Class Warfare Blog

June 11, 2019

On Purposes, Destinies, and Lots in Life

I stated something a few days ago, to which I now return. It was this: “Anyone, theist or atheist, who thinks that ‘purposes’ exist anywhere but in our imaginations is sadly poorly informed.” It must have had a bit of a ring of truth about it as it was mocked by John Branyan.

The whole idea of there being a purpose in life (Branyan’s will take eternity to fulfill, according to him) is part and parcel of a whole load of rubbish regarding what we do and why we do it.

At the top of the list is the Divine Right of Kings. Kings have fashioned themselves as having been chosen by god to be his very instrument. This was obviously part of a power play. The religious elites and secular elites contested for power (Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories in existence, makes this clear. Gilgamesh had to seize power from the religious elites who controlled his actions.) It had to become clear to someone that these two power centers would be better off allied than enemies. So, in return for state power protections, kings were granted “divine rights.” In earlier societies that were theocracies, these two powers were often vested in one and the same person (a “god-king”) and that person could use whichever weapon that better suited a situation. One could either send in the priests or send in soldiers to resolve a “situation.”

Right next to this is being Called by God. I am sure many Popes and others of high religious office state that god has called them to their office. Obviously anyone challenging them would therefore have to be criticizing god’s decision making abilities. Another power play.

At the bottom of this hierarchy is someone’s “Lot in Life.” Basically, no one wanted to clean out the cesspool, so we drew lots and well, it was your lot in life to have to clean the cesspool. Only poor people have these. Poor people and slaves have a purpose or a calling only in fictional tales designed to give the poor hope, so they won’t riot or rebel.

In the middle of this spectrum is where we find “purposes.”

All of these designations are fictional (not actual cases of drawing lots, like drawing the short straw, but metaphor ones, in which someone is told that being a slave was their “lot in life”) and serve to flatter/appease the receiver or con the audience. These are all parts of social control mechanisms.

By having clerics declare the divine rights of secular kings, the clerics get to perform the crowning ceremony, implying they were the ones giving the office (and in the machinations of history this proved true on more than one occasion). And also, the “state” collected their tithes for them, and enforced ecclesiastical commands (e.g. the Crusades). The royals had their power reinforced from the pulpit. Every one of the elites involved acquired greater power.

Christian life purposes are part of the con, also. Christians are often told that it is their job to “spread the Good News,” that is to spread the religion. So, once you have a mark who has embraced the con, they get to spread the con to others, kind of like a multi-level marketing scheme. In return for this, Christians get pumped up by being given a purpose for their live, one provided by God! And they are saved! Their afterlife will be more clouds than barbecue. Their god has a plan for each and every one of us, don’t you know.

Since people often display photos of themselves in the presence of celebrities (as proof they have actually met them or know them?) so, I wonder whether people have such photos of themselves hanging with Jesus or Old Yahweh in heaven? To believe that a god has noticed them and written their name in a big book and knows who they are and has gone so far as to help them with a career plan, well that is the biggest puff piece of them all. (Hint: how do you get people to work for you without paying them? Flattery seems to work.)

I have done a great many things in my life. As a youth and young man I played baseball and basketball, but apparently it was not my destiny to play those professionally. At a young age (16, I think) I chose my profession that I practiced for 40 or so years. Was that my purpose in life? If so, why did I retire and stop doing it? What I am doing now is quite different from what I did for those 40 or so years, so is what I am doing now my true purpose? I became a husband and father, were those my true purpose in life? The fact that no one can tell definitively tells you that this is all make-believe. It is what we tell one another to reinforce life changes we make or are made for us.

Now, if I can only figure out a way to get Branyan to mock my analysis, I will know it is true. (See, fictional bullstuff. We all do it.)

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June 4, 2019

Religious Experiences

I am currently reading Keith M. Parsons book “God and the Burden of Proof.” In it he discusses Alvin Plantinga’s defense of religious belief. One particular excerpt has prompted this post. Here it is:

“What, then, are the circumstances in which Plantinga regards belief in God as obviously properly basic? He gives a number of such circumstances:

“Upon reading the Bible, one may be impressed with a deep sense that God is speaking to him. Upon having done what I know is cheap, or wrong, or wicked, I may feel guilty in God’s sight and form the belief `God disapproves of what I have done’. Upon confession and repentance I may feel forgiven, forming the belief `God forgives me for what I have done’. A person in grave danger may turn to God asking for his protection and help; and of course he or she then has the belief that God is indeed able to hear and help if He sees fit. When life is sweet and satisfying, a spontaneous sense of gratitude may well up within the soul; someone in this condition may thank and praise the Lord for His goodness, and will of course have the accompanying belief that indeed the Lord is to be thanked and praised.

“Plantinga claims that it is clearly rational for persons in such circumstances to form a spontaneous belief in God.”

To me this is nonsensical. Plantinga’s “feelings” of guilt, shame, gratitude, etc. are just feelings and are not deniable. But all of the rest are interpretations of the sources of those feelings. Allow me to reframe his statement:

Upon reading the Koran, one may be impressed with a deep sense that Allah is speaking to him. Upon having done what I know is cheap, or wrong, or wicked, I may feel guilty in Allah’s sight and form the belief `Allah disapproves of what I have done’. Upon confession and repentance I may feel forgiven, forming the belief `Allah forgives me for what I have done’. A person in grave danger may turn to Allah asking for his protection and help; and of course he or she then has the belief that Allah is indeed able to hear and help if He sees fit. When life is sweet and satisfying, a spontaneous sense of gratitude may well up within the soul; someone in this condition may thank and praise Allah  for His goodness, and will of course have the accompanying belief that indeed Allah is to be thanked and praised.

In a similar fashion, could not any religious believer make the same statement, invoking whatever god they have?

William James’ definition of religion—“the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” I emphasize “whatever they consider to be divine.”

So, basically Plantinga is arguing for polytheism because his argument is “it is clearly rational for persons in such circumstances to form a spontaneous belief in God” or rather a spontaneous belief in their god.

But I do not even accept that as a reasonable conclusion. I think those interpretations are what people are taught to make and that they do not happen spontaneously. If you have had children, you have had the experience of a child who hurts. If they can talk, you probably had to work with them to find out what was wrong: “Where does it hurt?” “Does it hurt here? . . . or here?” “Oh, you have a tummy ache!” Children are always relieved that their parent’s know what was wrong and knew what to do to make them better. I can remember being sick as a child and enjoying the extra attention I got. And we teach our children in this fashion how to interpret what they feel.

Children in religious families are indoctrinated into the religion because that is what most Abrahamic religions teach you yo do. Sometimes this indoctrination is half-hearted, as mine was, and sometimes it is full tilt boogie, which I do not wish on anyone. Seeing little children coached in how to interpret any feelings they have as communications with Jesus makes me ill. But this does happen. Parents do praise their children for saying things like “I love Jesus,” and other inanities that cannot possibly be true. They are coached to feel Jesus in their hearts, to see Jesus around them, to hear Jesus in the words of the Bible. So, is it any wonder that many natural feelings get interpreted as being sourced in their god? But just how this in any way “forms a spontaneous belief in God.” I’ll tell you; it does not.

May 27, 2019

Artificial Pearls Before Real Swine?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:40 am
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I have been inspired by Jim over at TheCommonAtheist quite a bit of late. (His site is worth a visit: go, go.) Quoting him: “Searching for god, we don’t discover who he is, we discover who we are. This aphorism brought to my mind a number of other “pearls of wisdom.” I have been perusing a book entitled “1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom” for some time and found more than a few that are self-serving nonsense. For example:

I can’t explain it, but spiritually it makes sense—though I don’t understand how it does make sense. —Kevin McDonald
In other words, it makes no sense but I believe it.

If somebody wants a sheep, that is a proof that one exists. —Antoine de Saint Exupéry
This seems to be an offhand “proof” for the existence of a god or gods . . . but if you take that sentence and modify it a bit you get “If somebody wants a unicorn, that is a proof that one exists.” You can have fun with other variations involving Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whatever. Bizarre thinking.

Every word, every image used for God is a distortion more than a description. —Anthony de Mello
Was it this guy’s intent to undermine all Abrahamic scripture? In scripture this god is described as a whirlwind, a burning bush, a blinding white light, looking like a man, etc. So, all of these are false? And this god is quoted ad nauseum, e.g. “I am the Lord your God, and blah, blah, blah.” All of those quotes are distortions rather than descriptions of what this god actually said? WTF?

For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible. —Franz Werfel
Uh, says who? How does he know that no explanation is possible? Or are you just trying to get people to stop asking for explanations? And the Bible itself tells believers that they are to have reasons to believe, so screw the Bible and listen to my deepity, that’s the message?

The sheer number of these “spiritual” pearls of wisdom that are utter nonsense is an indication that the collector was daft or that there aren’t really that many actual pearls of spiritual wisdom to share.

I think Jim’s aphorism is spot on. It also has application elsewhere, for example to authors of books on finding the historical Jesus (Searching for the historical Jesus in these books, we don’t discover who he is, we discover who the authors are.) There is no better evidence for the lack of an historical Jesus than the dozens upon dozens of people who have written books on finding the Real JC™ with each effort coming up with a different result. Apparently the evidence is not conclusive one way or another. Not having enough historical records to establish an historical character doesn’t mean that one did not exist, it just means we have neither the evidence nor a clear idea of who they were. I tend to think Jesus is fictional but that belief (the ordinary kind, not the religious kind), at least, is supported by evidence (Jesus said nothing that had not been said before, Jesus’ miracles are based upon miracles described in the OT, etc.).

May 25, 2019

Why Are We Here?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:51 am
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Over at TheCommonAtheist Jim has a post (Contemplating Existence—The Why is in Asking) about how questions tend to hijack our attention. When I read it I was in the process of working on this post on a particular deepity I encountered. Here it is:

The most important question a human being has to face … What is it? The question, Why are we here? —Elie Wiesel

Now, to call this a deepity probably stretches the definition of that word. What I am saying is that the statement sounds profound but in reality is meaningless.

The most important question a human has to face? Really? Why do I need to face this question? If I answer it, what value do I reap? Has anyone ever answered this question?

Basically, I think this question has never been answered by anyone and may not be able to be answered. As such any answer currently has to be produced by our imagination at best. And, if we do actually answer the question, it may destroy our mental balance in a way that is destructive (such as in the movie Prometheus).

Jim’s point (do read his post) is that such questions hijack our attention. To quote his post “’Questions trigger a reflex in humans known as ‘instinctive elaboration,’ that is when someone asks you a question, the question takes over the brain’s thought process and you feel compelled to answer—and make it a good one.”

I suggest that this question is a loaded one and I don’t mean loaded with meaning. I think that it is asked because it cannot be answered. If you ask yourself this question, do you yourself come up with an answer? No. But many others have come up with an answer and you might want to ask how. Hint: What do religious apologists use to fill gaps in our knowledge? God! He isn’t called the God of the Gaps for nothing!

Let us say you do come up with an answer. How is that the most important question you ever have to face? Does the answer feed your family? Does the answer protect you from harm? Does the answer help you get or keep a job? Does the answer serve you in any way in the here and now? The “god” answer doesn’t actually serve you, but it does serve proselytizers.

Now I am not saying the theists sit around in their bunker in the Colorado mountains thinking up questions that hijack our attention and which point to their god. Far from it. It is, I suggest, the sense that they have an answer to this question and you do not and because for them the answer is god, they think that the question will lead us to the same answer. But it does not.

Any number of movies and now, television shows, have addressed the idea that we were either created from scratch or genetically modified from existing primate stocks by some powerful alien species. If we were to discover this “fact” what do you think the response of the world’s religions be? Would they say “Our bad, guess we were wrong.” Or would they tear their garments, gnash their teeth, attack the evidence, and declare that this is the end of the world? How would devout believers respond . . . really? Acceptance? Denial? Violence?

Any number of “authorities” apparently have claimed that if we had evidence of the mere existence of intelligent aliens, that we should keep that knowledge secret because “the people” would panic. Imagine if we had evidence that we were created or transformed by the actions of such a species?

The people asking this question and similar ones think they know the answer already and that such a scenario could not play out, because, well, faith. I suspect that faith would crumble to dust in short order if such a scenario did play out. Consider all of the hubbub at web sites like Answers in Genesis and The Institute for Creation Research and their myriad ilk who have already claimed that there is no intelligent life anywhere else in the universe. (And they know this because . . . we’re special? Hint: It ain’t in scripture.) The same lovely folks spend a considerable amount of their time throwing shade on the theory of evolution and the fact of evolution as well. (Hey, theists abiogenesis and evolution at least don’t involve aliens!) Imagine how they would react if it turned out that a god did create us . . . and it wasn’t their god! It would be ten times worse than if it turned out to be aliens.

I also suggest that if theists weren’t asking this question, no one else would. Philosophers would find the question ill-defined and avoid it. (Only philosophers of religion would consider it.) Ordinary people would see no benefit to such a question and if it were brought up at a dinner party, they would shrug and change the subject to something more meaningful (the weather, sports, politics, etc.)

 

May 20, 2019

A Moral Tale

As I have mentioned I have been working my way through the book The Moral Animal (Why We Are The Way We Are; The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology) by Robert Wright. I was planning to do a book report when done, but there is so much in this book that that is probably futile. If you are interested in where morals really come from, get this book! It is by no means the final word on the topic but it is an excellent start!

What I am writing on now is based upon a comment made in a chapter on ethics. Here it is:

“Why should we have a moral code? Even accepting the basis of utilitarianism—the goodness of happiness—you might ask: Why should any of us worry about the happiness of others? Why not let everyone worry about their own happiness—which seems, anyway, to be the one thing they can be more or less counted on to do?

“Perhaps the best answer to this question is a sheerly practical one . . . everyone’s happiness can, in principle, go up if everyone treats everyone else nicely. You refrain from cheating or mistreating me, I refrain from cheating or mistreating you; we are both better off than we would be in a world without morality. For in such a world the mutual mistreatment would roughly cancel out anyway (assuming neither of us is a vastly more proficient villain than the other). And, meanwhile, we each would incur the added cost of fear and vigilance.”

This resonates on the political stage in current American life. A small minority of wealthy individuals has decided to run this country for their benefit alone and to hell with the rest of us. To claim that legislatures around this country are motivated by expanding the happiness of their constituents is to make a rather bad joke. They seem to be motivated only to please their paymasters.

That issue aside, this quote brings up the utilitarian ideal of each of us treating the others well (not necessarily as well as we treat ourselves, mind you, just well), that this can be a source of greater happiness in all of our lives and that brings me to my tale.

Back in my working days, I was part of a training group. We trained people in our enterprise (a community college district) in the process of interest-based decision making. Our first few attempts at doing these trainings was fraught with anxiety . . . on the part of us trainers; the trainees apparently didn’t notice our discomfort.

To allay these feelings, we spent a great deal of time (a really great deal of time) creating a master training schedule for each training. On this schedule, every presenter, every volunteer, was listed as to time and task, for example: At 10 AM on Thursday Steve goes to Room XYZ and does Task W or on Friday at 3 PM, Steve presents Topic A in the Main Training Room. Every task was supported with instructions; every presentation had a list of key points that was monitored and if any were skipped over, the Monitor doing that task would bring it to the attention of the presenter.

This went swimmingly . . . and then I noticed something happening. Following the master schedule, I (at time X in Room Y) was expected to go set the room up in a particular fashion. At that time, I went to that room, only to find my job already done! This was a gift from an anonymous volunteer. Since I now had nothing else to do, I looked down the list of tasks to find something worth doing and went to do that instead. Before long, in our daily debriefs, we discovered that everyone was doing the same thing, doing someone else’s job for them. When we teased this out we didn’t look at this practice as undermining our Master Plan for our trainings. Instead, each of us felt that we had received gifts, gifts of other peoples’ time and attention and work. This became an unscheduled practice for all of the subsequent trainings I participated in.

Interestingly, the same amount of work got done, but instead of us just wading through mundane tasks, each of us felt like we were giving a gift of our better self, and that we were receiving gifts, anonymous gifts, that left us feeling respected and, well, very happy indeed. In our end-of-training debrief sessions, volunteer after volunteer claimed that this work was the best and most satisfying work they did in their job! It was on their own time and sometimes on company time, but in no case were their job expectations lessened. It turned out that others voluntarily filled in for them while they were away at our trainings.

So, if you take author Wright’s point, that treating each other well is superior (for all) than the libertarian ideal of “every man for himself,” then there is another level of additional happiness available if we treat others more than just “well.” Not oppressing people, or taking advantage of an other, is one form of treating others “well.” But if you go beyond that, as the volunteers in our training group did, and actively treat others very well indeed and we all pay it forward, as the saying goes, a level of happiness unthought of before becomes available to us.

And if you immediately react with “what about the freeloaders” just taking and not giving, read the book. That topic is covered, too.

May 6, 2019

A Minor Thought on Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 11:57 am
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I have been reading Robert Wright’s wonderful book “The Moral Animal,” which I recommend to you as a source book on evolutionary psychology. (I haven’t finished it, so no book report, yet.) Here are a couple of excerpts:

“One could go further and suggest that folk psychology itself is built into our genes. In other words, not only is the feeling that we are “consciously” in control of our behavior an illusion (as is suggested by other neurological experiments as well); it is a purposeful illusion, designed by natural selection to lend conviction to our claims. (This is in a chapter on deception and self-deception. SR).

“For centuries people have approached the philosophical debate over free will with the vague but powerful intuition that free will does exist; we (the conscious we) are in charge of our behavior. It is not beyond the pale to suggest that this nontrivial chunk of intellectual history can be ascribed fairly to natural selection—that one of the most hallowed of all philosophical positions is essentially an adaptation.”

This just reinforced in my mind the problem with all discussions of free will. The vast majority of the claimants are talking about conscious free will while the vast majority of our behavior is unconsciously governed.

Some of the free will advocates offer that if our will isn’t consciously free then we are just robots, with all of our behavior degraded down to chains of stimulus-response. I expect that this argument is simply a yearning for souls and being “special” and unfathomable. If we do, indeed, live in a material universe, then all human behaviors must break down into such chains, otherwise there would be no connection between our behavior and the environment around us. (Think of my people, out of touch intellectuals, who live in a world created entirely in their heads. How successful would such a being be biologically? Not at all I suggest. Such beings are only supported through the sacrifices and protections of others.)

This fear of having a robotic nature, I believe, is a failure of our imagination. We identify as “I” only our conscious thoughts because those are the only ones of which we are aware. In reality I think we are sub/unconscious beings with a conscious overlay, the existence of which offers benefits but whose origin is not completely explained as of yet (or if it is, I have not yet found it). If “I” is my subconscious or conscious plus subconscious minds, then I have free will . . . I think. (I think it is too early to conclude anything. We have talked about the topic for millennia; we are just now starting to understand what we are supposedly talking about.)

We are just starting to understand unconscious mental processing and until we do, no answer is in the offing to the question of whether wills are free. I think we can conclude that our wills are not conscious nor are they consciously free. But even that conclusion is shaky. For example, we are aware of our conscious thoughts . . . but where do they come from? Do we create them consciously? I don’t think so. This is a little like the paradox of our sense of sight. We see by means of light, but light itself is invisible (you cannot see a light beam from the side; e.g. a beam of blue light is invisible when view from a side, that is the light is not blue in itself). We think consciously by means of conscious thoughts but those thoughts are basically invisible/unsourcable, at least for now.

April 10, 2019

Other Ways of Knowing?

Filed under: Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:11 am
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As I read I am often presented with the dichotomy of the material and the spiritual, of the head and the heart.

“There is a wisdom of the head and a wisdom of the heart.”
Charles Dickens

And it appears to me that this is a consequence of some simple physiological facts. The sense through which we extract the most information is our vision. This gives us the impression that “we” (homunculus, whoever is driving this vehicle, whatever) reside inside of our heads. This illusion is very strong and quite understandable. Through our vision we may attend the entire world, from near to far and small to large in quiet contemplation. This ability does not seem to be a source of passion, rather “cold” intellect.

When we experience strong emotion, for whatever reason, it tends to affect our torsos in the form of restricted breathing or the reverse, panting, or a feeling of being punched in the stomach, generally accompanied by rapid heart beats. This creates the illusion that something else resides in our torsos. Since breathing is usually quiet, as is our heartbeat, they go unnoticed until their rates are jacked up to high rates and then we can hear them, internally.

Experience in killing animals and other humans points out the importance of the heart and lungs. Break or have a finger cut off and you will survive. Take a spear thrust in a lung and you will die, slowly. Take a spear thrust in the heart and you will die quickly. A hierarchy is therefore created as to which sources of the sounds of our life are most important: life’s blood, the breath of life, etc.

Is this the source of the idea of spirituality? Does anything qualifying as spirituality even exist? What is it really? As much as I love Joe Campbell’s writing on this topic I am still wondering whether spirituality is just an illusion we have become comfortable with, much as a number of philosophers now argue that conscious thoughts are illusions, possibly even consciousness as a whole being an illusion.

That spirituality is tied to strong emotions is no surprise. Using human passion as a lever to control people’s behavior also seems a workable approach for religions. Much of my religion’s tradition was wrapped in the words and imagery of strong emotion (Jesus loves you, the Passion, Brides of Christ, etc.).

Most religions diminish the role of the “head” and emphasize the role of the “heart” (or chakras, or stomach, or . . .). This war between the head and the heart rumbles on today in discussions between religious apologists and “secularists.”

Can this discussion be resolved? I suspect not soon, but it has clearly taken a modern twist, begun I think by William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience) and continued by the likes of Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell, et. al.). These worthies have been applying the tools of science, especially those of biological evolution, to explain the human experience of religion (with much resistance without and within the academic community). Will any of that discussion affect ordinary folks like you and me? That remains to be seen. Possible the rise in the numbers of Americans no longer claiming association with an organized religion (the “Nones”) is a sign, maybe it is not. Please note that an organized religion is not a requirement for having religious experiences. People had these things before organized religions existed and will likely have them after. Understanding their sources is therefore important.

 

 

April 8, 2019

Belief in Belief

I am working my way through Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett, one of my favorite philosophers. In that book he discusses “belief in belief” meaning that people exhibit the belief that believing in a god is very important but the details (which god, which way, etc.), not as much. (I always answer the question “Do you believe in god?” with “Which one?” The question “Do you believe in God?” is more often Do you believe in my god? or Do you believe in a god?) And Dennett claims that as time has gone on, more religions are requiring less belief and more professing, that is as a member of a church, you are to profess A, B, C, etc. whether you believe them or not (although they prefer you would believe them). They are requiring belief less and behavior more.

I have been thinking about this damned topic for at least 60 years and I am reaching some interesting positions, namely:

  • Since belief in belief is so important and possibly innate, we have therefore created gods by the bushel, to have foci for our beliefs.
    Joseph Campbell, another of my intellectual heroes, states “The gods are personifications of the energies that inform life—the very energies that are building the trees and moving the animals and whipping up the waves in the ocean. The very energies that are in your body are personified as gods. They are alive and well in everybody’s life. Most traditions realize this—that deities are personifications, not facts. They are metaphors. They are not references to anything you can put your finger on, or your eye on.”
  • People profess a belief in god as a social marker to proclaim “I am a good person, you can trust me.”
    This is why if you do not profess to believe in a god, you are proclaiming that you are not trustworthy (and are therefore scary, and eat babies, etc.).
  • Since people are basically confined in religious geographical regions (your religion is determined by where you were born) most people do not encounter “others” in any quantity, we are “normal” and they are not.
  • Religions have no incentive to help people understand other religions, as it might lose them dues paying members.
    In fact, they have an incentive to demonize, vilify, obfuscate, etc. those other religions. There is, therefore, very little understanding of those “other” religions or even denominations of the same religion (Protestant fundamentalists argue that Catholics are not “true Christians.”)
  • A consequence of science contradicting religious claims from antiquity, is that deities are becoming more and more vague/amorphous.
    Some of the religious-minded claim human minds cannot know their god. (How they can know their god and “all people” so well is not discussed.) Some call their god the “ground of all being” . . . WTF? This is not a drawback for the religions as the “mystery” sells well.
  • Arguing over proofs of the existence of a god or gods (one of my past preoccupations) is futile because almost everyone has their own definition and very, very few of them are well defined.
    There are more people who believe in belief than who believe in a god and the number of gods, historically, is immense. The idea of their god is so amorphous it is hard for any believer to accept that any argument you might make would apply to their god.
  • In the U.S. surveys show that American women are more religious than American men, substantially so.
    Since a simple characterization of a god as someone/something who watches over you and protects you (makes rules protecting you, etc.), this seems a logical consequence. Women are subject to more threats than are men.
  • As the science fiction/fantasy tales portray, we give gods power by believing in them.
    When people stop believing, those gods fade from memory and become “myths.” They sure as hell were not myths when people believed in them, serious actions were made at their “direction.”

As Voltaire is claimed to have said “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” “He” does not, so “we” did . . . over and over and over.

I conclude with another quote from Joseph Campbell “(T)here are only two ways to misunderstand a myth and our civilization has managed to do both. One is to think that the myth refers to a geographical or historical fact—Jesus rose from the dead, Moses got the law at the top of a mountain, that sort of thing. The other is to think that the myth refers to a supernatural fact, or an actual event, that’s going to happen in the future—the resurrection of Jesus, or the second coming. Our whole religious tradition is based upon these two misunderstandings. (. . .) It’s a terrible tragedy. These misunderstandings of our myth have caused us to lose the vocabulary of the spirit.”

I can only add that there is a benefit to this situation to those who wish to enrich themselves alone, to those who think an economic system is a competitive playground, rather than a way to enrich everyone’s lives. People who see trees as something to cut down and sell only or coal as something to dig and burn with no consequences. “It is a terrible tragedy.”

December 21, 2018

Update on Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:29 am
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Currently I am reading two books by authors with similar names neither of which I had heard before. I have already commented on Sam Pizzagati’s The Rich Do Not Always Win, an history of the early twentieth century that resulted in the largest middle class in American history. I strongly recommend this book as the rhetoric on both sides of the “wealth inequality” debate is quite illuminating.

The second book is by Michael S. Gazziniga entitled Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. This book is fabulous as it is written by a neuroscientist, one who is taking his fellow scientists to task in the free will debate.

I have previously argued that it is far too early in the scientific investigation of free will to come to any conclusion, certainly not one with such large ramifications as whether we have free will or all of our decisions being determined by physical causes. This author provides a piece of this discussion that I had not heard before and it is a lollapalooza.

He starts with addressing free will in the context of responsibility, the primary question is “Can we hold people responsible for their decisions?” (If not our criminal justice system is far worse off than it already is.) This is enough of a foothold on free will to proceed. After going over the neurological research that seems to apply to the question he makes the following argument: consciousness is an emergent property of brains possessing enough connections. This is not a revelation, most people buy into this conclusion. He then goes on to claim that emergent properties represent a disconnect from the basic physical conditions that create the property in the first place! If this holds up, then determinism is done for, toast, kaput, won’t apply, because there are quite a few layers of emergent mental properties stacked up that the basic physical entities (atoms, molecules, DNA, genes, etc.) will not be able to get through.

He gives as an example the building of a car. A careful designer can create a car with its engine, transmission, differential, wheels, tires, electronics, etc. that will perform pretty much exactly as designed. (I have just finished reading a book on the design of the most recent iteration of the Ford GT race car. It was designed to win the 24 Hours at Le Mans race … and did. This is an example of determinism, the whole being the sum of its parts.) But … you knew that was coming, didn’t you? … but none of a car’s physical parameters, its specifications, can explain … traffic. When you take automobiles and roads, traffic shows up as an emergent property and traffic cannot be predicted from nor can it be determined by any car’s design! And if this weren’t enough, the author claims that the emergent properties affect the original vehicles through feedback. For example, this souped up race car might overheat badly in beep and creep traffic, so has to have to be modified or just garaged and not driven on normal roads. (I haven’t finished this second part of his argument but basically he argues “that the mind, which is somehow generated by the physical processes of the brain, constrains the brain.” The mind constrains the brain. Think about that. (There are many examples of this happening, but like I said I haven’t finished this part yet.)

This argument about emergent properties blocking deterministic causes seems to blow the argument of free will v. determinism out of the water with determinism the loser. We have to wait and see if it holds up.

So, what do you think? Is consciousness and therefore free will determined such that we actually have only the illusion of free will and making our own choices, or is making conscious choices an emergent ability not determined by physical inputs to our brains? (The author explains why we all have the perception of an “I” making decisions by the way, even though “I” does not exist.”

 

November 13, 2018

#10 of the 10 Reasons to Believe God Exists

A week and a half or so back I covered #1 on this list, so if you need to see where this list was posted and by whom, please consult that post. Here is #10!

  1. Purpose and Meaning. For anything to have purpose and meaning, God must exist. If Hawking is right in that the universe is all there is and there is nothing else, nothing, including his research, has any meaning or value. Meaning, value, and purpose are found only because God exists.

Now this is an argument! Step 1: Include your conclusion in your first premise. Ta da! “For anything to have purpose and meaning, God must exist.” I suggest that these people are making the fundamental error in their belief that purpose and meaning for their lives comes from without. If that is true then when someone dies, their purpose and meaning live on! How that happens is beyond me. Purpose and meaning are things that are created by humans. My argument? If humans were to disappear instantaneously, what would happen to all of our meaning and purpose? Would alien archeologists coming to investigate the remains of our civilization be able to determine what they were? (Basically I think they would conclude that city dwellers would have been obsessed with collecting dog shit in little plastic bags that they preserved in large plastic, wheeled tubs for some religious purpose as there seems to be no practical purpose for that.)

As a counter argument I offer the following from Jonathan Gamer:

The Existential Argument Against God’s Existence
(Jonathan Garner)

  1. It is a known fact that many people find their life and journey to be meaningless, purposeless, and many humans/animals find life not worth living/continuing.
    2. Premise 1 is very surprising on the hypothesis of classical theism, but not surprising on the hypothesis of indifference.
    3. The intrinsic probability of indifference is much greater than that of classical theism.
    4. Therefore, other evidence held equal, classical theism is very probably false.
    Clarification
    It is important to notice that Premise 1 isn’t so much concerned with objective values. In other words, perhaps every life really does have intrinsic value and purpose. Nevertheless, some people don’t see this.

And To Conclude …
The list’s author makes the truly astounding comment that:

“I could certainly list other reasons to believe in God’s existence. But these will suffice for now. (Stephen) Hawking was a man of great intellect. Yet, despite his great mental prowess, it is quite odd that he could never quite see the evidence for God. While he could see, he was quite blind. Hawking said that ‘religion is a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark.’ I believe John Lennox provided a stronger claim by noting that ‘atheism is a fairy tale for those afraid of the light.’”

These are not serious claims, of course, but opinions. And the comment “Yet, despite his great mental prowess (Hawking’s), it is quite odd that he could never quite see the evidence for God.” is just priceless considering the offering of the wimpy intellectual arguments of this list. The arguments were almost juvenile and certainly lacking in development even compared to the arguments available from the current crop of apologists. That a genius couldn’t see what a simpleton could, doesn’t bring the genius’s comments into dispute.

 

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