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Oct 06 2013

Is atheist activism counter-productive? (Spoiler: No.)

This post is a response to an email I received concerning an argument between two friends, both atheists. One of them is presenting the other’s claim that it’s not worthwhile to actively promote atheism, because even though religion may be false, it gives people comfort and motivates them to work towards worthwhile social causes. My response is below; first, the argument in full.

My friend who’s an atheist says that in many cases religious association (sometimes without belief) is very significant in people’s lives and that the burden of proof is on atheists to show in each case what the secular alternative is. If they can’t do that, and they have nothing to say to these people, then he thinks there’s little point in being an atheist activist of any kind, as these are the only cases that matter. The epistemological claims of atheists aren’t in question: all that is sound, he says. Rather, it’s these religious associations that he says atheists don’t have any replacement for, making atheism largely irrelevant.

He cites people from the Third World who have lived extremely horrible lives and have struggled through it thanks to religion, which gives them personal sustenance.Also many moderate Christian groups where nobody actually believes the supernatural claims, but rather it’s a source of community and so on. He also cites many activist groups that use religion to come together and sustain themselves during difficult struggles, such as the Civil Rights Movement, in which the black community in the South relied on religion to get them through the horrible treatment and oppression they faced (being badly beaten and sometimes killed and so on).

He says this is really where the “rubber hits the road” when it comes to religion and atheists really have very little to say on these cases that actually matter. Again, regarding the naturalism and rationality and epistemology he’s totally on board, as (he claims) are many religious people. He agrees that nonreligious people can be moral: that’s not in question, he says. But he says the real question is whether religion provides community, inspiration, comfort, solace, and so on for real people in the real world today. He says the answer is obviously, “Yes,” and provides many examples, adding that they can easily be extended. I also wonder what an atheist has to say for example to a grieving mother whose infant just died, and she believes that they’ll be reunited in heaven. Do atheists have anything to say to her? Obviously it would be cruel and pointless to lecture this woman about epistemology.

There are at least two different angles that the friend is arguing here. First: That religion, on balance, does more good than harm in the world. Second: That because of the first point, atheists should not make an open case against religious beliefs even if they are objectively false, in order to enable that good to continue. The second one is, effectively, Cypher’s position in The Matrix, right?

cypher-with-piece-of-steak-in-the-matrix

“I know this steak doesn’t exist. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

And yes, I absolutely realize that Matrix analogies are overplayed and horribly cliche by now. I also realize that people of all political stripes who harbor all kinds of wacky theories of the world use the red pill/blue pill thing to condescend to opposition whom they consider to be ignorant fools who are blind to the truth. But I’m not the one bringing the condescension here; you are. You’ve presumed the atheist position to be the correct one (“The epistemological claims of atheists aren’t in question: all that is sound”), but you’re stating that, for the good of other people’s peace of mind, it’s up to you to decide to shield them to the truth. You see religion as a comforting lie, and you want it to be your job to help maintain that comfort.

Well, I reject that position. It is my opinion that, all else being equal, it is better to believe something true than something false. Given the conscious option to believe a lie that would make me feel better, I would prefer to believe something that is true. But more to the point, I believe that other people have the right to make that choice on their own. It is simply not my call, or yours, to hide information that you consider true from people, in order to force them to act the way that you want.

In the second place, I dispute your assumption that religion is a net influence exclusively for good in the world. You’ve cherry picked a few examples of religious groups doing good things in the world: Third world citizens whose religion makes them feel better about their terrible lives; religious groups providing community; religious leaders fighting for civil rights. While all those are real phenomena, your position glosses over the harm that’s done by religions every day. You only need to browse a few articles at whatstheharm.net to get a sense of the kind of genuine damage religion inflicts on societies around the world.

Did Christians campaign for civil rights? Yes, of course… and plenty of Christians used their interpretation of the Bible to fight against civil rights. The Ku Klux Klan was itself a Christian organization. It is explicitly a Protestant organization, and the burning cross is a deliberate invocation of Christianity. Earlier still, many Christian demagogues opposed the abolition of slavery, citing Biblical principles, as I explained at great length in this post.

My point here is not to blame Christianity for slavery, or for the suppression of civil rights. But you are giving a rose colored picture of the influence of religion. If you wish to give religion credit for those individuals who fought for good things, you have to equally well give religion blame for the individuals who fought for bad things.

Regardless, however much people may believe that they were inspired by God, you and I reject that. People take on projects and causes based on their own personal convictions, and some of those convictions are (falsely, in my view) bolstered by a belief that an all-powerful being approves of your actions. But religion is not the sole cause of noble acts. Atheists fought for civil rights. Unbelievers like Abner Kneeland also fought against slavery.

A quote from the atheist Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg is relevant here: ”With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.” Religion doesn’t make people good; based on the morality laid out in the Bible itself, it should be expressly clear that it is often muddled and morally neutral at best.

It’s difficult to prove whether religion genuinely makes people happier or not in the bigger picture. In some cases, believing something untrue MIGHT make you feel happier, much like if you believed that you won the lottery, you’d feel better about your financial situation. …That is, until you went on a celebration spending spree, which you discovered you couldn’t cover.

Atheist activism is simply telling people what we believe to be factually accurate. It’s not out of the question that we could be wrong; however, I don’t think we’re wrong and evidently neither do you. I repeat what I said earlier: all else being equal, it is better to believe something true than something false. The truth may not make you personally more happy than a comforting lie would, but you can make better decisions with accurate information.

People should be good to each other based on shared humanity, and an understanding of the consequences that ensue when people in other parts of the world are starving and oppressed. When I consider the potential for people to do some additional good based on unsupported assumptions about what an invisible man wants, and I weight that against the downside of people doing terrible things in the name of religion, I don’t find it worth the tradeoffs to keep silence. I do not accept the abuses of power, the unearned respect by shysters, the abuse of kids, and the xenophobia against other cultures, as acceptable prices to pay in order to maintain the status quo.

47 comments

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  1. 1
    Corwyn

    “Third world citizens whose religion makes them feel better about their terrible lives … While all those are real phenomena…”

    I, for one, am not willing to concede that. See the study a few posts ago that showed that people with strong religious beliefs were MORE likely to have depressive episodes.

    Not mention, of course, the arrogance and possible racism of that statement.

    The correlation is pretty clear that countries with high levels of social good are those with low levels of religiosity, and vice versa. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is the religious beliefs which are making those lives miserable, not the other way around. At the very least, that should be determined *before* one goes prescribing religion for others.

  2. 2
    L.Long

    “Third world citizens whose religion makes them feel better about their terrible lives … ”
    I call BS on this one too but for different reasons.

    There is the joke about drunks are very happy too so lets let them stay drunk! Right!

    Maybe if the poor people did not have religion to convince them to put up with it, they would try to get out of it. I for one do believe that oppressive governments love religion as it helps keep the sheeple in line.

    Let the people gather together using jesus as the excuse, but they can still realize that it is a SOCIAL gathering and jesus is BS. That way when the con man in charge tries to convince them that gays should be stoned they will know better. In fact as an atheist I do go to church gatherings and when some bigoted Ahole tries to make a point (stone the gay) I throw the buyBull right in face by asking him where does jesus say to do so? As jesus is about lovin you fellow man, how much gayer is that? I don’t use my atheism, I use their book against them…it hurts more!

    1. 2.1
      Monocle Smile

      I’d also bring up the fact that religion is what’s making so many of these third-world denizens murder their own children and mutilating genitals and propagating the spread of venereal diseases, part of which is directly influenced by the Catholic Church. So I wonder whether or not they (depending on whether you ask the women and children) are actually “happier” with religion.

  3. 3
    Gunnar Tveiten

    It’s very clear that religion has a massive cost. Vague claims that it provides “sustenance” aren’t enough to outweigh this, even if we accepted the claim that we should lie to people “for their own good”, which I do not agree with.

    For example, being a muslim means 5 daily prayers and a longer friday-prayer. Let’s say it evens out to 90 minutes a day. This is about 10% of your total waking-hours from cradle to grave, and as such a huge opportunity cost.

    In addition to that, there’s monetary cost. In some religions you’re required to tithe, in other you’re required to travel to far-away countries as a pilgrimage. This again costs substantial amounts, which could be spent differently if you wheren’t religious.

  4. 4
    John Kruger

    Just bluntly stating that religion helps people in 3rd world countries cope is a disgustingly egregious gloss over. What if you happen to be gay? What if you happen to be a child accused of witchcraft? I would say religion is not helping those people cope at all.

    The mechanism for change in religion is deeply dysfunctional. People manage to pull it off, but the dogma of scripture is always an anchor that is going to be a drag on change and cause fundamentalist backtracking to be ready to go in times of adversity. I agree that religion unto itself cannot be completely blamed for bad things like the child abuse or homophobia, but it always impedes any improvement in thinking about such things. The more people embrace the flexible methods of science and empirical testing and move away from the flawed and rigid thinking of dogmatic adherence, the better off they will be.

  5. 5
    Houndentenor

    Not only does not religion not help the poor in third world countries, most of the time it’s the tool to get them to accept that they have shitty lives that aren’t ever going to get any better. It tells them to be good boys and girls in this life and accept being treated like chattel so that in the next life (which of course no has ever actually proven to exist) you’ll be rewarded. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for tyrants and abusers of power who benefit greatly when masses of people accept how they are being treated instead of rising up and overthrowing and unjust power structure.

    Make their lives better? no. Keep them from demanding decent wages, health care, human rights, etc.? Yes.

    One other thing. Why does every argument against nonbelief involve a strawman of some sort. Yes, it would be mean to tell someone who just lost a child that their beliefs aren’t true. I would never do that. I don’t know anyone who would do that. But as I look around me, people every day wear their religion for everyone to see. But if someone expresses a lack of belief that’s out of bounds? Bullshit. Oh, noze, that might upset someone! You don’t think religious expressions offend people who practice other religions? What a load of crap. I don’t make a big deal out of my lack of belief 99% of the time but I would be perfectly within my rights to do so especially considering the number of religious people (mostly Fundamentalist Christians as this is Texas) have no problem saying offensive things about how everyone else is going to hell ALL THE DAMN TIME. Now that’s offensive. But they have a right to say it. Just like I have a right to say that it’s a ridiculous bronze age fairy tale with no basis in reality.

    1. 5.1
      Deesse23

      Although i am not a Marxist, one of his thoughts comes to my mind: “Opium for the people”.

      like Houndentenor said, if religion makes poor people with shitty lifes more happy, its only a tool that can (and IS) used by the people who are responsible for their shitty lifes.

      Back to my countryman Karl :-)
      His conclusions were mostly wrong, but quite a few observations of the society were spot on in my opinion.

  6. 6
    Peter J Knight

    Organised Religion is about social and political control, which is why it is innately conservative. It is about preserving the status quo, by whatever means necessary.

    Whatever good comes out of religion is generally down to the people involved in it, not the religion itself.

    1. 6.1
      Peter J Knight

      Sorry, posted that a bit prematurely.

      I’m not sure what active atheism is. Surely atheism is a simple incredulity. Once it becomes active it is something else entirely. Anti-theism perhaps, or irrreligionism, or some political creed, but not atheism.

      I could say something like “the truth will set you free”, but I am not sure that it will. Some people need some kind of external justification to enable them to do some good.

      I think that truth, however unpleasant. is better than living a lie, but I don’t feel it’s right to judge people who don’t feel as I do. I may feel that they are deluded, but if they are doing good, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. OTOH right wing nut-jobs who use Jesus to justify their odious viewpoints deserve as much condemnation as possible!

  7. 7
    Sir Real

    I agree with Russell on this one 100%. Even though there are some religious organizations that do good doesn’t mean religion itself is good. One thing I’ve learned in life is that even though we may not like the truth it still doesn’t mean we should believe a lie. The truth is not there for our convenience, it’s there for our respect. Telling a woman whose child died that her infant is in heaven amounts to nothing more then lip service, lying and false hope. There are organizations that offer up real comfort and hope to those who have lost a loved one. I can remember a time when I lost someone very close to me and I sure didn’t receive any comfort thinking that some guy in the sky was going to make everything better.

    As far as the rights movement in the south is concerned, again it wasn’t religion that prevailed over discrimination, it was a one-sided view in which religion was more willing to take credit as opposed to any blame. It’s what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in that matters, not who he believed in. There is also a Dr. Michael Murdock who in my opinion is nothing more then a con-artist who’s scheme is to con people out of their money and do it legally and tax excempt. It would appear he believes in Je$u$ as his lord and $avior.

    There are many examples in history in which religion did no one any good and was the catalyst to many wars and evil events, most recently the event that happened on September 11 2001.

  8. 8
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    Over the years, I’ve identified a clear argument that works for me in conversations like this. What’s the harm? If you can call anything the central tenant of christianity, it is the teaching that you are born sick, and only by submitting yourself as a slave to a celestial eternal dictator can you be happy. This is a sick and twisted thing to believe and to teach others. It teaches you how to be a slave, how to be dependent. This is not a way to personal happiness, and it is definitely not a way to a better society. Instead, we need independent people with critical thinking skills.

    Furthermore, the central teaching that you are born sick and that you can be vicariously saved depends on the idea that sin is a debt that you accrue which must be paid off, such as by punishment. This is what we call the retributive theory of justice, and the retributive theory of justice is abhorrent. It is the idea that wrongs deserved to be punished. Not for a deterrence value. Not for a benefit of safety by keeping dangerous people away from society. (Although both of those are still nice on this idea.) No, it’s the idea that it’s “properly-basic” that crime deserves punishment. It’s sadism.

    In case I’m not clear enough, let me go straight to extremes. If I was in charge of an afterlife, and if it was free or cheap for me to give Hitler a great little afterlife in an enclosed space somewhere where I could make him as happy as I could – ignoring any deterrence effects – then I would. I wouldn’t punish him. That’s just sadism. I would keep him confined for the safety of others, but there is absolutely no reason to hurt him or to deny him happiness.

    I’ve said it often that I am for whatever plan best accomplishes the happiness and well-being of people (and the other values of humanism), and consequently I will try to make even Hitler as happy as possible as long as there are no other negative consequences. (However, in the real world there would be negative consequences, and that’s why I support punishment on other principles, like the deterrence theory of justice – and others.)

    In short, the central teaching of christianity is dependent on an acceptance of the retributive theory of justice, which is simply another term for naked sadism.

    This is the harm of christianity to every believer. Not just the fundies. This applies to even the most extreme liberal christian believers. Even the believers who don’t believe in eternal hell still believe that some punishment accrues from committing sin.

  9. 9
    rainman

    I am a Christian and I am also an Engineer who practiced engineering for 20 years with two patents, and I currently have a second career where I teach secondary math through Calculus and I have taught Physics.

    I am commenting about what I have experienced and not to argue about religion:

    At age 20, I was in college studying for a debate on knowledge (empiricism vs rationalism). I took the rationalist side. It was a beutiful spring day in 1976. After working hard on my research, I lay down to take a nap. I awoke a short time later and I was totally paralyzed. A voice said, “If you want to know, you can die.” I said, “What?” The voice repeated, “If you want to know, you can die.” I contemplated my choices, and scared for my life, I said, “I am really not prepared to die right now, but if you will let me live, I will tell others about what just happened.” Immediately, the force on my body was released, and I hopped out of bed and wrote down what happened to me. At that time, I believed that God was telling me that he is the source of all knowledge and when we die we will know.

    Secondly, at age 35, I was sleeping in bed next to my wife in Dallas Tx. My mother was in Corpus Christi. In a voice as audible as the voice above or your voice, I heard my mother say to me, “I am leaving and I love you, please tell your Uncle Karl (her brother) goodbye and that I love him.” Immediately, I sat bolt upright with enough commotion that my wife awoke. I told her what I heard, and we both realized that mom had just died. We talked about what to do and logically concluded that if it was true that there was nothing we could do that would change this. The next morning, my brother called us from Corpus, and told us that mom had died the night before with a massive brain hemorrhage…she had been fighting leukemia for years and it finally got her.

    I am a scientist and a man of logic. The sounds I heard and the forces on my body can only be explained by field forces that are not defined by current science.

    Based on logic not faith, I have concluded that there is more to nature that just the physical world, and that we are connected somehow to this spiritual world which is timeless. The best word to define this biological connection is a soul.

    As man continues to evolve from ape to human to ?…maybe we will understand that part of nature which is timeless.

    I understand that most of you have never had an experience like this when lucid, but I have. Does man continue to evolve? And if so, to what? Maybe to become more eternal.

    1. 9.1
      unfogged

      Are you familiar with sleep paralysis? It is not uncommon and provides a mundane, if rare, explanation for the first experience you describe. I also do not see anything extraordinary about your having a dream about your mother, who you knew had been seriously ill for some time, and have it be confirmed. When situations like that happen they are taken to be proof of something supernatural; when dreams don’t coincide with reality they are dismissed. I don’t deny that the experience has personal meaning for you but I don’t see reason to accept it as evidence of something not otherwise explainable.

      It also looks like you have a distorted view of evolution. Humans are still evolving but there’s no reason to think that we are evolving to anything, at least not in the sense that it is planned or will be “better” by our current standards.

      1. rainman

        Sleep paralysis does not explain what happened to me other than I woke up and was paralyzed. I was entirely lucid when I had the conversation…so skeptics will say, “You must have had a new kind of sleep paralysis.” What is interesting, is that nothing like that has ever occurred before or after in my 57 years of life.

        Same with my Mother. Many people have died in my 50 years and I have had many lucid dreams and awakened knowing that it was a dream. As an engineer and math teacher, I am a man of logic. I know what a dream or nightmare is like. This was neither. It was a unique experience which was 100% accurate.

        If I had numerous occurences like this and I woke up and told my wife every night about something different, and most of the time they were wrong, then you might have a statistical argument for my dreaming and not knowing the difference between dreaming and what happened to me.

        But this experience was unique, in my 57 years and not a dream.

        1. unfogged

          From wikipedia:

          Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which people, either when falling asleep or wakening, temporarily experience an inability to move. More formally, it is a transition state between wakefulness and rest characterized by complete muscle atonia (muscle weakness). It can occur at sleep onset or upon awakening, and it is often associated with terrifying visions (e.g., an intruder in the room), to which one is unable to react due to paralysis. It is believed to be a result of disrupted REM sleep, which is normally characterized by complete muscle atonia that prevents individuals from acting out their dreams. Sleep paralysis has been linked to disorders such as narcolepsy, migraines, anxiety disorders, and obstructive sleep apnea; however, it can also occur in isolation.

          It certainly sounds like what you describe: paralysis, fear, and visions. The brain is a very complex system and occasionally things go wrong. Lucid dreaming and having conversations in dreams is also not unusual. What you experienced may not have been a classic textbook sleep paralysis state but it does seem to explain it without resorting to the supernatural.

          I can’t say why you thought the dream about your mother was different than the others. Perhaps it was that you felt it more strongly due to the relationship, perhaps you were more worried about her so it affected you more, perhaps some other factor. I can’t know what it was and if you believe that it is sufficient evidence to believe then that’s your judgement. I’ve had many dreams that seemed absolutely real and qualitatively different than the average dream or nightmare. A few have left me shaken for days but as far as I can tell they were just products of REM sleep.

          As I said, I’m not denying that you had these experiences or that they didn’t make a profound impact on you and your beliefs. All I’m saying is that neither is that unlike experiences reported by many other people and they don’t provide anything that is testable or repeatable and aren’t valid as evidence except by the individual.

    2. 9.2
      Raving Mad

      why would your mother tell YOU to tell your uncle that she loved him? If your mom could do this, that is, speak to you telepathically, then why wouldn’t she just save time and tell your uncle herself. seems it would mean more to your uncle if it came straight from her plus your mom wouldn’t need to worry after she died about you forgetting to do so. You see, it’s simple sh*t like this that you fools often overlook when you attempt to regale the rest of us with your supernatural tales.

  10. 10
    Corwyn

    I have concluded that there is more to nature that just the physical world, and that we are connected somehow to this spiritual world which is timeless.

    So on the basis of a couple of nighttime brain anomalies, you conclude that there is a spiritual world which is timeless. Forgetting for the moment that that is completely insufficient evidence to show the existence of a handkerchief. Where in all that did ‘timeless’ come from? If i were to concede the spiritual world, but said that it was NOT timeless, how would your experiences provide *any* evidence whatsoever on the point?

    Why do think it more likely that the entire history is physics has missed something so basic, than that your brain made a couple of mistakes, and one was coincident with an important event in your life?

    1. 10.1
      Corwyn

      So I looked up the prevalence of sleep paralysis, and the consensus seemed to be about 1 out of 3 people will experience it at least once in their lifetime. So that is 2.3 Billion people. If we assume that most people will be alive when their mother dies, 91,000 people will experience sleep paralysis on the night their mother dies. Which means on average 3.5 people will experience sleep paralysis, on the night their mother dies, TONIGHT. (and tomorrow night…)

      1. rainman

        I did not suffer sleep paralysis. There are two huge differences between what I experience and sleep paralysis. I awoke and I was paralyzed. My eyes were totally opened and there was no one in my room. I had a telepathic conversation and when the conversation was over I could move. I did not see any terrifying visions and I was not having a nightmare. I was 20 years old.

        When I heard my mom’s voice, I was 35. My mom told me good-bye and that she loved me and told me to tell my Uncle Karl goodbye and that she loved him.

        This is not a dream, it is someone talking to me who I knew. I did not talk to her, I just sat bolt upright in bed and told my wife that mom had just come and talked to me. I did not wake up and say that I had a bad dream or was dreaming.

        1. Corwyn

          Your experiences sound EXACTLY like sleep paralysis to me. Don’t confuse frequently experienced symptoms (nightmares) with universal symptoms (or worse, differentials).

          Even if they are some other type of brain anomaly, how rare are those?

          1. Corwyn

            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ask-the-brains-sleep-paralysis

            Scientific American: “Sleep paralysis, a momentary inability to move one’s limbs, trunk and head despite being fully conscious, may occur when someone is either drifting off or, more rarely, waking up.”

            Rainman: “I awoke and I was paralyzed. My eyes were totally opened and there was no one in my room.”

            Corwyn: Check.

            Scientific American: “The most common effects include visual hallucinations, such as shadows and light or a human or animal figure in the room, and auditory hallucinations, such as hearing voices or footsteps.”

            Rainman: “I had a telepathic conversation…”

            Corwyn: Check.

            Scietific American: “episodes usually last only a few seconds”

            Rainman: “and when the conversation was over I could move.”

            Corwyn: Check.

            What were those huge differences again?

    2. 10.2
      rainman

      I sorry that you have not experienced what I have experienced. I am an Engineer and a math teacher. These experiences were specific examples of forces in nature that current science can not explain.

      They were lucid and real and based on our current understanding of field forces and contact forces, show evidence that there is more to nature than just the physical world.

      1. Narf

        No, what you had was a brain glitch. What you’re doing is overlaying your preconceptions on top of that brain glitch, without any measurements or evidence of any sort to back up your wild assertions. How do you get from your experience to an assertion that current science cannot explain your experience? Show your work.

        1. rainman

          It is an inductive argument. I know the experience that I had, and I have talked to other people who were awake and have heard a voice that was logical for that time. From my experience and others, I hypothesize that there is more to nature than science currently understands. I have taken physics through quantum physics though it was many years ago, and I have practiced Engineering for twenty years with two patents, and I currently teach upper level math in high school.

          I understand what I experienced and it was not brain glitches. I think I know my body better than you.

          We can debate all you want, but the truth is that you have now read what I experienced and you know that I have told you it was not physical world experience.

          1. Corwyn

            I understand what I experienced and it was not brain glitches. I think I know my body better than you.

            Apparently not. Since you seem to think that your BRAIN is capable of determining whether your BRAIN is malfunctioning.

            You have 4 symptoms, all 4 of which match the symptoms for Sleep Paralysis. No symptoms that don’t match Sleep Paralysis. You can deny this all you want. You can trot out your amazing education and experience, all you want. The more you do the more we think you are a troll. You have already shown that you don’t understand entropy or conservation of energy. I think repeating you education 4 times passes the level of troll.

          2. Narf

            Rainman, you specialize in engineering and math. What part of that makes you an expert in all of the fucked up things that our brains can do? If you’re unable to accept that your brain can hallucinate auditory inputs and generate false memories, you don’t know your own body (brain) as well as you think you do.

            We can debate all you want, but the truth is that you have now read what I experienced and you know that I have told you it was not physical world experience.

            You’re probably right, but not in the way that you think. What you experienced was probably not representative of anything that happened within reality. Odds are, it all happened within the confines of your own brain. Brains do that, sometimes.

          3. Daniel Schealler

            I hypothesize that there is more to nature than science currently understands.

            This is trivially correct.

            If scientists thought they knew everything, they’d stop. Probably.

            Doesn’t make your interpretation of your experiences any more likely.

            This is simple:

            When a person in the room talks, they produce pressure waves in the air.

            These pressure waves strike the eardrum, which transfers the pressure signal to the cochlea.

            The cochlea creates pressure waves into electrochemical impulses in neuron pathways that feed the signal into the brain.

            The brain then interprets these signals and generates the perception of speech.

            All that is required is that, in your case, your brain, while still in a state of sleep-paralysis, had a misfire in the ‘perception of speech’ function. This misfire caused you to hear a familiar voice that wasn’t there tell you things that matched your wants, desires and expectations.

            If your brain did misfire in such a way, it would be impossible to self-diagnose if the experience was real or not through introspection alone.

            Brains are imperfect messy kludges. As someone with engineering training, you have to be familiar that kludges will have a high rate of false positives when placed under the stress of non-standard operating conditions. A mind that has recently woken from sleep but still under the influence of sleep paralysis? Outside of brain-altering drugs or trauma, that’s as good an example of non-standard operating conditions as you’re likely to come across.

            I’ve been practising zazen for six years. I’m very familiar with many of the tricks that the brain can pull on the mind when it’s in the mood. In zazen, these are called makyo – they’re to be acknowledged then moved past, they’re not important or significant, just the brain tying itself into knots.

            Hearing voices that aren’t there is on the dull-and-common end of the spectrum of tricks that the brain can pull on you. It isn’t remarkable. It’s expected.

      2. Corwyn

        And as a engineer and a math teacher do you recognize an argument from ignorance? If something is not explained by science, that means that it is not yet explained by science. Nothing more.

        1. rainman

          You are absolutely correct. These experiences are anecdotal but because my education is in engineering and math, I understand what forces exist in nature. There was no visible sources for the voice or the force on my body. I was alone. They were not brain glitches either. I had a conversation just like I am now. And I heard my mom’s voice.

          Sound requires a source and there was not a source for the voices in either experience.

          1. Corwyn

            You are absolutely correct. These experiences are anecdotal but because my education is in engineering and math, I understand what forces exist in nature.

            You keep saying that, like it is supposed to impress us. I have known far to many engineers and math teachers to be impressed.

            There was no visible sources for the voice

            What part of ‘auditory hallucination’ is your engineer’s training missing.

            or the force on my body

            Scientific American: “A person often also feels pressure on his or her chest and has difficulty breathing.”

            Corwyn: Another Check.

            They were not brain glitches either.

            Which instrument did you use to determine this? Could it have been your engineer’s brain? So you used an instrument to determine that that same instrument was not faulty. What did you say you engineered? I want to make sure not to buy one.

            Sound requires a source and there was not a source for the voices in either experience.

            Completely incorrect. ‘Sound’ as in auditory impressions, requires neurons firing in your brain, nothing more. If you are going to claim that there was actual external air vibrations, you MUST have a recording. Otherwise, you have NO evidence that it was actually air vibrations, not an auditory hallucination. Can you post an MP3 so we can all hear it?

          2. Narf

            I don’t have much to add here that Corwyn didn’t already say. You keep asserting that it wasn’t anything related to this known hallucinatory occurrence, and yet when you give us the details, they match up more-or-less perfectly, even taking your description at face value.

            Which method of examination did you use to determine that it wasn’t your brain glitching? It didn’t feel like a hallucination? News flash: hallucinations don’t generally feel like hallucinations. If they did, you would say something like, “Wow, my vision and hearing just went all weird for a second there, but I know it was just my senses messing up.” Hallucinations, as the term is generally used, are more immersive and realistic, although that doesn’t make them any more real.

            You start talking about sound requiring a source, before you determine that there was a sound wave that entered your ears and not just some weird neural firing that screwed up the transition between your dreaming and waking states. What you describe sounds exactly like the latter occurrence.

          3. rainman

            I am not trying to impress you with my degrees. I was a mechanical engineer, and one of my first designs was an emi/rfi shielding gasket for the Apple 2e…a dinosaur. So don’t worry you will not be bothered by any engineering deficiencies of mine.

            Your arguments are awesome. You have a very good mind. The sound that I heard did not come from a source that another human being could hear. I can not produce a recording of it.

            But we are now getting to the crux of what happened. Did my own brain produce the (apparent voice) or is there something more? Because this has happened to me twice and never again and because I am not prone to this type of thing happening (as in dreams or as other people hear voices). I am not impressed with counter examples of paralysis or brain anomalies.

            My hypothesis was that there is a space that does have a causal affect on physical space and we do not have scientific instruments designed to detect what is happening. It is my hypothesis. In my life and my reading, i continue to bump into people or read peoples accounts who have had similar experiences.

            For example, when my wife was teaching high school math, Doug McWhorter came and talked to the high school about drinking and driving. His daughter was killed in a drunk driving accident with four other girls. When he was at the hospital and the neurosurgeon pronounced his daughter dead, he went into the men’s restroom and began to weep. While there, he heard his daughter’s voice say, “Everything is going to be ok.” Like most normal human beings he thought someone was playing a cruel joke on him, and he proceeded to look throughout the bathroom. Then he heard the same voice, “Everything is going to be ok, I am with God.” He went back to the room where Mandy was laying dead, and his wife was across the bed, and his wife said, “you know, everything is going to be ok.” She had heard Mandy’s voice as well.

            There are numerous anecdotes like these where people here a voice or experience something statistically out of the norm that can not be explained to there satisfaction or mine with your counter examples.

          4. Corwyn

            The sound that I heard did not come from a source that another human being could hear.

            Therefore it was not air vibrations. Therefore it was ONLY in your brain. Now all we have to do is establish that a brain anomaly is more likely than a completely different reality for which NO OTHER EVIDENCE has ever be verified. We have already shown that brain anomolies like this occur in at least 33% of all humans. That seems pretty conclusive.

            Because this has happened to me twice and never again and because I am not prone to this type of thing happening (as in dreams or as other people hear voices). I am not impressed with counter examples of paralysis or brain anomalies.

            So on the basis of two datapoints which both match perfectly a known phenomenon, you instead conclude something completely outside the realm known science. At most you should conclude (if you ignore the obvious explanation) that something happened that you can’t explain. Anything else is just an argument from ignorance (which, since you have shown you don’t understand it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance ) There just isn’t enough evidence there to justify a belief in any other hypothesis.

            In my life and my reading, i continue to bump into people or read peoples accounts who have had similar experiences.

            Of course you do! As I showed earlier, your EXACT experience happens to, on average, 3.5 people EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. By nothing more than random chance. If it was a real phenomenon it would need to happen to EVEN MORE people than that.

            For example, when my wife was….

            You can go on to another example just as soon as you concede that your previous one has been adequately explained by known scientific principles. You may continue to deny that is what you experienced, but must admit that the explanation would convince any objective observer, as it describes ALL your symptoms.

          5. Narf

            Did my own brain produce the (apparent voice) or is there something more?

            Until you have a demonstrated reason to jump to the wild-ass conclusion that there’s something more, it’s irrational to do so. You propose your experience as a reason to believe in that something more, when there’s already a perfectly good explanation for what you experienced … a brain glitch.

            Your desperate desire for there to be some other explanation is not evidence for that other explanation. This is the classic Argument from Ignorance, man.

            No, actually, it’s worse than that. With a typical argument from ignorance, someone is unjustifiably asserting an answer because they can’t come up with another explanation. In this case, we have another, better explanation, and you’re rejecting that in favor of made-up nonsense.

          6. Corwyn

            Narf, don’t we have a word for believing ‘made-up nonsense’ rather than a more logical explanation? Oh, right, ‘faith’.

          7. Narf

            I have some other words for it, too, but I don’t think we’re allowed to use that sort of language on this blog.

          8. Narf

            It’s bad enough that you used the F-word like that.

  11. 11
    rainman

    Howdy Narf and Corwyn, the jump from my experience to a hypothesis about a spiritual space or a higher dimensional space is quite acceptable. Stephen Hawking included this possibility in his book “A Brief History of Time”. See his conclusion. Great minds are open to many possibilities.

    If you had an experience like mine, you would seriously consider my hypothesis. Many people have had these experiences and the validity of mother nature consisting of being that is both physical and spiritual is valid.

    1. 11.1
      unfogged

      I just went back and re-read the conclusion. Hawking uses ‘god’ in a metaphorical sense like Einstein’s “god doesn’t play dice” comment. He’s not supporting what you are claiming and if you search for other quotes by Hawking about god you’ll see that.

      1. rainman

        Hawking states, “Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the questions of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be ultimate triumph of human reason-for then we would know the mind of God.” (A Brief History of Time, p 175).

        I continue to put forth a hypothesis that there is more to nature than just a physical cause for my lucid conversation or hearing my mother’s voice when she died. Hawking’s mention of God is metaphorical. Since he published the book in the late 1980′s, he has come to a hypothesis that God is not needed to explain the beginning of the Universe (read comments about The Grand Design). Therefore, he entertained the reality of God as a serious hypothesis for which he continues to try to provide counter examples. William Lane Craig puts forth numerous metaphysical arguments for the existence of a creative force in nature that is beyond the physical.

        So it is not illogical to hypothesize that what happened to me was related to a spiritual or non-temporal or a timeless force because the debate is not over. Human experience continues to encounter this force in the physical world. It is not simply a matter of faith. Bill Wilson, a co-founder of AA, was agnostic until he had a lucid encounter with a being that he termed must be God. Mother Theresa heard a voice call her to serve the poor. She was lucid.

        I can not explain what happened to the little boy in “Heaven is for Real” without seriously considering my hypothesis. Near death experiences lead me to conclude that my hypothesis is valid. People are brought back to life with impossible knowledge.

        In Joseph Campbell’s book on mythology, we see the repitition of this hypothesis world over. It is a good hypothesis and more widely held than yours…amen.

        1. Lord Narf

          You still don’t know what an argument from authority is and why it’s a logical fallacy, do you?

          … or quote mining?

          … or a metaphor?

          Do you truly not understand how it’s metaphorical when Einstein talked about God not playing dice with the universe? The same applies to Hawking speaking about knowing the mind of God. He isn’t speaking of a literal deity.

          I continue to put forth a hypothesis that there is more to nature than just a physical cause for my lucid conversation or hearing my mother’s voice when she died.

          No, you continue to put forth a wild-ass assertion, when there’s a perfectly workable alternate explanation that doesn’t involve mythology. A hypothesis is formulated from evidence; you have none.

        2. Lord Narf

          Mother Theresa heard a voice call her to serve the poor. She was lucid.

          She was also an evil little troll who glorified human suffering. If God wants people to be more like her, then fuck Him.

        3. Lord Narf

          I can not explain what happened to the little boy in “Heaven is for Real” without seriously considering my hypothesis.

          And this is some of the most gullible crap I’ve heard in a long time. The book was written years after the event, after there had been a great deal of time for the actual events and “visions” to be warped beyond recognition, by family legend-building and false recollection. If this is what you call evidence, then you’re incapable of forming a hypothesis that is worthy of the term.

        4. Lord Narf

          It is a good hypothesis and more widely held than yours…amen.

          And wrapped up with one of the most blatant arguments from popularity that I’ve ever seen. Are you capable of writing a comment without using half a dozen of the worst logical fallacies?

        5. Corwyn

          So it is not illogical to hypothesize that what happened to me was related to a spiritual or non-temporal or a timeless force because the debate is not over.

          No consistent hypothesis is ever illogical. ‘Illogical’ is not a attribute that even make sense to apply to a proper hypothesis. Arguments are illogical (as you so aptly demonstrate); hypothesis are unsupported. The problem with your hypothesis is that the evidence that you have provided supports an alternate hypothesis rather than yours. A fact which you seem to be trying to conveniently forget.

          You came here claiming you were so well educated that you used logic, not faith, to turn your evidence into a supported hypothesis. So you have shown:

          1) You don’t understand logical fallacies.
          2) Your evidence supports an alternate hypothesis better than yours.
          3) Even if your evidence did support your hypothesis, it is nowhere sufficient to *justify* your hypothesis.
          3) Your hypothesis contains parts which aren’t even addressed by your evidence (timelessness), and should therefore by removed by Occam’s razor (they aren’t even required by your hypothesis, just your wishful thinking).
          4) When your argument is defeated, you resort to the usual quote mining, numerous fallacies, and the tactics of illogical people that we see here all the time.

    2. 11.2
      Corwyn

      An appeal to authority. A quote mining. Oh wonderful, the ‘open minds fallacy’. Having an open mind doesn’t mean believing every bit of weird stuff your mind invents. And a mangling of grammar too horrific to contemplate…

      the validity of mother nature consisting of being that is both physical and spiritual is valid.

      Say what? I am sure the “validity of IS valid”. ‘Validity’ usually is.

      The ‘open minds’ fallacy is usually a concession of having lost the argument, should we assume so in this case as well?

    3. 11.3
      Narf

      Heh, like the other guys said, that’s a pretty grotesque bit of quote mining you’ve done.

      And if you’re going to make an argument from authority, using Hawkings, you should quote from his most recent book, in which … well, he pretty explicitly said that God is completely unnecessary to explain the beginning of the universe … which I guess isn’t particularly useful to your half-assed argument. Maybe you shouldn’t do that, then.

      If you had an experience like mine, you would seriously consider my hypothesis.

      That’s a pretty ignorant statement. You apparently don’t understand the first thing about skepticism. If I had an experience like yours, I would consult a sleep specialist or someone with similar expertise, to figure out what the hell was going wrong with my brain.

      … and the validity of mother nature consisting of being that is both physical and spiritual is valid.

      No. No, it’s not. Care to make any other unsupported assertions?

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