Pharyngula

Theology is a deceitful strategy

Karl Giberson is interviewed about the subject of his new book, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). It looks interesting, in an aggravating sort of way, and it’s on my long list of books to read and use to put dents in my wall. The interview reminds me why I detest the rarefied apologetics of sympathetic theologians as much as I do the bleatings of the purblind literalists — neither one even notices the fundamental flaws in their core of belief.

Let me be nice first. Giberson does say a number of eminently sensible things — he’s a physicist by training, he has no brief for creationism at all, he might wish Intelligent Design were true but he sees it as a betrayal of the scientific enterprise. Don’t mistake him for your corner bible thumper! Here, for instance, is a good argument well spoken:

Wouldn’t that suggest that if God was involved in evolution that he had to tinker and give us consciousness?

No, because, here’s another mystery: Consciousness emerges in the development of an embryo. We have a fertilized egg and there’s no consciousness there, and it’s not that consciousness is present but is really small, it just isn’t there. And then, some months later, a baby is born, and child psychologists debate about exactly when self-awareness occurs, but at some point before the age of 3, you’ve got a conscious human being.

Now, God doesn’t have to step in to make consciousness occur, but something that we don’t understand at all is occurring. I don’t think it’s supernatural. I think that someday we may understand this. There’s something going on that when the neuronal networks reach a certain level of complexity, something appears that maybe is brand-new and that is consciousness. But that’s just a guess about how we’ll eventually be talking about that phenomenon.

That’s an argument I’ve used before, but I can see stealing that for the conciseness. Giberson also doesn’t make the mistake of demonizing atheists as amoral monsters, either.

Do you think life can only have meaning and purpose with God?

I think it’s very dangerous to try and argue that. I have children and raising them has been one of the most inspiring and purpose-filled parts of my life. Yet it doesn’t seem helpful to say that seems meaningful and not meaningless because God made child-rearing purposeful. I found it purposeful to learn how to do a Willie Mays basket catch when I was in high school. I got very good at it and loved doing it. But certainly, God didn’t make that a part of the natural order. So I think there’s loads of ways to get purpose because purpose ultimately is a psychological state of mind. And certainly people like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould aren’t walking around glum all the time, saying, “Oh, life has no purpose, I think I’ll just kill myself.” They are very energetic people who love life and do lots of fun things. I don’t think Christians are wise to say we’ve got the corner on purpose.

Good for him. Of course, now we also have to note an unfortunate reality: that statement immediately removes him from the realm of the majority of believers, whose central objection to scientific conclusions rests on the twin pillars of a sanctimonious sense of morality and a demand for recognition of the superiority of their species/culture/race/sect, that unfortunate combination of exceptionalism and bigotry. This is one of many reasons I dislike these theologians, despite the sensible bits with which I agree — they provide cover for inanity. So often, you’ll get into an argument over the latest insane nonsense from the world of the god-soaked, and someone will petulantly tell you that you’re picking on the weak arguments, that there is a world of smart, clever, well-informed religion, and then they’ll point to someone like Giberson and tell us that his is the real religion. Liberal divinity schools seem to have the primary purpose of churning out theological stalking horses, so the benighted mob can frolic in ignorance behind them.

But all right, Giberson can’t be blamed for that — he deserves some credit for extracting reason and rational support for science out of the slop-trough of religion. Would that many, many more Christians and Moslems would put the thought into what they ought to believe that Giberson has.

Of course, if Giberson carried that reasoning to its logical conclusion, he’d be an atheist. He isn’t. That means that his ideas are full of the woolly headed apologetics common to those who make excuses for faith, and for that I do fault him. Even the premise of his book is the kind of category error he and his ilk try to deny.

His book is about reconciling science and religion. Funny word, that “reconcile”. We don’t talk about reconciling apples and oranges, yet practically the first defense of theologians is to claim that gods are completely different phenomena, not of this natural world, distinct from the subject of science, yet at the same time they babble obsessively about reconciling the two. This is what I tell creationists all the time: cut to the chase. You’re going to declare a miracle at some point, so all the flailing about to claim scientific relevance is a waste of time. I would say the same to Giberson: you can’t reconcile science and religion, and it’s all a pretense on your part, because somewhere in your rationalization you’re just going to trot out the warm fuzzies of “metaphor” and “faith”, and you’re ultimately going to profess a belief in some weird sect that contradicts other weird sects, and you aren’t even going to try to explain why. These are people who sit down to a fine meal, rich with delicate flavors, and sprinkle dried bullshit on it … and then declare the ripe, repulsive flavor of dung was the best part of dinner.

Giberson does not disappoint.

Many Christians insist the Bible is the literal word of God.

Yes, that’s widespread and again it’s because of a certain lack of sophistication from a literary point of view. Many people translate “the word of God” into the “words of God.” They don’t recognize that when you talk theologically about the Bible being the word of God, you mean that it contains an important message, that God is revealing himself through the history of Israel and Jesus Christ. New Testament theology gives us the “Word made flesh in Jesus.” But that phrase makes no sense if you’re talking about words and sentences. But it does make sense if you’re talking about some kind of revelation about the nature of God.

The Bible is correctly understood in Christianity as the Word of God. But it’s a distortion to say the Bible contains the words of God as if God had dictated these things. We need to grant that there are differences in the way that biblical authors talked about the world. We can’t just pull all of this into the 20th century as if it was just recently written down by God for our benefit.

That is so awful and so typical. He is correct that taking the bible literally is unsophisticated. What he then does, though, is waffle, lifting his own vague inferences up out of the text, and assumes that this implies that somehow the bible is a valid window into the nature of his particular god. Why should we accept that this uneven hodgepodge of scattered writings by authors of varying degrees of talent and lunacy is an inspired insight into the mind of his god at all? What makes it better than the Bhagavad Gita, the Iliad, the Gilgamesh, Moby Dick, or the latest potboiler from Danielle Steele? He does not say. This class of theologian never says.

I don’t think God is revealing himself through the history of Israel and Jesus Christ. I think humanity is revealing itself through its own narratives, and that’s equally true of the history of the Ashanti as it is of the Hebrews, and the words of Paul are as true a slice of the human experience as the words of Dan Brown. If you want to take the stream of words generated by humanity as non-literal, as you must, and interpret them as a reflection of something real, it makes more sense to see them as a mirror of the human condition rather than a crystal ball into the mind of an imaginary deity.

To call a book the metaphorical wisdom of a god is as offensively stupid as calling it the literal wisdom of a god. And note, Giberson seems to blandly accept that cock-and-bull story of the cosmic ruler of all taking earthly form and trotting about in some Roman backwater until he died of heart failure on an instrument of torture. What kind of reasonable rationale exists for that bit of nonsense? Why isn’t he expecting us to believe without evidence in Anansi stories, or Thor’s battles against the frost giants, or the sacrifice of Prometheus?

And then there’s this:

You criticize creationism’s leading opponents like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould for treating evolution as religion. What’s your main point of contention with them?

I think there’s a reckless extrapolation from what we know about evolution to an all-encompassing materialism. Evolution has so much of its data missing in history that to look at the whole thing and say we know for sure that despite all the stuff we can’t find, and have never seen, has purely naturalistic causes — and we know this with such certainty that we insist the knowledgeable buy into this idea — goes way too far. It overlooks the reality of human experience, overlooks that religious experiences are very common and meaningful for a lot of people.

I’m not at all uncomfortable saying that religious experiences can be genuine. A lot of them are fraudulent and some of them are epileptic seizures or whatever. But I believe in God, I believe God is personal and that God exists and cares about the created order. I think it’s a very reasonable belief that God interacts with creation and that experiences people have of interacting with God are profound and deeply meaningful.

This is more infuriating blather. Gould and Dawkins do not claim that evolution as a religion, or that it should be treated as one, and neither do I; that would be ridiculous, since if I were equating the two, that would mean I think people ought to grow out of their absurd faith in evolution. Evolution is not a god-of-the-gaps enterprise, either — we have positive evidence for natural phenomena, and reasonably extrapolate those phenomena to tentatively explain what we don’t know…and most importantly, suggest observations and experiment that can further expand our knowledge. It’s the inverse of a faith that seeks solace in unexamined beliefs about the voids in our understanding, filling them in with fantasies and demanding that those darned nosy scientists leave them alone.

And far from overlooking the reality of religious experience, we scrutinize that reality far more carefully than the theologically inclined find comfortable. Where the pious see the Virgin Mary in a pita, we look and see cooked bread, random mottling, and a credulous brain that matches an irregular pattern to a familiar expectation. I think we have the more accurate and useful explanation; if the religious think they have a better explanation, then they’re welcome to propose it and subject it to critical evaluation. If it’s just nebulous, airy-fairy “you’ve got to believe” or “you’ve got to respect our faith” B.S., then they can go get in line with the dowsers and UFOlogists and Bigfoot fans.

I don’t think Giberson sees universal spiritual truths in the Madonna-in-a-pita phenomenon (but maybe he does; I’ll have to read his book to find out), but he does believe in something equivalent. He is not a literalist looking for a bearded man in the sky described in the bible, but instead has this vague metaphorical notion that if he melts down the bible in the philosophical flux of his personal beliefs, he’ll be able to extract something ethereal and true from its words — a beautiful, loving, personal god who thinks he is really, really important and wants to give him eternal life in a paradise. That’s his Madonna-in-a-pita, his credulous imposition of an expected pattern on the swirling chaos of generations of ravings and noise and poetry that is the Christian faith. I suspect he is sincere in his delusion.

It’s still just as wrong as expecting a god’s dimensions to be spelled out in Imperial units in a mathematically defined pattern of letters in the book of Daniel. It’s all pareidolia, pure and simple, and there is no reason given that we should respect that — it’s simply assumed that all matters of faith deserve reverence.

Screw that.

Look at the bible as a pastiche, a collection of mutually and often internally inconsistent fragments slapped together for crude reasons of politics and art and priestly self-promotion and sometimes beauty and a lot of chest-thumping tribalism, and through that lens, it makes a lot of sense. It does tell us something important…about us, not some fantastic mythological being. It tells us that we are fractious, arrogant, scrappy people who sometimes accomplish great things and more often cause grief and pain to one another. We want to be special in a universe that is uncaring and cold, and in which the nature of our existence is a transient flicker, so we invent these strange stories of grand beginnings, like every orphan dreaming that they are the children of kings who will one day ride up on a white horse and take them away to a beautiful palace and a rich and healthy family that will love them forever. We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

Theologians like Giberson who try to impose their fantastic personal delusions on a book like that actually interfere with our understanding — they betray the entirely human story that we should be trying to extract from it. I will have no truck with the perpetuation of fallacious illusions, whether honeyed or bitter, and consider the Gibersons of this world to be corruptors of a better truth. That’s harsh, I know — a Giberson isn’t the clear, present danger of a fundamentalist theocrat, but he is undermining the core of rationalism we ought to be building, and I find his beliefs pernicious rather than malignant. But that’s still something we must resist.


What do you know: Jason Rosenhouse has already written a review of Giberson’s book.

Comments

  1. #1 Shan
    July 1, 2008

    The latest book on similar lines:

    “Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion” by Stuart Kauffman.

    http://www.amazon.com/Reinventing-Sacred-Science-Reason-Religion/dp/0465003001

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

    “Stuart Alan Kauffman (28 September 1939) is an US American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher concerning the origin of life on Earth. He is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection, as well as for proposing the first models of Boolean networks.”

  2. #2 Don
    July 1, 2008

    Thanks for that. The penultimate paragraph is PZ at his best and most memorable.

  3. #3 H.H.
    July 1, 2008

    To call a book the metaphorical wisdom of a god is as offensively stupid as calling it the literal wisdom of a god.

    Exactly! Not that you’ll ever get the god-deluded to admit as much, whatever their stripe.

  4. #4 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    The interview reminds me why I detest the rarefied apologetics of sympathetic theologians as much as I do the bleatings of the purblind literalists

    Oh, but they’re interesting, PZ. The great Henry Gee tells us so!

  5. #5 mr-zero
    July 1, 2008

    Just scanned down the article – he can’t be too bad, no Comic Sans!

  6. #6 Bill Dauphin
    July 1, 2008

    Is there a wave of this sort of stuff coming down on us? When my mother recently visited, she was looking for a book called Thank God for Evolution!: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. We couldn’t find it at the local bookstore and eventually determined that it hadn’t been released yet. I note that now it is. It’s by one Michael Dowd, described on the Amazon page as a former YEC. Anyone heard of this guy?

    I wonder if this phalanx of conciliatory books is a reaction to the clutch of so-called New Atheist books that have appeared over the last few years.

  7. #7 Hoosier X
    July 1, 2008

    I’ve read the christian bible. I’ve read what people have to say in its favor, and I’ve read what its critics have to say. I have long listened to people on both sides of this argument. I even went and saw “Expelled” and thought, “This is the best they could do?”

    I don’t want to go so far as to say I’m an atheist. But, if there is a God, he or she or it is completely irrelevant.

    And if the judeo-christian god exists, he or she or it is either a dick or an idiot or a very unappetizing combination of the two.

    And you can tell yhvh I said so.

    Read my upcoming book, “God doesn’t give a shit and he thinks you’re an asshole.”

  8. #8 qetzal
    July 1, 2008

    We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

    Best line I’ve seen in a good long while!

  9. #9 Reginal Selkirk
    July 1, 2008

    Amen!

  10. #10 PZ Myers
    July 1, 2008

    Yeah, I reviewed Thank God for Evolution. Didn’t care for it.

  11. #11 Shan
    July 1, 2008

    #6 Bill Dauphin wrote:

    It’s by one Michael Dowd, described on the Amazon page as a former YEC. Anyone heard of this guy?

    PZ reviewed the book last year:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/07/thank_god_for_evolution.php

  12. #12 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    Shan@1,
    Looks like Kauffman’s going for a Templeton!

  13. #13 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    These are people who sit down to a fine meal, rich with delicate flavors, and sprinkle dried bullshit on it … and then declare the ripe, repulsive flavor of dung was the best part of dinner.
    LOL! Actually, that’s something my dog would really appreciate!

  14. #14 Glen Davidson
    July 1, 2008

    Yeah yeah, consciousness also appears during waking from the unconsciousness during sleep every morning. It’s clearly not an impossible mystery.

    That said, I don’t especially mind his apologetics. Sure it’s BS, but it’s BS made compatible with sensible knowledge. If it weren’t that, it would simply be religious BS. Considering that many check their minds with religious BS, I’m glad that some will smuggle openness to science into their religious BS.

    As pure thought, I am not in favor of it. As a didactic exercise, I do like it.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  15. #15 Ktesibios FCD
    July 1, 2008

    Something which always pops into my mind whenever I see the word “apologetics”:

    If you have to keep apologizing for it, why do you keep doing it?

  16. #16 Zombie
    July 1, 2008

    he’s a physicist by training

    Oh no…. there better not be any silly fribbling about consciousness and quantum mechanics in this book.

  17. #17 Will E.
    July 1, 2008

    It was a fine day when I finally realized that even the most reasonable, intelligent and educated theist was just as deluded as the most slack-jawed creationist. Both groups begin with faulty premises; it only gets worse from there, just in different directions.

  18. #18 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    I wonder if this phalanx of conciliatory books is a reaction to the clutch of so-called New Atheist books that have appeared over the last few years. – Bill Dauphin

    I would guess so – and if so, they are evidence that the Overton window shifting strategy works!

  19. #19 MZ
    July 1, 2008

    PZ, you’re such a good writer. You should write a book on atheism and science for the masses.

  20. #20 mr_p
    July 1, 2008

    Well said PZ. I especially took notice of the bullshit on the fine dinner and the orphans dreaming they are nobility parts.
    As for Madonna on a pita, I liked her early stuff, bought her latest CD. Is that the title of her next album?

  21. #21 Michael
    July 1, 2008

    Giberson is not a “fundamentalist” since he is trying to unite secularism with the Bible. A true fundamentalist would never unequally yoke together two opposing principles such as secularism and Christianity. Karl Giberson in fact has been used as a tool to try and counter “fundamentalists” in their approach to the origins of life. He was invited to speak at the Vatican who also has embraced evolution so years ago as their official document revealed. I think you use the term (fundamentalism) too loosely PZ. Just because one believes in the existence of God, and takes a few things as face value, doesn’t mean they are “fundamentalists”. Just like in the political world, there are conservatives and liberals in different parties. For example, there are conservative Dems known as Reagan Democrats. And then there are mainstream Democrats which would be considered as liberal and so on…

  22. #22 Bill Dauphin
    July 1, 2008

    Curiouser and curiouser. Just a couple weeks ago, the information-desk person at our local Borders very clearly told me and my mother that Thank God for Evolution had not yet been released, and actually gave us a specific release date. Yet when I look more carefully at my own Amazon link, I see the publication date listed as last November… and when now that I look at it, I recall reading PZ’s review. I didn’t make the connection because I was thinking of this as a brand new book.

    [Totters off muttering to self...]

  23. #23 spencer
    July 1, 2008

    #8 –

    Agreed. That line really stood out for me too. I may steal it for my email sig.

  24. #24 ndt
    July 1, 2008

    Giberson dispensed with Biblical literalism. Good for him. Then he wrote:

    They don’t recognize that when you talk theologically about the Bible being the word of God, you mean that it contains an important message, that God is revealing himself through the history of Israel and Jesus Christ.

    Where’s his sophisticated theological argument for that?

    This tailor is friendly and well-spoken, but the emperor still has no clothes.

  25. #25 Patricia
    July 1, 2008

    …go get in line with the Bigfoot fans…THAT was really funny PZ. :)

  26. #26 PZ Myers
    July 1, 2008

    Tsk, tsk, Michael. Work harder at it. I’m plainly saying that Giberson is not your bible-thumpin’ fundagelical, and I don’t like him, anyway.

  27. #27 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    For example, there are conservative Dems known as Reagan Democratshalfwits. – Michael

    There, fixed it for you.

  28. #28 Mike
    July 1, 2008

    Wow, that’s a wonderfully powerful and stylish and succinct and freaking awesome critique. This post is one of PZ’s best.

  29. #29 Bad
    July 1, 2008

    It’s always a fair point to note that faith claims are unsubstantiated and ultimately explain little. But I think we would go to far in asserting that the general thrust of liberal theology )that there is a God who’s mark is in some Bibley Code way apparent through study of all sorts of myths and spiritual perspectives) is just plain irrational or invalid.

    It’s possible that’s its the case. Our strongest position is not to deny that possibility, but to simply point out that there’s no fundamental justification for believing it.
    Pareidolia is definitely an excellent analogy here.

    I’ve also long wondered why it is that liberal christians retain the Bible at all in its calcified, official form. That seems to me to be a fundamentally, well, fundamentalist preoccupation (one true set of words), as opposed to what I would expect from liberal theologians, which is the use of lots of different text modern and new, without any special place for whatever a couple of 3rd and 4th century people unilaterally decided.

  30. #30 Glen Davidson
    July 1, 2008

    This is the most objectionable:

    I think there’s a reckless extrapolation from what we know about evolution to an all-encompassing materialism. Evolution has so much of its data missing in history that to look at the whole thing and say we know for sure that despite all the stuff we can’t find, and have never seen, has purely naturalistic causes — and we know this with such certainty that we insist the knowledgeable buy into this idea — goes way too far.

    Some almost certainly do go too far into fictions such as “materialism” and “naturalism”.

    That said, we do not properly (and many of us don’t at all) insist that everything has “purely naturalistic causes”. We simply note that what we see does not deviate from physics, and indeed, that anything “supernatural” would seriously call into question the amazing reliability of thermodynamics and the rest of physics.

    In court you don’t get away with claiming that a miracle got that lady’s pocketbook into your possession–because that’s a dishonest claim. So are any miracles which lack the requisite evidence to show violations of the “natural order” (that is, all miracles). It’s simply a matter of being honest with one’s experience that makes us deny miracle claims, not an absurd claim that we are omniscient and may thus deny all possibility of miracles.

    It overlooks the reality of human experience, overlooks that religious experiences are very common and meaningful for a lot of people.

    He overlooks the fact that “religious experiences” are not exclusive to the religious, and they are far from demanding any kind of religious explanation for them. Indeed, the acid experience is quite suggestive that it is the result of chemicals and the rest of brain physics.

    I’m not at all uncomfortable saying that religious experiences can be genuine.

    Who denies their genuineness? We simply deny that anything more than physiology is involved in them–according to the available evidence.

    A lot of them are fraudulent and some of them are epileptic seizures or whatever. But I believe in God, I believe God is personal and that God exists and cares about the created order. I think it’s a very reasonable belief that God interacts with creation and that experiences people have of interacting with God are profound and deeply meaningful.

    And just what sort of evidence could show that epileptic seizures are any less “genuine religious experience” than any other brain state is? The fact that he denies the divinity of epilepsy and insanity only indicates that his is an incoherent worldview. You can either accept all spiritual manifestations as indicating the truth of some realm beyond “objective awareness”, and thus believe the insane, or you can learn to be skeptical of all religious experiences (without, of course, denying that they are real and meaningful to the person).

    He wants his “experience of the beyond” to be credited, without his being willing to allow that certain insane folk far surpass his “knowledge of the beyond”.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  31. #31 David
    July 1, 2008

    We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

    zOMFnG that is amazing. That is my new IM tagline. (credited, of course)

  32. #32 Epikt
    July 1, 2008

    Will E.:

    It was a fine day when I finally realized that even the most reasonable, intelligent and educated theist was just as deluded as the most slack-jawed creationist. Both groups begin with faulty premises; it only gets worse from there, just in different directions.

    Except that educated theists will sneer that, because you don’t have an advanced degree in godification, you’re a philistine who can’t possibly understand their sophisticated arguments. But I agree with your point–I’ve never understood how building a towering edifice of logic atop a foundation of flawed premise is supposed to produce anything but epic fail. I’ve come to believe that so-called sophisticated theology simply uses complexity as obfuscation, in the hope that you won’t notice the inherent circularity of its arguments.

  33. #33 H.H.
    July 1, 2008

    Michael, PZ never used even used the word “fundamentalist” except when he wrote “Giberson isn’t the clear, present danger of a fundamentalist theocrat.”

    So it would seem your single criticism is utterly baseless. Save yourself some time in the future and actual read something before you waste energy typing up unrelated responses.

  34. #34 Rey Fox
    July 1, 2008

    “I wonder if this phalanx of conciliatory books is a reaction to the clutch of so-called New Atheist books that have appeared over the last few years.”

    If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

  35. #35 Shan
    July 1, 2008

    Ref. #1

    There may not be a christian theological deceit in Kaufman’s Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion , but it looks like an out-and-out anti-atheist book:

    Consider the woven integrated complexity of a living cell after 3.8 billion years of evolution. Is it more awe-inspiring to suppose that a transcendent God fashioned the cell, or to consider that the living organism was created by the evolving biosphere? As the eminent complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman explains in this ambitious and groundbreaking new book, people who do not believe in God have largely lost their sense of the sacred and the deep human legitimacy of our inherited spirituality. For those who believe in a Creator God, no science will ever disprove that belief. In Reinventing the Sacred, Kauffman argues that the science of complexity provides a way to move
    beyond reductionist science to something new: a unified culture where we see God in the creativity of the universe, biosphere, and humanity. Kauffman explains that the ceaseless natural creativity of the world can be a profound source of meaning, wonder, and further grounding of our place in the universe. His theory carries with it a new ethic for an emerging civilization and a reinterpretation of the divine. He asserts that we are impelled by the imperative of life itself to live with faith and courage-and the fact that we do so is indeed sublime. Reinventing the Sacred will change the way we all think about the evolution of humanity, the universe, faith, and reason.

  36. #36 Nicole
    July 1, 2008

    Now if it was just the non-believers and the believers like Giberson in the world, I think we could have lovely discussions, and not trouble each other too much in the long run. Sadly, it’s the moderates which allow the fundies who just ruin it for everyone. *sigh*

    Pareidolia in text… bravo!

  37. #37 John Farrell
    July 1, 2008

    We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

    Well said. We do have the ability to annihilate the earth, however, along with every other species on it, but… that makes us something else entirely.

  38. #38 Peter Ashby
    July 1, 2008

    I have got Mark Vernon’s After Atheism: Science, Religion and The Meaning of Life. He used to be an Anglican (Episcoplian to you Colonials) Priest but got disillusioned and became and Atheist, got disillusioned, a PhD in Philosophy and now he is arch proselytiser for a muscular agnosticism. it is driving me to distraction and I am only on page 50. He seems to be building up to a sophisticated form of Pascal’s Wager. He seems to have swapped the Bible for Socrates as well, as though we have learned nothing about the human condition since either, sheesh.

    I got it out because it has this from Michael Shermer on the cover:
    ‘I rcommend this work be read by skeptics and believers alike.’

    Must find the full review to see the context of that I think. I have had too much good beer (Innis&Gunn beer matured in Malt Whisky barrels and Tripel Karmeliet from Belgium, a live Trappist beer) to be able to read any more tonight without blowing a fuse…

  39. #39 co
    July 1, 2008

    I desperately hope that those reviews of Kauffman’s book are simply wishful thinking on the part of some fundie reviewers. Kauffman always struck me as an eminently sensible (read: non-theistic) guy, at least from what I knew of him from Waldrop’s book “Complexity” (which I highly recommend). If Kauffman really has turned out to be a fundie nutjob, I’ve just lost one of my long-time heros.

  40. #40 Trent Eady
    July 1, 2008

    Schlock is like the tide… it never stops coming in.

  41. #41 Pablo
    July 1, 2008

    He is correct that taking the bible literally is unsophisticated. What he then does, though, is waffle, lifting his own vague inferences up out of the text, and assumes that this implies that somehow the bible is a valid window into the nature of his particular god. Why should we accept that this uneven hodgepodge of scattered writings by authors of varying degrees of talent and lunacy is an inspired insight into the mind of his god at all? What makes it better than the Bhagavad Gita, the Iliad, the Gilgamesh, Moby Dick, or the latest potboiler from Danielle Steele? He does not say. This class of theologian never says.

    This concept was probably the key for me to abandon all the pretense of belief in God. I knew that it was idiotic to not believe literally, but then again, if you don’t believe literally, you end up chosing arbitrarily what to believe or not. If you are just going to pick and chose what parts you want to accept, in what way is that book any different from any other, which I could just as easily pick and chose from?

    If I am picking and chosing parts I like, what is a Holy Book actually teaching me? Nothing I don’t already know, apparently. So who needs it?

  42. #42 Longtime Lurker
    July 1, 2008

    PZ, is there no nobility in the Lowly Worm?

    At least it looks great in a Tyrolean hat!

    http://burningideas.com/applecar/

  43. #43 Shan
    July 1, 2008

    #39 “co” wrote:

    If Kauffman really has turned out to be a fundie nutjob, I’ve just lost one of my long-time heros.

    He seems like a New Agey kind of guy (at least his book smells like thick ambitious woo.)

  44. #44 Dagger Up The Strap
    July 1, 2008

    Wot, no reconciling fact and fiction?

  45. #45 Roland
    July 1, 2008

    “… despite all the stuff we can’t find, and have never seen…”

    Apparently physics doesn’t have to rely on things “we have never seen,” except, of course, you know, atoms, or the electromagnetic spectrum or all those weird little particles with funny names…

    “and we know this with such certainty that we insist the knowledgeable buy into this idea — goes way too far.”

    Yes, we know that those who don’t “buy into” the idea will get EXPELLED…someone should make a movie about it….

    “…overlooks that religious experiences are very common and meaningful for a lot of people…”

    Unless I’m wrong, all science “overlooks” that. Are we to understand that physics incorporates “religious experience” into its analysis?

    Sorry…first time commenting here…this guy really annoyed me…

  46. #46 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    Bravo PZ.

    Your message deserves a larger audience. You’re still young, get to work on the book.

    It’s nice to read someone so concisely explain why the call for reconciliation is really a call for unwarranted respect by riding on the accomplishments of rational thought and skeptical inquiry.

  47. #47 windy
    July 1, 2008

    there’s a reckless reasonable extrapolation from what we know about evolution anything you care to name to an all-encompassing materialism naturalism.

    Fixed. See also Barbara Forrest on naturalism

  48. #48 Ibid
    July 1, 2008

    If you use Cain and Able as allegory for Humans and Neanderthal…
    …and you view the Creation story by thinking of the 5 big extinction events as the end of a day…
    …and you say that the laws of physics are simply tools found in God’s toolbox with the word “miracle” used for tools we don’t yet understand…

    …you’re still talking out of your ass.

  49. #49 Helioprogenus
    July 1, 2008

    It’s unbelievable how much credibility so many idiots on this planet place to some supposed mythological and legendary stories that happened in some backwater corner of the world. All the Abrahamic religions place the foundation of their beliefs on some ancient cobbled-together mesopotamian stories that were then truncated to fit the needs of a migrating people, who also borrowed heavily from Egyptian and subsequently Zoroastrian mythology. This whole nonsense of chosen people and the thousands of years of chaos that has since resulted is utterly stupid and illogical. I do beleve it speaks of our nature as intelligent but highly unpredictable apes who need some form of comfort when ignorance is the only way of life. As knoweldge, rationality, empirical evidence, and the scientific methods progress, we must shirk off these false comforts and embrace the universe as it truly is. An astonishing place capable of supporting life, yet, apathetic to whether said life survives or goes extinct. Such is reality, and no amount of wailing, chanting, praying, flailing, penance, self flaggelation, self immolation, rain dancing, or for that matter, any other stupid half-hearted method of achieving comfort can ever fully change the nature of the universe. Our goal and purpose is what we choose to do with our intelligence, and that should be in exploring and attempting to postulate and ultimately try and answer as many questions as we can, before our atoms disperse among the nebulous vastness of space and time.

  50. #50 John S
    July 1, 2008

    I have to echo Mike, #28. More than extremely well expressed!

  51. #51 Andrew K
    July 1, 2008

    Isn’t it interesting how Giberson sees evolution as having “so much of its data missing” but doesn’t seem to realize that Stephen Jay Gould is dead (as he speaks of him in the present tense)? Perhaps it is a niggling point, but why would we trust a man’s knowledge of evolution when it looks like he thinks one of the most well known popular writers of science of the 20th century is still alive?

  52. I read Mr. Giberson’s comments this morning and now, surfing over here, I see that PZ has already done a masterly job of reflecting on it. My own opinion is that after reading the interview I cannot understand why someone as rational as Mr. Giberson bothers with any religious beliefs at all. If having religion is not meant for moral purposes, or as way of explaining the world, but only as a means to share the “spirituality” (read: superstitions) of the human past it hardly seems worthwhile to even get up a small Inquisition. Many of the comments at salon.com on the original interview suggest most readers see through this. And the argument that evolution is a “religion” since it has to extend itself by inference overlooks the idea that evolution is based on facts and an observation of the natural world whereas at least the Christian religion seems founded on a questionable book and nothing more.

    I have to say that after months of reading this blog and Dawkins’, I wonder why we still have yet to actually make it into the Age of Reason.

  53. #53 David
    July 1, 2008

    @#37:

    We do have the ability to annihilate the earth, however, along with every other species on it, but… that makes us something else entirely.

    Meh. Us, or a kilometer-sized hunk of asteroid. What’s the diff?

  54. #54 The Science Pundit
    July 1, 2008

    I think the reviewers are reading too much into Kaufman. I’ve always found him reasonable and interesting. And he is an atheist (he’s said as much in several of his articles), but he does speak of spirituality in a way that could easily lead a fundie to think he was anti-atheist.

  55. #55 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    I’ve come to believe that so-called sophisticated theology simply uses complexity as obfuscation, in the hope that you won’t notice the inherent circularity of its arguments. – Epikt

    I think, in most cases, it’s more so the theologians won’t notice the inherent circularity of their arguments.

  56. #56 sailor
    July 1, 2008

    PZ, Given your output, I am amazed at how you always write well and structure your thoughts clearly, but that penultimate paragraph is in your top tier. Save it for he best of PZ

  57. #57 astroande
    July 1, 2008

    Excellent post.

    For several years I used to sit in that middle ground, if you can call it that, between science and faith where Giberson seems to dwell.

    I grew up in a nominally Christian household, though we never were big church-goers or anything — we were one of those Christmas and Easter only families.

    Throughout college I pretty much used the same “religion and evolution aren’t incompatible” line, though of course I always reviled creationism, particularly ID. But I think any faith sort of started gradually wearing away as my knowledge of science increased and I realized that actually, they are kind of incompatible. Seeing how religion breeds violence and they way religious conservatives treat gays, etc. kind of helped wear the faith away too.

    I do think that understanding and studying religion has its value if only purely from an anthropological view as a mirror looking back at us and our societies.

  58. #58 Cheezits
    July 1, 2008

    Why should we accept that this uneven hodgepodge of scattered writings by authors of varying degrees of talent and lunacy is an inspired insight into the mind of his god at all?

    Who’s this “we” you’re referring to? Judging by the title, it sounds to me like he’s specifically addressing Christians. So they take it as given that the Bible is the word of God. Did he ever say that non-believers should buy any of this? Try not to take everyhing you read personally. :-D

  59. #59 Holbach
    July 1, 2008

    To me, this is the point about atheism; if you are going to be an atheist, then damn it, be a complete one. If you are going to hang onto one minor segment of religious nonsense, then you are deluding yourself and any true atheist you may come in contact with. I am not several of those descriptions that are ascribed to wishy-washy atheists, and I am sure we all know what they are. There was a similiar discussion here sometime last year about being an atheist and still liking religious music and art and other needless trappings associated with religion. I was roundly critisized and fed a litany of excuses why you can still be an atheist and still find enjoyment and meaning in religious rituals and expressions. Religious music, art and architecture is composed and designed to glorify a non-existent entity and to visually and aurally impress upon the senses the existence of that entity. If one sees a church, is there an immediate vision of fries, hamburgers and soda? If one sees a religious painting, is one compelled to reason that the image must be real because it is depicted as so? If one hears a “Missa Solemnis”, is the tune and words transposed into “Bogalousa Strut”? The intent of the aforementioned is to instill a religious impression upon the beholder and nothing else. Now if a former church had been closed and now contains books in the form of a library or bookstore, then the religious intent has been erased and the function has nothing to do with religion. Form follows function, whether it be a church, religious music and painting, and is meant to convey only that purpose. As many posters here know, I have no ambiguous feelings toward religion and it’s adherents and express my utter contempt for religion in all it’s forms and meanings. PZ’s description of Karl Giberson’s hedging religiosity in a manner that I find disengenous and false only confirm and entrench my view on being all or nothing. Have the cake; and eat the damn thing too.

  60. #60 frog
    July 1, 2008

    But PZ, that pastiche is a window into the mind of a god — it’s just that their God is schizophrenic, and often psychopathic. Giberson is right — just not in the way he wishes he were.

    Options:

    Intelligent Design: No evidence, and possibly self-contradictory. Non-falsifiable.

    Malevolent Design: Some evidence, yet still possibly self-contradictory. Non-falsifiable.

    Psychopathic Design: Non-falsifiable, but eminently possible and consistent with reality.

  61. #61 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    David at #53

    I think the idea that should not be diminished is that humans have the capacity to be highly deterministic when applying large forces and energies, while asteroids do not.

  62. #62 Techskeptic
    July 1, 2008

    I didn’t see this in the comments so far,but I have to say this: Its a good start.

    Lets face a big whopping fact here. Tomorrow morning everyone is not going to wake up and realize that there is no god. They won’t wake up and think “Hey! maybe we should stop legislating religion into our government”. They certainly aren’t going to wake up and become outspoken atheists.

    People hate change. When Obama talks about change its extremely superficial. People just want Bush gone. That is all they hope for with change. Most people worry about fundamental shifts in our societal mechanisms, our political structures, and our religious priveledges.

    So while I certainly wish everyone would just wake up and start focusing on humanity and tolerance of humanity and stop going by what the most charismatic person tells them, its just not going to happen.

    We need folks like this guy to start helping to make understanding of evolution not so scary and not so against their religious upbringing. We need religious folks to say its OK to believe what the scientists are saying.

    Even the Southern Baptists are doing this (well, to a small degree). Once there is some semblance of acceptance of scientific learning and progress, religion will slowly fade into the “side dish” we all hope it will become. I don’t see how we can get there without guys like this.

  63. #63 Irene Delse
    July 1, 2008

    “We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.”

    Well said! The more so because, according to the Christians’ own New Testament, the “prince of this world” is Satan (John, 12,31-32)…

  64. #64 Natasha Yar-Routh
    July 1, 2008

    co #39, doesn’t look like Kauffman has become a fundie nutjob so much as he seems to have embraced newage woo in a big way. The whole ‘the universe is concious’ thing. Still might be reading it worng. May have to check it out of the library when I’m done with Microcosm .

  65. #65 TheNaturalist
    July 1, 2008

    Aw man….not Stuart Kauffman too. Hitchens is right, religion does poison everything.

  66. #66 Mrs Tilton
    July 1, 2008

    It tells us that we are fractious, arrogant, scrappy people who sometimes accomplish great things and more often cause grief and pain to one another. We want to be special in a universe that is uncaring and cold, and in which the nature of our existence is a transient flicker, so we invent these strange stories of grand beginnings, like every orphan dreaming that they are the children of kings who will one day ride up on a white horse and take them away to a beautiful palace and a rich and healthy family that will love them forever. We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

    Sorry; that was so damned good, I had to see it again. PZ, I read you for your content more than your style; in stylistic terms, you write quite well, but you’re no Roy Edroso. (Who is, other than Roy?). But often enough to count, you hit your stride, as in the bit quoted above. And when you do, you feckin sing.

  67. #67 Jeph
    July 1, 2008

    If I understand what the book is getting at, I suspect it will go over well with the “so long as you believe in something” crowd. They’re not a bad crowd. . . but pointless and sometimes annoying. Let’s face it: if you claim it doesn’t matter where you go to get your “spirituality,” and on top of that, you accept evidence-based reality and that there is no evidence for God, then going to church isn’t really all that different from playing Dungeons & Dragons, is it? So, why not give all of your money to charities that will spend more on helping the less fortunate (and less on World Youth Days and abstinence-only sex ed), seek out a good group of gamers, and roll up a cleric of Loviatar. . . er. . . Tyr?

  68. #68 ganv
    July 1, 2008

    wow– This shows again that PZ is a lot more attached to his athiesm that he is to educating people about science, because people like Giberson are the best hope for science in America. If people have to follow PZ to an rejection of all religious belief in order to accept science, you can be pretty confident that the anti-scientific attitutes of the current US president are going to continue to dominate in the next few centuries. Humans are just not willing to give up on the search for a consciousness greater than themselves.

  69. #69 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    Humans are just not willing to give up on the search for a consciousness greater than themselves.

    Evidence from western Europe says otherwise. But then, for some people, OWHITUSAC!

  70. #70 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    Jeph @ 67

    “They’re not a bad crowd. . . “

    But the larger, and less obvious, point is that moderates give safe-harbor to the extremists. I think Sam Harris makes that point quite well, but it is expressed quite often where this kind of analysis is done. When a muslim extremist kills non-combatants, or a xtian freak murders a doctor for “killing” babies, the first and most vocal denunciations should come from within that religious community. Most usually, it does not.

  71. #71 Shan
    July 1, 2008

    I’ve always found him reasonable and interesting. And he is an atheist (he’s said as much in several of his articles), but he does speak of spirituality in a way that could easily lead a fundie to think he was anti-atheist.

    #54 Posted by: The Science Pundit

    Indeed, the Amazon review seems to be biased.

    Kaufman’s paper “BEYOND
    REDUCTIONISM: REINVENTING THE SACRED
    is the basis of his book.

    I wonder if — like Einstein — he is talking about Spinoza’s God?

    I think PZ can decipher this mystery for us.

  72. #72 Jeph
    July 1, 2008

    Well said, Alex (#70). The impending schism in the Anglican church comes to mind. I suppose that some argument may be made by moderate Christians that they can prevent more damage as a unified church. . . but if I found out that I was a dues paying member of a club where a lot of very powerful and influential members hated gay people( and hated them a lot), I would have major second thoughts about sticking around. Especially as it became apparent that I could not talk the rest of these folks out of their hatred. Denounce them and be excommunicated, or vote with your feet (and wallet — again, there are secular charities that will feed the hungry and such). Don’t enable them by your silence.

    Frankly, if all the bigots and homophobes want to leave, I can’t think of a more appropriate response than, “Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass on the way out — you might find you enjoy it too much for your own comfort.”

  73. #73 Elwood Herring
    July 1, 2008

    David #31: I quite like the analogy Terry Pratchett came up with in Hogfather. To paraphrase; I’d rather be a rising ape than a fallen angel.

  74. #74 Moses
    July 1, 2008

    The saddest part, for me, is the unexamined beliefs that all these men and women possess. You have a range starting at the pure-literalistic, whole-bible zealot through the “cafeteria” Christians and ending with people like Giberson. None of whom has ever honestly examined the origins of his, or her, religion. Because, if they had, they’d have to concede it (as it exists today) is NOTHING like the original Canaanite religions from which it sprang.

    Once we get past the problem of the original religion being a POLYTHESITIC, HUMAN SACRIFCING religion, and ignore God’s wife (wives in some sects) & children being written out of the bible by the 7th Century BC priests, we still have to (based on the evidence) cry “bullshit” on the damn thing.

    We have two creation stories in Genesis. They’re from separate mythologies. The Exodus from Egypt NEVER HAPPENED. Israel was not a mighty kingdom during the time of David, that was propaganda. Joshua didn’t fight the battle of Jericho and probably didn’t fight more than one or two of all the battles for which he’s credited.

    And it goes on and on and on through the ending of the New Testament…

    So how does a person draw, at any level, some sort of “divine inspiration from God” from this work but through ignorance coupled with delusion? And what would be wrong with either admitting that it is obviously “self-inspiration” that they’ve used this work to create within themselves? Much like an artist finds inspiration where she finds it whether a flower, a sound or a bad acid trip?

    The sad thing is, these people have been brainwashed into their nihilistic, self-loathing beliefs that religious philosophy that affirms. They have no doubt that they are, at some level, evil, corrupt, useless, sinful and that if they’re not very, very, very good (to the point of it being impossible really) they’re going to be punished forever.

  75. #75 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    #68

    “This shows again that PZ is a lot more attached to his athiesm that he is to educating people about science…”

    How so? PZ is VERY attached to educating people – overwhelmingly about biology, and sometimes about the lunacy of thinking that deities exist. Your assertion makes no sense.

    “…because people like Giberson are the best hope for science in America.”

    By what evidence or authority should we accept this (bat-shit crazy IMO) opinion of yours?

    “…If people have to follow PZ…”

    Most here follow reason, not people. Besides, I’m not quite sure PZ wants any of us “following” him. The slant of this comment perhaps reveals your mind-set.

    “…you can be pretty confident that the anti-scientific attitutes of the current US president are going to continue to dominate in the next few centuries.”

    Again, by what authority or evidence should we give any credibility to this (crazy IMO) assertion? We’re not just going to think what you say is valid, especially when it sounds so loaded and biased and has no citation or documentation. Do you have a PhD? How far did you get through college? What did you study? What is you current station and responsibilities at work?

    “Humans are just not willing to give up on the search for a consciousness greater than themselves.”

    Again with the evidence/authority thing. And I’m not sure how this even applies to the discussion.

  76. #76 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    “Theology is a deceitful strategy”

    Indeed, just look how it fucked up Henry Gee (check out the Dawkins thread). Evidently, the Talmud theologians he “knew” as a Jew growing up have him totally hoodwinked into thinking their arguments are any better than your standard xian theologian, or even your average religioso on the street. I rather think people who grow up with this stuff become convinced that the arguments are good, simply because they have been told so so many times.

  77. #77 DominEditrix
    July 1, 2008

    Look at books like this as the thin end of the wedge: First, convince the Believers that science and logic and rational thought are not inimical to their belief systems. Get them to support real science instead of creationist “science”. Get them to not get their knickers in a twist when evolution is taught, because God/Allah/Thor/Odry invented it. You will then, slowly, but surely, see a progression away from believing in an invisible friend. The trick is to change how people think; that will eventually what people think.

    Trying to convert everybody ASAP is not going to work. Even the Xtians had to do it with swords. [It didn't always take: In my Norwegian family, there was still some ancient resentment; Odin, after all, was a perfectly nice deity until those Christers came along...] Making snide comments isn’t going to work – get peoples’ backs up and they will defend to the death something they believe in only tenuously. And, quite bluntly – as long as they keep it to themselves and don’t try to impose their beliefs on anyone else, why does it matter whether someone believes on God or Buddha or the FSM? I frequently get the feeling that evangelical atheists are trying to shore up their own non-belief by demanding that everyone else validate them by non-believing the same.

    If you cannot not-believe unless all those around you not-believe, then you are really worrying, in the back of your mind, that the Believers got it right.

    I figured it out when I was about 5; it took me longer to stop believing in the Easter Bunny.

  78. #78 ildi
    July 1, 2008

    Ibid – too funny!

  79. #79 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    Again with the evidence/authority thing. And I’m not sure how this even applies to the discussion.

    it doesn’t, and it’s nothing but projection.

  80. #80 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    Ichthyic,

    I was just about to commend PZ on the title. Perfect.

  81. #81 Jeff
    July 1, 2008

    PZ, you should have been a writer :)

  82. #82 Benjamin Franklin
    July 1, 2008

    When Albert Einstein was once asked – Did science and religion conflict?

    he said “Not really, though it depends, of course, on your religious views”
    .
    .

  83. #83 Don
    July 1, 2008

    “Humans are just not willing to give up on the search for a consciousness greater than themselves.”

    Can’t speak for other humans, but I didn’t find it a problem.

  84. #84 Helioprogenus
    July 1, 2008

    Holbach #59, you know we’re in agreement on a number of things, but I have to somewhat disagree with you regarding all the trappings that have resulted because of religion. Look at the pyramids of Egypt for example. Yes, they were built for religious purposes, but what has become of them is that they completely reflect the civilization they came from. As far as religious music and other cultural attributes, it’s true that often, they glorify some nebulous idiotic concept but they can nevertheless appear beautiful and harmonious to the ear. Look at it this way, you might see an amazingly beautiful girl walk by who just stuns the hell out of you, and all the fantasies that come when you view that, but as soon as you talk to her, you find out she’s going to church and wants to maintain sex after marriage. Now sure, the distaste it causes is awful, but yet, that initial response to it was independent of the conversaton that followed it. All these useless religious rituals ultimately come about through cultural means, and those other attributes, such as music, architecture, food, etc., often juxtapose themselves with the dominant belief structure of the time. Now, that doesn’t mean that one needs religion to have amazing music, because looking at all those soviet composers such as Khachatourian–they produced some amazing work without the aid of religious hyperbole. I think in an ideal world, I would agree with you, but sad to say, humans do have inspiration through religion that can serve a greater purpose then some mythical stupid deity. The pyramids as I mentioned earlier allow us to realize the capacity that human beings have when they work towards a goal. They didn’t have modern tools, yet, the systems they used and the processes required truly amaze us to this day. Sure, their purpose may have been religious, but we now come to realize that regardless of that, it reflects the will and capabilities of our species. Now if we can accomplish such deeds without religion, that’s truly cultural evolution at work.

  85. #85 Nobi Yuno
    July 1, 2008

    PZ Myers, making the good the enemy of the perfect for n years.

  86. #86 Papilio
    July 1, 2008

    Jeph #72:

    Frankly, if all the bigots and homophobes want to leave, I can’t think of a more appropriate response than, “Don’t let the doorknob hit you in the ass on the way out — you might find you enjoy it too much for your own comfort.”

    Good line. Two thumbs up. No pun intended. But are the rationalists better with them in the game or out of it?

  87. #87 Holbach
    July 1, 2008

    Moses @ 74 The saddest part for us is that you are religiously demented and that you are still alive. How are you able to puke out such deranged insanities and still breathe, let alone defecate your shitty god and all it’s putrid insane filth? Are you really that Moses that was found in the sewerage wastes of the Nile and raised on crap beliefs of your imaginary god? The problem with insanity is that the insane do not know they are insane and have not the guts to commit suicide to join their shit god in nothingness. Tell your shit god to appear at this site and strike us all blind. Can you do that? You would not be hard to rip apart in a face to face debate because it is easy to delude the insane into saying anything even with their god around. So bring your shit god with you as a second, and we’ll wipe the floor with you and your god as a wringer.

  88. #88 Dutch Delight
    July 1, 2008

    I was just a few paragraphs into this post when I had to take a break from the overwhelming awesomeness in this post.

    All thats missing is a short reference slapping down those silly accusations that some field of science is being treated as if it were a religion, by people who are themselves arguing *for* religion. I suppose they are not happy with the competition or something.

    I’d be interested in any way to put that more clearly and concise, I hear this *a lot* and the blatant hypocrisy of that statement needs to be highlighted more often. It’s as if they are agreeing that the exceptional status of religion is indefensible, they just want to keep their monopoly/power/etc.

  89. #89 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    If people have to follow PZ to an rejection of all religious belief in order to accept science

    to add to what Alex said about this particular comment…

    PZ has NEVER, EVER, said that one HAS to reject religion in order to accept science.

    It’s obvious to anyone with half a brain and eyeballs that work that there are many examples of people able to fairly comfortably live with a certain level of dissonance, and also comfortable with the rationalizations used/invented to maintain it.

    PZ’s point is:

    Why should anyone even bother saddling themselves with unnecessary rationalizations?

    So far, the arguments given in favor are easily debunked (like Pascal’s Wager), regardless of whether they have come from “theologians”, or folks such as yourself.

  90. #90 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    #83

    “Can’t speak for other humans, but I didn’t find it a problem.”

    But that’s a problem. His general assertion is speaking for other humans. Furthermore, how is “a consciousness greater than themselves” defined? There needs to be a lot more clarification and specificity here. What is a “greater” consciousness? One that has more knowledge, or just lives in a bigger brain? Computers do both. There’s a lot of “woo” in that question that needs to be expunged before it becomes a worthwhile question.

    As far as speaking for other humans, I think it’s pretty safe to say that typically we are explorers; yes searchers. Our imaginations drive us (for good and bad). As far as longing for a “greater consciousness”, I don’t even know what that means, or could mean in human terms, without further clarification. But perhaps I’m ignorant on the subject.

  91. #91 Damian
    July 1, 2008

    I followed a link last week to “An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution” where Karl Giberson has a guest article about his book.

    In one respect I was encouraged that religious people are slowly coming to realize that they can influence their fellow brethren, particularly where education is concerned.

    On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable that science was so intentionally intertwined with what I could only describe as curious theological inanity. I really can’t describe how disappointing it felt to realize that we had reached the point where it is necessary to quote scripture and discuss biblical interpretations in an attempt to persuade people of the merits of evolutionary biology. Sad indeed.

    The other concerning thing that I saw was after following several links and ending up on a personal blog. I won’t name any of those involved but there was at least two tenured professors (one a well known biologist, no less) among the three who were present. They were arguing about how to deal with a fairly well known creationist in a blog post and whether it was fair or not to accuse him of intentionally lying.

    (As an aside, I happen to agree with their conclusion that it is only justifiable to accuse someone of lying if you are sure that they are purposely misleading people, but that the moral burden doesn’t lessen, even so.)

    Then the conversation moved on to something that I found to be quite disturbing, to be honest. One of the three suggested that they shouldn’t be too harsh on this individual as he was, and I quote, “a brother in Christ”, and that, “we [they] all know who the real enemy is”, referring to Richard Dawkins and all atheists by implication.

    I admit to naivety where religious ‘brotherhood’ is concerned, but it was still somewhat of a shock to realize that the moral clarity of professional scientists concerning something that they themselves described as ‘serious professional misconduct’ could essentially be corrupted by a single point of congruence in their lives.

  92. #92 frog
    July 1, 2008

    Moses: So how does a person draw, at any level, some sort of “divine inspiration from God” from this work but through ignorance coupled with delusion?

    Actually, there are some pretty good parts, particularly if you read between the lines. Job is an excellent exposition on the thesis that “shit happens”. The Preacher gives a good nod to the temporal nature of truth. The Song of Songs is well-done erotic poetry.

    Of course, two out of three are philosophical tracts that are out of place in the main body, and the third is an anachronistic poem that the priests couldn’t bring themselves to fully excise. And all three are absolutely hated in anything but the most liberal of traditions — see how the priests filled Job with later moralistic crap which is clearly written later.

  93. #93 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    how is “a consciousness greater than themselves” defined?

    It’s not, and not even really possible, considering we as a species are still trying to define what that concept even means for ourselves.

  94. #94 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    Wait a minute, my eyes just stopped working!! I’m blind!!

    …….

    Nope, my bad, the lights just went out. I’ll get a candle.

  95. #95 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    Er, Holbach, old chap, (@87) – wrong target. Reload, and take aim more carefully.

  96. #96 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    @92…

    What Frog is pointing out is exactly what Hector Avalos repeatedly points out:

    No matter what particular “lesson” you wish to try and garner from that book, one can find far better and more useful examples in myriad other places. The only reason that book is still referred to is purely for authoritarian reasons, not because of the quality of the arguments presented therein.

    the damn book is entirely irrelevant to modern society.

  97. #97 Jeph
    July 1, 2008

    DominEditrix, the problem is that two major religions, Christianity and Islam, are under standing orders to convert the world. Even the most moderate of Christians are saddled with the responsibility of making more Christians (or, presumably, Muslims). Here and now there’s a lot of marketing involved, not so much swords. As organizations, however, I don’t foresee a time when they will give up on recruitment and, “leave other people alone.”

    I don’t honestly care what anybody believes, and I don’t proselytize Christians (does anyone here do that?). I don’t even care if they exercise their right of freedom of speech and rail on the street corner. But homophobia is destructive. Telling lies about science is destructive. Sheltering pedophiles is WAY destructive. Forbidding the use of birth control is destructive. Institutional loyalty cannot be allowed to trump morality and good sense, especially for institutions this powerful. They can believe what they want, but if you purport to share my beliefs on human dignity, I will look askance on your providing moral and financial support to organizations that deny it.

  98. #98 Dutch Delight
    July 1, 2008

    #68
    Humans are just not willing to give up on the search for a consciousness greater than themselves.

    Regardless of what that even means, how is religion going to be of any use in finding out the truth about anything?

  99. #99 386sx
    July 1, 2008

    They don’t recognize that when you talk theologically about the Bible being the word of God, you mean that it contains an important message, that God is revealing himself through the history of Israel and Jesus Christ.

    There are a lot better ways for a god to get a message across, and there are a lot better ways for a god to reveal itself, and there are a lot more histories than the history of Israel.

    What a lame-o way for a god to go about doing things!

  100. #100 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    I’d be interested in any way to put that more clearly and concise

    projection

    If you understand what it is, then it’s the single word that most clearly and concisely represents most of how xian’s argue.

    as an aside, one of the reasons I voted for Broken Soldier for a Molly a few months back was this statement:

    “Science disagrees with religion for not being empirical or scientific, while religion attacks science for being a religion.”

  101. #101 Longtime Lurker
    July 1, 2008

    Holbach, your vitriol against Moses is unwarranted. Moses has brought an anthropological perspective on “that old time religion” to this blog.

    When the Bible comes to be published as “Myths and Legends of the Levantine Peoples”, it will, in no small part, be due to the efforts of goodly ungodly folk such as our Moses.

  102. #102 gyokusai
    July 1, 2008

    Dutch Delight sez:

    I was just a few paragraphs into this post when I had to take a break from the overwhelming awesomeness in this post.

    Thanks Dutch, I felt just the same way! This one’s again one of those entries, or rather essays, I bookmarked immediately after picking up my jaw from the floor. PZ’s personal style of mashing brilliantly vicious eloquence with highly emotional, almost poetic, passages, seasoned with a generous yet appropriate dose of rudeness, for an analysis that is as merciless as it is hopeful—that’s something I’m still in awe of after more than a year of Pharyngula daily! As a writer and an atheist, PZ’s my hero in both categories.

    (I know spoiling the blogger can be dangerous to your health, but I just had to get that off my chest …)

    ^_^J.

  103. #103 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    #96 Ichthyic & #99 386sx are in the same vein. Great, short, posts.

  104. #104 Jeph
    July 1, 2008

    Papilio @ 86: Just saw your response to my comment, and I wish I had an answer. I have some very good Christian friends who are, if anything, more liberal than I am. I know they’re uncomfortable with the right-wingers in the organization — I don’t understand why they don’t pack up and go hang with the Unitarians. They have expressed (jokingly? I don’t know) a wish that the nasty right-wingers would just leave their denomination to go be part of one that really thrives on nasty right-wingers. I get the sense that their ability to resist fundagelical domination from the inside is actually pretty limited. After all, when was the last time a moderate Christian got front page on CNN for denouncing Barack Obama?

  105. #105 Blake Stacey
    July 1, 2008

    Ichthyic (#96):

    the damn book is entirely irrelevant to modern society.

    You can always find somebody who says, “But Shakespeare is full of Biblical references, so we can’t understand Shakespeare unless we know the Bible!” In fact, Richard Dawkins says so, in The God Delusion (at least in the thoughtful and funny edition sold to atheists, if not the strident and shrill one which Christians buy). The problem with this argument is that Shakespeare is full of many things. To appreciate the words being exchanged and not go “huh?” every twelve seconds, we have to be comfortably familiar with the following:

    1. English translations of “the” Bible as they existed before King James.

    2. Nasty parts of Biblical lore, like Jephthah sacrificing his daughter, which have been enough to push men into agnosticism.

    3. Christian folklore which grew up in medieval times (Ophelia’s line “they say the owl was a baker’s daughter” actually refers to an English parable about Jesus tormenting people through transmogrification).

    4. Classical mythology — none of Shakespeare’s plays use Biblical plots or settings, but hoo boy, you’d better know your Greco-Roman legends.

    5. Classical history — not just the famous names like Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, but also details like the offices in Roman government.

    6. British and Northern European history — in American schools, we don’t even cover the period which his English history plays inhabit. (The Wars of what Roses?) We’re off exploring the coast of Africa with Henry the Navigator instead of slogging through French mud with Henry V. The one thing we learn about King John is that he signed the Magna Carta, but Shakespeare doesn’t even mention the Magna Carta. He was writing for Tudor and Stuart audiences, which had their own view of English monarchy, whereas our schoolbooks care only about the events which lead to American colonization and later independence.

    All in all, the background knowledge which pertains to Christianity actually leads to de-privileging any specific modern flavor of it. There ain’t no such thing as “the” Bible; the definite article is applied in error. Rightfully, we speak of your particular Bible, which is one translation of one reconstruction of one chosen set of books.

  106. #106 Rodd
    July 1, 2008

    Ironically, I think PZ lifted an idea from Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 8) during his “penultimate” paragraph.

    “22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

  107. #107 JJR
    July 1, 2008

    A former friend and fundie recently wrote to me “try as it might, this country cannot kill God.”

    The idea of God will probably always be with us. So will schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. And plenty of horrible ideas like theocracy, misogyny, plutocracy, etc, will probably always be around, too. That doesn’t mean it’s something we shouldn’t oppose, seek to cure, stand against, etc. Mature, moral, well-balanced atheists are living proof that humans can overcome religious superstitions and create their own life’s meaning.

    Excellent post, PZ. You could probably cull together your best blog writings and put together a decent “New Atheist” book that would stand well next to Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Sagan, et. al.

  108. #108 Holbach
    July 1, 2008

    Helioprogenus @ 84 Your points are well expressed (and also @ 49), but this is the very argument I alluded to from last year. Perhaps my feelings are mine alone and others do not ascribe to them, but I am comfortable with those expressed feelings and will not think or consider otherwise. As for the pyramids, I believe they were built as burial chambers and only nominally afforded a religious significance in the way of an imaginary afterlife. They in no way resemble churches, and time alone has erased any resemblance to religion. And then again, religion has played a role in sending those pharohs to the afterlife, as nothing but slave labor was used in their construction. However, I greatly admire the pyramids as an architectural wonder with astronomical placement in their design. As for the encounter with the girl, the meeting is fleeting and if sex should follow as is our wont, then parting is unobligated without a prospect of marriage thrown in. Of course, if she revealed that she is devoutly religious as a matter of conservation and this does not at the moment restrict her from having sex, then this is one thing, and her religious life is another. Sex is a lot more fleeting than a church or other relgious symbols, and as such passes quickly without much dwelling upon. As for my stated opinions on religious music, painting and architecture, I am steadfast in this as I am unequivocally adamant in my atheism and will neither alter or reconsider these viewpoints and remain ingenuous.

  109. #109 Dutch Delight
    July 1, 2008

    @Ichthyic

    Yea, projection covers part of it, but you find that everywhere in religious arguments. I guess I’m looking for a proper rhetorical smackdown to wipe the floor with whoever makes that argument. There’s such a big obvious gaping hole in the logic of that specific accusation that any debate should be pretty much over and done when it gets thrown at you.

  110. #110 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    And, to add to 105, is it just me, or does the phrase “the word of god” sound suspiciously, obfuscatingly, mysteriously, deceptive?

    It’s not just a word, it’s a bunch of words, written by human hands. So already one is presented with metaphor with the introduction of this “sacred” text.

    I mean hell, if we found ancient writings describing in detail the structures of the atom, DNA, solar system (down to the “problem” with Mercury’s orbit), etc., then you wouldn’t need to use such dressy language. You could just point to this ancient book and say, “here – read this! It’s amazing!”.

    But no.

    It’s just another example of how religions contort and invent language to prop up their insane ideas of non-existent entities, places, and events. Ooga-booga-booga.

  111. #111 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    Rightfully, we speak of your particular Bible, which is one translation of one reconstruction of one chosen set of books.

    oh, come ON. the differences between the various versions are not like they are completely different books. I understand what you are getting at, but you are stretching your argument too far.

    It’s not like we are comparing the Illiad to Inferno.

  112. #112 H.H.
    July 1, 2008

    DominEditrix wrote:

    Look at books like this as the thin end of the wedge: First, convince the Believers that science and logic and rational thought are not inimical to their belief systems.

    Why should we lie? Rational thought is inimical to faith.

    Get them to support real science instead of creationist “science”. Get them to not get their knickers in a twist when evolution is taught, because God/Allah/Thor/Odry invented it. You will then, slowly, but surely, see a progression away from believing in an invisible friend. The trick is to change how people think; that will eventually what people think.

    Except when you “trick” people into accepting evolution simply because their religious leaders say so, then you really aren’t changing they way they think, are you?

    And, quite bluntly – as long as they keep it to themselves and don’t try to impose their beliefs on anyone else, why does it matter whether someone believes on God or Buddha or the FSM?

    So much for changing the way people think, then. I guess you see no value in promoting logic and rational thought after all.

    I frequently get the feeling that evangelical atheists are trying to shore up their own non-belief by demanding that everyone else validate them by non-believing the same. If you cannot not-believe unless all those around you not-believe, then you are really worrying, in the back of your mind, that the Believers got it right.

    Then why are you evangelizing to us unless it is to shore up your own belief that our non-belief must be validated by criticizing belief? Obviously you are really worrying, in the back of your mind, that we non-believers have got it right. Because criticism is always motivated by fear, thus making every critique a subconscious validation, right? Moron.

  113. #113 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    Yea, projection covers part of it, but you find that everywhere in religious arguments.

    all you have to do is get them to try and point out exactly HOW the projection they are using really applies, and you will find them fumbling and changing the subject, every time.

    if you deal with the issue for what it is, a psychological defense mechanism, you will find that approach to immediately cause them to change directions, like putting your thumb on a watermelon seed.

    there is NO logical argument that is the “ultimate response”, because we are NOT dealing with logic to begin with.

    It took me about 3 years to finally pound that through my thick skull.

    There is really no logical argument that works in rebuttal to a non-logical argument.

  114. #114 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    Actually Dutch, I think PZ has done it previously. I think I remember part of a post or response of his that talked about how science is not a dogma. It was a quick handful of stinging sentences that just drove the point home that science is not a religion and it’s silly to assert it is. I wish my memory could provide more specifics.

  115. #115 MP
    July 1, 2008

    Many seem to act as if atheistic materialism has all the answers, where as there are plenty still open questions for Athiests – Why do we exist? And why isn’t there nothing? Why is the universe compatible with life?

    There seems to be enthusiasm for metaphysical explanations such as the inflationary multiverse – just to avoid a moment of creation or any specialness to our own universe / existence. And things like the multiverses are given some false notion as being scientific, when they are clearly beyond the realm of scientific inquiry. As is, the origin of the universe itself. Yes, physics can take over at 1E-9 seconds or whatever after the Big Bang, but it can’t explain why it occurred in the first place.

    In fact the now discredited “steady state” theory of the origin of the universe (to explain the expanding universe) was favored by some merely to avoid a moment of creation because the “Big Bang” resembled the Judeo-Christian story of creation in Genesis. That’s not exactly rational scientific inquiry.

    The hostility of Dawkins, PZ, and others toward fundamental Christians and others who insist on thwarting scientific inquiry is understandable, but I wish you’d all stop acting as if everyone who believes in some purpose behind Creation itself is deluded. I no plenty of atheists and don’t look upon them as some sort of delusional hopeless people. I see them as rational creatures who have made up their own minde. And God is as rational an explanation for the very existence of the Universe as anything else.

    Might I suggest Han Küng’s The Beginning of All Things : Science and Religion, just out in paperback.

    http://www.amazon.com/Beginning-All-Things-Science-Religion/dp/0802863590/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214949642&sr=8-1

  116. #116 Helioprogenus
    July 1, 2008

    @LL #101, we’re talking about a legendary figure who most certainly did not exist. There is no evidence for Moses’ existance, which incidentally is a fully Egyptian name. He’s probably a figure that the ancient Canaanites borrowed from Egyptian mythology and incorporated into their stories. The whole legend of Moses and the reed basket comes from Ramses’ purported birth. The only reason Moses is so well known is because of a scrambled, ambiguously worded book that when combined with mind altering rituals helps credulous people develop a false sense of reality. Much of the purported history developed in the Bible cannot be independantly verified because it’s just mythology mixed with a few chronologically altered real events. It’s just a mythological book that is utterly void and useless. The Moses of the Bible is as fictitious a figure as Jesus, Abraham, Captain Crunch, Yosemite Sam, etc…

    @108, Holbach, I wasn’t trying to persuade you from your beliefs by the way, but respectfully disagreeing. As atheists, no two of us can ever be in total agreement because we ultimately serve no master. There is no asshole in some fancy robes telling us how we should think, or for that matter, what we should think. One thing I do have to correct though is the misconception that the pyramids were built by slave labor. They were built by people from all walks of life outside the harvest season. Not only that, but the builders were very well taken care of, treated for their injuries, and even housed in dorm-like units. It was a civic service that they did for their country. It probably had more to do with nationalism and pride then it had with religion, but in those days, those two were often intermixed. Perhaps they felt that if their pharoahs were provided a great afterlife, they would look after the common folks. Ultimately, not only was their labor impressive, but it goes to show that humans can truly accomplish unbelievable feats of engineering without brute force. Ultimately, it was ingenuity, a good knowledge of geometric principles and of course, passion and curiosity. These are the same traits that provide us the incentive to mine the fields of science and philosophy, ultimately ascertaining a greater understanding within the bounds of the physical universe.

  117. #117 Jonathan Rothwell
    July 1, 2008

    Perhaps he’s trying (and failing) to say that homosexuality is natural selection in action. Which it isn’t.

    Just a thought.

  118. #118 Ubi Dubium
    July 1, 2008

    I’m going to have to concur with Techskeptic at #62 here. Even though I personally am a die-hard atheist, I have no illusions about the general pervasiveness of religion in society now, and for the foreseeable future.

    Of course we find this book full of theistic twaddle. We are not the target audience for it. The person who really needs this book is my fundie brother-in-law. (He’s a charter member of the creation museum!) If reading a book like this could move him from fighting science to being open to it, that would be am improvement. Even if for all other purposes he was still a god-bot.

    Books like this won’t rid us of religion, but perhaps they can help reduce the damage inflicted by the religious. If all the theists someday thought like Giberson, the world would be a lot better place for non-believers.

    Oh, and PZ, I saved a copy of your penultimate paragraph. Brilliant writing.

  119. #119 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    “There is really no logical argument that works in rebuttal to a non-logical argument.”

    This really is the crux of the matter when “debating” religionists. Their a-priori assertions under-cut any rational discussion. They do not debate to be convinced by rational ideas presented using well-formed logic. As a matter of fact, most of the time they do not even understand what logic is, though they like to throw the term around vigorously. What they find “logical” is what they believe. Believing in something contrary to what they believe is deemed “illogical”. They’re not interested in honest debate even if they understood what that meant.

  120. #120 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    They’re not interested in honest debate even if they understood what that meant.

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/07/dont_debate_creationists.php

  121. #121 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    I don’t proselytize Christians (does anyone here do that?). – Jeph

    Only when proselytized against!

  122. #122 Jeph
    July 1, 2008

    No, MP (#115). God is not a rational idea. It’s an idea that addresses our own ignorance with invention instead of discovery. It’s projecting a supernatural explanation into any area where we don’t yet have a natural one. It’s taking the observation that “there is a stuff, and things happen,” and insisting that there is a conscious, willful reason for these things without providing evidence for any such assertion.

    Granted, if God is impersonal, that is to say, not really interested in us or our doings, then at least you’ve hit on a concept of deity that is more consistent with the observable universe. On the other hand, if God is impersonal, God is pretty much irrelevant to our daily operations, and best left out of things.

  123. #123 aaron
    July 1, 2008

    #62, #77

    Myself coming from a Christian background where evolution is rejected out of hand due to the perceived threat it poses to the ‘truth’ of the Bible, I personally appreciate the efforts of authors like Giberson. I have to agree with you both that such books/authors do have value in their ability to begin the process of helping people of faith to think more rationally about the world we live in. Fundamentalists generally aren’t going to be very receptive to outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins, but they may give someone like Giberson a chance. Considering we aren’t starting off in a world where all people are atheists, and considering that fundamentalist believers still maintain more sway than they should, it’s authors like this that are probably the best hope for moving people’s thinking towards the rational. While recognizing that faith is by it’s nature irrational, I’m not convinced that an author such as Giberson is making things worse by unintentionally providing ‘cover’ for fundamentalism.

    PZ, I’m not sure what you’re background is with relation to religious belief (i.e., if you ever spent time in your youth as a believer or not, but I’m assuming not), but I do think you (and others) tend to overlook how difficult it is for people to simply reject their religious beliefs once facing scientific evidence. For many people, a lifetime of conditioning is difficult to completely overcome. However, for practical reasons many people are capable of rejecting the prejudiced and self righteous religion they were raised to belief was their ticket out of hell. While it seems like a simple logical step to next reject the notion of God, it’s more difficult than you may think. I do agree with the general point that irrational belief begets more irrational belief, but I do think that someone like Giberson is attempting to move religious thinking towards the rational, and given my background, I can relate to and appreciate his efforts.

  124. #124 H.H.
    July 1, 2008

    MP wrote:

    Many seem to act as if atheistic materialism has all the answers…

    Atheism is not about pretending to have all the answers, but in recognizing the the deficiency of religious ones.

    And God is as rational an explanation for the very existence of the Universe as anything else.

    No, it isn’t. That’s entirely the point. No matter how ignorant we are, appealing to magical agents will never qualify as a rational explanation.

  125. #125 Not that Louis
    July 1, 2008

    Holbach, I don’t for a moment doubt your qualifications for the position. It’s just that I don’t think contemporary atheism really needs a Zhdanov.

  126. #126 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    In fact the now discredited “steady state” theory of the origin of the universe (to explain the expanding universe) was favored by some merely to avoid a moment of creation because the “Big Bang” resembled the Judeo-Christian story of creation in Genesis. That’s not exactly rational scientific inquiry. – MP

    Even supposing that’s true (I don’t happen to know), science did what it’s supposed to do: followed the evidence. Pretty rapidly, too. The rationality of science depends to only a small extent on scientists as individuals being rational: much more important are the institutional systems of science: experiment, repeatability, peer-review, journals, conferences, university departments, academic freedom, the right of the newest student to argue with the most respected professor, the balance between the conservatism necessary to coherence, and the radicalism needed for progress.

    As for your scorn of multiverses etc. – if such ideas turn out to be of no use in explaining observable facts, they will wither and die; if useful, they will survive.

    Might I suggest Han Küng’s The Beginning of All Things : Science and Religion, just out in paperback.
    Sounds like yet another attempt to fill a much-needed gap. Science and religion do not need to be “reconciled” because religion has absolutely nothing of value to contribute.

  127. #127 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    @115

    “Many seem to act as if atheistic materialism has all the answers”

    First off, atheistic materialism is redundant. The “supernatural realm” is by definition, not of Nature. Therefore, meaningless and impotent to Natural things.

    Second, why, or for what reasons, could it be thought otherwise? I’m always amazed at the assumptions of something bigger, something more, something “outside our experience” that those espousing religions make. Perhaps it’s only your personal knowledge-base or emotional capacity that is causing you to feel so dwarfed and meaningless. Perhaps if you learn more about the construct in which you inhabit you might actually find your meaning.

    Nah. Never mind that. Making shit up that can’t be tested is so much easier.

    The rest of your questions are very anthropomorphic which causes them to lose value. As far as being delusional goes, go look it up. There’s a reason you can’t rightly call the atheistic world-view delusional. A world view espousing unseen things and untestable ideas as absolutely true, is delusional.

    “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.” [Delos McKown]

    “Unless someone can establish the limitations of the universe as a whole, it would be presumptuous to point to the cosmos and declare it incapable of existing without an external cause.” Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, Wisdom Without Answers, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1998), p. 39

  128. #128 Longtime Lurker
    July 1, 2008

    Helioprogenus:
    “@LL #101, we’re talking about a legendary figure who most certainly did not exist.”

    Uh, no, you’re talking about a regular poster who posted a comment at #74, and if you mean to tell me that Cap’n Crunch is a ficticious character, then I’m going to have to ask you to step outside.

  129. #129 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    “Science and religion do not need to be “reconciled” because religion has absolutely nothing of value to contribute.”

    Love it.

  130. #130 MAJeff, OM
    July 1, 2008

    These are people who sit down to a fine meal, rich with delicate flavors, and sprinkle dried bullshit on it … and then declare the ripe, repulsive flavor of dung was the best part of dinner.

    And here I sit with fettucini with a fresh basil (from my window box) pesto, a nice bread, and some red wine. And the fresh berries with mint for dessert? Damn, I’m missing out.

  131. #131 MP
    July 1, 2008

    @Jeph 122 – There are things beyond scientific inquiry, like the questions I posed, for which God is a rational answer or for which there is no scientifically attainable answer and thus at some level becomes a philosophical question. No, we should never resort to God like the intelligent design people do. What I’m saying is that science has limits, and that those “scientific” attempts to explain our human-friendly universe (like the multiverse) clearly fall outside science but into metaphysics or philosophy as they are untestable. Also untestable is the existence of God.

    @ HH (124) – You are welcome to point out the shortcomings of religion. There are many. There are also shortcomings of science. God’s existence is beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. As is the question “Why isn’t there nothing?” or creation itself.

    It’s easy to prove that there are a lot of religious wackos out there or that religions have a lot problems or that many believers act in irrational ways – that’s not the same as disproving God. There is never going to be any proof either way.

  132. #132 MAJeff, OM
    July 1, 2008

    For example, there are conservative Dems known as Reagan Democrats.

    After 28 years, we call them Republicans.

  133. #133 SC
    July 1, 2008

    during his “penultimate” paragraph

    Why the quotation marks?

  134. #134 Moses
    July 1, 2008

    Moses @ 74 The saddest part for us is that you are religiously demented and that you are still alive. How are you able to puke out such deranged insanities and still breathe, let alone defecate your shitty god and all it’s putrid insane filth? Are you really that Moses that was found in the sewerage wastes of the Nile and raised on crap beliefs of your imaginary god? The problem with insanity is that the insane do not know they are insane and have not the guts to commit suicide to join their shit god in nothingness. Tell your shit god to appear at this site and strike us all blind. Can you do that? You would not be hard to rip apart in a face to face debate because it is easy to delude the insane into saying anything even with their god around. So bring your shit god with you as a second, and we’ll wipe the floor with you and your god as a wringer.

    Posted by: Holbach | July 1, 2008 5:00 PM

    Dude, re-read my post again. Because REEDINGK KOMPRHENSHUN, YUR DOIN’ IT WROONG!!!

    Dumbass.

    Not that it surprises me. You’ve been massively off-base in the past. You one-note “only-my-way” authoritarian twat.

  135. #135 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    There are things beyond scientific inquiry, like the questions I posed, for which God is a rational answer or for which there is no scientifically attainable answer and thus at some level becomes a philosophical question.

    Goddidit is NOT ever a rational answer to anything. Hell, it’s not even an ANSWER to begin with.

    at best, it is an attempted filler for unknown information.

    Basically, your god is a god of the gaps.

    congratulations.

    What I’m saying is that science has limits

    bullshit.

    How would you know what the limits of science are, without being omniscient yourself?

  136. #136 MAJeff, OM
    July 1, 2008

    how is “a consciousness greater than themselves” defined?

    Being in a k-hole.

  137. #137 DominEditrix
    July 1, 2008

    112: Ah, yes the rational and logical analysis: “Moron”.

    Obviously you are really worrying, in the back of your mind, that we non-believers have got it right.

    Sorry, but if you’d paid attention, you might have noted that I’m an atheist myself – and probably have been for longer than you’ve been alive. The vary fact that you reacted in the way you did, with irrational emo and ad hominem invective, proves my point. QED.

    It is simply that it’s more efficient – and less blood-spattered – to change things from the inside, slowly and with a modicum of patience. Call it psychological sabotage. It isn’t lying to use the beliefs of others – or books like this – to get the tools into schools and libraries and whatnot. It’s manipulative, it’s renormative, it’s certainly sneaky, but the point is not necessarily to attempt to change the minds of the parents one has lulled into complacency, but to do so with the next generation. Without getting their parents or “concerned” neighbours or idiot politicians to take up arms. The nice thing about believers is that they tend to take books like Gilberson’s seriously, because their worldview isn’t threatened. As I said, thin end of the wedge.

    Would it be optimal to have everyone wake up one morning, whack themselves on the forehead and go ‘Shite! Who the fuck believes in invisible friends after the age of six?’ Ain’t going to happen and pretending that it will instead of concentrating on infiltration and, well, a certain amount of counter-indoctrination is futile.

    As for letting folk believe what they want so long as they don’t do it in the streets and scare the horses – why not? If it makes people happy and doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s life, whatthehell. Otherwise you’re proposing a society wherein thoughtcrime exists. And that kind of society can turn on one all too quickly – consider the Inquisition. And, as I’ve now repeatedly pointed out, when you threaten people’s belief systems, they tend to react badly. They react far better if you cajole them, in a nice honey-over-vinegar kind of way, into figuring it out for themselves.

  138. #138 Dutch Delight
    July 1, 2008

    @Ichthyic
    Maybe there’s no “ultimate logic” that can be used, but with a bit of humor mixed in, i think you should be able to point out the hypocrisy to a wide audience. Maybe that requires some comedy genius, which sadly, most of us aren’t. Even though many try :)

    What is truly deluded is the way some people pretend that science is “avoiding” specific theological views on cosmology. It’s just another arrogant assertion, as if scientists actually know all the religious creation stories and are consciously avoiding similarities to any single one of them when interpreting the data.

    What scientists avoid, if anything, is the supernatural. And thats one of the very important reasons why science actually works and progresses over time.

  139. #139 frog
    July 1, 2008

    MP: #115 Many seem to act as if atheistic materialism has all the answers, where as there are plenty still open questions for Athiests – Why do we exist? And why isn’t there nothing? Why is the universe compatible with life?

    What makes you think there are answers to those questions, or even that those questions make sense? The fact you like them, or would like there to be answers, or even that you can pose grammatical questions of that form, does not imply that they actually are questions or have answers.

    Why does the universe exist? presupposes that there exists something outside the universe that gives a reason for the existence of that subset. If we define the universe as everything, the question is nonsense.

    Why do we exist? presupposes that there is someone outside of us to which we have meaning. Meaningless question if there is no such entity.

    Why isn’t there nothing? is a self-evidently meaningless question, unless you are actually asking “Why didn’t God not create nothing”, which is itself meaningful only if God isn’t something.

    Why is the universe compatible with life? Why isn’t the universe incompatible with life? Why isn’t the universe full of orange daisies? Either you’re asking an empirical question about the actual laws of physics, or you’re just staring in your navel. The former is a how question, the latter is masturbation.

    It all goes down to the “first cause” problem. It’s only a problem because things inside the universe have a cause — but it’s nonsense to ask “What causes causation?” unless you’re asking a question about the relation of physics to mathematical consistency. It seems to make sense, but it’s a variation on “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”.

  140. #140 Moses
    July 1, 2008

    Grrr… Seriously, how could anyone read something like this:

    Once we get past the problem of the original religion being a POLYTHESITIC, HUMAN SACRIFCING religion, and ignore God’s wife (wives in some sects) & children being written out of the bible by the 7th Century BC priests, we still have to (based on the evidence) cry “bullshit” on the damn thing.

    And some how think I’m some Christian apologist? I mean, really, I’m calling bullshit on the bible, the central piece of the entire Christian faith… And pointing out just how massively it’s changed, beyond recognition, from it’s past.

    It’s the difference between a butterfly and a caterpillar.

    I’m going to go kill some orcs. Get it out of my system.

  141. #141 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    “…that’s not the same as disproving God.”

    What you, and many like you are missing, is that positive assertions require evidence. There are no reasons for anyone to think that things like deities are real. If you have evidence, then simply present it. And just because you can’t figure out why naval lint exists doesn’t mean that belly-buttons are special and there is a god. That is NOT evidence. Furthermore, for clarity, the question of the existence of a deity or deities is not a 50-50 proposition. Evidence has been mounting for 1000s of years that make deities at best, irrelevant. In that time, never once has anything been presented to the contrary. Matter, energy, force, space, time – I love the material world. It’s all that matters. As for you purpose goes, you go figure it out. Go collect stamps, or learn about those multi-verses. Stop whining about why your name isn’t written in the sky.

  142. #142 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    It is simply that it’s more efficient – and less blood-spattered – to change things from the inside, slowly and with a modicum of patience.

    you do your way, we’ll work from this angle:

    “Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.”

    -Thomas Jefferson

    maybe we’ll meet in the golden middle.

  143. #143 DominEditrix
    July 1, 2008

    Why is the universe compatible with life?

    Because it isn’t a writing desk.

  144. #144 Jeph
    July 1, 2008

    MP (#131), I have to continue to disagree. God is, as you point out, an untestable concept. That doesn’t make it a rational response to the questions you ask. It remains a positive assertion about the universe (i.e., “There is a God.”) for which no evidence has been, or as you point out, can be, provided. A religious person would normally claim to believe based on faith. That’s fine with me — just don’t claim that faith is a rational response to the available evidence.

    You are, if I understand you properly, equating the statement, “There is no evidence, so I don’t know,” with the statement, “There is no evidence, God must be there.” They’re just not the same thing.

  145. #145 frog
    July 1, 2008

    I proclaim that DominEditrix wins.

  146. #146 Longtime Lurker
    July 1, 2008

    MAJeff,OM:

    Pignoli or walnuts in your pesto?

  147. #147 PZ Myers
    July 1, 2008

    DominEditrix, take a look at my title again. It’s agreeing with your point: if you propose Giberson’s views as a thin edge of a wedge, you are saying that his theology is a sneaky way to pry people loose from their faith.

    Which is fine with me. Let him write books.

    I just don’t like the subterfuge myself.

  148. #148 MAJeff, OM
    July 1, 2008

    pignoli

  149. #149 Helioprogenus
    July 1, 2008

    @ #131 MP, God’s existance is not beyond the scope of scientific inquiry. There is no such thing as a supernatural event, and anything that occurs is part and parcel within the physical laws of the universe. Therefore, if your ambiguous idea of the possibility of god exists, then it has to be within the framework that we can test and draw predictions from. Many find it hard to completely dissociate themselves from this concept of agnosticism, and for a time, I was in the same boat. Yet, when you really think about it, all physical laws of the universe are governed within those bounds. If there is an omniscient entity (considering the infinitessimally small probability of it) that exists outside our universe, then it doesn’t really matter, because it cannot interact with us, and thus, we cannot interact with it. Therefore, even if there was a some kind of omnipotent entity outside the bounds of our universe, there would be no direct effect upon us and in theory, it would not exist to us. Another way to think about this is that if you have multiple universes, whether parallel, or just varying degrees of physical constants, anything that happens in one does not effect the other (unless they’re somehow entangled, but then, you can eventually test for that entanglement). If another universe experiences a supernova, at our own level, we would never know it, and it wouldn’t even be an unknown unknown event. The actual details are more complex, because there are apparently 3 or 4 multiverse concepts, each possibly building on the other. Still, my point being that the physical forces which govern the random chaos that all these possible universes (even considering parallel worlds concepts, and daughter universes, and universes with seperate physical constraints, etc.) experience cannot have any innate intelligence. If you look beyond the plain of everything, in some ether where all these universes and things that exist and don’t exist are constrained in, you still could not reach a deistic conclusion. Utlimately, either you have to reject it as childish nonsense or have your mind evaluated for psychological weaknesses.

  150. #150 Longtime Lurker
    July 1, 2008

    Yeah, walnuts are a poor substitute at best.

    One of my favorite contorni is broccoli rabe parboiled, then sauteed in olive oil with garlic, pignoli, and dried currants (golden raisins in a pinch).

  151. #151 Dutch Delight
    July 1, 2008

    Why is the universe compatible with life?

    This one is so silly and selfcentered it almost doesn’t even need a reply. Just because we know of one tiny little planet in all of the universe where life managed to take hold and survive, balanced on a knifes edge, this entire universe is somehow purposefully in the business of supporting life. If that were true, there would at the very least be a natural mechanism that clears out (and keeps out) all the crap that might ever dive into the inner solar system.

    Such ideas could only come from people who already think that the almighty omnipotent ruler of the universe is their best buddy.

  152. #152 DominEditrix
    July 1, 2008

    Ichthyic: I don’t disagree – but put it into the context wherein Jefferson was using it. He’s talking about discourse with intelligent, educated white males of his social class – not about making fun of Bubba’s Jesus tattoo in a biker bar in Georgia. Or mocking Mary’s virginity at a PTA meeting overpopulated with Catholic immigrants from Central America clutching their rosaries.

    I’m all for mocking the Hovinds and Falwells and Ben Stein or whomever the ID folk have trotted out this week. But not seeing how to use books like this as weapons – no, really scalpels – is short-sighted.

  153. #153 SC
    July 1, 2008

    Being in a k-hole.

    Or, um…well, see Coelho’s Once minutos.

    Speaking of art, by the way, once you’ve read a few articles by Marxist art historians about the construction of the great cathedrals, you’ll never see them in quite the same way.

  154. #154 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    I’m all for mocking the Hovinds and Falwells and Ben Stein or whomever the ID folk have trotted out this week. But not seeing how to use books like this as weapons – no, really scalpels – is short-sighted.

    the problem is, the arguments of supposed “real theologians” are little better, ergo, the usage implied by Jefferson does indeed apply.

    it isn’t just the same context, but a broader one including the likes of Bubba.

    and we have found it equally effective, if not more so…

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/12/ridicule_works.php

  155. #155 KCProgramr
    July 1, 2008

    Once again PZ expressed it much better than I could have… But my rant about the article is here.

    [set ShamelessBlogWhoring=OFF]

  156. #156 frog
    July 1, 2008

    Helioprogenus: There is no such thing as a supernatural event, and anything that occurs is part and parcel within the physical laws of the universe. Therefore, if your ambiguous idea of the possibility of god exists, then it has to be within the framework that we can test and draw predictions from.

    I think that’s a mistaken approach. There could conceivably be events “outside the natural” — events that are inherently inconsistent with all other events, to which no law or pattern applies.

    But then, so what? By definition, such a one-shot event would be meaningless, and essentially incoherent. That’s what supernaturalism is — the belief that some things are incoherent. May be true, but why would one talk about them or think about them? How could one talk about them without making the fatal error of imputing coherency and rationality to them? That’s where the lie falls — the attempt to impose rationalism on the proposition that some things are irrational.

    That’s why believers are either insane, liars or thoughtless.

    To be clear, incoherency and one-shottism is distinct from indeterminancy. Somethings may be indeterminate, but are definitely rational and law-abiding; but nothing can be irrational and rational simultaneously.

  157. #157 MAJeff, OM
    July 1, 2008

    One of my favorite contorni is broccoli rabe parboiled, then sauteed in olive oil with garlic, pignoli, and dried currants (golden raisins in a pinch).

    I can’t wait for August. Sliced grape tomatoes and a chiffonade of basil tossed with olive oil and pecorino for lunch every day. Add a pino grigio and some hearty bread and it’s a very happy day.

  158. #158 H.H.
    July 1, 2008

    The vary (sic) fact that you reacted in the way you did, with irrational emo and ad hominem invective, proves my point. QED.

    I pointed out, by throwing your own argument back in your face, that you’re armchair psychology was bullshit. Therefore whatever irrationality or “emo” you found in my response originated in your construct. If you want to surmise that atheists who criticize theists do so out of a fear of being wrong, then do-nothing atheists like yourself must also be criticizing the new atheists out of fear. Learn2reason.

    Outspoken atheists don’t call believers wrong out of some unnamed fear, but because we honestly find them to be wrong. And learn what an ad hominem is. Calling you a moron doesn’t qualify. Dick.

  159. #159 Jeph
    July 1, 2008

    DominEditrix (#152), I agree with you up to a point (I, for one, wouldn’t long survive the mocking of Bubba’s Jesus tattoo –and am disinclined to do so, anyway). But how do we go about mocking Hovinds and Falwells and so forth without insulting the mass of their followers? We can be unfailingly polite and thoroughly concise in the public dismantling of their ideas, but we can’t honestly deny that we are atheists or be closeted about it. And my response, no matter how polite I try to be, to the question, “Why are you an atheist,” really boils down to reason and rationality: Atheism is rational, theism ain’t. We are opposing an authoritarian movement, and I don’t see how we can avoid stepping on the toes of people who are well and truly invested in following that authority.

  160. #160 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    Frog,

    “There could conceivably be events “outside the natural”…”

    So how would one go about detecting these events occurring outside the natural? A thermometer? A microphone?

  161. #161 negentropyeater
    July 1, 2008

    MP,

    In fact the now discredited “steady state” theory of the origin of the universe (to explain the expanding universe) was favored by some merely to avoid a moment of creation because the “Big Bang” resembled the Judeo-Christian story of creation in Genesis. That’s not exactly rational scientific inquiry.

    Lemaître published his first paper in the “Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles” in 1927, and at first it had little impact (not a widely read review).
    In 1930 and 1931 Eddington and Lemaître published some further commentaries in some english papers. In 1931 Lemaître was invited to London where he proposed the idea of an expanding universe and the primevial atom (which later was called Big Bang theory after a comment by Fred Hoyle). At that moment indeed, the idea was met with skepticism by many scientists because it was too reminiscent of Christian dogma. But by 1933 (2 years later !) the majority of the scientific community had accepted Lemaître’s proposal as the basis for the universe’s cosmological model.

    So what does this show ? Simply that undue skepticism doesn’t last long when it’s against good science.

  162. #162 DominEditrix
    July 1, 2008

    PZ: Someone upthread remarked that books like this may make his fundy relative more receptive to science. Is that deceitful? Perhaps. But sometimes one has to resort to means that are less-than-perfect in order to make progress. Maybe his fundy relative will convince a few more people, and they’ll convince some more…

    To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie: ‘And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
    sayin’ they believe in evolution and walking out. They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said fifty people a day walking in sayin’ they believe in evolution and walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.’

    If “honesty” includes bouts of frothing invective, calling believers gormless imbeciles [vide H.H. hereinabove, when s/he thought I was one], then it’s going to be a very long battle.

  163. #163 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    …and btw, attacking the very foundation of sophistry religion rests itself on is most assuredly NOT the short-sided approach.

    Indeed, the only logical endpoint, barring real divine intervention, is the relegation of religion to realm of knitting.

    THIS represents the longterm view. The short-term approach being to seek to employ NOMA falsely for short-term gain.

    which also has been done successfully (see Ohio).

    so, again, I say to you that I will hardly interfere with attempts to falsely portray a golden middle; to employ the concept of NOMA as a tactical device, to look upon the religious musings of Miller and Collins and Giberson as useful in appealing to moderates.

    don’t assume, for one minute, that this approach represents anything but a short term placation, however.

    In the long term, the religious apologetics of Miller, Collins, Wilson, and Giberson represent little but tactical measures to placate angry fundies. Their ideas, as you have just seen, are easily dismissed with but little thought, even by those untrained in philosophy and theology.

  164. #164 Helioprogenus
    July 1, 2008

    Frog, Alex just beat me to the punch. I have to second that, because if it’s conceivable that something exists outside the natural, then what would it be? If it can’t be tested, then it’s just an empty theory. Events outside our physical universe aren’t exactly supernatural, but they also don’t effect our universe. It’s our lack of understanding that leads to needing some kind of supernatural cause. Natural is all that is, nothing is super about it, and no matter how you dice it down to wordplay, semantics, or anything else, whatever happens to us stays within our universe (unless as explained earlier, it’s somehow entangled with another universe, and this, we can test, so it’s not supernatural).

  165. #165 frog
    July 1, 2008

    Alex: So how would one go about detecting these events occurring outside the natural? A thermometer? A microphone?

    That’s the point. One-shot, incoherent events (which may exist in some sense) would be unmeasurable since they wouldn’t follow the rules of the rest of the universe – they’d be unidentifiable and unknowable in any rational sense. If angels blip in and out of existence without any linkage to natural cause and effect, they’re unmeasurable; they would be wholly unique events incommensurate with the surrounding physics.

    The miraculous may “exist” — but not in any sense that is meaningful outside of the event itself. If something is inneffable, it’s inneffable, so why should I give an ‘f about it? Even if a completely miraculous being exists — so what? A miraculous, supernatural God is a meaningless God. And even a partially miraculous being is inncommensurate with itself — so why would I care about the miraculous part, since it has no rational meaning?

  166. #166 MP
    July 1, 2008

    @Jeph (144)- I’m not saying God *must* be there, I’m saying it’s not unreasonable to believe he is there, and that if he exists, that answers the questions as to existence of creation that I posed (and many other existential questions) and 139 disputed.

    @Frog, then (#139), dismisses my questions as meaningless – are there any metaphysical questions that science does not answer that you would accept as meaningful?

    And, Jeph, I don’t expect you to agree with me, nor to convert you nor any other atheist here to any religion. I’m not trying to prove God or say he must exist. I just don’t like being called delusional.

  167. #167 H.H.
    July 1, 2008

    If “honesty” includes bouts of frothing invective, calling believers gormless imbeciles [vide H.H. hereinabove, when s/he thought I was one], then it’s going to be a very long battle.

    I never thought you were a believer. I distinguished your appeasement atheism as being different and other than that held by us “new atheists” whom you were criticizing. I simply said “we non-believers” in contrast to non-believers of another sort. So the confusion is entirely yours. And I thought you were a moron because of the armchair psychology and terrible thinking you espoused, not because of any suspected theism.

  168. #168 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    Kant says, in On Perpetual Peace:
    “It is true that the saying, ‘Honesty is the best policy,‘ contains a theory which unhappily is very often contradicted by practice; and yet the equally theoretical proposition, ‘Honesty is better than policy,‘ is infinitely removed above all objection, and it is even to be held that honesty or honour is the indispensable condition of all true policy.”
    The great advantage of presenting your views honestly to all is that you don’t have to keep track of what lies you’ve told to whom, or worry about them comparing notes.

    [Honest admission: I haven't read Kant's On Perpetual Peace. I half-remembered the quote from elsewhere (Popper's The Open society and its enemies), and googled it.]

  169. #169 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    If something is inneffable, it’s inneffable, so why should I give an ‘f about it? – frog

    I like it!

  170. #170 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    @Frog, then (#139), dismisses my questions as meaningless – are there any metaphysical questions that science does not answer that you would accept as meaningful?

    are there any “metaphysical” questions you could define as having meaningful answers?

    surely not the questions you posed, which you obviously intended to not have an answer to begin with, right?

  171. #171 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    “events (which may exist in some sense) would be unmeasurable…”

    Something unmeasurable is irrelevant, and for all intent, may as well not exist.

    “If angels blip in and out…”

    What’s blipping? No really, what exactly is the blip-o-meter reading?

    “The miraculous may “exist” — but not in any sense that is meaningful outside of the event itself.”

    With all do respect frog, I can’t make sense of the idea here. If it has no relevance to anything else, then how can it be known to exist?

  172. #172 SC
    July 1, 2008

    Why do we exist? And why isn’t there nothing? Why is the universe compatible with life?

    How does religion go about answering those questions? What tools or methods do religious people use in their investigations? How do they know if their answers are wrong?

  173. #173 frog
    July 1, 2008

    Helio: Natural is all that is, nothing is super about it, and no matter how you dice it down to wordplay, semantics, or anything else, whatever happens to us stays within our universe (unless as explained earlier, it’s somehow entangled with another universe, and this, we can test, so it’s not supernatural).

    To put it another way, I could imagine that “supernaturally” God brings oranges into existence ex nihilo. That explanation could be correct — but meaningless since, by definition, I couldn’t make a law about it. If I could, it would then be, as you say, a natural event following the laws of quantum naranjamics. It’s only supernatural if it’s is completely outside of natural laws — and thereby immeasurable. At which point, you say — who gives a fuck, since I can not know anything about it without it being natural.

    It’s a sticky wicket — but important because people don’t recognize that they’re making the claim with the “supernatural” that they can’t possibly take any conclusions from a supernatural event – a truly supernatural event leads to no rational consequences, in terms of deducing anything about the world, other than “shit happens”. So reasonable people just ignore the supernatural as meaningless.

    I just wanted to point out the inherent lie about “well God is inneffable and miraculous”. That may be the case if the irrational and incoherent could be describe as being the case, but then we can make no rational claims about God, so why should we give a shit about some “truth” value which has no rational implications? It’s the flip side of your comment — any claim about something being supernatural is vacuous, since it can’t really be true or false if it is supernatural.

  174. #174 DominEditrix
    July 1, 2008

    Jeph: Subtle ridicule of their arguments works well, without necessarily offending the teeming masses. There are always ways to trip up people who essentially have their patter down, because it doesn’t change much from confrontation to confrontation. [Years ago, Joe Haldeman had a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses come to his door. He told them that he was writing, asked them to leave their literature and come back later. Whereupon he presented them with 8 pages of refutation from the frigging Bible itself. They pretty much panicked, because no one had ever done that before.]

    Does it matter if we make rude comments here about the Ken(t)s? Probably not. But entering into a conversation with someone who has heard/heard about them is best conducted with patience and calm, not with ‘Ken(t) is a moronic asshole’.

    It’s the Jane-you-ignorant-slut type of conversation that never goes well for our side. I mean, hell – look at what goes on here, with the insults and name-calling from people who pride themselves on their “rationality”. All the occasional God-bothering commenters have to do is sit back and watch the fireworks, mindlessly congratulating themselves at how easy it is to make those silly atheists lose any pretense to rationality at all. It gives them as sense of self-satisfaction and makes no progress at all.

  175. #175 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    SC @ #172

    That’s easy. Just start off knowing you already know what needs to be known.

    Geesh.

  176. #176 Norman Doering
    July 1, 2008

    MP wrote:

    I just don’t like being called delusional.

    I understand, midgets don’t like being called short either and schizophrenics don’t like being called crazy. It’s one of those realities you can’t face.

  177. #177 ndt
    July 1, 2008

    @Frog, then (#139), dismisses my questions as meaningless – are there any metaphysical questions that science does not answer that you would accept as meaningful?

    No. Science doesn’t have all the answers. But if science doesn’t have the answer, then nobody else does either. And if something is outside the realm of science, then it is completely irrelevant.

    I do wonder why the universe is here. But if science never finds out, and it probably won’t, then I’ll never know.

    Hypotheses based on blind speculation are useless.

  178. #178 frog
    July 1, 2008

    Alex: With all do respect frog, I can’t make sense of the idea here. If it has no relevance to anything else, then how can it be known to exist?

    You’re getting me loud and clear. The claim that something is incoherent is incoherent. The universe may be incoherent, but any such claim is incoherent.

    And religious folks are making that claim — but trying to hide it under coherence.

  179. #179 Longtime Lurker
    July 1, 2008

    Re MP:

    “I’m saying it’s not unreasonable to believe he is there, and that if he exists”

    Does MP stand for “Male Pronoun” or “Male Parts”? One of the major reasons for my apatheism is this weird insistence that an omnipotent, omnipresent, non-corporeal Supreme Being has a dick and balls.

    If there really is a Supreme Being, why would it conform to the biological model for a minority of a single planet’s inhabitants? Why is god made in your image?

  180. #180 peaches
    July 1, 2008

    Delurking here to put in my two cents on Stuart Kauffman. I haven’t read Reinventing the Sacred but I did attend one of his book tour lectures last week. He said several times that he does not believe in any kind of supernatural power or deity and that he does not attribute anything to the supernatural. This book is basically an argument against reductionism. The essay Shan linked to in comment #71 is a good place for anyone interested in Kauffman’s theories.

    He did say that he views this book as his way of reaching out to those who are religious. As a result he comes off as fairly congenial towards religion in general. I think his goal is to get people to abandon their idea of a personal god in favor of either atheism or a hands-off deistic style god. He feels like the best way to do this is to give people something within the bounds of science that they can consider holy/sacred.

    I don’t think he’s gone off the deep end into the woo. He doesn’t believe the universe in conscious or anything like that. He just wants to transfer the idea of ‘sacredness’ from religion to natural phenomena.

  181. #181 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    Frog,

    It seems you are make the positive claim that supernatural things (events, whatever) exist. IF so, what evidence do you have that would support that claim?

    Just because we can imagine interesting things does not mean they are real, or that they even make sense.

  182. #182 Jeph
    July 1, 2008

    MP (#166), nor am I trying to undo any faith that you have. I do hope you understand where I’m coming from, though. Faith is not a rational response to evidence — if it were, I’m not certain it would merit the term, “faith.” The first step down that road is, “There is a God.” I don’t really get that, but it doesn’t worry me until people start making claims about the nature of God, with not one shred of evidence for the first assumption — and many of those further claims do begin to fly in the face of logic and evidence.

    As far as existential questions go, until evidence of an external cause and meaning turns up, we’ll have to create it for ourselves.

  183. #183 Nick Gotts
    July 1, 2008

    MP@166 I disagree with frog’s view that your questions are meaningless, if we take that in the strict sense that they are semantically ill-formed, like asking “Why is democracy purple?”. However, they are all ill-defined, too vague to be worth investigating, which is what I think he meant. Yes, they all sound terribly profound, like Zen koans such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” – but this is an illusion. And you are delusional if you think that positing a god has any explanatory power. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that there is a god, the question “Why is there a god?” is just as good as any of your questions. As to metaphysical questions in general, they may be useful “place-holders” in areas where we cannot yet formulate scientific (or mathematical) questions. So: “Can a substance be infinitely divided, or do substances consist of indivisible atoms?” was metaphysical to the ancient Greeks, but was replaced by scientific questions as knowledge advanced. I suspect that questions about “multiverses” have a similar status now.

  184. #184 Norman Doering
    July 1, 2008

    MP asked:

    And why isn’t there nothing?

    Because there is no such thing as nothing. It is a figment of the human imagination, a delusion, an artifact of how the human brain works.

    Where is there nothing in the universe, can you show me any? Do you think there is nothing between the galaxies?

    Think about it: If nothing comes from nothing and if there isn’t nothing, but rather something, then there must be no such thing as nothing.

  185. #185 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    If nothing comes from nothing and if there isn’t nothing, but rather something, then there must be no such thing as nothing.

    ow.

    I think I need some alcoholic lubrication to help make that slide down easier.

    Off to the pub.

  186. #186 Alex
    July 1, 2008

    Nothingness can’t even be imagined. The very thought of it, is something, and therefore, not nothing.

    Nice one Norman. I was waiting for someone to mention it.

  187. #187 Helioprogenus
    July 1, 2008

    For Frog, you’re entertaining the possibility that something may utterly blip into existence, blip out, and be supernatural, but we can’t test it because it happens only once and therefore maintains its status as a non-physical untestable entity. For a logical, reasonable idea, that’s far fetched. An independent even that is present within our physical universe is natural, even if it occurs once, and cannot be repeated. It may not be measureable because it won’t occur again, but if the proper tools were placed, it would have been measured. It is not supernatural, it is measurable, and therefore, there’s no need to enterain anything.

    Futher, why do you feel the incessant need to add this possibility of the supernatural? Is it because ultimately, no matter how closely we follow the scientific method, you will still maintain some comfort in knowing that something exists that you cannot explain, cannot prove, but must maintain for reasons of comfort, sanity, etc? This, I can understand, but makes it no less likely to occur. Having a need for something, and an answer before the question is postulated (such as something supernatural), is just wishful thinking and naivite.

  188. #188 amphiox
    July 1, 2008

    I don’t about the searching for greater consciousnesses (though there is SETI) but it seems to me that accepting authority without question and assuming intent as root cause are default, or at least favored, modes of thinking for the majority of people. There are probably sound reasons that our brains evolved this way. It was probably safer (those who refused to accept their elder’s assertion that sabretooth cats were dangerous and insisted on testing it for themselves probably left fewer children behind) and easier (so long as your authority figure is more or less reliable, you get to use all his/her knowledge as well as your own for minimal extra effort, and you can use your own mind and consciousness as a model rather than trying to think up entirely new models all the time.) The prevalence of religion probably boils down mostly to these two factors.

    Irrationality is the easy option. Rational thought takes effort.

    Which is not to say that we can’t make the effort and strive to persuade others to do the same.

  189. #189 frog
    July 1, 2008

    MP #166: @Frog, then (#139), dismisses my questions as meaningless – are there any metaphysical questions that science does not answer that you would accept as meaningful?

    Define metaphysical. If you just mean questions about the causation of causation, and all it’s concomitant forms, then no — that metaphysics is purely an error in the wiring of human communicatory systems. They’re incoherent even if grammatical.

    If you mean epistemology and ontology, insofar as they are real, meaningful fields, they are questions of what is required for a self-consistent logic (or logics), and therefore uninteresting to people who aren’t absorbed in questions of mathematics and it’s linkages to physical reality (and visa versa). But then questions of the form “Why are we here?” wouldn’t fall under that, other than to point out that we are a necessary assumption of any system of logic that we produce, since any system of logic necessarily entails that we are communicating with each other.

    Read some Wittgenstein and come back. He killed metaphysics 80 years ago (after he became the master of metaphysics). Nietzche tried, but he just pointed the finger in the end.

  190. #190 Norman Doering
    July 1, 2008

    MP wrote:

    Many seem to act as if atheistic materialism has all the answers…

    Not all the answers. It just seems that way to people who have so few answers.

    …where as there are plenty still open questions for Athiests

    Indeed there are. I have no idea how much wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. I’m not sure if there is a teapot in orbit around Mars either.

  191. #191 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    Read some Wittgenstein and come back.

    will this do?

    http://www.kfs.org/~jonathan/witt/tlph.html

    I must admit to not having read anything but indirect references to Wittgenstein myself.

  192. #192 frog
    July 1, 2008

    HP: Futher, why do you feel the incessant need to add this possibility of the supernatural? Is it because ultimately, no matter how closely we follow the scientific method, you will still maintain some comfort in knowing that something exists that you cannot explain, cannot prove, but must maintain for reasons of comfort, sanity, etc?

    You’re missing my point then. The possibility that “something” may, in some imaginable way, fall outside of reason isn’t something that I cherish. But it is the claim that is underneath claims of supernaturalism, and it has to be faced directly.

    See MP above. They’ll always come back with “but the Lord is unknowable” — and the response isn’t that that is “impossible” but that it’s a meaningless statement, just like my last several postings. They’re incoherent rambling, because they are attempting to logically tie together an incoherent proposition.

    The claim of miracles aren’t “impossible” but they are self-contradictory. The universe may, in the eye of God, be self-contradictory, but what business of mine is that? That God would be meaningless to me, it would be inherently impossible to communicate outside of some kind of Zen koan, so what kind of fool would attempt to put that into a logical statement?

  193. #193 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    … while on the subject of metaphysics…

    Have you run across some good attacks on Carl Jung’s concepts of the collective unconscious, mandala symbolism, and synchronicity in your reading adventures?

    once upon a time, Jung was a favorite target of mine.

  194. #194 Norman Doering
    July 1, 2008

    frog wrote:

    They’ll always come back with “but the Lord is unknowable” — and the response isn’t that that is “impossible” but that it’s a meaningless statement, …

    I would suggest a better response would be:
    So, you admit you don’t know what you’re talking about?

    It’s more concise and you don’t have to read Wittgenstein to get it.

  195. #195 Glen Davidson
    July 1, 2008

    The “supernatural” would not necessarily be outside of all investigation. It could be just how it used to be considered, as animistic force which is not exactly predictable, but not without some probabilities existing for it.

    A god, an alien, a leprachaun might very well intervene at times, never being reducible to a force or to deterministic phenomena (much as people are not so reducible), yet you might notice that it intervenes in certain ways (perhaps in response to supplication or sacrifice) when it actually does intervene, and for or against certain people–Xians, Buddhists, whoever.

    Science could then say some things about these “supernatural” beings, but would be quite limited. It could not predict interventions–but then even evolution only predicts certain aspects of what was and what will be, and not what sort of organism will arise in 2 million years.

    Of course the “supernatural” could be completely unpredictable in all of its aspects. In that case it would be an annoyance to predictive science, but if fairly rare it might not actually jeopardize scientific regularities.

    The trouble with the “supernatural”, of course, is that we only have hypotheticals. We don’t know if it might be regular, or if it would be entirely unpredictable, because wherever we can sufficiently understand a phenomenon it appears to occur according to “natural” regularities. Hence we can neither rule the “supernatural” in or out as something that science can study. What we can say is that if the “supernatural” intervened commonly, observably and with as much self-similarity as humans exhibit, we likely could characterize it scientifically to some degree.

    But why even bother with these issues (I do it because others brought them up)? We don’t have evidence of either predictable or unpredictable breaks in physics. That’s why we don’t accept the “supernatural”. We have no data about it.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  196. #196 frog
    July 1, 2008

    Icthyic:

    No, no! Please! That was Wittgenstein’s attempt to create a meta-metaphysics. Then he recognized the infinite regress he was in (like Russell’s set of set’s that eventually led down the path to Goedel).

    He did that while he was in a POW camp in WWI. After publishing it, he quit philosophy for several years and became a gardener, I think.

    Then he came back — I don’t have my bookshelf with me, but several collections of his lectures after that have been published, where he primarily focuses on trying to show that many “philosophical problems” are just simply nonsense.

    The tractatus ends with “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” That was the basis of the rest of his work; maybe someone smarter than me can make sense of a logical proof of the infinite regress of logic… but the examples are just as much “proof” that sometimes, one should just shut up.

  197. #197 ddr
    July 1, 2008

    MP #115

    Yeah, it may be that “God did it” is as good an explanation to some questions as the best answers scientist have today.

    But here is the difference.

    Religion says “This is how it happened and anyone who disagrees is wrong.”

    Science says “All the evidence points to this being the answer. If you think I’m wrong, show me how the evidence supports your idea.” Or sometimes science just says “I don’t know. We don’t know enough to answer that question yet. But we are still looking into it”

    With a religious outlook there can never be any growth or expansion of knowledge. The starting point and the ending point are in the same place.

    Religion is static, science is dynamic.

    Science does not have all the answers, but it is still looking. Religion feels that there is only one answer to all questions. That being “God did it.” Religion worked it all out to its satisfaction a few thousand years ago and does not really want anyone poking around in case they are able to come up with something that proves them wrong.

    But I think the reason that so many atheists think that the religious are demented comes down to this:

    Religious people seem to feel that the value of their life will be judged by how closely they followed things set down in a book written in the Bronze Age. And that backward looking, blind, inflexible devotion to a book written by people who had no idea of size and wonder of the world they lived on just goes against everything that science is. Scientists try and share the wonder and the majesty of the things they have discovered. When they do, people point at their Bronze Age book and say “that can’t be right. Look, here in this book written thousands of years ago, they say it works different than that.” How can anyone who holds that book in front of their eyes so they can’t see the real world be anything but demented?

  198. #198 frog
    July 1, 2008

    ND: I would suggest a better response would be:

    So, you admit you don’t know what you’re talking about?

    It’s more concise and you don’t have to read Wittgenstein to get it.

    I still prefer DominEditrix’s Because it isn’t a writing desk. A koan works better to point out it’s nonesense, and it may keep the fool’s busy for a while.

    Just pointing out that someone is jabbering usually doesn’t work — you have to out-jabber them, then it may sink in. And old Witt is better at spinning out plausible sounding nonesense farther than me — I can only go a paragraph or two before they catch me at it.

  199. #199 Holbach
    July 1, 2008

    Moses @ 134 Sorry for the rant at 74. I had just posted an intense comment @ 59, and when I scrolled down to yours at 74, all I blurrily saw was New Testament and other bible references and so reacted hastily and with undue venom. I went back and read the post slowly and saw that my misinterpretation was faulty. Excuse the outburst, and be assured that I will not be so quick to post a stupid reply without making sure that none is warranted.

  200. #200 BobbyEarle
    July 1, 2008

    #190

    Norman…here ya go, buddy:

    A woodchuck could chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

  201. #201 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    No, no! Please! That was Wittgenstein’s attempt to create a meta-metaphysics.

    well, therein lies the danger of generally referring someone to “go read Wittgenstein”. Can you imagine the responses you would have gotten if he had taken you literally, read that piece, and come back?

    However, I still don’t think it would be a bad idea to read his only published “book”, as it gives at least context for his latter proclamations, right?

    If you run across specific references, you should post them; I really would like to read them.

    I’m tired of Nietzsche.

    oh, and as to the other question…

    have you run across critiques of Jung?

  202. I disagree that seeing Madonna in a pita requires a “credulous brain”. What it actually requires is an amazing pattern recognising brain, developed by millions of years of evolution – and yet not perfected, because evolution is like that. A good enough solution is what you get, not perfection.

    Fortunately, I also have some reasoning powers and an awareness of my brain’s tendency to pareidolia. So when I see Madonna on a pita or Jesus on a dog’s arse, I just think “huh, cute trick, brain!” instead of going “IT”S A MIRRAKEL!!1eleventy!!!!11″

  203. #203 Helioprogenus
    July 1, 2008

    I propose a woodchuck chucking apparatus to determine the rate of woodchucking possible under specific conditions. First, you’d have to observe a random assortment of wild woodchuck and then determine their abilities through their masticated offal. Then collect a few of the most productive members and devise comfortably harness tostrap the woodchuck. Provide it with a variety of tree trunks of varying morphology and dessication, and observe. Repeat this experiment whilst collecting the offal through the course of a few months, choose the most productive woodchuck and determine it’s chucking ability at a rate measurable by the hour and offal. Perhaps the average kilo offal per hour at peak woodchucking efficiency.

  204. #204 Sastra
    July 1, 2008

    DominEditrix #77 wrote:

    And, quite bluntly – as long as they keep it to themselves and don’t try to impose their beliefs on anyone else, why does it matter whether someone believes on God or Buddha or the FSM?

    Ah, but the good Dr. Giberson didn’t keep it to himself, did he? He wrote a book. For people to read and consider. And we’re critiquing his ideas as if it mattered whether they were true or false. If it comes into the marketplace of ideas, it should be fair game.

    I think doing so involves a real respect for theists as our equals. They’re not ALL weak and simple childlike folk shuddering on the brink of a nervous breakdown, shattered by trauma and clinging to religion as they stagger out of funerals and hospitals. Some of them are smart, and are writing books and defending their views as respectable ideas that need be considered seriously.

    Very well. “Ask and ye shall receive.”

    And that’s the part of PZ’s post I’d like to emphasize:

    “And far from overlooking the reality of religious experience, we (atheists) scrutinize that reality far more carefully than the theologically inclined find comfortable.”

    We want them to be specific, and speak clearly. It’s supposed to be important, and it’s supposed to be different than the values and reasons and emotions of the world. So they’re going to bring in magic and miracles somewhere, sooner or later. That, or do what I secretly suspect Kaufman may be doing — hijack religious language to redescribe atheism and naturalism in glowing terms.

    That’s the problem with the fuzzy, murky sorts of apologetics that try to reinterpret and reinvent and redefine and reorder everything in their religion so that it kind of sort of almost sounds like similar secular ideas that do make sense — so can you pretty please give our arguments a pass? Could you please not take them seriously, as if they were saying something one can analyze, and let it all hover in the area where “experiences people have of interacting with God are profound and deeply meaningful” as if we’re anthropologists or psychologists?

    Such apologists actually seem to argue that we should not take God seriously, as an idea or concept. Don’t look at it like a science claim, or a proposed fact. No, look at it like an expression of longing and hope. Take US seriously, as believers who need to be coddled. And then we can go back to sneering at how atheists “just don’t get it” because they aren’t deep enough.

    It is simply that it’s more efficient – and less blood-spattered – to change things from the inside, slowly and with a modicum of patience. Call it psychological sabotage.

    Maybe. It’s more efficient — sometimes, with some people, in some circumstances. And other times, it may be more efficient to be honest and more brutal. I think generalizations are a risky thing. In general, I mean.

  205. #205 Patricia
    July 1, 2008

    #199 – I raise my glass in a toast sir.

  206. #206 Jack Rawlinson
    July 1, 2008

    Damn, PZ. I love it when you wax lyrical. :-)

  207. #207 Norman Doering
    July 1, 2008

    BobbyEarle wrote:

    A woodchuck could chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

    Exactly right! Except for one thing: If a woodchuck could chuck a butt cord of wood per hour, then a woodchuck could chuck two butt cords of wood in two hours, but that doesn’t mean that a woodchuck could chuck 24 butt cords of wood in 24 hours because it would have to sleep. Thus if a woodchuck could chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood it wouldn’t necessarily chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

  208. #208 Holbach
    July 1, 2008

    Thanks Patricia.

  209. #209 Kel
    July 1, 2008

    The sooner theologians take on Gould’s position of nonoverlapping magisteria, the better. To hear the same inane waffle again and again about how God is compatible with science then claiming faith on natural events is frustrating. The question of Jesus is a historical one, not a matter of faith.

  210. #210 frog
    July 1, 2008

    Icthyic: However, I still don’t think it would be a bad idea to read his only published “book”, as it gives at least context for his latter proclamations, right?
    If you run across specific references, you should post them; I really would like to read them.
    I’m tired of Nietzsche.
    oh, and as to the other question…
    have you run across critiques of Jung?

    I’d do it the other way — it was only after reading his later proclamations, particularly one essay on the Job of the Philosopher — I have to get to my bookshelf to give you the title and the name. To tell the truth, just re-reading the Tractatus, it finally makes sense to me in any but the loosest “I think I see what he’s getting at sense”.

    I’ve got a couple at home — I’ll try to put them up tomorrow.

    My German friends tell me that Nietzche makes sense in German — it’s poetry, therefore untranslatable. So if you think you get it in translation, you don’t. On the other hand, he’s good to piss off the Christians.

    Jung — my anthro is way in my rear-view mirror at this time, so I can’t help there. I’m still working through my backlog on Gould. But an overview and critique might be fun to piss off some colleagues — learning the negative can be helpful to sell the point, in a Jesuit kind of way!

  211. #211 Dexter
    July 1, 2008

    Of course if you were really being so successfully rational, your emotion, including fear, would not be splashed all over the page.

  212. #212 Paul Murray
    July 1, 2008

    The issue I have with this is that the god he argues for is not a god that people actually belive in. When I say “there is no God”, by ‘God’ I mean that which people address as God when they pray and worship. When someone’s child has been hit by a car, God is not some theological concept that reveals himself through the bible; he is a magic man in the sky who hears and answers prayer with real miracles, who’ll save their childs life if they belive just right, or belive hard enough. *Thats* what God is. And it’s not real.

  213. #213 Paul Murray
    July 1, 2008

    “Many seem to act as if atheistic materialism has all the answers, where as there are plenty still open questions for Athiests – Why do we exist? And why isn’t there nothing? Why is the universe compatible with life? ”

    Sigh. Whenever anyone asks the question “why”, they are asking for a story, a narrative. It’s the nature of narratives that they are about *people*. So the question “why” in itself contains an implicit demand that the answer be about a person.

    Science started when people began to ask “what” rather than “why”, and to construct the answers in as much and as exact detail as humanly possible.

  214. #214 James F
    July 1, 2008

    Books like Giberson’s deserve support not because they will reconcile science and religion, but because they hold the promise of leading more evangelical Christians to believe that they can accept evolution – the most demonized concept since heliocentrism – without abandoning their faith. I’m reminded of a scene from NOVA’s Evolution series following a lecture by Keith B. Miller at Wheaton College. There was a palpable sense of relief among the students interviewed that an evangelical Christian could not only accept but also actively support evolution over creationism. People like Giberson and Miller are something like the anti-Ken Hams of the world. The evidence should speak for itself, but in a climate polarized by certain religious leaders, the messenger becomes important.

  215. #215 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    But an overview and critique might be fun to piss off some colleagues

    hmm, I’m not sure, but if that was a request for a decent overview of Jung, I think there is indeed just such a thing:

    The Collected Works of CG Jung.

    sidenote:

    having just tried to look up where to buy a copy, I discover that it has appreciated in value somewhat since my initial purchase of the volume…

    to the tune of about $1,200!

    Wouldn’t you know it? I gave my copy to a friend of mine who was just starting her grad career in applied psychology.

    In fact, I’m noting that ALL of my “Jungian” books are worth a chunk o change, even the paperbacks! wonder why?

    that said, I can’t even find a torrent of it.

    hmm.

    oh well, if you can’t find a copy of the collected works, it shouldn’t be too hard to track down any of the following:

    Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self

    The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

    Dreams

    Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle

    At one time, I was well versed in all of these individual volumes, and was of the opinion that Jung was basically the last psychologist who supported metaphysics as having practical application, but that was over 20 years ago now. I also concluded he had basically lost his frickin’ mind, after reading Aion.

    I actually didn’t need to see a direct critique of much of this work in order to logically reject pretty much all of it, and haven’t really thought about it in quite a while.

    Science was so much more interesting to me.

    Still, if you do run across a decent critique, I’d love to see it.

  216. #216 Sastra
    July 1, 2008

    “Why do we exist? And why isn’t there nothing? Why is the universe compatible with life? “

    The answers science comes up with are not as satisfying as the answers religion comes up with, because they’re less certain and less reassuring (not more certain and more reassuring.) ASKING those questions assumes that we human beings are special and important and cosmically significant, something which needs to be explained. God, then, is needed to explain our importance. If you assume, upfront, that there’s nothing special about ourselves except to ourselves, God falls away.

    Sure, science can’t tell us everything. It can’t tell us that the universe is the way we want it to be, and nothing bad ever really happens.

    Get over yourself and deal with it.

    The whole “why is there anything at all?” question has always struck me as bizarre. Assuming that “nothing” is even coherent as a concept, there is exactly ONE way for “Nothing” to exist. The ways that “Something” might exist are infinite — infinity to the infinity power times infinity, in a virtual infinity of forms and permutations.

    All things being equal, that makes the odds of Something over Nothing INFINITY to one. How freaking HIGH do they have to be before they stop scratching their heads in perplexity on the result?

  217. #217 Anton Mates
    July 1, 2008

    PZ, I’m not sure what you’re background is with relation to religious belief (i.e., if you ever spent time in your youth as a believer or not, but I’m assuming not), but I do think you (and others) tend to overlook how difficult it is for people to simply reject their religious beliefs once facing scientific evidence.

    PZ was a believer when he was younger, and comes from a religious family. Ditto for, e.g., Richard Dawkins.

    Many atheists (though not me) are former believers who lost their faith through education, argument, and simple exposure to a wider array of worldviews. Naturally, they tend to be hopeful that others can do the same.

  218. #218 H.H.
    July 1, 2008

    While by no means an exhaustive critique of Jung, the Skeptic’s Diction does have a small entry on his concept of synchronicity.

    http://www.skepdic.com/jung.html

    It also notes: “Jung went through a period of mental illness during which he thought he was a prophet with “special insight.” Jung referred to his “creative illness” (between 1913-1917) as a voluntary confrontation with the unconscious. His great “insight” was that he thought all his patients over 35 suffered from “loss of religion” and he had just the thing to fill up their empty, aimless, senseless lives: his own metaphysical system of archetypes and the collective unconscious.”

  219. #219 Susannah
    July 1, 2008

    “We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.”

    It looks like a bunch of people will be using that as a sig. I’m among them.

    BTW, thinking of Darwin’s soil-churning earthworms, I would say that worms, too, have earned nobility along the way.

  220. #220 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    yes, basically what i realized when I fist read Synchronicity, way back as an undergrad around 1986, was that it in fact boiled down to nothing more than:

    apophenia

    a good lesson to those that think science does NOT provide answers to supposedly “metaphysical” questions.

    not exactly what I was looking for, but I do refer to the skeptic’s dictionary from time to time.

    thanks HH

  221. #221 Pierce R. Butler
    July 1, 2008

    DominEditrix @ 77, 137, 146, 142, 152, 162, 174 –

    OMFSM. Allison, izzat you?

    frog @ 145: damn straight she wins!

  222. #222 Paper Hand
    July 1, 2008

    When I was still a Christian, I believed that “metaphorical view of God” idea.

    Until I actually started reading the Bible. Then I came to realize that if it was an accurate depiction of God, then God was, at the very least, indifferent to individual humans. The most you could say from the Biblical description of God is that he seemed to have a special fondness for Israel as a collective entity (while not caring one bit about individual Israelites), and maybe for humanity as a whole.

    That was the beginning of the process of moving from Christian to generic theist to vague polytheist and finally to atheist.

  223. #223 not completely useless
    July 1, 2008

    His title is misleading. It isn’t Darwin that needs saving. It’s religion that’s in trouble, and that’s what Giberson is trying to salvage.

  224. #224 Ichthyic
    July 1, 2008

    His title is misleading. It isn’t Darwin that needs saving. It’s religion that’s in trouble, and that’s what Giberson is trying to salvage.

    just so.

    not completely useless, indeed.

  225. #225 Wowbagger
    July 1, 2008

    sc, #172, wrote:

    How does religion go about answering those questions? What tools or methods do religious people use in their investigations? How do they know if their answers are wrong?

    Excellent point.

  226. #226 Tulse
    July 1, 2008

    Why is the universe compatible with life?

    “Compatible with life”? The universe is composed of trillions of light-years of empty space, space that is just 3 degrees above the coldest anything can get. What isn’t empty space is overwhelmingly stuff that plays no directly role in our existence (dark matter and dark energy). Of the stuff that is left over, most of it is bound in huge balls of fusion many orders of magnitude hotter than we could endure. It has been this way pretty much for billions of years.

    Explain to me again how this is all evidence of life compatibility? If the universe were a huge meadow, or vast ocean, or even a gigantic night club, I could see that claim (and surely an omnipotent creator could have generated any of those possibilities). But to the universe, life sure looks like it is profoundly incidental.

    I wish you’d all stop acting as if everyone who believes in some purpose behind Creation itself is deluded.

    Even if the creation of the universe involved supernatural intervention, why should we assume the goal of such creation was us? More generally, why should we presume that there was any intent or intelligence behind it? Why couldn’t it have been, say, just sneezed out accidentally? Why couldn’t it have arisen from an “amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemies and bubbles at the center of all infinity, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes”?

    And even if something more benign and intentional like a Deist god did the creating, such a being clearly doesn’t impact the world currently, so why regard such an entity’s existence as worthy of religious worship? Such creation may be a brute fact of the world, but its occurrence is no more worth attaching sacred significance to than, say, the creation of the major current land masses by continental drift. I don’t see anyone suggesting we worship the continental plates, so why should we worship a process that just acted once and is gone?

    Anyone who looks at these issues in a considered fashion and still believes in the definite existence of some anthropomorphic being who produced the vastness of the cosmos just so some hairy bipeds on an infinitesimally small rock could walk around and smugly proclaim themselves the purpose of all that exists is indeed deluded.

  227. #228 Patricia
    July 1, 2008

    Sorry Ickthyic, can’t be of much help here. Have only one old hard back (with dust cover)’Freud & Jung’ by Anthony Storr and Anthony Stevens, Barnes & Noble, 1998.
    I bought it for 25 cents at a yard sale, and have yet to read it. It appears to be some letters and an over view of some sort.
    With my pathetic education it will probably not do me one damn bit of good. If it’s the book you’re looking for I’d be happy to ship it to you.

  228. #229 cicely
    July 1, 2008

    MP @ 131:

    There are things beyond scientific inquiry, like the questions I posed, for which God is a rational answer or for which there is no scientifically attainable answer and thus at some level becomes a philosophical question.

    There are things for which there is no scientifically attainable answer at this time. That doesn’t mean that, in the future, science may not be able to address these things. As far as human knowledge understood it, once upon a time, the weather was the work of gods, not the interaction of masses of heated air, the rotation of the Earth, the topography of land masses, etc.; once upon a time, earthquakes were other gods at work, and volcanos were their smithies, rather than being the action of moving landmasses, with maybe the odd meteorite thrown in for flavor. And the turn of the seasons might be attributed to the fertility goddess’ temporary imprisonment.

    I would never say that some problems are and will forever be beyond the realm of science, which is and will be a work continuously in progress.

  229. #230 Louise Van Court
    July 2, 2008

    Quoting PZ. “We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.”

    Technically if one is adopted into the king’s family then nobility is attained without having “earned” it. Who among us has “earned” their nobility PZ, have you?

  230. #231 cicely
    July 2, 2008

    Unfortunately, we have to deal with the fact that a large number of people do and will continue to subscribe to some set of religious beliefs. That’s reality for ya. So, given that (for now, at least) we’re pretty much stuck with religion being part of the social equation, I would a whole lot rather have the attenuated, non-virulent kind, who are prepared to concede that science has a lot of evidence on its side.

    Though it almost certainly isn’t what Giberson intended, I see a use for this in the same general sense as Pratchett’s “lies to children” concept. Once the religiously-minded have got to grips with the acceptability of science in a way that doesn’t offend their preconceived notions to the point of being discarded out of hand, and start the critical thinking process, you feed them more (and more accurate, in depth) information.

  231. #232 HP
    July 2, 2008

    Just scanning the comments: Is there someone upthread posting as HP? ‘Cause it’s not me. And I’ve been using that tag for a good 10 years.

    I just wish that more self-proclaimed fans of Mediterranean late Bronze-Age literature were familiar with Homer’s Illiad. Best case scenario: More atheists, and a decent sense of hospitality. Worst case scenario: Free steak just for showing up.

    I’ll take Achilles over Joshua any day of the week.

  232. #233 Dennis N
    July 2, 2008

    Nope, there’s an MP. I think someone called him HP on accident.

  233. #234 Ichthyic
    July 2, 2008

    With my pathetic education it will probably not do me one damn bit of good. If it’s the book you’re looking for I’d be happy to ship it to you.

    actually, I’ve never read it, but everything I can find about that book suggests it is a good introduction to Freud and Jung, intended for non-technical audiences.

    thanks for the offer, though.

    most appreciated.

  234. #235 luvois
    July 2, 2008

    Devastating essay. PZ is a god!!! :O

  235. #236 Notkieran
    July 2, 2008

    No, PZ is Ceiling Cat.

    Better yet, Ceiling Squid.

  236. #237 tomh
    July 2, 2008

    MP wrote:
    Yes, physics can take over at 1E-9 seconds or whatever after the Big Bang, but it can’t explain why it occurred in the first place.

    One always has to be careful about declaring what science “can’t” explain. Already scientists are peeking behind the big bang with more surely to come.

  237. #238 Kel
    July 2, 2008

    No, PZ is Ceiling Cat.

    Better yet, Ceiling Squid.

    As Fry would say “Thou shalt love the tentacle”

  238. #239 AndyD
    July 2, 2008

    Perhaps people like Giberson and Miller represent a link in an evolutionary shift away from theology toward science? I’m sure no one on this forum would argue that every link in any evolutionary chain should be as “perfect” as the next.

    If you find run-of-the-mill Christians pointing to Giberson in an effort to affirm their own righteousness, then you surely only need challenge them to support Giberson’s scientific beliefs in order to watch them fall in a blithering heap.

  239. #240 Ichthyic
    July 2, 2008

    Perhaps people like Giberson and Miller represent a link in an evolutionary shift away from theology toward science?

    I’ve looked at their arguments carefully, as well as those put forward by Wilson and Collins.

    nope.

    in fact, they represent very different things individually.

    then you surely only need challenge them to support Giberson’s scientific beliefs in order to watch them fall in a blithering heap.

    the problem is, they already ARE blithering heaps. They really don’t care about being inconsistent.

  240. #241 Peter Ashby
    July 2, 2008

    Jonathon Rothwell @#117

    Perhaps he’s trying (and failing) to say that homosexuality is natural selection in action. Which it isn’t.

    Except that it might be, only the guys are not the full picture, maybe you have to look at their female relatives too:
    http://journals.royalsociety.org/content/rdd98tj9a5bk1xla/fulltext.pdf

    Though there is probably more than one way of being born gay. Just remember that evolution is concerned with the survival of selfish genes, if some gene containing vehicles get sacrificed to ensure the survival of those genes then that is just fine. Ask a few sterile worker bees or ants or termites.

  241. #242 pcarini
    July 2, 2008

    Who among us has “earned” their nobility PZ, have you?

    I totally thought I had until you came along and asked. Did I not send in enough cereal box tops or something? Come to think of it, it does seem like it’s been longer than 4-6 weeks…

  242. #243 raiko
    July 2, 2008

    We want to be special in a universe that is uncaring and cold, and in which the nature of our existence is a transient flicker, so we invent these strange stories of grand beginnings, like every orphan dreaming that they are the children of kings who will one day ride up on a white horse and take them away to a beautiful palace and a rich and healthy family that will love them forever. We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

    Very, very well said. I pull my virtual hat.

  243. #244 mandrake
    July 2, 2008

    Holbach@#199-
    Teh intertubes would be a much more intelligent place if people would follow your example. I’m impressed.
    And, BTW, this could be seen as a case of dynamic science vs. static religion. Hee.

  244. #245 mandrake
    July 2, 2008

    is the relegation of religion to realm of knitting
    Nope, knitting & crocheting have already come to the dark side of science and the eeevilutionists.
    Lorenz equation: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041219170412.htm
    Periodic Table Sweater: http://www.angelfire.com/home/avital/fiber/periodft.jpg
    crochet reef:
    http://www.theiff.org/reef/reef1c.html
    Thus proving that knitting is both closer to science and more useful than religion.
    (and yes, I saw the youtube video.)

  245. #246 CosmicTeapot
    July 2, 2008

    Karl Giberson said “I think there’s a reckless extrapolation from what we know about evolution to an all-encompassing materialism.”

    From what I see, it is only the religious who say atheists extrapolate from evolution to an all encompassing materialism. Evolution supports an atheistic view of the universe but it is only a small part in the big picture.

    I don’t know any atheist who base their “materialistic” view on evolution. Or am I missing part of the picture?

  246. #247 SEF
    July 2, 2008

    I admit to naivety where religious ‘brotherhood’ is concerned, but it was still somewhat of a shock to realize that the moral clarity of professional scientists concerning something that they themselves described as ‘serious professional misconduct’ could essentially be corrupted by a single point of congruence in their lives.

    As I’ve mentioned before, loyalty is a bad/evil thing – a vice misrepresented as a virtue, because it suits the dishonest and nasty people to have everyone fall for it. Most of you have been so successfully indoctrinated from early childhood with the idea that loyalty is a good thing that you don’t even consider questioning the truth of the matter. Furthermore, as I’ve seen on previous occasions, people tend to react every bit like creationists to the suggestion that that fundamental and unquestioned tenet of their self-identity and self-worth isn’t true.

    If someone is in the right, you don’t have to be loyal to them to recognise that they’re right and support them or agree with them in that rightness. But if someone is in the wrong, it’s the vice of loyalty which will cause people to unfairly discriminate over whether and by how much to out or oust the wrongdoer for their wrongness. Sometimes loyalty also causes greater praise for in-group rightness, even when accidental, and the ignoring of or lesser praise for non-accidental out-group rightness.

    Hence moderate religionists are all too willing to forgive extremists among their own group of cults. Self-styled sophisticated theologians (ie more advanced sophists and liars) don’t genuinely do anything to stamp out the primitive beliefs held by the majority of their unthinking cult members but instead each subgroup relies on the other for gaining or maintaining power. The lies are incompatible (and are still all lies) but loyalty permits them to pretend that that incompatibility isn’t a problem.

    The out-groups, eg rival religionists and the even more hated atheists, are held to a completely different standard of course – because of that loyalty-based, meritless and bigoted, discrimination.

  247. #248 DLC
    July 2, 2008

    A well-written critique.

    To me, it is better to get people to think first, think critically second, and reject superstition third.
    Few people go from irrationality to rationality in a single step.

  248. #249 Nick Gotts
    July 2, 2008

    “Jung went through a period of mental illness during which he thought he was a prophet with “special insight.””

    AFAIK, he never got through it, at least, not until he expired.

  249. #250 philosophia
    July 2, 2008

    Extremely well-said, PZ.

  250. #251 Ted D
    July 2, 2008

    Louise Van Court @230:

    Quoting PZ. “We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.”
    Technically if one is adopted into the king’s family then nobility is attained without having “earned” it. Who among us has “earned” their nobility PZ, have you?

    Technically, the sound we’re hearing is that of a metaphor breaking under the strain of someone bending it too far out of shape. There is no king.
    But to answer the question anyway, I might not have earned my nobility, but at least I keep trying instead of giving up and being satisfied with an easy way out.

  251. #252 Steve Jeffers
    July 2, 2008

    ‘I would say the same to Giberson: you can’t reconcile science and religion’

    PZ, I think this is wrong.

    Theists have set atheists an impossible challenge: ‘prove something doesn’t exist’. And we’re *that* close to doing so, and have proved beyond doubt that it’s a foolish challenge, and that if that’s all they’ve got, then they’ve got nothing.

    The challenge for theists is simple – take the entire eternity and infinity of the universe and point to *one* event that can only be explained by divine intervention.

    It doesn’t need to be a parting of a sea or a feeding of the five thousand or a snake from a staff. One photon gets deflected just a little bit in a way that no scientific law would allow.

    God has to be orders of magnitude less powerful than a five cent magnet and atheists lose. Because we don’t believe in gods, so even if there’s a rubbish, klutzy, unimpressive god, we’d be wrong.

    So we *ought* to be able to reconcile science and religion … if there’s anything in religion. As science is a system for establishing whether claims about how the universe works are true or false, and as it’s disproved every special religious claim every religion ever made …

  252. #253 tsig
    July 2, 2008

    “I propose a woodchuck chucking apparatus to determine the rate of woodchucking possible under specific conditions. First, you’d have to observe a random assortment of wild woodchuck and then determine their abilities through their masticated offal. Then collect a few of the most productive members and devise comfortably harness tostrap the woodchuck. Provide it with a variety of tree trunks of varying morphology and dessication, and observe. Repeat this experiment whilst collecting the offal through the course of a few months, choose the most productive woodchuck and determine it’s chucking ability at a rate measurable by the hour and offal. Perhaps the average kilo offal per hour at peak woodchucking efficiency.”

    I deny the woodchuck’s wood chucking ability.

    Your point is moot.

  253. #254 Nick Gotts
    July 2, 2008

    God has to be orders of magnitude less powerful than a five cent magnet and atheists lose. Because we don’t believe in gods, so even if there’s a rubbish, klutzy, unimpressive god, we’d be wrong. – Steve Jeffers

    That wouldn’t be a god, that would be a fairy. Though I suppose you could say a fairy is just a little god – or alternatively, that God’s just a big fairy ;-)

  254. #255 Iain Walker
    July 2, 2008

    MP (Comment #115):

    Why do we exist?

    Well, I exist because my parents had sex. As did yours, unless you’re a clone or an AI. If you mean Homo sapiens collectively, then we exist because our ancestors split off from another population of hominins and diverged from them until the two populations no longer constituted the same species.

    And why isn’t there nothing?

    The question doesn’t make any obvious sense. One can meaningfully ask why some counter-factual state of affairs doesn’t obtain. But “nothing” isn’t a state of affairs. It’s a negation of any possible state of affairs. There’s no way you can answer “Well, if such-and-such had been the case, then nothingness would have been the outcome”, because such an answer depends on being able to compare, contrast and draw connections between different states of affairs. So it’s really not clear that you’re asking anything intelligible.

    Why is the universe compatible with life?

    As far as we can tell, most of it isn’t. Life as we know it can flourish only under a limited range of conditions. But setting that aside, your question suggests that you think that the fact that the universe is capable of supporting life has some kind of special significance, possibly indicative of some kind of purpose. Well, the universe is also compatible with black holes, quasars, rocks, comets and reality TV programmes. Do you want to argue that these are also facts of special significance? If not, why not?

    There seems to be enthusiasm for metaphysical explanations such as the inflationary multiverse – just to avoid a moment of creation or any specialness to our own universe / existence.

    Actually, the point of such explanations would be to try and place the existence and properties of our universe in a context which makes them intelligible. Whether they succeed or not is open to debate, but they’re still an improvement on supernatural “explanations” which explain nothing at all (to the extent that such “explanations” are even coherent to start with).

    And things like the multiverses are given some false notion as being scientific, when they are clearly beyond the realm of scientific inquiry.

    Maybe, maybe not. It depends on whether or not the hypothesis that predicts the existence of a multiverse also makes testable predictions in other areas. If the hypothesis turns out to be well supported to the extent that it is testable, then it is not unreasonable to treat the multiverse prediction as having some indirect support. That may not be very satisfactory, but it’s probably the best support that any idea about matters beyond our universe is ever likely to get – including “Goddidit”.

    I wish you’d all stop acting as if everyone who believes in some purpose behind Creation itself is deluded.

    I’m willing to stop as soon as someone comes up with even a remotely plausible case for supposing this to be true.

  255. #256 Todd
    July 2, 2008

    We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

    That alone is worth a Pulitzer.

  256. #257 Iain Walker
    July 2, 2008

    MP (Comment #131):

    There are things beyond scientific inquiry, like the questions I posed, for which God is a rational answer or for which there is no scientifically attainable answer and thus at some level becomes a philosophical question. No, we should never resort to God like the intelligent design people do. What I’m saying is that science has limits, and that those “scientific” attempts to explain our human-friendly universe (like the multiverse) clearly fall outside science but into metaphysics or philosophy as they are untestable. Also untestable is the existence of God.

    Assuming the questions you posed in #115 were clear or well-framed (which they weren’t), and assuming that they do not admit of empirically testable answers, then yes, they’d become philosophical questions. However, just because the existence of God is likewise empirically untestable, and so also falls into the realm of philosophical questions, it doesn’t follow that God-as-explanation is in any way rational. It would still be an open question as to whether or not God-as-explanation stands up to critical philosophical scrutiny.

    I think it doesn’t. You may think it does. But you’d make a better case for this if you actually presented … well, a case.

  257. #258 Iain Walker
    July 2, 2008

    MP (Comment #166):

    I’m not saying God *must* be there, I’m saying it’s not unreasonable to believe he is there

    “Not unreasonable” is consistent with “reasonable” and “neither reasonable nor unreasonable”. Since you’ve previously tried to claim the belief in God is rational, I’m assuming you mean the former. In which case, please explain why it is reasonable to believe that God exists when you yourself have admitted that the question cannot be decided either way.

    if he exists, that answers the questions as to existence of creation that I posed (and many other existential questions)

    Well, that makes a kind of sense – a vague and ill-formed answer to vague and ill-formed questions.

  258. #259 Steve Jeffers
    July 2, 2008

    > That wouldn’t be a god, that would be a fairy.

    If they could come up with one of those, it might not challenge my atheism, it would certainly rain on my science-is-the-answer parade, though.

  259. #260 Steve Jeffers
    July 2, 2008

    “It depends on whether or not the hypothesis that predicts the existence of a multiverse also makes testable predictions in other areas.”

    I think there’s also a question of ‘what difference does it make?’. The multiverse model can – in some forms – explain away some problems in physics, using maths and logic. The problem isn’t ‘could we ever interact with these multiverses?’, it’s ‘is the multiverse model rigorous enough to explain what we *can* see?’.

    The God model isn’t rigorous enough to explain what we see – in that all the claims that used to be made (‘He created the universe and man, he performs miracles, angels come down from Heaven’) have been debunked, and all we’re left with is the sort of vaguely New Age mumbo jumbo about how life’s about mysteries. It’s deliberately vague, because the moment theology commits to a firm position, science pops a cap in its ass.

    So the multiverse theory is vague, currently, but the difference is that science sees that as a *weakness* to be addressed and fixed, whereas religion would see it as a strength to be celebrated.

    ‘Science’ is simply a way of testing statements about how the universe works. Any religion that claims God has affected the outcome of any event in the universe is making a scientific claim. When physics predicts a beam of light will bend a certain way and it does, it’s not ‘physics being reconciled with science’. The way religion reconciles with science is to make a prediction – even the most modest prediction – about the universe that can be tested and proves to be true.

  260. #261 MP
    July 2, 2008

    @ ddr (197)

    Ah-ha, we’ve hit upon something here. You say:
    Religion says “This is how it happened and anyone who disagrees is wrong.”

    And I’d say this is not true, at least not of all religious people. What’s interesting about religion (to me) are not the answers, but the questions. And I think that sums up the areas of disagreement here because what we have I think are 3 groups:

    a) People who say that the Bible or some other higher authority has all the answers, or most of them, and who ignore empirical data/evidence in favor of that authority;

    b) People who say that only science and questions with empirical scientific answers matter, and if a question is “metaphysical” it’s either a matter of time before science answers it or the question doesn’t matter, presupposes our own specialness, etc, or that metaphysics doesn’t exist at all, etc.

    c) People who, like myself, see the non-chaotic universe that has a purposefulness behind it, and have a faith (yes) in something unseen that is infinite and good is behind our and the universe’s existence.

    I think what’s more important that the answers to questions about existence is that I’m asking them, and that I think they are worthwhile questions. I’m still fascinated by those who think that “Why isn’t there nothing?” is a meaningless question – does that mean the universe (matter, energy, stars, planets) has to exist by necessity?

    As to the notion that the universe doesn’t seem to be “special” in such a way that life can be formed, I’d say that in addition to the universe being sufficiently anisotropic (i.e. the CMB measured by WMAP) to produce galaxies/stars ,rather than a sea of uniform hydrogen, there’s also the fact there was slightly more matter than anti-matter in the earl universe, thus it’s not just a sea of photons. Further, any number of physical constants / laws could be different such that heavy nucleosynthesis would be difficult. That’s what I mean by a universe “favorable toward life.” I mean one where life is even possible, because surely you concede if the universe was all photons we wouldn’t be here discussing it.

  261. #262 Steve Jeffers
    July 2, 2008

    “That’s what I mean by a universe “favorable toward life.” I mean one where life is even possible, because surely you concede if the universe was all photons we wouldn’t be here discussing it.”

    Well, there’s a glib answer which is that by definition we’re in a universe that allows us to ask those questions.

    But there’s an even more fundamental problem: to the first approximation not even the *Earth* is particularly well-designed for human life. We have existed for a tiny amount of the Earth’s lifespan – a few hundred thousand years out of billions – there are vast areas of the world (most of it) that we couldn’t survive in for more than a few hours. We live on some bits of the skin of the Earth.

    If the universe was designed for humans, it’s astonishingly badly-designed, given that it’s basically giant nuclear furnaces surrounded by near total vacuum. The idea that the *universe* was designed for us to live in is literally insane.

    A small child with two minutes and a crayon could design a better universe for humans than God ‘did’.

    The *Biblical* account of creation, with a small, recent universe with a bountiful garden in its center with its designer carefully zapping the bigger problems … yes, that’s a great universe for humans. As is Narnia. As is (or was, anyway) the planet Alderaan.

  262. #263 Tulse
    July 2, 2008

    in addition to the universe being sufficiently anisotropic (i.e. the CMB measured by WMAP) to produce galaxies/stars ,rather than a sea of uniform hydrogen, there’s also the fact there was slightly more matter than anti-matter in the earl universe, thus it’s not just a sea of photons. Further, any number of physical constants / laws could be different such that heavy nucleosynthesis would be difficult.

    Again, the universe is composed of trillions of cubic light-years of nothing at 3K — how is that “favourable toward life”? It’s like an ant on a cork floating in the middle of the Atlantic declaring that the ocean is favourable to ants.

    I would argue that, if you want to talk about what the universe was created for, there is much better evidence that it was created to produce stars, or black holes, or galaxies, or dark energy — all of those things seem to be far more the direct product of the way the universe is built. It is phenomenal hubris to claim that the universe was constructed to produce a few smudges of self-conscious carbon.

    surely you concede if the universe was all photons we wouldn’t be here discussing it.

    So? If the Treaty of Westphalia hadn’t been signed I might not be here, but I don’t have the profound self-centeredness to believe that was the treaty’s purpose.

  263. #264 MartinM
    July 2, 2008

    As to the notion that the universe doesn’t seem to be “special” in such a way that life can be formed, I’d say that in addition to the universe being sufficiently anisotropic (i.e. the CMB measured by WMAP) to produce galaxies/stars ,rather than a sea of uniform hydrogen, there’s also the fact there was slightly more matter than anti-matter in the earl universe, thus it’s not just a sea of photons. Further, any number of physical constants / laws could be different such that heavy nucleosynthesis would be difficult. That’s what I mean by a universe “favorable toward life.”

    Apologies if this has been covered up-thread, as I don’t have time to read it all right now, but how exactly does positing a deity help here? Any deity capable of producing this Universe ought to be capable of producing your hypothetical Universe full of photons, or a nice, homogeneous Universe, or a Universe that lives for a miniscule fraction of a second before collapsing. Assuming we accept that the Universe is human-friendly, it’s not enough simply to invoke a deity as explanation; you need to invoke a deity which is itself human-friendly. Such an answer holds no explanatory power, any more than ellipse-friendly angels could reasonably be invoked to explain planetary orbits.

  264. #265 Blake Stacey
    July 2, 2008

    Quoth Sean Carroll:

    But in fact there is a better reason to be skeptical of the fine-tuning claim: the indisputable fact that there are many features of the laws of nature which don’t seem delicately adjusted at all, but seem completely irrelevant to the existence of life. In a cosmological context, the most obvious example is the sheer vastness of the universe; it would hardly seem necessary to make so many galaxies just so that life could arise on a single planet around a single star. But to me a more pointed observation is the existence of “generations” of elementary particles. All of the ordinary matter in the universe seems to be made out of two types of quarks (up and down) and two types of leptons (electrons and electron neutrinos), as well as the various force-carrying particles. But this pattern of quarks and leptons is repeated threefold: the up and down quarks are joined by four more types, just as the electron and its neutrino are joined by two electron-type particles and two more neutrinos. As far as life is concerned, these particles are completely superfluous. All of the processes we observe in the everyday workings of the universe would go on in essentially the same way if those particles didn’t exist. Why do the constituents of nature exhibit this pointless duplication, if the laws of nature were constructed with life in mind?

    It’s no good cherry-picking the aspects of physical law on which our own origins were dependent and ignoring all the others.

  265. #266 Nick Gotts
    July 2, 2008

    It is phenomenal hubris to claim that the universe was constructed to produce a few smudges of self-conscious carbon. – tulse

    Indeed, if there is a creator, it’s quite possible it just hasn’t noticed yet there’s some gunge on one of its planets, and as soon as it does, it’ll give it a thorough wipe with some sort of cosmic cleaning rag.

  266. #267 Pierce R. Butler
    July 2, 2008

    Steve Jeffers @ # 262: … not even the *Earth* is particularly well-designed for human life.

    Ocean, n. A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man – who has no gills.
    — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

  267. #268 Iain Walker
    July 2, 2008

    MP (Comment #261):

    what we have I think are 3 groups

    You’re leaving out a fourth group (and doubtless several others), i.e.:

    (d) People who see science as the only reliable method for answering empirical questions, who accept that there are perfectly meaningful questions that are non-empirical and so cannot be answered by the scientific method, and who find theism to be intellectually dubious (if not utterly bankrupt) on philosophical grounds.

    I’m still fascinated by those who think that “Why isn’t there nothing?” is a meaningless question – does that mean the universe (matter, energy, stars, planets) has to exist by necessity?

    I think you probably know that that’s a false dichotomy. The universe is just one possible state of affairs among many states of affairs, all of which constitute “something”.

    The point is that “nothingness” is not a state of affairs at all, and that the question “Why isn’t there X?” only makes sense where X is one of a possible range of states of affairs. So to ask “Why isn’t there nothing?” is to commit a category mistake.

    The reason why it looks like a meaningful question is that human beings tend to think in pictures, whereby “nothing” is typically represented by empty space, and “something” by an extended body occupying space. That way it looks as if one could have “nothing” as opposed to “something”. But empty space isn’t “nothing”. It’s still “something”. Similarly, a singularity is still “something”. A quantum vacuum is still “something”. Any conceivable state of affairs about which anything can be said is still “something”. It’s only when you start to look more closely at the concept of nothingness that you realise how problematic it is.

    In short, there’s a world of difference between having a coherent concept of something, and merely sticking a label on a picture, which it what you seem to be doing when you talk so glibly about “nothing”.

    That’s what I mean by a universe “favorable toward life.” I mean one where life is even possible

    Granted. But you’ve sidestepped the point that lots of other things are possible in a universe like ours besides life. Why fixate on life as the significant fact rather than any of the others, other than sheer narcissism?

    surely you concede if the universe was all photons we wouldn’t be here discussing it.

    Of course we wouldn’t. But that doesn’t justify arguing that the reason that the universe isn’t a sea of photons is so that we can be here discussing it. That’s a non sequitur with a capital NON.

  268. #269 Dan
    July 2, 2008

    I love a good rant.

  269. #270 Laneman
    July 2, 2008

    RE #1
    Over at Rationally Speaking (http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/), Massimo Pigliucci has an excellent post on Stuart Kauffman’s new book titled: Another scientist getting silly about religion.

    I think it is very good and I think you all will like it too. Just FYI.

  270. #271 Nick Gotts
    July 2, 2008

    Iain Walker@268. I’m also in your fourth category. However, I disagree that “Why isn’t there nothing” (or something similar, the wording could be improved I think, to “Why is there anything at all?”) is a category mistake. Taking a “possible worlds” approach, and stipulating that a “possible world” is just a logically possible one – a state of affairs that can be described without self-contradiction – surely there is such a logically possible world in which nothing exists (in other words, there’s nothing self-contradictory in supposing there might not have been anything at all). In second-order predicate logic this “world” can be described, I think, thus (I can’t find out how to do the quantifiers properly just now):

    forall P ~exists x: P(x)

    where P ranges over predicates, and x over individuals.
    This doesn’t mean “Why is there anything at all?” is or will ever be a question worth asking; it might be at some stage, or it might not – there’s certainly no good answer to it now. Why, indeed, given that there is something, should there be any reason that that is so? The universe is in no sense obliged to supply answers to questions that occur to us.

  271. #272 ndt
    July 2, 2008
    I wish you’d all stop acting as if everyone who believes in some purpose behind Creation itself is deluded.

    Posted by: MP

    I’m willing to stop as soon as someone comes up with even a remotely plausible case for supposing this to be true.

    Posted by: Iain Walker | July 2, 2008 9:26 AM

    Ditto. Well said.

  272. #273 frog
    July 2, 2008

    Icthyic:

    Found one of my books:
    The Wittgenstein Reader, ed. Anthony Kenny, 1994 Blackwell, ISBN: 0-631-19362-6.

    The Nature of Philosophy essay is good. When I find my other Lectures, I’ll post it.

  273. #274 Jason
    July 2, 2008

    Wow. Brilliant post.

  274. #275 Anton Mates
    July 2, 2008

    The challenge for theists is simple – take the entire eternity and infinity of the universe and point to *one* event that can only be explained by divine intervention.

    It doesn’t need to be a parting of a sea or a feeding of the five thousand or a snake from a staff. One photon gets deflected just a little bit in a way that no scientific law would allow.

    This is impossible, though. Any possible pattern of data can be explained by some scientific law or theory. We observe events that don’t fit with our scientific understanding all the time–but when that happens we just revise our theories to match.

    When you include possible revisions to existing science, there’s an infinite variety of potential natural explanations for some guy parting the sea. Telekinesis, hidden force field projectors, a very specific pattern of undersea earthquakes, freak standing waves, mass hypnosis, the sudden appearance of an unknown form of “negative matter” which gravitationally repels all nearby matter, you name it. There’s even the possibility that our Moses is good friends with an extraordinarily powerful being named YHWH, who can rearrange Earthly matter and energies according to his whim. That explanation is still not inherently supernatural–for all we know, YHWH is a superevolved alien or whatever and is constrained by some more fundamental natural laws.

    Invoking divine intervention to deal with empirical data is precisely equivalent to saying, “I give up on explaining this.”

  275. #276 David
    July 2, 2008

    @ Alex, #73

    I think the idea that should not be diminished is that humans have the capacity to be highly deterministic when applying large forces and energies, while asteroids do not.

    I think the word you want is not so much “deterministic” as “willful”. Deterministic, after all, is precisely what asteroids are!

    And my question is, are humans deterministic or not? Free will is arguably illusory (and arguably not). It is demonstrably inconsistent with the J/C vision of “God” but since the assembled don’t accept that, then free will neither impeded nor assisted, logically speaking.

    We are behaving, as a species, in a way that may result in another mass extinction, probably including us. SO my question is, from an evolutionary point of view: did we ever have a choice?

  276. #277 David
    July 2, 2008

    Gaah.

    … are humans WILLFUL or not?

    Also, not only “did we ever have a choice?” but, “Do we still have a choice?”

  277. #278 Iain Walker
    July 2, 2008

    Nick Gotts (Comment #271):

    Taking a “possible worlds” approach, and stipulating that a “possible world” is just a logically possible one – a state of affairs that can be described without self-contradiction – surely there is such a logically possible world in which nothing exists (in other words, there’s nothing self-contradictory in supposing there might not have been anything at all).

    Hmm.

    One can posit a possible world that is devoid of individuals or particulars – an empty world. But then there’s the problem of whether or not there could be multiple empty possible worlds that could be distinguished counterfactually (i.e., with reference to the way particulars would behave if they existed there). If there could, then there’s an argument that an empty world would not constitute nothingness – because the world would be such that there would still be a framework of laws (for want of a better term) that define it. And that, arguably, is something rather than nothing. So simple emptiness and nothingness may not necessarily be the same thing.

    Of course, you could also argue that without any particulars, it is nonsensical to talk of a world having a framework of laws, since such a framework can only be described in terms of the actual behaviour of said particulars (e.g., does it make sense to talk of a possible world in which Newton’s Law of Gravity applies, but in which the property of having mass is not instantiated?). In which case there would be no basis for distinguishing a plurality of empty possible worlds, and the above argument (that emptiness falls short of nothingness) fails.

    OK, I’m just rambling here. I’m still dubious about talking of nothingness as a “state of affairs” or “world”, but I’ll grant you that the situation is less cut-and-dried than I was suggesting. Thanks for that.

  278. #279 Paul W.
    July 2, 2008

    I’m going to disagree with some folks here and defend the concept of the supernatural against what I think is a simplistic rebuttal.

    (Holbach—hold your friendly fire a minute. :-) I’m an atheist, and I don’t believe in the supernatural. I just don’t think it’s an incoherent concept, and it takes some serious explaining as to why people shouldn’t believe in it.)

    When we say that anything with observable consequences is fit for scientific scrutiny, and is “natural” in the sense that science studies the “natural” world, that’s right.

    But if we say that science can’t study the supernatural, that’s wrong, and it’s the reason why NOMA is bullshit, and why a lot of nomaish talk about the “limitations” of science is bullshit.

    The sense in which religion talks about the “natural” (vs. the supernatural) is simply not the same sense in which in which scientists talk about studying the “natural” world.

    There are a lot of related senses of the word “natural,” and they generally make different distinctions, but the same basic kind of distinction.

    What’s “natural” is what happens automatically in a system, according to certain rules, without intervention from the outside, or special rules kicking in.

    So, for example, we might look at predator/prey balances or population booms and busts, and talk about how they occur “naturally” given what predators and prey do. “Natural” phenomena are generally the ones that emerge bottom up and do not require special rules, external intervention, or top-down control.

    The specific meaning of “natural” in contrast to the “supernatural” is related to this. Natural phenomena are all the normal pedestrian phenomena that we can reason about in the usual ways.

    Supernatural doesn’t just mean not natural, however.

    In religious talk, “supernatural” phenomena are phenomena that are “not natural” in a particular kind of way.

    This is important in deciding what’s a God vs. what’s just a powerful alien with God-like abilities we happen not to have, yet.

    So, for example, an American soldier with a tactical briefcase nuke seems to have “god-like” powers that exceed those of many “gods” the ancients believed in. He doesn’t just zap a few people with thunderbolts—he can vaporize a whole bunch of stuff at one blow. Wow!

    But he’s doing it the wrong way. He’s using technology, built on the same low-level stuff we all use, carried to an extreme.

    Gods don’t work that way. They don’t use technology in that sense. They use magic, in ways that only they can.

    Thor doesn’t hurl lightning bolts by charging up a capacitor and suddenly discharging it, as we might. He doesn’t have to read the manual for a gadget, or rely on anybody else’s arcane understanding to develop the technology, and he doesn’t have to practice a lot.

    Thor hurls thunderbolts in a way that comes “naturally” to him, because he’s a supernatural being. He’s a special kind of being, and special rules apply to him such that he can manipulate special things like lightning.

    The assumption there—now falsified—is that lightning is a special kind of phenomenon that doesn’t emerge naturally (automatically) from the same kinds of stuff we normally deal with. It is qualitatively different from stuff we could understand and manipulate as humans. Thor is likewise a special kind of person that we are not, with the ability to directly manipulate at least some special things in ways that we couldn’t.

    Supernatural phenomena are qualitatively different from natural ones, and supernatural beings can manipulate them because of their qualitatively different natures. Thor doesn’t have to be smart or leverage knowledge to throw lighting bolts. He just does it, because he’s the kind of being who can do that kind of thing.

    Likewise Aphrodite doesn’t have to read a lot of books about psychology and process a lot of information to figure out how to get two people to fall in love. She can manipulate minds or love itself fairly directly, and create love between two people. She doesn’t have to scan their brains and tweak their synapses, or stimulate them with pheromones. That would be cheating, and missing the point. She is the kind of being who can directly control that kind of thing, and that’s pretty much it.

    Supernatural phenomena are like that. They’re not reducible to the usual operations on the usual stuff by the usual rules. They’re different, and they just are what they are, and you have to be the right kind of being to just be able to do things with them.

    The problem with the supernatural view of these things is not that it’s logically false or incoherent, or that it’s unfalsifiable. The problem is simply that its false.

    It just turns out that all the supposedly supernatural things that supernatural beings were devised to explain are natural—there’s not a special set of rules that gives certain beings direct or top-down control.

    For Thor to hurl thunderbolts, he would have to make electrons move from point A to point B. There is no special lightning-stuff to hurl. We now know what lightning bolts are, so we know that anything else wouldn’t even count as lightning.

    Likewise Aphrodite couldn’t bundle up some love-stuff and connect two souls with it, to make people fall in love. She would have to manipulate their brain states, and change the ways in which they process information about each other. We know enough about love now to know that it isn’t a substance, and has a whole lot to do with brain states, so if she isn’t manipulating very subtle brain states, she’s not making people fall in love.

    The problem with supernatural explanations is that we understand natural phenomena well enough now to realize that a supernatural explanation doesn’t work. Thor and Aphrodite are permanently out of a job.

    Likewise, there’s not much left for a God to do “supernaturally” except maybe create a universe and leave it the fuck alone.

    And if he does that in the wrong way, he’s not doing it supernaturally. If he sets up a bubbling false vacuum and lets runaway inflation take over, as we might some day be able to do, that’s cheating. It’s not using god-like supernatural powers. It’s just knowing how, rather than just being the right sort of being, i.e. a supernatural one.

    A god is a sort of powerful alien being, i.e., a being who can do things we can’t, and is different from us.

    That’s not all there is to being a god, though. Not just any powerful alien will do.

    If you look at various supernatural phenomena from various cultures, there’s a theme there. There’s assumed to be a mostly-distinct domain of things and rules, which overlaps with the usual domain of things and rules. Each can affect the other, but they’re qualitatively distinct and mostly separate.

    If you look at anything but the most rarefied academic theology, it’s obvious that religion is generally about the supernatural, and that the supernatural can both affect and be affected by the normal natural world.

    No popular religion anywhere at any time has been very interested in spirits who can’t see them and don’t affect them. Gods are always invented to explain things that are interesting to humans—why crops fail, why some people are lucky, why people are nice or mean or in love, etc., etc., etc.—and usually with an eye toward cutting a deal to affect human interests. (Praying, sacrificing, etc.)

    The problem with modern unfalsifiable theologies is that they have nothing much to do with religion in the sense that normal people are religious.

    Traditional religion, and popular religion now, works in certain ways and not others. Gods play a certain role in that—explaining certain things humans find interesting in ways they find interesting.

    Unfortunately, the modern, scientific world view has pretty well put gods out of a job. They’re no longer a good explanation for anything at all.

    And what’s especially problematic is that apparently none of the ancient gods ever existed, even if some other “god” might.

    There might be something you could call a God, but the ancients did not observe it, and applied the term “god” to something else.

    This poses a serious problem for theologians.

    Theology is a science without a subject, however much they want to gerrymander up some NOMA rules to exempt them from the “scientific” (i.e., sane) standards of evidence and reasoning.

    The traditional gods don’t exist. Not Thor, not Aphrodite, and not Jahweh.

    Maybe there’s a creator “god” in some deistic sense, but the ancient Israelites apparently didn’t know that, or know that god, and were worshipping somebody else—a Bronze Age god as mythical as Thor. Even if a “god” of some sort might exist, that one doesn’t.

    Oops.

    This is what the unfalsifiable kind of theology labors endlessly to obscure.

    The unfalsifiable god-of-the-gaps kind of “god” that’s consistent with science just isn’t what people have been worshipping for thousands of years. It’s somebody else, or just something else. (If not nothing at all.)

    And I’d say that’s not God. Its an abuse of terminology to call it God, or even a god.

    The God concept is a failed paradigm, if not a specific falsified hypothesis. You can add epicycles to your epicyles, but one way or another you either deny the facts, or fail to come up with God.

    I’ll have a lot more respect for the unfalsifiable kind of theology when the theologians stop insisting on conflating their odd “god” concept with God, and trying to get mileage out of that traditional term.

    But then it wouldn’t be theology anymore, and I’m not holding my breath.

  279. #280 Nick Gotts
    July 2, 2008

    But then there’s the problem of whether or not there could be multiple empty possible worlds that could be distinguished counterfactually (i.e., with reference to the way particulars would behave if they existed there).

    If I’m right that the nothing-world can be consistently described I think there would only be one such possibility – and there would be no laws associated with it. But that (no laws) would be true of a lot of other logically possible worlds as well I think – the notion of possibility involved is deliberately the weakest possible: consider a “world” that consists of a set of 1000 arbitrarily chosen frames from all episodes of Tom and Jerry! I think we currently lack the scientific knowledge, and the conceptual tools, to determine whether there are any principles that can explain the existence of a lawful world.

  280. #281 frog
    July 2, 2008

    Steve Jeffers: Well, there’s a glib answer which is that by definition we’re in a universe that allows us to ask those questions.

    It’s not so glib, if said seriously. If in “a universe” comes from a physics with many universes, then it is the whole answer — if our universe is possible, then we happen to exists in the one where we exist.

    On the other hand, if by “universe” we mean everything, well any possible universe that doesn’t have us is logically problematic. How can we imagine, seriously, that this universe could be one where this kind of conversation is impossible — not just not occurring, but actually impossible. It verges on imagining how I would experience the world if I didn’t exists.

    You’d have to define your terms very carefully to avoid the danger of such a discussion becoming a “Dude, wouldn’t it be cool” while hitting your spliff conversation. It’s hard to sensibly discuss a universe/set of universes where the probability of our existence is less than 1, not just because of counterfactual problems, but because all our logic and knowledge assumes that we exist. Self-contradictions abound!

    I’m not talking the weak or strong anthropocentric principles, but something at a deeper logical level.

  281. #282 Nick Gotts
    July 2, 2008

    Paul W. @279,

    I think that’s a very astute way of looking at it. I’d like to suggest what may be a third possibile type of deity, and see how it strikes you (no pun intended!) – if only because it appears much more plausible (to me, and I would think to a lot of people with some scientific/technical education) than either the old-time thunderbolt-hurling type deity, or the infinite-but-simple god of the deists. It’s by no means a new idea, but what if our universe is a simulation, and God is the programmer, or just the game-player? So, God has set the rules and started the simulation going. As long as he just watches (and the software doesn’t crash etc.), the natural laws he’s chosen hold. But, any time he wants, he can pause the simulation, and alter the current state – or even change the rules. From his point of view, this is not magic – he’s just changing the values stored in some registers, or the higher-tech equivalent – but from our point of view, within the simulation, what he does is supernatural. Such a God could even grant an afterlife, in another simulation, to any of his creatures he pleased. I stress that there is absolutely no reason to believe in such a God – but we could find evidence of him tomorrow.

  282. #283 windy
    July 2, 2008

    People who, like myself, see the non-chaotic universe that has a purposefulness behind it, and have a faith (yes) in something unseen that is infinite and good is behind our and the universe’s existence.

    Why does that infinite and good thing exist, instead of nothing?

  283. #284 frog
    July 2, 2008

    Paul W.: The problem with the supernatural view of these things is not that it’s logically false or incoherent, or that it’s unfalsifiable. The problem is simply that its false.

    No, some have turned out to be false. That’s different from them being false in principle. My point is that even if we haven’t found them to be false, any principle that doesn’t follow “rules”, is outside the system, is logically incoherent unless you reduce the “outside the system” to “inside the system”.

    It’s like asking the question “Who created God?”. That question always befuddles the religious, because God is outside the system of creation — that’s the whole point of a creator God, and you can always simply label something as “being outside the system”, whether or not that’s been found to be false.

    It’s one of the YEC responses — that all evidence of evolution and geological time are delusions by definition. The problem is that their definitions are incoherent.

    The religious mind-set of any mildly sophisticated believer is not that “ultra-tech” is Godly — people who believe that are actually empirical, they just haven’t seen the evidence yet. The problem is those who reject empiricism and rationality themselves — they reject truthhood and falseness in any coherent fashion, yet still try to take on the mantle of rationality (See Pope Ratzi).

    Lemme tell you a story. The nation of Vanuatu is a small Pacific melanesian society. The UN and NGOs years ago tried to improve health outcomes by installing water filtration systems in villages, but they went unused. Why? Well, the Vanuatuans knew that the diseases the water filtration were supposed to cure were caused by witchcraft.

    Why did they believe that? Tradition and the evidence of their eyes — post hoc fallacy, but empirical nonetheless. On the other hand, the germ theory of health had never been proven to them — it was a “supernatural” non-empirical theory to them, since they didn’t have microscopes, biology educations and tradition to support it. Those folks are not “religious” in the Christian sense — with the proper equipment and empirical evidence, they could prefer germ theory to witchcraft theory.

    That is completely different from the “supernatural” events of interests, where by definition they are outside the system of cause and effects. Science has defeated your earlier type of “supernatural” to a great degree — it’s the rejection of science itself as a way of knowing that is today’s threat.

  284. #285 frog
    July 2, 2008

    NG: I stress that there is absolutely no reason to believe in such a God – but we could find evidence of him tomorrow.

    Not if he doesn’t want you to. He could just rewrite you.

    It’s not an evidence based assertion — you’ve just rejected consistency within the universe, and within our system of evidence.

  285. #286 Paul W.
    July 2, 2008

    I’d like to suggest what may be a third possibile type of deity[...] It’s by no means a new idea, but what if our universe is a simulation, and God is the programmer, or just the game-player? [...] As long as he just watches (and the software doesn’t crash etc.), the natural laws he’s chosen hold. But, any time he wants, he can pause the simulation, and alter the current state – or even change the rules.

    I think that’s a perfectly reasonable hypothesis, even though it doesn’t seem likely to me from the available evidence. It’s also a good thought experiment to consider.

    It is a good example of how you can have two sets of rules—the normal “physics” of the simulation and the normal “game play,” plus qualitatively different powers or cheat codes, which amount to something resembling “supernatural” objects and powers.

    There are some weird subtleties as to whether we should call those things “supernatural” even if they’re real in our universe.

    I wouldn’t go so far as call those powers supernatural, or call the game programmer or game-runner a god, though, because they lack something crucial.

    Virtualization is cheating, in much the same way that using other advanced technology is cheating. A “god” who creates a universe the way we could (in principle) isn’t a very different kind of being, obeying very different rules from us. he/she/it is just situated differently and playing the overall game pretty much the way we do.

    That’s not a whole lot different, for our philosophical purposes, than your common-or-garden space alien with death rays coming to Earth, and being perceived like Thor.

    Once you get the concept of aliens with advanced technology, the god concept falls apart, even if you do live inside a universe created by one.

    Virtualization isn’t the traditional idea of the supernatural. It’s not what people mean when they talk about Gods and the supernatural.

    I think it’s important to figure out what people really mean by God, rather than accepting “theological” definitions.

    Theologians don’t get to define God. What religious people actually mean is what “defines” God, or just gods.

    When somebody asks you if you believe in God, ask them “Do you mean like Q from Star Trek: the Next Generation? A superior being fucking with our minds?”

    If they ask if you believe in God, in a serious way rather than just playing with ideas, you can be pretty sure that’s not what they mean. Q does not count, because he’s just an alien, no matter how super-intelligent and powerful he is.

    I think the same goes for “gods” with big computers we’re trapped inside of. They just don’t count.

    I also think the universe-creating thing is mostly a red herring. Most gods that most people have ever worshipped didn’t create their universes. That’s not typically what a god is for, or necessary for them to inspire religious awe or worship. It’s just an extreme case of a powerful being; being a powerful being isn’t enough, even if you can create worlds.

    Even now, in mostly Abrahamic monotheistic cultures, I don’t think that being “the creator of the universe” is what makes the God concept work. It’s not why people worship God, and it only matters in abstruse theological discussions.

    For example, I don’t think that the creator-of-the-universe schema is very active for most Christians when they worship Jesus. (The Son.) On some abstract level, when speaking self-consciously, they may say that Jesus is the same God as the Father, but when they get down to the business of actually worshipping Jesus as Jesus, that’s not what they’re thinking of.

    The Creator business isn’t necessary or sufficient for Godhood, even in religions where people happen to believe it.

    That’s why most of the traditional theological “proofs” of God’s existence (cosmological, ontological, etc.) are irrelevant to actual religion. What they purport to prove isn’t necessary for being God, much less sufficient.

    That’s just what theologians often focus on because they don’t have any better arguments for anything more interestingly God-like.

    And when they do, we should hold their feet to the fire and make them explain the difference between a god and an alien, and why we should believe in such gods.

  286. #287 Paul W.
    July 2, 2008
    The problem with the supernatural view of these things is not that it’s logically false or incoherent, or that it’s unfalsifiable. The problem is simply that its false.

    No, some have turned out to be false. That’s different from them being false in principle.

    I’m not sure if you’re disagreeing with me there, or exactly how. I think that supernatural claims have generally turned out to be false, or incredible, for the usual scientific reasons.

    Some claims have empirically turned out to be false in principle. (Yes, there is such a thing as a posteriori analytic truth.) For example, vitalism is way deader than dead, because it was based on a misconception of what life is. Once we discovered what life actually is, it turns out that vitalism is impossible. A vital essence not only doesn’t do the job, it couldn’t do the job. (Although it might do something superficially similar.) Vitalism is not unfalsifiable, and not just false, it’s a basic category mistake.

    Lots of things that gods were invented to explain are like that. They miss the mark by a mile, by being based on fundamental misconceptions about the nature of lightning, life, love, etc.

    My point is that even if we haven’t found them to be false, any principle that doesn’t follow “rules”, is outside the system, is logically incoherent unless you reduce the “outside the system” to “inside the system”.

    I’m not sure if you’re disagreeing with me here, or what you mean by reducing outside to inside.

    I don’t think that the traditional (or currently popular) notion of the supernatural entails not playing by rules. It only entails that some things play by different rules than others, and that those “special rules” have a certain character.

    That does not imply that there isn’t some larger set of rules that both rules are part of—just that some objects and beings (the supernatural stuff) are governed by qualitatively different rules than others (the natural).

    Believing in the supernatural does not entail thinking that the supernatural doesn’t obey cause and effect, and make sense, even if it’s “mysterious” in the sense that you don’t fully understand it.

    In fact, actually believing in the supernatural generally entails that you do believe that it’s lawful. (In particular, it’s generally about cause and effect. If you piss off your ancestors or Jaweh, they will get mad the way a human would, and they will fuck you up.)

    The idea that the supernatural is not lawful is apologetics crap, or theology in the worst sense, not religion as it normally operates for believers.

    This is just one of those things that theologians and apologists have bastardized to make religion invulnerable to rational scientific scrutiny. It’s not part of the core logic of religion itself, and does violence to that core logic.

    Popular religion generally makes a kind of sense, at a basic level, given ignorance about certain things. There’s nothing basically wrong with the idea of the natural/supernatural distinction, or of gods. It just turns out empirically that those things don’t exist—vitalism and dualism are wrong, etc.

    That’s when you get bullshit theology like the claim that the supernatural is not lawful and amenable to rational discussion—a theologian’s job is to turn something reasonable but false into something unfalsifiable and unreasonanble.

  287. #288 Tulse
    July 2, 2008

    actually believing in the supernatural generally entails that you do believe that it’s lawful

    If something observable obeys laws, then it’s not supernatural, or, perhaps more accurately, not outside the realm of scientific investigation. After all, psychology involves observable and (in many cases) regular phenomena, but until recently we had no real understanding of how that domain linked up with the “physical” world of biology, chemistry, and physics — it was pretty much an independent realm of inquiry, with theoretical entities that were not (and in most cases still aren’t) reducible to physical laws. All we need are observable events from which we can extract regularities, and we’re on our way to science.

    I had always thought that the whole point of the supernatural is that it wasn’t constrained by laws — gods (or at least the Christian God) can affect the world through a mere act of will, not bound by any physical constraints. Anything God wants to happen, happens. In that instance, the only regularity is the presumption of some kind of understandable divine psychology, and I don’t think that, in a single case study like that, we can derive meaningful laws.

  288. #289 windy
    July 2, 2008

    I had always thought that the whole point of the supernatural is that it wasn’t constrained by laws — gods (or at least the Christian God) can affect the world through a mere act of will, not bound by any physical constraints. Anything God wants to happen, happens. In that instance, the only regularity is the presumption of some kind of understandable divine psychology, and I don’t think that, in a single case study like that, we can derive meaningful laws.

    It doesn’t matter that there is only one God. If it does anything with any sort of regularity, that would be a “law”. Frog’s example in #173 of God inexplicably bringing oranges into existence is a good one, except I think you can make a law about it (for example, “oranges tend to pop into existence ex nihilo more often than other kinds of fruit”)

    It doesn’t matter that it’s only a probabilistic prediction, or that we don’t understand God’s motivations, it’s still in principle a testable regularity.

  289. #290 Paul W.
    July 2, 2008

    It doesn’t matter that there is only one God. If it does anything with any sort of regularity, that would be a “law”.

    More generally, gods are people with personalities much like humans’. People would not be able to understand and repeat stories about Gods if gods were grossly unlike people.

    That allows you to apply folk psychology—the normal human ability to intuit things about other people, based on regularities about people—to gods. Gods can see and hear and think, and want things and like or dislike people in pretty much the same way as humans.

    So for example, Jaweh is a stern and jealous god who thinks a lot of things like shrimp and menstruation and gay sex are nasty; and Jesus is a loving and forgiving god who is not so tight-assed. We can understand them because we know what jealous and tight-assed and and loving and forgiving people are like.

    Gods only behave unpredictably in the sense that people behave unpredictably, because gods are just people plus magic.

    That doesn’t imply that either does not behave lawfully. Just that like people, gods are complicated enough and different enough that it’s hard to predict them in detail.

  290. #291 windy
    July 2, 2008

    More generally, gods are people with personalities much like humans’

    Yes, they usually are, even when it is claimed that they are not (like in “God is love”). But the supernatural could be (ostensibly?) non-personal and still exhibit regularity. Like the Force or the Law of Attraction.

  291. #292 Arnosium Upinarum
    July 3, 2008

    Paul W. @#290 : “More generally, gods are people with personalities much like humans’.”

    Well, no, be careful. Most generally, gods are CONCEPTS of what you say, concepts conjured up by people. So is anything “supernatural”.

    I didn’t mean to pick that nit, but lest anyone jump to a wrong conclusion, I’ll hasten to add that our notions of natural reality are ‘only’ concepts too. The difference – and it’s a BIG difference – is that those concepts are supported and continually upgraded by evidence from a realm outside of our heads – completely independent of our imaginary models or preconceptions – that we can interact with as independent observers who can agree (or disagree) about what we see. We observe and compare notes. If we come up with the same conclusions, we’re obviously looking at something “real” we can identify as “nature”. There isn’t any other place where things can happen. If it happens, it must be natural. INCLUDING the products of our imagination.

    It’s significant that natural reality as basic reference is available to everyone, and that we can constantly refer to it to keep us all on our toes when we are engaged in the serious business of conceiving our models of it.

    People who imagine they’re interacting with a supernatural realm or are convinced they are subject to intentions coming from “there” ARE interacting with something, alright, but it’s nothing “supernatural”. They’re interacting with their own model-making imaginations, often to great depths of recursive and self-referential elaboration, all of which in turn exists wholly in natural reality. Everything does, whether we are privy to it or not.

    windy@#291: “But the supernatural could be (ostensibly?) non-personal and still exhibit regularity. Like the Force or the Law of Attraction.”

    Indeed, ‘regularity’, the notion of the ‘non-personal’ and even ‘love’ can be viewed as attributes that define what it means to be human. Of course, imagination can easily and consistently accomodate ‘non-personal’ features and a certain ‘regularity’ or order, such as those we often refer to as “forces” or “laws”. Supernaturality not required. All it takes is a little imagination to build models that are at least locally coherent. What folks of a mystical bent confront is something analogous to a one of those graphic illusions (like some that were portrayed by the artist Escher, for example, the endlessly descending stream of water that cycled circularly) in which a sufficiently small district looks logically coherent, but if one looks at larger scales or the whole, it crashes against it’s own logical inconsistency.

    Hey, and congrats to you for the Molly! Well deserved.

    PZ: That was a BEAUTIFUL read. Thanks for the continued inspiration!

  292. #293 Nick Gotts
    July 3, 2008

    NG: I stress that there is absolutely no reason to believe in such a God – but we could find evidence of him tomorrow.

    Not if he doesn’t want you to. He could just rewrite you.

    It’s not an evidence based assertion — you’ve just rejected consistency within the universe, and within our system of evidence.

    – frog

    Of course it’s not an evidence-based assertion – that’s why I said there’s no reason to believe it. And of course, by hypothesis, this sort of God could present us finding evidence of its existence. I haven’t rejected consistency within the universe, having found no reason to reject it, I accept it as a working assumption, but note that it is (if true) a contingent not a necessary truth.

    More generally, I think we differ philosophically on metaphysical questions: you think they are useless or even meaningless (following the later Wittgenstein); I don’t. I’m not sure whether this difference has any consequences when discussing, say, science or politics.

  293. #294 Steve Jeffers
    July 3, 2008

    ‘This is impossible, though. Any possible pattern of data can be explained by some scientific law or theory. We observe events that don’t fit with our scientific understanding all the time–but when that happens we just revise our theories to match.’

    Well … exactly my point.

    The absurdity of the theist position is that, whatever they say, they *are* making scientific claims. If God has affected one outcome of one quantum event, that’s a scientific claim. If he hasn’t, he’s not God by any possible definition.

    If Thor really did affect the weather … well, that would have to be worked into climate models (‘climate change can only be slowed by reducing carbon emissions, encouraging the planting of trees and praying to Thor’). God would be a force of nature. We’d have to stop being atheists, though, to be fair.

    The thing is … there’s a leap of faith the other way. Any sufficient powerful or persuasive alien could pretend to be a God in a way that would utterly convince humans. If Star Trek taught us nothing else, it taught us that.

    Two ways of looking at that: the Christian God is reputed to be so powerful that, actually, no, only God could do that.

    Second … worshipping incredibly advanced aliens might actually be appropriate. If they wanted us to. If an alien race could, for example, end poverty or famine or fix the environment or whatever … if they granted health and prosperity to individuals and all we had to do was spend an hour in church every week … well, I’d be up for that.

    The problem isn’t with our end of the deal. Humans have prayed and sacrificed and fought and died for God – for what we have to show for it, we needn’t have bothered. If God exists, he’s managed to contrive just about the only possible universe that doesn’t need a God in it fiddling the figures.

    The Bible tells us, over and over, Old and New Testament, that God works in the universe, fiddling the figures. Science tells us that what we know of the figures, there’s no fiddling.

    We can’t look under every photon for God, of course, but … well, if it’s *God*, why would we have to?

  294. #295 Steve Jeffers
    July 3, 2008

    ‘but from our point of view, within the simulation, what he does is supernatural.’

    Part of the problem I have with a lot of discussions like this is … what the hell does ‘supernatural’ actually mean?

    I’ve asked theologians, and … I think I’m smart and well-read, and they may just be operating on a higher plain than me, but from my lower realm, it just sounds vague and waffly.

    Besides … if something supernatural affects the universe, the *effects* are natural. If I was a pond creature and (work with me on this one) all I can perceive is water, if someone throws a rock into my pool, I might not be able to see the rock, but I’d sure as anything understand that something had happened to the water. PZ’s beloved squid don’t have any idea what the sky is, but it affects them all the same, in a literal, non-metaphorical, measurable if often indirect and subtle way.

    If God’s poking His fingers into the universe, I might not be able to see the fingers, but I ought to be able to see things that have been poked and moved around. Which is the natural world, which is the magisterium of science. Again.

    The thing is … scientists don’t need a category for ‘things that happen we can only explain by invoking the supernatural’. They used to, and one by one it turned out to be bits of matter and energy doing it, not demons or wizards.

    The reason we don’t understand consciousness in the same way we understand, I dunno, how magnesium reacts with stuff is … well, because we are understandably and rightly wary of poking a human brain around like we poke bits of magnesium.

    And because terms like ‘intelligence’ and ‘consciousness’ are maddeningly vague and ill-understood.

    Sometime this century, there will be a breakthrough. A brain map like the map of the genome, or developments in AI that force us to define terms and build models that work. It will transform science in the way that quantum theory did, or evolution, or relativity. And I’ll lay money down now that when that happens, we’ll see it’s matter and energy interacting in an incredibly, beautifully simple-method, complex-result way that can be expressed in a short equation and described (in its absolute basic form) in a sentence – because that’s what every other scientific paradigm shift has demonstrated.

    I’ll lay even *more* money down that what we don’t get is God waving at us.

    And even more money than that that when the Consciousness Equation, AB=C+D, or whatever, is revealed, when kids have AI consciousnesses as pets and you can back up your consciousness onto a flash drive, then the Gibersons of this world will say ‘how foolish and silly of scientists to think it had anything to do with the so-called mysteries of consciousness … anything the Bible had to say about consciousness was meant to be understood as metaphor. God is to be found in the Grand Unified Field Theory, and scientists haven’t found that, yet’

    I’m with Colin McGinn – ‘philosophy is the name we give to the study of things science hasn’t quite solved yet’.

  295. #296 Iain Walker
    July 3, 2008

    Nick Gotts (Comment #280):

    If I’m right that the nothing-world can be consistently described I think there would only be one such possibility – and there would be no laws associated with it.

    If the nothing-world (call it Wn) is described by

    for all P ~exists x: P(x)

    then all this is saying is that for all predicates P, it is not the case that there is an x such that x is P. Or that in Wn, no predicates are instantiated. Does this rule out Wn having laws associated with it? I’m not sure it does (at least not in itself), since one could argue that to ascribe laws to Wn is not to say that any predicate is instantiated in Wn, but that Wn (considered as a particular) instantiates certain predicates. The question is more whether or not one can meaningfully ascribe such predicates to Wn when it itself is devoid of any law-following particulars.

    But that (no laws) would be true of a lot of other logically possible worlds as well I think – the notion of possibility involved is deliberately the weakest possible: consider a “world” that consists of a set of 1000 arbitrarily chosen frames from all episodes of Tom and Jerry!

    But would such a world really be law-less? If we’re talking physical scraps of celluloid, then the world has to be such that matter can exist, which entails certain definable laws. If we’re talking about images qua patterns of light, then the same applies. What is projecting the image? What is receiving it? What are the prerequisites for being able to call something an image? Those are the kinds of questions one needs to take into account when positing a logically possible world.

    This kind of highlights the problem I mentioned earlier of thinking in pictures, and of assuming that by merely sticking a label on a picture one has somehow formed a coherent concept. In this case, what is being pictured is a series of, well, pictures, in which case one needs to ask oneself “What are the necessary prerequisites for positing the existence of pictures?” A world consisting of 1000 frames from Tom and Jerry is easy enough to envisage, but once you think about what it means to posit such a world, it rather looks as if you cannot also consistently describe such a world as having no laws.

    On which note, there’s also an opposite problem, that of assuming that since you can’t form a picture of some state of affairs, that the concept of that state of affairs must be incoherent. Both pitfalls are worth trying to avoid. In my own case, I may have erred towards the latter mistake, but that doesn’t mean that the former mistake isn’t widespread, especially in religious thinking.

  296. #297 Tulse
    July 3, 2008

    Any sufficient powerful or persuasive alien could pretend to be a God in a way that would utterly convince humans.

    Or, as Clarke’s Law traditionally has it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    If Star Trek taught us nothing else, it taught us that.

    It also taught us in Star Trek V that if you want to pretend to be a god, don’t say you need to commandeer a starship…

  297. #298 Steve Jeffers
    July 3, 2008

    ‘Or, as Clarke’s Law traditionally has it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ‘

    Implicit in that, I’ve always assumed, is that ‘advanced technology’ and ‘magic’ are two distinct things. For a start, we can always get more advanced.

    ‘Supernatural’ clearly *doesn’t* mean ‘natural, but which we can’t do, yet’. A nuclear bomb would look like magic to someone in the bronze age, but it’s *not* magic.

    And theologians don’t believe in the sort of comic book/fantasy fiction magic which is basically just a branch of weird science, with its own rules and physical laws.

    The other thing implicit in the law is that we *can* see the thing we’re talking about.

    How about a corollary: ‘any sufficiently unimpressive magic trick doesn’t count as magic *or* technology’? It’s Terry Jones who pointed out that transubstantiation, in which wine becomes blood, except not in any way that you can see, taste, hear, smell or touch but that we’re meant to accept that it is now blood at some level is ‘the worst magic trick in the world’.

    Behold the Amazing Godzo, a conjurer who *didn’t* create the universe, *didn’t* create man, *didn’t* flood the whole world, *didn’t* … and so on.

    Sheesh, I didn’t create the universe, either, and I don’t expect people to worship *me*.

  298. #299 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    July 3, 2008

    When I look at the sky, I don’t see a universe geared toward supporting life. It’s plainly biased toward creating stars. Life is just the waste products. Or, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are made of starpoop.

  299. #300 Scott Hatfield, OM
    July 3, 2008

    We are not princes of the earth, we are the descendants of worms, and any nobility must be earned.

    PZ, as you might expect, I demur. ‘Worms’ are wonderful things. The Creation, with all of its mystery, complexity and savagery is wonderful—so when you say the ‘secret word is beauty’, that resonates wonderfully with me, but not in a way that requires me to jettison my experience.

  300. #301 frog
    July 3, 2008

    NG: More generally, I think we differ philosophically on metaphysical questions: you think they are useless or even meaningless (following the later Wittgenstein); I don’t. I’m not sure whether this difference has any consequences when discussing, say, science or politics.

    Not when discussing anything meaningful, except when talking about the fools. Then it makes a huge difference, in terms of how you approach them — do you treat them as incipient scientists, or schizophrenics?

    I hold the latter — reasoning with them is useless. They need treatment.

  301. #302 Anton Mates
    July 3, 2008

    #279,

    Supernatural phenomena are qualitatively different from natural ones, and supernatural beings can manipulate them because of their qualitatively different natures. Thor doesn’t have to be smart or leverage knowledge to throw lighting bolts. He just does it, because he’s the kind of being who can do that kind of thing.
    Likewise Aphrodite doesn’t have to read a lot of books about psychology and process a lot of information to figure out how to get two people to fall in love. She can manipulate minds or love itself fairly directly, and create love between two people. She doesn’t have to scan their brains and tweak their synapses, or stimulate them with pheromones. That would be cheating, and missing the point. She is the kind of being who can directly control that kind of thing, and that’s pretty much it.

    I don’t think that’s a very good basis for distinguishing the natural and supernatural throughout most of human history, and it certainly doesn’t work for the gods you mention. Thor does have to leverage knowledge to control thunder and lightning. It’s not an innate power at all; he relies on Mjolnir, which is basically a piece of high technology (by ancient Norse standards) created by skilled artisans. It can be stolen and used against him, and he actually requires protective gear to wield it correctly.

    Ditto for Aphrodite. To some degree she inspires love just by being hawt, but her powers are enhanced thanks to the magic girdle Hephaistos created for her. And, at least in classical times, most of the actual creation of love between two mortals is her son Eros’ job, and he relies on a potion. That potion requires a delivery system–he applies it to arrows or darts, or sneaks up to people (see his masquerading as a little kid to get to Dido in the Aeneid) to apply it directly. Again, the system can misfire–think Cupid & Psyche.

    Conversely, the power to affect reality by “just being the right sort of person” has commonly been assigned to mortals. Think of the evil eye, a concept that’s found practically worldwide. No physical mechanism or specialized knowledge required; you can inflict injury on your victim simply by willing it. (In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to will it–just the feeling of hate or envy is sufficient.)

    It’s a peculiarly Judeo-Christian attitude, I think, to claim that God does what he does simply by his essential nature, whereas mortals do what they do via mechanisms and learned tricks. And even there it’s inconsistent. Most medieval Jews, for instance, envisioned God’s power as working by proxy. He didn’t simply will the universe to operate as it does, he sat on his throne and handed orders off to a host of angels, who personally flitted off to make sure every raindrop fell in the right place. Most Jewish magic was aimed at hacking this mechanism by means of mystic names; name the appropriate angel or demon, dazzle it with your authority by invoking the right name for God, and it would obligingly carry out your orders–apparently forgetting what the real God had told it to do!

    I agree with your general point, though, that “supernatural” hasn’t historically meant “unobservable” or “empirically untestable” or anything like that; it’s basically just meant “weird and not normal.” People generally have no problem with the idea that supernatural beings like vampires and demons can be catalogued, studied and manipulated. The only reason modern believers have a problem with scientifically studying God is that, when we do so, there doesn’t seem to be anything there.

  302. #303 Paul W.
    July 3, 2008

    Anton,

    How fucking impertinent of you to spoil a perfectly good rant by showing that it’s wrong.

    Harrumph.

    You make excellent points. I’m busy now, but I’ll try to find time to respond to them soon.

  303. #304 Owlmirror
    July 4, 2008

    Most medieval Jews, for instance, envisioned God’s power as working by proxy. He didn’t simply will the universe to operate as it does, he sat on his throne and handed orders off to a host of angels, who personally flitted off to make sure every raindrop fell in the right place. Most Jewish magic was aimed at hacking this mechanism by means of mystic names; name the appropriate angel or demon, dazzle it with your authority by invoking the right name for God, and it would obligingly carry out your orders–apparently forgetting what the real God had told it to do!

    Ted Chiang’s “72 Letters”.

    However, I think it’s worth pointing out that Mr. Chiang has said about the story that the way he envisioned it was distinct from the legends — in the story, the letters have an innate power and work exactly the same way for anyone and everyone, but the rabbis and wonder-workers did also require a certain mystical and religious purity in order to accomplish the various magics.

    Indeed, I think it might be possible to argue that the whole point of certain mystical traditions, such as the Kabala, is to attain not just the proper knowledge of how to “hack the system”, but to purify oneself as well. And there is the implication that, for certain rare individuals, their innate or cultivated purity might even be able to convince God change his mind.

    But as already noted, this is more than a little inconsistent.

    Hm. Now I think about this, this might be the rationale behind the veneration of saints and such: their innate or cultivated purity is what allows them to hack the theological system, and therefore their prayers are more likely to be effective.

  304. #305 Roger Cheek
    July 4, 2008

    RE: MP #115. It is perfectly reasonable to ask why there is matter and energy as opposed to no matter and no energy; and why there is time and space as opposed to no time and no space. Some cosmological models, with actual observational data supporting them, are interpreted to imply that these things have not always existed.

    Can people actually be saying these are questions that ought not to be asked? (#139, #183, #184, #255, et.al.) There is certainly no category mistake here. This is nothing like asking why democracy is purple.

    The correct answer to those questions is “I don’t know”. And that answer does not imply the existence of God. It is useless to go off on bizarre rantings about the philosophical meaning of nothingness, and to proclaim that only an idiot would ask such ridiculous questions (harrumph). Or do you imagine that logical arguments are a valid substitute for scientific observation, in cases where such observations are difficult or impossible to obtain? That’s pseudoscience!

    (I *really* don’t like being told I need to get my mind right and stop asking such wicked questions…)

  305. #306 AndyD
    July 4, 2008

    Sometime this century, there will be a breakthrough. A brain map like the map of the genome, or developments in AI that force us to define terms and build models that work. It will transform science in the way that quantum theory did, or evolution, or relativity.

    I believe the Mayans predicted this will occur in January, 2075. Unfortunately they also predicted the world will end in December, 2012 so first we need to get the hell off this “special” planet.

  306. #307 AndyD
    July 4, 2008

    It is perfectly reasonable to ask why there is matter and energy as opposed to no matter and no energy; and why there is time and space as opposed to no time and no space. Some cosmological models, with actual observational data supporting them, are interpreted to imply that these things have not always existed.

    Why is it reasonable to ask that? The problem as I see it is that the question suggests “purpose”. Admittedly it could be read to mean “what was the origin and cause of matter?” but I don’t think that’s the way it’s intended to read. It more readily reads as “What is the purpose of matter?” and that question pre-supposes purpose and that leads to assumptions of fate and destiny which naturally lead to supernatural assumptions.

    Take out the pre-supposition of purpose and the question becomes pointless.

    On the other hand, if you insist on pre-supposing purpose such that this “special place” makes sense in the way it supports life, then you must also ask:

    Why are there earthquakes? Why are there tsunamis? Why are there heart attacks, cancer, sclerosis, polio, lightning strikes, car accidents, megalomaniacs, peadophiles, thieves, murderers, atheists, etc?

    Now, science can explain how tectonic plates shift and cause earthquakes and tsunamis that kill tens of thousands of perfectly innocent people or how static charges result in the release of lightning bolts that strike down unwitting golfers or how two cars travelling at 110KPH in opposite directions will collide with lethal force – but after all this explanation you’ll say “Yes, I get all that, but ‘why’ do these things happen that way?” And you’ll keep asking until no more answers are forthcoming then state boldly “You see, it’s because of God!”

    But to paraphrase your original question: Why isn’t there NO God?

  307. #308 Holbach
    July 4, 2008

    Paul W @ 279 You wrote: “Theology is a science without a subject” Unbelievable! You posted that incredible comment at 4:46 PM on July 2, 2008. By the time I posted here after finally getting around to reading it after being occupied, my comment will probably go unnoticed as this post becomes dated. I will not rant, nor will I enlarge on it, but suffice to say that is one of the most illogical comments to date. Repeat it often enough and the enormity of it just boggles the mind!

  308. #309 David Marjanovi?, OM
    July 5, 2008

    Intelligent Design: No evidence, and possibly self-contradictory. Non-falsifiable.

    Easily falsifiable — by pointing to Stupid Design — unless the Designer is declared to be ineffable.

    OWHITUSAC!

    WTF?

    And God is as rational an explanation for the very existence of the Universe as anything else.

    MP, meet the principle of parsimony. Principle of parsimony, meet MP.

    Might I suggest Han[s] Küng’s The Beginning of All Things : Science and Religion, just out in paperback.

    I’ve read it in the German original. Because Küng has a reputation as a deep thinker, I was deeply disappointed. When Küng talks about science, he simply doesn’t know what he is talking about. It is pitiful. It is embarrassing.

    No. Science doesn’t have all the answers. But if science doesn’t have the answer, then nobody else does either.

    Not necessarily. Something else might have the answer. But if any such answer is wrong, we can never find that out. It is therefore completely useless.

    I have no idea how much wood a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

    Woodchucks can in fact chuck wood at a rate of 361.9237001 cm˛/d.

    P. A. Paskevich & T. B. Shea: The ability of woodchucks to chuck cellulose fibers, Annals of Improbable Research 1(4): [two pages, which one is impossible to find out] (July/August 1995).

  309. #310 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    OWHITUSAC: Only What Happens In The USA Counts

  310. #311 David Marjanovi?, OM
    July 5, 2008

    Which ones, that is.

  311. #312 David Marjanovi?, OM
    July 5, 2008

    Ah, thanks.

  312. #313 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Anton Mates@302,

    This reminds me of the science fantasy novel Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, in which the crew of an interstellar ark from “lost Urath”, having colonised a new planet, take on the identities of members of the Hindu pantheon to rule their own descendants and those of the passengers. Although they use what appear to be mentalistic superpowers, they are also highly dependent on the machines designed and built by Yama, the god of death. So far as I can discover, however, this role of Yama’s is an invention of Zelazny’s.

  313. #314 Owlmirror
    July 5, 2008

    Although they use what appear to be mentalistic superpowers, they are also highly dependent on the machines designed and built by Yama, the god of death. So far as I can discover, however, this role of Yama’s is an invention of Zelazny’s.

    But Yama isn’t really the god of death, any more than… any of the other gods are who they call themselves. They’re all just humans (with “psionics”, as that sort of thing is sometimes called).

    I think the book even gives his backstory, as an extremely clever youth with mad engineering skillz.

    Zelazny also wrote Creatures of Light and Darkness, which has the very amusing Agnostic’s Prayer.

  314. #315 Nick Gotts
    July 5, 2008

    Owlmirror,

    Yes, the book does give Yama’s backstory, but it remains wholly mysterious how the gods “raise up their Aspect and wield an Attribute” – indeed, in doing this they seem to resemble the type of deity Paul W. was talking about – it’s just their “nature” that enables them to do this, which is why I call it science fantasy rather than science fiction. Also Rild, who comes to kill Sam while the latter is pretending to be the Buddha, appears himself to achieve enlightenment, and magical healing powers. Brilliantly done though, and far superior to the other works of Zelazny’s that I’ve tried (I haven’t tried Creatures of Light and Darkness), I think because staying more or less within a specific mythology gave some coherence to his fertile imagination.

  315. #316 Paul W.
    July 5, 2008

    Holbach, if you found my comment incredible, or found “enormity” in it, I suspect you misunderstood it. I don’t think I’m saying anything you’d object to, or at least not so strenuously.

  316. #317 Roger Cheek
    July 6, 2008

    Re: AndyD (#307). So then I’m right. There are questions that ought not to be asked. Not because they are themselves nonsense, but because they might be twisted into statements about God by a dishonest broker. You demonstrate this by your paraphrase of my original question. You showed that one could claim that I said things I did not say, and meant things I did not mean, and so logically conclude that I am actually preaching about God. I was evangelizing and didn’t even know it!

    Ok… I’ll stop thinking about cosmology because that’s just wrong. Such thoughts are, as you suggest, at best pointless and probably subterfuge.

    Is there a committee somewhere that I should be submitting my questions to for approval? For instance, I’ve always wondered why it takes a few seconds to walk across a room instead of a few years or a few milliseconds. I think someone could say “because God said so”, so now I’m scared. Do you think I’d get committee sign-off allowing me to think about that?

    I smell dogma, and I for one want to be on the side of right.

  317. #318 Owlmirror
    July 7, 2008

    (I haven’t tried Creatures of Light and Darkness)

    PZ’s quote generator recently came up with the Agnostic’s Prayer, so I thought I’d followup and post it here:

    Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.
    — [Madrak, in Creatures of Light and Darkness, by Roger Zelazny]

    Since I see that I didn’t mention it before, Creatures is based on Egyptian mythology.

  318. #319 Ichthyic
    July 7, 2008

    The Wittgenstein Reader, ed. Anthony Kenny, 1994 Blackwell, ISBN: 0-631-19362-6.
    The Nature of Philosophy essay is good. When I find my other Lectures, I’ll post it.

    I’ll try and track down the reader.

    if you run across the rest, just post a link in whatever the most recent thread is, or just shoot me an email:

    fisheyephotosAThotmailDOTcom

  319. #320 Nick Gotts
    July 7, 2008

    Roger Cheek,
    Touchy, aren’t you? Ask whatever questions you like. However, questions often have implicit presuppositions, and neither you nor anyone else is entitled to expect an answer that concedes the truth of these.

    By the way, Roger, have you stopped beating your wife?

  320. #321 MartinM
    July 7, 2008

    Ok… I’ll stop thinking about cosmology because that’s just wrong. Such thoughts are, as you suggest, at best pointless and probably subterfuge.

    Is there a committee somewhere that I should be submitting my questions to for approval? For instance, I’ve always wondered why it takes a few seconds to walk across a room instead of a few years or a few milliseconds. I think someone could say “because God said so”, so now I’m scared. Do you think I’d get committee sign-off allowing me to think about that?

    I smell dogma, and I for one want to be on the side of right.

    Oh, fuck off. And take your Galileo complex with you. Nobody said there were any sacred questions which must not be asked. Several people did say that certain questions were ill-defined at best, and meaningless at worst; the entirety of your response to this point can be summarized as ‘nuh-uh!’ You then insisted that the only correct response to these questions was yours. You’re in no position to lecture anyone about dogma.

  321. #322 Roger Cheek
    July 9, 2008

    Nick Gotts (#320), Thanks for burning some grey matter considering my question.

    I understand clearly that there are “gotcha” questions. However, it does not seem to me that the question about why there is stuff as opposed to no stuff is necessarily one of those.

    Taking your example “when did you stop beating your wife?”, the answer “I don’t know” falls into the trap and is not a good answer. The question presupposes that another question “do you beat your wife?” has already been answered in the affirmative. I’m interested to know what you see as the necessary presupposition to the question about why there’s stuff. I do not presuppose anything. Certainly not that God decided to create stuff and now the question is why. It seems to me that the answer “I don’t know” is a good answer to that question and does not fall into any trap.

    Yes, I am touchy about this because throughout my career I have used the device of asking why something is the way it is as opposed to some other way to untangle difficult problems. It is natural for me to think about difficult problems that way. It seems to me that I am being told here not to do that because it interferes with religion bashing. I don’t care much one way or the other about religion bashing. Maybe I should have taken the context of this blog into more careful consideration.

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