On Existence

Before going deep into the difference between belief & knowledge or discussing issues of ethics and morality, we should first and foremost be able to differentiate between existence and non-existence.

Perception is "King"
With our senses as our only interface between our minds and the external reality, we can quickly realize that perception is "king". Our ability to perceive is the ultimate limiting factor.

For this discussion, we can ignore certain questions about the ultimate nature of reality. Philosophical questions such as: "Are we living in a matrix?" or "What if we are just brains in jars?" could be said to be irrelevant. For one, the limits of our perception would prevent us from ever addressing such questions. Secondly, in either scenario, we would still have this perceived reality to deal with.

Existence and Manifestation
The single defining criteria for differentiating existence from non-existence is manifestation. When something manifest itself (and thus we can preceive that manifestation), we would say that that something exist.

Simply put, something is said to exist if we can preceive of its manifestation.

Manifestations may be directly observable or indirectly observed. For example: light is visually observable directly; solid objects can be directly detected by one or more of our senses; gravity can be observed by observing/measuring its effects on matter, etc.

Some may have objections to how existence is defined here.

For example, what about non-manifesting existent objects? Well, it is possible that such objects exist. However, what does it mean to say that such an object "exist"? Firstly, how do you determine that such an object is in existence? If it does not manifest, what criteria are you using to verify its existence? How do we differentiate non-manifesting-existent objects from non-existent-(and therefore, does not manifest) objects? My answer: there is no criteria to differentiate and thus meaningless to say that any non-manifesting entity "exist". In calling such objects "existent", we effectively castrate the word "exist".

What about manifesting objects that we have not had perception (observation) of? This one is simple. That answer would be "we don't know yet". The same criteria applies. If we had not had verifiable observation of the object in question, whatever would it mean to say that it exist?

Acquring knowledge of existence
To correctly acquire knowledge of the existence of entities/effects/etc (therefore, external reality), we must also understand the ability of our senses. We need to realize the limits of perception and how we may be able to improve/support them.

The Scientific Method comes to mind. The methodology of science eliminates error and bias by design. It holds practitioners of science to the highest evidentiary standards - requiring that they produce evidence for their hypothesis that is demonstrable and verifiable with sound and valid arguments. To date, the Scientific Method is the single most reliable method that humanity has to differentiate fact from opinion.

Through science, we have realize the limits of our senses. And has since devised various instruments to assist our senses in our pursuit for knowledge. Instruments such as telescopes, microscopes, spectrometers, spectogram, voltmeters and etc.

We also learnt of the errors our senses are prone of making and how reliable they are. And thus made efforts to rectify or avoid such errors that may arise. For example, we understand that eyewitness accounts, though helpful, is prone to various faults and thus is one of the weaker forms of evidence. Another example would be realizing the importance of collaboration in making observations.

In conclusion...
We can conclude that for factual matters concerning the state of existence, we can reliably utilize the Scientific Method (which is, in a sense, our boosted senses) to detect manifestations to establish the existence of entities or phenomenons.

Given the above discussion, questions about existence is clear cut. If we do not have evidence (that withstands the standards of science) of manifestation, we do not have the "right" to claim existence. In such cases where evidence is lacking, claiming existence is meaningless. It usually demonstrates a lack of integrity or of understanding or even both on the part of the claimant. The correct answer would be "we don't know".

The diametrical answer that claims "X does not exist" in same scenario would also be logically untenable if the claim is absolute. Such a claim in common language would be fine for most intents and purposes. Note that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

What am I?

What am I?

No I didn't suffer from memory loss. Just thinking of some of the labels applicable to me.

I am an Atheist.
I don't believe in gods, goddesses or whatever typical deities most religious folks pay deference to. There is simply no good reason to - No evidence..

I am a Naturalist.
I believe that the natural world is all there is. Tentatively, I have no reason to believe otherwise. I hold the position that all supernatural claims are either false or yet to be properly understood.

I am a Materialist.
I believe that the material world (that we perceive) is all that which we can claim to exist. Simply put, perceived manifestation is the only reliable criteria that we can use to differentiate that which exist and that which does not.

I am a Secular Humanist.
I agree with the position described by the secular humanist manifesto. As the species which literally transformed and controls the Earth, we are in a position of great responsibility. We have the responsibility to safeguard the natural world for our survival if not for greater ideals. We should have the decency to put the knowledge we acquired via the Scientific Method to bring about a better world for all.

I am a Scientific Meliorist.
I believe that we can bring about progress in the world through progress in Science. Better science would no doubt improve conditions. The last few decades is testament to this effect.

Talking about Religion in NS

Anyways, I am bounded by the law not to speak of details of the events occurring during my 2 years of enlistment. That said, I don't have much to talk about that subject anyways. Basically, it's just lots of training everyday.

And now to the main point of this entry: My first conversation with a real-life typical theist.

It was one of those ice-breaker introduction sessions and were supposed to present something interesting about ourselves apart from the usual name-school-hobby-etc crap. Being pretty much involved in learning stuff pertaining to religion & atheism and philosophy & science, that was the only thing I could and want to say.

But hey, I was in the Singapore Army. So I explained that I probably shouldn't go there and end my introduction as another boring dude. Surprisingly, the sergeant gave a green light and I went on with the topic briefly.

I said that I was an atheist.

During the introduction, several common misconceptions about non-believers surfaced.

"So you have no meaning in life/being alive?"

"Where did humans come from?"

" Where did everything come from?"

Then throw in some rather unusual and misled jokes about the atheist answer to those questions and that was pretty much what happened.

The jokes were of no ill-intent. At least, I hope not. But they do represent the misunderstanding the majority of the public have about non-believers. Heck, even the word "satanist" came up.

I explained calmly and, for the most part, it was fine.

The unusual thing was, a few days after that, a religious platoon mate wanted to talk about my atheism. Well, it wasn't really a conversation... much more like a Q&A session.

I gave short and simple answers to his queries. He didn't ask for any elaborations but just carried on asking questions that exemplified his ignorance of what atheists are.

Cue typical theist question:

"So you believe humans came from nothing?"

After my hurried answer, the conversation trailed off to a halt.

I finally had a real life experience of such a situation. And frankly, it was slightly frustrating.

Oh... the tonnes of misconceptions.

Enlisted for National Service

As of tomorrow, 12 June 2009, this blog will cease to be active and lie dormant for quite awhile.

Why? Because I have been enlisted for National Service (ie, conscription). So I will not be around to post anything. Hopefully, when I do get out of camp, I would have something of relevance to post (if I do post at all).

To the people who drop by my blog, go ahead and post on the chatbox - that's what it's for.

Threat of Hell

"If you don't accept Jesus into your heart, you will burn in hell forever."

"You will go to hell if you deny God."

"Infidels! Satan will enjoy torturing your soul!"

Sounds familiar?

The Thought that Counts
I heard the following a couple of times - once, in particular, on the Atheist Experience: "You guys are atheist and hell don't exist for you, why do you care about hell?"

So why do some atheists care about the threats of hellfire from "loving" religious folks? Well, it's the thought that counts.

I don't believe that a hell exist. Neither do I believe that there is a god to send me there. So I don't take offense at the idea that I will be in hell.

If I do take offense, it is actually at the person making the threat. Because he/she thinks that I deserve to go to hell to be tortured for all of eternity. In fact, the threat need not even be made explicit, the very idea that he/she adhere to the religion whose theology states that I deserve to go to hell is disgusting enough.

I'm with Jeff Dee on this:

Fact vs Intention
Some people doesn't seem to get the concept. So I'd thought that I should explain.

Somebody (perhaps even a friend) tells you that you "deserve to be imprisoned in a torture cell on the moon where magical pixies will rip off your toenails and then regrow them over and over again."

The fact is that there isn't a torture cell or magical pixies.

However, it doesn't negate the fact that the person, who made the threat, thinks that you deserve it. In the case of religion, the person agrees with his god that you deserve such a "punishment" for the simple act of disbelief.

How is a supreme deity just to inflict infinite punishment for finite crimes?

How can an omniscient god be considered merciful if he created his creations with the knowledge that he will be sending most of them to hell?

How can such a god even be considered benevolent when he literally created a soul filter?

Channel Discovery

Today, I found a Youtube channel that brightened my day. I haven't laughed so much in a day since... nevermind, I don't keep track of that.

It's ZOMGitsCriss.

Valid points + Frequent doses of humor = Entertainment for atheists.

Here's some of them:

And some more serious videos: