Daily Archives: July 26, 2013

Are Decisions Made Without Emotion?


I was reading an interesting blog post that someone posted in a general group on Facebook. It was a blog by a conservative Christian. Normally I would have dismissed this as the random musings of a lay Christian, but he had some interesting things to say that I might have also dismissed a few years ago.

Obviously, his evidences for the existence of god and the resurrection of Jesus I’ve addressed and refuted over a couple of posts on my blog. His evidences:

* The argument and evidence of the beginning of our universe out of non-being
* The design of our universe in a very finely-tuned manner to support life (not just human life, but life of any sort)
* The existence of certain phenomena that simply cannot be explained or exist within an atheist’s worldivew, including:

**The 1st person perspective
**Free Will

*The existence of objective moral duties and obligations which seem to span all cultures, geographies and time periods in history
*The historically reliable evidence that Jesus truly did live, teach, die and rise again on the third day

Like I said, I’ve addressed a lot of these things from the framework of the laws of thought; laws of thought that go beyond and are more specific than the run of the mill atheist Traditional Rationality rules-of-thumb. Not that I’m knocking atheist/Traditional rationality, it’s just that they aren’t precise enough.

So. The design of the universe? Fine tuning is actually an argument for atheism per the rules of probability theory (most theists grossly misuse probability when attempting to argue for the Earth’s/Solar System’s/Universe’s fine tuning). Or at least, an argument for a non-all powerful god. And the reason that the fine tuning of the universe is evidence against the Christian god is because the Christian god is unfalsifiable; there are too many possible other “finely tuned” constants that the Christian god could have decided to go with to definitively rule those out and use our current universe’s configuration instead. The Christian god could have had us survive on Mercury, Neptune, a comet that orbits the sun every 500 years, have had us live in a universe where only five stars could form in the entire universe or one where a star existed every Planck-length if he really wanted to. καθὼς γέγραπται: παρὰ δὲ θεῷ πάντα δυνατά

The certain phenomenon that can’t be explained from an atheist point of view: These actually make less sense from a supernaturalist point of view since that point of view requires more metaphysical coin flips. So e.g. supernatural beings break the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Supernatural beings as described move around, so unless they are perpetual motion machines they would be generating heat from their movement. But we have no evidence of said heat, and absence of evidence is evidence of absence. So you would have to posit some other physics that allows for perpetual motion machines to prop up that belief, which is an extra (highly unlikely) metaphysical coin flip.

Did Jesus rise from the dead? The history of early Christianity is itself unreliable, and a man rising from the dead is too extraordinary to explain the pretty mundane and wholly predictable emergence of Christianity.

But that’s not what I was interested in. What interested me was his examples of groupthink, which as I’ve been writing about, atheists are not necessarily immune to.

But it seems to me that this is just a dodge since when we get into the evidence, I find that they mostly don’t want to discuss it. They want to insult and jeer and dismiss anything that might possibly disagree with what they want to be true. And as I looked further, I realized that was the key…it boils down to what atheists want to be true.

As Michael Talbot, author The Holographic Universe, put it:

“But why is science so resistant to the paranormal in particular? This is a more difficult question. In commenting on the reistance he experienced to his own unorthodox views on health, Yale surgeon Dr. Bernie S. Siegel, author of the best-selling book ‘Love, Medicine, and Miracles’, asserts that it is because people are addicted to their beliefs. Siegel says this is why when you try to change someone’s belief they act like an addict.

“There seems to be a good deal of truth to Siegel’s observation, which perhaps is why so many of civilization’s greatest insights and advances have at first been greeted with such passionate denial. We are addicted to our beliefs and we do act like addicts when someone tries to wrest from us the powerful opium of our dogmas. And since Western science has devoted several centuries to not believing in the paranormal, it is not going to surrender its addiction lightly.”

– Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe pp. 6 & 7

My own experiences matched up with what Talbot was saying. People seemed to have adopted a worldview and were addicted to it to the point that they were simply trying to defend it at all costs regardless of whether the evidence supported them or not.

He has a few other examples. It’s ironic that he writes as though these same biases don’t apply to him and his conservative Christian worldview. The fact that he’s writing in English is pretty good evidence that he was raised in a Christian household, even moreso that he was raised in a Christian culture. All of which he probably strongly identifies with. And it’s highly unlikely that he’s studied any cognitive science to learn where these biases come from and how to overcome his biases. It’s this fact of groupthink which, ironically, is one of the reasons why I have a hard time thinking that free will is a coherent concept; the evidence that he presents against atheism as atheists engaging in groupthink is one of the strongest evidences against free will. I would go so far as to say that thinking souls exists is a massive cognitive bias based on how our minds are embodied.

So it’s not so much that atheists are “afraid” of religion (I would bet that a good lot of them are) but that they identify too strongly with atheism, leading to such reactions. As I’ve learned from the cognitive science of rationality (again, rationality that most atheist are unaware of), the first step towards epistemic irrationality is identifying too strongly with a group or an ideology (on the other hand, this might be the instrumentally rational thing to do). This identity will lead to motivated skepticism and biases like the sophistication effect and the introspection bias.

Though the thing about biases, unlike with logical fallacies, is that they simply weigh towards an irrational conclusion. They don’t necessitate an irrational conclusion; this fits well within the framework of thinking of rationality in terms of probability.

All of this talk about biases, however, doesn’t mean that atheism is false nor that conservative Christianity is false. This is an actual logical fallacy that the blogger rests his conclusion on which shouldn’t be done. But his observation that a lot of atheists react emotionally to critiques of atheism, or feel more at home in atheist groups, makes sense when you know how our brains are wired for groupthink (unless you tend towards the Aspergers/autism spectrum like I do). Indeed, without emotion we wouldn’t be able to place value on the act of being rational. To choose to be rational is itself an emotional decision. And we have no control over our emotions.

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Posted by on July 26, 2013 in cognitive science, god, religiosity

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