Shepherd Book – Serenity:

Why when I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?

Interfaith prayer meetings face opposition; some religious leaders fear pluralism:

Interfaith dialogues and worship services spread across the nation following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, … But now, some Christian leaders are reacting publicly against acceptance of Muslims and even other Christian faith traditions.

Dwayne Mercer, the newly elected president of the Florida Baptist Convention, … would not attend an interfaith meeting. Mercer … feared that his church members might think he believes “that all these faiths are legitimate.” …

James Fortinberry, executive director of the Greater Orlando Baptist Association, said praying with people of other faiths “might be misunderstood.”

Meanwhile in Missouri, formal charges were lodged against the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for his participation in an interfaith gathering after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, …

Opposition to interfaith meetings results from a fear of religious pluralism.

Pluralism has become a watchword in many conservative circles for what is wrong in America. Within very conservative Christian camps, any interfaith activity gives credence to the notion that all religions are equal and afford adherents multiple paths to salvation. …

In the emerging age of popular pluralism, the move toward tolerance and dialogue will leave fundamentalism increasingly out of step with American culture, a position which fundamentalists savor at some points.

That second quotation is a bit long for an epigram, but it sets the stage nicely for a discussion of Chris Stedman’s defense of interfaith outreach by atheists. Stedman is the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University, and so is not just theoretically supportive of that sort of outreach.

He writes that “those speaking out against atheist involvement in the interfaith movement are, at the moment, a bit more numerous,” though it should be noted that the number of vocal advocates of a position need not correlate with the actual level of support for that position. Given that resistance, though, Stedman offers a defense against two major lines of opposition.

First, atheists don’t think of themselves as a “faith,” so find it a contradiction in terms to participate in “interfaith” dialog. I think the Serenity quote above is a good reply: faith needn’t be about god. I have faith in democracy, even when it puts George Bush in the White House. I have faith in my Cubbies, even if they haven’t won a World Series in 103 years. I have faith in the inherent goodness of freedom of speech, even when it is twisted to malicious purposes by the Phelpses, or Illinois Nazis. Saying that atheism isn’t a faith is a form of “dictionary atheism,” an argument that atheism means simply the lack of belief in god(s) (or maybe the belief that god(s) don’t exist). But clearly atheism means more than that if you’re going to build a movement around it. And there is a movement, which suggests that there’s something more than just lack of belief going on. There are shared values, values which are not themselves empirically testable, but which that movement agrees on. This is a different way of thinking about the word “atheism” than the one implied by “dictionary atheism,” but may be more valuable in many cases.

And the values shared by this sort of atheism are often shared by the sort of groups that take part in interfaith efforts. Many of the things fundamentalists distrust about interfaith groups involve the sorts of liberal, progressive, pluralist values that also unite atheists. I don’t doubt that atheists have something to offer to the participants in interfaith dialogs, and I think there’s a lot of value in having atheists at that table. If nothing else, by being at the table they challenge the other groups in exactly the way Shepherd Book challenges Malcolm Reynolds: challenging them to examine all the things they have faith in, not just their theistic faith.

Stedman also addresses the concern of anti-interfaith atheists that interfaith actions would prevent them from being able to criticize religion. “The thought that interfaith work requires significant tongue-biting makes many atheists very uncomfortable,” he writes. “[I]t was certainly a concern I had before I started working in the interfaith movement.” In time, he saw it differently:

The fundamental misunderstanding that many atheists have is that they imagine the interfaith movement as disinterested in combating religious totalitarianism and solely existing to maintain religious privilege—as an excuse to show that religion, in its many diverse forms, has a monopoly on morality—but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In my experience, interfaith work exists to bring diverse religious and nonreligious people into common work to build relationships that might deconstruct the kind of “us vs. them” thinking that contributes to exclusivistic religious hierarchy. It is a place to challenge and question, but to do so constructively.…

This is precisely what interfaith work sets out to do: elicit civil dialogue to increase understanding, not stifle it for the sake of “playing nice.”

Given that too few people know that they know an atheist, and that so many people have negative views of what atheism entails, this sort of outreach has a lot of potential to do good. And Stedman has seen it happen in his own life:

I’ve found interfaith work to not only be a fruitful place for such conversations, but the ideal forum for it. I can fondly recall any number of incidents where I argued theology and philosophy with a religious colleague while doing interfaith work; and how, later, they told me that they actually took my perspective seriously because we had built a trusting relationship. It made all the difference that I treated them as intellectual equals—as people with respectable goals rather than just mindless adherents of some stupid religion. They had heard positions similar to mine in the past from other atheists, but they had been presented so disrespectfully that they had made no impact, and had closed them off from even entertaining such ideas in some cases.

Indeed, this is what fundamentalists fear most about interfaith exercises, as illustrated in the news item above. They, like some atheists, fear that participating in interfaith exercises will validate other voices, without considering how the dialog would also validate their own view in the eyes of other participants. (The fundamentalists probably simply don’t care about validating their views in the eyes of others, but I think atheists generally do care, and should.)

The real obstacle comes from a tension inherent in the New Atheist subset of the atheist community. On one hand, NAs want to make atheism more visible, more respectable, more popular, and so forth, and at the same time, they want to make religion less respectable, less influential, less popular, etc. These goals are certainly not mutually exclusive, but they do exist in tension because of how respected and popular and influential religion is right now. People hold religion in sufficient esteem, and in a sufficiently central part of their personal identity, that a speaker who attacks religion can discredit him- or herself in the eyes of a significant chunk of the population on that basis alone. One certainly can – and many atheists do – advocate for greater social acceptance of atheists without arguing against personal religious belief. Doing so might be more effective in some contexts, but it sacrifices one set of goals for the other, and some folks don’t want to make that tradeoff.

Interfaith dialog would set up that tension perfectly. On one hand, it gives atheists a voice and a socially respectable backdrop against which to discuss their views. On the other, it positions theirs as just one perspective among many equal perspectives.

Of course, every participant in interfaith dialog is doing the same thing. Catholics and Episcopalians and Methodists and Lutherans and Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus all let themselves be seen as one among many when they do interfaith dialog, and accept that as a tradeoff for the opportunities such dialog presents. The idea of god(s) each of those religions advances is different, with Buddhism largely dropping the concept. Against that backdrop, what does an atheist’s presence validate? More importantly, what assumptions would an atheist’s presence further challenge?

Reading that part of Stedman’s piece reminded me of a story Reed Hundt tells about his effort, as chairman of the FCC under Bill Clinton, to establish a program which would provide Internet access to every school and library in the country. Thanks to this program, “The Internet has been the first technology made available to students in poorly funded schools at about the same time and in about the same way as to students in well funded schools.” It’s incredibly popular, with over 90% of teachers praising the program.

When Hundt was trying to line up legislative support for the program, he went to Bill Bennett, asking him to help line up Republican support:

since Mr. Bennett had been Secretary of Education [under Reagan] I asked him to support the bill in the crucial stage when we needed Republican allies. He told me he would not help, because he did not want public schools to obtain new funding, new capability, new tools for success. He wanted them, he said, to fail so that they could be replaced with vouchers, charter schools, religious schools, and other forms of private education.

I suspect some atheists would like interfaith efforts to fail so that religion can fail. Whether they want it to be replaced by some sort of nontheistic nonreligion, or to simply go unreplaced seems to vary. But I don’t think it’ll happen, and if it is to happen, atheist involvement in interfaith efforts could play a useful role in making it happen (just as, if Judaism is to become the dominant religion, interfaith efforts would have to play a role).

Jean Kazez wrote about some of these same issues a while back, in a blog post I’ve been meaning to cite for a while now. Asking “Can Atheists Be Pluralists?,” she replies to blogger James Croft’s feeling of exclusion when people use religious language in public speeches (interestingly, Croft is also associated with the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy):

what about standing outside “with face pressed against the stained-glass windows, longing for solidarity with those inside, but unable to cross the threshold”? My reaction is–what’s the problem? Just go in.

I mean that quite literally. Just go in. …

In Jewish congregations it’s very easy to find atheists, and agnostics, even among the high and mighty and influential. … It is OK–really OK–to be a non-believer and be part of a religious congregation. … I don’t see why you can’t find the experience of being part of a church enriching, without believing in the basic tenets of the faith. … If you pick the right church, there will be nothing ethically problematic about the messages, nothing hostile to science. Nobody has to like this sort of thing, of course, but it’s not foreclosed as an option for non-believers.

Croft sees it as foreclosed perhaps because he’s troubled by a certain notion of pluralism. As he explains, the pluralist writer Diana Eck thinks pluralism means putting God-the-sun at the center of the universe, and seeing other religions as planets orbiting around him/her/it. Members of different religions all seek God, “through different trajectories and paths.” Croft says “there’s no room for atheists in this solar system.” I suppose, to him, crossing the threshold would mean joining a God-centered solar system, revolving around a non-existent sun. It wouldn’t make any sense.

But no–that’s not how you have to think about entering a church or synagogue. A believer might want to think about members of different religions, and even non-believers, as revolving around God, but obviously a skeptic won’t buy into that image. In fact, the image isn’t even compulsory for believers. Pluralism can be nothing but the notion that different religions (and non-religions) are wise in different ways. They all have their insights. This is something you can believe without taking any of the supernaturalism seriously.

Actually, that ought to be obvious. There is wisdom and beauty in the Iliad and the Odyssey, even if there’s no Zeus and Athena, and there never was a Trojan War, and some of the moral messages of the books are atrocious (like how Achilles and Agamemnon–heroes!–fight over who gets to rape (yes, rape) Briseis. There is wisdom and beauty in the bible, and the Talmud, and the writings of later sages, and the same goes for religious traditions I’m not a part of.

Can religious folk accept a pluralism along those lines, instead of presuming that their God is the center of everyone’s religious experience? They actually can. In fact, the rabbi at a friend’s synagogue gave a sermon last night about what we can learn from members of other faiths, including from atheists. There was no presumptuous stuff about how everyone else is really (without knowing it) revolving around our God. My son went, listened to this message, and I’m confident he got something positive out of it, even though he’s adamantly a non-believer.

So: no need for standing out in the cold.

And there’s even less reason to fear the pluralism of an interfaith dialog. Such dialogs aren’t usually about theology or religion, but about the broader community and how the different groups represented in the interfaith effort can do more for their neighbors. Atheists can and should be part of that.

Comments

  1. #1 Russell
    June 11, 2011

    Movement atheism stands in the same relation to the important part of atheism as commercial gyms do to the important part of exercise. They aren’t necessary to it, don’t encapsulate it, involve a lot that is irrelevant, and at best, may encourage a few people along the path. What is important about atheism is the struggle against faith in precisely the sense that there are interfaith conferences.

    I agree that that kind of faith also gets directed toward beliefs other than about a god. Regardless of its object, it is a practice in self-deceit. Do you take it as a matter of faith that the US is a democratic nation? Or do you have some historical evidence for it? If your faith in US democracy is idealistic, if you believe the US has to be the best democracy ever because that is the vision of the US that you learned at your mother’s knee, then yes, it is like a Christian’s faith in Jesus. If, on the other hand, you have some notion of the ways in which the US has sometimes practiced democracy, and the ways in which it sometimes hasn’t, and some understanding of the mixed history, contended rhetoric, and varied consequences of actual US politics, then your faith in democracy seems to me so different from the Christian’s faith in Jesus that it might be better to look for a alternate word or phrasing for it.

  2. #2 Russell
    June 11, 2011

    Let me add that American children are indeed raised with a faith in the US that is quite similar in its psychological mechanisms as the faith in which most are raised Christian. It is no accident that our religious right tries to appropriate the flag as an almost religious symbol! Which means that a large part of an American maturing, politically, is working away from that faith.

    The difference, of course, is that the US demonstrably exists. So after one works away from that faith, one is still a citizen and has a relationship to one’s nation, whereas once religious faith is erased, nothing remains of its intended object.

  3. #3 J. J. Ramsey
    June 11, 2011

    “I think the Serenity quote above is a good reply: faith needn’t be about god.”

    I don’t see the quote from Serenity as all that helpful or necessary. Rather, I’d put it this way:

    Is atheism a faith? Of course not. However, if one had a survey where one was asked a multiple-choice question about one’s faith, it would be nonetheless be more misleading to leave out “Atheism” or “None” as one of the choices. Yes, using the name “Interfaith” to describe an organization that includes atheists is a bit misleading, but such an organization would be as lopsided without atheists as the aforementioned survey question would be without an “atheist” option.

  4. #4 Anthony McCarthy
    June 11, 2011

    Atheism can be a faith, it depends on what the atheism is based in and what it asserts. If it holds that it is known that only the material universe exists, that’s a faith holding. If it holds that science is the only legitimate basis of knowledge, that is a faith holding, one which is demonstrably superstitious.

    The new atheists are a fundamentalist anti-religious faith, confidently declaring their beliefs to be known and the source of good and enlightenment.

    It’s possible to be an atheist and to admit that it’s based in belief and not knowledge or to not express any kind of metaphysical basis for it. That kind of atheism is less legitimately called a faith. They’re generally easier to get along with.

  5. #5 Charles Sullivan
    June 11, 2011

    @Anthony McCarthy: Your depiction of “new” atheists seems like a straw man to me. I can’t say I know of any informed “new” atheist who thinks that we can *know* that only the material universe exists.

    What they would say is that there’s no evidence for any kind of non-material universe (whatever that means), and so affirming its existence is like claiming there’s invisible fairies in the garden.

    It tends to be the religious who claim to *know* that immaterial things such as souls, and gods, and angels exist. I would argue that, generally, religious people have less humility about claims to knowledge than so-called “new” atheists do.

    And furthermore any “new” atheist philosopher or literary critic would clearly reject your depiction of them as claiming that science is the only legitimate basis for knowledge.

    It’s this kind of simplistic, uninformed stereotype which you promote that really reveals your ignorance. If you want to criticize “new” atheists you should at least bother yourself to understand their arguments.

  6. #6 Steve Ruble
    June 11, 2011

    @Anthony McCarthy, who wrote: “If it holds that it is known that only the material universe exists, that’s a faith holding.”

    You’ve almost got it, but you’ve confused the word order slightly. The claim is not that “it is known that only the material universe exists” but rather, “it is known only that the material universe exists” (although the passive voice makes that statement rather clumsy). We don’t “have faith” that all claims about non-material things will always be false, but it is a fact that no one has been able to justify such claims to us so far.

  7. #7 Steve Ruble
    June 11, 2011

    @Anthony McCarthy, who wrote: “If it holds that it is known that only the material universe exists, that’s a faith holding.”

    You’ve almost got it, but you’ve confused the word order slightly. The claim is not that “it is known that only the material universe exists” but rather, “it is known only that the material universe exists” (although the passive voice makes that statement rather clumsy). We don’t “have faith” that all claims about non-material things will always be false, but it is a fact that no one has been able to justify such claims to us so far.

  8. #8 Russell
    June 11, 2011

    Steve Ruble writes:

    “It is known only that the material universe exists.”

    “Exist” is quite problematic as a predicate. It was known to mathematicians more than two millennia ago that there exists an infinite number of primes. Primes are not material. Well… maybe a bit more material than irrationals. But there exists(!) more irrationals than primes. Even though both are infinite, one infinity is greater than the other.

    Does the USA exist? If so, is it material? Perhaps equated with all the matter allegedly in its legal scope? That doesn’t seem right, if one is trying to understand what a nation is.

    Speaking of legal scope, does a judicial ruling exist? They should in some sense — Loving v. Virginia is real. There are novels that deal with fictional Supreme Court rulings. So Loving v. Virginia exists in some sense that those fictional rulings don’t. Both actual and fictional Supreme Court rulings are but sequences of symbols. Shouldn’t that make their existence somehow similar? There are, of course, only a finite number of fictional Supreme Court rulings. But an infinite number of possible ones. Given any of the possible ones, it’s easy to imagine writing a story around it and making it an actual (fictional) ruling. For some sense of “actual.”

  9. #9 robm
    June 11, 2011

    I’m not sure atheists should participate in interfaith dialogs since atheists often have to refute that “atheism is a religion too”. Whats more people often take basic statements of what atheists believe as insults, just look at the response to Stephen Hawking’s statements about heaven last month, even from progressive Christians and other believers.

  10. #10 robm
    June 11, 2011

    @Russell

    The answer is no, they don’t, not in the same way the earth, the sun, you, or I exist, their just conceptual and don’t have the meaning created by the mind with out the mind.

    That is unless your a platonist.

  11. #11 Russell
    June 11, 2011

    I can understand numbers as abstractions. But nations seem something else. Nations exist over a period of time, define geographic boundaries, enforce laws on their citizens, go to war, and do all sorts of other things.

  12. #12 robm
    June 11, 2011

    True, but some aspects like group identity play a huge part in the existence and history of a country, and can change quite quickly. Countries rise or fall depending on whether or not their citizens believe they are citizens, that part is conceptual, others are physical.

  13. #13 TB
    June 12, 2011

    Atheism is a philosophical position. If it is only about non-belief, then it’s not very useful in helping us figure out how to live and live with others each day. It would be no more than a mechanical existence.
    But it’s not just about non-belief. It’s a way of knowing that doesn’t seek the justification of a supernatural father. “Just be good, for goodness sake” is a bit trite, but works on a billboard and does point to deeper philosophical issues that need to be addressed if you’re going to be a responsible, conscious human being.
    So the idea that Atheists shouldn’t participate because they don’t want atheism to be mistaken for faith isn’t a good reason not to participate. Atheist have a lot to offer if they don’t buy into the whole conflict paradigm.

    And, interestingly, a study suggests that the conflict position – religious or science – is not the popular position among college students. They seem to prefer a collaborative or non-conflict position regarding religion and science.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/06/10/most-college-undergrads-question-science-religion-conflict/

  14. #14 Egbert
    June 12, 2011

    Atheism only has meaning in relation to theism, being oppositional to it. It is part of the belief/non-belief dichotomy.

    When atheists come together to form social relationships, that’s not atheism, that’s social relationships. When atheists come together as a political force or mass, then that’s a political force or mass, not atheism.

    Atheists have such diverse social and political opinions, theories, and lifestyles, precisely because atheism has nothing to do with social or political opinions. They go beyond atheism, and are often called other names like: liberalism, humanism, socialism, conservatism, secularism, etc.

    That is why identifying movements with atheism is destined to fail.

  15. #15 Anthony McCarthy
    June 12, 2011

    “it is known that only the material universe exists” but rather, “it is known only that the material universe exists” Steve Ruble

    Ah, you’ve placed it in those terms that then force a confrontation with the concept of what it is to know something and the final stage of the investigation where every person is alone with the fact that they don’t have an absolute, unmitigated knowledge of the universe but they only have an image based in their sensory perception, interpreted by their minds with their previous perceptions and the conclusions they’ve reached about that. Even by reason, that faculty of human beings, so conspicuously ignored by such as who generally look at that.

    Even the collective agreement which is what science is has that foundation in human perception, analyzed experience, inescapably shaped by culture.

    Pretending that what our senses tell us about the universe is all that is there is especially odd in those who believe those senses are the product of selection of adaptations in a series of species, solely for the purpose of their raw survival and reproduction. To think that those senses are adapted to perceive the entire range of existence has never been more irrational than in the period after natural selection became the common, scientific, explanation of the basis of our mechanisms of knowledge.

    Agnosticism should not only be a position in regard to God but in the arrogant assertions made about our ability to absolutely know even the physical universe that our senses and reason allow us to see the shadows of. In that, almost every atheist I’ve ever read or heard is a total faith-head.

  16. #16 Anthony McCarthy
    June 12, 2011

    “Exist” is quite problematic as a predicate. It was known to mathematicians more than two millennia ago that there exists an infinite number of primes. Primes are not material. Well… maybe a bit more material than irrationals.

    Where were you when Reuben Hersh and Martin Gardner were having this out? I think Hersh knew what he was talking about, by the way.

    I have no problem with the idea that numbers don’t have physical existence, the idea makes complete sense to me. But in that case the old atheist canard as to how a non-material mind, or “spirit” if you will, could interact with the material universe becomes an enormous problem for most modern atheists. Modern atheism is intrinsically tied up with the positioning of science above all other human thought. Science is the interpretation of physical entities through measurement. Through the numerical properties of material entities.

    Science couldn’t exist without the “strange relevance” of numbers to the physical universe. So it confronts the possibility that a non-material entity is essential to human beings understanding the physical universe. Does that mean the numbers are an intrinsic part of the material universe, yet not material? You can either admit that all the evidence we have from science implies that, with all of those spooky implications, or you can admit that science is not an absolute view of the universe but is a human attempt to see it and so is irrelevant to an ultimate argument as to the limits of existence. In which case the imaginary numbers are as there as the real numbers, depending on how they are applied.

  17. #17 TB
    June 12, 2011

    Egbert, the same can be said for the religious, so I think you’re missing the point.

  18. #18 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Science is the interpretation of physical entities through measurement.

    Any attempt to define science by restricting it to philosophical categories such as “natural” or “physical” serves only a philosophical bias, and has no bearing at all on science. Is the wave function physical? Are electromagnetic waves physical? Is Hilbert space physical? Those questions don’t actually matter. But they do show the nonsense of the definition above.

    Science couldn’t exist without the “strange relevance” of numbers to the physical universe.

    Do you find it strange that you use English to describe? If not, then why is the use of numbers strange? If so, then pray tell, how do you propose to discuss the world with other people, if not using some kind of language?

  19. #19 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    TB:

    ..then [atheism is] not very useful in helping us figure out how to live and live with others each day.

    It isn’t.

    Really.

    When I see a young person have difficulty with bad habits, relationships, work, or in other areas of life, I would never suggest reading Bertrand Russell or Mackey or any of the other philosophical writings on belief, theism, and atheism.

    Let me go further. Because religions have content and organization related to helping people with a variety of life problems, they can be useful to such purposes. Not always, of course. But don’t fool yourself. When people say their religion helped them with some life problem, that often is the case.

    Of course, that has absolutely nothing to do with the evidence for, truth in, or plausibility of their religious teachings. An important part of non-belief is understanding that distinction.

  20. #20 John Kwok
    June 12, 2011

    @ J. J. Ramsey –

    I’ll respectfully disagree with your assertion that Atheism is not a faith. Given its espousal by some militant New Atheists, some could say that the prosletyzing seen on its behalf is analogus to the same from those who are religiously devout. If I am not mistaken, this is an important reason why noted evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson has dubbed Atheism as a “stealth religion”.

  21. #21 Anthony McCarthy
    June 12, 2011

    Any attempt to define science by restricting it to philosophical categories such as “natural” or “physical” serves only a philosophical bias Russell

    I’m afraid it was defined that way before I was on the scene. I’m surprised that an atheist would be able to assert that it studied anything but the natural or physical universe, especially those on record as having said that’s all there is. Though I think you might have learned something about trying to wriggle out of that dogmatic statement since the last time we argued it.

    Do you find it strange that you use English to describe? Russell

    Not at all but I’ve neither made a claim that all that exists is the physical universe nor that human behavior, including speech, is an aspect of the physical universe, following physical laws. I have also never claimed that science is anything but a human viewpoint, as you can see, I rejected that idea above.

    If you’re asserting that the physical universe isn’t the only thing that is there, I think your fellow atheists might have a bigger bone to pick with you than I now do.

  22. #22 Anthony McCarthy
    June 12, 2011

    Oh, and, Russell, science is dependent on logic. A scientific assertion that can be shown to be illogical, that can’t be supported by a logical argument, no matter how counter-intuitive, is a scientific assertion that has been refuted. So, I’m afraid that philosophy does have the ability to meaningfully and, at times, effectively comment on science.

  23. #23 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I’m surprised that an atheist would be able to assert that it studied anything but the natural or physical universe, especially those on record as having said that’s all there is.

    Some may have said that. You have now encountered an atheist who is skeptical of some of those metaphysical categories.

    That’s by way of example. What’s more relevant to this discussion is that atheism and materialism are not synonymous.

  24. #24 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    John Kwok:

    I’ll respectfully disagree with your assertion that Atheism is not a faith. Given its espousal by some militant New Atheists, some could say that the prosletyzing seen on its behalf is analogus to the same from those who are religiously devout.

    The minimal thing to do — not reaching the level of respect, but minimal — when claiming outlandish behavior on the part of someone with whom you hope to tar a group, is to give specific examples. If you walk over to Ed Brayton’s blog, he all the time claims that Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, David Barton, inter alia, say dumbass things. And he buttresses that by quoting them. In full. In context. With cite.

  25. #25 Marilyn LaCourt
    June 12, 2011

    A suggestion.
    When engineers speak to each other about constructing a bridge or about a theory, they insist on precision, precision in the words they use and the meaning attributed to them.

    I suggest this article:
    Words – Mere Muffled Muted Metaphors Mocking – Meaning
    http://tinyurl.com/3lycgds

  26. #26 david Stoeckl
    June 12, 2011

    @ Charles Sullivan )per post #5

    “I can’t say I know of any informed “new” atheist who thinks that we can *know* that only the material universe exists.”

    Now that may be true among the august company that posts here. But among the great unwashed, the new atheists that I have come across in small blogs and discussion boards, I’ve seen the argument that “religious people are idiots because science absolutely proves that there is no god” more times than I can count.

    Perhaps some catechism classes are in order.

  27. #27 John Kwok
    June 12, 2011

    @ Russell –

    Anthony McCarthy, myself and others, including Josh Rosenau, have provided examples of “outlandish behavior” (I am putting it in quotes just to acknowledge your citation, not because I don’t think that’s not an accurate assessment.) from New Atheists many, many times, but you and your fellow New Atheists refuse to acknowledge these examples as such.

    As for Ed Brayton, he is a friend and I don’t need your reminder of what he does – or doesn’t do – on his blog.

  28. #28 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    Charles Sullivan:

    I can’t say I know of any informed “new” atheist who thinks that we can *know* that only the material universe exists.

    David Stoeckl:

    Now that may be true among the august company that posts here. But among the great unwashed, the new atheists that I have come across in small blogs and discussion boards, I’ve seen the argument…

    There are Catholics who think the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus’s, physics students who confuse Einsteinian and Galilean relativity, and biology students who put Lamarck into their description of evolution. It’s all well and good to point out such errors. But a mistake to think while doing so that one has struck a blow against the Catholic Church, physicists, or biology.

    ..that “religious people are idiots because science absolutely proves that there is no god” more times than I can count.

    Curiously, that has nothing to do with Sullivan’s claim. Proving there is no god would not prove materialism.

  29. #29 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    John Kwok:

    Anthony McCarthy, myself and others, including Josh Rosenau, have provided examples of “outlandish behavior” (I am putting it in quotes just to acknowledge your citation, not because I don’t think that’s not an accurate assessment.) from New Atheists many, many times, but you and your fellow New Atheists refuse to acknowledge these examples as such.

    That’s what I keep hearing. Maybe you should start a blog: Stupid things New Atheists say.

    FWIW, I count myself an old atheist. I haven’t read anything written in the last quarter century that adds much substance to the debate. Which doesn’t mean nothing worthwhile has been written. Audiences change, and it’s always good to update presentation and arguments. They keep writing new calculus texts, even if though the subject matter remains much the same.

  30. #30 Anthony McCarthy
    June 12, 2011

    Some may have said that. You have now encountered an atheist who is skeptical of some of those metaphysical categories.

    That’s by way of example. What’s more relevant to this discussion is that atheism and materialism are not synonymous.

    Which is why I always try to use the indefinite article and conditional statements to distinguish between atheists who reject that reservation and those who don’t, as in my first comment on this thread. Though atheists of any kind hardly ever return the favor of being more accurate when it comes to talking about religious folks.

    That those atheists who might agree with what I said in subsequent comments have the same problems I’d have materialist fundamentalism is something I’m surprised more atheist fundamentalists don’t take some time out of their religion bashing to notice. The ones who aren’t fundamentalists, not the ones who seem to be afraid to point out the problems with those particular faith holdings of atheist fundamentalists. I’m not afraid to.

    Do you agree that your rejection of the physical nature of numbers and their more than just apparent relevance to our one and only means of scientifically studying the physical universe, including our physical bodies, makes the old materialist rejection of a non-material mind able to have an effect on our physical bodies, including our brains, moot?

  31. #31 Anthony McCarthy
    June 12, 2011

    Your depiction of “new” atheists seems like a straw man to me. Charles Sullivan

    I’ve got a new policy that I never answer any charge of “straw men” because the phrase is an almost certain indicator that what’s to follow is a real one.

    If you want to ask me a real question, go ahead but put it in real terms.

  32. #32 TB
    June 12, 2011

    Russell: I don’t kid myself. And I’m not an atheist, btw.

    And your example of the young person in trouble doesn’t address deeper questions, like, say, the articles at this link do: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/meaning.html

    Just because you don’t consider these things doesn’t mean others don’t.

  33. #33 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Do you agree that your rejection of the physical nature of numbers and their more than just apparent relevance to our one and only means of scientifically studying the physical universe, including our physical bodies, makes the old materialist rejection of a non-material mind able to have an effect on our physical bodies, including our brains, moot?

    Imagine a car traveling along a road to where a bridge once crossed a ravine. It stops at a sign, and turns around. Now, imagine a future technology that is able to simulate that down to the level of elementary particles, bosons and all. Such a description of the event isn’t necessarily wrong. Or even partial, when dealing with just the physics of it. But it is incomplete as explanation. Such a simulation doesn’t explain that the driver knew the bridge was out, had driven to the ravine intent on committing suicide, saw the “bridge out” sign as a kind of warped humor on the despondency caused by a failed relationship, and as sometimes happens with such humor, it helped the driver see things in a somewhat different light and drive back home. Understanding the event requires understanding the social, linguistic, and psychological aspects. Not just the physics.

    But. Recognizing that a physical description is incomplete as an explanation of the world doesn’t mean that it is partial or wrong in its description of physics. (Our current theories likely are. But that’s another matter.) What some religious believers want isn’t the recognition that there are domains where physical explanations are inadequate, but the notion that physics has to be partial or wrong because it doesn’t include some kind of pre- or meta-physics that is spiritual. Freewillions and Holy Ghost tensors and principalities and demons.

  34. #34 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    TB:

    Just because you don’t consider these things doesn’t mean others don’t.

    It’s not that I don’t consider such things. It’s just that once one goes a bit down such paths, it’s no longer about atheism, per se. People who think quite similarly on the issue of religious may diverge quite a bit on those other issues. Their only similarity being that they think on them outside a religious context.

  35. #35 Anthony McCarthy
    June 12, 2011

    Recognizing that a physical description is incomplete as an explanation of the world doesn’t mean that it is partial or wrong in its description of physics. Russell

    So you didn’t mean that tap dance about numbers not being physical above, in which case, what about the imaginary numbers and the complex numbers of which those are factors? Are they part of the physical universe? In what sense? How about my old question about the infinity of numbers many quintillion of magnitudes larger than the number of discrete objects in the physical universe? In what sense are they, or, indeed, the number -1, physical? You either get that kind of question or the one about the “surprising relevance” of numbers to physical entities because I don’t see any way out of those, with all their anti-dogmatic consequences.

    I wonder how you can “recognize that a physical description is incomplete as an explanation of the world” and assert that “doesn’t mean that it is partial or wrong in its description of physics” since it’s incomplete? If that description is incomplete, you have no information that could tell you the limits contained in what is being described or explained, not even that those might not be other than entirely physical.

    As you’ve probably heard me say, it was one of my more satisfying moments when I got a prominent new atheist-physicist to admit that there wasn’t a single object in the universe of which physicists had comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge. In which case both the idea that physics was on the boundary of a Theory of Everything (he was lauding Hawkings bizarre statements in the news last fall) and the idea that materialism was more than a faith holding are baseless and irrational. His subsequent assertion that “The laws underlying the physics of very day live are completely understood,” drew considerable and, I imagine, embarrassing exceptions from other readers. I’d already promised not to post at his blog if he’d answer the question.

    I’m perfectly happy with the idea that, not only must science be open on most questions, but that it is. Closing is best left to math where it can often be done convincingly.

  36. #36 Russell
    June 12, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I wonder how you can “recognize that a physical description is incomplete as an explanation of the world” and assert that “doesn’t mean that it is partial or wrong in its description of physics.”

    Seems pretty easy to me: physics isn’t everything. A complete theory of physics — what gets badly labeled a Theory of Everything — would still leave all sorts of questions unanswered, and all sorts of science still to do. Even in physics! Indeed, the vast majority of researchers hard at work on problems from archaeology to material science would hardly notice a change in their work if the physicist’s TOE were to materialize.

    BTW, I don’t expect physicists to have their TOE any time soon. More, I expect them to be wrong the first time or two they announce it. (Arguably, they once did already.)

    None of which provides any aid to the religious believer.

  37. #37 Anthony McCarthy
    June 12, 2011

    Russell, a religious believer who went looking to science for what their religious belief focused on would be a rather confused religious believer. Of which there are many, just as those who expect physics to support their atheism are looking for love* in all the wrong places.

    * Tennis joke.

    There is no way for science, never mind physics, to find anything but a part of the physical universe that can be caught in its nets. It can’t catch anything else about the universe that it can’t catch in those. But those are still there. Which is a faith statement about the physical universe. You can say the same thing about anything else that can’t be caught.

  38. #38 robm
    June 12, 2011

    @ Anthony MacCarthy 37

    “There is no way for science, never mind physics, to find anything but a part of the physical universe that can be caught in its nets. It can’t catch anything else about the universe that it can’t catch in those. But those are still there. Which is a faith statement about the physical universe. You can say the same thing about anything else that can’t be caught.”

    Actually it’s not a faith statement, it’s a statement about the limits of human knowledge. Without the possibility of confirmation or disconfirmation, making guesses is simply speculative, and claiming knowledge is absurd.

  39. #39 Russell
    June 13, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    There is no way for science, never mind physics, to find anything but a part of the physical universe that can be caught in its nets.

    Physics is restricted to the physical universe. By definition: that is what physics does. As I noted above, it’s far from clear how that ontological distinction applies to, oh, linguistics. Or psychology. Or many other subjects (sometimes) studied scientifically.

    To this discussion, the important point is that faith will catch nothing in its nets. Because faith is the act of pretending, not of catching. What separates the believer from the non-believer is the simple recognition of that.

  40. #40 Anthony McCarthy
    June 13, 2011

    Passing up the fact that psychological research is better characterized as pseudo-science, for now, the real methods of science are not designed to do anything but study physical entities, period. As I said above, for an atheist on the Scienceblogs, where materialism is almost a prerequisite to avoid a drive by, to try to wriggle out of that most obvious fact of science, and to get away with it with their fellow atheists might lead someone not of their camp to doubt their sincerity.

    Because faith is the act of pretending, not of catching. What separates the believer from the non-believer is the simple recognition of that.

    Oh, dear. I thought we’d already dealt with the fact that there isn’t a human being who believes things other than on the basis of their experiencing the evidence and proof of those things.

    It’s literally impossible for anyone who thinks at more than an early, pre-elementary level of sophistication to avoid accepting many things on faith.

    Do you accept the holdings of a branch of science you have not studied as if being valid on any other basis than faith in something? In the honesty and rigor of its peer review, the honesty and rigor of its reporting, the rigor and adequacy of its data collection and the accuracy of its observations and measurements? You weren’t there, you didn’t observe those, you almost certainly have not even gone over the published science to check it out for yourself. You generally don’t even know the reputations of those who did the peer review. By the time you’ve believed in something quite out of your line in science, where most science lies for everyone, you’ve very actively and very willingly believed in many, many things and people. You have actively willed yourself to have faith in them and the institution of science to do all of that work well. In light of the history of science, which is a series of overturnings of previous holdings, it’s a remarkable act of faith to believe any of it without the most rigorous examination. The most fundamentally atheistic of scientists, the very members of the elite of neo-atheism, are uniformly practitioners of that kind of faith. Are they just playing pretend?

    Show me the science that says that it’s moral to believe in the separation of Church and State, or why it’s better to get an accurate answer when multiplying seven times nine?

    I know that the things I said above made you unhappy, probably what I said about the inescapable implications of analyzing the limits of our perception by the idea of natural selection most troubling to you, but that’s no reason to be rude.

  41. #41 Spartan
    June 14, 2011

    It’s literally impossible for anyone who thinks at more than an early, pre-elementary level of sophistication to avoid accepting many things on faith.

    Perhaps, although I don’t know what you think would happen or how I would behave differently for instance if I didn’t take these ‘many things’ on faith.

    Even if your point is granted, this is a false equivalency as compared to the type of faith that religious believers indulge in. Religious believers have most or all of the ‘faith’ in the material world for example that the atheist does also, and then add quite a few questionable layers to it.

  42. #42 Anthony McCarthy
    June 14, 2011

    Spartan, how do you determine the difference between people who believe what they are told, which purports to be science and people who believe which purports to be religion? Are you saying that incorrect information is never believed in because it is called “science”, because that’s so obviously untrue that it achieves the status of superstition.

    I doubt that whatever mechanism that a brain only type would imaging goes on in believing unsubstantiated ideas about religion could be different from the one they use to believe in science they haven’t verified.

    Faith is the acceptance of ideas that are not verified by the person believing in them, they can always give you reasons for why they believe in them. The faith in luminous aether was faith based in assumptions on the nature of light in the absence of more information. Luminous aether was never experienced by a single person who believed it. A belief in God is based in the experience of the believer, who at least knows they’ve had the experience.

    The most delicious irony about the new atheism is the number of such things believed in and promoted and invented by many of the most prominent of new atheists, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Pinker…etc. And even more delicious is the absolute faith that so many of their new atheist blog fans have in those baseless ideas and the utter and, I hope, embarrassed silence of other new atheists who know enough to be skeptical of them when they are asserted by their fellow new atheists.

    Though this morning I’ve tasted a quite different variety of new atheist-“skeptic” irony over at Lindsay Beyerstein’s place.

  43. #43 Norwegian Shooter
    June 14, 2011

    Josh: “I suspect some atheists would like interfaith efforts to fail so that religion can fail.”

    I suspect some atheists think your suspicion about some atheists is a logical FAIL. Wait, I don’t have to suspect that, I think it is a logical FAIL. Is there any atheist that thinks that interfaith efforts has any relationship with the success of religion?

  44. #44 Anthony McCarthy
    June 14, 2011

    “a logical FAIL”, yet another sure sign the person saying it has nothing to say.

    You kids make it so easy to weed out the ephemera.

  45. #45 Russell
    June 14, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Oh, dear. I thought we’d already dealt with the fact that there isn’t a human being who believes things other than on the basis of their experiencing the evidence and proof of those things.

    Nonsense. If that were the case, Sunday schools, and the similar institutions for other religions, would be completely impotent to instill a bunch of nonsense. In fact, they work quite well.

    Do you accept the holdings of a branch of science you have not studied as if being valid on any other basis than faith in something? In the honesty and rigor of its peer review, the honesty and rigor of its reporting, the rigor and adequacy of its data collection and the accuracy of its observations and measurements? You weren’t there, you didn’t observe those, you almost certainly have not even gone over the published science to check it out for yourself.

    I’m not particularly impressed by the phrase “holdings of a branch of science.” To begin, the various institutions that practice science are not unified. There is no singular authority for carrying a claim from nihil obstat to imprimatur, that would identify just what the holdings are. Every branch of science has its better researched areas and its more speculative ones. You’re quite mistaken to write off all psychology as pseudo-science. Consider confirmation bias. The evidence for that is quite strong. Whereas the Higgs boson has yet to be found. If I were to bet on which of those claims would last another century of research, I’d bet on confirmation bias. It’s not like playing spades, where physics always trumps.

    So, no, I don’t believe the way you think I should, that the branches of science have clearly recognized holdings that, even not knowing what they are, or the warp and woof of the branch, I should accept them as true.

    It’s literally impossible for anyone who thinks at more than an early, pre-elementary level of sophistication to avoid accepting many things on faith.

    There’s a grain of truth in there. It’s impossible as a child not too take most of what one is taught on faith. That’s why Sunday schools work so well. Intellectual maturation then involves re-plowing those plots. And rejecting much. And it’s a never finished process.

    The issue isn’t whether we grew up believers. We all did, in one way or another. The issue is whether that kind of faith is taken as a legitimate stopping point, when issues are revisited as adults.

  46. #46 Anthony McCarthy
    June 14, 2011

    Oh, dear. I thought we’d already dealt with the fact that there isn’t a human being who believes things other than on the basis of their experiencing the evidence and proof of those things.

    Nonsense. If that were the case, Sunday schools, and the similar institutions for other religions, would be completely impotent to instill a bunch of nonsense. In fact, they work quite well. Russell

    I’m not sure what word is used for your cognitive disconnect between what I said and what you answer. It’s sort of a second cousin to a non-sequitur because there’s nothing about what I said contradicted in it. Though I’d be more discriminating among different Sunday schools, both for efficacy and nonsense.

    I forget, is that silly atheist summer camp that teaches infant atheists to believe they own science and that everyone else is stupid going on this year? It’s always so nice seeing a new generation of arrogant, bigoted, Brite snobs being trained up.

    I’m not particularly impressed by the phrase “holdings of a branch of science.”

    Quibbling, trying to waste time, distract people from your inability to deal with the statement.

    You’re quite mistaken to write off all psychology as pseudo-science.

    They want to be considered a real science, let them throw out all the junk based on some of the worst experimental methodologies and crappy review this side of…. wait, I’m not sure that the standards in ID are actually worse than what gets regularly published in psychology journals and taught in university psych classes, I’d have to check that out.

    Consider confirmation bias. …

    I’d rather consider it in an argument where it actually means something.

    It’s impossible as a child not too take most of what one is taught on faith.

    Or in physicists who believe in evo-psy or biologists who believe in string theory-M-theory-East-West….. Or in the several CSICOPs who Dennis Rawlins quotes as confessing to being so ignorant of statistics that they couldn’t possibly even read the literature of what they pretended to debunk.

    No one can know it all, they have to accept most of the science they accept on exactly the basis of faith I laid out above. Not to mention the mathematics they use. I’ll bet you fewer than 50% of the scientists who use advanced math could understand the proofs of that mathematics they use. You do know that the great Idealist philosopher George Berkeley attacked the logical foundations of Calculus so well and so brilliantly that it was many, many years into its use before mathematicians managed to answer his arguments. I believe parts of it might not have been truly, logically founded until the middle of the last century.

    So, anyone who used it in the interim was doing so on the basis of faith. As, indeed, is the actual case in most of mathematics, as they’ve known since the early 1930s. Though math is a lot better at tying up the loose ends than anything else. Looks like you’re stuck with taking stuff on faith and wanting it to be true.

    I’d fully intended to take a break from the blogs but found out this morning that a CSICOP brat had launched a nuclear attack on me, so I’m stuck with hanging around here until she retracts. Looks like it could be a long wait. I intend to match whatever she’s done and more. Only I won’t lie.

  47. #47 Anthony McCarthy
    June 14, 2011

    Yeah, “Camp Quest” seems to be there and proliferating. I like this:

    Essay topic: What can I do to improve the image of freethinkers/atheists in the world?

    How about not being a snob, for starters, kids.

    I see there’s also a “Camp Dawkins”. Never overestimate the man’s modesty.

  48. #48 Spartan
    June 14, 2011

    No one can know it all, they have to accept most of the science they accept on exactly the basis of faith I laid out above.

    Ah, no. I don’t have to accept the science involving antibiotics being effective against infections on faith, it has demonstrable results. Evidence. The fact that ultimately there are unknowns involved that may be what you label ‘faith’, doesn’t erase this evidence. I no more have to personally conduct a scientific experiment of the use of antibiotics against infections to avoid the charge of ‘faith!’ than I need to personally observe a carpenter constructing a table. Not all (what you call) faith is equal.

  49. #49 Anthony McCarthy
    June 14, 2011

    You couldn’t know that unless it was the result of a statistical analysis of tests, unless you observed them and monitored the test subjects and went through the data analyzing it, yourself, you’ve taken it on faith that all of those were done well and reported accurately and honestly.

    Not all drugs which are approved for sale turn out to have been adequately tested, some are withdrawn later because the testing was inadequate or even fraudulent. You take the process on faith that is, clearly, not 100% worthy of that faith.

    Faith, faith, faith. Get used to it, you do it every day.

  50. #50 Russell
    June 14, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Quibbling, trying to waste time, distract people from your inability to deal with the statement.

    No, pointing out a great difference in approach and attitude. Perhaps the most important one, relevant to this discussion. Let me repeat my summary:

    The issue isn’t whether we grew up believers. We all did, in one way or another. The issue is whether that kind of faith is taken as a legitimate stopping point, when issues are revisited as adults.

    Faith, faith, faith. Get used to it, you do it every day.

    But see, that’s not the point. When pressed in an area where that has been what one does, what then? The believer shrugs his shoulder and says, “So what? Everyone else is doing the same. Faith, faith, faith. Get used to it.”

    In contrast, the individual striving for intellectual honesty recognizes that they have been pressed in an area where they don’t really know much. They recognize that, let it chip away at their belief, and put it on the stack of things to study before making claims there.

  51. #51 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    The issue isn’t whether we grew up believers. We all did, in one way or another. The issue is whether that kind of faith is taken as a legitimate stopping point, when issues are revisited as adults. Russell

    You do it whenever you read a news story or a piece in a science magazine that talks about an area of science you don’t follow and you trust that what is said about it. You want to think you’re above acts of faith but you are not, no one is, we couldn’t function if we had to verify everything we functionally accept as being true. You do it whenever you take a scientist’s word as being authoritative – don’t compound your folly by pretending you never do that – when you can’t verify if what they’re saying is justified.

    Maybe an emotional inability to face the real facts of their intellectual lives is the common thread in new atheism. That’s something that agnostics don’t seem to suffer from, lots of religious people have faced the reality of how life really is in that regard. Maybe that’s why believing doesn’t give them the heebie jeebies, maybe it’s the reason that agnostics are seldom obnoxious dicks.

  52. #52 Spartan
    June 15, 2011

    Faith, faith, faith. Get used to it, you do it every day.

    You are abusing the word ‘faith’. If I develop an infection and take antibiotics, I don’t ‘have faith’ that they will work. I may hope they work, or maybe even trust they work, but that isn’t faith. And you just handwaved your way past the fact that I have ample evidence of the efficacy of antibiotics, without actually observing white blood cells battling the infection.

    So what ‘faith’ do you think I am ‘doing’ today that is on par with the typical religious faith in God? I don’t think you’ve comprehended that some people don’t have a problem functioning in a reality where everything ultimately reduces down to the unknown, without having ‘faith’.

    Did you observe the assembly of the table your computer is on? If not, are all ideas you may have about the origin of your table taken on faith? Is that how you are attempting to use the word ‘faith’?

  53. #53 Russell
    June 15, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    You do it whenever you read a news story or a piece in a science magazine that talks about an area of science you don’t follow and you trust that what is said about it. …

    In my world, many news stories turn out to be wrong.

    You want to think you’re above acts of faith…

    I’m no more above acts of faith than I’m above acts of sloth and gluttony. I just don’t confound faith with knowledge. And that’s where believers and skeptics part. It’s no big thing, when doing archaeology on belief, to catch either holding things for all sorts of bad reasons. The question is: what next? Are you intellectually honest, and say, “hey, I don’t really know this”? Or do you say, “yeah, I know it, it’s my faith”?

  54. #54 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    Oh, Spartan “Faith, hope and love….”

    There is no honest distinction made between the kind of faith that is anathema to you and the kind that I’ve noted every single person of any intellectual sophistication practices just about every waking hour of their day. You’re just afraid to admit what’s obvious to anyone who doesn’t have that same emotional investment in believing that they don’t practice faith.

    I’m abusing the word “faith”? Oh. I’m surprised that would be considered a sin among the new atheists.

    Russell, what branch of science are you most expert in?

    I will say that other than in a bit of math, I’m not more than an interested reader in any of them. Every single thing I believe about science except the few papers I manage to read every year is accepted in an act of faith. And even in those papers I am relying on a faith in the competence and honesty of those who produced them and reviewed them, though I have often seen cases in which that faith would have been wrong. I can take that reality. Go ahead, try it, facing the truth isn’t all that scary. And it doesn’t stop it from being true if you deny it. Look at George Berkeley’s The Analyst “WHEREIN
    It is examined whether the Object, Principles, and Inferences of the modern Analysis are more distinctly conceived, or more evidently deduced, than Religious Mysteries and Points of Faith.”

    http://www.maths.tcd.ie/pub/HistMath/People/Berkeley/Analyst/Analyst.html

    You’re not going to out reason Berkeley and neither am I. Nor will any of the clowns selling themselves as “skeptics” today.

  55. #55 Ender
    June 15, 2011

    I suppose I could be accused of taking low-hanging fruit, or shooting fish in a barrel but:

    “Josh: “I suspect some atheists would like interfaith efforts to fail so that religion can fail.”

    Norweigan Shooter: “I suspect some atheists think your suspicion about some atheists is a logical FAIL. Wait, I don’t have to suspect that, I think it is a logical FAIL. Is there any atheist that thinks that interfaith efforts has any relationship with the success of religion?

    That’s hilarious! It’s so cute how you confidently call that a “logical” fail. Where is the error in his logic?

    What you are stumbling around trying to say is that it’s “incorrect” or a “evidential” fail.

    Sadly your reason for believing that (“Is there any atheist that thinks that interfaith efforts has any relationship with the success of religion?”) could be better phrased as “Neither I nor any atheist I know thinks that” – or the Argument from Ignorance (look it up), an actual logical fail. :D :D

    Sorry for wasting everybody’s time by laughing at something so incorrect and obviously incorrect that you all rightfully ignored it.

  56. #56 Spartan
    June 15, 2011

    There is no honest distinction made between the kind of faith that is anathema to you and the kind that I’ve noted every single person of any intellectual sophistication practices just about every waking hour of their day. You’re just afraid to admit what’s obvious to anyone who doesn’t have that same emotional investment in believing that they don’t practice faith.

    There is an honest distinction to be made to the degree and amount of ‘faith’ people take however; not all quantities of faith are equal and when comparing to religious faith you appear to be making a false equivalence. Nor do I invest myself in the findings of science being true to anywhere near the extent that theists invest in the idea that their god is real.

    And just a suggestion, how about you dropping your comments about the mental and emotional states of people you are interacting with here. I regard your evidence-free comments about what I or others are ‘afraid’ of and what they are ‘emotionally invested’ in as substitutes when you don’t have anything of substance to offer. I’m not a new atheist, and it would be helpful if you would respond to the points offered and not try to vainly score points by providing a psychological analysis of your opponents. I don’t believe I’ve done that to you.

    So I’ll ask my questions again. What do you believe I am taking on faith today? You act like it is patently obvious so you should have no trouble coming up with an example. And do you have ‘faith’ that your table was not assembled by demons, assuming you did not observe its construction?

  57. #57 Ender
    June 15, 2011

    Well allow me to step in here and be the tone troll.

    I think that Spartan is right, comments with regards to other people’s supposed emotional states merely distract from the rational argument which is the only interesting thing in this debate.

    In Anthony’s defence the NA/Accom/Theist debates are vituperative places with insult, implication, mind-reading and ad-hominem flying fast, and Anthony is such a big hate-figure for some of the NA’s that I had heard scads of abuse about him before I ever saw him post anywhere, so he has experienced much worse than he has doled out here, and this probably seems like mere robust debate compared to the flaming he’s seen.

    Spartan: “There is an honest distinction to be made to the degree and amount of ‘faith’ people take however; not all quantities of faith are equal and when comparing to religious faith you appear to be making a false equivalence.”

    Though I by-and-large agree with Anthony’s position, I think you are approximately right here. There are certainly different degrees and amounts of faith, and to say that “everyone has faith and it’s all the same” would be to make a false equivalence.

    However, “amount of faith” is not really a quantifiable thing. Does it take more faith to believe that Energy cannot be created or destroyed, or that we don’t live in the Matrix (or equivalent?). Does it take more faith to believe that religious philosophy correctly explains why there must be a God, or that secular philosophy correctly explains why there can’t be a God?

    This makes all sorts of sweeping statements (You’re worse. Nu-uh You are) essentially moot, unless you have a verified sociological instrument for determining “amount and degree of faith” and some damn good studies.

    Anything else is just generalising from your own position, and lo-and-behold you should find that everyone manages to generalise that “I and people like myself are very rational, you and others like you, less so”

    As for your specific point of contention:

    I believe Anthony is saying something along the lines of: every time you “believe” any result in science you are “believing” many things, without evidence: 1) Solipsism is not true 2) You are not a butterfly dreaming you are a man 3) They did not fake their results 4) They did not make an blinding error which everyone has missed 5) Any unevidenced a-priori like “Energy cannot be created or destroyed”*
    And: Depending on what you believe about that result, you may also believe 1) this is a “correct” representation of the universe, 2) that this is determined entirely without the intervention of powerful aliens or supernatural beings, 3) that the unchanging constants used in the calculations are in fact “unchanging” as opposed to “we haven’t discovered them changing yet” etc etc etc

    Other things that you believe are likely to include: Every time you use your reasoning abilities and trust the result you have faith that you have successfully defeated Confirmation bias, any possible lack of knowledge (which unfortunately you can’t judge unless you know you don’t know something relevant), and the backfire effect: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/

    Also, I’m unsure if you’re an atheist or not.
    If you are then your arguments for morality are exactly as unevidenced as religious believers. So there you have faith akin to theirs. (Unless you argue that it is a semi-arbritrary set of rules that has evolved to allow us to survive as social animals and is no more “true” and “good” than “correct” table manners or any other rules invented by social animals, which in the absence of the supernatural is the only logical conclusion)
    If you’re a positive atheist** then you “believe” so to speak that there is no God then you’re exactly as faithful as them as there is literally no evidence against an almost infinite number of Gods that could exist.

    It’s like believing that aliens do or don’t exist. As there is no evidence either way (ignoring cranks) it takes exactly as much “belief” to believe that they either do or do not exist.

    *Though I believe this may have already been disproven. Don’t quote me on that.

    **I will not argue about vocabulary and definitions of things that don’t matter, if you prefer another way of referring to atheists who not only don’t believe in God but believe he doesn’t exist then we will use that word, but the only thing that will happen if you tell me that this is the “wrong” label to use is I will respect your intelligence and understanding of language much less.

    Sorry I have entered this conversation late, and there was to much to comprehensively respond to, so feel free to pick any holes in what I’ve said that you like and I will clarify later.

  58. #58 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    Ender, I had expected to be taking a month or so off from the blogs, I’d written to several of the owners of blogs I’ve been frequenting to assure them it was nothing they said, including Josh, as a courtesy. Then Monday I woke up to find that one of the minor-major figures in new atheist-“skeptical” circles had done a hit job on me that entered into a national publication. Ironically, the CSICOP brat slammed me for being skeptical in exactly the way her prominent skeptic father had said people should be in exactly the way I applied skepticism. So I’m not feeling especially inclined to be overly polite to the clique.

    That said, after a number of years trying to engage in intellectual discourse with new atheists I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a movement primarily fueled by an emotional inability to accept how life really is and in an arrogant belief in their ability to surpass the vicissitudes of the lives of people they believe are inferior to themselves. I’ve seen no evidence of that superiority. I think it’s a matter of faith.

    Other than that, many fine points. Though the things I meant people had to believe were more on the line of “Marc Hauser isn’t making up behavior in tamarins and his published, peer reviewed research is evidence of a genetic origin of that peculiar form of Sociobiological “altruism” that is really selfishness by proxy”. That’s the huge number of things that people who went on to use Hauser’s published “science” to base more “science” on. The kind of thing that can come crashing to the ground, only I’ll bet you anything that some of that “science” is still being read and taught and believed in by such as who want to believe it. Most of them thoroughly because they have an emotional attachment to atheistic materialism.

  59. #59 Spartan
    June 15, 2011

    Ender,

    Thanks for the response. If Anthony responds the way he does because of past interactions with other commenters, then that is understandable, albeit annoying when I don’t believe I am one of the commenters who has treated him that way. To a theist, I am an atheist, but it is probably more correct to say I’m agnostic; I too find semantic arguments about these terms tedious and pointless.

    every time you “believe” any result in science you are “believing” many things, without evidence: 1) Solipsism is not true 2) You are not a butterfly dreaming you are a man 3) They did not fake their results 4) They did not make an blinding error which everyone has missed 5) Any unevidenced a-priori like “Energy cannot be created or destroyed”*

    Numbers 1 and 2 there are exactly what I was trying to ultimately get at with my first comment. There are an infinite number of possibilities resulting in what we perceive as objective reality being an illusion, but these are problems for all religious belief also. Theists also take ‘faith’ that ‘reality’ is not an illusion, for if it was it undermines their religious beliefs also. But theists layer additional faith propositions on top of this underlying ‘faith’ with their belief in their god; to me, that’s ‘more’ faith, despite our inability to measure it. Communism is also not a quantifiable thing, but we have little problem saying that such-and-such country is more communistic than others.

    Your points 3 and 4 are definitely germane, but I already accept that results are faked and mistakes are made; there is ample evidence of both of those occurring in science. I’m unclear on what faith in science I must take in order to be able to function; I’m content to function in a bubble surrounded on all sides by infinite potential possibilities and the unknown. What evidence-free propositions am I accepting on faith that are necessary in order for me to function? I may very well be a butterfly, or any other thing you can dream up. I’m not taking it on ‘faith’ that I’m not; I have no evidence that I am, and even if I had some reason to believe I was, I’m unclear on what then I would be doing differently given what I am experiencing. As far as energy not being created or destroyed, I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the physics involved with that law, but let me ask, if energy could be created or destroyed, wouldn’t we expect to be able see evidence of it?

    As far as morality, I pretty much think it is what you put in your parentheses. I see no reason though to think that wherever morality comes from that I would function any differently with regards to it.

  60. #60 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    Spartan, I’m surprised an agnostic would have problems with what I said about the ubiquity of belief in the acceptance of something due to the impossibility of establishing the evidential and logical foundations of it. I’d have thought that was exactly why they withheld both their disbelief and their belief in a god. If that’s true, I would suggest trying to apply the same rigorous analysis to your acceptance of a part of science you have neither the background nor the time to master.

    As I so often do, I will make recourse to quoting the great thinker on these things, Richard Lewontin:

    First, no one can know and understand everything. Even individual scientists are ignorant about most of the body of scientific knowledge, and it is not simply that biologists do not understand quantum mechanics. If I were to ask my colleagues in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to explain the evolutionary importance of RNA editing in trypanosomes, they would be just as mystified by the question as the typical well-educated reader of this review.

    There is no alternative but to either suspend all acceptance or rejection of those kinds of things or to accept them on faith or to reject them for some other reason, often an emotional one.

    I’d go into the frequent phenomenon of expert rejection of sound science for emotional reasons related to their profession but time won’t allow it.

  61. #61 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    Rereading the essay, I can’t resist quoting this passage again:

    But when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be. 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.

    There is a choice to accept that authority based in their faith in the community of scientists and the presumed review of their methods and practices because you have to do that if you want to do science and to believe what science says. There is no other way to explain why someone would believe much of what gets believed about science other than that it is wanted to, that what science you have some experience of is with has been well done. It is an act of faith. Though you don’t want to believe that either because it’s not part of your faith in science.

  62. #62 Russell
    June 15, 2011

    Spartan writes:

    I believe Anthony is saying something along the lines of: every time you “believe” any result in science you are “believing” many things, without evidence: 1) Solipsism is not true 2) You are not a butterfly dreaming you are a man 3) They did not fake their results 4) They did not make an blinding error which everyone has missed 5) Any unevidenced a-priori like “Energy cannot be created or destroyed”*

    And I don’t see a need for faith in any of those. If I’m a brain in a vat or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man, what I experience now is still all I have now. My explorations of that may seem irrelevant when I wake from that dream. Even if I am no more than what I now seem, a lone homo sapiens, my explorations will be irrelevant when I die. None of that prevents me from applying reason to those explorations and trying to understand that experience, even if that understanding later proves to be bracketed by something larger and different. So, no, science doesn’t require faith in 1) and 2). Those philosophical observations correctly point out limits to our knowledge.

    3) Results sometimes are faked. So any faith that that doesn’t happen is just wrong. It surprises me in how many of these examples where faith supposedly is required, it not only isn’t required, but would have people believe something demonstrably false! Those who become familiar with a field gain some perspective with which to weigh different kind of results: those that are new and singular, those that have been replicated broadly, those that are demonstrated in every freshman physics lab, those that have implications on which much has been built, and that wouldn’t work unless so or close to so, those that are quite speculative, etc. There has been one alleged sighting of a magnetic monopole. That’s not quite the same kind of finding as the moon’s light resulting from reflection of the sun’s light.

    4) Errors are made. Certainty is never absolute. Except for those who reify faith. Then, it is absolute. And stupid.

    5) Whether energy can be created or destroyed is something to investigate empirically, not something to assume a priori.

    So, not only do I deny that we need faith in those for science, I would argue in some of those cases that such faith is misdirected, independent of its alleged implication for science.

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, what branch of science are you most expert in? I will say that other than in a bit of math, I’m not more than an interested reader in any of them. Every single thing I believe about science except the few papers I manage to read every year is accepted in an act of faith.

    I have a bit different experience with science. Let’s take a field where I’m not an expert: physics. In my high school physics class, we went out in a field at night with a telescope, and plotted the planets relative to the stars. IIRC, Jupiter was retrograde some of that time. In class, we would compare our plots with Ptolemy’s astronomy. Only later did we move onto Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. Even though all of us had had calculus. We similarly did many of the classical experiments with momentum and angular momentum, electricity and magnetism, etc. The advantage to such a class is that one does gain a first step to understanding what the raw data is for physics, and how it was first acquired. It’s a tiny step. But it provides a very different view of physics, and of science, than any introduction without a lab.

    Biology was something else I learned — the little bit I know — in a somewhat hands-on fashion. And like physics, the nice thing about learning a bit of biology is that it gives you a very different eye in observing the world around you. Much of Texas is having a drought now. The vast majority of people will walk from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned office, not hardly noticing. Except for their brown yards, which to them is nature. But to anyone who knows the natural flora in their area, and who walks some where it grows, this is an interesting time. Some species just aren’t there. Or aren’t flowering. Other species are flourishing. And it has made a difference in the bird populations. If all one knows of biology is what one reads, then that is just a story. Steinbeck writes better than I do; read Log of the Sea of Cortez. But to someone who has developed a little bit of eye for the natural world, it’s as obvious as going to your house one day to find someone has painted it in stripes.

    Now, yes, most of science one learns by reading. Including how and what to observe. I never saw a kettle of migrating hawks until reading where to go to see them. I never knew about Hadley cells until I took a weather course. (But I already knew how the trade winds changed throughout the year! That’s pretty obvious on the Texas coast.)

    One can’t go far without reading. Or math. That said, science is very different to one who learns it by getting their hands dirty, than from books alone. I know the planets wander. I know how to see that. I know Ptolemaic astronomy was a pretty damned good model of that. And Newtonian mechanics, even better. And partly because I know that history, I’m quite skeptical that GR is the final word on the motion of the skies. If I thought I would live long enough to collect, I would give you good odds that GR will be revised. How’s that for a lack of faith in the latest science! And as I said above, I’m not an expert in physics.

  63. #63 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    If I could find some relevance to the points I’ve made in what you said I might answer it.

    What’s your point

    I believe I was quite clear in what I meant in my own example when I answered Ender.

  64. #64 Spartan
    June 15, 2011

    Spartan, I’m surprised an agnostic would have problems with what I said about the ubiquity of belief in the acceptance of something due to the impossibility of establishing the evidential and logical foundations of it. I’d have thought that was exactly why they withheld both their disbelief and their belief in a god.

    I don’t disagree with you at all about the ubiquity of belief. I’m agnostic because there’s no direct evidence that any gods exist, but anything is possible. I’m agnostic on leprechauns in the exact same way. I more disagree with how you seem to be equating religious beliefs and scientific ‘beliefs’, as if the faith that is needed for both is equivalent.

    If that’s true, I would suggest trying to apply the same rigorous analysis to your acceptance of a part of science you have neither the background nor the time to master.

    I have. Based on I’m not sure what, you are making some pretty big assumptions about what I ‘accept’. One problem is that ‘mastering’ a topic is relative, and ultimately no one can ever establish the ‘evidential and logical foundations’ for anything. It’s ‘why’s all the way down. I can’t and don’t say that I accept quantum mechanics, because I only have the slightest inkling what it even is and even that is barely comprehensible. I have a tentative belief that it is probably correct given my understanding of the method of science and, most importantly, that that method has produced repeatable results. A big plus for science is that is usually attempts to provide explanations for phenomenon that have already been shown to exist.

    You want to think you’re above acts of faith but you are not, no one is, we couldn’t function if we had to verify everything we functionally accept as being true.

    This is what I most disagree with you on. I don’t think you’ve shown that it is necessary to verify everything in order to function; I’m able to function just fine using reason and the evidence I do have available. I believe I can communicate with you by typing and then clicking a button. There are multiple technologies and scientific principles involved in that simple operation that I do not understand. I believe that this comment will be posted based not on faith, but on evidence that it has worked in the past. Where am I engaging in anything that is faith-based?

  65. #65 Wowbagger
    June 15, 2011

    I think the best way to illustrate the difference between ‘faith’ in the religious sense, and ‘faith’ (as Anthony describes it) in science is to ask a very simple question: how does what we accept as true in each field (for want of a better term) change, and why?

    We used to believe the ulcers were caused by stress or spicy food; scientists showed that it was, in fact, bacteria. What was once considered true has changed, because scientific principles were used to challenge what was accepted and demonstrated that the physical reality

    But when religious views change – like, say, on slavery – it’s only opinion or consensus that changes, since the source material (e.g. the bible) is exactly the same; there are no further revelations from God, after all.

    And I think that’s the key difference between the two kinds of ‘faith’ – one is actually capable of real change, and the other is only capable of interpretive change. As a result everything we know via science could be turned upside down with the right findings – to what extent can that be said of religion?

  66. #66 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    Wowbagger, that has nothing to do with what a person does when they accept ideas that they have not, personally, investigated or verified. It’s what you have to do to believe in those things that makes if faith, as my aether example above shows. I could have chosen dozens, hundreds and, if I was informed enough, thousands of scientific ideas, firmly believed and taught and used and then overturned. Looking at the so-called sciences I could probably find ten times or more than that. Faith is an act, the act is done by the person doing it. The object of that faith only has to not be founded in evidence and logic by the person doing the believing, it can be true or it can be false.

    You guys are just denying what’s obvious. You are all faith-heads. Everyone is. Sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, you’re no better than anyone else, it’s the common lot in human life. You’re stuck with human limitations.

  67. #67 Wowbagger
    June 15, 2011

    Anthony wrote:

    You guys are just denying what’s obvious. You are all faith-heads. Everyone is. Sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, you’re no better than anyone else, it’s the common lot in human life. You’re stuck with human limitations.

    Except that I accept that everything I have ‘faith’ (using your definition) in could be shown to be wrong, whereupon my attitude towards it would change. It’s happened before; I’m fairly sure it’ll happen again.

    Can you say the same? What would it take for you to stop believing in your god?

  68. #68 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    You just want to believe you’re superior to other people by pretending that all religious believers are fundamentalists. New atheists are just snobs that use that to feel superior to other people. I’ll have go disillusion you, though, other than other new atheists, most people think you’re just obnoxious. We’re not impressed. And there are a lot more of us.

  69. #69 Russell
    June 15, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    If I could find some relevance to the points I’ve made in what you said I might answer it.

    The relevance should be pretty clear. You and Spartan keep trotting out examples where faith allegedly is necessary. I unpack them, show that faith isn’t necessary, and in many cases, show that the faith that allegedly is necessary in fact would have people believe things that demonstrably are false. That post largely was pointing out that I have somewhat less faith than you do in science, because I understand science in quite a different way than you do.

  70. #70 Spartan
    June 15, 2011

    Okay, I think that’s it for me with Anthony. I don’t think @68 could be a more irrelevant and pitiable response to @67. And apparently we are to take much of what he says as true, appropriately, on faith.

  71. #71 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    Hey, Spartan, if you think wowbagger makes sense, I’m not too broken up.

    Maybe you should look up thread and see Russell who wanted numbers to be non-physical until I pointed out the problems that caused for the favorite new atheist “brain only” arguments. Then he wanted them to be physical but I could also point out problems for atheist dogma with that. It was entertaining.

    Since then it’s just been atheists blowing smoke. I can tell when someone’s trying to waste my time.

    There will be no interfaith dialog with atheists because a critical mass of atheists are snobs who aren’t interested in dialog. You might as well try to get dialog between billionaires and the working poor.

  72. #72 Spartan
    June 15, 2011

    Russell,

    You and Spartan keep trotting out examples where faith allegedly is necessary.

    Whoa pops, I’m arguing against Anthony, not for him. I’ve repeatedly asked him for specific examples of where I, in all my supposed faithheadedness, engage in faith in order to function day to day, and he hasn’t provided an answer. You may mean Ender, as you mis-attributed a statement to me that was by him @62.

  73. #73 Russell
    June 15, 2011

    Maybe you should look up thread and see Russell who wanted numbers to be non-physical until I pointed out the problems that caused for the favorite new atheist “brain only” arguments. Then he wanted them to be physical…

    No. That is your imagination working in overdrive. You have been the poster here who keeps implying some special status to numbers. I keep pointing out that they are a part of language.

  74. #74 Russell
    June 15, 2011

    Spartan:

    Whoa pops, I’m arguing against Anthony, not for him. I’ve repeatedly asked him for specific examples of where I, in all my supposed faithheadedness, engage in faith in order to function day to day, and he hasn’t provided an answer. You may mean Ender…

    Oh! Yes, I somehow confused you with Ender.

    My apologies to both.

  75. #75 Wowbagger
    June 15, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    You just want to believe you’re superior to other people by pretending that all religious believers are fundamentalists.

    I’ve read posts by other religious believers who’ve been honest enough to admit they could be wrong, and how that could be demonstrated, so you’re quite incorrect when you claim that I’m applying anything to ‘all’ religious believers.

    But refusing to accept than you can be wrong about something – and it appears that you do refuse to accept that you could be wrong about the existence of the god at the centre of your faith, given how incensed you’ve become at my question – seems very unreasonable to me. I don’t know about ‘fundamentalist’, but it certainly meets the criteria for ‘dogmatic’.

    New atheists are just snobs that use that to feel superior to other people.

    You seem obsessed with this idea of superiority. Why is that? I’m talking about objective truth, and you’re talking about hurt feelings; the two really shouldn’t overlap – not, at least, if you’re actually interested in discovering what the truth is.

    I’ll have go disillusion you, though, other than other new atheists, most people think you’re just obnoxious.

    Again, how is that relevant to what is or isn’t true? Obnoxious ≠ wrong.

    We’re not impressed. And there are a lot more of us.

    A lot of people believe it, therefore it must be true? I believe there’s an expression for that particular mode of thinking.

    But, more importantly, I imagine something similar was said by the polytheist forebears of the Jews to those who would become the monotheistic Jews who wrote what we call the Old Testament. And by the Jews and the Pagans to the Christians. And by the Catholics to the first Protestants. And by the 19th Century American Christians to the Mormons – and by pretty much everyone to the Scientologists for the past fifty or so years.

    And look how each one of those turned out…

  76. #76 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    You have been the poster here who keeps implying some special status to numbers. I keep pointing out that they are a part of language.

    So, you’re retreating even further away from the problem I presented to you @16 above, now numbers are just linguistic constructs. In which case you can’t escape the point that science is even more a peculiarly human entity since science is absolutely dependent on numbers and mathematical symbolism, in which case science could not be rationally believed to be capable of having relevance to a determination of the ultimate nature of the universe. In which case most of modern atheist dogma goes *poof*.

    I wouldn’t go that far about numbers, I merely don’t think they are physical I don’t think there’s any evidence that they are mere illusions of language. I believe they are a human perception of real relationships, but a peculiarly human one.

    Martin Gardner wouldn’t have been happy with you. And it’s been my experience that when you diss Martin Gardner new atheists, at least those informed enough to know who he was, go ballistic.

  77. #77 Anthony McCarthy
    June 15, 2011

    wowbagger, there are a lot more of us who find new atheists to be obnoxious snobs than there are of you. That’s what happens when you have a fad based in thinking you’re better than everyone else.

    I’m talking about objective truth,

    The concept of an objective view of something is an absurd myth. Viewing something involves a specific view of it, you can’t have a complete, spherical view of something, you have to take a specific view and that one isn’t objective.

    Maybe God has objective views, people don’t.

  78. #78 Wowbagger
    June 15, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    wowbagger, there are a lot more of us who find new atheists to be obnoxious snobs than there are of you.

    So you keep insisting. I just don’t see the relevance, especially considering how many times throughout history people who would have been called ‘obnoxious snobs’ (or something equivalent; I have to say I’ve never heard that combination of words before) went on to form long-lasting social or political movements in spite of the desperate attempts of the majority to shame them into shutting up.

    That’s what happens when you have a fad based in thinking you’re better than everyone else.

    You use the term ‘fad’ a lot – how long, exactly, does something have to last before it stops being a ‘fad’? Ten years? Fifty? A hundred?

    The concept of an objective view of something is an absurd myth. Viewing something involves a specific view of it, you can’t have a complete, spherical view of something, you have to take a specific view and that one isn’t objective.

    I suppose it could be argued that that’s true in philosophy (and no doubt theology, but that’s not saying much; it’s a very low bar), but the topic was ‘faith’ in science, which by its nature removes (or at least minimise) subjectivity.

    Can you not tell if, when stood next to each other on a level surface and measured using a measuring tape, one person is taller than another? That’s what I mean when I refer to objectivity.

    Maybe God has objective views, people don’t.

    Why would you think so? How would you know if you were wrong?

  79. #79 Anthony McCarthy
    June 16, 2011

    wowbagger, the new atheism is just like any other fad, it will have its time and it will pass, not least of all because it is tedious. It doesn’t have any real use in peoples’ lives except in those few who use it to make themselves feel better than other people, that’s what it consists of. There is nothing to it just as the deism fad of the late 18th century had nothing to it. It will have a short period of fashion then it will fade except for a rump which will find self-congratulation an irresistible drug. As I’ve said here before, even among the anxiously trendy, college educated I’ve heard more disparaging thing about “atheists” and seen more eyes roll when one begins to spout off than I ever did in the 60s or 70s or even 80s, when the reborns were giving people the reason to roll their eyes.

    It’s difficult for people who spend all day in front of a computer screen or among their fellow new atheists to realize how truly off-putting the behavior of new atheists is to normal people who aren’t interested in feeling superior to other people in that way. Even non-believers who aren’t naturally inclined to be snobs.

    I think the second most tragic thing about the new atheism is what you people have done to the acceptance of non-commercial science by using it in your anti-religious invectives.

    The most tragic thing is the perfect role you and other pseudo-liberal snobs play as foils in corporate, right wing politics which is the thing that is leading to total and unprecedented destruction. Ironically that real cataclysm, using for-profit science as a tool to destroy, with little to no protest by anyone, will destroy much if not all of the work of that Evolution the new atheists always claim to be so worked up about.

    While I guess that the fundamentalist rejection of evolutionary science is the source of Jerry Coyne’s political cluelessness, for just about all the rest of you, evolutionary science is just something to use in your anti-religious invectives.

    People are going to be too busy trying to survive to care about whether they’re better than other people. A lot of useless entertainments are going to go. I haven’t noticed the new atheism appealing to poor folks much and we are going to be a far larger percentage of the population than we are now. People need hope, they’ll turn to churches. Also, unfortunately, a secondary feature of the new atheism is that its worst effects on religion will be on liberal denominations with large numbers of the college educated in them, the very ones that are needed to counter fundamentalism.

    Cultural secularism has a hard time maintaining the more difficult political position that requires self-sacrifice, I generally find religious liberals far more reliable than secular liberals.

    The new atheism isn’t more than superficially liberal because it rejects equality and it is uninterested in the lot of poor folks, which are exactly those things that liberal religion is good for. Religious liberals persist in striving for equality and justice because they believe it’s a moral requirement for them to do that. Which is the motivating force that atheism will never provide. Though atheists might, possibly, be able to be moved by self-interest, I haven’t noticed them doing much in the way of general good.

    The left in the United States was most influential when it was in the hands of religious liberals. When it was hijacked by the Trots and would be Marxists (for whom I don’t blame Marx anymore than I would Jesus for most Christians), the left faltered and lost influence. Other than the period when The Reverend Martin Luther King jr. and his allies were influential, the non-religious left has spent most of its time since the mid-30s eating up what was produced by previous generations. The would-be Marxist left has been even more absurd, spending most of its time in vicious turf battles over the postage stamp of territory it managed to gain, much of that bought for it by the absurd Corliss Lamont with his corporate millions. The one and only achievement of American communism is its own victimization and the bizarre romance of a left that was married to Stalin. I mean, Stalin? Did they really think most people in the West were going to go for Stalin?

    I don’t believe in the secular-left anymore. I look around and see how it’s frittering away what remains of progress. I think there is a good chance that if one or two more Republican governments take over that even the essential Wall of Separation will be destroyed as you people preen in your sense of your own superiority. Without the motivation to put others first, people will always look into the pool and marvel at their wonderful self. Finding it is, ultimately, more important than equality and justice and doing without to preserve the biosphere.

    The opposition to the corporate-fascist state needs a new political response, contemporary liberalism isn’t that response. I have no doubt anymore, after watching the unfolding disaster of the current administration, that it lacks even the will to carry out the program of equality and equal distribution of resources, including education, that has to comprise the real opposition to the corporate oligarchs. The Best and the Brightest are too conceited to think those are worth real sacrifice for, The Reverend Martin Luther King jr and other religious based leftists believed it’s their moral duty to sacrifice in that way, they believe it is the will of God. They get there while the secularists are trying to convince everyone that unselfishness is really selfishness so they can turn it into a material phenomenon. So, see, anti-religious “liberals” will always turn out to be far more like Republicans than what is needed to oppose them.

  80. #80 Anthony McCarthy
    June 16, 2011

    I suppose it could be argued that that’s true in philosophy (and no doubt theology, but that’s not saying much; it’s a very low bar), wowbagger

    I suppose someday atheists will get out of the 18th century and at least get to the 1930s but that clearly hasn’t happened yet. You should bone up on the physics that made Bertrand Russell so glum when he wasn’t stewing about Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems. Objectivity is an ancient myth, it’s absurd.

    Why would you think so? How would you know if you were wrong? wowbagger

    That’s why I said, “MAYBE God has objective views, people don’t.” Maybe so, maybe not, God hasn’t let us know, probably for a good reason considering what a total muck up we’re making of the world, having tasted the fruit of knowledge. We’re not that far ahead of the viruses, probably not even up to their speed. You see, I really, truly don’t believe that we are apart from our fellow creatures.

    Or, if there is no god, the universe doesn’t much care if we know of if we don’t. It doesn’t care that we don’t have that knowledge, our desires fall on indifferent ears. Stamping our little feet and insisting that we can only makes us ridiculous.

    People can’t escape their inherent limits, they can’t surpass the vicissitudes of their physical component nor the peculiar properties of being stuck in a limited locality from where they observe.

    They can’t see it all, they can’t see into it, past where they can see, they don’t have total focus on its most fundamental structure or its place in the universe, they can’t see it before they see it or after they see it. They can’t escape that what light or sound waves or tactile address that they use to see it is only partial information, that whatever conclusion they come up with about it is the product of their limited view, their conception is subject to those, no matter how hard they try, it is inescapably a SUBJECTIVE view.

  81. #81 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    So, you’re retreating even further away from the problem I presented to you @16 above, now numbers are just linguistic constructs. In which case you can’t escape the point that science is even more a peculiarly human entity since science is absolutely dependent on numbers and mathematical symbolism, in which case science could not be rationally believed to be capable of having relevance to a determination of the ultimate nature of the universe. In which case most of modern atheist dogma goes *poof*.

    There’s a lot to unpack in the above. Let’s begin with the last: atheism isn’t a consequence of how good science is epistemically, but of how empty religion is. So criticism of science has much less bearing on atheism than many people think.

    Going back one, what you seem to be arguing is that “science could not be rationally believed to be capable of having relevance to a determination of the ultimate nature of the universe” because science is conducted in human language. Keep in mind that’s true of all human discourse, your philosophical meanderings no less than science.

    I wouldn’t go that far about numbers, I merely don’t think they are physical I don’t think there’s any evidence that they are mere illusions of language. I believe they are a human perception of real relationships, but a peculiarly human one.

    “Illusions of language”? Humans have no way to express real relationships except through human language. Logic and math are subsets of human language. You cannot credit logic and math without also crediting human language. When a mathematician opens his mouth or puts chalk to blackboard, that is a human performing a linguistic act.

  82. #82 Anthony McCarthy
    June 16, 2011

    Well, Russell, I don’t believe that human beings are able to discern the ultimate nature of even the physical universe, not to mention of God. We’re not going to know and in our need we believe, we have faith in those things we believe. I know it’s a repudiation of new atheist dogma that faith doesn’t change but it does, it does exactly as other ideas change, with changing experience. And a person’s experience is, ultimately what all our thinking, including the most rigorous of science must rest on. Only personal experience can often be far, far more convincing than abstract arguments made out of sciency sounding assertions. No matter how good those might make your new atheist feel about himself.

  83. #83 Ender
    June 16, 2011

    @Spartan

    “Theists also take ‘faith’ that ‘reality’ is not an illusion, for if it was it undermines their religious beliefs also. But theists layer additional faith propositions on top of this underlying ‘faith’ with their belief in their god; to me, that’s ‘more’ faith, despite our inability to measure it.”

    Nope. Take this example, assume for the sake of argument that you are a regular atheist who believes that there is no God and I am me.

    I wake up and I believe that the universe exists, maintained by God, as it is with regular rules, many of which we’ve discovered.
    You wake up and believe that the universe exists, maintained by natural rules or something that is not God, as it is with regular rules, many of which we’ve discovered.

    Neither of these positions involve an “extra” later of faith propositions, they both have the same number. They both however have an extra layer compared to the agnostic:

    I wake up and believe that the universe exists, as it is, with rules that appear to be regular, many of which we’ve discovered.

    Both the atheist and theist layer an extra set of faith propositions on when they either affirm or deny God’s involvement.

    Communism is also not a quantifiable thing, but we have little problem saying that such-and-such country is more communistic than others.”

    What? That’s not true. We can say which country is more Communist than another only when we can quantify it in reference to specific varieties of Communist doctrine. There is literally no way to say whether a Stalinist country is more communist than a Leninist or Maoist, as they are all different types of communism and incomparable, as there is no overall standard of communism.

    “What evidence-free propositions am I accepting on faith that are necessary in order for me to function? I may very well be a butterfly, or any other thing you can dream up. I’m not taking it on ‘faith’ that I’m not; I have no evidence that I am, and even if I had some reason to believe I was, I’m unclear on what then I would be doing differently given what I am experiencing.”

    You ask the question, then answer it immediately. You believe you are not a butterfly and that you are a human being. Unless you are a proper agnostic you don’t really believe that there is exactly as much chance that you are a butterfly dreaming as there is that your life is real, you believe and feel that you exist, are a human, live on earth, etc etc. I certainly do.
    If you were truly agnostic about reality, you would not feel that you exist (as a person) in the same way, because you have 0 evidence that that is the case. This is entirely possible and I do not wish to speak for you, but most people do not. I feel certain that I’m a person existing in a real external world, I feel that I know this, even though I have no evidence whatsoever, this is faith. Most people share it.

    If you are a proper absolutist agnostic fanatic, none of that applies, and well done for being logical. Almost everyone else is not, and that’s what I’m talking about when it comes to faith.

    That’s my only point really, I am not saying that every position is based on faith, or the same amount of faith. Just that only the agnostic position can be arrived at without grounding all your answers in faith.

    “I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the physics involved with that law, but let me ask, if energy could be created or destroyed, wouldn’t we expect to be able see evidence of it?”

    Why? Maybe we haven’t looked in the right place?

    “As far as morality, I pretty much think it is what you put in your parentheses. I see no reason though to think that wherever morality comes from that I would function any differently with regards to it.”

    Then that’s fine. You have no “faith” in morality, and are less “faithy” than everyone who believes that child abuse is actually ‘wrong’ in some sort of absolute sense.
    It is a difficult position to hold though, as our emotions attempt to force us to believe that our moral system is “real”, that a thousand priests fucking a thousand kids is “bad” rather than “against our cultural expectations, and totally acceptible in other contexts or to others, in a way that I cannot criticise as morality is not a function of anything objective but merely human subjective values that are not absolute and can change.”

  84. #84 Ender
    June 16, 2011

    @Russel

    “And I don’t see a need for faith in any of those. If I’m a brain in a vat or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man, what I experience now is still all I have now.”

    If all that you believe about the world is that you are experiencing what you are experiencing, and you have no opinion on the reality of the external universe, me, the sun, your mother, your friends, then you do not require faith.

    If however, you believe that anything apart from the qualia of your experiences exists you are believing (without evidence) that you are not the only being in a solipsist universe, you are believing that I exist and am not a figment of your imagination/a simulation etc, and without evidence that is faith.

    “So, no, science doesn’t require faith in 1) and 2). Those philosophical observations correctly point out limits to our knowledge.”

    Yes it does. You may not believe 1) or 2) but for science to be correct (remember science does not say “This evidence points towards the fact that either the simulation that is the world has been programmed to look like we evolved, or also the world exists and we evolved” it merely says “The evidence points towards the fact we evolved” and assumes the rest.) the external world has to exist, and there is no evidence that that is the case.

    Science rests on several a-priori, 1) and 2) included, there is no evidence for these a-priori, and there probably cannot be, so to believe in the results of science you must believe these a-priori are true in the absence of evidence i.e. take them on faith.

    Now it may be a contingent faith – “I shall believe these unevidenced a-priori are true until there is evidence otherwise”, but that would simply make it the same as my religious faith “I shall believe that this unevidenced God is true until there is evidence the Muslims are right” :D

  85. #85 Ender
    June 16, 2011

    @Russel continued:

    “3) Results sometimes are faked. So any faith that that doesn’t happen is just wrong.”

    You have misunderstood 3). It is not “faith that results aren’t faked” it’s your belief in any individual piece of research.

    I have no evidence that the guys who cloned Dolly did not fake up their evidence (other people might, I only pick this as it is famous), but I believe until further notice that they did what they say they did.

    I have no evidence. (Let me be repetetive). So this must be an act of faith. Unless there is a way to believe something in the absence of evidence without it being faith, in which case I claim that thing for my religious beliefs too, and they are now not based on faith :D

  86. #86 Ender
    June 16, 2011

    “4) Errors are made. Certainty is never absolute. Except for those who reify faith. Then, it is absolute. And stupid.”

    I don’t think you are using reify quite correctly here, but am no expert so carry on.
    Certainty is often absolute, that’s how people are. Smart people “know what they do not know” stupid people do not. So stupid people are often absolutely certain, regardless of their faith or lack of it. This seems like a cheap and unevidenced swipe at people with “faith” for something that is done just as much by those without “faith”.

    “5) Whether energy can be created or destroyed is something to investigate empirically, not something to assume a priori.”

    Well as you can’t empirically prove a negative, that will be difficult.
    Also, you should probably go and tell all the scientists who based their theories fully or in part on the unevidenced law that energy cannot be created or destroyed that they were making a mistake.

    So, not only do I deny that we need faith in those for science, I would argue in some of those cases that such faith is misdirected, independent of its alleged implication for science.

    If you do not believe that the external world exists then you do not believe in science, as science is based on the belief that the external world exists.

    There can be no science with no faith.

  87. #87 Ender
    June 16, 2011

    @Spartan “I’ve repeatedly asked him for specific examples of where I, in all my supposed faithheadedness, engage in faith in order to function day to day, and he hasn’t provided an answer.”

    Allow me then. Well I already did above, but here’s a bit more.

    You believe that a) the external universe exists, b) other people exist, c) that you weren’t created mere seconds ago with all your ‘memories’ and everything else, d) you believe that even if a)-c) are true the universe will continue to function rationally and as previously understood, e) you believe in cause and effect, f) you believe that logic is true i.e. that A = A and NotA =/= A, that ‘if A therefore B: Given A, therefore B’, etc, g) that you are experiencing the qualia you are experiencing*

    *This one is a mindfuck. I can’t conceive of any way that you could not be experiencing the qualia you are experiencing, but that’s an Argument from Ignorance, and therefore not evidence that you have to be experiencing that which you are experiencing.

    If you believe there is not god, then h) you believe there is no God, now that you have heard of my friend Dave and his abduction by aliens you likely believe i) that Dave was not abducted by aliens, if you have any political beliefs then j) you have political beliefs, if you have any moral beliefs then k) you have beliefs about morality

    I realise that k) does not apply to you, but it does to many. That’s just off the top of my head, there could be more, some of those could be wrong.

  88. #88 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    it’s a repudiation of new atheist dogma that faith doesn’t change but it does, it does exactly as other ideas change, with changing experience.

    Atheists don’t deny that faith changes. We deny that it makes any progress. A modern theologian cannot say anything more about the gods, or to any greater degree of confidence, than did one of our progenitors thirty-thousand years ago, worshiping whatever gods they worshiped.

  89. #89 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Ender writes:

    If you do not believe that the external world exists then you do not believe in science, as science is based on the belief that the external world exists.

    If the external world isn’t how commonly imagined, but instead — to take one philosophic alternative — is just my dream, science is still possible and still tells me something about the nature of that dream. Science wouldn’t then carry the implications it now does. But, so?

    More importantly, there is no need for scientists (or anyone) to deny that possibility. The notion that one must take a creedal stance on such things seems almost religious to me.

    But yes, I abused “reify.” Good point.

  90. #90 Anthony McCarthy
    June 16, 2011

    Atheists don’t deny that faith changes.

    Oh, brother. Pull the other one it has bells on it.

    We deny that it makes any progress.

    Does history make any progress? Does art? Does music? Does the law make any progress? I’d ask about the social science but they clearly regressed from their beginnings with Wundt and James.

    A modern theologian…

    First, theology isn’t a synonym of “faith”, theology doesn’t define faith, faith precedes theology, your faith can be profound without ever having read a single theologian or any theology at all. Faith is a personal act based in personal experience, which you would know if you weren’t so resistant to facing the fact of your own acts of faith.

    Though, what theologians have you read in depth? Names, books, articles…. Generally atheists who start blathering on about theology stop dead when that question is asked. How do you feel confident to characterize the entire range of theology which, as a category, is an enormous body of literature, I’d guess among the largest bodies of literature.

  91. #91 Spartan
    June 16, 2011

    Ender,

    Nope. Take this example, assume for the sake of argument that you are a regular atheist who believes that there is no God and I am me.
    I wake up and I believe that the universe exists, maintained by God, as it is with regular rules, many of which we’ve discovered.
    You wake up and believe that the universe exists, maintained by natural rules or something that is not God, as it is with regular rules, many of which we’ve discovered.

    Hmmm, it seems pretty obvious that you’ve got some extra faith, but I may not be following you on what you mean by ‘regular rules’ vs ‘natural rules’. It looks like in your scenario we both agree that the universe and natural laws exist, but you also believe God exists. It may just be the way you phrased it, but I don’t believe these laws are ‘maintained'; they are part of and describe the universe itself. What I was trying to get at in my comment is that the tack of pointing out, “oh, you atheists have faith too, you don’t know this isn’t the Matrix, that you’re actually a butterfly, last-Thursdayism”, etc, is ineffective, since theists must also take that ‘faith’ otherwise their evidence and experience that leads them to God-belief flies out the window also, since it is illusory.

    I think you are using ‘atheist’ in your example as ‘strong atheist’, someone who knows there is no God. I don’t know of any atheist who meets this definition however; all the ones I’ve read are ultimately agnostic, as everyone should be if they are honest with themselves. A lot of atheists put the likelihood of gods existing right along side that of Santa, ghosts, unicorns, and the bunch.

    We can say which country is more Communist than another only when we can quantify it in reference to specific varieties of Communist doctrine.

    Agreed, my bad, I shouldn’t have used the words ‘little problem’. The example I was thinking of is along the lines of, ‘Which is more communistic, China or Canada?’, which I don’t think you’d have any problem answering.

    You ask the question, then answer it immediately. You believe you are not a butterfly and that you are a human being.

    I’m not sure that ‘faith’ is the correct word to use to deal with denying propositions that have absolutely no evidence for them. Faith as used in relation to religious belief is usually of the positive sort, that something exists or is, not that things don’t exist except by being eliminated as a possibility by the positive faith statement. And I do have evidence that I’m a human being, and I bet you do also. It’s not enough to prove it and it may be illusory, but it is evidence. Ultimately you can’t prove a negative and all that.

    More importantly, the statement you quoted from me specifically mentions, ‘in order for me to function’. If I lose my supposed faith and begin suspecting that I might be a butterfly, that doesn’t have to change anything at all as far as my ability to function in the human dreamworld, which is of course all that I have any experience of.

    Then that’s fine. You have no “faith” in morality, and are less “faithy” than everyone who believes that child abuse is actually ‘wrong’ in some sort of absolute sense.

    You’d have to define ‘absolute sense’ with relation to ‘wrong’, which I don’t know if you can do without appealing to God. Even then, it sure seems like an empty understanding of morality; child abuse isn’t ‘ultimately wrong’ because it harms the innocent, but because God has deemed it so. Why has God deemed it so, no answer. Child abuse is about as absolutely wrong as you can get, but there are certain absurd scenarios where it might actually be ‘right’.

    It is a difficult position to hold though, as our emotions attempt to force us to believe that our moral system is “real”, that a thousand priests fucking a thousand kids is “bad” rather than “against our cultural expectations, and totally acceptible in other contexts or to others, in a way that I cannot criticise as morality is not a function of anything objective but merely human subjective values that are not absolute and can change.”

    Well of course you can criticize pedophilia; you haven’t shown at all that you have to ground morality in something objective or else there’s no criticizing it. It is possible to aggregate many people’s values that are ultimately subjective, using methods that involve reason and logic, and declare things right or wrong. But let’s turn it around, how does a believer declare things ‘wrong’ in an ‘ultimate’ sense? Because God says so? The believer really has no inkling why pedophilia is wrong except that God has declared it sinful?

  92. #92 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Does history make any progress? Does art? Does music? Does the law make any progress?

    Does science? Does math? I would say a necessary requirement of any area that wants to lay claim to holding some knowledge is that we have some way of telling that it progresses.

    First, theology isn’t a synonym of “faith”, theology doesn’t define faith, faith precedes theology…

    I agree. It seems to me that the relation of faith to theology is somewhat similar to the relation of data to science. If you ask a physicist why you should believe that Jupiter’s motion is periodically retrograde, the likely answer would be how to measure that using a telescope. If you ask a theologian why believe in god, the likely answer (excluding the ones who pretend to proof) is “have faith.” The difference between the believer and the non-believer is that the non-believer thinks that “have faith” isn’t a good answer to that kind of question.

  93. #93 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Ender writes:

    I wake up and I believe that the universe exists, maintained by God, as it is with regular rules, many of which we’ve discovered. You wake up and believe that the universe exists, maintained by natural rules or something that is not God, as it is with regular rules, many of which we’ve discovered. Neither of these positions involve an “extra” layer of faith propositions..

    They both involve extra layers of faith propositions. Unless you have some evidence for it, there is no reason to assume anything at all beyond the “regular rules,” that anything “maintains” the universe, whether a god or some natural order not yet known.

    More, if one looks at this closely, it is not the case that there are rules out there someplace where we have discovered them. While that is a fair colloquial description, for this discussion it likely deserves sharper re-phrasing. What we have done is invented some rules, and some ideas that perhaps aren’t even rules, that we have tested to some extent, some more, some less.

  94. #94 Spartan
    June 16, 2011

    Ender @87,

    I can’t conceive of any way that you could not be experiencing the qualia you are experiencing, but that’s an Argument from Ignorance, and therefore not evidence that you have to be experiencing that which you are experiencing.

    True, and I think it comes pretty close to a plain contradiction; I also can’t conceive of any way that A = Not A. I may not be experiencing what I am experiencing, but it looks like we can agree that I (and/or you) are indeed experiencing.

    If you believe there is not god, then h) you believe there is no God, now that you have heard of my friend Dave and his abduction by aliens you likely believe i) that Dave was not abducted by aliens

    At some point I think we’re getting tangled in semantics. I’ll just rephrase it as ‘I lack belief in god’, and just eliminate faith from the equation; I don’t need faith to lack belief. I’m assuming that you’re bringing up your friend Dave’s trips with E.T. because you are asserting that I must believe Dave was abducted on faith. That seems to ignore a lot of evidence and reason however; as you admitted above, not every position is based on the same amount of faith.

    I don’t expect you to respond to everything, but regardless it’s been a fun conversation; interesting mind-bending stuff. To sum up the faith conversation, I am disputing that those who don’t believe in gods have just as much faith as those who do. In order to demonstrate that, it seems you’d need to show that the non-believer has some faith in something that the believer does not and that offsets the faith in God that the believer has. What is that faith that equals things out?

  95. #95 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    An added thought: I think some of what is going on here is that Ender is looking for a metaphysics. If not the metaphysics of a God that sustains the universe, then some other kind of metaphysics.

    In contrast, I believe metaphysical assumptions are needed neither for science nor for daily living. Though it can be a fun area for speculation.

  96. #96 Anthony McCarthy
    June 16, 2011

    I would say a necessary requirement of any area that wants to lay claim to holding some knowledge is that we have some way of telling that it progresses.

    Well, as all knowledge is contingent and open to being overturned, except, arguably, some ideas in mathematics, that leaves an awful lot of areas of life that are falsely claiming knowledge.

    Where is this idea written in stone? I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that everyone holds faith in some things. Though I’m finding the quartering of hairs to avoid facing that to be quite amusing to witness.

    For the man who wants to make numbers an artifact of language you’re remarkably allergic to metaphysics. Though your earlier back and forth, dodging my ingenuity in coming up with problems for atheist fundamentalism in both your warp and weft was more fun.

  97. #97 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    For the man who wants to make numbers an artifact of language you’re remarkably allergic to metaphysics.

    That’s not metaphysics. I’ve had 3 glasses of wine. The foregoing was an English sentence. “3” was a perfectly proper part of it.

  98. #98 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Me:

    I would say a necessary requirement of any area that wants to lay claim to holding some knowledge is that we have some way of telling that it progresses.

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Well, as all knowledge is contingent and open to being overturned..

    All investments are risky. Yet some portfolios grow. The fact that every claim in physics in contingent doesn’t mean that we haven’t made great progress there.

  99. #99 Anthony McCarthy
    June 16, 2011

    Is the glass or the wine or the subject of the sentence a linguistic construct too? Or the time during which you had the wine? Or the consciousness which allowed you to have have the wine and to construct the set putting together the drinking of three glasses of wine together? Is that relationship the definition of “3”? And if it wasn’t 10:35 my time I’m sure I could come up with more questions for you.

    Are you saying that the physical world is a linguistic construct because you can make up sentences with words that stand for them? Sounds very post moderny.

  100. #100 Anthony McCarthy
    June 16, 2011

    Russell, how are you supposed to “tell that it progresses” if all of science is contingent, open to being overturned? How do you know your progress isn’t about to turn out to be regressive? And I’m wondering how you determine what this “progress” that plays such a definitive role in “claiming knowledge” is and what it isn’t.

    Is your declaration of the real, right way to determine knowledge progressive? Is it known?

  101. #101 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Is the glass or the wine or the subject of the sentence a linguistic construct too?

    No, but the “3” is like that “or.” Boolean operators also are mathematical objects. Strangely, though, people get all Platonic about 3 and wonder where it exists. But not “and” or “or.”

  102. #102 Russell
    June 16, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Russell, how are you supposed to “tell that it progresses” if all of science is contingent, open to being overturned?

    I would say that Newtonian mechanics is an advance over Ptolemaic astronomy because it is more general in scope, and it is more accurate where the two share scope.

    Newtonian mechanics is wrong. Of course. But nonetheless, it was a huge advance in understanding how the world around us works.

    Can you point to any similar advance in understanding the gods? Can you point to any advance in understanding the gods? As far as I can tell, there is zero reason for me to think that any living individual’s understanding of the gods is any more accurate than that of our distant, pre-historic ancestors. And no way to evaluate, of all the various conceptions now held, which might be more accurate.

  103. #103 Anthony McCarthy
    June 17, 2011

    Russell, I’d love to go on tormenting you with increasingly fine points but I’m researching a post that’s rather important to me and it’s taking a lot of time.

    I will point out that the attempt to discern ultimate reality in tortured reduction into increasingly fine points assumes that what we believe we find way down at that scale might be looking at it backward. What if those fine points are there only to serve the macrocosmic reality? What if it is the larger scale that is actually the reason that those teeensy little components of it are the way they are? What if we are not equipped by our naturally selected mechanisms of survival and reproduction, our senses, cannot take in the data required to see that? That those are fixed on small things and so have deceived us into believing that reductionism is the way to knowledge?

    OK, I’ve got a smear to expose. See you later.

  104. #104 Russell
    June 17, 2011

    will point out that the attempt to discern ultimate reality in tortured reduction into increasingly fine points assumes that what we believe we find way down at that scale might be looking at it backward. What if those fine points are there only to serve the macrocosmic reality?…

    That’s a load of philosophical assumptions disguised as a question. Unpacking that kind of issue is pretty easy, once one gets a bit of practice at it. So no worry on the “torture.”

  105. #105 Ender
    June 17, 2011

    @Russell and Spartan – Thanks for the replies, I’m sorry, my internet at home is broken and I don’t have time to respond to you at work. If you check back tomorrow or after that I’ll try to have something for you then.

    Also, I worry that this will fade away, and the last comment will be a large reply from me that engenders no response. If that happens could you just post a quick “You’re a dickhead” at me so I can be annoyed at you rather than sad that I wasted my time on the post? Thanks :p

  106. #106 Russell
    June 17, 2011

    Ender, I’ll come back tomorrow to read what you write.

  107. #107 Spartan
    June 17, 2011

    Ender, I’m going to be out of town for a couple of days after tomorrow, but I am definitely interested in what you have to say. You’ve provided lots of food for thought, so rest assured I will read what you post when I return.

  108. #108 Sesli Chat
    June 19, 2011

    Agnostisizm sadece Tanrı ile ilgili değil, tamamen bizim duyu ve mantık bize gölgeler görmek için izin bile fiziksel evrenin bilmek yeteneğimizi hakkında yapılan küstah iddiaların bir konumda olmamalıdır.

  109. #109 Ender
    June 20, 2011

    Hi, sorry it’s a bit late I’ve spent the weekend battling with Windows 7 and it’s inability to network.

    I’m saying two different things here, and I think they’ve got confused in all the back and forth, so I’ll restate them cleanly, and then respond to what’s been said.

    1) Science at the root, requires belief without evidence, or faith. I discovered this myself because I didn’t believe it took faith, evidence was for science, faith for religion. But then I followed it all the way down and discovered solipsism and last-thursdayism, and at the root there is no evidence against them, and conceivably there can’t be any evidence.

    This isn’t a claim that this means non-believers have equivalent faith to theists, as has been correctly noted, theists who accept science have this and more; it’s merely a claim that if you believe science is “true” in any way or describes a real external world, then you do so without evidence and with faith.

    2) Atheists and theists however do have an equivalent kind of faith.
    Not simply non-believers – if you don’t believe in God, but also don’t believe there’s no God then you are adhering to the evidence (there is none, for most conceivable Gods) and you have no faith.
    Atheists though have chosen a position on the metaphysical origin of the universe, on what created and maintains the universe, and have as little evidence to say there’s no God as theists have to say there’s a specific God.

    I think the saying “I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours” is amazingly apt, because I do understand why I dismiss all the other possible Gods – out of faith! And so does he. There is no evidence against the deist God, or Shmee the God of Mars who dances in the places we cannot see. Belief without evidence is faith. I believe that these Gods do not exist, though if evidence arises to confirm them I will spin on a fucking dime. But I recognise the origin of my belief, and the fact it is not evidenced, far better than Stephen F. Roberts.

  110. #110 Ender
    June 20, 2011

    Holy shit. This is why I got kicked out of the Royal Society of Concise Constructors of Prose. Apologies:

    @Russell
    “If the external world isn’t how commonly imagined, but instead — to take one philosophic alternative — is just my dream, science is still possible and still tells me something about the nature of that dream. Science wouldn’t then carry the implications it now does. But, so?”

    Apologies, I have been addressing your argument as if you have the standard position on science. It seems that you may have a far more nuanced outlook than I was accounting for. Most people believe the implications of Science are the science. Not that ‘experiments imply that as far as we test it, and until it changes, F=Ma’ (lets just stick to Newton here) but that ‘science tell us that there is an external world wherein F does = Ma and this is a description of a real thing not a dream, illusion or simulation’. I believe that. But I recognise that I have no evidence.

    Science isn’t necessarily possible if the world is not as it seems though. Though it depends what you mean by science.
    If it is a dream it may not have consistent rules, if so science is just history: “This is how things went when we tested things, this holds no implications for the future”; if it is a simulation then the ones in control of the matrix can make science tell you whatever they feel like; and if solipsism is true then all it tells you is what your mind has come up with for ‘results’ which will only be as consistent as your mind chooses it to be.
    i.e. F = Ma in this universe, and even if that’s slightly wrong it describes something that is happening, F = Ma in my solipsist imagination, but describes nothing more than my current experience/belief.

    “More importantly, there is no need for scientists (or anyone) to deny that possibility. The notion that one must take a creedal stance on such things seems almost religious to me.”

    I would agree with this. I don’t think that many people who would describe themselves as New Atheist would agree though. (Coyne for one would certainly not)
    I haven’t seen anyone deny the remote possibility, but they handwave how they arrived at that estimate of probability, and often conclude that such a remote possibility should be denied until further evidence. I do think that’s kind of religious, and I don’t have a problem with the religious so I think that’s ok. They should just admit that those with a creedal stance on unevidenced metaphysical questions are taking a religious position, and are no more evidenced than other religions.

    @Spartan

    “Hmmm, it seems pretty obvious that you’ve got some extra faith, but I may not be following you on what you mean by ‘regular rules’ vs ‘natural rules’.”

    Yes, I expressed myself poorly there.

    “It looks like in your scenario we both agree that the universe and natural laws exist, but you also believe God exists. It may just be the way you phrased it, but I don’t believe these laws are ‘maintained'; they are part of and describe the universe itself.”

    Yes. Very poorly. Just to make sure we’re on the same page – I believe I understand your position, which could be summarised as:

    Theist: Believes in the universe and God
    Atheist: Believes in the universe.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    If that’s the case then it’s possible we mean the same thing but are using different vocabulary because I would say:

    Theist: Believes in the universe and God
    Non-believer: Believes in the universe
    Atheist: Believes in the universe and that there is no God

    The bit about “maintained” was my poorly chosen way of referring to the fact that the non-believer (what I call an agnostic) believes in the universe, but the theist and the atheist both believe in the universe and have an opinion on what created or maintains the universe, or on what didn’t create and isn’t maintaining the universe.

    “What I was trying to get at in my comment is that the tack of pointing out, “oh, you atheists have faith too, you don’t know this isn’t the Matrix, that you’re actually a butterfly, last-Thursdayism”, etc, is ineffective, since theists must also take that ‘faith’ otherwise their evidence and experience that leads them to God-belief flies out the window also, since it is illusory.”

    Yes. Apologies, this was a result of the two arguments I seperated in the first post being argued at the same time, and being muddled. The only reason I mentioned Matrix/butterfly/Last-thursdayism was to explain why science involves belief without evidence at its most fundamental level, not to distinguish between the theist and atheist – as you say here they must both believe in the external universe.

    I think you are using ‘atheist’ in your example as ‘strong atheist’, someone who knows there is no God.

    Yes, sort of. More as someone who believes there is no God, as there is no such thing as ‘knowledge’ in the classically defined sense, everything we ‘know’ is something we believe to differing degrees of confidence.

    “I don’t know of any atheist who meets this definition however; all the ones I’ve read are ultimately agnostic, as everyone should be if they are honest with themselves.”

    Slight correction: As everyone who has no faith should be if they are honest with themselves. Otherwise you’re denying the possibility that someone could honestly have faith, which is empirically incorrect.
    Agnosticism/non-belief is the only logical evidenced-based non-faith position. But you are not an agnostic or a non-believer if you believe that any unevidenced but uncontradicted Gods don’t exist.

    “A lot of atheists put the likelihood of gods existing right along side that of Santa, ghosts, unicorns, and the bunch.”

    This is a key, and on this could rest our entire conversation: This is a faith position. Unless you have the numbers to prove it.
    The question I’d like to put to them is “Can I see your working”, or what evidence did you use to reach this conclusion.

    There is plenty of evidence against many different Gods. There are other Gods which have not been investigated, or there is no evidence against. There is nothing wrong with taking a faith position against their existence, but it’s completely wrong to claim that you ‘know’ they are vastly unlikely, because that evidence is not there or is not possible

    It’s kind of like the question: “What, if anything, did Ender have for breakfast?” – there are some things that are trivially disprovable: the entire universe, an apple that was not an apple, lava (given I’m a human) – but there are almost infinite things that are possible but that you can’t put a probability on. Just like the infinite possible Gods you can’t put a probability on.
    Their position is equivalent to: “I do not deny the possibility that you could have had something for breakfast, but I find it as unlikely as Santa” – they have no evidence to make that calculation it’s a faith based position and they’re wrong; I ate God (or an apple).

    I really like that metaphor, but one of my friends did not see it at first, so here it is mapped out:

    What did I have Breakfast? : Does God exist?
    Trivially disprovable foods : Trivially disprovable Gods
    Possible foods : Possible Gods
    Eating anything is as unlikely as Santa : Any God is as unlikely as Santa

    If you have evidence that I ate nothing then that’s not a faith position, but unfortunately I live in a different Galaxy and you cannot obtain that evidence (i.e. many Gods do not contradict the evidence, and some are not testable)

    None of that is even close to a reason to believe, but it is argument that atheists are not non-believers if they claim to put an unevidenced probability on metaphysical claims.

    “I’m not sure that ‘faith’ is the correct word to use to deal with denying propositions that have absolutely no evidence for them.”

    I think this is another key point: Why not?
    If you ‘believe’ that the proposition is not merely unevidenced but actually untrue (i.e. you deny it) then you ‘believe’ it without evidence : i.e faith.

    I put ‘believe’ in quotations because you might want to use a different word, but it’s the one I would use.
    If I tell you that there are no aliens in this Galaxy, and that’s not a faith statement because I’m merely denying the unevidenced proposition “there are aliens in this galaxy” would you accept that?

    Basically if you accept any proposition, positive or negative, without evidence, then you have taken a faith position.

    Does the Blarfle exist? I’ll define it after you’ve answered the question. – It’s clearly a leap of faith if you choose “Yes” or “No” – the only non faith-based position is “I don’t know” – and it’s the same for any question of existence only evidence removes the need for faith. There is no ‘default’ faithless answer of “No”

    p.s. It does exist. It’s an apple.

    “More importantly, the statement you quoted from me specifically mentions, ‘in order for me to function’. If I lose my supposed faith and begin suspecting that I might be a butterfly, that doesn’t have to change anything at all as far as my ability to function in the human dreamworld, which is of course all that I have any experience of.”

    I missed that line, sorry. I would say that if you didn’t believe the external world actually existed you would instantly lose sympathy for the orphans of Africa who don’t actually exist, so though you would not start hitting your family even though they don’t exist – because that would make you sad whether they exist or not + retaliation hurts just as much whether it’s real or not – you would stop caring about things that don’t affect you in any way, because that means they don’t affect anyone (if you’re the only being in existence, you egotistic butterfly)

    Can we come back to the morality issue another time? My position is not that interesting and not that relevant to the rest of the conversation – it is simply that ‘morality’ as existing and only resulting from our evolution is by definition relative and subjective, therefore absolute statements like “X is wrong” are impossible – but if you disagree it will take forever and even more text, and I feel like I’m about to murder this server with the weight of pixels anyway. I’ve got a damned good metaphor though, so I’m happy either way. (It involves frogs)

  111. #111 Ender
    June 20, 2011

    Part 1 has been held in moderation, this is part 2, it may get held as well.

    @Russell

    “They both involve extra layers of faith propositions. Unless you have some evidence for it, there is no reason to assume anything at all beyond the “regular rules,” that anything “maintains” the universe, whether a god or some natural order not yet known.

    Yes. I agree entirely. Depending on our chosen vocabulary though, I would describe both atheists and theists as people with assumptions about beyond the “regular rules” even if it is as little as “whatever’s out there it’s not God”
    Non-believers/Agnostics however do not require faith if they simply accept the existence of regular rules as human descriptors of what may or may not exist independantly of us.

    More, if one looks at this closely, it is not the case that there are rules out there someplace where we have discovered them. While that is a fair colloquial description, for this discussion it likely deserves sharper re-phrasing. What we have done is invented some rules, and some ideas that perhaps aren’t even rules, that we have tested to some extent, some more, some less.

    That’s very true, and more evidence that I have been woefully underestimating your argument, and the sophistication of your understanding of what science tells us. This is a problem when everyone in the world uses every word just slightly differently and yet we walk around day to day as if we can truly understand people without having them define their terms first.

    Spartan

    “At some point I think we’re getting tangled in semantics. I’ll just rephrase it as ‘I lack belief in god’, and just eliminate faith from the equation; I don’t need faith to lack belief.”

    Then there may be a problem with my argument, or we may already agree but happen to be using different words to say the same thing.
    You certainly do not need faith to lack belief. You do not need faith to disbelieve the Gods that are proven not to exist (trivially e.g. the God who visibly appears and gives me a pizza when I click my fingers, every time; and all others amenable to disproving).
    But if you believe that a God in general is “extremely unlikely” or that any of the unfalsifiable Gods don’t exist, I would say you are taking a faith position, in that you are making a claim without evidence. (Unless you have evidence!)

    “I’m assuming that you’re bringing up your friend Dave’s trips with E.T. because you are asserting that I must believe Dave was abducted on faith.

    Well, that he wasn’t abducted, on faith, yes.

    That seems to ignore a lot of evidence and reason however; as you admitted above, not every position is based on the same amount of faith.

    Indeed, but I specifically chose this example as one for and against which you have no evidence, but one that we have a tendency to take a position on anyway.
    Aliens could, and probably do, exist. If they were here, they could theoretically hide from us and kidnap occasional people.
    The world just isn’t satisfying. I want to take a position on whether Dave was kidnapped – and I made him up! It’s not satisfying to say “I don’t believe it but I don’t have any evidence so I do not know” – you want to tell them you know it’s nonsense, or sleep paralysis, or drinking, but you don’t know and the above is the most you can say about it. Ditto unfalsified Gods.

    “I don’t expect you to respond to everything, but regardless it’s been a fun conversation; interesting mind-bending stuff. To sum up the faith conversation, I am disputing that those who don’t believe in gods have just as much faith as those who do. In order to demonstrate that, it seems you’d need to show that the non-believer has some faith in something that the believer does not and that offsets the faith in God that the believer has. What is that faith that equals things out?”

    Thanks, I’ve gone a bit monomaniacal on this post, so I’ve responded to a lot, but there was even more, and some left out! I’ve enjoyed the conversation too, though now I kind of feel like I’m trying to respond to too much and not being as clear as I would like.

    I agree that those who only lack a belief in Gods and do not believe them not to exist (apart from the falsified ones) do not require faith.

    I wouldn’t agree that most Atheists are non-believers by that definition (though ‘most’ is a stupid word when I cannot quantify this, it will have to do).

    I do not believe that the non-believer has faith that equals that of the theist, but I do believe that the Atheist does.

    Also I don’t believe that the labels chosen, nor the divisions, make any difference to these truths. Feel free to rephrase anything in your own terms, just tell me what your terms mean so I’m not confused.

    Russell

    “An added thought: I think some of what is going on here is that Ender is looking for a metaphysics. If not the metaphysics of a God that sustains the universe, then some other kind of metaphysics.

    In contrast, I believe metaphysical assumptions are needed neither for science nor for daily living. Though it can be a fun area for speculation.”

    I agree. When I refer to theist I mean a person with a God based metaphysics and when I refer to atheist I mean a person with a non-God based metaphysics, or a God-denying based metaphysics (i.e. they don’t have to make any positive claims about what else their metaphysics entails as long as they deny a Gods involvement).

    I also agree that no metaphysical assumptions are needed for either science (as you correctly understand it) or daily living – but I think that by definition both the theist and the Atheist (in this case someone who makes a claim beyond “I don’t know” about the existence of God or the supernatural) have taken a position on the metaphysics of the universe, and it’s unevidenced and it’s faith based.

    You seem to be what I would call a non-believer. I don’t dispute your right to identify as whatever you want – and one definition of atheist is simply “without belief in God(s)” – so that’s fine, and requires no faith – but if you become what I would call an atheist, I believe that will take a leap of faith.

  112. #112 Ender
    June 20, 2011

    So, Tl;Dr – basically what I said in post 109 – sorry it’s so long, I don’t like to leave out any part of your arguments as invariably the unimportant bit I ignore will actually be the key to your argument that you wish I had responded to because it should undo my entire position.

    Feel free to just pick out one theme, or one bit to respond to. If I feel anything else is key I’ll mention it. Feel free to just respond to 109 if you like, or whatever. Also feel free to hit all my points one by one!

  113. #113 Russell
    June 20, 2011

    Ender writes:

    then I followed it all the way down and discovered solipsism and last-thursdayism, and at the root there is no evidence against them, and conceivably there can’t be any evidence.

    It seems to me that you’re wanting science to somehow confirm a “common sense” metaphysical outlook. My view is a) that science can’t do this, and b) that it is risky to science when scientists start to go down that route. To take one example of this last, at the end of the 19th century, many scientists would have taken strictly deterministic time-evolution in 3d Euclidean space as pre-requisite to physics. Which would seem almost as intuitive to someone steeped in Newtonian physics as the rejection of last-Thursdayism. Or perhaps labeled “categorical,” to those who were philosophically versed.

    QM and GR threw monkey-wrenches into those metaphysical assumptions. Those 20th century revolutions were resisted by the persistence of those assumptions, sometimes even in physicists who were creating those revolutions.

    Now, yes, last-Thursdayism seems a less useful questioning of traditional metaphysics than locality or causality. But I say that only given the history of quantum mechanics. Were we holding this discussion in 1895, the distance between them might seem not so great.

    One tack is to try to draw a strict line between physics and metaphysics. On the assumption “that conceivably there can’t be any evidence.” Two comments. First, the limits of evidence are difficult to draw. Second, even if and where these can be neatly separated, that shows such assumptions can be “bracketed off” from science. I.e., that rather than being necessary to science, such issues are simply beside the point. If some god created the universe last Thursday as if it had a natural history of billions of years, science can still explore what that apparent history is.

  114. #114 Spartan
    June 20, 2011

    Ender,
    Thanks for the replies, it clears up quite a bit and I think we’re on the same page on most points. I do have some quick replies.

    A somewhat common theme that runs through a few of your points is the idea of having faith in something not existing, which, even if you would like to term it ‘faith’, seems to be significantly different than faith in God. The question shouldn’t be ‘what’s the evidence that no X exists’, but ‘what’s the evidence that X does exist'; the burden is on the person who asserts it to demonstrate it, not on the skeptic to disprove it. I’m happy to grant that ultimately nothing can be known for sure, but if that’s the foundation that we’re working from when evaluating the semantics we are using, we will both need to remove the terms ‘know’, ‘true’, ‘false’, ‘is’, etc from the conversation. If we have to reserve judgment in our language for the fact that a ‘Blarfle’ (which I’m defining temporarily as something that is patently ridiculous) may well exist based solely on somewhat asserting it, then it seems like it not only hinders communication but requires a significant change in how we assess individually the objective reality that seems to exist. And I do have some evidence against the Blarfle existing: many people make claims that they define in a way that makes the claim entirely unverifiable, and these claims many times are incompatible with what other people assert based on similar faith, so I can conclude that at least some if not a lot of these people are incorrect.

    In order to function well, everyone must be very careful about taking things on faith, regardless of their position on religion. Choosing investment brokers or home construction contractors or dentists on faith can be very detrimental. Does taking things on evidence really share that problem?

    it’s merely a claim that if you believe science is “true” in any way or describes a real external world, then you do so without evidence and with faith.

    I wouldn’t quite say it’s without evidence. I think we’ve agreed that we do have evidence that your and/or my experiences exist. These experiences point to a world existing that can be described by science. It may actually just be a dream I’m having, but that doesn’t change that the dream is not under my conscious control and seems to operate under a set of dispassionate regular rules that seem to be inviolable by my just wishing it was different or having faith that it was different (I’m talking about science propositions here, not the kind of faith in, “I have faith that my life will change for the better”).

    I gotta run, but I’ll reply to more of your specific points later.

  115. #115 Spartan
    June 20, 2011

    Slight correction: As everyone who has no faith should be if they are honest with themselves. Otherwise you’re denying the possibility that someone could honestly have faith, which is empirically incorrect.

    Then I think we’re using different definitions of faith. We have evidence that different people believe contradictory things on faith, some of them must be dead wrong. It seems like the height of hubris for someone to take the position that their beliefs cannot be wrong, and I certainly don’t think faith gets you around the fact that ‘anything is possible’.

    Actually this might very well be a key point, and I thought you had said something stronger about this that I can’t find now. I know of no ‘atheist’ who says that God cannot exist, or that they can prove he doesn’t exist, and I think that is honest. You seem to be saying that no, if you have faith, you can ultimately not be agnostic (as I’m defining as, ultimately you can’t know anything with absolute sureness), and you can know that your god exists, and be honest with yourself. If so, it doesn’t seem that there is an equivalence of faith here, as I’m not sure if there are that many ‘atheists’ as you may be defining it.

    A lot of atheists put the likelihood of gods existing right along side that of Santa, ghosts, unicorns, and the bunch.”

    This is a key, and on this could rest our entire conversation: This is a faith position. Unless you have the numbers to prove it.
    The question I’d like to put to them is “Can I see your working”, or what evidence did you use to reach this conclusion.

    I don’t think I need to drive down to exact measurements in order to discuss ‘likelihood’. You can’t believe in God or Santa without a layer of faith on top of a belief in this objective reality and an ability to ascertain it to some extent. I have no direct evidence for their existence, and depending on how specifically we define them, there is some evidence against various propositions about those two entities. Faith is less reliable than evidence, for if you have the latter the former is superfluous. I do in general think that the more evidence there is for something, like physical reality, the greater the likelihood. I don’t know what else ‘likelihood’ can mean, especially if we allow in entirely unmeasurable faith; is the point that we shouldn’t use the word ‘likelihood’ at all?

    What did I have Breakfast? : Does God exist?
    Trivially disprovable foods : Trivially disprovable Gods
    Possible foods : Possible Gods
    Eating anything is as unlikely as Santa : Any God is as unlikely as Santa

    I need to digest this analogy a bit more, but it seems like there’s an issue in that we both have tons of evidence that food exists and people eat Breakfast, and we don’t have tons of evidence that any god even exists.

    Let me turn it around since you’re making some equivalency between these two statements and maybe that’ll help with the comparison: What did I have for Breakfast? : Does God exist? I think you’d say that God exists because you have faith; what am I to think if you likewise say, “Spartan had pancakes for breakfast because I have faith”. Would that latter part be believable if we reversed it and directed at statements about your breakfast? Does that really make no larger point about believing things on faith?

    If you ‘believe’ that the proposition is not merely unevidenced but actually untrue (i.e. you deny it) then you ‘believe’ it without evidence : i.e faith.

    Do you deny that Santa exists without evidence, on faith? I don’t have any direct evidence of his non-existence, if that is even possible, so it must be purely faith? We have a fairly well-understood history of how Santa Claus has come to have the qualities he has, from St Nick through ‘Twas the Night before Xmas’ through the Coca-Cola advertising campaign in the early-mid 20th Century, most of which seems to support him as a fictional creation. These data points, since they of course can’t ultimately prove that Santa doesn’t exist, are entirely irrelevant? I can do the same for ghosts and Bigfoot and leprechauns, etc, and gods to some extent.

    If you ‘believe’ that the proposition is not merely unevidenced but actually untrue (i.e. you deny it) then you ‘believe’ it without evidence : i.e faith

    I’m having trouble separating ‘untrue’ from ‘unevidenced’. I admit we’ve been loose with our definition of ‘evidence’, but what really is ‘unevidenced’? I believe the statement ‘God exists’ is untrue because I think it is unevidenced and the reasons and epistemological method that believers rely on to determine the supposed truth of that statement is unreliable. The ‘evidence’ that is offered is ambiguous. Some believers say that they believe their god exists based on faith, i.e. partially without direct evidence, and they can’t all be correct, nor can they demonstrate why faith is effective at ascertaining ‘truth’. In this case, given my perspective, would you say that my belief that ‘God exists’ is untrue is unevidenced?

  116. #116 Anthony McCarthy
    June 20, 2011

    I’m fascinated by the demand that God be falsifiable. Even the most ardent proponent of the dogma of falsifiability only claims that it’s an essential part of scientific practice. Science deals only with the physical universe, it doesn’t deal with the supernatural, it’s unequipped to. Demanding falsifiability being the standard for evaluating ideas about the supernatural is entirely unjustified, even by the most absolute version of that contingent.

    It’s like the issue of studying miraculous healing or, more formally, the effect of prayer in healing. The proposal contains the basic oversight that any such healing is defined as being outside the usual natural order of things. The use of statistical analysis is to discern something about the usual natural order, what happens by the typical actions of nature Those miraculous recoveries are held to be rare and outside of the natural order. Even a study that contained instances of effective religious intervention couldn’t use statistical analysis to find them because of that. At the most it could be claimed that the statistical application to that problem couldn’t be known.

    Demanding that the supernatural conform to the methods invented for science is irrational and an instance of superstition in the power of science to do what science is defined as not being able to do.

    You do know that if God is omnipotent s/he might have the power to both exist and not exist at the same time. If God had to do either one or the other to conform to human expectations and experience that would be a limit on God’s power. Or, more likely, our idea of exist-not exist is inadequate for more than our quotidian experience.

  117. #117 Russell
    June 20, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I’m fascinated by the demand that God be falsifiable.

    Whether a god is falsifiable depends very much on which god is being discussed. To take one extreme, the Deist God, who writes the Laws of Nature, jump starts the universe, then sits back to watch, pretty clearly isn’t falsifiable.

    At the other end of the spectrum is Yahweh, the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who speaks from burning bushes, parts the seas, smites entire cities, floods the earth, sends angels, speaks to some, and conceives himself into virgins. That kind of god is quite falsifiable. Indeed, if you believe some of his modern prophets, that particular god will rent the skies any day now, rapture his adherents, and start seven years of tribulation. Most of us would recognize our world suddenly changing into a Stephen King novel. The question isn’t whether such a god is falsifiable, but why he (seemingly) chooses to make himself so apparent to some, while withholding evidence (temporarily) from others.

    The interesting thing is that the religious don’t want a remote god. They want a god intimately involved in their affairs, who answers prayers, performs miracles, and will show himself to the world. Any day now. Which likely is why the latter god has many adherents, and the former almost none. Except in philosophical discussion, where the Deist god strangely becomes the paradigm.

  118. #118 Russell
    June 20, 2011

    Ender:

    I have been addressing your argument as if you have the standard position on science. It seems that you may have a far more nuanced outlook than I was accounting for. Most people believe the implications of Science are the science.

    There are, of course, many views of science. Still, you might be presently surprised, that the views of graduate students in physics are quite a bit more flexible than the position you describe as “standard.” Perhaps because they are delving into the problems with it, and lectured on the history of it, they are apt to realize that the theories we have are just what has been invented so far, that works so far as we have tested it. (Admittedly, my direct experience with graduate courses in physics is three decades out of date. But I have some reason to hope this much hasn’t changed.)

  119. #119 Russell
    June 20, 2011

    Typo! Instead of “you might be presently surprised,” I meant “you might be PLEASANTLY surprised.” How did my brain to that?

  120. #120 Anthony McCarthy
    June 20, 2011

    Whether a god is falsifiable depends very much on which god is being discussed. To take one extreme, the Deist God, who writes the Laws of Nature, jump starts the universe, then sits back to watch, pretty clearly isn’t falsifiable Russell

    Oh, I don’t know about that. You might have to get over the big, really big fact that the Laws of Nature are the creation of human beings. You do realize that the laws of science have their origin in human minds, don’t you?

    Now, if you want to say that “the Deist God” created the universe exactly as it is, with all its structures and forces, that God wouldn’t be falsifiable. That God also happens to be the God of just about any monotheist who considers the issue in those terms. That science studies part of that universe is due to the fact that it is the same universe scientists live in, they don’t happen to own it and they don’t happen to have captured any part of it completely in the laws they have created. There isn’t a human law that is a comprehensive closure of any pheomenon in the universe, they are all incomplete in some sense, they are not identical with any aspect of the physical universe, they are generalizations about it. They are a human creation, not a creation of God.

    I think you’ll find that the “rapture” has more to do with a specific sect of protestantism than it does Y-h.

    Everything you describe was an attempt to understand the creation of the universe, its continued operation and peoples position in it. They did according to their abilities just as scientists do, neither is complete, neither is encompassing. I do think some of the insights of the ancient thinkers is extremely impressive, what was said about death as being the result of the eating of the Tree of Knowledge was quite remarkable. Especially considering the role that science and technology are playing in destroying the biosphere.

    The problem with Deism is that it’s not really believed in by anyone. It does nothing for anyone, it’s just nothing, which is why it’s so popular with new atheists. I have no use for that hypothetical myth. Thinking about a God who does nothing is more servile than attempting to propitiate one who sometimes does things for you.

  121. #121 Russell
    June 20, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Everything you describe was an attempt to understand the creation of the universe…

    Why assume it was created? What is your evidence for that?

    They did according to their abilities just as scientists do…

    Nah. At the same time that the ancient Israelites were doing like many other peoples of the time, inventing a god particular to them, writing myths of that god’s petulant behavior, which myths were designed to justify their position in the politics of the time, Greek scientists were putting together a working model of the solar system, based on astronomical data. The difference between those two efforts is the difference between reason and myth.

    I do think some of the insights of the ancient thinkers is extremely impressive, what was said about death as being the result of the eating of the Tree of Knowledge was quite remarkable.

    Really? How so? Did animals eat of that tree? Or don’t they die like us?

  122. #122 Spartan
    June 20, 2011

    Ender,

    Just a couple from your last post.

    Indeed, but I specifically chose this example as one for and against which you have no evidence, but one that we have a tendency to take a position on anyway.
    Aliens could, and probably do, exist. If they were here, they could theoretically hide from us and kidnap occasional people.

    True, but you also say that aliens ‘probably do’ exist. Why do you think that? Not purely on faith I would guess.

    The world just isn’t satisfying. I want to take a position on whether Dave was kidnapped – and I made him up! It’s not satisfying to say “I don’t believe it but I don’t have any evidence so I do not know” – you want to tell them you know it’s nonsense, or sleep paralysis, or drinking, but you don’t know and the above is the most you can say about it. Ditto unfalsified Gods.

    I don’t see the issue with your statement being that it’s not satisfying as much as it’s incomplete. I think it should be more like, “I don’t know for absolute sure that Dave wasn’t abducted by aliens, but there are significant, and yes more probable and parsimonious, explanations. In it’s favor is the evidence that Dave is not the only person to report an abduction and the phenomenon has occurred to ‘normal’ sober people. Against it is the fact that people get drunk, hallucinate, have sleep paralysis that can produce experiences of this nature. There is also the fact that we are apparently hypothesizing aliens who have the technology to steal people temporarily and apparently never get caught by someone else in the act; is it unreasonable to think that there are very few explanations that would involve the need for aliens who have such sophisticated concealment technology to yet find it necessary to kidnap humans.” No, it’s not conclusive either way, but we’re not evaluating Dave’s claim in an empirical vacuum.

    I agree that those who only lack a belief in Gods and do not believe them not to exist (apart from the falsified ones) do not require faith.

    I do see what you are saying here in your overall point, but I think if I stick to the usage of these words consistent with how we use them in this apparent reality, I can say that without having as much faith as the believer. A): I, and you I think, believe Santa not to exist primarily not on faith, but because there is no evidence that he does exist, and no one that I have ever heard of asserts he does. B): If someone rational does say Santa exists, the only way that person can believe that is on faith, similar to God; if the evidence took you there, you wouldn’t need faith and there’d be a much stronger case for Santa/God. I don’t see the same faith between A & B.

    I think you would also say that we have good reason to doubt that Santa exists, we have evidence that he is a product of the imagination and most importantly. Now, I could say the same thing about God and it would be true in my view, but I’d guess not in yours, but we agree that Santa and God share one line of that logic, namely that there is no good evidence for God either, otherwise you wouldn’t need the faith you admit is required. If you see somewhere in the above where I have used as much faith as the proposition that Santa or God exists, let me know, because although there are lots of unknowns and it’s not a proof, it is based on reason and evidence. The infinite number of things that we both ‘have faith do not exist’ is an underlying foundation of equal ‘amount of faith’ for both of us and can be disregarded.

    I think maybe what you are asserting is that you need evidence to the contrary of whatever proposition, thus the reference to ‘falsifiable’, in order for you to believe something does not exist that is not based on faith. So we don’t need as much faith as the Santa-believers because we have evidence of him being a product of the imagination. If so, I’m not sure what to make of it, it’s in a gray area of where ‘falsified’ is. I can say that you and I both agree that people use the same faith to arrive at conclusions that we both agree are false; even if we can’t prove any specific claim is incorrect, there is enough incompatibility that they can’t all be correct from a logical standpoint. That statement is not faith-based and is evidential. I have reduced my overall atheistic net ‘faith amount’ compared to you. I’m not sure what you have on your side that is as solidly evidential and logical, although not conclusive, to rebalance this faith amount.

  123. #123 Spartan
    June 20, 2011

    Whoops, that first line of the second to last paragraph should read, “I think you would also say that we have good reason to doubt that Santa exists, we have evidence that he is a product of the imagination and most importantly that there is not good evidence that he exists”.

  124. #124 Anthony McCarthy
    June 21, 2011

    I have read no record of animals either eating it nor whether or not it would have the same effects. It’s obvious that people use their knowlege to destroy each other and the environment they rely on. I told you we weren’t that far ahead of the micro-organisms. Only, outside of a very closed system, they don’t get out of hand.

  125. #125 rturpin
    June 21, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy:

    I have read no record of animals either eating it nor whether or not it would have the same effects.

    You have no record of people eating it. What you have is a myth whose origins you don’t know, the propagation of which is murky, telling a story of a time and place that is every bit as contrary to historical evidence as Heracles building his eponymic pillars to hold the sky.

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