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Author Topic: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement  (Read 13252 times)

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Offline Tamhansen

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #25 on: February 25, 2017, 06:38:11 PM »
The intelligence squared debates. To be fair, Fry performed better on that one, despite Hitchens being the more experienced and knowledgeable debater. I hope that reasoned atheism finds a voice like him again.

Offline HannibalBarcaTopic starter

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #26 on: February 25, 2017, 08:25:05 PM »
They had very different debating styles, and complemented one another quite well.  Honestly, in this debate, I think Fry did do a step better than Hitchens.  For the subject, and the audience, I think he had a more effective style.  Fry is an incredibly effective debater and public speaker, as well as a good actor and all-around awesome human being.  Fortunately, we still have him.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #27 on: February 26, 2017, 01:00:40 AM »
That is a sad comment on the effect being in the majority has on a population, I think.  Being in a minority tends to give someone more of a chance to develop empathy.  Atheists who are in the majority in a country and do not promote equality are a sad reminder that any majority can come under the influence of poor judgement.

Hmmmm.

Could you provide some sources here?
« Last Edit: February 26, 2017, 01:18:19 AM by Kythia »

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #28 on: February 26, 2017, 01:24:39 AM »
Atheists are not technically in the "51%" type of majority in the UK, no, but as of 2015, "Non-religious" is the dominant group in the UK. A survey by the BSA (British Social Attitudes) showed that of those who responded, 49% were of "no religion," 42% were some kind of Christian denomination, and 8% were labelled as "Non-Christian." Now obviously, that's a pretty small sample size, so there's some margin for error there (EG, religiosity in NI is gonna be MUCH higher than in the south of England), but still.

 It's worth noting that a 2007 Pitzer compilation did suggest that roughly 30-40% of the British populace do not hold a belief in God (but at the time, only 8% self identified as Atheists).
Now of course, there's no way of telling for certain how many of that group of "Non-religious" self identify as "Atheist," or how many of them are functionally atheistic (disbelief in God, but they don't use the label for whatever reasons), but it does show that religion is on the decline in the UK. And let's be honest; religion has long ago ceased to have any real impact or importance in most Brits lives. It just doesn't make the news very often any more, at least not in the HUGE ways that it influences policies and politics and political party leaders the way it does in the USA.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2017, 01:26:25 AM by Vergil Tanner »

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #29 on: February 26, 2017, 01:28:03 AM »
Just to clarify as the thread now reads a little weird:

My original post said that Hannibal's claim that atheists were a majority in the UK wasn't supported by any evidence. I edited it as it read bitchier than I intended. Virgil is (presumably at least) responding to that.

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #30 on: February 26, 2017, 01:36:55 AM »
That is indeed correct :-)

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #31 on: February 26, 2017, 01:54:35 AM »
Quote
Hmmmm.

Could you provide some sources here?

I'm not sure which part you were referring to.  I did use qualifiers such as 'I think' and 'tends to' so that it was clear that I was expressing an opinion and not stating a fact.  In general, I believe that being a member of a minority makes ones more empathetic to the struggles of others, as minorities with less power often struggle within the greater majority...at least in the United States.  Ethnic, religious, and social minorities are often discriminated against, not only in the U.S., but throughout human history.  Experiencing discrimination is not a guarantee to develop greater empathy, but I think it makes someone more likely to.

Quote
My original post said that Hannibal's claim that atheists were a majority in the UK wasn't supported by any evidence. I edited it as it read bitchier than I intended. Virgil is (presumably at least) responding to that.

I didn't find it bitchier at all :P  Although I wasn't making a claim about atheists in the UK.  I was only stating it was sad that atheists who were a majority in a nation were less likely to believe in equality.  You said it was Italy where this was the case.  I don't know the precise conditions in Italy, or the historical reasons that could cause this.  Perhaps there are other factors in effect there.  After all, atheists are only connected to one another by one factor--a lack of belief in a deity.  These people who are non-believers and don't approve of equality may have other things in common than just atheism.  There are idiots among atheists, like any other group.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #32 on: February 26, 2017, 02:04:02 AM »
That's kinda the point I was making actually Hannibal. You e said a few times in this thread that you don't believe things without evidence. I don't actually think that's a sensible or sustainable approach in the abstract, and generally I feel people saying that or similar are misrepresenting their behaviour, consciously or otherwise. By asking for evidence for a belief I was attempting to pull that out.

I'm not sure what you mean about Italy though? My only mention of it was saying I had no data for it.  My claim, and the stats I presented and you responded to, was about the UK.

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #33 on: February 26, 2017, 02:18:30 AM »
That's kinda the point I was making actually Hannibal. You e said a few times in this thread that you don't believe things without evidence. I don't actually think that's a sensible or sustainable approach in the abstract, and generally I feel people saying that or similar are misrepresenting their behaviour, consciously or otherwise. By asking for evidence for a belief I was attempting to pull that out.
about the UK.

I think it's probably the only sensible way of looking at things. If you're going to believe things without evidence, how do you ascertain which of two conflicting statements are true? How do you tell what is true and what is false, if you don't rely on evidence to show you which one is more concordant with reality? What exactly do you mean by "Sustainable in the abstract?" What does that actually functionally mean?

And I would also like to ask how people who say that are misrepresenting their behavior? How would one be being dishonest if they ask for evidence for believing somebody? I think it's dangerous thinking to accuse anybody who doesn't believe your claims without evidence as being dishonest, since that automatically makes them people you shouldn't respect or listen to. After all. Who wants to listen to a liar?

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #34 on: February 26, 2017, 02:22:37 AM »
OK.  Hannibal believes that atheists tend more to liberalism than the religious. Hannibal believes that Hannibal requires evidence to believe things. Either Hannibal has evidence for his claim or Hannibal is misrepresenting his views. This seems pretty uncontroversial...

Edit (hit submit not preview) sustainable means " can be sustained" .When I say that I don't think something is sustainable I mean that I don't think people can continue doing it for a prolonged period. Sorry if that was unclear.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2017, 02:25:12 AM by Kythia »

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #35 on: February 26, 2017, 03:17:27 AM »
OK.  Hannibal believes that atheists tend more to liberalism than the religious. Hannibal believes that Hannibal requires evidence to believe things. Either Hannibal has evidence for his claim or Hannibal is misrepresenting his views. This seems pretty uncontroversial...

Not necessarily. Hannibal wouldn't be misrepresenting his views, he'd just be a hypocrite. :P

Edit (hit submit not preview) sustainable means " can be sustained" .When I say that I don't think something is sustainable I mean that I don't think people can continue doing it for a prolonged period. Sorry if that was unclear.

Yeah, I got that thanks. -___- I know what sustainable means. :P :P

What I meant was "why do you think it's unsustainable?" What about wanting evidence for your beliefs and opinions is unsustainable?



EDIT: Added smileys, because one of my comments came off as more aggressive than I intended :P
« Last Edit: February 26, 2017, 03:30:25 AM by Vergil Tanner »

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #36 on: February 26, 2017, 04:57:51 AM »
Not necessarily. Hannibal wouldn't be misrepresenting his views, he'd just be a hypocrite. :P

Yeah, I got that thanks. -___- I know what sustainable means. :P :P

What I meant was "why do you think it's unsustainable?" What about wanting evidence for your beliefs and opinions is unsustainable?



EDIT: Added smileys, because one of my comments came off as more aggressive than I intended :P

No. Hypocrisy is where someone says something and does something else. This is subtly different. Here someone is saying they do something that they don't. I'm not sure hypocrisy is the word. If I told you I went to the gym every Sunday but didn't in fact do that I don't think hypocrite would be the word to describe me. This is largely semantic though.

I think it's unsustainable because I don't think it's possible to check for evidence before each and every single position one espouses. Time becomes a factor even if we think that that's a valuable thing to do. Which, as I say, I don't think it is. I think there are numerous positions one could hold that are simply too unimportant to require evidence. For example, I have a brother. Do you believe me? Whether you do or not, that's a position . And I would submit that even if you have nothing better to do than to track down my real name and determine whether it's true or not it's still simply not worth doing.

I don't think we could possibly base every belief on evidence and even if we could don't think it would be something we should do.  Neither sustainable nor sensible.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2017, 05:08:07 AM by Kythia »

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #37 on: February 26, 2017, 05:12:02 AM »
No. Hypocrisy is where someone says something and does something else. This is subtly different. Here someone is saying they do something that they don't. I'm not sure hypocrisy is the word. This is largely semantic though.

Yeah, it would be hypocrisy. He's saying that you should rely on evidence for what you believe, and yet he himself isn't relying on evidence. Hypocrisy is when you say something and do the opposite. He's saying you should rely on evidence, and in this hypothetical, doing exactly what he's saying you shouldn't do...therefore, hypocrite. :P
And no, that gym example would just be you lying. Hypocrisy would be you saying to somebody that they SHOULD go to the gym because it's healthy, or criticising somebody for not going to the gym, when you yourself don't go. Simply saying that you do it and not is just lying.

Hypocrisy: behaviour that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.

Therefore, in your example, you would be a liar rather than a hypocrite, and Hannibal would be a hypocrite as well as a liar.

But yes, this is largely semantic. :P


I think it's unsustainable because I don't think it's possible to check for evidence before each and every single position one espouses. Time becomes a factor even if we think that that's a valuable thing to do. Which, as I say, I don't think it is. I think there are numerous positions one could hold that are simply too unimportant to require evidence. For example, I have a brother. Do you believe me? Whether you do or not, that's a position . And I would submit that even if you have nothing better to do than to track down my real name and determine whether it's true or not it's still simply not worth doing.

I don't think we could possibly base every belief on evidence and even if we could don't think it would be something we should do.  Neither sustainable nor sensible.

I disagree. I think the fundamental problem with your argument is that you're treating it as if every position requires the same amount of evidence, when that isn't the case. If you say that you have a brother, then that is an extremely mundane claim; people have brothers, brothers are very common occurrences in humankind, and as far as I know you have no possible reason to lie about having a brother in this situation and I am aware of no conflicting evidence. Therefore, I am prepared to accept this statement as probably true because it is an extremely mundane claim. If, however, you were to say that you have thirty brothers, well...it's technically possible, but that is a far more extraordinary claim, so would require more evidence than the first instance. So I might ask to see a picture of you guys all together or something before I accepted it as true.
But the other side of things is that whether or not I believe you have a brother (or thirty for that matter) is unlikely to affect my life in any way, shape or form. But if you were to attempt to convince me that you needed donations because one of your brothers was in an accident and you need to raise money for healthcare, then I need to know that you're not just lying through your teeth because suddenly your claim DOES affect me. So no, there isn't a reasonable way to always get conclusive evidence before you accept every little claim, but nor is there reason to; Claims and evidence are on a spectrum, not a dichotomy, with the more mundane a claim requiring less evidence and the more extraordinary claims requiring more evidence.

But further, I would argue that to have a position, you had to have been convinced of it, and why would you be convinced of a position before you were shown evidence of it? Now, your evidence doesn't necessarily have to be good evidence, but evidently you were convinced by something, no? So if you are told something by somebody, why should you change your mind if they don't have any evidence to back up what they are saying? Why would you accept their new statements as fact without being shown that they are indeed facts? If simply being told was enough to change your mind, you would never hold any position for any longer than a single conversation about it because you would constantly be changing your mind back and forth because you were deciding sans evidence.

I think your assertion that we can't base every belief off evidence is factually incorrect simply because we DO. Every position you hold, you were convinced of. That requires reason and evidence, regardless of whether that evidence is good or bad, weak or strong. And when considering whether to change our minds, how else are we going to decide whether we're right or wrong other than comparing our opinions to the evidence set in front of us? The more closely our internal maps of reality match reality itself, the better off we are, the safer we are and the less likely to endanger ourselves we are.

I would posit that NOT basing our beliefs on evidence is not sustainable and even actively dangerous in many cases. Why on Earth would you reject evidence out of hand as a tool for reasoning? Surely you want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible, and how else would you determine which side of an issue is right or wrong other than reason and evidence?
« Last Edit: February 26, 2017, 05:16:27 AM by Vergil Tanner »

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #38 on: February 26, 2017, 05:23:12 AM »
To the best of my memory, Hannibal didn't claim that one should base beliefs on evidence, simply that he did. If I've misremembered then you're right, but if I haven't then the analogy holds.

As to your second, before I respond could you just clarify for me. There seems to be a problem between tour last two paragraphs and it's leaving me a little confused as to tour argument. In the penultimate you claim that all our beliefs are based on evidence, in the last you talk about beliefs that aren't and I'm struggling to reconcile the two, given that reading.

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #39 on: February 26, 2017, 05:38:37 AM »
To the best of my memory, Hannibal didn't claim that one should base beliefs on evidence, simply that he did. If I've misremembered then you're right, but if I haven't then the analogy holds.

Oh no, I believe that Hannibal practices what he preaches. I'm just assuming he doesn't for the sake of the hypothetical. This is in response to your comment:

Quote
OK.  Hannibal believes that atheists tend more to liberalism than the religious. Hannibal believes that Hannibal requires evidence to believe things. Either Hannibal has evidence for his claim or Hannibal is misrepresenting his views. This seems pretty uncontroversial...

If he does not have evidence for his claims, and yet demands that other people do, then he would be a hypocrite.


As to your second, before I respond could you just clarify for me. There seems to be a problem between tour last two paragraphs and it's leaving me a little confused as to tour argument. In the penultimate you claim that all our beliefs are based on evidence, in the last you talk about beliefs that aren't and I'm struggling to reconcile the two, given that reading.

Ah, ok, so:

I think that all of our beliefs are based on some degree on reason and evidence, since you need to have been convinced of a position to hold it in the first place.
However, not asking for extra evidence for the more outlandish and extraordinary claims is dangerous and ill-advised. Like...ok. So, my evidence for you having a brother is linked to my reason; I know brothers exist, I know brothers are common and I know that I have no reason to doubt that you have a brother. That is enough evidence for me to accept for the time being that you are being honest. If somebody came to me and said that you were lying, if I didn't consciously base my decisions on compelling evidence, I would simply accept this new persons word as evidence at face value.

I guess my distinction is between the critical reaction to each piece of evidence, to figure out which pieces are more reliable than others, and some things aren't evidence at all; in a hypothetical world where we don't require evidence to back up claims, we accept everything at face value without further critical analysis of whether it should be accepted or not. Therefore, we would accept everything as evidence at face value, regardless of whether it was, in fact, evidence or just a statement without anything supporting it.

Complicated, i know, and it verges on being a bit of a word salad, so I'll boil it down to this:

1) When faced with a statement or a claim, we either accept or reject it. We accept it if it seems reasonable and supported by the information we have at hand, and we reject it if it fails to meet that criteria. Therefore, all relevant information could be considered to be evidence (of varying quality) in that situation.

2) If we did not rely on evidence to make our decisions, we would have no mechanism to determine whether what we were being presented with was true, no way to critique the evidence being placed in front of us, and therefore we would either accept everything we were told without question or reject it out of hand, obstinately refusing to look at whatever evidence was presented. OR, we would simply change our minds on a whim. We may as well flip a coin to see whether we change our mind or not. All three scenarios are dangerous and unhealthy.

3) Therefore, reason and evidence is important for us to determine what is and isn't true, since evidence is simply the information we have available to us that informs us of the way reality actually works. If you reject the need for evidence, you have no real way to determine what is true and what is not.

I hope that makes my position clearer. :-)

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #40 on: February 26, 2017, 05:51:29 AM »
It does thank you, yes. And my response would be a little longer than I really want to do on my phone. Plus, we may have hijacked this thread a little. All I'll quickly say is that you seem to be arguing for Bayesian reasoning based on probabilities, and I agree that that is a far far stronger position in terms of sensibleness and sustainability than Hannibal's. I actually have some issues with it as a sole criteria for determining truth but they're pretty arcane and would be the final straw in taking this conversation totally off topic.  So I won't bother, I'll just say that we're using two subtly different meanings for the word "evidence" here and that seems to be the root of the disagreement. I maintain mine is right but again going through that we would take forever for very little benefit. If I use yours, which is essentially "a reason for believing something" then I totally agree with you.

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #41 on: February 26, 2017, 05:58:28 AM »
Well, I kind of start with Bayesian as a "If it's mundane enough to be a common occurrence, then eh," but as claims get more and more outlandish or extraordinary, then you start needing evidence to back it up, otherwise people can make you believe anything they want since your criteria for believing them is just not rigorous enough. And I don't think that Hannibal would demand a picture of your brother to believe that you had one. From what I've read, I do think that Hannibal agrees with me in terms of "Mundane claims require mundane evidence, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

But I do find myself wondering, Kythia, what is YOUR methodology for deciding whether or not to believe a claim? How do YOU decide whether to accept or reject a statement or claim?

I mean...this IS the "Ask an atheist" thread...you're asking me (an atheist)...so it's rather on topic, no? :P

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #42 on: February 26, 2017, 06:02:59 AM »
It's a reasonable question but again is a longer response than I want to do on my phone. I'll address that plus a few other issues when I get home. Probably, I dunno, five or six hours.

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #43 on: February 26, 2017, 06:05:51 AM »
Ok, fair enough! :-)

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #44 on: February 26, 2017, 12:36:40 PM »
I would suppose that me claiming atheists are more liberal would need some qualifiers.  Most Chinese are likely atheist, and their nation seems less liberal in many ways.  I'd have to say, then, that most of the atheists I have encountered follow more liberal beliefs.  Living in the United States, I'd have to say my claims pertain to atheists here.  Polls have shown that those with no religious beliefs in the U.S., including atheists, are more accepting of ethnic variety, LGBTQ rights, and even freedom of (and from) religion.

Vergil said things I wholeheartedly agree with as well.  Carl Sagan made the statement that 'extraordinary beliefs require extraordinary evidence'.  Mundane things require mundane evidence.  We all make judgements everyday in life.  I also have to explain that I don't use faith--faith and belief are not the same thing.  Everyone believes things.  For me, my beliefs are based on reasonable expectations, backed by evidence.  Faith is belief in something with no evidence.  Basing my life on science, I have to explain that science does not make proclamations of truth, only explanations with varying degrees of certainty, with nothing being 100% certain.  When I don't have enough evidence to believe something, my answer to a question about it will be 'I don't know.'

Before I was an atheist, I had different faiths, all of varying degrees.  I began a Catholic, being raised as such.  I converted to Protestantism, trying a handful of faiths in that category.  I tried Buddhism.  I tried Deism.  I tried my own concoction of a religion, wherein I thought all religious beliefs in a god were basically true, and all worshiped the same being under different names and incarnations.  However, the growing preponderance of evidence against these religions for me made me ask myself the question: could they all be wrong?  Further research, on both the books these religions were based on, and from books with reasoned arguments against religion, made me reject a belief in a god or gods completely.  As of today, no one has presented any evidence I have read or seen that convinces me belief in a deity is reasonable.  There may be a god or gods, but until I have some reasonable evidence of such, I won't be accepting anyone's claims that there are.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #45 on: February 26, 2017, 04:03:48 PM »
Mmmmkay, so this may be a little meandering.  My apologies in advance if you find it such.

On my epistemology

First, I believe that a lot of work has already been done.  In fact, I think most people think that but there's a growing and faintly ridiculous trend to act as though that's not the case.  "Question everything".  "Demand evidence for everything".  Even the constant charges of claim x being an appeal to authority.  I think it's vaguely worrying that people give the impression they think one should independently verify well-established facts.  If I read that g = 9.81 then I'm perfectly happy plugging that in to a formula, if I read that Australia exists I'm pretty happy to assume it does without feeling any need to verify.  Dialogue between, specifically, the rationalist/skeptic movement and vaccine denier movement is becoming hilarious as both sides polarise each other.  So the first go to for me in evaluating what is true is an explicit "has this question already been answered". 

This leads directly on to the second layer, that of induction and extrapolation.  If I know that all men are mortal and that Socrates is a man, I know that Socrates is mortal, etc etc etc.  Here is the start, incidentally, of my objection to your broad usage of "evidence".

Quite honestly, I suspect most people use those same two first steps, though as I've said there seems to be a trend to pretend one doesn't.  I do think there are benefits to being explicit about it though.

I place a lot of emphasis on experiential observations.  It's totally outside the scope of this conversation but I see no particular reason to assume my perceived reality is the same as yours and its entirely possible to have two mutually opposing views that are both objectively correct.  I think a Christmas Lunch isn't complete without Brussels Sprouts, you think they're absolutely foul and won't let them touch your plate. Yanno, hypothetically.  That's not even any guarantee that Brussles Sprouts taste the same to the both of us, we can't even necessarily agree on basic sensory input so I feel extrapolating too far out in to objective truths in a shared reality requires a much more solid grounding than I've ever seen it given.  The majority of arguments I've heard either support my position or try fallaciously to extrapolate outwards from shared experiences.  I don;t go quite as far as an Eastern Maya or Western Solipsism, I believe there is an objective reality we both perceive - I just don't see anything to suggest that we both perceive it the same.  So yes, I place a lot of emphasis on my own experience and perceptions.

Finally, I evaluate beliefs on whether or not they are helpful.  There's decades of research showing that there's only limited correlation between a belief being factually correct and it being beneficial to hold (and again, a lot of people seem to tie themselves in rhetorical knots trying to deny that).  Some of those are likely to be shared with humanity as whole, some with only a certain subset, some may well be unique to myself but, as above, I see no particular issue with that.  If it makes me happier or otherwise is beneficial to me to believe the box contains a diamond then I want to believe the box contains a diamond, and give a relatively limited amount of fucks whether it does or not.

So in brief, I'll develop my opinions, beliefs and truths based on work that has gone before me filtered through my own experiences and perceptions with the grading criteria being whether it's a useful thing to do.

On aphorisms


I wasn't really going to bring this up but both you and Hannibal have touched on it and I wanted to address it.  Every school of thought has its creeds and litanies, but I feel that within the Internet athesit community many of these have been not only thought terminating cliches but are actually antithetical to the expressed goals of that movement.  The one you have both mentioned is Sagan's quote about extraordinary claims, and it simply doesn't hold up to even a second's scrutiny.  For a group that prides itself on clear though, the fact that it is still used is mindblowing.  What, precisely, is a mundane claim?  What is an extraordinary one?  My daadi would hold "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his final prophet and messenger" as the very epitome of a mundane and broadly self-evident claim.  You, presumably, wouldn't.  Right off the bat when looked at on a srface level the words "mundane" and "extraordinary" are insufficiently defined.  Taking that a step further, the most common way seems to be to invoke explanatory power, with greatest explanatory power being favoured as "mundane".  But that differs so incredibly from our everyday experience that it renders the aphorism meaningless.  The very reason Paley's watchmaker has survived as long as it has is that it gels so readily with what we think.  "Where did this come from?"  "Some guy made it" is pretty much the very definition of a mundane claim. 

In essence, that claim boils down to nothing more than "you don't need to try too hard to convince me of claims that sorta sound reasonable but anything I don't like the smell of is going to take a lot more effort".  Which...well, yes.  That's how people work, sure.  But is that really worth quoting? 

But that really does pale in to insignificance compared to another one that is thrown around.  I'm too lazy to google the original author or the precise wording, but another one of these nonsenses that is thrown around is (paraphrased) "Good people will always do good thing, bad people bad ones, but to make a good person do bad things takes religion".  And that's just stupid beyond any rational comprehension.  For a start, how the hell are you defining good or bad people other than the things they do.  If a person is doing bad things, what on earth makes you think they're a good person?  Absent some sort of sci-fi device that will scan a person's brain and determine their level of morality there is absolutely no sensible way of determining a person's moral worth other than their actions. This hypothetical person who is good but does bad things because of religion - what on earth makes you think they're a good person?  It's not the actions they take, obviously.

OK.  Maybe they did good things before becoming religious, that's the argument some people make.  But even that collapses a good ten miles before the first hurdle comes in to sight.  There's a famous experiment by a guy called Milgrim where participants gave (what they believed to be) ever increasing shocks to (what they beleived to be) another volunteer purely because a guy in a lab coat told them to.  There's the Stanford Prison experiment, there's a famous classroom example by a teacher called Joan Elliott where she managed to turn the blue eyed and brown eyed members of her class against each other.  Another even more dramatic one where the teacher basically recreated the early days of the nazi reich.  The abu ghraib abuses.  Just...so many.  Is the claim being made that all of those participants were religious?  Or that they were bad people?  Or maybe that electrocuting someone to death isn't a bad thing?

How whoever came up with that statement wasn't laughed out of the room as soon as he said it is beyond me.

The point, such as it exists, is that for a community that largely self-identifies as taking a reasoned viewpoint to things those aphorisms are an invidious cancer in the middle.  I have my doubts about whether the rationalist project is possible but, if it is, one of the early steps must surely be to actually think sensibly and not take refuge in these kind of thought terminating cliches.

/rant

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #46 on: February 26, 2017, 05:08:23 PM »
I would suppose that me claiming atheists are more liberal would need some qualifiers.  Most Chinese are likely atheist, and their nation seems less liberal in many ways.  I'd have to say, then, that most of the atheists I have encountered follow more liberal beliefs.  Living in the United States, I'd have to say my claims pertain to atheists here.  Polls have shown that those with no religious beliefs in the U.S., including atheists, are more accepting of ethnic variety, LGBTQ rights, and even freedom of (and from) religion.

Makes me sad to see that, I guess my own people forget to love their neighbors. It sucks when some of the hate against us is in some way justified.

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #47 on: February 26, 2017, 06:12:18 PM »
First, I believe that a lot of work has already been done.  In fact, I think most people think that but there's a growing and faintly ridiculous trend to act as though that's not the case.  "Question everything".  "Demand evidence for everything".  Even the constant charges of claim x being an appeal to authority.  I think it's vaguely worrying that people give the impression they think one should independently verify well-established facts.

Well, whilst I agree with this in principle, everything has its limit; EG, it was a "well established fact" according to the Intellectual Elite that there was just open ocean between Europe and Asia to the West until somebody went ahead and sailed that way and found that no, there was actually an entirely different continent that they'd somehow missed over that way (Since nobody listens to Vikings, those uncouth barbarians!). So to a certain degree, there are some things that you need to verify because science is a self correcting process, and sometimes our assumptions turn out to be wrong. But on the macro level, yes, I generally agree with this.


So the first go to for me in evaluating what is true is an explicit "has this question already been answered".

Of course, for the more nuanced questions, you'll have to look at conflicting viewpoints and decide which one is more supported by the evidence. EG, the theory of Gravity; nobody is actually certain what causes two objects with mass to attract, but there are lots of competing hypotheses. We know THAT objects with mass attract, we're just not 100% on WHY.


If I know that all men are mortal and that Socrates is a man, I know that Socrates is mortal, etc etc etc.  Here is the start, incidentally, of my objection to your broad usage of "evidence".

Again, I agree with this step, but you do need to be careful. It is entirely possible for logic and induction to be internally consistent and yet be completely wrong. :P


I place a lot of emphasis on experiential observations.  It's totally outside the scope of this conversation but I see no particular reason to assume my perceived reality is the same as yours and its entirely possible to have two mutually opposing views that are both objectively correct.

A few points on this, though; how do you know that your experience of reality is reliable? How do you know without testing that your observations are correct? I mean, it's entirely possible for the brain to either fool itself into thinking something that isn't true (look up the phenomenon of "False Memories," and one only has to look at the hallucinations involved when the brain is deprived of water or oxygen for long periods of time). So how do you determine what is real and what is not? Because yes, it is possible to have two different viewpoints that are both correct, but not OBJECTIVELY correct, since the very definition of "Objective" means outside of the bias and interpretation of the individual. EG, it IS an objective fact that the Earth does, in fact, orbit the sun...but it ISN'T an objective fact that Brussel Sprouts taste bad. How do you go about determining which facts are objective and which ones are subjective?


Finally, I evaluate beliefs on whether or not they are helpful.

How do you determined whether the belief is helpful or not, outside evidence that indicates either way?


There's decades of research showing that there's only limited correlation between a belief being factually correct and it being beneficial to hold (and again, a lot of people seem to tie themselves in rhetorical knots trying to deny that).

You'll need to cite me some sources there, Kythia, since "Helpful" isn't an objective term; what one person views as helpful isn't what somebody else might identify as helpful. I, personally, think that the closer to reality the belief is the more helpful it is, because the closer your internal map of reality matches reality itself, the better off you'll be because your actions and beliefs will be influenced by the way the world actually is rather than the way you WANT it to be.


Some of those are likely to be shared with humanity as whole, some with only a certain subset, some may well be unique to myself but, as above, I see no particular issue with that.  If it makes me happier or otherwise is beneficial to me to believe the box contains a diamond then I want to believe the box contains a diamond, and give a relatively limited amount of fucks whether it does or not.

That's all well and good, but how do you determine whether it is more helpful to hold this fanciful belief than to hold a belief closer to reality? If somebody were to sell you that box and it was actually made of wood...but they made you pay the price for Diamond, you would be objectively worse off because you'd spent way too much money on an otherwise worthless box.


What, precisely, is a mundane claim?  What is an extraordinary one?

To a certain extent, that depends on the person the claim is being made to, and the person making the claim should respect that if they want that person to be convinced of their claim. If you are making a claim, it is up to you to prove it to the other persons satisfaction. Generally speaking, though, extraordinary claims are ones that are outside the bounds of what has already been observed and proven and demonstrated. EG, me personally. For me, a brother is a mundane claim because I know that brothers exist; I have one myself. However, God - an invisible man in the sky who for some reason gives a shit who I stick my dick in - has not yet been demonstrated to my satisfaction, one has not yet been absolutely proven...so for me, is an extraordinary claim. And if you were to hypothetically wish to demonstrate his existence to me, you would have to accept my standards of evidence if you wished to convince me.


The very reason Paley's watchmaker has survived as long as it has is that it gels so readily with what we think.  "Where did this come from?"  "Some guy made it" is pretty much the very definition of a mundane claim.

Eeeeeeh, not really. I could go into the problems of the Watchmaker here, but that would be massive derailment and I don't have time (class in five minutes! Ulp!)


The "good people do good things" thing is too far off topic for me, and I don't really agree; people do bad and good shit. It's just the way the world works. It's a people thing, not a religion specific thing.
Though there is a quote that I like; "people who make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities," and I think that is pretty well supported by human history.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #48 on: February 27, 2017, 12:05:13 AM »
To a certain extent, that depends on the person the claim is being made to, and the person making the claim should respect that if they want that person to be convinced of their claim. If you are making a claim, it is up to you to prove it to the other persons satisfaction. Generally speaking, though, extraordinary claims are ones that are outside the bounds of what has already been observed and proven and demonstrated. EG, me personally. For me, a brother is a mundane claim because I know that brothers exist; I have one myself. However, God - an invisible man in the sky who for some reason gives a shit who I stick my dick in - has not yet been demonstrated to my satisfaction, one has not yet been absolutely proven...so for me, is an extraordinary claim. And if you were to hypothetically wish to demonstrate his existence to me, you would have to accept my standards of evidence if you wished to convince me.

Other stuff maybe to follow, not sure, but just quickly to address this - yes.  That's precisely the point I made.  The quote is entirely based around the listener and has no objective merit.  It's entirely up to the person what they see as mundane or extraordinary so there's no predictive power or anything like that given.  "Things I already agree with require mundane evidence.  Things I don't require more".  Cheers for that, Sagan, that's pretty insightful.

Offline Vergil Tanner

Re: Ask an Atheist--An Opportunity for Engagement
« Reply #49 on: February 27, 2017, 12:07:45 AM »
Other stuff maybe to follow, not sure, but just quickly to address this - yes.  That's precisely the point I made.  The quote is entirely based around the listener and has no objective merit.  It's entirely up to the person what they see as mundane or extraordinary so there's no predictive power or anything like that given.  "Things I already agree with require mundane evidence.  Things I don't require more".  Cheers for that, Sagan, that's pretty insightful.

I think that's a bit too harsh. He is right; the more outlandish and fantastical the claim, the harder the evidence needs to be. EG, "I have a giant invisible dragon in my garden." Gonna need some evidence for that, no? :P
In any case, to be fair, that wasn't Sagan's focus of the paragraph. It's just a soundbite people latched onto, as they so often do :P