Socialists, Capitalists and Moderates on the Facts

(Reposted from my Facebook.)

Fact: There are poor people.

Socialist: Give me all your money, I will take care of them. Or else.

Capitalist: I can make lots of money from them because they’ll work for less.

Moderate: Give me half your money, so I can pay them not to work, then hire anyone who doesn’t want your money for free. If you make a profit, I’ll take it to pay more poor people to not work.

Fact: People lie.

Socialist: The government ought to teach people how to think and decide who is allowed to say what because people can’t tell lies from truth.

Capitalist: Honesty is just good business. Suing frauds for everything they’ve got is also good business.

Moderate: Say whatever you want, as long as no one is offended. But just in case, a “truth board” will censor anything anyone might find objectionable.

Fact: Some people are more successful than others.

Socialist: Since men are all equal, differences must be due to education and inheritance. We must seize inheritance and other gifts, and replace education with standard government schools. If anyone is still more successful than anyone else in school or in their career, they must have cheated, so we must punish them until they are equal.

Capitalist: Let’s find out what makes people successful so we can make a fortune doing or selling it.

Moderate: It’s OK to be successful as long as you don’t make anyone jealous. You must make those who envy you feel better about their failures by sharing your success with them. Or else.

Fact: Some people don’t like each other.

Socialist: Since men are equal, they must all love each other equally. We must take away anything that make them different or special away from them so that they cannot tell any group apart.

Capitalist: More customers is always good for business. If someone doesn’t want to work with someone for irrational reasons, I will happily take their customers and employees.

Moderate: People ought to learn to get along. Therefore, I will force people who hate each other to live and work together so they can learn to appreciate their differences.

The case for evidence-based medicine

Few people would openly admit that they prefer irrational treatments and doctors. But most people do in fact advocate irrational health practices – using pseudonyms for “irrational” as “holistic,” “alternative,” “homeopathic” and the deadly “natural.”

Medicine requires reason

The human body operates according to certain causal principles. If we wish to make a change in our health, we must understand some of those causal principles and act according to our understanding. To act without a rational basis is to disconnect our goals from their achievement. Irrationality does not guarantee failure — it just means that success, to the extent that it happens, will be due to other factors that our goals.

The study of human health is especially difficult

In the field of health, especially rigorous rationality is necessary for at least five reasons:

  1. The human body will solve, or at least try to solve most problems on its own. This makes establishing causality due external factors quite difficult and introduces biases such as the placebo effect and the regression fallacy.
  2. The body is very complex! Because it evolved over billions of years, the causal relationships in the body are extremely complex and interdependent.
  3. For example, even if we know that the body has too little of a certain substance, taking that substance may: a: not do anything b: cause the body to produce even less of the substance or c: cause an unpredictable side effect. On the other hand, if the body has too much of something, then the solution may be to a: consume less of that substance b: consume more of that substance or c: the consumption has no relationship at all to the level of that substance.
  4. It can be difficult to measure the extent to which medical problems are solved. While some things can be measured, many things, such as pain levels are very difficult to quantify.
  5. It is difficult to isolate causal factors in human beings since changes in health take time to develop and we can’t control every factor during an experiment or dissect human subjects when it is over.
  6. Humans tend to be irrational when it comes to their own mortality! We fear death, leading us to irrational over or under spending on health as well as being especially vulnerable to all the logical fallacies.

In medicine, rationality requires quality science research

There is a name for the field that applies rigor to the discovery of facts about nature: science. Science has been so successful in improving the state of human knowledge that many irrational, anti-scientific quacks have begun to use the term “scientific” to describe anti-scientific practices and ideas. In response to this, the medical community has come up with a term which identifiers the distinguishing aspect of rationality: “evidence based medicine.” This phrase is a necessary redundancy that identifies the essential characteristic of science: that it is based on sensory evidence. The alternative to non-evidence based science is not science at all, but emotionalism – “I feel it is true, so it must be.”

In the last hundred years, we have discovered certain practices for ensuring the conclusions of our medical experiments are valid. We know experimentally that observing these practices leads to more accurate conclusions. Let me emphasize that: the truth of medical claims is strongly correlated with the degree to which experiments follow accepted scientific standards. There are a number of objective scales for measuring the quality of an experiment.

Five characteristics of quality medical studies

Here is the essence of quality medical studies:

  1. The experiment and its results are fully described in enough detail to reproduce and compare the results
  2. There is a randomized control group
  3. The selection of control subjects is double blind
  4. The methods of randomization and blinding are accurately described and appropriate
  5. There is a description of withdrawals and dropouts.

How to judge health claims

Unfortunately, it is difficult to design good experiments and more difficult still to reach firm conclusions from most experiments. In the legitimate (“evidence-based”) medical community, the degree to which practitioners adhere to the principles varies greatly – but they at least try. Fortunately, in the “quack community,” while there is sometimes the pretense of evidence, basic scientific principles are so grossly violated and ignored that is becomes easy to distinguish fraud from legitimate science.

Here is an important point: it is difficult to make firm conclusions in medicine. But when valid scientific principles are not followed, it is easy to conclude that no valid conclusion can be reached. In other words, you can’t always be sure what’s good for you, but you can be sure when someone is talking nonsense.

Another important point: When someone makes irrational health claims, it does not mean that those claims are false. It just means those claims were not derived by rational (scientific) principles, and so we cannot anything about their truth – we can only ignore them as arbitrary. It is as if someone claimed invisible, undetectable pink unicorn in the sky - that which cannot be proven or disproved can only be dismissed.

How can we apply these ideas? It so happens that most health claims in the non-scientific media and many health “practitioners” are unscientific. This does not mean that they are wrong, or that people don’t feel helped by them. It means that their claims have no connection to reality.


In some cases, the practices that quacks suggest are helpful — but not for the reasons they identify. More importantly, in all cases following rational, scientific principles leads increases the likely hood of successful outcomes over quackery (aka emotionalism).


To conclude, to judge whether a medical claim is legitimate or arbitrary nonsense, check whether:


  1. It is based on quality experiments
  2. It is consistent with medical consensus (of evidence-based medicine)
  3. The certainty of the claim is well-established (by numerous studies, systematic reviews, etc


Further Reading


  • “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre
  • Ben Goldcare at TED: Battling Bad Science

Thoughts upon the death of Steve Jobs

To put my view of Steve Jobs in Objectivist terms, I see him as a real-life Howard Roark. Even if he had never been successful, his strength of vision, his uncompromising principles, and his confidence in the power of his ideas make him a hero in my book. But of course it is precisely because of those principles that he became the most successful CEO ever. He is truly my personal hero and an inspiration for the life choices I have and will make.

I am writing these words on my first computer designed under Steve Job’s watch, and unfortunately, my last. Even though computers are my career and passion, I have never been attached to them as individual objects, only as an idea. I feel like using this computer for the last three years has been kind of like living in a building designed by Howard Roark, and knowing that I can never have another products created by him (even if Apple continues to be inspired by his vision), I feel far more reluctant to sell it when it is time for the inevitable upgrade.

Steve Jobs was an intensely personal man – his means of expressing his values was almost purely through the products of his work. Unlike most other tech companies, prototypes and discarded ideas rarely leaked out of his laboratories. He only announced new products when he was sure that they could be made. I think he wanted to be known and judged solely by the things he could mass produce, as the “Apple product” included everything for him – the supply chain, production process, company campus, storefront, even the carefully orchestrated box opening ceremony. Still, I think he was able to communicate his basic sense of life in his one public speech. I strongly recommend that everyone watch it and take its ideas to heart.

My introduction to the “Apple experience” came from – a collection of stories about the creation of the Macintosh computer. Because he was so private, I eagerly anticipate his upcoming authorized biography. But ultimately, I think his products speak for themselves. They are the concrete (or rather aluminum and glass) embodiment of the values that made Apple successful – and changed the world for the better.

Steve Jobs, you were insanely great.

Why is there no mass transit in socialist states?

Today Sarah asked me why China is only now building subway systems in all its major cities. I pointed out that non-local mass transit is a capitalist phenomena: totally aside from the fact that you need the wealth generated by capitalism to pay for such systems, there is no need to travel in a socialist economy.

Under socialism, the work unit is the basic unit of social structure. The vast majority of people are born, educated, work, live, and die under a single work unit (a city block, village, or factory). One cannot buy or rent a dwelling (that requires property rights) so one cannot move away from work: the State assigns nearby housing. One cannot change chose or change jobs, so one cannot move work away from home. Housing assignments are hereditary and based on local connections, so it is impossible to move away from relatives: thus no need to travel to see family.

Furthermore, there is no need to travel in order to shop: since all goods are identical commodities sold by identical state-owned stores. There is little demand to travel for tourism either, since all monuments are variations on the same state-promulgated patriotic themes. There is no incentive for entrepreneurs to promote any non-approved attractions – in fact, such activities can be quite dangerous.

Neither is it practical to marry someone across town: the work unit either regulates marriage directly (the work unit leader must approve the marriage) or indirectly: since permission is required to live together and often to have children as well.

Thus, even in places where the State created subway systems prior to the introduction of capitalist elements, they were/are vastly under utilized. In fact, their primary purpose was military defense, not transportation.

Re-evaluating the value of religion

This essay was written on August 13th, 2003 and edited slightly for this post:

Is religion a value to mankind? Some alleged benefits which have been attributed to religion include: scientific and philosophical principles, technologies such as the printing press, the colonization of the new world, great works of art such as Michelangelo’s David and the Sistine Chapel, monasteries that preserved and carried on knowledge during the Middle Ages, social institutions such as charities, schools, and universities. It’s undeniable that all these things have benefited mankind and that religion played a part in them.

On a personal note, I have  benefited greatly from the Judaism. A Jewish organization helped my parents come to America, placed me in private school so I could learn English and Hebrew, sent me to summer camp, paid for my trip to Israel, and even helped fund my college tuition. In addition to these material benefits, I learned a lot about history, philosophy, ethics, Hebrew, and social interaction while attending Sunday school and then helping to teach it for three years. Many of my religious teachers were intelligent and inspirational people who taught me many things in the classroom and by example.

So, it is indisputable that religion has done many good things for man. Is this sufficient evidence to conclude that religion is a value to man? The fact that an institution does good is not sufficient evidence that it is good overall. Consider a profession which is not considered desirable despite doing some good for people: medical quackery. A quack who sells a fake remedy for all ailments provides some benefit to people: the placebo effect often makes people feel better, and the alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs contained in remedies were often effective and making their users feel better. However, despite the benefit he provides, the quack also defrauds people, does not fix underlying health problems, and often addicts his patients to his “medicine.” Even though the quack provides a benefit, a real doctor could provide a greater benefit to people without the accompanying harm. Thus, when evaluating religion, we must consider the total effect, not just isolated benefits, and evaluate whether the benefits religion provides are essential to its nature.

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Are philosophical claims scientifically provable?

This question makes the logical fallacy of the stolen concept.  The question of what is “scientifically provable” is derived from our metaphysics and epistemology.  We use our basic philosophy to derive the epistemological standard by which to investigate the specific aspects of reality (e.g. physics, chemistry, mathematics, and economics).  To demand that philosophical statements be scientifically validated is to demand that a derivative which depends on philosophy be used to prove philosophy.  This is like trying to build a house by assembling the roof, walls, and windows before the foundation.  It is fine to examine the whole structure of knowledge to verify that it is internal consistent and sound.  But we cannot use a higher-level deduction to prove the premise that it depends on.   The only way to validate philosophical claims is to use reason: to use logic to validate abstract ideas by reducing them to sensory evidence.

What is the difference between science and philosophy?

Science is distinguished from philosophy by subject matter: science studies the specific nature of the universe, and philosophy (of which religion is a primitive form) studies the fundamental and universal of the universe and man’s relationship to it.  Both are concerned with facts, but they differ in subject matter and the standard of evidence.  In the field of philosophy, we must be logically rigorous, but we cannot, and need not measure the physical evidence quantitatively as in the subject-specific sciences.

Science is made possible by the acceptance of certain philosophical axioms in metaphysics and epistemology. In metaphysics, science requires recognizing that all entities behave in a causal manner according to their nature. In epistemology, it recognizes that man is capable of perceiving and understanding reality by the use of his senses, and because his consciousness is fallible and not automatic, he needs to actively adhere to reason and logic to reach the right conclusions.  Science requires a systematic method to collect evidence and correctly interpret it because knowledge of how nature works is not self-evident.

Science is different in degree from informal empirical methods such as “trial and error” and in kind from non-empirical methods such as revelation, astrology, or emotionalism.   But the basic method – of rational investigation based on the evidence of reality must be used in all fields, whether philosophy, law, chemistry, mathematic, or cooking.

More: The One Minute Case for Science.

What if we took religion seriously?

Virtually no one in the West takes religion seriously.  This is fortunate, because if people did, there could be no such thing as “Western civilization.”  With 82% of Americans professing a belief in God, does this sound like a silly statement?  Let me explain.

The Origin of Religion

The definition of “religion” varies between cultures and scholars, but generally speaking, it originated in pre-history as a solution to a problem:

At some point at the dawn of history, men discovered themselves to be in possession of powerful mental abilities able to perceive the events around them and communicate them to others, but they lacked an explanation for most of the cause of these events.  These men needed to know how to act in response to these events, both social and natural.  Instinct and imitation no longer sufficed in complex social structures and dynamic environments.  Men responded to the challenge by inventing religion.  Religion provided both an explanation of natural phenomena and a set of rules for social behavior.  It was a primitive form of philosophy — a set of beliefs about the fundamental nature of existence and man’s relationship to it.  The nature of these beliefs evolved dramatically over time:

1. The Animism of Primitive Man

Primitive pre-literate man dealt with the chaos of nature by creating animistic spirits which he begged to improve his condition.  Since his prayers and offerings were no better than chance, he led an unpredictable existence dominated by fear.  Nevertheless, a philosophy of existence, crude as it was, was an important survival asset to the first human settlements.  Many thousands of years of pre-history passed in this state.

2. Technological Priesthood & Early Civilization

The first civilizations organized spirits in polytheistic anthropomorphic cults, which held centralized political and religious power.  The technological priesthood was an elite which was either closely related to or was ruling elite and monopolized the dissemination of both practical knowledge and supernatural doctrines (there was little distinction between the two), and was thus able to control the peasant masses which it taxed and enslaved to remain in power.  Their monopoly of technical knowledge was the cause of their eventual downfall:  Egypt, Mesopotamia, Minoa, the Indus valley civilization, the cults organized around the Hebrew temple in Palestine, and the native New World empires successfully kept their secrets from the masses, but were all destroyed by innovative external invaders.

3. Classical Civilization and the Discovery of Reason

At some point, around 600 B.C., several classical civilizations developed an innovative intellectual elite which was distinct from religious cults which catered to the masses.  The first Greek, Indian, and Chinese philosophers introduced a secular natural philosophy, and broke the monopoly of the theistic cults. In these societies, and especially in classical Greece, the invention of a rational worldview, and the decentralization of knowledge made possible rapid technological progress, a rich cultural tradition, and military and trading empires spanning the globe.  Technocratic bureaucracies swept away the old pre-literate world in the Hellenistic world, the Roman Empire, and in imperial China.

Materially, the classical age was a time of great progress.  Yet there was no unified philosophical basis for personal freedom, no systematic application of reason to nature, or a moral basis for self-improvement and ambition.  Self-sacrificing and self-abnegating philosophies such as Confucianism and Buddhism provided both stability and stagnation in the East, while the West gradually forgot its philosophical traditions under increasingly totalitarian political regimes.

4. Mysticism & Medieval Civilization

The invention of Christianity was an evolutionary yet radical change.  Its chief innovation was an individualistic moral theory.  Its success is due to two factors:

First, it is non-falsifiable, because it does not need validation by any specific material events or rewards (unlike animatistic and anthropomorphic polytheism and sacrifice cults, and much later, Marxism).  A policy of strict informational hygiene (often by the simple expedient of killing all apostates) kept the emphasis on the core ideology of individual reward in the afterlife.

Second, Christianity devolved secular authority from religious authority.  “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” implied a distinction between ideas about existence at large and submission to “practical” political authority.  Unlike most previous religions, Christianity did not depend on a central political authority, and could persist as a philosophy of existence apart from the current political regime.

The Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas, detail. Paris...

Image via Wikipedia

5. The Re-discovery of reason and Enlightenment Civilization

The distinction between secular and spiritual subjects was not realized until the thirteenth century, when, due to the re-introduction of Aristotle by St. Thomas Aquinas, the idea of reason-based thinking was distinguished from revelation.  This distinction is unique to Western civilization and is the origin of the Western concept of “religion” as a realm of thought distinct from “philosophy.”   From this point on, religion was increasingly seen as having a special domain apart from ideas of “practical” matters.  This distinction made all rational studies of nature, including what we know as “philosophy” and “science” possible.

The Enlightenment was the product of the recognition of reason as a tool for learning about and manipulating reality, first as a supplement, and later as a replacement for revelation.  Gradually, as the power of reason was discovered and applied, the role of religion was delegated to ever-narrower domains.  While the word “religion” (from the Latin “religare” meaning “to bind”) originated in 1200 as a reference to monastic life, the modern concept itself dates to the 1530’s, when it became necessary to distinguish rational philosophy from non-rational mysticism.   Western philosophers eventually replaced all the functions religion provided with rational (or at least what they claimed to be rational) explanations.   Today, every field of knowledge known to man has been transformed by the power of reason.

This is a controversial claim, because the majority of Westerners, at least in the United States, claims to derive ideas in certain fields from religion.  But the evidence is easily seen if we compared a medieval man from the tenth century to a modern man.  The modern man’s metaphysics, epistemology ethics, politics and even aesthetics have been all radically transformed by secular philosophy.  This was not always an improvement, as in terms of their validity and morality, some secular modern philosophies have been worse and more destructive than  the worst of the mystical ones: such as, Kant’s subjectivism, Marxist materialism, and all the varieties of Socialism, Communism, and Fascism which derived from them.  But in its essence, the Enlightenment was based on sound premises and vastly improved the fortune of mankind.

Conclusion:  What does it mean to “take religion seriously?”

The concept of “religion” as it is known in the West is a modern invention made necessary by Western civilization, due to the need to distinguish between rational philosophy (I mean its archaic meaning – the examination of the natural world) and the remnants of pre-rational philosophy.

While Western ideas have spread rapidly across the world, we can still witness the state of philosophy as it was prior to the split:   For example, in many Muslim countries the idea of a separation of church and state is absurd – what other source could there possibly be for law other than revelation?  In some African countries, albinos are hunted and eaten as a cure for disease – not as a “religious” practice, but as  “practical” medicine, because what’s so impractical about casting out evil spirits?  The unity of “practical” matters and “spiritual” matters is the default historical state for man – it is the classical Western world, and specifically the Greek philosophers which are responsible for recognizing reason as the proper means of discovering reality and discrediting mysticism and revelation as serious guides to existence.

So what would it mean to “take religion seriously”?  It means reversing 2500 years of Western philosophy and discarding the separation between rationality and mysticism as sources of knowledge and guides to action.  Whatever a priest, rabbi, imam, shaman, or holy book says would be just as valid a source of knowledge in any field as any rational consideration.  This means re-introducing, witch-hunts, astrology, tea-leaf reading, and flagellation to ethics, alchemy to chemistry, and the Inquisition and Crusades to politics.  No criticism could be made of these practices if no systematic distinction between supernatural and natural explanations were recognized.

And this is why I am glad that Americans don’t take religion seriously.  The near-universal acceptance of the concept of “religion” itself represents the progress of reason over pre-rational mysticism.  It is a largely unheralded and unrecognized victory, which leaves room for uncertainty, but is nonetheless a victory which is sweeping every field of human study and every part of the world, and I hope will never be extinguished entirely.

Faith is emotionalism, Part 2: Perception versus Emotion

(This is the second part of selections from a Facebook debate.  Part 1 is here.)


The key to my disagreement with the theist hinges on the question of “Can we know God?” or “Can have knowledge of the supernatural?”  The theist says yes, we use both experience and the “sensus divinitatus” to acquire knowledge of God.  I disagree – I believe that knowledge of reality can only be obtained through reason, and the supernatural is by its very definition opposed to reason.  Furthermore, the “divine sense” the theist refers to is just emotionalism.  In this post, I will focus on the essence of our disagreement by examining in detail the nature of this supposed divine sense and reveal it to be pure emotionalism.

To recap three key points from my last note:

  • I reviewed valid and invalid means of acquiring knowledge and concluded that truth can only be reached by perceiving it and integrating sensory data – e.g. reason.
  • Emotions are a kind of thinking that tells us about our mental state.
  • We can learn from others, but ultimately new knowledge is formed by integrating new evidence into our own experience of reality.

Introduction: Faith is emotionalism

My key criticism of the theistic argument for faith is:  it is emotionalism.   But emotions are not evidence of reality, only of one’s mental state.  Neither revelation nor any other evidence for the supernatural is possible.   I believe this argument is sufficient to disprove all religious convictions, as all other (i.e. “historical”) arguments for the supernatural are revealed to be absurd once a proper epistemology (e.g. reliance on the senses) is assumed.

The Nature of the Senses

Let’s begin with the senses we agree on: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.    This much has been known since Aristotle.  What is the exact nature and method of these senses?

The process is the same for all the senses in all species:

  • Some entity in reality interacts causally with a sense organ.
  • The interaction is either direct (touch) or indirect, through some intermediary particle (sight, smell, hearing)
  • The interaction is physical.  Some force of nature must influence the sensory organs, changing their chemical composition sufficiently to stimulate the nervous system.
  • The nervous system transmits a signal electro-chemically to the brain as chunks of raw data.
  • The brain parses the raw data according to the rules it has developed since birth, and searches for similarities and patterns.
  • Once a pattern is found, conscious awareness is possible.  As adults, we are not aware of raw sensory data – we perceive distinct entities are integrated by our minds.
  • If the entity interacts with more than one sense (for example, we touch, smell, see, taste, and hear the food we eat), the brain automatically attempts to correlate the sensory streams and presents it as an integrated unit to the conscious mind.
  • Once an entity is recognized, our brain automatically attempts to relate it to an existing concept, trying to bring it within the context of knowledge we have of that entity.  This is where conscious awareness normally begins.
  • If the entity is not recognized, the brain begins the process of associations, trying to ascertain the relationship of that entity to known entities and sets.  This happens on both subconscious and conscious levels.
  • Only after we are conscious of a unit as an instance of a concept, do we begin the process of using that information cognitively – such as learning about and interacting with it.

Note some important aspects of this process:

  • For us to be aware of an entity, it must have a physical presence and a causal interaction with our sense-organs.
  • The same interaction is possible to anyone with similar sense organs, even though they may interpret the identity of the entity differently.
  • We are not physically aware of entities, only or raw sensory data, which our minds interpret.  Our adult minds however, are consciously only of entities because the process of integrating sense-data is learned in infancy.
  • Our senses are infallible – they merely transmit raw data.  It is up to the fallible brain to correctly interpret the sense-data.
  • We perceive the world as a coherent, integrated whole.  We use all our senses to perceive an entity, and integrate them into awareness of a single existent.  There is not a separate sight-table and a touch-table, but only a table which we both see and touch.
  • Existence is primary – it provides the source for the content of consciousness.  No thought process is possible without existents first interacting with the mind.
  • The mind is not capable of interacting or affecting existence directly.  It is only an object of perception and integration, not creation.
  • Entities in reality have identity, but no meaning, relationships, or mental content.  It is the mind which identifies, relates, and gives meaning to the world.

Note how emotions differ from the senses:

  • Emotions are a kind of thought.  We are aware of thoughts only by introspection.
  • With thoughts, there is no existent outside of our minds to be aware of, but only of internal mental processes.
  • Emotions can be formed in reaction to memories or new perceptions.
  • Either way however, entities in reality do not contain any emotional content – it is our ideas which analyze the entities we are aware and which emotional reactions in response to that.
  • Sensation requires some existent in reality for us to be aware of (though we may misinterpret its identity), but our emotions can respond to both real and imaginary entities.

What is the exact nature of the “sensus divinatus?”

Imagine that you are an objective observer and feel the “sensus divinatus” (henceforth referenced to as the “phenomenon”) for the first time.  You know that you experienced something, but you need to identify the nature of your experience.  You know that you are aware of two kinds of mental entities: thoughts (which include emotions) and sensations.  With that context in mind, does the “sensus divinatus” match the nature of perception or emotion?

You make the following observations:

  • The “phenomenon” is dependent on your mental state.  Skeptics do not sense it.  If you are bored, distracted, pre-occupied you do not sense it either.  You only experience it when your mind contains certain ideas or emotional states which are receptive to the “phenomenon”.
    • This is not true for all the other existents that you are aware of.  You see and feel a table whether or not you believe in tables and regardless of whether you are having a bad day or not.
  • There is no inter-sensory integration between the perceptions of the “phenomenon”.  We touch, smell, see, taste, and hear an apple, but we only feel the “phenomenon”.  It is dis-integrated from our sensory organs.
  • No objective definition in terms of sensory data of the phenomena is possible.  We can describe in relative terms the specific nature (i.e. the “raw data”) of our perception of a table.  We cannot describe the phenomena in such terms.
  • By contrast, we can describe the phenomena in conceptual terms.  We can describe (with some introspection and self-examination) the ideas that the experience conveys.  We cannot do this with any entity we perceive.  We might not like tables, and become enraged upon seeing one, but the perception of the table as such does not convey any conceptual or emotional content.
  • Your perception of the phenomena changes with your ideas.  You might switch from atheism to theism and experience it and then switch back and lose the experience.   Your perception of a table does not depend on mood or your ideas.
  • No objective internal-personal correlation of the phenomena is possible.  Two people in a church service might both claim to experience it, but their particular observations will all differ according to the existing ideas about the nature of the supernatural.  One will think of a bearded man and the other will see a ghostly blur.  This can’t be said about a table. It has the same properties for all observers.
  • There exists no causal process which we can investigate.  We can observe, measure, and record light rays and sound waves, weight masses, observe monomolecular odorants and chemoreceptors in the tongue, but we have no way to detect the “phenomenon”.
  • There is no causal entity in reality to be aware of.  We are aware of causal entities because there is a causal interaction that goes on between the entity and the mental process.  In the case of the “phenomenon”, there is only the mental process. How do you know this?
    • The “phenomenon” is only available to the person aware of it.  Two people in a church will not both see a supernatural presence if one believes in it and the other does not.
    • In short, unlike all the other senses, no physical interaction or observation with the phenomena is possible outside of direct experience.

Therefore you conclude:

All awareness must be through some sense – some causal interaction between reality and a sensory organ, as interpreted by the consciousness which parses the sensory data.  But the essence of the “phenomenon” is its non-causality.  There is a mental cause, but no physical cause.  Any physical cause must be specific- it must have a certain defined nature, which is something and therefore not something else.  A non-causal entity is a contradiction.  An entity, any entity, must have a specific nature, which is revealed through its causal interaction with other entities.  There can be no such thing as a non-causal interaction, and therefore, no awareness is possible of a non-causal entity.   If “phenomenon” does not have a material cause, it must be a mental cause e.g. – it is a creation of your imagination and emotion without a referent in reality.

Anticipation of criticism: the true believer

To anticipate a common criticism, some claim that the reason that skeptics do not feel the divine consciousness is because it is only able and/or willing to reveal itself to someone if they have certain brain structures (i.e. you must be open to it).  This response has two flaws:  it is a logical fallacy and it not answer any of the criticisms of revelation.

The fallacy is that of begging the question. (i.e. “no true Scotsman”)  The skeptic must be open to the “phenomenon” to be aware of it, and since he is never aware of it, he must not be open to it.  But this evading the nature of the “openness” since no specific procedure of openness is ever sufficient until the skeptic is actually aware of the “phenomenon”.   In other words, the theist is claiming “you must already believe in the phenomena to experience the phenomena.”  But it is a contradiction to make the proof of a claim conditional on first accepting the claim as true.

Furthermore, this critique fails to address any of the criticism of revelation because it fails to provide the means by which revelation occurs.  It is true that if one believes in the supernatural, one will experience the emotions connected with that belief, but that emotion does not prove the existence of anything other than the belief.  None of my critiques of an extra-sensory perception are answered.

Conclusion: Existence has primacy over consciousness

At this point, I suggest first re-reading my argument for sensory data as the basis of knowledge, which I have isolated here.

I hope that my position is clear by now.  To know reality, we must first be aware of reality.  Our awareness comes from our sensory organs, which provide raw data that our mind integrates into a conceptual awareness.  Consciousness is therefore a tool of perception, not a tool of creation.  Extra-sensory perception is a contradiction in terms. To form a true understanding of reality, we must give existence primacy over consciousness.   To do otherwise, to treat the mind as creating reality, is to live in a delusional fantasy-world which cripples our ability to deal with the facts. 

This is true for any consciousness, including a supposed divine consciousness.  A consciousness cannot create reality – it is an organ of perception, not of direct manipulation.  Quoting Ayn Rand: “If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.”

Faith – the acceptance of the supernatural as fact — places consciousness above reality by giving consciousness – whether human or divine – the role of creating reality.    But reality cannot be shaped by our thoughts.

Reversing the relationship of the mind and reality is the root of the evil of religion.  To live in reality, we must confirm our minds to it, not vice versa.  Expecting reality to conform to our minds cripples our ability to survive in it.  To concretize this, imagine a doctor who tells you “I will pray for you” rather than “I will treat you.”  Would you feel safe in his hands?  That is the attitude you assume whenever you place an “I wish” above an “It is.”

Faith is emotionalism, Part 1: Epistemology

(In the next few posts, I’m going to re-post selections from a Facebook debate which I was asked to keep private:)

Many apologetics claim that their faith is based on reason and evidence. In fact faith is just a kind of emotionalism.

Two analogies:

Suppose you decided to base your knowledge of reality on the result of dart throws. Whenever you have some doubts about something, you write four possible answers on a dart board. You would aim the dart in the general direction of the board, turn off the lights, and throw. Whichever answer is closest to the dart becomes your conclusion.

What is wrong with this methodology? If you adhere to the correspondence theory of truth (that for a belief to be true, it must correspond to reality) then you should realize that answer “chosen” by the dart has no correspondence to reality. Why not? Because there is no causal connection between your ideas and the random path taken by the dart. The dart’s path is not a valid proof of your conclusion because it is not derived from observation or logical consideration of the ideas in question.

Frustrated, you try another methodology:

You will write down the four answers as before, and then take a large dose of hallucinogenic and amnesia-inducing drugs. You will pick the answer in your drugged state but have no memory of how you selected it when you are sober again. Is this conclusion valid? Now, you are not depending on random chance, but on a distorted version of your own mental processes. Is your method any more valid? No – there is still not causal connection between the idea and your drugged ravings. The answers are you most likely to choose will probably correspond to your existing conclusions. But it will still not be any kind of proof or evidence.

Reason means a valid epistemology:

In order for evidence to be valid, there must be a valid epistemological process. To prove that a claim is true, we must verify it by deriving a conclusion step by step from the evidence of our own senses in accordance with the laws of logic. This process is known as reason. If we fail to rely on our senses and logic, we might as well be throwing the allegorical darts in the dark. Doing so willingly is irrationality.

What is the “evidence” given for supernatural claims?

There are two possible kinds: empirical claims and non-empirical claims. Empirical claims are based on observation, such as “the universe exists, so God must have created it” or “I saw Jesus on a piece of toast I ate last week.” These claims are wrong, but they do not involve faith, since they can be proven or disproven. No one would take such arguments seriously however if it were not for claims based on non-empirical evidence – faith. This takes many forms in different religions, but generally it is a kind of “revelation.” Ultimately, all revelation can be reduced to emotionalism. How so? This requires an understanding of the nature of emotion:

The nature of emotions:

An emotion is an automatic response to an external or internal stimulus based upon your subconscious premises and values. It tells you something about the state of your consciousness. By examining the premises that led to a certain emotional evaluation, we can find the causes for our emotions. By changing our ideas, we can (gradually and automatically) change our emotional responses to the same stimulus. Two people can have two totally different emotional responses to the same stimulus if their values are different.

For example, suppose four men see an experimental new sports car engine. To a race driver, the engine elicits feelings of excitement desire, to an automotive engineer, curiosity and wonder, to a hippie environmentalist, revulsion and anger, and to a primitive man, perhaps no emotion at all, since he does not recognize the object. Clearly, our emotions derive from our ideas and values. They are formed as our subconscious mind has automatizes our premises and assumptions about the nature of the world. If you consciously and honestly examine the ideas you are exposed you and integrate them systematically into a coherent whole, your emotions will be consistent and understandable. If you default on this task, your emotions will be contradictory and mysterious, and you will be unable to identify whether your emotions are contradictory or consistent with your consciously held ideas. This is how most men come to accept religiously-inspired emotions as evidence.

The need for a purpose-driven life:

All men realize on some level that a sense of purpose is vitally important to their life. A life without purpose is a fate worse than death, since death removes the option of achieving future values, while lack of purpose destroys values as such. (See my essay for more.) All religions present man with a basic alternative: accept the supernatural as your source of purpose in life, or face the possibility of having no purpose to your existence. It’s a false alternative, but because believers are unable to identify it as such, it generates very powerful emotions which most people treat as evidence of the supernatural.

Religion is a psycho-epistemological dependency:

Religion offers answers to all the crucial philosophical questions, such as “What is the basic nature of existence?” “How can man obtain knowledge of the “true” nature of reality?” “What is the purpose of my life?” and “How should men related to each other?”

Even the most non-philosophical person recognizes on some (subconscious) level that the answers to these questions are essential to human action (we literally would be paralyzed without them.) Those who identify the answers to these questions with the supernatural are intellectually dependent on their religion beliefs and therefore identify the intense emotions they feel as a validation and as a direct interaction with the supernatural. The forfeit their values and their ability for independent thought for the sake of the values and emotional validation they believe only religion can provide. The primary purpose of regular religious practice is to therefore to continually remind people of their psycho-epistemological dependency on the supernatural to validate their worldview. (This is why music, song, chant, and repetition are used in religious ceremony – they facilitate an emotional feedback mechanism which bypasses the conscious part of the brain and feeds a chemical dependency.)

Overcoming the false alternative of religion:

By contrast, someone who was exposed to a non-religious basis for their basic philosophy is entirely immune to religious argument, as he feels no need to develop an emotional dependency to a pre-rational, pre-scientific philosophical worldview. A reality-based view of existence makes religion unnecessary and exposes its evil self-sacrificial nature. (Of course some non-religious philosophies are so incoherent and irrational that they drive people back to religion.) This is why religious people cannot be “converted” to atheism merely by arguments against the supernatural – they must be presented with a viable rational alternative to the crucial questions provided by religion, and given time to shift emotional responses to this new understanding.


Emotions are not a means of cognition; they are only an indication of our own mental state. They play a vital role in human life – but they are not an organ of perception. Only our senses can perform that role. If we do not understand the nature of our emotions, we are likely to treat them as a mysterious influence apart from our conscious self. But this is not due to any otherworldly, but only an incoherent, dis-integrated consciousness. A man with an integrated consciousness has no need for supernatural explanations of his soul and no reason to sacrifice his mind and values to mystics.