Galactic Interactions

I suppose you could, with some justification, accuse me of being a troll, given that my post “So I’m a Christian. Shoot me.” generated an entirely predictable set of flames tearing me down for unscientific thinking, and for trying to claim that there is any kind of bias against the religious anywhere on scienceblogs. I continue my trolling here — though, of course, trolling is not the reason I’m doing this. I’m hoping that there are actually some out there who see this as a valid intellectual exchane.

In that post, I lay a few things out which aren’t even the things I thought people might really object to. Indeed, mostly nobody objected to what I wrote– which says something about the redership around here, since a bunch of what I wrote would be offensive to many who are religious. Instead, some objected to to the very fact of me being religious with the usual “stump the deluded godist” questions. Others actually objected to something in what I wrote, not liking my grousing about the anti-religious rehtoric that’s so common around scienceblogs. The view seems to be that since atheists are so persecuted in general American societ,y it’s OK for them to behave like intolerant boors around here. (I should also note that I received some comments in support of what I wrote, and I thank those of you who did that.)

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

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.

So if we don’t need God to explain how we came to be, how the world or Universe came to be, or how things work, what good is God?

Let me stick to my own particular religious tradition here, because it’s the one I know best. The church I used to attend in Berkeley (the UCC — one of those denominations that has been doing commitment ceremonies for homosexuals for years) has long been on a kick of “correcting” the masculine language in a lot of the music and writing that has come down through the centuries in our religious tradition. If we’re trying to get away from the patriarchical notion of God as an old man with a white beard, it’s very awkward to have this core prayer starting with “Our Father, who art in heaven.” So how do people usually try to “fix” it? “Our Creator, who art in heaven.”

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.

If you boil down the role of God into a few words, they tend to be Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer. I’m ready to throw out Creator, as I’ve already described. Yes, the fact that our science is currently unable to address how the Universe worked before the Planck Epoch (about 10^-43 seconds after what would be the moment of the classical Big Bang) means that we have some wiggle room to say, well, that’s where God comes in; that’s where he created the Universe by setting the laws of Physics and the initial conditions of the Big Bang. But that makes the same mistake made by earlier, now-discarded understandings about the role of God in our creation– one day, science may and probably will address the early pre-Planck Epoch Universe. Moreover, it’s a very distant and abstract God. Why would we feel the need to have any kind of personal relationship with something like that?

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.

(Re: “Redeemer,” let me put that off to the post where I discuss why I myself am a Christian, specifically.)

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.

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.

This is the point and purpose of religion in a scientific age. Not for everybody, certainly. Not for you, perhaps. But for many, yes, it is, and for many, it does a great job at that. Yes, it does a whole lot of evil as well. However, listing religion’s evil results as a means of condemnation is no more useful than listing “firearms; gunpowder; nuclear weapons; ozone depleting chemicals; global warming producing industrial processes” and a myriad of other things as a condemnation of science, technology and progress.


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. Is he just believing in a fairy story because it’s comforting to him? No. Theology is deeper than that. God does not have to be real for you for God to be real. It sounds illogical, but we’re not talking science here. We are talking a layer of reality that is crucial for many, irrelevant to others, and orthogonal to the natural world except via the affects is has as a result of the actions of the faithful.

In my own view, that which we call “God” is an integral property of sentient existence. Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God. In my view, God did not create the Universe; the Universe just is, but God is something different. Have I thrown away scientific thinking in this area of my life? No– because it was never there in the first place. Yes, you can apply the scientific method to predictions of religion, but there is more to human cognition than purely scientific thinking, as I’ve argued above.

Do I expect any of this to convert any atheist? Absolutely not. You’re happy without religion, and more power to you. I don’t want you to be converted. What I would like is for you to be able to accept the notion that there are those who are religious who may still not only be good scientists, but also aren’t deluded idiots even in that aspect of our lives. I would also like for the religious to understand that atheists aren’t all evil, amoral, and damned. Alas, while there are plenty of atheists (called “Neville Chamberlain” atheists around here) perfectly willing to accept those of us who aren’t atheists, and while there are plenty of religious perfectly willing to accept the morality and goodness of atheists, the majority in both camps seem to be more hard-line. And I don’t really expect my scribblings to convince anybody of anything. (I do expect to be flamed and generally called dishonest, deluded, magically thinking, and be attacked with a bunch of trolling straw-man attacks from the legions around here who despise the religious. The comments here are an Internet forum; people just can’t hold off from that sort of thing on Internet fora.)

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    and for trying to claim that there is any kind of bias against the religious anywhere on scienceblogs.

    Really? I didn’t notice that. I did notice you claim that you were persecuted. It looks like the old bait-and-switch. It’s a good thing you don’t belong to one of those religions that punishes people for bearing false witness.

  2. #2 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    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.

    No, Mr. Knop. That is not what people refer to as “other ways of knowing.” The distinction is between epistemology and aesthetics. Those “OWOK” folks are not claiming that the idea of God is beautiful, or valuable. They are claiming that it is true.

  3. #3 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    Mustafa Mond, FCD — you are rapidly cruising toiward being a banned commenter. Please try to engage in discussion rather than insult.

  4. #4 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    In my own view, that which we call “God” is an integral property of sentient existence. Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God.

    As predicted, he’s gone in for radical re-definition. I too believe that God exists. However, when I say “God”, I mean the dinner I am heading home to enjoy.

    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.

    So God exists for some people, but not for others? And if you need God, He exists? That sounds very Tinkerbelle.

    Oh, are you gonna get hammered. I’ll have to check in tomorrow morning, right now I’m headed home to enjoy “God.”

  5. #5 Julianne
    March 12, 2007

    Rob — No matter what knees may start to jerk, I think you did a lovely and thoughtful job of expressing yourself. No one has ever changed their mind as a result of being scolded.

  6. #6 David Williamson
    March 12, 2007

    I think Rob makes several notable points in here that are almost certain to be ignored. This one is a good example:

    We are talking a layer of reality that is crucial for many, irrelevant to others, and orthogonal to the natural world except via the affects is has as a result of the actions of the faithful.

    Did anyone else notice the word ‘orthogonal’? Yes, that’s right, this has nothing to do with science. Applying the scientific method to a religious discussion is as useful as faith healing for cancer. Actually, the latter (when combined with proper modern medical practices) might be more useful, based on various studies. (Something about positive thinking being good for you…go figure!)

    I think people like Dawkins aren’t just divisive, but are a reflection of what they claim to not like. Dawkins is so certain of what he knows that it’s effectively a belief system. I’ve never had use for hard-core atheism. I prefer to describe myself as religiously apathetic…the question has no interest for me personally, but I don’t have the need to stomp on those who do value the question.

    The one thing about religions (including hard-core atheism) that really bugs me is that they could all be such forces for moral good in the world, and none of them are effective in that role. Instead of worrying about what someone might or might not be doing in a private bedroom, worry about how people treat each other.

    There’s an awful lot of ‘open-minded’ folks around here who need to have a second look at their convictions. Tolerance clearly isn’t part of the agenda. Personally, I don’t agree with Rob about his beliefs, but bully for him for standing up for what he does believe.

  7. #7 Cody
    March 12, 2007

    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.

    Well, if it weren’t real to them, then it wouldn’t be properly considered a delusion, now would it?

    Also, the question “What is our purpose of life?” by its very phrasing excludes the possibility that there is no purpose in life. I think a more appropriate question would be “Is there purpose in life?”, to which my personal response is a very definite, very scientific “Iunno.”

  8. #8 brtkrbzhnv
    March 12, 2007

    Here, Dawkins is showing exactly that arrogant and mistaken tendency of the scientist to assume that the only valid thought is that thought [susceptible] to the scientific method.

    I think it’s rather that he doesn’t want to answer a question that doesn’t make any sense. “What’s the purpose of x?” can be stated more explicitly as “what reason did y have for causing the existence of x?”, and so, unless we state what y is, the question is meaningless. In most cases, it’s clear from context what y is, so we don’t need to explicitly state it, wherefore “what’s the purpose of x” usually makes sense anyway, but in the case of x == “our existence” this clearly isn’t so.

  9. #9 Dr. Free-Ride
    March 12, 2007

    See, it’s not just the philosopher of science who’s inclined to say that science builds a certain kind of knowledge according to certain ground rules — but that this doesn’t preclude there being other kinds of knowledge deserving of the name.

    Also, there are plenty of questions that are quite important to some of us, where we may have beliefs we’re not quite prepared to call knowledge — at least, we don’t assume our beliefs on these matters will necessarily be persuasive to others — but where having a belief can make a real difference in our lives.

  10. #10 HI
    March 12, 2007

    I enjoy your posts and I respect your point of view. But as an atheist I am not convinced by your argument, as you rightly expected. Being useful is not the same as being true.

    I agree that the interview you cited shows arrogance of Richard Dawkins and I don’t agree with everything Dawkins says even though I’m an atheist. But I have to say that I find Dawkins much more consistent than someone like, say Francis Collins, when it comes to religion. I’m sure Collins is a good scientist and maybe I’m missing something as I haven’t read his book. But from the articles that I read, I didn’t get the impression that Collins have considered the fact that Christianity is just one of many religions that have existed in the world. In that sense, I find your view of religions more acceptable. The question still remains why you consider yourself a Christian specifically. I am looking forward to your post explaining it.

    Being from a country where Christianity is not a major religion (Japan), I am as interested in the question of why you consider yourself a Christian (aside from the fact that you were born in a country where Christianity is the major religion) as in the question of why you are a believer at all. I am also a little frustrated that this kind of discussion tends to take the form of Christianity vs. Atheism (or Abrahamic religions vs. Atheism), because Christianity is a very different religion compared to Buddhism, for example.

  11. #11 justawriter
    March 12, 2007

    I don’t think I have read anything so sad in a long time. However, I will hold off explaining why I think that until you have finished your series. I wouldn’t want to go off half cocked against a straw man.

  12. #12 bigTom
    March 12, 2007

    I think Rob would probably agree with the vast majority of sciblogs readers that religion is a purely human (that doesn’t mean sentient aliens elsewhere might also have religion) creation. It may or maynot be a net positive for the developement of our species. In any case while most of us (scibloggers) will say we aren’t here for a pre-existing purpose, nevertheless the question of what should we be doing about the future is entirely relevant.
    I think most of us want our species to advance, and for the lives of our progeny to be “better” than ours. So we could invent all kinds of agendas, for what we should be accomplishing. None of these will be derivable from first principals, but that doesn’t mean they are pointless -except perhaps in the sense that the universe is likely of finite duration (or perhaps oscillates, but information is lost in the transition), means that over a long period of time no record of what we do will remain.
    In any case Rob is right in the sense that this is an area “beyond” science, although we might likelt use science as part of the process of formulating an answer.

    So we can have lots of purposes:
    (1) Serving some personal god, who in some sense will be happier if we do the right thing.
    (2) Making the lives of those around us as good as we can.
    (3) Serving evolution in the sense of trying to create more “perfect” lifeforms.
    (4) spreading life throughout the galaxy.
    Doubtless we could come up with many more.
    Choose well, and you can have a satistfying life pursuing the result.

  13. #13 MaxPolun
    March 12, 2007

    hmmm… interesting. Seems a bit mushy, but that’s ok, a lot of things are mushy.

    My main problem is again you seem to be arguing against a strawman: Dawkins was saying in his (or more generally an atheistic) worldview there is no inherent meaning of life, and actually a lot of religious people would probably agree with that (look in to christian existentialism sometime).

    It’s good that you are defining god for the purposes of this discussion, I find that most disagreements between reasonable theists and reasonable atheists get disrailed because neither one knows what the other is talking about. The definition is interesting, though. I would certainly agree that some people believe in something and are comforted by that belief, does that god real? Depends on what you mean by real, and then we get into a debate about ontology, something I know I would like to avoid.

    Incidentally this one of the reasons I gave up on the theism I used to have: it’s very hard to form a logically consistent idea of god without giving up just about every defining characteristic of god.

  14. #14 mollishka
    March 12, 2007

    *wonders how long it’ll take for someone to mention Hitler on this thread*

  15. #15 mollishka
    March 12, 2007

    Slightly more seriously now:

    First of all, Rob, you really can’t be a troll on your own blog. Mustafa Mond, FCD can apparently troll here, but kind of by definition, you can’t.

    Is it bad that I can hear Richard Dawkins’s accent pervading through that quote? The question of whether or not there is a meaning to life, and if so, what is it, is perhaps too broadly worded to appeal to the non-religious types. A more personal and practically applicable phrasing, would be, “What is the purpose of my life such that I continue living it?” While the answer to “What is the meaning of life?” could possibly answer this other question, it isn’t necessarily a prerequisite.

    Likewise, the existence of a god or of religion isn’t at all necessary for actually addressing the kinds of questions you’ve raised here. So far, it seems that you are advocating spirituality, not organized religion replete with god(s) and rituals.

    Huh. I think my main point ran away from me …

  16. #16 Greg Kucharo
    March 12, 2007

    Rob,
    While I disagree with your rationale for having religion, (wouldn’t it be easier and better to have a comforting thing that is also real and true?), I think it took a lot of cajones to put yourself out in an environment that is pretty heavily dominated by atheists or otherwise non-belivers. It must be rather how atheists feel in the public at large! I wish the comments trended toward challenge rather than scorn because while I don’t think you can have the assumption of no challenge, you should at least be getting a measure of respect for your difference of opinion.

    Now how about some science!

  17. #17 chezjake
    March 12, 2007

    Thanks, Rob. I think you’ve done an excellent job of presenting your case. I think you are correct in your assessment of how non-fundamentalist religious faith can be compatible with science for those who seem to need religion.

  18. #18 decrepitoldfool
    March 12, 2007

    I don’t blame you for James Dobson and his like – clearly his faith and yours are different circuits. And you’re not giving shelter to him. As I look at our sorrowful world I just don’t see much chance of everyone agreeing on a specific epistemology. For the foreseeable future we’re going to have to learn to live with each other, atheists and theists. Since we share a lot of values and even many beliefs, this should not be difficult, yet…

    Helps a lot to know what the thinking is. Now if we could just find the volume control and turn it down, maybe some communication could take place.

  19. #19 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    Thanks for the comments all.

    A few things:

    While I disagree with your rationale for having religion, (wouldn’t it be easier and better to have a comforting thing that is also real and true?)

    I’ll take that by “real and true” you mean materially real and true. And, yeah, for a whole lot of people, that works. Not for everybody.

    Several years ago, my first year at Vanderbilt, I went to a star party. This was an unpleasant time in my department. The year before I arrived, there had been an external review that used words like “the whole is less than the sum of the parts.” In responding to it, we fell on each other like a pack of starved hyenas. (Things are MUCH better now. We’ve hired about 1/4 or more of the faculty since then, and the department is on the whole a pleasant place.) Another junior faculty member who was a harder core amateur astronomer than I (and was also a professional astronomer) was there. We were out with our scopes, and I mentioned something about the department. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. “This is my church,” he said, gesturing to the wide open, beautiful, dark, empty sky. “I’ve come here for spiritual renewal.”

    Lots of people find it in lots of places.

    So far, it seems that you are advocating spirituality, not organized religion replete with god(s) and rituals.

    Yeah, I haven’t made any arguments for organized religion at all. The arguments for those are the “community building” arguments. In Berkeley, we lived in the city, but our church was our “small town,” our community of neighbors and friends who looked out for each other, cared about each other, mourned each others pains, celebrated each others joys, and so forth. Again, you don’t need religion for that; I had a similar community in a local community theater I was a part of. But it does serve that purpose for many people.

    Incidentally this one of the reasons I gave up on the theism I used to have: it’s very hard to form a logically consistent idea of god without giving up just about every defining characteristic of god.

    Yeah. And my understanding of god and my relationship to my faith is always changing. Indeed, that’s not unusual; many religions like to talk about a “faith journey.”

    I have made some peace with the notion that god isn’t always going to be completely logical…. No, I don’t live my life without cognitive dissonance, and without occasional re-evaluation, and without some tension. But I value all sides of this, so it’s worth the effort to figure out how to live with all of it.

    I think it’s rather that he doesn’t want to answer a question that doesn’t make any sense. “What’s the purpose of x?” can be stated more explicitly as “what reason did y have for causing the existence of x?”, and so, unless we state what y is, the question is meaningless.

    I disagree. Those two questions are not the same question at all.

    What is the purpose of a screwdriver? Well, the person who made the screwdriver was making it to sell it for profit. But, yes, the screwdriver was designed with the purpose of loosening and tightening screws in mind.

    But to me, what is the purpose of a screwdriver? Just just that, but also prying up bits of superglue stuck on my desk, cleaning out my fingernails after gardening, practicing juggling, and, sometimes, hammering nails.

    I can find a purpose in the screwdriver without having to worry at all about what whoever made it was thinking when they made it.

    See, it’s not just the philosopher of science who’s inclined to say that science builds a certain kind of knowledge according to certain ground rules

    If Janet’s gonna start talking about this stuff, I’m way out of my league :)

    Also, the question “What is our purpose of life?” by its very phrasing excludes the possibility that there is no purpose in life. I think a more appropriate question would be “Is there purpose in life?”, to which my personal response is a very definite, very scientific “Iunno.”

    I presume “Iunno” = “Dunno”.

    “None” is a valid answer to the question “What is the purpose of X.” I don’t think the question necessarily precludes a negative answer.

    Scientifically, the purpose to life seems to be to make more of itself. Life, in a sense, is a cog in a big evolutionary machine. None of that, really, is going to help you think about what career you might want to pursue. “Meaning of life” type questions might, however. If you don’t think you need to think about what the purpose of life is, that’s fine. Other people do.

    -Rob

    -Rob

  20. #20 Qalmlea
    March 12, 2007

    (Manual Trackback) And a thank you for sticking through this despite the flames. It’s refreshing to see someone on Science Blogs taking a stand like this.

  21. #21 Federico Contreras
    March 12, 2007

    I can’t believe you just threatened to ban Mustafa Mond, FCD… He is one of the most prolific commenters not only on scienceblogs, but on other important blogs as well (panda’s thumb?). I don’t even know the guy, but I do know that a ban would be unwarranted he’s one of the elder statesmen of comment whoring in anti-creationism and blogs … what was so bad about pointing out the obvious?

    You did redefine both God and Christian right to the line of irrecognizability. I was a hardcore catholic, and I would never have considered you a christian. In order to be a christian there are a few base things we need to accept… You don’t believe in the divinity of christ, the virgin birth or the bodily ascension (I assume) so how could you possibly call yourself a christian? you’re a deist … at best. An agnostic theist at worse. You can’t just redefine terms when you don’t happen to like their meaning.

    Anyway, I as well will go home and enjoy God, and by God I mean a delicious tuna casserole. With feta cheese.

  22. #22 Pseudonym
    March 12, 2007

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

    That’s what got me about many of the commenters on the previous post, too. If you think that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge, how would you scientifically test whether or not murder is wrong? Science can’t even begin to talk about “right” and “wrong”, unless it’s a meta-study, like discussing the evolution of morals and ethics.

    There are many ways that you can talk about morals and ethics, but none of them can, by definition, fall under the umbrella of “science”.

    Some look to philosophy.

    Actually, theology is philosophy, when you get down to it. Or, perhaps more correctly, it’s a family of schools of philosophical thought.

  23. #23 Ed Minchau
    March 12, 2007

    (Manual Trackback) This topic sure does get a whole lot of people talking passionately, doesn’t it?

  24. #24 Cody
    March 12, 2007

    I presume “Iunno” = “Dunno”.

    No, “Iunno” is exactly what I wrote: a lazy contraction of “I don’t know” best expressed with the assistance of a shrug.

    “None” is a valid answer to the question “What is the purpose of X.” I don’t think the question necessarily precludes a negative answer.

    John: “What flavor of ice cream would you like?”

    Mary: “I would not like any ice cream.”

    John: “You still haven’t answered my question.”

    John’s question was phrased in a way that does not take into consideration Mary’s preferences. You might think John’s question does not necessarily preclude Mary’s answer, but I think you at least have to admit that his question is heavily biased in favor of a chocolate-, vanilla-, whatever-flavored answer (I think a pun might have crept in there, but I can’t be entirely sure).

    I still think the proper phrasing should first be, “Is there purpose to our lives?” followed by, “If so, what is it?”. I think too many people ask “What is the purpose of our life?” without considering the necessary “Is there purpose in life?” beforehand.

    Rob, I think you might appreciate this xkcd comic: http://www.xkcd.com/c220.html

  25. #25 MaxPolun
    March 12, 2007

    I disagree. Those two questions are not the same question at all.

    What is the purpose of a screwdriver? Well, the person who made the screwdriver was making it to sell it for profit. But, yes, the screwdriver was designed with the purpose of loosening and tightening screws in mind.

    But to me, what is the purpose of a screwdriver? Just just that, but also prying up bits of superglue stuck on my desk, cleaning out my fingernails after gardening, practicing juggling, and, sometimes, hammering nails.

    I can find a purpose in the screwdriver without having to worry at all about what whoever made it was thinking when they made it.

    You seem to be arguing against an innate purpose: it’s just a hunk of iron and plastic, but we can use it to drive screws if we want. One reasonable interpretation of what Dawkins was being asked is “what is the innate purpose of living?”, that’s certainly how I would interpret it in that context, and a response that the question is ill-posed seems like a legitimate response for someone who doesn’t believe in gods, rather than a expression that science is all there is.

  26. #26 Cody
    March 12, 2007

    If you think that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge, how would you scientifically test whether or not murder is wrong? Science can’t even begin to talk about “right” and “wrong”

    Since when were value judgments “knowledge”?

  27. #27 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    pseudonym,

    That’s what got me about many of the commenters on the previous post, too. If you think that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge, how would you scientifically test whether or not murder is wrong?

    Science, and rational inquiry more broadly, are the only way of producing knowledge. Religion merely produces belief. Moral propositions are expressions of preferences, not objective truth. It makes no more sense to ask whether the proposition “murder is wrong” is true or false than it does to ask whether the proposition “blue is prettier than green” is true or false.

  28. #28 b sharp
    March 12, 2007

    Science can’t even begin to talk about “right” and “wrong”

    I think it in fact does has something to say about it, at least in regards to a variety of social norms that exist regardless of human culture. Not like I’m saying science should tell us how to conduct our lives. But relativism has its limits.

  29. #29 JimV
    March 13, 2007

    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.

    I have to disagree with the first part of your sentence. Well, maybe I actually don’t “need” a god, but it would be great to have an invisible friend to protect me in this life and create a whole other universe for me to retire to. In that sense, I don’t think my need is any lesser than anyone else’s, and the lack thereof is definitely not the answer to why I don’t think “God” exists. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the universe would care about what I need or don’t need. It seems arrogant to me to make that assumption.

    My prediction is that if “God” is ever found to exist, it will care about humans about as much as we care about ants.

    I hope you don’t ban Mustafa Mond. I thought he posed some good questions on the earlier thread, and was hoping you would answer them. I have seen much ruder commentators – but it’s your blog, of course.

  30. #30 SM
    March 13, 2007

    “In my view, God did not create the Universe; the Universe just is, but God is something different.”

    This assumes (as you stated in your blog entry) that man will be able to explain the creation (or the “just is-ness”) of the universe. I’m not sure why you feel so certain on that point. I see no reasoning offered to substaniate this claim.

    “Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God. In my view, God did not create the Universe; the Universe just is, but God is something different.”

    …Nor do I see logic/evidence to substantiate that God is nothing more than a collective consciouness of thinking and caring individuals – instead of the being that created a wonderous universe.

    The two are intertwined – until someone proves that universe was not created. A scientist positing a theory, just because they can’t stand the possibility that the system wasn’t closed at least once (maybe still), is as dogmatic as the people that cling to a literal biblical-creationist stance when the astrophysical and archeological evidence shows otherwise.

    “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”

    “God is subtle, but he is not malicious.” Inscribed in Fine Hall (Library of Mathematics, Physics and Statistics, Princeton University)

    –Albert Einstein

  31. #31 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Jason:

    Science, and rational inquiry more broadly, are the only way of producing knowledge.

    We’re going to be here a while, I can tell.

    Religion merely produces belief.

    Just a short note: Not entirely true. Religion (like other philosophies and belief systems) also produces action. And given a choice between good belief and good action, I’ll take the good action any day.

    Moral propositions are expressions of preferences, not objective truth.

    Centuries of agnostic philosophers would disagree with you on the first half of that sentence, of that sentence, though less so on the second half. Even on the second half, though, it’s a non sequitur because you made a semantic shift from “knowledge” to “objective truth”. You’re assuming that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge, and concluding from this that the only think you can know anything about is “objective truth”.

    You’re right in that morals are not a property of the physical world. As Rob put it:

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

    In the absence of intelligent beings (e.g. us), there would be no morals, no ethics, no justice and no love. But it does not follow that anything you think you “know” about justice or love isn’t really “knowledge”.

    Cody:

    Since when were value judgments “knowledge”?

    Since people started studying them formally, which was a very long time ago.

  32. #32 Cody
    March 13, 2007

    I believe/think/feel X is wrong. I know that other people believe/think/feel X is wrong. One’s a value judgment alien to the methods of science, the other is a knowledge claim which can be verified by the methods of science. If I ever say “I know murder is wrong,” then feel free to call me out on my inconsistency.

    What’s all the fuss about?

  33. #33 Barron
    March 13, 2007

    Strong Atheist here –
    Nicely and interestingly put.

    The triune idea of God (Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer) is an approach I’ve never run into before. I don’t have as much problem as you with the “Creator” aspect, but you’re probably right that it tends to mess up people’s thinking. Maybe leave it for the advanced course. I’m intrigued to see how you think about the Redeemer aspect (obviously the most denomination specific piece).

    I agree about the supporting aspect of God in people’s lives. And I wouldn’t call it a crutch (except in quite particular cases, not in general). Living in the world is not simple, it’s not easy and everyone finds their own way. I don’t feel I should be telling someone what are the acceptable and unacceptable ways to deal with life (barring the wild outliers of course). When other people do it (from all sides) it annoys me no end. It runs counter to something I value highly, compassion.

    Having always been an outsider to religion the best handle I’ve been able to get on it is to analogize it to art, most specifically poetry. So when I hear people talk about God I hear it not as literal statements, but as poetry attempting to describe something beyond our grasp. Literalizing religious language always leads to problems. (As an aside, this is probably why theocracies fail, but that’s a separate topic.) Anyway, when hard core science types (of which I am one) question the meaningfulness of religious language it’s like trying to literalize poetry. Of course it doesn’t make sense. It’s not meant to make sense in a literal way. But “getting” that is highly non-trivial. Took me 20+ years of thinking religion was silly and a mark of immature thought to get there.

    Anyway, thanks for standing up for your beliefs and for working hard to explain them. Interesting reading.

  34. #34 J. J. Ramsey
    March 13, 2007

    Serious question here: What do we mean by “knowledge”? I have a bad feeling that unless we get that issue down, we’re going to be talking past each other regarding what “other ways of knowing” are supposed to be.

  35. #35 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    pseudonym,

    Religion (like other philosophies and belief systems) also produces action.

    The claim was that religion is a source of knowledge. That claim is false. Religion produces only belief, not knowledge.

    Even on the second half, though, it’s a non sequitur because you made a semantic shift from “knowledge” to “objective truth”.

    No it isn’t. Moral propositions are not statements of truth at all, let alone knowledge. They’re merely preferences.

    You’re assuming that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge,

    No, I’m not “assuming” it, I conclude it from reason. If you believe that religion produces knowledge, give me an example of what you consider to be knowledge (and I do mean knowledge) produced by religion, and explain why you think it qualifies as knowledge rather than mere belief.

  36. #36 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Serious question here: What do we mean by “knowledge”?

    Justified true belief.

  37. #37 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    J.J. Ramsey: What we mean by “knowledge” is a topic that I doubt anyone here is qualified to give a reasonably definitive answer to. But it’d make a nice “basics” post on philosophyblogs.com.

  38. #38 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    This assumes (as you stated in your blog entry) that man will be able to explain the creation (or the “just is-ness”) of the universe. I’m not sure why you feel so certain on that point. I see no reasoning offered to substaniate this claim.

    I’m not certain, but I *hope* we do, and in any event I think it likely that something not explained right now about the natural Universe will be explained later.

    Think of how much we know about the natural world today — and think how much of it would have been considered ineffable to people just a few centuries ago.

    Science’s track record is so good that I don’t wouldn’t bet against it eventually explaining *any* part of the natural world.

    But obviously I don’t *know* that.

    On a more cynical day, I’m less sanguine about the possibilities. The contexts in which fundamental physics theorists use the term “effective field theories” make me sometimes suspect that we’re never any closer to getting towards the fundamental laws of Physics than Kepler was with his three empirical laws about planetary orbits…. I find that all very depressing, however. I will probably write a lot more on *that* topic at some future date.

    -Rob

  39. #39 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    pseudonym,

    J.J. Ramsey: What we mean by “knowledge” is a topic that I doubt anyone here is qualified to give a reasonably definitive answer to.

    If you don’t even know what you yourself mean by the word when you use it in your writing, you’re just writing gibberish.

  40. #40 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    Serious question here: What do we mean by “knowledge”?

    Justified true belief.

    Then none of us know anything.

    If you look back several of my posts, you can find my post on the scientific method. There, I have “truth” in quotes at the top as the ultimate, but perhaps unattainable, goal of science. We asymptote towards truth as we refine and improve our theories… but are we ever really there?

    Given that the two must fundamental and wildly successful theories of the Universe– General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics– are mutually inconsistent, then everything we take to be “close to right” right now isn’t strictly true.

    So, by your definition, we know nothing.

    Besides, Pseudonym has got it right. When we get to epistemology, Janet is probably about the only one around here who has half a clue of what she’s *really* talking about. Certainly any of us who thinks that we have a hard and fast definition of what “knowledge” really is is probably kidding himself.

    -Rob

  41. #41 RBH
    March 13, 2007

    Rob wrote

    We are talking a layer of reality that is crucial for many, irrelevant to others, and orthogonal to the natural world except via the affects is has as a result of the actions of the faithful.

    Given that, would substituting “function” for “purpose” in the title and its other occurrences in the OP make any real difference at all in its content? Would substituting “belief in God” for “God” everywhere in the OP make any difference? On a first reading, I’d say no, but I’d be interested in Rob’s answer.

  42. #42 Paul
    March 13, 2007

    Doesn’t knowledge require the thing that is known to be true? If a Christian says: “I know that God is real” then aren’t they making both the statement that God is real and the statement that they are aware of that fact?

  43. #43 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Rob Knop,

    Then none of us know anything.

    Really? So what superior alternative definition of “knowledge” do you propose, under which some of us do know something? Or do you in fact claim that none of us know anything?

  44. #44 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Jason: And we know full well that that definition is at best highly incomplete.

    One of the problems here is the Platonic notion of “truth”. It makes a certain amount of sense when applied to science. Scientists, and philosophers of scientists, tend to be reliabilists; scientific knowledge is “true” because it yields lots of valid testable predictions.

    But what does it mean for a philosophical statement to be “true”?

    Cody makes a good point. You can think of philosophical knowledge as being more akin to mathematical theorems than theories about the physical world. If we agree on the axioms, even if only for the sake of argument, then we can explore where those axioms lead us, and that exploration produces knowledge.

    But it would be wrong to call such knowledge “true” in the Platonic sense. Hard science has a fairly well-established reality check, in the form of the natural world, although even then, what constitutes a valid “scientific test” is not something that science itself can determine. That’s why we also study the philosophy of science.

  45. #45 Cody
    March 13, 2007

    Serious question here: What do we mean by “knowledge”?

    I would say “I know it when I see it,” but that seems a bit too recursive for my tastes.

    I think the main issue of contention here is that some people are upset that others claim 1.) science is the only way of knowing. Then there’s the implication that since science is the only way of knowing, then 2.) science is all there is to life. I’d say one is true, two is false.

  46. #46 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    Do you believe that religion produces knowledge or don’t you? If you don’t believe it, you agree with me that religion does not produce knowledge. If you do believe it, give me an example of knowledge that you believe religion has produced, and explain why you think it qualifies as knowledge rather than mere belief.

  47. #47 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Jason:

    If you don’t even know what you yourself mean by the word when you use it in your writing, you’re just writing gibberish.

    If you ask a typical person what a “second” (unit of time) is, they will probably give an answer that’s the informal equivalent of Navigator’s Time: 1/86400 of a mean solar day. A typical person may not know what a “mean solar day” is, of course, but they’ll probably have some inkling that there’s a standard day-length defined somewhere.

    This definition is, of course, incorrect. A second is, as most of us vaguely remember, formally defined as some multiple of the period of the radiation of the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state a caesium-133 atom at a temperature of 0K in a zero magnetic field. (I forget the exact figure, but it’s around 10 billion.)

    But while the navigator’s answer is wrong, it would be incorrect, and highly insulting, to call it “gibberish”. It’s close enough for most people. And, most critically, it’s good enough that even a non-expert can dismiss a truly wrong answer, even without knowing what the correct technical definition is.

  48. #48 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Pseudonym,

    I didn’t say it’s gibberish to make a claim that’s wrong. I said it’s gibberish for you to write about knowledge if you don’t even know what you mean by the word yourself. What do you mean by it? Also, if you believe religion produces knowledge, give me an example of knowledge that you believe religion has produced, and explain why you think it qualifies as knowledge rather than mere belief.

  49. #49 Brian Cooksey
    March 13, 2007

    This post and the one which spawned it were both eloquently stated and evenly tempered. Kudos for maintaining a civil tone through all the slings and arrows.

    I arrived at atheism via Christianity and Wicca. That has been my journey. Within each of these communities I have met a broad spectrum of people. You’ll find intolerance and closed-mindedness as well as their opposites in any group of people no matter what they espouse.

    Thanks for exemplifying the positive traits of both science and religion. Nice work!

  50. #50 Brad
    March 13, 2007

    We asymptote towards truth as we refine and improve our theories… but are we ever really there?

    What is this… Zeno’s Paradox, the Epistemological formation?

    This is getting incredibly silly.

  51. #51 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Jason:

    Do you believe that religion produces knowledge or don’t you?

    That’s a hard question to answer, because it depends what you mean by it.

    Your apparent definition of “knowledge” says that the only knowledge is scientific knowledge. If that’s true, then knowledge is not “produced” at all, but rather discovered. If that’s what you mean, then obviously, religion produces no knowledge. But, then, neither does science.

    If you will concede that philosophical knowledge is knowledge, then I’ll give you one example. This is off the top of my head, so it may not be the best, or even a good, example.

    Take the ontological “proof” of the existence of God. The argument is wrong. It’s been roundly attacked by theologians since it was posed. But the best attack was from a Catholic priest (and astronomer; there’s a crater on the Moon named after him) named Pierre Gassendi, who pointed out that, as we would say in modern language, existence is not a predicate.

    This particular insight may not seem like much, but it was actually a key step in the development of predicate calculus.

  52. #52 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    pseudonym,

    That’s a hard question to answer, because it depends what you mean by it.

    I just told you what I mean by it: justified true belief.

    If YOU mean something else by “knowledge,” what do YOU mean by it?

    If you DO believe that religion produces knowledge, give me an example of knowledge that you believe religion has produced, and explain why you think it qualifies as knowledge rather than mere belief.

    Conversely, if you DO NOT believe that religion produces knowledge, then say so.

  53. #53 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Jason:

    I just told you what I mean by it: justified true belief.

    And what do you mean by “true”? I have no problem with saying that the statement “murder is wrong” is true. Most people’s definition of “true” allows for this. You’re obviously using a definition of truth that’s related to scientific testability, which works for things that fall in the realm of science, but fails everywhere else. And it doesn’t match up with most peoples’ definition of “true”, let alone the various attempts to capture the idea that come out of philosophy.

    As I took some effort to point out: If you mean that truth is exactly that which is scientifically testable and tested, then only scientific knowledge is knowledge, and hence knowledge isn’t “produced” at all, but rather discovered. Which means that the question “Does religion produce knowledge?” is based on a faulty premise.

    You stated that it’s gibberish for me to write about “knowledge” if I don’t have a precise definition of it. That is, as I also took some effort to point out, like claiming that it’s gibberish to talk about units of time without knowing what the precise scientific definition of a second is.

    I wish we had a real philosopher here, because I’m fighting an uphill battle. This must be what it’s like for a non-biologist to go head-to-head with an IDist.

    Okay, sorry, that was unfair. Jason, I apologise for comparing you with an IDist.

  54. #54 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    pseudonym,

    And what do you mean by “true”?

    That it corresponds to reality.

    If YOU mean something else by “knowledge” than “justified true belief,” what do YOU mean by it?

    If you DO believe that religion produces knowledge, give me an example of knowledge that you believe religion has produced, and explain why you think it qualifies as knowledge rather than mere belief.

    Conversely, if you DO NOT believe that religion produces knowledge, then say so.

    I think this is now the fifth time I’ve asked, and the fifth time you have ignored the question. I can only conclude from your persistent evasion that YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU MEAN BY “KNOWLEDGE”.

  55. #55 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    I’ll leave it up to everyone else to decide whether or not I’ve answered the question. I believe I have, and you just chose to ignore the answer.

  56. #56 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    pseudonym,

    I’ll leave it up to everyone else to decide whether or not I’ve answered the question. I believe I have, and you just chose to ignore the answer.

    No you haven’t. Your responses have consisted of evasion and attempts to change the subject.

    State the meaning of the word “knowledge” as YOU (yes, YOU) are using the word here. If you have no idea what YOU mean by “knowledge” then say so.

  57. #57 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    Pseudonym, you have and he did. Welcome to debating with Jason.

  58. #58 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    pseudonym,

    I have no problem with saying that the statement “murder is wrong” is true.

    How do you know that “murder is wrong” is true? What is the justification for this assertion?

  59. #59 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Ah, OK, now this is interesting.

    First off, I don’t have a precise definition of “knowledge”. However, I do know that yours is incorrect, for several reasons. One is the Gettier problem. Another is that your definition of “true” does not seem to include things that most people would agree are “true”, such as the proposition that murder is wrong.

    The thing is, like the second, I don’t need a hyper-accurate definition of knowledge, since even philosophers can’t agree on what it means.

    The best handle on “knowledge” that I have is that it’s a prototype category. This is knowledge, and things like it are knowledge. Wittgenstein put it much better than I did, when he asked the question about what the word “game” means. When you consider card games, board games, the Olypic games, mind games, war games and so on, you’ll find that there is, essentially, no set of features that all “games” have and all non-games don’t have. The only way you can define “game” is by prototypes. Poker is a game, and things like poker (e.g. Contract Bridge) are also games. If you collect enough prototypes, you have your definition.

    So, for example: Scientific knowledge is knowledge, and philosophical knowledge is knowledge, and common-sense is knowledge. That’s not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.

    Yes, it’s imprecise. So is the navigator’s definition of a second.

  60. #60 Abbie
    March 13, 2007

    As I took some effort to point out: If you mean that truth is exactly that which is scientifically testable and tested, then only scientific knowledge is knowledge, and hence knowledge isn’t “produced” at all, but rather discovered. Which means that the question “Does religion produce knowledge?” is based on a faulty premise.

    Okay. If knowledge is “discovered”… then we can simply rephrase the question:

    Does science help us discover knowledge?
    Does religion help us discover knowledge?

  61. #61 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Religion is not a way of producing, discovering, creating, developing or in any other way producing knowledge. All it can produce is belief.

    I think Rob Knop and Pseudonym probably now realize they’ve painted themselves into a corner by suggesting otherwise. That’s why they refuse to define “knowledge” or provide any examples of what they consider to be knowledge produced by religion. If religion is a source of knowledge, then absurd claims such as “The Earth is only 6,000 years old” are knowledge. Neither of them wants to go on record making such a silly statement, hence all the evasion and prevarication. I wish I could say this behavior isn’t typical of apologists for religion, but it’s all too familiar.

  62. #62 David Williamson
    March 13, 2007

    It’s not quite on the topic of definition of the word ‘knowledge’, but the hardest assignment I had in my undergraduate career was one that sounded simple. I took a philosophy class that was basically all graded on in-class participation in discussions. When attendance tailed off, the prof assigned a single paper for the whole grade. The topic? “What is proof?”

    Hardest damned paper I ever wrote.

  63. #63 Chris Rowan
    March 13, 2007

    Re the Dawkins answer to the question about purpose, here’s a sentiment I’ve often heard him express (although the source for this particular one is quite old).

    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.”

    I’ve always understood Dawkins’ opinion to be that any ‘purpose’ in life is not something that is imposed externally (by ‘God’), but something that comes from within – something that you should define for yourself. In that sense, to ask in general about the ‘purpose of life’ is meaningless – you can ask about his purpose, or my purpose, or your purpose, but each answer will be different.

    Nice posts, by the way. I’m looking forward to gaining more insights from future ones.

  64. #64 Kevembuangga
    March 13, 2007

    Rob : 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.”

    This is of course the crux of the matter and the source of all religions.
    As I posted in your previous thread :
    Religionists are longing for “higher authority” and “purpose”!
    This is an emotional demand which has NOTHING to do with any epistemologically sound investigation of reality.
    Out of anguish you posit a comforting but INSANE hypothesis, there is an omnipotent agent who oversee the whole universe.

    (and most especially your poor little ego…)

    Dawkins is not “arrogant” in dismissing the question as nonsensical.
    This has been pointed out already by several commenters brtkrbzhnv, JimV, Cody, etc…
    Could you please deal with this, HOW does this “question” makes sense to you if you don’t ALREADY posit that there must be some purpose?

    If you don’t think you need to think about what the purpose of life is, that’s fine. Other people do.
    This is a psychological problem, may be even a psychiatric one, what if the quest for “purpose” in life happens to be ultimately maladaptive?

    And, BTW, your are definitely leaning toward “bad science” :
    Scientifically, the purpose to life seems to be to make more of itself.
    This is a teleological approach!

  65. #65 miller
    March 13, 2007

    My impression of this post is that you are just playing around with semantics. You define (at least implicitly) your words such that you can come to your conclusions: God is real, “other ways of knowing”, etc. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that; I have little basis for claiming my definitions are any better.

    Under the definitions you use, I think I actually agree with you. Of course God is real to many people, no more a delusion than dreams are hallucinations. The purpose of life is a valid question in the sense of seeming significant to us. But under the definitions I’m used to, I’m an atheist. As it is, its not that you’ve failed to convince me of your conclusions (which of course wasn’t your intent), but that you’ve failed to convince me that we even, in essence, disagree. Surely, we must at some point, for we claim different identity labels.

  66. #66 Flaky
    March 13, 2007

    I should think that if more religious people were like Rob Knop, there would hardly be any reason for people like Dawkins to speak out the way they do. Rob wrote about the practice of art as an example of “other way of knowing”; to me Rob’s description of his religion appears to be a form of art, its appreciation has little to do with hard facts about it, but rather the emotional content.

    Epistemology is always puzzling, but I would not characterize this “other way of knowing” as any kind of knowing at all. As loathsome these rhetorical questions are: Does a dowser really know that he can find water with his divining rod? Even when puzzled by his inability to find water in a controlled experiment, he “knows” that he has the power. Is this really any different than people “knowing” and having “personal relationships” with God? Incidentally, a lot of the content of our relationships actually do happen in our heads anyway, in the form of imaginary conversations and such, so the idea of a personal relationship with God, I suppose, isn’t that far fetched.

    I’ve no problem with people having these sorts of beliefs, whatever their reasons and whatever the psychological factors behind them. But an unfortunate fact is that many religious people use their faith in unsupportable beliefs as an excuse for all manner of misbehaviour. Deeply religious persons can be rather difficult at best, and we all know what they can be at their worst.

    Regardless of what ever value religious beliefs may have in and of themselves, I think that religious people would do well (as would everyone else) to look upon themselves analytically and see how their beliefs are (or maybe) constructed, so that they wouldn’t make mistakes that lead to unnecessary grief and suffering. I think that people like Rob can be an invaluable asset in facilitating a more tolerable world, as they can speak the same language as more extreme religious believers.

  67. #67 MartinC
    March 13, 2007

    I was surprised with the Dawkins quote you used for a couple of reasons. First, it wasn’t half as forceful as a lot of other statements he’s made regarding religion or religious believers, and second, more importantly, it was entirely true.
    By “entirely true” I mean true from the viewpoint of an evolutionary geneticist. Lets put it this way, “what is the purpose of a bacterias life ?” “What is the purpose of a zebra’s life”, “What is the purpose of a (sorry to PZ)squid’s life?” That is how Dawkins views things and I presume that is how he answered the question. Thats not to suggest that he or other atheists regard other species as moral equivalents but in terms of the question put, so long as you don’t believe in a design argument (humans are designed to do good deeds and worship god for instance, while sheep and turnips are designed to be sheep and turnips), it is a rational answer. Finally you can also find plenty of quotes of Dawkins telling people to find purpose in their lives themselves. He doesnt claim that his life has no purpose, simply that a God isn’t involved with it.
    I get the impression that this whole question plays out differently between the different branches of science. In my experience evolutionary geneticists, molecular biologists, genomicists etc, really do tend to be more atheistic than physicists. Dawkins has said that it was evolutionary theory that led him to atheism. While you do get some exceptions, Miller and Collins for instance, I wonder if this distinction does lead to a different world view between molecular biological scientists and those scientists not intimately involved in the implications of evolutionary theory.

  68. #68 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Jason, I really don’t know what else to say. I gave you one example of some perfectly good philosophical knowledge which came straight from religion. You ignored it completely. No, I’m not claiming that it couldn’t have been discovered without religion.

    There are whole books written on what “knowledge” means. It’s not simple, and there’s no agreement, and not being philosophers, neither of us would probably understand those books anyway.

    For the record, I did have a longer post where I discussed one possible definition (my working definition, in fact), but I got a notice that moderator is holding it. If it’s not here by tomorrow, I’ll try to repost, OK?

  69. #69 Tyler DiPietro
    March 13, 2007

    I have no problem with saying that the statement “murder is wrong” is true.

    To nitpick somewhat, the statement is only true because it is tautological. “Murder” is defined as something that is “wrong”. The statement “murder is wrong” is no more epistemic than “a diminutive thing is small.”

  70. #70 MartinM
    March 13, 2007

    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

    By what standard are we to judge that a claim is wrong? Presumably not science, since we just rejected that as a standard for evaluation of religious belief. Or are you applying one standard to your beliefs, and another to theirs?

  71. #71 MartinM
    March 13, 2007

    I gave you one example of some perfectly good philosophical knowledge which came straight from religion. You ignored it completely. No, I’m not claiming that it couldn’t have been discovered without religion

    Well, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? The knowledge didn’t come from religion, it came from an application of reason motivated by religion.

  72. #72 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    MartinM: Well in the case of the world being 6,000 years old, that’s a scientific claim, so there’s an independent test.

    A moral claim, such as that homosexuality is wrong (something that Ron, of course, has not claimed), must obviously be judged by other means. Science can tell us a lot about homsexuality, and it might our moral philosophy by ruling out some false claims (e.g. the claim by some fundies that it’s merely a “choice”). But it can’t give us a definitive answer about the rightness or wrongness of such a moral claim.

  73. #73 raj
    March 13, 2007

    One of the things that sets me off against self-described Christians is that they whine so much.

    Rob. Be a Christian, if you want to. I don’t care. I came here for the physics, not the whining.

    If you’re going to whine, I’ll avoid your blog. Your physics was good.

    Why can’t we get a blog that discusses physics issues?

  74. #74 Paul A
    March 13, 2007

    This isn’t delusion; this is how people get through their day. It is real to them.

    Were you kidding when you wrote this? Don’t you realise that’s the very definition of delusion – something that is very real to you but is not in fact real? You seem to be somewhat deluded in your definition of delusion my good chap!

    FWIW while I totally disagree with most of your assertions I appreciate what you’re trying to do. I just wish people like yourself could just put their hands up and say, “OK, I understand and practice true science but I also hold certain beliefs which are incompatible with scientific method and knowledge and do not stand up to rational investigation in any way.” Intellectual honesty goes a long way…

  75. #75 MartinM
    March 13, 2007

    Well in the case of the world being 6,000 years old, that’s a scientific claim, so there’s an independent test

    Is it? Depends on how it’s phrased. The claim that there exists a God who created the Universe 6000 years ago and for reasons unknown made it look much older is a religious claim, not a scientific one.

  76. #76 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    Is it? Depends on how it’s phrased.

    I really don’t see how…

    The claim that there exists a God who created the Universe 6000 years ago and for reasons unknown made it look much older is a religious claim, not a scientific one.

    No, its not. A claim about how physical reality came into existence is a scientific claim. A hypothesis that our physical reality was created only six thousand years ago and then confuzzled to look much older is still a claim about physical reality. The impetus for the claim may be religious, but that the universe is invoked makes the claim itself scientific and subject to test.

  77. #77 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 13, 2007

    I continue my trolling here

    I don’t know if it came up in the commentaries on the other thread, but after commenting there I have now realized another problem with the tone of the post.

    These are early and defensive commentaries on a new site that you doesn’t seem to have studied much. Complaints to the contrary, there are plenty of “couriers” on scienceblogs. And Pharyngula where you have visited to rant (I don’t think that is an unfair description) recently named a very sympathetic christian to the male “blogger of the month”.

    The difference probably being that he isn’t defensive in his comments. The outcomes of different strategies could be something to observe.

    that which we call “God” is an integral property of sentient existence.

    I’m sure there are many animals who thinks otherwise.

    The last part of the post is filled with these types of misconceptions. For example, the difference between chamberlains and other atheists isn’t whether they accept theists or not, it is whether they think that respect is needed beyond the required tolerance. Another example is that vocal atheists mostly do not think that theists make bad scientists or idiots. But probably that the concept of a noncoherent rationality makes for bad science (such as theistic evolution) and deluded persons – it is always necessary to distinguish between the person and the society in these cases.

    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”

    I think it is a blatant misuse of the concept of knowledge. Reliable abstract knowledge can apparently only be achieved by science. Much of these ‘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.

    If this was the promised argument, I don’t think it leads to where you wish to be.

    Which brings us back to someone who expresses such opinions:

    Richard Dawkins gave an interview

    I’m glad he is proving to be so provocative as he wished for. That will not only push people from the fence, it will also push the fence a bit.

  78. #78 etbnc
    March 13, 2007

    A few years ago I had the good fortune to spend a weekend meeting with the founder of an innovative sustainable village. All weekend long, my fellow participants, urban First World middle class professionals, repeatedly asked variations of the same exasperated question: “But how do you know how to live?!

    And all weekend long, the guest of honor responded with variations of the same exasperated answer: “Why do you people insist upon making your lives so difficult?!

    He demonstrated the healthiest attitude of any human I have ever met.

  79. #79 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    Why can’t we get a blog that discusses physics issues?

    I will. But I’m also going to talk about this stuff. Sorry, man, and I’m sorry you think it’s all whining. The culture wars are real and urgent, and I’m trying to take the position that it doesn’t have to be a war. Too bad that so many people see that as dishonesty, whining, or idiocy.

    -Rob

  80. #80 Caledonian
    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,

    Oh, really? Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

    I’m not aware of any physical phenomena that only exists while we believe in it. The only things that do that are things we create mentally – belief systems and the like.

    How can you argue that God doesn’t exist and then turn around and deny that you’ve made that argument? More importantly, do you really think you can carry out the mental gymnastics necessary to pull off such a feat and not compromise the intellectual integrity needed for science?

  81. #81 MartinM
    March 13, 2007

    The impetus for the claim may be religious, but that the universe is invoked makes the claim itself scientific and subject to test.

    How do you propose to test it, then?

  82. #82 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    I’ll take that by “real and true” you mean materially real and true.

    ‘True’ can mean either “accurately describing an aspect of the world” or “faithful to a standard”. Neither meaning can be applied to things not part of the physical, material world.

    Mr. Knop, if you applied the kind of reasoning and justification to work in physics that you apply to theology, you’d be fired. Actually, if you applied it to any field that’s based on observing, predicting, and understanding the world, you’d be fired.

    I have to agree with a previous poster – this is just sad.

  83. #83 Hans
    March 13, 2007

    For the second time a religious rant results in one the most active blogs here at scienceblogs. This is very sad, scienceblogs are now contaminated. Time to move on ?

  84. #84 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    Final note:

    How pathetic is it to accuse oneself of being a troll on one’s own blog in order to set up a strawman and make one’s position seem more reasonable?

    Time to stop administering medicine to dead people.

  85. #85 Richard Crawford
    March 13, 2007

    Rob,

    Again, thanks for posting this. It takes guts to maintain a line like this in the face of the flamers and the hardliners. I was originally going to object to this line:

    Alas, while there are plenty of atheists (called “Neville Chamberlain” atheists around here) perfectly willing to accept those of us who aren’t atheists, and while there are plenty of religious perfectly willing to accept the morality and goodness of atheists, the majority in both camps seem to be more hard-line.

    but I have seen that in the limited sphere of Sciblog comments, it is overwhelmingly true (for the atheist side of the crowd, at least).

    I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I personally don’t believe religion is about creating knowledge. My understanding of the evolution of life on earth did not come from reading the Bible; on the other hand, I sometimes feel that the theory of evolution can deeply enhance religious understanding (I may write something about that in my own blog someday).

  86. #86 Sam Gralla
    March 13, 2007

    Hi Rob,

    Long-time reader, first-time poster here.

    You say that you don’t have to throw out your faith to believe in science. But, at least in your case, you most certainly have thrown out your faith. You describe a mix of absolutism and relativism that I find quite confusing (how does it differ from ‘live and let live’, really?), but in any case it bears no resemblence to Christianity.

    Personally, I think you’re on the right track regarding science and religion, but the solution you present here appears to affirm religious belief on the grounds that it addresses the many unscientific questions which are important to us, yet also claim that the answers are totally dependent on the individual. I don’t understand–are you a moral relativist? Do you believe it is okay for a person to blow up a building full of innocent civilians because of his religious beliefs? “It is real to him…”

    I realize you get many comments and must tire of responding to them, but I will love a response if you can!

    Thank you for stimulating an interesting discussion.

    -Sam

  87. #87 etbnc
    March 13, 2007

    It saddens me that some readers seem to have difficulty seeing value in this conversation.

    If I were a grad student seeking a thesis in, say, social psychology or cultural anthropology, you can bet I would be spending a lot of my time analyzing this conversation.

    Oh, yeah. I would be making copious notes. I would be downloading this whole darn thing for leisurely study and extensive annotation. Heck, there may be enough different subtexts lurking beneath all this posturing and ritual to launch three or four thesis projects.

    I sure hope someone plans to take full advantage of this remarkable opportunity.

  88. #88 Caliban
    March 13, 2007

    Rob, I think your statements reguarding “other ways of knowing” are confused. Other ways of knowing what? -That people like different kinds of music, art & food? None of these things conflicts with science. They are not “other ways of knowing”. They are esthetic preffrences and enjoyments, not empirical knowledge claims about the universe.

    The reason science clashes with religon is because both make knowledge claims about the nature of the universe that are incompatible. It has absolutely nothing to do with “other ways of knowing”.

  89. #89 jb
    March 13, 2007

    Hans: “For the second time a religious rant results in one the most active blogs here at scienceblogs. This is very sad, scienceblogs are now contaminated. Time to move on?”

    Do you ever read the “Top Five” most active list? If so, how is it you’ve managed to miss the fact that it is usually dominated by PZ, and his posts that dominate are anti-religious or political rants?

  90. #90 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    I’m not aware of any physical phenomena that only exists while we believe in it.

    Yes. And, where did I say that God is a physical phenomenon? I fact, I said the opposite.

    Mr. Knop, if you applied the kind of reasoning and justification to work in physics that you apply to theology, you’d be fired.

    Yes. I’m fully aware that physics is not religion. Unlike some people, I’m also aware that religion is not Physics.

  91. #91 Beren
    March 13, 2007

    And the melee ensues (:

    I have a couple of assertions, some of which rehash what was already said:

    1) Science is the only reliable way we have yet discovered to determine how well a given statement corresponds to reality.

    Somebody mentioned “material reality,” implying that there is an immaterial reality. If so, this statement still holds: we have no reliable way, apart from science, to reliably test the validity of immaterial statements. Perhaps such a method exists. If so, I hope we will discover it (:

    2) Science can only handle falsifiable statements.

    Science can eventually tell us definitively whether there is a teapot orbiting Mars. It will probably never be able to prove that there is no teapot orbiting any planet. Science is a way of collecting facts. The natural response to facts is to ask, “Well, then, what do we do with all this?” On that matter, science can only provide the barest guidance. Reason is more helpful, but ultimately there are many decisions that are too arbitrary or complicated to thoroughly approach with logic.

    The problem with immaterial reality, if such a thing exists, is that there are virtually no falsifiable statements about it. For instance: find me one falsifiable statement Jesus ever made. If nothing else, one always has the argument that the interpretation was wrong. (Was the statement imprecise? Then is it still falsifiable?)

    3) Science is not the only approach people take to verify assertions.

    Every human relies on other means, sometimes. There are simply too many decisions and too little time to research everything before deciding. The most scientific among us try to minimize this set, but there will always be untested assumptions, impulsive decisions, and the like.

    The statement that these other means of knowing things don’t lead to true knowledge is both fair (because of my first assertion) and incorrect. One doesn’t typically approach a human relationship with the scientific method. Nevertheless, one comes to know one’s friends and lovers to varying degrees of accuracy. It may be fair to say that this is partly because there’s an inherent process of testing and revision of assumptions there, though.

    So… what of gods?

    4) Objective reality is not subject to personal opinions.

    To be sure, some of what is real is that certain people hold certain opinions. And, certainly, we have no way to measure whether a given statement is 100% objectively true. But the statement that a person’s belief in God makes him “true to them” seems misleading to the point of being incendiary. What you seem to be saying is, “Because so-and-so believes in a deity, that deity has sprung into existence in that person’s subjective universe.” The deity almost certainly did not spring into existence in an objective basis (although if this was true, science could probably test it); the only thing that changed was the state of a person’s brain.

    If that person is able to accomplish more or have a more satisfying life with that belief than without it, then … subjectively I am saddened for that person, and objectively I am concerned because that person’s decisions have bearing on my life (especially w.r.t voting), but the simple fact that she believes something I don’t doesn’t threaten me. Do I think the person is deluded? Well, the term is very loaded. I do believe that person has made an important decision without objectively verifying its truth. I also believe it’s a bad idea to do so … ranging from silly to foolish, based on the impact the decision has on future decisions. I won’t think the person deluded until she starts to believe that the deity is affecting physical reality in ways unsupported by objective evidence. Even then, the amount of negative connotations to the word “deluded” should be in scale with the particular events and decisions.

    So: some people believe in deities. Some people vote for presidential candidates because they have winning smiles. Some people insist on trying to apply a system for verifying falsifiable statements to statements that aren’t falsifiable. Many people feel threatened by those who have strong reasons for disagreeing with them. Of all of these, I only hold the second to be necessarily evil.

  92. #92 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    Time to stop administering medicine to dead people.

    *DING*

    Look, folks, I have no problem with posters who disagree with my position, even vociferiously so, even people who seem not to be able to get it over and over again. But when you become repeatedly and gratuitously insulting, you’re going to get added to the “banned commenter” list like Caledonian here.

  93. #93 Panya
    March 13, 2007

    Thank you. Whatever else anyone has said, thank you.

  94. #94 jb
    March 13, 2007

    “Well in the case of the world being 6,000 years old, that’s a scientific claim, so there’s an independent test.”

    No, it’s a BELIEF claim, for which a committed anti-religious ‘science’ cannot provide “independent” testing. If the belief holds that the world was created to give the appearance of great age, how is that belief falsified by asserting that the world has the appearance of great age?

    Looks a lot like belief either way to me. All this endless dueling metaphysics and “my beliefs can beat up your beliefs” is UNscientific. Once a scientist’s knowledge claims move out of the realm of physics and into the realm of metaphysics, s/he is not doing science or talking about science.

  95. #95 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    I don’t understand–are you a moral relativist? Do you believe it is okay for a person to blow up a building full of innocent civilians because of his religious beliefs?

    Question 1 : Yes and No.

    Question 2 : No.

    I think that the answer to question 2 is self-evident, so I’ll just talk a bit about Question 1 (and I’ll address it in a future blog post as well).

    Do I think that all forms of religion are equally valid? No. Absolutely not. Those forms of Christianity that insist you believe that the Universe is only 6,000 years old, and that humans were created on the 6th day of that Univerese, are wrong, plain and simple. Those forms of religion that suggest you should hold a Spanish Inquisition for purposes of conversion are evil.

    On the other hand, do I think that there is One True Religion, that there is only one point of view on faith that is Correct and True (say, mine)? No. Different ways of looking at religious faith may be more effective than others. Almost all of them have unfortunate baggage; different ones have different, and perhaps worse, baggage. Some forms may be more effective for one person, some more effective for others.

    So, yeah, I’m a relativist in that I don’t insist that everybody have exactly the same views on religion as mine for me to accept that their religion (or lack thereof) is valid. But I’m not a relativist in that I certainly recognize that some forms of religion are awful things, and don’t think that religion excuses evil or ignorant behavior.

    -Rob

  96. #96 Boy Scientist
    March 13, 2007

    Beren, I feel threatened by your implication that some people may feel threatened by statements of personal values.

    I find this to be a very unpleasant mental state. I may have to engage you in ritual combat in order to feel better about myself. I may have to cast aspersions upon your character in order to provoke this crucial catharsis.

    Ha! So there! What do you think about that, you threatening poopyhead? Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time!

  97. #97 Hans
    March 13, 2007

    jb: Do you ever read the “Top Five” most active list? If so, how is it you’ve managed to miss the fact that it is usually dominated by PZ, and his posts that dominate are anti-religious …?

    Exactly! – this has been my main attraction to the scienceblogs – scientists with an attitude, a breath of fresh air in the stale over-religious atmosphere of the US. And now, Knop had to contaminate it! Shame on you Knop!

  98. #98 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    How do you propose to test it, then?

    The exact same way you’d test for the normal age of the universe, using the same methods and instruments. Then after you have the evidence you way the one hypothesis against the other. Using Occam’s Razor you choose the one that makes the least assumptions. So we have:

    A) The Universe has been around for roughly 15 billion years and all of the evidence we’re looking at is the result of natural processes governed by the laws of physics.

    or

    B) The universe has been around for roughly 6 thousand years and all of the evidence we’re looking at is the result of meticulous fabrication on the part of an Intelligent Designer with no explanation for its own existence or “creation”.

    Clearly the answer that doesn’t invoke Captain Pie-in-the-Sky is the most parsimonious. We tested with the same methods and simply chose the most plausible answer.

  99. #99 MartinM
    March 13, 2007

    The exact same way you’d test for the normal age of the universe, using the same methods and instruments. Then after you have the evidence you way the one hypothesis against the other. Using Occam’s Razor you choose the one that makes the least assumptions

    Oh, good. So we can apply Occam to things like deities, then. That would seem to do away with the concept altogether.

  100. #100 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    And now, Knop had to contaminate it! Shame on you Knop!

    Sorry dude. If what you want is a bunch of ranters who are going to rant on about their one-end-of-the-spectrum position to the cheers of their supporters, my blog is just gonna wreck things for you. If you want discussion without any consideration that those whose opinions differ from the party line might actually have some thought behind what they’re saying, then I’m just gonna wreck things for you.

    You’re gonna have to go looking elsewhere for a Bose-Einstein condensate of opinion, ’cause I’m just not gonna hit the rails you think I’m supposed to hit.

    -Rob

  101. #101 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    Oh, good. So we can apply Occam to things like deities, then. That would seem to do away with the concept altogether.

    Well, I personally would think so, but I think a few here may disagree with me. In fact I’m not totally sure you’re being sarcastic or not.

  102. #102 mtraven
    March 13, 2007

    The militant atheists here use the same tactic over and over — they identify all religion with the stupidest forms of fundamentalism, and then insist that anybody with a smidgen of religious feeling has to justify beliefs like YEC or God-with-a-long-white-beard. I’m not much of a believer myself but I’m very tired of this rather idiotic argument, and am very interested in people who try to square their science with some form of religion or spirituality. So, go for it.

  103. #103 MartinM
    March 13, 2007

    Well, I personally would think so, but I think a few here may disagree with me. In fact I’m not totally sure you’re being sarcastic or not

    No, I believe we’re in agreement. I’m just looking for some objective criteria which allow us to reject things like YEC, while leaving other forms of theism immune to scientific scrutiny. Clearly, Rob and others believe that such is possible; I remain unconvinced.

  104. #104 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    mtraven

    Actually, I’d be interested in seeing any sort of justification (even for the most benign, non-interfering of gods) that isn’t based on emotional appeal or a yearning need for a teleology to hold their hand throughout the day.

  105. #105 Hans
    March 13, 2007

    Rob,

    The problem is, that the side of the spectrum you’re on is anti-scientific and, unfortunately, also the mainstream, especially in the region where you and I live – the bible belt. I drive to work by JESUS signs and Megachurches and so I find it quite refreshing reading people like PZ with my morning cup of coffee. I’m sure you can find plenty of other places, where you can explore your fascination with the supernatural, so please, stick to science here and don’t ruin it.

  106. #106 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    No, I believe we’re in agreement. I’m just looking for some objective criteria which allow us to reject things like YEC, while leaving other forms of theism immune to scientific scrutiny. Clearly, Rob and others believe that such is possible; I remain unconvinced.

    Because the only way to allow for the Creation story in Genesis to be literal truth is to resort to a sort of reducto ad absurdum (i.e. “God also jiggered everything to fool us into seeing evidence for an old Universe), which is not only fairly useless when it comes to approaching science, it’s also a deeply unsatisfying theology.

    Meanwhile, the notion that people take emotional and moral strength from a God that is not subject to physical investigation is an entirely different thing. Indeed, there is evidence that people take strength from that, but what science can’t address is whether people are taking strength from delusions, or from something real that science can’t address. Many people don’t like a definition of “real” that allows for that… but the fact is that there are religious claims that are in direct contradiction with the knowledge of modern science, but there are others that are orthogonal to them.

    so please, stick to science here and don’t ruin it.

    Sorry, dude, but you aren’t in charge, and I don’t take orders from you. Buy out all stake in Seed Magazine and scienceblogs.com, and then you can dictate what we are and aren’t allowed to talk about. You always have the freedom not to read my blog if you’re worried about seeing things that challenge your preconceived notions of what is worth talking about.

    Anyway, if you find PZ “refreshing,” anyway, you’re not the sort of person who is going to enjoy engaging with me, and you are not the sort of person I’m going to enjoy engaging with. You know there are people who find Rush Limbaugh refreshing, don’t you?

    -Rob

  107. #107 Lincoln Anderson
    March 13, 2007

    I’m responding to several comments here which basically amount to all religion and all faiths being against science.

    I am a Christian who studies physics and engineering, and enjoys the study of cosmology on what might be called an amateur basis (it is not what I intend to do with my professional life). Unlike many Christian “scientists” that I know, I do not study these things to tear down the commonly held beliefs of the scientific community, but instead to come to better understand the creation that is in front of me. I disagree with Rob on this point- I do believe God, along with all other attributes, is a Creator God. The difference between my views and “mainstream” Christianity is that I honestly don’t think it is a matter endangering my salvation that I believe that observable scientific phenomena can explain the natural world that was created.

    I would have more to say, but I have to get on to campus soon. I recognize my opinions to be in the minority here, and that’s okay. I’m not going to attempt to beat anyone over the head with my beliefs, afford me the same courtesy.

  108. #108 jb
    March 13, 2007

    Hans: “I drive to work by JESUS signs and Megachurches and so I find it quite refreshing reading people like PZ with my morning cup of coffee. I’m sure you can find plenty of other places, where you can explore your fascination with the supernatural, so please, stick to science here and don’t ruin it.”

    Oddly enough, I think anyone who gets their spleen in a knot simply by encountering the beliefs and freedoms of others in the society is probably harboring strong authoritarian tendencies that run counter to that which our society is intelligently designed (uh, oh!) to be.

    And since PZ’s anti-religious authoritarian rants are not scientific and do not represent science, I’d suggest that it is he who should go elsewhere to explore his brass knuckle apishness. So he doesn’t continue to corrupt both science and ScienceBlogs with macho posturing.

  109. #109 MartinM
    March 13, 2007

    Because the only way to allow for the Creation story in Genesis to be literal truth is to resort to a sort of reducto ad absurdum (i.e. “God also jiggered everything to fool us into seeing evidence for an old Universe), which is not only fairly useless when it comes to approaching science, it’s also a deeply unsatisfying theology

    But such a belief is useless as an approach to science precisely because it is orthogonal to science; it makes no testable predictions. So it seems we’re left with deciding between unfalsifiable beliefs based on whether or not they are ‘satisfying.’

  110. #110 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Rob Knop,

    You said:

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

    I’m still waiting for some examples of whatever “other” kind of knowledge you’re referring to here. I assume you mean knowledge that you believe comes from religion. So what is this knowledge. Give us some examples.

    How about, “There is a God.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “There are many Gods.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “God wants us to love one another.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “God wants us to kill infidels.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “The Bible is the Word of God.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “The Koran is the Word of God.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “Jesus is the Son of God.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “The Earth is 6,000 years old.” Is that knowledge?

    If agree with me that NONE of those beliefs are knowledge, give us some examples of what you do consider to be knowledge that is provided by religion. And what do you mean by the word “knowledge,” anyway? What is the difference between knowledge and mere belief, as you are using the words?

  111. #111 MartinM
    March 13, 2007

    Anyway, if you find PZ “refreshing,” anyway, you’re not the sort of person who is going to enjoy engaging with me, and you are not the sort of person I’m going to enjoy engaging with

    For the record, I like both you and PZ. Disproof by counterexample :P

  112. #112 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    For the record, I like both you and PZ. Disproof by counterexample :P

    I’m not so sure you’re allowed to. If theres one thing that this discussion has seemed to frame (which Rob has made more than clear with his main entries) is that if you can’t accept the fact people have an inherent right to a reasonable amount of unsubstantiated, utterly subjective belief (and how you determine where to draw the line for reasonable is beyond me) then you’re nothing but a “PZ sycophant.” Its ok though, our “flames” and “stump the theist questions” have already been anticipated, and so our input is not needed here. Just read and accept, because any argument we could possibly make has already been weighed and found inadequate. As Rob already said in the comments, if you’re a fan of PZ you won’t get along well here.

  113. #113 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    But such a belief is useless as an approach to science precisely because it is orthogonal to science; it makes no testable predictions.

    But my whole point is that none of this is an approach to science.

    Sure, you can have the theology that God created the Universe 6,000 years ago, but then buried a bunch of dinosaur skeletons and set out a bunch of photons “already in motion” to fool us or test our faith or something. I find that a pretty pointless theology myself. But neither that nor my theology are science.

    Also, if you accept that theology, then you also have to accept that the scientific method isn’t really teaching us anything, it’s just helping us to further explore all of the traps that God set for us. In opposition to that, I point to all of the amazing things that science has enabled. It seems to be a pretty good working assumption that science works and is really telling us things about the world.

    So, in the end, the “Matrix Theology” (a more extreme version of which is that all of reality is just you, and your brain is in a box being fed a simulation) doesn’t strike me as being a satisfying theology, and it implies that all of science is just a fake game. I can’t disprove it, but it’s not very helpful. So I discard it.

    Many do find other forms of theology helpful, though, and that’s why I think one should think a bit more before just discarding them.

    Jason : your comments have made it clear to me that there’s no point in my trying to engage with you. Sorry.

    -Rob

  114. #114 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    So Brad– if that’s your view, then why are you still here? Are you just trying to troll now?

    You may have noticed that months and months ago I gave up on reading PZ’s blog. I’ve given up on his blog many times, in fact, but every so often I’d go back and try to engage– because he is a good writer, because he does write a lot of good stuff, and because I have this nutty idea that somewhere in there is a kernel of thoughtful human being that might be able to accept the notion that his views on religion might, just perhaps, not be the Absolute Truth. Over time, though, I’ve come to realize that posting on his blog on those topics serves no purpose other than to get me aggravated, so I simply gave up.

    If you find me the same way — I recommend you give up.

  115. #115 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    No, but surely you can understand my frustration when everytime you and those taking your side in this discussion immediately characterize the other side as either some form of rabid, moth-frothing, chest-beating alpha male or an bigotted, ultra-right wing ideologue. If we’re not agreeing with you than we’re either nutters or animals?

  116. #116 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Shorter Rob Knop:

    Scientific knowledge is not the only kind of knowledge. There is another kind of knowledge that comes from religion. I can’t describe what this other kind of knowledge is. I can’t give any examples of it. I can’t explain how it differs from mere belief. I just believe it exists. Anyone who believes otherwise is not only mistaken, but arrogant.

  117. #117 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    Brad,

    The problem has to do with the tone of the conversation, which in this case deteriorated with the very first comment. When PZ says, as he did in the “so shoot me” comments, that “It’s not atheist’s fault that you believe in a version of Sagan’s invisible dragon, and have retreated to worshipping a supreme being who is operationally indistinguishable from a vacuum,” that brings the level of discourse down a few notches. It’s a dishonest, unethical and rude rhetorical ploy that says much more about PZ’s ability to distinguish one idea from another than it does about Rob. If you write like rabid, mouth-frothing alpha males, don’t be surprised when you’re characterized that way.

    Rob has repeatedly stated that those who disagree with him are neither nutters nor animals. To assert otherwise is to willfully ignore what he has written. He is merely asking the same of you.

  118. #118 Caliban
    March 13, 2007

    Rob, In an effort to swing the tone back to the discussion of ideas, i’d be intrested to hear what “knowledge” religon provides that science & reason cannot.

    As i’ve already stated; art, music and other creative expressions may not be scientific endeavours, but they do not contradict science either. The same cannot be said of religon.

    I have no doubt that if someone conconted an entire personal religon of self-serving fantasies that it could be very comforting. What intrests me is not what people find comforting, but what they claim to be true.

  119. #119 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Decline,

    Rob has repeatedly stated that those who disagree with him are neither nutters nor animals.

    He’s called people who disagree with him “mistaken” and “arrogant.” When challenged to substantiate this accusation with facts and rational argument, he evades and prevaricates.

  120. #120 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    Jason,

    Against my better judgment I’m going to respond to you. Rob stated: “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.”

    He’s referring to Dawkins’ assertion that the question, “what is the meaning of life?” is “meaningless” because it is not a scientific question. I believe that Rob is arguing that it is “mistaken” because there are, indeed, other questions that can be reasonably asked, including the existential one Dawkins dismissed. It is arrogant because it paints every person who has ever honestly asked that question as a simpleton. (For the record, every philosopher has asked that question, so unless Dawkins is an order of magnitude more intelligent than Aristotle, Hume, Kant or Einstein, we’d be on firmer ground if we ignored Dawkins on that one.)

    Your definition of “rational argument” seems to be: redefine the terms, change the argument, ignore evidence to the contrary, tar the opposition, and then claim that they never said anything to begin with. Thus I won’t engage you further.

  121. #121 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Decline,

    I wasn’t referring to the statement of Rob’s you quote, but that statement is also stupid. Dawkins has never said anything remotely like “the only valid thought is that thought susceptable to the scientific method.” This kind of strawman argument is typical of Dawkins’ critics. They can’t come up with any kind of serious argument against Dawkins’ actual position, so they invent a position out of thin air, attribute it to Dawkins, and then attack that made-up position.

    The statement of Rob’s I was referring to is this:

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

    He has offered no argument to support this accusation.

  122. #122 Hans
    March 13, 2007

    jp: I think anyone who gets their spleen in a knot simply by encountering the beliefs and freedoms of others in the society is probably harboring strong authoritarian tendencies..

    Would I be also harboring authoritarian tendencies, if I was driving to work past HITLER signs and hakenkreutz flags everywhere? How does that strike you as the expression of freedom? Isn’t that the exact opposite?

    By the way, getting PZ to scienceBlogs is the best thing that happened to them and they know it. ;)

    Rob: …challenge your preconceived notions … well, that sounds like a line from the Discovery Institute arguing against evolution. I’m not surprised, it’s the same mindframe.

  123. #123 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    If we’re not agreeing with you than we’re either nutters or animals?

    Funny, I’d ask PZ exactly the same question. Of course, he would dish out insults to anybody who’d be so foolish as to ask that….

  124. #124 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    well, that sounds like a line from the Discovery Institute arguing against evolution. I’m not surprised, it’s the same mindframe.

    If you’re just gonna be gratuitously insulting, please do not bother to post.

  125. #125 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    Re: the kind of knowledge that religion provides: knowledge of God. Knowledge of our relationship to God. Knowledge of our faith and our relationship to that. Knowledge of God’s will.

    And I fully expect those who are challenging me to “define that other knowledge, dammit” to completely reject any of these as really being knowledge, and thus not to be satisfied by my answer.

    It’s clear that we’re talking at serious cross-purposes here.

  126. #126 decrepitoldfool
    March 13, 2007

    For the record, I like both you and PZ. Disproof by counterexample :P
    I’m not so sure you’re allowed to.

    I started reading PZ’s blog before he came to SB, before he seemed to become desensitized to invective and addicted to anger. He wrote beautifully about the values of science, the vista of life’s long trek, and funny vignettes of his path in life and learning. He still can, and often does. But somewhere along the line with so many cheering him on, he changed. He seemed more to become more interested in proving religious people wrong than in showing his better self in text. It wasn’t enough to love science, you had to be an atheist. And it wasn’t enough to be an atheist, you had to believe – and state loudly – that all religious people were fools, evil fools.

    Only thing is, I know plenty of counterexamples – religious people who are not fools and who work hard at doing good in the world. While I suspect they are doing good simply because they are good people, and not just because of their religion, who am I to assail them in their sanctuary? Why do they have to say with me; “There is no God”?

    Yes, there are religious people who do evil, who promote violence, who insist the world wrap itself around their twisted model, and for those religious people, those fanatics, I have no use at all.

    I don’t think of Rob as a ‘moderate’ at all. Radicalism, like velocity, depends on the frame of reference and from certain frames Rob would be seen as quite radical. Violent dominionism is dangerous, and I’ve long wished for religious people of good will to oppose it. Rob is doing that.

    Looking forward to more posts in this series.

  127. #127 Tulse
    March 13, 2007

    Rob, a few comments meant in the spirit of discourse and debate, and which I hope will help to shed light on some issues:

    You wrote:
    religion is no good at explaining the processes of the natural world. [...] 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 [...] we don’t need God to explain how we came to be, how the world or Universe came to be, or how things work

    That is quite true, but over the full sweep of human existence, explaining the natural world has pretty much been one of the main raison d’etres of religion. I think it is important to acknowledge that the kind of deism you seem to believe, with a god that has absolutely no measurable impact on the natural world, is an extremely recent phenomenon in the history of religion, a post-Enlightenment product radically at odds with the prior six thousands years of religious practice and thought.

    It is also radically at odds with the beliefs of an overwhelming majority of people on the planet (not just in the US) who call themselves “religious”, and who do believe in miracles, angels, demons, intervening gods, the afterlife, re-incarnation, karma, ghosts of ancestors, and a wide variety of other alleged supernatural phenomena that supposedly impact the natural world.

    In other words, your views as I understand them are hardly representative or characteristic of “religion” as it is usually experienced, or as it is usually critiqued. Given that your use of the term “God” is by no means the standard one, either historically or demographically, I’m not sure if it makes sense to get upset when other authors write books attacking the more standard concept of “God”.

    So if we don’t need God to explain how we came to be, how the world or Universe came to be, or how things work, what good is God?

    I’m not quite sure in what sense you use the phrase “what good is God?”, but it sure looks to me as if you’ve got the causality backwards. If god(s) genuinely exists, there is no a priori reason that he/she/it/they have to have any purpose — they just are. God(s) do not have to have a reason for existence (and indeed, it is hard to know how they would obtain such a reason, since apparently humans only get their reason for existence from an external source).

    So I don’t understand asking about the “purpose” of religion, or what “good” God is, unless you mean that purely in some sort of socio-psychological, pseudo-therapeutic sense, what purpose the concept of “god” serves for people. But this is a very different type of claim, one that says absolutely nothing about the actual coherence or likelihood of the existence of supernatural beings. All you are now talking about, it seems to me, is a particular practice that makes some people feel good.

    And I don’t think there is any argument that some people derive comfort from their religious beliefs, just as others find it in their pets, or their social clubs, or their hobbies, their stuffed animals, or psychoanalysis. But so what? That says nothing about the ontological status or logical coherence of the concept.

    In the end, as far as I can see, it seems your main argument in this particular posting is that aggressive atheists attack a belief that comforts some people. And that’s certainly true, as far as it goes, but that’s hardly an argument for religion. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who derive comfort from homeopathy, or ritual magic, or belief in flying saucers, but that doesn’t make those beliefs any more true.

    God does not have to be real for you for God to be real.

    True, but it seems like your posting is better summed up by the phrase “God does not have to be real for God to be real to you.” And once the argument for religion retreats to this spot, it pretty much gives up any ontological claim, and becomes empty (albeit perhaps comforting) words. One might as well argue about the “truth” of one’s beloved teddy bear.

    (As an autobiographical aside, when my parents finally realized that my Catholicism had lapsed, my father told me that “We’re worried about you, because our religion has been such a comfort to us.” I found that argument just as bizarre then as now — I should believe something that I think isn’t true, simply because it would be comforting to believe it? While I’m sure Pascal would have understood, I couldn’t comprehend how that should work.)

  128. #128 Jason
    March 13, 2007

    Rob Knop,

    Re: the kind of knowledge that religion provides: knowledge of God. Knowledge of our relationship to God. Knowledge of our faith and our relationship to that. Knowledge of God’s will.

    Really? So you think the belief “God wants me to kill the infidels” is knowledge, do you? You think the 9/11 terrorists knew that God wanted them to hijack the planes, do you?

    One gets the impression that you have never given any serious thought to what the word “knowledge” really means, or how knowledge differs conceptually from other kinds of mental state such as belief and preference and emotion. Which would help to explain why your writing on these matters is so utterly confused.

  129. #129 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    *DING*

    Jason has been added to the list of banned commenters.

    Most people here, thank you — even if you’re disagreeing with me, you’re doing so in a relatively reasoned way. Jason has been little more than a troll for a long time.

    Everybody, please, learn from his bad example. Every time somebody says something, you don’t have to immediately perform a reductio ad absurdum and claim that they’ve said something that they haven’t said.

    Also, gratuitous insults are necessary at most in moderation.

  130. #130 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    In other words, your views as I understand them are hardly representative or characteristic of “religion” as it is usually experienced, or as it is usually critiqued. Given that your use of the term “God” is by no means the standard one, either historically or demographically, I’m not sure if it makes sense to get upset when other authors write books attacking the more standard concept of “God”.

    But my concept of God is in fact part of the standard concept of God.

    Those who attend church, those who are among the faithful, do not value their faith simply as a means of explaining how the world works. Yes, I acknowledge that historically it has been a major (or perhaps even the major) role religion served. But it was never the only role. And it certainly isn’t the only role that religion plays for the vast majority of people today.

    What I want to argue is that people don’t have to completely give up their religion to accept science. Yes, they have to give up creationism. But they don’t have to give up a personal and loving god who gives you strength in times of trouble and who laughs with you in times of joy. To all of the religious today, that aspect of God is at least as important– and, I suspect, at the heart of it far more important– than the aspect where “God waved his hand” is an explanation for why things are the way they are.

    Re: your objection to my “what good is God?” question, consider the question rephrased as “What value does religion have to us in the modern, scientific world?” or “What role can God play in our lives in the modern, scientific world?”

  131. #131 Caliban
    March 13, 2007

    Rob, If one claims that the knowledge religon provides is knowledge of God, his will and our relationship to it; then, it would be helpfull to mention how this knowledge is acquired, and how one seperates false ideas about God with “true” ones.

    Would you be persuaded by a Scientologist claiming that the knowledge his religon provides that science can’t is the knowledge of Zenu the galactic overlord? I doubt it. For many atheists, your claims of knowledge about unknowable beings seem just as arrogantly silly as the Scientologists’ “knowledge” of Zenu.

    I also don’t think that demanding evidence for empirical truth claims (God exists) is arrogant. On the contrary, it seems to me that claiming to possess some special kind of knowledge outside the realm of science is arrogant.

  132. #132 Chris' Wills
    March 13, 2007

    I’ve read this with interest and would argue with the use of the term cognitive dissonance used about theists being scientists.

    As most people would agree, the beginings of modern science and the scientific method arose in religious societies (most notably Europe, though the Abyssid chalipahte had some excellent scientists).

    There was & is no requirement for dissonance between theism and the modern scientific methodology.
    A theist practicing science is simply examining the universe and how it works. The belief in lawful nature (i.e. nature being consistant and understandable and explainable) is an outgrowth of theology. God being truthful and honest doesn’t lie and being a lawful God has created the universe to reflect that part of his nature. This is the reason for the comment “for the greater glory of God” still used by some religious scientists when unravelling the laws of nature.

    Now an atheist will say that this is rubbish, only nature exists all else is delusion. However, that is not a scientific belief but is a philosophy and, as with most philosophy, not subject to test.

    I have noticed the use of Truth, rational, knowledge etc being flung around.
    I would say that Science doesn’t determine Truth, it determines the rules of how the material universe works. Science only examines nature, that is what it is designed to do, it doesn’t prove that that is all there is.
    Rational is an abused word in the blogosphere; it does not mean testable, nor related to nature. It is simply the results derived from a system of axioms. You can argue about the truth or otherwise of the axioms, however the results derived from the axioms are rational within that context.

    Knowledge: Not provable/testable by science
    1) e is transcendental.
    2) The material world/universe is not illusion (this is an assumption of modern science).
    3) Science is applied mathematics or tries to be.

  133. #133 MartinC
    March 13, 2007

    I think Rob might just think of taking into consideration that the reason he gets a lot of people on here annoyingly asking “show me the evidence” is that we are actually scientists.
    Thats what we do.
    If you don’t show us the evidence (or we think that the evidence for Jesus as God is about as strong as that for Zeus, Thor or the Reverend Moon) then we are apt not to believe it.

  134. #134 Abbie
    March 13, 2007

    Rob, If one claims that the knowledge religion provides is knowledge of God, his will and our relationship to it; then, it would be helpful to mention how this knowledge is acquired, and how one separates false ideas about God with “true” ones.

    That’s the crux of the issue. Since everyone gets different “knowledge” of God, it’s obvious that this method of acquiring knowledge is pretty useless. How can you evaluate this knowledge? How can you say anyone’s is wrong? How can you say yours is correct?

  135. #135 Mecha
    March 13, 2007

    Caliban: Saying that ‘claiming to possess (or explore, or think about) knowledge outside the realm of science is arrogant’ makes a supposition which is at odds with Rob’s formulation of his religious beliefs as orthogonal to science. In fact, it makes the explicit supposition that ‘if it ain’t science, you can’t know it.’ Which is not how the vast majority of people go through their lives. Even scientists. You know things far before you learn about them in science class. Now, are they ‘right’? Well. Depends.

    If you know/believe/feel that the sun is what everyone else calls green, then you’re not right. If you know that the sky is blue, you’re right, but if you know that the sky is blue because god painted heaven’s underside blue, then that doesn’t mesh with science. But a god, by itself, does not inherently conflict with science. Rob sees his belief in god as (mostly) orthogonal. If you want to argue that a knowledge/belief in god means that you can’t possibly believe in science, no matter what god, or what belief, well, I suppose you’re arguing that Rob is a liar or a fool. But good luck proving it with science, I think. It’s just as bad as trying to prove god with science, in the modern day.

    An atheist has no more proof for their belief in no god, than a religious person has for their belief in a god, as long as neither belief doesn’t directly impinge upon scientific (or some other non-religious/philosophical) territory. An atheist can, at best, argue that it is more consistent in their minds, as many do, often building on the idea that ‘it’s simpler to not believe in something I don’t have to.’ Which is fine, but why does that make it the only choice a reasonable person can make? And the knowledge and morals that derive from either belief do exist, whether for good or ill. That doesn’t make them absolute Truth. This isn’t math or strict logic systems. This phrasing of ‘knowledge’ as ‘It must be true’ is disingenuous.

    Step back. Realize it’s philosophy. Ask whether a god existing is actually at odds with any scientific theory today. And please realize the burden of proof is on neither side in the God vs No God debate. Only when you take it into a science classroom or other specific environments does the often-brought-up-usage of Occam’s Razor come into play. Only when you try to prove that God exists (which Rob doesn’t) does the discussion need to turn to ‘You can’t prove that.’ Which is why, among other reasons, science classrooms don’t talk about god. It’d be a short conversation.

    Philosophy, however, has been working on it for a damn long time.

    -Mecha

  136. #136 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 13, 2007

    Re: the kind of knowledge that religion provides: knowledge of God. Knowledge of our relationship to God. Knowledge of our faith and our relationship to that. Knowledge of God’s will.

    And I fully expect those who are challenging me to “define that other knowledge, dammit” to completely reject any of these as really being knowledge, and thus not to be satisfied by my answer.

    And I say again, that these “other ways of knowing” is a blatant misuse of the concept of knowledge. Reliable abstract knowledge can apparently only be achieved by science. Much of these ‘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.

    If this was the promised argument from the first post, I don’t think it leads to where you wish to be. And no, I don’t expect an “intellectual engagement” on this question any more this time than the first. It will be rejected as a ‘complete rejection of really being knowledge’, which of course it is nothing but.

  137. #137 Tulse
    March 13, 2007

    What I want to argue is that people don’t have to completely give up their religion to accept science. Yes, they have to give up creationism. But they don’t have to give up a personal and loving god who gives you strength in times of trouble and who laughs with you in times of joy.

    If by “gives you strength” you mean anything other than “makes you feel good to believe, regardless of the truth of that belief”, then yes, you do have to give up that to accept science. If by “gives you strength” you mean “actually intervenes in your life in a supernatural manner” (e.g., “answers prayers”), then yes, that’s an anti-scientific belief.

    My point is that all you seem to be defending is the psychological comfort of belief in God, which isn’t a defense of the belief itself. I’m happy to grant that some people feel warm and fuzzy thinking that a supernatural being is watching over them — I don’t think anyone debates that fact. So if that’s all you’re saying is the “purpose” of religion, to provide comfort, then I don’t think there’s much disagreement, any more than there would be disagreement over the psychological fact that homeopathy provides comfort for some people. But I imagine you’d agree that “comfort” is a lousy justification for a belief in homeopathy, and likewise I think that “comfort” is a lousy justificaiton for a belief in some non-intervening, undetectable supernatural being.

    And what really puzzles me is that if the god you believe in really isn’t accessible to science, as you’ve claimed, and thus really can’t (or doesn’t) perform miracles in the world, or grant you some afterlife, or answer your prayers by changing the material nature of the world, then what kind of comfort can believing in such a god provide? What could such a being actually do for you?

  138. #138 Caliban
    March 13, 2007

    Mecha, As i stated earlier, the other things that we learn in life that are not explicitly scientific are not at odds with science. It is when religous claims appear, that the conflict usually begins.

    If there is no evidence for something, it is not rational to believe in it. Much of what religon purports to know about are things for which there is no evidence, starting with God.

    If entire cultures are structured around beliefs for which there is not evidence, that is not a good thing. Ergo, atheists tend to adopt a “show me the evidence” response to “alternate ways of knowing”. This is also the same response most everyone uses in every other aspect of life. It is only when the topic turns to religon, that “other ways of knowing” are brandied about.

  139. #139 mtraven
    March 13, 2007

    Here’s a question for believers and non-believers alike — in what sense can a nonmaterial, supernatural, transcendent entity be said to exist? It obviously can’t exist in the same way that a chair or bowling ball exists. But might there be other modes of reality that such a thing could have? Other immaterial things have a certain reality to them: “pi”, or “goodness”, for example.

    It seems to me that atheists and fundamentalists alike make the mistake of assuming that God has to exist in the most mundane sense — reducing the supernatural to the natural. That’s obviously nonsense, but it is not so obvious that just because something is immaterial it is also unreal and completely absent from the universe.

    So, I propose that, given that we don’t have a clear conception of the nature of God it makes no sense to talk about either the existence or nonexistence of this mysterious being. Not that that’s going to stop anyone here.

  140. #140 decrepitoldfool
    March 13, 2007

    The evidence I want to see in a culture is evidence of goodwill. I can imagine a completely scientific culture that would be horrible to live in, and no imagination is required when it comes to a completely religious one. The difference is not science vs. religion but tolerance vs. intolerance.

    I’m perfectly willing to go on forever thinking “religion seems irrational to me” while accepting that I am not a logical machine. I am a living animal whose affections color my perception of what is good, what is rational, and even what is real. I also accept the distinction between my self and other selves. If it were not for that distinction, epistemological differences would be as distressing as ethical differences.

    At one time I rejected the notion of “comfort” from religion. My feelings about this changed radically some time ago when I found that Buddhist philosophy made a nontrivial difference in my ability to deal with chronic pain. No, I didn’t start believing in reincarnation, (or even anything supernatural) but just framing the problem differently made my life considerably better. It isn’t far off-target to conceive of religion, even one as supernatural as Christianity, as the frame around one’s existence. What’s so hard about accepting that in other people?

  141. #141 DNeb
    March 13, 2007

    Jason wrote:

    “How about, “There is a God.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “There are many Gods.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “God wants us to love one another.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “God wants us to kill infidels.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “The Bible is the Word of God.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “The Koran is the Word of God.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “Jesus is the Son of God.” Is that knowledge?
    Or, “The Earth is 6,000 years old.” Is that knowledge?”

    No. Knowledge in this case is coming to the logical conclusion that human beings believe different things — they hold diverse “Truths”. Take a look at the big picture. That is knowledge. It can be gained from observing human beings and realizing that each and every one of us experiences life in a unique way, with unique events shaping our lives, thoughts, emotions, and perspectives. This is a fact.

    I would guess that Rob Knop has probably experienced several intimate events in his life that have strengthened his belief and reasoning in what he (and I) call God, yet remain outside the boundaries of scientific scrutiny. And although he has no way of proving them scientifically, he know he is not the only person in the world whose reality (and life) overlap into a more metaphysical realm.

    Rob,

    What I mentioned above might not be the case; but in my short span of life on earth I’ve learned one thing: there are people who experience things that are very REAL to them, things that they know seem strange and have not ben observed and tested scientifically — and ultimately remain silent because they know they risk ridicule from others, mainly because their experience is unique and not objectively observable.

    DNeb

    P.S. Peace through love, tolerance and understanding, always.

  142. #142 Chris Taylor
    March 13, 2007

    Re: the kind of knowledge that religion provides: knowledge of God. Knowledge of our relationship to God. Knowledge of our faith and our relationship to that. Knowledge of God’s will.

    I would add to that, knowledge of ourselves. It is very easy for man to develop delusions about his true nature, or the nature of other people. Yet human nature is very important to understand or our noblest intentions and best laid plans turn to distopias. Similarly it is also easy and dangerous to develop delusions about our own individual natures without Help. This is one area, incidently, where science and religion can intersect. At least that is, if you have faith in neuroeconomics. ;)

  143. #143 smijer
    March 13, 2007

    I’ve enjoyed reading these two posts & a sampling of the comments. I thought I would throw in my two bits.

    I think that you (Rob) agree more with Dawkins, et al, than with your co-religionists (at least those not UCC, Quaker, or Christian UU). I think that the differences between you and those who persecute you are mainly semantic ones (while you seem to take sides with the heathens on their differences with traditional religion).

    What do you mean by “purpose”? Purpose in the classical sense – like design or function? Or purpose as an artistic metaphor for something-or-other-needed-by-the-human-psyche. What do you mean by “God” – or by “exist” (the biggie, I think, in this conversation).

    That’s all groovy so far as it goes, and inside the religious community. But some of these words have more conventional meanings than the ones you mention that are “orthogonal” to nature. Define God however you like… but I think it would be nice, to avoid confusion, to let the classical definitions rule with the words that we use to describe the natural world – at least when taking your case outside the hallowed halls of your religion.

    Me, I’m a quasi-religious atheist. As a unitarian universalist, I find concrete value in certain aspects of religion… and could admit the possibility that there can be value in ways of thinking (as opposed to ways of knowing) that revolve around the notion of God (though, I honestly haven’t seen much reason to think there is – it is other aspects of religion that seem to be worthwhile to me). But it’s hard to talk about that in the terms you use to present these ideas here.

  144. #144 Mecha
    March 13, 2007

    Caliban: You say that ‘at odds with science’ is a problem. Why is belief in god at odds with science? Is there actually evidence that proves that there can be no thing that fits inside a label people could think of as god? (The problem there? It’s a label without the same definition to everyone.) I happen to believe not, despite being… likely considered agnostic.

    If there is no evidence for something, it is not rational to believe in it. Let’s accept that for a moment, so as to ask a question. Let’s define the concept ‘not-god’ as ‘The nonexistance of a god.’ There is no evidence for not-God. Is one rational to believe in it? If so, why? Why do you assume that the void is more likely than its counterpart?

    I personally happen to like a show me the evidence response to things. But your belief that religion is the only thing that is ‘non-scientific’ in its processes is pretty strange.

    Show me the evidence that the Mona Lisa is good artwork. You’ll find opinions. Subjective analysis. Will you find proof? Well… no. You’ll find a societal consensus that it’s good artwork. Why no proof? Partly because the concepts and terms involved are not ones that are rigidly, explicitly defined. Much like many peoples’ beliefs in god. Does that mean that art is meaningless? Does that mean that anyone who reacts to art is unreasonable? Anyone who creates art unreasonable? If art inspires them to science, is that science flawed? The parallels between art and religious discussion here are obvious, and not meant to distract so much as point out that there can be analysis without _science_ as you want to frame it. Philosophy is very good at that.

    Other ways of knowing are not restricted to religion. Science does not actually tell you to feel a specific way about someone or not. It might explain the how, or even the why and whatfors, with enough work. But you don’t know it through science. Is anyone who acts on emotions, then, unscientific? If not, why not?

    Maybe you think that is _better_, to only hold knowledge through absolutes, or repeated experiments. You certainly seem to value judge any culture (person?) who believes something that they cannot be shown evidence for. Are you agnostic, then? Atheism is not a sceptic’s viewpoint, which you seem to espouse. If so, then your view makes perfect sense, and I can see why no religious argument would persuade you. If not… why does the atheistic argument work for you? It has no evidence either.

    Why does religion have the burden of proof, before it can even be _allowed to exist_ in a scientist’s mind? Are you willing to take it a step further? All scientists must be militant sceptics? Any belief held without thorough documented evidence is unallowable?

    These are honest questions, because some of them poke at a very interesting problem: It seems to me that agnosticism is a far more likely view, in a vacuum, for a scientist. Yet it’s all about atheists. Why? Why does not-God get the evidentiary nod? I see no problem with Rob believing in a god. And I see no problem with PZ not believing in one. But without evidence on either side?

    Well.

    -Mecha

  145. #145 K. Signal Eingang
    March 13, 2007

    Rob, I also grew up in a UCC church (although mine was East Coast and therefore probably a little more conservative than you Berkeley nutters). I can see where coming from the UCC, or even the UUC, you might have an easier time clinging to religion while remaining a scientifically-minded person. The UCC is an extremely progressive, pro-science church (as churches go) and very non-dogmatic. This isn’t a sect known for wild-eyed claims about natural history or fire and brimstone moralizing. Nonetheless, I myself have since become a committed atheist, in large part because I don’t think anyone, yourself included, has managed to answer the critical question, why this set of beliefs? Why Jesus and not Horus? Why one big god and not a squabbling pantheon of little ones? On what grounds should the moral and other claims of the Bible be taken more seriously than those of the Diamond Sutra, or Dr. Seuss’ “The Sneetches”?

    What would be interesting to me — and I hope you answer this on your blog someday — is the answer to these questions: What parts, if any, of the Bible do you accept as literal truth? And what parts, if any, do you believe are the inspired word of God? And finally, if the answer to this last is “none”, then on exactly what would you say your faith rests?

  146. #146 cbutterb
    March 13, 2007

    I can’t believe you banned Jason. He’s done nothing but contribute constructively to this conversation. Essentially it went something like this:

    ROB: Unclear metaphysical statement X!

    JASON: But that would logically suggest that you agree with unpleasant consequence Y. Also, I don’t fully understand what you mean by X.

    ROB: You’re insulting me! You’re a troll!

    JASON: I still think there’s a relationship between X and Y.

    ROB: *Banned.*

    And you don’t get why people call you defensive? You don’t see the similarity between your behavior and what happens on Uncommonly Dense? If you can’t stand criticism that’s simultaneously direct and snarky, you might have picked the wrong blog community.

  147. #147 jb
    March 13, 2007

    mtraven:

    It seems to me that atheists and fundamentalists alike make the mistake of assuming that God has to exist in the most mundane sense — reducing the supernatural to the natural. That’s obviously nonsense, but it is not so obvious that just because something is immaterial it is also unreal and completely absent from the universe.

    Um… this abyss is the one separating materialism from any broader ‘ism’. Along with the problem of the definition of “natural.”

    Here physics is a lot different from biology. Where biology requires a certain faith-statement from practitioners about little-g gods via direct alignment with their “random” brick wall around causation, physics has been actively trying to breach the wall for awhile now.

    If in fact (still at issue) there are more than 3+1 dimensions in the totality of effective reality, can we rule out the existence of consciousness in any or all of them? If so, how so? What is matter/energy? What are the ‘rules’ by which matter/energy does its dance in 3+1? Are those ‘rules’ applicable if 3+1 isn’t all that matters?

    There aren’t as many Evangelical Atheist physicists as there are in biology. It’s a dogma thing. Biologists often seem reluctant to acknowledge that nothing they study exists apart from the physics of the real, thus pretend they’re an entire science unto themselves. Hubris. Which is why you see hubris most often displayed on “Science Blogs” from biologists, not physicists.

    But let physicists think they’ve glommed onto some big-t Truth, and they’ll fight you tooth and nail as proudly as Spartans!

  148. #148 Caliban
    March 13, 2007

    Mecha, You have a lot of questions in your last post that arrive from some faulty reasoning i think.

    You seem to be confusing the definition of atheism. It’s a common mistake. An atheist is someone who does not believe in god(s) what whatever reason. An atheist is not necessarily someone who claims that God does not exist, only that he or she does not believe that one does. Not believeing in god is not a belief. It is the absence of a belief.

    And to recap now for about the fourth time in this thread: emotions, love, ethics, football, sex, art, music, bowling, stamp-collecting and a million other things that are not scientific endeavours are not in conflict with science so they do not require the same kind of evidences that one does when one is declaring what one believes to be universal, empirical facts about the universe.

    The fact that many of the monuments of Ancient Greece were dedicated to various pagan gods (that we have no trouble today saying do not exist) in no way diminishes thier beauty. I don’t get why you think it would.

    Religon is one long stream of knowledge claims about the nature of the universe and as such, falls into the domain of science; forcing us to distinguish between what is knowledge (fact) and what is speculation, opinion or error.

    The reason why religon has the burden of proof in such matters is basic. Without the burden of proof being expected of the one making a positive claim, all attempts at understanding anything would become literally impossible. Think about it, or just google “burden of proof” to get the full story.

    Believing in truth-claims about the nature of the universe without evidence is irrational. Of course, you are free to believe whatever you please. If you can’t see why believing something because of evidence if preferable to beleiving something with no evidence, then i’m afraid i can’t help you with that one. Best of Luck. :)

  149. #149 John B
    March 13, 2007

    “true and justified belief”

    Both ‘true’ and ‘justified’ are, in my opinion, appeals to some particular paradigm.

    People can study different worldviews, recognise that they exist. They can see that different people have different notions about reality (‘what is true’) and different standards of authority/plausibility (‘what is justified’). They can noticed that the proponents of a particular worldview see their own truth claims as statements of fact, and other people’s ideas as patently false.

    How do you judge between worldviews? Is there some meta-position, or overarching standard you can apply? or are you always applying your perception of ‘the true’ and ‘the justified’ to other people’s claims?

    People’s individual views do change, people do convert… but only if they take seriously the idea that their own taken-for-granted perception of reality may be as subjective in character as those that seem so patently false to him or her.

    The question here is not about whether or not God is real or religious beliefs are justified (unless i missed his point, Rob doesn’t seem to be interested in providing proof for either of those things). It seems to be about how people think and learn about reality.

    After alot of research and contemplation, I personally have never found anything real or valuable in any supernatural, or spiritual worldview. I’m also convinced, however, that my perception of things is not objective, infallible or immutable. The standards I use for what is ‘true’ and what is ‘justifed’ pretty much rule out alot of the claims of religion by definition. I’m not convinced it’s preposterous for someone to have different standards.

  150. #150 Mecha
    March 13, 2007

    You walked into Rob’s explaination full force with your decrying of religion as knowledge claims, and need to go back and read his post. ‘Things that are not scientific endeavors are not in conflict with science.’ Rob does not consider god a scientific endeavor. His religion is not an explainatory one. His post details this quite explicitly. Therefore, it does not conflict with science. Therefore, his belief is valid. Religion, to Rob, is not one long stream of knowledge claims about the universe anymore, that is what his post was about.

    While you continue to berate me, you do not seem to realize that ‘atheism’ does _not_ strictly mean agnosticism. I would recommend google for you as well, there. Wikipedia points it out fairly clearly that there’s a mix of terms here. That’s why there’s a word for agnosticism, and a word for atheism. If you are arguing from an agnostic mindset, giving credence to neither position, then say so, and I will gladly accept your argument that believing in truth-claims about the nature of the universe without evidence is irrational from an agnostic mindset. If you are an _atheist_, giving credence to the position _that there is no god_, then you are making a claim about the nature of the universe no different than a claim for a god. No different whatsoever. It is no different than if I asked you to guess whether I was wearing a shirt right now with no evidence. ‘You can’t prove you are, so I don’t believe you are?’

    And you do not have to wish me ‘best of luck. :)’ as if I were a child. I am doing what philosophers and debaters do. It’s called discussion. As to your ‘if you can’t see why believing something because of evidence is preferable to believing something with no evidence’ statement… one might believe murder is immoral without evidence. One may believe murder is moral with evidence. Which is preferable? That depends. I like evidence, but I happen to like people not killing me too. This is a side discussion, however, that you are using to mock and berate me as inherently wrong, and I would appreciate it if you stopped. Argue it fairly, consign it to being off topic, or leave it be.

    -Mecha

  151. #151 cbutterb
    March 13, 2007

    The standards I use for what is ‘true’ and what is ‘justifed’ pretty much rule out alot of the claims of religion by definition. I’m not convinced it’s preposterous for someone to have different standards.

    Do you apply that tolerance across the board? To Christians? Deists? Mormons? Scientologists? Invisible pink unicorns? Celestial teapots? If not, with what standard do you discriminate among them?

  152. #152 Davis
    March 13, 2007

    I guess I’ll jump into the melee here.

    Rob,

    …the kind of knowledge that religion provides: knowledge of God. Knowledge of our relationship to God. Knowledge of our faith and our relationship to that. Knowledge of God’s will.

    As was mentioned earlier in the thread, the fairly standard short definition of “knowledge” is “justified true belief” (I’ve studied some epistemology, so I’m not completely talking out of my ass here). Even though this creates some headaches — scientific knowledge then becomes “Relativity and QM model reality well,” rather than “Relativity and QM are correct” — it generally seems like a fairly good model of what we mean by the word.

    Defining “justified” is one of the big problems in the above definition of “knowledge,” and in some sense this entire argument seems to come down to disagreements over justification (even though we disagree on the “truth” part, we argue by addressing the “justified” part). What would you consider justification for the knowledge you cite, or justification for “other ways of knowing” in general?

    I don’t mean this as an attack, but if you ever read Orac’s blog you’ll encounter defenses of Qi, homeopathy, reiki, and other nonsense by citing “other ways of knowing.” You cited things you consider other types of knowledge, but I’m curious what you delineate as “ways of knowing”; specifically, I’m curious how you allow alternative modes while still excluding this kind of nonsense.

  153. #153 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    cbutterb: the problem with Jason was that he didn’t read the original post carefully, didn’t examine the arguments with anything like openness, falsely caricatured the arguments to suit his own biases, based his own arguments on a series of unexamined premises which he failed to counter, then harangued and mocked with INCREASING VOLUME anyone who offered a counterpoint without responding to the substance of their arguments. This is, for the record, the fourth time I’ve seen him do that this week. He simply has trouble being civil.

  154. #154 Calban
    March 13, 2007

    Mecha, I realise Rob was arguing that science is not at odds with religon; i was disagreeing with that claim.

    And frankly, i have no desire to go over what constitutes “atheistic agnostic” vs “theist agnostic” vs “strong atheist postion” vs “weak atheist position”. Been there. Done that.

    What remains, to my mind, unanswered, is HOW one goes about acquiring “knowlege” of God, or any other object without evidence? I don’t see how one can. It’s back to orbiting tea-pots and leprachauns. Yawn…

  155. #155 Mecha
    March 13, 2007

    Caliban:

    You addressed the answer yourself. You gave examples of plenty of things that could be gained ‘knowledge’ of without scientific process/evidence. Experience, thought, consideration, morals. You just happen to disagree that god falls in that box. And your reason why is that the only religion you acknowledge is a religion that says things about the world, like YEC or ID, as per your explaination. Despite Rob, and others, believing in other religions. How do you plan to argue that their beliefs can’t exist without resorting to ad hominim?

    -Mecha

  156. #156 Caliban
    March 13, 2007

    Mecha, The reason God, Unicorns, Zenu, and a host of other entities do not fall into that category is because we have no evidence of thier existence, while we do have ample evidence for the existence of bowling balls, Mona Lisa paintings and all the other mundane objects & activities whose existence is not in question.

  157. #157 Mecha
    March 13, 2007

    Thinking about god is an activity too. And I bet most anyone can do it. If those thoughts are positive (IE: belief) and lead to effects… seems to me that the belief in god has effects. Can lead to conclusions. Conclusions that allow one to make further decisions and take further action.

    Unless you wish to call thought’s existance into question, or argue that thought can lead to anything, anyway.

    -Mecha

  158. #158 Caliban
    March 13, 2007

    Mecha, Yes, thinking about God is an activity. Thinking about Thor and unicorns is also an activity. If neither activity produces evidence for the existence of said beings, then one is merely speculating. Which is fine. One can speculate about anything one wants to. Speculating about the existence of things for which there is no evidence for does not constitute “knowledge” however.

    Thoughts are subjective mental experiences, a persons’ thoughts may lead them to find out something about the world or they may lead one to any number of erroneous conculsions. So what? The wholle point of requiring evidence for postive claims is to reduce the likihood of errors in thinking in the first place.

    You are still not addressing the point of HOW one gains knowledge, not just speculation, about God.

  159. #159 HI
    March 13, 2007

    Rob,

    You listed Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer as possible roles of God and you rejected Creator. Actually, I have the least problem with God the Creator. I think it is most compatible with what Einstein called Spinoza’s God when he said “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” It’s not that Einstein has to be right, but the Sustainer and the Redeemer sound like the kind of God that Einstein would reject.

  160. #160 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    Essentially it went something like this:

    That is one way to characterize it. It also omits a vast amount of what went on. Specifically, that Jason was repeatedly and directly insulting, not just to me, but to others. Repeatedly is important here; it wasn’t “Ooh, Jason disagrees with me, I’m gonna ban him!” I put up with him for quite some time. Moreover, no matter what somebody who disagreed with him said, Jason would interpret it in the most negative light whatsoever.

    This oversimplified characterization of the discussion is at least as accurate as yours:

    JASON : Only science can produce knowledge. Religion can’t.

    ME OR SOMEBODY ELSE : Yes it can.

    JASON : What?

    ME OR SOMEBODY ELSE : (Attempted explanation.)

    JASON : That’s not knowledge! You’re stupid!

    [ repeat 10x ]

    ROB : *banned*

    If you’re going to defend the trolls, please at least look at what they’ve done so that you don’t sugarcoat their language.

    In any event, the fact that we’re posting caricaturized versions of the previous discussion is evidence that this discussion jumped the shark long, long ago.

    -Rob

  161. #161 Mecha
    March 13, 2007

    And you truly display that you’ve missed it all. You assume knowledge about god = Truth about god. You’re not the first, though.

    If god, thinking about god, belief in god, leads you to a useful conclusion, which you then use in your everyday life, it sounds like knowledge to me. Is it guaranteed to be true? No. But neither is strict science. Neither is what football play is best. You just tries your best, with the tools you have. Science just happens to be really good at it. It is not Truth. Simply a search for it. By metaphor, by science, by belief, by thought. But Rob argues, and I agree, that religion is not a way to successfully search for truth about how old the earth is. Or anything like that.

    But some people can answer the large questions science really, honestly doesn’t address with it. So it’s a good thing that you can have both, then, to explore questions with one that cannot be readily addressed with the other, which you can then use in your daily life. Or should we rule out introspection as useful unless the person is a trained scientist of the mind?

    Which reminds me. Unless you are a psychologist or someone in a similar field, by saying that science is the only way you can have knowledge, you have lost your ability to speak about anyone else’s thoughts, or value of those thoughts, or what they can be using them for, thereby sorta forfeiting the argument due to lack of standing and ‘knowledge’. I doubt you have taken a scientific measurement of Rob’s mind, after all. Not much evidence either. You don’t even believe in Rob’s belief.

    Wouldn’t be scientific to talk about something without scientific knowledge would it? If that is your absolute code, I hope this discussion has come to an end. If not… well. I at least hope the sarcasm makes you think about, if for just a moment, how much of the ‘knowledge’ in your life is non-scientific. And decide how you should deal with yourself accordingly.

    -Mecha

  162. #162 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    What would you consider justification for the knowledge you cite, or justification for “other ways of knowing” in general?

    When you use “other ways of knowing” to describe something that is susceptible to scientific experiment, then you’re in trouble.

    Part of the problem with this whole discussion is that different sides are talking at cross-purposes. Those of us who see some value in religion say that there are parts of religion that are orthogonal to science. Those who don’t then come back and say, well, “God exists” is an empirical statement, so tell us the predictions. That’s like asking “How old are you?” and getting an answer of “Blue.” We’re just talking past each other.

    So, homeopathy, stuff like that — these things are subject to clinical trials and have been shown to be BS.

    But the knowledge of God — that’s not a scientific knowledge. It’s an understanding, a meaning that we find as creative, thinking, emotional beings, something that we can discuss, something that we can feel, something that can affect our thinking (for good or ill). But it’s not something that necessarily produces empirical predictions that can be tested experimentally.

    It really is an other way of knowing. I’m not trying to use “other ways of knowing” as code for “things that mainstream science has rejected.” I’m using it to mean a knowledge, understanding, meaning that is in its very nature different from scientific understanding.

    -Rob

  163. #163 Pseudonym
    March 13, 2007

    Caliban: Actually, to change the topic slightly, try this argument on for size.

    Consider an idol. You know, an object, maybe a statue, that people worship/pray to/whatever. These things still exist in the world.

    I claim the following:

    1. That idol is a god. By any reasonable definition of the word “god”, that idol falls under that definition.

    2. That idol exists. By any reasonable test of existence that you care to name, I could prove to you that it exists.

    3. Therefore, a god exists.

    Of course, if there were no people treating it as a god, the idol would not be a god. It’d just be a statue. Because people treat it that way, it’s both a statue and a god.

    What Rob is implying is that the Judeo-Christian god (whom I’ll now refer to as “God” with a capital-G) “exists” in a similar sense. Perhaps only as a social construct, or as an ideal to live up to. You can’t kick God like you could the idol, but it exists as surely as justice or love exists. And like the idol, if nobody treated God as a god, it wouldn’t be a god.

    You can think of this as the flip-side of the ontological argument. It also means that Thor, Zeus, the IPU and Russell’s Teapot all “exist” in a sense. The mere fact that we can both refer to “Russell’s Teapot” by name and know that we mean the same thing means that exists, if only as an idea.

  164. #164 Mecha
    March 13, 2007

    Rob,

    As a sidetrack from this incredibly long sidediscussion, an actual point to you, about your post! It may cause one to faint.

    I think it is worth noting explicitly that, as an addition, while religion can be used as a method of inspiration in this orthogonal plane of existential questions, so can science, but not _scientifically_. So can a sort of detached moralism. It’s similar to saying that atheist doesn’t mean amoral/immoral, but different. Some people may answer “Why are we here? What should we do?” questions by appealing to science, or scientific maxims, but that doesn’t make it scientific. At best, you can argue that the beliefs logically follow from initial conditions that the various people set. Or so I would say at the moment, anyway.

    It reminds me somewhat of people who try to argue for/against god/murder/bacon based upon math. It’s nice you’re inspired, but the proof doesn’t happen, and it doesn’t mean you win the argument, and only science can be used for every question.

    ‘What do I do with myself today?’ is a good question. And I haven’t seen the science to answer it. So either all scientists walk around not knowing what to do with themselves, or they’ve come up with a non-scientific answer that at least works for them. Or walk around like zombies. I dunno.

    -Mecha

  165. #165 doctorgoo
    March 13, 2007

    Rob said:

    JASON : Only science can produce knowledge. Religion can’t.
    ME OR SOMEBODY ELSE : Yes it can.
    JASON : What?
    ME OR SOMEBODY ELSE : (Attempted explanation.)
    JASON : That’s not knowledge! You’re stupid!
    [ repeat 10x ]
    ROB : *banned*

    You aren’t the only one to get uber-frustrated with Jason’s conversation style. But as trolls go, he’s relatively harmless. He sometimes has interesting things to say. Here is an exchange I just had with him on Brayton’s site:

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2007/03/dembski_a_day_late_and_a_dolla.php#comment-372073

  166. #166 Caliban
    March 13, 2007

    Mecha, At times, it has felt like you have only been reading half of the words i’ve written in these exchanges. Nowhere did i claim that all knowledge is scienfific. I gave numerous examples of non-scienfic activities that do not contradict science. None of these examples however, justify a belief in any undetected, supernatural being.

    What i think is ridiculous is thinking that ones’ ruminations about God (or anything supernatural) is a rational way to gain knowledge about the world.

    If one desires a “guide” to sort through life’s decisions, i submit that one’s ability to reason will be far more effective than any amount of spiritual navel-gazing or talking to imaginary friends, reguardless of how much one loves the company.

  167. #167 Matt
    March 13, 2007

    I just want more galaxy and astronomy blogging. PLEASE! Something spiffy about gravity or standard candles. I like Galactic Interactions because Rob covered cool astro stuff and dealt with some of the frustrations of academia. PLEASE, more physics stuff!

    I need my fix!

  168. #168 Mecha
    March 13, 2007

    Caliban: At times, you have very clearly not read the original post, or other posts in this blog, so I suppose we’re almost even.

    You continue to maintain that knowledge = Truth. It is, sadly, not so. If that’s your first principles, then the discussion is basically over. I’m not sure how you can be a scientist, since science doesn’t have Truth locked up either, but people can do a lot of things, so I’m sure it can be managed.

    If reason is a Truth tool, why is there more than one non-religious philosophy? Why have some of the most powerful reasoners in history happened to apply reason to religion?

    I submit that one’s ability to reason is great, but that there is no single scientific basis to start your reasoning about what to do with your life from, and therin your entire argument falls apart.

    -Mecha

  169. #169 Dave L
    March 13, 2007

    What i think is ridiculous is thinking that ones’ ruminations about God (or anything supernatural) is a rational way to gain knowledge about the world.

    But it might be a rational way to gain knowledge about yourself. Would it matter if one was meditating on what it means to be good or whether one was ruminating about God? ‘Good’ has a rational component, but it also has an emotional empathic component and is largely subjective and has no referent in the real world. Or is ‘good’ just a series of deductive statements?

    There is no evidence for anything supernatural at all anywhere. I don’t think there’s much evidence for the idea that there are parallel universes either but it hasn’t stopped many scientists and philosophers and probably everyone from ruminating about it. I’m willing to bet that someone just might have discovered something about this universe or themselves that they, at least, didn’t realize.

  170. #170 John B
    March 13, 2007

    cbutterb wrote:

    Do you apply that tolerance across the board? To Christians? Deists? Mormons? Scientologists? Invisible pink unicorns? Celestial teapots? If not, with what standard do you discriminate among them?

    If I want to learn something from them or teach something to them about ‘reality’, then yes, i do apply it across the board. If i don’t want either of those things, usually their beliefs, and mine, don’t come up.

  171. #171 SM
    March 13, 2007

    What i think is ridiculous is thinking that ones’ ruminations about God (or anything supernatural) is a rational way to gain knowledge about the world.

    Posted by: Caliban

    Thank God all scientists didn’t think this way or they would have lacked the desire, creativity, and stamina to understand the universe a little better.

    Many of the world’s brightest people (PhD’s in a variety of disciplines – including math, physics, microbiology, statistics, etc.) have come to the conclusion that there is a supreme being based on their lifelong pursuit of “knowledge”.

    “I want to know God’s thoughts – the rest are mere details.”

    “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

    “Before God we are all equally wise – and equally foolish.”

    –Albert Einstein

  172. #172 sm
    March 13, 2007

    1. It is actually very easy to give [up on] God if you happen to be growing up in the right environment. This to me is one of the most convincing arguments that religion is baloney.

    2. On the other hand, as you know, laws of physics don’t change from place to place and from time to time (unless you happen to be in the first fraction of a picosecond in the Big Bang, perhaps;)

    Posted by: Leonardo

    1. I’m not sure how society’s differing perceptions of God negate the fact there is a God. Once you venture from the physical to the metaphysical this is bound to happen. However, it still doesn’t negate the possibility of a supreme being.

    2. The first fraction of a picosecond – where time and space stop obeying all physical laws and no mathematical equation can adequately describe the process (i.e. metaphysical). Until science can explain this “rationally” we’ll always have people like Planck, Einstein, Newton, Mendel, Faraday, Boyle, Kelvin, etc. who end up believing in a creator.

    “I think there’s a common assumption that you cannot both be a rigorous, show-me-the-data scientist and a person who believes in a personal God. I would like to say that from my perspective that assumption is incorrect; that, in fact, these two areas are entirely compatible and not only can exist within the same person, but can exist in a very synthetic way, and not in a compartmentalized way.”

    –Dr. Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

    He currently leads the Human Genome Project, directed at mapping and sequencing all of human DNA, and determining aspects of its function.

  173. #173 Leni
    March 13, 2007

    But it might be a rational way to gain knowledge about yourself.

    I’m just gonna quick butt in to point out that….

    “You” are part of the world. So if it is a rational way to gain knowledge about yourself, then it is also a rational way to gain knowledge about the world.

    Also Dave, there doesn’t have to be “evidence” for parallel universes. There only needs to be a good reason to look for them, and that does not necessarily have to be physical data of some sort. That’s pretty much how we’ve *found* black holes, after all.

    No one had evidence. There were instead compelling arguments based on sound mathematical models. There also were, coincidentally, specific ways to go about finding them. Which of course made the task of finding them considerably easier.

    Unlike the case of god. Your example is appealing, but it’s not really apt.

  174. #174 Leonardo
    March 13, 2007

    Rob, if you grew up in Nepal in a Buddhist family, would you still be talking about God? Or even more extreme case, what if you grew up as a Shawnee Indian in TN 1000 years ago, would you claim that the spirits you’d believe in is the same as the God you believe in now? Religious concepts vary widely from a region to region and even more throughout the human history. Some of them we find quite laughable today, to other religions we might still cling to today because of our cultural and family influence. Growing up in France you might give up on God completely. It is actually very easy to give God if you happen to be growing up in the right environment. This to me is one of the most convincing arguments that religion is baloney. On the other hand, as you know, laws of physics don’t change from place to place and from time to time (unless you happen to be in the first fraction of a picosecond in the Big Bang, perhaps;)

  175. #175 Leni
    March 13, 2007

    PS.

    Holy crap I just slipped black holes into a post without feeling embarrassed and all out of place about it.

    Honestly, this is way more my speed. I like biology and all but man… it really is kinda gross. Physics is just so much… cleaner.

  176. #176 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    while religion can be used as a method of inspiration in this orthogonal plane of existential questions, so can science, but not _scientifically_. So can a sort of detached moralism. It’s similar to saying that atheist doesn’t mean amoral/immoral, but different.

    Yes, certainly. That’s why religion isn’t for everybody — others find their “purpose” or create their “purpose” other ways.

    On the other hand, as you know, laws of physics don’t change from place to place and from time to time

    Yes — agreed. This is part of why religion is different from science. It’s also why literature and other of the humanities are different from science — what is “good literature” is often a culturally dependent judgement, whereas I do firmly believe in an objective reality, described by laws of physics that are universal. (You can find people in aforementioned humanities professors who show the humanities equivalent of the arrogance of scientists — that is, assuming that every valid scholarly field really is just their own. They will get all post-modernist and say that our concept of science is just a social construction of western culture or some such. That kind of baloney is just as bad as the scientists who assert that the only kind of knowledge worth talking about is scientific knowledge.)

    -Rob

  177. #177 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    I need my fix!

    I just did a redshift post; did that help?

  178. #178 Kevin
    March 13, 2007

    “that most people would agree are “true”, such as the proposition that murder is wrong.”

    as pointed out, that statement is meaningless, sort of like god is good. There are times when killing another life form is necessary.

    “But when you become repeatedly and gratuitously insulting, you’re going to get added to the “banned commenter” list like Caledonian here.”

    or if you ask questions Rob dosn’t want to answer! Jeez chill out. You banned Jason but he was making the most sense in the whole comments.

    someone said

    “JASON : Only science can produce knowledge. Religion can’t.
    ME OR SOMEBODY ELSE : Yes it can.
    JASON : What?”

    but that was false. Jason asked “OK what knowledge”

    (Crickets chirping)

    Jason asked again and again and ROB never said what “knowledge” religion can produce, and, indeed, never gave the barest definition of knowledge.

    Jason’s point was that religion and religious practices can only generate belief. In fact, it starts with belief and ends with belief.

    that, my friends, is called a sterile environment. religion does not make someone have “nice feeling” toward another,

    what religion does is coerce people into obeying an accepted norm of behavior. This is sometimes necessary to ensure the continued existance of the genome. (note see Jews, Orthodox)

  179. #179 windy
    March 13, 2007

    FWIW I thought the question that got Jason banned was an excellent one. Perhaps someone could try to ignore the (admittedly grating) tone and answer the issue?

    Re: the kind of knowledge that religion provides: knowledge of God. Knowledge of our relationship to God. Knowledge of our faith and our relationship to that. Knowledge of God’s will.

    Really? So you think the belief “God wants me to kill the infidels” is knowledge, do you? You think the 9/11 terrorists knew that God wanted them to hijack the planes, do you?

    Assuming that religion can provide us knowledge of God’s will, it seems to me that Jason’s examples are as good examples of such knowledge as any. Are they?

  180. #180 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    Windy–

    The problem is that the answer to the question is bloody obvious. Of course religion has motivated people to do awful and terrible things over the years and over the centuries.

    Constantly pointing that out when asking the question whether or not religion has value, whether or not there is a kind of “knowledge” that can be explored via religion, is simply not useful.

    We also know that people using the scientific method have managed to come to incorrect conclusions in the past as well. If somebody says, “empirical understanding of how the Universe works,” and I come back and say, “Oh, so you would say that the steady-state Universe is valid knowledge, huh? You would say that cold fusion is valid knowledge, huh?,” is that at all useful to the discussion? Or is it simply a fine example of assholism?

    And it wasn’t that question that got Jason banned — it was the pattern, and the repeated grating tone.

    -Rob

  181. #181 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    Why answer awkward questions when it’s easier to ban the people asking them?

  182. #182 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    (Crickets chirping)

    Jason asked again and again and ROB never said what “knowledge” religion can produce, and, indeed, never gave the barest definition of knowledge.

    Dude, if you’re gonna flame me, please at least do me the favor of reading what has been written and not writing stuff that has been wrong.

    Jason asked again and again because any time anybody gave an answer, he’d immediately reject it as not valid. And I suspect you think any answer I’ve given isn’t valid– but that’s different from saying I never answered the question. (I didn’t answer Jason, specifically, because his style has been grating on me for so long that I’ve wanted to ignore him, but I have answered others who asked the same quesiton.)

    At some point, it becomes clear that he’s not capable of seeing that the answers we have are answers to his question. When he keeps asking, and becomes abusive in so doing, all point is drained out of the conversation.

  183. #183 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    Why answer awkward questions when it’s easier to ban the people asking them?

    Given who wrote this, clearly banning people doesn’t really work.

    Caledonian, I’ll just let you know, and ask you politely: you aren’t welcome here. Please do not post here. There are other fora where you can be heard.

  184. #184 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    As long as we’re throwing out Einstein quotes to try and shore up our points, heres another!

    “I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.”

    -Albert Einstein

    Weird… he contradicted himself… either way its a pretty foolish appeal to authority, when I did it just now, and when SM did it earlier.

    Francis Collins believes in a personal god, AND he sequenced the human genome? It doesn’t matter. His success as a scientists doesn’t validate is belief in the irrational just like his belief in the irrational doesn’t invalidate is success as a scientist.

  185. #185 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    Maybe Jason kept rejecting the responses as invalid because… they weren’t actually valid.

    I’m not seeing actual arguments, here. People aren’t defending the idea that religion can produce knowledge, or that faith is compatible with science, or that religion addressing different things than science and so is different than it but equally valid… they’re just asserting it, over and over.

    If a person frequently called “Jesus Christ” existed in Palestine roughly two thousand years ago, went around performing miracles, did some preaching, and was executed, all of that is entirely within the domain of scientific inquiry. If deities actually exist, they’re within the domain of scientific inquiry too, and so are the things they do.

    The only way for religion to be a non-overlapping magisterium in regards for science would be to restrict it from making any claims that had different implications when they’re taken to be true than when they’re false: in other words, only if religion is limited to claims that “aren’t even wrong”, because they’re not meaningful enough to be wrong. They don’t have any meaning at all, because they’re just the null position stated in a different way. You can’t derive conclusions from them, you can’t distinguish between their truth and falsehood (even in principle)… there’s nothing there.

    I most certainly do realize that religion isn’t physics. Nor it religion biology, neurology, psychology, or any other discipline that attempts to understand the world through inquiry, observation, and testing.

  186. #186 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    Caledonian, I’ll just let you know, and ask you politely: you aren’t welcome here. Please do not post here. There are other fora where you can be heard.

    How incredibly disingenous, coming from the guy complaining how the scientifically religious don’t get enough respect on ScienceBlogs and insisting that your viewpoint be addressed. There are plenty of other fora where you can be heard, yet you’ve insisted on bringing it here.

    If you can do it, why can’t Caledonian? You really are just reinforcing the point that anyone who disagrees with you needs to get lost or provoke you into banning them.

  187. #187 SM
    March 13, 2007

    As long as we’re throwing out Einstein quotes to try and shore up our points, heres another!

    “I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it.”

    -Albert Einstein

    The point wasn’t whether his belief in God was one that involved a personal relationship. Although many scientists do.

    The point was that all of the knowledge that he accumulated and all of his collective reasoning power (which I dare say is greater than yours and mine put together) led him to believe that there was a God just like many prominent scientists have including Planck, Einstein, Newton, Mendel, Faraday, Boyle, Kelvin, etc. to name a few.

  188. #188 Brad S
    March 13, 2007

    And my point was that it doesn’t matter whether or not Einstein does or doesn’t believe in any sort of god, or how he came to that conclusion which, at the end of the day, is still unsubstantiatable.

    Rob and his supporters have been so uppity about getting everyone to accept the fact that the beliefs are separate from the science, but when you try to throw out an appeal to authority that scientists consistently come to a belief, you aren’t doing that. You’re trying to insinuate that their superiority in science carries over to their superiority in reasoning about the metaphysical, that they’re somehow connected.

    You can’t have it both ways.

  189. #189 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    I find it ironic that the person who complains of rudeness refuses to address reasonable and polite questions presented to him.

    Perhaps the strategy is to be as rude as possible to such people, then ban them when they express their frustration. (It doesn’t seem to be working very well.)

    In vernacular English, the word “know” can be used to refer to conviction or emotional certainty. It should be clear to everyone that being convinced that a statement is true doesn’t make it so: that sort of “knowledge” isn’t even a superficially useful means to understanding and anticipating the world. More formally, especially in mathematics and the other sciences, we can only “know” something if we can reach it as a justified conclusion. We might still be wrong because we lack vital data, but it’s a conclusion that survies the most rigorous testing and examination we can bring to bear. That’s the kind of knowledge that applies to abstract reasoning.

    So: what kind of knowledge does religion produce? Can even a single example of abstract-reasoning knowledge arising from religion be offered?

  190. #190 Decline and Fall
    March 14, 2007

    You really are just reinforcing the point that anyone who disagrees with you needs to get lost or provoke you into banning them.

    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.

    This battle of the trolls is tedious, but it’s an object lesson in the irrational, dishonest way people argue when their oxes are gored–be they secular, religious, political or otherwise.

  191. #191 Brad S
    March 14, 2007

    Decline,

    I can admit that Jason was a touch polemic, but Caledonian has been pretty civil and distinctly untrollish, unless we’re equating disagreement and voicing of it to trolling.

    It seems to be that Caledonian has some concerns that haven’t been addressed sufficiently. You don’t get to say “Hey, look, the evidence I gave is sufficient for me so therefore it HAS to be sufficient for you.” If there is a general interested in explaining and convincing people, than it needs to be done rather than hinted at. As long as the dissent is civil, it should be addressed.

  192. #192 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Caledonian:

    So: what kind of knowledge does religion produce? Can even a single example of abstract-reasoning knowledge arising from religion be offered?

    So what was wrong with my example? I am prepared (I stated as such at the time) to accept that it might be a bad example, but so far, I’ve had no response.

    Incidentally, before you reply: The challenge was to come up with a piece of knowledge arising from religion. It was not to come up with a piece of knowledge that could not have arisen some other way.

  193. #193 windy
    March 14, 2007

    The problem is that the answer to the question is bloody obvious. Of course religion has motivated people to do awful and terrible things over the years and over the centuries. Constantly pointing that out…

    That wasn’t my intention at all – knowing God’s will, which might or might not be “God wants us to kill infidels”, was simply the only *concrete* example of such knowledge I could find in this thread. A positive or neutral example does just as well: “God wants us to be happy” or “God doesn’t want us to eat pork”.

    …when asking the question whether or not religion has value, whether or not there is a kind of “knowledge” that can be explored via religion, is simply not useful. We also know that people using the scientific method have managed to come to incorrect conclusions in the past as well.

    That’s right. And in science, there are ways of trying to weed out incorrect conclusions, and I assume they don’t apply to religion. “God wants us to kill infidels” is very much incorrect to you, but very much correct to many people. The claim can never be falsified. Like Abbie said: How can you evaluate this knowledge? What makes it knowledge instead of an opinion?

  194. #194 Leni
    March 14, 2007

    Psuedonym,

    Can you more clearly demonstrate that it was some specific religious concept that provided the basis for the refutation the particular ontological argument you are referring to? My guess is that the criticism was logical in nature, as opposed to religious. But I don’t know exactly which argument you are referring to.

    Although I must say it does seem rather ironic that the one bit of knowledge you offer happens to be that this particular argument for God doesn’t work.

    LOL. That is pretty funny. :)

  195. #195 windy
    March 14, 2007

    Pseudonym:
    So what was wrong with my example? I am prepared (I stated as such at the time) to accept that it might be a bad example, but so far, I’ve had no response.

    “Existence is not a predicate”? Was that the example?? What makes that a religious claim?

  196. #196 Davis
    March 14, 2007

    It really is an other way of knowing. I’m not trying to use “other ways of knowing” as code for “things that mainstream science has rejected.” I’m using it to mean a knowledge, understanding, meaning that is in its very nature different from scientific understanding.

    Aha. When you use the term “knowing” in this context, I gather its meaning is something different from what I mean when I say “I know it’s raining outside,” or “I know the Pythagorean Theorem is true in Euclidean geometry.” When I use the term “knowledge,” I mean it to describe something verifiable, something I can explain and demonstrate to someone else.

    Personally, I would prefer to have some other term for what you describe; at the very least, it would be nice to have a better descriptor than “other ways of knowing,” which carries too much baggage with its connection to the woo-crowd. And I suspect using a different word for it may eliminate some objections, because it sounds as though some folks understand the word in the same way I do.

  197. #197 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    Leni:

    Can you more clearly demonstrate that it was some specific religious concept that provided the basis for the refutation the particular ontological argument you are referring to?

    That’s not relevant, because it is not the question that was asked.

    You, and probably Jason and Caledonian, won’t ever agree that anything that only make sense within a specifically religious philosophical framework ever counts as “knowledge”, because it’s irrelevant to you. I’m cool with that. But it means that it would be a waste of time coming up with such an example, because anything that anyone comes up with you would just define not to be “knowledge”.

    So instead, I’ll head off that argument. That’s the philosophical equivalent of claiming that a theorem in some area of pure mathematics isn’t “knowledge” because it has no known practical application. Just because it’s useless doesn’t mean it’s not knowledge.

  198. #198 ThomasHobbes
    March 14, 2007

    “Existence is not a predicate”? Was that the example?? What makes that a religious claim?

    It nullifies the ontological argument for the existence of God, and simultaneously laid part of the groundwork for predicate calculus (so I am told). Thus, it asserted a logical conclusion about a religious argument (not an empirical one, mind you!) and in doing so provided the basis for a form of logic–knowledge, if ever such a thing existed. Of course, we might be charitable and even say that Gassendi’s objection on logical grounds is knowledge itself–a logically coherent, theological, non-scientific proposition. How you define “knowledge” will obviously influence your acceptance or rejection of this example.

  199. #199 HI
    March 14, 2007

    SM wrote:
    “The point was that all of the knowledge that he (Einstein) accumulated and all of his collective reasoning power (which I dare say is greater than yours and mine put together) led him to believe that there was a God just like many prominent scientists have including Planck, Einstein, Newton, Mendel, Faraday, Boyle, Kelvin, etc. to name a few.”

    But Einstein’s concept of God is radically different from what organized religions commonly mean by Gods, if you read what he said carefully. So, I think it is misleading to include Einstein as a believer when his God doesn’t look like God that other believers believe. Einstein’s view is something an atheist like me can understand and has little problem with.

    Rob’s concept of Christianity is also very different from what people typically mean by Christianity. To me, it is refreshing that he writes that he doesn’t “believe that Christians have exclusive access to theological truth” when so many Christians think only they are right and everyone else is wrong. But unlike Einstein’s God, Rob’s Christianity is really puzzling to me. I have two questions: (a) why he thinks that god is real just because believing in god has some positive effects and (b) why he still considers himself a Christian when his view of religion is so different from that of typical Christians and he doesn’t think that there is One True Religion.

  200. #200 Herb West
    March 14, 2007

    I’m bewildered by this knowledge argument. I know of no definition of knowledge that excludes religious experience. None of the definitions at Wiktionary, for example, exclude religious experience It(http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/knowledge).

    What are some other definitions of knowledge?

    I think a lot of commenters should review PZ’s three-part definition of science (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/03/what_is_science.php). Part 1 describes science as a body of knowledge. PZ does not define science as containing all knowledge.

    The scientific method is relatively young. Entire civilizations have risen and fallen long before the scientific revolution. The Romans created an empire spanning thousands of miles and millions of people and they did so without ever having heard of Sir Popper or falisication. Was the Roman empire formed without the benefit of knowledge?

    Most of the faculty at today’s Universities are not engaged in science and produce no scientific knowledge. Little of the knowledge gained from the humanities, arts, history, political science, economics, psychology and anthropology would fit into PZ’s definition of science and therefore wouldn’t be scientific knowledge. Much of the knowledge produced by the professional disciplines (law, medicine, engineering) is not scientific knowledge but rather is concerned with the physical skills, personal experiences and intuition that are acquired from practicing in those fields.

    Athletes don’t have scientific knowledge but they certainly have knowledge. The members of a basketball team all must share a knowledge of the rules and knowlege of strategies for out-scoring the opposing team. I can’t imagine classifying this knowledge as scientific. Generals and military strategiest possess an enormous amount of knowledge that isn’t scientific.

    I think some of the commenters here are engaging in an extreme form of reductionism and are apparently under the impression that said reductionism is trivial and obvious. I’d like to suggest that they read EO Wilson’s Consilience which discusses many of the issues involved in unifying the disparate fields of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Wilson didn’t take such unity for granted; he crafted an entire book-length argument trying to prove that consilience was both theoretically possible and realistically achievable albeit at some distant point in the future.

    The fact is that there are many kinds of knowledge in addition to scientific knowledge. Most knowledge collected throughout human history has been non-scientific knowledge. Religion does indeed produce knowledge. I bet there are entire libraries full of religion-produced knowledge in the Vatican and elsewhere.

  201. #201 Brad S
    March 14, 2007

    Herb West

    Yes, Consilience is a pretty good read. Looking back through my copy though, particularly the chapter on Ethics and Religion, Wilson seems to be arguing a great deal for an empirical basis for morality. This leaves something to be desired on how Wilson would propose to fit the subjective, strictly internal based knowledge proposed in this discussion within his own encompassing framework of knowledge. He gives mention to the opposing, transcendental basis for knowledge as important only that in proving its merit undeniably we would radically alter our outlook on everything. He didn’t seem convinced though.

    Correct me if I’m wrong?

  202. #202 windy
    March 14, 2007

    “Existence is not a predicate”? Was that the example?? What makes that a religious claim?
    It nullifies the ontological argument for the existence of God, and simultaneously laid part of the groundwork for predicate calculus (so I am told).

    That’s not the point – Gassendi might have *used* that claim in formulating his objection to the ontological argument, but it is a claim about all kinds of things, not just religious matters. “Every motion must have a cause” is not in itself a religious claim, although it is part of the “Prime mover” argument. It can just as well be part of the “Who *** **** threw a ball through my window” argument.

  203. #203 Uber
    March 14, 2007

    Honestly whatever Rob has to say is lost in his style and seeming defensiveness. Already I think I counted 3 banned individuals for really normal internet discussion while Rob himself attacked PZ Myers worse than anything anyone he banned typed in this discussion.

    Doesn’t say much for this blog or it’s future when you start banning those who point out the obvious flaws in your arguments and then get huffy about it over tone or a few typed words. Go over and see the fur fly at PZ’s or Ed’s and see how they handle posts. They don’t ban for a loooong time. And Jason, Mustafa, Caledonian etc didn’t deserve it. The fact you can’t/don’t want these very intelligent individuals as part of your website puts you in the same class as the DI and thats not good company. Go see real trolls at work and you’ll realize these fellas aren’t them.

    I think Jason got an answer of sorts. I will grant that theological thinking may have led to calculus.(I don’t know for certain)I would also view it as the exception rather than the norm. But this isn’t the type of religious activity or knowledge actually practiced by folks on the pews. That type of religion I think Jason is more right than wrong. It is belief and not any form of real knowledge.

  204. #204 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    windy, that’s actually entirely the point. The claim was that religion does not create knowledge. My example is a piece of knowledge created by religion. It is not a religion-specific piece of knowledge.

  205. #205 Uber
    March 14, 2007

    Herb West-

    I don’t think anyone is discounting the knowledge gained in the humanities. But that tends to be not a correct/incorrect type and is nevertheless empirical in nature with alot of evidence to support it. This is alot different than the religious issue being discussed. It is knowledge to know when the council of Nicea was held, but it is not knowledge to think Mary was a virgin who gave birth.

  206. #206 windy
    March 14, 2007

    windy, that’s actually entirely the point. The claim was that religion does not create knowledge. My example is a piece of knowledge created by religion. It is not a religion-specific piece of knowledge.

    It is just ‘knowledge’/a claim that was first thought out by a religious person. Maybe it was inspired by religion; so what? It isn’t religious knowledge any more than Newton’s religious motives make his physics religious knowledge.

    The bible implies that the ancestors of modern snakes had legs. Does that constitute a piece of knowledge created by religion?

  207. #207 Nick
    March 14, 2007

    Re: the kind of knowledge that religion provides: knowledge of God. Knowledge of our relationship to God. Knowledge of our faith and our relationship to that. Knowledge of God’s will.

    Definitions of ‘knowledge’ aside…

    It seems to me that Rob’s defined “God” as an entity that has no physical presence, doesn’t necessarily have any existence for some people, and is more-or-less an imaginary friend that [to paraphrase] ‘laughs when we laugh, cries when we cry, and supports us in times of need.’

    What you’ve done is redefine “God” to be something that has no direct action on the world except through the actions of individuals. But what good does that make God? Shouldn’t individuals be responsible for their actions? As another commenter suggests, God’s become a social construct for you. I don’t want to beg the questions you plan to address later too much more, but I’m having a hard time seeing where you’re going with this. An imaginary friend is still imaginary.

  208. #208 Kevembuangga
    March 14, 2007

    Rob, may I remind you that you have STILL not answered my question (and the posts of brtkrbzhnv, JimV, Cody) :

    Could you please deal with this, HOW does this “question” [what is the purpose of my life.] makes sense to you if you don’t ALREADY posit that there must be some purpose?

  209. #209 windy
    March 14, 2007

    (Herb, try ‘rational’ or ‘tested’ knowledge instead of ‘scientific’.)

    Was the Roman empire formed without the benefit of knowledge?

    Of course they had loads of knowledge: They knew that bird-watching reveals the will of the gods, and that distinguished leaders should be worshipped as gods, and that the head priest must not touch metal objects or ride a horse. How do you rate their religious knowledge compared to their indoor plumbing?

  210. #210 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    windy: If you want to know the context of my example, please read the thread.

  211. #211 windy
    March 14, 2007

    I have read the thread. I know that the first recorded instance of the statement is from Gassendi. That still doesn’t mean that it constitutes “religious knowledge”.

  212. #212 Dienekes
    March 14, 2007

    Wow, I clearly came late to the party. Now it seems to be down to whether those who were responsible for the sackings should have been sacked.

    Rob, I am impressed by the effort that this is clearly requiring, first in laying out your thoughts and beliefs in the hope of avoiding confusion, and second by your patience in dealing with those who are determined to be confused anyway. I’m sorry you have to wade through so much vile ad hominem nonsense to get to the worthwhile responses. I would have given up a long time ago. I guess looking at stars probably helps put all the flaming comments into perspective.

    It is great to see someone standing up for something that is vitally important. That thing is not belief. It is the idea that science has limits, that not everything that matters in life is amenable to the scientific method. People who insist that science can somehow disprove the existence of God are doing harm to science.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you’re doing a great job.

  213. #213 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    windy: The question asked for “knowledge from religion”, not “religious knowledge”.

  214. #214 Tulse
    March 14, 2007

    Rob, I’m still confused as to what the god you believe in can actually do. You seem to argue that it does not interact in any fashion in the material world, but if that’s the case, that seems to rule out any interaction with you (including answering prayers, providing comfort, etc.). If that’s the case, what’s the point of this belief?

    Pseudonym, philosophers of science commonly distinguish between the “context of discovery”, or how an idea is generated, and the “context of justification”, or how that idea is formally supported, how we become convinced that it is knowledge. The latter is the sole domain of science, whereas the former is essentially about the socio-psychology of creativity. While religion may very well play a role in the context of discovery, it does nothing for justifying (as knowledge) whatever ideas are generated.

    As an example of this distinction, when the chemist Kekule was trying to determine the arrangement of atoms in benzene, he dreamed of a snake biting its tail, and woke up realizing that one arrangement would be ring-shaped. That’s an interesting story about how he came up with the idea, but it tells us absolutely nothing about whether the idea itself is true (which had to be demonstrated by experimental chemistry). Ditto for religiously inspired notions.

    If all you are arguing is that religion provides a context of discovery for pieces of knowledge, I don’t think anyone will argue with that. But sources of creative inspiration are everywhere, and tell us nothing about the truth or falsity of the claim — what matters is how you justify your claims, and in that regard, religion has nothing to say.

  215. #215 Dave L
    March 14, 2007

    Leni:

    “You” are part of the world. So if it is a rational way to gain knowledge about yourself, then it is also a rational way to gain knowledge about the world.

    I disagree. If we are using ‘the world’ in the same sense, there is an emotional, essentially irrational, component to ourselves that does not apply to the world. Do emotional responses and insights really conform to the scientific method? Are determinations about the emotions you have for certain people strictly rational? I’d think that the processes you go through to determine this type of knowledge about yourself does not work well when analyzing the world, or vice versa.

    Thanks for the refreshing black hole mention though!

  216. #216 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    Caledonian and Jason were both refusing to actually engage in the argument at hand

    Elsewhere, you accused me of conflating the things religion and science does, and asserted that because I’d never addressed the point. You ought to be grateful when people don’t address your arguments, because it’s both a mercy and a courtesy. But since you’ve rejected the grace offered to you…

    I have said that religion and science do very different – in fact, mutually exclusive – things. Science is concerned with uncovering justified conclusions about reality through the use of reason, attempts to converge on truth, and useful models. Religion has nothing to do with any of that – it’s sets of belief systems whose premises are to be accepted at face value, that tolerates contradictions, that isn’t the least bit concerned with reality or truth.

    If you’re not willing to say that your religious faith says nothing about reality or existence, then you’re the one rejecting the non-overlapping magisteria, because you’re the one bringing religion onto science’s turf. Science deals with the real, religion the unreal, and that is the only way the two cannot overlap.

    But you, and people like you, insist that your religion deals with the real, and try to change the understanding of science so that it’s not incompatible with your faith. That is a corruption of both science and religion. It also demonstrates how little actual faith you have.

  217. #217 Larry Brooks
    March 14, 2007

    I regret that Rob’s posts on Physics don’t get as much response as this one on religion. Rob’s position is perfectly reasonable to me. My main reason for coming to the same point of view is that I have met so many people I have liked who are religious.

  218. #218 John B
    March 14, 2007

    Uber wrote:

    But that tends to be not a correct/incorrect type and is nevertheless empirical in nature with alot of evidence to support it. This is alot different than the religious issue being discussed. It is knowledge to know when the council of Nicea was held, but it is not knowledge to think Mary was a virgin who gave birth.

    Did you mean “knowing when [historians claim] the council of Nicea was held”? As far as I know, we have only traditional accounts from Church history for our date on the council, is that different from the traditional accounts of the virgin birth?

    I’m guessing the level of evidence required for setting the date of the council is fairly low, since we have no reason to question it. We don’t believe the virgin birth is possible, so our standards are different. That says more about our beliefs than it does about the evidence.

    On Evidence:

    The people I know who are religious see evidence for God’s existence every day. That’s what the ‘personal relationship’ means. Even their most secular activities are framed by their spiritual life. They interpret the most mundane occurences as an interaction with causal forces I can’t perceive. They have tried to demonstrate these things to me, to rule out coincidence, to argue for miracles (not ‘growing back a severed arm’ miracle, but usually synchronicity type things). When I give my interpretation, that our brains are designed to find the kind of patterns they are describing, they usually respond that my explanation of events serves my beliefs, protecting me from seeing reality.

    The evidence I can provide for my point of view is suspect to them (mistaking the mechanism for the cause). Their evidence is meaningless to me (usually arguments from authority). We both think the other person is running away from reality.

    To them, as a godless athiest, I can’t deal with the existence of God, or anything greater than myself. I’m afraid of judgement, rebelling against authority, unwilling to fulfill a burdensome purpose. To them, my materialism is a fascination with the derivative and inconsequential, whatever ‘truth’ I can claim is trivial, irrelevant to their purposes.

    Of course, I feel similarly about them: desire for comfort, issues with authority, misinterpretation of our purpose… Their spiritualism seems like a fascination with the irrelevant and the imaginary to me.

    My only point here is that people with different worldviews have different notions about evidence, when the religious people I know make a claim about physical events, they are usually explaining why events are occuring to them. The actual physical processes, the scientific element, are irrelevant to the explanation. My response of “you are being tricked by your own brain” is not convincing to them for obvious reasons, they usually feel I’m protecting my personal beliefs, not trying to address theirs.

  219. #219 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    Many of the sciences have no obvious direct benefit, like astronomy. But the purpose of astronomy isn’t to provide things with uses, but to gather information and further our understanding of the universe as a whole. That’s it’s purpose.

    If religion were about ways to gather information and further our understanding, why would anyone ask what its purpose was in a scientific age? That’s what science is all about: furthering our understanding. The practical benefits are just a side-effect.

    An even more interesting question: given that disbelief in a deity that actually exists and interacts is utterly incompatible with things like the Nicene Creed, what justifies the claim that a person with such a disbelief is a Christian?

  220. #220 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    I regret that Rob’s posts on Physics don’t get as much response as this one on religion. Rob’s position is perfectly reasonable to me. My main reason for coming to the same point of view is that I have met so many people I have liked who are religious.

    So when you say “reasonable”, you don’t mean “consistent with reason”, you mean “emotionally non-objectionable”?

  221. #221 Rob Knop
    March 14, 2007

    Re: the people who’ve been banned: they are two.

    Both the last thread and this thread has an awful lot of going around in circles, with one side sayign “X” and the other side saying “X isn’t a valid argument,” repeatedly. That’s frustrating. I’m always accused of not answering X or Y question. Often, I have, just not in a response where I quoted that person. I suppose I can’t expect you to read the whole thread, because it’s awfully long now, but please try to avoid accusing me of not having said something if you haven’t bothered to read the whole thread. But, sometimes that also happens because the answers that have been given aren’t considered valid by the questioner. Well, sorry. You’re better off thinking I’m stupid in that case. In which case Jason’s or PZ’s blog is a better place for you.

    The two who were banned– it wasn’t because they were disagreeing with me. Yes, it makes you feel very happy and fuzzy to think that Rob refuses to brook any argument because he just bans those who ask the hard questions, but that’s not what happened. What happened was that those who were repeatedly insulting (on the previous thread and on this thread) got banned.

    If you guys want to go get all happy and fuzzy together about how I’m an idiot, about how I’m vacuous, about how I’m nothing more than an object of ridicule, Jason has a thread set up all by himself which PZ has joined in on. Go there. That kind of stuff is welcome there.

    If you want to participate on this blog, repeated insult to those who think there might be knowledge or meaning other than science isn’t acceptable. Sorry, but that’s how it is. You have to be at least open to the notion that there’s something behind what the rest of us are thinking.

    I really wish Janet or somebody who really knows something about the building of knowledge would come in and say some things about knowledge that isn’t scientific (and yet doesn’t contradict science), but lacking that, I have to do the best I can. To you that sounds vacuous. To me, your assertion that you are so convinced that only science holds any real meaning is pigheaded. Your calling me vacuous and me calling you pigheaded gets us nowhere, so let’s try to avoid too much of that. Again, go to PZ’s or Jason’s blog, where people just love to talk about how stupid Rob is for that sort of thing.

    -Rob

  222. #222 John B
    March 14, 2007

    “Science deals with the real, religion the unreal, and that is the only way the two cannot overlap.”

    From my experience with religious people, most would claim the opposite: that material existence is only the arena of some larger religious journey… spiritual life is what is real. Still no overlap.

    Those people usually don’t bother becoming scientists, though.

  223. #223 Mark H.
    March 14, 2007

    John B, thanks for your input on the subject of evidence. It does demonstrate how discussions about personal perceptions of reality are doomed to failure.

    Rob, I’m very curious to learn more about why you call yourself a Christian. I look forward to a new post on the subject.

  224. #224 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    We’ve seen the statement you consider “insulting”.

    You defamed the majority (if not all) of the people who criticized your arguments by characterizing them as ‘flames’, which is a term that has a specific meaning that doesn’t fit any of the responses you’ve gotten here. You’ve refused to answer reasonable questions, ignored standards of reason, handwaved away logical objections and slandered those who pointed out that the Emperor’s clothes are lacking in substance. (Your insults towards PZ Myers alone ought to be distressing to everyone.)

    And you have the gall to claim that you’re under attack.

    Sadly, I find that many of the positive responders to these threads make two very common errors: they cannot distinguish between ad hominem arguments, insults, and critical statements; they use the term ‘reasonable’ to refer not to the proper use of reason, but to things that aren’t emotionally objectionable.

    In short, Mr. Knop, you have utterly failed to present a rational defense of your position. You’ve insulted the people who have pointed this out, and actively evaded the attempts of others to work you through the reasoning that demonstrates your error. This is a compelling demonstration that you don’t actually care about finding truth and reaching correctness – having one’s errors corrected is a valuable thing for people looking for truth.

    Reasoning with you is like giving medicine to the dead: a waste of resources with no hope of useful results. This is why so many commenters don’t bother trying to reason with you – even the people supporting you don’t reason, they just make expressions of social support.

    I recommend that you take a good, hard look at yourself and what you’ve become – assuming you still possess enough intellectual integrity for such a self-examination – and ask whether you have remained a person entitled to respect.

  225. #225 Mark H.
    March 14, 2007

    Rob: “…go to PZ’s or Jason’s blog.”

    Jason has a blog? What’s the address?

  226. #226 Rob Knop
    March 14, 2007

    We’ve seen the statement you consider “insulting”.

    “Time to stop administering medicine to dead people.”, you mean?

    Not only did I ban you (evidently to no avail), but I politely asked you to go away. You are fully free to agree that I’m being blind and thoughtless and closed-minded in asking you to go away, but please have at least the common decency to GO AWAY. You are pissing in somebody else’s house here. Please stop.

    -Rob

  227. #227 Rob Knop
    March 14, 2007

    (Your insults towards PZ Myers alone ought to be distressing to everyone.)

    And I see that I’m not the only one with a god whose worship other people can’t understand.

  228. #228 That guy
    March 14, 2007

    Rob, if you want this to be meaningful for me, a lifelong atheist living in a largely secular society with pretty much no personal contact at all with any sort of religious people, you have a lot of explaining to do. Please, tell me more about your religion and your god, and please, be specific. I’m very intrigued but I have no idea about where you’re coming from. It all seems very alien to me.

    To me, this whole thing seems a little like this:

    Rob: I have a car. I love my car. It’s very handy.

    Me: (Imagines a car) I think I’ll stick to my bike.

    Rob: But my car isn’t really for driving.

    Me: I guess you use a bike as well then. What’s so handy about the car?

    Rob: Actually it’s not really a car at all. In fact, it’s not a vehicle or even a mode of transportation.

    Me: Tell me more.

    Rob: The engine and wheels of my car are oh so nice for getting around.

    Me: ???

    In other words, you’ve completely lost me. You bring out the big G-word, and then start slicing away big chunks of the whole concept of a god as I know it. And when I’m struggling to relate to your words and starting to think that perhaps you’re talking more of something like an experience of god you smack me over the head with something like Knowledge of God’s will.

    You’re not giving me anough to work with. Tell me more about you and your religion. Don’t tell me about the arrogant atheists. I am one. Tell me about the Christian scientists.

  229. #229 Mark H.
    March 14, 2007

    ‘That guy’, I’m in the same situation.

    Rob, please stop teasing us. How about a post entitled: “Why I call myself a Christian”.

    This is not snark. I really am perplexed and fascinated by your faith.

  230. #230 Tulse
    March 14, 2007

    Please, tell me more about your religion and your god, and please, be specific.

    Not to be cheeky, but “amen”. Rob, I think a lot of the heated arguments here could be avoided if you were clearer about the position you are defending. Right now it is hard to see what precisely you are claiming, and so it is not surprising to me that many folks here are getting frustrated, and thus huffy.

    Just to recap as I see it (and as I’ve posted a few times, without a response): You believe that “God” does not interact with the world (“we don’t need God to explain how we came to be, how the world or Universe came to be, or how things work”). At the same time you see to claim that belief in such a completely impotent entity somehow provides “comfort” to you, even though it seems that by your own criteria, such an entity can have literally no direct impact on your life (since such a “God” can’t perform miracles, answer prayers, or even communicate with you in any way). So it seems that it is the belief that you value and derive comfort from, and not whether the belief is actually true. In other words, it seems that you find your belief therapeutic, even though it is a belief in an entity that can have no actual impact on you or the world.

    For myself (and probably many others), that is just bizarre, and is certainly not a reason to believe.

    Can you clarify more precisely what it is you do believe, so that more light can be added to the discussion?

  231. #231 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    I imagine that is what’s coming in later posts. But let me bring a few things to the table, as exploration.

    ‘Belief in such a completely impotent entity somehow provides “comfort” to you.’ People can be comforted by a lot of things. A smell, a person, a thought. I have yet to meet a definition of comfort that requires that the comfort must come from something which affects the world that you exist in.

    As a thought experiment, to a person in a prison, everyone outside of that jail is impotent, but thinking about their significant other, their son, their parents, their country, may give them hope. Even if those people are dead, or remarried, or the country destroyed, any number of things which the person outside that jail will never know. This is not the same (‘But their belief in an unchanging external universe is reasonable!’), but it can be considered similar. Ask yourself whether they should, once the jail door is closed, believe in nothing outside its walls for lack of evidence?

    ‘So it seems that it is the belief that you value and derive comfort from, and not whether the belief is actually true.’ How many times are people going to have to say that knowledge != Truth? Rob is not insisting that his belief is truth, or that you have to believe it, or that his is the only way, etc, etc, etc. This is not standard for the organized religions, but it is _very_ standard for philosophers and many casual religious such as Universal Unitarians and such. In a way, it can be that the belief gives comfort. Much like the belief that your best friend isn’t just using you gives confort. (After all. The paranoid in a thought experiment might ask, ‘Where’s the proof that they’re not just using you? Their carefully crafted lies about caring? Show me the measurements.’ Must we wait for perfect intent detection before believing in friends?)

    I had a whole bunch more blathering here, but this isn’t really the environment for it. I like philosophical discussions, but this has not really been one for the most part.

    -Mecha

  232. #232 Tulse
    March 14, 2007

    People can be comforted by a lot of things. A smell, a person, a thought. I have yet to meet a definition of comfort that requires that the comfort must come from something which affects the world that you exist in.

    And if Rob wants to say that his God is equivalent to a teddy bear, that’s fine, but I hardly see how that still counts a “religion” (or if so why believing in a comforting teddy bear wouldn’t).

    Perhaps more directly, if the “God” he believes in didn’t create the universe, wasn’t involved in any way in Rob’s genesis, and doesn’t interact with the world, I really don’t understand why such an entity would be comforting. I don’t understand why Rob would even care about such an entity, why he would think he has a personal relationship with it (since by his own definition it can’t impact his life directly in any way). There are plenty of cave fish that share with Rob’s “God” the qualities of not creating the universe or Rob, but have the advantage of actually interacting with the world. Why not take comfort from believing in them? They can at least potentially influence one’s world more than such a “God”.

    How many times are people going to have to say that knowledge != Truth?

    I’m not clear how that relates to the issue at hand — are you saying that Rob’s belief doesn’t have to be “true”, or that it can be “true” but not “knowledge”?

  233. #233 Kevembuangga
    March 14, 2007

    Rob : That’s frustrating. I’m always accused of not answering X or Y question. Often, I have, just not in a response where I quoted that person. I suppose I can’t expect you to read the whole thread, because it’s awfully long now, but please try to avoid accusing me of not having said something if you haven’t bothered to read the whole thread.

    To avoid frustration and bothersome thread scanning or repetitions to both of us could you please just point me to the place where you did answer my question :

    Could you please deal with this, HOW does this “question” [what is the purpose of my life.] makes sense to you if you don’t ALREADY posit that there must be some purpose?

    I would also appreciate if you could elaborate on WHY you find this insulting :

    “Time to stop administering medicine to dead people.”, you mean?

    To me it sounds only as a strong metaphor for what is perceived as your lack of answers and THIS is indeed a communication problem in this thread.
    I hope my question above is “simple” enough to be answered clearly, it does not even involve God, Knowledge, Religion, Dawkins or whatever seemingly controversial topic.

  234. #234 etbnc
    March 14, 2007

    Some notes and observations from the tip of an iceberg:

    What assumptions underlie the decisions and the behaviors demonstrated in this round of comments?

    What facets of the underwater parts of icebergs might we glimpse if we look below the surface?

    I find myself inferring some of these:

    Resolved: Science is an extension of high school debate club.

    Any statement of personal opinion exists only in the service of the previous item.

    Blogs exist solely to satisfy the personal needs of each individual reader. Those needs, of course, are to win in debate club.

    Methods that work well to obtain experimental results in laboratories can be, (must be?) applied to all aspects of human life. Even if those methods work badly when applied to life outside the lab.

    All of these assumptions, the decisions they lead to, and the behaviors thus demonstrated, are purely rational.

    That’s because it’s considered very bad to be irrational, and I know perfectly well that I am good. Therefore I must also be rational.

     

    Those are some underwater, below-the-surface facets of icebergs that I have observed. From other perspectives I can imagine other facets mights be seen.

    Cheers

  235. #235 Rob Knop
    March 14, 2007

    Kevembuangga — search for the following string. Read the comment that ends with that string:

    March 12, 2007 10:52 PM

  236. #236 K. Signal Eingang
    March 14, 2007

    Is this thing still going? Sheesh! Well here’s one more bit from me.

    You have to be at least open to the notion that there’s something behind what the rest of us are thinking.

    I think many of us are perfectly willing to accept that “there’s something behind what the rest of us are thinking”, it’s just we’re having a hard time distinguishing it from sheer wishfulness. Again, I was raised religiously, I understand the power of ritual and the comfort of the church community. I still don’t see how anybody gets from “these things are worthwhile” to “God exists”, especially when your own descriptions of your faith and what you believe God to be are so mushy. The poster named ‘That guy’ put it pretty aptly just now, I think.

    Frankly, I don’t think your appeals to the philosophy of science or the nature of knowledge are especially helpful here — it strikes me as a highfalutin smokescreen more than anything else, and the appeal to the humanities as some “other kind of knowledge” is weak. People can disagree about the relative rockin’ powers of Van Halen vs Dokken, say, but at least we can all agree that both Van Halen and Dokken actually exist, possess certain attributes, and produce music-esque sounds. Furthermore if one side of that argument was to claim that they were right because of a special kind of reasoning that was simply inaccessible to the other side, and not susceptible to explanation, we’d probably assume that side was not only not arguing seriously, but stoned as well.

    The answer I would come to, both in that hypothetical and this real case, is that the controversy just doesn’t matter. It’s a question of personal taste. Bringing it back to your original post, the question Dawkins has a problem with isn’t “what is the purpose of (my) existence”, it’s “what is the purpose of the existence of the universe“. It’s the framing of what should be a personal matter to determine and discover, and making it a universal one-size-fits-all Truth. Christianity, as laid out by the Gospels and Paul and Augustine and etcetera emphatically states that there is one all-encompassing truth, the same for everybody (the many-roads same-mountain stuff is all very nice to think but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that your God probably disapproves of suttee), and is pretty clear on certain points of it – the literal divinity of Christ, the existence of a God that hears prayers and performs miracles, an afterlife, etc.

    I’m more than content to live and let live, and I agree that PZ Myers isn’t necessarily doing atheists a favor with his frequently overreactive rabid pit bull act. However, as an atheist who’s both studied theology and retains a considerable interest in it, I do think that when you decide to come out swinging for whichever team you find yourself on, you ought to be able to make it pretty clear what it is you actually believe.

  237. #237 windy
    March 14, 2007

    (I’ll try to stop arguing this point after this one…)

    The question asked for “knowledge from religion”, not “religious knowledge”.

    “Existence is not a predicate” does not fit either of those definitions.

  238. #238 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    Rob you say: “Dude, if you’re gonna flame me, please at least do me the favor of reading what has been written and not writing stuff that has been wrong.”

    I say I read both threads, all the comments, understand your reluctance to answer the question, AND, declare that YOU have no idea what this thing you call knowledge other than scientific knowledge is except that it makes YOU FEEL all warm and fuzz inside. like a shot of whiskey.

    Pseudo,

    “If you will concede that philosophical knowledge is knowledge,”

    So sitting around arguing about religion produced knowledge of the ways about arguing about religion is the way religion produces knowledge?

    Well I guess. But I think then we could also say that sitting around arguing whether arguing about whether religion produced any knowledge except of of the ways arguing about religion ALSO produces knowledge of a similar kind, but not actually about religion.

    I think its a bad example. A good example would be:

    “God wants me to impregnate you and have many children”

    except the problem with that, as pointed out, is that the message could as easily be: “God wants me to chop your head off because you allowed your ankles to be seen by a man not a blood relative.”

    How does religion produce knowledge about its subject, GOD?

    .

  239. #239 Colugo
    March 14, 2007

    Rob:

    I am an “appeaser” atheist; I have disagreed with PZ and other hardliners on his blog and criticized the ‘New Atheists’ (Dawkins et al.) on several blogs. I defended you on the ‘Shoot me’ thread.

    And I have been on the receiving end of Jason and Caledonian’s rhetoric myself, and I agree that in addition to sometimes making good points they have a tendency to be gratuitously insulting. I value politeness.

    However, I think you’re being kind of thin-skinned; namely, the overuse of bans and the terms “troll” and “flame.” Well, it’s your blog.

  240. #240 JimV
    March 14, 2007

    These are honest questions, because some of them poke at a very interesting problem: It seems to me that agnosticism is a far more likely view, in a vacuum, for a scientist. Yet it’s all about atheists. Why? Why does not-God get the evidentiary nod? I see no problem with Rob believing in a god. And I see no problem with PZ not believing in one. But without evidence on either side?

    Well.

    -Mecha

    Posted by: Mecha | March 13, 2007 06:01

    I mostly keep my methaphorical mouth shut because the more voices the harder it is to hear what each other is saying; and, although my thoughts on the subject may seem unique to me, chances are they are not. And in fact I know the following is not, but it did occur to me before I saw other versions of it. Since nobody is still listening at this point anyway, why not have a go?

    If the argument is over whether no god exists or some god exists, then you are correct. However, the number of gods that might exist is only limited by our imaginations, even if we restrict them to those which are not (currently) detectible by any scientific measurement. For example, I could postulate a god who lives in Lisa Randal’s Gravity Brane and effects our brane subtly with gravity waves.

    Therefore, it seems to me, the chances of any specific god that human navel-gazing has produced actually existing is miniscule. To put it better, the more specific details one claims (without scientific evidence) for such a god, the more unlikely it is to exist in the claimed form. (Einstein’s non-personal god has some chance.)

    That is the basis for my atheism towards all gods that I have heard claims for so far – that, and the fact that I have seen no convincing evidence for them.

    I have a friend who is a firm Christian and claims to have had direct conversations with the Christian God, and thinks I should accept his word as evidence. I have asked him, the next time he talks to God, to ask for the six-digit number that is the password for one of my online accounts. He seemed to think that was an unfair question.

  241. #241 Decline and Fall
    March 14, 2007

    Kevin,

    Not being a believer myself, I can’t speak with any authority as to what kind of “knowledge about [religion's] subject, GOD” religion produces.

    But that’s not the subject which Pseudo was addressing. Pseudo was concerned with providing an example of knowledge that is not scientific. You’ve changed the terms of the debate here in order to avoid having to deal with the substance of Pseudo’s response, which was that at the very least, the ontological “proof” for the existence of God, and more particularly its refutation, produced knowledge regarding the limits of pure reason, which went on to inform, among other things, the scientific method. This is non-trivial knowledge to anyone who seeks to understand the human mind.

    Your “good example” is insulting, not because of the disdain it shows for your subject, but because of its utter irrelevance to the subject at hand. It’s not an example of philosophical knowledge, it’s an example of a dogmatic conclusion.

    I would posit “justice is mutual agreement” (also known as the Social Contract) as an example of non-scientific knowledge. Science can tell us a lot about this topic: neurology can inform us how the human mind comes to conclusions about justice, anthropology can give us insight into the social history of human cooperation and law, and biology can look into the biological and evolutionary reasons why we do the things we do.

    But none of these disciplines can answer the question: what is justice? At least not in a way that makes it relevant and important to people, which is the only reason for inquiring into it in the first place. It’s not an empirical question in the same sense that “what is a carbon atom” is, but the answers to it are important nonetheless.

    I should note here that religion has produced some of the other answers to the question, “what is justice.” No answer has been found that is universally satisfactory.

    So there’s another answer to the question of non-scientific knowledge.

  242. #242 Leni
    March 14, 2007

    Pseydonym wrote:

    That’s not relevant, because it is not the question that was asked.

    I was asking you to clarify your example and to say exactly how religious concepts produced the said knowledge. Because there are several variants of ontological arguments and I wasn’t sure which one you meant, nor which knowledge was produces. How is that not relevant?

    Anyway, a little while later ThomasHobbes did it for you, so you needn’t bother. Thank you Mr. Hobbes. Much appreciated. I’m still not sure if it counts or not. I don’t know enough about the details of the argument.

    The rest of your post was aimed at Jason and Caledonian and, aside from being snarky an truly irrelevant, had absolutely nothing to do with what I actually asked you.

  243. #243 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 14, 2007

    “…He seemed to think that was an unfair question.”

    Depends on whether one believes in a Transcendent God or an immanent God, or some mix of the two?

    The immanent God “sees every sparrow fall” and is involved in every person, organism, atom. That God’s omniscience includes all passwords. The Transcendent God is above, outside, beyond the physical universe; a Creator who does not (at least not frequently) tinker with His creation.

    Your question is similar to: “If He wants us to believe in Him, in this modern world, why didn’t the 10 Commandments include: “Ye shall send a spacecraft to Titan, where I have put seas of liquid ethane-methane”?

    See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God

  244. #244 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    Decline:

    But none of these disciplines can answer the question: what is justice? At least not in a way that makes it relevant and important to people, which is the only reason for inquiring into it in the first place. It’s not an empirical question in the same sense that “what is a carbon atom” is, but the answers to it are important nonetheless.

    “I should note here that religion has produced some of the other answers to the question, “what is justice.” No answer has been found that is universally satisfactory.
    So there’s another answer to the question of non-scientific knowledge. ”

    So you know what justice is? I would posit that you do not. You have an OPINION on what justice is. You cannot KNOW what is just because what you think is just and what another person thinks is just can be DIFFERENT and EQUALLY valid. This was expressed earlier as the question: “Is the color blue good?”

    You deride my examples for their “utter irrelevance” except that here you use the same contexts. Exactly, shall we say it is just to enact the punishment in example 2? Unjust? How do you know?

    Your claim “So there’s another answer to the question of non-scientific knowledge” is false. Your examples are opinion and convention, nothing more.

    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 facts; this does not make them wrong and it does not change the facts.

    I am enjoying this conversation. Please do not insult me, as I would then enjoy it less. (and then snark snark snark! :-))

  245. #245 Kevembuangga
    March 14, 2007

    Rob: Read the comment that ends with that string: March 12, 2007 10:52 PM

    I HAD seen that one, I even quoted it in my question :
    If you don’t think you need to think about what the purpose of life is, that’s fine. Other people do

    That does not address the point : Why do you NEED a purpose?
    Why, even if your faith “is changing”, does it still implies that there must be an “explanation” like, I am OK because this or that?
    As another way to put it, why do you need a “because” to feel OK?

  246. #246 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    JimV: Okay, so you don’t positively believe in singular gods you don’t have proof for. That makes sense. But is your response, ‘No proof either way, so I don’t know,’ or ‘No proof for your position, so it must be false?’ Agnostic versus Atheistic, Weak versus Strong Atheistic. On Scienceblogs, typically, the _second_ is treated as positively as the first, even though a strict logician would likely say, ‘Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’ (I’m of the opinion this is largely because of the greater societal environment, where atheists and agnostics of all sorts are the minority that the hardline religious fundamentalists are totally against? But if you’re going to be strict about it, a strong atheist should get no more credit for their position that there is no god than a religious person gets for theirs that is a god.)

    I like your statistical approach for reasoning for your position, but sadly it is not proof. It’s a nice intuitive mental picture, though, if not a strictly mathematical one (‘coz it’s not.) Of course, it only really works for justifying agnostics. The ‘there is no god’ part of the probability space of gods is small but finite as well (that’s one heck of a specific god choice!)

    But to come back to the core of the discussion, that reasoning is not science. Just inspired by it. It’s reasonable to a point, it makes sense, it’s not whacko crazy… but it’s not science. But it is knowledge, for you.

    -Mecha

    PS: Your Christian friend doesn’t get to present their viewpoint as unarguable Truth without being wrong. Too bad for them!

  247. #247 K. Signal Eingang
    March 14, 2007

    I like your statistical approach for reasoning for your position, but sadly it is not proof. It’s a nice intuitive mental picture, though, if not a strictly mathematical one (‘coz it’s not.) Of course, it only really works for justifying agnostics. The ‘there is no god’ part of the probability space of gods is small but finite as well (that’s one heck of a specific god choice!)

    That’s an odd use of “specific”. Ordinarily you’d use it when you are, say, “specifying” something. Atheists don’t specify what kind of god doesn’t exist, they think that all kinds of gods unexist equally. The fact that I can conjure up an infinite number of false or illogical proofs that 2+2=6 does not in any way suggest that there’s at least one valid one. I think JimV’s math is just fine.

  248. #248 Mike
    March 14, 2007

    Rob, like many of the others here, I too am lost watching the kind of contortions involved in defining and redefining your concept of god and other terms like reality, knowledge and reason. It’s no wonder the average God-fearing human doesn’t bother with it and just swallows the entire traditional God dogma. By declaring your God impervious to logic, experiment and any other tool (and even claiming that some of us don’t have access to the required emotion), you have shut down any ability to make progress in this conversation. And to go further, you have made peace with the idea that your God can defy logic and reason… something very odd from a physicist who would otherwise see such an area as ripe for investigation and new clarity. Yet you can just accept it.

    My only hope is that we do still not understand you. And we honestly do want to. When someone who grows up in the sciences and learns (by getting burned over and over) that believing in something without good reasons is a bad idea, we can’t help but think you must have good reasons.

    So, maybe an answer to the following would help us. You often use the terms emotion and spirituality together when describing either a human need or some interaction with the God you describe. But they seem different. Emotion implies internal experience of the world, and spirituality implies something more supernatural, that blurs the lines between internal and external and usually involves substances like souls and karma and others. Could you try to describe what you mean by these and where your God fits in?

    If for example, your God is purely an emotion, then we can probably move on. Many of the characteristics of an emotion like love are just how you describe your God. Its real, but you can only truly know about it by experiencing it; its comforting in some ways; the experience and aesthetic of it isn’t capturable by scientific means. However, its also quantifiable via MRI’s and the like, well categorized as an emotion and not something mystical, and probably even inducible via chemicals and electronics. Is your God like this? Or is your God also something sentient and with its own will?

    Thanks for the time.

  249. #249 Decline and Fall
    March 14, 2007

    OK, I’ll try to avoid the snark. I realize that I can be unpleasant. I apologize. I’m enjoying the conversation too.

    This gets to a question that Rob and others have asked repeatedly: what does it mean to “know” something. “I know that 2+2=4″ is different than “I know that injustice is bad” or “I know how you feel.”

    Your definition of “knowing” is valid, but only for things that can be measured, it seems to me. (Although it’s made more problematic by the Gettier Problem. I’ll let you look that one up rather than outline it here.) So it’s incomplete. More to the point of this post, however, Rob and others have argued that science deals with scientific things and religion deals with religious things. If you are going to define knowledge down to only that which can be known by measuring it, of course religion can’t know anything. Hence the cross-purposes of this conversation.

    You’re right, I don’t know what justice is. (I thought I did, but then I read Plato. Now I don’t know anything.) But that’s not the same as not having knowledge about justice. Every moment of critical inquiry into the topic improves my definition (to borrow rob’s phrase, I “asymptote towards the truth”). I don’t imagine that I will ever get to teleological certainty about the nature of justice, but I am still comfortable saying, “I know justice is good.” (Good being another concept, like justice, that one can’t “know” by your definition.)

    Religion, for the umpteenth time, is NOT science. That does not, however, equate to “religion cannot be a source of knowledge.”

  250. #250 Decline and Fall
    March 14, 2007

    OK, I’ll try to avoid the snark. I realize that I can be unpleasant. I apologize. I’m enjoying the conversation too.

    This gets to a question that Rob and others have asked repeatedly: what does it mean to “know” something. “I know that 2+2=4″ is different than “I know that injustice is bad” or “I know how you feel.”

    Your definition of “knowing” is valid, but only for things that can be measured, it seems to me. (Although it’s made more problematic by the Gettier Problem. I’ll let you look that one up rather than outline it here.) So it’s incomplete. More to the point of this post, however, Rob and others have argued that science deals with scientific things and religion deals with religious things. If you are going to define knowledge down to only that which can be known by measuring it, of course religion can’t know anything. Hence the cross-purposes of this conversation.

    You’re right, I don’t know what justice is. (I thought I did, but then I read Plato. Now I don’t know anything.) But that’s not the same as not having knowledge about justice. Every moment of critical inquiry into the topic improves my definition (to borrow rob’s phrase, I “asymptote towards the truth”). I don’t imagine that I will ever get to teleological certainty about the nature of justice, but I am still comfortable saying, “I know justice is good.” (Good being another concept, like justice, that one can’t “know” by your definition.)

    Religion, for the umpteenth time, is NOT science. That does not, however, equate to “religion cannot be a source of knowledge.”

  251. #251 Larry Brooks
    March 14, 2007

    Caledonian:

    So when you say “reasonable”, you don’t mean “consistent with reason”, you mean “emotionally non-objectionable”?

    You have to say whether the argument is about:

    - Religion
    - People who say they are religious
    - the existence of God

    I agree the last question is generally meaningless.
    “Religion” spans a very wide gamut even if you stick within Christianity. It is impossible to discuss unless you narrow it down much further. On people, I have know many who have been inspired by religion to do much good. So I go beyond “non-objectionable” to saying it benefits many people. (Of course, neither ones beliefs in religion or science guarantees a person will be compassionate.) I pose this question:

    There is no logical reason people should wear clothes at social events. Should a scientist require all guests to remove their clothes?

  252. #252 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    “There is no logical reason people should wear clothes at social events”

    OH yes there is! I don’t want to see those pale, fat, ugly nerd-like science person bodies! Keep your clothes on.

    Now if is a social event with playboy bunnies then maybe we can argue up an exception.

    also your follow up question should be:

    “Should a scientist conclude that all guests will remove their clothes?”

    and the scientist will say: “well let’s have a party and find out!”

  253. #253 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    K. Signal: Um, actually. ‘There is no god’ is a very specific proposal (as opposed to any other of the variety of agnostic and weak atheistic positions.) And the argument isn’t a solid one mathematically, because there is no a priori or probability distribution known for gods. Among other things. Which is why I say it’s a nice intuition, but it’s not a proof.

    To more aptly point out the _metaphor_ that is being used here, however, if you consider the case where only one ‘god belief set’ is true, the ‘no god’ set could be expressed as a null set. That’s the strong atheist ‘there is no god’ position. It’s one of the choices. Then there’s a bunch of other sets that contain various gods. But the no god set is, in fact, one of them. Again. Being a strict logician, one does not get to claim ‘there is no god unless you can prove one of them.’ Not in an absolute manner. Where’s the proof for the non-god position? Nowhere. Is there a probability distribution for these gods? Is one god less or more likely than another? Nobody actually knows. It is _intuitively appealing_ to say that X god is more likely than Y god, and perhaps that no god is more likely than all of them, but there is no actual proof. No rock hard math. It’s science and math _inspired_, but it is not science and math, not proof. Not logic. It just sounds nice.

    Your 2+2 = 6 comparison is really weird, because I am not arguing that there is a specific single god, especially because I don’t believe in one. What I am have said is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Which is true. The lack of a proof of 2+2 = 6 does not prove it can’t happen. The _proof_ that 2+2 != 6 proves that it doesn’t exist (at least in the standard number system, blah blah redefinitioncakes.) If you don’t have a proof for something (say, P = NP), you don’t assume that the opposite is true. You just don’t know.

    I’m just talking about the metaphors JimV was using that sprung from math, and how it had a hole in it. Which it does. A few of them, actually. It happens.

    -Mecha

  254. #254 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    (As a more amusing mental note, the ‘godspace as probabilities’ makes me think of a giant ‘Wheel of Godspace’, where every possible singular belief about god exists and can be spun, because that was one of the first metaphors for a continuous probability space I ever heard.

    *tickticktickticktick… tick… tick…* You landed on a watchmaker god that doesn’t care about you! And she landed on no god at all! And he refuses to spin, so he’s agnostic!

    Ahem.)

    -Mecha

  255. #255 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    “Where’s the proof for the non-god position?”

    OH PLEASE. you’re going make us prove that each god you make up does not exist? I’m going with the feeling that the burden on proof is on those that think invisible heatless dragons exist to prove to me that they do and not the other way around.

    or we can always use the: “If god exists he will stike me dead right now!” argument….

  256. #256 Uber
    March 14, 2007

    Good grief Rob I share some sentiment for your position but your just so worng when you use statements like these:

    If you want to participate on this blog, repeated insult to those who think there might be knowledge or meaning other than science isn’t acceptable.

    Who says this? They asked what knowledge religion brings, it’s a more than fair question. The answer given was a hint of calculus based on an argument that broke down another argument. That was it. I have never read any atheist think science is the only form of meaning. Your fighting strawmen.

    You are fully free to agree that I’m being blind and thoughtless and closed-minded in asking you to go away, but please have at least the common decency to GO AWAY. You are pissing in somebody else’s house here. Please

    Caledonian has done nothing but spur discussion here and frankly he has been more civil than you especially when you make comments like the one below:

    And I see that I’m not the only one with a god whose worship other people can’t understand.

    Sheeesh, you say he worships PZ when all he did was state you insulted him–which you did. Your obvious problem with PZ bleeds into your writing and makes you look hypocritical.

    And I generally agree with your initial post. The way you conduct yourself in the discussion of it leaves alot to be desired.

  257. #257 Larry Brooks
    March 14, 2007

    Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that there aspects of life that are outside the domain of logic (such as art, justice, emotion, compassion, love) ?

  258. #258 Brandon
    March 14, 2007

    It seems the “God is pointless” argument stems from the premise that truth is, not just the most important, but the only important virtue. The fact is, though, that even a lie can have constructive purposes. Let me give you an example. Last December, I was working in a soup kitchen when I met a man who had just gotten out of prison. He told me that while he was in prison, he found Jesus, converted to Christianity, and now wanted to redeem himself by helping others.

    Even though I’m Jewish and a physics major, I congratulated him and wished him the best.

    What should I have told him? “Sorry, but there’s scientific proof that the Bible is wrong, so you should go back to robbing convenience stores?” “It’s great that you found religion, but you could have reformed another way, so you suck?”

    Please guys, explain to me what the rational, emotionless scientist should have done in that situation.

  259. #259 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    Kevin: You’re misunderstanding me. I don’t say you have to prove against every single god (if you want to be proofy.) If ‘There is no god’ is a strong enough argument on its own, you should be able to prove it by itself (if you demand proof.) Whether that is direct, or by proving that every god that everyone comes up with cannot exist, I don’t care, but you don’t just get to 1) Hold that there absolutely is no god and 2) Make everyone else prove their position without proving yours (if proof is demanded.)

    Agnosticism does not require any real proof, if you are attacking it scientifically, only reasonable doubt that there is a single answer. Agnosticism is the position of lack of proof. Strong atheism (There is no god) does require proof, if you are attacking it scientifically. So does theism (There is a god) if you’re attacking it from a ‘something needs proof’ angle. Rob is content to say, ‘I can’t defend it with proof, because it’s unprovable, nonscientific, doesn’t affect you, and the belief isn’t involved in science at all’ If an atheist wants to do that, that’s their call. But you don’t get to hide behind science while doing it and claim you’re being scientific.

    There’s so much excluded middle problems and atheism versus agnosticism and everything that it makes my head spin. Sheesh. Atheism (There is no god) is different from Agnosticism (I don’t know whether there is a god of some sort or not) is different from theism (There is a god.) Two of them make specific claims. One of them does not. If you’re complaining that theism needs proof, then you have to accept that atheism needs proof, or admit to making an assumption.

    -Mecha

  260. #260 DavidD
    March 14, 2007

    Rob, as hard as it is to be heard among those who say all Christians must believe in God as Creator, that to say otherwise is a lie, I’m glad you don’t mind making yourself an example of what happens to a liberal Christian who says no, you don’t believe that. I agree with you that there is experience for God being sustainer and redeemer, which while subjective, is compelling enough for some of us. My favorite definition of God is that God is who answers when I pray, “God help me!” I can imagine how that would be insulted by atheists and fundamentalists alike. I don’t care. It’s my definition. It works for what I know. I don’t think their definitions of “God” make any sense at all today, yet so many just want to keep fighting on that basis. It’s a free country.

  261. #261 Caliban
    March 14, 2007

    Mecha, What you’re missing in your agnostic/atheist/theist definitions, is that agnosticism is not a “middle ground” between belief and unbelief.

    The agnostic still must answer weather or not he/she has a belief in god(s). If the answer is: “i don’t know”, then the agnostic is a “weak” atheist because he does not have a belief in gods. It doesn’t matter if the reason one doesn’t have a belief is “i don’t know” or “i can’t know”. If the belief is absent, the agnostic is really an atheist. Albeit, a “weak” one.

    I also think your “notGod Set” argument boils down to nothing more than an argument from ignorance. There are not just “notGod sets” there are an infinite number of “not-everything one could possibly think of-sets”. To say that because one cannot prove that an infinite number of Not-sets don’t exist, is to position ones’ self in the postition of NEVER being able to say anything postive about anything.

    There are very good reasons for the burden of proof resting with the one making the postive claim. Without it, every claim ends up in a infite “agnostic” ignorance regress where nothing can be established.

    Besides, the wholle issue of Proof is irrelevant to the god question anyway. Science doesn’t deal in absolute proofs. Every “fact” of scienfitic knowledge is tentative. The question is not weather you can abosolutely proove X, but rather, is X reasonable to accept or not?

  262. #262 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    “then you have to accept that atheism needs proof, or admit to making an assumption” – Mecha

    Why do I have to prove that something dosen’t exist? I was told by my invisible dragon that god does not exist and that’s good enough for me!

    but seriously, I say, there is no evidence that god exists. it is therefor logical to conclude that he does not exist. Just because some people in the past and some people in the present assert, without proof, that god exists is not a valid reason for me to believe.

    you may protest that there are plenty of things for which there is no evidence that they exist, and yet you believe they exist. say visitors from another galaxy doing experiments on cows.

    we’ve detected so ships, no lifeforms, have received no messages, the cows vivisections, while odd, can and should have a natural cause…I therefor logically conclude that we have no visitors from space doing things to cows.

    .

  263. #263 Tulse
    March 14, 2007

    It seems the “God is pointless” argument stems from the premise that truth is, not just the most important, but the only important virtue. The fact is, though, that even a lie can have constructive purposes.

    Of course it can. That’s not at issue. Even Dawkins would acknowledge that some people derive great secondary benefit from religious belief. The same is true for belief in homeopathy, or UFOs, or leprechauns. And if someone came up to me in a soup kitchen and said that Rigelians had taken him up into their flying saucer and convinced him to turn his life around and help others, I likely would respond just as compassionately and unchallengingly as you did. So? Would you then grant that believing in God is equivalent to believing in Rigelians with flying saucers?

  264. #264 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    ‘There is no evidence that P = NP. Therefore P != NP.’ ‘There is no proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. Therefore it is false.’ (Er, wait, that one’s not so true anymore!)
    ‘There is no evidence that god exists. Therefore, god does not exist.’

    No. No, no, and no. A thousand times no. No sane logician would accept your logic.

    You do not have to accept that P = NP, or that gods exist, without proof. But you cannot say that there is no god without proving it, _if you demand proof that gods exist_. That is called putting the burden of proof on the other side. It is a logical fallacy. If you demand proof from others, you must demand proof from yourself on the same topic.

    You CAN say, in the ‘proof is demanded’ view, that you don’t believe in any particular god, as per the weak atheist/agnostic ‘doubt’ position. That’s fine. That doesn’t generally require proof, because it doesn’t make any actual statements about anyone but you (and because nobody has proof on the topic, you won’t be hit by either side, effectively, with proof that their side is true.) But _you must say this, and admit this_.

    This is really, really, really basic stuff. I realize it challenges your assumptions, but it’s… really basic. I can’t make it clearer. I really cannot. I have used nearly every single basic way of explaining that if you demand evidence to prove things, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but that it’s a damn good reason to not accept the arguments of either side without some actual evidence, and goes both ways.

    You have no evidence that god does not exist. Therefore a god must exist? I think not. But that is the position you are trying to hold, flipped around.

    I see 3 choices:
    1) Change your opinion on god or the usage of scientific proof in such an argument.
    2) Admit that you’re misphrasing, and are weak atheist/agnostic (don’t happen to believe in any particular god/don’t think we can know if there’s a god).
    3) Prove that god does not exist.

    I would welcome any of them.

    -Mecha

  265. #265 Caliban
    March 14, 2007

    Mecha, You’re still missing it. No one here is talking about “proving” anything. Absolute proofs are not required to accept or reject a given belief. You cannot “prove” absoloutely, the theory evolution or the theory of heliocentricity. You can, however, offer very solid mountains of evidence in thier favour. If no evidence for a claim can be found it is not rational to subscribe to that claim. No “proofs” are required.

  266. #266 John B
    March 14, 2007

    No one is going to prove anything to anyone in these comments.

    Rob doesn’t have to ‘defend’ his position against anyone’s ‘attacks’, he has already interested some people in his particular beliefs, whether or not they agree they are willing to hear him out.

    All this philosophical, epistemological stuff is just a side-track on the course he has set. It’s the same tired BS no one has ever satisfied anybody with. Go search the alt.atheism archives ten years back and you can see the same argument about proofs of god, reason and faith, etc… No one needs Rob’s beliefs to look for those answers, it’s the goddamn neverending story of online atheism vs online christians/deist/whatever.

  267. #267 Mike
    March 14, 2007

    Mecha, there seems to be an issue in this discussion even about the word proof. You just wrote “scientific proof” which is very misleading. Mathematics and logic have proofs, but science doesn’t independent of those things. Evidence doesn’t necessarily (and most often doesn’t except in trivial cases) lead to proof. Caliban’s post above hits this exactly on the head.

    This is important because you are writing about logical proofs, and everyone else is talking about evidence. No evidence for a god is consistent with the theory that there is no god. It is more reasonable to believe there is no god when there is no evidence or no scientific need to believe in god. None of this has to do with proof.

  268. #268 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    I’m a normal person. Have I seen God?
    “Yes I have”

    Literally

    “Yes” – in the flesh (Jesus)

    In order to find God, you have to search for him… In order to find any answer, you have to look for it. Did you know I existed before I posted this blog…? No, you didn’t. I once thought there was no God. Then I questioned on how to find him. “Repent” was the answer. So, I repented with the same motives as God. Two months later I saw God. -Literally). I’m a repenting Christian, I don’t lie. Dose all repenting Christians see God literally? No. Dose all repenting Christians see God in someway? YES

  269. #269 Mecha
    March 14, 2007

    “there is no evidence that god exists. it is therefor logical to conclude that he does not exist. Just because some people in the past and some people in the present assert, without proof, that god exists is not a valid reason for me to believe.”

    That is just one example. Lots of people are talking about proving anything. Lots. And lots. And lots.

    There is no evidence that god does not exist, either. Is there? Did I miss something? Or is ‘God does not exist’ not a statement one can make in this world that deserves to be proven?

    The people arguing with Rob, the ones that maintain that atheism is the only option for a scientist, the ones that maintain, without proof, that there is no god, are the ones demanding science. Demanding proof. Demanding evidence. Coming up with nice pseudo-mathematical explainations of their intuition. I probe to see if they would have any if I were to ask the question of them. Is there any evidence of that position? ‘I haven’t seen any evidence for god, so there isn’t one.’ Is that not the core of ‘argument from ignorance’?

    Where’s the real argument? Where’s the real foundation? It’s not scientific, and some people even are willing to say so. It’s not skeptical. Pure skeptics would no more believe in no god than they would believe in a god. But that’s the claim. It’s scientific. It’s rational. It’s logical. It’s provable. So please, back it up. Or rexamine your position.

    I can’t keep reitering this. This starts my essential wind down on the topic. If there’s other interesting things that come up, maybe, but… yeah. Considering I’m not even a theist, arguing this from a viewpoint of exploration and interest has gone far enough. Sorry if I missed a response from someone, but I think I managed to cover most of it.

    -Mecha

  270. #270 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    I’m Posting this twice. Thanks

    I’m a normal person. Have I seen God?
    “Yes I have”

    Literally

    “Yes” – in the flesh (Jesus)

    In order to find God, you have to search for him… In order to find any answer, you have to look for it. Did you know I existed before I posted this blog…? No, you didn’t. I once thought there was no God. Then I questioned on how to find him. “Repent” was the answer. So, I repented with the same motives as God. Two months later I saw God. -Literally). I’m a repenting Christian, I don’t lie. Dose all repenting Christians see God literally? No. Dose all repenting Christians see God in someway? YES

  271. #271 Mike
    March 14, 2007

    “there is no evidence that god exists. it is therefor logical to conclude that he does not exist.”

    A better way to say that would be… “There is no evidence that god exists. It is therefore reasonable to believe that he does not exist.”

    I think that should satisfy Mecha’s dis-taste for the language being used. But Mecha, you need to realize people here are not talking about proof of the logical sort, even if they mix up the terms. I think everyone is asking the question; Based on the evidence we have, is it more reasonable to believe in god or no-god”? If we have no evidence, then no-god should be the answer. Right?

  272. #272 Pseudonym
    March 14, 2007

    John B:

    No one is going to prove anything to anyone in these comments.

    You’re absolutely right.

    Look, I’m going to bow out of this thread. It’s taking up way too much time. I get paid to do science, and I think my efforts are better spent doing that than arguing here. :-)

    Rather than repeat myself, I’ll leave with a couple of comments that I hope will bring all sides together.

    On the topic of knowledge, I agree with everyone who pointed out that the “knowledge” gained in the humanities is different from “knowledge” gained in science, but it’s all knowledge. Similarly, “knowledge” gained in theology may be useless to pretty much everyone, but it’s all knowledge.

    You really don’t need specific examples. All you need to do is appreciate that something doesn’t have to be any damn use at all to be “knowledge”. If you appreciate that, then you can appreciate that the study of what Jesus of Nazareth or Paul of Tarsus thought about some issue, or what some (largely arbitrary, in your view) philosophical system says about some issue is also “knowledge”.

    One last thought. Reading between the lines, and filtering out the trolls, I think the real subtext here is that the effort expended on Christianity in some parts of the world is extremely disproportionate to its usefulness. A lot of ink has been spilled on religion and theology, especially the more useless parts of it, and if even half of that had been spent on science instead, humanity would have achieved a lot more than it has.

    How about we just all agree on that much, and then move on?

    I eagerly away Rob’s next post in this series.

  273. #273 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    If we have no evidence, then God dose exist.
    The opposite of everything is nothing.
    There is life and then, there is no life.
    There is God and there is no God.- God being everything and No God being nothing.
    What do we rely on for evidence?
    I suppose everything.

  274. #274 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    You are pissing in somebody else’s house here.

    Ooh, classy.

    In a forum associated with increasing the general public’s understanding of science, you are lying about the nature of science and its relationship with religious thought.

    Further, you’ve rude, dismissive without cause, grossly insulting both to our persons and our intelligence, evasive, and willfully uncomprehending.

    Not only are you extraordinarily ignorant of the nature of scientific thought, your behavior is utterly incompatible with Christian ideals.

    I’m confident the Discovery Institute would welcome you with open arms.

  275. #275 Corkscrew
    March 14, 2007

    Didn’t comment on the “So I’m a Christian” article because I’d figured others would express my sentiment better, but obviously the trolls got there first. So…

    Whilst I don’t agree with what you say, I like that you feel able to say it, and I’m interested in the justifications you provide for it. Keep up the good posting, and encourage others to do the same.

    Incidentally, the remark about scientists’ “arrogant mistake” is, I feel, conflating definitions of “knowledge”. You’re using it in a broader sense than Dawkins – if I understand correctly, your version would include personal opinions as well as hard facts.

  276. #276 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    -I was actually answering a question of mikes. Sorry if it made you upset cale. My answer was another view that some people feel is true. It certainly wasn’t meaning to provoke anyone. I apologize if I caused you grief.

  277. #277 Leni
    March 14, 2007

    Mecha:

    There is no evidence that god does not exist, either. Is there? Did I miss something? Or is ‘God does not exist’ not a statement one can make in this world that deserves to be proven?

    Mecha, things that don’t exist can’t leave evidence.

    There is no trail, no smoking gun. No evidential wake.

    Similarily, one can not construct a logical argument against something without a coherent description. If the description is incoherent, then any argument relying on that description is fatally flawed.

  278. #278 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    Why is the bible not evidence of Gods existence? And why arnt peoples current testimony`s today evidence?

  279. #279 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    Pretend for a second that I’m you. I see God literally.
    How do I go about telling people, who have strong atheistic beliefs, that I saw him?
    That’s where I am… I wouldn’t be in this blog if it weren’t for God.

  280. #280 Rob Knop
    March 14, 2007

    Caledonian has done nothing but spur discussion here

    So the following are all examples of spurring discussion?

    “I have to agree with a previous poster – this is just sad.”

    “Time to stop administering medicine to dead people.”

    “Reasoning with you is like giving medicine to the dead: a waste of resources with no hope of useful results.”

    “I recommend that you take a good, hard look at yourself and what you’ve become – assuming you still possess enough intellectual integrity for such a self-examination – and ask whether you have remained a person entitled to respect.”

    No, nothing gratuitously insulting in there, mmm-mmm.

    -Rob

  281. #281 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    That’s even sadder.

  282. #282 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    On the topic of knowledge, I agree with everyone who pointed out that the “knowledge” gained in the humanities is different from “knowledge” gained in science, but it’s all knowledge. Similarly, “knowledge” gained in theology may be useless to pretty much everyone, but it’s all knowledge.

    You really don’t need specific examples. All you need to do is appreciate that something doesn’t have to be any damn use at all to be “knowledge”.

    Utility isn’t the point; that’s a strawman. Astronomy has no practical use – the knowledge it gives us is (at present, and for the forseeable future) only useful to understand and predict astronomical phenomena.

    It’s not utility that determines whether a thing is knowledge, it’s whether the conclusion is justified. The study of logic produces knowledge. The study of what people believe in religions produces knowledge – about what people believe. The study of god… there is no such study, because there’s nothing there to study in the first place.

  283. #283 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    God gives man the choice to believe he’s real or not. You can choose for him to be non- existing or you can choose for him to be real. Why are people going to church every Sunday? Are they going to gather and study nothing? Obviously they have a brain. True they might not be studying the right religion. But are scientists always studying the right science? No… they can be wrong sometimes in their theories. If you think some people are brainless and others are not then I’d question yourself.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the earth being 6-7 thousand years old. Now according to the bible there was a flood… I believe there was. Could this flood not of caused the dinosaurs to die and for there bones to sink further into the ground.
    Here me out – when something’s on mud it begins to sink. If the ground settled in such a way, the bones could have seemed millions of year old. When in reality they just sunk.

    To me that makes more sense, then dinosaurs getting hit by a meteor. Then what about carbon 14 dating- how accurate is that?

    Someone tell me how wrong I am?

  284. #284 Kevin
    March 14, 2007

    “but obviously the trolls got there first”

    I’ve read both threads. I did not see any trolls or troll-like behavior. I read mostly well-reasoned statements and decidely upfront comments. Therfor I conclude that there were no trolls on this thread.

    except for Josh but he just showed up. I think he is one of those fake belief trolls. If not he’s been wacked in the head with a stick one too many times.

  285. #285 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    You’re wrong. Very wrong.

    Look at the first two sentences. Even accepting the first as a premise, the second not only doesn’t follow, but isn’t related to the first. We might choose to believe that something called ‘God’ is real, or we might choose not to – but we never choose the reality of the situation, because if we could decide what was real merely by deciding, the first sentence wouldn’t hold.

    The rest of your post follows in similiar fashion, only more so.

  286. #286 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    Rob I’m glad you posted this blog… You’re a good teacher. -People clearly need God.

    Kevin you never even questioned anything I said. And cale you can interpret something of mine in your own ways, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what I was trying to say.
    No I have not been whacked in the head by a stick.

    Yes I have seen God literally. Believe me or not,
    I do care. I love people.

    But ill tell you again I’m a repenting Christian I don’t lie. If you’d like I can tell you my testimony.

  287. #287 Norman Doering
    March 14, 2007

    I tried to explain what Rob Knop meant by getting knowledge from art here:
    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2007/03/rob-knop-and-gospel-according-to-harvey.html

  288. #288 Josh
    March 14, 2007

    Cale it looks like you already have a side.

    I can’t make you leave that side.
    Only God can…

    How you talked to me tonight… That’s how you would have talked to God. -Interpret the right way

  289. #289 mollishka
    March 14, 2007

    You know, Rob, I used to be able to follow the comments on your blog, but now that you’re, ah, popular?, it’s somewhat more difficult …

  290. #290 JimV
    March 14, 2007

    I didn’t regret making my last comment as much as I thought I would, so I’ll risk it one more time. Hope I’m not being too defensive, but there might have been some slight misunderstandings (probably my fault if so).

    Thanks to everyone who responded to my comment (and to our host for this thread).

    I realize and acknowledge that I was not making a mathematically rigorous argument, but rather an appeal to intuition, in my attempt to answer the question, why might one lean toward atheism rather than agnosticism (in the absence of convincing evidence). There are other intuitive arguments also (see Feynman’s comment “The stage is too big for the play,” for example). If such intuitions appeal to some, then the question is answered; if not, not. Yes, there have been cases in which I have seen the universe act in a counter-intuitive way – but it always comes as a surprise. (Probably should put an emoticon there, but I’m too old-fashioned.)

    I dragged in the anecdote at the end of my comment as an example of why I don’t consider some evidence, such as that of our friend Josh, convincing without further verification. It of course only applies to those who espouse an non-transcendental god. I am not much interested in the transcendental, or non-detectible deities, as I am not sure there is a practical difference between their existence and non-existence, as far as I am concerned.

  291. #291 Uber
    March 15, 2007

    No, nothing gratuitously insulting in there, mmm-mmm.

    -Rob

    Pot- kettle-kettle -pot.

  292. #292 Brad S
    March 15, 2007

    Starting to get colorful in here…

  293. #293 Greg
    March 15, 2007

    Well grounded position, reasonably explained, Rob.

    There is a point where trolls are better refuted by simply ignoring them. Repeatedly to show anything to somebody with his hands over his eyes becomes not only futile but suspect.

  294. #294 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    I am sorry to have to insist but…
    - How can you make sense of “what is the purpose of my life” if you don’t ALREADY assume there must be a purpose?
    - Why do you (obviously) NEED a purpose?
    - Are you AFRAID to ever find out that there is NO purpose to life of any sort?

  295. #295 Brandon
    March 15, 2007

    if someone came up to me in a soup kitchen and said that Rigelians had taken him up into their flying saucer and convinced him to turn his life around and help others, I likely would respond just as compassionately and unchallengingly as you did. So? Would you then grant that believing in God is equivalent to believing in Rigelians with flying saucers?

    Well, there is a difference there. Either the man was in fact abducted or he’s crazy, and it’s probably possible to prove it one way or another. It’s a matter of falsifiability. But even if he said to me, “I believe the Earth is 6000 years old and Jesus walked on water,” it wouldn’t bother me. He’s not trying to convert me, he’s not going on TV asking for money, and he’s not running for office.

    It seems scientists have a double-standard compared to people of other professions. A lawyer wouldn’t expect a layman to be an expert on “legal injunctions” or whatever. A economist wouldn’t call you an idiot for not understanding the latest tax reform. So why must anybody who believes in Creationism, and doesn’t have the scientific education to understand the proofs otherwise, be labelled a waste of space?

  296. #296 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    Josh wrote:

    God gives man the choice to believe he’s real or not. You can choose for him to be non-existing or you can choose for him to be real.

    Well, if you can make something real by just deciding to believe it then why stop at believing in God? Why not believe you are God?

  297. #297 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    If you believe you are God, then that’s stopping before the possibilities that there is a God. Obviously you were not here before your father. So, clearly you are not God.

    Kevem-
    No one can be afraid of nothing. I think you are trying to say if someone has God then they would be afraid to lose him. That’s not fear… its Not teriffying to lose God. I`d be sad to lose God but not afraid.

    How much fear for an athesit who finds God? An athesit would be convicted of sin. What are the wadges of sin? Death , (eternal hell.) I don’t know about you but that seems scary to me.
    – For the wadges of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ jesus our lord. Romans 6:23

  298. #298 Mike
    March 15, 2007

    Brandon…
    It seems scientists have a double-standard compared to people of other professions. A economist wouldn’t call you an idiot for not understanding the latest tax reform. So why must anybody who believes in Creationism, and doesn’t have the scientific education to understand the proofs otherwise, be labelled a waste of space?

    But the non-economist is willing to change their mind when they learn about the latest tax reform, and even realize up front that their views might not be accurate. If they, for some reason, still believed in the tax code from 1985 regardless of any arguement or evidence to the contrary, we would label them a relative waste of space, in your manner of speaking.

    It’s true we can’t expect the lay person to know certain things about science, but we can expect them to realize there is evidence out there that has bearing on their beliefs. To deny that is true fundamentalism, and Rob illustrated this well in the first part of his post.

  299. #299 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    So why must anybody who believes in Creationism, and doesn’t have the scientific education to understand the proofs otherwise, be labelled a waste of space?

    OBVIOUS!

    Because in spite of their incompetence in the matter Creationists insist to be taken on an equal footing than the competent scientists.

  300. #300 John B
    March 15, 2007

    Are you AFRAID to ever find out that there is NO purpose to life of any sort?

    I often wonder if people really believe this ‘religion is comfort’ argument. People are comfortable with what they are used to, religion or irreligion is not the issue.

    Like I stated above, religious people think atheist are afraid to recognise God’s existence, because of all the implications it would have for them… it’s just a way to rationalize difference. “Those other people would believe the same thing i do, if they had the balls to admit the truth.”

    If you really believed fear was the issue, is this really the way you’d deal with it? I’m sort of afraid of heights… not phobia level, but not comfortable above the 20th floor or looking out an airplane window. If you were some pro-heights guy, would you expect me to stop being afraid because you aren’t? Would you expect a rational argument about our safety to suddenly make me enjoy heights? How about yelling at me, calling me an idiot, or claiming that i had failed to convince you to also be afraid… any of those carry the sweet scent of victory?

  301. #301 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    Josh : No one can be afraid of nothing. I think you are trying to say if someone has God then they would be afraid to lose him.

    No, I was not even talking about God but only about the need to be comforted by some sort of “purpose” or vindication of one’s existence or “goodness” or “meaning”, etc…
    This seems to me the source of the various beliefs in the supernatural, of which the “gods” are only a subset, buddhism and chamanism don’t have any proper gods.

  302. #302 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    Josh : religious people think atheist are afraid to recognise God’s existence, because of all the implications it would have for them…

    ROFLMAO!
    So you think atheists are in denial?
    Could you contemplate the opposite hypotesis that they are NOT paranoid while religionists are paranoid?

  303. #303 Caledonian
    March 15, 2007

    If you were some pro-heights guy, would you expect me to stop being afraid because you aren’t? Would you expect a rational argument about our safety to suddenly make me enjoy heights? How about yelling at me, calling me an idiot, or claiming that i had failed to convince you to also be afraid… any of those carry the sweet scent of victory?

    But to carry your metaphor onward, they’re making up pitiful rationalizations as to why they don’t want to look out the window instead of just admitting that they’re afraid of heights. That’s what we’re critiquing… and what they lack the honesty and courage to admit.

  304. #304 John B
    March 15, 2007

    But to carry your metaphor onward, they’re making up pitiful rationalizations as to why they don’t want to look out the window instead of just admitting that they’re afraid of heights. That’s what we’re critiquing… and what they lack the honesty and courage to admit.

    No, I get that. It’s just difficult for a third party to determine which of you is correct about the other one’s pitiful rationalizations based in fear… or whether you are both just using the idea of the other’s fear to explain the other’s difference.

  305. #305 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    It’s just difficult for a third party to determine which of you is correct about the other one’s pitiful rationalizations based in fear…

    Who is the paranoiac?
    The one supecting a mysterious and totally incoherent agent or the one who does not make fancy hypotheses when confronted with data he cannot understand YET?
    What happened to the various “thunder gods” now that we know that lightning is an electricity discharge?

  306. #306 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    I’m not talking about false religion. What I have found is true and I can believe with 100 % surety. Correct, people with false religion can’t say they have 100 % surety. (Thunder gods.) Was an atheist there when the earth was formed? No. So what sources do they use to make them feel “Comforted”? They use the dirt around them. – How accurate is that?
    Now, if I was born in a sand box and had No way out because I was caged in; would I know what was outside that sandbox? No, not unless I have a reliable source, or experienced being outside that sand box for myself.

    Here’s the good stuff.-

    Is my source a 100 % accurate? Have I ever been let down by my source?
    No. So am I 100 % sure my source is accurate… yes. I’m getting my information from a source that was there. (GOD) Atheists guess what was there. How accurate is that?

    Really good stuff-

    So how can the bible be accurate…? If you interpret it the way it was meant for. What better source to ask then the one who created it? GOD.
    For example,

    How can the Old Testament and New Testament be about the same God? The Old Testament talks about killing people, when they sin. Now, the New Testament talks about forgiveness and love when they sin. I ask the one who is telling me this…, (GOD) “God how can this be?”
    He answers:
    If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[b] you would not have condemned the innocent. – Mathew 12:7(New Testament)
    This is also found in the Old Testament several times. (Hosea 6:6)
    From that God told me, he gave authority to those who were being sinned against. God said as punishment for you sin you can either be sacrificed or forgiven. Before you flip out read this statement–

    –If you were paralyzed in a car accident from someone malfunctioning, then the judge would give you the opportunity to forgive them or press charges. The charges could be up to a million dollars or so, it’s all according to what the judge says. Or you can forgive that person who was malfunctioning which God desires much more.
    Read this post carefully and don’t look just one way. If you only LOOK ONE WAY and never see what God is actually saying, then you will always interpret the bible WRONG.
    I’ve done the same with all the other questions of the New and Old Testament.
    God won’t talk to you until you listen to him. How do you listen to him? Follow his commands. The second time I ever heard God speak literally to me he said “follow my commands” Am I hearing voices, am I hallucinating? I obviously see something you Guys don’t. I’d advise you to print and study this, before accusing me I believe in a God that doesn’t exist.

    – Child of God who cares for you.

  307. #307 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    - How can you make sense of “what is the purpose of my life” if you don’t ALREADY assume there must be a purpose?

    I have answered this question already, directly. You didn’t like it, I realize that now. But you telling me “I don’t like that answer” isn’t going to bludgeon me into being able to provide a better one.

    Sorry.

  308. #308 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    To me that makes more sense, then dinosaurs getting hit by a meteor. Then what about carbon 14 dating- how accurate is that?

    Someone tell me how wrong I am?

    You are very wrong….

    First of all, if the science behind Carbon-14 dating is wrong, the a WHOLE LOT of other stuff that is extremely well-tested is wrong. Radioactive decay is a relatively simple and straightforward prediction of quantum mechanics. If you want to argue that we don’t really undersatnd it, or that decay lifetimes have been changing substantially in the last few years, you have to throw out a substantial fraction of quantum mechanics– all of which has been verified by theory. The onus is upon you, then, to provide an alternate theory that explains all of those experiments as well as quantum mechanics.

    Questioning Carbon-14 dating just because you don’t like its conclusions simply doesn’t make sense. If you want to throw it out, you’ve got a lot of catching-up to do in the explaining department.

    The same could be said for geological layers and so forth. If you want to make dinosaur bones things that sunk during the flood, there is a LOT of geology, archaeology, and palenontology that gets thrown out. You have a TREMENDOUS amount of work to explained the specific, detailed observations that are currently explained by the mainstream theories of those fields. I don’t mean the handwaving “gee, sunken dinosaur bones sounds more plausible than meteor srikes to me!” kind of explanations. I mean going back and looking at the detailed data and the consistent picture that has been put together from that data and our theories, and providing an alternate picture that get things right in the details at least as well as what we’ve got right now.

    That is not what creationists do.

    One more thing : Carbon dating is only good for a few thousand years. The lifetime of CArbon-14 isn’t long enough to date things more than (say) a few times ten thousand years. However, the more general technique of radiometric dating is, and we use a number of different decays to date various different things.

    -Rob

  309. #309 Kevembuangga
    March 15, 2007

    The second time I ever heard God speak literally to me he said “follow my commands” Am I hearing voices, am I hallucinating?

    Yes you are, end of argument!

  310. #310 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    Josh wrote:

    The second time I ever heard God speak literally to me he said “follow my commands” Am I hearing voices, am I hallucinating?

    Kevembuangga responded:

    Yes you are, end of argument!

    No, not really. Josh may have a serious problem, don’t blow it off with that attitude.

    Auditory hallucinations are usually associated with psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, and hold special significance in diagnosing those conditions. But they are also more common in non-psychotics than most people realize. You don’t have to be psychotic or schizophrenic. They usually happen when normal, non-psychotic people, are fatigued or because of extreme anxiety. They also happen with high doses of cocaine, amphetamine or other stimulants.

    Christian dogma has anxiety inducing elements (will you be damned to hell or go to Heaven for those who take it seriously) thus Christian dogma can help create the conditions for auditory hallucinations.

    The question is if he hears voices on any kind of regular basis. Twice isn’t often enough, but there may be other symptoms.

    Extreme religion does attract psychotics.

  311. #311 mollishka
    March 15, 2007

    Yes, Kevembuangga, putting things in bold does make them a whole lot clearer.

  312. #312 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    Rob Knop wrote:

    [...if you don't ALREADY assume there must be a purpose?]
    I have answered this question already, directly. You didn’t like it, I realize that now. But you telling me “I don’t like that answer” isn’t going to bludgeon me into being able to provide a better one.

    Are you familiar with the term teleology?

  313. #313 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    Are you familiar with the term teleology?

    Yes. I’m also familiar with the phrase “talking to a brick wall.”

    -Rob

  314. #314 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    I’m also familiar with the phrase “talking to a brick wall.”

    That’s the way I feel about prayer… and you.

  315. #315 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Rob you don’t know for sure Carbon 14 dating is always accurate. Instead of only researching the successes of it, why not research both its failures and successes. If you look in the right places you will find it. – As will I more so on successes.
    Even one failure makes me question how accurate the success of c-14 dating is.

    Here’s another one of “my” what you would call a hallucination.
    This was in April of 2006.
    I had a dream…
    In this dream I got into a motorcycle accident and died. The first thing I saw was some familiar faces. I was being greeted by these familiar faces and while being greeted, I went down a slide of ice… At the bottom of the slide was this door. Greeting me at the door was another familiar face, he was laughing and he said, “He’s in side.” “Who could be inside,” I thought. I went through the doors and I saw a crowd, in the middle of this crowd was Jesus. Jesus resembled a rock star, I never expected him to look the way he did. His beard was unlike any other beard I’ve ever seen- It was in strands. The crowd was still around him, I noticed a piece of bread in his hands. He then dropped the bread; it hit the ground and shattered into many pieces. The pieces were the same size as the one he dropped. I pondered, “If that’s God I want to hug him.” I then went over and hugged him; he was sitting down facing the opposite way. I hugged his back then after I hugged him he said El Shaddai. I never heard this phrase before until he told me. After I hugged him I walked away because I was nervous, but all of sudden I was sitting. I saw Jesus in front of me also sitting. I was frantic because I didn’t know what to say and I wanted to say something. The first thoughts that came to my mind were, “Are you God the father?” At that time I was unclear of the relations of God the father, God in the flesh, and God the spirit. As soon as I thought “are you God the father” I awoke. I felt upset with myself. I thought I could have done better then that, for my first encounter with Jesus. Little did I know, “El Shaddai” was the answer to my thought. Later that morning I looked up El Shaddai on the internet. At first I typed in el shaddu because I didn’t remember the right pronunciation, search corrected me and stated do you mean El shaddia. I clicked yes and found out El Shaddai = God the almighty one. This disproves the law of time. For God answered my question before I even thought it.

    I thought, “Are you God the father”. Jesus answered me moments before “El Shaddia – I Am God the almighty one.

  316. #316 Caledonian
    March 15, 2007

    I have answered this question already, directly. You didn’t like it, I realize that now.

    There is a distinction between “responding” and “answering”. The second implies the satisfaction of standards for coherence, meaning, and purpose; the first does not.

    And recognizing the vacuity of a response does not characterize “not liking it”.

  317. #317 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    Sheesh a reesh, what’s the matter with you?

    “Don’t you think that asking ‘what is the purpose’ presupposes a purpose?”

    “No.”

    In what way is that not an answer? Man alive. This is the kind of crap I’m talking about when I say “talking to a brick wall.”

    What’s the matter, ALL OF YOU? Geez. We’ve got flakemeister Josh on one side, and utter unyielding ornery stubborn “answer the way I want or not at all” folks on the other side.

    What happened to the normal people of this world???????

  318. #318 Kevembuangga
    March 16, 2007

    Rob : “Don’t you think that asking ‘what is the purpose’ presupposes a purpose?”
    “No.”
    In what way is that not an answer?

    This does not pass even the most basic common sense criteria, not to speak of “scientific method”.
    It is well known in math and logic that assuming the existence of an impossible case allows for demonstration of ANYTHING (the “faulty figure” trap in geometry, simplifying over zero divide in algebra).
    If you don’t agree with this it is UP TO YOU to show that your position is consistent, i.e. that it does not lead to a TOTALLY VACUOUS DISCOURSE where the set of “provable” statements encompasses anything.

  319. #319 Kevembuangga
    March 16, 2007

    Josh : Here’s another one of “my” what you would call a hallucination.

    If you are fond of “spiritual” hallucinations I can recommend you use Iboga.
    You will meet “El Shaddai” at will, this is a nice psychotropic in that people just get to their preferred gods, the Bwiti meet the Forest Spirits, Christians meet Jesus, Hindus meet Ganesh, etc, etc…
    Doesn’t that comes very handy?

  320. #320 Kevembuangga
    March 16, 2007

    mollishka :
    I know that you have understanding difficulties I am happy to oblige… ;-)

  321. #321 Caledonian
    March 16, 2007

    In what way is that not an answer?

    Oh, that was an answer. A very stupid one.

    If you don’t ask the question “Does the world have a purpose?”, and generate a rational answer before asking about its nature if it exists, you’re begging the question.

    Fallacy detection isn’t one of your better points.

    Given that you’re willing to bend the rules of reason, or break them outright, when dealing with what is presumably the most important single issue in your life, what gives us reason to think that you’ll adhere to the standards any better in your scientific work?

  322. #322 Decline and Fall
    March 16, 2007

    What happened to the normal people of this world???????

    If you can’t define NORMAL, don’t even bother! Your pathetic attempts to justify your anti-intellectual belief in fairies shows that you’re a lousy scientist and a tool of the Religious Right! Why don’t you just move your blog to Answers in Genesis and be done with it! At least then you’d be honest!

    (end sarcasm)

  323. #323 B Davidson
    March 16, 2007

    Rob,
    I liked what you wrote, especially the parts about the questions of, “What’s the meaning of life.”

    My personal belief is that this is nothing more than human arrogance. If scientists and athiests alike believe there is no god, then we are nothing more than animals. Animals merely survive to mate. There happens to be no real ‘meaning’ in that other than carrying on the species.

    I happen to think that people, thinking themselves better than nature, are only trying to justify their rampant destruction of everything around them when they ask those questions.

    On the other hand, religion isn’t such a bad thing if not taken to extremes. “Thou shalt no covet thy neighbor’s wife,” isn’t such a bad moral lesson. Take out the things that were written by old rich men, and you have a valid system of values. Granted, that would reduce the bible and koran to a chap book, but it would be better.

    People try to supress their animal instincts through morality. I also think that humanity as a whole has a tendency to allow our genetically inferior thrive, and even procreate. If science were the only way, then this would not be allowed to happen. I also suggest that people read the entirety of the bible. It also says that cripples, miscreants, and genitically inferior people are not to be let into the congregation.(Just something to think about)

  324. #324 Rob Plop
    March 18, 2007

    Rob Knop Rob Knop Rob Knop Rob Knop. Okay got that out of my system… People who agree with Shelly Bats and Rob Knop that religion is OKAY, this is for you, so you can better understand why religion must be stamped out…

    Deuteronomy 22: 28 If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. 29 Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her

    Deuteronomy 7:1 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations … then you must destroy them totally. 2 Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

    Leviticus 21: 9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father; she shall be burnt with fire.

    Shelly, I would like to buy into this Bible stuff like you do, but it seems too violent for modern society. Here is how a moderate Christian defends abortion…

    “The Book of Exodus clearly indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person (Chapter 21:22-23). That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life.”

    That is the kind of stuff that Christians like Shelley are fine letting others believe. Here is another example…

    “By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. THIS WAR, FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, IS MORALLY WRONG – AND WAS FROM THE VERY START. It cannot be justified with either the teachings of Jesus Christ OR the criteria of St. Augustine’s just war. It simply doesn’t pass either test and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or to the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities. This war is also an offense against God.”

    Seems like that Christian has actually arrived at the right destination (one of the few who has), AMAZING! I guess the only problem remaining here is the compass (RELIGION), which can be unreliable and is easily misinterpreted.

    http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/

    Leviticus 20: 27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them.

    Cheers to PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (and myself), who can see the danger in sadistic “fairy tales”.

  325. #325 mollishka
    March 18, 2007

    Plop:
    It’s good to know you’re actually being creative and, you know, reading the posts you’re commenting on so as to provide thoughtful, relevant discussion. Oh wait.

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