Do atheists hope they are wrong?

Discussion in 'Spirituality & Religion' started by Fanaddict, Feb 29, 2012.

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Do atheists hope they are wrong and there is a heaven?

Poll closed Mar 30, 2012.
  1. yes

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  2. no

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  1. luftmensch

    luftmensch Member+

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    Can anything we accept as a first principle be justified by intellectual argument? You apparently take as your first principle that the universe is just here and came to be entirely on its own and was not brought into being or shaped or influenced in any way by any kind of being, consciousness, intelligent force, or whatever. Can I assume you take sensory data and thought about that data as being the only information worth considering? How do you justify that intellectually?

    And you may not think you do, but your tone toward "religious people" does come off as derisive. Your attitude seems to be that unless whatever experience they claim to have of any kind of divinity is easily communicable than it's not worth considering, an approach that does not seem to me as non-judgmental and open-minded as you think it is.

    I hope not, that gets extremely tiresome. If anything I think the difference is an acknowledgement or belief that there's some sort of intelligence or presence that is either responsible for or infused through all phenomena. And I don't think that you have to be a theist to have such an experience, rather that it comes down to an interpretation of one's experience.

    It's not a "creature" if it's the very reason for there being a universe in the first place. And in the eyes of one who believes in such a presence it's as real as the awareness of one's own self, if not realer.

    Sorry, not following that.

    With the difference that it's a character completely made up by atheists for the sole purpose of ridiculing believers. Although maybe the Flying Spaghetti Monster might be a very appropriate deity for those who subscribe to String Theory. It is a very poetic image.

    I asked myself the same thing after I wrote my last post. "Wait, what were we talking about again?"

    Correct, but if anything I'm arguing for giving the benefit of the doubt to people who claim not easily communicable experiences, such as for example an intuition or experience of "something more" informing the phenomenal world. But I agree that this is in no way "proof", and that the evidence is only circumstantial.

    Yes, but I think discovering the existence/non-existence of something is not always obvious. If I see millions of people pointing towards something, even if I can't see it and the descriptions all vary, I'm intrigued by the fact that they're pointing and the possibility that they are attempting to describe different aspects of something real but difficult if not impossible to grab hold of.

    I would say yes, they're real, or at least something about the experience is real, even if it's just a feature of the human mind that's misinterpreted by the individual.

    And I think our difference regarding materialism is that you see it as the default option that makes sense as a foundation for our existence, whereas I think that there's an epistemological choice involved to interpret all non-physical phenomena (dreams, visions, inner awareness) as being an epiphenomenon of material existence rather than something with a reality in and of itself.

    About everything. I mean that everything you and I know is probably wrong. Or at least so partial that it's effectively wrong.


  2. wallacegrommit

    wallacegrommit Member

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    No it isn't. Given the parameters that you stated in the hypo, mathematically you should arrive at the opposite conclusion from the one that you offered to ASF. You are right that your terminology is confusing, because P is what we are trying to calculate, it should be the "answer", not one of the known factors in the equation.
  3. benztown

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    Let's say you misapply them.
    In order to judge whether or not you're likely to exist, this other intelligence would have to know of you first. Somebody would have to ask the question: "Do you think ASF exists?" and he would have to fill ASF with meaning. Therefore, once again this is a bad analogy.
    Ok, I'll play along even though this is absurd. Assuming that the alien intelligence asking the question just randomly comes up with an idea which perfectly describes ASF and then asks around whether or not his fellow aliens belief that ASF exists, then they would answer "no" if they have the slightest bit of intellectual integrity.

    This in no way contradicts your actual existence, it's simply an assessment of the data. The odds of me correctly guessing your poker deck is 1 in 2,598,960, which is infinitesimally small. The odds of me perfectly describing an individual alien life form is many orders of magnitude smaller. It's therefore virtually impossible for any alien to randomly and without evidence ask whether ASF exists, and if he does, nobody would be justified to believe ASF existed because of the odds.

    But so what? Are you saying that because it's not impossible for the alien to come up with a perfect description of ASF, we're therefore justified to believe anything?

    No, anything we don't have evidence for. Big difference. Based on the evidence, I'd argue that intelligent life probably exists elsewhere, without having any knowledge of it.
    Actually, this does make me somewhat angry. It's not that I believe it cannot exist, I don't believe it does exist. There's a difference and I really don't understand what is so difficult about this. It happens every time.
    And while I acknowledge that not everybody thinks this way, it's the only reasonable position to take, because it's the only consistent approach to life. Everything else leads to special pleading. The alien has no way of differentiating between the true existence of ASF and the infinity of possible creatures that do not exist. So rejecting belief in the existence of made up aliens is therefore in virtually every instance in accordance with reality.

    Well, hope and belief are very different things, are they not?

    Though again, I don't think the analogy to religion is even apt, because again you're calculating probabilities on the backdrop of you knowing that numbers are drawn. Religion is more like playing a lottery where you have no evidence that it even exists.
  4. benztown

    benztown Member+

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    I still don't know what exactly you mean. Let me make my original argument again, only this time using the poker analogy:

    ASF basically said that while the probability of any poker hand is extremely small, given enough games we will eventually get that deck (like a royal flush).
    Similarly, if we expand our scope in regards to the supernatural the likelihood of its existence increases.

    To which my answer was that the analogy doesn't work. Playing poker, you know all the cards in the deck and you know the rules of the game. You therefore know that a royal flush can exist.

    But invoking the supernatural is like changing the card game. Now we don't know what's in the deck, we don't know the rules, we don't even know whether or not we have been dealt any cards or whether we won, if we're even playing that is, which we also don't know.
    That's why the number of games we play doesn't really help us at all towards our goal to get a royal flush. For every deck containing the cards necessary for a royal flush, there's an infinity of possible decks not containing these cards, not to mention the infinity of possible rules. And of course there's also a big chance that there aren't any cards to begin with, as we certainly don't have any evidence for their existence. So the probability of a royal flush even existing is 1/infinity which approaches zero. Which means that the number of games you play is irrelevant, no matter how often you play the game, you have to multiply the result with 1/infinity. In other words, expanding the scope doesn't do anything, it doesn't make the event one bit more likely.


  5. Ombak

    Ombak Moderator Staff Member

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    We dont require a starting point. We start in the middle, always have (it's sort of a feature of evolution). We get to where we are based on reliable, independetly verifiable results.
    This is a claim you cannot possibly make and expect others to accept without question, yet you are doing it matter-of-factly. Yes we understand things differently and some people believe and some even "acknowledge" the existence of an intelligence that is "responsible for or infused through all phenomena". Is there such an intelligence though?

    Now, atheists can have these experiences too, but the question is why do you claim there is an intelligence of that sort? This is a very very big claim and as far as we know anything it is false.
    How do you know it is not a creature? This is already a claim of knowledge. If it is not a creature what is your starting point for describing it? Why does the universe exist require a reason? What if it always existed? Picking one over the other is a claim of knowledge. How do you back that claim up?
    I was saying you're making arguments about how everything is an equally valid way of knowing somethign, that one approach is as good as any other and so on.
    How is that a difference? We know many gods were completely made up by people! And my point was that if a god is made up (say Ra, or Yahweh) and the god "evolves" into a "ground of all being" idea, that idea is still made up! Making it more vague and more difficult to pin down, or more palatable to moderate religous types doesn't lend any validity to its existence.
    We understand a great deal about how people can generate these feelings. I can give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually believe x or y or feel it strongly, but that does not lead to the existence of something.
    There are ways of finding out more. Your analogy here is poor because it relies on sense only and not other independently verifiable methods.
    Of course the experience is real, that's been acknowledge over and over. But going from that to "a ground of all being" is real doesn't follow unless you redefine the word "real".
    Again, it is not a default, it's the option that succeeds in explaining thigns, including things that claim not to be explainable by it. I don't to start from scratch to build a reliable picture of the world.
    This is demonstrably false. Why would you bother typing everything here if you actually believe this? If you mean only with regards to ideas about "everything" then why are they different than other ideas? This seems like a sort of special pleading to me if it means to separate ideas about the universe and its reason from scientifc ideas that we build on in a "on the shoulders of giants" way.
  6. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

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    The problem with the probability of life/god existing idea is that they aren't comparible.

    With life we speculate that it can only exist in an incredibly narrow range of conditions, and the odds of intelligent life existing are even rarer.

    Me might speculate that only one planet in a thousand is like to harbour life, and only one of those planets in a thousand could produce something approaching intelligent life.

    That would make the odds of any planet having intelligent life a 1 in a million shot. we then conclude there are many millions of planets in the universe, so there probably are loads with life.


    God isn't the same. We can't calculate the probability of god existing in any given space. It's a binary yes or no, and that yes or no does not change if you check more spaces. The result would be exactly the same wherever you checked.
  7. luftmensch

    luftmensch Member+

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    Of course we require a starting point, and it's a huge assumption on your part there is a "middle" shared by humans throughout our history. I think it far more likely that our consciousness evolves along with our culture, and that the starting point is thus culturally dependent. For example during the Middle Ages God was not just some extraneous addition to westerners' materialistic existence; God was an essential defining feature of the world as given. Same with ancient agrarian cultures and their pantheons of gods, same with hunter-gatherers and whatever naturalistic forces they acknowledged. Your attitude seems to be that humans have always perceived and thought pretty much the same way they do now, but since they were ignorant they made up a bunch of gods to satisfy their feeble minds. But that's where I think you're making a huge leap not based on hard evidence, and it's more likely that they were basing these ideas on what were, for them in their context, reliable, independently verifiable results.

    I wasn't asking you to accept without question, I was just stating my opinion based on my experience. Is there such an intelligence? That's the question, and it's anything but settled.

    Call it a hunch.

    By creature I mean a being appearing in the world of phenomena, and the God/presence/whatever is more of a presence either prior to, outside of, or alongside of that phenomena.

    Are you very familiar with Hinduism? As you know they have a pantheon of hundreds or thousands of gods with distinct personalities and traits. But all these gods are considered to ultimately be representations of one true creative force, and thus illusory. That's an extreme oversimplification and the details differ between sects but the point is that people have attempted to describe God and gods through their apparent effects in the world or on consciousness but behind that is a force/cause underlying it all. And in this cosmology something has always existed, universes are born and die and born again infinitely.

    And this insight was gained through meditative experience, not as a half-assed attempt to find a "reason" for the existence of the universe. And the same is true for other religions, they were born out of direct experience, even if "only" internal. So experience that wouldn't hold up in a court of law in our modern world, but experience that was enough to convince entire cultures to attempt to live according to what they'd learned.

    That's not exactly what I was saying, what I was saying is to not be so quick to reject alternative ways of being in the world and to keep an open mind about other people's experience. As far as I'm concerned it's only a problem when those beliefs impinge upon the freedom of others, and that's when I call bullshit. The ultimate truth of others' religious claims in and of themselves isn't really a concern of mine except as it relates to my own continuously evolving worldview.

    They weren't just pulled out of their ass, they were identified with actual forces occurring in people's lives, very different than a silly concept dreamed up by somebody who rejects the concept of gods in general.

    That description of the evolution of religion is an assumption on your part. Another way of looking at it is that we evolved in our understanding of the nature of existence, and thus found that a "one god" notion was more accurate or essential than "many gods".

    Not sure who "we" is, but it's true that plenty of people think they understand that.

    True.

    Probably. But what if existence is tricky by its very nature? There's a reason so many cultures have the prominent existence of a trickster god, often playing the role of the creator, because reality is a serious mindfuck.


    If there's an independently verifiable method of determining the root of people's spiritual experiences I'd love to hear it. Is this where you tell me it all arises in some little corner of our brains?

    It's a way of interpreting and describing a certain ineffable experience. It's real to those who've had that experience, which doesn't mean it translates easily.

    Correct, we have all the cultural and familial habits that we grew up with that cloud our filters along with the natural limitations acquired through the process of evolution.

    And I disagree that materialism gives an accurate description of the nature of things.

    Demonstrably?

    I'm wondering that myself. I've been attempting to argue for keeping an open mind, and I've also been stating some opinions of my own on these subjects. While, yes, fully acknowledging that my opinions are probably wrong. I'm fine with that personally, it's all in the game.

    I believe all knowledge is tentative or partial, including scientific knowledge. I believe in the possibility of "game-changing" information or insights that completely overturn the way we interpret such knowledge. And thus I try to hold any such knowledge lightly.
  8. benztown

    benztown Member+

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    We know that the natural world exists and we know that it's governed by natural laws. These laws are sufficient to explain everything you talk about. Religious experiences are a result of brain chemistry and can be induced via electromagnets or drugs. There's a great deal of knowledge out there, ranging from psychology to biochemistry.

    So why do you disregard the current state of knowledge in favor of a hunch? My guess is that it's because you WANT it to be true and you blow up doubts that you'd otherwise never blow up in order to justify believing the irrational.

    Ultimately, we don't 100% know whether mass bends space and thereby creates gravity, or whether pan-dimentional fairies pull everything down. But you wouldn't blow up that uncertainty and be open towards the existence of pan-dimensional fairies, let alone believe in them.

    We know that religious experiences are natural phenomena with the same certainty as with gravity, we arrived there using the same method of natural philosophy. If you reject one and not the other, that's called special pleading. If you believe in something without or even against the evidence, that's called delusion.

    That's a good approach, but you have to keep in mind two things:
    1) Scientific knowledge has changed, definitely, and most likely everything we hold as true today will be proven to be false tomorrow. However, that doesn't mean that anything goes. We're homing in on the truth if you will. The predictive capabilities of our knowledge are so phenomenal, that it's extremely unlikely that we're fundamentally wrong. What's more likely is that our knowledge is incomplete. Newton's laws were special cases of Einstein's general relativity. Newton wasn't exactly wrong, it's just that his laws only applied to a limited framework. We know that the same is true for general relativity, it's just that we haven't found the more basic law behind it.

    So what I mean to say is that you're right, our current knowledge of nature is neither complete nor absolute. We need to be willing to doubt everything. But that does not mean that we should be willing to believe anything. Modern scientific knowledge is extremely robust, if you disagree with parts of it, you better have extraordinary evidence or at the very least an alternative explanation that is just as powerful as the existing one in terms of its explanatory and predictive capabilities.

    2) It's not the atheists who have absolute beliefs but the theists. Atheists are generally open to the existence of a deity, it's just that they don't believe in it. Theists on the other hand base their worldview on the absolute truth of the existence of a deity, they believe they have the answer when nobody else has, they believe that they know the unknowable. Belief in god is hardly ever held lightly.
  9. luftmensch

    luftmensch Member+

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    Actually what we know is that something that appears to be a physical universe exists and it displays remarkable consistency, enough that we felt confident enough to describe this behavior with the term "natural laws".

    I find that explanation of religious experience or any experiences of interiority to be reductionistic and inaccurate. Such experiences can be induced, but that does not say anything about the experience itself, only that there is a physical phenomenon associated with the experience.

    I was an atheist for most of the first 20 years of my life. Experience later convinced me otherwise. I'm not throwing out the current state of knowledge, I just don't believe it explains as much as you think it does.

    I wouldn't, no. But I also wouldn't be surprised to find a correlation of pan-dimensional fairies with what appears to be a wholly naturalistic process. I believe reality is multidimensional, and very, very weird.

    No, we really don't know that. I mean I think they're as natural as anything, but not in the strictly materialistic sense you're using the term.

    I think science is the best tool available for exploring the nature of physical reality. I do not think a strictly materialistic science is the best tool available for exploring matters of the soul.

    And I see plenty of evidence of absolute belief among the atheists here. You're making epistemological choices about the type of knowledge worthy of being considered and defining others' beliefs according to your own absolute confidence in the primacy and trustworthiness of material reality.
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  10. benztown

    benztown Member+

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    I'd like to know why that is. Naturalism is sufficient to explain all that, we have evidence supporting that explanation. We have no evidence whatsoever regarding the supernatural. So why do you reach the conclusion that naturalism is reductionistic and inaccurate.

    Every experience is internal. The world you experience only exists in your head. So when I punch you in the nose, I induce pain, an internal experience. Is that also merely a physical phenomenon associated with the experience? Is pain maybe caused by the Wicked Witch of the West? And what good would such a belief do you when the punch sufficiently explains the pain? Why invent something on top of that?

    So you see the supernatural lurking behind everything? Gravity, rain, emotions, viscosity, strawberries, mathematics and cow dung? Why?

    Before you can even begin to argue this, at the very least you have to convincingly address these questions:

    1) What is a soul?
    2) What evidence do you have that it exists?
    3) Why can't science be used to investigate it?
    4) What alternative form of gathering knowledge can be used to do so?
    5) How do you know that this alternative method is reliable?

    I do no such thing. In fact this is wrong on every level.

    1) I'm not making choices about the type of knowledge worthy of being considered, I'm demanding a consistent definition of knowledge before I can even begin to form an opinion. Until that happens, I will disbelief any such claims and rightfully so. You cannot just assert things and then go on to claim that it's knowledge, that's intellectually dishonest, special pleading and simply not a valid argument. In fact, given all your previous arguments, how can you claim to know anything?

    2) I have no absolute confidence, not at all, all I have is a consistent approach to understanding the world. I am open to constructive criticism, but fallacies like special pleading are not constructive criticism.
    What I do have is empirical confidence. Assertions without any evidence have a history of turning out to be utterly false, so I and anybody else would be stupid to believe them. On the other hand, a scientifically critical approach has reliably led to advances in our knowledge, so I and anybody else would be stupid to reject that. That is the opposite of absolute confidence, it's the admission that there is no such thing. He who asserts without evidence has absolute confidence, not he who withholds belief in these assertions.

    3) Material reality is both empirically and logically sufficient to explain our existence. That doesn't mean that there is nothing beyond that, but whoever claims that there is better has some damn good evidence. But so far, there's nothing.
    However, those who assert that there's something beyond natural reality in the absence of any evidence are making a positive claim, which means that they believe (for no reason and against all evidence) that material reality is not trustworthy. The nature of that claim requires absolute certainty. To reject this idea until better evidence arrives does not, as it's not a positive claim.
  11. Caesar

    Caesar Moderator Staff Member

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    Occam's razor. You are adding a complication to the scenario (the universe may have been created) in order to justify the legitimacy of your theory. But the complication has no basis other than to justify the existence of the creator.

    The universe exists, that much is certain. What reason is there to think that it may have been created at some point? Absolutely none. The universe explains itself quite adequately as a perpetual and infinite state of existence without having to introduce fairy sky-men into the picture.

    Perhaps the fairy sky-man exists but it's certainly not rational for any person to entertain the possibility of his existence on the basis of the evidence in front of them. Just like it wouldn't be rational for me to entertain the possibility of invisible leprechauns being the cause of my shoelace snapping this morning.

    Almost. It's not worth considering on a rational basis. The viewpoint has no intellectual credibility.

    Does that mean it's not worth considering full stop? I never said it was, just that such consideration is not a rational exercise.

    The only reason people get offended by such a statement is because the vast majority of religious people like to pretend their views are rational and reasonable. They do not take kindly to people pointing out the cognitive dissonance inherent in their position.
  12. HerthaBerwyn

    HerthaBerwyn Member+

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    [​IMG]
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  13. luftmensch

    luftmensch Member+

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    We have evidence that certain portions of the brain are associated with certain experiences; it does not necessarily follow that those physical mechanisms are the sole cause of those experiences. It says even less about the experiences themselves, whether "supernatural", emotional, imaginal, or whatever.

    You seem to assume I'm arguing for a complete split between mind and body, and I'm not. What I'm arguing for is acknowledging that our thoughts, our fantasies, our feelings, are not just byproducts of physical processes, though they generally correspond with such processes; they're as real as what I've been referring to as material existence, and thus worthy of consideration on their own terms.

    You keep using the word supernatural, not me, I find calling this dichotomy "natural-supernatural" unhelpful and misleading, as I think it's all part of a natural process.

    But I can still try to answer your question, briefly so I don't give you my life story. Basically through a combination of psychedelics (initially), study (of philosophy and religion), meditation (probably closest to Buddhist), and inner work (working with my dreams and later other techniques, including using psychedelics in a therapeutic, non-recreational manner), I came to believe that there is some kind of divinity inspiring the material realm. Many years later I've still seen nothing to convince me otherwise. But you don't need to put it into theistic terms, I think you'll find music, poetry, and other art that expresses this better than most religions and any philosophical argument.

    I wasn't referring to "a soul", but to the "matters of the soul" as a shorthand for what I've been calling inner experience.

    But since your questions are fun, I don't know what a soul is, my evidence something like it exists is primarily experiential and intuitive, I think science can investigate it if the scientists have an open mind and a fair dose of creativity, that's a good question, and that's also a good question.


    Have I claimed to know anything? Theories of knowledge and truth are tricky. Especially when you think everything we experience happens in our heads.

    Personally I think thousands of years worth of religious practices and testimony with some intriguing similarities across cultures and eras is fairly convincing, even if the exact nature of what they're talking about is not easily graspable. Although if explaining all that away with our similar brains works for you, have at it.

    Like I said, I disagree. The evidence is our experience itself of entire worlds contained within our minds (not just our brains), including whatever images, emotions, music you can conjure.

    And I argue that accepting natural reality at face value is itself a positive claim.

    Drop the "creator" for a second, as to me the central issue here is your willingness to prioritize external reality that we can apprehend with the senses over and above any kind of internal awareness or inspiration. That to me is a choice, one that's currently the cultural norm, but still a choice.

    I agree, the universe does make sense without a "god" concept. But it also makes sense with such a concept (part of that mindfuck thing I mentioned before).

    And if somebody has experienced a felt sense of such a divinity, whether through a powerful work of art, through being in love, through religious practice, or whatever, then it might make less sense to discard that concept, although personally I think it needs to remain flexible. And that person should not be surprised if others do not accept or understand where they're coming from based solely on that insight, although you may be able to based on their actions in this world.

    Depends on what you mean by "in front of them".

    Well, intellectual credibility and a dollar will buy you a cup of shitty coffee.

    Dammit Spock I'm a doctor, not a mathematician!

    Or they get offended because they think you're being a dick. We've all got a little cognitive dissonance as our constant companion.
  14. argentine soccer fan

    argentine soccer fan Moderator Staff Member

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    "Occam's razor" an assumption that helps us organize ideas, nothing more. It is not a truth, or a fact.

    Occam's razor is often used by some atheists as an attempt to shift the burden of proof to people of faith. But faith doesn't require proof, and Occam's razor doesn't prove anything. Philosophers have even used it to argue against the existence of the material universe.

    While as a guideline it can be helpful in a scientific setting to sort through competing hypothesis, when it comes to metaphysics it's the sort of thing that works for you if you agree with it, but it's not going to convince anybody of anything.
  15. Mr. Warmth

    Mr. Warmth Red Card

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    Of course, this flies in the face of the existence various religious organizations that specifically prepare to act for disaster relief and often do within 24 hours for events such as Joplin, Katrina and Haiti.
  16. Ombak

    Ombak Moderator Staff Member

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    No, it just doesn't address them. It's entirely possible for a religious organization to pray AND do something, that comic strip doesn't fly in the face of that.

    The result of course is identical to not praying AND doing something.

    Whereas Not doing something AND praying is what the strip addressed.
  17. benztown

    benztown Member+

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    No, you're not arguing for it, you're claiming it to be true. I would really like to know WHY you believe that our experiences are not just a byproduct of physical processes. That's what it all boils down to.

    You acknowledge that these experiences correspond with physical processes, so why not simply leave it at that? Why do you need anything on top of that? And how is it supposed to work, can it override the physical world? What good does it do? What additional aspect does it bring on the table that physical processes (like a punch in the nose and the resulting fireworks of nerve activity) don't provide?

    The label we use is really secondary, but we need to agree upon terms in order to be able to communicate. Generally it is agreed upon that everything that is not natural is called supernatural. If you say that there's nothing supernatural at work, then what are we arguing about?

    I have had pretty much the same experiences, except for meditation (my 6th grade biology teacher used to meditate with us for 5 minutes before every class, but that's about it). And I'm pretty sure that others would describe the very same experiences as spiritual, especially those using psychedelics. The moment I first took psychedelics, I immediately understood what all those "spiritualists" were talking about.

    However, I prepared for these trips by getting informed about the science. So I knew what was happening, that my thalamus was partially shut down, that this led to sensory noise entering consciousness unfiltered, that the border between the self and the world was melting. That's why I experienced inanimate objects around me as sharing my emotions for example. And depending on your physiology, you can induce the same feeling without the help of drugs, through meditation, prayer or similar means.

    As interesting as this was, the experiences can be perfectly described by biochemistry. Although I still didn't feel any classical god or anything like it. I guess a pantheistic, new age like impression of the world was what I felt. But at no time did I take these experiences for anything more than my brain chemistry being severely disturbed. Though it wouldn't surprise me if people in similar states (drug induced or otherwise) would see/feel angels or gods.

    I don't know if you ever looked at the science of the brain, but if you did, then you would know how well all this is explained naturalisticly. In that case, I once again have to ask: Why invent anything on top of that? Why trust a hunch that was induced by a brain that isn't functioning properly rather than your sober rational mind?

    If you're interested in the brain, I highly recommend VS Ramachandran. The guy is a leading neuroscientist and has many public talks online regarding the functioning of the brain, so his stuff should be easy to find. The guy is a great speaker and has an awesome voice, I could listen to him for hours ;). Plus of course the science is fascinating.

    Well, the mind is what the brain does. If you disagree, what reason do you have for doing so? There's a striking correlation between matters of the brain and matters of the mind and no correlation with anything else.
    And as I tried to say above, the experiences you talk about are not evidence for anything beyond the natural world, they're evidence for our consciousness being able to have these experiences, nothing more. You can't simply jump from the fact THAT they form to HOW they form. That's a whole different question, and as I indicated before, a question science has done a great job addressing.

    Yes, but it's a claim backed up by evidence. We have heaps of evidence for the natural world, but no evidence whatsoever for the supernatural.
  18. benztown

    benztown Member+

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    Whose talking about Truth?

    Occams razor is always helpful, no matter the subject, even metaphysics. It's really a matter of probability, because for every hypothesis with the fewest assumptions, there's an infinity of explanations with more assumptions.

    Example:
    Here's a hypothesis using only one assumption:
    "My nose hurts because I got punched in the face."

    And here are some more:
    "My nose hurts because I got punched in the face and the invisible Wakuwakubaku performed a dance beneath the surface of Mars."
    "My nose hurts because I got punched in the face and an evil spirit put a spell on me."
    "My nose hurts because I got punched in the face and god is angry with me."
    "My nose hurts because I got punched in the face and two armies of inter dimensional ants fight out a war on a battlefield that is my consciousness in the fourth dimension."
    "My nose hurts because I got punched in the face and a fairy peed in my ear."
    etc.

    If I had the time, I could write an infinity of possible answers, none of which can be either proved or disproved.

    Confronted with an infinity of possible hypotheses, metaphysical or not, known to us or unknown, it is therefore reasonable to go for the simplest one, since it has the least room for error. Everything that I put on top of the obvious and empirically necessary (being punched in the face) is irrelevant as it doesn't add anything to our understanding, it's unnecessary as the simpler answer suffices to make sense of what is going on and it's likely to be false anyway, because it's just one of an infinity of possible answers, all of which are equally likely given our knowledge of the world.

    Therefore, while Occam's razor isn't a tool to get to the capital-T Truth, it's the only reasonable approach, no matter the question you're facing and it's one of the best ways to eliminate virtually certain falsehoods early on.
  19. luftmensch

    luftmensch Member+

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    This reminds me of the story about Samuel Johnson's argument against Bishop Berkeley's idealist philosophy, told by an acquaintance:

    "After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- 'I refute it thus!'"

    I had a philosophy professor who told this story then said, "Well, of course this really doesn't refute it at all." But, similarly to what we're talking about, it depends on your own predilections: if you're biased toward matter, then of course Johnson's eloquent stamping of his foot shows the truth of the issue; if you're biased toward idealism, it answers nothing.

    Why not simply leave it at that? Correspondence does not necessarily imply causality, in either direction. I'm trying to give respect to our experience as we experience it, on its own terms.


    The difference is what you would call supernatural I call natural. Extraordinary, perhaps, in the context of our usual everyday experience, but still natural.


    Great response. What it brings to mind is the fact that people who experience alternate modes of consciousness, whether through psychedelics or whatever, tend to interpret it according to their already existing worldview. So I've known many people who pretty much come to the same conclusions you have. I also once sat with a friend on LSD who interpreted it in very Christian terms (which was strange because his family didn't go to church, but he'd still absorbed a very mainstream view of Christianity), and the entire experience became an attempt by the devil to corrupt him.

    I think you're biased toward ordinary consciousness by which one can stand back and analyze features of the environment such as our brains as being the "correct" one, and alternate forms are, as you put it, "disturbed", and thus totally untrustworthy. And I just don't see it that way, and historically these altered states, whether induced through psychedelics, prayer, meditation, or whatever, were seen as gifts and worthy of engaging on their own terms. By altering the mechanism of our brains we can change our consciousness, but it doesn't follow that the contents of our consciousness are entirely contained within our brains, no more than the contents of a show are entirely contained within the television; they work together to produce what is represented on the screen.


    I see it as the brain being the physical side of what's occurring in the mind, whatever and wherever that is. It's a question of emphasis more than anything else.

    I don't see how you can say both that all experience only exists in our heads (in a previous post) and that the existence of physical reality as given is obvious. Is it consensus between humans that's the determining factor? Humans that are also only experienced indirectly in your head?

    And I think part of this is context. I live in the SF Bay Area, and know people of widely varying spiritual beliefs and experiences, and unless you want to think a very large number of people are either lying or delusional, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt (though there are plenty of lying and deluded people out there as well). I know practicing shamans, Buddhists from Theravada to Tibetan, mystically-inclined Christians, and pantheistic psychedelic devotees. And I know my wife who teaches energy work and psychic reading and healing, some of which I've done myself. All claim a certain reality that is not bound by strictly materialistic processes. Could they all just be bamboozled by the spectacular capabilities of our strangely complex brains, capabilities that seem to bear virtually no relation to our physical evolution? It's possible, but I find it unlikely. And what's funny about this conversation is usually I'm on the side of skepticism when hearing extraordinary claims, and find that the people making those claims have often made up their minds too quickly regarding exactly what's happening.

    But even though I disagree that your position contains the largest truth, I appreciate it and am glad there are people like you taking this hardcore path to zero in on the physical side of things. If I'm arguing for anything it's just a willingness to follow that path without denigrating what to others are very real experiences of either intense and profound emotions or the presence of some form of divinity in their lives.
  20. benztown

    benztown Member+

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    I know. But while it's not prove, it's evidence. And there's certainly nothing that would indicate anything else.
    Also, at some point correlation is generally considered causation, namely once we have investigated any given system to such a detail, that in different circumstances effect A always leads to effect B.

    How do you know that you pressing a key on your keyboard actually causes the corresponding letter on the display? Sure, you have lots of experience, which always produces the same result, you may also have the technical knowledge and understand how electrical signals are transformed into logical information.

    The same is true for the correlation between brain and mind. So would I be justified to say that there's some supernatural existence to all of our computers, that the letters appearing on the display and the electrical signals on the motherboard are simply manifestation in this world of something much more profound somewhere else, when this claim is solely based on the fact that you can't disprove it?
    What does that mean? Say I'm a schizophrenic and I experience voices where there are none to be heard for anybody else. Would you say that I tapped into some alternate reality? Or would you agree with common wisdom that my brain isn't functioning properly?
    Or what about dreams? Are the experiences we have while dreaming actually happening somewhere other than reality? Or is it just our brain doing its thing?
    Well if it's natural, then it can be scientifically investigated and understood, then it must be detectable, etc. Then the only proper approach is to withhold belief until it's supported by the evidence.
    If it's not testable, it's supernatural. Unless of course you want to redefine terms.
    If that's how you see it, then how can you take these experiences as evidence for anything? If different people with different and conflicting beliefs can interpret the same experience as a validation for their belief, then it's not a validation for anything.

    Example:
    Let's say we drive through some spooky forest and come across a tree lying on the road.
    You say that the tree is clear evidence of the existence of god, since god must have pushed over the tree.
    Another passenger says that you're totally wrong, that it is evidence for the spirit of the forest who must have pushed it over.
    Then I take a look at it and say that the tree looks really old and weak, that there was a storm last night and that it probably was the wind that pushed it over.
    To which you reply that obviously god would pick wind as his preferred method to push over a tree...
    and so it would go on and on.
    Now, I cannot disprove that god pushed over the tree, however the tree is certainly not evidence for the existence of god either, because it doesn't need god as an explanation for why it's lying on the road.
    If you come to the scene believing in god, you may interpret it that way, if you believe in the spirit of the forest, you may interpret it differently.
    To me, there's an infinity of possible supernatural explanations, none of which have the tiniest shred of evidence going for them. That's why I go for Occam's razor and the simplest answer, that it was only the wind.
    I really don't want to go down the solipsism route, because pondering solipsism is a waste of time, no matter what you think of it.
    Now if the argument ends up hinging on this very point (which I doubt) then we could explore it more. Suffice it to say, I think there are good reasons to disregard solipsism.
    Actually, I have no problem with calling the entire SF Bay Area either lying or delusional...:p
    Well, given all the evidence, I find it very much likely. It's really one big puzzle where everything fits together. All these alternative healing methods have never stood a proper test, psychics all fail under controlled conditions, we know that we can mess with the brain, we even understand how that works to a degree, we understand the psychology of people who want to believe something and how that effects their experiences, etc.

    The point is that we are pattern seeking animals and we need narratives to make sense of those patterns, no matter how much we know about the issues.

    BTW, here's a great program about belief:
    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fkh7c_hbbcg"]Messiah - Derren Brown - Channel 4 - YouTube[/ame]
    I'm not even sure I would claim that. What I will claim however is that my position in all likelihood contains the least falsehood.
    I'm not denying the reality of their experiences. As I said, I had these experiences myself.
    I'm challenging their interpretation of these experiences. And I'm willing to be convinced, but not on the basis of hunches or personal experiences, that would not be a standard of evidence we'd ever accept anywhere else, so why in this instance?

    For example: The Netherlands outlawed magic mushrooms after a tourist took them, thought she could fly and jumped off a bridge to her death.
    Her experience was very real, she KNEW that she could fly. However, had you been there, I'm sure you'd have stopped her. You wouldn't have argued that the sober mind may not be more equipped than the chemically altered mind to assess the reality of the situation, you wouldn't have said that it might be true for her and that we should be willing to accept that. You would have tried to step in and stop her, because that would have been the rational thing to do.
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  21. Gordon EF

    Gordon EF Moderator Staff Member

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    Of course I'd like there to be an afterlife if it was a 'nice' experience, similar to what heaven is often described as, where you can see your loved ones, be constantly happy etc. That would be amazing. Not so much if all the unbelievers end up in hell.
  22. American Brummie

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    Let me weigh in on the existence of Hell. Hell is a place of eternal suffering. However, human beings got to be this way by being the most goddamned adaptable things this planet ever made, so much so that we adapt our environments around us. This would mean one of two things:

    1) That Hell strips us of our adaptability, which would mean we would be stripped of our ability to solve problems, meaning we would lose most of our consciousness and would not understand our suffering - and thus the sting of it would be lost.

    2) That the Devil would have to constantly change the nature of Hell in order to keep up with our adaptability, meaning that our suffering would be short in duration as we worked to fix whatever dilemma we found ourselves in.

    In short, there's no possible way Hell could exist. We're just too good at not staying miserable to let it work. Plus, if Satan is omnipotent and omniscient just like God, why wouldn't he want to employ propaganda?

    Just my two cents.
  23. benztown

    benztown Member+

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    The argument doesn't hold. For example, you could be stripped of your adaptability by being paralyzed...

    However, this reminded me of a little story that made its way around the internet some time ago. As it is with such stories, we'll never know whether it's actually true. But since the story claims to be true, we might as well use the biblical standard of evidence and accept it as true...but it's funny either way:

  24. Caesar

    Caesar Moderator Staff Member

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    I am not presenting it as truth or fact.

    I am merely invoking it as the rational way to sift through those infinite number of ideas. And Occam's razor says - don't overcomplicate it. The simplest and most straightforward explanation of the facts is that the universe just is and always has been. There is no fairy sky-man who brought it forth out of nothingness.

    If you, or your father, or anyone else wants to hitch their wagon to an idea that is not suggested by Occam's razor, then I am not about to say that they are absolutely, unquestionably wrong.

    I am merely saying they are being completely and utterly irrational in coming to their conclusion.
  25. luftmensch

    luftmensch Member+

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    So if the keyboard is the brain, what's the finger?;)

    Well, I'd say potentially both. The modern-day schizophrenic has a lot in common with a traditional visionary in that they appear to have access to some "alternate reality" (emphasis on appear). What sets the schizophrenic apart is the fact that they're overwhelmed by this information and unable to function in human society because of it.

    I had a friend in college who had a schizophrenic break, and while he was in the shit he was incredibly insightful but it just flooded out of him in a chaotic wash of imagery. Talking to him was very much like talking to somebody on acid, totally non-linear and right-brain, and he could go from batshit crazy to penetrating and wise and back again within minutes. At least until he got put on medication and basically turned into a zombie.

    Well, the brain is always doing its thing, but I also believe dreams are happening someplace "real", even if it doesn't function the same way this place does. I used to do a lot of work with dreams, and while most are pretty innocuous and just working out the BS of our days, some can be quite profound, especially lucid dreams when you actually realize you're dreaming and take control to some extent. And in those situations it's pretty clear that that realm has its own set of rules, like when you read something in a dream it never appears the same way twice, or that you can fly in a dream if you apply your attention in a certain way. And the characters who appear in a dream do funny things when you "wake up" within the dream and attempt to confront them, they appear to have a certain measure of autonomy.

    But yeah, it's always possible that's all just our brain working out its shit. Yet I've had dreams that seem far more real than waking reality, such that when I woke up it felt more like going back to sleep.

    I agree, but what if something isn't detectable using the physical senses? I feel like we as a species have gone extremely into materialism, and we've been incredibly successful at it, but on the way other means of accessing information have atrophied. I feel like science investigating these matters is somewhat like a blind man investigating color.

    Everybody has their own filter through which they experience anything. The magical moments with psychedelics or anything else happen when you transcend your own filter. My friend who went the God/Devil route did not. My interpretation of your experience is that you did, but then afterwards fit it back into a context that made sense for you. As did I with mine, but my context did change over time after having been confronted repeatedly. My most effective psychedelic experience ever happened while internally reciting a Sanskrit mantra, a practice that attempts to overlay your habitual mental chatter with a smoother wave pattern, to cut through your own expectations and habitual thought patterns in an attempt to experience it all more directly.


    I agree 100%, but I just saw in your explanation that it could easily lead that direction.

    You're not alone in that, even a lot of locals would agree.:D

    But no picture on the box to guide us, so we need to be wary of forcing pieces together.

    I'm sure mind-blowing sex would be difficult if not impossible under "controlled conditions" too, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

    Emphasis on "to a degree".

    True.

    What fun is that?

    I find body of personal experiences to be relevant. And I too question people's interpretation of their experiences, but also try to respect it, partially because of questioning my own interpretation of my experience.

    Correct, I draw the line with people harming themselves or others. But that's a very different thing than somebody explaining to me their conception of God and how it inspires them to be a good person. Could they be flat-out wrong? Sure, and if I had to put money on that I probably would. Do I know they are? Absolutely not.

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