[FoRK] reas. conv. 9/26 Re: Beauty, Reality, Systems (WAS: Truth)

Dr. Ernie Prabhakar < drernie at radicalcentrism.org > on > Tue Sep 26 15:22:52 PDT 2006

[#2 in a "reasoned conversation" about Christianity and atheism.]

Hi Corinna (et al),

I really enjoyed your comments, especially your humility and honesty  
in sharing your own uncertainty.  In fact, I think you hit the nail  
on the head when you said:

On Sep 25, 2006, at 10:06 AM, Corinna wrote:
> I don't think an objective, rational, logical case can be made
> for the choice of one over the other. (There are evolutionary
> reasons, reasons based on perception, self-interest, maintenance
> of civilization, etc, which are largely subjective.)

Exactly.  In fact, to Matt's point, I completely agree that so-called  
"proofs of God's existence" are a complete waste of time. What I *do*  
find worthwhile is exploring:

> ... why you would choose one over the other.

 From what I can see, it appears that "coherency" is one of the  
metrics you use in belief selection, even if just on an esthetic level:

> I'm not a Christian because the basis of my Christian beliefs
> was proven to be invalid/incoherent - the more seriously I took
> Biblical Christianity, the less coherence it had - and I have
> found no other legitimate ground for Christian belief...

Give me time, I'm working on it. ;-)

> I encourage thought and self-examination in
> people I talk to, in order to expose incoherency and thus
> refine their/our thinking.

Awesome. In fact, let us state that as our first point of agreement:

I.  Valid belief systems ought to be coherent

That is why I welcome the chance to expose my thinking to you, so you  
can point out any incoherences you might see which I don't.  And,  
just maybe, you might find that my understanding of Christianity  
possess greater coherency than the version you rejected.  It may not  
change your mind, but hopefully it will at least broaden your  

To be sure, coherency isn't the only metric we use for choosing  
between belief systems (what I earlier called a "meta-paradigm").  To  
explore that, let us shift to Matt, whom I must commend for his  
diligent homework:

On Sep 25, 2006, at 11:15 AM, Matt Jensen wrote:
> Ernie wrote at: <http://urlx.org/homepage.mac.com/653e5>
> The short answer, though, is that I believe in Love.
>> I've heard these positions before, and they are neither new nor  
>> logically persuasive.  Emotionally persuasive, to Ernie, but  
>> that's not the same thing at all.  Among the many logical flaws,  
>> I'd just like to note the false choice about love, at the end.  It  
>> is just not true that our only options are belief in "love" as a  
>> gift that can only come from God, or nihilism.  Ernie, other  
>> cultures can teach you that. Other species can teach you that.   
>> Please read some evolutionary psychology.

The ironic bit is that I was actually making the *opposite* point. 
[1] :-) I completely agree that people can "feel" meaning in a wide  
range of different things.   However, (though I realize it was quite  
unclear) I was actually making an *epistemic* statement _about_  
evolutionary psychology, and how/whether we can find "real" meaning  
based on "truth."

To Russell's point, I was merely stating a position, not offering a  
proof.  But perhaps (with Matt's help) I can explore one now.

I completely agree with you that various human emotional states can  
be easily attributed to evolutionary psychology: sexual desire with  
reproduction, happiness with behavior-reinforcement, etc.   In  
ontological language, we might say that "emotions" are contingent on  
evolutionary psychology, and thus any argument that "absolutizes"  
emotion is inherently unsound.  Can we agree on that? Let me phrase  
that as:

II. To reliably use contingent phenomena, we must understand what  
they are contingent upon.

Fair enough?

The problem, as I see it, is that the human brain (and thus mind) is  
*also* a product of evolutionary forces.  In particular, we are  
notoriously over-efficient pattern matchers who can easily see  
structure where none exists. If feelings are intrinsically unreliable  
due to evolution, are not thoughts then equally so?

To me, the really interesting question is then: what are evolutionary  
processes contingent on?

If the answer is really just 'pure chance', then I fail to see why  
absolutizing intelligence is any more valid than absolutizing  
emotion; correspondence with reality is just a random coincidence,  
and extrapolation is just a bad (or lucky) habit.

But if not random, then what is evolution contingent on?

Now, before you get your skivvies in a tizzie I am *not* using this  
as an argument for the existence of God. However, I *am* using this  
as an argument for the existence of "deep structure" in natural law.   
In particular, I am a partial adherent of what is usually called  
General Systems Theory (GST):


While GST is controversial (and often problematic), I really only  
need one finding: that both inorganic (e.g., atomic) and organic  
(e.g., living) systems are governed by the same general laws  
regarding interaction, evolution, and positive and negative feedback.

In this view, both the affective (emotional) and cognitive  
(intellectual) aspects of humans and other animals are driven by  
underlying natural law to converge towards certain generic, non- 
contingent patterns; just as forces and information flow play out at  
the atomic level.

Thus, my claim is ultimately that one must either:
	i) posit some of variant of GST that gives meaning to all human  
experiences (reason & emotion)
	ii) deny the whole concept of meaningful human systems, which is  
tantamount to nihilism
	iii) deny the relevance of reality, and find meaning in irrational  
or anti-rational systems
	iv) introduce ad hoc statements about meaning as their own first  

Which, if we reject ad hoc and anti-rational approaches, summarizes as:

III.  Valuing coherent belief systems is equivalent to asserting that  
evolutionary biology is driven by deeper natural laws

That is, evolution itself is now contingent on something else (GST),  
so that is where we ought to focus our discussion.  Going from there  
to God (and Jesus) is of course a whole 'nother argument, but I first  
want to see if we at least agree on this much. This may not qualify  
as a "proof", but at least it is now an "argument" that I trust  
several of you will be happy to help me dissect. :-)

-- Ernie P.

[1] My definition of love, like that of most Christians, includes but  
is not limited to emotion.

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