Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Atheist Attrition Rate

In response to my post about Orthodox attrition, Orthoprax asked about atheist attrition.



The answer, at least as far as the GSS goes, is that 51.3% of people who had no religion ("none") at 16 still had none when they took the survey. This number appears to be lower than the major religions' retention rate but higher than Orthodox Judaism's at 27.3%.

40 comments:

Orthoprax said...

Naturally though I'm sure you recognize that non-affiliation is not equivalent to atheism. Heck, even theists can have an aversion to organized religion.

I would suspect that retention rates for atheists are even lower than the generic unaffiliated.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: I would suspect that retention rates for atheists are even lower than the generic unaffiliated.

I would suspect that retention rates for atheists would be much higher that the 51% JA mentioned. I can't think of a single atheist I know who has converted to *any* religion. I would also suspect that *gaining* faith would be much rarer than *losing* it.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

Then you'd probably be surprised. I've seen other stats that show atheism peaks in youth and then progressively loses ground.

You just get the impression that the rates of deconversions are higher than new believers because the pool of believers is just so much bigger to start with.

I would highly suspect that the children of most atheist couples are not themselves atheists.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: I've seen other stats that show atheism peaks in youth and then progressively loses ground.

In the US or elsewhere?

I can only speak from personal experience (not having done any research on it) but I am unaware of any youthful atheists becoming adult believers.

orthoprax said: You just get the impression that the rates of deconversions are higher than new believers because the pool of believers is just so much bigger to start with.

Apparently not in the UK (or only just) and probably not in most of the rest of Northen Europe.

orthoprax said: I would highly suspect that the children of most atheist couples are not themselves atheists.

I would highly suspect that children of atheists would remain atheists in a largely Secular society. I see no reason why they should/would change aligence later in life.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"In the US or elsewhere?"

I don't recall. Could've been US.

"I can only speak from personal experience (not having done any research on it) but I am unaware of any youthful atheists becoming adult believers."

Just as a note, in my more youthful days (not that I'm so old yet) I used to consider myself an atheist. I think it's fairly common to see people brought up in a religious household embrace skepticism for a time and then return.

"I see no reason why they should/would change aligence later in life."

Maybe they see the light? ;-)

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: I think it's fairly common to see people brought up in a religious household embrace skepticism for a time and then return.

Possibly... What about people brought up in a Secular household (or a uncaring one) who have skeptical/atheist friends... who go to non-believing schools etc... That was my experience growing up and, talking to friends, pretty much their experience too. As belief (or otherwise) is a cultural phenomena I suggest that if you are born into a theistic society your likely to be a theist - and it you're born into a Secular/non-theistic/atheistic society you are likely to be (and remain) an atheist.

orthoprax said: Maybe they see the light? ;-)

Hardly... [laughs]

G said...

Well...duh!

It's always easier to "lose" something you had than to "find" something you did not have in the first place.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"As belief (or otherwise) is a cultural phenomena I suggest that if you are born into a theistic society your likely to be a theist - and it you're born into a Secular/non-theistic/atheistic society you are likely to be (and remain) an atheist."

Could be. Perhaps not. I don't believe it is simply a cultural matter though. Religious beliefs answer a call common to the human condition.

Though of course, the substance and availablity of religious material has consequences that play out in general society.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: I don't believe it is simply a cultural matter though. Religious beliefs answer a call common to the human condition.

I (of course) disagree...

orthoprax said: Though of course, the substance and availablity of religious material has consequences that play out in general society.

...and the access to and quality of non-religious (or anti-religious) material too.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"I (of course) disagree..."

I don't see why you would. Religious beliefs are virtually ubiquitous across all cultures. This suggests that it's not just a cultural phenomenon. It's a human phenomenon.

"...and the access to and quality of non-religious (or anti-religious) material too."

Of course.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: I don't see why you would. Religious beliefs are virtually ubiquitous across all cultures. This suggests that it's not just a cultural phenomenon. It's a human phenomenon.

But saying that there is a general or even universal 'need' for religious/spiritual belief actually explains nothing. You can say that belief is (virtually) ubiquitous but the variation in belief across the globe and throughout time has been vast. Does the 'need' explain both Polytheism *&* Monotheism? Does it explain Christianity *&* Bhuddism? Does it also explain Astrology, lucky charms and many other 'spiritual' phenomena?

If this need where in fact general or universal how do you explain the millions like me who do not believe and have never believed? How can you explain the lack of religious 'need' in us? Are our brains wired in a different way? Do we have different genes or are we simply deluded or are we rejecting God out of pride and arrogance? The existence of widespread atheism shows that the 'need' to believe is neither general nor universal.

If cultures or individuals can exist (and florish) without God then belief in God or Gods or any other superstition is clearly a cultural phenomenum. Just because most people throughout recorded history and beyond have apparently believed in supernatural agencies of one type or another does not mean we have a 'need' to believe in such things just that we have done so. There is nothing preventing God and everything else mythical fading away in time. Nothing at all.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

I don't know why your are putting "need" repeatedly in quotes. I haven't used the word, nor did I imply it.

What I did say was that there is a call common to the human condition - meaning that people seek to understand the world in which they live, to pursue a sense of significance of things and themselves, to figure out how to live their lives, perhaps to even get a handle on the unknown. So, yes, of course all the different forms of religious belief come down to these common denominators.

I would continue to argue that the modern reliance on science is itself a system of belief and that atheists don't do without religious beliefs as much as they find a substitute. The system is different in source but not in objective.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: I don't know why your are putting "need" repeatedly in quotes.

Probably because I'm rolling my eyes as I type it.

orthoprax said: I haven't used the word, nor did I imply it.

You say call... I say need or desire or hope or wish. It all boils down to the same thing in the end. A search for a 'deeper meaning' than the mundane reality we find ourselves thrust into... right?

orthoprax said: I would continue to argue that the modern reliance on science is itself a system of belief and that atheists don't do without religious beliefs as much as they find a substitute.

Well... for starters science isn't a belief system. Its a way of understanding the universe and a pretty good one too. Also science doesn't give 'meaning' to much of anything so it can hardly be used as some kind of substitute for religion. Evolution, Quantum Mechanics or any other branch of science hardly provides the warm & fuzzy feeling provided by most religions. When the shit hits the fan chanting a series of Prime numbers doesn't make my atheist heart feel better about things.... So, no. Science is not religion by any other name.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Probably because I'm rolling my eyes as I type it."

If you want to talk to me then talk to me. What's with all the posturing? Why are you so defensive?

"It all boils down to the same thing in the end. A search for a 'deeper meaning' than the mundane reality we find ourselves thrust into... right?"

I would say that's part of it.

"Well... for starters science isn't a belief system. Its a way of understanding the universe and a pretty good one too."

If you note, I didn't say "science" - science itself is a neutral methodology. I said the "reliance on science" which is a system of belief accepted by many people. It's Scientism where only the measure of science is the breadth and width of acceptable ontology.

"Also science doesn't give 'meaning' to much of anything so it can hardly be used as some kind of substitute for religion."

Really? I would say that science as a system of belief inherently puts value on the search for truth and understanding of phenomena, human reason, and the assertion that we can improve our knowledge. The accepted conclusions of science tell us a story about our etiologies from the beginning of time and puts value on these stories as truth. And generally the belief is that we can solve many of the world's problems and progress humanity with technological success as derived through scientific endeavors.

Of course this kind of system isn't like religion as we typically think about it, but it serves many of the same purposes. As I said, it is a substitute.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: If you want to talk to me then talk to me. What's with all the posturing? Why are you so defensive?

I *was* going for sarchasm. I guess it didn't work.

orthoprax said: I would say that's part of it.

...and the rest being?

orthoprax said: I said the "reliance on science" which is a system of belief accepted by many people.

I suppose that some people still have faith in science - despite all the problems it can cause - and a belief that science can save us from whatever fate throws our way. I still dispute that this is in any way a substiute for religion.

orthoprax said: I would say that science as a system of belief inherently puts value on the search for truth and understanding of phenomena, human reason, and the assertion that we can improve our knowledge.

I wouldn't call science a 'system of belief'. There *are* some underlying philosophical beliefs to science though - such as the belief that the universe is actually understandable and that knowledge about things is possible and that reason is the best way of coming to conclusions about things.

orthoprax said: The accepted conclusions of science tell us a story about our etiologies from the beginning of time and puts value on these stories as truth.

But it does not simple *assert* that the results or theories are true - it can show how these truths are arrived at allowing other people to also arrive at the same truth independently. The truths arrived at are not simply 'stories' in the same way as fictional accounts of the world are stories.

orthoprax said: And generally the belief is that we can solve many of the world's problems and progress humanity with technological success as derived through scientific endeavors.

You mean there are still people out there who believe in the progress of humanity? That's rather sweet. Anyway - people may indeed believe in such things but its not what science is for. Some people may feel the need (or call) to replace their religious faith with a faith in progress or technology or somesuch but knowledge of the various branches of science does not generally provide people with meaning to their lives. How could it? Science in general (AFAIK) has no interest in deriving meaning from things.

orthoprax said: Of course this kind of system isn't like religion as we typically think about it, but it serves many of the same purposes. As I said, it is a substitute.

I'm still not convinced how it could be. Though I guess that people can shoehorn science (or the reliance on science) into a religious type framework and possibly derive some kind of meaning from it. I have no idea how though.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"...and the rest being?"

As I said, how to live life, understanding our world, etc.

"But it does not simple *assert* that the results or theories are true - it can show how these truths are arrived at allowing other people to also arrive at the same truth independently."

Yes, because "science" is not a person. But 'lay-scientism' does assert in this way. Of course many religions likewise don't just assert things, they claim methods of independent persuasion too.

"Science in general (AFAIK) has no interest in deriving meaning from things."

Perhaps, but those who rely on science as a belief system do.

"Though I guess that people can shoehorn science (or the reliance on science) into a religious type framework and possibly derive some kind of meaning from it. I have no idea how though."

I think many atheists see purity of thought as some sort of mission - for themselves and how to "fix" humanity. That's why they spend more time talking about God than most theists. ;-)

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: As I said, how to live life, understanding our world, etc.

How we live our lives has very little to do with science - except maybe psychology & sociology.... [grin]

orthoprax said: Of course many religions likewise don't just assert things, they claim methods of independent persuasion too.

The operative word here being 'claim' of course.

orthoprax said: Perhaps, but those who rely on science as a belief system do.

Then I guess that's their problem. Strange people that they are.

orthoprax said: I think many atheists see purity of thought as some sort of mission - for themselves and how to "fix" humanity.

Really? That's news to me. I do value reason highly and try to be as reasonable as I can be, though I have no mission in mind to 'fix' humanity - if such a thing were even possible!

orthoprax said: That's why they spend more time talking about God than most theists. ;-)

I find the God question fairly interesting (or bemusing actually) from an intellectual position but its certainly not my main focus. I think the reason why we're perceived as being so interested in it is that when we do broach the subject we tend to be both vocal and argumentative.

I guess what with being so in love with reason that seeing so much irrationality just gets us all heated... [laughs]

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"How we live our lives has very little to do with science - except maybe psychology & sociology.... [grin]"

Well, yes, but sole reliance on it tends to promote a permissive ethical system and moral relativity. These beliefs - or denial of certain beliefs - have consequences that direct how people live their lives.

"The operative word here being 'claim' of course."

Of course. All systems of belief make claims. It is the believers who believe those claims are legitimate.

"Really? That's news to me. I do value reason highly and try to be as reasonable as I can be, though I have no mission in mind to 'fix' humanity - if such a thing were even possible!"

We can speak more generally. Certainly the likes of Dawkins and Harris and their followers do.

"I find the God question fairly interesting (or bemusing actually) from an intellectual position but its certainly not my main focus. I think the reason why we're perceived as being so interested in it is that when we do broach the subject we tend to be both vocal and argumentative."

Yes, but lots of atheists hang around on sites online where they know those types of discussions are going to arise. This is not coincidence.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: Well, yes, but sole reliance on it tends to promote a permissive ethical system and moral relativity.

You say that like its a bad thing....

Personally I find the best place to debate ideas of how we should live is Philosophy rather than Science. There's 2000+ years of arguments to mull over there.

orthoprax said: These beliefs - or denial of certain beliefs - have consequences that direct how people live their lives.

As they should - otherwise what would be the point.

orthoprax said: All systems of belief make claims. It is the believers who believe those claims are legitimate.

Except that the 'claims' of science can be replicated and proven. If they can't be then they are rejected as unproven. Science is not simply a matter of belief.

orthoprax said: We can speak more generally. Certainly the likes of Dawkins and Harris and their followers do.

I've read quite a bit of Dawkins and can't recall him wanting to 'fix' humanity. He does wish that we weren't so stupid and irrational - but you can't fault him for that.

orthoprax said: Yes, but lots of atheists hang around on sites online where they know those types of discussions are going to arise. This is not coincidence.

Then they have more time and more patience than I do. Arguing about God with believers or trying to convince theists of the error of their ways is about as pointless at it gets. Life is just too short for such nonesense.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"You say that like its a bad thing...."

Of course.

"Personally I find the best place to debate ideas of how we should live is Philosophy rather than Science."

Yes, but much of philosophy posits things that have not been (yet?) identified by scientific methods. The worldview which rejects all such things is precarious.

"As they should - otherwise what would be the point."

Of course, which is why I'm saying that the system holds many of the same purposes as religion would.

"Except that the 'claims' of science can be replicated and proven. If they can't be then they are rejected as unproven. Science is not simply a matter of belief."

I agree with you, but only because you're preaching to the choir. Why are the claims of science 'claims'? Moreover, you cannot replicate or prove things like the Big Bang or evolution. Historical science works differently.

"I've read quite a bit of Dawkins and can't recall him wanting to 'fix' humanity."

He thinks religious identities for children is tantamount to child abuse. It's clear to me that he has a transformative agenda where the world would be a better place if everyone was an atheist.

"Arguing about God with believers or trying to convince theists of the error of their ways is about as pointless at it gets."

Speaking from experience?

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: Of course.

Something else we will have to disagree on...

orthoprax said: Yes, but much of philosophy posits things that have not been (yet?) identified by scientific methods.

[laughs] Yes, that's why its called Philosophy & not Science. Philosophy is not scientific - its philosophical.

orthoprax said: The worldview which rejects all such things is precarious.

Sorry, you lost me there.. Are you talking about atheism or something else?

orthoprax said: Why are the claims of science 'claims'?

I was shadowing what I said about religious 'claims' (which I believe are unjustified) with scientific claims which can be demonstrated and proven.

orthoprax said: Moreover, you cannot replicate or prove things like the Big Bang or evolution. Historical science works differently.

Well, we can't replicated the Big Bang without making a new universe - which is somewhat outside of our present capabilities. We can (and have) accumulated evidence that indicates something like the Big Bang happened though. New evidence might either undermine it or strengthen it.

As to Evolution - although the billions of years that have led up to now cannot be recreated in its totality we do have an abundence of evidence (actually an overwhelming amount of evidence) to show that Evolution is a *very* robust theory. It bemuses me that people reject it because it somehow makes them feel bad or something.

orthoprax said: He thinks religious identities for children is tantamount to child abuse.

That comment *really* didn't win him many friends did it?

orthoprax said: It's clear to me that he has a transformative agenda where the world would be a better place if everyone was an atheist.

Indeed. I agree with him. The world would be a much better place without all the irrationality we see every day.

orthoprax said: Speaking from experience?

Oh yes.... [laughs].

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"[laughs] Yes, that's why its called Philosophy & not Science. Philosophy is not scientific - its philosophical."

You say that while laughing, but I was watching the first Beyond Belief lecture series and one of the speakers said he wanted to reduce philosophy to the same rejected stance as theology.

"Sorry, you lost me there.. Are you talking about atheism or something else?"

I was referring to a common subset of atheism. Positivist scientism. Atheism never exists by itself.

"...scientific claims which can be demonstrated and proven."

"Proof" is for math.

Re: BB, Evolution - Like I said, I agree with you that they are good theories, but science doesn't deal in proofs and historical science is of a different type than experimental science. It's more akin to detective work.

"Indeed. I agree with him. The world would be a much better place without all the irrationality we see every day."

And who says atheism is the cure for irrationality? You've never met a nutty atheist? You've never known an eminently accomplished theist?

Furthermore, I've yet to see a compelling theory of ethics founded solely on rational grounds.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: You say that while laughing, but I was watching the first Beyond Belief lecture series and one of the speakers said he wanted to reduce philosophy to the same rejected stance as theology.

What a crazy idea. He's certainly got his work cut out for him. I don't think that philosophy is going to go away (or be done away with) anytime soon...

orthoprax said: I was referring to a common subset of atheism. Positivist scientism. Atheism never exists by itself.

Atheism is simply a skeptical position with regard to the God Question. It is not a philosophy nor a world view. Normally it is indeed part of something bigger (the disbelief in all things supernatural for instance) and is necessarily a component of Naturalism (which I also subscribe to). I think that Science can indeed explain much about life, the universe and everything.... but can it explain *everything*.... I'm not sure. Maybe. Maybe not. Ask me again in a 1000 years and we'll see were we are by then.

orthoprax said: "Proof" is for math.

Very true. Scientific knowledge is always provisional until something better comes along. Evolution though is way up there in the truth stakes though. It's difficult conceiving of anything that can blow it out of the water.... except maybe rabbits in the Pre-Cambrian... [laughs]

orthoprax said: It's more akin to detective work.

...and good detective work convinces people and convicts people every day.

orthoprax said: And who says atheism is the cure for irrationality?

Not me! *Reason* is a cure for irrationality. Atheism is just a part of the puzzle.

orthoprax said: I've yet to see a compelling theory of ethics founded solely on rational grounds.

Whilst I consider a command morality based on fear of punishment or hope of reward in some mythical afterlife to be about as absurd as it gets.

What non-theistic ethical frameworks have you been investigating?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Atheism is simply a skeptical position with regard to the God Question."

Technically true, but practically false. The God issue almost always comes along with a host of corrolaries and a foundational worldview. The same is true for atheism.

"...and good detective work convinces people and convicts people every day."

Like I said, I'm not arguing with you.

"Not me! *Reason* is a cure for irrationality. Atheism is just a part of the puzzle."

And you think it's impossible for a reasonable person to believe in God? I, for one, think the issue is sufficiently mysterious and profound for reasonable people to come down on either side.

"Whilst I consider a command morality based on fear of punishment or hope of reward in some mythical afterlife to be about as absurd as it gets."

I would agree.

"What non-theistic ethical frameworks have you been investigating?"

Virtually all of them? As many as I could find anyway. But the issue here isn't theist vs atheist based ethics, but of rational vs non-rational ethics. It is not rational to care about the welfare of other human beings - 'enlightended self-interest' makes a mockery of ethics and doesn't hold true for people on the other side of the world. Indeed, the whole concept of "ought" may be non-rational.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: The God issue almost always comes along with a host of corrolaries and a foundational worldview.

Well.. in the sense that not only don't I believe in God(s) I also don't believe that things go 'bump in the night' and I believe that everything has a natural (rather than supernatural) explanation.... but that's only part of my worldview. What exactly are you thinking of?

orthoprax said: And you think it's impossible for a reasonable person to believe in God?

No. But belief in God *is* irrational - practically by definition. A person doesn't need to be 100% irrational to believe in God or 100% rational to be an atheist. I'd be very surprised indeed if such people could even exist and still be people.

orthoprax said: I, for one, think the issue is sufficiently mysterious and profound for reasonable people to come down on either side.

If it's *that* mysterious than the only rational answer is to be an Agnostic on the issue. But I think that its neither mysterious nor profound.

orthoprax said: But the issue here isn't theist vs atheist based ethics, but of rational vs non-rational ethics.

Personally I wouldn't regard theist ethics *as* rational.

orthoprax said: It is not rational to care about the welfare of other human beings

Why not? Obviously I care about some people more than others. I care about people I know more than people I don't. That seems pretty rational to me.

orthoprax said: Indeed, the whole concept of "ought" may be non-rational.

Ah... Do I detect a reader of David Hume in that comment?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Well.. in the sense that not only don't I believe in God(s) I also don't believe that things go 'bump in the night' and I believe that everything has a natural (rather than supernatural) explanation.... but that's only part of my worldview. What exactly are you thinking of?"

All of that plus ideas about the meaning of things - or lack thereof, about our relationship to the rest of existence, about the self, about human behavior, about free will, and so on. It is generally an actually rather broad-based and pervasive world view.

"No. But belief in God *is* irrational - practically by definition."

Oh, how so? I think there are those who believe in God based on fallacious reasoning - just as there are atheists by fallacious reasoning. Others have cogent arguments for their beliefs and just because you believe them wrong doesn't make them irrational.

"If it's *that* mysterious than the only rational answer is to be an Agnostic on the issue."

Except if the matter impacts greatly on how you live your life and how you consider reality then you don't have the luxury of theological procrastination. Sitting on the fence your whole life - now that is irrational.

"But I think that its neither mysterious nor profound."

So you've plumbed the whole depths of existence and have confirmed that our reality is all some mindless consequence of a meaningless cosmic coincidence? Your unjustified certainty is impressive.

"Why not? Obviously I care about some people more than others. I care about people I know more than people I don't. That seems pretty rational to me."

It isn't. What do you base "caring" on? Feelings? That's a well-known source for rationality, hmm?

"Ah... Do I detect a reader of David Hume in that comment?"

Naturally. Isn't Hume a classical favorite for atheists? Though most tend to be selective readers. They like him for ontology but ignore him on ethics - not realizing that he uses the same kind of skepticism throughout. Indeed, Hume promoted a kind of ethical emotivism you offer, but he didn't say it was rational.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: It is generally an actually rather broad-based and pervasive world view.

Atheism is *part* of that world view (or can be) rather than the world view itself. I do not consider that the universe has purpose or meaning. Afterall it is mostly vaccuum with a sprinkling of rocky planets & stars. I don't see how it *can* have meaning or purpose. I'm not sure what you mean by our 'relationship with the rest of existence' though. Do you mean our relationships to other life-forms? I'm not sure about the Self or even if it exists. It's all very philosophical rather than scientific. Are you concerned with any aspects of human behaviour in particular? Where does God/Atheism come into it? Oh, I believe in Free Will - though *proving* it might be rather difficult!

orthoprax said: I think there are those who believe in God based on fallacious reasoning - just as there are atheists by fallacious reasoning.

Or no reasoning at all.

orthoprax said: Others have cogent arguments for their beliefs and just because you believe them wrong doesn't make them irrational.

I'd be interested to hear any reasoned arguments that can lead to a belief in God. I've actually lost count of the number of people who have stated that their belief in God is *not* a reasonable belief and that such a belief cannot be arrived at by the use of reason alone. My understanding is that belief in God is based on faith - not reason. Indeed that faith is held not only when reason is insufficient but when it is in opposition. Was it Augustine who said he believed *because* it was impossible? Thats a definition of irrational in my book. People do indeed believe in God for many reasons - but this doesn't make that belief reasonable.

orthoprax said: Sitting on the fence your whole life - now that is irrational.

I don't agree with the Agnostic position but I do understand it. It is reasonable when adequate knowledge of God is problematic - to say the least - to hold off making a judgement either way. I think that they err on the side of caution far too much though.

orthoprax said: So you've plumbed the whole depths of existence and have confirmed that our reality is all some mindless consequence of a meaningless cosmic coincidence? Your unjustified certainty is impressive.

[laughs] Hardly! I'm far from certain about anything - and I do mean *anything*. As far as I can tell our existence is (as you say) the mindless consequence of a meaningless cosmos - complete with abundant chance events. I do not see the hand of God or Providence in the world or the universe at large. I have quite reasonably concluded on available evidence that no such guiding hand exists. Maybe I'm wrong but I have yet to hear credible contrary evidence - despite asking for it repeatedly.

orthoprax said: What do you base "caring" on? Feelings? That's a well-known source for rationality, hmm?

[laughs] Have you read Aristotle? He rightly says that emotion (and indeed irrationality) is part of what makes us human. A person who was 100% rational wouldn't be human as we know it. The trick is for our normal naturally occuring emotions to be guided by our reason. Reason is the helmsman who guides our ship where we want it to go - rather than being at the mercy of any emotional wind that blows our way. Emotion cannot & should not be eliminated or supressed. We all know where that leads - but they should be governed and mastered by our reasoning facilities. Emotions should be recognised for what they are - important parts of our irrational nature. But that doesn't mean that we should give into them everytime they raise their (often ugly) heads.

orthoprax said: Naturally. Isn't Hume a classical favorite for atheists?

Most of the atheists I know probably haven't even heard of him. I've only read him (in passing) recently because of a course I'm on. He writes beautifully doesn't he? I suppose that he's popular because he's very much the sceptics sceptic.

orthoprax said: Though most tend to be selective readers.

There are *far* too many books around *not* to be a selective reader. I prefer SF myself....

orthoprax said: Indeed, Hume promoted a kind of ethical emotivism you offer, but he didn't say it was rational.

You seem to be making me out as somekind of Mr Spock or something. I think that rationality is (far) superior to irrationality and that a reduction in general irrationality would be a good thing - but I'm hardly putting forward the idea that we should (or could) be totally rational all of the time. Personally my rationality goes out of the window when I see a pretty girl walk by. That just means I'm human - and by definition irrational!

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Atheism is *part* of that world view (or can be) rather than the world view itself."

That's true - the same way any specific theism is part of a wider world view too.

"I do not consider that the universe has purpose or meaning. Afterall it is mostly vaccuum with a sprinkling of rocky planets & stars. I don't see how it *can* have meaning or purpose."

Naturally - if you assume that is all existence is comprised of.

"I'm not sure what you mean by our 'relationship with the rest of existence' though. Do you mean our relationships to other life-forms?"

I suppose in part, but more like a philosophical sense of identity. What is the world? What is our place in the order of things? Is the universe a random backdrop for human events to play out on or an implicit aspect of our being?

"Are you concerned with any aspects of human behaviour in particular? Where does God/Atheism come into it?"

Moral behavior in particular, but also politics and so on. I think it's evidently true that theism and atheism promote different kinds of behavior for different reasons.

"Oh, I believe in Free Will - though *proving* it might be rather difficult!"

So you're saying it's irrational? You give yourself a free pass here but clobber theists by the same argument? I don't mean to offend, but doesn't that strike you as hypocritical?

"I'd be interested to hear any reasoned arguments that can lead to a belief in God."

Well, if you prefer to believe that order can come from chaos or something from nothing then you won't find the idea of an Ordering entity very compelling. However, that doesn't make it an unreasonable conclusion.

"It is reasonable when adequate knowledge of God is problematic - to say the least - to hold off making a judgement either way. I think that they err on the side of caution far too much though."

If the decision has practical implications for life then not making a decision is a decision in itself. We're all agnostics here, but we both make conclusions and live by them.

"As far as I can tell our existence is (as you say) the mindless consequence of a meaningless cosmos - complete with abundant chance events. I do not see the hand of God or Providence in the world or the universe at large."

And you account for the principally ordered reality that made conscious minds (like ourselves) possible - how? Let me guess, how many other random realities do you need to imagine before our incredible luck runs trivial?

"Have you read Aristotle? He rightly says that emotion (and indeed irrationality) is part of what makes us human. A person who was 100% rational wouldn't be human as we know it."

It's ironic how you use irrationality as a pejorative in your last post and yet here celebrate it as humanity's defining characteristic.

I don't know how one can be such a confident atheist, lauding rationalism when its use is (apparently) so arbitrarily applied.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: Naturally - if you assume that is all existence is comprised of.

Matter, energy & the spaces in between you mean? Pretty much, yes. Have I missed anything out?

orthoprax said: What is the world?

It's a big chunk of rock we all live on.

orthoprax said: What is our place in the order of things?

That would probably depend on how the ordering was done & who was doing it.

orthoprax said: Is the universe a random backdrop for human events to play out on or an implicit aspect of our being?

The universe isn't 'for' anything - especially not 'for us (which is incredible hubris). The universe is where we happen to live - and where many other sentient species live too probably. One day we'll probably get out there & meet some of them.

orthoprax said: I think it's evidently true that theism and atheism promote different kinds of behavior for different reasons.

...and also the same behaviour for different reasons.

orthoprax said: So you're saying it's irrational? You give yourself a free pass here but clobber theists by the same argument? I don't mean to offend, but doesn't that strike you as hypocritical?

Not at all. I'm just saying that Free Will is difficult to prove. It certainly *feels* like I have Free Will (at least to an extent) and does not seem to be an irrational belief. What the theists & atheists probably disagree about is how we *got* Free Will.

orthoprax said: Well, if you prefer to believe that order can come from chaos or something from nothing then you won't find the idea of an Ordering entity very compelling.

You can *see* order emerging from chaos every day - just watch a plant growing or for that matter a person. Life creates order out of chaos - at least on a temporary basis. In the final analysis though entropy always wins.

orthoprax said: We're all agnostics here, but we both make conclusions and live by them.

Well, as far as I'm aware an agnostic is someone who is either incapable or unwilling to make a jump either way. That clearly does not make me an agnostic. I've already jumped!

orthoprax said: And you account for the principally ordered reality that made conscious minds (like ourselves) possible - how?

Evolution. The complexity of the human brain gave rise to the mind as an emergent property.

orthoprax said: Let me guess, how many other random realities do you need to imagine before our incredible luck runs trivial?

At least 22 [laughs]. But seriously, although Multiple Realities are interesting I don't think that we need them to explain how we got here. We have a pretty good road map already in Evolution by Natural Selection.

orthoprax said: It's ironic how you use irrationality as a pejorative in your last post and yet here celebrate it as humanity's defining characteristic.

Well... it's certainly *a* characteristic but I wouldn't say that it was our *defining* one. What separates us from all other animals (as far as we know) is the fact that we are conscious & self aware creatures. Many things follow from this.

orthoprax said: I don't know how one can be such a confident atheist, lauding rationalism when its use is (apparently) so arbitrarily applied.

I think that you're misunderstanding me. I definitely think that we should be as rational as we can be and that the world would be a better place if we did. I also recognise that there is an irrational part of our natures that we cannot and should not simply discard. What we should do is manage it through our reason & not let it manage us. It's a tall order I know but achievable I think.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Matter, energy & the spaces in between you mean? Pretty much, yes. Have I missed anything out?"

Of greater importance is the how, the why and the wherefore? Without answers to those questions (an upstart denial about their legitimacy doesn't count) then you're only counting the superficial aspects of existence.

"The universe isn't 'for' anything - especially not 'for us (which is incredible hubris). The universe is where we happen to live - and where many other sentient species live too probably."

How do you know that? And why is that belief hubris? Assuming the universe has an implicit value for anything, the existence of conscious aware minds who can perceive the universe and appreciate it doesn't seem like a crazy idea.

I find it far more difficult to believe that we only have this one reality and it amazingly is so ordered and capable of producing conscious minds that the obvious conclusion is that it's one huge meaningless accident. What impossible luck!

"Not at all. I'm just saying that Free Will is difficult to prove. It certainly *feels* like I have Free Will (at least to an extent) and does not seem to be an irrational belief."

And you never had a theist claim that he "feels" God? You're looking in the mirror.

"You can *see* order emerging from chaos every day - just watch a plant growing or for that matter a person. Life creates order out of chaos - at least on a temporary basis."

No it doesn't. That's a false analogy. It borrows order from the rest of the universe.

"Well, as far as I'm aware an agnostic is someone who is either incapable or unwilling to make a jump either way. That clearly does not make me an agnostic."

An agnostic is just someone who doesn't claim knowledge. This is not incompatible with either theism or atheism.

"Evolution. The complexity of the human brain gave rise to the mind as an emergent property."

Evolution created an ordered universe? You've got the cart before the horse, my friend.

"But seriously, although Multiple Realities are interesting I don't think that we need them to explain how we got here. We have a pretty good road map already in Evolution by Natural Selection."

That's fine, but it doesn't explain how we are so fortunate to live in a universe where evolution or natural selection was possible to begin with. These are mechanisms that brought us into being, but the mechanisms don't just exist independently.

"Well... it's certainly *a* characteristic but I wouldn't say that it was our *defining* one."

You said it yourself - "A person who was 100% rational wouldn't be human as we know it." Ergo, irrationality defines humanity as we know it.

"I definitely think that we should be as rational as we can be and that the world would be a better place if we did. I also recognise that there is an irrational part of our natures that we cannot and should not simply discard."

Is this like a "trinity = one" kind of reasoning? We should discard irrationality and we should at the same time (but without contradiction) maintain irrationality.

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: Of greater importance is the how, the why and the wherefore?

I think science deals with the how and possibly the wherefore... as to the why.... Why what?

orthoprax said: How do you know that? And why is that belief hubris?

You don't think that the idea of the universe existing just for us is hubris? I don't think it gets much bigger than that does it? What are we going to do if we find low-tech aliens living on a suitable planet...? Throw them off because it was 'created' for our use and not theirs? Why should the universe be 'for' anything? Why can't it just be?

orthoprax said: Assuming the universe has an implicit value for anything, the existence of conscious aware minds who can perceive the universe and appreciate it doesn't seem like a crazy idea.

I wasn't aware that the existence of conscious aware minds was a 'crazy idea' to begin with. Why should it be? Consciousness and being self aware are great advantages to survival. Once they emerged it is hardly surprising that our species prospered because of them.

orthoprax said: I find it far more difficult to believe that we only have this one reality and it amazingly is so ordered and capable of producing conscious minds that the obvious conclusion is that it's one huge meaningless accident.

Actually more like a very long chain of meaningless accidents - honed by time and natural selection.

orthoprax said: And you never had a theist claim that he "feels" God? You're looking in the mirror.

Yes I have - of course. What is your point? It appears to me that I have Free Will. Can I prove that to you or anyone else? Possibly not. I still believe that I possess it though. There maybe 'proofs' of Free Will that I am unaware of but I cannot trot them out for you because - I am unaware of them.

orthoprax said: No it doesn't. That's a false analogy. It borrows order from the rest of the universe.

'Borrows'...? How so? It may be borrowing Order from Time as things decay back into disorder but life still (temporarily) creates order.

orthoprax said: An agnostic is just someone who doesn't claim knowledge. This is not incompatible with either theism or atheism.

As far as I know Agnostics believe that there is *insufficient* knowledge to make a decision regarding God. I happen to believe that they are wrong.

orthoprax said: Evolution created an ordered universe? You've got the cart before the horse, my friend.

The way I understood your question was that you were asking for the organising principle responsible for the 'creation' of the conscious human mind. That organising principle - if you want to call it that - is Darwinian evolution. I am not aware of any similar organising principle responsible for the universe at large. My knowledge of cosmology is scant but I would suggest that any such principles would (or could) be found in the realm of physics.

orthoprax said: That's fine, but it doesn't explain how we are so fortunate to live in a universe where evolution or natural selection was possible to begin with.

Well, if this universe was one where evolution was impossible we would hardly be having this conversation.

orthoprax said: These are mechanisms that brought us into being, but the mechanisms don't just exist independently.

Independently from what? I'm afraid that you've lost me again.

orthoprax said: You said it yourself - "A person who was 100% rational wouldn't be human as we know it." Ergo, irrationality defines humanity as we know it.

Hardly. Our irrationality might be *a* defining characteristic of human beings but it is not *the* defining characteristic. You could have chosen opposable thumbs, upright stance, complex language and culture, organised warfare and much else besides. Personally I agree with Aristotle and pick our ability to reason as an(apparently) uniquely human attribute - it being possible (but as yet unconfirmed) that other apes and dolphins/whales also reason.

orthoprax said: Is this like a "trinity = one" kind of reasoning? We should discard irrationality and we should at the same time (but without contradiction) maintain irrationality.

I think that you're *still* misunderstanding me. I definitely think that we should be as rational *as we can be* and that the world would be a better place if we did. I also recognise that there is an irrational part of our natures that *we cannot and should not simply discard*. What we should do is manage it through our reason & not let it manage us. That seems pretty clear to me.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"I think science deals with the how and possibly the wherefore..."

If you say so. I don't think it's doing a great job in respect to the universe itself. Lots of speculation, though.

"as to the why.... Why what?"

Why is there existence? You may believe there is no answer, but that's just a product of your belief system.

"You don't think that the idea of the universe existing just for us is hubris? I don't think it gets much bigger than that does it? What are we going to do if we find low-tech aliens living on a suitable planet...?"

I didn't say us humans, I said conscious aware minds. And no, I don't believe it hubris. From an objective perspective (if that's possible) what is worth more value?

"I wasn't aware that the existence of conscious aware minds was a 'crazy idea' to begin with. Why should it be? Consciousness and being self aware are great advantages to survival. Once they emerged it is hardly surprising that our species prospered because of them."

I really wasn't going there, but we can if you want to. It would also be a great advantage to survival if we could control matter with our minds or literally perform miracles at will. Saying that something is a survival advantage doesn't answer the question of how it is possible in the first place. There is something special about the initial 'settings' of the universe that make all of this possible.

"Actually more like a very long chain of meaningless accidents - honed by time and natural selection."

You're setting your understanding of the universe a step too low. Natural selection and evolution are determined by the natural laws of the universe. The physical constants and the balance of matter and energy stack the deck for certain biological productions. It may, in fact, be no coincidence at all that conscious minds arose on planet Earth.

"Yes I have - of course. What is your point? It appears to me that I have Free Will. Can I prove that to you or anyone else? Possibly not. I still believe that I possess it though."

So, an act of faith then? If a theist makes the same argument to you about God - how can you possibly respond? My point is that your perspective is hypocritical.

"'Borrows'...? How so? It may be borrowing Order from Time as things decay back into disorder but life still (temporarily) creates order."

No, it doesn't. You invoked the Second Law of Thermodynamics but apparently you do not understand it. Life breaks down order from other sources and uses it to support its own order. It moves order back and forth but doesn't create any. To be crude - life is like a parasite feeding on the slow entropic death of the universe.

The question though - is where did all this order come from in the first place? Nowhere?

"As far as I know Agnostics believe that there is *insufficient* knowledge to make a decision regarding God."

These are things you can look up. Agnosticism can mean that but it doesn't only mean that.

"My knowledge of cosmology is scant but I would suggest that any such principles would (or could) be found in the realm of physics."

That would also be a product of your belief system.

"Well, if this universe was one where evolution was impossible we would hardly be having this conversation."

Convenient! But if we've only got the one universe then this isn't an insignificant fact. It demands explanation - not hand waving.

It's a pretty amazing coincidence for a cosmic accident, eh?

"Independently from what? I'm afraid that you've lost me again."

Independent of a higher order, i.e. evolution requires natural law and the stuff of matter and energy to work in the first place.

"I think that you're *still* misunderstanding me. I definitely think that we should be as rational *as we can be* and that the world would be a better place if we did."

I think we definitely can subdue our irrational emotions. What's stopping us? You said that we shouldn't. Based on..?

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: If you say so. I don't think it's doing a great job in respect to the universe itself. Lots of speculation, though.

Well... We haven't really been studying the cosmos for very long (at least not scientifically) so that's hardly surprising. We are chipping away at the 'mystery' though - a little each year.

orthoprax said: Why is there existence? You may believe there is no answer, but that's just a product of your belief system.

It's a meaningless question as far as I'm concerned. It's like asking 'why' the colour Blue exists or the number 7. I'm not sure what else I can say on the matter.

orthoprax said: I didn't say us humans, I said conscious aware minds. And no, I don't believe it hubris. From an objective perspective (if that's possible) what is worth more value?

What makes you believe that the universe is 'for' anything - nevermind us/sentient creatures. Does it have to be 'for' anything? I also didn't understand your last question: what is worth more value? Can you explain/expand that?

orthoprax said: It would also be a great advantage to survival if we could control matter with our minds or literally perform miracles at will.

Very much so. If such an ability emerged in the gene pool it would spread like wildfire.

orthoprax said: Saying that something is a survival advantage doesn't answer the question of how it is possible in the first place.

Not it doesn't. But it might explain its presence in the gene-pool. With regard to minds... as I suggested before they're probably the by-product of brain complexity. At least that's my take on things.

orthoprax said: There is something special about the initial 'settings' of the universe that make all of this possible.

I thought that the Anthropic Principle would show up eventually. That's always good for a laugh.

orthoprax said: It may, in fact, be no coincidence at all that conscious minds arose on planet Earth.

Why not? What makes Earth so special? Sure it's the only place that we know of that has produced intelligent life - but we don't really have much to compare it with. Earth (and by extension humanity) have been knocked off successive pedestals by the advance of science. Our 'special' position as the only sentient species will probably fall too - eventually. Earth is nothing special nor is humanity.

orthoprax said: So, an act of faith then? If a theist makes the same argument to you about God - how can you possibly respond? My point is that your perspective is hypocritical.

From an internal perspective I appear to exhibit the quality known as Free Will. When I interact with other people they appear to exhibit the same quality. Whilst not exactly scientific evidence it is evidence of a kind (there is probably more 'out there' somewhere). Where is the evidence for Gods existence?

orthoprax said: Life breaks down order from other sources and uses it to support its own order. It moves order back and forth but doesn't create any.

Life utilises molecules from the environment (and sunlight in the cae of plants) to build complex structure that are often sustained for centuries (in the case of trees). Are you saying that these objects are no more complex than the nutrients from which they are built?

orthoprax said: The question though - is where did all this order come from in the first place? Nowhere?

Where do you think it comes from? God? Yeah, right. Again I suspect its something to do with physics - probably at the Quantum level.

orthoprax said: That would also be a product of your belief system.

Oh, I don't think that physics is the product of my belief system. Physics might just supply some of the answers you appear to be looking for though.

orthoprax said: But if we've only got the one universe then this isn't an insignificant fact. It demands explanation - not hand waving.

An explanation for what? Why it is the way it is? Probably something to do with the conditions within the first seconds/minutes/hours after the Big Bang. But as I said I am not exactly well read in the area of cosmology (and I certainly don't understand the maths!)

orthoprax said: It's a pretty amazing coincidence for a cosmic accident, eh?

Not really. It *is* pretty though.

orthoprax said: Independent of a higher order, i.e. evolution requires natural law and the stuff of matter and energy to work in the first place.

The Anthropic Principle again....? Are you a believer?

orthoprax said: I think we definitely can subdue our irrational emotions. What's stopping us? You said that we shouldn't. Based on..?

Firstly I don't think that our emotions *can* be subdued. Sigmund was right in at least one thing - that an attempt to do so will end baddly as they will spring up elsewhere. You can just turn off millions of years of evolution just with the snap of your fingers. Because of this they can only be managed rather than discarded. The manager is reason. Why don't we do it? Probably because it takes time and effort and a certain way of looking at things.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

I'm actually going to be rather busy lately so I don't have time to go point by point here, but I think I'll hit the general ideas.

Regarding the Anthropic Principle - it is actually a particularly good argument. The only way you get out of the conclusion that all of existence isn't some random accident is if you propose a mechanism by which limitless realities are being randomly produced. Only then do the amazing conditions of our universe become trivial. But they are not trivial and atheists completely fail to account for them.

And if it isn't an accident, then it may very well have a purpose.

I have no sense of chauvinism regarding Earth as a planet or humanity as a species. There may be nothing particularly special about Earth or humanity, but the conditions of our universe make it almost inevitable that conscious aware minds will arise and I would welcome other beings into our common company. This arising could be as predictable as evolution innovating eyes that take advantage of the electromagnetic spectrum. Or evolution developing flying creatures in an environment with a heavy atmosphere. The available niches define the broad directions of evolution.

"From an internal perspective I appear to exhibit the quality known as Free Will. When I interact with other people they appear to exhibit the same quality. Whilst not exactly scientific evidence it is evidence of a kind (there is probably more 'out there' somewhere). Where is the evidence for Gods existence?"

You're begging the question! How do you know they exhibit free will? Would they act differently from a robot programmed to act like a human? You yourself don't even exhibit free will, you just feel like you're do.

And when a person "feels" God and notes that other people also appear to "feel" God, then what?

"Life utilises molecules from the environment (and sunlight in the cae of plants) to build complex structure that are often sustained for centuries (in the case of trees). Are you saying that these objects are no more complex than the nutrients from which they are built?"

You're equivocating. Since when is complexity the same as order?

"Where do you think it comes from? God? Yeah, right. Again I suspect its something to do with physics - probably at the Quantum level...An explanation for what? Why it is the way it is? Probably something to do with the conditions within the first seconds/minutes/hours after the Big Bang."

Handwaving? Yeah, thought so. Pretending that this isn't an important observation doesn't make it go away. Personally I'm very skeptical of huge unexplained coincidences.

"Firstly I don't think that our emotions *can* be subdued."

Aristotle was also famous for his theory on ethics and the golden mean. He said that we can change our characters - our driving emotions - by acting in ways that reinforce virtuous ideals. So, hum?

CyberKitten said...

orthoprax said: I'm actually going to be rather busy lately so I don't have time to go point by point here, but I think I'll hit the general ideas.

Yeah, I'm starting to lose the will to live too.....

orthoprax said: Regarding the Anthropic Principle - it is actually a particularly good argument.

Indeed. It's right up there with Creationism or Intelligent Design or whatever its being called this year. Just as 'irreducable complexity' is supposedly proof of God so is 'inexplicable order'. It's just another way of giving 'meaning' to things - without the need of any kind of proof or real evidence.

orthoprax said: The only way you get out of the conclusion that all of existence isn't some random accident is if you propose a mechanism by which limitless realities are being randomly produced.

So, why can't 'all of existence' be some random accident? Personally I wouldn't have a problem with that.

orthoprax said: But they are not trivial and atheists completely fail to account for them.

Sounds about right - rather saying that we just don't know something you have to import the idea that God *must* have done it. I can't recall that working so far.....

orthoprax said: And if it isn't an accident, then it may very well have a purpose.

... and if it *is* an accident?

orthoprax said: I have no sense of chauvinism regarding Earth as a planet or humanity as a species.

...and yet you said earlier: "It may, in fact, be no coincidence at all that conscious minds arose on planet Earth".

They seem contradictory statements to me....

orthoprax said: but the conditions of our universe make it almost inevitable that conscious aware minds will arise..

How so? There appear to have been no such conscious minds on Earth until we arrived recently. That's probably 99%+ of the age of the Earth without such minds. It's entirely possible that they may never have arisen here or eleswhere.

orthoprax said: How do you know they exhibit free will? Would they act differently from a robot programmed to act like a human?

Ah, the classic "Do other people exist" question. It's a good one isn't it? Of course we can never know with certainy that other people exist. But then again we can never really know if *anything* exists can we? The universe we perceive might be a giant simulation running somewhere. Indeed *we* ourselves could be simulated beings having no real existence outside a few thousand lines of computer code. An ultimately pointless debate but a fun one too.

orthoprax said: You yourself don't even exhibit free will, you just feel like you're do.

Are you asserting that its just me who doesn't have Free Will or all atheists? Or does no one have Free Will? Are you then a fatalist or a strict determinist? If so how do you apportion blame or praise if everyone has no choice in the matter? How is moral responsibility possible when everything is determined? Or is it a case that a person is fated to commit a crime, fated to get caught and fated to be punished for it? All rather unjust don't you think - though presumably the injustice is fated too?

orthoprax said: You're equivocating. Since when is complexity the same as order?

Would you be happier with this then?

Are you saying that these objects are no more ordered than the nutrients from which they are built

orthoprax said: Handwaving? Yeah, thought so.

Handwaving...? I had a stab at an idea. I could have simply said I had no idea - but I suspect that you wouldn't have liked that response either.

orthoprax said: Pretending that this isn't an important observation doesn't make it go away. Personally I'm very skeptical of huge unexplained coincidences.

What 'important observation'? That there is a great deal of order in the universe? And.....? You think that this order is inexplicable without recourse to God? Even if we don't know where the order came from - and as I repeatedly said I am *far* from an expert on the subject (my degree's being in the Humanities) - that's no reason the shoehorn God into the Gap in our knowledge.

orthoprax said: Aristotle was also famous for his theory on ethics and the golden mean. He said that we can change our characters - our driving emotions - by acting in ways that reinforce virtuous ideals. So, hum?

Yes he did. He also said (and I happen to agree with him) that part of our nature is irrational and should be under the stewardship of our reasonable side. I like Aristotles work and admire him a great deal - despite him being an elitist snob!

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Indeed. It's right up there with Creationism or Intelligent Design or whatever its being called this year."

Hardly. I don't consider it a proof for God at all, but it leaves God as a reasonable conclusion. It's either that or the multiverse theory and you already discounted that.

"So, why can't 'all of existence' be some random accident? Personally I wouldn't have a problem with that."

It could be, but that doesn't seem very reasonable. Like I said, I'm highly skeptical of incredible coincidences. Maybe you have more faith.

"Sounds about right - rather saying that we just don't know something you have to import the idea that God *must* have done it."

Ah, then you should just claim agnosticism and not import the idea that it is the product of mere accident!

"...and yet you said earlier: "It may, in fact, be no coincidence at all that conscious minds arose on planet Earth".
They seem contradictory statements to me...."

They are not. Planet Earth's specific conditions may have been stacked to exist and persist like conscious minds from the initial conditions of our universe, but I don't believe it needs to be one of a kind.

"How so? There appear to have been no such conscious minds on Earth until we arrived recently. That's probably 99%+ of the age of the Earth without such minds. It's entirely possible that they may never have arisen here or eleswhere."

A distinct possibility - unlikely though given the size and scope of the universe. And, naturally, normative science invokes the concept of no special observers.

The arrival of conscious minds likely takes a long time and so we shouldn't be surprised to see few - or no - examples in past periods anymore than we should be surprised that there were few rocky planets among first generation stars.

"Ah, the classic "Do other people exist" question. It's a good one isn't it?"

No and I'm not asking it. I'm questioning the validity of your claimed observations which assume what they are trying to demonstrate.

You might as well have said that water flowing down a river appears to act like it has free will so that's evidence that it has free will. What exactly does free will look like?

"Are you asserting that its just me who doesn't have Free Will or all atheists? Or does no one have Free Will?"

No, I'm saying your reasoning to belief in free will is blatantly irrational. I'm not debating the actual existence of free will one way or the other. I'm demonstrating your hypocritical abuse of rationalism.

"Are you saying that these objects are no more ordered than the nutrients from which they are built?'

No, I'm not saying that. They concentrate order, but the balance of order is in the red. They ruin more than they produce. This is entropy - you invoked it!

"Handwaving...? I had a stab at an idea. I could have simply said I had no idea - but I suspect that you wouldn't have liked that response either."

Honesty is usually nice.

"What 'important observation'? That there is a great deal of order in the universe? And.....? You think that this order is inexplicable without recourse to God? Even if we don't know where the order came from - and as I repeatedly said I am *far* from an expert on the subject (my degree's being in the Humanities) - that's no reason the shoehorn God into the Gap in our knowledge."

I'm not shoehorning anything. It is your biased worldview which a priori denies that there is anything significant behind our present condition and keeps you from asking 'why things are the way they are?'

I ask the question and the reasonable answer isn't Accident!

"Yes he did."

You didn't actually reply to my point. If we can change our passions to suit our reasoned virtues then we must conclude that our passions are amenable to reason. Ergo, we can subdue them. And therefore to then define morality by our passions is completely circular.

littlefoxling said...

Orthoprax,

From what I can see, you offer 4 distinct arguments for God:

1. The argument from morality
2. The argument from existence
3. The argument from consciousness
4. The argument from complexity.

These arguments are all of generally the same form:

1. We observe phenomenon X
2. We know of no naturalistic explanation for Phenomenon X
3. Therefore, no naturalistic explanation for Phenomenon X exists
4. Therefore, God is the only possible explanation for Phenomenon X
5. Therefore God exists.

For all four arguments, I see problems with at least one step. In general terms:

1. We observe phenomenon X

Well. Yes, that part is generally ok.

2. We know of no naturalistic explanation for Phenomenon X

I believe there are naturalistic explanations for some of the above as I will explain below.

3. Therefore, no naturalistic explanation for Phenomenon X exists

This is a huge leap. Just because we can’t explain X doesn’t mean there exists no naturalistic explanation. The origin of species, the orbital plane, the power source of the sun, and many other mysteries were believed to be proofs of God until they were explained.

4. Therefore, God is the only possible explanation for Phenomenon X

Hmmm…… Not sure about this one. There are two issues I see:

a. even if we accept that the explanation must be supernatural, must we posit God? Perhaps there is a non natural explanation that doesn’t necessarily imply the existence of God. I guess this would depend on your definition of God. But, for example, suppose our definition of God requires that God be self aware. How would we derive this simply by observing that nonnaturalistic Phenomena exist.

b. Does God really explain these things? When Newton explained how the Earth revolves around the sun, he took a force that people already knew existed, the force that causes things to fall towards the Earth, and showed how this phenomenon explained the Earth’s orbit. Likewise, Darwin already knew that parents could pass characteristics along to their children (he didn’t know how, but he knew it happened) and he showed that this phenomenon, already known to exist, could also explain the origin of species.
The trouble with the God hypothesis here is twofold. Firstly, you are not explaining things in terms of already known to exist phenomenon. Of course, this point is not a knock argument, as we do sometimes posit previously unknown phenomenon to explain our sensory perception (in the above, we posit gravity to explain the tendency of things to fall towards the Earth). Nonetheless, I think it greatly weakens the proof.
But, I believe there is something even more sinister at work in the case of God. Once we posit the tenet “masses attract with an inverse square rule” it is obvious that things will fall towards the Earth. In contrast, even if you posit the existence of a supreme being, it by no means follows that that supreme being would create a universe that would have complexity. Thus, you substitute the question “why does the universe have complexity” with the question “why did God create a complex universe?” You have accomplished nothing.


And now to the specifics:

1. The argument from morality

1. How do you know that objective morality exists?
2. Even to the extent that human morality is real (I have no clue if it is, or even what real would mean in this context), I don’t see why one would need to posit God. You implied repeatedly in the above that morality is irrational because it is irrational to go against what is best for me. Why is it rational for me to be completely self centered? Suppose we did live in a universe where all men were completely self centered. Would that be any more rational? Why is it rational to be self centered? And, what does it even mean to be self centered? Is it to be measured purely by physical pleasure? On what basis to you posit that the rational thing is for someone to be solely concerned with the experience of physical pleasure?

The truth is that my goals in life, the things that I want, are a composite of a verity of biological and social influences. Just as evolution crafted in me a being that would be driven to have sex, and 20th century American culture molded that being to feel that a certain type of women would be proper to have sex with, so to, millennia of evolution created in me a being that wants good for others and American and Jewish culture gave me certain concepts of what my moral concerns should be.
If you look at the data, we can see clearly that much of moral reasoning is biological. Making a chimpanzees watch another chimpanzee get shocked lights up the same neurons in the chimpanzee’s brain as when you shock the chimpanzee itself. I’m sure you’ve seen the studies about what parts of the human brain are used to navigate dilemmas about having trains kill babies and other such things. I’m sure you’ve seen the studies on people who have brain conditions that effects their moral reasoning. In group-out group behavior is easily explainable in an evolutionally context.
Likewise, as you yourself point out, much of morality is undoubtedly social in original. As you point out, the concept of morality differs wildly from place to place and time time (in the language of the megliah medinah umedinah vir vuir ). To me, this, if anything, suggests that our moral concept does not derive from any absolute source

2. The argument from existence

We’ve been over this 1,000 times. I have no clue where existence came from but I don’t see how God helps here because of the “what caused God?” question. For more details, see the 400 or so comments you and I have exchanged on this over the years.

3. The argument from consciousness
4. The argument from complexity.


These are very similar. Since you are not a fundie fruit cake, you know the cause of these things and so they basically reduce to the argument of: why is the universe such a universe as to allow these things to arise via naturalistic means. I see several problems here:

1. Though you poo poo it, I don’t see why the suggestion of multiple universes is so absurd. I’m not saying there are multiple universes, but only that I have no clue

2. A fundamental problem with the anthropic principle (and all similar arguments) is the need to first establish that the random development of life or consciousness or whatever was unlikely. Of course, you might object to the question – what does that even mean? But it must obviously mean something or else the entire proof is meaningless. Generally, I have seen it explained in terms of some physical constants. If the value of G or C was off by .001% or something, or if the distribution of mass at the big bang was slightly different, life could not arise. Leaving aside the philosophical question of what that even means, and the physical question of whether G could possibly be different from its value, there is a simple factual question of if the argument is even true. Meaning, suppose we lived in universe where G was 2% bigger or the ratio of the mass of the proton to the electron was 10% off, would that actually make life any less likely. I have read books and articles saying even changes of .0000001 would make life impossible and books that have argued that life is basically inevitable in any universe irrelevant of these constants. It’s sort of like Drakes equation which features the same debates. I’m inclined to believe that everyone who pontificates about this is full of hot air given that we have no data whatsoever on the question and nobody seems to agree. This, however would rob either side the ability to use this as a proof

3. Even if the life we know in our universe couldn’t exist if the universe was slightly different, who is to say that a different universe wouldn’t have given rise to another sort of life?

4. You have no a priori reason to pick consciousness as the indicator of an interesting universe. Suppose the universe had no consciousness, but did have some other property. In that case, we could say that that other property suggested the existence of God. Basically, you look at the universe and describe it. Then you say, wow! isn’t it amazing that the universe looks exactly like the description I just gave!! Well duh! You were just describing the universe. That the universe matches your description is a tautology.

I hope you are confused by now. I know I am. My head has started to spin and so I will stop. But in conclusion, I think I will reiterate what I’ve said before. I know none of this stuff makes any sense to me. I’d assume the same holds for you. Given how pathetic a track record pure reason has in predicting physical reality even when we do understand what we are talking about, how would we expect it to do when we don’t even have a clue what we are talking about.

Orthoprax said...

LF,

First off, I wouldn't say my arguments are so strictly structured or that they end with a "therefore God exists." It's more like I give examples of amazing phenomena and ask whether it's reasonable to believe that an accident brought this into being - the natural answer being: no.

That doesn't mean "God" in any specific theology is the only reasonable choice, but it definitely strips the shine off of atheism. It is suggestive of there being more behind what we see - which is colloquially known as God in one way or the other.

So, in fact, the first part of your post here is arguing against the inverse of my arguments. Mine is an argument *against* atheism, not actually for God.

Secondly, I didn't intend my argument about morality to be an argument for God in any sense. That was a discussion about rational vs. irrational ethics and the acceptability of irrationalism in our acts and beliefs.

My eventual point would have been that a non-rational starting assumption is acceptable since it's simply a necessary evil in any theory of ethics. Touting emotivism is too flexible and standardless and touting rationalism is just false ethics.

Anyway, now onto the meat:

Multiple universes is a distinct possibility, but it takes at least as much faith to believe in that than in God. And I also think recruiting infinities to answer questions is an act of desperateness. Additionally, Occam's razor tends to frown on increasing entities - especially to an infinite degree.

Also, whether it's the multiverse or God - you get stuck with a superexistence either way. Which is then where the argument from existence comes in. Multiverse theorists and theologians answer the question 'where did the superexistence come from?' in the same way.

Regarding the likeliness of any universe developing life, I don't think the issue is in respect to the numerical specificity of the physical constants (though I believe most universes with different constants would be uninhabitable to life), but in the existence of any of these constants at all. We're talking about the whole cake here. Not what the constants are, but that existence permits (or even promotes!) order and complexity and consciousness. Would you expect an accident to produce this? I wouldn't.

You are correct in that consciousness is not an a priori value. But given everything else that suggests some non-accidental source for the universe, our defining characteristic may very well be distinctly non-trivial. If there was anything this universe could be 'for' I don't think consciousness is low on the list.

"Given how pathetic a track record pure reason has in predicting physical reality even when we do understand what we are talking about, how would we expect it to do when we don’t even have a clue what we are talking about."

That's a valid point. All the same though, we must do our best and persevere.

Rabban Gamliel said...

“This is a huge leap. Just because we can’t explain X doesn’t mean there exists no naturalistic explanation. The origin of species, the orbital plane, the power source of the sun, and many other mysteries were believed to be proofs of God until they were explained.”

False dichotomy. A scientific explanation does not disprove G-d and on the contrary is frequently good evidence. G-d works through science.

“a. even if we accept that the explanation must be supernatural, must we posit God? Perhaps there is a non natural explanation that doesn’t necessarily imply the existence of God. I guess this would depend on your definition of God.”

Well what explanation are you looking for supernatural cream cheese? Your weak point is you don’t see that people posit different nonnatuaralistic phenomena for different reasons that have to be addressed on their own terms.

“But, for example, suppose our definition of God requires that God be self aware. How would we derive this simply by observing that nonnaturalistic Phenomena exist.””

You don’t. The argument for G-d’s existence is not proof of other nonnaturalistic phenomena.

“But, I believe there is something even more sinister at work in the case of God. Once we posit the tenet “masses attract with an inverse square rule” it is obvious that things will fall towards the Earth. In contrast, even if you posit the existence of a supreme being, it by no means follows that that supreme being would create a universe that would have complexity. Thus, you substitute the question “why does the universe have complexity” with the question “why did God create a complex universe?” You have accomplished nothing.”

No you accomplish explaining how complexity came to be. You may not fully understand how things are but that’s because you never will fully. Reality is not something a human can ever fully picture as is. In any event in science and with G-d you are not giving answers that remove all questions or are posited to remove all questions. If you see on a planet sure signs of intelligent life you posit it but you still may very well have more questions than answers as the planet with the life may need explanations for the origin of such life. Earth’s life certainly does.

“. How do you know that objective morality exists?”

We feel it does but the details don’t feel objective enough. Still I think it is a really good thing to have faith in.

2. “Why is it rational for me to be completely self centered?”

Why not? If morality is not real so why should you not be selfcentered.

“Suppose we did live in a universe where all men were completely self centered. Would that be any more rational?”

It would make more sense. According to Dawkins we really are self centered only we don’t know it. Remember Evolution. So all the traits we have that are not selfcentered are really because we need them for survival and at the same time the reason why we have the opposite traits is because we need them for survival and so we are all selfcentered and did not even know it. Another triumph for Evolution.


“Why is it rational to be self centered? And, what does it even mean to be self centered? Is it to be measured purely by physical pleasure?”

Pleasure period.

“I’m sure you’ve seen the studies on people who have brain conditions that effects their moral reasoning. In group-out group behavior is easily explainable in an evolutionally context.”

Chimpanzees can’t come up with moral systems. They have instincts. People rise above them to do good and evil.

“Likewise, as you yourself point out, much of morality is undoubtedly social in original. As you point out, the concept of morality differs wildly from place to place and time time (in the language of the megliah medinah umedinah vir vuir ). To me, this, if anything, suggests that our moral concept does not derive from any absolute source.”

A problem is Evolution does not recognize varying moral systems for varying ethnic groups. So what essentially that means is that contradictory behavior is all then advantageous.

“3. The argument from consciousness
4. The argument from complexity.

These are very similar. Since you are not a fundie fruit cake, you know the cause of these things and so they basically reduce to the argument of: why is the universe such a universe as to allow these things to arise via naturalistic means. I see several problems here:”

I see a problem with your question. First you say “Since you are not a fundie fruit cake, you know the cause of these things” You feel there is a naturalistic explanation and that you and orthoprax both know it. Then you must share it as it is a tall order for the scientific community at this point in history. I am sure there are naturalistic explanations but at this point in history it is a belief on my part not a scientific fact by any means. You are making in any event a false dichotomy. G-d works through nature. No one in traditional Jewish belief denies that. So coming up with naturalistic explanations and then expecting certainly the Jewish G-d but it would seem even the Christian and Muslim conceptions of G-d to fall is a misunderstanding on your part. Another problem Littelefoxling is your arrogant fundiefruitcake statement. The word is fundamentalist or if you want to be more slangish fundie. Your talking of fundiefruitcakes is elitist sounding giving the impression you don’t have to at least listen to anything they have to say before responding. They are human beings with brains.

“2. A fundamental problem with the anthropic principle (and all similar arguments) is the need to first establish that the random development of life or consciousness or whatever was unlikely. Of course, you might object to the question – what does that even mean? But it must obviously mean something or else the entire proof is meaningless. Generally, I have seen it explained in terms of some physical constants. If the value of G or C was off by .001% or something, or if the distribution of mass at the big bang was slightly different, life could not arise. Leaving aside the philosophical question of what that even means, and the physical question of whether G could possibly be different from its value, there is a simple factual question of if the argument is even true. Meaning, suppose we lived in universe where G was 2% bigger or the ratio of the mass of the proton to the electron was 10% off, would that actually make life any less likely. I have read books and articles saying even changes of .0000001 would make life impossible and books that have argued that life is basically inevitable in any universe irrelevant of these constants. It’s sort of like Drakes equation which features the same debates. I’m inclined to believe that everyone who pontificates about this is full of hot air given that we have no data whatsoever on the question and nobody seems to agree. This, however would rob either side the ability to use this as a proof”

It certainly is true that if the constants were off slightly we would need something to compensate or else life would not exist. There isn’t hot air in that argument. The argument has gotten tighter and tighter.

“3. Even if the life we know in our universe couldn’t exist if the universe was slightly different, who is to say that a different universe wouldn’t have given rise to another sort of life?”

Another sort of life or not the argument is more serious than that. Any form of life and even the universe exists within some strict parameters. The argument says that if things were slightly off forget about structure in the universe let alone life.

“4. You have no a priori reason to pick consciousness as the indicator of an interesting universe. Suppose the universe had no consciousness, but did have some other property. In that case, we could say that that other property suggested the existence of God. Basically, you look at the universe and describe it. Then you say, wow! isn’t it amazing that the universe looks exactly like the description I just gave!! Well duh! You were just describing the universe. That the universe matches your description is a tautology.”

But the flaw in your reasoning is that we are not picking any feature but a specific one that requires an explanation. So whatever other features there would be to rival consciousness would also be proof of G-d. For creatures like us you can’t beat consciousness.

Daganev said...

If anyone really wants to know the attrition rate of Atheism you should look at the numbers for Russia and China.

Especially now that religion is allowed in both places.

I didn't read all the comments, but I don't think anyone brought those up yet.