Sunday, August 31, 2014


Pretty generic-sounding title, wouldn't you say?

The same could be said in regard to using that title for a TV show. That's one reason I wasn't inspired to try "Life" (2007, apparently?) for a very long time. A second is that detectives solving a crime week after week is not my typical genre. But I noticed it again when I was browsing Netflix.

Then I checked the cast: Damian Lewis, Sarah Shahi, Adam Arkin, Donal Logue. And the recurring cast includes Christina Hendricks, Titus Welliver, Garret Dillahunt, Jessy Schram. Not too shabby at all... They're clearly enjoying the chance to portray characters who have striking if off-kilter personalities, with distinctive viewpoints and philosophies. The heroes have imperfections and hang-ups. They use unconventional strategies. They have complicated histories.

For the central character Charlie Crews, his history is mixed up with an ongoing mystery: what are the actual circumstances of the case that put him in prison? I tend to wonder if this mystery would have ended up increasingly convoluted and overstretched, but it stays intriguing enough during the limited time this show was in production. It provides a driving force to the main character. His attempts to resolve his past give each episode more variety and interest.

To its credit, "Life" explores not only the plotline of his past but its two-sided role in his current mental state. Often, a tragic past either dominates a character completely or it appears to barely matter at all. For Charlie, his trauma has unavoidable effects on him, yet he presently chooses what to do with those effects. He feels and remembers the experiences that inform his existence, yet he consciously decides to keep his focus on the struggles and joys which are available now. He can't erase his pains, yet he doesn't need to. All the same, I could understand if some viewers, in full sympathy with his partner Dani, are merely irked by his outward whimsicalness. Doesn't Charlie know that he's supposed to be emotionally devastated?

Monday, August 25, 2014

let causality be causality

Groups defined by beliefs love their memorable catchphrases, which function as quick summaries of their groupthink. The inevitable downside—or upside, depending on the speaker's mischievousness—is irritating an outsider who tries to have a straightforward conversation. They're understandably frustrated by repetitive replies composed out of trite proverbs and smug slogans.

One catchphrase among many is "Let God be God." Generally speaking, it's a reminder of the overall attitude and conduct demanded by the speaker's god: submission. In context, it could mean "Stop being afraid or anxious about risks, because our god is omnipotent and caring." (And don't think about the countless times when it plainly permitted the worst.) Or "Stop making moral decisions through your own conscience, because our age-old teachings are superior." (And don't think about the dilemmas or concerns that aren't addressed.) Or "Stop wondering whether our god merits or craves your unending adoration, because it's responsible for making a nurturing planet and filling it with life." (And don't think about Earth's mass extinctions or the vast unlivable bulk of the universe.) Or "Stop obsessing over natural explanations for mystifying phenomena, because our god's ways exceed human comprehension." (And don't think about the historical trend of abandoning supernatural theories time after time.)

If that catchphrase has a counterpart in the stance of materialistic naturalism, then perhaps one candidate is "Let causality be causality." Metaphysical quibbles aside, here causality shall refer to the relationship between physical states of materials at differing times. Causality is the well-justified inference that a material state at later time Y is the way it is due to a related material state at earlier time X. Furthermore, due to the unique details of the state at time X, the state at time Y is not like many other hypothetical alternatives. Those would have required other hypothetical alternatives at time X. Causality is the pattern of tight sequential connection between distinct physical states, from predecessors to successors.

Surprisingly, this minimal proposition has competition. To start with, some may state, "Stuff just happens." Some may say with slightly less fatalism, "Irresistible nonphysical beings keep everything running normally moment by moment." Some may say with more optimism, "The universe is perpetually 'nudged' toward a grand purpose by a trustworthy overseer." Some may opt for the vaguer, "The universe was/is destined somehow to accomplish prearranged outcomes in my life that I call 'Fate'."

On the other hand, they may sprinkle in some science with, "Evolution deliberately molded life into pinnacles of elaborate, intelligent, self-aware creatures." The problem, of course, is that natural selection doesn't work like that. It's emphatically not separate from causality. It doesn't engineer with foresight. It's not a sculptor who gazes at a featureless stone block, envisions the final statue, then chips away the rest. The evolved organisms are the ones which more effectively survived and reproduced. Opinions about the progress of evolution are superimposed on the accretion of adaptations...and exaptations.

By contrast, when someone lets causality be causality, they "permit" current physical realities to be effects of past physical causes. Rather than symbols or clues about something else altogether, realities simply are. The present is what it is because the past was what it was. Realities don't arrive in prepackaged categories such as punishments, rewards, trade-offs, messages, omens, flukes. Although humans compulsively frame their interpretation of events with narratives of widely varying credibility, the events themselves aren't caused by human narratives. How could they, considering that the human narratives often aren't contrived until long after the unanticipated events?

Therefore, when someone lets causality be causality, they stop futilely dictating that events always conform to the preconceptions of their narratives. While things can be expected to be effects of causes, things cannot be expected to always "make sense" in every human narrative. Mere human objections don't overrule caused realities. Clearly this acknowledgment is both scary and freeing if taken seriously. The scary part is affirming that realities are untamed by narratives. The freeing part is no longer feeling obligated to fixate attention or feelings on the inevitable discrepancy between discovered realities and the narrative that was computed beforehand. (Some readers may notice a resemblance to the Buddhist technique of experiencing the present moment without prejudice.)

But completely disregarding the discrepancy is an unreasonable waste. It can furnish expensively acquired feedback for refining the mistaken narrative. By definition, a narrative is more accurate if it needs fewer feedback changes. Regardless, a permanently unchanging narrative is paradoxically suspect. Perhaps it never changes purely as a matter of policy, in which it praises its own flawlessness and forbids refinement of itself. The obvious defect is that it could be deceptively self-serving. When it indiscriminately deflects the smallest hint of faults, the narrative could in fact be faulty, for nobody can check!

However, to let causality be causality isn't to totally abandon all narratives. Not all narratives are in conflict with it. To the contrary, a narrative could implicitly embrace and reinforce it. For instance, according to a central narrative of materialistic naturalism, realities have essentially unified substances and behaviors. And the underlying unity accounts for causality. Since things are enough alike, things are able to constantly cause changes in one another. Unbroken unity is linked to unbroken causality—hereafter named unity/causality. The mass of solid Thing 1 isn't essentially dissimilar from the mass of solid Thing 2, so the gravity of Thing 1 partially causes the motion of Thing 2. After a collision, solid Thing 1 could cause solid Thing 2 to crumple, not pass through like a ghost in a fictional narrative (or a neutrino's probable journey?).

Forces come from interactions between things. In this aspect, to let causality be causality is to realize that things act as interacting components of whole "physical systems". Causality itself is the relentlessly successful proof of this truism. (Some readers may notice a resemblance to the Buddhist concept "dependent arising".) Contrary to common criticism, unity/causality isn't the absolute repudiation of "something larger than oneself". Instead, the Larger Something is more complicated, turbulent, subtle, diffuse, and impersonal than the typical proposals.

That Larger Something is admittedly abstract and the full description employs baffling mathematical formulas. Yet unity/causality also has palpable ramifications at the normal scale of human thought. At that scale, for a variety of useful purposes, humans customarily draw mental boundaries between things based on noteworthy characteristics. Nevertheless, unity/causality often violates these familiar boundaries. Fittingly, the most personal boundary it violates is the boundary around the human person, i.e. the self who observes and explains. The substance and behaviors which constitute the self are neither isolated nor special; the self is one of the earlier mentioned components of the Larger Something held together by unity/causality. For example, the self cannot create new quantities of energy—it must scavenge replacement energy from outside itself. And objects, such as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from earlier, routinely cause changes to it.

Few would reject that. Assuming they have managed to live long enough, everyone knows firsthand that their selves aren't royally privileged to override unity/causality. If they were, then the portion called the "body" wouldn't be damaged so frequently by involuntary external causes. Everyone should quickly admit that they can't face realities from an untouchable vantage point. Still, applying unity/causality to the self with unblinking consistency goes beyond that admission. To most consistently let causality be causality is to assert that the entire self is thoroughly intertwined with it, top to bottom, inside and outside.

Again, anyone who's encountered diverse personal perspectives and backgrounds could probably agree that everybody's mindsets have been demonstrably shaped, trained, caused. But they may be slower to agree that all events "of" or "inside" the self are regular albeit complex fragile specimens of unity/causality. The self's thoughts change because everything changes. The self's temper fluctuates because everything fluctuates. The self is influenced by past experiences because everything is influenced by past impacts with surrounding things. In short, the self is a highly unusual assemblage, but it isn't an exception to unity/causality. (Some readers may notice a resemblance to the Buddhist concept "no-self".)

Unfortunately, this self-portrait could appear, well, dispiriting. If someone is the effect of causes which they cannot command, then aren't they under constant coercion? Isn't it better for them to ignore this deduction and choose to believe otherwise? No, it isn't. Belief in general shouldn't be "chosen". Honest beliefs should result from candid judgments based on known findings and logical coherency, not based on willful denial. Just insisting that something is inaccurate doesn't transform its testable degree of accuracy. Wishing for the self to not be linked to unity/causality is akin to coping with unpleasant situations by shutting one's eyes.

The sensible approach is almost the opposite: to closely examine the numerous causes which sway the self. With eyes wide open, someone may realistically trace a motive or habit. Then they may grasp both the "message" behind it and that message's amount of irrationality (feeling an irrational motive is alright but mindlessly complying with it could be disastrous!). If a driver wants to avoid repeating a blowout in the future, why shouldn't they confess that the road could be having effects on their tires? Why should they continue to think that their tires are invincible? "I say that my tires are unaffected by this road, so I can drive here every afternoon without worry. All these recurring spontaneous blowouts are an irritating coincidence, though."

Gathering lots of authentic information about causes is prudent. It's an indispensable prelude to savvy active participation in unity/causality. Everyone isn't converted into a powerless spectator. To let causality be causality is to appreciate that despite each thing absorbing a multitude of effects, it nonetheless emits a multitude of causes too. If Thing 1 causes Thing 2 to fall, then Thing 2 might in turn cause Thing 3 to flatten. Human intelligent awareness enables a far more intriguing case. Humans can (imperfectly) compute wide ranges of options and the effects of those options. Moreover, they can (imperfectly) decode the causes which are manipulating them and everything around them. Finally, they can decide the causes they shall enact in order to yield the effects they want.

Unity/causality doesn't force humans to be victims only. It reflects the consequences of their actions. It can be selectively "bent" to do what they want. Its nonnegotiable condition is that it will operate in accordance with its usual rules, so productively bending it requires detailed understanding and obedience of its intricacies. A product chemical won't be the effect unless the chemist has the skill, and the reactant chemicals, and the measurement/collection/containment instruments, and the chemist carries out the appropriate steps by moving their body—whether they perform the labor or activate it in an automated form or tell a postdoc to do it. A member of a society may recognize and contemplate their society's myriad effects on them, then decide to not propagate one or more onto anyone else. Addicts can identify and avoid old "triggers" that cause the self to relapse; in particular they can decide to revise their routines and/or replace their hobbies.

That said, the potential to collaborate with unity/causality certainly has firm limits. In the end, to let causality be causality is to discern that simulations of the Larger Something aren't always feasible. Ideally, humans can make an accurate analysis by separating, sampling, simplifying, and modeling the relevant data of sections of the Larger Something. Sometimes in practice, the minimum data for an accurate analysis is too extensive. Perhaps a section cannot be analyzed independently. Perhaps a section itself contains a multitude of variant components, and the individual variances are too important for an "average" to substitute for each. In the worst case, the upshot is that a high fidelity simulation would need to include almost identical representations of almost every detail of the source reality.

The source reality's tiny causes could be amplified by working together. Then the cumulative effects abruptly cross resistant thresholds and "cascade" across the system by abruptly crossing farther resistant thresholds as well. Thus the simulation's projection could fail spectacularly...if it excluded the one tiny bit that was amplified and pivotal in retrospect. Unity/causality isn't constrained by quaint human preferences for tidy, neatly divisible factors. It's not fine-tuned to facilitate a smooth route to comprehensive knowledge or instant solutions. To let causality be causality is to confront and adjust realities on their terms.

Monday, August 11, 2014

mandatory negativity?

Undying ignorant misconceptions plague the stance of materialistic naturalism. Opponents continuously portray it as a horrible unworkable context in which to live one's life—a tactic that bluntly prioritizes likability over accuracy, by the way. Recently I criticized the misconceived "problem" of human significance. It may be paired with the second misconceived "problem" of mandatory negativity: "The lives of followers of materialistic naturalism must be pervaded by negativity."

I should mention that negativity itself is plagued by a few harmful misconceptions. Unending happiness is stunningly unrealistic. Negative emotions shouldn't be avoided at all costs. The suppression and rejection of negative emotions could be more detrimental long-term than acceptance and release. When tragedies occur, or even unexpected setbacks, then flashes of negativity aren't shameful; happy reactions would be more maladjusted or delusional. Especially after painful life-changing trauma, extended episodes of negativity aren't signs of weakness either. Nobody in those circumstances should be discouraged from seeking qualified support. The same applies to cases of depression and other devastating disorders. My general point is that no stance should falsely claim to be a panacea for negativity anyway. Doing so is a recipe for inhibiting followers from expressing their genuine emotions to each other. "I know how I feel, but showing it would cast doubt on my ludicrously optimistic beliefs."

Indeed, like the common cold, normal onset of negativity is a familiar malady. And the cheery advertising of faith-beliefs' indispensable cure for negativity is comparable to the advertising of a wonder cure for the common cold. It only holds attention if the audience considers themselves sick beforehand. Almost by definition, a follower of materialistic naturalism needs to match the unappealing "photograph taken before" the effect of the faith-beliefs. Their whole demeanor must be overshadowed, the way that someone at the start of a T.V. commercial is emotionally crushed until they have a new gadget to overcome an everyday difficulty. Ideally, their negativity should be intolerable and have a cause that corresponds to the remedy pushed by the faith-beliefs. It could be forced into the mold if necessary. Physical causes might be projected onto manifestations of supernatural causes that are "solvable" through supernatural means.

In addition to advertising to the unconverted, this threatening story of life without the faith-beliefs serves the function of reassurance of the converted. Devoted followers may credit their faith-beliefs for virtually all of their positive emotions and experiences. Given that they recognize no other source of deep fulfillment for themselves, then of course they think everybody would surely feel unfulfilled without their particular set of faith-beliefs. On some level, the (alleged) misery of nonmembers is a source of validation for the very existence of the in-group. Needless to say, countless in-groups simultaneously profess that every other group than theirs is more vulnerable to negativity.

Besides overrating the benefits, exaggeration of the impact of faith-beliefs could result in another misleading comparison. Since followers of faith-beliefs partially build their lives around supernatural notions, they may speculate that followers of materialistic naturalism somehow build their lives around the lack of supernatural notions. However, the analogy is nonsense. While a top interest might affect the rest of someone's life either directly or indirectly, the same cannot be inferred for a top disinterest. Usually, when someone says they're uninterested in golf, the listener doesn't infer that the speaker is generally uninterested in everything. And when someone says they're unconvinced by the argument for Atlantis, the listener doesn't infer that the speaker is unconvinced by every argument ever made. And when someone says they're unwilling to defer to the opinion of a spiritual authority/expert, the listener doesn't infer that the speaker is unwilling to defer to the opinion of every kind of authority/expert.

For the most part, followers of materialistic naturalism are similarly unhampered by their disinterest in miscellaneous supernatural notions. Their "negative" perspective on god #146 doesn't enforce a negative attitude about life, the universe, and everything. This misunderstanding is worsened by the varying usage of words and concepts. Materialistic naturalism is logically incompatible with many faith-beliefs. Nevertheless, its followers can still "have faith" in a close friend and "believe" that a trusted ally will honor agreements. They can "hope" that others have good intentions until proven otherwise. They can "be faithful" to their commitments, ethics, and objectives. They may realize the impact of human-constructed abstract social hierarchies, such as economic class, whether or not the hierarchies are "physically real". (My pragmatic view is that a social hierarchy is no more and no less "real" than the extent to which it's distinguishable via relevant human actions.)

Regardless of their stances on the underpinnings of realities, everyone tends to encounter timeless issues because they're all humans, and they're encountering other humans. For these issues, negativity is a faulty strategy. Living wastefully or destructively is a plainly ridiculous response to the nonexistence of an afterlife. Evolution isn't a theory of human morality. The material basis of pain isn't a sufficient reason to spread it. Resistance to unwarranted religious rules doesn't presuppose the worship of chaos. Although some of my ethical judgments changed after I quit surrendering to such rules, cooperation and altruism and compromise continued to seem like sensible strategies. It's naive and offensive, honestly, to allege that everyone without faith-beliefs is so fundamentally different that they're tortured by despair or inhumanly EVIL.

Moreover, the suggested drastic disparity in negativity fails to be confirmed in numerous situations. Faith-beliefs appear to have motivated and/or rationalized terrifying acts on occasion. Followers may be more pessimistic about humanity. Perhaps they think supernatural guidance must be forcefully imposed on "brutal" natural humanity. The sad fact is that beliefs are less transformative than assumed. Some humans usually manage to justify fear, aggression, power, greed, and so forth, while others usually manage to advocate the opposites. They unearth positive and negative aspects according to their own inclinations.

Faith-beliefs can be like a rigid script, but if so then the actors already rewrite it time and again...and improvise altogether. Just dropping the script is much more candid and flexible. Without it, humans have more responsibility, agency, and freedom. The cost is greater challenge but not greater negativity. Rather, greater positivity can spring from the complexity of open-ended possibilities, which creatively balance the current realities of the specific humans involved. Arguably, a negative outlook is more consistent with scripted lives, because an impersonal unchangeable script cannot accommodate the positive gains within unforeseen options and conditions.

Unfortunately, these positives might not be easily visible. Since followers may not (knowingly) interact closely with outsiders, they rely on media attention for their impressions. Since instances of controversy and conflict gather media attention, their impressions of outsiders are dominated by those. They don't observe outsiders acting like them: facing dilemmas, assisting relatives and companions, striving toward improved societies. They mostly observe the publicized actions that they call "negative": self-assured books with purposely provocative titles or protests and lawsuits against attempts to exploit government to support the majority religion. And they think, "When the media shows me that all those infidels do all the time is agitate, then my faith-beliefs are vastly more satisfying and positive." Meanwhile, without irony, they also complain about the unfair bad impression of religion produced by the "disproportionate obsession" of media attention on horrendous scandals...

Sunday, August 03, 2014

uncertainty is a participation ribbon

Without a doubt, I knew beforehand that I wouldn't agree with every point in Frank Schaeffer's mishmash, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to give love, create beauty and find peace. And my expectations were met. My reactions are as inconsistent as the ideas expressed. Like Schaeffer, I dismissed my faith-beliefs without considering them totally worthless. We're in agreement that the Bible is packed with factual inaccuracies and antiquated moralities. We accept the statements of scientific consensus. We reject the claim that contemporary society should regress to the cultural mores advocated in the Bible. We may have similar political views, but his blogging is obviously much more politically focused.

Thereafter the philosophical, or perhaps psychological, differences start to pile up. I dismissed my faith-belief's activities some time after dismissing the corresponding faith-beliefs. Such activities would now clash with my innermost thoughts. I don't have the same old need or desire to continue them. In fact, almost any other category of activity seems more valuable and enjoyable to me. But Schaeffer matter-of-factly confesses that he prays and attends religious services, due to both ingrained compulsion and ongoing appreciation for the experiences' flavor and good intentions. In one section he lightheartedly compares them to bowling regularly.

That's fine with me. He can spend his personal time in whatever frivolous ways he likes, assuming of course he isn't harming anyone else. Likewise, one's chosen identity isn't thrown into actual contradiction by singing Christmas carols, or LARPing, or reenacting Civil War battles, or reciting the dialogue of Puck. The problems only start when someone fails to isolate these fanciful roles within a sharply delimited context...

I might even be glad that he routinely performs religious activities, if the simple effect is encouraging kindness and the contemplation of life through greater perspective. His book more or less portrays "Christ" not as a man or god but as a kind of storied avatar of concepts such as broad inclusiveness, equality, rejection of biblical literalism, compassion, and anything else Schaeffer approves. Hence he suggests that Scandinavian countries merit the label of "Christian", and the Enlightenment qualifies as an implicit "heresy of Christianity".

I suppose that I can see his point. However, the semantic gymnastics strike me as fruitless. Sure, someone certainly could "take back" the myth of Christ from traditional churches, and refashion it in order to link it to new things. But what does that gain? Who cares about ensuring that link? Why not allow an upstart to be good without "christening" it, so to speak? Must this be another case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss"?

Still, the gap between our differing approaches to religious activities is less extensive than the chasm between our differing emphases on uncertainty—or "mystery" if the speaker wishes to sound wise and impressive. My inclination is to compare uncertainty to a participation ribbon. When I was a young child, participation ribbons were part of Field Day: an annual school event held outdoors. Field Day included quick individual competitions in which the top three received a designated (cheap) ribbon. Nevertheless, everyone in the class who was present received at least one ribbon for their participation in Field Day. Participation itself was an achievement.

To a similar degree, acknowledging the uncertainty of one's current knowledge is the achievement of successfully showing up for the honest struggle to obtain accurate ideas. The recognition of possible uncertainty is akin to the steps before the first step of the Field Day's dash competition (a race so short that it was almost absurd). It indicates the participant's willingness to seriously judge the boundaries of their knowledge.

The opposite isn't confidence but thin-skinned arrogance: "My knowledge is so infallible that absolutely no pragmatic action needs to be taken, whether to 'verify' its implications or to seek out superior alternatives to it." Someone with exactly zero uncertainty is someone who cannot imagine improving their knowledge, so they don't participate meaningfully in the struggle to obtain accurate ideas. They're not lining up at the starting line for the dash. Rather, they sit on the side and brag that they would circle the school building five times if they would demean themselves to testing their speed in the dash. This is the state of mind which knows the answer with certainty before expending any mundane effort. It's generally called "fundamentalist" by the irreligious, although it surely isn't confined to self-identified Fundamentalists.

The comparison underlines several aspects. First, like a participation ribbon, uncertainty isn't a pursued prize. It's not an aim. It's utterly normal and unremarkable. It's more like a periodically performed measurement that constantly fluctuates according to specific justifications. Uncertainty is why statistical analysis matters and why verifications should be repeatable; otherwise, one or two checks could be flukes. It's why someone concedes that their knowledge is possibly revisable. It's why a credible experimenter attempts to discern and publicly disclose the weaknesses in their own experimental studies. Once someone pinpoints their sources of uncertainty, they can speculate about circumstances that could reduce uncertainty and enforce revisions to knowledge. Nobody needs to be proud of being uncertain. Nobody needs to speak as if the existence of uncertainty produces definite conclusions in response. While it's an essential prerequisite to placing knowledge in realistic context, uncertainty isn't precious by itself.

Second, like a participation ribbon, uncertainty isn't an endpoint. It's not a destination. It's not the finish line of the dash. It's not a signal that someone should immediately give up expanding their knowledge. It's a clue to what someone should do next. They can't eliminate it all at once but they can gnaw at it bit by bit. On the other hand, one of the hallmarks of realistic answers is the tendency to lead to all-new sets of questions. The work to reduce uncertainty might result in further uncertainties which are different and surprising. That's still progress. Now the searcher has better reasons to be more sure about the prior idea. Novel uncertainty doesn't cause frustration at not capturing "the final truth". It's an invigorating invitation to keep moving.

Third, like a participation ribbon, uncertainty doesn't demolish the notion of winners and losers. Everyone's participation in the dash doesn't imply that they will complete it simultaneously. As I keep reiterating, uncertainty isn't absolute. It's not a poison. The smallest speck of it doesn't ruin trustworthiness or erase past advances. Its proper use isn't to shut down debate. It doesn't grant equal legitimacy to every half-baked conjecture. It's not a rationale for saying, "I'm uncertain and you're uncertain, so we're both total fools who shouldn't ask each other how we defend our positions."

To the contrary, uncertainty is yet another distinguishing mark. It's directly tied to how the position was verified. If one participant's beliefs seemingly derive from their moods, then they would say that uncertainty springs from the wild oscillations between their moods. That variety of uncertainty is hardly equivalent to the ever-popular variety of mathematically precise and limited uncertainty within quantum mechanics, for instance. Wave-particle duality and Planck's constant don't somehow support the dangerous proposition that all human beliefs have been proven identically useless. Nor does it support the bizarre fantasy that human souls can remake realities by intentionally collapsing wave functions into a desired quantity.

Therefore, uncertainty of a belief isn't tied to the particular way that someone personally encountered the belief. Uncertainty is gauged by the belief's underlying chain or web of positive verifications. For example, I readily declare that I was never personally taught to believe in a Cosmic Turtle. Regardless, I don't dismiss it for the sole reason that I was never personally taught it. I dismiss it because I'm not convinced by a chain or web of positive verifications underlying it. My disbelief isn't wholly dependent on the "narratives" of my upbringing or anyone else's. Am I "uncertain" about the Cosmic Turtle to the extent that I cannot say that its absence of detection thus far forbids its (hidden) existence? Well, yes. And its current status is not too dissimilar from indetectable contemporary "mystery" versions of gods. In short, if folks like Schaeffer claim that I qualify as a "fundamentalist atheist" because my deep uncertainty about Great Theological Off-stage Mysteries leads me to dismiss them, then by their standard they qualify as "fundamentalist Cosmic Turtle deniers". Nobody should care whether someone was personally acclimated to this or that set of ideas. In any case, the more relevant question is how one's ideas are distinctively supported, not how they heard about them. Familiarity or unfamiliarity is not enough to either verify or falsify any specific belief.

Ultimately, disagreements about uncertainty aside, I don't have serious objections to much of the book. I can imagine far worse fates than vast populations acting like "atheists who believe in a god"...a god that does nothing more than embody carefully selected ethical ideals.