My new counter-apologetics segment available on podcast

My new counter-apologetics segment available on podcast March 25, 2013


So a recent Skepticule podcast has become available. In episode 42 I give a segment on doxastic voluntarism, something Andy Schueler has written on here. This is the idea that we cannot just ‘choose’ to believe something, but that there is an automatic, non-conscious threshold which the evidence bridges. Check it out. Listen to the whole podcast, or check my part from 51.35 onwards.

Thanks again to the Pauls for allowing me on the podcast.



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  • Daydreamer1

    Congrats on the podcast – I look forward to listening to it.

    I have been trying to use the argument that belief is not that important – something Christians can find a little antithetical. My point is that belief and the thing you are believing in are separate – hence why belief can be wrong.

    I was led down this path by the simplest of statements – ‘I believe in God’. It occurred to me that it carries no information about God, but instead about the physiological condition of the individual (most likely the individuals brain wiring). I suspected I had been confusing how scientists relate to belief and how religious people do. I would use ‘I believe that the world is spherical because…’ or ‘I don’t believe in God because…’ etc. Not ‘I don’t believe in God’. One statement tells you only about the self, the other the self + information regarding the thing.

    So now when I listen to a religious person I pay close attention to how they say ‘I believe in God’ and try and pick apart references to the individuals psychology and references to data about God.

    This sounds obvious, but very often religious people will muddle them up, using belief as evidence itself. So for example, today I was asked to respect a persons beliefs about evolution and a divine hand in it. I attempted to separate out the two and say they were different. The persons beliefs were not the same as the data and that I respected them differently. This obviously caused confusion. I think because people normally consider beliefs to be ‘about the thing’ and not ‘separate from it’. But if beliefs are just wiring in the brain then they are obviously very different to external facts – though evolution has obviously been under pressure to ensure that there are strong correlations.

    The churches preference for teaching that belief itself is part of the requirement for acceptance to heaven – that belief is what makes you member of the club – has to be part of this. Alongside no doubt the assumption that belief is an activity performed by the soul and not brain wiring.

    Either way; I am currently exploring this thought avenue. What do you think are the consequences of accepting that belief is reflective of only how the brain is wired? (which I guess also goes a long way towards explaining why people transition through agnosticism to atheism, or simply jump denominations etc).

    • Well, it is difficult for me to separate something like this from the fact that I am a determinist, and so cannot separate beliefs or any other state of affairs from the natural laws of the universe.

      • Daydreamer1

        It is true that the natural laws still define the system, for example neurons must for dendrites in 3 dimensional space and charge exchange must conform to the laws of thermodynamics.

        I am not sure here what hat you are wearing though. A belief obviously has no requirement to conform to the laws of the universe – as santa demonstrates. Or do you mean you personally attempt to have beliefs that conform with your understanding of the universe?

        With regard to my comment above (something I still feel I have difficulty explaining) it is akin to the difference between these two items:

        1. A computer built to simulate belief about Dragons, such that it contains information about dragons and many other things, including arguments against dragons. But it also contains parts designed to add something else – an emotional event to the experience of ‘thinking about dragons’, such that the response of the computer when asked about dragons is to ‘feel’ that dragons are real.

        If we accept that the mind is a physical aspect of the brain and that different brain regions are inter-related for different modes of experience then belief is a physical mode of experience of the brain. If a thought is stored physically in neurons then belief is the confluence of the firing of those neurons during ‘thought’ and the triggering of other brain physiology correlated with the sensation of belief through the physical wiring of the brain.

        Neurons firing storing data – other brain regions = no sensation of belief
        Neurons firing storing data + other brain regions = positive sensation of belief

        2. Whether dragons exist or not.

        As such belief is giving us only information about how the computer – the brain – is wired up and ‘I believe in God’ is nothing more than a statement about wiring.

        I believe ‘The polarity measured in the CMB is evidence for the Big Bang’ also occurs in exactly the same way (in the brain) – but this is exactly why science and religion differ so profoundly. Belief is just wiring. The facts speak for themselves whether we get a brain reaction creating the sensation of belief or not.

        I guess most are blind to this due to lack of thought, and evolutions nature of creating neural systems that roughly align belief with experience.

        Now, where were you fitting determinism into this :) ?