2.10.2011

The Defeasibility Defense

Over at 'Proving the Negative' there was an interesting discussion about defeasibility of beliefs - what would it take to get you to change your mind. If nothing is the answer then 'you're just being pig headed and we should waste no more time on you' was sort of the gist of it. The original post was in reference to believers of various sorts but the local catholic apologist showed up and countered that nonbelievers could be equally pig headed. Possibly true, though skeptics are aided by the old axiom that 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.' A comment was made that it was not reasonable to expect a god to jump through hoops and do tricks implying that expectations of proof had to be deferential in some way.

It got me thinking. What, if anything, could get me to believe in the supernatural? Specifically gods. Hmm. It's really a tough one because of the extraordinary claims part. One thing is for certain - I'm a pretty naturalistic and objectivist thinker. The common methods of spiritual actualization have absolutely no chance of changing my mind. I'm too into cognitive bias and dissonance work to buy any personal experience no matter how vivid. I know too many pharmocologic and neurochemical ways of achieving these kinds of responses to not be extremely dubious of claims that result. Remember I'm the guy that had the near death experience that seemed perfectly physiologic to me despite matching all the common descriptors that people talk about. Oxygen deprivation and random neuron firing makes for some pretty wild experiences.

Some might say I'm ignoring the obvious or missing the point, but to me, one of the arguments against religion is its expectation, no outright insistence, that personal perspectives and feelings are the route to enlightenment. I see too much cognitive bias (and sometimes nefarious actions) in individual witnessing of all kinds to put any stock in it. I know it works for a lot of people, but it's not for me.

For me, the proof would have to be something along the lines of what sagely Carl Sagan put in his book Contact. Proof for me would have to be woven into the fabric of creation and the holy texts. Amongst all the begatting there could have been some reference to gravitation, or atomic structure, or DNA, etc. Lots of opportunities to put things in that would be obvious to future readers. A lot of people try that sort of thing but it's less compelling than my horoscope so not too helpful. Please do not mention creationism as an example of this for it is just the opposite.

It would have to be something that was unambiguous and scientifically reproducible. It would have to be a shared scientific experience. I like Sagan's idea - after you run Pi for awhile it traces out a perfect circle. That would be something that would make even old Pliny take notice. So, from that perspective, I think my position is reasonably defeasible at least from a deist perspective. But maybe that perfect circle would be too much of a hoop to expect...

4 comments:

Michael Lockridge said...

Since proof (evidence, plausibility)seems to be entirely external to you, I would say your bias is sufficient to preclude any experience to turn your mind and heart. A conversion of any sort would truly be miraculous. Should it occur, I trust you will share it with your usual clarity and wit.

I recall a teacher in junior high school who occasionally railed against all of the UFO hype. Then one day he related his brother-in-law's experience of actually touching a UFO. From that time on he was a UFO fanatic.

I never really liked him in either case.

Harry C Pharisee said...

"Over at 'Proving the negative'..."

I like that.

You're much more thoughtful about it than I (go figure). I'm an Xtian trained monkey when it comes to what I would expect from a deity.

All diseases everywhere cured overnight, and afterwards, a little wine.

Then when I sober up, I'll want explanations, preferably ones that start with, "I'm the biggest intergalactic douchebag ever, I'm your creator."

This subject makes me think about Harlan Ellison's 'Deathbird Stories.' Top notch atheist fiction. D'ya ever read that Pliny?

Pliny-the-in-Between said...

No I haven't but I've been eyeing an anthology of his to read.

GearHedEd said...

I don't think I could ever be convinced that supernaturalism is true, or that god exists, either.

And it's not because I have some "cherished atheist dogma" I'm clutching.

There's 'cumulative case evidence' for my thinking here (to borrow a phrase from a lot of the armchair apologists I see on the internet):

First, the pre-birth void.

Next, mind-altering drugs, in which I indulged regularly for a couple of years when I was a young man. Altered consciousness has a way of showing one that the assumptions and perceptions we all take for granted are essentially internal.

Next, a physiological problem I have that causes me to strain so hard when I vomit (for whatever reason: flu, too much drink, food poisoning, etc) that I lose consciousness for a few seconds to a minute. During this short blackout, I again "experience" a void like that from when before I was born. It's only upon reawakening that I realize that I've passed out.

I imagine death is exactly like one of those episodes, except without the waking to knowledge that I had lost consciousness.

As another post-er on a different blog said, "I've got no problem whatsoever with the non-being I didn't experience before I was born, and I expect to return to that state when I die."

As for proof of the supernatural, it would have to be something large and absurd to convince me. Something like the stars aligning in such a way as to spell out "I am that I am. Believe in me and be saved" (including quote marks!) unambiguously in a recognizeable language. In other words, somethiong that could NOT in any way be shown to be natural.