Oct. 3rd, 2009

joreth: (Dobert Demons of Stupidity)
Today's Atheist Meme of the Day:

Intuition and emotion are valuable... but they're of limited use in figuring out what is and isn't true in the external world. They're too subject to rationalization, confirmation bias, etc. And "Does God exist?" is a question about what is or isn't true in the external world. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get through.

Intuition and emotion are indeed valuable.  They make a significant part of the human experience.  They are often part of what defines us as human.  They are wonderful, awesome, amazing qualities.

But they are subjective.  They do not do a very good job of examining what is true.

What is true, is true whether anyone believes it or not.  What is true, is true whether anyone likes it or not.  And what we feel is not always what is true.

This doesn't mean that the feeling itself isn't true.  No, if you have a feeling, you are, for truth, feeling that feeling.

But what you are feeling that feeling *about* may or may not be *true*.  

We have a very good evolutionary advantage for developing brains that *feel* something, based on intuition or hunches or guesses, or even for no particular reason at all.  It's a survival trait.  If you *feel* that there is a big carnivore in those bushes over there waiting to eat you, acting on it but being wrong about it isn't all that harmful from an evolutionary standpoint.  But not "feeling" that there is a large carnivore in those bushes over there waiting to eat you and being wrong about *that*, well, you can see how a person with that trait might not live long enough to pass on the genes for not-feeling.

So feelings and intuition are good for survival.

But they're not good for understanding the world around us past a mere survival standpoint.  

We have a lot of evolutionary history to overcome in our effort to understand the universe.  That's where the scientific method comes in.  The scientific method does a very good job of limiting the effect of our subconscious Pascal's Wager.  But it's a learned skill, not necessarily an innate one.  Oh, the curiosity might be innate, but learning to recognize when we make a logical fallacy, when we're being subjected to confirmation bias, when we're suffering some form of pareidolia, or any of the other reasons Why We Believe Weird Things takes a lot of effort and often requires some sort of backup system, like a friend to give you a reality check.

So, by all means, continue to *feel*.  Continue to experience your emotions and your intuitions.  These are good things and serve a purpose.  But when your intuition, when your emotions, when your *feelings* are trying to tell you something about the external world, something that can be empirically answered yes or no, something other than inside your own head, do a reality check first.  Eliminate confirmation bias.  Eliminate pareidolia.  Ask people who don't already agree with you (otherwise known as cherry-picking the data).  

Unless your version of god is completely and totally hands-off (in which case, he might as well not exist for our purposes here), the question of whether or not there is a god is, indeed, a question of empirical truth.  Either he does or does not exist.  If he is capable of manipulating or interfering with or impacting the external world in any way, he is a question of empirical truth.  In matters of empirical truth, our "intuition" and our "feelings" are not good methods of determining the answer.  They're not supposed to be, that's not their function.  So enjoy them for what they are.  But when answering questions about the nature of the physical, external world, use the proper tool, the one whose function it is to answer questions about the physical, external world, not just save us from predators "in case".  Use science.


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