Class Warfare Blog

August 16, 2017

God and the Imagination

I have been reading a fascinating book lately (Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition.) which has already prompted a post and my next three posts will be prompted by ideas read in that very same book. (I recommend that book to you if you are inclined to read philosophy/philosophers.)

This post comes from my response to a statement in Chapter 5: Life without God: Some Personal Costs by Daniel M. Farrell. You can tell from the book title that this is a series of writings by philosophers regarding their lives now that they have given up their god habit (or having never had one). This one is both poignant and informative in that the author was pursuing an avocation as a priest when he lost his belief. At one point he says this:

At this point, though, I want to briefly address the second question above: how might someone try to deal with the decision problems we’re concerned with here without having recourse to help from God, or religion, and what sorts of problems and challenges might he or she face? Begin with the question of how such a person might proceed, leaving difficulties with her procedure until later. Even this is not an easy question, and it would of course be ludicrous to suppose there is only one plausible answer. I can think of one answer, though, that strikes me as not only plausible but also as an answer that might help us with the question of why answers that are not based in some way on belief in God do not work for all of us. This is an answer that tells us to address the questions that concern us here by engaging in a certain kind of imaginative enterprise— by engaging in what we might call “thought experiments” of a certain sort. Specifically, it suggests that we should deal with the relevant questions— about how to arrange or “order” the things we value into some sort of life or life plan— by addressing such questions in a way in which many people in fact actually address them in everyday life: namely, by picturing or imagining one’s life as it might go, if one were to make certain choices over others, and then tentatively settling on the one that feels best.”

Here was someone who was in the habit of consulting his god whenever he had to make any kind of important decision. He commented that he also had more than a few spiritual advisors volunteering to tell him how their god wanted him to decide. (Apparently we can know the mind of God?)

My visceral reaction to this was that an intense religious upbringing was crippling. By offloading his decision-making process onto his religion, he did not develop what I would call a normal decision-making process until he lost his faith and then he was way behind the rest of us in that skill.

Many secular people think that we make most decisions through a concerted intellectual effort. We weigh the pros and cons and then pick the best option from among those we have carefully identified. Uh, … no. This is rarely the case, if ever. This is a fiction we tell ourselves about being rational people. Consider a mundane but important decision: buying a car. If one were to go about it intellectually, one would collect data that was important to us: costs, maintenance, safety statistics, cargo space, features that provide comfort to passengers and driver, etc. Then, … yes, what then? What you find is that one model of car is cheaper but another you are looking at has a higher Consumer Reports rating, while a third gets better gas mileage and has lower maintenance costs. How are these to be played off against one another?  Nobody, absolutely nobody, comes up with a rating system for each of these measures of values important to you. In addition, nobody works out a system by which each feature is rated as to its importance and then weighted as to how it affects the final decision. (Nobody.) I would especially like to see somebody evaluate how the color of the car gets factored in. People react very strongly to the color a car is painted (not the quality of the paint job, just the color). And what affect does the color have on anything of value? (Answer: none … but it does affect us.)

What we really do instead of this laborious, exhausting procedure is use our imaginations. (This is what they are for.) One’s imagination may even be running in the background while we are dabbling at data collecting and sifting. We imagine ourselves in that car, as driver or passenger, and imagine scenarios around that imaginary situation and then check out how it makes us feel. Feel? Yes, feel.

If we are a safety freak, we might imagine the car going into a skid and then you correcting that skid easily and safely. If we are into being noticed, we may imagine driving up at our high school reunion in our new convertible, oozing a picture of “success.” I think you can imagine more of these. (See, it works.) Basically we have to be comfortable “seeing” ourselves in that car doing our ordinary car things. This is what the test drive is for. Surely you do not think you are doing anything like a real test of anything with a test drive? You are trying it on for size and feel.

We learn how to use our imaginations to help us with decisions as we grow up. This is why we daydream of having a new bike (I did.) or some new gewgaw. But, in reality most of this is done sub rosa; we are not even aware of it as it is done subconsciously. Our author was used to praying for “guidance” from his god and seeing how his god “felt” about the situation. If you are like me, you can probably see where this is going. The “guidance” was supplied by his own imagination in the channel he had created for it. When he lost his belief in his god, he also lost this channel of help for making decisions. He had to learn how the rest of us do it.

My second “Aha” moment came right on the heels of realizing that his religious education had partially crippled him was that his imagining faculty, a faculty that I believe distinguishes us as human beings (having a highly developed ability to imagine, not that we are the only one’s who can) … invented his own personal god to consult. Obviously, his education promoted what he ended up imagining, but if you desperately wanted a god to help you, your powers of imagining would help you create that being … in your imagination … including powerful religious experiences, that is feelings, that seal the deal for you.

The irony is that an imaginary god can cripple the use of imagination for mundane purposes.

An Addendum Most of our “important decisions” are probably not that important, they are probably just vexing. Regarding my “career,” the most important decision I anguished over was whether I would teach chemistry in a high school or community college. This is not like deciding whether to be a burger flipper or a brain surgeon or whether to have a dangerous surgery or not. Such decision happen only rarely in our lives. Most decisions are much more mundane. The distinction in my decision between the two options was not exactly big and whichever I decided I could be happy in it (unless I chose not to be). I used to joke that I chose college rather than high school because if I got frustrated I could swear at adults in a college. For all I know, that might have been the deciding factor. More likely it was the fact that it was easier getting qualified to teach in college.

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August 15, 2017

I’m An Atheist and I’m Okay ♫ (A Sing Along!)

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:50 pm
Tags:

There is some benefit to having what is called a “cartoon mind.” In the midst of yet another tedious discussion initiated by a Christian troll, aka Internet Christian apologist, I hear in my mind’s ear the baritone voices of the Monty Python Flying Circus troupe singing not “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m okay,” but “I’m an Atheist and I’m Okay.”

The standard trope of these apologists is that without a belief in a god (their god, of course), our lives have no meaning, with no moral compass, leaving us depraved and adrift in society. Our standard response is that because we know our lives are limited, we enjoy them more and work harder to create something of value to us and those around us. The end result of this exchange of position statements is, of course, no greater understanding or appreciation. It is like a set piece, a joseki in a life. (How’s that for an obscure reference? Go ahead; look it up.)

So, I felt I owed it to my sense of fairness to examine the position of the apologists to see what I am missing, if anything. So, here goes. Their view is rooted in the belief that they possess something called an immortal soul. This, apparently, is one kind of “soul,” an entity which does not seem to be definable, not is there any evidence of its existence. All of that aside, this immortal soul lives on after they die. It doesn’t stay here apparently, but moves to one of two places: Heaven or Hell. Heaven is a place of indescribable joy and Hell a place of indescribable torment. I capitalize these place names to differentiate them from more mundane uses of the words and I say indescribable in each case because there is no coherent description of either place, nor are there locations for them other than vague references to “above” for Heaven and “below” for Hell. I believe these “directions” are based upon a common axis available to human beings. Because of gravity, we all possess a common reference direction of up and down. Left and right are much more confusing as they depend on which direction we are facing, not so for up and down. So, we map all kinds of things onto up-down axes. We say things like “I am feeling up today!” and “The Stock Market is down today!” when both of these things have nothing to do with up or down directions. Also, our social hierarchies are mapped so, therefore as we “elevate” our position in society, we find more people beneath us and fewer above, so the ultimate is being on top. Conversely as we sink down to depravity, we find fewer people beneath us, so the worst situation is to be at the bottom. Heaven equals top, Hell equals bottom, emotional responses are built in to these directions and locations.

So, how would I act if I believed in these things: immortal soul, Heaven, Hell, etc? If I truly believed these were real, I would be desperate to avoid an eternity of torment. I would spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to get to Heaven and avoid Hell. We are told, in addition to this, that their god has “a plan” for each of us. Some argue that this individualized plan directs us to both places for eternity, that the names of those destined for Heaven, and hence also Hell, are already known. This makes no sense whatsoever. If this were true, then I would have to do nothing, I could do nothing, to affect the fate of my soul. In addition, as much as I wanted to I could not convince myself that I knew where I was headed. Most Christians seem convinced that they and their loved one’s are going to Heaven, but if the list of names has already been written and no one knows who is on that list, this seems to be wishful thinking at best and delusional bullshit at worst.

So, such a system is unlikely and it is immensely cruel. To have a god who creates sentient beings but who also relegates some to eternal bliss and others to eternal torment, before they are even born, is not only bizarre but it is also deranged. So, I am going to assume that those particular Christians got that wrong.

Another group of Christians tell us that the path to Heaven is determined only by whether one believes that Jesus, a character in a passion play in the Christian’s book, is their god playing a role. If you believe that, you are going to Heaven. If this is true, why is there also a plan for each and everyone of us? Why should we strive to discover and fulfill that plan, should we not instead focus on believing in Jesus? Still others tells us that good works and deeds are the way to Heaven, but again these deeds/acts aren’t specified, just vaguely referred to as these are apparently part of the damned plan, again.

If I were to believe one of these variations, I would be terrified that there are competing variations and that I may have picked the wrong one. (They can’t all be correct, can they? What does it say about the deity of they are?) In this worldview, our lives are an eye blink of time, and eternity unimaginably long. Some of these religions claim there are mortal sins, unforgivable mistakes we can make, but do not counter this with a list of approved “acts” that will advance one’s position in line to go to Heaven. But then that group, at one point, sold “get into Heaven” licenses and “get out of Hell” licenses for money, so they do not seem all that believable.

When I observe ordinary Christians in our culture, do I see them scurrying around, desperately trying to determine their own soul’s fate? They have a few short decades at best to do this, so there is no time to waste. But, I do not see this. I see them complacently leading the same kinds of lives we atheists do. They have jobs, homes in the suburbs, they have kids (even though they know their children will be subject to the same cruel system), they worry about politics and taxes, and wonder whether their football team will win this year. So, there is a disconnect between what the officials of these various Christian religions claim is the case and what Christians actually believe (and act upon). The “believers” either don’t believe in all of “that stuff” or they believe they have a Get Into Heaven card they can play when they die. (I have yet to meet a Christian who believes they are going to Hell, have you?) So, is it “grab a Get Into Heaven card and then go about your life as you will”? Is that what I am seeing?

Now, that sounds cynical … because it is. It is taking an honest look at the behavior of these groups and comparing it with what is claimed as their beliefs. I wonder what they actually do believe? Is anyone aware of surveys of what the various sects of Christianity actually believe (or claim to believe)? If so, I would like to see those.

In any case, I am glad I do not have to live in the constant or near constant terror of the world as they see it. I do not have to spend every waking moment studying the Bible to see if I can figure out which acts are safe and which are not. I do not have to try to determine their god’s “plan” and follow it. I am glad to be an atheist because ♫ I’m An Atheist and I’m Okay,… ♫

April 27, 2017

Good and Evil? Meh.

I find the ideas of good and evil puzzling. In a world of almost infinite variation, these two absolutes continue to exist in people’s minds, often as an unnecessary dichotomy. Of course, there are organizations dedicated to their continued existence but, really, they are not useful terms, at least not to us. Mostly they show a lack of imagination or a desire to manipulate.

We are always trying to quantify things; that is normal for us. But we also tend to play one-upmanship in contests for status. There is a PGA commercial running now with famous golfers talking about how early they get to the practice range. The times quoted get earlier and earlier in response to what the others claimed until they are completely ridiculous. It was designed to show how competitive the golfers are and serves that purpose. It works, of course, because we have all played the game. (And please do not respond that this is a hyper-competitive, male-only game. Just listen to a group of mothers talking about their children and you will see the same process.)

So, when someone asks you “how bad was it?” There is a tendency to exaggerate. (I thought I was dying. Excruciating—worst hangnail I have ever had. etc.)

But like most things, these are just gradations on a scale. There is, for example, no “tall” or “short” or a clean dividing line between them. (I am tall enough to be in the top 3% of Americans in height, but when I played center in basketball in college, I was a puny shrimp.) Similarly, where are the dividing lines between “bad” and “evil” or between “good” and “bad?” These do not exist, for good reason. There are gradations of good and bad like there are of tall and short, but no absolutes.

What happens when we use absolutes, though, is we fall down a rabbit hole out of ordinary discourse. These absolutes do not acknowledge that there is a bit of everything in each of us. For example, by all accounts, Hitler was good to his mother.

By labeling things as “good” or “evil” we create categories based upon similarities that are not close to being exact. For example, do Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer belong in the same box?. Certainly not based upon their body counts. But both are simply labeled “evil.” Remember the “Evil Axis” of G.W. Bush? Such characterizations set people up for overly simplistic “solutions” to problems. As examples: We must oppose evil (because we are the good guys). We must oppose ISIS, it is evil. And, the ultimate: we must make war on terrorism! WTF? This makes no sense at all.

The terms good and evil exist as manipulators of human emotions and for no other reason. They are vague and unhelpful terms designed to be vague and helpful to those using them, to manipulate their hearers into doing their bidding.

When you next hear the term “all-good” or “ultimate evil,” think “all tall” or “ultimate short.” Those are about as useful as descriptors as the former.

April 12, 2017

Why Do People Ask Stupid Questions?

I was reading a book last night that listed several existential questions. You know the type: Why am I here? Why is anyone here? and so on. (This is the kind of academic question that was mocked by Bill Cosby’s brilliant bit ‘Why is there air?” The jock’s answer was that there was air to blow up basketballs, to blow up footballs.) But the last question struck me and not in a good way: “Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?”

Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?

Okay, I get the bit about “having a soul.” Souls are a variation on the “God of the Gaps” argument. The God of the Gaps argument is if there is any gap at all in our worldly knowledge, it is filled with “god” as an explanation for what we don’t know. Before we knew what lightning was we assumed it was caused by a god. That gap in our knowledge has been filled, so no more lightning gods are needed. (Sorry, Thor.) So, anything mysterious or puzzling about the nature of our experience as human beings and, yep, that’s caused by the soul.

Basically the idea of a soul is rather pathetic. It comes down to some very deep thinking (not). First off, no one wants to die. (The joke goes that there were people who wanted to die, but they died before passing on their genes, so we are the only ones left.) Innately, we want to keep living. But second, we all die. Even the people in literature who die and are brought back to life: Lazarus, Frankenstein’s monster, etc., eventually they all die (again?).

Let me take a moment out and concede that a number of people every year die and come back to life. “Being dead” is a medical diagnosis and such things can be got wrong. The consequences can be tragic. When his tomb was reopened, the philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266 – 1308) was reportedly found outside his coffin with his hands torn and bloody after attempting to escape. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) In fact, enough people were entombed who had not died that bells were installed in some mausoleums as well as various designs for “safety coffins” incorporating similar mechanisms were patented during the 18th and 19th centuries and variations on the idea are still available today. So “resurrections” are not necessarily imaginary. My point is, resurrected or not, everyone has eventually died.

And when we die, our bodies decompose. Our flesh molders away, leaving inert bones that, cartoons aside, never get up and dance again. Clearly no part of our bodies “lives on” so if there were to be a part of us that does live on, it must be invisible. So, souls stem from the facts that: no one wants to die (we all want to live on), everybody does die, and since no visible part of our bodies seems to survive, the part that does must be invisible. Voila, a soul is born!

Now, let’s look at the “just a robot” part of the question. Just a robot? This is a smear. This is a setup. This is a comparison like how much friskier your dog is than the dead dog over there. Just a robot?

Think about robots for a second. The term was invented by Karel Capek for a play he wrote in 1920, although organic versions can be identified going back to golems (a robot made of clay) and other creatures, but Capek’s play is the first instance of the idea of a mechanical robot in human literature. And in human literature robots stayed, through “Forbidden Planet” (a movie so bad it is good), and myriad science fiction books. Not long ago, though, “robots” started showing up in the news: robots that helped make cars, robots that did medical operations, etc. And fairly recently, we have been treated to robots for the home: robots that vacuumed our floors, robots who were pets, and the Japanese have been working on robotic people. (The sexual tastes of a significant number of Japanese men do not include the words “human” or “female” for some strange reason.) Soon, our cars are expected to be robots, driving us around like we are Ms. Daisy.

In just one hundred years robots have gone from the realm of imagination to household objects. Now, extend that line of development one hundred more years, then one hundred more and a couple of hundred more after that. Can you honestly say that “just a robot” would be a thing of derision? Such things could be physically more capable than humans and computationally more capable also. They may even achieve consciousness and we would then be debating their status in our societies (tool or slave?).

The phrase “Am I just a robot” exhibits a distaste for any description of human beings as being a product of biological evolution. But humans being biological constructs is a quite successful explanatory framework which has answered many, many questions about why we are the way we are and why we think the ways we do. This concept is the “go to” concept for scientific researchers looking for the roots of human health, disease, and behaviors. The reason for this is that it has been damned successful. You do not have to like it, but it is undeniable.

Have all human activities being explained through the “we are meat robots” hypothesis? Of course not. But we have been trying for only a little over one hundred years so far. Extend that line of development one hundred more years, then one hundred more and a couple of hundred more after that and we shall see. The categories of robot and human may not even remain separate. Currently there are research efforts to merge electronic modules into people’s bodies given the blind the ability to see and the immobile the ability to move. (Yes, now.)

So, what struck me originally with “Am I just a robot or do I have a soul?” is how are these two a dichotomy? Surely this question is at least multiple choice. Could not human beings be the result of an alien biology experiment? Could not human beings be an experiment of a god: creating conscious beings without souls to see if we missed them? Why is the list so small: I have a soul or I am a meat puppet.

Clearly, this is a false dichotomy. This is like the recent presidential election when we were presented with a choice of two individuals, neither of whom was at all desirable or suitable to be president. When you force a false choice such as this, the results are not at all helpful.

The question stacks the deck for us having souls. So why must we have souls? Well there is the argument (above) explaining the logic, but a more powerful urge is unveiled here. We have souls because we are special. (Cue the Church Lady.) Of all creatures, we are different. Not only are we different, we are better. We are better than those Neanderthals and other hominids because they didn’t have souls. Only we have souls. We have souls because a god loves us and wants us to live forever.

Pathetic, absolutely pathetic.

Right now people are debating the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in our society (as being on the path to artificial consciousness?—hey SkyNet was powerful enough to make Arnold Schwarzenegger an international star!). Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves; maybe we should be spending a bit more time on the consequences of natural intelligence and the lack thereof.

April 9, 2017

Inquiring Theists Want to Know!

Theist apologists are always coming up with questions for atheists, kind of like the questions Catholic kids come up with for their Catechism teachers, e.g. “If God is all-powerful can he create a rock so big even he can’t lift it, Father?” Here is one of the latest:

Without a personal Creator-God, how are you anything other than the coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature, spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space for just a little while before you and all memory of your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness?”

Gosh, as an announced atheist, this makes me want to go slit my wrists, but I am laughing too hard to undertake that task with any skill, so I will just tackle this question first.

Underneath all of the snark embedded in this “question,” is a feeling of superior knowledge, that the questioner knows that without his creator god, life is just futile. (None of the other creator gods will do, don’t you know.)

So, “a coincidental, purposeless miscarriage of nature,” hmm. Well, I can’t be a miscarriage because I actually was born, but coincidental, I’ll own up to that. My parent’s believed in planning their family and I was the third of the two children they planned, so, coincidental I am.

Now, “spinning round and round on a lonely planet in the blackness of space.” I can detect no spinning. There is a gym nearby that offers spinning but I do not subscribe for that. The planet is “lonely,” that I do not get. The solar system has eight major planets, some minor planets, and myriad moons, etc. This guy makes it sound like there is the Sun and the Earth and little else. He must be reading his Bible. Maybe he means that I am lonely. Well, if I am, then I am very picky regarding having friends with over seven billion other humans to chose from, plus myriad other non-human companions I could entice to come live with me (for free room and board). No, I am not lonely; he got that wrong.

“In the blackness of space?” We seem to be quite well adapted to the light-dark cycles on our planet. The Scandehoovians who experience almost no “dark” during the winter go a little batty behind that, so “dark” is apparently a good thing for us. I like looking up at the dark sky and seeing all of the pretty lights, so not really dark at all, so he got this wrong, too.

But, yes, in a little while (littler all of the time) I shall die and kinda-sorta be forgotten. I still remember my parents and grandparents and other deceased relatives, so I expect to remain in memory of my younger relatives for some time. I am named in a family genealogy that goes back to the 1700’s and am recorded in a number of diverse histories, so will be “remembered” that way to some extent, and I have written close to a dozen books, which will remain available for a very long time, possibly many decades, but really I will not give a shit as I will be dead.

I have to ask, are all of those people supposedly in Heaven and Hell enjoying their immortality? Are they “remembered” by the living? Is not everyone remembered by your God who cannot forget anything (otherwise He would not be all-knowing), so is not everyone, in your world view, remembered forever and ever? Very puzzling attitude then for for you, a believer, to have.

And “your futile, pointless, meaningless life finally blinks out forever in the endless darkness.” I am looking forward to the endless blackness, far preferable to the Lake of Fire you promise my kind. But where do you get “futile,” and “pointless,” and “meaningless” from? Are you saying that because you are a Christian, your life is automatically not futile, not pointless, and not meaningless? If so, you are going to have to provide some details. What is your purpose in life? If it is to end up in Heaven at the side of your God, isn’t that a little self-serving? It sounds a lot like “I am going to get mine and the rest of you can go roast in Hell.” Many of your ilk tell us that good deeds will not get us into Heaven, but faith will, so you exalt people who do not do good deeds by have faith over people who lack faith, like me, who do good deeds. Sounds a lot like “I am going to get mine and the rest of you can go roast in Hell.” It also sounds as if you believe that your God has a plan for you. (He believes in family planning, unlike our current GOP.) Can you tell me what your plan is so I can see whether or not you are meeting your quarterly goals? No? Another thing I just have to take on faith, I guess.

And, last, regarding “meaning” as applied to one’s life. Meaning is something that is created in the hearts, minds, and words of others. You can read about the meaning of people’s lives in Wikipedia, for example. These meanings are divined, if you will allow the use of that word, from others observing our deeds. So, one creates the meaning of one’s life by doing. I can live with that.

And, I can die with that.

 

February 9, 2017

Hey, Alfie, Whatsis?

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 1:01 pm
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eat-survive-reproduce

As regular readers know I am a hot and cold fan of philosophy. In a recent series of blog posts Sam Harris and a noted philosopher got into an unexpected and very protracted disagreement over what the word “truth” meant.

These discussions make me want to gouge my eyes out and go looking for an honest man. They are right up there with claims for there being “objective moral principles.” Hey, if all humans were to disappear, the physical universe would still be there (not that we would know as there would be no “we” left). That is objective reality. All morals, however, would disappear. That is the definition of subjective. Why is there any discussion of this?

These discussions prove that determined intellectuals can fuck up just about any reasonable discussion.

January 12, 2017

Having a Reason to Live, But Wait There’s More!

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:26 pm
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In my last post (Having a Reason to Live, January 12, 2017) I focused on what having a “meaning” for one’s life means. But one sentence in the letter to the editor of that Canadian newspaper from a theist subscriber has continued to have reverberations in my mind. It was the claim that if the letter writer were to subscribe to a secular worldview he would conclude that “I exist on a tiny planet in a minor solar system in an empty corner of a meaningless universe.”

Let me ask a rhetorical question at this point (of you): what do you think would happen to us if all of the other galaxies (200-300 billion by count at this point) were to disappear in an instant? Poof, they are gone and what happens next … to us?

Got an answer? I do.

Basically noting that happens in those other galaxies affects what happens here on Earth. Life would go on quite as it has.

So, why was all of “that” necessary to be created? Why create 200-300 billion galaxies when only one was needed to support life on Earth? It certainly wasn’t to create the conditions to support life here on Earth. In fact, other than the solar system, we could do without the rest of our own galaxy about as well as we are doing with it in existence. Those other 100 billion stars and their planets? Poof, they are gone. Well, that would cause some effect. Other than the Moon and the other planets, the night sky would be black which would be kind of boring, but unless you believe in astrology, those other stars in the sky have no effect on us here, so we can live without them. (Actually the Bible tells us this!)

This Hubble Telescope image shows spiral galaxy ESO 137-001.

This Hubble Telescope image shows spiral galaxy ESO 137-001 plus a lot of meaningless extra stuff.

So, whether or not you live in a created world, the rest of most of the universe is meaningless: meaningless for theists; meaningless for secularists.

Unless . . .

. . . unless, there are “people” on those other planets circling those other stars, in our galaxy and all of the other galaxies, and those people are creating meaning for their own lives. Then … then, the rest of our universe has meaning … just not for us.

 

 

December 24, 2016

Yes and No?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:59 am
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A N.Y. Times columnist had a column with the provocative title “Pastor, am I a Christian?” in which the author expressed some doubts about the standard theology of Christianity. The theologian he interviewed on these doubts gave him pretty much the party line so there was little of interest there, but the comments … the comments, now they were interesting.

One such comment said the core of Christianity was Jesus’ mission, basically to sacrifice himself to save all of us from Original Sin. (Basically, He sacrificed Himself, to Himself, to save us all from Himself—Thank you, John Zande!) The very next comment said “Wrong.” Another comment said that the important part of Christianity was not the superstitious mumbo-jumbo but “Jesus’ teachings.”

I have already posted ad nauseum about the “mission” aspect of  Christianity but I have said little of Jesus’ teachings, that is his philosophy. What about that?

It seems that most Christians honor the teachings of Jesus by ignoring them. These “teachings” are relatively sparse, being mostly repetitions of prior scripture, hence not original to Jesus. So, there is little to discuss, as most of that was already in evidence before the Jesus story was written.

Of the new stuff, Jesus told a fellow to sell all of his worldly goods and give what he made from that sale to the poor. I do not see this advice being followed all that much. Most apologists indicate that this advice was only for that man alone and was not meant to apply to every one. I guess they didn’t think he was serious when Jesus said that a rich man had as little chance of getting into Heaven as a camel to go through the eye of the needle. (This term may have been in common use, the “Eye of the Needle” being claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed. So, it wasn’t impossible, just quite unlikely.) Since, in this country, the goal of every rich person seems to be getting richer, my guess is none of them are Christians.

Jesus also told people to disavow their families and to follow him, presumably not to the point of becoming human sacrifices, but in this context to follow his teachings, I guess.

He also said that Jewish laws were all intact and were to be followed to the letter. I don’t see any Christians doing this, either.

So, “following the teachings of Jesus” is something almost no one is doing even given the fact that Jesus said almost nothing new or novel. (I say “almost” because right now it is truly nothing new or novel, but you never know when some new document might be discovered.) Basically, Jesus said “Be a Jew and meet me in Heaven.” The rest is quite debatable.

In another piece in the Times a day later (today) quotations and photos of many artists who died in 2016 were offered. One that struck a chord was from Umberto Eco:
I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
This kind of explains everything. Our brains are pattern recognition engines. We see patterns everywhere and when we do not see patterns, we make them up. So, we are constantly trying to see patterns as they allow us to predict future events and, hence, be safer. If we notice that when a tiger is sneaking up on us through the grass, there is a certain movement in the grass, then we equate “specific grass movement = tiger” and get the heck out of there. There is no penalty if we are wrong, such as when the grass was moved by the wind instead of a tiger, but a severe penalty is possible if we ignore or do not see the pattern and heed it.

So, we run willy-nilly asking “God” (a pattern) to show us a “sign” (also a pattern). And, lo and behold we see them! (Surprise, surprise.) If you combine this very understandable aspect of human brains with a penchant for making shit up, religion is explained quite well, including beliefs in the teachings/philosophy of Jesus when there is really no “there” there.

PS For those of you who wonder why I write about religion in a class warfare blog, religion has been and is being used to oppress those who would oppose the oligarch’s plans for our future. We are told to be meek and mild and that our reward will come after we die. This is so the rich people can have their reward while they are still alive.

 

November 23, 2016

Steven Pinker on a Lesson We Have Failed to Learn

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm
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(Steven Pinker is an evolutionary psychologist and author)

“Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history, one that is logically prior to every other discovery, is that all of our traditional sources of belief are, in fact, generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. These include: faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, augury, prophesy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom, and that warm, invigorating glow of subjective certainty.”

Can you imagine what politics would look like without all of that?

 

November 16, 2016

Philosophical Selfies

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 12:02 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have been reading a sociology book of late, which is stretch for me as I have a low opinion of the field. (I used to claim that I had invented a perfect cure for insomnia: simply give the insomniac a sociology textbook and ask them to read it and 15 minutes later they would be asleep.) But I like to challenge my prejudices, so onward I read. There were a number of points made I found interesting, then the subject of “self” came up. What constitutes a self (myself, yourself, themselves, etc.) comes up in sociology (needed for definition of society) as well as psychology and philosophy.

What I find is that often people become entranced with the idea of “self” and carry it to extremes. People start with the fact that all of us can carry on a conversation in our heads that no one else can hear. This leads to the idea of having an “inner self” versus “our outer selves.” We “are” variously: parents, workers, volunteers, musicians, cooks, etc., each of which, to some, is a “self.” Writers often emphasize searching for our “real self” because there are so many of these “selves.” These people, I think, confuse “what I am doing now” as some kind of different persona. In actuality, in order to fit into any group you need to conform to the rules of said group. Showing up to a cooking class wearing a baseball catcher’s gear would definitely be considered weird as would showing up for baseball practice wearing a chef’s hat. each of these behaviors would lead to others judging you and possibly shunning you. In general, we all tend to “go along to get along” and adopt each subgroups norms for the time we participate in them. If our job requires “business attire,” we wear a suit. When we are invited to a party that recommends “cocktail attire” we do not show up in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip flops. Each of these activities is really not a separate entity we could label as a “self.” They are just something we are doing.

“Why the search for our “real” or “inner” self? It seems to me to be
a search for a nonexistent “soul” that out religious traditions insist exists.”

But the idea that we can talk to ourselves, think to ourselves, gives the impression that the outer projection of our personality is not our real self. On the contrary I think it is. If we are a “go along to get along” type, we readily conform to any group’s norms, no problem. If we are rebellious, we tend to be rebellious across the board. There is no mystery here, people tend to be quite consistent.

So why this persistent feeling of “layers upon layers” and “I contain multitudes” when we think of our mental lives? Why the search for our “real” or “inner” self? It seems to me to be a search for a nonexistent “soul” that out religious traditions insist exists. It has to be down there somewhere. The mindset that we have a soul presupposes the idea of an inner self and fuels such language and thinking.

Reality seems just the reverse. Consciousness is an emergent property of human brains. It really exists only on the “outside.” All of the different manifestations we present to the world outside of us are simply ways to “fit in” and not attract undue attention and to attract “due attention.” This is even exemplified by those who are otherly directed: the flamboyant extroverts. Even those who want to be “the baddest dude in town” are looking for attention of a particular sort. They avoid “undue” attention but revel in the ability to attract attention that repels the rest of us, their “due attention.”

So, each of us wants to be part of society or a subgroup of society, we want to be acknowledged as existing and having some standing in our community. Even the “born to be wild” outlaw bikers formed clubs (the Hell’s Angels, etc.). If I may reiterate a famous football coaches frustrated comment: “They are who we thought they were.” It should not be such a surprise.

Since consciousness is an emergent property it is on the outside. Dig down an inch or so and it becomes dark and unilluminating. The light is on the outside. We should be looking at how that outer skin of consciousness interacts with those around us rather than looking deep inside for a non-existent soul-self.

You can see who you are in a selfie … if you just look.

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