Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Supernatural vs Natural, part 2

This is going to be a short one, because I have already written a post similar to this. This one comes at it from a different direction though, so here goes. It occurred to me this morning in the shower (again) that the term supernatural is self-contradictory, or at least the word contradicts the definition. Consider that the root word of supernatural is natural, to which the prefix super is attached. Super alters the existing condition of natural. Natural becomes supernatural, supernatural stemming originally from simply natural. Now, the commonly accepted understanding of the word supernatural is something that is "above" the natural world, somehow beyond the reaches of the laws of nature, transcendent, if you will. But this definition implies that the supernatural is more advanced than the natural, that the supernatural is what the natural stemmed from. The accepted definition contradicts what the words actually mean. It's funny that so many religions claim this secondary, newly-adopted and morphed definition, the natural world is the intentional product of those inhabitants of the supernatural realm. If this were the case, then the word natural should apply to what we actually refer to today as the supernatural, while the natural world as we call it today should actually be referred to as Subnatural, since it is the natural world which, according to many religious doctrines, is the altered state, and consequently is less-perfect than the supernatural world. Looking at things this way, it is easy to see how sub-standard religions regard their very proponents. It is deceptively masochistic to base a doctrine, or series of doctrines on the idea that those who are to accept and believe the doctrine are somehow less than what they truly are. Religions should celebrate the wonder of humanity, the inherent worthiness of our existing at all. Instead, many relegate us to a station merely one step beyond that of rocks (and some even put us below them, as even the rocks and mountains will sing his praises, while we will not, aptly attests :-)). While this is partly a semantic issue, semantics are how we communicate. Through commonly accepted ideas, not just words, but the very ideas, we became civilized. Through the words, we now allow ourselves to either continue in a civilized manner, or degenerate into our previous more primitive selves, only this time knowingly. Choose your words carefully, make sure you are really saying what you mean, or you might find yourself in the middle of a Brainwashing session, a Jihad or even a cave in the middle of the french countryside making drawings of buffalo with slightly differently colored clays you happen to find while foraging for berries, or perhaps hunting stags. Progress happens from the less sophisticated to the more, the supernatural stemmed from the natural. Unfortunately, imagination has become so complex, it has hijacked our sense of existence, and has made us believe in our own fairytales. Perhaps, this is only a rogue branch on the tree of evolution, and the trunk remains intact. Infact, I'm sure it does, but wouldn't it be nice for humanity to be around for the remainder of the evolutionary road, instead of our getting lost down this dead-end branch, too ignorant, delusional or blindly egotistic to see that we should turn around?

Monday, June 23, 2008

On Creativity, Part 1.

A few months ago I started writing something, an essay, a blog, something, about creativity. I was holed up in a hotel sick as a dog and by myself for an entire saturday. So I spent half the day watching the discovery channel (Deadliest Catch was running a marathon that day) and the other half thinking about and then writing, preliminarily, this thing about creativity. The previous week had witnessed a conversation between a teacher friend of mine and myself, about creativity, one evening as we drove home from orchestra rehearsal. I don't really remember the initial discussion or it's origins, but the issue that everyone is creative came up at some point. My friends stance was that indeed everyone is creative, they only need outlets with which they can express it; whereas, my position was that perhaps not everyone is creative, but only some are. More than anything else, I was playing the devil's advocate that night, but after dropping my friend off and driving home alone, late at night, for 2 more hours, I found myself thinking about what I had posited. When I got home, I had started to feel my oncoming sickness and additionally, the conversation that had started nearly three hours earlier was still running in my mind with no signs of stopping or even quieting down.
I thought about it for the remainder of the week and on that saturday, I found myself in the hotel with a notepad, a phone and a lot of time. So I started writing. What I came up with represents the ewmbryonic stage of what has become a monstrosity of thought, opinion and conclusions about what we mean when we speak the word creativity, when we opine that something or someone is creative, and what possibly comprises the field of inquiry.
One of the first thoughts I had about creativity that saturday was actually a question, or more precisely, a series of related questions, the first of which was, Is creativity something that exists outside of ourselves and if so, what comprises it, such that we can (presumably) recognize its existence? So I started thinking, and I came up with four components: Imagination, Resources, Motivation and Skill. After coming up with these catagories, I then started asking myself, how much of each catagory was required for creativity to exist as we know it. At this point, I decided to ask around to see what other folks might think. Luckily, I was to be at the last concert of the orchestra cycle the next day, and so I knew I would have at my disposal, at least a few willing survey-takers within the confines of my orchestra colleagues (at least I assumed I would, and it turned out I did). So I started an informal, fairly non-scientific survey. I ended up getting about 60 or 70 participants, mostly orchestra folks, but there were a few laypeople (not involved in the arts) who also participated. The results were interesting in that the opinions varied much more than I would have guessed. Here is what I garnered:

Imagination: roughly 40.6 %
Motivation: roughly 26%
Skill: roughly 19.4%
Resources: roughly 14%

As you can see, imagination was far and away the largest required component, in the opinions of my survey audience, involved in the creative process, while the actual resources were considered to be the least important. After gathering this information, I continued thinking about my catagories,a nd at some point along the way, I altered the catagories in a fundamental way. This happened during the course of gathering the survey results, and so in the interest of congruence, I maintained the original catagories throughout the entire survey process. The original groups (all 4) remained in my mind as catagories, after I morphed the divisions, what I did was simply reorder the existing catagories into a new registration. The new configuration became not 4 catagories but 2: Intention and Resources. You're probably asking yourself, where the heck is Imagination in the new configuration. Seeing as how it garnered the most votes of confidence in the original survey, can I live with eliminating it from the results altogether? This is why I reorderd things. Imagination now fell under the catagory of Resources, along with Skill and the original resources (notice the lowercase r), leaving only Motivation to be accounted for (from the original fantastic four). In the process of reordering the catagories, I realized that motivation was not the ultimate factor I had once thought it was. Motivation revealed itself as a precursory step to Intention. This new step became the fourth catagory, having been based upon the earlier motivation. So, as I now had it, it went:

Resources:
Imagination:
Skill:
Resources (also renamed as materials):

Intention:
motivation:

The numbers I had gathered remained the same, at least I think they did (and do), so thank you to all of those who participated in my thought experiment.
As to the writing of the essay about creativity, it is continuing, but I will admit, I have taken a brief hiatus from it, as I was becoming a bit overwhelmed with the scope. But I will be posting portions of it on this blog as I finish them. In the meantime, those of you (few though you are) who were wondering when that danged fool Dan was going to actually post what he said he was going to, here it is, thanks for your patience.

To be Continued.......

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A life philosophy

I was wondering earlier today (in the shower, which is where I usually come up with these blog topics) about how different folks arrive at their philosophy of life. Some grow up in a religious household (actually,most do, at least in America), and retain those same beliefs when they leave home and start their own life. Some grow up in secular households (a sad minority) and retain their secularity into adulthood. And of course there are those who grow up in one or the other types of home environments, who turn away from their inherited beliefs by looking to the opposite, atheist turns religious, religious turns atheist. I will concede the varying degrees of either system as being considered autonomous, but will also point out that an equal claim can be made that all variations (Pantheist, Deist, Agnostic, etc...) are simply that, variations on one of two themes. Isn't it interesting that there is no neutral ground in which a child, living in America (or anywhere in the world for that matter) can grow up. Either a child is reared as someone without religious beliefs, or they are raised with some form of religious belief. It is not possible for someone to come to either side of the table from a neutral place. Isn't it also interesting that to come to atheism or religiosity from a place of complete neutrality, would be the most valid route, not being polluted by any particular view, towards possession of a belief (whatever it may be). There is either belief or unbelief, there is no middle ground. Again, I willingly concede that agnosticism, buddhism, taosim, skepticism and all the other unmentioned forms could lay claim to the phantom middle ground; but, if you get down to brass tacks, they are only "types" of one or the other. Skepticism is a degree of atheism, so is agnotiscism. Buddhism is a form of religiosity, so are the milieu of native american belief systems. Either you believe in a higher power, or you do not.
But isn't there a different way of looking at this? Knowing there is only belief or unbelief, perhaps unbelief is a more neutral satnce than belief. Atheism means unbelief. Religiosity means belief in something bigger than us, that is not us, but has or has had a measure of control over us. So unbelief in such a thing would, semantically, satisfy the criteria of "in opposition". Are atheism and religiosity diamteric opposites? Maybe not. Maybe atheism is the neutral ground we are looking for. If so, then what would be the opposite of religiosity? Perhaps anti-religiosity? Christianity vs Satanism? No that can't be, because satanism is a form of religion. We are all born as atheists, aren't we? I, for one have never heard tell of, nor witnessed a newborn infant proselytising about the evils of unbelief and/or the wonders of religious belief. As infants, our lack of language capability is an understandable impediment to our being immediate prophets. From this argument, we can see that from birth until some unknown age, which differs for each child born, we are atheists. It is the natural state of birth. We aren't born into sin, we are born into atheism. God is small potatoes compared to the mammary glands of a hungry, newborn's mother (or the other assorted methods of nourishment available to mothers today). How could an infant give a rip about an invisible god, when Mom (or Dad) is around to comfort them, to make them feel safe and happy? Ironically, these attributes are exactly what god is supposed to be the (non-physical) embodiment of. He is a father-figure, there to comfort us when we need it. Funny how, as parents, we provide these services to our children through our physical presence, but god supposedly provides these services to us , while being conspicuously, physically absent. How does he do this? Atheistic belief is what we all begin life with. Religious belief is a choice we all are confronted with in our later lives. For sure, many parents, teachers, or preachers, hijack that choice from us at our most impressionable ages, stealing, what can be a valuable lesson in choice and consequence to our young selves, but regardless, the decision to live a religious life is a voluntary one. Afterall, god "gave" us freewill, with which he expected we would "choose" the life he wanted us to, didn't he? So, assuming the mantle of atheist for a moment, how would the choice made by someone to live unreligiously, be a change from the life already being lived by the chooser? Answer, it would be no different. People come to religion, for many varying reasons, but they always come to it from atheism, whether they realize it or not and regardless of whether they would like it.
What about those, who walk away from religion? Aren't they "coming" to atheism just as those who receive religion do? Perhaps secondarily, but at the beginning of our lives, we all (including those who eventually walk away from religion) approach religion from atheism. Whatever happens subsequent to the initial drawing of religion, is just that, subsequent action on our parts.
Atheism, as it turns out, is more neutral than we initially thought.
It's interesting, that the decision to be religious, is made by those from a religious home, most often prior to the time that they become conscious of themselves, others, and how their actions effect everything and everyone around them. It seems cognitive maturity is not all that important to the process of coming to religion. If left alone, the atheistically-born child, will grow into cognitive maturity, and at that point, having been left alone, they will be able to decide on a path for their spiritual lives, one way or the other. The key point is the decision can be made after cognitive maturity is reached, not before.
Sometimes, people will be allowed to come to their own decision regarding religiosity, after they have reached a level of cognitive maturity, but other factors, sentimentality, familial ties, tradition, etc... will interject a strong influence over the "decision" and the individual may not come to the chosen path with complete intellectual honesty. This decision usually comes back to haunt those who make it, either by instigating severe guilt, shame and regret, or by pulling the individual away from the false path. Those who never choose to be religious, having examined the tenets from a cognitively mature vantage and having purposely rejected those tenets, are perhaps the most fortunate of all of us. For everyone else, we must decide on our own at the correct time, overcoming or succumbing to the intellectually dishonest advice and direction offered by those we have been surrounded with our entire lives, i.e. family and friends. To return to our atheistic roots is, from my view, the best course to take, but only if we supplant religiosity with concern for humanity and our place in the sphere of earth life. If this doesn't take place, and atheism allows us to contribute nothing to the betterment of anyone (even if it is only ourselves), but religion does allow us to contribute positively to human life, then it might seem religion would be an accepatable platform to standupon, but that platform is built on ground which covers more problems than we might know. Religious belief may help some, but it does not help all. It cannot, for there are many differing beliefs, and only one can be right. They can not all be correct, many are contradictory by their very natures. Similarly, atheism may not help everyone, but unlike the world's religions, there is really only one type of unbelief, UNBELIEF. Therefore, since it is the natural state we are all born in, and there are no contradictorial variations of it, atheism offers humanity the best option for bettering our lives while we are here. And remember, we are only here for 100 years, give or take. Is it really worth it to sacrifice those years, for something no one on the earth has any concrete reason to believe in? Wouldn't it be better to live life as we were born to live it? Giving credit only where it is due, and not relegating our worth to something other than ourselves? We are atheists, let us celebrate that and live that life.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Update to Atheist 13 meme again

I've changed my mind again. It's really Cosmology, Philosophy, Cognitive neurophilosophy, paleontology, astrophysics and elementary particle physics. There, I think that about covers it. Til next time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

update to Atheist 13 meme

I've changed my mind. I'm more excited about the field of Cognitive neurophilosophy, not cognitive neuroscience, although there is a large amount of bleedover between the two fields.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Atheist 13 meme

This is a response to another blog I read earlier this evening. Billy the Atheist. He's the questioner, I'm the responder.

Q1. How would you define “atheism”?
"The natural course one would adopt after a period of philosophical social and self-examination, scientific and religious exploration and reflection."
Q2.Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?
"Yes. Christian, protestant, pentecostal (fundamentalist)"
Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?
"oxymoronic"
Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?
"cognitive neuroscience"
Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?
"Not sure, perhaps more vocal, but with the normal congeniality."
Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?
"How have you arrived at this decision?"
Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?
"First Cause. my response is usually to direct to the writings of Dr. Brian Green and Dr. Stephen Hawking, and what their particular theories have to say about the "necessity" of a first cause ie. "Creator". Secondary to that, I sometimes will take the Sam Harris route of pointing out that even if there were a first cause, who says the particular god they happen to believe in is the causative agent, or that we might be part of an alien simulation, etc..."
Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?
"Not sure, perhaps that spiritualism is wholly a natural phenomenon, contained within our brains,not without?"
Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?
" Daniel Dennett. I'd like to study cognitive neuroscience and he is ensconced in that field of expertise, not to mention, his books are really fun to read."
Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?
"I'd rather convinve the droves and droves of apathetic "believers" that what they say they believe is something they don't even understand. I would like have them come to realize how juvenile and naive the tenets of their faith really are; and, I would have them learn as much as possible about my "side" of things in order for them to see just how convincing an atheistic view of life doesn't even need to be, yet still is!"

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On being religious

Religious people like the idea, not the act, of being religious. Saying they believe a particular religious faith's themes and proclamations is what really matters to them, when you get down to the real stuff. The word religion is fraught with connotations of "rightness", "how we should behave and think" and "morality". These connotations also exist outside of religion, but the religious don't make the connection. To say " I am a christian" is to be proud. But of what? I distinctly remember at a Christopher Hitchens debate with his brother Peter, Christopher calling out anyone in the audience to stand up and willingly admit they are a sheep for their christian faith, and sure enough, one middle-aged woman stood up defiantly, and with a fervency usually reserved for AA meetings, spoke up for her sheepishness. She was absolutely proud to say she was a sheep for christ, blind to anything that might run counter to the teachings of her faith (whatever it may be). It is this pride that the religious are happily infected with, and it is this pride that will ensure a divided world for as long as we are here. Can you imagine a moderate muslim being happily accepting of a belief that the prophet muhammud was a sufferer of temporal lobe epilepsy, and that is why he recorded the fantastic imagery he did within the koran and the hadith? It is an issue of pride in what we've chosen to believe, but it is also an issue of selfish pride, in that what we've chosen to follow cannot be wrong, else we might look the fool. Which brings us back to the appearance of religiosity. Those who truly believe in the tenets of religions, are those who have thought about those tenets at great length, and have had to come to some level of acceptance regarding the discrepancies, unpleasantries and negative connotations the examined religions harbor. There is no existent religion that answers all questions, without discrepancy and mystery. This being the case, one of them might be right, all of them might be right, some of them might be right, or all of them might be wrong, the claim each of them hold on Truth, is equally valid to their counterparts. This is why it is much easier for the general populus to skate the surfaces of religion, by posturing themselves about as devout and pious. Because, to do otherwise would require an immense amount of problem-solving, data-padding, and outright contradiction, and they know this. They would rather say they are religious, because on the surface that type of proclamation sounds good. However, in life, the behaviours espoused by religions the world over are the same behaviours espoused by those who hold to no religion whatsoever, humanist ones. We have no way of evaluating the effectiveness of religious adherence on the after-living. We can only judge ourselves, our living selves. So it is human behaviour which governs the validity of religious dogmas. I would urge all religious folks, to take a good look at your average, everyday atheist and find something they do that you are incapable of doing that is also morally reprehensible. But I am not the author of such an idea, that title goes to Christopher Hitchens. But a good challenge it is. To the religious folks out there, I wish you good luck.

Monday, June 9, 2008

On the goodness of change

Do you think change is good? I mean do you really think change in and of itself is qualifiably "good"? I get incenced whenever I hear the phrase change is good from someone who obviously has not thought it out as a concept, and is only saying it because they heard someone else say it and watched as everyone around that person applauded the veracity and foresight of such a statement. I guess it's not really the word that incenses me, bu the ignorance with which it is utilized in everyday conversation. So, is change good? Certainly the results brought about by the process of changing can sometimes be positive. But just as often, the results can be negative. Surely, we shouldn't annoint the idea with a crown of impunity, regardless of the experiential results it produces. Shouldn't we examine whether each instance of it's employment ends with a positively progressive outcome or not, before we categorize the whole as a worthwhile endeavor? Change is going to happen, regardless of whether we want it to or not, at least naturally. But to artificially force the process, where it may not necessarily be required yet, is tantamount to forcefeeding a child a food he/she is repulsed by. The immediate result may seem to be what you want, but the eventuality will be less than what you would have intended, sometimes by an order of magnitude.
As I said, change happens, but that is not all that happens. Successful change is always followed by a period of stasis where the new processes introduced by the change are allowed to set in. This setting in is needed for any environment to flourish, even for a brief while. Without the periodicity of change interspersed with stasis, any environment will decay prematurely. We have all experienced this phenomenon. Stress effects every person that you can think of, including yourself, and it is the times of relief from the stress that we relish and look forward to. Indeed, even those who might say they actually relish the stressful times are not being honest, in that, without the periods of downtime, they would be unable to recognize stress as being periodic, stress would be all that they knew. In such a case, we would be living with the idea that life is what it is, offering no alternative but to live worrisome, fearful, or whatever we would call it on this side.
So, we need staticity for comparison with times of stressful change, but also for the relief and reprieval it offers. Change is a form of stress, to varying degrees, depending on the individual. If we lived in a world without staticity alternating with times of change, we would no doubt have been eaten into extinction long ago. We've evolved to evade the stressful. Our houses, our jobs, our restaurants, our public toilets are all illustrations of our desire to escape the stress of uncivilized life. However, despite our most clever ideas to leave the stressful life behind us, we are haunted by it in the very civilization we have been so careful to construct. Look at the idea of multi-tasking. It is not good enough for us to learn to do something expertly and to then do it, no, we must tack on unnecessary, extra duties that we most likely are not as competent in performing, in order to get more stuff done during the work day. If this is not the definition of stress, I'm an oak tree in the middle of Mordor! Multi-tasking was not always the workplace messiah it is viewed as being now. Something changed in our recent past, regarding the view we took of our capacities for time-management, and that change is now being shown to have been a poor direction for us to have chosen to take. Studies have shown that multi-taskers get less done on the whole than those who concentrate on individual tasks. Our brains aren't interested in doing more than one thing at a time. For sure there are people who are better at multi-tasking than others, but without a doubt, there is not a single person on the face of the planet who is capable of the level of efficiency proponents of multi-tasking believe exists for each of us. This is just an individual example of a particular change that just happened to not work out for the best, but obviously there are oppositional examples as well, things that we adopted as new societal behaviors, which resulted in a better world (the change in acceptance of slavery, for instance). But if you look at the idea of multi-tasking for a second, it orbits within the same system as the phrase " change is good". In fact, multi-tasking-friendly bosses are usually the ones who are spouting that change is good. And so, I think the multi-task example is pertinent on a deeper level than just as an example of something that didn't work as an idea for change.
So, I think change can be good, and I think it can be bad, at least it's results can be evaluated that way. I think our unholy fascination with the idea is more contributory to bad results of change than any of us ever admit. So at best, change can be good, but only because it is the existent alternative to the equally existent stasis. Let's call a spade a spade here folks, and admit that just because people you may or may not know, say one particular thing about a particular topic, like change, does not for one minute mean you should just accept it at face value. They might be right, but they might also be wrong. You owe it to yourself and to the world around you to think your own thoughts through to completion regarding these types of public decrees.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

On the psychology of religion

I have a few friends who are "progressive" christians. They have garnered and retain certain faith-centric ideas that, not surprisingly, resound quite strongly with me, a humanist, secularist, atheist, etc... This resonation does not occur because of some secretly harbored religious, soft-heartedness that I have deep down inside, or anything of that sort; instead, it exists because, more and more, the things I hear "progressive" christians say, regarding Christ's message to humanity, are primarily humanist and therefore unintentionally secular. There are many "New-apologetics" out there that are purporting to counter the " New Atheists" who are behaving quite vocally. Bishop Spong, Timothy Keller, and locally here in Grand Rapids, MI, pastor Rob Bell are just a few who are trying on some new clothing for the sake of the faith. No doubt, these religious leaders are attempting to recast the message of christianity in a light that will gather more to the fold, but I'd like to believe their intentions are more magnanimous than that, and that they really are trying to positively effect mankind's existence. If this is a part of their aim, I will not complain, because I am a person, who has to live next to other people; and, if these religious leaders can help these other people to feel better about themselves and thus act better towards the people they live next to, that will make my life better, and I have no problem with that.
Helping other people learn to live better lives, to feel better about themselves and to be more content with the lives they are leading, sounds an awful lot like what psychologists do. Psychologists help people to see what problems they, themselves are running into in the everyday life. They uncover what we can't necessarily see. Objectivity is where they stand, and it is from where they look at the lives we lead. It is this objectivity which enables them to see what we usually do not, and we trust this objectivity (but sometimes we don't). Doesn't this sound exactly like what a pastor does? They too stand outside the arena and look into our lives. Old school pastors and fundamentalist teachers do this as well, it's not just the new apologetics. A difference between old school and new school, is that with the fundamentalist side of things, the standard which pastors would compare our lives to is that derived from an outdated, contradictory and sometimes downright silly book. Nowadays, the new guys no longer just use the same book to compare our lives to; they also use the "standard" of morality, which translates to the standard of humanity. It is what psychologists try to steer their patients towards. Tapping into that which will allow people to think of themselves in the best, most beneficial light possible, is something that both psychologists and the new apologetics do. So, my question is....
How is it that the new apologetics think the god side is necessary at all? Maybe god exists, maybe he doesn't (I certainly don't think he does, for all of the many reasons I've listed on previous posts), but what I am certain of is, religion has little to do with a god and it has everything to do mankind. Man is the target audience. All of the rules and stipulations are in place because of us and the recognition of our inability to behave universally welland live a good life, sociologically speaking, for that is really the whole point. If there were no other people, save me, there would be no need for a set of rules or stipulations on how to behave or live my life. I could do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, and for whatever reasons that I thought proper. Of course, I'd have to pepper my decisions with behavioral choices that would result in my survival, else my existence, while being uproariously enjoyable for the most part, would very quickly decay into discomfort, despair and death. Morality would play no part. It would not exist if it were a one-man show. Morality is societal and the fact that there are more people here than just us, clearly illustrates this.
Thus the humanist side of religion is the side which actually matters, whereas, the supernatural side is silly hocus-pocus, boogeyman, campfire ghost stories, which only superficially resonate with those who say they "really" believe. I would ask those people to imagine themselves as adam, but with the knowledge that we have today about the scientific nature of the world. Could they still imagine praying or sacrificing animals to a god for the benefits of rain, a good harvest, or a long life? If they said yes, then I think its a safe bet that most of us would accuse them of simply lying to themselves and us, and that they should think a bit more about the question, maybe from a different point of view.
Religion is a form of psychology, maybe the oldest one we have, and maybe the strongest, but it is not the religiosity that makes it so powerful, it is the psychology that makes it so. People flock to churches every week, be they progressive or fundamentalist, christian or muslim, in order to help themselves, not physically but psychologically. It is a free form of group counseling. And no doubt, it helps countless people, in the short-term. But as is testified by the return each week, for the same life lessons by the same folks, the weekly teachings never sink very deeply into the psyche. You get what you pay for, in other words. If you want free psychological counseling, you're going to get the caliber of advice that would not be worth charging for.
But there are other problems. Unfortunately, there are those church-going folks who have morphed the process into the goal itself. The teachings have become the prize, and the benefits of the process are no longer beneficial. Living a better life, has been pushed into the background in lue of doing what is necessary to be able to live a pristine and utopian life after death. The letter of the law becomes the goal itself. It is at this point when religion loses its value. When the supernatural overtakes the natural and obliterates it, we witness jihad, or the sincere desire to obliterate an entire country only because it is of a different official faith than yours (Iran's president saying on many occasions that Israel should be destroyed).
While the new apologetics are surely trying to swing the pendulum back to the center a bit, I would say, we should be trying to solidify the pendulum, stop it's swinging altogether, pointing it towards a better humanity. We should be looking to ourselves for the answers to how to live the best possible life. We can do this by first admitting that that is what religion really exists for. It is a responseto the fact that we are conscious, social beings, who recognize detrimental and beneficial behaviours for what they are. Secondarily, we should celebrate the humanity we all possess by not cow-towing to the silliness of a belief in something that has no discernible presence, and thus effect on us. Finally we should abandon the thoughts that lead us to think we are better that those around us for whatever reason, and recognize that no matter what we say to our friends or ourselves, the life we are living now will end after a span of approximately 100 years (give or take) and what we do with that time is the only thing that will ever matter, cause after we're gone, we're gone!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Objectivity and the assumption of God's existence

I know the question of God's existence is one that has been argued from both sides for an extremely long portion of our special existence; and I also know that anyone reading this will probably be able to argue for either side of what I present. I am not of the delusion that what I say will change anyone's mind about anything; but, I think I can at least spin the argument a way that perhaps you might not have thought of, yet. But maybe not, we'll see.

We observe things everyday, all day long, all year long, all our life. We never stop, except while sleeping. We do so without thinking about it and we do so in order to assemble an understanding of where we are in the world, how long we might be around, and what we can do or not do to live the longest, healthiest life possible. We observe with our five senses. For most of us, one or another of these five will take a more prominent role than the others in everyday life, but regardless of the comparative ratios of their use, it is only through these input portals that we can observe the world around us and assemble the info we need for life. We have no ability to observe without them. As observers, we stand outside of our observations. If we look at a sunrise over the horizon, we receive the photons of radiant energy from the sun through our eyes. We convert the photons into electrical signals, which then travel into our brains and undergo a process of interpretation wherein we "see" the sunrise. The observation of the sunrise we make, requires our outward vantage. We must observe the sunrise from an objective vantage, not that we purposefully do anything to the contrary. Obviously, we do not subjectively try and alter what we see coming over the horizon, we are just watching the sunrise. If we were to put on sunglasses, then we would be altering our observation subjectively, but our vantage would still be one of objectivity. We would still be removed from the event, only participating in it vicariously through our eyes. I picked a sunrise arbitrarily. The example could have been anything. Observation is an objective enterprise precisely because of the inherent placement of the observer in relation to the observed. If we shine a light on a particle to try and measure it's position, then we alter it's velocity (all particles are in motion). If we measure it's velocity accurately, then we sacrifice our knowledge of it's accurate position. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle exists and would seem counter-intuitive to the idea of objectivity but for the idea that the position of the observer of the particle is what is in question. For each of the proposed measurements (velocity and position), the observer standing away from the particle can garner an accurate and objective reading of one of them at any given moment, thus the objectivity of the observer is unaffected by the heisenberg uncertainty principle, in this case. Again, observation is inherently objective.
Now, back to how we gather our objective information. Remember, we do so through our five physical senses. There is no other path to our gathering data. Intuitive thought, might be popping into your mind right about now, but isn't intuitive thought simply the amalgamation of previously gathered information, stored in our memory and reassembled into previously not thought-of concepts? Intuition is based on our life of observations. So, with observation comes knowledge, or at least information. And objectivity is part and parcel of how we observe things.
So, who here has ever observed god? Most everyone believes they know there is a god, be he/she whatever particular form. You know. You have knowledge. Knowledge comes from observation, not feelings, intuition or whatever you'd like to label it. Observation is objective by it's very nature. So, god, if he were to exist, which he does not, would be required to be objectively observable, which he is not. No one has ever, demonstrably, observed god in action. the best that anyone can say, is they see his handiwork in the makeup of the human condition, or the physical at-large world. But, for sure, an objective observation of god has never been made, nor will it ever be made, because of the very incompatability between the supernatural god and the natural phenomenon of observation. By the definition, we cannot observe something which is supernatural, because it is outside of the natural world. Our senses, being ensconced in the natural world, will never be able to observe something from a supernatural origin. This being the case, and knowing that the only possible way to "know" something is to have observed it at some time (or its foundational components), we can rest assured that if god were to actually exist we would never know it, thus the whole point is a moot one. After all, what good is a god who can have no effect on us and indeed cannot even be known by us. Doesn't make him very god like, if he can't get past his own rules. Stop worshipping something which is wholly pointless, and instead start living the best life possible. Be the good person, religion says you should be, but do so without the shackles of eternal oppression if you don't.