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04/04/12

Permalink 11:10:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 1696 words   English (US)
Categories: Building Knowledge

Evaluation of Claims Made by Others

Often times in life, one can only gain knowledge of certain events from claims made by others. Often ideas are written down or otherwise recorded in some way by one person and then these ideas can be understood, to some extent, by others. Inevitably, not all claims that one may come across will be entirely accurate, so it is necessary to figure out for oneself what to believe and what not to believe.

Purported truths fall into several categories, some of which are as follows:

  1. Purported personal experiences or autobiographical details, such as reports of events by someone claiming to be an eyewitness.
  2. Purported details of current events, such as what one often finds in a newspaper or television news report.
  3. Purported historical truth, such as what one might find in a history book or what a historian might claim to be true.
  4. Purported scientific truth, such as what one might find in a science book or what a scientist might claim to be true.
  5. Purported revealed divine or dogmatic truth, such as what one might find in a book of holy scriptures or what a person of faith might claim to be true. This includes anything written in the Bible, the Koran, or any other book considered to be the "Word of God".

Everyone has many beliefs that are not the product of either personal observation or reason, but are instead the product of simply believing certain claims made by others. It is probably impossible for any person to go through their entire life believing only that which is the product of their personal observation and restricting logical conclusions to those that follow solely from personal observation. If such a person did exist, they would have no understanding of history beyond what they remember from their own past. They would have no understanding of other people's lives beyond what they personally see other people do. They would have no understanding of events in the world that occur outside the range of their senses. They would probably have nothing more than a basic commonsense understanding of the physical world that people seem to be able to intuitively grasp. Though they might be able to see and hear events on television, without believing in the claim that these images and sounds are representations of events that are happening far away, this person would probably not be able to understand this basic fact. This person would be confined to a world of their immediate experience and some basic logical conclusions that follow from this.

It seems only someone with severe mental deficiencies would think this way. It should now be clear that it is completely unreasonable to reject all claims made by others. While it is necessary to accept some claims that one comes across, it is often quite difficult to figure out what claims to believe in or not to believe in. There has to be a process through which one can judge whether a given claim is epistemically justified, but what should be the criteria for this? Most educated and open minded people understand that claims found in science books, history books, and news reports are mostly justified and that claims involving superstitions and propaganda are not, but they might not be able to easily explain why they have made this distinction. Also, though there are many people in the world who believe in some sort of holy scriptures, the reason given by such people usually rests on their own faith rather than on evidence. Such people might have a difficult time explaining why the claims made in their scriptures need to be taken on faith while scientific claims can be taken on evidence.

My conclusion is that a claim is epistemically justified if the one evaluating the claim understands that each of the following conditions are met with regard to the content of the claim and also the source of the claim, which can also be called the claimant:

  1. Coherent Claim: The content of the claim is coherent with all of one's existing epistemically justified beliefs, which must ultimately be coherent with personally observed facts about how nature works. What this means is that if a claim directly contradicts something that one believes and is justified, whether this belief came from personal observation or from another claim, then this new claim fails to meet this condition. The only exception to this is if the existing belief also came from a claim rather than a personal observation and the new claim meets every other condition to an equal or greater degree than the old claim. In situations such as this, the new claim is justified and the old one is not.
  2. Naturalizable Claim: The content of the claim can be understood as resulting from natural laws, whether these laws are known to exist or not. Some ideas postulate the existence of the supernatural, while others rely solely on natural events. Natural events are those that causally occur with perfect uniformity based on pre-existing factors. The laws of nature are those that govern how things are caused to change through time. If things always happen with uniformity based on some set of laws, then this is “natural” by definition. This includes the modern updated versions of the law of gravity, Newton’s laws of motion, etc. A claim that can take the form of a natural law can be considered naturalizable. If a claim is made that cannot be conceived as the functioning of natural laws then this is considered either non-natural or supernatural. For example, a claim that says that water was turned into wine is supernatural, assuming that there is no natural law through which water can in certain special circumstances suddenly turn into wine. The only way that it can be reasonable to believe in a supernatural event is if it is personally experienced.
  3. Credible Claimant: The source of the claim has earned credibility in the subject area that the claim relates to because it has a good track record. The credibility of a claim is stronger or weaker based on the track record of the source that provided the claim, all other factors being equal. The credibility of a claim is stronger if it comes from a source that has a history of providing accurate information and of not providing disinformation, which is a claim shown to be false due to the prevalence of counterevidence. Conversely, if a claim comes from a source that does not have a history of providing accurate claims and instead has a history of providing disinformation, then the credibility of this claim is weaker. For example, if the source is a meteorologist who has in the past made accurate weather predictions, then if this person makes a prediction for tomorrow's weather, then this claim is highly credible.
  4. Credentialed Claimant: The source of the claim is trusted by other sources that also have good track records in the subject area that the claim relates to. A good way to identify this is through official credentials or membership in a professional organization that has its own credibility. For example, if a self-proclaimed meteorologist makes a claim about the weather, but this person is not trusted by other meteorologists who have good track records, then the claims made by this untrusted meteorologist fails to meet this condition.
  5. Justified Claimant: The one evaluating the claim has a certain understanding of the process through which the claimant came to believe in the idea behind this claim, and this process is plausible because it only involves the use of senses and mental facilities that people are known to have. Any claim must come from an idea in someone's mind, and this person needs to have evidence for this idea in order for a claim based on it to be epistemically justified. For example, if the source is an archeologist and they are making a claim about the shape of prehistoric bones, then it is implied that the archeologist came to believe the idea behind this claim from digging for bones and carefully observing them with the eyes and the hands and then coming to a reasonable conclusion. If this is the case, then the archeologist has evidence for the idea behind their claim and it is understood that this evidence came through senses that everyone has, namely seeing and feeling. If the one evaluating the archeologists claim realizes this fact then this condition is met for this claim. A contrary example would be if a religious priest makes a claim that involves something divine that he says he came to believe from a special sixth sense he has, but where this sense cannot be independently verified to exist. In this situation, the priest's claim fails to meet this condition.

If one believes in a claim that meets all of these conditions (to the best of their understanding, anyways) and this claim also happens to be true then this person has gained knowledge from this claim. Though it is always conceivable for any claim to be true or false, if a claim meets all of these conditions then it is quite unlikely for this claim to be completely false. Although utter certainty is possible for beliefs that come from personal observation, it is not possible to be utterly certain of any belief that comes only from claims made by others. At the same time, it is inconceivable that every claim that one has ever come across in life could all be false. So it does seem that we should be able to be be utterly certain that we have gained significant knowledge from claims in our lives, and this is probably because many of the claims we have come across in life meet all of the conditions mentioned above.

What are your thoughts on this topic? How well do you think the claims made in the Bible or Koran meet these criteria for claim justification? Do you disagree with these criteria? What criteria conditions do you think a claim must meet in order for it to be worthy of belief? Let your voice be heard in the forum. You can also email the me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

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04/01/12

Permalink 11:56:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 564 words   English (US)
Categories: Mailbag, Traditional Religion is Flawed

Should we devote our lives to God?

One aspect of one's worldview is their beliefs regarding the meaning of life. This is perhaps the most perplexing of all questions that one can ponder. We are all born into this world with no knowledge and we slowly gain knowledge throughout our childhood and adolescence so that we can survive in this world and live our lives as we choose. We might not have a problem finding meaning in what we are doing at any point in our lives, but there is still this bewildering question of what the overall purpose of our existence might be. We can find meaning in the moment for what we are doing, but if we try to figure out what the overall meaning of life is, we don't have an easy way of finding an adequate answer to this question.

I recently received an email from a friend named Tom who gave his thoughts regarding the meaning of life:

“The Meaning of Life is To Glorify God and Enjoy His Blessings. This is a praphrase (sic) from a Book of Common Prayer.”

Tom's statement does seem reasonable, but I do have some disagreement. Now, I think I do agree that one of the main purposes of our lives is to enjoy the blessings that our we have been given. As a Deist, I believe that God is ultimately the creator of the universe, and thus God is also the creator of our lives and the provider of our blessings.

Where I disagree with Tom's statement is that I don't actually believe that we need to glorify God, or that God needs glorification, because God is already perfect. Perhaps our personal act of glorifying God does help us to keep in mind that all things come from God, but it is also quite important to understand the natural world as God created it. I believe that many people want to glorify God so much that they construct false ideas of what God is, like that God is jealous or vengeful or needs or constant attention and worship or that God might favor some people over others. I don't think that God has humanlike emotions.

Personally, I don't think it is all that necessary to keep God in mind all the time. I believe that when one realizes that there is a creator of the universe that can be called God that they achieve a higher level of enlightenment, but understanding the natural universe is also necessary for one to become more enlightened. The natural universe is so complicated that it is very, very difficult to understand it, so this is what I believe we should be focusing on the most. Also, it doesn't look like God actually reveals Itself1 to us in any significant way. Because of this, if we try to focus a lot on God then we are liable to create false ideas about what God is. I'll say that one of the most important meanings of life is to understand as much as possible about the natural world that God created.

What are your thoughts on this topic? What is the meaning of life? Let your voice be heard in the forum. You can also email the me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

1 Note that I choose not to use masculine pronouns like "He", "Him" or "Himself" to refer to God because It is neither male nor female.

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03/29/12

Permalink 11:11:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 1043 words   English (US)
Categories: History of Religion

Pre-Jewish Ancient Semitic Religion

Living in today's world, we can easily become familiar with some of the religious beliefs and customs other people practice, but it is more difficult to understand the origins of these beliefs and customs, especially tracing these back to ancient times. Jews and Christians and to some extent Muslims recognize the authority of the ancient Jewish scriptures that make up the Old Testament of the Bible, also known as the Tanakh in Hebrew. While many people throughout the world believe that these scriptures are the word of God, those who believe this usually aren't aware of the historical evidence that casts serious doubt on many of the claims made in these scriptures.

The first five books, known as the Torah, tell of early history of the Israelite people (whose descendents became known as Jews). The purported history written in the Torah, however, is mostly unreliable as a historical source because it is filled with claims that are either supernatural or that are inconsistent with more reliable historical knowledge. It is likely that some accounts in the Torah are partially accurate, but it is quite important for everyone today to understand the historical context in which the Torah came about. One important thing to understand is the timeline in which major events took place.

For one thing, the earliest historical event in the Torah that is not supernatural is Abraham leading the Hebrew people (whose descendents became known as Israelites) out of the Mesopotamian city of Ur and into the so-called “promised land” of Canaan, which later became known as Palestine. Regardless of whether there was in fact a man named “Abraham”, it is reasonable to conclude that the ancestors of the Israelites originated in Mesopotamia. Archeological and linguistic evidence, along with a rough estimation of the timeline within the Torah itself, points to the Hebrew people's emigration from Mesopotamia occurring somewhere near 1800 BC.

We can look at the Hebrew language and the culture of the ancient Hebrew people and compare this to the writings of the ancient Babylonians from around 2000 BC and we can conclude that they are related. The Babylonian writings and culture, however, are older. In fact, the ancient Semitic1 culture can be traced back several hundred years before any of the semi-reliable accounts that are recorded in the Bible. From this we can reasonably conclude that the Hebrew language and the Jewish religion and culture ultimately grew out of an older Semitic language and older Semitic religious beliefs and customs.

Looking at the ancient Semitic religion as it existed in the centuries before the time of the Hebrew emigration, one can find several interesting similarities to some aspects of Judaism. The ancient Semitic religion was polytheistic, but one of the main gods was known as “El”, which is similar to the Hebrew word for God, which is “Elohim”2. In fact, it is likely that ancient Judaism was also polytheistic, but where Elohim was the supreme God. One can even find stories in ancient Semitic writings that seem to have partially inspired Biblical stories such as the Great Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the Garden of Eden.

The more one looks at the details of ancient Semitic culture, religion, and language, the more clear it becomes that the Torah and Judaism originated as a cultural evolution from older beliefs and older scriptures. Probably nobody today believes that ancient Semitic scriptures are the word of God, and nor should they. These writings were compiled by ancient people who were just trying to make sense of life and who had very limited information to go with. It would be silly to believe, this day and age, that such scriptures are true. Despite this, probably hundreds of millions of people throughout the world believe that the scriptures that originated as a cultural evolution from the ancient Semitic beliefs are the word of God.

The scriptures that make up the Torah, the Tanakh, the Bible, are for the most part quite fancifully invented stories that were written by people thousands of years ago who had very limited information available to them. Their beliefs naturally changed over time, from century to century, but at a certain point their writings were copied more accurately and were then passed from generation to generation. This is how the Bible originated. It did not originate as the word of God. If more people understood ancient history better, then they would realize that the Bible is certainly not a book that one should base their life on. It is just one of many books that might have some wisdom, but it also has many flaws. We should all try to understand more about the ancient Semitic peoples and their customs and beliefs and how Judaism originated from this. We would all benefit from this understanding.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Are Jews God's chosen people? Let your voice be heard in the forum. You can also email the me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

1 The word “Semitic” refers collectively to the group of similar peoples that modern Jews and Arabs are descended from and also to the languages that are/were spoken by such people. This has the potential to confuse people because the term “anti-Semitic” refers specifically to anti-Jewish acts, words, or feelings. I believe it would make more sense to simply use the more accurate and descriptive term “anti-Jewish” for this behavior and to only use the term “anti-Semitic” to refer to behavior that is hateful or destructive to Semitic peoples in general. I'm not aware of this in particular actually happening anywhere, but it seems that if someone were being hateful of Jews and Arabs at the same time, that “anti-Semitic” would be the most accurate term to use in this situation. In the unfortunately common situations of people hating Jews specifically (and not necessarily others), it would be more straightforward to simply call this “anti-Jewish”. This footnote is only meant to make clear that “Semitic” is not a specifically Jewish term even though “anti-Semitic” is often used to refer specifically to behavior that stems from hatred of Jewish people.

2 Many readers are probably more familiar with the word “Yahweh”, which is another word for God, but one which is actually not quite as old as the word “Elohim”.

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03/25/12

Permalink 11:56:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 930 words   English (US)
Categories: Words and Meanings, Building Knowledge

What is Knowledge?

Everyone seems to agree that knowledge is important, but there are many different perspectives on what knowledge is, how it can be formed, and whether we can ever know anything with certainty. This post is the first in a new category about knowledge. Before any other questions regarding knowledge can be addressed, it is best to be clear about what exactly knowledge is.

There are numerous dictionaries in which one can look up the definition of “knowledge”. Probably almost any definition of this word that one might come across will say essentially the same thing, though with differing degrees of detail. Bringing together the definitions provided in a few popular dictionaries, we can go with the following detailed definition of “knowledge”: awareness, familiarity, recognition, identification, distinguishment, acquaintance, apprehension and/or comprehension of a fact of truth through experience of study, investigation and/or learning.

In philosophical discourse, the concept of knowledge is often broken down into components. Probably the most commonly accepted definition of knowledge, which can be traced back to Plato, is belief that is both true and justified, and this definition is often abbreviated JTB. Each of the words listed in the previous paragraph can also be broken down into components, and although this exercise will not be done here, we should all be able to intuitively grasp that there is a similarity among all of these words.

The words “justified”, “true”, and “belief” can also be further analyzed. A belief is any idea or concept that one has in mind that they think is true, whether or not this actually is the case and regardless of what circumstances led them to think this way. People have the ability to have many ideas in mind, some of which they believe to be true, some they believe to be false, and others for which they accept the possibility that they might be true or might be false.

Truth can be a tricky concept because people commonly have false or hypothetical ideas in mind that function as sets of rules for other ideas to be considered “true” or “false”. For example, if one has a set of counter-factual ideas in mind, then other statements can be “true” or “false” relative to these beliefs, but still completely false in an absolute sense (relative to reality). Thus one can have beliefs that are “true” from their own point of view, but these beliefs would not be mind-independent facts. There is, of course, a reality outside the mind. Beliefs that correspond to reality are true regardless of anyone's point of view and only beliefs that meet this criteria and are also justified can be considered knowledge.

Justification is a more complex concept to define. The most common understanding of this word within an epistemological context (involving the analysis of knowledge) is that one can be justified to have a belief if they have sufficient reason for believing it. Basically, a belief is justified if one has come to this belief after considering all available evidence and figuring out what makes the most sense. In other words, a belief is justified if one can reasonably conclude that it is true after considering all evidence that is available.

There are some problems with the JTB definition of knowledge, however. There are so-called Gettier problems, named after the philosopher who popularized this form of argument, that seem to show that some justified true beliefs are not knowledge. Here is one such example, paraphrased:

Smith has applied for a job, but, it is claimed, has a justified belief that "Jones will get the job". He also has a justified belief that "Jones has 10 coins in his pocket". Smith therefore (justifiably) concludes (by the rule of the transitivity of identity) that "the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket". In fact, Jones does not get the job. Instead, Smith does. However, as it happens, Smith (unknowingly and by sheer chance) also had 10 coins in his pocket. So his belief that "the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket" was justified and true. But it does not appear to be knowledge.

Some have used this and other similar examples to argue that there should be other factors that must be met in order for a belief to become knowledge or even in some cases that concept of knowledge is incoherent.

For this example at least, the answer is simple. In this case, the problem is in matching what the person has in mind with what is spoken or written. Beliefs are essentially mental states and by extension so are all beliefs that qualify as knowledge. A straightforward literal reading of this example does not actually match the belief that Smith has in mind. When Smith says “the man who will get the job...”, he specifically has Jones in mind and not some abstract idea of some person who will get this job. So in a literal sense, Smith's statement can be interpreted as true, but as he meant it, it is actually false and hence it is not knowledge.

Now, there are other Gettier problems that have actually led me to conclude that there is at least one more condition that must be met in order for a belief to become knowledge, but this will have to be addressed in a future posting.

What definition of knowledge do you think makes the most sense? This site features a forum where you can let your voice be heard. You can weigh in on this topic here. You can also email the me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

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03/22/12

Permalink 11:07:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 1160 words   English (US)
Categories: History of Religion

The Egyptian Origins of Monotheistic Religious Belief

This post is the first in a new category on the history of religion. This subject is important because so many people have religious beliefs without understanding how these beliefs originated long ago. People of faith tend to think of their scriptures as being the word of God when in fact there is usually a detailed history of these scriptures that shows that they originated in a more ordinary way, similar to the way that most works of fiction or tall tales originated.

When we understand the history of the development of religious beliefs, this demystifies them and allows us to more easily separate fact from fiction. This is certainly not to say that all religious beliefs are based on fiction. There are several notable beliefs, including the belief that there is a higher power that can be called God, that I think are reasonable. The purpose of this website is to analyze these beliefs and figure out which of them are reasonable and which are simply perpetuations of fantasies.

I will begin this series with the religion of ancient Egypt. Interestingly, there is evidence that seems to show that Judaism, and by extension Christianity and Islam, were influenced by the ancient Egyptian religion, which predates Judaism by at least 1500 years. The Egyptian religion itself had an origin because Egypt was not always an organized civilization that involved cities and writing. The aspects of ancient Egyptian culture developed slowly from a simpler tribal-based culture. It was probably around 3500 to 3000 BC that the Egyptians developed writing and from this they were able to more easily develop more complex religious beliefs. But even before they had writing, they still had religious beliefs, and at that time their beliefs were probably in many ways similar to other tribal societies.

If we look at the history of religious beliefs since the earliest human civilizations, it is probably safe to say that all cultures began with some form of polytheism. Every early society needed deities to explain all kinds of phenomena including the weather, fertility, food, wine, war, the sun, love, etc. These early people had a need to explain different aspects of their lives and for everything that needed to be explained, they could create a god for it.

For most of its recorded history, Egyptian religion was polytheistic. They had many gods, including Ptah, Isis, Osiris, Horus, Amun, Ra, etc. The deity that was considered to be the greatest changed several times over the centuries and was usually determined by the decisions of the ruling pharaoh and the priests who supported him or her and gave legitimacy to their rule. At one point, perhaps during the old kingdom (the time of the pyramids - around 2500 BC), the main god was Ptah. The name “Egypt” actually means “The estate of Ptah”. At a later time, the gods Amun and Ra were considered the highest god by different groups of Egyptians. By about 1400 BC, the main god was Amun-Ra, which was a combination of the older gods Amun and Ra. This god was always depicted with a sun disk over his head. This depiction of the sun was known as Aten.

An interesting event happened around the year 1350 BC that changed Egyptian society for a short time but seems to have had a much more lasting affect on other cultures. The pharaoh at this time, Akhenaten, decided that Egypt should become monotheistic. Instead of having so many gods including Amun-Ra and others, he ordered that everyone should worship the sun, which was only depicted as a disk when drawn, rather than having human form.

Akhenaten named his sun Tutankhaten, which means “the living image of Aten”. This name was not intended to be taken literally, since Aten does not have a humanlike image, but probably was meant to signify that this child was designated by the one true God Aten as the next leader of Egypt. Akhenaten's decision caused the priests of Amun-Ra to lose much of the power they once had, and this angered them. Akhenaten died when Tutankhaten was still young. When Tutankhaten became pharaoh, the priests of Amun-Ra convinced him to restore the previous religious traditions. He complied with this and brought back the main god Amun-Ra and all of the other gods as well. He also changed his own name to Tutankhamun, which means “the living image of Amun”.

This man is, of course, the famous King Tut. Tutankhamun was actually not all that remarkable, in Egyptian history, for much more than restoring the old polytheistic system. He is far better known to the average person today than probably any other pharaoh because his tomb and mummy were largely intact and full of treasures when they were discovered, whereas all of the others were robbed long before the advent of modern archeology.

The period of monotheism did not last long in Egypt, but it was during this time that the Egyptians had Semitic slaves, possibly including the ancient Israelite people. The Bible tells of the Israelites being held captive and enslaved in Egypt and later being able to leave and set up a kingdom in the land of Palestine. Now, the Bible is quite unreliable as a historical source, which I have written about before and I plan on writing about more in the future. At the same time, there are some events in the Bible that have been independently verified. Though it is unknown if the Israelites were ever actually slaves in Egypt, it is reasonable to conclude that if they did, they were there around the time of the 1300's BC. If they were in Egypt at this time, then it is reasonable to conclude that they learned the religion of the Egyptians as it was at this time, which might have been monotheistic.

It is known from historical records that the original religion of the Semitic peoples, from which the Israelite people came, was polytheistic. So it is reasonable to conclude that the Israelites learned monotheism, the belief in one God, from their exposure to the Egyptians during this time in history. Monotheism is very widely believed throughout the world today, and this might partially come from the reformist thought of the pharaoh Akhenaten. Though Jews, Christians, and Muslims trace their faith back to the prophets who supposedly spoke directly to God, this belief is unjustified based on scientific and historical evidence. There is evidence that the belief in one God can be traced further back than any Israelite prophets. Thus these three religions, and even modern Deism, could have origins going all the way back to ancient Egypt and the theology of Akhenaten.

What do you, the reader, think of this theory? This site features a forum where you can let your voice be heard. You can weigh in on topics such as What place should religion have in the modern world? and Is faith virtuous or is it harmful? You can also email the me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

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03/18/12

Permalink 01:22:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 654 words   English (US)
Categories: News

About My Research and Efforts to Publish My Work

I want to explain a little about my recent research and the status of my book publishing efforts. To give some background, about 2 1/2 years ago I created this website, but this was after a period of several years of personal research and after I had written an early draft of my book. At the time, it was 12 chapters and about 110 pages. I thought at the time it was pretty good, but I slowly came to realize that it was nowhere near detailed or organized enough to make the cut and I also had not done anywhere near enough research. So many people had written on the subjects of knowledge formation, consciousness, morality, and religion before me and I had only read some of them and I hadn't really studied their work in detail.

About 15 months ago I put together a research plan and also a plan for how I would greatly expand my book. I realized that a few of the 12 chapters that I had needed to be expanded into several additional chapters, while some of the chapters were disorganized. I changed the structure of my book to have multiple parts, each consisting of several chapters a piece. The first part is about the theory of knowledge in general because this is fundamental.

For the second part, I realized how important phenomenology is to the whole project so I read some books on the subject. Phenomenology is a science-like discipline that involves the first-person study of the structures of consciousness. Modern science is pretty much exclusively objective, which is great but it also has its limitations in that it is impossible for one to objectively study another person's first person experience of consciousness. For this reason, objective science cannot be applied to this area of study so we have to use phenomenology, which is like science but it is intersubjective rather than objective.

For the third part, I realized that it is important to address how language, thought, and meaning are related. I studied several different theories of meaning, and in the end explained how a theory called the "language of thought" or "mentalese" makes the most sense.

For parts 4, 5 and 6, I used much of the content I had in my earlier draft but made it more detailed. These parts deal with consciousness, free will, and morality. I did a lot of research in these areas, including reading several books and lots of academic papers. Parts 7 and 8 deal with religious questions, such as whether there is a God and how we might begin to address the question of what the meaning of life might be. I used much of the content I had from before and added to it.

What started out as a 110 page draft ended up being over 250 pages, with 8 parts and 30 chapters in total. While I have completed quite a lot, I will also have to admit that even this updated version is not ready for publication. I have dozens of issues that I have to work out before I am ready to publish this work. It is extremely complicated as it involves several different fields of philosophy and explains how they are all related, with significant original research and new ideas. Within the next 18 months I plan on having a version of this book that is oriented for a general audience and another that is for academic audiences. The general audience book will not have complex jargon of the academic work and will not get into so many technical details.

I know these books will not be perfect in the next 18 months but I will probably publish them anyways in order to get the first edition available to the public. I know that it will take probably a team of people working for a few years to get everything perfect, and I do hope this gets done eventually, but they don't have to be absolutely perfect before I publish them.

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03/12/12

Permalink 08:47:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 322 words   English (US)
Categories: News

This Site is Back with New Content!

I'm finally back creating new content for this site after a long hiatus. My last post was in December of 2010 and for all of 2011 and early 2012, I have been working hard at producing new content. I started this website about two and a half years ago so that I could explain my work to people and this was somewhat successful for a while. I wrote weekly blog postings throughout 2010 explaining some aspects of my manuscript and also some biographical postings about how I came to the beliefs that I have.

I wish I could have continued to write blog postings at least every week for the past 15 months, but I had so much research work to do and so much enhancement and rewriting of my manuscript to do that I didn't have time to also write blog postings. I am sorry that this website has been kind of stale for a while, but it is back now. Moving forward, my intention is to write blog postings twice weekly. I have so much new content to roll out that I should not have a hard time posting at this rate for the next year at least.

I have created new categories and re-categorized old postings. The new categories are "Building Knowledge", "Deism", "History of Religion", "Morality", "Secularism is Flawed", "Traditional Religion is Flawed", "The Mind", and "Words and Meanings". I have written on each of these topics in the past, but there were not actual categories for them. The old category "Thoughts", which I used as a catch-all, has been deleted. I am looking forward to writing new posts on each of these new topics in the coming weeks and months. My next post, probably this weekend, will briefly explain the research I have done over the past 15 months and will give an update on my efforts to publish my work.

Thanks for reading and I am am always available via email brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

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12/15/10

Permalink 11:41:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 481 words   English (US)
Categories: News

Notice of Hiatus

I started this website just over a year ago as a way to promote my ideas, which I believe can be quite helpful to people who already have some sort of freethinking persuasion and are seeking to form a more developed and comprehensive worldview that is somewhere between traditional religion and strict secularism. I started with the basics of modern Deism and theories of natural rights and sought to incorporate these and other concepts into what I call “a more enlightened worldview”.

The main areas of this site that are mostly informative tell of the basics. I put in the forum to allow people to let me know what they think about the many topics covered within this site. I have also written a blog posting every week for the last year. The subjects ranged from Deism to ethical theory to specific moral issues to autobiographical descriptions of my own religious experiences and how my views changed over time, which were recorded in the series “Why I am not a Christian” and “Freethinking Awakenings”.

With this posting, this blog will be on hiatus for a while. I am focusing now on refining my writings to the point where I can get them published in academic journals or by a university, which would probably earn me a PhD if I am successful. As you might imagine, this is a very intensive and time consuming project. I am actually narrowing my focus for this effort on my new theory of phenomenology and the use of my new methodology to provide more reliable evidence for things that are beyond the reach of science but I believe are still very real, such as the experience of consciousness, the soul, and a foundation of morality that includes natural rights.

I know I will complete this eventually, and whether or not it is accepted by the academic community, I will still find ways of making these concepts more accessible and understandable to a more general audience and I will update this website when I am ready for that. Also when I am done with this phenomenology thesis, I will be able to incorporate it into my more more general worldview thesis. I can't take the worldview thesis to the academic community because it just involves too many different concepts. I need to focus in on something more narrow for now, and the best way to start is with a better theory of knowledge. Phenomenology is this because it is science-like but instead of strictly being objective it involves the first person experiences that science does not deal with. It is this subjective knowledge, and the construction of intersubjective knowledge, that I believe is very important for forming a more enlightened worldview.

So this is my last posting for a while. I am still available to answer emails at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com and I look forward to hearing from you.

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12/09/10

Permalink 11:41:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 894 words   English (US)
Categories: The Mind

Artificial Intelligence

It is quite amazing how computers these days can perform complex tasks so fast. They can do so many things and our lives now vitally depend on them for communication, economic well-being, personal health, entertainment, etc. The performance of computers gets faster and more efficient every year, and the number of things they can do and our dependence on them seems to grow day by day.

This technology seems magical, but we should know that these machines work within the confines of physical reality. Advanced technology like this only becomes possible when intelligent people figure out how to do these things, not when sorcerers chant magical spells. So this means that there must be some limit to what is possible through modern technology.

It does seem like anything can be made possible though advanced technology. It seems like anything and every possible fanciful idea that one might think of, like traveling through time or spaceships that can take us to the ends of the universe, will one day be possible given the right technological advances, which seem inevitable. Now, it seems like this is the case because we generally don't understand much about the technology that we have and we generally don't know much about the laws of physics.

In truth, technology does have its limits and there are good arguments to be made for why time travel is impossible and why the kind of space travel we see in science fiction movies is highly improbable if not altogether impossible. But what, then, is the limit of technology with regard to machine intelligence? Will there be a day when humans can create a machine that truly has human-like intelligence and is almost indistinguishable from a real human?

Though this is a frightening though for many, the explosive growth of machine intelligence strongly suggests that this will happen before too long, likely within our lifetime. The most advanced computers can already function in many of the same ways that human minds can. They are able to interpret their environment and form conceptions of how things work that are quite accurate. They are able to understand, to a large extent, human language from just observing. They are able to pick up on social norms of humans and are programmed to mimic them as any young human would.

Now, these robots are quite limited in the speed of their processing and the capacity to learn. They are not able to conceptualize anywhere near as much of reality as humans can and their command of language and emotional and social relationships is severely limited. These limitations, however, are probably just temporary. Sooner or later, there will be androids that are advanced enough to act as any human does to the point where real humans cannot tell the difference.

There are many important questions that arise from this realization. For one thing, this brings into question what it means to be human. If there are robots that can act as any human to the point where real humans might be convinced that the robots are real, then how can one say that these robots are not, in fact, real humans? If such robots could indeed conceptualize reality as humans and have all other cognitive capacities of humans, do then also have a first person experience of consciousness as humans do? What are the ethical implications of making these robots?

My answer to the first question is that if such beings did exist that they would not be humans for the simple reason that they are, in fact, robots. Now, this does not mean that human attributes, such as consciousness, do not apply. I have said in previous postings that I believe that there is a nonphysical aspect of human consciousness and I also believe that this is facilitated when a physical being has the necessary functional properties for body-soul interaction. I concluded this because I believe that only a nonphysical soul can actually experience consciousness in the first person and that therefore human bodies must have an interaction between body and soul. I believe it would be quite similar for robots just as long as they have all of the same functional properties to facilitate body-soul interaction. So by implication, one could one day build a robot that could not only function as a human does, but could also have a soul.

Now, what are the ethical implications of this? I actually think that the ethical implications are not as great as they may seem. To me, this is not entirely unlike the phenomenon where a man and a woman bring a new human into the world through procreation. The only real ethical implications, as I see it, are that once such a being is created, that it would actually have natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just as any other human does.

So, in summary, artificial intelligence will likely one day progress to where robots will exist that are indistinguishable from organic humans and will, by extension, have conscious experience and souls just as humans do. Because of this, we will have to respect their natural rights, just as we should for all humans.

What are your thoughts on this topic? What kinds of beings have phenomenal consciousness? Let your voice be heard in the forum.
You can also email the me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

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12/01/10

Permalink 11:40:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 688 words   English (US)
Categories: Why I am not a Christian

Why I am not a Christian, Part 12: Angels

So we're all familiar with what angels are, right? Winged creatures, maybe with halos above their heads, sent from heaven to deliver messages, and living in heaven singing praises. We have all seen images like these in religious art. A lot of people believe in angels. The Bible talks about them and even mentions specific high ranking angels. But what are angels? Do they exist?

My understanding of the concept of angels is probably similar to most people. We all see images of them in art. These days it is often some advertisement that we see a drawing of what is supposed to be an angel. Now, I was raised Catholic and I believed in angels when I was young just as I believed in most of the myths that I was taught in my youth. I was taught specifically that everyone has a “guardian angel” who is supposed to protect us from harm. This believe I guess comes from a Bible verse that tells of angels guarding us. It does not say that each of us is assigned his or her own angel for life, as I was told.

My mother took this angel believe quite seriously and would pray to them. We were taught to pray to our angels as follows: “Angel of God my guardian dear, to whom God's love entrusts me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.” My mother would often attribute our safety to the work of our angels. Like if someone almost got injured or something, she would think that someone's angel intervened and prevented harm. Also on days when she was for some reason unable to go to mass (Catholic church service), she would make a request to her angel to go to mass in place of her. If the car was not working on a Sunday or my parents were sick or something, or if we were just too busy she would say to us “I sent my angel to mass, you kids send your angels as well.”

The modern Catholic conception of angels is quite different from the original conception in Biblical times. These creatures were really not thought of as having wings going back that far. They were, however, thought of as being spiritual creatures that were kind of like deities. I was taught about archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, each of whom has special powers. Michael fights evil, Gabriel delivers messages, and Raphael comforts those in suffering. The legends of these three go way back, even before Judaism emerged as a monotheistic religion around 1500 BC.

Actually, it is interesting to note that the Bible also mentions Azrael as an archangel, though he is supposed to be the angel of death. The modern interpretation is that Azrael is another name for Satan. This was certainly not what people thought in Biblical times. They thought of Azrael as a real spirit, but not entirely evil like Satan.

So the legend of angels really goes even further back than the Bible and stems originally from primitive beliefs in supernatural creatures that have special powers, like lower level Gods. It is pretty ludicrous to believe in these mythical creatures in today's age. The concept of angels is one of the most obvious examples that the Bible is unreliable and that Judaism and Christianity were both evolved from earlier primitive religions of tribal peoples who made up myths to try to understand the world. They made up supernatural creatures to explain things and to think that somehow they had access to the supernatural workings if they could get on good terms with these creatures.

This is all pretty silly stuff. Jews, Christians, and Muslims today actually often have beliefs that stem from these primitive beliefs. They might try to eliminate these beliefs, but this is tough unless they want to take an honest critical look at their worldview and their holy scriptures.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Is faith virtuous, or is it harmful? Let your voice be heard in the forum.
You can also email the me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

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