I came to the understanding that I was an atheist about 5 years ago, when I was 30 years old.  I'd had a lot of time to develop my irrational thinking over that 30 year period.

It was then that I came across a Bright's chat group - wow, what a shock - I was notified clearly and succinctly that my comments were ridiculous, out of this world and plain nonsense - that I had probably been mistaken in arriving in the chat room to start with - followed by ridicule, dismissals and general boredom.

I went off the idea of being an atheist for a few months - then due to thirst for human interaction on the rational level - I persevered and found the Naturalists - 

http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/naturalism

Here I received a very different response.  One of compassion, understanding, kindness and education.  Many thanks to Tom Clark, Ken Batts, Stephen and others for their above listed qualities.

It was in a Naturalism Yahoo Group that I was educated about rational thinking - but mainly about causality, the causal web and determinism.  Not everyone agrees regarding this view of reality - but I find this approach to be way more beneficial to well being and the promotion of education regarding rational thought than the afore mentioned experience afforded me in the Bights forum.

A recent blog post (http://www.atheistnexus.org/profiles/blogs/are-atheists-smarter-tha... ) and subsequent comments led me to the following question:

What is our responsibility as atheists, in promoting rational thinking?

None of us are able to maintain rational thought all of the time - we all transgress into irrational thinking at times.  It takes practice and mindfulness to maintain rational thought.

I think we can be more kind to ourselves, our fellow atheists and the outside community when it comes to promoting rational thought.  Indeed I believe it our responsibility.

I hope that Matt doesn't mind my posting his comment from the blog discussion below in order to demonstrate another frustration that would also benefit from us having more integrity as a community in how we maintain and promote our rational thinking - in a way that is effect in terms of education - which I would argue would include understanding, compassion and kindness.

Comment by Matt VDB on Wednesday

What I mean is that it's easy to say that you're a rationalist and that they have reason on their side - everyone thinks of themselves as rational and with reason on their side. Even creationists think of themselves as rational and intellectually honest. What ultimately determines if you're rational isn't whether or not you say that you are. It's in your day-to-day attitude of checking sources, having respect for the opinions of experts, etcetera...

What is your response to none rational thinking?

What are your thoughts about what we need to do as a community to effectively promote rational thought?

Views: 792

Replies to This Discussion

Tom - interesting - makes a lot of sense - I think we need to see things in a more black and white way in times of stress, in order to make quick decisions that might keep us alive.  But they are not useful for every day use - and yet our every lives these days do have much stress in them, because they are so far removed from the environment we have evolved in for most of our existence as humans - in the last 180,000 years.

EG - I find that I can get into bed quite stressed if I've just watched an action movie.... whereas for generations we went to sleep with nothing more than the stars above our heads to reflect upon.....

Sometimes black and white is only a simplified way of demonstrating a point.  When a trait is distributed along a bell curve, comparing both extremes is not a denial, that most cases are somewhere in the middle.  

I find it useful to remind myself that most dichotomies are false ones. 

The various dimensions of a person's sexual orientation lie along spectra, making the rainbow an appropriate symbol for anyone that's atypical, or for anyone that supports those who are.  The difference between neurotypical and autistic minds is more like a rheostat than a toggle switch.  Biological evolution is a great model to illustrate it; comparing one generation to the next, the differences are vanishingly insignificant, but the more generations between two points, the more obvious the differences become. 

It's often useful to compare distant points on life's various gradients to illustrate concepts, but we have to remember that lines we draw are going to be arbitrary to some degree.  I'm not arguing for complete postmodern relativism - I do think differences can be compared objectively - it just takes a lot of work to narrow the error bars.  The indication that stress induces more simplistic, 'black & white' thinking may just be a matter of mental fatigue keeping someone from making the effort to do that work. 

Kevin - true...

Kevin - we suffer from many personal illusions like this all the time - I do aim to be self aware - but it's tough when we are using the tool that is tricking us - our brains....

That's what the error-checking tools of science are for.  ☺ 

Kevin - sure - does this cover it?

What is the ``scientific method''?

  The scientific method is the best way yet discovered for winnowing the truth from lies and delusion. The simple version looks something like this:

  • 1. Observe some aspect of the universe.
  • 2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
  • 3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.
  • 4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.
  • 5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.

When consistency is obtained the hypothesis becomes a theory and provides a coherent set of propositions which explain a class of phenomena. A theory is then a framework within which observations are explained and predictions are made.

good isn't it... :)

Alice, two really good leads, Naturalism and your conversation with Matt and rational thinking and "It's in your day-to-day attitude of checking sources, having respect for the opinions of experts, etcetera..."

I am so grateful to you, Ruth, Steve, Matt, Madhukar and many others who offer sensible challenges while doing so in respectful ways.  

"What do we need to do as a community to effectively promote rational thought?"

Great question!

Continue compassionate challenge of irrational and traditional thought patterns.

Honestly state one's concerns when confronted with distortions.

Clarify definitions.  i.e. I wrote about soul; someone wrote that he/she held another view; I thought about it and changed my mind and for good reason. I can offer many other examples, but I think I have written enough to make my point.

Ruth offered a tool that I find helpful:  memes.   

Joan - I'm heartened to hear that others think in the same vein as myself - and that promoting rationality and reason with compassion isn't redundant and does have a following among fellow atheists.  I think it worth promoting as a meme throughout the atheist community.

I also accept and realise that we all do what we do because we are fully caused to do so, and that some of us do end up arguing in different ways - as we all do what we have found works best for us.  I hope that promoting compassion as an idea, also allows others to find new ways of promoting critical, rational and skeptical thinking.

Alice, to learn more about compassion, do a search on sociopathy, psychopathy, or antisocial personality disorder. Briefly, it's a lack of compassion.

The research I've done says that in the general population about one percent of men and half a percent of women qualify. In the prison population about 20-25 percent qualify.

Tom - yes I read in Sam Harris' book - the moral landscape - similar figures for psychopaths in and out of jail.  They are the exception.  Also I think we have lots of stress adapted people who have traits of the psychopath but not all, as they can feel compassion but learn to switch it off in times of stress...

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