Sunday, May 22, 2011

Atheism Is Not Fundamentalist

In the current philosophical debates on religion, most respected apologists realize that there is no way to justify religious belief. Instead, the focus is on trying to reduce the foundations of everyday belief.

Essentially, they argue "Yes. I have no reason to believe in God. But YOU have no reason to believe the world. So our beliefs are, in fact, on equal ground."

Little do the religious nuts who espouse this belief know, they're right. They aren't right for the reasons they think, though. They think that they've reduced our perceptions to a fundamentalist belief, but they haven't.

Our sensations are forced upon us. They are us. I (Aaron) am my sensations. I am my beliefs. I am a complex construct that includes beliefs and sensations. I have no reason to believe that sensations are true in some metaphysical sense, they simply are.

For example, my sensations are frequently "wrong." I say wrong in quotes because right and wrong are subjective based on experience. For example, I might look off in the distance and see a tall man, but when I get close to him, I find out that he is, in fact, short. We would say that I was wrong in my initial conception of his height. But I wasn't. At that moment, I saw a short man. That's the only truth that there is.

We can try to argue that there exists some truth outside of our perception, and I actually find that somewhat compelling, if not really cogent, but we can never achieve that. Whereas religious believers feel that they are right, I do not. I am keenly aware that what I see is not a foundation for truth.

If we assume the existence of other minds*, our perceptions are above religious dogma. Not only are they forced upon us -we do not choose to see- but they are highly reliable from person to person. When I seek scientific support for a belief, I can point to the evidence and others will agree that I am pointing at evidence. Religion absolutely does not have this.

If we assume that we have no reason to assume other minds, and their testimony is useless to determine justification, thus returning our perceptions and faith to similar grounds, we are forced into absolute skepticism. At that point, yes, our confidence in our senses is zeroed, but our confidence in anything is zeroed. The religious have reduced their own beliefs to meaninglessness. They are still fools for believing their creed.

But even here, I am not a fool for believing my sensations. They are the only thing that I have. They are imperfect, but they are something. The reason why religious arguments are correct is because science and antitheism are dogmatic in that they hold that truth is good, non-truth is bad. This is a dogma.

There is good reason for this dogma, though. Namely, truth and belief are the wellspring from which our action flows. We don't know what truth is, since we are limited by our senses in determining it, but it is the best course we have. For example, if someone throws an orange at me, I will duck. My sensations told me "it is true that an orange is flying at you." I act based upon that, and I do not feel pain.

But since our sensations cannot be trusted, we might have been hit by the orange and not known it. We don't KNOW. We don't know if we're actually acting. The argument is vaguely circular, in that we're relying on sensation to confirm the validity of our sensations. But to deny our sensations pushes us, again, into absolute skepticism.

And, again, that absolute skepticism reduces religion to the same position of non-justification. I might be a fool, but you're an even bigger one because you believe more unjustified things than I do.

So, yes, atheism, antitheism, and science are predicated on the dogmatic belief that truth is better than non-truth. Everyone recognizes that the best we can really hope for is justification, and that justification is a circular system based upon reciprocal validation of sensations. But while the scientific argument falls apart on "Yes. I would duck if an orange was thrown at me," religion broke down LONG before that. As far as I'm concerned, science is way better off.

*: I've talked about this before. Other minds is the problem that we do not know that other people have internal worlds similar to our own. For all we know, they are advanced robots programmed to act like humans. The assumption that others have minds seems to be inborn, as experiments continue to indicate. This is the root of our ability to "get inside someone else's shoes." It's guessed that those who lack this inborn mechanism (or mental organ or module, whichever term you like) are what we call autistic.

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