Losing My Religion

When I was a very young child,  8 years old, I remember going to services at our local Reform temple one evening.  It was a very cold day, and I was running ahead of my family when my mother called out for me to be careful. I told her, secure and confident in the way that only a child can be, that I had nothing to fear since a temple is “God’s house” and of course I couldn’t get hurt there. She reiterated that I had to be careful, and that I could break a bone if I slipped and fell on the ice. That was the first time I truly began to realize that theism didn’t quite add up.

Hail Sagan

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Spinoza’s God

So, I’ve written here, at great length, about the importance of negation, of the null hypothesis,  as a fundamental hypothesis that can only be overturned by carrying the burden of proof. And the null hypothesis’ relationship to belief in deities. (or God, or G-d, or יהוה, or what-have-you). But tonight I was discussing Spinoza and Einstein with someone, and it helped me to crystallize a way that I might share my mind with you… and thereby give you insight into where I’m coming from.

A-map-is-not
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No, I Don’t Need To Have Nobel Prize-Winning Knowledge In Order To Remain Unconvinced By Your Claims

Professional Christian apologists like Frank Turek love to shift the burden of proof via a tactic so intellectually dishonest, that I’m sometimes surprised that they manage to keep a straight face.  While it comes in various flavors and often uses various versions of the Murder One fallacy, generally dovetailed with a full on Gish Gallop, the argument boils down to the claim  that unless someone knows the deepest mysteries of physics below the Planck scale, and the entire chain of chemical reactions and evolutionary events that took us from proto-replicators to today, that theistic claims must be the default hypothesis.

It’s often presented in the form of garbage memes like this:
sigh

Imagine my eyes rolling so hard that they might violate conservation of angular momentum, and you’ll have a pretty good  idea of my reaction to this moist nugget of fractal wrongness.

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On Falsifiability

I have, previously, discussed how absolute ontological certainly is precluded by the structure and nature of knowledge. I also recently engaged in a public debate that touched on the nature of the null hypothesis and reasonable beliefs.  My opponent from that debate recently asked me to clarify my position on the issue of falsifiability. Specifically, the request was:

[W]hat is ‘falsifiability’? You seem to take it to mean that a proposition yields predictions which can then be compared to empirical evidence and shown to be false. Is that correct?

My response was that that statement was “Pretty much” accurate, but that I’d need to write up a blog post “since the answer is somewhat lengthy.”  Dr. Chenvi’s followup question was:

[H]ow that definition is applied to beliefs like “There are no transcendental truths” or “We cannot have real knowledge of deep reality” or “We should only accept claims based on evidence”, or “the external universe actually exists”, etc… None of these claims are falsifiable, on the basis of your definition. So whatever statements you make about whether or not we should believe ‘unfalsifiable’ claims should wrestle with statements like these.
The response will, by necessity, be a bit lengthy. I also don’t think that all of the above statements are necessarily accurate quotes or paraphrases, so I’ll do my best to address specifics. If anybody disagrees on the accuracy of a quote, please let me know in the comments.  In a nutshell, my argument is not a metaphysical statement on the nature of being, but a razor designed to winnow epistemic systems with the metric of objective reality.
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Epistemology: The Basis For Rational Skepticism

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” -Keats

Lets begin with basic epistemology; the basis for all sensation and awareness is the physical reality we find ourselves in. Reality does not care what we think about it, or what we believe. As Philip K. Dick once said “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

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This is sometimes referred to as the primacy of reality. When analyzing/viewing/interacting with reality, we have numerous methods and devices available to us that we may use to gather and analyze data, including but not limited to our five senses and scientific instruments. From those data, we abstract initial 2nd order models, those of perception. (Seeing is not the same as perceiving – perception is cognitive. If photons bounce off a camouflaged moth and hit your eye, you have seen it. But unless you realize it is a moth, you have not perceived it.)  Continue reading