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Culture War Roundup for the week of March 4, 2024

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Materialism, as the philosophy exists today, is a relatively recent phenomenon. When we talk about someone being a 'materialist' we don't mean they shop for lots of handbags or fancy dining room sets. Instead, a materialist is generally defined as seeing all facts or pieces of the world, including the human mind and will, as dependable on or in the most extreme case reducible to physical processes.

In other words, there is only physical matter moving around and interacting, no other forces exist in the universe.

There are a number of major issues within determinism such as free will, and the seeming ability of humans to make choices that operate outside of physical processes. Of course this claim has been papered over from the materialist side by claiming that free will is just an illusion, but the determinists haven't made much headway. The most famous contemporary materialist from my understanding is Daniel Dennett, who has written extensively on free will, determinism, religion, et cetera, and basically come up with a convoluted 'compatibalist' view: that the world is all physical processes, yet we also have free will. Somehow.

Now challenges to materialism present a number of problems, primarily the fact that our modern, statistical, ScientificTM worldview cannot tolerate or understand any phenomena that aren't easily and simply repeated. Even if supernatural phenomenon did exist however, the bias against them has grown so massive in the last century that any respectable scientist wouldn't be caught dead going near these claims.

Why does this matter for the Culture War? Well outside of even religion, our entire cultural regime rests upon Science being the arbiter of truth and ender of disputes. If it turns out our materialistic worldview science has given us ends up being false, there are innumerable cultural repercussions, from the temporal vindication of religion to the re-opening of entire new vistas of understanding. Materialism's truth or falsity is, I would argue, the most important higher level question for our world to answer at the moment. Unfortunately, the mainstream consensus has been that materialism is true a priori despite massive contradictions. Even if many moderns don't outright argue this, their actions and stances on various topics reveal them as materialists through and through.


I'd imagine many people reading this haven't been exposed to some of the more respectable claims of anti-materialists. I'm going to quote heavily from this article by Roger's Bacon to give you an idea of some of the more interesting claims. Bacon, in turn, pulls heavily from a book entitled The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge, if you're interested in further reading.

Bacon explains how Freeman Dyson, an intellectual titan by any standard, posited this idea:

In my review I said that ESP only occurs, according to the anecdotal evidence, when a person is experiencing intense stress and strong emotions. Under the conditions of a controlled scientific experiment, intense stress and strong emotions are excluded; the person experiences intense boredom rather than excitement, so the evidence for ESP disappears...The experiment necessarily excludes the human emotions that make ESP possible.

This view is generally referred to as "Traumatic Transcendence," or in other words you need extremely strong states to activate latent 'powers' or abilities, states which controlled experiments almost by definition cannot excite in patients. We're not just talking scaring someone a bit, we're talking extremely near death or something similar. And even in those states it's an extreme rarity of cases, apparently. However, we have extensive anecdotal reports, many from quite distinguished thinkers and well corroborated, that propose something like traumatic transcendence being real.

There are of course other examples. I'm going to quote this one from Mark Twain at length, which I find fascinating:

Dressed in his famous white “dontcaredam suit” Mark Twain was famous for mocking every orthodoxy and convention, including, it turns out, the conventions of space and time. As he related the events in his diaries, Twain and his brother Henry were working on the riverboat Pennsylvania in June 1858. While they were lying in port in St. Louis, the writer had a most remarkable dream:

In the morning, when I awoke I had been dreaming, and the dream was so vivid, so like reality, that it deceived me, and I thought it was real. In the dream I had seen Henry a corpse. He lay in a metallic burial case. He was dressed in a suit of my clothing, and on his breast lay a great bouquet of flowers, mainly white roses, with a red rose in the centre.

Twain awoke, got dressed, and prepared to go view the casket. He was walking to the house where he thought the casket lay before he realized “that there was nothing real about this—it was only a dream. Alas, it was not. A few weeks later, Henry was badly burned in a boiler explosion and then accidentally killed when some young doctors gave him a huge overdose of opium for the pain. Normally, the dead were buried in a simple pine coffin, but some women had raised sixty dollars to put Henry in a special metal one. Twain explained what happened next:

When I came back and entered the dead-room Henry lay in that open case, and he was dressed in a suit of my clothing. He had borrowed it without my knowledge during our last sojourn in St. Louis; and I recognized instantly that my dream of several weeks before was here exactly reproduced, so far as these details went—and I think I missed one detail; but that one was immediately supplied, for just then an elderly lady entered the place with a large bouquet consisting mainly of white roses, and in the centre of it was a red rose, and she laid it on his breast.

Now who of us would not be permanently marked, at once inspired and haunted, by such a series of events? Who of us, if this were our dream and our brother, could honestly dismiss it all as a series of coincidences? Twain certainly could not. He was obsessed with such moments in his life, of which there were all too many. In 1878, he described some of them in an essay and even theorized how they work. But he could not bring himself to publish it, as he feared “the public would treat the thing as a joke whereas I was in earnest.” Finally, Twain gave in, allowed his name to be attached to his own experiences and ideas, and published this material in Harper’s magazine in two separate installments: “Mental Telegraphy: A Manuscript with a History” (1891) and “Mental Telegraphy Again” (1895).”

Again, there are almost endless examples of these types of phenomena occurring, which are unfortunately decried by any scientific establishment that exists today.

However, traumatic transcendence isn't the only explanation. Another reasonable explanation for our inability to capture these occurrences in experiments would be that they are mediated by an intelligent, non-human agent of some kind such as a ghost, demon, angel, God or gods, et cetera. In fact, this is the claim straightforwardly put forth by most believers in the supernatural throughout history. Which of course is essentially all humans before the last century.

If these other beings did in fact cause supernatural events to happen, or at least need to give their 'permission' so to speak for the normal laws of physics to be suspended, well then of course we wouldn't be able to predict when it would happen. We still aren't even good at predicting human behavior, outside of pacified and corralled Westerners who are manipulated 24/7 by intense media designed to change their behavior.

Another idea to explain supernatural phenomena, while a bit more 'out there,' is actually one I find quite compelling. Bacon outlines it as such:

In traumatic transcendence, we see reality responding to an acute state of consciousness in some individual. However, there may also be a sense in which this happens “chronically” in response to states of collective consciousness. This leads to a startling conclusion, one that forms a central theme of Kripal’s work: culture directly affects the real by mediating and constraining the kinds of consciousness experiences which people are capable of having. In a very literal sense then, the metaphysical paradigm of an age determines the metaphysical truth of that age.

We did not simply realize the truth of secular materialism, we “realized” it.

Crucially, this is not something that one can simply opt out of by adopting some facile belief in the supernatural. To live in this age of disenchantment is to operate within an episteme of doubt and suspicion; this makes it almost impossible to obtain those states of consciousness which require absolute metaphysical belief of some kind. The spell was broken once we began compulsively “looking over our shoulders at other beliefs” (Charles Taylor).4

This idea is actually explored quite a bit in fantasy and science fiction - for instance Warhammer 40K has a similar world, where every conscious mind's inherent beliefs do affect material reality, and enough of those together can cause a planet or part of the universe to operate drastically differently than others.

It's worth considering, at the very least.


Overall, there are still many mysteries to be explained in our universe, despite what our reductionist and materialist culture would have you think. I'll end with another block quote from Kripal, as he says it better than I ever could:

As Aldous Huxley pointed our long ago in his own defense of “mystical” experiences, we have no reason to think from our ordinary experience that water is composed of two gases fused together by invisible forces. We know this only by exposing water to extreme conditions, by “traumatizing” it, and then by detecting and measuring the gases with advanced technology that no ordinary person possesses or understands.

Nothing in our everyday experience gives us any reason to suppose that matter is not material, that it is made up of bizarre forms of energy that violate, very much like spirit, all of our normal notions of space, time, and causality. Yet when we subject matter to exquisite technologies, like the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, then we can see quite clearly that matter is not “material” at all. But—and this is the key—we can only get there through a great deal of physical violence, a violence so extreme and so precise that it cost billions of dollars, necessitated the participation of tens of thousands of professional physicists, mathematicians, and computer scientists, and required decades of preparation to inflict it and then analyze its results. Hence the recent discovery of the “God particle,” or Higgs boson at CERN.

We invested our energies, time, and money there, and so we are finding out all sorts of astonishing things about the world in which we live and of which we are intimate expressions. But we will not invest them here, in the everyday astonishing experiences of human beings around the world, and so we continue to work with the most banal models of mind—materialist and mechanistic ones—that is, models that assume that “mind equals brain” and the psyche works like, or is, a computer. What is going on here? Why are we so intent on ignoring precisely those bodies of evidence that suggest that, yes, of course, mind is correlated with brain, but it is not the same thing. Why are we so afraid of the likelihood that we are every bit as bizarre as the quantum world; that we possess fantastic capacities that we have so far only allowed ourselves to imagine in science fiction and fantasy literature? (The Flip, pg. 38)

Despite being atheist I do think I hold some anti-materialist views.

The first one is a sort of mind over body or spiritual health outlook. I'm finding it hard to articulate, without dismissing some important things. I just have some sense that material reality is missing something about health, and my best way to point at this phenomenon is to look at the placebo effect.


where every conscious mind's inherent beliefs to affect material reality

This is also something I accept, but only in some of the less controversial instances. The stock market is the main example i can think of. Enough investors believing in a market process can kind of will that process into working by lending the process money and time.

I also think there seems to be some sensitivity from politicians to a collective will. They can overcome the Will, but it takes effort. Otherwise they fall into the game of politics and can only take prescribed actions. People who routinely and easily violate this are rare. Andrew Jackson, Coolidge, and Trump come to mind as flagrant violators of the will.


My main anti materialist viewpoint is that I have a sense that there is free will. No amount of evidence or talking has ever been able to dislodge this belief in the slightest. When I first encountered challenges to the concept of free will I tried to argue against them or find alternatives that preserved it. I mostly gave up on those endeavors. Free will exists, and it's not up for debate with me. In the same way that I think the material world exists and my brain isn't just hooked up to a machine feeding it sensations and nutrients.

Even that I know it's snarky and somewhat dumb, I always wind up returning to the same thought experiment with regard to free will - how do the people that believe in pure determinism (or determinism plus stochastic randomness) react to a physical threat? If someone stands in front of them and says, "if you deny free will, I will punch you in the face", do they behave as though they believe that there is no free will to be exercised on the part of either party, that everything that follows is a mere consequence of the state of the universe with possibly a roll of the dice to determine the outcome? Many will affirm that they do, in fact, believe that, but pretty much no one would be willing to bite the bullet and say that neither individual has a choice in what follows. I am aware of various explanations for this and it's possible that I'm just too slow-witted to fully grasp them, but they really do just seem like pure sophistry to me.

I think no one can predict what they'll do perfectly, even if an action is quite possible physically. To build willpower, to the extent to which it's possible, is to increase the chances of following through with the things you feel like doing, and perhaps to increase the chances of wanting to do what you'd be ready to follow through.

Would it really bother me that my actions are deterministic/stochastically deterministic if I don't know what I'm going to want in the next second, let alone do?

how do the people that believe in pure determinism (or determinism plus stochastic randomness) react to a physical threat? If someone stands in front of them and says, "if you deny free will, I will punch you in the face", do they behave as though they believe that there is no free will to be exercised on the part of either party, that everything that follows is a mere consequence of the state of the universe with possibly a roll of the dice to determine the outcome? Many will affirm that they do, in fact, believe that, but pretty much no one would be willing to bite the bullet and say that neither individual has a choice in what follows.

Your scenario doesn't really seem to prove anything at all? I don't believe I'm writing this comment by some kind of libertarian free will, that is to say I my writing of this comment was always destined to happen from the very moment of the big bang down to the edits and spelling errors. Making it meta and putting the question of determinism into the scenario really just serves to confuse. I would react probably similarly to any other scenario where someone threatens to hit me if I don't lie with maybe some variation because it's a stranger than average lie to demand.

They do have a choice; just their choice flows from their nature, the environment, etc.

I choose the way I do because I'm me, which is based on things, not some product of randomness.

So yes, people will obviously make decisions about what to do in those situations, but the decisions that they make will ultimately be based on factors—what they were worried about, what they found compelling, etc.

Many will affirm that they do, in fact, believe that, but pretty much no one would be willing to bite the bullet and say that neither individual has a choice in what follows

The word ‘choice’ obscures the actual situation, though. So you think you’re about to be punched, so your brain - trained on your experiences and memories - decides to try to dissuade the other guy, so you say ‘man, you punch me now, you know cops are gonna see that on the CCTV over there’, then the other guy’s brain takes that input, runs it through his own predictive language model based on his own experiences, and decides that the most effective course of action is to back down.

‘Choice’ or ‘freedom’ here isn’t about determinism, because all of the above is ultimately deterministic, it’s about parameters for action. Say the other guy has a low opinion of the police’s ability to solve the crime. Say he has extremely high time preference and low inhibition, his language model is a little different. In that case, he decides to punch you anyway. We’re deterministic machines, but that doesn’t mean our behavior is predictable by us, because our multi-modal inputs vary, because our minds are always updating their predictive models with new information, and because our actions are (as such) bounded not just by what is desirable but what is possible, or what we think is possible, and because we don’t have the compute to run the predictions.

That's the counterargument I hear and it just sounds like unfalsifiable bunk to me. I flatly don't buy that whether I hit a guy or not is just stochastically determined by parameters plus randomness, I believe that it's actually a product of me electing to do so or not. My claim is also pretty obviously unfalsifiable bunk, but then we're just stuck at whose sophistry is more compelling.

I flatly don't buy that whether I hit a guy or not is just stochastically determined by parameters plus randomness, I believe that it's actually a product of me electing to do so or not.

There's no contradiction here. You are (some of) the parameters.

I just have some sense that material reality is missing something about health, and my best way to point at this phenomenon is to look at the placebo effect.

I definitely think that our human scientific models are missing a lot of important stuff on this topic, and that a lot of it is so complex and contingent and hard to measure that it will stay beyond our ability to directly model for a very long time, and approaches that draw on intuition and metaphor may do a better job modelling them for now.

But after I admit that, I don't feel like there's any need for a nonmaterial/supernatural factor in addition to that.

Free will exists, and it's not up for debate with me.

I think the interesting debate is less about whether free will exists, and more about what free will is.

There's an intuition that free will is at odds with determinism. But a system that is non-deterministic is just a system that is partially random.

Does it really feel right to say 'the more randomly you act, the more free will you have'? That feels deeply unsatisfying to me, and make me think that a definition of free-will that is defined in opposition to determinism is incoherent.

Compatibilism just says 'you have free will when you are able to act in accordance to your nature and your desires, and you lack free will when outside forces and contingent factors restrain your actions to be other than what you would choose.'

It doesn't matter whether you pursue your goals and act in accordance to your nature in a deterministic fashion or in a stochastic fashion.

As long as your own nature is guiding your actions, you have free will.

As long as your actions are constrained and determined by outside forces making you do things you don't like and wouldn't choose in the absence of those forces, your free will is violated.

That matches my intuitions about what it feels like to exercise my free will vs. have it violated. And it's a definition by which free will definitely exists, but can be abrogated and must be actively defended. Which I like.

It doesn't matter whether you pursue your goals and act in accordance to your nature in a deterministic fashion or in a stochastic fashion.

As long as your own nature is guiding your actions, you have free will.

As long as your actions are constrained and determined by outside forces making you do things you don't like and wouldn't choose in the absence of those forces, your free will is violated.

That matches my intuitions about what it feels like to exercise my free will vs. have it violated. And it's a definition by which free will definitely exists, but can be abrogated and must be actively defended. Which I like.

I think I also generally like that definition, and that most definitions of "free will" focus too much on the deterministic stuff. Whether the universe is deterministic or not seems inconsequential to me. We will almost certainly never know, and it has little bearing on how we treat the world. I'd only add that people or entities with "free will" have responsibility and ownership of the things they choose through their free will as well. If it is in your nature to go murder people, then I think we should treat you like a murderer, even if the universe conspired to create a person with a murderous nature.


I definitely think that our human scientific models are missing a lot of important stuff on this topic, and that a lot of it is so complex and contingent and hard to measure that it will stay beyond our ability to directly model for a very long time, and approaches that draw on intuition and metaphor may do a better job modelling them for now.

But after I admit that, I don't feel like there's any need for a nonmaterial/supernatural factor in addition to that.

"Supernatural" is kind of a strange word and concept. Something that is outside the bounds of the natural world. But we have natural senses, and instruments that only measure the natural world, so these things are by definition unobservable to us.

I guess I am more wondering if there is something "natural" about the universe that we do not understand and have not observed. Like the famous sci-fi saying "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". I think there might be a mysticism corollary "any sufficiently misunderstood phenomenon is indistinguishable from background noise".

A bunch of ESP studies keep turning up something. Dreams that see glimpses of the future (like the Twain example above) seem to abound throughout recorded history (and I've experienced the phenomenon myself a few times). People on hallucinogenic drugs seem to access the same spaces/entities.

I'm a bit of a lifelong skeptic about these things. I lean very heavily towards "its all nothing". But not so heavily that I think its a complete waste of time for people to look into this stuff and try and figure it out.

I'd only add that people or entities with "free will" have responsibility and ownership of the things they choose through their free will as well. If it is in your nature to go murder people, then I think we should treat you like a murderer, even if the universe conspired to create a person with a murderous nature.

I\m not 100% sure how you ground out things like 'responsibility' and 'ownership' in a metaphysical sense here. But on the object-level of 'what should we actually do in the real world,' it's definitely in my nature to feel that way and do those things, and to want to live in a society where other people do that too. So I agree.

I'm a bit of a lifelong skeptic about these things. I lean very heavily towards "its all nothing". But not so heavily that I think its a complete waste of time for people to look into this stuff and try and figure it out.

Agreed. My only caveat, which I think you would agree with (?) but is worth pointing out in the context of OP's post, is that I'm allergic to people using the sparse/inconclusive evidence of this stuff as a bludgeon in some larger political/cultural/social argument. I definitely want at least a few scientifically-minded folks looking for new evidence in case we suddenly need to go take these things seriously, I just don't want that level of respect paid to the ideas to make people think they can be used in predicates for other arguments about how the world actually is.

Agreed. My only caveat, which I think you would agree with (?) but is worth pointing out in the context of OP's post, is that I'm allergic to people using the sparse/inconclusive evidence of this stuff as a bludgeon in some larger political/cultural/social argument. I definitely want at least a few scientifically-minded folks looking for new evidence in case we suddenly need to go take these things seriously, I just don't want that level of respect paid to the ideas to make people think they can be used in predicates for other arguments about how the world actually is.

Generally agree, but I'm sure we disagree on a lot of specifics. For example, I am generally in favor of letting the market do its thing. But sometimes people have an "eww yuck markets" reaction, and its impossible to get through with any level of arguments or evidence. Prostitution and organ markets are two examples. Maybe I am the hard hearted "scientist" that can't see the spiritual damage from prostitution or from selling your organs.

I also recognize that I might be illogical and not follow the evidence on some things because I have a set of beliefs in "liberty" and "individual freedom". Allowing guns to be sold does seem to make suicide easier and on the margin likely leads to more deaths by suicide. Also screw the government, I have the right to own a gun. The CIA and NSA can probably find terrorists easier if they have unrestricted access to all of our communications. Also screw the government, I have a right to privacy and not being spied on all the time.

I don't really have a solution here. But I think in general I care more about protecting some of my "illogical" beliefs, and I'm willing to let others have theirs too if we can find some mutually agreeable compromises.

I more-or-less agree with all of those. Maybe we disagree in terms of extremity on some, but not obviously so from this post.

How could you ever differentiate between the signal and noise, especially with all the hoaxes in the mix? It would be pointless to try. Even if you had all the time in the world. Maybe if simulated minds counted you could do it, but the people who advocate this stuff are like the spiritualists in Stellaris.

It really isn't the case though. Everything was always going to happen the way it did, otherwise it would have happened some other way. You were always going to make the same choice based on everything that came before. Humans can imagine that things went differently in the past. This counterfactual reasoning ability is why we think we have free will when we actually do not. If you were you and all the exact same things happened to you, you would always make the same choice, it can't be otherwise.

There also isn't any mind over matter health effect other than changing some chemicals in your body or controlling your breathing and movement etc... You can't grow a new arm by thinking really hard about it.

Everything was always going to happen the way it did

You are assuming the whole point up for debate.

I don't understand.

GuessWho had a better defense for "free will" and what it means. I mostly consider determinism irrelevant to my belief that "free will" is a thing that matters.

You were always going to say that.

But was "not me" always going to say that?

Even if many moderns don't outright argue this, their actions and stances on various topics reveal them as materialists through and through

True. But I don't think you need anything as concretely magic as ESP to argue the point that a materialistic worldview is extremely limited.

We know qualia is real. We know the self is some kind of illusion, and might operate on some weird paradoxical mechanism a la Hofstader's Strang Loop. Either way it's too complicated to model and neuroscience is a baby field.

We also have the replication crisis, and academic institutions that seem to pathologically deny their limitations in order to maintain their narrative. We know that narratives can completely reframe how we see the world; even if you don't go full post-modern it's clear that narratives are still extremely distorting yet necessary. Our understanding of meaning is a mess, yet is pretty much the most important thing to everyone at every moment.

And there's the egregore theories; even a weak version like "social networks are complicated and practically incomputable in a similar way as large neural networks or brains" leaves us pretty in the dark about how to predict and understand the world.

All in all, ESP just seems like a strawman of the "materialism is limited" camp.

Interesting subject.

The most famous contemporary materialist from my understanding is Daniel Dennett, who has written extensively on free will, determinism, religion, et cetera, and basically come up with a convoluted 'compatibalist' view: that the world is all physical processes, yet we also have free will. Somehow.

I’ve heard Dennett speak about this and I’m still not sure I fully understand his position, but isn’t it just a version of the classical materialist ‘agency’-centered definition of free will?

Free will represents the material, social or other bounds of behavior that inhibit the execution of the brain’s probabilistic output. If I generate an LLM output and then reply ‘sorry, that’s not what I want, you need to give me another answer’, this is the digital equivalent of trying to exercise my free will to break into the White House and being stopped by the police. This isn’t a new conception of what freedom means, it’s the classical conception of liberty. The more ‘liberal’ (ie ‘free’) we are, the fewer restrictions we impose on biologically willed behavior. Sometimes these are political/social, sometimes these are raw material realities, like someone in a wheelchair being unable to exercise their desire to stand up and walk. Free will is the ability to execute the output of our language model in the material world. The initial output itself (desire) is unaffected. (This is obvious when we bring up, say, why we don’t have the ‘free will’ to fly like a bird; we are bounded by material reality; free will is execution, not thought.)

Overall, there are still many mysteries to be explained in our universe, despite what our reductionist and materialist culture would have you think.

There are a huge number of mysteries still in the universe, including forces and existences likely beyond our comprehension. But I am confident they all exist within some kind of material reality, even if it is one we don’t (and possibly can’t) understand. The materialist conception doesn’t even necessarily prohibit some kind of spiritual existence, a soul of some form, a God, an all-loving, all-knowing being beyond and above us (the simulation hypothesis, which would allow for such a God, can be framed in materialist terms). It doesn’t prohibit heaven or reincarnation (all possible with sufficiently advanced technology/magic). It just says that if they’re real they’re going to be systems, they’re going to function in a predictable way, they’re going to be based on laws of the universe whether we understand them yet or not. It is unclear to me why even some form of Mahayana Buddhism, for example, would be incompatible with classical materialism in this context.

You make some good points here, although I still fail to grasp the idea of materialistic free will.

I think that even in rarefied philosophy circles, materialism is used constantly as a motte and Bailey. The Motte is the claim you’re making, that materialists just want to find laws and systems et cetera to explain phenomena. Which yes is an extremely defensible position, but on the other hand prescribes or denies basically nothing as you readily admit.

However, the Bailey of materialism is that God, ghosts, big foot, aliens, or whatever supernatural force or being can’t possibly exist because we know stupid bullshit like that doesn’t fit under our materialist understanding of the world.

I suppose a more accurate term could be something like reductive materialism or mechanistic materialism but eh I think people get the point. Thanks for clarifying.

I still fail to grasp the idea of materialistic free will.

There's nothing to grasp. Materialistic free will, AKA soft determinism, is an extremely convoluted and complex (and ultimately sophistic) web of reasoning created by very intelligent people who found the (obvious) conclusions of hard determinism to be repugnant, and so use their brainpower to maneuver around it as best as they can. They do this mostly by fiddling with definitions until they have bamboozled themselves into believing that they have proved something. Once you have accepted determinism, free will cannot exist, not in the way one usually thinks of it. The only way you can get around the free will problem is to:

  1. Reject determinism - I have never seen anyone do that successfully.

  2. Posit the existence of a soul which is outside the currently understood laws of the universe - and there are too many commonsense objections to this that I cannot resolve.

Soft materialism is in a category of beliefs that I have labelled as 'so absurd only the very clever could convince themselves to believe it'

Reject determinism - I have never seen anyone do that successfully.

What would qualify as success?

Any logically coherent non-determinist explanation that meshes with our understanding of the universe, or even with not-yet understood parts of the universe.

I think you could do this with appeal to divinity, as per point 2 - 'god made us and wanted us to have free will so therefore we have free will' is logically difficult to refute - but as I said I think this runs into common sense objections, e.g. if we have souls then how can it be that brain damage can change our personality? Plus, most people I have had this debate with are atheists and so not able to lean on that.

I don’t think that’s charitable. ‘Soft determinism’ is merely an acknowledgement that ‘free will’ and freedom/liberty in general the way they’re colloquially used don’t mean some kind of conscious override of the weight of deterministic history, but rather refer to much more mundane limitations in the material world on individual human will.

The animal whose desired path is blocked before them has no free will. The animal whose desired path is unblocked has free will. This is an entirely workable and normal conception of what ‘free’ means. Cf “you are free to go”, cf the constitution etc etc.

Can you execute a given desire? If you can, then in that instance you have free will for that task. No complex argument around determinism or the process by which you came to your desire is necessary.

I don’t think that’s charitable. ‘Soft determinism’ is merely an acknowledgement that ‘free will’ and freedom/liberty in general the way they’re colloquially used don’t mean some kind of conscious override of the weight of deterministic history...

What evidence directly supports the concept of "deterministic history"? What testable predictions does the concept of "deterministic history" allow one to make?

It seems obvious to me that "deterministic history" is not a falsifiable, testable concept, but rather an axiom. People believe in determinism and deterministic history because doing otherwise would be incompatible with their axioms. Determinism has been used to make testable predictions for many decades, and all those predictions have been falsified. All the evidence we have available to us directly contradicts determinism, none of the evidence we have directly supports it. Each of us has a lifetime's immediate, personal experience of Will, of making free choices moment to moment, of making decisions and struggling to choose one thing versus another. All of this evidence is simply handwaved by Determinism, not based on contrary evidence, of which there is none, but because if it is not handwaved Materialism is invalidated.

And all this is fair enough; axiomatic reasoning is the only reasoning we have available to us. The problem comes when people act as though their axioms are obviously evidence-based, when they are not.

"deterministic history" is not a falsifiable, testable concept

This is a really interesting question. Is determinism falsifiable? that kind of feels like asking if trigonometry is falsifiable. Determinism is more theorem than theory, an exercise in hard logic rather than empirical data gathering. I think almost everyone would agree that the universe moves according to causality; that A leads to B leads to C, in a reliable, repeatable, (one might say deterministic) way. Determinism is merely the philosophy that you can extend that thinking from 'every part of the universe excepting the human brain' to 'every part of the universe'. In a dead universe, we would all be determinists.

I mean, what does the null hypothesis for determinism even look like? That causality is not true? That today we might mix 8 grams of oxygen and 1 gram of hydrogen and receive 9 grams of water, but tomorrow we might receive 15 grams? or that yesterday's water might spontaneously dissociate back into hydrogen and oxygen? Or perhaps into neon and feathers? Empiricism, the entire scientific method, is based on the truth of causality. If causality is false we have to throw pretty much everything out and just accept that we're all living in Plato's cave.

Or perhaps the null hypothesis is that causality is true everywhere... except the human brain. Not much of a null hypothesis, is it? Really feels like, if that's your theory, then determinism ought to be your null hypothesis.

Determinism is more theorem than theory, an exercise in hard logic rather than empirical data gathering.

Materialists generally claim that their viewpoint is simply the default, that there's zero evidence for anything non-Materialistic, and so they simply follow where the evidence leads.

Determinism is adopted because non-deterministic free will would pretty clearly break Materialism.

The problem is that there is precisely zero actual evidence for determinism itself, and there is an absolutely staggering amount of evidence for non-deterministic free will.

Every human has an entire lifetime's experience of making choices freely. No one has ever demonstrated actual deterministic control over the human will, in any way, to any degree, ever, despite repeated claims that such control was trivial and extremely-well-resourced and -motivated efforts to implement or demonstrate such control.

Despite this, Materialists routinely reject all evidence of free will on the basis of a determinism-of-the-gaps, having retreated from "we can directly, repeatably and arbitrarily engineer human will to our preferences" to "whatever you do was what you were always going to do, even if we can't predict it or control it or test this claim in any way". Determinism has been tested, and has failed all tests. After decades of steady retreat, the current version makes no testable predictions at all, but is precisely a statement of blind faith.

Observable free will is significant evidence that Materialism is wrong. But no human belief arises deterministically, and every human belief is chosen through an act of the will. Materialists choose to adopt Materialism as an axiom; evidence of free will conflicts with that axiom, and so it is discarded, not because it is disproven, but because weighting and filtering evidence is the purpose of axioms. Materialists know that free will can't exist, because if it existed it would disprove Materialism, and their adherence to Materialism is pre-evidential.

...And all the above is not an error to be corrected on the part of the Materialists, but rather a demonstration of how human reason actually operates. All beliefs are chosen. No one has ever or will ever be "forced" to adopt a belief, by evidence or by coercion or by any other mechanism. Some beliefs require more maintenance and effort than others, and some beliefs pay off more than others, but it all comes down to choice.

I mean, what does the null hypothesis for determinism even look like?

That we do not have access to a complete understanding of reality, and that the unknown unknowns are significant and must be accounted for.

Empiricism, the entire scientific method, is based on the truth of causality.

Empiricism and the entire scientific method are not universal solvents. They have limits, and those limits should be understood and respected, not papered over, ignored or lied about. The later solutions have caused great harm and misery, and that harm and misery has never been adequately answered for.

If causality is false we have to throw pretty much everything out and just accept that we're all living in Plato's cave.

Why? Within its limits, science and causality work quite well. Engineering is delightful. But my appreciation of air conditioning and microcircuitry and repeating firearms does not obligate me to ignore significant evidence that free will exists. I am comfortable saying that inert matter seems to run on strict causality, while the human mind does not appear to do so. This costs me nothing, requires me to paper over nothing, offered significant predictive value back when Determinism was still making falsifiable predictions, and seems to me to offer decent predictive value on the currently-untestable predictions that Determinism still allows itself.

I mean, its oppositional, but I don't think it's unfair. When you follow determinism to it's logical conclusion you come to realize that everything that an animal or human does is a product of their brain structure, their surroundings, their sensory inputs, etc. Essentially, the human brain is a computer, and like all computers (all physical things, really.) it is deterministic. So, you declare "there is no free will! everything is predetermined, even my very thoughts!" And you are correct.

But then, along comes a soft determinist to say "Aha! but if we redefine free will in such a way that it instead represents the preferences of one of these deterministic machines and it's ability to have agency in this universe then free will does exist!" Well okay, yeah, I suppose, but all this really is is sleight of hand. You've twisted the concept of 'free will' until it no longer represents what it did before you learned of determinism. I accept the logic, I don't accept that you've demonstrated anything profound. Under this paradigm, a computer that wants to contact a server, and succeeds, has free will. But we don't think of smartphones as having free will, for obvious reasons.

But then, along comes a soft determinist to say "Aha! but if we redefine free will in such a way that it instead represents the preferences of one of these deterministic machines and it's ability to have agency in this universe then free will does exist!"

Is it, in fact, a redefinition at all? It seems to me that ‘free will’ is really about the output space for whatever computation our minds do, whether that happens on a material or spiritual level. Anti-soft-materialism arguments struggle to explain what ‘classical’ free will that excludes it is supposed to be.

Meanwhile, it is possible to suggest at the (largely semantic, of course) difference between ‘hard determinism’ and the ‘soft materialist’ positions. Consider a criminal enterprise. Someone gets arrested, volunteers everything to the cops, gets released on bail, his co-conspirators say “what the fuck man, you have free will bro, why did you tell them that?”. The point being made isn’t a complex analysis of the internal process in the mind that occurs during reasoning, it’s a straightforward exhortation that this agent was not being externally forced to do something that it did anyway. It’s clear that it refers to a way of discussing the bounds of our behavior in a material reality, not an immaterial spiritual concept, which is why we don’t talk about having “free will” to regrow a leg or jump to the moon.

Defining free will as something that happens at the intersection of deterministic machines with good but imperfect predictive ability, material reality, and the forward passage of time fits with the way the term is generally used.

I think it is a redefinition. What you are describing is something most people would call 'freedom of action', or possibly just 'freedom' - the ability of an agent to do what it wants to without external interference. But under this definition, we could say that a Roomba has free will - because it can do what it wants (clean floors), but a prisoner does not, because he is unable to do what he wants (leave prison). This is very much at odds with how most people would use the term.

I agree that agents can make decisions to perform actions to alter the world. What I don't agree is that an agent - any agent - had the capability to make a decision other than the one that it ended up making. This is what most people would mean when they talk about free will - it's the idea that your snitch could have decided not to tattle, which is something that determinism rejects. the choice to snitch appeared unforced, but it was in fact as deterministic as was my Roomba's 'choice' to hoover my floors every day at ten o'clock.

whatever computation our minds do, whether that happens on a material or spiritual level.

I think i know what you're getting at here, but for the avoidance of doubt, determinism denies the possibility of spiritual decision making. The deterministic argument is:

  1. in the universe, material interacts with material by way of deterministic causality
  2. the human mind/brain is part of the material universe
  3. therefore, the human mind/brain operates by deterministic causality.

In such a universe, “free will” more properly means the ability to consider multiple courses of action, and to reject any given potential choice based on conscious reasons, such as moral principles. In practice, our human wills are constrained by unconscious (“subconscious”) reasons, and not perfectly free.

FYI, I’ve had great success consciously removing unwanted reasons from my unconscious using Fourth Step tools from the Twelve-Step recovery method. I feel more free now than ever before.

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However, the Bailey of materialism is that God, ghosts, big foot, aliens, or whatever supernatural force or being can’t possibly exist because we know stupid bullshit like that doesn’t fit under our materialist understanding of the world.

Although the UFO community has always been strongly associated with woo, there's nothing in principle that says that aliens have to have a supernatural component. Modulo concerns about FTL travel, there's nothing that says there can't exist a naturally occurring biological species on another planet that develops means of space travel, because we already have an example that proves that that sort of thing can happen, namely us. So I always found it strange and unfair that aliens are automatically put in the same category as ghosts and God (and I felt this way long before I became obsessed with this topic last summer).

From my point of view, with the evidence we have on hand, the likelihood of God’s existence far surpasses that of aliens. But the UFO thing is a great example of mainstream culture reasoning based more on emotions and consensus than actual logic or reasoning.

The kicker isn’t that they exist, which (I think) is rather socially acceptable. It’s that they are responsible for specific phenomena outside our current understanding. Oh, and those phenomena don’t appear more often as technology improves. Put like that, the woo category starts to look more appropriate.

However, the Bailey of materialism is that God, ghosts, big foot, aliens, or whatever supernatural force or being can’t possibly exist because we know stupid bullshit like that doesn’t fit under our materialist understanding of the world.

I agree that this is frustrating. But the 'core' of this position, which I think is much more common and often very deliberately confused for the bailey you cite, is that we probably shouldn't act as if big foot, ghosts and aliens definitely exist just because they might, theoretically, exist.

Yeah this debate tends to get messy. I threw Bigfoot in there for variety, I’m not a cryptozoologist by any stretch of the imagination.

What I’m trying to get across is that while most default modern thinkers believe they have achieved a hyper rationalist, extremely logical and bulletproof worldview based on rigorous scientific inquiry, they in fact have not. And don’t even question the core assumptions of their worldview, just dismiss challenges a priori.

To your credit it sounds like you allow a much larger amount of leeway for possibility than most. I’d be curious if you’ve tried prayer or any other personal or ‘experiential’ practice aimed at seeking direct contact with the divine or spiritual world?

The materialist conception doesn’t even necessarily prohibit some kind of spiritual existence, a soul of some form, a God, an all-loving, all-knowing being beyond and above us (the simulation hypothesis, which would allow for such a God, can be framed in materialist terms)… It just says that if they’re real they’re going to be systems, they’re going to function in a predictable way, they’re going to be based on laws of the universe whether we understand them yet or not.

I guess it really depends on your definition of ‘material’, because the standard conceptions of these things (like the conception of God’s omnipotence and omniscience) are very much contrary to the idea of material existence in terms of things like, ‘these are actual objects composed of materially smaller parts put together in some larger material space’. If you conceptualize materialism as just, ‘this is a paradigm that says that things will function in a way predictably subject to the axioms of existence at large’ then that’s not really something rejected by even staunch anti-materialist theists, as they see the entirety of the universe (including the things in the universe that aren’t ‘physical’) as predictably and ultimately subordinate to God’s will, and if you have knowledge of God’s will through viewing God’s essence (in terms of the Beatific vision) then you also have total knowledge about the past and future as far as a human could possibly know. In fact, the idea in Catholicism that perfect knowledge of God, who is the embodiment of all possible laws of being as God is Being, in fact makes you God (as that communicates to you the divine essence).

And obviously the classical theistic idea of ‘God’ is also much different from the post-humans attempting to capture us in ancestor simulations. They’re still, to our knowledge, ‘finite’ in terms of causality, space, time, extension, dimension, etc. If not, then they wouldn’t need to ‘simulate’ us to begin with, as there would be no distinction between their knowledge in simulating us or not simulating us, or distinctions in their indexical knowledge from ‘t1 where 1 is the second before the simulation occurs’ and ‘t2 where 2 is the second when the simulation starts’. A truly all-knowing and all-powerful deity wouldn’t be limited by computation (or hypercomputation) and would be more analogous to like, a metaphysical singularity rather than anything else. This is also quite similar to the Buddhist idea of non-duality which is pretty antithetical to materialism, to the point where basic classical laws of logic like the law of excluded middle seem to break down once you try to predicate the non-existence of the ‘self’. If I am mischaracterizing your conceptualization of materialism then I’m sorry, because I’m taking this from a very rudimentary idea of materialism as effectively conceiving reality as just being totally concrete sums of things out together in causally connected ‘space’. The traditional Aristotelian ideas of angels as being just forms beyond space and time and God as being pure actuality, as well as the Dharmic ideals of the ultimate non-existence of selfhood and the univocality of nirvana and samsara. The investments of these religious ideals are much bigger than anything extensions of materialism can supply, even the ‘out-there’ materialism of transhumanists where you can just recreate everyone who ever lived in an ancestor simulation and call that ‘heaven’, even as someone like Thomas Aquinas wouldn’t consider that as the same thing as transcending material reality, causality, and spatiality at all in union with the ultimate metaphysical principle at all.

I'd imagine many people reading this haven't been exposed to some of the more respectable claims of anti-materialists. I'm going to quote heavily from this article by Roger's Bacon to give you an idea of some of the more interesting claims. Bacon, in turn, pulls heavily from a book entitled The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge, if you're interested in further reading.

This is a pretty odd piece, in that it gives a convincing potential explanation for supernatural phenomena and then veers off to "But actually religion is Le Bad and Gnostics were suppressed for being epic libertarians who just loved freedom too much" for little particular reason. I'd think that if one found that magic actually works but you have to literally either go through extreme suffering or put someone else, perhaps someone you love, through extreme suffering (ie. sacrifice), it would be the best to approach all of this precisely through an institution that says "That's bad and you shouldn't do that", ie. traditional religion, preferably (most likely) Christianity.

Yeah I didn't like the strange turn towards Gnosticism at the end, also thought it was kind of abrupt and didn't make much sense. Oh well. The first parts were solid.

magic actually works but you have to literally either go through extreme suffering...

it would be the best to approach all of this precisely through an institution that says "That's bad...

(most likely) Christianity.

Are thinking about the same Christianity? The one I know glorifies martyrdom, suffering and self sacrifice. At least the Catholic version.

I meant in the way that magic is bad. Martyrs didn’t suffer to do magic.

There are lots of supernatural acts that are tied to suffering in the bible and Christian mythology. Jesus' own bleeding of water instead of blood when he is pierced in his side and his eventual resurrection, including him still having the wounds he suffered on the cross. The saints suffered like Christ and in doing so became magical like him. Objects associated with Christ and the Saints are considered magical relics, these include supposed body parts of Christ and the Saints. If that isn't magic I don't know what is.

If someone thinks kissing my foreskin or finger can heal them, that is magic.

Are 3 minor pieces worth about a queen? Certainly not, what nonsense! TypeDoesNotExist. Pieces don’t have values, all that matters is checkmating your opponent.

But since I’m not the physical embodiment of a trillion trillion trillion GPUs… I’m going to need a way to model the chess game that’s a bit more sophisticated (read: “wrong”). And if you start telling me piece values don’t exist I’m going to call you out for excessive pedantry.

This is how I feel when people complain that free will is incompatible with determinism. Like, yeah, you looked at the quarks and didn’t find any free will particles, sure. But that says nothing about whether I should keep modeling other people (and myself!) as agents with goals, who run some kind of shitty statistical inference, and who respond to incentives.

I’m not the embodiment of a trillion trillion trillion GPUs, so I’m not going to be modeling my barista as a complex set of atoms when I’m ordering my coffee.

Materialism and determinism are orthogonal concepts, although popular proponents of one very often hold the other. See: quantum mechanics. Physicists are probably the single most materialist profession there is, and modern physics decidedly rejects strict determinism. (That said, there's a lingering dislike of that rejection, leading to all kinds of abstruse "interpretations" of scientific theories that try to bring something that looks like determinism, if you squint just right, back to science).

It's not clear how nondeterminism helps accounts of free will, though. Suppose you have two universes, one where quantum effects don't play a significant role in cognition and decision making (the one I would argue we live in) and another where random quantum fluctuations make me decide which coffee shop I'm going to this morning. I don't see myself as having any more free will in the latter world, and probably less.

Even unknown or unknowable things don't undermine materialism. Imagine someone designed an experiment that provided strong evidence that ESP existed, and we had no idea how to explain it. The thing is, there are countless things in the world that are mysterious, and ESP would rapidly get a ton of attention. Experimentalists would test it under different contexts (it only appears under heightened emotional states? Then figure out exactly which states. Does distance play a role in the strength of the ESP-effect? Etc), and theorists would come up with testable explanations (maybe physical models that are near isomorphic to each other somehow share causes and exchange psy-particles). Gradually we'd build a model that approximates what's really happening better than random guessing, under the constraints of economic cost and value of building that model. This is nothing new and is constantly happening.

Doesn't this indicate that materialism itself is vacuous, because it can explain everything? Yes, maybe.

It's not clear how nondeterminism helps accounts of free will, though. Suppose you have two universes, one where quantum effects don't play a significant role in cognition and decision making (the one I would argue we live in) and another where random quantum fluctuations make me decide which coffee shop I'm going to this morning. I don't see myself as having any more free will in the latter world, and probably less.

I believe that the standard response to this from the "nondeterminist accounts of free will" crowd is that those random quantum fluctuations are actually the physical mechanism of consciousness/decision-making. You make a decision or will something in consciousness, and then poorly explained magic converts that into a random fluctuation that motivates the determinist parts of you into action in accordance with your will.

A mechanism isn't really necessary, though: I'm happy to accept mysterious forces at work. But I do wonder how you would differentiate it from a "materialist" world.

I think you might be able to if you managed to successfully model a particular individual human being on some substrate where quantum effects played an even smaller role than they do in the human brain. If you could, that seems like quantum-mediated decision-making couldn't be playing a role, unless you somehow accidentally incorporated the causal influence of the soul of the person you're emulating into the model itself.

ETA: thinking about it a bit more, it would be very easy to accidentally incorporate the soul's causal influence, so you'd need to be very careful not to, even if you did a non-quantum-by-construction neuron-by-neuron emulation.

I think this whole post is confused in very common ways about what it means for something to be material vs scientific vs transcendental.

ESP being real wouldn't disprove science.

It would mean that individual scientists failed to notice something for a long time, possibly it would more intensely highlight the type of problematic resistance to paradigm shifts that we already know the entrenched scientific establishment can be prone to.

But it wouldn't break the notion of cause and effect. It wouldn't break the notion of learning through induction. It wouldn't break Bayesian updating on evidence.

Basically, it might embarrass specific individual scientists who fell down on the job, but it wouldn't break the Scientific Method. It wouldn't invalidate known and proven-reliable relationships between different types of sensory experiences (like the experience of letting go of a rock and the experience of seeing it fall). It wouldn't break the process by which we acquire knowledge, or any of the knowledge which we acquired by using it correctly.

ESP would just be one more natural phenomenon for us to study and learn about. If it had weird properties that made it resistant to being studied, that's fine; the insides of black holes are also difficult to study, and the Uncertainty Principle is a real bitch. We might have a hard time learning about ESP, but that doesn't make it a non-scientific process.

Nor would disproving materialism break science. Maybe there exist both physical and mental objects, maybe all objects are mental constructs and our experience of a physical world is just a hacked-together perceptual interface to let us manipulate those purely-mental objects efficiently. Lots of scientists have contemplated natural systems like that and how to investigate and model them with science.

So long as the non-materialist 'true' universe still works by cause and effect, so long as it is possible to gather sensory inputs from it that correlate in any way with 'true' features of it, you can still do science at it. And if it doesn't, then you have to explain why the hell our sensorium appears to present such a world so reliably, which gets you all the way back to the problem of Solipsism and all the arguments against it.

Neither ESP nor non-materialism would disprove or break science.

Science can only be broken by proving that its process for noticing statistical correlations between sensory experiences is in some way incorrect, or unreliable in some specific domain, or etc.

And that takes a lot more than discovering some weird new thing we didn't think existed... that happens all the time.

Furthermore, neither ESP nor non-materialism would prove the existence of supernatural entities such as Gods, nor would it prove any one specific religion or their teachings to be correct. Discovering that you were wrong to deny the existence of one thing does not prove the existence of all other thing you ever denied; reversed stupidity is not smartness.

And even proving the existence of a specific religion's specific God or Gods would not prove that modern-day science-influenced cultural and political movements are wrong. Even if it were proved that a God exists and it dislikes what we're doing, you'd still have to argue why we should replace our utility function with its, whether we should give into its threats about hell or it's emotional blackmail about being our creator, etc.

I'm not saying your position is as unsophisticated as 'Seems like there's some evidence for ESP being real, that probably means that scientists are wrong about vaccines and we shouldn't take them, and also we all need to start obeying God's will as defined by the convocation of Canterbury in 1870 right now before it's too late.'

But it does rhyme with that argument. I think it's making the same types of incorrect leaps in logic.

I think this whole post is confused in very common ways about what it means for something to be material vs scientific vs transcendental.

You're probably right in that I assumed a lot in the post. To clarify, when you say things like:

Neither ESP nor non-materialism would disprove or break science.

I'm more arguing that our culture, and indeed the mainstream scientific apparatus, operates based on a sort of materialist, reductionist Scientism framework. Often when rationalists talk about materialism vs non materialism they get bogged down in these definition games, and to be fair it's for a somewhat good reason.

Regardless, the average scientist doing actual work in the world today, publishing papers that lead to policy interventions, diverting government funds, organizing society, etc, is a materialist by action. Even though a ton of people say they're Christian, in reality they act like materialists. That's what I'm getting at.

So yes you can say okay in an edge case True Science would survive proof that materialism is false, and I'd agree. Sadly our world doesn't run on True Science, it's a motte that never has and never will exist.

the seeming ability of humans to make choices that operate outside of physical processes.

To whom does it seem we have such an ability, and on what basis? We subjectively seem to have free will, sure, but nothing in this seeming directly illuminates its relationship with the material world, just as the subjective feeling of pain reveals nothing about the firing of group C nerve fibers. Direct experience is simply ambiguous on these matters.

The most famous contemporary materialist from my understanding is Daniel Dennett, who has written extensively on free will, determinism, religion, et cetera, and basically come up with a convoluted 'compatibalist' view: that the world is all physical processes, yet we also have free will. Somehow.

Compatibilism was not invented by Dennett, having existed in some form since the Stoics. It's the dominant view among English-speaking philosophers (59% in one 2020 survey). If your best characterization of the doctrine is that we have free will "somehow", you are not engaging seriously with it.

The rest of your post veers in a strange direction. There are a fair number of respected anti-materialist philosophers. Their arguments rarely have anything to do with reports of ESP or other fantastical powers, but rather the irreducibility of things that are ordinary and familiar--free will, intentionality, subjective experience--to a completely mechanistic account of all of reality. Many of these arguments are subtle and persuasive and are taken seriously in the field. "Mental telegraphy", generally, is not.

What are some of the best philosophers to check out or books to read in your view? I'm certainly open to reading more anti-materialist arguments.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on physicalism (which is related to and sometimes interchangeable with materialism) is a good place to start.

If you want to look at particular anti-materialist arguments, there is John Searle's Chinese Room argument. This is in principle a critique of the "strong AI" hypothesis that a computer could fully replicate a human mind, but given Searle's philosophical commitments, it can be read as a critique of any mechanistic account of consciousness rather than Searle ascribing special properties to biological processes in particular. Any of Searle's works on philosophy of mind would probably be up your alley.

The notion of philosophical zombies (very different from the Dawn Of The Dead sort) is another thing to consider. Many philosophers have touched on this issue, but Saul Kripke is a particularly well-known one who has pressed this argument against materialism.

David Chalmers is known for formulating the "hard problem" of consciousness, which is the seeming irreducibility of subjective experience (e.g. the "redness" of seeing red) to physical events (e.g. light of 650nm wavelength stimulating the retina and producing a neural response).

A lot of philosophy is published in academic journals rather than books, so Googling particular articles might be fruitful.

While I agree materialism was rare in the past, there are still groups like the ancient Greek Atomists (such as the school of Epicurus) and the Charvaka school in India that believed in it. I'm more familiar with the Epicurean philosophy, but they are remarkably similar to contemporary materialists in their beliefs (except with a strange insistence on a "swerve" in atoms that is supposedly the foundation of a form of free will.) That said, Epicurus didn't deny the existence of the gods - he just asserted that they were made of atoms and didn't intervene in human affairs.

That aside, I'm actually curious what makes you think "mind" or "soul" or whatever it is you think explains and unifies ESP, free will and supernatural beings wouldn't be "material" in some relevant sense? Like, the material world already has radio waves and magnetism and many other forces that we can't see, but which we see the effects of in our everyday lives. What makes you so sure that ESP, if it exists, wouldn't just be one more invisible force that operates in our material world?

And if you believe in angels or demons or spiritual beings of that kind, why do you think that they wouldn't work in fundamentally similar ways to how we do? Maybe they wouldn't have bodies and brains exactly like ours, but if angels can "see", then surely their sight would rely on "spiritual atoms" bouncing off of their "spiritual eyes"? Otherwise, I'm curious what you think would be happening when an angel sees something? How do they come to a knowledge of what is happening in their surroundings, if not in a fundamentally pseudo-materialist way?

I believe that our entire scientific, logical system and much of our physics is based on binary or black and white thinking, and that ultimate Truths which religions claim to purvey are somehow above this sort of binary distinction.

Quantum fluctuations and other edge problems in physics are a good example of what I mean, but even here I think the framing of the problem is sorely lacking.

Basically I think we are deeply limited in our understanding of the world, and that we need to be far more humble than we have been when trying to learn more. Especially when it comes to complex systems such as people.

So angels and spiritual beings exist in essentially higher dimensions than ours…. But again I don’t think we have any concepts that can accurately explain. This is why mysticism and experiential understanding is so crucial for most religious practices.

So angels and spiritual beings exist in essentially higher dimensions than ours…. But again I don’t think we have any concepts that can accurately explain. This is why mysticism and experiential understanding is so crucial for most religious practices.

Okay, but you didn't answer my question. Do you believe angels see? Or are angels blind in any meaningful sense of the word? (Perhaps they have other, completely non-analogous, ineffable senses of their own?)

I understand if you think my question is coming from an overly binary way of thinking, but I just think this is part of what unravels your entire project here. If angels have "senses" in the way we do, then those senses require an explanation of some kind. When a human being sees something, we can say it happens because light particles bounce off of objects and hit the human's eyes. You are asserting that angels can interact with the human sphere of experience, and are potentially the source of ESP. I'm open to the idea that both of those claims could be true.

However, when you remove angels and ESP from the realm of matter, I have difficulty understanding what exactly you are claiming. If angels are completely "immaterial" how do they interact with the world at all? How does a being that doesn't see, smell, hear, taste, or touch (since all of those rely on material processes as far as we know) interact with the material world at all? You say that angels might be the source of ESP, but how could an angel acquire information about, say, a squiggle on a card 50 miles away, if the card and the squiggle are all material objects that the angel should have no way of perceiving or interacting with?

If you're asserting that all material objects actually also exist and interact with the "spiritual" realm, and that there are spiritual analogues to all the traditional senses (spirit-sight, spirit-hearing, etc.) and that angels communicate with our astral bodies or whatever, then I would say that seems like an overly complicated theory. Why not just believe that angels are material beings made out of something like neutrinos or literal light that interact and communicate with us in the physical world?

Hey man, I have difficulty understanding what I’m claiming too! We have that much in common.

To try and come at it another way, I think the word we use for ‘material’ or ‘physical’ causes traps is in a framework or mindset that causes us to lose quite a bit of understanding. While a materialist/scientific framework is useful, I believe we need a more wholistic framework to understand things like consciousness, morality, free will, time, and other high level concepts.

Hence why we’ve made little to no progress with these fields despite incredible investments of resources and energy.

Don't make me tap the Summa 😀

Ah, yes, I take as an axiom in my metaphysical beliefs, Psalm 103:4 "Who makes His angels spirits." Who could argue against that.

I read through your excerpt from the Summa, and I don't feel like it properly dealt with my main objection.

The passage from the Summa that most directly touches my line of inquiry is:

The ancients, however, not properly realizing the force of intelligence, and failing to make a proper distinction between sense and intellect, thought that nothing existed in the world but what could be apprehended by sense and imagination. And because bodies alone fall under imagination, they supposed that no being existed except bodies, as the Philosopher observes (Phys. iv, text 52,57). Thence came the error of the Sadducees, who said there was no spirit (Acts 23:8).

But the very fact that intellect is above sense is a reasonable proof that there are some incorporeal things comprehensible by the intellect alone.

However, I don't accept the "fact that intellect is above sense", and so I can't agree with Aquinas' conclusion that this proves there are some incorporeal things comprehensible by the intellect alone.

I also can't help but think that most of the angels of the Bible seem fairly corporeal. Did Jacob/Israel wrestle with a non-corporeal spirit that somehow broke his hip?

Aquinas supposedly deals with the objection that angels must be both spiritual and physical later, but I'm not actually convinced he's on good exegetical grounds here.

Aquinas seems to believe that angels can perform psychokinesis to produce physical effects. They can use psychokinesis to make sound waves, alter light, apply force, etc.

He lived in a world where everyone agreed that the mental and spiritual affected the physical on a daily basis.

That aside, I'm actually curious what makes you think "mind" or "soul" or whatever it is you think explains and unifies ESP, free will and supernatural beings wouldn't be "material" in some relevant sense? Like, the material world already has radio waves and magnetism and many other forces that we can't see, but which we see the effects of in our everyday lives. What makes you so sure that ESP, if it exists, wouldn't just be one more invisible force that operates in our material world?

Cartesian Dualism separates mind from matter and attempts to study matter separate from qualia or mental properties. The difference between ESP and Magnetism is that Magnets exist outside of an independent observer. There could have been a universe without life, but still had an electro-magnetic field. A universe without life wouldn't have psychokinesis, ESP, etc, because these are all things that require a mind.

That isn't to say that they couldn't be observed in a scientific and methodological way, nor that the laws governing them couldn't be discovered. But that is why they are typically withheld from the Materialist worldview.

I'm not sure I buy this explanation. Even if our minds are somehow made of soulstuff and not reducible to purely physical processes, I don't know why ESP would need to be explained using soulstuff?

Our eyes somehow get information to our minds/souls, and yet we can explain the basics of sight in purely physical terms. Light bounces off of objects, and hits our eyes. So a physical process gets information into our minds/souls.

Why would ESP need to be a non-physical, non-material process? I could easily see an explanation along the lines of:

  • ESP-particles are constantly hitting physical objects, and travelling large distances.
  • Our ESP-eye is a sensory organ in our brain that ESP-particles can hit, and much like we have visual processing that takes place in our brains, we have ESP-particle processing that is capable of processing the ESP-particles that hit our ESP-eye.
  • It is this process that we call ESP.

Even if the specifics could be a little different from the above, I think it's a good starting point for thinking about what ESP even means in practice. Why do you think that is not what Western science will discover to be the case?

Why do you think that is not what Western science will discover to be the case?

I'm not a Cartesian Dualist, so I don't have a horse in the race. But to test your hypothesis we would need to see if a non-mental physical substance can interact with ESP particles or if only living minds interact with ESP particles. If you lobotomize someone and remove the ESP sensory organ, do ESP particles still hit it? Or do ESP particles only hit sensory organs attached to a thinking mind?

There are some ways that Quantum Mechanics gets phrased that I wonder if it is touching on this mental issue, but sometimes it just seems to be sloppy phrasing by researchers.

While I agree materialism was rare in the past, there are still groups like the ancient Greek Atomists (such as the school of Epicurus) and the Charvaka school in India that believed in it.

I mean... kind of, but they also lived steeped in a highly symbolic world. Even if they had beliefs that kind of rhyme with modern materialism, I'm highly skeptical that it would resemble our actual worldview. I tend to see these thinkers as proto-Enlightenment thinkers, the beginnings of the demythologization of the world that started with the Enlightenment and led to the modern materialist malaise.

For the ancients, everything was symbolic. Divinity and non-human agentic beings were everywhere and in everything. Even if there was a 'materialist' in those societies who professed to believe the gods were fake through logical reasoning, it would be like the masses of modern Christians who profess to believe in God and yet don't act as if he exists. They may have arrived at that stance, but we can't always choose our beliefs, especially our deepest ones.

I don't pretend to know what exactly was going on in the heart or mind of Epicurus. I can only speak of the writings of him and his school that come down to us in the modern day, and I would say Epicurus' letter to Herodotus and Lucretius' De Rerum Natura seem to prefigure a lot of modern materialism. While there are a few things a modern reader might scoff at (such as Lucretius' insistence on a flat Earth, at least a century after Aristotle collected the best arguments for a spherical Earth in one place), their basic conclusions about the afterlife, divine intervention and the supernatural are remarkably similar to a modern materialist.

I actually think you underestimate the degree to which the educated elites of Greek and Roman society might have already cast off the highly symbolic world they lived in. Look at Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, where at a meeting of several philosophers of different schools, they just offhandedly reject the traditional concept of Hades as the afterlife, and even call the idea foolish. Most ancient philosophers believed in gods of some sort, but that doesn't mean that their concepts weren't far removed from what the masses believed. Even as early as Socrates and Plato, most philosophers seemed to reject Homeric conceptions of gods as impious and immoral.

If you want to believe that the Greek Atomists couldn't "really" believe in materialism in their heart of hearts because of the culture they found themselves in, then I'm not sure how I could argue you out of that idea. Yes, hypocrites exist in every era, but surely you believe sincere people exist in every era as well, however rare they may be?

Of course this claim has been papered over from the materialist side by claiming that free will is just an illusion, but the determinists haven't made much headway.

I think the burden of proof is more on the believers in free will, because at first blush libertarian free will seems to be conceptually incoherent.

In order to have the type of free will we want, determinism has to be false. That is, for a given fixed state of the universe (i.e. reality as a whole, both the physical and whatever non-physical components you believe in), there have to be multiple other possible states that could follow afterwards. But what explains how we select one outcome over the other? It can't be anything in the universe itself, even the alleged "will", because everything that goes into making up the state of the "will" has also been fixed at one specific instant. There isn't any possible explanation for how we select one outcome over the other except to say that it's "just because". That is, it's random. But a purely random selection isn't free will either.

I can't conceive of a space between determinism and randomness where free will could exist. It's possible that I'm just missing something here, or there is such a thing as free will and it's just absolutely indescribable in any terms that we could possibly understand, but right now it makes more sense to me to just say that free will is an illusion.

our entire cultural regime rests upon Science being the arbiter of truth and ender of disputes. If it turns out our materialistic worldview science has given us ends up being false, there are innumerable cultural repercussions

I think the system is a lot more resilient than that. Science can be molded into a tool for political purposes just like any other human institution. Scientists never used to believe in 20 genders, but now they do, and the sociological reasons for the shift in scientific consensus are obvious. If science was dethroned from its current position as the arbiter of truth, then whatever took its place would just be forced to conform to the dominant political narrative instead.

If anything, elements of progressivism are more at home with a non-materialist ontology than a materialist one, e.g. mind-body dualism so you could have a female mind/soul in a male body.

In order to have the type of free will we want, determinism has to be false. That is, for a given fixed state of the universe (i.e. reality as a whole, both the physical and whatever non-physical components you believe in), there have to be multiple other possible states that could follow afterwards.

Materialist science already answered this question. Multiple possible other states can follow from a single fixed state as described here.

And there's no hidden variables that we just haven't seen yet that would explain away single state -> multiple possible states, either.

Doesn't this just add randomness into the mix? I'm not seeing how this contributes any to the concept of free will.

The likelihood of a quantum system collapsing into a given state is rigorously mathematically specified by the wavefunction. If a will or agent was making a "choice," we wouldn't expect those choices to perfectly obey the wave function. It's like spinning a roulette wheel or rolling dice - just because we don't know the outcome in advance doesn't mean any free will is involved.

Agreed. But it at least lets us skip any debates about determinism. It has already been demonstrated wrong. The absence of determinism isn't actually useful for identifying free will, however.

I can't conceive of a space between determinism and randomness where free will could exist. It's possible that I'm just missing something here, or there is such a thing as free will and it's just absolutely indescribable in any terms that we could possibly understand, but right now it makes more sense to me to just say that free will is an illusion.

I think a better way to phrase it is that it's just a poorly-defined concept that ends up functioning as a motte and bailey. "Illusion" makes it sound like something constantly apparent but untrue, rather than just a confused way of thinking about a concept. In the motte, he can declare that things that happen for a reason are "deterministic" and thus not free will, while things that don't happen for a reason (like the outcomes of quantum randomness) are "random" and thus not free will, and then imply that magic can produce results that are neither caused nor uncaused and thus free will is proof of magic. But then when the time comes to argue the existence of "free will" he doesn't have to do anything to argue that something can be neither caused or uncaused, just that people make decisions. Well yes, I believe that people make decisions, I am a "compatibilist" who thinks that people can make decisions with their brains even when those decisions are caused by prior events. I just think that those decisions are some mixture of caused and uncaused rather than some incoherent third thing that has been arbitrarily associated with magic.

I can't conceive of a space between determinism and randomness where free will could exist.

Compatibilism, which OP dismisses out of hand without really describing it, is the generally-accepted answer to this question.

It basically does the magic trick of saying 'we all agree that we have some intuitive notion of free will which is very very important, and a cultural narrative says it is at odds with determinism, but that just means randomness which is clearly wrong. We suggest a new definition for the term 'free will' which is compatible with determinism, and if that new definition resonates with your intuitions then you should just adopt it as what you mean when you talk about free will from now on'.

The definition is, basically, how much the actions and outcomes of an agent in a deterministic system are caused by its own nature and preferences, versus caused by external constraints and contingent factors of the system.

Basically, if you have the freedom inside a system to act mostly how you want and have steering power over your own future, you have free will. It doesn't matter that how you act and what you steer towards is deterministic; it is still your own nature which causally determines your own actions and outcomes, rather than some other outside force.

And, if you are restrained and restricted and forced into actions against your nature and futures that you would not choose, then you have very little free will. This is a system in which your own nature and preferences has very little causal impact on how the system evolves over time, you have very little input or control, and the argument is that that's what the felt experience of having your free will violated actually corresponds to.

I think it's a pretty good idea.

I think it's just true that the idea that free will is opposed to determinism is an accident of history, where humans have an innate sense of being in-control or not-in-control of themselves and their destiny, and some philosophers and religious scholars hijacked that innate sense and built a narrative about God's Plan vs human nature and the origin of sin/pain vs materialism and scientific realism vs etc etc.

But that innate sense didn't have to be channeled into that specific debate. If you put kids on a dessert island and let them grow up outside culture and queried them about that innate sense as an adult, they wouldn't say 'obviously this is about whether the universe is deterministic or not'.

So, given that we've demonstrated that the narrative about determinism it got attached to ends up being pretty incoherent and has no answer which satisfyingly aligns with our intuitions, I think it totally makes sense to just say 'so lets throw out the idea that our sense of 'free will' has anything to do with that question, and find a better definition that matches out intuitions better.'

And I think Compatibilism offers a good version of that.

But what explains how we select one outcome over the other? It can't be anything in the universe itself, even the alleged "will", because everything that goes into making up the state of the "will" has also been fixed at one specific instant. There isn't any possible explanation for how we select one outcome over the other except to say that it's "just because". That is, it's random. But a purely random selection isn't free will either.

I can conceive of a model where the human brain is somehow connected to some higher 'free will dimension' where there's some ethereal being (call it a soul) that is capable of observing a person's environment and acting in some small way to impact the outcome of their decisions against what their immediate environment would demand.

For example, what if there were a single neuron or a couple neurons, deep in the brain, that were specialized to act as 'antennae' to this higher dimension, and by activating or deactivating this neuron, and the cascade effects this would have on the rest of our cognitive processes, the actual behaviors we exhibit are meaningfully altered? How could we detect and identify such a neuron amongst the billions of others in the brain?

This is not the literal model I propose, but just example of a biological, materialist understanding of human cognition could still have some blind spot we are simply unable to detect, which nonetheless does create some version of 'free will' beyond our understanding.

Major objections to this:

A) This just pushes back the materialism/determinism debate to this new dimension/realm, what makes the ethereal being any more 'free' in its own terms? I'd still chalk this up to a sort of 'mystery' we can't solve under current tech, and thus still a mysterious, supernatural phenomenon.

B) Even if true, it's just 'free will of the gaps.' The vast majority of the universe remains uncaring and humans making free will decisions is so irrelevant that the rules of physics need not even consider this issue to rule.

C) It is special pleading in the extreme. Why are human brains the only thing that could have such an antennae? Why not cats? or cows? or fish, insects, trees, or even rocks? There are massive unstated assumptions as to why the human brain would have access to "The free will dimension" and yet other configurations of matter would not. How would this even evolve unless it was an intentional design?

Ultimately this is the same class of argument as e.g. Maxwell's Daemon, (IF this impossible thing exists, natural laws could be falsified!) but it is barely enough for me to leave aside some small probability for things working in ways we haven't fully understood yet.

I’ve seen a really appealing idea that the sort of “observer” you use for quantum experiments allows for an expression of free will. If our brains had some quantum-scale machinery which put a thumb on the scale when collapsing waveforms, then maybe we could sneak in some concept of preferences. Then we mumble mumble multiverses, and…

Needless to say, this was somewhere on LessWrong. I also think it was followed by the most gentle sort of debunk: an article saying that scientists had worked on one or more testable claim from the theory, and found it wanting. Sadly, I can’t find either.

You don't need quantum mechanics for that sort of interference though. Even in an apparently deterministic universe, you could just say that your mind influenced what happened. Quantum mechanics adds nothing to either the plausibility or mechanics of the thought experiment.

That's what OP is suggesting and it works in every possible universe. There are an infinite number of possible models that describe our universe and the only thing constraining them is their complexity.

Rationalism is choosing the least complex option; because, it makes the best predictions.

Why are we so afraid of the likelihood that we are every bit as bizarre as the quantum world; that we possess fantastic capacities that we have so far only allowed ourselves to imagine in science fiction and fantasy literature?

Because it's bullshit.

Because if through I dunno, extreme sensations you could tap into supernatural abilities, people would be doing it all the time. Various cultures routinely subjected their own to transcendentally painful initiation experiences. I recall others but this is the one I remember most.

Any tribe that tapped into something like that and got a useful ability out of it would have kept doing it, and this would have given them an edge and spread. We've got 40,000 years of essentially modern human tribes existing all over the planet yet no useful custom of this type appeared.

Meanwhile, the useful custom of marriage was a human universal until very recently.

I think the issues is, that your approach doesn't do anything better, than the materialist approach you decry.

If you can't tell a predictive dream apart from a normal one until after, then functionally nothing changes. If some percentage of farmers who pray for their crops to grow it works, but we don't know when or why, then we are going to have to use fertilizer and act as if there is no such intervention. If you can't tell whether the trauma of watching your wife get murdered in front of you is going to give you (or her!) telekinesis to stop the attack, then you are going to have to try plain old violence.

If you can't tell if you are in the world of 40K's warp, or the world of the Christian God, or the world of Bigfoot, then you don't know if you should be trying to manifest the Imperial Truth, or following the 10 commandments or sending out hunting parties into Oregon. And given there is a near infinite probability space, and you can't predict, measure or know which of the 40,000 options you should be doing, then probably you should not do any of them. Or maybe pick a couple at random, but being aware that your chances of being right are near zero.

The reason why materialism is ascendant is that it can be used every day in the smallest of ways. Christians don't just pray for a church to appear, they build them out of brick and mortar. Islamists don't just pray for their enemies to be defeated, they buy guns and go and murder them. From the point of view of everyday life, a world where God exists but does not answer prayers, and a world where God does not exist are identical. Materialism is at the very least, mostly right. Whereas, all of your examples can't be collectively right. Some of them must be wrong, because they are contradictory, but you don't offer any way to tell which.

I would suggest the traumatic transcendence is unlikely because the world is FULL of trauma. If that was all that was needed, then the world should be full of observable examples (even if they can't be repeated!). Were Jews not under enough trauma? The man forced to watch his family murdered before he was tortured to death by cartels? Gang raped girls? Either this has to be so unlikely, otherwise we would see many more examples, (at which point it is again functionally irrelevant) or it simply does not happen.

Bacon's position likewise has a problem, if we have collectively realized our own reality and we can't opt out of it or change it, just by being aware of it, then it is once again fundamentally useless, you can't tell the difference between a world where it is true and where it is not and the only correct response must be to live in the world as it is. Incidentally this is very similar to the collective reality as posited in the Mage: the Ascension White Wolf RPG, where the "awakened" mages are able to substitute their reality (magic) against the consensus reality of humanity as influenced by the Technocracy. But they could do so repeatedly, though risking the punishment of the universe in so doing. (As an aside Roger Bacon was an influential mage in that reality), their long term goal was to break humanity free of the current paradigm, back to the older one where consensus reality was much more malleable.

However the reason humanity embraced the current paradigm was because it was safer, dragons and demons and other monsters (there were those seeking to inflict madness and corruption into the world) were banished by the light of reason, which meant that there were arguments that Mages were trying to wake humanity into a much more dangerous world and that they did not have the right to do so. Even if Bacon is correct, is a world with less predictability actually better? Or have we manifested this world because it is the one where we have the best chance?

I would suggest the traumatic transcendence is unlikely because the world is FULL of trauma

Actually, as the post I linked argued, it's likely the modern world has far less trauma than the ancient world. This could explain the relative lack of miracles over time under the traumatic transcendence argument. The Holocaust is a fair point, but then again there are all sorts of strange and occult forces and miraculous accounts from Holocaust times... maybe @SecureSignals would know more.

However the reason humanity embraced the current paradigm was because it was safer, dragons and demons and other monsters (there were those seeking to inflict madness and corruption into the world) were banished by the light of reason, which meant that there were arguments that Mages were trying to wake humanity into a much more dangerous world and that they did not have the right to do so. Even if Bacon is correct, is a world with less predictability actually better? Or have we manifested this world because it is the one where we have the best chance?

It doesn't seem to me that the dragons and demons and other monsters have been banished. It seems that they've moved into different realms in order to torment us, and we've gotten locked into a paradigm where we can't even discuss them seriously because to admit we still have monsters around is seen as 'pseudo-science'. Or we try to add a spiritual bandaid like therapy that barely works above placebo.

The reason why materialism is ascendant is that it can be used every day in the smallest of ways. Christians don't just pray for a church to appear, they build them out of brick and mortar.

Prayer can be used every day, and in the smallest of ways. Christians pray and then build the church. You see we in the modern world, thanks to Descartes, have separated our physical bodies and our minds to the point where we almost can't see it. To many religious types, embodied action is a type of prayer. This is a much deeper topic that I still wade in the waters of, but suffice to say there's more here than meets the eye.

To many religious types, embodied action is a type of prayer.

and yet I can act without prayer. I can build a church without praying about it. The question is does prayer add anything to the action. Is a church built by an atheist stone mason, paid for by the church in any way different than one where the mason is moved by prayer? What ACTUALLY changes? You still have a church one way or another, a church built under material principles, of engineering and physics. Will prayer put a roof in place absent material action? Because material action can put the roof in place absent prayer. And that is the issue that must be overcome if you want to go back to a less materialist world.

In reference to the dragons and monsters, I've never seen one, never met anyone who claims to have. I'd submit that even if they were forced to a different plane (and allowing their existence in the first place of course), the direct threat they pose is much less. If as you say they must now act in ways where they cannot be observed or proven, then that in and of itself has reduced their threat massively.

Indeed, that was the whole idea of the Imperial "Truth" in 40K. The Emperor knew that the warp gods existed, but his plan was to spread "Enlightenment" such that the warp would become what he told his followers it was. So that the threat posed was much reduced EVEN if it meant the odd threat would happen and not be understood, the amount of threats would be near zero. Now of course that plan failed, because half his "kids" got corrupted by said warp entities. But there is a timeline with no Erebus where it succeeds and the lie becomes the truth.

If instead of dragons eating people every day, but people know what they are, dragons only eat someone once a year, but people write it off as an accident or an unexplained event, then the risk posed is still much less than before.

In other words if monsters and demons are real and all the enlightenment did was force them to another realm where they had to act indirectly and with more effort, then that is arguably a huge improvement, even if no-one now understands the true nature of those demons. And reversing that course would be a disaster for humanity.

So if you really believe that reality is created by our beliefs then this is a massive Chesterton's Fence. Should you tear down the protections enacted, just because you are unhappy with the fact people now don't believe in angels and demons? Are you sure going back to where people will think into existence gods and demons and angels is better? Sure, maybe we are more spiritual, but is that actually a good thing?

Hmm very interesting points you’re raising here. I’ll have to think more about all of this.

My intuition is that we can move forward and take the best of post enlightenment rationalism but somehow remythologize it. I’ll admit that has tension with the belief in one dominant religious structure as you’ve pointed out elsewhere.

In terms of what prayer changes - it’s mysterious my dude that’s all I got for you at the moment. It also changes the way people feel and the way they see the church though, so internal experience at the least.

In terms of what prayer changes - it’s mysterious my dude that’s all I got for you at the moment. It also changes the way people feel and the way they see the church though, so internal experience at the least.

And I would certainly accept that. But my experience is that the claims made of prayer are much greater than internal experience. The strength of materialism then is that it isn't mysterious (Edit: Which isn't to say we would always understand the universe, but if everything is material, in theory we should be able to understand it at some point). If you want a house, you can replicate all the steps to build a house.

I think it's human nature as our understanding of that materialism increases, we will start to see the gaps in which God exists shrink. Which doesn't disprove God, but might make some claims about Him, seem more and more unlikely.

A couple centuries ago, give or take, human beings began interrogating the universe in an organized fashion we call "science" and in the process unlocked incredible powers beyond the wildest dreams of their ancestors. Now we can travel places by flight, cure terrible diseases, speak and view across vast distances, rain unfathomable destruction on our enemies, etc. etc. etc.

How far am I supposed to bend over backwards extending charity to all the sorcery that turned out to not actually work? Magical beliefs have been with us since we climbed down from the trees, and after thousands of years we have what? What have you brought us? A handful of anecdotes and some just-so rationalizations for why no one can find any decent evidence when they go looking for it.

To be honest, I'm not sure what non-materialists even want from us materialists. They aren't bringing any experimental insights, they aren't bringing any testable theories, and they don't have any magic that works. Do they just want to get snorted at less when they relate their ESP anecdotes at a party or on an internet forum? I don't know what they expect me to do with what they've given me other than shrug.

Personally I think that if human beings had evolved with the ability to read minds, summon ghosts, teleport, whatever, there would be a bunch of boring guys getting degrees in it by now, explaining how it all works. There would also be a bunch of fantasists griping that whatever specific Harry Potter thing didn't make the cut was actually real too, and those damn scientists with their genetics and neurobiology and ghost summoning were just too pigheaded to see it.

How far am I supposed to bend over backwards extending charity to all the sorcery that turned out to not actually work? Magical beliefs have been with us since we climbed down from the trees, and after thousands of years we have what? What have you brought us?

All of civilization and the foundation that allowed science to be developed and flourish, perhaps?

Yes materialist science is powerful. It's also flawed, and from my perspective has essentially been burning down our cultural myths and the built up social capital of millenia in order to fuel it's relentless search for reductionist physical truths. That store of fuel is almost gone, and if we don't realize and pay attention to the societal structures which undergird science, it won't matter how much scientific knowledge or power we've accrued. We'll kill ourselves anyway.

To be honest, I'm not sure what non-materialists even want from us materialists. They aren't bringing any experimental insights, they aren't bringing any testable theories, and they don't have any magic that works. Do they just want to get snorted at less when they relate their ESP anecdotes at a party or on an internet forum? I don't know what they expect me to do with what they've given me other than shrug.

Generally I want a revival of religion, I want atheism to be a thing of the past and I want materialists to acknowledge arguments and admit they don't know instead of sneering. It seems that's too much to ask, however.

I think you're dangerously confused between the social and cultural edifice of science and the scientific industry, and 'science' as an abstract method for obtaining knowledge about the world.

If the cultural edifice of science is harmful to society in dangerous ways that must be stopped, that fact is true one hundred percent independently of whether or not ESP is real or the world is materialist or anything else. The damage caused by the cultural edifice has nothing to do with whether the scientific method has been or is capable of producing true and complete knowledge about the world; those are separate questions.

And vice versa, if the scientific method were proven to be incapable of arriving at true knowledge, that would say nothing about whether or not the edifice of the science industry and its cultural hangers-on were doing social damage to the foundation of our civilization. The two questions have nothing to do with each other.

The fact that you seem to be using evidence from one of these to bolster points about the other indicates to me a confusion about how these are separate entities.

If you want a revival of religion because it would be good for society, then it doesn't matter whether it's true, it doesn't matter whether science is wrong and ESP is real.

If you want a revival of religion because religion is true, then it doesn't matter whether scientists are ruining the country.

The closest you could say is 'I want a revival of religion because is is both true and good for society,' and that you are presenting arguments for it from both of those angles, I guess.

But it doesn't feel like you're presenting evidence for both of those points independently. It feels like you're just making an attack on 'science' from both angles, as if evidence against 'science' on each of those axes is cumulative towards proving the same hypothesis.

But it's not; there are two hypotheses there, the evidence towards each is independent of the other.

See my reply to you above... but basically this idea that True Science exists is a motte and bailey, and not what I'm trying to talk about. I'm talking more about Scientism.

I absolutely agree that we can have a religious society that embraces the scientific method, and I'd welcome it. I'm not a RETVRNer, I want to move forward once again toward God while keeping the fruits of modern materialist progress.

Generally I want a revival of religion, I want atheism to be a thing of the past and I want materialists to acknowledge arguments and admit they don't know instead of sneering. It seems that's too much to ask, however.

Then make that argument. Because the one about how many different things we might not know, does not mean the one about God being real is the one that is true. You have to make a positive argument for that one thing (rather than 40K's warp, or consensus reality, or Bigfoot) to be correct.

And your OP did not do that, you basically said, hey all these things are possibilities. But if you believe one specifically of those possibilities is true, then argue for that singular option.

I want organized religions to be a thing of the past, I want the religious to admit they don't know instead of sneering. But I am not going to get that wish either. So it goes.

I didn’t want to argue the whole damn thing at once. This is likely the most complex topic in existence.

This feels like an isolated demand for rigor. Why do I need to lay out every belief I have in one place?

You don't. But if you lay out 10 different options, and then say, I think this one is right, then you are probably better making an argument for the actual one you want us to believe. Otherwise it looks like you are a following the tried and true playbook of "We can't explain everything therefore Christian God".

If it is Christian God you want to argue for, just come out and do that.

Generally I want a revival of religion, I want atheism to be a thing of the past and I want materialists to acknowledge arguments and admit they don't know instead of sneering. It seems that's too much to ask, however.

From you, sure. I'd accept at least the second point coming from God though. Which is to say that this is, indeed, too much to ask.

Have you tried praying with a humble heart? You might be surprised by Him answering, as I was.

I mean this seriously. I think the majority of materialists, like my own past self, are just fundamentally unwilling to believe in God for emotional reasons. There is plenty of evidence for His existence, but as I spent my post explaining at least partially, it’s not evidence that a scientific framework can easily accept.

A scientific framework can easily accept it. It just may not update on it as far as you do.

Have you tried praying with a humble heart? You might be surprised by Him answering, as I was.

Can you talk some more about this experience? I've seen you mention in the past that you used to be an atheist, so I'm curious what changed your mind.

Yeah for sure. I get why people don’t talk about conversion experience in modern society, but it is helpful to read them.

Basically I was very into a sort of Westernized Buddhism for a long time, but then had some tough times in my life that led me to a crisis of faith. I slowly approached the Christian church more out of desperation than anything, if I’m being honest. As I started going my perspective on a lot of things shifted. I read the Bible for the first time, started taking Christian thinkers and themes in media more seriously and seeing a vast depth of wisdom there I had missed. Kind of unprompted I had some let’s say convincing experiences both sober and then on a psychedelic trip that made me consider seriously the whole Christ as God thing.

I also had virtuous Christians come into my life, or realized folks I already knew and respected were deeply religious.

From there I tried out the Orthodox Liturgy and had a super intense emotional reaction, I actually started crying in the service. It was quite embarrassing and a part of me hated it. I mean honestly this whole process has been difficult internally, I find materialism and atheism a difficult mindset to shed which is why part of why I write about it on here occasionally.

Anyway all this happened, I started praying and got more ‘confirmation’ so to speak. For me my experience was kind of seeing visions of the Cross or hearing the voice of God, but it’s all pretty messy and confusing when it comes to that sort of thing. I’d rather not go into the gory personal details.

It wasn’t an all at one experience it was more a collection of coincidences and shifts in mindset, combined with persistent direct experiential signs that slowly convinced me. My conversion has not been an easy or easy even willing one to be quite frank, and I’d imagine most conversions from atheism to religious belief are far more messy than typically presented.

It was quite embarrassing and a part of me hated it. I mean honestly this whole process has been difficult internally, I find materialism and atheism a difficult mindset to shed which is why part of why I write about it on here occasionally.

I commend you on occasionally bringing up this topic because it’s really quite important at the end of the day, and obviously the scientific idea of there being something ‘beyond’ science seems to be such a taboo idea that you can even do race science and get by, but if you posit something like ‘maybe remote viewing is a thing?’ you immediately get anathematized. This is despite the fact that most humans in history have had a deeply-held belief that the material reality we experience is not all-there-is, and many many many people in the past (and today) have had direct experiences not explainable by our current models of empirical reality or even our current ideations of psychological conditioning (e.g. UFO encounters by nuke-launchers).

Also, in my opinion, once you get deeper into the idea of this non-materialized phenomenon seemingly being even intelligent, then the topic of studying this thing and utilizing it seems to be an extremely hard process compared to simply doing repeatable experiments on dumb matter — it’s most like attempting to align an AGI on the first-try without having any test-cases rather than being able to measure the acceleration of a ball dropped from a constant height, for an example that would be appreciated by this community more than others.

I also personally find the arguments for God, or at least a necessitated intelligent prime-mover, to be extremely more powerful than the arguments against such a being’s existence, so I am probably much more open to non-physical phenomena existing, as at least one thing outside of material reality exists in my mind. My own personal experiences seem to corroborate this fact, as I have also had very powerful emotional experiences & physical changes occur due to the fact of my new-found faith and also my Christian conversion from atheism. You’re definitely not alone in this, and all I can say is that you shouldn’t ever think you are.

the scientific idea of there being something ‘beyond’ science seems to be such a taboo idea that you can even do race science and get by, but if you posit something like ‘maybe remote viewing is a thing?’ you immediately get anathematized. This is despite the fact that most humans in history have had a deeply-held belief that the material reality we experience is not all-there-is, and many many many people in the past (and today) have had direct experiences not explainable by our current models of empirical reality or even our current ideations of psychological conditioning (e.g.UFO encounters by nuke-launchers).

Yep, this comes down to the fact that while moderns like to believe we are free of myths and superstitions of the past, instead we believe in scientific materialism and constant progress as our societal myths. Now many argue that these myths are fundamentally different from those of our ancestors, and they're right of course. But they're still beliefs based on social consensus and assumption rather than deep thought and 'objectivity' like the vast majority presume.

The Buddhist to Eastern Orthodox pathway demonstrates itself yet again, hah. I personally come at things from a different angle -- I find Buddhism, even in its secularized form, off-putting, especially in its denial of the self and its total repudiation of physical pleasures. Desire certainly brings about suffering, but it also certainly brings about joy.

I do definitely wonder if there's a "intellectual faith" vs "mystic faith" personality difference, that tends to define where a convert ends up in the spectrum of Christian churches -- and the latter attracts people to Eastern Orthodoxy like flies to honey. The former, of course, pulls in people to western Christianity, especially to Thomist Catholicism and confessional forms of Protestantism. I find myself compelled by the intellectual distinctives of western Christianity, even as I agree with the Chalcedonian Orthodox on many of the historical and theological issues about which they contend.

Probably no one believes me on this, but I have a stronger emotional reaction to western liturgical services than to the Byzantine liturgy. It is undoubtedly beautiful, but also Byzantine in the fullest sense of the word. Western liturgies seem to operate in a different way, even in its most accumulative forms -- there's a more easily perceptible progression towards the Eucharist and and then down from it.

Several years ago I had my come-to-Jesus moment where I took to heart Camus's assertion that an atheist who sees the absurdity of our intelligence and spirituality within a naturalistic materialistic worldview has but three options: accept the absurdity, commit suicide (The Myth of Sisyphus begins with the eerie line that "there is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide"), or commit philosophical suicide -- and accept faith. I found the absurdity intolerable. And so I thought about these options within the context of Kierkegaard's "leap into faith", and, having rejected the choice of suicide within the confines of a psychiatric ward, I took the leap.

I began with my belief in the Bible (which I never truly lost; even as an atheist I believed it was invaluable as literature in a Jordan Peterson sense) and, on that basis, I investigated the various churches, seeking what was testable and true. During this time I wrote a 10,000-word treatise on the Biblical model of baptism, demolishing arguments against baptismal regeneration and infant baptism with facts and logic (TM). I also wrote a nearly-as-long treatise in favor of the Eucharist.

During these explorations, I flitted from Calvinism to Anglicanism, and finally found a stable place in Catholicism, where I remained in worship, if not in sacrament, for years. I met some wonderful, kind, young Catholics who were, and remain, passionate about Jesus Christ and his most pure mother. This faith got me through COVID, at least, and for that I thank the Lord.

But I had all sorts of lingering doubts about the Papacy, about the Vatican councils (both of them), about The Magisterium (TM), about Mariology, about clerical celibacy -- the details of these are painful and frustrating to me, and do not bear repeating. But suffice it to say that I found myself increasingly distrusting the claims the institutional Catholic Church made about itself, despite admiring, in many ways, the theology. I have been assured a thousand times that Catholicism cannot be separated from the Pope. But I find myself admiring the shape and form of Catholicism before the time of high Papal supremacy from the 17-1900s. Where, pray tell, are the trads who reject Vatican I?

It was in that mode that I first walked into an Eastern Orthodox church. I saw it, not as the bride of Christ, but as the homely single girl in a town where everyone else was married. I saw no other option to continue believing in the Incarnate God, one person in two natures, and I seized upon the option I was given.

If I'm being honest, I see no bride of Christ within the world: I see her in the saints beloved of our God, not in the institutions who claim to wear the mantle of their holiness. If there is anything that remains Protestant about my faith, it is that the Church in her holiness is fundamentally visible only to God, who judges all hearts.

During this time I worked with a priest, a convert, a good man, though I'm not sure we ever really understood each other. But I increasingly felt out of place: worshipping with strange music in a strange church full of strangers. There were definitely young converts to which I related quite a bit. But the one I related to the most, an argumentative but faithful young man who wanted to be a priest, seemed more infatuated with the cultures of far-off Eastern Europe than his own, and I found this cosmopolitan attitude of fascination with all-things foreign as more reminiscent of blue tribers who hate my country rather than the red tribe Christians with whom I argued, like (and literally as) family about not putting the stars and stripes within the church sanctuary.

Actually, I felt like, in some ways, I fit in all too well -- a young, neurotic, book-obsessed young man brought to interest in Orthodoxy by the internet. But, in another, I fit in poorly: the model Orthodox convert very much seems to be an evangelical Protestant, spiritual-but-not-religious atheist, or Buddhist, who would never consider Catholicism with a 10-foot pole. I have heard nearly as many bad arguments against Catholicism within Orthodoxy as I did growing up Protestant, and I have never met a Catholic-to-Orthodox convert.

Although in serious terms that term also would not describe me, I would say that my mode of thinking and praying is fundamentally Roman Catholic -- I find much to identify with in the "greats" of Catholic theology, like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and I am compelled by the Catholic view of "faith seeking understanding," of reason not against faith, but in support of faith, in favor of faith. I find the rejection of this concept with Orthodoxy off-putting, like I am being asked to cut off my nose to spite my face.

If reason is not a potential part of a healthy breakfast way to communion with God, then why was it the only thing that ever got me to knock on the door of an Orthodox parish -- and for that matter, the only thing that got most converts to do so? I was frustrated when my priest, after many meetings of saying, "reason is not the way to God," then said, "you have to look at the history, how people did things," in response to my doubts about Orthodoxy. In other words, it was tolerable to use the rational analysis of historical evidence to get to Orthodoxy, but once you're in it, suddenly rationality becomes useless. This seemed to me uselessly self-serving, and it was not long after that I walked away from Eastern Orthodoxy. I did the Orthodox endorsed (TM) thing of Asking My Priest (TM), and it led me away from the Orthodox Church, not towards it.

All this co-existed with me trying hopelessly to convince my parents and my girlfriend that I wasn't insane, or about to lose my soul. Catholicism was enough of a stretch for my parents; my girlfriend admires Catholicism, though I'm not sure she has a religious bone in her body. Our fiercest argument, and the closest we've ever come to truly splitting up, was based around my own interest in Eastern Orthodoxy and desire to bring up my children in my Christian faith. I met her in a college atheist club -- where we were the two least anti-religious people there -- and up until that point I think she saw my religious beliefs as a weird phase, which, to be fair, I am wont to get into.

(I once spent some time as a teenager engaging in "floor living" like some kind of Japanese LARP, cursing the invention of the chair as an insult against the natural ability of human beings to squat and sit without furniture. She teases me about this relentlessly.)

But at that point I think it crystalized for her that I really believed in it, that my faith in God was a real part of my life that would motivate real decisions. And, in response, she made no secret of the fact that she would never baptize her children in a religious faith before they could choose it for themselves, and that she found Eastern Orthodoxy in particular to be a bizarre religion. She expressed open and profound displeasure at their weird music, and the weird parishioners, and the overly-intense fasts, and the total foreign-ness of that faith.

To be fair, I actually think she's right about this from the American perspective -- Eastern Orthodoxy is a weird religion by US standards, and its culinary rules and cultural outlook is indeed quite foreign. Not only that, but, no offense intended, the converts are kind of weird -- there is one guy at the local Orthodox parish who wears a kilt for the Liturgy. In the United States. That sort of nerdy, male oddness is normative -- so is simple "male-ness," to be blunt. And my girlfriend, though she loves ideas, hates hates hates cultural weirdness and is a very feminine person, and in that sense she is probably more conservative than I am. (I once had her take a Big Five personality test, which said she is high in the segments of Openness to Experience that relate to appreciation for intellectual thinking, but moderately low in the segments that relate to appreciation of unusual aesthetic preferences. This explained a lot about her.)

I think my we very nearly broke up then and there, during that one tense conversation. But where in God's green earth would I ever find another woman who cares for me as much as her, or agrees with me as much as her, or holds as similar a worldview to me as her (faith excepted), or shares as many beliefs about how to run a family as her?

It certainly wouldn't be in the American Orthodox Church. Much more attractive and eligible men than I struggle there; most seem to find Protestants and convert them; it seems like Rod Dreher lost his.

I think you shared at one point that your wife is Eastern Orthodox -- this surely makes that process much easier for you, as your conversion experience hopefully bonds you to her more closely. For me, it did the opposite. My partner enjoys listening to me talk about Christianity as she does all my thoughts, but I could tell that she appreciated them as ideas, almost as fiction -- in the same way that @FarNearEverywhere likes Tolkien -- rather than as a living faith that she would care to base her life on. ("I think you're taking this too seriously, urquan," she would tell me, "faith is not about ideas, it's just what people believe.") "Seeing, she did not see; and hearing, she did not hear, nor did she understand."

It was around this time that I gave up on faith, started having sex with my girlfriend, and adopted a sort of vaguely Christian agnosticism. I knew at the time -- I knew -- that this would end up in a dark place, perhaps a darker place than I had been in even during my periods of "new atheism". And, on that matter, I was right: my time as a post-Christian has been, bar none, the darkest and least functional point in my life. Angry at the world, frustrated at myself, critical towards all, charitable towards none, eager to judge, slow to mercy, I am like the prophet of a wrathful God, bent on inventing Hell for lack of Heaven. If someone told me they thought I was possessed by a demon, I would believe them. I am as disconnected from my values and my spirit as any daemoniac, and my torments are legion. "O how unlike the place from whence I fell!"

These are just disconnected thoughts. But nevertheless they are real ones, more real than any of my actual "arguments," such as they are, against Eastern Orthodoxy. But, as I said, I am at my low point, and about to the place where I'm willing once again to commit philosophical suicide for want of the alternative. I suppose I am praying that somewhere, some way, I receive some of this "confirmation" you speak of, something to push me, or pull me, kicking and screaming, towards something, anything, some new path, that I might live, and have life abundantly. I am begging for something worth living for.

Several months ago, I was PMing with @dovetailing about the Eastern Orthodox Church; he is also a convert to Orthodoxy. I dropped the thread despite wanting to reply, because I just couldn't find the right words. He sent me a very kind PM during that radio silence, which I appreciated very much. These, I suppose, are the right words, and I would ask him to take my reply to you as a reply to him.

Thank you for the kind words and the mention (I wouldn't have seen this otherwise). I'm sorry you are going through such a tough time. Feel free to PM me again if you ever want to talk.

Hey, I very much appreciate the vulnerability and opennes with which you're sharing man. It seems like for a certain type of person, you and me and a sad handful of others, these deep religious and philosophical struggles are really brutal. I get so fucking jealous of normal people who seem to be able to just kind of shrug at deep religious quandries and get on with their lives.

I've also got a huge helping of chronic pain which plagues me daily, a big part of my conversion. I can relate to feeling suicidal and feeling like Christ is the only choice I can make and keep on living. It's not a great place to be, but at least we have Him I guess. Better than having nothing.

Honestly your story kind of terrifies me. I really hope I don't end up in the post-Christian space like you are, because while I'm struggling enough at my current point I could probably see myself going to your situation and dang that sounds even worse. Hope you figure something out buddy. Maybe we should do a phone call or something if you want to PM me. We could at least commiserate.

In terms of reason in Eastern Orthodoxy versus Catholicism, man, most Christians aren't clear thinkers at all. It seems like Catholicism versus Orthodoxy versus Protestantism or whatever is all a sham from the Evil One to confuse us. I just go to the services that speak the most for me and try my best to be pious. I do think the EO has the best claim to be the true church, but hell if Catholicism speaks to you I like to think God would be more pleased if you were a practicing Catholic than a total apostate. Anyway.

This is pretty far from the CW thread lmao, but hopefully if any lurkers are in the same boat they can read our struggles and get a sense of solidarity, and realize that they aren't walking the path alone. I get the sense that a lot of young men struggling with purposelessness in a secularized world are walking alongside us. That thought gives me hope that even if we don't figure it out, we can maybe pave the way a bit and help make progress for our children, or posterity.

You have problems with Mariology and you went to the Orthodox? I admire your nerves of steel 😇

EDIT: Okay, being sympathetic here, the problem you have is that there isn't an organic American Orthodoxy. Part of the whole Great Schism and the later Caesaropapism adopted by the Orthodox as a solution to "who is the authority with the last word?" is that each church is autocephalous and thus an ethnic church; you're Greek or Russian or Serbian etc. Orthodox.

The Latin church, after the split of the empire into its Eastern and Western halves, and the consequent fading away of the Western half, had to lean heavily on the pope as the "who is the last word authority?" instead of the emperor, and that involved (as we get to see with the Synod of Whitby, the English Reformation where claims to Caesaropapism were initially made by Henry VIII as his justification, and later tussles between Gallicianism and Ultramontanism) building up and enforcing the authority of the pope as the last word.

That meant that when Catholicism went to other lands, it was able to adapt without losing that central authority. Russian Orthodoxy might arise out of Greek Orthodoxy and become its own church, but the Japanese church or the American church or the Irish church was all under the authority of Rome, which was able to crack down on (to varying degrees) any departures from the liturgy, the rubrics and dogma.

The Orthodox churches that went to America, however, still retained their national characteristics, still catered mostly to the immigrant population of that particular ethnicity, and wasn't intelligible to Protestantism as Catholicism was - after all, the Protestant churches had fissioned away from Rome, not Constantinople and Moscow.

So the theology makes most sense and most appeals to you, but it's not as easy as "just find the local Orthodox parish and start RCIA".

I wish you good luck with your journey and hope you find harbour someday.

Have you tried praying with a humble heart?

What makes you think he didn't?

I'm amazed that religious believers still try to get away with this. If you told me that you didn't want to vote for some presidential candidate, and I said "well, you just aren't open-minded enough to consider that what he's saying may be true", that would be considered rude, or worse. Yet somehow religious believers get to attack nonbelievers by suggesting that they'd believe if only they were humbler. How would you react to a Muslim saying that you reject the truth of the Koran because you're not humble enough?

Hah yeah that was pretty crappy of me, I apologize. I care very deeply about the topic and it’s easy to let emotions cloud your judgment.

Generally I want a revival of religion, I want atheism to be a thing of the past and I want materialists to acknowledge arguments and admit they don't know instead of sneering. It seems that's too much to ask, however.

Checking in as another agnostic atheist that's also pretty agnostic on materialism, I still don't know what you're actually looking for from me here. I assure you, I am not capable of selecting an arbitrary religion and actually believing in it. If society were structured differently, I could roll with the punches and pretend to be Mormon, I like their theology well enough as a story anyway, but I'm not actually going to believe it and have no real reason to prefer one religion over another from an epistemic perspective. I genuinely do try to avoid sneering and I think I generally succeed in granting people respect and saying that I don't know about things I don't know about. Nonetheless, saying that I don't know doesn't deliver any specific belief - I don't know if telepathy is possible, I don't have any strong opinion on it, but nothing that I am aware of at present seems actionable in any meaningful way.

I want you to seriously try and do some experiential religious practice and try to have an open mind as to the existence of divine entities.

I want folks like yourself to perhaps try to pray, or even meditate and give it a genuine shot. Maybe even take psychedelics and explore your mental space, once we have (hopefully) learned to incorporate those sorts of aids into mainstream religious practice.

Ultimately I want to return to a more symbolic worldview such as the ancients had, while retaining the benefits and understanding modern science has given us.

I want you to seriously try and do some experiential religious practice and try to have an open mind as to the existence of divine entities.

You realize most Western atheists were raised Christian? I had an open mind, I went to Church and Sunday school and church camp and prayed and gave it a shot. And I felt nothing. I believed with all my heart until I was old enough to start realizing there were huge holes in what I was being told and no-one had solid answers about them, but that they were still nonetheless certain they were right.

"I want the religious to seriously try and do some proper rigorous thinking, and try to have an open mind about the existence of confirmation bias, brainwashing and socialization. I want folks like yourself to perhaps even try to do experiments, or even learn advanced physics and give it a genuine shot. " - hopefully you can see why that isn't particularly a convincing argument.

We're not people who just haven't tried to believe. We've heard that same condescension for years. If you truly want to inspire people to change, you might want to try a different tack.

I don't think you can have that symbolic approach and keep the benefits of modern science. The ancients were wrong about many, many things, so why would we suppose they were right about religion? And even if they were, how do we tell which they were right about? Zeus? Ra? Yahweh? Quetzalcoatl? Morrigan? Thor? Buddha? Baal?

We're not people who just haven't tried to believe. We've heard that same condescension for years. If you truly want to inspire people to change, you might want to try a different tack.

Hey, this is a fair point. I suppose my thought is that I was raised 'Christian' yet I never really prayed, or took it seriously at all. I'm sure other people had a very different experience.

Overall I personally believe modern Christianity, especially in the West, has basically totally lost the plot. I don't have all the answers as to why there are multiple religions or anything, I'll be honest. But my personal experience has convinced me to believe in the Christian God, to answer your question.

Fair enough, but that must be equally weighed against those people whose experiences have convinced them there is not. So, wanting atheism to decrease off the back of your experience is just not justified, because your experience is not worth more (or less!) than any other persons. I think there is a chance there is something beyond the material realm, but I think the likelihood that that thing is the Christian God seems exceptionally unlikely.

It's a bit convenient in other words, that the entity you believe in, is the one that happened to be dominant in your area. If you were raised in India, do you think you would be convinced of the existence of Vishnu? That seems equally as likely as Yahweh. Perhaps more so, as for thousands of years the dominant religions were largely pantheistic.

Yeah this is a tough one to crack. Official dogma of the Orthodox Church is that the fate of non believers is a mystery, essentially. I tend to be humble on that myself. I agree that positing one God over another is murky water.

Atheists do admit we don’t know. The sneer is towards people who give asinine claims that they do and demand we submit to them politically.

If you say “I think there’s a God, but I don’t have any proof,” I’m not going to badger you about it. Heck, if you say, “I saw an angel appear in my toast and it told me to stay home from work this morning, and there was a shooting at my office later that day! But I fully accept that this evidence is only compelling to me, and that to anyone who hasn’t experienced angelic toast prophecy, this isn’t persuasive”, I’d still say okay, I can live with that.

What I have no patience for is people—generally not very cognitively gifted people—demanding that I accept their angelic toast as proof that I need to submit to their social structures (masquerading under the epistemic claim of acknowledging the supernatural). This is a blatant bait-and-switch for political power, and should be treated as such. What incenses the Abrahamic religions’ adherents so much is that secularists correctly perceive this as a political claim rather than an epistemic matter, and respond with hostility rather than quokka-tier “charity.”

Atheists do admit we don’t know. The sneer is towards people who give asinine claims that they do and demand we submit to them politically.

Well... some atheists. Probably most atheists, to be fair. But definitely not all, and (just like with extremist Christians) the minority is really obnoxious disproportionately to how representative of the overall movement they are.

All of civilization and the foundation that allowed science to be developed and flourish, perhaps?

I'm sorry, I meant what have you brought us that is in any meaningful way distinguishable from people believing in fantasy. Human beings make shit up constantly, and even in a world where magic was real and we had a way to tell, you'd still expect there to be a lot more chaff than wheat.

Do you have any way to offer us of telling them apart? Any way to separate the "real" magic from the shit that's actually just people making things up? What are the precepts of this non-materialist brand of science, how were they arrived at, and what makes you think they're true? Or are we just supposed to sort of blandly and noncommittally nod our heads at literally everything?

Generally I want a revival of religion, I want atheism to be a thing of the past and I want materialists to acknowledge arguments and admit they don't know instead of sneering. It seems that's too much to ask, however.

It really is. If this is what non-materialists want, then their arguments are going to need to get much, much, much better. When someone like me brings up "experimental insights" and "testable theories" and such, you need to understand that what we're really asking, what those words literally mean, are "Can we create any set of circumstances where your beliefs about reality being true or false make any discernable difference?"

If the answer is no, then yeah you're going to have to go to the back of the line. Sorry, but the number of things that would fit into the space you're trying to carve out is functionally infinite, they can't all be true, and you're not offering me any decent way to tell which are supposedly which.