But what if I’m wrong?

Yeah, we’re back on the subject of debating religion, but at least I’m warning you ahead of time, and providing other topics you can go to as well. I’m that kind of guy ;-)

Among the many common debates that arise is a simple question, posed by religious folk to atheists: “What if you’re wrong?” And initially, it often seems like a valid question. While I suspect many people come to it independently, it’s best known as Pascal’s Wager, after the mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, who is as known for this as he is for inventing a computer language that did not achieve popularity until 340 years or so after his death – unlike George Cobol, who was never known for his programming language and instead garnered his fame through Hollywood Squares. Anyway, Pascal’s Wager basically says, “If you believe in a god but you’re wrong, nothing is lost, but if you don’t believe in a god and you’re wrong, you burn in hell for eternity, so you’re better off believing, ya know?”

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Changing the rules

[Sorry, I’ve been away for several days and come back with a 3,100 word exposition. Is that making up for it or being sadistic?]

In watching the discussions on a couple of forums recently, and knowing how things have gone in several of my own discussions on religion, a couple of points have made themselves clear. These were things that I suspect I have understood subconsciously for a long time, but haven’t really articulated until now.

The first is the arbitrary and selective application of standards, or “rules of evidence” if you will. This is paid homage to, very subtly, in a fairly common debate point among atheists: “I simply believe in one less god than you do.” The point is, there have been literally thousands of gods and supernatural beings throughout history, in most cultures and with a wide variety of properties, powers, and forms. Virtually none of them are taken seriously by anyone, no matter how devout, except for one (or one set): the one that the devout happens to follow. All of the rest – thor and quetzalcoatl, gaea and janus and raksasa, bast and tsetse bumba – are all considered mythology (thanks to godchecker.com for a couple of these.) But if you ever ask for the distinction between myth and god, and believe me I have, you never get a useful answer. There never seems to be any rule, standard, test, or evidence that can be made to apply, to differentiate one (the “true” god) from another.

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Define, “poisons everything”

I talked a little bit about this subject in an earlier post, but a couple of things I’ve come across recently reminded me that it can stand a bit better detail. Part of this comes from a concern I’ve harbored for a while, one that has no small difficulty in establishing whether it is […]

Pharyngula: Too little, too late

I debated for a while about actually posting this, because it strikes me almost as a selective rant that wouldn’t appeal to many others, but then I realized that the background message is something most skeptics should probably be aware of.

Over at Pharyngula a few days ago, PZ Myers tasked his numerous and […]

Get back to me with Phase Two

Like many pursuits and interests, critical thinking involves a subset of information, discussions, and approaches, many of which don’t capture the attention of those who aren’t interested in critical thinking. I’m well aware of this, so often you’ll see me break the blog posts up with the “Continue Reading” tag, so that no one is forced to read a topic that doesn’t motivate them. It’s kind of silly in this way, for two reasons: the first is, nothing I post is even remotely forcing anyone to read it, and something else is a mouse-click away. Secondly, I think critical-thinking skills are important for everybody, so I’m perhaps defeating myself by hiding things beneath the fold, as it were. Just think of it as my way of being… accommodating.

But if you don’t continue, you miss the cartoon video…

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What to be, or not to be

First off, I’ll give credit for the idea of this post to Carl Sagan, and most especially his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. I cannot recommend this book enough, and not just for those who pursue critical thinking – it applies to anyone, and makes the reader aware that there are lots of ways that we can be fooled. Moreover, Sagan has one of the best approaches I’ve seen, and is an engaging writer for any mature or semi-mature reader. I have been planning a book review for some time, and this may appear here eventually, but don’t wait for me.

Second, this post is another followup to the Don’t Be A Dick foofaraw, just to warn you. But this is not more of the debate – instead it’s perhaps a redirection and refinement. I recommend that you go on, but I was nice enough to include this warning and continue after the jump ;-)

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Macro photography, part one

All right, since I talk about photographing small subjects pretty frequently, I figured it was about time to introduce you to some of the tricks. You’ll find that most of these, with some variations, are practiced by anyone serious about macro photography, and if you have any desire to start doing this, you should […]

Quick items of interest

Just a brief mention of two items that may be of interest.

The first is, I created a webpage about understanding the aperture within your camera – what it is, how it works, what it does for your photos, and so on. Lavishly illustrated and a nonstop rollercoaster ride from start to finish, it […]

On composition, part two

Unfortunately, I don’t use this blog to demonstrate composition in nature photography as often as I should, and instead you get illustrative, detail, or portrait-style images. I do a little of everything: illustrations and identifying details are important for many uses, but it never hurts to have a well-composed image as well. So now […]

What does it mean?!

Anyone who has ever spent time in a discussion about religion and lack thereof, or even about the value of the scientific approach, has come up against the argument of “meaning.” “But if we live in a random, uncaused universe,” comes the plaintive cry, “then life has no meaning.”

This is a curious statement. […]