Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pain, Atheism and Truth

Pain, Atheism and Truth

Why do we feel pain? What is it for? Pain tells us when something is wrong. It is an incredibly powerful set of millions of sensors disbursed throughout our body to alert us to a problem so that we can take action. Foot tissue being destroyed? Alert the brain! "OUCH!" which leads to the foot being retracted. 

For dubious philosophical reasons, we assume our senses have evolved to provide us with accurate information about the physical world. Pain is a particularly salient kind of information and usually does a good job of keeping us alive. Of course, it seems like we're getting more and more  chronic pain conditions in which the sensors seem to be broken or malfunctioning. But the big picture is that they're really useful (as leprosy patients will tell you).

But humans have the ability to feel more than just physical pain. We also have evolved the ability to feel psychic pain. For some reason, it is assumed that, while the physical pain is useful for alerting the organism to a problem, the psychic pain is pointless. We often treat it (a likely very expensive adaptation) as always malfunctioning. In an article on Christians having more positive Twitter accounts, the Jezebel author explained
atheists' rational thought "diminish[es] the capacity for optimism and positive self-illusions that typify good mental health.
The underlying assumption (by the atheist) is that the atheists are seeing the real world while Christians are believing in illusions. But imagine the same thing were said of physical pain: "Atheists' foot immobility diminishes the capacity for painlessness and un-charred flesh that typify good foot health."

Why are atheists in pain and Christians not? Why do we assume that the psychic pain sense is the only sense that leads us wrong? Might it be that the psychic pain is telling the organism some useful information? If we are to be scientific and follow our senses, why ignore this one? Why shouldn't we move in a direction that we, even if we were dumb animals, would follow to escape pain?

I have the utmost respect for the atheist virtue of valuing truth so highly. It is the virtue of Thor and other Norse mythical heroes who, knowing defeat to Ice Giants is certain, fight on. It is the virtue of the stoic, who knows the gods will win, but doesn't give them the satisfaction of seeing him in pain. And so may atheists soldier on valiantly, without hope of afterlife and without cosmic meaning in this one, enduring the pain that only "self-delusion" would palliate. But what if the pain wasn't necessary? What if life could be lived with satisfaction and without pain? What if all of our senses pointed us toward truth? What if reason and faith could, like estranged lovers, meet in a long-overdue embrace?


  1. Yes, physical pain tells us when something is wrong, but where do you get the idea that the “psychic” or which I prefer to call emotional pain, is pointless?

    Emotional pain also plays a significant role in protection. I would be willing to say that it actually keeps us more alive than physical pain ever does. In most cases emotional pain can preempt and even prevent physical pain. Empathy and sympathy being some of these driving forces. These emotional pains can and do help a person avoid bad decisions that can lead to physical and emotional injury. On the flip side of pain there is happiness and joy, these emotions tells us that the decisions we make are good and should be recreated. Also I would like to add that humans are not the only species to feel emotional pain.

    And to its malfunction you speak of, abuse, trauma and overzealous drug treatments to both children and adults play a major role in creating a “malfunction” within these systems.

    OK lets move on to the post you quote from. As far as I can tell this “study” only shows that one side uses certain words than the other. None of this study was putting those words into context into what they were actually saying. For instances the word love, the Christian that uses the word love in
    in a tweet. What were they saying, What was the context? I love you. And, I do not love you, both have the word love in it and have opposite meanings. So without context all this is a measurement of nouns and adjectives and who uses them more frequently in their posts. I would like to add that I did not see any reference to the study itself. Who performed it, who analyzed it and when did it happen.

    Quote from the piece:
    The researchers say the typical Christian Twitter user chooses "gut-driven" language based in the certainty of their faith, while atheists' rational thought "diminish[es] the capacity for optimism and positive self-illusions that typify good mental health."

  2. I would like to address something. First this is just a puff piece allowing the continuation of conformation bias with no real relevance. And secondly not all Atheists or Christians come to their conclusions via rational thought. Some just are because that's what they were taught/propagandized into believing in the early stages of their lives, and I would say that is the majority of the cases. I believe that a minority of Atheists actually come to their beliefs through rational thought.

    What proof if any shows that rational thinking diminishes the capacity for optimism or positive self-illusions. Setting aside optimism for now, anyone can have positive self-illusions regardless of your thinking patterns or habits, it just depends on how much you have to wriggle around uncomfortable truths to justify your actions as good. So, a murderer can have a positive self-illusion and so can a just man.

    Can rational thought reduce optimism? Sure it can but not in the negative way that the quote eludes too. Say, growing up I believed in Santa and then one day using rational thought I put two and two together and come to the conclusion that Santa does not exist and it was my family all along. My optimism was that Santa would be back next year and all was good. But by learning the truth, it did not make me pessimistic in any way. (Though it did make me question a lot of other stuff that I was told) I still held optimism, not that Santa would bring me gifts but that my parents would. But what did happen was I was no longer believing a fairy tale. Its optimistic to believe in unicorns, though it is not pessimistic to say that unicorns do not exist, it is just the truth of the matter.

    Why are atheists in pain and Christians not? Who says this is the case? Who says Christians are not in pain? Tying this to the piece you quote from, pain is not the correct word. Disgust or outrage may perhaps be more suitable. Atheists are usually disgusted by the hypocrisy of not only

  3. Christians but all forms of religion. As would be the case for myself. I would say that Christians create as much or more pain than they alleviate for several reasons.
    What is the biggest producer of pain, suffering, intolerance, and hatred, theft and murder in the 20th and 21st century. Empires. Right now it is the American Empire. Ran by an overwhelming majority of Christians with the its military power which consists of between 70% to 87% (depending on what poll results you refer to) Christians. This Empire uses threats of deadly force and extortion, and more times than not executes that deadly force to get its way. All While the Christians (which are a majority here) just sit back and let it happen and cheer with nationalism the blood that is spilled around the world. What ever happened to turn the other cheek or Judge not......?

    I have only seen a small hand full of Christians even question the blood lust of the USA, let alone stand up to it. Most follow it chanting its name or allow it to go unchecked.

    In Nazi Germany while it is argued both ways lets assume Hitler Was an Atheist, yet the populace was almost entirely Christian and or Catholic and still they cheered the blood lust of their Leaders. Same goes for the Soviets. Can also mention the KKK or local mob boss' and their Christian beliefs.

    It is not hard why some people become Atheists, when the bible says to:

    Kill People Who Don't Listen to Priests
    Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)
    Kill Witches
    You should not let a sorceress live. (Exodus 22:17 NAB)
    Kill Homosexuals
    "If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives." (Leviticus 20:13 NAB)
    Kill Fortunetellers
    A man or a woman who acts as a medium or fortuneteller shall be put to death by stoning; they have no one but themselves to blame for their death. (Leviticus 20:27 NAB)
    Death for Hitting Dad
    Whoever strikes his father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15 NAB)
    And many more awful things, for shits sake God Killed the world. Did we forget that.
    It must be Said that there are bad and good people on each side. But if you want to take a poll of all the misery that has happened around the world, the religious hold an enormous piece of the responsibility whether it was done in the name of God or not. That is the outrage and anger that Atheists hold towards religion. It is not pessimism or a lack of optimism its sheer statistics of evil religion produces.

  4. Knowing the truth is not a virtue, but telling it is. Its easy to go on about your day to day business when you lie to yourself about what is being done in your name. So yeah Atheists might be in a bit more pain, but its not a lack of faith, but a pure blunt reality thrown into their face. If you really have the utmost respect for their positions, try first by explaining all the hypocrisy and evil shit they demand an answer too.

    As for me Ill stick to the Non-Aggression Principle, its easier to remember, doesn't require a belief in a Magic Sky Wizard and most importantly it does not hurt people while its being practiced. Remember I am only .01% more Atheist than you. You have thrown the other 10,000+ gods that have ever “existed” out the window leaving only your god. I threw them all out. The last line you state, I agree with. Don't spread God, spread Peace and maybe both sides might have that warm embrace. I don't have to change someones faith to change their minds.