I've now been at scienceblogs for a couple of months, and it is fascinating to me - I went from a stand-alone blog to one with a whole lot of other people, and getting to know the local culture is a really interesting exercise. Overwhelmingly, it has been really wonderful and fascinating. Still, I have learned some new-to-me things about this culture. I thought I would do a series, seeing if I could sum up the lessons learned here as I adapt to this strange new world. So here is the first one.
#1 - The phrase "American Conservative Evangelical Protestantism" is spelled "R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N. In some cases, admittedly, the category of "religion" is diversified to include the Inquisition and Moslem suicide bombers.
In response to what is clearly a custom of the country, I feel obligated to try and conform. I will thus resist the attempt to observe that there are difference on a whole host of subjects between the perspective of say, a leftist Jew, a neo-pagan, a zen Buddhist or even an American Liberal Evangelical Protestant vs. an American Conservative Evangelical Protestant, much less a Grand Inquisitor.
In conformation with this custom of priveleging the general over the inconvenient specificity that details and distinctions bring, I am also going to start referring always to "scientists" rather than specifying what scientific discipline they specifically belong to, what their training is and what their goals are. I think this will enhance clarity, or at least bring me more traffic. I will also refrain from distinguishing between whether this is something that scientists actually know what they are talking about or not - after all, it is said by a scientist, and therefor goes into the catetgory of things about scientists.
So here goes - all observations gleaned form my months of reading scientists on sciencblogs:
Scientists are definitely trying to contain global warming. Scientists are also trying to cause global warming by developing new ways to consume fossil energies. Scientists believe that global warming is anthropogenic and accellerating. Scientists believe that global warming is not anthropogenic (well, 2 or 3 of them, anyway, but let's not muddy the water with specificities). Scientists are trying to reduce chemical contamination of the waterways. Scientists are also trying to increase chemical contamination of the waterways by developing new pesticides. Scientists believe women should count equally with men. Scientists believe that women just make the problems of inequality up. Scientists believe in cutting the vocal cords of barking dogs. Scientists believe this is inhumane. Scientists don't have a problem with eating meat. Scientists are vegetarians. Scientists live in Sweden. Scientists have no fashion sense. Scientists really like highly fashionable shoes and have a great deal of fashion sense. Scientists believe that duck sex can unite duck sex fetishists and scientists. Scientists can teach high level physics to dogs. Scientists can comment on blogs in entire sentences using only the word "fuck." Scientists are getting laid. Scientists are lonely. Scientists are good at creating ways to destroy the whole world. Scientists are good at fixing the world, but not quite as good as they are at destroying it. Scientists have breasts. Scientists are sadly without breasts. Scientists are concerned that there aren't enough scientists with breasts. Scientists believe that the Yellowstone mega-caldera is not likely to explode. Scientists believe NASA has conducted secret tests on the best sexual positions for space nookie. Scientists have determined that marshmallow peeps are better than twinkies. Scientists consume marshmallow peeps. Scientists think stuff is cool. Scientists think we should have sex like the Swedes. Scientists think having sex like the Swedes might be depressing. Scientists think that population will be best controlled by instituting communism and then collapsing it. Scientists believe blogs should be civil. Scientists are not always civil. Scientists are religious. Scientists are atheists. Scientists really like more blog traffic.
See, now I know about scientists!
I did not know that about the space sex.
You forgot that scientists love MFJ!
So scientists are people, who often disagree, just like everyone else? Or science has been wrong? Or if scientists call out religion on its irrationality it invalidates the message?
How about "you can make an awesome case against American conservative evangelical protestantism by launching critiques against it, but those critiques don't apply to all religion, no matter how you try and make it seem like it does."
You forgot one: science bloggers can be very sarcastic.
You know, the folks people here accuse of woo and being anti-science do use this technique - they precisely say "scientists did..." The specifics matter.
The space sex thing was a hoax, evidence in the comments with a retraction the next day.
scientists also believe that other people will reduce anything they say to one sentence soundbites with no bearing on what they are really talking about
Yup, the NASA thing was a fake, but there's some evidence the Russians have actually done some research on this subject. My husband the astrophysicist teaches (among other things) a gen-ed class on the history of space exploration and science and does a whole day on sex in space. What's really funny about it is that the most likely experiments were in male-male sex, but WE DONT TALK ABOUT THAT.
Dude, you were totally gonna sign up for astronaut school! AMIRITE?
Actually, I asked an American astronaut about this very topic last week (he may not have known about the Russian thing, if there was one). He's a physiologist as well as an astronaut, and he said that those experiments hadn't been done (he thought the idea very amusing), but that all biological functions are thought to occur with equal efficacy in space, albeit with some interesting possibilities for positions.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
I, for one, object heartily to the characterization of scientists as duck fetishists. It is well established that serious medico-science bloggers are fascinated by Capridal exploits. You are clearly being uncivil, urinating on the bath mat of your new home and have launched yourself down the path of RUININGZ all that is wonderful about the Sckinezblargz! Please visit G-Lad's blog for proper instruction in how to follow the rulesz of science blogging.
Your affectionate correspondent,
But - what about the big question? How do scientists intend to cope with potential economic instability and/or collapse, associated with Peak Oil?
A movie I saw exhorted scientists to never proceed on their own money - what will happen to modern scientists if fundings evaporate?
Thank you, Drugmonkey, for the useful corrections. As you can tell, I'm still mastering local custom. Obviously, I still doesn't get it, since I would have thought it was Comrade PhysioProf who gave the lectures on the practice of civil blogging. I don't even know where to go to edjicate myself!
Even as you type, Brad K., I am constructing a completely carbon neutral lab built totally out of parts I have bargained for on Freecycle. It will be staffed by Roman Catholic monks who will also tend the gardens and produce B&B for our imbibing pleasure at Friday seminars. We will reunite religion and science post collapse, and the frightened villagers will worship us and pay us tribute to ward off the devil. These proceeds will be used to fund the lab.
Zuska: That's very good news. The bad news is the only product of the monk-lab will be jam made of some obscure berry and a sickeningly sweet fruit wine in an odd looking bottle.
You're halfway to A Canticle for Leibowitz right there.
Sounds exactly like an essay I would get from one of my high school students. "Scientists think that climate change is caused by people. But scientists also think it is not."
This post also doubles as a super-authentic impression of almost every media outlet.
But despite all the differences between individual scientists and branches of science the underlying premise is the same - the rational systematic study of the nature of the universe based on observation, experiment and measurement.
and despite all the individual differences between religions, and individual religious people - lefty Jews, Zen Buddhist and American Conservative Evangelical Protestantism etc. - the underlying premise is the same: belief in ...um.... god.
You must therefore concentrate postings for 2010 on Space Nookie. Greg, who cares if the wine is sickeningly sweet as long as it is a healthy 15% alcohol?
OMG I just tried some carambola wine from Fort Myers... finding it difficult to pour down the drain. It might kill things.
The first half of your post is a pretty good parody of some posts I've seen on ScienceBlogs, but as has been said, the second part is a better parody of the mainstream media.
Marshmallow Peeps ARE better than Twinkies!
As usual, Sharon, you are an unusually acute observer. :-)
Though I think you missed one point- "Science", as in Lori Anderson, and Biggety U, IS a religion.
An excerpt from my addenda to the "Shit Shirt" (you know: Taoism: Shit happens. etc.)
Mammonism: I want more shit.
Science: shit makes sense.
Scientology: no it doesn't
Engineering: I can fix any shit you got.
A-T-H-E-I-S-T not athiest. Some scientists can't spell.
How about "you can make an awesome case against American conservative evangelical protestantism by launching critiques against it, but those critiques don't apply to all religion, no matter how you try and make it seem like it does."
Sure they can. For instance:
*There is no evidence for the metaphysical claims of "American conservative evangelical protestantism".
*There is no evidence for the metaphysical claims of any kind of protestantism.
*In fact, there is no evidence for the metaphysical claims of any religion.
Scientists are just as capable of error as any mundane.
Scientists think only they use critical thinking properly.
Scientists think you need a degree to use the scientific method.
Scientists are just as afraid of admitting error as anybody else.
Science is the only really reliable way of learning about reality.
Somebody will claim I contradicted myself by saying nasty things about scientists, but a nice thing about science; thus demonstrating a basic confusion between the tool set and those who use it.
Yolande, don't take disrespect for atheism too hard.
In line with the observation that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy, I feel the opposite of religion is not atheism, but anythingarianism. According to my Chambers dictionary, an anythingarian is "a person with no beliefs in particular."
Scientists don't proofread or spellcheck. (And not just at this blog...)
(I agree that blogging is not supposed to be as polished as other types of writing, but simply writing a post in a program with a spellchecker would catch a lot and not waste much time.)
Poorly constructed sentences make scientists less clear than scientists purport to be.
A-T-H-E-I-S-T not athiest. Some scientists can't spell.
Some scientists are athier than others; and we know who are the athiest of all.
that was realy intresting! ....as specially considering that I am a swede...living in sweden. I did not know we have boring sex....I better go tell my husband;)
Sorry about the atheist typo - I can usually spell it. And actually, since I'm not actually a scientist professionally speaking you can make jokes about "bloggers" but not scientists based on my post ;-). I can't bear spell checkers - I'd rather have typos than spell checkers - comes from many years of working with foreign languages and non-standard english spellings.
Not all religions, btw, are theist in nature. I don't have an issue with atheism - in fact, I think it is a useful and thoughtful corrective in many cases. I'm in favor of atheism for them that like it. I just find the characterization of religion as summed up by a subset of religion as amusing.
Paula, that actually isn't the case - a number of religions aren't theist - they include some species of pagans, some reconstructionist Jews, many liberal Quakers, most Buddhists, many Unitarians.
Many religions have god or gods at their center, but not all of them.
Moreover, let's just observe that the rational and systematic study of the universe can lead to places precisely as stupid as the irrational and unsystematic study of the universe. Our current ecological predicament, for example, is almost wholly the product of science and the insufficient consideration of unintended consequences.
Now someone who was an idiot would derive from this a dismissal of science. Or you could look at the kind of science and assumptions underlying the disciplines that led to our current ecological predicament and argue that it is not science that got us here, but erroneous scientific thinking that wasn't fully conscious of ecological and unintended consequences, just as you could make that argument about religion.
Great post Sharon, first time at the blog and had a great laugh at this. Gotta call shenanigans on the last comment though, it's not science that has led us to the ecological predicament, nor science that didn't consider the consequences. Science is just a methodology of thinking, it's not the reason we made atomic bombs instead of atomic energy. It's not the reason we developed Agent Orange (and all the other Agent colors) instead of studying the natural environment in Vietnam. You can blame capitalism, piss-poor governance by the slimiest of people, and simple short-sighted asshattery, but science? Baloney.
As for all religions having God at the center? Maybe not, but they all have magical thinking (except maybe for some of the more wishy-washy Buddhists, which just ends up being philosophy anyway). The reason people like Paula and me seem to dismiss religion? Cause magical thinking never got us anywhere that science didn't get us faster and more intelligently.
Rob, the assumption that we, having learned something about our ecology now know enough to be able to fully manage it has underlain a lot of bad results from technically competent science.
I agree that science is not the cause of our predicament - as I said, that would be stupid, the same kind of silly generalizations I was making above. Scientists, however, are not innocent in this - the idea that politicians alone created our collective situation is just silly. Scientists have often arrived to present their findings as "we can now do this, and thus, isn't it cool, we should!" And "well, yeah, there were some unintended consequences with previous discoveries, but we understand everyting so much better now." The impact of scientists on the development of the society we have now has to be completely erased to believe it is all the politicians fault.
The geoengineering debate is a really good example of this -much of the advocacy scientists make for their science comes out mostly as "Cool, we can block out the sun." Yup, that won't have any unintended consequences. Nope, none. Plenty of magical thinking there.
"Cause magical thinking never got us anywhere that science didn't get us faster and more intelligently."
Does science give us festival cycles, ways to connect to our deity-or-lack-thereof-of-choice, or a moral code? No, not usually. It's not supposed to. And religion isn't supposed to give us the scientific method. It really is possible for them to coexist peacefully.
Whoa whoa whoa Nelly! Big jump from me saying we know a lot from science and should continue to use it to "we're now able to fully manage our ecology." I'm not one of the Freakonomics authors, so I definitely don't advocate huge, dangerous, possibly world-fucking ideas like geoengineering (we probably agree nearly 100% on that front). As for it being magical thinking? Nope, it's just WRONG thinking. As many climatologists have pointed out, it's bad science to assume the consequences of geoengineering will be easily mitigated. This doesn't bespeak magical thinking, after all, the geoengineering ideas have some scientific merit. As for it being a good idea, well that's why I'm glad we have so many competent climatologists and others who came out against that book and its dumb ideas. Incidentally, thought it a shame since I liked the first book so much. I guess the problem I see with this method of thinking is that I ask myself, "why do we even know about the damage we're causing to the planet?" Oh yeah, science. Yes, the science of the internal combustion engine contributed shitloads of bad stuff into the air (and water, and soil, etc.), but if we work at it and fund it, science can get us out of this mess. What we need is the political and social forces to align with good uses for science instead of negative uses. It's the old analogy of science as a hammer: I can use it to build an orphanage, or to bash someone's head in, it doesn't make the hammer evil, just the guy wielding it.
Sarah, as for what religion gave us? Could it have given us festival cycles? Uh, yep, it gave us more and more accurate calendars (as well as bigger harvests), so yes, I think without religion we'd probably still have parties after getting work done. Ways to connect with a deity? You're right, partially schizophrenic shamans gave us that. Science just figured out that sacrificing goats doesn't work nearly as well as learning about something. A moral code? Well, evolution gave us that, but science has done a lot to figure out how it happened. OTOH, religion gave us this awesome moral code called the bible, where we can learn that shellfish are evil, adulterous women should be murdered by big fucking rocks thrown at their heads, and the proper treatment of slaves. Not to stop taking slaves mind you, just how to care and feed the people you use as sub-human work animals. Sorry, but if you're trying to make a list of all the awesome stuff religion gave us that science couldn't, you're kind of failing.
Rob, I think the case for "everything religion does, science does better" is pretty weak, actually - many things that religion does, science doesn't do at all - science, for example, doesn't create ritual to get us through the burial of our dead, although it can usefully teach us a considerable amount about how to do it safely. Religion might do so, or social customs. Ethics would help us with end-of-life decisions, religion or custom with burial ritual and mourning and science with not endangering the public health. These are three different things, and they simply don't always do the same job.
This is not a case for religion - I don't feel a need to make a case for religion. Do you need religion for the purposes of mourning, or festival establishing? Well, many people do feel they need it - indeed, many atheists still rely on religious festivals to provide a festival cycle, even if they don't believe in the religious origins. There are still more athiest Christmas celebrators than Festivus celebrators ;-). And since this falls in among the many decisions that are personal, ethical and not really the territory of scientific investigation, that's just fine. I don't make the claim that anyone should be religious - I think manifestly it is possible to do all the things people do in religion without it. But that doesn't change the fact that that's not the human norm, it never has been, and I think it unlikely it ever will be - too many human beings do feel that religion has utility for them.
I'm explicitly *not* making an argument about "science" - in fact, I said that was stupid in the beginning of the post, but you don't seem able to have this discussion without implying that I am. I'm not sure if that reflects the difficulty in our culture of talking about generalities and specficities together or if it reflects an attempt at a reductionist argument on your part, or if it simply points out that along with the utility of ethics and religion/custom to our society, we should also include logic.
Rob, you're doing a great job.
Sharon, "atheist" wasn't your only misspelling.
With a concept of "religion" that is so broad, what use does that word have? How can you use it as a single concept with which to compare & contrast science? (Or anything else, for that matter.) Perhaps it would help if you would state your concise definition of religion.
I'll give you that, Sharon, science doesn't dictate what we do with dead bodies, or how we can feel better about losing someone close to us. Religion, OTOH, often prescribes that people shouldn't donate their bodies for science or organ donation, because that's bad. For some reason. This is where the whole religion/science thing falls apart for me. If religion really were just this magical wish-making-make-me-feel-better-cause-we're-all-in-God's-hands kinda thing, it wouldn't be nearly as bad as it is. In this particular example, however, loads of people who need eyes, kidneys, livers, etc. will not have them because some ancient book written by primitives says it's bad, without a damn bit of reason in there other than it's the moral law. Well I don't need some complex morality to tell me that it's better to give life to others as I die rather than letting organs rot in the ground. That's where I think ethics comes in (thanks for bringing it up). Ethics, at least with my limited education in it, seems to be the middle ground between science and religion. You have to justify ethics with reasoning, which is why religion often fails the ethics test. Is it ethical to donate organs? Of course? Is it religious? Who cares, I already have the right answer, why muddy the waters with what pre-all-scientific-knowledge people thought? Ethics allowed us to realize that women shouldn't be subjugated to men (against religion), it taught us that other cultures are to be valued instead of exterminated or converted (against religion), and it removed the demonic stigma against diseases (again, against religion).
As most scientists will argue, you need ethics in science to help push science towards studying what will benefit humanity and the world we live in. What you don't need is a bunch of rules written down thousands of years ago that nobody's allowed to question.
Please forgive, I'm not trying to imply that you mean to be anti-science, it's certainly not my opinion of you. My issue is with the fact that science is just a way of thinking, not a prescription for what to do with the knowledge gained. Maybe there are scientists who are the opposite of Oppenheimer (say THAT 3 x fast!), and who thought it was just ducky that they'd become the destroyer of worlds, but that again wouldn't be a failure of science, merely the scientist. I don't think this really represents a difficulty in generalities vs. specificities so much as a failure of separating science from scientist. It's a really important thing to do (read about Newton sometime, scientific genius but shitty shitty human being).
Diane, you are correct, I made more than one typo. On the subject of religion, though, you are incorrect - it isn't *my* definition of religion is at issue. I didn't define Buddhism as a religion - millions of Buddhists, most of whom are non-theists did. I don't claim that Unitarianism is a religion - it is a religion. They call them churches, it evolved out of two strains of Christianity, it meets all the criteria, and fully 1/2 of all Unitarians are professing atheists at the last poll I'd heard of.
I'm not the one creating a big definition of religion - religion *is* manifestly a big umbrella. That was the whole point of this post. It is the attempt by some people to reduce religion to only the things they don't like that is incorrect.
Oh, and thanks Diane! :) You make a good point as well, there's a lot of people who won't own up to religion's crazy claims because they want to make it into this tenuous "spiritual" mess which doesn't end up meaning anything more than the Golden Rule. A fine rule, no doubt, but hardly something that needs more than the concise definition. Oh, and just as a snarky aside, is it just me or would replacing the 10 Commandments with one really large-font bolded Golden Rule have worked better?
Oh, c'mon Rob - do we have to degenerate into the weak case against religion. Look up "strawman" - nearly all religions permit organ donation, many encourage it. The only two listed here that don't are Romany and Shinto, not exactly major faiths in the US http://www.donatelifeny.org/organ/o_religious.html
As for your last point, well, that was Rabbi Hillel's point - when asked to teach someone the entire Torah while standing on one foot, the answer was this "Love your neighbor as yourself. All else is commentary." Rabbi Hillel, however, was not a New Age generalist ;-).
Again, in order for you and Diane to make your case about religion, you have to reduce religion to the things you want religion to be. The strong case against religion (and there certainly is one) deals with religion as it is. The weak case (as was the whole point if this post) reduces it to its excesses, sets up a straw man and knocks it over.
Again, let's not forget about logic when listing things we need to save the world ;-).
I hardly think it's forgetting about logic, nor creating a strawman, to point out the fact that the major opposition to organ donation was from the religious. I'm not trying to reduce religion to the thing I want it to be, I'm pointing out the fact that it unnecessarily complicates simple decisions about right and wrong, while professing to be the source of what is right and wrong. Yes, perhaps nearly all religions PERMIT organ donation, but why is there even a question? If religion is a force for good, then it shouldn't even need to be said that the religious should donate their organs. It's certainly not the majority position in Islam that flying planes into buildings is an acceptable way to solve problems, but that's what happened. I'm not trying to characterize every religious person as some backwards jackass trying to prevent progress, but I think it's also unnecessarily forgiving to ignore these things. I know this is an unnecessarily belabored point, but the Catholic Church's position during the Holocaust? Or about pedophile priests? I grew up a Christian and have known plenty of great people who believe in this stuff, but I also can't help but notice that pretty much every person I know who opposes equal rights for gays does so on religious reasons, mostly because there's no other reason to think that way.
As for viewing religion as some New Age generalist, I'm not the one talking about 1/2 of all Unitarians being atheists. I'm assuming you're talking about Unitarian Universalism, and not Christian Unitarianism, but here's the section in wiki on their general beliefs:
"There is no single unifying belief that all Unitarian Universalists (UUs) hold, aside from complete and responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith, and disposition. They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any religious background, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions."
Okay, if that's a religion, then every goddamn thing in the world is a religion. Their beliefs, while admirable, read as a general list of good ethics, much like humanists. I guess I just don't see the point in calling that a religion, if someone is an atheist and thinks all those things, then they're just a moral atheist, there's no religious belief involved in it. Same with Rabbi Hillel's idea, his distillation of the Torah involves no religion whatsoever, simply the idea that you should be good to other people, no magic or afterlife or deities involved.
Am I really making such unreasonable points as to say I'm creating strawmen? Or much worse, forgetting logic? I've certainly never said religion couldn't do good things, nor have I said that science has been exclusively used for good things. I've simply tried to point out that science, when guided by reasonable and non-superstitious ethics, is a force for progress, and religion has done a great job of impeding that progress.
Rob Monkey wrote:
>I hardly think it's forgetting about logic, nor creating a >strawman, to point out the fact that the major opposition to
>SCIENCE was from WHITE PEOPLE
Rob, pointing out a tenth of a percent of a group and saying "the major opposition to X from this TINY SUBSET OF A LARGER GROUP" is not only meaningless, but fallacious.
It is, in fact, a failure of logic to tar a very large group (like, say, religious people -- a group that covers about 90% or so of the human population) and ascribe to them the actions of a much smaller group -- -particularly- when one can trivially narrow down one's set well beyond the larger group without significantly reducing the accuracy of the statement.
Just so you know: I oppose organ donation and I'm an atheist. (I was raised an atheist, too, so don't attribute this to my Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/what-have-you upbringing.) I don't much care what happens to my body after I die, but the thought of being the recipient of such a 'transaction' absolutely horrifies me. I imagine you'll say that nobody would force me to accept an organ, so what's the big deal? The big deal is that it's not true that nobody would force me. Just do a thought exercise. Suppose one of my vital organs started failing. Suppose I said "No, I don't want a transplant, thank you very much, I'd like to be allowed to die." Do you think my community would provide support for that? Of course not. I'd be bullied in every way imaginable to accept the transplant, and I'd either accept, or die alone, with no support, fighting everyone around me. This terrifies me. And this would not be an issue if organ donation did not exist.
So I wouldn't donate my organs either. Why? Because I would much rather live in a world in which organ donation did not exist. So by refusing to donate my organs, I am making a teeny tiny contribution to getting there.
And as I said, I'm an atheist.
Joshua, the problem with your analogy is there's no reason for "white people" to oppose science. There isn't anything inherent in being white that should cause you to not believe in science. You completely ignore the meat of my post, pointing out that religion has provided the REASONS for these bad ideas. Again, for the cheap seats: I'm not blaming every religious person for these ideas. I'm not trying to tar a large group with the same brush. When you say that I can narrow it down to a much smaller group, at what point do we draw the line? Yeah, being against blood transfusions is just for the Jehovah's Witnesses, but thinking gays don't have the right to get married? Goes all the way up the line. Opposition to evolution being taught? Mainstream enough that a good chunk of the Republican candidates for president in 2008 affirmed it. Why do they think this way? Religion. You're right, not every religious person believes this crap, but the people who do believe it use religion to justify it. Yeah, religious people can push for more understanding of their beliefs, just as proponents of Islam have done since 9/11, but it doesn't change the fact that the justification crackpots use for killing abortion doctors and lying to Africans about the effectiveness of condoms is all religious language.
Just as an aside, "strawman" and "logic fail" have become the endless go-to phrases of the scienceblogs comments. I mean seriously, I've made it pretty clear that I AM talking about a specific subgroup here, and that not all religions believe the same thing, nor do all people within the same religion. Pointing that out doesn't really address the issues I bring up. Try explaining WHY a subgroup of religious people uses religious language to justify being opposed to interracial marriage back in the 50s, and why they weren't resoundingly shouted down by the sane among their peers. I'm more trying to point out that religion is used as a justification for horrible ideas, not that every religious person takes holy books at the exact same value. Lastly, please don't take personal offense at what I'm saying, I'm not intending to personally denigrate anyone's beliefs (but don't feel like I need to hide mine either). Cheers, Rob
Isis - I agree; I am an atheist, and find organ donation ghoulish. I would not choose to extend my own existence with a transplant. However, my refusal to donate has more to do with the fact that American donors' bodies are treated as public property to be distributed only according to priorities set by an unelected few. (For example, a cancer patient who has used medical marijuana can be told to go away and die for it.)
People have used the term "scientism" to refer to the use of science as a substitute religion, and I'd say Rob is a believer. Rob offers as a reason to despise other religions the claim that they do not fervently enough support organ donation; this presupposes that we all SHOULD support organ donation. Well, that's a moral issue. Should we provide organ transplants for dying kids, or let them croak to improve the breed? Real science can't answer that question - but believers in scientism can put forth their own personal beliefs as being especially "scientific" in exactly the same way that monotheists can claim the exact same deity as a supporter of anything from pacifism to genocide, depending on their personal preferences.
Rob also wrote: "I ask myself, "why do we even know about the damage we're causing to the planet?" Oh yeah, science."
This is a limited case of the popular delusion that we can only know anything through science, and that cultures who do not have science-just-like-ours therefore have no knowledge. Among scholarly sources, both Plato and ibn Khaldun noted the historical occurrence and impacts of environmental degradation. From traditional knowledge, some Native American groups made a point of considering impacts on the following seven generations - meaning, without a doubt, that they had learned that their actions could have long-term consequences.
Isis, first of all, love your blog, been reading daily for a little while now. Sorely tempted to buy the girlfriend some of the shoes you have on there, I think you two would probably get along famously ;) But honestly, and I'm fully owning up to not knowing this 100%, but would they really force you to get an organ? I've worked a bit in medical care, and AFAIK, if you don't want a treatment and don't consent, they don't do it. I know it could happen (which is why we have advanced directives and the like), but considering that if you admit to drinking at all they shut you out of a liver transplant, it surprises me that with shortages of organs that they would ever consider putting an organ into someone who didn't want it. I do find it interesting that your opposition to organ donation only extends to you getting organs and not others receiving it. Anyway, forgive me for painting organ donation as only being opposed to by the religious, I may disagree with you on the idea, but you have your reasons and I can be pretty sure they're not religious ;) I know I'm a bit colored on this idea anyhow, a good friend of mine died in a fire in 7th grade and some of us got to meet the guy who got his eyes. It's not exactly kosher per the organ donation people, but, and I know it's sappy, there's something damn human about seeing someone cry out of their new eyes cause they can see again. Oops, might be just a bit before I can post again, leaving the Science Factory and going home to do some science (mostly a dissolution study of scotch and water).
Rob, first of all, gotta disappoint you, I'm not *that* Isis. And I don't have a blog. Anyway, it's not a question of the medical authorities forcing an organ on me; I'm talking about family, friends, acquaintances... If I told them I didn't want a transplant, what do you think would happen? I'd be treated as a suicide.
And some good points there, Dewey. ;-)
Thanks! I too had assumed you were THAT Isis (you write well, and how many Isises ... Ises? ... can there be)?
LOL! I didn't even know the other Isis existed until Sharon moved to Scienceblogs. And by that point, I had been using the name (it's not my real name, btw; I'd rather not use my real name on the Internet...) for a while.
Ah, Isis, apologies, I think she signs Isis the Scientist but didn't remember. Dewey, I'm completely with you on the issues of acceptance of organ donation, it's a sticky issue that will always be on the edge of medical ethics. As for the "scientism" claim, well I just gotta say attributing religious beliefs on an atheist seems a bit silly. Science isn't a religion, and neither is atheism. I'd encourage you to look at my other comments here on the importance of ethics in science. You're right, science doesn't address the issue of the moralities involved, which is why we need ethics to guide the process in a way that benefits us as a whole. Regarding the sick kids analogy though, I'd say that it would be poor science indeed to pretend to be "improving the breed" by letting them die. This is the kind of reasoning creationists give against evolution, and while you may not be saying exactly that, it's still a poor representation of scientific thought, and not at all what evolution describes.
As far as the other ways of knowing that other cultures had, I don't mean anyone to think that science is limited to the science-as-we-know-it idea, and frankly I've often considered how much more advanced those cultures were in terms of caring for their land and their people. Ancient cultures knew lots of stuff that our culture didn't figure out for a long time, I know that astronomy was studied intensely by various groups in the past. Neil Degrasse Tyson discusses in one of his books how much information could be obtained by doing nothing more than putting a stick into the ground and recording the shadow cast by the stick for a while. Ancient cultures did these very things. While they may not have called their ideas "hypotheses" or made "theories," they still used the basic scientific method, which is nothing more than testing things and trying to remove our natural human biases in confirming them. Even a kid making snowballs is doing basic science, learning that the proper amount of moisture makes the ball stick together, but too much and it runs down your sleeve.
I'm not surprised at all that other cultures recognized environmental degradation, my point was that we know that greenhouse gases exist because of science, we know concentrated lead is bad for living creatures because of science. Yes, scientific progress left unchecked allowed these conditions to happen, but unless someone's got a button that reverses the Agricultural Revolution, we're left with dealing with these problems the most effective way we know how: science. Hunter-gatherers did live in a way that was much more natural and better for the planet, but that time is long gone and we need to solve the problems we have in the culture we're in (or move the culture to something better).
Rob - Thanks for the civil response, but I think we're still talking past each other. It's not silly at all to say that you have beliefs that are not based on reason. You seem to think that it is "better" to give a seriously defective newborn a heart from a dead baby than to, say, leave it out on a hillside to die. Why? Not because of "science" - what sort of controlled experiment could ever provide data to dictate what our value judgements should be? - but because of your own emotions and culture, the same things that would cause a religious person (in our age of plenty) to say it would be "a sin" to abandon the baby.
You seem to say that it would be "poor science" to choose to write the baby off, but I am to blame for that, because it may have sent you onto a tangential claim that eugenics, specifically, is poor science. That [ignoring your rather unfocused remarks about creationism] is actually false; you could have a scientifically rigorous and still grossly immoral eugenics program. Your opinion, again, is not based on pure reason and experimental data.
My objection to science-worshippers - which maybe I have falsely thought you to be, so feel free to clarify - is that they pretend their own beliefs and preferences are somehow "scientific" and therefore really are universal, and other people(s) are backwards and irrational to the exact extent that they hold other opinions.
Rob - post 39: "... but if we work at it and fund it, science can get us out of this mess."
Um. Really? Can I see your proof, please?
What you have there is a "leap of faith". And one with as little backing as beliefs in big old men in the sky.
Not sure who said it; one of the older evolutionists: "Intelligence, like that of Homo sapiens, has not yet been demonstrated to have any long term survival benefit."
I think the reason we're talking past each other is that you don't seem to acknowledge that I've pointed out that ethics are important. The part where we disagree is that you seem to say that ethics can't be based on reason. You're correct, that I wouldn't design an experiment to determine if it's better to leave a baby on a hillside, that doesn't make sense. My morals in that particular case are really based in evolutionary science, in that we evolved to have a sense of moral "good" in terms of saving the life of another human, which as a human we are related to, and therefore have some small evolutionary stake in their life. This is not to say that my morals aren't also based on my culture, but at heart, my ethical feelings all have reason behind them. I don't have to have any supernatural reasons to think that killing is bad, or that forcing someone to do something is bad, or that stealing something owned by someone else is bad. All of those moral ideas have reason behind them, in that it's morally bad to cause harm to others. Which is simply based on the idea that I would find it morally bad for someone to do the same to me.
I know the eugenics thing is an aside, but I would just point out that eugenics in general is bad science, not just immoral. Creating a "pure" genetic line is a bad idea, even if you think you know what good and bad traits are. Reducing genetic diversity is always a bad thing, and has consequences that are nearly impossible to predict, even at our most cutting-edge levels. Just as an example, purebred dogs are known to have specific health problems not normally present in even mildly mixed (nearly-pure) breeds. Anyway, I know that's not the point, just thought I'd throw it in.
If there are such persons as these science-worshippers, they don't seem to understand the basic idea that science has no direction of its own. You could scientifically design a community that would process its own waste, grow its own food in a sustainable manner, and not deplete the water table, but that involves someone/everyone viewing that as having value. We could be intensely researching ways to most effectively reduce our impact on our planet and create happier, healthier societies, but we need to create money/time/education/drive for all these things, and less money/time/etc. for weapons systems, oil industry subsidies, etc. These are the way we make ethical decisions that have impacts on our world, and when science follows through on these ethical decisions, we see good things happen. Just a thought experiment, like Isis presented to me before: The Manhattan Project was one of the greatest scientific advances in the shortest amount of time in history, and the end result was a literal and an ethical atom bomb. Imagine a Manhattan-style project to give us sustainable energy for the entire planet. A project of huge proportions to solve one of the biggest problems ever faced by man. I'd work for it, and I know a lot of others that would jump at the chance. Vote enough Republicans out of office and it just might happen ;)
Greepa, you surely don't think any meaningful "proof" could be given as the answer to your question right? Hopefully assuming that was rhetorical, what exactly is your plan, if not to use science to solve our problems? Is your plan to just let everything go to shit and not try to make changes? As far as intelligence having long-term survival benefit, I guess intelligence has given us a choice as to whether we have long-term survival as not. I still don't see the point though, unless you just think we should stop doing intelligent things and see if dumb things work better.
Rob- I'm afraid you're not inspiring confidence in your scientific abilities. Research is always a good idea- look it up, before responding.
It's "GreeNpa"; and, if you click on his name above, you'll learn quite a bit about him which makes most of your response a bit silly.
Wow, thanks eulenspiegel for that hugely helpful entry. Sorry if my scientific abilities don't live up to your expectations and if I can't quite read every single blog by someone who can't be bothered to make a cogent argument. I guess you call that research. Oh, and please forgive me for forgetting a letter in someone's internet name. I'm sure you understand how bad it feels to slightly misspell an internet alias.
Wow, each disagreement spawns a new disagreement! Rob, I think what you are trying to say is that religion is not needed to guide morality. But you seem to be arguing that rationality alone is enough to guide morality. Personally, as an atheist I do use my own rational ( I hope ;0 ) reasoning to guide my moral decisions, but they are never the less based on the simple premise of "suffering is bad" which is a value judgement. From that premise I then use rational arguments to extend to specifics, like my opinion on gay marriage and giving to charity.
Now about this other issue, both Sharon and Greenpa have thought very deeply and rationally about why they don't think science will save us. I'm sure Sharon or someone else can provide links to where Sharon has written about this extensively. As to what they plan to do about it, their approach can be summed up as: drastically reduce resource use, and encourage others to do the same. And both of them are heroes in this arena! Why do you think Sharon lives the way she does and spends so much time writing about it?
Well, discussions like this do engender disagreements, I've done my level best to be civil and polite and as I said before, no intentions of pissing anyone off. I agree with you completely about religion not being necessary for morality, but is it somehow not rational to make value judgments like "suffering is bad?" I don't think EVERY decision can be pure rationality (how would we fall in love?), but when we can make statements like "suffering=bad," we can then use rational actions to guide science and progress to reduce suffering. Science is a tool to get what we want, but it needs the guidance of values, goals, etc.
I think it's great that Sharon is writing about and living the way she is, I think I mentioned earlier that we all probably agree on a lot more than we disagree on. My point is though, how do we plan on reducing our resource use? Things like producing energy with solar/wind/geothermal/etc.? Trying to plan population growth so it doesn't get (further) out of control? Developing economies that aren't so reliant on natural resource use? All of these things are scientific questions. As I said before, the reason we know we have to reduce our impact on the planet is that we know (through science) that we're degrading our environment. Remember, science is merely a tool to figure out facts, nothing more. It's not like those with scientific minds are like Terminators, purely acting on rational probabilities and nothing more. If we decide we want to figure out how to be sustainable and keep the environment clean for those next 7 generations (a great goal btw), then we can use science to best determine how to clean up our messes and prevent future ones. It does seem that a lot of people insist that science = progress for progress' sake, or advancement of technology just to see what we can make, but the results of our science at heart will always be based on what we value and what we pay for.
Good post, Sharon. But I have a question for Rob: I may be wrong, but you seem to be implying that the disasters resulting from the misuse of science are not the fault of science, it's certain people who are responsible. On the other hand, it's ok to blame the atrocities perpetrated by certain religions on both people and all religions.
I think you are saying that to criticize religion is bad because religion is such a broad concept that to criticize it is counterproductive because someone will come along and say, "My religion doesn't believe that." and they would be right. You've set up a really broad definition of religion to be whatever anyone says it is. Someone in this thread talks about the religion of "scientism" and this is a result of their own definition of religion. So now you're religious whether you claim to be or not based on someone's definition of it. This leads to much confusion. To have a proper conversation, the term needs to be defined and not just by who says they are. We seem to be in a place where we are talking past each other. I think Diane G is correct, you have to define what you are talking about when you talk about religion. This is why science language is so precise and you truly have to study for years to be an expert and why arguing politics and religion is frustrating because everyone has their own definition of the terms.
By the way, which came first the religion or the ceremony? I think that it is clear by studying monkey and ape societies that ethics came before religion.
Dan asks: Which came first, religion or ceremony? Neither came first. First there was Dance. :)
Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of religion. But religion, like art, is rather difficult to define. If you consult Webster's, "art" has a pretty simple definition. But consulting a textbook on art history, or asking someone who has studied art for years and years and attained a high degree in it, or is known as a professional artist by the public, may result in a very different and more complex answer. However, if I was having an argument (heh!) about art, and needed a definition of it, I'd rather take the word of an expert in the field. Perhaps it's best to let people who practice religion, or are experts in it, be the ones to define it.
Ah, Rob. Most of us find Greenpa cogent. Terse, but cogent. Your opinion of him is not shared elsewhere; you might want to take a look here, an unsolicited comment on the NYT environmental science blog, DotEarth-
google Salmony, if you need to.
Ah, Sharon, you DARE question the religion of our time?! And right here on Science Blogs? How brave you are! Because, you know, scientists are always rational and science as practiced is always objective and merely observant of fact. Ha ha!
And both of them are heroes in this arena! Why do you think Sharon lives the way she does and spends so much time writing about it?
Because she's pretty full of herself?
I do like "basic practices" #15 & 16 of the list at Greenpa's page, tho they do come dead last.
Do either of these heroes address population control?
Diane G. sorry to tell you, but I'm just chortling here. You really ought to watch the sniping- it immediately tells everyone more about you than you want them to know. Like when boys buy a Hummer?
Do I talk about population control? Not anymore. #15. It's a dead waste of effort, on all sides.
Now, do I DO something about it? Why yes. World wide. And no, I'm not wasting my time explaining that- #15 holds fast.
Although stating that you do something about population control "world wide" is quite the claim w/o supporting evidence.
Just sniping in response to the general tone of condescension here. Though I suspect the author feels the same way about the anti-woo posts she objects to.
Sharon Astyk (#43)
It is the attempt by some people to reduce religion to only the things they don't like that is incorrect.
Bit late, but I thought I'd point out that it's not reductionist to say religion has no sound epistemic basis and thus cannot provide humanity with knowledge. All religions require special pleading because none of them have any way to verify their claims outside of science. Therefore, whenever religion purports to offer knowledge (or tries to sidestep the issue by putting faith before knowledge), it causes problems. However complex and peculiar individual religions are, in order to be functional, they invariably commit the believer to some degree of irrationality and selective ignorance.
If all religions share a foundation that fails to separate knowledge from supposition or whim, then what's to say a moderate belief is any more justified than an extreme one? Technically, neither is justified. The moderate belief might be more appealing, more considerate, more kind, but it's no more rational than the foul, hateful, brutal belief of an extremist. No one can honestly claim one is correct over the other.
There's plenty of concession around here that not all religious people are odious in their practices and that moderates are much less likely to piss on science as a whole. But when it comes to justifying their religious beliefs, the moderates fail just as miserably as the extremists, and they need to know that. It's not a matter of what we "don't like," it's a matter of what "doesn't work."
Seems like you all are had a good time without me while I was off for the weekend ;-).
In line with the observation that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy, I feel the opposite of religion is not atheism, but anythingarianism. According to my Chambers dictionary, an anythingarian is "a person with no beliefs in particular."
Well, that's exactly what the most common definition of atheism is these days: lack of belief in deities â not belief in their lack, but lack of belief.
a number of religions aren't theist - they include some species of pagans, some reconstructionist Jews, many liberal Quakers, most Buddhists, many Unitarians.
Do you mean "most Buddhists" in the West? Because elsewhere, the vast majority believe in large numbers of deities.
the thought of being the recipient of such a 'transaction' absolutely horrifies me. [â¦]
So I wouldn't donate my organs either. Why? Because I would much rather live in a world in which organ donation did not exist.
What's so horrible about your liver living on when your brain is dead?
Almost every religion on earth, deist and non-deist, has the concept that humans have some sort of free will and ability and duty to behave well or improve themselves (let's leave Calvinists out of this). The devout reductionist will say that, because we are carbon-based machines and they haven't yet learned of a means by which a machine can have free will, this is false, and perhaps that it represents "irrationality and selective ignorance." However, it turns out that people who have been led to believe that they can control their own behavior actually do behave better than people who think that they are helpless prisoners of their genes or brain chemistry. In humans, therefore, we seem to have a robot that functions better when it is wrongly convinced that it is not a robot. It would be hard to know how to deal with such a strange situation, but I would not be arrogant enough to assume that "pure truth" was always a more important criterion than individual and community welfare, simply because that might be my own preference.
I have no idea who is supposed to be a hero, btw, but if you are asking if I write about population, the answer is yes - both _Depletion and Abundance_ and _A Nation of Farmers_ have chapters on population. My third book doesn't, but then, it is a cookbook ;-). I've got a number of articles out on the subject as well.
Dewey: "In humans, therefore, we seem to have a robot that functions better when it is wrongly convinced that it is not a robot. It would be hard to know how to deal with such a strange situation, "
I have a suggestion for how, though sophomores will not like it.
I think your analysis is probably true- true enough, in any case, that an adaptive jump is just possible.
We also know humans are outstanding at ignoring things they don't want to know, or think about. So my suggestion is- decide, in your own mind, that the question is irrelevant.
Pretty clearly, the human organism is DESIGNED, by deity or evolution, to function AS IF it had free will. Function is messed up if you attempt to convince it otherwise.
So? Just behave as if you have free will- your entire body and brain want to think so anyway.
For your day to day existence- the "truth" of the matter IS irrelevant.
Go with the flow. :-)
However, it turns out that people who have been led to believe that they can control their own behavior actually do behave better than people who think that they are helpless prisoners of their genes or brain chemistry.
Oh, they do? You have any evidence this is true? And anyways, it's a false dichotomy. Recognizing there is no free will doesn't necessarily make us feel we are "helpless prisoners" of anything. Ideas themselves, including the idea of free will, exert influence on genes and brains. So do a rather lot of other things--so many that simplistic determinism quickly becomes incoherent.
but I would not be arrogant enough to assume that "pure truth" was always a more important criterion than individual and community welfare, simply because that might be my own preference.
First, who is making that assumption? Second, how does anyone determine something actually is beneficial to individuals and the community if not via empiricism?
Greenpa - so- "Don't worry, be scrappy"?
A. Noyd - Research on real-life human behavior has advanced considerably in the past couple of decades. Look around on the web and you should be able to find some of it.
You say "Ideas themselves...exert influence on genes and brains." On brains, yes, dramatically; on genes, not so much. The trouble is that you apparently want the whole world to remove from their minds ideas that have beneficial influences on human behavior - such as free will - because you believe those ideas to be technically false. Likewise, modern psychological research has shown that the influence of long-term Buddhist meditation on the physical brain can be detected, and practitioners enjoy better happiness and perhaps encouragement to more "enlightened" (i.e., less negative or antisocial) behavior. But Buddhism is a religion (like it or not), and if you could instantly convert all its practitioners to atheist-reductionists, causing them to give up that practice, the result would be that they were less happy and more stressed. I don't think you would be doing them any favors thereby.
Research on real-life human behavior has advanced considerably in the past couple of decades. Look around on the web and you should be able to find some of it.
Uh, no. You made a particular claim ("people who have been led to believe that they can control their own behavior actually do behave better than people who think that they are helpless prisoners of their genes or brain chemistry") and I'd like to see if you can support it. Or, admit you're making an unsubstantiated assertion.
On brains, yes, dramatically; on genes, not so much.
Tell that to a smoker with lung cancer or a breeder of dogs or members of a culture where marrige between cousins is idealized or a celibate priest. (Note that I'm not judging these examples as good or bad, only that they are instances where genes have been affected by ideas.) The overall point, though, is that it is inappropriate to distill determinism to "X and Y control me" because given the interaction of influences in the real world, such attempted simplicity quickly degenerates into incoherence.
The trouble is that you apparently want the whole world to remove from their minds ideas that have beneficial influences on human behavior - such as free will - because you believe those ideas to be technically false.
I do? Where have I said this? I think there are plenty of fact-based ideas that have beneficial influences, so you're not even making sense to say that I'd want all ideas with beneficial influences removed. What I would like is for the whole world to understand what knowledge is and recognize the limits of religion in relation to knowledge. And anyways, you still have to show that your example ideas are beneficial in the first place!
more "enlightened" (i.e., less negative or antisocial) behavior
Are you implying we can redefine "enlightenment" away from its religious meaning in order to fit it into a scientific context and then say, "Hah, there's some truth here"? If so, that's more than a bit dishonest. Furthermore, if there is benefit to be gained from meditation, that wouldn't support any other practice or belief within Buddhism. Nor would it mean that the religious explanations for the benefits of meditation are valid. Perhaps you wouldn't go quite that far, but plenty of people do and that sort of fallacious thinking is one of the major reasons criticism of religion is so necessary.
But Buddhism is a religion (like it or not),
What have I said that gives you the impression that I disagree Buddhism is a religion? Either you're conflating my position with that of someone else or you're building a strawman.
and if you could instantly convert all its practitioners to atheist-reductionists
What is an "atheist-reductionist"?
the result would be that they were less happy and more stressed
And you know this how? This is essence of what I'm arguing. When people try to claim that they have come to truth through an irrational process, that's not okay. Gods or no gods, there is no mechanism in religious belief for separating actual knowledge from supposition. It's not impossible such a mechanism could exist apart from the scientific method, but so far none has made itself apparent.
I don't think you would be doing them any favors thereby.
So, beliefs shouldn't be criticized because criticism might disillusion people who derive comfort from their false beliefs and uncomfortable people engage in bad behavior, making society worse? Is that what you're trying to say? Aside from being unsubstantiated, that would be a rather strange rebuttal to my argument about religion having an untenable epistemology. Mine is an observation on the inability of all religion to contribute to knowledge and the validity of making generalized criticism on that basis. Can you address my argument at that level or not?
Wow, had no idea this would be going on so long! Wish I'd kept up, but had stuff this weekend. In regards to Gene's post @64, I think you just need to separate things a little more. I blame the misuse of science on the people who misused it, just as I blame the misuse of religion on those who misused it. The problem lies in that science is just a process for figuring out an answer. There's nothing in the philosophy of science that advocates eugenics or giant bombs, it's simply what we've gotten out of our usage of science. Religion, OTOH, has PLENTY of shitty morals and passages that can be parsed any which way to suit the particular foibles of the worshipper. Not to belabor the point, but I think I've been pretty clear that individuals who believe in religion are not my target, it's the religious justification for dumb/horrible ideas that I'm opposed to. Hey I'm all for groups of religious people marching on Washington and telling the anti-science Republicans to shove their middle-ages bullshit where it belongs, but they seem to be too busy worrying about atheist signs on buses or something.
Psychology is not my field of research, so writing a summary of available research, with citations and explanations, would for me require many hours of effort. I truly don't have that kind of time, especially not for someone whose blatant illogic (cigarette smoke is an idea????) and poor reading comprehension (I said you thought ALL beneficial ideas were false????) indicates that he is unwilling or unable to absorb any information that does not match his current worldview. You can sneer at me for this if you like, but I'll take it as confirmation of my good sense. If I have misjudged you and you are really interested in the science of human behavior, I'll suggest that you begin with these two papers :
Baumeister RF et al. 2009. Prosocial benefits of feeling free: disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 35:260-8.
Vohs KD, Schooler JW. 2008. The value of believing in free will: encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating. Psychol. Sci. 19:49-54.
Tangentially related is a paper recently discussed on Scienceblogs:
Eisenegger et al. 2010. Prejudice and truth about the effect of testosterone on human bargaining behaviour. Nature 463:356-9.
Religion is not able to "contribute to knowledge," defined as facts regarding universal physical reality. That does not mean that it has no use in making sense of life. Science is one of the best methods for increasing one's store of facts regarding physical reality - for certain subjects, it is the only method - but those who possess a larger store of facts are not necessarily either happier or better behaved.
Science also, of course, has NO ability to help us decide what values we should choose, and while I as an atheist am not thrilled with many people's religiously backed values, every culture has to have have some set of shared values or it will fall apart. Religion usually does not so much impose alien values (missionaries aside) as provide emotional reinforcement for cultural values that were already present anyway. That's also why people from every point on the political spectrum can use the same three books as divine support for their beliefs.
First, some of the things you ignored from my last post:
- Are you implying we can redefine "enlightenment" away from its religious meaning in order to fit it into a scientific context and then say, "Hah, there's some truth here"?
- What is an "atheist-reductionist"?
- Are you trying to say beliefs shouldn't be criticized because criticism might disillusion people who derive comfort from their false beliefs and uncomfortable people engage in bad behavior, making society worse?
- Can you address my argument about the validity of criticizing religion in general for its inability to contribute to knowledge?
cigarette smoke is an idea????
No, deciding to expose oneself to cigarette smoke involves ideas, more so now that we know smoking can cause certain cancers. Just because an influence isn't immediate doesn't mean it's not an influence.
I said you thought ALL beneficial ideas were false????
Here's your original statement: "The trouble is that you apparently want the whole world to remove from their minds ideas that have beneficial influences on human behavior - such as free will - because you believe those ideas to be technically false." I will accept that you meant to specify "false ideas which have a beneficial influence" both times, but it's not clear the way you have it written. It's especially not clear since I never expressed such a desire, even correcting for which ideas you meant. If you think that I have, it would help if you quoted what I said that makes you think so.
I truly don't have that kind of time, especially not for someone whose blatant illogic...indicates that [she] is unwilling or unable to absorb any information that does not match his current worldview. You can sneer at me for this if you like, but I'll take it as confirmation of my good sense.
I'll admit, I'd find it silly for you to rely on your "good sense" when you've so far failed at paraphrasing my arguments, much less correctly divined my "worldview." I'm trying not to make such assumptions about you. In fact, I asked for confirmation or clarification on a number of points (repeated above), and rather than address those and you chose to single out where I supposedly misread you. As for wasting your time, well, the topic of the possible benefits of false belief is one you brought up. If you don't want to spend time supporting it, then just say you want to drop it, since it's nothing to do with the point I was making.
I'll suggest that you begin with these two papers
Thank you for providing some citations. Alas, the first is behind a paywall. As for the second, well, I'm leery of a psychological study that indulges in a bizarre false dichotomy in the first paragraph: "Would people carry on, selves and behavior unperturbed, or, as Sartre suggested, might the adoption of a deterministic worldview serve as an excuse for untoward behaviors?" Why leave out the possibility of a change for the better? Another concern is how the participants were introduced to the deterministic concepts right before the behavior tests. Rather than being a reflection of significantly changed morals, the subsequent cheating could indicate the participants were only testing out the new ideas in a low stakes environment.
But let's say it's true that rejecting free will can lead to negative, antisocial behavior in the long term. That doesn't necessarily mean that false belief is better. Disillusionment might remedy more problems than it causes. We would also need to answer things like whether the negative behavior can be corrected for in any way. How much of it is dependent on a naive understanding of determinism? Could a sophisticated understanding better mitigate negative behavior? If it could, would the net result then be more positive than maintaining belief in free will? And so on.
That does not mean that it has no use in making sense of life.
Define "making sense of life." It would also be nice if you said who is arguing religion has no use in doing whatever you mean here. After all, I wouldn't say a spoon has no use in peeling an apple but I also wouldn't say it's the ideal tool for the job.
Science is one of the best methods for increasing one's store of facts regarding physical reality - for certain subjects, it is the only method
In what subject would one use something besides the scientific method to increase one's store of facts?
but those who possess a larger store of facts are not necessarily either happier or better behaved
So what? You're tacking this on like it somehow invalidates my point that religion cannot provide us with knowledge.
Science also, of course, has NO ability to help us decide what values we should choose
Maybe it can't help us decide our major values but it most certainly can help us iron out any values contingent on fact. Say we choose to believe that harming other people unnecessarily is wrong. Science can then help us understand what actions cause harm and what harm might fall into the category of "necessary." Science can also tell us when certain beliefs that affect our values are at odds with reality, such as whether personhood starts with fertilization. We know this belief is incoherent because fertilized eggs sometimes split into twins. Whatever our criteria for defining personhood, it ought to account for that fact. Similarly, we know there's no biological support for using skin color to categorize people by race, much less to organize races into a hierarchy.
while I as an atheist am not thrilled with many people's religiously backed values, every culture has to have have some set of shared values or it will fall apart
What is the connection between religiously backed values and a need for a set of shared values?
Religion usually does not so much impose alien values (missionaries aside) as provide emotional reinforcement for cultural values that were already present anyway.
Even if I were to entirely agree with this (which I don't) so what? It doesn't make religion necessary or better than alternatives. In fact, religion serves often enough to inhibit moral progress and to offer an irrational justification for harmful behaviors that we would be crazy not to look into alternatives.
Okay, I'll agree with dewey in that feeling like you have decisions and the ability to change your life makes you feel better. This does jive with psychology, as well as common sense. That is, no shit Sherlock, feeling helpless doesn't really feel good, no? And that's where my agreement with dewey ends ;)
"Science is one of the best methods for increasing one's store of facts regarding physical reality - for certain subjects, it is the only method - but those who possess a larger store of facts are not necessarily either happier or better behaved."
Um, you do realize you just quoted a bunch of scientific studies in this same post right? Like, studies about how people are happier when they can make decisions? Huh, guess you CAN use science to figure out values that are good for people.
"Religion usually does not so much impose alien values (missionaries aside) as provide emotional reinforcement for cultural values that were already present anyway. That's also why people from every point on the political spectrum can use the same three books as divine support for their beliefs."
Or perhaps people from every point on the spectrum can justify even their ugliest ideas by finding some scriptural support for it. Plenty of anti-interracial marriage activists used the bible for this very reason.
I have no idea who is supposed to be a hero, btw, but if you are asking if I write about population, the answer is yes - both _Depletion and Abundance_ and _A Nation of Farmers_ have chapters on population. My third book doesn't, but then, it is a cookbook ;-). I've got a number of articles out on the subject as well.
Posted by: Sharon Astyk | February 8, 2010 11:04 AM
It hardly seems sporting of you to hide "Ehrlich may be one of the 'old men,' but he is also wise and engaging," in a list of references, after setting him up with others as your straw man in the chapter inaccurately titled "Talking Population with the Old Men;" "with" being the inaccurate part.
But I'm glad you at least consider the issue of population control.
It would have been more sporting for me to not reference his book and discourage people from reading it? He's an engaging and thoughtful writer - even though he falls into major analytic mistakes. But I gather you like your ideas about religion and other subjects without nuance.
I'm going to stop feeding the trolls.
I'm going to stop feeding the trolls.
Oh, I'm sorry, I thought we were having a go at an honest, intellectual argument. At least, that's what I was aiming for. I didn't realize I was just trolling. I suppose I should thank you for correcting my error with your generous ad hominem.
A. Noyd - someone who is so quick to throw around claims that others are engaging in various errors of logic ought to know what an ad hominem argument is, and that that wasn't one. Everyone around here could benefit from some formal logic training so that they would use these terms correctly rather than as bludgeons against dissenters. I am a bit chagrined to have used the term "troll" after reading Sharon's latest post, though. She is a much kinder person than I am, or than average Scienceblog shriekers are, and I should learn from her example. You and Rob Monkey probably are not trolls, and I apologize.
You have, however, given me the impression that you are not willing to discuss this subject without bending the argument to fit your own prejudices. Example 1: the fact that voluntary mental activity (e.g. meditation) can affect brain function somehow got brushed under the rug by its conflation with cancer caused by cigarette smoking (because, apparently, someone had to have the concept of smoking cigarettes before anyone could actually breathe the smoke). Example 2: your response to the stated inability of the accumulation of scientific facts to make us happier or better behaved was "So what?" - which to me sounds like, if people aren't happy deriving all meaning in life from what scientists tell them, then you don't much care if they're happy, and if others want to deal with that issue ("tacking it on"), tough!
I also tend to assume that there is no point in arguing with people who imply that they think science is the only way to learn anything whatsoever, unless they define "science" very broadly to include the acquisition of knowledge and technical skills by historical or prehistorical and non-Western peoples.
And finally, I start off automatically irritated by posters who write "Uh,..", demand that people "admit" to this or that intellectual failing, or ask whether they "can" address an argument at your preferred "level" (which they may find to be too low or just irrelevant). You may think such rhetorical tricks are "honest and intellectual" but to me they read "obnoxious and pretentious," even if they do not make you a troll. I speak to people I deal with on the web as if they are as smart as I am (even though most are not, and sometimes it is obvious from their writing). If someone speaks to me in a belittling or hectoring tone, as if he is convinced that I am his intellectual inferior, I cannot believe that he will give my opinions a fair hearing, therefore there is little point in taking time out of my busy day to express them. Most people, I suspect, fear the opinion of the herd enough that they rush to try to prove their worth in such situations. I do not.
Sharon, I know Paul Ehrlich. Paul Ehrlich is a friend of my ex-boss. You're no Paul Ehrlich.
Diane, I can live with that ;-).
someone who is so quick to throw around claims that others are engaging in various errors of logic ought to know what an ad hominem argument is, and that that wasn't one.
Wrong. You are trying to discredit my arguments by calling me a troll rather than engaging what I'm saying. Let's have my handy-dandy copy of With Good Reason weigh in on what an ad hominem is. From the glossary, under "personal attack" (referred from "ad hominem"): "the fallacy committed by attacking the person making an argument (or the origins of a thesis) rather than the argument (or thesis) itself." Double check with dictionary.com if you like.
You and Rob Monkey probably are not trolls, and I apologize.
Probably? Don't strain yourself now. I'll accept that apology when it's made genuinely without the weaseling.
You have, however, given me the impression that you are not willing to discuss this subject without bending the argument to fit your own prejudices.
As far as I can see, you're simply inventing prejudices for me. Possibly you're failing to comprehend my arguments because you expect me to have particular prejudices. And perhaps I'm not expressing myself as clearly as I should, but I am pointing out when you're twisting my words into something I'm not actually saying. For instance:
the fact that voluntary mental activity (e.g. meditation) can affect brain function somehow got brushed under the rug by its conflation with cancer caused by cigarette smoking (because, apparently, someone had to have the concept of smoking cigarettes before anyone could actually breathe the smoke)
I have no idea where you're getting this, but there was no conflation on my part. I was never arguing against the former; I merely pointed out that meditation being beneficial wouldn't endow the tenets of Buddhism with any particular validity. The latter, which you twisted once already, was an example of how ideas can affect genes and was a direct response to your downplaying of the concept in #81. Ideas about smoking will influence whether a person exposes himself to the carcinogens in cigarette smoke. Do you disagree? The point is that ideas can exert influence in ways that affect genes.
your response to the stated inability of the accumulation of scientific facts to make us happier or better behaved was "So what?"
That was my response to the apparent lack of connection between the obvious inability of science to guarantee happiness and the point I was making about the validity of criticizing all religions for their inherent failure to justify their beliefs epistemically.
which to me sounds like, if people aren't happy deriving all meaning in life from what scientists tell them, then you don't much care if they're happy, and if others want to deal with that issue ("tacking it on"), tough!
Well, you're wrong. Address the issue as you please, but either make it clear you understand it's nothing to do with my point or show what the connection is. You've managed to ignore the actual complaint I made which was that you seemed to be mentioning it as though "it somehow invalidates my point that religion cannot provide us with knowledge."
I also tend to assume that there is no point in arguing with people who imply that they think science is the only way to learn anything
First, this is an inaccurate paraphrase of my position since I'm talking about "knowledge" (ie. facts and justified beliefs), not "anything." Second, I asked you to give an example where one would "use something besides the scientific method to increase one's store of facts" and you called me a troll.
And finally, I start off automatically irritated by posters who write "Uh,..", demand that people "admit" to this or that intellectual failing, or ask whether they "can" address an argument at your preferred "level" (which they may find to be too low or just irrelevant).
All right, so my writing style gets under your skin. It happens. It does not, however, make you justified in your assumptions, such as your characterization of me as "unwilling or unable to absorb any information that does not match [my] current worldview." This is especially ridiculous when I've explicitly asked you for clarification about what you're saying from the start.
As for the "admit" thing, I was warning you that any inability to support your claim would have meant you were making an unsubstantiated assertion, and after your little dance about how I should look for support for your claim, I wasn't going to let it pass. I did get carried away a little because, looking back over the exchange, my original question was about how we determine the benefit of a thing "if not via empiricism." So I should have pointed out that you were answering that question as "we don't" by pointing in the direction of empirical research. My bad, there.
And perhaps you do understand my original point and just don't want to engage it, which is fine, but the way you've gone at it, I can't be sure, hence my asking if you can address it.
You may think such rhetorical tricks are "honest and intellectual"
You have assumed I'm not honest, thus when I use emotive or conversational or ironic language to convey a genuine question, you wrongly interpret it as a rhetorical trick meant to belittle you. Which leads me to:
I speak to people I deal with on the web as if they are as smart as I am (even though most are not, and sometimes it is obvious from their writing). If someone speaks to me in a belittling or hectoring tone, as if he is convinced that I am his intellectual inferior, I cannot believe that he will give my opinions a fair hearing, therefore there is little point in taking time out of my busy day to express them.
Oh, so you won't let your superior intellect affect whether you give an inferior's opinion a fair hearing, yet it's reasonable to assume someone you believe thinks of you as an intellectual inferior wouldn't extend you the same courtesy? Really?!
And if your day is so busy, why have you spent good deal of effort criticizing my tone and indulging in passive-aggressive wankery and self-congratulation when you could have simply addressed a few of my questions and perhaps learned in the process whether or not they were genuine?
Stop arguing with fundamentalists. Let me say it again: stop arguing with fundamentalists. It makes no difference whether they are of the Jesus kind or of the reason kind, they are equally impossible to have a profitable conversation with. I know such arguments are tempting/addictive/etc. but it just isn't worth it.
Just my 2c, hope it helps. ;-)
the "reason kind" of "fundamentalists"?
I'd laugh if it was funny.
Isis - Well, Sharon has been working on me to believe in the value of dialogue.
A. Noyd - No, I didn't answer all your questions, and I shouldn't. I'm really trying here to explain, in a not-unfriendly way, why your style may needlessly get you dismissed by many readers:
When someone goes through someone's messages line by line only, apparently, to find at least one question, challenge, demand, or snide comment to make for every sentence, it is clear that that person isn't really interested in "discussion." When you discuss something with another person, you listen to what he has to say, try to find points of agreement, and, no matter how many questions or objections you might be able to raise, you ask one major question at a time and let him give a thoughtful answer. You do not shout out a dozen different questions in one breath and demand that they all be answered to your satisfaction at once. In a conversation, the demanded reply would be impossible. Online, it simply takes up more time and more posting space than is practically or socially acceptable.
This habit makes it appear that what you really want is a debate or argument. Well, in real-world debates your opponent would likewise not be able or willing to answer a slew of accusations all at once. If one candidate in a political debate, say, let himself be pushed into spending all his time debunking criticisms of his position, while his opponent spent his time speaking positively of his own position and dishing out more criticisms, the former would be the guaranteed loser even if the facts were on his side. You do not have the right to demand that I put myself in that position, any more than I have the right to dictate the content of your posts to you.
The only format in which one is required to respond to a deluge of shallow soundbite challenges with a deluge of shallow soundbite answers is the high-school debating team format. Personally, I find that format ridiculous, in part because it does not allow for in-depth civil discussion of complex issues. If you have been trained to enjoy it, I'm sorry, but it is a game I am not willing to play. If you do not seem flexible enough to participate in other kinds of dialogue, most people will see that as reflecting badly on you, not on your intended opponents.
I'm really trying here to explain, in a not-unfriendly way
Hahahahaha! Here's the thing. You're not being "not-unfriendly"; you're being an ass. You've been a superior, condescending ass the whole time and I haven't commented on it because, you know what? It doesn't matter! If your arguments are solid and you have the ability to coherently engage the arguments of others, egotism isn't really an issue. Hell, even though you haven't shown any ability for strong argument, I've still ignored it. Now that you're making this all about tone, though, I'm going to point it out. You're a dick. You make up a position to argue against and won't say whether you're referring to an actual commenter. You make accusations based on your prejudices and blame others for you leaping to conclusions, even after being corrected. So pretending it's mere benevolence on your part to tell me I need an attitude adjustment? Major dick move.
When you discuss something with another person, you listen to what he has to say, try to find points of agreement, and, no matter how many questions or objections you might be able to raise, you ask one major question at a time and let him give a thoughtful answer.
That's one way to have a conversation. It's not the only way to have one, just because you prefer it. Are you so incompetent you can't handle more than one question per post? If so, I suggest, in a not-unfriendly way, that you learn to make it more clear whose argument you are opposing. For instance, up in #76, you said this: "The devout reductionist will say [blah blah blah] and perhaps that it represents 'irrationality and selective ignorance.'" Are you calling me a devout reductionist? It's not clear. When you quote me at the end, you're ostensibly linking my words to a position I don't hold and that you have no grounds to assume I hold. You do it again in #81 when you say, "But Buddhism is a religion (like it or not)..." Based on nothing I said, you're assuming I need to be told this and that I'm probably unwilling to accept it. Then you go on with a strawman argument (wanting to convert Buddhists) and call me an "atheist-reductionist." (Or was that aimed at me? I can't tell.) It's hardly unreasonble to try to figure out whether you're really talking to me and why you would interpret what I say this way.
I also suggest you edit yourself more aggressively to weed out the non-sequiturs you have a bad habit of flinging about. I noted, for instance, that if I understood the point you seemed to be making with your Buddhist conversion argument, it "would be a rather strange rebuttal to my argument about religion having an untenable epistemology." Later, in #84, you came out with a blatant one: "while I as an atheist am not thrilled with many people's religiously backed values, every culture has to have have some set of shared values or it will fall apart." Even if we accept science "has NO ability to help us decide what values we should choose," there's no automatic connection between religiously backed values and a need for a set of shared values. Whatever I'm supposed to take away from this, it's both vague and illogical. If it wasn't important and I should ignore it, why did you include it in the first place? If it is important, you need to explain it better.
It sounds like what you want is for me to overlook your numerous breaches of logic like in these examples and move on to...well, something else. I don't know what. Yet, if I do move on, I risk getting tarred with the brushes of "devout reductionist," "atheist-reductionist," and the like. Nor can I access what point you're getting at because what you come back at me with isn't representative of my arguments and doesn't seem to be connected to anything else in particular. When I dismantle your arguments and ask questions, it's an attempt to find out what you mean and whether you understand me because you're not at all clear. It's not an attempt to make you look stupid or score troll points, but evidence of my sincere intent to have a meaningful discussion. And while you object to this as somehow being obstructive, you also don't want me assuming what you mean wrongly--just look at your indignation when I "misinterpreted" your supposition about me wanting the world to get rid of certain ideas.
I think what's happening is you have an image of yourself as being good at debate, discussion and logic (well, I know you think the latter from your first paragraph in #91). The fact is, you're not particularly good. I'm operating under the assumption, though, that you have things of value to say, which is why I ask questions. I sincerely want to find out what you mean. But because, in the process, I am disrupting the image that you're good at arguing, you're responding to me with hostility and blaming the failure of communication on my style and my nefarious, trollish motives. You're making up excuses because if you give me the benefit of the doubt, then you have to acknowledge my questions are legitimate. The conversation style you're demanding seems tailored to let you stay oblivious to your failings.*
You do not have the right to demand that I put myself in that position, any more than I have the right to dictate the content of your posts to you.
WTF?! You just did dicatate the contents of my posts! I, however, am not trying to trick you into some position favorable to me or play juvenile debating games.
Personally, I find that format ridiculous, in part because it does not allow for in-depth civil discussion of complex issues.
I find it difficult to engage in an in-depth civil discussion of even trivial issues when someone has repeatedly presented himself unclearly and won't clarify. I think I've made a decent case that you have contributed significantly, if not wholly, to the lack of communication here. None of which you will address, no doubt, because I'm obviously only trying to make snide comments, not discussion.
If you have been trained to enjoy it, I'm sorry, but it is a game I am not willing to play.
Well, I'm not willing to play the game of adopting double standards to salvage your ego. You've wasted more of your busy day with yet another post that panders to your presumptions and paranoia and attacks me for style rather than substance. Why do you bother, o ye of the mighty intellect? Surely, if I'm so evil, it won't be hard for the lesser beings around here to also grasp that without your scrupulous and sagacious exegesis. (Note: This last paragraph is how I sound when I'm actually being snide.)
*Yes, I have failings too. Just not the ones you have invented for me.
Dewey - Do you see now? What did I tell you? There's just no point in arguing with some of these people.
Yeah, you're right. Sorry, Sharon, but the T-word fits some people.
None of which you will address, no doubt, because I'm obviously only trying to make snide comments, not discussion.
Hmm, any more successful predictions like that and I should go win me that million bucks! Oh well, I'm convinced you don't really want a dialog unless it's orchestrated to prop up your high opinion of yourself. That's really too bad since you seem like you might have interesting things to say. Maybe if you got off your high horse, you'd see fewer trolls and have better discussions as a result. Just another not-unfriendly suggestion. Anyways, I'm gone. Feel free to cheer or abuse my character more if you like.