Nov. 3rd, 2009

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

"We can't prove or disprove God with absolute certainty, so I'm going to trust my intuition" is a terrible reason to believe in God. There are thousands of religious beliefs, many completely contradicting each other. And every believer's intuition says something different. How do we tell which of these beliefs is right? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get acros
s.

It's so frustrating to be presenting logic and reason and evidence, only to have someone respond "If you felt what I felt, you would KNOW that there is a [insert supernatural claim here]."

The problem is that EVERYONE who has that supernatural claim, has it because he has "felt" it's "truth".  They can't all be correct.  In fact, we happen to have evidence of some very specific individuals that they are not correct.  Some are mentally ill.  Some are physically damaged (as I tweeted yesterday, hyperreligiosity is a symptom of epilepsy and brain damage and can be induced medically).  Some are scam artists and frauds and don't believe a word of their claims.  Some are genuine believers who have been scammed by demonstrably false claims.

Everyone believes their own intuition when they make declarative statements like this.  Since they can't all be right, why should I believe that yours is the right one over the millions of other claims who are just as vociferous, just as convinced, that their claim is the right one?  And why should I even believe my own?

"A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it.  The truth is the truth even if nobody believes it." ~David Stevens.  This is why we have the scientific method.  It reduces the potential of human flaws like confirmation bias, mental and physical barriers, and fraud.  It makes no sense at all to believe intuition, knowing what we know about human fallibility, without empirical, independently-verified evidence to support it.  

Intuition is very important.  It's where we should begin.  It is what gives us the ideas and perhaps even the creativity to begin investigation.  But it is not where we should stop.  We must be willing to let go of our most cherished beliefs if the evidence does not support it.  And, as mentioned in a previous Meme post, every single time we have had the ability to investigate a supernatural claim about the universe, a natural explanation has turned out to be the answer.  

So, with millions of people all offering conflicting claims of personal intuition, and thousands of experiments proving them incorrect, and each time an experiment can be done, it has always proven it incorrect, why would I choose to believe someone's unsubstantiated personal intuition?  It's always been wrong before, and I have no way to distinguish the wrong ones from the potentially-right ones without independent, corroborating evidence.  

No, it is safer to assume that nothing special is going on ... until someone can prove that something special is going on.  The odds are in favor that nothing special is going on.  But, if your intuition is telling you that something special is going on, by all means, investigate it.  And when you have proper, empirical, independent evidence to support your intuition, then I will re-evaluate my position that nothing special is going on.

But your intuition alone is not good enough.  If it were, then what's to stop his intuition from being good enough?  And hers?  And theirs?  And every other crackpot in existence, past, present or future?  Intuition is fallible, so you need to give me something a little better to work with.

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