Open Enquiries from a Featured Theist

In my first ever blog post, almost a year and a half ago, I declared my sentiment that the debate on the existence of God is ultimately meaningless.  Since that fateful day, I have posted articles about philosophy, science, psychology, history, mythology, as well as random thoughts and just some utter bullshit.  Inevitably though, I am time and time again roped into the same religious debates that I denounced with that first post.  In these debates, I have argued from both sides of the fence, playing Devil’s and God’s advocate depending on the context, all while stealthily avoiding affiliating myself with any one denomination.  Throughout the course of these discussions, the rare times I’ve had to directly address the question, I’ve described myself as an omnist, a deist, an agnostic apologist, and an aimless wanderer between all beliefs (and no belief).  But, despite all my efforts to avoid it, I have recently been labelled by a wonderful alliance of atheist bloggers on their compendium, Enquiries on Atheism, as a ‘Featured Theist.’  Now don’t get me wrong, I am both honored and flattered to be featured on this collaboration, and I want to send my sincere thanks to whoever is responsible for making the decision (even if it’s just a random computer algorithm).  But it does draft me onto the losing team of a competition of which I’m growing more and more wearisome.  Through all my debates for and against the values and hypocrisies of religion, the one consistency has been inconsistency, specifically, the inconsistency of beliefs among those of the same nomenclature.  Even within a specific denomination of a specific religion, you’re not likely to find any two people who share all of the exact same beliefs, moral, philosophical, or otherwise.  For example, two Christians who attend the same church and both declare Christ as their Lord and savior may have completely different views about the importance of the factual validity of the bible.  Likewise, two atheists may be variably certain about the nature of objective reality.  It’s these and similar discrepancies that have led me to avoid declaring any affiliation myself.  Nonetheless, we humans need to categorize our world in order to understand it, and so people with vastly different beliefs may end up being labelled, by themselves and others, with the same assumption-laden label, which further sparks the debate based on nothing more than each person’s own presumptions about that label.

But while I’m being cast, I might as well play the role, for the show must go on.  And I’d like to take the opportunity to explore the varying beliefs within one of these sticky labels.  Atheists are notorious for avoiding declaring any of their own beliefs by exploiting the loophole that atheism is a lack of belief.  But as atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods, as opposed to nihilism, I’m not gonna let the writers over at EoA wriggle out of the witness stand so easily.  So I do have some enquiries, which I’ll list here and also shoot over to them, that should, if they choose to answer, help clarify what beliefs atheist do not lack. These questions are open to all who want to answer though, and if you don’t mind disclosing your preferred label, it may help to exemplify my point even further.

1. Do you believe in the finality of objective reality, despite that our only source of knowledge about that reality is subjective experience. In other words, do you believe that the physical universe is all that exists?

2. Do you believe that logic, and thereby science, is inherent to reality, or do we project it onto reality.  Is logic the language of nature, or is it simply our method of understanding it?

3. Do you believe that our logic, and thereby our science, can or will someday explain the entirety of reality. Can the true nature of reality be known?

4. Do you believe consciousness exists in this reality? Is it merely a by-product of brain function? Is it contained somewhere in the brain?

5. Do you believe in the possibility that consciousness can continue to exist after death?

I’ll stop there for now, as these are the questions I’m mainly interested in.  Hopefully from here we can foster a discussion that explores each others’ worldviews.  Until then, have at it!

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22 thoughts on “Open Enquiries from a Featured Theist

  1. I’ll take a shot at these five questions , but be warned: the short answers I give (each question to be answered fully would take way too much space) will still be too damned long for most to read all the way through! Also, I hope everyone remembers that the quality of answers is often a reflection of the quality of the questions. I’ll try to express what I mean inside the answers I give.

    1. Do you believe in the finality of objective reality, despite that our only source of knowledge about that reality is subjective experience. In other words, do you believe that the physical universe is all that exists?

    tildeb: I think reality at our interaction level must be stable enough for our knowledge about it to work consistently and reliably for everyone everywhere all the time. But at the macro level? I don’t know. At the micro level? I don’t think so (what quantum mechanics reveals at this level seems to indicate it’s anything but stable). I take issue with the assertion that our only source of knowledge about that reality is subjective experience, which assumes that subjective experience is, in fact, a source of knowledge. I think knowledge only becomes knowledge when an explanation we come up with seems to be arbitrated and adjudicated by the reality we share to be one that works to a very high degree of accuracy, which we only then infuse with enough confidence to call ‘knowledge’ and demonstrable by successfully building upon it. We come endowed by nature to be fooled by interpreting our interactions with reality incorrectly but we have the intelligence (if we exercise the intellectual discipline required) to use methods that reduce this reliance on subjective interpretation, which reduces our tendency to be easily fooled. Is the physical universe all that exists? Physically speaking, it seems to be.

    2. Do you believe that logic, and thereby science, is inherent to reality, or do we project it onto reality. Is logic the language of nature, or is it simply our method of understanding it?

    tildeb Logic is a thinking tool we employ to great success. Science is a method. Neither is projected unto reality but their usefulness adduced from it. We wouldn’t use logic (in its mathematical form with its reliance on axioms) if it didn’t work to link cause with effect. We wouldn’t use science if it didn’t work to produce knowledge. I have no clue what the ‘language’ of nature might be, other than how reality is. If certain parts were too unstable, we wouldn’t be able to have this conversation. The best method we have for trying to figure out how reality operates is the method of science… because it works. That’s why you can read these words.

    3. Do you believe that our logic, and thereby our science, can or will someday explain the entirety of reality. Can the true nature of reality be known?

    tildeb I see no reason why we can’t continue to use the method of science to build our knowledge base about how the universe operates. Is there a finite point? I have no clue. When you ask about the ‘true nature of reality’ we can only know about stuff that seems to work for everyone everywhere all the time. Outside of this model (paradigm), I think the question loses both meaning and relevancy.

    4. Do you believe consciousness exists in this reality? Is it merely a by-product of brain function? Is it contained somewhere in the brain?

    tildeb What we ‘consciousness’ (mind) seems to be an emergent property of what the brain does. It appears to us to be a discrete ‘thing’ but the analogy of a flock (murmuration) or school shows the essence of what is going on to produce these properties: local units obeying local rules and producing what appears to be a cohesive complexity.

    5. Do you believe in the possibility that consciousness can continue to exist after death?

    tildeb No. All the evidence shows a direct correlation between brain function and consciousness. As brain function deteriorates, so too does cognitive functioning (mind). It makes sense that when brain function ceases and undergoes cell death, so too does its products such as consciousness. Said another way, there is no compelling evidence adduced from reality that consciousness miraculously undergoes a rejuvenation independent of a dead brain. This explanation fails to provide cuasal effect as well as a mechanism by which this can happen (although stories will circulate…).

    • Great responses! Thanks for taking the time to answer them sufficiently. We seem to be in agreement on most points, specifically the limits of our logic and methods of gathering knowledge. I suppose the leap I make is to imagine answers to those questions that you are content to leave unknown and entertain those answers enough to see if they mesh with the logical picture of reality. So I suppose my follow-up would be, do you find any value in this sort of speculation, or should we limit our reach to our grasp? Or vice versa; that idiom always seems ambiguous to me.

      • Thanks, LR..

        It’s important to honestly recognize the difference between speculation of explanations that look like answers and answers from working explanations. That’s why I’m not in the least bit hesitant to answer, “I don’t know” when I use the verb ‘to know’ as it relates to our current knowledge (always conditional but based on what seems to work for everyone everywhere all the times).

        Relating back to one of the themes from your questions, I think the great hypotheses that have produced rich explanations depend on connecting imagination to really good questions… questions that can be answered not by us and our subjective experiences but by reality’s arbitration of it. This is much harder than it looks, and so we are tempted to jump to speculations that we prefer were true, and then inform these speculations with cherry-picked data that are supportive (usually ignoring any data that is contrary). Giving in to this temptation is what drives all kinds of faith-based beliefs (religious or not) so the value you speak of from speculation is a double-edged sword. ‘Our grasp’ means some way to test and allow reality to validate or elevate our speculations from being assertions to becoming explanatory. And we can tell the difference by whether or not the speculation stimulates or blunts the production of knowledge.

        • But most of these ‘great hypotheses’ emerged long before we had any way to test them. Atomic theory, for example, was speculated by Aristotle more than 500 years before the microscope was even an idea. Now you can argue that his ideas were abstract and philosophical, and that their relation to modern particle physics is tenuous, but you can’t deny that the basic principles are the same. I agree that we should never fall prey to confirmation bias and that we should not completely accept a hypothesis until it is proven to be functional “for everyone everywhere all the time,” but if we limit our questions to ones that can be answered, we’re limiting our potential for, if not ‘knowledge’, maybe the possibility of insight or wisdom.

          Apologies for the short response. I am trying to respond as my schedule allows. These days it’s a struggle even to get a post as short as this one up.

  2. Pingback: Do you believe in the finality of objective reality? « Enquiries on Atheism
  3. Pingback: On consciousness « Enquiries on Atheism
  4. #1 Since physical reality is “that for which we have evidence of existence,” then “yes.”

    #2 Logic and science are tools used to understand. They are not the understanding in and of themselves. They are shaped by the nature around us and by our ability to think. More than one kind of logic exists.

    #3 This contains an infinity paradox. If you have all time, can you run to the end of the universe? The “entirety of reality” is a phrase that probably cannot be defined.

    #4 Sam Harris answers this thusly: We have studied injuries to the brain for about 150 years. Whenever the brain is injured there is a loss of mental function. Some injuries result in the loss of consciousness (comas). Consciousness is a function of the brain. There is no evidence (other than wishful thinking) otherwise.

    #5 So, if one were to die and stop sending blood to the brain (containing fuel and oxidizer) or even die by severe brain trauma, then one’s consciousness is supposed to survive? Who dreams this shit up? Sounds like wishful thinking looking face on at death.

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