Clarification to “What Just Happened?”

Last night, after having been overwhelmed by hateful opinions and hypocritical drivel, I came home and wrote a short article.  Although I stand by much of what I said, I feel it’s necessary to clarify a few points.  Had I contemplated these thoughts more thoroughly last night, a follow up would not have been necessary – note to self.

First, I realize that much of what I said was intended to make myself feel better.  I say this for two reasons: (1) I didn’t earnestly rebuke this man, and (2) I was fishing for reassurance.  By the latter point I mean that I wanted you, whomever you are, to reassure me that this sort of nonsense is less common than I fear.  After talking with a very close friend of mine this morning, he set my mind at ease on both accounts.  He said, firstly, that rebuking this man is not my responsibility.  Although it’s not my responsibility, however, if I choose to do so, it has to be on my terms.  In other words, have a goal in mind.  Did I want to simply argue with him to make myself feel better, or did I want to change his mind?  If I wanted to change his mind, be prepared to fail.  And if I wanted to make myself feel better, there is no need to argue, for by the nature of wanting to argue, I have proved to myself that I am better than he is.

Next, I made some hateful generalizations about religion and didn’t differentiate between the religious, and the religions themselves.  Buddhism is not a philosophy of violence.  If people within Buddhism choose to perform violent acts, that should not reflect poorly on Buddhism itself.  I personally don’t feel the same about Christianity and Islam, as there are certain verses within their texts that preclude the notion of peace.  That is not to say, however, that all Muslims and all Christians practice these verses, or even marginally endorse them.  The Qur’an is especially troublesome to criticize because of its frequent abrogations, but it’s not impossible to find clearly immoral teachings.  Likewise, Christianity and Judaism have some particularly immoral tenets that aren’t actually abided by – when was the last time we stoned unruly children to death, for example?  Moreover, many people do not feel encumbered intellectually by their religions.  What a foolish and narrow-minded thing for me to say.  How could I make such a regretful comment when people like Francis Collins contribute so much to scientific discovery?

So what was I trying to communicate last night?  I wanted to express my concern with judging people by their self-imposed labels.  Buddhism and Jainism are often viewed as peaceful, but not all Buddhists and Jains are in fact peaceful.  Christianity and Islam proclaim to be peaceful and moral pillars of our society.  There are certainly examples of them fulfilling this proclamation, so I’d be wrong to deny the veracity of such claims entirely.  Though, there are individuals and certain denominations thereof that are not representative of the aforementioned proclamation.  Similarly misrepresented, atheists are often portrayed as immoral and distrustful.  Hence, my reference to Gallop polls – we have continuously been labeled as the most distrustful demographic in the United States.  To be sure, there are definitely immoral and distrustful atheists, so we are not free from criticism.  My point, rather, is that these misunderstandings have profound consequences.  If the Buddhist and I were to run for public office, for example, the electorate is far more likely to select the intolerant Buddhist over me.  On what grounds?  Because he’s purportedly spiritual?  Ridiculous.  If you learn anything from my successive rants, I hope it is to judge people by their personal opinions, and more importantly, by their actions; not, as we so often do, by their self-imposed labels.

This message was approved by R.L. Culpeper, Presidential Candidate, 2016.

Categories: Religion

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46 replies

  1. In my opinion, the troublesome people are not the theists as such but dogmatic people (including dogmatic atheists). This reminds me that I have written on this about 15 years ago, see!searchin/alt.atheism.moderated/andreas$20keller/alt.atheism.moderated/BJGxxBqZJ7U/me1Jg2p4ZmQJ. In that article, I distinguished between two dimensions, belief and attitude to belief.
    By the way, whether atheists are viewed as more untrustworthy depends a lot on the envioronment. Here in Germany, I estimate there are about 50% agnostics and atheists and dogmatic people are a minority among the rest. People who are regarded perfectly normal in the US would here be looked at as dangerous sect-members. If a politician would talk about god in a way normal or even expected for politicians in the US, he or she would be finished (consider emigrating to Europe :-))

    • Yes, another thing I forgot to mention – dogma. 🙂

      And don’t think I haven’t considered moving there!

    • This looks like it was a very interesting discussion! Your distinction between the two seems appropriate.

      “The dogmaticists, on the other hand (both theists and atheists) believe that their beliefs are simply _facts_. So they do not acknowledge that the existence or nonexistence of god are unprovable hypotheses, thus confusing believing and knowing.”

      I’ll have to contemplate on this further, and I’ve added it to possible writing topics. Thanks for sharing this.

      • I just have to search for and read my old articles from those days again. I had totally forgotten about it. Good old Usenet times, when newsgroups where accessed with a newsreader. Young people probably have no idea what that was 🙂

        • I personally never used them, but I was rather late on the computer scene. 🙂 However, I remember hearing about them when I was tinkering around and learning Linux a few years ago. Though, my interest in that, too, has now faltered.

          You are so mighty and experienced, sir Nannus. Please forgive our youthful ignorance. 😉

          • I was just starting to ge sentimental about the good old days when I was young… 🙂
            That was stone-age, no navigation, no smart phones, no laptops, no USB sticks, no Blogs, the WWW was embryonic…
            When I was a child, I heard about computers. As a teenager I had an opportunity to see one (and that was special). When I started studying, I did my first programming exercises with punched cards. The first mouse I used was on a Xerox workstation (before there was apple and windows).
            Lol, I have reached the age where I am starting to tell stories about the good old days 🙂

            • Hahaha! You really are showing your age now. I am somewhat jealous that I didn’t get to experience the punch card. I guess I probably shouldn’t be though. I hear the process was grueling.

              • The punching was done with a keyboard. The machine assembled the cards into a batch (we are still talking about batch processing). Some cards could be reused. You gave your batch to the processing center and received a listing (on paper with green stripes) about half an hour later. In many cases that was “syntax error in line 20” or something like that, so it was better to check and re-check your code. When I was in my second or third semester, the punched cards where no longer used. That was in the early 80s,
                I think I kept one or two of those cards, but I don’t know now where they are.

                • I see. I’ve got a video in my youtube queue about the history of programming that I need to watch one of these days. I believe QI introduced me to the history behind punch cards – textile mills. Think how far we’ve come – from textile mills to personal computers. Simply amazing.

  2. I find some confusion in the discussion here. I have no intention of giving any weight to the miniscule possibility that there is a god, however you describe the unknowable. It requires evidence to say something exists. There is none for gods, gods do not exist.

    I do not understand if I fit in this category of dogmatic atheists being discussed.

    • Your reasoning is based on induction. Induction is based on experience. Because our experience is exiguous, one cannot be certain. Inductive reasoning operates with degrees of probabilities, not certainties. Therefore, it is only probably that god(s) do not exist, but not certain. To exclaim otherwise would categorize you as a dogmatic atheist… under Nannus’ definition, that is.

      • I am certain that none of the gods ever described by man exist. As certain as I am that there are no big purple invisible frogs following me around. I will happily admit I was wrong if evidence is found of either but the proposition that either of them exist is preposterous and giving any weight to the probability that either might exist is profoundly illogical.

        • Well, how can you be certain? You would have to experience, either personally or by way of humanity’s collective experience, every possible context in which positive evidence for god(s) may be found. It’s impossible. The fact that you have never experienced positive evidence for their/his existence does not mean that you never will – the future is impossible to predict with certainty; only probabilities can be discerned.

          Take the sun, as I mentioned in my earlier comment. I can assert that the sun will rise tomorrow with confidence. I can do so by way of previous experience – the sun has never failed to rise. I build my confidence, furthermore, on humanity’s previous experience with the sun’s ascension into our sky. I cannot, however, say with certainty that it will rise tomorrow, because something may occur between now and then that I have never experienced; such as an asteroid knocking earth out of its orbit, etc. I can only say that it is probable that the sun will rise tomorrow – even highly probably. Or, highly improbable in the case of Gods existence.

          The same reasoning is applied to the existence or non-existence of something. You have never experienced evidence that would affirm god(s) existence, but there is absolutely no way for you to know what will occur in the future (or the past, in certain cases such as this). To know everything would make you omniscient, which I suppose would make you God, which would prove God exists. That last part was sort of a joke. 🙂 Anyway, we can only know things with certainty that are a priori. I wrote a short essay about this (it’s towards the end) that may help explain the issue of a posteriori and a priori knowledge.

          • There are millions of things I’ve thought of in this life that are improbable enough that I consider them to be impossible. Sure, one of them could happen but that chance is so small that in any kind of practical terms, it does not exist. Mot of my existence and yours is based on ‘good enough’ or ‘close enough’ to get the job done. We know exactly how long a meter is but none of us have anything laying around that can measure one precisely. In the ‘noise’ of a ‘close enough’ existence, an infinitely small chance that something might be possible gets lost and none are alarmed nor alerted.

            Black holes could be popping in and out of existence and one could swallow the Earth tomorrow – and you will argue that this is possible because we can’t know that it won’t happen until day after tomorrow.

            This means an infinite number of possibilities for the next second exist, yet we will experience only one of them… the one we observe. If we cannot observe a god, one does not exist.

            That takes us to an argument regarding such a being happening to be busy on the other side of the universe for a few million years and not paying us any attention: deism, an apology without a holy text. Again, what are the possibilities? What is the probability? It remains the same as for huge purple invisible frogs that follow me everywhere.

            As for no gods? Is it possible? Yes. Is probable? The weight of the evidence indicates that it is probable.

            Whether the logic is bullet proof or not, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that lacking empirical evidence that no gods can exist it remains so highly improbable that in practical terms there is no need to speak as if it is possible.

            • I’ve reviewed both of your last comments and I intend on responding in just one of my own.
              We’re talking past each other if you accept that the existence of God is possible, though improbable. In philosophical terms, words like necessary, probably, certainty, impressions, ideas, and a host of others hold a completely different meaning than their everyday counterpart; similar to the difference between scientific theory and everyday theory. Certainty only occurs with GENERAL IDEAS. General ideas are true in all possible worlds. Numbers are considered general ideas – the number 7 represents a consistent idea regardless of context. A triangle is a general idea. Triangles are made of three sides, no more and no less. There will never be a 4 sided triangle. We can say for certain what the number 7 represents; likewise, we can say for certain that a triangle has three sides. These are examples of a priori knowledge – knowledge outside of experience and therefore not subject to limitations.

              Now, there are certain philosophers that say if you can imagine something, the imagination itself positively affirms its existence. This is a very abstract and unconvincing argument, but the ontological argument is largely founded on this sort of reasoning. So, your comment “What evidence have we that it’s possible a god could exist?” would be answered by asking you to imagine the most perfect being possible. This perfect being, if such a thing were possible, has to exist in at least one possible world. And since he’s perfect and he exists in one possible world, he has to exist in all possible worlds. And since we live in a possible world, this being exists. And the most perfect being is God. Therefore, God exists.

              The point is that theists/deists/pantheists don’t simply rely on empirical evidence. There are certain a priori arguments that are made for the existence of God that require contemplation. Personally, I’ve never read one that isn’t fallacious in some manner. There is usually one thing, hidden amongst their many premises, which is wrong. I enjoy searching for that fallacy and bringing it to light.
              I agree, the likelihood that god(s) exist is so miniscule it’s hardly worth considering; or, perhaps, completely unworthy of consideration. The point that Nannus made, however, was that we can’t know for certain. You say, ”The pragmatic response is to say the probability of the existence of a god is close enough to 0 to call it 0.” That’s fine to operate as if God doesn’t exists. In fact, I agree – it’s close enough to 0 to render the idea improbable. But probability and possibility are two completely different things. Just as 0 and 0.00000000000000001 are completely different things.

              I do enjoy this sort of discussion, so you will have to excuse me if I’m explaining things that you know, but I think we’re simply talking past each other now.

              • I do know that it is not certain that gods do exist, nor is it certain that they do not. It is certain that there is no common definition of god, nor one common enough to be considered a working definition.

                The assumption that a perfect being would have to exist in all possible worlds defines perfect subjectively. There is no certainty that the most perfect being is any particular god. To admit or accept the possibility of one god existing is to accept the possibility of infinite gods existing… and no god existing. This is so because we are not omniscient. Such an argument then needs probability. This is the part that agnostics and theists do not have. The possibility alone is not enough. There are infinite possibilities for each second of our lives but only a few of an infinite number have any probability at all. It is only these that we give consideration.

                Otherwise, we’d be talking about the group of people that believe a black hole will consume the Earth when it pops into existence within the center of the Earth and the group that believe this is not true, and the group that says we can’t know if it is true or not. Except that we don’t do this for anything that has no probability of happening. That is my position. We have 0 probability value for the existence of gods, or any god in particular.

                I’m sort of repeating myself to try to ensure that we are saying or not saying the same things.

                In respect of my observations/logic, god is ‘just a theory’ in the common parlance use of the word. That is to say that theoretically it is possible that a god might exist if such a being has the qualities required to exist outside of existence as we know it. It is also theoretically possible that huge purple invisible frogs follow me everywhere I go. These are so because we do not have the knowledge to define or limit what is possible outside of our knowledge. This does not make the possibility a probability. There is no reason to treat the improbable possibility of the existence of a god with more respect than the improbable possibility of anything else, such as huge purple invisible following frogs.

                In some philosophy class somewhere (and a few pubs I’d imagine) the possibility of the existence of a god counts for something of value in a ‘discussion’ but everywhere else, it’s not worth mentioning and certainly not worth killing for.

                • MAL, I could not agree with your inference more! Our discussion started with differentiating between certainties and probabilities. Insofar as probabilities are concerned, God’s proponents lack evidence, empirical or otherwise. The inference, therefore, that God does not exist, and moreover, that the evidence is so deficient so as to render further contemplation unworthy of serious inquiry is apt.

                  Your analogy, furthermore, is consistent and appropriate for this discourse. There is an equal amount of evidence for the existence of purple invisible frogs, and appropriately, we do not seriously consider these beings as possible – even if they simply exist in an area we have yet to experience.

                  Your exception to the abstract argument for God’s existence is also apt. It is a matter of equivocation – I can substitute “God” for any number of equally ambiguous ideas. If I say that flying reindeer, equipped with omniscience, omnipotence, transcendence, etc. are the epitome of perfection, then I can replace God in the abstract argument with my reindeer and attain the same unsatisfactory conclusion: Flying reindeer are the most perfect beings imaginable; the most perfect being imaginable must therefore exist in at least one possible world; if it lives in one possible world, its perfection must therefore enable it to live in all possible worlds; since we are a possible world, flying reindeer live in this world; therefore flying reindeer exist. My assertion is simply that – an assertion. I have no evidence to believe that flying reindeer are the most perfect beings imaginable. Furthermore, I have no evidence to suggest that because I can imagine a perfect being – which I don’t think is possible – it follows that it must exist. Who says that because something is imaginable it must exist? On what grounds, etc.?

                  Still, we do not come across people that believe in flying reindeer – unless they are children, I suppose. But we do come across people that believe in God. I believe that using examples such as these strengthens our counter arguments. I am not certain that God does not exists; similarly, I am not certain invisible purple frogs do not exist; but I have no reason to believe that they do, so why should we consider either as probable? We shouldn’t.

    • Does that make sense? I kind of gave you a terse explanation, but this form of reasoning is difficult to follow sometimes. Hume and Russell both give excellent examples of the problems with induction, if your interested. I, myself, always found Russell’s “Sun example” to be the most helpful.

      • That there has never been evidence does not mean that there will not ever be evidence is understood. If a god popped into existence next year and pretended to be the creator god of monotheism, then I would be wrong?

        If there is no evidence of a god, does one exist? If a god cannot affirmatively be experienced, does a god exist? None that have yet been described in holy texts.

        To reflect in a positive direction on the possibility requires reason to believe it possible that a god could exist. What evidence have we that it’s possible a god could exist? What evidence have we that it’s probable that a god could exist?

        I imagine that answer was a fairly small number. The smaller it is, the larger it’s opposing number gets.

        The pragmatic response is to say the probability of the existence of a god is close enough to 0 to call it 0. What is known of the various gods and all the false claims of gods is that they can’t be shown to be truth. Mix that with some of the pertinent facts such as humans are bad eye witnesses and we like invisible friends because it augments our thinking processes and suddenly you get a claim which cannot be supported for all of human history.

        No matter that there is a very small chance that a huge purple invisible frog is following me around right now, there is no reason to think it probable in the least. I see no arguments for gods more substantive than the argument for such frogs.

        It seems reasonable to think that if anything is literally possible some such possibilities would happen to be observed. These wildly improbable possibilities don’t seem to materialize for observation. With no reason to think a thing possible, there is no reason to think the thing probable.

        As for a god? It is far more probable that there is buried pirate’s gold in my back garden and I’m not digging it full of holes looking.

  3. Back in my school days studying comparative religions, I decided a person’s religion is not what theySAY it is. It is what and how they live, what they obviously value — what is most “propriate” and drives them. This is not the main stream view, but it is a valid alternative to the standard definition that religion is a formal, standardized set of beliefs and dogma to which one subscribes.

    A deep ignorance of what one says one believes is common. A lot of atheists aren’t. I lot of Christians and Jews aren’t. Likely a lot of Buddhists and Hindus also aren’t. But everyone IS something when you get to know them. It is inconvenient to be unable to generalize … but it’s honest. It requires a lot more work than broad statements based on labels.

    The broader and more inclusive the statement, the less truth it contains … and the more people will nod and agree with it because each person interprets it in her/his own way and according to his/her own experience. It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing at all.

  4. All beliefs are, perhaps,rather like clothes. We put on what we are comfortable with, what we are familiar with, what seems to suit the view of who we are. A belief is, though, a set of Emperor’s clothes, having no real existence outside of the actions and emotions it encourages in ourselves and others.
    We rarely, perhaps never, consider valid a belief that does not support our personal ‘story’ of how thing are. I value this site for the exploration of thought and the development and reassessment of thoughts, and for the providing of views I do not necessarily feel comfortable with. There is no point in communication that only validates what is ‘known’ already – there will be no learning there, only entrenchment of complacency.
    (These thoughts were mine, and are a record of process. I do not necessarily still ‘believe’ nor ‘disbelieve’ them. Life is an uncertain process…..)

  5. R.L., kudos for your self-reflection. Painting with a broad brush just doesn’t work. That’s why my previous comment focused on criticizing behavioral extremism rather than philosophical constructs. Even as anti-religious as I am, I know there are countless Christians – for example – who have virtually nothing in common with fundamentalist or dominionist beliefs. And, you said it best with this statement:

    “I hope it is to judge people by their personal opinions, and more importantly, by their actions; not, as we so often do, by their self-imposed labels.”

    Best regards,


  1. Quotes From “Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness)” by Yoshida Kenko « R. L. Culpeper

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