Tag Archives: nature

Faith and Facts

May 23, 2009

“I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.” [Clarence Darrow]

“I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion. I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism. The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive.” [Albert Einstein]

My main thesis is narrower and, I think, more defensible: understanding reality, in the sense of being able to use what we know to predict what we don’t, is best achieved using the tools of science, and is never achieved using the methods of faith.”
Jerry A. Coyne, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

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Mr. Einstein’s statement, in the quote attributed to him, in which I see much merit, demonstrates a developed version of the temporal kind of religion you have been reading about in these pages. As stated on previous pages, my views on religion are that if faith is required to believe something, that does not constitute knowledge. If you can show how you know it, and make it obvious to others and irrefutable in itself, by its own nature, it must be true and, therefore is knowledge. As you also saw in the preceding pages, people use all kinds of trickery to convince a naïve audience otherwise.

If something is known to be demonstrably true, it is not called faith. It is factual and faith is unnecessary. The only facts that can be found in religion are in regard to where some scriptural quote can be found. The quotes themselves, unless somehow already granted scientific support as a result of having had that process applied to them, so that they become understood as true for known and repeatable reasons, are anecdotal in their evidentiary nature. Without scientific support, they are not facts; they are, at best, guesses, fables, unsupported opinions, mythical or legendary, most times misinformation of undocumented origin. To call them ‘scientific’ is an attempt to scam.

That condition leads directly to the fractured condition of religion in our own times, that the nature of belief without credible verisimilitude loses in both directions; that is, that anyone can say whatever they wish others to believe and find support, and those same others will choose from the mess of it what to believe without requiring any vindicating support. Faith is never in what can be shown to be true; it is always in what one supposes or wishes could be true, and that is why it is called faith and not fact.

Knowledge is about facts, items that can be demonstrated to be true however one has gone about attaining to their awareness. Even the proponents of faith will demand that of their opponents in any argument. “Prove it.” Knowledge may be about what a scripture says, in the form that claims and can show the scripture actually does say it, but is not about the unverifiable information contained in that script or any other. Facts do not require faith to uphold them because they can be known and shown.

Before science, written records were humankind’s attempt to achieve veracity and uniformity of knowledge. As far back as art on cave walls gets dated, agreements were recorded about how the various important or interesting events took place, and put on display for all to see.

Later, discussions that would take place about those events could be settled by a viewing of the drawings and, later after the innovation of writing, the recorded words that described them. Not all recountings would agree, however, when groups of doubters gathered to produce their own accounts. In the drawings, small details most likely were varied from one accounting to another. In later writings, jots and tittles may have held different meanings to later interpreters. It still seemed necessary to devise some way to present a uniform view that all could understand alike. The scientific method has demonstrated itself capable to produce information that maintains cohesive verisimilitude for all who have adopted it and learned to understand how and why it works. That to which it cannot lend its support does not demonstrate a weakness in science, but does present the weakness inherent to unverifiable stories about reality and nature. To understand why requires a good understanding of how to apply abeyance in the principle of defeasibility.

To me as a toddler, my grandmother told stories about the fairies living in the lawn, whose table settings could be seen in the morning dew, and that I would destroy were I not careful while running across them. My faith in Gran’Ma’s admonitions faded over the years as my possession of factual knowledge increased while her stories went unreinforced, until now I can understand that as the nature of all faith: unreinforced Faith fades as knowledge about reality increases. Faith requires reinforcement and the avoidance of factual knowledge for its survival; for that exact reason you will find admonitions against erudition throughout biblical scriptures, even from their very beginnings in Genesis, attempts to enforce misinformation and derogate knowledge. Even possession of scriptures were forbidden in early Xianity, lest questioners emerge to cast doubt on priestly words that had served to reinforce faith.

So, why would anybody wish to proclaim faith to be a source of knowledge? To understand that, all one needs is an awareness of the political aspects of ecclesiastical religion: Knowledge is bad stuff, according to all kinds of biblical edicts, but centralist religion must hold its own in the face of advancing technology and the growing exposure and ease of access to information. When a growing skepticism, fueled in part by recent fiascoes created by attempts to tie political success to religious backing, inspires increasing numbers of people to become interested in discovering why such a controversy exists as has been initiated by the religious right, claims to knowledge must be raised by those who back faith in order to save face and avoid out-of-hand rejection.

Meanwhile, pronouncements against the value of knowledge must remain hidden or that effort will fail. The scientific nature of knowledge must be watered down to a point that anti-knowledge stances can appear to possess legitimate claims to it. Religion can then call its baseless presentations “science”. Misinformation, disinformation and stories must now be presented and accepted as knowledge by the very same people whose religious establishment once forbade and punished the common person for access to the scriptures, and presented tasting the fruit of knowledge as a sin so vile that Adam and Eve got tossed out of the Garden because of it.

There is another aspect of this that takes the discussion of it to a greater depth, that arrives when one realizes knowledge as in a relationship with understanding. Religion attempts to gloss this over with shiny pronouncements about such as “knowledge of God” and “the religious understanding of reality” while attempting to offer nothing substantial for support. Such hallowed words ring as hollow. The appeal is only to those already convinced and willing to accept edicts at the level of urban legends and grant their wholehearted preverified [decided before an investigation, if any, was begun; any search looked for support rather than objective evidence] support with no qualms or compunctions against errors being introduced into their lives.

Despite its criticism of the scientific method, and its avoidance of its application in their own behalf, religions hasten to proclaim vindicated ownership of whatever part of their edicts for which they feel science has found justification. They forget that, according to the law of averages, 50% of what they guess to be true ought to be, and the role science serves ought to be to discover which portion of their claims that applies to. What ought to be disheartening to them is to acknowledge that such edicts become no longer religious as a result of that, but then are demonstrably scientific, faith and gullible belief no longer required. Anything of religion not so demonstrable that still gets proclaimed scientific by their spokespeople, is not.

The scientific method must be shown as the reason and source for such edicts, and repeatedly so for all the future so that it can be demonstrated time and again, wherever and by whomever is so equipped by instruments and knowledge so that accuracy can and will be maintained. Anybody can claim something to be scientific, and when people fail to demand factuality they can and (it is plain through history) will get away with it. Errors multiply faster than they can be corrected. Religions result from that and gain ubiquity from it. Where no corrections dare be offered, the mass of humanity suffers regressive poverty, especially when such errors gain political backing and popularity.

The errors religion serves to perpetuate as superstition, along with the compulsiveness inherent to those with perverse views of nature, serves to thwart the development of common understanding. Understanding develops through applied knowledge; it could be regarded as “body knowledge”. The skill developed through rigorous practice shows as understanding, wherein the body seems to have its own mind and the thought processes of the left cerebral hemisphere become obstructions more-so than guides.

The nature of the interactions between the right and left brain hemispheres becomes perverted into “understanding” by the application of religious misinformation so that even such atheists as Sam Harris willingly support those practices of religion that proclaim spiritual development, that have at other times been shown to lead to insanity.

That which unbalances the homeostatic functions that maintain our bodies and minds at their best must be regarded as wrong and dangerous to ourselves and those who will be affected by our misdeeds. The false understanding to result from rigorous practicing of inducing chemicals, starvation or isolation becomes as much a second nature to such practitioners as it does for those practicing to develop a skill-set. The difference between the two can still be found in science’s requirement for verification, when one who has become capable to perform an unusual task gets compared to one who has become somewhat incapacitated as a result of interfering with the natural requirements of his body to function.

Understanding that has been developed to interfere with natural CC, then, can be rightly seen as misunderstanding and adjudged to be harmful. Misunderstanding is worse than ignorance because it leads to botched and costly actions. A community of that sort will lead into the expensive unbalancing problems so rampant in today’s America. Understanding that has been developed to enhance balanced, healthy vigor in application to a skill must be adjudged to be a benefit to its possessor, but also to his or her community. Why should anyone prefer the former over the latter, were a choice actually ever given before enforced indoctrination?

Nature

Nature

Nature

I will acknowledge a fondness for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

(“But, that is about something that’s not real.”)

I won’t argue against that. What role the Flying Spaghetti Monster can play for everybody is as a stand in for testing other beliefs. If whatever can be said about the Flying Spaghetti Monster is not also true about the belief being tested, that belief could be true.

It doesn’t work all that well because people lie to defend their own beliefs. What I do accept as true, however, is nature occupying the position of final authority.

(“But, nature is not a god.”)

That’s true, and I never claimed that. It’s also true that some people consider nature as the Supreme Being.

(“Isn’t that the same as what you just now said?”)

It could be so, if there were an entity involved. There’s none.

(“There is always God.”)

No one has ever brought forth evidence to support any kind of such claims

(“Who made the trees, the beautiful flowers, the grass? That’s evidence for God.”)

It works better as an argument for nature. Anyway, which god are you talking about?

(“I am sure you know the god who gave Moses the Ten Commandments is the only god.”)

So, you are talking about the god named God? No, I didn’t know that about her.

(“God is a ‘him’, I’ll have you know.”)

Back when gods were many and each tribe and village had their own, the female form was prominent. Are you proposing your god underwent a sex change?

(“Don’t be ridiculous.”)

It was your idea. There are statues all over the world for evidence.

(“Those aren’t gods.”)

Maybe not to you, but their history is still known by some natives.

Written entirely with OPEN OFFICE.

Memetics

Memetics

Sometimes scientists seem obliged to ask silly and deceitful-sounding questions. We must keep in mind that real scientists have spent the better part of a decade or longer going to school to learn to ask those irritating questions, and argue for and against what seem like idiotic viewpoints, however much they may remind us of certain seven year old children. Those questions are part of a ritual that belongs to a necessary ongoing process as a series of events they must perform whenever new subject matter has been presented to their midst. Once they have determined for themselves if it is important enough to bother, then rid themselves of all the ghosts that might rise up from hidden closets to bite them, and beaten the bushes free of all the goblins they suspect to be hidden there, they can then get on to more important matters. Memetics, being somewhat new, is still undergoing that process.

For science to develop memes about memes, they must undergo a process that, because it may be seen as self-referencing, could become particularly hazardous. They could screw it up with one brief statement that would take a hundred years to get undone. Look at what happened to hedonism just because Epicurus, more than 2000 years ago, lacked the concepts found in modern medicine and biology, and so failed to assemble a complete and cogent picture. This could be one of the most important topics to undergo scientific scrutiny since the inception of evolution, and has stirred up its share of quiet, almost surreptitious controversy. It could increase our understanding of how our minds work. A growing number of books and papers have been published but, still, very few members of the public-at-large have ever heard anything about memes or memetics.

Of those who have, a large percentage feel threatened and defensive. I recall reading a page on the Internet that a person purporting to be a Buddhist had written, describing Buddhism as being ‘not a meme’ because Buddhists do not proselytize and coerce others into joining their ranks or go to wars against members of other religions. I appreciated his statements, and have enjoyed the pleasant company I have shared with Buddhists in my lifetime. Still, Buddhism is a imemeplex (as Susan Blackmore named packets of memes, or meme-complexes) that, because it does not so deeply incite emotions, is simply less viral than other religious beliefs. Proselytization or not, people still accredit information about it, and adopt it if it fits their needs along with memes already hosted.

In spite of Susan Blackmore’s effort to discredit the idea of contagious memes, being viral is not necessarily a bad trait. It is, in fact, a one-word description of memes that have become effective at the act of replication, which is what memes do. Memes become contagious, or they die out. They have no choice in the matter. Memes become viral because they attract humans to ‘catch’ them, and so, good or bad, they must appeal to human nature to succeed, or learn to ride in a passive way on the backs of other memes. Our heads get full of them, both symbiotic and parasitic, because most are contagious to someone.

In their efforts to justify and limit memetics to the notion of acquiring them only by obvious acts of imitation, previous writers appear to have gone out of their ways to nullify the value of innovation in the generation of memes. Surely we cannot disagree they are passed on by imitation, but where do they come from? The argument so far has allowed mutated mistakes or trial and error to be responsible for the creation of all new memes, and saying the large brains we possess were developed because we needed them only for the complicated processes involved in doing imitations. Most of us are not good imitators.

Most of evolution has advanced not in a smooth flow like imitation/mutation would exhibit, these people are quick to alert us, but in wide plateaus with unexpected changes. Why should the evolution of memetics be different from the rest of existence? I will acknowledge we build upon all that has gone before, and use the tools we already possess for the purpose of making new kinds of tools, but have none of these people ever set down in a quiet place to do the pondering required for an act of innovation? Does living in an ivory loft so insulate one from the vagaries most of us face in life that they do not know how much easier simple imitation is, than to come up with an original solution to a difficulty one is facing?-to ask the question, “How do I deal with this?” and contrive a unique answer derived from what we already know? Protected people may never have experienced that process and realized the joy that accompanies its success. My diplomas are written in the lines formed on my tired bare hands, exactly the way of most common folks with whom I’ve worked. Few of us would trade lives with any of those who devalue ours, when their pronouncements seem to so strongly indicate their humdrum lack of real experiences. C’mon, people, liven up!

Blackmore pointed out that making tools by trial and error is not an easy undertaking, and that people could be taught the various required tasks. So, who was the first teacher?-an innovator? Someone had to figure them all out at the beginning, even if one step at a time: Would not the first person to cogitate relationships and realize the possibilities of designing and forming a stone tool be the one using the most brain power? It would seem apparent at first blush, but the argument will be that he or she merely imitated stones found in nature that worked to perform a task. Okay, then: Who had the brain power?-the first one to observe how to make a certain stone perform a task, even if by accident?-or those who first learned the tasks required to make copies?-or those to whom they taught their innovative new skills? How about those doing advanced work that required tools in the first place? This may seem like nit-picking, but I have a point to make that involves the evolution of events and processes, and I want you to be able to come back here and pick out the steps involved in the origination of memes and see that they are a natural occurrence and a necessary step that evolution must take as a “blind” force working toward its apparent goal.

If humanity can accept memes as a product of nature, that would have no effect on reality beyond our understanding of it and how humanity would then treat it. Seeing a god as an invisible component of reality might prompt development of a science-based religion that could put a whole new face on humanity’s destructive mistreatment of our home planet, our fellow creatures, and each other.

Don’t Believe?

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Don’t Believe?

Don’t get carried away with your skepticism without first giving it a lot of good, honest thought. Skepticism for the sake of appearing skeptical solves nothing. Those atheists who claim to have purged their minds of all beliefs have granted their accusers the upper hand with that unnecessary claim. Taking that philosophical position enables them to back you into the corner where nothing is true. Do you really believe that our perceptions of reality misinform us? —then, you support a belief. Can you demonstrate how that belief is true? —then, you have either demonstrated that you have a belief, or that you still haven’t mastered the art of fiction. Or, maybe, both.

I suspect the multi-layered composition of reality befuddles thinking about it, especially when we fail to recognize the borders that separate the layers.

Calling them layers probably also contributes to befuddlement, which is why we more properly refer to them as ‘realms’. They are not under foot; we stay immersed in them. The realms are named “micro”, “macro”, and “cosmo” with the suffix “logical” appended to each, plus a suspected multiverse that may remain forever beyond human apprehension. Somewhere in that never-to-be-known portion, prehistoric people asserted a supernatural realm most scientists would place in abeyance since it, too, cannot be verified.

I believe that entire approach to understanding reality yields the most accurate simulation of truth possible with the tools available in our time. I believe that because I see the technology and predictions from science improving over the years while the scoffers on the other side lose ground, become less convincing to more people, and increase the rate of killing each other over who has the best answers.

I do have their answer: “None of them.”

Written entirely with OPEN OFFICE.

 

Bad Labels

BadLabels

Bad Labels

Labels that mislead about the contents hidden in a container, book, baked goods, or any sort of vessel would deserve the irate condemnation it would earn for any commercial establishment. Surely, no one would purposefully mislabel even a competitor’s container that might be on display. To offer, “I thought it would be better for you than what you asked for,” as apology would gain new labels, like ‘crook’, ‘con artist’ or ‘shyster’ for the perpetrator. “Who are you, to think you can make such decisions without my permission? What’s wrong with you?”

Honest business practices, upon which we all depend, require all proprietors to provide honest labels on all products on display for sale, including those from competitors, and to not make false and misleading statements about competitors in any manner.

It seems that Christianists (those people engaged in spreading, defending, and arguing for the Christian religion, often by attacking competitors) would see from events in the commercial world how their pushy, dishonest tactics backfire, made worse by the interference of trolls. When the trolls push the same message as the Christianists, their very similar tactics appear as though from the same army, just different soldiers. Neither the Christianists nor the trolls seem capable to realize that, as businesses engaged with the public, religions are bound by the same ethical principles as all the others. If they intend to stay in business.

Fear, Feuding and Force don’t work anymore except among semi-literate populations and the impoverished. Doubt gets provoked the same as it would if the makers of toothpaste, dish soap, or your favorite car tried those same counterproductive tricks. Imagine the lawsuits that would plug our courtrooms shut if every business with little to offer elicited the disgust of their current and former customers by resorting to the shoddy tactics on which Christianists rely.

And, yes, I am aware that “Christianists” is a label I have found on the internet being very similarly used. Like the term’s originators, I recognize there are two kinds of people who consider themselves religious. There is the quiet kind, confident enough in their beliefs to teach by example, wise enough to council silence when approached with an argument, stalwart enough to stand up against obvious dishonesty, and whose belief is strong enough so they seek the company of like-minded people.

The Christians know this message is not about them, for they recognize the Christianists from my description. They know this message offers a way to separate the seeds from the bedding so that everyone can learn that love pulls together, while hate drives apart. As the atheist in this story, I believe everyone should learn all we can about the Christianists so we can recognize when we are getting swindled, and to keep ourselves from becoming like them.

Written entirely with OPEN OFFICE.

Meme Evolution

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Meme Evolution: from grunts to words

Memes are most easily understood as ideas that people want to copy and share. This chart of Abrahamic memes is as accurate as I could make it with limited resources. I revised it once and will do so again when verified errors are brought to my attention.

That religion memes developed right along with written language should make sense, as language must be copied and shared to make conversations possible. Writing adds the sense of vision to word of mouth stories and makes them more memorable and accurately repeatable, and, so, provides a benefit for people who cannot read. Those who could read probably told closer to the same version to their listeners, which increased believability and acceptance by appearing to provide verification. Writing also made fiction more believable, and propaganda easier to spread, and religions became political tools.

Modern religions did not suddenly appear fully developed in their present form. They evolved by borrowing ideas from older religions, then stealing or slaughtering their adherents. Religious memes evolved as people around the world fought to develop the “best” possible religion in each area.

This chart depicts the development of the meme that has lately been called ‘Abrahamism’ from simple tokenism into the four ecclesiastical threads still ongoing. The timeline for this chart starts at the bottom and runs upward.  The original thread called Christianity seems to have almost died out and its name to have been confiscated by Catholicism and Protestantism, and, later in the United States, by most candidates for political offices. These are dangerous times in this world.

Learning

learningR

Learning

Like it or not, it’s true, and stands to reason. Indoctrination relies on it, with regular reinforcement, to last a lifetime. Kids bullied by indoctrination at young ages will adopt the strangest beliefs on the strength of authoritative appeal to their imaginations and, if kept away from outside influences, will maintain those beliefs while in the same intellectual environment.

Culture furnishes our beliefs and the environment that maintains them. The effect a multicultural environment has on that will depend on how freely a child associates and with whom. We become influenced by our peers to adopt whatever parts of their beliefs mesh well with our own, attempt to compartmentalize what does not, and reject whatever fails that process.

New beliefs will be adopted more quickly during youth than in maturity, and rejected more quickly as people age. In an apparent move to sustain conformity, Nature rigged our systems to assess new information according to how well it meshes with what we already have adopted. From day one of our intellectual development, we have been building our personal belief systems to accord with all that has gone before.

Studious people, exposed to much more information than normal, may compartmentalize it into more headings than they can handle with ease, and find a need to ‘clean house’. That task may take years and require several iterations (judging from subjective personal experience) for the person to investigate the dross and toss out the garbage—while still requiring it to agree with information held to be truth.

In that way, belief truly does get in the way of learning. But, a traumatic experience can undo all of it.

It’s not the US Navy’s fault that I fell sick under their indoctrination process. I had not been prepared to be so smothered with rules, regimentation, confinement, multiple bosses, all supposedly aimed to prepare seventy-two of us to share life aboard a ship. From a barracks of half a gross of gross boys, they shipped me to a hospital, let me marinate a few weeks, gave me an evaluation, and sent me home.

I think that stay at the hospital had the most profound effect on me. I met people with all kinds of conditions, beliefs, outlooks, and stories. I was allowed to coach a boy named Raymond, who had given up, back to health. The doctors had given up on him because of his negative attitude, he cried and whimpered so much nobody wanted anything to do with him. I can’t help feeling sorry for someone like that, and volunteered to share his room. I don’t know from where my coaching words came, other than a composite from my bookworm past. We became friends, compared our very similar problems, and helped each other overcome. I believe my effort did as much good for me as it did for him.

If there was a trauma involved, it came from returning home. Mom had converted to Dad’s sect, and both insisted I must do the same. Neither any longer matched what was in my head, and I became confused. Still quite ill, I determined I would discover the truth for myself, no matter where I found it, and promised the god named God I would accept whatever it might turn out to be.

If a god exists, then, truly, She called me to be an atheist, and arranged circumstances to assure that result. If no god exists, I have kept my promise.