7/6/10
This is my beginning attempt at an ongoing abstract of an ongoing debate I'm having at
http://debate.atheist.net/showthread.php?t=3032&page=1
It needs a lot of work, and I'll be urging my opponents to help

 

Making Sense of Religion

(My Thesis)

  1.  

    1. From a strictly scientific perspective, religious beliefs are quite useful -- but clearly untrue.
    2. I suggest, however, that a strictly scientific perspective DOES NOT FULLY ACCOUNT FOR REALITY…
    3. The world is not the deterministic machine that it first appears to be.

    4. I claim that there is another intellectually valid perspective that does support the potential validity of specific religious beliefs – and perhaps,
    5. Finishes the job of accounting for reality… 
    6. I’m suggesting that, epistemologically speaking, there are actually two valid ways of processing information, and one of those ways allows for religious beliefs to be true.
    7. I’ll try to explain….

    8. One of my basic claims is that under close scrutiny, certain generally accepted “aspects” of life simply do not fit our scientific model – and are, in that sense, “magical.”
    9. But for some reason, we humans tend to overlook these “discrepancies,” “take these things for granted” -- never noticing their problematic implications.  We seem to “look right through” them – probably, like a fish does with its water.
    10. Some of these generally accepted aspects of life that I perceive as not actually fitting our scientific model of reality are CONSCIOUSNESS, FREE WILL, RIGHT AND WRONG, MY KIDS, MY WIFE, EXISTENCE IN GENERAL -- AND ME.
    11. Ultimately, to me (and others), these aspects seem  to be non-physical, or a-rational, or both.
    12. More specifically, consciousness seems non-physical, free will seems real but logically impossible, right and wrong seems outside of any scientific purview whatsoever, my kids and my wife are surely timeless, existence itself is illogical, and my own current existence is impossibly improbable.
    13. So, what’s going on here? Are these "magical" perceptions simply my imagination?  Or, are they real -- and something significant is missing from (or just wrong with) our scientific model?
    14. The other adjective (other than “magical”) that I would apply to these generally accepted but ultimately unscientific aspects of life is “transcendent.”

    15. And then, transcendence is the bottom line for religion. A philosophy is religious if it includes a belief in transcendence…
    16. So, if these perceptions are real, religion seems to have an intellectual, epistemological, basis…
    17. And, is more than a matter of faith.
    18. I believe that to be the case...

    19. Now, as to those of you who do not perceive these aspects of life as non-physical or a-rational, I have to suspect that you and I are just not seeing the same things – that you’re looking right through what I’m noticing.
    20. And of course, I suspect that I am not hallucinating – I suspect that it's you guys that have the problem -- and you, simply, are somehow “blind” to the unexpected implications of these aspects.
    21. Then, it would appear that you and I are, in fact, processing the same data, just that I – and others like me – are processing it differently than are you guys. And because we others are, we see qualities, patterns, implications that you do not… It’s as if we others are 3000 feet above a field that has a large pattern in it, and you guys are down in the field – without a clue…
    22. I suggest that we are simply better at pattern recognition (PR), and PR is how we perceive transcendence.
    23. (Google "autostereogram" and if you're lucky (for some reason, I'm not very reliable at this anymore), what looks 2D at first will turn to 3D right before your very eyes as you adjust your focal length. You’re receiving the same data you received the first time around – you’re just processing them differently. I suggest that this latter perception is sort of analogous to my perception of transcendence, versus your lack thereof, in these aspects of reality.)
    24. From current research, science is beginning to say much the same thing – that, atheists and religious types are receiving the same data, just that the brains of the atheists process the data differently than do the brains of the religious… This is what causes our differing interpretations.
    25. In regard to which side is correct, science tends to suspect the opposite of what I tend to suspect.

    26. But, it now appears that the way we interpret the data depends upon which of our cerebral hemispheres is dominant.
    27. If we are dominated by our “analytic” hemisphere (typically our left), we’ll think that transcendence is a bunch of crap. If we’re dominated by our “holistic” hemisphere (typically our right), we’ll think that transcendence is our salvation (or at least, we may think that).
    28. This isn’t to say that the human population is bipolar in this regard (all or none) – hemisphere dominance, like almost everything else we know, exists in degrees (both between individuals -- and within individuals over time). And, sensitivity to transcendence seems to exist in the typical bell curve.
    29. But still, I'm making this too simple. Whether we interpret the world religiously or not probably also depends upon the absolute strengths of our two hemispheres -- not just their relative strengths…
    30. And also, I should point out that more than the right hemisphere is involved in what we typically call “religious experience.”
    31. Though, I think it’s pretty clear at this point that the RH IS responsible for our perception of the type(s) of transcendence to which I refer above…
    32. (Let me know if I need to express, or substantiate, that better.)


    33. Another characteristic of the situation that needs to be considered is the fact that atheists seem to be generally smarter than do religious people.
    34. But even here, I can find a happy solution based upon our two ways of thinking.
    35. Western schools teach, almost entirely, to the analytic hemisphere, which means that analytic thinkers will tend to do better, go further and become more analytic in western schools – and western society.

    36. Anyway, the fact that we humans have two different ways of processing data seems to me a real “game changer” in regard to evaluating the reality of religion.
    37. Up till now, we educated types figured that this stuff had to be evaluated analytically.  (“Reductionistically” might be a better descriptor.)
    38. But now, we see that there is another way to process this same data -- holistically.
    39. And somehow, this other way comes up with a different conclusion…

    40. Is this other way valid?
    41. From my perspective, this other way seems obviously valid – but, I have to admit that religiosity should be “survivally beneficial” -- and consequently, the human ability to feel religious could simply be the result of natural selection, and not reflect any “greater reality.”
    42. But then, the fact that this other way of thinking is “holistic” is itself supportive of this "other way’s" validity.
    43. The basic argument here is that, somehow, the whole REALLY IS GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS, reality is holistic -- and analytic thinking, therefore, simply, cannot fully explain reality.
    44. The thought is that trying to deal with reality analytically is like using algebra to solve calculus problems, or Newtonian Physics to explain “dark matter,” or a square pastry cutter to divide round pizzas.
    45. And all the seemingly airtight conclusions against transcendence are arrived at through reductionism (analytic thinking) and in a sense, only count as one of the two potentially correct conclusions.

    46. And further, irrational numbers (such as Pi, and the square root of two) suggest a precedent.
    47. Analytically speaking, digitally speaking, such numbers never end, and consequently, hardly seem real.  (I think that "Zeno's Paradox" faces a similar problem.)  But then, holistically speaking, irrational numbers are quite real -- even important.
    48. It turns out that most of the "things" that I perceive as "transcendent" are not such that I can discount the possibility that they are illusory... They could be "evolutional artifacts" as suggested above in #41.
    49. But one of those things outlined above that I perceive as transcendent does seem to me undeniably real. That's my own existence. I'm pretty darn sure that I am transcendent, and I think that I can essentially prove it mathematically... I can't quite prove it because the math I use involves statistics and probability.
    50. I just claim that given our current scientific model of mortality, the odds of me existing, and at this time, approaches one in infinity.  And, the fact that I do exist right now is extremely strong evidence that something is wrong with our current model…

    51. Here's my argument
    52. Probability is determined by the information available to our formula; as we gather relevant information about the relevant situation, the probability of a particular outcome changes.
    53. The probability of a particular outcome, given only a particular situation has mathematical implications re the probability of that situation given only that outcome...
    54. These implications, however, are indefinite without further information.
    55. The information we need in order to define these implications is
      1. The combined probability of that outcome given any other situation.
      2. The probability of that particular situation given all background knowledge, but without being given the particular outcome.
      3. The combined probability of any other situation given all background knowledge, but without being given the particular outcome.
      4. 2 and 3 are dependent, so if we have 1 and 2, or 1 and 3, we're all set.
    56. Given only the scientific hypothesis of personal mortality, but not my current existence, the probability that I would currently exist is one in infinity.
    57. So, in other words, my current existence has serious negative implications re the truth of the scientific hypothesis, but we need a little more information in order to pin that probability down...

    58. Bayesian statistics formalizes the logic of comparing the probability of the different possible situations (in this case, S (for Scientific) and non-S), given the particular outcome (and background knowledge).

    59. Here, again, is the Bayesian formula.
      ...k = all background knowledge,
      ...P = the probability of,
      ...S = Scientific hypothesis,
      ...\ = given,
      ...me = me,
      ...NS = Non-Scientific hypothesis.
      The formula for this probability is
      ...P(S\me & k) = P(me\S)P(S\k) / (P(me\S)P(S\k) + P(me\NS)P(NS\k)).


    60. There must be a symbol for vanishingly small," but I don't remember it, so I'll use .0...1.
    61. I get P(S\me&k) = (1/∞)(.99)/((1/∞)(.99) + (.99)(.01)) = .0...1
    62. So, when I add my numbers to the mix, I get the probability of the scientific hypothesis being true, given my existence and all the background knowledge, AS VANISHINGLY SMALL.
    63. Unfortunately, we're not finished.

    64. The one in infinity that I use as P(me\S) is my SPECIFIC probability -- which I cannot rightfully use unless I STAND OUT in a particular way from the vast majority of "outcomes."
    65. In order to "stand out," my particular existence has to SUGGEST ANOTHER PLAUSIBLE HYPOTHESIS.
    66. If my particular existence fails that test, the rightful figure for P(me\S) is the combined probability of the vast majority, which basically amounts to 1.00 and ruins my whole argument.

    67. It turns out that my current existence suggests at least three somewhat plausible hypotheses.
    68. - I am a basic and eternal (timeless?) part of reality, and/or
    69. - There is something wrong with our concept of "now."
    70. - This whole thing is like a shared dream.
    71. I'm not sure that I can rightfully refer to all of these (especially, at the same time), but then, I only need one...

    72. So, here we are. We are now finished and I am justified in rejecting the "null hypothesis" of personal mortality. I, very, very, likely, am not both singular and finite. You probably are not either.

    73. And then, if I can show that one aspect of life is in fact transcendent, there isn't much reason for doubting the others.
    74. I strongly suspect that life is magical.

     

    OBJECTIONS and ANSWERS SO FAR (This is little more than an outline so far)

    TRANSCENDENCE

    1. Being able to reproduce religious experiences through drugs and electrical stimulation shows that religious experiece (RE) is simply the product of physical events, and does not reflect a greater reality.
      1. I say that we can also produce such experiences as fear and anger by drugs and electrical stimulation, but most of the time fear and anger do reflect real emotional situations.
        1. You say that fear is not a fact about anything but what we feel. Likewise, the feeling of transcendence says much about the brain, nothing about external reality.
          1. I say that fear does usually say something about external reality… The fact that we can produce such experiences artificially does not mean that all such experiences are artificial.
          2. I also suggest that these artificial electro-chemical ministrations just tear down the normal cognitive structures that define and restrict reality for us, and in that way are just letting us see the unvarnished and over-powering truth beneath the normally imposed structure.
          3. (And anyway, this objection really refers to what we are calling “religious experiences” and, I’ve put that issue on hold for the time being…)

    2. Where's the hard evidence that transcendence is real?
      1. Where's the hard evidence that it isn't?"
        1. The burden of proof is on you -- i.e., extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
          1.  I'm not so sure that my claims are extraordinary.
          2. I claim that our debate is like a civil case, rather than a “criminal” case, and is a matter of preponderance of evidence rather than burden of proof.
          3. I think that I can essentially prove my case through statistics and probability, and the “impossible improbability” of my own current existence.  (See below)



    CONSCIOUSNESS

    1. How can the physical and non-physical interact?
      1. I don’t know, but the following are my best guesses.
      2. IF there IS such a thing as non-physical, our current physical laws should not account for the interaction between the non-physical and the physical. Any laws that would account for their interaction would have to be laws of an over-arching reality of which the above two are just parts.
      3. Whatever, it appears that what we call “life” either produces, or attracts or is able to express consciousness.  (Not only may plants be conscious, but rocks as well – just that neither has any way to express it.)
      4. Consciousness might be just another level of physicality, but if so, it seems to be MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS.

    2. Wherever consciousness exists, it is attached to a brain.
      1. Maybe, maybe not.  A lot of people have had “out of body” experiences, and some of these claim to have evidence that the experience wasn’t just a dream.
        1. For at least many of these cases, the “evidence” exists because those depicting the experience have not recognized all the different ways in which the experiencer could have picked up the information used to exclude his experience from normal explanations.
          1. Yeah, but does that really account for all of them?

    3. Eternal consciousness is just a fervent wish…
      1. Certainly, it is a fervent wish, but that doesn’t mean that it’s JUST a fervent wish.
        1. Doesn’t mean that it IS true either.
          1. Stalemate.

    4. Nothing in consciousness that goes against the laws of nature – Occam’s Razor

    5. Already have explanation for consciousness.  Don’t need another.

    6. Doesn’t matter that scientific thinking is only half of epistemology – only in trouble with incompatible evidence.

    7. Consciousness is an effect, like a pattern; it is neither matter nor energy.  But, neither is it “magical.”

    8. Further more, the scientific definition of life is a (more or less) biological definition (I'm leaving out non biological life to keep things simple.). There is a point where we humans label a single or symbiotic group of cells 'alive'. Once the organism no longer meets the requirements of beeing labeled 'alive', it is labeled 'dead'. The body/mind duality has been abandoned by science. The mind is considered to be an integral part of the body. Without the body, there is no mind. If the body is dead, then so is the mind. The attribute 'has a life' is a label with regard to the state of the organism, not something untangable that the organism actually 'has'.

     

     

    YOUR CURRENT EXISTENCE

    1. I am still not suspicious of any decks so why does the article suggest that I am suspicious?

    2. A major problem with the analogy is (comparing biological life to hands drawn from a deck of cards); a biological life form is not a random selection of elements put together.

    3. I think that your analogy is depicting a situation that has no relation to the argument.

    4. Yes, a (more or less) even distribution is expected, but the possible length of the sequence to achieve the even distribution is infinite. If I throw 1 million sixes, after that, I could be throwing 1 million ones, 1 million twos etc. to achieve the likely even distribution.  After throwing one million sixes, the chance of throwing another six is 1/6.

    5. It might not LOOK random to us, but that's just our nature.  But there IS no real pattern, it's a sequence of randomly selected numbers. It is our mind that thinks there's a pattern where there is none. That's what probably causes the suspicion.  The mind tries to see a pattern where there is none and tries to see meaning behind random events.

    6. The reigning physical hypothesis about consciousness is that it is a pattern of data like a program on a computer. The data themselves are formed by physical units of neurons and nerves, like the computer data consist of bits. Consciousness is not itself a physical entity just like programs are not physical entities. The program only runs as long as the computer works, just like consciousness only exists as long as the brain works.

    7. What is the rest? It has been pointed out that it is faulty logic and mathematics to claim that a result that we already know has happened (we are here; the pebble is there) and then work backwards and claim that it because some many things could have turned out otherwise, but did not, there is anything special about us - or pebbles.

    8. "Just" ... Anyway, I think you're existence says very little about the validity of current science. For one thing, I haven't seen you use anything our current science in the calculation of the probability that you exist.

    9. Why do you think that your current existence would essentially prove the existence of transcendence, since your current existence “blends” with everyone else and the specific improbability of your existence is overridden by the combined probability of everyone else -- that your existence, in blending, incorporates.
      1. I claim that I do not blend, but am trying to convince you of the appropriate application of Bayesian statistics to my claim that I am impossibly improbable, before I try to explain why I don’t blend.

    10. I haven't read about your blending thing yet. But right from the outset, this looks more like an argument against the blending premise than against current science. Any premise which means that the existence of some random individual or peble becomes relevant for the validity of science is bound to be wrong!

    11. My point is that for an individual such as yourself, we know plenty about that individual to narrow down the time interval in which we expect to find that individual. This is analogous to the first four cards being aces in a deck ordered numerically.

    12. Furthermore, I haven't seen anywhere were you actually use current scientific models to derive the probability for your existence. Only a contextless fact about the age of the universe.

    13. But your way of starting with the target and then working out the improbabilities is still wrong.

    14. There is no rational way to rule out coincidence. After drawing 500(0000 ...) aces in a row, I could still be holding a normal deck.

    15. I think I would become suspicious but I think the reason for that suspicion is pattern recognition, not improbability.

    16. There is a difference between statistical analysis of test results and your argument about our existence. In the statistical analysis, we do no know the result, and we use the statistical analysis to ascertain if we have found a valid result. In the argument about our existence we already know that we exist, so we are not trying to find out if this can be true.

    17. Your calculation of the probabilitiy of your existence has little to do with our current scientific understanding. You use two arbitrary pieces of knowledge: (a) the age of the universe and (b) the approximate lifetime of a human being and divide these two numbers to yield a fraction which you then think is the probability of your existence on the current scientific understanding. But this assumes that according to the current scientific understanding you have an equal chance of existing at every moment.
      That is simply false. In assuming this you ignore that the current scientific understanding holds that you could (as a human being) only exist in a very slim time interval, namely the time interval where the earth is hospitabel to human beings. The further fact that you are using a computer and the internet narrows down this time interval even further, making it completely predicted by current science that you exist now!  If you exclude these facts you are not criticizing our current scientific understanding.

    18. Even if the probability of your existing at this moment did have a low probability this still wouldn't in itself constitute an argument. For you to be able to conclude anything, you would have to compare the probability with the probability of your existing at any other moment.
      If the probability of your existence is equally probable for all moments, you are committing the sharpshooter fallacy by using just one instance. It is exactly like rolling a die once and concluding that it is loaded since there was only a 1/6 chance of the result no matter what the die shows!

    19. First you need to be absolutely clear how you derive the low probability for the existence of an individual. As I have mentioned a few times now, you seem to completely ignore exactly those parts of our current scientific understanding that explains why you exist now.
      Second, you need to explain carefully what this "blending" thing amounts to, since you mention it all the time. I can't remember hearing about this notion in statistics (neither in Bayesian nor in other frameworks), so I guess that it is your own innovation.

    20. But then you could not claim that we do not blend until you have shown that something is biased towards giving us existence at this very moment. If you had this proof, you would not need to calculate the probability of our existence, because the bias would be ground-breaking in itself.

    21. Not at all. I have really no idea what you mean by the "now" conciding with your existence being something special let alone improbable. Does it have something to do with blending?
      But more importantly, I have no idea how this is something that is implied by science.

    22. You are probably attempting some version of salami-tactics, but yes it is a reasonable assumption that you are the only you that will ever exist.
      And every E. Coli in your intestine will be the only one to ever be in that exact place at this exact time.
      But why is this so special?

    23. I am not sure what you mean by "blending". I find it to be a vague term that could mean any number of things.
      It is like the word "special". Each of us is "special" because there are nobody else exactly like us, and even if there were, both duplicates would not occupy the same position at the same time. On the other hand, none of are "special" because we are all abiding the same physical laws that are the same for every one of us, as it is for pebbles, and stars.
      If you can show a bias in the laws of physics that single one or more of us out to be special, for instance by treating us different than pebbles, you would have introduced a paradigm change in physics, and be almost certain to win the Nobel Prize!

    24. Yes. I did not know what strong emergence was, so I read the Wikipedia article. I see some of the skepticism about it is based on the notion that it resembles magic because you cannot deduce its properties by looking at the properties of the micro elements. I am a computer programmer, so that is not magic at all for me. A computer running a program can do things you would not be able to deduce by looking at the constituent silicon gates. Only when everything is in place down to the last comma of the programming language, will the computer do the task. Consciousness is a bit more tricky because we do not just have the physical components, but the program needs to click in place of itself, and that is the hard part.

    25. No. The program is just a specific organization of the micro-elements.
      There is a class of programs called "neural programs" that work by being an idealised version of how our brain works. This kind of program will have a certain number of "neurons" that can influence each other in certain ways reminiscent of how our brain neurons work. A neural program is taught to give a certain output based on a certain input. It could be used, for example to let a bank analyse which of its customers are white-washing money for organised crime. It is taught by feeding it with tons of data about customers for which it is know that they are criminals or that they are not criminals. In the beginning, the neural program simply answers at random, because it is untrained, but each correct answer will be given a positive stimulus, and each wrong answer will give a negative stimulus. These stimuli are used by the program to alter the values of the internal pathways between the "neurons", and gradually the neural program becomes better and better at doing the job for which it is trained.
      Eventually, the neural program should be able to do this analysis better, or at least faster than humans, and at that point a snapshot is taken of the internal values of the neurons and pathways, and the neural program can always be loaded with these values which will result in the program being able to do the same task at the same level of proficiency.
      This is not an intelligent program, but the point is that nobody knows how the neural program achieves the result that it does. We cannot look at those neural values and say "this is a program to analyse bank data for white-washing".
      In other words, we cannot look at the constituent parts and tell what this program is doing.

    26. Computer programs are analogous to consciousness, and nothing “magical” about them.

    27. Why are you special?

    28. What mean by “now” coinciding with your existence?

    29. Ignore our current scientific understanding that explains why you exist now.

    30. For you to be able to conclude anything, you would have to compare the probability with the probability of your existing at any other moment.

    31. Pattern recognition is in our head – the patterns are not real.

    32. There is no rational way to rule out coincidence.

    33. But your way of starting with the target and then working out the improbabilities is still wrong.

    34. Without the body, there is no mind. If the body is dead, then so is the mind.

    35. Consciousness a PATTERN – neither matter nor energy.

    36. What would eternal consciousness explain that sci model does not?

    37. One divided by infinity – not quantum physics.

    38. Occam’s razor – we already have satisfactory explanation for consciousness.

    39. There are probably more objections I should respond to, but for now, I can’t remember what they are.