Galactic Interactions

You will frequently hear certain anti-religion science bloggers and
commenters on these boards saying that the only way for a
non-atheist to be a good scientist is to “compartmentalize”— to
wall off a part of his mind while doing science, and likewise to wall
off the scientific part of his mind while thinking about his
religion.

Do I agree with this? Yes and no.

In the yes column: obviously, we have to wall off, to some degree,
our religion when doing science, but no more so than we must wall off
many other parts of our humanity
. If you let your preconceptions
from your religion influence your interpretation of the data, then you
fall into the href=http://scienceblogs.com/interactions/2007/05/intelligent_design_a_trap_for.php"">“Intelligent
Design Trap”. Scientists who conclude that there is “evidence for
design” in the Universe are not scientists who are really making good
scientific conclusions from the data; they are torturing the scientific
process in order to allow for it to produce the result that their
philosophical preconceptions led them to.

But there are many other ways in which we must wall off parts of our
experience as human beings in order to avoid “investigator bias.” I
strongly recommend that everybody read href="http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/books/tbs/index.html">The Blank
Slate
by Stephen Pinker. This book is subtitled “The Modern
Denial of Human Nature,” and is an exposition and analysis of bad
science that came out of the political left. In the early 20th century
(and, unfortunately, still now), some racist and/or sexist scientists
have used biased or incorrect data to claim that there is evidence that
race or gender A is inferior to race or gender B. The reasonable
response to this is that legally we should treat all as being equal, and
not judge their capabilities from assumptions based on their race or
gender. However, this led to the philosophical preconception that in
reality, all people are created strictly equal. This is what
Pinker calls the doctrine of the “blank slate.” We are born with
nothing, with infinitely plastic brains, and everything we
develop is imposed upon us from outside: our parents, our siblings, our
culture. As evidence mounted that, even though our brains are
amazingly plastic and adaptable, we do have a lot hardcoded as
humans, and, what’s more, different people do have different natures,
there were a lot of scientists who would shout down this evidence. Why?
Because they had based so much of the argument for political equality on
the notion that people are born cognitively identical that evidence to
the contrary would be used to attack that political argument.

So, yes, very clearly you need to make sure that your ideology and
philosophical preconceptions do not warp your interpretation of the
scientific data. Religion can do it, as can political philosophy. (A
second lesson I would take from this is that one must be careful when
basing your ideology on a scientific conclusion. There are a lot
of good reasons for egalitarianism, and we do not need the false
argument that human nature doesn’t exist to support it! Likewise, I
think that theists are making a mistake when they point to our href="http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/blog/?p=68">ignorance
about the moment of the Big Bang as a place where we can fit God the
Creator. What will happen when we develop a theory of quantum gravity
and do address that event scientifically? We may end up going around
the Galileo track yet again, just as we are doing with evolution
today.)

One can think of other, more personal examples. I could (but won’t)
name several astronomers whom I find insufferable, arrogant, annoying,
and irritating. However, that is not a reason for me to disregard their
papers or devalue their scientific work. I have to put aside—
“wall off” if you will— my personal feelings when viewing their
work as scientists. Similarly, I can name some scientists whom I really
like as people. And, yet, I shouldn’t give their work more credence
just because I like them better than others.

That’s the yes. What about the “No”?

The antireligion types who suggest that non-atheist scientists must
wall off part of their thinking when doing science, and likewise when
practicing religion, are basing that statement on their belief that
science and religion are fundamentally incompatible, that acceptance of
one requires the dismissal or (at least) compromise of the other. I
disagree with this statement. As I have said before, I view religion
(as expressed in a way that is compatible with the modern world) as
orthogonal to science.

Let me give a smaller example. I have been to scientific conferences
where I had a choice of talks or sessions to go to. Sometimes, I had to
choose between a session closely related to my own work on the one
hand, and a session where a friend was presenting on the other. I chose
to go see my friend present, because as a human being I like to support
my friends, and I like to see what they are doing. Was this an
ethically dubious scientific decision? No! Give me a break; I
certainly didn’t go to (nor would I have been able to go to) every
scientific conference that had talks closely related to my work,
sometimes for human reasons (I had classes to teach, a wedding to go to
in which I was the groom, etc.).

This is an example of not completely walling off a
non-scientific part of my humanity from me doing science.

If somebody is motivated because of their desire to understand God’s
creation to choose to study Cosmology over other fields, is that such a
terrible thing? If they become Intelligent Designers, then they have
made the mistake I outlined above: allowing their philosophical
preconceptions to bias their interpretation of their results. But
whatever it is that one finds important in life will influence
things you value, including choices you may make in what you pursue in
science. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, nor is this
evidence of bad science.

As for the walling off in the other direction: you absolutely must
not wall off your scientific good sense when contemplating your
religion. I know that the antireligious crowd like to assert loudly and
stridently that science is incompatible with religion, so any scientist
must be deluding himself if he’s not an atheist. That, however, is
simply untrue. Science and religion are orthogonal. If you are a
practicing scientist who walls off his science when contemplating
religion, you could end up like href="http://scienceblogs.com/interactions/2007/02/science_is_not_just_a_game_1.php">this
fellow, a geologist whose PhD thesis was critically dependent on the
notion of a billions-of-year-old Earth, and yet who remains a
young-Earth creationist. This is an example of compartmentalization
leading to metastasized philosophical illness. Some will defend him
saying that his scientific results are all valid if he’s following the
right procedures of science. I don’t doubt that the antireligious types
think I’ve been doing basically the same thing if I’m doing any valid
science. But I assert to you strongly that I am not. I don’t see the
point in pursuing science if we don’t think we’re pursuing something
that is right.

There are forms of religion that are incompatible with the human
understanding that has come with the modern world. Young-earth
creationism is the most glaring example. It simply does not make
sense
in the modern world for an informed person to believe that
the world is only 6,000 years old. I know there are some who do, but it
simply doesn’t make sense. We have overwhelming evidence to the
contrary. Walling off good scientific sense while contemplating
religion leads to bad religion, which in turn has bad social
consequences as people attempt to legislate education to teach science
that doesn’t conflict with that bad religion.

For religion to make sense in the modern world, it must always be
changing, adapting, as we learn more not only about the natural world
through science, but about what it means to be human through all of the
other creative endeavors that humans engage in. Many—
fundamentalists of both the religions and antireligious stripe—
like to insist that religion must be based on ancient writings and
dogmas, that for it to make any sense we must never alter or update our
views about theological truths. I have had creationists in my comments
assert that they can’t see how a Christian could believe in a
billions-of-years-old Earth… and I’ve had atheists comment (sometimes
politely, more often belligerently) that I shouldn’t be allowed to call
myself “Christian” because I don’t subscribe completely to a set of set
of doctrines decided upon by a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed">committee of white
guys 1600 years ago. (Or, even more, to the interpretation of those
words promoted by today’s fundamentalist churches.) But this is not modern religion. Theology and religious studies are still going concerns… not just sociological studies about religion and the religious, but also study of the theology itself. Obviously it’s not a static thing inscribed in stone in the past; obviously it can still learn and advance like any other human endeavor.

I have described the proces of science as just the process of
careful, honest, and applied common sense. You have to be aware of any
philosophical preconceptions that might influence the interpretations of
your results, and you have to avoid letting these preconceptions bias
you as much as possible. This is the way in which one must
compartmentalize one’s science from one’s religion or other ideologies.
However, one should not compartmentalize away science while
contemplating religion. What’s more, one can be a whole human being,
accepting and thinking about the things we value in life (science,
religion, love, friendship, fun, beauty, etc.) without having to
compartmentalize them all away based on the narrow-minded view of some
strident and extreme ideologues who believe that various of these conceptss are so fundamentally
inconsistent as to require one to destroy the other.

Comments

  1. #1 kevin
    July 18, 2007

    fundamentalists of both the religions and antireligious stripe

    This is where I stopped reading.

  2. #2 Texas Reader
    July 18, 2007

    Rob – very interesting analysis of the issues, thank you. Regarding religion as orthogonal, do you hold the philosophy that religion is about “why” and science is about “how?” It seems like those who don’t believe in god are lining up in two camps – this one and the one that treats religion as a dangerous thing that undermines science and should be abolished. I’m a former christian, current agnostic, who hasn’t come to any conclusion for myself.

  3. #3 hibob
    July 18, 2007

    I think one issue that should come up more often in these debates is that religion is not the only unsupported belief that people use to get through the day. Most of the things humans do and believe are based on rationalizations, not rational thought. Woo has a lot of flavors, and each of us subscribes to more than we would like to admit. The more the matter has to do with relationships with other humans or one’s own subjective experience, the more it will show up. Audiophiles are an easy example: try convincing someone that their oxygen free (but hype laden) speaker cables don’t make a difference in audio fidelity.
    Religion is of course front and center, since it is the field that has the most immediate and apparent consequences for science. But if someone is going to use Dawkins’ “Ignorant, Stupid, Insane, or Wicked” rule on religion, they had better be ready to use it to test ALL aspects of their own personal relationships, their own outlooks, and their own work.
    Personally, I try to stay on the ignorant and stupid end of the spectrum (If you don’t feel ignorant a lot of the time, you’re probably not a scientist or an atheist). The others do have their perks though

  4. #4 hibob
    July 18, 2007

    sorry for my comment which is very redundant of your diary post: I meant to post it to a post I had just read, not one I was just about to. One of the dangers of having too many open sciblogs tabs!

  5. #5 Keith
    July 18, 2007

    I stopped at “yes and no.”

    it’s one of those pungent equivocations that means that a whole lot of sound and furry is to follow without any real point being made.

    If you’re going to have a debate, you can’t argue both sides and expect people to take you seriously.

  6. #6 Panya
    July 18, 2007

    To kevin: ‘fundamentalists of both the religions and antireligious stripe’

    This is where I stopped reading.

    Then this is where you fell victim to the very issue the post discusses.

  7. #7 Godless Geek
    July 18, 2007

    The problem is have is that a religion that claims to be founded on a universal truth (and most do), by definition, should not be subject to change, unless the underlying truth is changing as well. It seems to me that if everything we can test chips away more and more from a religion, you would have to eventually get the point where you would have to concede that the religion as a whole would be invalidated as implausible. It seems that once a religion becomes primarily metaphorical, it loses any rights to claim divinity.

    If you can compartmentalize to the point that this doesn’t bother you, then more power to you.

  8. #8 Molkien
    July 18, 2007

    “It seems to me that if everything we can test chips away more and more from a religion, you would have to eventually get the point where you would have to concede that the religion as a whole would be invalidated as implausible.

    No no, you don’t have to concede anything! Just redefine religion to be something that the majority of those that could be considered “religious” wouldn’t even recognize, and you’re set.

  9. #9 Pete
    July 18, 2007

    Well, I read the whole thing, you make some very good points: religion is not the only thing that can cause bad science, and religion does not always cause bad science. But I think the residual compartmentalization that you discuss should be taken as evidence that science and religion are not compatible, just as science and ideological bias are not compatible.

    You say:

    As for the walling off in the other direction: you absolutely must not wall off your scientific good sense when contemplating your religion.

    — but isn’t this precisely what a Christian scientist does when they give special credence to the story of the life of Jesus? I know you don’t believe in any of the miraculous stuff about Jesus – the stuff that’s clearly not orthogonal to science – but then what is left? What makes your attitude toward Jesus religious, and my attitude toward, say, David Hume, just one of intellectual respect? And if you can name two or three things that make your attitude a religious one, then what is your evidence for those two or three things?

    When I say religion and science are incompatible I do not mean that any religious person will end up doing bad science; that is clearly not the case. I just mean that the religious scientist who believes in miracles must not propose miracles as explanations for their study, and the scientist who has religion must relax their normally strict standards of evidence for their properly religious claims.

  10. #10 Abbie
    July 18, 2007

    C’mon people, “This is when I stopped reading” isn’t a very convincing argument.

    I think the compartmentalization is simply about letting your religious beliefs off the hook, simply because they are “religious beliefs”.

    All your defenses of your religious beliefs have been pretty vapid. You clearly have two standards- one for the real world, and one for “religion”. You isolate your religious beliefs by declaring them “orthogonal” to science. I don’t think you’ve proven this.
    If there is a God, there should be some evidence of it! (Unless he’s deliberately hiding.) All empirical evidence points towards a naturalistic universe. To continue to believe in God, when there is no empirical evidence, is unscientific. Thus, you are defiantly compartmentalizing by not examining your religious beliefs with the same diligence I assume you examine everything else.

  11. #11 Rob Knop
    July 18, 2007

    only unsupported belief

    I wouldn’t say that religion is unsupported… it’s unsupported scientifically or unscientific. But there is a lot behind a lot of peoples’ religious beliefs.

    Just as if you feel love for somebody, that’s not very scientific, but it isn’t baseless.

    I stopped at “yes and no.”

    it’s one of those pungent equivocations that means that a whole lot of sound and furry is to follow without any real point being made.

    In other words, if somebody doesn’t take an absolutist, take-no-prisoners, have-no-nuance position, you won’t listen? Kind of a pity, because the vast majority of things people think about have complications and shades of grey beyond a simplistic black-or-white answer.

    I’m not arguing “both sides.” Also a pity that you view everything as having to be so dichotic. I’m arguing that there is some value in considering compartmentalization, but that it’s not completely correct.

    The problem is have is that a religion that claims to be founded on a universal truth (and most do), by definition, should not be subject to change,

    Science also claims to be founded in Universal truth. We do not believe that the nature of the Universe is changing as science advances… it’s the nature of our understanding about it that is changing.

    I would say that religion is somewhat similar, although not exactly the same because religion isn’t science. Whereas nature is what nature is, a religion that can be “right” for one social context may not be for another.

    -Rob

  12. #12 Rob Knop
    July 18, 2007

    Abbie — every time I post on science and religion I get some people saying, “Show me the evidence for God!” The people who post that miss the point in a big way. Demanding empirical, naturalistic evidence for God is to demand that religion be a subfield of science. It is not.

    -Rob

  13. #13 Mark P
    July 18, 2007

    The whole argument misses the point. The point is not that science and religion are incompatible. The point is that a scientific approach to knowledge and understanding is incompatible with religion. In order to believe in any religion, you must check your rationality at the door and believe things for which there is zero evidence. That is the antithesis of the scientific approach, the very approach which has resulted in every advance in our understanding of the world.

  14. #14 Godless Geek
    July 18, 2007

    Science also claims to be founded in Universal truth. We do not believe that the nature of the Universe is changing as science advances… it’s the nature of our understanding about it that is changing.

    I’ll concede that to a point, but a fundamental difference is that science welcomes change. I’m not a scientist, but I find it thrilling when new evidence turns old assumptions upside down and forces us to look and things in whole new ways. I know that new findings are highly scrutinized, but if they are correct, they are gladly incorporated into the larger body of evidence. Religion, on the other hand, tends to fight change tooth and nail, and only finally accept it when there is no other choice, and rather than adding to the body of understanding of the deity, it tends to remove or obscure portions of said beliefs.

    It’s hard for me to compare the self-correcting nature of science and religion because one is so open to change and the other is so resistant.

  15. #15 Rob Knop
    July 18, 2007

    In order to believe in any religion, you must check your rationality at the door and believe things for which there is zero evidence.

    In order to believe in any religion, you must believe things for which there is zero scientific evidence.

    The rest of what you say is wrong. No need to check rationality, and no need to demand that every base or reason for the things you believe is strictly scientific.

  16. #16 Rob Knop
    July 18, 2007

    Religion has historically been very resistant to change, and a lot of religion today is very resistant to change. But has been and is changing.

    -Rob

  17. #17 Brandon
    July 18, 2007

    And as Rob said in a previous post, the whole argument boils down to, “Is the scientific method the only means by which a person can gain knowledge?”

    Activist athiests say yes
    Religious fundamentalists fudge their answers depending on whom they’re talking to
    Everybody in the middle says no

    I can guarantee all of you that unless you address this question, you’re not going to convince anybody of anything.

  18. #18 SLC
    July 18, 2007

    Apparently Dr. Knop subscribes to the non-overlapping magisteria position of Stephen J. Gould. This position is strongly refuted by Richard Dawkins in his book, “The God Delusion.” The Dawkins position is that religion makes claims subject to scientific scrutiny which can be falsified (e.g. the resurrection of Joshua of Nazareth, raising of Lazarus, Joshua making the Sun stand still, etc.). He insists that falsification of such claims amounts to falsification of religion.

  19. #19 David Heddle
    July 18, 2007

    I certainly do not compartmentalize when I do science. I rely on the nature being both orderly and, though at times with great effort, comprehensible. Without these, science would be a fool’s errand. However, we have no real reason to expect that nature is both orderly and comprehensible, and so I view our very ability to conduct science as prima facie evidence for God. Furthermore, my religion tells me to do all things for the glory of God–which at the workplace I interpret to mean “as if God were my boss.” And so it is impossible to compartmentalize. Compartmentalizing occurs to combat tension. There is no tension here.

    That said, I “do” science just like my unbelieving colleagues. If you believe that impossible or even difficult, you are one of those fundamentalists of an anti-religious stripe who has already stopped reading.

  20. #20 Molkien
    July 18, 2007

    “Is the scientific method the only means by which a person can gain knowledge?
    Activist atheists say yes”

    Are you kidding me? “Activist” atheists (that’s ei, not ie btw) enjoy art, and movies, and books, and are capable of love, and have a sense of right and wrong, all of which doesn’t come from the scientific method.

  21. #21 Rob Knop
    July 18, 2007

    Read previous comment threads on posts I’ve made on this topic. You *will* find people explicitly claiming that if knowledge isn’t derived via the scientific method, it’s not really knowledge.

  22. #22 DuWayne
    July 18, 2007

    Keith -

    If your not going to read the whole post, then you really shouldn’t make inane comments like that. The problem with your logic is that this is not a black and white issue. Robs point is that there are times when it is appropriate and indeed, necessary to compartmentalize, while other times it is neither necessary, nor appropriate. He is not arguing more than one side, he’s arguing that different situations call for different approaches.

  23. #23 Ed Minchau
    July 18, 2007

    How many of you scientists used the scientific method for choosing your spouse?

  24. #24 Mark P
    July 18, 2007

    “No need to check rationality, and no need to demand that every base or reason for the things you believe is strictly scientific.”

    Of course that’s true, at least as long as you’re willing to compartmentalize.

  25. #25 Abbie
    July 18, 2007

    Demanding empirical, naturalistic evidence for God is to demand that religion be a subfield of science. It is not.

    Does religion make claims about the real world?

    If it does, these claims should be able to be tested. If they affect the universe, we should be able to detect the effect.

    If it doesn’t make claims about the real world, then indeed it is not a subset of science… it’s a subset of fiction.

    Just as if you feel love for somebody, that’s not very scientific, but it isn’t baseless.

    We know love is a product of evolution; we know it exists and why it exists. It’s still complex and mysterious, and we don’t empirically judge it where we are under its spell… but it’s still a very real biological function. We can study it.

  26. #26 Rob Knop
    July 18, 2007

    Of course that’s true, at least as long as you’re willing to compartmentalize.

    No — you don’t need to compartmentalize, you just have to understand that the scientific method isn’t appropriate for everything that a human thinks or feels during the course of a day.

  27. #27 SLC
    July 18, 2007

    Re David Heddle

    The difficulty with Mr. Heddles’ approach is that, as an old earth creationist, he is quite willing to accept irrational claims of various religions (e.g. based on previous discussions with him, he has no problem believing that Joshua was able to convince god to cause the sun to stand still, with none of the scientific consequences of such an action occurring).

  28. #28 JuliaL
    July 18, 2007

    Surely one’s ethical beliefs/opinions/standards are one non-science area of life that a scientist carries into doing science?

    A commitment to honesty, for example, when a particular experiment doesn’t produce the results expected? For example, suppose someone has carried out an experiment or investigations of another sort that strongly suggest a specific significant conclusion. Then as it comes time for a grant to be renewed, something goes wrong – perhaps the scientist is thinking even that some error in carrying out the study must have occurred – and the results obscure the important conclusion. Does the scientist fake or obscure the results to continue the grant, believing as he/she does that these results are some sort of aberration, or does complete honesty of reporting prevail even at the risk of losing the grant?

    Suppose all data so far indicate that something very valuable could be determined by studying a small and specific example of people – say, tyrants willing to murder whole groups of people to stay in power. Does the scientist look only at data collection methods without regard for informed consent?

    In each case, I would hope that ethics would not have been compartmentalized out of the doing of science.

  29. #29 Abbie
    July 18, 2007

    No — you don’t need to compartmentalize, you just have to understand that the scientific method isn’t appropriate for everything that a human thinks or feels during the course of a day.
    *
    No need to check rationality, and no need to demand that every base or reason for the things you believe is strictly scientific.

    I don’t think *most* atheists would disagree with this.

    But I thought religion was something… important? Most religions make pretty serious claims that are far above the day-to-day rationalizing we humans inevitably engage in. Sure, we believe irrational stuff all the time… but do we codify these beliefs into a religion and demand they are respected? I’m sure that, upon prompted self-analysis, we can be enlightened as to how we are being irrational. Religion rejects any such analysis.

    So we’re not super-rational in our daily lives. Does this excuse religion’s approval of irrationality?

  30. #30 Pete
    July 18, 2007

    I think some people are hung up on the phrase “the scientific method” here.
    No, not all knowledge comes from the scientific method. But we have to have some standards for evidence. There is a lot of evidence that leads us to believe that a man, Gaius Julius Caesar, was assassinated in Rome about 2000 years ago. This evidence hasn’t come from “the scientific method”, but it is very convincing, consisting of large amounts of mutually supporting historical documents, artifacts, etc.
    This kind of evidence is almost entirely lacking in the case of any of the mundane stories told about Jesus, to say nothing of the miraculous ones which would require even more evidence.

    Rob says:

    Religion has historically been very resistant to change, and a lot of religion today is very resistant to change. But has been and is changing.

    Some religion has changed, and some religion has not. The kind that has changed to become compatible with the scientific understanding of the world is so different from the kind that has not, that perhaps it needs another name. It seems to me that what you have is a religion-inspired secular outlook; you see Jesus as a good role model, and you have a respect for and attachment to the stories of the Bible. I haven’t seen any of your writings indicate otherwise. And of course you don’t need to compartmentalize anything for this. This kind of attitude towards religion is not at all what I criticize as an atheist, except to the extent that it can enable the crazier side of religion.

  31. #31 John Pieret
    July 18, 2007

    Just one caveat: it may not be safe to assume that Stephen Pinker’s own science was so good that his preconceptions and biases didn’t come into play when characterizing the positions of his opponents. The science wars of the 70s and 80s were much more complex than he portrayed them in The Blank Slate.

  32. #32 Mark Whybird
    July 18, 2007

    I blogged here:

    Now, reconsider the Galactic Interactions post I linked to above. If you had a problem with what it was saying, substitute the word “joy” wherever it mentions “religion”. Get the point now?

    Hooray! :-)

  33. #33 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 18, 2007

    The post is interesting and a much more honest effort to understand the issues than earlier attempts. (Though the point where religious critics can’t critique religions as they are commonly practiced, “…fundamentalists of both the religions and antireligious stripe— like to insist that religion must be based on ancient writings and dogmas…”, is a persistent failure here.)

    But as Mark P noted, the argument still misses the point. The rejoinder, that rationality still applies, is continuing this trend. If we insist that there are different rationales, we must distinguish between the bounded rationality of each area and a coherent rationality.

    John Wilkins at Evolving Thoughts has a series of posts on this. A de facto compartmentalization in the form of cognitive dissonance follows from adhering to different bounded rationalities (cognitive sets), even in the case of attempts of adjustments to the dogmatic rationalities. Increases of the resulting cognitive dissonance beyond an individuals tolerance level lead to extinguishing of a cognitive set.

    This risk is minimized by confining oneself to fact-based rationale whenever it is possible, as in the question of anti-factual sentiments, old superstition, and other similar aspects that makes religions a problematic cognitive burden.

  34. #34 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 18, 2007

    a much more honest effort

    Perhaps I should say “concerted”. I didn’t mean to imply dishonesty, honesty is a loaded trope, but a somewhat dispirited lack of depth.

  35. #35 Pseudonym
    July 18, 2007

    Pete:

    The kind that has changed to become compatible with the scientific understanding of the world is so different from the kind that has not, that perhaps it needs another name.

    This, for some reason, reminds me of John Shelby Spong. He calls himself a “non-theist”, and distinguishes this from “atheist”. This distinction has a lot of people confused, but it makes sense if you know enough deists.

    [...] except to the extent that it can enable the crazier side of religion.

    This is a claim that I hear a lot but still don’t fully understand.

    Yes, there is craziness in liberal Christianity. As one example: A few years back in my state (Victoria, Australia), the state-owned water board was being privatised. One movement within the Uniting Church (which is the third biggest church in Australia, incidentally) thought they’d try to make a theological case for keeping water retailing nationalised.

    Yeah, it’s crazy (and enough people in the church told them so). But it’s not exactly the same as blowing up abortion clinics, is it?

  36. #36 archgoon
    July 19, 2007

    Okay, I’m always mildly baffled when people argue that using corroborating documents about events is being ‘unscientific’. I have never used a massive particle accelerator (and probably never will), yet I am more than quite willing to believe the results published in journals.

    Am I being unscientific about my belief with regards to various physical constants?

  37. #37 Steve
    July 19, 2007

    Abbie wrote:

    “If there is a God, there should be some evidence of it! (Unless he’s deliberately hiding.) All empirical evidence points towards a naturalistic universe. To continue to believe in God, when there is no empirical evidence, is unscientific. Thus, you are defiantly compartmentalizing by not examining your religious beliefs with the same diligence I assume you examine everything else.”

    Okay Abbie: what would you accept as “evidence” ?

    What is your operational definition of “evidence” in this context?

  38. #38 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 19, 2007

    What is your operational definition of “evidence” in this context?

    Um, the point of observational evidence is that it is up to the ‘theory’ to provide the definition. This is btw a good example of the cognitive dissonance that religion creates with respect to rationales on observable reality, i.e. all the rest of life (whether objective or subjective rationale).

  39. #39 Abbie
    July 19, 2007

    Okay Abbie: what would you accept as “evidence” ?

    What is your operational definition of “evidence” in this context?

    Well, pretty much anything. I’m not picky.

    Anything more than a priori arguments, god-of-the-gap non-theories, subjective experiences and coincidences.

  40. #40 Pseudonym
    July 19, 2007

    Torbjörn:

    This is btw a good example of the cognitive dissonance that religion creates with respect to rationales on observable reality, i.e. all the rest of life (whether objective or subjective rationale).

    Just to be clear: When you said “cognitive dissonance” here, you were referring to Steve’s question, and not to Rob’s point that not everything that’s interesting (including religion) is scientific, right?

  41. #41 Rob Knop
    July 19, 2007

    subjective experiences

    Anything I can give you as evidence for why I believe in God will be filed under this, probably.

    And, that’s because religion isn’t science… there is no scientific evidence for God.

    -Rob

  42. #42 Mark P
    July 19, 2007

    It is incorrect to say that one can “know” things by other means than the scientific method, or a method very like it. One can believe things for which there is no evidence, but one cannot know such things (and I don’t want an argument about whether one can “know” anything.) This long discussion is an attempt to redefine what religious scientists must do as something other than compartmentalization, but whatever the words you use, it comes down to exactly the same thing.

  43. #43 Steve
    July 19, 2007

    Torbj�rn Larsson:

    “This is btw a good example of the cognitive dissonance that religion creates with respect to rationales on observable reality, i.e. all the rest of life (whether objective or subjective rationale).”

    You are dodging the question with an ad-hominem response.

    Answer the question I asked, not what you want to twist it into. Your response is intended to be a conversation ender: call such inquiry “cognitive dissonance” … what could possibly bring about an end to the discourse more quickly, than implying that I lack sufficient cognitive discrimination to formulate the right question?

    Boom. Discussion ended. Well, no. Answer the question I asked.

  44. #44 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    Rob; do you believe that there can be overlap between science and other ways of knowing? And if so, how do you reconcile conflicts?

  45. #45 Steve
    July 19, 2007

    Abbie:

    “Well, pretty much anything. I’m not picky.

    Anything more than a priori arguments, god-of-the-gap non-theories, subjective experiences and coincidences.”

    An example: suppose I build a signal amplifier. If I make the claim that the device is operating within spec, simply because I measure output when input is applied, is not evidence the device is operating within spec.

    Such evidence is too vague: no context, no meaning. No operational definition of “evidence” …

    In LIKE FASHION, a response like, “Anything more than a priori arguments, god-of-the-gap non-theories, subjective experiences and coincidences…” is too vague.

  46. #46 Abbie
    July 19, 2007

    And, that’s because religion isn’t science… there is no scientific evidence for God.

    Dude, this is the issue at hand. You keep claiming NOMA, we keep saying no, if religion has any meaning it must somehow affect the actual factual universe we live in. Lots of things aren’t science but they still are, in some way, perceivable.

  47. #47 Rob Knop
    July 19, 2007

    You keep claiming NOMA, we keep saying no

    And this is exactly why there’s no point in continuing further. Give up already.

    if religion has any meaning it must somehow affect the actual factual universe we live in

    And it does. But this does not necessarily mean Intelligent Design, or God pushing around planets. In my view, the effect of spirituality is upon conscious and thinking beings who can contemplate, react to, and receive something like a “personal revelation” through that spirituality. And, yes, a lot of the reactions are highly negative. But not all of them. (I will make a longer post on this at some point.)

    You will turn around and say “they’re motivating themselves through their fairy stories, it’s not *real*”, whereas I will argue that in fact there is a reality to that. The problem here is that you will not accept thing as “real,” any knowledge as “knowledge,” unless it is scientific knowledge, unless it can be tested empirically through the scientific method.

    You are demanding that I reduce God to a set of scientific experiments, and we both know that there are no scientific experiments out there that point to God. In other words, you’re trying to reframe the debate so that at the end you can say, “Ha HA! Look, no evidence, therefore you can’t believe in God!”

    I am refusing to reframe the debate on your terms, because they are not relevant terms for religion.

    Look, if you don’t understand religion, if you don’t see the point in it, then don’t bother with it. But demanding that those of us who do see value in it then define religion in scientific terms is missing the point. It would be like me asking you to describe the Riemann Zeta function using only the words “truth,” “beauty,” and “love.” It doesn’t make sense, and the very asking of the question, the very demand you make indicates that you are unable or unwilling to discuss religion on the terms where it makes sense.

    -Rob

  48. #48 Rolfe
    July 19, 2007

    Don’t scientists have to compartmentalize their beliefs even if they aren’t religious? Don’t you have to hold multiple, possibly contradictory theories in your mind whenever you are thinking about something interesting? I don’t see why there is any particular worry about whether religious scientists can compartmentalize their beliefs. Their product should speak for itself.

    One of the points I see coming out here is that many people are religious because of personal, spiritual experiences. This is why I’m religious, and those experiences are my evidence. Is this just a crutch? Maybe, but some people get around much better with crutches. Is this, like Love, something that can be studied scientifically? Sure, why not? I’d love to understand it better. That won’t make the experience any less real to me, just like studying love won’t stop people from loving.

    I am curious about the scientific method, though. What exactly is it? Is anyone willing to define it and claim that all of our “scientific knowledge” comes from this one method?

  49. #49 Rob Knop
    July 19, 2007

    “The Scientific Method” isn’t really a method per se. In junior high or high school science classes you may have learned a series of steps that are supposed to be the method. However, my view is that the scientific method is just “applied common sense.”

    I have a slide that gives my view of what the scientific method really is here:

    http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/blog/?p=66

  50. #50 Geoff
    July 19, 2007

    To lay all my cards on the table: I am an evangelical, Old-Earther, and have a background in philosophy.

    I find it insanely laughable when atheists level these charges against religious folk, esp. when they aren’t consistent with their own atheism.

    A consistent atheist would not believe in their own rationality. Nor would there be any meaning or point what anyone does with science or anything else. We are just atoms bouncing around with no meaning to anything.

    I could go further with this. But I’ll let this be for now. Atheists are borrowing things from theism.

    Furthermore… yeah, atheists don’t have any biases that make them do bad science. Junk DNA sound familiar?

  51. #51 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    A consistent atheist would not believe in their own rationality. Nor would there be any meaning or point what anyone does with science or anything else.

    Got an argument to back that up?

    Furthermore… yeah, atheists don’t have any biases that make them do bad science. Junk DNA sound familiar?

    Oh, good grief. Lucky you posted this here and not at, say, Pharyngula. Here, educate yourself.

  52. #52 Jim Beers
    July 19, 2007

    I think Gould was right regarding NOMA. There is one question science can not answer. Why. Why is there something instead of nothing? Why do the laws of physics exist? Many try to spin the question of why to be irrevelant, but to many others, it is the ultimate question.

  53. #53 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    I think Gould was right regarding NOMA.

    Suppose tomorrow a study comes out proving to any level of confidence you require that:

    a) prayer offered to one specific deity cures any illnesses, diseases or injuries – cancer, lost limbs, whatever. This works for the person praying or for anyone they pray for.
    b) prayer offered to any other deity results in the person praying instantly bursting into flames.

    This tells us nothing whatsoever about religion?

    There is one question science can not answer. Why. Why is there something instead of nothing?

    Religion can’t answer it either. It’s not even clear it’s a meaningful question.

  54. #54 Rob Knop
    July 19, 2007

    It’s not even clear it’s a meaningful question.

    Ugh, not that one again.

    One of the questions people use religion to help address is “what is my purpose in life?” Lots of people use lots of different ways to address that question; for some, religion is part of what they use.

    In the past, though, comment threads get taken over by assertions that that is not a meaningful question. I think Richard Dawkins is on record saying something similar. Which, of course, is ludicrous, because for many people it does have meaning.

    It’s not a scientifically meaningful question, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a meaningful question.

  55. #55 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    One of the questions people use religion to help address is “what is my purpose in life?”

    Which wasn’t the question presented. I woulnd’t say that one’s meaningless. It may well have no objective meaning, but that’s not the same thing at all. On the other hand, ‘why something rather than nothing?’ does seem to be asking for an objective answer, which makes it rather different.

  56. #56 David Heddle
    July 19, 2007

    MartinM,

    Religion can’t answer it [Why is there something instead of nothing?] either. It’s not even clear it’s a meaningful question.

    Why, of course it is a meaningful question. Why the hell wouldn’t it be? In fact, it is even a meaningful scientific question. And of course religion answers it trivially. It may be the wrong answer (as might any of the more esoteric cosmologies that seek to provide an answer, or a partial answer) but nevertheless, it answers it.

  57. #57 Jim Beers
    July 19, 2007

    MartinM:
    Religion can’t answer it either. It’s not even clear
    it’s a meaningful question.

    Not a meaningful question! Why is it not a meaningful question? So you tell me that you do not find “why there is something instead of nothing” meaningful. To many it just might be the most important question. Whether religion or anything else can answer it is a different question, but I bet most people ponder “why.”

  58. #58 Geoff
    July 19, 2007

    I’m familiar with the attempts to rewrite history about Junk DNA and Darwinist assumptions.

    An argument to backup the claim that a consistent atheist can’t assume their own rationality:

    Atheists assume that every thought in your own head is what is because the atoms are bouncing around your head a certain way. They also assume you weren’t designed for any purpose. Therefore, you don’t believe anything, according to an atheist belief system, because it is true. You believe what you believe because of physics, chemistry, etc. Since you don’t believe in anything because of the truth or falsity of that belief and you weren’t designed for any purpose, you cannot trust your own rationality if you are consistent with atheistic beliefs.

    This can be seen via evolutionary psychology. They are always giving stories about why people believe such and such. A recent one came out and said how people are pre-programmed to detect and see design. Others try to do it with religious belief.

    But to see the slippery slope they are on try giving an evolutionary psychology account about evolutionary psychology.

  59. #59 Rob Knop
    July 19, 2007

    So, I disagree with Geoff. The whole notion that atheists can’t believe anything is a straw man.

    What I’m trying to argue here is that it’s completely reasonable for one to be a non-atheist and also fully accept science, even without “compartmentalization.” I have nothing against atheists or the atheist philosophy, except for the philosophy that religion is fundamentally incompatible with science.

    Use of the word “Darwinist” is always a danger sign — the only people who use it are people who want to attack evolution — and “reducto ad absurdum” argument that Geoff makes that no atheist can consistently believe anything is just bunkum.

    -Rob

  60. #60 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    It is wrong to support irrationality.

    Religion is fundamentally irrational.

    Even Rob here has admitted that there is scientific evidence. Does he believe that there is other evidence? Beyond, “God must be responsible because we don’t know what really is?”

    If I thought that prayer did any good, (it doesn’t), I would pray for the complete destruction of religion. Can you imagine how much science could accomplish if instead of building incredibly large posh churches, the money went to scientific grants? Cancer research?

    Religion offers comfort for those who can’t accept parts of reality. The more reality you can, and do accept, the less religious you are.

  61. #61 David
    July 19, 2007

    I do not think that Geoff is arguing that atheists can’t believe anything. Obviously, they can. The question is can an atheist trust his own reasoning?

    Another related question is why an atheist thinks his morality is something anyone other person should care about.

    Atheists obviously think that their reasoning is (on the whole) trustworthy, and that their morality is something other than mere feelings (in that they seek to impose it on those pesky Christian fundamentalists whom they think are anti-gay, which in today’s society seems to mean little more than 100% endorsement for homosexual/other acts).

  62. #62 Godless Geek
    July 19, 2007

    You are demanding that I reduce God to a set of scientific experiments, and we both know that there are no scientific experiments out there that point to God. In other words, you’re trying to reframe the debate so that at the end you can say, “Ha HA! Look, no evidence, therefore you can’t believe in God!”

    I guess I have trouble trying to figure out why you don’t apply the same basic standards of evidence to this as you do to anything else. In your line work, just having a feeling about something means nothing. Same goes for everyday life. I’ve had times that I “felt” that someone was behind me. I strongly perceived a person standing behind me, but when I turned around, there was no one there. The feeling was completely dispelled and I went on about my day. I didn’t trust my feeling over my observation. I didn’t think that there was an invisible person standing there watching me. I simply assumed that my feeling was wrong. You certainly wouldn’t assume there was an invisible person standing there if I told you about it. Instead, you’d dismiss me as paranoid. The same goes for gods. In the absence of evidence, gods are just like the invisible man. There is just no reason to believe they’re there.

  63. #63 David
    July 19, 2007

    Godless Geek

    I would agree that in science, (and in life in general), having a “feeling” about something isn’t worth much.

    Can you show how morality is more than feelings in your world view? Sure, they are feelings that are caused by a fair amount of “programming” whether by evolution or some other factor. So what?

  64. #64 Rob Knop
    July 19, 2007

    In your line work, just having a feeling about something means nothing.

    For most of us (although we can’t admit it if we are in academia), there is more to life than our job.

    There are lots of things in my life to which I do not apply a scientific standard of evidence. And there are lots of things in your life to which you do not apply a scientific standard of evidence… but good luck getting you to admit to that.

    -Rob

  65. #65 Pete
    July 19, 2007

    I have nothing against atheists or the atheist philosophy, except for the philosophy that religion is fundamentally incompatible with science.

    You do think that a great deal of religion is incompatible with science, and you have taken great pains to eliminate all sources of conflict with science from what you call your “religion”. So what, other than the decorations in the church you go to, make what happens there a religious experience? In contrast to, say, someone going to the theater and having some kind of insight?

    I’m not just saying that you disagree with a particular laundry list of miracles and therefore you aren’t religious. I’m saying you are making no claims that a theater-goer, a baseball fan, a jogger, etc., would not make about why they like their activities. It’s true that baseball is orthogonal to science – so what?

    About the “enabling” argument: it’s just that there is no principled way for a theist who accepts, say, 10% of the miracles in the bible, to argue against someone who accepts 100% of them. If Jane believes in the resurrection but not the virgin birth, how can she convince Michael, who does believe in the virgin birth, that he is incorrect?

    (I don’t expect Rob to keep answering all these questions; I’m impressed he’s kept up with this so long. I’m going to keep reading this blog and maybe learn some astronomy too. If that continues after the Second Life thing, that is..)

  66. #66 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    Rob,

    There are things in my life where I don’t apply a scientific standard of evidence.

    I consider that a failing of mine. I’m basically admitting that there are times when I don’t think well.

    It seems you do not consider it a failing.

  67. #67 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    And of course religion answers it trivially.

    How?

  68. #68 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    Not a meaningful question! Why is it not a meaningful question?

    With a bit of luck, that will become fairly self-evident once David gives us a possible answer. Feel free to provide one yourself, if you’ve got any in mind.

  69. #69 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    I’m familiar with the attempts to rewrite history about Junk DNA and Darwinist assumptions.

    Then don’t peddle it.

    Atheists assume that every thought in your own head is what is because the atoms are bouncing around your head a certain way. They also assume you weren’t designed for any purpose. Therefore, you don’t believe anything, according to an atheist belief system, because it is true. You believe what you believe because of physics, chemistry, etc. Since you don’t believe in anything because of the truth or falsity of that belief and you weren’t designed for any purpose, you cannot trust your own rationality if you are consistent with atheistic beliefs.

    You’re assuming that physical processes aren’t capable of determining the truth or falsity of a proposition. You’ll need to support that assumption.

    While you’re at it, perhaps you could give a reason for trusting your own rationality as a theist. Presumably you have one?

  70. #70 Godless Geek
    July 19, 2007

    Can you show how morality is more than feelings in your world view? Sure, they are feelings that are caused by a fair amount of “programming” whether by evolution or some other factor. So what?

    My basis of morality is humanistic. If it’s not harming someone else, it’s your choice. There are certainly feelings involved in that and I’m not completely discounting the importance of feelings in it, but my personal feelings about what others do don’t mean much when they’re aren’t affecting me.

    There are lots of things in my life to which I do not apply a scientific standard of evidence. And there are lots of things in your life to which you do not apply a scientific standard of evidence… but good luck getting you to admit to that.

    I certainly don’t use a scientific standard of evidence in everything I do. Not in most things. Humans are instinctual, hedonistic creatures of habit by nature, and you sometimes have to consciously suppress those urges. I follow my feelings, but I don’t let them rule me. In a my average day-to-day life, I don’t really have to think about most things I’m doing, but it’s vital to separate the new or important things. If my feelings or instincts are leading me to a conclusion that goes completely against the observable facts of the situation, my rational minds steps in, and to me, the question of religion and core beliefs is of the biggest, most important things there is.

  71. #71 David
    July 19, 2007

    MartinM

    I tell you what. I’ll answer your question when you’ve answered mine. Otherwise we can just both go away thinking that the other has not thought their worldview through.

    One more thing:

    I am assuming that purely physical processes aren’t capable of determining the truth or falsity of a proposition. One reason why I assume this? There isn’t a shred of evidence to that effect.

  72. #72 David Heddle
    July 19, 2007

    Me Myself and I:

    There are things in my life where I don’t apply a scientific standard of evidence.
    I consider that a failing of mine. I’m basically admitting that there are times when I don’t think well.
    It seems you do not consider it a failing.

    It is not a failing. Life is not all about science, all the time. Now, if you are a Nobel Prize quality scientist, then for the benefit of humanity it may be worth it if you find such a notion preposterous. Otherwise, if you actually do believe life is all about science, then you really need to get a life. Not to mention that I’d suspect you are a phony–not having met any actual Spock-like people in real life. Everyone I know wonderfully abandons the scientific method when they are not, in fact, doing science.

    No, life is rich with things that I know even though I don’t know why I know them. I saw in my son’s Mad Magazine this statement about John Travolta: We used to like him. Then we found him annoying. Then we liked him again. And now we find him annoying again.

    I know that to be true without recourse to the scientific method. If you think the scientific method must be applied before we can know things, then you are seriously impoverished.

    What is really going on here is a begging of the question: we can know things only if we known them by the scientific method (or something like it) therefore only by the scientific method (or something like it) can we know things.

  73. #73 David
    July 19, 2007

    You say that as long as its not harming someone else, it “ok” to you. So certainly you would think that behaviors that do harm someone else should not be done. But those are just your feelings. Nothing more than that.

    So why should I care that you think that way?

    Beyond the fact that you feel its wrong, why shouldn’t I find out where you live, and basically take everything you have?

  74. #74 Rolfe
    July 19, 2007

    Me Myself and I:

    It is wrong to support irrationality.

    What assumptions are you reasoning from to reach this conclusion? You must have arrived at this rationally, right? How do you justify those assumptions?

    Rational ethics depends on values, and different people have different values. Personally, I don’t think rationality is inherently good or bad. I think it can be very effective and used to produce tremendous good or evil. And rational argument based on bad axioms can convince people of wicked lies.

    Even if rationality and the “scientific method” is the one path to truth, it isn’t clear that we must value truth over freedom or beauty or love. You can value truth more, but why should I?

  75. #75 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    I am not a phony, as you think. If I could be a Spock-like person, I would. Unfortunately I am not.

    Life is about searching for truth. So is science.

    When you stop searching for the truth because you feel something, or because you are satisfied with not having a foundation for your “knowledge”, you’ve stopped acting rationally, and you are one step close to acting religiously.

    To bring up your MAD magazine example, you only stopped using the scientific method if you accepted what they said on blind faith. Then you were acting religiously.

  76. #76 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    What assumptions did I reason from? The definition of what it means to be rational and irrational. One is living in accordance with reality, one is not.

    Truth is objective. “Freedom”, “beauty” and “love” are all feelings. Would you like to argue that feelings are somehow “better” than reality? Of course not. Every scrap of evidence we do have shows that yielding to our “feelings” produces wars, intolerance, judgementalism, racism…. most if not all evils in society just as it might produce some “good” things.

    On the other hand, if you act in accordance with reality, there isn’t a scrap of evidence that exists that shows that something “bad” can come out of that.

  77. #77 Godless Geek
    July 19, 2007

    Beyond the fact that you feel its wrong, why shouldn’t I find out where you live, and basically take everything you have?

    To me, our mutual desire to not have our stuff taken should be sufficient to allow us to establish a common set of moral guidelines, but if that’s not rational enough, then how’s this?

    As humans, we have achieved the level of success we have because we have banded together as a society. Many have achieved what one could not. For that society to function, a basic moral system, agreed upon by the masses, emphasizing the rights that all have must be established, otherwise the system will break down, society will fail, and people will go their separate ways to protect their own interests. Quite literally, our species is as advanced as it is today due to the establishment of a common moral system enabling people to work together, rather than driving them apart.

  78. #78 cbutterb
    July 19, 2007
    And of course religion answers it trivially.

    How?

    Magic man done it.

  79. #79 David
    July 19, 2007

    Certainly if we both have a mutual desire Godless Geek then we can band together on that. But that’s not rational. That’s the equivalent of both of us ordering strawberry ice-cream because we both like it. We both feel we should do this, so we do. But its still based off of feelings.

    As for your second paragraph, perhaps we have acheived the level of success that we have due to the fact that we have “banded together”. But now what? Such morality might have been necessary for us to survive, but that’s not gauruntee that we need it now. Take abortion for example. In the past, it might have been thought immoral to commit abortion. But now of course, we can do a great many abortions and still survive and thrive. Not only that, but we can expand our reach, and kill anyone who mentally retarded and defective in some way and still survive. What “advancements” can they offer? Saying that certain moral codes were effective in our success now, is no reason why they should continue to be practiced.

  80. #80 Rolfe
    July 19, 2007

    Me myself and I:

    What assumptions did I reason from? The definition of what it means to be rational and irrational. One is living in accordance with reality, one is not.

    I am interpreting this to mean that “rationality” is defined as “living in accordance with reality” and “irrationality” includes everything that is not rational. I’m not sure I understand what it means to “live in accordance with reality”, so let me try to restate your argument (just so you can correct me if I misunderstood)

    I think you argue that (1) freedom, beauty and love are feelings and feelings have produced all sorts of evil. (2) nothing bad has come from “acting in accordance with reality”. (3) Therefore it is always wrong to support irrationality.

    Have you rationally demonstrated that every instance of irrationality produces something bad? Might it be possible to have irrationality that does not lead to wars, racism, etc.?

    Were nuclear weapons developed by a rational or irrational process? Are they an obvious “good thing”? Have you really demonstrated that all products of reason are “not bad”? That seems like a high hurdle to clear.

    I will concede the point that irrationality is not always good — your argument there is clear. But I’m not convinced that it is always bad, nor am I convinced that rationality never leads to bad things.

  81. #81 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    I did not say that irrationality is ALWAYS bad. What I have said is that what miniscule good we gain from irrational beliefs and actions is far outweighed by the horrors such beliefs/actions can and will produce.

    While it might be possible to have irrationality that does not lead to wards, racism and such a simple look at history shows that statistically speaking, its unlikely. Whenever its been tried its failed.

    Nuclear weapons, by themselves are neither good nor bad.

    I don’t need to demonstrate that all products of reason/rationality are bad. Just that the vast, vast, vast majority of them are.

  82. #82 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    Rolfe, let me ask you this.

    Would you rather have the immense amount of money that is being used to build churches/monuments/shrines dedicated to a non-existent God go there, or be used for cancer research? Or any research?

  83. #83 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    Can anyone show me something that religions do that is:

    1. Not a crutch.
    2. Not something that can be done by something else.
    3. Not meaningless theobabble?

  84. #84 David Heddle
    July 19, 2007

    Me Myself and I,

    Would you rather have the immense amount of money that is being used to build churches/monuments/shrines dedicated to a non-existent God go there, or be used for cancer research?

    Ooh, as perhaps one of the most conservative Christians posting, I’ll answer:

    I’d rather have it go to cancer research (especially if it is dedicated to a nonexistent God–but nevertheless even if it is dedicated to an existing one.)

    Now would you advocate diverting all the monies in the National Endowment for the Humanities to cancer research? I certainly would not.

  85. #85 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    I tell you what. I’ll answer your question when you’ve answered mine.

    I’m trying to answer your question by way of example. I intend to show that the question is meaningless by exploring what a potential answer would look like; that’s a lot easier if I know what answers you have in mind.

  86. #86 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    David Heddle,

    I find it hard to believe that you really believe that answer, unless you go to church in a hut or something. Otherwise what you are basically saying is that while you object to money going to build churches, you’ll go to ones and enjoy it anyway. Even though you object.

    But, say I’m wrong on that. You asked about the National Endowment for the Humanities. I would actually say that yes, I would prefer that we cure cancer and not give money to people to put up weird statues in parks and other things that are thought of as “art” these days.

  87. #87 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    I find it hard to believe that you really believe that answer, unless you go to church in a hut or something.

    I know a good few Christians who don’t attend a formal church at all.

  88. #88 Rob Knop
    July 19, 2007

    I would prefer that we cure cancer and not give money to people to put up weird statues in parks and other things that are thought of as “art” these days.

    Then why the hell are you wasting time posting on blogs? There’s cancer to be cured! Get out there and raise money. Focus!

    After all, if the existence of a most important thing means that other important things must be neglected, I simply don’t see how you can justify reading what you’re reading right now.

  89. #89 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    I know a “good few Christians” who think that homosexuality is perfectly decent, even though their ancient book flatly says that’s not true.

    If Christians want to act reasonably, good for them. Its just that they are going away from their religion when they do that. The more you think, the less you “accept by faith”.

  90. #90 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    First of all, what makes you think I’m not involved in raising money for cancer research?

    Secondly, its not “the existence of a most important thing” vs “other important things” Its the existence of the only important thing (searching for truth) vs. trivial things (such as building things that serve no function except as a siphon of dollars that are better spent elsewhere).

  91. #91 Rolfe
    July 19, 2007

    Me Myself and I:

    Would you rather have the immense amount of money that is being used to build churches/monuments/shrines dedicated to a non-existent God go there, or be used for cancer research? Or any research?

    I would rather it go to cancer research, or research on sustainable fuels, or to bring clean water and sewage systems to the poor, or to many other things. Scientific research is definitely on my list above cathedral building, but it isn’t at the top.

    The reason I’m trying to defend irrationality is because I believe that just like reason, it is not inherently good or bad. I believe that in my life, spiritual irrationality leaves me very happy. This is my reality, so I think it would be irrational to reject that. So I support my own irrationality, and the irrationality of others. Only when it is “good” of course…

    You may say that religion is just my crutch, and I don’t know how to dispute that. But if crutches help me get around better, why shouldn’t I use them?

  92. #92 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    So what if irrationality makes you happy? Would you say that other forms of irrationality, if they make others “happy” are worth doing? It may make people very very happy to believe that God created them out of the dust and that evolution is nothing a sham. Is that ok? Of course not. Why should make exception for your favorite form of irrationality?

    It is better to heal your leg than rely on crutches.

  93. #93 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    So I support my own irrationality, and the irrationality of others. Only when it is “good” of course…

    How do you decide what is “good?”

  94. #94 Brandon
    July 19, 2007

    Its the existence of the only important thing (searching for truth)

    You are going to die an educated but lonely old man.

  95. #95 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    Brandon

    1. No.
    2. Even if that was true, it is better than dying with friends, but steeped in irrationality, looking forward to some eternal-bliss land. At least I know what’s real and what’s not.

  96. #96 Science Avenger
    July 19, 2007

    Geoff said: I find it insanely laughable when atheists level these charges against religious folk, esp. when they aren’t consistent with their own atheism. A consistent atheist would not believe in their own rationality. Nor would there be any meaning or point what anyone does with science or anything else. We are just atoms bouncing around with no meaning to anything.

    So let me get this straight Geoff. You have used human rationality to form an argument, chose to trasmit it via the products of human rationality (keyboard, computer, and internet) to human beings to be (apparently) digested by human rationality, that says human rationality is not to be trusted.

    Oh yeah, someone here is being insanely laughable, but it isn’t the atheists.

  97. #97 Science Avenger
    July 19, 2007

    David asks: Can you show how morality is more than feelings in your world view? Sure, they are feelings that are caused by a fair amount of “programming” whether by evolution or some other factor. So what?

    Actually, that’s my reaction to this entire line of questioning. Morality only based on feelings? So what? An evolutionary adaptation? So what? The consequences of not following the morals (or ethics or laws) of the group in power are the same, regardless of their ultimate source.

  98. #98 David
    July 19, 2007

    Science Avenger

    Only if you get caught.

    If you want to make morality nothing more than feelings enforced by people with guns, that’s fine by me. I’m curious though, if you think that the Christian God is “unjust” then.

  99. #99 Tulse
    July 19, 2007

    Why is there something instead of nothing?

    Unless God doesn’t count as “something”, religion provides no coherent answer for this either.

  100. #100 Rolfe
    July 19, 2007

    MartinM: I was joking when I said I would only support good irrationality. I have no idea how to make a distinction like that.

    Me Myself and I:

    So what if irrationality makes you happy? Would you say that other forms of irrationality, if they make others “happy” are worth doing? It may make people very very happy to believe that God created them out of the dust and that evolution is nothing a sham. Is that ok? Of course not. Why should make exception for your favorite form of irrationality?
    It is better to heal your leg than rely on crutches.

    You may not care about my happiness, but it is very important to me. I believe others should be free to value their own happiness too, even it that does entail believing that God created them from dust and that Evolution is a sham. I think a belief like that will probably put a damper on their careers as Evolutionary Biologists, but they will still do just fine farming, programming computers, or selling insurance.

    How can I make an exception for my favorite form of irrationality? Have you ever created a new scientific theory? Did you create that theory through logical deduction or through intuition? Is intuition rational? If not should we bar it from science? Should we say that people don’t have the right to use intuition because it is irrational? I don’t think the lines are as clear as you’re making them out to be.

    While it would be great to heal my leg, I’m afraid I may have lost my leg. Maybe it was an accident of my upbringing, but I think I evolved that way. If it can heal, how do I determine that rationally? Should I sit around and wait for that to happen?

  101. #101 MartinM
    July 19, 2007

    I was joking when I said I would only support good irrationality. I have no idea how to make a distinction like that.

    Isn’t that a fairly serious problem? How can you differentiate between your irrationality and that of, say, a religious terrorist?

  102. #102 Rolfe
    July 19, 2007

    Isn’t that a fairly serious problem? How can you differentiate between your irrationality and that of, say, a religious terrorist?

    Can you distinguish between your rationality and that of a religious terrorist? I think we’re both comfortable that you’re rationality is quite different. I’m comfortable that my irrationality is quite different from the terrorist. I happen to think I’m pretty handy with reason too.

    But I can’t draw a line between good and bad, no matter how much I’d like to. So I have to rely on my irrationality if I want to think I’m doing “good”.

    Can you draw the line between good and bad using reason? Is “rational” the definition of “good”? Is “might makes right” really the answer? How do you justify your definition?

  103. #103 Pseudonym
    July 19, 2007

    Me Myself I:

    Can anyone show me something that religions do that is:
    1. Not a crutch.
    2. Not something that can be done by something else.
    3. Not meaningless theobabble?

    No.

    1. Almost anything that fills any legitimate (or, indeed, not entirely legitimate) human need can be defined as a “crutch”. Elevators on three-storey buildings are necessary for the disabled or otherwise impaired, but an unnecessary convenience for everyone else.

    2. Almost anything you care to name that is currently done by something could be done by something else. Example: Any social need which is currently fulfilled by professional sport X could equally be fulfilled by professional sport Y. This is not a legitimate argument against the efficacy of professional sport X.

    3. Just about anything that someone doesn’t understand can be redefined as “babble”.

  104. #104 Lea
    July 19, 2007

    Before this thread gets locked I’d like to say to Abbie who wrote: “If there is a God, there should be some evidence of it!

    Ask, sincerely, even if you have to utter the word God. Then wait for the answer. Don’t pray, just ask.

  105. #105 Me Myself and I
    July 19, 2007

    Pseudonym

    Why then hold religious beliefs?

    You can fulfill anything that religion might do without holding to religion’s irrational beliefs. Any “crutch” that you might need (though I do not think you really need any) can be accomplished by something else.

    Why then hold to any of the irrational beliefs of religion? (By irrational beliefs of religion… I kind of mean all beliefs of religion).

  106. #106 Geoff
    July 19, 2007

    “You’re assuming that physical processes aren’t capable of determining the truth or falsity of a proposition. You’ll need to support that assumption.”

    Well, since mere physical processes don’t care about the truth or falsity of anything, that doesn’t get you to the necessary pre-condition for rationality. To anything, one can say “I only believe that because the atoms are bouncing around my head a certain way.”

    But Science Avenger said:
    “So let me get this straight Geoff. You have used human rationality to form an argument, chose to trasmit it via the products of human rationality (keyboard, computer, and internet) to human beings to be (apparently) digested by human rationality, that says human rationality is not to be trusted.

    Oh yeah, someone here is being insanely laughable, but it isn’t the atheists.”

    I didn’t say human rationality isn’t basically trustworthy. But if I was a consistent atheist, I would have no basis for assuming that it was trustworthy.

  107. #107 Geoff
    July 19, 2007

    Here is another one for the atheists, at least of the materialist variety.

    You say that matter/the universe/multiverse/etc is the only thing which exists.

    You use laws of logic.

    As a materialists, why do you use immaterial laws of logic? You can’t touch the law of non-contradiction. It isn’t orbiting around Jupiter.

    Materialists utilizing immaterial laws of logic would be at the very least cognitive dissonance, if not irrationality.

  108. #108 Graculus
    July 19, 2007

    The irrational is in conflict with reason, and it’s obvious that there are endeavours that are not in conflict with reason that are also not rational. My preference for NIN over ABBA is neither irrational nor rational… it is non-rational.

    Religion, however, does not claim to be non-rational, it claims to be rational (any religion/belief that claims to be non-rational instead is not really a religion). Unless it can support it’s claims, then it is irrational.

  109. #109 Pseudonym
    July 19, 2007

    Me Myself and I:

    Why then hold religious beliefs?

    There is an unstated premise in this question, that religion is beliefs. It is that for some people (in particular, anyone who claims that their religion can be “proven” probably thinks this), but not for many. Religion is, fundamentally, something that people do, not something that people believe.

    So to answer that question: The only reason to “do” religion is that it works for you. If it doesn’t, or if you already have something else instead that works perfectly well, then don’t.

    The call for “evidence” is part of the same thinking.

    Having said that, I would never blame an atheist for attacking silly beliefs, because the idea that religion is belief spawns silly religious beliefs.

    You can fulfill anything that religion might do without holding to religion’s irrational beliefs.

    Once again, the religion = belief idea is wrong.

    Religion = practice is not “irrational”, it’s “arational” or “non-rational” as Graculus put it. Seen that way, religion is no more irrational than wearing kilts.

    Any “crutch” that you might need (though I do not think you really need any) can be accomplished by something else.

    I don’t think Rob needs a crutch either. And, moreover, I don’t think he has one.

  110. #110 Rob Knop
    July 20, 2007

    And, moreover, I don’t think he has one.

    Actually, blogging is my crutch :)

  111. #111 Rolfe
    July 20, 2007

    Graculus: Thank you for pointing out that we need more than one concept to describe everything that is not rational. I agree — in my comments so far I’ve been using the word “irrational” to mean any thought or action not based on reason. But your definition of irrational — that which is in conflict with reason — is much more restrictive.

    In this sense, I believe that my religion is largely non-rational, partly rational, and a bit irrational. How can I say it is partly rational? If I try to have rational ethics, I need to look at my values and use reason to understand the consequences of those values. This helps me refine my values, which I can then reevaluate. The cycle keeps going. The problem, as Graculus pointed out, is that I can never justify those basic values with reason. One of the things I value at a basic level is the joy and peace I get from spiritual experiences. I find Christianity is an effective way for me to obtain that. If I value this, is it rational for me to discard it? No. Is it rational for me to keep examining my values? Absolutely.

    Since we’re refining our ontology of irrationality, we might as well say that “religion” probably needs more than one word too. I agree with Pseudonym: religion does not equal belief. I am religious because of its effect on my life today, not because I have some unyielding metaphysical assumptions that I cling to expecting a reward when I die. The problem is that personal spiritual religion has a way of morphing into dogmatic organizational religion, and sometime makes a round trip. So these different types of religion are deeply related and maybe not easily separated.

    OK, so now I just feel like I’m rehashing one of Rob’s original points. Religion is complex and it isn’t all in conflict with science. It can be a motivator, it can help with the creative impulse, and it can focus thought. I’m not saying that religion is the most efficient way to get these benefits. But if you are religious and compartmentalize it, then you lose all of these possible benefits.

    And there is still the basic question: is it worth bothering about whether a scientist is rational or should we just care about whether scientific research is rational?

  112. #112 Mark P
    July 20, 2007

    Ah well, there’s no answer to this. Some believe in compartmentalization, some don’t. Rob, I don’t care whether you believe in a god or have any other non-rational beliefs. My criterium about any system of beliefs is whether it provides any objective, positive results. If yours does, then it’s fine. If it doesn’t, then it’s a waste of time and mental effort.

  113. #113 Science Avenger
    July 20, 2007

    David said: If you want to make morality nothing more than feelings enforced by people with guns, that’s fine by me.

    I don’t make morality what it is. It is what it is. I’m just trying to get one of you who promotes this nonargument to actually finish it. “Morality is nothing more than feelings enforced by force, therefore…”

    Therefore what?

    Or approaching it another way, what evidence do you have that morality ISN’T just what you described?

  114. #114 Science Avenger
    July 20, 2007

    Geoff said: I didn’t say human rationality isn’t basically trustworthy. But if I was a consistent atheist, I would have no basis for assuming that it was trustworthy.

    The basis for an atheist, or anyone else, in assuming our rationality is trustworthy is that it demonstrates itself to be trustworthy to large degree. Again ponder the hilarity of someone writing a message on a computer build via human rationality that there is no basis for believing in human rationality. That’s like saying because our legs evolved via mindless processes that we have no basis for believing they can support our body weight…except that we can see that they do.

    Were an alien to hear you guys, he would be forgiven for thinking that all of humanity was still living in caves wondering why everything they tried failed. Idle theorizing doesn’t trump empirical data.

    Here is another one for the atheists, at least of the materialist variety.

    If I yawn, it’s only in anticipation.

    You use laws of logic. As a materialists, why do you use immaterial laws of logic? You can’t touch the law of non-contradiction. It isn’t orbiting around Jupiter. Materialists utilizing immaterial laws of logic would be at the very least cognitive dissonance, if not irrationality.

    Sophistry. Laws of logic are abstractions, just like the laws of math are. No one expects to be able to touch them. This is really really basic stuff. Sure, someone’s experiencing cognitive dissonance all right, but it isn’t the atheists.

  115. #115 David
    July 20, 2007

    Science Avenger,

    The evidence that I have that morality isn’t the way that you describe is that no one acts like it. If someone were to ever “wrong” you, you wouldn’t act like they’ve just hurt your feelings.

    I mean, if morality is nothing but feelings enforced by guns, its childish to the extreme. “Wah! You’ve hurt my feelings! I’m going to lock you up because I don’t like you”.

    Also, if you are right, then I’m curious if you think God’s morality is particularly “unjust” or not. After all, God has feelings. By definition, God has the biggest guns. Even if God is as absolutely immoral as some atheists think that he is, what makes any of that wrong? Its just his feelings, enforced by his guns.

  116. #116 Quasar9
    July 20, 2007

    Always a difficult one to deal with, emotions run high!
    Anyone would think that just because there is little agreement between religions and members of a religion over what a GOD is or may be, that there would be more agreement among those who have no time for any sort of GOD talk.

    But other than agreeing that there is NO GOD, it seems the no god camp is dividided into as many camps as the GOD camp.

    Religion is a matter of custom or repetition:
    1) Some people brush their teeth religiously
    2) Some people have sex regularly or religiously
    3) Most people religiously stuff their mouths, even when not hungry – because it is breakfast time, lunch time, dinner time – or simply out of boredom (or addiction to snacks)

    4) Some people religiouly study
    5) Some people study religion
    6) There is philosophy of religion & religion of phlosophy

    The difficulty for those who believe in A God, or belong to a religion – is that you cannot scientifically prove (or disprove the existence) of God – but you can certainly prove the error of religion.

    However Betamax and VHS video tape or CD-Rom and DVD, and whatever the next generation of media transmitting or storage device like ‘memory sticks’ are not the ultimate truth. They are simply the message carriers. And God knows they carry a lot of useless or even pointless information.
    However that information – whether history, philosophy, politics or science, biology, chemistry or physics …
    we all know there is a certain amount which is fact, a certain amount which is fact and true, a certain amount which is as ephemeral as vynilor video tape, and a lot which is simply hot air.

    However let us not forget that just as God is unfathomable to ALL and unimaginable to many, the big bang and the origin of the universe is actually unfathomable to ALL and unimaginable to many. We describe or define a series of events, in mathematics and physics which will bring us to the universe we observe today – but no one nowhere can tell us why the quark gluon plasma was there at the begining, nor where it is QGP came from – nor where the vast energy that would be required to transform into the Universe we observe today originated from – nor WHY.

    It was simply there, and it happened
    And that is what religions say of God!

    And for those exploring the possibility of the landscape and 10 to the 500 possibilities (or pocket & island universes) – this is no more than what Eastern Philosophies have debated or speculated dor several millennia.

    And incidetally Christ could or would have been learned in Eastern Philosophy, Christ he probably wrote it. But that’s a matter I’ll leave for another day.

    “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.” ~Douglas Adams.
    Thanks to Bee @ BacReaction

  117. #117 Mark P
    July 20, 2007

    “Criterium”? I guess I had bicycle racing on my mind. What I mean, obviously, was “criterion.”

  118. #118 Geoff
    July 20, 2007

    “The basis for an atheist, or anyone else, in assuming our rationality is trustworthy is that it demonstrates itself to be trustworthy to large degree. Again ponder the hilarity of someone writing a message on a computer build via human rationality that there is no basis for believing in human rationality. That’s like saying because our legs evolved via mindless processes that we have no basis for believing they can support our body weight…except that we can see that they do.”

    Again, as a theist I have a basis for assuming human rationality. The hilarity you find is not based on anything there.

    “It demonstrates itself to be trustworthy.”

    Do you believe that because it is true or because the atoms are bouncing around in your head a certain way?

    “Sophistry. Laws of logic are abstractions, just like the laws of math are. No one expects to be able to touch them. This is really really basic stuff. Sure, someone’s experiencing cognitive dissonance all right, but it isn’t the atheists.”

    Abstractions aren’t material. It is true no one expects to be able to touch them. And it is basic stuff. That’s why one shouldn’t be a materialist. It goes against really basic stuff. Now, materialists may utilize immaterial concepts, things, abstractions, etc., but if you don’t see the problem with materialists using immaterial things (tagging with the description “abstraction” doesn’t help you) doesn’t make you any less irrational.

  119. #119 Rob Knop
    July 20, 2007

    Do you believe that because it is true or because the atoms are bouncing around in your head a certain way?

    Track record. The reason we believe in human rationality and the scientific process is track record. We’ve explained so much, been able to demonstrate and build on so much, that we have good reason to believe that this process is an effective one. We can’t prove it beyond all doubt, but at this point it’s reasonable to assume that the process works, because it has been for so long.

    Think about it next time you’re standing on a long bridge built by engineers, or are sitting in an airplane.

    -Rob

  120. #120 David
    July 20, 2007

    Rob,

    So basically truth has become, “what works”.

    I got it.

  121. #121 Science Avenger
    July 20, 2007

    David said: The evidence that I have that morality isn’t the way that you describe is that no one acts
    like it.

    It’s not the way I describe it, its the way you described it (my view is far more complicated). I’m just calling your bluff. Again, so what? Creationists act like they are being scientific. George Bush acts like he has credibility. Dane Cook acts like he’s funny. People can pretend the rules they promote are some sort of objective morality revealed to us by a deity if they like. It doesn’t change anything.

    [I]f morality is nothing but feelings enforced by guns, its childish to the extreme. “Wah! You’ve hurt my feelings! I’m going to lock you up because I don’t like you”.

    I see. So if I hook up electrodes to your balls and give you several painful shocks, your cries that what I’ve done is immoral may be dismissed as childish because it is only based on your feelings. And people wonder why those of your stripe can take to torture so easily.

    Also, if you are right, then I’m curious if you think God’s morality is particularly “unjust” or
    not.

    When the gods appear to tell me what they think, I will listen most eagerly. So far, however, all I have to go on are people claiming to speak for the gods, and they seem incapable of reaching a consensus on even the most basic items of the supposedly objective morality. Until that improves, I’m going to side with Occam and conclude that it’s just a bunch of hooey.

    On the other hand, there is one thing all the religions agree on: that what awaits the righteous is an eternity in paradise, ie, pleasure. Isn’t that interesting? No one says “Do God’s will. It will result in an eternity of torment, but do it anyway.” Not all about feelings you say? Your own theology says otherwise.

  122. #122 Rolfe
    July 20, 2007

    Geoff: I do believe that an abstraction can be materialized. Bits in a computer can represent a number or letter or syntax tree or many other things. The programmed computer gives those bits meaning. I’m afraid of slipping into some chinese room nonesense if I go too far in this direction, but it is worth some thought.

    Rob, David: I do get the sense that “scientific” and “stuff that works” are pretty synonymous. Science is full of flawed theories that are not rejected until something better comes along. The truth is in there, but it isn’t all truth. When that something better comes, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from as long as it produces good results. I’m being a little flippant here, but hey, I don’t even know what “truth” means so I’d have a hard time making a serious case.

  123. #123 Science Avenger
    July 20, 2007

    Geoff said: Again, as a theist I have a basis for assuming human rationality.

    Yes, a basis you yanked out of your ass. That’s the difference between the religious and the scientific mindset right there. You assume. We hypothesize, test and confirm. The results tell the rest of the story.

    Abstractions aren’t material. It is true no one expects to be able to touch them. And it is basic stuff. That’s why one shouldn’t be a materialist. It goes against really basic stuff.

    Parroting people’s phrases back to them in an incomprehending manner is not persuasive. Neither is creating such a facile straw man of materialism, whatever the hell that is anyway. It’s truly amazing you think this infantile sophistry is in any way challenging.

    Now, materialists may utilize immaterial concepts, things, abstractions, etc., but if you don’t see the problem with materialists using immaterial things (tagging with the description “abstraction” doesn’t help you) doesn’t make you any less irrational.

    Ah, so you don’t understand that abstractions are not “things” and you can’t make an argument beyond “C’Mon, it’s obvious!” Thanks for playing.

  124. #124 David
    July 20, 2007

    Science Avenger

    I had thought that you had agreed to the definition of morality that I had stated. If you have a different definition of morality, I would like to hear it.

    If you DO agree with that particular definition though, then lets look at your torture example. You may “feel” its immoral. So what? You may at times feel that someone is standing behind you. Yet you don’t let yourself be controlled by that feeling do you? You check to see if someone really is behind you. You use reason. Likewise, if all morality is, is nothing more than feelings, then all you have is a feeling that torture is wrong. That’s it. And for some reason, you think that that feeling should be heeded, not only by you, but by others as well.

    What you don’t understand Science Avenger, is that my definition of morality is NOT feelings enforced by weaponry/threats of violence. Because of that, I can look at torture and say that its wrong, and actually be saying more than “Wah! I feel its wrong!” Can you say anything else in response to torture other than “I have a feeling that’s its wrong?”

  125. #125 Rob Knop
    July 20, 2007

    So basically truth has become, “what works”.

    When we’re talking the scientific method and the things we know to be true from it, I’m not sure I’d call it capital-T “Truth”, but I would call it “truth for all intents and purposes.” If you look at my “scientific method” slide I referenced in the comments above, I suggest that “Truth” is the ultimate goal of science, but that perhaps it’s unattainable. We’re always trying to better understand the natural world, and our understanding is getting better– as evidenced by the fact that science does in fact work.

    When the question comes up: why have any truck with the scientific method and the scientific world view, the #1 reason is that it has such an amazing track record that it’s nutty not to think that there’s something to it.

    -Rob

  126. #126 David
    July 20, 2007

    While I agree that the scientific method has an amazing track record, I disagree with the idea that, if we measure this track record by the fact that it “works” that what science does is discover “truth for all intents and purposes”. That sounds like something that is not true, but so close to being so that we just think about it as being true. Which is basically sounding like science is about developing useful delusions about the universe.

  127. #127 David
    July 20, 2007

    Moreover, lets take intelligent design for a second.

    If intelligent design was capable of “working” in the same why that you describe science as working, (that is, it is capable of producing useful things like medicines and such), wouldn’t that qualify intelligent design as being “true”?

    Overall, a difficulty with saying that we are looking at “truth, for all intents and purposes” is that we have replaced a binary condition (something is either true, or it is false), with a fuzzy one, (something can be “more” true than something else, if its “more” useful).

  128. #128 Science Avenger
    July 20, 2007

    David said: If you have a different definition of morality, I would like to hear it.

    No. My personal moral views aren’t the issue here. You making a big deal out of your perception that some people’s morality is based only on feelings is the issue.

    What you don’t understand Science Avenger, is that my definition of morality is NOT feelings enforced by weaponry/threats of violence. Because of that, I can look at torture and say that its wrong, and actually be saying more than “Wah! I feel its wrong!”

    Oh I understand that perfectly well. What YOU don’t understand is that doesn’t mean jack. So your morality (AFAIK) is based on a book a minority of people think reveals the morality of the creator of the universe. So what? How is “Wah! My book says torture is wrong!” more persuasive than “Wah! I feel torture is wrong!”, or for that matter “Wah! Torture is wrong because it starts with the letter ‘T’!”? The answer from anyone who doesn’t share your arbitrary presumption is the same: SO WHAT?

  129. #129 David
    July 20, 2007

    –No. My personal moral views aren’t the issue here. –

    No, your personal moral views are precisely the issue, as my whole point is that they amount to nothing more than feelings, and that for an atheist to call something immoral is the same as for an atheist to admit that he really likes strawberry ice-cream.

    –So your morality (AFAIK) is based on a book a minority of people think reveals the morality of the creator of the universe. –

    Wrong. But the usuall fundie atheist dogma, so I do forgive you for believing it.

  130. #130 Rolfe
    July 20, 2007

    Rob: I did read your slides and they shaped my idea that science is progress by any means that works. Science will accept a problematic theory until another one comes along that is better. It doesn’t necessarily find truth, but it is moving towards truth. As long as science keeps an open mind to new theories it will keep progressing. If it closes itself to new theories then it isn’t science anymore.

    It kind of reminds me of computer science questions like “Did we find the fastest program to solve our problem?” In general, the question is undecidable so we don’t try. But we can always tell when we found a faster program.

    David: I don’t see anything wrong with “useful delusions about the universe”. They are useful after all, and presumably they tell us more about the universe than we knew with no delusion. If you’re approaching the subject rationally, of course you’ll know exactly what assumptions you are making so you’ll understand the nature of the delusion.

    I don’t think ID will come up with anything useful because it surrenders from the start: I can’t understand how this happened, so it must have been designed. The end. Where do you go from there?

  131. #131 Science Avenger
    July 20, 2007

    …for an atheist to call something immoral is the same as for an atheist to admit that he really likes strawberry ice-cream.

    Yes, you do keep asserting that. What remains glaring in its absense is:

    1) Any evidence that it is true.
    2) Any evidence that your morality is any better.

    Don’t feel bad, I didn’t expect better.

    Wrong. But the usuall fundie atheist dogma, so I do forgive you for believing it.

    Rob has been critical of your views as well. I guess you’ll have to come up with a different empty personal attack to dismiss him.

  132. #132 David
    July 20, 2007

    1) There is absolutely no evidence to the contrary.
    1a) If you wish to provide evidence to the contrary, please feel free.

    2) If atheistic morality is nothing more than feelings, then mine is better, for mine asserts that morality is actually objective. Not just subjective bitching. If on the other hand, you have an atheistic morality that is something more than just subjective feelings and bitching, by all means englighten me.

    Finally, I wasn’t attacking Rob. That comment was directed towards you. But, reading comprehension isn’t the hallmark of any fundamentalist.

  133. #133 Geoff
    July 20, 2007

    “Yes, a basis you yanked out of your ass. That’s the difference between the religious and the scientific mindset right there. You assume. We hypothesize, test and confirm. The results tell the rest of the story.”

    You can’t test philosophical presuppositions using the scientific method. There are presuppositions which undergird the scientific method. Let me give you a thought exercise which should help you grasp the truth of this. Developing an experiment using the scientific method proving that we should use the scientific method.

    And getting to immaterial things…you define “things” as only material, but don’t have a problem with using abstractions which are immaterial. Why? Abstractions by definition are immaterial. You are a materialist. That’s still a problem. There doesn’t have to be a Platonic world of ideas for this to still be a problem for you.

  134. #134 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    July 20, 2007

    You keep claiming NOMA, we keep saying no

    And this is exactly why there’s no point in continuing further. Give up already.

    if religion has any meaning it must somehow affect the actual factual universe we live in

    And it does.

    NOMA on one line, not NOMA on the other. I would consider such contradictions as a sign of cognitive dissonance, coming back to Wilkins description and its relevance here.

    Pseudonym:

    Just to be clear: When you said “cognitive dissonance” here, you were referring to Steve’s question

    Correct.

    Steve:

    You are dodging the question with an ad-hominem response.

    How can I be dodging the question, when I gave a response in the sentence before?

    Which btw remove ad-hominem. It wouldn’t have been an ad hominem in any case, since it didn’t conclude that your argument was incorrect but started from that observation. (It was an analysis.)

    Answer the question I asked,

    You say that twice, in face of my previous answer. (Ironically, the same sentence that you dismissed above.) If you can’t tell that it was the answer and respond to that, we won’t get further.

  135. #135 Rob Knop
    July 20, 2007

    I would consider such contradictions as a sign of cognitive dissonance, coming back to Wilkins description and its relevance here.

    No, it’s a sign that you’re demanding and assuming a certain set of assumptions that come along with each statement that are at odds with what I mean when I talk.

    I will post at greater length in the future how I think that God affects the Universe. I don’t want to try to do it off of the top of my head. I mean, I’m going to get torn apart *anyway* because this crowd will tear apart anything that any theist says… but I at least want to make sure that I’ve made my argument cogently and consistently. I guarantee you that *you* will not be satisfied with it, and will sit back and smugly say “cognitive dissonance” or “compartmentalization,” but in any event it may be of interest to some who are more open to the ideas.

    -Rob

  136. #136 uriel
    July 20, 2007

    On the other hand, there is one thing all the religions agree on: that what awaits the righteous is an eternity in paradise, ie, pleasure. Isn’t that interesting? No one says “Do God’s will. It will result in an eternity of torment, but do it anyway.”

    This is not the case.

    The Early Greeks, Romans and Jews presented fairly tepid outcomes for the after-life regardless. Calvinists would argue that righteousness and obedience have noting to do with it. The Norse were never particularly clear on what got you into vallah apart from dying in battle, But righteousness and obedience again, had nothing to do with it. Shintoism is a bit confusing on the subject, but really anyone can become kami regardless of their actions or belief. Many other animist forms also don’t fit the bill. There are others.

    All do demand that one does “do God’s (or the Gods’) will,” regardless of the outcome.

    Just thought I’d mention it.

  137. #137 Rob Knop
    July 20, 2007

    Indeed, among most Christian sects nowadays, “works righteousness” is out. You gain salvation from Christ, not because you’ve done good works. You’re supposed to do good works, of course, but that’s not what gets you into heaven, according to standard doctrine.

    Some people get really bothered about this, too. I remember when I was on a Church youth group trip (I was a leader; this was during my post-doc). We were out at a park one Saturday afternoon having a picnic, and three of the leaders ran into a couple of other folks from a different (local) Church. They told us that they were getting ready to pack a couple of vans full of people to go on a mission trip to… Utah. To convert the Mormons. “They believe in works righteousness,” one of them said to us, with a hint of vague horror in his voice.

    After they left, the three of us leaders weren’t sure whether to laugh or just be confused…. To us, moderate Christians all, that seemed like such an odd thing to get all bothered about.

    -Rob

  138. #138 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 20, 2007

    No, it’s a sign that you’re demanding and assuming a certain set of assumptions that come along with each statement that are at odds with what I mean when I talk.

    I don’t think so, since the context was pretty clear, and the contradiction juxtaposed. In fact, you continue to claim that gods “affects the Universe” here in your next sentence, in the thread that discuss compartmentalization vs theism, no less. (Anything affecting our observations is in principle detectable by science. So what gap will this purported effect/non-effect be placed in, I wonder?)

    But of course I look forward to an expanded description in any case.

  139. #139 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 20, 2007

    But of course I look forward to an expanded description in any case.

    Well, I did, before I read the rest of the comment that seemed pheripheral. “interest to some who are more open to the ideas.”

    You are entirely assuming too much of your readers. That is not a way to sustain a dialog – a dialog that I tried to continue by pushing Wilkins description and its relevance in these areas.

  140. #140 Jason
    July 20, 2007

    I too am looking foward to Rob’s explanation of how he reconciles NOMA with a God that “affects the universe.” The claims are mutually inconsistent on their face. Maybe it’ll be some flavor of Polkinghorne’s assertion that God hides his interventions in quantum randomness. He’s a sneaky one, that God.

  141. #141 David
    July 21, 2007

    The example of torture that was given, is a rather good one, and I think I will spend some more time on it.

    One can, conceivably gain information from torture, as well as the possibility of money or possessions. Moreover, torture may allow you to subdue a dangerous enemy, which would impact your life in a negative way. (Perhaps by killing you.) Will torturing someone else effect you negatively? Not really. It may make you more inclined to future torture, or future violent acts, but unless we determine that any of those acts are “bad” whether or not torture effects you negatively or not must remain up in the air.

    Now, certainly most of us have feelings about torture. I should hope that most of us feel it as wrong. But that is just a feeling. It is irrational to say “This feeling I will value and obey, while the others I will not, or will do so as it suits my intellect”. To prize this particular feeling over a feeling that one likes a certain flavor of pie, is to admit that something is special about this particular feeling. But what is it? Rationality seems to say that torture may in fact be beneficial. Should we not obey our rationality over our feelings?

    Some may argue that torture is wrong, because if everyone did it, then there would be negative practical consequences. Really? Certainly for those who are being tortured. But that does not mean that these consequences would effect you. Do not be tortured. Might there be less people in the world because of this widespread use of torture? Of course. But that may very well be a good thing. Also, those who survive torture, and thrive in such an environment will be extremely strong individuals, quite capable of surviving.

    Is there some rational reason not to engage in torture if you think that you might gain something from the act? What reason(s) I have listed so far are in favor of torture. The only thing not in favor of torture is the existence of a “feeling” that it is wrong. But to obey a feeling, especially when rationality goes against it, is foolish.

    To the atheists, what rationale can be given such that you can show why people should not engage in torture?

  142. #142 Hus
    July 21, 2007

    Hi, I usually just browse but I thought I might throw in my two cents this time because of what, to me at least, seems to be quite a lot of hot air.


    Religion vs Philosophy.
    To an atheist I think the former carries many negative connotations that the latter does not.
    Personally I prefer to draw the line (for convenient reasons) as such:
    A philosophy includes anything that is non-interventionist or scientifically unobservable whereas a religion insists upon observable (at least theoretically) impingement upon the natural world.
    Using these terms, as may be obvious, one is orthogonal to science and one is not.


    The broad spectrum of these beliefs.
    Personal religious beliefs can run the gamut from one end of this spectrum (see 1. :p) to the next and yet are all often tarred with the same brush.
    The use of the word religion to cover all these beliefs merely blurs any resulting analysis through discussion – usually resulting in a lot of hot air.
    Because of this pigeon-holing approach to religion even moderate beliefs can lend inadvertent legitimacy to fundamentalist ones sheltering under the same semantic umbrella.
    This, I think, is the main cause of the recent anti-’religious’ reaction from the atheist minority.


    Anyway, it seems to me that Rob falls into the latter category (please correct me if not) and so perhaps shouldn’t be receiving all this flak.
    As such, his assertion that his beliefs are orthogonal to his work in science would be, by definition, true without any need for compartmentalization.


    There are certain questions that science cannot probe and while ‘asking’ them would be meaningless, ruminating upon them is certainly not.


    Nota Bene for the interested: I am a weak atheist who personally considers religion (see 1. :p) that impinges upon my life to be a cancer.

  143. #143 Clastito
    July 21, 2007

    The scientism of PZ and dawkins has degenerated into a “morality of reason”, a travesti obsessed with demonizing religion. It is simplistic and well… just foolish. These are not great thinkers discovering philosophical landmarks. These are pedestrian, very predictable ways of thinking. Anyone can think like these guys do: that’s why there is an army of dittoheads happy that they can find their thoughts already spitted out for them. Nothing new. “Rationalists” like that were a dime a dozen in the 30′s. Hails to science and reason are vey easy to utter indeed.

    PZ and Dawkins coud talk sweet with pretty sugar on top, or in any other way they want. I don’t care what their manners are, what they say will still be stupid.
    See, this is the thing: If we whine about the language of PZ and Dawkins, is it that you were left with no resort other than whining about the language? Probably not, but the dawkobot dittoheads will think so. Don’t whine about the language: If so, he’s managed to set you off course. He could be right despite being an asshole. People can think this could be the case. Dawkobots just assume it is.

    Also, even if you are convinced PZ or Dawkins badly hurts science education: don’t put too much weight on that. People can be led to think it is a merely political attack, that is regardless of whether they are right or not.

    Just attack when you see the philosophical brain-rot. And, since the great crowd is a bunch of dawkobot dittoheads, you can do better by NOT being nice or polite!! They think this is wavering. If you think something is stupid, say so. If you feel like laughing at them; by all means do. HAHAHA!

  144. #144 David
    July 21, 2007

    Hus, let me see if I understand you.

    “Religion” is not orthogonal to science, however religious beliefs can be. How do you seperate “religion” from its beliefs?

    Another thing I find interesting is your comment about religion the “impinges upon your life”. You seem to dislike such things. On the other hand, I would wager that you, like many other atheists, have the belief that your particular moral code should be impressed on other people. Now I could be wrong, you could just be a complete relativist in regards to your moral beliefs. But it has been my experience that the people who care about religion “infringing” on them in some way or another believe that they should be the ones doing the “infringement”.

  145. #145 Hus
    July 21, 2007

    Perhaps I wasn’t particularly clear.
    I see a personal philosophy that allows for scientifically observable supernatural intervention in the natural world as incompatible with science by definition.
    For example belief in the resurrection as written would be incompatible whereas deism is by definition compatible.

    You seem to be conflating religion and moralism for some reason.
    The two are orthogonal unless you derive your moralism purely from religious dogma in which case you’re either a fundamentalist (and can be justly ignored) or perhaps deluding yourself on the issue of where your moral code really comes from.

    Moral statements based on religious dogma are one of the reasons that religion can be a menace.

  146. #146 David
    July 21, 2007

    Why is a belief in a resurrection “incompatible” with science? Science notes, (and rightly so), that natural forces do not bring people back from the dead. Theology agrees. No natural forces have ever brought back anyone from the dead. However, theology goes farther, as it asserts the existence of the supernatural and claims that those forces can, and have, raised someone from the dead, in a rather rare event. (At least in Christianity its only happened twice).

    Now, if you equate science with philosophical naturalism then yes, science and a resurrection cannot be compatible. But if you even take the fall step of equating science with methodological naturalism, there is no problem. The resurrection does not become a matter of scientific inquiry, but rather historical/philosophical inquiry.

    Hus, religions come with morality. There is a Christian morality, an Islamic morality, a Buddhist morality, all of that. Religions make moral statements. Now, morality does not make religious statements. However, an individual (unless suffering from dissonance) can only hold a moral system that is consistent with his philosophical worldview. The two are hardly orthogonal.

    Do I derive my morality completely from religious statements? No. However, unlike you, they do serve as a factor.

    Finally, you say that moral statements based on religious dogma are one of the reasons that religion can be a menace. I am curious if you believe that is true all the time, or just some of the time? For instance, the golden rule is a moral statement, that for some, is based off of divine revelation. Shall we say that the golden rule is a menace because it comes from religious “dogma”?

    I do agree that reglion can be a menace for precisely the reason you’ve stated. However, it is not always so. I would even go farther and say that when it does become a “menace” for such reasons, that that represents an abuse of religion, and plain old good thinking.

  147. #147 Hus
    July 21, 2007

    Methodological naturalism is practically a definition of the mental compartmentalization needed to reconcile science with religion that we have been discussing. If you’re going to resort to that then the argument for there being no need of compartmentalization must be given up.

    Deriving morality from religious dogma without using the whole lot is simply cherry-picking what you already believe and as such does not fundamentally rely upon that religious dogma.

    Your statement about the golden rule is rather a slippery one.

    You state that it is, “for some”, based off of divine revelation.
    Well, “some” are welcome to believe that this nugget of wisdom was first spat out by their chosen idol but that does not make it so. Religions often lay claim to chunks of moralism and then hold them up and say “I did this!”.

    You then ask whether we should say that the golden rule is a menace because it comes from religious dogma.
    First, this is a non sequiter and second, a religion co-opting a chunk of moralism does not place that chunk in the set of chunks that I cannot adopt myself.

    Unfortunately good thinking may go hand in hand with religious belief but one does, through its dogma, often overrule the other to the detriment of all.

  148. #148 David
    July 22, 2007

    I am curious Hus.

    If the golden rule did not come from a religion (either as a development or as recognition), where then did it come? Your statement that “religions often lay claim to chunks of moralism” is completely without evidence. Now, I know that doesn’t bother most atheists as long as it furthers their hatred of all things religious. But perhaps you might be different, and not be as hypocritical as I expect you to be.

    We know that religions make moral claims. Moreover, religions have been the FIRST to make moral claims. So if anyone gets rights to a moral advance it is either going to be a religion, or a philosopher in that extremely rare case where he/she expounds on something that has never been featured in any religion. As the golden rule features prominently in at least one religion, and variants in a couple of others, I think that religion gets the credit.

    Hus, you remarked that moral statements based off of religious dogma are one of the reasons that religion can be dangerous. Certainly religions have espoused the golden rule. I would go as far as to say that some religion either first developed, or first revealed the golden rule. It was not like an atheist was the first to reveal it. I do not understand why you think that a religion espousing the golden rule is “dangerous”. Is honor thy father and mother dangerous? What about do not bear false witness?

    I am also curious why it is that atheists think they are free of dogma. Especially militant ones.

  149. #149 Hus
    July 22, 2007

    I never claimed that religion espousing the golden rule is “dangerous”. Try not to put words in my mouth.

    You appear to think that religion has primacy here but for you to claim that religion invented altruism is bordering on the preposterous.

    Neither did I claim that atheism is always without dogma – mass beliefs in general tend to accumulate such, especially when rubbing shoulders with other competing beliefs.

    Of course, by the way, I’m neither a fundamentalist believer nor a fundamentalist atheist and so I can’t really satisfy your curiosity.

  150. #150 David
    July 22, 2007

    No, of course you didn’t claim that religion “espousing the golden rule is dangerous”. You just claimed that morality based on religious “dogma” is dangerous. If it wasn’t for the fact that the golden rule was first developed and codified by religious institutions. Shame that. While I am certain you would like nothing better than if religion developed nothing but evil morality, its simply false. You will, of course, ignore this fact, and continue to make unevidenced claims.

    I should make myself clear on one thing. I am not claiming that religion brought altrusim into being. That is, I am not claiming that before religion people were not altruistic, and afterwards people were. What I am claiming is that religion was the first to codify altruism as a moral law. I am certain that as we have certain wiring that makes us naturally altruistic to some extent, that we were altruistic to that extent before any religious beliefs ever came along. But, altruistic because I simply feel like it, is far different from altruistic because I feel like it, and altruistic even when I do not feel like.

    Finally, Hus, you walk and talk like a fundamentalist atheist. All you have left to do is call me a troll and start with the usual round of fundie insults.

  151. #151 Rolfe
    July 22, 2007

    Just a thought back to the theme of the post: if someone is “rational”, and they believe that “the only way for a non-atheist to be a good scientist is to ‘compartmentalize’”, then they must have a solid deductive argument for that belief based on testable premises, right?

    I haven’t seen one yet, and would be very interested. I think that would be an important advance in our understanding of cognition.

  152. #152 David
    July 22, 2007

    Rolfe, that’s a very good point.

    I think you will find that, while demanding rigorous arguments from others, most fundie atheists do not feel it necessary to provide any of their own. It’s the true hallmark of the fundamentalist. What they say is obvious enough that it doesn’t need to be argued or proven, while anyone else has to practically write a PH.D thesis.

  153. #153 Hus
    July 22, 2007

    David, you should try and hold out longer before beginning with the insults – it’s a shame as I thought we were having an ad hominem free conversation up until now.

    I said: “Moral statements based on religious dogma are one of the reasons that religion can be a menace.”

    Your reply: “I do agree that reglion can be a menace for precisely the reason you’ve stated.”

    Nowhere have I claimed that religious statements are always evil and that you again try to put words in my mouth is unfortunate. Building up straw men isn’t going to get us anywhere.

    Regarding the golden rule – if you want to claim that religion first codified it, then be my guest and present your evidence but as far as I can tell it has cropped up numerous times and the earliest were not religious.

    If you’d like to explain exactly how I’m acting as a fundamentalist atheist I would be very interested – I certainly am not although I’m not sure where you would draw the line.

    To Rolfe:
    David’s very good point about methodological naturalism and how it is necessary to reconcile science with religion highlights the need for compartmentalization.
    I don’t think compartmentalization here should be seen as a dirty word.

  154. #154 David
    July 22, 2007

    –Regarding the golden rule – if you want to claim that religion first codified it, then be my guest and present your evidence but as far as I can tell it has cropped up numerous times and the earliest were not religious.–

    Evidence please! What were these “earliest” non-religious times where its cropped up?

  155. #155 David
    July 22, 2007

    Also, I hold a rather different view of compartmentalization than you do.

    To compartmentalize is to try and hold two conflicting, or contradictory beliefs together, by not thinking about both at the same time. It would be like a geologist who is a young-earther. When he works as a geologist, he accepts the evidence and methodology that leads to the conclusion that the earth is not young, but when he is talking about/thinking about young earth creationism he rejects this.

    On the other hand, if two things are orthogonal to each other, then one does not need to compartmentalize as one can hold both beliefs simultaneously, with no problem.

  156. #156 Rolfe
    July 22, 2007

    To Hus:
    I agree that compartmentalization is not necessarily a bad thing, and I actually think scientists (atheist or not) do it all of the time when they work. You need to hold competing, sometimes contradictory explanations of phenomena in your mind even while you temporarily commit yourself to a particular idea. Because of this, I actually think that an ability to compartmentalize effectively is a mark of a good scientist. But I certainly don’t feel comfortable making a universal declaration that you must do this to be a good scientist.

    So I was really criticizing the universal sort of statements of the form “You can’t be a scientist unless X” I hear sometimes. I have nothing against compartmentalization, but I do have something against unfounded sweeping statements. I’d love for us to be able to make justified statements like that — think of how much more efficiently we could learn! But for now, I haven’t seen a solid argument.

    Of course just because I haven’t seen something is not a good indicator that it isn’t out there.

    To David:
    I think that when someone demands rationality, it is fair to demand it in return. I think that rationality entails believing only statements that can be deduced from testable, tested, and non-falsified premises. Even then you should probably doubt whether your belief would extend well beyond the scale at which the premises have been tested. This is a high hurdle to clear, so most of the time a rational person has to settle for “I think this is true, but I’m not sure”. I find it much easier to discuss things with people who have that agnostic sort of spirit. They tend to be the most rational people I know.

  157. #157 DuWayne
    July 22, 2007

    David -

    2) If atheistic morality is nothing more than feelings, then mine is better, for mine asserts that morality is actually objective. Not just subjective bitching. If on the other hand, you have an atheistic morality that is something more than just subjective feelings and bitching, by all means englighten me.

    Do I derive my morality completely from religious statements? No. However, unlike you, they do serve as a factor.

    So then how is your morality any less subjective than that of an atheist? How is it any less based on “feelings” as you so ineloquently put it? While I think that any moral framework based on fear of divine retribution is entirely amoral, to be consistent in your view, that would have to be the entire basis for your moral framework. Do you honestly not see the glaring contradiction in the two quotes above?

    I am a theist and a secular humanist. I do what I believe in right, not because I fear divine retribution if I don’t, not because God demands it,I do what I believe is right, because I demand it of myself. While my moral framework is, in part, based on my religious notions, it is also based on how I believe that people should interact. I try to live my life, loving those around me, because I believe that if more people took that tack, society would be a much better place.

    My dad, an atheist, was a much better example of living morally, than most Christians I know. He is selfless, compassionate and honest to a fault. I know no one that has more integrity than he. His moral framework is entirely based on his perception of secular humanism. He does not base his morality on what someone tells him is right, or the best way to be, he bases it on what he believes is right and the best way to be.

    That you think there is anything wrong with this, simply shows you to be rather amoral yourself. Judging by the aforementioned quotes, also rather inconsistent, or dare I say, incoherent.

  158. #158 Hus
    July 22, 2007

    Well, I’m not sure what you’d accept as proof as such but most sources list the earliest recording of the golden rule in rougly 2000 BC Egypt.
    Of course it was also derived many times by ancient Greek philosophers and then we have Confucius and practically all major religions of course.
    In fact, it is so common across all cultures that to claim that a religion first codified it would be going out on a rather tenuous limb.

  159. #159 David
    July 23, 2007

    What I would accept as proof that religion did not first codify the golden rule, is the golden rule being codified by a non-religious source. That’s fairly simple. You mention it being mentioned in 2000BC Egypt. Ok… so who mentioned it?

    Duwayne,

    I’m not sure why, but it really seems that non-Christians have a hard time understanding this argument. But let’s go over some of the points you have wrong.

    1. Christian morality is not based on fear of divine retribution. So you are wrong there.

    2. Since you are wrong in point 1, you are wrong with the idea that there is a “contradiction” in what I’ve said.

    3. You are wrong if you think I am arguing that non-Christians are not-immoral. This is not the case. Non-Christians can very well be moral people. Thankfully, we have feelings that oftentimes lead us to do moral things, whether or not we are atheists or not.

    –I am a theist and a secular humanist. I do what I believe in right, not because I fear divine retribution if I don’t, not because God demands it,I do what I believe is right, because I demand it of myself.–

    But why do you believe that it is “right”? Do you have some objective rational argument for it? Looking through your post it seems that your “reasoning” entails that you have a goal that you like, (making society a better place), and you have some subjective notions about what might make that come about. So, beyond your subjective feelings about what you happen to like/prefer, what else do you base your morality on?

    If all your morality is based on, is based on subjective perceptions of various philosophies, then why think that other people ought to believe the same things you do?

    Look, the argument that I have been making is a very simple one. It has nothing to do with whether or not an individual person is moral or not, but with how that person views morality, and whether or not that person believes that other people should share his moral code or not, and whether that belief is rational.

    One could be a moral relativist, and simply believe that my particular moral code is subjective, and that no one need share it. However, relativism tends to cease when the relativist is affected by the actions of someone else. To be a relativist, and to seriously believe that people should share in your moral beliefs, is to say that your moral feelings should somehow be given special exemption. That while the relativist’s other feelings are just that, their feelings, these moral feelings should be given special treatment.

    If you aren’t a relativist, then you need to appeal to something beyond feelings. You can try with rational argument. However, what my comments about torture showed is that pure rationality cannot lead one to the morality that most of us share. From a purely rational standpoint one cannot derive much in the way of morality.

    One can take a “common ground” approach, and simply cite the fact that our moral feelings were formed through some process of “wiring”, where this process is perhaps evolutionary in nature. But so what? The explanation of why we might have certain subjective feelings from a biological point of view does not make them any more objecitve. One might as well say that if you physiologically predisposed to being an alcoholic, that somehow makes alcoholism ok.

    Now, you try to mix the first two. You have a goal, namely “trying to make society a better place” and from that you attempt to use reason to justify your moral code. But your goal is either something that’s objectively true, in that we ought to do that, or its just another subjective feeling on your part, “I would simply like this to occur”. Even beyond that, certainly to people can have that same goal, and still have completely different things that they think support that goal.

    What it comes down to, is that morality needs to be in part, axiomatic. Not ALL morality, but there needs to be some moral axioms. Things that cannot be reasoned to, but things that simply must be simply accepted as being true.

    Now, we can debate about those, but now we are debating about a different type of thing. Now a moral debate is closer to a mathematical debate, arguing about whether or not a certain set of axioms is consistent, or if they are all necessarily axioms and so on.

  160. #160 Hus
    July 23, 2007

    David,
    Belief in observable supernatural intervention in the natural world such as the resurrection does require compartmentalization.
    You claim that such a belief and science are orthogonal through methodological naturalism but the whole principle of methodological naturalism is the compartmentalization of philosophical naturalism away from supernatural beliefs and so your argument is invalid.

    Re the golden rule, the Egyption source is the tale of Sinuhe and is non-religious.
    However, let us consider for a moment that the first recorded instance was in a religious text. This would hardly prove that it was the earliest instance – rather that it is the earliest instance that has been preserved. We know full well the paucity of texts once we go back far enough.
    The real issue here is why would you assume that a religion first codified it when altruism is inherently fundamental to so many cultures?

  161. #161 DuWayne
    July 23, 2007

    David -

    I’m not sure why, but it really seems that non-Christians have a hard time understanding this argument. But let’s go over some of the points you have wrong.

    While I am not a dogmatic Christian, I was raised as one. Indeed, I began my journey as a fundamentalist and currently attend a dogmatic Christian church. I am not coming at this from a lack of understanding.

    1. Christian morality is not based on fear of divine retribution. So you are wrong there.

    No, I’m really not, because that is not what I was claiming. For the most part, Christians base their morality on the dogma of their respective church. It’s the enforcement of that dogma, that is based on both a fear of divine retribution and desire to please God.

    2. Since you are wrong in point 1, you are wrong with the idea that there is a “contradiction” in what I’ve said.

    But point one was not the basis of your contradiction. Your contradiction is in claiming your morality is objective, then a few comments later claiming it is subjective, but rooted in your faith.

    3. You are wrong if you think I am arguing that non-Christians are not-immoral. This is not the case. Non-Christians can very well be moral people. Thankfully, we have feelings that oftentimes lead us to do moral things, whether or not we are atheists or not.

    Ok, your just arguing that your basis for morality is superior to that of people who reject religious dogma. But at the same time you are admitting that your own moral frame is just as subjective, even as it is rooted in religious dogma. I’m just not buying the superiority.

    Morality is subjective – period. The notion that any morality must be axiomatic, is ludicrous. It would be nice if it was, but that is an impossibility. Even something as simple as the golden rule, is not an absolute. People do things that most people would consider immoral, every day. While I am sure that some of them, filled with self-loathing, recognize that they are committing immoral acts, because they believe those acts are immoral, I am equally sure that many others, just don’t see their actions as immoral.

    I think that you are trying to equate social necessity with moral absolutes. It just doesn’t work that way. While a vast majority may follow similar moral frames, i.e. murder, theft and rape are immoral, it does not make them axiomatic. Ultimately, even these, are based on feelings – indeed, they are still subjective moral frames.

  162. #162 Rofle
    July 23, 2007

    DuWayne
    I wouldn’t discount the idea that morality can be reduced to axioms so quickly — if these axioms are personal, not universal, then they are still consistent with your observation that morality is subjective. These axioms of morality are the core of your personal values and it seems worth trying to figure out what these are and whether you actually have a consistent morality.

    David, Hus
    As far as the golden rule goes, I’m not sure it’s so important whether some group originated the rule. It’s more important that they taught it. Morality isn’t a precedence contest.

    Anyway, I actually think a little examination of your personal values will lead you fairly quickly to the golden rule. Here’s a hypothetical instance of the argument:

    - The one important thing for me in life is having sheep, the more the better.
    - I could get more sheep by stealing them from my neighbor, then I’d be happier.
    - But if I act that way, then other people will surely act that way and take my sheep. What’s more, I’ll probably be a marked man if people know I’ve been stealing.
    - I’ll be better off (have mroe sheep) if I treat others the way I want to be treated and trust that others reach the same conclusion.

    It’s a risky conclusion, but it seems like on average the risk pays off for people and that might give us a fundamental insight into human nature. I’m sure Socrates and others had more eloquent things to say about it, I’m not very well read. I’m guessing that the golden rule has been independently invented many times over.

  163. #163 Science Avenger
    July 23, 2007

    It’s a risky conclusion, but it seems like on average the risk pays off for people and that might give us a fundamental insight into human nature.

    Of course it does, that’s why this whole discussion is so inane. A sense of reciprocity has been evidenced in apes, its a part of our wiring. Hell even robots with EAs develop cooperative behavior (see the blinking food-seeking poison-avoiding robots featured on sciblogs on a link I can’t find at the moment).

    Wherever morals originate in a philosophical sense, they only sustain themselves in a population if the people practicing them produce more people doing the same, either by birth, or persuasion, or killing those who disagree. There’s a good reason there’s never been a major religion that said “go forth and be sterile”, and it didn’t have dick to do with what any gods had to say about it. Ask the Shakers.

    We follow the moral rules we do for the same reasons you have ghost runners and no hitting to the opposite field when playing baseball with limited players: it works. I mean really, what sort of person needs a god to tell them that being a theif isn’t something one ought to do? All you good Christians who can’t understand how we atheists behave morally without believing in an absolute morality from an absolute source are cordially invited to try to live like you say we should (inferentially) for a while. Lie, cheat, and steal whenever you think you can do it to your benefit and get away with it. See what happens. Please. Pretty please, with sugar on it. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    You’ll learn what we already reasoned out – it sucks. Better to be honest and expect others to be honest. Get a lot more done that way. And its nice to not be looking over your shoulder all the time. Sleep better that way. No gods needed. It works. Period. So really, if you need your gods to resist your impulses to toss babies into woodchippers, I’m glad you’ve got them. Just don’t insult my intelligence implying you are somehow morally superior to me because I can resist doing so without one.

  164. #164 DuWayne
    July 23, 2007

    Rolfe -

    I was referring to the context in which it was used, universal axioms were implied. I think that in the context you are using, morality can be, indeed often is, axiomatic. At the same time, I know people who would argue that morality is inherently malleable – that anyone is capable of anything, given the proper stimuli. I disagree, but would be hard pressed to offer a coherent counterargument.

  165. #165 Hus
    July 23, 2007

    Rolfe:
    I am in complete agreement that precedence is unimportant.
    However, the idea that one’s religion is the original source of this kind of moral idea is one of the reasons many theists seem to equate atheism and amoralism.

  166. #166 David
    July 23, 2007

    DuWayne, you really haven’t understood the argument in the slightest.

    Let’s catalogue where you’ve gone wrong.

    –While I am not a dogmatic Christian, I was raised as one. Indeed, I began my journey as a fundamentalist and currently attend a dogmatic Christian church. I am not coming at this from a lack of understanding.–

    This is not a “Christian” argument. This is just a philosophical argument. It supports Christianity, but its not drawn from Christian theology.

    –Your contradiction is in claiming your morality is objective, then a few comments later claiming it is subjective, but rooted in your faith.–

    Wrong. There is a difference between “subjective” and “objective and imperfect”. One is how you want to characterize my moral code. The other is how it actually is.

    –Ok, your just arguing that your basis for morality is superior to that of people who reject religious dogma–

    No. I am arguing that one cannot hold to a moral code, and expect others to hold to that same code, unless you view some parts of that code as universally axiomatic. You can hold yourself to a relativistic moral code… but people really stop doing that once they feel their “rights” are infringed.

    Hell, the idea is even ingrained in how this nation was founded. It’s not like the founders thought that their rights were just subjective feelings.

    –People do things that most people would consider immoral, every day. While I am sure that some of them, filled with self-loathing, recognize that they are committing immoral acts, because they believe those acts are immoral, I am equally sure that many others, just don’t see their actions as immoral.–

    This does not support your claim. There are many things which exist objectively, and people for some reason or another cannot or do not understand.

    –Ultimately, even these, are based on feelings – indeed, they are still subjective moral frames.–

    If this is true, why give these feelings special place when compared to others? From a practical, intellectual perspective torture might very well be effective. Yet people think its wrong. To believe that morality is subjective, just feelings, is to say that these feelings that you call “morals” are given special place among all your feelings. You wouldn’t expect me to share your preference for a certain flavor of ice cream, would you? If I differed with you on that, you would have no problem. Of course if I differed with you on whether or not torture was wrong, then you would have a problem.

  167. #167 DuWayne
    July 24, 2007

    David -

    DuWayne, you really haven’t understood the argument in the slightest.

    No, I think you’re wrong, there’s a difference.

    This is not a “Christian” argument. This is just a philosophical argument. It supports Christianity, but its not drawn from Christian theology.

    Making the assumption that you are addressing my second, not my first point, I must respectfully disagree. While you may not see it as theologically sound, it is very much in line with the biblical interpretations of theologian John Wesley. As I understand it (though I have not studied Luther’s work, nearly to the extent I did, Wesley’s) this is also in line with the interpretations of Martin Luther. It is certainly taught in a large percentage of mainstream Christian denominations, where dogma is equated with morality. The bible certainly seems to back this up, just read the apostles.

    Wrong. There is a difference between “subjective” and “objective and imperfect”. One is how you want to characterize my moral code. The other is how it actually is.

    I am basing my statements on direct quotes of your words.

    Do I derive my morality completely from religious statements? No. However, unlike you, they do serve as a factor.

    That sounds pretty subjective to me.

    No. I am arguing that one cannot hold to a moral code, and expect others to hold to that same code, unless you view some parts of that code as universally axiomatic. You can hold yourself to a relativistic moral code… but people really stop doing that once they feel their “rights” are infringed.

    Hell, the idea is even ingrained in how this nation was founded. It’s not like the founders thought that their rights were just subjective feelings.

    You are trying to equate morality and law. The problem with that, is that the very rights the founders sought to provide us, are infringed when we attempt to codify morality into law. The law is there to protect our rights, not to be an expression of morality. While there may be overlap between laws that secure the rights of everyone in a society and what most people consider moral, it is not because the law is an expression of morality, but a tool to allow us to function and interact as a society.

    Indeed, I would argue that any law that is based only on some sort of moral judgment, or anything other than social utility, is a gross infringement of our rights. This would also make it immoral, in my book.

    This does not support your claim. There are many things which exist objectively, and people for some reason or another cannot or do not understand.

    This is only true in the context of this discussion, if you believe in universal, axiomatic morality, which I do not.

    If this is true, why give these feelings special place when compared to others?

    Because these are the feelings, the frames, that each of us use, to ultimately guide our actions. Beyond fear or lack of fear of the temporal consequences of our actions, our morality is the ultimate arbiter that tells us right from wrong. That our belief in right and wrong is entirely subjective, does not somehow make it, or even imply that it is unimportant.

    From a practical, intellectual perspective torture might very well be effective. Yet people think its wrong.

    Unfortunately, this is far from universal. Indeed, some people actually seem to not only think that some folks deserve to be tortured, but actually derive pleasure from the torturing.

    To believe that morality is subjective, just feelings, is to say that these feelings that you call “morals” are given special place among all your feelings.

    First, they absolutely do have a very special place among our feelings. Second, you are implying that feelings are unimportant, when you refer to it as “just feelings.” Yet our feelings, in large part guide our actions, our thinking, even our reasoning. I think that the greatest challenge a human faces, is overcoming our feelings, to think, reason and act, beyond what our feelings would dictate we should. One check on lesser feelings, such as anger, jealousy or envy, is our morality. Indeed, if we do not see our morality as a very special feeling, not a universal axiom, but a deep seated personal belief or ideal, we run the risk of our base emotions, overpowering our morality.

    You wouldn’t expect me to share your preference for a certain flavor of ice cream, would you? If I differed with you on that, you would have no problem.

    That really depends, you don’t like “superman” flavored icecream, do you? Cause if you do, then yes, we might have a problem;)

    Of course if I differed with you on whether or not torture was wrong, then you would have a problem.

    Believe me, we would. I would even go as far as to claim that such a position is immoral. That doesn’t change the fact that that is my subjective opinion. Hell, from a biblical perspective rape, torture and infanticide aren’t inherently immoral.

  168. #168 Rolfe
    July 24, 2007

    DuWayne-

    I’m sorry if I wasn’t following the context of the debate. I jump in hastily sometimes. I would have a hard time arguing against the “anyone is capable of anything” thesis too. I see the value in trying to develop an axiomatic morality, but I’m nowhere close to having one myself. I doubt anyone is. Good axioms are hard to come by, especially when you’re trying to do it by yourself. I still try.

    Hus-
    That is an important point. Morality seems to spring up all over the place. The fact that someone is moral because of their religion doesn’t imply anything about the morality of people who don’t share their religion.

    It’s funny, I thought early Christianity sort of sidelined morality in favor of mysticism anyway. There is a pretty clear message in the new testament that you shouldn’t try to be good, you should just try to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that you have your eternal life while you’re still on Earth.

  169. #169 DuWayne
    July 24, 2007

    Rolfe -

    Trying is the thing. I think the best place to start, rather the point, is owning ones moral frame. It’s when we follow some external, “universal,” moral frame, that it becomes all too easy to commit immoral acts. This is especially true if the frame includes much that does not seem all that immoral, such as prohibitions against eating certain foods. All that does is water down the more important aspects of the frame.

    There is a pretty clear message in the new testament that you shouldn’t try to be good, you should just try to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that you have your eternal life while you’re still on Earth.

    Actually, this is not true. As I suggested to David, read the apostles, specifically, Romans, first and second Corinthians and Titus. From a biblical perspective, eternal life is only achieved through accepting Jesus and does not happen while your still on earth. I think that you are confusing the concept that merely doing good works, is not enough for salvation.

    It is not that we shouldn’t try to be good, it’s that we cannot live a moral and upright life, without being filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, is the means by which God communicates right and wrong, specifically, the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I think that consciously or not, this is the basis for some Christians claim that without Christian faith, morality is impossible. Indeed, when you look at it from that perspective, their claim makes perfect sense.

    The stunning irony of it, is that this is an extremely amoral approach to life. This is also a good explanation for why David couches this discussion in the terms that he does, i.e. “merely” subjective feelings. The problem with this approach, as I mentioned above, is that it is entirely dependent on external forces to keep us in line, fear of divine retribution, desire to please God – the conviction of the Holy Spirit. . .

  170. #170 David
    July 24, 2007

    –While you may not see it as theologically sound, it is very much in line with the biblical interpretations of theologian John Wesley. As I understand it (though I have not studied Luther’s work, nearly to the extent I did, Wesley’s) this is also in line with the interpretations of Martin Luther.–

    DuWayne, it is you who does not understand. I am not saying that this argument does not support, or has not been brought up by theologians, or is not taught in a theology class. I am saying that this is a philosophical argument. It does not take premises/ideas that are theological and nature to begin its reasoning, nor does it conclude with a theological idea. It DOES support theology, and that support then, is a theological argument. But right now we have not even gotten to that.

    –That sounds pretty subjective to me.–

    That’s great. It “sounds” subjective to you. So your subjective judgement of my morality is that its subjective. Why then do you think I should believe that your subjective judgement is any guide to the truth of the matter?

    –Indeed, I would argue that any law that is based only on some sort of moral judgment, or anything other than social utility, is a gross infringement of our rights. This would also make it immoral, in my book.–

    As I have shown, it can be rationally argued that allowing torture, can, at times, increase “social utility”. It all is disadvantagous to one individual, and can conceivably benefit many. The only thing that is against torture, is a moral feeling. So by this statement of yours… you should be for torture. Yet you are not. Oops. Perhaps you should rethink and try again?

    Even without that, you have another problem. How does one measure social utility? Shall we say that this measurement is objective? That is, that there is a real thing called social utility? Or shall we say it is subjective? If it is subjective, then you have your idea, and I have mine, and we don’t have any right to impose them on each other. But that is precisely what morality needs. The ability to be universal. Otherwise it is useless in doing anything for society.

    Can you argue that torture will never increase social utility? It can conceivably yield information that may stop many deaths, and put many criminals behind bars. All from the torture of one man.

    –This is only true in the context of this discussion,–

    No, it is true in many contexts. If I am color blind, I cannot see colors. I can tell that there is a difference between one pigment and the next. However, that difference (the wavelength of light that that pigment reflects) is objectively real. Also, in regards to mathematics you may find someone who is not intelligent enough to understand a mathematical proof. So on and so forth. As an extreme example there is a psychotic who does not deal with reality at all.

    –Because these are the feelings, the frames, that each of us use, to ultimately guide our actions. Beyond fear or lack of fear of the temporal consequences of our actions, our morality is the ultimate arbiter that tells us right from wrong. That our belief in right and wrong is entirely subjective, does not somehow make it, or even imply that it is unimportant.–

    The fact that these feelings may be involved in important decisions does not make them “special” feelings. If my life and death are decided by a flip of a coin, (let’s say), that doesn’t make this coin flip any less of a coinflip. However, you seem to be willing to state that since moral feelings are involved in rather important decisions, they suddenly stop being just feelings, and start taking on some other aspect. You don’t think that other should share your feelings… except if they are moral feelings. Then you think they should be shared. The only other thing that we think that everyone should believe in is truth.

    –Unfortunately, this is far from universal. Indeed, some people actually seem to not only think that some folks deserve to be tortured, but actually derive pleasure from the torturing.–

    While this is true, it does not effect my argument in the slightest. I have already said that if morality is objective and universal, that this doesn’t mean that everyone practices it.

    –First, they absolutely do have a very special place among our feelings. Second, you are implying that feelings are unimportant, when you refer to it as “just feelings.” Yet our feelings, in large part guide our actions, our thinking, even our reasoning. I think that the greatest challenge a human faces, is overcoming our feelings, to think, reason and act, beyond what our feelings would dictate we should.–

    You say that morality has a very special place among our feelings. Why? The only argument that you have stated so far is that moral feelings may be involved in “more important” decisions than other feelings. But so what? Like I’ve shown, the fact that a coin flip is involved in a life or death situation doesn’t make it any less a coinflip!

    Moreover, without affording morality this special place of being a “special feeling” you have no leg to stand on. Either morality becomes a feeling just like any other, in which case by your own words we should think beyond it (which makes perfect sense), or admit that morality really is objective.

    –Believe me, we would. I would even go as far as to claim that such a position is immoral. That doesn’t change the fact that that is my subjective opinion.–

    You would in fact do more than just say it was immoral. Unlike, say, a difference in pizza toppings. We may differ on which toppings we like on our pizza, yet you would allow me to get whatever toppings I wished. On the other hand, if I engaged in torture you would try to stop me. You would say that your “special feeling” is so special, that unlike all other varieties of feelings you get to impose it on me. It’s a feeling that goes beyond “I dislike torture” to “I, and all other individuals, should not torture”.

    I’m sorry DuWayne, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have morality be a “special feeling” just because it is involved in important decisions.

  171. #171 Rolfe
    July 24, 2007

    DuWayne-

    I’ll admit to being wrong about claiming there was a “clear” message in the new testament that eternal life is something you can have here on earth, but I still think it is a reasonable interpretation.

    There are plenty of references to “dying to your self to be reborn into eternal life” that don’t seem to be referring to physical death. If they don’t refer to physical death, then it seems to imply that eternal life is something we’re capable of having here on earth. It is a little tricky to separate space and time so maybe eternal life means something a little more subtle here than “a cognitive or biological process with an unbounded world line”.

    I’m no biblical scholar — I spend a lot more time reading about number theory than theology — but this is more or less how I interpret some of those odd sounding passages. I guess getting a carrot after I die doesn’t do much for me and I would be an atheist if that’s all I thought there was to religion. This reading is pretty much amoral even if it isn’t dogmatic — you have to have faith that something external (the Holy Spirit) will guide you to make good decisions.

    When I was saying you shouldn’t try to be good, I meant that being good or doing good work will come as a side effect of having the Holy Spirit. I certainly don’t think all Christians would agree with me on this. I still think it’s important to own your own ethics and actually think about them as rationally as you can. I don’t think I got that from my religion. Thinking is part of the work that can come from your faith.

    OK, this isn’t really about science anymore. As a weak link back to the original topic, you might read “Faith and Reason” by Michael Polanyi where he argues that the process of scientific discovery is very much like a Pauline scheme of faith, works, and grace. A non-rational commitment is needed to get you to do the hard work needed for real advances in science. I thought it was an entertaining paper and a good argument against excess compartmentalization.

    I will read what you recommended and think about it.

  172. #172 DuWayne
    July 24, 2007

    David -

    I’m not going to go point by point with you. We are talking past each other here and going the rounds again isn’t going to change that. Rather, I would simply like you to explain what are universal moral axioms. List them. What are immoral acts? You will find that some of them, we will agree are immoral, some we probably won’t. Others would likely disagree with many of them to.

    Morality is not universal. It just doesn’t work that way. A lot of people think that homosexuality is immoral, I don’t. Some people think spanking a child is immoral, again, I don’t. Others think that eating pork is immoral, I certainly don’t. I think capitol punishment is immoral, many folks don’t. I think denying anyone access to health care is immoral, unfortunately a lot of people don’t. I could go on and on, never finding a single universal axiom. No matter how much I might wish they were, they will never be.

    I would then take this a step further. Not taking ownership of your moral frame, is inherently amoral. Accepting wholesale, a ready-made moral frame, is inherently amoral. It is simply meaningless, another set of rules that one decides whether to follow or not. Morality should be more than that, for many of us is far more than that. Morality is a set of rules that we set for ourselves, with the certain knowledge that regardless of external consequences, if we break them, we diminish ourselves, become less than a whole person – broken. At that point, the consequences we set for ourselves, are far worse than any external consequences could ever be.

  173. #173 Graculus
    July 25, 2007

    Evidence please! What were these “earliest” non-religious times where its cropped up?

    - David

    KNM-ER 1808 looks like pretty good evidence.

  174. #174 Graculus
    July 25, 2007

    To the atheists, what rationale can be given such that you can show why people should not engage in torture?

    Posted by: David

    Because we (as a society) have decided that it would be wrong, and we are social animals.

  175. #175 David Heddle
    July 25, 2007

    No Christian should ever claim that atheists have no basis for morality–this is against orthodox doctrine. Atheists do have a basis for their moral compass, the same basis as believers: God. That is, Christians arguing that atheists have no moral basis are completely denying what God has done.

    This is, of course, the idea of “common grace.” (If someone already brought this up, apologies–I have only skimmed the last set of comments) Common grace means even in the absence of the Holy Spirit, God has provided people have a sense of right and wrong.

    Withdrawal of this restraint is depicted as “hardening of the heart.” Thus when God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, he doesn’t create evil in Pharaoh, he simple removes the moral compass that he had provided.

  176. #176 DuWayne
    July 25, 2007

    Noticing this is going way off the original topic, I am starting a new thread here. I really hope that more than just those I contacted by email, will stop over to continue it there. I just see it drifting further and further, while it happens that I have a blog that is appropriate to the discussion.

    David Heddle – I would love to see you there too. . .I think that you would have a lot to add to the conversation, especially as we are moving into some discussion of the Holy Spirit. Your comment is very relevant to where its heading.

    That said, I am about to head out with the five year old for the afternoon, so won’t be moving it forward until later. I’ll add to the front page of the post when I return, unless the comments move ahead of me, in which case I’ll just jump on in.

  177. #177 David
    July 25, 2007

    David Heddle

    For the last time, I am not arguing that atheists are immoral people. Ok? I agree that atheist’s have the moral compass that God gave them.

    However, most atheists will not agree with that. (For rather obvious reasons).

    Moreover, to argue that morality is subjective, “feelings” as has been described, even if “special” feelings, also denies the idea that we have a moral compass.

  178. #178 Science Avenger
    July 25, 2007

    David said: I agree that atheist’s have the moral compass that God gave them. However, most atheists will not agree with that. (For rather obvious reasons).

    The most obvious ones being:

    1) A complete lack of evidence for such a being.
    2) Strong counterevidence in the form of the dramatically different moralities we find in human cultures around the world.

    Where morality can vary without direct pragmatic cost, say in the attire allowed/forbidden, or the words one is allowed to say, or on what day, then we see nothing at all that indicates a single source. They look as arbitrary as they are.

    Of course the religious will try to take the credit for purely secular moralities like laws against theft and murder, which are common across human cultures, just like they try to take credit for scientific discoveries they were dragged kicking and screaming to accept. [shrug] Same ol, same ol.

  179. #179 bob
    August 14, 2007

    The point surely, is not whether atheists are moral or Christians are moral, but that science itself does not have moral content. Science can tell me that if I stop smoking I will probably live longer, but it has nothing to say about whether that would be a good thing. It is not a criticism of science that it does not, that is how it works; The essence of the scientific method is to eliminate morality and personal desire from the observation. It is not intended to be a way of life! Religion though, is all about a way of life, and all about desire and morality. Scientific knowledge can only ever say, things are like this, and if you do such and such, so and so will happen. Morality says don’t do such and such, because so and so is a bad thing. No one, religious or not, can get through life without coming to some decisions about what to do. Science cannot even say that science is good, only that ‘it works’. If your religion says that ignorance is bliss, science cannot contradict you. So the results of science can inform religion or not and science has nothing to say about whether it should or shouldn’t; if it does, it has itself become tainted with religious sentiment. But every scientist needs a moral stance, and that must include valuing truth. Yet there is no scientific experiment to demonstrate the value of truth. The truth might (or might not) help you live longer/ be happier/ more powerful/more free; but so what? Are those your values?

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