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11 September 2016 @ 06:21 am
The other side  
A while back Scott Alexander linked to and agreed with one Frederik deBoer, who defined himself as an atheist because he does not believe in “a supernatural entity that created the universe, has absolute dominion over the universe, dictates the meaning of good and evil, and sorts people into one pile or the other.” By that definition, I am an atheist, but so are many people who define themselves as theists, including some who are ordained as such. Theism is more complicated than that.

I wonder if I am making the same sort of mistake in the opposite direction. To me, materialists are people who believe that the human spirit is nothing more than a natural process or product of the body, which I cannot distinguish from saying that it is produced in essentially the same way as methane at the other end. Am I missing something?
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Sherwood Smithsartorias on September 11th, 2016 01:47 pm (UTC)
I don't think so, but then my definitions are more or less like yours.
A Wandering Hobbitredbird on September 11th, 2016 02:08 pm (UTC)
I would call myself a materialist, and would put that as something like, Mind and personality are things that human bodies do, which are affected by the person's environment. "Nothing but" is like saying "Beethoven's works are nothing but music": it might be literal truth, but the connotations are seriously misleading.

What I think you're missing is that materialism doesn't have to mean "and therefore nothing is important or interesting." It can mean "here is this wonderful universe, full of interesting things, which doesn't need unprovable outside entities to explain it or keep it going." That humans produce both methane and mathematics doesn't make mathematics trivial.

"Spirit" seems to generally be used to mean something unmeasurable that either is put into the body by an outside force, survives after the death of the person involved, or both. (Either that, or it's vague enough that questions like "does this exist?" and "do these two people who are talking about 'spirit' mean the same thing?" are unanswerable.
El Coyote Gordo: pastafariansupergee on September 11th, 2016 02:14 pm (UTC)
That is the sort of Spirit I believe in, and I have known all along that those who don't believe can still have a wonderful universe, full of interesting things, which doesn't need unprovable outside entities to explain it or keep it going.
eub on September 12th, 2016 07:51 am (UTC)
Yeah, like this. What is "fivefold radial symmetry", is it material, is it non-material, is it actually a thing? I call it real. Then is the organization of a starfish a product of matter just like the creature's feces?

So from my vantage point there's a thing you may be missing (or you know it but don't consider it significant?): that the products of matter can be of a different kind, like "symmetry" is. Or like "consciousness"?

tl,dr in a real way, materialists *don't* believe that only matter exists, they believe that matter is the ground of existence. (where for "matter" read "physical law".)
eub on September 12th, 2016 07:56 am (UTC)
(The choice of a fart versus a rainbow as your material product doesn't fundamentally change your question (right?), but it does have a polemic effect. As a matter of rhetoric, it doesn't give the impression that you are working to engage with the strongest version of the argument you're engaged with.)
El Coyote Gordo: Legosupergee on September 12th, 2016 07:16 pm (UTC)
Here is a userpic that splits the difference.
eub on September 13th, 2016 07:07 am (UTC)
Excellent.

So, yeah, maybe the thing is that the "symmetry is not a real thing we do not speak of it" type of materialism you're questioning is not a belief held by anyone, outside of the odd determined nutbar inside a philosophy department?
Young Geoffreyed_rex on September 12th, 2016 04:49 am (UTC)
Missing something, yes
As an atheist (of several generations' lineage on both sides, which is highly unusual and so, possibly relevant), I won't even try to speak for others, but for myself, your definition lacks that one, (pseudo)-magical ingredient.

That, in some as yet-unkonwn manner, the human spirit (if you will; I'd prefer a term like "consciousness") "spontaneously" generates complexity from its simple(r) parts.

So, yes, like methane, except we can't see the steps. Or, like Dark Matter, we see the results but haven't a clue how they occurred.

Atheists presume the mechanical explanation will be forthcoming - or at least, could be forth-coming, in principle.

I think many theists and deists are just (for a given quantity of "just") people for whom saying "I don't know," is too uncomfortable, or frightening, to abide. So they embrace explanation, any explanation, instead of being patient with their own ignorance.

Make any sense?
et in Arcadia egobooapostle_of_eris on September 13th, 2016 02:36 pm (UTC)
If you leave enough hydrogen alone long enough, it will start to wonder where it came from.
El Coyote Gordo: pastafariansupergee on September 13th, 2016 02:52 pm (UTC)
You can't trust anything.