Sophistry from the last place I'd expect

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Sophistry from the last place I'd expect

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Mon Aug 19, 2013 11:48 pm

So, I figure people are interested in such things. I figure this is what this place is for. Tell me if I'm wrong, please.

So, I was having a conversation with my father, and it veered into religion at one point. I never did have such a talk with him, and from what he said about politics and such, I always figured that he would identify as an agnostic or atheist - or maybe at worst some nominal believer with sympathy towards agnostics and atheists.

What I got was about the exact opposite. He said that the found "militant atheists" just as bad as (Christian) fundamentalists. He said both are just as dogmatic and have just the same amount of faith. The entire conversation was breathtaking. This is a highly educated man, a smart man. He also went to seminary but thankfully didn't become a priest.

Near the end of it, I got down to the critical issues. I might try to delve further given more time, but this is what I got thus far.

He said some things which sounded very much like postmodern sophistry, so I asked him point blank "Do you think that someone can have their truth, and I can have my truth, and they're inconsistent, but they're both as true? In other words, do you think that we cannot say that someone is right and someone is wrong?" Thankfully, I think he backed down off that when I phrased it like that, but he still seems to be sticking to that.

Next was a rather sad point, which I do not understand at all. He said that I believe the dictates of the modern scientific community just like a Christian believes the dictates of his priest. Both take it on faith. You haven't personally verified it. He even volunteered the following example: He has been told that his car has emissions, but he hasn't personally verified it. He says that it's a dogma.

In response to that, I tried in vain to clarify in some detail the differences involved. The scientific establish claims to have performed scientific experiments which in principle or in practice I could do myself and confirm myself. No priest claims that. Next, it would be absurd to claim that the scientific establishment lies to a significant extent about what experiments it has and has not conducted. For it to be the case that most of these experiments were never done, there would have to be such a massive conspiracy of nearly everyone as to render it just silly. I used the analogy of The Truman Show and suggesting that there is no Australia even though neither of us have been there.

In other words, when you combine the acceptance of evidence-based reasoning, peer review, and the ability to replicate the experiments personally - even if you don't replicate each experiment personally - the result is conclusion that if you did any of the of experiments in the literature, then you would have the same results. Furthermore, this conclusion is based on basic facts of human psychology, such as massive wide-ranging conspiracies are near impossible to maintain, and that it is reasonable and evidence-based to trust the word of someone who generally is honest.

I then tried to explain how I can adopt the same standard for priests, but the same conclusion does not follow. Priests do not claim to have done independent scientific experiments which show their conclusions. I cannot replicate their experiments. None of them claim to use conventional evidence-based reasoning. I don't need to invoke a massive conspiracy for most priests to be wrong. No conspiracy is required.

And then we hit the most saddening part. He said something like I'm using my own values to judge their belief system. I thought I dealt with this earlier when I asked if we could ever talk about truth with a capital T, whether we could say that someone is right and someone is wrong. He said that I'm just being dogmatic about evidence-based reasoning and skepticism. I agreed. I am. I take those values on faith. He said he finds such militant atheists to be just as dogmatic and zealous and unreasonable as religious fundamentalists.

And then I was rather at a loss for words. Of course I'm zealous for what is true, what is the proper method for determining truth, because I think that's by far the best way to achieve happiness and security for myself and others.

PS: Later my brother and I had a similar conversation. He was initially sort-of disagreeing with me. I think he just likes being contrarian. However, I think there was one genuine element of controversy. He said that I was being unreasonable painting all of Christianity or all of religion with such a simple brush. I still maintain that nearly all people who are going to self-identify as religious are going to have some unjustified factual beliefs, and that this state of affairs should be fixed. Rather than say unjustified beliefs are ok, he tried to argue for a while that there are significant elements of religion which don't have those things, and brought up Buddhism and atheistic Hinduism as examples. (We came to an understanding, but I think this conversation has happened several times. I think that it's a fair use of the word "religious", and he thinks it's not. Meh.)
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Re: Sophistry from the last place I'd expect

Postby Lausten » Tue Aug 20, 2013 1:45 am

Interesting, and I think a more common conversation than the classic reasonable person vs a fundamentalist. I think you hit all the major points with your Dad. The only place I would differ is using "dogmatic" in reference to scientific principles. A great thing about science is that it accepts new evidence and new data, and is open to change, the opposite of religion. i.e. when Einstein proposed that time and space are not linear, this went against fundamental dogma of the time, but his math was sound, it was adopted.

As for your brother, has he actually looked into Buddhism? It is based "four noble truths", which really don't cover much, then there is the 8 fold path of doing things "right". There is quite a bit magic to following this path and not much practical advice in my opinion. Just because it doesn't require a god, it shouldn't just get a pass. It tells you to believe certain things and do certain things and that will make you better. If that's not a dogmatic religion, I don't know what is.

And I don't care if there are "significant elements of religion" that aren't unjustified. Churches are designed to give you something they say you don't have unless you go there and follow their convoluted and do their rituals. Just because there is fellowship and coffee afterwards or maybe a soup kitchen, they are selling something that doesn't exist.

I would probably use softer language if I was talking to family, but you get the idea.
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Re: Sophistry from the last place I'd expect

Postby dobbie » Tue Aug 20, 2013 1:53 am

EL wrote: He said that I believe the dictates of the modern scientific community just like a Christian believes the dictates of his priest.
Some input: If this is what he said, he should have asked you if you do, and not tell you that you do. As is, he put words into your mouth and thus probably offered a good ole strawman argument. That's the way I see it.

He said something like I'm using my own values to judge their belief system.
Of course you are. They say something and you pass judgment.

He said that I'm just being dogmatic about evidence-based reasoning and skepticism. I agreed. I am. I take those values on faith. He said he finds such militant atheists to be just as dogmatic and zealous and unreasonable as religious fundamentalists.[/color]

I say that one "takes those values on faith," yes, because one sees that they those values produce useful results, one way or other. Of course everybody meets an "a priori baseline," but what's just as important is what the reasons are, for the position one holds, the fact that there's an "a priori baseline" notwithstanding.

In this particular case, one question is whether taking a value on faith a good thing or a bad thing. If it is said to be good or okay, where's the beef? If said to be bad, I would think that it's bad to take religious dogma on faith, too. If it's neutral, the reasons for assuming the values becomes really important.

Further, I say that the term "militant atheist" is misapplied there. Asking questions and giving reasons, and even ready to learn a thing or two from the "opposition," isn't what I call militancy. I say, then, there's an exaggeration going in there as regards the words "militant atheists." This sort of heavily biased language is almost always a red flag, often indicating the theist position is unstable and on some level the theist knows it.

Last but not least, a general talk about truth or Truth isn't going to do much good. However, if an example has been offered for what a truth is supposed to be--probably it's another word for "fact"--the discussion can start to make more proper sense. For example, it can be claimed that the New Testament is true and factual thanks to the Old Testament prophecies about the importance of Jesus. Okay, now look at a few of those Old Testament prophecies and see if they really hold water. Thus specifics are generally better with which to treat a claim about Truth, which Truth just by itself is inherently an abstruse topic.

I hold the opinion that if the theist doesn't talk in a generalized way, the theist tends to run into trouble. In other words, the theist gets into trouble when the theist gets specific. Since that's generally so, religion can't stay in business unless the spokespersons remain abstruse.
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Re: Sophistry from the last place I'd expect

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:32 am

Thanks. Don't worry about me and my family. This is nothing, and we'll still love each other and hang out.

One thing. I think he called me militant specifically in response to my claim that there are probably not miracles, in the same sense that there are probably not leprechauns at the ends of rainbows and there are no garage dragons. The annoying part is that they think the analogy is unfounded. Stepping back from analogy, my argument is that we have sampled IMHO a sufficiently wide spread of phenomena that I think it constitutes a representative sample of reality, and we haven't found a miracle yet, and I think this is a good basis on which to form the - admittingly weak - conclusion that there are no miracles. And I was called militant for that, lol. Both said that the leprechauns and garage dragons are specific enough to be tested, but "miracles" is such a broad claim that you could not have properly tested for all possible miracles. You know my reply: I don't need to test for all possible miracles when I think I have a statistically "valid" representative sample. Also meh.
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Re: Sophistry from the last place I'd expect

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:43 am

Lausten wrote:As for your brother, has he actually looked into Buddhism? It is based "four noble truths", which really don't cover much, then there is the 8 fold path of doing things "right". There is quite a bit magic to following this path and not much practical advice in my opinion. Just because it doesn't require a god, it shouldn't just get a pass. It tells you to believe certain things and do certain things and that will make you better. If that's not a dogmatic religion, I don't know what is.

Yes, actually. We had that exact same conversation. He's more familiar with it than me. It must be noted that most practitioners of Buddhism would say that they would change their mind if compelling evidence was shown which shows that they are wrong on some point.

I asked my brother which of the following characterizations is closer to reality: 1- Buddhism has these values which were invented because they sounded nice or on some other unfounded basis, and they then take the position that they'll believe it unless and until they're convincingly shown to be wrong. 2- Buddhism has some truths discovered by an informal scientific process and informal evidence-based reasoning, and they take the position that they'll believe it unless and until they're convincingly shown to be wrong.

Either way, I have a problem with it. I have a problem when the belief is out of line with the evidence. However, I have more sympathy for position 2. It's possible that Buddhism was merely a formal collection of some practices for which there is some marginal to decent reasons to believe that they're true. My brother said that position 2 is closer to reality. So, I at least have to give Buddhists some props for saying they'll admit they're wrong when shown to be wrong, but if their beliefs are out of line with the evidence, or if they hold dogmatically to certain specific beliefs like the four noble truths, then I have a problem. A smaller problem than with Christianity, but a problem none-the-less. My brother seems to think that their levels of belief and confidence are not wholly out of whack, where I tend to believe a little more towards the "out of whack" position.
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Re: Sophistry from the last place I'd expect

Postby Lausten » Fri Aug 23, 2013 2:21 pm

Buddhism has the same problem of any religion, there are many brands. The North/South split is less well known than Protestant or Suni, but it's there, and there are aspects of Buddhism that one person might emphasize that others don't. So, I can't speak to anything specific that your brother believes. Obviously reincarnation and karma have some serious lack of evidence.

What really bothers me about someone saying they ARE a Buddhist is that it leads to the question, what about all the other philosophies in the world? Do you exclude them? Are you aware of how they influenced the culture you live in? It would be as bad as me saying I'm a Lockeian. Even though the philosophy of John Locke is closer to the liberal Western way of thinking that democratic governments are based on, it would still be limiting myself in some artificial way that is unnecessary.

I'd rather say I have a philosophy of provisory methodological naturalism. That is a method for discovery truth, not a set of beliefs that have to be challenged or defended. And everybody knows that what is considered scientifically true changes every day. Buddhism is pretty much the same. It's been Westernized for us, but it hasn't had anything new added to it. Any statement from the Buddha that you are supposed to question him or that his teachings are not some final answer is really pretty empty when you think about that.
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Re: Sophistry from the last place I'd expect

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Fri Aug 23, 2013 9:06 pm

Agreed in full.
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