Sunday, October 08, 2006

Why I am Technically an Agnostic


So, I finished the first half of "The God Delusion", which is about the major arguments from a philosophical and probabilistic point of view. I'm all fine and dandy accepting atheism within the earthly aquarium. Dawkins had my full support until he began the cosmic anthropic principle, which is where I always get stuck. I get stuck there because that's where one needs to have faith no matter what one believes. Arguments against theism and most ideas of deism are pretty easy for me to deal with. My major disapproval of theisms and moral deisms are:

1.) Nature obviously used an arbitrary process of natural selection as it's design apparatus. Much of the selection process and the design process is foolish, senseless, amoral, brutal, and absurd.

2.) Human beings are unique, but they are still entirely bound into this "evil process". Our brains and nervous systems are designed for self-deception, interpersonal manipulation, tribalism, the achievement of sex over nearly all other goals at all times (within the years of our biological youthfulness). We engage in a perpetually disingenuous tribal politicization of everything imaginable from food to sex to division of labor, class distinction etc..., and we intermix all ideas of morality and spirituality as tools or weapons into this hodge-podge of one-up-man-ship and grasping for social leverage. Morality seems clearly to be used as a social tool and seems no more significant than a peacock's feathers in the scheme of the natural world and it's evolving drama. The illusion is almost air-tight. Secondly, "Truth" and the seeking of it has always been merely a hobby for particular very strange people who are often physically impaired, past sexual prime (a condition nature didn't select for), sexually deprived, homosexual or otherwise outcast, or in that rare distinction of being bright enough or persuasive enough to actually make a living by thinking. In short, truth is not important to the great majority of people, because the human body/mind is designed to falsely equate happiness with truth. The equation of happiness with truth reaches it's apex in the Hindu idea of SatChitAnanda. God is bliss and peace. They forgot to add ignorance to the triad. There is perhaps no greater reason why spirituality must be darwinianly constructed and body based than the yogic concept of SatChitAnanda.

3.) Spiritual experiences are virtually the only reason we have to suspect deism as being true, assuming that our rational observations are clear and unbiased enough to have already rejected theism. In my estimation, neuroscience has put a devastating dent in the postulation of a soul. After being a member of a meditation cult and studying spiritual experiences of meditators I am as close to perfectly convinced that it is mere brain masturbation as I can be. Not that it is worth disposing of. Only that it does not indicate the existence of a soul or God any more than being conscious of anything does. Me being conscious while typing this message is equally and identically as persuasive that there is a soul as having a near death experience and being embraced by the light.

There are two other arguments to consider, one I will name facetiously "The Patrick fallacy", and the other "the argument from consciousness". The Patrick fallacy says that spiritual experiences and psi events are real things which shatter the creed of materialism, but the reason these phenomena are not provable is because the deistic forces of the universe intentionally created this earthly environ as a place for learning via limitation. Thus, proving psi in a laboratory is actively opposed and thwarted by the powers that be and we will never be able to prove psi even if it is real. I'm not sure if even Patrick still believes his own argument. But many people do. To me it seems like grasping and is no more worthy of discussion than Pascal's wager.

4.) People are scared and they make shit up. It took me about three decades to realize this. I was quite slow and sheltered.

Those 4 reasons cover the easy part- dismissing theism and the great majority of deistic ideas.
Then Dawkins tackles the anthropic principle. I can handle the first part of it- where we must assume that if there are a billion billion planets in the universe and only one in a billion of them can support life, then that still leaves a billion that support life. Fair enough. It's rare but not all that scarce overall.

Then we get to the bugaboo. The cosmic anthropic principle. Dawkins provided no compelling argument here. It takes faith to think that somehow science will discover another exlpanatory device as powerful as evolution to explain the design of the universe. Talk of multiverses and black holes creating universes with differing physical properties strike me as no different than genesis creation stories. We've no earthly idea, let alone an idea fit for the universe. The sheer odds against life are staggering. Bewildering. And I don't think our science is even aware of all the odds against that are yet to be discovered. But assuming the anthropic principle is right and the fact we are here means that whatever laws were necessary to create life had to have happened, there is still a profound quandary. One which Dawkins spent a half of one sentence mentioning. Lets go ahead and assume we are just extremely lucky, and we happen to live in one of a billion billion universes where the properties are such that stars can make atoms which can make replicating molecules. Even despite that, we have hit the lottery yet again. We are conscious. We aren't just Terry Schiavos, we have conscious awareness. We aren't just alive, we are aware. Assuming that consciousness requires a specific electrical property to exist, with specific electrical constants which, if tweaked a tiny bit one way or another, would render consciousness impossible in our universe, we must admit we have hit yet another jackpot. A jackpot upon a jackpot upon a jackpot, with inevitably more jackpots yet to be discovered. It's too much for me. Maybe god is not worth knowing, but we cannot rule out pantheism.


Consciousness is equally as mysterious as the origin of the universe. The argument from consciousness is powerful and enough to make me agnostic at least in regards to pantheism. Then there is the zombie element which adds spice to the argument. Why wasn't it good enough to have merely evolved as automatons. We could conceivably be able to function normally without consciousness. We could have sex, cook, clean, work and everything but just be robots instead of conscious participants. The leap to consciousness is just as weird as the leap from the primordial ooze to a replicating cell. Why did nature need it? Did complexity invent consciousness? Or did complexity merely pull something out of nature which was already always there?

I strongly think we are extinguished at death. But I remain unconvinced either way.

2 comments:

VTPOET said...

// The Patrick fallacy says that spiritual experiences and psi events are real things which shatter the creed of materialism, but the reason these phenomena are not provable is because the deistic forces of the universe intentionally created this earthly environ as a place for learning via limitation.//

O great, now I get a fallacy named after me...

The fallacy is worthy for consideration. However, I agree that it is not "worthy" of discussion. There is nothing to discuss. Whether it is true or false, the facts of life remain utterly unchanged. So... if one *accepts* this fallacy, there is still as little reason to believe in a spiritual plane as to *not* believe; and that, ironically, may be just the point.

It's not a fallacy. Rather, it's only a fallacy if one uses this argument as a defense of a higher spiritual plane.

The theory does nothing of the sort. It strongly argues that belief is irrelevant, whether you agree with it or not! That's the beauty of it.

Be free.

Aaron said...

Many people over the centuries have used the Patrick fallacy to explain the stark absence of the miraculous. There are many variations of the fallacy. The miracles are not present because:

a- God is testing our faith
b- God wants us to grow spiritually
c- Only those who lived long ago and far away were close enough to god to do miracles

I think the Patrick fallacy does not even require a whole lot of invention. It is pretty much the natural response to the question "why doesn't god prove himself to us?"

But to it's credit, it is worth mentioning. Pascal's wager is not even worth etching on a bathroom stall.