Against accommodationism

Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse are not accommodationists. At least, they say they aren't, and that's hard to evaluate, because "accommodationist" is a bad word, and to ensure that it stays a bad word, critics of accommodationists give it protean meanings. Sometimes it's supposed to mean the belief that science and religion are compatible. Sometimes it's just about atheists working with religious people toward shared goals. Other times, "accommodationist" seems to constitute the subset of anti-creationists who oppose gnu atheists. The label "accommodationist" has been thrust upon me vigorously enough that it may not be worth my while to try shaking it, even though I don't know what it means, but I can see why Aikin and Talisse wouldn't want to be saddled with this ill-defined and usually pejorative label.

Whether or not it convinces you that they aren't accommodationists, their essay at 3 Quarks Daily does a nice job laying out an atheist approach to religion that makes sense to me (though I find it flawed in parts):

It is important to note that ⦠we are very much in agreement with the New Atheists [to a point]. Most religious claims are demonstrably false, and religionâs cultural influences have distorting effects on how believers assess the evidence. The religiosity of the background culture explains the persistence of religious belief.

But once this kind of explanation of the persistence of religious belief is adopted, the charge of accommodationism, as it is typically wielded, is rendered facile. One can wholeheartedly and unequivocally deny the truth of the religious believerâs commitments without thereby impugning his integrity as a cognitive agent. The claim that religious believers deserve respect, therefore, need not entail any degree of positive regard for religious belief; the call for respect rather is a call to respect religious believers. And respecting religious believers qua believers involves adopting the working presumption that, though they are mistaken and perhaps obviously so, they are nonetheless not stupid; instead, they are mistaken about what evidence there is and what weight it has.

The proper response to this state of affairs is to address religious believers as fellow rational agents, to elicit from them their best arguments and their conception of what evidence there is, and to make a case for oneâs own view. Correspondingly, it is foolish to begin with an effort to discredit the intellects of religious believers or to diagnose them as benighted, foolish, and intellectually cowardly.

They argue strongly for the value of dialog, of understanding your critics' positions so as to be effective in evaluating their arguments and ultimately convincing them of your argument's superiority, and more broadly for shaping a more civil and rationally-grounded society. I don't necessarily agree that religion (or religious society) is to blame for the odd way some people treat evidence, but this essay doesn't try to justify that claim, and I hope to see a review copy of the book and evaluate their argument in full. I tend to think the relationship is not of cause and effect, but of common causation, that cognitive biases inherent to the human mind and brain make some sorts of bad arguments incredibly hard to escape, and that irrationality of various forms, including some religions (probably all religions at their origin) persist today because of those underlying cognitive biases. But I agree that recognizing these biases and finding ways to overcome them without insulting people who've surrendered to them is key to rooting out bad ideas.

Some prominent gnu atheists have shown up in the comments to insist that Aikin and Talisse are wrong, that gnus think believers should be shown respect, even if their ideas should not be.

This is a nice idea, and applied imperfectly at best. Yesterday, for instance, I cited Richard Dawkins' oddly dismissive attitude toward the ontological argument for god, and of Bertrand Russell's acceptance of the argument. Elsewhere in The God Delusion, Dawkins criticizes Stephen Jay Gould's concept of non-overlapping magisteria. Which is fine, there's plenty there to argue about. But instead of offering a thoughtful critique, he says NOMA "sounds terrific â right up until you give it a moment's thought." No one who has read Gould or spent time with him could think that he was prone to doing things thoughtlessly, yet Dawkins seems not to have been taken aback by this inconsistency. Nor again, when he wrote "I simply do not believe that Gould could possibly have meant much of what he wrote in Rock of Ages [arguing for NOMA]." Again, no one could credibly argue that Gould went around writing arguments that he didn't believe in. Dawkins is entitled to disagree with NOMA â I'd guess most scholars in this field do, at least in part â but it'd be better for him and for his reader if he engaged with the reasons why a smart and honest writer like Gould would offer this argument, rather than dismissing the entire claim as thoughtless and unbelievable.

For a more recent examples, in which one gnu seems to have followed Aikin and Thalisse's advice and another didn't, let's consider the case of Rob Knop. Knop has returned to blogging after a lengthy hiatus, and put up an piece about why he dislikes the term "gnu atheism. Jerry Coyne found the piece and criticized it. This is one of those "water is wet, the sky is blue" moments. What makes it interesting is the reasons he gives for considering Knop's piece. First, consider the title: "A mushbrained attack on the Gnus." This implication of organic brain disorder does not bode well for an analysis which will respect Knop while criticizing his ideas. The piece then delves deep into credentialism, saying the post is worth addressing "not because its author is a big presence on the internet, but because itâs an attack on atheism by a credentialled scientist." It's all about the person, not the ideas.

There's no engagement with Knop's ideas later. Coyne doesn't bother addressing Knop's argument against gnu atheism, except to complain that Knop doesn't offer examples of the bad things Knop claims gnus do. As to Knop's argument that gnu atheism might become associated with the Free Software Foundation's GNU software suite, and thus discredit the free software movement, Coyne again dismisses it as a result of brain damage without engaging with the idea (he even misconstrues Knop's argument). FSF and GNU have long been accused of a crypto-communism, and communism has a deep link to atheism in American discourse (unfortunately), so it isn't totally implausible that IT managers might make this link and use it to oppose switching to free software. It may not be the most salient criticism of the term "gnu atheism," but the gnus are building a brand, and these are things one thinks about under such circumstances.

If gnus want to say that they agree with the goal of respectful dialog, pieces like Coyne's (and if you think other examples don't exist, I can start a catalog) would be good places for them to try enforcing some internal discipline. Ophelia Benson managed to be snarky and dismissive of Knop's piece while still engaging the ideas. Where Benson keeps the focus on what Knop says and why she thinks it's wrong, Coyne's piece begins with implications of brain disorder, segues to a silly credentialism, and offhandedly includes the oddly stilted observation that Knop "describes himself as a 'Christian'" (as if there were cause for doubt on that point). It's all about knocking Knop down, rather than examining his argument. This is a trend across many posts at Coyne's blog, and it makes the protestations against Aikin and Talisse (see the comments at 3QuarksDaily) less than convincing.

Addendum: Coyne argues against Knop:

people like Knop are getting in the way of a cause that we care about: the inimical effects of religion. I deplore the effects of creationists on diluting biology education in America. But I deplore far more the effects of religion in making the world a worse place to live. A kid in Alabama who doesnât hear about human evolution is small potatoes next to a Muslim woman who gets her genitals mutilated, an African who gets AIDS because his priest wouldnât let him use condoms, or an Afghan girl who, seeking an education, gets her face permanently mutilated with acid.

He does this shortly after criticizing Knop for not citing examples, a criticism he repeats soon afterward as well. Note that Coyne does not show that Knop disagrees with Coyne's concerns about creationism, genital mutilation, limited access to contraception, or acid attacks on women and girls seeking an education. Nor does Coyne cite examples of how Knop or anyone else is "getting in the way" of whatever efforts gnus have fielded against those blights. I doubt he could find any examples.

Critics of the gnus oppose those things too. We see that there are religious groups which also agree with those goals, and we see no reason not to work with them, and to attempt a respectful dialog with religious folks who might be uncertain about those issues. It is absurd, offensive, and dishonest to suggest that his critics are not also standing against torture and abuse and contraceptive-denial and the host of other human horrors inflicted by ignorance and authoritarianism and free market fundamentalism and also, yes, some religions. It is even worse to suggest that his critics are interfering with his work against those tragedies when we share the same goals on those issues.

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This is where I don't really understand the Gnu opinion. It's often said that moderates 'enable' fundamentalists, extremists and fanatics, and now Coyne's saying we are "getting in the way" of fighting the inimical effects of religion, and this claim, while unlikely* on the face of it, is entirely possible, but for people who claim to base their opinions on science, evidence and such-like there seems to a dearth of evidence presented to make their case.

*There appears to be an impression in some that moderates don't oppose fundamentalists, we're all the same really, or somesuch. This is patent nonsense, fundamentalists hate moderates, and moderates respond in kind. Fundamentalists may think that Atheists are amoral and evil, but they think that moderates are Heretical, immoral, and evil and a far greater threat as there are far more of us than there are Atheists.
Moderates see Atheists much as they see people of different religions. People who believe different things from us. The dickhead ones are dickheads and the nice ones are nice. Fundamentalists on the other hand are a pernicious evil, distorting and perverting our religious texts to justify their prejudice, bigotry and outright evil. They must be opposed at every turn, lest they destroy our religion from within. And they make us look bad, as people suffer from Outgroup Homogenuity Bias, and think we're just the same as them.

The core disagreement is between those who view a leap of faith as essential to their identity, and those who view it as intellectual dishonesty at its rawest. Where someone practices faith, I don't have any respect for their "integrity as a cognitive agent." That's like respecting a drug addict's integrity in health choice in their very decision to shoot up with a dirty needle.

Of course, if one doesn't respect people who are flawed, one doesn't respect people. And intellectual integrity doesn't matter that much to most people. Its absence will affect their personal lives much less than substance addiction. There is a real sense in which this whole accommodationist debate is academic: the academy is where it matters.

With all those qualifications, the bottom line is still clear. Faith is not an alternative to reason, but where one stops reasoning.

Question: why are you referring to Benson as "Ophelia" and calling all the men you cite by their last names?

"intellectual dishonesty" you keep on using that word, I do no' think it means what you think it means

"Where someone practices faith, I don't have any respect for their "integrity as a cognitive agent."

So you don't have any political beliefs yourself then?

Ender, I don't pretend that my political views are a matter of truth. They are influenced by various factual matters. Of course. But like all things normative, they hang on normative commitments.

It is not faith to hold such commitments. It is faith to pretend that they are something else.

rturpin,

I'm curious ... how would you view me?

I am a theist.

I technically am a member of a religion.

I do not use faith in anything.

I do not claim to know that God exists, and in fact insist not only that I don't, but that knowing is impossible.

I see some potential evidence/reason for believing in God, but do admit that the evidence is inconclusive at best.

Do you have any respect for my integrity as a cognitive agent? And if you do, where do you draw the line between me and other moderates who may simply be expressing more confidence in the proposition than I'm willing to grant? After all, _I_ still have some respect for their integrity as cognitive agents, even though you and I would disagree with them on the same point wrt faith, so what would make the difference?

Vicki: I hadn't really thought about it. It's mostly a matter of respect and familiarity, but there's no good reason not to be consistent. Changing it.

First, let me say that I'm no more interested in judging people's overall "integrity as a cognitive agent" than I do in judging people's integrity at maintaining their health. I have friends who smoke. And do not judge them poorly for that. I spend too much time sitting at my desk. We all are human. But it's still important to be honest about things. Smoking isn't healthy.

It seems to me that lot of the argument over accommodationism boils down to the difference between treating decently people who smoke (which I favor!) and pretending that smoking is healthy (which I won't). The pretense in this case is that a leap of faith is somehow compatible with reason.

Having said all that, I don't have much to pick at Verbose Stoic's summary. Since you claim to be a theist, perhaps the question is: In which god do you believe? And why?

"First, let me say that I'm no more interested in judging people's overall "integrity as a cognitive agent" than I do in judging people's integrity at maintaining their health."

Well, the thing is you did make a judgment, only it was on an abstract class of people. What Stoic did is show that you seem to be reluctant to judge when confronted by an individual.

That's kind of what Coyne did - he's comfortable railing in the abstract but when he visits the book group he's downright accomodationist.

TB, the dichotomy isn't abstract class versus individual, but judging people versus judging actions. I have no problem saying to any individual that they are punching a hole in their intellectual integrity where they make a leap of faith. What I resist is extending that to a judgment about what else they do and what else they are.

We're all familiar with religious believers who also are scientists (or other professionals) who do good work in their field. And who would never appeal to faith, in how they run their lab or in their scientific publications. People are complex. Psychological compartmentalization is real.

That colleagues, or friends, or relatives go to church on Sundays doesn't present me a problem. The accommodationist issue raises its head when some religious "scholar" wants to work with scientists to somehow meld or reconcile reason and faith. The only answer there is that it isn't going to work.

Smoking seems an apt analogy to me. I don't judge someone badly because they smoke. I'll even accommodate their habit, by choosing outside tables in restaurants, or stopping for cigarettes when they run out. But I won't accede to claims that smoking is risk free, or that it doesn't cause lung and cardiovascular problems.

First you said: "The core disagreement is between those who view a leap of faith as essential to their identity, and those who view it as intellectual dishonesty at its rawest. Where someone practices faith, I don't have any respect for their "integrity as a cognitive agent." That's like respecting a drug addict's integrity in health choice in their very decision to shoot up with a dirty needle."

That's pretty choice language, comparing religious people to drug addicts with dirty needles.

Then when Stoic asked you "Do you have any respect for my integrity as a cognitive agent?", you said

"Having said all that, I don't have much to pick at Verbose Stoic's summary. "

Now you say

"I have no problem saying to any individual that they are punching a hole in their intellectual integrity where they make a leap of faith. What I resist is extending that to a judgment about what else they do and what else they are."

My point stands.

Not that I'm encouraging you to lay into Stoic, I'm just noticing the difference in tone.

Perhaps I'm not so condemning of drug addicts as most. In any case, I'm not going to make it simpler. Because it isn't simple. All of the following are the case:

1) Faith is an act of intellectual dishonesty.

2) Valuing intellectual honesty, I view an act of faith as a personal flaw.

3) We all have our flaws. Judging people (including oneself) by counting their flaws makes for a hard life. In my view.

4) It's important to distinguish how we evaluate a viewpoint from how we view those who hold to it, in some form or fashion. One sister of mine uses homeopathic remedies. I doubt she could tell you much about homeopathy -- it just came with the whole hippie/bohemian thing. When I tell her she is wasting her money, that's no big thing. For either of us. There are more important things to most people's lives than arguing over homeopathy.

5) Most people aren't engaged in intellectual pursuits. Those who are professionally or academically involved in some of these issues, or even just by interest, need to make allowance that most people aren't.

6) Most believers who are also scientists or academics manage to build some kind of psychological wall between their religious beliefs and their intellectual pursuits. "Faith on Sunday; science on Monday."

7) If that kind of psychological compartmentalization seems silly. But it strikes me as better than those who try to integrate faith into their intellectual pursuits, e.g., Michael Behe.

I ought to add an 8) through 12), but it's late.

Rturpin: "1) Faith is an act of intellectual dishonesty."

On what basis? Faith in the counterfactual is dishonest because asserting falsehoods cannot be honest, but faith in the untestable, or in the aspirational, is not inherently so. I have faith in liberal democracy, which relies on a faith in the public. Neither of those is empirically testable, and there are plenty of reasons not to have such faith (people are dicks, people elect bad leaders, good leaders let us down, etc.). But I'd rather have faith in humanity and in the possibility of good government and be disappointed when my aspirations aren't met, than keep my aspirations so low that I never challenge society to improve.

Indeed, reliance on any sort of inductive reasoning relies on a certain degree of faith. It isn't unreasonable (let alone dishonest!) to have faith that the same basic physical rules that applied yesterday and 13.7 billion years ago also will apply tomorrow, but there's always that chance otherwise. This is the problem of induction, one that better philosophers than you or I have torn their eyes out over.

Ender:

There appears to be an impression in some that moderates don't oppose fundamentalists, we're all the same really, or somesuch. This is patent nonsense, fundamentalists hate moderates, and moderates respond in kind.

This is almost true.

I grew up in the liberal end of the religious spectrum, so I can't really speak for moderates. However, speaking only for myself, we do not respond in kind. Indeed, we have a deep neurosis which prevents us from doing so.

Just looking at Christianity specifically: Unlike fundamentalists, moderates and liberals generally know their history, or at least there is a general understanding of it. People have died in conflicts over whose religion is more "right". We have long memories, and some of those memories are very painful. This has given us a deep-seated fear of confrontation that we donât often realise or admit. We therefore tend to run and hide from anything that may look like conflict with another religion, unless we can convince ourselves that thereâs a secular cause involved (e.g. as a social justice issue or something to do with separation of church and state).

However, Chris Hedges noted in his recent lecture (based on his book The Death of the Liberal Class) that it's not just liberal religion (which is also where he comes from) which has dropped the ball. It's liberal institutions in general. The free press, the academic humanities, labor unions... all of them have, in the last 100 years, consistently failed their constituency. It's worth watching if you have a spare hour; I'm not certain that I agree with his argument in full, but it's certainly got me thinking.

By Pseudonym (not verified) on 10 Feb 2011 #permalink

Josh, "faith" can mean different things. Your examples are useful for teasing apart a few different senses.

1) Factual. Is American liberal democracy able to sustain itself over the next century, without turning into something quite illiberal? Fukuyama, famously, has argued that that is the future direction not just for America, but for the world. I hope he is right. All I know are the various arguments and data that are relevant and known to me. They don't seem nearly determinative. It would be a leap of faith -- and an act of intellectual dishonesty -- for me to let my hope turn into a more certain prediction than my knowledge allows me.

2) Aspirational. I want liberal democracy. I will work for that. In that sense, I can be said to believe in it. To the extent that a lot of people are likewise moved, that will improve the odds of it surviving. But it's important to distinguish the factual from the aspirational. And to make sure the factual reins in unreasonable aspirations. No matter how much I want to play professional basketball, that isn't going to happen. My age, height, and personal history all weigh against it.

3) Pragmatic. I plan on American democracy continuing for my lifetime. I plan on the laws of physics remaining adequately constant that my car will start next week. I make those plans recognizing the uncertainties involved. All of our actions rely on assumptions situated in large domains of ignorance. There is a sense -- back-projecting from my plans -- that I could be said to "have faith" in the laws of physics. And in American democracy. A pragmatic sense. But I recognize the uncertainties and ignorance. And will not pretend they are otherwise. Action may be predicated on assumption, but it isn't predicated on unwarranted belief about those assumptions.

For what it is worth, it seems to me that a lot of religious practice involves conflating different senses of faith, for the purpose of encouraging the kinds that aren't defensible.

@rturpin: "Ender, I don't pretend that my political views are a matter of truth. They are influenced by various factual matters. Of course. But like all things normative, they hang on normative commitments."

So you wouldn't say it's true that Democracy is essential to liberty? How would you put it?

"1) Faith is an act of intellectual dishonesty."

Specifically what do you mean by this phrase?
You say in your final post, section 1) Factual:

" It would be a leap of faith -- and an act of intellectual dishonesty -- for me to let my hope turn into a more certain prediction than my knowledge allows me. "

Then:

"For what it is worth, it seems to me that a lot of religious practice involves conflating different senses of faith, for the purpose of encouraging the kinds that aren't defensible."

So it seems to me that you are not so bothered by faith, or religion, but those who "let [their] hope turn into a more certain prediction than my knowledge allows me" and are therefore "intellectually dishonest"

If that is the case then you don't have a beef with Theists, but with anyone who does that, and that includes plenty of Atheists. And there are plenty of Theists who don't do that.

@Pseudonym

Interesting. I was being imprecise and meant "liberals and moderates" or even "anyone who's not a fundamentalist or literalist" by 'moderates'.

By respond in kind I absolutely did not mean respond with the same kind of confrontation, demonisation and vitriol that the fundamentalists throw at us, though some people do, but more that we oppose them as strongly as they do us.

I recognise what you describe as "a deep seated fear of confrontation" but see more variance, and nuance in the way people feel it.
In the UK I see two components. The secularised culture - it's accepted as private business whether you eat pork, but telling people of different religions to obey is unacceptable - and the fear of being racist - which is why many people I know would be loath to say "Aboriginal rites of passage are stupid" but would be much more willing to say "The Westborough Baptists are stupid scum; X interpretation of Christianity is wrong and evil" even without secular backing for their opinion.
Others just see the "You can say it if you are one" rule as applying. Jews can make Jewish jokes, and Christians can criticise Christians theologically but only criticise others secularly.

I'll be very interested to see that lecture, but cannot access it at work. :(

Ender writes:

If that is the case then you don't have a beef with Theists, but with anyone who does that, and that includes plenty of Atheists.

It absolutely is the case that there are plenty of atheists who make purposeful, unwarranted, and often unexamined ideological leaps. Objectivists. Doctrinaire Marxists. And yes, I view such ideologies similarly to religious faith. The mere fact that someone doesn't believe in something labelled a god doesn't mean that they haven't leapt onto other beliefs equally nutty. Lysenkoism is the sad example of how such doctrines play out vis-a-vis science. Or as a smaller and less important example, Ayn Rand rejected quantum mechanics on purely philosophical grounds.

And there are plenty of Theists who don't do that.

Really? Even the theists I read who don't make explicit appeal to faith seem to work awfully hard to believe. Perhaps you and Verbose Stoic can convince me there are some.

But I'm not convinced yet.

"And yes, I view such ideologies similarly to religious faith."

But you seem to save your vituperative language for people of faith - comparing religious people to drug addicts with dirty needles.

"Or as a smaller and less important example, Ayn Rand rejected quantum mechanics on purely philosophical grounds."

Rejecting quantum mechanics? But as long as it's not on religious grounds, she's not as bad as people of faith?

"Even the theists I read who don't make explicit appeal to faith seem to work awfully hard to believe."

Ah, there's the standard - people you've read, people you've encountered. Since you're so fond of listing things...

First, it's pretty obvious to me and apparently a few other people here that you're looking through a pretty biased lense in terms of religion, so your judgement is questionable on what theists do or don't do. In other words, you have a standard but you don't seem to be a reliable judge of who can meet that standard, which brings into question whether the standard itself is valid for anyone but you.

Second, you haven't read everything or met everyone, and based on your comments here it's apparent you haven't met the the people I have. Yet you don't reserve judgement, apparently believing that you're right. Add in the first point, and it's doubtful that even if you do meet reasonable theists, you won't be able to recognize them as such.

Third, to me you've demonstrated that your rhetoric doesn't necessarily match your actions, as when you declined to lay into Stoic as if he were a drug addict (again, that's a good thing and I commend you for it). But I'm left with not understanding what you really think, because it's not reflected in what you do.

Some call it cognitive dissonance, others - wrongly IMHO - call it intellectual dishonesty. I put it down to thoughtlessness - not considering the implications of what you're saying.

It's same kind of thing that Coyne did it with that book group. His behavior did not match his rhetoric - and again, that's a good thing! But now his challenge is to modify either his rhetoric to match his behavior, or his behavior to match his rhetoric. Otherwise, he's rightly open to this kind of criticism. (And, to be fair, I know I've been guilty of thoughtlessness more times than I realize).

So that leaves us with your repeated invitations to convince you. Except, you haven't demonstrated here that your standards are reasonable enough to have this kind of discussion, so I'm not sure why anyone should invest the time?

"Really? Even the theists I read who don't make explicit appeal to faith seem to work awfully hard to believe. Perhaps you and Verbose Stoic can convince me there are some."

I'm not sure what you mean here. I thought what you objected to was "let[ing] [your] hope turn into a more certain prediction than my knowledge allows" not "work[ing] awfully hard to believe"

Moderate and liberal theists do not make more certain predictions than their knowledge allows. They recognise that there is no evidence whether God exists or doesn't, and factor that in accordingly.
Immoderate atheists, as you recognise, do make more certain predictions than their knowledge allows. And you don't agree with that.

So I'm left feeling that you have a problem with people who make too certain predictions regardless of whether they are theist or atheist. Which doesn't seem to be supported by the other things you say which seem to suggest that you have a beef with theists in particular.

"Really? Even the theists I read who don't make explicit appeal to faith seem to work awfully hard to believe. Perhaps you and Verbose Stoic can convince me there are some.

But I'm not convinced yet."

I'm not sure what your criteria are here, to show that theists exist who don't "let [their] hope turn into a more certain prediction than my knowledge allows [them]", nor whether, as TB says, you would recognise those that meet the criteria, but take me for an example.

I'm Catholic and a scientist, in what ways do you suspect I am intellectually dishonest?
Also, please define intellectually dishonest - because if any of that definition includes 'dishonesty' then you can drop it immediately as even if you are totally right, most religious people merely disagree with you and are wrong rather than agree with you and are dishonest.*
What do you suspect I believe, don't believe or whatever, that is incompatible with science? And what is the specific incompatibility?

Then, once we've discussed that, we will see if I am an example of this breed of theists you have never met.

*wikipedia gives the definition which if you are using makes your argument obviously and provably wrong: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellectual_dishonesty

TB:

Rejecting quantum mechanics? But as long as it's not on religious grounds, she's not as bad as people of faith?

Perhaps I didn't make myself clear when I said I view such ideologies as similar to religious faith?

...you've demonstrated that your rhetoric doesn't necessarily match your actions, as when you declined to lay into Stoic as if he were a drug addict.

Given that Verbose Stoic explicitly disclaims faith, why would I treat him as if he were acting on faith? Both Stoic and you claim a kind of theism that doesn't involve faith. You criticize me because I'm familiar mostly with the other kind of theist. I'm not sure why you think that is odd. From where I write, there are a dozen churches and other houses of worship in a quarter mile radius. While varying in doctrine and rite and gods, all preach faith. And not just from where I write. A statement of faith is the act that makes one a Muslim. Faith was taught in Christianity beginning with Paul. Those are the world's two largest religions. So yes, I'm more familiar with faith-based theism than your claimed rational theism. I'm not convinced that you or Verbose Stoic have a rational theism. Whether so or not, I don't know why you're upset with me for criticizing faith. Since you disclaim it.

As to drug addicts, surely there is a way to state that shooting drugs is unhealthy, without "laying into" them? Drug addicts are people, too.

I seem to have started something ...

Let me requote the last paragraph of what I originally said as a reference for where I wanted to go:

"Do you have any respect for my integrity as a cognitive agent? And if you do, where do you draw the line between me and other moderates who may simply be expressing more confidence in the proposition than I'm willing to grant? After all, _I_ still have some respect for their integrity as cognitive agents, even though you and I would disagree with them on the same point wrt faith, so what would make the difference?"

The main point here is that I don't see why simply expressing more confidence than warranted -- at least in my and your opinion -- justified the strong claim about their integrity as cognitive agents. Having some faith -- defined simply as a confidence level greater than warranted by the evidence -- doesn't seem to make them or their beliefs necessarily irrational in any really interesting practical way. It's also pretty much the norm; I don't think there are too many people that have NO beliefs that they hold a little more confidently than strictly required by the evidence, as that's what trust basically is.

So, then, before getting into anything else, you have to answer why it is appropriate to compare moderate religious people that may have a bit of faith to drug addicts or smokers. Could they be the equivalent of the social smoker or, even better, social drinker, where the action may not be ideal but it works for them and isn't really worth commenting on? Are they more like you who sits at your desk too much? In short, is that kind of "faith" something worth worrying about or mentioning?

You did ask about me, so let me at least try to answer: I believe in the Christian God, and why I believe is ... complicated [grin]. It relies on a lot of epistemology and when one must rationally give up an existing belief.

"5) Most people aren't engaged in intellectual pursuits. Those who are professionally or academically involved in some of these issues, or even just by interest, need to make allowance that most people aren't.

6) Most believers who are also scientists or academics manage to build some kind of psychological wall between their religious beliefs and their intellectual pursuits. "Faith on Sunday; science on Monday."

7) If that kind of psychological compartmentalization seems silly. But it strikes me as better than those who try to integrate faith into their intellectual pursuits, e.g., Michael Behe."

I don't agree that people in intellectual pursuits have to build that sort of psychological wall, because I don't think that religion is necessarily incompatible with them. It's far too easy to assert that they are and then claim that people in those areas have to have cognitive dissonance to overcome, but for example views of theistic evolution allow biologists and philosophers and others to hold that evolution is true as stated but that God still played a role. The most you can claim is "God of the Gaps", but I don't see why in the world that would be more of a problem than, say, "Newtonian Physics of the Gaps" or "Electricity of the Gaps" or any other number of scientific theories where the scientists involved kept altering their theory to match new evidence until it really just couldn't stand anymore.

If one makes an effort to conform one's religious beliefs to the intellectual pursuits, I don't see there being any need for the wall that you posit must be there -- even if one has faith.

"I don't agree that people in intellectual pursuits have to build that sort of psychological wall, because I don't think that religion is necessarily incompatible with them. It's far too easy to assert that they are and then claim that people in those areas have to have cognitive dissonance to overcome"

This.

Verbose Stoic writes:

.. for example views of theistic evolution allow biologists and philosophers and others to hold that evolution is true as stated but that God still played a role.

The question, then, is why are they not writing papers explaining the role that God played in evolution, ferreting out evidence of that, etc? The answer is that the manner of thought that leads them to that belief is what they leave on the other side of the wall, when they walk into the lab. It's easy to resolve surface incompatibilities. Hundreds of millions of Christians are content that the earth is ancient and that life evolved. It's harder to resolve the deeper incompatibilities between the thought processes involved. If Christian belief is real knowledge, why does it have zero input into physics, biology, and other sciences? Or conversely, why can't the believing scientist take his methods from science back to religion, creating a science of prophecy and scripture to demonstrate why the Christian revelation is the right one, and the Islamic revelation is not? (And if that isn't possible, why believe in the Christian god, rather than some other god?)

Of course, someone could point to the Discovery Institute as scientists who do try to bring their faith-based methods into the lab. And I would say, yes, exactly, that is what happens as a result.

Having some faith -- defined simply as a confidence level greater than warranted by the evidence -- doesn't seem to make them or their beliefs necessarily irrational in any really interesting practical way.

Because wanting to believe something is how we start to fool ourselves.

It's also pretty much the norm...

Absolutely. Belief is easy. Thinking is hard. Sloth is easy. Exercise is hard. Junk food is unhealthy. And tasty.

And we're all slothful at times. And most of us succumb to junk food on occasion. I think part of what TB thinks is cognitive dissonance in my writing is the difference between characterizing a behavior and using that to draw opposing lines between groups people. I purposely try to distinguish those. I think it's a bad idea to view people who smoke or people who eat too much junk food or people who pray as enemies. They're not. They're us. And even while saying that, it's important to say that smoking causes lung cancer, that junk food isn't good for one's health, and that faith is contrary to intellectual honesty and knowledge.

rturpin,

"The question, then, is why are they not writing papers explaining the role that God played in evolution, ferreting out evidence of that, etc?"

Because in their biological work they aren't doing theology. Some of them do, in fact, write papers talking about that; Josh recently used one of them to argue against Jerry Coyne's claim that biologists understood evolution in a way that contradicted theistic evolution. But a lot of them probably can't think of experiments to test it, and aren't likely to be doing philosophy or theology to publish it there. But the answer is not what you think it is.

"If Christian belief is real knowledge, why does it have zero input into physics, biology, and other sciences? Or conversely, why can't the believing scientist take his methods from science back to religion, creating a science of prophecy and scripture to demonstrate why the Christian revelation is the right one, and the Islamic revelation is not?"

Why should it? I don't treat Christian beliefs and text as science texts; that's not what they're there for. But the same token, I'm not sure that science is, in fact, the ideal or appropriate method to deal with philosophical and theological questions. As another example, there is a huge debate over when and whether you can use science in philosophy period, especially in fields like ethics/morality. Does that create some kind of problem for scientiists who want to do morality or philosophy? Hardly, since science came from philosophy itself. So why would it be more acute when dealing with religion? Some of the religious claims may be scientific ones, but anything philosophical will not be (or, at least, not a pure scientific claim). That's just the way life is.

"Because wanting to believe something is how we start to fool ourselves."

But here you seem to be demanding that we not be human, which is a bit of a strong claim [grin]. Scientists want their theories to be right, too. Why would moderate religious faith be worse than that?

"Absolutely. Belief is easy. Thinking is hard. Sloth is easy. Exercise is hard. Junk food is unhealthy. And tasty. "

There are two issues here.

1) My comments on faith being the norm were backed by an example of trust, which is trusting other people. Trust always implies holding a belief to a greater confidence than strictly warranted by the data. Are you going to say that trust is therefore bad?

2) You shift from "faith" to "belief". Belief is accepting as true things that you don't know are true. If you give that up, I don't think that you can function in society unless your definition of "know" is so weak that it can accomodate everything that would be properly called a belief. We believe things all the time. We don't BELIEVE IN things all the time. For that, see 1).

"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear when I said I view such ideologies as similar to religious faith?"

That's true.

"Given that Verbose Stoic explicitly disclaims faith, why would I treat him as if he were acting on faith? Both Stoic and you claim a kind of theism that doesn't involve faith. "

I don't claim or disclaim faith at all, and I don't think you're using the word "faith" in the same way I do. I also don't see where Stoic has disclaimed faith either, but I'm not going to speak for him/her.

There are people of faith I respect - I'll be associating with some of them this upcoming Evolution Weekend. They are reasonable, thoughtful people who accept science and work to help people in their community regardless of those people's personal beliefs. They're caring, giving people who do their best to apply their beliefs in ways to benefit the world around them and I admire that.

You've compared these people to drug abusers using dirty needles, and while you do seem to be a decent person I have a problem with you characterizing people I know and respect that way.

What I don't understand is the assumptions you're trying to make here (and you're free to make them and hold them). You've tried to mitigate what you said by also comparing them to smokers, but that's just muddying the waters. You may be trying to back away from your first analogy but you haven't explicitly said that.

I don't want to make unfair assumptions, so let's look at the implications of that analogy:

- More often than not, drug addicts shooting up are committing a crime. Are you suggesting religious activity should be illegal?

- Dirty needles result in a threat to public health, it potentially spreads disease to people who encounter the drug users but don't also engage in their activity. Are you suggesting religious activity needs to be monitored by the CDC as a threat to public health? That some religious people may need to be quarantined for the good of society simply because of their religious beliefs and what they could potentially do?

- Usually what's being injected is a controlled substance whose abuse is illegal. Are you suggesting religious faith should be regulated like a drug, available only by prescription, with the offering replaced by an insurance co-pay?

- People under the influence of drugs are a danger to themselves and the people around them, especially if they drive. How would you test for the level of intoxication that religion might bring about? And if you can't find a reliable gage, are you suggesting we bar people under the influence of religion from operating a moving vehicle or be arrested for public intoxication upon leaving a particularly rousing religious service - just in case?

Or, are you willing to concede your analogy was over the top, maybe with the intent to shock rather than inform us about what you really think? That the rhetoric doesn't match how you actually think and act, especially since you declined the invitation to apply that rhetoric directly when offered the opportunity? That it was unnecessarily insulting, and doesn't serve to advance the conversation?

And don't dismiss this analysis, we both know people are persecuted for their beliefs.

What I'm saying is that my personal experience conflicts with what you're trying to assert here, so the implied assumption that I have to convince you of something is meaningless. I already know you're wrong in your characterizations - so wrong that it's a non-starter for me. You're just asserting things without evidence, making analogies that might be meaningful or might not be. It's going to come down to us swapping stories about our personal experiences, so what incentive do I have to invest any more time in this if you're going to resort to that kind of abusive imagery?

Giving up that analogy would help me understand whether you're interested in a reasonable conversation. You certainly do seem to be backing away from it.

TB,

" I also don't see where Stoic has disclaimed faith either, but I'm not going to speak for him/her."

I did disclaim that, yes, and do believe it to be the case if faith -- in God, at least -- is defined as holding it to a higher degree of probability than the evidence deserves. My confidence in the truth of the proposition "God exists" is pretty low ...

"Scientists want their theories to be right, too. Why would moderate religious faith be worse than that?"

Because there is a HUGE difference between "hoping a theory is right" and "having faith that a theory is right". Every year I HOPE the Packers will win the Superbowl, and sometimes (like this winter) I BELIEVE they will, but I never have FAITH that they'll win.

"You've compared these people to drug abusers using dirty needles, and while you do seem to be a decent person I have a problem with you characterizing people I know and respect that way."

No, their intellectual choices were compared to the health choices of drug users. They were compared in that one sense, not in any others.

"My comments on faith being the norm were backed by an example of trust, which is trusting other people. Trust always implies holding a belief to a greater confidence than strictly warranted by the data. Are you going to say that trust is therefore bad?"

How does trust always imply a greater confidence than supported by the data? I trust people based on my past experiences with them. If they are strangers, I trust or distrust them based on other characteristics. But trusting somebody more than the evidence suggests doesn't sound like a good idea. That's not to say I'm a distrustful person; I believe that the evidence supports the fact that people are generally trustworthy.

@VStoic

That's interesting, I think of faith as belief in something without evidence, but not in spite of evidence. As a hope for something without expectation, which would allow someone to be reasonable and realistic.

I don't know how you would calculate the probability of god or the supernatural, so introducing degrees of probability never occurred to me.

Verbose Stoic:

1) My comments on faith being the norm were backed by an example of trust, which is trusting other people. Trust always implies holding a belief to a greater confidence than strictly warranted by the data. Are you going to say that trust is therefore bad?

I disagree with most of what you write about trust. First, there are plenty of cases where trust has no need to go beyond one's knowledge of the person trusted. Second, where that's not the case, belief isn't required, just action. You make a business deal with someone for the first time. Trust doesn't require that you believe they are going to uphold their end, but only that you act as if they will. I'm going to repeat a point I made above: all of our acts and plans sail on a great sea of ignorance. That doesn't require choosing between various alternate beliefs, as if choosing to think something is true has any bearing on whether it is so. It does require choosing a course of action in the face of partial knowledge. Which is why I disagree with your next point:

Belief is accepting as true things that you don't know are true. If you give that up, I don't think that you can function in society...

To function requires decision and action, not belief.

McWaffle,

First, you need to be very clear about who you're replying to with each quote, because as you did it you have two from me and one from TB (I think) which could be misleading.

Second,

"Because there is a HUGE difference between "hoping a theory is right" and "having faith that a theory is right". "

And your evidence that moderately religious people's faith isn't closer to the hoping of the scientist than anything else is ... ?

Third:

"How does trust always imply a greater confidence than supported by the data? I trust people based on my past experiences with them. If they are strangers, I trust or distrust them based on other characteristics. But trusting somebody more than the evidence suggests doesn't sound like a good idea. That's not to say I'm a distrustful person; I believe that the evidence supports the fact that people are generally trustworthy."

If you only act in accordance with what their past history has proven, you don't actually trust them; you merely treat them according to what they've done in the past, as a quid pro quo. Trust entails relying on them to do something that you aren't sure they'll do, but that you think they'll do. By definition, you cannot KNOW that someone will do something that you trust them to do, but you rely on them anyway. You have faith in them, really. At least, those are the most admirable forms of trust.

If you only trusted them to do precisely what they've demonstrated they'd do in the past, with the exact same cost, you'd probably be considered to be not very trusting.

McWaffle, rturpin is capable of answering for himself, I don't believe I'll accept your interpretation of what he means.
Regardless of what he intended, stongly pejorative implications came along with the analogy and I'm wondering if stands by them.

Ender writes:

I'm Catholic and a scientist, in what ways do you suspect I am intellectually dishonest?

And then references the Wikipedia definition, which includes:

The advocacy of a position which the advocate does not know to be true, and has not performed rigorous due diligence to ensure the truthfulness of the position.

So, one question is where Ender thinks the rigorous investigation into the truth of the Catholic religion lies. We could pursue that, and pretty quickly I suspect we would come to what I would call holes, and what others would label articles of faith. All ground that has been thoroughly tread before. Let me turn, though, to a more relevant question. 1) The Christian religion is evangelical. It calls on its adherents to spread their beliefs. The Great Commission. That's more a protestant term than Catholic, but evangelism is thoroughly part of the Catholic tradition also. 2) So I would pose the question: Does Ender think that the vast majority of Catholics who evangelize have first "performed rigorous due diligence to ensure the truthfulness of the position"? Does the Church require that they should first do so? Because if not, then by the very definition to which he points, the Church encourages intellectual dishonesty. Of course, that might be a part of Catholic doctrine that Ender rejects. The call to evangelize isn't exactly a small part of Christianity, though. It seems to me a significant hurdle to anyone who wants both to be Catholic and to carry the flag for intellectual honesty.

TB, I wrote that respecting someone's capacity as a cognitive agent where they believe by faith is "like respecting a drug addict's integrity in health choice in their very decision to shoot up with a dirty needle." Similes can be pushed in all sorts of directions. You're trying to push this one where it won't go.

@35

Didn't mean to confuse, I was just pulling some points I disagreed with together quickly.

It just seems we have extremely different working definitions of "faith," "trust," and "believe." I "believe" that somebody I "trust" will help me just as I "believe" that the sun will rise tomorrow. Both of these "beliefs" are firmly held although neither can be conclusively proven, yet I would not classify either as "faith". By your definition it seems one cannot ever meaningfully "know" anything. Evidence suggests that the sun will rise, as it suggests that my friends will help me. If the evidence is strong in favor of the theory that my friend will do something for me, I trust him to do it. That (generally unconscious)calculation takes many things into effect, including the closeness of our relationship, the nature of the task, whether he's currently drunk, past experiences, etc...

I just really don't see why you'd ever expect anything that ran counter to the evidence and/or had no evidence supporting it, in any case. It just seems inane to insist that if I can't "know" something I'm thereby taking it on "faith" that that thing is true. No, I'm acting under the most reasonable evidence available. If that evidence is strong, I "know" that thing. I don't feel obligated to make every life decision descend into some Cartesian "cognito ergo sum" questioning of the nature of certainty.

@rturpin

We can make choices with language. Your choice of imagery there carries implications. So can I assume you have no problem with the implications that come with comparing someone to a drug addict using dirty needles?

"one question is where Ender thinks the rigorous investigation into the truth of the Catholic religion lies"

Dude, I'm right here. You don't have to speak about me in the third person.

"We could pursue that, and pretty quickly I suspect we would come to what I would call holes, and what others would label articles of faith."

You can assume that, but how can you know that if you don't investigate? You have made a series of assertions about religion and religious people in this thread but are not showing the interest that would allow you to find out if what you say is true.

" I would pose the question: Does Ender..."

Still here. If you want to ask me a question, then ask it, don't play to an imaginary audience.

Your point is interesting though, is it possible to evangelise without:

"The advocacy of a position which the advocate does not know to be true, and has not performed rigorous due diligence to ensure the truthfulness of the position."

Firstly, does this mean all advocates of any position are "intellectually dishonest"? Because we have no evidence to suggest that we aren't a) All in the Matrix and b) A butterfly dreaming that we are a man, therefore no-one advocating anything to do with the real world is advocating something that they do not know to be true.

Beyond that, does it mean that anyone advocating a moral position, for example paedophilia is wrong, is intellectually dishonest? Because I've never seen anyone bother with rigorous due dilligence on that position.

Beyond that further, does that mean you consider anyone with any political beliefs is "intellectually dishonest"? Because I've never seen anyone do any competent or believable due dilligence on the question of "Party X will be bad for the country, vote Party Y" or any other political claim.

Also, I advocate that my friends are all trustworty. I'm very picky in who I become friends with, and I trust them all implicitly. Would I be "intellectually dishonest" if I told you that you could trust them? I certainly haven't done my due dilligence, I've looked up none of their birth certificates, I've had none of them tailed by private eyes but I have plenty of circumstantial evidence that they are trustworthy.

Finally, have you never said (s)he loves me? Because I bet you didn't do your due dilligence there. (How could you?) Are you now intellectually dishonest?

For religion it depends what you think 'evangelism' requires. Does it involve advocating "Catholicism is True" or "This is what Catholicism entails, and I believe it".
The latter is of course what a moderate advocate would say, and involves no intellectual dishonesty.
Even more than that, a moderate evangelist would not evangelise through foolish methods (i.e. standing on street corners shouting "Convert or Burn!", or saying "This is definitely True" when you don't have an answer to "How do you know?") but through more sensible methods, such as living a worthy life, counteracting myths and falsehoods about their religion where they encounter them. I have a far higher opinion of the moderate Muslims and Buddhists I know than of any fundamentalist (theist or athiest) and would be far more likely to convert to their religion than anything a fundamentalist shouted at me angrily.

"We can make choices with language. Your choice of imagery there carries implications. So can I assume you have no problem with the implications that come with comparing someone to a drug addict using dirty needles?"

I have to disagree with you on this one TB. I realise that people do imply things with choices of language, and that other people do take these implications on board, but I don't think it is necessary, nor that people should be taken to task for it unless you suspect they do actually mean that.

In this case I would not be surprised if the implication was intentional, but if he claims it is not then I'd be able to believe that as well.

In some communities on the internet it is almost impossible to make any sort of comparison at all, since at least one of the things you compare to the others will be better/worse/nicer/more moral/less moral/dirty/privileged/etc/etc and the other people will accuse you of implying that this difference was the one you actually meant, regardless of intention or the reasonableness of their claim.

I have no problem with being compared to a drug user with dirty needles if it is relevant to the discussion, and it's not being used simply to demonise me. Whether or not each individual case does that has to be decided on its merits. I make no claim to the discussion you're having, just the general point that it appeared you were making.

Tl;Dr at 41? The entire post could be summarised as: Under your definition anyone making any claims about morality is intellectually dishonest.

Is that the case?

Ender, one of the more important tasks for anyone who aspires to intellectual honesty is to distinguish claims between the normative, aspirational, pragmatic, and putatively factual. See my response to Josh, in comment #17, above. It is quite telling to me that the confounding of these is one of the tropes of religious language. We wouldn't be having this conversation if Christian belief didn't include some purely factual claims: there is a god, with characteristics W, who does X, Y, and Z. And on the factual claims, it is a complete red herring to complain that we don't require the kinds of arguments that reach a factual conclusion in moral arguments, as for condemnation of paedophilia. (Though various factual conclusions about the psychological effects of child abuse certainly have a bearing on the moral argument.)

The intellectually honest thing for a Christian -- or any religious believer -- to do is to treat their purely factual claims in the same way that other purely factual claims are treated, from the claim that the universe is expanding or the claim that species share a common ancestry to the claim that the earth's magnetic pole is moving. And to not squirm away from that by pointing to the kinds of argument and language and practice used with various different kinds of other claims. That conflation is every bit as foolish and dishonest as standing on a street corner shouting "believe or burn!"

And yes, on factual claims, I think the intellectually honest thing is that those who would be a proponent first studies and knows the evidence and reasoning. Indeed, that no one should want to be a proponent until that is what convinces them. And that seems to me precisely the opposite of how religious belief is propagated. And that the Christian call to believers to evangelize without first doing that is a call to intellectual dishonesty.

Ender, you're absolutely right, which is why I'm trying to be very careful about characterizing his intentions.

However, there's a big difference in saying that I'm trying to make an analogy go where it just won't go - which he did say - and saying the analogy implies things he doesn't intend and he takes it back - which he has not done.

So I'm not going to assume he's being unreasonable, but I'm not going to be naive and think he didn't slip in pejorative imagery on purpose.

All those things I listed are things our society does now in response to drug addicts using dirty needles. I don't buy his attempt to limit the focus of his analogy - historically we know there are people on both sides of the debate who would legislate and criminalize the other side. We also know people hide their motivations. So I'm seeking clarity.

It's his language, not mine. If he didn't think through all the implications of what he wrote before he wrote it, he can now. But at this point, I personally don't find someone who uses that imagery in this way to be particularly reasonable.

TB, I'm a pretty staunch civil libertarian. This entire discussion to me is about how those who are engaged in intellectual pursuits should view various kinds of claims and advocacy, e.g., whether scientists should view religious believers advocating a god any differently than they do homeopaths advocating sympathetic vibrations in water molecules. Despite thinking it bogus, I hold that religious thought and speech and practice should have full legal protection. If the US didn't have a 1st amendment, I would be pushing for one stronger than the one we do have.

BTW, unlike a lot of gnu atheists, I don't have any high hope that religion eventually will disappear. I would observe that even in the modern world, new religions (Mormonism, Scientology) arise as fast as the old ones shrivel. And make no more sense.

I had a follow up post that I'll have to check on why it didn't show up.
But Russell, I want you to know that even if I disagree with your views I'm capable of respecting them and I fully support your right to believe what you believe.

(Oops, left this followup post in preview mode on my other computer.)

But, to be fair, I'm certainly guilty of using pejorative language thoughtlessly too. When someone calls me out on it, I'm willing to reconsider my language. So I do mean it when I say I'm not trying to imply rturpin holds those views.

But he hasn't expressly rejected them either.

He's got a perfectly reasonable analogy regarding smoking:

"It seems to me that lot of the argument over accommodationism boils down to the difference between treating decently people who smoke (which I favor!) and pretending that smoking is healthy (which I won't). The pretense in this case is that a leap of faith is somehow compatible with reason."

I disagree with that too, but it's not in the same league as his addicts with dirty needles analogy.

But it still brings in the implications of addiction and health. And there's been a lot of legislation against smoking and smokers under the idea that it's behavior that's a detriment and costly to society.

So I don't believe it's unreasonable to have him clarify his intentions.

"it is a complete red herring to complain that we don't require the kinds of arguments that reach a factual conclusion in moral arguments, as for condemnation of paedophilia"

That example is related specifically to the criteria rturpin is using currently to argue that religious people are being intellectually dishonest:

"The advocacy of a position which the advocate does not know to be true, and has not performed rigorous due diligence to ensure the truthfulness of the position.

As it stands, he is arguing that this paragraph renders evangelising religious belief an act of intellectual dishonesty.
I am attempting to ascertain whether he believes that this also means that evangelism of other beliefs is an act of intellectual dishonestly, and if not, why not? And at what level of certainty we can say we 'know [something] to be true' enough not to be dishonest.
Because as it stands his interpretation of that paragraph appears to apply to all beliefs that cannot be known for sure.

"We wouldn't be having this conversation if Christian belief didn't include some purely factual claims: there is a god, with characteristics W, who does X, Y, and Z.... ...The intellectually honest thing for a Christian -- or any religious believer -- to do is to treat their purely factual claims in the same way that other purely factual claims are treated, from the claim that the universe is expanding or the claim that species share a common ancestry to the claim that the earth's magnetic pole is moving."

It's interesting that you only give material claims that can be investigated as examples. If a claim can be empirically investigated then absolutely it should be. If a believer says "God turns all offerings to cheese." Or "I will shoot myself in the head and God will resurrect me." or "God answers all prayers for healing AIDS from our sect" then investigate that.
Most religious claims are not like that. They are more often untestable claims, like all moral claims. (Unless you have a fantastic test for 'correct morality') Many of them are moral claims. Others are untestable claims like, "God created the universe" and should be treated like any other untestable claims. For example: Do alien civilisations exist - Answer: Completely untestable. Maybe.

If you can test it - test it. I agree with you there, all testable factual claims should be treated like any other testable factual claim.

Other claims are different. Different standards apply. You'd have to give me specific examples for me to say any more.

"And to not squirm away from that by pointing to the kinds of argument and language and practice used with various different kinds of other claims. That conflation is every bit as foolish and dishonest as standing on a street corner shouting "believe or burn!""

You were responding as if I were making a general point rather than specifically referring to rturpins criteria so I'll ignore the first part. But "dishonest"?? In what respect are you using that word? I could be wrong, egregiously so, and thus be foolish, but what makes you call me (or even the zealot on the street corner) "dishonest"? Do you suspect that either of us secretly agrees with you but is arguing just out of badness? Or are you using that word in some other sort of way, to mean something else?

If you mean "intellectually dishonest" I would again dispute that usage of the word. Certainly I don't think that it refers to those who are merely mistaken, particularly when they are ferverently mistaken. I don't think that the guy raving on the street corner should be labelled dishonest when he is merely guilty of being very wrong and not intelligent or not educated enough to know why he is wrong, which is most probably not his fault.
Someone like me, you could argue, should know better, but I have done my due dilligence, and satisfied myself that my claims are true, though I'm always learning more and refining them. If the only measure of "intellectual dishonesty" is 'has done his due dilligence but disagrees with me' then why would I not just say that it is your position that is intellectually dishonest? I think that's a bad use for the term. Just call me wrong. Save it for those who deserve it.

"And that seems to me precisely the opposite of how religious belief is propagated."

It's the opposite of how all social beliefs are propagated. Do you think that everyone brought up atheist was "first [taught] and [knew] the evidence and reasoning" before hearing there wasn't a God or that they were atheist?

"And that the Christian call to believers to evangelize without first doing that is a call to intellectual dishonesty."

Whatnow? Backup a minute. What call to evangelise without teaching the evidence and reasoning? Quote please. Without pics, it did not happen.

If you can't find a quote from a Biblical or religious authority calling for Christians to evangelise without first doing that, do I get to call you intellectually dishonest? As far as I see that's how you would interpret it - supposing you are wrong you would have clearly "advoca[ted] of a position which [you did] not know to be true, and ha[d] not performed rigorous due diligence to ensure the truthfulness of the position"
I would call it making a mistake. Save the phrase for more than just mistakes.

Ender writes:

It's the opposite of how all social beliefs are propagated. Do you think that everyone brought up atheist was "first [taught] and [knew] the evidence and reasoning" before hearing there wasn't a God or that they were atheist?

Let me begin with a point of agreement: there is a great deal of intellectual dishonesty in how social beliefs are propagated. That begins with children. From utter necessity. We are not born with the intellectual toolset for intellectual honesty, and as children are busily engaged in the very messy business of learning. It is only at the advanced end of that process that one is able to start looking back on what they have learned, with an eye to distinguishing the different kinds of stuff there, winnowing the chaff from the wheat, questioning the putative factual claims, and endeavoring serious intellectual engagement. Intellectual honesty first requires an intellectual maturity.

Most religious claims are not like that. They are more often untestable claims...

Except for those who died as martyrs, the Catholic Church demands proof that a proposed saint performed a miracle through their intercession, before beatification. Are you saying there is something wrong with what they take as proof? If so, you again have another example of intellectual dishonesty embedded in the Church. If not, then it would seem that many religious claims are testable. How seriously do you take these miracles?

A more accurate statement is that theologians have turned religious claims into untestable claims, in order to shield their belief. Christians have moved from a god who cured the blind, walked on water, and raised the dead, who told his apostles that a mustard seed of faith would allow them to perform similar miracles, who let Thomas inspect his wounds after rising from the dead himself, to a god who cannot be tested in any form or fashion.

How they go from there, though, is what really shows their hollow core. There are all sorts of claims in math and physics that are untested and possibly untestable. The Riemann hypothesis hasn't been proven. It might not be provable. Until it is, it isn't honest to make a leap beyond what we now know about it. The intellectually honest theologian, pondering an unprovable god, would have precisely that attitude of academic caution. There is an example of that: John Bostrom has provided a probabilistic proof of a kind of god, a future humanity that creates complex simulations of their ancestors, to wit, us. That hasn't caused him to start a new religion around that! Because he is approaching such questions with a philosopher's intellectual honesty, rather than with a believer's desire for apologetics.

If you agree that most social beliefs are propagated with what you call "intellectual dishonesty" including atheism, what's your beef with religion? Or shall we drop that criticism?

Me: " Most religious claims are not like that. They are more often untestable claims... "

"Except for those who died as martyrs, the Catholic Church demands proof that a proposed saint performed a miracle through their intercession, before beatification. Are you saying there is something wrong with what they take as proof?"

You're mixing up your terms here. "Is X a saint?" is an untestable claim. The Catholic church knows this, which is why it is not mandatory to agree with their assessment, nor do you have to accept any saint you are unconvinced by.
The "proof" you are talking about is circumstantial evidence. It's like fingerprints on a table in a large cage, if you know whether the cage has humans or koalas in it then the fingerprints are evidence that either humans or koalas touched the table, if you don't, then it doesn't help you at all.

"A more accurate statement is that theologians have turned religious claims into untestable claims, in order to shield their belief"

Nope. What are you a psychic? You clearly do not know what you are talking about here, as more testable and fundamentalist viewpoints have actually arisen more recently than many more sophisticated claims. Once again, and I notice you have failed to substantiate your previous claims, Cite or you're wrong.

"Christians have moved from a god who cured the blind, walked on water, and raised the dead, who told his apostles that a mustard seed of faith would allow them to perform similar miracles, who let Thomas inspect his wounds after rising from the dead himself, to a god who cannot be tested in any form or fashion."

Nope that's the same God we still believe in. And if you've got a time machine you can go test him yourself.
What do you think we used to believe in that we do not any more? Specifically? It seems like you have a very shallow understanding of what Christians believe(d), were you once a fundamentalist?

"It might not be provable. Until it is, it isn't honest to make a leap beyond what we now know about it. The intellectually honest theologian, pondering an unprovable god, would have precisely that attitude of academic caution. There is an example of that: John Bostrom has provided a probabilistic proof of a kind of god, a future humanity that creates complex simulations of their ancestors, to wit, us. That hasn't caused him to start a new religion around that! Because he is approaching such questions with a philosopher's intellectual honesty, rather than with a believer's desire for apologetics. "

So you're an agnostic? Because otherwise your own argument makes you a giant hypocrite.

As for this philosopher's intellectual honesty/believer's desire for apologetics. Bollocks. This conversation is over, you have not addressed my comments about intellectual honesty from before, you clearly can't, you clearly have a fixed viewpoint, a prejudice you could say, which you are not willing to examine or defend, and it's a very stupid stance - (I'm right and you disagree you are not honest) - clearly based on your ignorance of the variety and complexity of religious faith that extends beyond the facile understanding you've shown so far. Good day.

Well I wrote that having literally just woken up, when groggy and intemperate. Could you tell?

You have not addressed several of my questions, you've repeatedly asserted 'intellectual dishonesty', but have not justified this opinion, or why it does not apply to other things. Can you answer the following questions?

1) Your argument appears to imply that we should treat untestable religious claims as we treat untestable scientific claims - the correct way to treat untestable scientific claims - such as the alien civilisation example - is agnosticism. (Specifically, 'I don't know, maybe') Are you an agnostic? If not why not?

2) Are there alien civilisations out there? - Y/N/I don't know

3) Does your answer to 2 match your answer to Is there a God? If not, why not?

4) You claim that it is intellectually dishonest to believe anything that you have not proven. We have not proven that 'morality' exists, nor what 'correct' morality is, so is it intellectually dishonest to say "Paedophilia is morally wrong". If not, why not?

5) Were you a fundamentalist? Or never Christian? If so, what research have you done into religious belief. What is your grounding in religious history? Because these are empirical questions, and if you haven't done the research then you have no grounds to make any claims.

6) You claimed that "the Christian call to believers to evangelize without first doing [the proper groundwork] is a call to intellectual dishonesty." - yet you have failed to substantiate this claim with any evidence that such a call exists. If you cannot do this, does this mean that you are intellectually dishonest? If not, why not.

7) You also claim "A more accurate statement is that theologians have turned religious claims into untestable claims, in order to shield their belief." - this is an empirical claim. It is either provable or unprovable. If it is unprovable how are you not being intellectually dishonest by making claims about it? If it is provable, how is it provable and what is your evidence that they changed their claims "in order to shield their belief"

8) Is atheism intellectually dishonest by your standards? Your standard is that promoting something you don't know to be true is intellectual dishonesty. We don't know that there isn't a God, so surely promoting that opinion is intellectual dishonesty. If not, why not?

In the absence of contrary emperical evidence, it is not necessarily intellectually dishonest to refuse to comply with someone else's belief system. If you yourself refused to comply with your own belief system, that would be intellectually dishonest.

TB, how well do you think science would work -- or any real academic discipline -- if it went with your standard?

Ender, yes, an honest examination of gods and extraterrestrials would be similarly yoked to the evidence available. The degree to which that makes me an "atheist" or "agnostic," in both cases, depends on how those words are defined. In one sense, an agnostic claims an assertion is not just unknown, but unknowable. I'm not agnostic in that sense. I think there are all sorts of ways in which we could acquire evidence of various kinds of gods and extraterrestrials. We have, in both cases, a lack of evidence, despite investigation and the possibility of evidence, not because of the impossibility of evidence generally.

Of course, we expect any search for extraterrestrials to be difficult, because the universe is immense, the stars distant, etc. With gods, the case is a little trickier, depending on the god at play. I'll point out again that many Christians don't believe in a god who existence is unprovable in theory, but whose angels and miracles and proofs are all safely in the remote past, described only by scripture written later by believers. Please explain why anyone rational would believe in such a god? If there isn't evidence accessible to those in the present, why should anyone in the present believe?

And yes, I have read quite a bit of Christian apologetics and known many, many Christians who evangelize, from Catholic priests to protestant missionaries. None of them were able to provide any reasoning or evidence that would pass muster in any science department. To be fair, the Catholic priests as a group seemed more aware of this difficulty than most, many of who seemed to me to be doubters from an intellectual perspective, who had chosen to make a leap of faith.

I have yet to read or hear any Christian say to another: don't evangelize until you are able to gather more evidence for that purpose. To be fair, again, I have known many intelligent Christians who recognize that what passes for popular apologetics (Josh Dowell, C. S. Lewis) is dreck. But those typically are the Christians who recognize that they can't prove their case, and who recognize that their own belief is a chosen faith.

"TB, how well do you think science would work -- or any real academic discipline -- if it went with your standard?"

It works just fine. There are are scientists doing important work who are also atheist, or agnostic, or Christian, or Muslim etc.

They're all perfectly capable of doing science without injecting their personal beliefs into their peer-reviewed findings. And many see no conflict between their beliefs and the findings of science. In other words, their assumptions allow them to successfully advance our scientific knowledge about the world and universe.

TB, you're not seeing or purposely avoiding the obvious. What if they injected their personal beliefs into their academic teachings? What if an astronomer, having no evidence to the contrary, taught a class on the civilization around some distant star? Included a chapter on that in his astronomy text? Or submitted a paper on that to a journal? Should the referees, having no evidence to the contrary, publish it? Or what if a biologist taught and wrote on new species, for none of which he had evidence, but on the grounds that there was "no evidence to the contrary"?

I wasn't asking how believing scientists use one kind of standard when thinking about their science, and an entirely different one when thinking about their religion. We know how that works. I was asking how you think science would work if we carried into it the standard of intellectual honesty that you propose is fine for religious belief?

"What if they injected their personal beliefs into their academic teachings?"

It would be just as wrong as an atheist teaching that there is no god in science class. You the list I included, right?

"I wasn't asking how believing scientists use one kind of standard when thinking about their science, and an entirely different one when thinking about their religion. We know how that works."

I don't know that they use two different standards, and no, we don't know how that works.

I do know that they don't all use your standard or my standard, and we rely on peer review and the process of science to take care of the rest.

We can't always screen people before they do science. We know there's been dishonesty by people who try to pass off their religious beliefs as science, but we also know there has been dishonesty in scientific work that has nothing to do with religion.

I for one would love to make it harder for people to get a drivers license in this country because everyone else except me is a lousy driver ;)
That's not practical so I have to be aware and on guard when I drive.

TB, you're still ducking the question. Why would it be wrong at all? If it's perfectly fine to teach personal opinion, absent evidence to the contrary, in seminaries and Sunday schools, why not do the same in science classes? And math and history and all the rest?

"I don't know that they use two different standards.. I do know that they don't all use your standard or my standard, and we rely on peer review and the process of science to take care of the rest."

No, that is how it works on the science side. That is not how it works on the religion side. Archimedes principle of flotation is still used in naval architecture because it has been tested and reviewed. Not because Archimedes said it. But why are Paul's epistles taken as scripture by Christians, and not by Muslims?

"TB, you're still ducking the question. Why would it be wrong at all? If it's perfectly fine to teach personal opinion, absent evidence to the contrary, in seminaries and Sunday schools, why not do the same in science classes? And math and history and all the rest?"

I'm not ducking anything, and I've answered this question. Generally, it's perfectly fine for theists to pass on their assumptions to fellow theists in the same way that it's perfectly fine for atheists to pass along their assumptions to fellow atheists.

Neither are science so those assumptions don't belong in science class.

"No, that is how it works on the science side."

And that's what I was talking about. Someone who believes in a god that doesn't interfere with our discovery through science of the natural world because what they discover reveals what they believe god to have intended to happen in the way it happened is making an assumption that allows them to be intellectually honest while doing science. You and I may not agree with that assumption but it can't be disproven and it allows them to be intellectually honest while doing science.

What, you're not trying to claim we need to apply philosophical naturalism to anything we claim is knowledge, are you? I know my wife loves me, I don't need to test it empirically.

"That is not how it works on the religion side. Archimedes principle of flotation is still used in naval architecture because it has been tested and reviewed. Not because Archimedes said it. But why are Paul's epistles taken as scripture by Christians, and not by Muslims?"

Archimedes principle is not oral history or ancient texts - which may or may not contain religious claims. They may pass on scientific information, but not necessarily, and are not considered by default scientific evidence. They're evidence that's useful historians or, if they make religious claims, theologians, but they're not scientific evidence.

I think you're arguing against religious assumptions - which you're free to do - but I don't assume that your assumptions are any better than some religious ones. Sorry, but Agnostics can be annoying that way.

What makes the sciences and history and other academic disciplines that have a good claim to ferreting out fact is not some set of assumptions unique to them, but the intellectual maturity and honesty that their members bring to the examination of ideas, argument, and evidence. It is precisely a failure of that that allows a Catholic scientist to treat the Church's claims about its god and his miracles differently than some other astronmer's claim that an ancient civilization mined the moon hundreds of millions of years past.

You're not trying to claim we need to apply philosophical naturalism to anything we claim is knowledge, are you?

No, I'm claiming that the intellectually honest person doesn't treat a knowledge claim differently because it is wrapped up in a web of pragmatic, moral, social, and religious practice, but teases out the distinctly factual claims and examines them independent of the rest. (For what it is worth, far from advocating philosophical naturalism, I've never seen a good defense of the natural-supernatural distinction, and so am quite skeptical that philosophical naturalism holds water.)

We have, in both cases, a lack of evidence, despite investigation and the possibility of evidence, not because of the impossibility of evidence generally.

You'll have to remind me why we are expecting to find evidence? I could almost see it in the alien example, but there are too many unknown variables to suggest that current absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Don't see it for the other case, what evidence would you expect a God to leave, and why would you suspect that it would choose to leave that evidence?

"Please explain why anyone rational would believe in such a god? If there isn't evidence accessible to those in the present, why should anyone in the present believe?"

Why doubt the God rather than the miracles?

To be fair, the Catholic priests as a group seemed more aware of this difficulty than most, many of who seemed to me to be doubters from an intellectual perspective, who had chosen to make a leap of faith.

Rather like: Confession - I think there are probably alien civilisations out there, somewhere - at least some. There is no real evidence, but I don't buy the Rare Earth Hypothesis. I wouldn't say it's 'proven' that there are alien civilisations out there, and I wouldn't say that it's 'proven' God exists, or that water was turned into wine either.

"I have yet to read or hear any Christian say to another: don't evangelize until you are able to gather more evidence for that purpose"

...And I have yet to read or hear any Atheist say to another: don't evangelize until you are able to gather more evidence for that purpose. Why would I expect to? They clearly either believe they have that evidence and are convinced by it, or don't care about the evidence. The same goes for Christians.
It doesn't show that no one is worried that they're promoting an incorrect view, just that those promoting a view tend to believe that it isn't an incorrect view.

You haven't addressed any of the questions I asked. If I don't know specifically what you're arguing how do you expect to convince me?

"To be fair, again, I have known many intelligent Christians who recognize that what passes for popular apologetics (Josh Dowell, C. S. Lewis) is dreck. But those typically are the Christians who recognize that they can't prove their case, and who recognize that their own belief is a chosen faith."

Does that make them the Dawkins and Harris of the Christian apologeticists?

Ok Russel - I think that TB's post at 59 gets it exactly right, and I don't think you're reading the same meaning I'm seeing, so I'm going to try a different tack (I love hypotheticals):

Imagine two possible universes, in one (A) there is no God and everything exists according to natural laws, in the other (G) there is a God who created natural laws and maintains them.
In (A) people doing science discover the natural laws. In (G) the people doing science discover the natural laws.
The science they're doing is the same science. The metaphysical origins of the natural laws is different, but that is metaphysical and cannot be investigated by science

You are correct to say that any people who believe we are in a specific (G) universe are proven wrong if they make any empirical claim and it is disproven.
You are wrong when you claim that all religious claim empirically testable things.
Those who do science, and believe in a (G) universe that has not yet been disproven are equally as intellectually honest as those who do science and believe in an (A) universe that has not yet been disproven, and are both compatible with and doing science

Separately: Miracles are not empirically testable. Do you have a test for them?
If you are operating with methodological naturalism there is no test. If you are operating with metaphysical naturalism then they are a-priori contradicted and you don't need a test.

"No, I'm claiming that the intellectually honest person doesn't treat a knowledge claim differently because it is wrapped up in a web of pragmatic, moral, social, and religious practice, but teases out the distinctly factual claims and examines them independent of the rest."

But what claims do you think religious scientists treat differently? Untestable claims are unknowable. There is no 'correct' scientific approach to unfalsifiable claims, that's the realm of philosophy and metaphysics. They agree that testable things should be tested to find out the truth. So... they're treating all claims exactly how they should be. Scientific claims are investigated, if possible. Different atheists and theists have all sorts of different beliefs about metaphysics, but that's a different question. Scientifically they agree.

"For what it is worth, far from advocating philosophical naturalism, I've never seen a good defense of the natural-supernatural distinction, and so am quite skeptical that philosophical naturalism holds water

I agree entirely, if you're saying that the definition of supernatural doesn't make sense, if it exists, it's natural. That doesn't mean that everything that exists is necessarily provable. But you do seem to be saying that you can only do science correctly if you hold that God doesn't exist, and miracles cannot happen, which is true if you're equating science with metaphysical naturalism, but isn't if you agree that you can perform science with methodological naturalism.
If you can do science with methodological naturalism, and if science has not proven metaphysical naturalism, and if some religion is compatible with methodological naturalism, then some religion is compatible with science.

Miracles are not empirically testable. Do you have a test for them?

It's trivial to think of tests for some kinds of miraculous acts. A god who can raise the dead could show up at various morgues and bring the dead back to life. Maybe focusing on the deceased who had had brain autopsies. A god who can predict the future could show himself every Monday, and prophesy the final digits for the Dow closings the coming week. (The first digit is pretty easily predicted most times; the final digit is a global, random number.)

To repeat what I pointed out previously, the Christian god, according to the writings of later believers, was once willing to perform such miracles. The problem isn't testing such feats -- we've gotten better at sniffing out mere illusions! -- but that gods who do such things are in rare supply these days. I'll add that science fiction and fantasy is full of a variety of gods, extraterrestrials, and others who demonstrate their presence and might in many demonstrable ways.

Imagine two possible universes, in one (A) there is no God and everything exists according to natural laws, in the other (G) there is a God who created natural laws and maintains them.

You seem to be referencing the simulation notion, i.e., that the universe in which we reside has as its substrate some ur-universe where things are very different. And yes, of course, that might be the case in a way we could never detect. The Deists believed in a god in that ur-universe who purposely kept himself apart from this universe. But it's easy to imagine a third alternative (GWI), how a god thus creating our universe could leave his signature in our own. Ten minutes every night, the stars could rearrange themselves in the sky to spell out a passage from the Bible, and then return at the end of that time to their usual location and behavior.

Your example would have some relevance to your own belief if you were a Deist. I would still point out there is no evidence for it, and no reason to believe it. Call me an agnostic with regard to the god of Deism.

But you're not a Deist. You believe in a god who allegedly wants people to know him. More, who allegedly came down once upon a time, sent angels, performed miracles to gather followers, and start your religion. Of course, we only have the writings of later believers for that, and your god no longer makes appearances or sends his angels. How convenient!

On the other hand, it makes any notion of an unprovable god completely irrelevant to your religious belief. There might be such gods, but you don't believe in them any more than I do. You believe in a god who was quite willing and capable of proving himself. Allegedly. At a select time past. As recorded in your scriptures. Which makes him rather like a bunch of other gods in which people have believed. The question to your rationality as an investigator is why you choose to believe in yours, and not the others?

And I have yet to read or hear any Atheist say to another: don't evangelize until you are able to gather more evidence for that purpose.

Let me say it now: don't criticize religious belief except on a sound basis. Here's an important point: What atheists for the most part are saying isn't that they can disprove any and all gods. Which would be rather like a biologist saying he can disprove any and all mythical beasts. What a biologist should do is point out the difference between rational investigation and irrational belief, and how that bears on various examples. The atheist claim is that the religious beliefs popularly held and spread are done by rationalization rather than by reason. Such as a Christian using the example of the Deist god to excuse the lack of evidence for his own.

Russell:

It's trivial to think of tests for some kinds of miraculous acts. A god who can raise the dead could show up at various morgues and bring the dead back to life.

That doesn't mean that the god in question would do that. Indeed, your "test" is no test at all. It doesn't test a miracle claim made by someone that a certain so-and-so rose from the dead. Rather, you've made a questionable assumption that whoever raised so-and-so would raise others as well.

Now you can make an indirect inductive argument that it is more probable that a particular miracle claim in question is a legend than that it is true, based upon the fact similar miracle claims have been shown false, remain stubbornly out of reach of more direct testability, and so on. Indeed, that seems to be more or less what you are attempting to say, and if so, your attempt is poorly executed because it fails to distinguish between an actual test and a more indirect (and technically weaker) line of argument.

So long as a believer admits that he or she is taking a miracle claim on faith, rather than behaving like a creationist and attempt to twist facts to "prove" the miracle claim, I'm okay with it. I don't see the point of embracing such a claim, but I don't really need to care about it. Such a believer may have his/her own private irrationalities, but is unlikely to be corrupting the scientific enterprise.

Russell:

Let me say it now: don't criticize religious belief except on a sound basis.

I suggest that you take your own advice.

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 15 Feb 2011 #permalink

J. J. Ramsey:

That doesn't mean that the god in question would do that.

Oh, indeed. I made it quite clear that gods who want to remain hidden (likely) can remain hidden. But is that the kind of god in which Ender believes? And there are myriad gods that potentially are hidden. Why believe in any particular one?

So long as a believer admits that he or she is taking a miracle claim on faith...

Yes, once a believer admits that they are believing what they want to believe, and rationalizing around that, the conversation essentially reaches an end. They put themselves on the same footing -- epistemologically, irrationally -- as those who believe in all sorts of other things that appeal to people's desire to believe, from vampires and ghosts to loas and place gods.

The tension the modern believer has is that they want so much to avoid that.

J. J. Ramsey:

That doesn't mean that the god in question would do that.

Oh, indeed. I made it quite clear that gods who want to remain hidden (likely) can remain hidden. But is that the kind of god in which Ender believes? And there are myriad gods that potentially are hidden. Why believe in any particular one?

So long as a believer admits that he or she is taking a miracle claim on faith...

Yes, once a believer admits that they are believing what they want to believe, and rationalizing around that, the conversation essentially reaches an end. They put themselves on the same footing -- epistemologically, irrationally -- as those who believe in all sorts of other things that appeal to people's desire to believe, from vampires and ghosts to loas and place gods.

The tension the modern believer has is that they want so much to avoid that.

To repeat what I pointed out previously, the Christian god, according to the writings of later believers, was once willing to perform such miracles.

Very, very occasionally. There's, what, about a dozen examples of resurrection from the dead in the Bible? Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and a few of Jesus' hand-picked disciples were able to pull it off. And at some point in the future there will be a global resurrection. But none of that implies that revenants should be currently be walking out of morgues on a regular basis.

Likewise, most other sorts of Biblical miracles are performed by "special" people at "special" times. Christians don't, in general, have any theological reason to expect frequent blatant miracles.

Also, the Christian god explicitly dislikes being tested. Both Paul and Jesus himself tell us that (and cite Old Testament precedent.)

So long as a believer admits that he or she is taking a miracle claim on faithâ¦

Yes, once a believer admits that they are believing what they want to believe, and rationalizing around that, the conversation essentially reaches an end.

A caveat: taking a claim on faith is not the same as believing it because you want to. Many Christians report the experience of very much not wanting to believe some religion claim, but grudgingly accepting it (on faith) anyway.

And recall Shermer & Sulloway's "intellectual attribution bias." The belief that other people believe things for their emotional appeal is, in fact, one of the most emotionally appealing beliefs out there!

They put themselves on the same footing -- epistemologically, irrationally -- as those who believe in all sorts of other things that appeal to people's desire to believe, from vampires and ghosts to loas and place gods.

The tension the modern believer has is that they want so much to avoid that.

Is that generally true? By and large, the liberal Christians of my acquaintance have no problem being "on the same footing" as animists or Voudoun practitioners or what have you. (Besides, lots of Christians believe in ghosts too.)

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 15 Feb 2011 #permalink

Russell, you keep assuming that believers have to treat knowledge claims differently and in doing that are being intellectually dishonest. Certainly that would be true for someone like you who is not a theist. And, yes, the Catholic Church supports religious claims for political reasons at times (an awful lot of new saints lately, aren't there).

But the church does not represent the views of all theists, and - as surveys have pointed out - that Catholic scientist doesn't necessarily believe in everything the church says in the way the church expresses it. So you have no evidence that a theist is being intellectually inconsistent when their belief system includes god.

"Is that generally true? By and large, the liberal Christians of my acquaintance have no problem being "on the same footing" as animists or Voudoun practitioners or what have you. (Besides, lots of Christians believe in ghosts too.)"

As a matter of fact, the only people I know who believe in ghosts or psychic prediction due to direct personal experiences are people who self-identify as atheists. I'm not kidding.

J. J. Ramsey writes:

I don't see the point of embracing such a claim, but I don't really need to care about it. Such a believer may have his/her own private irrationalities, but is unlikely to be corrupting the scientific enterprise.

So, are you fine with homeopathy? Should scientists criticize it?

I ask -- and I think the question is one that several posters here should consider -- because most every point in this entire discussion can be lifted, with only small tweaks in rhetoric, to a defense of those who believe in homeopathy. Does homeopathy "corrupt the scientific enterprise"? It's easy to point to surface compatibility. There are plenty of practicing mathematicians and scientists who do good work in their field, then go home and use homeopathic remedies. Homeopaths are happy to work hand in hand with more traditional medical practitioners. See? No conflict.

Contradictions? Well, those are easy to resolve. Choose some combination of: a) the negative results by traditional scientists reject only a few remedies, b) the negative results were from misapplication of the remedies, which have to be personalized by a good homeopath, and c) don't ignore the positive results published by homeopaths. There is never, ever enough contrary evidence to eject a belief strongly enough held. Rationalization can find an out. Always.

So, do you find any conflict between science and homeopathy? Have any problem with the intellectual integrity of scientists who believes in homeopathy?

If so, to either question, why? What makes that case so different from Jesus or vampires or ghosts?

Anton Mates:

The liberal Christians of my acquaintance have no problem being "on the same footing" as animists or Voudoun practitioners or what have you.

That's something, I guess. Now, who here thinks science is on that same footing? And if not, what makes it different?

Anton Mates:

A caveat: taking a claim on faith is not the same as believing it because you want to. Many Christians report the experience of very much not wanting to believe some religion claim, but grudgingly accepting it (on faith) anyway.

I care less about why faith is chosen than that faith is chosen.

Russell: "So, are you fine with homeopathy?"

The people who use homeopathy more resemble creationists than fideists in that they actually believe that facts support its efficacy and have even offered distortions of science like water memory to justify it. Furthermore, there's a huge difference between having a practically unfalsifiable belief that some miracle happened way back when, and a very falsifiable belief that taking some water will affect a disease any more than a placebo.

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 16 Feb 2011 #permalink

"Now, who here thinks science is on that same footing?"

You're making an error in category.

The assumptions - including philosophical naturalism - that allow someone to apply the scientific method in a way that we recognize as doing science are not the same thing as the scientific method.

J. J. Ramsey:

Furthermore, there's a huge difference between having a practically unfalsifiable belief that some miracle happened way back when, and a very falsifiable belief that taking some water will affect a disease any more than a placebo.

So, you're fine with homeopathy if it is made unfalsifiable? Because that's pretty easy to do. "It only works when the remedy is tailored to the individual by holistic practitioners. Which is why the mechanistic, double-blind tests of allopathic medicine don't measure its effectiveness."

Any more objections? Any reason we shouldn't want homeopathic professors on academic panels on science and culture? Right next to the Catholic theologian?

The people who use homeopathy more resemble creationists than fideists in that they actually believe that facts support its efficacy and have even offered distortions of science like water memory to justify it.

How is water memory any more a distortion of science than the transubstantiation of the Catholic host? The rhetoric that is used to defend transubstantiation against the results of physical and chemical analysis is easily tweaked to similarly defend water memory. Spend a half minute pretending you've been hired to write that defense. Easy.

Now, the question isn't why that is wrong. The question is why shouldn't you (or scientists) countenance that kind of defense for homeopathy, why allowing it to Catholics?

TB:

The assumptions - including philosophical naturalism - that allow someone to apply the scientific method in a way that we recognize as doing science are not the same thing as the scientific method.

That sentence doesn't make sense to me. Maybe I need another cup of coffee. But let me respond to its first five words: I don't believe the natural-supernatural distinction is defensible in any fashion that gives it the philosophical import people want it to carry. More, it is not used in the practice of science, but only to safeguard claims against investigation. Catholics, for example, say that we can't detect transubstantiation of the host, because it is a supernatural event. It's not the only faux distinction used in that fashion. Consider terms like "western," "mechanistic," and "holistic." In my challenge to Ramsay above, to write a defense of homeopathy, all he has to do is take the usual defenses Catholics make for why transubstantiation is immune to investigation, substitute one or more of these other faux distinctions, and he has an ironclad defense of homeopathy.

TB:

Russell, you keep assuming that believers have to treat knowledge claims differently and in doing that are being intellectually dishonest.

The world being large, there no doubt is some contingent of scientists who believe equally in Jesus, homeopathy, and vampires. And so on the basis of those three examples, can be said to apply their intellectual standards with fair uniformity.

Russell:

So, you're fine with homeopathy if it is made unfalsifiable? Because that's pretty easy to do. "It only works when the remedy is tailored to the individual by holistic practitioners. Which is why the mechanistic, double-blind tests of allopathic medicine don't measure its effectiveness."

Nice try, but it ignores how homeopathy is actually practiced. Good grief, it's (unfortunately) normal practice to sell homeopathic concoctions in stores as if they were normal, over-the-counter drugs. No one tailors HeadOn, Zicam, or homeopathic sleeping pills to individuals.

Russell:

How is water memory any more a distortion of science than the transubstantiation of the Catholic host?

Here's an example of an attempt to scientifically justify water memory:

How does succussion raise the concentration by a factor of H (typically H=100)? The answer depends on what the active ingredient is alleged to be. For the nano-bubble hypothesis, a nano-bubble might, during the pressure wave of succussion, organize the adjacent H2O into another copy of the same nano-bubble, and both bubbles might survive as structural features after the pressure wave passes.

By contrast, transubstantiation involves no testable effect on the communion host, nothing that a laboratory analysis could find, even in principle.

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 16 Feb 2011 #permalink

Also, Russell, even if homeopathy were modified so that the supposed remedy is tailored to the individual, you still have the problem that the remedy is expected to actually do something, to have an effect that is testable in principle.

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 16 Feb 2011 #permalink

J. J. Ramsey:

It ignores how homeopathy is actually practiced. Good grief, it's (unfortunately) normal practice to sell homeopathic concoctions in stores as if they were normal, over-the-counter drugs.

A divergence between theory and practice? Wasn't it the selling of indulgences that upset someone once upon a time? No matter. It's easy to come up with other defenses. Advocates of homeopathy ought to look to Christian apologists for rhetoric, who have a longer history of this.

Here's an example of an attempt to scientifically justify water memory...

And here is an example of an attempt to scientifically justify transubstantiation:

The second and more scientific explanation asserts that in the Scriptural opposition of "flesh and blood" to "spirit", the former always signifies carnal-mindedness, the latter mental perception illumined by faith, so that it was the intention of Jesus in this passage to give prominence to the fact that the sublime mystery of the Eucharist can be grasped in the light of supernatural faith alone, whereas it cannot be understood by the carnal-minded, who are weighed down under the burden of sin.

That Catholic Encyclopedia article on transubstantiation has five references to "scientific."

Russell: "A divergence between theory and practice?"

Oh, please. You haven't even justified any claims that the theory of homeopathy (such as it is) requires tailoring a remedy to the individual.

Russell: "And here is an example of an attempt to scientifically justify transubstantiation a discussion of transubstantiation that happens to use the word 'scientific' (in an apparently dated fashion understandable for a 1910-era source) without making empirically testable claims."

Notice that you utterly failed to rebut my point that "transubstantiation involves no testable effect on the communion host, nothing that a laboratory analysis could find, even in principle."

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 16 Feb 2011 #permalink

J. J. Ramsey:

Notice that you utterly failed to rebut my point that "transubstantiation involves no testable effect on the communion host, nothing that a laboratory analysis could find, even in principle."

Why would you expect me to rebut it? Christian apologists have had two millenniums of practice protecting their claims from any kind of test. What I'm explaining is that that rhetoric is easily lifted to all sorts of claims. It's not hard to apply to homeopathy. "Water memory uses mechanisms not subject to normal chemical analysis."

I don't know how many homeopaths go that route. It doesn't matter -- any complain against homeopathy is then turned into a complaint against the "wrong" kind of homeopaths, those who persist in thinking their claims ought to hold up in a chemistry lab. Your criticism of that will help create a better, sharper generation of homeopaths! Suppose you get the majority of homeopaths to avoid completely the word "scientific." Is your criticism of homeopathy then at an end? Belief in homeopathy and its practice is fine and rational, so long as "we" get the word science?

What do you think of vampires?

Russell,

I care less about why faith is chosen than that faith is chosen.

Your prerogative--but if you're not that interested in the psychology of the believer, why make so many claims about it?

Now, who here thinks science is on that same footing? And if not, what makes it different?

Objectivity and empirical testability, surely? Liberal believers tend to agree that science is not on the same footing with religious belief, which is why they're ok with government and school sponsorship of the former but not of the latter.

So, you're fine with homeopathy if it is made unfalsifiable? Because that's pretty easy to do. "It only works when the remedy is tailored to the individual by holistic practitioners. Which is why the mechanistic, double-blind tests of allopathic medicine don't measure its effectiveness."

No, that doesn't fit the bill. Individually-tailored treatments are tested in clinical research all the time, as are treatments which can't be administered in double-blind fashion.

That Catholic Encyclopedia article on transubstantiation has five references to "scientific."

Which has little to do with science as we define it today. A quick glance at the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Science and the Church shows that it uses the word "science" to cover "the entire curriculum of university studies," explicitly going beyond the natural sciences to include theology, philosophy, ethics and law.

What I'm explaining is that that rhetoric is easily lifted to all sorts of claims. It's not hard to apply to homeopathy. "Water memory uses mechanisms not subject to normal chemical analysis."

In the first place, that claim doesn't parallel the transubstantiation story; as Ramsey pointed out, it's not just that the mechanism of transubstantiation is untestable, but that the result is as well. The analogous statement for homeopathy would be something like, "Homeopathic treatment has no scientifically detectable effect on the patient's health, although it does have real and spiritually significant effects."

In the second place, it doesn't matter how you could massage homeopathic claims to make them untestable, if homeopaths aren't actually doing that. If homeopathy shed all its pseudoscientific claims, it wouldn't be homeopathy anymore. It would just be a religion that encouraged practitioners to drink their water shaken, not stirred. At that point, personally, I'd be fine with it.

Suppose you get the majority of homeopaths to avoid completely the word "scientific." Is your criticism of homeopathy then at an end?

No offense, but I think so far you're the only one who's assigned great significance to the word "scientific."

If homeopaths agreed that both the mechanism and the results of homeopathic treatment could not be scientifically detected--and that doesn't just mean in a chem lab, but also in a clinical trial, and in an epidemiological investigation, and in all the other venues of scientific analysis--then yes, I'd stop criticizing it. At least on scientific grounds. I might still criticize it on medical and ethical grounds, if homeopathic remedies were unsafe or pro-homeopathy parents were avoiding medical treatment for their kids.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 16 Feb 2011 #permalink

What do you think of vampires?

They straddle the line between testability and untestability. New Agers talk about "psychic vampires," and that seems pretty much untestable. I'm not sure how many people actually believe in the literal-walking-corpse version.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 16 Feb 2011 #permalink

Russell, let's get back on track here. You asked "How is water memory any more a distortion of science than the transubstantiation of the Catholic host?" You were shown an example of someone distorting science to defend water memory, and it was pointed out to you that no such distortion has been done for transubstantiation, since the bread and water aren't supposed to appear different after consecration. You then failed to show a distortion of science in transubstantiation comparable to the one in the notion of water memory.

BTW, homeopaths don't have as much room to maneuver as theologians. While we joke about homeopathic treatments as being "magic water," it isn't really supposed to be magic per se, so explanations of how homeopathy works have to at least appear to be physically based. Hence, homeopaths can't resort to a "Goddidit somehow" hand wave and are stuck with resorting to pseudoscience.

To get even more on track, I notice that you keep blurring the distinction between ideas that have no empirical consequences (like transubstantiation or a miracle in the distant past) and those that do (like quack medical treatments or monsters that could have potential effects in the present). So long as you fail to make that distinction, we're just going round in circles.

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 16 Feb 2011 #permalink

"That sentence doesn't make sense to me."

Yes, that is a problem. JJ Ramsey points it out another way above

" I notice that you keep blurring the distinction between ideas that have no empirical consequences (like transubstantiation or a miracle in the distant past) and those that do (like quack medical treatments or monsters that could have potential effects in the present). So long as you fail to make that distinction, we're just going round in circles."

Quick summary of my view, because this thread is getting old, and I me, busy and offline for a bit. Most here, I suspect, would view believers in myths such as vampires and Scientology as irrational. Those myths have the disadvantage that they are culturally marginal, in one case, and recently hatched by a science-fiction writer, in the other.

All myths start somewhere.

A myth that has been a dominant part of the cultural landscape for two millennium develops intellectual defenses. Its early writers warn against testing its gods. Its intellectuals contrive philosophical arguments for them, the presence of which in books and academe matters more for their cultural effect than their relevance and validity, or thereof. Even language is shaped to shield the myth from ordinary investigation, dividing domains into categories like "natural" and "supernatural" and imposing rules that protect claims in the religion's domain. A specific god is turned into The God. Sophisticated believers apply all of this as a veneer of rationality. And so can complain that a critic blurs the line between testable and untestable claims, without much concern about why their religions' claims have been made untestable. Or given that history, why they should be believing it.

NONE of this makes the original myth any more likely or any more rational to believe. It is sophistry in action.

My view is simply that the intellectually honest thing is to recognize all this as the sophistry it is, and that, as one consequence, Christian theology should be given no more academic respect or standing than the treatise on the undead by some believer in vampires. Or someone pushing Scientology or homeopathy. Two thousand years of explanation may avoid some of the more superficial pitfalls. But doesn't make the belief any more reasonable. In that regard, the fall back to faith is an admission of failure, not a resuscitation. "It's a matter of faith" doesn't count in biology. Or physics. Or history. It shouldn't count in theology.

"My view is simply that the intellectually honest thing is to recognize all this as the sophistry it is, and that, as one consequence, Christian theology should be given no more academic respect or standing than the treatise on the undead by some believer in vampires."

An opinion you're free to hold, but it's your opinion - no more.

Russell,

Most here, I suspect, would view believers in myths such as vampires and Scientology as irrational.

Not inherently irrational, no; I'd need to know why they believe before I drew that conclusion. "Irrational" and "mistaken" are hardly the same thing.

A myth that has been a dominant part of the cultural landscape for two millennium develops intellectual defenses.

Well, ok. That's one hypothesis for the historical evolution of Christian doctrine. Do you have evidence for it? Have you tested it against alternative hypotheses? For instance:

H2. Over the last 2000 years, many Christians have been aware of (and contributed to) the scientific and mathematical progress of Western society. Since these Christians valued rationality, they've gradually refined Christian doctrine to be more logically sound and consistent with modern science.

or

H3. The evolution of Christian doctrine has passively followed the evolution of ethical and factual "common knowledge" in Christian countries.

or

H4. There hasn't actually been a significant change in these particular areas of doctrine; Christianity was monotheistic from the start, and the natural/supernatural division's been around since Aristotle.

NONE of this makes the original myth any more likely or any more rational to believe. It is sophistry in action.

Assuming you're not just using "sophistry" as an intellectual cussword, this claim implies that the Christian doctrines you've listed are logically invalid, and were intentionally crafted and argued in order to deceive the public. Again: evidence?

My view is simply that the intellectually honest thing is to recognize all this as the sophistry it is

Ironically, I think it's the Christians who invented the "Deep down everyone actually knows that we're right, so the intellectually honest thing to do is to recognize it" gambit.

and that, as one consequence, Christian theology should be given no more academic respect or standing than the treatise on the undead by some believer in vampires. Or someone pushing Scientology or homeopathy.

Theology â  Apologetics. If someone wants to study Christian theology or vampire-belief or Scientology or homeopathy, as cultural phenomena, I have no problem with them working within academia. (But I don't really have a problem with apologetics within academia either, since academia embraces a lot more than science. Lots of academics in philosophy, poli-sci, economics, environmental studies, etc., write papers arguing for untestable viewpoints.)

Two thousand years of explanation may avoid some of the more superficial pitfalls. But doesn't make the belief any more reasonable.

Seems to me that if a belief has been made more logically valid and more consistent with science, it's most certainly more reasonable. Perhaps you have a different definition of "reasonable" than I do.

"It's a matter of faith" doesn't count in biology. Or physics. Or history. It shouldn't count in theology.

Why not, if it's understood that theology isn't biology or physics or history?

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 17 Feb 2011 #permalink