What defines us as athiests is that we reject the concept of a Deity. We assume this posture by using logic and reason. A deity is logically extremely improbable. We then go on to rely on logic and reason to construct our cosmology based on observation, scientific inquirey, rational deduction and so on. We each have a belief system on which our sense of the world is constructed, our reality so to speak.
I've been reading a bit about quantum mechanics and multi universe theories. None of this fits neatly into my cosmology. Even so, the theories are reached by logic that I can follow and can't really dispute at my level of understanding.
To approach concepts like the nature of our consciousness reveals the limits of logic and reason. Logic and reason would ascribe them to chemical reactions in the brain that interperate stimuli. But we only have five senses with which to evaluate the world (if an external world actually does exist!). Is it not reasonable to assume that there are things imperceptable to these five senses? If consciousness is indeed a chemical function of the brain, then we rely on the eyes, the ears, the nose, the skin to give us all the interaction with the physical world and supply all the data that the mind asesses. Can we trust that these mechanism are supplying accurate interperatations of the physical world?
And what's going on in the next person's head? Are we sure it's similar to what's going on in our own? Is each person a unique universe? Do they really connect in a physical space? One of the theories is that all matter is a congealing of possibilities enacted by consciousness, that in fact the universe does not exist on it's own without consciousness to define it. This begs the question, do any of you exist outside my head?
What I'm getting at is that religion provides a rudimentary construct for us to understand and relate to the universe. I believe our logical, reasonable, scientific cosmology is no less an invention of our mind than religion and is dependent on your intelligence level, understanding of science and philosophy, life experience, indoctrination to other cosmologies, level of inquirey, and psychological makeup among many other factors.
Who are we to be so disdainful of religion when our concept of reality is no less an invention of our minds? Is it essential to the human condition to have a cosmology? If it is, doesn't religion provide an essential construct for some?
I think I see what you are saying. You are either arguing for solipsism or you are merely exploring what it would take, personally, to change your accepted views to something dramatically different than what you previously held. Probably the latter, yes?
For me, I try to avoid "believing in" things. I believe things, but not "in them". On issues of philosophy and science, I have committed to care deeply for one thing and one thing only; truth. So, it would not be too difficult for me to accept a major change in my worldview, provided that the evidence is sufficient to warrant it. For some, like religious folk, their whole lives hinge on believing in something and it is very difficult to not feed your own self delusion to support it. I have done this same thing in other ways. I once let fear and love allow me to be delusional about the nature of a relationship and I resisted/subconsciously ignored blatant evidence to the true nature of it. So, I can certainly see how something like that could be very difficult for some people.
I think, ultimately, we must always be willing to challenge our most trusted notions no matter how endeared we are to them. As long as they continue to stand, we can be reasonably sure we have the truth. And if they don't, then we must investigate.
I think you are getting at what I see as the actual point of solipsism. The point of solipsism isn't that we can never know anything; the point is that there is no clearly defined measure of absolute reality--we have to do the best we can on our own.
Mike, I do apologize for not reading your entire reply here but I've heard this this angle before and I get a sense of where you are going with it. People used to go on and on about Einstein's relativity and the theoretical component of time changing the nature of reality and whatnot but the fact remains that for our daily experiences Newton doesn't break down.
The nature of quantum mechanics is super cool and very mysterious to me, just like the cosmos was to Bronze Age minds. There are wonderful things to speculate about but it all reduces to naval gazing unless you sit down, study the observations and start doing the math. The math is far beyond my skill set, but that doesn't validate projecting some sort of consciousness to it all - unless you are interested in writing science fiction. I don't mean that in a derogatory way, for good science fiction is cutting edge philosophy in that it jumps ahead of the technology to explore the social/world view issues that might potentially arise. Great science fiction will actually capture the imaginations of the scientists capable of doing the math - even if all they have to offer is criticism.
Exploring the ideas is wonderful and thought provoking, but there are just no grounds for debate unless you have a solid foundation in the fundamentals of the field itself.
You're absolutely right. I wouldn't begin to debate the validity of quantum physics. I simply don't understand it at anything but a very superficial level. And perhaps I'm not really being very clear about the focus of my discussion here. I'm just thinking out loud.
But what I'm writing about is not which cosmology is correct, but the acceptance that mine may not be correct and what the implications of that are. I see it as having distinct parallels with what someone who fully embraces a religious cosmology would have to go through to significantly change it. Is my disdain for the people who embrace religious cosmology justified when my cosmology may be a fiction also?
Disdain for a cosmological view derived from a desired end result is perfectly justified when you have worked to derive your cosmological view by studying the evidence. To me, it is analogous to how I might feel if I sat on a jury taking notes and studying the evidence for three days only to wind up in a room with 11 other people: 6 of whom say, "I think that little [ethnic minority slur] is guilty"; 3 of whom say, "There is a lot of evidence but I can't decide because you just never know for sure."; and only 2 who are actually prepared to engage in a real review of the testimony and evidence.
Science may often be 'wrong' but, for the most part, it doesn't derive it's results by determining which ones would be better leveraged for acquiring social control. There is an inherent honestly to that process that deserves much more respect than the conclusion, "I don't know therefore goddidit AND furthermore god wants you to give me money."
When science is wrong it is rarely pointed 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Galileo's concept of relative motion is still important to grasping Newton's concepts of motion which are only adjusted for conditions of high velocity/gravitation in Einstein's special relativity. Quantum mechanics might change our understanding of the underlying mechanisms but that understanding still doesn't undermine the validity of Galileo's, Newton's, or Einstein's observations.
So when someone just throws all three of these great minds out in favour of the unfounded postulation that, "My imaginary god is bigger than all your geniuses," I feel that my disdain is fully warranted. At least when science is wrong it has a systematic mechanism for self correction that doesn't require rationalizing previous observations.
Disdain for religion is different than disdain for the people who subscribe to it. Where I come from, to 99% of the people Newton is a cookie with figs in it and relativity has to do with how close your wife is to your sister. These people didn't cast out anything. They were never exposed to these ideas in a meaningful way. They accepted a view of the world that I find laughable because every force in their lives worked to make them accept it.
That doesn't make them any less misguided or dangerous when they mob up. I guess I'm just playing a little sympathy for the devil here. Are we really able to be so confident that there isn't any glass in our houses before we go throwing stones?
The only glass in my house (my house being the scientific world view) is the inherent bias of politically oriented committees of scientists and I'm eager to see that glass smashed as soon as possible. Some of the internal glass fixtures, theories that will eventually be proven errant, will be smashed to ruin to the sound of my applause - because I know that we don't know everything and I'm eager to find out where we have taken steps in the wrong direction.
World views based on a fallacious sense of superiority derived the unfounded claim, "my dad is bigger than your dad," are equally repugnant in the hands of individuals as institutions. A significant portion of my family laughs at "Newton's Laws of Motion" because the mere uttering of that phrase entreats within them a mental image of Cosmo Kramer's arch nemesis rolling down a flight of stairs. Their intellectual shortfalls are NOT what evokes my disdain; my disdain is triggered by the arrogance they exude in arguing against that which they know for a fact resides outside of their mental sandbox.
Can't it? It has proven to be many times in the past. Flat earth, Earth is the center of the universe. Powered flight can never happen. If you transport cattle at over 35 miles per hour it will kill them. Man can never reach the moon. Traveling faster then sound is not possible. Or one of my favorites from a few centuries back 'Everything that can be known is already known. The only remaining advancements in science are in the realm of precision.' I really like that one, as it came from the head of the Royal Academy of science. I'd say each of those is right up there with any wrong claim theists have made, and were all known, proven scientific fact, as well as being resoundingly wrong. though in fairness, the cattle one was paid study and it was later discovered that the 'scientists' were poisoning the cattle and forging everything to prevent the train owners from taking the jobs of the cattle drivers.
Though all that said, I still bet on science. I just see it as a danger sign when some one praises one group and damns an other, for the same actions. Science can be as corrupt as any religion. And religions can be just as true and noble as science at its best. Any one that neglects to review and check motivation from either side is acting on faith and not reason.