Saturday, February 26, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury;
You understand the cases being presented by both sides. Your duty is to weigh the evidence supporting each case, and determine whether that evidence satisfies the respective burdens of proof.
We all agree that the Natural exists. When we look outward from the tiny little space we occupy, the Natural appears to be…well…pretty much everything. The Natural stretches out in space and in time as far as we have the ability to measure. Every element of our existence appears to be built on the natural, from clay bricks down to charm quarks. From our daily bread to our nightly dreams, the immediate explanations of virtually all of our experiences appear to be Natural. Indeed, the progress of Man is measured by the ever-increasing set of things for which once we did not know the Natural cause, but now do. This includes the “intangible” qualities that define us as people. For example, its appearing more and more that love really isa matter of chemistry.
In short, the Natural exists on a scope so brain-boggling that we humans, in the infancy of our species, are only just beginning to understand how very little we know about it. The evidence supporting the case for the Natural is so ubiquitous, so omnipresent, that only a madman would deny it, and it satisfies any standard of proof.
But some among us claim there is something “beyond” or “outside” or “other” than the Natural. And not only this. These people claim that this thing is actually greaterthan the Natural. Super-natural. Even more amazing, some people claim this Supernatural expects the people living on this lonely speck of dust in a backwater of the universe to live our lives in very specific ways, and will inflict all sorts of punishments on us if we don’t.
On its face, this is a pretty amazing claim, isn’t it? Doesn’t it demand an extraordinarily high burden of proof? I mean, if you, ladies and gentlemen, were sitting in a criminal case you would be told you could convict only if the evidence showed “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused was guilty. Some call this the standard of “moral certainty.” It’s a very high standard. But surely this claim of the Supernatural– which some people think would convict every single one of us of a crime — demands an even greater standard of proof?
So what evidence do the Supernaturalists offer to satisfy their burden?
They don’t offer any evidence of the Supernatural that can be directly seen, heard, tasted, smelled, touched, or measured in any way. Indeed you’ve heard expert testimony that it’s not possible to measure the Supernatural scientifically becauseit is Supernatural. This isn’t evidence; it’s an explanation for why there is no evidence. Ladies and gentlemen, doesn’t it sound just a little too convenient to you?
They can’t say where the Supernatural exists; they can’t point it out on a map. They claim that the Supernatural “created” and affects the Natural, but don’t offer any evidence of a mechanism or how the process actually works. Lots of times, they don’t even really say what it is, and instead say what it is not, using words like “immaterial” and “timeless.” Do you actually understand what these words mean, ladies and gentlemen, because I sure don’t. Whatever they mean, one thing is clear: They are not evidence.
So, I ask you again – where is their evidence? Saying “You don’t know capital-E Everything” over and over again is not evidence. Saying “but it’s possible” over and over again isn’t evidence. Saying “but I’d really, really like it to be true” over and over again is not evidence.
The closest they come is to offer “philosophic” evidence. Now, we lawyers are accused all the time of speaking unclearly on purpose, of using jargon and big words to confuse things and make juries see things that aren’t there. And, ladies and gentlemen, I must admit, sometimes we’re guilty. But don’t the Supernaturalists take the cake? I mean, you remember the witnesses say things like “the impossibility of an actual infinite” and “irreducible complexity,” right? This sounded awful smart, I admit, but I ask you again, do those things actually mean anything to you? Is thisevidence?
I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that it is not. I submit the Supernaturalists have not offered any evidence at all, and simply want you to take it on their say-so. To take it on faith. Don’t let them get away with it.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
- Free markets make free people has been replaced with the more predictive belief that free markets must exploit portions of its population or the population of other countries to maximize economic profit
- A middle class is a by-product of Capitalist competition has been replaced with the belief that a middle-class is a result of Socialist policies that allow workers to own their labor
- Subjective conscience is evidence of non-material realities has been replaced with the belief that subjective conscience is best understood by seeing it as a combination of brain chemistry interacting with one's external environment
- Spiritual terms as actual realities has been replaced with the belief that spiritual language is a metaphor leveraging present culture to describe #3
- A requirement for career satisfaction is that one's primary source of income needs to correspond closely with one's passion has been replaced with the belief that a job can subsidize one's true vocation
Friday, February 18, 2011
Eliezer Yudowsky of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence has a tantalizing notion I hope to practice further. He calls it making your beliefs pay rent. His simple description is as follows,
"Any belief (the mental state in which an individual holds a proposition to be true) should restrict which experiences to anticipate, to be potentially useful and thereby pay rent and earn its keep in your mind, so to speak. If a belief does not affect what you anticipate experiencing—if the world would look exactly the same whether the belief is true or whether it is false—then how could you possibly tell if it were false? And if there's no circumstance under which you would be able to notice your belief were false, then why do you believe it now?"This principle illuminates my vague notion that there is something wrong with my past respect for intuition as master of reason. I used to be drawn to big personalities who said bold things and referenced vague language that seemed to access intuitive revealed knowledge.
I remember one boss who would encourage those that worked for him by declaring that each one of us were forces of nature who held vast creative power to change the world.
This is good rhetoric but the reality is we would have been more comfortable working together if we admitted the limits of our powers and sought to maximize our efficiencies by recognizing that simply being human does not give one phenomenological abilities to bend the laws of space-time.
I think the belief we had "force of nature" powers was not true and probably was a product of our inferiority complexes and our boss's fear.
I also have become uncomfortable with creative folks I meet either in my day job in advertising or my vocation in play-writing who invoke a devotion to irrationality as a way of understanding reality.
A few folks I know have said recently that logic is good as far as it is practiced in science but within living life one must surrender to something other than logic (they never say what exactly, maybe they mean intuition) as the compass for understanding truth.
I recognize the sentiment to embrace the power of now by sounding my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world (because I've sung this song of myself in the past, usually accompanied by anxiety or nervousness) but no longer see that expression as a disciplined way of seeking after what is true.
It seems more like an energetic blast of belief to rationalize what I'd like to be true.
The beliefs we hold might allow us to enjoy emotional experiences based on their imagined causative links to real experiences but if the belief does not anticipate an actual external experience then the rent it is costing to take up brain space is, to quote Jimmy McMillan, "too damn high!"
I'm going to blog further about what I discover when practicing this principle.
I can see now that the first lesson it teaches me is that what I held as beliefs are not true and the intelligence I thought I had, I don't.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
- I aspire to be a writer. The writer's job is to be critical of assertions and promote ideas that give insight into truth not subjective comfortable belief
- I was emotionally and psychologically harmed by theologies that suggested self-hatred is a sacramental holiness and see these theologies continuing to animate the need for supernatural belief today. I think it moral to help others who may be trapped in self-punishing premises to realize that there is little logic or reason to the belief they are held sway by invisible forces
- I have a 9 month old son who I need to protect from religious people who will try to convince him that his opinions or desires are evidence of his depravity or weakness and if only he give over to authority he will be safe
- 80% of the US population denies or misunderstands the mechanism of natural selection within Darwinian evolution and in this misunderstanding seeks to interfere with science education because it is onerous to their beliefs
- George Bush's gut level thinking regarding weapons of mass destruction became the electorate's approved method for international politics because there seemed to be an adoration of instinct over analysis
- The major theologies of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism contradict one another but all lay claim to Jerusalem thereby stoking nuclear intentions in the Middle East and even leading many people to believe a nuclear incident there would be "good" (based on their theologies)
- The fastest growing Christianity in Africa is Pentecostalism which has led parents to accuse their children of witchcraft (sanctioned by the bible) and has led these parents to set their children on fire or have them drink battery acid
- Traditional Islam demands that a woman's clitoris be cut out and her vagina sewn shut to ensure that she is a virgin on her wedding night
- The Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church has been uncovered as an institution that used its wealth and influence to collude to keep child rapists protected within its walls and continues to obfuscate on these crimes despite evidence that criminal collusion occurred at the highest levels of its clerical authority. It also has intellectual influence over the fastest growing economic populations in South America and continues to obstruct women's reproductive rights despite evidence that a tight correlation exists between poverty alleviation and a woman's right to choose if she will be pregnant
- Pastor Rick Warren of the Purpose Driven Life (NYT Best Seller) has supported the Ugandan legislation that would make homosexuality and colluding to keep homosexuals safe a capital crime worthy of the death penalty
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
- He distorts Sam Harris's thesis towards religion by painting him as a person who seeks to eradicate religious liberty. It is a lie about Mr. Harris's thesis against the moral sustainability of competing religions and Dr. Mohler offers no attribution to support it. His slander defeats his premise that the new atheists engage in scientism by necessitating an unattributed assertion to support his conclusion.
- Darwinian evolution offers a theory on the diversity of organisms and not abiogenesis or cosmology. He conflates scientific terms to make his claim and relies on what seems a non-sequiteur to damn Dawkins with scientism when the theory Dr. Dawkins adjudicates Christianity as false is mute on the subjects Dr. Mohler claims.
When I was a Calvinist Christian I would have been cheering Dr. Mohler's authority without any knowledge of my ignorance or possible immorality. As I have moved to disbelief I find Dr. Mohler's position immoral and am sad that he has influence over people who will be confused to the difference between biology (Darwinian evolution), chemistry (abiogenesis) and physics (cosmology) while claiming perfect knowledge in the bible.
I also can infer from my experience that the hardened certainty Dr. Mohler asserts and the epistemic pride his ideas will engender will not lead to the shame it should. The "faith" that will be felt by the believers in the depravity of atheists will be justified in the moral good evidenced by their obedience to their thought-leader with no comprehension how he needs to misrepresent facts as a means to proclaim absolute truth.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
"Allow me to ask you a question, friend. In what way do you conceive of the reality of your own existence in its subjective dimensions?"This is a tough question to answer and often seems to be the stopping point for epistemology (the nature and scope of knowledge). I mean do I live in Chicago, Illinois or The Matrix?
What we say we know is predicated on certain basic facts which ultimately we need to accept otherwise we get to an infinite regress of "why?"
The heart of JT's question challenges this basicality and seems to challenge me to consider the nature of my doubts relative to how I come to my knowledge (subjectively speaking).
I of course concede that I am a novice of evidentialism where some sort of objective method must be practiced when considering claims otherwise we become subject to our intuition which, given subjective license, has shown itself to be a poor predictor of what is real.
Therefore I take faith-claims as poor evidence but JT challenges this in fairness by illustrating how my comfort with deduction demands a faith proposition in set-theory (the foundation for mathematics) due to set-theory's honest criticism (like Wittgenstein's critique of set-theory relative to infinities and thus its illusory nature).
I don't share JT's concern however when addressing the question of religious faith vs. testable evidence and my apparent "faith" in set theory.
Set theory works at a primitive level when cultural noise is included.
It simply is and is basically real.
2+2=4 has the same meaning across cultures but not necessarily across all religions as my friend Lady Atheist pointed out when she wrote me and said that 2+2=4 can mean,
"For Unitarian Universalists 2 + 2 = well, that depends on who's countingand so although deduction may depend upon faith in the subjective "realness" of set-theory; set-theory can't be twisted by the subjective popular or social response a set-theory believer has in it (or we would have to see Lady Atheist's illustration as computational rather than satirical.)
For Mormons 2 + 2 = not enough wimmin
For Creationists, 2 + 2 = 22
For UFOlogists 2 + 2 = 42
For Scientologists 2 + 2 = 2384792.19827"
The question brings to the front for me the nature of doubt. It seems that there are at least two types of doubt when considering faith and what we know. There is emotional doubt and epistemic doubt.
Emotional doubt can use religion as a resolution of it (although the practice of certain theologies like my former Calvinist Christianity actually feeds the doubt due to concepts like sin) while epistemic doubt demands an analysis of data hygiene through methodological means like set-theory.
If one wants to assert that they have had a subjective experience with God and it has resolved their fear of death then it seems the subjective nature of this information offers resolution to a real emotional doubt and it can't be analyzed for its fact or fiction but, if the same person then seeks to extend this experience to an assertion that God is a triune being detailed in scripture, I can comfortably assess the data set of the bible (e.g. it's reliance on similar ancient Near Eastern myth for its narrative, its noted redaction, geographic dependence on discrete Christian tradition) and question the level of epistemic doubt still unresolved by this assertion.
I can further cross-reference the believer's assertion to the fact of a biblical God by inferring motivation due to psychology, anthropology or other sciences.
Subjectivity as JT so rightly challenges me is an essential property for all of our knowledge but how we understand it's meaning relative to the type of doubt it resolves helps indicate how trust-worthy it is.
I have no problem if someone wishes to assert that they know who god is but I do have a problem if they try to convince me that this knowledge is beyond doubt.