Bags of Bran

Apologia #9
April 3, 2012, 11:24 pm
Filed under: Apologioi

From: Curt Ames []
Sent: Monday, April 02, 2012 12:05 PM

To: Chris Ames
Subject: Re: you were right!

Proof of my own existence need go no further than ‘I think, therefore I am.’ That is satisfactory to my own standards.

Everything that a brain does is ABSOLUTELY explainable. The brain is a wonderfully complex organ but its workings all come down to chemistry and electricity, I’m afraid. This is not to denigrate what it does because the ability to even have a comprehension of a ‘self’ (which new research is beginning to show that even some highly intelligent animals have) is a crazy awesome thing.  You can change someone’s whole thought processes with the right chemicals, and highly-powered magnets can cause enough current induction to cause neurons to fire. Things that are often chalked up to the existence of a ‘soul’ like, for example, morality, can be changed just by turning on and off a switch! That’s right- you can change someone’s moral judgements with electromagnets. (Score one for the foil-hat aficionados!)

 One thing where science consistently wins is its ability to make predictions that are testable.  You can indeed approach the question of the existence of a soul in a scientific way, and make predictions based on hypotheses. One prediction that I would make is that if there were a ‘me’ beyond the emergent properties of my own brain that was driving my ‘skin car,’ then things like moral judgements would be constant despite outside interference. Unfortunately this prediction does not bear itself out.

 The differences between brains and experiences account fully for the wide range of ‘minds’ that exist. Of course another person in the same conditions isn’t automatically going to have the same opinions. This is, I’m sorry to say, a straw man- no one is taking the position that you are so easily knocking over.

 Yes, I believe that there are certain physical properties in what we call our universe, and that they are consistent enough to have the word ‘laws’ applied to them (although I think that human language, or at least English, falls short of really expressing the idea, but hey, that happens a lot). That does NOT place them beyond question.

 Take gravity.  To someone who has always lived on Earth, it would seem like a fairly constant thing. Indeed it would seem no one even bothered to question it for a long, long time. Granted you can experience differing levels of gravity depending on where you are, but you really need tools to measure it- highly sophisticated instruments that are born of science’s ability to make testable predictions, self-correct, eliminate bias and above all get the job done. But I digress.

 Gravity is much more complex than Newton thought. It is really hard for me to get my head around the fact that GRAVITY actually influences TIME- another thing that we thought was constant.  It’s an even bigger brainstretch to attempt to comprehend that time itself was, at one point, not necessarily extant, but I will not commit the ‘argument from incredulity’ lest I start falling prey to ideas like irreducible complexity. (I think I’ve already touched on this- the whole idea is a huge fallacy!)

I notice that you make a lot of claims like ” absolutely everything in the world points to God.” I am still waiting for any kind of evidence to support this. I’ve heard a lot of ‘arguments’ that basically boil down to ‘lookit da treez!’ and I have to say that none of it gets past a simple argument from ignorance/wishful thinking. Basically what is happening is that, in the absence of evidence, the idea that seems preferable is being taken as fact.  I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fly!

 I understand the desire to put a ‘face’ (as it were) on natural phenomena. People have been doing it for millennia (I think this is one point we can agree on!). It’s an effort to convince ourselves that these things that are beyond our control, aren’t.  Therefore there’s a guy up there throwing lightning bolts, and if I talk nice to him (or maybe kill a few of my animals for him) he won’t decide to target me, and there’s a chick that controls all plants, and if we give her our adoration then the crops will grow.  A lot of this works along the same lines as my tiger-repelling rabbit’s foot. “Hey, I’ve got a rabbit’s foot that repels tigers.”  “No way!” “Yes way- do you see any tigers around?” “Touche.” Or knocking on wood- I did so, and nothing bad happened, therefore in order to keep bad things from happening I have to knock on wood. We are hardwired to desire some measure of control over our surroundings. It makes us feel good, and a loss of control sends us into a fight-or-flight response pattern. A study was done on some people with panic disorders- they were given increased amounts of CO2 which is known to cause panic attacks (for a very good reason, evolutionarily speaking- it makes you get to somewhere where you can breathe!) and given a knob that they were told gave them control over the amount of gas they were given. The knob was a dud, but it did decrease the participants’ panic responses. Studies being done with rats demonstrate with a great deal of certainty that this phenomenon is not limited to people. So I understand the desire to believe that some great, awesomely powerful being is ‘in our corner’ so to speak, but I personally don’t see evidence for it.

 This brings me to my next point: it seems like a benevolent creator (I’m sorry, we haven’t defined what we mean by ‘God’ but for expediency’s sake I am using: An omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, benevolent, creative force, intelligent and self-aware, that is the root cause of all existence and is the only thing that can exist without having been created) would have left some pretty hardcore, indisputable evidence.  To do otherwise is simply not benevolent. And yes, I know the go-to counter argument, that it would violate free will, but I think that’s… well, kind of a cop-out. I mean, if there is as much evidence as a lot of people claim, then people are already making the choice not to believe in the face of overwhelming proof. People could still choose not to believe if we discovered that every atom in the world was signed ‘Yahweh’ and dated to the exact beginning point of the universe.

 Let me make an example:

 Say the IRS had a policy that they would audit everyone, every year, and that the only way to avoid the audit was to mail a copy of your taxes to a second address. Only instead of telling you where the address was they erased all records of it, told no one except a select few, and put the burden on them to tell everyone. Now imagine that they allowed contradictory information to circulate, so that you would never truly know whether the person telling you the mysterious address was honest, or whether they were themselves deceived and were unknowingly having their good intentions hijacked by charlatans.

 Would you then say that the IRS really didn’t want to put people through an agonizing tax audit every year? I mean, they provided an out, didn’t they? And they gave some people the information needed to save others, right? What more could they have done?

 I’m afraid that I must disagree that a theist viewpoint is consistent, non-contradictory, and satisfactory. I see inconsistencies and contradictions, and I am not satisfied.

 Of course, I could be wrong. There is the whole Pascal’s Wager thing to deal with. I really like the line of reason of the hypothetical unbeliever- ‘I am so made that I cannot believe’- but I find a gaping hole in Pascal’s argument: Omniscience. If I don’t truly believe, and live as though I do, then I can fool everyone except the ones that matter: God and myself. Such disingenuous ‘belief’ would be no use against a being that knows my innermost thoughts. Seems like something Patty Woodhouse pulled back in the day when she babysat Dizz and I- she put up stockings and said that Santa Claus was going to put stuff in them. I told her I didn’t believe in the guy, and she said- I swear- “You had better believe in him. Only people who believe in Santa get presents from him.”

 Of course I changed my tune! After all, what did I have to lose?  But this ‘argument-from-force’ tactic only worked on the surface-

I knew in my heart that I did not believe, no matter what I said. It’s a good thing the jolly fellow was a fabrication, then- seems to me that it’s pretty naughty to pretend to believe just for the presents!  Do you see the parallel?

 And yes, I understand that the conclusion Pascal was going for was that the pretend-belief would temper one’s baser impulses and lead to true belief. Well, I can only say that I hope that no one died before the legitimate belief took hold or they would have a heck of an explanation to give.

 I have a wager I like a little better. We don’t know if there’s a life after this one- this might be our only chance to make a difference, to make the world a better place and to leave our loved ones with cherished memories of our life. Why not do what you can in this world to improve existence for the rest of humankind? THAT’S a safe bet with nothing to lose and no dishonesty involved. (Gee, every time I tell someone that I feel like I should do more!)

 I am not offended that you ascribe the Highlands to the same source as the rest of existence. If there is a God, he definitely was in top form the day he crafted that awe-inspiring, heart-wrenchingly beautiful place.  I think it was just as great an experience looking at the mountains and thinking of the eons of time that went into its formation, the relentless geological forces that formed them, the other people (some of whose DNA I am still borrowing to this day) who have looked and lived, hunted, fought, loved, laughed, cried, and walked around with nae troosers… To misquote Sagan and Dawkins, “There is beauty to this worldview.”

 I don’t know if I agree that “material origins make all appeals to the noumenal or the metaphysical meaningless,” but I don’t think so. I’ll have to research that before I can say anything more on the subject. It seems like a flawed concept, though, which is usually a fairly good indication that something needs further looking into. Before I studied logic I often knew that something was wrong when someone was committing a fallacy but couldn’t articulate it without the tools to dissect it.

 I do know that whether or not God exists, the universe appears to exist. Therefore that existence might be necessary- or it might not. And it is very possible that the whole thing came about without any intelligent interference due to the fundamental nature of the universe, just as life could well have come around by inherent properties of chemistry.  And those inherent properties don’t need to have been created either, nor do they need to be constant or omnipresent. It’s entirely possible within the paradigm of quantum physics that other ‘planes’ (NOT dimensions! This is a misuse of the term popularized by sci-fi) exist where the laws of physics are subtly or radically different from our own. Even within our own universe things get kind of murky around things like black holes and such.

 Anyway, I would suggest as required reads:

 Critical Thinking by Moore and Parker. This is a fun book actually!

Anything by Carl Sagan (so as to understand the point of view- the man was incredibly articulate)

 I will conclude by saying that everyone necessarily looks at life through their own eyeballs- so everyone’s got their own built-in lenses through which we interpret our reality. The only OBJECTIVE measure of such a lens is the amount of evidence required to form a conclusion. I think it’s fairly easy to demonstrate that believing in things for which there is no evidence is pretty much inherently bad.

 One more thing: You’ve told me what you believe- now can you tell me WHY you believe it?

With love,



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