Farewell Mr. Ratzinger… Next

While I know many a non-believer that will take the easy shot and speculate about the ‘real reasons’ for the retirement of the leader of the catholic world, I am going to avoid such vitriol.  I sincerely wish him good health and that his remaining days are fulfilling and peaceful.  After all, he is not my leader, and I honestly don’t know enough about the man to make any judgment and don’t think it will matter in any case.

My efforts now really focus on wondering who will be their next leader.  It is possible that they may find someone more rational and hopefully in much better health.  I don’t like to see the pain of catholic believers as they worry for their leadership and their organization.  It serves no purpose to twist the knife or pour salt in the wound.  I am not saying that I am looking forward to all the ritual and ceremony that will follow on the news, but I understand that anyone considered by millions to be a world leader should at least be given the time of day so to speak.

I am going to end this post with two requests.  First, to my fellow non-believers I ask that you use your reason and focus on the future and give this old man at least the human dignity of stepping down from the stage.   Second, to catholics I ask that you call upon your church to elect a new leader who is as rational as possible.


Agnostic or Atheist

I have recently read many people arguing about the definitions of these words.  I have seen ideas from scales to rigid definitions.  As I said in a previous post, I declared that I was an atheist ‘by definition’.   I did not even realize how insane the differences in were until read through a few dozen blogs and articles.  I still hold to the that I am atheist by the definition I used (not a theist), but I not even going to accept any other scales or definitions of the two terms.

I feel that such terms either carry baggage or are so broadly defined that you can’t even tell what someone is saying when they use them.  I can’t even begin to keep it straight and suggest that if you are going to use these terms that you be ready to explain them.  Of course, I will say that most who use them actually do define them (like I did) so that they are clear, but I believe this is working to our disadvantage because so much time is spent arguing over definitions.  It does not add anything to a discussion to fight over the terms (except time).  On the other hand, I often find that those who use agnostic/non-believer/humanist/etc. are doing so for their own safety or well-being due to the negative associations with atheist.  If this is the case for you, I say be sure you are not over-reacting but also don’t get yourself in trouble over a word that no one seems to be able to define anyway.

So I am left with a bit of a dilemma.  If I drop the terms, what do I suggest people use?  I don’t know if I feel that I am solid ground in any of these camps.   So, this fool is going with ‘human’.  That’s right just a plain and simple human.  At the very least, I can be confident that says two things.  First, I think the speaker and I are on equal terms (assuming the speaker is human and I don’t currently know of any other kind).  Second, I am making no claim beyond that.  Therefore, I can speak on any issue or idea as an equal with anyone and don’t have to take a side until I understand the sides.  Now, I will take sides, but as a human I take the position that I can change my position.  I will do this based on reason and for no other reason.  On a side note, I have noticed a trick often used by both sides that I deplore..  it is not a proof or even a good argument if you get someone to agree with you based on assumptions that they don’t accept.  If you start your side with an assumption, please just stop there.  In other words, ONE topic per discussion.

If anyone doesn’t like calling me just a human, you can call me a fool.   Is there really any difference between the two?  (Before you answer look around or watch the news for 30 seconds)

Reason and Morality

As I implied in my last post, I don’t consider reason and morality separate ideas but I actually suggest they are very closely related.  Now, I know the objection that we have some sense or idea beyond our thought process about what is moral.  I am not arguing it is a fully conscious process but that it is still the process of reason that leads to rational results if properly completed.  Once we have the rational solution (even and especially subconsciously), it does just feel right and we do sense it beyond our thought process.  This rational solution must be complete and not quasi-rational or purely irrational for it to be moral of course.

First, it is important to be clear about how I am using terms since the definitions of some of these can easily be misinterpreted.  As I am using it, reason is the process of establishing and verifying facts and confirming or rejecting ideas based on new or existing information.  I am defining morality in the normative sense that it is a universal code of conduct that all rational beings would accept based on specific plausible conditions.  In addition, I am defining rational as any fact or idea that is the result of complete reason.  Conversely, I define quasi-rational as based on an incomplete (not in error) reasoning.   Irrational is an idea/belief held against evidence. This is really just to provide terms that provide clarity between ideas based on partial (incomplete) reason from those that genuinely irrational (contradictory to reason).

Second, it is vital not to confuse any of my terms with Faith.  Faith is the assertion of something when there is no evidence.  It is also often defined as a trust in religious beliefs or following a religion which makes it synonymous with religion and usable by politicians to bypass church/state separations (again the subject of another blog).  I am not using the latter definition because I consider it an ambiguity fallacy.  In order to be clear about my distinction, faith applies only when there is no evidence and the evidence cannot be obtained.  This is not unreasonable, quasi-rational, or irrational.  In fact, this definition of faith is rational in the conditions I have listed (no evidence and cannot acquire evidence).  However, most people confuse faith with the assertion against reason (irrational) or that it simply should not be considered fully (quasi-rational).

So what is the link between reason and morality?  In the simplest terms,  I am hypothesizing that reason is the source of morality since true morality must be rational.  In other words, anything that is consider moral is a result of reason (please note I am referring to normative morality).  This implies that I am saying that immorality is the product of improper reason.  This is a natural implication, but it is not actually a complete true implication.  For clarity, I am saying that all immoral acts/ideas result from improper reason but it does not hold true improper reason will result in immoral acts/ideas all the time.  Hence, immoral and irrational (or quasi-rational) are not synonyms, but moral, rational, and reasonable are.

This is actually demonstrated by believers and non-believers alike every time there is a tragedy like a school shooting or mass murder.  You will hear both sides say the same thing, “We don’t (can’t) comprehend what makes someone do these things.”  It is even often complimented by people trying to discover the person’s motives and pointing out the errors in their rationale.  Of course, they always find these errors, because they must be there for it to be an immoral act.    No one argues that the person did not think they were being reasonable but we recognize the reason was either quasi-rational or irrational.

A good refutability test for my hypothesis would be for there to be an action or idea that is considered both immoral and completely rational.  In other words, we have to define a situation (plausible conditions) in which an extreme majority (normative morality) of people would say that an act/idea is both the best choice (rational) but agree it is immoral.

I also provide a prediction that a requirement of the study of logic (as the study of reason) would decrease criminal behavior (societal morality).  Of course, this is based on an assumption that the society’s laws were in fact moral, but if done on universal laws (violent crime, murder, theft) this bias could be negated.  My reasoning for suggesting the study of logic as a deterrent is that it should reduce errors in reason thereby eliminating cause.

Final Thought:  No one can be too reasonable or too moral because they are really the same thing.

On Religion

That’s right.  I intend to start my blog with the most dangerous subject, Religion.  No one is going to accuse this fool of being timid or avoiding the big issues.  I caution that I am going to upset people on both sides with my opinions, but I suggest you read the about page before getting too upset or commenting.

To get right down to it I am an atheist by definition.  I say ‘by definition’ because the literal definition of the term is ‘not a theist’ (believing in supreme being(s)).  Well, I consider every religion that I have ever studied, which is most of them, to be firmly in the ‘not even wrong’ category of ideas.  For those unfamiliar with the term, it means that they can’t be falsified and don’t provide any reliable predictions.  In other words, they are not useful in any rational discussion except as bad examples.  So, I am definitely not a theist since I don’t even give religious ideas credit.  Now I know that is going to upset believers, but I am still waiting for any religious idea that tells me anything useful that I did not already know or could find out through reason.

Please note that I actually consider the term atheist to really only ‘defining by a negative’.   It does not tell you what I think.  It just tells you that I don’t agree with one particular set of ideas.  Hence I need to explain what I really think.

On a side note, I believe the reason so many atheist feel the need to devote such time to explaining why they don’t agree with religious ideas is the ‘definition by negative’.  Literally, atheists are defined by anything that is not-a-theist.  Even recent articles and news outlets refer to us as None’s.  I have no desire to point out all the flaws in religions or the immoral behavior that is often done based on these ideas.

I think religious belief results from an error in reason as opposed to being its antithesis.  The initial error in reasoning is one of misdirected efficiency in our minds.  In short, believers have created an answer that is… something (or someone) that I don’t know about and don’t understand must have done it.  Again, this is really just a restatement of the idea that everything is ‘caused’ or is the result of other events.  So far the logic is actually sound but incomplete.   In saying it is ‘sound’ I mean that it is purely logical to say everything has a cause not that it was ‘done’ by someone.

On the other hand, the reasoning is incomplete.  All they have really said is that they don’t know the answer but the answer exists.  Now this is the misdirected efficiency of the mind.  The mind is a pattern analyzer and goal seeker, but in order to process all the data it acquires though the senses and from stored data it has short-cuts.  To keep this brief, I am saying the mind assigns properties to known concepts and does not consider them further unless there is a reason to differentiate them.

As an example, if I offer you two blue pills that appear identical and say you must take one of them and swallow it.  Since I only offer one, you naturally attempt (usually a question) to verify other properties.  If I say they are actually the exact same pill, you don’t bother to really think much more and probably just select either the easiest to reach or the delegate the choice to sub-conscious processes (select at random).

I am making the statement that this is the identical process used to create believers and non-believers.  In short, we all logically reach the conclusion that everything has a cause and we don’t know it.  Both sides have to ‘model’ this concept in their minds so they assign it with those two properties.  The two properties are that it is ‘a’ cause AND it is not known.  In the example these are the two blue pills (objects that are blue and pill shaped).

So far there is not an issue, but here the efficiency can trip us up.  If we then see something or an interpretation is required, the brain searches for an answer.  If we are searching for only two properties (a cause and not known), we get our concept as the perfect ‘match’.  If you stop at this point, you are a believer.  However, you forgot to ask if the two pills are actually the same.  Please remember this is not a matter of someone being ‘wrong’.  This person is just not completing the loop and checking the answer they get with the sense data.

The non-believer continues on this path and realizes that the ‘model’ is not actually something that exists but a list of properties.  In this case, you have to realize that all answer are responses but not all responses are answers.  Hence, it does not match as an answer to the ‘What caused X question?’  It actually IS the question just in concept form.  If you stop here you are probably an atheist or agnostic.  This means you simply are saying that you recognize the question but don’t know the answer.

I am an atheist because I still don’t know the answer.  Religions are ‘not even wrong’ because the misdirected efficiency cannot be falsified and can never make a useful prediction.  It is vital to understand that the key word about the predictions is ‘useful’.  Religion can only offer us the prediction that everything that does happen will have a cause (not very useful). Religion is only an efficient concept which is why believers always resort to the phrase ‘It just makes sense to me.’  Well, it makes sense to me too, but is incomplete.

Finally, I offer one thing to believers.  I think the atheists who feel the need to blame religion for the evils of the world are guilty of the same efficiency error.  In this case, religion is not the cause of immorality but the same thing that causes religion does cause immorality.   It is not possible to reasonably (with complete reason) reach a truly immoral conclusion.   This will be the subject of a later blog.