May 9, 2010

Getting my beliefs challenged

I own the extended DVD set of "What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?", also known as "Down the Rabbit Hole". I can't remember now how my browsing the internet today started, but I ended up learning a lot about the science in "What the Bleep": It's terribly inaccurate. There are other inaccuracies or downright errors, but for the most part quantum mechanics only work on quantum levels, not at sizes like a basketball or a universe or even a mere atom.

And that spoils all New Age claims that it is quantum physics that explain the Law of Attraction or any other woo-woo belief, like spontaneous healing, psychic phenomenon or near-death experiences. Dang. I was so hoping science could explain these things by now.

My surfing has brought me to The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. There I have found good writing, and proper skepticism. Not the finger-pointing pooh-poohing of beliefs, but rather a behind-the-scenes look at some claims and what's factually wrong with them. Articles here not only debunk stuff, but also discuss skeptical deists

"We always say, “skeptics say ‘show me the evidence,’” don’t we? Skeptics are not merely cynics; skeptics don’t say “I don’t believe it!” They say “what is the evidence for it?” and if there is sufficient evidence, they change their belief. This is why […] it is not at all difficult to allow for skeptical deists."

…and the necessity of beliefs that don't change in the face of facts:

"When data and belief come into conflict, the brain does not automatically give preference to data. […] The brain doesn't care whether or not the belief matches the data. It cares whether the belief is helpful for survival.").

This reading diet has made me question once again my own beliefs. I find that that, this time around, it doesn't worry me. The natural state for a healthy human being is to be curious and to be curious means to question and explore and to accept that the conclusion may not be what one had hoped for. But I'm finding that to be the fun part. At this rate, I may have to start labeling myself as an agnostic.

I wonder how my next viewing of "Down the Rabbit Hole" will be after all this skeptical reading. The movie/documentary has its share of mad hatters; I refuse to endorse this one although I find it very cool that I share a birthday with this one.

16 comments:

Beep said...

I often think about how there is no evidence for God and that perhaps s/he is just an imaginary friend of mine. But sometimes I need an imaginary friend because I get very lonely and overwhelmed. Perhaps if my life were different that would not be so; it is hard to say. I just know I need help and encouragement I'm just not getting from earthly sources, and if my refuge is only my imagination, well, any port in a storm. I think what I do is ok as long as I don't try and force others to have what is possibly an imaginary friend.

Keera Ann Fox said...

I hear you. What cheers me up and on is prayer/affirmations and my experience that it makes a difference. I don't think there is anything wrong with that experience or with that method of coping. I also don't know what alternative would work for me. I haven't come across anything else that gives me hope like the belief in a greater and good power.

But I do wonder what that greater and good power is. For example, is God a sentient entity or just energy traveling the universe?

Don said...

My mother gave me that DVD. She had loved it. I found it a poorly-coupled collection of interviews without context. I read up on quantum wave mechanics or whatever that all is a decade or two ago and found it interesting but somewhat wish-driven. So my personal jury remains out.

So just to share, I call myself an atheist because I respect positions of certainty and was (perhaps unaccountably) impressed by Jerry Falwell's admonition that agnostics are just atheists without the courage of their convictions. But conviction is no virtue if it is misused, and too often it is, especially by people like Jerry Falwell.

Prayer works, it really does sometimes. This fact doesn't make me less atheistic but rather more impressed with the human mind and how little we understand of its workings and how it interacts with the larger world. The mind created God because God as a concept driving the mind through the focusing lens of faith has saved countless lives and basically become an evolutionary driver, like sharp claws, that we will continue to have so long as we need it.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Don, your last paragraph touches on the stuff I wonder about and you word yourself wonderfully. I find it fascinating that biologists are now looking at religion. What will they discover?

Asbestos Dust said...

I've been trying to figure out how to approach this for a couple of days now.

I'm vaguely familiar with the DVD-set you're speaking of (it's the Ramtha lady spending a lot of time and pseudo-scientific techno-babble trying to convince us all that channeling Fabio-like dead cave-men for big money is supported by physics, right?)

Well, unlike Don, I'm NOT an atheist. I believe in God in a more specific sense than a general "universal force" non-answer. But here's the thing: I'm also a hard-core rationalist and I have a probably-better-than-average understanding of physics and cosmology.

I believe God has a specific purpose for all of it, and I think we're at some level aware of the smallest inkling of what the purpose is, as evidenced by such otherwise counter-evolutionary non-physics, non-rational esoterica as concepts of "good" and "evil" and "moral" and "immoral" which otherwise have a near-zero basis to exist at all.

The universe does not rule out God. But, and here's a key point, and where it is that the Bible-thumpers get lost chasing down a rabbit trail: It doesn't make the case for God either.

God is a matter of faith, and trying to prove matters of faith is just silly. If it's provable, it's not faith, right? It becomes a fact.

Now, I hear a lot that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and I absolutely believe that. But it goes the other way, also. Mere absence of proof is not disproof.

That is to say, I believe there is a God. An atheist says "Prove it." Well, I can't and, further, have no real interest in doing so. I believe it, and that's sufficient for me. I'll be happy to tell them what I believe and why, and maybe they'll believe it too, when I'm done, but I won't argue it.

Now it's THEIR turn - I don't care whether they believe or not, so proving it is a moot issue, but if they wish to get me to NOT believe it THEY have to DISPROVE it. Most of their "proofs" boil down to "God is not necessary to explain the universe," which they usually dress up in some version of "Occam's Razor". However, Occam's Razor is only useful in very particular types of systems with particular types of risk and probability involved, and is no more applicable here than quantum uncertainty is applicable to the Ramtha lady's fortune-telling, and is of near zero value as an argument.

Arguments of philosophy, faith, and angels on the heads of pins are non-resolvable. To paraphrase Yoda (whom the Ramtha lady probably thinks really exists): One believes or one does not.

If they want to argue, we need to argue about something resolvable by experiment and observation, like two-state particles, the arrow of time, and classes of infinities as applied to practical cosmology. Plenty of room for argument, and plenty of proofs yet to be discovered - but in the end they ARE at least theoretically discoverable, and that's the difference.

If the Bible-bangers (religionists) and the Militant Atheists (which is just another form of religion, incidentally, having articles of faith and requiring ongoing and increasingly obnoxious attempts to convert the Unenlightened, and espousing The One Faith at EVERY opportunity) would just stop trying to PROVE anything and just get on with believing whatever weirdness they care to, they'd all be WAY ahead of the game.

If it comes up at all, state your belief, state why you believe it, and MOVE ON. How hard is that?

Now, the reason it takes so long to explain this is because the astrologers, Ramtha-speaks-through-goofball-housewives, Scientologists, and crystal-vibe-moon-howlers in the world will try to jump on the bandwagon and say they're just like me - they believe and I can't disprove their malarky. And in that, they are wrong.

Of course I can. (CONTINUED)

Asbestos Dust said...

(CONTINUED FROM ABOVE)

They predict specific things and explain their weirdness based on borderline, bleeding-edge physical principles which they don't begin to understand and therefore (in spite of their "upper plane" guidance) invariably screw up. Which results in DVD's like the one you talked about in which their wild-eyed adherents spout their fountains of crap all dressed up in the language of physics and math, trying to "prove" their BS works. The God I believe in obeys the physics of the multiverse, which is the only way it can exist at all. The multiverse is a tool created for a specific purpose and operates within specific bounds and parameters. Anything falling outside those bounds and parameters is UNTRUE, as in DISPROVEN. This includes astrologers, Ramtha-speaks-through-goofball-housewives, Scientologists, crystal-vibe-moon-howlers, etc.....

Good job, incidentally, in looking this stuff up for yourself. You have no idea how many listen to junk like that with open-mouthed wonder and are themselves True Believers before the first commercial break.

Keera Ann Fox said...

(Asbestos Dust in italics)

I've been trying to figure out how to approach this for a couple of days now.

I really appreciate it!

I'm vaguely familiar with the DVD-set you're speaking of (it's the Ramtha lady spending a lot of time and pseudo-scientific techno-babble trying to convince us all that channeling Fabio-like dead cave-men for big money is supported by physics, right?)

You know more than I do about her. (If she were channeling Fabio, I'd actually listen. ;-) )

The universe does not rule out God. But, and here's a key point, and where it is that the Bible-thumpers get lost chasing down a rabbit trail: It doesn't make the case for God either.

And here's where I wonder what "God" is meant to describe, exactly. Are we describing mere psychic or emotional phenomenon, or is there a very real non-physical parallell to the material world? I tend to believe the latter because I believe I have experienced it but I like to double-check.

God is a matter of faith, and trying to prove matters of faith is just silly. If it's provable, it's not faith, right? It becomes a fact.

Right. If we could sense the immaterial with our five senses it wouldn't be that immaterial.

Arguments of philosophy, faith, and angels on the heads of pins are non-resolvable. To paraphrase Yoda (whom the Ramtha lady probably thinks really exists): One believes or one does not.

And I wish people from either side would leave it at that. I have no problem with atheism but I do have a problem with the folks I call anti-theists (what you called Militant Atheists). They seem hell-bent on bashing the one religion they know of/got a screwed up childhood out of, and assume everyone else's version of God is the insane con-artist they are so certain causes everything that is wrong with this world. Now who's delusional?

If it comes up at all, state your belief, state why you believe it, and MOVE ON. How hard is that?

Very hard if you have an ego to stroke/prove/obey.

Now, the reason it takes so long to explain this is because the astrologers, Ramtha-speaks-through-goofball-housewives, Scientologists, and crystal-vibe-moon-howlers in the world will try to jump on the bandwagon and say they're just like me - they believe and I can't disprove their malarky. And in that, they are wrong.

One reason why the Ramtha influence on "What the Bleep" totally passed me by is because I never noticed "Ramtha" said anything of substance nor anything out of the ordinary to any metaphysician/New Age seeker. We're all one and we're all love and we don't know The Truth has been repeated for centuries.

They predict specific things and explain their weirdness based on borderline, bleeding-edge physical principles which they don't begin to understand and therefore (in spite of their "upper plane" guidance) invariably screw up. […] The God I believe in obeys the physics of the multiverse, which is the only way it can exist at all.

Agreed. I see no conflict between science and religion. They compliment each other. Each one seeks to understand the world and seeks the truth about who we are, but from different angles and with different methods. We wouldn't do well if we rid ourselves of one approach completely. We'd lose our balance.

Good job, incidentally, in looking this stuff up for yourself. You have no idea how many listen to junk like that with open-mouthed wonder and are themselves True Believers before the first commercial break.

Thanks, but I too was taken in - easy enough to do when the message is so wonderful. That's why I own the original DVD and the follow-up extended set. Thanks to mouthing off a few places on the internet, I learned "What the Bleep" had an "agenda". I don't mind discovering that, though. There are truths in the movie and interviews, also, and the rest has sent me searching - never a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I was very excited to see the WTBleep movie, and CC and I went to the theater to see it. I was completely totally absolutely unimpressed with it. I'd read enough QM stuff to know more about it than what they were preaching, and the psychobabble in between was just an annoyance. Both CC and I were waiting for the good stuff... but it never came. It was a deeply unsatisfying experience, even if one of the QM physicists, Dr. Wolf, was someone that I had read - indeed, I had a couple of his books.

As for The Secret™, James Ray (is that his name?), who featured prominently in the film, was the guy who had several people die in a "sweat lodge" ceremony last year. There is an interview with him on the Theater of the Mind podcast (early on), and later a couple of subsequent interviews with someone else on "Navigating Self Help Safely" and "Spiritual Traditions vs. Self Help Gurus" where Kelly Howell addresses Ray and others - nice, because she usually just accepts whatever her guests come up with.

By now I don't take anything at face value, or on faith. I have a lot of "maybes" and "perhapses" in my spirituality, and I'm very comfortable with that. I'm grateful for my Christian upbringing, as I think it's helped me avoid moral quagmires, but I don't follow that religion right now. As far as answers, I have none. As far as questions, I think mine are pretty irrelevant. Heaven knows I've explored lots of spiritual dead ends in my journeying, I guess it's better to know what doesn't work for me, even if I'm unsure to know what does.

Keera, I applaud your fearless explorations and willingness to look beyond dogma, whether it's religious or spiritual. I call you sister!

Anonymous said...

BTW - the anon comment was from SolSionnach. I can't get blogger to let me log in. :\

Keera Ann Fox said...

SolSionnach, what would you consider would be "good stuff"?

I heard the podcast about the sweat lodge and last I heard, James Ray had been arrested. Haven't paid attention since.

Me, I have never taken anything at face value. That is why I have struggled with faith and with organized religion, which demands faith without proof. My atheist grandpa once asked me why I believed in God. My answer was that my prayers are answered. That was my proof.

I was reminded this week that affirmations do work. I was going through some papers and found some relating to when I had to work on my temper. I did so successfully using affirmations.

But lately, the question has stuck in my mind (a question I got from skeptics): If all these self-help books and gurus can actually help, why do people keep going back to by new books or take new classes? Now, I do have one answer: It's like going to church on Sunday. You go to get reminders, to feel one with others, to recharge your batteries. Self-help books are a fun and cheering read. But yes, why aren't we all fabulously rich/healthy/happy if the law of attraction works? And if it's not working because we have too much crap blocking us (as they tell us - you know, our faith just isn't strong enough), then perhaps there has to be something else we need to use, because it makes no sense to me that God/an intelligent universe would give us useless tools. That's like putting plants under growth lamps that are just plain light bulbs.

Jeff Kos said...

I'm in my 40s and have no idea if I believe in God. I don't understand anything else that was said here, so I'll leave it at that.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Jeff, your statement has made me curious. To me, believing or not in God is as obvious as believing or not in Santa Claus. One either does or one doesn't. Now, believing whether or not there is a god (or a Santa) is another matter and a stepping stone towards (or away from, depending) faith, and those who simply cannot decide tend to call themselves agnostic. So the part I'm curious about is: How is it you don't know if you believe in God?

(All that other stuff was New Age nerdiness, in case you were wondering.)

Jeff Kos said...

Man, I had written a very long and fairly coherent response to this and I lost it! Argh!

I'll try to reconstruct.

I don't agree with your Santa/God analogy. I know Santa doesn't exist, at least the one we sing about at Christmas. He's fiction. No one flies through the air in a sleigh, climbs down my chimney and leaves presents. Santa is fiction, and that's able to be proved. Belief in Santa is only a matter of faith to a child who knows no better. Once you know the truth, that's it. You know the truth. God, on the other had, is solely based in faith. There is no tangible evidence that proves the existence of God, just as there is no tangible evidence that disproves it. None. God doesn't leave presents under the tree and eat the cookies you leave out for him. He works in mysterious ways. What a person of faith may describe as an act of God, another person can easily describe as coincidence or scientific fact. If one believes in God, it is based 100% in faith alone. And I have been wavering on that faith for as long as I can remember. It's a perpetual internal tug-of-war, with each side equally matched. I'm not an agnostic, because that insinuates a decision made. I really don't know how I feel. It's a big gray area to me.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Jeff, my Santa analogy was meant to illustrate the act of believing: One tends not to believe a little bit in Santa, especially not if one has decided Santa doesn't even exist. A belief in God is often approached in the same manner.

You seem to have a different definition of agnosticism than what I and the dictionary use, because I'd definitely call you an agnostic - someone who doesn't know one way or the other.

And I have a quibble with you about God not leaving presents. God does nothing but leave presents. :-)

Jeff Kos said...

As someone who believes in God, you should actually have a number of quibbles with my comment. And those quibbles are exactly the point I was making about faith. Whatever gifts you're speaking of, you choose to believe are gifts from God. You take it on faith that they're from God. Someone who doesn't believe in God can just as easily claim what you call gifts are just natural occurrences or coincidences or something man-made. Again, as Dust said somewhere in his novel above, belief in God is 100% reliant on faith and faith alone. That's my struggle. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don't.

Keera Ann Fox said...

My statement about God is a definition of God, not a statement that God exists. There are those who don't believe God leaves presents at all - at least not without some hard work and serious abstinence from whatever on the believer's part (that always makes me think of being good for Santa). I don't think either of those have to do with faith, but are conditions for faith (theology). There are many definitions of God out there, and with that, what God does or doesn't do. IME, finding the right definition of God - not finding God - helped me find faith (which falters every now and then, but like Job, I don't blame God :-) ).

And then I'm reminded of what a minister once said: God works through Man. And that statement can contain both of your arguments for and against where gifts come from.

It's a difficult subject matter, knowing what to believe and whether to believe at all. Personally, I find the search for the answer educational and interesting so I think a bit of doubt is an advantage.