Minnesota Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › The Modern Atheist And End Of Religious language

The Modern Atheist And End Of Religious language

Greg P.
user 4140221
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 17
And of course it's this sort of thinking from atheists that keeps many marginal theists from exploring the richer life they could have as nontheists. Fortunately it is so self-defeating as to be dismissed with a simple hand-wave, because you disprove your own thesis (that we are no more special than a tapeworm, if I can boil it down) in four ways:

First, you say that "we know" that we are a collections of cells. As far as we can tell, no other animal knows that. That's because we have consciousness and self-awareness superior even to our cousin apes and other intelligent animals such as dolphins.

Second, you say we "go through life pretending" we're exalted. I think some other animals show some limited capacity for creative play and invention, but surely an ability to go through life pretending is unique to our species.

Third, you suggest that if a parasite can control our chemical signaling pathways, it "can control us." That demonstrates a unique awareness of our sense of volition compared to deterministic control (whether or not our sense of volition is an illusion, as I believe)--and your use of "us" shows a sense of commonality or fellow-feeling that is probably not common among animals.

And finally, you seem to be trying to convince me that I am no more exalted than a tapeworm. I notice, however, that you are not writing on the tapeworm's blog to convince the tapeworm that he is no more lowly than I am. You must assume, then, some capacity for reason on my part.

Thankfully you have defeated your own argument and made my point. Thankfully, I say, because a message of "we are no more exalted than the parasites that live in our shit" might be a rather tough sell in the marketplace of ideas.
justin c.
justncase80
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 7

Second, you say we "go through life pretending" we're exalted. I think some other animals show some limited capacity for creative play and invention, but surely an ability to go through life pretending is unique to our species.

The walking leaf is excellent at pretending:

http://youtube.com/wa...­
A former member
Post #: 38
And finally, you seem to be trying to convince me that I am no more exalted than a tapeworm. I notice, however, that you are not writing on the tapeworm's blog to convince the tapeworm that he is no more lowly than I am. You must assume, then, some capacity for reason on my part.

Thankfully you have defeated your own argument and made my point. Thankfully, I say, because a message of "we are no more exalted than the parasites that live in our shit" might be a rather tough sell in the marketplace of ideas.quote




Thanks Justin for the great you tube link and to Gregg perhaps you should study evolutionary biology more instead of philosophy and you will get a sense of how parasites, chimpanzees and other species on the planet can and do pretend just like us. As far as a tape worm blog the tape worm didn't evolve to blog it evolved to take nutrients from it's host in order to survive. Like all species on this planet each evolved to survive and adapt in order to survive.

Remember it is not the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

And finally life results from the non-random survival of randomly varying replicators.

Which will leave one to wonder if we our so much better than say a mosquito who injects parasites into our blood steam and causes malaria and other diseases and who has survived the last 50 million years, and is good at surviving at all costs you will begin to see a broader picture of who really is the best at adapting and changing with the environment.
Greg P.
user 4140221
Minneapolis, MN
Post #: 18
Evolved mimicry is not volitional pretense--even though, ala "Freedom Evolves" and "Elbow Room," our sense of volition is itself evolved.

The fact that we evolved to blog does make us exceptional.

I think it's great that we have had one of the longer exchanges on this discussion board, but I frankly find it all but impossible to believe that I actually have to make the case that full self-awareness and cognition as an emergent property is unique to our species. Yes, some other animals pass the "dot test" and can recognize themselves in a mirror, etc., but we are the only ones that bother performing the dot test on other species.

You seem to think that I'm saying that no other species has evolved to fill a unique niche. I am saying nothing of the kind. And I am in awe of the evolved capability of some animals, especially the mimicry (not pretense, so far as we can determine) of, for example, cephalopods, and the ability of various parasites to hijack the behavior of their hosts for their own benefit (as detailed so beautifully in Carl Zimmer's "Parasite Rex").

And you seem further to think that I am unaware of evolutionary biology, when in fact the last dozen or so books I've read have all been on evolutionary biology and it is by far and away my major interest. I seldom read philosophy. I do, however, read a fair amount of neuroscience, which tells me that the human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe and that as a result, even given all our brain's quirks and limitations, we have evolved capabilities of a different kind than other animals.

Do you get, Carll, that I'm not saying that we didn't evolve? Do you get, Carll, that I'm not saying that other species don't have unique and often amazing evolved capabilities? And do you get that I'm not saying that no other animal has any of the same capabilities that we have? What I AM saying is that our brains are so evolved that they gave rise to an emergent property of what we call, for lack of a better name at this point--"mind."

Yes, we see proto-minds among the other apes (don't refer me to DeWaal, I've read his key works), and some other species--dolphin, elephant, dog. We see the spark of cooperation and tool use and even playful imagination in other species. But it is apparent that their brains--well-adapted as they are for their specific evolutionary niches--have nothing like our capability. And this is not merely a difference in capacity, but of kind. You have read Pinker, and presumably Dennett. Have you not discerned that human nature is something that requires a special kind of explanation? And no, by that I am not saying an explanation outside of natural processes. But I am saying evolution, and the properties that arise from complex evolved systems within our brains, have provided us a unique vantage point and exceptional mental capabilities. Again I will state that the fact that we can even debate our respective hypotheses is evidence for my point.

By your own criteria--an organism's adaptability to adapt to change--humans are exceptional, because we have a unique capacity--a vastly extended phenotype, if you like--to adapt our environment to our needs. Yes, a beaver can build a dam and a bird can build a nest, but beavers don't build airplanes and birds don't build submarines. Our ability to shape our immediate environments to promote personal survivial does not make us "better" morally--it actually makes us quite dangerous to the rest of the biome. But I know you are not arguing about "better" in a moral sense, but in an evolutionary sense. I am not arguing that humans are better at evolutionary survival. It remains to be seen, but I am doubtful. I feel confident that the last life in the universe will be a microbe of some kind, not a human. I think I have been pretty consistent in the kind of exceptionalism that I have been arguing for, and that is our full-blown consciousness. Even books that make the point that our brains are haphazardly evolved--Kluge, The Accidental Mind, Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique--are clear that we have special evolved capabilities. Rather than aiding our survival, our mental abilities might seal our fates, if our technology coupled with our biases or greed cause our mass extinction. But that has always been beside the point--I have never suggested that we are exceptional in the sense that we are more evolved or better adapted to our environment than another organism is.

At several key points in our discussion I have tried to offer an olive branch of compromise and have been met with condescension, Carll. I wish you well and look forward to meeting you. It has been my experience that people come off very differently in person than they do in online discussions. That is my hope for our relationship, because I certainly desire to have cordial relations with as many atheists as possible. We are a minority, often misunderstood and even demonized, and I think it is crucial that we stand together in support whenever possible. But I find that a persistent and apparently willful misunderstanding of points I am trying to make strains that possibility.
A former member
Post #: 39
Well I guess we can agree to disagree than.cool
A former member
Post #: 6
I will stump for human exceptionalism, however. As far as we know, we are the only lifeform capable of the sort of dialog and reflection we're sharing here, and that does make us special. That's as much a cause for humility as for pride, and I am in no way advocating for the deification of humanity--we are as much devils and beasts as we are gods. But neither would I wish for us to overlook our unique (as far as we know) status within the cosmos.

I'll end by saying that I find the godless universe far more mysterious and awesome than I did the Christian universe. Christian cosmology, no matter how much lipstick contemporary apologists try to apply to it, sooner or later reduces to a flat table with a tin bowl over it, the inside of which God has painted with little stars, and this god looks in at his pets and elects the vast majority of them for eternal punishment and elects an elite few to feed his outsized, ravenous ego. This is reality writ small, a tiny, crabbed, cramped view of reality that chokes and suffocates any legitimate sense of awe or wonder. We are the ones with the vast horizons, the deep wells, the open skies. Reality is more expansive and encompassing and satisfying than mythology could ever strive to be, because reality is not constrained by the limit of human imagination the way religion is.


Greg,

With this sort of prose, you could write a series of essays that would rock the world! With your permission, and due credit, I would like to refer to this quote to others who wonder what hope I have as an atheist.

In your latest entry, you eluded to humanity's ability to evolve and to alter the natural world. Here is an article that I read recently that really hits on that cord and the consequences of those actions. Perhaps you have read it. It is not good news.Steven Meyer - End of the Wildconfused
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