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Unread July 10th, 2006, 03:20 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Tom said:
If my beliefs were based only on what I 'like', I would have hardened them long ago. My hardened beliefs are based on what I can prove; the rest of what I believe is based on my minimalist bent.
I offer this not in contradiction of what you say (as I understand where you are coming from, I think) but as a broader perspective in basic agreement. A different way to look at this is that your beliefs are based on what you like - in that all our behavior, including the adoption of hardened beliefs (perhaps, especially hardened beliefs) is the result of seeking that emotional payoff - that comes from satisfying our likes - and avoiding our dislikes.

It so happens that you, and some others here, like things that can be intellectually examined and that yield to some form of objective proof. This is not to say that you will always find that truth infallably - or that you will always have enough evidence to discern that truth perfectly. Just that you are happiest entertaining beliefs that seem, after careful examination, to accurately reflect the real state of the universe, as best you can determine.

This may seem pedantic, but it is really an important distinction - because the majority of persons out there don't share this like with you. Truths that approximate objective reality offer fairly small emotional rewards - compared with other truths that come from religion or magic or the minds of charismatic leaders. Is it more fun to believe that we evolved over millions of years in tiny steps that had no purpose or direction, that we are the result of a lot of chance and probability in the mixing of genes within a selective enviroment - or, that we come from seeds planted in the Andes by an advanced civilization from another solar system, 200,000 years ago? Well, I suspect I know your answer, but you can see my point, can't you?

Most of humanity have chosen the more emotionally satisfying rewards offered by those alternate views of the natural world. What causes a few, the minority, to eschew those easy pleasures for the harder to understand and much less celebrated truths of science?

These differences are not limited to the uneducated. Even among scientists I see a gradation in this dimension of belief. Many scientists pursue fields and proofs within them that align perfectly with their ideological beliefs. Michael Behe and William Dembski come to mind as perfect examples. But, even the best scientists probably have areas of belief that they protect from science. How many otherwise excellent scientists believe that homosexuality is an unnatural disease of the mind - rather than the overwhelming evidence that it's a normal behavior of complex evolved sexually-reproducing organisms. More than a few, I'd guess.

The interesting question for me, is not whether we are designed to seek emotional rewards for what we believe, as I can't see any other plausible mechanism for that, but what makes us different from each other in that regard. What makes some of us feel good when a scientist says that homosexuality is a disease of the mind - and others feel good when a scientist, like Joan Roughgarden, says the opposite - even regardless of the quality of the underlying arguments?

I suspect that some of us have developed a general antagonism toward superstitious belief. In my case I think I also have an antagonism toward mob-belief. I have never trusted groups of people who seem to embrace any belief system with a lot of emotion. I am especially distrustful of groups that claim the inferiority of minority or weaker groups - like Christians claiming that homosexuals are evil. I tend to be highly skeptical of whatever beliefs such ideologically motivated groups might advocate.

I admit that I would prefer to reject their beliefs and would prefer to accept uncritically those who contradict such beliefs. I'm not sure how good I'd be at being objective on such questions - although, of course, if I could claim to be honorably objective, no matter the outcome, that would make me feel good about myself.

To me, this is an interesting area for further examination.

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