Archives for posts with tag: science

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.

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I have recently become involved in a discussion with a theist friend of mine, who made the point that he could not see the reason why I attacked people of faith rather than work together with them to build a better world and further claimed that the scientific method taught us to look at things from both sides. My response was roughly as follows:

I am all for working together to build a better world, but my vision of what constitutes a better world seems to contrast rather sharply with that of the religious. I am not interested in tearing down people of faith; it is only the irrational and unsubstantiated beliefs of religious people that I have in my sights. Theists love to argue that I need to see, “both sides of the story” to arrive at the truth. The problem is that I actually do see both sides of the story, and decline to practice doublethink and the fallacy of argument to moderation.

We have the data. Something like 200 thousand of years of superstition and religion did not get us to the moon, cure polio, or create the infrastructure of our modern technological civilization. It might be argued that say, Abrahamic Theism has ‘only’ had 2500 years to get its bearings. Even if I allow that I am referring exclusively to Christian (New Testament) Theism, we still have a rich 1700 year history and countless sects to examine.

It was not Christian Theism that preserved the philosophy of the Greeks, it was Islam. It was only after Islam’s philosophical course had been hijacked by the work of people like Abu Hāmed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzālī and sent careening toward mysticism and away from reason that the Islamic world fell into something of a dark age. The venerable Aquinas himself was influenced by al-Ghazzālī and similar thinkers.

At that point, Europe had been re-exposed to classical philosophy and we see a gradual increase in logic, reason, and observation in the Middle Ages, until lo–the Renaissance. It was, alas for the Christian Theist, not the influence of their faith’s antecedents but the antediluvian Mycenaean forebears of the Helladic Greeks that generated the initial impetus, and a culture built on the plagiarized plagiarism of the blood myths and superstitious mythology and justifications of Bronze Age goatherds that carried it forward through time into the hands of ‘Christendom’. Constantine may have given the empire to the Christians, but the Ottomans and Umayyad Caliphate repaired Europe’s all but severed connection to classical antiquity.

The fact that the works of Plato, Aristotle, or Epicurus spread so rapidly and so pervasively speaks volubly regarding the value of an examination of their ideas, but is almost silent on the subjects of intellectual honesty of Christian religion and its sincerity in pursuit of truth. Remember that the great majority of output during this period was devoted to the drafting of philosophy, natural or otherwise, into the service of a theology already deeply in the thrall of presupposition.

All of this is, however interesting or revealing it is, remains somewhat beside the point because the scientific method does most emphatically and assuredly not teach one to consider both sides of a story–it teaches us to look beyond stories to reproducible evidence that functions in a convergent manner. Certainly it has its own presuppositions, but I have yet to see a rational argument and pragmatic articulation for a worldview predicated on the assumption that we do not exist and the world does not exist. While we may presuppose God exists, the question it immediately raises is: which god?

By contrast, notice that we have but one method of science: the scientific method. We do not have endless schisms within the scientific community in peer reviewed literature; when someone is proven wrong and their most cherished theory has been disproved, they swear, abandon their theory, and move on with the business of pushing back the frontiers of human ignorance. Multiple people performing the same experiment get convergent results, and if they don’t they look for the reason why rather than assuming everyone else is absolutely wrong and they are absolutely right.They share information, collaborate, and converge at a conclusion that most effectively models reality given the time, resources, and knowledge that are currently available. Or they say they’re clueless, and look into the matter further.

Now look to religion. There are thousands in existence today, and even the most dogmatic or permissive is not immune to schism. There are endless varieties of the major religions, each with a slightly different view of things. As recently as 150 years ago, various forms of Christianity in America viewed each other with the poisonous hatred only family can bring muster–the religiously motivated and targeted laws of the original colonies prove this beyond any doubt. Each is utterly convinced of its own brand of absolute truth, and nothing can dissuade them from their belief, only amend their practices in the interest of evading government censure.

Yet they cannot all logically coexist–Islam claims absolute knowledge that there is but one God, and Mohammed is the final prophet. Hinduism claims a near-endless succession of gods and goddesses, sometimes allegorical and sometimes literal. The Mormon faith claims all other Abrahamic traditions are apostates and contradicts Islam with a regular stream of new prophets. Baptists contradict Mormons on their views of Heaven. Modern Jews are somewhat unconcerned with an afterlife, but do not accept Jesus, Mohammed, or Josep Smith as prophets. Not all of these faiths can be correct logically, it is inconsistent in myriad ways.

As students of history we need to learn from the errors of the past. Slavery was part of our nation’s past–justified scripturally. So were rape, torture, and genocide. The Spanish came to California and South America for God, gold, and glory, and they got what they came for with savage and mindless brutality backed by an explicitly religious mandate. Check the history of the Russians and Russian Orthodox Church in the Aleutians. Check the British treatment of the Iroquois and other tribes.

Certainly it would be unfair to lay the entirety of the blame at the feet of religion, but recall that I am not attacking belief in religion, but rather propositions held to be true without even the most cursory effort at investigation and without a single iota of evidence. Even though I grant that modern Christianity is different than that of yesteryear, the fundamental methodology of faith has not changed in the slightest: tell a child God said you are a miserable sinner and the only way out of eternal torture is complete obediencewith sufficient gravitas and so long as you have caught them young enough, and reinforce it often enough, they will hold onto it with tenacity that would make a bulldog weep. Which God(s), what precisely a sin is, and complete obedience to what seems to be largely immaterial.

In light of this, how can it possibly make sense to pick blind faith in one of thousands of religions over a universally singular, endlessly adapting but always searching mode of discerning truth from falsity that has proven itself trillions of times over the 300 years it’s existed–that is a methodical systematization of the processes we use every single day to deal with reality–and which everyone agrees on for the simple reason that it works.

Why go with the method that represents the first feeble, struggling attempt by humanity to explain reality in the distant reaches of a benighted history filled with atrocities beyond the scope of our most nightmarish imaginings? Why hold onto these things with such incredible vigor when we have other options and the luxury to find things out, make up our own minds, and talk freely with people all across the globe?

This is why we can’t get along, and build a better world together. As long as you insist that you have access to absolute truth by revelation and supply no compelling evidence of it, I will continue to object to the claim implicit in that statement: you know best, and are justified in telling me what to do–and injecting it into my government–because you have a direct line to infinite knowledge.

Sorry, no. Faith is not a path to knowledge, but functions with remarkable efficacy as a one to confidence.

Good morning, evening, or afternoon.

I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself, but not in the usual manner. I care about distinguishing truth from falsehood, so if I am in error factually in a post, please do tell me but please be ready with the evidence. I’m a skeptic, and I am increasingly tired of seeing people take things on faith. I like to write, and as you’re reading this, presumably you like to read, so I think we’ll get along. (I read as well, obviously.)

While my atheism might have motivated me to expend copious quantities of energy toward the end of thinking about things carefully and critically, it is not the single end of my writing. I choose the title of contrapologist advisedly; I am not interested in defending science, reason, atheism, or secular humanism–but rather in attacking their detractors with vigor and ferocity. An apologist is often thought of as defending a controversial position, and I posit that clear thinking, and the withholding of belief until the aduction of evidence are in fact not controversial positions and require no defense.

Look around you. The evidence that science is a superior means of discerning truth from falsehood surrounds you in such profusion that the mind can scarcely encompass the immensity of a single facet of it before alighting on another. Virtually every element of modern life has its roots firmly planted in methodological naturalism–what we now call science.

Think about your actions. The evidence that skepticism is the best default position is legion. You look both ways and listen before you cross the street or make a turn while driving, avoid drinking milk past the expiration date–at least until you give it a few good sniffs, and lock your car door when you park in the city.

Babies are not born with a cross on their foreheads, at least not very often, and children must be the recipients of regurgitated faith before they themselves conceive of any metaphysical doctrines. Atheism is the default position we are all born into–some of us just never leave, or come back to it after flirting with the other options.

It will be from this foundation that I launch myself, and ask those who disagree: where is your evidence?

Thanks for reading.