Objectivity vs Subjectivity in debate part 2

Posted by on April 23, 2010 in Thoughts | 4 comments

I pretty much covered off this topic in a previous post, but the comments came flooding in, so I thought I’d take some of the better examples of “Subjectivity vs Objectivity” from them. Despite the fact that I had described the difference between the two, and how the former is a poor substitute for the latter in debate, the believers still came forth with examples of subjective “truths” and experiences.

Hand of God? - Hubble Telescope image

Hand of God? - Hubble Telescope image

Sorry for repeating, but this stuff was too good to sit way down in the comments of an older article and not be seen. I think this is worthwhile as an illustration of what I meant by my previous post, and what I  commonly encounter during debates.

It all started with this reply from Brett Hughes:

I agree with what you’re saying. The problem is, what happens when you are not looking for any type of subjective experience, yet God intervenes in your life with a personal experience that cannot be rationally explained.
What is one to do in this situation, simply ignore it or delve further into it? Simply saying God did this in my life is not a sufficient answer except when you have phenomenon that defies explanation. I created a video explaining my testimony. If you are interested you may view it at http://vimeo.com/9395893

I recommend you watch the video, as it will give you a good insight as to where Brett is coming from.

My reply was this:

I wonder if it cannot be rationally explained because your whole story seems a little irrational. You have obviously gone through some tough times while dealing with your apparent “sexual immorality”, so I wonder if you are the best person to make a judgement call on rational decisions in this state. If your situation defies explanation, which, frankly from your video just seemed like coincidence, is it possible that you stopped seeking further a little too early?

This guy obviously had issues already before he took part in the religious retreat, was asking questions about his sexuality, because he never spoke about it to friends, and they would have never known.

Brett goes on to answer me thus:

That’s my point. I never saw myself as having “sexual immorality” prior to becoming a Christian. I could understand your reasoning if I was guilt ridden and was seeking help, but I wasn’t. I never would have bothered making this video prior to becoming a Christian. Christ changed me from the inside out. I wasn’t brought up with any religion, so once I believed I was a blank slate.
(Y)ou said “but really all I see is a subjective viewpoint already predisposed to the answer you seemed to have already given yourself.”
and I could say the exact same thing about your views, so where exactly is the line of demarcation. It’s like your video “Powers of Ten”.
I see the beauty and complexity of Gods design. What do you see?

Brett uses the term “a blank slate” (he later clarifies that to a religious blank slate), so he admits in his own terms that he was ready to receive something. In any case, it soon became clear that I was beating my head against a wall to try to prove a point to Brett that would not be accepted, no matter how powerful the evidence, rational thought or reason behind my (or anyone else’s) words. It was proven in his final comment as seen here. Brett writes:

I can concede the fact that ultimately anyones belief in God is subjective, but so is everything in our lives. You speak of rational and objective thinking in terms of a creator, but do you apply this concept to your everyday life? I fully admit, it’s easy to look at nature and by deductive, rational reasoning see no evidence of God. Science can explain all matter down to it’s basic atomic structure, yet human beings are far from rational in nature. Love is irrational, Anger is irrational, Happiness and Sadness are irrational emotions. If you extrapolate Atheism out, then our very nature doesn’t make sense. If the universe is orderly and can be calculated by math and science, by objective thinking man should not “feel” love, anger, happiness, etc. If there is no God and the only truth is the creation itself, mankind should not even exsist.

I could answer this in the comments, but this points at a few things that skeptical thinkers will encounter while speaking to believers, so it’s worth delving into a bit, statement by statement.

I can concede the fact that ultimately anyones belief in God is subjective, but so is everything in our lives.

Yes the belief in God is subjective, everyone’s idea of a god is different from everyone else’s. Everyone has their own views, even the absence of a belief in God can vary from person to person. Everything in life, however is not subjective. We all breathe, we are all made of the same stuff, we are all at the mercy of the same laws of physics, we all have to eat, we all use language to communicate. To say everything in life is subjective is to imply that everything is down to interpretation. Maybe, in your mind, you think you are exempt from some of the objective truths about life (such as death), but the reality is you are just as much at the mercy of these truths as the next man.

You speak of rational and objective thinking in terms of a creator, but do you apply this concept to your everyday life?

Yep sure do, I think of my life rationally and objectively most of the time. I apply rationality where I can in life, and where I can’t, I try to apply empathy for situations where I can’t explain. Other times I find that I just need to learn more in order to make some sense of what’s going on in life, but rationality prevails in most situations.

I fully admit, it’s easy to look at nature and by deductive, rational reasoning see no evidence of God. Science can explain all matter down to it’s basic atomic structure, yet human beings are far from rational in nature. Love is irrational, Anger is irrational, Happiness and Sadness are irrational emotions.

This argument always gets me. People have asked me in the past, “How can you explain love? Love is irrational.” Well I’d like to refute that statement. Firstly I’d like to say none of these things are irrational, and all of them can be explained. The feelings themselves are the product of human evolution. We are social animals, and benefit by wanting to be around each other. We have benefitted as a species by needing the co-operation of others, and by keeping outsiders away. Fear, anger and jealousy can all be explained when applied to the self-preservation model. One of the most amazing things about the human mind is its ability to empathise, we can put ourselves in the shoes of others. The fact that sadness exists is not a divine gift, simply our ability to know that a change has occurred, or that someone else is in pain, or that a baby is distressed. All coping mechanisms.

And, no this does not take away from the amazing feeling of love, or the deep sadness of grief. The only difference is I know from whence it came, and why it happens. Irrational or not in today’s world, we retain these feelings etc because they were survival skills in human past. They may no longer be needed (eg. anger and jealousy of outsiders), but they are still with us, like an emotional appendix.

People have used the argument that humans are perfect, and this means god exists. Others have said people are flawed, and this is our punishment for things such as “Original Sin” etc, and this is proof of god. Either way there is a way around for the apologists.

Brett’s comment ended with these words:

If you extrapolate Atheism out, then our very nature doesn’t make sense. If the universe is orderly and can be calculated by math and science, by objective thinking man should not “feel” love, anger, happiness, etc. If there is no God and the only truth is the creation itself, mankind should not even exsist.

How can this be rational? Make sense to whom? Your life right now might not make sense to you, but agin that is subjective. If you look at life over hundreds of millions of years, it makes perfect sense that we got here and are the way we are. The irrational thought part has been answered already, and I admit people are irrational when stressed. But through that extra mile of thought and questioning of what you are told, and maybe a little research, you’ll see what I mean.

And to finish off, I’m not even sure how to approach the last sentence. A typical, all-ignoring statement. “Without god, man cannot exist.” I’m not sure how we arrived there, but I think my ideas are clear. Subjectivity is very difficult for the believer to achieve. Objectivity is this only way to enter into a debate if you actually WANT answers, and are not simply trying to convert people to your particular doctrine.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.

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4 Comments

  1. I hope that post wasn’t too long, I really think I needed to extend it a bit longer than usual to cover my points. Anyone have any opinions on this? I hope it all made sense.

    PS: it seems the reply I was writing about in this blog has been deleted.

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  2. I love how you answered each point. I really liked what you said here:

    “Irrational or not in today’s world, we retain these feelings etc because they were survival skills in human past. They may no longer be needed (eg. anger and jealousy of outsiders), but they are still with us, like an emotional appendix.”

    You have a way with words that I could only hope to one day have. I really enjoy reading your blog.

    Seems maybe someone might not have liked what they originally posted. I read all of it the first time and watched the entire video. Yep.

    Keep the blogs coming Martin!

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  3. hello. if youn enter the search phrase “aparition in the sky after F5 tornado in jarrell tx” you will see something truly remarkable. i dont have to tell you what it is. youll know it when/if you see it. if you do indeed elect to check it out, then maybe at least it will make you ask “what if”

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    • you mean this one? link

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