Replying to Knop

That last post makes a nice lead-in to this post, from my fellow Science Blogger Rob Knop. This post is a follow-up to this previous post, in which Knop professed his own Christian faith, and protested what he perceives as a bias towards atheism here at SB. The present post is entitled, “What is the Purpose of Religion and/or Spirituality in a Scientific Age.”

Let’s have a look.

Referring to his earlier post, Knop writes:

In that post, I make it very clear that religion is no good at explaining the processes of the natural world. Once upon a time, that was a big part of what religion was for. We want to understand, to explain, how the world works. Until ancient Greece, at least Western thought didn’t even attempt to explain it without recourse to theology. In the last few hundred years, science has demonstrated tremendous power in explaining the natural world without recourse to theology– there’s just no competition. We don’t need religion to explain the natural world any more, and indeed it’s clear that religion does a terrible job at that, whereas science has done an impressive job, and there’s no reaspon to suspect that it will stop any time soon. (Italics in original).

Hard to argue with that. I suspect many Christians would retort that you at least need God to explain why there is a natural world at all, but Knop, as he make sclear later in the essay does not accept that either. One wonders, however, what it means to describe yourself as a Christian and then write a paragraph like the one above. But let’s move on:

Given that, is there any point to religion any more? For many, the answer is no. However, to some subset of those many, they think that the answer should be no for everybody. When somebody uses language like “The God Hypothesis,” there’s a good chance that they are taking a narrow view of religion as merely a “science substitute.” What I want to argue is that there still remains a point and a purpose to “God” even if there is no point or purpose to “God the Creator.” I would say that indeed the hypothesis of “God the Creator” has not stood up to observational scrutiny, for there is a whole host of other hypotheses that have stood up an awful lot better. While we can’t strictly rule out “God the Creator,” the role of that creation is shrinking into an ever decreasing set of gaps– that I full expect science will one day close. Despite the Discovery Institute’s senseless rambling, there’s no need to invoke any kind of God or Intelligent Designer to explain how humanity arose. We’ve got broad theories that get our Universe from a very early state, that produced our Sun and our Earth. I fully expect that one day we will even have scientific theories that satisfactorily address the creation of our Universe itself.

Remarkable stuff. Knop seems not to realize that in writing this paragraph he has conceded all of the major points raised by people like Richard Dawkins and Victor Stenger, which is interesting considering he is quite critical of both gentlemen. Dawkins and Stenger are quite explicit that the God they are talking about is a creator God, the one who created the universe with one act of His will. Both gentlemen explain why science reveals not a trace of evidence for any sort of designer, and reveals evidence against the specific notion of an all-powerful, all-loving God.

This is significant, you see, since most people do place God in the role of creator, and defend their belief with some version of the design argument. Dawkins and Stenger go to great lengths to show this argument is mistaken, and now Knop apparently agrees with them.

So what is Knop all worked up about? He next goes to relate an anecdote about the desire of the Church he attends to expunge the masculine language so prevalent in the Bible. In particular, they wanted to replace the phrase “Our Father who art in heaven,” with “Our Creator who art in heaven.” Knop then writes:

I have never liked that. The term “Father” encompasses so much more than the donation of some gametes; and, yet, we reduce the role to that by using the term Creator. What’s more, it’s the role that I have come to understand I think is the least important role, and indeed a role that doesn’t entirely fit with our understanding of the modern world.

Still good. Knop needs to realize, however, that in demoting God from his role of as Creator, he is excluding himself from most Christian denominations. Every declaration of Christian faith that I have ever seen has made “God as creator” a centerpiece of the faith. For example, here is the first sentence of The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.

I guess the Catholics didn’t get the memo about “God as creator” being an unimportant idea.

In the next paragraph Knop describes God’s traditional roles as Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. He then states bluntly that he is ready to throw out “Creator.&rduqo; He then writes:

So we are left with Sustainer and Redeemer. Obviously, God does not provide physical sustenance. And, there are many out there who don’t need any kind of overt religion or spirituality for emotional, moral, or other sustenance; there are quite a number of agnostics or atheists who practice no religion, even private personal religion, but who live whole and fulfilled lives. But God can provide emotional or spiritual sustenance, and indeed does for many. Call it a crutch if you must, but many people find the strength to face the challenges in their lives, and find the will to do the things that they believe should be done, via their faith in God or gods. This isn’t delusion; this is how people get through their day. It is real to them. There do not need to be testable hypotheses that say that “if there is a God, then the intervention in the physical world will be detected in such and such a way” for the bolstering that many get from their religion to be very real to them. (Italics in Original, My Boldface)

Whoops. That’s pretty silly, I’m afraid.

Let’s start with that boldface remark. Here’s one definition of “delusion” according to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.

b: a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary;

When a person believes in something that is real to them, but is not real for everyone else, that is the textbook definition of deluded. In fact, I’m reminded of the facetious definition of reality as “that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” If Knop is correct, then it seems that God does go away as soon as you stop believing in Him.

If someone sincerely believes in an invisible, floating, incoroporeal dragon in their garage, and that belief helps him get through that day, I suspect that Knop would have more to say than simply, “The dragon is real to him.” In fact, I don’t think Knop would hesitate to say that person is deluded on a fundamental issue about reality. I’ll bet Knop is perfectly happy to declare that entities like Bigfoots, Nessies or unicorns do not exist, and base that conclusion on our sustained inability to find any evidence that they do. It is only God belief that he insulates from this conclusion.

(And no fair arguing that Bigfoots, Nessies and unicorns exist in the physical world whereas God exists outside all space and time. It is a triviality to conjure up ad hoc hypotheses to explain away why we find no evidence for Bigfoots and the like. Were I to go that route in a debate, Knop would surely roll his eyes at me).

Now, you might say at this point that a person is free to believe whatever they like, so long as that belief does not hurt anyone. You would certainly get no argument from me about that. To the extent that people keep their religious beliefs private, and make no attempt to force others to adhere to those beliefs, I have no quarrel at all with them. If all, or even most religious belief was of this sort, people like Dawkins and Stenger would not have bothered to write the books that they did.

But, of course, most belief is not of this sort. Especially not in the United States. Knop’s benign sort of religious belief is not the sort that has the ear of a major political party in this country. It is not people who say “God is real to me” who try to restrict stem-cell research, or prevent women from choosing to have an abortion, or teach creationism in science classes, or say in large numbers that atheists are inherently unworthy of holding public office, or any of the other countless ways that religious people in this country attempt to get the power of the state on their side.

It is this prevalent, entirely mainstream sort of religion at which people like Dawkins and Stenger direct their fire. They are right to feel threatened by this sort of religion. It is Knop’s version of theology that does not have widespread support. Consequently, it is rather unfair for him to complain that in writing their books they did not feel the need to address his views on the subject.

What about the rest of this paragraph? Knop tells us that God can provide emotional sustenance, but the rest of the paragraph does not bear that out. Instead, Knop merely argues that faith in God can provide emotional sustenance, as if there were anyone doubting that point. If God does not exist that obviously he can not provide any sort of sustenance, emotional or otherwise. And if you state bluntly that you don’t need to believe in God to explain the natural world, then one wonders what reason you have for thinking He exists at all.

Let’s move on. Knop writes:

Many scientists make the arrogant mistake of thinking that the only kind of human knowledge that exists is scientific knowledge. I see this all the time. I saw it a few times in the responses to my previous post. Consider, for example, art. Yes, there is science in understanding how materials combine to make sculptures, or how pigments combine to make colors. Yes, there is science in understanding what it is about human cognition and/or sociological predisposition that leads people to find some kind of art more pleasing than another. But the art itself– the creation of it, the appreciation of it, and the understanding of it’s meaning for what it is itself– that is not science. That can be very creative, it can be very deep, it can require tremendous intelligence, and it can involve scholarship… but it’s not science. This is what people are talking about when they talk about “other ways of knowing” besides just knowing the empirical results of scientific experiments and the additional predictions of theories supported by those experiments.

I’m afraid someone will have to explain to me Knop’s point. He writes that the creation and appreciation of art is not science. Indeed it isn’t. It also is not knowledge. What is it, exactly, that I can be said to know as the result of pondering great works of art?

I also don’t see how any of this is relevant to the matter at hand. In referring to science as the only legitimate route to knowledge, the implication is that you are referring to knowledge about the natural world. And the broader point is simply that when you make an assertion about emprical matters, you should be able to provide some sort of justification for what you believe beyond, “I believe it because it makes me feel good.” Or more precisely, you should expect to provide such a justification if you want other people to take your belief seriously.

Knop really goes off the rails with his next paragraph:

Richard Dawkins gave an interview to Salon last October in which there was this exchange (the interviewer in bold, Dawkins not):

But it seems to me the big “why” questions are, why are we here? And what is our purpose in life?

It’s not a question that deserves an answer.

Well, I think most people would say those questions are central to the way we think about our lives. Those are the big existential questions, but they are also questions that go beyond science.

If you mean, what is the purpose of the existence of the universe, then I’m saying that is quite simply begging the question. If you happen to be religious, you think that’s a meaningful question. But the mere fact that you can phrase it as an English sentence doesn’t mean it deserves an answer. Those of us who don’t believe in a god will say that is as illegitimate as the question, why are unicorns hollow? It just shouldn’t be put. It’s not a proper question to put. It doesn’t deserve an answer.

Here, Dawkins is showing exactly that arrogant and mistaken tendency of the scientist to assume that the only valid thought is that thought susceptable to the scientific method. Sure, “what is the purpose of existence” is not a meaningful scientific question. But it is a question whose answer can and will influence how we live our lives. The question “what should I do with myself today,” if thought about carefully enough, impinges upon the question “what is the purpose of my life.” Since science does not provide an answer, people look elsewhere. Some look to philosophy. Some don’t think about it too hard. Some deliberately and consciously create their own purpose. Some turn to religion. The point is that this is an extremely meaningful and important question; whether or not it can be answered, the attempt to answer it is absolutely crucial. And yet, Dawkins writes it off as a question that doesn’t deserve an answer. This is where he, and all of those who think that religion is bad because it’s no more than a failed hypothesis, are completely missing the point. This is where those who scoff at the notion of “other ways of knowing” and those who think that only scientific things are relevant to humanity are missing out on a large part of what it means to be a thinking creature.

Knop has a lot of nerve accusing other people of missing the point.

First off, it is perfectly obvious to anyone not looking for an excuse to feel superior that Dawkins is here being interviewed as a scientist. In casually acknolwedging that asking about purpose is meaningless scientifically he is once again conceding Dawkins’ point.

Dawkins is explicitly addressing the question of whether there is any ultimate purpose to the universe. And he makes the quite sensible point that even by asking the question you are assuming something that is very much in dispute.

What has that to do with the question of how people find meaning in their own lives? Which part of that leaves Dawkins exposed as someone who thinks that only scientific questions are important? Dawkins simply denies that you can point to one thing that is the purpose behind everyone’s existence. In this he differs from a fundamentalist Christian, for example, who would say the purpose of your life is to serve God in word, thought and deed. He would not deny that people have to find things that give them a feeling of fulfilment in their own life.

Aside from the fact that I think that’s obvious even in the intevriew Knop links to, Dawkins has also been quite explicit on these points in other venues. Here he is in an interview with The Guardian:

People frequently ask Richard Dawkins: “Why do you bother getting up in the morning if the meaning of life boils down to such a cruel pitiless fact, that we exist merely to help replicate a string of molecules?” As he puts it: “They say to me, how can you bear to be alive if everything is so cold and empty and pointless? Well, at an academic level I think it is – but that doesn’t mean you can live your life like that. One answer is that I feel privileged to be allowed to understand why the world exists, and why I exist, and I want to share it with other people.”

He elaborates on this later in the interview.

In this interview he states explicitly that the meaning of life is whatever people chose to make of it. In this one he explcitly extols the virtues of art and literature.

For all his talk about how Dawkins doesn’t get it about religion, in reality it is Knop who doesn’t get it about Dawkins (and atheists generally). Knop is so determined to paint Dawkins as a blinkered, robotic, passionless logic machine (in contrast to more sensible people who appreciate creativity and search for meaning in their lives and understand what it means to be a thinking creature), that he has simply presented a ridiculous caricature of what Dawkins actually believes.

Knop goes on for several more paragraphs in this vain, but let us fast forward to the end:

The one thing I really do hope I can accomplish by scribbling all of this is to let people who are uncertain or who are on the fence realize that you can fully accept all of the implications of modern scientific knowledge without having to completely throw out your religious faith. I think that is a tremendously important message, because so many people have religious faith. We don’t need to ask them to throw it out, or even to make fun of them for not throwing it out, in order to accept modern science–but I do think we need as many people as possible to accept modern science. I hope I can serve as an example of somebody who accepts modern science but is able to maintain some form of religious faith.

I think the emphasis is on the word “completely.” Sure, you can accept both faith and science. You just have to practice a faith that makes no empirical claims about the world and believe in a God whose existence can not be rationally defended. You have to be willing to believe things not because they are true or supported by evidence, but simply because you find them comforting.

Not only has Knop failed to provide any reason to think that Dawkins is wrong about anything, he has conceded every one of Dawkins major points. More than that, he has bluntly confirmed Dawkins portrayal of religious belief as something based on personal comfort and not empirical truth.

I suspect that few religious people will want to throw their hat in with Knop. He certainly seems to be promoting a version of Christianity so watered down and devoid of content that it becomes an abuse of language to describe it as Christianity at all. That notwithstanding, I look forward to reading his further blog entries on this subject. I do hope, however, that he takes a time-out from feeling put upon by atheists to understand what it is that atheists are actually claiming.

Comments

  1. #1 Signout
    March 13, 2007

    Boy, it’s a good thing that, failing to find a category you can name into which to shove Rob Knop, you at least manage to convince yourself he’s crazy. Otherwise, what would he be? And how would you manage to rationalize hating him? I mean, if he were just a good guy who’s trying to lead a good life modeled after, say, another good guy, you’d have no material.

    Except for maybe the Dawkins thing. If he hasn’t acquainted himself intimately with every nuance of the man’s writing, he’s obviously…well, whatever–he’s not our kind, right? I mean, right?

    If you’re gonna trash organized religion, you can’t then criticize Rob for believing in something other than organized religion. In fact, defining what a true believer is and then holding him to your own standard makes you a part of something not so dissimilar from organized religion–it makes you rigid, biased, and perhaps not so interested in critical thinking skills. All not such good colors on ScienceBloggers.

    I think you need to listen to Rob without the suspicion that he’s trying to convert you to something. I know as well as anyone that it’s hard to get past baggage with organized religion. But a growing number of Christians today share his beliefs, and it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if non-Christians were able to engage them in something other than confrontation.

  2. #2 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Jason, just a couple of comments.

    The dictionary says:

    b: a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary;

    Jason says:

    When a person believes in something that is real to them, but is not real for everyone else, that is the textbook definition of deluded.

    “Delusion” is a psychiatric term, so the textbook you should be looking in is a psychiatric one. And like a physics or biology textbook, you should understand what you’re reading, or at the very least ask an expert, before trying to apply it.

    In fact, the dictionary definition isn’t bad, because it includes the vital precondition: a delusion has to be “psychotic”. I don’t want to put words in Rob’s mouth, but when he says “this isn’t delusion”, he’s 100% correct on that, by the textbook definition.

    And yes, this is just as grating to a psychiatrist as an IDer misusing words like “entropy” or “complexity” is to a physicist or information theorist.

    Having said that, I think that Rob’s major failing, as you point out is this:

    Not only has Knop failed to provide any reason to think that Dawkins is wrong about anything, he has conceded every one of Dawkins major points. More than that, he has bluntly confirmed Dawkins portrayal of religious belief as something based on personal comfort and not empirical truth.

    As someone clever (I can’t recall who) pointed out, the real issue is this: Most religious people claim that their religion is true. Dawkins et al, quite understandably, argue that this statement is incorrect. The frustrating thing for people like Rob is that this accepts an unstated premise of the question, namely, that it makes sense to talk about religions being true or false in the first place.

    Rob touched on this point in his post:

    Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God.

    In other words, “God” is more like something that people do than something that exists independently of our minds. If you understand religion, or a god, or whatever, as something that people do, it makes no more sense to ask “is religion X true” than to ask “is wearing kilts true”.

    Rob’s complaint about Dawkins is that he didn’t deal with Rob’s religion, which, as you say, is far from mainstream, and you don’t really have that much of a problem with. That wasn’t, as you say, Dawkins’ purpose, and nor should it have been. It would be unreasonable for a mainstream book such as Dawkins’ to talk about an extreme minority view of religion such as Rob’s.

    In other words, this whole argument is based on a bunch of misunderstandings. If we can just all sit down and try to clear them up, I think we’ll all find ourselves agreeing more than we disagree.

  3. #3 Jon S
    March 13, 2007

    I’m having a hard time understanding Rob’s belief’s and comments myself and think he’d be a bigger hero if he actually stood up for scripture, which is the foundation of Christianity.

  4. #4 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 13, 2007

    Given all of that– if you are an atheist, then to you, God does not exist, because you have no need of it in your life, and because none of us have any need of it to explain how the natural world works. For somebody else, God is real because his faith gives him emotional support. Is this other person deluded? Only if he uses that faith to claim things that are wrong– for instance, that the world is only 6,000 years old.

    It’s quite common for apologists to redefine “God” to avoid criticism. But Knop has taken redefinition to a whole new level by redefining existence. He claims an entity exists for some people and not for others.

  5. #5 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 13, 2007

    If you’re gonna trash organized religion, you can’t then criticize Rob for believing in something other than organized religion.

    Why the ***** not? Let’s play the substitution game: “If you’re gonna trash ESP, you can’t then criticize X for believing in something other than ESP.” That didn’t make any sense did it? Well, neither do you.

  6. #6 Signout
    March 13, 2007

    Ooooh, snippy. If you could possibly make that one immature, name-calling post into two, maybe three immature, name-calling posts, that would be awesome. Thanks.

  7. #7 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 13, 2007

    Third comment in response to Knop’s post, in which he is tipped off about the difference between aesthetics and epistemology. Look in vain for Knop’s acknowledgment of the distinction.

  8. #8 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 13, 2007

    Ooooh, snippy. If you could possibly make that one immature, name-calling post into two, maybe three immature, name-calling posts, that would be awesome. Thanks

    Hey, you talkin ta me? Which post? Which persons were called what names?

  9. #9 J. J. Ramsey
    March 13, 2007

    Rosenhouse: “guess the Catholics didn’t get the memo about ‘God as creator’ being an unimportant idea.”

    Knop is not a Catholic. He is a member of the UCC. You might as well have quoted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to a Unitarian.

    Rosenhouse: “I do hope, however, that he takes a time-out from feeling put upon by atheists to understand what it is that atheists are actually claiming.”

    I don’t think he feels put upon by atheists in general so much as put upon by certain atheists, especially those who like to call other atheists “appeasers.” Last time I checked, you’ve never been one of those.

    Mustafa Mond, FCD: “He claims an entity exists for some people and not for others.”

    If the entity that we are talking about is a mental construct rather than something that is supposed to exist in the outside world, then that is hardly nonsense.

  10. #10 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 13, 2007

    If the entity that we are talking about is a mental construct rather than something that is supposed to exist in the outside world, then that is hardly nonsense.

    I don’t see any way to square that with his insistence that the people holding that mental construct are not deluded.

  11. #11 Blake Stacey
    March 13, 2007

    I keep waiting for the astronomer who says “people who are uncertain or who are on the fence” can fully accept all of modern astrophysics without having to completely throw out their comforting belief in astrology. After all, quite a few people get through their day by checking their horoscopes. It’s real to them. They don’t need testable hypotheses saying, “If the planets acted on people in such-and-such a way, thus-and-so must be true.” They can get the succor they require whether or not such hypotheses are ever formulated, let alone tested.

    Really. Astrology gives people hope, and in its truest, most refined form, it’s really beyond or orthogonal to astronomy, not in contradiction with it! You’re a foolish Virgo if you believe otherwise.

  12. #12 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Blake: That will happen when someone comes up with a form of astrology that makes no claims about the physical world. I have no idea what such a thing would look like, but if it ever happens, I’ll respect it.

  13. #13 Tyler DiPietro
    March 13, 2007

    If the entity that we are talking about is a mental construct rather than something that is supposed to exist in the outside world, then that is hardly nonsense.

    In other words, something that isn’t real. I can mentally conjure all kinds of things that are so improbable as to be virtually guaranteed not to exist.

  14. #14 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Tyler: No, not something that isn’t real.

    Rather than mental constructs, it might be better to use a different example. Justice is an example of a social construct. It doesn’t exist in the physical world; indeed, it doesn’t even make any sense to talk about it independently of sentient beings. You can’t test it scientifically. It’s not an invariant; what we mean by “justice” changes as time passes.

    But it would be wrong to say that “justice” doesn’t exist. It’s a part of our society, and we notice it if it’s missing.

  15. #15 Tulse
    March 13, 2007

    I can mentally conjure all kinds of things that are so improbable as to be virtually guaranteed not to exist

    Indeed, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

    Pseudonym writes: That will happen when someone comes up with a form of astrology that makes no claims about the physical world.

    Almost every religion on the face of the planet professes beliefs that make claims about the physical world. Rob may be happy with his omni-impotent comforting friend, but such bloodless (and interaction-less) deism flies in the face of 6000 years or more of religions making claims about the physical world, and is a infintesimal minority among the billions of current believers of the world’s faiths. If he’s going to re-define religion in that fashion, to the point where the “God” doesn’t interact in any fashion with the natural world (so no miracles, no answered prayers, no whispers in the long dark evenings of doubt), then he shouldn’t be surprised that Dawkins’ points don’t really apply to him.

    That said, with all his negation of the power of “God”, it is hard to know what the heck Rob positively believes in. We know that he believes that his belief in God is comforting to him, but that gives us (and Rob) absolutely no reason to believe that God actually exists. I can believe plenty of things that might give comfort to me (like “in six months Bill Gates will give me his fortune”), but that’s no reason to hold such beliefs, and to do so truly would be delusional. As far as I can see, Rob has assigned practically no qualities to “God”, perhaps not even existence. What kind of God is that? What kind of comfort can that be?

  16. #16 Kevin
    March 13, 2007

    “Many scientists make the arrogant mistake of thinking that the only kind of human knowledge that exists is scientific knowledge. ”

    This was Rob’s claim that Jason’s objection to, and Rob’s continous advoidance of explaination, led, in the end, to Rob BANNING Jason from the comments.

    OK, what knowledge exists that is not scientific knowledge?

    – moral rules of behaviour (preference not knowledge)

    ok how bout Knowledge of moral rules of behavior (like the law) Is law scientific? Maybe we could call it religion and then we would have knowledge from religion. oh wait, the law is not really moral.

    any hoo, Jason never got his answer and Rob seems really troubled whenever anyone asked questions about what he meant when he wrote stuff.

    also he never defined knowledge anyway. oh well at least Rob is not a GODLESS COMMUNIST!

  17. #17 Tyler DiPietro
    March 14, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    The problem I see is that you’re conflating the respective natures of two different claims. Yes, there are (more) ethereal concepts like those of ethics and aesthetics, but if theism has any cognitive value whatsoever it is not an ethereal claim. Either things like angels, demons, Karma, “fate” or god(s) exist, or they don’t. Claiming that 2001: A Space Odyssey exists expressing something different than the claim that 2001: A Space Odyssey is an awesome sci fi flick.

  18. #18 Abbie
    March 14, 2007

    any hoo, Jason never got his answer and Rob seems really troubled whenever anyone asked questions about what he meant when he wrote stuff.

    That constant refrain was the most amusing thing about the comment threads.

    I really don’t see how it’s a difficult question. But no one could come up with any explanation as to how religion conferred knowledge; nor any example of this knowledge; nor how conflicting knowledge could be judged.

    I’m *very* interested to see how he goes about explaining why he’s a Christian.

  19. #19 MarkP
    March 14, 2007

    It remains one of the most powerful informal evidences against religion that it seems capable of turning even the most brilliant of people into blithering idiots spouting things even they would consider absurd if applied in any other area of thought.

    I’m still waiting for those ever-elusive “sophisticated” relious arguments so many claim exist.

  20. #20 Uber
    March 14, 2007

    Rob may be a good guy but when he starts writing about religion he seems to become pretty clueless, not to mention angry when he can’t answer the questions asked of him.

  21. #21 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Tyler: I agree with you in part and disagree in part.

    The part that I disagree with is that if it’s not naturalistic, it’s etherial and hence useless. The study of morals and ethics is not naturalistic, but it’s not useless either.

    The part that I agree with is the bit about non-etherial claims, but it’s actually not relevant to the topic under discussion. Rob made no claims about angels, demons etc in his posts. He did claim that “God” exists, but also conceded that “God” doesn’t exist without people, that is, that “God” is a social/mental construct.

    And the fact that you and I can mention “God” and have a fairly good idea what we’re talking about, shows that that much is true, would you not agree?

  22. #22 Ginger Yellow
    March 14, 2007

    Except for maybe the Dawkins thing. If he hasn’t acquainted himself intimately with every nuance of the man’s writing, he’s obviously…well, whatever–he’s not our kind, right? I mean, right?

    It’s hardly an obscure nuance of Dawkins’s writing. It’s what he says whenever he’s asked about the “meaning of life”, which is very often. Indeed it’s what 95% of atheists or materialists say when asked about the meaning of life. It’s fundamental to a materialistic worldview that meaning is something generated by agents, especially humans. Not knowing that is like Dawkins not knowing that Christians believe Christ’s sacrifice will redeem their sins.

  23. #23 Tulse
    March 14, 2007

    Rob made no claims about angels, demons etc in his posts. He did claim that “God” exists, but also conceded that “God” doesn’t exist without people, that is, that “God” is a social/mental construct.

    I’m not sure that Rob would agree with that characterization, and if he did, it would make such a belief silly. If “God” is literally only a social/mental construct, invented by humans (and thus did not “exist” in any form of that word prior to the existence of humans), then believing in such a construct surely is delusional, and taking comfort from such a belief borders on insane.

    As I read Rob (and I’ll grant that pinning down his beliefs is not at all easy), he seems to believe in a God that does not interact in the world in any way, yet nonetheless has some sort of independent existence, separate from human belief. At least, that’s the only way I can make any sort of sense of what he is saying.

  24. #24 J. J. Ramsey
    March 14, 2007

    Tulse: “If “God” is literally only a social/mental construct, invented by humans (and thus did not ‘exist’ in any form of that word prior to the existence of humans), then believing in such a construct surely is delusional”

    Only if one actually believes that the social/mental construct is a thing in the outside world rather than the construct that it is.

    Kevin: “This was Rob’s claim that Jason’s objection to, and Rob’s continous advoidance of explaination, led, in the end, to Rob BANNING Jason from the comments.”

    Another perspective, from commenter Decline and Fall:

    “Caledonian and Jason were both refusing to actually engage in the argument at hand, and were unnecessarily rude about it. But out of the dozens of dissenters on this and the ‘shoot me’ post, only those two have been banned. (Mustafa was warned and begged off.) So your statement is ignorant at best, willfully disingenuous at worst.”

    IMHO, Knop was too touchy about banning them, and I hope he reverses the decision, but Decline and Fall has it at least partly right.

  25. #25 PZ Myers
    March 14, 2007

    Another distortion you’ll find over there is the claim that we nasty atheists are unfairly conflating their religion with fundamentalism — that Dawkins, for instance, is making a flawed argument that relies on punching out the fundamentalist straw man and then saying that all the weakness of right-wing dominionists also apply to liberal Christianity.

    This is not true. We reject the claims of liberal Christianity not because they want to stone homosexuals to death (hey, they don’t!), but because their claims of a caring, personal creator god are false and more than a little silly.

    I do hope Rob continues to babble. His religion seems to be especially vacuous, and makes for an amusing demonstration of the emptiness and anti-scientific nature of religious thought.

  26. #26 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    I don’t want to put words in Rob’s mouth, but when he says “this isn’t delusion”, he’s 100% correct on that, by the textbook definition.

    The textbook definition specifically excludes beliefs that are shared by a community and are religious in nature from the standard. A person with a bizarre belief with no grounding in evidence or reason is clearly crazy – unless there are other such crazy people who call the belief “religious”, in which case he’s sane. And what qualifies as a valid religious belief is essentially up to the psychiatric community, and whatever religious groups you belong to. So if you hear voices denying parts of Catholic theology (for example), you’re crazy, but if they affirm parts of Catholic theology, it’s a miracle from God and you’re not crazy.

    Does that seem right to you?

    Psychiatry isn’t concerned with building an accurate model of reality – it is concerned with social standards of appropriate thought and behavior.

  27. #27 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    PZ: I hope you mean non-scientific, not anti-scientific, in this particular case? As you seem to be familiar enough with what he writes to call it vacuous, I’d have to be surprised if you called something which has nothing to do with and discipline of science, positive or negative, anti-scientific.

    -Mecha

  28. #28 John B
    March 14, 2007

    I suspect many Christians would retort that you at least need God to explain why there is a natural world at all, but Knop, as he make sclear later in the essay does not accept that either. One wonders, however, what it means to describe yourself as a Christian and then write a paragraph like the one above.

    I have to agree with you, at least, that Rob’s beliefs don’t seems to have much to do with Christianity beyond historical provenance. I don’t know any Christians who would be comfortable making the assertion that Creator and Sustainer are out as descriptors of their god. most of them depend on the idea that God created them as fundamental to the whole belief structure.

    It’s unfortunate he never replied to your 9/11 question, either. Avoiding that question seemed like a bad move. I don’t think you can defend the idea of religious knowledge without addressing the consequences of blind obedience to authority figures.

  29. #29 Ginger Yellow
    March 14, 2007

    A person with a bizarre belief with no grounding in evidence or reason is clearly crazy – unless there are other such crazy people who call the belief “religious”, in which case he’s sane. And what qualifies as a valid religious belief is essentially up to the psychiatric community, and whatever religious groups you belong to.

    There’s a brilliant part of Sapolsky’s a primate’s memoir where he tells the story of a Masai who develops schizophrenia and suffers the Kenyan equivalent of sectioning. He asks one of the sufferer’s relatives what she thinks was wrong with her. “She’s crazy, of course.” “How do you know she’s crazy?” “She hears voices.” “But the Masai hear voices sometimes too, when they’re in a trance.” “Yes, but she hears voices at the wrong time.”

  30. #30 Alan
    March 14, 2007

    Besides conceding most of Dawkin’s points (as Jason noted in his post), Rob also seems to illustrate one of PZ’s positions. PZ is an atheist because there is no evidence justifying belief in a god while Rob is a theist even though there is no evidence justifying belief in a god. PZ holds that Rob’s belief is irrational and that holding such irrational mindsets is dangerous habit for a scientist. The illustration comes from the way that PZ and Rob each responded to recent banner ads. PZ responded to the Lost Tomb of Jesus banner in full snark, predicting reasons why it would be BS, but felt obligated to actually watch the show to see what evidence and arguments were presented. In revealing contrast, Rob responded to the God Hypothesis ad by feeling persecuted and unwelcome and he felt fully warranted in dismissing the book, without even looking at it, based soley on the title. I am not qualified to critique their scientific work, but I know which one I would be more likely to trust to consider all of the evidence, pro and con, and follow where the evidence leads.

  31. #31 Tulse
    March 14, 2007

    Me: If “God” is literally only a social/mental construct, invented by humans (and thus did not ‘exist’ in any form of that word prior to the existence of humans), then believing in such a construct surely is delusional.

    J. J. Ramsey: Only if one actually believes that the social/mental construct is a thing in the outside world rather than the construct that it is.

    You’re saying that Rob knows that “God” is a human creation, purely an invented concept? That he believes that “God” has no independent existence from humans? I believe that as well, and I’m sure that 99.9% of atheists also believe that. So what makes Rob’s belief “religious”? What makes his view different than that of an atheist? I have to presume that you’re characterizing his views incorrectly, otherwise they don’t reach the level of delusional, and instead are just incoherent.

  32. #32 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    John: It’s fairly clear that you respond to that 9/11 question the same way you respond to anyone who uses religion OR science to justify something you consider an atrocity. ‘Uh, no, I think that’s immoral/cracked, thanks.’ The question itself wasn’t much more than flamebait, and the answer is only interesting if you’re asking someone if they think that the terrorist acts were awesome. I’m not sure why anyone found it an interesting question. As Rob said when he did respond, the answer is clearly, ‘Yes, that’s knowledge, and I don’t agree with it.’ (Note knowledge != Fact or Truth.)

    I dunno how many times knowledge != Truth is gonna happen on that thread before people stop trying to treat the two words as synonyms.

    -Mecha

  33. #33 Rob Knop
    March 14, 2007

    It’s unfortunate he never replied to your 9/11 question, either.

    Actually, I did. Much later.

    I didn’t think it was worth a response, given that it was the usual sort of reducto ad extremum, but eventually others convinced me that it was worthy of a response. The response was basically that asking that question in an attacking manner is tantamount to somebody, when told that science produces knowledge about how the Universe words, saying,”Oh, so you’re saying that cold fusion is knowledge about how the universe works, hmm?”

  34. #34 M_James
    March 14, 2007

    “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
    – Philip K. Dick

  35. #35 John B
    March 14, 2007

    The response was basically that asking that question in an attacking manner is tantamount to somebody, when told that science produces knowledge about how the Universe words, saying,”Oh, so you’re saying that cold fusion is knowledge about how the universe works, hmm?”

    I remember reading that reply. I guess what I meant was responding to the question as though it had been asked in good faith (pardon the expression).

    In your original post you talked somewhat about the diversity of religious claims, and the issue of personal meaning. I think no one can deal with the idea of religious knowledge without recognising that, evil as the actions of the 9/11 terrorists seemed, you have to imagine that those people would not have participated in the attacks without something more than a ‘belief’ they were doing the correct thing.

    You were being challenged to differentiate your ‘ways of knowing’ from the ones that lead to martyrdom, to defend against the ‘new atheist’ charge that religion is not harmless, that God-belief has real world consequences, for which anyone who promotes religion is indirectly responsible.

    Anyway, since your post differentiated your personal beliefs from alot of widely held Christian ideas, I would have been interested to learn what you felt about authority, the role of religious leaders/communities in determining religious obligation (up to the extremes of martyrdom/killing), and what that means bout the real authority of the record of revelation found in traditions and scripture.

    I’m not saying it’s something you need to discuss, just something i think would be interesting to hear about.

    For an atheist like me, not having any expectation of getting out of life alive, death, and particularly suicide are very serious moral points of departure from my religious friends’ and colleagues’ points of view. From your descussion of your beliefs so far, i can’t tell what you think about ‘eternal life’ and its implications.

  36. #36 Frank
    March 14, 2007

    Happy pi day!

  37. #37 I am Kirok!
    March 14, 2007

    Jason said: “To the extent that people keep their religious beliefs private, and make no attempt to force others to adhere to those beliefs, I have no quarrel at all with them. If all, or even most religious belief was of this sort, people like Dawkins and Stenger would not have bothered to write the books that they did.

    But, of course, most belief is not of this sort.”

    Statements like this are exactly what bring out the criticisms of Dawkins – that all religous people are fundies out to harm others. I don’t understand how one claim what “most belief” is if they aren’t personally involved with it in the slightest. The “harmful fundie” aspect is not the whole story, although you will not hear that perspective on the headline news. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of less fortunate men, women, and children whose lives are being improved, and saved thanks to the work of devout religous people all across the world.

    Frankly, I don’t see where the Dawkins school of thought gets the right to criticize and ridicule the belief systems of…well, everyone who doesn’t subscribe to 100% materialism. However you justify it, you’re just supplanting one form of bigotry for another, IMO. I don’t understand how justifying this idea that people are worthy of ridicule for having supernatural beliefs is supposed to make the world a better place.

    In short, you’re sort of validating the stereotype of the obnoxious atheist. I appreciate the opportunity to learn and read perspectives of such obviously intelligent and well-versed bloggers here at Scienceblogs. However, I find it disheartening that even scholars have to resort to what are essentially “dick-waving” contests to prove how awesome they are. (not referring to you personally, Jason)

    thanks

  38. #38 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    “not knowing that Christians believe Christ’s sacrifice will redeem their sins.”

    HOLY COW! Is that it? I thought they believed it was a warning to do as you are told else this will happen to you..

  39. #39 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    I am Kirok.

    I guess you are complaining about Jason saying that most belief entails “attempt(s) to force others to adhere to those beliefs”

    and equating that with saying “all religous people are fundies out to harm others”

    a) most <> all, fyi
    b) its not only the fundies that want to ban abortion and retrict legal marriage to non-gays.
    c) If you are in Saudi Arabia, they will arrest you if you are female and drive a car. or drink.
    d) do religious people say they are out to “harm” others. no they say thay are only trying to help.
    e) its an open question whether MOST people in the world want to kill people who are no of their religion. Let’s restrict it to religious people. DO “most” religious people in the world want to force anyone they meet to live under their religious precepts.

    Hmm US: 40%, Islam 60%, Europe: 20%, Asia (except Indonesia and the East Indies) 20%.

    so how about “But, of course, almost half of belief is not of this sort.”

  40. #40 I am Kirok!
    March 14, 2007

    “Hmm US: 40%, Islam 60%, Europe: 20%, Asia (except Indonesia and the East Indies) 20%.”

    Where do those stats come from?

  41. #41 Jason Rosenhouse
    March 14, 2007

    Signout-

    Gosh. That was one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever received. Absolutely nothing I wrote above suggests that I think that Rob is crazy or that I dislike him. Unlike yourself, apprently, I am capable of disagreeing with someone without thinking terrible things about them.

    The rest of your comment is simply insane. Why, exactly, can’t I criticize organized religion on the one hand, and Rob’s views on the other? Where did I indicate any suspicion that he is trying to convert me? Where did I provide any definition of true belief?

    You, Sir, should not be lecturing others about critical thinking skills.

    Pseudonym-

    I stand by my definition.

    J.J. Ramsey-

    What’s gotten into you lately? You seem to be giving me grief about everything these days. :)

    Regarding your comment, my point in bringing up the Catholic Church, as I thought I stated very clearly in the post, was simply that Rob is positing a version of God that is different from the one promoted by most Christian denominations. Rob may be content to discard the notion of “God, the creator,” but most Christians, as judged by their official delcarations of faith, are not willing to follow him there.

    _________________

    One other thing, just so there is no misunderstanding. As far as I know I am not the Jason that Rob banned from his comments. That’s a different Jason. I have not attempted to leave any comments at Rob’s site, and when I do I will do so under my full name, just as I do here.

  42. #42 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    I never meant to imply that Jason = Jason R. the first posts here just as Jason.

    Where do those stats come from?
    Posted by: I am Kirok! | March 14, 2007 02:01 PM

    Where do you think they come from? I made them up!

    You try it. Pick a religious belief that has the potential to effect non-believers, pick a country and estimate a percentage.

    e.g.

    Percentage of religious people, who want to prevent other people from killing their un-born children, in the USA:

    (fill in percentage) _____%

    is it greater or less than 50%?

  43. #43 Kirok
    March 14, 2007

    I don’t understand how relevant it is to make up percentages related to this…

  44. #44 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    Kirok, you wrote about Jason R’s comment:

    “But, of course, most belief is not of this sort.”
    the following:

    “Statements like this are exactly what bring out the criticisms of Dawkins – that all religous people are fundies out to harm others. I don’t understand how one claim what “most belief” is if they aren’t personally involved with it in the slightest.”
    and go on to say: “There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of less fortunate men, women, and children whose lives are being improved, and saved thanks to the work of devout religous people all across the world.”

    which is all very nice.

    but no one said all “religious people…etc. ” Wat Jason said is that MOST people who believe this stuff WANT to effect the lives of other people so that the other people conform to what the religious people want them to do, or not do.

    So let’s play percentages.

    Religious people, who support peoples right to wed who they want, wear what they want, eat what they want and say what they want, in Pakistan, ____%

    oh why don’t we give it a big 6%!

    That’s why its relevant. You piss and moan about Dawkins and Jason R but the point is they are both right! Religious people DO want to control what we can see, eat, hear and say, and its the non-believers task to fight them at every step.

  45. #45 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    In case there’s any confusion, I am the Jason that Rob banned, not Jason Rosenhouse. I did press Rob repeatedly to explain what he means by “knowledge,” how he thinks knowledge differs from mere belief, and why he thinks religious beliefs qualify as knowledge at all. I don’t think I ever got an answer. Many other commenters seem to agree with me.

    I am especially amused by Rob’s assertion that there is such a thing as “knowledge of God’s will,” but that the beliefs of the 9/11 hijackers regarding God’s will do not qualify as knowledge of this kind. Why not? Why do some beliefs about God’s will constitute knowledge, but not others? How may we distinguish knowledge of God’s will from mere belief about God’s will? I don’t expect Rob to seriously address these questions or any of the others that various commenters have posed to him about the meaning of knowledge. I just expect more evasion and obfuscation.

  46. #46 Kirok
    March 14, 2007

    “You piss and moan about Dawkins and Jason R but the point is they are both right! Religious people DO want to control what we can see, eat, hear and say, and its the non-believers task to fight them at every step.”

    I don’t expect you to agree with me, but you’re wrong. MOST people are actually okay to let people live their lives and don’t get off on insulting the intelligence of everyone who disagrees with them. Yes, some vocal people have power and want to legislate their beliefs into law. Or just have to find somebody to hate. But hate is not unique to religous folks. The desire for power is not unique to religous folks.

    What evidence is there that the world would be this awesome place where we all got along if religion was dumped? How do you know things would be better? Most of the time, its not the belief system itself that is the problem, it’s the people. People can find ANYTHING to justify their immoral/selfish beliefs. Wasn’t Social Darwinism just a perversion of actual Darwinian evolution? Is Evolution evil simply because Natural Selection brings the concept of a personal God into question? Nope. In the same way, religion has been used by selfish people for their own good and still is unfortunately.

    Further, the general attitude that I see displayed here does not convince me that human beings would live in peace if only we all just discarded this “supernatural nonsense”.

  47. #47 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    Another Jason, once again, you have failed to actually read what was said. He called your question inflammatory, which it was. It misses the point, which it does. It attempts to get Rob to admit to a classic ‘baby eating’ position so you can point at him and go ‘See, religion justifies killing!’

    Yes, what the 9/11 hijackers thought regarding God’s will was knowledge. And you don’t agree with the knowledge they obtained. Strangely enough, neither does Rob. There is no conflict in that, because Knowledge. Is. Not. Truth.

    If I have obtained the knowledge that someone likes me, is it Truth? Does it have to be Truth to be called knowledge? You’re playing a word game, with a word that is far more open than you allow it to be. Knowledge does not mean scientific fact with a 99.3% probability of truth. Knowledge is knowledge. Things what you know. People can be wrong in their knowledge.

    At this point, having directly answered your questions numerous times on the other thread, myself, AND here, I hope that this really won’t come up again.

    -Mecha

  48. #48 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    “MOST people are actually okay to let people live their lives” no fair, you don’t get to count people who are not religious. but fine, you are guessing that less than 50% of religious people do not want to abn abortion in the US. Fine. I guess its more than 50%.

    “and don’t get off on insulting the intelligence of everyone who disagrees with them”

    Don’t be so hard on Rob Knop, I’m sure he’ll soften up over time and stop insulting everyone who visits his blog.

  49. #49 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    you are guessing that less than 50% of religious people do not want to abn abortion in the US

    =

    you are guessing that less than 50% of religious people want to ban abortion in the US..

  50. #50 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Mecha says:

    Yes, what the 9/11 hijackers thought regarding God’s will was knowledge.

    Does anyone agree with this claim? Just curious.

  51. #51 Tulse
    March 14, 2007

    Does it have to be Truth to be called knowledge?

    It has to be true (whether or not you use a capital T). Knowledge is commonly defined philosophically as “justified true belief” — “true” is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for knowledge. Note that this means that one can hold a belief that isn’t true, and when this is the case, the individual does not actually possess knowledge, but just an incorrect belief.

    Now, you can redefine “knowledge” to simply mean “belief” if you want, which seems to be implied by your statement “People can be wrong in their knowledge” (i.e., it looks like you’re ditching both the “justified” and “true” criteria”). But that’s not the way the word is used in philosophy of science, and I’m puzzled why you’d want to do that when “belief” pretty much covers the concept you’ve identified.

  52. #52 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    Well, you can try:

    M-W Dictionary (http://209.161.33.50/dictionary/Knowledge), definitions 2a1 and 2b1.

    Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge)

    For as much as you’ll trust them, anyway.

    Tulse: See the above definitions for reasons why knowledge is a fine word. This isn’t philosophy of science, as a field. If it were, we wouldn’t be talking about religion.

    -Mecha

  53. #53 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    As an additional note to Tulse, I have no problem using the word belief, but I am not a theist, and a theist may have a problem using the word ‘belief’ to describe something which has been arrived at by more than just something. The definitions of knowledge include reasoning, and if you reason from a basis of ‘This particular god exists’, then what you have is more than the colloquial usage of belief allows.

    -Mecha

  54. #54 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    “what the 9/11 hijackers thought regarding God’s will was knowledge. ”

    I’n SURE they thought it was knowledge, divine knowledge. They were, however, wrong. What they had was an opinion, a belief, an unsupported assertion. anything to do with god or religion is an unsupoprted assertion.

    for myself, a NYCer, they were evil bad people who murdered innocent babies.

    for themselves, they were doing god’s work to smite the infidels.

    Objectively, from a reasoned position, a baseline opinion, they were murderous wackos who scored a big victory for their side. The attack is paying dividends for them 5 years later. so what if the organization was stressed. Just look at US poicy in Iraq. It is a goldmine for terrorists and anti-western forces.

  55. #55 John B
    March 14, 2007

    I’n SURE they thought it was knowledge, divine knowledge. They were, however, wrong.

    Wrong about what? Did they not get the virgins they were promised?

  56. #56 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    As Tulse noted, you seem to be using “knowledge” as a synonym for “belief.” Why would you do that? It’s not helpful at all. It just causes confusion. Do you really think there’s no important difference between knowing that something is true and merely believing it’s true?

  57. #57 Dave L
    March 14, 2007

    Yes, what the 9/11 hijackers thought regarding God’s will was knowledge.

    Does anyone agree with this claim? Just curious.

    That’s a tough one to dissect. They had knowledge of what Islam says about God’s will. What the hijackers thought may not be true, but I don’t think that means it’s not knowledge. Another Jason I think defined it as ‘justified true belief’, and I’m questioning if ‘true’ is necessary. Is there no knowledge in alchemy or astrology? It seems like there must be; I’m a Sagittarius and that sounds like knowledge to me. But maybe you’re referring to ‘Knowledge’ instead of knowledge.

    I was somewhat surprised that Rob gave up on the ‘Creator’ sense of God, as that seems to me the aspect that I think is easier to defend. I think one can construct a somewhat rational argument, compelling or not, that argues for the existence of some kind of creator purely as an inference from the fact that there is existence. Sure, asking ‘why’ as in ‘why are we here’ is a purely human construct, but, given that I don’t believe, I’m a little surprised there is any here and now at all. But this is a far cry from the specific claims of Christianity.

  58. #58 Mondo
    March 14, 2007

    Seems to me unfortunately to be a battle between those who can think clearly and logically and those that cannot.
    It is like in chess where people who cannot really play well play what is called “hope chess”. They really hope that what they are doing is correct but are unable or unwilling to actually examine and think clearly about the situation.

    There is a ton of “hope thinking” going on in the threads pertaining to Knop, and it isn’t pretty.

  59. #59 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Dave L

    You’re describing different claims of knowledge. Knowledge of what Islam says about God’s will is not knowledge of God’s will. Knowledge that you’re a Sagittarian (which follows from knowledge of the definition of “Sagittarian” and your date of birth) is not knowledge that the other claims astrology makes about Sagittarians are true.

  60. #60 Tulse
    March 14, 2007

    Is there no knowledge in alchemy or astrology? It seems like there must be; I’m a Sagittarius and that sounds like knowledge to me.

    One can have knowledge of the claims of alchemy, or astrology, or Islam, but that doesn’t make those claims themselves true. I can have the knowledge that the Captain James Kirk’s middle name is Tiberius, or that Mr. Spock had a human mother and a Vulcan father, but that doesn’t mean that James Kirk or Mr. Spock actually exist. Instead, all it means is that I have justified true beliefs about what is claimed about those characters.

    Likewise, because I was born in late September, I believe that astrologers have designated my sign to be Libra, and I can consult astrologers and read astrology books to determine that that belief accurately represents their claim (in others words, the belief about the claim is true and justified). But that says nothing about the truth of the claim itself, or the claims of efficacy of astrology.

  61. #61 Dave L
    March 14, 2007

    I think we’re firmly into a semantic discussion, and as was noted above, you are using a definition of knowledge that is very specialized and narrow. I personally don’t like the ‘justified true belief’ description because it just shifts essentially the same type of arguments about what is meant by ‘knowledge’ to what is meant by ‘true’ and ‘justified'; great fodder for philosophers but in blog conversations it just puts us on a pointless merry-go-round.

    Instead, all it means is that I have justified true beliefs about what is claimed about those characters.

    I understand your general point about claims, and that is essentially what I meant in my original post about. In your Kirk and Spock example though, I’m missing why you have italicized ‘claimed’. It’s doesn’t seem to be the same as claims of astrology, which are not true. Spock is half-human/half-Vulcan by definition and is true; there is no ‘claim’ and that won’t change. It seems just as correct to say that you have justified true beliefs about those characters period. Again, I think we’re just discussing semantics.

  62. #62 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Tulsa:

    So if you hear voices denying parts of Catholic theology (for example), you’re crazy, but if they affirm parts of Catholic theology, it’s a miracle from God and you’re not crazy.

    Does that seem right to you?

    Of course not, and if you ever find a psychiatrist who makes that diagnosis, please bring it to the attention of the appropriate board of practitioners.

    Jason:

    I stand by my definition.

    And I’m sure that Dembski will stand by his enirely wrong definition of “complexity”.

    “Delusion” has a standard medical definition. By claiming that religious belief is delusion, you’re making a scientific claim. I don’t believe you have any psychiatric qualifications (please correct me if I’m wrong). That doesn’t rule you out from having an opinion (I have a strong opinion on the correctness of evolution, despite having no biology qualifications), but still, this is scienceblogs. When you make a scientific claim, you’d better be able to back it up scientifically, or I still get to call BS.

    It can be tested by, say, sending Rob to a psychiatrist for a formal diagnosis. I’m willing to lay down money that if you did that, you would not get a diagnosis of delusion. Care to take me up on it?

  63. #63 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Dave L,

    If you don’t like “justified true belief” what superior alternative definition of “knowledge” do you propose? It doesn’t have to be technically precise, just a reasonably clear description of the key features of “knowledge” as you understand that term. You previously suggested that you don’t think a belief has to be true to qualify as knowledge. Would you therefore claim that, say, the belief “The Earth is only 6,000 years old” qualifies as knowledge?

    I notice no one has yet agreed with Mecha’s claim that the 9/11 terrorists had knowledge of God’s will.

  64. #64 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Oh, one more thing.

    Yes, what the 9/11 hijackers thought regarding God’s will was knowledge.

    Does anyone agree with this claim? Just curious.

    One of the academic areas that I have a research interest in is formal logic and proof theory. One of the things you learn fast is that very few theorems are of the form “X is true”.

    Let me show you what I mean. Consider this typical example of a simple theorem:

    Let ABC be a right triangle, with the right angle at C. Then (AB)^2 = (BC)^2 + (AC)^2.

    What this theorem says is that if a bunch of stated assumptions are true (i.e. ABC is a right triangle with the right angle at C), as well as a bunch of unstated assumptions (e.g. the definitions and axioms of Euclidean geometry and the arithmetic of real numbers, some appropriate axioms and rules of inference of logic), then a certain relationship between lengths can be proven.

    In formal logic, assumptions like this play a vital role, because you can’t prove anything without them. Please convince yourself of this before reading on.

    The hijackers were working under a philosophical system which most of us don’t. Sayyid Qutb and Ayman Zawahiri, who developed that particular system of thought, were (or in the case of Zawahiri, still is), I believe, truly delusional, especially in the textbook sense.

    Now here’s the key thing. If you accept the premises of the philosophical system in question, then what the hijackers thought about “God’s will” follows. So yes, it’s knowledge.

  65. #65 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    The meaning of the word “delusion” is broader than just the clinical psychiatric definition. The word is often associated with mental illness, but, like “hallucination,” it’s not restricted to that context. I think it’s entirely proper to refer to a strong religious conviction held in the face of conflicting evidence as a delusion.

  66. #66 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Other Jason: And the meaning of the word “information” is broader than the mathematical one, but Dembski is still wrong. (I know, I shouldn’t compare Jason R to Dembski. I’m sorry about that, but I couldn’t think of a less offensive example.)

    My argument is that “the textbook definition”, and even the dictionary definition that Jason R actually used in his blog post, does not support his claim.

  67. #67 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    Now here’s the key thing. If you accept the premises of the philosophical system in question, then what the hijackers thought about “God’s will” follows. So yes, it’s knowledge.

    You’ll have to define “knowledge,” at least approximately, before you’re in a position to claim that it follows from a particular premise that a particular belief qualifies as knowledge.

  68. #68 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    My argument is that “the textbook definition”, and even the dictionary definition that Jason R actually used in his blog post, does not support his claim.

    If by the “textbook” definition you mean a medical text such as the DSM-IV, your statement is irrelevant because Jason didn’t claim that the belief qualifies as a delusion in that narrow medical sense. And there are certainly dictionary definitions that support his claim. Here’s one from the American Heritage Dictionary, for example:

    A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence

  69. #69 MarkP
    March 14, 2007

    Kirok said: MOST people are actually okay to let people live their lives … Yes, some vocal people have power and want to legislate their beliefs into law … But hate is not unique to religous folks. The desire for power is not unique to religous folks.

    No one is claiming it is unique to religious folks. But it exists in religious folks, and they frequently attempt to legislate their beliefs into law, ie, try to force the rest of us to live according to their beliefs. The efforts to outlaw abortion, stem cell research, drinking, homosexuality (in some 20 states IIRC), sexual paraphernalia, sexual education, condom distribution, needle distribution, certain art, certain movies, and many other issues I could raise are nearly uniformly driven by religious views.

    It is this to which we atheists object. Believe anything you like, make your personal life decisions any way you like, I couldn’t care less. But when you start trying to enforce those views via the law, you need a lot more to go on than your particular flavor of faith.

    What evidence is there that the world would be this awesome place where we all got along if religion was dumped?

    Given the huge amount of violence and other atrocities commited in the world due to religious influences, it’s not a tough argument to make. The only reasonable argument is over the extent.

    Most of the time, its not the belief system itself that is the problem, it’s the people. People can find ANYTHING to justify their immoral/selfish beliefs.

    I think you need to work that out; is it the beliefs or isn’t it? Do you REALLY think, even in the absence of religion, all the abortion doctors that have been murdered by anti-abortion loonies would still be dead? You think all these school districts would have wasted so much time and money debating whether or not ID belongs in science classes without religion? Again, I could go on and on with real world examples.

    It’s not complicated. Irrationality tends to cause problems. The less we base our decisions on irrationality, the better off we tend to be. Sure, there would still be irrationalities that cause us problems even after religion is gone (racism, sexism, etc.). So what? I’m happy to work my way down the list, I’m just not going to ignore the #1 offender just because it offends people. The fact that they are offended is part of the problem.

  70. #70 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Other Jason:

    You’ll have to define “knowledge,” at least approximately, before you’re in a position to claim that it follows from a particular premise that a particular belief qualifies as knowledge.

    As I mentioned yesterday on the other thread, I had a comment with an informal definition which was held for moderation. (I think I mistyped my email address or something.) Anyway, that definition has now been posted.

    But since you asked, what I’m saying is that a valid derivation is “knowledge”. It’s true (the derivation is valid) and it’s justified (there’s the derivation right there). So in this case, even under the informal “true justified belief” definition, a valid derivation counts as knowledge if someone believes it. That’s true even if the premises that the conclusion is derived from don’t match the real world. The derivation is true, even if the conclusion isn’t.

    This also ties into the discussion on “delusion”. Neither “the textbook definition” of delusion (a dictionary hardly counts as a textbook), and even the dictionary definition that Jason R provided, do not support his conclusion, so the derivation is not valid.

  71. #71 J. J. Ramsey
    March 14, 2007

    I can only defend Knop up to a point, since I don’t share his views. However, I did want to touch on the following.

    Rosenhouse: “Now, you might say at this point that a person is free to believe whatever they like, so long as that belief does not hurt anyone. You would certainly get no argument from me about that. To the extent that people keep their religious beliefs private, and make no attempt to force others to adhere to those beliefs, I have no quarrel at all with them.”

    Careful here. If you keep up talk like that, people are going to start calling you an “appeaser.” :) Seriously, though, I’m almost not joking. “Appeaser” has become a word that has come to mean “insufficiently hostile to religious people.” And we aren’t talking about hostility to fundies, either. This is the kind of harsh but reasoned argument that we are talking about:

    one of the things that really annoys me about my side of the debate is that so many sit in such terror of making anyone unhappy that they avoid any vigor in the arguments; they seem to blanch in terror that whomping down hard on the stupidity of their so-called “allies” will cause them to run away. Their strategy is to toady up to creationists and fencesitters and pious twits and ignorant theologians and little old ladies who faint at the sight of monkeys, and hope that mewling softly will win them over. Well, they’re welcome to try. My belief is that those creationist-sympathizers aren’t on our side at all, but do enjoy the thought of the heathens kowtowing to them, so they’ll play along until the issues that count come up … and then they’ll break for whatever their preacher says.

    Who are these creationist-sympathizers? It’s hard to say, but Ken Miller is probably one of them, since the same person who wrote that wrote this brilliant insight, “Thanks, Dr Ken! I know what side you’re on, now … it’s you and the creationists, best friends 4ever!”

    Understandably, Knop cannot stand such insightful critique.

  72. #72 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    But since you asked, what I’m saying is that a valid derivation is “knowledge”. It’s true (the derivation is valid) and it’s justified (there’s the derivation right there). So in this case, even under the informal “true justified belief” definition, a valid derivation counts as knowledge if someone believes it. That’s true even if the premises that the conclusion is derived from don’t match the real world. The derivation is true, even if the conclusion isn’t.

    Sorry, but that definition of knowledge does not support your claim that the 9/11 hijackers’ beliefs about the will of God are knowledge. If knowledge consists of “valid derivations,” then the proposition “X follows from Y” qualifies as knowledge if that derivation is valid, but the proposition “X” itself does not. The only piece of “knowledge” your definition yields is that the hijackers’ beliefs about God’s will were validly derived from their premises, not that the beliefs themselves were knowledge.

    Neither “the textbook definition” of delusion (a dictionary hardly counts as a textbook), and even the dictionary definition that Jason R provided, do not support his conclusion, so the derivation is not valid.

    You still haven’t explained what you mean by “textbook.” And there are certainly dictionary definitions that support Jason’s claim. I just gave you one of them: A delusion is a false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence.

  73. #73 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Just so you know, Another Jason, I’m not defending exactly what Mecha appeared to say, because the wording was imprecise. Perhaps s/he could clarify.

    I think we can all agree that at the very least, there is a sense in which what they believed is “knowledge”. It’s a belief, and it’s a valid derivation, hence it’s justified and true. The fact that the conclusion is invalid because of the highly faulty premises is beside the point because, as Mecha pointed out, knowledge is not truth.

    Scientists use this technique all the time when they use proof by contradiction. You deliberately assume what you believe to be an incorrect premise, and from that, you try to conclude something that’s known to be false. The valid derivation is knowledge, even though the conclusion is false.

    In the more experimental sciences, the null hypothesis test is a statistical version of proof by contradiction; you assume that X is false, and then show that under that assumption, some conclusion that’s known to be true actually has only a very slim chance of actually being true.

    By a hyper-literal reading of the “true justified belief” definition of knowledge, neither technique would count as valid knowledge. After all, the conclusion is neither true, nor even believed!

  74. #74 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    He called your question inflammatory, which it was.

    Of course he did – and he’d call any question that exposed the failings of his position “inflammatory”, and claim that as a justification for failing to answer.

  75. #75 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    I think we can all agree that at the very least, there is a sense in which what they believed is “knowledge”.

    Yes, there is a sense: an imprecise, wrong sense.

    In any reasonable sense, they’re completely incorrect.

  76. #76 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    I think we can all agree that at the very least, there is a sense in which what they believed is “knowledge”. It’s a belief, and it’s a valid derivation, hence it’s justified and true.

    No, I don’t agree that it’s knowledge at all. The mere fact that a belief is a validly-derived conclusion from a premise obviously doesn’t mean the belief is either justified or true. If the premise is unjustified the conclusion is also unjustified. If the premise is false, the conclusion may also be false. Ever heard of the phrase “Garbage In, Garbage Out?”

    Your bizarre definition of “knowledge” (“valid derivations”) is not only inconsistent with every definition of the term I have seen in the philosophical literature, but also inconsistent with the way the word is used in ordinary, everyday life, the way the word is used in science, and even with the way the word is used by religious people to refer to their beliefs.

  77. #77 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    Knop’s problem is simple:

    He presented us with a series of arguments with great, gaping, vulnerable holes in them. He pasted bullseyes right over the holes. Then he told us that his arguments were a valid target and invited the world to take their best shots.

    And then he complained that people were rudely shooting at the holes in his arguments.

    He told us to shoot him – and we did.

  78. #78 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    Well, when we derive a conclusion from premises, we gain the knowledge that conclusion proceeds from those premises.

    The conclusion itself isn’t knowledge, though.

  79. #79 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Jason, I’m going to bow out of this discussion, too, because yet again, we’re talking across each other.

    My final comments follow. You can have the last word if you like.

    I think the misunderstanding here is that you seem to only think that conclusions are “knowledge”. I don’t think that’s true. The justification used to come to that conclusion is also important knowledge, and possibly even more so in science than in other areas.

    “Valid derivation” is not my definition of knowledge. I merely claim that any reasonable definition of “knowledge” must include them.

    This claim is not bizarre. It is based on a thorough grounding in mathematics, logic and proof theory. A mathematical theorem is, when you get down to it, a formally proven statement of the form “if Premises then Conclusions”. That theorem is true, and it is knowledge, regardless of whether or not the premises can ever hold true in the physical world.

    Theorems in Euclidean geometry are true, and constitute knowledge, despite the fact that the space we live in is not Euclidean, and perfect circles and perfect straight lines can’t be physically realised.

    Even in the physical sciences, physically unrealisable theoretical models appear everywhere. There is no ferromagnetic material, for example, which quantitatively behaves like an Ising model. But that’s okay. We get lots of useful data from the model which we can then apply to more realistic models. This sort of theoretical model, despite being “wrong”, is a source of invaluable knowledge.

    This stuff is not hard to understand.

    I will, no doubt, see you on the next thread. :-)

  80. #80 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    I think my last post for this thread. I had typed something about knowledge that I thought was good.

    Decline said: “I would posit “justice is mutual agreement” (also known as the Social Contract) as an example of non-scientific knowledge” and I replied that it was not knowledge because:

    “When I say use the term knowing something, I mean that if two people “know” something, and each holds a position contrary to the other, only ONE of them can be correct.

    They both “know” something, and only one view can be correct; this is in contrast to your examples. Two people can have differing opinion on the same subject; this does not make them wrong and it does not change the facts.”

  81. #81 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    A mathematical theorem is, when you get down to it, a formally proven statement of the form “if Premises then Conclusions”. That theorem is true, and it is knowledge, regardless of whether or not the premises can ever hold true in the physical world.

    Exactly – the statement “if P then C” is a conclusion, derived from additional premises by additional methods in a justified manner.

    That’s why “if P then C” is knowledge.

    Axioms are not knowledge. Neither are faith-based statements. Nor are merely convictions, nor assertions of correctness.

  82. #82 Another Jason
    March 14, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    I think the misunderstanding here is that you seem to only think that conclusions are “knowledge”.

    I never said that or anything like it. Premises can obviously also be knowledge, as can beliefs about logical relationships between premises and conclusions.

    “Valid derivation” is not my definition of knowledge. I merely claim that any reasonable definition of “knowledge” must include them.

    And I’m saying that a conclusion is not knowledge just because it was validly derived from a premise. Caledonian just made the same point. It is a trivial exercise to invent premises from which the conclusion “The moon is made of cheese” can be validly derived, but that obviously doesn’t mean “The moon is made of cheese” is knowledge.

  83. #83 Norman Doering
    March 14, 2007

    I think I can explain what Rob Knop means by getting knowledge from art. Click the link below:
    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2007/03/rob-knop-and-gospel-according-to-harvey.html

  84. #84 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    Norman, that was touching.

    I mean it! get your hands off me!

    Help!

  85. #85 Barron
    March 14, 2007

    Why is fundamentalism even an issue in this discussion? From his self definition Dr. Knop is as far away from the fundies (especially the dominionists) as I (liberal atheist) am. Conflating his religion with that of (insert favorite religious bogeyman here) is just silly. There are tons of people with very toxic religious beliefs (and actions). They deserve the derision far more than someone honestly trying to describe his beliefs to a hostile audience.

    Much of the hyper-rational approach (and I say this as someone prone to it at times) to discussing religious belief just misses the point. Or at least it’s not the best tool. In a purely scientific discussion most religion is gonna look pretty silly. Just like taking a poem’s images literally makes it sound silly.

  86. #86 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    You’re taking for granted that Mr. Knop doesn’t have very toxic religious beliefs that he’s honestly trying to explain to an audience. (Some of whom don’t seem to be analyzing it at all, yet approve every bit of it. Peculiar.)

    I don’t know anyone who thinks that poems are anything more than ways to manipulate people’s emotions. If someone posts a ScienceBlog entry claiming that they are, let us know.

  87. #87 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    I know I said that was my last post, but I think we have some actual agreement, so it’s worth a cheer.

    Another Jason:

    And I’m saying that a conclusion is not knowledge just because it was validly derived from a premise. Caledonian just made the same point.

    Yes! And now we understand what we’re all saying!

    I make one more point, and that’s it.

    To a proof theorist, a valid proof (i.e. a valid deduction) is interesting in and of itself, whether or not the premises that it’s based on can be “true” or not. I gave two examples earlier on how this is important: proof by contradiction and null hypothesis testing. These techniques explicitly depend on assuming certain premises which are believed, at the time, to be false.

    In other words, a valid deduction counts as “knowledge” regardless of whether or not the premises and conclusion are true. If this were not the case, a significant portion of the field of mathematical logic would be bunk.

    We all seem to be happy now. See you in the next thread!

  88. #88 Colugo
    March 14, 2007

    I have solved the “God” problem.

    Pseudonym: “… “God” doesn’t exist without people … “God” is a social/mental construct.”

    To that we add Robert Lanza’s “insight”: “Without perception, there is in effect no reality. Nothing has existence unless you, I, or some living creature perceives it, and how it is perceived further influences that reality”

    Then we must logically conclude that believers perceive/think God into existence. Hold on, you say, isn’t that just Pantheistic Solipsism?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheistic_solipsism

    Not exactly. God is collectively willed into existence and His properties – like the rest of the universe – are shaped by believers. Hardly anyone believes in the Greek pantheon anymore, so their existence is tenuous at best. And nobody really believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster (yet).

    Furthermore, since God was willed into existence through our perception of – that is, belief – in Him, our continued existence in turn depends on His belief in us! Through retrocausality and our attribution of omnipotence to our mentally/materially constructed (they’re the same thing) deity, it turns out that He created the Universe, and us, after all.

    Come to think of it, that sounds like a paradox. Well, back to the drawing board.

    (Just kidding. No offense intended.)

  89. #89 PZ Myers
    March 15, 2007

    Fundamentalism is an issue in this case because it is a convenient stalking horse.

    a) You can use accusations of fundamentalism against atheists! It doesn’t matter that the term makes no sense in that context, but all of us here agree that fundamentalism is bad, so it’s a handy insult.

    b) When a liberal Christian is accused of holding silly beliefs, you can say, “Oh, dear, I think you were talking about Pat Robertson, not me!” It’s an easy way to avoid difficult questions because, while it’s true that we don’t think highly of ol’ Pat, we actually were addressing the silly beliefs of liberal Christians.

  90. #90 Kevin
    March 15, 2007

    “And nobody really believes in the Flying Spaghetti Monster”

    “Just kidding. No offense intended”

    well offense taken mr. smarty pants! Obviously no one has ever touched you with a heavenly noodle. pity for you.

    ramen

  91. #91 reboho
    March 15, 2007

    Kirok

    “You piss and moan about Dawkins and Jason R but the point is they are both right! Religious people DO want to control what we can see, eat, hear and say, and its the non-believers task to fight them at every step.”

    I don’t expect you to agree with me, but you’re wrong. MOST people are actually okay to let people live their lives and don’t get off on insulting the intelligence of everyone who disagrees with them. Yes, some vocal people have power and want to legislate their beliefs into law. Or just have to find somebody to hate. But hate is not unique to religious folks. The desire for power is not unique to religious folks.

    You don’t understand what Dawkins is saying at all! Kirok, you are taking what others have said or written and are judging him on that basis. Simply put, Dawkins is saying is that you yourself don’t believe in the gods of Ancient Greece, the gods of Norse myths or anything of the like. He expects that you would find that ridiculous. As he says, he just goes one god further. He doesn’t hate any one who is a theist, and and you are VERY WRONG to think that. You are showing your own hate of atheists and superimposing it on Dawkins. All because he calls your imaginary friend what it is. That is not hate. Hate is flying airplanes into buildings. If you want to know what he really thinks, I challenge you to read the “The God Delusion”. Don’t take others word for it. After you have read it I would hope that you would retract your ridiculous statement.

  92. #92 Jason
    March 15, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    In other words, a valid deduction counts as “knowledge” regardless of whether or not the premises and conclusion are true. If this were not the case, a significant portion of the field of mathematical logic would be bunk.

    No. A false conclusion is not knowledge, whether it was validly derived from a premise or not. The way you’re using the word contradicts not only its scientific and technical meanings, but everyday, common-sense usage too. I’ll be happy to remind people that you claim a proposition such as “The Earth is 6,000 years old” is knowledge the next time I see you pontificate on these matters.

    And by the way, you haven’t shown that the 9/11 hijackers’ beliefs about the will of God qualify as knowledge even under your silly definition of the word. Unless you can show that those beliefs resulted from a “valid derivation” rather than from faith or revelation or some other source, they don’t qualify as knowledge even as you have defined it.

  93. #93 Nick
    March 15, 2007

    Colugo:

    That sounds an awful lot like a Terry Pratchett plotline :)

  94. #94 Flaky
    March 15, 2007

    I believe Pseudonym said that the deduction, or I suppose, the fact that there is a specific deduction, is knowledge, not the conclusion nor the premises.

    I think that there isn’t really much sense in saying that religious beliefs are false, as such. Because, if you do, you easily end up in just the sort of fruitless swamp of haggling over semantics as evident in these comments. Rather, I think that it is better to point out a certain vacuity evident in all religious beliefs, no matter how strong a sense of meaning in such beliefs one may have. To have religious believers come to terms with this vacuity and to have them understand that, no matter how strongly felt, their beliefs do not trump facts nor should they ever be used to justify any manner of oppression. I believe that such a goal would be far more realistic, than expecting people to give up their beliefs all together.

  95. #95 Another Jason
    March 15, 2007

    I believe Pseudonym said that the deduction, or I suppose, the fact that there is a specific deduction, is knowledge, not the conclusion nor the premises.

    No, he said the conclusion itself is knowledge. He thinks the conclusion is knowledge as long as it’s a “valid derivation” from a premise, even if both premise and conclusion are false and unjustified. He claims that the 9/11 hijackers had knowledge of God’s will, not merely that they had knowledge of the (alleged) deduction that produced their conclusion about God’s will.

  96. #96 outeast
    March 15, 2007

    Any discussion of what constitutes ‘knowledge’ would be incomplete without the contribution of Jesus and Mo:

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2007/03/01/fools/

  97. #97 Torbj�rn Larsson
    March 15, 2007

    It must be a scienceblogs trait that after the usual initial inanities of the emotionally challenged, the thread comes down to discussing delusions and knowledge.

    Halfway into the post I felt that this could be the worst post I’ve seen on this blog, but it picked up and become one of the usual high quality ones. It becomes fairly evident that Knop doesn’t get it about atheists.

    Evident in his own posts he has also not studied scienceblogs and especially PZ’s blog much, since he fairly early comes out defensive and swinging in a matter where the blogs are all over the place. He has for example not noted that Pharyngula’s male blogger of the month was an amiable christian.

    The difference being that said christian is upright in his views, willing to discuss without prejudice, and not defensive. As Alan pointed out, for some reason Knop’s behavior isn’t in that direction.

    b: a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary;

    This was the low point of the post, since this goes in both direction. My own analysis of delusion (prompted by comments on Dawkins use) is based on Jasper’s original proposal:

    * certainty (held with absolute conviction)
    * incorrigibility (not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
    * impossibility or falsity of content (implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusion )

    Of the three criteria, religious persons immediately fulfill the second, namely incorrigibility. Many persons seems to fulfill the first as well. And as per Dawkins claim, religion is implausible. So it must be fully correct for Dawkins and people like him to call religious people deluded even under the psychological definition.

    In any case, the colloquial definition of “delusion – a mistaken or unfounded opinion or idea” is enough.

    Theorems in Euclidean geometry are true, and constitute knowledge, despite the fact that the space we live in is not Euclidean, and perfect circles and perfect straight lines can’t be physically realised.

    This isn’t the definition of knowledge Knop discussed.

    I think his “other ways of knowing” is a blatant misuse of the concept of knowledge. Reliable observational facts or abstract knowledge can apparently only be achieved by science. Much of the ‘other ways of knowing’ is about experiences and developing ways of coping with them.

    The question then becomes, are religions needed to achieve experiences and coping with them? In as much as they try to pervert experiences as much as knowledge, and provides some of the most pernicious ways of coping we know (leading to dislike of different opinions and habits, and cognitive dissonances) it is probably safe to say that we do better without.

    But here, about definitions of knowledge and its application in math, I think “justified belief” (“true” is implicit) is a good framing definition. In my view math is as science based on our experience of the world, and the justification and repetitive reliability is what makes them both successful. Science is justified by observations and usefulness in explaining them, while math is justified by theorems and usefulness in science models.

    Theorems is simply an effort to explain and validate the content based on earlier results. It has nothing to do with Knop’s discussion of personal experiences.

  98. #98 Torbj�rn Larsson
    March 15, 2007

    The difference being that said christian is upright in his views, willing to discuss without prejudice, and not defensive. As Alan pointed out, for some reason Knop’s behavior isn’t in that direction.

    Uups. I didn’t intend to imply that Knop isn’t upright in his views.

    Maybe I should pledge “direction” to be interpreted as a vector in the original sentence. :-)

  99. #99 windy
    March 15, 2007

    In your Kirk and Spock example though, I’m missing why you have italicized ‘claimed’. It’s doesn’t seem to be the same as claims of astrology, which are not true. Spock is half-human/half-Vulcan by definition and is true; there is no ‘claim’ and that won’t change.

    You underestimate the powers of retconning… :)

    Is it true that Klingons are mostly oriental-looking?
    Is it true that Han shot first?

    It seems that the same technique is frequently applied to religious claims…

    It seems just as correct to say that you have justified true beliefs about those characters period. Again, I think we’re just discussing semantics.

    I think it is important that claims about fiction are qualified as such, implicitly or not. It isn’t just semantics. It is not ‘just as correct’ to say that red-skinned princesses live on Mars, than to say that Mars seems devoid of complex life.

    It seems that we can only call claims about the various SF universes ‘true’ when everyone implicitly understands they are not about the real world. Astrology fails this test and thus its claims can be called false. So what is different about religious claims?

  100. #100 Caledonian
    March 15, 2007

    In other words, a valid deduction counts as “knowledge” regardless of whether or not the premises and conclusion are true. If this were not the case, a significant portion of the field of mathematical logic would be bunk.

    You’re not understanding.

    If we have the statement (S) “If P then C”, then C is not necessarily knowledge. S, however, is.

    You don’t seem to be grasping the concept of metaknowledge.

  101. #101 John B
    March 15, 2007

    “I think his “other ways of knowing” is a blatant misuse of the concept of knowledge. Reliable observational facts or abstract knowledge can apparently only be achieved by science. Much of the ‘other ways of knowing’ is about experiences and developing ways of coping with them.”

    I’m always more comfortable with the idea that science produces reliable theories and hypotheses than reliable observational facts and abstract knowledge. If things have to be objectively true to be ‘knowledge’, provisionality goes out the window. Once you lose the ability to be wrong in science the whole thing becomes boring.

    I mean, some scientific explanations might be objectively true, comprehensively accurate on every level, but we can’t know that until all of the evidence is in and the work is done (never-ish, hopefully).

    My other problem with the ‘knowledge’ label is the level of testimonial evidence every individual scientist needs to depend on to function. By the bandied-about definition, each scientist only knows the things that they have proven themselves. You can’t say, ‘we know’ or ‘Science knows’ without invoking the reliability of arguments from authority, and it problematizes the effort to communicate information at all.

    I know there are cool scientific standards to apply to the reliability of sources of testimony, but individually how much can we claim to know about science once you restrict knowledge to objective truth justified by the scientific method?

  102. #102 Chuck
    March 15, 2007

    Okay, here’s where a lot of very well-educated people can’t follow Darwkins: in the quote above, he describes himself as comforted by the fact that he understands why the world is here and why human beings are here. I think, on that point, he is fundamentally wrong and even arrogant. Such a view is reminiscent of the physicists in Rutherford’s time who thought that science was finished – that all that remained was filling in the minor details. When Dawkins claims that he understands why the world is here, I can say with confidence that whatever he thinks he knows about why the world (meaning, presumably, the universe, or multiverse, or reality, or whatever else you want to call the closed system we find ourselves in) is here, he is probably wrong. We simply know too little about not only the details of cosmological origins, but of any physical theories that make it possible at all. The few mathematical models we have are just that: abstract models that can account for different parts of the problem, but which cannot really predict new data.

    I’m afraid that our knowledge of this speck of dust where a few complex chemical systems have evolved over billions of years into us is just too small to make such grand conclusions about the “why reality is here” question. Like the moth buzzing in the night over a symphony, we have no idea what’s going on.

    This mystery is not evidence of God, of course. But it is a mystery: and it’s one that, I’m afraid, we will never solve. Any mechanistic explanation for how a closed system came into being will inevitably turn that closed system into an open system which must interact with a larger system outside, creating a larger closed system. There will be a point at which we will peer into systems that are impossible to detect: we may already be at that stage with the multiverse.

    So Dawkins is absolutely correct about natural history on planet Earth – the modern synthesis in evolutionary biology is elegant, simple, and extraordinarily powerful. But you can’t claim we understand why the universe is here.

  103. #103 Caledoian
    March 15, 2007

    Check out Knop’s latest thread, in which he says he’s a Christian because of the music in that tradition.

    The… music.

    (John B, no one said the knowledge had to be personally verified, just verified by the scientific method.)

  104. #104 I am Kirok
    March 15, 2007

    Mark P said: “Do you REALLY think, even in the absence of religion, all the abortion doctors that have been murdered by anti-abortion loonies would still be dead? You think all these school districts would have wasted so much time and money debating whether or not ID belongs in science classes without religion?

    It’s not complicated. Irrationality tends to cause problems. The less we base our decisions on irrationality, the better off we tend to be. Sure, there would still be irrationalities that cause us problems even after religion is gone (racism, sexism, etc.). So what? I’m happy to work my way down the list, I’m just not going to ignore the #1 offender just because it offends people.”

    See, it depends on how you frame the question. The 2 things you mentioned could are religion-driven. Are those the greatest evils in our society? There are many crimes that have no direct basis in religion whatsoever – violent crime, sexual abuse, racism, theft, torture, poverty, greed(you even mentioned some of these). Are the number of abortion clinic bombings/doctor deaths greater than the number of “regular” murder victims per year? Not to downplay anyone’s tragic deaths but that sounds like a drop in the bucket compared to the rest. And as much as i agree that ID is crap science that shouldn’t touch a classroom with a 50 ft. pole, it is not the greatest threat to a person’s life and health at the moment…

    Y’now, I can actually see your point. I’m not blind to the fact that people can make some pretty bonehead decisions based on faith. But people don’t need religion to be irrational. People make stupid decisions all the time without consulting a higher power. In fact, religion can be a prime motivator to turn away from irrational, destructive behavior and be a greater benefit to humanity. There are numerous ministries across the world that feed and care for hungry, impoverished children without access to proper healthcare. Not to mention shelters that provide care for battered women in abusive relationships. I’m sure you already know this – but my point is you’re only focusing on the negative. And as you said there would still be problems anyway – so why the focus on something that actually provides a support system for folks who otherwise would be left at the mercy of a cruel world.

  105. #105 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    PZ Meyers: “When a liberal Christian is accused of holding silly beliefs, you can say, ‘Oh, dear, I think you were talking about Pat Robertson, not me!’ It’s an easy way to avoid difficult questions because, while it’s true that we don’t think highly of ol’ Pat, we actually were addressing the silly beliefs of liberal Christians.”

    Serious question: has Rob Knop actually done this? It would be nice if you actually provided evidence that this was the case, like, oh, actual quotes, instead of making vague accusations.

  106. #106 MarkP
    March 15, 2007

    Kirok said: Why the focus on something [religion] that actually provides a support system for folks who otherwise would be left at the mercy of a cruel world.

    Well, for starters, I’m not arguing for banning religion. I’m arguing for people to stop using their personal, logically indefensible religious views, to try to control what others are doing. If people are motivated to help the poor because they believe in Jesus, more power to them.
    However, where are lots of people who help the less fortunate who are not motivated by religion to do so, so it is clearly not necessary. Surely you are not saying that people who do good as part of religious organizations would cease to do so were they to reject their religious beliefs.

    There are many crimes that have no direct basis in religion whatsoever – violent crime, sexual abuse, racism, theft, torture, poverty, greed(you even mentioned some of these). Are the number of abortion clinic bombings/doctor deaths greater than the number of “regular” murder victims per year

    Why is that comparison relevant? There are millions of people dying in the third world, and having problems in the first with unwanted pregnancies, in large part because of religious resistence to birth control. The change I suggest makes that go away, and there are myriad such examples. What does the murder rate have to do with that?

    Aside from the lunatic fringe, we are all working to reduce racism, sexism, etc., because we recognize those things as irrational. Religion however, gets a free pass. Claim you wouldn’t vote for a black man for president and you would be rightly condemned. Say the same about an atheist and everything is hunky dory. You can’t get away with passing laws based on sexism and racism any more, and rightly so. But too many people think passing laws based on religion is just fine. That’s the problem.

    Your overriding theme seems to be that because there are bigger problems we can’t solve, we shouldn’t worry about calling out religious nonsense for what it is. That’s akin to saying because we can’t cure cancer we shouldn’t try to find a cure for AIDS.

  107. #107 Another Jason
    March 15, 2007

    J.J.Ramsey,

    I believe PZ was responding to Barron’s post claiming that we should lay off liberal religious types like Rob Knop, whose brand of religion is supposedly harmless, and restrict our criticisms to “fundamentalists.” I agree with PZ’s response.

  108. #108 Frank
    March 15, 2007

    “But too many people think passing laws based on religion is just fine. That’s the problem.”

    By “too many” what do you mean? I tend to think that one law based solely upon religion is wrong. What people think is up to them.

    Like it or not, law is largely based upon religion to some degree. Why is murder wrong? We could come up with some interesting reasons but there is always the reason listed in The Commandments (i.e. God said dont do it). What I am saying is our moral code in large part is based upon religion. As such so are our laws.

    Are there places in the world where religion is the predominant source of law? Yes, these are theocracies. To my knowledge, the vast number people in western style democracies do not want to live in a theocracy.

    If your point is the problem is that too many people think that passing laws based upon religion then you have a problem with what people think. That will make folks angry and in my opinion is the same as those who want to use religion to tell you what to do and think.

    Religion however, gets a free pass. Claim you wouldn’t vote for a black man for president and you would be rightly condemned. Say the same about an atheist and everything is hunky dory.

    This cuts both ways. Plenty of folks would not vote for John Kennedy because he was Catholic.

  109. #109 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    Me: “Serious question: has Rob Knop actually done this [that is, complain about conflating fundies and liberals]?”

    Another Jason: “I believe PZ was responding to Barron’s post claiming that we should lay off liberal religious types like Rob Knop, whose brand of religion is supposedly harmless, and restrict our criticisms to ‘fundamentalists.'”

    Yes, but that doesn’t answer my question. Barron’s post was in response to an earlier post by PZ Myers claiming, “Another distortion you’ll find over there is the claim that we nasty atheists are unfairly conflating their religion with fundamentalism.”

    If that’s a distortion, it’s only a distortion in the sense that “Bush said bin Laden and Saddam Hussen are buddies” is a distortion. Bush never said that, but he played word games in order to imply it. What I have seen some atheists do is claim that the logical end of religion is extremism, and that moderate and liberal religion are dilutions. Dawkins did this in his “Gerin Oil” article. I have yet to see evidence for this claim beyond bits of superficial conventional wisdom, and the tendencies of extremism to show up in nonreligious ideologies would suggest that it is orthogonal to religion. I have also seen atheists try to claim that theistic evolutionists somehow nibble at science in some unspecified fashion, or just lump them with creationists. Dawkins’ “Neville Chamberlain atheist” bit also lumps the religious together, and puts them in the role of Hitler at that. There certainly have been attempts, subtle or otherwise, to tar all the religious with the same brush.

  110. #110 Another Jason
    March 15, 2007

    What I have seen some atheists do is claim that the logical end of religion is extremism, and that moderate and liberal religion are dilutions.

    I am one such atheist. I think religion by nature is anti-science and anti-intellectual and that attempts to reconcile religion with science, reason and secular ethics are largely incoherent and ultimately self-defeating.

  111. #111 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    What I have seen some atheists do is claim that the logical end of religion is extremism, and that moderate and liberal religion are dilutions. Dawkins did this in his “Gerin Oil” article. I have yet to see evidence for this claim beyond bits of superficial conventional wisdom,…

    I do that. The evidence for it is the Bible — biblical characters these people might emulate are extremists.

  112. #112 MarkP
    March 15, 2007

    The problem is the religious people that want it both ways. When unable to justify their beliefs by the same standards used for all other issues, they fall back on some version of “well, I can’t prove it, but it’s my personal belief, it makes me happy, and you have no right to force me to believe as you do”. They then want to use those same personal beliefs as the basis for laws governing both public and private behavior of everyone else. That’s where we atheists have a problem.

    Arguments about laws like murder and theft miss the point. It doesn’t matter if a law could have a religious basis. It matters if it doesn’t have a secular purpose. Religions coopt effective secular laws all the time, and murder and theft laws are perfect examples, since it’s difficult to conceive of a society without them. That’s an entirely different beast than a law against shopping on Sunday, which has nothing but religious justification. It’s not having a problem with what people think. It’s having a problem with people wanting to control my life based on what they think when that thought is entirely religious. That’s why so many of us have a beef with the Christian Right, but no problem with astrologers. If astrologers tried to change the laws based on the fact that Mars is in ascension, I’d have the same beef with them.

    Refusing to vote for someone because of their religion per se is just as bigoted as refusing to vote for them because they lack a religion. The bigots that did so against Kennedy make my point rather than refuting it.

  113. #113 MarkP
    March 15, 2007

    What I have seen some atheists do is claim that the logical end of religion is extremism, and that moderate and liberal religion are dilutions. Dawkins did this in his “Gerin Oil” article. I have yet to see evidence for this claim beyond bits of superficial conventional wisdom…

    All one need do is peruse the holy texts religous people claim to follow. I’m reminded of Dr. Laura being confronted on her claim that homosexuality is a sin based on the Bible, and yet she saw nothing wrong with eating shellfish even though the abolition of that is right next to the abolition on homosexuality she referenced.

    Or take abortion. Many religious people claim those fetuses are people just the same as kindergarteners. Yet if someone was slaughtering kindergarteners, those people would have no compunction in shooting the murderer in the act to protect the children. But when someone does that to an abortion doctor, he is called an extremist.

    Other examples abound.

  114. #114 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    Me: “What I have seen some atheists do is claim that the logical end of religion is extremism, and that moderate and liberal religion are dilutions. Dawkins did this in his “Gerin Oil” article. I have yet to see evidence for this claim beyond bits of superficial conventional wisdom,…”

    Norman Doering: “The evidence for it is the Bible — biblical characters these people might emulate are extremists.”

    First, not all religion is Judaism or Christianity. Is extremism the logical end of Buddhism, for example?

    Second, even with the Bible, there are extremes in opposing directions, and for Protestants in particular, the Old Testament extremes are supposed to be negated by the later more peaceful extremes in the New Testament. Furthermore, not all Christianity is sola scriptura, and rabbinic Judaism certainly is not. In Christianity again, you get a mix of conflicting extremes, and IIRC, much of what the rabbis wrote blunted the extreme punishments from the Torah. To put it simply, extremists of the Biblical religions are have to pick and choose just as the moderates do. Their form of the religion isn’t particularly more pure than the more mainstream forms. Ironically, MarkP’s example of Dr. Laura picking and choosing goes toward this point. Isn’t it rather strange that the so-called fundamentalists tend to focus on religious issues that, based on their own holy texts, aren’t that fundamental? Homosexuality is rarely mentioned in the Bible, and abortion not at all, yet these are the hot-button issues despite being mentioned far less frequently in the Bible than the poor.

    Your evidence just isn’t that good.

    MarkP: “The problem is the religious people that want it both ways. When unable to justify their beliefs by the same standards used for all other issues, they fall back on some version of ‘well, I can’t prove it, but it’s my personal belief, it makes me happy, and you have no right to force me to believe as you do’. They then want to use those same personal beliefs as the basis for laws governing both public and private behavior of everyone else.”

    I thought we weren’t conflating the moderates with the extremists here. Yet the believers who are likely to say “well, I can’t prove it, but it’s my personal belief, it makes me happy” are often the more fluffy types, but it is the conservatives who push for the laws governing public and private behavior.

    Another Jason: “I think religion by nature is anti-science and anti-intellectual”

    Then it is awfully curious that religion’s relationship with science and the intellect is all over the map. One would think that if what you said were true, there would be a lot less scatter.

  115. #115 Tyler DiPietro
    March 15, 2007

    Your evidence just isn’t that good.

    The ostentations of fundamentalists when railing against homosexuality and abortion are doubtlessly based on their supernatural fantasies. That most fundamentalists aren’t familiar with the actual contents Bible (and the far more atrocious dictates therein) doesn’t negate that point. Nor does it negate the point that extremism is a far more plausible interpreation of those scriptures than theological liberalism.

    It is clear from the Bible that the slavery advocates in America before the civil war held the theological high ground against abolitionists. It is clear that advocates of female subordination and family hierarchy hold the theological high ground over religious feminists. And it is in fact clear that people opposed to legalizing gay marriage or even permitting the practice of socially unapproved consensual sex (or “sodomy”, in the language of religious madness) hold the theological high ground over their current opponents.

    Even the one example you cite as a political intrusion not justified in the Bible is still firmly grounded in religious nonsense. Political opposition to abortion, along with ESCR, is completely unjustifiable without recourse to medieval ideas about “souls” and their entry into people at zygote formation.

    Theological liberalism is no doubt socially preferable to it’s fundamentalist bretheren, but it fails to be anything but vacuous nonsense. Something that can be anything is effectively nothing. If the only thing one can do to render their religion sane is sacrifice all cognitive content, it really demonstrates the overall uselessness of religion more than anything else.

  116. #116 Jason Rosenhouse
    March 15, 2007

    Tyler-

    Theological liberalism is no doubt socially preferable to it’s fundamentalist bretheren, but it fails to be anything but vacuous nonsense. Something that can be anything is effectively nothing. If the only thing one can do to render their religion sane is sacrifice all cognitive content, it really demonstrates the overall uselessness of religion more than anything else.

    I think this is exactly right, and gets to the heart of the issue.

  117. #117 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    Tyler DiPietro: “Nor does it negate the point that extremism is a far more plausible interpreation of those scriptures than theological liberalism.”

    And Jim Wallis’ interpretation of the scriptures is more plausible than that of the extremists. So where does that leave the contention that extremism is the logical end of Christianity, let alone religion in general?

    My point is that the Gerin Oil article tries to tar the moderates as just being “lite” versions of the extremists, and it does it on what I see as a false premise. You have yet to show that this premise is fact true.

  118. #118 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    Jason Rosenhouse: “I think this is exactly right, and gets to the heart of the issue.”

    It gets to the heart of your issue, but not Knop’s, which is that he is tired of the village-atheist style of religion-bashing that he has seen recently.

  119. #119 Jason Rosenhouse
    March 15, 2007

    J.J. Ramsey-

    I understand that that is Knop’s issue, but I don’t see what relevance that has to a consideration of whether or not his reconcilation of Christianity with science is successful.

  120. #120 Sean
    March 16, 2007

    There is no way that one could reconcile science with religion. Why would one expect that such as thing would be possible? Science uses the scientific method and testable, reliable evidence to make general conclusions. Religion relies upon faith, motivation to believe without evidence. It is so obvious to see that there is no way to form reconciliation with the two subjects. It is a pointless argument. Scientist, generally recognize this and they let the religious folk have it out. Scientists do not need to prove evolution to everyone. It is possibly, as proven as it needs to be. After all, there are no other credible “scientific” theories out there.
    The problem is the two subjects both address the ultimate questions and them both give different answers. It however, is important to note that science has no reason outside of evidence to hold onto a belief in evolution. That is, evolution is the way the evidence points. Scientists do not wish it to be one way or another. Creationists on the other hand, have motivation, in the face of evidence, to believe that evolution is false. Basically, regardless of the evidence, no matter how strong, they have a need to deny its truthfulness. It is this need, this motivation that causes doubt in evolution. The problem is that this doubt is not related to evolution’s truthfulness at all. It is related to religious conviction. Something outside the realm of inquiry, something so far removed from the argument that it is totally irrelevant. In other words, the main reason you cannot reconcile the two fields is that religion has a need or motivation for things to be a certain way. Science does not have that need, and it cannot have that need if it wishes to remain objective.

  121. #121 Norman Doering
    March 16, 2007

    J.J. Ramsey wrote:

    And Jim Wallis’ interpretation of the scriptures is more plausible than that of the extremists.

    Oh, really? Care to explain what Wallis is interpreting? Is any of it explicitly in the Bible?

  122. #122 B Davidson
    March 16, 2007

    [quote]Science uses the scientific method and testable, reliable evidence to make general conclusions. Religion relies upon faith, motivation to believe without evidence. It is so obvious to see that there is no way to form reconciliation with the two subjects.[/quote]

    Not if you look at it from the beginning. A scientific theory first comes about because someone believes in it. They then set about to try and prove their theory. Even in the end, it is still a theory. People then put their ‘faith’ in that theory until someone else comes along and disproves it. I’m not saying that religion is right, but you used the terms, “scientific method and testable, reliable evidence to make general conclusions.” It can not be reliable if it is merely a “general conclusion.”

    Let’s say you buy into the whole expanding/contracting universe argument. This is something that is observable in nature. Things/animals come into being, and then die. They are reborn as either the nest generation(as with animals), or they are changed into a new form(as with energy). Religion tries to explain this cycle. Almost every religion in history has had a dying god that is reborn. Now look at it from the big bang standpoint.

    A huge amount of energy creates the universe. Eventually this energy will reach its limit and start to contract, returning to its starting point. Eventually the energy will build up again, and create anew.

    Where science and religion diverge is in the moral and philosophical categories. Religion tries to teach morality to average people where true science has none at all.

    As long as people see science and religion as absolutes, they will always fight and bicker as we see every day. Faith is not mutually exclusive to religion. Darwin had faith that his belief was true.

  123. #123 MarkP
    March 16, 2007

    Believing first, then seeking to affirm, is religion, not science, and is exactly why it is so ineffective at finding meaningful and accurate explanations for the things we experience in the world.

    In science, a hypothesis comes about because someone conceives of it. Whether they believe it is irrelevant. They then make predictions based on that hypothesis and subject it to experimentation that could disprove it. If that hypothesis accurately predicts the results of these experiments, it becomes a scientific theory. If it fails to, it is revised accordingly, and in some cases, rejected entirely.

    The more such verification a theory gets, the more reliable it tends to be, and the more it is considered “true”. That conclusion is always subject to testing by the latest data. It is not an either-or propostion, somthing many religious thinkers have a difficult time grasping, nor is it permanent. It also has nothing whatever to do with faith. Faith is belief in the absence, or in spite of, such data.

    This is the crucial distinction between the two. Science recognizes gradiations of credibility and the importance of tentative conclusions. Religion sees absolute unchanging “truth”.

  124. #124 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 16, 2007

    I’m always more comfortable with the idea that science produces reliable theories and hypotheses than reliable observational facts and abstract knowledge. If things have to be objectively true to be ‘knowledge’, provisionality goes out the window.

    With reliable I mean repeatable, not non-falsifiable.

    About the relationship between facts and reality, there is a theorem in math that says roughly if we can map an object in every possible way with every possible map we can know all its observable properties.

  125. #125 Sean
    March 16, 2007

    It is also a theory that smoking causes cancer, but you would not find many people out there who would deny that. The only reason people have a problem with evolution is totally removed from its actual truthfulness. They have a problem with it because of religious conviction. There are not many religions (as far as I know) that would fight against other strong theories (the model of the atom, smoking causes cancer) etc. It is only when a theory inconveniently fails to help one’s religious faith that one denies it. Think evolution is not true, then, you better light up a cigar!…

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