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Thread: TC's Atheist discussion Thread - Everyone's welcome..

  1. #526
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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    I'd bet that you're right, but it's important to point out that we are not at all aware of this process. One reason the subconscious and conscious are distinct may well be so that the conscious mind can have an integrity that the subconscious mind cannot.

    Also, we should expand it a bit to include Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, shamans, whatever. The pscychological processes that lead to belief are probably a "human universal." If not present in every individual, at least present in many individuals in every culture.
    Yes, we are almost never aware that our subconscious mind "fills in the gaps". There have been many studies which have shown that people will make up things to support various views. In these studies people are "tricked" into believing something (i.e. led to believe non-important things such as that they knew a made up person in high school), and they will make up facts to support that knowledge (such as that they remember going to a party with the made up person).

    I think these psychological processes are a human universal (of course, there will be variation as with all traits), and presumably the processes that lead to people believing in one religion are similar to those that lead to belief in other religions.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    I think these psychological processes are a human universal (of course, there will be variation as with all traits), and presumably the processes that lead to people believing in one religion are similar to those that lead to belief in other religions.
    Yes, and also (importantly) to disbelief. There are subconscious drives towards atheism that are just as powerful (and often just as evidently driven by desire or neurosis). And also (not wishing to exclude myself) towards agnosticism!! None of this (in itself) counts against any particular belief system; but I think we need to be aware that there's always more to any one person's chosen world view than meets the eye; and certainly, more than he says.

    These last few posts (by mmsbls and science) have seemed like a breath of fresh air in their honest willingness to see beyond the usual attack and counter-attack of this kind of discussion, to the hidden nooks and crannies that lie beneath the surface of our so-called rationalisations. Thank you, both.

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    Senior Member Chris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    I really don't see a poiint in this that contradicts what I said.

    For instance, I never, ever said or implied that Jonathan Edwards "was uninterested in people's acceptance of basic truth" or that the Reformers claimed that the Catholic Church "misunderstood feelings." And I explicitly acknowledged that what you think of as "mystical felt presences" isn't the entirety of religious experience.

    I also haven't said that every religious person has religious experience, but at least that is a reasonable misunderstanding. But are you going to tell me that someone like your son has not had any religious experience? Is he just believing what other people have told him?
    Apologies for misunderstanding what you had written about Jonathan Edwards. Perfectly reasonable and what I would have expected of him. There is no salvation without a religious experience. But perhaps we are not thinking the same thing about that term. If my son is genuinely converted he must have had a 'religious experience' because we read in John ch. 3 that that to be 'born again' or 'born from above' involves a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. But there need not be any memorable feeling. Some people just slowly come to believe. But even when powerful feelings are present, they are the form of a strong conviction that things read in the Bible, or heard from an evangelist, are true. Nothing to do with 'there was a sort of something there' which is what the scientist was creating.

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    Senior Member Chris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MusicSoundsNice View Post
    Tree rings probably wasn't the best example for me to site...That website it right in saying that the disputed date of the flood could mean that the oldest living tree only came into existence after the flood.

    Here's another interesting contradiction which I've found, which may be a bit more substantial than tree ring dating.

    Every year, in Lake Suigestu (A lake in Japan), a specific type of single-celled algae blooms in the spring, and then dies off, leaving a layer of white sediment on the lake bed. For the rest of the year, clay settles onto the lake bed. The result is that annual varves are formed - alternating layers of brown clay and white algae.

    By boring a hole into the lake bed, scientists have counted the layers of varves, and they've counted at least 100,000, suggesting that this lake has been in existence for at least 100,000 years. And just to make sure that these were annual layers, the algae in the varves was also carbon dated at regular intervals, and they confirmed the ages of the layers of sediment:

    I keyed Lake Suigetsu into Google and this is the first thing that came up:

    http://truthmatters.info/2008/04/11/...-old-earthers/

    I don't understand all of it but they are suggesting that the laminations are not necessarily annual. As for the carbon dating, they believe the analysis was done on very tiny samples and, crucially, was not done blind. The researchers were working against a list of expected results. Dating often produces erroneous (that is, unexpected) readings which are attributed by the researchers to contamination or some other cause. If these people were working with small samples they had reason to expect even more anomolous results than usual. I do not what happened in this lab. Possibly (guessing wildly here) they analysed twenty samples for each stratum, calculated twenty very disparate ages, and published the one that best fit the figure they were looking for. They could do that with a good conscience because they already 'knew' what the age was from the other data. That's speculation of course, but it would be interesting to see the raw data including every radiocarbon reading they obtained.

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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    Yes, I think we're in agreement on the important matter. My concern is not to establish whether Christian faith is a 'good thing' according to some other ethical system, but to establish clearly what it is, and what it isn't. In other words, 'having faith' doesn't mean that the Christian is required to believe in a fairy tale (though it may seem like that to someone outside it who doesn't understand), but to 'have faith' in the sense I've been proposing.
    I hope you were not generalising, as your opinions often tend to do. Creationists and folks who take the Bible literally, for example, have you forgotten them? In their view, having faith do require literal beliefs of Biblical stories, word for word.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris View Post
    Apologies for misunderstanding what you had written about Jonathan Edwards. Perfectly reasonable and what I would have expected of him. There is no salvation without a religious experience. But perhaps we are not thinking the same thing about that term. If my son is genuinely converted he must have had a 'religious experience' because we read in John ch. 3 that that to be 'born again' or 'born from above' involves a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. But there need not be any memorable feeling. Some people just slowly come to believe. But even when powerful feelings are present, they are the form of a strong conviction that things read in the Bible, or heard from an evangelist, are true. Nothing to do with 'there was a sort of something there' which is what the scientist was creating.
    So if there is some sort of religious experience involved, the only quesion is how similar it is to other religious experienes. I understand you want to insist on its absolute uniqueness, but as I'm looking from the outside, I'd guess it has similarities to religious experiences in other traditions and communities, including but not at all only within Evangelical Christianity.

    He might not have produced exactly the experience you think believers should have, but he may well be producing something relevant to religious experience in general.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris View Post
    I keyed Lake Suigetsu into Google and this is the first thing that came up:

    http://truthmatters.info/2008/04/11/...-old-earthers/

    I don't understand all of it but they are suggesting that the laminations are not necessarily annual. As for the carbon dating, they believe the analysis was done on very tiny samples and, crucially, was not done blind. The researchers were working against a list of expected results. Dating often produces erroneous (that is, unexpected) readings which are attributed by the researchers to contamination or some other cause. If these people were working with small samples they had reason to expect even more anomolous results than usual. I do not what happened in this lab. Possibly (guessing wildly here) they analysed twenty samples for each stratum, calculated twenty very disparate ages, and published the one that best fit the figure they were looking for. They could do that with a good conscience because they already 'knew' what the age was from the other data. That's speculation of course, but it would be interesting to see the raw data including every radiocarbon reading they obtained.
    I think that the website is wrong in saying that C14 dating is inaccurate - C14 dating is actually pretty accurate in terms of order of magnitude. Even if the best fitting result were chosen (highly doubt this), the actual range would still be well within the accuracy standards in terms of order of magnitude. I am unaware of any drastically inaccurate C14 dating experiments, which have been done with proper C14 dating techniques.

    Also, the website you posted seemed to have quote mined a geologist, to deceive people into believing something which was not meant. The website posted this quote to support its hypothesis:

    It is very unfortunate from a sedimentological viewpoint that engineers describe any rhythmically laminated fine-grained sediment as “varved.” There is increasing recognition that many sequences previously described as varves are multiple turbidite sequences of graded silt to clay units ... without any obvious seasonal control on sedimentation
    When in actual fact, the document it was taken from said the following:
    It is very unfortunate from a sedimentological viewpoint that engineers describe any rhythmically laminated fine-grained sediment as “varved.” There is increasing recognition that many sequences previously described as varves are multiple turbidite sequences of graded silt to clay units (Fig. 6.8) without any obvious seasonal control on sedimentation. The formation of varved silty-clays requires the cessation of melt runoff into the lake during winter to create a closed lake system in which precipitation of clay particulates can take place. In many cases where large ice lobes of glaciers sit or float in lakes, there is year round delivery of sediments and turbidite activity occurs almost continuously resulting in graded laminae that are not true varves. These turbidity currents deposit single or multiple graded (fining up) laminae (Fig. 6.8) and clay laminae may be thin or non-existent as a result of infrequent quiet water conditions in proximal areas. Consistent clay layer thickness and sharp textual division between silt and clay components are the principal diagnostic criteria for varve recognition (Ashley, 1975).

    Current regimes and sedimentary conditions were different in postglacial freshwater lakes no longer in contact with the ice front. Suspended sediment loads were greatly reduced (probably less than 0.1 g/L) and under such conditions, streams enter lakes as overflows and interflows (Fig. 6.7B). Heavy-density bottom flows would only occur during spring floods or as products of slumping.

    Present-day sedimentation in Hector Lake, Alberta (Smith, 1978) probably reflects conditions in many postglacial lakes. During the summer, warm stream water with its suspended sediment enters the lake as overflows and interflows, overriding heavier cold water (Fig, 6.9). Even during reduced winter stream flow, the very cold (~0degreesC) stream water overflows heavier 4degreeC water in the lake. Deposition of sediments is largely by year-round settling with silt and fine sand settling out during the summer and clay during the winter. Smith (1978) reports classical varve couplets in Hector Lake near the inlet delta where there is adequate sediment to produce them but the varves rapidly decrease in thickness with distance, becoming thin laminae or even massive clays only 2km from the inlet. This rapid attenuation is largely related to the inefficiency of overflows and interflows as carriers of sediment along with the small sediment loads. (See also Gilbert and Shaw, 1981).
    It doesn't quite suggest the same thing once you take it in the context of the actual document.

    Also, the website suggested that these varves were not annual, when in fact, what they were doing was taking and old article from 1969, and reading the errors from there. I believe these errors have been corrected, and scientists currently do not question the fact that these layers are indeed, annual.

    I found a full analysis of the webpage you posted here: http://talkrational.org/showthread.php?t=1314

  8. #533
    Senior Member Chris's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MusicSoundsNice View Post
    I think that the website is wrong in saying that C14 dating is inaccurate - C14 dating is actually pretty accurate in terms of order of magnitude. Even if the best fitting result were chosen (highly doubt this), the actual range would still be well within the accuracy standards in terms of order of magnitude. I am unaware of any drastically inaccurate C14 dating experiments, which have been done with proper C14 dating techniques.

    Also, the website you posted seemed to have quote mined a geologist, to deceive people into believing something which was not meant. The website posted this quote to support its hypothesis:
    I was under the impression that C14 analyses had to be treated with some caution, not least because of the possibly of contamination. I don't think anyone is claiming these algal blooms are each a hermetic seal, perfectly preserving each layer. I thought that in a typical experiment you would get a spray of results from which you would have to weed out the ones which were nowhere near your expectations, blaming these either on contamination or the inherent errors in measuring very small quantities of radiation etc. In this experiment (according to the website I quoted at least) the measurements were of necessity made on tiny samples (like one five hundredth of a leaf) which would make errors more frequent. What the graph shows is not a good fit, but a spectacularly good fit. They seem to have hit a coconut every time. It could be that C14 technology has become so sophisticated that this is the norm, and they have been very fortunate in not having any problems with contamination. But there is another possibility. The researchers already have what they consider to be irrefutable proof of the sample age from the layering analysis, so they regard the C14 data as merely confirmation of what they already know - almost a calibration exercise for the C14 machine. If so, they might well feel justified in picking the nearest hit from a wide spray and only publishing this one.

    I will have to trust what you say about the selective quote, I can't penetrate the geology speak. In general, it goes without saying that quotes must not be so selective that they distort the original meaning.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HarpsichordConcerto View Post
    I hope you were not generalising, as your opinions often tend to do. Creationists and folks who take the Bible literally, for example, have you forgotten them? In their view, having faith do require literal beliefs of Biblical stories, word for word.
    Now HC, that is a little hard, and from my point of view very frustrating. I've just spent several posts (and a good deal of time) explaining very precisely what I mean about the difference between 'belief' and 'faith' when I use those words, specifically to avoid the kind of confusion you've just introduced. If you'll read the previous few posts of mine leading up to the one you quote, you will, I hope, understand precisely what I mean by my statement, and recognise that none of my remarks address the issue of belief in specific doctrines as required by different sects. (Indeed, I have nothing useful to say about that.)

    These are extremely complex issues to deal with satisfactorily, and it's necessary to develop arguments, as the necessity arises, over several posts. One simply cannot repeatedly cover all the same gound in every post to avoid being misunderstood by being quoted out of context (as here).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    Yes, and also (importantly) to disbelief. There are subconscious drives towards atheism that are just as powerful (and often just as evidently driven by desire or neurosis). And also (not wishing to exclude myself) towards agnosticism!! None of this (in itself) counts against any particular belief system; but I think we need to be aware that there's always more to any one person's chosen world view than meets the eye; and certainly, more than he says.

    These last few posts (by mmsbls and science) have seemed like a breath of fresh air in their honest willingness to see beyond the usual attack and counter-attack of this kind of discussion, to the hidden nooks and crannies that lie beneath the surface of our so-called rationalisations. Thank you, both.
    I don't think this destroys the idea of rationality: all human thought suffers from these biases, but yet progress toward truth is evidently possible.

    I certainly didn't mean to imply that disbelief isn't biased in the same way. That is a good point. It is an interesting, important observation that although all known human communities have been religious, there seems to have been skeptics in all of them as well. There is evidently something adaptive going on there. Skeptics might be analogous to cheaters in a community of tit-for-tat players.

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    I just wanted to ask for people to clarify a little what they've meant in some of the past few posts:

    Elgarian, in response to mmsbls saying that "psychological processes [which] are human universals" can lead to belief, you say that they can just as well lead to disbelief. I can certainly accept that certain subconscious psychological traits may predispose someone to preferring either religious or irreligious explanations of our world regardless of consulting evidence before making a decision, but would you go so far as to accept science's use of the word 'adaptive' with regards to skepticism - in the strict evolutionary sense, I mean? If so, I would contend that there is only an evolutionary bias towards religiosity - not an equal adaptiveness against it - because consistent, fully-rational skepticism is difficult for us all precisely because it goes against our basic desires to seek patterns and explanations that may not reflect reality.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris View Post
    I was under the impression that C14 analyses had to be treated with some caution, not least because of the possibly of contamination. I don't think anyone is claiming these algal blooms are each a hermetic seal, perfectly preserving each layer.
    Really, preservation isn't an important factor in carbon dating, as C14 measures the decay of radioactive carbon. Even extreme pressures, intense heat, or exposure to magnetism don't affect the rate at which C14 decays. I suppose it could be possible that the samples were contaminated, but for it to give a reading of 30,000 years, it would have to be contaminated by something 30,000 years old. However, judging from the number of results, and the general trend, contamination seems unlikely.
    I thought that in a typical experiment you would get a spray of results from which you would have to weed out the ones which were nowhere near your expectations, blaming these either on contamination or the inherent errors in measuring very small quantities of radiation etc. In this experiment (according to the website I quoted at least) the measurements were of necessity made on tiny samples (like one five hundredth of a leaf) which would make errors more frequent.
    Whilst it is true that anomalous results are removed from mean calculations, that doesn't mean that the results are doctored. Generally, anomalous results are down to random errors, and as they are significantly different from the vast majority of results, they are removed from the mean calculation to make the results more accurate. Also, I believe that C14 dating can be done very accurately with a few milligrams of organic material, so one five hundredth of a leaf would be sufficient to obtain accurate results. However, I'm a little bit confused here, as they were dating algae colonies at lake Suigetsu, and not leaves.

    What the graph shows is not a good fit, but a spectacularly good fit. They seem to have hit a coconut every time.
    Not really; the radiocarbon dating results aren't a precise match to the gradient which you would expect, but they seem pretty accurate in terms of order of magnitude. The general trend is shown in both the varve results and the C14 dating results, and they seem to support each other's reliability as testing methods.

    It could be that C14 technology has become so sophisticated that this is the norm, and they have been very fortunate in not having any problems with contamination.
    Having been trapped underwater, with layers of sediment on top should have protected the sediments from being contaminated. However, even if the sediments were contaminated, that would mean either:

    1. Something 50,000 years old contaminated the sample (which still supports the theory that the Earth is not 6000 years old).
    2. Something younger contaminated the sample (which implies that the varves are actually older than 50,000 years in age).

    But there is another possibility. The researchers already have what they consider to be irrefutable proof of the sample age from the layering analysis, so they regard the C14 data as merely confirmation of what they already know - almost a calibration exercise for the C14 machine. If so, they might well feel justified in picking the nearest hit from a wide spray and only publishing this one.
    Possible, but that would defy the core principles of scientific method - rational, and unbiased analysis of information. The uncalibrated C14 results showed slightly younger ages than the varve counting dates, but then, C14 is only a measure of order of magnitude, and therefore not totally precise. If we're questioning the actual validity of the test, as far as I am aware, the tests were done properly, as no-one has yet come out with a valid attack on the integrity of the scientist who did the test. I doubt someone would have bothered to doctor those results, when they had no intention of proving C14 dating accurate, or disproving a Young Earth when they carried out the test.

    Please don't take this as an attack on personal belief, I am just intrigued into the other side of thinking, and I quite want to see where various degrees of evidence and studies take the topic.

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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    Now HC, that is a little hard, and from my point of view very frustrating. I've just spent several posts (and a good deal of time) explaining very precisely what I mean about the difference between 'belief' and 'faith' when I use those words, specifically to avoid the kind of confusion you've just introduced. If you'll read the previous few posts of mine leading up to the one you quote, you will, I hope, understand precisely what I mean by my statement, and recognise that none of my remarks address the issue of belief in specific doctrines as required by different sects. (Indeed, I have nothing useful to say about that.)

    These are extremely complex issues to deal with satisfactorily, and it's necessary to develop arguments, as the necessity arises, over several posts. One simply cannot repeatedly cover all the same gound in every post to avoid being misunderstood by being quoted out of context (as here).
    Fine, if I have misunderstood. I withdraw the comment above. (Got to get used to this new format, including apparent lack of "edit" button. Frustrating).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Polednice View Post
    Elgarian, in response to mmsbls saying that "psychological processes [which] are human universals" can lead to belief, you say that they can just as well lead to disbelief. I can certainly accept that certain subconscious psychological traits may predispose someone to preferring either religious or irreligious explanations of our world regardless of consulting evidence before making a decision, but would you go so far as to accept science's use of the word 'adaptive' with regards to skepticism - in the strict evolutionary sense, I mean? If so, I would contend that there is only an evolutionary bias towards religiosity - not an equal adaptiveness against it - because consistent, fully-rational skepticism is difficult for us all precisely because it goes against our basic desires to seek patterns and explanations that may not reflect reality.
    This is a interesting question. I think we all agree that there are adaptive mechanisms seeking patterns and explanations without fully rational basis. I'm not sure there is good evidence that these mechanisms are adaptive in that natural selection was the driving force. Evolutionary psychology is still a rather new field, and demonstrating such an adaptation I suspect is rather hard. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that such pattern seeking is not adaptive.

    As Polednice suggests, skepticism is another matter. While it seems to make sense that general skepticism would be useful (many new ideas are wrong), it's not clear how to build in general skepticism to brain mechanisms. Skepticism could come in two varieties. First, hard skepticism - distrust almost everything. This would be rather problematic for early humans since most patterns are either very useful or at least don't hurt much. Hard skepticism essentially would counteract the pattern generating mechanisms. Second, an advanced mechanism that allows pattern generation but requires prolonged thought to verify it. I don't see this as a brain mechanism but rather a consequence of the general thinking capability of the neocortex. Skepticism requires training and effort unlike pattern generation (at least simple pattern generation).

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    Senior Member Almaviva's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HarpsichordConcerto View Post
    Fine, if I have misunderstood. I withdraw the comment above.
    Good, good. I was starting to get worried (this thread has been going *so* well with pages and pages without personal attacks... I believe that nobody would want to go back to the early days of this thread when things were so tense and edgy...)

    (Got to get used to this new format, including apparent lack of "edit" button. Frustrating).
    You mean that there is no edit button, not even for a short time? I didn't know that. Oh well, hehehe, people will have to think twice before they post.
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