Simplicity As Confirmation Bias

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For those philosophically minded, William Ockham will immediately engender various degrees of analytic glee, the name synonymous with logical parsimony or simple explanation. The more user-friendly phrase concerning parsimony is: “Don’t multiply entities beyond necessity.” Then again, perhaps the phrase isn’t as friendly as it may be to some. Thankfully that’s rather the point here, simplicity being, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. Consider a rose possessed of a particular color and a certain number of petals arising out of a stem. To the average person it is a thing of beauty. To a botanist there will be an entire history of breeding involved. To a chemist there will be a litany of compounds and scents included. Which one is more simple? Is that even the right question? For Ockham, the answer to the latter is most certainly not.

 

As human beings, possessed of a surplus of intelligence and imagination, the need to offer explanations is not only a seeming necessity, but the source of a great deal of social fracas. Some of the earliest childhood memories are related to giving explanations for behavior in a manner to deflect guilt, as when explaining a broken window or why there’s chocolate on fingertips despite being told not to eat dessert before dinner. Such stories certainly continue into adulthood, though the ramifications of our explanations become exponentially more. Issues of social policy will take into account explanations for human behavior, the American justice system being predicated on the offering of behavior being intrinsically free. Matters of geopolitics rest on explanations of human interaction and the role force plays in building and maintaining countries. Environmental concerns run through the sieve of explanations concerning biological diversity and origins, including the age of the earth and the cosmos. None of the offered explanations for these matters come without consequences, often beginning during the battle of determining which explanation is better than another.
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God Isn’t Real but the Devil Is: Childhood’s End and Five Years of Hell

Warning: The Following is a true story with names changed for privacy and safety.  This is a trigger warning so please be careful if you have a history of abuse as this story could cause a recurrence.

Hi, my name is Josephine and I am 12 years old; I’m in the sixth grade, and my life is pretty good. I live with my grandparents and my younger brother. My sister Nicole, her husband and their two children live down the road. I like to visit and spend time with my sister, so I usually walk to her house and we clean or watch television or something like that.

 

Today was different though.

 

Today, I walked there and my sister was not there. He was, though. He said that Nicole would be back soon. He sat down beside me on the couch. Then He started tickling me. At first it was kind of fun, but then He started touching places that my grandma said no one was supposed to touch. I thought maybe it was just an accident. Nicole came home soon after that.

 

I went back to Nicole’s house about a week later. My nephew was the only one who was there. I sat down in the living room and he went back to his bedroom. Not long after I got there, He came home. I got up to walk to my nephew’s room, but while I was walking down the hall, He grabbed me from behind. His hands cupped around my still developing breasts. I tried to squirm away, but His arms are stronger than I am. He leans over and whispers in my ear “You know you can’t tell anyone that we play like this.” I didn’t like this game. This game made me feel dirty, like I needed to shower. Maybe I am just overreacting. Maybe He will stop this soon, He is like my brother. He and my sister got married when I was only four years old. Maybe He really is just playing.
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Human Nature: An Issue of Inheritance

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What are we to make of human nature? The answer depends on which story of birth is believed. Birthing stories are about identifying those attributes that continue on from the mother-figure or simply that which comes before (Turner, 1996). This is a relation of cause/effect, where something comes from having causal connections to what it becomes and manifests in the world. Whether we speak of “coming out of” or “emerging,” as in “his actions came out of a sense of fear,” we are ascribing the power of causation through the linkage. Where a person believes humanity came out of will largely determine the characteristics associated with being human.

 

On the one hand is an evolutionary origin, where our inheritance is an incremental accrual of adaptive features in relation to particular environments. On the other is a monolithic origin, dually instantiated by humanity being either fallen and predisposed to destruction or benevolent and with the right context will inevitably pursue progress. The first is usually explored through science, notably evolutionary sociobiology and psychology, whereas the latter two can be found in mainline fundamentalist religious ideologies and liberal liberation-type theologies, respectively. Interestingly while humanity as evolutionary construction is usually found in the domain of science, contemplative spiritual traditions and mindfulness training also explore humanity through this rubric.
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The Power of Touch, the Immediacy of Presence

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“Life is too sweet and too short to express our affection with just our thumbs. Touch is meant for more than a keyboard.” – Kristin Armstrong

Lamenting the loss of real relationships in light of the focus on social media and technology has become so commonplace, it’s reached that vaunted realm of yesteryear wisdom, a symbol of generational differences rather than a legitimate critique of modern behavior. Such a cultural change is not without fallout, however, as human practices taken for granted are now puzzled about. Living in a world in which “the stranger” has become synonymous with all that is perilous to children and free society, we focus less on how touch can be good or bad and more on avoiding it altogether.

How often is touch fully considered? Attempt keeping a small journal entry, making a mark each and every time an object or a person is touched, no matter how slight. Then start keeping track of personal mood. It’s practically a guarantee of human psychology that the more touch one participates in, however casual it may be and in so long as it isn’t negative, the more positive one’s mood will be. Psychology Today recently did an article on the benefits of human touch, coming up with a list connected with various research, notably that done by Dacher Keltner.

Benefits of human touch:

1. Decreased violence

2. Greater trust between individuals

3. Economic gain

4. Decreased disease and stronger immune system

5. Stronger team dynamics

6. More non-sexual emotional intimacy

7. Greater learning engagement

8. Overall well-being
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The Essential Humanity of Cognitive Dissonance

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We operate with several, if not hundreds, of beliefs merely by getting up in the morning. Believing in our ability to fling off the sheets, will our bodies to move and do so in a proscribed way, the capacity of our feet and legs to carry us forward, lights will turn on when switch is flipped, etc., these are all beliefs that, while unconscious, must exist to go about a morning routine. If any of those come into doubt, whether by experiential evidence or changes in mental paradigm, the entirety of a basic routine comes to a screeching halt. Thankfully this type of belief rarely faces contrary evidence. The world operates, and this is a belief as well, in a static fashion, with effects following perceived causes and experiences falling well inside acceptable levels of deviation from a perceptual norm. Generally, whether one is right or wrong about these types of belief is, by and large, of little consequence. If we were to passively accept every piece of information initially considered as contrary, our lives would be a never-ending whirlpool of changing mental structure and we’d never get anything done. Take, for instance, the belief that one’s feet and legs will operate according to personal will and propel us forward. A contrary experience is a physical stumble, yet it would be considered bizarre indeed were such an experience to be thought of as grounds for disbelieving in the capacity of physical movement.

 

When confronted with a contrary piece of experience, the process that occurs is referred to as ‘cognitive dissonance’. “Cognitive dissonance, a term coined by Leon Festinger in 1957, is the process of self-justification whereby we defend our actions and thoughts when they turn out to be wrong or, as in the case of sour grapes, ineffectual. We interpret our failure to attain a goal as actually turning out to be a good thing because, with hindsight, we reinterpret the goal as not really desirable” (Hood, 2012). Confronted with contrary information, whether by personal experience that doesn’t quite match our view of the world or by being presented with a different opinion, we will invariably seek to defend our mental space. This is not an inherently negative behavior to engage in. Were we to passively change our beliefs every time a contrary piece of information is presented, we’d never get anything done, being as we would be at the mercy of every wind of chance in our lives. It behooves us to live our lives essentially being ok with making what is referred to as Type 2 errors, i.e. believing something is true regardless of evidence to the contrary.
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GOD and Modern Warfare

© Religion Erased

I was walking past a youngster the other day, his eyes fixed to the television. Sometimes I wonder what we let our youngest generations watch. What I saw unfolding was graphic, to say the least.

 

It was a man, soaked from head to toe in blood, beaten whilst people watched and laughed. Slowly, he was tortured to death in front of those that both loved and loathed him.

I said, ‘Kid, please stop watching the crucifixion of Jesus. Go play Grand Theft Auto or something.’

 

We use a very warped, biased logic when determining what is appropriate viewing for a child. We go to church to hear stories of murder and be threatened with an eternal lifetime of pain, no questions asked. The first image we see is this one, placed strategically for immediate acknowledgement and maximum effect.
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Using Anger to Hide Legitimate Criticism of the Patronizingly Powerful

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Identity politics in the United States is a testament to the human ability for self-blindness. Essentially the practice of identity politics boils down to “a particular social identity is considered good in itself” and then combined with “all actions therefore by true adherents of that very social identity are inherently good and right.” There are two central points to consider here: 1) actions themselves are not judged by merits but the association with a social identity and 2) by deeming only the actions of “true” adherents sacrosanct then anything contrary is removed from criticism and sets up an ideological aristocracy. In other words, those in power, whatever form that may be, get to occlude themselves from any critical analysis of their actions or the legitimacy of their ideological stance. This is not only anti-democratic, it is contrary to the pursuit of knowledge through skeptical inquiry that lies at the heart of science, and sets up the nastiest form of tribalism that such can manifest.

 

With knowledge, facts and even the type of questions to be asked circumscribed by social identity, there are few behavioral possibilities when dealing with external criticism. The first is a self-proclaimed elitism, where by virtue of being a “true” believer one has access to a set of information or source of knowledge that others simply don’t. This is a favorite of fundamentalist religious believers and of presuppositional apologists in particular. Unfortunately such a tactic is also becoming prevalent in the political playground. Accepting that they can’t actually prove their opinions to anyone, they resort to a metaphysical reality that is completely self-referential. In other words, anybody inside the box knows what they know is true and anybody outside the box will simply never understand. The metaphor is particularly apt considering the blinders that must be constantly kept in place and the isolation that results. The apologist ignores the inherently shared reality required to even have a conversation, and the political demagogue, with false humility in full splendor, will declare “I’m not a scientist, but…”
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Divine Causation Results In An Absence Of Meaning

Mockery is easy, particularly when presented ideas are so clearly farcical. There exists so many examples of religious absurdity, from declarations of the end of the world to seeing Jesus on a piece of toast, that poking fun and snorting with laughter has become a past-time akin to baseball for some. Unfortunately for the practice of mockery, it offers little help for any form of engagement to result in an increased understanding. Perhaps expanded understanding isn’t the goal and, forgetting the silliness of their own childhood beliefs, the simplistic humor of mockery serves as a protestation of distance, each joke a declaration that “I am not like him.”

 

Recently having watched the movie “Fury,” a scene plays out when one soldier asks another why the Germans haven’t given up as they are so clearly beaten. The other soldier looks at the questioner and asks: “Would you?” Whether it’s nationalistic pride or ideological allegiance, there’s a level of safety being sought in both, an identification with something bigger than one’s self. In issues of meaning and purpose, this identification can take on a great deal of weight, scrambling to hold onto it even as the mental fingernails scrape and break over the gravel of reality. So it is with Divine action, there exists a social confluence of potential mockery and abject devotion to a belief.
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Christianity Isn’t Irrational… It’s Worse Than That

© David Teachout

Christianity is about as multifaceted as the people who label themselves adherents to it. Once “the bible” was given to the masses and the notion, put forward by the Renaissance and Enlightenment, that the individual mind could seek truth, it didn’t take much time for theology to reflect even more the nature of its creator, i.e. human variety. The title here then is a simplification, for the topic in question has far more to do with the basis of a supernatural tradition than with any particular instance of it. Still, for ease of writing, Christianity will serve as primary example. At issue is the claim there exists a fundamental level of reality, the realm of god and his angels, that is by definition outside of the understanding of humanity. While much can be said about such claims and their absurdity, what is often overlooked is what such a pronouncement means about people in general.

 

The apologetic traditions of Christianity boil down to two: evidentialism and presuppositionalism. The former is most glaringly offered by people like Josh McDowell and William Lane Craig, offered through some variation of the cosmological argument.  Essentially the practice boils down to finding a point of ignorance and then filling it with, in a display of utter self-service, their own deity. The latter has historically been placed in the hands of Gordon Clark, Carl F.H. Henry and Francis Schaeffer, among others, and is offered through some iteration of an axiological argument. Essentially this attempt is to declare all ideologies must assume some foundational basis for knowledge and existence, so of course their holy book and their god is correct, particularly since once you assume their book and god, all other ideologies fail. Truly, it’s that mind-numbingly simple. What both traditions have in common, besides attempts by users of each to destroy the arguments of the other, is a belief that at some point there is a limit to human understanding, not because existence is huge and complex, but due to some inherent lack or deficiency in humanity. This is why at some point each tradition flings itself into the arms of faith. The evidentialist does this as a “leap of faith” ala Kierkegaard, the presuppositionalist simply assumes faith as the preeminent means of knowing right from the start.
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Faith: It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

© David Teachout

 

As a human being I’m interested in broadening the understanding of my experiences and increasing my knowledge by identifying what I’m ignorant of and then looking to fill in the gaps. My humanity also determines the limits to fulfilling those desires. I have particular interests by virtue of being me, not every subject draws me the same way. I have time limitations so I have to choose on a daily basis what to read, what to study and plan accordingly for the future. I have career limits, in that my professional obligations concerning psychology direct me to continued education along paths associated with it and not, say, that of electrical engineering. I also, though this is controversial and not without a great number of caveats, have limitations on my intelligence; there are items I study which I struggle to understand while other people have already passed me by. All of these limits are part of being human, but none of them determine prior to the inquiry itself whether I could understand by virtue of that very humanity, they are only particular limits of my own.

 

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As an atheist I am confronted often by the simple declaration from religious adherents of “you have faith too” or in its more arrogantly adolescent form: “it takes more faith to be an atheist.” The confusing nature of this argument becomes immediately obvious when I inquire as to just what is meant, resulting in some example of the form: “you have faith that x will happen” where “x” is filled in by the sun rising tomorrow, the continued love of friends and family, or other such. From the days of my own belief, I can recall the apologetic of referencing wind or air when attempting to describe how the Holy Spirit works. Then, as now, the response to such attempts is to point out that the examples being referenced are not at all comparable.
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