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*** Devil's advocate mode on ***

Could be a two-sided puzzle. Maybe the duck is on the other side of the puzzle (in another dimension, so to speak). Did they look on the other side?

*** Devil's advocate mode off ***

In order for this analgoy to be truly representative, we'd need a few thousand boxes with pictures of every bird imaginable on them, as well as the box with a duck on it, and several thousand different bunnies for some of the more prolifically favoured boxes each declaring that the puzzle is displaying their bird.     

There is no means by which to force or trick another with absolute certainty into considering a different point of view.    Point in fact, trying to force the issue will see the intent, no matter how noble, subverted by force's application; rejected because it was forced, not because it was right or wrong.

Something I find to work...well enough at least some of the time...is to take a faithful person absolutely seriously, but face them with a problem we can agree on as being a problem, as there needs to be some ground for mutual relation in the first place, or the potential for communication is lost before the matter's even begun.

Here's an example, paraphrased from memory, of just such an exchange between a fairly devout christian colleague and I.

Me:  "We seem very much agreed that so many people in our own country are homeless and jobless.    What do you think we should do about this?"

CW:  "I honestly don't know.   Political agendas use it like a platform to generate sympathy, but with no real intention of doing anything about it.   I know a lot of churches, my own included, put a lot of effort into humanitarian efforts for our own communities, but it's just so little against so widespread a problem.    I know it matters to the people we help, but I go to sleep at night thinking that we helped maybe three, four hundred people with our last fundraiser; how many did we miss?     How many, right here at home, do we never even see or know about even if we had the resources to help them, which we probably don't?"

Me:  "I often wonder about the same things with my charitabel donations.   I research the charities and inform myself on both their credibility and efficiency of commuting my dollars into actual aid for the intended recipients, but it feels a lot like its just throwing money at a problem that never gets solved.     Doctors Without Borders is my pet cause.  Heard of it?"

CW: "Oh, sure.   I don't know a lot about that organization, but nothing I've heard has been bad.   I'm kind've surprised you'd back a Christian charity though.  You're pretty plain-stated as being an atheist and all."

Me:  "Doesn't mean I don't respect the mission and the reasonable transparency of that organization.   They do good work that's of genuine value to the human race.   You look a bit surprised to hear this."

CW:  "I suppose I am a bit surprised.   I mean, you're blatantly atheistic and I guess I just don't know where that could leave a person, morally speaking.   I respect you professionally and all that; you know that, I hope; but you're ...I guess what I'm trying to say is that you're a bit intimidating.   I don't feel like you're someone I could talk to about this kind of thing, I guess."

Me:  "It's not a lumped-up matter to me, in my thinking.   Take Doctors Without Borders as an example; it's a pretty Christian-backed organization, but they're not out there preaching gospel at people.  They're out applying real medical knowledge to people that desperately need it.    To me, that goes beyond the relevance of whatever lines in the sand we might draw over beliefs on creationism or the purposes of life; way beyond.   That's taking what we know as best we can make it useful and making it useful in address of very real, very certain problems."

CW:  "So, you agree with the utility of it.  Am I understanding you right?"

Me:  "Exactly.   See, I'm pretty utilitarian on a lot of things.   Not strictly in accordance with the philosophy, but in a more literal framing.     The best method is the method that considers both the well-being of those affected as well as the procedure to outcome's effectiveness.     When you're dealing with people, it's a bad system if it's super effective where procedure to outcome is considered, but makes people miserable or inflicts suffering on them to endure or sustain it.    Similarly, I'd call it a bad system if its super effective in making people happy, but doesn't actually have any utility."

CW:  "That's...pretty much how I think.   Wow, that's surprising.    Are you sure you're an atheist? Hahaha, no offense, but...well, I'm sure you know that not all Christians are like those crazies that make the news.    I honestly didn't know you thought like that though.   That's interesting."

Me:  "I'm absolutely an atheist, yep, but see there too...it's not a lumped-up matter for me even there.    Do I think Christians are stupid people?    Its a non-sequitur; Christianity and stupidity aren't even necessarily correlary, let alone mutually causative.     I think religions in general hold a very distinct appeal to the ignorant, yes...but that's based on the observation that it is easier to feel informed than to be informed.    You can be profoundly lazy and know next to nothing about anything at all and still -feel- very informed because your pastor or priest says this is true and that is true, and that sort of Christian...nope, I have no respect at all for anyone of any religion that thinks they know things with that as a backdrop."

CW:  "Ugh, I feel you there.   Christians that are like that...I guess I know plenty, but I feel sorry for them more than anything.   You seem more angry about it though.    Is it cool if I ask why, if that's so?"

Me:  "It's absolutely so, yep.   Pisses me right off that someone armed with a completely ignorant opinion frequently has to be taken as seriously as a group of dedicated scientists that've spent years of their lives researching something exhaustively.    I am, and I will freely admit, extremely intellectually intolerant of that manner of thing.       But then, I'm just as intolerant of pseudo-science and pop-science being waved around."

CW: "I definitely hear you there.   Even in our own field there's a lot of that.   Gets pretty hard sometimes to reconcile with what I believe as far as putting up with it goes, but...I'm sorry, I'm just all kinds of curious now; how does it work, being an atheist?    I mean, how do you decide what's right and wrong exactly; what do you, at least on a conscious level, selectively apply a positive and negative value to, as you very clearly do?"

Me: "Foof, that could be a series of books unto itself if I could figure out how to explain it all in words, but a lot of what I make such determinations on is subjective rationality.      I'm often revising different elements of my value orientations, but the core is very solidly based on a strong desire to leave people, places and things genuinely better than when I found them.    How is entirely subjective to both the circumstances and the things or people or places in question, and is offset by a very keenly considered acceptance of that I might not be able to, or I might not know how, or I might not be equipped or qualified to do so."

CW:  "That's...are you -sure- you're an atheist?    I know I already asked that and you said you're very sure, but...that sounds pretty Christian to me."

Me:  "A decent human being that happened to be a devour Muslim might well think it sounds very Muslim to them.    Same with a Taoist, or a Buddhist, or an orthodox Jew, or a Hindu of most various kinds.   To me, it merely seems human."

CW:  "See, that's where I get lost.   I mean, you might well be right, and I guess a lot of religion have a...I don't know, benevolent interest at their core or something, but you're talking about values I personally also value, as a Christian, that I learned through being a Christian.    I'm not sure I'm having an easy time understanding how you maintain those values without...I don't know.   Wasn't expecting the conversation to go here, I'm not entirely sure what to even ask, haha."

Me:  "That's fine.   In my thinking, all I lack is the notion that there's a greater power that will punish me if I don't subscribe to a certain set of values and beliefs.     I don't feel a need for that, and I don't see any reason at all to subscribe to such a notion.    Personally speaking, I find the concept demeaning; I don't need to be threatened with damnation or hellfire or what-have-you to want life to be generally good for most people, and to be very proud of my values.     I update my values as I get older and learn more too.    Static value sets tend to find you thinking the same way about the same things, and...it feels off to me, to be like that.     Life seems to me to be pretty simple in certain ways; we're not, as human beings, very well equipped to absolutely know much.   Our senses are limited, we live in a universe that's so enormous that we can't properly conceive of it and we're barely proficient in the use of tools we've devised to expand our direct awareness in a multitude of directions.   

As best I can figure, we spend all our lives learning and changing, growing and being largely incapable of actually knowing with absolute certainty much of anything other than what we think...and not always why...and what we feel.      I try very hard to take as much of that into conscious consideration and to be an active, conscious determining force in my own development as such, in that view.   I must make choices all the time based on incomplete knowledge; sometimes, grossly incomplete.      But what good service do I do myself if I don't -try- to have knowledge that is as complete as it can be...and how much of a disservice do I do myself to rest on conclusions with the pre-determination that I'll -never- change them no matter what I learn or feel, ever?"

CW:  "...You think about this a lot.  I can tell.   I don't even quite know what to say to all of that, except that it doesn't sound like a bad way to be.   I guess I feel...I want to say wary of it, though?    You're basically describing responsibility.    Now, I've worked with you for a while and you're probably the most productive and efficient person I've ever had the pleasure of working with, but...isn't it a bit...arrogant, maybe?  That's not really the word I want, but...presumptuous, perhaps?...to imagine that you can be responsible for yourself like that?    That sounded a lot more offensive than I wanted it to."

Me:  "No offense taken at all.   That is, in fact, a quandary I wrestled with for much of my younger life.    It's rooted very strongly in a native sort of insecurity, I think.   We know that we don't know much, I suspect, even if we never admit it.      We might know all about meteorology, for example, but when lightning blasts a tree 20' in front of us and the air rips with an explosive heatflash and detonation of thunder so powerful it knocks us on our asses, we're probably going to be scared out of our minds and try to find the nearest something to hide behind as quickly as we can."

CW:  "Sounds like a personal experience there?"

Me:  "Oh yes.   And it's been experiences like that that've taught me a lot, in a personal, internal manner, about all of this.    We -want- things to be certain ways, and we -want- to feel safe, secure, confirmed, valued.   Yes, even loved and cherished.    We don't want to be afraid, but a lot of things are scary as all get-out, and no amount of knowing all about geology makes getting caught in an earthquake any less terrifying.    Doesn't really help, ya know?"

CW: "That's a really good contrast, actually.   I used to live in southern California, you know.   Earthquakes all the time, and some horrible ones from time to time.    Honestly, I think they're why I believe in God like I do, now that you've got me thinking about it on that angle.     I've never felt so helpless in my life; so weak and powerless, you know?    Earth starts bucking and heaving and there's just nothing you can do, you know?    There's nowhere to run and even when you live in an 'earthquake proof' building like I was at the time, it just...wrecks your day, haha."

Me:  "We have a lot of faith in that the ground is a solid thing and will hold still, until it doesn't.   And when that faith is shattered, you might never get it back."

CW:  "That's...disturbingly accurate, yeah.   I've never felt safe since then.   Not like, you know, in a paranoid sort of way; I don't panic or anything; but...there in the back of my mind, I'm aware that it could happen maybe.   I dunno.   But I became a Christian out there.    And as bizarre as it sounds, I think...it might've been because of the earthquakes."

Me:  "You look like you're not sure you like that thought."

CW: "Honestly, I feel guilty for having it.   It sounds almost stupid.   Like...earthquakes frightened me so badly that I just...jumped on the first thing that let me feel safe again.     I think that's exactly what I did.   And I'm kinda not liking where this discussion's going."

Me:  "Well, I'm not trying to 'deconvert' you or anything.   Speaks very highly of you, at least in my thinking, that you're piecing things together like that pretty much entirely on your own though.   Intellectual honesty's a rarity...and, I don't think it makes you a bad Christian either."

CW: "What do you suppose it would make me if it's because of, of all the stupid things, being afraid of earthquakes though?    It might sound stupid to you, but I swear I've felt some very real things while praying.   Like there was someone there listening; someone real.     You're probably going to call me crazy or insane, but it's what I've felt."

Me:  "Why would I call you crazy or insane when neither are, by anything apparent to me, true?     I'm not the sort of Atheist that's just looking for any excuse to point and laugh, or sneer and deride.    That sort've behaviour speaks of an immature person, no matter their configuration of stated beleifs.    I am not that person.   So, no, I'm not going to call you crazy or insane.    I am, in fact, interested in hearing more about what you've experienced, if you'd care to share."

CW:  "...Really?   You're kinda throwing me for a loop again.   I thought Atheists pretty much disregarded such experiences as delusion or insanity."

Me:  "Some do with just as much disappointingly misdirected passion as anyone of any religion has insisted on anything contrary.   It's an immature-person issue, I think.    Lots of those floating around of every persuasion."

CW: "And I'm actually a bit afraid you'd turn out to be one.   This stuff is important to me, has a lot of significance.   I've changed how I live and how I act and what I do with my life over it.     I don't want to share my experiences if they'll just be drug through the mud and mocked or ripped apart, you know?"

Me:  "I'd call that a very human wariness that's all too valid for just about anyone in the world today.   For my account though, no need to worry.    I'll only shred your position if you try and hit me over the head with it first, but that's not where I'd want to go with this.    I'd simply like to understand you better.    It's a human interest thing."

CW:  "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want a chance to talk to such an avowed atheist about such things without that worry.    So, ok."

While paraphrased from memory, that discourse has been ongoing for a little more than a month now.     A great many of my colleague's fears and worries about dealing with a scary atheist have been entirely obliterated, and by his own statement, he feels like a much wiser Christian for talking to me because I ask so many hard questions and make him think and pray and actually read his bible.   

He's to a point where he's comfortably acknowledging the fact that his experiences with earthquakes terrified him into seeking a stability and comfort in something things of the earth, not even the earth itself, can provide.      Will he ever deconvert, some might ask?

Frankly, I don't care.    His wife and their young baby are happy, they do good work amongst their church and the people in their lives, they're very eagerly embracing of the idea that science and religion aren't oppositional notions (his wife in particular thinks I'm the most fun she's ever had as she has to do a lot of research and dig into matters to argue with me on our weekend outings hither and yon), and ya know what?

It's a people thing.   Not a religious or a science thing.
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RNS don't really know what to say, so i'll go for: nice April 21, 2012, 10:47:22 AM