Monday, June 9, 2014

Amor Fati: The Best Way to Die


I'm pretty sure I've figured it out, the vital question that I've been considering on and off for the past year or so, the question of how to have a peaceful death, of how to ward off feelings of terror and despair. To avoid being cryptic, I'll clarify my thought process, which tends to be scattered and anomalous.

I've been living fairly recklessly for the past several years. I see no need to go into specifics- my youthful idiocy has nothing to do with the topic at hand- but many of you know what I mean (or have a silly, unrealistic perspective on what I mean) and I think that's sufficient. Anyway, as justification for my actions I often tell people that I'm not afraid to die, that I love my lifestyle so much that if it kills me, I'll be cool with that. Now, that's not bullshit. I'm really not afraid of dying. It has to happen at some point so why worry too much about it? However, my skepticism causes me to wonder if I'll always feel that way, that if I die young because of some stupid shit I'll be afraid and loath myself.

I often imagine myself getting diagnosed with lung cancer (a very real scenario for me). How would I feel about that? In my head, in this detached state, I feel that that would be a good motivator. I feel that it would spur me on to do everything I've ever wanted to do, without apprehension or fear. But what if I was really in that position? There's a big difference between viewing scenarios from the outside and actually experiencing them. Would I be afraid? Would I damn my stupidity?

I know I would recall memories of my younger self, sitting with my best friends, smoking and laughing, justifying our tobacco abuse with bullshit like "I've known plenty of old people who smoked their whole lives and died at 85" or "If we do get cancer, it'll be so far in the future that they'll have prosthetic lungs or a cancer cure that'll save us". Would I look at those memories with contempt? Would I wish to change anything?

This truly is a large concern of mine. Peace is the most elusive mental state, and I believe that it's the most important. Imagine the terror of dying with self-hatred. Imagine dying whilst denying everything that you once believed. That's the most agonizing thing I can think of. Losing ones life is one thing, but losing ones soul, their compelling life force, that's another thing entirely.

My contemplation of this has largely been quite bad, really. Rather than evaluating and confronting the problem, I shrugged it off for a long time, thinking my concerns to be paranoia, mere representations of improbable scenarios. However, a shrug never accomplishes anything good. It promotes blissful ignorance which leads to painful collapse when it is inevitably eradicated by painful realizations. I have escaped this, I think. I think I have found a suitable solution to my problem.

I was just remembering. You should try it, it's great. I was wandering around with my friend talking about the past. As I spoke, I recalled things in heightened vividity. I could recall tastes, smells, textures... everything. It was beautiful shock. I looked at where I was years ago, my outlooks, my opinions, my feelings, my surroundings. I could see it all, and it shocked me. I think I've progressed, grown into something stronger. I'm smarter, I think more critically, I'm less effected by the painful realities of life. However, I can see where I've digressed as well. I'm less romantic, more cynical, far more arrogant. A survey of my differences over time can't lead me to any sort of consensus on whether or not I've become a better person. I don't know if I've risen from any ashes. I don't even know if I've ever been in ashes. What I do know is that I've changed. I've experienced things. I've been human. As I contemplate this simple fact, I'm filled with peace.

If I lay on my death bed, with terminal lung cancer, rather than being disgusted with my idealistic, reckless, younger self, I want to be nostalgic. I want to remember how good all that decadence felt, how well it fit my disposition. I want to feel lucky that I got to be a living, breathing, aching, confused, beautiful human being for however long I get. And I think I can do that with the help of simple remembrances of the journey I'll have gotten to take, and the people I'll have met along the way.

Changes are beautiful, and life contains many of them. We must strive to accept all of them. We must realize that every moment is unique. We must look for beauty in everything. We must endeavor to see the world like Ricky Fitts.


None of this is easy, and often, none of it really makes sense. But reason and existentialism seldom coincide and often defying rationality is the best way to find something of substance to live for. I'm slowly finding that. I truly think that the best way to die is to develop an acceptance of all things. 

For your contemplation, I'll close with some Nietzsche. 

"I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kant, Transcendental Idealism, and the Nature of Reality


"We have therefore wanted to say that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of appearance; that the things that we intuit are not in themselves what we intuit them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in themselves as they appear to us; and that if we remove our own subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, then all constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves would disappear, and as appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the case with objects in themselves and abstracted from all this receptivity of our sensibility remains entirely unknown to us. We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being, though to be sure it pertains to every human being. We are concerned solely with this. Space and time are its pure forms, sensation in general its matter. We can cognize only the former a priori, i.e., prior to all actual perception, and they are therefore called pure intuition; the latter, however, is that in our cognition that is responsible for its being called a posteriori cognition, i.e., empirical intuition. The former adheres to our sensibility absolutely necessarily, whatever sort of sensations we may have; the latter can be very different." 

- Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

In a recent online discussion, I got to talk about epistemology. My views (for the most part) mirror Immanuel Kant's- that reality is a human construct.... My friend disagreed. I will post both of our responses for you enjoyment. Comment below! I'm interested in your preference between the two or some other view (if that's even possible).

The initial question...

Rus: What would you say is your epistemology? Would you say you can only believe things that are observable, testable, verifiable facts or logical building on those facts? So that the scientific method is the only means to truth, aside from human rationality or formal logic?

Me: Let's take into account what belief is, how strong it is, and what power it holds. Belief is an inclination that motivates individuals on specific courses of action. Some can be very strong, and shattered by very little. Some are wavering and subject to contrary opinions predicated on "stronger" evidence. Also, beliefs can only do certain things. Some beliefs have a strong influence on an individual, others do not. We cannot simply apply objects or concepts to our supposed beliefs- that is incredibly inadequate. We must describe strength, scope, and flexibility- all on an individual basis. Furthermore, we cannot assume that there is anything inherent to our beliefs. They are like liquid, constantly forming and reforming. This is epistemology. It is by no means simple, and measuring it is very theoretical.

I will set some standards: 1-10.

Strength of belief:

  • 1- a slight inclination that is very subject to change 
  • 10- a belief that is so strong, so ingrained within me that I don't think I'll ever loose it. 
Influence:

  • 1- occasionally influences my life in small ways. 
  • 10- has a profound effect on everything I say and do, constantly.
Now that I've established these parameters, I will attempt your questions. I can "believe" things that are not observable, testable, scientific facts, but my faith in these beliefs is quite weak, and I wouldn't expect others to believe in them.

Observe the following:
  • Earth is spherical and rotates around the sun. S:10 I:2
  • Love is a bitch, but I'll find it eventually and live a happier life because of it. S:4 I:7
As you can see, every belief that I have is to a different degree in different areas. The second claim is not scientific, so it's not rated strongly (4).

Also, I don't expect anyone to adhere to anything that is not scientific or reasonable.

Understand that there is no truth, not really. It is a human construct. All we have is our perception of it which is as amorphous as the makeup of our beliefs. However, that is not to say that existence is futile. We are capable of ascertaining common threads of truth- phenomenal truths (as Kant would say). We should attempt to compile a helpful working knowledge whenever we can, but it is merely the product of perception, not some overarching "truth".

I still think that since our only way to ascertain information is through a multitude of human minds, "truth" is flexible. The human mind is limited and often deceived; therefore, truth, its product, is limited and often deceived as well. If this is not the case, we will probably never know because we can only ascertain truth through our minds.

With this in mind, I think that the scientific method is best for ascertaining truth. Other ways are epistemic, but they aren't as reliable.

Rus: This is very informing. It was good that you decided to address epistemology in your post, because that seems to be one of the fundamental differences in our understandings. You said "Belief is an inclination that motivates individuals on specific courses of action." That, even in itself, is something I would disagree on. I would define belief not as an inclination, but as a perception of what the world is. The distinction is important, because perceptions can be objectively true or false (even if it is difficult to determine which a particular belief might be) and inclinations are merely drives within humans that often have no inherent basis in reality, like you said. One may be experiencing a certain inclination as a result of a specific belief, but this is only the effect of a person's perception, not the belief itself. Or, similarly, one could hold a belief that has no significant influence on one's actions at all. I would agree with you that the earth is spherical (or slightly oblong, like an egg) and that it orbits around the sun (not rotates), as well as that the universe is basically comprised of a curved "fabric" of space-time and that there are eight or nine planets orbiting our sun, along with Pluto, the asteroid belt, and other assorted junk. This is how I perceive the universe, which may or may not be wrong. However, I would argue that these beliefs have no direct influence on my life and the actions I take at all. If someone asks me about what I believe about the universe, I will probably answer as I just have; in this sense, the beliefs may be said to "influence" my actions. It may also produce a sense of wonder or interest in how I look at the world, which may cause me be behave in a way that is less jaded. However, this "influence" is not the defining aspect of my belief, nor does it have a direct effect on my living. These are only a secondary aspects, and the belief itself is more a matter of perception. My belief about the universe is the picture I have of it in my head, and the influences come out of that belief.

Or, to give a more concrete example, I may believe that there are cookies in a cabinet in my kitchen. This may cause me to go to the cabinet in search of those cookies, but, again, that is not what really defines my belief. My inclination to go to the cabinet would be my liking of cookies, which is a subjective opinion. Other people may not like them, and the idea that cookies are good to eat has no inherent basis in reality. The inclination is affected by my beliefs, such as that there are, in fact, cookies in the cabinet and that cookies are not too unhealthy to be eaten. But these beliefs are pictures or perceptions of objective reality, and when I get to the cabinet I will be either gratified or disappointed, because my belief must be either true or false. In the same way, I would describe all beliefs as perceptions of the objective world, which may be either true or false. They are the pictures we have in our heads, and pictures must be OF something. Determining the truth is determining how accurate these pictures are by comparing them to the world outside our minds and seeing how closely they line up or where they fail to correspond to one another.

You also say that there is no truth, because all we have is our perceptions, which I think is a very important point. Even if all we have is our amorphous perceptions, that does not mean that there is no objective world out there which we may fail to perceive. To say that all supposed truth is ultimately unverifiable because human perception is fallible is one thing; that would simply mean that people are subject to the possibility of being wrong a lot of the time. To say that there is no truth, or that truth is the result of our own minds' creation, is another.

Who do you think is right?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Existential Dread


I feel compelled to discuss how I've been feeling for the past several years. I realize that it's egotistical and childish, but I'm going to do it anyway. My discretion has always been limited.

For those of you who don't know me very well, I'm sure that I seem fairly well put together. Many people have an image of me that really isn't that accurate. A lot of people think I'm smart, or talented, or enlightened (that one surprised me), but the truth is that I'm none of those things. I certainly don't think so.

I teeter on the edge of existential crisis everyday. I wake up in the morning, and try to justify my getting up. I hate living. I hate life. There seems to be something contemptible in everything that I see- something malicious and untrustworthy in every person, creature, or institution. Sincere gestures are lost upon me and I see nothing but evil in my fellow man.

Daily I recede into myself and contemplate the meaning of life and suffering (the most important questions ever posed). I find no answers. My credulity seldom shows itself and I'm left in profound confusion at every turn. Nihilism is the only reasonable conclusion.

I find no solace in my capabilities as meager as they certainly are, and each day drags on too long- endless hours... sleepless nights. I can't fucking sleep anymore. I'm up until 3 each morning, brooding, my emotions boiling up to something resembling motivation and then receding into apathy.

A sort of cosmic horror plagues me, and I can't help but feel that we're all so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, waiting to be wiped away by a gargantuan asteroid or the push of button. There is no peace and I'm not inclined to think that there ever will be.

My dreams of day are of future achievements that I feel incapable of reaching, and my dreams of night are haunted by the agonies of years past. These terrors trap me in the banality of the present where my inhibitions consistently fail me. Living in the moment is not a skill that I have. So much passes me by. I miss it because my eyes are fixed on the ever-dimming horizon, the seemingly impossible future that I need to self-actualize.

I don't eat anymore either it seems. Sometimes I'll think about my diet and realize that I haven't eaten in a day. I don't know how it happens, but it does. It seems rather unimportant. What am I sustaining but my discomfort? Every time I feed myself my depression dines as well. It never leaves nor forsakes me, and as faithful a companion as it's been, I do detest it. It is the bane of my existence.

No longer do the vices of man entice me as they used to. They no longer excite me. No, they anesthetize me, put me into a blissful ignorance. If I keep doing what I'm doing though, I probably won't live long.

I am a failure.

My splash has been and will be pathetic.

I am going to die alone.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Misogyny, Censorship, and the Importance of Viceral Imagery in Artistic Expression

Oh my god everybody, I've been soooo busy lately. I know I'm neglecting this blog and I loath myself for it. Truly, I'm thinking up ways to punish myself as I write this- maybe something involving unpleasant food and/or public humiliation. Anyway, I'm sorry.

On to the topics at hand....

I've been thinking a lot lately about the content in music. I've grown up in a very sheltered household and for many years I was not allowed to listen to any music other than Christian music. I spent years digesting the great Christian artists of our time: Toby Mac, Family Force Five, Kutless- all that shit.

(On a side note, this is a really interesting article on Christian music written by a Christian)

My passions have become more reposed over the years as I've matured; I don't resent my upbringing because that sentiment seldom yields anything but unpleasant emotion. But I am fairly certain that the indiscretions of my parents have led to many of my positions. One of these positions has always been the following:

There is no music that I should avoid because of its "explicit" content. 

I've listened to a lot of vulgar shit over the years and I still count many lewd artists among my favorites (Eminem, Tyler the Creator, Slayer, etc.), but lately I've been disconcerted by many of the things condoned in music.

I love rap music. Seriously, I fucking love it, I probably know more about it than most people- it's always interested me. However, there are some rap songs that make me uncomfortable, primarily because of the misogyny that can be found within their lyrics. Now don't get me wrong, I hate women. Women are devious, scheming, wretched creatures who have come to this Earth to entice the passions of man and then break his balls; to create an aesthetic that motivates the highest degrees of desire and then use that power to subjugate; to do whatever they want to do and blame the opposite gender when that pursuit is impeded; to maim, break and destroy all in their paths. But I digress... I don't like or trust women right now. I don't think I've been fucked over that badly- I'm probably just sensitive. In time, my paradigm will inevitably shift.

I do think I've retained an iota of romanticism, and furthermore, respect for the female gender. It seems reasonable that my discomfort regarding misogyny in music stems from what glimmers of virtue still flicker from my broken heart (God, that makes me sound like a pussy, but I'm not going to act all macho and hard... fuck that).

If you're unaware of exactly what I'm talking about, listen to the following song:


So in this marvelous song, we have Weezy chilling with his modern-day concubine, and they fuck like nobody's business. Scratch that, it's everyone's business, or at least Wayne seems to think so- I mean he shares it with the whole world in the song. This woman is amazing, she makes him cum 100 times. That's crazy... I don't think I could do that- it sounds really hard. I guess this is Lil Wayne though, his anatomy probably transcends those of most people. 

More seriously though, I'm split on this song. I like it. It's dope- Lil Wayne is a good rapper, but its soooooo misogynistic. He's basically saying that this superwhore won't get clothing and accessories unless she fucks his brains out. This is America, women are supposed to have rights here. 

Your opinions on my assertions are a litmus test on how desensitized you are to this sort of thing. SO often I'll find myself in a car with normal, (generally) upstanding guys who don't gangbang or hit their women and all of a sudden, they're all headbanging to this misogynistic music. It's so strange how easily we can condone such things. 

That's not to say that music- artistic expression- should be in any way limited. I shudder when I hear of parents sheltering their children from the culture of music. Censorship is an atrocity. Even fucked up people should be allowed to share their art with the world- with whoever will listen. Art is art, you can't quantify it, label it, or restrict it. It's fluid- something immaterial flowing through material conduits (whatever they may be). 

When I think of misogyny in the arts, through an artistic lens, much of my contempt for it is diminished. The above song isn't really literal. Ask Boromir...


I see this as a fantasy, the imaginings of drug addict suffering from nymphomania. Lil Wayne probably doesn't do that shit, I mean come on, rappers are so fake now. These days, the most dangerous shots they take at one another are through Twitter which can wound egos, but not physical bodies. Wayne is fantasizing, and sharing his visceral imaginings with the world. 

This happens all the time, and its really quite powerful. Let's think about metal music for a second. The majority of metal involves lyrics promoting violence, torture, rape, demon worship, and other nastiness. It's so crazy and out-there that we don't take it seriously (unless we're fucking stupid fundamentalist Christians). "Questionable" lyrics create imagery that empowers the art. It stimulates the imagination. 

So I think that my original premise holds. In my mind, I can extenuate misogyny in music with an observance of the power of visceral imagery in artistic expression and a realistic survey of the consequences associated with such music. 

As always I'm eager to hear what any and all of you think about all this.



Friday, March 21, 2014

My Atheism Explained and Defended: Part 2

Sam Harris (because he's so god damned photogenic...)

A lot of interesting debate and discussion has begun as a result of this blog post. Interestingly enough, the majority of it regards epistemology (how we know what we know). I had suspected that the post would quickly digress into a shouting match where people with varying worldviews would point out the moral discrepancies of religious people and atheists. It didn't, which was nice... I'd like to take this opportunity to discuss some things that were debated directly following the first post on atheism.

Burden of Proof

One prominent argument made for theism challenged my assertion that the theist carried the burden of proof. As soon as that assertion was challenged my immediate response was, "Shit, things just got way more complected." I've always thought that the easiest way to discuss things with people in a persuasive manner was to make claims that the majority of people would agree with without much hesitation. Things move more quickly that way. But often I'm not given the ease that I adore and I must exert myself. Discussion on Facebook (on the comments section and in personal messages) made me do just that.

One notable argument proposed by two Christians on Facebook posited that since theism and atheism are both epistemological assertions, they carry equal burdens of proof. This means that theism must provide evidence that there is a god, and atheism must provide evidence that there is not a god.

Consider the following quote from a Christian who commented:
"Tim, I think it's interesting that you defend atheism, yet try to avoid the responsibility of any burden of proof. Atheism is not merely disbelief in the existence of God, but rather it is an epistemic assertion that there is indeed no God! Surely theism AND atheism, both making a claim to knowledge, bear an equal burden...

I think in many ways this argument centers around inherency (no debaters, I'm not referring to the inherency you're familiar with from policy debate). Consider the following three claims:

  1. I don't think that there is anything inherent to the human mind that assumes the existence of a deity.
  2. If there is, that doesn't mean that the supposed magnitude of that assumption merits challenge.
  3. As a general rule of thumb, it is best to form our metaphysics on the basis of observable scientific phenomena because historically that basis provides the most accurate representation of reality.

In challenge to my first claim, the theist would most likely suggest that the intricacy of the universe makes man look to a higher power. Firstly, I'd like to note that this isn't the case with all people. I'm sure we've all met with people who aren't religious and have always regarded the supernatural as bullshit. Just because some people ascribe existence to a higher power, does not mean that that tendency is a tenet of human nature. Proving that it is seems very difficult. Secondly, I'd like to note that that tendency regards belief in a higher power, not necessarily a god. There is a distinction. I'd hate for any of you to think that the definition of theism is open-ended. There are couple of things that we must note within the definition of theism:

  • Singularity- God is a singular entity, not an intangible, amorphous blob of creating power.
  • Context- Theism is generally used to describe monotheists who subscribe to a specific religion (Judaism, Islam, Christianity, etc.).

Realize that everyone who believes in a higher power is not necessarily a theist. In order to be a theist, the power that you believe in must be singular. Aside from that, the term theism describes groups of people who adhere to specific religions. Ergo, theism isn't a concept that refers to the supposed inherent ascription of existence to a deity. The semantics are important. Now, if anyone wants to debate supernaturalism vs. naturalism, feel free, but understand that that is a separate debate and I'd wager that our knowledge regarding it is so limited that the discussion would be rather uninteresting (I know it would be for me). I think I've beat that horse as much as I can. I realize that my first claim is difficult to back up and I'm not deluded into thinking that many of you strongly disagree with me. However, even if claim 1 fails, I think that claims 2 and 3 provide a solid defense.

With that in mind, let's move to my second and third claim...

Even if I'm wrong and humans inherently tend to ascribe existence to a deity (theism), I don't think that that tendency would merit the epistemological paradigm change that many Christian people on the comment section thought it should. What I mean by this is that the burden of proof should not rest on the atheist even if most people ascribe existence to a higher power. Before I proceed to defend this position, I think it'd behoove me to frame the argument.

As I read this, I'm becoming worried that this entire section of the blog (on burden of proof) will be incomprehensible to many of you. Therefore, I'm going to try to frame the argument as best I can so we don't lose track of our premises. Now the main contention that was listed on the comment section on Facebook posited that atheism must substantiate its claim by proving that there is no god. One of the commenters said that this must be done using positive evidence. Doing this is impossible, but I'll get to that in the next section. What I'm trying to show through my three claims is that the burden of proof ought to rest on the theist.

I simply think that challenging theism is most logical. It does not seem logical to challenge atheism because there is not substantial evidence to back up theism. Before the theist can require substantiality of the atheist he must substantiate his own claims (something that literally everyone who commented failed to attempt). I'm now scratching at my third claim. How can the atheist disprove something that hasn't been proved? What observable, scientific evidence is there for god? There isn't any. How is the atheist to attack a virtually untenable position when its claims do not rest on his the epistemic basis of his own claims? I commented on this frequently in the discussion. Theism and atheism are conclusions drawn from entirely different epistemologies. It is very difficult to attack someone's knowledge claim if it is not founded upon the epistemological basis that you require your truth to be founded upon. With that being said, understand that when any of you ask me to disprove your belief in theism, I have no idea how to approach it because the basis that my claims rest on are different than yours.

Which raises the question, is my epistemology better than yours, and if so, why? This boils down to a question of morality. As an atheist, I found my epistemology on science, observable factors, etc. Theists on the other hand are content to explain what they don't understand by ascribing it to the supernatural (more specifically a deity) who transcends them. Seemingly, this claim is made on mostly faith. (It's difficult to make an objective proclamation here because no one on the comments section laid out arguments advocating theism [aside from the intricacy of the universe]). So if we attribute the cause of specific effects to theism and/or atheism, then these effects can be morally assessed. I would make the claim that claims based on science produce substantial good effects and claims based on faith produce substantial ill effects. One of my moral tendencies is attempting to maximize human well-being. This tendency has been put on a pedestal by Dr. Sam Harris in his The Moral Landscape, a book which attempted to use science to support objective morality. Personally, I don't draw the same conclusions as Dr. Harris in regards to objective morality, but I do support his moral claim- I think that most of us would. So understand that my moral claims are made with the goal of maximizing human well-being. Consider the following table regarding the history of both faith and science:

 

These are just a few instances that show that people who make their claims with science cause better effects than people who make their claims with faith. This argument is definitely broader and more nuanced than I'm making it out to be, but understand my reasoning all the same. From what I've observed in my lifetime and in my historical studies, science leads to a good understanding of reality (by extension maximizing human happiness/well-being) and faith (often) leads to a bad understanding of reality and the diminishing of human happiness (my claims on morality and reality are my own views and I'm not saying that they necessarily apply to everyone, but we're all pretty sensible and I think you'll agree that science does a good job describing reality and that our moralities ought to try to maximize human happiness/well-being).

So let me bring everything back together because I feel like that was all pretty confusing. Man's inherent positions should be given considerable sway in the matter of whether theism or atheism should bear the burden of proof in epistemological debates. I don't think man has any reason to suppose that there is a god (claim 1). Even if mankind has a tendency to ascribe the unexplained to a higher power, that power is not necessarily theistic leaving man's inherent position undefined. I really couldn't say that atheism is man's default position- I feel I would be unable to substantiate that claim. But I do think that regardless of whatever belief is inherent within mankind, theism should still carry the burden of proof. I think this because I think that the most unsubstantiated claim should carry the burden of proof. I think that theism has not been substantiated because there is no observable, scientific evidence to back it up. Science is important because it leads to a good understanding of reality, whereas faith does not. These are the main reasons why I believe theism bears the burden of proof and atheism is left to assess that proof.

Positive Evidence

As I've already stated, one of the Christians who debated me after the first atheism post said that to support atheism, on must present positive evidence against the existence of god. I attempted to do so, but I don't think I made myself very clear. I'd like to approach this argument from an epistemological angle to try to explain myself more clearly.

So what my Christian friend is basically saying is that it isn't enough to merely doubt god, one must present evidence that disproves his existence. I don't see how this is possible, and in this section I'm going to elaborate on why I hold this position. 

Now, a very intelligent Christian that I've known for awhile named Andy B. recently sent me a lengthy PM in response to the first atheism post. It was REALLY LONG so Andy, I'm sorry I haven't responded, I just don't have time to write detailed responses to messages that would give most college essays a run for their money. But he was asking me questions about something very similar to this. He wanted to know what would prove theism to me. To run with the premise, he outlined a few things that would disprove theism and (in essence) prove atheism to him. Here's what he outlined:

  • Evidence that the universe is metaphysically necessary and/or eternal;
  • Evidence or argumentation for the truth of the exclusivity of naturalism (or materialism);
  • Probabilistic argumentation that sufficiently overcomes theistic probabilistic argumentation (within the framework of a comprehensive probability calculus).
I don't expect most of you to understand what he said, but understand the meaning behind it. Andy outlined specific things that would disprove god. But I must respond by saying, how can you disprove god? The faith that theism is based upon supersedes everything that he just outlined to the theist. Ergo, the scientist can use whatever logic or reasoning that he wants to make a seemingly airtight argument for something but since faith in a deity (for the majority of theists) comes before science and logic, the argument fails.

I think it would behoove me to constrain this argument to Christianity because theism is so broad. Considering the reality of the situation and the backgrounds of my audience, Christianity is an ideal target. Truly, most theists subscribe to a specific monotheistic religion (Christianity, Islam, etc.); therefore, discussing the views held by Christians is quite relevant.

In Christianity (as in most monotheistic constructs), god is transcendental. He's above everything that we comprehend, everything that we can organize and debate and discuss. He's above science and reason and logic and everything that the intellectual holds dear. The following passage of scripture shows this quite clearly:

"For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…" (1 Corinthians 1:19-20)

So basically if the atheist meets any of Andy's criteria and "proves" atheism, Andy could always just say that our reasoning is limited and god's is not. Most Christians would get behind that pretty quickly. Our metaphysics is clearly defined and gods is not. In fact, god supposedly created our metaphysics. He created everything that we see and attempt to understand and if he says that he he created it all in a way that confuses people, it only makes sense that the Christian cannot support his claims, right?

What I'm getting at is that there is no evidence that is sufficient to disprove god to the theist. God is supposedly above man, so man is incapable of disproving him. How are we to disprove something that is transcendental? Frankly, I don't see how we can. 

Does this mean that we should all just shrug our shoulders and concede the theism saying, "Well, if god is above me, I guess I ought to stop arguing against him and fall in line..." No, I've already discussed pretty clear epistemological and moral reasons why we should not do this. However, to the theist, with his limited epistemology and hard-hardheadedness (nothing personal guys), there is nothing that constitutes positive evidence that is sufficient in disproving theism. As science has progressed, the intellectual community has drifted from religious viewpoints. The consensus seems to be that (as Nietzsche famously stated) God is dead! And yet, religion lives on...

How is this possible? If people were reasonable and abstained from believing in faith-based arguments then religion would no longer have a foothold. But many people are content to believe in religion simply because they have been taught to have faith in it. If this is truly the basis of their belief, how can an atheist dissuade them? How can a transcendental god be dissected and proved to be false? He cannot, positive evidence is meaningless to the theist.

Faith?

A gentleman by the name of Marsh has maintained that there is an element of faith to atheism- that is, the faith that there is no god. I agree with him in one sense and strongly disagree in another. I'll start by defining faith as it pertains to religion and worldview: 

Faith: strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

So, to make things a little more fair, I'll cross out the god and religion part...

Faith: strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion (something), based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

This sort of spiritual apprehension is basically believing in something without any reason to do so. This is how I've always considered faith. The atheist does not do that, or at least I do not do that. 

I do agree with Mr. Marsh inasmuch as there is an element of faith in everything. When I say faith in this instance, I mean strong trust in something though. For instance, when you sit in a chair, you have "faith" that it will hold you. Intellectuals tend to be quite skeptical and I for one could identify an uncertainty in almost everything. With that being said, I suppose, in my day-to-day activities I have to trust in my actions (or have "faith"). However, everything that I do and believe has reasoning or proof behind it, whereas theism (which relies on faith) does not. 

I hope you all find this intellectually stimulating!



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Suicide Sucks


I'm a sociopath. At least I think so. I'm very selfish and solipsistic. With this in mind, understand that I very seldom feel bad for anyone, and if I do, I'll get over it quickly. I try not to be an asshole, but it's hard for me. It's in my nature to be an asshole...

This feature of my personality has spawned some interesting existential beliefs for me- many of which would be disconcerting to most people. I've always thought that people should make their own decisions- that one should look after himself before others. This has never impeded my altruism personally because I enjoy altruistic endeavors. I don't know why, I just do... But I don't think anyone should be obligated to look after his neighbor. That sort of thinking seems rather corrosive to the happiness of the individual. We all think, reason, and feel differently and we are the only ones who can justify our actions and positions. We do this for ourselves- we do pretty much everything for ourselves (self-interest theory).

I've always thought that suicide was okay and that if someone decided within himself that he didn't want to live, that was his decision to make. Of course it affects other people, but that doesn't mean that his freedom should be taken from him. We are already so limited as humans. I've never understood why we would want to limit ourselves more. Perhaps, it's an extension of humanity's masochistic streak which is apparent throughout history. Regardless, I've always been a firm believer in a loose morality.

"Do what thou wilt!"

I haven't really disposed of that view. What I believe for myself is based off of observations that are solely my own and should not be applied to everyone. I'm not deluded into thinking that my truth is absolute or applicable to everyone. However, recently I've been convinced that I think I'm unable to commit suicide.

(Now, most of you will know who I'm going to be talking about. Few secrets have been kept regarding what I am going to now discuss, but regardless, I'm not going to name names...)

A few days ago, one of my closest friends tried to kill himself. He's in the hospital now, recovering from some serious injuries. When I first heard what had happened, I was stunned, but emotionally detached. This could have been a result of the stunning or my sociopathy. I can only speculate... But I kept thinking about what life would be like without the guy. I spend a lot of time with him and we're pretty close. There'd be a void in my life if he left me. I kept imagining what life would be like without him... scary shit. I experienced some adverse emotions because of this, but they weren't a big deal. I'm generally pretty good about compartmentalizing that sort of thing.

Now,  I was at a debate tournament and was unable to visit him until two days after the accident. I tried to avoid thinking about it too much up until I went to visit him. When I did, my defenses were broken. He was really fucked up: glass cuts, broken bones, glazed expression. I could tell he was in pain. It was very hard to see him like that. I hugged him when I entered and was afraid I was going to hurt him (which is ironic because he weighs twice as much as me). I held his hand as we talked. It was sickening to see him there- lying in a fucking bed, beat to shit, just escaping death. They say proximity makes emotions more vivid. I can attest to that now... I was pretty distraught after I left. I kept myself together until I was alone, but when I was alone I sort of broke down. I didn't cry or anything (I'm not a pussy :-) ) but I was very pained by what my friend did to himself. I felt pain that I had only postulated about prior to the incident. It was surreal and real simultaneously.

Now, if someone as sociopathic as me can feel pain like that, I can only imagine what my friend's more empathetic acquaintances felt (his family, other friends, etc.). I don't think I'll be able to kill myself because it'd kill me (pardon the phrase) to put my friends and family through what I felt when my friend tried to kill himself. It sucks that he had to fucking do this to show me that, but I learned all the same. Suicide sucks, and I'll try to never do it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Atheism Explained and Defended: Part 1


Recently I've become aware of how dismissive many people are of my metaphysical views. There are so many assumptions that are made about atheism, and I think it's time for me to explain my own. Like Christianity, there isn't just one form of atheism. There isn't a giant book that says what makes a person an atheist and what doesn't. Of course, atheism is predicated on the belief that there is no god, but its practitioner's corollaries to that belief are very nuanced and often contradictory.

Explained:

The explanation of my atheism is quite concise. There is nothing that I have seen or experienced in my life that suggests the existence of a god. That's it. The burden of proof is not on me to disprove the existence of god. The burden is on the Christian, and until someone shows me substantial proof, I will not believe. My Atheism is a result of my epistemology. I cannot base my worldview on mere faith.

Defended:

Now, when examining any of our knowledge claims, we must apply rigorous questions to every claim that we make. As Hume observed, we cannot continue our reasonings ad infinitum, but that does not mean that we cannot make knowledge claims. No, at some point, we will have to use the information that we have obtained and apply it to meaningful actions. With this in mind, understand that skepticism only functions as a motivator to obtain more knowledge (before making knowledge claims) and a promoter of humility. This brings me to the faith argument that many of my Christian friends have used to try to shoot down my atheism.

Faith Argument

Recently, two of my friends said that it took just as much faith to be an atheist as it did to be a Christian. This argument rested on the observation made above: that we must stop our reasonings at some point and commit actions using the information we have obtained (regardless of how inadequate it seems). My friends posit that everyone must live their lives with an element of faith. One common metaphor that they use is the chair metaphor, that when you sit in a chair, you have "faith" that it will hold your weight.

I find their position absurd for two reasons. Firstly because the context and degree of faith is entirely different between Christians and Atheists, and secondly because of something that I like to call absolute faith (I will explain this later).

As for context, my friends are correct in saying that we all must have faith at some point in our lives (like when we sit in a chair), but that doesn't mean that all faith is equivalent or refers to the same things. Though the atheist has faith in the sturdiness of the inanimate objects around him, he does not have faith in the infallibility of an ancient book, he does not have faith that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, god who existed before time, and he does not have faith that this ancient ego is loving and entirely separated from sin or (more pointedly) moral judgement. Christians have faith in all of these things, and an atheist does not. Clearly there are contextual differences between the two belief systems. The degrees of both should be apparent. Obviously, there is a huge difference between having faith in the above mentioned claims of Christianity and in the sturdiness of inanimate objects such as chairs.

As for absolute faith, I think that there are claims that Christians make solely on the basis of faith that an atheist would never make. Most of these claims refer to claims made in the Bible. They are innumerable, but here are some examples: god loves ME, he loves ME so much he helped me get the promotion I wanted, he loves ME so much he helped me find a cheap insurance policy for my new car, he loves ME so much he allowed the (republican :-) ) candidate I liked to win the election. Christians believe in God and then base literally everything that they don't understand or can't explain off of faith- absolute faith. An atheist would never do this. This is absurd.

So in summation, the faiths of Atheists and Christians are not equivocal, and I hope that this analysis shows that Christians need FAR more faith than atheists do.

Tenability and Causation

Yesterday, a church leader told me that atheism is not tenable because I cannot know if there is not a god and I cannot explain the existence of the universe without him. This goes back to the burden of proof that I mentioned above. It is not my burden to disprove god, it is the Christian's burden to prove his existence to me.

As far as causation goes, god is not the only explanation for the universe. Consider the following except from my critique of Christianity (which will be made available on the Kindle store in a 3-8 months depending on how much time I can find to complete it):

"It should be noted that neither argument (Creationism or Big Bang Theory) really grasps the concept of 'creation' in a complete way. Both models attempt to answer the question 'How does something (the Earth in this instance) come from nothing?'. The Big Bang explains this by positing that heat created sub-atomic particles during a 'big bang' and these particles eventually assembled creating the world. Though it explains causation to an extent, there are still objects associated with this cause. These being the parameters of the universe and the physical property heat. Neither of these are nothing. They are just the absence of particles- of matter.  

Creationism, on the other hand, attributes causation to God. God has always existed and created the universe as we know it. Obviously, this has no scientific basis. Aside from that obvious flaw, creationism in many ways raises more questions than it answers. Was God created? Has he always existed?  Does he habitat our universe or is he separate from it? And if he is separate from it, what sort of metaphysical properties are contained within God’s habitat? These sorts of questions are the basis of Hitchen’s Razor, which builds off of Occam’s Razor, which admonishes the philosopher to discard unnecessary assumptions. Ergo, since creationism creates unnecessary assumptions and raises more questions than need to be answered, it seems that big bang is the most logical conclusion in the debate.

As for creationism's inability to  grasp the concept of creation in a complete way, the theory’s shortcoming is similar to that of Big-Bang. Though it defines our world’s cause, there are still things that precede creation. We know for certain (from a creationist perspective) that God preceded creation; therefore, how something can come from nothing is still unanswered. In both models, it seems that everything has a cause. This is likely because human being are unable to judge things in any other way."

When we reason, cause and effect is a vital consideration, and when we consider a cause, we cannot conceive of it being nothing. Therefore, in a sense, all explanations of the origins of our universe are lacking. So, regarding causation, all metaphysics are somewhat untenable. 

This does not mean that atheism fails, it is simply a testament to the limitations of the human mind. Furthermore, as I mentioned in that passage, scientific theories (like Big Bang) should be preferred over religion because they do not create unnecessary assumptions. Physics really does have a lot to say about the nature of our universe and I'm inclined to think that at some point it will explain many of the things that we currently cannot regarding the creation of the universe. Who knows what farther study of things like dark matter, String Theory, multiple dimensions to the universe, and the like will someday tell us. 

So Yeah...

These two defenses were the freshest in my mind because of recent occurrences. If you feel inclined to attack my beliefs or call them untenable, please do and I shall edit this post and add more defenses. I have given my beliefs a lot of thought, and can defend them well. I'm also open to questions or comments on this blog or on Facebook.