempt to create an aloof, ivory-tower behavioral model for raising a child goes against evolution. I think Shogun would agree. Hell, maybe having a fundamentally healthy mind precludes thinking about this kind of thing. šŸ™‚

          The question of ethics and evolution is a hard one. On one hand, (to put it horribly simply) evolution goes a long way in explaining our various impulses, altruism, inclinations towards God, criminal behavior, etc. Most evolutionists don’t think that evolutionary game theory is a great way of developing your code of ethics. At the same time though, our various drives have grown out of that game theory, and it is only from our personal, evolution-inspired humanity that we have any hope of developing a rigid code of ethics in the first place. So it’s really just a big fucking mess, ain’t it?

  5. purly says:

    In an infinite universe there are infinite possibilities.
    One such possibility is that all possibilities are true.
    Another is that all possibilities are false.
    I can go on with this, but the point is that the systems which define our beliefs are often one sided when there is no need to be.
    The truth of the universe often means little to the individual. The needs of the individual define what is true within the individual’s reality. Being fallable as we are, we may believe contradictory things.

    I choose to believe in whatever calls to me at any particular point in time. Whatever “fits my needs.”

  6. kadath says:

    I’m wondering if your godlike beings would have the ineffable spiritual perfection ascribed to God. I think, to a believer, the ability to create is a necessary but not sufficient condition for worship.

    As I have said to more than one annoying Christian (why are they always Christian?): “I’m not an atheist. I’m just assuming the null hypothesis.” šŸ˜‰

    • mik3cap says:

      Nah. I’m betting that if things like that exist, they’re more like Cthulhu than “happy fun god”.

    • pawo says:

      I think the reason they’re “always” Christian is that Christianity is by far the majority religion in this country. All religions have annoying people. Minority religions could have higher proportions of annoying people while still having far less of them in total. There are also plenty of annoying people who don’t have any religion. Minorities may also tend to confine their outbursts to forums where they feel they have the support of the majority, whereas Christians are in the majority in most public places in this country.

      Most people tend to be annoyed more by an obnoxious person they disagree with than one they agree with, so it’s possible that obnoxious people who hold your “null hypothesis” may tend to slip under your proselytization-radar. I’ve met a few at WPI and at technical departments in other schools, where they feel free to rant and belittle anyone who disagrees with them.

      • kadath says:

        Nah, evangelical atheists are asses, too.

        The “they” in my original post doesn’t really have a clear antecedent, but I meant “proselytizing theists.” I’ve *never* been proselytized by anyone but a Christian. This may be a reflection of their majority status, or of the theological aggressiveness that’s part of many strands of Christian thought. I don’t really care what their excuse is; their behavior is still rude and arrogant.

        • pawo says:

          Arrogance is a real problem. Arrogant people end up causing more problems than they solve even when they’re trying to do good. They probably thought they were doing good by abusing you.

        • da_popa says:

          Proselytizers of all Stripes

          While I too have had Christians attempt to proselytize me, more often, I have had Neo-Pagans and Atheists attempt this through the use of historical shame and insults; calling someone “misogynistic” for belonging to a “patriarchal and oppressive religion” or “stupid” for “believing in superstitious nonsense” is just as proselytizing as calling someone “lost” for not belonging to “the true religion.” Just as being damned is probably the worse thing a Christian can imagine (and thus used by them in proselytizing), so is being stupid the worse “sin” to a rational atheist as is being misogynistic for a Dianic Neo-Pagan.

          I agree that such behavior is rude and arrogant regardless of beliefs; if someone questions the validity of another’s belief system, then they should ask questions while being prepared to answer some about their own instead of telling the other person, “You’re wrong and I’m right.” If they can’t show that much respect and put up their own views for scrutiny, they probably should examine themselves before questioning others.

  7. da_popa says:

    Religion, Irreligion, and Psychology

    I have no interest in worshipping a godlike being or being part of its plan. I have my own desires and my own purpose, and that’s enough for me.

    I think this sums up the unmentioned counter-argument to the psychological justification of atheism; we hear much of the claim Freud and many atheists make that those people who are religious are so because they have some type of psychological (i.e. delusional) need for a parent figure.

    However, an equally valid argument could be made that most atheists have a need to feel independent, to think they are in control of their own lives and don’t have to answer to anyone they don’t want to.

    I don’t give much credence to these arguments, however; simply because one might have a need for a parent figure doesn’t mean there is no such figure (otherwise, this argument would also disprove my actual parents!), and similarly, just because one might have a need for meta-physical independence doesn’t mean they don’t have it.

    • shogunhb says:

      Re: Religion, Irreligion, and Psychology

      Actually, I had this discussion yesterday at a game. People who adhere to a philosophy of atheism tend to be rugged indivdualists and self-control freaks. Not self-control in the sense of deprivation, simply in the sense of being in control of one’s life and actions.

      Notice I said “tend to be”. So no flame-age if you’re a submissive atheist.

  8. zik says:

    Nice post. But now I feel compelled to respond šŸ™‚

    As a pagan tree-hugging hippie (Wiccan/Witch/Whatever), my God didn’t create the Earth – my God IS the Earth (not the hunk of rock floating in space, but the life that is the living, breathing planet). The Earth Mother and the Sky Father got together and made sweet love, and boom – life. Plan? We don’t need to stinking plan!

    Our life, therefore, comes from, and is a part of, Divinity. As is all life on this planet. Everything is connected. Life isn’t about following the plan of some great creator in his galactic chess game – life is about personal growth: physical, mental, and spiritual. At the end of this life, if your soul is done learning, you return to the Divine. If not, you are born again, to learn new lessons. Regardless, everything you do is of your own free will.

    Everything here is, of course, IMHO. Other pagans out there can, and probably do, have their own view of things. Which is good and encouraged. Not I, nor anyone else, can tell you what to believe… or, as the case may be, not believe. It’s all up to you, big guy. If you are happy in your path, then live it šŸ™‚

  9. pawo says:

    God as axiom

    I think that talking about admitting the scientific possibility of a being with godlike powers is missing the point. God is not God because of the power He wields. It is perfectly sensible of you to say that you would not be willing to worship a being with godlike powers which had created the world even if you knew one to exist, because such a being would not be God. It would merely be a powerful being which had created the world. There is a difference.

    I see the existence of God as something which must be assumed right from the beginning of any logical argument in order for it to have real meaning. Assuming it to be true changes the significance of everything in the world, as does assuming it to be false. You are assuming that God does not exist in this sense. The worldview you described has room for a godlike being, but not for God Himself.

    I think of it as being analogous to Euclid’s fifth postulate in geometry. You can’t prove or disprove it based on the other postulates, so you have to make an assumption about it in order to go forward beyond a certain point. If you hold Euclid’s fifth postulate true and I hold it false, a line that appears straight to me will seem bent to you, even though we’re both being perfectly rational about it. Likewise, if you assume that God does not exist and I assume that He does, a line of reasoning which seems direct to me will look warped to you.

    Your questions about a godlike being make no sense from the point of view of someone who believes in God, and they’re not particularly relevant to someone who does not.

    • sirroxton says:

      Re: God as axiom

      I agree with everything stated. People who think of the Christian concept of God as nothing more than a powerful, caring entity who purportedly created us is really missing the point.

      • mik3cap says:

        Re: God as axiom

        Yeah, I guess I missed it completely, because I don’t see how it makes sense to differentiate Big G “God” from “the thing being worshipped”. If you’d care to elucidate your “point” feel free.

        Whatever “God” is, I don’t particularly care. It’s not part of my life.

        • sirroxton says:

          Re: God as axiom

          I hear you. I only keep up with the subject as a matter of debate, as well as a way of understanding and communicating with people that have beliefs radically different from my own.

          It just goes back to a point in my earlier post, really. God isn’t just an entity with innate, isolated properties that is an object of worship. He’s the personification of a set of absolutes intrinsically inherent in this universe. This meaning propogates to use through our souls and through divine inspiration.

          When the bio-organic machines that have rejected the dictates of their soul start trying to create meaning and sociological structures for themselves, Christians look at us the same way athiests look at them. “Oh, look, how cute! The little sea monkeys are trying to create meaning in their lives.” (Hrm, I wish I had a link for that Annals of Improbability study. Tom?)

          • shogunhb says:

            Re: God as axiom

            If you ask a hundred people to describe (capital ‘G’) God, you’ll get a hundred different answers.

            If God is just a set of absolutes intrinsically inherent in this universe, then God is the speed of light, gravity, and plank’s constant, becasue THESE are absolutes (so far as we can tell). There is not fundamental unit of morality dictated by the universe. The universe doesn’t care.

            What is breaks down to is FAITH.
            “I believe in God”, implying that there is an absolute other than the purely mechanical vs. “I don’t believe in God”.

            • sirroxton says:

              Re: God as axiom

              If you ask a hundred people to describe (capital ‘G’) God, you’ll get a hundred different answers.

              I believe a typical proper Christian’s answer would be, “I don’t have all the answers, but at least I’m trying to figure them out.”

              The Christian axiom centers around the moral absolutist dictates being just as central to the nature of the universe as Planck’s constant or the permissivity of space. The framework of existence is required to support the meaning of existence. Just because it’s easier (maybe not even easier, but certainly more testable in the context of our physical lives) to measure the constants that define the framework of the universe than the moral requirements, that doesn’t mean that the rest of it is bunk.

              It requires a concept of soul that extends beyond the current understanding of biology, which makes it highly unfashionable among educated persons. Still, as long as it’s making people happier and more sure of themselves, don’t expect it to die out too quickly. These people honestly think that God talks to them every day. They believe that people who don’t have shut Him out, either consciously or by social peer pressure and publically/parentally induced training forced on them from a young age. It’s no wonder a lot of Christians try to save their children from this “negative training” by homeschooling them or putting them in private schools.

              Does the idea of the subtle energies and the derivative complex signals of our brain interoperating with other subtle energies not originating organically that register only on the noise level seem far-fetched? Yeah, I suppose it does. But it feels pretty damned real to the people who claim to experience it.

              What’s my point? Yes, the objects of faith aren’t reproducible or testable, but poo-pooing those objects simply on account of their being objects of Faith is a weak argument. I’m not sure that’s the argument your making though. I think we’re more or less of the same mind when it comes to what we really believe, Shaughn. šŸ™‚

              • mik3cap says:

                Re: God as axiom

                I think the problem is that the thing being tested is Occam’s razor. Do we believe the irreducible hypothesis (a god exists) or do we simply throw it away because an untestable thing is moot?

                Why does mere belief in something make that something a worthwhile object of faith? If one man believes that aliens are beaming mind control signals into his head, do we respect him for his belief or do we place him in an asylum? The only things that separate religion from that alien guy’s belief system is that he’s a belief system of one and his beliefs haven’t been shared by others for a millenium or two.

                And why is atheism different than either of those? Because assuming the null hypothesis is not the same as making an actual assumptive hypothesis. It just renders the point moot.

                • sirroxton says:

                  Re: God as axiom

                  Christians believe that delusions can’t explain away the inspiration, emotional well-being, and life experiences that they believe are products of their Faith. If that man claiming he was getting alien signals was a Alabama-born hobo and started speaking Chinese, you wouldn’t dismiss him, would you? That’s what makes Occam’s Razor irrelevant here.

                  In the mind of a Christian, the tenets of their faith don’t exist in some kind of ideological vacuum, as much as our desire to argue the matter conveniently would press otherwise.

                  -Adam

                  • mik3cap says:

                    Re: God as axiom

                    If the alien guy started speaking fluent Chinese for no good reason, *that* would be actual proof that something fucked up was happening and can’t be ignored. Occam’s razor isn’t irrelevant at all – “tenets of faith” offer absolutely nothing in the way of standards of proof. You just have to “believe” because “faith is what you feel”. Because the priest told you so. No, the tenets of faith don’t exist in a vacuum… they’re built on a couple thousand years of people working very hard to convince each other that they’re true with absolutely no proof to back it all up.

                    Just because someone says that something is proof doesn’t actually make it proof. “Truth” is not relative in this instance; people don’t get to just make up their own causes and effects… I mean, they can, all day long, but it’s still no different than claiming that little green men live in the refrigerator but only ever become visible when the door is closed. Making up random, untestable hypotheses all day long is a pretty worthless activity.

                    When somebody manages to survive a plane crash, and “god” is praised for saving the person, that’s not proof of anything. Someone can claim that it was a “miracle” but there is no evidence that anything impossible. Sure, it’s very, very unlikely that someone could survive a crash… but it’s not impossible. Someone spontaneously knowing how to speak another language is impossible.

                    • da_popa says:

                      Spontaneous Fluency

                      Actually, that’s not impossible either! I remember hearing a news piece a couple of years ago about someone who was in a car accident, and when he came to, he could only speak a language he had never learned (French, I think).

                      This proves nothing about God, of course; it just shows that weird stuff happens that we cannot give a “reasonable” explanation for.

                      (BTW, if someone could find an actual link for this or a similar story, please let us know).

                    • sirroxton says:

                      Re: God as axiom

                      Truth divorced from human interpretation is fatuous.

                      If a Christian has evidence revealed to him that he is unable to share empirically with others, perhaps that evidence only has meaning for him and not for you, but it’s still valid for him in a very rational way.

                      One could envision a man with an unbreakable cryptographic receiver built into his head. Both PGP keys are private, one is inaccessibly contained in his cryptographic receiver and the other belongs to God. Now, the man knows his own mind. He knows he’s receiving messages. But he can’t prove that the signals directed towards his head are meaningful, and he can’t prove that the messages coming out of his mouth aren’t his own fabrications or simply echoes of other historical philosophers (such as those who wrote the bible) who had roughly the same inspiration.

                      This is truth for him and “mere faith” for everybody else.

                      Now, you could go a step further and claim that the man can’t know whether the messages are coming from some hidden cryptographic receiver or the subconscious recesses of his brain.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Re: God as axiom

                      The “problem”, as I see it, is that there is no difference between your guy and someone we as a society would call “insane”.

                      Life is not limited to individual experience. Shared experience, consensual reality, is intrinisic to life – it is not divorced from human interpretation, and it is sharable with others. All religious experiences, barring “honest to god” miracles that multiple people can witness and prove to others, are limited to individual experience only in this “revealed truth” you speak of.

                      “Personal truth” versus objective truth; at that point, it’s not truth – it’s just an opinion, a purely subjective experience that relates to no one else. In other words: inventing reality on an individual level doesn’t necessarily make it truth. When it’s only truth for one person, why should it actually matter for anyone else? “Valid for him” doesn’t matter a whit, in my view, because “valid for him” works just as well for the schizophrenic as the Christian.

                    • sirroxton says:

                      Re: God as axiom

                      Yay Logocentrism!

                      The only reason we have a tendency to view things the same way is because we’re all built from the same building blocks. That’s your objective truth.

                      Ultimately, all we have are categories and models that are useful in predicting phenomena. We can share these useful models, but to claim that they are referent to genuine essences of existence is fatuous. Yes, there’s something purely existential there creating these phenomena, I don’t question that. That would be foolish. But the only way we experience it is through our senses, and all we can do is create models that describe what our senses have detected.

                      That doesn’t make these models any less meaningful. I’d pursue physics over canned philosophy any day because it’s more important — to me, anyways.

                      Christians have a model. Just like we have to use multimeters, spectrometers, and telescopes to verify these models, verification of the Christian model only requires tools that have been available since the beginning of our species — the human mind. They can share this model with you, but you can’t verify it unless you apply the tool, which will radically alter your consciousness.

                      And therein lies the gulf. You’re not going that way, so you won’t be able to verify the model. It’s a reasonable choice. I wouldn’t.

                    • da_popa says:

                      Do Subjective & Unprovable Experiences = Mere Opinion?

                      I’ve been sick the last couple of days, so I’ve had a lot of time to lay around and do nothing (which I think is the ultimate goal of many of us who enjoy philosophy). =)

                      I understand the concern between distinguishing true religious experiences (if there are any) from delusions; working in the mental health field has made me more suspicious of mystical/miraculous claims than the Vatican. Saying that any experience which can’t be shared can’t be objectively true is one way of doing it, and fits nicely into a scientific mindset.

                      However, I realized the other night that I also really have no way of proving what I dreamt about to anyone else, either. According to our theory, since I cannot objectively verify my statement, “Last night I dreamt about X,” it is a mere opinion, a non-truth. Surely, however, it is an objective fact (or lie), it just simply cannot be verified by anyone else. Could not the same also be true for some religious experiences?

                      I was also thinking of something else that I thought funny (at least to me and my fevered brain). Let’s assume that a deity or alien openly came down to this planet and made an irrefutable appearance (let’s say at the least that it was captured on video, viewed by believers and non-believers alike, leveled a mountain, caused an island to rise from the ocean, and resurrected a hundred dead people). Do you think that thousands of years from now, people viewing our accounts of the event (newspapers, videos, resulting belief systems, etc.) would believe us, or would they regard it as quaint mythology, fraud, or mass delusion?

                      It’s true, there appears to be little to objectively distinguish between the claims of the religious and the mentally disturbed, and the above examples are surely no proof of the validity of any particular set of religious beliefs. However, it’s clear that this inability to objectively verify something does not refute the possibility of such experiences being true just as whether those experiences matter to anyone else or not has no impact on its truth or falsity.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Re: Do Subjective & Unprovable Experiences = Mere Opinion?

                      However, it’s clear that this inability to objectively verify something does not refute the possibility of such experiences being true just as whether those experiences matter to anyone else or not has no impact on its truth or falsity.

                      It’s not truth or falsity that ultimately matters – it is relevancy. True or false, neither can be proven; hence, the question is: what does this experience have to do with anything? It matters to exactly one person, and can never be shared with anyone.

                      In this light, I’m all for people “having religion”… as long as they don’t try to share it with anyone else, there’s no problem. Let religion be the individual, personal experience it can only ever be – any organization or communal celebration of religion can only pervert the “true” experience of it. People can live out fantasies in their heads all day long and no one will care; as long as they don’t impose their fantasy on others or allow themselves to be directed in life by baseless notions, we won’t have to worry about religious wars or inquisitions or anything of that sort ever again.

                    • da_popa says:

                      Is it really being said that “Utimately Truth Doesn’t Matter?”

                      When did we go from believing that science is great because it is the only system whose results can be proven true to saying that neither truth or falsity ultimately matters, only relevancy? And how can we be consistent by first asserting that religion “true or false, neither can be proven” to then deriding it as a “fantasy” formed on “baseless notions?”

                      In any event, wouldn’t this criteria of “relevancy not truth” also mean that since emotions and sensations (such as pain) can only be experienced individually and never truly shared that ultimately they don’t matter as well?

                      I think that as long as we have people maintaining that the beliefs of others don’t matter whether they are true or not simply because those beliefs aren’t relevant to themselves, we will always have persecution, with or without religion.

                      As a side note, since religion comes from the root “to reconnect”, it would seem then that communal celebration, if not an essential manifestation of religion, is certainly an appropriate manifestation.

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Re: Is it really being said that “Utimately Truth Doesn’t Matter?”

                      Science has a direct relationship to everyday life itself. Calling one thing a “truth” and another thing a “falsehood” really doesn’t matter much in the end because of subjectivity. Science helps people solve problems and make predictions about their actions every single day, again and again.

                      Religion has no direct, provable effect on everyday life. Praying all day long may or may not actually solve anyone’s problems.

                      Emotions and sensations have a great deal of relevancy because they govern interactions between people – obviously a person feeling pain or sadness is not in a vacuum; empathy and sympathy exist, after all. Communication exists and has a direct effect on people’s lives.

                      Now, “reconnecting” with a god/gods and communicating with god/gods… why does that matter at all?

                      “Because” is not a good answer. “So people can feel better” is not a good answer. There are lots and lots of ways to achieve fulfillment that involve things related directly to life itself, and not to a “let’s pretend” system of beliefs that is totally unprovable and doesn’t actually relate to everyday life (except perhaps in a moral teaching/storytelling kind of way). If we do not stand for delusional people making their own misguided way through society, why are people with religious beliefs afforded an exception?

                      Oh, right – because there’s more of them than there are people who don’t have religion. 90% versus 10%.

                    • da_popa says:

                      Re: Is it really being said that “Utimately Truth Doesn’t Matter?”

                      I don’t know if examining a black hole, the big bang, or parallel universes really have much everyday relevance to us. =)
                      (Even so, I still think they should be explored).

                      Religion has been the binding and driving force on civilizations for thousands of years. How can we say, true or not, that it has no effect on everyday life? It was the very basis of everyday life. Religion was not just a reconnection to god, but also often to your fellow humans, and/or nature. Further, based on most understandings of god(s), how could reconnecting with it/them not be important? (It would only seem unimportant if you already made up your mind that it’s a bunch of bull).

                      I think we need to stick to relevance or truth, or be more critical about their importance. It seems like we might be going back and forth when it’s convenient. For example, when it looked like it would be hard to disprove the possibility of religion, it was called irrelevant, then when it was said to actually be relevant to 90% of people, it was dismissed as a delusion, reverting back to the criteria of truth, which had been previously deemed unimportant.

                      Again, it seems that the question is being begged; if you’re already asserting that religion is a delusion, and not willing to engage in a discussion regarding its possibility, how can we proceed in any meaningful manner? I don’t believe in parallel universes, but I would love to discuss its theories, possibilities, and implications. (And I would never insult one of its advocates by calling them delusional.)

                    • mik3cap says:

                      Re: Is it really being said that “Utimately Truth Doesn’t Matter?”

                      I don’t know if examining a black hole, the big bang, or parallel universes really have much everyday relevance to us.

                      All real innovation in engineering, and perhaps in all of science, is driven by pure research. Every scientific pursuit ultimately will have some kind of everyday relevance in helping to understand how the world around us works.

                      Religion has been the binding and driving force on civilizations for thousands of years. How can we say, true or not, that it has no effect on everyday life? It was the very basis of everyday life.

                      This sure sounds an awful lot like the “Because” answer I didn’t want to hear. “Because it has been around for a 1,000 years” does not by itself make religion relevant or important today. It just means that the opiate of the masses has really good sticking power in most people’s minds.

                      I never said that religion is a delusion. However, there can be no denying that it has all the same characteristics of delusion, as does any purely subjective and unshareable, unproveable experience that has no basis in the reality that most people perceive. All delusions could possibly be true in an infinite universe, as could all religions. I have never, and will never deny any possibility. Unfortunately, possibilities that can never be proven would seem to me to be beside the point – why argue the unproveable? I don’t think we can go any further than that.

                      Now, before the question gets lost again – unless you deny any of the logic of the above – why do we treat delusional people differently than religious people?

                    • da_popa says:

                      Delusions Defined?

                      I agree in valuing knowledge for its own sake, which is why the issue of relevancy, rather than truth, always seemed to me to be out of place for this discussion.

                      I’m not saying that religion is valuable “because.” It was asserted that religion had no provable relevancy to people (a time-frame was never specified) and I countered by citing the historical record. Nowhere did I say religion “should” or “must be” the driving force, I simply said it was at one time, and for most of time.

                      I think we really only have two ways to distinguish between delusions and subjective experience, and both are imperfect:
                      The first is by comparing the belief to the shared vault of our culture’s knowledge and beliefs. If I said that all oak trees are neon-pink, since almost every other person in the world would disagree, we would say I had a problem in perception or was delusional, same as if I said the government planted a tracking-chip in my head. You notice, however, that the last one could be true (after all, we know for a fact that the gov’t did do many experiments on the developmentally disabled for years without us knowing, who knows what else they did that they haven’t told us about), but we would regard it as a delusion because it runs counter to our shared expectations.

                      The other method is to judge the person’s general personality and reliability. Someone who claims that I am reading his mind (which I know I am not) will be instantly regarded by me as delusional, and other questionable statements will be viewed in a much more suspicious light. Someone who seems “otherwise” rational and intelligent and emotionally stable but also claims that on his 18th birthday, he had a dream of a religious nature and when he awoke he saw a temporary mark where a hand in the dream had touched him, will be regarded as being less likely of being delusional. Just as I would judge a declaration of good-intent from a known manipulator differently than from a good friend, so we do with questionable and unverifiable statements.

                      Similarly, believability also depends on how severe the claim is; a religious claim of “I talked to my god and he told me that I am immortal and said he will smite you and all others who plot against me,” will probably be met with much more resistance than the claim of “I felt one with God,” simply because it runs counter to the expectations of most people, religious or not.

                      I never claimed that there was a perfect way to always distinguish between personal experiences and delusions; the only sure method is if someone contradicts something known to be factually true (“I was born in 1961 and served in the American Civil War.”) Our methods of differentiating are imperfect as they rely on a subjective judgment, but it’s pretty much all we have to go on.

                      As for why certain religious experiences are less likely to be regarded as delusional, it’s because they have been a part of our culture and its predecessors for millennia and, as you said, more than 3/4 of our culture still believes in them. Therefore, since they’re something which we can’t prove to be false and they’re more amenable to our shared vault of knowledge and beliefs, its harder to regard some of their claims as delusions.

  10. hwango says:

    This discussion strongly reminded me of a particular comic from Partially Clips.

  11. shogunhb says:

    Damn Mike, quite a response to a post having NOTHING to do with sex.