Truth or wishful thinking?
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26-10-2013, 10:25 PM
Truth or wishful thinking?
The other day I went to a colleague of mine and asked her, if she believed in god. I wanted to hear from her why she believed in the existence of a god, because I think it is utterly unreasonable to be a scientist and religious at the same time and wanted to hear her opinion.

What she really said is that she believes in the existence of god, not because there is good evidence. It is rather because it makes her feel better and that she feels protected, or assisted, or whatsoever...

I told her quite bluntly that that is a very selfish and self-delusional reason to believe in the existence of something. In fact, she only believes in it, because she wants it to exist, for her own selfish reasons.

She agreed to that.

After some debate, trying to convince her that this is ridiculous and unreasonable, I eventually asked her what would it take for you to accept that there is no god?

She didn't give an answer. No matter what, she would always believe in the existence of a god. And that was very shocking, especially coming from a scientist.



In such cases, it is absolutely a waste of time to debate with people about the existence of a god. And I came to think that this is a predominating case. A discussion is a conversation, in which two parties bring forth their opinion and are willing to alter or utterly discard their opinion based on arguments. A discussion with people, who no matter what can not be convinced otherwise, is not a discussion...

I think, in the beginning of a "discussion", we first need to make clear: Are we searching for the truth?

Fun "paradox": The higher the selection pressure, the slower evolution takes place.
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26-10-2013, 11:11 PM (This post was last modified: 26-10-2013 11:23 PM by Chippy.)
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
(26-10-2013 10:25 PM)Youkay Wrote:  A discussion with people, who no matter what can not be convinced otherwise, is not a discussion...

I think, in the beginning of a "discussion", we first need to make clear: Are we searching for the truth?

I think you are being dogmatic in insisting that your colleague subjectively value things in the same manner that you do. Your colleague is being selfish only in the same sense that someone that eats their favourite foods is being selfish. Your colleague is entitled to make themselves feel good. Some people do so with drugs, some with activities and some with their beliefs. So long as your colleague isn't hurting anyone then you have no grounds for objecting. If a person's behaviour is entirely self-regarding who am I to begrudge them of feeling good by whatever means they deem fit?

Fideism has a long tradition in Western thought and it is not the first time I have read of self-serving belief (I vaguely recall a book by an atheist that argues we should believe in a God anyway because of its emotional benefits, I'll see if I can find it).

Is your colleague living an unexamined life? Yes, but not everyone values inquiry and examination as instrinsic goods and we can't insist that everyone should.
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27-10-2013, 12:12 AM (This post was last modified: 27-10-2013 12:16 AM by Youkay.)
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
I don't know if I wasn't explicit enough or what the reason is for you to jump to wrong conclusions, both regarding me and my colleague. Or maybe I am just being fussy about your choice of words.

I did not insist, but assume we would share the same subjective value when addressing questions regardless of their nature: objectivity. And I had a very good reason for that assumption.

Also, saying that a person is living an unexamined life based on one incident alone is quite harsh.

But let's forget about that, it is irrelevant.


Quote:not everyone values inquiry and examination as instrinsic goods and we can't insist that evryone should.

This is a key point that I would like to discuss with you about.

I wouldn't insist, but I would certainly expect people to be inquisitive and critical about any given question, not only religion. Here, I gave an example of a person who is otherwise very inquisitive and critical, except when it comes to religion. I say so because - in my opinion - personal beliefs/assumptions that bypass critical and objective questioning can be detrimental for an individual and the community. For example:
- a firm grasp to religious belief can impede the education of children in basic science and lead to fundamentalist views
- being uncritical about media provided information can give rise to public support of unjustified wars
- being uncritical about health advice can be harmful and is often exploited by companies that are trying to expand their profits
- superstition is a product of uncritical thinking, which also can be exploited by psychics, fortune tellers etc.

So do you think I am wrong in expecting people to be inquisitive and critical? Would I be wrong if I insisted they were? Do you think I have the right to criticize people for being gullible/delusional, even if it only affects them, and not the community?

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27-10-2013, 12:47 AM
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
some people I know believe in God like they do Astrology and fortune telling.
They readily admit its probably bogus but it makes them happy.
So to them God is more of a hobby than a dogma.

Theism is to believe what other people claim, Atheism is to ask "why should I".
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27-10-2013, 01:37 AM
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
(27-10-2013 12:12 AM)Youkay Wrote:  I wouldn't insist, but I would certainly expect people to be inquisitive and critical about any given question, not only religion.

I don't dispute that these qualities are good, our conception of value--of the good--intersect.

Quote:Here, I gave an example of a person who is otherwise very inquisitive and critical, except when it comes to religion.

That isn't unusual. It is unfortunate but not usual. As I said in my previous post people deal with existential anxieties in different ways. Neurotocism scores are normally distributed in the population. Those that score very low on neuroticism will feel less of a need for solace because they will not necessarily experience anxiety as a consequence of their atheism. A person that scores high on neuroticism will be more likely to experience anxiety in relation to their atheism and will likely seek relief in one of the ways I mentioned.[1] Perhaps your colleague is in this latter category. Recall Marx's famous statement:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.[2]

Disregarding Marx's proposed solution for the relief of this suffering there is much truth in Marx's statement. Some people instead use real rather than figurative drugs[3] and some that are stolid have no need for figurative nor literal opium. Until some solution is found for those of us on the right tail of the neuroticism distribution, drugs and religion will remain useful.[4][5]

Quote:personal beliefs/assumptions that bypass critical and objective questioning can be detrimental for an individual and the community. For example:
- a firm grasp to religious belief can impede the education of children in basic science and lead to fundamentalist views
- being uncritical about media provided information can give rise to public support of unjustified wars
- being uncritical about health advice can be harmful and is often exploited by companies that are trying to expand their profits
- superstition is a product of uncritical thinking, which also can be exploited by psychics, fortune tellers etc.

I agree that an absence of inquisitiveness and rationality can be harmful for the individual and for society. But for the more neurotic individual the anxiety and uncertainty of atheism can make life difficult.

Quote:So do you think I am wrong in expecting people to be inquisitive and critical?

Generally speaking, no.

Quote:Would I be wrong if I insisted they were?

Yes, because as an external observer you don't completely understand their subjectivity. It is too easy for us to judge others with reference to our own subjectivity. Atheism may not provoke in you any anxiety but it may very well in others. Just as we shouldn't judge someone that uses narcotics we should also not judge someone that uses the "opium of the people". Some of us need a crutch because we are predisposed to anxiety and crises of meaning. I hope that in the future some drug that does not produce tolerance and that is not addictive and that produces no lethargy or hangover but relieves all unpleasant emotion is discovered. At that time we can offer those that use religion as self-therapy another option.

Quote:Do you think I have the right to criticize people for being gullible/delusional, even if it only affects them, and not the community?

Yes, but with the above considerations in mind. The more neurotic members of our species do not currently have a great choice of options from which to choose from and life has become more uncertain over the last 20 or so years.
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27-10-2013, 03:06 AM
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
Quote: As I said in my previous post people deal with existential anxieties in different ways. Neuroticism scores are normally distributed in the population. Those that score very low on neuroticism will feel less of a need for solace because they will not necessarily experience anxiety as a consequence of their atheism. A person that scores high on neuroticism will be more likely to experience anxiety in relation to their atheism and will likely seek relief in one of the ways I mentioned.

I understand and completely agree on this.

Your main argument is that there are variable degrees of neuroticism, which need to be accounted for.

Regarding the fact that the vast majority of humanity is religious, would you say that the vast majority is neurotic? Or maybe only a minority is neurotic to a degree that for them the existence of a god becomes essential for their well-being, whereas for the majority there are other reasons, like being lazy and convenient, adopting indoctrinated and social ideals, a sense of affiliation and soothing, authority etc. There are many reasons besides neuroticism why people may stick to their conception of god.

You made it very clear that people differ in their subjectivity and degree of neuroticism. But unless a person is highly neurotic, rationality and inquisitiveness should be expected, perhaps even insisted on.

Also - since you brought up the analogy with the drug addict - we treat drug addicts to get rid of their addiction for their personal well-being. According to that analogy, should we also treat the firmly religous? Or do you think that the analogy is flawed?


So far, my opinion has not changed much except that you have made me aware of people with a high score for neuroticism, and I appreciate that. (I think my mom is very very neurotic... hmm... is there a way to treat that?)

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27-10-2013, 08:48 PM (This post was last modified: 27-10-2013 09:09 PM by Chippy.)
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
(27-10-2013 03:06 AM)Youkay Wrote:  Regarding the fact that the vast majority of humanity is religious, would you say that the vast majority is neurotic?

No.

Quote:Or maybe only a minority is neurotic to a degree that for them the existence of a god becomes essential for their well-being,

Yes.

Quote:whereas for the majority there are other reasons, like being lazy and convenient, adopting indoctrinated and social ideals, a sense of affiliation and soothing, authority etc.

Yes.

Quote:There are many reasons besides neuroticism why people may stick to their conception of god.

Indeed.

Quote:Also - since you brought up the analogy with the drug addict - we treat drug addicts to get rid of their addiction for their personal well-being. According to that analogy, should we also treat the firmly religous? Or do you think that the analogy is flawed?

The analogy will break if you push it that far. But I think people have the right to be addicted to drugs. Of course the same laws that relate to alcohol should apply to drugs, e.g. no driving while under influence, public intoxication etc. If a person commits a crime the state has the right to bargain with the addict, e.g. reduced sentence on condition of treatment etc. But otherwise addicts should be allowed to be addicts.

Quote:So far, my opinion has not changed much except that you have made me aware of people with a high score for neuroticism, and I appreciate that.

That's ok.

Quote:(I think my mom is very very neurotic... hmm... is there a way to treat that?)

Treatment no, management yes.

PS:- I just remembered this Moby video clip. It would be great if life were like this. If in our moments of deepest despair, acutest self-doubt and thorough defeat we received a reassuring message or a nudge in the right direction from one of God's heavenly minions. Alas life is not like that. Prayer is like talking on a phone with nobody on the other end and God is so well hidden that apologetics exists for each of the many religions that each claim to be exclusively authentic.
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27-10-2013, 09:19 PM
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
Yeah, we are pretty much of the same opinion on this, I assume. But you didn't reply to this:

But unless a person is highly neurotic, rationality and inquisitiveness should be expected, perhaps even insisted on.

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28-10-2013, 10:28 AM
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
(26-10-2013 10:25 PM)Youkay Wrote:  What she really said is that she believes in the existence of god, not because there is good evidence. It is rather because it makes her feel better and that she feels protected, or assisted, or whatsoever...

She sounds like she might be a big proponent of NOMA. It basically exists to allow people to be otherwise very scientific in their world view, but to also allow their beliefs sufficient insulation from scrutiny.


(26-10-2013 10:25 PM)Youkay Wrote:  After some debate, trying to convince her that this is ridiculous and unreasonable, I eventually asked her what would it take for you to accept that there is no god?

Technically, it's a completely unprovable point, in either direction. I agree that assuming there is a god, despite a lack of evidence is pretty dumb, but it doesn't technically rule it out. I mean, if you think about it, you're talking to someone who blindly accepts a naked belief in something without evidence. How do you disprove that? Anything you bring to the table will be handwaved away as "tricks by The Deceiver".
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28-10-2013, 11:09 AM
RE: Truth or wishful thinking?
It might be a bit much to expect people to be entirely and utterly consistently rational. People being pretty fantastic at sustaining all kinds of internal inconsistency and dissonance...

You could argue that it would be good if they were, and it would be quite a convincing argument - but they're not.

In this case your colleague is (as, indeed, are many of mine) apparently quite capable of holding religious beliefs without it affecting here work as a scientist. Which isn't in itself particularly problematic. And if they derive some personal good from the belief, live and let live.

Of course that's so often not where people stop. Religious belief (as, of course, any belief - but most scriptures and religious organisations are quite the jumpstart on poor behaviour) can have strong effects on other people, depending on how one acts on them. Although the question then is how much said beliefs are instigators instead of convenient justifications.

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