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It is in the prosecution of some single object, and in striving to reach its accomplishment by the combined application of his moral and physical energies, that the true happiness of man, in his full vigour and development, consists. Possession, it is true, crowns exertion with repose; but it is only in the illusions of fancy that it has power to charm our eyes. If we consider the position of man in the universe,—if we remember the constant tendency of his energies towards some definite activity, and recognize the influence of surrounding nature, which is ever provoking him to exertion, we shall be ready to acknowledge that repose and possession do not indeed exist but in imagination. - Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Sphere and Duties of Government (The Limits of State Action) (1854 ed.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Talking with A Believer: How did it Start?

As I briefly mentioned before, it came about that I started talking to George for two reasons:
  • I got/am kinda tired of talking to "liberals"; AND
  • I have read the books by prominent atheists: Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens.
The first has been a long time brewing. Discussing pretty much anything with American 'liberals' -- not to speak of those sad pathetic characters who 'see both sides', are 'practical', and/or are socially 'liberal' but economically 'conservative', uggh -- is frustrating and depressing. The reality of any situation is actually pretty easy to determine (for example, see this on the current Israel/Gaza horror) and the appropriate moral judgment (the universality of morals) is all too obvious. The state of 'liberalism' in American is crap: Just take the Democrat's complicity in Bush's "War on Terror" and the delusions in effecting change by voting for a war criminal. It is also the case that most 'liberals' are not serious in their politics. By this I mean their beliefs come from internalizing popular/public 'liberalism'. There is very little thought or effort put into their beliefs.

As for the second, after reading these atheistic attacks on religion/dogma I am very interested in understanding the 'religious'. I truly do not understand why one would believe something for which one has no proof (ie. on faith).
Quick digression: I believe the "way to Truth" is via the Scientific Method. Conjecture, evidence, experiment, and theory is essientially a methodology to incrementally correct one's guesses. This method can not prove something true, but it can prove something false or more correct.
I have also been reading for some time philosophy books and following blogs on morality, ethics, Consequentialism, Freethinkers, and radical movements in history. All of this is because I am trying to come to a good and true epistemology. At this point I have pretty much settled on Naturalism, Stoicism, Humanism, Utilitarianism, and Scientism and pull from them what I want when I want. So I am curious: Why do people believe in Gods and have religious epistemologies? And why are these epistemologies believable?

So, one day I was in the cafeteria at my work place early in the morning for breakfast. I noticed a person reading/studying something pretty seriously. I had noticed this person on several occasions doing this. While there are many many things to study intently, the Bible is an obvious and popular one. Given that I work in high-tech it was not unreasonable to also guess something nerdy. I gave the odds about 50/50. So I introduced myself and asked saying something like (from memory): "Excuse me. I have noticed you here studying something. Would it be the Bible?" He said "Yes." I was half way there! I then asked the 'big' question: "I am an atheist. I am looking for someone religious to discuss philosophy and religion with. I am only going to bother you once: Here is my [work] email address. If you want to talk, send me an email and we can set it up."

It may seem strange or very forward of me to ask in this way, but it really was not. First, I really did nothing more than leave the decision in his hands; he had all the power and so would probably not feel pressured. But more importantly I made one large assumption: Anyone studying the Bible, at work, in the cafeteria, on more than 3 occasions, is in all likelihood someone who takes it seriously. From this, it is not unreasonable to conclude that an invitation to talk about his religion would welcomed because nearly all religions are looking to convert people. This is not meant to be insulting. I believe there are very few discussions on matters of import where the participants are not looking, in some degree, to convert (ie. convince) each other. I also do not mean to say that converting me immediately came to his mind (nor did he ever try as we shall see). But, I believe that because of certain aspects of human psychology, discussing particular topics such as religion, politics, economics, morality, and ethics, the participants are to some not insignificant degree looking to convert (ie. convince) others that their belief(s) is the correct one. At this point all that might seem like reasonable assumptions, but you are still wondering: Why did he announce himself as an atheist? Well, I pretty much assume that the religious look at atheists the way I just described looking at the religious: Incredulous. Even people who I consider only just barely religious have a hard time when I answer the question: 'What happens after you die?' with: "Nothing. That is it, final, finished." I figured this would more likely be a hook rather than a turn off.

That was it! I had introduced myself to someone who was religious and seriously so: He met the criteria of seriousness that 'liberals' do not possess and an epistemology I can not understand anyone having. I was very excited!

So far (reverse chronological):
  1. George introduces himself...
  2. Before I introduce George...
  3. Religious Moral/Ethical Decision Making
  4. Moral/Ethical Decision Making

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