August 17th, 2009

Challenging Assumptions and Gaining Perspective


photo credit: Elle Moss

How do you know what you know? With a near-infinite combination of lifestyles, cultures, theologies, and opinions, how can one be certain that his world view is the best or most correct? In our shared attempt to understand our lives and the world around us, the worst thing we can do is fixate on our current understanding of reality and assume that all other truths must fit neatly within that framework. The best thing we can do is to challenge our assumptions and ask questions.

In the movie Dead Poets Society, a professor named Mr. Keating struggles to open the minds of his students and have them learn what they are truly capable of. His quest to do so is repeatedly smothered by thick layers of culture and scholastic regulations that stifle his creative methods of getting through to the boys in his class. In one scene, he jumps up on his desk, towering above his confused, unbelieving students. He then says:

I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. You see, the world looks very different from up here…
Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way even though it may seem silly, or wrong. You must try!
Boys, you must strive to find your own voice, but the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out! Don’t just walk off the edge like lemmings; look around you!

One by one, the boys step up to the desk, look around the room, and jump back down. While the experience was brief, it taught them at least one thing: they can see the same things differently from a different perspective. This simple knowledge alone can, for us, serve as a catalyst for greater and deeper understanding of reality.

Those who try and conform life to their current comprehension consign themselves to a life of mediocrity and dullness. It’s as if a person grew up using salt only for flavoring food, completely oblivious to the mineral’s many other uses. Of course, we all see through our personal pairs of mortally-tinted glasses; one group of people is trying to take them off, and another seems to prefer making them thicker.

A truth-seeker is a person not content with their current and limited knowledge. They have an obsession with information, and ask all sorts of questions to analyze an issue or theory from various points of view. They are confident in their current understanding only insofar as they have not yet discovered something contradictory; once a new truth is revealed, they willingly forsake their former, erroneous beliefs and embrace it openly.

In our effort to know what we know, we make use of one or more methods from the various branches of epistemology: revelation, empiricism, authoritarianism, pragmatism, etc. While commonplace, our reliance on authoritarianism—trusting information received from “experts” or knowledgeable people—should be minimal. Only when the person sharing information has a long track record of integrity and reliability should we trust their words with any amount of confidence. Even then, other methods of inquiry should not be abandoned in our aim to assess a truth from all angles—not only to ensure it is indeed truth, but if it is, and more importantly, to maximize our understanding of that truth by gaining additional perspective.

A sincere quest for truth and knowledge requires continually challenging our assumptions—only then do we refine our current understanding where necessary, or in some cases, abandon it entirely in favor of some newly-discovered insight.

42 Responses to “Challenging Assumptions and Gaining Perspective”

  1. Daniel
    August 17, 2009 at 7:46 pm #

    Fantastic post! Did you write this because you’ve recently changed your mind about something? I’d love to hear about that.

    Re-evaluating ideas is hard, especially ideas we’ve made some kind of commitment to. Usually we’re only able to do it in times of personal crisis. Even flat-out disconfirmation of a favourite idea usually just makes us retreat into our bubble, or quit thinking about it.

    So I’m glad to hear that you’ll soon be re-evaluating your views that

    – more government is bad
    – religion is a good way of finding truth
    – the free market is the best way to allocate resources
    – homosexuality is morally wrong
    – the US Constitution is the work of a supernatural being
    – evolution is incorrect
    – climate change is not anthropogenic
    – etc.

    May I suggest a helpful guide in finding out which worldview is more correct:

    If an idea is backed up by empirical evidence, it is stronger than an idea that is not.

    Lots of ideas out there in the marketplace. I wish us all the best!

    PS: That’s a great movie. I watched it with the boys because we’re going through the 90’s canon. They were riveted.

  2. Connor
    August 17, 2009 at 9:18 pm #

    Did you write this because you’ve recently changed your mind about something?

    Nope. Just have been analyzing some of the previous truths I’ve understood from different angles, and finding answers to some of my questions.

    So I’m glad to hear that you’ll soon be re-evaluating your views…

    Your atheistic assumptions of truth are a far cry from those I understand. Sorry to disappoint.

    If an idea is backed up by empirical evidence, it is stronger than an idea that is not.

    As a Christian, I believe in and have experienced revelation as a positive and informative method of inquiry. I realize that this field of obtaining knowledge is one you hold to be delusional, but frankly, that doesn’t matter much to me. I have had experiences and promptings that I cannot disregard in favor of what leading scientists claim.

    Lots of ideas out there in the marketplace.

    Indeed.

  3. August 17, 2009 at 9:38 pm #

    If an idea is backed up by empirical evidence, it is stronger than an idea that is not.

    Depending only on one branch of epistemology can be as intellectually fatal as not challenging our own points of view every once in a while.

    I recall an episode of Star Trek where Data is having a hard time understanding how one can “feel” something is wrong. Geordie tries explaining with the following ideas (forgive me I don’t remember the exact quote):

    1) It is impossible to know everything about a question.
    2) It is impossible to perfectly determine anything of real complexity with scientific method alone.
    3) Human beings tend to fill in those “empty holes” with what their “gut” tells them.

    Data’s summary of this is that humans end up making decisions upon emotion and guesswork as much as with empirical data. He concludes that it does not seem logical that such a system would be very accurate.

    Geordie’s response is that apparently, the system has worked for thousands of years. Humans have made much progress because of their ability to intuit solutions to their problems. (Thales & the pyramid).

    Yes, I know. You were saying that you put more EMPHASIS on one method over others. That’s your opinion. And your entitled to it.

    For over-reaching philosophies like these, only large samples over the course of human history will eventually give us the practical results to determine which is best, if any.

    In your defense, I will admit, however, that history has shown us that by depending on intuition alone is just as useless as depending on empiricism alone (Aristotle, anyone?).

    It is a proper balance of all the methods available to us to provide us a better view of reality. We humans only have three types of cones in our eyes. Many animals have fewer, but some have 4 or 5. Wouldn’t it be great to see more colors than we do because we could have 4 or 5 types of cones or more?

    If I had the opportunity, I’d certainly welcome it.

  4. Clumpy
    August 17, 2009 at 10:51 pm #

    Hmm, I agree with your “gut” analysis in some respects, however I believe that much of what we consider intuitive reasoning comes from unconscious observations and pattern-recognition, also logically very good ways of making decisions as they provide organic ways of organizing information that allow us, in a sense, to reason beyond our objective abilities.

    Of course, the type of “gut” reasoning that Star Trek and most television shows idealize (making semi-random decisions that invariably turn out to be correct) aren’t what either of us specifically have in mind anyway :).

    Though I’m by no means a dogmatic Christian in the debates we often have with science, I think one of the great ironies of our time is that empiricism is itself non-empirical. Of course, barring any “natural” explanation I’ve always considered spiritual promptings to be empirical in a sense; the fact that they’re highly individual experiences and hence not comparable with other individuals is what keeps them from going mainstream as it were, not the fact that they aren’t as real to the individual as, for example, the sense of smell.

    (Well, I suppose another thing that keeps spiritual experiences from going mainstream is that most “spiritual” experiences in modern religion are manufactured hysteria, but this is to be expected even within the dogma of Christianity, especially to a Mormon. Both malice and true followers are rare.)

  5. Daniel
    August 17, 2009 at 11:21 pm #

    This is puzzling.

    I have offered a fairly uncontroversial method for separating fact from fiction:

    If an idea is backed up by empirical evidence, it is stronger than an idea that is not.

    and I’m getting disagreement. That’s very weird. If you disagree, that means you’re arguing something like:

    If an idea is backed up by empirical evidence, it is weaker than an idea that is not.

    Good luck with that.

    Carb: Intuition is indeed a valuable source of information. As Clumpy says, we have all kinds of information pouring in that we don’t necessarily process consciously. I use intuition all the time in my work. But I’d never try to use my intuitions as a source of data, not until they’re confirmed empirically. In other words, if you have your gut feeling, but the facts say the opposite, and you throw away the facts and go with your gut, ur doin it rong.

    Data was right. The scientific method has done more to lift humanity out of the muck of superstition and error than anything else. This ‘balance’ that you’re talking about is like trying to ‘balance’ facts with superstitions. You could do it for a while and not notice any problem, but only if you’re not looking too closely.

    Clumpy: I don’t know what you mean when you say that empiricism is non-empirical. How is A not-A?

    Connor: When you’re having a discussion over a religious issue with someone, and they say, “I’ve prayed about this,” do you accept their revelation as evidence? If not, why not? You may say, “Because that was revelation for them, not for me.” But isn’t it possible that revelation isn’t really a reliable source of information, and that it’s just whatever you think and feel okay about?

    If two scientists get different answers for the same experiment, it means something has gone wrong. They don’t privately think their results are somehow valid for them. Then we’d be getting into epistemological relativism, and I don’t think you want to go there.

    Tell you what: let’s have a contest. Whoever can calculate pi to forty decimal places most accurately wins. I get to use only science, and you get to use only revelation. I think that’s a fair test because the scriptures say that by the Holy Spirit you can know the truth of all things. Take your time.

  6. Clumpy
    August 18, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    Sorry, Daniel, my fault: I meant that the hypothesis that all relevant knowledge can be gained through empirical methods (such as the scientific method) is itself non-empirical. (Though science, experimentation and empirical observation has done pretty well so far for so many things.)

    Though much of the new age gobbledigook that people throw around in an attempt to discredit scientists and doctors is just that, it remains that by definition the scientific method is impossible to prove.

    Further explanation: I meant that Mormons are comfortable with the concept of personal revelation and thus should understand that people sometimes misinterpret their own experiences as spiritual ones, not that Mormons are more susceptible to hysteria than other religions.

  7. Clumpy
    August 18, 2009 at 12:12 am #

    Oh, and Daniel – I’m not putting words into the Almighty’s mouth, but I don’t think “all things” refers to all things. Some religious people would use the explanation that some things are left to us, or that revelation is God’s choice, etc., though I happen to reject the idea that God literally invented everything useful and beneficial to mankind.

    After all, if we’re some primitive facsimile of God (as LDS folk believe) we ought to believe that we have our own reasoning and creative faculties as He does. If we are free to do good or ill as we wish then we’re free to come up with useful mathematical theory or inventions through experimentation or sheer dumb luck as well.

    On another level, I don’t think God cares much for our temporal comfort (having a larger picture of things), thus unless there’s some compelling Salvation-oriented reason to divine pi into our minds he’ll probably leave it up to our own devices :). To assume that God gave us all useful inventions and man turned them toward evil or selfishness where we did is very old, very arbitrary theology.

  8. August 18, 2009 at 1:22 am #

    “The man who has a certain religious belief and fears to discuss it, lest it may be proved wrong, is not loyal to his belief, he has but a coward’s faithfulness to his prejudices. If he were a lover of truth, he would be willing at any moment to surrender his belief for a higher, better, and truer faith.

    The man who votes the same ticket in politics, year after year, without caring for issues, men, or problems, merely voting in a certain way because he always has voted so, is sacrificing loyalty to truth, to a weak, mistaken, stubborn attachment to a worn out precedent. Such a man should stay in his cradle all his life; because he spent his early years there.” -William George Jordan, The Power of Truth pg 16.

    (I through in the second paragraph just for kicks)

  9. Carl Youngblood
    August 18, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    Connor, I heartily agree with you and think that anyone who humbly and diligently adopts this kind of an attitude will do well. However, I would only add that none of your previously-held notions should be off-limits, not even your religious views or other “sacrosanct” areas of your belief system.

    Of course, these things must be examined at a time and in such a way that your ongoing growth and survival is not threatened. Some people hastily jump to unwarranted conclusions simply because they run into temporarily challenges to their beliefs and they don’t have enough patience to seek out the new understanding that will help them to safely transition to new ways of reconciling ideas and adjusting lapses in understanding.

    One book that I think does a really good job of explaining this process is The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. It is not a perfect book, but it is very good and succeeds in achieving its objective.

  10. August 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    Daniel,

    I don’t believe any one method is more OR LESS important than another. I think they all have their place and are appropriate for their venues.

    If I’m looking for the finished product of a specific chemical reaction, I’d either do an experiment or look it up in a book. If I’m looking to determine what path in life I should take (like which profession would best fit me personally, I’d trust prayer).

    When several methods might have a say in a particular decision, and come in conflict, you don’t just throw one method away. You look to other methods to back up what one of the other methods may say. You get all the information together. Depending on the subject at hand, you put more weight on one method or another and make a decision.

    The more methods you have in your “bag of tricks” to find the truth, the more credible claim you have to have actually arrived at a correct conclusion.

    by the Holy Spirit you can know the truth of all things

    Have you ever wondered why we know what we know? When do we know we’ve got all the background to make a definitive statement that THIS is truth?

    Do you know you exist? How? Well, I just do. How? I make an impact on the world around me. How do you know we’re not in the Matrix? I know, I know. This is crazy talk. But what makes it crazy?

    We could accept DesCartes’ explanation. But even his reasoning is based on a fundamental assumption that is not provable–or even testable. You’d merely have to accept his word for it.

    All truth or even BELIEF in our own experiences depends upon fundamental assumptions that we often take for granted. Why? The basic assumptions in life are revelatory in nature. We are able to recognize patterns because of the Holy Ghost. We have those qualities we call “consciousness” and “self-awareness” because of the Holy Ghost.

    You could never in 10,000 years show with the scientific method what causes the quality of consciousness. You could go on about m-RNA working with the neurons in the brain that deposit various memories, and talk about the various impulses to and from our central nervous system. But you could never use any such explanation to show where consciousness is born.

    The paradox is that if you go down that road, you automatically admit that there really is no such thing as consciousness. It’s merely a system of chemical reactions that react to stimuli in our environment. Then you’ve proven that your existence is but an illusion and we do not in reality exist as any sort of beings, but are instead a mass of elements expertly organized to fulfill and do nothing.

    How does that make you feel?

    When you look at the complexities of human beings, the world, the universe that we even know about, let alone all that we don’t know about, and the careful organization of life, if we are just a mass of elements —

    It sure seems like a big waste.

  11. August 18, 2009 at 3:10 pm #

    Douglas Adams states:

    (plant tongue firmly in cheek)

    I can prove that no one exists in the universe.
    First, we know that there are an infinite number of planets in the universe.
    Second, there are a finite number of inhabitants on those planets.
    Third, any finite number divided by infinity = zero. Thus the average population on each planet is zero.

    If the average population is zero, then the total population must be zero.

    Thus no one really exists.

  12. August 18, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    Excellent post. Perspective and reflection is a very important thing. Understanding is the key, and perspective is a tool of gaining understanding. It’s interesting to think of how little we actually know. To live a lifetime of 80 years is a horribly brief period of time in recorded human history, let alone in a broader scope. Virtually everything we “know” to be true is based upon assumptions and theories, nothing more.

    Reminds me of a thought I heard a few years ago… People are good at making decisions but horrible about making assumptions.

    Daniel, In a response to the pi comment… Just because knowledge about all things is available via revelation doesn’t mean that everyone is entitled to that information. Even at a given time this may change. As an applied example, Nephi was taught through revelation how to build a ship so he and his family could sail to the promised land. That doesn’t mean that I am entitled to the same information simply by asking if I can know how to build a ship.

    As was mentioned above, often the “truth” that people see and have confirmed is different based on the individual. Revelation covers many things. It may be true that I need to eat more green vegetables but someone else may need to eat less of them. That’s true in context — though both the answers (eating more or less vegetables) and the questions (should I eat more or less vegetables?) really are not comparable. It’s apples and oranges. Both question and answer have different contexts and backgrounds depending on what lifestyle, genetics, choices and many other things in each individual person’s life. It’s not as simple as a few sound bites make it out to be.

    Revelation doesn’t have to defy logic. Just because someone doesn’t understand exactly how fruit grows doesn’t mean they can’t taste it or even foster and grow fruit themselves. They may be a master gardener and still have no clue about why it works. Because they are ignorant doesn’t make it any less true that fruit grows. They simply cannot tell you how. What’s the difference between say, quantum physics and revelation? Applied understanding?

    Just because there are different kinds of gardeners (and non-gardeners) out there working on growing the same kinds of fruit doesn’t mean they all have to go about it the same way. There are underlying principles and truths to be sure, but those can be manifest in subtle and seemingly contradictory ways. That doesn’t mean they ARE contradictory, just that they appear so at first glance, without proper context and information.

  13. Clumpy
    August 19, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    Carborendum, I thought for years about that Hitchhiker’s quote before realizing the (intentional) fallacy:

    There are an essentially infinite number of habitable planets, and the number of people on those planets is not finite, but a proportion of the number of those planets. Thus even if only a billionth of planets can sustain life, the fraction would be something like 1 in a billion and not a negligibly, infinitely small fraction. That took me far longer to work out than it should have.

  14. August 19, 2009 at 11:51 pm #

    Thanks Connor, interesting post. Here’s what think.

    My question is: that those who lack special curiosity or thirst for knowledge, must necessarily lead “dull” or “mediocre” lives?

    But, pretty much everything we humans do with our lives is futile and meaningless in the end. This is one of the few absolute truths I know of.

    Being infinitesimally less ignorant when one is alive hardly makes a difference.

    However, I feel that all lives have value and meaning, no matter how humble; or in other words most people find value and meaning in their own lives regardless. My point is, I would only say that their existence were dull or meaningless, if they valued noble things, but didn’t seek after them. knowledge and truth an curiosity are only a few of those things. I think curiosity actually comes from a lack of personal satisfaction in what we know. In other words, it is what we currently know to that we feel is mediocre or dull. Knowledge does not convey meaning in life.

  15. August 20, 2009 at 12:00 am #

    Clumpy, it makes me happy you know a little about the process of mathematical limits.

  16. August 20, 2009 at 7:55 am #

    Clumpy,

    You DO realize it was a joke? Right?

    Josh,

    Life is meaningless unless we find meaning? What?

    Your existentialism is baffling.

  17. Connor
    August 20, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    But, pretty much everything we humans do with our lives is futile and meaningless in the end. This is one of the few absolute truths I know of.

    This is, of course, the logical conclusion to embracing the atheist creed to which you and Daniel adhere. A belief that our lives are nothing more than a collective set of chemical reactions would naturally lead a person to think that life has no meaning, no purpose, and no point.

    I cannot disagree more.

  18. Clumpy
    August 20, 2009 at 11:00 am #

    I wasn’t making a point, Carborendum – it really did take me forever to figure out the fallacy. I understand it’s a joke but I’m a huge Hitchhiker’s fan and I really had been trying to figure that one out for awhile. I was just responding to the comment, not criticizing it.

  19. August 20, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    Clumpy, I have no words.

    Daniel,

    I find it interesting that you bring up the “pi” challenge.

    1) I’d challenge you to personally use a scientific method to calculate pi to 40 decimal places. I don’t think you can.

    2) I have actually memorized pi to 50 decimal places, so it wouldn’t really be a fair challenge.

  20. August 20, 2009 at 11:41 pm #

    If you must know, It was an old bet. My sister was jealous of my ability to memorize. I always beat anyone in the family at a game of concentration even when I was really young.

    So, she challenged me. I won after about 1 hour. She never paid up. And people wonder why I don’t get along with my family.

  21. Clumpy
    August 21, 2009 at 12:40 am #

    Well, if your “no words” is a reflection on my intelligence, keep in mind that I’ve loved the radio series since I was 10 and didn’t come back with fresh eyes for some time :).

    There, there! Put on your pi gloves and let’s settle this like gentlemen!

  22. Daniel
    August 21, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    Hi, everyone. Sorry to disappear, but I got caught in the Swamp of Eternal Work Commitments. And I think my pi gloves are in the storage unit. But the first rule of Pi Club is that you do not talk about Pi Club.

    Let me summarise what’s happened in this thread.

    First, I wrote a quite modest guideline about how to evaluate ideas. Again:

    If an idea is backed up by empirical evidence, it is stronger than an idea that is not.

    Inexplicably, everyone objected.

    Carborendum argued that limiting oneself only to empirical epistemology could be ‘intellectually fatal’. But what’s really fatal is relying on methods that don’t work. You’ll notice that Connor tried to sneak ‘revelation’ into the list of ‘kinds of epistemology’. Nice try. A thing isn’t true just because you ‘feel’ like it’s true. Epistemology doesn’t cover warm fuzzies. And if you still think revelation is a valid and replicable method of knowledge-gathering, why is it that religious people with all their various revelations can’t agree on the simplest points of doctrine about their various gods? Why are your spiritual feelings any truer than theirs?

    Clumpy harrumphed that the scientific method relied on assumptions which can’t be empirically proven. It’s true that the scientific method has some axioms, like there’s an external world that exists independent of our perception, or that our observations tell us something about the world. But these are fairly modest assumptions, far more modest than ‘There’s a supernatural being that can do anything and for some reason craves the worship of you, a tiny insignificant person.’

    Connor… where do I start with Connor? He writes this great post saying “We need to question our assumptions! It’s important to climb up on that desk and see things anew!” And I’m like, “Okay, here’s a desk. Climb on up and have a look.” And he’s like, “I’m not getting up there!” Perhaps he means that this is an exercise for other people. Or maybe he has assumptions that he doesn’t want to question. Which could be an indication that those are the very assumptions that you need to go after.

    Jeremy didn’t seem to recognise any difference between quantum physics and revelation. Seriously? How about that quantum physics makes testable, predictable hypotheses that have been overwhelmingly confirmed by evidence, while revelation is just whatever you think, or whatever you can shoehorn into a plausible interpretation.

    Carb: I figured someone would have memorised pi to some extent! The geek in me thinks that’s very cool. One hundred places, then. Or pick a different mathematical constant. If I’m allowed to use anything in science, that includes the literature. And computers. I think I’ve still got you.

    But what of existential despair? A few commenters have said that life would seem meaningless if life is just chemicals (what do you mean ‘just’?!) or if there’s no afterlife, or basically if their chosen philosophy isn’t true. That would be too depressing! So obviously that can’t be right! In response I’d say that a theory is not true just because it’s comforting. What’s important is what’s actually happening. Wouldn’t the right approach be to find out what’s really going on? and then you can decide how you want to feel about it.

    I repeat Connor’s words here (although he doesn’t seem to believe them): The worst thing we can do is fixate on our current understanding of reality and assume that all other truths must fit neatly within that framework.

    But people here are committing the very problem Connor is warning about — treating your preconceptions (mostly Mormon ones) as sacrosanct, and going from there.

    Reality MUST be the guide, and the best way to get there is to observe what’s going on and try and control for personal bias. Not to make stuff up and pretend that it’s true.

  23. August 21, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

    Thanks for the comments, Connor, Carb…

    A belief that our lives are nothing more than a collective set of chemical reactions would naturally lead a person to think that life has no meaning, no purpose, and no point.

    Rather, it would lead one to believe that there is nothing cosmic, universal, or objective about feelings of meaning or purpose……… Not that meaning or purpose in life DOES NOT EXIST! Only a profoundly bitter or depressed person, who was incapable of such feelings, would deduce that there was NO meaning in life.

    I hear that from time to time; that believing an existential materialistic philosophy must be a grim and harsh and depressing worldview. I actually find it to be compassionate, therapeutic and refreshing, recognizing our insatiable hunger for “meaning” and “order” in the universe for what it really is. I’ve lived with Major Depression for most of my life, which is a condition which, (almost by definition,) can rob ones ability to feel meaning and purpose.

    The reason I say “compassionate” is that, if one assumes that meaning and purpose are universal, or equates these emotions to such things as natural law and cause-effect, I think you might naturally assume a priori that certain things should be meaningful for everybody.……… While other things that many people find meaningful, are completely pointless; something I feel is presumptive. I know I’m quite guilty of this, assuming that things I find meaningful ought to be appreciated by everybody.

    I guess my objection is that people believe that purpose and meaning are externalities, when they are actually internalities; products of the subconscious Id. (People spend most of their conscious lives trying to destroy the Id.)

    Life is meaningless unless we find meaning? What?

    Q. e. D; Just so.

    I’d have worded it differently.

  24. August 21, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    As to the futility of human existence, it makes me think of Percy Shelly’s poem Ozymandias

    http://www.poetry-online.org/shelley_ozymandias.htm

  25. August 21, 2009 at 10:33 pm #

    Daniel,

    But what’s really fatal is relying on methods that don’t work.

    I agree. Here’s your error. Revelation does work. In fact the last I heard about 90% + people on this planet depend on it in some form or other. It is more accurate to say it doesn’t work FOR YOU. I wonder why you refuse to accept that it apparently works — for MOST people.

    You applauded Connor’s suggestion that he re-evaluate his own beliefs. But you didn’t even consider re-evaluating your own. Maybe you hold your atheism as so “sacrosanct” that you refuse to re-evaluate it from time to time? Each of those questions that you were taunting Connor with can just as easily be reversed and asked of you.

    If I’m allowed to use anything in science, that includes the literature.

    Very well. Then I am also allowed to abide by counsel I receive through scriptures like: “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom and learning”. You have a REALLY limited concept of “revelation”.

    (BTW, I tried reciting pi again from memory–it’s been over twenty years–I only got to 12 decimal places. But give me an hour . . .)

    AND wasn’t the challenge to CALCULATE pi to 40 decimal places? Since you’re a linguist, I’m led to believe you don’t have the mathematical background to calculate pi to 40 decimal places. Look it up, yeah. But calculate it? Just what method would you use anyway?

    what do you mean ‘just’?!

    I think this is the crux of the differences in our world views. I believe there is MUCH more to existence than what we can observe. How much do we discover each year? How long ago did we even know about neutrinos and quarks? How much longer before we know enough about them to use such knowledge in a practical sense?

    A cave man believed the earth was flat. For all the tools he had available to him (his personal observations through his senses) it was true. Millennia later, a lens provided a way to see even more. Magnetism provided ways to travel further. But such knowledge to the cave man would be laughable. The world is round? What are you talking about? Anyone can plainly see it is flat. Just look around you. No, don’t bother taking a few steps outside the box and seeing a bigger picture.

    Here is another lens (revelation) but you refuse to use it. Why? Because it provides knowledge that you find laughable. A sentient Creator made this universe of such order, and majesty ON PURPOSE? What do you mean it was designed that way? Anyone can see the chaos. Just look around you. No, don’t bother taking a few steps outside the box and seeing a bigger picture.

    I DO accept science. I ALSO accept other truths.
    You accept little more than the cave man–what you can observe from your box of science.

    Who has greater access to varied knowledge? Who is more tolerant of differing points of view? Who can see things from more angles and perspectives? Who has a more credible claim to arriving at a correct conclusion?

  26. August 21, 2009 at 10:46 pm #

    Josh,

    I think you missed the point of Ozymandias.

    It is about how creating things such as art (hence the statue) can have a more lasting impact than destroying things like conquering kingdoms.

    Futility of human existence? Not hardly.

    I kind of had a feeling you suffered from clinical depression. Actually, this is a major cause of people leaving the Church (as you apparently have). It just isn’t recognized as such. People are too busy blaming sin and pride and other things that are much more malicious.

    But clinical depression basically makes it impossible to really feel the Spirit. But there are still ways to receive revelation beyond emotion and feeling a burning in your bosom. You just have to look and observe through the right lens. Maybe you’re just tired of looking for your lens. Maybe you’ve never looked. I don’t know.

  27. Connor
    August 21, 2009 at 10:56 pm #

    You’ll notice that Connor tried to sneak ‘revelation’ into the list of ‘kinds of epistemology’. Nice try. A thing isn’t true just because you ‘feel’ like it’s true.

    If you classify revelation is nothing more than feelings, then you misunderstand the purpose and power of revelation. It’s not always about warm fuzzies. For instance:

    A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; [that is,] those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus. (Joseph Smith, via Quoty)

    Coming up with completely new ideas I had not previously considered, being prompted to pursue one option over another that ultimately proved itself correct or more favorable, knowing the right thing to say when called upon to offer someone a blessing, etc., are all unrelated to the “warm fuzzies” you refer to.

    He writes this great post saying “We need to question our assumptions! It’s important to climb up on that desk and see things anew!” And I’m like, “Okay, here’s a desk. Climb on up and have a look.” And he’s like, “I’m not getting up there!” Perhaps he means that this is an exercise for other people.

    Which desk were you offering me? That of atheism? I have considered your desk and find it laughable in its arrogance. In my post, I said:

    [Truth-seekers] are confident in their current understanding only insofar as they have not yet discovered something contradictory; once a new truth is revealed, they willingly forsake their former, erroneous beliefs and embrace it openly.

    I have considered the option of atheism and everything that it entails, and have failed to find any convincing or logical truth that would contradict the things I already believe to be truth. I stand with Alma:

    …all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator. (Alma 30:44)

    Something as simple (yet complex) as the "fingerprint of God", among other so-called miracles of nature, witnesses of some higher organizing force. The competing forces of entropy and evolution could never, in my mind, produce such consistencies.

    Or maybe he has assumptions that he doesn’t want to question. Which could be an indication that those are the very assumptions that you need to go after.

    As Carb said, um, ditto. I’ve considered your world view before and find nothing convincing. You’ve considered mine, of course, and have left the Church and convinced yourself that there is no God. So, we’re sitting at different desks for now.

  28. Daniel
    August 21, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

    Here’s your error. Revelation does work. In fact the last I heard about 90% + people on this planet depend on it in some form or other. It is more accurate to say it doesn’t work FOR YOU. I wonder why you refuse to accept that it apparently works — for MOST people.

    Ad populum fallacy. If everyone thought it worked, it wouldn’t mean that it does.

    And again, address my comment. People who think they’re getting revelation from the same supernatural being get wildly divergent revelations — which have a miraculous tendency to confirm what the person already believes.

    You applauded Connor’s suggestion that he re-evaluate his own beliefs. But you didn’t even consider re-evaluating your own.

    You’re forgetting: I have done. That’s why I left the LDS Church, and it was not an easy process to relinquish my dearly held beliefs. And I continue to question my body of knowledge. That’s partially why I’m here, in hopes that someone will point out where I’m factually incorrect using good solid evidence. Haven’t I said this over and over? I’ll re-evaluate if the evidence is there. And I do. But this fallacious reasoning isn’t going to cut it.

    Very well. Then I am also allowed to abide by counsel I receive through scriptures like: “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom and learning”.

    By all means. Use any pronouncements from any holy men you wish. But no science. I’ll use science, but no revelation.

    You have a REALLY limited concept of “revelation”.

    And apparently, yours includes science. That’s like saying your definition of ‘jogging’ includes ‘using a car’.

    AND wasn’t the challenge to CALCULATE pi to 40 decimal places? Since you’re a linguist, I’m led to believe you don’t have the mathematical background to calculate pi to 40 decimal places. Look it up, yeah. But calculate it? Just what method would you use anyway?

    I’m good at research. I’ll find out how someone else did it, and regenerate the numbers myself on my trusty MacBook. You wouldn’t be ‘calculating’ it through revelation anyway.

    And linguists know more about math than you’d think.

    A cave man believed the earth was flat. For all the tools he had available to him (his personal observations through his senses) it was true.

    And, what do you know, religious texts told him that it was! And they persecuted anyone who tried to tell them different!

    What else do those texts say?

    – There’s a ‘firmament’ above the earth, with water on the other side of it.
    – All languages started at the Tower of Babel (at about the same time that Mesopotamians were learning how to make glass — they never noticed a thing).
    – Mental illness is caused by demons

    How about that — it’s all things that they thought were true at the time, but that scientists later found to be wrong.

    The only way your caveman figured out the world was round was by observing his world and using reason the best he could. Not by revelation.

    I don’t blame you for taking your approach, Carb. A lot of people do that. They use science because it seems to work pretty well, and they use revelation because it seems to work pretty well. But some of us have examined revelation, and we’ve found that if you examine it too closely, it falls over.

    If you leave science out of your revelations, what happens? Dark ages.
    If I leave gods out of my scientific theories, what happens? It doesn’t affect the scientific theories at all.

    Occam’s Razor, my friend.

  29. Daniel
    August 21, 2009 at 11:54 pm #

    Connor: You don’t need to become an atheist. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Pick something else from the list in comment 1. Or don’t.

    Instead, tell me about a time when you changed your mind about something. Open question, not a trap. I want to hear your experience.

    Something as simple (yet complex) as the “fingerprint of God”, among other so-called miracles of nature, witnesses of some higher organizing force. The competing forces of entropy and evolution could never, in my mind, produce such consistencies.

    Okay, now we’re getting somewhere.

    So it sounds like you’re claiming that the Fibonacci series in nature means that a god is telling us he exists. Well, that’s a claim we can examine, and I’ll give it a go in my mean, tough, uncompromising way.

    Isn’t that a bit of a logical leap? Are you sure there isn’t a simpler explanation? Why do you think God would do it with numbers? I think this could be our brains recognising repeating patterns in nature. Sometimes these can arise out of seemingly chaotic processes, like the way the tide sorts out stones by size on the beach. I think you’ll find that there’s a simpler and non-supernatural explanation.

    Anyway, you’re welcome to your god-belief. Take it as far as you care to. But along the way you might notice little inconsistencies. When you do, don’t gloss over them or ignore them. Confront them honestly, as an opportunity to learn more about this amazing world. Use them as a way to examine your ideas, and discard the wrong ones, even if it hurts. If your god is the God of Truth, then he doesn’t want you to believe anything wrong.

  30. August 22, 2009 at 10:44 pm #

    If everyone thought it worked, it wouldn’t mean that it does.

    My point was not about what people believe. It was about people applying principles in their lives and they seem to live a happy life because of it.

    People who think they’re getting revelation from the same supernatural being get wildly divergent revelations

    Haven’t I told you the analogy of the fisherman’s float?

    That’s like saying your definition of ‘jogging’ includes ‘using a car’.

    Again you show your limited ability to grasp the obvious in favor of your limited world view. To me, it is like saying jogging and driving are both modes of transportation. This was what I was trying to tell Josh. Expand on what Connor just wrote.

    Revelation is that force, impetus, source that provides inspiration and tells us something is right or wrong. We witness this in scientific method as well as prayer.

    You wouldn’t be ‘calculating’ it through revelation anyway.

    Revelation provides more insight into calculations than you realize.

    What else do those texts say?

    What does any of this have to do with this discussion? You know as well as any here what our view of revelation and false revelation is. Then again, after some of these statements, I’m led to believe that either

    1) Maybe you really don’t.
    2) You’re just saying things to be argumentative.

    I don’t know which would speak less of you.

    and we’ve found that if you examine it too closely, it falls over.

    I’ve already shown you where scientific theories do the same thing, until we get more information that shows it was not wrong, but just incomplete. The same can be said of revelation. We might find some facts in conflict until we find even further facts that reconcile them.

    If you leave science out of your revelations, what happens? Dark ages. If I leave gods out of my scientific theories, what happens? It doesn’t affect the scientific theories at all.

    You know our position regarding the great apostasy. It is not a lack of science that darkened men’s minds. Science DID exist during the dark ages. It merely used logic and scientific method that seems ludicrous to us by today’s standards (Monty Python’s Holy Grail).

    Revelation is what opened men’s minds to more correct thinking. Don’t you find it convenient that the renaissance happened to occur at the same time as the reformation?

    Occam’s razor, my friend.

  31. August 22, 2009 at 11:28 pm #

    You’re forgetting: I have done. That’s why I left the LDS Church

    I didn’t forget anything. You still don’t see the wall you’ve made for yourself? You’ve given up one room for another room.

    I’m advising that you try living in the whole house and even go outside onto the acreage sometimes weather permitting.

    You’ve made ONE paradigm shift in your life and you consider that enough for you. It’s your life, your choice. Fine.

    I’ve made dozens (or at least a dozen or so) shifts in my life. After a certain point, I began to realize that I was making the same mistake over and over. I HAD to adhere to one view and one view only each and every time. This is what you’ve done with only two views.

    Eventually, I recognized that none of these views was completely bad or even wrong per se. And most contained quite a bit of truth and goodness. They all had some truth to them. But everyone looked at things from one point of view only.

    After looking at many points of view by actually ACCEPTING them, I really had the opportunity to see how the good parts of all things fit together and really made sense. I saw from daily personal observations as well as thorough study of history and the social sciences that much of what the ancients intuited showed remarkable insight into humanity and reality.

    It’s easy to say,”Gee, I grew up learning only 10 principles. Now that I’ve learned 100, I realize that most of those 10 were wrong.”

    I am able to say,”I learned 10, then 100, and believed the first to be wrong. Then I learned 1000, and realized most of it all was right. In addition, I’ve learned in the next 1000 that there are 1,000,000 more things to learn. Who knows what will be the TRUTH after I learn all of it? Will I learn that there are yet another 1 Million things to get a better view?”

    I’ve made this journey. Do you really think that your belief is more informed than mine when I’ve made MANY jumps and you’ve only made one?

    No, your 100 things are plenty for you. After all 100 is a big number. I get up every morning and say to myself,”I feel like $100″.

  32. Daniel
    August 23, 2009 at 7:35 am #

    Let me restate.

    You’re telling me that revelation is a valid way of getting true information.

    I’ve pointed out some examples of revelation that have turned out to be untrue.

    You seem to be saying that I’m closing my mind, not seeing the whole picture, and ignoring revelation to my detriment. But why should I accept what people call revelations, when they seem to be nothing more than vague pronouncements that don’t match reality and simply reflect the current (and frequently mistaken) thinking of the people who wrote them? In that case, it would be more closed-minded to stick to one’s preconceptions in the face of contrary data.

    I’ve already shown you where scientific theories do the same thing, until we get more information that shows it was not wrong, but just incomplete.

    That’s not a valid comparison. Of course, people doing science sometimes think things that later turn out to be wrong. Why is that a problem? Scientific ideas aren’t meant to come from a supreme being. Revelations are. Doesn’t it give you pause when a idea in scripture turns out to be untrue?

    The same can be said of revelation. We might find some facts in conflict until we find even further facts that reconcile them.

    But further facts aren’t reconciling revelations. They’re refuting them. Overturning them. Falsifying them. But true believers are still holding the supposed revelations dear, ignoring the facts, and getting quite upset if anyone tries to point this out.

    That’s fine if they want to do this. But then they shouldn’t come to me and say that revelation is just as worthwhile as science, when it’s clear from examples I’ve cited that revelations are non-empirical pronouncements that believers defend, even when they bear no relationship to facts in the real world that anyone could observe if they had the inclination to do so.

    P.S. I haven’t heard about the fisherman’s float.

  33. Daniel
    August 23, 2009 at 7:41 am #

    And just to clarify, I could be wrong on all of this.

    I’m happy to change my mind, but as always you’re going to need to bring the evidence. That’s how it works.

  34. August 23, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    THE FISHERMAN’S FLOAT:

    A float on a fisherman’s line is to float until a fish pulls on the line. When it goes down, the fisherman will pull on this pole to hook the fish, then pull him in. These are Spiritual promptings.

    However, there are quite a few times when the float bobs because of waves on the water or other factors. If the fisherman pulls at these times, he can loose the bait or other bad things can happen. These are emotional stimuli or false revelation, or something else entirely.

    A novice fisherman will pull nearly every time he sees a bob on his float. He listens to false revelation just as much as true revelation, leading to many incorrect actions. He will eventually become frustrated and give up thinking the bob is useless (become an atheist). Or he will learn to listen to the false revelation (the false religions of the world).

    Some fishermen will pay special attention to the bob. He will recognize the subtle differences between true revelation and false revelation. Through much experience and careful attention, he will become very good at it, and become a master fisherman. But just as master fishermen never get it perfect every time, even prophets can make mistakes at this from time to time. Recognize that these are the faults of MEN not of God.

    The experience does not necessarily have to come from earthly experience alone. Enter the Oriental philosophy of the “old soul”.

    When Mormon was chosen at 10 yrs old to be the keeper of the records or when Samuel was chosen as a child to become the new prophet, we should recognize that some individuals just have a natural affinity for these things.

    This TALENT is no different than a talent for anything else. Apparently, you have a gift for languages. I have a gift for math and physics. Connor has a gift for computers.

    Some have a natural gift for being able to weed out false promptings. Others (forgive the statement) are comparably retarded in this vein. The thing is that this talent has NO relation to any other gifts. You can be a genius in all things science and have a tremendous faith, or none at all. It isn’t connected. Just like you could be an extremely talented musician but have a horrendous voice.

    The good thing is that ALSO like other talents, it can be developed. But you need to work at it like any other talent. If you just give up in frustration (like you have) then you’ll never develop it and live a very limited existence. And you’ll never get to eat that fish. Of course, if it is carp or catfish, I don’t think you’re missing anything. But fresh salmon or trout is certainly worth the work.

  35. August 23, 2009 at 10:29 am #

    But further facts aren’t reconciling revelations.

    That’s YOUR opinion based on YOUR experience. Obviously many others have experienced and learned a great deal where further facts ARE reconciling them.

    It is a forced fact that further facts do not reconcile older seeming conflicts. You’ve cherry picked those ideas that support YOUR belief system. Then you ignore or discredit those ideas that refute it. It seems odd that you are guilty of the same weaknesses that you accuse others of.

    Wouldn’t the right approach be to find out what’s really going on? and then you can decide how you want to feel about it.

    Wow! What INSIGHT! What profound wisdom you’ve provided! I never considered to look for the truth and then live my life accordingly. I thought we just do whatever we desire most and deal with the consequences later.

    OH COME ON! Don’t insult me. I’ve spent most of my life searching because I wanted to know the TRUTH more than anything. If anything, atheists are more guilty of NOT wanting to deal with reality than conscientious theists.

    I’m at a loss when I think of the atheist girl in my high school that said there is nothing wrong with free sex, as long as you use protection–but then had three abortions before graduating. Regardless of what you might think of her advice, it begs the question–did you think of actually USING YOUR OWN ADVICE?!?

    Preconceived notions? You were the one who says “You’ve only got one life, so live a good one.” Then you turn around and say,”Hey, no dissing the libertines.” Just what is your definition of living a “good life” anyway?

  36. August 23, 2009 at 11:02 am #

    EVIDENCE:

    A farm boy described inscriptions on metal plates, stone boxes, the technology, language, government & economics of ancient cultures that people only found public evidence for 100 years later or more.

    Three who were widely regarded as fine upstanding and intellectually strong men signed their names to an eye-witness account of the divine nature of the golden plates and the Book of Mormon. None of these men had a long history with Joseph Smith. Each of these men became personally disaffected from him for many years and even left the Church. But NONE of them ever recanted their account of seeing the angel bear record of it.

    A newspaper written by an Anti-Mormon announces the END of Mormonism because he personally witnessed and had comments from many townsfolk that saw the Kirtland Temple BURNING during the dedication ceremony. Its founder (Joseph Smith) and most of the members were inside while it burned. He was surprised to find out that it was still standing the next day. Hundreds of eye-witnesses wrote their personal accounts on what happened that day in their own journals. AND ALL OF THEM (Mormon & non-Mormon) AGREE ON THE OVERALL SCENE.

    I can go on.

    You can listen to all other explanations after-the-fact. But in a court of law, eye witness testimony of what ACTUALLY happened is usually given more weight than expert opinion of what SHOULD have happened. Bringing this information into a court of law would force the preponderance of evidence toward saying it was all true.

    The only counter to this is simply stating it never happened and it was all made up. It’s just a big conspiracy of people who’ve been duped. It would be interesting to hear you accept such conspiracy theories when you’ve been a long opponent of them on all other matters.

    The greatest evidence of all is Christ’s statement: If any man shall do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.

    I’m sorry that your experience has led you to another path. But SO many others find more fulfillment and joy in their lives because they abide by certain principles. This is not because of fear of hellfire or the promise of celestial rewards. It is instead the natural consequence of good living. I am one of these people. And I’ve tried atheism. But it didn’t really do any good. Science, yes. Atheism, no.

    One of your primary evidences for atheism is that “science has made our lives better and religion has done nothing to improve it”. Have you ever heard of education? It’s a concept that you might be familiar with. Where did all the ivy league schools get their start? Before public education what was the primary source of standardized education? What was the primary motivation for people to learn how to read?

    Religion does improve the lives of billions around the world by simply making them happier. Religion is what focuses our minds on things of true lasting value (family & friends) instead of materialism and hedonism which value fades. Does not this mentality alone improve our lives? Is there not sufficient evidence throughout history to support this?

  37. Connor
    August 23, 2009 at 11:27 am #

    I don’t have much time right now, but wanted to comment on at least a couple of Daniel’s points.

    But why should I accept what people call revelations, when they seem to be nothing more than vague pronouncements that don’t match reality and simply reflect the current (and frequently mistaken) thinking of the people who wrote them?

    This, to me, is a horribly off base assessment of (what Latter-day Saints would consider) true religion and prophecy. To claim that revelations reflect current thinking is to ignore a great number of them that were far ahead of their time. The word of wisdom is just one of many examples of this. (Carb shared a few examples of the Book of Mormon’s bold assertions that are continually being proven correct.)

    (Referring to the Fibonacci video I linked to:) Isn’t that a bit of a logical leap? Are you sure there isn’t a simpler explanation? Why do you think God would do it with numbers? I think this could be our brains recognising repeating patterns in nature. Sometimes these can arise out of seemingly chaotic processes, like the way the tide sorts out stones by size on the beach. I think you’ll find that there’s a simpler and non-supernatural explanation. Anyway, you’re welcome to your god-belief.

    And what, pray tell, is your explanation here, if not faith? You have given your theory of a possible explanation, based on what you think. You do this based on your current belief system, and extrapolate a possible explanation for something you don’t know.

    This is why I find it downright laughable when atheists criticize those who have faith in a higher power. In short, they are hypocrites, for even when relying on scientific knowledge they have to base their understanding of the unknown upon some amount of faith. They claim to know that X is true, and therefore “think” that Y is true as well. But what is that, if not faith that Y is true?

    Science is no better at religion when it comes to competing truths. You asked:

    …why is it that religious people with all their various revelations can’t agree on the simplest points of doctrine about their various gods?

    But how often do scientists agree? Look at the global warming issue to see a demonstration of competing “truths” that either side will cite to support their belief system. One group claims that humans are causing global warming (oh, I mean “climate change”), and another claims that the anthropological effects are negligent, and that it’s largely a natural occurrence. Each group claims to have data supporting its side. Who to believe…?

    But true believers are still holding the supposed revelations dear, ignoring the facts, and getting quite upset if anyone tries to point this out.

    Do you have an example of a “debunked revelation”, or are you just using a broad brush to poo poo on anything theists hold to be sacred?

    And as per my experiences in changing my mind, I’ll give you one that you’ll no doubt enjoy: realizing the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ; studying what others considered scripture; weighing it against what others were teaching about similar concepts; deciding to pray to God to figure out if it was right; receiving an answer; and receiving further witnesses as time progressed that the gospel is logical, eternal, and yes, truthful.

  38. August 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm #

    Hi everyone,

    Science is not capable of answering normative questions (questions about what should or what ought to be and the inverse what should not be). Unfortunately, people use science with great “success” to “answer” normative questions:

    However, the practice of corrupting the science method to “answer” normative questions is more scientism (religious or philosophical) than scientific because it is used to provide “unquestionable empirical proof” and meant to shape opinion about what should or ought to be? You will always get a wide range of opinion when appealing to human instinct or perceptions (5 senses plus feelings) because what should and ought to be will forever be debatable depending upon one’s ideologies and philosophy.

    As mortals, we will always be forced to make assumptions (have faith). Some people find it hard to accept assumptions or have faith in something that is contrary to their ideology and perceptions. But that’s the challenge each individual person must face, to question with boldness.

    P.S. Some questions for Daniel, the good researcher.

    – What is the proper amount of government, and what freedoms/responsibilities should be retained by individuals?
    – From where should government derive its authority?
    – What is the best way to learn truth, scientific method or revelation? What kinds of truths are more important to know? Can the scientific method be applied to determine God’s existence? What is the best way to know absolutely one has found the truth using the scientific method or empirical analysis?
    – How ought resources to be allocated, the price mechanism, first-come-first-served, gifts, violence, dictatorship or lotteries, etc.?
    – How should homosexuality be viewed? If homosexuality is genetic, then is it an evolutionary advancement or a mutation like Down syndrome? If it were possible to determine if a child were going to be homosexual before birth (like the test for Down syndrome offered to expectant mothers), would it be “good” to abort the pregnancy for the “benefit” of society?
    – Why do people and governments spend billions of dollars in the search for extraterrestrial life?
    – Why is carbon dating so revered?
    – Why do so many people believe in evolution when a trans-species fossil has never been found?

  39. August 23, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    But what is that, if not faith that Y is true?

    I’ll give a perfect example of what Connor is saying:

    One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are—as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation.

    Scientific American, August 1954.

    So, in one breath he concedes it is impossible. In the next breath he states it must be possible because there is obviously no other explanation for our existence. It must be easier to believe in what one admits is impossible than to accept an opposing point of view that 90% of the population finds perfectly acceptable.

    To believe in evolution, one requirement is to believe that we have had enough time.

    1) Last I heard the earth was 5 billion years old.
    2) We are at least 1,000 species generations away from the amoeba.
    3) Evolutionists concede it takes millions of years (let’s use a minimum of 2M) to move from sub-species to sub-species. Let’s look at a minimum of 7 to truly move from species to species.
    4) 0.5 Billion years for the earth to cool for amino acids to form.
    5) 0.5 Billion for those acids to actually form.
    6) 0.5 Billion for AA to form into proteins.
    7) 0.5 Billion for polymerase to form.
    8) 1 Billion for nucleotides to form and interact with polymerase to the point where DNA will actually be formed.
    9) 2M x 7 x 1,000 + 3 Billion= 17 Billion years >> 5 Billion. And this is a very favorable estimate.

    Hmmm. I guess we’ll have to change the facts to match our theory.

    1) The earth is older than 5 billion years old even though every measure of dating points to this being the correct estimate.

    2) Evolution can occur more quickly than the millions that we estimate even though the fossil record, the laws of probability, and not to mention natural selection mechanisms themselves say otherwise. If only there were a conscious hand in this that would guide it more efficiently than natural selection can. That would certainly explain how it could happen more quickly.

    3) All those estimates about how long it takes from earth cooling to DNA formation are exaggerated. Even though the laws of probability and our studies of new star systems point to those numbers being understated. If only a conscious hand were in this to speed the process along faster than the normal properties of chemical reactions and heat transfer.

    4) We are much closer to the amoeba than originally estimated even though the fossil record shows we are even further removed. Unless there were a conscious hand in it that helped species JUMP more often than probability and natural selection allows.

    But we all know that there was no conscious hand in the process of forming the earth and evolving into mankind.

    Yup, this sounds like unbiased science to me.

  40. Clumpy
    August 23, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    I hope we can at least all agree on a few things here:

    – Many well-meaning (and other) people in all walks of religion merely take their own thoughts, feelings and opinions and attribute them to “revelation”. Simultaneously, many people are also driven to make decisions that wouldn’t normally occur to them, the consequences of which aren’t known in advance, by a process they consider revelation (note that we’re not going to speculate in each individual case whether this is hysterical brainwashing or literal divine communication – I think most religious people believe in both). This fact doesn’t necessarily count as either a strike or endorsement of revelation as a principle or religion in general.

    – Scientific advancements are primarily the result of individual and group experimentation and analysis, the scientific method and cumulative human scientific research. Only rare is a scientific invention directly attributed to God or revelation.

    – Our machines and technology work based on universal principles whose effect (if not origin) we can discover through science.

    – The advantage of science is that results can be more readily corroborated and compared by multiple people; scientific principles are not principles for individual situations and so they can be disseminated more readily throughout the world. Revelatory knowledge, on the other hand, is in theory more adapted to individual situations and personal guidance.

    – Neither the universality of empiricism for acquiring knowledge nor the existence or nonexistence of (a) divine being(s) can be concretely proven through scientific or religious methods. This doesn’t necessarily mean that both are equal and opposite, but that if both exist and both are useful, they apply to different situations and may fulfill different purposes.

    Am I actually helping things or am I just bloviating? Sorry to come out of nowhere like this.

    ———-
    Well, the conversation has progressed somewhat since my last misunderstood give-and-take with Carborendum, but I’d like to clear some things up:

    Daniel: I don’t “harrumph”. As I said above, I bloviate. And assuming me to be another anti-science type who rejects observable cause and effect just because I accept the premise of revelation is unfair. Once again, empiricism as a philosophy is itself unempirical but seems to work pretty well for increasing our knowledge and ability to innovate and evolve in a temporal sense. Seems a pretty fair analysis to me. This conversation doesn’t come up very often because it’s usually used by people who would ignore the accomplishments of intellectuals and pioneers (while still taking advantage of them) in an attempt to “prove” their faiths. Since (I believe) real religious experiences are deeply personal, the best “proof” for religion is that so many people believe in it, which is of course a fallacy.

    Though I prefer to judge others by their reasoning process rather than whatever opinions of mine they may share, here is a brief list (with caveats) of the opinions you mentioned, plus a few others you might associate with them, that I’ve come to reject after considering the evidence:

    – more government is [always] bad
    – [an unregulated] free market is the best way to allocate resources (conversely: socialism represents slavery while capitalism represents freedom)
    – homosexuality is [worse than common, universal sins like pride or selfishness]
    – the US Constitution is the work of a supernatural being [I believe in principles, not divine secular documents with occasionally subjective meanings. Equality and liberty are divine principles, and inasmuch as the Constitution succeeds in fulfilling these goals it has a divine purpose. I happen to believe it was “inspired” in a religious sense but that’s practically irrelevant since it only helps good principles insomuch as we use it for that purpose. Relying on its inherent divinity as a document adds a self-righteous smokescreen to political debates that I can do without.]
    – evolution is incorrect
    – climate change is [never] anthropogenic
    – and, by extension, humans cannot and are not causing the current period of warming
    – illegal aliens are reprehensible criminals and a very real danger to society
    – soldiers are inherently noble and anything they do preserves our freedoms
    – and, by extension, police always make us safer and their actions are always validated
    – politics are made up of two factions – one attempting to destroy everything we hold dear through duplicitous methods and one fighting selflessly for freedom and justice.
    ———-

    Now Constitutionalism (and its sister libertarianism) seems self-righteous mainly because it’s driven by principle rather than pragmatism and it’s a significant minority. I think the truly spiritual (not just those that succumb to religiousity) are in the same category. I think that the point of life is more than accumulation of human knowledge and have felt personally that revelation is less another method of gaining knowledge than a continuous push toward being a better person.

    Today I’m being a pseudointellectual ass, but in general I feel brighter, better and more fulfilled as a result of spiritual influences than I ever do going it on my own. This isn’t even a testimony or attempt to convince you, but the result of years of personal observation and inadvertent experimentation brought on by attempting to go it on my own several times and nearly always failing miserably or feeling miserable about it. I don’t pity you or think you small-minded or below anybody else (since true followers are rare while religion is ubiquitous and I can’t even claim to be one in any significant sense), but I hope you can keep an open mind about the whole thing. I realize it seems convenient to put spirituality outside of any objective reality, but that’s unfortunately the way it seems to be.

  41. August 23, 2009 at 7:24 pm #

    It is about how creating things such as art (hence the statue) can have a more lasting impact than destroying things like conquering kingdoms.

    That makes sense, I can see that. It’s a poem, so there’s no right or wrong interpretation, of course. (I’d be willing to bet Percy Shelly had problems with major depression as well. In those days they called it “melancholy,” it was artistic.)

  42. Daniel
    August 24, 2009 at 11:58 pm #

    Carborendum: That’s an interesting analogy, but if we’re going with fishing analogies, I think my ‘lucky hat’ one is more revealing. Imagine a fisherman who always wears his ‘lucky hat’ every time he goes fishing because it seems to him that he gets more fish when he wears it. If he were a curious statistician, he’d realise that there’s no correlation between the amount of fish and the hat — and how could the hat do that anyway? But since he’s a regular guy, he keeps believing in the hat ‘just in case’. If he’s really convinced about the hat, he could probably tell you lots of times when he caught really big fish while wearing it. (He’s always wearing it these days, so if he ever catches a fish again, he’ll thank the hat.) But he’s probably forgotten the times when he wore a different hat and caught a big fish, or wore the lucky hat and caught nothing. (This is ‘selective observation’.) If it’s important for him to believe in the hat, he won’t notice such trifles.

    There’s something odd about Carborendum’s analogy. It’s the idea that revelation is something you can get good at. As in: Fred gets messages from god all the time because he’s good at it. Ned’s not good at it, so he doesn’t. Does god want to tell us something, or not? If there’s an all-powerful supernatural being who wants to communicate, but insists on doing so in vague ways that are indistinguishable from introspection, that’s not very helpful, is it? When I want someone to know something, I tell them.

    Not to drag an unrelated issue into the discussion, but you know what this is reminding me of? Water dowsing. It doesn’t work — at least, no one has yet succeeded in doing it in controlled tests — but you get people who swear up and down that they can do it, and that you can get good at it, and that it works.

    Connor: Science is no better at religion when it comes to competing truths.

    This is simply untrue. It’s a lot better for finding pi. And it’s a lot better for problems that can be unambiguously right or wrong.

    When people try and use revelation, it’s often for some personal problem: I need to know what choice to make: X or Y? But for problems of this nature, X would probably have some good and some bad consequences, and so would Y. If anything good comes out of either choice, the believer just confirms their presumption that revelation works. If anything bad comes out of the decision, then the rationalisations start. The Lord is trying to teach me something through adversity. Or, as Carb said, I just suck at revelation. I don’t have The Gift. Blame yourself, and not the method! That’s what’s happening here. As long as you presume that revelation works, and you refuse to challenge that assumption, you’ll be able to talk your way around any disconfirmation for the rest of your life. Even if it’s wrong.

    Just for once, try getting revelation on some topic where the issue is unambiguously right or wrong, and the answer is confirmable by observation. Preferably not a yes/no problem — make it one that has a number of possible answers. I bet you’ll be right no more often that random chance.

    That scientists disagree is not a confirmation of revelation. Scientists disagree because they draw conflicting conclusions out of varying evidence. That’s not a problem because scientists tend to be somewhat tentative in the conclusions that they draw (if they’re doing it right). We realise that theories can be overturned by new evidence. But religious people argue that their theories come from a supernatural being that can never be wrong, and if you don’t accept their theories, you will have to deal with eternal consequences. If you’re going to claim that kind of authority and accuracy, you had better come up with the evidence. Religious people don’t.

    FYI, Connor — there isn’t really anything forward-thinking about the Word of Wisdom. Anti-tobacco movements started around the 1830s as an adjunct to the Temperance movement. It’s a fine thing (and in fact I still don’t drink alcohol or smoke), but like other supposed revelations, it’s very much a product of its time. The same goes for the Book of Mormon. It’s full of ideas that were considered plausible in Joseph Smith’s time, but which no one who does the science now believes. ‘Native Americans are Hebrews’ is just one example. ‘They spoke a variant of Egyptian’ is another.

    Do you have an example of a “debunked revelation”, or are you just using a broad brush to poo poo on anything theists hold to be sacred?

    Well, I’ve already given three examples which no one has addressed. Let’s go with Babel. The Bible claims that the construction of the Tower was followed by the ‘confusion of tongues’, from which comes the world’s languages. On its face, this is a legend about the origin of the diversity of languages, and a liberal believer might take it as a figurative moral story. But a Latter-day Saint can’t really take that view because the Book of Mormon claims it was a real event and that Jared and his brother were actually there. I know what Latter-day Saints think about this, having been to (and having taught) the same lessons you have. But just so I get your side right: a) is this meant to be a real event? b) if not, how do you know it wasn’t, and what else in the scriptures isn’t real? c) would you agree that this happened probably somewhere around 3000–2000 BCE? Because if so, I have to tell you that it doesn’t match the evidence we see.

    Clumpy — thanks for your thought-provoking comment. Actually, thanks to everyone. I’ll treat some of the more specific science questions in a bit. This comment is already too long.

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