Saturday, July 21, 2018

Examining Objectivity

Describing statements or reasoning as Subjective means that their validity depends on (is subject to) who is making them.  While it may well be objectively true that mushrooms are good food based on analysis of their nutrients, composition, and demonstrated absence of toxicity, it is not a true objective statement to assert that I like mushrooms and I think they are good, taste good, and are nice to eat.  Some people can truthfully make that statement, but I cannot.  So the truth of that statement is subject to the condition of who is making the statement.

An objective statement is one that anyone can make without changing its veracity status.  Mushrooms often have a rubbery texture. This is demonstrably true whether I say it or someone else does. It is a statement in objective concordance with reality rather than a personal value judgement.  If I wanted to defend or explain my disinclination to eat mushrooms, I might appeal to objective facts such as this, followed by an ultimately subjective statement such as, "and I don't like rubbery things to be in my mouth. Bleah."

Whatever flavor mushrooms may or may not objectively have, to my subjective tastes this alleged flavor does not offset the most unpleasant feeling of rubbery fungus between my teeth.  But I am getting a little bit off track I see.

Objectivity roughly means the ability to reach the same conclusion as anyone else.  More precisely it means the ability to reason or reach a specific conclusion that is determined by the outside reality of things rather than predetermined by who you are or where you were born.

I assert that it is not possible for a religious person to reason objectively about religion.  That was certainly true for myself once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away.  But why would it be universally true?  It's because "My religion is true" and "I like mushrooms" are both subjective statements that only certain people can make, and not objective conclusions that should or even could apply to everybody.

By definition a religious person believes in or accepts a religious conclusion a priori.  When one asks a religious person to reason about a substantive question of religion one finds that there is already a conclusion in place that the person must reach.  He is not free to even consider certain possibilities, such as that this religion is false or that a specifically believed religious premise or claim is wrong.

"But surely," you say, "It is not impossible for an intellectually honest religious person to suspend belief and consider a question objectively."  Perhaps, but how would we know if or when that ever happens?  More to the point, how would he know?  The brain is very adept at concealing intent from itself and forcing reasoning processes into a predetermined outcome, leaving the Reasoner to invent whatever reasons it needs.  This is called Motivated Reasoning and it in no way needs to be at a conscious level of awareness or intent.  A religious person can be completely unaware of being controlled by motivated reasoning.  He might not be at all aware of whatever feats of cognitive gymnastics he had to perform in order to get to the necessary pre-determined conclusion, and can even be cognitively blind to egregious fallacies and errors he may be committing.

The simple fact is that when someone needs one conclusion to be reached over any other, or is invested personally, emotionally, socially (and yes - often financially) in one outcome over another, that person will not reason objectively, full stop.  Even if by some chance that person reaches a valid conclusion, the conclusion and more importantly the process cannot be relied upon.  It is unreliable, and therefore wrong even if accidentally valid on occasion.

It is useless therefore to ask a religious person to reason through questions of, for instance, whether their religion's origin story is factual (historically accurate), or whether testable claims made by the religion are supported by the evidence.  Whether gods exist and sometimes modify or directly influence events the physical universe.  As James Randi was fond of saying, "Those who believe without reason cannot be convinced by reason."  They are playing a fundamentally different game. It may look and sound a bit like reasoning, but it isn't reasoning. It's justifying a belief, also known as Apologetics.

To which the religious person may reply with turnaround: "Well your atheism is just another belief!  You are motivated to believe my God doesn't exist because you need that to be true."

Bollocks.  Boll.  Locks.

Non-belief is just another belief in the same way that OFF is a TV network and not collecting stamps is a hobby.  Never playing tennis is a sport.  Being dead is a lifestyle.  Baldness is a hairstyle.  None is a breed of dog one owns as a pet.  And accusing me of having "just another belief" is an admission that mere belief is not an intellectually honest or sound position to hold in the first place.

I neither need a religious premise to be true nor do I need it to be false.  But back in the day when I did need a religion to be true and when I was invested in it, it seemed totally true.  If it were objectively true, it should still seem at least a little bit true now, even though I no longer need anything it has. However once that link breaks and Motivated Reasoning is no longer operating in one direction or the other, objective conclusions are possible to reach.  Reliable conclusions can be reached - not just one-off conclusions, but replicated and documented ones that anyone can get to.

Do I need there to be no gods because if there were, they would want to punish me?  On the contrary.  If I thought that, I would be motivated to believe in gods, not to disbelieve.  "But you really need there to be no Hell, because you love your sins and you are for sure going there!"  No, I certainly am doing no such thing.  If I really thought there was such a thing as hell, once again, I would be strongly motivated to defy logic and evidence and believe differently.

I am not going to try to convince a religious person that I am a good and ethical person worthy of the best of all possible afterlife scenarios.  It is an unacceptable powerplay and oppressive control tactic to make people assert their worthiness to the satisfaction of some goddamned self-righteous religious authority, and it ain't gonna happen.  But if I needed to, I could prove beyond doubt that I am above ethical reproach by all the major gods or goddesses in most popular storybooks.  Except for some of the wackier and capricious rules like weird hairstyles, removed body parts, the wearing of silly hats, or arbitrary cultural constructs like calendar-based numerological and astrological observances.  And if the only crime that can be laid at my feet in some sort of post-mortality reality TV show eviction episode is that I did not believe in some bullshit that went against all logic and evidence, then the producers can kiss my big, bare, pasty white ass.

I would be happy to accept the reality of gods or goddesses provided A) evidence concordant with no other ordinary explanation were produced, and 2) satisfactory explanations for all the evidence against gods were also produced.

In short, either produce a specimen for examination and/or interrogation, or fuck right off with this 'gods' bullshit and let us hear no more about it.

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