What's an Atheist? Catch-All

SallyNasty wrote:

I don't know what an atheist is, but I do know that there is some crazy sh*t written in the bible.

What else would you expect when one of the subjects written about is man? Humankind does some pretty messed up stuff, and the authors don't sugar coat it.

If you look up what the definition of God (http://dictionary.reference.com/brow...) other then the Gods of some attribute (like love or war), a god is a supreme being that creates and rules. If you create an AI, and you rule it, then you are it's God. You may not consider yourself as such, but it fits the actual definition. Now, if you yourself were created by a God, and you create an AI, then it also stands that your God is a super-God if you will to the AI. There is nothing wrong or unlikely that the Christian God is simply a really powerful being that was able to create the universe and everything in it. Where he came from is unknown to us, and probably beyond our comprehension (maybe we will reach that level of knowledge one day, or maybe not).

This is actually one of the arguments as to why we will never be able to figure out whether a superior being *is* a god, or just really technologically advanced. Well, but maybe it's not technologically advanced, but instead somehow outside of time and space and omniscient and all-powerful and the like. And then of course, we can't actually *know* anything for sure about *supernatural* or extra-universal beings, because science and our senses and machines are limited to what's *inside* the universe; that angle also does not lead to the ability to say with certainty that "Osiris exists!".

We can't actually *prove* that an omniscient, all-powerful God who is outside the universe and created it actually exists. Nor can we say it *doesn't* exist (can't prove a negative). So with theists and atheists, we are definitely in the realm of *beliefs*, which is not surprising because we have belief engines as a very basic, essential part of our brains. As Malor put it, we've got a word that describes belief in something that we can't know exists, and a word that is the negation of that. Neither one actually, really, says anything definitive about the real world. We could all be atheists and still be inside a highly convincing computer simulation, with a Creator and everything that implies.

Nomad wrote:
SallyNasty wrote:

I don't know what an atheist is, but I do know that there is some crazy sh*t written in the bible.

What else would you expect when one of the subjects written about is man? Humankind does some pretty messed up stuff, and the authors don't sugar coat it.

Except the f*cked up sh*t is the stuff that god either does or commands someone to do.

Robear:

I'd like to present myself as an example that incredulity isn't always the result of training. I'm trained in critical thinking and analysis, but I was naturally inclined to it since before I can remember. I have difficulty seeing patterns, even when they are actually there. Needless to say, my intuition is pretty much nonexistent.

In many ways, I seem to be Malor's opposite. I choose to be a theist, but I have to work at it to continue to choose to believe.

But I concur that most people tend to have better (?) pattern seeking than me. I have a hard time making connections and seeing implied meanings sometimes, as a result.

OG_slinger wrote:

Except the f*cked up sh*t is the stuff that god either does or commands someone to do.

I find myself in this position a lot and have come to think that it is self-contradictory. Let me try to explain and y'all can let me know if it holds water.

This kind of statement only makes sense if one assumes that there is an actual g*d as described in the scriptures. If these were just the stories that a culture collected and wrote down to help them maintain an identity and a tradition of behavior, then there is nothing out of the ordinary when the scriptures are as messed up as human lives tend to be.

If we don't believe in a g*d, then we can't say that it is odd that "g*d is doing or commanding others to do f*cked up sh*t." because we've seen the man behind the curtain and know it is actually just people telling stories to teach behaviors and build community.

On the other hand, if we *do* choose to believe in a g*d or in this particular iteration of the g*d concept, then we can't criticize g*d for doing and commanding awful stuff, because he's all ineffible and sh*t.

There is a catch-22 here. If we don't assume that g*d is real, then religion isn't any weirder than any of the other whack-a-doodle stuff that human beings have thought up over our history. If there is a g*d, we mere humans don't get to call him on his bullsh*t.

I'd like to present myself as an example that incredulity isn't always the result of training. I'm trained in critical thinking and analysis, but I was naturally inclined to it since before I can remember. I have difficulty seeing patterns, even when they are actually there. Needless to say, my intuition is pretty much nonexistent.

And that's one of the poles of genetic tendencies. (I tried to include both extremes when I described it earlier.) Producing less dopamine in a particular area of the brain gives you a very tight pattern filter and less inclination to belief. However, even for "nonbelievers", belief is easier than falsification. It's the default cognitive stance of humanity, probably because of the lethality of failing to believe in a danger that actually exists.

I may be a genetic abnormality that only survives because we no longer hunt antelopes on the plains. I'm empirical to well beyond a fault. To me, science is easy, and analytical thought is instinctive. I don't get tired doing it because that's how I think so long as I'm conscious.

I'm interested in what you mean by "belief" being easier than "falsification.". Why do you mean by these terms, and would I count as a "nonbeliever?"

Oso wrote:

Some good stuff

Also note the deist position that God exists but is pretty much cut off from us--there's a divine creator out there, but we're too small to be noticed, and God set everything up and isn't inclined to perform miracles for our amusement. And all of the stuff that God supposedly wrote? That was whack-a-doodle human stuff. (And, in the end, although you might revere the creator or its creation, the lack of direct contact means we're left to our own devices, just as if there were no God at all.)

Nomad wrote:
SallyNasty wrote:

I don't know what an atheist is, but I do know that there is some crazy sh*t written in the bible.

What else would you expect when one of the subjects written about is man? Humankind does some pretty messed up stuff, and the authors don't sugar coat it.

That is a pretty thought provoking response.

Oso wrote:
OG_slinger wrote:

Except the f*cked up sh*t is the stuff that god either does or commands someone to do.

I find myself in this position a lot and have come to think that it is self-contradictory. Let me try to explain and y'all can let me know if it holds water.

This kind of statement only makes sense if one assumes that there is an actual g*d as described in the scriptures. If these were just the stories that a culture collected and wrote down to help them maintain an identity and a tradition of behavior, then there is nothing out of the ordinary when the scriptures are as messed up as human lives tend to be.

If we don't believe in a g*d, then we can't say that it is odd that "g*d is doing or commanding others to do f*cked up sh*t." because we've seen the man behind the curtain and know it is actually just people telling stories to teach behaviors and build community.

On the other hand, if we *do* choose to believe in a g*d or in this particular iteration of the g*d concept, then we can't criticize g*d for doing and commanding awful stuff, because he's all ineffible and sh*t.

There is a catch-22 here. If we don't assume that g*d is real, then religion isn't any weirder than any of the other whack-a-doodle stuff that human beings have thought up over our history. If there is a g*d, we mere humans don't get to call him on his bullsh*t.

I think it makes sense as it stands. I know the Bible is just another piece of fiction, but there's a lot of people who think it is god's diary. It's up to them to explain why the god of the Bible makes Hannibal Lecter look like a well-adjusted chap. I can't imagine worshiping a creature that would sooner kill you for not banging your widowed sister-in-law or asking you to prove your loyalty to him by killing your son.

Well... don't forget that worshiping isn't the only thing you can do. You can also propitiate.

Hypatian wrote:

Well... don't forget that worshiping isn't the only thing you can do. You can also propitiate. :)

Ah, the ole Joe Versus the Volcano bit.

If we can bend the definition to include whatever we want, then what is the point of a definition?

If you can bend the definition in any way you want, and not be able to prove that the new definition is better or worse than the old one, perhaps you're defining something entirely imaginary?

I'm empirical to well beyond a fault. To me, science is easy, and analytical thought is instinctive.

But you're the one most loudly insisting that everyone has a religion.

Malor wrote:
I'm empirical to well beyond a fault. To me, science is easy, and analytical thought is instinctive.

But you're the one most loudly insisting that everyone has a religion.

Everyone has faith in something. There's a difference. Not all faith is religion. Don't confuse what I say, and do not misrepresent me.

I believe that this is cause-and-effect. To me, the majority of the world acts in ways that I see as irrational. That includes you, by your own admission. You speak and act in ways that are not completely logical and analytical. That's why I can tell that you have implicit faith in certain things, beyond what the evidence justifies.

Faith is something that can't be changed by evidence to the contrary. I trust that much of my knowledge is correct, but any of it is available for overthrow if the evidence is strong enough.

To me, the majority of the world acts in ways that I see as irrational. That includes you, by your own admission. You speak and act in ways that are not completely logical and analytical.

So what you're claiming here is that you are perfectly rational, and that almost everyone you know is not?

Malor wrote:

Faith is something that can't be changed by evidence to the contrary. I trust that much of my knowledge is correct, but any of it is available for overthrow if the evidence is strong enough.

To me, the majority of the world acts in ways that I see as irrational. That includes you, by your own admission. You speak and act in ways that are not completely logical and analytical.

So what you're claiming here is that you are perfectly rational, and that almost everyone you know is not?

Naturally not. I am self-aware enough to know that my own mind is not perfectly rational. I frequently catch it doing tricks on me.

I'll repeat my request not to misrepresent what I say. I am not in the habit of implying things intentionally. If I'm not expllicit, it's because I didn't mean it that way, not because I'm implying something.

Your own faith in the veracity of what you term "scientific theories" is irrational. It bears many similarities with faith-based belief in other people. I'm quite sure that if the Pope witnesses Jesus coming from on high to tell him that his interpretation of the Bible was wrong, he'd capitulate also. Being malleable in your belief is common, in my experience. It's precisely why there are so many different interpretations of the Holy Book, and why those interpretations vary from decade to decade.

LarryC wrote:

Your own faith in the veracity of what you term "scientific theories" is irrational. It bears many similarities with faith-based belief in other people. I'm quite sure that if the Pope witnesses Jesus coming from on high to tell him that his interpretation of the Bible was wrong, he'd capitulate also. Being malleable in your belief is common, in my experience. It's precisely why there are so many different interpretations of the Holy Book, and why those interpretations vary from decade to decade.

Oh Larry, you are a comedy genius.

LarryC wrote:

Your own faith in the veracity of what you term "scientific theories" is irrational. It bears many similarities with faith-based belief in other people.

Many similarities?
I'm trying to come up with a few that are relevant.... maybe you can help me out?
My belief in the Theory of Gravity is just like a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because...

My guess:
I have to trust experts in the field about the details. Gravity - because the instrumentation and environments for a proper study are not available to the common person. Resurrection - because it happened long time ago in an uncertain location, so there is very little direct evidence available for a common person to examine.

I'm interested in what you mean by "belief" being easier than "falsification.". Why do you mean by these terms, and would I count as a "nonbeliever?"

"Belief" is the tendency to accept a proposition as true. "Falsification" is the process of evaluating a belief. In this context, I was discussing people who are more likely to believe in things as presented to them, and people who are less likely to do so without attempting to falsify the belief. So I contrasted the idea of the "believer" with the "nonbeliever", somewhat imprecisely but it gets the idea across.

Studies show that it takes less work in the brain to accept something as true than it does to consider *whether* it's true. We tend towards belief as a default stance, cognitively. This is modified by genetics (ie, neurotransmitter levels in various parts of the brain); environment (are you taught to question, or accept ideas as a basic stance?); and it's also affected by the desire to reinforce accepted beliefs with evidence.

These ideas come to me from Dr. Michael Shermer's latest book, "The Believing Brain". He's a well known skeptic who professionally studies evolutionary psychology.

Many similarities?
I'm trying to come up with a few that are relevant.... maybe you can help me out?
My belief in the Theory of Gravity is just like a belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ because...

Because science is a set of beliefs about the world just like religion is. It's subject to the same cognitive processes as any other belief. The difference is that science allows other beliefs to be tested objectively; it's a supplemental filter we can use to modify our beliefs. Religion does not have a mechanism to allow us to uncover *truths* about the world around us; science does. But one can have an irrational belief in science, sure. I am pretty certain I do, at times and on some subjects. There are many areas where we simply accept the pronouncements of an authority, and that's classic believing behavior. It's also human.

Science is the best way to understand the world around us, despite it's flaws. But it's also a belief system. Not a *religion*, but a belief system.

Robear wrote:

Because science is a set of beliefs about the world just like religion is.

I can't really disagree with anything you said directly except to say that making any 'belief' equatable is to reduce the entirety of Human existence into 'faith.'
I 'believe' that I am not just imagining having this conversation, because the fluctuations in the signals I believe I'm experiencing are interpreted as such inside the core that I consider 'me.' I have faith that this is true despite not having any way to prove that this perceived reality is true.

Robear wrote:

But one can have an irrational belief in science, sure. I am pretty certain I do, at times and on some subjects. There are many areas where we simply accept the pronouncements of an authority, and that's classic believing behavior.

The way you describe it makes it seem more that science, as done by humans, is fallible. Luckily, with enough humans working on the problems, the errors are eventually detected and corrected. Science 'heals' itself.

EDIT: To clarify... we have to look no further than Mathematics. It comes down to a simple matter of training. Something as 'simple' as a quadratic equation can seem like magic. At first we 'accept' the answer even if we have no idea how it was arrived at. The 'science' is in the proof. Once a certain level of understanding is reached the proof is no longer an incomprehensible sequence of events and loses its mysteries.
For some people the quadratic equation is still 'magic.' For others it is rote... Does that make the uneducated the 'faithful' of Science and can that really be equated with the faithful of a religion?

EDIT2: Don't get me wrong, I see the parallels... but to me it seems like that's calling an airplane a car because it has wheels.

Rezzy wrote:

Don't get me wrong, I see the parallels... but to me it seems like that's calling an airplane a car because it has wheels.

It seems more like Sorites Paradox to me, only with belief instead of sand.

I don't think science is complex enough to be called a belief system. It's a method applied to a core assumption: that inductive reasoning is valid. Although that is something you can very justigfiably say is taken on faith, if you want to be cheeky you could posit that it's also falsifiable -- if inductive reasoning isn't valid, all the stuff built on it is bound to break at some point -- and all of science is a meta-experiment to test that assumption.

Rezzy:

1. Regarding "faith."

This is not precisely so. What you are referring to is the difference in outlook between Empricist and Rationalist perspectives, one that is frequently mistaken and generally not recognized, IMX. Robear has suggested certain excellent American philsophy for me to read and I'm coming to the conclusion that post-Kantian attempts by American philosophers to integrate the two mutually incompatible philosophical outlooks is what leads to weirdness. Could be wrong, I'm not that far into it yet.

Essentially, you can distill human experience of reality into the logical and the sense-based. Rationalists believe in an ideal world that is discoverable and immutable, though it may imperfectly understood. Empiricists hold that direct sense-evidence trumps all. Science is a branch of the Empricist philosophies, whereas Mathematics is a branch of the Rationalist philosophies.

Faith is belief without evidence. In this case, I am referrring to an oft-observed tendency I perceive here to believe in the veracity of scientific theories apriori, and often beyond what the evidence and the philosophy itself say are its limitations. In that sense, it is not materially different from religious dogma, or from rigorous logical Theology.

2. Regarding Science "healing" itself.

It doesn't. Science is, by its nature, based strictly on evidence. Its theoretical superstructure continually changes because it does not presuppose any immutable "Truth" about the world, contrary to what many believers and even some few scientists think. Therefore, any scientific theory is merely a method by which to organize and relate the empirical data, which stands as the standard of what is regarded as true.

Note that Mathematics and Science stand opposite in terms of Methodology, though they can be used together in practical applications. Science tests theories, which are deemed temporary and convenient thought constructs, but nothing more. Mathematics starts off from postulated truths, which are deemed inviolate, and uses logic to arrive at conclusions based on those postulates. In terms of method, it is very similar to the way religious theology works, though the postulates are different.

Robear:

Ah.

I must confess that I am not more inclined to falsify what I believe more than what I observe is usual for people in general. You are correct in saying that I am equally credulous as everyone else on that score.

I thought this was worth linking in terms of the internet message board politics of atheism and religion:

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comment...

Came across this quote the other day, and thought people might find it interesting. (From St. George Tucker, [em]View of the Constitution of the United States with Selected Writings[/em] [1803]):

It has been long a subject of dispute, which is worse in its effects on society, such a religion or speculative atheism. For my own part, I could almost give the preference to the latter. … Atheism is so repugnant to every principle of common sense, that it is not possible it should ever gain much ground, or become very prevalent. On the contrary, there is a particular proneness in the human mind to superstition, and nothing is more likely to become prevalent. … Atheism leaves us to the full influence of most of our natural feelings and social principles; and these are so strong in their operation, that, in general, they are a sufficient guard to the order of society. But superstition counteracts these principles, by holding forth men to one another as objects of divine hatred; and by putting them on harrassing, silenceing, imprisoning and burning one another, in order to do God service. … Atheism is a sanctuary for vice, by taking away the motives to virtue arising from the will of God, and the fear of future judgment. But superstition is more a sanctuary for vice, by teaching men ways of pleasing God, without moral virtue; and by leading them even to compound for wickedness, by ritual services, by bodily penances and mortifications; by adoring shrines, going pilgrimages, saying many prayers, receiving absolution from the priests, exterminating heretics, &c. … Atheism destroys the sacredness and obligation of an oath. But is there not also a religion (so called) which does this, by teaching, that there is a power which can dispense with the obligation of oaths; that [em]pious[/em] frauds are right, and that faith is not to be kept with heretics.

(About the source: "As professor of law at the College of William and Mary, St. George Tucker in 1803 published [em]View of the Constitution[/em] - the first extended, systematic commentary on the United States Constitution after its ratification and later its amendment by the Bill of Rights.")

I must confess that I am not more inclined to falsify what I believe more than what I observe is usual for people in general. You are correct in saying that I am equally credulous as everyone else on that score.

Exactly. We are all similar on that score.

I can't really disagree with anything you said directly except to say that making any 'belief' equatable is to reduce the entirety of Human existence into 'faith.'

No, I think what you missed here is that beliefs can be judged for accuracy. Science is more accurate in telling us about the world than religion is; religion is more useful at enforcing altruism and group standards in a society than society is. I definitely was not trying to say that all beliefs are equal. Just that they are all beliefs in the cognitive sense - things that are perceived by the brain as provisionally true, whatever their origin.

Robear wrote:

No, I think what you missed here is that beliefs can be judged for accuracy.

I think we are at odds only because we are shifting from personal to outside evaluation of beliefs.
An Individual decides which authority they value for themselves.
Many Individuals can pool their collective sources of 'truth' and attempt to find consensus on a 'definitive' to which an Individual may choose to defer their judgements to.
In the end we have the ability to choose which sources of 'truth' we place our faith in, up to and including our own senses.

LarryC wrote:

Faith is belief without evidence.

Not by definition. I have faith in lots of stuff due to the evidence available to me.
Unless we are talking about faith purely in a religious context, which did not seem to be the case since 'Faith in Science' was brought up...