Thursday, December 11, 2008

Something I Heard

Maybe it was my imagination. I was listening to someone explain how it was impossible for atheists to have any meaningful conception of morality and ethincs. As the speaker was going on and on, I heard the following tucked away in one of his proofs for the necessity of a theistic solution to the conundrums that he put forth.

They are strangers. They do not know our ways. The ways of their women, their ways of cutting meat, they are not our ways.

These strangers' gods are not our gods. Different gods command different sacrifices. The rituals of these strangers may blaspheme our gods. We must take care lest, anger be visited upon us.

These are a danger to us and our kind. We do not know what sacrifices strange gods will demand. These strangers bring only fear to us, the favorites of our gods.

It was probably just my imagination.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Science and Faith Are Irreconciliable

This is a topic that seems to have been done to death, but I feel I have a contribution to make that I haven't seen elsewhere.

I do not believe the essential difference between Science and Faith are to be found in their respective professed aims: truth or The Truth. The essential difference between Science or The Life of Inquiry, and Religion as Obedience to Revealed Truth. is ethical. However compelling the belief that the similarity between Science and Religion can be expressed in propositions, this compulsion only misleads.

Science emphasizes scrupulous adherence to procedure regardless of the outcome of those procedures. Of course, in individual instances, one finds fraud and willful blindness, but if science were merely fraud and willful blindness, it would not be able to exist as human institutions. The quintessence of fraud is the systematic hiding of some fact or insight that would unmask the deception. Epistemic fraud, more commonly known as "lying," means that some things may not be discussed lest unhappy consequences ensue. Language becomes a means to obscure and hide truth rather than means to its discovery. It is part of the myths of science -- eg, the story of Galileo is as good an archetype as any -- that there are many truths right under our noses waiting to be uncovered.

It is intrinsic to this myth of uncovering and discovering that authority has every reason to lie, and few, if any to be truthful. Consequently, it is part of the ethos of science that one must weigh for oneself what counts as truth. Considered religiously, this means that all authority is only provisional as far as it accords with one's understanding of the world.

When science is considered as an ethical and value-laden enterprise, individual autonomy is held in very high esteem.

Religion, especially a religion of revelation such as Christianity, has obedience as its highest value. Obedience to God's Will, obedience to the church hierarchy, obedience to the word of scripture, etc. The greatest sin is always that a person might think for themselves.

When Science and Religion are considered as ethical enterprises, it is clear enough that they are irreconcilable.

The Church of the Fightin' Jesus

Church of the Fightin' Jesus

For some reason I had to shrink the picture otherwise only the left two thirds would display. Click on the picture to see it in all its glory.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Power & Narcissism: Cursory Remarks

The principal characteristic of narcissism, whether one wishes to use a Freudian understanding or one drawn from popular psychology, is that of a disconnect between one's emotional life as well as one's intellectual and spiritual life. Or to use one of Nietzsche's telling phrases, it is a "denial of reality." Narcissism considered as a problem requires consideration of "reality." In essence, narcissism leads to the creation of an alternate reality: one in which one's dreams, desires, hopes and plans, which would otherwise go unfulfilled, may find fulfillment.

Consequently, the reality principle, to use Freud's phrase, is simply that fulfillment of those dearest dreams, hopes, and plans have no guaranteed fulfillment. Further, reality always means the Unexpected. The dream of guaranteed fulfillment motivates the creation of narcissistic reality. Reality has sharp, rough edges. Metaphorically, and not so metaphorically speaking, reality is the sharp table corner a small child happily at play suddenly discovers by running into it while at play.

Power considered in this context means the capacity to overcome the shocks to which the flesh is heir. A given quantum of power allows unexpected events of a certain intensity to go unnoticed. Power makes the sharp, rough edges of reality smooth. In fact, some of those unexpected corners come to be perceived as smoothness itself. Consequently, it is intrinsic to power that it obscures perception and makes denial of reality into something more than a simple recipe for disaster.

If this last paragraph should seem especially opaque, consider the example of any true believer and his ideology. A Christian, for example. It is enough to contemplate sitting in judgment of angels, for the effects, causes, and consequences in this life to become of little consequence. The fantasy of being at some future date on the winning side is enough to incite feelings of power and consequently, of the capacity to ignore the trials and tribulations of this life, even though there is no guarantee of no other.

The underpinning of the lust for power is fear of frustration and hurt in this life. Hence the need for the Christian God to be both all powerful and all good.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Take 2 on My Last Post, Or Bob's Counter to Pascal's Wager

I reread what I wrote and I don't think it was very clear. I will try another approach.

Evidence is insufficient to determine conclusively the truth or falsity of Belief A. The decision to give assent or to with hold one's assent to Belief A is therefore based on factors other than considerations of the Truth or Falsity of Belief A.

Of course, person's giving their assent to Belief A, especially when it is emotionally rich as is the belief in God for some people, will oftentimes vehemently assert the unequivocal truth of their pet beliefs. The greater the vehemence, the less the likelihood that their assertion of truth is rooted in careful and ongoing consideration of alternatives. This only means that believers present themselves as psychological case-studies.

This means that the counter to Pascal's wager is not a reckoning of probabilities of God's (non-)existence. It is not enough as Dawkins argues that it is almost a certainty that the Christian God does not exist. An eternity of hideous, horrific punishment, if at all avoidable, is to be avoided. Crossing streets without looking first, will most of the time not end badly. However, the one time when it would have been good to look both ways before crossing easily outweighs all the times of not looking.

In the gap between what we know to be true and what we wish to be true our character shows itself. Given the same evidence, why does one person find that evidence compelling, and another with comparable training, intelligence, and background dismisses that same evidence as proving nothing?

Do beliefs possess powers of attraction? It seems that truths, beliefs, propositions, and the like have aesthetic qualities independent of their truthfulness.

If this is so, why would anyone hope for the possibility of eternal punishment? Why would Tertullian or Aquinas consider the sight of the tortures of the damned to be one of the major benefits of heaven? Why all the fear and desire to punish? If Evangelical Christians are taken at face value, they can imagine no greater pleasure and exertion of power than punishing.

Bob's counter to Pascal's Wager? Why would anyone want Christianity to be true?

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Lyricism of Belief: An Observation on the Grounds of Belief and Faith

It is a bit of a truism among Christians that the existence of God cannot be conclusively proven with absolute certainty.

Since God cannot be proved or disproved, so the thinking goes, it is possible to be an "honest Christian"(!). Probably the best known variation is Pascal's wager. Rather than argue that there is evidence to believe or not believe, I propose another approach to the uncertainties intrinsic to belief in the supernatural.

If faith in God, Jesus, and all the mechanics of redemption cannot be grounded in reason, then assent to belief or disbelief is not a consequence of the truth or falsity of those beliefs. Less confusingly phrased, assent is not given because of the truth or falsity of the beliefs in question, but for human, all too human motivations.

This means that the accounts given for belief, and equivalently for disbelief, are amenable to a meaningful analysis similar to what one might expect in literary analysis. The phrase, lyricism of belief, comes to mind.

Even though keen insight is not a prerequisite to grasp that quite often it is not love, either of truth or human beings, that motivate faith in God. One name suffices to illustrate the point: Fred Phelps. Or if that is not enough, consider the homophobic teachings of Evangelical Christianity.

Psychologically considered, justification of one's assent to doctrines and teachings by appeals to "truth" are an impediment to truth. "Truth" especially when mouthed by Christians and other ideologues is a license to avoid unpleasant and unsavory truths about oneself and about life, the universe, and everything. Truth that can not be examined, questioned, and even abandoned means in practice, "There be dragons."

Truth is a curtain behind which passions run free and wild accountable neither to God nor man. This means that character and ethics are prior to belief and truth.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What is the "Human Condition" and Is It Broken?

Most broadly phrased, "the human condition" encompasses our most general and abstract attitudes, beliefs, and judgments about being human. Just because the phrase is very general and very abstract does not mean that it is useless and meaningless. The phrase can be used to capture beliefs and judgments that oftentimes go unexamined and unquestioned.

An example. Christianity teaches that there is something fundamentally amiss with being human. The how and why is explained by Original Sin. The theological hocus-pocus that would find reasons for why and how things are out of alignment are less important than the originating sense that something, somehow is simply not right with the way people, the world, and even with the natural world, according to some theologians.

Less abstractly and more concretely, what does this Original Sin mean? In the end, it can only mean one thing: suffering, pain, misery, and despair are intrinsic and inherent to life in this world. To borrow Buddhism's First Noble Truth: Existence is suffering. Of course, the critical difference is that Buddhism is a prescription for dealing with this truth, while Christianity in essence amounts to wishful thinking about God fixing human nature.

The complement to Christianity's Teaching of the Brokenness of Humanity is of course The Redemption: Despair not! However badly broken everything might seem, it can be fixed.

The question concerning The Human Condition can be phrased thusly: What is suffering and is it inescapably human?

Pain and suffering doesn't just include the myriad ways our bodies conspire to betray us as we age. Most importantly, though, does the course of events of the world have a place for our human desires, wishes, plans, hopes, and dreams? This is what Kant meant with the last of his three great questions: "What can we know?" "What ought we to do?" and "For what may we hope?"

Traditionally, it seems that philosophers answer the first two questions as a prelude to the last. But what if the answer to the last question is simple, blunt, and final: "Nothing."?

If there is nothing to hope for, then that also means that humanity is irredeemably broken. Or does it?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I thought I was back before...

Let's see if it takes this time. A lot has happened in the last 3 months. We moved from Central Arkansas back to the Northeast earlier this month. We drove up, the Mischiefs were really. really well-behaved throughout the 4 day drive. We took our time, we probably could have made the trip in 3 days, but we wanted to stop off and see Niagara Falls. I thought the Mischiefs would be more impressed than they were. Little Mischief found all the noise from the Falls unsettling. Oh, well.

Anyway, I'm thinking I may increase the scope of this blog from religion-related thoughts to include political and philosophical reflections. I've been asking myself whether the "human condition" is broken. Or less grandiosely phrased, "Is the so-called 'problem of pain' from theology more fruitfully (re)phrased as 'the problem of redemption'?

I want to finish the post(s) on the limits of subjectivity and start some mischief about The Singularity at Raymond Kurzweil's expense. Futurists all seem to be such true believers in their quasi-Utopian visions of the future that I find myself reaching back to the 19th Century to Marx, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky to wonder if there's nothing quite so foolish as repetitiously foolish Improvers of Mankind [or should that be so 'foolishly repetitious'?]

I've also been trying [off and on] to track down a comment made by Heidegger linking either Modern Technology or Science or both to Auschwitz. I strongly suspect that that remark was the seed out of which Expelled: No Intelligence Allowedgrew. Or maybe I'm misremembering it. My own false memory: remembering the text saying what I want & need it to say, rather than remembering the actual words of the text. I was brought up fundamentalist Christian, after all.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I'd Forgotten about Jacob Bronowski

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Monique Davis Reloaded, Or an Idea to Perpetrate Textual Mayhem on Christians

If you're reading this blog, you probably know who Monique Davis is, if not see this [Chicago Tribune].

I'd like to find a juicy excerpt of her tirade against Rob Sherman and atheism. A few quick edits to change occurrences of atheism and atheists to Jews and Judaism, or maybe to developmental disabled or some such.

The point of the exercise would be to show that the language of hate is largely the same regardless of the specific target. The implication is that once have becomes acceptable as a publicly-given rationale for actions and policies, whether of individuals, groups or governments, it is a relatively simple matter to change the persons toward which that hate is directed.

Historically, it has been shown more than once that hate-filled public discourse is notoriously easy to manipulate. Examples: Nazism, Stalinism, The Inquisition, McCarthyism. The infamous "Revolution devours its own children", and so on. And yet, once a little Christian feels even a wisp of pleasure at the thought of the destruction of her enemies, it must be God's Supreme Will that these enemies die, die, die and then rot in Hell. Of course, the Good Little Christian doesn't say she wants her enemies to die, die, die. She says "Thy Will be done."

It's obvious enough to everyone but the Little Christian that God is a self-manipulation to avoid ownership of her hatred, bile, and ill-will. It is God's Will that her enemies die, die, die, not her will. God for the little Christian becomes a tool to avoid self-examination and responsibility. Hate-filled discourse is one thing, the apparent object of that hatred is something else. A little Christian would have us all believe that hatred per se is no problematic, only the object to which the hate is for the moment directed.

Of course, empirical counter-evidence to the above, would be that minor edits to the words of Monique Davis or any other believer substituting "Jew," "puppies and kittens," "little babies," "American," etc. for "gay," "atheist," "liberal," "feminazi," and the like would produce be unintelligible. If, however, the slightly edited version bore a strong resemblance to manifestos of conventional hate-groups like Nazis, the Aryan Nation, the KKK, etc., then Nietzsche's seemingly paradoxical assertion that Christian Love is sublimated hatred is if not proven, strongly persuasive.

Perpetrate Textual Mayhem on Christians? Take some representative text of a Christian Leader perform some minor edits, say substituting "puppies and kittens" for "homosexuals" with adjustments to grammar as necessary. If Little Christians like Monique Davis are strongly motivated by hatred and vent their hatred toward what they see as safe groups, like atheists, then simple manipulations of the text ought to make the implied hatred transparent enough that even many Christians would be able to see it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

PZ Meyers asked people who think Expelled is so much creationist propagandistic twaddle to link to this:


Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Brief Comment on the Texas Polygamists

There is a type of man -- not person or woman -- who would find appealing and persuasive a religion that commanded in the name of their God that a man should take not one but several 14 and 15 year old girls as wives. It strikes me as primitive in a strongly pejorative sense and as a piece of self-stupefication.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Most Unchristian Thought

What is the most unchristian thought that I can come up with? I was minorly obsessed witht his question for a little while. Then I came up with an answer.

"Error is the royal road to knowledge." Or, as I used to taunt realist acquaintances: "Get rid of truth to make room for knowledge."

What do these paradoxical formulations mean? One thing they mean among many others: once faith is lost in the duality of reality and appearance, or deception and truth. Alternatively the unreflected metaphor that all of reality can be divided into two parts: gold and dross, comes to be reflected upon, no matter how hesitantly at first.

The negative aspect, as it were, the nihilistic question leading to these apparent conundrums? The discovery that Truth and truth make a career without exception in the world of human beings. Human beings find themselves invested in formulas and formulations of "unchanging" realities. Just like financial investments, when emotional and spiritual investments come into danger, strong measures are taken to defend those investments. The neurotic poses of believers lead easily enough to speculation that the fervor of their defense is less indicative of the rightness and correctness of beliefs than as a defense against fear, doubt, and uncertainty.

These doubts of the health and value of faith are not addressed but only exacerbated by appeals to sincerity or to the sanctity of obedient surrender.

Christianity, for example, presumes that the world and the people in it are not as they should be. The world and history took a wrong turn somewhere. In these matters, Christians speak of a fall from grace, and a consequent need for redemption. BUT in order for there to be redemption of this fallen world in which we live, there has to be another alternative, "better" world that exists in the mind of God, if nowhere else. Anything that would impede and obscure this "Truth" of the world must be evil, sinful, etc. etc.

Once the naive moralizing faith that the world should be different is given up? What then? What of hope? What of a better tomorrow? What of the despair of the present? And I can only respond with, "what of courage?"

Once truth and its implied duality of reality/not-reality is given up, questions about the uses of truth are no longer moot.Once the admission of the usefulness of Truth is made, the suspicion arises as to whether it matters at all whether there is any content to any supposed Great Truths? or whether the real issue is and always has been who gets to use Truth to exclude, silence, and subdue whom. Unexamined faith in the importance of Truth even if its specific content is open to perennial dispute.

What is the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact of the perennial dispute at the core of the belief in Truth? Strife is intrinsic to the whole enterprise. And not that one party or another party to the strife is "right."

Knowledge becomes possible once the naivety of ever knowing the content of "Truth" is given up. Knowledge becomes description of the parties to the strife at the heart of Truth's career in the world. Knowedge is made up of perspectives that are intrinsically limited and partial, arbitrary even. It always needs others who see things differently.

* * *


A necessary corollary to the above reflections: mere possession of "Truth" conveys no benefits in this world or in any other. Truth or truths do not set us free. Truth and truths are indifferent to the humanity. That believing otherwise should have narcotic-like symptoms hardly proves surprising.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Are Vegetarians Evil? A Visual Courtesy of The Bastard Fairies

If it should turn out that The Bastard Fairies object. I'll remove the link.

Also they just released a music video of some interest to the faith-challenged:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Paraeidolia on Steroids

I've been perusing on again, off again the Presocratic Philosophers. Thales, Anaxagoras, Anaximander and the like. I originally wanted to reread the available fragments of a poem by Parmenides. But as I was working my way through The Philosophers of Greece by Robert S. Brumbaugh, I found myself waylaid by Anaximander.

One of the nice things about reading the philosophers prior to Plato, is that all of the extent fragments and testimonials by ancient authors can be thoroughly read in a couple of hours. This means that understanding these fragments can take decades, and even then one is never sure of one's interpretations. Because of their incompleteness, the fragments require guessing at how to make up the missing material.

Brumbaugh's book does not present the texts of the available extent fragments. This is not as big of a problem as it might seem. For many of these ancient philosophers there are only a few words, fragments of a thought, the doctrines of some are only known indirectly. Brumbaugh praises Anaximander for extending "the concept of law from human society to the physical world -- a clean break with the older view of a capricious, anarchic nature;" and for inventing "models to make complex natural phenomena easier to understand." [p.18]

Maybe I've grown overly skeptical in my old age, Brumbaugh presents Anaximander's contribution to human thought without the least suspicion or self-consciousness. As if the imputation of human-created institutions and practices to the natural world outside the polis represented an advancement of human knowledge. Civilization, culture, knowledge, order, and humanity were to be found primarily in the institutions and associations formed with other Greeks of one's tribe and locale. The etymology of "barbarian" illustrates how most Greeks felt about the non-Greek, non-human world.

The use of human-created law as a model for understanding the natural world outside the polis strikes me as nothing less than astonishing. It should be remembered that this move this use of human-created Law as metaphor and regulating principle of the Natural World most commonly has been interpreted as an advance over mythological thinking. And, what typically characterizes "mythological thinking"?

Mythological thinking is the personifying the forces and events of the natural world. Personifying means analogizing natural phenomena to human personalities. When a pagan says the Wind is blowing angrily, he does not mean that the wind is merely blowing with great, destructive force, he means the Wind is angry in the same way that he or any other person can be angry.

This all leads naturally enough to the real question here: is regularity in Nature a product of human understanding or is that regularity there independently of human understanding? Following Brumbaugh's hint that Anaximander discovered the use of models, it would seem that our understanding(s) of the world around us (and by extension ourselves) are only approximations. A model by definition is not a 1-to-1 copy of what is being modeled. The presumption is that some elements of what is be modeled may be safely excluded from the model. The purpose to which the model is put determines which elements are included and which are excluded.

From this, folows the realization that every account of natural phenomena will have a left over residue. Properly speaking it cannot be said that Nature follows some lawful order, nor that Nature is unlawful. Where the human mind is not, Nature is chaotic in the mythological sense of Chaos: lacking order and regularity until the coming of the Gods.

One of the odder thoughts that came to me while I was working this through concerns the existence of the so-called external world. A distinction can be made between the constitution of individual and specific objects in human perception, on the one hand, and the recurrent experience of the unexpectedness of events and phenomena, on the other. To the extent that sense perception is an activity of the brain, the existence of a given object as perceived independent of any perceiver ought to strike one as nonsensical.

What is "Paraeidolia on Steroids"? Mythological thinking, however primitive it may seem, finds/creates order in the Natural World by imputing personality and personal traits to natural phenomena, either singly or in aggregate. The ur-experience of regularity for human beings is found in human social interactions. First comes social interactions, then comes the "discovery" of order. Order, regularity and dependability are all descriptive of social interactions. Consequently, the "discovery" of order in the Natural World is seeing patterns in natural phenomena that can neither be said to be there nor not to be there.That is "Paraeidolia on Steroids".

Friday, February 8, 2008

Are Vegetarians Evil? Or, Are Meat-Eaters? Pt. II

I'll explain my hiatus in my next post.

* * *

The main points to remember from my last post from almost 2 months ago. Morality implies a residue common to all human beings once non-essential elements are set aside. These non-essential elements include pleasures enjoyed by the immoral. The example I used was a morality often generated by vegetarianism: namely, that the pleasure offered by meat-eaters as a rationale for the consumption of the flesh of other creatures is not a "real" and "essential" pleasure.

To this I would like to add an immoral thought. Given that the human brain development is the progressive integration of its disparate elements into a whole, and that fundamentally the brain "works"by the development of neural connections, it would strongly appear that there are no inessential elements to the makeup and functioning of human brains, because changing one part changes the whole. Elimination of those parts of the brain whose functioning results in various pleasurable sensations -- such as consumption of the flesh of other creatures -- would mean changing the personality and person -- and far more likely than not this would be a diminution of emotional responses and investiture in one's surroundings -- i.e., other people, ideals of intellect and ethics, etc.

Consider this as well. Brains develop. As brains mature experiences and knowledge are stored for later use. What does this mean? Brain development encodes and reflects the vicissitudes of the environment in which that brain finds itself. Brain development is one way. Brains cannot be run in reverse.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

On Being MIA

It sucks. Once I start writing I love it. It's an immensely pleasurable activity. However, I do dearly hate writing when my mind is less than clear. In August, I decided it was time to get a handle on my sleep disorder. "Sleep disorder" sounds so much more serious than insomnia or irregular sleeping patterns.

The one thing that I figured out is that my blood pressure medication interacted poorly with the antidepressants. At one point, I would sleep over 12 hours a day whenever possible. That drove my poor wife to distraction. I stopped the blood pressure medication. I wanted to see if my mood and overall energy level would improve if I stopped. They have. I also had developed a hypothesis that the blood pressure medication was resulting in increased pain in my feet which in turn was interfering with sleeping well.

I don't intend to leave my hypertension uncontrolled. But golly gee whiz, I sure don't want to try to reduce my blood pressure through medication, or at least the ones that I have tried. My dr reassures me that there are a large number of medications to reduce blood pressure. I will have to impress upon him that any medication that has increases the risk of depression, no matter how slight the statistical risk to general population, will in my case almost assuredly result in depression.

Towards the end of monitoring and reducing my blood pressure, I'd like to procure a device to measure blood pressure, and I'd to try drinking a half liter of beet juice every day. Some studies indicate that it has a dramatic effect on high blood pressure. An overall higher libido means burning more calories. More activity. Leading to greater weight loss.

I would like to note that wellbutrin seems to be working. The first thing I noticed was wild & vivid dreams. Crazy dreams like riding cross-country on motorcycles with Tony Soprano. Others that I can't remember clearly like a car-jacking, or one about witches and magic in which the magic only worked if you believed in it. All in all they've been surprisingly enjoyable.

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