The theme of this Institute of Art and Ideas video is ‘Should we move away from postmodernism?‘
EDIT: Find my version of this content on YouTube:
At the start, I feel as usual, that the definition of postmodernism is nebulous, and the fora agree, methinks. Toward the end, Hilary Lawson concedes that key actors tied to the early postmodern movement denied being postmoderns, singling out Foucault and Derrida. More on this. Keep reading.
Julian Baggini, the bloke sat on the left and whose positions I am only getting familiar with, starts off the clip. He makes some points, some of which I agree with and others not so much.
He makes a play at claiming that there is some objective truth to be attained, following on with the statement that without this notion, it’s anything goes. I disagree with both of these assertions. Then he cites Thomas Nagel’s The View from Nowhere, wherein he posits that subjectivity and objectivity are extrema on a spectrum and that experience is somewhere in between. This conforms to my beliefs, but there are two provisos. First, the extremum of objective truth is unattainable, objectively speaking. Moreover, as I’ve written before, we have no way of adjudicating whether a given observation is truer than another. It seems that he leaves it that we don’t need to know the absolute truth to know “true enough”, but I think this is both a copout and wrong—but not too wrong for pragmatism to operate.
For example—not mentioned in the clip—, I can imagine that physicists feel that Einsteinian motion physics is truer than Newtonian physics, especially as we need to take measurements nearer to the speed of light. In my thinking, this might provide a better approximation of our notion of the world, but I can also conceive of an Ideal, non-materialistic perspective where both of these are rubbish from the perspective of truth. I feel that people tend to conflate truth with utility.
Julian makes an interesting point about semantics with the claim that “some people” define certain things in such a way as to not possibly be attainable and then claim victory. But what are his three examples? Free will, the self, and objectivity. If you’ve been following me, you’ll know that I might be in his crosshairs because I tend to be in the camp that sees these concepts as sketchy. And to be fair, his claim of defining something in a manner to keep a concept out of bounds is the other side of the same coin as defining something in such a way as to get it into bounds.
I’ve spoken at length about my position on free will, but I am fairly agnostic and don’t particularly care either way. I feel that the causa sui argument as it applies to human agency is more important in the end. The self is different to free will insomuch as it’s a construction. As with any construction, it can exist, but it’s a fiction. Without interacting with Julian or reading his published works on the self, if there are any, I don’t know how he defines it. And here we are discussing objectivity.
Given Nagel’s objective-subjective polarity, it seems they want to paint postmodernism as claiming that everything is subjective and that science (and religion) hold claims to objectivity. Hilary Lawson, the geezer on the right takes a position between extremes, but he denounces Julian’s claim about objective truth, noting that many people (especially of religious persuasions) make claims on Truth that are diametrically opposed, ostensibly labelling the same object simultaneously black and white. And the object for all intents and purposes is red.
I’ve gotten out of order, but Julie Bindel makes some good points on Feminism and suggests that the philosophical feminists—may I call them pheminists? No? OK then—such as Judith Butler have set women’s rights back by claiming that the category of ‘woman’ is invalid. Minni Salami defended Judith by noting that Butler has helped constructively in some ways and, citing Simone de Beauvoir, that woman is a category established by men to create The Other Sex. Still, Julie—not incorrectly—states that without a category, women (or whatever collective term one decides is representative) cannot be afforded legal protections—because law, as facile as it is, is all about categories and classes.
Hilary reenters the fray and states that it is not acceptable for one person to claim that their lived experience is all that is needed just because that is their truth. To be fair, this feels like a bit of a strawman argument. Perhaps I need to get out more, but I am not familiar with anyone credible making this claim.
I enjoyed watching this clip and processing the information. I hope you do as well. If you have any comments, I’d love to read them.
I just wrapped up chapter eleven of The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. I’ve got only 35 pages to go to get through chapter twelve. I’ve been tempted to stop reading. Chapter eleven—and I am tempted to inject a bankruptcy pun here—has been more frustrating than the rest thus far. And yet I am glad to have persisted.
My intellectual focus these past months has been on agency. Et voilà, paydirt. Chapter eleven’s title reveals the context: Religion is a Team Sport. Let’s walk through this garden together.
A goal of Haidt is to educate the reader on his third principle of moral psychology: Morality binds and blinds. He establishes parallels between sports and religion. And here’s the thing—I don’t disagree. But here’s the other thing—I feel that are equally vapid—, with no apologies to sports fans or the religious. Let’s keep moving.
“A college football game is a superb analogy for religion.”
Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, Chapter 12: Religion is a Team Sport
He talks about the organising and unifying functions of both. But here’s the thing. It unifies the like-minded. Haidt claims to be irreligious and not be into sports, and yet he cites these as somehow desirable. I find him to be an apologist for religion.
I am not a psychologist, but if I were, I’d be tempted to claim that Haidt’s conclusions follow from his personal beliefs. He believes in morals, society, order, intuition, and institutions. He is a textbook Modern and an extrovert to boot. I think he also falls into teleological fallacy traps. Was that a play on words?
Although he views religion through rose-coloured glasses, he comes to the conclusion that religions have done a great deal of harm over the millennia, but the good outweighs the bad, especially if you consider it through a social-moral lens. But if religion creates in-groups versus out-groups, which they do, and religious in-groups outlive even non-religious ingroups, then this is a winning option. But what if you don’t like that option?
Personally, I am a collectivist, but this is not willy-nilly any collective.
Haidt contrasts the New Atheist vantage that religious belief is an evolutionary byproduct versus a position that what started as a byproduct evolved into group selection and then, perhaps, an epigenetic phenomenon.
Here’s my contention:
Borrowing from New Atheism, Haidt adopts the notion of a “hypersensitive agency detection device [that] is finely tuned to maximize survival, not accuracy”.
The first step in the New Atheist story—one that I won’t challenge—is the hypersensitive agency detection device. The idea makes a lot of sense: we see faces in the clouds, but never clouds in faces, because we have special cognitive modules for face detection. The face detector is on a hair trigger, and it makes almost all of its mistakes in one direction—false positives (seeing a face when no real face is present, e.g., ), rather than false negatives (failing to see a face that is really present). Similarly, most animals confront the challenge of distinguishing events that are caused by the presence of another animal (an agent that can move under its own power) from those that are caused by the wind, or a pinecone falling, or anything else that lacks agency.
The solution to this challenge is an agency detection module, and like the face detector, it’s on a hair trigger. It makes almost all of its mistakes in one direction—false positives (detecting an agent when none is present), rather than false negatives (failing to detect the presence of a real agent). If you want to see the hypersensitive agency detector in action, just slide your fist around under a blanket, within sight of a puppy or a kitten. If you want to know why it’s on a hair trigger, just think about which kind of error would be more costly the next time you are walking alone at night in the deep forest or a dark alley. The hypersensitive agency detection device is finely tuned to maximize survival, not accuracy.
Op Cit, p. 292
I fully agree with the assertion that the brain values fitness over truth, and I’ve commented in several posts that pareidolia and apophenia create false-positive interpretations of reality.
But now suppose that early humans, equipped with a hypersensitive agency detector, a new ability to engage in shared intentionality, and a love of stories, begin to talk about their many misperceptions. Suppose they begin attributing agency to the weather. (Thunder and lightning sure make it seem as though somebody up in the sky is angry at us.) Suppose a group of humans begins jointly creating a pantheon of invisible agents who cause the weather, and other assorted cases of good or bad fortune. Voilà—the birth of supernatural agents, not as an adaptation for anything but as a by-product of a cognitive module that is otherwise highly adaptive.
Op Cit, p. 293
For me, this supports my contention that agency is a wholly constructed fiction. The same agency we ascribe to unknown natural events, we ascribe to ourselves. And perhaps this ability served an egoistic function, which was then generalised to the larger world we inhabit.
I have an issue with his teleological bias. He feels that because we have evolved a certain way to date; this will serve as a platform for the next level as it were. I’ll counter with a statement I often repeat: It is possible to have adapted in a way that we have been forced into an evolutionary dead end. Historically, it’s been said that 99 per cent of species that ever occupied this earth are no longer extant. That’s a lot of evolutionary dead ends. I am aware that few species could have survived an asteroid strike or extended Ice Ages, but these large-scale extinction events are not the only terminal points for no longer extant species.
So finally, Haidt essentially says that it doesn’t matter that these religious and cultural narratives are wholly fictitious, if they promote group survival, we should adopt them. This seems to elevate the society over the individual, which is fine, but perhaps the larger world would be better off still without the cancer? Just because it can survive—like some virulent strain—doesn’t mean we should keep it.
Finally, given these fictions, what’s a logical reasonable person to do? I don’t buy into ‘this country is superior to that country’ or ‘this religion is better than that religion’ or even ‘this sports team is better than that’ or ‘this company is better than that’.
Haidt does idolise Jeremy Bentham, but this is more Pollyannaism. It sounds good on paper, but as an economist, I’ll reveal that it doesn’t work in the real world. No one can effectively dimensionalise and define ‘good’, and it’s a moving target at that.
No thank you, Jonathan. I don’t want to buy what you are selling.
News Flash: From the time I started this content, I’ve since read the final chapter. Where I categorically reject a lot of what Haidt proposes in this chapter, I tend to find chapter twelve to fit more amicably with my worldview. Perhaps I’ll share my thoughts on that next.
If you’ve reached this far, apologies for the disjointed presentment. I completed this over the course of a day through workaday interruptions and distractions. I wish I had an editor who could assert some continuity, but I am on to the next thing, so…
Bonus: I happened upon this journal article, and it somehow ended up here. I haven’t even read it yet, so I’ve got no commentary. Perhaps someday.
Rai, T. S., and A. P. Fiske. 2011. “Moral Psychology Is Relationship Regulation: Moral Motives for Unity, Hierarchy, Equality, and Proportionality.” Psychological Review 118:57–75
There is a battle being waged in the United States today, but it is not centred on the lack of separation of Church and State. I suppose this may be a uniquely American issue given its Constitutional roots, but the root cause is rather a lack of separation between Natural and Supernatural, not between Church and State.
Tomorrow America is celebrating Independence Day [sic], but until we are independent of religion, we cannot be independent. The only real independence is for the politicians who are independent of British control. There is nothing more substantial than this, and nothing for the ordinary citizen, who might as well be taking orders from England. Canada doesn’t look any worse for the wear and tear. I’m not a Monarchist, but it’s no less ridiculous than the Oligarchy or Plutarchy in play today.
I’ve got nothing again churches, per se. I don’t prefer the brainwashing that passes as organised religion, but neither am I fond of the brainwashing that is organised politics. And why is it called ‘brainwashing’? It’s clearly mind-muddling. I digress.
I do believe that it’s in the best interest to separate Church and State, not least because I need freedom from religion. It is already force-fed down my throat and codified into laws. We need less, not more.
Of course, a key topical debate is the abortion issue. This is strictly a religious issue. Even if you want to argue that it’s a moral rather than religious issue, it is still the result of supernatural beliefs. This is where the separation needs to happen.
Why won’t it happen? It won’t happen because people who believe in supernatural forces—especially active supernatural forces—are easy to manipulate. This has been true historically as well as contemporaneously. It’s too convenient for politicians to pull the old Santa Claus trick—if you aren’t good, Santa won’t give you any presents; and if you’re bad, he’s going to bring you coal instead.
I’ve said my peace. In the end, I don’t really even care if you believe in the supernatural, but if you believe that you (or anyone) can interpret these forces, I claim foul and out of bounds. This belief is not different to believing that you can understand what your dog or cat is ‘saying’—or your pet unicorn in the garden. It’s certifiable.
I know that other countries have to contend with this interference. Some even don’t mind the union. Is this a problem in other countries? Is it a problem in yours? Or do you consider it to be a necessary solution?
DISCLAIMER: This post has absolutely nothing to do with the Supernatural television series.
In chapter 71, Ultimate Responsibility, in Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, author and philosopher, Daniel Dennett presents a counterargument to the notion that an agent, a person, is not absolutely responsible for their actions. He questions some premises in the ‘the way you are’ line of argumentation, but I question some of his questions.
Here is a nice clear version of what some thinkers take to be the decisive argument. It is due in this form to the philosopher Galen Strawson (2010): 1. You do what you do, in any given situation, because of the way you are. 2. So in order to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are—at least in certain crucial mental respects. 3. But you cannot be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all. 4. So you cannot be ultimately responsible for what you do.
Dennett, Daniel C.. Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking (p. 395). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
The first premise is undeniable: “the way you are” is meant to include your total state at the time, however you got into it. Whatever state it is, your action flows from it non-miraculously.
Dennett and I are in agreement with Strawson. There is not much to see here. It’s akin to saying the now is the result of all past events until now. This is “the way you are”.
The second premise observes that you couldn’t be “ultimately” responsible for what you do unless you were “ultimately” responsible for getting yourself into that state—at least in some regards.
This second premise asserts that one cannot be responsible for any action that one had no part in performing. Two scenarios come immediately to mind.
First, you are not responsible for being born. As Heidegger notes, we are all thrown into this world. We have no say in when or where—what country or family—or what circumstances.
Second, if one is hypnotised or otherwise incapacitated, and then involved in a crime, one is merely a cog and not an agent, so not responsible in any material sense.
But according to step (3) this is impossible.
Whilst Dennett fixates on the absolute aspect of the assertion, I’d like to be more charitable and suggest that we still end up with a sorites paradox. Dennett will return to this one, and so shall I.
So step (4), the conclusion, does seem to follow logically. Several thinkers have found this argument decisive and important. But is it really?
As Dennett invalidates step (3), he insists that the conclusion is also invalid. He asserts that the notion of absolute responsibility is a red herring, and I argue that Dennett doesn’t get us much further, perhaps redirecting us with a pink herring.
I’ve created an image with tortoises to make my point. There are actually two points I wish to make. The first point is to determine where the responsibility is inherited. This point is meant to articulate that the world can not be strictly deterministic and yet one can still not have significant agency. The second point is that culpability is asserted as a need, and acceptance of this assertion is the problem.
The image depicts an evolution of an agent, with time progressing from left to right. The tortoise on the right is a product of each of the recursive tortoises to its left. The image means to convey that each subsequent tortoise is a genetic and social and social product of each tortoise prior. Of course, this is obviously simplified, because tortoises require pairs, so feel free to imagine each precedent tortoise to represent a pair or feel free to add that level of diagrammatic complexity.
This is not meant to distinguish between nature and nurture. Instead, the claim is that one is a product of both of these. Moreover, as genetic, epigenetic, and mimetic influences are transmitted in family units, they also occur through social interaction and the environment, as represented by the orange and green tortoises.
The point here is that if one is a product of genetic and mimetic forces, how much agency remains for culpability? Each person is an emergent unit—autonomous, yes, and yet highly programmed.
If I programme a boobytrap to kill or maim any intruder, the boobytrap has no agency. I assert further, that the maker of that boobytrap has no more responsibility than the killing device.
But who do we blame? you ask, and that’s precisely the problem. Asking questions doesn’t presume answers. This is a logical fallacy and cognitive bias. This heuristic leaves us with faulty jurisprudence systems. Humans seem hardwired, as it were, to blame. Humans need to believe in the notion of free will because they need to blame because they need to punish because vengeance is part of human nature to the extent there is human nature. There seems to be a propensity to frame everything as a causal relationship. Dennett calls this the Intentional stance. To borrow a from Dennett…
This instinctual response is the source in evolution of the invention of all the invisible elves, goblins, leprechauns, fairies, ogres, and gods that eventually evolve into God, the ultimate invisible intentional system.
Dennett, Daniel C.. Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking (p. 374). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Sins of the Fathers (and Mothers)
Let’s wrap this up with a sorites paradox. As I’ve already said, I agree with Dennett that the absolute aspect is unnecessary and undesired. The question remains how much agency™ does a person have once we account for the other factors? Is it closer to 90 per cent or 10 per cent? Apart from this, what is the threshold for culpability? Legal systems already have arbitrary (if not capricious) thresholds for this, whether mental capacity or age, which basically distils back to the realm of capacity.
I have no basis to even venture a guess, but that’s never stopped me before. I’d argue that the agency is closer to zero than to one hundred per cent of the total, and I’d propose that 70 per cent feels like a reasonable threshold.
I could have sworn I’d posted a position on this after I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave. Perhaps it’s never made it out of drafts.
In closing, I don’t think we need to settle the question of determinism versus free will to recognise that even without strict determinism, personal agency is still severely limited, and yet as our political systems presume a level of rationality that is not apparent, so do legal systems presume a level of agency not present.
Curse YouTube and Drew—but in a good way. Drew created a video titled I took a Christian class about atheism. It was worse than I expected. Although I don’t find I need to engage with anyone to defend my atheism, I sometimes do. Perhaps, the devil made me do it. I’ve been an atheist for decades—literally for at least half a century. (Man, that’s revealing.)
The magic gods of social media tossed this gem in my face, and I was fated to watch it—a 45-minute video nonetheless. Who posts long-format content on YouTube these days? Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to watch the entire thing—at least without skipping ahead.
I jotted down my thoughts—on paper no less—as I engaged the content. But before delving into that, I want to say that Greg Koukl is a formidable communicator. He knows how to engage his audience. Drew, the Genetically Modified Skeptic, is a strong communicator himself, employing cogent logic in defence of atheism—well-considered and articulated. Although I was watching the clock—cuz 45-minutes; plus I was stopping to take notes. Capturing a couple dozen bullet points, I’d comment here instead of in situ. I’ll link from there to here when I’ve published my reaction.
Drew responds so well that, generally, I avoid stepping on his responses, with which I am in agreement. Instead, I share my own observations either on topics Drew did not address or that I have a nuanced take on.
Below are the points I make with a time reference to the clip. In some cases, the link starts earlier than the point I am addressing if only to provide a reader with context.
3:25 Greg points out that he is going to focus on areas where Christianity can make sense but atheism cannot.
Response: Things do not have to make sense. This is a belief humans impose on the world. Even if one believes in a world of causes and effects, it does not follow that we have a privileged perspective into these causes. Some effects may be caused by any number of correlated and covariant factors, and to claim that A causes Z, because it’s expedient and somewhat linear over some more complex multifactor causal model, is weak tea. As humans, we want things to make sense. It’s effectively in our nature, but it doesn’t follow that the universe needs to comply with this need. Human psychology compensates knowledge and perception gaps with any number of tricks from Gestalt to apophenia. It may be comforting for some to use gods as putty to fill the cracks, though, in my mind, it’s rather Silly Putty.
3:35 Greg defines the terms theism and atheism. Drew points out the reduced, self-serving definitions Greg tries to slide by.
4:44 Greg tries to frame atheism as an assertion rather than an absence, so he can fabricate a strawman to attack.
Response: As Drew points out, this is sometimes, but not always, true. Here my thoughts (or soul, as the case might be—orthogonal, or otherwise) wandered to the Dawkins Scale, which parses atheism and agnosticism into a spectrum rather than a binary pair. Idiomatically, it’s a non-assertion. If you claim there’s a dog in my yard, it’s incumbent for you to provide evidence. If I claim, there is no dog in my yard, I am under no such obligation. Besides, my looking for evidence of a non-dog in my yard would require additional scrutiny. Perhaps it’s hidden.
Moreover, Greg attempts to make this a semantic issue. Drew points this out. For me, I reflected on the political situation where some cohorts within the US public decried Obamacare (AKA the Affordable Care Act or ACA) and yet were substantially supportive of its features. Obamacare acted as a pejorative to taint the act with negative connotations for Obama detractors. People’s cognitive faculties as deficient as they are, this was super easy—barely an inconvenience. Anarchism triggers the same sort of reaction. I attribute this to an unceasing negative propaganda/indoctrination campaign.
Response: Translation: We have subjective experience, and we are going to pose this as some objective reality.
9:40 Greg asks: Where did everything come from? What caused the beginning of the universe.
Response: Where is thy stuff? I don’t even need to engage this question directly because the chestnut of an argument he is presenting has a recursion problem. If everything needs a beginning, then God needs a beginning. This argument just kicks the can down the kerb. And ‘He just is‘ works just as well as ‘It just is‘. Nuff said.
11:25 Greg recounts a scenario where he purportedly asks a recently converted atheist, Do things exist? to which the subject responded affirmatively.
Response: The nature of existence and reality is not resolved science. ‘“Things” are perceived‘ is about the best we can get to at this moment in time, and this doesn’t even define things very precisely.
11:30Have things always existed? is the question posed next.
Response: I like Drew’s response here. Instead, I went to the definition of time because the notion of time is a social construct. It could be that there was a Biblical void from which the universe sprang whole cloth as depicted in the Genesis version or a Big Bang version. It could as well be that at some point time was invented. An imperfect analogy is the BCE-CE split. CE simply starts at year 1 and we’ve run with it. The universe doesn’t have an equivalent notion of BCE, but perhaps it’s similar to spinning up the universe as a virtual machine. There was a literal void of bits awaiting a cue to instantiate a VM universe. For all intents and purposes, this is the beginning of time for that virtual machine. In this example, we could extend the metaphor to a multiverse, or we could stay with a physical machine and virtual machine metaphor. Sure, the physical machine might be a god or another meta-universe—I refuse to say metaverse—, but the virtual machine has no insights earlier than its own time-zero.
The other things Greg’s approach misses are the notions of quantum mechanics and emergent properties. I won’t spend any time elaborating here.
Response: Without getting into the weeds of Kahneman and Tversky’s Systems 1 and 2, intuition and heuristics have a place, but they are very fallible for all but the most mundane of tasks. They are not very precise and are a poor foundation for any theory. I can feel it in my bones just doesn’t go very far—and that includes intuitions about reality
22:15The problem of evil is apparently the most common objection to the existence of God.
Response: This is a sophomoric position to adopt. Greg tries to frame this as an out-there objective reality affair as opposed to an in-there subjective, emotional problem. He posits that things in the world—including people—are inherently bad or evil. Again, Drew reframes this as a uniquely Christian problem. As for me, I don’t even believe in the existence of evil. Good and bad are functional yet still social constructs. Evil is just trebled bad with a metaphysical twist. The problem with evil is more of a problem with bad narrative than anything more substantive. Somebody created a storyline and didn’t run it by strong editors or continuity reviewers.
26:15 Lawmaker Transcendence: In order for there to be laws to be broken, there have to be laws…
Response: Knowing his intended audience, Greg keeps hammering on the objective reality nail. Whilst this may play well to the choir, as Drew points out, it’s not likely to score any points in a debate with atheists. Morals, as well as laws, are social constructs. And as universals, they don’t map as closely across cultures except at the most abstract of levels.
It should go without saying that even if there were a god passing out commandments, there would be no way to validate the authenticity of this exchange.
32:30 All people have souls… You are not just a piece of meat in motion
Response: Just rambling. I’m not even going to waste my time on this one except to redirect you to my previous response relative to human psychology and apophenia.
Response: This bit is juvenile, too. Here Greg explains that the soul is not the brain, that you can’t disassemble your brain to find thought. But, he doesn’t mind ignoring that your soul is nowhere to be found either. This feels quite similar to the need for a creator, but these evidentiary needs don’t apply to their positions. Drew’s computer analogy is apt here.
39:10 Existential crisis is a problem for Greg and other Christians.
Response: Because Christians are wired the way they seem to be, any modality that severs the connection to meaning sets them off. Greg confuses hubris and ego for something more substantial, attributing meaning to it. As it happens, people also cherish their pets more than some random squirrel.
40:30 Humans feel guilty because humans are guilty.
Interestingly, there is a school of belief, psychologically speaking, that the default state of humans is one of anxiety, but given that I don’t give psychology any more credibility than religion, I’ll just leave that here. People feel guilty because they are indoctrinated to feel guilt. A hypothetical person raised on a desert island or in the woods, like Victor, the feral child of Aveyron, or in the jungle, like Tarzan or Mowgli, would not know guilt, empathy, shame, or any of a host of other social “emotional” responses.
All told, Greg raised nothing new nor offered any new support for Christian belief, let alone a broader theistic defence. Ostensibly, the approach he takes is more akin to choir preaching than any other rhetorical purpose. In the end, he’s promoting a smug superiority complex in believers. He understands that although people will accept blind faith rationale for religious belief—especially those indoctrinated from birth—that people do have a mild penchant for rationality. I don’t think most humans operate beyond a cursory level of reasoning, but it’s enough to exploit and construct social reflection mechanisms as part of personal image-building. This allows Greg to propose a homoeopathic logical, rational framework and have it uncritically adopted as being rational.
As for otherwise rational Christians, they likely see through the charlatanism, but since emotion proceeds reason, they are allowed to check out and compartmentalise this nonsense whilst otherwise simultaneously retaining the ability to process the most challenging and tortuous logical conundrum.
Reading Dennett has gotten me down a rabbit hole. I decided to take a break from book-reading and spend the day reading essays and blogs and watching YouTube vids such as this one. The question posed by the title is Which Laws of Nature are Fundamental? The topic I find curious is an established dichotomy where intelligent design or multiverses are the only possible reasons why we as humans are here to question our existence.
Full disclosure: I don’t pretend to be a physicist, so although I have tried to keep current on, let’s call it, lay physics, there is much I don’t know. But that doesn’t make me stop questioning propositions.
In the case of intelligent design versus multiverses, I feel that both go overboard. I don’t particularly cherish Occam’s Razor, but I do find it apt here. As David Deutsch states in this piece, intelligent design only manages to kick the can down the kerb.
In a nutshell, intelligent design arrives at a place with a claim that all of this can’t have been the result of chance and random events, so [insert the entity of your choosing] had to have designed and constructed it, leaving open the question of how that entity came to be. This is a spin on the age-old issue that many defenders of intelligent design-like theories seem to cling to: The universe cannot have spawned from nowhere, so its genesis must have been due to an intelligent (read: divine) entity without recognising or admitting the circular reasoning involved.
On the other hand, the multiverse solution—which I don’t entirely rule out—also seems unnecessary. In another nutshell—or perhaps repurposing the first—, the main idea is that there are many if not infinite parallel universes. Given the large number—in the manner of the infinite monkeys typing Shakespeare’s sonnets, at least one is bound to be configured just so to enable life and humans in particular.
I don’t subscribe to intelligent design in the least. I dismiss it as implausible. And whilst multiverses may exist, I fail to see why there can’t be a single universe—this one—that just so happens to be configured. If it had been configured any other way, there would have been no life as we know it—and certainly no human life and no life to question how it get there and why.
In my mind, just because we can ask why doesn’t mean there is an answer or that we can find it. More to the point, even in a world of cause and effect, the results can be emergent on one hand and multlivariant on the other. So whilst we want to discover a causal chain of A ⇒ B ⇒ C ⇒ n, it is not likely so linear. Humans do understand the notions of stochsticism and chaos, but we don’t necessarily know how to deal with them causally. Moreover—and Deutsch has specialised in the quantum space—, our understanding of quantum processes is extremely primative. We are probably operating more from conjecture than knowledge, but one needs to start someplace. The trick is not to believe you’ve reached India when you’ve only just departed Spain.
Some geezer, John Gray, wrote a book having this title. It was, let us say, ‘suggested’ that I watch it in video format—over an hour-long at that. I decided to search for a summary instead.
It’s not particularly up my street. The bloke who suggested the vid posted a statement:
When I responded thusly « This quip reduced and conflates, almost creating a strawman. I suppose some atheists might be narcissists, though I don’t see that they would significantly differ from a sample of the general population. I’m guessing the second clause is intended to connect from the first, which is to claim that an atheist is a human who chooses STEM over gods as if there are no other alternatives, which creates a false dichotomy. But to treat atheism as some monolith is to treat all religions as ostensibly identical », his response was
What is atheism?.
To which I replied, « Atheism is the absence of belief in gods (or supernatural beings, if that’s a more generalisable concept). »
well, that is not enlightening at all. Explain atheism clearly.
That is all there is to it. There are different reasons why people are atheists, but that’s the definition. Etymologically, ‘theism’ is ‘belief in a deity or deities’. Atheism, applying the Greek prefix ‘a-‘, is the negative state of ‘theism, so the absence of ‘belief in a deity or deities’.
Atheism is not science. A large number of scientists believe in God. They see no contradiction between God and science, in fact they find the order behind everything reinforces their belief.
And so here the conversation, as it was, went off the rails. At no point did I invoke science. And then he promotes the John Gray video.
And we’ve been there before.
New Atheism: the debate between science and religion was a result of confusing myths with theories. Religion is no more a primitive type of science than is art or poetry; scientific inquiry answers a demand for an explanation; the practice of religion expresses a need for meaning.
Secular Humanism: a hollowed-out version of the Christian belief in salvation in history; the widespread belief that humans are gradually improving is the central article of faith of modern humanism
Science-Religion: Gray reflects on the twentieth century’s strange faith in science – a faith that produced the false equation of evolution with progress and the racist ideologies that infect our social arrangements and political institutions
Political Religion: Modern political ideologies are de facto religions; the belief that we live in a secular age is an illusion
God-hatred: absorbed by the problem of evil; suffering, if inevitable, is at least infused with moral significance
The Unsentimental Atheisms of George Santayana and Joseph Conrad: Santayana dismisses any idea that civilization is improving; everything in this world is a progress towards death. Conrad wrote that man is a wicked animal; his wickedness has to be organized; society is essentially criminal – otherwise, it would not exist
Mystical Atheism: Schopenhauer was deeply and articulately antagonistic to religion in general; he rejects the notion that history has any metaphysical meaning, or that human beings are somehow advancing
Disclaimer 1: This summary list is copy-pasted from the linked source and edited ever so slightly to fit here.
Disclaimer 2: Neither did I watch the video nor read his book, so the summary might be off-kilter.
Still, I offer my reaction/reflection.
Firstly, this comes off not as an attack on atheism; rather, it’s an attack more particularly on Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers, predominantly Scientists—as in those who practice Scientism religiously.
Secondly, this limited attack garners the same critique as I give Dawkins’ God Delusion. I liked this book, but whereas Gray limits his attack on a thin slice of atheists—despite offering up 7 flavours—, Dawkins limits his attack to Christians; perhaps, some Abrahamic denominations. This is a particular God and particular disciples.
I address these in turn.
New Atheism: I agree that Scientism simply switched faith from God to Science or it deified Science, whichever vantage you prefer. This ilk simply swapped God for Naturalism. These are the same lot who offer up ‘Self-evident truths’ and Natural Law. Please. I agree with neither.
Secular Humanism: Whilst admittedly secular, I am not quite a Humanist and decidedly not a Secular Humanist™. Here, I disagree with the underlying teleological notion of both.
Science-Religion: The only nod I am willing to give to science is the evidence-based, falsifiability over faith, but much of science is still faith-based. It just operates from a different metanarrative. Again, Scientism is no one’s friend.
Political Religion: I agree that this is as much a scourge as organised religion. By now, one might notice a trend—a healthy does of whataboutism: We can’t suck because we’re no different to this other thing that you might be attached to. Except they are all bollox through and through. Political ideology is religion without the blatant metaphysical nod—though it is still there beneath the surface.
God-hatred: Even having not read the book, this makes no sense whatsoever. How can one hate what one doesn’t believe exists? I suppose I could hate unicorns, faeries, and Harry Potter, but I don’t think that’s the same thing. The summary suggests that it’s more about an obsession with evil, but I don’t have enough context to respond meaningfully. Do atheists actually believe in evil? I don’t. And, except idiomatically, I don’t personally know of others who do. Feels like a red herring.
Unsentimental Atheisms: Satayana refutes the Secular Humanists. I’m buying what he’s selling. Conrad is taking a spin on evil but opting to label it wicked—a bit of a drama llama. I’m not buying it.
Mystical Atheism: I like Schopenhauer—probably because he’s such an underdog. He did glean a bit from Buddhist philosophy. So have I. But Buddhism ranges from the secular to the sacred. I don’t tend to stray too far from the secular. I fully agree that history has no metaphysical meaning and human beings are not objectively advancing.
If anything, this is one of the longer posts I’ve made in a while. Thanks to the Copy-Paste Gods. Allahu Akbar, Oh Mighty. In the end, Santayana and Schopenhauer notwithstanding, I am still left with a why not neither.
I expect that consciousness is a human nominative concept. Like religion, it will become smaller as science encroaches. In 1994, David Chalmers presented his idea of the hard problem of consciousness in a lecture, Toward a Scientific Basis of Consciousness, but I feel this is more due to the insufficiency of language than anything else. To me, consciousness isn’t well defined. It’s like a medical syndrome. It’s just a grouping of seemingly related conditions that haven’t yet been parsed. In time, it may be determined that they weren’t even related in the first place. Apophenia and cognitive dissonance are two significant human biases that affect perception.
At core, consciousness might be functionally reduced to that of an interpreter. Some have posited that the only thing that exists is ‘information’, whatever that means, so there only needs to be an interpreter—a translater. If that interpreter is defined as consciousness, then so be it. This appears to lead us to a Cartesian place—though it doesn’t follow that the self or ego exists. This would be a second-order event.
Anyway, just rambling. As seems to be the case lately, I’ve got little time to develop my thoughts. At least I’ve captured them for now.