Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Things I Believe

Two crossed threads.

1. At Mary Bishop's suggestion, I read Sam Harris' rant about how bad religion is. It brings up great issues, I agree with most of it (would only add that nationalism is important as well and I feel he neglects this), and have heard it all before from Betrand Russell. The latter's 'Why I'm Not a Christian' should be required reading for all college grads as an example of clear thought, clear writing, and correctness. Overall, Harris is a yappy aggro version of Russell. I couldn't get through all of it.

2. So the other day at work I get an email from a very pleasant person who works with me. It's a chain email and its about praying. Something about how every day you should pray. I didn't read it closely. It was poorly written in the flight of some religious hysteria.

I wrote back telling the person that I'm an atheist. No thanks. She wrote back and said sorry about 3 times in 2 sentences. Not a bad ratio. I said: who cares.

Except now the secret is out. Like I'm out of the closet - and that analogy is apt. Anyway, who cares. I'm leaving this job at the end of the academic year and moving to another state.

But while driving home and replaying this in my head, I've thought it should be a good idea to write down what I DO believe in. Christians have an entire book of things they believe in. I just have this list, but at least I can edit and update it. Perhaps this could be my daily affirmation:

- There is no God.

- There is no evidence for God, and all people who believe in God do so without the slightest bit of reason.

- Every person believes contradictory things, so who cares if people believe in God.

- If God is present, then the idea that humans know exactly how he wants us to live via various religious sects is highly improbable.
- There is strong evidence for the existence of humans.
Thus one should never put the interests of what one
thinks God wants over what fellow humans want.

- There are probably general rules that are best applied to groups of people in order to establish good, working social order. These are man made constructs and we call them by the name of morality. Perhaps some of these rules are hardwired into our brains. Even though they do not exist, they are indoctrinated into us either through nature, nurture and probably both, and they have little meaning if analysed outside their own moral context, they are worth keeping around.

- Some things are just good and usually this needs no further explanation. Health is good, sickness is bad. Helping others is good, hurting others is evil.

- After death there's nothing. There's nothing before life, and there's nothing after it. Mental processes depend on neuronal processes, so it neuron serving speech die, then the person can't talk. If the neurons serving memory die, then the person can't form memories. Likewise, if the brain dies, the person can't do anything, including have a mental life. Behave like this life is your last, because it is.

- A slightly regulated capitalism is the least worst system of government and naturally feeds into important personal and civic freedoms.

- The Constitution of the United States America is one of the most important documents ever writen and we are damn lucky to had had the good fortune of being born under it.

- Dogmatism, at a minimum, forgives great evils. Its maximums have not yet been explored because it is difficult to probe infinite evil. The closest we've come are genocides and Hummers.

- Between what is good to do and what is better to do, it is usually better to try, to give, to add value, and to help. Unless your work involves acts of genocide.

Well, that's all. I'll keep an update. Have any more for the list?


Blogger Peg Spencer said...

Doc NOS -

I'm enjoying your blog, which I just discovered today. You seem to be a person with ideas and values similar to mine, at least in part.

As such, I trust you'll accept that my first comment on your blog is a challenge, and take it in the spirit of inquiry and respectful exchange in which it is intended.

Your first two "affirmation" statements are actually negatives, which is ironic. "There is no God and no evidence for God." How can negatives be affirmations?

Before you tune me out, let me say that I agree with you about dogmatic Christians, and tell you that I am not Christian myself.

Next. "After death there is nothing." Wait a minute. Wasn't it Physics 101 that taught us about the conservation of matter and energy in the universe? I know that as a doctor you've seen people die. As a doctor, so have I. And it's clear to me that something is missing from the body when they die. Well, duh, that sounds stupid when I put it that way. But when you see a person go from alive to dead, where does the energy go?

I'm not pretending to know, but I do wonder, and my mind is open to the possibility of something afterwards.

How can you be so sure "there's nothing"??? Have you been there? Of course not. I don't think any of us will know until we get there.

Thanks for provoking thought.


My Blog

6:11 PM  
Blogger Doc NOS said...


Thanks for posting. 'There is no god' is simply a realization and although phrased as a denial, it could be phrased as 'the world available to the senses is all there is.' This actually then incorporates the second negative as well.

Since irony means a phrase that states the opposite of its actual meaning, I guess I don't see the irony.

Next: physics may teach about conservation of matter in normal circumstances. But that doesn't mean that ordered systems are conserved. Like Rome. Like the music that Mozart never wrote down, or the ones that he only played on his piano. In any case, I've also seen people in comas, with brain injuries so severe that I actually cannot tell that 'something' is missing. I've seen that 'something' include the ability to breath only. When these people die, they don't have a mental state, so nothing changes. As to where the 'energy' goes, the neurons can no longer generate the action potentials which generate consciousness, so the energy doesn't really go anywhere. It is simply not supported by neural networks.

I say there's nothing else. The burden of proof is on you to display evidence of your spirit world.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Peg Spencer said...

Dr. NOS,

You're right; "ironic" was the wrong word to use.

It's not really fair to argue your beliefs with you. After all, a belief is just that; a belief. You might believe something because you have evidence of it, or simply because you think it's true. You have faith.

Anyway, having said that, I'll go ahead and argue with you.

"The world available to the senses is all there is," you said. How about pulling it back a notch, something like, "I believe in the world I can perceive through my senses."

How do you KNOW that it's "all there is"?

Why is the burden of proof on me to show there's more? How about the burdon of proof on you to show there's not?

More: As to dying people. I didn't say conservation of matter. I said conservation of the total amount of matter and energy combined. Where does the energy go? I don't buy your explanation. Doesn't compute, doesn't follow the laws of physics.

Peg's Blog

8:07 PM  
Blogger Doc NOS said...

Actually, beliefs must be argued and fought for. Otherwise they might be wrong. I don't think these beliefs are TRUE the way 2-1=1 is true. I'm just reasonably certain about them being the case. I have no faith. Faith is what religious people have.

The reason I believe the world around us is all there is, is simply because there is no evidence otherwise. Otherwise, I'd have to believe in all sorts of things: like gremlins. The burden of proof is on you because you cannot prove a negative. Look it up in wikipedia for the logical proof. Instead, you need to prove god, or whatever it is that you believe. Frankly, you should know that the proof of a negative is not possible. Too much bio and chem.

With regard to conservation of matter AND energy: I already told you, wrong model, false analogy. Where does the 'total amount of matter and energy combined' go when the heart stops functioning? It doesn't go anywhere. It is simple a process which stops, and no longer supports circulation. When the neurons die, they no longer support consciousness.

It does compute. It not only follows the laws of biology, it follows the laws of physics: entropy.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Peg Spencer said...

You're right. You can't prove there is no God. And I can't prove there is a God. I don't know if there is or not. Or if there's a spirit world or not, or life after death (and/or before life) or not.

I believe there is life beyond the physical. Why? I've never seen a ghost. But I have had experiences that suggest to me that there are energies we can't measure (yet). ESP type stuff, ya know? This is not enough to convince anyone but me. So I guess that puts my belief in the realm of faith. Hard to argue logically, with facts and figures.

The law of physics that fits my argument better is the total conservation of energy. Where does the energy go when the heart stops and the brain stops?

Bioethics Blog

8:53 AM  
Blogger Peg Spencer said...

Oops - that link is mislabeled, but click it anyway to get to the Wikipedia entry for Conservation of Energy.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Doc NOS said...

Although no-one can PROVE there is no God, the belief in God is a self contrary idea. Problem of evil, see wikipedia for other logical problems like incompatibility with free will and self determination.

If you are correct and "I can't prove there is a God," then you are essentially an atheist. After making that statement, should you then believe in god, you open your belief systems to anything that you can't prove: and your stuck with gremlins.

As far as ESP - there are always two explanations: one based on the physical world, the other not. Guess which one makes more sense?

If you take the cop out and do choose faith, then you cannot choose reason and perception. Then you must stop talking.

Again, the analogy to conservation of matter energy is false. The brain doesn't work like that. The brain USES energy to make the neural firing patterns which form the basis of consciousness, just as the heart USES energy to create blood flow. When that energy ceases, the function ceases. Just like a dead plant.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Peg Spencer said...

doc nos - You should know better than to tell a woman to "stop talking!" What better way to get a torrential response?

Beyond that I'll ask you: You got something against Gremlins?

No time now for more.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Peg Spencer said...

OK, to get serious.

Why does it have to be black or white? Atheist or Believer? Reason or Faith? Physical World or Gremlins?

I sit somewhere in between. I'm an open-minded questioner. I believe that it is POSSIBLE that there is more to life, death and the universe than meets our current ability to measure.

Agnostic? I guess that works.

Can you imagine the reaction of a scientist a couple centuries ago if you tried to explain radiation to them? Or black holes? Or quarks?

My point is that just because we haven't "seen" it scientifically yet, doesn't mean it can't be there.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Doc NOS said...

It has to be black or white because you can't have these things two ways. Agnostics: I just don't get it.

The fact is that you could explain black holes to a scientist from several centuries and within a few days he'd understand. On the other hand, two priests could converse easily without those two days. That's the difference between progress and the stagnation of thought that religion brings.

9:40 AM  
Blogger marybishop said...

Hey Doc - glad you read the book or some of it...I haven't read 'Why I'm Not a Christian' and I know I should...I'll look it up.

I say there are two kinds of people - those that believe in the supernatural (gods, devils, ghosts, angels, aliens, tooth fairies, easter bunny etc) and those that don't believe in things that aren't in this physical world --and strongly appear to have been hatched by someone's creative mind for the purpose of scaring, manipulating, controlling and or influencing others.

I certainly don't believe in any form of organized religion. Notice how the organizers live like kings while the subjects grovel, starve, repent and pee their pants thinking about hellfire and damnation.

I would love to believe in an after life as let's face it: this life isn't always all that hot. But, I can't live in fantasy and mythology --If I could, I'd stop Icarus from flying so close to the sun.

12:04 PM  

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