skepticism

A Challenge for Atheists and Believers – Will You Accept?

Hello friends,

I am inspired by Pascal. While I do not share all his strengths, I do recognize his character is an image that my best self desires to reflect. If that sounds like high-praise, it is. As an oncologist, his compassion is regularly exercised and deepened by his engagement with others in their time of suffering. He fights for them and his hope and solicitude are a bedrock in the face of their own mortality. If you’re on the fence about Pascal, please get down and embrace him. Even in his disagreement, he’s respectful because his understanding of other people and their reasoning is immense. The genetic parts of his personality have been cultivated by years of actively struggling to learn about those who differ from him – and that foresight and sacrifice is what I value so deeply.

A model to follow

A few years ago, Pascal invited my family into his home. When he found that my faith did not match his own, he invited me to breakfast. When I couldn’t afford to go, he paid for my egg and cheese burrito. When I avoided faith conversations, he waited patiently, week after week, growing a friendship over hours spent in the enthusiasm of shared interests. The bond formed quickly because he’d already taken the time to strengthen his knowledge in areas that I enjoy, and he continued to do so over time. It took months, but eventually I opened up to him about my lack of faith and he accepted me. He challenged me, he listened, and we communicated. I read some books he like, and he read some books I liked so we could understand how we each think. Through the investment of time and the effort to understand one another’s point of view – especially where we didn’t share it – we grew from our opposing poles and related to one another in a stronger way. That transition was easier to the degree that we already respected each other. He had that respect from me from the beginning, because he’s a human just like me. This blog is a continuation of some of those discussions in a way that encourages others to join in the respect we already share.

Pascal and I still meet for breakfast, but we rarely spend much time on shallow things. Our topics often meander, but they’re usually quite deep and earnest. This isn’t a recipe that will work in every situation for every set of two individuals with opposing views – but it worked for us. My point is, it wasn’t easy, but he hasn’t given up yet and I’m much better for it. His actions are the inspiration for the challenge to come. I believe that everyone needs at least one person like Pascal in their life, and needs to be a Pascal for others. Ultimate, that will raise the bell curve. So…

The challenge

1) Think of someone who disagrees with you on some world-view issue (especially if they do so strongly) and schedule a time and place to meet with them this week.

Right now, give them a phone call, voice mail, text, email, Facebook message, Tweet, or something, and let them know you want to meet over a meal in your home or at a restaurant this week or next (include some dates/times). Confirm the meeting and then leave a comment letting us know your meeting is scheduled and anything you want to discuss with us before you meet with them (don’t forget to use good judgment if it’s someone of your gender-attraction).

2) Meet with them and work on your friendship (don’t try to convert or de-convert or tackle the issue(s) you see as extreme right away).

Try to understand them and see the world through their eyes. Find some shared interests to work on for next time. Feel free to refer them to this blog (or a specific post) or any other blog or information that may lead to mutual respectful conversation. Try to talk about something deep before you leave to set that precedent. Be honest, authentic and humble with them when you do, recognizing that you don’t have all the answers and that at least some of your closely held beliefs, statistically, must be false in some way. Their position is worthy of respect because they’ve had different experiences than you. If you were born in their circumstances with their parents and environment and DNA you might believe exactly as they do. If you see their view as extreme, they probably see yours the same way, so try to get to understand theirs in the same way that you would want them to try to understand the legitimacy of your own. So try to understand their views that you think are extreme, but don’t force the topic at the first meeting if the timing isn’t right. Schedule another and another until your friendship builds the needed respect. If you’re a believer, pray for them. Also, whether you’re a believer or not, spend time thinking about how you can prioritize friendship and respect with them rather than the issue you want to understand. That will come with time.

Remember that your goal through all this is to genuinely understand your opposition by seeing the world through their eyes. Don’t count what your group says about people who think the way they do as “knowledge” about how they actually think. There are likely more straw men than true representations of your opponents arguments in the impassioned cries of your in-group, because straw men are easier to knock down. Go with an open mind and a heart that seeks to connect with the heart of a friend.

Don’t wait to respect them until what you hear what they have to say. Respect them now, because they are you in a different set of circumstances, and you are them. As they speak, listen to how your life might have been if, outside of your control, you were born in their circumstances instead of yours. Find a way to legitimize them as a person and to help them grow through your shared time and your shared humanity. Love them as yourself. It’s likely that meeting them on this level, with this heart, will bring them closer to you as well. If so, encourage them to use this model as they engage others.

3) After your first meeting, comment back here in a response to your first comment and let us know how it went. Try to set a follow-up meeting if possible and appropriate.

I’m immensely grateful that we have the ability and privilege to unite together in this blog and others to discuss theology and world-views, but if those ideas never turn into action, we’re stopping short of achieving the level of potential improvement we seek in the lives of our friends and perceived enemies. If we rise above differences and focus on humanity, and if we commit together to act in the world, we really can raise the bell curve.

I’ll start the challenge in a comment below. If anyone else joins me I’ll do something unique for them in a future post. 🙂

Have a great week!

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Challenge Extremism by Raising the Bell Curve

Hi Pascal and friends!

This post is a set-up for the following one which will be a challenge to atheists, christians and everyone in between.

I often mention my desire to make the bell curve taller. Some may understand that intuitively while others may benefit from a bit of an explanation. I’ll try not to let this get too dry for too long. 🙂

A bell curve is a statistical model that can be representative of most sets of sufficient complexity and size, be it a set of heights in a population, grades on a mid-term in English class, or political ideologies. If you’ve had statistical training you’ll be thinking of standard deviations from the mean, but the specifics of that terminology are more advanced than we need for this illustration. What we’re focusing on is the ends of the curve (at the tails or the poles – “polarization”) which represent the less common entities in the set being modeled – the outliers, the extremes. When we talk about extremism, this is literally what we mean. Here’s an example of a bell curve…

bell_curve

The existence of extremes is a statistical certainty in most types of data of sufficient size. In things like height or grades, there’s little or no harm to the population as a whole due to the presence of the extremes. In things like world-views, political ideologies, or most germane to this topic, religious ideologies where a percentage of the population believes a divine agent wants them to act a certain way towards the general population – extremism can be very bad for humanity. It can quickly lead to impassioned conflict, loss of dignity, injustice, inequality, violence, war, and death. Gone are the days when the most harm a person with extreme views could do is the actions he or she could perform under his or her own power. Today we have unlocked many powers in nature (biological and atomic to name a few) that can greatly augment an extremist’s ability to affect a wide percentage of the population as their views dictate. This is one of the greatest threats to humanity today and in the foreseeable future.

But aren’t differences in opinion inevitable? Yes, but there is a difference between a disagreement and an extreme disagreement. That’s when those standard deviations from the mean are relevant. I’ll skip that and just say that some topics lead to wider bell-curves than others. Consider legalizing marijuana vs abortion rights. Also, in reality the threshold between healthy argument and extreme disagreement is often much more fuzzy when it comes to ideological issues.

So who decides what’s an “extreme view”? We each do. We believe things that, given our experience and way of reasoning, we think are most rational. Therefore, when we evaluate the beliefs of others, we tend to place ourselves in the middle of the bell curve and place their views somewhere in relationship to ours at the middle. What I see as extreme, you may not, and vice versa.

Sometimes this tendency to compare other’s beliefs to our own “right ones” leads us to place theirs at a wrong place on the curve. For example, if you’re an LGBT-equality proponent and you hear that Pascal is a Christian from the south, that may lead you to wrongly assume he’s anti-LGBT rights (thus holding a potentially extreme view in your opinion). Similarly, if you’re a believer, there may be some beliefs you think I hold that, to you, may border on extreme. If I admit that I’m an atheist you may naturally think I believe that God does not exist (I do not think that). That assumption may force you, consciously or subconsciously, to place me into an area of the bell curve concerning “how we got here” or “why we exist” that is “extreme” in your view (given Romans 1:19-21). Such cases are often the result of a misunderstanding based on the frequent reliance upon assumptions when information is lacking. Assumptions are often necessary, but we should remember to recognize assumptions and hold them in low confidence, since they can easily be false – driving a wedge between us unnecessarily.

The further tendency to draw lines around those we see as different from us in some vital way and then to view them as less (less logical, rational, moral, compassionate, educated, etc. – less fully human) is really an “us vs them” survival mechanism to help us justify using means we normally object to (e.g. hatred and/or violence) to dominate what we rationalize as a “lesser being.” Seeing others as sub-human is how we justify wars and every other injustice. There is a tool we can use to fight these tendencies, and Pascal wields it well.

So what can we do? We can follow Pascal’s example of making an effort to understand our opponents. Pascal and I have long realized and embraced the lesson from Ender’s Game that knowing your enemies makes them your enemies no more (knowledge often turns into compassion and love). I tend to think in sweeping mathematical abstractions, so I summarize all this as “making the bell curve taller” or “raising the bell curve.”

Making the bell curve taller (a buffer against extremism and a bridge to understanding and love)

raise_the_bell_curve

What does it mean to make the bell curve taller? It allows actual information directly from another person to supplant the often faulty assumptions we’ve made. It also lets people connect, relate to one another, empathize, de-propagandize, and generally care about another person, which makes them seem less extreme to you and you to them. It humanizes our opponents and breaks down the stereotypes our monkey-brain erects for our protection. It involves individuals investing time and interest into the concerns of other individuals with whom they have a fundamental disagreement, to the point that they can understand that person deeply enough that they respect them, despite their differing opinions.

The more often this happens in the society, the fewer people on average are assumed to belong (and over time, the fewer actually do belong) in the extreme ends, or tails, of the bell curve. As people see their former ideological enemies as fellow humans worthy of respect, the society begins to move in towards the mean (the center, tall part of the curve) but the number of people under the curve doesn’t change. As a results, the curve gets narrower and taller. That’s raising the bell curve (see the image I just made above).

It’s depolarizing humanity (at least the ideological extremes of humanity) to safer levels that are more conducive to peace and shared concern. It’s “bearing one another’s burdens,” “knowing them by their fruits,” “loving your neighbor as yourself,” and other such commands, but it transcends religious ties.

Question

It’s likely that there are many specific ways to raise the bell curves in our respective cultures. Do you have any suggestions we can try which will unite hearts across spanning ideological distances?

I want to highlight one approach to honor Pascal’s efforts with me which led to the eventual formation of this blog. I’ll do that in the form of a direct challenge to myself and to you in my next post. Stay tuned…

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

Agreeing On Nothing

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve missed you and thought often of you as I fire up the Charity Miles app.  Our RussellandPascal team has 6 members now with a total of 169 miles.  If my math is correct, that is over $41 donated to various charities that move us.  If my musing is correct, that is new money that we had perhaps intended to give but had not acted on.  Please join our team if you are able.  We would like to see half the blog followers join in the next one year and our goal for mileage is >10,000 (time to goal uncertain).

Russell and I had breakfast a week ago and after two hours we agreed upon nothing.  Don’t despair.  The reason I led with the Charity Miles collaboration is to remind you of how much we do agree on.  And, one cup of coffee in, it is quite possible that my insistence we agree upon nothing is a double entendre.  We talked about this book that I lent to Russell over Christmas break – –

the information

I loved the book and further thought that it might help me to understand my friend.  It did.  Here is another book that I’m reading with an extended quote below.

schaeffer

Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person’s place and see how his problems look to him.  Love is a genuine concern for the individual.  As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual “as ourselves.”  This is the place to begin.  Therefore, to be engaged in personal “witness” as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point.  The reason to do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.  This kind of communication is not cheap.  To understand and speak to sincere but utterly confused twentieth-century people is costly.  It is tiring; it will open you to temptations and pressures.  Genuine love, in the last analysis, means a willingness to be entirely exposed to the person to whom we are talking.   —  Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There

How did these two books relate?  Gleick, in The Information, helped me to love my friend Russell.  I read the book with fascination and took notes in the cover.  I think I took notes – – Russell still has the book.  I read it around the same time that Russell introduced me to Sean Carroll and Howie and began to think – – why don’t I think this way?  It is quite a beautiful way to think.

Information theory then has become an area of interest for me and obsession for Russell (I’ll ask him to correct me if I overstate; I frequently do for effect).  Information theory found its way into our taco breakfast last week and helped us to agree on nothing.  Please accept a brief paraphrase.

R:  Even in the outer boundary of the known universe there is information.

P:  I don’t see it.  Quantum fluctuation maybe . . .

R:  But, that is information.

P:  I’m tracking – – I just didn’t consider that useful information.  So you’ll accept the noise and not just the signal?

R:  Yes.

P:  Remember how we’ve had a hard time agreeing about the definition of nothing?  How I insist that the Universe can’t naturally be made from nothing?

R:  Yes, but that has never bothered me.

P:  You know it bothers me?

R:  I do.

P:  So would you accept the complete lack of information as nothing?

R:  I would.

There are not many readers of this blog who will recognize the milestone that this represents in Russell’s and my communication.  We have gone to great lengths to understand each other, deconstruct straw men and yes – – to love each other.  As Schaeffer says, it has not been easy.  But this agreement, on nothing, meant the world to me.

Where will it lead?  Do I jump directly to an apologetic based on ex nihilo nilo fit?  Absolutely not.  I finish the post and prepare to run a 10K trail with two of my sons, thankful that I’ll log 6.2 more miles for water.  On that run I’ll thank my God for my friend and thank him for the love that lets us to talk to not past each other.

Pascal – – 1:16

Live Your Faith, Live Your Atheism, Grow Your Compassion, Teach Your Children, Save A Life

Pascal and I use this blog to partially identify, work though, and record for posterity our individual and evolving ways of approaching life and discovering (and rediscovering) its meaning for each of us. We welcome each of you into this discussion and every thought you contribute joins us together and improves our unified experience. Thank you.

As I hinted through Pascal’s post called Russell Unplugged, I’m often a little disappointed that my approach consists largely of criticizing the logical soundness and resulting confidence-level in conclusions that some of the faithful maintain despite (what seems to me) less-than-iron-clad reasoning. I don’t like being that guy, and expressing where I differ and why often leaves me feeling like my posts are missing the point of what my process of reasoning is all about. I’m not a cold, calculating robot. I’m a deeply compassionate human, and I believe that you are too. The nature of our discussions – where we spend our time – often leaves the appearance that I’m only interested in the strength of rhetoric, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, I focus on avoiding being “confidently wrong” and holding as many true beliefs and as few false ones as possible, but ultimately I care about living well. That means identifying with my fellow conscious minds out there (that’s you), understanding cognitive psychology, why and how we decide and feel as we do (each equally valid in our different opinions), and how we suffer well despite the differences in where our hope is placed.

Meaning matters. Pursuing it matters. Life matters. Love matters. Justice matters. You matter.

I want to step back from the technical and philosophical tone of many of my posts and give you a glimpse into the real Russell. And I want to invite you to join in a movement that we can all share together, across the theological divide. It’s a movement of compassion and love. If you only read one of my posts, I hope it’s this one, because it’s tangible. It does what none of the reasoning can do on it’s own – it leads to actual changes, now, in the lives of those who suffer.

Join me…

That’s a long intro to two simple apps. Yes, smartphone apps. If you have a smartphone such as an iPhone or Android phone, I really hope you’ll do two things.

1. Download each of these apps and use them at least once.

2. Leave a comment that you did it and what you thought, and tell me if you can think of any other apps or charities we can get involved in.

Please consider doing this. Not for me. For yourself, your children, those who suffer, and for all of us (our societies are made up of individuals).

Here are the apps and how we use them in my family.

The “Charity Miles” app

Charity_miles

Every time you go on a jog, bicycle ride, or even just a walk around the house, to the grocery store, on the treadmill – basically any sustained movement you make under your own power – open the Charity Miles app first. You can pick a charity and corporations will sponsor you, just like they do when people run marathons, and donate money to the charity you picked based on how far you moved! The donations aren’t exorbitant but they add up over time.

Our 5-year-old, Ella, and I both use this app to raise money for a charities – just by moving under our own power. I keep it on while working from my home-made treadmill desk – which I set up this way specifically for this purpose (thanks again for the treadmill, Pascal!). Ella has it on our old WIFI-only iPhone 4S and runs around the house with it or walks on the treadmill to raise money while watching a show on the iPad in front of her. We also turn it on when walking to and from her school. As I write this I’m earning money for a charity called “water” which provides clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.

Well over 500,000 people die every year due to inadequate drinking water. Many of these and similar deaths are preventable. Every minute a child dies due to a water-related disease (often in their parents’ arms – parents who are often desperately pleading to God for an intervention). You and I, working through such charities, are the only physical intervention people in their situation are likely to receive. According to the charity description, the continual state for some of those the charity supports includes digging in the sand with their children to find water. Others who benefit from their charity would normally have to walk 5 miles to fetch water which they then carry home in yellow fuel cans (80 lbs in total) after waiting in line for 8 hours. Water is only one of many amazing charities available to you. Get this app and improve lives around the world (and definitely involve your children if they’re old enough). 🙂

The “Donate a Photo” app

Donate_a_photo

The second app is Donate a Photo by Johnson & Johnson. Open this app, pick a charity from the list, and then take a photo (or select one from your photo library) and upload it. Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 (each day you donate) to the charity you select that day. That’s up to $365 per year to save and improve lives – from this app alone – and it only takes a few seconds each time. 🙂 I’ve been targeting Nepal earthquake survivors recently.

A joint calling

We can’t all share Christ or Muhammad, peace be upon him, with conviction and honesty, but we can all share love with honesty. Tell your friends about these apps. Get involved and get your children involved. There are few better ways to raise a child to be compassionate and empathetic of the plight of others than to involve them in community service or charity work. There are many ways to donate and many charities to get involved with, many religious, many not. Prayer should lead to action. We are involved in some religious ones as well, but the point is to act. To do something. Apps like these lower the barrier for involvement and action, so please pass them along.

Whether you, like me, are more skeptical of that traditional faiths, or like Pascal, are affirming of a specific higher-power, I hope we can all agree about many lessons from the Christian Bible (encouragement to have compassion and be a good Samaritan, etc.). The following two verses from the New International Version sum it up well:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:13

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell

The Cliff, part 2

lossy-page1-400px-USING_MOUNTAIN_CLIMBING_TECHNIQUES_WHILE_HIKING_IN_THE_MAZE_A_REMOTE_AND_RUGGED_REGION_IN_THE_HEART_OF_THE..._-_NARA_-_545777.tif

Dear Russell & Friends,

I lost another friend to the cliff last week.  This was a literal cliff, challenged by a colleague my own age, because it was there.  This was a man who kept his promise to only leave his marriage by death, and did.  As we gather again to support his family and to embrace the community at work I grieve in a very different way.  I understood his sense of adventure and his pursuit of fitness that allowed him to do hard things.  I last spoke with him 4 weeks ago when he welcomed me to CrossFit and explained why he did it.  I understood, as a hiker, the draw to climbing rocks that I was just too cautious to embrace.  I admired him for taking the risks that I would not take.  And when he fell I do not reproach him.  I don’t ask him to do it over, to live a safer life.  Could my perspective be that of his bride or children the age of mine?  It is honestly too soon to contemplate asking.  Yet I know that her husband did not break promises.  And I know that their father was a hero.

The cliff of infidelity is avoidable, and I strive to live away from its ledge.  The cliff of death will touch us all in a free fall or slow slide.  I honor my friend for his choices, his bravery, and his life.  I grieve that we won’t enjoy his company for longer here.  Our family will seek practical means to comfort and support his.  In 6 weeks I’ve lost 2 friends to traumatic death.  Friends within 2 years of my age.  In my profession, half of the people I meet know that they are dying sooner than they expect.  So yes.  I think much about death even when it doesn’t brush this close.  And yes.  That is one of the main reasons I believe – – the hope that the dead will rise.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  David Hiser, 1937-, Photographer (NARA record: 3651517) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Cliff

Sitting_near_the_cliff

Dear Russell & Friends,

I’m writing in response to a recent post by a family friend J, Russell’s wife.  She also goes by CC, the Counterfeit Christian, to reflect her journey through the desert of doubt concurrent with her husband’s loss of faith.  In this post she mentions the cliff of infidelity and how it shocked and disappointed her that she could even let it come into view.  I found her admission to be mature, honest, and much more healthy than most of us can manage.  In light of Josh Duggar’s recent revelations I felt an obligation to speak.

Mrs. Pascal and I met at the age of 19.  She actually baked my 20th birthday cake in a dorm microwave one step up from an easy bake oven.  We jogged together (she later confessed that she didn’t like to run), played racquetball, shared meals, and grew in friendship.  We wrote a series of pre-internet letters on paper with pen in envelopes requiring a stamp.  We both still have every one.  We decided to marry after an intense argument.  I asked her for 48 hours space.  I was either going to marry her or never talk to her again.  What a wonderful decision.  We celebrated 21 years of marriage last month.

In a life driven by priorities, following Christ is first.  The second priority is loving others.  These two priorities are why I’m here.  But there is a rank to my others.  My bride deserves to be first in my esteem and affections.  My children know that I love them but that they must play a secondary role in my heart.  Other people – – our community here falls into the third tier.  So if one person is my first priority, how can I guard my heart and hers?  I consider infidelity to be one of my deepest fears.  I would likely feel less guilt with other crimes that might be objectively considered more serious.  Why?  I promised her.  I gave my word.  I said that I wouldn’t leave and wouldn’t destroy what we worked so hard to build.

The photo above is beautiful.  Mrs. Pascal just walked by and said so herself.  I explained the metaphor of the post and she wholeheartedly agreed.  We have tried to draw our stopping line one mile from the cliff.  I am not a young sports car.  I’m not fast, shiny, or sexy.  I am a middle aged locomotive.  I can carry much over great distances.  I am defined by momentum, not acceleration.  A train can take a mile to stop.

Here are my principles for guarding a faithful marriage.  I have built them with the lessons learned from my weaknesses and from the failures of those I consider friends.  In the last twenty years I have sat across the breakfast table from 7 different men who were leaving their wives and children.  Only one turned back.  All of these men had picnics by the beautiful cliff.  For what it is worth – – here is the advice that I give myself.  I ask you all to hold me accountable.

  1. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to yourself.  You can become attracted to another.  None of the 7 men thought they could ever stray – – that was the one commonality.
  2. Friendship is more dangerous than physical attraction.  You’re not 19 anymore.  Finding someone who appreciates you and laughs at your jokes – – danger.
  3. Avoid pornography.  It is corrosive and encourages to ask, what if?  It honors neither women nor men.  How many human traffic victims?
  4. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to your true friends.  Some men (most men) have less than 5 friends.  Find one.  Please.
  5. Do not meet privately with someone from work.  Have your meetings out in the open.  Do not go to lunch one on one.  Take a colleague.
  6. Know yourself.  I am more vulnerable to words than plunging necklines.  For me, to exchange letters with a woman who is not my wife is a crossing of the one mile boundary.  I did that one time.  I thought I had built accountability into the system.  The letters were for a noble cause.  They were openly exchanged.  I was wrong.  My bride asked me to stop and I did immediately.  She knew my heart better than I did and I’m so glad that she loved me enough to guard it.
  7. Be kind, but not familiar.  I hope that I am never rude, but I would rather be considered rude than over familiar.
  8. Do not flirt.  It is jet fuel on a camp fire.

This list is less important than the spirit behind it.  Please – – guard your own heart and the heart of the one you promised it to.  What do you think?  Have I drawn my lines to extremely?  Does this make sense, or not?  Have you successes or failures that may help us?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit: By Dinkum (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Russell Unplugged

2003_Faith_Saturn_electro-acoustic_guitar

 

Dear Russell & Friends,

Good morning.  I’ve been thinking about this post for nearly a week and the coffee is just right.  Perhaps this will serve as useful background for those new to our blog.  It will certainly serve as therapy for me.  Most of the activity on the blog lately has been on Russell’s post The Problem.  It is one of his most important posts.  He might (would) put iMultiverse in the short list too.  A few miles away from here, perhaps in his sleep, Russell just smiled.

The comments have multiplied on The Problem as Russell has found a new interlocutor, unkleE.  I am 43 years old.  Russell is 7 years younger.  unkleE is twice Russell’s age and is doing, I think, what I want to do when I grow up.  He is reading, writing, engaging those who do not share his perspective of belief.  However, he is doing it in a way that I can’t – – from the personality type of INFP (81%) or ISFP (76%).  If I take the former it is only 1 letter away from Russell – – INTP.  So, from the perspective of age and from the perspective of a similar engineering-type personality he can engage Russell in ways that I can’t.

So what happened?  They both went out of their way not to offend.  That’s what I’ve been thinking about.  I have Russell’s permission to share our text stream as some of the comments unfolded.  One thing you’ll notice is that these texts had something I’ve never seen before – – an arrow at the bottom designed to reveal the words incapable of display on the largest of iPhones.  For an introvert, Russell has a lot to say.  That belies one of the misconceptions about introverts.  We have plenty to say.  Its just more comfortable in writing or with people we know well.  Russell has posted some of this in his own reply, but I’d like to give you a flavor of the text stream and what it means to know someone.  Concluding at the beginning, it takes time.  Russell and I are 2 1/2 years into a friendship that I hope will last.  It has not been easy to listen well or to be heard.  But it has been worth it.

 

R:  The unkleE comment was focused on one thing… why I’m not highly convinced that fine-tuning is a problem. He things I haven’t read enough, don’t understand the science, don’t understand large numbers, and am too biased against the evidence. That didn’t seriously hurt my feelings. I responded with more details, that’s his punishment for being critical. Haha. Gotcha’ unkleE! 🙂

P:  you two are quite a pair

R:  Indeed. I think we should Skype and hang out. I bet we’d get along great! That reminds me, are you still interested in trying a podcast, hangout-on-air youtube video with just our logo up, or some other type of audio-only conversation sometime?

P:  I actually am.  I’m interested in more than i’m successfully executing right now which is a deep and constant frustration

R:  I ran it by Howie and he’s interested. He’d join us.

I can see it being huge benefit for me for at least two reasons. Communicating ideas will, once the kinks are worked out, hopefully be done more efficiently. And it’s helpful to communicate tone of voice which adds important inflection and other vital information to the topic being discussed. It’s not very search engine friendly, but most of our hits probably don’t come from that and we have plenty of other written content on the site. I’d really like to see a comment on the blog, hit a button, record a response and paste it as a link. Haha. It would also be great to take someone’s question or point and invite people to a round-table discussion via hangouts-on-air, etc. I’d rather not do it live until we polish up a bit, though. 😊

I think I’ve made a mess of things on The Problem. In my very rushed responses I’ve done a poor job of taking the time to be as gentle as I’d prefer to be while disagreeing. Sigh. This is a rough time for me for multiple reasons. I need to learn to deal with those who challenge and criticize my form of reasoning without helping me understand and improve it by explaining exactly where it’s wrong and why. When I feel criticized with nothing to back it up, apparently, I push to hard to delineate my steps and get them to explain, but the only thing that gets discussed are the irrelevant details that aren’t part of the reasoning. I write so much that it’s hard for anyone to focus and I usually make a mistake or two that gets us further off topic. Then I get behind on work and rush my comments even more and, without taking the time to polish them, they sound more confrontational than I’d like. I now have two people saying what you’ve said (I require too much evidence). It’s not lost on me that more than one should sound alarms. Evidently, this is a hot-button issue for me. Not being told that, but being told that without an example to help me learn from. When I list the steps in my reasoning and show where I doubt and why, those specifics are avoided as if I didn’t say them (at least so far). I’m really looking for the place, exactly where my folly resides, but nobody seems to be pointing to it. I’m really beginning to feel like I’m just a very poor communicator. Maybe I am just blind to it and they’ve been pointing all along. But that doesn’t help me. 😟 I fear this is the central issue of the blog. People in camp A think people in Camp B require too much evidence. People in Camp B think people in Camp A are failing to express that they been aware of and properly considered all the assumptions and counter-evidence (often, like you, they have considered it). I don’t think anyone is believing things that are unjustifiable to them, and very few are believing things that don’t make sense. It’s almost always a communication problem where we don’t see everyone else’s evidence. So when other people think my standards are too high rather than assuming, as I do, that I’ve just seen different evidence, I want to either see what they’re seeing and fix the holes in my reasoning or ask them to tone it down a bit. But getting to the point where they point out flaws that are actually there rather than ones they assume because I didn’t clearly state everything in my comment, or getting to the point where they are willing to say it’s just different evidence rather than a high bar for evidence – both seem equally unachievable. Thousands of words later I don’t feel much closer to a resolution and I’ve likely offended people, which is the opposite of what I want. I have learned how to better express my argument for why I don’t have high confidence in fine-tuning, but I don’t think it’s helped. I think I’ve learned a lot of things not to do. No argument or point is worth being anything less than gentle and respectful, even when I feel continually misrepresented and as though almost all my key arguments are ignored, and even when time is short. This was a great lesson. Sigh. Thanks for the advice here. This helped a lot! 😊

P:Talk to your wife and ask her opinion.  She knows your heart better than anyone and will have insight here.  I think you are right about the central issue.  I can’t process the cognitive burden of 5,000 word comments and I accept different evidence in addition to empiric evidence.  The Hume quote bothered me because it was simplistic.  How much of your text do I have permission quote in a post of my own?

R:  Good advice. You can quote anything. I feel misunderstood when people think I only accept empirical evidence. Another sigh. I read interpreted his quote differently, as proportioning the level of certainty we hold to the level of evidence (pro and con). Non-empirical evidence counts, but empirical often should count more, so it’s a balance thing. I think most people agree with this, but we all tend to interpret things, at least initially, the way we’re primed for. That’s why I think the real difference tends to be that some people are comfortable staying in their beliefs if they seem right and feel good. Others have more of a tendency to actively seek out other potential explanations that could also account for the evidence (all kinds) and then hold back certainty a bit in the hopes that they don’t confidently believe false things. That’s why I try to learn about the assumptions and biases and examine them all for most claims. I can see that it’s unusual. But that seems to be the real difference. I don’t require empirical evidence or more evidence for confidence. But if I see other potentially equal or better explanations after actively examining everything, I’ll withhold certainly that my favored or initial explanation is definitely the right one. Does any of that make sense?

Also, I think the more someone is aware of and understands other alternate explanations and is aware of and fearful of their own biases (fear they made lead them confidently away from truth), the more they tend to reserve certainty in more things.  If someone has a personality that isn’t interested in such things, or hasn’t been made aware of both the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations, they tend to see people like me as being too critical. They just don’t think the same way. So I completely get where they’re coming from, I just think that sometimes they assume I just require too much evidence so that science won’t even lead me to confidence. What I really do is balance my confidence against all the factors I see, which isn’t usually what everyone else sees, because more than wanting to be right, I really don’t want to be confidently wrong. I think you and unkleE are somewhere in the middle on that spectrum (believe what feels right vs actively search for better alternative explanations and the modifying weight of our own biases) and I’m just closer to one end. I don’t like being on the end. 😦 Making the bell curve taller is my goal in all of this.

Wait, there are some people who do require empirical evidence and hold strong beliefs against the supernatural, etc., so am a little closer to the middle than I feared. 🙂 I need to be emphasizing caution to them more. We don’t see many. Instead I spend my time taunting biases and other possible explanations to well behaving believers in faith. Anytime I mention bias or MR I cringe. I really don’t like my position. There are very few situations one can feel like they’re being accused of bias and not feel criticized and defensive. It’s like you’re position of discussing sin. It has to start with us. I am biased too, etc. Everything on your side rests on our sin and need for a savior. Everything on mine rests on the flaws in our reasoning and alternative explanations that should keep us cautious of too much certainty. At the same time, you seem to get by just fine without talking about the points that offend people (sin) nearly as much as I talk about my offensive points. Of course, that’s largely because much of your audience doesn’t believe in it. 🙂 Some don’t believe bias applies to them either. Still, I need to learn from you. I feel my position is the more critical. 😦

P:  Wow.  Just read the last comment exchange.  IMO it would not have hurt your position to wait before responding.  IYO there were compelling reasons to respond promptly and perhaps the processing was already complete.  Hmmm…

R:  Haha. I know. I would have liked to have waited. 😦 On the other hand, I’m with family this weekend and have to drive tonight and get an early start tomorrow. I’m so far behind on everything that I really need to not have this dragging out during the week. If I didn’t respond this week I fear I may never respond. Losing momentum would have made it much harder to get back into the process and I likely would choose that over a post or two. I know you think he thinks like me, and in some sense he does because he can be technical, but in many other major areas I can’t see it. He and I process things as differently as you and I do. I wanted him to continue a few posts ago by addressing my responses to the actual argument he had made about fine-tuning rather than his opinion of my reasoning, unless he was willing to provide specifics that were related to the arguments. That’s not what’s been happening. He says it will happen in a future post on his site, but not in these comments, so they’re aren’t very helpful. The current cycle or avoiding those assumptions about his argument has gone through too many loops without being addressed and it’s dragging me down. It’s cut into my workout time more than my work time and that’s eating away at me. I wanted to wait, but more than that I wanted to be done so I can refocus. I caved. 😦 I feel bad about it. There is a lot of pressure from various areas at the moment and it was a huge relief to see something resolve. I realized this morning that what I pasted into the response was not my final draft but my first draft, which wasn’t softened. 😦 I do feel bad that I ended it on that and it was too offensive. Thank you for your follow-up, that helped a lot. 🙂

I just listened to that comment from last night. I wish I could delete it or edited it. But that wouldn’t be right. I really should have waited. 😦

Or at least checked it over to make sure it was the final version I had in the clipboard before I posted it. 😦

I will learn from this. Have a great day, Pascal.
kant_spinoza

R:  The last two points on each seem quite relevant.

Out of the block quotes and back to the coffee musings.  The last two points didn’t move me as much as the third and fourth bullet of the second section.  When I read how Spinoza handled the work of his predecessors and logical contradictions it resonated.  Did Russell feel the same way about Kant’s views?

So there it is – – a text exchange long enough for a post.  Why?  Because I sit across the breakfast table from this friend of mine and want to understand him better.  I like the way his mind works and want to discuss things on his terms, but I get in my own way.  I’m more like Spinoza (not a theist if I recall).

I do think that unkleE and Russell need to take a break.  I honestly agree more with unkleE in his way of processing.  But I won’t be able to communicate that well in writing.  I’ll need to communicate that in person with body language and tone of voice included.  That should happen Thursday night and in the many breakfast tacos that will follow.

If you have ever had the feeling of talking past someone or being talked past (Russell and I have both done that to each other then reconciled in person) how do you proceed?

Pascal – – 1:16

*photo credit:  By Tim Walker from United Kingdom (2003 Faith Saturn electro-acoustic guitar) [CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The faith of Hebrews vs the logic of Aristotle

Hi Pascal,

This is a response to some things that jumped out at me from your Digestion post. I loved it! I did want to clear up some things and hopefully get some clarification from you as well. I’ll jump right in… 🙂

Trusting David Hume on wisdom?

Then you quoted David Hume on wisdom.  David Hume – – I had an ephemeral response that I did not consider David Hume to be wise, but I couldn’t remember why.

For reference, here’s the quote I used in the post your responding to called Faith – is it good or bad? Why do we disagree?

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. – David Hume

To be honest, I’m not surprised you’d object to the notion that Hume was supremely wise (though I’m not promoting that idea), but I am a little surprised that you’d object to the point of the quote. Perhaps you’re not but I was uncertain. Maybe you can clarify? I actually think you do try to proportion your belief to the evidence.

I saw the video you linked and I’ve read of Hume’s ideas in several philosophy books and YouTube videos. The Science Wars – What Scientists Know and How They Know It covered his philosophy pretty well and I researched him in the group of potential past thinkers that I was considering using for my blog name before we started. There are reasons I didn’t pick him. I’m also curious about why, specifically, you don’t consider him wise. I will probably agree with you. I don’t see him as any kind of authority on wisdom but I wouldn’t reject something he said because I don’t agree with all his views. While I’m not putting him up as an authority, it seems like your rejecting him as someone who could have any truth in what he would say about wisdom. I’m wondering what specifically you disagree with concerning the quote, not the man. If you imagine someone else saying it (the Pope, your pastor, Paul, a 15-year-old anti-theist), would it change how much you accept or reject the quote? For me, it would not (1 Thess, 5:21 in light of the belief that it is we who interpret what we believe is good). If it would for you, would you mind trying to explain why? If not, why does it matter whether or not you think he’s a generally wise person?

The faith of Hebrews vs the logic of Aristotle

Was Paul aware of Aristotle?  Likely so. … Did he present his reasons to believe in full view of the impact, then 350 years old, of Aristotle.  I argue yes.

I agree. I was trying to point that out in my post. I think we’re on the same page here, with some caveats I’ll add in a moment. 🙂 Maybe I failed to accurately represent concerns on this point.

The tension between Aristotelian logic and faith is neither contemporary nor insoluble.

Contemporary only, no. Though this isn’t just about Aristotle’s logic. Some logic dealing with reasoning is contemporary and also poses a conflict with faith.

Insoluble, yes (as I see it), with some definitions of faith, at least.

Aristotle formed explanations using his logic and those of his tutors. We now know some of his conclusions were wrong, but it isn’t the conclusions I’ve been pushing for, but rather, the best process of reasoning. His process is superior for finding true beliefs than that of some faith-based processes because he essentially said, “This is what I think is going on, but I don’t really know. When trying to understand the world, we should consider theories. But, really, it’s the facts that matter; and if the facts change, our theories should too.” The modern versions are even better than Aristotle’s, but his views represented a better version for obtaining truth (in my opinion) than those promoted by the author of Hebrews. As I mentioned, I heard you react by stating you don’t trust Hume on wisdom (I’m not promoting his wisdom one way or the other beyond the word “wise” which was in his quote), but I’m not sure if you actually disagree with the point of his quote or not. If so, what part do you disagree with? Is it bad to do as you seem to try to do, i.e. to proportion our beliefs to the evidence (to not believe things more strongly than the relative weight of the evidences call for)?

While Aristotle’s methods are not incompatible with the versions of reasoning we sometimes call faith (e.g. trust, confidence, hope, etc.), they are incompatible with the versions of faith-based reasoning that promote confidence in things we desire to believe in order to preserve other strongly desired beliefs which are based on weak evidence – especially since faith doesn’t promote passing those beliefs through a fallacy filter. Do you agree or disagree? Remember that I’m not saying this is the type of faith you hold. Only that it is the type of faith promoted by much of scripture. For example, the author of Hebrews promotes a view of reasoning based on faith (confidence in things we hope for even if they can’t be backed up with more substantial evidence) that is in opposition to many of Aristotle’s 13 fallacies. The Bible promotes this form of reasoning as a virtue and makes it the basis for salvation. It’s a key part of the central dogma of the Gospel and most other religions which essentially say, “reason this way.” But that way seems opposed to modern critical thinking, does it not?

I found this dialogue from 3:25 to 5:32 in the video relevant to the topic of the flaws in our senses and reasoning about objective truth and the best way to get there. I’m doubtful about his later conclusion that all reality might be accessible through experimentation, but I agree that we shouldn’t give up pushing the limits of discovery by assuming there are limits that may not actually be there if we look harder. I think you’ll like David Brin.

And this quote is from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fallacies/

Being able to detect and avoid fallacies has been viewed as a supplement to criteria of good reasoning. The knowledge of them is needed to arm us against the most enticing missteps we might take with arguments—so thought not only Aristotle but also the early nineteenth century logicians Richard Whately and John Stuart Mill.

So, Aristotle valued the process of reasoning more than any conclusion, distrusted his senses, and promoted steps for reasoning that at least tried to identify and account for logical fallacies or biases (the non-intuitive flaws in our reasoning). Since most faith-based systems of reasoning lack at least one of these steps, I still believe the religious-faith descriptions usually quoted are not based on what we currently believe to be the best form of reasoning if we prioritize true beliefs. We can’t know how much the author of Hebrews knew about this process of reasoning. It’s speculation, so it wasn’t my point. The degree to which we believe that the author also likely had exposure to this process of reasoning is the degree to which we cannot excuse the author from unknowingly promoting a less-accurate method. If the author did know it well and understand it, he rejected it intentionally, preferring faith-based reasoning.

The author likely had reasons to believe in Jesus’ resurrection which he thought were sufficient evidence for his confidence levels. But he promotes that others without the same level of experiences still believe it with a confidence that is out of proportion with their experiences because he believes doing so can begin to sanctify them. It doesn’t matter how one arrives at the belief (what process of reasoning one uses or how flawed it is), only that the conclusion is confidence in Jesus. The conclusion matters more than the processThat’s the problem and that’s the conflict I’m driving towards. It’s why faith systems promote high confidence in that conclusion to children from an early age, and why the steps of reasoning that work this way are less likely to lead to true beliefs (the crossword puzzle framework is already set and life experiences are interpreted within that light, constructing a world view based upon that foundation whether or not it’s true). It also justifies the beliefs of all religions who follow the same faith-based process, right?

Wisdom vs Intelligence – a future topic

…would I listen to Hume about wisdom?  Wisdom is something different.  Wisdom is less predictable.  So I can not only disagree with Hume’s philosophy, but challenge a quote where he points the path to wisdom.  That would be a delightful topic for future posts – – the difference (if there is one) between intelligence and wisdom.

Yes, it would be a good topic. I have some ideas that come immediately to mind but I’ll keep this response short(ish). I do think it’s wise to keep confidence in proportion to the evidence and it wouldn’t matter to me who the concept came from. Do you actually disagree? To be clear, you know I count subjective experience as evidence, right?

The argument from authority – science vs religion

No, I’m not arguing from the authority of a person (qualifications are always debatable, especially when we disagree with the person in a significant way), but the application of the concept. I used to do this much more before I learned about the argument from authority and still took all Bible concepts as divine and objectively authoritative.

When I present and idea, it’s the idea I’m ultimately standing on, not the opinion of the person who communicated the idea. The idea and it’s application are much more relevant than the authority of the people that spawn it (and Hume wasn’t the first to use the concept I mentioned). There are no true authorities in science (to me) in the same way we typically mean it. The reason I say this is that the authority-weight assigned to a scientist only extends as far their ability to accurately interpret the data. We may sometimes trust interpretations from people that we can’t easily verify, but only proportionally to the degree for which it’s been tested by other people, peer-reviewed to remove some bias and mistakes, etc. Essentially (as you know), it is constrained and the body of science seeks to retest, re-interpret, and revalidate that data, so there is self-correction baked into the process (unlike a long-dead “authority’s” voice in an ancient sacred text).

Biblical faith did not always acknowledge reasoning that could have helped people like me

My thesis is that the scriptures were constructed in full view of Aristotle’s epistemology.  They were not breathlessly awaiting a three minute lesson to correct their stark ignorance.  There is nothing new under the sun.

It’s not my thesis that the author of Hebrews did or did not fully understand Aristotelian logic. I don’t know the degree to which the author did and we can’t really say with confidence how much understanding was there. The description of faith doesn’t seem to have been the best way to come to true beliefs even then (because they could have known better at that time due to the socratic philosophers that preceded them). Either they knew of it and rejected it, or they didn’t understand it properly and rejected it, or didn’t know it well (ignorance). I don’t know which of the three is right, but I think it’s likely one of the first two options. I was just hoping to point out that the concepts of Aristotelian logic were not used when promoting faith-based reasoning.

My point was not about why the author didn’t use Aristotelian logic (due to ignorance, rejection, etc.), That was close to two millennia ago and we can’t know. We’ve learned much more since then about better methods for plugging some of the holes in our reasoning, but we still promote the view of faith as offered in Hebrews, primarily based on that argument from authority. My thesis was that there is now a better way of reasoning if we hope to increase our odds of reaching more true beliefs and fewer false ones – and we can each choose to use it or not. Those of us who come to confidences based on Aristotle’s and now science’s methods of reasoning cannot get to the same place as those who use faith-based reasoning unless we have a strong personal experience or see other compelling objective evidence. Faith-based reasoning leads to certainty in any belief that we believe comes from divine authority (see other religions). So a larger percentage of people achieve certainty in necessarily false things. Our belief about the origin of a belief being divine is subject to our flawed reasoning and almost always has a simpler explanation, so we shouldn’t hold high confidence that it actually does have a divine cause (faith says otherwise).

Clearing up other potential misconceptions

Switching gears a bit, I disagree with there  nothing new under the sun. New arrangements happen all the time. New and novel concepts are formed. It’s just far less likely than most of us commonly imagine.

Perhaps by my understanding of why your hope to live hundreds of years is misplaced.

I think we all would like to live longer, and that desire isn’t the problem. I don’t have an expectation to live hundreds of years, which is what I think your correcting here. I’ve said I believe it is within our capacity through scientific exploration to allow some of our descendants to live hundreds of years, and the degree to which we stop searching now is the degree to which they continue in extreme suffering and earlier death that could have been avoided by our attitude toward science now. I know your aware of senescence and you very likely agree. Some worms may outlive us due to our tinkering.

I do love science.  And to me, science unfolds the mechanisms that a creative and caring God used to delightfully construct the reality that we live in. Cosmology and post-translational modification equally awe me. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Amen (with a maybe, I hope so, on the God parts)! 🙂

Sign-off

The kids are available to play now (movie is over) so I’m going to enjoy them. Please forgive the redundancies (that’s what happens when I don’t have uninterrupted time) and typos. 🙂

It’s always a pleasure discussing these things and I truly can’t wait to hang out again.

Gentleness and respect,
–Russell