The Intersection

i-57af9c2176cd807a507a98802cc059b1-ellie.jpgSince posting on religion last week, readers and bloggers alike have hypothesized, proclaimed, and spun words to guess where I fall on matters of faith. Some even took the time to thoughtfully write and I enjoyed reading a few extremely creative suggestions regarding where I may have hinted. As stated previously, the principle reason I do not disclose my personal view is because faith has no place in science. I do, however, concur with one of my favorite characters in fiction, Dr. Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s Contact.

The question Do you believe in God? has a peculiar structure. If I say no, do I mean I’m convinced God doesn’t exist, or do I mean I’m not convinced he does exist? Those are two very different questions.

Exactly. So I’ll leave readers with that to ponder as I’m ready to move on to more important matters at this junction like figuring out what to do about the mess we’ve made poking around this planet of ours, emitting CO2, splitting atoms, disproportionately distributing resources, and following the misadventures of Lindsey Lohan.

Comments

  1. #1 Lance
    July 26, 2007

    Sheril,

    I had you pegged for a “something” person. This is the belief that there must be “something” beyond the physical world. “Something” people don’t like the nihilistic aspects of atheism put reject the restrictive dogmatism of organized religion. They yearn for meaning and justice in the universe.

    Your last statement “…figuring out what to do about the mess we’ve made poking around this planet of ours, emitting CO2, splitting atoms, disproportionately distributing resources…” speaks to your political predilictions.

    Who exactly do you think is “distributing resources” and who should decide what “proportions” we should each receive? To each according to his need from each according to his ability perhaps?

    I try to resist the over simplified “leftist conspiracy” theory for AGW but why is it that nearly all of the loudest voices on the warmers side are invariably “progressives”?

  2. #2 Alejandro
    July 26, 2007

    Prediction: dozens of comments with predictable discussion between self-proclaimed “atheists” and “agnostics” claiming the epistemic high ground.

  3. #3 Fred Bortz
    July 26, 2007

    I like your post, Sheril. It’ll drive folks nuts and validate Alejandro’s prediction.

    As for Lance:
    why is it that nearly all of the loudest voices on the warmers side are invariably “progressives”?

    I think the real question is: Why is it that nearly all of the loudest voices on the adamant doubters side are invariably so-called conservatives who promote the agenda of big oil and big coal? I say “so-called” because there are plenty of conservatives who accept AGW and advocate conservative political approaches to deal with its consequences.

  4. #4 Loc
    July 26, 2007

    Sheril,

    I agree that “faith has no place in science.” However, I must remind you that that you are blogging. And though this is a scientific blog, you’re well aware that this isn’t a scientific journal. I do respect your right to privacy and am not requesting a personal statement of “religious” beliefs…however I think those are more appropriate reasons to refrain from the exposure.

    Also…I already know what doctrine you subscribe to.

  5. #5 HP
    July 26, 2007

    Your last statement “…figuring out what to do about the mess we’ve made poking around this planet of ours, emitting CO2, splitting atoms, disproportionately distributing resources…” speaks to your political predilictions.

    These are not political issues. These are real issues that have (partially) political solutions.

    Are you saying that you decide what is or isn’t real based on your politics? Is political alignment any basis for deciding what’s real? Wouldn’t it be more honest to form your political opinions based on reality, rather than the other way around?

  6. #6 Lance
    July 26, 2007

    Fred,

    Anyone that knows me would never refer to me as a “conservative”. I have no links, financial or otherwise to oil companies, big or small.

    The conservatives that have embraced AGW include some Christian fundamentalists that share the misanthropic vision of many environmentists, if little else. The rest are well intentioned if misguided types like John McCain or political opportunists that have put a finger in the political wind and decided that they can take advantage of the situation before the left completely co-opts the issue.

    If I thought the preponderence of evidence pointed towards a “climate crisis” caused by anthropogenic CO2 I would have no problem accepting it and changing my behavior accordingly. The evidence for such a theory is too weak and contradictory at this point to make such a conclusion.

  7. #7 Lance
    July 26, 2007

    Uh HB, the phrase “disproportionate distribution of resources” is a leftist politcal catch phrase. It assumes that goods and services are to be “distributed” to those deemed worthy rather than freely exchanged. The CO2 reference is the hallmark of AGW which is highly political in its origins and network of endorsements. The reference to “splitting atoms”, I assume, was an anti-nuclear message which is also a leftist politcal anthem.

    The only themes that could have been included to better fit a progressive “mission statement” would have made reference to the subjegation of people of color and the exploitation of the working class. Maybe she’ll get to those next.

  8. #8 Kit Stolz
    July 26, 2007

    Anton Chekhov had a genius answer to Dr. Ellie Arroway’s point about the “peculiar structure” of the question: Do you believe in God?

    Chekhov said (or is said to have said):

    “I hate God, because He doesn’t exist.”

  9. #9 Fred Bortz
    July 26, 2007

    Lance, you know I will always call you on your loaded language. You also know I am befuddled by your adamant doubts. Thus this response:

    misanthropic vision of many environmentalists

    Huh? Since when is being in favor of protecting a fragile planet and the fragile ecology that supports our species misanthropic? It seems pro-anthropic to me.

    I presume you don’t agree they’re fragile, but that’s a whole different argument.

    well intentioned if misguided types like John McCain or political opportunists

    That assumes that you’re right and they’re wrong about the science. If they’re right about the science, then they are hardly misguided. They may be political opportunists, but that’s not entirely a bad thing if the opportunity is real. In fact, if the opportunity is real, they would be political fools not to take advantage of it.

  10. #10 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    July 26, 2007

    Since, in the title, you characterise yourself as “she,” I am led to ask, did the operation meet your expectations?

  11. #11 Sven DiMilo
    July 26, 2007

    The question Do you believe in Jerry Garcia’s space helmet? has a peculiar structure. If I say no, do I mean I’m convinced Jerry’s helmet doesn’t exist, or do I mean I’m not convinced it does exist? Those are two very different questions. Especially now that Jerry himself no longer exists.

    As for the titular question, one can only answer “who cares”?

  12. #12 Loc
    July 26, 2007

    Lance said,

    “‘Something’ people don’t like the nihilistic aspects of atheism put [sic] reject the restrictive dogmatism of organized religion.”

    Could you explain this? nihilistic why?

    Also…you write:

    “If I thought the preponderence of evidence pointed towards a ‘climate crisis’ caused by anthropogenic CO2 I would have no problem accepting it and changing my behavior accordingly. The evidence for such a theory is too weak and contradictory at this point to make such a conclusion.”

    So are you saying the status quo is legit?

    Thirdly you say,

    “Uh HB, the phrase ‘disproportionate distribution of resources’ is a leftist politcal catch phrase. It assumes that goods and services are to be ‘distributed’ to those deemed worthy rather than freely exchanged.”

    This may be a “leftist political catch phrase”…but you assumption is extremely distorted. Your “black and white” characterization and attack of the ideology (of all the “anthems” you describe) is dated and weak. Reading her post, I didn’t get feel that her intentions were cloaked for political purposes. I didn’t notice the subliminal agenda that you’re so defensive about.

    Rereading the post and responses, appears that you are the one posting a “mission statement.”

  13. #13 MK
    July 26, 2007

    “The question Do you believe in God? has a peculiar structure.”
    No. It does not.

    “If I say no, do I mean I’m convinced God doesn’t exist,”
    I don’t know. Are you convinced god doesn’t exist?

    “…or do I mean I’m not convinced he does exist?”
    I don’t know, are you not convinced he does exist?

    “Those are two very different questions.”
    No kidding!

    I think Dr. Ellie was cowed into that ridiculous answer.

  14. #14 Norman Doering
    July 26, 2007

    Sven DiMilo wrote:

    The question ‘Do you believe in Jerry Garcia’s space helmet?’ has a peculiar structure.

    And that can be ignored by answering with more than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ You can say, “I’m fairly certain Jerry Garcia never owned a space helmet. He wasn’t the type in my opinion,” or you can say; “I wouldn’t have any idea about what kind of things Jerry Garcia would collect,” or “Yea, a space cadet like Garcia probably needed one.”

    Alas, it’s much more complex than Dr. Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s novel knows. Not only is “I don’t believe in God” not clear about your level of disbelief but you can’t know what other people mean by God until the term is defined. I’m more agnostic about deistic ideas of God and more atheistic about the Gods of major, traditional religions and even more atheistic about fundamentalist versions.

    There is certainly no God I could say I believe in, if by God you mean a mentally anthropic being that had desires, intentions and plans and who created the universe.

  15. #15 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    July 26, 2007

    Who exactly do you think is “distributing resources” and who should decide what “proportions” we should each receive? To each according to his need from each according to his ability perhaps?

    All good questions with so many implications on society, the environment, and the future of planet earth. Great topic for later I think..

    I must remind you that that you are blogging. And though this is a scientific blog, you’re well aware that this isn’t a scientific journal. I do respect your right to privacy and am not requesting a personal statement of “religious” beliefs…however I think those are more appropriate reasons to refrain from the exposure.

    True in theory, but de facto it’s a bit late to refrain. I continue to receive questions and commentary on the topic, and felt it best to respond here publicly rather than individually.

    I already know what doctrine you subscribe to.

    Are you sure?

    Are you saying that you decide what is or isn’t real based on your politics? Is political alignment any basis for deciding what’s real? Wouldn’t it be more honest to form your political opinions based on reality, rather than the other way around?

    I form opinions based on my values. As I often repeat, reality is merely and substantially based on experience and perspective. And yes, these values are shaped by my reality.

    If political alliances solely dictate an individual’s stance on important issues, well, that’s awfully limiting, don’t you think?

    Since, in the title, you characterise yourself as “she,” I am led to ask, did the operation meet your expectations?

    This gave me a laugh thank you. This is Sheril, not Chris. If I do begin to question my orientation, I’m sure folks would have a field day in this forum debating that one.

    As for the titular question, one can only answer “who cares”?

    Apparently a few people..

  16. #16 James Hrynyshyn
    July 26, 2007

    I applaud your resolve to keep your personal convictions (or lack thereof) to yourself. They are entirely irrelevant. Anyone who can’t make a rational argument in a blog post without drawing on their spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) isn’t worth reading.

    However, considering this is science blog community, it would seem unlikely that you would be reluctant to divulge your position if that position was agnostic/atheist/skeptic/non-believer. So that does leave most of us with the suspicion that you do harbor some degree of supernatural belief.

    Regardless, I couldn’t care less. Let’s get back to more important issues. What’s with Lohan, anyway?

  17. #17 Lance
    July 26, 2007

    Loc,

    Some people perceive atheism as nihilistic.

    Wikipedia- Nihilism (from the Latin nihil, nothing) is a philosophical position which argues that the world, especially past and current human existence, is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value.

    I am an atheist and really have no problem finding personal meaning in a “godless” universe. In fact I find it liberating. Alas some people are frightened or threatened by a world that has no supernaturally imposed rules and purpose.

    “…but you (sic) assumption is extremely distorted.”

    (That (sic) thing cuts both ways huh Loc.)

    As for my assumptions about the phrase “disproportionate distribution of resources” being distorted I must politely disagree. This is classic Marxist language that has been a staple of the left for generations. If it was meant in some other context it would require specific languauge to differentiate it from the common usage.

    Also, I don’t believe I “attacked” any ideology, leftist or otherwise in my post. I merely pointed out the political nature of Sheril’s remark,

    I’m not sure of what you mean by “So are you saying the status quo is legit?” in reference to my disbelief on AGW. Perhaps you could elaborate.

  18. #18 Lance
    July 26, 2007

    Hey Fred,

    I wasn’t implying that all people that call themselves environmentalists are misanthropes but a substantial portion certainly are. A basic tenet of many environmental groups is that humans are disturbing the “natural balance” of the planet. This casts Homo sapiens as “outside” of nature. Indeed some environmental groups see humans as parasites or even as an infection of the earth.

    Humans are just another species trying to survive and thrive in their ecosystem. We just happen to be very good at adapting to our environment.

    As a natural element of this world anything we do is by definition “natural”. If we detonated all the nuclear weapons we have ever built the resulting “damage” would be just as natural as a red tide or the “damage” wrought by a swarm of locusts.

    Indeed it is hubris of an embarrassing level to think that we are somehow beyond or above nature. If we removed ourselves and a few thousand other species from existence the “fragile” earth would recover without so much as noticing our passage.

    I would prefer we kept the earth a pleasant place to inhabit. However, it is misguided and overly sentimental to think that every species on earth must be “preserved” in some mythical balance. One need look no farther than the fossil record to see that most of the species that were here a mere 100 million years ago are no longer represented among the life forms here today.

    Those that perished were replaced by species that exploited their advantageous adaptations. Remorseless? Absolutely. Cruel? Perhaps. But to pretend nature is anything else is blatant sentimental anthropomorphism.

    So called “hard” or “dark” greens are of the opinion that we are the disease and our eventual extinction is the cure. Even “light” greens see us as “unnatural”. They just think we can learn to live with nature. Both viewpoints are illogical and unscientific. We are PART of nature, nothing more nothing less.

  19. #19 Linda
    July 26, 2007

    James,
    If you “couldn’t care less” so much, why take the time and effort to comment?

  20. #20 Ben
    July 26, 2007

    Hi Strangers,
    Regarding Faith and Science, some scientists conserve species and some create nuclear weapons. Faith, spirit and belief shape the direction science takes. Why conserve anything? Isn’t it our conscience, and what is that. Where does it exist? Is it just the sum of the information we received since birth which determines if we choose to save species or make a scientific living developing new methods of destroying species?

    Can you really separate what you write from why you write it? Can you separate what you do from why you do it? That “why”, the purpose is faith, belief, spirit.

    So, I imagine that most of us have hope or faith that we can make some kind of impact in our world. The kind of impact we make is the product of our faith, belief and spirit.

  21. #21 Inoculated Mind
    July 27, 2007

    I concur on the Lohan business, and the like.

  22. #22 Fred Bortz
    July 27, 2007

    Lance:
    I wasn’t implying that all people that call themselves environmentalists are misanthropes but a substantial portion certainly are.

    I don’t buy “substantial,” though the extremist get the most attention. Besides, the reason you brought the extreme greens into this at all was when you called them “some environmentalists” and noted that the members of the Christian right who now advocate action action AGW are like them.

    I would say that those Christians are much more like E. O. Wilson, who grew up in their tradition but is now a long-term confirmed secular humanist.

    See my review of Wilson’s recent book, The Creation (click my name). He also wrote the foreword to Newt Gingrich’s upcoming A Contract With the Earth.
    http://www.scienceshelf.com/ContractWithEarth.htm

  23. #23 llewelly
    July 27, 2007

    I still have bad memories of Newt’s ‘Contract With America’.

  24. #24 Wes
    July 27, 2007

    The question Do you believe in God? has a peculiar structure. If I say no, do I mean I’m convinced God doesn’t exist, or do I mean I’m not convinced he does exist? Those are two very different questions.

    The structure of the question isn’t peculiar. That’s the basic distinction between “strong” and “weak” atheism. Weak atheism is merely having “no beliefs” in God (basically, it’s agnosticism). Strong atheism is “believing there is no God”.

    The same ambiguities could arise any time you phrase a question in terms of belief. “Do you believe you’ll die tomorrow?” If I say, “No,” am I saying “I don’t believe I’ll die tomorrow” or “I believe I won’t die tomorrow”? Again, those are two different things. In fact, replace “believe” with another verb and you’ll get the same thing. “Are you saying we should invade Iraq?” If you answer “no”, are you saying “we should not invade Iraq” or are you “not saying we should invade Iraq.” It just boils down to which part of the sentence you’re negating.

  25. #25 Fred Bortz
    July 27, 2007

    llewelly:
    I still have bad memories of Newt’s ‘Contract With America’.

    You won’t like this one either, but it isn’t written for folks like us.

    He talks about “nightmare scenarios” but never says anything about Inhofe’s crying “hoax.”

    Still, he acknowledges AGW implicitly, which may make it easier for his conservative allies to start debating policy instead of trying to discredit the scientific consensus with conspiracy theories and such.

  26. #26 Timothy Chase
    July 29, 2007

    You quoted:

    “The question Do you believe in God? has a peculiar structure. If I say no, do I mean I’m convinced God doesn’t exist, or do I mean I’m not convinced he does exist? Those are two very different questions.”

    … to which I would add the rejoinder,

    “And if I answer yes, what do I mean by God?”

    … but thats me.

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