Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Systematic Skepticism

http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-19272-Seattle-Faith--Agnosticism-Examiner~y2009m8d25-Systematic-skepticism

In my last installment I promised to “make a case for a form of skepticism that can accommodate the idea of a complete lack of true knowledge, but still functions as a stable platform for analysis, debate, morality, and all the other niceties of human interaction.”
I will do so after some definitional construals. I’m going to be critiquing and expanding two words here: Skepticism and Agnosticism.

Last time I recklessly accused the self-proclaimed Skeptic Michael Shermer of abusing the word ‘skeptic’ by using it selectively to bash ideas he doesn’t like while failing to test his own presuppositions as ruthlessly. (At least I’ve never seen this from him.) Now I don’t want to single this guy out. He’s not a horrible person or a liar. He’s just doing what everyone does. That is: exalt what he likes and tear down what he dislikes. I also want to be clear that I understand MY definitions of skepticism and agnosticism are probably different than most people’s. But I want to build a case that the dictionary is wrong about the definitions. Sort of.

What I’m trying NOT to do here is play Lewis Caroll’s Humpty Dumpty and torture words into fitting a meaning that I prefer. My complaint isn’t with the definitions, but rather the philosophical consistency of utilizing them ‘by the book’. For instance, Merriam-Webster says of skepticism “the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain.” My case against Shermer and most other atheists is that they apply skepticism too narrowly. Only in “particular areas”. The problem is that the dictionary definition makes everyone in the world a “skeptic”, because everyone doubts something… no one believes everything. Hence, the word loses its meaning when applied to a person. It still works for describing an attitude one might have toward a particular idea. But that is not what the figurehead of Skeptic magazine is intrinsically claiming. If his magazine was more specifically called Religious Skeptic, or Metaphysic Skeptic than I wouldn’t be picking on him. But when one chooses to take on the moniker of a Skeptic it feels to me like the narrow dictionary definition shouldn’t cover you anymore. Being a narrow skeptic means being no more than a polemicist.

What I’m trying to do is to create a doctrine of skepticism that applies to all things equally. Science, religion, psychology, politics, and most importantly, my OWN perceptions, and the foundation of my philosophical outlook. This systematic skepticism is not defined by a skeptical attitude. That is to say: I’m not personally a cynical or bitter person who enjoys attacking and tearing people or ideas down. My critical analysis of ideas is simply motivated by a desire for a logically consistent theory of everything. A fool’s errand if ever one existed, but fun to pursue non-the-less.

Now let me tell you why I call myself an Agnostic even though I don’t fall under this specific part of one of the dictionary definitions: “one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god” Technically I could say I do fit this description, because I am not philosophically committed to believing in God. But I DO believe in a personal God based on several lines of reasoning. I am convinced that there is a God. (Please note that when one is convinced that does not mean they are unable to change their mind based on further evidence.) I guess you could say I’m not committed to being not committed. Just like I’m skeptical about skeptics. My point is that I think one can be agnostic while still holding beliefs about God. Just as one can believe a bridge will hold them as they cross it without knowing for certain that is the case. It seems to me that agnostics should be of all people, the most open to evidence of all kinds, both for and against any idea. That is my ideal, what I strive for, and that is why I call myself agnostic while maintaining a Christian identity and set of core beliefs.

There are two errors I try to avoid here. One is to pretend that I am unbiased and that all information on all topics comes to me unfiltered and free from prejudice. The other is to think that if all truths are impossible to prove, I cannot or should not form beliefs and act on them.

The first error is the reason I moved away from traditional, doctrine-based religion. I see the attitude of I’ve-got-it-all-figured-out in both the very religious and the very atheistic. Both groups put far too much faith in their own interpretive abilities. Yet, from the Christian tradition I believe we can derive the perspective that we are fallen, weak creatures with very limited physical and mental attributes. And from an atheist viewpoint we can derive the perspective that we are self-exalted monkey-men with senses evolved for survival purposes that probably don’t have much to do with apprehending the grander schemes of the universe. These things should make the Christian and atheist pause and reconsider the amount of credit they give themselves. Both these forms of fundamentalism have great big warning signs that should serve to keep us all humble. But we humans are great at ignoring warning signs, aren’t we?


This is where I apply my skepticism: at the very root of human capability and reasoning. This is why I admire Socrates’ assertion: “All I know is that I know nothing”. I do however modify thusly: “The thing I believe most is that I know nothing.” But that doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely, does it? At least it’s logically consistent. You see, the most fundamental component of my attempt to build an honest philosophy is to start with the machinery that’s building it. My mind is the machine, and to assume that all it produces is high quality grade-A stuff -perfect and complete- seems a bit on the arrogant side to me. While most folks would agree with me that no one is perfect and that everyone makes mistakes and has errors in judgment, very few want to follow me to my conclusion that ANYTHING and EVERYTHING we think must therefore be suspect. Why not? I think it’s because that position is very annoying. Seriously, it is. To question every single idea we have is not only annoying, but impossible: as every thought about a thought is a thought in itself that must be questioned. Therefore a true skeptical approach to one’s own mind is not possible, and if it is pursued, it is done so inconsistently.

But that is the beauty of the position to me: its utter humility. It's ok to be inconsistent as long as one tries to compensate. It starts with the conviction that I am a flawed being, and therefore anything I think can be flawed. The next step is to posit that other humans share my condition, and thus all their thoughts may be flawed. This is where the fundamentalists and atheists start gnashing their teeth, because without a solid foundation of FACTS, they don’t think you can build a stable theory for anything, and all argument and even communication becomes meaningless.

That’s what brings me to the second error that a radical skeptic can make. It’s the idea that progress can’t be made if certain foundational concepts are not established as 100% reliable. In other words, some might just leave all action to fate, or operate in a moral vacuum since there can’t be any true Knowledge of values. We can become stuck in a permanent limbo with no particular direction to go. This could be a serious problem with my position if not for the fact that we already live without certainties in every area of our lives. Everyone does. As in the bridge analogy above, we move freely about our world only because we have FAITH in the infrastructure around us. It’s impractical to test every road, bridge, tunnel, building, etc. for structural integrity before utilizing them.


This uncertainty also applies to our relationships. I can say that I know that my wife loves me. But I can’t be completely certain. She might simply be a fantastic actress, and maybe there is some motivation for pretending to love me that I’m unaware of. (It certainly isn’t money, I’ll guarantee you that!) Or maybe she has some psychological blindness to a part of my personality that if revealed to her, would cause her to stop loving me. Maybe there is a tumor in her brain that will suddenly change her feelings for me. All these things could be true, but I still live my day to day life without testing each of these possibilities. I have FAITH that she loves me and I act accordingly.

There is also uncertainty in scientific work. Physical laws are established as fact simply because they have yet to be disproven. I always return to the ground after jumping, and I live my life under the assumption that things will continue that way. Scientists use the laws of gravity as a given because they have not failed us yet. However only the most stubborn scientist would declare that the laws of gravity are immutable and universal and no other unknown law might ever supersede them. Furthermore all these laws are simply human constructs based on limited observation and subject to the biases of our worldview, and more fundamentally, our finite senses. (See Feyerabend, Kuhn, and Polanyi for a varitey of critiques of science.) It’s quite possible that we perceive EVERYTHING wrong. Yet this does not stop us from using a scientific method to create stunning works of technology.

This habit of using FAITH in the physical, psychological and scientific areas of life can also work in the philosophical and religious areas of life. You don’t HAVE to establish any particular doctrine as True beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt in order to use it as a foundational building block for your system of thought. Sure, it would be nice to have at least one Truth to start the project. That’s what Descartes’ whole “I think therefore I am.” was about. But I think the radical skeptical position is so strong that they even trump his argument. And since we are used to making life work and making rational decisions without total certainty in other areas, we should be comfortable building a case for our philosophical and religious beliefs without a claim to certainty backing them up. And materialists should recognize that they do the same thing, only with more consensus.

But before you jump on my bandwagon, (which I know you were all excited about doing, right?!) let me warn you about what you will lose by doing so. It’s something so valuable to so many people that very few want to join my party... You will lose your ability to argue people into submitting to your particular point of view. You will be forced to recognize that it just might be YOU who are wrong. That can be very unsettling to people who are right all the time.


Let me offer some words of comfort to my fundamentalist friends. First to the fundamentalist atheists: If religion is a destructive, vestigial growth on the brain of society, it will eventually be bred out of the species, and your view will triumph. Besides, people aren’t religious because they were argued into it, so attempting to argue them out of it is mostly pointless. And to my Christian brethren: God is the One who softens hearts and minds to His Truth. If He is not active than no amount of sermonizing, judging, or arguing will force someone to convert. Besides, people aren’t unchristian because they were argued into it, so attempting to argue them out of it is mostly pointless.

In the end, I believe that both the fundamentalist Christian and atheist suffer from the same delusion. They are both convinced that their interpretive faculties work so well that the resulting doctrine is legitimate grounds for insults, anger, and the creation of artificial walls separating the enlightened from the ignorant masses.


In my next article I’m going to go into a little more detail about living without certainty and its practical ramifications.




Comments:

_____Commenter1:______________________________________________________

First, his main target is a strawman. Few if any atheists claim absolute certainty, few if any atheists claim that scientific progress requires absolute certainty. Quite the contrary. Many atheists define 'atheism' to be compatible with agnosticism (and even enforce that definition on others), so eager are they to distance themselves from claims to absolute certainty. Many atheists are unwilling to use the word 'proof' (or even 'fact') in scientific contexts, so eager are they to emphasize the provisional nature of science.

Second, his case against a legitimate target rests on a confusion. He rightly recognizes that many atheists think they have "legitimate grounds for insults, anger, and the creation of artificial walls separating the enlightened from the ignorant masses". But he confuses this, being rude and dismissive, with the completely separate issue of absolute certainty. The two should be distinguished: nobody can claim with absolute certainty that six-day creationism is false, but there's nothing wrong with being rude and dismissive to those who try to put it in public schools.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"Few if any atheists claim absolute certainty"

My experience is different. But I could just be on one edge of a bell curve.

"Many atheists are unwilling to use the word 'proof' (or even 'fact') in scientific contexts"

Again, I've had a very different set of experiences with them. Perhaps you run in more advanced circles?

"he confuses this, being rude and dismissive, with the completely separate issue of absolute certainty. The two should be distinguished: nobody can claim with absolute certainty that six-day creationism is false, but there's nothing wrong with being rude and dismissive to those who try to put it in public schools."

What I've witnessed is an appeal to certainty from both the religious and atheist with identical results: insulting, belittling words and behavior. The fact that you can justify being rude without certainty is disheartening. But maybe we have different definitions of rude?

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_____ Commenter1:______________________________________________________

“My experience is different. But I could just be on one edge of a bell curve.”

Do you have any examples of atheists explicitly claiming absolute certainty? Or are you assuming that anyone who categorically asserts that there's no God is claiming absolute certainty? Because that assumption is obviously mistaken once you consider it.

“Again, I've had a very different set of experiences with them. Perhaps you run in more advanced circles?”

I'd disagree with "more advanced"; I think it's misguided pedantry. There's nothing wrong with saying scientists have proven that smoking causes cancer.

“The fact that you can justify being rude without certainty is disheartening. But maybe we have different definitions of rude?”

I mean something like "Creationists are uneducated dishonest shitheads" or "Mormonism is patently ridiculous".

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_____ Commenter2:______________________________________________________

You're slightly missing the reason why atheists on reddit end up clashing hard with some agnostics. I personally clash with agnostics who make a point to wag their fingers at atheists and act superior because they are taking the 'sensible' position. I personally clash with agnostics who insist that you cannot be an agnostic and an atheist at the same time, based on one simple understanding of a word that has several valid definitions. I personally clash with agnostics who seem to think 'not being sure' implies all sorts of things that it doesn't. It's never just that they aren't sure. It's that they hinge on this uncertainty as if it is some big point that tears down the atheist viewpoint. It is possible, rational, and reasonable to have strong convictions regarding a position that you can never be 100 percent certain of. Many self professed agnostics (who go out of their way to distinguish themselves from atheists) seem to find this statement false--and I'm not sure why.

A lot of self professed atheists call themselves 'agnostic atheists' as a way to recognize the underlying uncertainty and attempt to clear up exactly the confusion the author is having.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"It is possible, rational, and reasonable to have strong convictions regarding a position that you can never be 100 percent certain of."

That is actually one of the main points of my article. I butt heads with dogmatic agnostics as much as atheists and Christians.

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_____ Commenter2:______________________________________________________

Truth be told I didn't fully read the article (only a short skim), and merely wanted to respond to the misunderstanding of the comment above mine. I only cited 'the author' as described in the comment above that one. I probably should have left the reference to the original submission out, or qualified it. If this is a main point of the article, good. However, this point does not highlight any delusion that atheists have, and I can only guess that most of the atheists I've come across would agree with it.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Ah, thanks for the clarification. The delusion I’m referring to is the epistemological assumptions that are drawn from reliance on our senses. We are lulled into a false sense of security by relying on our senses, and build heuristics of action and thought predicated on an unarticulated concept of 1 to 1 cause and effect. I call this a delusion because it is demonstrably untrue. Both philosophic and scientific experimentation has shown this, yet most people sweep that fact under the carpet without considering the logical ramifications. I’ll be going into this in my next article.

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_____ Commenter2:______________________________________________________

“logical ramifications.”

In the end the logical ramifications are trivial, in my opinion. We have to place some measure of trust in our senses because our senses are the only data we have to place trust in. To place that ultimate, necessary measure of trust into anything else is to place trust in something that you, by definition, can know nothing about. We can verify that our senses are not always correct because inconsistencies arise--but this verification also comes from our sense data! We can apply logic, science, and reasoning to our sense data to strive for a more accurate view of the 'truth' of reality--and this is exactly what most atheists do, even the loud, obnoxious ones, and those who are most strident in their positions. The awareness of this underlying uncertainty does not diminish the validity of or 'security' that arises from placing some trust in our senses and heuristic reasoning. I don't feel that sense of security is false, and I don't think an unarticulated 1-1 cause and effect is really what predicates modern scientific thought, particularly when analyzing the basic 'stuff' of reality.

In short, I don't think modern atheists suffer the delusion you describe.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"In the end the logical ramifications are trivial, in my opinion."

This is where we disagree. You point to the self-propagating system of scientific work as evidence that they are trivial. Science "works". And I agree. But you would critique the self-propagating system of religion as a sham because you don't value the results. They are not materially manifest. It may "work" but the product is useless to you. Both these human endeavors hold together and have persisted, but that does not justify an untenable epistemological base. And I ague that they could both improve dramatically if that issue is addressed.

"In short, I don't think modern atheists suffer the delusion you describe."

Perhaps I'm misdiagnosing a presumed disease from similar symptoms. (arrogance, pride, name-calling, etc.) But there are certainly thoughtful atheists such as yourself, and I appreciate your tempered conversation!

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_____ Commenter2:______________________________________________________

“But you would critique the self-propagating system of religion as a sham because you don't value the results.”

No. You're still arguing against an assumption about atheists that does not match up with the reality of the atheists I have actually encountered. We do not critque religion simply because we don't value the results. We don't value the results because the process that yielded those results is inconsistent and makes no sense. The results are to be called into question and are certainly a point of heavy criticism of mainstream religions, but the system itself is inconsistent regardless of results. It doesn't work, not even in relation to itself--the very statements most religions make are not consistent with other statements those same religions make. When you actually bring reality into play, almost all religious ideas are demonstrably false when compared rigorously to the sense data we actually receive (and this data is the only data we have to work with when determining the nature of reality), and the religious assertions that aren't blatantly demonstrably false still lack evidence to say they should be supported. It simply doesn't match up with observation. You may say this is a 'self perpetuating' standard to hold religion up to, but I say there is no other standard to which we can hold claims about the nature of the universe up to.

You're forming a lot of intelligent statements and arguments, but in the end you seem to be making the same mistake I've seen a lot of people make -- you take the underlying uncertainty of our sense data to mean we should hold all ideas up as worthy of consideration even if they contradict that sense data. To this I say, simply, no.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"You're still arguing against an assumption about atheists that does not match up with the reality of the atheists I have actually encountered."

Ok. Well you are changing those assumptions now and I appreciate it.

"the very statements most religions make are not consistent with other statements those same religions make"

This is true for every religion I've studied, yes. This will be the case in any human endeavor that requires subjective interpretation. There is certainly plenty of dissent and contradiction within the scientific community. Though I agree with you that science has a much clearer set of conditions for establishing truth.

"When you actually bring reality into play, almost all religious ideas are demonstrably false when compared rigorously to the sense data we actually receive"

This is where things get murky. I can't think of many religious claims that are falsifiable through rigorous sensory examination. Excluding god-of-the-gap claims of course. Most of the religious claims I've studied have to do with the heart/mind of man, god/gods and relational concepts. I've read a lot of the debunking that atheists do, (such as The Skeptic's Annotated Bible and the like) and these all have to do with a particular mode of religious interpretation that I don't subscribe to. So the areas of thought that religion touches seldom dip into the physical world of perceptions, and as such can not be empirically tested. They "work" when they produce promised results such as inner peace, increased love, and such.

"It simply doesn't match up with observation."

This is where bias and heuristics come into play. It all depends on where you are looking and what you are looking for. If a biologist is looking for snakes in the jungle with his head down he'll never find the ones gliding through the canopy.

"there is no other standard to which we can hold claims about the nature of the universe up to."

Sure there is. Internal logic and predictive power. As I said, this is interior and as such, not subject to quantification or other scientific tools of investigation. There is also explanatory power. Science offers no explanatory power for anything before time/space/matter or for ordering values for human flourishing. (As one would have to assume that evolutionary processes had fit us with intuitive values for living in advanced, complex social settings which seems painfully evident to me that it has not.) And most of all, science can not give us purpose, which I realize atheists pooh-pooh, but is incredibly important to the psychological well-being of the vast majority of people.

"you take the underlying uncertainty of our sense data to mean we should hold all ideas up as worthy of consideration even if they contradict that sense data. To this I say, simply, no."

No, I'm not doing that. I'm saying there are worthy concepts that require non-material methods of examination.

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_____ Commenter2:______________________________________________________

“Sure there is. Internal logic and predictive power.”

But, both of these processes require input before they can be of any use--the data of sensory input, which atheists feel does not support a religious view of the world. I don't find this view to be delusional or irrational by any means, even if one might disagree with it.

“Sure there is. Internal logic and predictive power. As I said, this is interior and as such, not subject to quantification or other scientific tools of investigation. There is also explanatory power. Science offers no explanatory power for anything before time/space/matter or for ordering values for human flourishing. (As one would have to assume that evolutionary processes had fit us with intuitive values for living in advanced, complex social settings which seems painfully evident to me that it has not.)”

I disagree with pretty much everything here on varying levels, but I'm getting too tired to form it into a really good point for discussion, so I'll just leave it there.

As for science and purpose. Science is not really obligated to provide a purpose. Atheists find purpose all the time independently from scientific pursuit, but without resorting to religious thinking. A really good general purpose is to "make life better, your life, the lives of those you care about, the lives of your descendants, any or all of the above." This purpose isn't provided explicitly by science, although one could argue that it is very nearly the logical "purpose" for life that falls out of evolutionary theory. But science doesn't need to provide this purpose, since that's not what science is for.There are some really good discussions by atheistic philosophers on purpose, but I'm too lazy to look them up.

Anyway, thanks for the discussion, I think I'm gonna call this one for the time being.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Just in case you want to pick it up again at some point...

"Science is not really obligated to provide a purpose."

Agreed, and it shouldn't be poking it's nose in that area. I wasn't saying that is a failure of science in any way. Just that the areas of philosophy and religion are necessary for such conjecture as purpose and meaning.

"A really good general purpose is to "make life better, your life, the lives of those you care about, the lives of your descendants, any or all of the above.""

Right, and I agree that at this level of vagueness no religious language is necessary. But once you start to get specific about what "better" is, and who you should care about and why... then you are entering territory that is all about ordering values, and even if you substitute secular lingo for the religious, you are still speaking of universal Truths that transcend individual or group instinct. Once you are there it's only semantics that separate you from religion.

"There are some really good discussions by atheistic philosophers on purpose"

I'll have to look into this. Thanks.

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_____ Commenter3:______________________________________________________

The author displays a fundamental lack of understanding of the terms "agnosticism" and "atheism". That lack of understanding pretty much renders his article completely invalid.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Perhaps. Though in my defense, I am working with a mixture of definitional and real-world experience. I've witnessed agnostics and atheists acting quite differently than the dictionary would specify. I'm confident that my points apply to SOME segment of people regardless of your understanding of these terms.

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_____ Commenter4:______________________________________________________

No, I think he defines it quite well at the beginning. Maybe not the standard definitions, but at the same time; he seems to explain it from his premise.

What do you see that I don't?

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_____ Commenter5:______________________________________________________

The writer of this article represents a classic case of someone (usually young) who is still near the offset of his doubting-of-religion and is scared to embrace the term "atheist".

So instead of calling a spade a spade, he'll spend the next few years trumpeting this can't-we-just-get-along attitude before he finally grows up and realizes that he is in fact an atheist and that he does assert that Jesus isn't/wasn't God and that, in fact, no God(s) exist.

Then he'll find himself on some random forum calling out some other new-nontheist for his pussy-footing around the obvious.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Of course I can't be sure, but it sounds like you are applying your personal life narrative on me. I obviously can't rebut your claim without a time machine, but I wonder how you see a rejection of absolute certainty as an inevitable stepping stone to atheism? I'm sure I can point to a litany of historic figures who never made that leap.

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_____ Commenter5:______________________________________________________

Who gives a shit. Seriously. But for those that do (i.e., you), you no doubt saw the person who responded first to my post pointing out that you are in fact a person of faith... so this is certainly not an application of my life narrative... as I'm not a theist.

I used the term "pussy-footing" earlier to describe you. Scratch that. You give "pussy-footing" a bad name. I'll have to come up with another term.

"I only have hopes." And then I sighed. Josh, are you having a midlife crisis? Or are you always this wishy-washy?

Seriously, what does your last paragraph mean? "I don't dare make assumptions in this area." Sure, you don't make assumptions... but yet you'll go on at GREAT length opining on it?

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"I used the term "pussy-footing" earlier to describe you. Scratch that. You give "pussy-footing" a bad name. I'll have to come up with another term."

Haha! Please let me know so I can get business cards printed up!

"Josh, are you having a midlife crisis? Or are you always this wishy-washy?"

I'm still a bit shy of my 40s, so I don't think it's midlife crisis... I guess what you call wishy-washy I call a refusal to over-simplify.

"but yet you'll go on at GREAT length opining on it?"

I consider it contemplation. And I love contemplating. So yeah. Great length.

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_____ Commenter5:______________________________________________________

Josh, I'll have to give up on thinking of another term to label you with as I really don't have time to thrash thru my thesaurus. As such, I think "typical theist" is probably most fitting for the time being.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Josh Foreman ~ Typical Theist... I like it!

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_____ Commenter5:______________________________________________________

Glad to be of help. Print it up on a sticker and you can show your pride everywhere!

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_____ Commenter6:______________________________________________________

The idea of "fundamentalist atheism" is fallacious, an attempt to tar atheists as zealots in their own right.

Atheists are those who do not believe in the supernatural, based on an assertion that there is insufficient evidence for belief.

A fundamentalist in any religion is one who adheres strictly to a core doctrine. Atheism does not have a core doctrine. Atheism rejects doctrine. Atheism rejects claims made for which there is no evidence.

An atheist would change his or her mind if any substantive evidence were presented to prove the existence of anything supernatural. But no-one has any evidence that can't be shown to be either a natural, explicable event or an errant and deliberate fraud.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

I like your definition of atheism and wish that more atheists would sign onto it! I've rarely experienced interactions with them that intricate this mindset. Rather, I usually find a blind adherence to a very predictable core doctrine, complete with a unifying historical narrative. I'm glad you have escaped this template.

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_____ Commenter7:______________________________________________________

Have to agree here... no fundy atheists. I presume he meant Dawkins in specific with that line, but it really doesn't make sense.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

I meant the vast majority of atheists that I have talked to. I'm sure not all Christians are the way you assume them to be either. That is why I made a distinction between atheists proper, and fundamentalist atheists.

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_____ Commenter8:______________________________________________________

(Quoting from my article)“And from an atheist viewpoint we can derive the perspective that we are self-exalted monkey-men with senses evolved for survival purposes that probably don’t have much to do with apprehending the grander schemes of the universe.” [my italics]

There are no "grander schemes of the universe" from the atheist viewpoint.

“It starts with the conviction that I am a flawed being, ...”

This presumes an external standard by which your beinghood is measured.

“... some might just leave all action to fate, ...”

Fate, again, external standard.

“Besides, people aren’t religious because they were argued into it, so attempting to argue them out of it is mostly pointless.”

The conclusion does not follow from the premise.

(regarding faith) “It’s impractical to test every road, bridge, tunnel, building, etc. for structural integrity before utilizing them.”

This is true, but if you wanted to, you could. There's a difference between faith and trust; all the analogies he's put down are matters of trust, not of faith.

“It’s quite possible that we perceive EVERYTHING wrong. Yet this does not stop us from using a scientific method to create stunning works of technology.”

When we can use some piece of information to predict future events with a high degree of accuracy, it's valid to say that that information is true. Our perceptions have little to do with it, since if our perceptions of present events are incorrect, our perceptions of future events may also be incorrect. As long as they match, it doesn't matter.


Verdict: douchebag.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Thanks for the informative critique! :)

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_____ Commenter9:______________________________________________________

“Verdict: douchebag.”

My reaction as well from reading his piece on Shermer. The flaws in his reasoning are so frequent that it's hard to even read without sighing in exasperation.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

I love specific examples. How can I learn and grow without specifics?

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_____ Commenter10:______________________________________________________

"Grander schemes of the universe": i.e. Gravity.
"conviction that I am flawed"- Really? you don't think you have any flaws? "Fate" - I'll give you, external standard.

"Possible we perceive everything wrong" - Granted if you can get an airplane in the air, your perceptions had to be in line with the information... you must perceive it possible before you can achieve it. I think he's appealing to the "Demon in a box" argument by Decarte, or that we are all holograms in a computer model, perceiving ourselves as real.

I have to agree with your final conclusion: As long as they match, it doesn't matter.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"I think he's appealing to the "Demon in a box" argument by Decarte"

The idea that we could be in an unreal state goes back much farther than Descartes as evidenced by Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus not to mention many eastern philosophies... Maya and the like. My point in appealing to this idea is simply to undermine the projects that rely on absolutism. (Doctrine based religion and science.)

"I have to agree with your final conclusion: As long as they match, it doesn't matter."

It depends on what you value. When perceptions and expected results align it is wonderful, I agree. But the fact that this sometimes breaks down should, I think, cause us pause and introspection.

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_____ Commenter8:______________________________________________________

“Grander schemes of the universe.”

This seemed to infer intent to me.

“... conviction that I am a flawed being ...”

Of course I don't assert that I am flawless. However, the way he's discussing the idea of "flawed beings" seems to infer that there is a universal arbiter.

Regarding reality and our perception of it, as long as our information allows us to make accurate predictions about the future, we'll use it. If new information makes more accurate predictions, or makes accurate enough predictions more easily, we'll use that, too. We didn't stop using Newtonian physics just because Einstein came along, for example, because Newtonian physics is good enough for many things. Where the margin of error is not negligible enough, we'll use something else.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"Grander schemes of the universe." This seemed to infer intent to me."

You're right. I come from such a design-oriented background that it colors my words. What I mean is all the things that have practical ramifications in the physical world, such as how we order our lives, compose our values, and organize socially.

"the way he's discussing the idea of "flawed beings" seems to infer that there is a universal arbiter."

It is true that I speak from that position, but in my defense, I was speaking specifically to Christians in that phrase. Also, I've heard atheists point to our physical flaws as evidence against design. Remember the brilliant "sewage plant next door to the recreational facilities."? (that's from memory, I don't remember the exact phrase.) My impression is that most atheists do see us as flawed animals. Besides all the physical issues there is the obvious view of spiritual ideas being harmful vestigial concepts that "ought to be" rooted out and destroyed. The entire "new" atheist evangelism is predicated on the idea that there is a standard that humans currently fall short of, no?

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_____ Commenter8:______________________________________________________

“The entire "new" atheist evangelism is predicated on the idea that there is a standard that humans currently fall short of, no?”

A human society which is organized around objective reality will ultimately be more successful than one that isn't, regardless of whether that reality is one where god exists or one where god doesn't.

Let's get right down to brass tacks, and skip all the intermediate stuff. Define the god that you believe is real, and then we'll discuss the veracity of that assertion, if you like. In my experience, the discussion always boils down to that definition, and not getting the definition out at the beginning is a mistake.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"A human society which is organized around objective reality will ultimately be more successful than one that isn't,"

I believe that there is an objective reality. But I don't believe any single person has the capacity to comprehend and interpret it accurately enough to make fully informed decisions about it. So while agree with the ideal situation of organizing around objective reality I think the project is doomed to failure since we can never collect a consensus regarding what that objective reality is.

"Define the god that you believe is real, and then we'll discuss the veracity of that assertion"

I don't dare make assumptions in this area. I only have hopes. I hope that a universe-creating Entity would care about individuals, being Loving and Just, and have a reason (That all we individuals agree with) for all the misery we are afflicted with. If that's not the case it's not. :/

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_____ Commenter8:______________________________________________________

“I don't dare make assumptions in this area.”

From your article:

“But I DO believe in a personal God based on several lines of reasoning. I am convinced that there is a God.”

Define the thing which you call "God" and which you say you are convinced exists.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

There's a reason I didn't go into more detail about that God. I am convinced that One exists, but I recognize every detail I could put up there would simply be a projection of my wishes. I promise I'm not trying to be coy here, or slip out of anything. I'm just not comfortable making declarations about "what is". That's kinda the point of agnosticism, ya know?

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_____ Commenter8:______________________________________________________

You're already giving one detail, naming it "god," which is a word that you know has certain connotations. If you can give that detail, then why can't you give another?

Or put another way, why did you choose the word "god" instead of "cheese Danish"?

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Because in our western tradition "God" signifies at least a creator. I believe that an entity that creates time/space/matter can accurately be called a god. I think there is only one of them, so I call that God with a capitol G.

"If you can give that detail, then why can't you give another?"

I did give another. I said I believed God to be personal, implying a rational, sentient intelligence. So my position is that there is one personal God. That's as far down the slippery slope that I'm willing to go.

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_____ Commenter8:______________________________________________________

Okay, then let's discuss the veracity of those assertions.

“I believe that an entity that creates time/space/matter can accurately be called a god. I think there is only one of them, ...

... implying a rational, sentient intelligence.”

So, we have one god who created the universe, and who is rational and sentient. Do you have any basis for these assertions, or do you make them without foundation?

I'll guess at your bases; correct me if I'm wrong.

One, you believe that there must be some "first cause." Except, of course, for the thing which is that first cause, which needs no cause. Why can't the universe itself be uncaused, if real things can be uncaused?

This supports that idea: time has a beginning, with the big bang. Cause and effect have an innate temporal quality. It is folly to talk about cause and effect without time. Edit: hence, to consider what happened "before" the big bang to "cause" it makes no sense. /edit

Next, and the implication of a rational, sentient intelligence.

A rational, sentient god which intervenes in the universe would have some measurable effect on the universe, for which the best explanation would be supernatural influence. Since our universe is rational, regular and predictable, an event which is best described by being supernaturally caused (and thereby distinguishable from "normal" events) would have to be irrational in our universe. Rational effects and events are not distinguishable from non-supernatural events, being best explained by reason to be non-supernatural.

A god which doesn't intervene in our universe is unreachable; we can't reach it, and it can't reach us or anything else inside our universe. While such a "god" may exist, it doesn't matter to sentient beings inside the universe either way.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"One, you believe that there must be some "first cause."

I'm sure we both know the big 4 arguments for God and their rebuttals. I find three of them compelling in certain ways. I never "got" the ontological one. Arguing about what can or cannot exist without time, or what an unmoved mover means strikes me as futile.

As to your miracles argument: I don't interpret God's movement or action in this world as interference, disruption, or even as superseding. Those kinds of arguments posit a being who acts and reacts and simply strikes me as anthropomorphic. I posit a Being who "spoke" forth creation/vibrations/what-have-you with perfect forethought. There are no accidents, no opposing forces, no need to disrupt the "natural" order of things to bring His will about. The machinery of nature (physics, chemistry, etc.) and methods of combination, (evolution, entropy, etc.) were all designed to play out exactly as they did. In this view there are no miracles and everything is a miracle. God does not need to be "reached". He is imminent in all matter thought and action. Our reality is simply a manifestation of His creative powers.

Now I realize this is just a bunch of gibberish to you, but that highlights the real foundation of our difference in opinion. To me, all this theological mumbo-jumbo is worthwhile because it is an exploration of possibilities in the pursuit of a theory-of-everything. This may not be the case for you personally, but most atheists I've talked to perfer to only build a theory of everything with materialist presuppositions. It makes things much cleaner that way. But this method strikes me as utterly incomplete because it withers the human away to nothing. It makes the life of the mind and heart mere data to be cataloged. Passion, love, art and all that stuff that actually moves us is downplayed to such an extent that humanism flattens the human experience.

While it's possible materialism and atheism may be correct, they do not provide any grounds for human flourishing beyond mere survival. Ask anyone in a coma how that works out for them.

Oh, and so you don't misunderstand... I'm not saying that atheists are heartless creatures who don't care about love and art. I'm saying they utilize concepts that contradict their premises.

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_____ Commenter8:______________________________________________________

“Now I realize this is just a bunch of gibberish to you, ...”

Don't worry, it's not.

What you seem to be describing is that second non-interventionist god. This is classic deism, that a god willed existence and nothing more. It's perfectly unassailable, apart from a little Occam's razor.

How does your view of the universe differ based on your belief in this god? I don't see how it could be any different than an atheist view, considering that this god does not interact with the universe.

“Passion, love, art and all that stuff that actually moves us is downplayed to such an extent that humanism flattens the human experience.”

Just because something can be explained without a supernatural influence doesn't mean lots of people can't find it absolutely wonderful.

“I'm saying they utilize concepts that contradict their premises.”

You completely lost me there.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"What you seem to be describing is that second non-interventionist god. This is classic deism"

I don't think it's that at all. It's an option C. God isn't tinkering and changing stuff on the fly based on whims.(A) God isn't removed from nature and uncaring.(B) God has simply spoken His desire into being. This option allows for real interaction with God, and allows for things we would call miracles because He wrote the whole shebang in every detail. To me, the god of the Theists was simply a fallback stance to avoid the wonky theodicies flying around. My theodicy is one that doesn't get much airtime. It's very unpopular because it says that God meant for evil and suffering to happen. No one wants to even consider that God planned Hitler and child molesters. The assumption is that a loving being could never do that. But if there is a far greater outcome, a redemption of all suffering that every sufferer truly found to be worth it "on the other side", then it is no different than a doctor administering painful procedures to save a life, or the concept of braces. I don't know if you're familiar, but this is a form of a soul-making theodicy. That is: God spoke all this into being as a process for creating a certain kind of being. The process requires experience of pain and suffering. This can be extrapolated from the common human experience of maturation through struggle.

I know this whole theodicy is completely a tangent, but I thought it would help to contextualize my statements. The point here is that this sort of theory (as opposed to materialism theories) gives room to the things we value more than physical matter. There could be a God or there could not be a God. So when choosing a system for organizing my life, it seems to me completely rational to choose one that accommodates things that I value. And one that accounts for a huge portion of human experience that materialism has to marginalize.

"How does your view of the universe differ based on your belief in this god?"

So does that help you see how my view is different? Prayer, miracles, and such can happen, but not in a cause-and-effect sort of way that traditional Abrahamic religions propose. If I pray for rain, it was because God put my neurons and DNA together that way, using the systems of nature to compose me. So He is not considering a request and then choosing whether or not He will acquiesce. He is moving me to ask and His action had been determined "before" time/space/matter. There is a relationship between creature and Creator, we simply interpret our thoughts and actions as autonomous or free will because we can't fathom the complexity of our motivations or the way that history has inexorably brought them about.

"Just because something can be explained without a supernatural influence doesn't mean lots of people can't find it absolutely wonderful."

Absolutely! But this is the contradiction that I'm referring to. I've tried many times to find a way to justify the place that love, self-sacrifice, art, and such have in our lives from a strictly materialist perspective. I keep coming back to a sort of Moral Law argument. In other words, you can come up with materialist theories for all of these great things existing. And you can personally chose to value them, and pass those values onto your kids, and encourage them in your society. But just like morals, without a transcendent mechanism for ordering them there is no justification for propagating them beyond mere enjoyment. Any meaning that they have is personally imbued. Any forced adherence is socially constructed power-plays.

Now, in all practicality, this IS how the world works. Religion certainly doesn't fix that problem since they appeal to contradicting authorities. But here is the big BUT: It only makes rational, logical sense to order values if they are real things and not socially constructed fuzzies. If you consider, say, Love, to be only a series of chemical infusions and electronic impulses then Love is not really a thing. It's a description of processes. You can value the resulting actions or feelings, but you cannot value Love. This emotionally undermines adherence to it. This fosters values that are counter to love because there is no rational reason for putting it above other attitudes when one doesn't feel like it.

If you have a worldview that actively undermines the values that you think are important, perhaps you should adopt one that doesn't.

That being said, this is just my own ramblings. I'll be very interested to see what atheists who specialize in this field have to say.

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_____ Commenter8:______________________________________________________

The first part of your comment sounds a lot like determinism. If all my actions are intended by a supernatural god, doesn't that excuse me from adhering to any code of values, whether those be my own, societal, or supernatural?

“I keep coming back to a sort of Moral Law argument. ... But just like morals, without a transcendent mechanism for ordering them there is no justification for propagating them beyond mere enjoyment. Any meaning that they have is personally imbued.”

Morality is not absolute. The closer you get, situationally, to the line between moral and immoral, the less specific that line gets.

“You can value the resulting actions or feelings, but you cannot value Love. This emotionally undermines adherence to it.”

Well, if you're going to go there, we can only value the effects of everything via observation through our senses. That doesn't make my desk unreal, and it doesn't make me think my desk is unreal.

“It only makes rational, logical sense to order values if they are real things and not socially constructed fuzzies.”

I may be reading between the lines here, but it looks like you're saying that "it only makes sense to objectively and universally order values if there is an external arbiter for those values." That is correct. I am saying that it doesn't make sense to objectively and universally order values, because there is no external arbiter.

And, if you subscribe to determinism, ordering values doesn't matter.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Thanks for the thoughtful replies. A lot of this is what I'm discussing in my next article. Hopefully you'll pick it up with me again.

I won't be going into determinism, so I'll just say that everything that matters to freewill beings matters to determined beings who feel autonomous as we all do.

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_____ Commenter11:______________________________________________________

The good news is that you don't have to be sure what's right to be sure what's wrong. As Isaac Asimov put it, "[W]hen people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was [perfectly] spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

There's also a very common equivocation about the word "faith". Trust based on a reasonable amount of confirming evidence and history is one thing. But believing in something without evidence - or even *against* evidence - is something entirely different. But people frequently muddle the two concepts with the same word, 'faith'. I can get behind the former, but not the latter.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

I agree, and I’m using the former definition. I like to define everything, but then my articles end up 20 pages long.

“The good news is that you don't have to be sure what's right to be sure what's wrong…”

Ah, I see. You are commenting on my claim that both atheists and Christians are deluded by a reliance on human interpretive faculties here. My claim is that the delusion is of the same type, not the same quantity. This is not to say that both sets of claims are equally invalid. I find much wisdom and usefulness in both camps. They branch into separate spheres of human endeavor and so comparing the results of religion and science is very much apples and oranges to me.

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_____ Commenter11:______________________________________________________

Josh - If you're not using "faith" in the sense of "belief without or in spite of evidence", then I suggest you use words like "trust" or "confidence" instead of "faith", to avoid the common confusion among definitions that "faith" is liable to.

E.g., "we move freely about our world only because we have [trust or confidence] in the infrastructure around us".

And I'd have to take issue with your characterization that "both atheists and Christians are deluded by a reliance on human interpretive faculties". Deluded *by*?

You seem to agree that people can have reasonable confidence (not "absolute" confidence) in things like, say, infrastructure. Is someone *deluded* when they drive over a bridge showing no obvious signs of wear? They might well be *mistaken*, but *deluded* carries the connotation of *irrational* belief.

Some erroneous beliefs do rise to the level of delusion, sure. But that doesn't mean *all* of them are. It really is possible to be confident enough of something that it would be irrational *not* to believe it - e.g. heliocentrism.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"Josh - If you're not using "faith" in the sense of "belief without or in spite of evidence", then I suggest you use words like "trust" or "confidence" instead of "faith", to avoid the common confusion among definitions that "faith" is liable to.”

This is a very good point that I should have clarified. My conception of faith is synonymous with trust. Faith is trust in a religious or relational context. So it was a bit of a juxtaposition to apply the word to physical matter.

I think it is a typical atheist straw man to define faith as belief without or despite evidence, and I don’t use the word that way.

“Is someone *deluded* when they drive over a bridge showing no obvious signs of wear? They might well be *mistaken*, but *deluded* carries the connotation of *irrational* belief.”

The delusion I’m referring to is not in any act of faith or trust as you prefer to call it. It is the epistemological assumptions that are drawn from them. We are lulled into a false sense of security by relying on our senses, and build heuristics of action and thought predicated on an unarticulated concept of 1 to 1 cause and effect. I call this a delusion because it is demonstrably untrue. Both philosophic and scientific experimentation has shown this, yet most people sweep that fact under the carpet without considering the logical ramifications. I’ll be going into this in my next article.

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_____ Commenter11:______________________________________________________

Josh, I'm afraid the sense of faith being "despite evidence" is far from an atheist strawman. See, e.g., the case of Kurt Wise: www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/dawkins_21_4.html

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

Thanks for the article. Upon consideration, I've decided that you are right about my misuse of the word "faith". Despite me and my small circle using it differently, the world at large certainly reads it a specifically different way. I'm editing the article I'm currently working on to reflect this. Thanks for the feedback!

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_____ Commenter12:______________________________________________________

Ugh, a young atheist too ashamed to call himself what he truly is.

Joshua, grow a pair.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

One thing I’ve noticed in my short 34 years on this earth is that philosophical dispositions are always in flux. I assume you’re older and wiser than I, so please let me know which of my points alerts you an inevitable evolution towards atheism.

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_____ Commenter13:______________________________________________________

I don't base love on "faith". I base it on evidence of the way a person treats me. Sounds like "faith" is an excuse to ignore real issues.

I am open to new information. I do look into the claims of theists and I find them lacking in credibility. Deists are much more reasonable. I do not personally believe in a god. I accept the possibility of one or many existing, yet I see no evidence of that being true.

I think religion is a tool. The problem I see is that many people don't acknowledge the problems with it. It can be used for good or bad things. It needs some regulation since it doesn't seem to be able to regulate itself.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"I don't base love on "faith". I base it on evidence of the way a person treats me."

That’s what I was trying to communicate. I believe that true faith is what we call the impression we get from various evidences.

Mike says: "I think religion is a tool."

I think religion is many things. But I agree that it is often used as a tool for a variety of purposes.

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_____ Commenter14:______________________________________________________

Joshua, I really like that you call yourself an agnostic and yet you also believe in a god. It drives me crazy when people presume that an agnostic is a person who lacks belief in gods and an atheist is a person who is absolutely certain that no gods exist. These are total misdefinitions. Agnosticism pertains to knowledge, theism/atheism pertain to belief. I'm an agnostic atheist just as much as you are an agnostic theist. I'm an atheist because I see no reason to believe that any gods exist. I'm an agnostic atheist because I don't think that we can ever disprove the gods' existence, mostly because gods are so vaguely defined it would be impossible to define a suitable experiment. I also believe that we can't disprove the existence of trolls, fairies, unicorns, and Big Foot. In fact, I'm probably an agnostic about everything, which leads me to my second compliment that I will pay you that you used the word "convinced". That's really all that matters, isn't it. You see enough evidence to convince you. I like to qualify my beliefs in terms of probabilities, by using statements like "If I had to place a bet", or "I am x% certain". Like you, I'm open to changing my mind based on newly-presented credible evidence, but when it comes to the god thing, I'm at the point where god is going to have to appear directly before me and speak with me. All of the other evidence just doesn't cut it.

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_____ Commenter15:______________________________________________________

"Furthermore all these laws are simply human constructs based on limited observation and subject to the biases of our worldview, and more fundamentally, our finite senses. (See Feyerabend, Kuhn, and Polanyi for a varitey of critiques of science.)"

Sure. And the next time you have a bowel movement, take a wipe, and then have a good close look at the tissue to get an idea how important scientists feel philosophy of science is to the actual performance of science.

E pur si muove!

"This habit of using FAITH in the physical, psychological and scientific areas of life..."

Oh wow, and it's in ALL CAPS! You must really mean it. Even though I don't think you did an adequate job of establishing that "faith" is applicable to science first.

"For instance, Merriam-Webster says of skepticism “the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain.”"

1) You took a single definition from a general dictionary. You did not go to a specialized reference, such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2) You don't inquire as what definition Shermer himself might use for the word.

"What I’m trying to do is to create a doctrine of skepticism that applies to all things equally. Science, religion, psychology, politics, and most importantly, my OWN perceptions, and the foundation of my philosophical outlook."

I don't think that all those things are equally deserving of skepticism.

Science, for example, holds that all its findings are provisional and open to question, that testing against the actual world is the best way of verifying knowledge, and it actually gets results.

Most religions, on the other hand, hold some dogma, and they use epistemological methods that are known to be unreliable (ancient texts, inspiration, internal warm fuzzy feelings). As for verification, that's right out the window. Religions are not big on verification, and much of their "knowledge" is unverifiable by any method. So what do you do when two religions hold incompatible unverifiable doctrine? At least one of them must be wrong

Since you didn't seem interested in exploring Shermer's definition of skepticism, you readers can find it at the Skeptic web iste:

www.skeptic.com/about_us/
"Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas — no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position..."

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"Sure. And the next time you have a bowel movement, take a wipe, and then have a good close look at the tissue to get an idea how important scientists feel philosophy of science is to the actual performance of science.”

My contention is that this attitude is incredibly short sighted and hinders the potential for scientific progress. That fact that science is moving right along does not mean our current practices are perfect. Being unaware or uncaring of philosophical biases will weaken any endeavor whether it be politics, war, love, or science.

“Oh wow, and it's in ALL CAPS! You must really mean it. Even though I don't think you did an adequate job of establishing that "faith" is applicable to science first. “

Sorry, it’s just difficult to italicize in the editor for this site, so I go caps sometimes. I’m sorry for using the word faith, when trust is more applicable. I consider them synonyms, but I should have considered that many people don’t. As to establishing that trust is applicable to science… wow, to adequately address that would be several articles in themselves. That’s why I just linked to a couple guys who have done a good job of it already. But my overall point is that we are trusting our senses to be accurate. We are trusting our tools to be accurate. We are trusting our interpretive abilities to be accurate. You can agree with that, right? Using peer-review only pushes the problem back one step as every peer has the same intrinsic trust issues.

“1) You took a single definition from a general dictionary. You did not go to a specialized reference, such as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
2) You don't inquire as what definition Shermer himself might use for the word.”

1) You are right, I’m trying to combine popular definition with more technical meaning and the result is uneven.
2) The contention of this and the previous article is that scientific skepticism is circular and invalid. I’m aware that Shermer is a scientific skeptic and not a philosophical skeptic. I’m attempting (rather poorly apparently) to show weaknesses in that position.

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_____ Commenter15:______________________________________________________

"But my overall point is that we are trusting our senses to be accurate."

No. We KNOW that our senses are unreliable. Example:
www.neatorama.com/2008/02/27/the-purple-nurple-optical-illusion/
In some instances we can even decipher the ways in which they are unreliable.

"We are trusting our tools to be accurate."

No. I'm guessing that you are not an actual scientist, or you would know that calibrating your tools and _demonstrating_ their reliability is a big part of science. There is a huge field of mathematics called probability which is useful for this. In addition: this gets to your use of "faith" and "trust." Once we have demonstrated that our tools are accurate, we "trust" them to the extent of the demonstration. This is in no-wise related to the usage of "faith" which Ray Ingles mentions, and which is commonly used in philosophical discussions. Since "faith" is ambiguous, it is best to avoid other usage of it in philosophical discussion.

"We are trusting our interpretive abilities to be accurate. You can agree with that, right?"

We KNOW that our cognitive processes can be inaccurate. Example:
thinkingworlds.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/cognitive-illusions/

In some cases we can even decipher and quantify the inaccuracies. Here's a great video you may have seen before, see if you can count the number of basketball passes:
viscog.beckman.illinois.edu/flashmovie/15.php

While science has skepticism and verification (experimental controls and repetition, peer review) built in, religion does not. And the methods of epistemology used by religion, i.e. (alleged) eyewitness testimony, ancient texts, warm fuzzy inner felings, we KNOW to be unreliable.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

“I don't think that all those things are equally deserving of skepticism.”
I agree that we don’t need to apply the same level of scrutiny to physical claims as to philosophic, relational, or religious claims. What I’m advocating is a very intense examination of philosophic ideas that drive our research and beliefs in other areas. As you pointed out with your toilet paper analogy, that’s something scientists don’t like to do.

“So what do you do when two religions hold incompatible unverifiable doctrine? At least one of them must be wrong .”


Sure, in some cases. That’s why I’m agnostic before I’m Christian.

“Since you didn't seem interested in exploring Shermer's definition of skepticism, you readers can find it at the Skeptic web iste:www.skeptic.com/about_us/ “

For the record, I posted 3 links to his websites in my last article.

“I'm guessing that you are not an actual scientist,”

That is correct. I’m an artist. My lack of math and science skills obviously hinder my performance as a philosopher. But I assume everyone has some gaping hole in their knowledge banks. Anyway, that is why I appreciate your input. But I think my statement still stands. We are trusting our tools to be accurate in this sense: every measure that can be applied to a tool is contingent. We take a sort of Gestalt approach to minimizing risk by applying as many measures as possible, but there is always a chance for error, even if there appear to be consistent results. Especially if an observer or group of observers are biased towards a particular result. (No, I’m not an anti-evolutionist young-earther, so don’t go there!)

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_____ Commenter15:______________________________________________________

Suppose you read in a scientific paper: "We do not trust the Smith paper's results using the ST-288 vorticizer, because that instrument has been shown to be inaccurate. So we ran our own experiments, which we trust, using the ST-288 vorticizer..."

That would set off a red flag, wouldn't it?

But if a religious person told you, "Hindu miracles are not real; they are all delusions, misperceptions, and sometimes outright pious fraud. But I believe in Mormon miracles, as detailed in the Book of Mormon"

Would you notice the same error? Religion has not accepted the same requirements for verification and consistency that we demand of science.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

“But if a religious person told you, "Hindu miracles are not real; they are all delusions, misperceptions, and sometimes outright pious fraud. But I believe in Mormon miracles, as detailed in the Book of Mormon"

Would you notice the same error? Religion has not accepted the same requirements for verification and consistency that we demand of science.”


You are absolutely correct. You cannot apply peer review and material tools to religious claims. Religious claims need to be examined for internal consistency and explanatory/predictive power. (Assuming you are searching for Truth in a religion rather than mere utility as a self-improvement mechanism.)

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_____ Commenter15:______________________________________________________

"You are absolutely correct. You cannot apply peer review and material tools to religious claims. Religious claims need to be examined for internal consistency and explanatory/predictive power."

I am not sure that you understood me fully. I am not saying that religious claims cannot be tested and that is OK. I am saying that religious claims cannot be tested, and therefore should not be accepted.

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_____Joshua Foreman:_______________________________________________

"I am saying that religious claims cannot be tested, and therefore should not be accepted."

I'm saying that they can be tested, but the tools are not material and the results are not quantifiable. The results are far more probabilistic than that of a study of bacteria growth. At what point does the probability have to be for you to stop considering results?

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