What is religion?

In the course of talking about other things, Jason Rosenhouse raises a tricky issue:

Fundamentalists are rightly excoriated for pretending that theirs is the only acceptable form of religion. But it is hardly an improvement when academics suggest that real religion is high-minded and metaphorical and intellectually deep, with the more commonplace version being a distracting side show.

This idea of “real religion” is tricky, and is at the heart of a lot of the disputes between gnu/New/extreme atheists – who think religion is bad and favor eradicating it – and “accommodationists” – who don’t think religion is inherently bad, or in need of eradication.

Part of Jason’s point here is that we should put more stock in how religion is practiced and perceived by the religious person on the street, and not get too hung up on the vagaries of academic theology or sociology of religion. There’s certainly something to be said for that position: people who identify as Christian should be in control of that identity (to at least some degree), and not boxed in by holier-than-thou religious authoritarians or wooly-headed academics. It’s no less an imposition on the believer to be told that they have to reject evolution to be a Real True Christian than it would be for them to be told that being a Real True Religious Person requires them to be using religious ceremony and community as a tool for establishing social in-groups and outgroups, patterns of social bonds and hierarchies that will assist subsequent reciprocal altruism, &c.

On the other hand, judging religion on the basis of pop religion strikes me as about as valid as judging science based on pop science. Just because Deepak Chopra likes to abuse quantum concepts, and sources like him or movies like What the Bleep Do We Know? probably reach more people than Brian Greene, doesn’t mean we should judge quantum mechanics to be a failure. Given the abysmal divide between science as scientists understand it and civic science literacy or media coverage of scientific topics, it hardly seems fair to assume that civic religious literacy and media coverage of religion would be any sort of optimal representation of “real religion.”

Then again, the whole notion of “real religion” is badly flawed. As Pascal Boyer observes:

There really is no such thing as “religion”. Most people who live in modern societies think that there is such a thing out there as “religion”, meaning a kind of social and cognitive package that includes views about supernatural agency (gods and suchlike), notions of morality, particular rituals and sometimes particular experiences, as well as membership in a particular community of believers and the constitution of specific organizations (castes of priests, churches, etc.). All this, as I said, is thought to be a “package”, where each element makes sense in relation to the others, given a coherent and explicit doctrine. Indeed, this is the way most major “religions” – Islam, Hinduism for instance – are presented to us, the way their institutional personnel, many scholars and most believers think about them.

But all this is a recent invention. Most of human evolution took place in small-scale communities that did not have any religious institutions. This was also the case of most human groups outside modern economic development until recently, and it is still the case in remote places outside the direct influence of modern states. In all these places, there is no unified domain of “religion”. True, there may be various ideas about superhuman agents, there may be ideas about morality (often not connected with those agents), there may be notions about ritualized sequences that must be performed (some with and many without a connection to spirits etc.), there may be community affiliation (generally unrelated to morality or superhuman agency), but there is nothing that would justify putting all these things together.

“Religion” is the recent invention of special organizations that flourished in early states, typically in literate societies. These institutions grouped ritual specialists who collectively tried to set up a corporate monopoly on the provision of particular services – and gradually associated stable doctrine, ritual standardization, exclusivity of services and other aspects of corporate branding.

If “religion” is not one thing, but a series of culturally-specific phenomena that have distinct traits and distinct evolutionary histories, then of course, we can’t talk coherently about whether “real religion” is what fundamentalists say or what academics say. Some religion is what fundamentalists say, and other religions are what academics say. We can still use terms like “religions” or even the messy category of “religion” so long as we recognize that they are fuzzy terms that can’t be clearly defined or distinguished from other things we don’t usually call “religion” (the same, FWIW, can be said for concepts like “life” and “species” but biology and systematics do just fine as disciplines while the philosophers try to sort those ideas out).

As Tom Rees pointed out a few days ago, in the context of research showing that religiosity and nationalism tended to align less when a nation was more religiously diverse:

it is simply too simplistic to talk about ‘religion’ as if it is a real, single entity (Voicu [the researcher] used a basket of different measures of religiosity, and lumped them all together). Religion is, in fact, a jumble of different cultural and psychological traits some of which (at different times, for different reasons, and in different mixes), we lump together and call it ‘religion’.

This also means it’s hard to talk about “religious people” as distinct from “non-religious people,” a point of contention that came up around Elaine Howard Ecklund’s categorization of religious scientists. She counted scientists as religious if they identified with a religious tradition, even if they didn’t assert any theistic belief. Some people found that inappropriate, especially since many of the scientists thus labeled “religious” are nontheistic Jews – cultural Jews – and wouldn’t likely call themselves religious.

But this gets back to the issues Boyer raises. If you went to the Middle East three thousand years ago, I doubt you’d find Jews making strong distinctions between who was a “religious” Jew and who was a “cultural” Jew. Judaism is what’s called “orthoprax,” meaning its focus is on proper behavior (keeping Kosher, observing the sabbath, covering your head, celebrating Passover seders, etc.), rather than “orthodox” religions like Christianity that focus on proper beliefs (Nicene creed, catechisms, etc.). But in a world dominated by Christianity and its orthodox model of religiosity, Jews who identify as Jews, whose bloodline is sufficient to count as Jewish, and who practice (some?) Jewish traditions might not be considered religious because they don’t adhere to some dogma (note that “dogma” shares a root with “orthodox“). Yet if the world were as dominated by Judaism as it is by Christianity, I have no doubt that those Jews would be considered religious Jews, while Christians who only attend church at Christmas and Easter and can’t identify the apostles would be considered “cultural Christians.”

These sorts of things are only meaningful relative to their cultural context, and we do ourselves and our readers a disservice by insisting that “real religion” is a meaningful concept across all cultures and all religious traditions. We would do them a disservice if we actually tried to force all religious practitioners to adopt the fancy theologies academics study, and we’d do them a disservice if we ignored those academic theologies and pretended that pop theology was all that mattered.

Comments

  1. #1 Anthony McCarthy
    March 28, 2011

    I agree with the idea that when we talk about “religion”, in a sense that includes all the various sets of ideas identified by that word, we aren’t talking about a real thing. We are reducing an extremely varied number of dissimilar ideas, actions, expressed intentions and the reality of what is done to make all of those manifest in the world, to one word. Pretending that all of the various religions are the same kind of thing is a kind of lie agreed to. There are different motives for doing that, sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes for illegitimate ones.

    Politically, you can talk about “religion” in order to establish a neutral government, leaving decisions about the various religions as a private matter, for individuals to decide for themselves, so long as they don’t use their religion to impinge on the rights of other people. That’s a great benefit that justifies the lie of convenience, ignoring that religions are quite different.

    Or you can talk about “religion” in order to target the people who believe in it or talk about it for extermination.

    In the strife of religion vs. science, there are various motives. Foremost among those is to pretend that this thing called “religion” is incompatible with science. Though there are many religious scientists who don’t seem to have any problem doing science with the same mind they use for thinking about religion. Usually that is a reductionist lie in the interest of promoting more lies, the ones I already mentioned and others. Evolution and associated issues in geology and physics are the usual focus of this effort when most of the people in the United States who accept the reality of evolution and its associated geology are religious believers. It denies that those people are there or it dishonestly questions their honesty on the basis of nothing.

    You might as well talk about “science” as a kind of conventionalized lie because there are many things included in that which are really not much like kinds of science. The speculations of string and M-theory aren’t really the same kind of thing as the study of biological system and neither of those are like the would-be sciences of psychology or ethology. As mentioned here before, it’s possible to deny the reality of evolution while having a successful career in another science. And that doesn’t get to scientists who know their own field extremely well but who are pretty ignorant of most others.

    No one person contains all of “religion” just as no person contains all of “science”. Where does “religion” or “science” as a comprehensive collective conglomeration exist if not in an actual mind? The imaginary collective mind that is supposed to contain either doesn’t exist as a real entity.

    Mistaking conventionalized reductions for real things is a serious problem in our culture.

  2. #2 thivai
    March 28, 2011

    on pascal’s comment:
    the same thing could be said about science — kind of ridiculous — i’m an atheist, but find blanket dismissal of religious belief to be just as problematic as fundamentalist dismissal of questioning faith

  3. #3 Russell
    March 28, 2011

    The possibility of distinguishing valid science from popular distortions of it derives from being able to identify the epistemological practices of the former. There is no similar measure to distinguish valid religion from popular distortions. The snake handler in Tennessee has every bit as much claim to contact with a god as does the Pope or an academic theologian. There is no objective way to distinguish them in that regard. It doesn’t even count against him that the snake handler is illiterate and unlearned, and his theology is incoherent. For all we know, the gods prefer illiterate and incoherent prophets.

  4. #4 scott
    March 29, 2011

    Posted by: Russell @3

    “For all we know, the gods prefer illiterate and incoherent
    prophets.”

    Should read, “illiterate and/or incoherent prophets”

    There, now it fits more closely with what’s observed.

  5. #5 Anthony McCarthy
    March 29, 2011

    Russell, science has an entirely different history from religion, it was formally and intentionally invented for a specific purpose, to find more reliable information about the physical universe. To do that it, ideally, strictly limits its scope to match its abilities to produce that reliability. It has to be honest about that or it ceases to be science and it ceases to be reliable.

    Part of the requirement to practice science is to be formally educated in its methods, its prerequisites and what has been previously discovered, in order to test that and to build on what seems reliable. It can build on that past only to the extent to which previously agreed to discoveries of science are reliable.

    Religion isn’t formally limited in the same way, it covers a far wider range of human experience than science has the ability to do. Not all of the experience that religion covers could be the subject of science, anything calling for a moral decision to be made. There is no formal educational requirement to be religious, even an illiterate person can make moral decisions that are quite profound. That is one of the reasons that what Stephen Hawking or John Polkinghorne says about religion is not guaranteed to be more valuable than what anyone else says about it. Religion is far, far more democratic in that sense, it has to be a matter of personal decision, whereas science is a matter of general acceptance among a far smaller number of scientists.

    Religion should be less prone to elitism and snobbery than it too often is, it’s possible for someone who is held to be ignorant can be profoundly good and to have important insights. Science should be more honest about the scope of its abilities and admit that anything in human experience that falls outside of its competence, it has no ability to talk about at all. Though some scientists have been anything but modest about their abilities in areas in which they have no real competence but only their unrelated reputation.

    If you want to see what happens when science goes beyond where it can focus with anything like reliability, look at the behavioral and social sciences. The methods of those are often a parody of scientific method, the results that get overturned with amazing frequency and rapidity should be a hint that it’s really nothing like science. Since “science” has such a bad track record of dealing with wider human experience, religion’s problems of dealing with its field of interest isn’t a surprise. You can’t get scientific accuracy when the focus is that wide. Which is one of the reasons it has to be a matter of free choice.

  6. #6 Criamon
    March 29, 2011

    On the other hand, judging religion on the basis of pop religion strikes me as about as valid as judging science based on pop science. Just because Deepak Chopra likes to abuse quantum concepts, and sources like him or movies like What the Bleep Do We Know? probably reach more people than Brian Greene, doesn’t mean we should judge quantum mechanics to be a failure.

    Not sure this analogy is applicable. How does one tell ‘religion’ from ‘pop religion’ in the above example. Are they different? In what way? Does ‘religion’s’ characteristics make it more valid than ‘pop religion’?

    By comparison we can tell Deepak’s woo from Feynman if for no other reason than Feynman’s assertions have gone through peer review.

  7. #7 Phillip IV
    March 29, 2011

    I interpret Jason Rosenhausen’s point differently: Of course there is a ‘real’ religion – just like any other social phenomenon, religion has a reality: the sum total of the beliefs and actions of all religious people, to the degree to which they are motivated by religion. This reality includes both the intellectual believers as well as the authoritarian followers, as well as the fanatics – but its Mode is definitely nowhere near the intellectual end of the scale.

    Yet there is a line of argument which claims that the intellectual and benign variant is the ‘true’ or ‘real’ form of religion, and that religion should therefore be judged by that standard, not by the standard of the ‘simple’ or ‘bastardized’ version held by the common believer on the street. In essence, special pleading that religion should be judged by its aspirations and not by its reality* – and I think this idea was what Rosenhausen was defending against.

    *In essence, that religion should not be judged by the suicide bombers and bigots it creates, but for some reason only by the scholars and saints it also creates, irrespective of how the ratio between the two groups might be at the moment. Or, simpler: “Justin Bieber isn’t a teen idol because he has grown-up fans.”

  8. #8 Russell
    March 29, 2011

    Jason, I disagree with your characterization of science. What differentiates it is not the “range of human experience” within its purview — science can and does study religious experience! — but its attention, testing, and criticism of its own epistemological practices. Formal education helps people get to that point, but the practices had to be developed before they could be formally transmitted.

    There is no a priori limitation on science’s subject matter. I realize many people want to define a “natural realm” for that. My own view is that such definitions are convenient excuse for those who want to defend an area of study whose subject matter lacks any evidence, and that the definition falls apart when pushed.

    Science is limited by what evidence can be discovered and what can be reasoned from it.

    But so is knowledge.

  9. #9 bob koepp
    March 29, 2011

    Etymology offers an interesting take on ‘religion’ — it’s about reconnecting, or restoring bonds that have been broken or damaged. A sense that “the world is askew” probably is essential to the phenomenon, but a resort to sky people and mysterious powers probably is not essential.

  10. #10 Anthony McCarthy
    March 29, 2011

    “science can and does study religious experience!”

    “There is no a priori limitation on science’s subject matter.” Russell

    How do you propose science to study anything which can’t be reliably observed, measured, analyzed or replicated? That you can’t treat anything which can’t be scientifically is a limitation on science. That’s a limitation that includes a huge range of phenomena of the physical universe. Pretending that you can replace assumptions that natural selection or physics at the Planck scale “would show” this or that isn’t science, it’s ideology. And, as in the social sciences, it always turns into a short order menu of this or that when that kind of thing happens. The alleged scientific study of so much of “religion” is exactly that kind of thing.

    Science can show that a literal interpretation of the physical descriptions of creation early verses in Genesis are wrong based on physical evidence that can be studied by science, it can’t tell you if the Virgin Birth of Jesus is possible because there is no evidence and those who believe it said it happened by supernatural means and exactly once in all of history. You don’t have to believe it, you can reject it because it seems unlikely to have happened, but you can’t honestly refute it with science.

    By the way, “pop-science” doesn’t necessarily mean bad science. It depends on the pop-science and how well it’s written. I’d say that Why Evolution is True, the book, at least, is a fairly good work of pop-science.

  11. #11 Russell
    March 29, 2011

    Anthony, you’re pointing not to limits on subject matter, but to limits of evidence.

    That evidence is difficult and sparse makes it easy for people to imagine whatever they want, where it can’t be disproved. That doesn’t create a new domain of knowledge, but just myth and superstition. You’re correct, that we can no more disprove Jesus’s virgin birth than we can disprove Theseus having both mortal and immortal father. But we can point out the similar nature of belief in such.

  12. #12 Anthony McCarthy
    March 29, 2011

    Well, Russell, the lack of evidence AND the assertion that the Virgin Birth happened exactly once in the history of the world and through other than natural means all make it subject matter that can’t ever be part of science. Not that the former Symonyi chair for the public understanding of science at Oxford U seems to have understood that. Which isn’t surprising, considering.

    If you want to believe that Theseus has an immortal father, feel free to believe it, I’m all in favor of people deciding for themselves, as long as they don’t impinge on other peoples’ rights, or those of other living beings.

  13. #13 Russell
    March 29, 2011

    Anthony writes:

    ..the lack of evidence AND the assertion that the Virgin Birth happened exactly once in the history of the world and through other than natural means..

    No, it’s only the lack of evidence. And that’s entirely a matter of circumstance. Jesus could make a second appearance, providing his haploid DNA to labs for testing.

    If you want to believe that Theseus has an immortal father, feel free to believe it, I’m all in favor of people deciding for themselves, as long as they don’t impinge on other peoples’ rights, or those of other living beings.

    Of course. Freedom of belief is important.

    But so is the ability to call nonsense nonsense. The issue isn’t whether people should be free to believe in Theseus, Jesus, or vampires. The issue is how we should view such beliefs. I’m happy for you to believe in vampires. I’m less happy that a university would think to set up a pseudo-scholarly department in Vampire Studies. Same with Jesus.

  14. #14 Anthony McCarthy
    March 29, 2011

    No, it’s only the lack of evidence. And that’s entirely a matter of circumstance. Jesus could make a second appearance, providing his haploid DNA to labs for testing. Russell

    Well, Russell, you couldn’t test it because there is no DNA sample of the Jesus that lived long ago. I’d have thought you’d have known that. No evidence means no evidence, no evidence, no science and no scientific confirmation or refutation.

    You’re free to believe that Jesus is “nonsense”, you are free to express your contempt for that belief and for those who believe them, they are free to resent your condescending derision and they are free to reject you and anything you attempt to associate yourself with. Which is where things stand for far too many people. Which is what a lot of us would like to change.

  15. #15 Russell
    March 29, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    ..you couldn’t test it because there is no DNA sample of the Jesus that lived long ago.

    Again, that is circumstantial. When Jesus returns, he could point us to two-thousand year-old clay pot he had stored away, whose undisturbed contents include notes he had written then, clippings form his hair, and all sorts of other items available for carbon-testing, archaeological and textual analysis, etc. I keep returning to this because the attempt to create a domain of belief absolutely safe from evidence is a rhetorical ploy that needs to be exposed.

    You’re free to believe that Jesus is “nonsense”, you are free to express your contempt for that belief and for those who believe them, they are free to resent your condescending derision and they are free to reject you and anything you attempt to associate yourself with.

    I’m curious: How do you feel about people who believe in vampires? In UFOs? In bigfoot? In ghosts?

    I don’t feel contempt for any of them. I don’t think they are being rational in those beliefs (modulo the explanations I have read). But irrational belief is natural to man, and it requires continued effort to work away from it.

  16. #16 Anthony McCarthy
    March 29, 2011

    Russell, I’m not surprised to find an atheist who proposes to do science without evidence, fitting materialism into gaps is what it’s all about, these days. If your proposed second coming happens, it will be your responsibility to produce the physical evidence you would need to debunk the Virgin Birth, which is so obviously missing. I’m not waiting up nights.

    The belief that you can do science in the absence of physical evidence is an increasingly common irrational belief of atheist fundamentalism. Hawking and Dawkins, perhaps the most famous proponents of it.

  17. #17 Tony P
    March 29, 2011

    I’m firmly in the eradication camp. Why? Because in my view, the various religions have had the better part of two thousand years to get it right and they have failed miserably at it.

  18. #18 scott
    March 29, 2011

    In the fairy tale, Jesus was the son of God. God is imaginary, therefore Jesus being his son is imaginary.

    All the evidence that we have matches a reality in which the imaginary god of Abraham, or any other god that have been imagines throughout history doesn’t fit.

    Its not the responsibility of science to disprove god, any more than it is for science to disprove unicorns or leprechauns. Its always up to the person making the claim to present the evidence that supports there claim. If the evidence is merely testimonials or anecdotes, or ancient writings from people who didn’t know jack, then it doesn’t even pass the sniff test.

  19. #19 Russell
    March 29, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, I’m not surprised to find an atheist who proposes to do science without evidence…

    Where do I propose to do science without evidence?

    What I point out is that fables lacking evidence do not gain any rational support merely by including their own explanation for that lack of evidence.

    Tony P:

    I’m firmly in the eradication camp. …

    I’m not hopeful that we’ll ever eradicate religion. Inventing fables and religions is something people do. Even in the modern world: consider Mormonism and Scientology. I suspect we’ll see new religions born in the north European nations where traditional religions are losing footing.

    I’m not so much in the eradication camp as I am in the full-honesty camp. The rational thought and criticism that is the basis for doing science isn’t compatible with belief in fables. The resurrection of Jesus is no different from vampire immortality or extraterrestrial abductions in that regard. Christians consider that as “contempt.” Because they want their fable viewed differently. Anthony hasn’t answered my question about how he views those other believers.

  20. #20 SocraticGadfly
    March 29, 2011

    First, religion isn’t like science, Jason. Do 40 percent of Americans go to a science museum once a week? So, that’s not a good comparison.

    Second, re Boyer: We have examples of priesthoods and religious establishments 4,000-5,000 years old. Along with that, it’s believed that cuneiform writing was invented to serve priestly needs.

    Third, on Judaism, if you look at the book of Deuteronomy, or later parts of II Kings, or Ezra, no, it’s clear there was an emphasis on some sort of orthodoxy as well as orthopraxis.

    Fourth, beyond Judaism. If Hinduism were really that much just about praxis, then why did Hinduism undergo what can best be called a Counter-Reformation in response to Buddhism (and a lesser extent Jainism and other religious movements)?

    Fifth, etymology aside (and no, the “connection” etymology isn’t universally accepted), while religion is “diverse and fuzzy,” that doesn’t mean that we simply throw up our hands and say no such thing exists. Is it really that much more “fuzzy” than, say, sociology? Or, can we at least have a situation similar to how depression is diagnosed today, with a checklist of, say, 10 items and any “sociological movement” encompassing at least six items is defined as a religion?

    I say yes.

    So, Anthony, let’s not engage in such hand waving.

    And @Russell:

    Indeed on “new religions,” or revivals of old non-Christian ones. Neo-paganism certainly has had new life in many parts of northern/western Europe. That’s why, while we in America might note how non-Christian Europe is, it’s simply not equivalent to the idea that Europe is becoming highly atheistic.

  21. #21 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    Socratic Gadfly, while you’re looking at Deuteronomy, don’t forget to look at the prophets, you might start with Isiah’s condemnation of the Temple and its rites and the demand that justice was an essential prerequisite for religious practice.

    You might also consider that people attending public schools are not required to take so many hours of religious instruction a week, a far higher percentage than the 40% figure you cite. And for many more hours a year than even those would spend at church. Though I wonder what point you are hoping to make with that assertion.

    Your historical assertions that Hinduism underwent a reformation in response to Buddhism is rather strange in asserting that Hinduism was ever anything like a monolithic, centralized institution, especially in the period when Buddhism became influential in the various fiefdoms that are now called India, not to mention that Buddhism wasn’t anything like a monolith, either.

    If there is something real that is “religion”, you would have to pretend that there was a single institution that held that there was one God and many gods, a God with a specific identity and a God of more than one identity and gods of both specific and diverse identities. Your “Religion” would have to also contain similarly specific holdings of metaphysics and ethics as well as other holdings, often at odds with each other. Your “religion” would also have to contain adherents holding greatly divergent views of all of these, answerable to either their personal conscience or a centralized authority and completely independent of centralized authority. You would have to force all of these vastly divergent and at times violently conflicting people and institutions and ideas, etc. into one coherent entity and account, somehow, for it all being the same thing. And when you’ve managed to do that, I’m going to ask you to identify where it resides as a coherent entity and how you can make any meaningful statements about it that are manifest in observable reality.

    Dismissing ideas that they can’t deal with as some form of raving is a common tactic of the new atheists, but that doesn’t make those ideas disappear once they’ve been raised.

  22. #22 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    Tony P. How do you propose this eradication will take place? The historical models of wiping out even one religion are noteworthy of their failure, in the case of Judaism, still within living memory, historically going back thousands of years before the Common Era. And it failed. In the past century Mao seems to have tried it with Christianity and Buddhism and also failed. So, after more than two thousand years of getting it right, the eradicationists have failed.

    You going to abolish money? That’s produced anything like honesty, justice or moral government, if that’s what “failure” you are pinning on religion. It’s had more than two thousand years. As has logic and mathematics and governments and nationalities. Languages, customs, folkways, etc.

    I hate to break it to you, people as individuals aren’t perfect and when you put them together in groups and institutions, their imperfections, at times, are magnified and strengthened. In the past centuries and into today we can see that science, which has the effect of multiplying the potential to have a powerful impact on real life is quite willing to serve malignant purposes, its real world reputability is due to its ability to serve corporate and military interests. You want to make a case for the perfect honesty, justice and political virtues of science?

  23. #23 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    Its not the responsibility of science to disprove god, any more than it is for science to disprove unicorns or leprechauns. scott

    I’ll bet you think you’re the first person to say something like that, don’t you.

    It’s not the business of science to deal with the idea of god, not as long as god isn’t proposed to be a part of the physical universe that can be studied by the regular methods of science. Or leprechauns. Unicorns, however, are supposed to be real animals in the physical world and so could be the subject of science. If there was any evidence of them. Or even alleged evidence of them which could be examined and tested. Until such a sample is in hand, however, science can’t be applied to their proposed existence. So, science isn’t what you’re using to disbelieve in them.

    I really, really wish that in those hours that they try to introduce children to science that they’d introduce them to when you can and when you can’t do science. The astounding ignorance of the sci-rangers on that part of it certainly doesn’t produce good results.

  24. #24 Russell
    March 30, 2011

    I think Anthony is right that “religion” is one of those catch-all terms, like “game,” where it is impossible to pin down any essential content. The term is so broad that is is not fully exclusive of “atheist.” There are many who can be accurately described as both Buddhist and atheist.

    It may be a bit easier to pin down what atheists generally oppose: belief by faith. Many religions require this. Some don’t.

    Anthony McCarthy:

    It’s not the business of science to deal with the idea of god, not as long as god isn’t proposed to be a part of the physical universe that can be studied by the regular methods of science. Or leprechauns. Unicorns, however, are supposed to be real animals in the physical world and so could be the subject of science.

    If I encounter a leprachaun, what procedure do you propose I use to determine whether it is “part of the physical world” or not? And who says unicorns are supposed to be part of that? What if they aren’t? And where would you place dark energy, the space-time manifold, chip designs, and confirmation bias?

    To me, this looks like yet another attempt to sequester a proposed subject matter away from any kind of rational investigation.

  25. #25 Ender
    March 30, 2011

    “To me, this looks like yet another attempt to sequester a proposed subject matter away from any kind of rational investigation.”

    It’s not an attempt to sequester, it’s a recognition of the fact that the matter is not possible to investigate – ‘rationally’ or otherwise.

    “And who says unicorns are supposed to be part of that? What if they aren’t?”

    This isn’t rocket science. If they aren’t then they fall under the only other category he mentioned ‘things that science can’t investigate’

    Was that really complicated?

    “And where would you place dark energy, the space-time manifold, chip designs, and confirmation bias?”

    You seem very confused by this simple delineation. If it is a part of the physical universe and can be tested it’s under the purview of science : If it is not and can not, it is not.

    So to apply it to your questions: dark energy – if scientists are not mistaken about it’s existence, investigable by science; space-time manifold ditto; chip designs – what? of course this is placed with science; finally confirmation-bias again obviously a part of the physical universe that’s investigable with science. How do you think we found out about it?

    Were you even trying? Those look superficially interesting but are all the same!.

  26. #26 Russell
    March 30, 2011

    Ender writes:

    If it is a part of the physical universe …

    That’s not a useful beginning when answering the question of what counts as “physical.”

    It’s not an attempt to sequester, it’s a recognition of the fact that the matter is not possible to investigate – ‘rationally’ or otherwise.

    And you know that… how? You have a label you attach to some things. You can’t give me a procedure for determining where that label can be attached. But you know — somehow! — that there is no rational investigation of anything with that label attached. Which conveniently includes the gods in which people want to believe.

  27. #27 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    If I encounter a leprachaun, what procedure do you propose I use to determine whether it is “part of the physical world” or not? Russell

    From what I’ve heard tell of them, extreme caution. However, if you encounter one, you’ll know more than I do about them so you’d have to figure that out for yourself.

    And who says unicorns are supposed to be part of that? What if they aren’t? Russell

    I’ve never heard of an alleged encounter with one that didn’t assert that they were animals. From what I’ve read, if a virgin sits down in proximity to one it will put its head on her lap. I believe it’s supposed to be the most reliable means of catching one.

    What Ender said.

  28. #28 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    That’s not a useful beginning when answering the question of what counts as “physical.” Russell

    I’d think it was the most useful thing you could do first when you’re doing science. If you don’t, you might waste your budget on something that you imagine is there. Not to mention generate a major scandal in science, as Marc Hauser did last year, as has proven to be the major problem of the attempts at social and behavioral sciences. When evolutionary psychology joins the other major schools of psychology in the bone yard, my guess it will be the accumulated weight of its story telling without that will bring it there. You’d think that with the enormous field of things to study in biology they’d leave behind the folly of marrying the topic to the search for the ineffable and entirely unavailable behavior in our remotely past human and pre-human ancestors. About which nothing at all can be known but only guessed at and made up.

  29. #29 Russell
    March 30, 2011

    Just to reiterate, neither Anthony nor Ender have given any procedure to determine whether something counts as “physical.” Or even a non-circular definition. There are a lot of people who want scientists to restrict their attention to things that are “physical” or “natural.” Beyond the question of why scientists should so restrict themselves is the question of how they would. When I encounter someone who claims to have been abducted by extraterrestrials, are they describing something physical about which I can reason? Or not? And what rule do I use to differentiate?

  30. #30 Robert Landbeck
    March 30, 2011

    What is religion? The all too human attempt to comprehend the spiritual potential of our species if such potential exists. For monotheists, that potential requires the belief in an omnipotent, omniscient ‘God’. While such ideas may be comforting to many, it is difficult to judge ourselves ‘spiritual’ while destroying the planets environment by excessive materialism. And without a fully demonstrable proof of God, one can only consider claims to represent such a reality as a theological counterfeit. Probably the greatest intellectual vanity ever conceived! http://www.energon.org.uk

  31. #31 SocraticGadfly
    March 30, 2011

    @Anthony – I never said religion was NOT about praxis. I just said, contra Boyer (and you), tat already 3,000 years ago it was not JUST about praxis, first.

    Second, I never said that a definition of religion has to include god/gods. Never said that. That’s your definition, apparently, not mine. Beyond that, it’s clear you either do not understand my analogy with the depression checklist, or else do not WANT to understand it and are therefore deliberately mangling it. Given the general tenor of your response, I’ll assume the latter.

    Third, it’s true that one could infer I was arguing that Hinduism, or Buddhism, or both, were monolithic. I wasn’t. The Protestant Reformation wasn’t monolithic, either, nor were its results, but, there’s enough communality, and there was enough common action, we use a single term for it. I feel it’s legitimate to do similar for a “Hindu Counter-Reformation.”

    Fourth the “40 percent” was to Josh, not to you. That said, your response is … incoherent in general, and non-responsive to my comment.

    Finally, given everything you said that was theoretically in response to me, and my understanding of it, I doubt I’ll respond to any response you have to this. I’ll let you and Russell keep arguing, or whatever.

  32. #32 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    Socratic Gadfly, every extra thing you mention as another feature of another religion just adds to the problem of your assertion about there being such a thing as “religion”. Every detail, and there are probably as many as there are religious people, only means that this “religion” is a catchall word, not an actual entity about which anything can be confidently said in general. Just about anything you said about “religion” would unavoidably include things that some religious people reject. To talk in general about “religion” is to talk about something that doesn’t really exist.

    I could have mentioned Buddhism, I have read a lot of its literature in translation, especially the non-theistic Theravada line of its development.

    As I have what gets called the “Hindu” religion, these days. Even in the Vedic period, it was developing distinctly divergent identities. Given the great variety of the distinct traditions that are included in Hinduism, there were those which retained much of what would seem to be in line with very early tradition and those which changed, and a lot of that depends on local traditions and regional ones as well.

    If the coherence of my response to your “40%” line of what I assume is an allegation of indoctrination in religion vs. science eludes you, my point was that even the church attending religious spend far more than an hour or two a week in science classes.

    That a new atheist would assert that what their opponents say is incoherent is typical. Of course, since the ideas of the new atheism tend towards the facile and the primitively tribal, its adherents finding anything else incomprehensible is to be expected.

  33. #33 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    Russell, if you’re denying that what is and isn’t a physical entity can be determined, you’re making a huge problem for scientists. If you are talking about a comprehensive definition of what is “physical” instead of an adequate working definition, I doubt that will ever be possible. If scientists reading this would like to explain how science can deal with things which aren’t physical, maybe that would shed some light on things.

    I’d think that for the purposes of science a physical entity would, at least, have to be directly or indirectly observable, it would have to be part of a network of causal relationships that are comprehensible to us in the material universe. It would have to be known in sufficient detail that its presence can be determined and its qualities and influence on other physical entities learned. Any salient aspects that would need to be quantified in order to study it and its interactions with other physical entities. As Eddington said in The Philosophy of Physical Science:

    Every item of physical knowledge is an assertion of the result of an observational procedure actual or hypothetical …. It must be knowledge of the result of some other procedure by which an integral number is affixed to a system.

    Elsewhere in the book he says that in physical science observation is the court of final appeal.

    If you want a fuller answer, you could do worse than read the entire book.

    I’ve mentioned the incident from last year when I got Sean Carroll to admit that there wasn’t a single object in the universe that was comprehensively and exhaustively known to physics. It wasn’t an easy admission to get from him. So anything that can be considered about the nature of the physical universe must also be incompletely known.

    For reasons unknown to me, my question, which was pertinent enough to the discussion to make Carroll post two more pieces that seemed to be face saving, seemed to be deeply resented. I thought it was an important thing to know.

  34. #34 Russell
    March 30, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, if you’re denying that what is and isn’t a physical entity can be determined, you’re making a huge problem for scientists.

    Not at all. Scientists need good methods. They don’t need ontology. Before scientists go to study something, there is absolutely no need to determine whether it is “physical” or not, “material” or not, “natural” or not, or fitting into any other ontological category.

    That observation creates a problem only for those who want to divide the world up into ontological categories, and then protect some of them from intellectual prying.

    I’d think that for the purposes of science a physical entity would, at least, have to be directly or indirectly observable, it would have to be part of a network of causal relationships that are comprehensible to us in the material universe.

    We never know beforehand what causal relationships are comprehensible. Where we have been able to figure things out, they are. Where we haven’t yet, they aren’t yet. The extent of that at any point in time is contingent and a result of prior investigation. It’s quite odd to suggest that some determination of that must be done first, as a prelude to investigation. As to “directly or indirectly observable,” that certainly includes the Christian god, who allegedly lived a human life, and his angels, who are described as speaking with, wrestling with, and otherwise interacting with people. So no problem there, right? Many things science investigates are far less observable. Like the quantum wave function.

    The point I’m getting at is that the world doesn’t divide itself up into domains. And that the various definitions of science that try to define its proper domain come from historical battles over that, political battles, rather than from any actual methodological requirement.

  35. #35 altın çilek
    March 30, 2011

    I’ve mentioned the incident from last year when I got Sean Carroll to admit that there wasn’t a single object in the universe that was comprehensively and exhaustively known to physics. It wasn’t an easy admission to get from him. So anything that can be considered about the nature of the physical universe must also be incompletely known.

  36. #36 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    We never know beforehand what causal relationships are comprehensible. Russell

    I’d suggest you do so before you publish.

    As to “directly or indirectly observable,” that certainly includes the Christian god, who allegedly lived a human life, and his angels, who are described as speaking with, wrestling with Russell

    Only if you can make an observation and document it, have you of any of those things?

    I didn’t say anything about the possibility of non-physical entities having an effect on physical ones, for all that we know non-physical entities could do that, either continually or as a rare unpredictable occurrence. So far as I am aware of, science has never been able to make a known observation of something like that happening. The status of that possibility is unknown.

    Life doesn’t divide the world into categories, people do for their own purposes and, at times, for less than good ones. People shouldn’t do that without being aware of what they’re doing.

  37. #37 Russell
    March 30, 2011

    I’d suggest you do so before you publish.

    You were proposing an ontological test that would hold certain things away from scientific investigation, not a criterion for results. Even so, you might take notice of all the papers published on the Higgs boson. Not yet observed.

    I didn’t say anything about the possibility of non-physical entities having an effect on physical ones…

    So far, the only substantive criterion you have provided for what counts as physical is precisely that: “I’d think that for the purposes of science a physical entity would, at least, have to be directly or indirectly observable.” If the non-physical can also do that, then nothing you have said so far distinguishes the categories you’re proposing.

  38. #38 Anthony McCarthy
    March 30, 2011

    I am saying that science without the possibility of subjecting evidence to the methods of science isn’t different from writing science fiction.

    You cut off what I said at comment 33. Here’s the rest of it.

    … it would have to be part of a network of causal relationships that are comprehensible to us in the material universe. It would have to be known in sufficient detail that its presence can be determined and its qualities and influence on other physical entities learned. Any salient aspects that would need to be quantified in order to study it and its interactions with other physical entities. As Eddington said in The Philosophy of Physical Science:

    Every item of physical knowledge is an assertion of the result of an observational procedure actual or hypothetical …. It must be knowledge of the result of some other procedure by which an integral number is affixed to a system.

    Elsewhere in the book he says that in physical science observation is the court of final appeal.

  39. #39 Russell
    March 31, 2011

    I am saying that science without the possibility of subjecting evidence to the methods of science isn’t different from writing science fiction.

    Again, I will point out that what is possible is known only in retrospect. Not having done so, we don’t know yet whether it is possible to detect the Higgs boson. Does that make every paper published on it science fiction?

  40. #40 Anthony McCarthy
    March 31, 2011

    Russell, there’s a big difference between the possibility of discovering things at the quantum scale and the possibility of ever, even once, observing the behavior of our remote ancestors, never mind the entire program of making up stories of how the will-never-be-observed “behaviors” led to increased survival and reproductive probabilities.

    The string theorists and M-theoriests and multi-universe people would seem to also be going past where we have any expectation of ever being able to observe the first thing. Though, maybe they’ll find some nifty time traveling possibilities that will make what I just said about the Just-so school of evo-psy more like science, though they’d still have all of the defects that plague the attempt to do science about contemporary behaviors that can be seen and even filmed.

    None of us can predict the future, as of today, those two things and the speculations about “other life” are entirely without any kind of foundation in evidence, all of them are based in imagination and wishful thinking.

  41. #41 Russell
    March 31, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, there’s a big difference between the possibility of discovering things at the quantum scale and the possibility of ever, even once, observing the behavior of our remote ancestors, never mind the entire program of making up stories of how the will-never-be-observed “behaviors” led to increased survival and reproductive probabilities.

    Every piece of data is from the past. Every. Even the lab results one personally recorded yesterday face, to some extent, the epistemological problems of interpreting the past. Why doesn’t my notebook have a line for the 15:12? And why don’t I remember omitting it? Did I perform that series correctly enough to not worry about that? How do my lab procedures help me judge that?

    Because it is looking deeper in the past, archaeology faces the issues around that more intensely than most other fields. That makes it neither different in principle nor hopeless. Spear points are pretty damned good evidence that people made spears, carved bones, that people butchered prey, fish hooks, that people fished. Rocks quarried one place and shaped in another show trade or travel. Since I took an anthropology course in the mid-1970s, there has been a remarkable and to me surprising advance in learning about pre-history and early human evolution. And the progress seems to be accelerating.

  42. #42 scott
    March 31, 2011

    The speculation of ‘other life’ and multiple universes are really just hypotheses that are being researched. If we do discover other universes or other life then those hypotheses will become facts. Currently there is nothing falsifying those hypotheses, so they are still ‘alive’. As it is we don’t know, and “we don’t know’ is where science stands on theses issues.

    Now back to religion. According to the bible things happened a particular way. According to science things happened a certain way. When you overlap these two views they do not match up. We all know that they contradict each other. If you have two contradicting views, both could be wrong, one could be right, but they can’t both be right. In this case science has all kinds of evidence and religion has practically none. And the evidence that religion does have, the bible, is just hearsay, that by itself is not factual evidence.

    If you look at the evidence we do have, like fossils geological formations, genetics/DNA, stars, planets,galaxies etc… If we use the tools and knowledge we’ve developed to investigate these things we come to certain conclusions. The conclusions don’t match up with a religious worldview.

    In order to believe in the god of the bible or any other god for that matter, you would have to ignore the evidence. Or you would have to do some serious mental gymnastics in order to make the evidence fit, like pounding a square peg into a round hole. If you encourage that type of thinking as being acceptable then you are encouraging unscientific thinking.

    There is evidence that the bible is incorrect. You have a story written down in words, that story does not fit with the facts we know. Why if the story doesn’t match the factual evidence that we have, would any one believe the main character of the story is real? How long would you have to read about unicorns and leprechauns before you realized they weren’t real?

    Beliefs without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
    And if that sounds strident to you, then so be it.

    I must say that some of the ranting by the apologist and accomodationist on this thread are similar to the types of rantings that they seem to be against. The only difference is that they appear to be ignorant of the facts and are willing to argue against science, critical thinking and reason.
    Whereas the so called ‘new atheist’ seem to be well aware of the facts, a are arguing against unscientific thinking using reason and critical thinking. Which according to some, makes them dicks. I guess its better to be considered a dick then an ignorant fool.

  43. #43 Lesley Fellows
    March 31, 2011

    This is a fascinating post – thank-you for being so thought provoking… It is an interesting question as to why some sub-groups of a religion act in completely different ways to another sub-group…. and I can see your point that in some ways it is easier to say that there is no ‘religion’, but a series of beliefs about morality, divine beings, rituals etc that are not in themselves connected…. I think I will post on this and see what my largely Christian readership make of it.

    By the way, my friend Gurdur recommended your blog to me and suggested I get out of my Church of England ghetto and connect with people more widely… I’m very pleased to have found this blog. I love chatting with people who believe different things to me.

    Thanks again

  44. #44 Anthony McCarthy
    March 31, 2011

    Russell, while you can find artifacts that people left, you can never observe how they used them, what effect using them had on their reproductive success. You can make up scenarios about what those artifacts mean, unfortunately, more than one scenario can be made up in an attempt to explain or interpret them. The behavior, what would have to be seen in order to know which one, or one no one thought up, might be accurate will never be had. A good case was that 35,000 year old figure that everyone seemed to think was some mans’s sexual fantasy. No one seemed to think it was possible that it was made by a woman, that it might have been her mother, that it might have been made to poke fun of someone, that it might have been a failed attempt at making something intended to look far different, that more than one hand was responsible for it, possibly two or more artisans who never knew each other, living in different communities….. You can make up any number of things to “explain” an object when no one is around to tell you you are wrong or right. And competing scholars are quite good at doing that.

    The speculation of ‘other life’ and multiple universes are really just hypotheses that are being researched. If we do discover other universes or other life then those hypotheses will become facts. scott

    The time to come up with hypotneses about other life is when you have other life to observe, which we don’t have, which we will likely never have, considering the distances which might be involved. It’s entirely possible as of today that life on this planet is the only life in the entire universe. It’s impossible, without at least one other example being known, for us to come up with a probability of life arising more than 1 in n times, n being anything from 1 to an extraordinarily large number representing every possible venue for life arising.

    Before we have another example of “other life” then everything that is said about that is a guess, effectively science fiction.

    There is evidence that the bible is incorrect. scott

    Incorrect about what? The Bible is an large anthology of books of different character by a large number of different people over a long period of time. Is it wrong that “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free?” Is it wrong that “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself,” ? I don’t think so.

  45. #45 Russell
    March 31, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, while you can find artifacts that people left, you can never observe how they used them…

    Many prisoners are convicted and serving long sentences despite the fact that no one saw just how they used the murder weapon. Yet the evidence was beyond reasonable doubt. We don’t have to observe some ancient people’s precise throw-spearing technique to conclude that they hunted, when they have left behind spear points and butchered bone remains. The broken spear point and smoking gun are not that far apart. As to the effect of meat eating, there has been quite a bit studied about it, both in physiology and from studies of extant hunter-gatherer tribes. (Recommended reading: Catching Fire.)

    Which isn’t to say that every hypothesis will be right, or that they all have the same amount evidence. But you seem awfully eager to cast aspersions on an entire field or two, rather than on any specific claim, and not from currency with the evidence.

  46. #46 scott
    March 31, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy writes:
    “The time to come up with hypotneses about other life is when you have other life to observe, which we don’t have, which we will likely never have, considering the distances which might be involved”

    We know life happened at least once, and it is perfectly acceptable to ask the question ‘Is there any other life out there?’ We observe life here, that’s good enough to hypothesize that there might be life elsewhere. You don’t have to have proof to have a hypothesis, a hypothesis is an educated guess that needs to researched. As of now we don’t know if there is other life out there, Thats okay, we can still keep searching. We also haven’t found a cure for AIDS, in your view we would need a cure before we could hypothesize that there may be a cure, we might not ever find a cure, but that shouldn’t stop us from searching for one using hypothesis and testing them.

    Anthony writes:
    “It’s entirely possible as of today that life on this planet is the only life in the entire universe.”

    That’s true, no one is disputing that. Whats your point?

    Anthony writes:
    “It’s impossible, without at least one other example being known, for us to come up with a probability of life arising more than 1 in n times, n being anything from 1 to an extraordinarily large number representing every possible venue for life arising.”

    Thats also true to a certain extent. You can always come up with probabilities, of course in the case of other life it would have to include unknowns. So I’m with you there. Of course knowing that there is possibly trillions of opportunities for life to come into existence its possible that there are some other life forms out there that were as lucky as us to have hit the jackpot. What are the chances of hitting the lottery? not very good, yet somewhere someone always wins, and sometimes multiple people hit the same winning numbers. So given the lottery analogy and knowing that life began at least once, there is some reasoning behind the thought of other life ‘possibly’ being out there.

    Anthony writes:
    “Before we have another example of “other life” then everything that is said about that is a guess, effectively science fiction.”

    Yes and no. ‘If’ we were to find other life out there it would not be science fiction to think it evolved in some way similar to evolution by natural selection.

    It would however be pure speculation to infer what other life would look like and what technology they might have without even knowing they exist.

    Anthony writes:
    “Incorrect about what? The Bible is an large anthology of books of different character by a large number of different people over a long period of time.”

    If you run the the stories of the bible backwards in chronological order the story of the universe and life began about 6000 years ago. That would be incorrect. According to the story of Noah, we would all be decedents of him. DNA does not support that. Nor does geology support Noahs flood story. I could go on and on, but I won’t. Its obvious that the people who wrote the bible didn’t know certain things and were just making it up as they saw fit.

    Anthony writes:
    “Is it wrong that “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free?”

    Whats the truth? How will I be set free? Free from what? How does this support your case?

    Anthony writes:
    “Is it wrong that “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself,” ? I don’t think so”

    If by alien you mean a human being from some other country or place, then I would agree that they should be treated in a friendly and courteous manner. Just like everyone else. Whats your point? Is this suppose to prove something?

  47. #47 Anthony McCarthy
    March 31, 2011

    Many prisoners are convicted and serving long sentences despite the fact that no one saw just how they used the murder weapon. Yet the evidence was beyond reasonable doubt. Russell

    Oh, I thought we were talking about science, not the law. If you want some more Eddington, he had something to say about that too.

    By “natural laws” is here meant laws of the type prevailing in geometry, mechanics, and physics which are found to have this common characteristic – that they are ultimately reducible to mathematical equations. They may also be defined by a less technical property, viz., they are laws which, unlike human law, are never broken. It is this belief in the universal dominance of scientific law which is nowadays generally meant by materialism.

    I don’t think that you really mean that science should adopt legal standards of evidence and decision making, are you? I seem to recall creationists making an argument that asserted it should.

    If what you said was reliably true, then there would be no serious disputes about the evidence, how it came about, how it was made, how it was used and the effects of it. I don’t read a lot of anthropology, anymore, but I’m not aware that it’s a field enjoying unanimity throughout. It’s my impression that people making speculations about our remote ancestors are becoming far more likely to present those speculations as facts. And it’s infecting the general culture.

  48. #48 Anthony McCarthy
    March 31, 2011

    Anthony writes:
    “Before we have another example of “other life” then everything that is said about that is a guess, effectively science fiction.”

    Yes and no. ‘If’ we were to find other life out there it would not be science fiction to think it evolved in some way similar to evolution by natural selection Scott

    You misunderstood my point. Since you’re talking about possibility, perhaps, at times, mistaking that for probability, it’s quite possible that the line of life which we are a part of here, on Earth, is unique in its form and history and any insights we have into life here will tell us absolutely nothing about life anywhere else. It’s possible that not a single other line of life evolved by natural selection and the assertion that it would have, made by Dawkins and Dennett, is absolutely baseless. It’s also possible that every single other line of life in the universe is exactly like ours, the probability of that being true is also entirely unknowable.

    It’s entirely possible that intelligent life on another planet would have an entirely different understanding of their history than ours. It’s entirely possible that intelligent life elsewhere would have sensory and intellectual abilities, in part derived from their experiences that we can’t have, that would allow them to come to a far more profound understanding of things than our science can accomplish.

    I think you might not appreciate the difficulty in making that assumption about the applicability of our knowledge to “other life”. If you found the next, proximate, “other life” that would tell you about that line of life, if you had the ability to study it in enough depth to come to those kinds of conclusions about it. It would still tell you nothing about any possible next line out. Given the size of the universe, you could find the next ten and not have so much as made a dent in the possible range of life forms in the universe.

    I’m not entirely convinced that natural selection is an ultimate explanation for life here. We already know that there are other forces in evolution, genetic drift, an extremely important one. My guess is that as time goes on, if we survive long enough, that natural selection will decrease in importance as a mechanism of evolution. We are not at a point, a hundred-fifty years into the study of a vast, 3,000,000,000+ years in which evolution has been in process. My guess is that we didn’t hit on the key to it first try off. Though it’s possible I’m wrong.

    The point in the comment about two things contained in The Bible, is that the idea that “there is evidence that the bible is incorrect” is an extraordinarily broad statement. Lots of the things in the bible aren’t accurate, the creation account, of course, some are questionable, The Virgin Birth, that’s hardly surprising, considering the state of history and what would develop into science many centuries into the future. I’d imagine that a lot of our most cherished science might look quaint and backward in two thousand years. But The Bible contains a lot of ideas I’d really rather not have to do without. Things that you can’t get from science, things that would be “science” refutes. I doubt that those two ideas, among many others, will ever be invalid.

  49. #49 Anthony McCarthy
    March 31, 2011

    I should have pointed out that the expectation that life here is typical and what we know is a prerequisite for “other life” could prevent us from imagining anything accurate about life anywhere else. But none of that is known.

  50. #50 scott
    March 31, 2011

    Anthony,

    Its funny that you have a lot guesses as to what we can and cannot expect from ‘other life’. Your ranting would be considered hypothetical, and that violates your opinion that we can’t have a hypothesis without having ‘other life’ to observe.

    Also, genetic drift is encompassed within the theory of evolution by natural selection.

    When Dawkins explains that life elsewhere probably evolves through a process we would consider evolution by natural selection he does it through the lens of knowledge he has on the subject. If there are things out there that we would consider complex living things, then there must be a process of some sort that got them to be that way. Complexity doesn’t just spring into existence, it would have to have arose from simple molecules to complexity through a gradual process. On earth we call it evolution and its various sub-components. Dawkins is just suggesting that we would most likely find something similar going on if we found complex life elsewhere.

    When you say you’re “possibly wrong” about evolution by natural selection there is no “possible” about it, you’re wrong. All the evidence points to it being a fact. Its true that we didn’t hit on the correct reason how life on earth got the way it is on the first try. We first came up with all sorts of reasons, all of which were incorrect, such as the biblical creation myth. We also didn’t hit on the right relationship between the earth, moon, sun and stars. For along time humans thought the sun went around the earth. Of course that was only after we figured out the earth was round, our first guesses were that it was flat. Do you think that in the future we will discover that we were wrong about the heliocentric theory of the solar system? Do you think that we will discover that the earth is actually flat or something other than a sphere? Of course not.

    Evolution by natural selection has as much evidence in its favor as those other scientific facts. All the other previous myths were based on ignorance and they were wrong.

    Your view of the bible is a cherry picked version. You can have a good moral compass without the bible. Why don’t you just accept that a toss out all the unnecessary religious baggage. The bible is full of information that we would consider immoral, and most of it can be attributed to the main character, god. And that’s just one of many religions that you have to choose from. All of them are full of stories that don’t match reality. There are a lot of good people who live their lives by the ‘golden rule’ and are happy, loving people trying to do good in this world without the slightest need for religion, you should try it sometime. Come on in, the water is fine.

  51. #51 Anthony McCarthy
    March 31, 2011

    Ranting. Geesh! I usually get slammed for being pedantic. I haven’t even insulted anyone here yet.

    I didn’t assert we could expect anything from “other life” because we don’t have the first intimation of a first example of “other life” on which to develop even informed speculations. The possibilities range from there being no other life, to there being other life that is uniformly like us…. all the way to us being the odd ball life form, unique, a maladaptive mutation of the universal norm. We can’t rule any of that out.

    When Dawkins explains that life elsewhere probably evolves through a process we would consider evolution by natural selection he does it through the lens of knowledge he has on the subject. scott

    When Dawkins does that he does so out of complete ignorance of what “other life” could possibly be like and out of his ideological preference for an ultra-Darwinian view of the one and only line of life he has any experience of, a view that many other Darwinians reject. He is extending his propensity to make up stories to fill in the enormous amount that isn’t known about evolution here into the infinite chasm of our ignorance of what life anywhere else would be like. Yet since it’s Dawkins, the hero of evo-psy and of the new atheism, his disciples believe in it as fervently as if it was established science. While there is a possibility that he is right, it seems to me that it’s clear he is as prone to creating explanatory myths as those who told the original stories on which the beginning of Genesis is made.

    Complexity doesn’t just spring into existence, it would have to have arose from simple molecules to complexity through a gradual process.

    Considering the considerable complexity inherent in inert physics and chemistry, and the organic chemistry that it is presently believed would be the precursor of the first living organisms, it would seem that complexity precedes evolution. I’d think, given what’s known of physics, that complexity could even be considered to precede chemistry. The first organism must have been of a great complexity, just the construction of a kind of organism which would have sustained life and reproduction would have been extremely complex by comparison to inorganic chemistry. So, Dawkins’ “complexity” arguments, like his arguments about biology are excessively reductionist. I’d like him to explain how something that wasn’t of considerable complexity could sustain life and reproduction. The construction of a containing membrane, alone would be complex.

    However, none of that is any guarantee about what other life would be like, it being based only on what is presently known about OUR KIND OF LIFE. It also, by the way, couldn’t possibly be a necessary conclusion about God, since God isn’t a physical object whereas any possible comparison that Dawkins could pull together to make an analogy or construct a metaphor would be part of the physical universe, nothing of which could be known to be applicable to anything which was not part of the physical universe.

    If I had a dollar for every time a new atheist had pulled out the old chest nut “cherry picked” to try to, inaccurately, characterize what I’d said about something, I’d be filthy rich. Your assertion about The Bible being “incorrect” was an absurd generalization, any specifics would have been more accurate than it was. The two things I mentioned were examples taken from it of statements that I believe are not “incorrect”, in order to refute your assertion. Let me break this gently to you, that is what people do when they are discussing things, every single scholar does it, every polemicist does it, including Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens and Harris and anyone who says anything mentioning another book BECAUSE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CITE THE ENTIRE THING EVERY TIME YOU DO THAT.

    “Cherry picking” is one of a series of phony dodges that the new atheists have come up with to protect themselves from the normal practices of intellectual discourse, they seem to need it because they are so bad at making their case as soon as anyone comes up with specific refutations.

  52. #52 Russell
    March 31, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    It also, by the way, couldn’t possibly be a necessary conclusion about God, since God isn’t a physical object…

    You have yet to provide a definition for “physical.” Your only substantive offering there is that it has to be directly or indirectly observable. Then you turned around and said that didn’t exclude the non-physical.

  53. #53 Anthony McCarthy
    March 31, 2011

    Russell, I’ve got no problem with you learning the limits of human knowledge, even when it comes to the physical universe, but in this case it’s not necessary since God exceeds the universe by preceding it. I would challenge you to limit God who is held to be eternal and omnipotent to what is known about the properties of matter or energy. God is also held to have preceded the universe. Explain how God could be physical if that was true. And the Bible explicitly says “God is spirit”, Jn 4:24.

    As the first time you mentioned my answer to you about the definition of “physical”, you leave off most of that answer.

  54. #54 Russell
    March 31, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    As the first time you mentioned my answer to you about the definition of “physical”, you leave off most of that answer.

    I omitted the part that was circular and non-operational. You can’t define physical in terms of understanding, since what counts as physical then changes with understanding.

    I would challenge you to limit God who is held to be eternal and omnipotent to what is known about the properties of matter or energy.

    What god? Which you know about how? Held to be eternal and omnipotent on what basis? And please, define omnipotent. The issue isn’t some mythical god’s qualities. It is precisely the limits of knowledge. Your knowledge. And whether you actually know anything more about your god than you do about invisible pink unicorns.

  55. #55 scott
    March 31, 2011

    Anthony,

    Why would anyone care what the bible says. It was written by people along time ago before anyone knew how things really worked. They were guessing. And they were wrong. They didn’t know our sun was just another star or that it was one of billions in galaxy, which was one of billions of galaxies. They didn’t know about DNA and that all living creatures share a common ancestor. Many gods had been imagined prior to the bible being written. Why do you believe, without any evidence that your god exist. And then claim that he exceeded the universe by preceding it. And invoke a passage from the bible to clarify your point. The god you believe in can’t by verified. As time goes by and we gather more and more knowledge, your god disappears further and further into the gaps. Your god is imaginary and your arguments for his existence are absurd.

    If your god did precede the universe then you would still have to explain where he came from and how he gained his knowledge of universe building. Then you would try to rationalize that away somehow. It always comes down to faith. And your arguments will become circular like this:

    christian= God is real.

    me= How do you know?

    christian= Because the bible says so.

    me= How do you know the bible is correct?

    christian= Because its the word of god.

    God is imaginary, once you realize that then we can have a rational conversation about life and the universe.

  56. #56 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    Scott, you imagine you’ve spoken for people who are religious, when you have only written a cartoon script that has nothing to do with anyone but you.

    I’d imagine different people have different reasons for caring what The Bible says, I can’t speak for all of them. I’ve read it because it’s interesting to me, some of it I think is extremely valuable, some of it not valuable, I don’t take any of it to be science, so, obviously. I don’t read it to find the things that science can tell about, which is a pretty limited number of things dealing with the physical universe. Just as I don’t look to science to tell me anything about history or human personality. The “scientific” effort to reveal anything about that is hardly impressive.

    However, if someone is going to argue about religion with people whose understanding of religion is based in The Bible, you have to start with that or they have every right to point out that you aren’t engaging their ideas. You don’t get to think you’ve disposed of their beliefs by arguing your modifications of those instead of what their beliefs actually are.

    By the way, I believe the idea of “God in the gaps” was first noted as being said by the Rev. Henry Drummond in a speech in which he SUPPORTED DARWINIAN EVOLUTION, saying that religion shouldn’t look for God in the gaps of scientific knowledge. I agree with that idea, but shoving atheism into them seems to be just as foolish, and a ubiquitous practice of the new atheists. As the well known theist, Wittgenstein said, that which we know nothing about we should remain silent. You should have guessed from our exchange that I’m not a big fan of filling gaps in physical knowledge with wishful thinking. As they generally do, disregarding history, the new atheists steal phrases from other people and distort their meaning.

    Russell, I’d say you’re excluding the part of what I said that is the more compelling part of it, though the one that most doesn’t serve your purposes.

    What god? Which you know about how?

    The God that is asserted by most of the people the new atheists fulminate against.

    Religion is an individual holding, based in individual experience and circumstances. Somewhere above I said that there could be as many different ideas of God as there were people to have those ideas. I wouldn’t think that was any surprise, do two people see the same view of any physical object? Do they absorb the same light from it?

  57. #57 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    Oh, yes, “invisible pink unicorns”. I have no experience of unicorns, visible or invisible. I would like a self-chosen representative of science, such as yourself, to explain to me how an invisible unicorn can be pink, how do they reflect the relevant frequencies of light?

    The reiteration of new atheist cliches, inevitably spat out when the new atheist can’t think of anything else to say should be a major hint that it is intellectually limited. I have to say that it does remind me more and more of “birth certificate” and “Obama is a Muslim”, now that that comparison has been made.

  58. #58 Russell
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I have no experience of unicorns.

    Tell us what experience you have of gods, that you think you have knowledge of them? I’m particular curious how that experience translates to evidence that your god is eternal and omnipotent. Or even that he exists, outside the minds of your fellow believers.

    The reiteration of new atheist cliches…

    There’s nothing new about the points being made here. Not even the examples. Invisible pink unicorns may be a bit newer than Russell’s teapot. They get repeated, and likely will a century from now, because their epistemological points still hold.

  59. #59 Russell
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    The God that is asserted by most of the people the new atheists fulminate against.

    We point out the silliness of belief in all of them, Allah and Xenu no less than Yahweh.

    Religion is an individual holding, based in individual experience and circumstances.

    That says nothing evidential. Above, we were talking about spear points. An archaeologists who said that evidence was an individual holding, based in each person’s experience, would be laughed at. What they do instead is publish the evidence, and make public their arguments from it. If you want to debunk the notion that ancient people were hunting with spears, you can pore through the articles, and make public arguments why the items shown aren’t really spear points, but just rocks. Or artifacts that had some other use. (You didn’t do that. But if that were your thought, that is how to do so.)

    It is when believers back away from exposing their evidence and reasoning, instead talking about individual conviction and faith, that skeptics rightly skewer them with analogies to unicorns and other stuff of fable. It was Clarence Darrow who said, “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.” That wasn’t said by a new atheist, but by Clarence Darrow, who died a few years before Dawkins was born.

  60. #60 Monlisa Shimp
    April 1, 2011

    Restaurants are to people in the 80′s what theatres were to people in the 60′s.” Remember that line from ‘When Sally met Harry’? Well we can change it to “Religions are to people in the 2000′s what theatres were to people in the 60′s… In a nutshell if you will….

  61. #61 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    I don’t think this discussion is about my beliefs or my experiences, I don’t generally bring that into a discussion on blogs unless it is to point out that a belief I don’t hold has been attributed to me. That could be because it’s generally not done in New England, where religion is considered a personal matter. If I did talk about it, I’m sure a new atheist would start whining about me laying my religion on them.

    There are few things older than the arguments of the new atheists, the newness comes from their general ignorance of the history of atheist invective and their assertions that they are in some kind of vanguard that will finally drive religion into extinction or to the margins.

    Both Russell’s teapots and the unicorns are supposed to be objects in the physical universe and so are especially foolish as attacks on peoples’ belief in God or gods that are held to not be physical objects in the physical universe. They are far better to attack ideas about things in the physical universe that turn out to be horse feathers, memes, “religion genes” behaviors that are entirely imaginary- for those materialists who believe behaviors are a manifestation of the material universe -, that kind of thing.

    You have to understand that, brilliant as he was, Russell was a deeply disappointed logician when Kurt Godel and Ludwig Wittgenstein, first failed to, as Russell put it, continue his work, and then went on to destroy, not only the solidity of the Principia but then the very intellectual basis on which it rested. Both were Christians – I believe Wittgenstein’s sister on that- and, at times, quite religious. I’ve long suspected that Russell’s hostility towards Christianity had more than a little to do with that. His hostility towards Eddington and Jean was not as intense, though he expressed real dread for Eddington’s exposition of the logical implications of relativity and quantum mechanics. Poor old Bertie pretty much gave up on philosophy but he wasn’t happy about it. Though it could have been he just resented the limits religion might have had on his sex life. As one philosophy teacher I know put it, he was more an old tom cat than anything else.

  62. #62 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    Clarence Darrow’s views on religion aren’t especially interesting to me, though what he has to say about some of his cases is interesting. His defense of Leopold and Loeb is pretty unsavory, though it worked to get keep his clients from being executed, which was good.

    He was a lawyer, what he says about religion isn’t enhanced by that anymore than being a scientist makes someone more credible on either religion or the law. He took some brave stands on things, as did William Jennings Bryan. I’m not going to think any better of Bryan on evolutionary science because he was a champion of the working poor. Though his analysis of materialistic nihilism turned out to be terribly prophetic.

  63. #63 scott
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony,

    You seem like someone who has a genuine desire to understand how everything that we call reality came to be. For some reason or another in your life you were exposed to religion. Its not a secret that when people are exposed to it by trustworthy sources they have a tendency to believe it. Part of having a religious belief requires that you have faith. The reason you need faith is because the evidence supporting the religious views are weak. If the evidence was strong then we would all believe it. Most religions have devised ways of sheltering themselves from reality. And they are filled with logical fallacies.

    I’ve watched hundreds of debates between religious and non religious intellectuals. For you to say that atheist keep bringing up certain points because they haven’t got any thing else to say is intellectually dishonest.

    When we say your god has receded into the gaps, its because during the discussion that becomes the only places that the atheist will say “we don’t know yet”, then it becomes convenient for you to say “I know, god did it”. So, its not atheist that take advantage of the gaps its the believers who invoke it. All the gaps that have been closed over the centuries with scientific explanations backed up by facts have never once been filled in by god. The current gaps will possibly be filled in some day, and I seriously doubt that they will be filled in by your god or any other, the track record is not in gods favor.

    Cherry picking is not just something an atheist throws into a conversation. Cherry picking has a meaning, and if someone is doing it then its not intellectually dishonest to mention it. You, according to your own statements above cherry pick the bible. Me pointing that out is a reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. Its not because I’m dodging anything. You on the other hand trying to eliminate it from the conversion as if its meaningless tripe, now that is being dodgy. It must be difficult for those who believe the bible is the word of god and live their lives as if god exist and believe they will somehow survive their death if they follow the word of god. Then when speaking with them we find out that they only believe the bits of the bible that seem to be good and fit their moral standards, at the same time ignoring all the stuff that they don’t agree with. That is cherry picking, I call a spade a spade.

    As far as science not knowing what our ancestors might have been like. Well, some of it can be inferred simply by what we find and some of it can’t. So what. Are you trying to say that the ancestors didn’t exist? Are you trying to say that since we don’t know what they were like that maybe they believed in god? I’m not sure what your point is, maybe its just to show that science can’t possibly know everything. And you have decided to use anthropology as an example because its easier to find faults with it than it would be for biology, geology or physics. But lets looks at an example. We find a stone that has been shaped and sharpened by beveling on both sides. We then find a few feet away some bones that have cut marks on them that we can duplicate by cutting meat off bones with similar types of stones. Then a few feet away from that we find a layer of ashes that resemble what we might call a fire pit that has been covered over by time. We then do a chemical analysis of the ashes and find that it resembles the chemical make up of animal bones and other material that would work as fuel, like certain types of wood. We then do carbon and/or radiometric dating on all the artifacts and find that they were all laid down at approximately then same time, lets say 50,000 years ago. We then examine the layer of earth they were found in and it matches the dating from the chemical analysis. Now put together the best description of that scene and how it got that way. There are a lot of things you won’t be able to say about it, but there are certainly things that can be inferred. So once again, whats your point?

  64. #64 Russell
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I don’t think this discussion is about my beliefs or my experiences…

    Unless someone advocating a claim makes public the evidence and reasoning behind it, its critics are quite right to say there is no foundation for it. Which precisely is what atheists old and new say about belief in the gods. The only way to refute that is to lay out evidence and arguments. Without that, Darrow’s point is sharp. There’s a real sense in which the core atheist claim isn’t about the gods, which atheists know no more about than they do vampires, but about the explanations offered for belief in the gods. So far, you’re providing example of what atheists claim in that regard.

    Both Russell’s teapots and the unicorns are supposed to be objects in the physical universe and so are especially foolish as attacks on peoples’ belief in God or gods that are held to not be physical objects in the physical universe.

    You have yet to define “physical.” I’ll repeat my suspicion that is an excuse for not being able to offer evidence.

    You have to understand that, brilliant as he was, Russell was a deeply disappointed logician when Kurt Godel and Ludwig Wittgenstein, first failed to, as Russell put it, continue his work, and then went on to destroy, not only the solidity of the Principia but then the very intellectual basis on which it rested.

    Well, no. Neither Tractacus, which Russell liked and Wittgenstein said Russell misunderstood, nor the later Philosophical Investigations had much to do with Principia. They addressed logic in the broad sense, not the axiomatization of arithmetic. In contrast, Gödel’s work was mostly in formal logic, and his incompleteness theorems showed that any 1st-order axiomatization of arithmetic would be semantically incomplete (and any 2nd-order axiomatization deductively incomplete.) But that did not in the least stop research into axiomatizations of formal logic! Far from it.

    In any case, Russell had been espousing atheism before all that. More, the fact that you believe Wittgenstein was Christian doesn’t mean that Russell believed that.

  65. #65 scott
    April 1, 2011

    And one more thing, the analogy between atheist and the “birthers” or the “Obama is a Muslim” is absolutely absurd. Most atheist accept evidence when making decisions(not all though, I’ll give you that). Religion is the one that accepts things on faith, despite the evidence that contradicts their beliefs. And any one who has a clue about current affairs would know that it is the ‘religious-right’ that is making those accusations. So as far as I can see this analogy kind of backfires on you. And I must say that is about the most absurd point you’ve tried to make so far.

  66. #66 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    someone advocating a claim makes public the evidence and reasoning behind it, its critics are quite right to say there is no foundation for it. Russell

    People have every right to believe in things that aren’t based in objective evidence but which is based in their own experience. I’m not under any obligation to tell you what religious beliefs I have are because I haven’t made any claims that they’re anything but my personal beliefs. Almost nothing I’ve said here is based in that but in the lack of evidence and the logical disconnects of new atheism. As far as I recall the only things I said was that I believed knowing the truth would make people free and that aliens who lived in a strange place shouldn’t be treated differently based on their status as aliens.

    Bertrand Russell said that Wittgenstein’s critique convinced him to give up philosophy, I don’t think he was planning on retiring from it before then. Russell also said that he had hoped that L. W. would further the line of work that Russell worked in but that he gave it up just as the Tractatus was making a big splash to follow his ethical calling.

    I don’t want to go down the endless roads of discussing it with you but I’d think your view that the Principia wasn’t damaged by Godel’s work isn’t universally shared. Nor was Russell likely to be emotionally unaffected by Wittgenstein’s critique. Considering the effect producing it had on Russell, who said that it kind of burned him out, it must have been a major disappointment.

    This is one time when I’m going to resort to Wiki because I’ve got stuff to do this afternoon.

    Read Consistency and criticisms

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

    I did find it useful once on a new atheist blog, when I said, somewhat after L.W. that people didn’t rely on logic but on their experience when they used arithmetic. I can’t recall everything about it but pointing how much tortured reasoning it took two of the great logicians of all time to get to the simplest addition problem of all seemed to shut the other guy up about is.

    It wasn’t Russell’s atheism that I attributed to his possible resentment of L. W. and Godel, it was his becoming a professional atheist, especially in his popular attacks on Christianity. Though, as with Dawkins, it was something to do after they were done doing serious work. I am doubtful that Russell ever made nearly as much money from it as Dawkins has.

  67. #67 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    For you to say that atheist keep bringing up certain points because they haven’t got any thing else to say is intellectually dishonest. Scott

    I didn’t talk about “bringing up certain points” I talked about the meaningless, rote repetition of buzz phrases such as “cherry picking” “straw men” “goalpost moving” “pink unicorns” “celestial teapots”, etc. all of which might have meant something, once, but which are all meaningless dodges to substitute for substantial arguments or attempts to dispel valid arguments made by their opponents. In that they are quite a bit like the teabaggers in their tactics.

    When we say your god has receded into the gaps, its because during the discussion that becomes the only places that the atheist will say “we don’t know yet”,

    This has nothing to do with anything I’ve said, I alluded to the phrase “god of the gaps” pointing out that ideological materialists are constantly filling in the unknown with made up stuff like “memes” “religion genes” “other life” etc. Those are based in nothing but the faith that their ideology allows them to create “what must be there”, based in nothing. I was, frankly, amazed that Hawking proposed to divorce physics from the subject matter of physics in his last book, substituting exactly that kind of stuffing the gaping void at the Planck scale with that kind of imitation of evidence. And these are the champions of science, the “nothing without evidence” folks.

    Nothing about the behavior of our pre-human ancestors can be inferred in the detail necessary to know so much as if that behavior was ever performed, the frequency with which it might have been performed, the results of that performance, the survival and reproductive advantage that such a behavior would have resulted in and certainly not that there was a genetic basis of that behavior. As someone recently pointed out, the idea of memes would make it virtually impossible to figure out why anyone should believe they didn’t explain all of human behavior and culture. All the artifacts tell you is that they were there, that they were used. They do not allow you to see how they were used, who was doing the using.

    You should leave off the atheist-theist debates for a while, you might come up with an idea of your own eventually.

    I agree with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, if God is to be found it won’t be in any gaps but in what is known.

  68. #68 Russell
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    People have every right to believe in things that aren’t based in objective evidence but which is based in their own experience.

    People have every right to believe whatever they want. That’s a political issue, settled in the US by the 1st amendment. Philosophy and the sciences, in part, are about examining and weighing beliefs, and how people come to hold them. For example, it might ask whether a modern American’s belief in Jesus based on “personal experience” is different from an ancient Athenian’s belief in Athena, or from a 17th-century Cherokee’s belief in his culture’s gods. An atheist is someone who doesn’t find much difference regarding the validity of those beliefs. (Though he may see quite a bit of difference between them in other ways.) Don’t make the common mistake of thinking atheists disbelieve religious experience. They don’t. Religious experience is common. It’s not the experience that atheists dispute. Nor its impact on the believer. But whether it constitutes any evidence for the belief. The question is why your experience is any different in that regard than the religious experiences of adherents of other religions, in other cultures, by the thousands, from before the dawn of history. And yeah, I’ll admit some of the archaeological data interpreted as religious might be something else. But even just looking at historical data, religious experience long pre-dates the Old Testament, or the ancient Hebrews and their god(s).

    It wasn’t Russell’s atheism that I attributed to his possible resentment of L. W. and Godel, it was his becoming a professional atheist…

    Russell published Why I am not a Christian in 1927. And other essays critical of religion prior to that. Part of being a professional philosopher. Gödel published his incompleteness proofs in the early 30s.

  69. #69 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    I notice you address Godel and not Wittgenstein’s engagement with Russell, which predates Why I Am Not A Christian by about a decade. In his autobiography, Russell said that Wittgenstein’s criticism early in their association had had a profound impact on him, that it pretty much convinced him to give up trying to do philosophy. After that, when Wittgenstein had read Tolstoy and pretty much dropped out of Russell’s milieu, it must have been even more profoundly disappointing. He’d already said that he thought L. W. was going to carry on his work.

    As for my personal, religious beliefs, I’m not under any obligation to share those. I will say that I fully believe that God created the universe as it is, as it is in full, not as it’s known to be by any human being. I’ve implied that a number of places, pointing out that the universe I believe in is entirely compatible with any science that tries to find out what the actual state of the universe is. I believe that most religious believers would believe in the same thing, if it was put to them in terms they could understand.

    “It’s not the experience that atheists dispute”.

    Oh, come on. Atheists are continually making fun of peoples’ religious experience, telling them they are delusional, that they’re idiots, that they are hallucinating, that it’s the meaningless product of their physiology, and those are just some of the less rude ones. If you’re going to tell such stretchers, it doesn’t make your case any stronger.

  70. #70 Russell
    April 1, 2011

    Me:

    It’s not the experience that atheists dispute.

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Oh, come on.

    No, really. If you read philosophers, not just internet boards, you’ll find that the serious religious critics readily acknowledge the reality of religious experience. It would be silly not to. Or rather, unscientific. It’s practically universal across cultures.

  71. #71 julian
    April 1, 2011

    Mr. McCarthy, since most atheist were once believers, wouldnt’t it make sense for some of them to have had religious experiences? Or do only those that absolutely and totally convince you of -insert deity of choice- count?

  72. #72 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    julian, after I was brought up as a Catholic I was an agnostic for many years, who later became religious. I can’t tell you anything about the experience or lack of it of anyone else.

    There is a reason that what we believe is a personal matter.

    Russell, most of the criticism of religion is made by religious people, of other peoples’ religions, of their own. I wouldn’t take anyone on religion seriously without them seriously investigating their own belief.

  73. #73 Julian
    April 1, 2011

    “There is a reason what we believe is a personal matter.”

    Yes. Most people are uncomfortable putting their own flawed rationalizations up for the world to examine.

    But that doesn’t answer my question or what I was getting at; that atheists understand religious experiences. We’ve had them (mine was pretty mild. Just an afternoon weeping for being so selfish as to not want to live of welfare when I was 7 I think.) And we understand just how strong a formative experience it can be. Like I said we’ve been ther so you’ll notice in personal interactions gnus react accordingly (or at least those I’ve met and seen.no figures or stats.) Don’t know who you’re talking about but it isn’t me or any ‘prominent’ gnu I know of.

  74. #74 Carldelprado
    April 1, 2011

    True Religion.

    This concept comes from “Revelation” (God’s Terms for His relationship with human kind).

    It follows: Since, “God’s Terms” are Universal” -those who relate to god in God’s terms are the true worshipers, because truth is Universal. Jesus was the first to claim, that true worship must be “in spirit and in truth” and proclaimed to be “the way, the truth and the life.”(the Catholic church has proclaimed this from the very beginning of Christianity)

    Since then, others have claimed “God’s Terms”, for example Islam, Protestants, Judaism etc. So, it got confusing and difficult to discern who truly possesses “God’s Terms.”

    Other than Catholics no one else I know has the authoritative means to reconcile honest disagreements in the interpretation of “Revelation”. This has disastrous consequences specially for protestants, who hold the dogma of “Scripture Alone” resulting in thousands of denominations that contradict each other, while holding to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    If “Revelation” is true, then true religion has to exist. The personal individual spirituality disconnected from God’s Universal terms cannot be true religion.

  75. #75 Carldelprado
    April 1, 2011

    True Religion.

    This concept comes from “Revelation” (God’s Terms for His relationship with human kind).

    It follows: Since, “God’s Terms” are Universal” -those who relate to god in God’s terms are the true worshipers, because truth is Universal. Jesus was the first to claim, that true worship must be “in spirit and in truth” and proclaimed to be “the way, the truth and the life.”(the Catholic church has proclaimed this from the very beginning of Christianity)

    Since then, others have claimed “God’s Terms”, for example Islam, Protestants, Judaism etc. So, it got confusing and difficult to discern who truly possesses “God’s Terms.”

    Other than Catholics no one else I know has the authoritative means to reconcile honest disagreements in the interpretation of “Revelation”. This has disastrous consequences specially for protestants, who hold the dogma of “Scripture Alone” resulting in thousands of denominations that contradict each other, while holding to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    If “Revelation” is true, then true religion has to exist.

  76. #76 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    Yes. Most people are uncomfortable putting their own flawed rationalizations up for the world to examined Julian

    How would you know that they were uncomfortable, that their ideas were flaws or rationalizations if you don’t know what they are?

    See, Russell, nothing condescending and dismissive about it is there. What atheist philosophers do you suggest who are less conceited and condescending? Paul Kurtz? Daniel Dennett? Alonzo Fyfe?

    Julian, when I encounter a new atheist who can make an adult, informed criticism of any intellectual idea about religion, I’ll inform them that they’ve disqualified themselves from being a new atheist.

  77. #77 julian
    April 1, 2011

    The ‘flawed rationalizations’ applies to just about every belief. Not just which god or gods you worship. You’ll notice the same attitude in things like politics.

    And no you can’t define away your opposition. That’s a politician’s trick and unbecoming of anyone who considers themselves a rational thinker.

  78. #78 Russell
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Most of the criticism of religion is made by religious people, of other peoples’ religions, of their own. I wouldn’t take anyone on religion seriously without them seriously investigating their own belief…

    Two comments. First, there is no way you can tell that someone has seriously investigated their own beliefs, unless they expose their reasoning. Socratic thinkers might say there’s no way for you to know that about yourself, unless you have exposed your own reasoning.

    You keep saying there is a reason belief is kept private. There also is a reason that reasoning is made public.

    Second, many believers have done this, from Aquinas to McDowell, and those in-between such as C. S. Lewis. Many atheists know this literature. And that it is propagated by believers to buttress their own belief. So when atheists, new or old, scoff at religious reasoning, they have a basis. As far as I can tell, there has been precious little advance in religious reasoning. Aquinas and Anselm laid the philosophical arguments centuries past. They have been neither fixed nor set aside by believers since. The historical arguments were lousy from the time of the gospel writers, and only gone downhill since. If the religious are mostly listening to their own criticism, it doesn’t seem to be helping much. Theology as an academic field has failed, after millennium of work, even to establish its subject matter.

  79. #79 Anthony McCarthy
    April 1, 2011

    Julian, in my experience of atheists, if they are able to make an adult, informed criticism of religious ideas, they don’t want to be mistaken for a new atheist.

    Russell,

    First, there is no way you can tell that someone has seriously investigated their own beliefs, unless they expose their reasoning.

    That isn’t my experience, most of the serious investigation of any idea mostly happens in solitude, not expressed. It doesn’t become anyone’s business unless they choose to express it.

    Socratic thinkers might say there’s no way for you to know that about yourself, unless you have exposed your own reasoning.

    I’m not all that impressed with the Socratic thinkers. “There’s no way for you to know that about yourself,”, well, that’s one of the problems with them, they’ve been looking for 2,500 years for knowledge and not finding it. I’d have concluded that I was barking up the wrong tree, if it was me. I’m finding it pretty funny that you would cite them, considering they are even earlier than thinkers that are summarily rejected on the basis of their age and ignorance of science, the one true oracle of the new atheism. I’m especially surprised, considering your attitude towards the short list of later writers and those unnamed who you dismiss because they’ve not produced a lasting consensus. You don’t get that with most areas of life, you don’t even get it for most of science. You certainly don’t get it in psychology, not even of the evo-psy kind. Your assertion that “theology has not established its subject matter” is bizarre, considering what the situation is, considering the enormous field of its study. I assume you mean that it hasn’t developed a consensus, since there is certainly an enormous amount of theology being written both in and out of universities. Has history “established its field”? Have any of the arts? Has the law? Does the lack of a consensus make any area of study disposable?

    The new atheists have, almost to a boy, not read any serious writing about religion. Dawkins’ God Delusion was widely criticized, by atheists as well as agnostic and religious reviewers for its complete lack of address to much that was serious in its literature. One reviewer noted that Douglass Adams was more prominent in it than any theologian of repute. Scoff away, but don’t be surprised when it only impresses the already converted.

  80. #80 scott
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony said:
    “I didn’t talk about “bringing up certain points” I talked about the meaningless, rote repetition of buzz phrases such as “cherry picking” “straw men” “goalpost moving” “pink unicorns” “celestial teapots”, etc. all of which might have meant something, once, but which are all meaningless dodges to substitute for substantial arguments or attempts to dispel valid arguments made by their opponents. In that they are quite a bit like the teabaggers in their tactics.”

    Okay, I’m convinced that you are so far over the edge that there is almost no chance of having a rational discussion. Acknowledging logical fallacies when they present themselves is not an attempt to dodge valid arguments. You not thinking they belong in the discussion is an attempt at dodging, no vice- versa. And once again teabagger’s are predominantly right-wing Christians, so it just backfires on you again. That’s twice now you’ve made that mistake. Why do you keep doing that? Its so easy to debunk, its like shooting fish in a barrel.

  81. #81 scott
    April 1, 2011

    I meant to say “you thinking they (don’t) belong in the discussion is an attempt at dodging. I forgot the word ‘don’t’.

  82. #82 Russell
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    The new atheists have, almost to a boy, not read any serious writing about religion.

    What “serious writing” that explains why we should think there is a god do you think we should read? Authors and titles, please.

  83. #83 scott
    April 1, 2011

    Anthony,

    Have you read The God Delusion, or are you basing your criticism off of others criticism?

  84. #84 julian
    April 1, 2011

    !r. McCarthy an argument (outside of the propogandists circle) is not made by ignoring you opposition’s claims and restating the same keypoints again and again. As this seems to be something you’re accusing us of, it is very hypocritical for you to do so.

  85. #85 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    Scott, ideologues generally find anything not in their ideology “over the edge”. Dispelling the catch phrases of your sect isn’t breaching any edge, it’s pointing out that they are a psychological and intellectual dodge, meaninglessly erected to convince yourself that what was said in opposition to your predigested ideas. It’s the same kind of thing you get when you talk to your run of the mill tea baggers and creationists. The new atheism is just another, competing fundamentalism.

    Russell, it would depend on what area of religion you want to take on which serious work on it you would read. Just as in any other area of academic study, including science. As it’s generally the Christian religions that you guys get the most worked up about, you might start with one of the major works in that tradition, the Summa Theologica of Aquinas, the Institutes of the Christian Religion… I’m sure an enterprising atheist with access to google might be able to put together a list.

    If you raise the question of the variety of serious works in many different traditions, I did point out that religion handles a vastly larger range of phenomena and experience than science can. Imagine how varied the literature of science would be if it didn’t limit itself, or you might look at the literature of psychology to see the amount of rubbish that piles up when it doesn’t. I’d like you to pick out the diamonds from the dross in that mess.

    Julian, there’s a difference between making points and reciting “cherry picking” as soon as one of your opponents quotes something or “straw man” when they make a point you can’t handle. That’s the point of mentioning that practice of new atheists.

  86. #86 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    That should be.
    …to convince yourself that you’ve rebutted what was said in opposition to your predigested ideas.

  87. #87 julian
    April 2, 2011

    Considering that when I tuned in you were busylambasting gnus for denying the existence of religious experiences (and your refusal to admit many of the atheists you probably have in mind have had religious experiences) accusing you of strawmen seems perfectly valid. Afterall, if what you’re accusing someone of is something they never did, you haven’t much of a leg to stand on.

  88. #88 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    Julian, I’d need to know exactly what I said above that you’re talking about, exact quote and the comment number.

    I believe I did mention the new atheist tactic of altering what someone believes into a different thing that they could dispose of. I think I also mentioned that anyone they tried that one on is within their rights to point out that the NA hasn’t engaged their beliefs but in a parody of their beliefs.

    The new atheism is a shallow, bigoted intellectual fad.

  89. #89 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, it would depend on what area of religion you want to take on which serious work on it you would read.

    I was explicit about that, and will repeat the important phrase: “that explains why we should think there is a god.” Until that is done, most other “serious writing” in the religious tradition doesn’t matter. And isn’t serious. (Excepting, of course, research on religion that makes no assumption at all about the validity of religion.)

    Anthony McCarthy:

    You might start with one of the major works in that tradition, the Summa Theologica of Aquinas…

    Atheists have well trod the Aquinas’s arguments for a god. I mentioned them above, see? Do you think they succeed? If so, I think you’re the one who isn’t reading enough, because the philosophy literature has their thorough rebuttals. And if not, then you’re being dishonest in suggesting that in response to my question. Which I will ask again: What “serious writing” that explains why we should think there is a god do you think we should read?

    You’re batting a zero if you think atheists aren’t familiar with Aquinas. Or if you think his arguments hold. Anything more? Pascal? James? Hartshorne?

    The problem with “atheists haven’t read” criticism is deeper than the fact that it rarely points to the the supposed reasoning for a god that atheists are ignoring. It’s that the believer’s belief isn’t actually tied to any such reasoning. Would your belief end if you see Aquinas’s arguments refuted? I doubt it. Well, then, what reasoning, if refuted, would cause your belief to shrivel? That is the reasoning to which you should be pointing, in saying, “atheists are ignoring the serious arguments.” The problem is that, for most believers, I don’t think there is any such. Because their belief isn’t founded on any kind of reasoning. Which is exactly the point that the atheists, new and old, are pressing.

  90. #90 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    Russell, I don’t know how many times it takes to say it but a belief in God is personal, based in a persons’ understanding of their own experience. I’ve said I didn’t know how to give a person that experience. I believe that logic is based in our experience of the physical world, that we needed to see that one thing led to another in experience, that experience would have to preceded the analysis of logic. We know that logic works for those things we experience in the physical world based in our repeated observation of how things happen in the physical world. That’s one of the reasons I can’t blithely go along with evidence free “science” based only in impressive seeming oceans of mathematics standing on even more mathematics, conveniently ignoring that physical verification will almost certainly never be available. So what that logic can tell you about anything outside of the physical universe is even less knowable since we have no idea if the physical limits that make logic possible here will apply in the supernatural. I’d think the application of logic to the existence of God would have that problem from the start. I wonder if the problems of founding an absolute foundation of logic aren’t related, those necessarily preceding logic but I haven’t thought it through or found anyone else who has raised that idea.

    I’m impressed with the argument that submitting God to existence, when everything we know that exists is a limited aspect of the physical universe, isn’t an attempt to limit God. However, the idea of existence is problematic because no one has really decide what that means in any formal, scientific or philosophical sense.

    If they might get something out of reading, for example, Anslems’ or Aquinas’ arguments for the existence of God, it would be for them to find out. I doubt that more than a handful of new atheists have ever so much as cracked the spine of one of the volumes of either, a number of them have summarily rejected all theology as being a waste of time, sight unseen.

    I haven’t been making arguments to try to convince atheists that they should believe in God, their disbelief is a matter of total indifference to me. I’ve been making arguments that 1, attack their dishonest stereotyping of all of “religion”, 2. that attack their irrational and quite unscientific scientism, 3. that challenges their bigotry and prejudiced derision of all religious believers.

    I figure that if God isn’t within their experience to the extent that it can override their conceit and bigotry, it might not be important to God that they do believe. At any rate, I know it’s not in my power to convince them.

  91. #91 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I don’t know how many times it takes to say it but a belief in God is personal, based in a persons’ understanding of their own experience…

    Experiences can be described. Experiences certainly generate beliefs. Often incorrect beliefs. Most of science and philosophy can be viewed as correction to incorrect beliefs generated by experience, i.e., how to look back on experience, and instead of taking the beliefs it might immediately generate, apply a process of reasoning, that treats the experience as data, exploding some beliefs generated from the having the experience, and producing other, often surprising claims, that were not obvious from it.

    If there is no such reasoning process on which your belief depends, then you provide an example of the atheist’s claim. Your belief is consequence of your psychology and cultural environment, and no one has any reason to think it is any different in its validity from anyone else’s belief in any other god from any other culture. The atheist can tally up one more believer about whom their hypothesis is correct. Belief that is “personal” in this sense corroborates exactly what atheists say about religious belief!

    And in that case, it is dishonest for you to criticize atheists as not having read the “serious” arguments. Because there are none that you yourself take seriously. Instead, you should be nodding your head and saying, “yep, religious belief is pretty much what you think it is.”

    It is only if you have some reasoning that starts with your experiences, as data, and proceeds to the conclusion that there is a god, that you then have some basis for complaining that atheists don’t look at the serious arguments. And to make that complaint, those arguments should be serious for you, in the sense that if they are well criticized and weakened, your belief would weaken.

  92. #92 julian
    April 2, 2011

    and now we have McCarthy’s iteration of atheists are atheists because they worship themselves. because we are arrogant, self centered and couldn’t possibly ever be thinking about anyone else.

  93. #93 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    and now we have McCarthy’s iteration of atheists are atheists because they worship themselves. because we are arrogant, self centered and couldn’t possibly ever be thinking about anyone else. julian

    No, now we have julian distorted what an opponent says, lying, to put it plainly, in order to avoid having to deal with what was actually saying, first and foremost that not all atheists are new atheists, something my atheist friends and relations would like me to reiterate.

    It’s especially striking since he is providing an illustration of exactly what I said was one of the favorite tactics of fundamentalists, atheist as well as allegedly theist. Feel free, anythime, Julian, to provide an illustrative example to support what I said.

  94. #94 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    Russell, nothing that we talk about, including science, begins anywhere except in our experience. Your assertions would seem to mean that only those experiences that are processed with science have any kind of reliability, when science, itself, has to rely on some experiences that can’t be processed with science. I did mention that argument I had at Jim Lippard’s blog dealing with whether or not our faith in arithmetic was based in logic or in our everyday experience, well, no one has ever practiced science without relying on things for which they don’t have or haven’t tested any kind of scientific validation. For that person, in some cases for everyone, relying on those ideas is an example of trusting things based in experience. Without the faith in both the methods of science and in the integrity of science communities, very little could be accomplished with science. So, pretending that the self-appointed champions of science don’t regularly depend on things taken on faith is either naively unreflective or actively dishonest.

    Your belief is consequence of your psychology and cultural environment, and no one has any reason to think it is any different in its validity from anyone else’s belief in any other god from any other culture.

    I’ve long been amazed at the dismissal of individual reasoning and reflection on experience and observation in shaping a person’s ideas and actions in just about everything. For people who are in the business of peddling their position as exemplars of reason and analysis, you wonder, if they are so impotent in the face of cultural programming and genetic imperative, why anyone should take their intellectual assertions about reason seriously. Of course, it’s far harder to account for the extremely varied results of individuals using various means to draw their own conclusions about things than to get into some form of the old nature-nurture tug of war, and the professional rewards of avoiding joining either camp are probably not as great, there is no burgeoning industry promoting agnosticism, after all.

    You don’t seem to be very familiar with universalists in religion or religious liberalism which take the enormous diversity of peoples’ beliefs in religion, very well. I have no more reason to believe that even two people will have the same ideas of God. I believe that God is infinite, God is, at least, effectively omniscient, outstripping even the combined abilities of all of humanity to comprehend God. It is no surprise that God can’t be captured in any one person’s ideas, in the ideas of any sect or even general line of religious tradition. It isn’t any surprise that God exceeds all of the religions combined or even of the abilities of all humans. When I say “infinite”, at the very least, that exceeds the finite.

    So, I’ve got no problem at all with people having different ideas about God, though I do insist on equality so those beliefs cannot be acted on if such actions would deprive other people or animals of their rights. Your belief that religion must be sectarian is as wrong as the idea that all religion is the same kind of thing.

  95. #95 julian
    April 2, 2011

    So you didn’t say ‘if God isn’t within their experience to the extent it can override their conceit and bigotry’ when refrencing gnu atheists?

  96. #96 julian
    April 2, 2011

    Allegdly theist? Totally glanced over that first time I read your comment. May I ask what you mean by that?

  97. #97 J. J. Ramsey
    April 2, 2011

    SocraticGadfly:

    Second, re Boyer: We have examples of priesthoods and religious establishments 4,000-5,000 years old. Along with that, it’s believed that cuneiform writing was invented to serve priestly needs.

    But religion as the sort of package that Boyer describes is a far more recent phenomenon. Take Hinduism for example. Sure, what we think of as Hinduism is old, but for most of that history, the Indians likely didn’t think of themselves as having faith in Hinduism, but rather they treated various supernatural ideas as facts, the way we treat as a fact that George Washington was the first American president. The various rituals that we call “religious” were just parts of their culture. One could say about the same thing about Greco-Roman paganism, or ancient Egyptian religion. The idea that those beliefs and practices are part of a bundle that’s potentially in competition with other such bundles–that’s relatively recent.

    Fifth, etymology aside (and no, the “connection” etymology isn’t universally accepted), while religion is “diverse and fuzzy,” that doesn’t mean that we simply throw up our hands and say no such thing exists. Is it really that much more “fuzzy” than, say, sociology? Or, can we at least have a situation similar to how depression is diagnosed today, with a checklist of, say, 10 items and any “sociological movement” encompassing at least six items is defined as a religion?

    You certainly can take a checklist approach, but if you look at a checklist that is supposed to identify a category and find that the items are a hodgepodge of things that we only put together because of tradition, that may suggest that the the category isn’t really coherent.

  98. #98 scott
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony said:
    “I did mention that argument I had at Jim Lippard’s blog dealing with whether or not our faith in arithmetic was based in logic or in our everyday experience, well, no one has ever practiced science without relying on things for which they don’t have or haven’t tested any kind of scientific validation.”

    Are you trying to say that arithmetic is faith based. Like some kind of “Mathology” or something. Religious beliefs around the world are all different. Their based on stories imagined by people who didn’t know any better. All the stories are completely different and contradict each other.

    Math is known all around the world, and its the same everywhere. They don’t do a different kind of math in India than they do in Austrailia or the US. Its all the same, why is that? Because it is empirical and can be validated by counting. So if you’re trying to equate science with faith, using math as your example, you are far more delusional then I thought. Oopps, there I go again being a meanie atheist. But then again I’m just doing the math. And you’re arguments just never add up.

  99. #99 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I’ve long been amazed at the dismissal of individual reasoning and reflection on experience and observation in shaping a person’s ideas and actions in just about everything. [Emphasis added.]

    So far, you have offered no reasoning. What I dismiss is the notion that atheists don’t pay attention to the “serious” reasoning theists have for believing in a god, from a believer who refuses to offer what those are.

    You don’t seem to be very familiar with universalists in religion or religious liberalism which take the enormous diversity of peoples’ beliefs in religion, very well.

    I likely shouldn’t get into the issues of logic you raise, nonetheless…. Logic neither constrains nor is constrained by observation. Rather, it is about language. If someone says “God is indirectly observable,” and later says “God cannot be observed,” perhaps he incorrectly understands the words “cannot,” or perhaps he incorrectly understands qualifiers like “indirectly,” or perhaps he’s using “God” in two different ways. Logic helps tease that out. People are free, of course, to extend and modify language however they want. But unless there is — well, some logic — to how they do so, they are just using language to fool themselves.

  100. #100 scott
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony,

    Here is a relatively short interview with Dawkins that includes some on the points we have been discussing here. I’m sure you probably don’t really care one way or the other, but here it is:

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,748673,00.html

  101. #101 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    Julian, new atheists are fundamentalists, not all atheists are new atheists, if the ones I know are anything to go by, new atheists are a small, loud and obnoxious minority of atheists. I’ve gotten along well with most of the atheists I’ve known.

    Allegedly theist, because I think most of them are Mammonists and you can’t serve both God and Mammon.

    Are you trying to say that arithmetic is faith based. scott

    Let’s see. I don’t think that we can assume that everything that is included in arithmetic or mathematics is known or believed on the same basis in every individual who learns or practices it. I think most people have some experience of putting 1 thing and 1 other thing into a set and so can see that 1 + 1 = 2, so their observed experience that 1+1=2. I don’t know if you would call that faith or not, though the idea that will always be the result, in each and every instance might be called faith. If it is the results of the combination or operations with numbers large enough to exceed anyone’s experience or observation what else could it be? I don’t think anyone has any direct experience of even relatively simple mathematics, at least none which they’ve observed or analyzed for themselves. I’d imagine those people who have learned the quadratic equation well enough to apply it and come up with the right answers might also have some faith that it will do that and that the proofs behind it are valid, if they’re aware of the necessity of proof in mathematics. So, yes, in some cases, arithmetic is a matter of faith.

    I don’t remember who the eminent French mathematician was who I heard say that he had no idea what 3 billion meant. Which impressed me a lot when I heard him say it. No one has a direct experience of numbers that large so I doubt they really are the same kind of thing for people as numbers they can experience directly. And most people will neither master or be aware of the mathematical proofs that have been done to confirm the basic operations of mathematics.

    Faith exists at the level of the individual. Any individual who accepts something because they were told it but has no other reason to believe it accepts it on the basis of faith. That’s especially true if they believe it on the basis of who told them, because they believe they are reliable. How else could anyone believe in memes or W. D. Hamilton’s famous, entirely untestable, “altruism” equation?

    Russell, I’ll answer you again when it’s not just one more go round on points already covered.

  102. #102 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    Scott, from your link to the Dawkins interview:

    Dawkins: The thought that human societies gained strength from religious memes in their competition with others is true to a certain extent. But it is more like an ecological struggle: It reminds me of the replacement of the red by the gray squirrel in Britain. That is not a natural selection process at all, it is an ecological succession. So when a tribe has a war-like god, when the young men are brought up with the thought that their destiny is to go out and fight as warriors and that a martyr’s death brings you straight to heaven, you see a set of powerful, mutually reinforcing memes at work. If the rival tribe has a peaceful god who believes in turning the other cheek, that might not prevail.

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: But following a religion that does not promote the chances for survival seems to contradict evolutionary logic…

    Dawkins: Oh yes, clearly there is a conflict between meme and gene survival. We are familiar with such conflicts. They sometimes work out one way, sometimes the other.

    I think any skeptical, rigorous analysis of what Dawkins says here would find it chuck full of evidence free faith. Though his true believers wouldn’t be able to see that without huge amounts of background information and arguments to persuade them of that. To start with, there’s the evidence free, theoretical story telling that turns a tale about an unspecified “war-like tribe” that goes through an invented scenario in order to arrive at a predetermined conclusion, supporting Dawkins’ genetic ideology and his intellectual baby, memes. And, notice, in the end he gets to have it both ways by saying, well at times it’s one thing and at times its the other thing.

  103. #103 julian
    April 2, 2011

    I’m left wondering just how many of your ‘atheist’ friends you’ve said things to like ‘if God isn’t withing your experience enough to overcome your bigotry and conceit’ to. I say ‘atheist’ because I’m not even sure how you’re defining theist right now.more of your definition games where you define away opposition?

  104. #104 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    And there is this:

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: Aren’t you afraid that some of these people might be alienated by the sometimes strong language in the book?

    Dawkins: What strong language do you mean?

    SPIEGEL ONLINE: You call your opponents “Holocaust-deniers,” “ignorant,” “ridiculous” and “deluded to the point of perversity.”

    Which is stunning, considering his relationship with John Hartung, whose writing about Jews
    http://strugglesforexistence.com/?p=articles

    http://strugglesforexistence.com/?p=article_p&id=16

    and, even more stunningly, whose positive review of the anti-Semitic “science” of Keven MacDonald

    http://www.lrainc.com/swtaboo/taboos/aptsda01.html

    http://www.slate.com/id/1004446/

    http://www.adl.org/PresRele/ASUS_12/5286_12.htm

    is an evo-psy scandal.

    I’d like to read what Dawkins has said about the work of his friend Hartung on Jews and, especially, his views of Hartung’s review of MacDonald’s book. Then I might be interested in his views of other peoples’ antisemitism.

    Here is Hartung’s list of acknowledgements for what I assume is considered one of his major achievements.

    Author’s note: I thank Noam Chomsky for nine years of insightful correspondence about issues raised in this essay, Richard Alexander, Napoleon Chagnon, Lalla Dawkins, Richard Dawkins, William Irons, Kevin MacDonald, Frank Miele, Robert Trivers, William Zimmerman, and Matt Ridley for steadfast encouragement and sage advice.

    http://strugglesforexistence.com/?p=article_p&id=13

    In light of the explanatory fable that Dawkins spun, as noted above, maybe you would like to read this review of a major controversy in Napoleon Chagnon’s work.

    http://www.nku.edu/~humed1/darkness_in_el_dorado/documents/0203.htm

    I’d think it was a cautionary tale about the perils of doing this kind of work, even if you have actual people you can see to write about.

  105. #105 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I think most people have some experience of putting 1 thing and 1 other thing into a set and so can see that 1 + 1 = 2, so their observed experience that 1+1=2. I don’t know if you would call that faith or not, though the idea that will always be the result, in each and every instance might be called faith.

    Indeed, it would be faith.

    And wrong.

    One quart of water and one quart of ethanol makes less than two quarts. One sea wave and one sea wave may make one, two, or three waves. Or if they are carefully made, perhaps none. Integer counting also works poorly for raindrops and atomic particles. Sometimes, it doesn’t even work for marbles, which can break, or sheep, which can birth.

    Arithmetic isn’t defined by waves, atomic particles, or sheep, or marbles. It can be usefully applied to some of those. Some times. But it is defined by a set of axioms, that Peano formalized and Dedekind proved categorical. The experience that is most useful in understanding arithmetic isn’t that of counting various kinds of things, and certainly not in any exercise of faith, but in proving the basic results of number theory, as one would do for a math course.

    I’m sorely disappointed in any mathematician who says he doesn’t understand “billion.” Especially since it is easily explained in terms of a model familiar to most of us. Take out your meter stick. Observe the millimeter markings. Now, imagine a cube of clay that is a meter on each side. When that cube is divided into smaller cubes that are a millimeter on each side, there are a billion of them. Engineers and physicists routinely scale up and down in sizes and counts, across many orders of magnitude. A billion is only nine orders of magnitude.

  106. #106 scott
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony said:
    “I think most people have some experience of putting 1 thing and 1 other thing into a set and so can see that 1 + 1 = 2, so their observed experience that 1+1=2. I don’t know if you would call that faith or not, though the idea that will always be the result, in each and every instance might be called faith. If it is the results of the combination or operations with numbers large enough to exceed anyone’s experience or observation what else could it be?”

    So you kinda of are claiming that math may be faith based. One might need faith to believe 1+1=2 on each and every instance?

    And if we use really big numbers then it becomes even more likely that we need faith? Like 1,000,000,000 + 1,000,000,000= 2,000,000,000 needs a lot more faith then 1+1=2. You really do have a twisted sense of reality my friend. I can only guess that the reason you what to invoke faith into math is because you know that belief is god requires bad math. And it somehow makes you feel validated by claiming that science and math are also faith based. Using your reasoning 1+1 might come out to something other then 2 sometimes because, well, just because you want to believe it could, and if you claim that everything might be different then the reality we perceive, then it makes you feel better about your position.

    1+1 will equal 2 every time, unless you make a mistake. Your arguments for god are like 1+1=3, that’s a mistake. And if someone points out your mistake and shows you where you went wrong you dismiss it because accepting it would mean 3 is incorrect. You’ve come to believe 3 is just as possible as any other conclusion, and the people who claim that 2 is the only answer are unreasonable, and closed minded. They haven’t studied your way of doing math so they can’t comprehend 3 the way you do. According to your reasoning if only everyone would accept 3 as a valid alternative to 2 then we can have a rational discussion. Using your reasoning the only reason any one would be an “athreeist” is because their own personal experience has lead them to believe in 2.

    The bubble of uncritical thinking that you must live in has such a thick membrane that reason can’t seem to penetrate it.
    I hope some day you’ll be able to escape the trance and see the world as it really is outside that bubble. And when you do, as many others have before, you will live a much more fulfilled life and look back at all this stuff you’ve said here and wonder what the heck you were thinking. I’ve seen that scenario play out many times and it always brings smile to my face. I wish you luck my friend, I wish you luck.

  107. #107 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    Julian, my friends don’t tend to be conceited bigots or I don’t hang around with them.

    Russell, you don’t believe that 1+1=2?

    I doubt that anyones’ belief that 1+1=2 would take any of your eccentric examples into consideration. Though, if it was sometimes wrong as you assert, than anyone who believed 1+1=2 would have to believe it on the basis of faith and not on the huge effort that Russell and Whitehead went through to establish it on the basis of logic. What does your reservation mean for that part of the Principia?

    By the way, I’m not sure I’d add one whole marble and one broken marble as 1+1. If I was trying to get an account of marbles I’d lent I might consider the broken one as -1.

    As I recall, what the French mathematician said was “I don’t know what 3 billion means”. I suppose I might ask you what you mean by “understand” in your comment.

    All of which reminds me of something Richard Feynman said

    I think it is safe to say that no one understands Quantum Mechanics. (Richard Feynman)

    Are you equally disappointed in physicists?

    And here are two more of his refreshing declarations.

    One does not, by knowing all the physical laws as we know them today, immediately obtain an understanding of anything much. (Richard Feynman, Quantum Mechanics)

    The more you see how strangely Nature behaves, the harder it is to make a model that explains how even the simplest phenomena actually work. So theoretical physics has given up on that. (Richard Feynman, Quantum Mechanics)

    And this one:

    Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceeding generation . . . Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
    (Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999) p. 186-187.)

    However, I think he was being a bit idealistic about it. I don’t think it works out that way for most people, though it might for people working up at his level.

  108. #108 julian
    April 2, 2011

    Zero straight answers. You really are a politician, Mr. McCarthy! How fitting that I’m listening to Razzle-Dazzle while reading your comments.

  109. #109 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, you don’t believe that 1+1=2?

    I absolutely believe that. As a truth of arithmetic. What is wrong is the notion that counting works “in each and every instance”, when applied to things other than abstract models of arithmetic. It sometimes fails. Whether you like it or not, the only way to establish a truth of arithmetic is through mathematics, not by practical rule of thumb. The rule of thumb came first. Of course. And no doubt motivated early mathematical development. But neither that nor faith is why 1+1=2 is true.

    BTW, I think Wittgenstein is wrong in his criticism mentioned above. If experience in some area shows counting doesn’t work, we would not say arithmetic was wrong. Instead, we would just say it doesn’t apply to the domain where it fails. We have a good example of that. Euclidean geometry has failings in the real world. Engineers who work on GPS systems and other systems dealing with long distances know they have to make calculations that use a somewhat different geometry, the one Einstein developed. That doesn’t mean Euclidean geometry is “wrong,” or that we should stop teaching it or stop using it. It just means that it has its limits as a model of actual space.

    Quantum mechanics is quite a bit more subtle than a billion.

    Science is indeed about questioning experts. It also is about questioning personal experience. And faith:

    http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/49/2/Religion.htm

  110. #110 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    I see that Julian has arrived at the unveiling of empty sarcasm in the new atheist dance of the seven fails.

    the only way to establish a truth of arithmetic is through mathematics, not by practical rule of thumb Russell

    Does that mean that 1+1=2 shouldn’t have been believed to be true before it was established through mathematics? Does that also apply to W. D. Hamilton’s “altruism” equation? There are a mighty large number of famous new atheists who are mighty taken with it. Though E. O. Wilson seems to have gone off it.

    I doubt that most people, if they were to talk about “the truth of the addition facts” would mean the various proofs that you declare is the only way to establish the truth of of arithmetic. Do you think they would think it included this famous passage:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f5/Principia_Mathematica_theorem_54-43.png

    I don’t know if a billion is less subtle than quantum mechanics. I think that Feynman was probably talking about the remoteness from human experience as much as anything else. It’s by comparison to our experience that we have any confidence that the means necessary to arrive at subtle proofs are reliable. Who would believe in the process that arrived at modern physics if that wasn’t true, if that history of confirmation through experience didn’t precede it.

    I have wondered if any of us has any idea of what three billion years really means, or one billion. Never mind the rest of the complications that would have to be taken into account to have some idea of the percentage of the information we presently know as compared to the information that would comprise the complete, stupendously inclusive topic of evolution. I’d think that the past billion years of evolution would constitute a far bigger problem to get your mind around than quantum mechanics. But, as you note, you can consider numbers in different ways.

    About science and faith:

    It is certainly true that within each narrowly defined scientific field there is a constant challenge to new technical claims and to old wisdom. In what my wife calls the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Syndrome, young scientists on the make will challenge a graybeard, and this adversarial atmosphere for the most part serves the truth. Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution.

    http://www.drjbloom.com/Public%20files/Lewontin_Review.htm

  111. #111 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    It’s been a while since I looked at that review. I like this paragraph too.

    As to assertions without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them, especially the literature of popular science writing. Carl Sagan’s list of the “best contemporary science-popularizers” includes E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market. Wilson’s Sociobiology and On Human Nature5 rest on the surface of a quaking marsh of unsupported claims about the genetic determination of everything from altruism to xenophobia. Dawkins’s vulgarizations of Darwinism speak of nothing in evolution but an inexorable ascendancy of genes that are selectively superior, while the entire body of technical advance in experimental and theoretical evolutionary genetics of the last fifty years has moved in the direction of emphasizing non-selective forces in evolution. Thomas, in various essays, propagandized for the success of modern scientific medicine in eliminating death from disease, while the unchallenged statistical compilations on mortality show that in Europe and North America infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and diphtheria, had ceased to be major causes of mortality by the first decades of the twentieth century, and that at age seventy the expected further lifetime for a white male has gone up only two years since 1950. Even The Demon-Haunted World itself sometimes takes suspect claims as true when they serve a rhetorical purpose as, for example, statistics on child abuse, or a story about the evolution of a child’s fear of the dark.

  112. #112 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Does that mean that 1+1=2 shouldn’t have been believed to be true before it was established through mathematics?

    My own view is that most people don’t even know what it means for 1+1=2 to be true. They have learned to use arithmetic. And when to use it. But what arithmetic actually is about? Try asking the average person on the street how many prime numbers there are. Or even, what a prime number is. Or just ask them why 1+1=2.

    And yeah, the practice came before the knowledge.

    I think that Feynman was probably talking about the remoteness from human experience as much as anything else.

    I think it more likely he was thinking of conceptual issues the theory raises, such as Bell’s theorem and the measurement problem. Quantum phenomena aren’t at all remote from physicists’ experience. Quantum mechanics as a theory is quite subtle.

    Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan?

    Why do you have to believe anything about quantum physics? And what would it mean for you to believe some claim about quantum mechanics without first understanding what the claim means, or why people hold it? I differ with those who tut-tut that so few people “believe in evolution.” Most people don’t know evolution. Likely, not most who say they believe it. Which makes their belief in it sort of odd. Except as a cultural belief, about what biologists say.

    Of course, we all need to know something about the many fields that we never will delve into deeply. But it’s also important to understand the limits of what one has learned. Most people, asked whether they believe in evolution, would most accurately respond if they said they actually don’t know much about it.

    And most people, asked why they believe in the god they do, would most accurately respond because they were raised to do so.

  113. #113 julian
    April 2, 2011

    You really are a piece of work , Mr. McCarthy.

    Semper Fi.

  114. #114 scott
    April 2, 2011

    What color are gods eyes?

    How do you know what color they are?

    If you don’t know, why don’t you know?

    How do you suppose we could find out?

    Shouldn’t there be some believers out there that are able to rationally answer these questions for me. Seems like such a simple little bit of information to ask for. I’ve ask inside my head for answers to these questions but I never get a response other than my own thoughts. Apparently god likes to ignore me.

  115. #115 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    My father was a decorated marine who was disabled in WWII, I don’t remember him saying “Semper fi” even once.

    Why do you have to believe anything about quantum physics? Russell

    I can’t speak for Richard Lewontin, maybe it was due to his very busy career as a prominent geneticist and a faculty member leaving him insufficient time to study the relevant material to understanding it.

    Are you advocating people not learn anything about subject matter that they can’t master? That partial information is undesirable, not to mention healthy curiosity about science. Because I don’t think it would do much for the Public Understanding of Science if that was the case. I mean, why would they bother teach anything about evolution in the public schools if that was the typical point of view?

    Do you think it’s desirable for physicists to be entirely uninformed about evolution?

    I’d like to have a dollar for every new atheist who has gassed on about theology without even learning anything about it.

    I don’t really understand your motive in that comment or what its point is.

    And most people, asked why they believe in the god they do, would most accurately respond because they were raised to do so.

    And you base this statement on what evidence? Do you think that peoples’ ideas about religion are fixed at the age of nine or ten? I heard the odious Ricky Gervais bragging that his was and that’s why he was an atheist. Though, from his recent performance at the Golden Globes, it would seem that wasn’t the only thing that was arrested at that stage of development.

    I doubt that’s true for most people. I doubt it’s true at the age of 21. My conception of God is constantly changing, and I’d never believe that what I could conceive of was even the merest intimation.

  116. #116 clamboy
    April 2, 2011

    All these comments down, and I am going to take you to task, Mr. Rosenau, over this: “gnu/New/extreme atheists … think religion is bad and favor eradicating it.” “Bad,” I would give you. However, in using the term “eradicating,” you imply that the people you are speaking of, including Dr. Rosenhouse, support official, dictatorial policies of oppression and suppression against those who hold religious views. This, of course, is a lie – no one in the pneu atheist crowd has called for the active “eradication” of religion – but I wonder why you choose to promulgate it?

  117. #117 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    scott, I hope that’s supposed to be a joke and not a nervous break down.

    Maybe you should read the Zohar, though it’s supposed to be dangerous for those under 40 who are not happily married.

  118. #118 julian
    April 2, 2011

    I confess: I’m a closet motard.

  119. #119 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Are you advocating people not learn anything about subject matter that they can’t master?

    No, I’m advocating that belief not run ahead of knowledge. It’s one thing to learn that biologists believe this, that, and the other, and something quite different to think one understands this, that, and the other, much less the evidence behind it. By all means, learn. Learning always begins somewhere.

    And you base this statement [that people believe their parents' religion] on what evidence?

    That the next generation of Americans will largely be Christian, the next generation of Indians largely Hindu, and the next generation of Pakistanis Muslim, rather than some other combination of that. And within one nation, or one city, that similar pattern follows.

    I’d like to have a dollar for every new atheist who has gassed on about theology without even learning anything about it.

    Why do you not write about how believers know so little about theology? Which ignorance shows the unjustified nature of their belief. My personal experience, which admittedly is does not rise to the level of statistical data, is that atheists typically know more about the relevant theology — the various arguments for god — than believers.

    Wait, there also is a little real data related to that:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/28/nation/la-na-religion-survey-20100928

    Not completely on point. But relevant.

  120. #120 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    I’m advocating that belief not run ahead of knowledge. It’s one thing to learn that biologists believe this, that, and the other, and something quite different to think one understands this, that, and the other, much less the evidence behind it. Russell

    Oh, I thought you were talking about knowledge. Now you’re talking about belief. Where do you place the line that distinguishes one from the other?

    Considering I’ve been the one advocating the necessity of evidence in science throughout this thread, I don’t think I need a lecture in that from you. I guess that you mean my skepticism about evolutionary psychology, I think I’ve shown in the links I’ve given above that I’ve informed myself about it and have good reasons to be skeptical about it. One of those is there isn’t any evidence for it that isn’t drenched in interpretation based in professional and materialist ideologies. Not to mention political ones.

    That the next generation of Americans will largely be Christian, the next generation of Indians largely Hindu, and the next generation of Pakistanis Muslim, rather than some other combination of that. And within one nation, or one city, that similar pattern follows Russell

    You seem to think that being a member of a religion means that there is a uniform, unchanging understanding of what that means, that children believe exactly what their parents do until they die. I don’t believe that, certainly not for people who think about it. You seem to think that only those who become atheists do that, I know that’s not true.

  121. #121 Anthony McCarthy
    April 2, 2011

    I forgot this

    Quantum phenomena aren’t at all remote from physicists’ experience. Russell

    I doubt that they have much direct experience of them, especially due to the role that statistical analysis plays in it. I’m wondering how you experience a statistical probability.

    If you think that they are used to the experience of thinking about these things, that’s clearly not what I meant. I’ve thought a lot about the books of Ursula K. Le Guin. I’ve never experienced Earthsea.

  122. #122 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Considering I’ve been the one advocating the necessity of evidence in science throughout this thread, I don’t think I need a lecture in that from you.

    Evidence is necessary to any field that claims knowledge. Considering how you have run from providing evidence for theology, I think you do need that lecture. In spades. This thread isn’t about evolutionary psychology. If you want to be skeptical about it, be skeptical. This thread is about religion. Where is your skepticism regarding it?

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I doubt that they have much direct experience of them [quantum phenomena], especially due to the role that statistical analysis plays in it.

    Then you think wrong. Send millions of electrons through a slit or two or three, and the detectors on the other end provide a distribution. That’s experience is as real and direct as dissecting a pig’s heart or plotting the motion of Mars in the sky. Well, OK — dissecting the pig’s heart is a little bit more hands on.

  123. #123 Russell
    April 2, 2011

    I wrote:

    Evidence is necessary to any field that claims knowledge.

    It shouldn’t be necessary to say, but perhaps is, that proof is a kind of evidence, for fields such as logic and math.

  124. #124 scott
    April 3, 2011

    As expected, nobody has answers to the questions. Here let me answer them for you.

    What color are gods eyes?

    God is imaginary, so it doesn’t really matter.

    How do you know what color they are?

    God is imaginary, so knowledge of it doesn’t matter.

    If you don’t know, why don’t you know?

    Because God is imaginary, so it doesn’t matter.

    Anthony @ 117,

    Nervous breakdown? Wrong again. It was my 8 year old son who came up with the first question. He also came up with the answers. Your not going to be outdone by an 8 year old kid, are you?

    The Zohar? Just more rubbish, No answers.

  125. #125 Anthony McCarthy
    April 3, 2011

    Then you think wrong. Send millions of electrons through a slit or two or three, and the detectors on the other end provide a distribution. Russell

    That’s the observation of a phenomenon first done in the early 19th century. Do you think what was experienced and concluded by the first people who saw that constitutes quantum physics? Refreshing my memory, just now, it would seem that the people who first saw it believed it only confirmed their wave theory of light as opposed to Newton’s particle theory. I’d think without the background of subsequent work done by physicists, it wouldn’t have ever been analyzed and become understood as a phenomenon of quantum physics. Are you dating the invention of quantum physics to the early 19th century? I’m under the impression that the subsequent experiments, as quantum mechanics was being developed, led to a somewhat different understanding that of the earliest researchers.

    I’m sure that I could show my dog two lines that intersect but without the primary definitions of lines points and angles I doubt my dog would see it as a geometric figure. I doubt a young child would, though I’d certainly be careful to find out that was the case before I assumed I knew that.

    But that misses the point, nothing of physics as a science would have developed if people hadn’t built had confidence in their experience of basic arithmetic and logic in everyday life. They would have no reason, whatsoever, to believe anything that researchers told them without it, what the researchers did would never have been done if they didn’t share in that heritage based in everyday experience. I’m sure that a lot of people are horrified to hear it, but the slickest products of cutting edge science rest on those humble beginnings, they don’t escape that fact. They are the products of human experience, of human minds, they don’t exist independently of them, they are mitigated by that foundation in countless ways. I’d suggest you read The Philosophy of Physical Science, which is one of the clearest expositions of that I’ve come across.

    scott, maybe you should read Corinthians 13:11.

    “God is imaginary, so it doesn’t matter”

    Memes are imaginary, that fable of Dawkins you sort of dared me to read is imaginary. I think they matter to your hero, quite a bit as they are the only reason anyone believes him to be an important figure of science. Though I’ve encountered some of his great, sciency, new atheist fans who weren’t aware that he’d ever had anything to do with that kind of thing on another of these Scienceblogs. Apparently they have an imaginary Richard Dawkins meme stuck in their brain. I believe Richard Dawkins took part in that blog brawl so I’ve always wondered what he made of the existence of people who passionately admired him but who were entirely unaware of his claim to science fame.

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/10/richard_dawkins_sues_josh_timonen.php

    I’m afraid that your fiat that God is imaginary isn’t going to impress anyone who isn’t already of that faith.

  126. #126 Russell
    April 3, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    That’s the observation of a phenomenon first done in the early 19th century. .. Refreshing my memory, just now, it would seem that the people who first saw it believed it only confirmed their wave theory of light as opposed to Newton’s particle theory.

    Yes, but other experiments at the same time were confirming the particle theory and rejecting the wave theory. That duality very much is part of quantum physics. Physicists knew about it and were familiar with it as phenomena prior to having a good explanation of it. And they do experiments now that more directly exhibit quantum behavior that were not done in the 19th century. Such as Aspect’s experiment.

    But that misses the point, nothing of physics as a science would have developed if people hadn’t built had confidence in their experience of basic arithmetic and logic in everyday life. They would have no reason, whatsoever, to believe anything that researchers told them without it, what the researchers did would never have been done if they didn’t share in that heritage based in everyday experience. I’m sure that a lot of people are horrified to hear it, but the slickest products of cutting edge science rest on those humble beginnings…

    I repeatedly have pointed out, in my posts above, that counting precedes arithmetic, folk-knowledge precedes science, practice precedes theory. Let me go further: our ancestors had to be using communicative expression prior to language and grammar.

    None of that has a thing to do with the difference between us. Which is very simple. Quantum physicists have no difficulty demonstrating quantum phenomena and making public the reasoning behind quantum mechanics as a theory. Data. And reasoning made public. Theologians can do no such thing. When pressed on that, you point to nothing. Well, except to Aquinas’s old and long-since refuted arguments. And then, not because you take that reasoning seriously, but to repeat the canard, falsely, that atheists don’t know about the “serious” arguments.

    So we’re once again at the end, and those who believe in a god have yet even to offer any reasoning to their belief that they themselves take seriously. You continue to provide an example that corroborates atheist views — more, Dawkins’s views — about religious belief.

  127. #127 Anthony McCarthy
    April 3, 2011

    Russell, look at my first answer to you. The one dealing with the difference between science and religion. They are two different attempts to deal with different matters and have developed different means to deal with them. Science has consciously restricted what it looks into, ideally not pretending it can do what it is not presently able to do and things which there is no reason to believe it ever will be able to deal with. As I’ve shown, when it pretends it can deal with things it can’t, such as prehistoric behaviors, the reliability of its reasoning and methods are overwhelmed by the complexity and the large parts of those things that will always remain hidden from it.

    You pretend that religion is uniquely unable to come up with the same kinds of arguments that real science can come up with in a restricted number of issues. What’s the air-tight reason to believe that the separation of church and state is the best relationship between religion and politics? What’s the overwhelmingly persuasive line of logic that leaves the moral education of children to their parents? In light of the biological determinists’ denial that people can really be unselfish, sacrificing themselves in order to help people or animals that will result in no benefit to them or which might harm them, why should anyone believe that being intentionally selfish is a bad thing? There are huge numbers of things in which making arguments that are persuasive instead of drawing an inevitable and obvious conclusion.

    You make the mistake of just about all atheists in thinking that the belief in God is either dependent on a formal rational program or else it is based in self deception. If you had read more theology you would know that the inability to discover God on that basis has been written about since at least the time that the Jewish scriptures were set down. I wouldn’t expect anyone would believe in God on the basis of attempts to do that I don’t expect that anyone would stop believing on the failure of one or all of those attempts. Not if they really believed or disbelieved. However, whether or not they believe isn’t an especially important question to me, or to huge numbers of other people. My purpose in getting into this extension of the argument was what I said in my answer to you @90 above.

    I can go on round and round the issue indefinitely, taking some fun in upturning new atheist apple carts on the way, but if you’re not going to come up with something new there’s not much reason to do that.

  128. #128 scott
    April 3, 2011

    So Anthony, you don’t like it when someone flushes out your logical fallacies, and you would like them to be omitted from the discussion. You don’t like the “god is imaginary” phrase and think it has no role in the discussion. That’s about as dodgy as it gets. You probably won’t like this video either:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDHJ4ztnldQ

  129. #129 Russell
    April 3, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    You pretend that religion is uniquely unable to come up with the same kinds of arguments that real science can come up with in a restricted number of issues. What’s the air-tight reason to believe that the separation of church and state is the best relationship between religion and politics?

    Normative claims inevitably rest on normative assumptions that always will be contended. Hume is the relevant reference there. Comparing the problems there to factual claims confuses the two very different kinds of things being asserted.

    You make the mistake of just about all atheists in thinking that the belief in God is either dependent on a formal rational program or else it is based in self deception.

    You haven’t demonstrated that that is a mistake. Why should religious factual claims be exempt from the same kind of criticism we make in every other field? You are quick to criticize other areas where you think this is missing. No one complains that you are mistaken in wanting sound reasoning.

    If you had read more theology you would know that the inability to discover God on that basis has been written about since at least the time that the Jewish scriptures were set down.

    Yes, of course. The issue is, what then? Rationalists (it’s not a matter of science, but reason) say the same thing in response that we say to every other field where this is the case: that means its unfounded folk belief. Those who want to continue in it continue to special plead why reason shouldn’t be applied to these issues. But please. Don’t criticize atheists — new or old — for alleged ignorance of how religion works. If our dialogue here shows anything, it corroborates atheists’ view of that.

  130. #130 Anthony McCarthy
    April 3, 2011

    So Anthony, you don’t like it when someone flushes out your logical fallacies scott

    I haven’t seen any evidence that you’d recognize a logical fallacy or its opposite if they jumped out of your computer and danced a pas de deux on your keyboard.

    Russell, I’m more impressed with the Kantians. Hume was, in a number of ways, the prototype of new atheist program of disregarding anything that didn’t fit into his pretentious dogma, which I find ironically anthropocentric. Just as I do the neo-Humanists PCL, that would be Post Corliss Lamont.

    The only source of information available to investegate any part of the idea that “the belief in God is either dependent on a formal rational program or else it is based in self deception,” is the information believers could tell you about that. It’s quite possible to believe something while acknowledging that it couldn’t possibly be explained and that it isn’t the result of thoughts that could be put into an absolutely unassailable logical form. What would be self-deceiving about that? On the other hand, some atheists pretend that they believe nothing which isn’t the product of empirical knowledge and reasoning up to the level of science, which absurd self-deception generally falls apart on the slightest investigation.

    You haven’t demonstrated that that is a mistake. Why should religious factual claims be exempt from the same kind of criticism we make in every other field?

    I’m unaware of expressing any religious belief in the form of a fact, though in the quick and dirty form of blog commenting, sometimes the formal distinctions might not be clearly made. You’d have to give me an example from what I said above before I could answer you. I don’t generally make the mistake of misidentifying a belief, especially a personal belief for a fact. However, you might well use scott’s declaration that “God is imaginary” to illustrate your point. And if not that his dismissal of the Zohar, which I gather he’s not read, as “just more rubbish”. You’ll find both @124.

  131. #131 Russell
    April 3, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I’m unaware of expressing any religious belief in the form of a fact.

    This conversation would have been a lot shorter had you begun by saying that your religious belief is fact-free. In that, you seem more self-aware than most believers, who are quite confident that their religious belief includes a set of facts. It is precisely the factual claims of religion that atheists reject. That shouldn’t trouble you, if you have no factual claims to make.

    The only source of information available to investegate any part of the idea that “the belief in God is either dependent on a formal rational program or else it is based in self deception.

    I agree completely. Believers sell and buy a large volume of inspirational literature, some of which is explicitly designed to buttress their faith. There is no better evidence of their self-deception than reading some of it.

    Of course, a more sophisticated believer might claim that while the ordinary inspirational literature is full of nonsense, there are more serious arguments to be made for the factual claims of religion. The new atheists often have been criticized on this basis. As you did above. There are two problems with it. First and foremost, when pressed for the more serious reasoning of religion’s factual claims, they rapidly back away from that. Even to the point of disclaiming any factual claims at all to their religion. Second, it is a very strange thing, if there were more serious arguments for a religion’s factual claims, that the more learned believers aware of those don’t make efforts to explain them and propagate those into the inspirational literature. Why leave the field of inspirational apologetics to be sewed with nonsense and blatant self-deception in volume after volume after volume, if there are indeed serious arguments for what religious adherents believe?

  132. #132 Anthony McCarthy
    April 3, 2011

    Oh, but my religious belief isn’t fact free. It’s informed by science and by history and by biography and any number of incidents I’ve witnessed and experienced. It’s far from fact free. I think you would have the vapors if you knew how much of it is based in science, though, of course, it can’t be a two-way street because science is incapable of including anything but information from the physical world. Religion can take far more into account.

    Good Lord, Russell, I’m always getting the personal testimony bit from new atheists, and I used to get it from old atheists. If that’s a refutation of religious belief, it must also be a refutation of atheism. About the only position that wouldn’t seem to have much of it is agnosticism.

    And yet you complain bitterly that I won’t spill my guts, religionwise. No doubt because you figure I’d give you lots to work with. Sorry, I’ve pretty well thought that out as well as the other opportunities you’ve been hoping I’d hand you as well. And it’s really not common among people in my part of New England.

    I really have arrived at religious belief after being an agnostic, philosophically I still am an agnostic, as you can see from my refusal to swallow the Dawkinsite faith and can see it as the scientistic religion that it is.

  133. #133 Russell
    April 3, 2011

    It’s informed by science and by history and by biography and any number of incidents I’ve witnessed and experienced. It’s far from fact free. .. And yet you complain bitterly that I won’t spill my guts, religionwise. No doubt because you figure I’d give you lots to work with. Sorry, I’ve pretty well thought that out as well as the other opportunities you’ve been hoping I’d hand you as well. And it’s really not common among people in my part of New England.

    So you have your own private religion. Whether it is fact-free or not I don’t know, since you won’t state its putative fact content. I doubt you know it either, not that that matters to anyone who is so firmly entrenched in occult belief.

    But why complain about atheism? Atheists aren’t addressing the putatively factual content of your religion, because you keep those secret. They are addressing the putatively factual content of religions they know about, whose putative fact claims are made public. As well as the reasoning offered for those. When atheists say the offered arguments for a god are nonsense, it is not a rebuttal to say you have a religion that makes sense, but you’re going to keep it secret.

    When you’re ready to defend a putatively factual claim of religion, let us know.

  134. #134 A
    April 3, 2011

    If you think that even the most official of religion isn’t often informed by science and history, it could only be because you are ignorant of religion. You should go look up what Richard Feynman said about the encyclical Pacem in Terris.

    “entrenched in occult belief” Oh, the CSICOP talk comes out. I’d have to have examples of “occult belief” in what I’ve said pointed out to know what you mean. I don’t think there is anything more occult than memes of the dialectic or biological determinism of any variety. I’ve always found it really odd how dogmatic materialists, who almost always devolve into biological determinists, believe themselves to be the avatars of freedom and enlightenment. The idea that people are machines, that people are automatons, that they are no more than the aggregate combination of molecules that constitute their physical bodies, doesn’t lead anywhere else but to the degradation of human life into a series of amoral events, unequal and denying that people have inherent rights. The materialist imperative is all too often stronger than the idea that anything so occult as rights could really exist.

    I have always made a distinction between new atheists and most atheists. I haven’t ever said anything against atheists who aren’t narrow minded bigots who make dishonest and grandiose claims for their beliefs. I never said a word about any atheists before the beginnings of obnoxious bigotry becoming a fad among a minority of them. I do have to say that until I looked closely at some of the big names in atheism, such as Darrow, I wasn’t quite as aware of the fact that they are often far less enlightened and admirable than their PR held. That’s not peculiar to their being atheists but something they share with the famous in general. Only, like old time clergy, they too often represented themselves as being better than they are and they invariably insist that everyone pretend to believe that.

  135. #135 Russell
    April 3, 2011

    A(?) writes:

    “Entrenched in occult belief” Oh, the CSICOP talk comes out. I’d have to have examples of “occult belief” in what I’ve said pointed out to know what you mean.

    That was addressed to Anthony, and the “occult” means no more than hidden or secret. Which is appropriate given that he refuses to say what the factual content of his religion is.

    If you think that even the most official of religion isn’t often informed by science and history, it could only be because you are ignorant of religion.

    Which is completely irrelevant unless “being informed by” includes good reasoning for the factual claims that religion makes. Until that is done, and revealed publicly, what the atheists say about religion is true. So far, no one in this thread has offered that.

  136. #136 Anthony McCarthy
    April 3, 2011

    A is me. I don’t know why my full name didn’t register this time.

    I have every right to decide whether or not my particular religious views are relevant to the discussion, which isn’t about them. I have already said that I believe that God created the universe exactly as it is, in full, beyond the knowledge of human beings, including me. There is nothing in that which is incompatible with science or with logic. I’m kind of amused that you are upset about that, I’d have thought you’d be all in favor of science having an influence on religion. Though, maybe you’d rather keep denying that religion and science are inherently incompatible, despite the clear evidence that they aren’t.

    I don’t think anyone who reads this thread with an objective eye would think I’m irrational. I don’t think you or scott or, especially, julian are capable of doing that.

  137. #137 julian
    April 3, 2011

    Maybe it’s the day I’ve spent in this airport, maybe it’s how you would rather blame some pissant pastor for the violence in Afghanistan, maybe it’s how you genuinely think ‘god created the universe fully formedas is’ is in any way different from ‘the devil put fossils there to test us’ but I can honestly say I dislike you, Mr. McCarthy. Now that my bias against you is in plain print I’ll shut up. Don’t trust myself to not say something I’ll regret.

  138. #138 Russell
    April 3, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I don’t think anyone who reads this thread with an objective eye would think I’m irrational.

    There is only one way anyone can judge that, and that is by knowing the reasons for your claims.

  139. #139 Anthony McCarthy
    April 4, 2011

    Julian, if by “fully formed as it is” you mean as it is still in creation, that would be an accurate representation of what I think, probably the first you’ve made of anything I’ve said here.

    maybe it’s how you would rather blame some pissant pastor for the violence in Afghanistan

    He’s responsible for what he did, knowingly inciting violence that led to deaths. I’m surprised that new atheists, who are constantly blaming violence done, allegedly, in the name of religion on all religious folks. Not only those who did it, not only those who favored it but on people who strongly opposed it and even those who were victims of it. I was on a blog the night that Dr. George Tiller was shot where people were blaming his murder on “Christians”, that it was all the fault of faith heads. They were about as happy with me as you and Russell and scoot are when I pointed out he was murdered as he ushered at his Evangelical Lutheran church, so apparently he was included in those blamed for his murder.

    I can honestly say I dislike you, Mr. McCarthy

    Ah, that is a heavy burden that I’ll just have to bear the best I can.

    maybe it’s how you genuinely think ‘god created the universe fully formedas is’ is in any way different from ‘the devil put fossils there to test us’

    How silly. If you guys can’t distinguish between a position that accepts the reality of evolution from one that dishonestly denies it, I wonder how this new atheism is supposed to be good for science. But, then, it’s foremost figures don’t seem to be able to distinguish between science and making stuff up on the basis of nothing but professional ideology.

  140. #140 Anthony McCarthy
    April 4, 2011

    Russell, If I’m getting you right, in order to prove I’m not irrational I have to give you the reasoning behind me believing in the natural universe to be what it is, exactly as it is, even those parts no person knows about. This is a novelty.

    I’ll point out that it is inescapable that such a belief rests on assumptions about an enormous range of unknowns. For all I know, there’s something that will be discovered tomorrow that will shake my belief to its roots. I could also point out that is true for materialism as well, for all any of us knows, something might happen which will make it obvious that materialism is hog wash. I once speculated that there might be some quality in some of those extra dimensions materialists are so happily asserting that would make the existence of both the natural and supernatural a logical certainty. Raising that possibility about the unknown nature of their new toy didn’t make materialists reading that happy. Nor did my interest in it, though I have to admit it was more because I was impressed with the size of the effort to mathmatically construct an eight dimensional figure. I wondered what the implications of that were for there to be a practical limit on the ability of human beings to understand the material universe.

    So, depending on huge areas unknown to any person, our faith that the material universe is as we assume it is can have no absolute foundation in reason.

    Why do you believe in it?

    Do you think that someone who believes that evolution is true without knowing anything about it is irrational? How about someone who based their belief in evolution on their seeing Inherit the Wind and they didn’t like the hillbillies, which seems to be about as much as many people know about it.

  141. #141 Russell
    April 4, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    If I’m getting you right, in order to prove I’m not irrational I have to give you the reasoning behind me believing in the natural universe to be what it is, exactly as it is, even those parts no person knows about. This is a novelty.

    The particular question at issue is why you believe that there is a god. The statement above strikes me as a mix between the tautological (isn’t everything and anything “what it is, exactly as it is, even those parts no person knows about”?) and the poorly defined (“natural”). I can’t say that it “rests on assumptions about an enormous range of unknowns,” as much as that it needs clarification.

    So, depending on huge areas unknown to any person, our faith that the material universe is as we assume it is can have no absolute foundation in reason. Why do you believe in it?

    I would never make such a statement. a) Except for the small parts of it where we have made some hard won discoveries, I don’t know how the universe is, and make no assumptions about that. b) I’m as suspicious of “material” in this context as I am of “natural” or “physical.” I understand “material” in contexts such as distinguishing molecules (matter) from photons (energy), or distinguishing an actual cat (material) from the category “cat” (abstraction). But in the sense you use it, I’m as suspicious of “material” as I am of “natural” as drawing an undefined ontological boundary whose purpose is then to make epistemological sallies.

    Do you think that someone who believes that evolution is true without knowing anything about it is irrational?

    Yes. Of course. I’m often a bit irked by the usual range of answers surveys provide to the question “do you believe in evolution?” As I stated above, the rational response the average person would make is “I really don’t know much about it, though I realize it is the major result and theory of modern biology.” Much as if they had been asked whether they believe in quantum mechanics.

    The problem isn’t that people don’t recognize their own ignorance regarding evolution, but that so many think they know it is false, based on religious nonsense. Consider, instead, the question, “do you believe in a god?” The rational response the average person should make to that is: “No, I’ve tossed out all the nonsense my parents and preachers and past fellow believers have pedaled on that topic.” And the evidence that it is nonsense is precisely what we discussed above: the proponents’ own explanations for it.

    Of course, the average person isn’t very rational, so there is some artificiality in the hypotheticals above.

  142. #142 Anthony McCarthy
    April 4, 2011

    Well, I can understand the irksomeness of the ineffability of so many, many of the terms that those of us in the allegedly intellectual class find so very, very important. Considering what I pointed out about the Socratics’ 2.5 millenium long snark hunt, it would seem that we are not going to have absolute closure in any of the things those terms seem to be necessary to ponder about. I was mightily impressed with Eddington pointing out that the meaning of “exists” and “existence” was too vague and incomprehensible for the concept to have any meaning in terms of science. It was the thing that first made me decide to read as much of his epistemological writing as I could get hold of. Reading related material, especially the reaction of Bertrand Russell to it, has had an enormous effect on my thinking over the past two years. I’ve got to say, I’ve got a lot less respect for Russell than I did even two years back. And he’s about the best of the anti-religious idols in the English language.

    All that progress and yet you seem to want to insist on the exclusive belief in what you conclude about exactly those things.

    If I’m satisfied with my current conclusions about the existence of God and the basis for which I conclude that is really my business, it would only become any other person’s business if I acted on them in ways that deprived someone else of their rights. Atheists don’t have a right to exercise hegemony over the minds of other people. I haven’t read any atheist coverage of any of of that impresses me, nor would I expect it to since in philosophical terms, atheism is a claim for things that philosophy and science can’t know.

    As to the artificiality of the people who believe in evolution because they don’t like hillbillies and they want other people in their class to know they aren’t sullied by an association with the great unwashed, I’d guess that is the actual position of close to 100% of the new atheist fan boys on the blogs. In my experience, it is almost entirely a position of class snobbery and social aspiration.

  143. #143 scott
    April 4, 2011

    Anthony said:

    “If I’m satisfied with my current conclusions about the existence of God and the basis for which I conclude that is really my business, it would only become any other person’s business if I acted on them in ways that deprived someone else of their rights.”

    Your satisfied with your conclusions and have decided to keep your reasoning for them to yourself. How convenient. And are you saying that acting on them might in some way cause someone else to be deprives of their rights? Kind of like those in Afghanistan who acted upon their beliefs and conclusions then decided to kill innocent people. Because their imaginary god and his prophet incited them to do so. Or do you mean something more along the lines of the current political atmosphere concerning abortion and homosexuality which are both mostly religiously motivated and deprive people of their rights.

    What god do you believe in? Is it some imagined god that is separate from all other gods so far dreamed up, is it your own version of what you expect god to be? Is it the god of the old testament, who gave his only child for our sins? That God also gave explicit instructions on how to deal with people who do not follow his word. I guess your insinuating that acting on those instructions would be a violation of others rights. I guess will never really know because you don’t feel the need to explain the basis for your beliefs. kind of leaves us in the dark and makes it difficult to converse with you on the matter. What are you afraid of man, through it all out on the table.

  144. #144 Anthony McCarthy
    April 4, 2011

    Your satisfied with your conclusions and have decided to keep your reasoning for them to yourself. How convenient. scott

    If you would like to avail yourself of that same convenience, I, for one, would encourage you to do it.

    Kind of like those in Afghanistan who acted upon their beliefs and conclusions then decided to kill innocent people. scott

    I can assure you, scott, that I don’t consider murdering people to be depriving people of their rights.

    I’m really trying to restrain myself from finding out if this commenting system would allow me to put your comments in comic font.

    As a gay man who believes that women have the sole ownership and so right to control their own bodies — my regular blogging gig is at a feminist blog — you are a stereotyping bigot.

    What am I afraid of? Certainly not that you’re going to be the one who comes up with the incisive argument that converts me to being a new atheist bigot.

    I will warn you that as soon as a new atheist makes it apparent that they believe they’ve got the right to be rude and obnoxious, I figure I’m not bound by rules of courtesy that they exempt themselves from. I will not allow petty propriety from allowing them to impose a double standard favoring themselves. I can play as rough as anyone.

  145. #145 julian
    April 4, 2011

    That’s funny because when someone who doesn’t know me, has never spoken to me or have even a foggy idea of who I am calls me a bigot I feel the same way.

  146. #146 Anthony McCarthy
    April 4, 2011

    Again, julian, I’m just going to have to keep going without your love. I wonder how I ever might do it.

  147. #147 julian
    April 4, 2011

    So you decry gnus for making sweeping unfair generalizations of believers but then proceed to make unfounded after unfounded assumption of people you don’t even know. You’re a class act, Mr. McCarthy.

  148. #148 julian
    April 4, 2011

    So you decry gnus for making sweeping unfair generalizations of believers but then proceed to make unfounded after unfounded assumption of people you don’t even know. You’re a class act, Mr. McCarthy.

  149. #149 scott
    April 4, 2011

    I wasn’t stereotyping you, I was asking you questions about what you believe. Is it not true that most of the pro-life and gay/lesbian opponents are doing so because of their religious beliefs. I was asking if you thought that way also, if you don’t then just say so. Your the one doing all the stereotyping. And you also refuse to answer the questions.

    As far as I can tell it will be difficult for you to ever change your mind about religious beliefs. If the amount of evidence pointing in other directions that’s out there right now isn’t good enough for you, then it seems most likely that there will never be enough information for you. Or at least none that you would accept.

    I personally think you don’t want to answer questions because you know it won’t work out to good for you, I’m guessing your beliefs are full of illogical thinking and you know it. Like the 1+1 might equal something other than 2 sometimes. You know that even I would easily pick off the fish swimming around in that barrel. You wouldn’t want little ol’ me doing that to you so you just won’t answer. What ever makes you feel better.

  150. #150 Anthony McCarthy
    April 4, 2011

    Any new atheists who don’t believe that all religious people are guilty of the crimes of other people, which they don’t support and, usually, oppose, any new atheists who don’t believe that all religious people are deluded and self deceiving, any new atheists who don’t ridicule all religious belief as superstition, ignorance, idiocy, etc. etc. etc.

    are hereby notified that the above doesn’t apply to you.

    I’m afraid that it does apply to those addressed.

  151. #151 Anthony McCarthy
    April 5, 2011

    scott, you don’t seem to be able to read any better than you can think. Look at Russell’s comment @105 and you might, might be able to discern that it was he who was bringing up an old argument that 1+1 doesn’t necessarily equal two in order to try to change the subject from what I originally said about people basing arithmetic and logic in their everyday experience.

    Here is what I said which Russell was trying to dispel:

    I think most people have some experience of putting 1 thing and 1 other thing into a set and so can see that 1 + 1 = 2, so their observed experience that 1+1=2. I don’t know if you would call that faith or not, though the idea that will always be the result, in each and every instance might be called faith.

    I’m tempted to point out something more subtle in the argument but it would only confuse you more.

  152. #152 scott
    April 7, 2011

    Anthony,

    Sorry, I misrepresented what you meant. I see you didn’t mean that 1+1 might equal something other than 2 sometimes, my bad. It sounds more like you were trying to say that people who don’t really have any mathematical experience themselves might accept mathematical equations based on “faith”.

    In my opinion, mathematics can be proved out if the time is taken to understand them. Some people make a living applying mathematics to things we know work because the math works. It may take “faith” for someone whose not willing or able to look deep enough into it, but at least the numbers are there for us to evaluate if we so desire. So ultimately we could find out for ourseleves if the math is right or wrong.

    I’m not sure what that has to do with “faith” in a religious sense. We don’t have the “numbers” to evaluate if god exist or not. So it can’t be proved to be true or false. So ultimately there is no way of knowing, there is no evidence to evaluate even if you desired to do. So in order to believe in god takes faith in the form of belief without evidence to evaluate.

    I might be wrong, but if your trying to equate belief in mathematics when we “don’t” understand them, with belief in god when we “can’t” understand it I think it is not a good analogy.

    Once again I’m regret misrepresenting what you were trying to say. And if I’ve done it again then I’ll regret that too. I think ultimately you and I will disagree on the subject of religion, so there is probably not a chance in hell either of us could persuade the other to change their minds.