Monthly Archives: July 2014

Stifling discourse, on your Left

Scientia Salon

PSM_V03_D380_John_Stuart_Millby Massimo Pigliucci

I may be in danger of becoming a libertarian. No, not the Rand Paul or even Pen Jillette type (or, worse, a Randian objectivist!). I’m talking of a version of libertarianism closer to the one famously espoused by John Stuart Mill. Mill put forth the idea that there should be little or no restriction on public discourse, on the grounds that bad notions will eventually wither away, defeated in the open marketplace of ideas.

Here is how he puts it in On Liberty [1]:

“There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other…

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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in religion


Alief vs Belief: Get Up To Speed



Recently I read an article (forgot where) that stated that atheists don’t actually exist because they behave in certain ways that imply god-belief. I actually stopped reading at the point where the author subtly shifted goalposts by initially talking about god-belief to the sleight of hand of talking about belief in spirits (belief in god and belief in theory-of-mind like phenomena are different), but I’d like to make this point regardless of a crappy article.

There are many people who like to watch scary movies. A lot of scary movies in Western culture implicitly assume a worldview where demons are real, most of the time going so far as to have the demon or evil spirit as the main antagonist. I’m sure lots of non-believers who watch these movies don’t think that these spirits really exist, yet they probably get scared at all of the creaky floors and bestial growls just like believers. Does this mean that non-believers are hypocritical when they have the involuntary reaction of fear when the main demon jumps out of the shadows?

No. This is the same sort of fear that people have when they ride roller coasters, or the same sadness people have when watching Titanic or Avatar. A woman I was dating when that latter movie came out started crying during the movie. Does this mean that she really believes giant blue anthropomorphic aliens on a distant planet just had their sacred tree destroyed? Probably not. Another woman I dated started crying at the end of Looper. Does that mean that she literally believes that in the near future (which hasn’t happened yet) Joseph Gordon-Levitt shoots himself to make Bruce Willis disappear? Highly doubtful.

Psychologist call this phenomenon of seemingly contradictory beliefs and actions alief. Christians in the USA don’t have a belief that Japanese Jesus-less demonology is true when they get scared while watching The Ring, but they have the alief that it’s true and is the reason they get scared.

One also has to take into account our modular minds. There is no single “you” that holds all beliefs, there are a multitude of “yous” that have their own separate beliefs; and one way to inject a bit of alief into some of those modules is by telling stories. The process is automatic and unconscious.

So the moral of this story is, if atheist don’t exist due to the belief/alief dichotomy, then neither do Christians (or any believer, for that matter).

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Posted by on July 22, 2014 in apologetics, cognitive science

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