Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mozart-Duo for Violin and Viola in G Major KV 423

Igor Oistrakh: violin
David Oistrakh: viola

Friday, April 19, 2013

Rebecca Clarke Viola Sonata in A minor

Paul Coletti, viola
Leslie Howard, piano

Materialism Is Quaint And So Ignorant Of Its Own Nature

Revised and updated below 

Listening to the "Moving Naturalism Forward" discussions, one of the most striking things is how entirely old fashioned it is.   For a group that includes physicists and philosophers, it's as if the last century of revelation in the limits of knowledge never happened.    It doesn't take into consideration the fact that even the most allegedly objective "view of nature" that scientists could possibly obtain is anything but objective.  It is inescapable that all of human perception, all of human thought, all of human culture, including science, is inescapably governed by and controlled by the peculiar limits of   the human beings producing it.   There is no such a thing as an objective, direct observation or analysis of nature.  This has been known to be an inescapable limit on what science can tell us for most of a century.

An early encounter of ideological materialism with this fact can be found in Bertrand Russell's review of Arthur Stanley Eddingon's The Nature of the Physical World, the text of Eddington's  Gifford Lectures given in 1926-27.   Russell's review, titled The Twilight Of Science:  Is The Universe Running Down, is a remarkably bitter document.   It begins:

It is a curious fact that just when the man in the street has begun to believe thoroughly in science, the man in the laboratory has begun to lose his faith. When I was young, no physicist entertained the slightest doubt that the laws of physics give us real information about the motions of bodies, and that the physical world does really consist of the sort of entities that appear in the physicist's equations. The philosophers, it is true, throw doubt upon this view, and have done so ever since the time of Berkeley; but since their criticism never attached itself to any point in the detailed procedure of science, it could be ignored by scientists and was in fact ignored. Nowadays matters are quite different; the revolutionary ideas of the philosophy of physics have come from the physicists themselves and are the outcome of careful experiments. The new philosophy of physics is humble and stammering where the old philosophy was proud and dictatorial. It is, I suppose, natural to every man to fill the vacuum left by the disappearance of belief in physical laws as best he may, and to use for this purpose any odds and ends of unfounded belief which had previously no room to expand. When the robustness of the Catholic faith decayed at the time of the Renaissance, it tended to be replaced by astrology and necromancy, and in like manner we must expect the decay of the scientific faith to lead to a recrudescence of pre-scientific superstitions.

I read the review before I read Eddington's lectures and the contrast in tone couldn't be more obvious.   Eddington, the foremost English astro-physicist of his day, who certainly had more of a professional investment in the reputation of physics as providing an absolute view of nature, took the fact that it can't with remarkable tranquility,  But is was Russell, the professional mathematician and logician, who was left sourly announcing the possible "twilight" of humanities's scientific project.  The obvious reason for that is Russell's thorough materialism as compared to Eddington's Quakerism.   Russell was left with nothing once his faith in science and his faith in the asolutely objective view it provides of the material universe, was obliterated by science.  If the view of the universe provided by science isn't absolutely and objectively representative, then it is just another peculiarly human conception of uneven accuracy, not possibly attaining a status as absolute knowledge.  It is clear that was what Russell's shattered faith in science was,  in the wake of his reading of Eddington's lectures, by his comparison of its status with that of Catholicism in the wake of the reformation.

I was brought up to have great regard for Bertrand Russell, he was one of the heroes of my early adulthood for his anti-nuclear and political activities, both of which Eddington, as a Quaker, would have likely approved.  I read many of Russell's books, relying on his "A History of Western Philosophy" as a sort of jumping off point to read various philosophers, probably avoiding some of those who he clearly disdained*.   I was entertained by his anti-religious invective, his delightful recounting of the sins of popes and prelates, an apostate Catholic as entertained  by them as any atheist would be.  But, as time went on,  I came to see that what Russell said was often not dependable.  It was cultural lore told from his ideological interests and his thoroughly conventional British academic atheism.   He was a subtle ideologue as old line British academic atheists often were, but an ideologue, nonetheless. As I've grown older and have read more of what he wrote, I've become quite disillusioned with Russell who I've come to see as undergoing a crisis from the time of his reading of Eddington and the subsequent disappointments from the damage done by Godel and others to  his mathematical and logical work.  As many know, Godel destroyed the possibility of an informed person believing that mathematics or logic could have a self-consistent absolute foundation, which was what Russell and his teacher Alfred North Whitehead had tried to achieve in their enormous intellectual effort, the Principia Mathematica.  Noting in passing that Godel was also a Christian seems to me to be of possible relevance to Russell's subsequent writing.

Moving Naturalism Forward's website, which I assume was written by Sean Carroll, who convened the workshop, or, at least, under his oversight, contains this opening declaration:

Over four centuries of scientific progress have convinced most professional philosophers and scientists of the validity of naturalism: the view that there is only one realm of existence, the natural world, whose behavior can be studied through reason and empirical investigation. The basic operating principles of the natural world appear to be impersonal and inviolable; microscopic constituents of inanimate matter obeying the laws of physics fit together in complex structures to form intelligent, emotive, conscious human beings.

The idea that there is "only one realm of existence" is certainly not peculiar to scientistic atheism, it is certainly older than the declaration in the first sentence of Genesis.  From the beginning of recorded human thought a far more expansive view of that "one realm" was asserted than the view  contemporary atheism does.  In one of the many, many ironies of addressing this situation, it is the religious view of the universe that is definitely not anthropocentric, as is so often accused, in that it assigns the superior knowledge of the universe to God who is not human.  It is atheism in many of its forms which assumes that human beings have the most nearly godlike view of the universe.

The "naturalists'" declaration continues,  ".... one realm of existence, the natural world, whose behavior can be studied through reason and empirical investigation".   Something has been left out of this assertion, but more of that in a second.  What is peculiar about this declaration is that it defines the "one realm of existence" as being what is "studied through reason and empirical investigation"**.   What is left out is the fact that it is a group of human beings, using human perceptions and tools of human culture who are doing the reasoning and the empirical investigation.   That particular human beings are the one and only source of that, they are the source of it.  "Empirical investigation" isn't an exact, accurate and comprehensive view of "existence", it is, exactly, done through human observation, that fact means that it is limited by the abilities the humans making the observation, and the limits of the analysis of that experience they apply to it at the time the investigation is reported.  To ignore those facts in order to declare some kind of absolute status of reality for that report is to impose a level of unreliability on it.   It is defined by and limited by its source. That is an inescapable fact.

What we can know, absolutely, is extremely limited.   Worse than that what we can know absolutely is entirely personal and, so, would almost certainly be demoted by these same people to the disrepute of "subjectivity".  Again, Eddington knew this.

It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character. But no one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference — inference either intuitive or deliberate. Probably it would never have occurred to us (as a serious hypothesis) that the world could be based on anything else, had we not been under the impression that there was a rival stuff with a more comfortable kind of "concrete" reality — something too inert and stupid to be capable of forging an illusion. The rival turns out to be a schedule of pointer readings; and though a world of symbolic character can well be constructed from it, this is a mere shelving of the inquiry into the nature of the world of experience. 

It is as close to an absolute fact as we can possibly have that our experience of our individual mind is the first and most direct reality available to us.   From that fact all other perceptions, observations, analyses, ideas and socially agreed to "laws" are secondary inferences.

This passage, as usually quoted usually ends with the words "all else is remote inference".  But that leaves out that it is part of a passage that must have sent Bertrand Russell into a state of despair, a long discussion of the inescapable remoteness of physics from the object of its study, the physical universe.   In rather exhaustively pointing out problems with the idea that physics can provide a direct view of the material universe that is not fundamentally and inevitably influenced by the minds of the people who are looking at it and writing about it.

In the next decades Eddington went much farther and pointed out that what could be said of the human view of the universe was also true of the physical laws that people invent to try to generalize  the conditions of the physical universe.

Eighteen years ago I was responsible for a remark which has often been quoted:

"It is one thing for the human mind to extract from the phenomena of nature the laws which it has itself put into them; it may be a far harder thing to extract laws over which it has had no control It is even possible that laws which have not their origin in the mind may be irrational and we can never succeed in formulating them."

This seems to be coming true, though not in the way that then suggested itself. I had in mind the phenomena of quanta and atomic physics, which at that time completely baffled our efforts to formulate a rational system of law. It was already apparent that the principle laws of molar physics were mind-made — the result of the sensory and intellectual equipment through which we derive our observational knowledge — and were not laws of governance of the objective universe. The suggestion was that in quantum theory we for the first time came up against the true laws of governance of the objective universe. If so, the task was presumably much more difficult than merely rediscovering our own frame of thought”.

Since then microscopic physics has made great progress, and its laws have turned out to be comprehensible to the mind; but, as I have endeavored to show, it also turns out that they have been imposed by the mind — by our forms of thought — in the same way that the molar laws are imposed…

A. S. Eddington The Physical Universe: The Philosophy of Physical Science

If the "empirical investigation" is mitigated by it being the product of human minds, the laws derived from those investigations can't, then, be detached from the conditions limiting those investigations.   It is a fact that laws, believed before the early 20th century to be a direct and absolute part of the physical universe, were, in fact, not the last word.  The habits of science that were built up before that revolution in scientists understanding the nature of science in the one and only context in which it exists, would seem to still govern the "naturalistic" ideologues thinking.  Naturalistic thinking which, inescapbly imposes its peculiar limits and conditions on their thinking.   This means that the very laws of physics exist within the limits of human minds.   Ignoring this fact that has been known since the 1930s,  materialism, naturalism, scientism, and most of atheism is left to attacking the very basis from which their great oracle of revelation speaks.  One of the discussions of the great minds of naturalism gathered together by Carroll is premised on what is, inescapably a circular discussion

Free will. If people are collections of atoms obeying the laws of physics, is it sensible to say that they make choices?

As always with ideologues of materialism, they assume that they are exempt from the very conditions imposed by their ideology.  The very source of the "laws of physics" are human minds.  Those "laws" must, inevitably, be restricted by the source that it is derived from.    But, it is clear, they insist on making those minds inferior to their products, "laws",  which depend, in their entirety, on the minds creating them.  Though, clearly, not the minds of these collected, "naturalistic" thinkers engaged in this weird circling spiral down some reductionist drain.  At least that's what they seem to believe.

Note:  You will have to forgive me for pointing out, again, that I once got Sean Carroll to answer a question during a long argument about whether or not physics was on the verge of having a "theory of everything".   It is something I'm rather proud of having gotten after many, many days of trying to get it.

I'll make a deal,if Sean will answer the question I put to him, I won't post another comment here. Is there a single object that physics knows comprehensively and exhaustively?

Sean Carroll said, Anthony @ 21: "No."  Thanks for commenting.

Considering the context of the two brawls on his blog in which the question was posed, I'm not convinced his thanks were sincere.   I believe at least two rather involved posts he wrote were in response to my question, including the one in which he gave me his one and only response.

If physics doesn't have a complete theory of even one object in the physical universe the idea that it has even a remote prospect of having a "theory of everything" is absurd on its face.  The earlier of the blog brawls linked to above was entitled "Stephen Hawking Settles the God Question Once and For All".   So, having to admit that physics, the science that Carroll's naturalism seems to see as the foundation of everything, including human experience, doesn't fully understand even the most pedestrian object in the universe believes that it can settle questions about God who is not a part of the physical universe.

I can see how a physicist, whose sense of personal worth and whatever fame and regard he has obtained depends on the status of physics, would insist on everyone believing that physics is the ultimate attainment of human culture.  I don't see how they can be allowed to ignore the past century of discoveries in obtaining a clearer picture of physics' place in reality.  The hangers on in philosophy and mathematics at that gathering should certainly know better.   Eddington, in his Swathmore Lecture,  Science and the Unseen World said:

Although I am rather in sympathy with this criticism of theology, I am not ready to press it to an extreme. In this lecture I have for the most part identified science with the physical science. This is not solely because it is the only side for which I can properly speak. But because it is generally agreed that physical science comes nearest to that complete system of exact knowledge which all sciences have before them as an ideal. Some fall far short of it. The physicist who inveighs against the lack of coherence and the indefiniteness of theological theories, will probably speak not much less harshly of the theories of biology and psychology. They also fail to come up to his standard of methodology. On the other side of him stands an even superior being – the pure mathematician – who has no high opinion of the methods of deduction used in physics, and does not hide his disapproval of the laxity of what is accepted as proof in physical science. And yet somehow knowledge grows in all of these branches. Wherever a way opens we are impelled to seek by the only methods that can be devised for that particular opening, not over-rating the security of our finding, but conscious that in this activity of mind we are obeying the light that is in our nature.

Perhaps it is understandable that his Quaker modesty isn't popular with many of our academics today.  They're only human, after all.

* Henri Bergson was one who I've come to be more interested in.  I would like to know more about what Russell said about Alfred North Whitehead's developed philosophical ideas, other than the Principia but am probably too old to go through the thorny books.  I'm rather resentful for Russell's ideological misrepresentations that dissuaded me from looking earlier.

**  UPDATE:  Beginning by declaring that all reality is contained in what is susceptible to  what "can be studied through reason and empirical investigation" is the central intellectual dishonesty of many species of scientistic atheism.  It isn't an identification of what is real, it's a boundary line of what it is permitted, a restriction on what is allowed to be real.   As with the attitude of logical positivism, it is a scholastic effort made to outlaw ideas through definition.   It is a demonstration of the amazing hubris which has long infected the culture of science and other academic areas as science has gained in repute, to often irrationally overtake other areas of the study of human experience.  Eventually, as that attitude becomes ingrained, it has a real effect in what is regarded as science and it becomes as much a pollutant in the products of academic culture as any of the now discontinued dogmas of science such as the aether or the now discredited theories of light or human behavior.
There is no reason, outside of the most basic and unfounded belief in the potency of human abilities, to believe that all of reality is susceptible to human "reason and empirical investigation".  Scientists and their fans often leave out the word "human" from that kind of construction, pretending that science, reason, and empirical investigation have some kind of disembodied, Platonic existence when they are absolutely human activities, science being nothing other than a human invention.  Pointing out that science is a human invention has provoked many, many objections from atheists.  It's as if they believe it is the gift of gods that they don't believe in.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Brahms Sonata for Viola and Piano in Eb op 120/2

William PRIMROSE, viola
Rudolf FIRKUŠNÝ, piano

Today I'm Going To Recommend Reading Gabby Gifford's Op-ed

I will post my next piece tomorrow.  Today, in the aftermath of the Senate filibuster of gun control,  everyone should read what Gabby Giffords has to say

SENATORS say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

Read what she has to say, especially that the struggle to end the tyranny of the gun industry and its sock puppets in the NRA have imposed on The People in the United States will not end here or anywhere except freeing us from the terrorists who kill tens of thousands of us every single year, day by day of carnage.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beethoven Duett Mit Zwei Obligaten Augengläsern

Chieh-Fan Yiu, viola
Se-Doo Park, cello

The Muddle of Materialist Morality

The physicist Steven Weinberg is probably most famous for saying

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

I've pointed out that the utter cluelessness of that statement coming from someone from the branch of science that has done as much as any to give the world nuclear and other weapons,  Many of those physicists avowed atheists working in an area of human scholarship, science, which has enabled us to do massively more evil through its real efficacy to multiply our potency while it undermines moral restraint.

Weinberg was one of the participants in a gathering of elite atheists in October of last year under the headline "Moving Naturalism Forward".    The participants were a number of elite scientists and scholars, including a number of the big names in atheism,  Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennett, Sean Carroll....   Some of the big thinkers of atheism.   If any group was capable of "moving 'naturalism' - you can safely read 'atheism' - forward, it would seem to be these folks.

Apropos of Weinberg's most famous saying, something that anyone arguing with atheists will certainly encounter, one of the sessions of discussions dealt with "Morality".   It begins with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein asserting an evo-psy basis for morality, pretty much the one that has been fashionable among atheists for some time now.  It's an attempt to make science do what science can't do, to come up with a scientific reason that we should behave morally, generously, kindly, through natural selection.  Something which I hold is an obviously impossible task due to natural selection being based in self-interest and which has required that generosity, kindness and any other expression of moral behavior be tortuously redefined to make them into a covert form of selfishness.  The absurdity reaches a basic level in Dawkins' "gene selfishness" which turns "altruism" into a pantomime of morality in service to selfish molecules.

As an aside, it's remarkable how in rejecting the alleged tyranny of the idea of an almighty God, an idea atheists often assert to be degrading to human dignity, end up asserting an absolute totalitarian rule by molecules and atoms, demoting human beings to being their unconscious, robotic servants.

In the past I've pointed out that materialism isn't capable of generating or sustaining morality that isn't vulnerable to even the most unsophisticated level of debunkery that atheism generally practices.  As an example of that, Goldstein's up to date, evo-psy based, fortress of materially based morality doesn't last more than ten minutes as the second speaker demolishes it.   That second speaker is Mr. "Bad Religion" himself, Steven Weinberg.   Weinberg does exactly what I said any atheist could do if they chose, assert that there is nothing real about any moral concept that is presented to them.  Their materialism has freed them to be as selfish as they want to be.  Weinberg asserts that his "moral preference" prefers the comfort of his family to the happiness of starving people elsewhere.   His response to Goldstein is most interesting because he points out that his thinking not only dispelled traditional morality but also the utilitarianism that he'd previously adopted.  As utilitarianism has been one of the most popular atheist-materialist imitations of morality, it is telling how that enormous intellectual effort is susceptible to the most unsophisticated rejection.

I don't think you'll find much else of use in the chatter, which I will address more of later, but you can see how this group of great atheist thinkers is unlikely to do much to lessen the depravity of human societies and governments.   Atheism can't generate a morality that it doesn't wash away in its basic methods and practices.   In the end, an atheist "morality" will always be no more reliable than doing what people figure they can get away with doing, most often, what they want to do, at most.   There is nothing in atheism that will compel most people to act generously, in a kindly way, ... against their selfish interest.  In order to have a decent society many, probably a large majority of people have to be far less selfish than can be effected through any of these materialistic cover jobs.

To listen, click on the link below

Moving Naturalism Forward: Day 2, Morning, 1st Session

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Brahms Sonata for Viola in F minor, Op.120/1

William PRIMROSE, viola
Rudolf FIRKUŠNÝ, piano

The People Who Ran Towards The Blast

A number of people talking about the attacks at the Boston Marathon have praised the people who ran towards the blast to help victims.  Not enough can be said about the police, the emergency medical technicians, nurses from the medical tents, doctors and nurses and others, even some who had been in the race, who went immediately to apply tourniquets and try to save people who were bleeding to death, suffered traumatic amputations, inhaled burning air, and who probably knew they were running into possible danger if not death.  Terrorists are known to explode bombs meant to kill those who come to aid their first set of victims.

No amount of praise is sufficient, every word said in that regard can not begin to match the merit of their actions. 

In Boston it is particularly worth remembering the mockery and snark aimed at these same heroic people, especially from media scribblers and bloggers sitting safely at their computer screens over the "Lite Brite" incident.  That was the one when two idiotic "artists" working for money put unexplained lighted displays of an ephemeral and stupid cable TV cartoon in places such as bridges.  The first responders took calls from the public and took them as possible bombs and treated them as seriously as they would have these bombs if they had been reported.   How, so many a media or blog commentator asked, couldn't they have known this was a publicity stunt for "Aqua Teen"?  As if serious people have nothing better to do than to keep up with the latest bit of lowest grade trash "culture" the cable TV industry can put out to entertain the notably unserious,  self-congratulatory, "reality community".

Following close on was an MIT student who was arrested at gun point for walking around Logan Airport with a lighted circuit board on her, causing a much snarked about incident in which she was treated as a possible terrorist.  Logan is the airport from which two of the the 9-11 attacks were launched.  In that case the idiot from MIT was doing an "art project".  That was the occasion for a new round of snark, this one joined in by many computer geeks who wondered how the police and security couldn't have recognized it as an innocuous ornament.

The least we can do is to assume that people trained as first responders know more than people who haven't been, who have little chance of being called on or to volunteer to put themselves in danger to save people.   Sometimes life isn't entertainment, sometimes it is serious.  Sometimes the command to "lighten up" should be met with one to shut up.  Quite often, actually.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Igor Stravinsky Elegy Tatjana Masurenko - Viola

Igor Stravinsky - Pater Noster - Отче Наш

RMJ's Post on Thatcher's "Christianity"

My online friend, RMJ, has written one of the best things I've read on Margaret Thatcher.  

Ms. Thatcher's thesis was that Christianity is about spiritual, not social, redemption.  Let me first say this is the primary reason I no longer value soteriology  I know that's a sweeping statement, but I don't make it lightly.  The emphasis on salvation has, I think, been the single greatest mistake in Christianity.  The famous parable of the sheep and the goats doesn't turn on the purity of intent of the "sheep."  It turns on their behavior, on their willingness to do something for strangers, for the ptochoi, for the sick, for the prisoner.  And God identifies God's self as everyone one of those persons.  And that identification doesn’t emphasize our life in the afterlife, but our life here and now.  Conveniently the Baroness skips over that inconvenient story.

No surprise there.  The parable from Matthew does nothing to support her thesis: that Christianity is all about the spiritual life, and the spiritual life is all about the individual, and Christianity really has no role in our social life except to make us feel good about being, or wanting to be, wealthy.

It could also serve as an answer to the frequently encountered insistence by atheists that religious people keep their religion out of public life.   That insistence leaves public life to the sterile, amoral struggle of valueless forces, in which greed and power will always win.   It is an insistence on real liberals giving up liberalism and the only basis for liberalism to exist.

The spiritual dimension, in other words, must mind its place, and offer only counsel; it must never stand in the way of the true purpose of the individual, which is to acquire money.  Social considerations, which can be influenced by spiritual ones, should never get in the way of the individual's pursuit of the individual's interests.  That the individual can't do anything outside a social system, that the individual can't even be born without the social interactions of two people, that money itself is entirely a product of human society, are matters that are never even considered.  That everything we do, we do as social beings, is tacitly disavowed.

The biggest problem with Chistians is how few of them act as if they believed the Jewish prophets, the disciples as revealed in Acts and the genuine epistles the man they claim to believe is divine and who spoke the words of God.   A government operated that in line with the teachings of Jesus would be the most liberal one which has ever existed.  That wouldn't please the Thatchers and Reagans and Bushes and Cheneys of the world, they can't even take the most dim of reflections of that in the watered down version that liberalism used to advocate.  It obviously wouldn't suit the so-called left that has dominated liberal discourse in the United States for several decades.

...She ends her speech hoping vaguely that the Church will finally teach the world to live in peace; which sounds suspiciously like the Pax Romana, the peace of the powerful free to exploit whomever and whatever suits their accumulation of wealth, which they are then at peace to use for such charitable purposes as they might see fit.  The Church, tacitly, really shouldn't get too involved in that discussion, either.  The Church should just bring us to a state fit to enjoy these comforts without conflict, and then move quietly out of the way, its task performed.  Well done, good and faithful servant;  "I tell you, make use of your ill-gotten gain to make friends for yourselves, so that when the bottom falls out they are there to welcome you into eternal dwelling places."—Luke 16:9 (SV)

Always good stuff at RMJ's blog. 

Paul Hindemith Playing His 1939 Sonata for Viola and Piano

This is one of the pieces I always wanted to play but I could never find a cooperative violist with the chops to do it.  The piano part is pretty challenging, I wouldn't try it myself these days.

As can be heard, Hindemith was a virtuoso on his chosen instrument.  He is one of a number of composers who chose to play viola instead of violin or cello.

Paul Hindemith, viola; Jesús María Sanromá, piano
Simels, the mid-brow pop ditto,
Thinks he is the apex of wit, though
He's never once thought
For himself, his mind's naught,
But a stretched tape-loop running a bit slow 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Paul Hindemith: Sonata per viola e pianoforte, Op.11, No.4

My mother was a violist.  Her birthday is coming up so I will be posting some of her favorite pieces for her instrument and a few of my own.

Two Sides of Mel Powell

Three Synthesizer Settings 

The Past Is Prelude: A Piece I Wrote in January, 2007

Two (non?) Realities? 

Dedicated to RMJ and Phila

Much as I’d like to go through the entire wrangle conducted last weekend at Echidne of the Snakes about the professional skeptics’ dishonest use of double standards, the record of what I wrote and the responses to it are there to be read*. Why reproduce it? And here again I begin with a lie. The truth is I’d rather not go through that turning door another time just now. Instead I’ll point out something that became clear to me in reading over the responses and considering them in light of my experience.

I think there are essentially two kinds of atheists, there are those who say “I don’t believe in God” and those who say “I know there isn't a God”. I've known both types. The “I don’t believe” type have placed themselves on firm ground, their non-presumptuous stand is based on their not believing something that can’t be proven. It isn't a position that is open to debate. Oddly, I've got a suspicion that the “I know there isn't a God” type would think this was a wimpy position when it’s actually the stronger one. At least to those interested in honesty and fairness.

The “I know there isn't a God” position asserts something that can’t be true. You can’t “know there isn't a God”. I could just point out that old saw “you can’t prove a negative” but what I've experienced of this opinion doesn't give me any faith that even if it was a fact that doing so was impossible would make a dent.

For the rest let me at least explain what I mean. In order to “know” that, you would have to have falsified every possible God that could possibly be proposed. Since a number of proposed Gods are firmly beyond the possibility of either proof or disproof neither their existence or non-existence can be known. For example, take the description in the first line in Arnold Schoenberg’s great opera Moses und Aron, God is unimaginable, unseeable and all mighty. How do you disprove the existence of such a God? I could propose any number of Gods which, either fully or in part, and by choice, are beyond discovery. Here, just for fun.

It could be that there was a creator god who died and who no longer directs the universe and whose traces are lost to intelligent detection. It could be that there is one who is unconcerned with the progress of the universe, roughly, the God of the deists. There could be one who directs the entire universe in every single detail and who chooses to entirely cover her tracks from us. You think that an omnipotent and omniscient god couldn't do that? Maybe god got to be God through really good time management and attention to detail. Maybe just as you don’t tell your mother what she doesn't need to be bothered with, God wants to relieve us of the petty details which we are too limited to begin to comprehend.

Maybe god is a trickster who created the universe for our entertainment and his own, or he might be a sadist. Maybe god is like an unfair detective writer who is going to hold out the crucial clue till the very end and spring it on whoever is left standing. Maybe that god only cares about those few people at the end of the story and the rest of us are extras. Maybe we are like amoebas to such a god and there is another species somewhere in time or space for whom the entire thing is intended, maybe such a god let them in on the clue. Maybe in the Burgess Shale there are the fossils of a species that knew it all, knew there was an afterlife and that this life was just a beginning. Maybe such a species didn't bother to evolve or preserve itself because it knew this and so became extinct. Maybe God doesn't much like Richard Dawkins or his ilk and chooses to bedevil him. Maybe he finds them to be egotistical prigs and he chooses to reveal herself to lesser mortals of more modest abilities or pretensions for Dawkins’ further irritation.

I don’t know if that’s your idea of fun but I enjoyed it. None of these proposed gods would be susceptible to discovery, either by their choice or as a consequence of our limitations. None of them can be “known to not exist” just as their existence would be hidden from reason.

As soon as this proposed difference between two types of atheists came to me I recognized it immediately by its converse, it is exactly the difference between liberal religion and fundamentalism. A liberal religionist says “I believe”, a fundamentalist says “I know”. Maybe the problem of the Dawkinsite fallacy is more one of emotion instead of reason. Fundamentalists don’t do much in the way of reasoning. They might say that it’s wimpy but maybe they really are afraid of the possibility of their being wrong. Liberals tend to believe what they do without fear. Perhaps this is the reason that they are never as congenial targets of the Dawkinsites as religious fundamentalists who start with a flawed assertion of certainty.

I’m going to speculate that if this is true that it might have some relationship to the manners of both groups, the fundamentalists and the liberals of both believers and atheists. As I've declared before, I don’t think that what people believe is very important to anyone but themselves**. It is their business. It is when they act that their business becomes other peoples’ business. So, what is the really important thing I can leave you with based on my experience? Liberals aren't as likely to do you harm.

*  Not anymore, it isn't.  Due to the loss of information as, first Haloscan and then Echo were discontinued, all of those ancient battles in the comments have been lost, no doubt stored on some inaccessible server in code that will not be deciphered due to lack of interest.   You'll have to take my word, it was an epic battle that settled nothing.

**  Note:  I've come to see that what politicians and other people believe is very important due to the many statements by materialists about the bases of democracy and a decent life. being delusions and the truly awful history of materialists with political control.   What people believe makes all the difference at times and to the extent that they have the ability to do great evil or great good.  If, as Richard Dawkins infamously said, you don't believe evil and good are real,  that belief is among the most important considerations of all.