“Common Sense Atheism” is: Applying the Golden Rule

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 18, 2010 in General Atheism

I’ve explained before that by Common Sense Atheism I do not mean to say that atheism is “common sense.” I have little respect for common sense. Common sense was what we used to get the wrong answers about damn near everything before science came along. The way the universe really works is very counter-intuitive.

Rather, what I mean is that if you apply the same reasoning to your god as you do to every other god (your “common” sense) then you’ll see that your god doesn’t exist, either. I just mean “No Doubt Standards” atheism.

Christian Bible scholar James McGrath points out that this approach is really just following the Golden Rule:

…one cannot claim that Christianity is grounded purely in history while other traditions are at best shrouded in myth…

…what does it mean to do history [according to the Golden Rule]? …It means doing to the claims of others what you would want done to your claims. And perhaps also the reverse: doing to your own claims, views and presuppositions that which you have been willing to do to the claims, views and presuppositions of others.

Once one begins to attempt to examine the evidence not in an unbiased way, but simply fairly, one cannot but acknowledge that there are elements of the Christian tradition which, if they were in your opponent’s tradition, you would reject, debunk, discount, and otherwise find unpersuasive or at least not decisive or compelling.1

We might call this Golden Rule Epistemology. Don’t retreat to special pleading. Treat claims fairly. Do unto the claims of others what you would want done unto yours: Examine them charitably, humbly, and critically.

My claim is that if you succeed – if you apply the same standards to your theistic beliefs as you do to beliefs about other people’s gods, or to UFO stories, or to ghosts, or to scientific beliefs – then you will see that your god is an illusion just like all the others.

  1. See “Miracles and the Golden Rule.” []

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{ 93 comments… read them below or add one }

Leomar August 18, 2010 at 4:36 am

Yes. Watch when a religious person mentions to take or not to take something ‘literally’ or ‘metaphorically’ of their scripture, they often do that biased and fail to do that for the other person’s dogma. As an example I can put Badawi vs Craig Debate, watch it, if they would have applied the golden rule in that debate the would have ended deists as minimum. By the way I think Craig lost the debate.

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Ajayraju August 18, 2010 at 4:54 am

Religious people tend to believe that the golden rule is exactly what they are applying and that it is exactly their religion that is passing all the tests and other religions are failing. It is just a coincidence for them that it happens to be the religion of their parents. It is always for the other religions people and atheists to do the same and reject their beliefs.

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Al Moritz August 18, 2010 at 6:07 am

I have little respect for common sense. Common sense was what we used to get the wrong answers about damn near everything before science came along. The way the universe really works is very counter-intuitive.

Being a scientist myself, I have to protest against that naive portrayal of things, Luke. Common sense is paramount in devising, analyzing and evaluating scientific experiments. And if the conclusions are counter-intuitive, but firm, then it is common sense to accept them nonetheless. Common sense is (has to be) all pervasive, not just in ordinary life, but also in science.

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Martin August 18, 2010 at 7:26 am

If you read philosophers of religion, instead of fundies and laymen, they do in fact seem to be more than willing to critique their own beliefs.

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Kyle August 18, 2010 at 8:20 am

if you apply the same reasoning to your god as you do to every other god (your “common” sense) then you’ll see that your god doesn’t exist, either.

Do you mean this how it sounds? Do you really mean that anyone who believes in God is not being charitable, humble or critical?

Any time that you make a claim like the one above you seem to do very little to back it up except offer an anecdote about some religious person who has double standards or give examples of strange claims made by religions.

It hardly follows from this that if everyone tried a bit harder then belief in God would cease.

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Patrick August 18, 2010 at 8:32 am

“My claim is that if you succeed – if you apply the same standards to your theistic beliefs as you do to beliefs about other people’s gods, or to UFO stories, or to ghosts, or to scientific beliefs – then you will see that your god is an illusion just like all the others.”

You know, I hear this idea a lot, and I’m not sure its sound. It might be convincing to tell someone that they should apply the same standards of reasoning to their own religion as they apply to others, but I’m not sure that’s really how things work.

That implies that the reason the believer in Religion A is not a believer in Religion B is because the believer has subjected Religion B to sound, skeptical analysis, and found it wanting.

But I’m not sure that this assumption is accurate. Isn’t it more plausible that the believer’s disbelief is motivated by pre existing mutually exclusive religious commitments?

I completely understand why this argument is convincing. It leverages concepts of fair play, avoiding hypocrisy, and a certain “if your faith is as reasonable as you say, what do you have to fear?” kind of ratchet against the believer. So I understand the convincing nature of the argument. But is it really an accurate depiction of the situation? Isn’t it more likely an appeal to how the believer would like to believe he thinks, rather than an appeal to how he actually thinks?

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Brian_G August 18, 2010 at 8:47 am

“My claim is that if you succeed – if you apply the same standards to your theistic beliefs as you do to beliefs about other people’s gods, or to UFO stories, or to ghosts, or to scientific beliefs – then you will see that your god is an illusion just like all the others.”

It’s funny you should say that Luke, because I’ve found that a number of the aspects of religious belief that are criticised by atheists are common practice in scientific beliefs.

1) Extraordinary claims. We’re suppose to be highly sceptical of all extraordinary claims -when it’s a religious claim. But extraordinary claims abound in science. (Humans share a common ancestor with snakes, wave / partial properties of light, etc).

2) These claims are not directly verifiable by most people. We have to trust the authority of scientists.

3) Sometimes this information is given to us third or forth hand. We read a popular article, that that got it’s information from a text book, that summarised a study by a prominent scientist. Did the scientist actually make the observations himself? Well . . . technically it was his lab assistant.

4) Scientists have been found guilty of misconduct and outright falsification of data.

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Bill Maher August 18, 2010 at 8:53 am

Brian G just made me facepalm.

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Justfinethanks August 18, 2010 at 9:24 am

Brian_G:

But extraordinary claims abound in science.

Of course. But they are also matched by extraordinary evidence from multiple fields and tests.

These claims are not directly verifiable by most people. We have to trust the authority of scientists.

Many scientists are more than eager to help educate the public as to why they have come to their conclusions. Find the claims of Quantum Physics a little tough to swallow? No worries, you can start with popular books that carefully explain its basic principles and get more advanced from there. No need to trust the testimony of the scientific community if you don’t want to.

(But given the scientific community’s extraordinary track record, I think it is certainly rational to trust such testimony.)

We read a popular article, that that got it’s information from a text book, that summarised a study by a prominent scientist. Did the scientist actually make the observations himself? Well . . . technically it was his lab assistant.

A certainly valid concern. That’s why scientists publish their research in peer reviewed papers. So other scientists can check up on it, repeat their experiments, and see if their claims can be verified or falsified using other methods. If a claim doesn’t hold water, it is either modified to better match reality or done away with.

Knowing how the natural world works is far too important a thing to be trusted by a single scientist or study.

Scientists have been found guilty of misconduct and outright falsification of data.

Of course. Scientists are human. Fortunately, scientific claims are treated with intense scrutiny. So when this happens, the offending scientist is exposed, shamed, and has his research retracted, as is what happened to Dr. Andrew Wakefield when it was discovered that he manipulated data to suggest a link between autism and vaccines.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7134893.ece

Fudging the numbers is a good way to end your career as a scientist.

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Ralph August 18, 2010 at 10:16 am

“But I’m not sure that this assumption is accurate. Isn’t it more plausible that the believer’s disbelief is motivated by pre existing mutually exclusive religious commitments?”

If religious beliefs are simply a matter of preference for most believers, you might have a point. Much like how one would answer the question “Why don’t you like black suits? Because it’s not colorful.” But for most people, religious beliefs are generally held to be TRUE, so that even if one might appeal to mutual exclusivity in the beginning, a believer would be compelled to show that other beliefs are NOT true to sustain their own beliefs. And it is at this point that the double standard comes in.

Also, how many religious beliefs necessarily exclude the existence of UFOs or ghosts?

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ShaneSteinhauser August 18, 2010 at 10:21 am

Before I became an atheist I decided to put my Christian beliefs under this test. I decided that any defense of Christianity that could be also used to defend pagan religions was invalid.

For example: Someone might defend Christianity by saying that the bible is an enigma wrapped in metaphors. They might say that we cannot know the mind of God. Or they might say that it’s possible that God has good reasons for not showing himself.

But a pagan could say that Homer’s Illiad is wrapped in metaphor, that we cannot know the mind of Zeus, or that it’s possible that Zeus has good reasons for allowing his religion to die off.

Just imagine if we were to allow these sort of defenses in court.

“Your honor even though the prosecution has fingerprints, blood, and video footage of my client this still does not mean he’s guilty. I contend that a dimensional vortex opened up and spat out a doppleganger who killed the murder victim. In order to prove that my client is guilty the prosecution has to rule out the possiblity of a doppleganger from another dimension. Until they do my client is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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Patrick August 18, 2010 at 11:09 am

Ralph- I pretty sure my argument works even if believers genuinely believe their beliefs are “true” rather than preference.

Lets use Plantinga as an example. He believes bog standard Christian fundamentalist doctrine about believers JUST KNOWING IN THEIR HEARTS that Jesus is real, and about non believers having closed their hearts to the wonders of Jesus. So he takes this and dresses it up in fancy philosophical rhetoric, and calls this pig in lipstick the sensus divinitatis. He argues that this sense is a reason to believe in Christianity.

So lets say we ask Plantinga why he doesn’t believe in Buddhism. He might give us intellectual answers that, if applied to Christianity, would be problematic. And we might try arguing that he should subject both religions to the same degree of scrutiny.

But wouldn’t that be missing the point a bit? That intellectual stuff may have just been a cover. His internal conviction that Jesus is real is his (only?) reason for believing in Christianity, and chances are his rejection of Buddhism originates in his acceptance of Christianity.

So in a way he IS subjecting them both to the same scrutiny. One makes him feel good inside. One doesn’t.

That’s why I feel like this argument is a (sometimes) good rhetorical maneuver, but not an actually accurate description of belief.

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm

It looks a bit like a pastiche of slanderous presuppositions masquerading as a plea for fairness:

1) You presuppose that nobody remains convinced of his own religion without applying a double standard against other religions (and curiously, you quote McGrath ?! to support this point).

2) You presuppose that atheists are generally less likely than theists to apply double standards.

3) You presuppose that application of uniform standards of inquiry will lead to rejection of all religions. That’s a massive flying leap of logic with no substantiation offered.

The argument only appears to be clever because of the sleight-of-hand in pretending that atheism is in a separate category from all of the other worldviews.

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Pointing out an issue is not the same as exempting yourself from application of that issue.

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cl August 18, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Luke,

My claim is that if you succeed – if you apply the same standards to your theistic beliefs as you do to beliefs about other people’s gods, or to UFO stories, or to ghosts, or to scientific beliefs – then you will see that your god is an illusion just like all the others.

What if one applies the same standards to their beliefs, yet remains in their belief? Would you then accept their belief as justified? Or, would you think that they just haven’t succeeded in fairly applying the principles yet?

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Cl: What if one applies the same standards to their beliefs, yet remains in their belief?

Beliefs are usually not based on knowledge. Anyone is free to believe anything they wish. For myself, I prefer to have as many of my beliefs supported by evidence as possible and to admit where evidence is not available or sufficient.

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Ralph August 18, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Patrick – The problem with your scenario is that no person who claims to be rational will describe his belief-forming mechanism in the way you described. It’s simply foolish: I don’t believe Y because I believe X. I believe X just because I feel it in my heart. I would have no problem if theists admit this because in the process, they’ve admitted to not wanting to play the “rational” game.

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cl August 18, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Luke,

If a person has evaluated a sufficient amount of scientific evidence given a particular issue, yet still disagrees with the general consensus of scientists, is it valid to conclude that the person used epistemically negligent processes?

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Ralph, I agree with both you and Patrick for the most part. I’ve had plenty of people say they stopped looking once they found Jesus in their hearts. The next maneuver, though, is often one based on some rational or quasi-rational argument that is disconnected from that personal experience.

As you might say; it would be good if they admitted that they are believing and are not claiming what they believe based on reason or evidence beyond their personal experience. Who can effectively address that? As it is personal, though, they can’t then use that personal experience is an adequate justification for forcing others to bend to their wants or desires.

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Details, there are devils in them, especially when they are ignored.

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Ralph August 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm

JS Allen – you’re the only one making those strong presuppositions. More moderate presuppostions, I think, lie behind luke’s post and are much easier to defend.

1) You presuppose that nobody remains convinced of his own religion without applying a double standard against other religions (and curiously, you quote McGrath ?! to support this point).

Most people will not remain convinced of their religious beliefs if they apply the same level of credulity that they have of other unlikely things (UFO’s, ghosts, other gods, etc.)

2) You presuppose that atheists are generally less likely than theists to apply double standards.

None of luke’s posts presuppose this. You slander him by misrepresenting his post.

3) You presuppose that application of uniform standards of inquiry will lead to rejection of all religions.

Use the word “most”, and that will be easier to defend. Nothing in luke’s post presuppose your very exhaustive statement.

That’s a massive flying leap of logic with no substantiation offered.

He doesn’e need to substantiate it now. His statement is merely an invitation to theists “You disbelieve the existence of UFOs? Why? Why not apply that same standard of credulity to your religion?”

See how that works?

1)
2)

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cl August 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm

JS Allen,

Your comments are spot-on IMO, especially 3, which is why I asked my opening question. You wrote,

[Luke presupposes] that application of uniform standards of inquiry will lead to rejection of all religions. That’s a massive flying leap of logic with no substantiation offered. (JS Allen, brackets mine)

Not only does Luke believe fair application leads to rejection of all religions, it *appears* that he also argues it will lead to rejection of UFO’s and ghosts. May Luke correct me if that’s not the interpretation he wished to convey.

Either way though, it doesn’t matter. The “fair application -> rejection of all religions” trope is ridiculous enough on its own. It honestly drops my jaw that so few ostensibly rational people seem to pick up on this kind of illogic masquerading as cogency.

Luke,

…[using the Golden Rule] means doing to the claims of others what you would want done to your claims. And perhaps also the reverse: doing to your own claims, views and presuppositions that which you have been willing to do to the claims, views and presuppositions of others. (McGrath, brackets mine)

Luke, if you really believe this, why are you so slack in applying the Golden Rule to desirism?

Why do you make claims about creationists and refuse to substantiate them, yet also hold that rational people should substantiate the claims they make?

Why do you imply that I employ epistemically negligent processes, then refuse to identify them?

I’m not asking these questions to be confrontational and stir up your growing cache of trolls, either. I really want to know. It seems like you’re unaware of these [and other] discrepancies, but at the same time, I believe you’re a pretty intelligent guy and sufficiently committed to impartiality, such that you would easily see them.

What gives?

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cl August 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Ralph,

I’ll let JS Allen handle things JS Allen’s way, but there’s one thing I can’t let slide:

Use the word “most”, and that will be easier to defend. Nothing in luke’s post presuppose your very exhaustive statement.

Luke didn’t use the word most. Luke said,

My claim is that if you succeed – if you apply the same standards to your theistic beliefs as you do to beliefs about other people’s gods, or to UFO stories, or to ghosts, or to scientific beliefs – then you will see that your god is an illusion just like all the others.

…so, JS Allen’s criticism stands, and JS Allen makes no flying leap whatsoever. Luke does.

He doesn’e need to substantiate it now.

You mean, now that you’ve changed it, and even then – at least as far as rational discourse is concerned – Luke needs to substantiate any and every positive claim he makes. Don’t pick up slack for Luke by alleging that if we change what he actually said, things would be different. Luke’s is more than an invitation; it’s a truth claim, and a preposterous one at that: if you apply the same standards, then you will see that your God is an illusion just like all the others. IOW, if you apply the same standards, you will become an atheist.

That’s ridiculous.

Lest temptation nudge you towards a tu quoque, please note that I’ve not changed the meaning of anything Luke wrote, as you did. “My God” + “all the others” = the full set of deities. So yes, Luke claims that applying the same standards -> atheism.

That’s ridiculous. Pompous, even. More people need to call that out.

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Cl: Why do you make claims about creationists and refuse to substantiate them, yet also hold that rational people should substantiate the claims they make?

Do you have a few examples — say, one or two — where Luke does this?

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 2:01 pm

His statement is merely an invitation to theists “You disbelieve the existence of UFOs? Why? Why not apply that same standard of credulity to your religion?”

You’re presupposing that I don’t apply the same standards of credulity to other religions, reports of UFOs, etc.

It’s like saying, “I am merely inviting atheists to stop beating their wives”.

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Ralph August 18, 2010 at 2:30 pm

It’s easy to claim that you apply the same standard, it’s harder to show it.

You believe in Jesus Christ and yet don’t believe in UFOs. Existence of UFOs have better evidence both in quality and quantity. Tell us what standard you’re applying.

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 3:09 pm

You believe in Jesus Christ and yet don’t believe in UFOs.

See, you’re doing it again.

As I mentioned when this came up awhile ago, I don’t make any categorical statements about the non-existence of UFOs. As I also mentioned then, I personally saw some crazy thing fly very low over my house during broad daylight when I was a kid, and still have no idea what it was. So I’m the last person to make sweeping statements about the identifiability of flying objects.

Of course, I take everything on a case-by-case basis. I tend to believe my own eyes (and have a lot of experience knowing the times when my eyes aren’t trustworthy). I tend to place less trust in the eyewitness testimony of my friend’s crazy uncle who looks like Randy Quaid and buries shotguns in his back yard.

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Ralph August 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Precisely.

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Matthew D. Johnston August 18, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I’m sympathetic to those who feel offended by the final paragraph of Luke’s post. I think he would do himself a large favour by limiting this to his own story (e.g. that when he applied this notion of “common sense” to his own religious claims he found they didn’t stand up) rather than implying that everybody who maintains religious belief necessarily hasn’t applied proper reasoning to them. As Luke often points out, irrationality isn’t a theistic or atheistic phenomenon, it’s a human one.

I’m curious how far we would take this, though. Would people be offended if Luke made a blanket statement that young earth creationists applied faulty reasoning? Flat-earth society members? Voodoo/homeopathy/etc. practitioners? How “out there” does a belief have to be before we can state anybody who holds the belief is guilty of special pleading?

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Matthew D. Johnston: I’m curious how far we would take this, though. Would people be offended if Luke made a blanket statement that young earth creationists applied faulty reasoning? Flat-earth society members? Voodoo/homeopathy/etc. practitioners? How “out there” does a belief have to be before we can state anybody who holds the belief is guilty of special pleading?

We can look at their behavior. Do they offer unsupported claims or assertions instead of examinable evidence? Given a valid response, do they ignore it and move on to another unsupported claim, or do they have thin skin and take offense easily?

The paragraphs that proceed the ending did a good job of where to draw the line as well.

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Matthew D. Johnston August 18, 2010 at 3:59 pm

We can look at their behavior. Do they offer unsupported claims or assertions instead of examinable evidence? Given a valid response, do they ignore it and move on to another unsupported claim, or do they have thin skin and take offense easily?

I agree that “examinable evidence” is to be preferred in all cases it is available, but many, many claims are not of the kind that you can offer it. Can we claim people who assert the existence of other minds are guilty of special pleading because there is no examinable evidence that would prove there is a subjective consciousness in anybody’s head except their own?

The paragraphs that proceed the ending did a good job of where to draw the line as well.

Did it? Where?

My point is that people disagree on all manners of things (politics, art, religion, morality, aesthetics, how to raise a child, when to get up in the morning, etc.). In most instances, we just politely agree to disagree. It would certainly be valid in some cases to say that enough of the available information goes against a particular position that a blanket statement against the methodology used by people maintaining the position could rightly be called into question. I would even grant that religious claims are the prime examples of this. Somebody who accepts Moses parting the Red Sea as history, while rejecting the fantastical stories of other ancient cultures, needs to enroll in the University of Luke—for their own health.

But to make a blanket statement that amounts to “No religious believer has ever honestly and impartially reflected on the validity of their own beliefs”? Not only is it condescending, it isn’t true.

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm

We can look at their behavior. Do they offer unsupported claims or assertions instead of examinable evidence? Given a valid response, do they ignore it and move on to another unsupported claim, or do they have thin skin and take offense easily?

Some people might consider this to be an endorsement of ad hominem, but I think you’re exactly right. Your assessment of someone’s character and their track record of applying the epistemological golden rule will play a big part in how you estimate that person’s credibility.

Luke’s advice was good:

Don’t retreat to special pleading. Treat claims fairly. Do unto the claims of others what you would want done unto yours: Examine them charitably, humbly, and critically.

But Luke errs in making it a theist versus atheist thing. Theism is a very important decision, and one which people ought to want very much to get right, so proper epistemological hygiene is important. But it’s just absurd to claim that a failure to arrive at atheism can only be the result of special pleading or double standards. There are a great many theists who have better track records in this regard than many atheists, and vice-versa.

Professional philosophers, whether they be theist or atheist, tend to do a good job of applying the epistemological golden rule. So do academics like McGrath, and so do professional scientists. Demagogues like Carrier, Dawkins, or D’Souza do worse, and most lay people do terribly.

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Hendy August 18, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I think the point of this post could serve to “level the playing field.” Since I began to doubt 8mos ago, it has become strikingly obvious that the world is religious ambiguous. Millions upon millions hold mutually exclusive beliefs and many within each set are convinced that the evidence supports their belief.

For the sake of adding a “twist” to the discussion, conduct a mental thought experiment:

Do you think that for the most religions (let’s say, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Scientology, some form of Paganism) that at least someone or some minority has acted upon the golden rule presented here?

If so, then at least that minority is completely justified in holding their far out beliefs (compared to what you assert) and there is no justification in asserting any superiority of one religion over another.

If not, then it would seem that some theist of religion-believed-to-be-superior-X needs to present their least plausible/probable belief that is absolutely necessary for religion X to be true, and compare it with the most plausible/probable belief of other religions such that the opposing belief, if true, would invalidate religion X. Both beliefs need to be shown to have been compared with the same rigorous standards.

Does that make sense? Is it unfair? I suggest it, for if one’s religion surpasses this test it seems that it has, indeed, passed this test and been validated to be held rationally. My proposal gives one’s belief the worst possibility of surviving intact.

I could be completely wrong in suggesting this. I keep thinking that someone (preferably a theist) just needs to put some tangible beliefs out on the table along with some beliefs of other religions and/or naturalism/monism to just get our feet wet. Talking hypotheticals past one another is not getting us anywhere from my perspective. So far all I’ve heard is, “Luke is ridiculous and unfair! He says that if we do what he says we should just be atheists and that’s ridiculous” along with “I have followed this golden rule!” which is responded to with “Well then prove it!”

This can’t be the way to move forward on this…

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Hendy, well said.

I’ll add, it’s good to be discomforted by the status quo. I’ve seen the same patterns for decades. That discomfort, though, is one way to get motivated to make a difference.

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psocket August 18, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Can someone provide me with examples of demagoguery on the part of Carrier (or their own critique in relation to other atheists)? I agree that Dawkins, Hitchens, D’Souza and even Harris do this to some extent, but I haven’t found this to be the case with Carrier. His debates have seemed to me to be quite respectful, well evidenced and thoughtful. I am just starting on his books but haven’t seen anything prejudicial or emotionally charged.

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Gabriel August 18, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Luke-

Common Sense Atheism does not apply the Golden Rule. The Bible, obviously, never says “Do unto the claims of others what you would want done unto yours,” and the Golden Rule is not meant to be interpreted as saying so. The Bible explicitly states that some claims should be given no consideration at all, and dismissed out of hand.

Deut. 13:2-3
“2 and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.”

Must I treat the claim of a man telling me to worship other gods in the same way as a person’s claim that the M.A.S.H finale was the most watched program in the history of television? No. According to the Bible, I should dismiss one of these claims out of hand.

In fact, the golden rule itself is a prime example of a claim meant to followed blindly, treated totally differently than any other claim.

I think I am being nit-picky, and for the most part I totally support treating claims equally, but the idea that this is applying the Golden Rule to claims seems downright odd.

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Hendy August 18, 2010 at 6:26 pm

@psocket: Ha! I wondered the same thing. I have loved Carrier and find him to be most enjoyable to listen to, extremely well spoken/written, quite clear about exactly why he’s saying what he does, and well-evidenced.

Am I completely missing something about him?

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Thanks, Hendy. I would be interested in hearing your deconversion story some time.

If so, then at least that minority is completely justified in holding their far out beliefs (compared to what you assert) and there is no justification in asserting any superiority of one religion over another.

Well, I don’t think anyone is saying that application of the “epistemological golden rule” is sufficient justification for holding a belief. At best, failure to apply the “epistomological golden rule” could indicate a character flaw and some level of hypocrisy, which is what Luke was driving at, I believe.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you complain about overgeneralizing. I’ll throw out a specific example for sake of discussion — let’s consider Mohammed. I’ve spent about 20 years studying Islam, and I’m convinced that Mohammed probably did have the visions he claimed, and I believe that some “miraculous” military victories probably occurred. They could have all been a series of coincidences and tremendously good luck, but the point is that Mohammed was probably justified in believing himself to be receiving revelation from God, and his followers were justified in believing him.

This doesn’t mean I accept Islam, but I’m in no position to say that Mohammed’s belief (or Abu Bakr, or Al-Wahhab, etc.) was unjustified.

This is just one example, but it should show why I’m so puzzled about Luke’s formulation of the Loftus quote.

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Hendy August 18, 2010 at 6:39 pm

@Gabriel:

I’m surprised you find this application so odd. How does it apply with humans? I tend to preference myself above others x, y and z. X may be because of stranger-hood, y because of a rumor that he’s not a good person, and z because I personally find him to be an asshole via 1st hand experience.

The golden rule says, “Your intuition and initial response toward X, Y, and Z are unfair. To be fair, you should treat them with the same dignity and care with which you would treat yourself.”

Same for claims. Currently you tend to preference your belief above others, x, y, an z. X may be because of unfamiliarity, y because you read an apologist who said it was a bad belief, and z because you personally read about it or know someone who subscribes to it and find either it, itself, or the person subscribing to be factually or relationally repulsive.

The golden rule says, “Your initial intuition toward X, Y, and Z are unfair. To be fair, you should treat them with the same respect to which you give your own claims [that others find no reason to accept].”

Does that make sense?

Also, this:

Must I treat the claim of a man telling me to worship other gods in the same way as a person’s claim that the M.A.S.H finale was the most watched program in the history of television? No. According to the Bible, I should dismiss one of these claims out of hand.

and this:

I think I am being nit-picky, and for the most part I totally support treating claims equally…

seem completely exclusive. To say that “the Bible says to dismiss one of these claims out of hand” emphatically implies that you are not treating claims equally. You are outrightly asserting the power of the Bible to defeat a challenging claim when in fact you should apply the golden rule and give the challenging claim at least as much credit as you give the tenets of your own faith or challenge one of your beliefs with at least as much fervor as that with which you dismiss this claim.

To not do this seems to be analogous to dismissing a stranger’s attempts at friendship out of hand because you just don’t like how they look or perhaps your friend told you they were an asshole and you take his word. Have you been objective in comparing your premature judgment and friend’s word to the primary source of evidence (the stranger) to see how the stranger actually matches up?

If you conclude that Jesus wants you to apply the golden rule to the stranger, I don’t see it as a stretch of the imagination to apply it to other religious claims as well.

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Can someone provide me with examples of demagoguery on the part of Carrier (or their own critique in relation to other atheists)? I agree that Dawkins, Hitchens, D’Souza and even Harris do this to some extent, but I haven’t found this to be the case with Carrier.

Funny, I like Hitchens way more than I like Carrier. Someone once joked that Dawkins can’t believe that anyone could possibly believe in God, while Hitchens can’t believe anyone would want to. Carrier, on the other hand, reminds me of Wilhelm Steinitz, the first undisputed world champion of chess. Steinitz went increasingly insane, and started challenging God to games of chess. When God failed to show up after a number of times, Steinitz declared victory from his padded cell in the insane asylum. (Of course, I’m not saying that Carrier is insane, but I think that’s his basic approach:
“If God were real, he would debate me into submission. My lips are still moving. Therefore, God does not exist.”) He’s an articulate and entertaining guy, but he’s nowhere near the level of professional philosophers.

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Hendy August 18, 2010 at 6:56 pm

@JS:

This doesn’t mean I accept Islam, but I’m in no position to say that Mohammed’s belief (or Abu Bakr, or Al-Wahhab, etc.) was unjustified.
This is just one example, but it should show why I’m so puzzled about Luke’s formulation of the Loftus quote.

Puzzled as in you feel you have applied the golden rule to Islam? If so, I totally understand that.

This is a great example and interests me immensely for my perhaps obvious next question is, “How do we, then, go about establishing whether Christianity or Islam is true?”

Or would you conclude that this is just one example of a claim and the overall majority of Christian claims holds up better than the overall majority of Islamic claims? I would find that a fair bet and think most Christians I encounter think that it is the best historically, logically, morally, and miraculously (evidence of miracles) supported belief system.

The concept of how to move forward from the current prevailing stalemate is of high interest to me. Are we forever confined to iterative debates about what the first cause was, what was “before” the big bang, whether abiogenesis will be figured out, where morality comes from, whether the mind is what the brain does, and whether there are enough issues in the Bible to make it false…? And will the results forever be that 99% of the believers leave believers and vice versa?

How can we actually go about resolving these issues?

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Matthew D. Johnston August 18, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Gabriel, Luke isn’t saying that he applies thinks the golden rule should apply to arguments because the Bible tells him so; he’s saying he thinks it should apply because it’s just a good idea. (You might also be surprised to learn that golden rule exists in other cultures and religions, many of which pre-date Christianity [Judaism is among them]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Rule)

The concept is pretty simple. If you were discussing religion with somebody of another faith, and they said that their religion entitles them to “dismiss [your] claims out of hand,” you would accuse them of holding a double-standard if they then expected you to even so much as listen to the arguments for their position. It’s only fair, then, that you don’t commit the same special pleading yourself.

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Hendy August 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm

@JS:

Also, you mentioned my deconversion story and I want to pose a question for everyone here: For those who have “switched sides,” did you find arguments completely lacking as a[n] [a]theist which you now support and find completely convincing as a[n] [a]theist?

I’m becoming more and more convinced that we’re perhaps not voluntarily able to choose to find arguments or evidence convincing. Prior to my doubt-ignition-experience, I would not have even considered that opposing arguments were convincing. I would have listened, automatically assumed that there was an answer, brought it up the next time I was around a priest or more educated Christian I respected, listened to their answer, and put the answer in my back pocket, satisfied that someone, somewhere knew the answer to the issued challenge.

Prior to doubt, I would say that I had an essentially impenetrable “dogmatic shell” in place. I don’t know that I was even able to consider being wrong about Christianity. Some combination of who knows what, though, opened me up to this possibility this past Christmas and I went after it. I assure you that there was no willful intent to debunk my belief. I prayed the rosary on plane take offs, had my Bible in the cabin for taking my daily prayer time, and my wife and I went to several of the Christmas masses while down in FL visiting my parents from MN.

What happened that I was suddenly open to my entire belief system being an utter sham? Literally a myth, lie, falsehood, made up, phony, etc.? That’s hard shit to contemplate and any who suggest out of hand that someone who has [de]converted has done so out of hidden moral agendas or to spit in god’s face or whatever should be ashamed of themselves in most cases. I had no idea in the minutes preceding that I was about to have my world rocked. I felt physically nauseous for three or four days until I finally told my wife. It sucked.

My point is that I can’t say that I had anything to do with the initial ability to finally think critically and challenge my deeply held beliefs. I probably heard some of the arguments I now support before and thought they were crap. Is anyone else in this boat? If so, what’s with that?

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Hermes August 18, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Hendy: How can we actually go about resolving these issues?

You changed your mind, as have many maybe even most people here, so don’t worry about that.

Here’s a fundamental problem. It’s so obvious that most people blow it off. The volume of different people out there and beliefs they hold is staggering.

What makes that worse, though, is that most people also insist that they know what other people think and they are all too glad to tell the other person why they are wrong to think it. That alone wastes acres of time and causes quite a bit of confusion.

I’m constantly dealing with this and watching out for it in my own reactions.

Since I know I can’t read minds, that leaves me with little to go on at times. If someone says something that is incongruent with what they said earlier, it usually shows me that I was mistaken and that the conversation I thought I was having wasn’t actually happening. There were two conversations; mine and theirs and they aren’t the same thing.

Everything else is secondary. If you aren’t communicating, it doesn’t matter what the topic is or what was said.

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Puzzled as in you feel you have applied the golden rule to Islam? If so, I totally understand that.

There’s a bit of that, but I’m more puzzled by the overall assumption that everyone has to believe the same thing if they are to be justified in belief.

Or would you conclude that this is just one example of a claim and the overall majority of Christian claims holds up better than the overall majority of Islamic claims?

Well, I’ve not entirely made up my mind about Islam yet, which is why I’ve spent so much time studying, reading the Islamic philosophers and theologians, and so on. I studied Buddhism quite a lot, and feel very comfortable rejecting it. While my readings of the Gita and Vedas didn’t impress me terribly much, I can’t conclusively dismiss Hinduism — the Vedas are very old, and I’m not convinced I have properly understood them.

This isn’t to say that I would choose to become a Muslim, but just that I think that belief in Islam is probably justifiable.

How can we actually go about resolving these issues?

Well, a perfect example is the debate between atheists about the concept of free will. Some atheist philosophers believe that humans have free will. Others believe that free will is an illusion, and that all of our thoughts and actions are predetermined.

IMO, both positions are perfectly justified. I don’t believe that either side is engaging in special pleading or double standards, and neither side accuses the other of such double standards. Yet these positions are mutually contradictory. What should we do? Should we throw our hands up in despair and proclaim that both are wrong? Do we address both parties, saying smugly, “When you understand your reasons for rejecting the opposing theory of free will, you’ll understand my reasons for rejecting both!”

It’s a relevant example, IMO, because A) it’s hard to see how it could be conclusively settled in the next 100 years or so, and B) it’s one that you must make a judgment call about, even though you have insufficient evidence. For example, while I tend to think the determinists have the strongest hand, I still choose to live my life as if I have libertarian free will. So you could rightly ask if I *truly* believe in determinism or not, and what the heck does that really mean.

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Kaelik August 18, 2010 at 9:06 pm

“it’s hard to see how it could be conclusively settled in the next 100 years or so”

Not very familiar with present day neuroscience, are you?

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 9:11 pm

I’m becoming more and more convinced that we’re perhaps not voluntarily able to choose to find arguments or evidence convincing.

This is pretty profound, IMO, and is part of the reason I think determinists have the upper hand.

I would have listened, automatically assumed that there was an answer, brought it up the next time I was around a priest or more educated Christian I respected, listened to their answer, and put the answer in my back pocket, satisfied that someone, somewhere knew the answer to the issued challenge.

Thanks for sharing your story. This part is particularly poignant for me. As a parent trying to raise my kids Christian, I would like to believe that my kids’ trust in me and others is sufficient to ensure their belief. But my own experience, as well as your testimony and other deconversion stories, tells me that’s a fool’s wager.

I probably heard some of the arguments I now support before and thought they were crap. Is anyone else in this boat? If so, what’s with that?

Very interesting question. I don’t think I support any arguments that I used to think were crap, but I’ll have to think about that some more.

As a youngster, I heard practically every crappy argument for Christianity, and recognized all of them as crappy. From the fundie Sunday-school teachers who would say “If we come from monkeys, why don’t women have chimps for babies?” to the Pre-Vatican II priest who explained to me that all things must have a cause, therefore, the “prime mover” is a big Jew in the sky named Jehovah (while carefully qualifying that Jehovah now hates those so-called Jews).

I was the problem child who insisted on having logically valid explanations for everything, and was never surprised to find the adults lacking. This doesn’t mean I disbelieved at the time, but I never ever believed that my parents or preachers were capable of defending their beliefs. They weren’t; that’s just a fact.

My suspicions were confirmed after I became a militant atheist and started deconverting Christians at school. None were really capable of defending their beliefs, and most who deconverted are still atheists to this day.

At some point I started to realize that their reasons for choosing atheism were just as debatable as their reasons for being Christian in the first place, and that definitely shook me. It didn’t convince me to be a theist, but it convinced me that people tend to make immensely important life decisions on hopelessly flimsy foundations.

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JS Allen August 18, 2010 at 10:01 pm

“it’s hard to see how it could be conclusively settled in the next 100 years or so”

Not very familiar with present day neuroscience, are you?

Significantly more familiar than you are, I suspect. What, exactly, about present day neuroscience do you find to be compellingly conclusive on the matter of determinism?

Keep in mind that I defend materialism and determinism, and find both to be persuasive. And I find many of the arguments of dualists to be flawed. I believe that research in neuroscience supports my conclusions. But that is very far from saying that the evidence conclusively compels the skeptics to agree with me. Their skepticism is justified.

To conclusively settle the matter, we’ll need (at a minimum) to demonstrate that a deterministic computer program or robot can exhibit intentionality. And this will probably need to be third or fourth-order intentionality to be persuasive. I strongly believe it will happen one day, but I don’t blame people who are skeptical. There is a burden of proof that hasn’t been met (yet). I used to believe that such a demonstration was only 30-50 years away, but I’m far less confident today. It’s crazy hard, and we keep running into setbacks. And the physicists haven’t settled their stupid quantum debates as quickly as we hoped.

I would love to be persuaded by you, but you’ve not given me anything to chew on. It’s surprising, and more than a little depressing to me, that Daniel Dennett stands virtually alone in explicating an account of determinism that is compatible with intentionality.

FWIW, the recent neuroscience research I’ve found most supportive of determinism and intentionality is the “mirror neurons” stuff from Iacobini and friends, but apparently there have been some serious challenges in the past year or two. I’m predisposed to believe what Iacobini says, since I want to believe in a materialist/determinist model, so I haven’t deeply examined the challenges. But intellectual integrity demands that I acknowledge the inconclusive status of neurobiology research in the question of determinism.

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Thomas Lantern August 19, 2010 at 12:40 am

Anyone who freely chooses to believe in determinism is crazy.

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CGO August 19, 2010 at 3:16 am

This is sound advice Luke and if practiced then the conclusions you draw are more probably true than not.

Those citing McGrath’s Christianity as evidence his “Golden Rule” advice fails to achieve Luke’s conclusion need to listen to the Conversations podcast where James shares his belief. His theology seemed mistitled by him as Christianity. He seems like a numinous loving agnostic who chooses to call himself a Christian.

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Ralph August 19, 2010 at 5:25 am

JS Allen,

For someone who dislikes overgeneralizations and presuppostions, your blog is full of it.

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Kaelik August 19, 2010 at 5:38 am

“What, exactly, about present day neuroscience do you find to be compellingly conclusive on the matter of determinism?”

Where exactly did I claim that present day neuroscience is compellingly conclusive?

You claimed that it is hard to see it being determined in the next 100 years. Based on current neuroscience I could easily see it being conclusive in 100 years.

But frankly, I guess it’s just that you have insane definition of proof, because no, it would be very easy to conclusively prove a deterministic universe without ever personally creating a computer that exhibits intentionality.

It’s much easier to just demonstrate that we ourselves are deterministic computers than to build a separate computer as evidence.

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Hendy August 19, 2010 at 6:36 am

@Hermes:

You changed your mind, as have many maybe even most people here, so don’t worry about that.

Good point :)

What makes that worse, though, is that most people also insist that they know what other people think and they are all too glad to tell the other person why they are wrong to think it…There were two conversations; mine and theirs and they aren’t the same thing. Everything else is secondary. If you aren’t communicating, it doesn’t matter what the topic is or what was said.

Well said and I agree. These last couple posts as well as the one I wrote on my blog have helped put me at ease regarding a lot of these things. I think there are some great examples on this site of individuals who wish to rise above the typical “game” of debate and converse. I think I’m just getting there and used to read every post while simultaneously wondering, “Yeah, but are you a theist or an atheist,” in order to know who to reply to supportively or antagonistically.

That was just stupid. Wanting to be right seems to make one compulsive and obsessive with labels. As you said, we stop communicating and start having our own conversation. Since we’re sure the opposing belief is wrong, it is necessarily becomes a conversation with an enemy; negotiations cease and war commences.

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Hendy August 19, 2010 at 6:58 am

@JS:

Very interesting to learn more about you with respect to your study on Islam, and thanks for sharing your thoughts on free-will. It’s quite the topic and I could invest a lifetime in reading all the literature, I’m sure!

Thanks for sharing your story. This part is particularly poignant for me. As a parent trying to raise my kids Christian, I would like to believe that my kids’ trust in me and others is sufficient to ensure their belief. But my own experience, as well as your testimony and other deconversion stories, tells me that’s a fool’s wager.

My wife is a Catholic (we both were) and since my deconversion (definite? Not sure) this has also come up a lot. I have a two-year-old and one due next Monday! I wrestle with this area tremendously and see three options:

1) Raise them Christian and I kind of stay out of it
2) Both of us openly tell them what we think about the world
3) Raise them with a neutral set of tools and understanding about the world

I’ll start with #2. I think it’s a horrible idea. I think it would be incredibly traumatic and divisive for the whole family for my wife to take my kids to Mass and pray with them, and then minutes later have me ask them if their prayers have ever been conclusively answered or whether the OT massacres were signs of a good god. Icky idea.

1) I’m not really a fan of this as I am doubtful that it really allows the child at a later age to question freely and decide for themselves. I think we have little appreciation for how deep beliefs run and to what end an individual will rationalize keeping an early-instilled belief.

3) This is my favorite and I actually think it’s the most reasonable. Raise them with neutral and universally applicable tools like logic, critical thinking, science, fun ways to conduct tests and propose hypotheses, etc. When they get older and get more curious or get bitten by the “But what’s really true?” bug… they’ll have the training to find out for themselves and decide.

I actually prefer #2 to #1 but don’t know what I’ll do if my wife absolutely won’t accept #3. She recently discussed my deconversion with a priest who seemed to state that it is still her “duty” to fulfill the promise she made in raising her kids Catholic. She came back from that talk and (how I received it) indirectly proposed that she raise them Catholic while I essentially stay in the shadows with respect to what I think about the world. What am I to do should she have to choose between bad standing with the Church or us disagreeing heavily? Can I go through 18 years or whatever of holding my tongue about religion and the supernatural completely? Do I just have to “not get into it” when it does come up with my kids as they grow (and it will)? Part of me even wonders if they would view me as not fighting for the truth. If I’ve done the most digging in this area and am convinced about my position and then I agree to not share it… will they grow to see me as someone who didn’t fight for them to know what I found?

Anyway… there’s some of my thoughts on that. Not fun. On the other hand, it goes to show why I think people should go through their own truth-seeking endeavors earlier rather than later (though I don’t think I would have been mentally able or had the time a whole lot earlier), and especially before getting into something like marriage and kids! It just makes things a whole lot easier!

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Hendy August 19, 2010 at 7:06 am

@JS:

As a youngster, I heard practically every crappy argument for Christianity, and recognized all of them as crappy.

Interesting. I wasn’t raised Christian but was sent to Catholic school for middle school and high school because my parents thought the academics and athletics were better. Being the loner I actually went through RCIA (becoming Catholic) almost wholly due to feeling left out and wanting to fit in. Later on in HS and college I had emotionally powerful occurrences that confirmed for me that Jesus was alive and working in my life, but I never got into the apologetics area so much. I still think I did reasonably fine when mini-debates would arise, but come to think of it, I think these were far more often than not about things inside of Catholicism (is x permissible) or simply about morality in general (pro-life/choice, contraception, etc.) and not so much about whether god even existed. I went to a Catholic college and thus didn’t get exposed to any atheists that I know of. I never knew an atheist until I went to a Minnesota Atheists Meetup group meeting into my deconversion.

At some point I started to realize that their reasons for choosing atheism were just as debatable as their reasons for being Christian in the first place, and that definitely shook me.

Indeed — what is belief and how is it formed. Are we all post-rationalizing gut instincts and emotion-based choices? I tend to hope not, but I can absolutely see your point.

This is why there was no #4 in my post above about children that said, “Raise my child a non-believer.” I’m wholeheartedly against dogmatic instruction and think it would be the saddest and most ironic thing ever to raise a child as an atheist who was so only due to upbringing. I want to raise thinkers and ponderers and individuals who know that I love them regardless of where the road leads them. I want them to make up their own minds and even though I current don’t believe, I’d rather have a child who believes in god based on rational consideration than an atheist with no foundation for that stance.

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Ralph August 19, 2010 at 7:39 am

The way I interpret luke’s post, it’s really more a commentary on religion. It’s one thing to claim to be a theist, it’s quite another thing to subscribe to a religion – for me, that’s totally defenseless. Quite apart from the evidential argument from evil (for which theism is utterly defenseless, IMO) and the failure of any of the cosmological arguments to prove God’s existence, the evidence of any religion simply doesn’t stack up to the evidence for UFO sightings which I also don’t believe in.

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dgsinclair August 19, 2010 at 8:41 am

>> AL: Common sense is paramount in devising, analyzing and evaluating scientific experiments.

I agree Al. I think that one of the failings of hard atheism/materialism is its rejection of the more subjective, yet useful functions of intuition and conscience. When used IN COMBINATION with reason, you have a much more effective epistemology.

However, I think there are many misconceptions, or different conceptions, of what ‘common sense’ really is. Luke seems to think that it is merely trusting one’s subjective intuition, but I think this is incorrect.

As a more academic person, I was always told that I had no common sense, only ‘book sense.’ This always troubled me, until I came to a new understanding of what ‘common’ means.

It does not mean that everyone has it automatically, or that we should just trust our intuition. It merely means that there is common *wisdom* available to anyone who will observe and learn from life. It is common in that it is not hidden, nor does it need to be revealed by God (as revealed truth or wisdom is, such as the gospel).

Those who learn from real experience (as opposed to books) and learn how to problem solve based on the common principles of the physical and social realm have gained ‘common sense.’ That’s my view.

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dgsinclair August 19, 2010 at 8:47 am

>> EL: What if one applies the same standards to their beliefs, yet remains in their belief? Would you then accept their belief as justified? Or, would you think that they just haven’t succeeded in fairly applying the principles yet?

Even better, what if one applies the same standards to their UNbelief?

I have tried to write about how a reasoned evaluation of faith propositions does not automatically disqualify ALL faith propositions, as Luke seems to indicate. It merely narrows the field. See Pascal’s Wager – Part III: Evaluating the gods

Regarding your question above, I have often asked myself that – I was an agnostic, then a Christian, then an unbeliever, then a Christian again. But did I *really* explore my radical doubt during my unbeliever period fully before I returned to faith? I think I did, but you can never be sure.

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Hermes August 19, 2010 at 8:58 am

I never said “I’m going to be an atheist!” and chose it.

For about 10 years as an atheist, I thought I was a Christian — just like all the other Christians that clearly don’t believe the more fantastical aspects of Christian teachings. To be clear, I was a Christian then as much as I was an atheist and there was no conflict. The religion and the theistic beliefs were in different boxes, and only when I encountered religious theistic Christians did I see the difference between what I believed and what they did. I stopped calling myself a Christian who did not believe deities and then started to just accept that the religion was not worth keeping either.

If someone were to show me that more likely than not some deity exists, then in that moment I’d be some kind of theist.

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 9:20 am

@Hendy:

Anyway… there’s some of my thoughts on that. Not fun. On the other hand, it goes to show why I think people should go through their own truth-seeking endeavors earlier rather than later

Very interesting! I went through some of the same thought process, since my wife is not a Christian. She was always supportive of raising the kids Christian, without my ever having brought up the issue, so it wasn’t a matter of negotiating with her — but I didn’t want to “brainwash” the kids either.

I think the only ethical way to do it is for both parents to be honest and open about what they believe. Perhaps it’s post-hoc rationalization on my part, but I honestly believe this is a much better situation for the kids than being raised dogmatically in an environment where they are never exposed to doubt.

@kaelik:

But frankly, I guess it’s just that you have insane definition of proof, because no, it would be very easy to conclusively prove a deterministic universe without ever personally creating a computer that exhibits intentionality.

Did you sleep through the last 60 years of physics? You do realize that the issue of whether or not the physical universe is deterministic is currently wide open among physicists, right? I’m not saying that the universe isn’t deterministic, but it’s effing insane to say it’s easy to prove. Tons of physicists would love to see your “easy proof”.

@Ralph:

For someone who dislikes overgeneralizations and presuppostions, your blog is full of it.

I guess I have room for improvement. In the cases where I make generalizations about postmodernists, it’s probably more malice than incompetence, though.

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Matthew D. Johnston August 19, 2010 at 10:11 am

For those who have “switched sides,” did you find arguments completely lacking as a[n] [a]theist which you now support and find completely convincing as a[n] [a]theist?

I never came to a lose my belief because of any successful anti-theistic argument. To date, I don’t actually think there are any, at least not fully general ones, so I don’t know if this necessarily applies to most atheists/agnostics.

When I became interested in apologetics as a witnessing tool, I had assumed the arguments for Christianity were rock solid, and it was the realization that things were far more confused than that led me to abandon ship. Mostly, I got tired of backpedaling, arguing for the plausibility of the worldview I was espousing rather than being able to point any strong instances of evidence in favour of it. It seemed like the lofty claims of Christianity were such that more than plausibility was demanded, although I have since realized that isn’t as commonly held of a view as I had supposed.

I do remember strongly advocating various theistic arguments at points. I’ve since realized they’re all on the Bill Craig list, although I wasn’t aware of him at the time. He also words them better than any version I would have had at my disposal then, although I’m not sure that would have mattered.

I think the moral argument was the first to go: I thought it was pretty firmly done in by the Euthyphro dilemma, and still do.

The teleological argument was next, fatally undermined by Hawking’s eloquent exposition on the anthropic principle in “A Brief History of Time”. I realize there are better formulated versions of this argument than the one I was most aware of at the time (which was basically, “Explain this! Can’t? God did it!”) but the gist of the argument is still persuasive to me: improbability of an event is not enough to establish intentionality if the occurrence of said event is a necessary condition for your being able to marvel at the improbability in the first place. For the argument to be deductively sound, you would have to establish the impossibility of the event without God—and good luck with that.

I still waver on the cosmological argument (which is what I think the fine-tuning argument reduces to once you realize the probability of life arising is moot), and I wasn’t aware of the ontological argument at the time (and I couldn’t imagine myself ever advocating it anyway).

I do remember being struck—utterly blind-sided—by the realization that some people did not believe in any sort of afterlife. It amazes me to look back and think that I took this as some sort of argument, even if the argument was simply “How can you believe that?!” I guess I could have given it the Bill Craig dressing, ala Chapter 2 of “Reasonable Faith”, and expounded on the will-crippling absurdity of believe life is finite, but my point would have been just about the same. Perhaps that’s the one I’m most ashamed of having held, at least on intellectual grounds. But at the same time, I think it is for the most part right—the finality of death sucks, and it can be debilitating to realize it—but unfortunately it also does not matter.

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Kaelik August 19, 2010 at 11:18 am

“Did you sleep through the last 60 years of physics? You do realize that the issue of whether or not the physical universe is deterministic is currently wide open among physicists, right? I’m not saying that the universe isn’t deterministic, but it’s effing insane to say it’s easy to prove. Tons of physicists would love to see your “easy proof”.”

Once again, what did I say? It would be easy to prove without building a robot with intention. That’s it. Not that it can be proved based on our current knowledge, just that I can see a point 1-99 years in the future in which the following things are true:

1) It is conclusively proved we live in a deterministic universe.

2) We don’t have a robot or computer AI with intentionality.

I can see that state of affairs being likely.

Frankly the real reason to believe in deterministic universe is that it’s the only one compatible with our current theory of time, and oh yeah, no one has ever presented a complete coherent definition of free will at all, that isn’t actually just another name for deterministic processes or random chance.

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Hendy August 19, 2010 at 11:39 am

@Matthew:

Thanks for sharing that. Great comments. I’d actually say that was similar to my own journey. Out of the blue I wondered one day whether any non-gospel historians during Jesus’ time had written about him. I googled it and was disheartened at what I found. That cracked my shell. I began considering issues with the Bible, the fall, the lack of evidence (given a god that wants us to know him), lack of Jesus-facts presented by Paul, and so on.

Time after time I just found, to my surprise, that it seemed far easier, clearer, and simpler to support he natural explanation alternative to my previous faith claim. I found the alternative simpler and more intellectually appealing/supported/sound.

There’s a whole separate issue of how others I talk to interpret the evidence I found supporting non-belief, but that’s a separate issue. I guess at the end of the day, I’m not sure how to affect what, exactly, I find convincing and what I don’t!

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Ralph August 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

For those who have “switched sides,” did you find arguments completely lacking as a[n] [a]theist which you now support and find completely convincing as a[n] [a]theist?

Back when I was a Christian, I really thought the arguments in favor of the divine authorship of the bible were sufficient and this is only because I really didn’t think things through enough. When I did,it was the first to go. My Christian beliefs were the first to go because they were the most unsupported. I can state categorically right now that I am as close to being a GNOSTIC atheist with regard to Christianity and other Abrahamic religions as anyone could ever be, so sure am I that those religions and the books they are based on are flawed and immoral.

For a much longer time, I was a “religion-less” theist. It took a while but with the help of someone with a PhD, I was finally convinced that the ontological argument is word play. The moral argument didn’t really strike me as persuasive and the euthyphro dillemma pretty much undermined it to insignificance. I held off the problem of evil by delaring myself to be an emanational pantheist (this, I felt, was not as vulnerable to the POE). Eventually, I got tired of lying to myself and finally accepted atheism.

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al friedlander August 19, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Hendy and JSAllen, very interesting backstories. I find it entertaining that both of you married others of another belief-system.

Hendy I agree that deconversion can be -really- rough, though, I also agree that it’s sometimes fishy when we analyze exactly -how it was- that we came to believe what we do today.

I always admit on here that my deconversion was largely emotionally based (unlike Luke’s intellectual route). They say love can easily turn into hate; strong bipolar emotions, I suppose.

I wanted God to exist more than anything. Heck, I think I’d go far enough to even suggest I NEEDED God to exist. Without him, my life was completely worthless. I still struggle with a bit of that today.

And yet, I stilled couldn’t believe in ‘Him’. In time, I came to a horrifying conclusion. The God I believed in was dead; in His place

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al friedlander August 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

(sorry accidentally sent so didn’t edit)

….’in His place’….was a cold predestination/Calvinist God that did things because ‘it pleased Him’, and nothing else.

The interesting thing I noticed during University small-group was that people usually never thought outside the first-person perspective. If -I- feel God, it doesn’t matter what Bob thinks, God must exists.

But my whole life I’ve been tormented with the thought of ‘becoming Bob’. What if it was possible? But nah…couldn’t be. God would never abandon ME.

Well, now I’m Bob. I’ve involuntarily accepted the horror that I’ve been avoiding for years. But it won’t matter to many other theists; God will still exist for -them-. It doesn’t matter that there are Bobs in the world, because, well, they aren’t him.

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Matthew D. Johnston August 19, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Out of the blue I wondered one day whether any non-gospel historians during Jesus’ time had written about him. I googled it and was disheartened at what I found. That cracked my shell. I began considering issues with the Bible, the fall, the lack of evidence (given a god that wants us to know him), lack of Jesus-facts presented by Paul, and so on.

It’s strange, looking back, that historical Jesus studies never entered my radar back then. They’re much more prominent now, and I find a lot of scholarly Jesus discussion fascinating even from an outsider’s point of view. Back then, though, I was more interested in philosophy and science as opposed to historical studies, and felt these sufficient to ground belief or non-belief.

For a much longer time, I was a “religion-less” theist. It took a while but with the help of someone with a PhD, I was finally convinced that the ontological argument is word play.

I considered myself a deist for years after losing my faith. If prodded, I would justify myself with some vague appeal to the cosmological argument, or occasionally the argument from consciousness. I rejected supernatural religious claims, but I suppose I still need the belief in a god and the possibility of an afterlife.

It was actually reading “The God Delusion” that convinced me my view was ridiculous. Faulty as the book is on many grounds, I couldn’t escape the intuition that appealing to some vague notion of “God” as an explanation of some unexplained, mysterious phenomenon was no different than offering no explanation at all. What’s the difference between saying the universe was spawned by some mysterious, incorporeal, timeless being we have no epistemic access to, and that the existence of the universe is just itself mysterious? Or saying that consciousness is mysteriously endowed upon us by God, and that consciousness is a mysterious property of the universe? It was a bitter pill to swallow.

And then, recognizing the faults with the rest of Dawkins’ work—and disagreeing vehemently with his tone—I googled “atheistic criticism of Dawkins” or some such thing and happened upon this blog. :P

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Hermes August 19, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Al, exactly.

To put it another way, it seems as if you are talking about roles and agency. The mythology you created at the time to grasp a topic; to put a handle on and also to animate that other being because of it’s needs not just your own. You knew it had to have intentions, so you listened to it’s intentions so as to figure out what it needed. Your imagination has the tools to do the work of comprehending the incomprehensible, though the price is that it can then manipulate you as well.

I encounter this when I write fiction. If the characters are any good — if they have lives of their own — they make demands of me and are stubborn. I let them act as they wish.

I think the same things happen to many people; they attribute the agency of the characters they spontaneously generate as wants and desires of someone else. In one way, they are right.

Evid3nc3 has this partially covered in his deconversion story [full playlist] . Specifically, 2.5 Deconversion: Personal Relationship (part 1 & 2); his personal relationship with God drove his actions and were tangible; real.

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Gabriel August 19, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I’m surprised you find this application so odd. How does it apply with humans? I tend to preference myself above others x, y and z. X may be because of stranger-hood, y because of a rumor that he’s not a good person, and z because I personally find him to be an asshole via 1st hand experience.

The golden rule says, “Your intuition and initial response toward X, Y, and Z are unfair. To be fair, you should treat them with the same dignity and care with which you would treat yourself.”

Same for claims. Currently you tend to preference your belief above others, x, y, an z. X may be because of unfamiliarity, y because you read an apologist who said it was a bad belief, and z because you personally read about it or know someone who subscribes to it and find either it, itself, or the person subscribing to be factually or relationally repulsive.

The golden rule says, “Your initial intuition toward X, Y, and Z are unfair. To be fair, you should treat them with the same respect to which you give your own claims [that others find no reason to accept].”

Does that make sense?

I understand what you’re saying, but just because we may reject people and reject ideas does not mean that the Golden Rule applies to people ideas. I am unconvinced that you have shown any such thing without justifying that enormous leap.

Also, this:

Must I treat the claim of a man telling me to worship other gods in the same way as a person’s claim that the M.A.S.H finale was the most watched program in the history of television? No. According to the Bible, I should dismiss one of these claims out of hand.

and this:

I think I am being nit-picky, and for the most part I totally support treating claims equally…

seem completely exclusive. To say that “the Bible says to dismiss one of these claims out of hand” emphatically implies that you are not treating claims equally. You are outrightly asserting the power of the Bible to defeat a challenging claim when in fact you should apply the golden rule and give the challenging claim at least as much credit as you give the tenets of your own faith or challenge one of your beliefs with at least as much fervor as that with which you dismiss this claim.

Yes, of course that’s a contradiction. First, what makes you think I’m any sort of believer? Secondly, why does it matter? I’m simply trying to point out what I feel is an inaccurate reading of the Bible, something that shouldn’t be done by just atheists or theists.

Gabriel, Luke isn’t saying that he applies thinks the golden rule should apply to arguments because the Bible tells him so; he’s saying he thinks it should apply because it’s just a good idea.

I understand that, but Luke was making the claim not that the Golden Rule should apply to claims, but that this blog does apply it to claims, which I believe is false, because the Golden Rule simply cannot apply to claims. Certainly, Luke may say that this blog treats others’ claims as it does its own, but that’s a Silver Rule, not an application of the exclusively person-based Golden one.

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 2:09 pm

But my whole life I’ve been tormented with the thought of ‘becoming Bob’. What if it was possible? But nah…couldn’t be. God would never abandon ME.

Well, now I’m Bob. I’ve involuntarily accepted the horror that I’ve been avoiding for years. But it won’t matter to many other theists; God will still exist for -them-. It doesn’t matter that there are Bobs in the world, because, well, they aren’t him.

Wow, that’s mind-blowing. I’ve often heard Christians talk about having a “dark night of the soul” where they felt God was abandoning them, but the concept doesn’t even parse for me. I always thought it was just because they are better than me, and I was kind of jealous.

I had a guy comment on my blog last night with almost the opposite statement, and I’m flabbergasted about how to even respond:

Unfortunately, I’ve found that both sides can make a case, and I currently find some things from Christian apologetics compelling. Not only has hell motivated me to doubt, but it motivated me to WANT Christianity to be false. And now, I don’t know how to love this God that I personally can’t disprove. It’s really scare, but I’ve even found myself hating God (whether He’s real or imagined).

http://lowerwisdom.com/2010/08/one-hell-of-a-reason-to-doubt

My first reaction was to deploy my years of experience at deconverting people to put him out of his misery, and say something like, “You’re only confused because all of the arguments for atheism out there on the blogs are so crappy; let me give you ten better arguments that will raise your comfort level about atheism.”

A good Christian should probably try to talk him off the ledge, but I don’t even know what to say.

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Gabriel August 19, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Uh oh. Terrible blockquoting mishap. I’m am idiot for not paying any attention to the preview.
I wish we could edit posts.

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Hendy August 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

@Gabriel:

Let’s just forget about this one :) In reading thing back to myself, I think I wrote far too many words just to say, “I see no problem in using the principle of the golden rule to apply to other things.”

That’s all.

Also, I think because I perceived you making a fuss over applying the golden rule to things and not exclusively people as Jesus said along with your mention of the Bible being a compelling reason to dismiss something out of hand led me to conclude that you were “any sort of a believer.”

I guess I don’t see why the golden rule is forced to be only limited to people. Would anything change if we said that religions are composed of people, people author its dogma, and people try to convince others of their religion and thus it is very likely that you will hear claim x via a person and you should treat them as you would like to be treated if you were proposing your claim y to them?

Again, I don’t think this is as far fetched of an application as you make it out to be…

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Hendy August 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm

@Ralph: thanks for sharing your comments. I would say that I didn’t think things through either. My parents stayed very much out of my religious life and thus my environment has been almost unanimously Christian from middle school through college and I just accepted whatever was told to me.

@al.friendlander: there are emotional reasons (and unknown ones) that go on for sure. My gripe is that believers seem to make those out to be the only reasons that exist or discount such reasons in themselves.

@Matthew: I recall Luke saying that few really deconvert due to historical issues. I would say this is what first “cracked my shell” and let me even consider that it might be false. It was very odd. I had just never really considered that. I did have times of doubt but I emphatically thought that it was my fault and that something was wrong with me that I didn’t have the personal relationship with Jesus that I saw and heard about in those around me.

@Hermes: Thanks for linking to the evid3nc3 vid. I watched that whole thing through the night that I found it. I had forgotten about his simulacrum explanation. Wonderful stuff!

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Hermes August 19, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Evid3nc3 keeps adding to it, so if you haven’t looked in a few months it’s worth looking at the new ones.

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 3:22 pm

It would be easy to prove without building a robot with intention. That’s it. Not that it can be proved based on our current knowledge, just that I can see a point 1-99 years in the future in which … it is conclusively proved we live in a deterministic universe.

Yes, you’ve repeatedly asserted that you can “see” it, without offering any substantiation, or even any evidence that you have the foggiest notion of how a proof could happen. Repeated assertion of an article of faith is not proof.

Frankly the real reason to believe in deterministic universe is that it’s the only one compatible with our current theory of time

WTF does “our current theory of time” even mean? When I look at SEP entry on “Time”, I see all sorts of current theories; some which are compatible with determinism, and some not:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/time/

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Kaelik August 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm

“Yes, you’ve repeatedly asserted that you can “see” it, without offering any substantiation, or even any evidence that you have the foggiest notion of how a proof could happen. Repeated assertion of an article of faith is not proof.”

??? So you are really mad at me for repeatedly stating that I can see how it would be possible to, sometime in the next 100 years discover something that could conclusively prove determinism, but I refuse to tell you what exactly we will discover in the next 100 years? Really? That’s your complaint. Because I don’t spell out specifically what we will discover about the human brain for the next 100 years?

You are the one with a bullshit article of faith claim. You claimed that we won’t be able to conclusively determine if determinism is true in the next 100 years. Your evidence was… Oh right, you didn’t have any.

When I pointed out that I could see from current neuroscience the possibility of developing conclusive proof sometime in the next 100 years, you decided to throw a shit fit because you misread, and thought I was claiming from current knowledge. Then, after I corrected you, you ignored the correction, and threw a second shit fit, this time because I claimed that we could, right now, prove determinism, even though that still wasn’t what I said. I corrected you again. And now you throw a shit fit because I won’t tell you what things we discover 72 years from know that proves determinism? Really?

Did you just miss the part of your own post where you were talking about 100 years in the goddam future?

You are arguing with a twice removed phantom, because you are irrationally opposing positions that I haven’t taken just because I disagreed with your 100 year prediction.

I can easily give an example of what we might discover that would prove determinism, but of course, you will throw a shit fit about how we don’t have the technology, and we don’t know that this is how the brain works (even though we do, and the whole point is that in 100 years we will have the technology to be able to test it conclusively).

So here’s an example of one, but not the only, way we could, in the next 100 years, prove determinism based on current neuroscience without building a computer AI with intentionality (which is a made up concept anyway).

There is a really powerful scanner. It is the best MRI ever, probably called something else, because it probably won’t be based on the same method.

It can read and process the location and status of every cell in your brain. Then, when active, it gives that data to a computer which calculates future brain states based on deterministic rules we figure out from watching brain states in the scanner.

After sufficient information is given, the machine starts predicting brain states such that if a person is confined without any external stimuli (like say, asleep) the computer accurately predicts their brain states before they occur with 100% (or 99%) certainty.

This would be a compelling proof of determinism based entirely on current theories of the brain.

You’d probably have to black box the hormones somehow, and it’s not the only thing, but this would demonstrate determinism without building a robot with intentionality.

“WTF does “our current theory of time” even mean? When I look at SEP entry on “Time”, I see all sorts of current theories; some which are compatible with determinism, and some not:”

When I say “Our current theory of time” I mean the one Physicists use, because that’s the real one based on evidence, not the made up philosophy ones where people pretend that their inner intuitions about time actually count for anything.

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 5:44 pm

@Kaelik – OK, at least you’re giving something to work with now. I don’t think your test works, although you’re sort of on the right track.

What you have described has already partially been done. For example, experiments with mirror neurons show that certain objects entering the visual field of a person will fire very predictable neurons in the brain — down to the exact neuron in some cases. Beyond these experiments with mirror neurons, we’ve found all sorts of other ways that “brain states” can be quite predictable.

The problem with this approach is that “brain states” are not necessarily correlated with intentionality. To use an extreme example, one “brain state” could be the “temperature” — you can probably get the person’s brain temperature to deterministically vary by a degree or two, but nobody would consider that proof of intentions being predetermined.

So, if you pick some arbitrary set of “brain states”, (which you proposed to be cellular makeup and position, hormones, etc.) and were able to deterministically predict those “brain states”, it is no proof that intentions are deterministic. It is only proof that cellular position, etc. are deterministic. Unless you presuppose that intentions are wholly composed of this arbitrary definition of “brain states” — and, of course, that’s exactly the thing you are supposed to be proving, so presupposing it is not allowed.

Daniel Dennett already recognized this problem; and proposes that the intentional supervenes on the physical. He’s the only defender of materialistic determinism who has even made a credible attempt at explanation, IMO, and his explanation makes a lot of sense to me. But the point is, two exactly equivalent intentional states could (and probably would) have entirely different physical states, so it’s hard to see how a naive prediction of physical state would be persuasive.

I said you are on the right track, though. I think your experiment would have to successfully predict intentional choices of the subjects; so a sleeping subject is out of the question. Have you seen this recent study?

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN2214937420100622

A brain scan predicts people’s future choices better than their own statements do. I find this far more relevant and persuasive than the experiments with mirror neurons. However, it has a long way to go.

There are several other things that will need to be accounted for, like what exactly is the time frame upon which free choice can be said to operate? That is, how far before a conscious choice is made must we be able to predict it to say that it was predetermined? The experimental evidence shows that people tend to “make” their decisions at least a millisecond before they are consciously aware of it.

Now, supposing we tweak the experiment to be suitably conclusive, it seems the only disagreement between us is about the feasibility of the experiment within the next 100 years, and whether or not such an experiment will be easier to achieve than will computational intentionality. I’m an old guy, and 100 years doesn’t seem like very long to me. Since the relevant brain state (assuming we’re right) seems to be composed of neuronal connections, as well as neurotransmitter levels and so on, then any MRI capable of predicting future neuronal states out to any useful time window would obviously be a very sophisticated neuron/brain simulator. In other words, an MRI capable of simulating a human brain *and* tracking a living human brain in real-time, seems to me to be a superset of a brain simulation computer. Even if the government funded the effort like we funded the moon landing, and the world remained in relative peace for the next 100 years, I just don’t see it happening.

When I say “Our current theory of time” I mean the one Physicists use, because that’s the real one based on evidence

Well, if you’re going to claim that the time theory used by physicists makes determinism a slam-dunk, then you need to explain the fact that there is no consensus whatsoever amongst physicists about the determinism of the physical universe. Either the physicists don’t really share your theory of time, or else your theory of time is not as compatible with determinism as you think.

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Kaelik August 19, 2010 at 6:13 pm

1) You are inventing things that have no evidenciary basis for existing. Namely, magical “intentions” that are somehow something magic and undefinable. Any actual discussion with you is completely meaningless until you either stop using this made up stuff, or present a coherent definition, followed by a reason to believe they exist.

2) A sleeping subjects thoughts are not completely closed off, a sleeping person would have reduced inputs, but would still have a set of outputs to correlate with specific thoughts and actions.

3)

“Well, if you’re going to claim that the time theory used by physicists makes determinism a slam-dunk, then you need to explain the fact that there is no consensus whatsoever amongst physicists about the determinism of the physical universe. Either the physicists don’t really share your theory of time, or else your theory of time is not as compatible with determinism as you think.”

You missed another possibility, Physicists are as subject to wishful thinking as everyone else who believes in free will without any evidence, or even a coherent definition of what they actually think free will is.

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 6:58 pm

You are inventing things that have no evidenciary basis for existing. Namely, magical “intentions” that are somehow something magic and undefinable

Nobody said that intentionality is magic or undefinable. Indeed, intentionality is necessary if science is to be possible. This is all very standard stuff, accepted by atheists from Dawkins to Dennett to Carrier. All self-deluded chumps, I’m sure.

A sleeping subjects thoughts are not completely closed off, a sleeping person would have reduced inputs, but would still have a set of outputs to correlate with specific thoughts and actions.

Proving that someone’s mental states are predictable while unconscious is not going to persuade anyone that free will while conscious is an illusion. Why is this so hard for you to understand? Unless you can predict people’s conscious choices sufficiently in advance, nobody is going to believe that their conscious choices are predetermined — and that’s what you’re claiming will be “easy to prove” within 100 years.

You missed another possibility, Physicists are as subject to wishful thinking as everyone else who believes in free will without any evidence, or even a coherent definition of what they actually think free will is.

Forget about free will, we were talking about simple mechanical determinism of the physical world. If physicists are guilty of wishful thinking, it’s that they wish the physical world were deterministic and regular the way that Newtonian mechanics predicted. Niels Bohr didn’t discard Newtonian determinism because he wanted to; he discarded it because he was unable to ignore the empirical evidence. We’ve been desperately trying to regain a Newtonian certainty ever since, and failing.

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to take you seriously. You make bombastic statements, have very little actual knowledge about the issues you’re talking about, and declare that anyone who disagrees with you, including the greatest atheists and physicists of our age, are all engaged in wishful thinking. And you do all of this while writing anonymously from the name “Kaelik”.

Through some extraordinary coincidence, you might actually turn out to be smarter and more correct than all of us. But I’d be an idiot to bet on it.

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Kaelik August 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm

1) Still not seeing any definitions or evidence for “intentions.” Asserting that it has a definition and everyone else believes it doesn’t actually provide a definition.

2) Proving that someone’s mental states are predictable and that they always coincide with specific thoughts and actions is sufficient to prove it for people who care about evidence. No amount of evidence will ever convince religious nut jobs or anyone else who is unable to accept a lack of free will. 100% conversion hasn’t even been accomplished for a Spheroid Earth.

Also, I didn’t claim it would be easy to prove, I claimed that it is easy to see how it might be proven. You were the one making the absolute claim of no way in 100 years.

3) No, we are talking about free will and not total determinism. Just because some quantum fluctuations are best described by probabilities right now has nothing to do with the process of human thought unless you demonstrate it does.

To quote you: “Well, a perfect example is the debate between atheists about the concept of free will…it’s hard to see how it could be conclusively settled in the next 100 years or so.”

So yes, this is explicitly about free will vs human brains being meat computers that merely obey the same natural laws as everything else. That’s the exact debate.

And like most humans, Physicists are not exactly keen on that fact, not the least because if true, it would require radically restructuring what we can accurately say about the universe.

4) Really? You are giving me shit because I write anonymously under the name “Kaelik”? On the internet? Yeah, I could put my actual legal name. Which would of course, tell you jack shit about me. Oh sure, you could use whatever information you dig up to murder me in my house, or to show that I’m actually a seven year old, so we should just ignore everything I say (or if you were a post modern Xist, that I’m a middle class white privileged male from the US, and therefore, everything I say has no value).

But that wouldn’t tell you anything about my thoughts an opinions.

On the other hand, the top two results for googling “Kaelik” are also me, and so Kaelik is actually less anonymous than my real name. But sure, my opinions don’t count because I write under the name “Kaelik.”

Oh by the way, Kaelik is the real name of real people. Must suck to be them, seeing as no matter what they say they are writing under evil pseudonames. Those bastards.

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Hermes August 19, 2010 at 8:05 pm

On anonymity: I used to insist — about 20+ years ago — that people should use real names in public online forums and chats.

I no longer do that.

My advice: Unless you are attempting to promote yourself as a brand, and you manage that brand by self-censoring what you say and remaining focused on a narrow specialty, never post any self-identifying information.

As time goes on, I become more confident that I made the right decision way back then.

People will disagree about what I say, of course, but that’s kinda the point. Will you get the chance to justify what you said 8 years ago to family, employers, or a prospective mate? Do you expect them to be as open and understanding about who you are as you are to yourself? Do you expect that they will be introspective enough to allow you to have opinions they do not or to even make mistakes?

By all means, if you want a brand, bite the bullet and put your own name out there. Yet, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t seriously manage that brand including keeping silent on any topic that will damage that brand. Your audience may actually like what you deliver even if your associates, friends, or family do not. Yet, they can also be fickle and abandon you if they find that you aren’t what they wanted.

Related: Potholer54 reveals: “Who I am”

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Thrasymachus August 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Although you and Loftus like this sort of Outsider Test or equivalent a lot, I’m not sure that’s enough, at least, not without considerable elaboration.

Suppose Theist says (per Craig, or others): “I’ve got personal experiences that demonstrate to me overwhelmingly that God exists – so much so, I’m confident that there’s no other evidence that can sway me.” Saying these things doesn’t violate any epistemic rules. They aren’t even being selective – they’re at liberty to say “if another religion or none at all motivated me in a similar manner, then I would believe that instead.” There are worries about tracking and reliabilism, but it isn’t easy: if, in fact, God exists, then these things seem reasonable, so de jure attacks like this should be made with care.

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Still not seeing any definitions or evidence for “intentions.” Asserting that it has a definition and everyone else believes it doesn’t actually provide a definition.

Pointing out that it’s a well-accepted concept among atheists is sufficient to show that you are probably just blowing smoke. The fact that you don’t know anything about intentionality’s relationship to physicalism, and that you refuse to educate yourself, says something about both your knowledge level and your sincerity.

It’s not my fault that you’re ignorant. Demanding that I compensate for your ignorance is a poor way to argue your point. You’re the one who started shit by pretending to be an expert on neurobiology. If you’re so smart, man up and stop whining that I don’t provide definitions for widely-accepted ideas. I can’t think of a single prominent neurobiologist who wouldn’t be familiar with the concept of intentionality and the various positions on the matter.

You were the one making the absolute claim of no way in 100 years.

Not true. I said, “It’s hard to see how it could be conclusively settled in the next 100 years or so”. In response, you bluffed by pretending to know more about neurobiology than I do.

And you’re conveniently ignoring my point that your MRI-based real-time simulation of a human brain is a superset of my computational simulation of a human brain. If you think that yours will be easier to implement, I humbly suggest that you know nothing about brains, computers, or simulation.

In what universe do you imagine it will be possible to make a machine that reliably simulates and predicts the future state of a living neurological organism in real-time, but not be possible to do the same purely digitally?

And like most humans, Physicists are not exactly keen on that fact, not the least because if true, it would require radically restructuring what we can accurately say about the universe.

Not keen on what fact? The fact that physical laws are deterministic? Do you know any physicists?

How the heck does a deterministic physical universe force us to “radically restructure” what we can say about the physical universe?

Yeah, I could put my actual legal name. Which would of course, tell you jack shit about me.

That’s true. What other evidence, beside your name or your pseudonym, do you think you can share to help us decide if you’re so much smarter than Dawkins, Dennett, Bohr, etc? I suggest you start sharing something to bolster your credibility.

On the other hand, the top two results for googling “Kaelik” are also me, and so Kaelik is actually less anonymous than my real name.

The first one is a girl, and the second a guy. Forgive me for not realizing they were the same person. Neither link gives me any confidence at all that this “Kaelik” person knows the slightest thing about neurobiology, determinism, or physics. That’s important context, since the “Kaelik” person kicked off the conversation by saying “You don’t know much about neurobiology, do you?”

I understand and respect your right to remain anonymous. But when you make extraordinary claims, you need to provide some evidence. So far, you’ve claimed to be smarter than me, Dawkins, Dennett, and “Physicists”. That’s pretty extraordinary.

Without giving away your identity, what additional evidence can you provide to bolster your credibility? You’ve already made it clear that you don’t find it necessary to interact with the actual ideas, much less understand them in the first place, so it seems that appeal to authority is all you have left.

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Hermes August 19, 2010 at 8:30 pm

That’s true. What other evidence, beside your name or your pseudonym, do you think you can share to help us decide if you’re so much smarter than Dawkins, Dennett, Bohr, etc? I suggest you start sharing something to bolster your credibility.

Personally, I don’t need his credentials, nor do I require that he be consistent with some other authority figure.

That said, you can complain about not getting complete facts or references for those facts that you require to judge his comments properly. On that, you will have my sympathy and support.

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Kaelik August 19, 2010 at 8:52 pm

1) Apparently you have a different google than I.

2) “I understand and respect your right to remain anonymous. But when you make extraordinary claims, you need to provide some evidence. So far, you’ve claimed to be smarter than me, Dawkins, Dennett, and “Physicists”. That’s pretty extraordinary.”

No, I haven’t claimed to be smarter than any of those people, although, being smarter than you, I will go ahead and claim right now, but as for the others, I have not claimed that. Only that many of them possess differing qualities ranging from:

a) Not considering a specific issue, and thus having an inferior understanding.
b) Having an incentive to continue believing in free will.
c) Not believing what you think they do. And using words to mean things you don’t think they mean.

But sure, keep crowing about how Physicists believe in free will so you don’t have to provide of coherent definition.

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 8:53 pm

That said, you can complain about not getting complete facts or references for those facts that you require to judge his comments properly. On that, you will have my sympathy and support.

Yes, by “evidence”, I’m not looking for degrees, papers authored, or anything like that. A simple demonstration that he knows anything about the topic would suffice. Some demonstration that he’s kept current on recent research, understands the most common ideas, etc. These are bare minimum requirements if one is to start claiming that others “don’t know much”, or that prominent physicists are basing their physics on “wishful thinking”.

The hand-waving about “location and status of every cell in your brain”, and “black box the hormones” didn’t really inspire confidence in his expertise. That’s a pretty “unique” view of the physical composition of brain states. I guess our neurons just march around to different locations every time we make a choice. WTF?

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 9:03 pm

No, I haven’t claimed to be smarter than any of those people, although, being smarter than you, I will go ahead and claim right now

That is statistically very unlikely.

a) Not considering a specific issue, and thus having an inferior understanding.

It is highly implausible that Dennett has an inferior understanding of determinism than you. You can claim it, but you need to explain why anyone should believe you.

b) Having an incentive to continue believing in free will.

Again, highly implausible that physicists are led by wishful thinking rather than by the plain empirical evidence. You can claim it, but you need to explain why anyone should believe you.

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Kaelik August 19, 2010 at 9:10 pm

“It is highly implausible that Dennett has an inferior understanding of determinism than you. You can claim it, but you need to explain why anyone should believe you.”

Yeah, it’s almost like that one doesn’t apply to Dennett, but does to Dawkins or Physicists, who don’t consider or deal with free will very much. Naw, I’m sure I was talking about Dennett there.

“Again, highly implausible that physicists are led by wishful thinking rather than by the plain empirical evidence. You can claim it, but you need to explain why anyone should believe you.”

And when exactly did free will become a physics question again? Oh right, this is you again continually attempt to switch topics for no reason in lieu of actually talking about the subject.

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JS Allen August 19, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Yeah, it’s almost like that one doesn’t apply to Dennett, but does to Dawkins or Physicists, who don’t consider or deal with free will very much. Naw, I’m sure I was talking about Dennett there.

Dawkins account of intentionality comes directly from Dennett, you effing moron. And do yourself a favor and find out what physicists think about the matter before congratulating yourself again on your “superior” understanding.

And when exactly did free will become a physics question again? Oh right, this is you again continually attempt to switch topics for no reason in lieu of actually talking about the subject.

Allow me to refresh your memory. You said:

Frankly the real reason to believe in deterministic universe is that it’s the only one compatible with [physicists'] current theory of time.

You claimed to hinge your entire case on the assumption that the physical universe is deterministically predictable, and appealed to physicists’ theory of time. When you realized that physicists do not believe any such thing, you accused them of basing their beliefs on “wishful thinking”.

You’re the one who called it the “real reason”. Do you have any other, fake, reasons? Or maybe some “really really real” reasons?

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Kaelik August 19, 2010 at 9:43 pm

1) So what you are saying is that Dawkins has not developed or written his own account of intentionality, and defers to someone else on the matter, because it does not have any bearing on what he is saying, and this proves your point that… Oh woops, that was my point.

2) Yeah, it’s almost like the fact that Physicists have a theory of time, IE something having to do with Physics, and then also believe in free will (something not having to do with Physics) that is not compatible with their theory of time, is indicative of my point, that Physicists spend very little time critically examining the idea of free will, and instead, spend that time on Physics.

3) Well, you could look at the really real reason that comes later in that same sentence, about how there is no coherent definition of free will. Or you can keep ignoring it, because if you actually recognized that, you’d have to actually attempt to present a coherent definition of free will, which is a lot harder than repeatedly straw manning by claiming I say things I don’t say and claiming understanding of my motivations and knowledge.

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Hendy August 20, 2010 at 4:41 am

@Kaelik:

Apparently you have a different google than I.

Yes, apparently so.

- 1st: female twitter account
- 2nd: broken World of Warcraft page
- 3rd: facebook account for a “Kyle” (assuming male)
- The rest: looks like gaming profiles/forum posts/etc.

Chrome, IE6, and Firefox all show the same results; I checked just in case it was some oddity between their search bar plugins — who knows.

In light of the videos, I’m guessing the youtube account matches the person connected with the gaming stuff. If this is you, I have to say that I found the “WUT READ?!?!” under the “Books” section in your profile to be hilarious in light of the intellectual-penis-measuring challenge being attempted here.

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Kaelik August 20, 2010 at 5:24 am

@Hendy

I think it’s a geographic thing, where google sorts differently based on location of who’s searching, but in my case, number 4 is me, and none of the others on that screen.

But yes, Kaelik is the real name of some people, and not terribly original otherwise, so even though I use it as my name everywhere on the internet, there are a lot of other Kaelik’s to sort through.

But of course, at no point was this statement to supposed to be the set up for an argument from authority, because I don’t argue from authority. I merely argue that everyone, including authorities, has unquestioned assumptions that are corrupting their reasoning, and that in some specific cases, I can point out what those are, and if you actually attempt to come up with a justification for your assumption besides “But other people believe it.” it might become apparent that it doesn’t have a justification.

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cl August 29, 2010 at 10:27 am

Do you have a few examples — say, one or two — where Luke [makes claims about creationists and refuses to substantiate them]?

Sure. Here are four with citations, though technically, the first is an unsubstantiated claim about creationism, as opposed to an unsubstantiated claim about creationists:

Creationism is evil. [Creationism, Evil, and the Crocoduck]

Belief in a 6,000 year earth, like belief in a flat earth, is very good evidence that the believer lacks sufficient desires to investigate evidence about important matters seriously. [Luke, comment 8-5-2010, New Podcast on Naturalistic Moral Realism!]

[the creationist] must knowingly erect straw-men arguments about such absurd creatures as the crocoduck. [Creationism, Evil, and the Crocoduck]

…Creationism-belief requires morally negligent epistemic processes. [Luke, comment 8-6-2010, New Podcast on Naturalistic Moral Realism!]

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