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10/3/08

Silly Walks, Salient Points...

There's been a lot of attempts (at least on my part) to remind everyone here that atheism and theism are both worldviews that depend a lot on your personal assumptions. More to the point, atheists are just as likely to choose that belief for irrational, emotional and selfish reasons as a theist is to choose theirs.

Leave it to a comedian to frame that with clever humor. Check out Cleese's spoof of reductionist materialism, especially the blue ribbon riff from about 1:35 on.

24 comments:

  1. The parrot sketch is still funnier, but I have no problem buying the message. He says something about we believe what is secure and comfortable.

    I have my own theory about the basic difference between believers and the non-religious: aesthetics.

    I'll have to elaborate. Take five minutes and watch this video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH-groCeKbE

    I think that is one of the most amazing, kick-ass, beautiful, awesome things ever.

    You look at that and intuitively think: who is conducting this show? Who is designing those patterns?

    Nobody had a clue how birds or bees or fish flocked for the longest time. It was a mystery.
    Until 1986, this guy Craig Reynolds figured it all out.

    The birds all follow three simple rules: avoid crowding, steer towards average heading of neighbors, and steer towards average position of neighbors. If all the birds do that, you get what is called emergence. Something unimaginably complex emerges from something very simple.

    So for me, knowing that stuff, and knowing that there is in fact no top down director guiding the birds, but rather just beauty spontaneously emerging - makes it even more beautiful.

    Why do I have those feelings? I have no idea.

    Also, take my dogs. I know that way back my dogs and I have a common ancestor. There literally walked the earth an animal whose descendants are us. I LOVE THAT THAT IS TRUE! They, and me, and you, are all this big family.

    That just emerged.

    For no purpose, other than just to be.

    And I love that too. It's the most beautiful thing I can imagine.

    I do not want it to end. My knowing this stuff, and appreciating it. But one day, my brain will just switch off, like a light goes out. It will be as it was before I was born, so I don't fear it.

    But knowing my time is short, makes all that other stuff all the more wonderful and beautiful!

    ---------------------

    So the theist finds my words repulsive. They are not related to a dog! That's gross. And the complexity of life arising spontaneously? Only an idiot would believe that. And who can be happy knowing that it all ends in oblivion? The non-believer must be a nihilist, thinks the theist.

    For the theist, the top down designed by a god universe is more beautiful. That they will live forever in heaven is beautiful.

    --------------------

    For me, I perceive the life of religious folk as somewhat tragic. Because what they believe is almost certainly false. And they are missing out on this wonderful life.

    But, they see me the same way.

    That my life is a tragedy, and that God will torture me in hell for all eternity.

    Oh well. People just have different views about what is beautiful, and that certainly influences what they believe.

    That's my theory anyway. There's probably nothing to it.

    -----------------

    Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night

    God said, Let Newton be!

    And all was light.


    I love that. Alexander Pope wrote it. Alexander Pope was a primate closely related to chimps. His brain was just a hunk of meat, and that hunk of meat burped up those words one day.

    I love that! That hunks of chimp meat can write poetry.

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  2. More to the point, atheists are just as likely to choose that belief for irrational, emotional and selfish reasons as a theist is to choose theirs.

    Can you choose what you believe, in the same way you choose which tie to wear? I can't.

    I could no more choose to believe in the god as portrayed in the bible as I could choose to believe I lived on the moon, or was married to Megan Fox.

    I just have beliefs, and the strength of those beliefs is based on available evidence.

    The belief that I exist is certain, that the Sun will rise tomorrow is slightly less certain.

    My belief that my beliefs are based mostly on good evidence has drastically reduced recently.

    That is based on some research I have done on why and how humans obtain their beliefs. It seems emotions and some other surprising things are influential.

    So based on that evidence, I am constantly reminding myself to rigorously re-evaluate my beliefs.

    How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life

    and

    Predictably Irrational

    are both fantastic books. They will both surprise the hell out of you.

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  3. Unbeguiled: bravo. Consciousness, and God, are emergent phenomena. We are the dance- there is no dancer.

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  4. unBeguiled,

    I did need to point out one thing: according to your own statement, you are a nihilist. Maybe not to the extent Nietzsche was, but this...

    "But one day, my brain will just switch off, like a light goes out. It will be as it was before I was born, so I don't fear it."

    ...is a statement of nihilistic thinking. That "all will be as it was before" you, and that it doesn't really matter in the end.

    I also think it's a bit strange to pity a believer as though they can't appreciate beauty because they feel there's a purpose behind it. Do atheists see no beauty in classical art? Should I feel sad for an atheist viewing a painting by DaVinci, and direct him to a postmodern piece instead?

    A theist can appreciate beauty and meaning with a sense that such things really exist. We can also appreciate that beauty in the knowing that it has an element of eternality to it. We also revel in the idea that

    An atheist, at some point, has to separate his appreciation of beauty from his conviction that everything that happens in the universe is identical (atoms obeying physics, nothing more), and that once he's gone it will be as if he'd never seen that beauty at all.

    Philosophical point: theists also distinguish between "complexity" and "specified complexity". Salt crystals are specified and non-complex. Waves in the ocean have an unspecific, but complex pattern. DNA is both complex and highly specific. The difference matters.

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  5. according to your own statement, you are a nihilist.

    Arguing definitions is trivial. I don't want to play darts with the dictionary. If after reading my words, you wish to classify me a nihilist, fine.

    I also think it's a bit strange to pity a believer as though they can't appreciate beauty because they feel there's a purpose behind it.

    I never said anything remotely like that. Of course believers appreciate beauty. What I am saying is that you and I have very different aesthetics.

    My motivation to pity believers is because what they believe is almost certainly false. You and I can both watch the birth of a human baby and find it beautiful. But my deep understanding and appreciation of what that is all about contributes to the beauty of the event. While I think your false notion that the mother feels pain because Eve ate an apple is absurd.

    But, we can both find it beautiful in our own ways.

    Do atheists see no beauty in classical art? Should I feel sad for an atheist viewing a painting by DaVinci, and direct him to a postmodern piece instead?

    I can only speak for myself, but based on my experience most non-believers are able to appreciate religiously motivated art.

    I love Ode to Joy. I love
    Cath├ędrale Notre-Dame de Chartres.

    I also understand the evolutionary psychology of religion and am a student of comparative mythology. I know what an allegory is.

    Because I understand and study these things, the depth of my appreciation of religious art continues to grow.

    An atheist, at some point, has to separate his appreciation of beauty from his conviction that everything that happens in the universe is identical (atoms obeying physics, nothing more)

    No.

    You are committing the fallacy of composition. Just because your thinking is fallacious does not mean mine must be as well.

    A painting is just bits of pigment stuck to canvas, but it is something more too.

    The fallacy of composition seems rampant among religious folk. I don't know why that is.

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  6. We are the dance- there is no dancer.

    Well said. Being no one is being itself.

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  7. unBeguiled,

    If you're referring to my remark to MaskedMarauder in a prior thread, my statement is in reference to changing the definition of a word mid-conversation (like choosing what the word will mean each time it's used by throwing a dart at the dictionary page). Perhaps you misunderstood that as referring to mere disagreements over definitions.

    "Nothing really matters" is a part of nihilistic thought. If you're not a nihilist, then you're not. All I can say for sure is that talking about how everything will be the same after your death as it was before is a nihilistic expression.

    I think talking about the composition fallacy in others' philosophy is a dangerous road for an atheist to walk. Theism's not prone to thinking that a man is nothing more than the sum of his parts - or that being composed at least partly of matter makes him no more free than atoms are.

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  8. Med-Man,

    I riffed your earlier comment yes, I thought it was clever. I did not recall it was about equivocation as you say, I just remembered it was about definitions.

    I am what I am. I think labels are a pain, but we can hardly communicate without them. I'm not a nihilist.

    I think talking about the composition fallacy in others' philosophy is a dangerous road for an atheist to walk. Theism's not prone to thinking that a man is nothing more than the sum of his parts - or that being composed at least partly of matter makes him no more free than atoms are.

    Oh boy, where to begin.

    Atheism is not a philosophy. Atheism, as most atheists use it today, just means lacking a belief in gods.

    The word is so free of content, that I'm puzzled we even need such a word. I don't use the word, unless forced too, as I am here.

    "Theism" is not only not prone to thinking, but is not capable of thinking at all.

    I agree that theists do not commit the composition fallacy concerning their own view of human beings. That is obviously so, and I can't imagine you really thought I meant that.

    What I have experienced from theists is that they insist that because I believe a certain thing,
    then other beliefs must logically follow.

    For example, I will hear:

    "Well, if you believe a baby is just made of atoms and has no soul, then you must believe that you can treat that baby like a piece of garbage, because garbage is just made of atoms too."

    I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that sort of thing.

    Or sometimes they will apply this line of thinking to morality.

    "If you think choices are just determined neuronal firings in your brain, then you cannot condemn Hitler, because choosing what to have for breakfast is just neurons firing too."

    The depth of confusion required to say such a thing cannot be exaggerated.

    You said:

    An atheist, at some point, has to separate his appreciation of beauty from his conviction that everything that happens in the universe is identical (atoms obeying physics, nothing more

    That is the prototype of composition fallacy.

    Yes, Med-man, I do believe that every thing that happens is just particles interacting by the laws of physics.

    But it just does not follow from that that "everything that happens in the universe is identical".

    Interacting atoms make a can of Spam.

    Interacting atoms produce the feeling of love a mother has for her child.

    This is called emergence.

    Cans of Spam and love are both made of atoms in motion. But that fact does not make them "identical".

    Like the starlings. Just birds following simple rules, nothing more, you insist I must believe.

    No. Not nothing more, much much more. Something beautiful emerges.

    [Side Bar: Again, you cannot know anything at all about an atheist's convictions. You might take a guess, but in fact all you know is what she does not believe.]

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  9. MedicineMan "An atheist, at some point, has to separate his appreciation of beauty from his conviction that everything that happens in the universe is identical (atoms obeying physics, nothing more), and that once he's gone it will be as if he'd never seen that beauty at all."
    Ah, but don't forget that some of "me" will eventually be the beauty that the next person sees. My atoms will co-mingle with the rest of the universe. Heck, they're doing it right now. The "me" that exists now consists of entirely different materials than the ones that "me" started off with (even my neurons, which are the same ones I started off with, consist of different atoms than what they originally had). Something else is already using the atoms of an earlier "me" as their current "them". The universe is one big trip, if you think about it. That the ride ends is moot, if unfortunate, I say, as that end is someone else's beginning. Sagan's "star stuff" comment was right.

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  10. unBeguiled,

    "'Theism' is not only not prone to thinking, but is not capable of thinking at all."

    If you honestly believe that, you're a fool. If you don't, you're a troll. Either way, I don't see the sense in making nice with someone who's so sophomoric as to say something like that. Only the willfully ignorant or the willingly bigoted take such a position.

    Why say more?

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  11. Med-man,

    I was only pointing out the reification of "Theism" in your writing.

    Theism is an abstraction. It cannot think. Theists can think, and some do so with clarity.

    You misunderstood me completely.

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  12. unBeguiled,

    *shrug*

    You were dismissive and sneering before, and I'm not entirely sure I buy such an explanation. It would be totally unrelated to anything else we were discussing.

    It's not important enough to me to roll in the mud over. As I said, I get more than enough asinine condescension from people I respect enough to take it...you didn't give me the chance to add you to that list.

    *shrug*

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  13. I could just as well have said atheism is incapable of thinking.

    I'm sorry you were offended but if you had continued reading I think the context would have cleared things up.

    ReplyDelete
  14. It would be totally unrelated to anything else we were discussing.

    Yes it was unrelated. And my motives were not congenial. On a site such as this, that is by its nature condescending, I will behave like a nit-picking jackass. But I shall do so in a polite and civilized way.

    I will never name call, or make an ad hominem attack. But if you make a mistake, no matter how trivial, I will let you know.

    You should not expect to be treated with kid gloves when you sponsor a blog like this.

    You're jonesing for a fight, and as should be clear by now, I'm game.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Well, I guess you could have, but you didn't. I didn't skip the rest of your comment specifically because I wanted to see if there was some explanatory or moderating thought there. I read it, and there's nothing in there to help.

    Were that the first time something you said struck me as insulting, I'd let it go. It's not. Once you give someone the impression that you're looking down at them, they're not likely to believe you when you keep claiming it to be accidental. And I don't, so whether you think that's fair or not, it's a moot point now. I think I gave you more than enough leeway in the condescension department.

    Oh well, I guess. More's the pity, but if I'm going to expend time and energy exchanging ideas with someone of the atheistic persuasion, I'll stick to those who I'm more sure are going to consider my words, and their own, with more care.

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  16. Well, then I guess my original assessment was true, and you even lied about it being an innocuous remark. One minutes it's "oh, I didn't mean anything like that," the next it's "I wasn't being congneial". If you're looking to stage a case of moral superiority, you're doing it wrong.

    I gave you a chance to engage in a rational exchange of ideas, and you passed. I defended my views and answered your questions. You chose evasion and condescension.I handled you with restraint despite your repetitively snide attitude, until you started throwing it at yet another contributor, at which point I felt you needed an attitude adjustment. Apparently, it didn't take. Prior to all that, I'd have been willing to talk about pretty much anything. After it, I was at least willing to be civil and converse.

    At this point, your opinion and lack of understanding just aren't particularly important to me. If you want a "fight", go find some doofus stupid enough to argue with you. I have more useful things to do.

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  17. I wanted to see if there was some explanatory or moderating thought there. I read it, and there's nothing in there to help.

    Oh come on. "Theists" was the subject of my next sentence, which is where you should have caught on.

    As I said, the comment was a gibe, but not at theism, but at you for making a rather glaring reification mistake.

    You cannot seriously sponsor a blog like this and not expect to get needled a bit.

    I never said it was "innocuous". I did not lie about anything. I said you misunderstood me, which you did. You thought I was being demeaning to all theists, while I was merely teasing one theist in particular.

    Wasn't it you telling me to have some stones?

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  18. *shrug*

    I expected you to grow stones between your legs, not in between your ears. Phrasing that as you did was pretty dense, if you meant it as you said you did. But, whatever you meant is more or less moot at this point, because what you said was hard to interpret any other way - especially in light of your prior conduct. One you've cut off someone's nose, there's no point in giving them a rose to smell.

    As I said, once you give the impression that you're being snide, don't expect me to be such a credulous fool that I'll assume you're being politely "needling" just because you say so.

    Agree..disagree..like it or not...the ship has sailed. I don't wish you ill, but I'd rather spend time discussing these things with more informed and less gaffe-or-sneer-prone skeptics.

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  19. I don't wish you ill, but I'd rather spend time discussing these things with more informed and less gaffe-or-sneer-prone skeptics.

    Surrender accepted.

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  20. medicineman- this is now the second time you have invited unbeguiled to leave, and I can't for the life of me see that he has done anything other than disagree with you. Sure, he hasn't pulled any punches, but neither have you; and it's a pity to call off what was developing into a very interesting exchange. I do hope that AiD is not on its way to becoming what sunk Atheism Sucks: a place where atheists are made to feel unwelcome and eventually stop showing up. If you just want to preach to the choir, of course, then that's something else.

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  21. Zilch,

    No one asked unBeguiled to leave.

    No one minds strident exchanges or tough questions. In fact, we - or at least, I - expect them to go both ways. However, I don't care for unprovoked derision, particularly when it's repetitive. I choose not to continue engaging in the conversation when that becomes a pattern. Yes, pity that a developing conversation got derailed, but I gave my reasons. With a different person it might have gone another way.

    unBeguiled, like everyone else, is free and welcome to say whatever they want, by and large. I'm sure we'll engage on some other topic before long.

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  22. "I don't wish you ill, but I'd rather spend time discussing these things with more informed and less gaffe-or-sneer-prone skeptics."


    I as well didn't think unbeguiled was warranted a cold brush off either. I suspect MedMan as the less informed one of the two. In old school Frank Walton speak, I'd say Unbeguiled won the debate, being that MedMan effectively quit.

    I'm not Frank Walton though.

    Hey Zilch, I've been meaning to ask, what's the story behind your avatar. I can see you are obviously at a beach, but what is that you have up to your mouth. (stop right there you group of savages, that was an innocent question) It looks like it could be a horn or some kind of scuba equipment.

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  23. Howdy Scary- the story behind my avatar is this: I'm a musician and instrument maker, and every time I find a nice long bull kelp at the beach I make a horn out of it. Try it yourself: all you need to do is cut off half the bulb at the big end to make the bell, cut off the small end and make a cup-shaped cavity to form the mouthpiece, and you're in business. If you're ambitious, you can even make fingerholes in a short piece and you've got a cornett that you can play melodies on.

    Now that I live in Vienna, there's no bull kelp around, but I usually manage to get back to California once a year and get my fix. The pic was taken near my uncle's house in Crescent City.

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  24. John Cleese reminds me of why I love satire.

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