Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Believers Say the Darndest Things: "You Can’t Prove Reason with Reason. Therefore, _____."

It appears to be impossible to use reason to prove that reason is absolutely reliable. The operation of evidence-based inquiry relies on presuppositions that were not, themselves, arrived at by evidence-based inquiry.


There are some religious believers who learn these ideas and run completely off the rails with them, mistakenly thinking that they’ve gotten hold of some knockout blow to evidence-based inquiry.

The purpose of this post is to explore the arguments that believers often make based on these ideas, with the intent to show exactly where believers go wrong.

After all, in conversations between believers and skeptics, it is very common for the skeptics to request evidence for the wacky claims that believers make (since, obviously, nobody has any reason to think that a claim is likely true unless there is evidence for it…and since the believer actually does accept the claim under discussion, the believer must implicitly think there is evidence for it).

Sometimes this request is met with honest effort on the part of believers. They’ll point to things that they mistakenly think are evidence. Other times, believers will try to redefine what is meant by “evidence,” either honestly misunderstanding or purposefully and dishonestly confusing the issue. They’ll claim that their subjective feelings are somehow “evidence” for the existence of powers or beings that, if these powers or beings were real, would have a detectable effect on the world outside of these believers’ heads.

But on some occasions, the believers will question the very idea that evidence and reason are useful tools in the first place.

“What evidence,” they sometimes ask, thinking themselves clever, “do you have that all claims require evidence?”

Another way to phrase this objection is, “What’s your rational argument for thinking that reason is an effective tool? Oho! You can’t do it without being circular!” The implication is that any rational proof of reason’s effectiveness has to begin from the presumption that reason is effective, thereby begging the question (since it assumes the thing that it’s trying to prove).

In other words, their argument boils down to “You can’t prove reason with reason. Therefore, God.” [Or whatever nutty claim they’re making]

What’s happening here is that the believers in question have learned a small bit of philosophy. But, as I’ve noted elsewhere, a little philosophy can be a dangerous thing. Their half-comprehension of this issue leads them to all kinds of confusion.

Read on for a full explanation.

The Role of Gnosis in Thelema

“I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death” – AL I:58


“Wipe your glosses with what you know” – Finnegans Wake

 

What is gnosis, and what does it have to do with Thelema?

The word “gnosis” literally means “knowledge” in Greek, and it’s usually used to refer to spiritual knowledge or knowledge of an esoteric nature. Occultists seem to use the word in various ways, ranging from certain trance states (“I intone a mantra to generate gnosis before I begin the ritual”) to daft poetry (“What’s that? Your magical order doesn’t produce laughable poetry? Ha! Looks like you guys have no new gnosis!”) to certainty about spiritual claims (“I know that reincarnation is true because I have acquired gnosis!”).

One way that some kinds of supernaturalists often use the word is to contrast their beliefs with those of other religionists. The argument they make goes something like this: “Most religious people – like those Christians! – just have a bunch of beliefs that the priests tell them and that they are expected to believe. So they take it on faith. Bleh! But we superior supernaturalists don’t take our ideas on faith – we know. You see, we get into our trance states and achieve gnosis. We don’t just believe that we have had past lives. We experience past life memories, and we therefore have direct knowledge that reincarnation is true. No belief required! We have knowledge!”

Unfortunately for these supernaturalists, they are incorrect.

Read on for a discussion of knowledge, belief, and gnosis in the context of Thelema.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Link of the Day

I came across this New Age Text Generator, and it's hilarious.


It's a site that randomly generates profound-sounding nonsense. Read below the jump to see what I got:

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cargo Cult Science and the Delusion of “Scientific Illuminism”


I got into a discussion not long ago on Lashtal about the “method of science” in relation to Thelema. One poster suggested that since the goal of attainment is supra-rational, science might not be that much help in attaining that goal. By the “method of science,” the poster said that he meant things like the “application of the scientific method, including experimentation, controls, validation of results - and not including belief, hope, wishful thinking, etc.”

However, I went on to point out that this description of the “method of science” is at the very least deeply misleading, and it feeds into a common delusion held by people who style themselves “scientific illuminists”: that their religious practices are somehow not religious practices but science.

In fact, such would-be "scientific illuminists" are not practicing anything remotely like science. Instead, they practice something much more akin to cargo cult science, in which they ape the *form* of science without understanding the *substance* of the matter.

Read on for my post.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gems from the Forums: Nietzsche and Thelema

Over the years at Lashtal.com, I’ve made a number of posts discussing the finer points of Nietzsche’s philosophical writings and its relationship to Crowley’s Thelema (I hesitate to speak of Nietzsche’s “system,” as that is probably not the right word to use).


I thought it would be useful and instructive to compile them into a single blog entry.

In the spirit of Nietzschean philosophizing, I’ve decided not to try to turn these disparate thoughts, collected over several years, into a single, cohesive essay. They remain fragments, written in response to various interlocutors who appear below as block quotes.

Enjoy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Interesting Video of the Moment II: Why Do You Believe Without a Good Reason?


The second interesting video is another sampling from The Atheist Experience in which Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris talk about the strange phenomenon of people believing supernatural claims without sufficient evidence and without being able to give a good reason for why they believe.

Tracie gives a very striking account of her own history of escaping from supernaturalism, pointing out that even after she rejected Christianity, it took her the better part of a decade to slowly realize that supernaturalism itself was unsupported by evidence.

What’s most fascinating about her account is her assertion that her belief was something she *felt.*.In other words, her belief was “supported” merely by a kind of experience. Similar kinds of flimsy appeals to "experience" often prop up many supernatural beliefs from across the spiritual spectrum (including especially many of those discussed on this blog).

As ever, we ought to be aware that experience, all by itself, has no explanatory power. It is our interpretations of our experience (the explanations our rational minds attach to those experiences) that need to be carefully interrogated.

Tracie tentatively concludes that her “feelings” were ultimately the result of childhood indoctrination, and I am inclined to agree that in many cases indoctrination is at the root of people "feeling" the truth of something supernatural. It would seem that many “occult” supernaturalists frequently come from backgrounds of childhood indoctrination.


We might add indoctrination to a list of other reasons that people might believe claims for which they don't have any good reason or evidence: the fact that most people are bad or lazy thinkers, the fact that the vast majority of people don't question fundamental assumptions held by the culture around them, the fact that we are inclined to put too much emphasis on our own subjective interpretation of the facts or on our own precious feelings.
To bring this discussion around to Thelema -- and more specifically to the supernaturalist religions that many people practice and insist on calling "Thelema" -- I get the strong impression (as I've said a few times now) that many Thelemites see Thelema not as an alternative to superstition, but an alternate kind of superstition. This is because they come out of supernaturalist religions, and while they reject those religions as B.S., they don’t take the time to figure out why exactly those religions are B.S.


To put it another way, they leave supernaturalist religions, rejecting the “religion” part but cleaving to the “supernatural” part (in the same way that Tracie says she rejected Christianity but remained a believer in supernaturalism).
I think a great deal of people encounter Thelema as “seekers” undergoing a phase similar to that which Tracie describes during those ten years: flailing around with a vague “feeling” of divinity, convinced that there must be “something” supernatural (after all, they experience it!) and seeking a system or framework into which they can pour their extremely vague and flimsy ideas.
If that’s true, then it’s no surprise that a great number of people interested in Thelema appear to be flakes who cannot coherently explain their beliefs. You can consult this post I wrote a while back for an example of what happens when these people sit down and try to be honest with themselves about their “religion.”
You can watch the Atheist Experience video here.


Interesting Video of the Moment: The Failure of Prayer and Miracles


Presented for your viewing pleasure is a clip from the public access and internet show The Atheist Experience in which the hosts field a call from an ex-Mormon who says that he still “felt something” when he prayed.

I can’t help but think about what this kid says in the context of magick-practitioners who talk themselves into “feeling” all sorts of things that make them think that their magick “works.” It’s a very similar variety of crappy logic that undergirds all of these appeals to “personal experience” in validating the supernatural.

Among the interesting topics addressed (speedily!) in this video include how one knows that the cause of one's feelings is “supernatural,” the need to avoid the argument from ignorance, the Templeton Foundation study that demonstrated prayer does not work better than chance, the lack of evidence for miracles, the trivial kinds of things often claimed as “miracles,” the fact that “intuition” is nothing more than guessing and is susceptible to confirmation bias, and our own infatuation with our mind’s  ability to draw conclusions and see patterns.

You can watch the video here. Enjoy!