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Isaac Asimov | Superstition, religion and why he teaches rationality

Isaac Asimov | Superstition, religion and why he teaches rationality

(24:43) To believe in nonsense is to limit yourself terribly. Recorded in 1988.
mrnobodysprincess YT channel Jun 1, 2016

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Guest: (17 days ago)

Kudos to Asimov for accepting what so few atheists are able to... that atheism is utlimately an emotional position.  

"I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist."

Original comment

Kudos to Asimov for accepting what so few atheists are able to... that atheism is utlimately an emotional position.  

"I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist."

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (17 days ago)

There are degrees of emotional responses. Atheism is far less emotional than religious ideas, most of which are off the spectrum.

At least everyone can agree on one thing - that there is no empirical evidence YET for the existence of god. Tip for the day: don't hold your breath.

Original comment

There are degrees of emotional responses. Atheism is far less emotional than religious ideas, most of which are off the spectrum.

At least everyone can agree on one thing - that there is no empirical evidence YET for the existence of god. Tip for the day: don't hold your breath.

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Guest: (17 days ago)

A nicely biased and emotional response there!  In Asimov's terms (and my own), it's agnosticism that is the unemotional and rational response.  What we should agree on is that in the absence of what appears to be evidence either way, Atheism and Theism are both emotional and speculative rather than factual and rational, despite their advocates usually suggesting otherwise.  

Nothing wrong with that emotional speculation, so long as you're not scared to admit it, nudge-nudge.  There are rational alternatives if that's what you're interested in.
 

Original comment

A nicely biased and emotional response there!  In Asimov's terms (and my own), it's agnosticism that is the unemotional and rational response.  What we should agree on is that in the absence of what appears to be evidence either way, Atheism and Theism are both emotional and speculative rather than factual and rational, despite their advocates usually suggesting otherwise.  

Nothing wrong with that emotional speculation, so long as you're not scared to admit it, nudge-nudge.  There are rational alternatives if that's what you're interested in.
 

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AxiomOfChoice AxiomOfChoice (17 days ago)

Only psychopaths can claim to be unemotional. The rest of us have an emotional aspect but to be an atheist is akin to not believing that unicorns exist. There may be a hidden valley somewhere where they do......but it is irrational to believe they do without evidence.

And as for the existence of god. First you need to define which one (or ones) you are talking about.

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Original comment

Only psychopaths can claim to be unemotional. The rest of us have an emotional aspect but to be an atheist is akin to not believing that unicorns exist. There may be a hidden valley somewhere where they do......but it is irrational to believe they do without evidence.

And as for the existence of god. First you need to define which one (or ones) you are talking about.

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Guest: (17 days ago)

You've sort of answered your own point.  Yes, we need to define which god(s) we are talking about, and because we don't, it would be irrational to believe that something like a god doesn't exist in other parts of the universe without evidence.  I agree with Asimov, Sagan et al, who believed that Atheism and Theism are irrational and emotional responses to an unknown.    

Original comment

You've sort of answered your own point.  Yes, we need to define which god(s) we are talking about, and because we don't, it would be irrational to believe that something like a god doesn't exist in other parts of the universe without evidence.  I agree with Asimov, Sagan et al, who believed that Atheism and Theism are irrational and emotional responses to an unknown.    

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AxiomOfChoice AxiomOfChoice (16 days ago)

so you're saying something that you won't define could exist somewhere you can't define.

and that makes sense to you?

Original comment

so you're saying something that you won't define could exist somewhere you can't define.

and that makes sense to you?

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Guest: (16 days ago)

So you're saying that even if we can't even define something, it makes more sense to say that it doesn't or couldn't exist somewhere?  Do griffywocks exist near the Plophenac?

I'm saying that if we can't define something, we can't gather evidence for it, so it makes no sense to believe that it does or doesn't exist anywhere - what is 'it' in the first place?  

Added to that, if we do decide to define it, it's irrational to decide that our interpretation is correct, and then (because we can't see evidence for that interpretation around us right now) to decide that our interpretation can't exist anywhere in the universe at any time.  

Fine to have a hunch, fine to be raised to believe in a godless universe (as I was), but it's emotional not rational.  But as you said, only psychopaths are never emotional.    
 

Original comment

So you're saying that even if we can't even define something, it makes more sense to say that it doesn't or couldn't exist somewhere?  Do griffywocks exist near the Plophenac?

I'm saying that if we can't define something, we can't gather evidence for it, so it makes no sense to believe that it does or doesn't exist anywhere - what is 'it' in the first place?  

Added to that, if we do decide to define it, it's irrational to decide that our interpretation is correct, and then (because we can't see evidence for that interpretation around us right now) to decide that our interpretation can't exist anywhere in the universe at any time.  

Fine to have a hunch, fine to be raised to believe in a godless universe (as I was), but it's emotional not rational.  But as you said, only psychopaths are never emotional.    
 

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (15 days ago)

It is irrational to believe griffywocks exists because there is no evidence. Heck, it's not even defined.

But to follow griffywocks as if it is god, that's stupid.

Original comment

It is irrational to believe griffywocks exists because there is no evidence. Heck, it's not even defined.

But to follow griffywocks as if it is god, that's stupid.

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Guest: (15 days ago)

Whaaaat?  Now that is irrational!  Explain to me how you can say that there's no evidence for griffywocks if you don't can't even say what a griffywock is?  What if there's a tribe in Papua that use the word griffywock to describe seashells?  You've just categorically stated that there's no evidence for seashells.  It matters that we know what we're talking about.

Do griffywocks exist?  The rational response is 'Wait, first tell me what on earth a griffywock is'.  When you establish that, and you're sure your definition is correct, then you can decide what evidence you're looking for to back up the existence of your definition.   

The irrational knee-jerk reaction is 'I've not heard of that, I've not seen that, I've not seen any evidence, so they don't exist'.  Depending on the definition, you may be right, but don't kid yourself that you came to that conclusion through rationality.  

Original comment

Whaaaat?  Now that is irrational!  Explain to me how you can say that there's no evidence for griffywocks if you don't can't even say what a griffywock is?  What if there's a tribe in Papua that use the word griffywock to describe seashells?  You've just categorically stated that there's no evidence for seashells.  It matters that we know what we're talking about.

Do griffywocks exist?  The rational response is 'Wait, first tell me what on earth a griffywock is'.  When you establish that, and you're sure your definition is correct, then you can decide what evidence you're looking for to back up the existence of your definition.   

The irrational knee-jerk reaction is 'I've not heard of that, I've not seen that, I've not seen any evidence, so they don't exist'.  Depending on the definition, you may be right, but don't kid yourself that you came to that conclusion through rationality.  

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (15 days ago)

What I'm saying is that it's fine to have irrational thoughts - like believing or not believing griffywocks exists even if you can't even define it, but to act on irrational thoughts - like praying to griffywocks, that's stupid.

Original comment

What I'm saying is that it's fine to have irrational thoughts - like believing or not believing griffywocks exists even if you can't even define it, but to act on irrational thoughts - like praying to griffywocks, that's stupid.

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Guest: (15 days ago)

OK - to act on irrational thoughts.  I get you.  So praying counts as an action, and I guess it applies to Atheism too.  Don't act on irrational thoughts.  So it's irrational to write books about Atheism, to record podcasts, to film Youtube clips (sorry), to join organisations or speak about it, to raise your children to believe in a godless universe, to get all het up about it and to write comments in forums in support of Atheism, etc. etc. etc. - that's all stupid?   

Have I finally found something we agree on?

Original comment

OK - to act on irrational thoughts.  I get you.  So praying counts as an action, and I guess it applies to Atheism too.  Don't act on irrational thoughts.  So it's irrational to write books about Atheism, to record podcasts, to film Youtube clips (sorry), to join organisations or speak about it, to raise your children to believe in a godless universe, to get all het up about it and to write comments in forums in support of Atheism, etc. etc. etc. - that's all stupid?   

Have I finally found something we agree on?

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (15 days ago)

No, not yet. 

Discussing irrational thoughts - like ‘do you believe griffywocks are seashells in Papua?’ is fine, even fun. Embracing irrational thoughts - like praying to seashells in Papua, that’s stupid. 

If you can’t agree that praying to seashells in Papua is stupid, then I give up, palms firmly embedded into my face, and a 'Do Not Disturb' sign hanging around my neck.

Original comment

No, not yet. 

Discussing irrational thoughts - like ‘do you believe griffywocks are seashells in Papua?’ is fine, even fun. Embracing irrational thoughts - like praying to seashells in Papua, that’s stupid. 

If you can’t agree that praying to seashells in Papua is stupid, then I give up, palms firmly embedded into my face, and a 'Do Not Disturb' sign hanging around my neck.

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Guest: (15 days ago)

You're diluting the argument again by making the verb woollier - first it was stupid to act on irrational thoughts, now it's stupid to embrace irrational thoughts.  Acting, embracing, whatever - I think we agree, so long as you can be brave and consistent;  Embracing an irrational thought might be writing a book to advocate it, recording podcasts and Youtube clips, evangelising your thought online, raising your children that way, etc. etc.  All stupid, and all traits of Atheism and Theism alike.  Right?

You totally missed the point about the griffywocks by the way.  It's not about praying, it's about a belief that something doesn't exist or does exist.  The example shows that rationally you can't guess at the existence or non-existence of a word unless you know what that word means, e.g. you assured me there was no evidence for the existence of seashells because you didn't understand what a griffywock is.  Get it?  

Original comment

You're diluting the argument again by making the verb woollier - first it was stupid to act on irrational thoughts, now it's stupid to embrace irrational thoughts.  Acting, embracing, whatever - I think we agree, so long as you can be brave and consistent;  Embracing an irrational thought might be writing a book to advocate it, recording podcasts and Youtube clips, evangelising your thought online, raising your children that way, etc. etc.  All stupid, and all traits of Atheism and Theism alike.  Right?

You totally missed the point about the griffywocks by the way.  It's not about praying, it's about a belief that something doesn't exist or does exist.  The example shows that rationally you can't guess at the existence or non-existence of a word unless you know what that word means, e.g. you assured me there was no evidence for the existence of seashells because you didn't understand what a griffywock is.  Get it?  

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (12 days ago)

'Embracing' is not woollier than 'acting', it’s a clarification. ‘Embracing’ is a subset of ‘acting’, not the other way round. It suggests that the act is not just any old act, it’s action that ‘embraces’ Griffywocks as true even when there’s no evidence. Does that make an irrational act 'stupid'? I think so, but maybe it's the smart thing to do. You decide.

With atheism there’s nothing to embrace. It would be stupid for an atheist to embrace the space left free by the absence of Griffywocks. Atheism is a REACTION to claims that Griffywocks exists. Atheists don’t go around trying to persuade people that Nunnybrunts don’t exist. That’s because nobody is claiming they do.

And I didn’t miss your point, I bypassed it. It was one of these philosophy class discussions, you know, “is it possible to discuss something we can’t define?” Of course it is. We discuss god all the time. Next week: “can god create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?” All interesting stuff, but nobody cares.

I wasn’t trying to make any particular argument. Just saying - you can think what you like, however irrational - there’s no thought police. But acting on what you think has real-world consequences. It’s Confucius level wisdom, something to ponder over while you're waiting for the train.

The astute among us will point out that praying to Griffywocks has no real-world consequences because Griffywocks doesn’t exist. I would argue that allocating time to praying is a real-world consequence. Instead of wasting their time praying to Griffywocks, they could be praying to Nunnybrunts.

Original comment

'Embracing' is not woollier than 'acting', it’s a clarification. ‘Embracing’ is a subset of ‘acting’, not the other way round. It suggests that the act is not just any old act, it’s action that ‘embraces’ Griffywocks as true even when there’s no evidence. Does that make an irrational act 'stupid'? I think so, but maybe it's the smart thing to do. You decide.

With atheism there’s nothing to embrace. It would be stupid for an atheist to embrace the space left free by the absence of Griffywocks. Atheism is a REACTION to claims that Griffywocks exists. Atheists don’t go around trying to persuade people that Nunnybrunts don’t exist. That’s because nobody is claiming they do.

And I didn’t miss your point, I bypassed it. It was one of these philosophy class discussions, you know, “is it possible to discuss something we can’t define?” Of course it is. We discuss god all the time. Next week: “can god create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?” All interesting stuff, but nobody cares.

I wasn’t trying to make any particular argument. Just saying - you can think what you like, however irrational - there’s no thought police. But acting on what you think has real-world consequences. It’s Confucius level wisdom, something to ponder over while you're waiting for the train.

The astute among us will point out that praying to Griffywocks has no real-world consequences because Griffywocks doesn’t exist. I would argue that allocating time to praying is a real-world consequence. Instead of wasting their time praying to Griffywocks, they could be praying to Nunnybrunts.

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Guest: (11 days ago)
Latest comment:

'Embrace' is woolier than 'act' because it involves a subjective judgment, whereas act doesn't.  It's not a clarification - it's less clear.  I know what an action is, but what counts as embracing an idea?  Where does approving an idea become embracing?  Is advocating for an idea as strong as embracing?  Stronger?  Etc. etc.  It was a nice attempt to muddy the water - basically, you realised that 'acting on irrational thoughts' would include a lot of what you do with your own belief set, so you sneakily changed it to make it woolier by including a subjective concept. 

Anyway, you're muddling separate points.  Let me simplify:

1)  You have to know what a word is referring to in order to meaningfully discuss it, gather evidence, or say whether it exists.
This was a response to another comment, not yours, and it has nothing to do with gods or religion (hop off the soapbox for a mo) - this is about language and logic.  This was the griffywocks idea that you missed.  You exemplified the point by confidently saying there was no evidence for griffywocks, purely because you assumed it was not referring to something like seashells.

2)  Believing in gods, or believing in a godless universe, is an emotional and irrational belief as per Asimov, Sagan et al.
Our emotions, instincts, upbringing, can lead us to reach certain conclusions in an irrational way, even if those conclusions may conincidentally be correct.  You say that irrational beliefs are fine - no thought police as you say.  However...

3)  Acting on, no wait - embracing an irrational thought is a real-world consequence and is therefore 'stupid'.  
This was really your point not mine (for me, lots of actions based on irrational thoughts are benevolent or productive), but if that's your principle, be brave enough to apply it to all irrational beliefs, even your own.  So I ask again, if there's nothing in Atheism to 'embrace', then how would you describe writing books, filming Youtube videos, public speaking, going to conventions, using a logo, raising your children with that belief set, attacking or abusing religious believers, defining yourself in relation to that idea, 'going around trying to persuade people', etc. etc?  I guess if embracing an irrational thought about something existing is stupid, then embracing an irrational thought about an absence would be even worse!  Or do you have a way to wriggle out again?

I'm not sure which of those points, if any, you disagree on.  I can see you don't wish to accept any criticism for your belief set (as with any disciple), and you'll bend over backwards to redefine words and evade the pointed finger, but you don't seem able to say which premise is wrong.  That would be a great place to start.

Original comment
Latest comment:

'Embrace' is woolier than 'act' because it involves a subjective judgment, whereas act doesn't.  It's not a clarification - it's less clear.  I know what an action is, but what counts as embracing an idea?  Where does approving an idea become embracing?  Is advocating for an idea as strong as embracing?  Stronger?  Etc. etc.  It was a nice attempt to muddy the water - basically, you realised that 'acting on irrational thoughts' would include a lot of what you do with your own belief set, so you sneakily changed it to make it woolier by including a subjective concept. 

Anyway, you're muddling separate points.  Let me simplify:

1)  You have to know what a word is referring to in order to meaningfully discuss it, gather evidence, or say whether it exists.
This was a response to another comment, not yours, and it has nothing to do with gods or religion (hop off the soapbox for a mo) - this is about language and logic.  This was the griffywocks idea that you missed.  You exemplified the point by confidently saying there was no evidence for griffywocks, purely because you assumed it was not referring to something like seashells.

2)  Believing in gods, or believing in a godless universe, is an emotional and irrational belief as per Asimov, Sagan et al.
Our emotions, instincts, upbringing, can lead us to reach certain conclusions in an irrational way, even if those conclusions may conincidentally be correct.  You say that irrational beliefs are fine - no thought police as you say.  However...

3)  Acting on, no wait - embracing an irrational thought is a real-world consequence and is therefore 'stupid'.  
This was really your point not mine (for me, lots of actions based on irrational thoughts are benevolent or productive), but if that's your principle, be brave enough to apply it to all irrational beliefs, even your own.  So I ask again, if there's nothing in Atheism to 'embrace', then how would you describe writing books, filming Youtube videos, public speaking, going to conventions, using a logo, raising your children with that belief set, attacking or abusing religious believers, defining yourself in relation to that idea, 'going around trying to persuade people', etc. etc?  I guess if embracing an irrational thought about something existing is stupid, then embracing an irrational thought about an absence would be even worse!  Or do you have a way to wriggle out again?

I'm not sure which of those points, if any, you disagree on.  I can see you don't wish to accept any criticism for your belief set (as with any disciple), and you'll bend over backwards to redefine words and evade the pointed finger, but you don't seem able to say which premise is wrong.  That would be a great place to start.

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Guest: donaldtrumpisachump (11 days ago)

When you make something up like flying spaghetti monsters or gods, it's up to you to prove their existence or people like me like atheists just don't believe in such things. A god is no different than anything else you make up.

Original comment

When you make something up like flying spaghetti monsters or gods, it's up to you to prove their existence or people like me like atheists just don't believe in such things. A god is no different than anything else you make up.

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Guest: (11 days ago)

Agreed.   If you want other people to believe in something, whether that's a god that lives on a cloud, or a universe without a god, it's up to you to prove it - assuming you want others to share your view.  We can't cherry-pick the irrational thoughts that we like and expect all others to prove themselves to us.

Original comment

Agreed.   If you want other people to believe in something, whether that's a god that lives on a cloud, or a universe without a god, it's up to you to prove it - assuming you want others to share your view.  We can't cherry-pick the irrational thoughts that we like and expect all others to prove themselves to us.

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