Once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, there existed a species called homo sapiens. They had an enormous amount of processing power, an excellent ability to match patterns, and a level of consciousness and self awareness that had never existed before.
They understood many of the things they saw in the world, but others were mysteries. It wasn't that they couldn't process what was around them, but rather that they hadn't developed the context for it. Seeing giant bolts of lightning strike down from the sky must have been terrifying. Nothing in their experience could begin to explain such a thing.
If we can simplify a bit and say that scientists' jobs are to figure out all of the causes and effects, it could be said that we've always been scientists, albeit bad ones. Cave men started noticing correlations and assigned meaning to them. Maybe they saw a white bird, and the next day it rained. How could they know that the white bird didn't cause that rain?
Some phenomena didn't seem to have direct causes, or maybe sometimes the correlations spotted didn't line up anymore. It rained, but no one in the tribe saw a white bird. Searching for meaning, our ancestors imagined supernatural beings, and nonsense was born.
It's easy and comforting to ascribe meaning to what we don't understand. It doesn't require mental rigor, and it's strangely pleasant to imagine that something bad that happened was the result of an angered spirit, rather than completely at random.
Once nonsense began, it flourished. More people began to communicate, and nonsense spread in the form of superstition and it's identical twin, religion. These constructs helped people deal with the brutality of everyday life and gave them purpose. Religions tended to mix a good amount of contemporary morality into the mix, so they actually got people to do good things sometimes.
Unfortunately for nonsense, its position in human consciousness is forever in jeopardy. As science and reason have developed, they have clashed with superstition, and have won every single time. To even the most entrenched brainwashee of religion, religious beliefs one hundred years old must look ridiculous.
Those who indulge in such nonsense find themselves clinging to a smaller and smaller iceberg, floating on a warm sea of reason. Every day bits of the unknown-but-possibly-explained-by-supernatural-phenomenon slide over into the realm of reason. We understand more every day.
The irony, of course, is that if science and the supernatural were both valid, supernatural would have an enormous advantage, because science's own rules would force it to be recognized. All a god would have to do would be to make himself known publicly for five seconds, and every scientist would change his mind instantly. One psychic would have to subject themselves to science's rules for rigor just once, and they would prove forever that such powers exist.
I don't fault our earliest ancestors for indulging in nonsense. They were born into a scary and harsh world that has offered all of the answers, but at a glacial pace. We know better now. We can see the track record science has versus nonsense, and this should scare us away from it. Just because science doesn't have an answer for something yet doesn't mean that nonsense's answer is valid.
Although IQ is negatively correlated with believing in nonsense, there are still a lot of very smart people who believe in things like gods, psychics, astrology, and other supernatural powers. Some of those people were brainwashed from an early age to believe in religion, which is hardly their fault. Others need certainty so badly that they find it in the form of nonsense rather than live with the uncertainty of not knowing.
Some dabble in it. A family member of mine believes in astrology, at least to some degree. She argues that it's not harming her, so why not?
I'd say that it is harmful, because it steals her focus away from reality. If it doesn't affect her decisions at all, then it's a waste of time. If it does, then it's harmful. It's also a rejection of the reality that some things happen at random, and that some things are unknown to us.
If this post has made you angry, there's a good chance that you believe in nonsense. I don't expect what I've written to change anyone's mind immediately, and to only change a few people's minds in the long run. My hope is that it will spark some critical thinking about these sorts of topics, and that if you're entrenched in what I call nonsense, you might have an additional filter through which to see things, which eventually might cause you to have a more rational perspective on life.
Photo is modern art (sometimes nonsense, in my uneducated opinion) in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Get it-- man in the sky?
Just got back from a very productive island trip. Update coming at some point!
Have you read Carlyle's On Heroes yet? I must have recommended it to you by now --
If you say that there could be more to existence than things that fit into our current models, then you're absolutely right. There certainly could be, and some of our models are going to be found to be wrong or flawed over time.
If you think that there could be things that don't fit into rationalist models, then I disagree completely, because you can create a model for anything observed, and given adequate data you can probably work out a theory that will be predictive. And that's the value of science: that it's predictive.
If something isn't observable, it's beyond the purview of science. And if it can't be observed under any circumstances, it's probably safe to assume that it doesn't exist.
Why couldn't there be something that didn't fit a rationalist model? For example, It is conceivable that something could happen once. It could be observable but not predictable.
Who is to say this could never happen? You may believe this to be true, because you believe the universe will always behave in rational, predictable ways, but that is a belief, not a logical necessity.
Well, yes and no. I'm guessing many of your own beliefs could be placed under the same category of nonsense. For example, many people believe they have free will (i.e., the ability to choose what to do and how to think). There is no scientific evidence to support this superstitious belief that you have a power of choice. Every particle in your body obeys the laws of physics. There is no place or variable for choice in any of these equations. Every thought you have is an electro-chemical stimulus-response reaction determined by these same laws of physics. Sure, chaos theory showed we can't predict the outcome of those reactions with enough precision to be useful, and quantum mechanics revealed an element of randomness in the equations, but no existing theory has room for an individual choice. You can choose to believe in choice/free will, but this is choosing to believe in a power operating apart and outside of the laws of physics -- supernatural almost by definition. Science may some day discover a mechanism for free will, but this is no more likely than it discovering a deity or other supernatural influence.
For my part, I choose to believe in free will, knowing this belief has no rational basis and may not be true at all. I choose to believe that love, for example, is something beyond merely an involuntary chemical reaction in my brain. In recognition of the fact that this is a supernatural belief, my name for any power or substance beyond merely matter or operating outside the laws of physics in any way is "Spirit", "God", "Life-force" or other appropriately identifiable name. The reason I choose to believe in free will (which I've now defined to be God/Spirit) is that I prefer it. I don't believe I can know whether I have free will, I just know I enjoy my life more when I choose to believe in it. Similar arguments can be made for some (but not all) other supernatural beliefs. Believing is not necessarily incompatible with acknowledging we can never know for certain, and thus it's not always harmful by "stealing our focus away from reality," as you put it.
Free will is just one example of a belief often held by self-identified materialists that is inherently supernatural, but there are many others. Even the belief that the entire universe can or should be subject to laws at all, much less ones that can be described by mathematics, is a belief, not a provable fact.
P.S. The only reason people have a tendency to believe in the supernatural is because it was genetically favorable for individuals with those tendencies to survive and pass on their genes (for various reasons such as enhanced social cohesion and altruism, etc.).
You may be interested in reading about compatibilism, or soft determinism. You might call it a sort of middle ground.
I am familiar with the idea, but I don't see how it helps. As I understand it, compatibilism basically says I am free to act on my motives, but my motives are determined. First of all, as a physicist, I see no room in any equation for there to be freedom of action of any type. You either obey the laws of physics or you don't. Second, even if science had room for this notion, it would offer me little metaphysical solace, because the theory still maintains that my thoughts, beliefs and motives are not my own to choose or influence.
Hi, I enjoy yours adventures and thoughts. Thx! I was wondering was the white bird a creation or did it evolve from a Big Bang that came from nothing?
I understand where you're coming from and some people might even appear fools to you for partaking in religion. But I also believe that no argument is worth "proving your point" if it causes resentment. You can give people all the facts that are required but a person who changes her/his opinion against her/his will, is of the same opinion still.For most it provides great meaning, emotional belonging, spiritual growth and hope when they need it the most. We all need those factors, doesn't matter how we can get them.My best guess is to just avoid it altogether and let people live their own life?Take care Ty,
I have always found it amusing how people attack when one says things against religion or challenges the belief of a God. Kind of goes against what they should believe in, to love and not judge regardless of what they say.
i have always found t amusing when non-religious people presume to know all about what religious people belive then judges US.
first, I am religious. I just don't get offended by contrary opinion. Second, I didn't judge I was just making an observation.
Hey G, I found it interesting that Rita responded to your statement that you were indeed judging, not merely observing, though I half-disagree with Rita. It seems as though Rita was originally riffing on (supplementing) your statement, not disagreeing with it. I think the ambiguity stems from the part "people attack" as in, who attacks who? But after rereading it, I interpretted it as, "People of religious belief respond negatively/defensively to anti-religious statements (such as religion being equated to nonsense)." Am I close to what you intended?
When Rita said, "non-religious people presume to know all about what religious people belive then judges" the generalizations, lack of concrete sources, and seeming lack of prompt (could have been you... or maybe Rita was responding to Tynan's main post?) left me wanting for more.
Have you read NVC? Non-violent communication stipulates that observations are objective and separate from our opinions. Forgive me if you weren't interested in this, but I found that NVC helps me get my perspective/opinion heard without getting a defensive response.
Hey guess what? You don"t get to decide who is "judging" and who is "observing". That would be "judgemental".
While you are a passionate man, I think if you read this, Tynan, you would understand how to have the conversation of religion versus science in a manner that isn't so combative and divisive:
I have actually said almost this exact same thing for years now, and I some it up with a sentence that struck a cord with me from a book, Logic and Reason not faith is the only path to the truth, those who turn a blind eye to reason there for cannot complain about the truth they refused to see.
Great post man and great site, keep having fun.
Yawn. Attacking religion is so 2oth century. How about tackling something really edgyy like racial differences. You can start by studying what good ole Darwin had to say then move to the work of Rushton and Jensen.
Similarity #84: we're both a bit geeky. We opened up Excel and started looking up the statistics for as many of the quantifiable similarities as we could find. Vegans make up 1.4% of the US Population. A surprising 46% doesn't drink. We added a few modifiers in, taking out half the population for being below average intelligence, and another 85% or so because, like anyone, we're not attracted to most people we meet.
If I had guessed before doing the math, I would have thought that there would be at least a hundred thousand girls out there that fit my criteria. I was WAY off.
Depending on just how picky I decide to be, there are only 10-25 girls in the United states that match my criteria. That's not a lot. Annie's was a bit more, mainly because she has a wider age range than I do.
If you own agricultural farm or yard, you should make sure that pest birds do not visit your farm. Pest birds can eat your crops away and can cause a huge loss to you. Birds are known to spread harmful diseases and infections. These diseases are easily transmitted through their droppings. Here are some of the most effective bird control methods that you can adopt to make your farm or yard less inviting for the pest birds.
Bird netting-agricultural bird netting can be used to cover trees, plants, and crops. These nets serve as excellent deterrents as birds get scared of them. They fear that they would be caught in them so they avoid visiting the agricultural farms and orchards where bird netting is present. Bird netting comes in various sizes. You can easily find the bird net to protect your plants and crops. Another good thing about bird netting is that it is light in weight, yet durable and long lasting. Plus, it is not that expensive in nature.
Scarecrows-scarecrows are one of the most traditional bird scarring methods available. You can install a scarecrow in your farm or vineyard to see how birds flying above get scared from it. Scarecrow can be made from virtually anything, including scraps available in a property. The problem with this bird control method is that over a period of time it loses its effectiveness. When birds see the scarecrow in the same position, they stop fearing it. Moreover, if you have a large area you would need several scarecrows to protect your land effectively from the pest birds.