On 3/12/2012 05:50, John Clark wrote:
On Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 1:52 PM, Bruno Marchal<marc...@ulb.ac.be>  wrote:

  Do they really have to state that they assume existence exists?

You mean that primary matter exists? Yes that is an hypothesis.

So your complaint is that a biologist like Richard Dawkins doesn't start
all his books with "I assume matter exists". Bruno, that's just nuts.

A primary matter assumption is different from just a 'matter' assumption. The matter assumption can be reached through one's senses, it's a rather trivial, weak hypothesis to make. The primary matter assumption is that matter is ontologically primary and in some cases, that everything is just matter and nothing else (such as mind or math) exists independently. A non-primary matter assumption could for example be that matter is merely how some math looks from the inside - this does solve a variety of other problems (such as why "something" instead of "nothing" or all kinds of silly paradoxes found in popular religions (it makes no sense to "create" or "destroy" math, nor does it make sense to change it)).

Either way, one should be clear what their assumptions are and try not to pretend like they don't exist or keep them hidden.
  It would be great if I could explain exactly why there is something
rather than nothing but unfortunately I don't know how to do that, but a
atheist does not need to,

I am not sure anybody needs that

A atheist would need that if a theist could explain why there is something
rather than nothing, I would be in a pew singing hymns next Sunday if they
could do that, but of course no God theory can provide even a hint of a
hint of a answer to that.

Nobody can answer that question without having some assumptions, and assumptions tend to be of the provably unprovable manner - or theological, or religious (as in they can never be reached through senses only and require some act of faith to believe them, no matter if evidence points with high probability that your assumption is right).
I have no problem with those who say that they are not interested in such
or such question.

Well, personally I feel that anybody who has not even thought about it a
little would be a bit dull, and somebody who thinks about it a lot is
probably wasting time that could be more productively spent. A important
part of genius is to know what problem to go after, it should be profound
enough to make a big increase in our understanding but not so difficult as
to be out of reach. For example in Darwin's day there was no possibility of
figuring out how chemicals turned into life, but a real first class genius
might be able to figure out how one species can change into another, and
that's exactly where Darwin set his sights. But for Darwin's ideas to come
into play you've got to start with a reproducing entity; so he could
explain how bacteria turned into a man but not how chemicals turned into
bacteria, so Darwin explained a hell of a lot but he didn't explain
everything nor did he (or Dawkins) ever claim to.

Only with those who assert that it is a false problem, a crackpot field

It's not a crackpot field but I think you would have to admit that it does
attract more that its fair share of crackpots.

and this by letting believe that science has solve or dissolve the
question, when it is hardly the case.

But Dawkins has never done that, never, and being a biologist most of his
books concern how the laws of chemistry (which is already something as he
would be the first to admit) produced life, including advanced life like
you and me. And Dawkins does not claim he has a complete explanation for
even this much more limited (although still very profound) problem. Science
in general and Dawkins in particular can't explain everything, but they can
explain a lot. Religion can explain nothing, absolutely nothing.

That depends on one's definition of religion. Most popular religions provide no explanation and only seek to fill in the explanatory void that some people have - they tend to do this rather badly, to the point where they don't even care about logical consistency. Most such religions cannot be believed or even seriously considered by anyone who values the search for truth. Personally, I like to think of a religious belief as an provably unprovable belief, however I'm not against the general concept. Why? We all need these provably unprovable beliefs to function - it doesn't matter if we're agnostic atheists or something else entirely - we all have these beliefs. I'll try to illustrate by giving some examples of such religious beliefs (not all of them compatible with each other), some held by atheists, agnostics, theists: - Belief that matter is ontologically primary, that is, there is nothing by some particular structure that is our world. - Belief that arithmetical sentences (or example in Peano Arithmetic) can be assigned a truth value
- Belief in consistency of arithmetic
- Belief in soundness of arithmetic
- Belief in the Church-Turing Thesis
- Belief that one would survive with a digital brain given a substitution at the right level(computationalism)
- Belief in string theory as representing the structure of our reality
- Belief that reality can be represented consistently as a mathematical structure
- Belief in existence of consciousness (self)
- Disbelief in existence of consciousness, for example if it contradicts the primary matter assumption
- Belief in a White Bearded Man in the Sky to have "created" this universe.
- Belief that this White Bearded Man in the sky could change mathematical truths or do other inconsistent nonsensical things (or that omnipotence-like properties even make any sense).
- Belief in the continuity of consciousness
- Disbelief in the continuity of consciousness
- Some particular Set Theory realism
- Subjective Idealism
- Structural Realism
- Belief in some particular interpretation of QM, for example MWI vs Copenhagen - Belief that you exist here and now and are located in some particular indexical situation
- Belief that the next observer moment will be experienced
- Belief that there were consistent past observer moments which correspond to our memories
- ...

Some of those beliefs can be greatly justified by evidence, while others are unjustified. All of them are provably unprovable, even given the right evidence. Some of them can be believed with high confidence given the right evidence, others match certain heuristics which indicate a likely to be true theory (such as Occam's Razor), while others fail such heuristics and yet are still believed by less rational means (authority, indoctrination, etc).

The point that I'm trying to make here is that *everyone* has provably unprovable assumptions they take with high confidence as true and base their *behavior* on them. Some assumptions are likely true, others are likely false. We can use some heuristics or some uncertain logics to better decide which of them are more likely to be correct, however we can never know for certain they are correct. We can make experiments that either falsify some of them, or keep confirming that they still work. The main difference here is that some people have good standards when picking their assumptions, thus they have a higher chance of being right, while others people have no standards at all, or worse and thus are likely to pick the wrong ones.

The hard body problem is the question of its existence, its nature,
ontological, or epistemological, and where it comes from.

The answer to the hard body problem is 42; but now comes the really
difficult part, clearly explaining exactly what the hard body problem is.

I did like a lot "the selfish gene", but was rather disappointing by its
other "philosophical book", where

The Selfish Gene was one of the best books I ever read and Dawkins has
advanced philosophy far more than anybody who lists their occupation as
"philosopher" on their tax form.

he [Dawkins] lacks rigor in the large, and make believe that science give
credits on his pseudo-religious opinion.

Wow, you're calling someone who hates religion religious, how novel, I've
been a atheist a long time but I never heard that putdown before!

I think the point Bruno is trying to make is that an atheist will have plenty of religious assumptions, not all of them correct. For example, there are plenty of atheists who believe in both computationalism (digital mechanism) and in primary matter, that is shown to be an inconsistent belief by a variety of thought experiments. Others deny consciousness/their own experience in attempt to stay consistent, but the only way they learned of anything was through their own experience - thus their beliefs are only consistent when considered from a 3p perspective, but none of them experience this 3p perspective directly!

My own opinion of Dawkins' religion related books is that he mostly attacks some popular religions which are obviously false (due to many inconsistencies), but he himself seems guilty at times of some unfalsifiable assumptions - which are religious in nature (provably unprovable). His assumptions might be right in many cases, but they are religious in nature.

fanatic atheists and fundamentalist religious people are ally in
demolishing the moderate agnostics interested in the field.

Yes but you almost make that sound like a bad thing. At least
fundamentalist religious nuts make a clear stand on how they wish to live
their life, and atheists do too, they feel that the probability of God
existing is just too low to worry about and so plays no role in their life,
but agnostics are just fence sitting wimps who give religion FAR more
respect than it deserves.
My personal opinion on it is: the theistic definition of ``God'' used by atheists has some inconsistent properties (for example, omnipotence, but it's just one of many problems), thus I cannot even call myself an atheist because the definition itself is broken - it won't "compile" to a valid concept. I could say I'm de-facto atheist in that sense, but if I don't even think the term atheist makes any sense ("I don't have a belief in #<concept doesn't compile>"), why should I bother calling myself that.

That said, the word God itself is used by many in more liberal forms, for example to imply "everything" or "totality of consciousness" or "existence", in which case it might be fine to retain it, but since it's so subjective and personal as to what the definition is, I'd rather we just be more exact about what we're talking about and use more specific terms.

Being agnostic about more specific theories is perfectly fine - we cannot know which of our assumptions are right and if we have to bet one some someday, we can, but I don't see why we should have undying belief in our theories - they will either work or they won't, and not all theories are scientifically testable (falsifiable by direct physical evidence), but they are testable. Consider computationalism: if true, you survive, if false, the next observer moment doesn't exist, you would never be able to confirm the falsehood. Consider MWI: same situation, only in this case, with a quantum suicide experiment. Consider surviving with a digital brain or in a q. suicide experiment, does that confirm computationalism or MWI? Not exactly, we cannot know with absolute certainty that the nature of consciousness was unchanged or that it will stay unchanged in the future (for computationalism), or that you weren't just a very lucky experimenter (in case of MWI).

John K Clark

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