Monday, June 20, 2011

Quotable Me

Previously I posted some memorable quotes from various thinkers on religion, atheism, skepticism and other topics that I'd previously posted on Twitter. Now I've compiled the tweets containing my own thoughts on those subjects. Some of these ideas are mine, but many of them are distillations of what I've learned from reading and listening to others.

Here are some bite-sized thoughts on Christianity:
  • Even if Christianity somehow turned out to be true, 99% of Christians would still believe in it for terrible reasons.
  • To most Christians, the Bible consists of the NT and a few OT bits like Genesis and Psalms. Books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy don't even exist.
  • Why didn't God (a perfect communicator) convey criteria for salvation (the most vital topic possible) so Christians would all agree on them?
  • Early Christian sects like the Marcionists and Gnostics often viewed the OT god as a wicked tyrant. I kind of wish they'd won the doctrine wars.
  • We can't fully comprehend eternity, so no one can ever grasp just how awful hell would be, and how unjust it would be as punishment.
  • Christians ask if you think you're "good" to begin their evangelism spiel. But of course they really mean "perfect," so why not just say so up front?
  • Every believer in the resurrection should believe in UFOs: they're also BS, but at least they're based on extensive modern testimony and not an ancient book.
  • It's remarkable that the Old Testament contains so much violence and yet manages to remain mind-crushingly dull.
  • Funny how Harold Camping's explanation of May 21—a spiritual beginning of judgment—looks identical to nothing having happened at all.
On religion, God and atheism:
  • If you wouldn't accept something as evidence for another religion, don't accept it as evidence for yours.
  • Even some atheists think religion automatically deserves respect. Why shouldn't it be held to the same standard as other beliefs?
  • Vague "God hypotheses" yield no useful predictions; specific ones are easily falsified.
  • Religion offers you a cure to a disease you don't have.
  • Not only is "no atheists in foxholes" false, it'd be worthless even if true, because people are less rational in dangerous situations.
  • When people say God works in mysterious ways, they mean he works exactly as if he wasn't working at all.
  • It still amazes me that most just accept the existence of a parallel reality that overlays and interacts with the physical world.
  • I wonder how long it'd take for religion to die out with zero child indoctrination? My guess: 80% gone within 50 years, 95% gone in 100.
  • Isn't derisively declaring "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist" a tacit admission that faith is a bad thing?
  • "You're just rebelling against God!" Um... to the extent that I "rebel" against any other fictional villain, I guess.
  • I think maybe half of all religious belief would evaporate if everyone on earth had to learn about the actual psychology of said beliefs.
On evolution:
  • Creationists: if evolution violated the Second Law of Thermodynamics, then so would prenatal development.
  • I only believe in microdevelopment. Macrodevelopment from a zygote to an adult human is just a ridiculous theory!
  • "Evolution isn't science, it's not observable and repeatable!" Oh, okay. I guess we'll be throwing out forensics and archaeology too, then?
  • It would take a lot to falsify evolution—and that's fine, just as you wouldn't simply assume the theory of gravity was false if something fell up one day.
And on skepticism:
  • Possibly the most difficult mental feat is to calmly and impartially correct cherished beliefs in the face of evidence.
  • You can be biased and wrong or biased and right. Unbiased? There's no such thing.
  • Deciding if a treatment works based only on your experience is like testing it with no controls, no blinds, and a sample size of one.
  • Absolutely everyone is biased in how they take in new information. Those who don't acknowledge this can't even begin to counteract it.
  • Certainty and correctness have virtually no correlation. What's important is how you arrive at your conclusions.
  • The brain deludes itself constantly. For example: most people go their entire lives not realizing they can't see color in the periphery of their vision.
  • Confirmation bias acts like a semi-permeable membrane: it lets information supporting your conclusion into your mind, and keeps contrary information out.
  • On avoiding bias. Step 1: Gather all evidence. Step 2: Consider all evidence. Step 3: Draw conclusion. (Note: #3 comes last, not first.)
  • Don't think of dissenting arguments as obstacles to your conclusions; think of them as tools you can use to clarify your thinking.
  • Coincidences are deceptively common. In a group of 7 people, the chances that 2 will have birthdays within a week of each other is over 50%.
  • Asking empirical questions about supernatural phenomena is the quickest way to reveal their absurdity.
  • Correcting your mistakes is a greater virtue than being right the first time around.
While some people find tweeting to be a shallow form of communication, I think it's potentially very useful. It's not well-suited to fleshing out your ideas, but it forces you to take what you want to say and express it with efficiency and clarity. In the marketplace of ideas, the advantage often goes to those concepts that are can be quickly absorbed and understood. Since many people are averse to atheism and skepticism, this may help us get our ideas across before they close their minds.

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