Calling 911

By Phil Plait | September 11, 2009 10:59 am

On this day, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, it’s common for people to look back at what they were doing at that time, how they were involved, what they were thinking. It’s human nature to look back on big anniversaries, both happy and otherwise, and recollect.

It’s also natural to seek meaning in such acts, try to make sense of them, fit them into our view of how the world works and how it should work. Sometimes the pieces fit. Sometimes they don’t.

Today I saw once again a picture that’s been floating around the web for a few years now. It shows the Twin Towers, and the caption reads, "Science flies people to the Moon. Religion flies people into buildings." It’s an interesting quotation. It’ll guarantee enraging religious folks, while self-satisfying people who are antireligious.

But is it accurate? After all, it was science that created the airplanes, science that built those buildings, science that developed the technology to bring the two together at high velocity. You might then say yes, but religion was the pilot; it was the fundamentalist jihadic brand of Islam that guided those men to do what they did.

And I say, yes. Exactly. In this case, both science and religion were tools, used for nefarious ends.

Defining science can be difficult. It’s a method, a way of looking at things. It’s a compendium of facts, knowledge, data. It’s a tool, used to investigate the world and to make sure we don’t let our biases, egos, and wishes get in the way of finding what’s real. Science (and skepticism) boil off the dross and leave the pure nugget of reality.

Religion, to those who are religious, is similar in that they believe it is a way of making sense of the world. It is of course entirely different than science in its methodology, but it holds no less thrall over the way people see reality. To someone who is very religious, there is no other way to perceive life.

In that sense, religion and science are different because to a scientist science is a tool used to help understand the world, but to the religious religion is the way to see the world.

However, religion can be a tool as well. It was used to brainwash 19 young men, to convince them to do something that countless generations of evolution have almost completely bred out of our systems: commit suicide. With fantasies of an afterlife and admonitions of the greater good, those men flew multiton jets into buildings, and changed our lives forever.

But it’s not hard to imagine things being a little different. Had those men not been subjected to that fringe religion, had they instead grown up in a more open environment, exposed to things like diversity, open-mindedness to other people’s ways of life, and the realization that they may be wrong and that all knowledge is tentative… we might not be spending this day in remembrance.

Still. They were immersed in their beliefs, told what to think, how to think. In this case, religion was a tool for abuse.

It’s not difficult to create a list of both good and bad things both science and religion have brought us. Such lists have been debated and used as bludgeons for years, so I won’t belabor them here. The point is, as tools, science and religion are neither good nor evil. They can be used either way.

Note that I am not saying any particular religion is right, or even that any of them accurately portrays the Universe for what it is — it should be clear by now I don’t think that at all. As a tool to seek truth in the Universe, I don’t think religion works very well. But as a framework for many people, and as tool to inspire them, its motivational abilities are without question. For good or for ill.

I’m not necessarily trying to make any grand point here. All I’m doing is making an aside, if you will, a mumbled comment amidst all the rhetoric that will no doubt fly today about moderate versus fundamentalist religion, about atheism versus religion, about us versus them, and this versus that.

In the hand of a carpenter a hammer can build a house, and in the hand of a madman it can stave in a skull.

Which will you be today?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Religion, Science

Comments (250)

  1. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    ISLAM: I SLAM aeroplanes into buildings!

  2. RAF

    Beautifully spoken, Phil…thanks for posting that.

  3. I was on a flight to Toronto that morning. The pilot kept us updated on what was happening, and when the second plane hit the WTC, and all planes were grounded, we made a rapid (and I mean rapid) descent to Sault St. Marie. It’s unfortunate that religion can be used (abused) to justify acts such as this. It seems to me that religious people aren’t necessarily crazy, but crazy people quite often turn to religion.

  4. Jeff from Tucson

    Before people get TOO crazy with the comments, please remember that Christianity underwent it’s own dark ages as well–where countless people were murdered in the name of religion. Nearly every religion has at some point committed atrocities, so let’s not pick on Muslims.

  5. David C

    Rather than remembering those who died in 9/11, we should remember those we’ve killed in Iraq. Thanks to us (US), in Iraq, both science AND religion had an equal hand in mass murder (both our soldiers and their civilians).

    (Yes, some of you will argue that it was technology, not science, and yes, I know that science != technology, but you get the drift)

  6. I agree with your general sentiments, but as a security professional I have to wonder if you’ve actually bothered to see what the experts have to say about the drivers for suicide-bombings. Relgious fundamentalism is not the driving force for the overwhelming majority of bombings, despite popular opinion to the contrary.

    you may enjoy reading this interview, which is a fabulous starting point for inquiry on the topic.

    Violence is not *caused by* religion, or *caused by* science. It’s caused by *people*, who use these and other things to justify their actions, to increase their charisma (and thus their power over the under-educated), and to deflect criticism against their actions (e.g. “you can’t be mad that I killed my daughter, it’s part of my religion/culture/etc.” arguments).

    If we completely abandoned religion as a society, violent people would find other ways to bring their aims to fruition, and convince others to join them.

  7. wright
  8. RL

    Science is a method for finding out facts. And can be used for goodness and for badness. I would argue that Truth is more than facts and is the subject of philosophy and religion. This argument could probably go on forever. And in the end, maybe not matter.

    Today should be reserved for remembering those who died today. The victims in the towers, the victims in planes and the people who risked, and in many cases, lost their lives trying to save others.

  9. I always blink when people mention wars started by religion. How many are there, really?

    If you look closely most “religious” wars, are in political or economical in their purpose, and religion is the scapegoat or the bait. Hate amongs people comes from economical differences, that become ethnical prejudice which are then fueled by evil leaders that use that strawman to promote himself as a savior of his people. Osama probably did not make a penny from the destruction of the towers, but used it to gain political prestige in the starving slums in his backyard.

    All wars are in the end about economics.

  10. Powerdroid

    Well said, Dr. Plait. Forgive me, but I expected a much less even-handed comment. Your words are solemn and respectful, and as a Christian, conservative, scientist, I applaud you today.

    -powerdroid

  11. “But it’s not hard to imagine things being a little different. Had those men not been
    subjected to that fringe religion, had they instead grown up in a more open environment,
    exposed to things like diversity, open-mindedness to other people’s ways of life, and the
    realization that they may be wrong and that all knowledge is tentative… we might not be
    spending this day in remembrance.”

    Actually, one of the main people behind the attacks spent years as a student in Hamburg:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_Atta

    Having lived in or near Hamburg for a large part of my life, it’s hard to imagine any place
    more open and diverse. My point is that opportunity is not enough; exposure is not enough.
    Many people make the mistake of assuming that those on the wrong path are simply
    ignorant about the right path. Even when it’s there for the taking, those indoctrinated with
    religious nonsense will (perhaps, unfortunately, literally) stick to their guns.

  12. Can I kiss you for this post?

    It pleases me to no end that you pointed out it was a FRINGE religion’s rhetoric and not Islam. Hopefully people who read this see this. I want to remain hopeful here, but based on past patterns when you post things like this, people are going to find some way to twist what you are saying.

    You sir rock and I am so very very happy you wrote this.

  13. justcorbly

    Many writers have discussed the importance of doubt in both science and religion. It is the certainty of belief, the certainty that you are tuned into the will and the way of the universe, that allows people to commit horrendous acts without remorse. We saw this in the 9/11 conspirators, in IRA terrorists, in Timothy McVeigh, in the medieval certainty that fueled the wars known as the crusades, and the wars of conquest in Africa and the MIdle East that set the stage.

    We see the impact of certainty when scientists are blinkered to new evidence. We see the impact of certainty when political leaders and their followers are certain their ideology gives them carte blanche to reshape human existence even if it involves the murder of millions.

    Doubt is not an abandonment of knowledge or faith. It is only an acknowledgement that the universe has not yet completely revealed all of its secrets to you.

  14. Shawn R. Hill

    Well said. Good post.

  15. Very good post, Dr. Plait. I try to be as even-handed, and as dispassionate. But damn, sometimes it is difficult.

  16. Brian

    Not only was it well said, but I’m pleased that it was you who said it.

  17. Daffy

    In a truly rational world, if ANY religion that had members who would kill for it, that religion would immediately be disqualified as a religion at all.

  18. jasonB

    Phil

    I get where your coming from and I thank you for a rather soft spoken and insightful comment. Also a special thanks for calling it what it was, a terrorist attack. Not, a “tragedy” as many now like to label it.

  19. Had those men not been subjected to that fringe religion, had they instead grown up in a more open environment, exposed to things like diversity, open-mindedness to other people’s ways of life, and the realization that they may be wrong and that all knowledge is tentative… we might not be spending this day in remembrance.

    One can hope, but two words for you there: Oklahoma City. McVeigh and his confederates had access to all of that, and still responded with violence. We are none of us immune to violence and irrational thought.

    And as a religious man myself, I say thank you for this post.

  20. L O'Neill

    You already know that I think you’re the cat’s pajamas, so I’m not at all surprised that you feel this way…a well written, provocative piece. Your position on my wall of science heroes is maintained! :)

  21. John

    Well put, Bad A. I loved the balanced treatment of both science and religion and I’m firmly an atheist.

  22. llewelly

    Perspective: Coal power plants kill 30,000 Americans every year. That’s a 9/11 every 32 days.

  23. Julius McHup

    Excellent post. Perfect words for reflecting on the day without succumbing to the babbling that so many do.

  24. T.E.L.

    As I drove over to meet my wife for lunch today I started noticing flags at half-mast. When we met I commented on it: “Are the flags still down for Ted Kennedy?” She said, “No, it’s for nine-eleven.” It didn’t even register with me; today is just another day.

    To me 11/09/2001 is about as important to endlessly fret over as 07/05/1915, or 03/12/1984. If some people want to have a national day of remembrance for these things, we already one: Memorial Day. It’s there and it’s free. Use it.

  25. Sarcastro

    Science is a tool for exploring reality. Mysticism is a tool for exploring the self. Religion is mysticism for those who wish for someone else to define their self.

  26. Phil – I join you in remembering that day and all the people affected by it.

    But you should be careful when talking about religion driving these attacks. Al Qaeda’s mission was/is political, not religious; 9/11 was an attack not against christianity but against the US. Yes, the organisation gained a strong religious component because of their association with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I think both those movements fed off each other. But the terrorism attacks were about decades of the US’s meddling in Middle Eastern politics, to the detriment of the region’s people.

    Yes, the rhetoric used by al Qaeda is strongly religious, but so is that of the British and US governments – yet we still call it a political war on terrorism, not a religious war on fundamentalist Islam.

    Anyway that changes nothing to the actual fact – it was a horrible attack on many innocent people. And I agree with your stance on religion and science.

  27. On 11 Sep 01, I was supposed to be in NYC at a customer site near the WTC… but on Sunday I got an email from the customer to cancel the trip because they wouldn’t be ready.

    needless to say, the trip never happened.

    I worked at home on the 11th and didn’t even find out about it until about the 50th phone call asking where I was. I actually was getting really annoyed by people calling me just to say ‘where are you?’ I finally dressed one person down and they convinced me to turn on the TV (the TV in my house is, in effect, a large plant stand that serves little other purpose).

    I was quite surprised at my relative good fortune.

  28. Francisco Burnay

    I agree.

    Thinking of Religion as responsible for the WTC attacks or Science for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki makes as much sense as blaming blacksmiths for the Crusades.

    The fact is that a good education along with sensible social integration can change the minds of people. As much as the exact opposite… It’s pointless an counter-productive to blame culture, in all its aspects. We have to change minds – and culture will change along.

  29. “In the hand of a carpenter a hammer can build a house, and in the hand of a madman it can stave in a skull.

    Which will you be today?”

    Phil, the idea that war and violence are always wrong is as narrow minded as the belief that they are always right. No rational person will say that killing others and raining destruction on societies is anything other than horror and an ugly, hellish situation. Yet it may be preferable to the alternative. The alternative to the death and destruction of World War II would have been to roll over and allow Hitler to take over Europe and then North Africa and then who knows what next? The carnage and death of the war was preferable to the genocidal rule of the Nazi regime dominating the world.

    If we have learned anything from history it should be that an unwillingness to fight can cause a great deal more harm in the long run. The nazis should have been dispatched with before they achieved the strength they did. France and the UK waited too long before putting their foot down. The US didn’t even step up to the plate until we were attacked and that was all the way in 1941. Had we acted sooner, we may have avoided much destruction and never would have had to capitulate to the Soviet Union.

    North Korea, Imperial Japan, Mussolini’s Italy and on and on. We can’t continue to try everything to avoid armed conflict until it finally is inevitable and a full all out war. Sometimes just the willingness to fight is enough. Gunboat diplomacy is based on showing the willingness to fire when threatened. If you respond with overwhelming force when attacked, then it will become clear to the world that you are not to be messed with.

    We have been conditioned to think that the only way to have peace is to disarm and hope that everyone else does the same. We are told that we must win the hearts and minds of the world and tell them how sorry we are that we supported the Shaw of Iran or didn’t provide fair oil contracts in the 1950’s. We’re told that the only way to peace is to reject war at all costs and to capitulate to everything we may have ever done wrong.

    The fact of the matter is you can’t win the “hearts and minds” of the world. There are always some who will mean you harm no matter how benevolent you try to be. The only way to effectively maintain safety and peace is to let those who hate you know that their attack will only cause much much worse concequences to their own than to us. This works two fold – not only in discouraging an attack, as it would be as dangerous and futile as trying to fight a rattlesnake with your bare hands, but it will make the more moderates reject them. Would you want an Al Queda member living in your village if you knew that villages were Al Queda members live get bombed? I should think not. It is possible to turn the tables by making these people not heros, but liabilities who are seen as only provoking attacks. Historically, this has worked. Mussolini’s body was dragged through the streets by those who knew his actions were the reason they were being attacked.

    There is no shame in responding to an attack with overwhelming force, even if that force leads to the death of many innocents in the process. This is because it is ultimately not the fault of the responded – it is understood as an automatic response to attack. For decades the United States sat ready to vaporize millions of innocent working Soviet men and women. Had a single Soviet nuclear weapon exploded in New York or Washington, it was understood that the response would be to wipe Moscow, Leningrad, Minsk and every other Soviet city off the map. Had this happened, would it have been our fault? No, it would have been the fault of the initial attacker, who initiated the response knowing full well what it would cause.

    And yet… there was peace. The very existence of this deterrent and the mutual understanding that it would be used was enough to stop either side from ever even considering firing the first shot.

    The consequence of this is that in the event that you are attacked, you MUST respond with full, unrestrained and immediate retaliation. The concequences, terrible though they may be, are inevitable and must be shown as such. The alternative is far worse. Once you show that you will not respond as such, your massive deterrent becomes a paper tiger and you are now shown to be a good target for further attack.

    Peace may seem like a good thing, but “Peace at any price” can be a very very bad thing when the price is very steep.

    I will take the hammer and I will build a house with it, but let me warn anyone who might think otherwise that if you come up to me while I’m building my house and you try to choke me, or if you try to hurt anyone in my family or any of my friends, I’ll stop building that house and use that hammer to bash your head in. Don’t test me on this. I won’t waffle or cringe at the idea of fracturing your skull if you attack me. It won’t be my fault.

  30. Sir Craig

    I’m sorry, but in this regard I have to disagree. Science is neutral, rational, and only has biases as defined by physical laws. Science allowed for the discovery of those technologies that created the aircraft, that refined the fuel, that built those towers, but science itself had nothing to do with it beyond that. Imagination and insight within the minds of brilliant men and women past took the knowledge gained from scientific processes and turned it into the tools we use each and every day.

    Sadly, that same imagination is also what created religion, and again I take exception to calling religion a tool: It is instead a justification, born of hatred, stupidity, and ignorance. Some might argue that religion helped move nations (usually to war), but that would make a poor definition of “tool.” Instead it is a crutch and an opiate (to borrow from Marx just this one time), either meant to provide warm fuzzies in the face of cold harsh reality or to justify some of the cruelest acts mankind has ever perpetrated, all based on superstition, myth, and fear.

    No, I’ll defend and support science to the hilt in this regard: Science had absolutely NOTHING to do with this barbarity or any other barbarous acts done in religion’s name. That is solely where the blame lies with this one…

  31. There is no shame in responding to an attack with overwhelming force, even if that force leads to the death of many innocents in the process. This is because it is ultimately not the fault of the responded – it is understood as an automatic response to attack.

    I would love to see you explain this to the million-plus internally displaced Iraqi refugees, or the families of the few hundred thousand innocent civilians killed there.

    Your argument (that “they started it” is a legitimate defense that frees you from any kind of personal responsibility or accountability, in everything from killing innocent people to nuclear armageddon) is morally repugnant. I could fancy that up with eloquent words, but really, none are needed. That’s just grotesque.

  32. Susan Lancaster

    Sadly, today makes me think about Kaz.

  33. Sorry, that was me, Robert, not Susan Lancaster.

  34. Dark Jaguar

    I see your view on this. I’ll not really criticize it but I will make one small point of my own. I consider manipulating people with falsehoods, even to get them to do good deeds, rather immoral in and of itself. That’s really the only way I understand what you mean when you refer to religion as “a tool”.

  35. tacitus

    I will take the hammer and I will build a house with it, but let me warn anyone who might think otherwise that if you come up to me while I’m building my house and you try to choke me, or if you try to hurt anyone in my family or any of my friends, I’ll stop building that house and use that hammer to bash your head in. Don’t test me on this. I won’t waffle or cringe at the idea of fracturing your skull if you attack me.

    Ah, Dr. Buzzo gives us a glimpse into the faux bravado of the neocon mind, and completely fails to see the point of Phil’s thoughtful article.

    Only in the minds of the deluded does a call for clear-headedness when it comes to the use of science and religion equate to pacifism. I guess some people will never learn.

  36. @ Dr. Buzzo:

    Would you want an Al Queda member living in your village if you knew that villages were Al Queda members live get bombed?

    There were no members of Al Qaida living in Iraq prior to our unprovoked invasion.

    Please provide an alternate justification for that particular war, otherwise your “Hitler” argument could very well be used by an Iraqi…against the U.S.

    Don’t test me on this. I won’t waffle or cringe at the idea of fracturing your skull if you attack me.

    And if you are an Iraqi, apparently, he will fracture your skull just for the hell of it.

  37. Savino

    Money is a greater evil than religion.
    Look what you did to Iraq (I mean, the people there) just for oil…

    And no, there´s no date to cry about them… even why, most people here don´t give a damn for some people in some distant place.

  38. curious

    I have always wondered about the mentality that would even dream up the idea of flying passenger planes into skyscrapers. It’s just too out there. Now though I’m wondering about the mentality to not only image the possibility of but to be convinced that there will be death panels if health care got affordable. There’s a lot of stupid out there but when mixed with ideology and bravado, there’s no telling what people can’t and won’t do.

  39. Doug Little

    Darren @6,

    If we completely abandoned religion as a society, violent people would find other ways to bring their aims to fruition, and convince others to join them.

    Got some proof of that, faith by it’s very definition is problematic as it requires no basis in fact or reality, this makes it a very powerful tool for coercing people into doing your bidding. If on the other hand people were a little more skeptical about what people were telling them and didn’t have the promise of an afterlife I’m sure that there would be far less suicide bombers.

  40. jr_G-man

    In the words of Ani DiFranco, every tool is a weapon…if you hold it right.

  41. orlando tocano

    This 9/11 event is the result of foreign policy mistakes dating all the way back to the Ronald Reagan administration, at least. The roots are deep. Throughout history the most powerful nation has always misused that power to enslave, exploit, subdue, or conquer others. Our country is no different. Yes these people were religious fanatics, but we must look at the whole picture to get a true understanding, just like in science.

  42. @Doug Little:

    Got some proof of that

    Race riots and hate crimes. Boy, that was easy.

    I think the point Phil is trying to get across is that human nature is what’s driving us (or as I like to put it, “folks is folks, the world over”), and we’re not going to get anywhere until we stop demonizing portions of the population so we don’t have to look at ourselves.

  43. Epinephrine

    Science is a way of knowing things – it can not be good or bad, as knowledge is neither good nor bad. Have human decisions made dangerous devices, using science? Sure. But science is no more “evil” in this scenario than steel is. Steel is used to make weapons, but only a fool would attribute any evil to an alloy.

    Typically those who would demonise science point to guns, explosives, or other weapons and claim that “science” is evil, or encourages violence, or some such idiocy. Canadian law views whatever is used as a weapon as a weapon. You stab someone with a pencil, it is a weapon. You write with it, it isn’t. Weapons are defined by how they are used. Science isn’t a weapon any more than a pencil is – of course one can use knowledge to cause harm, but the knowledge doesn’t cause that harm itself – it does so at the hands of human agents.

    I feel your comment, “It’s not difficult to create a list of both good and bad things both science and religion have brought us,” is simply not true. I think it’s impossible to come up with a list of good and bad things science has brought us, as science brings only knowledge. The decision to use knowledge may be good or evil, but science is neutral. Religion is about making decisions. It provides guidance in decision making, condones some activities, condemns others – and as such it can be looked at as bringing good and evil into the world.

    You say that science was a tool, and imply that it has some share of guilt in this matter? Only the decision to commit violence has any good or evil attached to it, and that decision is influenced by religion – not by science. Sure, a bigger effect is possible by using science, but it is the decision to kill that is the issue here, and to obfuscate that and attempt to tar science is unjustified. A big stick isn’t evil, nor is the knowledge of how to make it.

    Religion is belief without evidence, or even despite evidence. Even at its most benign, it encourages ignorance and a lack of critical thinking. Worse than that, religions exalt some, and debase others – or even specifically spell out a directive to cause harm to others who believe differently, or even who are simply from another place. That *is* evil. Reason is one of our defenses against violence, and I think one could argue that faith’s war on reason is detrimental to the public good.

    While science may allow one to cause more harm when one wishes to do so, it is simply like a lever – you can move more with a lever, but the decision to move something is where morality comes in, not the knowledge of simple machines.

  44. “Perspective: Coal power plants kill 30,000 Americans every year. That’s a 9/11 every 32 days.”

    About the same number of people die of gunshots. In most European countries, there are more (fictional) murders on television than in real life.

    IF one thinks of 9/11 as a disaster due to the large number of deaths, then one should be concerned that much more about even bigger killers—especially those completely under the control of the citizens of the U.S.

    Phil, how about some posts criticizing the NRA etc with as much fire as those criticizing the anti-vaxers? (For the record, I think both groups are crazy.)

  45. Epinephrine (#44): You said “You say that science was a tool, and imply that it has some share of guilt in this matter?”

    No, I disagree with you completely. I implied no such thing; you inferred it. I’m saying that anyone who blames religion solely for this event doesn’t understand religion. A belief system was misapplied in this case. A case can be made that when you have beliefs that are contrary to reality, something like this is inevitable. But that’s not the point of this post, which perforce had to focus elsewhere.

  46. I loved your post Phil I really think that all the content wrote was the best of your skeptic criticism, but of course this wasn’t a critic but a content of mourning, specially for those who were deeply affected and for does who weren’t. Remembrance of this event every 9/11 brakes our hearts every time in this date, in particular when we turn on the TV to watch the media, when families effected by the terrorist attack looked at each other by the astonishing event, when the pain obtained by the images of the Media couldn’t be expressed in tears. Phil, you are one great writer and I thank you,I thank you and I believe many others thank you for those words of your last post.

  47. @Epinephrine

    With whom are you disagreeing? Phil, I thought, was pretty clear that neither science nor religion are inherently good or evil, but rather the good or evil is in how they are used.

  48. Phillip M

    To Savino #36

    Money is a greater evil? How many millions/billions of people have been killed for “religious wars”? Think about the number of names for religious wars:

    Crusades (christian)
    Jihad (islam)
    Milhemet Mitzvah (jewish)

    I could not find the “official” holy war names of Hindu and Buddha (just google holy war and see what I mean).

    At least with a war for oil innocence people are butchered simply for their religious beliefs. I already know you will say how many people were killed by the US in Iraq. Therefore, I will counter within the same country how many Shia did the Sunni sect kill after Saddam was removed from power and vice versa. By the way, I did not, do not, and will not support either war that the Bush Admin started and Obama is continuing.

    The only evil thing on this planet is someone with a messed up value system or some abnormality in their ability to reason or feel true emotions

    And to Phil

    Good job! Really liked the post. I agree with your statement science is a tool. Science is always a tool. It allows people to examine things they do not understand and develop solutions for difficult problems.

  49. @Epinephrine

    Worse than that, religions exalt some, and debase others – or even specifically spell out a directive to cause harm to others who believe differently, or even who are simply from another place. That *is* evil.

    Tribalism and instinct also encourage this behavior–look at the animal kingdom. The top silverback does not club an upstart beta because Gorilla Jesus told him to. Territorial Big Cats don’t fight each other because one of them ate beef on Friday.

    To say this sort of behavior is rooted in religion is not looking very deep or very far. It’s in our DNA. Science, distorted and used irresponsibly, can be used to promote the same behavior. (Social Darwinism and eugenics come to mind immediately.)

    …I think one could argue that faith’s war on reason…

    I’m going to need you to explain this (extremely broad) aside. “War” suggests deliberate, planned aggression, and I’d like to know if friends in my congregation–doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, and the like–are actively engaged in tearing down empirical thought just by existing.

  50. DGKnipfer
  51. vanderleun

    “Had those men not been subjected to that fringe religion,…” I note in passing that Islam is not a “fringe religion.”

  52. Very touching and well-said. Thank you.

    I tend to respond to the quote on that picture with, “No, irrationality and fundamentalism are the drivers here.”

  53. Bob

    Let’s go do some skull staving! Woo!

  54. Doug Little

    The fact of the matter is you can’t win the “hearts and minds” of the world.

    I disagree with this, I think it is possible, it is going to take some hard work increasing the level of education within 3rd world countries first of all. Education is the cure all against extremism.

  55. Doug

    “In the hand of a carpenter a hammer can build a house, and in the hand of a madman it can stave in a skull.”

    Forgive me if I point out that another “carpenter” relevant to this discussion. He seemed to advocate building houses rather than smashing skulls, too, if I remember right.

    So when people start talking about how many wars were started by Christianity (or any other religion), I have to point out that those wars were fought by Christians and I question their true belief in their religion on top of that. Someone used religion as an excuse to advance their own agenda.

    Maybe the problem isn’t with the religion itself … maybe its that may religious followers do what that name implies — blindly follow what someone else tells them about their religion.

    @ Dark Jaguar (#35) — I’ll put on a different spin to that. I consider blindly following a religion, even if it’s telling you to do good things, to be unconscionable. If you’re going to follow a religion, do it from your own free will.

  56. The fact of the matter is you can’t win the “hearts and minds” of the world.

    I disagree with this, I think it is possible, it is going to take some hard work increasing the level of education within 3rd world countries first of all. Education is the cure all against extremism.

    I’m an optimist here as well. Check out Steven Pinker’s articles on how violence has been on the wane for centuries. Homicide rates are highest among many “noble savage” type societies and have, on average, gone down with the rise in civilization. A few hundred years ago, it was common to burn cats alive on stage as a form of “Vaudeville” entertainment. Even Alice Cooper or Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t get away with this today. :-)

    The main reason for this decrease is increase in education.

    Actually, the internet might play a deciding role here. Sure, there is extremist propaganda to be found, but there is also a lot of good stuff which people can find out about in a relative private fashion.

    As Sakharov said 35 years ago:

    “I foresee a universal information system (UIS), which will give everyone access at any given moment to the contents of any book that has ever been published or any magazine or any fact. The UIS will have individual miniature-computer terminals, central control points for the flood of information, and communication channels incorporating thousands of artificial communications from satellites, cables, and laser lines. Even the partial realization of the UIS will profoundly affect every person, his leisure activities, and his intellectual and artistic development. …But the true historic role of the UIS will be to break down the barriers to the exchange of information among countries and people.” (Saturday Review/World, August 24, 1974)

    I’m reminded of many predictions by Asimov and Clarke from the 1950s and 1960s. They quite accurately described the internet in everything but name, online communities, telecommuting etc etc. Clarke even wrote a short story about how much of the bandwidth would be used for pornography.

  57. @vanderleun

    “Had those men not been subjected to that fringe religion,…” I note in passing that Islam is not a “fringe religion.”

    Those people were about Islamic as David Koresh was Christian. Their particular brand was fringe.

  58. Doug Little

    Ken,

    To incite a race riot there has to be some perceived injustice there. It is a reaction to some chain of events that have occurred, Religion on the other hand can coerce people without any chain of events.

    Hate crimes most definitely can be lumped into religious indoctrination, people have to be told who to hate and religion does a really nice job of doing this including justifying the actions.

  59. @Doug Little:

    Religion on the other hand can coerce people without any chain of events.

    This is INCREDIBLY naive. Look upthread for more nuanced explanations of why 9/11 occurred. Saying “because Islam” or “because religion” ignores the very real problems with U.S. diplomacy and military action throughout the Middle East that most certainly qualify as a “chain of events.” All of which have to do with power plays and very little to do with religion as it is practiced by everyday folks. Oversimplification helps no one and prevents us from learning anything useful.

    But that’s beside the point. You asked for situations where violence has occurred in ways that have nothing to do with religion. I provided examples. People do not need religion to do terrible things, and I’m truly sorry to say there’s new evidence to back that up every day.

  60. I’ve always seen religion as I see most human institutions – a set of tools that provides an opportunity to expand the mind, or to close it. Inertia or laziness often leads to the latter – but immersion in religious texts, as in literature or poetry or science, can lead to a flowering of the mind. It takes a great deal of effort and vigilance on the part of the religious, and their leaders, to focus on the exploration and not on the dogma. To resist exclusion. It’s impossible to do perfectly. But we should always strive . . .

    I probably haven’t stated this clearly, but anyway. In a roundabout way I’m agreeing with you.

  61. badreligion

    We always try to blame “something” for war and violence. The common denominator is always the same… man. We are the best killers in the world and we will always find a reason to do it. Religion, politics, economics, choose anything you want, but we always have been and always will be killers. Take religion out of history and there would still be wars. Don’t always look to blame religions, look at the root problem and it’s us.

  62. Doug Little

    Phillip,

    Wow, that guy is better than Nostradamus, not that Nostradamus was any good, but you get my drift.

    And yes, I did forget about the internet, definitely a very important tool in both education and eradication of extremism.

  63. Molly

    Thank you for the post Phil.

    It seems that when people are blinded by their perceived infallibility of ANY system or manner of thinking that the problems start. Religion is a man-made endeavor to expore our existance on this planet, just as science is.

    Science, through its value system, has the ability to make assertions and theories which can be reproduced through experimentation providing approximations of natural processes with varying degrees of accuracy. Please don’t misunderstand me, science has significantly improved our understanding of our planet, our universe, each other and ourselves, but it does only provide aproximations. An example of this is Newtonian physics, which was thought to be the gold standard until our science got better.

    It is the attachment of infallibility in either religion or science that causes so many problems facing our species.

    No one has the complete picture of “reality”. The search is important. And a search from many different perspectives is the prudent scientific thing to do as it simply saves time. I just cannot be convinced that having a sense of spirituality and scientific reasoning while thinking critically are mutually exclusive.

    @Ken Lowery
    Gorilla Jesus. That’s just fantastic. I think you should start a band with that name.

  64. Doug Little

    Ken,

    I didn’t say that 9/11 was solely caused by religion. What I stated is that Religion in general can be used to coerce people with out any chain of events, that’s what makes it dangerous that’s what faith is, blindly believing someone without any evidence.

  65. Doug Little

    Ken so you are saying that there is absolutely no link between religion and hate crimes?

  66. Molly

    @Gillian

    Very nicely stated. Thank you.

  67. Doug Little

    Now religion may contribute to some of it. I’d be nuts to say otherwise. But even if some of A is B and some of C is B, it’s not fair to say all A is C. If you follow me.

    Yes I agree, I think that I badly stated my point back in my first post upon reading it again. The comment I was objecting to, to me anyway, stated that removing religion would have no effect on coercing people to do violent acts. That is what I disagree with, I think that without religion we would have far less violent acts because a skeptical, educated population is harder to coerce.

  68. @Doug Little

    I think that without religion we would have far less violent acts because a skeptical, educated population is harder to coerce.

    Lack of religion does not necessarily mean a more skeptical, educated population. ;)

  69. @Doug

    Citing 9/11 was a case file in how something that can simply be tarred as “religious extremism” is in fact far more complicated than that. Ergo, labeling in that manner is harmful and often destructive to understanding why people do the things they do, and how they can be prevented in the future. I believe that was Phil’s point, but I wasn’t very clear in stating the connection. My apologies there.

    There are hate crimes motivated by religion. Obviously. Whether that’s a preacher-man saying “kill the queers” or someone cherry-picking religious scripture to justify their pre-existing hatred comes down to a case-by-case basis.

    But there are plenty that occur with no basis in religion whatsoever. It’s part of the human psyche. Always has been, always will be. The common factor in man’s inhumanity to man is man, not what folks do with their Sunday morning (or Friday night or what have you.)

  70. Come on, Phil. Science is more than a tool. It includes values, such as curiosity, patience, persistence, and cooperation. What negative values does it confer? I can’t think of any.

    Religion may sometimes include those and other positive, love-thy-neighbor values. But for each of those, there’s a negative: bigotry, homophobia, guilt-tripping, blind faith, and commands to “kill infidels” are common in the big holy texts. To say religion contains mixed messages would be an understatement.

    In the case of the World Trade Center destruction, some fundies apparently took in the negative values of their religion and tossed aside the positive ones. They also took in some negative “death to America” political views with no inherent basis in religion. But I don’t think anywhere if the attitudes of those men would you find the tolerance for other views and healthy skepticism that come with scientific training.

  71. Doug Little

    Todd W.

    I couldn’t disagree with you more on this point. Religion is actively contributing to both making someone less skeptical and also more ignorant by faith and ultimate truth.

  72. @Doug Little

    I couldn’t disagree with you more on this point. Religion is actively contributing to both making someone less skeptical and also more ignorant by faith and ultimate truth.

    Oh, I do not deny that religion contributes to a person being less skeptical. But that was not my point. Simply eliminating religion does not automatically mean that people will be more skeptical or less ignorant. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are not particularly religious, or not religious at all, who believe in alien UFOs or psychic powers.

  73. Phil, I have much the same response to this post as I do to Mr. Obama’s speeches when he talks about transcending us vs them politics. That response is: “Damn, I hate it when he talks reason and appeals to our better natures. Now I have to live up to what he says.”

    Thank you.

  74. @Brock:

    But I don’t think anywhere if the attitudes of those men would you find the tolerance for other views and healthy skepticism that come with scientific training.

    As we all know, no scientists have ever done anything unethical or inhumane.

    That’s probably more flippant than I should be, but to paraphrase how you started your comment, Come on, Brock. You’re slipping into that “infallibility” trap that Molly and Gillian spoke about above. That is the real danger.

    And, maybe, someday, I will meet this (apparently enormous) mass of religious people who are blind followers that question nothing and never doubt themselves.. the ones you guys keep talking about. I haven’t met one yet, but maybe someday…

  75. Doug Little

    Todd W.

    Yes, I see where you are going with that. It would be interesting to look at some numbers. After all the majority of people whether they are religious or not were probably bought up in a religious household. Religion invades every facet of our lives, It seems to me that all supernatural thinking comes from that early childhood indoctrination we are taught from an early age that the impossible is possible.

  76. LukeL

    Remember science can be used for evil too. It was science which was used in human experiments by Japan and Nazi Germany in WWII, it was science that developed the concept of eugenics, it was science which led to the slaughter of native Aborigines in Australia etc.

  77. Doug Little

    Ken,

    And, maybe, someday, I will meet this (apparently enormous) mass of religious people who are blind followers that question nothing

    So how do you reconcile the inconsistency’s and errors that are found in the infallible work of God, the bible? Do you question you own belief? Why don’t you require evidence for your beliefs?

  78. In 1982 I took a whirlwind trip up the east coast with the doctor I worked for at the time. One of our stops was NYC and of coarse we all wanted to tour the hot spots. Rock center and the Rockettes, (we saw ‘Annie’ there), Studio 54 (always hated disco), the museums, Lady Liberty, and the WTC. I have always had a fear of heights and this was reinforced as I stood on the top of the South Tower that day and watched / felt the two towers swaying in the wind.

    For some reason this morning, I woke from a nightmare in which I was standing up there again as a plane struck the building 20 stories beneath me.

    I am not an actively spiritual person in the way people of faith are (being atheist, most would say I have no spiritual component), but may whatever Deity have mercy upon those poor souls.

  79. Doug Little

    LukeL,

    Eugenics predates the scientific method and was actually practiced by said Aborigines.

  80. Molly

    @Doug Little

    Who said that the bible was the “infallible work of God” in the comments here?

    What I am challenging, and I think what Ken is too, is that the assertion that science is “reality” with no room for anything else or any other viewpoint is just as equally a narrow view as extremist religion. Just because someone believes in some sort of spirituality does not make them inherently crazy, stupid, or delusional.

  81. @Doug

    Do you question you own belief?

    Daily. So does every religious person I know; it goes with the territory.

    And FYI, I was not “indoctrinated” at a young age; I was raised in an unreligious household and was an atheist myself until about 8 years ago. Statistical trends about religious people (mostly going with Pew here) indicate that people either grow up in church and leave in their late teens or early 20’s and return (if they do) in their 40’s. The other major subset is non-religious until they join up in their 20’s. So let’s avoid that particular stereotyping, please.

    As for interpretations of the Bible… there’s a whole world of theory that you are likely unaware of, just going by how you’re using terms like “infallible work of God.” I don’t mean disrespect, it’s just true. It’s like someone asking you to explain the history and evolution of physics because they heard “the universe was made of strings or something.” In a comment thread.

    Also, I’m no M.Div and this thread isn’t about justifying the existence of religion, so I’ll keep mum. That would be an inexcusable derailment.

    @Molly:

    Just so. I would also add that being an atheist does not mean a person will never be crazy, stupid, or delusional. Or are somehow less likely to be so. As I say more often than I should have to, “nobody has a monopoly on being an asshole.”

  82. Doug Little

    Molly,

    1. It’s not an assertion its a fact that science is a tool that we use to understand reality it is the only tool that we have to do so.

    2. Depends on your definition of spirituality, I have no problem with a concept such as Spinoza’s god, now a personal god that you can prey to to do stuff for you, that will punish you for not believing in it, that’s another story.

  83. Doug Little

    As for interpretations of the Bible

    You don’t have a problem with that? If it is true as you say and it can be interpreted different ways which interpretation do you believe? For that matter what makes your holy book any more valid than the other multitudes of holy books out there that all state that are the one true work of god/gods? They all can’t be right. What logic do you use to make that decision. How do you determine a valid religion from an invalid one, what methodology do you use?

  84. DrFlimmer

    Well said, Phil, really! Such moderate tones in such times are really appreciated! Thanks a lot!

    I could write a lengthy post about my point of view concerning the way science and religion should live side by side, supporting and not fighting each other. But I like your statement and want to leave it (almost) uncommented.
    Just one thing:

    I believe devoutly (and this is probably the correct term!) that the world would be a better place, if those who claim to be Christians would actually try to behave as Christians (e.g., a Christian should never start a war!).

  85. @Doug:

    OK, I don’t think my last comment sunk in. I’ll bow out here.

  86. @ Ken Lowery:
    As we all know, no scientists have ever done anything unethical or inhumane.

    That’s probably more flippant than I should be, but to paraphrase how you started your comment, Come on, Brock. You’re slipping into that “infallibility” trap that Molly and Gillian spoke about above. That is the real danger.

    I didn’t say scientists were infallible or always exhibited idealized values. But I DID mean to imply that when they are unethical or inhumane, it goes directly AGAINST their training rather than with it. The same can’t be said for, say, Catholic priests who have built up a large network in order to escape legal repercussions for pedophilic molestation. Any “ethics” training they receive can’t be too serious under the umbrella of an organization that takes such unethical actions on a long-term, systematic basis.

  87. Molly

    @Ken

    Oh clearly. Quite unfortunately no one is immune.

    @ Doug Little

    For point 1 I agree that science is a very useful tool. I would disagree that it is the only one.

    For point 2 I agree with you for the most part. I, for one, do not believe in any sort of punishment or wish fulfillment. But I get my beliefs as they relate to and affect me, and everyone else gets theirs as far as they relate to and affect them. It’s not for me to judge what they believe. My only point was that just because someone has a belief system of some sort does not preclude them from being rational people or amazing scientists.

    @DrFlimmer

    Thank you. Really, thank you.

  88. IVAN3MAN AT LARGE

    Doug Little:

    It would be interesting to look at some numbers. After all the majority of people whether they are religious or not were probably bought up in a religious household.

    Ask and you shall receive…

    The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2003

  89. llewelly

    We have been conditioned to think that the only way to have peace is to disarm and hope that everyone else does the same.

    Perhaps in the hippie ghandi nation you come from, but here in America we’ve been conditioned to spend more on the military than nearly all other nations combined.

    Now, there’s nothing wrong with maintaining a military force which is significantly stronger than your likely opponents. Yet there’s no significant chance the entire world will gang up on America, yet our military is funded as if such a thing was likely.
    If the US had a more reasonably sized military – say, comparable to the total military forces of the nations in the EU – we’d save 100s of billions. That money could be used to send explorers to Jupiter, for scientific research, for better education, for better health care, or left in the hands of taxpayers so that they might use it to pursue prosperity, failure, or (most likely) entertainment in their own fashion.

  90. @ Brock:

    Catholic priests who molest children pretty clearly go against the tenets of their religion, just as inhumane or unethical scientists go against their training… unless you’re seriously suggesting the Catholic faith (that is, the list of ideals and beliefs, not the institution made up of flawed human beings) gives an explicit thumbs up to molesting children.

    It should also be noted that what has been considered “inhumane” and “unethical” in science is pretty fluid, depending on where and when you live.

    People of faith fall short; so do scientists. The common denominator is humanity.

  91. Well, said, Phil. Very well said.

  92. PeteC

    @DrBuzz0

    You state:
    “There is no shame in responding to an attack with overwhelming force, even if that force leads to the death of many innocents in the process.”

    That’s a bit dubious. Of course, in the real world outside of movies, things aren’t nice and neat. Evil people aren’t all single childless men who live in training camps in the desert together. Fighting a war is going to result in innocent deaths; this is tragic, but pretty much unavoidable.

    However…

    Outside of the same movies, things are never quite so simple as you present. Every attacker believes that he is counter-attacking. The attack on 9-11, in the eyes of the attackers, wasn’t an unwarranted first strike; it was a counter-attack responding to what had been done to them. Like hillbilly fueds, every action is believed to be justified.

    Therefore your statement could apply equally well to the hijackers. Responding to the attacks on their territory, culture and religion with overwhelming force against the US financial system led to the deaths of many innocents, and there would be no shame in it. The Oklahoma city attacks against what the attacker regarded as a corrupt and evil government also led to some innocent deaths, but hey, no shame in that, eh?

    In fact, if an innocent man who never hurt anyone and never acted against the US, but had lost his family in Iraq to a “no-shame” overwhelming force attack responded to that attack with overwhelming force – say he detonates a nuclear weapon at the Pentagon – would that overwhelming force response to the attack on him be justifed? Should he have no shame about it?

    I suspect you left out the caveat “… as long as it’s us doing it.”

    Of course, the September 11th attacks could not have been ignored. They required a response, and a strong one. That response would probably result in civilian casualties. It quite probably would have required an ongoing war with significant collateral damage. Every one of those civilian casualties should have been a regretful sadness at the necessity, not a “no shame” “yee-haw we git some!” event. At this time, those who attacked the US have not been brought down, those who sheltered them are still fighting back rather succesfully, and those who had nothing to do with it and were, in fact, a big enemy of the attackers (not to mention one of the most secular countries in the Middle East) have been conquered and occupied with massive civilian casualties, and are now turning to fundamentalism. Yay. Big success.

  93. The Alpha Male

    The perpetrators of 9-11 were evil personified.However,they lived and died as they were taught by their religion.That’s quite a concept.
    Not to make this a religious debate,but the God of the Christian world must have had that day off or He wouldn’t have allowed it to happen.Then again He allows starvation,killer storms,diseases,etc.
    I’ll stick with science…..it’s,to paraphrase Spock,more logical.

  94. kkozoriz

    The consequence of this is that in the event that you are attacked, you MUST respond with full, unrestrained and immediate retaliation. The concequences, terrible though they may be, are inevitable and must be shown as such. The alternative is far worse. Once you show that you will not respond as such, your massive deterrent becomes a paper tiger and you are now shown to be a good target for further attack.

    So, Iraq would be justified in attacking America?

  95. @Ken:
    …unless you’re seriously suggesting the Catholic faith (that is, the list of ideals and beliefs, not the institution made up of flawed human beings) gives an explicit thumbs up to molesting children.

    You can’t separate that out. The “faith” wouldn’t exist without humans dedicated to it. Otherwise it would have spontaneously arisen on other continents without word-of-mouth and missionaries and other explicit communication.

    I think most individual Catholic people are fairly good-natured (and opposed to molesting children), but their “faith” means giving automatic deference to their priests. The same priests who claim to be directly in the path between the people and the chance to overcome death. It’s an authority the church doesn’t deserve, and they systematically abuse it.

    So no, it’s not going against the “tenents of the faith”, because that faith is continually warped by an incredibly wealthy corporate PR machine, AKA the Vatican. They gladly present the face of “moral authority” while shuffling pedophiles out of the hands of secular law enforcement.

    And even if you boil it down philosophically to a generalized Christianity, it’s lacking in moral polarity. For every positive statement, there’s a negative qualifier.

    — “Believe in a loving god… or burn in hell forever”
    — “Accept the benevolent authority of the church… or be cast out as a heretic”
    — “Thou shalt not kill… unless it’s foreigners or people of another religion and your priest can claim that God said it’s OK”
    — “Help the poor and give your belongings away… because the wealthy can’t enter heaven”
    — “Amass resources and success… so you can bring more people to the church!”

    No contradiction there! Heh. Please explain how a rigid moral “no molesting” can arise when the core tenets of the faith are so self-contradictory.

    It should also be noted that what has been considered “inhumane” and “unethical” in science is pretty fluid, depending on where and when you live.

    Examples? And I do mean actual science, not some skewed extremist political hypotheses vastly extrapolated from sketchy “studies” (e.g. phrenology is out).

  96. 2A

    I wonder how many people even know that 911 happened because of America’s support for Fascist Israel?

    That’s what the American government claims, anyway. I see no reason why that wouldn’t be the case, seeing how America is keeping tension in the Middle East at an all time high all for the sake of Israeli dominance in that region.

    If America didn’t support the wholesale theft and occupation of Palestine, and also the genocide of the native Palestinians at the hands of Israelis, then 911 would have not happened. Everyone knows that the people we call Jews today are not native to Palestine. Hell, anyone willing to look up skin cancer rates should be able to verify that. Ashkenazim Jews from Eastern Europe and Central Asia stole that land and America’s support of that theft is the reason behind 911. That’s what the 911 Commission Report states.

  97. JoeSmithCA

    I shall weild this hammer in the name of God and smite the infidel nails!

  98. I get what you’re saying, but I think it’s incorrect to blame the planes or the people who engineered them. Should we blame the Wright brothers for 9/11 just as we would al Quada? I think not.
    Yes, anything could be dangerous if in the wrong hands, but would the entire incident have happened if *not* for religion? I think that’s what we’re really getting at.
    “Stop! We’re running out of virgins!”

  99. ibugeye

    For myself, all religions do not give meaning or insights to the mysteries and wonders of the universe we inhabit. My wife on the other hand is a devout Christian. For her the answers to her questions have been answered and she is at peace with the world around her. I would never begin to deny her these BELIEFS (for all religions preach some variant of “FAITH”). For her this works and the universe is still a place of wonder and awe. I can not PROVE that she is wrong. In fact, in a college philosophy class I took we proved through logic that A”god” (we were unable to decipher his/her denomination though!) could exist! The only thing that I have come to realize over the years though is that extremism on either side of the issue is to be avoided. That is where the tools are used over the uneducated-equally on both sides of the issue. Knowledge is just that – knowledge! It’s up to each individual to interpret what they make of this knowledge. It’s just a shame that as race, humans have learned SOOOO MUCH in our short time running around on this small dirt ball in a corner of one of a unremarkable (except for us I guess) galaxies, that we are still prone to the hate and fear brought by extremeism. The leading scholars of the time thought Columbus would sail off the edge of the world if he ventured to far away. THE LEADING SCHOLARS OF THE TIME THOUGHT THIS! It just shows us that we don’t know what we do not know. Science shows us what is black and white. Religion fills in the gray for many that science is yet to show as black or white. Thank you Phil for this blog entry.

  100. Damon

    @ Darren

    “If we completely abandoned religion as a society, violent people would find other ways to bring their aims to fruition, and convince others to join them.”

    This is terrible cop-out reasoning for not pointing the finger at religion. Sure, violent people will always do violent things, but in the mean-time, we should try to phase religion out of existence ANY WAY to disallow violent people THAT CONDUIT for their violent compulsions.

    “They’re just going to kill people any way” is garbage logic; you don’t know that for sure and you certainly have an obligation as a moderately educated human being to cut off any pathway that could even marginally cause this kind of horrific event to happen again, be it religion or any form of anti-intellectual extremism.

    “It’s in our DNA”. Give me a break. I don’t have a violent bone in my body and have actively gone out of my way to avoid conflict my entire life, often at the expense of my pride and reputation, because those things are superficial any way. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

  101. @ibugeye: You’ve got that backward. Scientific results are always “slightly gray”, or tentative (i.e. with an associated uncertainty). Biology for example shows that humans arose through complex selective pressures over millions of years on a primate precursor species, whereas creationists claim we were poofed into existence in a special event with no qualifiers.

    Cosmology shows that the fundamental physical forces separated at an extremely early time, and that inflation pushed the cosmos outward rapidly. The pieces eventually accreted into stars and galaxies and supernovae distributed the heavier elements. By contrast, millenia of religious “cosmogeny” myths claimed that a god or gods wrought our world (and incidentally some pretty stars for us to look at) because the god was lonely or had some particular purpose in mind for humans. Those same humans that hadn’t yet evolved… heh.

    Which one is sounding “black & white”? Which one is open to further scrutiny? I could go on for quite a while.

  102. Doug Little

    Ken,

    About what I would expect. No I’m genuinely interested in your methodology on how you determined that your religion is the true one. Also interested in how you intrepret the bible and how you decide what to believe and not to believe from it.

  103. Mike
  104. ibugeye

    @Brock: I will use your logic against you on this. Through years of questioning and scientific method, biology has proved in “black and white”, that “humans arose through complex selective pressures over millions of years on a primate precursor species”. Through years of questioning and scientific method, cosmology has proved in “black and white” that “the fundamental physical forces separated at an extremely early time, and that inflation pushed the cosmos outward rapidly. The pieces eventually accreted into stars and galaxies and supernovae distributed the heavier elements.” Yes, science is and always should be questioning what we know and value as truth. That is how science is able to piece together the workings of this reality around us. How can we blindly agree on issues such as whether man is causing global warming if we don’t question the science and continually attempt to fill in the blanks of ignorance. Religion dictates that you BELIEVE/HAVE FAITH that “a god or gods wrought our world (and incidentally some pretty stars for us to look at) because the god was lonely or had some particular purpose in mind for humans.” There is only gray in that line of thought because it is built upon “FAITH”. You are told to believe without proof. Is there really any method of proving your reward for compliance to the dogma? In most religions, rewards are given to those who have “FAITH”, after they have passed from this level of reality. I guess we could turn to the Scify channel and watch Ghost Hunters. And yet I still question those findings based on scientific method.

  105. ibugeye

    By the way, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” came down upon her head. It made sure she was dead. In honor of The Beatles on 09-09-09

  106. Marine192

    So I see that some of you believe that us in the military have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. My question to those who think that we are so indiscriminate with our killing is how many where killed under Saddam’s regime? We’ll honestly never know cause his regime covered it up pretty well.

    As for the Taliban and insurgents successfully fighting back against us you need to understand the difficult of holding territory with small numbers of people. When I was deployed we had 1200 people responsible for an area roughly the size of Maryland, and of that 1200 maybe 800 of us were infantry. Nowhere near what is needed to effectively deny freedom of movement to hostile forces. The biggest problem with the military is that there isn’t enough infantry to put a quick end to these wars. The Marine Corps when I was in was around 180,000 Marines, of that only 23,000 were in the infantry. I would love to see you and 799 other people try to keep Maryland under control.

  107. Gary

    We are all better off as long as we maintain the Constitutional principle of the separation of state from church and preserve the secular nature of American society.

    Freedom of religion and my right to live free of religion are two sides of the same coin.

  108. ricardo

    Hmm. religion must have also brain-washed these terrorists who couldn’t fly a paper bag into thinking they could make manoevers with these large jets that were beyond the skill level of most (or all) seasoned pilots. Quite remarkable, maybe there is something to this religion thing. I doubt it, it was science you see which created the remote controls used to fly these jets.

    By the way, did you know that it has been verified beyond any doubt that 7 of these terrorists were living at/being trained at US military bases. Pensacola Air Force Base, Maxwell Air Force Base, and the Defence Language Institute in Calif. Very interesting!

  109. ibugeye

    @ Gary: Since the extremely intelligent gentlemen (sorry ladies) who drafted the Constitution were Christians themselves, I seriously doubt that they would advocate the separation of church and state as put forth by the atheists in our society that take offence to someone else’s personal beliefs. They drew upon their experience with Britain and France’s struggle to wrestle the political power from the Church in the years leading up to War of Independence. The colonies here in the America’s were havens for the religiously persecuted.In fact I will argue that atheism is its own religion. It has its own dogma that has to be rigidly followed. You can read this in their own prayer books/bible – I mean The Atheist Handbook. My question to atheists is, Is it just Christianity that you have problems with, or do all religions bother you? If you would actually read The Constitution, the founding fathers actually praise the Christian God for bringing about this test of democracy called The United States Of America. If we follow your logic, should all references to the Christian God be struck from the Declaration Of Independence as well as The Constitution, so that YOU can have freedom from religion? That does not sound like very tolerant and progressive thinking. Should we ban books because we find that someone might be offended by them?

  110. Marine192

    @ ibugeye: I don’t know what country’s Constitution you have been reading but I do not see any mention of the “Christian God” in it.

    Here’s a link to the US Constitution

    http://www.house.gov/house/Constitution/Constitution.html

  111. Doug Little

    ibugeye,

    let me clear a few things up for you.

    1. The founding fathers were not all Xian.

    2. Art. 11. ot the Trreaty of tripoli states,

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;

    Official records show that after President John Adams sent the treaty to the Senate for ratification in May 1797, the entire treaty was read aloud on the Senate floor, and copies were printed for every Senator. A committee considered the treaty and recommended ratification, 23 of the 32 sitting Senators were present for the June 7 vote which unanimously approved the ratification recommendation.

    3. No we have problems with the other 2850 or so other gods that apparently exist also. The same ones you do. I just believe in one less god than you do.

    4. God does not appear in the Constitution maybe you should read it!

    5. Religion itself is never mentioned in the DOI and it refers to “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” and “Divine Providence.” which in itself seems a more deistic than anything else.

    God can’t be struck from the constitution because its not there and the decleration of independence is a piece of history that has no legal purpose. But definitly should be struck from the money and also from the pledge.

  112. IBY

    @marine192
    tu quoqe (you too) is not a valid argument.
    @ibugeye
    Not to be rude, but in your response 106, I think you just argued against yourself.

  113. Keith

    ” fundamentalist jihadic brand of Islam that guided those men to do what they did.”

    I think the extreme Christian right, which holds so much power in the US, is as much to blame. Both sides are fanatical, kill a lot of innocent people without any remorse, are convinced God is on their side and believe the end justifies the means.

  114. @ Marine192:

    So I see that some of you believe that us in the military have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. My question to those who think that we are so indiscriminate with our killing is how many where killed under Saddam’s regime?

    What Saddam did is irrelevant. He did not harm any Americans. He did not attack us. We had no right to attack him after he had been disarmed. This was not a defensive war, it was…I don’t know what it was. Hubris? A pathetic loser desperate to prove himself a man? Oil? Money? Take your pick. It doesn’t matter. There were worse tyrants, why not invade their lands?

    What about Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe? Or Pol Pot, who slaughtered millions? Why did we not invade Cambodia (openly)? Stalin killed an estimated 20 million Russians, through outright pogroms or indirect starvation. Why did we not invade the Soviet Union? China routinely imprisons dissidents standing up for democracy. Why do we not invade China? The majority of the 9/11 perpetrators were Egyptian or Saudi. Why did we not invade Egypt or Saudi Arabia?

    Two wrongs do not make a right, sir. It doesn’t matter how few troops you had…you should not have been there in the first place. The only hero in the Iraq war is Lieutenant Ehren Watada, the U.S. officer who refused to give the order to deploy the men under his command to Iraq because he knew the war was illegal and unjust. He faced a court martial rather than do what he knew to be wrong.

    Would that more soldiers who empower those who wield the war machine were as honorable as Lt. Watada.

    I wish you well. I hope you came home safely. I hope you came home…and stay home.

  115. Daniel J. Andrews

    Thoughtful post. Respectful too.

    “It’s a tool, used to investigate the world and to make sure we don’t let our biases, egos, and wishes get in the way of finding what’s real.”

    Consider yourself quoted for the section of my powerpoint lecture dealing with what science is. In return I’ll give your book a little publicity. Expect a jump in sales by mid-week. :)

    @Damon (102), who said, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.” Application from a single case (you) to general population. Same argument used when someone wants to show that smoking doesn’t cause cancer. E.g. my dad smoked a pack a day for 60 years and he lived to 85. If you don’t think a tendency to violence is written in our DNA, you will need a better argument.

  116. I don’t agree that religion in itself is neither good nor evil.

    Regardless of the intent, anything that tells you things that aren’t true is inherently bad.

    Religion contains no truth at all.

    Religion co-opts some widely regarded moral values and ethics which would exist with or without religion.

    Everything else that is concocted by one religion or another is false and therefore bad.

    Evil is a pretty extreme word that has been diluted like many other words through lazy over-use. Obviously many evil things have been done in the name of religion but I would not say religion is inherently evil. It is just inherently bad.

    The less tolerant a religion is of others the closer to evil it becomes obviously. For example, any religion that condones the extermination of others is clearly evil.

    I have never believed in any religion. None of it ever made any sense at all. But I was forced to attend church every Sunday until I reached my majority.

    For a long time I thought religion was pretty much zero-sum.

    On one hand they do a lot of good things – mostly charity work.

    On the other hand, they go on murder sprees as well as inflicting their beliefs on other cultures.

    My current stance, and I doubt it will change any time soon, is that religion is just bad and we’d be better off if it just didn’t exist.

    Ethics aren’t religion-based.

    Ethics are those things that almost any culture can agree are right or wrong. No religion needed.

    Frankly, I’m really tired of dealing with stupid people who believe stupid things. Unfortunately, I’m stuck here with people who think the moon causes people to become psychotic, that god loves my football team more than yours and nearly half the U.S. population thought Bush was qualified to be in charge of anything.

  117. Flying sardines

    In the hand of a carpenter a hammer can build a house, and in the hand of a madman it can stave in a skull. Which will you be today?

    Like most people probably a bit of both …

    I think we all potential for acts of great compassion and great cruelty, great good and great evil within us.

    Probably a banal truism but well that’s my view.

    I hope overall I do more good than harm in life & try to make that so. But, yes, I’m a fallible human and imperfect & have my moments of … well everything really.

  118. Leander

    I think despite lack of intention to do so, you indeed made a grand point – science and religion can be compatible. If I understood you correctly, you see science as the tool to find out truth about the universe, and religion as a tool to give it meaning. Despite the fact that most tools of the latter kind that mankind has come up with so far clash – sometimes more, sometimes less – with science, to anyone with imagination it should be easy to see that this is not an inherent property of trying to give the universe a meaning.

    “To someone who is very religious, there is no other way to perceive life.”

    That you used the word “very” in this sentence, and in this one…

    “Had those men not been subjected to that fringe religion,…”

    …the word “fringe”, suggests to me that your views of religion are much more reality-based than let’s say those of people like PZ or Dawkins. I wonder what their response to your comment would be. Anyway, great post.

  119. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ ibugeye:

    I will use your logic against you on this. Through years of questioning and scientific method, biology has proved in “black and white”,

    Then again, when we conclude that a theory is sufficiently tested to be not worth argue about, “beyond reasonable doubt”, we use a limit on uncertainty that is arbitrarily chosen and agreed on. For example, physicists may accept 3 sigma tests on theories and 5 sigma on observations, while EBM often accept 2 sigma on both.

    I agree with Brock, there isn’t any strict qualitative differences that makes classes of “black and white”. Only man made constructs for our own convenience of resolved “colors” on a background of shades of “gray”. To reflect earlier comments, philosophical/theological ideas of truth/Truth are hopelessly naive and insufficient.

  120. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Leander:

    science and religion can be compatible

    That is a fully theological claim. Moreover it is falsified by observation (as you yourself recognizes), as specific religious claims are always falsified by observation when they can be tested.

    “Meaning” in the sense of “purpose” is one such falsified claim, as we know that evolution is contingent and didn’t have to bring us about. Therefore there is no context of meaning for us.

    The “meaning” of universe is falsified for different reasons. You can’t relate purpose back to humans as per above, but there is still no “purpose” for whatever referent you claim, regardless if such referents are observed or not.

    There are good reasons to believe the universe had to exist, say per Victor Stenger’s model of “nothing” as the maximum symmetry state. Symmetry states are observed to be unstable.

    There are also good reasons to believe the universe had no cause, say per the paper that the set of universes that contains our standard cosmology are zero energy. Zero energy states are easily instantiated by quantum fluctuations.

    If the universe had to exist and/or had no cause, there was no specific “purpose” in its existence.

    For non-specific objects strong falsifiers respectively debunking of “purpose” fails, and we have to resort to the obvious problem that underlies the whole claim: where is the entity for which you reference “purpose” to? Extra-ordinary claims demand extra-ordinary evidence. After thousands of years such evidence is still outstanding.

  121. ibugeye

    @Marine192: You are correct about the The Constitution. I did go back and reread it again. It has been thirty years since I studied it in High School. I had thought the Preamble contained a reference to “Divine Providence” (aka The Christian God). My mistake and thanks for pointing that out. @Doug Little: A question for you though, have you ever studied philosophy? As earlier stated, through logic I can prove that there is at least one “Diety”. There is no way to know its denomination though lol! Also through philosophy, I can prove that you do not even exist. As I said earlier, I subscribe to NO religion – not even atheism! I do not believe in a god that you accuse me of. It seems to be very narrow minded and petty to deny someone something that cannot be proven to be true or false, such as ones religious beliefs. Liberals believe that they are progessive and the source of enlightenment, and yet attack those that disagree with their beliefs (such as religion, Global Warming, homosexuality, et al). For example look at Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California who DARED to speak her mind about homosexuality at this Miss USA pageant. Conservatives choose to hold onto the traditional values that have served mankind for centuries (be them either right OR wrong.) Once again extremeism on either side is to be avoided. Why stop at taking “In God We Trust”off of money? Why not just get rid of money altogether, because I am offended about how taxes are regressive to the poor. I also am not too fond of the color purple. Can we just get rid of it too? President Obama is a Christian. Should he be impeached so that we can have separation of church and state? As to @IBY I was only trying to point out that through scientific method we can observe the universe around us and make experiments to test our hypothesises. The leading school of thought had to be changed when Columbus sailed across the Atlantic. This is how we make the world around us more “black and white”. This is through the accumulation of knowledge. There is no way to prove the claim of the 9.11 hijackers that they have been rewarded in the “afterlife” for their act of jihad. Look at the caste system that is still a very important part of India’s society even today. How can those who are born into the “Untouchable Caste” prove that they do not belong there. There is no scientific experiment that can prove either way what their fate should be.

  122. @ibugeye: You’ve still got it backward on the “black & white” thing. Yes, the goal of science is understanding, and that’s accomplished by taking unknown “gray area” and observing it, testing it, forming hypotheses and theories, etc. But it’s commonly understood that science creates more questions than it answers. That may sound bad, but there’s a big upside: those resulting questions are more focused and more specific.

    Here’s an excessively distilled Q&A of how it goes. Legend: (Q)uestion, (R)eligion, (S)cience.

    Q: Why does the sun rise and set?
    R: Because the Sun God rides his chariot of fire across the sky each day. If you don’t believe this, you’re opposed to the Pharaoh and we’ll kill/enslave you.
    S: Because the earth and sun are round, have mass, and exhibit gravity and mechanical motion. The huge gravitational field of the sun means the Earth orbits it roughly in a circle. Now to figure out things like the seasons, precession… oh yeah and perhaps all those other stars are huge balls of fusion like the sun, so we can start analyzing them…

    (of course science has gone way beyond that and how asks “what causes mass?” or “can we predict sunspots?” or “when did gravity arise in the first nanoseconds of the cosmos”?)

    Q: Where did humans come from?
    R: God made us in his image. Really. Pay no attention to those fossils, they’re a dirty trick from the devil. If you don’t buy our story you’ll burn in hell forever.
    S: Humans are one small branch of the enormous tree of evolution. Our branch includes earlier hominids, primates, mammals, etc and can be traced back to the single-celled history of life. But we’d like to put better dates and geographic coordinates on the transition from australopithecus to early hominids, and we’d like to understand the exact genetic changes that took place.

    (now fields like genomics and proteomics are mapping out our biology in chemical terms and piecing together our history based on common genes and gene fragments between species!)

    So science is of course answering simple questions with a very high probability of “correctness” (the chance of the earth being flat is now obviously infinitesimal thanks to huge amounts of corroborating evidence) — but in turn it reveals more complex and more interesting questions. The job of science is always improving incrementally, but it’s never done.

    Religion doesn’t work like that. It tells you that Zeus makes lightning, and if that’s not good enough, too bad. No further inquiry. Black & white.

  123. Some other nitpicks:

    Atheism is de facto the lack of religion. You can be completely silent about it (I was for about a decade), or you can speak out about it. You can even label it “agnosticism” if your daily behavior is the same as if there were no gods, yet you don’t want the social stigma of being called an atheist.

    You claim that you can philosophically “prove” that a deity exists and I don’t? That sounds a lot like my ability to “prove” that 2+2=5. In other words, you’re missing one small step, or breaking logic somewhere, or cheating in a small but significant way. But go ahead and write out (or better, link) your “proof”.

    Bigotry against homosexuals is not just a matter of opinion, or part of “traditional values that have served mankind” — it’s been a huge disservice! But I guess you missed the news about the UK apologizing for its abhorrent treatment of the late mathematical genius Alan Turing.

  124. I love the people who say atheism is dogma. That’s a claim by people who can’t back up their faith and want to drag the reality based-community down to the same level where they dwell – believing in supernatural nonsense that has not one shred of evidence to back it up.

    But, I will admit that I’m guilty of requiring proof to believe something. Is having a shred of intelligence a dogma?

    I guess you could say my dogma is that something needs to actually exist before I believe it exists.

  125. Renée

    I just wanted to come on here to say something quickly.

    I love astronomy and I have a deep appreciation for science. I value all that its provided and I respect, greatly, the contributions that its given to the world.

    However what I don’t respect are the gross and arrogant statements by people who would have me believe that they are somehow better than me because they reject the notion of God.

    I’m not an idiot, closeminded, shortsighted, indoctrinated, fool that runs around praising Allah for everything and randomly kicking puppies because I can’t help but be violent!

    I get excellent grades at my university and I’m very much up to speed with how the world works. I mean, I had a small party when the LHC initially went online, I’m that much of a nerd :D

    However I also appreciate philosophy and religion, and I think that people should be free to pursue them without being heckled. How do you think hearing that I should give up my religion because of what it supposedly does makes me feel? For all of this talk about having a strong sense of ethics and being the better person a lot of you are just downright nasty and arrogant.

    People are going to do stupid violent things no matter what, removing religion isn’t going to help any.

  126. @ Renée:

    I think you will find most of the commenters who frequent this blog are indeed respectful of religion as a means of inspiring people or guiding them in their personal lives. Where they draw the line, however, is when personal religious beliefs are mistaken for proven truth or, the ultimate insult, equated with science.

    And if you are tempted to give up your religion simply because others who do not follow it heckle you, then perhaps your faith in that religion is not that strong to begin with, or your attachment to it has more to do with you wanting to be up on a pedestal (“Ooo! Look! A religious person!”) because of it.

  127. Renée

    @Kuhnigget

    I know that many of the commenters on here are nice, I’ve been a fan of this blog for a really long time. However when issues come up that involve religion I think the group really splits in two. This is so common in fact that I purposely stay away from secular discussions at my Uni or things like the Physics club because at some point things just turn sour.

    Though to be fair I stay away from some religious functions as well for the same reason. Which is pretty much my approach to the situation of religion and science, I try to stay in the middle and be reasonable.

    You say that the ultimate insult is mistaking science with religion, well I find it a little insulting that you also said that they draw the line when personal religious beliefs are mistaken for “proven truth.” So does that mean I’m allowed to be disillusion as long as I don’t talk about it?

    What is truth exactly? Which theory are we talking about? Coherence theory, consensus, pragmatic? I’m sorry but science doesn’t hold the monopoly on truth. Philosophy is still being taught in Universities for a reason. In fact modern science owes itself to philosophy.
    Sorry, philosophers rant!

    As for my religion, I’m not tempted to give it up at all. I was just pointing out the fact that it hurts when people call me delusional and say the world would be better off without religion. It’s that exact divisive attitude that I’m sick and tired of.

    If atheism really is the answer some of you aren’t exactly selling it very well.

  128. Doug Little

    Renee,

    It is not an attack against you personally, but against the irrational belief systems and stone age thinking of religion. By all means study it as you would philosphy but study it honestly. When your religion makes claims about the natural world that have been proven to be false, you have to call it out for what it is. So you think that somehow Religion should be given a free pass from critical discussion because it might hurt someone’s feelings?

  129. @ Renée:

    well I find it a little insulting that you also said that they draw the line when personal religious beliefs are mistaken for “proven truth.” So does that mean I’m allowed to be disillusion as long as I don’t talk about it?

    Not at all. Talk away. But when someone hands you a piece of physical evidence that can be studied, tested, subjected to experiment…and contradicts your “illusion”, well then, yes. Prepare to be insulted if you still cling to that aspect of your belief.

    Would you have it otherwise?

  130. Renée

    What I have a problem with is the false dichotomy that people often bring up when talking about religion and science. It’s always either you live in delusion or you accept reality and forget “stone age thinking.”

    As I said before I love science and I value it. I get just as frustrated when people talk about ID, the Earth only being 6000 years old, and that evolution is “only just a theory.”

    However there is more to the world than what science is capable of understanding. No, I don’t mean that in a wishy-washy new age sense, but in the reality that science only concerns itself with the natural world. There is still room for metaphysical questions, discovering and creating meaning,personal aesthetic, and religion.

    I don’t think that religion should be given a free pass from critical discussion but I also think that people should stop assuming that religion is nothing more than simple minded ramblings of weak-willed people.

    I’m sure that we are all cynical enough on here to appreciate the fact that most people are dumb and don’t really know what they are talking about. How many of us roll our eyes when we hear someone say “well Communism is a nice theory but it will never work” as if they are an expert because they can repeat a cliche statement.

    I’d imagine you’d think “this person probably hasn’t even read the Communist Manifesto.” Similarly when people open their mouths about science and say stupid things we all cringe. Yet there seems to be a double standard when it comes to religion. If any idiot opens their mouth and says something stupid they are herald as the pinnacle of contemporary religious thinking, screw that!

    The fact is that religion, like science, requires a lot of thought and attention for you to be able to grasp it and appreciate its elegance. I’m just asking for people to use their wisdom rather than just dismiss religion and claim it to be the practice of fools and the bane of civilized existence.

  131. Wow, great post and great discussion.

    I started to comment here yesterday but it quickly became so Long I decided to post on my own stead. http://larry.org/archives/2009/9/11/religion_science_and_september_11/

    Thanks for any feedback and to Phil for inspiring such a great discussion.

  132. Mike Noren

    Rubbish.

    It is very fashionable to imply that science and religion are not opposing, that they, somehow, someway, complement – but the fact of the matter is that religion is based on nothing but subjective opinion and tradition, and differences of opinion can be resolved only through appeal to authority or, when that fails, force. Science, on the other hand is based on cooperative exploration of the available evidence, and differences of opinion are resolved by further study of the evidence.

    Religion is quite simply superstition. There is no question to which a religion-based answer could conceivably be more effective than a scientific answer, and suggesting that there is, equals implicitly supporting pseudoscientific bullcrap like faith healing or the banning of stem cell research.

    With the coming difficulties facing us it is high time humanity grew up and stopped relying on invisible friends.

  133. I wouldn’t call religion “the” bane of civilized existence. It’s just one of many banes.

    I don’t mind that people are religious. I don’t even mind the sanctimonious bs posted on signs in front of churches.

    I do have a problem with churches operating tax free. And I especially mind religion trying to inflict their beliefs into public education and our legal system.

    I also mind when various minions knock on my door to tell me the good news.

    If they’re so comforted with their faith then why can’t they be satisfied with that?

    Why must they inflict it on everyone else?

    There needs to be a no-call list for religion so they just stay the hell out of everyone else’s lives.

  134. Lawrence

    @Renee – I have no problem with a person’s religious beliefs – as long as they don’t try to foist those beliefs on me or mine. Too many people hold that their “religious beliefs” should be treated as sacrosanct & should also be taught part and parcel to the rest of us.

    They also attack legitimate scientific research and theories and instead expound their own “ideas” such as Intelligent Design – as viable alternatives to traditional Scientific thought.

    Once religion goes beyond the Church and tries to be held up as “FACT” to the rest of us, in politics, the classroom, etc. is when I have a problem with it. Otherwise, I am just as scornful of those who believe 9/11 was an inside job, Aliens are visiting us (and abducting us), Mankind is controlled by a race of ancient lizards, as I am of those who preach Intelligent Design, the Earth is 6000 years old, and the Rapture is supposed to happen on May 21st, 2011 (just heard that one some Xian broadcast program – obviously they missed it when the 2012 notes were passed around).

  135. Renée

    @ Mike

    I’m not implying that religion and science complement each other, you’re the one reading into that. All I’m saying is that if a religion doesn’t make any sort of falsifiable claims about the natural world then it sits in a completely different realm than science because the scope of science is only the natural world.

    You also seem to be highlighting the wonders of scientific thinking but dismissing philosophical and theological thought. Many philosophers and religious thinkers have come to concrete conclusions using nothing more than thought.

    Religion isn’t simply superstition, it’s way more complex than that. How do you judge an answer to be effective? Scientific answers to the reason behind the existence of the universe are no more meaningful than philosophical ones.

    I don’t believe in an invisible friend nor do many religious people. In fact that would be considered personification, which is a big no-no in many religions.

  136. Renée

    I know that we are all intelligent enough here to understand the negative things associated with religion and I’ll be right next to you protesting that. I can’t stand new age thinking, proselytizing, and all the other crap that’s out there.

    However I’m just concerned because sometimes the momentum gets going and then people, in my opinion, go a little overboard by saying we should get rid of religion or that religious thinking leads to lack of critical thinking. I just cringe every time I read that, and I read it often on here.

  137. PeteC

    One problem in this debate – and it’s a problem shared by both sides – is that many people, double especially so in the US, hear “religion” and think “Christian”. Or, particularly, “Baptist and Evangelical Christianity”. Heck, I even saw a post on one site yesterday where the poster claimed that she accepted “non-Christian” religions like Hinuism and Catholisism. Yup, Roman Catholics, the church supposedly founded by the first disciple of Jesus Christ, is not a Christian organisation in many eyes.

    You want religion in schools? Fine. Sacrifices on the ziggurat each morning to make the sun rise. Or maybe every time it storms the kids can go outside to pray to Thor, or Toutatis, or Zeus. I have to admit, if religion did get pushed into a US school I was in, I’d probably pick a different one each day just to educate the children. Plus watching the outrage would be really, really funny.

    Can religion and science co-exist, and even complement each other? Of course they theoretically can. It requires a tenent of that religion to be the acceptance that evidence trumps scripture. It requires that that religion be a search for moral and spiritual truth, probing the areas where the scientific remit does not run. It requires that the religion include doubt; include the acceptance of fallibility; and include the concept of continual improvement.

    Needless to say, not one major world religion does this.

    The other problem is that even skeptics and atheists don’t quite live as if they believed it. I certainly don’t, and I think of myself as a skeptic. I’m certainly no follower of any religion, and I sincerely doubt the existence of a creator or god. However, I can’t keep certain irrational beliefs out of my system – and, in fact, I don’t want to. I choose to be irrational, because that is how I wish to live. I still believe in made up fairy-tale nonsense like “human rights”, “love”, “honour”, “caring” and junk like that.

    I still do my best to suscribe to a personal code of morality – and I’ve never seen or heard of any existance of a “morality field”, natural laws of morality or any moralition particle. I take joy in loving my wife, even though it’s stupid as that love is simply an evolutionary product or a biochemical process that, through probability and selection, increase the likelihood of that particular wrinkle in the process surviving as it increases the chance that my children will survive due to my support and presence.

    I still ascribe a completely non-scientific “value” to, for instance the life of a child. Why is stopping the electro-chemical process of that child’s “life” and thinking any “worse” that stopping an equivalent amount of electro-chemical activity by using rust prevention?

    The problem is that without any form, reason or purpose to existence at all, any moral system we come up with is just as much self-delusion as believing that wearing clothes of mixed fabrics is a sin against god. We just don’t want to take things that far; and so we don’t.

    Don’t get me wrong, while I’d love to find that life was the universe’s method of observing itself and finding it’s own meaning, and that the Uncertainty Principle gave us enough wiggle room to have some sort of free will, I recognise that there’s no evidence for any of this. I just want to act as if there were; irrational as the search for “happiness” is, I still want to be happy, and lokoing at my children and thinking “there’s no intrinsic value in you over any other similar amount of mass” would make me sad. So I choose this irrationality.

  138. @ PeteC:

    The problem is that without any form, reason or purpose to existence at all, any moral system we come up with is just as much self-delusion as believing that wearing clothes of mixed fabrics is a sin against god.

    I would have to disagree with that.

    Creating a moral code by which to live one’s life or to create and strengthen a just society, is hardly “self-delusion.” No more so than a light bulb is a delusion or a Bach concerto is a delusion. They are useful inventions that make more lives more agreeable for longer periods of time.

    That they aren’t the physical manifestation of some higher supra-normal ideal (though Bach fans might disagree with that) doesn’t detract from their usefulness one whit. There may be some primal Light Bulb off somewhere, drifting about in abstract space and time, but if I can’t measure it or if it doesn’t affect the physical universe in some way, it really doesn’t matter to me.

    @ Renée:

    All I’m saying is that if a religion doesn’t make any sort of falsifiable claims about the natural world then it sits in a completely different realm than science because the scope of science is only the natural world.

    Could you please give an example of a religion that doesn’t make a falsifiable claim about the natural world? I’m not sure there is one.

    And what, perchance, is that “different realm” in which these religions sit? If they are not a part of our universe, perceivable by us, capable of influencing us (and hence measurable), how is it possible to determine whether or not they have any validity or even any existence one way or the other? And why bother? Your unicorn is blue. My unicorn is white. If it just comes down to aesthetics, then what’s the point? You have yours, I have mine. (And very likely there are some shared between us, because we evolved from the same ancestors and our likes and dislikes are inextricably linked with our need to survive.)

    There. I’ve opened a door for the scientific study of religion…

  139. Renée

    @kuhnigget

    Creating a moral code by which to live one’s life or to create and strengthen a just society, is hardly “self-delusion.” No more so than a light bulb is a delusion or a Bach concerto is a delusion. They are useful inventions that make more lives more agreeable for longer periods of time.

    I think you are missing the point. The point is that morality is a self generating concept that doesn’t owe itself to anything other than its own pragmatism. There is no morality law like there is gravitational. The meaning behind the ethic is created but that doesn’t imply that its meaningless.

    Your second point about ideas floating off in some abstract space is very much like the argument of pure forms. If it doesn’t bother you, this philosophical concept, then guess what?! Religion possesses a lot of similar thinking.

    BTW, that’s the different realm I’m talking about. I’ll take partial responsibility for not fleshing out my point but I also feel that I’m being painted as a lunatic, something I’ll get into shortly.

    Could you please give an example of a religion that doesn’t make a falsifiable claim about the natural world? I’m not sure there is one.

    Is that sarcasm or an argument from ignorance? However, what constitutes a religion? Can you still have religiosity without crazy woo stuff? If you are willing to accept, even if tacitly, the idea of generated meaning and abstract concepts then I think I’m entitled to some poetic verses about the creation of the universe.

    I don’t feel that I have to accept some verses in the Qur’an as literal truth for it to give me meaning anymore than you not being allowed to create purpose from a strictly material viewpoint of the universe.

    If you don’t feel like you’re violating your principals or critical thinking by creating things like ethics or enjoying a painting despite the fact that science isn’t capable of quantifying such, then I’m equally in my right to find purpose in the Qur’an.

    Short of mathematics and science its very difficult to say what’s right/wrong, acceptable or meaningful because of the nature of our subjective existence.

    Now, don’t lump me in with those religious people who claim that atheists can’t have morality or that you’re all nihilists. All I’m trying to say is once you get past things like calculating Pi or predicting the orbit of planetary bodies you have to start dealing with things like “What’s my purpose in life?” or “how do I create meaning in my existence?”

    At some point we all have to dive off of the security of hard science and math and start generating our own concepts. I don’t care how you view the world just don’t assume that you have all of the answers, unfortunately both sides seem to do that.

  140. Just me

    @kuhnigget:
    There. I’ve opened a door for the scientific study of religion…

    Actually, you’re a little late to the game. I’m currently reading a book called “Religion Explained”, in which the author, an anthropologist, uses many of the tools of science (anthropology, sociology, psychology, evolutionary biology, etc.) to deconstruct religion, to address the question of WHY people are religious, which to me, is more important than which religion is the “TRUE” religion.

    Much to the chagrin of rationalists the world over, religious people GREATLY outnumber non-religious people. We can wish religion away, and dream of a world in which rationalism and empirical science rules our daily choices and interactions. But the reality is, that day will never come. So, rather than dismiss religious folks as naive, uneducated, simple-minded people, perhaps it would be more constructive to be genuinely curious about why religious people are religious. Clearly, straight up rationalism is unsatisfactory enough that many people simply aren’t interested. Science is driven fundamentally by curiosity. Why not let that same curiosity drive us in understanding what religion is and WHY religion is?

    There are plenty of good religious people in the world. The thing that keeps burning my brain cells is, how can those people, good people, maintain their religious beliefs despite the horrible atrocities that have been done by others who claim to hold the same religious beliefs? I wrestle with that, because I myself am a Christian, and I struggle every moment to understand what that means. But I am also an agnostic. I don’t know what the truth is. I live in the uncomfortable space between faith and reason; between religious conviction and scientific rationality. And I’ve decided to stay in that space, because I’ve found that when I move closer to the rational end, I feel a deep emptiness that I can’t explain, and when I move more to the faith end, I feel my brain atrophying.

    And I have no answer to the atrocities that have been done in the name of Christianity. Am I as guilty as those who killed and maimed in the name of Christ? Are present-day Germans responsible for the atrocities committed by Hitler? Do modern Americans, who are now citizens of the most powerful nation on earth, share the responsibility of those who pretty much wiped out the indigenous people in the pursuit of a “new world”?

    The other reality of religion and religious belief is that there are as many reasons for religious belief as there are believers. A religion is not a monoculture. And religious people are not mindless drones. They may not be able to articulate their beliefs; they may not even know completely why they believe what they believe. But they accept the inconsistencies. The counter-intuitive elements of their faith don’t bother them. And that to me is the most interesting thing about religion in general: how our brains are able to hold counter-intuitive concepts without exploding or melting.

    Not all Christians are homophobic. Not all Muslims believe they will get it on with 72 virgins if they kill Americans, or support what the 9/11 hijackers did. Not all Hindus hate Muslims. Not all Jews are Zionists. So, I would like to ask those who aren’t fans of religion: don’t judge us based on your personal perception of our faith. Most likely, we don’t adhere to it. If you have questions about our faith, ask us. Be curious. Engage us in conversation. Gossip with us. Find out how we deal with the apparent contradictions and inconsistencies. That’s the best way to learn and to grow.

    Sorry if this post seems random in its scope and direction. My internal editor is on holiday.

  141. @ Renée:

    I think you are missing the point. The point is that morality is a self generating concept that doesn’t owe itself to anything other than its own pragmatism.

    No, that is my point. But perhaps I was missing PeteC’s?

    Is that sarcasm or an argument from ignorance?

    Neither, I’m afraid. It was a straightforward question and statement. I’ll repeat the former: Is there a religion that does not make falsifiable statements about the natural world?

    I fear this can only sink deeper into a philosophical splitting of hairs. Trust me, you can keep your Kant all to yourself. I’m not interested in searching for ideal truths….and neither is science. Science is interested in stuff it can observe and measure.

    Human behavior is one of those things, including the very human tendency to make up stories in order to explain things we don’t understand or justify a position we take or add moral weight to what would otherwise be a clearly arbitary, if appropriate choice.

    Your verses from the Qur’an fall definitely in this category, as does the Bach concerto I was listening to a while ago. It doesn’t bother me one bit that you find beauty in the Qur’an, or the OT, or Dianetics. But literary “truth” isn’t the real world. It may serve a purpose, it may guide us toward understanding or better behavior, but it doesn’t equate with what’s really out there. A myth is not a sand dune. A work of poetry is not a nebula. That doesn’t mean they’re not as useful or that we don’t get something from them or that studying them isn’t worthwhile, but we just can’t expect to use the same tools to do that studying.

    Science studies the physical world. Religion, like other forms of human intellectual creativity – art, literature, music – can’t be examined the same way a geologist examines a rock, or an astronomer takes the spectrum of a star…at least not with the expectation that examination is really going to tell you anything meaningful. Unless you’re talking about the origins of a particular religion, in which case scientific methods are indeed useful. But that’s a different subject.

    The difference between religious mythology and, say, chemistry, is why I would never try to use science to “deal with” finding a purpose to my life or a meaning to my existence. On the otherhand, it just may be that the knowledge gained through science is more than enough to give my life meaning. To each his own, eh?

    But likewise, if a religion were to offer purpose and meaning, even if it seemed to fit and make me complete, I would never, ever, ever consider it more than a helpful human invention like art or literature (shameless plug: buy my latest novel!). Just because it carries the cultural baggage that has accumulated with human religions, this “can’t touch me with critical thinking” business, doesn’t mean it really is any different. It might be a force for good, or it might not, but it’s still just another invention of the creative human mind.

    I hope that makes sense. I’ve enjoyed this exchange. Have a good day.

  142. @ Justme:

    There. I’ve opened a door for the scientific study of religion…

    Actually, you’re a little late to the game…

    I was being facetious, JM. If you’ve been around Dr. BA’s blog for any length of time, you know this is a pet subject of mine. For better or for worse….

    BTW, have you ever read any of the books by the episcopalian archbishop Shelby Spong? Might be a good place for you to find a balance between that emptiness and atrophy. :)

  143. Renée

    @ kuhnigget

    I’m pretty sure that we are on the same page, however I don’t equate “real” with “truth.”
    It’s true that all euclidean triangles have an internal anglesum of 180 degrees but that truth doesn’t come from some supreme-triangle orbiting in space.

    I’m not going to argue what’s real, that’s the job of science, but I’m not going to make the mistake that science is the method of finding all truth.

    The way you say that religion is just another human invention reminds me of people who “say its just a theory.” It may be the case that its an invention but so is everything else out there so its no less valuable than anything else. It has its place in the world just like science does.

    Honestly its a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned. If the nature of God turns out to be how I think of it then I would feel accomplished, if it turns out that Allah doesn’t exist then I still lived my life well and I don’t feel like it was a waste. Not exactly pascals wager but I’m content to just be happy with my life. I’m not a fan of drama in any form so I try to live a drama free life.

  144. PeteC

    @kuhnigget

    You’re not quite missing my point, but not quite there. The point I’m trying to make is indeed that while physics has laws that exist whether or not humans care about them – one can believe the world is flat all one likes, but the world is still round – morality of any kind, whether from a philisophical devotion to the betterment of the human condition or because one believes that god sent special golden tablets that nobody is allowed to see, is a human construct. It has the same intrinsic value as a Bach symphony or a Britney Spears interview – i.e. none. That’s because there is no measure of value. One can’t say that this person rates as 127 micronazis on the evil scale, or that their morality field vibrates at 42 kilohertz.

    You state “Creating a moral code by which to live one’s life or to create and strengthen a just society, is hardly “self-delusion.” No more so than a light bulb is a delusion or a Bach concerto is a delusion. They are useful inventions that make more lives more agreeable for longer periods of time. ” To which the obvious question is “so what?” You’re implying that there’s some sort of point in strengthening a just society, or making life agreeable. The universe doesn’t care. The desire to make life more agreeable is a purely human delusion – you simply won’t find any physical laws that require it. An item being green has no special value to the universe, a lake’s salinity is not specially significant, and seratonin or endorphin levels in a human brain are also of no special significance.

    What’s the “worth” of a star? Of a black hole? Of the pattern of dust thrown out by an meteorite impact? Of the pattern of behaviour of sharks? Of the pattern of behaviour of humans in a given society? How can you measure value when nothing in the universe cares?

    We all have his odd sensation of being an “individual”, of “consciousness”, a sense of “I”, when we’re really a sort of group entity of multiple cells and different bacteria. It gives us a sort of odd perspective, a diconnect from our bodies that makes us feel more than a bunch of purely physical processes.

    So, reading what you’ve written, I think we’re pretty close, and in result even closer as I also use my understanding of the world to help me find some meaning. For myself, however, I’ve found it necessary, in order to find some meaning and some contentment, to back off a bit from the belief that the universe has no special meaning, otherwise the eternal question “what’s the point of it all?” can only be answered “there is no point. Why would there be?”

    An analogy would be if quantum mechanics had never come to be and the belief in purely Newtonian mechanics was still in force. The genuine belief that everything I thought, said or did was purely deterministic and had been set at the start of the universe would make me feel bad – and the thought that that bad feeling was inevitable and could have been pre-calculated millenia ago, as was the thinking about thinking about it, would probably drive me nuts. :)

  145. ibugeye

    @Brock: We HAVE been talking about the same thing all along when it comes to science. I have been trying to talk about generalities. When did our ancestors stop asking as to whether fire was hot? When did they stop asking that when you touch fire you will get burned. This is one of the earliest lessons given to children as they are being raised. “Don’t touch fire or you will get burned.” Our ancestors surely experimented until they came to realize something in “Black and White” – about fire. Sure we can go on and ask about the quantum nature of fire or experiment about fire in a new or novel setting such as in an experiment on the ISS, but it comes back to the fact that we know in “Black and White” that fire is hot. That is how science can prove things in “Black and White” about this reality around us, that any religion will never be able too. But I have to disagree with you on atheism. It is a BELIEF of atheists to not believe in or practice any religion. They have accepted as FAITH that there are no religions worth belonging to. Atheism DEMANDS that they do not practice any religion. As APOSTLES, they are to lift those who are “ignorant” from their foolish ways as if they were missionaries. Through scientific method can YOU prove there is no deity or deities? As a skeptic and someone interested in science, I can not. Sorry! To @Torbjörn Larsson, OM: that is where philosophy comes in. It’s not an EXACT science I grant you lol, but it does force you to THINK. But as a humanistlibertarian, I would not deny some there BELIEFS. What’s the difference in persecuting those without faith from persecuting someone who has faith? Unless it can be PROVED that their BELIEFS are false (at least like “fire is hot” kind of proof), why would someone not advocate tolerance? I also agree with you about homosexuality. I only wanted to point out how those with extreme views who advocate liberal and/or conservative ideas are extremely intolerant of someone who disagrees with them. The abortion issue brings similar responses from those on the extreme of either side too.

  146. @ PeteC:

    For myself, however, I’ve found it necessary, in order to find some meaning and some contentment, to back off a bit from the belief that the universe has no special meaning, otherwise the eternal question “what’s the point of it all?” can only be answered “there is no point.

    And that, I guess, would be where we differ. I don’t have any personal need to bend the rules, so to speak, just so I can reinforce the meaning that I define for my life. And since it is my definition of meaning, I can assign all the worth I want to it, universe be damned.

    In any case, to each his own…so long as any invented parts are not foisted upon others as science, Truth, or any other such term.

  147. PeteC

    @kuhnigget 153

    Perhaps so – but I would suggest you *are* bending the rules, because you *are* finding meaning. The universe doesn’t care about your meaning. It’s wrong. There is no meaning.

    As you say, it’s *your* definition of meaning. In other words, one you have made up with no regards to reality. The cold, hard equations of the universe include no terms for those factors.

    Sorry, that sounds almost like it’s offensive – it’s certainly not meant to be, I respect your posts here on BA very much. I completely agree with pretty much all the content of your last post, I just think that you have a base assumption that you can find meaning, when all you are is a biochemical/bioelectric process. If you can find meaning, why can’t rot, or rust?

    This all sounds very depressing from me, I know, and I’m actually a very happy and contented man, probably because I don’t emotionally assimilate what I intellectually suspect.

  148. Joe Meils

    Just about anything human can be twisted for good, or evil. I did see a bumpersticker on a car at a science fiction con once, that seemed to have this same sentiment behind it:

    Science has “Frankenstien”
    Religion has history books.

    But then, on the flipside, science gave us all the A-bomb, and the H-bomb, and the Neutron bomb…. and religion (at least to some extent) seems to have helped us keep from using them against each other. (but now, it seems other religions are just chomping at the bit to use them on their neighbors)

  149. Just me

    @kuhnigget #149

    I’m also very interested in the conversation about science & religion — I think my library is pretty evenly divided between the two. I’m not convinced that science and religion are mutually exclusive. I think they can peacefully co-exist. But for some reason, we’ve decided that we have to choose sides. It’s the classic Western dualist notion of either/or instead of both/and. I’ve chosen the both/and way of thinking. It’s certainly more difficult, but I think it allows me to have very interesting conversations with all kinds of people. That, and I also know that I don’t have all the answers. And I especially don’t know enough about what’s going on in a person’s head to presume to know why they make the choices that they make or why they believe that they believe.

    Religious faith is a deeply personal issue, which is why people are so touchy about it. For many people, particularly in the West, religion is a “choice”. People choose Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or whatever, because it best suits their worldview. And if you live in a world where religion is a choice, then it’s easy to question or criticize that choice. I think this perspective is similar to how many “religious” people believe that homosexuality is a choice. And because they thing it’s a choice, it’s easy for them to question or criticize or judge that choice. I personally don’t believe it’s a choice. If you’re gay or if you’re straight, or somewhere in between, then that’s part of who you are—it’s not a “lifestyle” that you “chose”.
    If you travel outside of the Western World (U.S. and Europe, mostly) however, you find that people don’t have a concept of “belief” or “choice”. You come here to India and ask someone why they’re a Hindu, or why they believe the myths and stories, and they’ll just look at you funny. It never occurs to them that they ever chose to believe what they believe. Everything just IS. Now, they could easily be dismissed as naive or simple-minded, or unscientific (that part is certainly true), but their faith is not so simplistic.

    BTW, kuhnigget, thanks for the Shelby Spong recommendation. I’ve heard of him, but I haven’t added him to my library yet. I’ll keep my eyes (and my mind) open. :-)

  150. @ PeteC:

    As you say, it’s *your* definition of meaning. In other words, one you have made up with no regards to reality.

    But last time I checked (couple of days ago) I am part of that reality. My mental processes, such as they are, are every bit a part of the universe as are the stars of the Milky Way. In that sense, the universe, or at least my little chunk of it, cares very much about the meaning I’ve assigned to my life.

    @ Just me:

    I personally don’t believe it’s a choice…

    I can tell you from personal experience, it is not.

  151. Quiet Desperation

    Before people get TOO crazy with the comments, please remember that Christianity underwent it’s own dark ages as well–where countless people were murdered in the name of religion.

    And it took a lot of effort, money, logistics and manpower to do that. We live in an age of nuclear or biological devices that one crazy man can carry. The Army Of The 12 Monkeys only needs one monkey.

    Nearly every religion has at some point committed atrocities, so let’s not pick on Muslims.

    What? It’s their *turn* to have a dark age now or something? Two wrongs make a right? What exactly are you saying here? And who do you think the Christians were warring against? I’m not taking sides there (a pox on both, I say), but if we’re handing out religious war allotments, Islam already used theirs.

  152. Quiet Desperation

    One can’t say that this person rates as 127 micronazis on the evil scale, or that their morality field vibrates at 42 kilohertz.

    You win the thread.

    I am totally coming up with conversion factors for micronazis to other units of evil. :-)

    milliStalins? nanoImpalers? gigaFurries?

    All plotted, of course, on the axes of evil. :-D (rimshot) Thank you! I’ll be here all week.

    PS: I guess the morality fields of angels vibrate at 540 terahertz? :-) That’s a freebie for you woo woos out there.

  153. ibugeye

    “In fact I will argue that atheism is its own religion. It has its own dogma that has to be rigidly followed. You can read this in their own prayer books/bible – I mean The Atheist Handbook. My question to atheists is, Is it just Christianity that you have problems with, or do all religions bother you?”

    Atheism is not a religion, is not a codified system of believes. It is simply the denial of the existence of any Gods. Those, like Dawkins, who noisily proclaim themselves to be atheists or those who publish Atheist handbooks are misguided. By presenting atheism as if were some kind of religion they are choosing to engage their enemy on his own ground, always a tactical error.

    I deny the existence of God but do not call myself an atheist any more than I call myself an afairyist because I do not believe in fairys or an aflatearthist because I believe that the Earth is (approximately) spherical. Such believes are so self evidently ludicrous that their denial is not worthy of a name.

    “Atheism DEMANDS that they do not practice any religion.”

    No it doesn’t. Atheism merely denies the existence of a God. Many many atheists, myself included, subscribe to Christ’s teachings and attempt to live their lives in a way that many avowed Christians fail to do so. I, unlike that great Christian G W Bush, have never been responsible for the deaths of several thousand innocents.

  154. Astroquoter

    Here are some interesting quotes by some great thinkers &/or scientists here:

    “Science tells us how the heavens go not how to go to heaven.”
    – Galileo Galilei

    *

    “How can anybody prove there’s a God? I said. “I can’t. There’s no mathematical formula or chemical composition that adds up to God, just like there’s no formula for love or hope or honesty. I don’t believe that God is dead. I can’t look around this world and believe that it came out of chance encounters of cosmic debris. But you know God doesn’t have to be believed in to exist.”
    – John Glenn, P. 491, ‘John Glenn : A Memoir’, by John Glenn with Nick Taylor, Random House, 1999.

    & also from there – P.447-8, Glenn & Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov May 3rd third International Space Symposium:

    “[Titov ] … also professed the official Soviet policy of atheism, as I learned when we fielded questions at the ends of our presentations. Someone asked’ “In communism you don’t believe there is a God. Did your spaceflight alter that?”

    “Not at all,” the cosmonaut said. “Only now there is proof for the Communist position. I went into space and didn’t see God, so that must mean God does not exist.”

    “Did you see God in space Colonel Glenn?” the questioner asked.

    “I didn’t expect to,” I said “The God I believe in isn’t so small that I thought I would run into Him just a little bit above the atmosphere.”

    *

    Isaac Newton: “I do not know how I may appear to the world but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and then in finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
    – Quoted on page 143, Ben Bova, ‘The Story of Light’, Sourcebooks Inc., 2001.

    *

    Some of Albert Einstein’s words as quoted in The Guardian Weekly, P. 42 “Einstein Versus God Round II” 2008 May 23rd.

    i) “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

    ii) “For me the Jewish religion, like all others, is an incantation of the most childish superstitions. … As far as my experience goes they [the Jews] are no better than other human groups , although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything chosen about them.”

    iii) “Einstein became angry when his views were appropriated by evangelists for atheism since he was offended by their lack of humility.”

    iv) “Einstein referred to a “cosmic religious feeling” that permeated and sustained his scientific work.”

    v) “Experience the universe as a single cosmic whole”
    – Albert Einstein. (Quoted in The Guardian Weekly, P. 42, “Einstein Versus God Round II” 2008 May 23rd.)

    ***
    Some things there to think about.

    I don’t claim to know all the answers. I am simply unsure & would usually class myself as agnostic. Uncomfortably so.

    I will suggest there are a lot of strawmen fallacies put up, and a lot of over-simplifications and over-generalisations made by both sides here.

    I think the extremism & unwillingness to really consider the alternatives on both sides – the sort of ranting we hear from fundamentalist atheists such as Richard Dawkins & PZ Myers on the one hand and from the likes of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson on the other is usually unhelpful, counter-productive and usually results in hurt feelings and greater polarisation and less understanding.

    I think the causes of the September 11th 2001 attacks are a largely separate subject and, again, a complex one – a mixture of a whole number of elements both political and religious, personal and cultural.

    I think the BA’s post here was an excellent & balanced one & I thank him for it.

  155. Astroquoter

    & just a couple more quotes – please note I offer these for the purpose of discussion &/or reflection without necessarily agreeing with them or subscribing to the beliefs of the person quoted:

    “Science can only describe what, guess at why but cannot offer ultimate meaning. When man’s [sic] limited intellect has the arrogance to pretend an ability to analyse God, its time for me to get off that train.”
    – Laura Schlessinger, radio talk show host & former editor of ‘Skeptic’ magazine in her letter resigning from its editorial board. Quoted on pages 151-152 The Science of Good & Evil’ By Michael Shermer, Henry Holt & Company, 2004.

    *

    Early, English scientist, Sir Francis Bacon:

    “The scientific method, we were told, allowed no room for divine revelation. Bacon wrote that man ‘understands as much as his observations … permit him, and neither knows nor is capable of more.”

    *

    Author John Updike as quoted in ‘The Advertiser’, P.30, 29th January 2009:

    “Updike was a lifelong churchgoer influenced by his faith but not immune to doubts. “I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe,” Updike told The Associated Press during a 2006 interview. “I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and women spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say “This is it. Carpe Diem (seize the day – original brackets) and tough luck.”

    &

    “The universe is perfectly transparent: We exist as flaws in ancient glass.”

    *

    No, I’m not quite sure what that last line means either … But you have to admit it sounds poetic & profound in some way. (well I think so, anyhow.)

  156. Colin

    “Science can only describe what, guess at why but cannot offer ultimate meaning. When man’s [sic] limited intellect has the arrogance to pretend an ability to analyse God, its time for me to get off that train.”

    Science does not try to analyse God as there is no evidence for it to analyse!

    I hope she waited until the train stopped before getting off as the laws of motion may have made it potentially fatal.

  157. Eric S.

    “Had those men not been subjected to that fringe religion, had they instead grown up in a more open environment, exposed to things like diversity, open-mindedness to other people’s ways of life, and the realization that they may be wrong and that all knowledge is tentative… we might not be spending this day in remembrance.”

    Phil Plait #46: “A belief system was misapplied in this case.”

    In fact the belief that America is the “Great Satan” and martyrdom will lead you and your relatives to paradise is precisely the belief system that was applied and applied accurately. It is a belief system that can be supported by the Koran and the teachings of Mohammad. Of these 19 men all of them had college degrees and many were PhDs. They were exposed to diversity and, as far as anyone could tell, led well adjusted lives. As Richard Dawkins has said these 19 hijackers were in fact moral in that they were in control of their mental facilities and truly believed they were doing God’s will. In other words they weren’t insane, they were believers. What they were following is no “fringe religion”. Large parts of the muslim world subscribe to this brand of Islam.

  158. @ Eric S:

    What they were following is no “fringe religion”. Large parts of the muslim world subscribe to this brand of Islam.

    I doubt this, in the details. Large parts of the world may chant slogans about the U.S., but only a very tiny fraction of those people would believe so strongly they’d hijack planes and fly them into buildings. Therein lies the fringe.

    Similarly, significant parts of the fundy Christian world would love to see the Middle East erupt into all-out war, believing it to be the beginning of Armageddon and the herald of Jesus Christ’s return. Yet very few of them, thank the quantum vacuum of space, would have the guts to stage a terrorist act such as the bombing of the Qabaa or the Temple Mount in order to trigger such an event.

    Fair is fair.

  159. Peter B

    2A said: “Everyone knows that the people we call Jews today are not native to Palestine.”

    Geneticists would appear to disagree with you. According to Wikipedia: “Hammer et al found that the Y chromosome of some Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews contained mutations that are also common among Middle Eastern peoples, but uncommon in the general European population. This suggested that the male ancestors of the Ashkenazi Jews could be traced mostly to the Middle East.” and “A 2005 study by Nebel et al., based on Y chromosome polymorphic markers, showed that Ashkenazi Jews are more closely related to other Jewish and Middle Eastern groups than to their host populations in Europe.” and “…a 2006 study by Behar et al, based on high-resolution analysis of haplogroup K(mtDNA), suggested that about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population is descended matrilineally from just four women, or “founder lineages”, that were “likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool” originating in the Middle East in the first and second centuries CE.”

  160. ibugeye

    @David Brown: Your “denial” is your “BELIEF” of the nonexistence of god/gods. You should be unable to PROVE through scientific method though that there is no such thing. So you are based on “FAITH” that there is no such thing. To believe in something that cannot be proven is what I call “FAITH”. I am only trying to point out that atheism has the same set of “BELIEFS” that any of the major/nonmajor religions. As “Just Me Says” in an earlier post, we have the CHOICE to believe or not to believe. You have looked at the universe around you and have come up this choice on your own (hopefully you came to this conclusion on your own!) based on your observations. Can you really be sure that you have made the correct choice? For you this works. It helps to make sense of the world around you. For others it doesn’t answer the fundamental nature of our existence. I am unlike you, in the regards that I do not believe in any “Divine Intervention”. Since I cannot prove or disprove the existence of what could be called “gods” that influence the activities of man, I can only advocate tolerance. I do not DENY or ACCEPT their existence. To me this is unproven, so I would still have to have “FAITH” that I have made the right choice.

  161. Eric S.

    165. kuhnigget: “I doubt this, in the details. Large parts of the world may chant slogans about the U.S., but only a very tiny fraction of those people would believe so strongly they’d hijack planes and fly them into buildings. Therein lies the fringe.”

    The chanters support the acts and are of the same belief system. Things like honor killings and the violent oppression of women and gays are the rule in these parts of the world. Suicide attacks are not infrequent, only most are not as high profile as 9/11. When the western world is afraid to publish cartoons of Mohammed for fear of violent mass protests, it’s not fringe. Studies have shown that there is wide support for these things.

  162. @ibugeye.

    No I cannot prove that God either exist or doesn’t exist. Nor, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell, can I prove that there isn’t a small blue and white Denbyware teapot in orbit around Triton. It might be an act of faith not to believe in something for which there is no evidence but it is muvch smaller act of faith than that needed to believe in it. Because the existance of something is not provable does not mean that it is as equally likely to exist as not exist. As another scientist once said: “The man who thinks that the Earth is flat is wrong. And the man who thinks it is spherical is also wrong. But the man who thinks they both equally wrong is much more wrong”

    Science is evidence based and if a Scientist find no evidence for a phenomena he concludes that the phenomena does not exist. But he is always looking for further evidence. That is my stance on God.

    By your definition of faith, to believe in things which cannot be proven, the whole of science – indeed of existance – is an act of faith for nothing can be proved absolutely. Will the Sun rise in the West tomorrow.? Will a stone thrown in the air return to Earth? We can only say that they always have done and, according to current theory, will continue to do so. But we cannot prove it

  163. @ Eric S:

    The chanters support the acts and are of the same belief system.

    Most, I suspect, are chanting because they are being told to chant. Do you have actual evidence to the contrary?

    Things like honor killings and the violent oppression of women and gays are the rule in these parts of the world.

    Apples and oranges. The U.S. has one of the highest murder rates in the western world. Do we all support murder?

    When the western world is afraid to publish cartoons of Mohammed for fear of violent mass protests, it’s not fringe. Studies have shown that there is wide support for these things.

    I suspect it is not violent mass protest the editors fear, but rather that small percentage of the population that might go beyond protest. And how much of this timidity is due to the PC trends that originated in our own cultures?

    Studies have shown that there is wide support for these things.

    Could you provide a source, please? I would like to look at one of these studies.

    Please note, Eric, I am not pretending violent extremes do not exist…in the Muslim world or the West. But I have yet to see any convincing evidence that shows these extremes permeate the vast majorities. Have you ever traveled in Iran, for example? Or central Egypt? I have. I’ve been to Tehran. I’ve been up and down the Nile in a small boat. Most people I met there could not care a rat’s ass about the U.S. They have enough problems at home. That being said, they don’t want the U.S. meddling in their own internal affairs, either. They’ve had enough of that.

    The motivations behind the 9/11 attacks were largely political, with the veneer of Islam layered on to try to give them divine justification. It’s too bad the U.S. Government cannot see this level of subtlety. Maybe a few thousand soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis might still be around.

  164. ibugeye

    @David Brown: Quantum theory allows for things to inhabit two places at one time. Thanks to quantum theory, we are able to communicate like this over long distances. This is an accepted theory. Global Warming is an accepted theory that is constantly being refuted by the local weathermen in their 5 day outlook lol. Dark matter and dark energy is accepted as proven theory with actually little direct evidence to support it. Most of the evidence has been inferred. And yet is is still accepted as true. By your argument then, we must go back to the use of philosophy to explain the world around us. “I think so therefore I am.” That is the only one truth that can be proven! And yet someone can only prove that about oneself. That can be the only conclusion that can be drawn from your argument. So all science is bogus then? The accumulated knowledge that man has gathered is to be disregarded because of some slight probability of error? If the sun does rise in the west tomorrow, scientist will be forced to go back and revise their theories to explain the world around them. Yes, and even those conclusions will still have a probability of error. And yet wont that still help to make sense of the world around you? Man does arbitrary agree to accept things as theory WITH the knowledge of probability that we may be wrong. You are right that that can be viewed as “faith”. But it is not like how a religion asks you to have “faith” without at least assigning a probability of error.

  165. Nigel Depledge

    Daffy (18) said:

    In a truly rational world, if ANY religion that had members who would kill for it, that religion would immediately be disqualified as a religion at all.

    In a truly rational world, how could there be religion?

  166. Nigel Depledge

    Evolving Squid (28) said:

    On 11 Sep 01, I was supposed to be in NYC at a customer site near the WTC… but on Sunday I got an email from the customer to cancel the trip because they wouldn’t be ready.

    Wow! Hey, I was supposed to be going to a conference in Loughborough on the 17th, but I found out last week that that’s been cancelled. I wonder what’s going to happen in Loughborough on Thursday?

  167. Nigel Depledge

    Francisco Burnay (29) said:

    Thinking of Religion as responsible for the WTC attacks or Science for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki makes as much sense as blaming blacksmiths for the Crusades.

    This reminds me of a portion of the Kalevala (Finnish mythology) that blames iron itself for all the evil done using it: “Curses on thee, thou iron / cursed be the steel thou givest”.

    (Rough translation courtesy of Turisas.)

  168. Nigel Depledge

    Dr Buzzo (30) said:

    Gunboat diplomacy is based on showing the willingness to fire when threatened.

    I disagree with this.

    As I understand it, Gunboat diplomacy was based on a show of overwhelming and unanswerable force. It was what the British Empire used to take control of much of the trade passing in and out of China in the 19th century. British gunboats could destroy coastal cities while safely at sea, and the Chinese had no answer because they lacked any equivalent military techology.

  169. Nigel Depledge

    Doug Little (40) said:

    Got some proof of that, faith by it’s very definition is problematic as it requires no basis in fact or reality, this makes it a very powerful tool for coercing people into doing your bidding. If on the other hand people were a little more skeptical about what people were telling them and didn’t have the promise of an afterlife I’m sure that there would be far less suicide bombers.

    We don’t have to go far to find some contrary evidence. The “science” of eugenics was (IIUC) extensively practiced in the good old US of A. Suicide bombing isn’t the only evil in the world.

  170. Nigel Depledge

    Vanderleun (52) said:

    I note in passing that Islam is not a “fringe religion.”

    And in so doing you miss the point that Phil was making.

    He explicitly stated that Islam is not to blame. Instead, those people were indoctrinated in an extremist sect of Islam. Islam is not monolithic. In the same way that Christianity has different sects (Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Evangelist, whatever), so, too, does Islam.

    Thus the “fringe religion” to which Phil referred was an extremist fringe within Islam, which is a whole different kettle of fish from Islam as a whole.

  171. @ibugeye: You clearly didn’t try to comprehend my posts; therefore I don’t appreciate your response. It’s incredibly rude to tell me that my atheism is a “belief” of some sort — when I know for certain that I personally chose the label after the fact of learning how science is effective and superstition is not. I chose it precisely because mere belief is insufficient in this world.

    Should I claim that you enjoy freedom of speech because it allows you to be a fascist bigot? No, that would be rude — since (hopefully at least) such a statement would be horribly inaccurate.

    Similarly, telling me that I’m an atheist because I like believing things is… 100% ass-backwards. Period.

  172. Renée

    @Brock

    It really depends on what kind of Atheism is being discussed, strong or weak?

    Weak atheism isn’t a belief because the propositional attitude towards God is that there isn’t one, its simply not on the logical table of discussion.

    However strong atheism IS a propositional attitude, that being “God does not exist” or that “in all likelihood God does not exist” therefor it IS a belief.

    However people seem to throw the world belief around like its a bad thing. I’m sure when you go somewhere and leave your car parked you are under the belief that its still there, despite the fact that it very well might not be. Everyone holds beliefs so its no big deal.

    Though I can understand how, intentionally speaking, you might mistake the idea of belief to be the same sort of belief that religious people make. However there are varying degrees and kinds of belief.

    Furthermore your defensive attitude towards being labeled a believer of some sort makes me think that your intentional view of belief, the kind religious people have, is clearly tinged with additional concepts that you view as negative.

    So in short I guess your attitude for being called a believer is kind of insulting to people who do believe because clearly you imagine them all to be something worthy of a repugnant attitude.

    Thanks a lot! :D

  173. @Renée:
    Good question! I actually think the “strong” versus “weak” atheism distinction is outdated, or at least… quite inaccurate/misleading.

    A friend of mine, a physicis/writer, keeps a blog and has a number of rather poignant entries on the subject. He explains better than I can, here in particular: The Puzzle of Agnosticism.

    As to my defensive attitude… good observation. There were a couple factors involved: A) I was rather tired earlier, and B) I was sick of ibugeye dismissing my lengthy posts offhand and following up with rather rotten stereotypes and commonly-dispelled myths. I really shouldn’t let those factors affect my writing, but… I’m human.

    Anyway, I actually view atheism as a positive, constructive thing. Perhaps that’s unusual, especially given the way preachers routinely defame non-believers as “satanists”, immoral babykillers etc. But to me, believing in things that aren’t real is what’s negative and destructive. Just ask Phil (the Bad Astronomer), and I’m sure he’ll go on another well-intended tirade about the supposed “link” between vaccines and autism. General skepticism isn’t particularly different from religious skepticism in my mind.

    Why is it we teach kids to believe in Santa Claus until a certain age when they can handle reality, yet we let belief in Jesus or Mohammed slide? Most parents wouldn’t let their kids believe in Apollo for one second. Why is that? It’s nonsense, and it’s commonly bundled with things like racism and homophobia. And with enough indoctrination into that nonsense, kids seem to get a feeling of entitlement over the metaphysical “rewards” of religion, and come to reject rational, empirical, provable reality. Some religious folks talk as if the fact that atheists “lack faith” makes them lesser people, or unable to handle the weight of spiritual matters. That alone is kind of insulting. And then atheists get labeled “arrogant” for speaking out against stories that weren’t even true in the first place! (Case in point: Noah’s Ark. There’s no conceivable way to make that rubbish story true)

    I’m starting to ramble, but you asked about my specific attitude, so… feel free to parse that. I hope it makes sense.

    You seem to think it’s okay for people to believe false things without anyone speaking against it. Why is that? Do you just want to avoid conflict (your earlier posts seem to indicate that)? Or do you think that modern religion is separate from ancient mythology, which is in turn distinct from children’s stories? Would you say e.g. Judaism, Hinduism, and Shinto can all be simultaneously true? Why or why not? That would seem deeply contradictory to me.

  174. Renée

    @Brock

    Good question! I actually think the “strong” versus “weak” atheism distinction is outdated, or at least… quite inaccurate/misleading.

    Oh its late and I shouldn’t be doing this! I can’t help it, I’m addicted to discussion! :D

    Strong and weak may very well be outdated, I don’t keep up with such things. As a philosopher, and a decent analytical one at that, I tend to judge Atheism in the terms of propositional attitudes aka common belief.

    I don’t have a problem with people who have no propositional attitude towards God, something I would associate with “weak atheism,” but the people like Dawkins and the other New Atheists that attempt to make any sort of claim about God or attempt to use the term “non-belief” ( a propositional attitude is still such even if its in the negative) I lump them together with people who hold belief.

    Now nothing about being in that state is negative, but it does annoy me when they try to claim that they have no belief in God. Probably not important but I’m just picky like that.
    Plus, I guess it opens up the door to my opinions about belief. :)

    As to my defensive attitude… good observation. There were a couple factors involved…but… I’m human.

    Oh that’s no problem at all! I didn’t mind that much, I was just trying to nudge forward the idea of how its so easy for people to hold concepts that may otherwise be hidden from self judgment. Concepts that unfortunately can taint the river of discourse. Not to imply that’s what you were doing! That’s more directed at some of the people on here who weren’t being very polite or well reasoned.

    Anyway, I actually view atheism as a positive, constructive thing. Perhaps that’s unusual, especially given the way preachers routinely defame non-believers as “satanists”, immoral babykillers etc.

    I don’t view atheists in a bad light at all and it is unfortunate how people view atheists. However I don’t consider it a good thing, or a negative one either. It’s simply a propositional attitude. What can make it a good or bad thing are the metaethical constructs that you subscribe to.

    For example, many secular/skeptical people tend to see an example of a religious person doing something stupid and blame that persons religious thinking as the cause. However if that was the case then ALL people of a similar frame of mind should behave exactly the same. However this is not the case, and in fact for every one side there is to a religious person there exists a polar opposite. Violent fundamentalists to pacifists.

    Its as if they forgot that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. On the one hand its as if atheists/skeptical people at once subscribe to secular philosophy like Existentialism yet simultaneously reject its core components. If people are fundamentally free then there is no way for any one propositional attitude to dictate fully the actions of others. And if you allow for just mere influence then you must also reject the notion that religion is the root of the bad behavior.

    Gosh, I really wish I could flesh that out more. It really is an important statement. I guess in short some religious people do dumb things because they are dumb and other religious people don’t because they don’t possess that stupidity.

    But to me, believing in things that aren’t real is what’s negative and destructive.

    Numbers aren’t real either. The things you see on screens and chalkboards are just symbolic representations of concepts. There exists no actual fiveness or fourness in the universe anymore than there exists pure greenness.

    Holding those views aren’t destructive at all. Perhaps by real you mean “valid” and not physically tangible? See how easy it is for our own views to escape us?

    Just ask Phil (the Bad Astronomer), and I’m sure he’ll go on another well-intended tirade about the supposed “link” between vaccines and autism. General skepticism isn’t particularly different from religious skepticism in my mind.

    Skepticism is great but most of it is just folk skepticism. IMO real skepticism is part of the analytic tradition and on occasion it has different things to say than what people might otherwise think. For example the above point about the nature of what is “real.”

    Why is it we teach kids to believe in Santa Claus until a certain age when they can handle reality, yet we let belief in Jesus or Mohammed slide? Most parents wouldn’t let their kids believe in Apollo for one second. Why is that? It’s nonsense, and it’s commonly bundled with things like racism and homophobia.

    Well, to split hairs the big difference is that the Prophet Mohammed was real! :D

    Nonsense is for a later discussion but it being tied with racism and homophobia is irrelevant. The very fact that there exists egalitarian religious people just shows that its nothing intrinsic about religion, its just culture that’s transmitted along side it.

    I will give credit where its due, I quite enjoy Dawkins discussion of the shifting moral zeitgeist. He may have used it to prove a secular point but I think it also proves that the ideas some hold, such as the one above about racism and homophobia, aren’t entirely accurate.

    And with enough indoctrination into that nonsense, kids seem to get a feeling of entitlement over the metaphysical “rewards” of religion, and come to reject rational, empirical, provable reality.

    And I counter that by saying that skeptical people often tend to throw the entire notion of metaphysics and philosophy out with the bath water. I’m sure there is some middle ground somewhere.

    Some religious folks talk as if the fact that atheists “lack faith” makes them lesser people, or unable to handle the weight of spiritual matters. That alone is kind of insulting…. And then atheists get labeled “arrogant…”

    I agree it is terrible but…

    You seem to think it’s okay for people to believe false things without anyone speaking against it. Why is that?

    …questions like that can come off as arrogant! :D I joke!

    What exactly are false things though? We seemed to have some stumbling earlier with the nature of what’s real. I agree that believing in something illogical (closest I’ll get to “false things”) is a problem BUT I think there is enough metaphysical breathing space left over for some interesting ideas.

    Do you just want to avoid conflict (your earlier posts seem to indicate that)? Or do you think that modern religion is separate from ancient mythology, which is in turn distinct from children’s stories?

    I do want to avoid conflict, but that’s just because I try to be polite and likable. Believe me, I chew people apart sometimes for the things they say!

    However my views about “false things” are genuine and I will support them regardless of what conflict may arise. I just try to be nice!

    This was a very good question you brought up, I don’t think I can answer it without going in to deep. My opinion is that its all symbol exchange. We constantly try to make sense of the world and as long as a system is formal, I don’t care what those symbols are.

    Five, 00000101, and 5 are all unique symbols but they all relate to the same concept. I view religion as symbol manipulation in an attempt to solve problems, perhaps its a bit unorthodox but that’s my current thing.

    However that’s not just it, its also a matter of “flavor.” Because of our condition all we can do is make our own meaning, even religious people. Religious people choose, at some point, to accept that their religion has meaning in that it relates to some true concept. I think that the unique stories of different religions help to facilitate this.

    Would you say e.g. Judaism, Hinduism, and Shinto can all be simultaneously true? Why or why not? That would seem deeply contradictory to me.

    Yes and no, it all depends on what concepts those religions attempt to relate themselves to. I think its entirely possible for them to be on the same track, but they could be varied as well. Tough to answer without going point by point.

    For me personally I do believe in God, but what I consider God to be most likely isn’t what others think. Its, to me, a personal journey in an attempt to find meaning. If I stumble on to some universal truth then I will feel happy and if I land on some personal concept that works to illuminate my life then that also is good. However I’m not in the business of believing in false things.

    Well, that was fun! If anything I hope I radically alter your view of religious people! :D

  175. @ Renée:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your philosophical posts, but I have to say, this bit from the last one really rattled my gearcase:

    For me personally I do believe in God, but what I consider God to be most likely isn’t what others think. Its, to me, a personal journey in an attempt to find meaning.

    And this, after you went on about man’s use of symbols to convey concepts!

    It seems to me you are trying to have your metaphysical cake and eat it, too, Renée. You want to say you believe in “God,” yet you redefine the symbol “God” until it takes on a meaning utterly different from what it has pretty much always meant to every other person who believes in “God.”

    The ancient Israelites did not equate God with a search “to find meaning.” To them, Yahweh was a big ol’ warrior tromping over the mountain tops, ready to smite someone for bending his rules. Modern Christians, in the U.S. especially, view god as a somewhat amorphous, but distinctly personal being. In fact, I dare say pretty much everyone except modern new-agey types use the word “god” in the traditional way. They may not be able to define exactly what “he” is, exactly, but they very definitely believe there is a “he” (or he/she/it) there. The symbol “God” does not mean what you want it to mean.

    You may be extremely spiritual, Renée, I’m not doubting that. But based on what you’ve said, I honestly don’t think any typical religious person would equate your “journey” with a belief in God as God has always been defined. That being said, I think they would categorize you as a weak atheist.

  176. Renée

    @ kuhnigget

    I’m very glad that you brought this up because it was going to be my next major point!

    My question is, why is it that the religious people of today have all the say in what religion is or isn’t? My views may be unorthodox in comparison to the present but what I consider myself to be doing is more along the lines of classic religious thinking.

    I’m sure that we can all agree that the general populous isn’t very intelligent, or to be fair, not very knowledgeable in a variety of things. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, many people are to “busy” doing things to sit and think but I digress.

    For example when someone talks about Communism or Socialism its usually the sort of stuff that causes eyes to role. I’m sure we have all heard someone say “well communism works in theory but not in practice” as if saying makes them an expert. We all appreciate that they probably haven’t even read the Communist Manifesto or are in any way equipped with the necessary knowledge to make a sound judgment.

    When it comes to religious people though, whatever they say goes. Instead of separating the weak opinions people have from the more formal theories, we accept those weak opinions as the theories themselves.

    Take the historical example of the first Christians, the Gnostics. Their view of God was very similar to that of the neoplatonic one. They didn’t believe that God was a magical sky buddy and they certainly didn’t attach what people today attach to the idea of God. Good and evil in relation to the one or all-spirit is very complex and all together quite interesting and thought out but the current idea of God and good and evil pretty much sound like what you would expect from common people.

    So my question is, who’s right about Christianity? Once you cut away the folky crap that people believe in, actual religion and theology are a heck of a lot more interesting.

    I want to say more but I actually have to go to class now and guess which one it is….

    Nietzsche! LOL!

  177. @ Renée:

    I’ll accept your argument about changing definitions of God, but I’ll still say that your apparent belief would be considered atheistic by today’s standards. Your position might be accepted amongst your long-haired philosophy student friends, but the general population would not buy your statement that a “journey in search of meaning” equates with God, as he/she/it has been popularly defined.

    I guess my point is, why use that term, that symbol, at all, if it carries this baggage, when your position is so diametrically opposed to the overwhelmingly popular definition? Again, to me, it makes it seem as if you want to be accepted by the “believers,” yet give yourself enough wiggle room to be able to distance yourself from them, too.

    That may not be the case, but that’s just the way it comes across to me.

  178. Renée

    @ kuhnigget:

    I’ll accept your argument about changing definitions of God, but I’ll still say that your apparent belief would be considered atheistic by today’s standards.

    I must apologize then. My reference to symbols and meaning was more on the side of the practice of religion than what the definition of God is. Sorry for the confusion but I was very tired.

    Your position might be accepted amongst your long-haired philosophy student friends, but the general population would not buy your statement that a “journey in search of meaning” equates with God, as he/she/it has been popularly defined.

    What are long haired philosophy students? Is that suppose to be some sort of subtle quip as to what you perceive as a hippy, free spirit, easy going and intellectually lite attitude amongst my friends?

    In reality the views of my friends are about as wide as you can get and the philosophers I’ve encountered and learned from are just as varied. We have absolutely no problem shooting down what each other believes, its sort of the territory.

    My apologies for my ramblings. I do not define god or equate the idea of a “journey in search of meaning” as such. Plus I don’t really care what the popular definition of God is, I’m not going to commit that logical fallacy.

    Journey in search of meaning is more like accepting a particular ontology as correct and trying to fit your situational existence into that. Basically I’m just trying to find the lowest common denominator between various religious practices in an attempt to better define what religion is. Sorry if I didn’t elaborate.

    I guess my point is, why use that term, that symbol, at all, if it carries this baggage, when your position is so diametrically opposed to the overwhelmingly popular definition?

    A valid question but based on my ramblings. My definition of God, in as short a way as possible, is more along the lines of the One or all-spirit, or maybe Heidegerian Being if that helps. It’s hard to fit into a little box but its not anything new, more so out of antiquity.

    As for standing out from my religious peers all I can say is that people are stupid. I don’t have to give their idiotic ramblings any more worth than you would.

    Again, to me, it makes it seem as if you want to be accepted by the “believers,” yet give yourself enough wiggle room to be able to distance yourself from them, too.

    What it actually is, is just a calm and lucid attempt to explain my ideas of things from the ground up. I do it that way because people are quick to make judgment calls and if I came in here talking about all-spirits and mysticism I’d immediately meet resistance just the same as a quick slap to a non-newtonian fluid solidifies it.

    Honestly my opinions kind of put me into no-mans land. I’m too intelligent and philosophical for most religious people and I’m perceived as wishy-washy and/or eccentric by skeptics.

    That may not be the case, but that’s just the way it comes across to me.

    You made a passing quip about my friends so I imagine many things appear to you that just aren’t. :D

  179. @ Renée:
    kuhnigget at 182 explained my impression very well (perhaps better than I could) so I’ll let you continue that dialogue with him. God as a verb, a “journey”, is almost a Buddhist sort of concept as I understand, so I don’t see it having much in common with western thought.
    Edit: Your above post only makes this more murky.

    Back to business…
    Well, to split hairs the big difference is that the Prophet Mohammed was real!
    Wow, that’s embarrassing. Total slip there on my part. My apologies to everyone! That was a basic factual error and I should know better.

    people like Dawkins… that attempt to make any sort of claim about God or attempt to use the term “non-belief”… I lump them together with people who hold belief
    I strongly encourage you to re-read Dawkins and try to get a better grip on his perspective. He and others dismiss God(s) because the concept (as often defined) is inscrutable and because, by all measures, the natural world operates just as we would expect if it followed physical laws and lacked any supernatural intervention. In biology, often structures (e.g. eyes) will disappear from populations and later “re-evolve”, or vestigial “dead genes” will be passed along for generations as scrambled, useless junk. That seems strongly in opposition to what many claim is a “perfect divine plan”.

    for every one side there is to a religious person there exists a polar opposite. Violent fundamentalists to pacifists.
    Well sure, I imagine beliefs would graph out a gaussian just like many populations. I’d love to see hard data on that, and where the median lies. But what I’m trying to argue against is twofold: 1) what scholars of religious studies find to be nearly universal in religion: belief in supernatural agents and forces. That includes things like angels, fairies, unicorns, karma, ghosts, elves, space aliens, thetans, and deities, and 2) religion as a basis for public policy, wherein there most vehement and vocal often have (or seek to have) the biggest influence. In my book, those quiet religious pacifists mostly act as enablers for the louder, crazier folks.

    The very fact that there exists egalitarian religious people just shows that its nothing intrinsic about religion, its just culture that’s transmitted along side it
    I’m not aware of much egalitarianism in wealthy “first world” nations. Example? Besides, I said things like racism and homophobia were commonly associated with religion, implying correlation, not causation. I’d love to see hard data though — especially if it separated out various religious groups and included atheists.

    skeptical people often tend to throw the entire notion of metaphysics and philosophy out with the bath water
    What do you mean by metaphysics? “First principles” and causation? If so, it would make no sense for skeptics to throw that out. I’ve certainly not aware of it happening, and I know a lot of skeptics. Some of them seem to enjoy philosophy as much as you do.

    What exactly are false things? …Numbers aren’t real either
    I hope you’re not too serious with these comments. With terms like “true” and “real” I hope you could have also figured that I implied “useful”. Maybe I should have been explicit.

    One of my interests aside from science is art history, so you’ll certainly never find me advocating destruction of the beautiful artwork inspired by religion over the millenia, or the burning of mytical stories. Those certainly can carry huge amounts of historical or allegorical value. But that doesn’t necessarily make it true in any direct, useful sense of the word. It may provide sociological or anthropological insight into the culture of the time, but those things don’t reflect the modern empirical understanding of the natural world.

    I view religion as symbol manipulation in an attempt to solve problems
    What specific problems does it solve? What excludes those from a rational, secular approach? I’m drawing a blank.

    I think its entirely possible for [very different religions] to be on the same track … Tough to answer without going point by point
    What would you call the single, core principle of each of those three religions? May as well focus on that. Is there any common ground? I don’t see much similarity aside from the aforementioned broad belief in supernatural agency and the belief that human actions can influence those agents. I oppose them because if nothing else, they are (very loosely!) unified in their support of things cannot be demonstrably true.

    If anything I hope I radically alter your view of religious people!
    I appreciate your patience, writing skill, and knowledge of philosophy. It makes discussion pleasant. But so far my views are unchanged. It’s not news to me that religious people (assuming you even classify as religious) can be thoughtful and intelligent. But I still think religion (at least the organized, vast majority) abuses wooly-thinking and bad reasoning as methods to “partition off” avenues of inquiry as forbidden or inscrutable. Science and skepticism don’t do that; everything is fair game.

  180. Here are some follow-up materials, just for fun:
    The Church of the Slacker God (blog post)
    If It Walks Like an Atheist and Talks Like an Atheist… (blog post)
    Logos with Jesus & Mo (comic)

  181. ibugeye

    @brock: You sound like an intelligent person and it was not my attempt to dis you. Renee, in her post following your heated discourse, stated a lot of how i feel. But for me, atheism is as constricting and seemingly misguided as the teachings of any of the worlds religions. A discussion of “weak” vs “strong” atheism sounds a lot like Sunni vs Shiite differences of Islam. Or the philosophical differences between Lutherism and Methodism Christianity. That is why I feel that there are correlations between atheism and religion, You seem to believe that those who follow a religion are misguided and ignorant and is ruled by superstition.. Those that follow a religion would feel the same about you. MY whole point in all of this from the very beginning has been centered around the lack of ability AT THIS TIME to PROVE the existence/nonexistence of “supernatural forces”. SCIENCE CONTINUES EVERY DAY TO ADD LAYERS OF KNOWLEDGE (within accepted levels of probability, because Dave Brown pointed out that there still is a slight probability that the sun can rise in the west tomorrow) OF WHAT THE WORLD AROUND US IS ALL ABOUT AND YET WE STILL CANNOT PROVE/DISPROVE THE EXISTENCE OF SUPERNATURAL FORCES. That is what I have focused on. Its based on this line of logic that I chose to view atheism as I do. As you have stated, ONLY science makes sense of the world around you. What you have accepted as truth has been proven to you through science. For what its worth, I feel the same way. And yet I feel that a tibetan monk ,statistically, has the same probability of proving the existence of supernatural forces as you do of disproving that same existence. The only way to find out 100% is to die lol. TO ME, acceptance and/or denial is still a matter of faith.

  182. @ Renée:

    You made a passing quip about my friends so I imagine many things appear to you that just aren’t.

    Actually, I made a quip in the vein of a very old pop-culture stereotype, which just goes to show today’s educational system is not very good at passing along cultural references that are more than 7.5 years old.

    A “long-hair” is someone who engages in intellectual navel-gazing at a University.

    Don’t be late for class.

  183. ibugeye

    @Brock:I am a skeptic of atheism as equally as I am of the belief of religion. To me they both ask you to have faith that they are right. But what I do ask for is tolerance. With lack of proof, how can I be sure one way or the other of who is right?

  184. ibugeye

    @Brock: I also apologize for any alleged “rather rotten stereotypes and commonly-dispelled myths”. I not sure of which ones you are talking about, but it was not my intent to insult your intelligence. I appreciate your view. You said that you chose it after you thought about it. At least you thought about it and was not blindly led into your decision by others without thinking on your own!

  185. ibugeye

    @Brock: One addendum and I will stop, unless you care to continue.

    @Brock:I am a skeptic of atheism as equally as I am of the belief of religion. To ME, they both ask you to have faith that they are right. But what I do ask for is tolerance. With lack of proof, how can I be sure one way or the other of who is right? I have understood your position from the start that science brings enlightenment and religion is the realm of superstition. On this I wholeheartedly agree with you! I have never wanted to be contrary or seem that I disagree with you. Science gives proof and religion asks you to not question and blindly follow the dogma. With what we learn today , we may have two new questions to ask tomorrow. And that religion asks you not to question at all (as you put it “Black and White” lol). Once again I agree! I just wanted to point out what I think is a paradox of atheism itself. And when I said that I appreciate your view, I was not assigning any judgement. The word “view” was the first thing that came to mind. Notice that I did NOT call it a “belief” (as I did earlier to make a point) . I applaud your decision/view/whatever you would like me to call it. Once again I respect you for thinking.

  186. Renée

    @ kuhnigget

    Actually, I made a quip in the vein of a very old pop-culture stereotype… A “long-hair” is someone who engages in intellectual navel-gazing at a University.

    I guess that one must have past me. Anyways a quip is a quip and I feel it was unnecessary.

    Science gives proof and religion asks you to not question and blindly follow the dogma.

    Really? Are we not slipping back into what I spoke of before. Religion asks nothing more than science does, its peoples contemporary interpretations of religion that ask for blind obedience.

    I think this interview is relevant to the discussion:

    http://www.asmabarlas.com/TALKS/20050201_NationPk.pdf

  187. @ibugeye: Welcome back. Unfortunately, while you sound like you’re earnestly trying to be civil, you’re contradicting yourself by making the same mistakes and propagating the same myths as before.

    I am a skeptic of atheism as equally as I am of the belief of religion. To me they both ask you to have faith that they are right. With lack of proof, how can I be sure one way or the other of who is right?
    Atheism emphatically does not require faith. There’s no simpler way to put it. Anyone who claims to be an atheist and yet bases their conclusions on evidence-free “faith” is doing it wrong.

    Science gives proof and religion asks you to not question
    You just said there’s a “lack of proof”. Which is it?

    I appreciate your view. You said that you chose it after you thought about it. At least you thought about it and was not blindly led into your decision
    Come on, don’t patronize me. Of course it’s my decision, but I didn’t say it was difficult. It was one of the least challenging “big” decisions I’ve made! On the contrary, I find it incredibly difficult to reconcile religious assertions with the observable, natural world.

    And when I said that I appreciate your view, I was not assigning any judgement.
    Well, yes, in a way you were. Rather than labeling my atheism a “view”, as if it’s comparable to religion, I suggest thinking of it as an assertion, or a challenge to theists to reliably demonstrate any supernatural deities or phenomena. “Faith” is a deliberate leap in reasoning — I want that simple, honest sort of proof that doesn’t rely on faith.

    A discussion of “weak” vs “strong” atheism sounds a lot like Sunni vs Shiite differences of Islam … That is why I feel that there are correlations between atheism and religion
    That’s not just wrong, but absurdly superficial. I already stated to Renee that I think the “strong vs weak” labels are inaccurate. Go read this to find out why.

    MY whole point… has been centered around the lack of ability… to PROVE the existence/nonexistence of “supernatural forces”.
    That gets a simple response: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Things that are “supernatural” are, by definition, extraordinary, unusual, and immeasurable. Burden of proof dictates that the responsibility lies with the claimant. Atheists don’t make any claims about the supernatural, because that would defeat the entire point of being atheists.

    Now do you get it? Will you please stop falsely equivocating atheism and religion?

  188. @ Renée: Did my lengthy post to you at #186 come through? The site has told me on-and-off that it’s “awaiting moderation”.

    Also, your quote for “science gives proof…” was from ibugeye, not kuhnigget.

  189. @ Renée:

    Religion asks nothing more than science does, its peoples contemporary interpretations of religion that ask for blind obedience.

    If I’m reading your implied punctuation correctly, you are operating under the assumption that somehow ancient religion did not ask for blind obedience? If this is what you are really stating, I think you are grossly in error. Ancient texts were very literal. When Yahweh said don’t do something, he meant it, no questions needed or wanted. Disobey and you will get a smiting and your body will be unceremoniously dumped in a ravine.

    Furthermore, as Brock has already answered, religion does indeed ask a hell of a lot more than science. Religion asks for blind faith in its tenets. You must believe them based on faith and faith alone. Science is the exact opposite. Science demands questioning. Science demands testable, verifiable evidence. No scientific theory is sacrosanct; they all require rigorous investigation, and if they don’t hold up…they are discarded.

    Science couldn’t possibly be any further from religion in this regard.

  190. ibugeye

    @Brock: You will have to put with me, I think my wife and I have the flu (she has been tested today for the H1N1 and will know in a couple of days). No I cannot stop equating atheism to religion. And I am honestly not trying to patronize you. We seem to be wanting to compare apples and oranges because our discussion is centered around how we come to conclusions on the “observable, natural world.” This seems to be just like the same type of philosophical debate when people discuss abortion. As you stated in post#93, “Scientific results are always “slightly gray”, or tentative (i.e. with an associated uncertainty).” I have been trying to put forth the argument that since your decision was based on scientific results that are “slightly gray”, one cannot verify that it is THE truth (beyond ANY uncertainty whatsoever). Isn’t anything that cannot be proven statistically at 100% more or less taking it on “faith” that it is correct? I will say with great certainty that the sun will come up in the east tomorrow. But I have to state this “with an associated uncertainty.” Doesn’t it seem that we do not know what we do not know? Your decision is the Truth for you and yet it still has the probability of only being correct “with an associated uncertainty”. As an atheist you came to your decision based on the world view that is colored with results that are “slightly gray”. I am only trying to postulate that ANY decision made with an accuracy less than 100% is akin to having “faith” This goes for anything, not just with religion or atheism.

  191. (crap, apparently it lost my original post. how frustrating).

    ANY decision made with an accuracy less than 100% is akin to having “faith”

    THAT is a commonly-dispelled myth. Why can’t you use a search engine? I’m getting tired of responding to crap that’s been answered a thousand times over in other, easily-found venues.

    Seriously. Find something that seems like a reliable source. Read it. Then post your thoughts: what you find interesting, what you find troubling, etc. You need to stop posting your own feelings, your supposed “gut instincts”, because they are NOT novel, they are NOT original, and since I’ve responded to them dozens of times on other sites it’s become a drain on my creativity to find ways to do it again.

    I don’t mean to turn you away from conversation, but please give me something better to work with here.

  192. ibugeye

    @brock:
    When you answer, you do not back it up with any evidence proven beyond [“(i.e. with an associated uncertainty)” as you stated”] a doubt, like in 100% that there are no supernatural forces. It lies in the “UNCERTAINTY” where I have an issue. I have done a search like you asked, and I did not see anything that was new or insightful. I used the search term “is believing in something that is not 100% proven alike to faith” There were arguments, just as I suspected, that were PRO AND CON in regards to religion/atheism. Do not most people chose to “believe” that which is most like to what they accept as true? I think I am going to have to take back what I said about you earlier. You are closed minded when it comes to something that does not fit into your level of “associated uncertainty”. You are happy to wallow in a world of “slightly gray” without the presumption of thinking on your own.I assumed wrongly that you had thought about the world around you. My mistake! Blindly follow your atheism. I am sure you can go to meetings with the other faithful and discuss how ignorant Christians are. I am sure there are support groups to help you and the other faithfuls with how to combat the stupidity of Islam. Wow, still sounds like going to a church to me! And what about those silly Hindus…can you believe them? How dare they state that we are made up of energy? Sounds like as if they were describing electrical impulses of nuerons in the brain, doesn’t it? Energy – how dare they! Go ahead and surround yourself with the ALMIGHTY ATHIESM! Do not try to think for yourself! Do not pass go and collect $200! And as to “gut instinct” I say the same for you. Once again apples and oranges. As you stated earlier to Renee, we are only human and as such we are made up of opinions.

  193. @ibugeye: I’ve provided links, and I see absolutely no indication that you’ve followed them. I’m made statements, and I see very little indication that you tried to comprehend them. Now I’ve asked you specifically to find a source and post your thoughts. And then you call ME closed-minded, after asking for your thoughts. Why is that not a contradiction to you?

    Honestly, I want a good conversation, and you seem to want to understand. But when my statements and links and requests get ignored, I may as well go talk to a wall. I guess by that standard, asking you to refine your thoughts before posting is far too much of a burden.

    Besides, I said I made a long post and that the system dumped it. I’ll rewrite it when I get a chance. That’s awfully rude to chew me out so soon.

  194. Do not most people chose to “believe” that which is most like to what they accept as true?

    No. Rational people “believe” that for which there is evidence, disregarding — temporarily, perhaps, until something new comes up — that for which there is no evidence.

    Again, therein lies the huge gap between science and religion. It always comes down to this: evidence vs. no evidence. And while no evidence is certainly not proof of absence, it definitely suggests the strong likelihood. No “faith” involved, just probability.

  195. ibugeye

    @Brock: Such the apostle! Save my reasoning from reason please, my very existence could be on the line! You think, so therefore I am wrong? Or is it the other way around? It is you who fails to comprehend what I have put forth. Your wear blinders of narrow mindedness. I have listened to the arguments put forth by both atheists and people of other faiths for many years. I am 47, and been graced with having known many smart individuals and have had many of these same discussions! Like them, I chose to think for myself. As such I ask you to do the same. You reject all that does not make sense to you and yet you can not do it in a manner that is logical and backed by proof. I do understand what I understand, just as you understand what you understand. Take a course at your local college on philosophy. Even enroll in a course on the world’s religions. I know, they may force you to think, but it’s not too hard after you get used to it lol. Religion ATTEMPTS to fill in understanding of the world around you that science cannot answer as of yet. In my “opinion”, atheism is still a religion.

  196. ibugeye

    @kuhnnigget: But your apostle Brock has stated that, “Scientific results are always “slightly gray”, or tentative (i.e. with an associated uncertainty).” Then why cant the hypothesis, “There are supernatural forces in the universe that we can not prove” be wrong? Who assigns the level of probability to the validity of any of the accepted wisdom mankind has grandfathered in as TRUTH? Man and only Man. Cant that which can not be proven still be wrong? If you want to be an atheist, Oh soldier of non religion, how can you say with such narrow minded assuredness that everyone else is wrong? You state, “And while no evidence is certainly not proof of absence, it definitely suggests the strong likelihood.” I only want to point out how “likelihood” is like “faith”. The narrow minded only want to define the word “Faith” as having a religious connotation. Read the definition of the word “faith” in any dictionary. See if it doesn’t apply.

  197. @ibugeye: So were you just saving up that rant the whole time, to unleash whenever you finally decided that I was exhausted? I don’t get the impression that you’d find any explanation I provide to be satisfactory. And yet you’re content to shout at me about philosophy when you can’t even handle simple concepts like ‘burden of proof’.

    Let’s suffice it to say that I’m a fair bit younger than you. I’m involved in science and education and a number public atheist groups. But I still make it a point occasionally attend events hosted by religious and interfaith groups. Does that qualify as “blinders”? I don’t think so. Regardless of what you stomp your feet and insist, I’m quite happily exploring the world and the people around me.

    You’ve wasted a bit of my time now, so congratulations, I suppose :p Now kindly go waste someone else’s, you prick.

  198. ibugeye

    @Brock: Oh Great Apostle! I am so sorry that I did not want to rehash the same arguments over again and again. I am unable to raise my meagerly uneducated, and so seemingly backward thoughts about the definition of the word “FAITH” any other way as i just did with @kuhnnigget. Please excuse the ramblings of someone that is not of your “FAITH” (and I do mean it in this regard!) Maybe someday, I will see the light and will learn to be as tolerant as you. Maybe I can become an Apostle too!

  199. ibugeye
  200. ibugeye

    @Brock: Thanks for raising this discussion to an even higher level. Thanks, Oh Enlightened One. Now if I should join your church, I now have a new name to go by, “Prick, The New Believer”! I have only wanted to hold a polite discourse with you, and have refrained from any negativity up to this point regardless of your views of me. Such as what I have to say is “crap”. And that I “tire you out”. I tried to be civil and honestly stated that I appreciated your acceptance of atheism. But it has been through your position of judgement, that I have responded like this. As I stated earlier, I “believe” I have the flu (it is some sort of upper respitory illness) and I do not feel good. Oh your Highness, please accept my apology if I have offended thee!

  201. @ bug:

    Who assigns the level of probability to the validity of any of the accepted wisdom mankind has grandfathered in as TRUTH?

    Therein – yet again – is the difference between science and religion. Scientific “truth” is not assigned probability based on anything but evidence. It doesn’t matter how old it is, or how new it is, only how good it is. Concepts that don’t stand up to new or contrary evidence don’t last. That’s the way science works.

    Religion doesn’t work that way. The whole point of religious faith is that you don’t need evidence. You just believe.

    See the difference? It’s that simple.

    I only want to point out how “likelihood” is like “faith”.

    No, it’s not. Likelihood is based on probability, resulting from the amount of amassed data you’ve observed. That data either confirms the theory or contradicts it. The more data you have confirming a theory, the more likely it is to represent some approximation of truth.

    Faith, on the other hand, as has been routinely pointed out to you, does not rely upon data, or observation, or experiment, or anything but your own belief. It is not based on probability. It is based upon what you want to believe. Get it?

    BTW, I am not an apostle for anything. I couldn’t give a rat’s ass what you believe, so long as you don’t try to pass off religion as science. I don’t try to pass off science in your church or temple or whatever, and please don’t try to pass off your religion as science in my classroom or legislature.

    Now you and Brock both need to grow up and start acting your age.

  202. ibugeye

    @kuhnigget: I am sorry for the vitriol pointed in your direction. I am of no religion too. I DO SEE THE DIFFERENCE, and yet I would still like to argue this correlation. Once again, can’t likelihood and faith be the same? A religious person’s faith” is built on the probability that it is correct for THAT person. I will now interchange the the term “faith” with the word “likelihood”, and he would still come to the conclusion by probability that it is right. To that person of religion, he has calculated the probability at 100% though. Otherwise there would be no “faith”. In regards to atheism or any of the world’s religions, the use of the word “likelihood” of no supernatural forces,(as based on probability) can be interchanged with the word “faith” (as based on probability). As you have just stated, “Likelihood is based on probability, resulting from the amount of amassed data you’ve observed. That data either confirms the theory or contradicts it. The more data you have confirming a theory, the more likely it is to represent some approximation of truth.” You yourself asserted that we categorize our knowledge as an “approximation of truth.” I would like to agree with you that these truths are truths. But they are only our attempt to make sense of the world around us. And in some vague sense of the word, we have ‘faith” that they are correct, at least until we can prove them false and are able to revise or assumptions accordingly. It is not my attempt to place a religious connotation to science. I will use the word “faith” in a sentence. I have “faith” that the sun will rise in the east. It means to me the same as, “I have “likelihood” that the sun will rise in the east”. I have chosen to accept a set of likelihoods that which “represent some approximation of truth” as truth. This does not make me religious though, because I have used the word “faith”. I have accepted as to what has been proven about the earth’s orbit around the sun. EVEN with the knowledge that there is still a possibility of error (however unlikely). That is what I having been trying to point out.

  203. Renée

    I just typed out this nice long response and now its gone, great.

    Anyways, ahh forget it, I’ve made my points.

    Atheists, love ya guys to death but don’t try to tell me on one hand you don’t believe/have faith in anything and on the other express a propositional attitude towards the nature of God’s existence.

    As soon as you go around saying “God doesn’t exist” or “the probability is infinitesimally close to zero ” then you are now someone who holds a belief, yay!!

    Look, nothing is wrong with having a belief but the way in which some people react to being told that, such as all of that stuff above, tells me that some seem to be equating belief with negative qualities. They aren’t so stop being so neurotic.

  204. ibugeye

    @Renee: Thank you for being a beacon of light in the darkness. I am SERIOUS and not joking with you. I have always goaded atheists with the notion that their denial of religion is based on the same assumptions that guide someone to believe in a religion. It IS a SET of assumptions that “represent some approximation of truth”. Most are offended, just as most religious people are offended by the notion someone thinks they are ignorant and misguided. Why are they offended if they do not “BELIEVE” there assumptions as true?

  205. @ ibugeye & Renée:

    As soon as you go around saying “God doesn’t exist” or “the probability is infinitesimally close to zero ” then you are now someone who holds a belief, yay!!

    Why are they offended if they do not “BELIEVE” there assumptions as true?

    The difference is, again, evidence. ibug, you can interchange “likelihood” and “faith” all you want, but religious faith is still based upon nothing but one’s own desire to believe in something. There is no pile of proto-faith that can be measured, or quanta of godliness that can be collected on a photographic plate, or divinity waves emanating from a saintly person’s aura, or anything. It’s just believing in what you want to believe in.

    Your faith that the sun might come up will very likely indeed coincide with tomorrow’s dawn, but that coincidence won’t tell us anything about why the sun comes up or give us any meaningful tool to make other predictions. Whereas the theory of gravity, developed from observational evidence, not only predicts the same likelihood, but it offers a suggestion for why it happens and suggests predictive tests and methods of measuring that same gravity’s affect on other objects.

    Evidence. Evidence. Evidence.

    I’m perfectly willing to “believe” in a divine being of some kind. I have no animosity toward the concept (except as it’s been used to define so-called divine beings of the past). But I cannot just “believe” my way into accepting the idea without any qualifying evidence to back it up.

    Is there some? Can you show me, or point it out to me?

    @ Renée:

    I lost a long post, too. It must be divine retribution. ;)

  206. @Renée:
    I still think you are misunderstanding some philosophy here, or at least ascribing to a different definition of atheism than I am. I’d hope my previous statements would make clear that my atheism has basis in epistemology. I would say gods, as you and others seem to define them, are ultimately inscrutable and unknowable — making me an agnostic atheist. (In fact I’ve never met a true gnostic atheist.)

    Here’s a page I googled that seems to parse out the various definitions. I like the first one listed: “Atheism as lack of belief. Agnosticism as lack of knowledge. ” As I said before, I don’t really accept the strong vs. weak demarcation; it seems redundant with (a)gnosticism. And I don’t think it’s pertinent to make positive assertions from an agnostic position, so the third definition is out too.

    So the agnosticism leaves me in a spot where gods are as unknowable as Russell’s Teapot. But I can’t positively make that ontological assertion. So where do I turn?

    Easy: methodological naturalism (and more specifically, rationalism and empiricism). As an epistemology, I see this as having an added factor of “usefulness”. Observations of the universe should reveal the behavior of matter and energy and hopefully anything else that exists. So far everything observed is either deterministic (most things larger than atoms) or probabilistic (as in quantum mechanics). There’s no indication of supernatural influence, unless that influence coincides perfectly with natural behavior. But that would make god redundant!

    Of course, the vast majority of religious people are not interested in the supernatural as a redundant explanation for natural events. They want miracles, and answered prayers, and an afterlife. Sorry, but I’ll stick with the agnostic position, because none of those claims have been methodologically demonstrated.

    So how do I make the leap from agnosticism to atheism? I don’t! Again, I’m technically both. The latter is a negative, the lack of any claim. But it’s also an operational definition: I live my life moment-to-moment as if there were no gods. That means, functionally, that I’m an atheist. So I may as well be open about it.

    Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

  207. ibugeye

    @kuhnigget: Exactly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! **”Evidence. Evidence. Evidence. I’m perfectly willing to “believe” in a divine being of some kind. I have no animosity toward the concept (except as it’s been used to define so-called divine beings of the past). But I cannot just “believe” my way into accepting the idea without any qualifying evidence to back it up. Is there some? Can you show me, or point it out to me?”.** And yet, because you also state that this same evidence shows, ” That data either confirms the theory or contradicts it. The more data you have confirming a theory, the more likely it is to represent some APRROXIMATION OF TRUTH.” It is because of this “catch22″ (I am showing my age now!) that I have problems with the stance of atheists. I HAVE already stated that I am unable to prove EITHER way the existence of supernatural forces. Without the ability to prove or disprove EITHER way, one can only argue their case, “with all likelihood.” I tried to use this line of thought with Brock, but It was like running into a brick wall.
    @Brock: I AM sorry for the outburst earlier.

  208. @ ibug:

    Hence the value of probabilities.

    Ultimately, one must ask, which is more likely, something with mounds of evidence for it, or something with zero evidence for it? Both are possible, but one is so far ahead of the other it strains credulity to think it isn’t the more probable approximation of reality.

    As Brock said, sure, you can assume that a divine being mimics all the natural forces we can observe, but then…why bother with the added complexity? A theist can come up with all kinds of reasons, e.g. god wants us to know his thought processes, god is giving us hints, etc ad nauseum. But since there is no other evidence for this being, one might as well believe it’s a giant pink bunny that likes to play tricks on three-dimensional beings. Sans evidence, both are equally likely.

    And that’s probably enough from me on this one. I have some UFO nutters to annoy.

  209. @ibugeye:
    Re: I AM sorry for the outburst earlier.
    That was one hell of a multi-post outburst! Judging by the timestamps it spanned at least 1.5 hours. I hope you got some frustration out of your system. A strawman somewhere took a brutal beating ;)
    Seriously though, I’m not a fan of grudges, so yes, apology accepted. I hope you can in turn forgive me for my impatience and name-calling.

    I also hope my above post to Renée on my philosophy of atheism gives you some insight. It’s somewhat along the lines of the deleted post I wrote to you earlier.

    You really seem to be caught up on this idea of science as “merely” an approximation of truth. I hate to break it, but that’s just the way it is. If there was some epistemological method of obtaining pure, unmitigated Truth, we’d certainly use it! That would mean science is done; there would no longer be any reason for anyone to carry out its process.

    Individual religions of course make positive claims about how they alone have the metaphysical keys to Truth. But that’s baloney. Those claims are, technically speaking, epistemologically indeterminate. But in reality they may as well be empty, because you can’t use religious claims to produce any data, any useful output. They might make people feel good — it might be emotionally satisfying to think absolute Truth is obtainable — but that feeling alone does not make the actual content valid.

    So this idea of “scientific output as a set of increasingly accurate approximations”, or methodological empiricism, may not be the most pleasant idea. But it’s the best we’ve got. I wasn’t comfortable with it at first either, but over time, with lots of reading and science courses, I’ve come to understand that it’s still awfully good compared to any other method of reliably knowing the truth.

    Addendum: Notice again how supernatural claims are positive claims, which require positive evidence. Atheism itself (not to be confused with views tacked onto it) is a negative claim, which by the philosophical burden of proof rule does NOT require ANY evidence (positive or negative in regard to the aforementioned claim).

    Then there’s science, which makes many positive claims, but always backs them with evidence. Got all that?

  210. Renée

    @ kuh

    The difference is, again, evidence. ibug, you can interchange “likelihood” and “faith” all you want, but religious faith is still based upon nothing but one’s own desire to believe in something.

    I can say the exact same thing for love, aesthetic and all of the other things that stem from an Existential view of the world. So what’s your point? I appreciate that skeptics seek evidence and that atheists also rely on evidence for some things but none of this is new to me, I’m already fully aware of that.

    However none of this has anything to do with the fact that holding a propositional attitude IS a belief. Furthermore if you want to be empirical, there is no evidence for or against some definitions of God so the atheistic claim that it all falls down to evidence seeking is moot.

    It’s just believing in what you want to believe in.

    In short yes, but you do that too as well as everyone else on this planet. Having some narrow aspect of your epistemic dictionary be the product of rational inquiry doesn’t in any way relate to a purely empirical view of the world. If that was the case not one atheist would love, hate, hold any sort of ethic, align themselves with any political ideology or appreciate the aesthetic qualities of objects and situations.

    I find it ironic that so many atheists subscribe to the existential philosophy yet forget that the core concept of it is that value is a generative concept that stems from ones own personal sense of meaning.

    No, religious and atheists aren’t doing the exact same things or using all of the same tools but there is definitely a huge degree of overlap in day to day interpretations of the world.

    But I cannot just “believe” my way into accepting the idea without any qualifying evidence to back it up. Is there some? Can you show me, or point it out to me?

    Prove to me your love for someone is true. Or how about you tell me why you find things beautiful and ugly despite the fact that those qualities can’t be quantified within an objective framework that exists independent of your perceptions of it. And why on earth do you believe that your car is indeed in the place where you left it despite the fact that you have no concrete evidence of it.

    @Brock

    So how do I make the leap from agnosticism to atheism? I don’t! Again, I’m technically both. The latter is a negative, the lack of any claim. But it’s also an operational definition: I live my life moment-to-moment as if there were no gods. That means, functionally, that I’m an atheist. So I may as well be open about it.

    I hope you do realise that I’m speaking of atheists in general and not devoting hours of my life attempting to tell you what you believe. I also think you may have skipped over the points in which I repeatedly define two variations of atheism, one of which is what your trying to tell me. Furthermore, as a graduate student of Philosophy I don’t need to have wiki articles linked to me. You could have at least linked this:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/

    So yeah, I’m more than caught up to speed. As I’ve said countless times, the only way to be an atheist AND not be possessing a belief is if you have no propositional attitude towards such. That’s you, so congrats! Anyways, for all of those atheists out there such as Dawkins who DO makes claims about God, they are in fact holding beliefs.

    Not to be overly snarky but perhaps you should be holding this conversation with Dawkins and and not the girl that basically described what you described then had to read through a post that claimed I was misguided and in reality the truth of the matter is exactly what I mentioned anyways. Great job.

    On a side note living a life surrounded by practical applications of positive theories is one thing, proclaiming that living such a life makes one quantifiably closer to understanding aspects of epistemology that aren’t depended on such positive theories is another.

    I’m sure all of the blue pills in the matrix thought they had it all figured out too because of the rocking good physics engine in it that duped them. Anyways, science isn’t a computer in which you can ask it every conceivable question and get a relevant response out of it. that’s why Philosophy is still on the list of things that are taught in school.

    @kuh

    Ultimately, one must ask, which is more likely, something with mounds of evidence for it, or something with zero evidence for it?

    I could write an entire thesis on the reality of things and how we were so completely wrong despite what appearances dictated.

    A good empiricists wouldn’t make any such claim at all until all the facts were in. You of all people should know that appearances can be deceiving. You’re showing your bias. :D

  211. ibugeye

    @kuhnigget: You are right, my belief with “the chance of all likelihood/faith” that the sun will rise in the east has nothing to do with “why” the sun rises in the east. That is a new hypothesis. I will then accept or deny the set of “approximation of truths” that man believes to be correct about the “why” with my own mind after I have gathered ALL available data. I will usually throw out the religious views as not being valid. You and Brock ARE correct that they ask you to believe in them blindly on religious faith without asking ‘why”. I have NEVER wanted to argue that. And yet everyone wants to go back to it. The “approximations of truth” as gathered through science is much more easily verified with a “likelihood” that is based on probability . One definition of supernatural is, “of, pertaining to, or being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena; abnormal”. It’s through science that we make the “supernatural” natural and yet there is always A probability of error. After analyzing ALL the available data, I will now make the statement that, “I have “with all likelihood/faith” that gravity is the cause of why the sun rises in the east every day.” And yet I still understand that there is still a small margin of error based on this “approximation of truth.” And yes, I will now have to continue down this road until I am able to make more “approximation of truths” about gravity. In an aside, the probes launched to verify the existence of gravity waves have yet to prove the validity of the hypothesis of the existence of gravity yet, but I want to have faith that they will lol. And yet at the very core of all of this is the miniscule probability of error. How can I be SURE of my decision that it is 100% correct?

  212. Renée

    @Brock

    You really seem to be caught up on this idea of science as “merely” an approximation of truth. I hate to break it, but that’s just the way it is. If there was some epistemological method of obtaining pure, unmitigated Truth, we’d certainly use it! That would mean science is done; there would no longer be any reason for anyone to carry out its process.

    False dichotomy. Just because there may be no one size fits all epistemology doesn’t mean that science is the default winner. There could just as easily be another epistemological method that runs parallel. Actually there is already , its called philosophy.

    Science is great for the natural world but (natural world) =/= All Truth

    Individual religions of course make positive claims about how they alone have the metaphysical keys to Truth.

    Massive strawman. There are plenty of religions out there that leave metaphysics open for interpretation. I suggest reading the Qur’an, I can think of several sura that state the path to truth is varied or that one should use their reason to solve things. If what you said was true there would be no contemporary Theology and there would be no rich history of Islamic Schools of thought.

    because you can’t use religious claims to produce any data, any useful output. They might make people feel good — it might be emotionally satisfying to think absolute Truth is obtainable — but that feeling alone does not make the actual content valid.

    Actually is does. Who put you in charge of what constitutes validity? Sartre, that french dude who atheists love, basically said that yes, your sense of meaning directed at something does make it valid. Sartre was a genius in saying this because in a cold and otherwise meaningless world there can be no value.

    I’m absolutely positive that you find things to be valid and have meaning despite the fact that you almost certainly subscribe to the notion that the universe has no inherent purpose, meaning or value.

    So this idea of “scientific output as a set of increasingly accurate approximations”, or methodological empiricism, may not be the most pleasant idea. But it’s the best we’ve got. I wasn’t comfortable with it at first either, but over time, with lots of reading and science courses, I’ve come to understand that it’s still awfully good compared to any other method of reliably knowing the truth.

    That’s because you didn’t bother taking any philosophy courses. Or if you did, didn’t stop to ponder why on earth we still have them if we already discovered that methodological empiricism is the best we have.

    Addendum: Notice again how supernatural claims are positive claims, which require positive evidence. Atheism itself (not to be confused with views tacked onto it) is a negative claim, which by the philosophical burden of proof rule does NOT require ANY evidence (positive or negative in regard to the aforementioned claim).

    Addendum : It’s still a belief if you have any sort of propositional attitude

    Then there’s science, which makes many positive claims, but always backs them with evidence. Got all that?

    Sigh….Yes, I already had it ages ago.

  213. How can I be SURE of my decision?
    Well, how sure is “good enough” for you? That’s a personal call.

    If you say 50/50, I’d argue that’s kind of a low standard. You’d be settling for an equal likelihood of being wrong, and that’s clearly dangerous. I wouldn’t fly in an airplane with those odds of crashing.

    If you demand a true 100%, I’d say that’s too high. It’s unachievable with any known methodology. You might drive yourself mad in your quest to fill every last gap of uncertainty, and become so obsessed that you forget to actually make a decision! But if you’ve got the patience and tenacity to keep pushing the boundaries, more power to ya.

    What do scientists consider “good enough”? That depends on the discipline. Sometimes it’s 70%, sometimes it’s 85%, sometimes, it’s 95%, and sometimes it’s 99.999%. It depends strongly on the tolerance of the instruments and methods available and the consensus of the experts using the tools.

    But in science, you’re right; it’s never 100% certainty. If that still bothers you, you have 3 options:
    1. Fill in the gaps with something metaphysical (as long as it doesn’t violate with established laws and observations).
    2. Become a scientists and work on the problem.
    3. Do nothing / wait / give up.

    Take your pick! I don’t care which of those 3 is your favorite.

  214. ibugeye

    @Brock: Once again, I am sorry.
    “You really seem to be caught up on this idea of science as “merely” an approximation of truth. I hate to break it, but that’s just the way it is.” EXACTLY!!!!!!!!!This is what I have been trying to say all along! Thank you for saying it in this way so I can agree with you on it. That’s WHY I take atheists to task. We just don’t know!

  215. @Renée:
    Cool. Maybe we’re getting somewhere? You’re absolutely right that philosophy is not my specialty, and I’ve done almost no coursework with it. I plan to stick with science (chemistry in particular) because that’s what interests me. I cobbled that together that philosophy post as best I could. But I’ll still try for some meaningful replies.

    Science is great for the natural world but (natural world) =/= All Truth
    I said I choose naturalism because it’s useful. What other epistemologies do you find useful? How do you think they lead to truth?

    There are plenty of religions out there that leave metaphysics open for interpretation.
    I didn’t say ALL religions. Relax. I just meant “some”.

    you find things to be valid and have meaning despite the fact that… the universe has no inherent purpose, meaning or value.
    Of course assigned meaning is different than some intrinsic meaning. What’s your point? I’m not dismissing the former. I’m not even dismissing axiology. My comment was about epistemology. Assigned value and meaning aren’t inherently “knowable” by other people; you have communicate that.

    you… didn’t stop to ponder why on earth we still have [philosophy courses]
    Well you haven’t done a very good job of conveying to me the value of epistemologies other than methodological naturalism. Example? That’s also not very fair as phrased; should I grill you on why you don’t have a physics PhD under your belt?

    It’s still a belief if you have any sort of propositional attitude
    In the driest philosophical definition of “belief”, sure. I won’t argue that. But NOT in the colloquial sense that ibugeye kept using it, as in a claim inherently hinged on faith. So don’t go running off and mixing up those definitions, and telling people that “hey, an atheist admitted he has belief!”. It’s very much a minor technicality, and it would be horribly misconstrued by a public that doesn’t understand the quirks of having multiple definitions.

  216. @ibugeye: Huh. So what bothered you is atheist shorthand?
    Scientists say “we know X with a great degree of accuracy, only 0.001% uncertainty”… and you’re bothered that anyone would approximate that to say “X is a fact”?

    Journalists must give you nightmares! ;)

  217. Renée

    @Renée:
    Cool. Maybe we’re getting somewhere?… But I’ll still try for some meaningful replies.

    We are! Yay! :D

    I said I choose naturalism because it’s useful. What other epistemologies do you find useful? How do you think they lead to truth?

    That’s a very good question. Science is an appliaction of Epistemology so I think its fair to say that Epistemology simply is itself. For example in order for science to go about finding truth it needs to first find out what knowledge is, what truth can be considered and how one would go about finding it.

    This is often why I get irked when people mention science in a sort of tacit sense that science is somehow this self contained system. For example deductive reasoning is an aspect of epistemology, science just borrows it. So to me the question of what else is out there isn’t accurate because science already accepts that it has to reach outside of its scope in order to function.

    Though of course there exists major axioms of epistemology like the analytic/synthetic distinction and formal organums like Foundationalism if that helps answer your question.

    I admit I suffer from the problem of being really into something! You know how it is, you get so caught up in your own knowledge of a subject that it becomes difficult to be lucid. Sorry for not explaining epistemology and its relation to science earlier.

    There are plenty of religions out there that leave metaphysics open for interpretation.
    I didn’t say ALL religions. Relax. I just meant “some”.

    Fair enough, rereading what you said I agree. Sorry but some people on here have been using the blanket term “religion” in reference to blind obedience.

    Of course assigned meaning is different than some intrinsic meaning. What’s your point? I’m not dismissing the former. I’m not even dismissing axiology. My comment was about epistemology. Assigned value and meaning aren’t inherently “knowable” by other people; you have communicate that.

    My point is that religion offers a means of developing a value system so in that aspect alone I feel its justifiable. More so for other reasons but I feel that this is important because many people say why bother when it comes to religion.

    Well you haven’t done a very good job of conveying to me the value of epistemologies other than methodological naturalism. Example? That’s also not very fair as phrased; should I grill you on why you don’t have a physics PhD under your belt?

    I already touched on this point but semi-fair question. I assumed no extra input was necessary because you were the one linking me to epistemology articles :D I guess I was to deep in my interests, my bad.

    In the driest philosophical definition of “belief”, sure. I won’t argue that. But NOT in the colloquial sense that ibugeye kept using it, as in a claim inherently hinged on faith.

    Well I am an analytic philosopher, saltines are damn near soaking wet compared to how I define things :D

    Joking aside, its people problem for not sitting down for 5 minutes to sit and think what it means to believe something. My earliest posts were in the general realm of not wanting to put up with common BS. My attitude is no different than the person who rolls their eyes when some idiot says “its just a theory.” Though I must admit its a constant source of humor for me when skeptics correct people on the term theory yet go on to get worked up over an incorrect and colloquial definition of what belief is.

    I know I must be leaving a great deal out but I am quite tired and I need to sleep. Night everyone!

  218. ibugeye

    @Renee:
    “Though I must admit its a constant source of humor for me when skeptics correct people on the term theory yet go on to get worked up over an incorrect and colloquial definition of what belief is.”
    Thank you Renee. My point exactly.

  219. I think its fair to say that Epistemology simply is itself
    Judging by the Wikipedia page, there are a number of epistemologies, and not all of them are on equal standing or even necessarily directly comparable. Constructivism as defined there doesn’t seem to be very useful — when scientists create new jargon, it’s mostly as a placeholder or shorthand for more accurate but complex statement about nature. Simply stating the first law of thermodynamics does not make it manifest; that law has a definition (conservation of energy), and that definition itself has sub-definitions (energy is the capacity to do work, etc), and ultimately those definitions are derived from empiricism, from vast corroborating experience.

    I’m also not a big fan of foundationalism, but I could probably concede that logic (and by extension some mathematics) is self-evident and self-supporting. However, logic alone doesn’t involve action, it makes no comparisons to natural observation, and it becomes incredibly difficult to do manually at higher complexity. It has become extremely useful in computers, but our ability to tame the properties of silicon to make denser and better transistors didn’t stem from pure logic — it was tied to a methodological, natural approach to the mechanical and electric properties of material silicon.

    So when i say science (as methodological naturalism) is the “best” epistemology, I mean that it has led to abundant life-improving tools. It’s what helping us produce a vaccine for H1N1, for example. Constructivism and foundationalism in isolation wouldn’t even come close, because they don’t have that critical methodological advantage of constantly comparing their output to natural observation.

    This is often why I get irked when people mention science in a sort of tacit sense that science is somehow this self contained system
    I hope I didn’t imply that. Science is definitely built on logic and deductive reasoning and math and other philosophical concepts! I agree that it has adapted with input from philosophers. One of its defining features is its flexibility.

    religion offers a means of developing a value system so in that aspect alone I feel its justifiable
    I think the values and meanings derived from religion are generally axiological (i.e. moral and aesthetic), NOT epistemological. In other words, they’re subjective, and don’t arise spontaneously on new continents. Religious meaning always seems to spread through evangelism, word-of-mouth, written word, art, military invasion, etc. Science on the other hand includes uniformitarianism, wherein the principles of physics and chemsitry and biology apply no matter where you go in the world, and as such could be derived from independent observation. That objectivity makes it “better”, in the sense of usefulness. When I say religion can often be “not useful” or a distraction or a maze of wooly-thinking, that’s what I mean.

    I assumed no extra input was necessary because you were the one linking me to epistemology articles
    I looked it up because you seemed insistent on having things phrased in philosophical terms. As I said it’s really not really my home turf. A lot of my understanding of formal logic comes from computer science though, and I could certainly go on for a while about how logical constructs differ from methodological science.

    saltines are damn near soaking wet compared to how I define things
    That’s very amusing :)

  220. skeptics… get worked up over [the] colloquial definition of… belief
    That’s the definition that nearly everyone uses! In fact I wasn’t aware of the philosophical definition until I looked it up for this thread. It may be more obscure than you think.
    The philosophical definition could almost be written as “belief = idea + attitude”, which lacks the big connotation that make it interesting and controversial: faith, a propositional certainly despite a lack of (or in the face of contrary) material evidence.

    Again for contrast, my atheism is cautious, agnostic and tentative, and IMHO satisfying enough — especially in a world where bogus claims and fanatical ideology can sometimes facilitate things like parents neglecting curable illnesses in their children and afterlife-seekers flying suicide missions into buildings. ‘k?

  221. Renée

    URGH!!! I just spent over an hour typing a response only to have it lost after submitting.

    I’ll address y our posts later but for now I don’t have the time or energy to go back into it.

  222. Aw man :(
    I’ve taken to copying and pasting into Notepad (TextEdit on Mac) before hitting submit.

  223. ibugeye

    @Brock: Thanks for acknowledging that it is only tentative. You are still leaving your mind open for new ideas and (lol) “assumption of truths”. Don’t let the set of evidence that is accepted by other athiests be your only map to independent thought though. Otherwise, you fall into the trap of following dogma.

    “I think the values and meanings derived from religion are generally axiological (i.e. moral and aesthetic), NOT epistemological. In other words, they’re subjective, and don’t arise spontaneously on new continents. Religious meaning always seems to spread through evangelism, word-of-mouth, written word, art, military invasion, etc.” When I took a course on the world’s religions in college (I did not want to summarily reject religion without first trying to understand it, plus it was an easy elective (heehee!)), the thing I learned the most about religions are that they are a product of their place and time. Most religions ask you to be good and you will be rewarded for it. The main difference was the cultural setting from where they arose, which dictated the means to the end. Jesus Christ was a product of his time and place, just as Buddha was a product of his time and place. And you are correct that any religion can be hijacked by those of “fanatical ideology”. As I said last night, religions are only another way man has used to answer questions about the “supernatural” with the lack of any natural answers. It can be A REALLY effective tool in the hands of fanatics. Fanatics have the uncanny ability to warp anything to their cause. Look at how Hitler hijacked genetics, to perpetrate the holocaust on the Jewish people.

    In regards to, “skeptics… get worked up over [the] colloquial definition of… belief” here are
    some definitions for you to ponder:

    The FIRST definition listed for the word “faith” on Dictionary.com is as follows:
    –noun
    1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.

    Some definitions for “likelihood”, as defined on Dictionary.com are:
    -noun
    1. the state of being likely or probable; probability.
    2. a probability or chance of something: There is a strong likelihood of his being elected.
    3. Archaic. indication of a favorable end; promise.

    And, as to “belief ” I will go back to Dictionary.com and offer these definitions for you:

    -n.
    1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another: My belief in you is as strong as ever.
    2. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something: His explanation of what happened defies belief.
    3. Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.

    All references to any religious tenet is missing. I will grant you that #3 for “belief” can be used to describe as pertaining to something religious as well as any other type of secular organization or group. You will probably (lol) want to point out that only “likelihood ” makes reference to “probability”. And yet I will argue that these terms can be interchanged within a sentence, as long as the meanings as described above are used.

  224. @ibugeye: None of those definitions for “belief” mention objectivity or reason either. What’s your point?

    There are many ways to define words; dictionaries are just one. There are also “colloquial” (popular usage) definitions, “functional” (approximate, in-practice) definitions, historical (and sometimes obsolete) definitions, legal definitions, and specific definitions for all sorts of specialties like philosophy, chemistry, dentistry, and typesetting.

    In most cases, if you were to draw a Venn diagram, there would be some overlap. But not always. In physics, “work” (force times the distance through which it acts) is quite different than the colloquial and dictionary definitions (e.g. a task, or employment). The English word cleave has two dictionary definitions that are exact opposites!

    Anyway, in formal science, it’s extremely important for researchers and textbook writers to define their terms clearly at the outset, to prevent confusion. That’s why I was careful to specify WHICH definition I was using when addressing Renee. Words like “belief” and “likelihood” have NO strict scientific definition — so you should not find them in formal papers. Scientists only say those informally, as a layperson would.

  225. ibugeye

    @Brock: You are correct in regards to formal science, but they still describe/define how you view YOUR atheism. It STILL IS your belief through reason and objectivity that you embrace atheism. Otherwise you would not believe atheism to have a valid meaning and it would be rejected.

  226. I was painfully clear about which definition of “belief” I ascribed to, and it was none of the ones you listed. Why do you carry on about them? You’re beating a dead horse.

  227. ibugeye

    Do you believe there is dark matter? And dark energy?

  228. Hey, look, an astronomy question! Cool :D
    Dark matter: Yes. Large underground instruments have been built to directly detect so-called WIMPs and neutrinos.
    Dark energy: Not so much. That’s still fairly hypothetical. There’s some indirect evidence from supernovae and the CMB, but it’s not conclusive. In the colloquial sense, no, I don’t “believe” it specifically — but I do believe (“expect”, yet another definition) physicists will find some sort of inflationary force along the lines of what many of them anticipate.

    Notice how my so-called “belief” relies on the quality and quantity of demonstrable, measurable evidence? That makes it quite different from religious belief. But you know that.

  229. ibugeye

    @Brock: From dead horses we can get the glue we can bind together our differences into something more constructive. You seem unwilling to open your mind to contemplate that ANY CONCLUSION made, even through reason and objectivity is still a “belief” in its very truth. I am saying this not in a negative way (like I am shamefully aware of how I did yesterday), but am only asking you to look at it from a different perspective. I do understand where you are coming from. Apples and oranges.

  230. ANY CONCLUSION made, even through reason and objectivity is still a “belief” in its very truth
    YES — in a very specific, and very bland, philosophical definition of belief. I clearly conceded that to Renée. You can see that definition explained here.
    The ones you listed as #2 and #3 are probably close enough that I won’t continue fight you over it. But again, I warn you not to attach any of the colloquial connotations of “faith”. One of the entries for “faith” on dictionary.com is “belief that is not based on proof”. THAT is what I’m avoiding.

    If you want to compare “apples to apples”, here are two statements that use the same definition of “belief”:
    1. Johnny believes that physicists will find direct evidence for dark matter within 10 years.
    2. A Christian believes that Jesus will return within 10 years.

    Are these equivalent statements? Grammatically, yes. Scientifically, NO. The former, a hypothesis, is likely based on the historical record of physicists systematically building up the Standard Model over the course of the 20th century. As to the latter, well… Jesus, if he existed, hasn’t so much as winked at anyone in over 2000 years. The pattern underlying the reasoning for each statement makes them non-equivalent.

  231. ibugeye

    @Brock: “Again for contrast, my atheism is cautious, agnostic and tentative, and IMHO satisfying enough” I am only trying to point out that this is YOUR “belief”, and I am NOT trying to give it a religious connotation. This is “truth” for YOU. You made this conclusion based on sets of evidence were obtained through objectivity and reason. And yet this same sets of evidence may be rejected by Renee who has come to her own conclusions by a set of evidence that she has found valid. At this point her conclusion is her “belief”. It is the truth to her.

  232. ibugeye

    apples and oranges. You keep wanting to bring religion back into this. Cant you have a belief without it being religious? Through objectivity and reason I say yes. It’s within my error of probability that this can occur.

  233. ibugeye

    @brock: the horse is dead and I will bury the saddle with it. I hope you and Gettier are good friends. Good luck, Renee.

  234. ibugeye:
    I bring up religion because it was an important part of the subject of the thread. It’s directly on-topic. And in many ways it serves as a counter-example. That’s all.

    I’ll leave Renée’s thoughts to her. My impression is that she’s an atheist that makes a few too many concessions for religion. But she can comment on that. What about you? Steadfast agnostic? I think you’re bending over to unnecessarily accommodate religion too.

    Regardless, it sounds like you now have a good grasp on what I consider the best way to arrive at truth. Thanks for enduring the twists and turns that we took to get there :)

    But I still have to ask (and this is for both of you): should I keep it to myself? For example, Immanuel Kant’s “categorial imperative” seems to say that I should behave in a manner that I think would, ideally of course, best apply to everyone. I think actively advocating more science and less religion fits the bill perfectly. Agree/disagree?

  235. Oh. If you’re taking off, then cheers! It’s been fun, thanks. I mean that.

  236. FYI, I wiki’d the “Gettier problem”, and my response is “Occam’s razor”. Ergo, Justified True Belief (TM) is a good approximation for knowledge, but not genuinely equivalent.

    That was pretty easy. I’m guessing that starting from a position of agnosticism helps.

  237. ibugeye

    @Brock: Yeah, its back to the “real” (as best that I can define it lol)world. As for my beliefs, I do not belive in divine intervention because I cannot prove that God does not exist. It was fun. I thank you for your time and for allowing me a chance to discuss things with you. Maybe we will run into each other after our energy is released from our physical shells and can sit down and share a laugh or two. Maybe Pres. Obama will be there and we can share a beer (HAHA!) We both doubt anything like this will happen, (each of us coming to this validation of reality through reason and objectivity – and yet fail to agree on the ending of our journey there) but you never can be TO sure lol!!! Thanks! Remember to always think for yourself. Good night.

  238. ibugeye

    @Brock: Ran out of time and am distracted by my daughter’s need to critic an essay for her college english class. I cannot prove the existence either way that is beyond ANY limit of probability or error of the existence of any god/goddess/deity/supernatural force. Because of that, I have then had try to discern why the said god/goddess/deity/supernatural forces would even interfere in the lives or care for the smartest mammal on earth. This planet is not even in the center of the universe as far as we can make from astronomical observations. There has never been any claim of divine intervention that has been provable through objectivity and reason. Man uses religion to make sense of the world around him when he cant do it any other way. As we earlier hashed out, the sun will rise in the east. This is caused by the workings of gravity. We observe gravity and accept it as truth. Religion attempts to answer “why” there is even gravity in the first place. Or “why” there was a even big bang in the first place. The closest dogma i will accept is the fundementals of hinduism and reincarnation. I reject the hindu version of reincarnation because it is based in dogma concerning rewards for reigious faith and unquestioning acceptence. I believe there is an energy that runs through everyone and everything we consider “alive”. There is to be no net gain/loss of this energy in the universe since everything was determined at the time of the big bang. Look at the world around you and see how life attempts to fill every niche we discover WITH GUSTO. Things really love to live! What happens to this energy when our bodily functions cease? I thinks it gets recycled – no net gain/loss. I do not believe in UFO’s but I am pretty sure man will run into something that we will call life somewhere out there in the big universe we call home. Hopefully on the moons of Jupiter or Saturn. Wouldn’t that be fun to see the “fanatically faithful” squirm lol. And yet this energy is not a god/goddess/deity. No final judgement. No hell. No heaven. Only the those of religious faith can believe that any god/goddess/diety who truly loves us would have some reason to make the universe so large. Look how hard it will be to get to all those resources after man has depleted what he has used up on earth. It’s a great circle of life and death. Man is only a smarter mammal. We as a species also tend to be self centered and pompous in our belief that we are important. Not very scientific I guess, but since we go back to my original problem of probability of error in proving/disproving the existence of a supernatural force/god/goddess/deity, reason and objectivity has led me to think this way. Sorry if the above puts you off, and try not to judge me as a misguided. I cant be agnostic or atheist because I cannot deny something I cannot prove or disprove. I just deny that there is any intervention by the said supernatural force/god/goddess/deity or an combination of plural things. I have done the best to sort out the “why’s” of our very existence with the best collection of evidence I can find. Dude, I really got to go. I will check back to get your view on this later. Serious thanks, again!

  239. Renée

    Hello all, I’m not feeling very well but I want to keep my promise. I also see that there has been some more discussion! Oh, and I am so going to cut and paste this before posting!

    @Brock

    I’ll leave Renée’s thoughts to her. My impression is that she’s an atheist that makes a few too many concessions for religion. But she can comment on that.

    Actually I’m Muslim, but maybe it was my verbose analytic speech that threw you off. Maybe I should have included a few “death to the infidels” for good measure.

    Ugh, I did not just say that :D

    I don’t think I’m giving concessions to anyone really, I give credit where credit is due. I try my best to not tell people what they believe because that would be arrogant of me but sometimes I’ll try to clarify things for the sake of facilitating discussion.

    For example in my discussions about atheism it wasn’t my intention to tell anyone what they believe or make wild assumptions, however I did nudge in there the proper definition of belief and I think it went over well. Brock agreed with me on the definitions and I think there was very little drama in regards to that one point.

    I must stress though, it is not my intention to do public relations for religious people nor am I a press secretary for atheists. I’m sure that we are all intelligent enough here that we don’t need examples given of the fringe elements of both sides. However I still think that there exists a silent majority of religious people and atheists that do go about doing the things I described, but they hardly get the airtime. Crazy always sells.

    I’m not going to take the lunacy of some religious person and spin it like they are doing high philosophy. I’m sure that my reactions to things like Jesus Camp and Religulous are exactly the same, if not at least highly similar, to skeptics and atheists. However I’ve also spent enough time talking with Jesuits, Imam’s, Monks and other theologians to know that what they are doing is far from lunacy and is, in fact, fascinating and worthy of discussion or at least some attention.

    I don’t fully understand what it means to be me, living between these worlds, but I think I’m on the right track. I value science and rational thought and I certainly can’t give up my reason and intellect. However I’ve been doing philosophy long enough to catch myself making mistakes and I’ve been surrounded by religion long enough to intimately know its pitfalls and strengths.

    I’m not giving concessions, I’m simply reporting on the events of my life.

    But I still have to ask (and this is for both of you): should I keep it to myself? For example, Immanuel Kant’s “categorial imperative” seems to say that I should behave in a manner that I think would, ideally of course, best apply to everyone. I think actively advocating more science and less religion fits the bill perfectly. Agree/disagree?

    Disagree. The CI is actually a process to find what is best by seeing if things could logically survive being applied as if there were a universal law. Saying its what’s best for everyone is circular reasoning because going into the CI you aren’t suppose to know what’s best until you are done.

    Take stealing for example. In the CI its not like stealing is bad because it wouldn’t be best for everyone. To steal implies ownership, if everyone stole to acquire everything as if it was a universal law then there would exist no property because no one would own anything. However if no one owned anything stealing couldn’t logically exist because there is no property. See what I mean?

    Its weird but definitely fascinating. Kant actually didn’t have problems with religion, just as long as people weren’t woo about it all. The way in which you infused the notion of best for everyone, I think, shows your bias. It’s slightly narcissistic and also a very Western notion.

    The problem with a pragmatic material viewpoint is that if you want to use that system you can’t have your cake and eat it to. Best, as far as methodological naturalism is concerned, only exists in the narrow confines of quantitative variables like physical health. Things like being happy, well adjusted and curious are wide enough that a material view can’t reel them all in. This is why I feel its an arrogant position to have, as if all I needed to do to live the best possible life is subscribe to the western notion that empirical thought is the key to solving all problems. It reminds me a lot of the attitudes of the colonial British as well as more recent examples of the Middle East being called barbaric.

    Obviously things like hanging homosexuals and the treatment of women are barbaric, but I also feel as if many in the West would extend their opinions to all aspects of life in the middle east. It’s as if people wont be happy until I give up falafel for a Big Mac. I don’t blame them though, its so easy for people to get so narrow-minded that they lose all objectivity. In fact I’d say its an inseparable part of the human condition.

    When it comes to science and its benefits I say yes please but when it comes to those other things that people claim are what’s best I say no thank you. That is unless it can somehow be proven to be the best but I doubt that would ever happen.

    My plea to all people, especially atheists, is that they realize that the day to day things they are doing aren’t even close to being objective in reality. If they were, there would be no room for love, aesthetics or meaning.

  240. @Renée: Wow. That is one amazing post. You answered lots of things that I didn’t know how to ask… or didn’t quite know that I needed to ask.

    Actually I’m Muslim
    Honestly I had no idea. And that makes it really, really cool :) Glad you’ve got a good sense of humor, as well! It’s far too easy to find those “death to infidels” comments. On the web, you’re a beacon of hope in a sea of childish tantrums.
    I did nudge in there the proper definition of belief and I think it went over well
    Yes, well played. It took me a good while to catch on. I also agree very much on most things you say about the lunatic fringe vs. silent majority.

    I’ve been surrounded by religion long enough to intimately know its pitfalls and strengths.
    I still haven’t heard a lot that’s convincing about the strengths. As I said the other day, I’m quite interested in art, and it’s impossible to ignore the impact that religion has had on painting and sculpture and ceramics and other things. But I don’t quite get what makes that inspiration, cognitively speaking, more than a sort of fascinating mind-game. Ancient Assyrians, Byzantine Christians, pre-industrial Korean Buddhists — they all seem to seek a creative outlet to express the plights and victories of their mythical heroes, and often teach moral lessons along the way. It’s very interesting, but I don’t see why religion gets the credit when there seems to be some sort of larger social and psychological processes quietly going on underneath that kind of pattern.

    going into the CI you aren’t suppose to know what’s best until you are done
    I read a tiny bit about CI long ago but just recently stumbled on it again. I figured I was shortcutting something important, which is why I tried bouncing the idea off of you. Thanks. But anyway, how can you possibly tune your own behavior to match some ideal “kingdom of ends” like Kant states, if you never live to see any sort of societal “ends”? Is that even what you mean by “done”?

    The way in which you infused the notion of best for everyone, I think, shows your bias. It’s slightly narcissistic and also a very Western notion.
    This might be my favorite part. I really don’t want to come across like Ayn Rand. Could you elaborate?

    Things like being happy, well adjusted and curious are wide enough that a material view can’t reel them all in
    …Yet. I’m not sure things like neural and cognitive science, and empirical psychology and sociology have really hit their stride yet. What happens if/when we get a really thorough understanding of the mind and its interactions? I don’t want to be like Ray Kurzweil and posit a “singularity” of mind & machine or anything silly, but science has room to make steady inroads here. I’m not so willing to write these off as inscrutable or even just non-empirical.

    I feel its an arrogant position to have, as if all I needed to do to live the best possible life is subscribe to the western notion that empirical thought is the key to solving all problems
    I can understand the concern. But… I don’t quite hold that position. As I briefly mentioned earlier, one of the fascinating things about science is its flexibility. Historically it has been adapted by philosophers to be more reliable and less prone to human error. These days we have a complex system of peer review, government granting agencies, collaboration, intellectual property rights, hiring practices, and standards of publishing. Those weren’t the same 50 years ago.
    So while I’ll agree that it’s not some “key to all problems”, I recognize that it’s designed & adjusted specifically to solve more and more problems in an increasingly reliable manner. Is there anything non-western that’s comparable?

    atheists… aren’t even close to being objective in reality. If they were, there would be no room for love, aesthetics or meaning.
    I suspect that a lot of the abrasive behavior by atheists on these topics is because they reject the sorts of love, aesthetics, and meaning that some religions try to dictate. I also suspect that, compared to the whole populace, a higher proportion of atheists are… gay, or intentionally unmarried, or intentionally childless, or interested in culture and music that are taboo in their region, or seeking a non-superstitious understanding of the world, or politically disillusioned, etc.
    It’s the vocal minority like me that are busting down doors and trying to challenge people on what to think. The rest just want the same rights and breathing room afforded to even the most indifferent religious folks.

    falafel [or] Big Mac
    I’ll take falafel too, thanks, haha

  241. Renée

    @Renée: Wow. That is one amazing post. You answered lots of things that I didn’t know how to ask… or didn’t quite know that I needed to ask.

    Wait, really? Awesome!

    Honestly I had no idea. And that makes it really, really cool :) Glad you’ve got a good sense of humor, as well! It’s far too easy to find those “death to infidels” comments. On the web, you’re a beacon of hope in a sea of childish tantrums.

    Thank you! I thought my referencing the Qur’an, Islamic schools and a pdf about Islam was enough but going back and looking again I can see where confusion might have come from.

    Yes, well played. It took me a good while to catch on. I also agree very much on most things you say about the lunatic fringe vs. silent majority.

    Great! That’s actually really wonderful to hear! I have my heart set on being a professor so I’m constantly self-conscious about how I’m perceived when communicating and if I’m actually getting ideas across.

    I still haven’t heard a lot that’s convincing about the strengths. As I said the other day, I’m quite interested in art, and it’s impossible to ignore the impact that religion has had on painting and sculpture and ceramics and other things. But I don’t quite get what makes that inspiration, cognitively speaking, more than a sort of fascinating mind-game.

    How you phrases that question actually revealed quite a lot that I’ve failed to stress. My point isn’t that science leaves this vacuum and religion fills it in, its more like humans are buildings and science is an excellent foundation. I think that for all people its not science all the way up. There can exist some architecture that is totally independent of science.

    In other terms if you divided up all of the habits, protocols, beliefs, declarations, and all other aspects of what it is to be a complete individual methodological empiricism only covers a small portion, rational thought a slightly larger and finally there is a wide expanse in which people freely interpret their existence in the world.

    It is that wide expanse that can be filled with either religion, philosophy, free thought or any combination of. My entire point is that on a day to day everyone is going about doing the same things. That’s why I feel that there is room for religion.

    For example, our ontology as uncovered by science contains no intrinsic value. In the simplest terms our ontology, according to science, is what happens when hydrogen atoms have a few billion years to do things. But because we are thinking beings, and that we can not separate our consciousness we are forced to always see things as they appear to us.

    No one, not even the Bad Astronomer himself, can accept that raw ontology. Not because of any flaw or anything but because of the fact that experiential opinions are tied to consciousness. The universe isn’t self reflective but we are. Because of that we will always be stuck in our sense of the things in themselves and how we relate to them. I highly suggest picking up a copy of Neitzsche’s “Human, all to human.” It’s an excellent read that spells out far better than I can, the tough problems that come from being conscious.

    To wrap this point up I do believe I’ve read on here a few times that people take their existence as a “gift” because of the small probability of life forming and the fact that we live in a universe that cares not for our existence. Methodological naturalism may have given us the root ontology but we can’t help but develop a relation to it. Therefor naturalism isn’t giving us the complete picture. Complete in a physical sense, incomplete in that it doesn’t tell us how to feel about it. I’m a romantic so I must be biased when I say that how we feel about things is deeply important.

    Imagine that there was a conference on astronomy that had massive HD pictures of Hubble images projected all through out it, and a line of speakers that spoke in elegant and lucid prose about the beauty that is the Earth and its spot in the massive torrential seas of an unforgiving cosmos. I’m positive that no one would object to such a conference. The attendees, mostly skeptics and atheists, would probably agree with the things being said and I’m sure more than a few heart strings would be pulled.

    Imagine also across the street is a Mosque, in it there is a talk being given by an Imam. This Imam is old, wise and much loved by the community. The topic of the conversation is Islamic Philosophy. In this lecture he talks about how early Islam took into it Hellenistic traditions and how these traditions radically altered the course of Islam. He briefly discusses the various schools of thought and what they may mean to the average person. The Imam goes on to say that despite the disagreements what can all be agreed on is the value of the gift of life. One may never be able to see the universe as Allah sees it but what can be seen is a world rich in opportunity and free for rational beings to walk through, learning and striving to better themselves.

    These two examples aren’t extra-ordinary but they speak volumes about what really matters to us. Whether you believe the universe is the product of Allah or the explosion of a singularity from the contact of membranes what matters to us, what can only matter to us, is how that makes us FEEL. One ontology isn’t any better than the other because neither of them contain intrinsically the mode of thought that dictates how you should feel.

    The Big Bang Theory doesn’t tell you how to feel, you figure that out for yourself.

    I read a tiny bit about CI long ago but just recently stumbled on it again. I figured I was shortcutting something important, which is why I tried bouncing the idea off of you. Thanks. But anyway, how can you possibly tune your own behavior to match some ideal “kingdom of ends” like Kant states, if you never live to see any sort of societal “ends”? Is that even what you mean by “done”?

    It’s ok, people get the CI so wrong all of the time its nothing new. What I meant by done is after you engage in the CI and have an ethical judgment generated you then go on to act as if that is the maximum of how you can behave in a situation. Believe it or not Wiki actually has a decent explanation :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Ends

    This might be my favorite part. I really don’t want to come across like Ayn Rand. Could you elaborate?

    Actually I think this anthropologist can do a WAY better job than I could!

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/wade_davis_on_endangered_cultures.html

    http://www.ted.com/talk/wade_davis_on_the_worldwide_web_of_belief_and_ritual.html

    I’m not sure things like neural and cognitive science, and empirical psychology and sociology have really hit their stride yet. What happens if/when we get a really thorough understanding of the mind and its interactions?

    That is such a huge question I can’t do it justice as being part of this conversation. I’ll do my best to formulate a response and then post it tomorrow because its getting late here and I’ve been feeling really tired lately.

    So while I’ll agree that it’s not some “key to all problems”, I recognize that it’s designed & adjusted specifically to solve more and more problems in an increasingly reliable manner. Is there anything non-western that’s comparable?

    Hopefully the TED talks I linked to answers this question.

    falafel [or] Big Mac
    I’ll take falafel too, thanks, haha

    I’m hungry now :D

  242. Sorry I’ve been gone; had a busy few days. Not sure if you’ll ever be back to read this, but just in case…

    its more like humans are buildings and science is an excellent foundation. I think that for all people its not science all the way up. There can exist some architecture that is totally independent of science.
    Architecture that doesn’t touch the foundation? Heh. Where do you propose this discontinuity is located? Please don’t say “a different spot for each person” because that would sweep aside the possibility of population trends.

    Anyway, Daniel Dennett refers to those sorts of discontinuities as “skyhooks”. They are a type of explanation from mystery, essentially the logical fallacy of “argument from incredulity”. My friend Mano wrote about skyhooks to a good extent, and compared them to the foundational “cranes” of science.

    But because we are thinking beings, and that we can not separate our consciousness we are forced to always see things as they appear to us.
    Not quite. We’ve developed scientific tools to probe the electromagnetic spectrum well beyond visible light in both frequency directions. Paleontology and genetics have allowed us to construct the history of life from long before humans could write. Astronomy allows us to peer back into the early universe, and calculate forward billions of years in the future of our galaxy. The biggest scientific breakthroughs in the last centuries are notable because they allow us to see and understand beyond the daily routines evolution has equipped us to handle.

    Of course you probably meant “see things as they appear” in a broader philosophical sense, but that still sounds awfully fatalistic to me. It’s a dim view of creativity and ingenuity you hold if you think we’re forever bound to what our current physical bodies can handle. I don’t mean to proclaim anything silly like “in the future we’ll all be cyborgs!”, but honestly, if we can master genetics and the vast complexities of cellular signaling, who knows how far we could move the boundaries of perception and understanding that we’re seemily stuck with from birth…

    “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” — Charles Darwin

    Imagine that there was a conference on astronomy… [and] also across the street is a Mosque
    To me, this analogy fails because the latter “sense of wonder” uses skyhooks. The history and traditions may be understood in terms of reason and causation, but not the mythology.

    I’m a romantic so I must be biased when I say that how we feel about things is deeply important. […] One ontology isn’t any better than the other because neither of them contain intrinsically the mode of thought that dictates how you should feel.
    I heartily disagree! Feelings are interesting, but not terribly important. Truth is what’s important! Feelings are temporal and subjective; I can’t demonstrate them to another person, I can only describe them with language and hope they can extrapolate from their own experiences. However, if we can construct a scaffolding that’s less fleeting, more demonstrable, and more reproducible, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to use it? We’ve done that. It’s science.

    Furthermore, feelings only affect our behavior, not the larger natural universe (most of which is beyond our reach). They don’t manifest beyond the electrical pulses within the lumps of grey matter in our heads. They’re a symptom, a byproduct of a biological organ. There is no imperative “should” for feelings except in light of neurological wiring and firing probabilities.

    “It turns out wanting something doesn’t make it real.” — Randall Munroe. (“No matter how elaborately you fool yourself”)

    Actually I think this anthropologist can do a WAY better job than I could
    I haven’t had a chance to watch that yet, but I definitely will! TED talks are often fantastic.

    I like quotes today, so I’ll wrap up with one more:

    ” Now, there is a certain class of sophisticated modern theologian who will say something like this: “Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. Existence is such a 19th-century preoccupation! It doesn’t matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me. If God is real for you, who cares whether science has made him redundant? Such arrogance! Such elitism.”

    Well, if that’s what floats your canoe, you’ll be paddling it up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world’s peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists. If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They’ll be right.” — Richard Dawkins, September 12.

  243. Renée

    Sorry I’ve been gone; had a busy few days. Not sure if you’ll ever be back to read this, but just in case…

    I’ve been waiting for you! :D

    Architecture that doesn’t touch the foundation? Heh. Where do you propose this discontinuity is located? Please don’t say “a different spot for each person” because that would sweep aside the possibility of population trends.

    Who made up tha stupid analogy? Oh wait !

    Yeah, I’m sorry that was completely not how I wanted to go about making an analogy. What I wanted to say was that science is the building and the sorts of going-on’s inside the building can vary independent of the building.

    I was just trying to represent that divide/jump/grey area that exists between descriptive processes and normative philosophy.

    Anyway, Daniel Dennett refers to those sorts of discontinuities as “skyhooks”. They are a type of explanation from mystery, essentially the logical fallacy of “argument from incredulity”. My friend Mano wrote about skyhooks to a good extent, and compared them to the foundational “cranes” of science.

    Yes, I am aware of those! I’m actually a fan of Dennetts work on COnsciousness and I even agree with some of his points about how you should approach religion. Forgive me for not elaborating on skyhooks because this portion of the discussion came from my complete failure at analogy.

    Of course you probably meant “see things as they appear” in a broader philosophical sense, but that still sounds awfully fatalistic to me. It’s a dim view of creativity and ingenuity you hold if you think we’re forever bound to what our current physical bodies can handle.

    Yes, I meant that in the philosophical sense, though not as you would paint it. What I am saying is that no matter what things are always going to have a relation to us. Even if our perception/understanding of something is complete its completeness is always in relation to our observation of it. I don’t think that’s a wacky idea at all, plenty of people agree with that notion. Its part of the paradox of imagining a world with no observers, its impossible. Things will always be as they are in relation to us.

    Science doesn’t give meaning to anything, its our interpretation of what science shows that does. Atheists/skeptics engage in normative thinking too, that’s essentially where I’m trying to go with this.

    …who knows how far we could move the boundaries of perception and understanding that we’re seemily stuck with from birth…

    It doesn’t matter how far it can go because it will always be perception, that’s the rub. Unless you are proposing a state of consciousness that isn’t conscious. Ask yourself what the significance/consequences are of being a conscious being, or better yet read Heidegger, Nietzsche, Sartre, Beauvoir and Kant too because he always had something to say about everything! :D

    I heartily disagree! Feelings are interesting, but not terribly important. Truth is what’s important! Feelings are temporal and subjective; I can’t demonstrate them to another person, I can only describe them with language and hope they can extrapolate from their own experiences. However, if we can construct a scaffolding that’s less fleeting, more demonstrable, and more reproducible, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to use it? We’ve done that. It’s science.

    Sigh… I have a feeling we are never going to go further than this.

    I will say it again, SCIENCE DOES NOT EQUAL TRUTH.

    It is a way to go about understanding a TYPE of truth but is is not the answer to ALL truth. In fact its logically impossible for science to make the claim that it seeks the truth because that’s dependent on Epistemology. Science can not exist and function within a vacuum. Unless you rewrite the definition of what science is but I doubt anyone would agree to that.

    If you want I can substitute feelings for “how one ought to be.” I’m sure you care about concepts of fairness, justice and the law. However those truths can’t be found in science so do you discharge them or do you accept that you are doing things in addition to science.

    I mean the universe doesn’t care about what we do, neither does the Earth. The only thing that has a concern for humans that we can know objectively is other humans. So why do you care about things? As far as scientific truth is concerned your cares are meaningless YET I know for a fact that you have no qualms about generating meaning. If you want to wiggle out of that by saying that generated meaning isn’t “truth” then all we have here is one big semantical discourse.

    …Well, if that’s what floats your canoe, you’ll be paddling it up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world’s peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists.

    Well one of the most basic tenets of my faith is that Allah doesn’t occupy any sort of objective reality nor is he tangible. There are over 1.2 billion Muslims in the world so I would consider that one heck of a strawman.

    If sophisticated theologians or postmodern relativists think they are rescuing God from the redundancy scrap-heap by downplaying the importance of existence, they should think again. Tell the congregation of a church or mosque that existence is too vulgar an attribute to fasten onto their God, and they will brand you an atheist. They’ll be right.” — Richard Dawkins, September 12.

    I really don’t care about Dawkins, nor do I find him convincing at all. He should stick to genetics and leave theology and philosophy to people who actually know it.

    I’m not downplaying the importance of existence, I’m rescuing notions of God from people like Dawkins who make wildly inaccurate claims. I went out of my way to read the books published by the “New Atheists” and franky I wasn’t impressed. Its as if there one focus point is on the silly, backwoods, uber fundamental God of Christianity. They never really approach the concept of logically possible Gods, nor do they give a framework of normative philosophy that answers some major questions, they just do the argumentative equivalent of “meh.”

    They simply reject all things short of science, including normative philosophy, then just try to work in this silly crap about what they are doing is more meaningful than anyone else. Which is incredibly hypocritical seeing as how “more meaningful” is a subjective term in the way they phrase it.

    Well I did enjoy this, though I admit it has been trying. I doubt I will ever convince you of anything other than the little points, so I should just leave it at that. Hopefully you are left with the realization that we aren’t all part of the “religious people are stupid/misguided” stereotype.

    Though I have a feeling that you’ll just shake your head and say “smart girl, if only she saw it the right way.”

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