Reasons for my de-conversion (3 of 4)

October 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm 21 comments

In Part I, I discussed the fragility of human cognition, and the myth of the virtue of faith.  In Part II, I discussed the enormous deficiency in human cognition coupled with a propensity to rely on emotions to construct our belief system.  Now let me move on to the issue of dogmatism.

Consider the proper way for a person to choose a presidential candidate. Voting along party lines is not considered to be very intelligent, and claiming faith in the party would rightfully make you the object of scorn. A proper evaluation involves exploring all the sources you have to your disposal to assess the knowledge, experience, convictions, competency and character of each candidate. The accumulation of this information is linear; it generally accumulates in a steady manner until you reach a point where you are able to make a decision. It should make sense then that the degree of certainty should also be linear. Instead of suddenly stating that one candidate is wonderful while the other is evil, one should be making statements such as “based on the evidence so far, X appears 20% more competent than Y. But few of us seldom do this due to our propensity for dogmatism.

While facilitating action, this dogmatism is a detriment when attempting to find objective truth. The polar ends of the god question are over-weighted with atheists and theists in my opinion. I am an agnostic. While I can state that there is a very low probability of a personal god for reasons I’ll discuss later, I am less certain when considering an Einsteinian god. And I do not feel compelled to choose a side without sufficient evidence. However, this probabilistic attitude towards questions is not natural to me. It had to be learned. I started out quite dogmatic as some of you may recall.

Christianity encourages dogmatism. Certainty is a goal in most religions. This distorts ones epistemology into polarized categories of true and false while disregarding the accumulative nature of evidence. If one begins with the notion that certainty is a goal, then holding insufficient evidence for a long time as might be expected with complex questions is emotionally uncomfortable.

Religionists too easily default to dogmatism citing “faith” as something that legitimately picks up the slack. Faith does not legitimize a defaulting to an emotional certainty.

- Phil Stilwell


Part 1   |   Part 2   |   Part 3   |   Part 4

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Prayer study Reasons for my de-conversion (4 of 4)

21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. secudad  |  October 26, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Indeed, “faith” is the perfect way to shut-down a conversation or debate. There can be no response to “I just have faith.” It is the quickest way to end a conversation where the religionist feels vindicated and the irreligionist says “wtf.”

  • 2. Pedro Timóteo  |  October 27, 2009 at 7:22 am

    The Einsteinian god is not a god at all, it’s just a poetic name for “nature” or “the universe”.

    Also, you seem to have bought into the lie that atheism is dogmatic, means 100% certainty, requires as much faith as belief, and so on. Beliefs should scale with the available evidence, so, for zero evidence, there should be zero belief, which is simply what atheism is… far from “dogmatic”. From your posts, I’d call you an atheist… and I mean that as a compliment. :)

  • 3. Phil Stilwell  |  October 27, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Thanks for the compliment, Pedro.

    Here’s my elaborated stance.

    The Abrahamic god is illogical, a personal god improbable, and an Einsteinian god not certain. Most who posit an Einsteinian god make it the source of the laws of the universe, and therefore this notion of god must transcend the universe. I have indeed met some Einsteinian-god-atheists who went beyond the science to form a dogmatic opinion. I was dogmatic too long to give it much appreciation regardless of its focus. Arguments such as “why is there something rather than nothing” make the evidence for this form of Einsteinian god non-zero.

    And I believe that to use the word atheist without qualifying the the θεός being dismissed is not productive, especially with the recent increased awareness and sophistication surrounding the god-issue. I am an Abrahamic-god-atheist, but I don’t need such a tag to make that clear. Such tags typically only muddle the arguments. For this reason I’ve also stopped using the word agnostic. I don’t need to be involuntarily included into a group I don’t want to identify with.

    So if someone asks what I believe in respect to god, I now say “the Abrahamic god is illogical, a personal god improbable, and an Einsteinian god not certain” and see where it leads.

  • 4. Brian  |  October 27, 2009 at 8:27 am

    I remember sitting in church earlier this year and they showed a short video that basically mocked every other major religion as just a “silly bunch of beliefs” yet when it came time to address Christianity, you could clearly see they “changed the rules” and didn’t mention any of the silliness that WE believe. After all, our God had to create himself to die so that he could forgive us of sins he could have just forgiven us of? What? Check out the link here. Even if you knew NOTHING about any of these religions, the theme music will tell you when you’re supposed to suddenly not think it’s all silliness.

    http://tinyurl.com/b9eg8u

    On the labels side of things, I too think I find myself coming around slowly, perhaps begrudgingly to a potential belief in an Einsteinian god. A “deist” I think it’s called. I find no compelling reason to believe in a personal God, much less one who will judge us by our actions, so by the rules off all the major religions on earth, I guess that makes me an atheist. Though for a deist god, I guess I’m agnostic.

  • 5. DSimon  |  October 27, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Arguments such as “why is there something rather than nothing” make the evidence for this form of Einsteinian god non-zero.

    Can you elaborate on how the existence of the universe is evidence for an Einsteinian god? And, would your definition of Einsteinian god require that it be self-aware?

  • 6. Phil Stilwell  |  October 27, 2009 at 9:04 am

    It seems to me that a self-aware entity could not exist outside time and space. At the same time, it seems odd that our universe seems to have coherency in the form of what we call “laws of nature”. I’ve been reading and listening to the cosmologists on this issue, and am content to stick with the consensus of scientists—we don’t yet know.

    Do you have a position on this?

  • 7. DSimon  |  October 27, 2009 at 11:02 am

    At the same time, it seems odd that our universe seems to have coherency in the form of what we call “laws of nature”.

    Well, we don’t have any other universes to compare ours with to see what’s odd, so I’m not sure what you mean by this.

    Anyways, how does the coherency of the physical laws of the universe serve as evidence for an Einsteinian god? Coherence of design doesn’t require creation by a conscious entity, as demonstrated by snowflakes to pick just one example out of many.

    I’ve been reading and listening to the cosmologists on this issue, and am content to stick with the consensus of scientists—we don’t yet know.

    How you conclude, based on this gap of knowledge, that an Einsteinian or deist god is more worth considering than a Christian god or a Flying Spaghetti Monster?

  • 8. Pedro Timóteo  |  October 27, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Again, from every quote from Einstein on the subject I read, the Einsteinian god is not a “sentient universe”, it’s just a poetic name for the universe and its laws. At least, that’s how Einstein thought of it.

  • 9. DSimon  |  October 27, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Pedro, if that’s the case, then maybe me and Phil should switch to using the term “deist god”, since that seems to describe what Phil is talking about. That alright with you, Phil?

  • 10. Phil Stilwell  |  October 27, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Einstein said “We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. . . . That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human beings toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

    This, I believe, is not merely poetic. He is suggesting the possibility of some form of deity that set out the laws of nature. Wouldn’t you agree, Pedro?

  • 11. Phil Stilwell  |  October 27, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Hi DSimon,

    I’m not sure whether the laws of the universe have to originate from a deity, but Einstein says “We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. . . . That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human beings toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

    This is not trivial in my mind.

  • 12. Phil Stilwell  |  October 27, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Yes, I have no problem using “deistic god” if that provides clarity.

  • 13. Pedro Timóteo  |  October 27, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Einstein contradicted himself a couple of times, or so it seems. He also said: “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

    and “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”

    But other quotes, like yours, really seem to imply some belief in some kind of god.

    More on this on Wikipedia.

  • 14. Phil Stilwell  |  October 27, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Hi again Pedro.

    Let me give the full quote.

    “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

    Whatever Einstein means, he is not an atheist. He also uses the word “God”. I have the same curiosity about the source/meaning of the laws of nature that Einstein had. What would you like to call us? As long as the term you use reflects my actual beliefs, I take no offense.

  • 15. DSimon  |  October 27, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    How does the child know that someone has written those books? Most likely because they’ve seen adults writing things before, and saw that the result looked like the contents of the books.

    How does the child know that the books are arranged in some particular order? Because, again, they have some previous familiarity with adults going around organizing things. Perhaps they’ve even seen an adult know right where a particular book is, and figured out there must be something to the way the books are shelved.

    We have no prior experience with universes or laws of physics being created or organized by a conscious entity. Nor are there any gods around we can tuck on the hem of and incessantly ask “Why?” questions at.

    Finally: as poetic as Einstein is being here, poetry isn’t a particularly great method for critically exploring the nature of the observable world. For one thing, we’re still observing a complete lack of Jabberwockies, and I have yet to find a train schedule to take me to Xanadu.

  • 16. Roy  |  October 27, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Whatever Einstein means, he is not an atheist. He also uses the word “God”. I have the same curiosity about the source/meaning of the laws of nature that Einstein had. What would you like to call us? As long as the term you use reflects my actual beliefs, I take no offense.

    How about panentheists?

  • 17. Mystery Porcupine  |  October 27, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Maybe I am misunderstanding, but some of you seem to be coming to deism in a similar way that Christians come to creative design instead of evolution.

    So far in my journey, I am realizing that I bought the design argument because I never saw the alternative, which was that complex life really could have evolved over time from slightly less complex life. I am starting to doubt my natural child-like conclusions. They would have led me to a designer of people instead of to evolution. So they would lead me to a designer of the universe instead of…something else?

    The question of course becomes…if there is some deist god that set the world into motion, where did IT come from? That is a bigger problem than looking for the designer of the universe, right? Looking for the complex designer of a designer that could design such a complicated universe. LOL I don’t know.

    More than anything, I don’t get the point of being a deist or really considering deism. Let’s say something god-like did set the universe in motion. It’s either long-gone, or we can’t really see it, or whatever the case may be. We are just left to speculate and wonder about it. That god certainly won’t help us to get “out of a hole” as in the video in the comment above. It doesn’t help us do anything, as far as we can tell. So why care one way or another if it filpped a switch and got the universe going? Anyone have an answer as to why we should care???

    The only answer I can come up with is that we should care insofar as we should not claim there is no god beyond a reasonable doubt, because there is a chance that someone flipped the switch and set laws into motion. Is that the only reason to care about the idea of a deist-type god?

  • 18. Mystery Porcupine  |  October 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    By the way, Phil, I like your answer: “the Abrahamic god is illogical, a personal god improbable, and an Einsteinian god not certain.” That seems to be where I am. I hope I can avoid swinging toward dogmatism in any form now that I have left Christianity. My comment above really comes from a place of frustration and dissatisfaction with the idea of a Einsteinian god. It seems so empty to me, but maybe I am seeing it the wrong way…from a human perspective that wishes it were more understandable or more personal.

  • 19. Phil Stilwell  |  October 27, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks Mystery Porcupine,

    Yes, I’ve said that an Einsteinian god is not certain. I’m still listening to the arguments. In my mind, there is not sufficient evidence to say one way or the other, plus the implications of the existence/non-existence of such a god for my life appear insignificant as you’ve said. I may end up to be deistic, pantheistic or atheistic…or I may never get to the point where I am satisfied with the available evidence/arguments. After spending far too long in the dogmatism christianity, I now tend to default on the side of peculating the evidence and arguments a bit longer than others might.

    Einstein couldn’t bring himself to call himself an atheist due to something he sensed about the laws of nature. I’m no Einstein, but there does seem to be something about existence and the framework of existence that deserves my patient contemplation.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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