Questionable Motives

December 21, 2010

Why is Ricky Gervais an atheist?

Filed under: Atheism,Freedom,honesty,Science,Truth — tildeb @ 8:59 am

Because it leads one to living an honest life:

But living an honest life -– for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

So how do we get there? How can we find out stuff that we can respect as true?

Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

Read his full and entertaining article here.

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50 Comments »

  1. All or nothing, such a limited perspective you have.

    Comment by Titfortat — December 22, 2010 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

  2. Your idea that belief in a creative force means that you disregard science and its process. You can have both.

    Comment by Titfortat — December 23, 2010 @ 7:24 am | Reply

    • A ‘creative force’? Like what? What is it that I am disregarding?

      The point I made with this post was that recognizing and granting importance to what’s true is an important component to living an honest life. That means we have to put aside the beliefs we wish were true when it stands in conflict to what we know is true. And a fundamental component of knowing anything is first figuring out how we can accomplish this with some measure of trust. A trustworthy epistemology is therefore a central feature of informing what we can know and what we can’t. It is central to differentiating between intellectual fluff and intellectual honesty… what is knowable and what is unknowable, and making sure that when we claim knowledge about a truth claim we do so by informing it with a sound epistemological basis. When one skips over this critical epistemological foundation to reach for beliefs that one favours on matters of faith and fail to meet this sound basis, then the ensuing beliefs are just that: faith-based beliefs empty of knowledge. This is not a small matter when we are deciding what is ethical and what is not, what is moral and what is not, what is true and what is not, what is informed by knowledge and what is made-up shit.

      On the one hand you seem convinced without cause that one can believe in a ‘creative force’ simply on the basis of faith alone and that this in no way conflicts with knowledge that may be contrary to a specific faith claim. Although you use the nebulous term ‘creative force’ I suspect you are trying to smuggle into this notion something along the lines of a divine creator. The most common and continuing conflict our knowledge has with faith-based beliefs about a ‘creative force’ has to do with human origins. Many people want to believe such a creative force is responsible (and thus worthy of worship) for our species as well as the nature of the world and so is as ultimately responsible for the creative demonstrations we show… as if our inspiration shown by our creativity is somehow transferred to us from this divine ‘creative force’. Clearly, this stands in contrast to the foundation of evolutionary theory as far as human origins are concerned – our creation – but you seem too cowardly to intellectually face what this theory actually means to our infantile and very stupid faith-based belief in a ‘creative force’ for our beginnings as humans. As well, by allowing the idea that we are recipients of some kind of magical endowment for the root of our demonstrations of creativity, you lend to support to those who proclaim this ‘evidence’ to indicate their god is real and knowable rather than support the inquiry into how we produce novel ideas and innovative productions without any insertion of belief in some creative divine conductor.

      On the other hand, you imply directed physics, directed chemistry, directed biology when you allow the idea of a ‘creative force’ to hang somewhere in the background just beyond what can know. Clearly, it is too easy to be fooled into thinking that what looks designed requires an intelligent agency of direction. Again, this is clearly false in physics, chemistry, and biology. Shit happens and happens for knowable reasons without any evidence of some interventionist conductor… reasons based on mechanisms we try to describe that accurately predicts change that appears directed. But appearances are deceiving. No nebulous hidden divine agency is required for us to have a high degree of trust that the universe operates according to causal effects by knowable phenomena without any ‘creative force’ interventions.

      If you want to suggest that some creative force exists beneath, let’s say, gravity, then you need to show why. You need to show some reason to link the causal effect of gravity by means of a mechanism to this ‘creative force’. You need to show evidence that has been interrupted and the best explanation is the intervention of some ‘creative force’. Otherwise, you’re just passing intellectual wind to allow our invisible friend to hover about in the magical realm of divinity while pretending to be such a nice person that you are willing to tolerate the granting to all kinds of people the license they need to infuse faith-based beliefs into areas of knowledge as if the two were somehow compatible and complimentary. They are not. They are in direct conflict if we wish to respect what’s true. Your tolerance for this kind of faith-based belief, acting as the equivalent to reasonable knowledge, to go unchallenged does not serve showing respect for what is true and for what can be honestly known.

      Comment by tildeb — December 23, 2010 @ 10:44 am | Reply

  3. Of course, Titfortat thinks I’m just a nasty secularist and so can dismiss my argument at its source without dealing with the points I actually raise and still insist that all is swell between the broken epistemology of religion and the stable source for our technologies and medicines through the sound epistemology of science.

    This article over at Higher Education makes the same points I do but written in a much better way. Of course, we can dismiss the article’s author, David Barash, as just another angry secularist except… he isn’t. He is critical of the National Academy of Sciences ‘s accommodationist written policy about the separate roles of religion and science… for exactly the same reasons I do. Our independent states of anger and our independent respect (or lack thereof) of secularism has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the points we raise. Accommodationism must be confronted if we wish to respect what’s knowable, what’s true, what’s intellectually honest. Accommodating religious belief with the pseudo-respect that it is just another way of knowing is intellectual appeasement based on dishonesty and is an exercise in ethical hypocrisy.

    Comment by tildeb — December 23, 2010 @ 11:03 am | Reply

  4. “Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate.”

    and yet you discriminate as you feel no truth can be found in religion.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 23, 2010 @ 11:45 am | Reply

    • No, I don’t feel no truth can be found in religion; there is no sound epistemology to be able to know anything through faith-based belief. Because faith-based beliefs offer us no way to know anything, it is untrustworthy on merit. My truth seeking does not follow the path I know is untrustworthy. You call that discrimination with another method of inquiry that is very trustworthy, and which therefore has merit. I dismiss faith-based beliefs as trustworthy because I know it is untrustworthy. My discrimination, therefore, is no such thing because it is based on merit rather than mere classification and is fair rather than unfair.

      Comment by tildeb — December 23, 2010 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

  5. tildeb

    My beef with your verbose ideas is the FACT that you wont allow me to SUPPOSE that my view of our universe seems to show INTELLIGENCE. I dont SUPPOSE it is just a random act from Nada. I am not talking religion on any level. Though I am grateful for my life on this planet, I guess in a sense, if there was a grade 2 alien behind this mess, I would probably say thanks. You seem to have really gotten snake bit by some religionists. I think a good counselor may help or prayer for deliverance. ;)

    Comment by Titfortat — December 23, 2010 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

  6. Hardcore rationalist that you are, you can’t be celebrating Christmas, but maybe you can celbrate the joy and wonder of the returning light. So I wish you a heathenly, merry Julfest! Cheers.

    Comment by FreeFox — December 24, 2010 @ 7:15 am | Reply

    • Oh, but I do celebrate Christmas – not for the birth of Jesus on December 25th which, as we all know, simply doesn’t add up. The church covered over this holiday event because they couldn’t stamp it out: an important yearly holiday for the gathering of family, gift giving, holiday cheer, and lots of festivities. We have our own traditions, as well. The present isn’t the wrapping paper that covers it in the same way that Christmas isn’t the religious wrapping of Jebus’ birth, although for many this is exactly what they think Christmas is all about because they have bought into this sleight of history by the church fathers and honestly believe the event was founded as a religious one by christians, and that at its heart the holiday is all about Jebus. But we know this isn’t true; it’s merely another theft that many then falsely teach to be true to their gullible children.

      Comment by tildeb — December 24, 2010 @ 10:37 am | Reply

    • I like that, FF: a heathenly Julfest! And a special Merry Christmas to you and your young one; children make the holiday just that much more special and memorable. Don’t forget to implement your own special traditions (for example, we hide a wee little elf all over the place for weeks leading up to and past Christmas day); it makes the season just that much more special for building family memories that last a lifetime.

      Comment by tildeb — December 24, 2010 @ 11:02 am | Reply

  7. Merry Mithras day tildeb. ;)

    Comment by TitforTat — December 24, 2010 @ 9:32 am | Reply

    • Merry Christmas to you and yours, TfT.

      Comment by tildeb — December 24, 2010 @ 10:56 am | Reply

  8. A fascinating history of Santa Claus here.

    Comment by tildeb — December 24, 2010 @ 10:25 am | Reply

  9. i think that’s intellectually dishonest of you to claim. you haven’t explore all types of religion, mainly reacting to the “guy in the sky” simplistic version of religion that Gervais is as well. you can claim you’re objective about this yet the witness of history states otherwise.

    “The church covered over this holiday event because they couldn’t stamp it out”

    actually no… just posted on how Christmas came to be on my site based on sociological findings of James C. Scott. you may find it interesting.

    there are more ways of knowing and learning than can be contained in your empiricist view (which you deny yet back up at every step). so it goes. merry christmas and happy new year regardless!

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 24, 2010 @ 1:28 pm | Reply

    • You are right, Z1G. I have not ‘explored’ all types of religion. But I have ‘explored’ how we go about determining what’s true. In every case of religious faith-based beliefs, the means to do this is absent. If it’s present, then one no longer requires beliefs based on faith! If you are familiar with a religion that does have the means to do this, I would very much appreciate your reference.

      When you say there are more ‘ways of knowing’ than can be contained in my so-called empiricist view that I deny yet use, then I do hope you realize you are already framing my views inaccurately (false dichotomy).

      Empiricism certainly has a central role in science but the two terms do not mean the same thing. I suspect that is the denial you accuse me of making. How you incorporate empirical evidence into an explanation of causal effect really is a rather important component of informing one’s hypothesis. Note the use of the term ‘component’. You do this yourself on a regular basis and rely on empiricism to help you ‘know’ when your gas tank is approaching empty. I doubt you prefer to ‘divine’ when it’s time to refill and I think would be an idiot to refuse empirical data in your consideration of determining how much gas is in your tank. Additional causal evidence will come to be when your tank runs dry and your car’s engine ceases to operate. So I think it is rather silly of me to characterize your ‘view’ as an empiricist because you utilize empirical data appropriately in some ways as it is for you to characterize my ‘view’ as such. Because there is zero empirical evidence to inform some faith-based belief in a divine creator, it’s hard to not to utilize this absence of data as one more reasonable point against the truth claim of an asserted faith-based belief that this divine critter really does exist but hides in some nether-realm of existence… except when he doesn’t, in which case we attribute divinity, but when we look too closely, back to the nether-world it goes and we’re left with… you guessed it… the need for more faith.

      Merry Christmas, Z1G, to you and your family.

      Comment by tildeb — December 24, 2010 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  10. “then I do hope you realize you are already framing my views inaccurately (false dichotomy).”

    back at you, esp. in terms of what you’re referring to when you say “God” and “divine.” you and i are both atheists in this sense.

    “If it’s present, then one no longer requires beliefs based on faith!”

    we all have faith. we all place belief in things we can’t prove. yet, as Jesus is reported to have said, “you can only judge a tree by it’s fruit.” pretty practical advice i think. your faith is in the scientific method and while i greatly respect and admire science and all it has done for us, i also like what tradition has passed down to us through religion and specifically the Christian religion. there are things we know that are beyond words, measurements and systems. yet there must be a balance between judging by what you can see (empiricism) and what you know (intuition) and each must be rigorously tested. thus i think that i have struck a balance between knowing and being. that’s what my religion and science does for me. using the facts of science and balancing them with the ‘meaning’ of religion, holding in tension and wrestling with both.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 24, 2010 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

    • Come on, Z1G: you purposefully substitute the two very distinct meanings of the word ‘belief’ to suit your purpose. You don’t have the same kind of ‘faith’ that the dial on your car’s dashboard accurately reflects the level in the tank that you do that Jebus rose from the dead. You don’t ‘believe’ in gravity the same way you mean the word that you believe god came to earth as J. Faith in the religious sense means holding a set of theological ideas that are exempted from the rigors of establishing them as true by any other means. This religious sense of the word informs the absurd notion that belief without evidence is to be held as a virtue.

      You too easily omit the fact that ‘science’ is a method of inquiry compared to ‘faith’ which is simply an assumption in the form of an answer. Of course you say you respect this method when it produces so much knowledge we can rely on to inform our applications. But that’s not the same kind of respect you freely grant to this set of theological answers you favour that produces no knowledge we can rely on and no ‘answers’ we can confidently apply to inform and aid further inquiry, no way of thinking that produces what reliably works; that there are so many conflicting answers drawn from different religious faiths should be a pretty clear indicator as to its obvious lack of conclusive power to yield knowledge. For you to then pretend that science and religious belief are cohabitants of a shared faith is simply wrong. It is a misguided attempt to stir up the muddy puddle of faith and claim its opaqueness means it is deep.

      I can appreciate you like the tradition of your religious beliefs. But what it brings you is nothing more than a vague set of reflections of what you wish it to represent. What these wishes actually represent are in no way any kind of compatible epistemology – a method of how we inquire – to coming to know what does exist. Faith in the religious sense already provides the ‘answers’ to this very inquiry without the means to verify and test them. To NOT verify and test is the virtue of faith – the very antithesis of scientific inquiry. And that’s why the two are incompatible ‘ways to know’.

      This difference is heart of our disagreement. You think a balance can be found between the two that is reasonable; I think a compromise between what’s true and what is not true, what is knowable and what is unknowable, is an intellectual appeasement that undermines our ability to inquire honestly. There is no room at the inn for those seeking what we can know for those willing to take the theological shortcut of assuming the answers in the name of ‘tradition’ and ‘faith’. As PZ Myers likes to say, squatting in between those on the side of reason and evidence and those worshipping superstition and myth is not a better place. It just means you’re halfway to crazy town. And the result of lowering the drawbridge to those who think they have found this ‘balance’ between knowledge and faith is that believers have this tendency to shoehorn only suitable evidence into their theological preconceptions. That’s why you’re simply blowing hot air when you suggest ‘both’ must be rigorously tested (after jumbling up science and religious faith to mean ‘empiricism’ for the former and ‘intuition’ for the latter); religious faith is immune to any such testing, although whenever some ‘religious’ truth claim is made that differs from a ‘scientific’ one, religion loses another chunk of ground to our advancing knowledge. Why not cut to chase now, stop your wrestling with your knowledge-impeding appeasement to faith altogether, and distrust all so-called answers provided by religious belief? You know you want to if you truly respect and admire science and all it has done for us. And what a terrific present to give yourself at this festive time of year: permission to think well, which is a gift that will keep on giving.

      Comment by tildeb — December 25, 2010 @ 9:04 am | Reply

  11. Yule-tide (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule) everyone!

    I love the celebration of the winter solstice. It is a time to reflect on the year that has past, and look forward to a new set of seasons that will bring an end to the harsh winter in the northern hemisphere via the renewal of light and warmth.

    Thank you Tildeb for hosting an amazing year of profound debates – it has been truly refreshing.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 24, 2010 @ 5:40 pm | Reply

    • And thank you, MUR, for your continued contributions here and around the web. And always a refreshing breathe of clear thinking to read!

      Comment by tildeb — December 25, 2010 @ 9:07 am | Reply

  12. tildeb

    I am going to make an assumption here, so correct me if its wrong. I get the impression that the only difference’s in our beliefs is that you suppose the Universe is a fluke with no actual intelligence or purpose at its root. I on the other hand suppose the opposite. The truth is, science may eventually prove one of us to be right. Just not in our lifetime. :)

    Comment by Titfortat — December 25, 2010 @ 11:26 am | Reply

    • You’ll notice that when it comes to ‘answering’ such a question, you turn to science and not religion for anything more than supposition. How very perspicacious of you. And therein lies your intellectual honesty – whether you want to admit to it or not! My answer is the same.. simply more direct and public: if we wish to know, we cannot use religious belief to guide us in our quest.

      Comment by tildeb — December 25, 2010 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  13. “I think a compromise between what’s true and what is not true, what is knowable and what is unknowable, is an intellectual appeasement that undermines our ability to inquire honestly.”

    and for you what is true is dependent on fact and for me those are two different things. you claim objectivity and going where the inquiry takes you and yet rule out religion. you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. which fits for my categorization of you as a fundamentalist, just the flip side of the religious version of the same coin. two attributes of this type of person is an inability to compromise and ignoring of data that goes against the world view. i’ll quit wasting my time then.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 25, 2010 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

    • No, no, no! How many times must I point out that what I follow is sound epistemology! Without that foundation, we can know nothing about anything. Leave alone the terms ‘science’ and ‘religion’ and stick to understanding what constitutes a sound epistemology. If it is unsound, then one is simply foolish to lend it credence. Faith-based belief has NO sound epistemology, which explains why it is incapable of revealing anything knowable. This point I make over and over and goes ignored by people who wish their beliefs were true is not some fundamentalist claptrap of adhering to a faith-based belief in spite of contrary evidence; this point is what founds our ontology, our knowledge! You categorize this basis as something negative, skip over why it’s important, why it is essential to being able to understand the difference between what is knowable and what is not, refuse to show how faith-based belief has a sound epistemology, and then assign your skewed view that it is magically informed to be a balanced view, a tolerant one, one not mired in pure empiricism. You bias is astounding and your obtuseness remarkable: it’s not ME that calls your faith-based opinions to account but its lack of intellectual integrity from any semblance to a sound epistemology. That’s why it requires magic and faith.

      Comment by tildeb — December 25, 2010 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

  14. “Perspicacious”, great word, had to look it up. :)

    You know the funny thing about our science is the fact that pretty much all of it wont be accurate for our great, great, great, great grandchildren. How’s that for truth. Take your eye’s off religion for a moment and tell me if it is illogical to suppose creative intelligence as a possibility for the universe that we inhabit. Not a guarantee, but a possibility. Then ask yourself if your view of science is a guarantee that its not a possibility. If you answer affirmative to the latter then you may understand why Z1G see’s you as a fundamentalist. I have a sneaky suspicion that Einsteins early suppositions didnt have a high percentage of being correct within the scientific community(though I could be wrong).

    Comment by Titfortat — December 25, 2010 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

  15. “Take your eye’s off religion for a moment and tell me if it is illogical to suppose creative intelligence as a possibility for the universe that we inhabit.”

    It is logical, if you have no knowledge or explanation for the things that exist. What surprises me most is that the more we look at nature to find out why things exist, the less evidence we find for a creator or a design, and the more evidence we find for natural causes which are observed and explained in the sciences.

    Who would have thought that all animals and plants share the same DNA? Who would have thought that chemicals and atoms are made up of the same matter, and that matter is indeed pure energy. And yet, who would have thought that as we found out these things and tested these things, that we found no evidence for a creator at all – not one snippet, one hint, one scrap of evidence. That is the most surprising thing of all.

    You would ‘suppose’ that as we became more knowledgeable that some of that knowledge would reveal some evidence for the supernatural – wouldn’t you?

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 25, 2010 @ 3:13 pm | Reply

  16. Why supernatural, why not just a different nature. You guys are too clouded by religion to suppose certain possibilities.

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/12/16/its-life-but-not-as-we-know-it/

    Comment by Titfortat — December 25, 2010 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

    • Now now. I have no problem with whatever nature you mean… as long as it stays within the confines of being knowable within methodological naturalism. As soon as you step outside of this framework, then I will have to disagree. The phosphorous and arsenic substitution is already under a lot of fire. But that’s what good science does: question and find out what is asserted and assumed and implied and supposed and differentiates that from what is known. That’s why it’s a method that is so trustworthy. Many folk easily confuse the method with particular and specific results. And that’s why science differentiates hypothesis from theories, for example… to give us some means to know which is better known, better informed, than some other explanation. But these same folk then take the next step and equate anything as less than certain to be less than their freely granted but false answers as if the two were equivalent. This is broken thinking, of course, and reveals rather a gross ignorance of what knowledge based on probabilities actually means. And then the final step into absurdity is to equate the supernatural to be a possibility without taking account of likelihood. Without evidence, the likelihood of any kind of supernatural remains indistinguishable with zero. Note that supernatural does not mean “a different nature” but distinct and separate from nature. Your example fall s well within the natural and so is available to the method of inquiry we call science.

      Comment by tildeb — December 25, 2010 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

  17. “Faith-based belief has NO sound epistemology”

    false. wonder and awe is an excellent and very sound epistemology. plus you have no evidence OF my epistemology, as you’ve never bothered to figure it out. no evidence, no inquiry, just ideology. that is why i said in my first comment how you feel not how you know… because you simply don’t. you’re like Ricky Gervais, only reacting to the man-in-the-sky style of faith and religion without ever going below the surface. it’s trite, boring, and wrong.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 25, 2010 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

    • I have written clearly what epistemology I use. It is methodological naturalism. It isn’t my epistemology. Also, I think Russell explains well why we must rely on it compared to the absence of any equivalent method of inquiry behind faith-based beliefs. That you presume to have an equivalent one without mentioning it after being specifically asked to provide such a reference by me shows that this newest comment about me “never bothering” to find out what yours may be is revealing. Yet you claim it is I who never go beneath the surface of your faith-based beliefs and presume some guy-in-the-sky woo. I don’t know about the guy-in-the-sky you mention because I know that neither you nor I CAN know anything about anything supernatural; I’ve been arguing strictly about your lack of a reliable epistemology to back whatever faith-based beliefs you have.

      Comment by tildeb — December 25, 2010 @ 5:21 pm | Reply

  18. ” I’ve been arguing strictly about your lack of a reliable epistemology to back whatever faith-based beliefs you have.”

    without knowing those beliefs. i would more closely resemble humanism than anything you’d recognize as religious as it’s so outside your reference points. i know this because of those who you cite, the new atheists and gervais. simple and glib and attacking the super-natural (although you provided a very good definition).

    my epistemology is diverse and prolly most closely resembles Parker Palmer’s. the biggest difference is that i don’t believe in objectivism which is the underlying basis of the atheists. i don’t think that science, history, or our ways of knowing can be divorced from our own stories. It is truth told with a passion that draws you in; it will not let you escape. It is factual, it is passionate. It refuses to let you off the hook.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 25, 2010 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

    • Atheism means non belief. I know you like to insert all kinds of other ideas in what that means. As far as rational processes go, I use the term ‘science’ to mean a method of thinking that intentionally tries to reduce our biases as much as possible before arriving at conclusions. You insert this to mean objectifying rather than creating narratives that are more socially relevant. But the social epistemology referred to in your site talks about relatedness as if the subjective was as unbiased as the scientific method and this clearly not true. Conclusions arrived at through relatedness are divorced from what is objectively knowable; in its place is inserted ideas that are socially acceptable to strengthening a sense of community. I think this is a terrible trade-off. It’s herd-forming. It’s the tyranny of the majority. It removes the focus of finding out what’s true and replaces it with what feels the most socially acceptable… and we know what happens when large majorities believe their conclusions without adequate evidence: biases become embedded in social policies and we end up sacrificing our rights and freedoms on the alter of the lowest common denominator. To find out why our biases are killers if allowed to go unfettered by what’s actually and uncomfortably true, by all means go pay a 20 minute visit to neuroscientist Ash Donaldson. It’s a bit boring but he explains why we are so susceptible, what the real cost is, and how we can empower our epistemology to better overcome our biases.

      Comment by tildeb — December 26, 2010 @ 8:56 pm | Reply

  19. zero1ghost, you are saying that in order to for a religion to be true you have to believe in it first.

    OK – my religion is pink unicorns, I believe in them, they control the world I pray to them and they make my world a better place – do you believe in them?

    Atheists believe in belief (i.e. that people believe things) – but the fact that people believe things, does not make what they believe in true. Examples in history include ‘flat earth theory’ and ‘the earth is the centre of the universe theory’ both very strong beliefs based on very little knowledge.

    The fact that people did believe the earth to be flat does not make the earth flat now – does it?

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 26, 2010 @ 2:50 am | Reply

  20. “OK – my religion is pink unicorns,”

    really profound. furthers my suspicion that tildeb is in h.s.

    “in its place is inserted ideas that are socially acceptable to strengthening a sense of community.”

    there must always be a balance struck between theory and practical application. it’s not so much the facts that are up for debate, it’s always what they mean. and that always details the question of social interaction and community and taking care of the lowest common denominator. if you’re not taking care of the lowest common denominator, then it’s worthless in my book.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 26, 2010 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

    • What’s “in its place”, Z1G? Not care (as you seem to suggest with the need to focus on those that need the most care), but what’s true. What the ‘facts’ mean – presuming that what’s true is indeed a fact (arguable) – is always open to debate unless one is applying facts to link cause with effect by an understandable mechanism. I don’t know what you mean when you write that what the facts mean “details the question of social interaction.” In the sense you use the term ‘facts’ you assume the meaning is supplied by humans against the effect of the facts on other humans. That’s the not the same sense of knowing ‘objective’ facts used by science, which are simply not open to any kind of debate about meaning; facts must be shown shown to be consistent, reliable, and just as predictable in their consistency here and there as they are today and tomorrow. The ‘facts’ you speak of are dependent on the vagaries of human effects through meaning. And that’s highly problematic.

      We could ask what is the meaning of gravity and be left scratching our heads over this question. That question doesn’t translate to suggest some deep meaning about the nature of gravity, nor do we clarify anything about gravity itself by suggesting that it means something to this person different from that person. Such a social epistemology helps us not one iota understanding and gaining knowledge about gravity. For that we need an epistemology that allows us the tools necessary for removing the human biases as best we can and allowing us to reach testable and reliably predictable conclusions about what gravity IS and how it works… not what it means. As Dawkins writes, such questions about purpose and meaning are actually silly when it comes to facts because they are unknowable in this context. I have no idea what gravity means any more than you do. And if you come up with an ‘answer’ we soon find it is simply nothing more and nothing less that an assertion informed only by subjective bias. Why should you care what I think gravity means if my ‘answer’ cannot be used in any practical sense to inform what it factually is and applicable to ALL people everywhere at all times?

      We cannot measure what is true by the yardstick of the lowest common denominator. That is why social epistemology is so controversial and useless in matters of what’s true. Shifting the yardstick to what matters most to people may be a socially valid policy to follow but it has nothing whatsoever to do with a reliable method of inquiry to gain knowledge about what is true.

      (BTW, I have no idea what you mean when you say “furthers my suspicion that tildeb is in h.s..)

      Comment by tildeb — December 26, 2010 @ 11:18 pm | Reply

  21. “for removing the human biases as best we can”

    which is your faith… which i don’t believe in. we’re always biased and contained in our culture and it’s assumptions. we can never fully understand the water in which we swim, can’t get out of it. it’s in the questions we ask, it’s in our motives for exploring what we’re interested in. not a bad thing, just saying you can’t get out of it.

    and if you can’t get to what anything means and translate it to the common populous, then why bother?

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 27, 2010 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

    • No it’s not ‘faith’ in the sense of some notion informed only by belief in the absence of evidence. It is a matter of trust based on what works reliably and consistently well! Just because we are biased does not mean we can have no method of inquiry that intentionally reduces these as much as possible… or that all methods that contain some bias are automatically equivalent. They are not. You make it sound as if only some magical method that eliminates all biases with certainty is somehow qualitatively different than simply believing whatever one wishes to believe in the absence of or even contrary to evidence. That’s terribly sloppy thinking. And we can purposefully find and implement a method of inquiry that does indeed take the ‘water in which we find ourselves’ into account. Getting out of the water entirely (eliminating ALL human bias) is not the point of sound inquiry nor is it even necessary; recognizing that it is present and finding ways to account for it as best we’re able is hardly reason throw up our intellectual hands and assume that all methods are equally valid, that all truth is therefore equally relative. That’s nothing more that intellectual appeasement that because there will always be stuff we don’t know we can’t possibly know anything at all, that because bias will always be present we cannot know anything without it.

      Comment by tildeb — December 27, 2010 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  22. “Why should you care what I think gravity means if my ‘answer’ cannot be used in any practical sense to inform what it factually is and applicable to ALL people everywhere at all times?”

    that’s the point. you can get an approximation… we’re the variables.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 27, 2010 @ 2:09 pm | Reply

    • No we’re not the variables! And that’s the point: what’s true exists independently of thee and me and our biases. We are NOT the measure of all things. Your approximation is nothing more and nothing less that intellectual laziness; Galileo showed us the way. Objects do not behave due to some infused nature but are acted upon equally by indifferent force. We can know of these forces, understand them and the relationships they reveal. We can find these patterns that function independently of any one observer. We can build technologies that utilize these forces and work every time. In fact, you base you life on this understanding of independent and very specific forces every day of your life. It matters not one whit what gravity means to you or me; it matters a very great deal what exact effect it has on mass. This is not an approximation based on the vagaries of our opinions but on what is factually true for you, for me, for every thing that has mass.

      Comment by tildeb — December 27, 2010 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

  23. “and if you can’t get to what anything means and translate it to the common populous, then why bother?”

    Because it is far too valuable not to try. Many people did not understand Einsteins work when it was first published – and now children learn it as part of their physics lessons.

    Just because reality is complicated this not an excuse not to try to understand it by attributing the complexity to a higher intelligence – especially when there is no evidence to suggest that a higher intelligence exists.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 27, 2010 @ 3:06 pm | Reply

  24. “No we’re not the variables! And that’s the point: what’s true exists independently of thee and me and our biases. We are NOT the measure of all things.”

    you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. truth exists independently, yet we’re the ones doing the measuring and interpreting, so we are the measure of all things cause we’re the only species that has the capacity or the need to measure things. we’re also affected by the forces outside our control yet each is effected differently, thus we’re variables. math is just static formula until the numbers are plugged in. we’re the numbers.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 28, 2010 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

    • Follow your own line of reasoning here: if we were the measurement of all things then there should be subjective variables to things like gravity. You should fall at a different rate than I do, for example, your water boil at a different temperature than mine. Why doesn’t this happen if ‘we’ are what the numbers represent as you argue? How do you explain the knowable consistency while at the same time maintaining that we are the variables, we are the numbers?

      Comment by tildeb — December 28, 2010 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  25. and how do you explain the fact that we can find these things out?

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 29, 2010 @ 1:10 pm | Reply

    • What we are finding out is not a reflection of us; what we are finding out is that we can know about what is external to us, what exists independently of us. This is a very important concept to appreciate when it comes to matters of inquiry.

      You make it sound as if every time we look through a window we see only our reflection of what lies beyond because our individual eyes make what we see subjective. This is only partly true. You then coat this with the notion that what we see only has subjective meaning, only a subjective interpretation, only subjective value based on some larger and perhaps mysterious purpose. What gets entirely lost in this approach is what actually exists beyond that window independent of who is doing the looking.

      What I am arguing is that we have a method (worthy of deep respect if we honestly care about what’s knowable and true) that will account for as much of the subjectivity as possible and yield knowledge of what it is ALL OF US are actually seeing through the window. The value we then apply to what we discover is based not on the vagaries of subjective interpretation or wishful thinking or assumptions and assertions but on what is true, on independent objective knowledge. Although the values then assigned may vary, at least the basis of this method of inquiry – of what we are actually seeing – is on independently verifiable knowledge, on what is knowable, on what is there regardless of values about meaning and purpose and intentions and interpretations.

      We can find these things out because the method of inquiry we call science yields practical, consistent, reliable, testable results that withstands the test of time regardless of who is doing the testing. As MUR explains with his cooking example, the end product will always be the same if everything else is equal. Water will always boil at 100 C at sea level regardless of what culture, language, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual preference, community, the person doing the exercise may claim identity. The properties of water, for example, exist independently of people. We can know of these properties without yielding to the temptation to take a mental shortcut, to divert our honest inquiry about what is, and assign magical, supernatural, divine agency to explain its properties to what we assume are its intended meanings and purposes. We can apply this natural knowledge about what is without including this unknowable addition of agency. We can rely on this knowledge of what is to help us inform the properties of other solids, liquids, and gases. We can use this knowledge of what is to build more knowledge of what is that is as true for anyone from this community as that one, independent of trivial claims to specialized ‘knowledge’ (that is no such thing) of what’s true based on subjective vagaries of meanings and purposes.

      Asking what it means for water to boil at 100 C is not a useful question if the vagaries of the answers are reliant solely on subjective whims of one’s starting assertions and assumptions. These kinds of answers are not equivalent producers of knowledge to answers about what’s true and real and natural and knowable because they are invariably based solely on subjective starting assertions rather than testable objective verifications. A cup of boiled water, for example, may be of great value at a certain time to me but not to you, only to be of great importance to you at a later time but not to me. The properties of the water we can clearly see are of secondary importance to the misplaced emphasis of its meaning to thee and me if we use that as our method to determine what’s true, what’s knowable, about water itself.

      The method to develop these kinds of answers from the meaning/purpose questions therefore has an inherent weakness in epistemology where what is objectively true is entirely subject to the assertion of assigned value prior to any inquiry. The objective properties of water under this meaning/purpose epistemology is entirely subject to the assertion of assigned value to how that boiling water is to be used by people! What’s true about water itself, the independent properties we can all know and equally apply with a great deal of confidence, is not what matters to the method of inquiry based on answering questions of meaning. And that’s why it’s so important to understand that if we wish to find out what’s true about the universe that is, we simply cannot trust the ‘answers’ provided by questions of meaning and purpose to have any lasting truth value we call knowledge.

      Comment by tildeb — December 30, 2010 @ 9:58 am | Reply

  26. “and how do you explain the fact that we can find these things out?”

    What you are trying to argue here is that different people can measure things differently – which is true, human error happens all the time.

    If you boil water at sea level it will boil at 100 degrees centigrade no matter where you are or who you are. Our understanding here of this basic principle allows us to pressure cook foods with precision – we have measured it, and if we share those measurements with anyone, so long as they follow the instructions they will get the same result. Everyone is a scientist in the kitchen; the scientific method is not hard or complicated – we all do it, and take it for granted! What is true in the kitchen is also true in science – if a chief changes a recipe, he might get a better dish, in which case he will update his method, and repeat it to check – if it is a success he will test it on a client, if the clients love it a critic will taste it – if the critic loves it, a book will be written, if the book is popular households will repeat the recipe (experiment) in their home kitchens.

    This is the point of science, it is not so much that the answer is what people want it to be – it is whether the method for finding the answer is the correct method and that it has been applied correctly – if it is not then this is just bad science (or bad cooking). This is why scientists are sceptical, and require peer review. Drug companies take this to the extreme – it can take between 20 and 30 years to bring a new drug to the market – because of the tests, re-tests and peer review of the methods and results.

    The difference with religion or anything faith based (homeopathy for example) – is that people claim that they were healed because of prayer or some other ritual. However, if you repeat those rituals it doesn’t always work – not even with a high probability of working. If it did there would be no need for antibiotics or any modern medicine – we would just pray, hope and apply wishful thinking to everything in life; children with aids – no problem – just pray; war wounded amputees – no problem – just pray; world peace – no problem – just pray…

    And here lies the problem – when we measure the effectiveness of pray, it turns out not be effective at all not really any better than a 50:50 chance of working.

    So next time you get a chest infection, or a tooth abscess just think – should I pray for a miracle to cure my aliment (abscesses can and do kill) or should I go to the doctor and get a prescription for antibiotics which will cure my aliment within 5 to 10 days with almost certainly. And remember that the reason those drugs are available to you is because they were measured and tested for decades so the doctor has more than just a hunch that they will work safely for you even before you pop the plastic wrapper and put them in your mouth. Science is the real miracle, not men in funny hats, or weirdoes pushing snake oil, or sugared pills with spirits in them.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 30, 2010 @ 7:49 am | Reply

  27. once again, you take the extreme point to prove it and you don’t have to. i agree, science is totally awesome and a real miracle indeed! yet we’re also finding things out, like how powerful the placebo effect is and how we shouldn’t trifle with it, even though the results are sporadic, subjective, and not always reproducible. i’m advocating both methods because we often need both science and religious means for humanity because humans aren’t rational creatures but creatures who can reason… and reason quite well and find really cool things out like the boiling point for water… and also note how that point moves a little depending on altitude.

    so science can often provide the cure, but it can’t provide healing. healing often comes from nonrational sources and religion being one of them (whether it be some new agey mashup to some fundamentalist strain). there are good things that religion does that prayer does, but it isn’t universal. if you want to pursue truth so badly, then i say do so without prejudice and look for the good that religion does. even the most ardent and rigid fundamentalist who stands against everything you stand for has some element of truth in his life… even if it’s just the fact he’s a really good father for his kids.

    that’s all i’m asking and all i’ve been at this entire time. take it or leave it. even if it only has “any better than a 50:50 chance of working” that’s still an extremely good ratio all things considered. not our best offering no doubt and i have faith that our ratio will only go up as science and our knowledge progresses, but it will only do so if we consider all elements of human life and interaction.. and religion is has been a long part of that history.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 30, 2010 @ 3:00 pm | Reply

    • Look at how easily you are diverted from exploring and gaining knowledge about the placebo effect by assigning it to some sphere of woo. That’s your faith talking nonsense. It’s a biological phenomena based right here and right now that has nothing to do with woo. The healing you talk about is also a biological phenomena we know a great about also right here and right now. It is known to have a percentage effect not because some element of effect is introduced from the realm of woo but because how our brains operate to cause a biological effect that is measurable.

      Double blind studies that result in a .5 outcome means it yields exactly what you would expect from pure unadulterated chance. It is NOT an “extremely good ratio” (50:50) indicative of anything whatsoever. Yet this is the consistent result of testing woo claims like the efficacy of prayer. You simply believe that ‘healing’ has nothing to do with science; this is flat out wrong. Healing is a VERY rational and predictive outcome based on a host of knowable and influential factors that allows a very high degree of confidence in percentage outcomes. The doctor tells you that 75% of people are still alive after five years following a certain procedure means you have some knowledge of a reasonable outcome based on what’s real in the here and now. No amount of belief in woo will alter what realistically to expect. No amount of belief in woo will alter these facts. What will alter these facts are improvements in best practices, and that inquiry is not compatible in any way with faith-based beliefs. It is compatible only with gains made in knowledge. When you grant faith-based beliefs special privilege without any evidence to back it up, you undermine confidence about what to reasonably expect from efficacious treatment. This belief of yours is horrible: it suggests to people that what they believe does cause some meaningful effect. (The Placebo effect is negligible in affecting anything more than self-reporting levels of discomfort.) The person dying of cancer will be given the gift you offer as an additional burden of responsibility: it’s as if you are suggesting that if only more belief were available – perhaps more heartfelt, more pious, more fervent – the result could be different. This is sanctimonious crap. It causes unnecessary suffering. The 25% who do not live past five years in my previous example are just as real, just as worthy of life, as the 75% who do. The difference is not attributable to faith-based beliefs but randomness and chance and genetics and response to treatments. Your suggestion that prayer does good is simply misplaced and it is intentionally misplaced by your conclusion that religion is good before you even begin your inquiry into whether or not faith-based beliefs yields more harm than good. If you truly were willing to follow the evidence, you would soon find that empowering a general respect for both faith-based beliefs as well as the method of science produces cognitive dissonance in the particulars. A choice when it comes to the particulars must be made if you wish to respect what is TRUE. And this is where prayer fails. This is where religious belief fails. This where truth claims made by scriptures fail. In the particulars, the details, the nuts and bolts that fasten knowledge together into an informed perspective of the world that is true. These are the elements that matter and the ones we rely on to live in the world honestly. The pseudo-creation of various fictions deemed ‘good’ by those who find comfort from their beliefs is not equivalent to the honest gaining of knowledge and building of wisdom about how the world really is in the here and now. When it comes to ‘spiritus’ it’s all about living in the here and now and not pretending that this life is some kind of penal sentence as broken creatures readying ourselves for the next. That belief stands in contrast to living well, living wisely, living fully, in this world and helps to promote even more suffering than there already is. Religious belief in the power of faith yields zero knowledge and actively impedes those who wish to improve the human condition through gaining knowledge to inform our understanding of what’s true.

      Comment by tildeb — December 30, 2010 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

  28. blah blah blah. i’ll leave you to your denial. apparently you didn’t see the new report on the placebo effect. nor am i nor have i ever advocated a faith only perspective. i’ll let you at your strawman and your appeal to nature fallacies.

    Comment by zero1ghost — December 30, 2010 @ 8:44 pm | Reply

    • To better understand the placebo effect, read this good explanation. What we’re talking about here is what’s called a neural top-down control of physiology and not the ‘power’ of efficacy by beliefs. I have not accused you of using only faith-based beliefs but have tried in my usual clumsy way of trying to explain how holding respect for BOTH faith-based beliefs AND the method of science is counter-productive if your GOAL is to find out what’s true.

      Comment by tildeb — December 30, 2010 @ 10:16 pm | Reply

  29. The placebo effect is understood by doctors and abused by faith healers. The irony is that for most people in the developing world medieval faith based medicine is all they have access to – it is cheap to see a witch doctor, but in most cases they would do anything for a simple course of antibiotics. And yet in the west people take for granted the medicine that people in the east desire and opt for medieval solutions to their problems paying £80 or more; it’s truly ridiculous and scandalous.

    Zero1ghost, what you need to realise is that faith based beliefs not only prevent learning, they also take advantage of people who are ignorant (westerners) and poor (those from developing countries). Not content with disregarding and devaluing their own education, they also wish to muddy the waters and wreck everyones else’s chances – it really is dishonourable – homoeopaths (and other faith healers) are crooks, nothing more and nothing less.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — December 31, 2010 @ 3:37 am | Reply


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