A position statement (updated from 25Sep09 to 29Sep09)

1) I am an agnostic atheist. Generally speaking, I find the definition of "god" to change depending on what theist I talk to, so I can therefore not say that all definitions of a god do not exist. I, however, know that Abrahamic religions are false, as they have a definable deity and belief structure which are shown to be false through history and science.

2) I prescribe to naturalism at least in a methodological sense, and perhaps to proper metaphysical naturalism, although I am still working that out.

I would say I am a full-blown metaphysical naturalist in all ways except that I remain agnostic of the deist and like claims, because I find them completely untestable. Additionally, I feel that it is not that science should be limited to testing that which is natural, but that all things that can be tested by science are natural. Therefore, claims of psychic or paranormal events, if testable, fall in the realm of science and are, if true, natural phenomena.

3) I am, from a methodological standpoint, a proponent of physicalism, not of materialism. There exists at least two types of primal materials: energy and space-time. Future research may unite these, and then possibly I could consider myself a materialist, but until then I do not. I say methodological physicalism because I do not hold the philosophy that only energy and space-time exist, and I am open to new types of primal materials, given sufficient evidence for their existence. As such, I operate with the understanding of two types of primal materials, and attempt to understand everything else in relation to these two primal materials. If something can be shown to be true that does not come from either energy or space-time, then an additional primal substance will need to be added to my worldview.

4) I am a theoretical reductionist, as such a stance is required, in my view, to gain a coherent view of the universe. I am also, to an incomplete extent, a methodological reductionist, although I am not sure that everything can be reduced to a single theory, it seems the less theories to explain the universe, the better we can fully comprehend it. However, I also accept the claim of emergence. While I think emergent properties can be reduced to fundamental properties, I do not think it is in any way reasonable to try and predict those emergent properties from the fundamental ones.

For example, the processes of evolution can be reduced to fundamental interactions (say quantum physics). Evolution occurs through differential survival of phenotypes. Phenotypes (both physical and behavioral) can be reduced to genotypes interacting with the environment. Genotypes can be reduced to genetics. Genetics can be reduced to the chemistry of the genetic material. The genetic material can be reduced to the the compounds it is composed of, and this can be reduced to the atoms that compose the compounds. The interactions and creation of the atoms can be reduced to physics. However, the physics can not be used to predict evolution. This is because the universe is inherently deterministic, but not predictable as described by physics.

Therefore I am theoretical reductionist that accepts there are limits to the reductionist mode of understanding. The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. The whole is a product of its parts, and while the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, it can only ever be reduced to its parts. Higher level interactions can be lost when you reduce too far. This is why more than the study of physics exist.

5) I am also a scientific skeptic. This is perhaps my core principle. I will only accept claims that have objective evidence. As I want to accept as many true claims as possible and a few false claims as possible, I find that my worldview must be based on a system that can disqualify false claims. Skepticism is the only way I have found to do such a thing. Scientific skepticism necessarily means that I may reject a true claim as human reason is fallible, however this problem is minimized by repeatedly judging items previously rejected when new evidence arises and giving them a new chance to prove themselves. Additionally, as I am fallible, false claims may also make it through. This problem is minimized by never holding any view dogmatically. Any view that I hold must necessarily, therefore, be provisional. This includes scientific skepticism. If any view comes forward that can differentiate between true claims and false claims using objective evidence and can falsify the skeptical outlook, skepticism will be abandoned.

A note on objective evidence. Objective evidence must be evidence theoretically available to anyone who wishes to analyze it. Such evidence must also be from a source that has the nature of being observable by more than the person putting it forward by either existing in the natural world or by coming from a repeatable experiment. If the evidence cannot be interpreted by anyone else in the same way, or if no one else can collect the evidence, then the evidence must be rejected as it could easily be falsified or erroneous and I would have no way of knowing if that were the case. Personal anecdotes and experiences are therefore not admissible, nor are single studies that can not be replicated. Spectral evidence is also necessarily rejected as it is only available to the person experiencing it. Note that this is not a statement on whether or not the evidence is true, simply that it can not be used to support a claim because it could lead to a false claim with no ability to differentiate it from a true claim.

6) I am a proponent of equal justice through skepticism. If injustice is allowed, then true claims can be suppressed by false claims. If this is allowed, then skeptical inquiry of the universe is halted or at least severely diminished. I also accept that equal justice is a basic human right.

7) I am a proponent of civil rights for all, including but not limited to the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. As a skeptic who accepts that I am fallible, the only way to build a more accurate world view is to continually absorb more ideas and differentiate them as either true or false. To do this there must be free speech. Everyone must be free to speak their opinions, for if some opinions are suppressed, it becomes difficult or impossible to evaluate and re-evaluate such ideas to verify or falsify them. Therefore suppression of free speech will necessarily limit the progression of knowledge and our ability to build a more accurate world view. As I hold skepticism and building a more accurate world view as one of my core principles, it would be immoral to deny such activities to others and self-defeating to deny it to myself. Therefore freedom of speech must be as complete as possible without directly endangering the lives of others. This includes allowing people to tell obvious lies in public, because it allows the counter arguments to those lies to be uttered and therefore clarifies the world view.

Freedom of religion must also be allowed, for if I admit that I am fallible, I must admit to myself that my world view may be incorrect and others are correct. As anyone may actually be correct, suppressing anyone's views on religion could lead to suppressing the truth. Additionally, false religions claims brought to the public's attention will lead to a more true world view.

Lastly, while freedom of religion and speech are necessary for proper skeptical inquiry, they are also in my view of morality, basic human rights.

8) I accept that there are basic human rights that are not limited by cultural views of morality. As a skeptic, I am aware that I am fallible. In addition, this extends to all human beings: no one has proven to be infallible thus we must accept all of humanity as fallible. If all of humanity is fallible, it is possible that any system that sets up inequalities in peoples may lead to injustice, and it would in such a system be impossible to differentiate from justice as unequal treatment of ideas would be considered just in some situations but not others regardless of the content of the ideas. As injustice leads to false claims overriding true claims, skepticism can not allow a system that leads to the inability to tell between justice and injustice. This leaves equal treatment of all peoples.

As all peoples must be considered equal in the eyes of skeptical inquiry and therefore justice, then all peoples must have the same civil rights. This means all peoples should have the freedoms of speech and religion, as well as the rights of life and liberty. The rights of life and liberty must be guaranteed to all otherwise violence and physical oppression can be used to create injustice, which destroys skeptical inquiry.

9) To ensure freedom of religion and speech, I prescribe to secularism. I hold that religions and governmental institutions must be held separate to ensure the continuing nature of both free from religious oppression and the oppression of speech and actions. If government is allowed to endorse any group of religions or one religions, then everyone not in those religions could easily have their speech and religious rights oppressed, leading to injustice and therefore an interference with proper skeptical inquiry and a violation of basic human rights.

More later...

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Comment by Sonny Mobley on September 22, 2009 at 3:22pm
Most excellent, my friend.
Comment by JayBarti on September 22, 2009 at 3:15pm
Excellent post Stephen I wish I could mirror your clarity. I have a blog post I have been working on for a few weeks which is somewhat similar to this one, an exclamation of "these things I believe".
Comment by John Secular Smith on September 22, 2009 at 2:42pm
Crap - I could spend my whole life trying to figure out what I am...

That's why I'm trying to lay it all out and work it out for myself. I'd at least like to know what positions I hold.

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