Fish in Space

A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Scientism

What is "scientism?" Broadly, scientism is a criticism levied by believers against people who point out that science and skepticism have done more to expand our knowledge and improve our lives than any religion or faith. Thomas Burnett of the creationist organization BioLogos claims:
As this new method [science] found great success, the specter of scientism began to emerge. Both Bacon and Descartes elevated the use of reason and logic by denigrating other human faculties such as creativity, memory, and imagination. Bacon’s classification of learning demoted poetry and history to second-class status. Descartes’ rendering of the entire universe as a giant machine left little room for the arts or other forms of human expression. In one sense, the rhetoric of these visionaries opened great new vistas for intellectual inquiry. But on the other hand, it proposed a vastly narrower range of which human activities were considered worthwhile.
Astonishingly, Burnett quotes Carl Sagan as an example of scientism in the modern age when Sagan said, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” For those of you who may not be familiar with his work, Carl Sagan never once denigrated creativity, memory or imagination. In fact he had a lot to say on the importance of those topics.

It's worth pointing out that creativity, memory and imagination are all important aspects of the human experience. They help us create solutions, express feelings and communicate ideas. Without creativity and imagination it would be impossible for us to form new questions for us to test on our way to finding answers. It would be impossible to challenge the ideas we've already formed to make sure that they accurately reflect reality. In science and all other aspects of life these qualities are what allow us to do more than merely survive but also thrive.

We look to the dark and undiscovered places, imagine what their secrets are, and pour every bit of cunning we have into amazing, complex tools just to see if we were right. We cast a light into the darkness and find ourselves intrigued by the darkness beyond that and start the whole thing over again. Imagination both fuels and is fueled by science. Creativity is what turns theory into knowledge and knowledge enables further creativity in turn.

However, this has its limits. We can't invent an answer and expect it to be correct simply because we like it and want it to be true.

Scientism is a slur against people who dare to acknowledge that we are flawed creatures with senses that are not always reliable. Consequently we must approach our assumptions and conclusions skeptically, no matter how we arrived at them or how long we've held them. What accusations of scientism does is betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what science is and how it works. Ultimately, science is skepticism applied in a rigorous and methodical manner.

Another thing the accusation tries to do is pull science down to the level of religion. I'm often faced with accusations that they're both based on faith. Richard Dawkins shows us what science would be like if that were true.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fear is the Mind Killer

Earlier today I read a post pleading for help from a person who said that they felt physically nauseous when they contemplated death and what comes after. It's a common complaint from people who are still trying to deprogram themselves from religious thinking, and it's deliberate. I have a common response that I'd like to share.

Fear, especially fear of the unknown, can't withstand scrutiny. You're following the programming you were taught to fear death and assume the worst. The truth is that what you were taught isn't based on good information, it's a scare tactic intended to keep you pliable and frightened. Frightened people don't challenge authority.

You're not going to Hell after you die and neither am I. We will cease to exist, and while that's not a preferable outcome it's better than an eternity of unending existence. Ponder that as much as you can then set it aside. Think about it again tomorrow and the day after. The more you confront your fear the less power it will have over you.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

End it now.

Someone I can only describe as a troll posted a video of Alan Watts giving his speech beginning with "You are a fluke. You are a separate event, and you run from the maternity ward to the crematorium and that's it." He goes on to scold non-believers for envisioning such a cold, dark world where nothing we do matters so we may as well just commit suicide now and get it over with. It's a very dreadful speech focusing on the inevitability of death and how non-belief gives us nothing to live for.

This is my answer.

Did you ever enjoy a meal or a dessert? An event or activity that gave you pleasure? But what's the point, it's over now. The impermanence of the things that give us joy is a reason to not go on living according to the worldview of this troll. Only a god invented by humans is sufficient to give us a reason to live, a god that tells us not to live for this world but the next one.

I enjoy a good meal or a dessert. I look forward to activities or events that give me pleasure, not because they're impermanent but because they happen. Those experiences become part of the tapestry of my life. Good things are ephemeral yes, but so are bad things. My life is not a tale of woe punctuated by occasional spots of happiness. It is a mosaic of high points and low points with no more of one than the other. There are people I love and who love me, there is art and literature to uplift me and challenges to overcome.

I take this world as it is, not how I insist that it must be. As time passes I will lose those I love and eventually they will lose me, but I will die knowing that I have lived in full the only life available to me. Life is precious to me not because there's another one to look forward to after death but because this is the only chance I have to make an impact with what I say and do.

The value of my life is not measured by the moments of pleasure or joy I experience, nor the sadness. The value of my life is measured in the richness of experience that I share with those around me. If I have contributed in some way to the whole of experience, however small, then my life is an unqualified success. Any person who felt loved or appreciated by me is a success. Any person who was inspired by something I said or was given something to ponder by something I wrote is a success. Each one creates a ripple that can spread out creating new ripples of their own. Progress is not defined by great events or achievements but by the steady progress of those little ripples coming together to form a wave.

I have no reason to commit suicide. My life will end in the fullness of time when events converge. I might die of a disease or an accident or simply old age. I could die because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is the way of life. But I have reason to keep on living, keep on struggling with the obstacles in front of me and keep on learning so that I can meet each new experience with the courage and vigor of the last one. I have more ripples to make before I'm done.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The wall of separation

Years after the issue should have been settled, I'm still hit with claims that the Establishment Clause in the US Constitution isn't really there because it wasn't explicitly stated as a "wall of separation" as Jefferson's letter clarified.

I find it ironic that so many people who complain about my criticisms of the Bible or their religious beliefs being "out of context" are nevertheless willing to ignore the context of the US Constitution.

God is intangible, unknowable and ineffable. Except when he isn't.

I am so tired of presuppositional arguments, whether or not they're acknowledged as such. One of the fundamental flaws I criticize about religious belief is when believers want their cake and eat it too. More to the point, their arguments rely too heavily on special pleading. And no, adding caveats to the definition of a god does not bypass special pleading.

For example: if a god does not leave any traces for us to observe, then we have no reason to assume that anything we see supports the existence of this god. If this god is unknowable and incomprehensible, then we have no reason to assume anyone understands anything about it and can accurately represent it.

So which is it? Is a god knowable or not? If not then the discussion is closed. If so then show us examples that clearly demonstrate how this knowledge is valid and not human bias.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A humorous aside

Blogger has some basic tools for tracking posts, listing comments (when it occurs to me I might have any) and seeing how popular they are. Most of my posts average between five and fifty pageviews, some browsing in from reddit.com or twitter and some I'm sure from webcrawlers and other technologies. But one post in particular stands out. None of my posts have more than two hundred views except this one: it has over two thousand. So if I ever decide I want my blog to become popular or start up some ad revenue, I have to remember to post a silly comic with every entry.

I find that both amusing and saddening.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Literal Versus Allegory and Metaphor

Liberal religious beliefs came up again today, this time with the assertion that religious texts like the Bible aren't meant to be read literally. Mostly. Sometimes. Whenever we have verifiable evidence that whatever is being discussed has been debunked. Furthermore, someone claimed to me that most religious believers don't take their scriptures literally.

Naturally, this required some verification.

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe in angels. Literally. Why? It's largely driven by religion.

64% of Americans believe Jesus literally died and was resurrected. Not metaphorically but literally.

46% of Americans believe that humans were created, not evolved, in their present form within the last ten thousand years. Nothing metaphorical about it.

80% of Americans believe in miracles. Not allegory, not metaphorical miracles. Miracles on par with what's recorded in the Bible.

Tell me again why I should assume religious beliefs and texts aren't being taken literally?