Archives for posts with tag: intellectual honesty

Well, you’re partially right. Christianity is only a general term that is inclusive of all non-Jewish, non-Islamic Abrahamic religions. One is a “Christian” if one is a follower of Christ. In that sense it could be a philosophy without being a religion, but ONLY if you do not hold any beliefs not based on evidence and hold no supernatural beliefs with regard to the nature, purpose, and cause of the universe.

You’re *almost* right. Religion is just philosophy that has hardened into dogma–so all religion is philosophy, and indeed much philosophy is religion. However, there is a difference that clearly demarcates the difference.

A philosophy is a manner of mentally modeling reality. It’s not so much a thing as it is a process; so for example a philosophical Christian would start with the things Jesus was reputed to have said and examine them and try to clarify the model of reality so presented, and try to act increasingly as an exemplar of those characteristics.

Hold onto your hats; we’re about to go into dangerous waters here. Now Christianity for example, is a larger blanket term representative of an infinite and fractally nested set of sub-sects, each of which interprets things differently and acts differently because the other data they have is different and the only commonality relates back to the notion of a person named Jesus. It is easier, however, for you to say, “I am a Christian” and stop thinking than it is to do the hard work of pinning down exactly what that means, then figuring out how to put it into practice and express it to others. So the term, “Christian” is useless except as a starting point.

The tricky part is that because philosophy is just a $5 word for “method of looking at information and the associated processes that allow you to do something with that mental map” we lose track of the fact that it is possible to have MULTIPLE philosophical positions simultaneously.

For example, I am an agnostic atheist and a skeptic. This means that while I do not claim to know there is no god and are no gods as an absolute (agnostic modifier), neither have I seen any evidence for their existence, therefore I do not hold a positive belief in them (atheism) AND I will demand evidence in proportion to the degree to which a claim runs contrary to my mental model of reality (skeptic).

Sit down, and keep your socks on, this might blow them off: it is actually possible to be a Christian, an agnostic atheist, and a skeptic all at the same time, if we are strictly confining the term “Christian” to mean “person who attempts to use the putative words of the supposed Jesus as a basis for moral judgments” because for example, when we read that ‘Jesus’ said to “love one another”–one can agree on a philosophical level that affection for others on a generalized level will tend to lead to increased cooperation and other related benefits while also not believing that there is a creator God.

The trouble we run into is that “Christian” doesn’t actually mean that in common use. It means a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus (zero evidence) which means there is a creator God (zero evidence) who judges us (no evidence) and possesses certain qualities (effectively no evidence). The line of demarcation in philosophy that defines “religion” is just that: claims about the fundamental nature of reality including claims about the cause and purpose that are based on zero replicable evidence.

Essentially philosophy is the name for the study of systems of human thought. Religion is the side that explores human dreams, emotions, and desires without caring about what is actually true–the goal of religion is to fabricate a framework that allows us to ground our emotions, irrespective of objective reality. Science is the side of philosophy that deals with objective reality and cares about what is true, where “true” means, “what is observable”. Science cares about things being replicable, logical, and useful.

I might then say that you are religious and non-skeptical, because you care more about retaining the sense of being grounded, you care about justifying your feelings but not about what is true. The trouble of course is that because we are human, we all have something of both sides in us–you don’t EXCLUSIVELY care about your feelings, reality does poke its head in to see you occasionally. Same for me, I occasionally do wish things were different than they are. The difference comes from the preponderance of action and thought.

In general, humans only accept things into their mental model if those things reinforce that mental model. If this was not how it operated, we would not be able to model behaviors and make useful predictions. Our brains are constantly on the lookout for coincidences that we can causally link to events and actions. Unfortunately this causes many humans to mistake correlation for causation. E.g. People who are on fire tend to be running around and screaming; ergo running around and screaming must cause people to be on fire. I choose the example specifically to expose the cognitive mechanism while being ridiculous enough to not convince you.

If for example you lost your keys, prayed to find them, and then found them, you might conclude that God answered your prayer and helped you find your keys. Judging by thousands of years of objective evidence this cannot really be the case, even judging by the evidence of the past 10 minutes worldwide it can’t be the case. It is a cognitive mistake because your brain, always helpfully searching for causal links, has mistaken correlation for causation. In effect, the cause of the prayer was your own distress, and you looking for your keys was the cause of finding them. When we give up–frequently correlated with the prayer–we let go of the temporary mental model we had of the area and we very often find our keys!

It has nothing to do with the prayer except that the two are correlated. Experimentally, we can find that if we are convinced we have searched in a location, we will exclude that location from our search. Upon giving up (correlated with prayer) we let go of that mental model and begin to address reality. So when someone says, “let go and let God” what they actually mean in real terms is, “drop the flawed model and address reality”.

Religion is exclusively formed from these flawed models. It is why religion is, “fossilized” philosophy–because a religious worldview insists on ignoring data that doesn’t fit the model. In the case of Abrahamic monotheists–Jews, Sunni, Shiite, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Pentacostals, etc etc etc–each took a book of allegories and fables written in the Bronze Age and have fossilized it into their own particular flavor of dogma.

“Christianity” as a broad category is laughably simplistic and stupid. Not because “Christians” are bad, unintelligent, or stupid–but because they are attempting to address reality with flawed data and receive constant reinforcement which attempts to prevent them from altering their mental model to a closer congruence with observable reality. Why do you think religion requires faith and belief?

Any philosophy that requires faith or belief is a religion and must be excluded from the government because it cannot be traced back to objective evidence and therefore cannot be agreed upon by everyone. Only things that can be universally agreed upon belong in government. Ergo, religion-which by definition REQUIRES faith–has absolutely no place in government.

(Look at the constant fight theists put up attempting to legitimize young Earth creationism and “intelligent design”–theists manufacture false controversy because it is the only way they can continue to pretend that their fossilized dogma has any relevance or truth to it.)

I want to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: the fallacy of equivocation. To commit the fallacy of equivocation is a somewhat formal and precise way of saying you have made an error in the way you used a word, specifically with regard to the sense in which you treat its denotative meaning. You might think that this sort of thing is of importance only to intellectuals dwelling among the clouds in firmly shuttered ivory towers, but you would be badly mistaken in this opinion.

If we render it in terms more familiar to the large segment of the population concerned with things like getting enough money to make the rent, or whether or not that cute person is going to call you back, it is most simply expressed by saying that it is a form of lying. It can occur through apathy or by being unclear on what a word means, but most often the cause is that on some level the person who is equivocating wants either to avoid the discomfort of saying something right out, or evade the consequences of speaking plainly–usually manifesting themselves as someone telling them to take their opinion and place it where the sun does not shine.

In other words: the fallacy of equivocation is usually a deliberate misrepresentation intended to get someone else what they want out of you without you objecting to it. This is, as all fallacies are, either the result of intellectual dishonesty or ignorance, either of which is to be pinned down and gotten rid of with a quickness.

The easiest way to avoid accidentally engaging in this fallacy is be sure of your definitions, and be sure you do not use a word in more than one way at a given time. The rule of thumb is: when in doubt, look it up. It matters not at all how smart you are or the degree to which your erudition regularly attracts the adulation and approval of your peers–if you are not sure, look it up. If you are writing anything of consequence, your work will not suffer irrecoverably with the loss of five seconds spent consulting with the Google. If nothing else, catch it  when you edit.

Some examples of this fallacy in action can be found at:

To avoid being fooled by this sort of language, ask a question to pin down the meaning of the statement. The easiest way to do this is by asking for or providing and asking for verification that the sense of the word you are thinking of is what is intended. If the person readily provides you with a more specific meaning, it was probably a mistake–even if it takes them awhile to figure out what specifically they meant to say. However, if all you get is weasel words and ambiguity, or the person tries to change the topic, you have most likely caught them with their hand in the Equivocational Cookie Jar.

This sort of thing is not just for eggheads: you should care about being clear and specific because this kind of thing leads to false expectations, anger, and misunderstandings that can potentially damage or destroy trust and relationships. If you have ever been disappointed by  politician, frustrated by someone who says one thing but does another and squeaks by on a technicality, or misunderstood because someone just assumed they knew what sense of a word you were using–this should matter to you.

As a person who is present to some extent in modern social media, I find that I am exposed daily to an unhealthy dose of bad advice from apparently well-meaning but deeply confused people who want so desperately to be right that they are willing to sacrifice truth to their hunger for the feeling of certainty. One of the more insidious forms of this offense begins with an admonition to “think for yourself.” There is nothing inherently wrong with this advice. It might actually be one of the best pieces of advice one can give, but a number of hideous flaws can creep silently in hiding in its shadow if we are not cautious. The most egregious and abhorrently poisonous of these wretched little gremlins is the notion that doing one’s thinking in a vacuum is the only–or perhaps worse, the best–way to go about the task of figuring things out.

The title of this piece is intended to provide an unequivocal demonstration of why this method is not only disastrously stupid, but so easily repudiated that anyone who cares to can do so inside of a minute or two. Masturbation is an intrinsically solipsistic sort of activity: you need only your brain, your hands, and whatever plumbing nature has supplied you with to conduct it. I will for the moment dismiss the exception of fetishists who require something of outside manufacture to reach a satisfactory level of excitement; it is possible at least in theory for those persons to either substitute sufficient imagination or manufacture the necessary adjuncts themselves which leaves us back at our starting point. The point to be taken away from this is that masturbation does not inherently require a second sentient being, and while it does co-opt the use of various mental circuitry related to reproduction, it does not constitute a functional replication of the reproductive process.

In other words, you are never going to have a baby no matter how much you masturbate. Barring incredibly rare abnormalities like Turner’s Syndrome, you will never be able to become pregnant (especially if you have an XY phenotype body) in the absence of another human sentient. In any case, that sort of exception is physiologically unrelated to masturbation and so even that would not disprove the example. The long and the short of this is that if you attempted to “reproduce for yourself” in the absence of another human, you could spend as long as your heart desired at it without the effort contributing to your goal in the slightest. You may have a fantastic relationship with Rosy Palm and her five sisters, but none of them are going to be your baby daddy, sorry.

It is in precisely the same way that “thinking for yourself” in the absence of evidence will get you nothing aside from a warm, fuzzy feeling. If that is all you are after, allow me to refer you to the former example as it will allow you to obtain that result with significantly more regularity. Merely “citing your thoughts” is mental masturbation. You may always share your thoughts, but as soon as any of them purport to be representative of anything outside your opinion, you may have begun to waggle your intellectual wang, (or started “bluffin’ with your cranial muffin”,) in a most embarrassing manner. Do have a care for any impressionable people who might be exposed to your intellectually indecent exposure.

To get a bit more into the nuts and bolts, when we say, “think for yourself” honestly what we mean is, “examine the evidence for yourself and come to a conclusion that is not biased by another person’s assumptions.” The phrase presupposes that not only is the evidence available in full, but that the recipient is interested in perusing it and constructing his or her own theory to explain it. Or at least examining the available explanations and selecting the one from the source he or she judges to be most likely to be correct. Even the latter method is rife with peril if it is not accompanied by a basic understanding of reality, some fact-checking, and a firm conviction that truth is preferable to comforting sophistry.

I will be blunt: anyone who tells you to rely on your own thoughts and feelings to the exclusion of evidence, skepticism, and communication/cross-checking with other people, that person is either a contemptible lout or a lunatic and more than likely wants to sell you something, be it a used car, a religion, or the dubious privilege of his presence between your thighs for as long as it takes him to do his business. Thought without evidence or logic is like sperm without an egg or a womb and it will get you just as close to producing truth as the latter will to producing a baby.

No matter how many people you get to agree with you that it is otherwise, the facts will remain the facts. So when you say, “think for yourself” you had better bloody well mean it and the rest of you who gobble up that vacuous piffle in the spirit in which it was intended, cut that shit out before civilization collapses beneath your vacant and incurious bulk.

Ille equus mortuus percussus est.