Archives for category: Friendly Contrapologist

Although the sharp edges of my previous postings no doubt serve to convince the faithful that I am deeply unhappy and angry at ‘god’, that is not actually the case. I’m not angry at any of the thousands of deities man has postulated–I just have a wounded mind. 

Depression is both discrete from grief and not reliant on having a rational source. If I may be forgiven for flippancy, I would say that depression and anxiety are the Tillandsia of the emotional spectrum–they root in little or nothing and remain obstinately hale with only the very slightest support from real-world events.

As Andrew Solomon mentions in his excellent commentary on the subject, (found here) depression is not unhappiness but rather the absence of vitality. A crushing enervation and bone-deep chill which siphons the zest and enjoyment from those who suffer it; known by the sufferer to be nonsensical, irrational, and baseless but inescapable nevertheless. I’ve been dealing with it for a long time, and the best strategy I’ve been able to find thus far is to recognize that it’s in some part external and focus exclusively on self-care. The obvious disadvantage to this strategy is that it tends to rapidly corrode one’s work or school performance, and there’s nothing quite as delightful as depression spiced up with guilt and anxiety.

My trouble tends to be that I want to analyze and solve problems, and depression is a bottomless pit of problems that cannot be rectified. The only winning solution can be found in Wargames. The only winning strategy is not to play. It sounds like giving up, you might say, and in some ways it is, but if one’s brain is constantly keening in agony and screaming that nobody cares, nobody loves you, nobody ever will, and you don’t deserve to live… It might be a good thing to avoid trying to sort all that out right at that moment and have a sandwich because you know you haven’t eaten yet and you really ought to.

All I’m saying is that god isn’t going to make you that sandwich.

 

 

Sorry for the delay, I know this is perhaps not the ideal start to my venture into the world of internet content creation, but in light of my desire to avoid copyright issues and my desire to make certain everything is of reasonable quality, I delayed myself drawing visual aids for and re-recording the episode.

I’m going to *aim* for weekly, but I care more about making sure that Friendly Contrapologist episodes are well put-together* than I do holding to a schedule whose tightness I did not realize when I proposed it–so I might fall to biweekly. In any event I will do my best, and I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Because I worked very hard (I am no artist and was working with a laptop trackpad) to create the visual aids, I would request of you that if you copy any of the images from the video, please give me attribution. As long as you are not trying to sell them as your own work, (though why you would do so with stick figures of dubious merit I have no idea,) it is probably covered in Fair Use.

Cheers, and here is this last/this week’s episode!

*Not professionally obviously, but not purely slapdash either. I hope the effort shows. 🙂

Transcript:

Episode #2: Natural vs Supernatural
Hello hello, and welcome to Contrapologist Int’l Studios. I am Contrapologist, your friendly neighborhood Atheist. In this episode, I want to continue with definitions, but first a quick note as a follow-up to last episode’s commentary on language:
 
    Words can have multiple shared meanings as well as having different meanings to each individual. So it is possible to get confused in yet another way by not knowing the “sense” in which someone is using a word.
    For example, if you are at the beach and someone says, “cool” yet the sun is beating down on you both, you probably understand them to be referring to something which is cool in the sense of entertaining and awesome rather than using “cool” in the sense of temperature.
    The example provides context, so you can figure it out. Another problem we run into in speaking of complex and important things is that everyone has different context cues, so your view of reality might affect the way you interpret what someone else is attempting to communicate.
    I see this a lot from religious people who translate, “I’m an atheist” into, “I hate God!” or translate, “I support the separation of church and state” into, “I want to deny you your religious freedom!” While I cannot and will not claim to speak universally for all atheists, I personally have no particular feelings about any god or gods in the same way the average churchgoer has no particular feelings about Zeus, Odin, Shiva, Osiris, Epona, Amaterasu, Wotan, Marduk, the Great Spirit, Svarog, Quetzacoatl, and so on and so forth practically ad infinitum.
    So you must always keep in mind that your default way of understanding, be you atheistic or religious, might not be the intended ‘sense’ of the word. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. “
Back to business.

Natural — When we speak of “nature” we mean essentially all phenomenon that occur in the world that are, at least in principle, accessible to us in some way. For example, anything on the Earth is natural, so is space, all the planets, stars, and so on. A galaxy we can’t see is still natural because it is possible for us to fly a rocket there, at least in theory. It might take a few hundred thousand years to get there, but it isn’t impossible.
    I know this might seem like splitting hairs, but I want to be very precise about what I mean by natural. A car, a watch, a skyscraper: these are all natural in this sense of the word that we must use when we make use of the natural-supernatural dichotomy. They are natural in the sense that they exist independently of individual human perception and conform to what we call the laws of reality.

Supernatural — This word just means “Beyond the natural.” The trouble with it is that any time anything exists in the natural world, it is instantly defined as natural. So for something to be supernatural it has to be inaccessible to our senses and experience. Essentially this means that any time you claim something is supernatural, you are also implicitly admitting that you cannot know anything about it.
    I’ll re-state this with an example so it makes more sense. Let’s say you want to claim we have souls and that souls are supernatural, and so therefore we can interact with the supernatural. As soon as you claim that souls are a detectable part of reality or in any way connected to reality, they have become natural–not supernatural. Therefore if you can interact with the supernatural, it is not supernatural but natural, and therefore accessible to science at least in principle. In other words, if there are supernatural rabbits, and you claim to have seen one, you exist in the natural world, so you must have seen a natural phenomenon we do not yet understand and not a supernatural one.
    Now, it is also possible to maintain that there are natural and supernatural dimensions, but if you make that assumption and maintain that we have souls, you have to at some point be making a fairly self-absorbed and arrogant assumption about yourself. Namely, if we all have souls and you can interact with the supernatural due to your soul, then why can we not ALL interact with the supernatural, and do so under laboratory conditions?
    
    To summarize, if we use natural and supernatural together, the sense of those words that allows it and lets them fit together is necessarily that natural means anything humans can experience while we are alive, and supernatural means anything we cannot experience while alive.
    

That’s all for today from your friendly neighborhood atheist, Contrapologist. Thanks for listening.

From the feedback I have gotten so far, it seems

  1. People would prefer the videos to be longer. Same content, but spaced out more.
  2. Audio quality not terrible but also not great. (Tinkering with microphone to try to address this)
  3. Video quality could be better. (I can re-upload a higher resolution video with almost no effort, I just didn’t want the video to be too large, but given it ended up being about 10mb, I think I can afford to boost the resolution.)
  4. A couple of you expressed interest in going into more depth as well

Feel free to comment here or youtube, or email me at google’s mail service under the the name of the blog. (Stated that way to avoid spam)

Today I’ll be posting the first in a series of short videos aimed at providing an approachable, reasonable, and generally friendly introduction to critical thinking. It will probably be redundant for some people, but I hope it will be beneficial to theists trying to understand atheists, and to people who might be questioning their own beliefs and looking for some way to get traction on the issues.

Link:  http://youtu.be/BMFS9Zx748Y

Transcript below:
Episode #1: Why should I care about language?
    Hello, dear viewer. Thank you for giving me a bit of your time. In the interest of of avoiding wasting any of it, I will simply say: let’s begin.
    First, a bit on language. There are many languages, about seven thousand at the moment. Depending on how you define them, there might even be thousands or tens of thousands more, but the thing we have to understand about what we call a “language” is that it all boils down to this: a language is a pseudo-fixed reference point by which we can communicate by reference to shared meanings.
    So to communicate about quite literally anything, we absolutely must share definitions to as close to perfectly as we can. In the interest of ensuring that you understand what I am trying to communicate, I am going to do my best to lay out the definition of some terms that are commonly used. Please be aware that as a person with an English Literature degree, language is what I do, I value it and I value communication immensely. So I will be making reference to dictionaries, which are the physical representation of our shared meanings.
    If by any chance you feel that my definition does not match yours, that is perfectly fine, but remember that if you want to communicate with me, or anyone else, you are obligated to provide a definition for the terms you use if it varies in any degree from the “standard”.  That isn’t to say that the standard is the end-all be-all–deviation from the standard is fine so long as you explain exactly how you differ from it so we can all communicate effectively.
    In short, if a spade is a spade, but by “spade” you mean “milkshake” it is your responsibility to tell everyone else, “hey when I say the word spade, I mean what you think of as a milkshake”.

Now to definitions of some basic terms:
Atheist — An atheist is a person who holds no positive belief in a god or gods. That is all the word means. You can expand and get more detail by asking whether they hold the “strong” or “weak” atheist position.
    Weak Atheist — Also called “negative” or “soft” atheism.
    This position, shared by the majority of atheists, is that while an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, neither is it evidence of presence. In other words, if you make a claim and show me no evidence, I am simply choosing NOT to believe. It can never be said that the weak atheist position requires faith because it is literally the negation of faith–it is the ‘default’ position. No weak atheist claims to be able to prove a God or gods or transcendent magical sky fairies do not, in fact, exist–a weak atheist simply says they choose to act as though these things do not exist until a preponderance of evidence can be produced to show that they most likely do.
    Strong Atheist — Also called “positive” or “hard” atheism.
    This rare and bizarre position is that a god or gods do not exist and that this is definite. Virtually no atheist holds this position. Let me say it again: virtually no atheist holds this position, because it is also a position that requires belief. Curiously, for some reason most religious folks seem to think that this position is what all atheists ‘believe’. For the obvious reason, the vast majority of atheists do not hold this position because it is a position that is not based on evidence. It cannot be emphasized enough that saying that all atheists hold this position is outright untrue and on par with saying that all black people are thugs, all white people are Nazis, all Americans are obese, or all French people are cowards. It simply is not true.

Agnostic — Where “atheist” deals with belief in a god or gods, agnostic is a word that deals with knowledge. So it is quite possible to be an agnostic atheist, and in fact the majority of atheists are in fact agnostic atheists: they readily admit that they simply do not possess the knowledge to claim that a God or gods exist or do not exist. The problem that this term creates is that the religious often claim that they DO know and will try to get weak atheists to admit that it’s possible a god or gods exist, then try to put a probability on it.
    This is silly for a couple of reasons: first, it is essentially a category error. Because the supernatural is by definition not accessible by humans since we are part of the natural world, trying to put a probability on the existence of a being that we cannot have any knowledge of is like trying to assign a probability to whether love is blue. It is possible to state in words, but the proposition is meaningless. The set of things we know absolutely nothing about and can know nothing about is not capable of having the property of being probable or improbable. It simply is not possible–it could be that God is the noses of undetectable duck-billed platypuses–but we cannot really assign it a probability.
    Second, even if we could assign a probability, the incredibly vast preponderance of evidence is that no supernatural force intervenes in the natural world. So any probability we assign would be vanishingly low. I’ll talk more about this in a future episode.

Deist — I include this for completeness. A Deist is a person who believes in a god, but is agnostic about that god. In other words, while they believe that a supernatural force created reality, they do not believe that they can know anything about that force. This absolutely rules out any Abrahamic tradition like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. and also rules out Shiva, Zeus, Thor, so on, so forth. Nothing whatsoever can be known about the attributes of the supernatural creator if you want to qualify as a Deist. This is not to say they can have no beliefs, but they admit that they cannot know it as an absolute truth.

That’s all for today from your friendly neighborhood Contrapologist. Thanks for listening.