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Isaac Wells

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An atheist is still in a theist paradigm.

In describing yourself, when you use broad categorizations, such as I'm black or I'm white, or I'm a chemist or a I'm a physicist or I'm an electrician, or I'm an atheist or I'm agnostic or I'm religious or I'm Jewish, you are saying that the questions that these are answers to are important to you. They have meaning and value, and are worthwhile ways of categorizing yourself.

My idea is that we should be careful of the categorizations we have for ourselves. I, personally, am religious, so I give that question a lot of weight, but for someone who is atheist, or someone who doesn't tend to consider religious questions and such, it seems as though the question has little bearing, though there may be exceptions. It is not applicable in one's self concept. If you characterize yourself as an atheist, you are still in a theistic paradigm. So, my idea is to stop thinking of yourself as such.

While I am thinking particularly of this instance of religion, the idea has wider applications too. For example, in talking of one's skin colour. It is at times useful in helping to identify someone, but otherwise the distinction made between people with different skin tones is usually not an actually relevant question, not to say that heritage and ethnicity (important in the cultural differences and the genetic differences that are consistent across a particular group) aren't applicable.

My idea is mostly related to self concept though. To other who give value to those questions, it is entirely valid to answer them. Religion may not be important to you, but to your associates for which it is, you can still tell them that you are atheist, though if that was the case for me I'd say 'I do not adhere to any religion or believe in God', so as to still come from somewhat outside of that way of thinking.

Individuals of the TED community, what thinkest thou?

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    Oct 19 2011: Calling oneself an atheist is claiming no to believe in the supernatural. Instead, one claims to believe that every problem has a solution and that everything about reality can be explained in reality through "creativity and criticism" (D Deutsch).

    A non-atheist is someone who doesn't believe in exponencial growth of knowledge.

    So being an atheist is just more than refusing to believe in God.
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      Oct 19 2011: Your classification of a non-atheist is not accurate I'm afraid. Take for example, I am a Christian. I do believe in a sovereign God and the Gospel. However, I also believe that we as humans can grow in knowledge in wisdom exponentially, to a certain degree. Because we can all agree that no human or the human race will ever be perfect or omniscient.
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        Oct 19 2011: But there is a difference, see. You've added "to a certain degree". And I don't believe that you think every problem has a solution.
        As you've said, we're not omniscient.
        Sure, we're not. But we will find solutions to problems. And there is an infinity of problems. This is where we differ, my friend. You don't see an infinity of problem and an infinity of solutions like I do.
        At one point, at the begining really, you admit that some problems have no solution don't you? Why is there a God instead of nothing?

        Another difference : an atheist is a person who has decided to make his own mind about the world. There are no specialist to learn from, no authority to reffer to, no holy book holding some sort of truth. You need to criticize in order to sort out good and bad explanations. So yeah, criticism is another difference.
        Religious people can't criticize their deities. By definition, they are not subject to critcism.

        So there you are.
        • Oct 20 2011: But some things are random and to presuppose that every problem has a solution presupposes a kind of purpposefulness that cannot be quantified or measured. I don't follow the idea that the universe is necessairly purposeful although that is a comforting thought - one akin to the Theism of Buddhism which is relgion and not A=theism.
        • J Hat

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          Nov 7 2011: "But we will find solutions to problems." In the view of an atheist, is there a solution for how the world was even created?
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        Oct 20 2011: Ashley. It presupposes no purpposefulness.
        It's just how knowledge works. We're a knowledge creating species, and we create it exponencially. Surely there is somewhere in the universe other species creating explanations, and why not A. I. ?
        I don't believe there is any purpose for this. For that reason, for instance, I believe we'll never be out of problems to solve. They'll keep popping up ad infinitum.

        It seems comforting an idea that knowledge has a special place in the universe. But it's a fact. Knowledge changes the world. Look at our planet. Astronomy needs to take into account knowledge creators in making any sort of prediction. It'll be even more obvious as we conquer space.
    • Oct 20 2011: Gerald...I can't agree with you here. The differences between those with a belief in God and those without are not what you say...
      I am religious. I believe that there is nothing supernatural. I don't believe that spiritual or physical things are different. I believe that what we call spiritual works though physical means.
      I also make up my own mind. Everyone makes up their own mind, even if it is to accept what someone else thinks or says. I personally came to religious belief through critical thinking, and through what more or less amounts to the scientific method on a personal level, not by accepting what people told me. I did a lot of things in opposition to what religious people said I should do, and found generally that, at least in the religion that I adhere to, that they were right when they predicted what would happen given a particular action. And is not that what marks a good theory, explanatory and predictive power? There are few things that I accept right off. I analyze to see whether or not it makes sense or not, and whether I agree, and if it seems good, I test it.
      Yes, there are authorities I refer to. That is the case with everyone, including, I think, you. I don't personally understand how the world around us arises from particle physics, though I hope to someday, so I trust that until I do, those authorities are right. That is the point of a specialist. One person can't know everything, so they need to specialize, and to a certain extent trust specialists in other areas.
      I also believe in infinite progress, though I don't know that I'd say exponential (a large part of our present exponential knowledge gain is exponential population growth, which may end).
      I would also agree, that there are solutions, often multiple ones, to all problems, though I'd be careful in my use of the term problems. Many problems are resolved if you look at them differently.
      Atheist vs. nonatheist doesn't correspond to different ways of thinking.
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        Oct 20 2011: Well, Isaac, it looks like we can have an interesting debate here.
        Let me quote some of your writings and discuss them.

        "I am religious. I believe that there is nothing supernatural"
        I don't understand how this is possilble. If you don't believe in the supernatural, how can you call yourself a religious person? Please develop about this point.

        "And is not that what marks a good theory, explanatory and predictive power?"
        But you only mention their success in prediction, not in giving good explanations. I would otherwise agree. But predictive success means nothing without a propper explanation. I'm sure you agree with this without asking for examples of accurate predictions but bad explanations. So please, tell me more about this point too.

        "until I do, those authorities are right"
        How about saying that they're most likely to be wrong, but we lack better explanations. I don't refer to authority. Sure, some scientists have a reputation of being serious in their research and meticulous in their experiments, but they still don't earn the title of authority on any subject. Only their ideas should be juged. And this is how I work. That beloved professor X "said so" means nothing to me untill I've considered the content of his ideas. It happens often that I'm disapointed in scientist that I admired for one of their theories. Is this possible with religion? Can you say that 80% of the Bible is plain wrong, but the rest seems correct? This is what I mean by authority, the fact that you can't pick out the ideas you like, you have to accept the whole of it. Right? Or do you to say that grasshoppers in space and massive resurection are just a metaphor?

        "That is the point of a specialist"
        Not to hold the truth. A specialist knows more than anyone about what he doesn't know about a topic, that's all. He's a specialist at asking good questions.

        Thank you for debating these issues with me.
        • Oct 23 2011: Limited characters is part of why I wasn't more detailed, and it might mean I need to do several posts.
          For clarity, numbers.
          1. (supernatural) My impression of the word supernatural is that, first, it assumes there are laws governing how the universe works (natural) and that there are things that go outside of those laws (supernatural). The thing is, the rules of the universe (or rules, patterns, other words might be...more appropriate) describe how everything works. So if something is outside of those, it doesn't have that consistency, or else it would be a part of that. So I'm left with God, who I believe is consistent, and how He works and functions, or the rules or patterns of His behaviour, being part of those laws. And to think otherwise would give any religion no basis in an independent, true reality, which then gets kind of fallacious, trying to say that it is reality, but saying that you can't understand it because it is outside of reality. That wasn't the clearest explanation, but I hope it was understandable. That is about how my thoughts go on that.

          2. (theory) I did not give an example of explanatory power, you are correct. That is something that, now that I consider it, is harder to...give. Basically, the explanation given is how we came about, and why we are here. Those explanations in and of themselves, do not sound better than at least some others. But from them we get how we should act, and why. And consequences of particular actions. And it explains why those consequences happen, if they actually happen. I think that I need to think more on this though, for a generalized explanation. On a more personal level, there are a lot of things that have happened in my past, and I suppose also in the present now, that have shaped who I am. And I can see how without them, I'd be worse than I am now (though by what evaluation I can't say), if I was even alive still. Those could be coincidence, but I find little...convincing power in that
        • Oct 23 2011: 3. (authority) I identify strongly with what you are saying. I tend to operate in the same way, taking people's ideas, though depending on who they are and my connection to them, I'd be inclined to sometimes consider things I would otherwise find...unlikely. I dislike package deals, which is why I hate politics, and the idea of a party system. What I mean by authority is...at some point, you have to trust someone else. We are all interconnected, and cannot do everything on our own. We let others grow our food, ship it, keep it safe till we consume it. We let others build our cars. We go to doctors. We have to rely and trust others to function. When it comes to religion, I trust some individuals to know more than me, and they make sense to me when they talk. The times when they don't...I do have trouble following them, but having at times tested what they said, and found it accurate, I've grown to trust what they say. And when I've got the belief that there is a God, that ultimately knows what is best for us, for those that receive instruction from Him, I feel that I can trust them not to lead me astray. Now, I do believe in scriptures, such as the Bible, and that they are...important sources of knowledge, but there are times when I have trouble with them, or at least the bible (I am LDS, so I also have what is called the Doctrine and Covenants, and also the Book of Mormon). I believe that, since these were all written by God, they might have mistakes. With all the translations and such of the Bible, it is particularly prone to...problems. But even for those things that I have trouble with initially, I can oftentimes find ways of thinking of them so that I don't anymore. It is the same case with science that seems to conflict with things said in my church. Usually, there is a way of resolving anything seemingly contradictory. Hopefully this is clear, and helps to make sense of what I think and believe?
        • Oct 23 2011: 4. (specialist) I think I agree with your view of specialist. I mostly mean that we need to trust people to fill responsibilities in our lives/societies that require special training, and that we thus can't do ourselves. Even if they mostly know better what they don't know, they do actually have more understanding of a small part of how the world works than those not specialized in that area. And that is how they are able to do things like doctoring and other what not, while we can't.

          I too will now thank you! You give an interesting perspective, that helps me to think...further, and more deeply, about things. And I find what seems more similarities than differences in thought and opinion.
    • Oct 20 2011: Also...not to overly respond to you, but I've got one more thing to say...

      You should be careful about the way you express an atheist's belief's towards God. Using the phrase refuse to believe in God gives the impression in my mind that they are refusing to see the truth, that despite that they know it, they don't want it to be so. I'm pretty sure that isn't what you meant, and that some people who not be happy with that impression applied to themselves...

      I personally would just say don't believe that there is a God or deity.

      Thank you for commenting on this, and expressing your ideas!
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        Oct 20 2011: Yes, I said : "So being an atheist is just more than refusing to believe in God."
        But I said this to CRITICIZE the common idea that atheists "refuse to believe", precisely.
        So, we agree here !
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          Oct 20 2011: Gerald and Issac if you will allow me to join this debate here, I would like to share my view on the matter.

          Gerald you claim that we as humans create knowledge exponentially, but give no specifics on how we do this. Could you possibly elaborate for me? How do we as humans generate knowledge?

          Also in your response to me you state, "At one point, at the begining really, you admit that some problems have no solution don't you? Why is there a God instead of nothing?"
          I'm afraid I do not understand your claim. If you could possibly word it a different way then I can better respond to it.

          Furthermore, you state that I think that some problems do not have solutions. I do not believe as you describe. I in fact agree with you that there is an infinite number of problems and an infinite number of solutions. The difference between me and you is where we find those solutions.
        • Oct 23 2011: I did not realize, Gerald, the reason you used refuse in the sentence. Given your use, I quite approve!
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        Oct 21 2011: Andrew. We generate knowledge when we create good explanations. Saying that Aeolus is responsible for the wind brings no knowledge about climatology. Saying that living organisms are vehicules for genes brings knowledge that might wipe out cancer.
        And when you got a good explanation, you raise a great deal of brand new problems. So then you have these to work on, until they in turn raise new problems. This process is infinite, provided you're living in a society that allows inovation.

        I said that you admit certain problems to have no solution. And you disagree. My view was that it was part of believing in God not to question its origins, its purpose, and why the heck there couldn't be just .... NOTHING instead of a universe and a creator of it?
        I thought you didn't have solutions to these, that you would just say that "because He is God, He is there. Because He is God, He needs no origins. Because He is God, we will never know His purpose."
        This is admitting limit in explanatory power. But you don't admit this so I was wrong about you.

        You think that God can be mesured, explained with equations, albeit complicated ones. That someday we'll understand how Gods can generate out of nothing, and we just might make more of them once we understand what they're made of. Right?
        • Oct 23 2011: I believe in questioning things, or at least asking. If there is a God, it is good to question why, how it came about, etc. To say no, it is wrong to question is to accept blindly, which seems like a bad idea. That isn't to say that you shouldn't trust something, even when you don't have an answer yet as to why.

          I don't think humans, in our present form, will ever understand God, because I don't think we have the capacity for it, but not that He is unknowable. We can know Him as much as possible in this life, and have a full understanding in the next, for the bits we're missing.
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          Oct 24 2011: We do not generate knowledge Gerald. The knowledge is already there. We just discover the knowledge.

          You beg the question, "Why can't there be nothing". This is arbitrary thought is it not?

          God is in fact someone we will never fully understand, because He is beyond full human comprehension. Furthermore, to fully understand an omnipotent and omniscient God, we would have to have the quality of omniscience; which we as humans cannot attain. To "create a god" we would have to have omnipotence as well. To have both these qualities would give us the characteristics of a deity; which we cannot have because we are humans.

          Issac you are right on track. One should never believe in something without a good reason to do so. If not one is being arbitrary and thus illogical. Which is obviously not good.
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        Oct 24 2011: Andrew, you said "the knowledge is already there".
        Seriously?

        Where is it? Where is it waiting? And while you're at it, what do you thing knowledge is?
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          Oct 25 2011: Knowledge is information learned, or if you want an official definition "knowledge-acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report."(http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/knowledge)
          I just showed you knowledge by giving you that definition. As to where it is, it is everywhere, on this page, in schools, in books, in observation of animals, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. If we as humans created knowledge then how do we know that knowledge is correct or true since we humans are faulty in our nature. Then what in turn created the knowledge in us to create knowledge. In your worldview nothing created anything, so how could knowledge exist in the first place. It is illogical in your worldview to think so.

          I also have some questions, where did we as humans gain this knowledge of creating knowledge, what is the logical process of this and how did it begin?
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        Oct 25 2011: Andrew, exactly. We're only humans and our knowledge is proven not to be absolutely reliable. Even our best theories are likely to be part wrong, for all we know. Knowledge IS unperfect.
        The only knowledge we claim to be truthfull is the knowledge we all agree on, as humans still. "The sky is blue", is a fact because we happen to agree on such statement NOT BECAUSE IT IS TRUE. We miss many colours about the sky that bees might be able to see, or other species might see it in grey tones.
        This is what makes it interesting. Since nothing is truthfull, what do we chose to agree upon? That women and men should be treated equally, that no human race should rule over another, that water is wet, etc... Without this choice to make, philosophy and science would be pointless.

        "What created the knowledge in us to create knowledge?" Natural and sexual selection did. We evolved as knowledge creators. This is our survival trick. We're not the only animal able to create knowledge (apes, crows, etc...), but we're the best at it since we don't just learn from mimic ; we learn from looking for the purpose of someone's action or some phenomenum, and this seems to be exclusive to us.
        Does this answer your question? Or do you think refering to evolution is a cheap trick that avoids explaining? If you don't believe in evolution or don't understand how it could possibly work, I'll try my best at explaining it for you.

        One more thing, "In your worldview nothing created anything". This is not my worldview. Rather, in my worldview, the origins of all things have a better explanation that just "being created either by humans or by God." This is what people believed thousands of years before the scientific revolution, when the cosmos had it's first model that didn't need supernatural intervention.
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          Oct 30 2011: Gerald, if nothing were true, then what makes the statement "nothing is true" an acceptable statement? I do agree that some species will see different colors, but take for example I see the equation 2+2=4. The answer is simple enough, but is that the right answer because we happen to agree about the answer of the equation or is it true. Is it acceptable for the bees to look at this equation and say 2+2=5, or any other human? No of course not, if someone told you that, you would think of them as quite unintelligent.

          You unfortunately did not answer my second question "What created the knowledge in us to create knowledge." First off, the laws of information contradict the belief that we create knowledge. "No material being can create a non-material being". (you can google "laws of information" to double check this assertion) With this law in mind, it is impossible for us as humans to create knowledge, a non-material being.

          As to your last point, then what is your explanation for origins? Also what makes it better? What makes it a fact if not everyone agrees upon it?
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      Oct 20 2011: I am also a non-Atheist. I'm agnostic.

      I'm not sure that I necessarily *don't* "believe in [the] exponen[t]ial growth of knowledge" but if I indeed don't it's because I don't actually think people are limitless in intellect, not because of a mysterious supernatural force.

      (Also, I'd argue that religion is more than simply 'belief in supernatural being(s)': it's the ritual that accompanies and demonstrates said belief - or in many people's cases *substitutes* for the belief.)
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        Oct 20 2011: You don't need to be limitless in intellect. Only Rainman would attempt to do math without paper and a pensil.
        Memory capacity and computation speed has long been multiplied without our brains evolving. Try comparing genomes without a computer.
        Are you saying computers are not limitless in their performance, then?

        And for the second part of your comment, I was only worrying about the superstitious part of religion, since this is what separates theists from atheists. Habits and rituals do not separate them ;)
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          Oct 20 2011: Calculations may indeed be limitless, but "calculations" and "knowledge" are not synonymous.

          I'm not sure a computer has ever generated knowledge. Somewhere in the grey area would be simulations which can be interpreted to form knowledge, but all the parameters were input by a person. I willingly await an example of a computer spontaneously generating knowledge.
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        Oct 20 2011: Also, I have no idea what an agnostic is. Can you explain it to me?
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          Oct 20 2011: We're those people who wonder why this argument has been going on as long as it has, considering it's rigged such that the answer can never be provable.

          Over the centuries, how much mental energy has been wasted on the topic of the existence or lack of existence of god(s)?

          In other words, we're in the "I don't know and I don't care" camp.
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          Oct 21 2011: I've noticed that the "I don't know and I don't care camp" are particularly vocal (not necessarily you) about their agnosticism. By the way, an atheist, is by definition an agnostic. Agnosticism is a claim on knowledge and atheism is a claim on belief. Of course we don't know whether God exists or not, we don't know that there isn't a teapot circling around Mars right now as we speak, but we've got fairly good reasons to believe he doesn't exist (whichever one we're talking about). Only religious people truly claim gnosticism. I'm pretty sure you're an atheist Gisela, you just don't want to say it because it's a negatively loaded word.
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          Oct 23 2011: This is actually a reply to Matthieu (the way the nesting works I can't reply directly).

          The problem with assuming that agnostics are vocal is that the only way to recognize them/us is when we speak. On TED alone, there have been many times I have gone into a thread and thought, "Oh not this again," and backed out (slowly, as one might from plutonium) without saying anything. There are several threads right now that qualify.

          If nothing is said, you would have no idea how many others have done the same. So, we are only recognizable in the declaration, but that hardly makes most of us vocal,

          I don't consider myself Atheist because I don't have (nor want to have) a horse in the race.

          The entire paradigm is rigged to be unprovable, and the only sensible option is to not let yourself get sucked in.
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        Oct 21 2011: Matthieu seems right, Gisela. If you feel you lack the evidence to be positive about something, welcome to the club.

        But... but... but... there are explanations that make sense. And explanations that don't. And this is how we chose our camp. If someone tells Matthieu that asparagus cures AIDS, he might not believe you until you explain to him the action of the asparagus on HIV, or he might want to know what tests have been conducted and in what experimental conditions if such explanations are unavalable.
        Then he might believe you. But don't ask him to take a leap of faith. Agnostics or atheists never switch off their criticism.
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          Oct 23 2011: Since we went down the "food as medicine" path, I would like to comment. The odd thing about pseudoskeptics (which has nothing to do with Matthieu) is the propensity to already establish that the entire field of natural health is "woo" rather than picking and choosing on a case by case basis.

          Yes, there are people who think that every rock or plant is a miracle cure for everything, and on the other end of the spectrum there are those who insist nothing works.

          I admit that I have biases against certain things, but am slowly coming to the position that even placebos, if they work for 10 or 20% (or in one case 63%) of the population taking it, should be the first approach unless the situation is critical. If you can get a segment of sufferers to stop expressing symptoms with something that has no side effects, then that should be the first approach.

          And then on the other end of the spectrum you have scientists (and analysts) with agenda (I really hate putting an S on an already plural word). And those who make errors (in study and interpretation). If not, every study would have the same result. There are confounding factors (in the populations under study and in methodology). There are secondary issues e.g. there is no truly inert object that can be taken as a placebo.

          In other words, there is a leap of faith in taking a study at face value. You really have to do a review of the different studies done in multiple populations under multiple circumstances to draw a conclusion - and even then, there is still that element of faith.
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          Oct 25 2011: "to already establish that the entire field of natural health is "woo" rather than picking and choosing on a case by case basis."

          The objection is towards the fact that natural remedies are often said to be an 'alternative' to modern medicine which is all chemical and all artificial. It is this obsession that somehow natural remedies is this amazing new discovery when in fact almost all of modern medicine is based on natural remedies and that we've just moved on and improved these natural remedies since then.

          Also modern medicine is tested against placebos. This is a known thing. If the drugs we develop aren't better than placebo, then they're not commercialized. Therefore it makes no sense to take placebos if there is better on offer.
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          Oct 27 2011: Again, to Matthieu:

          Really, the pseudoskeptic side shouldn't open the iatrogenic can of worms. I don't really care which side you fall on, making blanket statements about efficacy and safety is just plain uninformed.

          Medtronics, the PLoS study that found 2/3 of researchers knew colleagues who falsified results, the fact that prescription medicine killed more people than illegal drugs last year, in no way compensates for people who go to Mexico to have crystals put on their foreheads and still die of cancer. Bad behaviour does not belong to one camp or the other.

          But as for faith as a component of science? Unfortunately, I may have faith in the scientific method, but it is still mediated by distrust of the human beings applying it.

          "Tested against placebo" means pretty little to me unless I trust that the process was handled properly. There is still an element of faith that the results have not been tampered with, that the population tested is representative of the population that will end up using the product, that there aren't secondary factors that won't confound usage, that unsupporting data haven't been thrown out, that there aren't countering studies that have been suppressed, that...

          There is still an act of faith involved.

          Extreme stances on either side of the fence are unsupported and, frankly, stupid.

          (And because I run naturalhealthcare.ca from exactly that position, I get to hear from nuts on both sides of the fence. They sound awfully similar.)
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        Oct 21 2011: Let me reply to the computer stuff, Gisela.

        I never said that calculation and knowledge were synonymous. And I never said that our current computers had creativity. (Kasparov is convinced that at some point Deep Blue made a move far too creative for the time being and accuses Intel of human interference).
        I was saying that WE have creativity and unlimited technological memory storage and computation power to work with.

        Yet I believe that creative a.i. is possible and will be achieved quite soon. Then, we won't be the only ones inventing explanations about the world anymore, or writing books about them.
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          Oct 25 2011: A computer is in fact capable of deriving knowledge from two or three sources of independent information (given a framework) by showing the relations that these may have together. I'd argue that is generating knowledge (and if it isn't, I wonder what it is that humans do to generate knowledge!).
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          Oct 30 2011: I think there is a distinction to be made between 'knowledge' and 'information' as well. That sounds like it is generating information.
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        Oct 31 2011: Please give it a shot. Tell me what you think is the difference between information and knowledge.
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          Nov 1 2011: Knowledge is the application or at least the potential for application of information (data). "Knowledge" is greater than simply the information.

          Otherwise, we would only need "data transfer" not "knowledge transfer". (Ugh. My management consulting past is showing its ugly head.)
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      Oct 26 2011: "A non-atheist is someone who doesn't believe in exponencial growth of knowledge."

      I don't see connection between believing in growth of knowledge and "non-atheism". It is certainly possible to be theist and believe in exponential growth of knowledge.

      I find that conversations on TED involving religion tend to descend into straw man arguments like this. Theists claim atheists don't really think about religion or even metaphysics and atheists claim theists are somehow less capable of reason because of their faith in certain ideas. Neither of which are generally true.

      I find the problem revolves around characterization of religious (or atheist) ideas as being some sort of whole belief structure that is adopted in total. Really, people of even very similar religious groups can have very different ideas about the nature of their world. This same is true among atheists.

      For this reason I try to reframe conversations like this from a theism and atheism, to faith, skepticism and experience. I find these concepts are better at developing a more nuanced appreciation for the wide variety of beliefs people have.

      For example, many people often know very little of science and still claim to believe in it. I believe in the big bang theory, it seems pretty good to me. It has been developed empirically and is supported by evidence. However, I cannot look at the stars and see the red shift the shows the universe is expanding. Even if I was shown the actual data I lack the expertise to understand it. I have to admit that I believe in it because I trust my fellow humans in their quest for knowledge. I have faith in the institution of science.

      I could be so skeptical I'm left with "I think therefore I am", but thats not very functional.

      My point is that everybody has a little faith, otherwise its hard to believe in anything. Being theist is a choice in where to lay faith, its not a wholesale rejection of reason or science.
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        Oct 26 2011: Well argued, Scott.
        Let's see if I can defend my point.

        - Is it possible to be a theist and still believe in exponential growth of knowledge? From the numerous opinions I've heard and read from religious persons, this seems unlikely. At some point, they admit that humans are "not clever enough to know", that some problems will never have solutions. This humility towards explanations is what defines them best. The very first problem you encounter in religion has no possible solution : the nature of God. You hear stuff like "only God can understand God".
        Also, religions have always tried to kill inovation, be it philosophical, moral or scientific. Because this is what it requires to survive, stasis. If it changes, it becomes a different cult (unlike science in this regard).
        But the main thing about it that opposes exponential growth of knowledge (E. G. K. next time) is the idea of faith. And this is where you and I disagree as well. So I'll explain.
        You claim to have faith in the institution of science. This is like saying you don't have any faith, since the institution of science is all about knowing that it doesn't know for sure, knowing that you can't take leaps of faith and jump to conclusions without explanatory support. For instance, you believe in the Big Bang, you say. But really, you don't. You just can't think of any better explanation, that's all. If someone trashes the whole idea with a beautiful elegant theory tomorrow, you'll be happy to give up on the Big Bang. Why? Because you already know that the theory is already doomed. All theories are, in science. There will always be better ones, and atheists know this. Theists don't believe in this principle. They don't think God is likely to be superceded by a better supernatural explanation. It's just God and Its infinite mystery.

        This is why I say that religion is a rejection of science. Science is not a library where you pick the knowledge you like. It's a philosophy, Its... to be continued
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        Oct 26 2011: It's the idea that reason can in theory solve all encountered problems, that everything about reality is explained without the supernatural. You can either embrace this idea, or reject it. If you believe that the universe needs a creator and that the creator doesn't need one, you're wholesale rejecting science and reason.
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          Oct 27 2011: Not all problems are solvable by reason because not all problems are solvable. There is a set of problems in mathematics and computer science which are unprovable (such as the Halting problem). But of course, if they can't be solved by reason, neither can they be solved by anything else. A detail.
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          Oct 27 2011: Gerald,

          I get what you're saying, but my point of disagreement is due to the subjective nature of the individual. We are only single individuals, with limited perspectives. You say "science is not a library where you pick the knowledge you like". Actually it is. In fact we have no choice, believing in science as a whole is not possible, simply because its just to big and complicated.

          Imagine I spent from now to the end of my life studying science, quantum physics, cosmology, geology, geography, climatology, ecology, oceanography, paleontology, genetics, microbiology... there are not enough years in my life to absorb all of "science". From the perspective of an individual we can only pick and choose parts that we are interested in.

          We can only add into the framework we've developed over our lives. As a laymen, even if I believe in the big bang, what I believe is not actually the scientific theory. I don't know that theory, its complicated and really requires expertise to understand. What I believe is a loose caricature of the theory. A long time ago there was a big explosion in space, all the gas left over was drawn together by gravity into stars and solar systems and voila! the universe! This is what most people think of the big bang. Its not exactly scientific, the real big bang theory is a lot more complicated than that. I don't know the mathematics that demonstrates that early matter was a quark gluon plasma, and I probably never will, so how can I claim to believe it due to reason alone?
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        Oct 27 2011: @Matthieu
        I'll look these problems up. Thanks for correcting me.

        @Scott
        Again, you're confusing scientific philosophy and scientific knowledge. You can pick informations, sure, and cannot learn everything that is known. But you can't pick bits of principles about science, orelse you don't have science anymore.
        This is what I mean. You're either scientific or you're not, whether you know a lot or very little. It's about the way knowledge is created, not about the knowledge itself.
        Do you see what I mean?
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          Oct 29 2011: I'm not really confusing scientific knowledge with scientific philosophy. After all, you can't believe something you don't know.

          If you are referring to empiricism and the scientific method then I see the point you are trying to make. The scientific method is a very powerful tool for generating certain types of knowledge. Rejecting the validity of the scientific method is a rejection of science.

          However, this does not negate my original point. Even from the perspective of scientific method, instead of knowledge, most people do not have belief systems that are generated in this way. Most people who believe in science do so because they believe in the institution. Very few of them have actually performed the experiments that generate those beliefs. People don't study relativity in undergrad physics and say "I'm skeptical that the speed of light is constant, I'm quitting class and performing the michelson-morley experiment in my basement to see for myself".

          The fact is we have to make decisions without evidence. It is human nature to form beliefs based on assumptions and ideas that are not proven. When I say faith, thats what I mean. Faith as in simply believing in something for reasons other than proof.

          You say as a theist I am rejecting reason. I say even though you are atheist, you still have faith. You have faith in your ability to distinguish dreaming from reality. You have faith in the institution of academic science. Assuming you are not a solipsist (meaning you believe you are the only conscious entity in the universe) you probably have faith that others are conscious. You have faith that the laws of physics are constant, and won't change tomorrow (some frame this as a dilemma in the validity of inductive reasoning).

          You can't prove everything. If you look hard enough, with enough skepticism you will find assumptions underpinning most beliefs you have.
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          Oct 29 2011: Remember, when you say theists are rejecting science and reason you are referring to a lot of people. There are many scientists who are theists (gasp!)

          You might think you are talking about creationists who clog up the religion threads trying to debunk evolution.

          You are also accusing theists like Galleleo, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein of rejecting reason and science.
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        Oct 29 2011: Interesting.
        And I probably agree with some of your points. But some still tickle me, so this discussion goes on.

        About faith in the scientific institution... Most people have this faith, but the reason for this is not that they cannot reproduce high tech experiments at home. The reason for their faith is that they don't care about the explanations and the origins of scientific knowledge. As long as it's been proven, they say.
        Those on the other hand who do ask for explanations, who question "scientifically proven knowledge" by wondering what makes it "proven" are NOT faithful to the institution. And this is what an atheist should be, really. Someone who wants to know where knowledge comes from. An atheist should be able to tell pseudo-science from science, for instance. Faith in science is the first step towards pseudo science. This should be avoided, and is avoided by true atheists.
        So there is more than experiments in science, and knowledge doesn't come only from "proof". There are explanations. And there are good theories and bad ones. What makes one good or bad is not based on personnal preference but on submitting these explanations to simple tests : does it explain? You need to be alert all the time, to keep questionning results. Faith has no place in this.

        Ang again, I agree with you that proving something requires faith in a set of assumptions. But science doesn't prove things. Pseudo science does.
        Science explains things, with the best explanations available. Scientific knowledge never crosses the line to become truth. Knowledge always remains assumptions so no faith is ever required. Reason is required to question if the assumptions are likely or unlikely.
        Scientists don't have faith in the constance of physical laws. They're just not taking into account the fact that the laws could change, since this fact is not supported by any observation or explanation yet.

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