Mo teeters on the brink of self-knowledge. Careful, Mo!

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Discussion (40)¬

  1. Sammy says:

    Rationality and humour; an unbeatable combination.

  2. Mary2 says:

    Author, very nice!

  3. Maggs says:

    The jugular, though hit with Author’s expected, unerring bolt, is totally ignorant of its ruin.

  4. floridakitesurfer says:

    Sorry to get off topic so soon after such an excellent cartoon, but I’m dying to tell you; I landed a 30 foot jump yesterday! I came down on the board riding away and my wife saw the whole thing. It is funny that she didn’t see my five maybe six jump transitions where I was riding to the right and jumped five to fifteen feet and landed going to the left. Every time I did one I asked her what she thought and she told me she hadn’t been looking. She told me “Ok. Go do one and I will watch”. That time of course I landed on my butt. But she saw the thirty footer.

    This was the first time I landed a jump over 25 feet. I’ve been up there two other times, but both times I landed without the board and one of those I actually ended up in the emergency room.

    On the thirty foot jump, I got about two seconds of hang time right at the top of the jump and then the wind died down a little. I dropped a butt clenching ten feet at a speed that felt like my lines had been cut before the wind resumed and started buoying me up again. During that drop my instincts were screaming to kick out of the board. If the strings were really cut and you drop thirty wearing the board you’ll break your leg like hitting the ground. But if you kick out, it is like diving and your legs are able to spear into the water. But my rational mind held two thoughts: 1) I’m still twenty feet in the air, a crash is not exactly imminent and 2) I would really like to land one of these for a change. So the wind managed to stabilize just before I would have freaked out. When my body changed from falling fast to falling slow it induce a little pendulum swing that made riding off just that much less likely. But in the next twenty feet of drop I managed to dampen the pendulum swing, point the board in the right direction and still had enough presence of mind to dive the kite a little before impact so that I land with forward momentum and pull.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

  5. Jerryw says:

    The word “Faith” hasn’t been used so much since the last meeting of the George Michael fan club.

  6. Great strip, Author. I have close to contempt for the whole idea of faith, which, as far as I can tell, simply means believing with no evidence at all.

    I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, unlike the Mayans who believed they had to have a human sacrifice to ensure that it would happen, typical of where religious thinking takes people. But my faith is backed by ample evidence, i.e. the sun has always risen the next day throughout recorded history. So is my belief that the sun will rise still faith? I’m not sure. If it is, it is faith based on ample evidence, unlike the garden variety faith promoted by the faithful.

    Floridakitesurfer, with a description like that you are welcome to go off topic. Thanks for sharing, and taking me out of my low level adrenalin existence for a moment.

  7. Ron Millam says:

    @Darwin+Harmless — what you’re describing (“faith” that the sun will rise tomorrow”) is not faith. It’s a reasonable expectation based on decades of personal experience and a basic knowledge of the Earth’s rotation. “Faith” can exist only in the absence of evidence.

  8. JohnM says:

    @ Ron Millam

    What DH describes as faith the sun will rise would definitely be just that, for people who have conducted human sacrifice (or other ritual) over generations – then decided one evening to not do so. The absence of evidence would comprise their personal history that always included daily sacrifice.

  9. Alexis says:

    Thanks D+H. Now I can’t get that song out of my head. Sing along now “The sun will come out – tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun…”

  10. omg says:

    I have faith that planet x will not destroy the earth. I can’t prove that planet x didn’t exist, but I’m very confident.

    Is it faith or is it scientific evidence? I think people that believe in planet x must present some evidence, so there no faith in thinking it didn’t exist.

    I know with a very high percentage that the sun will rise tomorrow because it is backed with scientific evidence. These evidences could be challenged, but it would require other very strong evidences.

  11. djdummy says:

    Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try…..
    Thanks John.

  12. Brother+Daniel says:

    The real problem with the word “faith” is that it is simply too slippery, too incoherent. It’s very hard to pin down what is meant by it in general.

    In such a case, it can sometimes be helpful to fight against common usage and to try to insist upon a coherent meaning. And there’s an art to that kind of struggle.

    I take Ron Millam’s claim (that faith can exist only in the absence of evidence) to be a move in that kind of game: to fight against common usage by trying to assign the word “faith” to a coherent concept, in this case that of evidence-free belief. As such, I agree that the word “faith” is precisely the sort of word that is appropriate to subject to such a move, but I disagree on aesthetic grounds with the suggested definition.

    (On the other hand, if his claim is intended as simply factual, then it’s simply wrong: There is ample evidence that evidence-free belief is not at all what is meant by the people who most often use the word “faith”.)

    And just to complicate matters further, even the relatively coherent and benign word “belief” also gets subjected to the same sort of game, quite unnecessarily I think, in many atheist-dominated circles.

  13. Undeluded says:

    DH – “So is my belief that the sun will rise still faith?”

    You used the terms “belief” and “faith” in the same sentence. I would like to hone the distinction. (There are languages, Hebrew for one, that has only one word for both). Both seem to refer to the acceptance of a claim as True (and what Truth is, is a separate question altogether).

    However, the issue of evidence is irrelevant. You believe that you are capable of rational thinking (how do you “prove” that to yourself?); and you have faith that your best friend will go out of his way to help you out of a pickle (how else can Trust begin?). Neither involve evidence, as you cannot use whatever you may call evidence to convince anyone else. Evidence is not needed for belief or faith.

    However, evidence is very much needed to refute belief and/or faith. That is exactly why I am an atheist. Some of this evidence might be rejected by believers/faithful – and indeed, sometimes evidence is “cooked up,” either fraudulently (i.e. by corrupt police plantings) or intentionally (i.e. by illusionists) – even mistakenly (i.e. scientists discovering “ether”).

    So we all view evidence with varying degrees of suspicion. The rising sun is an almost mathematical certainty – it only becomes evidence when you try to prove something with it.

    What we assume is that given the same “evidence,” people with (what we call) “normal reasoning capabilities” will arrive at the same, or similar conclusions. If they don’t, we should ask why. Sometimes, after a debate or exposition of ideas, one side realizes that her reasoning needs to process additional “evidence,” heretofore unconsidered. As a result, her conclusions may change. For me, scientific evidence is pretty compelling!

    Some of you might recall my “Definition List.” “Evidence” is a term there. I think it was Peter Boghossian who stumps believers by asking (paraphrasing): “what would you consider sufficient evidence to change your faith/belief?” Most likely the reply would be “there ain’t no such animal.” Bye-bye evidence! If, however, a challenge is issued – we might be facing a “borderline” case, and an ensuing debate just might bear fruit.

  14. hotrats says:

    “A remarkable number of apparently intelligent people are baffled by the fact that a different group of apparently intelligent people profess to a knowledge of God, when common sense tells them (the first group of apparently intelligent people) that knowledge is only a possibility in matters which can be demonstrated to be true or false, such as ‘the Bristol train leaves from Paddington’.

    And yet these same apparently intelligent people, who in extreme cases will not even admit that the Bristol train left from Paddington yesterday (which might be a malicious report, or a collective trick of memory) nor that it will leave from there tomorrow (for nothing is certain) and will only agree that it did today if they were actually there when it left, and even then only on the understanding that all the observable phenomena associated with the the train leaving Paddington could equally well be accounted for by Paddington leaving the train, these same people will, nevertheless, and without any sense of inconsistency, claim to know that life is better than death, that love is better than hate, and that the light shining through the east window of their bloody gymnasium is more beautiful than a rotting corpse!”

    Tom Stoppard, ‘Jumpers’, 1972

  15. Mary2 says:

    Floridakitesurfer, my brain is obviously not working today. I read “I landed a 30 foot jump yesterday” and the first thought that went through my head was, ‘on what? a motorbike, waterskis etc.’ Doh! In my own defense, it wasn’t THAT long before I thought of your name! Congratulations; great achievement.

    Jerryw, LOL

    DH, I’m with Ron M about the definition of faith. Faith =/= a reasonable expectation.

    Alexis, Not fair! The most difficult earworm to get rid of ever!

    Hotrats, very nice. Ken Ham believes there is a difference between ‘observational science’ and ‘historical science’. He believes that we can only ever know what we can observe now, today, and that it is impossible that we should have evidence for e.g. the big bang or dinosaurs because we were not there to witness the events and have no way to prove that conditions of that period were the same as they are now – i.e. our science may be lying to us. The rest of the planet just believes Ken Ham is a half-witted troglodyte with bad facial hair.

  16. Mark S. says:

    Undeluded: “You believe that you are capable of rational thinking (how do you “prove” that to yourself?)”

    I work in an engineering profession, I’ve always been a scientist, and I’ve lived for 50 years. I’ve used rational thinking *a* *lot*. It routinely produces results that are consistent with the objective reality. When it fails, it is either a mistake (error) or insufficient knowledge/understanding of the portion of reality that I am examining.

    b.t.w. A guy laid that same question on me in a blog comment. My answer is that I have no reason to expect that his rational thinking is any better than mine, so I pick mine. Since he has no way to know if he is capable of rational thinking, I think he should use mine too. 🙂

    “and you *have faith* that your best friend will go out of his way to help you out of a pickle”

    No, I have evidence: the sum total of the history of my relationship with that friend causes me to have that belief. It can be an incorrect belief (e.g. if the friend is unable to help for some reason), but that doesn’t make the belief any less justified by the evidence.

  17. I admit to being in trouble with the question: What would make you change your mind about the existence of God.

    When Ken Ham was asked this questions by Bill Nye, he responded “Nothing would make me change my mind.” Bill Nye responded to the same question with “Evidence.” And that sums up the difference between a religious nutter and a rational person.

    But here’s where I get in trouble with this question. Were I presented with really hard evidence that a god exists, I’d have to ask myself which is more likely, that god exists or my brain is malfunctioning. I can’t think of any evidence that my brain would be incapable of producing, and the existence of any god seems so very unlikely that it would be much more likely that my brain was malfunctioning. So I’m afraid I’d have to give Ken Ham’s answer to the question. Nothing would make me believe that god exists. It’s just too logically improbable, compared to the probability that I’ve gone crackers.

    Of course if the evidence that god exists was persistent and continuous, I’d probably start acting “as if” god exists, just to reconcile my internal and external realities, but I still don’t think I’d believe it. Am I alone in this?

  18. Mary2 says:

    DH, I tend to agree with your ‘evidence’ conundrum but, just because we cannot at present conceive what evidence would be strong enough to convince us that a god exists rather than convince us our minds were playing tricks, does not mean that we would not be convinced by evidence. I don’t think this is anything like Ken Ham’s comment that nothing would convince him to change his mind because he has read one book and decided it is the whole and unerring truth, come what may.

  19. JoJo says:

    Florida Kite Surfer: Well done on your ‘airtime.’ You remind me of the old joke of the lad who ran in to a Catholic church, grabbed the Padre and breathlessly told him he had something to get off his chest. “You know the O’Mally twins, father? The identical curvaceous blonde bombshells? Well I just had sex with them. Both of them! At the same time!’ Flustered, the Padre tells him to quickly come over to the confessional and seek forgiveness for his sinfulness. “Confession?’ said the lad, “but I’m not a Catholic!” “So why are you telling me all this?’ asked the baffled priest. “Are you kidding?’ replied the lad, “I’m telling EVERYBODY!”

    PS: RIP Dave Allen. Wherever you are.. 🙂

  20. Brother Daniel says:

    Regarding DH’s evidence-for-god problem: It seems to me that any “evidence” for god has so far been awfully thin on the ground (to put it mildly), so if you were confronted by persistent/continuous evidence for god, that would represent a radical change in your experience of the universe.

    And there’s one of the big problems with the god hypothesis: “Evidence” is meaningless without the universe functioning in a way that is internally consistent. If the workings of the universe can be trumped at any time and place by god’s whims, then the whole category of things we call “evidence” is badly compromised! So it’s not even clear to me that “evidence for god” is a logically coherent idea, unless we restrict our notion of “god” to a deistic one (which has other problems, I think).

    Having said all that: If you went crackers enough to start seeing continuous/persistent evidence for god, you might then be crackers enough to start believing in god, regardless of what you say NOW about it. 😀

    – – –

    I figure that if there’s a god who gives a damn about whether I believe in her/him/it, then she/he/it will find a way to lead me to such a belief. It’s not up to me to imagine what such a pathway would look like. I can picture a theist making an objection here based on god’s alleged unwillingness to trump anyone’s “free will”. But that doesn’t work: The central point here is that I’m not *wilfully* opposed to changing my mind on anything, including the existence of god. So there’s NOTHING to stop a god from finding a way to change my mind.

  21. Mark S. says:

    I don’t share Darwin Harmless’s problem. I’m all about the evidence.

    For example, one explanation of quantum entanglement involved “hidden variables”. This hypothesis is that the “spooky action at a distance” is not really happening, but we think it is because there is something we don’t know hidden inside the system.

    But last time I studied the Bell Inequalities well enough to check up on them, the data really does prove that hidden variables are not sufficient to explain quantum entanglement. I’ve since forgotten the details, but I remember doing the analysis and the result that I believe the validity of Bell’s experiment and of the result.

    The Standard Model of quantum physics is easily as weird a hypothesis as God is. The difference is that everywhere I look, I find evidence that the Standard Model works. Everywhere I look for evidence of God, I find wishful thinking, bad reasoning, and a reluctance to even try to experiment.

    I once suggested to a Catholic friend that I could be persuaded by experimental evidence of God, but that believers would have to carry out the experiment because they are the only ones with motive (i.e. to convince me). It really freaked her out — she could not even consider performing the experiment because you don’t experiment on somebody you have a relationship with. Sorry, but her “personal relationship” with the “ground of being” doesn’t provide me with any evidence.

    DH, I think your problem might be simpler than you think. You can’t imagine any evidence for God that would be more plausible than a brain malfunction. If I came to you with evidence that holds up as well as the Bell Inequalities, you might change your mind. Bell’s math doesn’t look crazy at all. The experimental results don’t look crazy (except that they refute the hypothesis of hidden variables). It all holds together.

    I personally can’t think of what that evidence might look like, but I’m pretty sure that no such evidence exists, so it is hard for me to speculate on what it would look like.

  22. floridakitesurfer says:

    Yes, you have nailed me exactly. I even told the dentist last night.
    DH and Mary2,
    Thanks for the encouragement in my off topic comment brag. I think both of you are suffering from a lack of imagination about evidence convincing you of god though.
    God back after 10,000 year absence!

    God came back yesterday and told every single person on earth he has been watching but not acting. He pointedly informed every single person on earth that everything attributed to him in the last 10,000 has been a pack of lies but he is here now. He then removed cancer from every single person on earth and made them as healthy as a healthy twenty year old.

    You know what I mean? The evidence could be quite overwhelming if there really were a god.

  23. fenchurch says:

    Whew, what a relief that some believers will use the smug “Were you there?” when demanding eyewitnesses for begining-of-time events like the Big Bang.

    For, they then open themselves to be asked “Were you there?” re: Jesus’ conception (*ahem*), birth, and death + 2-3 days after that point.

    If they insist on claiming to indeed be witlesses witnesses to biblical events, then feel free to extol the personal wonders of having had a front-row seat to all matter in the universe being compressed and then rapidly expanding.

    Maybe FKS can embellish the tale with claims to riding the expansion on his board. <_<

  24. Hoosier X says:

    The dumber an idea is, the more faith you must have to believe it. Therefore, the people with the strongest faith believe the dumbest ideas.

    Christians get awfully defensive when you point this out to them.

  25. Sly-Fi says:

    Wherever possible I constrain the word Faith to only denote ‘belief without evidence’; in all other case; i.e. The sun will rise tomorrow and spousal fidelity etc. I substitute the word Trust.

    Most people, even rabid theists (I like that image!), accept that Trust is something that you grant and is invariably based on either experience or wishful thinking. In the same vein, Hope can fit quite nicely.

    In the interest of clear expression and meaning, us Heretics would be better served by reserving the word Faith to exclusively religious contexts.

  26. Sly-Fi says:

    BTW when I ticked the wee ‘spammer’ box, I momentarily read that as “I am not a spanner’. Well it made me laugh.

  27. ippy says:

    Well, technically he is not only son of god, he is also god himself.

  28. FloridaKiteSurfer, you are quite correct. If God came back in the manner you describe, I’d be ready to believe it, provided it lasted longer than my last acid trip. Just a lack of imagination on my part that I couldn’t come up with that for myself. Yes, if God came back from wherever he’s been hiding and cured all those children of cancer and wiped out malaria in Africa, and did all the other stuff people have been begging Him to do for several centuries, i.e. actually responded to human prayer, I’d be ready to believe. I’d still have the lingering suspicion that I’d gone nuts, but I’d probably put that aside. One thing about being crazy is that one usually doesn’t know that one is crazy.

  29. Undeluded says:

    Mark S: Re “You believe that you are capable of rational thinking (how do you “prove” that to yourself?)”

    I must have made my claim somewhat incoherently. It seems you have managed to use my reasoning backwards (and I find it thrilling to be able to do so 🙂 ).

    It is your belief in rational thinking that allows you to consider things, events and data as evidence – not the other way round. My point was that you cannot use your belief in your own rational thinking to convince anyone else of this fact, unless a priori this other person believes the same about herself (say, a psychiatrist). (I faulted by requesting “prove to yourself” – sorry). Once you believe you can think rationally you can go about examining, finding mistakes and claiming that your understanding of what “objective reality” is is better than someone else’s. I hope you agree that if you did not believe you could think rationally, you could not even make your statements here. Every sane person on this planet believes in her rational thinking capabilities (find me someone who claims the opposite!) – but some believe other stuff as well, sometimes contradictory to rational thinking, and their view of “objective reality” includes god, prayer, life after death, etc. I think you said it all with “My answer is that I have no reason to expect that his rational thinking is any better than mine, so I pick mine.” “He” probably responds in exactly the same way, and we’re at stalemate as far as convincing others is concerned. A person
    when drunk or stoned may still believe he thinks rationally, yet his evidence-processing capabilities would likely be far from what they were when she was cold sober.

    As for the “best friend” issue – well, what I called “faith” you called “belief” (twice), which is the distinction I tried to make. You did not say knowledge! The best your “evidence” can afford you is that maybe she’ll help you and maybe not. You don’t know whether it is one or the other. Belief and faith are involved where knowledge is absent. Can you really prove your spouse loves you? And can you really attribute whatever evidence you may provide to love?

    Any claim to knowledge results from the belief in your ability to rationalize.

    Mark S, I, too, regard evidence as proof for explaining objective reality. But my objective reality also includes the realization that there are things I cannot prove (and I hope I can add the word “yet”). Very smart people are searching for “evidence” to explain/prove emotions (love, jealousy), addictions, and other workings of the brain. Some attribute these phenomena to the “soul” – personally, I believe (!) that “soul” will go the way of “ether.”

  30. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    Darwin, “Were I presented with really hard evidence that a god exists, I’d have to ask myself which is more likely, that god exists or my brain is malfunctioning.
    Or, of course, there’s always Asimov’s ‘advanced civilisation’ hypothesis; how would we know we were faced with a god rather than a far more advanced life-form?

    fks, nice one. You’ve made this old git want to try something new, though I’m not sure my spine would survive the twisting and turning, never mind the landing. I also particularly enjoyed the image thrown up by Fenchurch’s suggestion of you riding the expansion following the Big Bang.

    Finally, am I going blind or has Nassar not yet contributed to this one?

  31. Mary2 says:

    Maybe not being of a scientific bent I have a looser definition of ‘proof’ than some. I find the definition used by religious people that every truth is held on faith to be pointless semantics which is no use whatsoever in the real world. I think the sort of evidence we use in everyday thinking is of the ‘on the balance of probabilities’ (spousal fidelity) weighting or possibly the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ variety (the sun will rise tomorrow), rather than the ‘beyond any question, 100%, no chance ever of anything else happening’ standard of evidence. I think we can still say we believe things on evidence rather than we have ‘faith’ in such things. All the evidence of 15 years worth of behaviour shows me that there is a good chance my spouse is faithful. I wouldn’t say it was a 100% certainty, but I would say the evidence is strong enough to be reasonably sure. If we are going to demand 100% proof before we can call something a fact then we may as all be running around believing we are living in the matrix. In the real world even the sun rising tomorrow is not 100% certain should the laws of physics change or be other than what we think, but, given all our knowledge and experience, we can be sure enough to call it a fact. On this basis, when people suggest that one cannot really be an atheist but must instead be agnostic as we can never prove that no god exists, I call bullshit. If I understood anything about statistics (which I don’t) I could give a statistical probability, based on all the evidence we do and don’t have to date, on the existance of a god and that number would include so many zeros as to be, for all intents and purposes, close to a 100% probability that no god exists. I think anyone who would wait for that 100% certainty before believing in the truth of a claim will spend most of their lives hiding in a corner thinking everything is a dream and they are a brain in a vat.

  32. Undeluded says:

    Mary2: Of course, you are 100% correct 🙂 that being “reasonably sure” is sufficient to carry on an everyday life, including meaningful and emotionally satisfying relationships. Even current scientific theories attempt to get to that stage at first. I am not trying to justify what we think – I am only striving to understand how we think. You mentioned statistics, which is a branch of mathematics – perhaps the most rational application of human thought that exists. And yet, as all mathematicians will tell you, it is totally based on axioms – those impossible-to-prove statements taken (assumed) as Truth. To these we apply rational thinking (often 100% based on these axioms) and build up our world. Arriving at conclusions resulting from evidence is an outcome of rational thinking, not the cause of it! Even the recognition of evidence as evidence is an outcome of rational thinking. Doubting our senses is another such outcome (and there are many who cannot go that far). All this constitutes ‘knowledge’ and ‘facts’ (and ‘laws of physics’), which many take for granted!

    We all have our axioms. My first two are: 1) I can think rationally. 2) Some of my experiences cannot be explained rationally. I cannot prove either of them, yet for me they are irrefutable, because to do so I would need to abandon logic and reason – the two main methods I use to apply rational thinking. The main benefit I get is the ability to learn! I don’t think I can come up with any additional axioms I might need (I’m open to suggestions, however). They are sufficient for building my entire outlook on reality the way it is.

    Believers have additional axioms, just as irrefutable. I cannot give this phenomenon a rational explanation. Perhaps someone will demonstrate that there is an evolutionary explanation for being a believer – the papers I have read on this so far do nothing of the kind (didn’t someone say that religion ‘slows’ evolution?). Religionistas have no problem with what we might call “logical conflict” or “proof without evidence.” Therefore, I sometimes think that their learning capacity is somewhat flawed.

  33. Mary2, I’d say marry me but that’s out of the question, obviously. So I’ll settle for expressing my admiration. I like the way you think.

  34. hotrats says:

    I understood anything about statistics (which I don’t) I could give a statistical probability, based on all the evidence we do and don’t have to date, on the existance of a god and that number would include so many zeros as to be, for all intents and purposes, close to a 100% probability that no god exists.

    I think the probability sums are easier than you think; Wikipedia gives the number of current religions as around 4,200. By definition, each one has a different definition of god, and only one (at the most) can be ‘correct’.

    Already a few zeroes after the decimal point, but when you factor in the likelihood of the internal contradictions, physical impossibilities and general absurdity of scripture having any kind of basis in reality as we know it, the zeroes do become uncountable.

  35. two cents' worth says:

    FKS, you didn’t brag, you told the truth 🙂 ! Congratulations not only on your awesome 30 foot jump, but also on landing it when your wife was watching. Now you two have another fabulous memory added to your shared history. Wonderful!

  36. Poor Richard says:

    Re: the atrociuos assault upon your computer.

    I see it now: all your talented techs kneeling around their station in desperate prayer. Too bad some scientists are finding more and more that prayer, especially by groups, inhibits success ; — must be too chaotic in there. Is it true your weaker few offered their souls? I know they will be forgiven when the Great Progamer is able to figure it out.

    Good words to all–Poor Richard

  37. daughter of god claimant says:

    curious that if anyone today claims they are the ‘son of god’ or hear voices from the angel gabriel
    they get sectioned under mental health act

  38. hotrats says:

    ‘The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.’ (Psalm 14 v1).

    Happy National Atheist Day everyone.

  39. JohnM says:

    @Mary2 “…when people suggest that one cannot really be an atheist but must instead be agnostic as we can never prove that no god exists…”, then you tell them you’re non-theist.

  40. Cameron says:

    Just found your awesome comics today. Just thought you’d like to know for the future that it’s “judgment”, not “judgement”.

    Keep it up!


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