Monthly Archives: January 2008

God Releases Linux (Unsubstantiated)

I could quite easily fit my understanding of science into any religious view – God can do anything, so he made the world this way, and even made atheists to challenge my faith. Once I believe in magic I can invent anything. It’s all down to the premises; so that a valid argument can be claimed to be a sound argument, or I can simply claim that it’s beyond reason and the premises stand alone unchallengable.

I could quite justifiably, by the absolutist religious view, believe that in fact there is a God. But my God isn’t omnipotent, though he is omnibenevolent … this world is his software development project.

Linux Earth 1.0 – Code Name ‘Genesis’ – He spontaneously came into existence about 20 billion years ago, came up with a plan for our universe, and currently we are its latest enhancement.

Linux Earth 1.1 – Code Name ‘Jesus’ – He’s really sorry about the crappy mess he’s left us in, and has wanted to atone – that’s why he created a representation of himself as Jesus. That got a little weird, so he added a patch:

Linux Earth 1.1.1 – Code Name ‘Crucifixion Patch’ – He hadn’t anticipated our design flaws, so we screwed that up for him. An online compaign was started by fans of the 1.1 version that there was a resurrection bug.

Linux Earth 1.2 – Code Name ‘Islam’ – He tried again with Mohammed, but that was a real viral cock-up.

Linux Earth 2.0 – Code Name ‘Enlightenment’ – Eventually he settled on the Enlightenment. It was always going to be difficult – unlike his future creation Microsoft he decided to avoid any pretence at compatibility with previous versions – it was his Linux, and it had its own flaws, but did have certain benefits in that it wasn’t proprietary, it was open source! Anyone could contribute and everyone could benefit. As with all good projects the Enlightenment is an ongoing development, new anti-religious security patches are being contributed by many sources. He hopes to eventually convert all customers. And there’s an incentive for existing and upgrading customers alike – a free pass to heaven, where you’ll be met by Steve Jobs with some great gifts.

Unauthorised code branches: ‘Gold Plated Linux’ by rogue programmer Joseph Smith; ‘Scientology’ or ‘Gullible Celebrity Pseudoscienctology’, by RLH.

I suppose if I believed the above I could be aspect blind, in that I don’t see how my premises upon which it all stands can be at fault. But I’d KNOW I’m not wrong, wouldn’t I? Any objections?

Aspect Blindness and Personality

I wanted to note these points here following the reading posts by Ibrahim and Sam on the following blogs:

Sam:
http://elizaphanian.blogspot.com/2008/01/muscles-metaphors-mysteries-on-grokking.html
http://celticchimp.blogspot.com/2008/01/wittgenstein-and-aspect-blindness.html

Ibrahim:
http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2008/01/latest-response-to-ibrahim-lawson.html

The charge that atheists suffer from Aspect Blindness regarding religion can be just as easily, if not more so, directed at the religious.

I think part the absolute commitment to the religious view is part of one’s personal makeup, but put more generally it is a consequence of certain personalities.

I have had experience of religion. I was raised a Christian, I had doubts in my teens but wasn’t fully aware of the strength of the atheistic alternative (I was agnostic), and eventually came to realise the flaws in the religious view. But, I’ve been around enough religious people to recognise several types. Some are religious by default, as JustBrowsing describes. Some really are strong unquestioning believers that simply reject any alternative, with some element of fear, either of the spiritual consequences, or simply of the unknown. Many are what I’d class as ‘troubled’, in that they desperately want to find something spiritual as a source of comfort and guidance because they have some sort of difficulty with the basic physical world and what they see as all its nastiness – such as crime and ‘evil’, or natural disasters, things that from my point of view I can classify simply and naturalistically as “some people aren’t nice to each other” and “shit happens”. I’m not troubled by the world and its problems and the fact that I can’t fix them all. I’m not saying I’m heartless or fearless – I feel deeply disturbed to witness human and animal suffering, and I’d be as scared as the next person if I were mugged; but I can put these things into context so that I’m not fretting every minute of the day. I don’t become depressed with the state of the world or my personal life. I do have a driving need to learn new stuff, but I’m not disturbed by the lack of answers.

In some cases the religious view is one of ‘blind faith’, the outright unquestioned denial of the possibility of an atheistic view. But in many case I’d describe faith more as ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘aspect blindness’, rather than simply ‘blind’, as a consequence of personality, where critical reasoning is accepted and used, but sufficiently distorted and abused to affirm the religious view.

Maybe I have personality issues that drive me towards a critical questioning and a general scepticism that results in my atheism, and maybe it’s difficult for me recognise it in myself. I’m open to analysis, by professionals or amateurs.

It might be said that I’m this way because I haven’t had a religious experience, and that if I had I’d know. I can’t refute this categorically, but by the same token how am I supposed to know? And how would anyone else know what I have and haven’t experienced? Maybe I have similar ‘spiritual’ experiences, but just as people have different thresholds of pain I have a low threshold of the ‘spiritual’ experience. Maybe that’s all it boils down to, different strengths of ‘zap’ in the brain, and that the brains of those that perceive a stronger ‘zap’ interpret it all anthropomorphically as some superior presence. How would you tell the difference between that and a real religious God invoked revalatory event?

Knowledge

In response to Barefootbum I tried to figure out my take on ‘knowledge’:

I’ve been struggling with this for a while. I can’t really get a handle on knowledge with regard to truth or justification. My mind tends to work in the concrete rather than the abstract, so maybe that’s why.

So, what I can get a handle on, or at least I feel I can, is information (e.g. Shannon). Information is merely laid down in the brain, using the physicalist view, in patterns that vary according to person, time, current brain state, etc., acquired through the combination of genetics, development and sensory input and so on.

Sticking with the physicalist view that consciousness is a manifestation of brain activity that gives an appearance of the ‘mind’, then the processes of the mind consist of the manipulation and regurgitation of an individual brain’s information at any particular time – outwardly, to others, an external representation of the internal information.

So what we call individual ‘knowledge’ is nothing more than continuously changing pattern of transformed information. Add into the mix other brains all trying to perform the same task, each with their own internal mix of this ‘knowledge’, then it’s no wonder we struggle to find agreement on what we understand any particular piece of knowledge to be. If there is any ‘truth’ out there beyond human experience then we’re unlikely to acquire or agree on any ‘true’ interpretation of it.

Why do we want to search for a truth of any kind? Why must we agree? I don’t know what the biological driving forces might be, other than it could be viewed as yet another manifestation of the consequence of housing selfish genes. But it’s pretty clear we are motivated to question, to understand, and to agree on ‘truths’.

In this model there is no absolute truth, at least not that we can get at. There is only knowledge as information. What we make of it and how useful it is determines whether or not it is ‘justified true belief’, though I’ve never liked that phrase (because I couldn’t understand it). And I think this is how such variety in understanding can be explained; how we arrive at such a debatable position about what ‘truth’ is, what god is, if god exists, what morality is, etc. In some respects this is a utilitarian view, but I don’t see anything wrong with that.

If this interpretation is the case then it also explains in some way the success of science and its methods and why we find them useful: the use of repeatability to establish knowledge as a consistent set of information over time, space and environment; the use of logic to establish what we can conclude or at least what we can use as a working model. Science even goes to great lengths to iron out the noise and the vagaries of human fallibility by using double blind tests and performing statistical analysis on the data to make sure, as much as we can, that the results actually represent useful knowledge/information. In other words science helps us to get as good an agreement on any ‘truth’ as we can reasonably expect.

Beyond this view of knowledge I struggle with much of the philosophical contemplation of it. It seems to me that it’s quite easy to analyse yourself until you vanish up your own ass, and I feel that that’s what some philosophers do when considering truth and knowledge. Maybe it’s just my ignorance of some of the finer points.