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05/30/12

Permalink 11:21:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 917 words   English (US)
Categories: Secularism is Flawed

Can One Use Darwinism to Understand the Universe?

By now we probably all know the story of Darwin and evolution quite well. Since the dawn of mankind, people had to come up with supernatural explanations for how life came about. People had to invent myths in order to make some sort of sense with regard to how mankind originated and where the animals and plants came from. These myths usually involved one or more gods who created the world and all of its creatures and also created mankind as special.

Until the mid 19th century, the best anyone could do to explain the origins of life, animals, and mankind was to believe in a story like this. Charles Darwin changed all of this when he published his theory of evolution, which for the first time provided a plausible explanation for life on earth, including animal and human life, that was entirely natural.

This theory is probably well known to all who read this, but just to briefly restate it, the theory is that life originated with very simple organisms that naturally reproduce and randomly and gradually change with successive generations. Most such random genetic variations lead to organisms that are less suited to survive in their environment, but occasionally some originate that are more suited to survive and to reproduce. Over a multitude of successive generations, this slowly leads to even the simplest organisms becoming full blown complex creatures along the lines of trees, dogs, monkeys, and humans.

At the time when Darwin first published his theory, he did have significant scientific evidence to back up his theory, but in his day the jury was still out regarding evolution and natural selection. Over the last century, countless scientific studies have been conducted and there is now overwhelming evidence that 1) organisms evolve with successive generations to adapt to their environment, 2) for the most part, the further back in time (millions or even billions of years) one studies, the simpler the organisms that lived at this time, which leads to 3) life on Earth, including plants, animals, and humans, can be best explained by evolution and natural selection.

Some philosophers have seized on the success of Darwinism and have used it to try to explain the origins of the universe as a whole. One theory, proposed by Daniel Dennett, is that our universe is also the product of evolution and natural selection. Dennett argues that there is an infinite number of universes, each with their own unique laws and their own specific way that the universe originated. The evidence is that our universe originated with a big bang that eventually produced the stars in the sky and the planets and also produced a planet suitable for life (our planet). Dennett points to the scientific evidence that shows that if our universe would have had just slightly different laws of nature or if the big bang had happened slightly differently then life would not have been possible. He goes on to argue that most of the universes within the multiverse ended up failing to produce life because it was much more likely from the beginning that any given universe will fail to do so. The odds of getting the laws of nature just right and to have the big bang happen in just the right way so as to produce a planet that is suitable for life is very slim. Dennett argues that our universe beating the odds and producing life is analogous to a line of successive generations evolving to the specific environment over time and thus beating the odds and becoming more advanced over time rather than going extinct. So just as it is far more likely for a genetic mutation to lead a genetic line to extinction, it is also far more likely for a universe to be configured in a way that fails to produce life.

Well, this is Dennett's argument anyways. I personally don't see too much of a similarity between these two situations. Dennett's argument seems almost absurd to me. I do accept that the theory of evolution is the best explanation for the origin of life on Earth, but I don't see how this can be applied to explain the origin of our universe and I don't see how this can be applied to explain how the Earth became suitable for life in the first place. Ultimately, the only explanation that seems not only plausible but also succeeds in actually producing an actual explanation is that the universe was created by a higher power that can be called God. Think about this: even if there were a multiverse, which is an infinite number of distinct universes, then what is the explanation for the existence of this multiverse? Even if one could come up with some sort of explanation for this, then what would explain that? This series of explanations would never end unless one accepts that the universe must have been created by something that itself was not created, and this thing can then be called God.

So while I agree with the theory of evolution and I accept that the explanation for human life, animal life, and plant life on earth is natural selection over a multitude of successive generations and many millions of years, I realize that this sort of explanation has limits. The universe as a whole cannot be explained using any similar argument. The only one that adequately explains the existence of the universe is that it was created by a higher power that can be called God.

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05/23/12

Permalink 11:09:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 554 words   English (US)
Categories: Building Knowledge

Phenomenology Prior to the Twentieth Century

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about the relationship between science and phenomenology. This post is the first in a series that explores the history of phenomenology.

Just to recap, phenomenology is a branch of philosophy that involves the first person study of conscious experience. Those who practice phenomenology attempt to create an intersubjective understanding of the structures of consciousness. This is not the same as studying consciousness objectively, which is in the domain of science. It seems that there are aspects of conscious experience that are quite real but cannot be known objectively and are not in the domain of science. If it is possible to deal with these matters intersubjectively, then they are in the domain of phenomenology.

The central theme of phenomenology is that through focused introspection and reflection, one can come to understand consciousness as it really is. One who practices phenomenology pays close attention to immediate appearances of perceptions, imaginations, memories, feelings, and the like and from this they are supposed to be able to better understand reality. The phenomenologist then explains their experiences and conclusions to others with as much detail as possible with the goal of allowing others to understand these findings and to come to agreements, thus creating intersubjectivity.

Based on this general definition, there have been many versions of phenomenology throughout history, though this term only dates back to the Seventeenth Century. The earliest versions of what can now be called phenomenology comes from Taoist and Buddhist works from many centuries ago. Notably, some of Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi's work and Buddhist schools such as Zen and Yogacara have certain similarities to 20th century western phenomenology in that they often involve the first-person study of consciousness. Most Eastern phenomenology is based on certain metaphysical presuppositions, such as Gautama Buddha's contention that that there is no enduring self.

More recently, Enlightenment era thinkers including Rene Descartes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and others practiced their own forms of phenomenology. Each of these philosophers described their conscious experience to some extent in their works and mixed these descriptions with their reasoned arguments for epistemology and metaphysics, which are unrelated to anything that can be called phenomenology. These thinkers did touch on phenomenology, but they did not emphasize their first-person descriptions of consciousness as much as the 20th century phenomenologists did. German idealist Georg Hegel put forth a rather whimsical version of phenomenology that influenced various formulations of idealism in the Nineteenth Century.

While all of these meet the broad definition of phenomenology outlined above, none were very systematic or methodical about this. In general, though there were many works of philosophy prior to the Twentieth Century that involved some phenomenology as so defined, these works did not come with detailed procedures for how readers could also attempt to go through similar phenomenological processes and from this to create intersubjectivity. As such, even the best of these works only had limited phenomenological value.

In the early Twentieth Century, Edmund Husserl formulated a version of phenomenology that was far more organized and detailed than any that had existed up to that point. Husserl wrote several books and gave numerous lectures explaining this new method. Husserl's work is the subject of the next installment of this series on the history of phenomenology, which will probably be published two weeks from now.

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05/16/12

Permalink 10:53:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 670 words   English (US)
Categories: Freethinking Awakenings

Not WWJD, Instead WSWCWJWD: Why Should We Care What Jesus Would Do?

You've probably seen it at least a few times, such as on bumper stickers, bracelets, or billboards. The acronym WWJD, which stands for “What would Jesus do?” This saying is supposed to remind people to act as Jesus would. For faithful Christians, the idea is that one is supposed to imagine what Jesus would do if he were in their same position.

We are all faced with moral dilemmas in life in which we are unsure about what to do. Even more commonly we are confronted with temptations to fulfill our short term selfish ends without regard for how this might affect our long term interests and how these actions might affect other people.

I believe that we do need role models to help us make better decisions in life. There are quite a few historical figures and also some living people who one can imagine as having upstanding morals and whose life is exemplary for us all. I would imagine that people such as Confucius, Mother Teresa, George Washington, Mohandas Gandhi, John Locke, Aristotle, Hildegard of Bingen, Jiddu Krishnamurti, among many others would be considered to have led exemplary lives. I have read the Gospels and I would agree that Jesus of Nazareth is one whose life is a positive example for us all.

That being said, it is also important to understand that nobody, no human being that has ever lived, is perfect. There is no historical figure whose life is always a perfect example for us. Every person mentioned above has flaws and made mistakes in their lives, including Jesus. Although Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God, this belief is completely unjustified. Jesus was no more (or less) than a human being. No human being has ever had any special connection to God. I believe in God, but I know that God did not come to earth and become human. This is a silly outdated notion.

If one reads the Gospels carefully, they should be able to see that Jesus had flaws just as we all do. At one point he encouraged his followers to hate their families and their own lives. He seems to have at times thought that his own people, the Jews, were superior over others in the eyes of God, which plainly chauvinistic. His teachings are mostly helpful to people, especially to the poor and those who are suffering. His life is mostly a good example for us, but we also need to understand that he was just a human being.

So I can understand why some people see Jesus as a role model, but we should also use other people as positive role models. Christians who think that simply imagining what Jesus would do in any situation they are faced with are being foolish. I do agree with having role models, but to think that Jesus' life is exemplary for any situation that one might be faced with in our modern world is just delusional. Jesus lived 2000 years ago in a simpler age and would not have any idea what to do in today's world. So while I do understand a little of this WWJD thing, I am also thinking WSWCWJWD, which stands for “Why should we care what Jesus would do?”

Sure we can look to the life of Jesus, alongside of Confucius and Aristotle and the others, to help us along a little bit in life, but this has limited usage. We all have to make decisions for ourselves and we are ultimately responsible for the decisions we make. It should not matter that much what we imagine some long dead historical figure might do in our shoes at this moment in time, because these choices are ours to make. I do like the idea of having role models from the past, but the important things that I want to emphasize is that nobody is perfect, not even Jesus, and that this use of role models cannot be used to avoid making one's own choices in life.

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05/10/12

Permalink 10:36:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 806 words   English (US)
Categories: Building Knowledge

Science versus Phenomenology

We all want to know the truth about the world and about ourselves. We all want to know what is the nature of reality and what is our place in it. Among the many systems of knowledge formation that have tried to answer these important questions, modern science has proven to be quite reliable. Modern science has made much progress in allowing us to understand the world and ourselves and progress continues to be made every day toward these ends. While it may now seem that science is the best way of answering any question one may have about reality, there are some who argue that there are important areas of life that must be partially outside the domain of science because they are known from personal experience and thus cannot be known objectively. The argument is that the nature of consciousness and other personal experiences, such as a sense of morality, can only be fully understood subjectively, but are nonetheless quite real examples of knowledge.

There does seem to be merit to this argument so what is needed is an epistemology that can apply to all aspects of life. This epistemology must include a clear basis for science and also must be able to apply to anything outside the realm of science that genuinely exists and is knowable. If there are aspects of life that are beyond science then this epistemology must be able to apply to these aspects. We can only judge whether an aspect of life is beyond the reach of science on philosophical grounds, not on scientific grounds. The arguments for what is within the domain of science and what is beyond the reach of science are closely related to the philosophical basis for science itself.

The domain of science is limited to methodology that can form objective knowledge. If there is a possibility of having subjective knowledge that cannot be known objectively, then this is beyond the reach of science. Objective knowledge does have benefits over subjective knowledge in that it can be shared amongst many people. Subjective knowledge, on the other hand, by definition can only be known by the one who experiences it. But different people who have similar subjective knowledge can communicate details of their experience through a shared medium and through this create intersubjective knowledge.

The practice of personally interpreting subjective experience and trying to form knowledge from this is called introspection. When introspection is practiced among different people who communicate with each other and find systematic ways of understanding each other's experiences to create reliable intersubjective knowledge, this is called phenomenology.

Phenomenology was created for the purpose of developing a clear and detailed understanding of subjectivity. In general, phenomenology is a branch of philosophy that involves the study of conscious experience. Those who practice phenomenology attempt to create an intersubjective understanding of the structures of consciousness. This is not the same as studying consciousness objectively, which is in the domain of science. It seems that there are aspects of conscious experience that are quite real but cannot be known objectively and are not in the domain of science. If it is possible to deal with these matters intersubjectively, then they are in the domain of phenomenology.

The central theme of phenomenology is that through focused introspection and reflection, one can come to understand consciousness as it really is. One who practices phenomenology pays close attention to immediate appearances of perceptions, imaginations, memories, feelings, and the like and from this they are supposed to be able to better understand reality. The phenomenologist then explains their experiences and conclusions to others with as much detail as possible with the goal of allowing others to understand these findings and to come to agreements, thus creating intersubjectivity.

Science and phenomenology are similar in some ways. Phenomenology may be a branch of philosophy, but science was also once a branch of philosophy before it developed a clear methodology and started producing reliable knowledge. In recent centuries and especially in recent decades, science has been increasingly successful because there is a detailed methodology for forming reliable knowledge through social structures that encourage independent testing of theories for the purpose of verification or falsification. Phenomenology has been less successful because unfortunately there is no such methodology associated with it.

One of the main purposes of the Enlightened Worldview Project is to formulate a methodology for phenomenology that can be used to formulate reliable intersubjective knowledge. This theory and practice of this methodology shall be called modern phenomenology because it is similar in some ways to modern science. This methodology has the potential to allow us to form a reliable and detailed understanding of the nature of conscious experience, thought, will, and morality. In future posts I will explain this new methodology and also give examples of phenomenological research projects that have used it.

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05/03/12

Permalink 11:06:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 539 words   English (US)
Categories: History of Religion

Who wrote the Torah?

Many people believe that the Bible is the word of God. The first five books are known to Jews as the Torah, and they are the most important books to Judaism. These books include Genesis, which begins by telling stories of how God created life on Earth and mankind and also goes through a lengthy description of early generations of people, including Noah, Abraham, etc. The other four books are focused a lot on the Israelites and their leader Moses. These books involve a lot of religious laws and thus are very influential to the lives of people who believe in them. The books that make up the Torah are fundamental to the worldview of nearly all Jews and most Christians throughout the world.

Traditionally, Jewish scholars have argued that the Torah was wholly or mostly written by Moses, somewhere around 1200-1300 BC. The idea is that God spoke directly to Moses and he wrote this down and also he wrote down a lot of details from his own experiences. In modern times, a lot of historians, archeologists, linguists, and scientists have compiled evidence relating to the Torah and studied it in detail and have debunked the theory that any single person wrote the Torah. For one thing, the language used throughout the Torah varies widely. Some passages use eloquent Hebrew, others use a more dry and straightforward language.

Also, the different language styles correspond to different names for God that are used. Some passages use the word “Yahweh” for God and others use the word “Elohim”. There are even different ideas in different parts of the Torah regarding how a person can communicate with God, and these correspond to the different names for God as well. Some historians have speculated that there might have been different communities in ancient Israel that had slightly different religious beliefs and practices and that the Torah is a mixture of these. So the evidence is that the Torah was a creation from multiple sources that did not fully agree with each other.

The evidence also strongly shows that the Torah was written, at least in its current form, much more recently than the time of Moses. The most popular theory among modern historians, the theory that has the most evidence backing it, is that the Torah did not come into its current form until somewhere around 400 BC. This is several centuries after the events that are recorded in the Torah supposedly took place. This strongly calls into question whether these events, or even anything close to these events, took place at all or whether they were fabricated over centuries of tall tales.

Looking at what is written in the Torah objectively, this writings are not only counter to the findings of modern science, but they also promote a conception of God that favors some people over others and has anger and wrath and jealousy. Perhaps it made sense for people to believe in this stuff thousands of years ago, but now we have an abundance of evidence that these writings are fully of falsehood. If more Jews and Christians took a critical look at their holy books in light of the findings of modern science, then the world would be a better place.

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04/25/12

Permalink 11:01:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 531 words   English (US)
Categories: Secularism is Flawed

Does Atheism Lead to Better Morals?

In recent years, there have been a few prominent atheists who have made a detailed case against religious faith. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are probably the most notable examples of these writers, who in general argue that traditional religions are largely irrational and often lead followers to commit immoral acts. These writers argue that a life free of religion leads one to form a more logically sound way of thinking, a better understanding of nature, and living based on more humane values. I believe both Dawkins and Harris have argued that the world would be a better place if more people were atheists.

I actually agree with Dawkins and Harris on many of the main points that they made in their books attacking religion. While I am somewhat religious myself, I do acknowledge that traditional religions, such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are based on blind adherence to what is written in some books. It did take me a few years, but I came to realize in my 20's that there is simply no justifiable reason to believe something just because it is in a book. This idea that the Bible is the word of God is simply ridiculous, and after realizing this I am surprised that more people haven't figured this out as well.

I also acknowledge the immorality that religious faith has brought. People simply believe that their “holy book” is true with regards to morality rather than figuring out what makes the most sense on their own. I don't need to list all of the terrible things that people have done in the name of their religion here. Dawkins and Harris have already done this, and other writers as well. The most important thing to understand is that if one simply believes what is written in a book or what they are told by others, that they will likely be led at some point to commit immoral acts. If one figures out what is right and wrong from observation and reason, from personal experience and reflection, then they will be able to see right from wrong with much more clarity.

I do, however, disagree with this idea that atheism leads to better morals. Whether one believes in a higher power or not is actually unrelated to whether they think for themselves about what is right and wrong. I have actually come to the conclusion that the universe must have been created by a higher power that can be called God. For me, this is based on reason, not religious faith. I am a Deist, not an atheist. I have heard a lot of arguments against Deism, but these are not moral arguments. The reasonable arguments that Dawkins and Harris put forth that traditional religion leads to immorality do not actually hinge upon the belief in God. They hinge upon the acts that people commit because they don't think for themselves about what is right or wrong. Because of this, I don't think that atheism necessarily leads to better morals. I believe that people will more likely have better morals if they realize the irrationality of religious faith, but they can still realize this and believe in God.

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04/19/12

Permalink 10:15:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 703 words   English (US)
Categories: Building Knowledge

The Formation of Knowledge over the Course of Human Development

When a person is born, their mind is not a blank slate because humans do have certain innate knowledge that is determined by DNA, but nearly all knowledge that a full grown adult has was gained from experience over the course of their life. Early in life, the most basic empirical knowledge is formed by one's experiences and the ideas and concepts formed early in life are significantly more influential to life than those learned later. Imagine a few hypothetical test cases of people whose lives are, in large part, determined by what beliefs they form early in life.

Jack, for example, is born into an environment where his parents and family and friends are mostly careful about what they believe and try to find evidence for things. He is told things in school that are based on science and he is not at any point indoctrinated with ideas that lack evidence. Certainly Jack does not easily know the difference between science and dogma at his young age, but this is significant when he reaches adolescence and he is able to find that his core beliefs make sense and can be confirmed by observation. His beliefs were structured on the basis of the common sense concepts of observation and reason and a light version of skepticism regarding claims that people make that don't seem to be backed by evidence.

Another child, Jess, is instead born into an environment where her parents, family, and her community strongly believe that the truth about the world and about one's self can be found by having blind faith in a book written several centuries ago, at time before the advent of modern science. Jess is told to believe ideas in this book involving the origin of the world and numerous supernatural claims. Jess, knowing no other reality, believes these things. As Jess reaches adolescence, she begins hearing about scientific theories regarding the origin of the world and does not believe them despite the evidence that is presented to her because these claims are contrary to the dogma in her holy book. Both Jack and Jess are presented with the same evidence regarding the natural world, but only Jack understands this evidence because he was raised with a commonsense understanding of the world, whereas Jess was raised to believe in an arbitrarily created book from centuries ago that is full of inaccuracy and unfounded claims.

Yet another child, Janie, is raised in the same community as Jess and she enters adolescence with the same views as Jess. Like Jess, she is presented with scientific theories and the evidence that supports these theories and is also presented with evidence that her holy book is unreliable. Unlike Jess, Janie is put into a special teaching program where she is presented with a lot of clear scientific evidence, much from experiments that she personally observes and people also explain to her in detail how each of these experiments works. Up to this point, Janie's beliefs are structured on the premise that her holy book is true and that all other questions of life need to be answered from this book. It eventually gets to the point where Janie is presented with so much clear evidence that her structure of knowledge begins to shift so that it is now structured based on common sense and modern science, rather than on her holy book. This initially causes her to suffer from this detachment from these beliefs that were once central to her life, but this experience does allow her to become more enlightened.

It is not just common sense and modern science that allows her to become more enlightened, however. Her holy book was able to provide answers to questions she had regarding morality and the meaning of life that modern science was not able to adequately provide answers for. For these questions, Janie was eventually able to find answers partially through modern phenomenology, which is in some ways similar to science, though it is the systematic first-person study of consciousness. Janie no longer needs her holy book to find some kind of answers to the great questions of life because she can make progress towards finding reasonable answers through science and phenomenology.

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04/15/12

Permalink 10:32:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 256 words   English (US)
Categories: News

Changing to a Weekly Blog

A little over a month ago, I started writing blog posts again after over a year on hiatus. Of course, during this hiatus I was hard at work doing research. My posts over the last month have included some of my new research and I will be slowly explaining the rest of it over the following months. At first when I started blogging again, I wanted to make up for the fact that I hadn't done it at all over the course of the prior year so I posted twice a week for the past four weeks or so. During my first stint of blogging, I was posting only once a week.

Going forward, I think I only have time to write one blog posting a week. This will probably come on Wednesdays or Thursdays every week. I still have lots of plans for postings that will cover a wide range of topics. The reason for me posting slightly less frequently is because I am starting a full time job tomorrow. Since early 2011 to the present, I have been working full time on researching and writing. I didn't have much money coming in so I slowly depleted my bank account. I believe it was very worthwhile because I learned so much and I think the work I was able to complete is quite amazing. But I need to go back and earn money so I won't have as much time to write blog postings.

Keep checking this blog weekly. I've got some very interesting stuff coming.

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04/11/12

Permalink 11:05:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 921 words   English (US)
Categories: Building Knowledge

How Knowledge is Structured

It is important for us all to understand how knowledge is formed, how it is structured, and what knowledge is foundational. The foundation of knowledge is so named because it is kind of analogous to how a physical structure is built on a foundation. In any structure, such as tower, there are points where it touches the ground and all of the weight of the tower rests on these points. As the tower grows taller and heavier, the foundation must be strong enough to support this weight and also the infrastructure of the tower must be put together correctly or else the tower will likely collapse. There will have to be structural beams that support weight and there will have to be points above the foundation where these beams are joined. These join points function similar to foundations to the weight above them. So not only is the foundation important, but the join points that are near the foundation are also nearly as important. This metaphor for how beliefs are formed as being like a structure is likely analogous to how brain cells and connections among them work to form new beliefs and how they are connected to the senses, which are the natural foundations.

When the mind is young, it has little knowledge so the structure is relatively simple. As one ages and learns more, the foundation remains the same since knowledge can only come in through experience and reason, but it becomes necessary for a more complex structure above the foundation to be formed in order to support the ever increasing weight of beliefs that ultimately need to be anchored into foundational knowledge. Beliefs that are built high above foundational knowledge may or may not meet the standard of knowledge.

Inevitably one will have to believe in ideas that come from certain claims rather than only believing what is personally experienced. What ends up happening when one believes in a claim is that a join point is created for this so that this can become like a foundation for new beliefs. This can be very useful if one accepts a claim that relates to a proper way to live or a basic philosophical belief. If the information contained in the claim makes sense, then accepting this claim should help the structure of ideas grow stronger and build an ever greater tower of understanding.

Examples of good join points that one can build knowledge on include the principles of common sense, language, social customs, critical thinking, investigation techniques, reasoning techniques, and claim evaluation techniques (which I discussed in a posting a few days ago). These can then form the basis of an understanding of more complex ideas that depend on these such as the scientific method, mathematics, and phenomenology. If one has an understanding of the foundational theories of these subjects then they can use this as the basis for more detailed understanding in these areas, including specific scientific facts, complex mathematical subjects, etc.

On the other hand, if one accepts a claim that is not epistemically justified, then this can complicate the structure of ideas, especially if this claim is accepted early in life and ideas are build up on top of this claim. This can happen if one hears an unjustified claim early in life, such as a claim that everything written in a certain religious book (such as the Bible, the Koran, etc.) is true, and strongly believes in this. When they do this, they create a join point in their mind for this book so that more ideas can be built from this. Assuming that this join point is not epistemically justified, this can be analogous to building on a foundation that is not structurally sound. As this person grows older and memorizes and believes in many passages in this book, they end up building up knowledge on the foundational idea that the book is infallible. This can be thought of as like building a skyscraper on a join point that is not directly above the true foundation of experience and reason. An adult who has a structure of ideas in their mind like this is probably not grounded in reality but instead thinks of everything in terms of whether or not it conforms to their preconceived notion that this book holds the key to reality rather than reason and observation.

The structure that is built needs to be able to hold up the ideas otherwise it might come crashing down, so to speak. For anyone who is not delusional, the structure of ideas in their mind should shift with new experiences. If one has certain beliefs that are not accurate representations of reality, then sooner or later they might experience things that are far contrary to their preconceived notions. This then might cause a fundamental structural shift, which causes one to loose beliefs and then possibly to have a difficulty building a new foundation and forming new beliefs. For the one who experiences this fundamental shakeup of beliefs, this may result in confusion, depression, cynicism, insanity, and/or extreme skepticism.

In some cases a positive psychological revolution might occur where one previously had a very complex structure that was not properly grounded in reality and not open to shifting regardless of what information came in. A structure like this is created from someone's fantasy and not from actually observing the world and coming to reasoned conclusions. A fundamental shift from this structure might result in the creation of a new structure that is far more enlightened.

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04/08/12

Permalink 11:31:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 792 words   English (US)
Categories: Why I am not a Christian

Why I am not a Christian, Part 13: Jesus Told His Followers to Hate

Today is Easter, which is perhaps the most important religious holiday for most Christians. Of course the story is that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rose from the dead on the Sunday that a couple days later. I grew up Catholic and this time of the year always involved a lot of religious observances. On Good Friday we went to mass and heard details about Jesus' torment and agony and then on Easter we would go to mass again and have much more joyful and upbeat service that was all about Jesus' resurrection.

For anyone growing up Christian with regular church service and Bible readings, you hear a lot about what a great man Jesus was. You hear that he was the Son of God, that he was an aspect of God himself, that he was perfect, that he was flawed because he was human, etc. It was all pretty complicated and what you heard depended on who was giving the sermon and who was doing the interpretation.

It was in my early twenties that I came to realize that Christianity is a false religion. I had, by that time, already questioned many minor aspects of the faith, but the defining moment was when I realized that Jesus was no more (or less) than any other human being. He did not have any special connection to God any more than anyone else. I also realized that the Bible contains mostly false stories and that the Catholic Church is not the mouthpiece of God.

More recently I have heard some very good arguments that there never was a Jesus in the first place. The theory is that Jesus is purely fictional character along the lines of Thor and Zeus. I still actually think it makes more sense that Jesus did exist and that a lot of the accounts in the Gospels are partially accurate, but I am not sure about this. I know that if there was a Jesus that he didn't perform miracles because this is physically impossible, but I am willing to accept there probably was a Jesus who was a leader of some dissident Jews in the First Century AD.

Given the assumption that there was a Jesus and that a lot of the quotes attributed to him in the Gospels might well have genuinely originated with him, one can then say that Jesus was a great man. I believe that many quotes attributed to Jesus in the Bible are quite wise and admirable and helpful to people facing suffering. For example, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” and “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall have their fill” (Matthew 5:3-10) are inspirational to those who live in difficult times and have brightened the spirits of countless people for centuries. There are many other sayings attributed to Jesus that have positive value as well.

If one looks closely at the sayings of Jesus, however, they should be able to see that some things he said were just wrong. In fact, some things he said were simply horrible. For example, the quote “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Hate my parents? My family? My own life? Are you serious? When I was a Christian, I remember hearing many sermons given by priests and theories advanced by laypeople regarding what Jesus might have meant in saying this. Some say that Jesus meant that being a disciple needs to be the most important thing in his followers lives, hence they should hate everything else. The truth, though, is that this statement is impossible to rationalize if one actually pays attention to what it says. Unlike many of Jesus' other sayings, there is absolutely no value in taking it to heart. It is difficult for me to even conceive of a more depressing thing to say, to be honest. But this just shows that Jesus was imperfect, as we all are, and said something unwise that he may well have later regretted. It happens to us all.

So it is irrational to hang on every word of Jesus as reported in the Gospels or any other part of the Bible, but there is still much value in the wisdom of Jesus and we can all admire him as a great, yet flawed man. All great men and women are flawed, after all. Though there is no good reason, given our modern understanding of reality, to believe that Jesus was the savior of the world, we can still acknowledge him as one of the most influential philosophers and theologians in history.

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