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Are Decisions Made Without Emotion?

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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:

**Consciousness
**Rationality
**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

 

Divine Command Theory

God’s ways are not our ways” Elizabeth said. “Who are we to demand things from our Creator?”.

Zach clutched Elizabeth’s hand a bit tighter than normal. “But what if Jesus came down from heaven right now and told you to kill me? Would you do it?” Elizabeth sighed and rolled her eyes a bit. “But Jesus would never do such a thing. Don’t you know that God is love? How could it be a loving thing for me to kill you?” Elizabeth laughed. “That doesn’t make sense!”

The laptop on Elizabeth’s lap went into sleep mode. It looked like their late-night marathon of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” would take a break midway through “Manos: The Hands Of Fate” for a theological intermission. Zach looked at the black screen intently while Elizabeth studied Zach’s facial expression. She could see that he was off in another world, as if contemplating the next move in a chess game.

Zach looked up and back at Elizabeth, staring into her eyes. “You know I love you, Lizzy. Right?” he said. The inflection in his voice tone gave the words an unromantic matter-of-fact feel, yet at the same time underscored a deep-seeded conviction. “I would never let anything happen to you. But… your answer didn’t give me that same assurance towards me.”

“What do you want me to say?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “There’s no way a situation like what you just asked me would happen. It’s impossible!” Elizabeth let go of Zach’s hand. She looked at him and stated with a sprinkle of disappointment “I love you too, you know, but sometimes I think my friend Jeff was right about this sort of relationship”.

“Yeah, well… he thinks that we shouldn’t be together because you’re a Christian and I’m an agnostic. That might work for him, but I’m dating you an not him. Besides, he’s not my type!” Zach replied. “But seriously, I think he likes you anyway, and wants to steal you from me.”.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t worry, he’s not as hot as you. Besides, we’ve been friends forever. That would be like dating my brother!

“Yeah, well, I still don’t trust him. So wait, what if he got it in his head that you two were destined to be together because he prayed and God told him so?”

“I think that he would be making it up.”

“How do you know? Or you know… what if… what if some burglar barged in here and tried to rape you. What if it was God’s plan that you get raped? Do you think I should try to stop the rapist?”

“How… ! I don’t think God would plan for me to get raped! That’s such a horrible thought, I… I…” Elizabeth began shifting in her seat on the futon, looking down at her lap and furrowing her brow while fidgeting a bit. “I don’t think I like this…”

Zach responded abruptly “There is no way I would let ANYONE hurt you. They would have to kill me before that. They’d better kill me, because oh, man, would I kill them. Broken arms, legs, stab wounds, whatever… I would stop at nothing to kill them for doing that to you. No question. But, thousands of women are raped every day, all across the world. You’re special to me, but are you special to God? I mean, more special than all of those women in your God’s eyes? Are you saying that God cares about them less? Commanded their rapes? Why didn’t he stop those from happening? What if God commanded you to be raped because it would start a like chain of events that like makes everyone on the planet Christians? And because I would stop at nothing to prevent you from being hurt, from being attacked, wouldn’t that mean I was going against God’s divine commands? Wouldn’t that make me immoral for attempting to stop your rape, if God commanded it?”

“That would… that would never…”

“But it has happened. Not to you, but to other women. Why would I stop at nothing to keep some guy from attacking you, but God wouldn’t? Hasn’t, at least in the case of other women?”

“I believe that… well, I don’t know… I… I think that free will–“

“Do you really think that the hundreds of women being raped is better than preventing free will? Or that God cares about them less than you? What makes you more special — in your God’s eyes — than the many other women who are attacked?!”

Elizabeth fell silent. Her mouth slightly agape, as though she were going to speak, yet no words were spoken. She stared at the black screen on her laptop, and placed her arms across her upper body as though she were shielding herself from a cold wind that only she could feel. Zach looked at her arms folded across herself and looked back up at her somewhat startled facial expression. He reached over to her chin with his index finger and with a soft, suggestive nudge turned her head towards his, where their eyes met. He looked fixedly into her somewhat sullen gaze as though he were looking into a deeper part of her; a part beyond all social conventions and pretexts; a part beyond all polite or impolite society; to the part of her that defined the very essence her soul. He looked with an intensity that almost betrayed a brooding anger.

“As long as there is breath in my body…” Zach paused, “…you will be safe with me. Always.” His eyes squinted. “But if your God exists, and it was just him looking out for you… I don’t think… well, I don’t think he would feel the same way.”

Elizabeth’s face warmed up, and a soft smile graced her lips “He does feel the same way. That’s why he gave me you.”

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in euthyphro dilemma, god, morality

 

God Has No Reason For His Existence

A while back I had a conversation with a Christian about theism vs. atheism. She made a point that if there was no god, then life would be meaningless. This is a common reason that most people have for believing in god. I replied to her statement asking her what meaning god apparently provides for “life”.

She took the bait. She mentioned something about god how “makes sense” of “life”, but there were a whole bunch of assumptions underlying the words that she used; I detected a bit of C. S. Lewis “logic” in her reply (as in, it was more of a rhetorical argument [i.e. “sounds cool”] and not a logical one). Ignoring what she meant by “makes sense”, I thought I’d concentrate on the “life” part. I told her that her answer didn’t actually answer my question since she only meant human life. She then revised her statement to include all other life forms as well. I could have went into the evidential or logical problem of evil at this point. But, again, I didn’t want to detract from a new idea I had rattling in my head.
So then I asked her “Is your god alive, or dead?”. “Alive” she said. So then I asked her the question a third time: What is the meaning or purpose of life?
And that gets me to the title of this blog post. God has no reason for his/her/its existence. She conceded that at this point she didn’t know what the purpose of life – as I’ve defined it – was (I rejoined that the purpose of life is to live, but that’s not the subject of this post 🙂 ). Ultimately, if the thing that gives your life meaning itself has no meaning for its existence, doesn’t that mean by implication that your life has no meaning? So the theist and the atheist are in the same boat: Life cannot be given meaning by some outside force. All meaning-giving things are inherently arbitrary.
For example, if the purpose of your life is to dedicate your life to something greater than yourself, then by definition god cannot have any legitimate purpose for his existence because nothing is supposed to be greater than god. Even if there were some meaning or purpose for god’s existence, whatever this purpose was would be more important than god.
At this point, a more sophisticated theologian might bring up the whole “contingent” vs. “necessary” being argument. I actually think this makes god’s existence even more absurd.
As I’ve gathered, when most philosophers talk about necessary beings, they are talking about beings whose existence is not dependent on any other “thing”. This is one of the reasons why Dawkins’ Ultimate 747 Gambit fails. In that formulation, Dawkins’ argument only works on things that have evolved. But no one believes in a god that evolved, they believe in a god that has always existed. A god that is “necessary”.
My problem with this is that anything that is deemed “necessary” is always less important than the thing that it is necessary for; the thing that is contingent on its necessity. Rubber wheels are necessary for trucks, but the truck itself is more important than the wheels. Any time we talk about necessity, we are implying a need. The thing that is needed is always more important than the precursor for that need. If we want functioning trucks, then we need rubber wheels.
So if god is necessary for this universe, then god’s purpose for existence is the universe! So positing a necessary god makes whatever it is that god is necessary for to be more important than god himself. And no one would say that human beings are more important than god since that’s also not a god that anyone believes in.
Again, this complaint with necessary beings only comes into effect when trying to figure out the reason for the necessary thing’s existence. Human beings are necessary for building computers, but this doesn’t mean that computers are objectively more important than humans. The relative importance is taken into effect once we have determined what is necessary for computers, i.e. what we need to get computers. The focus of that question – because of the nature of the question – places more value on computers than humans. But outside of that specific question, I would not posit that computers are more important than humans because outside of that context, humans are not defined as being “necessary”.
At this point I admit that this is a semantic argument over what it means to be “necessary”. Possibly to get out of this we would have to state that the god of the theologians is the converse of “contingent”, which would be “non-contingent”. That is, that god is a being that doesn’t need anything prior to it in order to exist. But this brings us back to my first point – that this proposed god has no reason for its existence; this non-contingent god is meaningless. Bringing up the Christian’s complaint at the beginning of this post – that without god life is meaningless – means that there’s nothing inherently bad about something being meaningless, since either god itself is meaningless or that – using the implications of “necessary” – god is less important than us and the universe.
Going even further than that, because everything that god is – by some definitions – is “good”, then meaningless itself would also be a good thing! By implication, this would make a meaningless life “good” in the same manner that love is “good”. Since everything that god is is good by some theists’ definition (like god is love), then meaninglessness would also be good, and would be something to strive for if you want to imitate godliness.
The existence of god seems to be one big mess of absurdities.
 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in god, meaning of life, necessary being

 
 
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