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I have a bit of trouble interpreting this article at present - in particular I may recommend modifications to the words "supernatural", "definitive", and "extraordinary" as they are used. It seems that perhaps this article could just be equivalent to Ockham's Razor combined with an important semantic distinction, but I am wondering if I am missing something. Here's the short form of my thinking: The semantic distinction is for the word believe. I tend to use this word to mean that one honestly assesses evidence and weighs something versus its alternatives (where belief is the honest reflection of the weighing, but not necessarily the correct weighing). This is very distinct from pretending, deluding oneself, or imagining. I look at the world and I weigh all of the evidence and on balance I conclude that any theory of existence that includes god(s) (or God) will no better predict outcomes than the best theory that does not. I think that makes me an atheist. Unless that changes, I remain an atheist. If I ever re-weigh the evidence and conclude that the god(s) (or God) theory better explains everything, then I would cease to be an atheist. If you subscribe to Ockham's Razor, then you should use the simpler, god-less theory.
For the longer version, I would additionally explain why I think that Ockham's razor can be a matter of preference or a pragmatic imperative: I consider myself a rational agent that interacts with "existence". I see evidence from my experiences that "existence" is consistent, repeatable, and objective (i.e. others experience the same "existence", even if they may experience it differently). I was introduced to the scientific method and I recognize it as an effective method for building knowledge in a communal fashion based on the data/experiences/impressions that I collect about this objective "existence". A basic aspect of my interaction with "existence" is that if something cannot be ascertained by experiment (for instance because it has absolutely no effect on anything) then it is completely arbitrary whether or not it is true. What is more, there can be no general, objective basis for belief (for or against).
E.g. if we consider that either a) gravity just works or b) gravity works because angels push on things in exactly the fashion that gravity would just work in a) (or whatever Feynman said), then it doesn't matter to me which is true because neither of those explanations has any difference that would be explained by experiment. What is more, I can say that I believe that gravity just works and someone can say that he believes angels are at work, but we probably enter a subjective argument next supposing we are distinguishing between theories with exactly equivalent mathematical/physical instantiations. I suppose somebody could say he prefers to imagine/visualize/theorize that angels are holding things together, but that is almost certainly a subjective preference (perhaps related to aesthetics). More complicated theories tend to be more unwieldy and therefore less accurate, but if one believes that using a more complicated theory works better then he is welcome to do so, but it is important that a) he establish a means of communicating that he is not stating that the basic theory is wrong and b) acknowledge that the distinction is not necessary.
Before anybody gets too worked up by my apparrent tolerance, let me provide an analogous example: I multiply by 3 and then divide by 20 in some cases, other times I divide by 20 and then multiply by 3, and yet other times I multiply by 0.15 (sometimes by multiplying by 0.1, caching the value, dividing by two, and then adding to the cached value) - all are equivalent mathematically, but the operations lend themselves to different mental shortcuts depending on what other numbers are used. The most complicated of these is actually the method I most prefer for mentally computing large values such as 353226 by 0.15.) I don't know of any theistic beliefs that are interchangeable with a scientific viewpoint, but I wouldn't object if I encountered one.
Now if some chap decides not only are angels the mechanism for gravity, but also that one can communicate with the angels and influence the effects of gravity, then we have entered the realm of objectivity again and we should get concerned. First, this kind of thing can bring science to its knees. If more and more people go off and try to test out baseless theories (because this theory can be tested), then resources are wasted. We should be clear that I am now arguing that this kind of thing is neither prudent nor economical. Neither of these is evidence. I think that reliance on thought experiment is required to provide grounds for rejecting baseless theories: if I had to adopt every bogus theory that has not been disproven, that would be unwieldy and would result in me disproving some of these theories in the course of using them (perhaps disastrously).
Second, theories that cannot be tested may allow individuals to influence others in ways that are detrimental to the individuals and to society. Christians and Muslims can look at the Heaven's Gate cult/group and would generally agree that something "evil" had occurred (christians generally consider suicide "evil"). Here thought experiments are not required. The rest of us can look at Christians or Muslims: take the combined theories of an afterlife and of a judgmental god that rewards/punishes humans in the afterlife. A lot of people do a lot of stupid things (and perhaps a number of good things as well) because they anticipate judgement. Not only are there suicide bombers, but also sexually self-repressed masses.
I guess I am struggling with what an "atheist" is if it is somehow different from a "true atheist". Anyway, I just accidentally closed my tab (and luckily thought to google whether or not firefox has an undo close tab feature - it does!) so I think I will post before my sleep deprivation causes me to lose my post for real.
--ransage 10:50, 2 May 2009 (CDT)
I just started reading Introduction To Religion and I may have found another factor: faith. Aside from the concept of faith in people, i.e. trust, I have little remaining concept of faith. I was raised catholic and for a few years my "faith" in my parents was vicariously extended to "faith" in god, but since I was less than ten years old, I have been more of a thinker and have not really had any kind of "faith". Therefore, I am wondering if the "true atheist" discussion has something to do with people's relationship to the concept of faith. Above I mention self delusion and that may be what many would call "faith". I don't see a faith article, so I will create one and the discussion may move there.
--ransage 11:05, 2 May 2009 (CDT)
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