Atoms Go Dutch

Everyone is a philosopher.

Core beliefs, assumptions, convictions, dislikes, preferences, and guesses, when bundled together in a holistic faggot become a worldview. To varying complexity, people trot about their daily lives with a host of viewpoints, some consciously and painstakingly put together through years of toil, and others unconsciously, the product of chance but nonetheless subject to examination (if challenged). What is true, is that regardless of whether someone lives an examined life, or if the underpinning of their values is important to them, their values have foundations and are subject to both criticism and praise.

Recently, I encountered a sentiment I take issue with. Essentially, the notion that because some people do not reduce their viewpoints to a combination of facts and logic (philosophy, aka rational argument) then their point of view is somehow not subject to scrutiny. I find this notion both disturbing and more than little baffling. While there are some fundamental ideas I accept but cannot defend from first principles (e.g. why is it good to be nice? why should we value evidence and reason? how do we know rocks dont feel pain?) I can proceed to defend other ideas when making those assumptions. Given that anyone who isn’t either a sociopath or medieval accepts and values niceness and evidence, it is generally safe to proceed as if both my readers and opponents share those assumptions.

Though you’d never know it.

In my aforementioned encounter, a religious apologist friend had this to say

So someone down on their luck will meet a kind religious person (of any religion) and will pick up on their kindness and that will draw them to their religion, as opposed to being won over by a philosophical argument.

In short, not everyone is a philosopher and sees the world in philosophical/empirical terms ….

I agree completely with the above statement. I am sure that it is almost certainly true that in the vast number of cases new converts to a religion are not won via philosophical argument. I would also guess that a great number of people born into varying religions are also simply adopting what amounts to a cultural practice. What I cannot accept, dear reader, is the implication that such things are at all acceptable. That it is in anyway okay to support an organization absent of a reasonable inquiry.

Let’s start with an extreme example, if only to illustrate the point, and then move toward the middle lest we are accused of only cherry picking the worst. Cults.  From Moonies to Scientologists, and Jonestowners to Russian death cults, people down on their luck or desperate to incorporate some meaning into their lives, are Hoovered up by these sycophantic and sometimes lethal organizations. It is precisely because someone encounters such an organization without their rational lens in perfect working order that is the problem. David Koresh would get nowhere at a TED convention.

What about the Salvation Army? A rabidly Christian group that does a great deal to feed and clothe the destitute. They also (rather callously in my opinion) temporarily shut down operations in NYC when the city chose to offer marriage benefits to same sex partners. Now, we can debate the relative harm/good of the Salvation Army and come to a nuanced conclusion about whether people in good conscience can still support them. What we can’t do, is have such a discussion with someone who refuses (or is ill equipped) to engage in such a talk, and that is a problem.

Lastly, what I have no time for, is giving allowances to people who are mentally lazy, or stupid, or poorly read, or subject to a tyrannical culture, or otherwise incapable of fully examining a creed to which they claim to adhere but know little about. They deserve every chance of changing their lot, of developing a complex worldview full of greys, but do not deserve to have a naive and poorly voiced opinion given respect or weight.

No one would hire me to fly a plane, or build a bridge, or split an atom. Rightly so.

Robin Lindsay




4 Responses to “Atoms Go Dutch”

  1. Ben Waymark Says:

    Your ‘religious apologist’ sounds like a clever bloke. You should send him money.

    I am doing a weight-loss/exercise regime at the moment. It is called the 21 Day challenge and is being hosted by the guy with whom I’ve been religiously attending 6:30am in the morning bootcamps for over a year now. The key ideas of the trainer is that during the 21 days you should have a ‘detox’ to get ‘all the chemicals’ out of your body. This means no caffeine, no wheat, no alcohol, and refined sugar. The trainer also reckons that you should drink 3 litres of water a day to help get rid of ‘impurities’. To top all this misery off, you are also expected to avoid ‘carbs’ which means basically having salad and meat for lunch and dinner (fruit and nuts is permissible for breakfast).

    Now, I quite sure that the whole idea of detox is load of bollocks. No one has ever managed to show what “toxins” are being “detoxed” when one detoxes. The theory that drinking 3litres of water a day was rubbished in a recent British Medical Journal article after studied failed to find any evidence (so two friends who are medical doctors told me), and I am not convinced that his theories of wheat (or microwaves which he also shuns on the basis of them ‘shaking molecules’) are backed up by any credible science. Low carb diets have been shown to help with weight loss (depending on who you listen to) but no one reckons they are particular healthy.

    But, and this is a big but, despite the relative charlatanism of it all, the simple fact is that his diets work. Having trained with him over a year, sceptical about his dietary ideas, I’ve watched plenty of people over the last year do his diet and lose weight and gain gain muscle and become better and better at the bootcamp workouts. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that people are suffering nutritionally in any way, even though low-carb diets are generally shunned by people who study these things scientifically. So with eyes wide open, I’ve been doing his diet, even the detox that i know isn’t detoxing, because it works and that is enough for me.

    My point in saying all this is that the answers that science has to offer does not (yet) always satisfy people, and humans don’t think along purely logical lines, so everyone (even the most scientific) end up having to correlated core beliefs, with assumptions, convictions, dislikes, etc to develop a worldview that works with them, in the nit-gritty of the real world. So while its all fine and dandy to dismiss these as stuff and nonsense, they still form a very important of people’s lives in general, even, in their intellectual life . Which isn’t to say that people’s ‘worldview’ shouldn’t be held up to scrutiny, but that any ‘worldview’, by its very nature (of being a conglomerate of reason, assumption, emotions, etc) can be rubbished but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily going to change their view or accept that it is rubbish, just as I may know that my trainers ‘worldview’ is a bit rubbish from a scientific perspective, the fact that it achieves what it needs to achieve means that I’ll overlook it and go along with anyways, (at least until someone can show me an equally effective system that is has scientific rigor behind it).

    I hope that as time progresses and science develops it will become more refined until eventually the ‘separate majesteriums’ of science and religion will merge into one (and I sincerely think they will) … until then we need fight fundamentalist thinking in a much more roundabout way than simple intellectual debate (which is why things like TED are brilliant, because they combine debate with poetry and spoken word and stories).

  2. rockrobinoff Says:

    the placebo effect is totally scientific, as are mental tricks which may have no bearing in reality (Tom Watson imagines when swinging a golf club that he is pulling an arrow out of a quiver at the top of his back swing – he obviously isn’t, and nor does it even look like it, but it helps him, so he does it). that stuff, however, is pure science. repeatable experiment suggests to tom that this utter mental fabrication helps him, and the same might be said of you and your weight loss program.

    however, when it comes to say, the catholics, i take issue. some might say “they provide a sense of community, and a contact with spiritual life. they help me and my family. that is why I am a catholic.” and i might say “the organization you give a few dollars to every week is *directly responsible* for spreading misinformation about AIDS in Africa. how can you continue to call yourself a Catholic?”

    now, that is a debate worth having. it is a debate *every catholic should have* at least with his own conscience. if he doesn’t, then he is a fool, and doesn’t deserve a voice.

    life is a philosophical debate, and if it isn’t for you, you aren’t living an examined life – i.e. one not worth living.

  3. Ben Waymark Says:

    Science may be explain why placebos (or my detox) works, but that doesn’t make it a rational decision to do it. Which is the point I am trying to make really: people just don’t always act rationally. As for life being a philosophical debate, and if you aren’t examining your life isn’t worth living, I’d take great exception to that.

    Some people are driven by a thirst for knowledge and wanting to know themselves and everything around them. Others don’t give a shit and are content to just keep being, and to be honest, I am often jealous of people who can be perfectly happy not really giving a squirt of shit, as they often seem to be in a much better emotional state than most of the intellectuals I know …. If I could, in good conscious, hand my powers of reasoning to Mother Church, The Party (whatever party that be), or Moonie Cum Sum Yung (or whatever his name is) I would …. 😀

  4. rockrobinoff Says:

    I think I am either being misunderstood or you are making assumptions about my position that I do not hold. To be clear: I am *not* stuck in a kind of religion versus science dualism, where I think science is true and religion is false, and therefore, people should be scientific. my argument is purely pragmatic i.e. i think the real world effects of religious life result in a net negative, and to hell with the largely intellectual debate over whether the metaphysical claims of the religious are/ could be true. that debate is interesting but not hugely important.

    all that being said, I cannot accept your defense of ignorance being bliss. you are essentially saying that “if it works for you, go for it” which is incredibly irresponsible, runs contrary to being a good citizen, and no way to live imho. it smacks of a kind of libertarian “i have no responsibility to my fellow man” kind of attitude.

    “people just don’t always act rationaly[sic]?”

    true. and? sometimes people go on a looting riot for a week too. it doesn’t make it ok. and how is it not a rational decision to begin a program that works for you/may work for you? that is science applied. you can always rerun the experiment. hell, it might simply be the discipline applied/ psychological effects that explain it, and giving it a go is perfectly reasoned decision.

    i could say the same thing about joining up with the Mormons if that is what a person needs. however, we have to be able to have that debate, and if they can’t have that debate, then it is a problem.

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