• November 23, 2014

The New War Between Science and Religion

The New War Between Science and Religion 1

David Cutler for The Chronicle Review

Enlarge Image
close The New War Between Science and Religion 1

David Cutler for The Chronicle Review

There is a new war between science and religion, rising from the ashes of the old one, which ended with the defeat of the anti-evolution forces in the 2005 "intelligent design" trial. The new war concerns questions that are more profound than whether or not to teach evolution. Unlike the old science-religion war, this battle is going to be fought not in the courts but in the arena of public opinion. The new war pits those who argue that science and "moderate" forms of religion are compatible worldviews against those who think they are not.

The former group, known as accommodationists, seeks to carve out areas of knowledge that are off-limits to science, arguing that certain fundamental features of the world—such as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the origin of the universe—allow for God to act in ways that cannot be detected using the methods of science. Some accommodationists, including Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, suggest that there are deeply mysterious, spiritual domains of human experience, such as morality, mind, and consciousness, for which only religion can provide deep insights.

Prestigious organizations like the National Academy of Sciences have come down squarely on the side of the accommodationists. On March 25, the NAS let the John Templeton Foundation use its venue to announce that the biologist (and accommodationist) Francisco Ayala had been awarded its Templeton Prize, with the NAS president himself, Ralph Cicerone, having nominated him. The foundation has in recent years awarded its prize to scientists and philosophers who are accommodationists, though it used to give it to more overtly religious figures, like Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. Critics are disturbed at the NAS's so closely identifying itself with the accommodationist position. As the physicist Sean Carroll said, "Templeton has a fairly overt agenda that some scientists are comfortable with, but very many are not. In my opinion, for a prestigious scientific organization to work with them sends the wrong message."

In a 2008 publication titled Science, Evolution, and Creationism, the NAS stated: "Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. ... Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist. ... Many religious beliefs involve entities or ideas that currently are not within the domain of science. Thus, it would be false to assume that all religious beliefs can be challenged by scientific findings."

Those of us who disagree—sometimes called "new atheists"—point out that historically, the scope of science has always expanded, steadily replacing supernatural explanations with scientific ones. Science will continue this inexorable march, making it highly likely that the accommodationists' strategy will fail. After all, there is no evidence that consciousness and mind arise from anything other than the workings of the physical brain, and so those phenomena are well within the scope of scientific investigation. What's more, because the powerful appeal of religion comes precisely from its claims that the deity intervenes in the physical world, in response to prayers and such, religious claims, too, fall well within the domain of science. The only deity that science can say nothing about is a deity who does nothing at all.

In support of its position, the National Academy of Sciences makes a spurious argument: "Newspaper and television stories sometimes make it seem as though evolution and religion are incompatible, but that is not true. Many scientists and theologians have written about how one can accept both faith and the validity of biological evolution. Many past and current scientists who have made major contributions to our understanding of the world have been devoutly religious. ... Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies have increased their awe and understanding of a creator. The study of science need not lessen or compromise faith."

But the fact that some scientists are religious is not evidence of the compatibility of science and religion. As Michael Shermer, founder and editor of Skeptic magazine, says in his book Why People Believe Weird Things (A.W.H. Freeman/Owl Book, 2002), "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons." Jerry Coyne, a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, notes, "True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind."

Accommodationists are alarmed that their position has been challenged by a recent flurry of best-selling books, widely read articles, and blogs. In Britain an open letter expressing this concern was signed by two Church of England bishops; a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain; a member of the Evangelical Alliance; Professor Lord Winston, a fertility pioneer; Professor Sir Martin Evans, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; and others. The letter said, "We respectfully ask those contemporary Darwinians who seem intent on using Darwin's theory as a vehicle for promoting an anti-theistic agenda to desist from doing so as they are, albeit unintentionally, turning people away from the theory."

Such solicitousness for the sensitivities of so-called religious moderates is not new. During the run-up to the Scopes trial, in 1925, the accommodationists of that era were similarly uneasy about Clarence Darrow's defending John T. Scopes because they felt that his openly expressed scorn for religious beliefs might alienate potential religious allies. But Darrow's performance in that trial is now viewed as one of the high points in opposing the imposition of religious indoctrination in public schools. "Few Americans have ever done so much for their country in a whole lifetime as Darrow did in two hours," H.L. Mencken wrote after Darrow's withering questioning of William Jennings Bryan.

Accommodationists frequently brand us new atheists as "extreme," "uncivil," "rude," and responsible for setting a "bad tone." However, those accusations are rarely accompanied by concrete examples of such impolite speech. Behind the charges seems to lie the assumption that it is rude to even question religious beliefs or to challenge the point of view of the accommodationists. Apparently the polite thing to do is keep quiet.

Mencken rightly deplored that undue deference to religious beliefs. He wrote in the immediate aftermath of the Scopes trial, "Even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights," but he "has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. ... The meaning of religious freedom, I fear, is sometimes greatly misapprehended. It is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion."

Why have organizations like the National Academy of Sciences sided with the accommodationists even though there is no imperative to take a position? After all, it would be perfectly acceptable to simply advocate for good science and stay out of this particular fray.

One has to suspect that tactical considerations are at play here. The majority of Americans subscribe to some form of faith tradition. Some scientists may fear that if science is viewed as antithetical to religion, then even moderate believers may turn away from science and join the fundamentalists.

But political considerations should not be used to silence honest critical inquiry. Richard Dawkins has challenged the accommodationist strategy, calling it "a cowardly cop-out. I think it's an attempt to woo the sophisticated theological lobby and to get them into our camp and put the creationists into another camp. It's good politics. But it's intellectually disreputable."

Evolution, and science in general, will ultimately flourish or die on its scientific merits, not because of any political strategy. Good science is an invaluable tool in humanity's progress and survival, and it cannot be ignored or suppressed for long. The public may turn against this or that theory in the short run but will eventually have to accept evolution, just as it had to accept the Copernican heliocentric system.

It is strange that the phrase "respect for religion" has come to mean that religious beliefs should be exempt from the close scrutiny that other beliefs are subjected to. Such an attitude infantilizes religious believers, suggesting that their views cannot be defended and can be preserved only by silencing those who disagree.

Mencken said of Bryan's religious beliefs, "Not only are they not supported by the known facts; they are in direct contravention of the known facts. No man whose information is sound and whose mind functions normally can conceivably credit them. ... What should be a civilized man's attitude toward such superstitions? It seems to me that the only attitude possible to him is one of contempt. If he admits that they have any intellectual dignity whatever, he admits that he himself has none. If he pretends to a respect for those who believe in them, he pretends falsely, and sinks almost to their level. When he is challenged he must answer honestly, regardless of tender feelings."

While Mencken's use of the word "contempt" is perhaps too harsh, he makes a valid point: that no beliefs should be exempt from scrutiny simply because many people have held them for a long time. It is time to remove the veil that has protected religious beliefs for so long. After all, if we concede without argument that mainstream religious beliefs are compatible with science, how can we argue that witchcraft and astrology are not?

Mano Singham is director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education and an adjunct associate professor of physics at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009). He also writes a blog, at http://blog.case.edu/singham.

Comments

1. dnewton137 - May 10, 2010 at 10:11 am

"In the end, the truth will out." That itself is a statement of faith, to which I would like to subscribe. However, history suggests that that end point may lie several centuries, or millennia, in the future.

My thanks to Professor Singham for an excellent essay.

2. rward_gtnt - May 10, 2010 at 10:25 am

I wonder what would have happened in World War II if Churchill hadn't 'accomodated' the despised Soviet dictatorship? I suspect a much greater part of Europe would have ended under the shadow of Stalin.

Today we're in a greater war - a war for the minds of our children. If you doubt that our enemies are powerful look at the history of American poilitics over the past twenty years. We need all the help we can get. If that means being sensitive to the feelings of our moderate and liberal religious friends, then so be it.

Oh! Yes, it was an excellent essay.

3. ellenhunt - May 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm

"...Mencken's use of the word "contempt" is perhaps too harsh..."

Mano, thou art accomodationist. You give lie your own argument in your closing, turning the whole matter into a question of degree of accomodation.

This article begs the question of whether or not certain persons quoted actually believe as they do. It assumes that all of those in the NAS who speak of "superstition" do not believe that way. This is not a supportable position either.

Mencken is exactly right, and the degree to which the sane pole is silenced in this debate is reflected in the set point of public beliefs. That said, it may yet be seen that something we don't understand in basic physics is the foundation of consciousness. The other side of Mencken is that our very existence at all is a fantastic impossibility by any sane stretch of imagination.

I have no truck with religous ideas of "the great baboon in the sky who makes the trains (rains) come on time". This is obvious displacement of an ancient instinct to gather around the big baboon at the core of the troop onto an abstraction. The idea that some psychotic desert bedouin that heard voices and led a band of mauraders to kill a lot of people should be listened to, or that some other psychotic wacko who heard bushes talking to him knows anything worth hearing is asinine. It is a sad reality of the human race that our cultural religious foundations have largely been provided by psychotics.

Where I draw the line in the sand is with people who presume because they have learned a little chemistry and a little biology, and think they know everything there is to know. This is a very strange existence we live in here. The mythology bequeathed to us by ancient psychotics is stupid junk. But that does not mean that our semantic map of our existence is the territory. (General Semantics.)

4. akhilliker - May 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm

While I agree that scientific organizations should advocate for good science, I think they (and scientists in general), need to do that without alienating the public. The war on science and the growing distrust of science and scientists has immense costs ranging from the declining quality of education, the public's wavering belief in and motivation to combat anthropogenic climate change, etc. If we alienate the public now, by telling them that they are irrational for believing in god, then we make the problems greater in the short term. While I, too, hope that scientific truth will win out in the end, how many generations will we have to wait for the truth to emerge in the mind of the public? And at what cost to education, scientific funding, public policy? While scientists don't need to accomodate others' religous views in our communication, teaching, and research, I think it would be a mistake to alienate a huge percent of the population. We need them to listen to us if we are going to help "the truth win out"

5. generally_academic - May 10, 2010 at 05:55 pm

Ok you fancy-pants, gorilla-hugging, evil-loution believing knowitall...
Wait, I don't really believe that--it was just fun to write.

Seriously, the deep flaw in your argument is the acceptance of evolution itself without integrating it into your complaint against religion (as evidenced by the really weak sources you cite against religion).
If religion is so stupid, why is it still around? It should have "evolved" out of us by now--or at least be vestigial. Belief must have some sort of evolutionary power, some adaptive power that fits us to this world. If not, it would be like that tail we all carry around inside us...at the end of our spine. (Ahem.)

6. goxewu - May 10, 2010 at 06:04 pm

Was the "burning bush" a doobie?

7. marka - May 10, 2010 at 06:15 pm

Hmm ... "Good science is an invaluable tool in humanity's progress and survival, and it cannot be ignored or suppressed for long. The public may turn against this or that theory in the short run but will eventually have to accept evolution, just as it had to accept the Copernican heliocentric system." And just what evidence is there that supports these beliefs?

Sounds to me a bit like "defending beliefs ... arrived at for non-smart reasons." Plenty of recent studies suggesting that not only 'religious' beliefs, but beliefs in general (such as belief in the scientific method, technology, etc.) are made @ a gut level, and then rationalized afterwards.

Given that 'science' as you seem to use it has only been practiced for the last few (hundred) years, what kind of evidentiary base could there be, without gross distortion from projection? Somehow, from what we can gather, humanity progressed & survived without this modern science for millenia, perhaps eons.

And if some of the 'science' we now practice is correct, actually our 'science' has contributed to global warming & climate change, not to mention the atomic bomb & its missile delivery system, and we our progress & survival is actually threatened by such 'science.'

Finally, implicitly painting scientists as the only rational, well-balanced, and capable people to run our society, I simply mention any number of cases of over-statement, misrepresentation, deceit, and fraud, and corruption on the part of 'scientists' as they promote their ideas to gain prominence, grant money, awards, and the like - Korean stem-cells, suppression of evidence from the East Anglians on climate data, Dr. Mengele & his Nazi scientists conducting their experiments to prove social darwinism & their American counterparts for experiments on Tuskegee blacks, undesireables & 'imbeciles' throughout most of the 20th century, ... .

8. glaughlin - May 10, 2010 at 06:44 pm

Professor Singham appears to be falling into the common fallacy of some scientists who believe that the so-called literalist argument from Genesis is the only plausible or acceptable one. And yet from the earliest days of Christianity, other understandings prevailed. St. Augustine, whom himself appears to have at least considered something akin to evolution possible, warned against Christians who insisted that Scripture taught something which flew in the face of what we know, when he wrote:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions."

I see no reason why science and the Christian faith cannot be compatible. Indeed, I believe that they are. It is only fundamentalism and science that are incompatible, but most of the world's Christians are not, in fact, fundamentalists.

9. generally_academic - May 10, 2010 at 08:23 pm

OK, I'll answer my own question, gorilla-huggers. If Paul Thagard is even close to right, and I think he's on to something ("The Brain and the Meaning of Life"), we have evolved to be a social species that needs for our survival and adaptation, among other things, love and relatedness.

But it's a cold, cruel world out there. Early on there were plenty of predators who saw us as tasty bags of protein. Nodwadays there are still plenty of predators (read local newspaper, watch local news). And the cosmos is literally cold. Even Mama Earth is too cold to live in without shelter and other bipedal hominids for company.

So, among other things, we seek some sort of connectedness to this world, to see how we relate to it, or adapt to it, so we can fit in to it. The rationale became clear in my Visionary and Mystical Literature class. To make a semester-long class short, the connection is in the common energy we share. (See any physicist, chemist, biologist, or Taoist worth their salt--it all reduces to energy.) When they see how we all fit into the cosmos by arising, each in our own peculiar ways, out of the same elemental energy, they seem happier: more competent, more autonomous, better related/adapted (Thagard's categories, my misunderstanding).

And so they go on to love, work, and play with a positive feedback relationship to the world. Religion is one study of our relationship to the Sacred (read: the underlying energy of the cosmos), through our better shaping of our personal stream of original energy, into a satisfying, worthwhile life.

Where is the contradiction?

10. mg321 - May 10, 2010 at 11:16 pm

Mano Singham is looking for an argument, but he provides little by way of argument himself. Historians and philosophers of science have shown us that the old idea (going all the way back to the late 19th century) that there is a "war" between science and religion is bogus. It's interesting that the list of the greatest scientists throughout history includes an astonishing amount of not just theists but serious Christians. Were they somehow not real scientists? Or were they just not bright enough to see the inconsistency of their beliefs? Ingham says that we shouldn't assume that if scientists are religious then science and religion are compatible. Fine. But I didn't see one single argument in his essay for the incompatibility of science and religion. He just asserted that they are incompatible.

Ingham claims that a God who science cannot detect is a God who "does nothing at all." Suppose God never specially acts (i.e. intervenes) in the world. Suppose the only thing God has done is create the natural world and sustain it in existence at every moment of its existence. Who would call that a God who "does nothing at all."

But there's no reason to think God cannot specially act in the world. God could act through conscience, through the lives of impressive religious men and women, through the wonders of nature. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others believe that God has done much more; they believe God has acted in history. God's "special action" in the world is only incompatible with our understanding of the laws of nature if we assume that the universe is a closed system, but if we assume that it is a closed system we then beg the question in favor of Naturalism. As Alvin Plantinga has said, If God exists, then it isn't a closed system. We can't show that it is a closed system by assuming that it is.

I am astounded that Singham believes that Clarence Darrow's performance at the Scopes Trial is "now viewed as one of the high points in opposing the imposition of religious indoctrination in public schools." Edward J. Larson's Pulitzer winning book on the Scopes Trial, Summer for the Gods, should be on Singham's summer reading list. Larson overturns a number of myths surrounding the case. Could Singham's naivete with regard to the Scopes trial be a result of getting his information about it from the movie Inherit the Wind?

If Singham wants to argue that religion and science are incompatible, then he is going to have to produce an argument that they are incompatible. Simply repeating that the two are incompatible, loudly and slowly, won't cut it. Baas van Fraassen once asked, Will all wonder cease when all scientific questions are answered? To ask the question is to answer it. If Singham wants to answer, Yes, then he owes us an argument.

Matt Gaston
Memphis, TN

11. zagros - May 11, 2010 at 08:32 am

Religion is too diverse to fit tightly into a neat package. There are religions that have one God (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), religions with two gods (Zoroastrianism), religions with many gods (Hinduism), and religions with no gods (Buddhism). Indeed, athiesm can also be described as a religion with no gods (even though athiests choose not to) when athiests make war on those who practice religion or who even espouse "mere belief" (diesm) in a higher power.

The arrogance of those who believe in no gods can know no boundaries, not unlike that of those who believe. If science argues that it can examine the unprovable and the inherently unknowable (the true realm of religion) then it ceases to be science at all. The fact is that science, like mathematics, suffers from an inherent and undeniable incompleteness (see Godel's Incompleteness Theorems). Indeed, it is amazing that we can actually PROVE that there are limitations on knowledge but we have. This, coupled with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of physics and Schrödinger's cat showcase the inherent limitation of proof in a dynamic world in which we coexist with the objects that we study.

If God exists outside the system, he cannot be proven. Furthermore, the notion that we can prove or disprove God taken by thiests and athiests alike is nonsensical. If it were possible to do so, there would be no need for faith. If there is no need for faith in us, there is no need to have the plethora of religions: either one religion would be proven to be correct and then the free will/deterministic course would be simply one of obeying or disobeying the tenants of that one religion OR there would be no correct religion (except possibly those noted by the absence of gods) and then the free will/deterministic paradox would be solved: free will would exist and not determinism.

Some religions (Islam, for example) believe that God no longer intercedes directly in our lives, at least not in perceptable form. To Professor Singham, this is proof, apparently, of an inability. However, inability to act and choice not to act are not the same thing. Athiests and thiests alike may decry a God who does not interfere and the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, etc., rear their heads but these issues are incompatible with the notion of an eternal soul. Indeed, if our time on Earth is limited (provable) and if God exists (unprovable), no amount of suffering or evil that may exist in this world can realistically be all that terrible when compared to all existence. Yet if God does not exist, it seems as though the problems of evil and suffering are amplified because mankind loses all sense of purpose. Science may be able to answer the questions of what happens when we are here and what is the result of our actions but only philosophy and religion can answer the questions of why are we here and what should our actions be.

Science must always push back the veil to reveal that which is knowable but when it begins to state that it can determine the unknowable, science loses its status and becomes religion. The all-encompassing scientific quest for God must stop because God can always be defined in such a way as to be exempt from scientific inquiry. On the other hand, it is perfectly permissible and indeed proper for science to carry that argument as far as it can go (showcase that miracles really aren't, for example). Yet once scientists go one step overboard (Richard Dawson comes to mind with his God Delusion), they reduce their credibility and when athiests argue that religion should be dismissed entirely as being only superstitution (or evil worse -- as Christopher Hitchens suggests, religion is evil) and TAUGHT in the schools as such, they take an enormous risk. We religious believers vastly outnumber you and it is only by our grace that you are allowed to continue this quixotic quest to eliminate us and while most of us believe very strongly in the need for peace and love to persist, there are those on our side of the debate who have unfortunately taken a decidedly more violent reaction to such silliness on the part of those on your side of the debate.

Yet, the question is not so much the desire to kill (evidenced by people on both sides of the debate) because the use of violence does provide evidence for a lack of faith on the part of those who choose to kill (although it does not provide evidence whatsoever for whether that lack of faith is warranted). Instead, it is whether you are willing to die for your belief. Many of us followers of the Abrahamic family of religions are. After all, we are talking about our immortal souls here, even though athiests have none (or at least believe that they have none--Pascal's Wager, anyone?).

So the question ultimately is: are you athiests willing to die for your cause in the numbers that we diests (especially monothiestic diests) have been willing to die for ours when placed against the wall and forced by a higher authority (government) to either abandon our faith or triumphantly proclaim it? It seems silly to do so when athiesm subscribes to no possibility of an afterlife.

12. goxewu - May 11, 2010 at 09:30 am

Yeah, are you atheists willing to hijack airliners and fly them into buildings and kill thousand of people when atheisim subscribes to no possibility of an afterlife?

13. tb___ - May 11, 2010 at 11:35 am

I strongly recommend those interested in this topic to visit "Thoughts in a Haystack" at http://dododreams.blogspot.com/2010/05/obviousness.html

John Pieret is a long-time activist in the religion/science wars and consistently has a far wiser take on these issues than today's pop stars of atheism or religious fundamentalists.

I have a number of concerns about this essay.

First, the Chronicle could have done a far better job of seeking out someone to introduce its readers to this debate. Mr. Singham's essay is full of unsupported assertions and misrepresentations.

For instance, "Accommodationists frequently brand us new atheists as "extreme," "uncivil," "rude," and responsible for setting a "bad tone." However, those accusations are rarely accompanied by concrete examples of such impolite speech. "

I give you http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2010/03/11/strengthening-public-interest-in-science/

Be sure to click on the links at that post so you understand the context of comments - and remember those commentators are just trying to make a joke using extreme rape imagery against a person they identify as an accommodationist. Feel free to look around the internet for more examples, you'll find them.

And that brings me to another concern: Mr. Singham must be very naive to think that Chronicle readers don't know how to use google. Or perhaps he was counting on Chronicle readers not being familiar with the political movement that is the "new atheists," a political movement to advocate philosophical naturalism.

In the context of this essay, Mr. Singham is a political activist - he appears to be advocating science but he is not. He is advocating for philosophical naturalism. Which is fine, except that philosophical naturalism isn't science and the note at the end of this essay doesn't identify Mr. Singham in a political context.

This essay is in the opinion section, but there needs to be fuller disclosure here - Mr. Singham is not arguing for science, he's arguing for atheism and he's using his scientific credentials to advance that political position.

The links to Pieret's site and rape imagery comment, and Singham identifying himself in the context of a political movement - as a "new atheist" - should be more than enough to raise questions about the amount of spin contained in this essay. But here's more.

The people Singham is calling "accommodationists" are not alarmed that atheists are speaking up - they're atheists themselves. No, they're concerned that so-called "new atheists" are playing into the narrative first put forth by religious fundamentalists, that religion is not compatible with science. It's an ignorant argument that reduces a complex philosophical subject to a choice between two extremes.

I can understand why "new atheists" have a problem with this criticism. But it doesn't mean anyone is being told to "shut up." If someone can't adjust their message to answer very accurate criticisms, that's not the problem of the people who are criticizing.

Finally, there is one very important thing I want to point out: "Unlike the old science-religion war, this battle is going to be fought not in the courts but in the arena of public opinion. "

Mr. Singham is very wrong about this. He's certainly entitled to his opinion about religion and science, but science is a method not a philosophy. If he seeks to try and force his philosophy into public school science classes, he will definitely find himself in court.

14. mhick255 - May 11, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Why is this in the Chronicle of Higher Education? Even as an opinion piece, rehashing hundred year old arguments between H. L. Mencken and William Jennings Bryan hardly seems worth the space.

15. zagros - May 11, 2010 at 11:56 pm

goxewu, your point is NOT well taken. The inherent correctness or incorrectness is not based on willingness to die or willingness to kill. Indeed the willingness to kill is prima facia evidence of a LACK of faith since all religions also condemn killing or a TWISTED faith that has NOTHING to do with the ordinary practice of religion. There have been militant athiests (Pol Pot, Stalin) who have been willing to kill as well for their systems. You are trying to argue whether God is just or ethical (by our definition, NOT His), a concept that has nothing to do with whether God exists.

The point that I am making is that once athiesm becomes militant (and thus denounces ALL religion as evil in the extreme form and superstition in the mild form) its adherent have to understand that they WILL lose. That is because, ultimately, those who practice religion *are* willing to die for their faith but it is completely unclear whether athiests are willing to die for theirs. Thus, even if religion is superstition, it is silly (perhaps even bordering on stupid) to try to outlaw it or its practices (as the author of this piece wants to see happen with regard to the practice of circumcision of infants, for example). You see when it become a war against religion -- any religion -- the zealots in the group do tend to react rather violently against those who are attacking it (yes, sadly, sometimes by sending planes into buildings). Thus, the ultimate question for militant athiests *is* whether they are willing to die for their beliefs because if they are not, they really should not make war on those who are religious.

The reason why the US gained its independence, why Gandhi was able to triumph in India, why Martin Luther King Jr. was able to galvanize the civil rights movement, why Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, and why Hitler was ultimately defeated wasn't because of a belief in killing the enemy (indeed, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. did not shed blood, for example) but rather a belief that dying for a particular cause was worth it. Unless you are willing to die for your beliefs, you really should not make war against those who are willing to die for theirs. You will lose.

16. goxewu - May 12, 2010 at 08:45 am

Oh, Lordy (pun intendend).

First, let me apologize for the typos in #12. I was distracted by visions of...never mind.

Now, as to #15 (which, as is typical with comments festooned with histrionic all-caps and asterisks, is probably futile; the True Believer believeth no matter what):

1. All religions do not condemn killing. This should be prima facie obvious. And even the major ones justify killing in certain circumstances, including more than only emergency self-defense.

2. Atheists indeed do commit mass murder. I never said they didn't. I just said--or implied--that religious belief is no innoculation against the committing of mass murder.

3. Nowhere in my tiny little comment #12 did I advocate outlawing the practice of religion, per se. (The outlawing of particular religious practices that violate civil law is another matter.)

4. In this country at least, atheists "make war" on religion only in essays such as Mr. Singham's, op-ed pieces, letters to the editor, political lobbying, and arguments in court.

5. "You see when it become a war against religion -- any religion -- the zealots in the group do tend to react rather violently against those who are attacking it (yes, sadly, sometimes by sending planes into buildings)." This is a sophistry that borders on the obscene. zagros really ought to apologize for it.

6. The U.S. gained its independence through the Revolutionary War, not the Revolutionary Non-Violent Passive Resistance. "The Father of His Country" earned his chops in something called the French and Indian War, which also killed a lot of people.

7. While the Brits may have signed on the dotted line for the legality of Indian independence because Ghandi's supporters lay down in front of trains, the actual fact of Indian independence was bought at the great price of a religious war between Hindus and Muslims that cost millions of lives.

8. "A belief that dying for a particular cause was worth it" is common to both great heroes and great villains of history. It is not a virtue in itself.

9. A ready willingness to die for the cause (rather than surrender) has often been a tenet of the losing side, not the winning one, e.g., the Japanese in World War II.

10. There are some religions that do not offer an "afterlife."

As I am as interested in the quality of the debate on these threads as I am in convincing other people of my point of view, I hereby offer a suggestion to zagros: Take a deep breath, calm down, quit frothing at the mouth with all-caps and asterisks. All this "willing to die for [religious] beliefs" stuff is a little creepy.

17. petechron - May 12, 2010 at 05:42 pm

zagros-
My observations of human history inform me that those who say they are willing to die for their beliefs, usually mean in reality they are prepared to kill for their beliefs. Typically, it's just a way of dressing up their threats to make themselves seem more 'noble'.

Sure, there are always some nutjobs prepared to kill others for whatever is the ideological flavour of the day. But the majority of ordinary people will only find themselves in a 'kill or die' situation where there is all out war. Even in that situation, most will kill or die because they believe that in some way they are defending the future of their families or loved ones, tribe or nation, but rarely for some religious or ideological belief. This applies to atheists and religious people alike.

So, yes, when their backs are to the wall, and they are put into a situation where they are forced to 'kill or die', then atheists will almost certainly behave like anyone else. Religious people have no monopoly on this.

I believe atheism is becoming more militant because religion is becoming more political. If religion wants to be politics it should be treated the same as any other political creed, and be open to the same full blown and public criticism. The militant atheists are right in that religion has been given undue respect for far too long. They don't want religious people to die for their beliefs, just to see unjustifiable religious beliefs die (eventually) is enough.

18. zagros - May 13, 2010 at 02:45 am

goxewu,

1) All religions do, in fact, condemn killing. Whether there are exceptions that are given, that is not the same thing, and you should know that. Find me one religion that says, "go out and murder everyone". You cannot.

2) I didn't state that you personally wanted to outlaw religion. However, militant athiests, in their extreme form, do. Notice I did state extreme form. The point is that there are extremists on all sides.

3) Absolutely, religious belief does not innoculate oneself against mass murder. No one ever said that it did. However, no religion teaches mass murder (see point #1) regardless of what adherents (or it or other religions) or some militant athiests would like to state (yes, there are bad parts in every religion, but we can always reinterpret those).

4) I will not apologize about my depiction of how zealots react (it is the zealots who should apologize for how they act, not I). This is a demonstrable (though regretable) fact. Go back and read about the definition of a zealot and its original connotation in First Century Rome. I do not in any way, shape, or form argue that they ought to act this way but they do act this way.

5) The fact that people are willing to die for the cause, absolutely, does not make the cause correct. However, being willing to die for one's cause is a necessary condition for resisting those who are willing to kill for it. I am certainly not using it to argue for the inherent correctness (or incorrectness) of religion. However, I am pointing out that one does not light the powderkeg without having some understanding (and responsibility) for what happens when it blows. The point is, as always, that unless you are willing to die for your beliefs, it is not good to make war against those who are (and make no mistake, the author of this essay is desirous of making war against those who are, he has specifically stated that circumcision is "weird and indefensible", and has written what is tantamount to calling for legislation to make it illegal.
see http://blog.case.edu/singham/2010/05/07/suffer_little_children

Such a law would be a direct attack on Islam and Judaism. There is little evidence that circumcision is bad for children and some evidence that it is actually mildly beneficial:

http://health.discovery.com/centers/sex/sexpedia/circumcision2.html

Therefore, his point is not well taken unless he wishes to demonstrate that circumcision is unnecessary within the Jewish or Islamic faith, in which case, it would be an acceptable avenue of discourse.

Dr. Singham has also stated that the world would be better off without religion. Again, the good Dr. (and any athiest who subscribes to such a position) protests way too much. It is tantamount to saying that the world would be better off without African-Americans (a position that is obviously racist and has no place in proper debate). Of course, I know that similar arguments have been made with regard to homosexuality in the thiest camp but that does not make the athiest retort any less offensive) and, to our credit, such arguments are now roundly condemned as intolerant. Why is it that militant athiests think they should get a pass when they make the same claims (overly broadly, once again) about religion?

Statements by individuals such as Steven Weinberg speak volumes about the agenda of "New Athiests": "The world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief and anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization."

Sam Harris has stated that "Science Must Destroy Religion":

See http://machineslikeus.com/articles/ScienceMustDestroy.html

It is apparently not enough to simply articulate a claim that athiesm is good but instead militant athiests seem to think that they should depict religion is universally bad. However, thiests stand with one leg tied behind their back when athiests think that science should be able to challenge religious beliefs in the public schools while thiests cannot defend themselves in that same sphere. Science need not make itself out as attacking religion. For example, an (obvious) solution to the question of evolution and creationism in a public school setting is to point out to students who believe in creationism that there are people who see no incompatibility between science and religion and tell students that they can go and read discourse on intelligent design but that intelligent design is not a mainstream scientific concept and therefore will not be discussed. Note that such a position neatly encapsulates athiestic disdain for religion without being overt or even hostile to religion. While militant athiests may argue that this does not go far enough to teach students to value reason, athiests have no right to try to convert our children to athiesm in the classrooms, just as thiests have no right to convert our children to their religions.

6) The fact that people are willing to die for their beliefs may be creepy but it is factual. I simply state that athiests must be willing to do the same if they wish to, in the words of Sam Harris, "destroy religion." The fact that I (and most others) disagree with athiesm does not obviate this fact.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Petechron,

I see no evidence that militant athiests are willing to die for their beliefs. However, if they are, then they have a chance in a war against religion. They have no chance if they are not. That is the essential point. I certainly have no such fervor over a lot of things in my life. For example, I would not be willing to die over my ability to eat peanut butter. I am willing to die to protect my inalienable right to practice my religion. I am also willing to die to protect your inalienable right to not practice any religion whatsoever.

19. zagros - May 13, 2010 at 03:08 am

The defense of religion side calls to the stand Bruce Scheiman. For those who do not know Mr. Scheiman, he is an athiest who has a much more enlightened view of the distinction between science and religion that the sophomoric tripe that passes for scholarship given by Dr. Singham:

see Bruce Scheiman's An Atheist Defends Religion:
http://www.anatheistdefendsreligion.com/blog/2009/12/schism-within-distinguishing-between.html

Notice Mr. Scheiman's essential point: when science seeks to eliminate religion, it becomes a religion. The particular viewpoint expressed by Dr. Singham (that religion needs to be eliminated from this world, expressed exasperatingly by all militant athiests) should not be allowed to have any place in the public schools, just as the viewpoint that suggests that religion ought to eliminate science cannot be taught in the public schools either.

Make no mistake, however, it is the militant athiestic position that will end up harming science because many thiests will simply not respect science if scientists try to destroy religion (and we wonder why Americans don't take science as a major in as great numbers as they used to; well, this is certainly one reason why). Indeed, the greatest tragedy is that the quest to eliminate God from public discourse by militant athiests is turning into a quest to eliminate science from that same sphere by those who see their religion under attack (see Rush Limbaugh as an example of such buffoonery).

The defense of religion and the importance of separation of religion and science rests its case.

20. goxewu - May 13, 2010 at 12:02 pm

First, it'd be nice if zagros learned how to spell "theist" and "atheist" Once or twice, it's a typo, but...

Well, at least zagros has gotten less rabid, and is backpedaling on a few things (e.g., admitting that his argument is really with a few "extreme" atheists, admitting that willingness to die for a cause isn't in itself a virtue, But he still can't think. Example:

"All religions do, in fact, condemn killing. Whether there are exceptions that are given, that is not the same thing, and you should know that. Find me one religion that says, 'go out and murder everyone'."

Hello? There's an enormous gap between "condemning killing" and saying "go out and murder everyone." And in that enormous gap lies most religions' attitude toward killing, ranging from the Qur'an-sanctioned policy of putting the sword to infidels who won't convert, to the de facto practices of Christian missionaries in the New World, e.g., the Spanish missions in California.

Another example:

"1) All religions do, in fact, condemn killing [which they really don't; see above]." This is followed by, "3) Absolutely, religious belief does not innoculate oneself against mass murder." Hello? Since mass murder takes a concerted effort by an entire government or organized militancy, so much then for the salutary effect of religious belief in that regard.

Nor does zagros use language honestly. Example: He says that Mr. Singham "is desirous of making war" on religion because he "has written what is tantamount to calling for legislation to make [circumcision] illegal." What zagros means by "war" is clear from the context of this statement: it immediately follows, within the same numbered paragraph, "willing to die" and "willing to kill." Mr. Singham is not advocating killing circumcisors (in contrast to the Christian fundamentalists who advocate killing abortion providers). Much if not most of the reasonable argument against circumcision has to do with it being mainly a religious practice (which does have some health benefits) that's performed on infants and children too young and powerless to have any say about their bodies being surgincally altered without there being an urgent need to do so. Advocating the outlawing of circumcision is hardly "desirous of making war" on religion in the sense of what zagros clearly means by "war."

zagros's reference to 9/11, "yes, sadly, sometimes by sending planes into buildings" is essentially blaming the victims in the same way that a social worker might say that poverty and neglect is to blame for kids "sadly" joining gangs. He definitely should apologize for his disgusting exculpation of the people who "sadly" flew airliners into the World Trade Towers.

Yes, we all understand that it's a fact that some people are willing to die for a cause. What's creepy is zagros's implicity touting it as a virtue by saying, in essence, "Hey, you atheists, don't mess with us religious believers, because on account of our religions' telling us there's an 'afterlife' we're not afraid to die for our cause, while you are afraid." Thank you, Jim Jones.

Finally, I'm not personally an "extreme" atheist who wants to rip religious belief root and branch from our society. (It's one of those things like drugs, gambling and pornography that people will find their way to no matter what the laws* are). If some people want to amputate their scientific reasoning by believing in "Young Earth," or inconvenience themselves because of a religious prohibition against doing this or that on a certain day of the week, that's their problem. But I would like to see the material overprivileging of religion cut back to the nub. No more tax-free religious commercial empires, no more powers of clergy to legally marry people, no more swearing on Bibles and chaplins' invocations at government gatherings, no more denying gays their civil right to enjoy the considerable legal benefits of marriage, etc. In sum, I don't want so much to stomp on religion as I want religion, in those forms mentioned in the previous sentence, to quit stomping on me and other secularists.

* Even the laws themselves recognize this. Almost everywhere in the U.S., you can legally purchase the drug of alcohol, you can legally gamble by buying a lottery ticket, and legally obtain pornography over the Internet.

21. daniellehoggan - May 13, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Please read Richard Dawkin's "The God Delusion." It explains systematically and thoroughly why religion is a delusion and why we should not tolerate even "moderate" religions.

22. crypticlife - May 13, 2010 at 01:19 pm

zagros,

You have misrepresented Singham. He has NOT called for illegalization of circumcision. In fact, he has specifically stated that consenting adults who wish to do so should be allowed to, much like tattoos or piercings.

That you should misinterpret this is not atypical. Frequently the religious make histrionic claims of being outlawed when any of their practices are questioned in the slightest. Religious parents often do make such claims when being challenged on things like treating diabetes, or appendicitis, with nothing more than prayer -- which Singham also addresses in that article you linked.

What active conversion to atheism do you think is happening in schools? Most teachers here in the US would simply ignore creationism entirely in a discussion of evolution. Further, the majority of teachers are religious themselves.

If your main point here is that atheists should not become violent in trying to eliminate religion, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I don't that atheists would necessarily lose in an armed conflict (cf. goxewu's indication of Japanese who were willing to die and yet lost WWII), but it certainly wouldn't be a positive thing for the world to have such a conflict. The "militant" atheists you seem to be referring to, however, do not show such tendencies, and the word "militant atheists" has been used to describe atheists who are rather peaceful -- so you'll understand the concern over your use.

23. addhart - May 13, 2010 at 01:31 pm

A few quick remarks:

1. "[T]he scope of science has always expanded, steadily replacing supernatural explanations with scientific ones."

Actually, this is overstatement disguised as a truth. Science has explained many aspects about our amazing cosmos, but it hasn't explained -- nor is it likely to explain -- the existence of that cosmos. The word "supernatural" does not mean "unnatural" or "magical". It means that which transcends the nature we experience. It might be open to doubt that such exists, but it is not unreasonable to believe it might, or even that it does (not to know this is merely to be philosophically naive). It's simply not something science deals with directly, because it's not competent to do so, and therefore shouldn't seek to oppose. And, besides, open-mindedness is alleged to be the hallmark of the scientific mind, after all.

2. " [T]here is no evidence that consciousness and mind arise from anything other than the workings of the physical brain, and so those phenomena are well within the scope of scientific investigation."

What's more intriguing is that there's no evidence that consciousness does arise from the brain. But, of course those phenomena are well within the scope of investigation. Conclusions may prove to be another matter altogether, however. At any rate, so what? This has no real impact one way or another on the question of God, or (for that matter) the Tao or the Dharma or whatever else has been posited in the higher religions.

3. "What's more, because the powerful appeal of religion comes precisely from its claims that the deity intervenes in the physical world, in response to prayers and such, religious claims, too, fall well within the domain of science. The only deity that science can say nothing about is a deity who does nothing at all."

This is so fraught with basic errors concerning the so-called "powerful appeal of religion" in any serious sense, that it is difficult to know where to begin. It is clear indication that the "new atheists" might try becoming better versed in what they think they're criticizing. All I will say is that, if what is being countered here is a literal anthropomorphic deity such as fundamentalism envisions, then there's a point here. However, it's a straw man, and it's wearying to have to repeat this obvious fact over and over again to people who simply prefer to believe stubbornly that they're right -- just like fundamentalists do.

4. "It is strange that the phrase 'respect for religion' has come to mean that religious beliefs should be exempt from the close scrutiny that other beliefs are subjected to. Such an attitude infantilizes religious believers, suggesting that their views cannot be defended and can be preserved only by silencing those who disagree."

I agree. Most intelligent believers do. Science isn't a threat unless it attempts to be intellectually bullying, dogmatic, stifling, unimaginative, and totalitarian. Which some of its worst advocates (Dawkins, for example) manage to do. Time for them, maybe, to read some William James and cool their hot and humid brains.

5. "After all, if we concede without argument that mainstream religious beliefs are compatible with science, how can we argue that witchcraft and astrology are not?"

Well, just possibly by knowing the difference. Two questions: Which "mainstream religious beliefs" (unclear)? Second, who is it that needs to know how to distinguish these things? I suggest it may be the "new atheists" who might be in need of going back to college and taking World Religions 101. Getting some distinctions and terminology right, then we could go on with our "argument" from there.

24. goxewu - May 13, 2010 at 02:38 pm

The trouble with most--actually, almost all--religious people in this country is that they leap by "faith" from a hazy, abstract, "We don't really know everything there is to know about the cosmos," directly to a certainty that a carpenter who lived a couple of millenia ago and was one of a lot of fellows in the Middle East running around claiming to be the Messiah was, indeed, the "Son of God"--or something equally specific. If religionists were the kind of benevolent agnostics tipping slightly toward belief in "God" to which addhart alludes, it'd be one thing. But more often, religionists--being subscribers to particular faiths, usually having to do with "prophets" and "messengers" and "saviors," etc.--are the ones with "hot and humid brains." I've never yet had an atheist knock on my door and interrupt dinner or accost me on the street, hand me a leaflet and start a spiel.

And what, pray tell, is an overstatement about "The scope of science has always expanded, steadily replacing supernatural explanations with scientific ones"? Weren't most natural occurrences once thought to be products of either the charity or wrath of god[s] and, one by one by one, were eventually attributed to physical causes? (Does anybody seriously think that the volcano in Iceland erupted because of a god's anger at air traffic?)

While the organ known as the brain might not itself be the seat of consciousness, the body as a whole rather is. As far as anyone can tell without leaping into the abyss of afterlife speculations, consciousness (in the commonly accepted meaning of the term) ends with the death of the body. Even people with professed religious faith in a rosy afterlife seem to know this when the crunch comes.

The supposed intervening of a deity in the material world--especially "God acting in history" in a partisan way--is an insurmountable problem for those religionists whose thinking is a little more advanced than the bumpersticker slogan, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." Not only is it a problem of science (e.g., what was Jesus's or Mary's DNA? why were there no untoward global consequences when the sun stood still in the sky in the book of Joshua? exactly how were the laws of physics morphed when Moses parted the Red Sea?), it's a moral problem (e.g., "God had a reason for sparing me in that tornado" causing one to wonder whether "God" had a reason for killing all those other people). The answer to the scientific conundrum is usually, "Well, God can do anything He wants." (Yeah, that helps.) The answer to the second is either the sublimely evasive, "The Lord works in mysterious ways" or outright stonewalling.

The root psychological cause of religionists' fear of science (and no matter how fuzzily accommodating some of them try to sound about it, they do fear science) is the fear let loose by Darwin that human beings might not be the ne plus ultra of evolution. We might be a mere way station on the natural-selection path to something superior (which in turn might be a way station, and so on). And worse, the power immediately above us might not be a "supreme being" but a merely "superior being," as in those guiding monoliths in "2001" and "2010." An old cartoon in The New Yorker said it best: one goldfish in a bowl says to another, "Oh yeah? If there's no God, then who changes the water?"

25. crypticlife - May 13, 2010 at 02:50 pm

"The word "supernatural" does not mean "unnatural" or "magical". It means that which transcends the nature we experience"

Hmm. Well, while that's an interesting definition, I'm not sure it changes the analysis. Science is expanding the nature we exerience all the time, too. After all, 1000 years ago no one was experiencing other galaxies in any form -- now we experience them through telescopes.

"if what is being countered here is a literal anthropomorphic deity such as fundamentalism envisions,"

Well, yes, certainly that. But why only a literal anthropomorphic deity? Why not an (wink) octopoidal one? Or a shapeless one? Or even an immaterial one, so long as is is purported to interact directly with the physical world?

"it's wearying to have to repeat this obvious fact "

The "obvious fact" that believers praying for a deity to do something in the physical world doesn't mean they believe the deity will actually do anything? That seems a tad less than obvious to me.

"Well, just possibly by knowing the difference. "

You lost me (;)). Knowing the difference between what? Mainstream religious beliefs and witchcraft? I don't. Transubstantiation seems exactly like witchcraft to me. So do many other religious beliefs. I don't think (Christian) religious believers would be happy if I conceded, though, that the existence of Jesus as a normal human being is compatible with science.

26. jimagn - May 13, 2010 at 06:48 pm

Religion is surely a phenomenon worthy of scientific study.

27. stinkcat - May 13, 2010 at 06:56 pm

I know a lot of atheists who seem to think people who believe in a God are fools because they claim that there is no proof that God exists. However, some of these same people actually believed that Obama's stimulus bill passed in 2009 was going to help the economy. Yet, just like the existence of God there is no way that they could ever hope to prove that government stimulus did anything for the economy.

28. pseudotriton - May 13, 2010 at 07:01 pm

Regarding "the difference between mainstream religion and witchcraft": Christianity in its most original state was a form of shamanism, which is not too different from withcraft by my book. And that's how most modern mainstream religions likely started. Failure to see that is failure to acknowledge the dynamism of human history.

29. barbarapiper - May 13, 2010 at 07:57 pm

pseudotriton comments "Regarding "the difference between mainstream religion and witchcraft": Christianity in its most original state was a form of shamanism..."

Thanks for that clarification. I was under the apparently mistaken impression that "Christianity in its most original state" was a form of Judaism, a version that had found its messiah.

But the parallels between Catholic priests and shamans have been widely noted; both perform types of magic, intercede with spirits, etc. Poor Protestant ministers and Jewish Rabbis can only preach and teach; no magic, alas.

30. goxewu - May 13, 2010 at 08:27 pm

Re #27:

I know a lot of atheists who also believe that in February, 2008, President Bush signed into law a $150 billion "economic stimulus" bill and that, in October, 2008, he signed into law a $700 billion "economic rescue" (a.k.a. bailout) bill.

Re #29:

barbara piper has never heard of "laying on of hands" in Protestant churches? Granted, it's not practiced at Riverside Church in Manhattan or at the National Cathedral in Washington, but out there among regular folk, it's done a lot. And all those TV preachers shouting, "Get thee out, Devil!" are neither rabbis nor Catholic priests. They may look tacky, but their audience numbers in the millions.

31. stinkcat - May 13, 2010 at 09:04 pm

"I know a lot of atheists who also believe that in February, 2008, President Bush signed into law a $150 billion "economic stimulus" bill and that, in October, 2008, he signed into law a $700 billion "economic rescue" (a.k.a. bailout) bill.

Nobody disputes that he signed it, but it takes real faith to believe that it would actually affect the economy.

32. goxewu - May 13, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Re #31:

I just thought that if an irrelevant economic swipe was to be taken at Obama on a thread about science vs. religion, President Bush might have been, in fairness, included in the gratuitousness.

So, now could we get back to God, G-d, Allah, Yaweh, the Big Kahuna, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, et al.?

33. pseudotriton - May 13, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Re #29:
Prior to the destruction of their Second Temple, Judaism was "essentially a temple cult, organized around regular ritual sacrifices and a series of three pilgrimages to Jerusalem."
-Mideast & N. Africa Encyclopedia

Sounds a lot like shamanism to me.

34. stinkcat - May 14, 2010 at 06:22 am

"I just thought that if an irrelevant economic swipe was to be taken at Obama on a thread about science vs. religion, President Bush might have been, in fairness, included in the gratuitousness."

The post is quite relevant. What I meant is that why do atheists criticize believers for believing in something for which they claim there is no proof, yet some of those same atheists will believe something else (i.e. the effectiveness of fiscal policy in increasing economic growth) which can never be proven either.

35. zagros - May 14, 2010 at 06:27 am

crypticlife,

I have NOT misrepresented Singham. Go back and read him. If adherents are not circumcised in childhood, they likely will not be circumcised at all, which means the death of the religion. His argument that parents should not be allowed to circumcise their infant boys is a war against both Islam and Judaism. However, on the fact that circumcision is not merely a religious obsevance but is, in fact, an acceptable medical practice, please note that circumcision is generally performed in the United States on the majority of infant boys: 56.1% in 2006.

http://www.cirp.org/library/statistics/USA/

If circumcision were so horrible, the American Academic of Pediatiricians would oppose it. They do not. They neither endorse nor oppose it and, indeed, the most recent task force chair on the subject at the AAP notes, "Circumcision is not essential to a child's well-being at birth, even though it does have some potential medical benefits." Notice that the AAP states explicitly that there are potential medical benefits.

The fact that 15-20 TIMES the number of infant boys required to have it for religious reasons are having it in the United States (and the majority of infant boys in the United States do) is a reason to see that Dr. Singham is out of touch with reality on this point.

36. zagros - May 14, 2010 at 07:02 am

Goxewu,

1) Making war does not have to mean violence. It merely means to be in an active state of conflict. Militant atheists make war against religion and have called for it to be "destroyed" by "science." (Sam Harris) NOWHERE have I stated that militant atheists have gone around bombing theist institutions. Indeed, the first use of violence would probably be from the theist side. This does not mean that theists are wrong. It means that (some) theists use wrong methods and the atheists need to be aware of them.


2) "I know a lot of atheists who seem to think people who believe in a God are fools because they claim that there is no proof that God exists."

As someone who is an agnostic theist, I find this particular atheist claim amusing. One can neither prove nor disprove God and Occum's Razor is not a proof.

If atheists successfully prove that there is no God, they can have their point. However, until then (and I would argue that they cannot), they have no right to insist that everyone else takes their perspective. Similarly, at the same time, I have to agree with goxewu (imagine that!) the theists that those knocking on doors trying to convert people are similarly intolerant and disrespectful and have no right to insist that everyone takes their perspective. I object to people who wish to convert anyone to theism or any other religion (with the exception of their own children) but I object to atheists who try to convert people to atheism (with the exception of their own children), even as I defend to the death their right and yours to do so (yes, I defend your right to be intolerant and disrespectful but that does not mean that I condone it!).

However, if you believe in tolerance and respect for the belief system of others, let me believe in my Flying Spaghetti Monster in peace and make no war against me, lest you find yourself ultimately the loser as the billions of adherents to the FSM call upon His great power to destroy you in a downpouring of pasta from the sky.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster saves!

Note: Please no comments about the insanity of the FSM mythos, which was actually created by atheists as a device against theists--my point is simply that no matter whether our beliefs be true or false (and FSM is definitely false), they should be respected, allowed, and allowed to be carried on to our children WITHOUT interference by the State, militant atheists (and militant theists) and their arguments be damned.

Note 2: The use of "be damned" in this case is in reference to the idiom, meaning these are not important, not literally in the fires of hellfire, even though it is acknowledged that many theists believe that atheists will be facing the hellfire. That being said, it is funny that atheists consider this to be worthy of condemnation. The fact that many theists think that all atheists are sinners deserving of hellfire in no way implies that they are and, in any case, since atheists, by definition, do not believe in sin (defined as a transgression against God) or hellfire anyway, it should not trouble them in the least. Of course, militant theists would take offense and so it is really for their benefit that this explanation is given.

37. softshellcrab - May 14, 2010 at 07:57 am

Hey, did Al Gore write this article? The first paragraph of this article echos his silly, pompous - and now totally refuted - claim that the argument is over about man-casued global warming, and it is just time to figure out what to do about man's latest abuse, blah, blah, blah. It turns out he and his cronies had been cooking the books and manufacturing all the data! Hah!

Here the author writes "... the old debate], which ended with the defeat of the anti-evolution forces in the 2005 "intelligent design" trial...

In fact the opposite has happened. More and more scholars who don't see why they need to reject the existence of God in order to be a true scientist, are endorsing and embracing Intelligent Design as simply the obvious truth. I am not sure why it even has to be given a name, or why anyone other than a true Atheist would debate it. All Intelligent Design says is simply that there was of course evolution. Of course there was, and the earth, and life, evolved over the millenia more or less how the science community has described it. And yes - the loving direction and guidance of God was behind the whole thing. Yes, this was the good Lord's tool for creating mankind and all other living things. One thing I never, never, never get is why so much of the scientific community is so almost knee-jerk determined to get God out of the equation. I am certain that science scholars are overwhelmingly a nice bunch of people, often church going and mostly religious in at least the general sense of accepting the existence of God. Why the almost vitriolic, knee-jerk need to deny His participation in the evolution process?

When you disagree with a position, try to ridicule it. What anti-religious forces like to do is to "lump" intelligent design in with Creationism, the belief that our world and all life was created literally as the bible says, literally in seven days, woman from man's rib, etc. But what, for God's sake, do those two views have to do with each other? One says the world was created, and all life in it, in seven days, man in one day out of clay, etc. The other says the world, and man, were created through the very multi-billion year process of incremental evolutionary steps we see described in science bookds, but simply maintains that God was behind and guiding and directing it. By linking intelligent design to the bible-literal Creationist theory (and I don't mean to insult those who accept that theory, I personallly do not, and I think that most Americans do not) the anti-religion forces want to "rub off" ridicule on, and to mock, Intelligent Design. What (I mean really, what?) makes members of the science community so hot about the intelligent design theory? Don't they actually believe it to be true? Doesn't 90% or so of America believe in God, and believe He was overseeing the process of the formation of the earth and its creatures?

Happily, recently we have seen more and more of the scientific community come around and embrace that, yes, God was indeed involved in the evolution process. Of course he was.

38. tmccool - May 14, 2010 at 07:59 am

The "new atheists" position is still rooted in denial of the metaphysical, so I fail to see what is "new" about it. Singham builds his entire arguement around this point, but fails to defend it. He just accepts as fact that metaphysics does not exist, there is no "spiritual realm" and we should all just accept that and move on. Really?

These two sentences made me laugh out loud: "Accommodationists frequently brand us new atheists as "extreme," "uncivil," "rude," and responsible for setting a "bad tone." However, those accusations are rarely accompanied by concrete examples of such impolite speech." Has Singham never read Richard Dawkins? Has he never visited Dawkins' blog? Dawkins is the Pied Piper of Atheism, and his snarky tone is well documented. Visit any discussion forum or Facebook group dedicated to discussions of spiritual matters in general or evolution in particular and you'll find at least several "extreme", "uncivil," and "rude," atheists.

39. dank48 - May 14, 2010 at 08:50 am

Militant new atheists and militant religious fundamentalists seem to me to have a great deal in common: intolerance, incivility, self-righteousness, and breath-taking lack of humility.

Frankly, I am less disturbed by the bigotry, rudeness, and blinkered pig-ignorance of those whose beliefs appear to me to be mistaken--they are, after all, in my opinion, wrong in their understanding of the world, so why wouldn't they talk and behave wrongly?--than I am by the graceless, boorish behavior and speech of those whose beliefs I happen to share.

Truth has said to be the first casualty in war. Perhaps. But an appreciation of our own limitations, a willingness to consider that we may be wrong, seems to have gone to the wall as well. Over three hundred years ago, Pierre Bayle produced his masterful Philosophical Commentary on Luke 14:23, showing the futility of compelling any orthodoxy by force. And three centuries later, "We are here, as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight / Where ignorant armies clash by night."

40. amnirov - May 14, 2010 at 09:06 am

Sweet creeping carpenters. No. New Atheists and Religious fundamentalists have NOTHING in common. Atheists do not fly planes into buildings, go on crusades, burn heretics, deny blood transfusions to their children, or believe that prayer cures cancer. It's not a matter that anti-theists have one opinion and religious whack-a-moles another. There is only one reality. There is only one truth in the matter of god(s). There are no gods. None. They don't exist. Nothing supernatural exists.

It is not a matter of bigotry or rudeness or pig-ignorance to tell people to their faces that they believe in imbecilic rubbish. It is indeed no worse than correcting a child's error in basic math, or a second language learner's troubling use of the indirect article.

41. dank48 - May 14, 2010 at 09:46 am

#40: Sure, assuming that you're right.

The fact that I believe such-and-such means that I think it's true. It doesn't mean I know it's true. Both sides mistake their own subjective belief for objective knowledge. It seems to me that, if it were possible for human beings to know anything about God, one way or the other, there'd be one religion, or none. As it is, there are about 4500 of them, depending on how you count them.

You are of course correct that there is only one truth, just as Augustine (I think it was) was correct that truth cannot be the enemy of truth. The difficulty is knowing what the truth is. Kin Hubbard put it well: "The problem ain't what folks don't know. The problem is the things folks know that ain't so."

And one interesting feature of religious belief, including nonbelief, is that, whatever one's belief, one is in the minority. Whatever I believe, far more people disagree with me than agree.

You have surely heard of the Soviet Union, National Socialist Germany, and the People's Republic of China, to consider only the big three. The list could go on.

42. mmensen08 - May 14, 2010 at 09:48 am

amnirov and others...Apparently you don't know history either.
Atheists have been responsible for the deaths of over 100 million people. The Soviet Union and Communist China as well as other atheistic countries have destroyed the lives of millions because they, as atheists, considered the party or the revolution more important than the lives of people. So don't give us that old crap of how atheists aren't evil or killers. Biblical Christianity does not nor will ever condone killing.

Science is filled with brilliant people who are still stupid and are conformists. There is NO proof of evolution but science talks and publishes how it is a FACT when it is nothing of the kind.
If evolution is an established fact, you can tell me how the cell evolved completely all at once. How do you answer the Cambrian explosion or complete forms of complex marine life without precursors? How did sexuality go from asexual division to reproductive parts that work together to reproduce life?
Any of your "mutations" require new information, for example, scales evolving to feathers. Where does that new information come from? Evolution has no answers but it was used as the justification for the deaths of millions people.

No, evolution has no compatibility with Biblical Christianity. Many religions find it compatible since they are open to most anything. Liberal religions are dead anyway so they find no problem with evolution. There will always those who are willing to conform to so-called science since they have no real faith on which to stand.
I have seen miracles. I have seen blind eyes opened and I have seen the dumb speak and hear. I pity you who have not. Be cynical all you want. Laugh and make fun. That's ok. Oh yes, the Truth will win out. When He does, you will be left out. I can only pity you.

43. goxewu - May 14, 2010 at 10:09 am

Re #34:

Nice dodge. If stinkcat was going to compare stimulus and bailout bills he disagrees with to religious faith, he should have included the ones Bush signed, too. But he didn't, and it isn't hard to figure out why.

Re #36:

Another nice dodge. Sure "making war" doesn't have to include violence. But the absolutely clear context--immediately following all that killing and dying stuff--of zagros's #18 (5) makes it clear that he equates Singham's being "desirous of making war" on the religious practice of circumcision with actual physical war.

Although zagros's latest comment is headed "Goxewu," only the above bit of evasive temporizing pertains to me. The rest of zagros's typically overheated comment (here come those little bits of all-caps mouth froth again) is aimed, blunderbuss-style, at people he thinks have no business criticizing religion because they can't "successfully prove" (redundant, but no matter) that "God" doesn't exist. One can't "prove" unicorns don't exist, either--the first one may show up right after lunch today.

As for zagros's right to believe in "The Flying Spaghetti Monster" in peace: fine. Well, "fine" as long as we don't publicly fund FSM priests to perform invocations at public gatherings, allow FSM clergy to run vast, multi-million-dollar commercial empires under the guise of tax-free religion, allow FSM clergy to legally marry people, curtail secular speech when it "offends" believers in the FSM, regard people with alleged doctoral degrees from FSM seminaries as genuine scholars, demand that "Inteligent FSM Design" be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes, allow judges to post the FSM's "Ten Condiments" in their courtooms, and a bunch of other stuff that the next National Conference of FSM Bishops at an Oliver Garden near you will put on its political agenda.

Which reminds me: How come none of the "We don't really know everything about the cosmos, so anything goes in terms of religious beliefs" types on this thread haven't mentioned Scientology. Big, monied, growing, and--hey, it's right there in the name!--scientific! Not a mere "ism," mind you, but a genuine "ology." Accommodation of science by religion? You got 'er, right there.

And finally, re #38: "Snarky," "rude," and "uncivil" atheists? What's remarkable about atheists--given the actual physical, political, legislative, legal and financial crap foisted upon them and society in general by the forces of organized religion--is that any un-snarky, courteous and civil atheists exist at all.

44. stinkcat - May 14, 2010 at 10:13 am

"Nice dodge. If stinkcat was going to compare stimulus and bailout bills he disagrees with to religious faith, he should have included the ones Bush signed, too. But he didn't, and it isn't hard to figure out why."

Ok, then let's take it from the opposite perspective, you cannot prove that tax cuts have any stimulative effects on the economy either. Both conservatives and liberals take it as a matter of faith that government spending can influence economic growth. But, you can never ever prove such a thing.

45. goxewu - May 14, 2010 at 10:40 am

"Biblical Christianity" may not condone killing, but a whole lot of "Biblical Christians" do. (Nietzsche's "The last Christian died on the cross" is not totally wrong.) It's the old contrast between the putative governing document(s) and actual practice. For instance, the old Soviet Constitution looked, on paper, as if it described the most open, tolerant and kind society one could imagine. In actual practice, the USSR was something else.

Of dank48's "big three" in #41, there's a good argument that only one of them was really atheist. Maoism became a de facto religion, and millions of adherents waved Little Red Books like preachers wave Bibles. Nazi Germany cleverly embraced religion and appropriated Christianity, cf. those photos of Nazi officials lighting Christmas trees with swastikas--instead of stars--on the top. Naziism happened, mind you, in the very religious country that birthed the Protestant Reformation, and its Final Solution was born of a whole Christian history of anti-Semitic pograms. And of course, in the U.S., our own Nazis and would-be Nazis are inextricably intertwined with religion, especially forms of Christianity.

Re #42:

"Oh yes, the Truth will win out. When He does, you will be left out. I can only pity you." Why is it that so many nominally tolerant and benevolent Christians conclude their disquisitions of faith with, essentially, "So I'm going to Heaven and you're not. Nyah nyah nyah!"

46. pseudotriton - May 14, 2010 at 11:04 am

Re #36:
zagros, for someone who claims to be agnostic theist, you sound very certain in your dismissal of the FSM and rendering it an insane myth (after your sarcastic use as an exmple in attacking atheists). How could you be so sure? What's your proof that the FSM does not exist? Speaking of proof, that appears to be an issue many of the theistic comments here are hung up with. However, science is not about proving anything. It's about finding evidence. If you read any mainstream scientific publication, no scientists will ever claim to have found "proof" for the hypotheses they are testing. Instead, they demonstrate evidence in suport (or refute) their hypotheses. There is difference between the two and that seems to be beyond the grasp of many religion sympathizers.

And I agree with zagros that neither side should impose their own believes onto the other side. And I think that's a major point that goxewu has been trying to make all along. He has already made a nice list of the examples of how religion is encroaching upon secular life. To that I'll just add the totally non-secular message of "In God we trust" on each and every US Dollar bill. For some reason many theist seem to believe that they are being persecuted by atheists, but I'd say the persecution is much stronger the other way around.

And another general observation: such articles concerning religion vs. secularism always seem to step on a lot of toes and evoke heated debates. It is no coincidence that often the religion sympathizers are also global warming skeptics, and haters of figures like Obama and Gore, which is something I personally find amusing.

47. jschantz - May 14, 2010 at 11:21 am

I'm going with the Dalai Lama on this one, who in his book "The Universe in an Atom", said the most enlightened thing I have ever heard from a religous leader, which is, to paraphase the man:

If science can prove we are wrong, I will change our religious belief system.

He makes this argument because he is curious enough to want to know if consciencness is tied to the physical brain or if it is indeed "portable", and exists apart from the coporeal. If it is, and the conscence does not not "die" with the body, then a central tenant of the faith is true, reincarnation is possible. If it "dies" with the body, than reincarnation is not possible, and the faith must evolve. To him, the burden of proof is with the believer, not the scientist. In other words, enlightenment in what ever form it takes, is a personal responsibility, not a dogma.

So, if the leader of one the largest faiths in the world can quote Karl Popper and test his own beliefs against the intellectual standard of modern science, why is it that other fundamentalist types will not? Instead, they argue that the burden of proof lies with the non-believer, making science and academics the bad guy, instead of being curious themselves.

More curiosity and less judgment is what's required.

48. opiniononly - May 14, 2010 at 11:24 am

I can only add my experience to such a controversial subject. Three times I have received miracles that could not be explained by science. I should not have been able to bear children but by some miracle the tumor in my uterus that fed off hormones did not grow and I carried my one and only child full term. After her birth it grew rapidly as science determined it should have and it was removed with all my female parts. When my child was three, her father was diagnosed with full blown aides and died 8 months later. By some miracle, my daughter and I never came down with AIDS and she is 23 now. As if that was not enough, I was shot point blank in the chest where my heart should be but by some miracle the bullet zig zagged through me missing every vital organ. My lung was clipped but obviously I survived. My medical records can not explain why the bullet took the path it did. And I did experience a most peaceful, tranquil momemt during the time my heart stopped beating from the loss of so much blood. I felt as if I were in the hands of God, there are no words for such a feeling. I don't believe science will ever be able to fully explain the miracles that come from one's faith. I embrace both science and religion, I don't believe God had given me a choice, I know he's there.

49. dank48 - May 14, 2010 at 11:38 am

Militant fundamentalists and militant atheists share, inter alia, the will to power--over others. I believe that what Nietzsche was really advocating was will to power over oneself, to overcome our own self-limiting defects. Of course I could be wrong.

Of course the Big Three of totalitarianism were atheist in principle and of course their ideologies evolved into religions. Goebbels said that National Socialism had one thing in common with Christianity: both demanded the whole man. (Sexist pig.) There is something in human beings that causes us to want to bend the knee, to something or Some Thing.

On the other hand, 1 Samuel 15 tells how Saul lost the favor of the Lord, by incompletely following the command to extirpate the Amalekites, including the women, children, and livestock. This may not be the first historical example of genocide, but it's the earliest I'm aware of.

Extremism of whatever stripe leads to dehumanizing of the perceived opponent, and that makes liquidating them, literally or figuratively, much easier. And that has consequences for the extremist as well as for the victims. In the last pages of Animal Farm, the animals look into the room where the pigs are talking with the men, and it's impossible to tell which are which.

Bottom line, the two extremes here resemble each other more than either wants to admit. Like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

50. 11142568 - May 14, 2010 at 11:43 am

Since the ancient Greeks, a fundamental assumption of all scientific enquiry has been that Out of nothing nothing comes. Yet in the Western religious tradition, theological thought speaks of creation out of nothing. Clearly, these are very different intellectual enterprises. Yet it would be surprising if, given 2 human intellectual undertakings, there were no points of contact. The great early 20th century geologist and paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, made some fascinating "essais" in that direction.

Peter Baker, Marymount Manhattan College

51. pseudotriton - May 14, 2010 at 11:53 am

Re #49: Where did this grouping of "Big Three" come from? I'm not aware of such classification by any reputable historians. Is this something akin to the "Axis of Evil" named by Bush? If you're so fond of using these historical events as examples, what about the death of millions of Native Americans (or Australian Aboriginals) upon the settlement by European colonists? Now would that be killing/genocide by theists or atheists?

52. 7738373863 - May 14, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Much of the preceding commentary points to the fact that there will be no peace between science and religion until both sides own their evangelical agendas and agree to disagree politely. If anyone doubts the evangelical agenda of science, s/he should go back and read Bacon, Boyle, Newton, Paley, the Bridgewater Treatises, etc. When science severed its ties with religion in the second half of the nineteenth century, it retained, albeit often cloaked under the flat affect and false modesty of the laboratory scientist, the core belief that it was the word and the way. Not willing for its part to concede pride of place, religion--especially many sects of evangelical Christianity--pushed back.

If it were possible, the best outcome at this point would be for both sides to contemplate the effect of postmodernism on all creeds, including their own. A little ironic detachment and the recognition that we are all trapped within the languages we mobilize to asseverate our core beliefs would be oh, so refreshing.

53. dank48 - May 14, 2010 at 12:53 pm

#51, it's simply a casual term I used; unless I missed something, the USSR, Nazi Germany, and the PR of China were the largest examples of atheistic totalitarianism, albeit sadly far from the only ones. I don't see the relevance of the rest of your comment to this discussion. (Evils, yes, of course; evils having anything much to do with this discussion, not that I can see. Manifest destiny may have had theological underpinnings, or trappings, like bringing religion to the person sitting in darkness while we rip off the land, but it's a different topic. It seems to me you're missing the point.)

Unless I'm misreading the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, it provides a definitive reply to the notion that "we shouldn't tolerate religion." Toleration, as I understand it, means maintaining a live-and-let-live attitude toward the beliefs of those who disagree with one. Putting up with those one agrees with is, almost literally, a no-brainer. That's not to say we have to tolerate intolerance; when people's beliefs lead them to infringe on the rights of others, it's time to help them grow up.

One last thing before I shut the hell up. It strikes me that all too many people, myself included, take themselves way too seriously. That leads to our mistaking our opinions for gospel, revelation, scientific fact, etc. We come off like George Tirebiter: "You can believe me, because I'm always right, and I never lie." I think this tendency is what led Dawkins and Dennett to the truly unfortunate adventure in public relations that produced the self-descriptor Bright. That was, to put it unkindly, just not very bright.

We are no smarter than we think we are, and often we know a lot less than we think we do. And when it comes to people, ourselves included, we understand damn little. Personally, I think the two funniest words in any language are "Homo sapiens."

54. youraine - May 14, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Perhaps what is most remarkable about the evolution v religion argument is the fact that this is an argument at all. the discussion of human orgin is the red herring of human meaning. Why is this question paramount for anything? How does the question of origins inform what is happening in the world today? This is a silly conversation that serves to occupy space in academic tabloids. Well written essay but nothing new here.

55. dpsinha - May 14, 2010 at 01:19 pm

I found this article shallow on many accounts, starting with using rhetoric such as "accommodationists".

But its main weakness is the standard one of conveniently choosing a representation of the arguments of `the other side'. In particular, consider:
"What's more, because the powerful appeal of religion comes precisely from its claims that the deity intervenes in the physical world, in response to prayers and such, religious claims, too, fall well within the domain of science."

There are many possible appeals of religion. I find the psychological effects (the Bhudda himself said that one can interpret his teachings psychologically) and community building which comes from building a faith community compelling; tales of "miracles" not so much.

The author's understanding of the philosophy of science strikes me as similarly shallow. Blurring the distinction between "the physical universe", "the observed physical universe" and "the observable physical universe" is a minor-league error. So is pretending scientists do not require assumptions which must be taken on "faith"; to even do mathematics one must take on faith the logical consistency of the natural numbers.

Consider the following dialogues:
(A) Believer: "The world has a moral dimension."
Philospher: "Morality is a human construct. How can you be so certain that there is morality?"
Believer: "Anything we experience is a human construct. Building a model for the moral dimension for the world is a useful construct to help me understand and improve the world I live in."

(B) Scientist: "The physical universe is knowable."
Philosopher: "Knowledge is a human construct. How can you be so certain that the physical universe is knowable?"
Scientist: "I am only concerned with what is knowable. Building a model for the knowable universe is a useful construct to help me understand and improve the world I live in."


That's philosophy. We should also address practice, such as prayer, which the author in the quote above assumes is about asking for supernatural help. That is one possible practice of prayer. But prayer to many is more about thankfulness - the ultimate thankfulness, namely for ones existence. After all, don't we try to teach our children to be thankful for what they have. As humans, we typically are thankful to someone, hence the need/ convenience/ compelling reason to construct the notion of God.

Isn't being thankful to someone pointless if that someone "doesn't exist"? Of course not - whatever makes us more at peace with ourselves, more calm, happy, ready to serve others, etc. - has compelling consequences in the human (physical) world. Just recently the Chronicle relayed a study on how "DNA turns stress into physical illness." Of course, the phenomenon of prayer and meditation aiding mental and physical health can be "explained" scientifically, but that doesn't mean that the religious framework is useless any more than the fact that the standard model of particle physics explains all chemistry makes the study of chemistry itself useless.

56. dank48 - May 14, 2010 at 01:55 pm

Okay, I lied.

Zagros, #19: Thanks for the tip re Bruce Sheiman. A giant step in the direction of sanity.

57. pseudotriton - May 14, 2010 at 03:42 pm

dank48, if your point is that both theistic and atheistic extremists are capable of mass murderings, you'll get no argument from me. However, your repeated use of the supposedly atheistic examples (again, as goxewu has pointed out, Nazi Germany was not atheistic) and subconscious avoidance of any examples from the so-called tolerant countries tells me that you are more biased than you'd like to consider yourself to be.

Speaking of tolerance, for the sake of this argument, let's assume that the preachings of Christianity is true, then it is the ultimate form of intolerance: anyone who does not believe (agree with) its preaching of God will be condemned to hell for eternity. So much for putting up with those who disagree with you.

58. texasmusic - May 14, 2010 at 03:46 pm

Well, I have a short answer to this question, and then the rest of you are welcome to shred it at will. Where do you think evolution and science came from? If you're a "moderate" (what does that mean) religious person, the answer ought to be the same place everything else comes from: God. Does it not occur to people God is capable of giving us these things too? And perhaps this is why we have doctors who get better and better over time (for example). I already know the answer to that. Minds are small...we're only allowed to consider some things and minds must be closed to the rest. Education is evil. God didn't give us that either. (or did He?)

59. zagros - May 14, 2010 at 03:47 pm

goxewu,

I never equated "making war on religion" with actual physical war. Only you have. I have stated that I have not and you can find no instance where I did. Even if I had, it is immaterial to the question at hand as you are engaging in an ad hominem logical fallacy. End of that discussion. It is irritating that you insist on strawman arguments and attacking the messenger instead of dealing with the issues.

pseudotriton,

I am an agnostic theist who dismisses the FSM simply because the people who put it out admitted that they made it all up. The FSM is no more God than Atrataskaso the Great (who I just made up) is. Anyone who believes that Atrataskaso the Great is God is insane and should be treated as such. In order for a claim for Godhood to be treated as possible, the person who comes up with the initial hypothesis/argument must make the claim. Otherwise, it is one of the silly arguments that atheists like to make about there being an infinite number of possible gods. We can only consider those gods that are currently in evidence or that have been recognized by believers. Either one of these is correct or none are. You cannot go around making up gods and trying to convince people that these are reasonable choices. This is why the "infinite gods" atheistic attack on Pascal's wager is so disingenuous (in any case, an infintessimally small chance is NOT the same thing as no chance at all but that is another problem with the atheistic challenge to the wager). Similarly the attack on Pascal's wager by stating that those who believe in God are damned and those who do not are saved is also disingenuous.

Now for the proof that anyone who believes that I am God is insane. I can state most definitely that I am not God and, in any case, anyone who thinks I am God is insane.

Of course, the last statement contains the complete proof because if I were God (which I am not), I just issued a commandment that anyone who thinks I am God as insane. Similarly, if I am not God, anyone who thinks I am God really is insane (by definition). Thus, believing that I am God is insane. QED. End of Proof that (at the very least) no one should believe that I am God.

Hopefully, I have demonstrably proven something to which goxewu will not object.

Now, can we all (hopefully) agree on the following:

1) no one should be compelled to be any religion
2) no one should be compelled to be atheistic
3) schools should not teach religion
4) schools should not teach atheism
5) religion should stop trying to dismiss science
6) science should stop trying to dismiss religion in any area where proof is not possible (such as the existence of God).

And before people like Dr. Singham start off on their high horse about #6, most religions do not have God interfering in the daily lives of people in any way contrary to nature (some religions suggest that God ensures that natural laws are followed and that would also be impossible to prove or disprove) and even those that do will likely redefine the issue in such a way as to make the attack on God impossible--thus, scientific attacks on God have no possibility of success whatsoever.



Really folks

60. canann - May 14, 2010 at 04:02 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

61. dank48 - May 14, 2010 at 04:08 pm

Pseudotriton, so what do you think Nazi Germany was, Lutheran or Catholic? Sure, Hitler was Catholic and never formally left the church, but really. The hakenkreuz was still a kreuz, but not a Christian one. The churches in Germany during the Hitlerzeit were in no comfortable position, and many courageous clergy and laypersons paid the ultimate price for living out their faith.

And what on earth would give you the idea that I think I'm unbiased, any more than any other fool in love with my own prejudices? My adducing atheist (or "atheist") examples of intolerance was an attempt to bend over backwards. While militant atheists are irritating and counterproductive, imo, I certainly don't consider them currently to be anywhere nearly so dangerous--in this country at least--as certain militant fundamentalists whose religion quite explicitly recommends conversion or death for infidels.

The real point, it seems to me, is that extremists, whether Dum or Dee, are wrong. Science and religion, properly understood, are not opposed. Scientism and religion, sure. Science and bloody-minded literalist fundamentalism, sure. But science and religion are no more opposites than, say, painting and music.

62. alexanian - May 14, 2010 at 04:29 pm

Neurologists, geneticists, physicists and medical researchers rely on physical data to decipher the nature of human beings. However, such inquiries are quite limited since human consciousness and rationality, for instance, cannot be reduced to data obtained by purely physical devices, say, brain scanners. Scripture tell us that we are body/mind/spirit. Clearly, a purely physical description of humans does not suffice.



63. beatitude - May 14, 2010 at 04:31 pm

The entire debate is summed up here: http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

64. goxewu - May 14, 2010 at 05:02 pm

Re #55:

This is basically the long version of the short truth that the main value of religion is therapeutic. And that therapeutic value consists, in the main, of the comforting denial of the unpleasant prospect of the inevitable annihilation of our conscious selves.

And let's not so facilely conflate "prayer" and "meditation." (Why leave out hypnotism?)

Re #58:

"...the same place everything else comes from: God." As lawyers say, this statement assumes what is being argued.


Re #59:

zagros never explicitly equated making "war" on religion with actual physical war. But zagros, that ol' sly boots, equated it implicity, with the sequence and proximity of certain words. It's called rhetoric, and zagros, who's not stupid, knew exactly what he was doing. The proof's in the pudding, and the pudding is zagros's #18 (5).

Some questions for the evolution-tolerant savior-oriented out there:

* At what point in evolution on Earth did hominoids get souls?
* If evolution is ongoing and, at some point, we're obsolesced as we obsolesced Neanderthals, does another "Son of God" come down to earth to save the souls of the most advanced species?
* If, as is satistically most probable, there are lots and lots of planets out there with life-forms evolved to our level and perhaps beyond, does each of those planets get its own "Son of God"?

Finally, I know zagros isnt "God." But if there is one, I'm thinking of putting my money on #60, canann. Them's holy words if I ever seen any.

65. drsam - May 14, 2010 at 05:13 pm

The article rings of "scientism" which is the worship of science. I get a kick out of watching folks like Singham write about the superiority of "reason" as if it is some infalible god that we must postrate ourselves to. Such is the religion of secularism. These folks don't realize how zealously religious they are and how guilty they are of their own form of "fundamentalism" and apparent intolerance. Hilarious!

66. moravian - May 14, 2010 at 06:16 pm

This all gets silly. People like #33 should study religious phenomena and get clear on differences between shamans and priests, communal temple ritual and healing based on experience of spirits in a trannce state. So much BS about "religion" without making distinctions. There are people out here who pursue a "scientific" study of religion and find much of this discussion full of generalizations about a supposedly obvious thing called religion. Then there is "science". Our faculty is filled with scientists: social scientists including economists and metereologists, famous for alchemical pronouncements along with die-hard physicists who smirk at other pretentious scientists.

67. 11142568 - May 14, 2010 at 06:33 pm

on a related theme:

Today is Friday, May 14, 2010. Exactly 400 years ago today, Friday, May 14, 2010, the very great and charismatic French king, Henri IV, was murdered by a Roman Catholic fanatic, Ravaillac. Henri IV, although baptised as a Roman Catholic, had been raised as a Calvinist, and before accession to the French throne, had been king of the small kingdom of Navarre between France and Spain. He made Calvinism the official religion of Navarre. But in the negotiations leading to his accession to the throne of France, he became a Roman Catholic, and after his accession, proclaimed the Edict of Nantes which provided for official toleration of the French Calvinists, the Huguenots, along with certain provisions that gave the Huguenots certain provisions for self defense. Ravaillac, like the fanatics in every age, believed that only Roman Catholicism had the truth and all other beliefs must be suppressed. In his view, Henri IV, was a traitor to the TRUTH! 100 years after the Edict of Nantes, Louis XIV revoked it and caused a mass exodus of Huguenots from France. Those who stayed were persecuted. In the mid-18th century, a French Protestant, Calas, was brutally executed, and Voltaire led a great campaign against religious intolerance under the motto, Ecrasez l'infame!.

I have been and am a committed Roman Catholic all my life, and in recent years also, an Episcopalian (my little private protest against the snail's pace of the ecumenical discussions between these 2 great branches of the Catholic church), broad church within an orthodox commitment. I think it makes sense to speak of truth in matters of religion but with fear and trembling. God is truth and knows all things. For us humans and all of our religions, God's truth remains an asymptote, an ideal to which we aspire but which will always remain beyond our ken. To the extent that we come close to God, we do so not with clarity of knowledge but by coming into what Gregory of Nyssa called the divine darkness. We must therefore respect those who believe differently from ourselves including those who are skeptical of all beliefs.

Henri IV in the Edict of Nantes gave official status to a first notion of different beliefs living in peace. He paid for it with his life.

Today in Paris at the great medieval Basilica of St. Denis in the extreme northern part of the city and where the French kings were buried, there will be at 11 am (5 am New York time)a solemn mass to honor the memory of that great king, Henri IV.

Religion has been through the centuries a great source of good and benefit to humankind. But it has also been a locus of fanaticism and hatred of OTHERS. I hope you will join with me today in prayer or thoughtful reflection that as human beings we may grow in respect for our neighbors whose sense of the ultimate values may very often differ from our own, and that from that respect, we may all, as human beings, come to a greater sense that we are all one human family.

Peter Baker, Marymount Manhattan College

68. faramir - May 14, 2010 at 09:05 pm

This is the key quote from the article:

"Science will continue this inexorable march, making it highly likely that the accommodationists' strategy will fail. After all, there is no evidence that consciousness and mind arise from anything other than the workings of the physical brain, and so those phenomena are well within the scope of scientific investigation."

A nice statement of faith, that, and a handy dismissal of the mind-body problem in the favor of atheism. If this is indicative of the intellectual rigor of "the new atheism" I think Mr. Singham and company may find that winning the supposed war will be even harder than he thinks.

69. princeton67 - May 14, 2010 at 09:48 pm

Several observations
1. "Accomodationism" is old wine in new bottles. A decade ago, Stephen Jay Gould used "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" to describe the separate realms of science and religion. But go back to Darwin himself: "Science has nothing to do with Christ.." (1887)
2. There have been, are, and will be extremists (aka: fundamentalists) in both religion (school boards in Texas, Louisiana, etc.) and science (Dennett, Dawkins) who spend their time attacking each other.
3. A problem in even discussing this "war" appears in the title of this article: "...Religion." In the USA, the "religion" is limited to the Christian book of Genesis. Neither in Scopes nor in Dover did any Pastafarians, Wiccans, Jainists, Buddhists, or any other believers of the more than 100 cosmologies listed in Wikipedia attempt to be taught in life science classes. In the USA, the war is not between Science and Religion, but between Science and fundamental Christians.

70. pseudotriton - May 14, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Re #66. moravian
You say potato, I say potato. It's little more than semantics. What I find interesting is how some of the commentators here will try to distinguish Judaism/Christianity from other shamanism/witchcraft/superstition based on the smallest differences, yet insist that atheism/science is in the same camp with religious beliefs. As for the rest of your rambling about "social scientists including meteorologists", I'm not even sure I get the point, so I'll just leave it at that.

71. umbrarchist - May 14, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Theological Axiom #1: God cannot be STUPID!

If there is a God then wouldn't He have to know everything about Science including everything we haven't figured out yet? So wouldn't He know about Relativity before 1900?

How do you translate a human being? The Epistle to the Hebrews says Enoch was translated and did not die.

So what if God moved Enoch through time and Enoch and Melchizedek were the same person and that is why Melchizedek did not have a mother.

Tell that to the scientific atheists. LOL

72. goxewu - May 15, 2010 at 08:11 am

1. "Exactly 400 years ago today, Friday, May 14, 2010, the very great and charismatic French king, Henri IV, was murdered by a Roman Catholic fanatic, Ravaillac." This is offered in favor of religion?

2. Science is at least willing to admit that its particular conclusions are overturnable if new testable evidence comes along and disproves them. The classic example is the replacement of a geocentric universe with a heliocentric solar system; a more recent example is the replacement of the idea that the dinosaurs died because they got too big and their food ran out with the probability that an asteroid strike was responsible. What does it take to overturn a religious theory, e.g., that Jesus Christ is the only begotten "Son of God" and was sent to Earth to save the souls of humankind?

3. What is umbrachist (#71, above) talking about?

73. gordonwillis - May 15, 2010 at 06:23 pm

"Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural ...."

What "supernatural" ?

74. fizmath - May 16, 2010 at 07:25 pm

Why did modern science get started in Christian Europe? Was that just an accidental coincidence?

75. themathguy - May 16, 2010 at 09:09 pm

It seems to me that some of the commentators on the thread are missing the point. Professor Singham never argued, or--from what I can tell reading the article--even implied that scientists are always perfectly rational people. The article rather was about the process and findings of science itself versus the claims of religious faith. I can also understand how someone might read into Singham's argument that he is implying that the so-called literalist argument from Genesis is the only plausible or acceptable one, but I don't think this is true either. Even moderate Christians still make specific claims that seem to be at odds with what science is telling us--for example that God answers prayer (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4681771.stm). He is also not claiming that science can know the unknowable (whatever that means), but religions frequently makes this claim, which doesn't even make any sense--if religion allows one to "know" things, then by knowing them you are demonstrating that they were not really "unknowable" after all! The real debate here is over whether there are certain kinds of things that can only be known through faith. The difficulty here is that once something is "knowable" by some means, there is no reason in principle why one couldn't attempt to apply a scientific method of reasoning to it. The application of science to it may succeed or it may fail, but to claim a priori that science can't be applied to it is just begging the question. I should also point out that while sophisticated religious thinkers do exist, they do not constitute the majority of religious people by any means. The majority of religious people _really_do_ believe in an anthropomorphic, interventionist deity and not just an abstract animating "force". From what I can tell Singham is not advocating actual military action against religion or forcing atheism into our schools either. All he is saying is that in the arena of public debate, we should not consider discussion/debate over the compatibility of religion and science off-limits. Religion was man's first attempt at philosophy, and it has shaped who we are even if it is now outdated and beyond repair.

76. new_theologian - May 17, 2010 at 12:39 am

Well, I think I showed up at the party after the lights came back on. Anybody still here, or is it just me and the beer-soaked carpet?

Anyway, I have to say that science should just be honest about the data that needs to be explained, and to realize that science does not, in fact, have the means to explain it all right now. It is an argument ad ignorantiam either way--to say that there is no proof in favor of God or to say that there is no proof against him. Actually, though, there are powerful arguments as to the metaphysical assertion that there exists a conscious root of existence itself, even if we cannot get from there to the God of the Bible without actual revelation--a point no one who believes in revelation would ever contest. The point is that if there are things that science cannot, at the moment, explain, then one must either make a leap of "faith" in science to be certain that science will explain them some day, even though, at the moment, we do not have the data to demonstrate the truth of that assertion, or else we must hold out the possibility that the data now lacking will never be found. That's what scientific reason requires. The alternative is not scientific bus scientistic.

So what is the evidence that science has yet to explain?

1) There is something rather than nothing.

2) Human beings have the ability, at times, to resist death--to hold on until some moment they have been waiting for. (This is a well-documented fact to which anyone who has ministered to the dying would readily attest.)

3) People do occasionally spontaneously recover from disease and even deformity, or occasionally acquire abilities of which they should be physiologically incapable.

4) Sometimes Catholics who are exhumed from the earth decades after burial are found not to have decomposed, even though their coffins are reduced to earth and the fabric of their clothing is completely decayed--without their having been embalmed.

5) Sometimes bones of Catholic saints ooze oils, regardless of where the bones are interred (St. Nicholas of Myra, for example, whose bones have been moved a number of times since his burial in the fourth century), without reducing in mass, even though the oil being expressed far exceeds the mass of the bones themselves.

6) People have "near death" experiences, in which, upon occasion, they witness their doctors' actions upon their bodies and can provide an account of that action inclusive of details concerning which it would not be possible in any currently understood way, for them to have attained. Again, this is a well-documented fact.

These are only dome of the points that currently present challenges for a pure materialism, but the "new atheists" are really quite unwilling to acknowledge them. Granted, if science does explain them, then that certainly ups the ante on the contest, but until that point, it is simply unreasonable to suggest that those who believe in divine intervention are unreasonable. Can't we see that?

77. dbmann13 - May 17, 2010 at 05:00 am

It occurs to me that we'll know we've evolved as a species when the very idea of arguing about religion bores us. The talking snake, the psychotic bedoin (or was it the psychotic bush?), the tooth fairy... *yawn*. Alas, probably not in my lifetime.

78. alfaisal - May 17, 2010 at 05:42 am

Here we go again! Although I do believe in a higher power, I do NOT believe that ANY religion currently existing in the world has it right. This view is pretty much vindicated when we see the desperation of the religious fundamentalists, including them all - Christians, Muslims, Jews and the rest. Deep down they seriously doubt the truth of their assertions and so fear dying and disappearing from this World and the next, they spend their lives trying to force these beliefs on others to reinforce their insecurities. I think the greatest evil, the greatest danger to civilization is this move towards getting religion involved in our government and everything else. In the U.S., the ringleader is that awful Sarah Palin and her tea party morons. God forbid that this lot ever take over the government. It will be the end to civilization as we know it and we can kiss our basic freedoms goodbye. Take a look at the mess and lack of freedom in all countries run by religious laws, expecially the muslim countries. The American founding fathers were very wise on their separation of church and state stance. The move led by Palin and others in the U.S. endangers this wise policy. Wake up and smell the coffee!

79. raghuvansh1 - May 17, 2010 at 06:25 am

Science give only explanation, make life easy but cannot make you happy or give life satisfaction.Spirituality is give life satisfaction, to some meaning of life and to some happiness. I think both are essential to man for living.

80. aaronbeach - May 17, 2010 at 09:00 am

It seems to me that scientists should busy themselves with the scientific method and not worry about whether their research supports their theology - I understand that this author seems to view religious belief as something that needs to be or will be eradicated by the truth of science... However, to one of faith, the scientist's work is that of describing how the supernaturally created naturally exists. The only evidence that would really break such a belief down would be if the scientists found something supernatural which opposed their faith.

Beware: the beleif that reason will cure humanity (or is itself "the answer") is an old-fashioned modernist beleif which has proven since the enlightenment to cause as much destruction as religion could ever hope to - while beliefs may have been involved (as they are in all human endeavors), it was modernist reason and science that drove imperialism, made the world wars possible, and invented the atom bomb - all very much in the name of "reason"...

81. dank48 - May 17, 2010 at 09:13 am

Einstein--no willing shill for exploitative theists--once remarked that science without religion is blind, and religion without science is lame. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Anyway, it's interesting, in a clinical sort of way, to see how many people on one side or the other talk as if they or those they agree with somehow had the right, authority, ability, or whatever to decide what other people may and may not think, say, or do. Self-importance seems to be endemic to our species.

82. jpiippo - May 17, 2010 at 09:36 am

I think Singham gets some things quite wrong in his essay. Here are some examples.

1. Probably Francis Collins is not an "accommodationist." I think "accommodationism" fits better with Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA principle (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) than it does Collins's POMA idea (Partially Overlapping Magisteria). On Collins's POMA one does not "accommodate" science and religion. I don't think Singham understands this distinction.

2. Singham writes: "There is no evidence that consciousness and mind arise from anything other than the workings of the physical brain." But there is "evidence." See, e.g., University of Texas philosopher Robert Koons's recent edited volume The Waning of Materialism. Start with this book, and the evidence and arguments presented, and it will lead you into a world of disagreement with Singham's position. Add to this the "hard problem" of first person subjective consciousness, and the intractable problems the philosophical naturalist faces in trying to explain this.

3. Singham writes: "The powerful appeal of religion comes precisely from its claims that the deity intervenes in the physical world, in response to prayers and such, religious claims, too, fall well within the domain of science. The only deity that science can say nothing about is a deity who does nothing at all." Singham is forced to say this out of his philosophical naturalism. It functions, for him, as an article of faith. Meanwhile there are those of us who believe there is a God who responds to our prayers. And, e.g., I have collaborated a bit with two scholars who will soon be publishing research on divine healing and its empirical verification. Here I think worldview issues are important in that one's worldview provides the hermeneutic grounds for interpreting "facts," none of which can be accessed "objectively." "Objectivity" is a function of a noetic framework. Singham has no argument here; he simply tells us what he believes.

4. #2 above explains, for me, Singham's idea that "the fact that some scientists are religious is not evidence of the compatibility of science and religion." He quotes Michael Shermer, who says: "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons." If it were only that simple! Of course it is "weird" for a naturalist to believe in a God who, for example, answers prayers. So? Nothing else follows from this, except to say that the noetic framework of some scientists is religious, while Singham's is atheistic. I find Singham's writing here simply a form of atheistic confessionalism.

5. Singham's next claim is so astounding and baffling I just don't know what to do with it. He writes: "Accommodationists frequently brand us new atheists as "extreme," "uncivil," "rude," and responsible for setting a "bad tone." However, those accusations are rarely accompanied by concrete examples of such impolite speech. Behind the charges seems to lie the assumption that it is rude to even question religious beliefs or to challenge the point of view of the accommodationists. Apparently the polite thing to do is keep quiet." Amazing... Let's define "rude," logically, as the use of ad hominemn abusives. Then, read The God Delusion for starters. Case closed. But there's more. There's a universe of critical literature that not only shows Dawkins's philosophical ignorance on display but his over-bearing name-calling. Add to this the idea that few philosophical theists are suggesting that their critics "keep quiet." Finally, Singham uses a quote from Dawkins, where he refers to accommodationists like Francis Collins as "cowards." Surely that's not the use of logic and reason to approach one's challengers? Apparently Singham thinks people like Francis Collins should simply keep quiet, and he refers to Collins et. al. as "cowards" to intimidate them.

6. Singham concludes with: "If we concede without argument that mainstream religious beliefs are compatible with science, how can we argue that witchcraft and astrology are not?" With we see that Singham was correct when he referred to himself as a "new atheist." For this is part of the new atheist political-rhetorical game. It's a beautiful example of the "slippery slope" fallacy. Does belief in Christian theism commit one then to believe in witchcraft and astrology? Of course not. Singham here shows his unfamiliarity with the literature, and sounds too much like Richard Dawkins.

83. runbei - May 17, 2010 at 10:08 am

Science and religion will never reconcile, to the extent that science either proves/disproves the existence of God. That's because science is limited to the material plane, whereas religion deals with consciousness. The lab of religion is the human body; the instruments of experimentation are feeling, will, and mind; the method is prayer and meditation. Atheists and fundamentalists are unlikely to perform the necessary experiment to discover if religious claims are actually true. "At the inner end of the human nervous system, the mind, interiorized, communes with God," wrote the great master of yoga, Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi. The geniuses of religion, and the ultimate authorities, are the saints, those who've made the experiment, not the atheists who criticize those who either haven't made the experiment or have gone only halfway.

84. stalnaker - May 17, 2010 at 10:38 am

Playing the socratic devil's advocate, couldn't the accomodationists could simply make their point by arguing that science may explain things in terms of physical law, but does not offer an explanation of the laws themselves.?

85. garyvnichols - May 17, 2010 at 11:10 am

Some scientists like to say religion cannot exist because God, creation, and such cannot be put into a neat little scientific package. However, if there must be an explanation for everything then this would go on ad nauseum. There would be an explanation for creation, then one for the creator, and so on. If this is what scientist wish to happen then where would it end?

86. garyvnichols - May 17, 2010 at 11:12 am

I would like to add to stalnaker's point. If God is all powerful then would it not be reasonable for accomodationists to say that he wrote the scientific laws and being the author he and his works do not have to abide by them?

87. dank48 - May 17, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Jpiippo makes a number of good points. However, it's also worth noting that quite a few defenders of religion, or at least would-be def of rel, are guilty of what they accuse extreme atheists of. I've read several reviews of books by Dawkins et al. by believers whose beliefs apparently include their own exemption from the ninth commandment. Why is it "all right" to lie in defense of religion? I'm not talking about difference of opinion here; I mean why do intelligent people, including in some instances clergy, think it's okay to write a review that makes it painfully obvious that the reviewer has not read the book? Or to write a review that explicitly accuses the author of doing what the author has not in fact done? And let's not get started on "Expelled," perhaps the most repellant example of propaganda in the English language, reminiscent of Leni Riefenstal, minus the production values.

Dishonesty is dishonesty, whatever the motive, and the ends do not justify the means. We need more civility in the discussion, lest it become a war. And we need to remember that war is what happens when civilized discussion reaches an impasse.

88. jk0lm3s - May 17, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Ah, the arrogance of science rears its ugly head. Not any prettier than the arrogance of religion, really. Do either of these camps have a monopoloy on truth? I think not. Scientists need to wake up and pay attention to what they're missing because of their arrogant dismissal of "anecdotal" evidence. Failure to recognize the very real existance of rogue waves is an excellent case in point; a situation that resulted in countless human fatalities, by the way.

89. ztkl40a - May 17, 2010 at 01:03 pm

new_theologian,

I'm kind of late to the party, too, but hopefully you've stuck around long enough to respond to my questions of your points. I'm an atheist, but if any of the world's religions is true, then this topic is pretty important. It would mean I have an immortal soul who's eternal fate is at stake. That's not an issue to be taken lightly. But the problem with many religions is that you can't hedge your bets. You can't go to a synagogue one day, a mosque the next, a Christian church the next, and a Hindu temple the next, and still expect the respective gods to look upon you with favor. You have to put all your eggs in one basket, so you better be really sure you've picked the right basket. To quote Homer Simpson, "Suppose we've chosen the wrong god. Every time we go to church we're just making him madder and madder." Considering the potential stakes, it's worth being skeptical of claims to make sure that they stand up to rigor. If you can provide good answers to my questions, particularly the apparently impossible as opposed to just improbable, then I would seriously reconsider my atheism.


"1) There is something rather than nothing."

That question has always given me goosebumps, but religion never answered it for me. Where did the god(s) come from in the first place? So it's true that science doesn't have an answer for this, and I doubt it ever will, but I don't know of any other field of human inquiry that has a satisfactory answer, either.


"2) Human beings have the ability, at times, to resist death--to hold on until some moment they have been waiting for. (This is a well-documented fact to which anyone who has ministered to the dying would readily attest.)"

Are you sure it's well documented and not just confirmation bias? I recall a study that looked into this, and didn't find any statistical significance that people actually do hold on (Google 'donn young death study' - without quotes - to see the study). Also, even if true, how would this be evidence of anything other than a physiological process?


"3) People do occasionally spontaneously recover from disease and even deformity, or occasionally acquire abilities of which they should be physiologically incapable."

I'll give you the first - spontaneously recovering from disease. That's not really 'miraculous' or surprising. Few diseases have 100% mortality rates, and some people just get lucky enough to be the ones who survive. For the second two, could you provide some concrete examples? Any type of major deformity being cured (such as regrowing a limb) would certainly be strong evidence for the supernatural, as would acquiring a seemingly impossible ability.


"4) Sometimes Catholics who are exhumed from the earth decades after burial are found not to have decomposed, even though their coffins are reduced to earth and the fabric of their clothing is completely decayed--without their having been embalmed."

Could you please give concrete examples of this, as well? (Though to be honest, mummies are going to be among the least convincing forms of evidence for the supernatural, since we already know that mummies form naturally.)


"5) Sometimes bones of Catholic saints ooze oils, regardless of where the bones are interred (St. Nicholas of Myra, for example, whose bones have been moved a number of times since his burial in the fourth century), without reducing in mass, even though the oil being expressed far exceeds the mass of the bones themselves."

I hadn't heard this about St. Nick's bones before, and five minutes of googling didn't reveal much more than the story you've already told. Can you provide some info on evidence confirming this - taking measurements of bone mass, weighing the oil, outside observers verifying that the oil is indeed coming from the bones and isn't a hoax, etc.


"6) People have "near death" experiences, in which, upon occasion, they witness their doctors' actions upon their bodies and can provide an account of that action inclusive of details concerning which it would not be possible in any currently understood way, for them to have attained. Again, this is a well-documented fact."

Could you provide a source to what you think is the best documented of these? I'll express my concerns up front. We know our memories aren't perfect, and that people are open to suggestions. If post event interviews are conducted with leading questions, people can create false memories. Also, I'd be interested in how the patients initially related what they knew about what went on in the OR, how much they got right, and how much they got wrong. We know how so called psychics use cold reading techniques to create the impression that they know more than they actually do. When people want to believe, they'll pay more attention to the hits than the misses. I'd want to be sure that something similar wasn't going on in these near death experiences.

90. new_theologian - May 17, 2010 at 04:30 pm

ztkl40a #89,

I have to say that I find it refreshing that you are actually willing to have a conversation rather than just hurling ad hominems like most people. You are asking reasonable questions, and, given my current time constraints, I will not be able to deal with them all. I have to teach a class this evening and I've got something cooking on the stove, have to pack an overnight bag, etc. But let me make a few preliminary remarks.

Re 1) That there is something rather than nothing leads to arguments concerning the causes of things, and the question of an infinite reduction. The classical argument--and this is a philosophical point, rather than a properly theological one--is that an infinite reduction is impossible. Why? Because, if each intermediate cause is itself an effect, then by postulating an infinite regression of causes, we would be saying that there is no first cause. But since all other causes are themselves effects, then if there is not first cause, there is no first effect, since an effect requires a cause. This would mean that there would now be nothing in existence, which is clearly false.

Now, the conclusion is not immediately that there exists a "God" in the way that we normally think of God, but that there must be some cause that is itself eternally existent--not caused by anything else, but, in fact, the root of all other being.

How does this, or can this, lead to conclusion that "God exists"? When we say, "God," we normally mean a supernatural source of contingent being which is more than a mere metaphysical principle, but which is, instead, somehow conscious. The argument to the existence of God is really the recognition that, insofar as consciousness can be understood as a positive mode of existence, then it is an effect of prior causes, which would mean that, as an effect, it would require a cause capable of producing that effect--one with that perfection, or something still more excellent. The argument would thus run as follows: All effects must be contained, preeminently, in their causes. All causes are effects of a first, uncaused cause. Thus, all effects must be contained, preeminently in the first, uncaused cause. Consciousness is an effect. Thus, Consciousness must be contained preminently in the first, uncaused cause.

If that is so, then we know that the metaphysical root of all existence is conscious in some sense, and thus, that there is a God.

To get from this point to the God of the Bible, of course, is not possible on the grounds of philosophical reasoning alone, because philosophical reasoning is really incapable of arriving at the conclusion that this God actually thinks about and cares about human beings. That has to be revealed in much the same way that we cannot know whether another human being loves us without that fact somehow being disclosed, intentionally, by the other.

Re 2) I teach at a place where we train an awful lot of nurses, and I have known an awful lot of priests. Huge numbers of them report that patients will die immediately after being visited by a special loved one for whom they have been waiting, or upon an anniversary's arrival, or upon reception of the sacraments. It's uncanny. Again, per se impossible? No, but it seems at least to suggest that the human being has some sort of internal ability to resist dissolution, such that it is not unreasonable to think that there is a dimension to human existence that transcends the merely material.

Re 3) He do have hagiographical assertions of people being raised from the dead, and there is a story about St. John Damascene having his hand restored to him after it was severed by the iconoclasts. But you probably wouldn't accept those assertions, since we do not have any contemporary records to verify them. It is the case, though, that the Catholic Church does not canonize people without documentation of miracles. The Church defines miracles pretty strictly. A "first order miracle" is an event which is impossible in nature" (at least as far as we understand natural possibilities). I would have to look this up, but I recall that a canonization in the twentieth century involved a person who acquired the ability to hear, but did not possess any bones in the inner ear. I can't verify that it this point. But I can say that, at least anecdotally, I know a woman whose molar pregnancy was undetectable after she was anointed with the expectation that her condition was too far advanced to be cured. She has since gone on to have several more children, and is alive today. I know this woman personally. Of course, this is a medical event, and spontaneous remission is not per se impossible. But you have to admit, it is not unreasonable to assign a divine cause to it.

Re 4) St. John Vianney, and St. Bernadette of Lourdes are totally incorrupt, and can be viewed today, though they have both been dead for well over 100 years. The first Bishop of Nashville was found incorrupt in the 1970's when the proto-cathedral there was being renovated, and his tomb had to be disturbed. His body is not on display but there are photographs. He was completely incorrupt. This actually happens a lot. In other cases, parts of the body, like the heart (St. Catherine of Sienna) are found incorrupt, even though the rest of the body has decomposed. We are not talking about mummies, but a total lack of decomposition. They are still recognizable as the day they died in some cases.

Re 5) I don't think actual tests have ever been done on St. Nicholas, but they have been extracting viles of oil from his tomb and distributing it to the faithful for a very, very long time. Reports of the oil are universal among all who ever had custody of the bones. It stands to reason that since he's been dead since the fourth century, and the oil has been skimmed off for, I don't know, centuries?--that the mass of the oil exceeds the mass of the bones. I suppose it would be simple enough to devise a test, but I'm not aware of it having been done.

Re 6) I'd have to study this more closely. I make this assertion upon the testimony of medical researcher whose scholarship I would tend to trust, and whom I met a couple of years ago at a bioethics conference. But, clearly, you're correct in what you say about how we extract the testimony. I can't comment on that.

So, in any event, my point is merely to say that these are bits of data to which some sort of response would have to be given before scientists could claim that they possess the full body of knowable truths, and that there exists nothing beyond the physical cosmos. There are some very weird things going on in this world. That said, I do not know very many people whose faith is actually predicated upon these very strange occurrences, but the fact that they do appear to occur seems at least to demand a little pause before just settling on materialism.

91. ralandbeck - May 17, 2010 at 05:48 pm

"It is time to remove the veil that has protected religious beliefs for so long." The question if about how to manage that? That religion has claimed for itself a domain of imaginary 'knowledge' not subject to direct evidence and demonstration is the problem and the very friction between the two. What makes the situation even more laughable if it wasn't so tragic, it that religious scriptures are full of evidential passages strongly suggesting the potential for a religous experince both great and profound. And if theologians and their ecclesiastic masters don't have such a truth to offer humanity, then it wasn't revealed to them in the first place? Whether theology is even a valid human intellelutal endeavor is worth asking out loud.

"The only deity that science can say nothing about is a deity who does nothing at all." And on the theodicy question religion will ultimately fall. For the very puropse of the incarnation remains unrealized. What God would leave his true servants without the means to realize His ends? Theology only exists because nothing has been revealed......yet?

The only way to untangle this unholy knot of history is with a literal proof. Difficult to imagine becasue the whole of religious history has conditiond us to think to the contratry and it continues to pretend, again contratry to its own scriptural record, that such a proof is not possible. So does man fail God, himself and his fellow man. But that is the way of the world.

All that exists is prejudice. Most of it dressed up in the weighty trappings of two thousand years of ceremony, cultural tradition and intellectual self deception called scholastic theolgy. Not any easy fascade or target to dent as most atheist know from experience. But that 'veil' of deference and respectibility, heavily worn as it is, may about to be ripped to shreds. And not by the crisis of sexual scandals in the roman church, even if that helps, nor by science or humanist/atheism.

For the first wholly new interpretation for 2000 years of the Gospel/moral teachings of Christ is on the web, redefining everything. Questioning the validity and origins of all Christian tradition, offering the first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged; and which could leave 'tradition' staring into the abyss and humble all secular, atheist  speculation. 

So if anyone thinks they have the bottle to resolve this ancient conundrum, an impass blocking the path of human progress, the means to do so is now available. For those individuals who can imagine outside the cultural box, stand against the stream of fashionable thought and spin, who have the moral courage to learn something new and will TEST this new revelation for themselves, an intellectual and moral revolution is already under way. http://www.energon.org.uk

92. stuartmunro - May 17, 2010 at 08:23 pm

Like it or not, the greater part of the human mind is not conscious, and our subconcious responds to some phenomena as being numinous or sublime.

When these intolerant new atheists produce a credible alternative aesthetics that accomodates these experiences, perhaps we can begin to take them seriously. As it stands it looks like a childish and attention grabbing gambit, without a worthy conclusion.

93. pseudotriton - May 17, 2010 at 09:00 pm

I suppose stuartmunro would rather take someone who believes that some saint regrew a severed hand, despite the total lack of evidence for the story, seriously.

94. tonyloaf - May 17, 2010 at 09:10 pm

It's interesting that Mr. Singham is a devout evolutionist. My observation is that those who espouse atheistic evolution, very much want there to be a "war" between "science" and "religion" and to assert the incompatibility of the two fields. The reason being that if it were possible that God could be harmonized with evolution, then that would make it much more difficult to cast God and all His demands aside. Many atheists hide behind evolution to avoid dealing with God. They want science and religion to be incompatible. It provides them with cover.

The only real war is between truth and error, between false science and true religion, or true science and false religion, or false science and false religion. There is no war between true science and true religion.

95. blackbox - May 17, 2010 at 11:15 pm

new_theologian,
I like your explanation of the absurdity of an infinite causal regression, but I wonder why, having dispensed with that, you still demand some other causal explanation for the universe. It could be that the universe itself is not subject to causality at all. The universe could be uncaused, or it could be self-caused. I'm aware of at least one cosmological model that suggests the latter.

You claim some people in the last stages of dying manage to delay their physical demise somewhat. On that basis, you then claim that it is reasonable to think that there is a dimension to human existence that transcends the merely material. But why does that follow? Why even begin to talk about something transcending the physical? What has that got to do with an ability to hold onto life for a while? I can't see why you go straight to some otherworldly cause. God of the gaps and all. I mean, we know our brain, our psychological state, can affect our body. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to consider that as being involved?

You do the same thing when you describe a few people with remarkable recoveries from various physical ailments. You claim that "it is not unreasonable to assign a divine cause to it". If it is not unreasonable, then you have an actual reason for ascribing this to some sort of divine being. Well, I'm interested in the reason. What is it?

96. donalddavid - May 18, 2010 at 12:41 am

(1) The best evidence against Intelligent Design is the existence of the kind of people who believe in Intelligent Design.
(2) "Ebrybody want to go to hebben but aint nobody want to die to git there" - from an old Negro song in the South of my childhood.
(3) I'm 80 and I cannot remember my third point. Don't laugh; the thing that has happened to me is happening to you even as you read this - tick, tick, tick.......

97. zagros - May 18, 2010 at 01:10 am

ztkl40a,

Not all religions believe that you are condemned to hellfire everlasting if you do not believe in God. Let's start with understanding why eternal condemnation of someone for merely being an atheist is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of a just God. The idea of evolution itself is either a magnificent directed effort (intelligent design) or it is an amazing undirected effort which nevertheless generates complex life. Of course, such an undirected effort would be a 1 in a trillion chance but, guess what, we have a physics theory that suggests that there are an infinite number of parallel universes in which every single possible permutation can (and does) exist somewhere:

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/04/05/freaky-physics-proves-parallel-universes/

In fact, the irony is that there is no such thing as a 1 in a trillion chance if you are the 1. There only is (existance) or there is not (nonexistance) and since existence proves that you are the 1, there is actually a 100% chance of it being so (confounding conditional probability!)

So, you can definitely believe in a world created out of chaos that generates our current state of nature and you would not be wrong to do so. Since you would not be wrong to do so, a just God would not condemn you simply for being an atheist.

But that is immaterial to your central question: what if there is a God and which God should we follow--there are so many, aren't there?

Well, the Unitarian Universalists believe all are saved. So if Unitarians are right, there is nothing to worry about.

However, what about the issue of hellfire everlasting?

Well, again it depends on who you believe. There are those who will state that you will be consumed to eternal flame. Still others would say that you will simply be separated from God (and isn't that what atheists are, almost by definition) and that this separation is the actual punishment. Still others state that your soul will be consumed in a fire -- note consumed, that means completely destroyed, and not punished everlasting. So again, it depends on what you believe.

More importantly, however, these three conceptions of hell come from only ONE theological fountain: the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. More to the point, each of these Abrahamic religions provide DIFFERENT perspectives on the afterlife.

Judaism does not dwell on the afterlife at all. There is not one reference to Hell in the entire Old Testament. Instead, the reference that the King James Bible translates as "hell" is the word "Sheol." But it is clear that this is *not* Hell. After all, the author of Psalm 88 suggests that he is about to go there and how could the author of a Biblical book be going to hell, which is reserved for evil?

Now there is a concept that has evolved in Judaism called "Gehenom" that does describe what might best be called a "waiting room" wherein you are judged based on the sum total of your decisions. In a sense, you judge yourself against God's standards. You keep judging yourself until you understand the errors of your ways and are admitted into Heaven (a few people do not get to Gehenom because of their slavish devotion to evil, think Hitler, for example). However, NOWHERE in Jewish theology does it indicate that you will be damned if you are not a believer in Judaism. Indeed, Judaism says absolutely NOTHING about gentiles.

Christianity uses the Bible, including the New Testament, wherein in John 14:6, "No one comes to The Father except through Me." Surely this means that one has to be Christian? Perhaps. It also might mean that Jesus is a gatekeeper. Though most Christians do take the former stand and would regard the latter as heretical.

What about Islam? Islam says that the people of the book are saved--all of them. Surah 2:62 says, "Those who believe (in the Quran) and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians, - Any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."

Note what it says and what it fails to say. It says that Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sabians and anyone else who believes in God and Judgment Day will be saved. It says nothing about those who do not believe.

On the other hand, Surah 3:85 seems to slam the door on this: "If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good)."

But you need to read in context! Read the NEXT sentence, Surah 3:86: "How shall Allah Guide those who reject Faith after they accepted it and bore witness that the Messenger was true and that Clear Signs had come unto them? but Allah guides not a people unjust."

It should be clear that in Islam, Surah 3:85 (which is claimed to abrogate Surah 2:262) does not abrogate at all but rather is confined to those who were believers and then rejected as opposed to those who were never believers at all. Thus, Islam condemns those who were Muslim and now are not to hellfire. It does not do the same to those who never chose Islam.

Indeed, when you consider that the actual text was directed at Muslims, you quickly learn that Islam really says little about what happens to nonbelievers as well.

Now you must understand that these interpretations are definitely on the "liberal" side but just as each religion can claim exclusivity, so too can we use the words in each religion to claim that their message applies ONLY TO THAT PARTICULAR GROUP. Interestingly, it could be that ALL religions are valid, not just one. The error may be in assuming that one cannot reconcile when, in fact, only God knows the answer.

Finally, one should probably consider why religions are more likely to oppose conversion OUT of their religion than they are to condemn those outside their religion. I think that a large part of this has to do with religion as a method of social control (the subject of a paper that I delivered at the Association for the Sociology of Religion annual conference last year): if you allow people to leave your religion, you lose power over them. By demonizing those who leave, you ensure compliance of those who remain. This is the basis for my argument that Pascal's Wager is a better argument for continuing to believe in God than for initial belief in God.

Oh, and that is also the major reason why I think that atheists like Dr. Singham are dangerous: I don't know what God will do to his eternal soul for his unbelief but I am pretty positive that I am damned forever if I move from my current belief system.

98. zagros - May 18, 2010 at 01:40 am

I am getting tired and forgot to mention something equally important. Most other religions have NO conception of eternal souls with hellfire at all.

Indeed, part of the problem with the atheist "Many Gods" argument is that it is based on one religion, Christianity, extropolated to ALL religions.

Let's look at some other religions and their conception of the afterlife:

Hinduism: You get reincarnated. There is no punishment for nonbelief. Your transmigration is based on your karma (actions), not your belief. No problem for atheists or theists of other religions.

Buddhism: This life is suffering. There is no eternal soul. Instead your anatta (what we might refer to loosely as consciousness) is transferred to a new body through reincarnation until you leave to let go of the things that cause you suffering so that you can reach a state of Nirvana. In truth, hell is where you currently are. Stop suffering and you can escape.

I could go on with other examples, but you get the picture. The concept of Heaven/Hell and an eternal soul, is not a universal religious construct. Indeed, the idea that salvation is the goal is fairly (if not completely) unique to Christianity. Muslims see their goal as submission to the will of God. Jews see their goal as living in harmony with God. Christians see the goal as accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Much of the differences come from the concept of original sin, which Jews and Muslims reject, but which is central to Christian theology. If there is no original sin, there is no need for salvation (of the dying on the cross acceptance of Jesus variety) in general, although salvation in specific terms (for your own sins) may be warranted.

However, that leads us back to works, not faith. Islam, like Judaism, understands judgment day as being based on weighing ones works in a balancing act. Christianity, on the other hand, may emphasize both faith and works (Orthodoxy, "Faith without works is death") or faith alone (Protestantism, part of the faith alone, Jesus alone, grace alone, scripture alone, and glory to God alone five solas that separate Protestantism from Orthodoxy).

Indeed, after examining a number of religions, I came to the conclusion that, in sharp contrast to the "many Gods" argument, a stronger argument would be the "many interpretations of the one God" argument: the problem isn't believing in God, it is whether denomination to believe. It is the various denominations that are mutually exclusive whenever they claim exclusivity as their fundamental principle. Yet there is a good reason to believe that this claim of exclusivity comes not from God (assuming God exists) but rather from man for the aforementioned social control reasons.

99. new_theologian - May 18, 2010 at 02:55 am

Blackbox, #95:

Self-causality is absurd. If X causes itself, then X is prior to itself. The only possible alternative to an uncaused cause would be to suggest that the cosmos is self-existent. I'm not sure I can say that it is a logical impossibility that the universe is without a temporal beginning. Aristotle held to that thesis, and St. Thomas held that it was only by faith that we could be certain that the universe has a temporal beginning. But Aquinas' argument from motion, his argument from efficient causality, and his argument from possibility and necessity in Summa Theologiae I.2.iii do not rest upon the premise that the universe has a temporal beginning, because the idea is really about the fact that any contingent thing requires an appeal to a cause, and that a universe of contingents is really itself a contingency, such that there must be some non-contingent being to account for it.

As far as the ability to delay one's death, the point is that if dying is merely a physical process, then it would seem there could be nothing we could do to slow it by a sheer act of will. This seems intuitively clear to me. Could you offer some argument for how an act of will could slow the progression of death if the will is just a dimension of the dying biological structure? I'm not sure what sort of explanation you would offer.

On the subject of spontaneous recovery from ailments, my point in saying that appeal to a divine cause is not unreasonable I do not mean to suggest that no alternative thesis is logically possible, but that the appeal to a divine cause, which is not illogical, makes sense in that context. It is logically possible that there is a God. In fact, I think it is philosophically clear that there is some sort of God. If that is so, it is not a logical contradiction to say that God intervenes in human affairs. Thus, where other explanations are lacking in cases that defy scientific expectations, it is not unreasonable to hold to divine intervention.

One thing I would say, though, is that whatever degree of proof we demand for the postulate of God, we should demand the same degree of proof for other major paradigmatic theses. If we want to be really honest, we would have to admit, I think, that God is held to a much higher burden of proof by contemporary scientists than most other paradigmatic theses. Why the inconsistency?

100. dank48 - May 18, 2010 at 02:36 pm

New_theologian, as you say, self-causation is absurd. So a self-caused universe is absurd? Therefore God must have created the universe? And therefore . . .

I really can't be so simplistic. I do however agree with you that "whatever degree of proof we demand for the postulate of God, we should demand the same degree of proof for other major paradigmatic theses," if I understand this correctly. But I don't see that [the postulate of] "God is held to a much higher burden of proof . . ." I have met plenty of fundamentalists happy to ridicule science itself, not to mention evolution, because it doesn't have all the answers, but who immediately retreat into "God is forever" without the slightest shame or awareness that that might be appropriate.

Fair play is quaint. Civility is obsolete. Common courtesy is as uncommon as common sense. Perhaps we should just grab the nearest weapons and settle it once and for all.

101. apothegms - May 18, 2010 at 04:13 pm

Thank you for a forthright statement. I have read scores of attacks on the "new atheists," about half written by writers who profess to be atheists themselves, and the other half by liberal Christians. I keep reading them hoping to see a cogent argument for the theism that they defend. Instead I get special pleadings, tautologies, ad hominems, non-sequiturs, and logorrhea. The commonest argument is that the new atheists are too unintelligent to understand Aquinas, and should not be allowed to discuss theology until they graduate from divinity school. At the other end of the spectrum are anecdotes: beautiful sunsets and waterfalls, and the birth of the author's firstborn child. In the middle comes the newly fashionable neo-Darwinian argument that religious belief is hardwired and many people are soothed by false beliefs.

Almost all of the accommodationist arguments stress the communal and metaphorical nature of religion. The writers say that the propositions that believers subscribe to are ancillary to religion. Sophisticated believers supposedly know that God is ineffable, never to be grasped in words. They brazenly define "faith" as "doubt." We can only wonder, then, at the billions of words that have been written about God, not to mention the tens of billions that have been prayed to him, her, or it. And we ask why the religions themselves do not give up the truth-content of their allegedly symbolic dogmas.

There is a two-step about all this that is familiar from other fields: a shuttling back and forth between the strong form of an assertion and the weak form. Freudians do it when, among themselves, they discuss the Oedipus complex as a genuine intent in the mind of a murderous four-year-old boy to kill his father and sexually penetrate his mother, but among the rest of us speak gently of a boy's rivalry with dad and affection for mom. The god that has most anti-theists concerned is the god who frankly commands fundamentalist and evangelical believers to dominate women, hate gays, and annihilate infidels. The god who appears in the supersubtle refutations of atheists by other atheists is a plenitude, a ground of all being, whose existence is so compatible with non-existence that nothing is really at stake. Yet it seems to be of the utmost importance to the writers of these screeds that those of us who criticize, not the humanity and morality of the theists, but only their logic and their manner of marshaling evidence, shut our mouths.

We like to say on our side of this question that there is no more evidence for the existence of the god OF REVELATION than there is for the existence of unicorns. If belief in Torah, Bible, and Qur'an were as harmless as the belief in unicorns, we might very well be persuaded to retire from the fray in response to a call for comity. Even now, we have no quarrel with those who revere the Tao, although it is no more susceptible to empirical demonstration than the deity of Aquinas, because no one prays to the Tao and then harms other persons after supposedly getting an answer from it. I myself am comfortable calling myself a Taoist; but I am opposed to theism, for the thousand or so relevant historical reasons that come up again and again and are always dismissed by religious believers as somehow off-topic and impolite. We anti-theists are not going about looking to scorn other people's deeply held beliefs: I never contend with someone who argues for Obama's Kenyan birth certificate, O. J. Simpson's innocence, or Grady Little's decision to leave Pedro Martinez in the seventh game of the 2003 league championship series. We scorn only those beliefs that are both irrational and destructive, hoping to shame a few of the faithful into examining their cherished beliefs for both likelihood and efficacy. And by the way, they were casting the stones first for most of human history: atheism was a hanging offense until a few centuries ago and remained a police matter into the 20th century. If some on our side occasionally give way to rudeness, it is not for no reason.

102. standundon - May 18, 2010 at 04:17 pm

I quit reading a materialist the minute he/she says something like :There is no evidence that the physical brain cannot give a complete explanation of:(make your own list, truth, moving one's limbs in the pursuit of truth, desire for the truth, desire to deceive. Where is the evidence that something purely material knows anything like truth at all? In fact where is the evidence that separated physical particles ever form a self knowing unity?

103. aldebaran - May 18, 2010 at 08:17 pm

Posts such as "apothegms'" are endlessly amusing: They decry the intellectual honesty of one side, while simultaneously misrepresenting it (No one demands that one be a graduate of Divinity School before expounding upon Aquinas, merely that one do so competently). They complain about ad hominem attacks from one side, then defend the practice when it comes from one of their own (and with a logic of kindergarten-level sophistication: "Well, he started it!")

Such types also cry out for proof for theism, when we all know well that there is not a proof in the world, no matter how conclusive, that they would actually accept.

By the way, I am an agnostic and a skeptic, myself, but I am often embarrassed to be in the company of many of those who share my perspective, otherwise. Posts such as apothegms' should demonstrate why.

104. blackbox - May 19, 2010 at 12:33 am

New_theologian,

Yes, if time is linear then self-causality is absurd. I use similar logic to refute the idea of freewill. But what if time is not linear? Let's picture causality as a line of dominoes, each causing the next, causing the next, and so on. What if those dominoes are arranged in a circle rather than a line? They could then be described as causing themselves, with no logical absurdity in sight.

In any case, we still have the possibility that the universe is uncaused. It just exists. Who are we to demand that there be some default state of nothingness, from which the universe must spring? Given that we know the universe does exist, and given that "something from nothing" seems inherently absurd, then the idea that existence is the default state seems more reasonable than that it is not.

Self-existence cannot be a surprising idea for a deist, since you claim exactly that for your deity. So, we then have either an uncaused universe, or an uncaused deity who caused the universe to exist. The difference between the two positions is that we KNOW the universe exists, so the only speculation involved is that it is uncaused. But we don't have anywhere near the same surety that an alleged deity exists. So, we have to speculate that this deity exists, AND speculate that it is uncaused AND that it created the universe. One of those positions is more speculative than the other, and reason tells me, if I'm going to lean towards one of them, to lean towards the less-speculative one.

And that causality appears to operate within the universe does not demand that the universe itself is subject to causality, what was Aquinas on? I mean, why would that follow? Gravity is at work within the universe, but that says nothing about whether the universe itself is subject to gravity. Who would know? I don't, and I doubt Aquinas did either.

On dying, you say that it is clear to you that there is nothing one could do to influence the physical process of death. How, then, do you deal with the fact that the mind IS capable of influencing bodily processes? That is a well-known phenomenon; the placebo effect is a good example. Well, while the person is still alive, the mind is still active. Why then, is it inconceivable to you that the mind is able to do what it's always been able to do - influence bodily processes - at the time of dying?

And on remarkable recoveries from ailments. Aha. There is an important difference between saying "it is logical to think that god may have caused these recoveries" and "it is logical to think that god caused these recoveries". I've noticed that believers tend to conflate the two, when there is a world of difference. One is justified, the other is not. The statement that god caused the recoveries is only logical if you have reason to think he did, not simply that you think he might have. That's why I asked for your reason.

Why the inconsistency towards people of faith? I'm not sure there is any inconsistency. I'll question anyone who claims more than they have reason to claim. But isn't that exactly what people of faith do all the time? They insist that their thesis IS true. Whereas scientists don't insist their theses are true, they offer them as tentative truths. "Could this be how things are?" rather than "this is how things ARE!". The irony is that people of faith, who insist their position is true, are often unable to offer reasons that support their position. Calling them out for this is not inconsistent, it's entirely reasonable.

105. blackbox - May 19, 2010 at 12:46 am

Oops, I forgot to ask, New_theologian, you say "I think it is philosophically clear that there is some sort of God". Ummm... clear, really? This is news to me. What do you base this on?

106. dpsinha - May 19, 2010 at 11:46 am

@ goxewu #64: The "therapeutic" value of religion is one of my main points, but not in denial of the fact that our consciousness as we know it will end. (You commit another error of arguing against a misrepresentation of an opposing viewpoint.) Thankfulness for what we have is much more powerful and healthy than such denial. Do you not value your own existence and all that happened to make it possible? Who do you thank for that - yourself? your parents? the universe itself? Or does it not seem worthwhile to be explicitly thankful for your existence?

Secondly, in case you missed the point, religion is as useful to many in understanding the moral world - through the development of powerful allegory, the fostering of a community which draws upon the same experiences, etc - as science is in understanding the physical world. Indeed, many of the features of religion which philosophically naive scientists find distasteful about religion are present in scientific practice - assumptions which are not questioned, a community which needs to follow a set of accepted practices. And conversely some, regretfully a minority, of religious communities are open ongoing discoveries of religious truth. The results in such communities, such as the Quakers, are being in the forefront of treating women equally (for four-hundred years), abolition of slavery, same-sex unions,...

107. vroomfondle - May 19, 2010 at 04:26 pm

"All effects must be contained, preeminently, in their causes. All causes are effects of a first, uncaused cause. Thus, all effects must be contained, preeminently in the first, uncaused cause. Consciousness is an effect. Thus, Consciousness must be contained preminently in the first, uncaused cause."
[ #90 new_theologian ]

.....this is typical of the 'arguments' for the maybe, just hypothetically tenuous philisophical possibility that there might be a slight chance that something terribly, terribly, soul savingly important exists that we can't see or touch.

Apart from the interesting mental excercise, you have to ask yourself; if you have to go to such trouble to squeeze out an unconvincing attempt to validate your beliefs, are those beliefs worth validating?


"I am an agnostic theist who dismisses the FSM simply because the people who put it out admitted that they made it all up. "
[#59 Zagros]

Are we not to dismiss the christian god because they don't admit that they made it all up?

Is it possible that you've missed the point of His Noodliness? It being that He is theoretically indistinguishable from any one of the 'existant' gods. Prove that the Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist or never eat tagliatelli again.


"a just God would not condemn you simply for being an atheist"
[#97 Zagros]

Are you sure? It's a little too important to take your word for it, do you have some evidence to back this up?

108. thefrankturk - May 19, 2010 at 04:37 pm

I found this statement to be, perhaps, the most interesting of the essay:

[QUOTE]
"It is strange that the phrase 'respect for religion' has come to mean that religious beliefs should be exempt from the close scrutiny that other beliefs are subjected to. Such an attitude infantilizes religious believers, suggesting that their views cannot be defended and can be preserved only by silencing those who disagree."
[/QUOTE]

Let me suggest that "respect for science" would mean that one would not expect to substantiate the conclusions of some physics experiment using the means and methods and standards of jurisprudence; one does not prove the value or beauty of a poem using trigonometry or chemistry. "Respect for science" means using the endeavor for what it is intended to do. I suspect that Prof. Singham would agree to at least that much -- and in doing so, he would give his reader the means to dismiss much of his own passionate monologue here as missing the point.

I will grant him this: when religion starts to say, for example, that prayer is a more effective or more "necessary" treatment for any medical condition than any the current conventional wisdom would indicate, it is seeking to compete with science in a realm where it has a distinct disadvantage both internally and externally; but likewise, when science starts to say that it can determine moral precepts using oscilloscopes or mathematical formulas -- or worse, that it can speak to any person's ultimate worth or purpose -- it is doing the same thing.

Let's not pretend that this is a one-way street and only religion drives against the established traffic flow. Antagonistic atheists who think they have solved morality (by minimizing it) and solved human philosophical dilemmas (by trivializing them) are also failing to respect their own systematic presuppositions by applying the materialistic means they demand to deliver non-mtaerialistic ends.

109. thefrankturk - May 19, 2010 at 05:46 pm

Another interestin statement is the comclusion:

[QUOTE]
While Mencken's use of the word "contempt" is perhaps too harsh, he makes a valid point: that no beliefs should be exempt from scrutiny simply because many people have held them for a long time. It is time to remove the veil that has protected religious beliefs for so long. After all, if we concede without argument that mainstream religious beliefs are compatible with science, how can we argue that witchcraft and astrology are not?
[/QUOTE]

That's an over-broad statement at best, I think. What is "mainstream" -- is Hinduism "mainstream"? Christianity? Judaism in spite of its microscopic community of faith?

It's somewhat ironic that someone advocating that "historically, the scope of science has always expanded, steadily replacing supernatural explanations with scientific ones" has such a loose grasp of categories and labels. Is it really fair, let alone useful, to say that witchcraft -- which actually does compete with Sceince for the methods by which the physical world ought to be controlled and/or obeyed -- is in the same position as Christianity when it comes to the matter, for example, of how valuable any given human life is in the scope of moral reasoning? It is really intellectually fair to equate the idea that the alignment of stars directly influences one's "luck" or one's "emotions" with (for example) the idea that the calling of the nation Israel is to be a blessing to the whole world as promised to Abraham? Does anyone really see these things as having equally-random societal and philosophical outcomes?

It seems to me that the more one questions the allegedly-"scientific" advocates against all religion, the less likely one is to find these advocates to obey their own rules of inquiry. I would cite the statistical data regarding the arguments posed in this essay as evidence toward proving that theory, but would that change any minds? If not, why not -- why would statistical data be irrelevant?

110. goxewu - May 19, 2010 at 06:41 pm

#76: "Science does not, in fact, have the means to explain it all right now." The operative words are "right now."

#76: "People do occasionally spontaneously recover from disease and even deformity, or occasionally acquire abilities of which they should be physiologically incapable." Interesting, though, how this always excludes a) spontaneously regrowing amputated limbs, b) bodies covered with burn scars. And even if it did, "spontaneously recover[ing] from diseaes" might well be due to a kind of "Supreme-Being"-less cell-to-cell communication that science can't explain...right now.

#76: "Sometimes Catholics who are exhumed from the earth decades after burial are found not to have decomposed..." Only Catholics? Well, I guess that settles it. Too bad, all you Hindus, Jews, Muslims, et al. And even if these bodies (in what temperature, soil, etc., conditions?) haven't decomposed, they're just another physical phenomenon that science can't explain...right now. And even if science never explains them (wars, lack of funding, no scientific genius when one is required), it doesn't mean that they're scientifically unexplainable. And it doesn't mean that the only explanation is theological.

#79: "Spirituality is give life satisfaction, to some meaning of life and to some happiness." This is entirely therapeutic and has nothing to do with the argument over scientific vs. religious explanations of the world.

#90: "All causes are effects of a first, uncaused cause. Thus, all effects must be contained, preeminently in the first, uncaused cause." This is simply the flip side of "If God is omnipotent, can He make a stone so heavy He can't lift it?"

#90: "To get from this point to the God of the Bible, of course, is not possible on the grounds of philosophical reasoning alone." This is The Understatement of the thread which says, essentially, that in order arrive at some sort of religious belief (or Belief), one simply has to chuck one's reasoning out the door. And at that point, "the God of the Bible" becomes a probability no more likely or less likely than The Flying Spaghetti Monster. (If if you're going to argue that might makes right, that "the God of the Bible" has a billion adherents while the FSM has none (or at least no sincere ones), then you're in a pickle because there are a few non-"God of the Bible" beliefs out there likewise with a billion adherents. And to a "God of the Bible" believer, these other beliefs are no less untrue than the FSM.

#90: "Patients will die immediately after being visited by a special loved one for whom they have been waiting, or upon an anniversary's arrival, or upon reception of the sacraments." This testifies only to the power of psychology in a way similar to a rush of adrenaline enabling a parent to lift an otherwise impossibly heavy timber that's crushing a child. And if this phenomenon takes place in non-believers--or, as far as we know, with animals!--it does even less as an argument for the existence of a God who intervenes in history, answers prayers, etc.

#92: "The greater part of the human mind is not conscious, and our subconcious responds to some phenomena as being numinous or sublime." That the subconscious mind is subject to illusions, delusions or hallucinations says nothing about the existence of a God. Lots of people with dyslexsia think those words on the page are really and truly printed differently than the way they actually are.

#94: "Many atheists hide behind evolution to avoid dealing with God. They want science and religion to be incompatible." Impugning the motives of atheists has nothing to do with the matter at hand. Plus, if I thought that a motive-impugning contest could decide the matter and I were a religious believer, I'd sure as shoot avoid one. The impugnable motives of the current top management of the world's major religions far outnumber and outweigh the impugnable motives of atheists.

#94: "There is no war between true science and true religion." Glad to know that tony loaf knows what "true science" and "true religion" are. My guess is that "true science" is one that rolls over and plays dead for religion, and that "true religion" is one that trumps science.

#97: zagros starts with, "Not all religions believe that you are condemned to hellfire everlasting if you do not believe in God" as a kind of reassuring sop to those of us who don't like the my-way-or-the-highway [to being damned] attitude of the world's major religions. He then meanders through a kind of consumer guide to the higher absurdities, before ending with, "I am pretty positive that I am damned forever if I move from my current belief system." This amounts to: 1) "Look, don't worry about being damned if you don't believe," followed by 2) "I'm going to be damned if I don't believe." zagros, meet zagros.

#100: Except for the last paragraph, dank48's comment is spot on. (Saying bluntly that faith in "the God of the Bible" is superstition is not tantamount to taking up a physical weapon. In this society--present day America--I rather fear it's the believers in "the God of the Bible" who are more inclined to take up physical weapons against nonbelievers.)

#102: It takes a long and rigorous argument to do what standundon wants, but Daniel Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" does a pretty good job.

#103: "Such types also cry out for proof for theism, when we all know well that there is not a proof in the world, no matter how conclusive, that they would actually accept." Put the period after "world," and end the sentence before the future-conditional whining, and you've got it.

#106: "Does it not seem worthwhile to be explicitly thankful for your existence?" This means therapeutically, autosuggestively worthwile, right? Or is this just religious primitivism redux--"Be 'thankful'and the gods won't screw you over"?

My flyswatter is wearing out.

111. zagros - May 20, 2010 at 06:55 am

vroomfondle,

"Are we not to dismiss the christian god because they don't admit that they made it all up?

Is it possible that you've missed the point of His Noodliness? It being that He is theoretically indistinguishable from any one of the 'existant' gods. Prove that the Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist or never eat tagliatelli again."

This is patent nonsense that you are spewing and you know it. Yes, you are not to dismiss the Christian God because they don't admit that they made it all up -- and you are to be roundly criticized for even suggesting that Christians made it all up without demonstrating that this accusation is true. By the fact the the Pastafarians admit that the FSM is false, the burden of proof increases for the FSM. That is because we now have to prove (1) that those who discuss the FSM are lying and (2) then and only then look to see if there is any evidence for the FSM. After all, if you turn yourself in for murder and admit that you murdered, provide proof that you murdered and only 12 years after you have been caught, change your tune, I am not going to listen to you at all unless you have some evidence that you were lying 12 years ago. Now that evidence could be some proof that you were not at the scene or that you have the wrong bloodtype or that you actually acted in self-defense but I must have some evidence that you were lying about the murder and, most importantly, the burden of proof has now shifted to you to prove that you did not murder. Your mere protestations that you were innocent are not sufficient for any judge in this land to grant you a new trial or to reopen your case, no matter how much you protest. The Pastafarians convict themselves because they admitted it was a ruse at the very beginning.

How about the Christian God, the Islamic God, or the Jewish God (all of which, by the way, are either the SAME god [Islam's position about all three, although Muslims claim as well that Christians worship three gods rather than one because they either misunderstand trinitarianism or understand it better than the Christians depending on whose opinion is solicited; Christianity's positions about Christianity and Judaism; Judaism actually avoids the question and does not dismiss the Christian or Islamic claims but rather simply states that Christianity is mistaken about the messiah and Islam is simply irrelevant] or made up [Christianity states about Islam]?

Well, since none of them admit to fabricating the evidence, we have to look at external evidence for their case and internal evidence to dismiss it. External validation would include sources that corroborate the story. Internal evidence would be flaws in the story [contradictions]. Nonbelievers cite contradictions to support their case against God. However, one or more contradictions does not automatically raise the case to a lie [see Pastafarians] but progressive contradictions that are not explained or which have explanations that are simply not believed do make it harder to accept. Still, the proof lies on the nonbeliever to dismiss the claims of the believer. This burden of proof is what we call "innocent until proven guilty" in a courtroom, although it is better to state it by what it really is (and only the Scottish get it right here): "Not Proven".

The problem for the unbeliever is that believers have all sorts of explanations as to why their beliefs are correct AND the unbeliever is really trying to prove TO THE BELIEVER that the explanations offered are fallacious. This is a much more difficult task.

Now, this is NOT the same as saying that the believer is correct until proven otherwise. Not at all! Instead, what you are really saying is that the believer is ENTITLED TO HIS OR HER OPINION about the existance of God unless you can prove to the BELIEVER'S satisfaction that God does not exist. I don't have to acknowledge or prove to anyone's satisfaction that the FSM is a fable because all of the Pastafarians actually ADMIT that the FSM DOES NOT EXIST.

Now, let us understand very clearly what I am saying and not saying so that it is not mistaken:

1) I am not saying that God exists. I believe that God exists but I have already acknowledged that I am an agnostic theist, so, by definition, I cannot claim that God exists. I claim that we cannot know if God exists or not.

2) I am not saying that God does not exist (see point 1).

3) I am not saying that atheists have the burden of proof to show that God does not exist. Not at all. After all, I don't think that God can be proven or not proven.

4) I am not saying that theists have the burden of proof to show that God does not exist (same point)

5) What I am saying is that there is an atheistic requirement to prove to the believer's satisfaction that the believer is mistaken since the believer truly believes that his or her opinion about God (that God exists) is consistent with reality.

6) However, I am also saying that there is a theistic requirement to prove to the athiest's satisfaction that the atheist is mistaken since the athiest truly believes that his or her opinon about God (that God does not exist) is consistent with reality.

7) These requirements to prove to the believer's or atheists satisfaction have NOTHING to do with the right of the theist or atheist to retain their own opinions and to be treated with respect in regards to those opinions provided they do not attempt to change public policy to force consistency with their own vision of reality onto the other. These simply refer to the requirement to get others to believe otherwise.

8) The theist has no requirement to consider any argument that the atheist puts forth that the atheist himself or herself has admitted is false (or which the original person who made the claim admits is false). Thus atheists cannot use the Flying Spaghetti Monster or any other conception of god against the theist. No many gods argument. None. This is not allowed because the atheist is admitting that they don't believe it. Therefore, the theist does not have to consider it. Instead, the theist only has to consider counterarguments to the theistic argument (i.e., how can you claim that there is a God when there is suffering? how can you claim that Jesus rose after three days when he is crucified on a Friday and rises on a Sunday -- isn't that two days? etc.) OR arguments in favor of there being no God at all (the infinite dimensions argument). One cannot ridicule the other side into belief (again, no FSM argument).

9) The atheist has no requirement to consider any argument that the theist puts forth that the theist himself or herself has admitted is false (or which the original person who made the claim admits is false). Once a theist states his or her belief in one particular conception of God is correct and that the atheist should believe it as well and is thus trying to make an affirmative case for it that same theist can't bring in other conceptions of God to make his or her case (so the devout Christian cannot go around reading from the Qu'ran to make his or her case). The theist must confine himself or herself to making either the affirmative case for his or her belief (the cause-effect argument; the devout apostle argument, etc.) or bring in counterarguments against atheism (Pascal's Wager, etc.).

So, yes, we believers have an absolute inviolate right to our opinion (as do atheists) but only to true opinions not to something you admit you do not believe in. After all, you are entitled to your own opinion; you are not entitled to your own facts.



112. zagros - May 20, 2010 at 07:08 am

"a just God would not condemn you simply for being an atheist"
[#97 Zagros]

Are you sure? It's a little too important to take your word for it, do you have some evidence to back this up?

If you are an atheist, I don't need any evidence to back this up. You don't believe in God, so, therefore, you don't need to worry about it. As to my assertion, I have evidence: the various religions that have a God (and there are only a handful that are monotheistic and have hellfire, so again, stop with the many gods argument--it does not apply to most of the world's religions) either say absolutely nothing on the subject (Judaism -- note that "thou shalt have no Gods before me" -- that is a condemnation of worshiping OTHER Gods and NOT being an atheist!) or explictly state that it is REJECTION of God that earns hellfire (for Islam -- see post #97--simply because you state that I did not provide evidence does not mean that I didn't because I did not--the fact that you fail to read my post in its entirety does not compel me to keep repeating it for you; for Christianity -- there is the concept of general revelation versus special revelation and the notion that those who have not yet heard the Word are not automatically condemned to hellfire as a result).

Furthermore, the very idea of justice as we human do define it (and we must use the human definition when we are discussing it among ourselves unless you want to take the Socratic perspective of a concept having a definition that preexists humanity) demands that we only condemn people for knowingly rejecting so from our conception any God that does condemn you for UNKNOWINGLY rejecting God (because you cannot understand the evidence or that you misunderstand the evidence as opposed to rejecting God after understanding that there is a God but -- the hell with it -- I'm going to reject God anyway attitude) mean that such a God must, by definition, be unjust.

Of course, there is no requirement that God be just -- it is simply our belief although we have evidence for justice (which you are free to accept or reject).

In any case, it is also immaterial to the argument since (guess what!) you don't believe in God anyway. So I am simply stating a mere fact that I admit that I do not know what will happen to you, just as I truly do not know what will happen to me after I die.

113. zagros - May 20, 2010 at 07:17 am


#97: zagros starts with, "Not all religions believe that you are condemned to hellfire everlasting if you do not believe in God" as a kind of reassuring sop to those of us who don't like the my-way-or-the-highway [to being damned] attitude of the world's major religions. He then meanders through a kind of consumer guide to the higher absurdities, before ending with, "I am pretty positive that I am damned forever if I move from my current belief system." This amounts to: 1) "Look, don't worry about being damned if you don't believe," followed by 2) "I'm going to be damned if I don't believe." zagros, meet zagros.


ALMOST CORRECT. The proper way to put it is: 1) "Look, don't worry about being damned if you don't believe because you don't believe anyway so why the hell are you worrying for and besides if you are worried about what we believers believe about you [for whatever reason] here are some arguments why they don't know for certain what will happen to you anyway," followed by 2) "I'm pretty certain that I am going to be damned if I don't believe because I believe right now and that is quite a bit different from you unbelievers because although I can find no evidence in my belief system that someone who has never believed will be damned, I can find evidence in my belief system that someone who isn't a believer is damned. I think it is pretty damn unfair as well, but life isn't fair, and I am not taking my chances on your belief, which cannot be proven, that I am wrong."

In other words, you shouldn't worry if you are damned if you don't believe because, guess what, YOU DON'T BELIEVE, so what the hell matters? You should instead either (a) not care that you are being damned forever or (b) figure out why you will not be (either because God does not exist or because God won't punish you even though you "know" that God does not exist). I, on the other hand, as a believer, damn well better care if I am damned because I do believe and so (a) I care if I am damned and (b) even if God doesn't exist, why take the chance?

114. vroomfondle - May 20, 2010 at 08:36 am

Zagros,
Please forgive me, I got bored half way through your essay and couldn't help thinking that this long-winded defence/explanation of your position was just confirming the first part of my comment which was :

"Apart from the interesting mental excercise, you have to ask yourself, if you have to go to such trouble to squeeze out an unconvincing attempt to validate your beliefs, are those beliefs worth validating?"


OK, out of common decency and fairness, and accuracy, I went back and read the rest of your post and was struck by the list of rules that you made-up largely in favour of the believer. I don't contest that he has the right to his opinion but the burden of proof has never shifted from his camp.

Your gripe with His Noodliness seems to be the humour employed appearing to ridicule the believer, about which I sympathise; it's regrettable that the concept was padded out to this extent, but you also have to sympathise with non-believers who see religion as ridiculous and insulting.

Nevertheless, the concept is sound, a believer cannot make unfounded assertions like "jesus heals" without a pastafarian saying "right back at ya"

If a believer wants to be taken seriously he must say why any assertion about his god is any different from an assertion made about the Spaghetti Monster.

This breaks your 8th commandment but is in total agreement with my 8th commandment which is :

8) The theist has a requirement to consider any argument that the atheist puts forth because even if the entity is false, the concept is true.

You said that you dismiss His Noodliness because the authors have admitted making him up but you cannot dismiss the concept - you have not addressed the similarities between an admittedly fabricated deity and a 'real' one. All you did was to defend the believers right to his/her opinion with which any reasonable person would agree.

115. zagros - May 20, 2010 at 09:22 am

"Apart from the interesting mental excercise, you have to ask yourself, if you have to go to such trouble to squeeze out an unconvincing attempt to validate your beliefs, are those beliefs worth validating?"

This is your arrogance showing. I am not validating my beliefs through this exercise. I am trying to explain to someone who does not share my beliefs how they might be able to validate it. In point of fact, I find the entire atheistic argument to be "an unconvincing attempt to validate [their] beliefs" and that their beliefs are NOT worth validating. Beliefs need no "validating". They either are or are not after carefully weighing the evidence on various sites. When one goes through a rather lengthy discourse with another, one is merely trying to think of all possible objections and then try to refute them as best one can. However, since it is fundamentally an OPINION rather than a FACT as to whether God exists at all, this whole discourse is, by definition, an academic one. Furthermore, because it is an opinion, and not a fact, neither the idea that God exist or the idea that God does not exist is an appropriate topic of discourse without providing both sides to the argument in the public school system. My entire objection is the notion that science can (or should) try to disprove God. Since I submit that the concept of God is opinion, if science wants to start providing discussion invalidating God in the public schools, scientists are obliged to provide the discussion that God also is a valid concept. For example, this does not prevent scientists from discussing evolution and from dismissing from students nonsensical complaints that the Bible disproves evolution and that creationism is fact because the Bible tells me so. However, it does prevent scientists from going a step further and proclaiming that evolution means that God does not exist. That being said, so long as scientists and public school teachers state to students that evolution is a fact and it is up to the student to reconcile evolution with their religious concepts, the topic of intelligent design need not be brought up. If a student asks about it, the proper response is that this is not science and explain why it is not science. However, it is not acceptable to discredit the possibility that God-driven evolution is impossible. The fact is that intelligent design is a religious argument disguised as science. That is its problem. It isn't that we can prove that it is wrong (and so scientists should stop trying to prove it; in point of fact, militant atheists are STUPIDLY FALLING INTO THE CREATIONIST TRAP when they try to disprove intelligent design--it simply isn't falsifiable and that is why it isn't science). End of discussion of God in the public schools.

Your eighth commandment is pure arrogance. If that were true then the athiest has the same requirement due to the theist. Furthermore, your arrogance shows because you want to shift the burden of proof to the theist camp whereas I insist that both OPINIONS are equally valid and therefore each has an IDENTICAL burden of proof with regard to the other side. Indeed, you cannot find anything in my "commandments" that doesn't impose IDENTICAL restrictions on both sides.

However, I can demonstrate that you can live by my rules and fight fair and indeed make your point. I simply stated that you cannot invoke the Flying Spaghetti Monster as the argument. I can dismiss His Noodliness because YOU do and I do not agree with it. Instead, you are required to rephrase your question: "How can you be certain that your 'real' diety is not a fabricated diety?" I believe that is what you are asking, isn't it?

Well, by now, you should know MY answer. I am an agnostic theist, so, of course, I am not certain. I hedge my bets. Of course, you will then try to invoke the "many gods" argument, which I already told you was out of bounds. But again, you can restate the argument: "Given the fact that you are not certain, what is the probability that you assign to God existing?" Then you could proceed to try to attack the probability that I assign. However, once I have given and identified a subjective probability to the event that exceeds zero (and, by the way, contrary to whatever assertion of atheists, they are intellectually dishonest if they assert that if the probability is 1 in near infinity (but not quite infinity) that is is in fact zero -- a number that approaches zero is not zero), then you are left with a problem. I submit that I might be correct. If I am and that probability is in any way a positive probability, it is up to you to convince me that, in fact, there is a HIGHER probability that God loves athiests more than believers. I am sorry, but you have zero evidence for that and I have scripture that I happen to believe that tells me that you are mistaken.

On the other hand if you question is not "how can you be certain" but rather "can you explain", the obvious answer to your question of addressing the similarities between an admittedly fabricated deity and a 'real' one is found through science. I would argue that a fabricated deity and a 'real' one MUST have similarities because our concept of a deity that we cannot prove would inform us about how to make any such fabrications. So really, your FSM argument is one of your weakest arguments in any case.

Finally, please understand my position better. I agree that the believer cannot invoke to the atheist "Jesus saves" without external evidence thereof. The simple fact that the believer believes can be dismissed quite easily by the atheist with the "it is called the placebo effect" and thus the entire category can be dismissed at once. The believer's belief in this case is not the question and the believer must try to use arguments designed to convince the atheist of his or her position.

116. zagros - May 20, 2010 at 09:26 am

(Hopefully) final point: the burden of proof.

The burden of proof lies with the believer if the believer states that it is a FACT that God exists. I would agree with that because now the believer is playing in the athiest's playground of science. By putting forward God as FACT instead of OPINION, you are allowed to use Occum's Razor. However, Occum's razor cannot be used to dissect OPINION. If you are dealing with an agnostic believer (such as I am), the burden of proof shifts to the atheist to try to convince me otherwise. Similarly, if I am trying to convince an atheist that really he should believe my OPINION that God exists, the burden of proof shifts to me. Finally, if the atheist argues that God DOES NOT exist as a FACT, the burden of proof shifts to the atheist and, by the way, Occum's Razor no longer holds because I don't actually believe that God interferes in daily lives (and most agnostic theists don't either). Therefore, you cannot invoke Occum's Razor as the "simplest explanation" because God does not explain anything in this realm.

117. laocoon - May 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Science long ago commandeered the notion of "progress" from relgion. I'm curious how athiests conceive of progress in a non-teleological universe with no promise of a Golden Age or something analogous. I'm not one to defend anything like a divine plan, but I resent that the debate is rigged to favor the epistemic prerogatives of science. "Progress" is a marketing strategy.

118. ee_professor - May 20, 2010 at 02:04 pm

Ya gottah love academe!

119. goxewu - May 20, 2010 at 02:40 pm

OK, zagros wins. I just changed my iPad settings: It's now 427,362,917 (and not 322,006,581) angels who can dance on the head of a pin.

120. barrycooper - May 20, 2010 at 03:32 pm

You state: "there is no evidence that consciousness and mind arise from anything other than the workings of the physical brain".

That simply isn't true. Many very credible cases have been offered of consciousness being retained while brain activity was zero. We have cases of people knowing things they could not credibly have known any other way than direct report from people who were at that time deceased.

You haven't even made a token effort to evaluate the evidence, have you? Then how is it you think you belong in a field dominated, in theory, by empiricism?

Scientism is the creed of Materialists. It does not represent actual science--which believes nothing and tests everything--but a bastardized version of the same dogmatism that has plagued all human institutions for recorded history.

There is no need for accomodation. Science, if ever released from the clutches of the atheistic fundamentalists, will easily and quickly discover that the religious are most right about the nature of the universe.

121. goxewu - May 20, 2010 at 03:50 pm

Religion, if ever released from the clutches of fundamentalists, will easily and quickly discover that the scientific are the most right about the nature of the universe.

122. goxewu - May 20, 2010 at 03:51 pm

Also, re #121, is it meant, then, that religion "believes everything and tests nothing"?

123. blackbox - May 20, 2010 at 05:23 pm

barrycooper,

Can you give details of just one case and show why it is very credible?

124. vroomfondle - May 20, 2010 at 06:02 pm

Zagros,
I am not arrogant because I want to "shift the burden of proof to the theist camp" because it has always been there. You "insist that both OPINIONS are equally valid and therefore each has an IDENTICAL burden of proof with regard to the other side."

Although I salute your spirit of fairness, I do not agree that both opinions are equally valid. The athiest position is merely a rebuttle to the thiests' assertions - it wouldn't occur to me to deny the existence of god if it wasn't for a cultural presumption of existence (in one form or another) as a result of natural curiosity and centuries of ignorance. Churches and Cathedrals are reminders of the theists' asssertions as well as common phrases like "Bless you" and "Thank god". More personal reminders also exist on a daily basis such as the wearing of religious symbols and clothing.

I think you'll agree that in general all opinions aren't equal but in the case of the existence of an existential being you say that they are because of a philisophical blind spot of the type : "if I went back in time and killed my own father (before I was conceived) then I wouldn't exist to go back in time and kill my own father" Such hypotheticals do not actually happen in the real world, natural laws intervene confining them to mere mental exercises.

Something which doesn't exist but which someone suggests that it does immediately falls into one of these blind spots by virtue of it's non-existence. This is easily dealt with by saying that a fabulous claim presented with no evidence can be dismissed with no evidence. This doesn't suit the believer because, for reasons best known to him, he wants to believe anyway and will search for reasons and arguments to do so.

Science can't prove that god doesn't exist simply because it is impossible to test a non-existant entity so the question retreats to philosophical discussions where the same impasse generates more and more complex and convoluted ideas which in my opinion is proof of an impotent notion.

125. zagros - May 20, 2010 at 10:35 pm

vroomfondle,

You are again making a logical error because of your desire to tip the stakes in your favor. All opinions are equal from the standpoint of the burden of proof. Opinions which are so off the wall as to be nonsensical (as you suggest is the case for God) have the same standard for the burden of proof as those that are not (as you suggest is the case against God). Simply because they share the same burden of proof does not invalidate this fact. Indeed, the fact that they share the same burden of proof suggests that if they are truly wacky, it should be EASIER rather than harder to invalidate them.

Indeed, you are just arrogant and angry that I have a conception of God that defies your ability to reject it. You are the one with the problem, not I. I do not believe in a God that interferes with natural laws because in my conception God set those natural laws. Because I am not examining a cause-and-effect issue, science has NO BASIS to discuss the issue with me. It is truly a case of separate spheres. But still you wish to argue the case. Indeed, YOU are the one with the fabulous claim, not I. I am making the claim that it is possible to believe in a God, that is is possible that there is such a God. You are stating that it is impossible. Thus, the burden has shifted to you and YOU ALONE. I do not deny that God may not exist. I do not argue that he does or fails to exist. However, your FABULOUS claim is that anything that science cannot prove to exist simply doesn't exist. It is that sort of nonsense that not only is patently arrogent but also patently WRONG.

It has been scientifically proven that one cannot prove something that is outside a system that fails to interact with a system. Furthermore, making the claim that therefore that something fails to exist *is* not only a logical fallacy but also a fabulous claim that is demonstrably proven to be false (see Godel's Incompleteness Theorems for the proof that there will always be statements in mathematics that are absolutely true but can never be proven).

You are making the claim that God DOES NOT EXIST. I am making the claim that God may or may not exist. You have the burden of proof as I have just proven (via analogy using Godel's Incompleteness Problem) that my conception of God is potentially correct. Therefore, not only have I offered evidence (by analogy), a proof (by mathematics) and you have offered absolutely nothing. This coupled with the fact that your conception of God offers the believer ABSOLUTELY NOTHING OF WORTH suggests that you are the one who is so arrogant as to assume that he can know everything but in fact has demonstrated that he knows absolutely nothing about the subject at hand.

Case closed unless you can offer a PROOF that God DOES NOT EXIST (and that proof MUST include PROOF that if God does not interfere in the system that he cannot exist nonetheless). Oh, and before you try your hand at the old "well, then your God means nothing" argument used by Singham, let me state that God actually means a great deal. You see, he judges our actions and yes, condemns us to hell or rewards us with heaven based on our actions and since I believe I have an eternal soul and that my actions on this earth matter, it is very important that I believe. As for you and your fellow atheists, since you do not believe that you have an eternal soul and that your actions on this earth do not matter (except as it affects other human beings, the world, etc. -- but they really do not matter in terms of what happens in the afterlife since you believe that the afterlife does not exist), you can go ahead and keep on with your delusions. I may not be certain whether you will go to Heaven or to Hell (nor do I care!) but I am certain that if I violate God's will, I will not go to Heaven (and I won't under either of our conceptions of God: under mine I don't go because I violated God's will and under yours I don't go because well, Heaven is a fairy tale told to monotheists for social control reasons).

Finally, I should point out that all of you atheists out there are completely missing the point that makes Dr. Singham so dangerous. He is not at war with God -- he is at war with RELIGION. That means that even religions that have no God (and they do exist) are circumspect. Yet in doing so, he ESTABLISHES a new religion called scientism, of which you seem to be one of the practicioners. You claim authority to answer questions that you admit you cannot prove. That is the sign not only of being a religion but of being a dogmatic social controlling totalitarian regime that must be wiped off the face of the earth before freedom of inquiry itself is consumed by your own twisted logic! Note that I do not argue that this should be the fate of scientism because I believe that even idiots (ESPECIALLY IDIOTS!) such as Dr. Singham should be allowed (and ENCOURAGED) to talk because their own words will envitably eventually sink them and prove that they are not only ideologues but also powermongers.

Since you have already admitted you cannot attack my agnosticism, I will end with a joke that sums up my concern about you atheists:
The atheist can never be certain if God knows that the atheist knows that God does not exist -- the atheist must accept it on faith.

126. vroomfondle - May 21, 2010 at 03:29 am

Zagros,
Of course I can't prove it, we have already agreed that you can't prove something which doesn't exist. I am not angry that you have "a conception of God that defies your ability to reject it", you seem to be the angry one because I reject it anyway.

I accept your right to believe in what you want but I am curious how your slight possibility of there perhaps being the case for the existence of something which doesn't interfere with natural laws translates into "God actually means a great deal. You see, he judges our actions and yes, condemns us to hell or rewards us with heaven based on our actions" ?

It's perhaps this leap from 'I can't prove that he exists' to 'he does this, he does that, he is just' which inspired His Noodliness.

To argue analogously and mathematically about a theoretical possibility is one thing, to state the intentions and importance of something which hasn't even been proven to exist is another.

127. thefrankturk - May 21, 2010 at 10:16 am

Aha. The "burden of proof".

I present the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only evidence available or necessary for the issues at stake. There is no science which can /disqualify/ this evidence.

However, to be fair to science, I'd like the scientific evidence that any human being deserves the right to property -- or a clear statement from an atheist that this "right" is merely an imaginary rule dreamed up by people who think the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real, and there is no such rule. Either will serve this discussion well.

128. goxewu - May 21, 2010 at 01:14 pm

Resurrection: "evidence"? Surely thefrankturk jests.

129. ztkl40a - May 21, 2010 at 01:19 pm

http://chronicle.com/article/The-New-War-Between-Science/65400/#lastComment

new theologian #90,

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond, but work and family take precedence over discussions in the comments section of an Internet article.


Re 1) I didn't quite follow your refutation of an infinite regression.

But since all other causes are themselves effects, then if there is not first cause, there is no first effect, since an effect requires a cause.

An infinite regression is, well, infinite. It doesn't even make sense to speak of a first cause or first effect in that sense. There is no first, because there are an infinite number of events predating whatever event you want to choose.

Here's the way I see it. As far as we know, all effects must have causes, and all causes are themselves effects. If those two statements are true, that leaves no choice but an infinite regression. But that is incomprehensible to us, because we can't understand how time could extend infinitely into the past. But if we make an exception, and say that at least one cause wasn't itself an effect, that's also incomprehensible to us, because we don't understand how something can just be without cause.

All effects must be contained, preeminently, in their causes.

Why? As an example, we know that the DNA to make, say, a golden eagle was not present in our single celled ancestors. The effect of an eagle growing from an embryo was not present a billion years ago in ancient causes.

Another way to look at this - consciousness is an emergent phenomenon. In the same way that a single water molecule is not a storm, and a single nitrogen molecule is not a breeze, the individual molecules in our brains are not consciousness. If you're going to argue that a first cause had to contain consciousness, did it also have to contain storms and breezes?

Speaking of consciousness, for most of my life, as a Christian, I was a dualist. I just couldn't understand how ordinary matter could create qualia. But once I started looking into how our brains work, I realized just how much our brains are controlled by physical processes. Just look at how stroke victims and Alzheimer's victims have changes in personality or loss of memory from physical changes to the brain. Or look at how drugs, from the old fashioned alcohol, to modern prozac, affect our emotions by altering our brain chemistry. If we have souls, you have to question just what role they play. (Google 'ebon musings a ghost in the machine' for more examples.)

The argument to the existence of God is really the recognition that, insofar as consciousness can be understood as a positive mode of existence, then it is an effect of prior causes, which would mean that, as an effect, it would require a cause capable of producing that effect--one with that perfection, or something still more excellent.

I think the golden eagle example covered this, but to reiterate - causes don't need to have all the qualities of their effects. In a pile of steel and lumber, there is no inherent building. The materials could be used to construct any number of things. It's only once they start to be assembled that they become a building. The effect was not present in the initial causes.

I definitely agree with you that even if all this did point to an uncaused cause having some sort of consciousness, there's no reason to jump from there to any particular religion.


Re 2) My wife is a nurse, and I know quite a few other nurses & doctors. And yes, most of them believe that patients can hold on for some important event. However, when you ask those same doctors and nurses if they get more patients on the night of a full moon, many agree to that, too. But the full moon myth is very easy to debunk by looking at actual hospital admissions records. I think both are examples of confirmation bias. That's one reason why, as they say, the plural of anecdote is not data. Anecdotes may be good places to start research, but then you actually have to do the research. And from what I've seen into research on people postponing death, it doesn't seem to actually occur. Look at it this way, if you have a 1 in 365 chance of dying on a specific date, there's roughly a 2% chance that you'll die on or less than a week after that date. That's two out of every hundred patients. Further, if doctors only look at the people who died close to a particular event, there'll be a roughly 50/50 split of people dying before vs. after the event due to chance alone. This certainly seems ripe for confirmation bias. So, until I see some actual data, not simply anecdotes, confirming that this is a real phenomenon, there's no point in discussing it's implications.


Re 3) You briefly brought up standards of evidence, which I think is a good discussion. People make claims to miracles all the time. For one of the latest, google 'Prahlad Jani esowatch'. He claims to have gone without eating for 70 years, and even spent some time in a hospital being observed by doctors who confirmed his miraculous lifestyle. I'm sure his followers take that as strong proof. Unfortunately, when other researchers looked into it, it appears that he's just a normal person, who was eating normally up until his time in the hospital, and then began suffering from the effects of dehydration and starvation while he was there. The evidence turned out to not be as strong as initially claimed.

Carl Sagan once said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." I think that applies to miracles. One person's testimony, or even the testimony of a small group, is not sufficient. Even if not being intentionally fraudulent, people are subject to all types of cognitive biases.


Re 4) I looked up St. Bernadette of Lourdes on Wikipedia. Here's a quote from the entry. It doesn't appear that she was perfectly preserved.

The Church exhumed the corpse a second time on 3 April 1919. A doctor who examined the body noted, "The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts. ... The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body."

A quick search didn't find much for St. John Vianney, but I did see a photo. The bit I saw about those two examples hasn't swayed me from considering them natural mummies. It does make me wonder, though, how many natural mummies are out there. These bodies were exhumed because they were candidates for sainthood. How many other bodies from less saintly people are preserved just as well, but haven't been exhumed?

St. Catherine of Sienna doesn't seem to argue for your case - most of her body did decompose, so she was a rather incomplete mummy.


Re 5) As with the Yogi example I provided up above, I want a little more evidence confirming this miracle than just people claiming it's true. Where are the bones, exactly? Is there any chance the oil is seeping in from somewhere else? Are the people taking the oil trustworthy, and not simply getting the oil from another source? Like I said, I could be convinced if shown enough evidence, but I've heard of enough fraudulent miracles that I'm going to look at the evidence closely.


Re 6) There's nothing else for me to add on this one, until I see some actual documentation.


I know people tend to think of atheists as dour cynics. That's not true. I'm really, really interested in the true nature of the universe. It's what lead me to atheism to begin with. I didn't just one day decide I didn't want to be Christian anymore - I studied quite a bit and figured that atheism was the best explanation for how the universe actually is. But I realize I could be wrong, which is why I'm so interested in evidence for religion.

130. ztkl40a - May 21, 2010 at 02:29 pm

I just noticed that all my blockquote tags got dropped. Hopefully it's not too confusing which sections I was quoting, and which sections I wrote.

131. zagros - May 21, 2010 at 02:52 pm

vroomfondle,

MY point is that there are some things that are true that you cannot prove (it has been PROVEN via Godel's Incompleteness Theorems that this is true). Your decision not to believe in God is fine. It is your right. However, dismissing God as "nonexistant" and using THAT as your justification for not only not accepting God but trying that as a debating point is not valid and demonstrates that you are SUPREMELY ARROGANT. I have proven (without a doubt) that God could exist and neither your nor I could prove His existence. Your arrogance is demonstrated by the FACT that you cannot handle the truth: God MAY exist and your belief that He does not exist is simply that: BELIEF (an OPINION) and such opinions should NEVER be taught as FACT to anyone.

The fact that you MUST acknowledge is that God might exist. This is indisputable and I have proven it. As to my motivations to follow God, well, I have been socialized into this belief and therefore there is no reason for me to leave it unless you can prove to me that atheism offers any real benefit for me. Alas, you can show me none because atheism offers none to the believer (although it does provide it for the atheist), whereas my belief gives me strength and an external moral compass with which to judge my actions.

For example, suppose that the world *will* end tonight at 10 PM. It is presently 9:30 PM. There is *no doubt* that the world will end. You see something that you have ALWAYS WANTED in a store that is now left unguarded. You are curious about it and would it not be wonderful to be able to have it, even for these last few minutes on Earth. There is no one around. There is no one who will miss it. Do you take it? I do not see how the atheist can answer with anything other than 'yes'. You are harming no one but you violate the moral principle of 'do not steal'. Yet, again, you are harming no one. I do not steal it because I have God watching over me even at this late hour. To steal, ESPECIALLY at this hour, would be a grave sin from my perspective. Do you not understand this? Religion is what (may) keep society from the brink of collapse when a society is about to fall apart. Atheism has no such hope and, therefore, its very core leads to unethical behavior. For this reason alone a believer ought to reject atheism.

Now, of course, the atheist will state that religion leads to all sorts of immoral behavior by following rules that do not make sense. However, the believer always has an ace up the hole that the atheist does not understand. The external moral arbitrar *is* God. Since we believers believe that, if properly followed and understood, our religions do not lead to unethical behavior (and thus, by definition, we do interpret our religions thusly) we also know that ultimately we are judged by an external power for our actions. This (may) keep us in check but it CERTAINLY leads to punishment for incorrect action (since I have an immortal soul that means that I will face punishment -- you, being an atheist and therefore having no such soul [according to you] does not face the music). The atheist has no such external moral compass. The atheist may have a moral philosophy that is man-made but its violation has no consequences except to the extent that it is enforced by law or by the individual themselves. Thus if the law no longer applies or is ineffective (state of anarchy such as what I believe is happening in Bangkok as I write this), the ultimate moral authority is the person who is deciding the action themselves. This means that bad actions may go unpunished.

132. goxewu - May 21, 2010 at 03:38 pm

And here I thought the Bible was long.

133. vroomfondle - May 22, 2010 at 02:47 am

Yes goxewu, methinks he doth protest too much.

Zagros,
So you won't consider changing your opinion "unless you can prove to me that atheism offers any real benefit for me". That strikes me as very egoistic. For my part I'd be quite willing to change my opinion according to the facts, whether or not it was to any real benefit to me.

I don't think that you meant that though, just as I didn't mean to come accross as arrogant - if I did? I'm not sure that it wasn't just your anger taking over?


You say about opinions "if they are truly wacky, it should be EASIER rather than harder to invalidate them".

If an opinion is just wacky then I'm sure that that does make it easier to invalidate, but if it's truly wacky involving invisible pink unicorns and the like, then no, because they are not verifiable and logical loops make arguments as wacky as the claim.

Your argument that a believer will act better than an atheist is not born out in everyday life let alone at the end of the world, the current crisis in the catholic church (current, but which is centuries old) is ample proof of that. I could argue that the inverse is true with their sense of superiority (above human law) and forgiveness rules.

Correct me if I'm wrong but a sinner has to be forgiven, if he is sincere in his confession, regardless of the crime.

134. nold3088 - May 22, 2010 at 06:10 am

On May 10th, ellenhunt, the third commentor wrote:

"...Mencken is exactly right, and the degree to which the sane pole is silenced in this debate is reflected in the set point of public beliefs."

The "sane pole?" Is this an argument by ad hominem, i.e., all believers are insane? Is one to believe that all who argued for their faith over the centuries were outside of what ought to be considered sane? Ellen, I wish I could be so sure of myself--you must have a strong ego. May I say if being non-sane were an attribute necessary for my being able to think as rationally and sensitively (concerning the human condition) as so many who have written over the centuries on (e.g., at the very least) Christianity, I would pray for such an affliction.





"That said, it may yet be seen that something we don't understand in basic physics is the foundation of consciousness."

Is this comforting or informative? Some get deep meaning from science fiction as perhaps a "General Semantic" contemporary myth framework (i.e., a la Joseph Campbell, is this nearby the context you intended?), but it seems to me to be shallow, or at least a bit too arbitrary in contrivance. Otherwise, if you intended that consciousness were somehow reducible (e.g., to some "physics" mathematical model), you may find the Christian analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga of interest. He helps untangle where a physicalist reductionist perspective inevitably leads.




"The other side of Mencken is that our very existence at all is a fantastic impossibility by any sane stretch of imagination."

Precisely. We do in fact exist, and yes, I do agree that it 'seems beyond any sane stretch' to think we could comprehend how, why, or what this 'existence' is. But note, it is not impossible (your word) that we exist--in fact, it is beyond a mere possibility, even a probability. "I am who I am." (That sentence has quite Voluminous general semantic content in this context, don't you think?)

I, as you (and > 6,000,000,000 others), necessarily not only 'exist,' but we need and ought to find ways to live together peaceably and sustainably. This is my belief, as I believe God created humankind, so there is no backing away from this necessity of stewardship and accommodation. And narrative in scripture is as close to anything I know to study to learn how succeed in relationship with other people.

Love thy neighbor, and try that much more if he even be your enemy. I could not help but be insulted by your calling ancient Jewish scripture some product of psychosis, or that God is evolved from some Baboonic myth. Please forgive me if I have not put as much time into trying to see your view, and perhaps may have insulted you. I hope you look up Alvin Plantinga; he has taken time in considering many ideas bearing upon what you wrote--he is very good.

God bless!





135. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 07:25 am

vroomfondle,

"Correct me if I'm wrong but a sinner has to be forgiven, if he is sincere in his confession, regardless of the crime."

You are WRONG! Have you not heard that "ignorantia juris non excusat" (ignorance of the law is no excuse)?

You seem to confuse me with someone who actually believes that man is God as opposed to God is God. God NEED NOT DO ANYTHING. The commandment that we forgive is for US, not for God. After all, if God is required to forgive you for your sincerity, then it is YOU, not God, who controls whether you enter Heaven or not.

Such supreme arrogance displayed again! Are you certain that you are not a born-again Christian? How DARE you DEMAND God forgive you?

"Oh, I am sorry, God, I didn't mean for all those people I had killed to die. I realize the terrible mistakes I have made and I sincerely regret them!" Do you really believe that such a confession, no matter how sincere, will save Joseph Stalin from the depths of Hell if God judges his actions to be worthy of such punishment? I, of course, firmly believe that Joseph Stalin will go to Hell but, yes, I realize that there is a questionmark over this (after all, if atheists are right, there is no Hell, and I suppose that God *could* admit him to Heaven -- I might hope not, but it is God's decision, not mine).

You also seem to be confusing me with someone who is seeking to impose a PARTICULAR belief system. You see, if you follow the WRONG belief system, you WILL end up doing wrong. However, you cannot find anything logically wrong with my argument that belief in a Supreme Being that knows the actual difference between right and wrong and PUNISHES the transgressors for their wickedness, while REWARDING the just for their goodness, could lead to ANYTHING other than at least as good of an outcome (and quite possibly a superior moral outcome) than someone who is IDENTICAL in every way but does NOT believe. Once again, for this reason ALONE, belief in God is GOOD and, while unbelief in God is not necessarily evil, espousing that believers in such a God abandon their belief in God (not necessarily their faith in a particular book but their belief in God) is EVIL.

Thus, atheists should STOP arguing that God does not exist (a futile exercise to say the least) and INSTEAD argue that believers need to reinterpret their texts in such a way as to eliminate actions that seem to be inconsistent with justice (e.g., no, I am sorry, Osama bin Ladin, but killing 3,000 people by drilling an airplane into the World Trade Center does NOT ensure that you will go to Heaven! No, Mr. Hitler, killing 6,000,000 Jews because they "killed" your God is NOT acceptable! Stop using scripture to justify your bad actions: reinterpret all "bad" things as being contextual and keep only the "good" stuff). After all, if you do not, you will continue to practice slavery (Leviticus 25:44-46; Surah 33:25-26 of the Qu'ran) and a whole bunch of other immoral acts (do I really need to list them?).

Thus, the problem with religion *isn't* religion. That is EXACTLY where atheism goes wrong. The problem is with the literalist interpretation of scripture. Thus, the charge I give to you is not to condemn Christians (or Muslims or whatever other religion exists) for what they say when they espouse nonsense but rather how do you get around it? The Jews have done this for CENTURIES -- it is time for the Muslims and Christians to do the same.

However, the belief in a Supreme arbitrator of Good and Evil who punishes the wicked and rewards the just cannot be welfare-decreasing (note that I am not stating that you know what is wicked or just, only that such a being exists; it is to us to discover what is wicked or just whether we follow God or atheism). So why do you wish to potentially harm not just me but everyone else in our society by your nonsense that God cannot exist when mere belief in God (if it is truly mere belief) cannot harm anyone in society and indeed can help? Has Satan so blinded you that you are now an espouser of evil?

136. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 07:39 am

vroomfondle,

"Your argument that a believer will act better than an atheist is not born out in everyday life let alone at the end of the world, the current crisis in the catholic church (current, but which is centuries old) is ample proof of that. I could argue that the inverse is true with their sense of superiority (above human law) and forgiveness rules."

Your error is in ascribing mere belief in God (which is the only thing that I have argued in favor of -- NOT belief in any particular philosophy) to something more. An atheist cannot be BETTER than a person with such mere belief (if that is all that separates them from the atheist) and could be worse. Thus, atheism is not the paragon of morality that you seem to espouse (that is not saying that it is immoral or even that it is not moral but it cannot be the paragon of morality if there is a better philosophy, which there is: theism).

Furthermore, your notion of forgiveness is consistent with particular religions, not all (ever heard of karma?). However, most telling is the following:

"I could argue that the inverse is true with their sense of superiority (above human law)"

Really? So does that mean that the atheist follows all human rules? So you believe that slavery was just in the 18th century? That Communist China should impose the death penalty for attempted fraud? You again stretch by including something that is not in the debate into the realm. There is a REASON I have not stated my own religion because I do not want it used as a pawn in your argument. I do not defend my religion: I defend mere belief in a Supreme Being who punishes the wicked and rewards the just and, guess what, I might not be doing that which the Supreme Being wants! That is hardly egoistical! Unlike the atheist or the born-again who apparently know that there is a God (atheism) or that they will be saved (born-again) and thus can do whatever they darn well please, I know that if I do not carefully weigh my decisions, I might face hellfire (and heck, I might face it anyway since I really do not know what God wants me to do--I pray for guidance but I might be mistaken since I really do not know what will happen).

I hope to be forgiven for my transgressions but I am a realist: I accept that I might not. I, therefore, weigh the consequences of my actions based not only on whether it might harm others or the Earth or myself (atheism) but also whether it might violate the Supreme Lawgiver's commandment (theism). How arrogant to assume that you are above God--indeed, that would mean that you presume to BE God! I am sorry, vroomfondle, but you are not God any more than I (and I am not God).

137. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 07:47 am

"For my part I'd be quite willing to change my opinion according to the facts, whether or not it was to any real benefit to me."

You have offered none in support of your position that God does not exist. Merely stating that he does not exist does not constitute proof (argumentum ad ignorantiam). I have offered a proof that mere belief in God is no worse than (and may be superior to) belief in atheism. My proof does not require that such a being actually exist ("if there were no God, man would have to invent him" - Voltaire)

Find the hole in the proof or else by your own admittance accept that God might exist and that it is good to merely believe (as opposed to being an atheist). Indeed, if it gives you comfort, believe that God punishes and rewards you according to your own internal KNOWLEDGE of what is right and wrong. You will AUTOMATICALLY do no worse than (and might do better than) you would do otherwise since you will know that you will be punished for doing bad things, even if you cannot be caught. Thus, belief in a Supreme Being (God) who punishes the wicked and rewards the just is inherently a superior philosophy than atheism and all atheists should immediately become believers (if they can overcome their inherent inability to believe that which they cannot prove). Class dismissed.

138. goxewu - May 22, 2010 at 11:10 am

Well, at least I now know the true nature of Eternity: wading through zagros's tedious explanations of his various superstitions.

But the Bible ain't totally wrong. Pride ("Class dismissed") goeth before the fall.

139. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 12:17 pm

goxewu,

Very funny. Let me see if I get your argument:

1) you will agree that I have proven that God MIGHT exist. If you do not, then you are the one with the superstition since I have proven via Godel's Impossibility Theorem that he might exist.

2) you simply maintain that unless God is proven to a reasonable degree, you will not believe.

If #2 (which the only reasonable pathway that anyone with atheism can truly profess), then we are left with:

3) God refuses to provide proof because proof would deny our ability to have faith. God MUST be a "superstition" so to speak or else religion is meaningless. I do not have faith that gravity exists. I have a proof. It does not matter if I have faith or not. But if God PROVED that He was God, we (a) would have only 1 religion and (b) everyone would either belong to it or be in open rebellion [like teenagers] against it.

You see, this is the problem with the scientific mind that demands proof of God. If one day, you PROVE that God exists, you will kill faith. God simply will BE and then (cue my grin as I make the ultimate sarcastic remark) my moral superiority to the atheist would be lost :(

140. vroomfondle - May 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Phew! No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!?

Zagros, you've read a lot more into my comment than was there, I put that down to your over zealousness. I'm sure that you made a mistake in your first rant when you thought that I was asking forgiveness in a god that I've already stated I do not believe in; I merely pointed out the duty of the priest in the confessional. The rest of that rant is totally misplaced, it should have been directed at the Roman catholic church or what other religion has this rule.

You clearly try to dis-own all the religious types that have transgressed, but you can't. These are people that believe in god and have nevertheless acted terribly. No wonder your CAPS LOCK key is on the other side of your cell, they undo all of your argument.

And at what point did I suggest that atheism is "the paragon of morality"? You're inferring much too much. (Perhaps just to make me look bad like your list of atrocities which implied that I would have them forgiven.)

I never suggested that "the atheist follows all human rules", I just said that a belief in god is no guarantee of good behaviour (which is what you stated) and that there are even good reasons why they might not.



Now calm down, you'll break your keyboard.

and have a good weekend.


141. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 01:05 pm

1) "I just said that a belief in god is no guarantee of good behaviour (which is what you stated) and that there are even good reasons why they might not."

And my point simply is that atheism (by itself) cannot be better than theism (by itself). Every single problem that you ascribe is one that goes beyond mere belief in God.

2) "You clearly try to dis-own all the religious types that have transgressed, but you can't. These are people that believe in god and have nevertheless acted terribly."

Sure I can. I can disown anyone other than myself. I grant that there are people who believe in God and have nevertheless acted terribly. If you play that game, I can find a ton of atheists that have the same problem. A scientist looks only at the item under examination and tries to isolate the effect of that variable on behavior. If you want to argue that any specific interpretation of Christianity is worse than atheism or that any specific interpretations of Islam is worse than atheism, etc., then we can have a discussion and you would probably find me in agreement, but you cannot argue that mere belief in a higher power is worse than atheism because you would be wrong. And it is clear that you agree with me because you keep on trying to change the subject instead of addressing this, which is my sole point.

I use caps lock to emphasize, not to shout. I am uncertain whether this has HTML code. I suppose I could try. Hold on:

This is for emphasis. If the *is* is underlined and the emphasis is boldfaced then I suppose that I should stop being lazy and use HTML instead of caps. Hmm... let's try it and see.

142. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 01:10 pm

Okay, it worked, so I will use the HTML for emphasis -- funny that the underlining doesn't work.

So do you understand now that (cue sarcastic laugh) mere belief in God is good and just and atheism is evil and unjust.

Okay, back to non-sarcasm. In reality atheism is not evil, but certainly it is not as good as mere belief.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why superstition by itself may be good because, by definition, superstition isn't belief in something that does not exist but rather belief in something that has not been proven to exist. Oh, and that means that faith = superstition, a statement concerning which I will not disagree. Too bad that the atheists who espouse that God does not exist cannot understand that they too are arguing from faith, rather than reason.

143. vroomfondle - May 22, 2010 at 04:31 pm

Zagros, I think now I see the problem, you consider atheism a religion of some sort, well it's not. I do not subscribe to any such group of atheists, I know of no agenda that any such group might have. I am part of this discussion as an individual and I never said that atheism or atheists were better than someone who had belief, you inferred it - again.

As far as I am concerned, an atheist is just someone who doesn't believe in god, he could be a murderer or worse, a banker, but he could also be as good as any believer and better than some.

You on the other hand have clearly stated that you think that a believer is necessarily better than an atheist which I clearly demostrated is false.

You said "Every single problem that you ascribe is one that goes beyond mere belief in God", but if a mere belief in god is so good why did these problems go beyond it?

144. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 07:07 pm

vroomfondle,

I do consider atheism to be a religion when its tenant is "destroy religion" or is a philosphy that says go and tell others that there is no God, but I do not consider mere unbelief in God to be a religion. I still consider that mere belief to be superior to mere unbelief in God and let me (again) explain why:

First, I have not "clearly stated that [I] think that a believer is necessarily better than an atheist." You keep putting words into my replies that I never state. Go back and read what I wrote.

Mere belief is necessarily no worse than being an atheist. I fully acknowledge that having no belief can be as good as mere belief. It simply cannot be better.

Mere belief means that one has this vague notion that you will be punished in the afterlife for doing wrong. That is all. It doesn't ascribe anything more. It doesn't tell you what you should do or how you should do it. But if you violate your moral code there is an external authority there to punish you. This is a good thing.

Show me how this is bad. A joke makes my point perfectly:

You are at a buffet. There is a sign. The sign above the apples says, "Take only one. God is watching you." A few feet later, you see another sign. This sign is above the cookies: "Take all you want. God is watching the apples."

145. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 07:18 pm

vroomfondle,

Now it is time to consider your second objection: "if a mere belief in god is so good why did these problems go beyond it"

Do I really have to spell it out for you? (sigh!) Oh well, here goes:

It is becuase of the social control aspect that is religion. I submit that the atheist problem is with organized religion and not religion per se. Your problem is with the interpretations that people make in religion that lead to bad consequences.

I look at my religion as consisting of three parts. Let us call them the good, the indifferent, and the ugly (I don't call it the bad because really, when they are bad, they are ugly).

The good: do not kill, do not steal, do not covet thy neighbor's wife, etc. Call it the 10 commandments (although the "thou shalt have no Gods before me" and the "no graven images" really fall under the indifferent category.

The indifferent: circumcision (whatever Mr. Singham may say, there are valid medical reasons for it and the American Academy of Pediatricians has laid out the pluses and minuses--it certainly does not rise to being anything other than an acceptable position, although I am willing to accept scientific evidence that it is not and then I might modify my position on that); no eating of fish on Fridays; no eating of pork; no graven images; etc. All of these would fall under the "acceptable choice" category. It really does not matter if you believe them or not. I choose to follow these because of their constant reminder that I have an external authority watching over me.

The ugly: kill all those who do not believe in your religion and you get to go to Heaven; death to adulterers; death to homosexuals; etc.

You dispense with the ugly (usually by finding out that you can actually use your religion to dispute your current interpretation--yes, you can find slavery in the Bible and you can also find some verses that suggest that slavery is abhorrent but you really have to stretch them to do so), you celebrate the good, and you can choose to follow (or not to follow) the indifferent.

In other words, I treat God's law as I do human law: I choose to follow some (do not murder, do not steal; do not commit fraud) and blithefully ignore others (for example, there is a law that in Burlingame, CA that says, "It is illegal to spit, except on baseball diamonds." Well come and arrest me, I gargled and spit when I was in a hotel room in Burlingame -- it is just a stupid law!). I would similarly ignore laws that are immoral or offensive to my sensibilities (I am not stupid enough to name these because, unlike the Burlingame, CA law, I might end up really in trouble for them -- but suffice it to say that we all know of some law or another somewhere in the world, which is immoral and really should not be followed).

Do you understand now? It is when we go beyond mere belief that we get in trouble. It is when we seek to impose our belief systems on others where we get in trouble. For me, religion is a personal code of conduct. It makes life easier. I don't have to sit and evaluate all the laws to see if they are right. I merely have to evaluate whether or not the requirement is wrong.

This is what children do when they are growing up. They quickly learn that there are some rules that are given to them that they need to follow (such as do not hit others, which are followed by explanations as to why this is a bad thing), other laws that will cause no harm and might help if they follow (like eat your broccoli, which is followed by explanations as to why it is a good idea to eat one's vegetables--sorry but I don't like broccoli so can I have carrots instead?) and others that are just plain stupid (these are usually the ones followed with "because I told you so" arguments from the parents).

In other words, if the rule under consideration definitely is good, follow it. If it is indifferent, you may follow it. If it is ugly, don't follow it. Such advice would be much better for all.

So why were the ugly things in the religions in the first place? Well, for the most part, they are contextual. For example, most laws had the death penalty attached because it was so difficult to determine if someone actually did something. You had them killed because the burden of proof was so high. Today we have circumstantial evidence (fingerprints, DNA, etc.) to determine whether someone did something. Back in biblical times, your only proof was direct evidence with maybe a little circumstantial evidence thrown in (you know, he always did look a little funny at the horse...).

In addition, you might be looking at being at war (killing thy enemies) or dealing with an institution that simply could not be eliminated immediately because it was so ingrained in the culture (slavery). Look, when Mohammad and Jesus came to spread monotheism to their respective areas, it was hard enough getting everyone to believe in one God, overturning all the other social institutions probably wouldn't work. At least that is one explanation -- or you could argue that God doesn't ascribe morality in all areas so that there are some areas in which humans need to decide what is moral and what is immoral (so slavery might be considered in that fashion since nowhere in the Bible or the Qu'ran is it commanded that every believer have slaves, it only sets rules up for slavery; however, I still consider it part of the "ugly" of religion that should be dismissed out of hand).

146. goxewu - May 22, 2010 at 07:24 pm

There was no argument in #138. The argument is being conducted by zagros and vroomfondle. In it, vroomfondle supplies the quality, zagros the quantity.

For what it's worth:

a) I'm an agnostic--a not unreasonable position in discussions with people proclaiming Absolutes.

b) If I were to "believe" in a casual being in a dimension beyond those of the cosmos science tells us (always provisionally, subject to further testing--which is what I like about science) we're in, it would likely be in a "superior" being who might be the next one up in a near-infinite chain of command, and not a "Supreme" one.

c) What turns me off about 98.732 percent of those who, like zagros, make long and intricate arguments for, oh let's call it A First Cause Which Cannot Itself Be Caused, is that, once they think they've established the existence of AFCWCIBC, they abandon all reason and commit on "faith" to that AFCWCIBC somehow being a "God" who's inordinately concerned with human beings and intervenes in history by turning Himself into Jesus Christ or The Flying Spaghetti Monster, presumably to make human beings behave in a certain way.

d) While zagros claims to be some kind of disinterested slightly theistic (or non-theistic--I forget and don't have time to search through the very lengthy chapters of the Book of Zagros on this thread to find out) whose fascination with the God/no-God issue is rather like that of an interest in solving a chess problem, his (no woman could be as prolix, right?) passion gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that he's really part of that 98.732 percent.

Observations over. The floor is now the estimable vroomfondle's.

147. zagros - May 22, 2010 at 09:03 pm

goxewu,

I have no problem with atheistic agnostics. I have a major problem with atheists who claim that they know God does not exist. I have a simple enough rule as to why I am a theist. I do not state that atheism is wrong per se (only that it cannot be morally superior to mere belief) and it appear that you actually have no problem with what I actually state, only with how forcefully I state it.

Why am I so passionate? Well, my mere belief stopped me from doing immoral acts in the past.

What immoral act? Well, I will give you one from my past: I have been raped. I wanted to kill my rapist. No mere punishment by the authorities would do and I certainly did not care what happened after the fact as far as this temporal life is concerned. I had it all planned out. However, the thought of eternal punishment stilled my hand and quieted my heart. Thus, mere belief in God was very good for me. It prevented me from engaging in an immoral act. If I had been an atheist, I am quite certain that I would have acted on my plan to dispatch my rapist (and, as a result, I may or may not have been placed in jail). Instead, I take comfort in knowing that my rapist (who was never punished by the authorities) will receive eternal hellfire as just punishment (or at least I think that the rapist will, which is all that really matters for my comfort). Believing that bad people are punished and good people are rewarded gives me comfort in a way that atheism cannot (and no, I do not believe in forgiveness for all sins and you can understand why now as well!). The problems of evil and suffering make me believe in God even as they make you turn away. How else can you explain why Jews did not want all of Germany laid to waste after World War II?

So you see, this is a very personal concept to me and (hopefully) now you understand my passion and anger towards those who wish to see it dispelled.

On the other hand, I am offended that you place me in the 98.732% (and now that you know the reason for my passion, I think that it is obvious why I am not). My perspective on religion places me as an apostate in my religion and thus there are those who want to see me killed. From my perspective it is they who have left the religion but no matter they seek my death. I am truly and completely offended by anyone who places me with them but atheists who condemn all religion indiscriminately do just that: condemning the just believer with the unjust.

The enemies (atheists) of my enemies (fanatical literal interpretist theists) are not my friends. Unless proven otherwise: a pox on all thy houses.

148. zagros - May 23, 2010 at 02:54 am

goxewu,

You state that your principle objection is when "AFCWCIBC somehow being a "God" who's inordinately concerned with human beings and intervenes in history by turning Himself into Jesus Christ or The Flying Spaghetti Monster, presumably to make human beings behave in a certain way."

In other words, you can accept a deity that "does nothing at all." (Singham's words)

I'll meet you halfway on this in that the deity does not interfere in lives once he has imparted His message to us (either through general or special revelation.

The deity must not interfere in our daily lives or else we lose free will. The deity must not provide proof or else we lose faith. Without free will or faith, we lose are reason for being here. The deity then judges us and our immortal souls on the basis of those choices in the afterlife. I have no problem with someone who does not agree that there is such a deity but then my question would be: why are we here? What is our purpose? These are the questions that religion seeks to answer. My answer is: I am here because God is testing me to see if I choose good (Him) or evil (not Him) through my free will. I really do not know what the purpose is for an atheist. I guess that there is none because for there to be a purpose, there has to be a plan, and there is no plan, according to atheism.

It is funny because if science were to "prove" God and all the atheists came on board because of it, I would lose my reason for believing in God. God just would be (so belief would have nothing to with it). However, I do not support discerning whether God exists for three reasons: (a) proving God does not exist eliminates my external arbitrator of truth and such elimination will make me a less moral person; (b) proving God does exist will kill my faith and free will, as I would no longer be able to freely exercise my opinion and instead would have to listen to whatever God told me and blindly follow it; and (c) I think that it is foolish to try to prove something that I believe cannot be proven one way or the other.

In other words, there are some truths we really should not try to seek out.

The final examination will be coming as soon as the world ends. Class dismissed.

149. zagros - May 23, 2010 at 02:56 am

Hypothesis of goxewu: "no woman could be as prolix, right"

Proof goxewu is wrong: Ayn Rand.

Q.E.D.

150. vroomfondle - May 23, 2010 at 04:42 am

Zagros, you quoted me ("if a mere belief in god is so good why did these problems go beyond it") pretending that you were going to answer my question then ignored it and instead listed your methods on how to avoid mere belief falling into the religion trap. Your method is what is commonly known as cherry-picking and it's use discredits all religious texts which claim to be the word of god and infallable.

(Cherry picking is well understood and you didn't need to fill my screen with it's explanation to not answer my question)

One does not need to believe in a supreme being to cherry pick. Belief may help some people to make the right decisions - and I would encourage those people to believe if that what it takes - but others can do that without belief.

So, coming back to the question : if belief in something is better than non-belief because of the "constant reminder that I have an external authority watching over me" a believer would ipso facto be immune to falling into the trap. Ironically, the only risk of falling into the trap is if you do believe.

151. zagros - May 23, 2010 at 08:14 am

vroomfondle,

Why do you choose to argue when you have already conceded my point? "Belief may help some people to make the right decisions - and I would encourage those people to believe if that what it takes." Those are your words. You also agree with me that "others can do that without belief." These statements only serve to reinforce my point and, indeed, you have never invalidated my point: lack of belief cannot trump belief if mere belief is all that we have added.

However, you still seem to not get it because you are still asking "if a mere belief in god is so good why did these problems go beyond it"

I guess you cannot read so I will write it again very simply for you. I actually answered this before (so I refuse to answer it again, go back and read my answer) but I will answer the question that lies behind the question:

Question: Doesn't your argument discredit "all religious texts which claim to be the world of god [sic] and infallable"?

Answer: No. It discredits the literalist interpretation of all such texts. I am not a literalist. I interpret my texts contextually and thus use my brain (much as someone without a text does) to discern what I should or should not do. I treat all writings as parables and not as absolute fact. I look at the religious laws that have been written and believe that they apply solely to the individual and that they are not to be used to impose on others nor used to judge others. This does not mean that I believe that these works are not from God. I do. I just think that we misinterpret them. It is like the fairy tales we are taught as children. You don't need to literally believe that Little Red Riding Hood talks to a wolf to understand that the story is about not talking to strangers, do you?

Therefore, I use the text merely to establish that there is an external being watching over me and use the brain that the Creator gave me to discern truth.

The notion that "a believer would ipso facto be immune to falling into the trap" is incorrect. It is true, as you have stated (rather poorly I might add--it is difficult to determine what you are saying when you don't expound on the issues), only a believer will fall into the trap of literalist interpretation and follow it (non-believers also fall into this trap but just don't follow it--they expect believers to follow it but more on this later). However, this cannot be the fault of mere belief.

Only a believer in Hitler's philosophy can fall into the trap of believing and implementing in the final solution. Only a believer in Marxian philosophy can fall into the trap of believing that socialism will cure all ills and then implement socialism. Only an atheist can fall into the trap of believing that science can discern all things (a fact that science has actually disproven -- see Godel's Impossibility Theorem for the proof) and then try to "prove" that God does not exist (or dismiss God on the grounds that He doesn't exist and, therefore, cannot be proven when, in fact, he might exist and be unprovable).

The trap, of which you write, is one in which the believer who does not understand context falls. To a different extent, it is also a trap for the non-believer (except to really be in the trap, you must implement but since you do not believe you cannot do that, so you really don't fall into the trap but rather a related trap). You see, if you truly did believe that God existed and you saw evidence that your "good book" was wrong (and, come on, you and I both know that it is wrong to do the truly ugly things that religion appears to call on us to do), you would immediately reinterpret your "good book." That is what believers have been doing for centuries. It is only atheists (and really sick believers) who actually believe that we believers should enforce slavery, kill unbelievers, etc., and it is only the really sick believers who actually attempt to implement these things.

It is the coward and the fool who is the literalist, who refuses to see that her or his interpretation is evil. It is the person who seeks to discredit religion who keeps on bringing up the "ugly" parts of religion even though those with the religion have long since moved on.

Class dismissed. Remember that this will be on the final.

152. zagros - May 23, 2010 at 08:16 am

I meant to write that I will not answer it again but that I will answer the question that lies behind the question. I had originally decided to write it a different way but then realized that you were looking at the problem from a different angle and so I attacked the problem from that perspective instead.

153. zagros - May 23, 2010 at 08:30 am

One more digression: religion obviously goes beyond mere belief. In the beginning, whether God revealed Himself to man or man created God, mere belief came first. That mere belief was good (as I have demonstrated). However, then either God or people created scripture. Some of this scripture was good. Some of it might have been bad but certainly it is bad if you read it literally. This scripture might be able to be good if interpreted using other methods (rather than literally). The problem is with the literalist interpretation of scripture, not with mere belief in a higher power.

If someone chooses to use scripture to reinforce their notion of a higher power and reinterprets scripture in a non-literal fashion to be in harmony with His or Her apriori knowledge of what is right and wrong, that is good. You cannot argue against this.

If someone chooses to believe scripture as being infallable and subject only to literalist interpretation then they make scripture their God which is prohibited under one of the 10 commandments since they have replaced God with scripture as their directional path. As you can see, I have a very different interpretation of scripture than do most people and now you know why I am considered an apostate.

This does not mean that I do not follow scripture. I do. But I interpret it in light of reality as I believe that is what God wants me to do.

That being said, organized religion is a comfort because it constantly reminds me that there is someone watching over me to discern what is right and wrong. So I do not want to see religion eliminated, even as I (sadly) see it misused by the literalists among the believers.

End of digression.

154. vroomfondle - May 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Zagros,
"only a believer will fall into the trap of literalist interpretation and follow it"

Yes that was my point even if I stated it rather poorly. Having confirmed it you then went on to say that this cannot be the fault of mere belief - semantics, it is a result of mere belief which cannot result from not believing.

Afterwards, your point that someone with the fear of losing his eternal soul (or whatever the threat/motivation is) will be more moral than someone without that 'knowledge' will not steal that DVR at the end of the world is extremely speculative. One man's pleasure is another man's poison. What would you say if the atheist in your scenario doesn't take the DVR either? Is your believer still better on principle? Is the non-believer better because he acted morally without the threat? What if a believer just can't resist despite everything, he's still human isn't he?

Shall we call it a draw?

155. vroomfondle - May 23, 2010 at 01:58 pm

"For example, suppose that the world *will* end tonight at 10 PM. It is presently 9:30 PM. There is *no doubt* that the world will end. You see something that you have ALWAYS WANTED in a store that is now left unguarded. You are curious about it and would it not be wonderful to be able to have it, even for these last few minutes on Earth. There is no one around. There is no one who will miss it. Do you take it? I do not see how the atheist can answer with anything other than 'yes'. You are harming no one but you violate the moral principle of 'do not steal'. Yet, again, you are harming no one. I do not steal it because I have God watching over me even at this late hour. To steal, ESPECIALLY at this hour, would be a grave sin from my perspective." [#131 zagros]

There is absolutely nothing to stop the atheist from not taking the item. Speaking for myself the lifelong habit of not stealing would be enough and that's before I notice that it's not in the colour that I wanted.

Apart from that though I disagree that someone is capable of being better than someone else through enticements. It's of course possible to make him better than he might otherwise be but there will always be someone better than him who doesn't need the carrot.

That is why I think that the following is a better, more accurate analogy :

Suppose someone is hanging above a canyon by his fingers. You threaten him with what you like not to fall. It doesn't matter if he believes it or not because the result is the same - when his strength gives out he will fall.
I don't think that I need to elaborate, but what the hell? :
Someone else is hanging by his fingers and you tell him the same thing to not to fall. He believes what you say even more than the first guy... one of them will have hung on for longer, but which one? Of course it doesn't matter.

We need a joke after that depressing reality-check.
A horse walks into a bar, the barman says "Why the long face?"


156. zagros - May 23, 2010 at 03:38 pm

"Apart from that though I disagree that someone is capable of being better than someone else through enticements. It's of course possible to make him better than he might otherwise be but there will always be someone better than him who doesn't need the carrot."

Well, you still don't understand. It isn't about two different people--it is about the same person either with or without the belief in God. I never said that there isn't a person out there who isn't "better" but there is no possibility that they are "better" simply because they are an atheist and that is all that matters.

In fact, you prove my point with "There is absolutely nothing to stop the atheist from not taking the item."

And that, ladies and gentlemen is is the essential difference between atheists and theists. Theism is the more moral philosophy--you have proven it yourself.

As to your analogy, you have set up an atheistic explanation. Oh well, what the hell? Since we are all going to die anyway, do whatever you want, whenever you want. There are no consequences of your actions. Personally, I would rather be the person who is falling knowing that I tried not to fall. Even if I do fall, I know that I will be coming back in a better life -- the afterlife. You atheists have no such hope. How sad.

Oh and as for the essential truth? Honestly, I would rather believe that I might not fall (and fall anyway, which is what the theist does in your situation) than give up and just let myself fall (which is what the atheist really does).

In other words, even if God did not exist, man would have to invent him (Voltaire) and only an atheist is unable to understand why.

In conclusion, that is the essential difference and it is why it is hopeless for you to convince a theist to follow you (what is in it for us? as I asked before). I realize that it is also hopeless for us to convince you to follow us (your soul is obviously lost) and so we shall end it here: agreeing to disagree, yes?

157. vroomfondle - May 23, 2010 at 04:56 pm

zagros,
Your right I hadn't considered that it was about the same person.

However I still can't agree that "theism is the more moral philosophy" because athiesm isn't a philosophy, just a position that there are no deities so they're not comparable in those terms.

Your interpretation of my analogy is disingenuous ; there's no reason to say "Oh well, what the hell? Since we are all going to die anyway, do whatever you want, whenever you want". A non believer might say "this life is all I have, I must hold on" and the believer might say "Oh well, there's always the afterlife, it doesn't matter if I let go".

"agreeing to disagree" yes, although I think that we agree more than we disagree.

158. amordeo - May 24, 2010 at 06:34 am

Zagros and Goxewu and Vroom...,

I want to focus on posts 146 - 148.

Zagros, I feel for what you wrote about believing that God would provide His just judgment for the terrible situation you had to live through (the rape). I surely believe He will too, and am saddened by that atrocity perpetrated on you. God bless you.

I do have a question and comment. Firstly, anyone abusing the memory of Jesus, whether or not they believe He were God or not, to my mind, ought to give pause. Look, goxewu, what's your point?

goxewu wrote in 146:

"(c)What turns me off about 98.732 percent of those who, like zagros, make long and intricate arguments for, oh let's call it A First Cause Which Cannot Itself Be Caused, is that, once they think they've established the existence of AFCWCIBC, they abandon all reason and commit on "faith" to that AFCWCIBC somehow being a "God" who's inordinately concerned with human beings and intervenes in history by turning Himself into Jesus Christ or The Flying Spaghetti Monster, presumably to make human beings behave in a certain way."

What 97% throws out all reason, when in fact it is our most heart-felt reason that draws us into Christ's Passion, His mission of Saving Grace?? Without reason, we would be blind mockers on the road to Calvary, part of the herd, spitting and yelling, "Crucify Him!" Those my friend are the 97% unreasonable. And yes, at some time or another, THAT IS US--perhaps(?) writing insults on the sieline, denigrating Jesus' mission by analogy to a FPM'r. Unreasonably thinking that God came to intervene and force, or (as you say) "make" mankind behave... Get real. Have you never "felt" something in your gut? Something far too real to be a trivial manipulation of an intervention to make someone behave this or that way. Please. There is nothing more directly "real" and NOT "God playing around with miracles to force some behavior" than what Jesus DID as a MAN (and 100% God in my, and millions of other's book). IT HAPPENED. He went to His torturous death willingly for our transgressions--and whther you think he is God or not--may I politely request that you watch your mouth when speaking of Him--for He did nothing to earn your contempt in the least (you who already admitted God might come in "layers" of potential betterness,in infinite regress--of all people, who do you come off bad-mouthing Jesus--do you see yourself "above" his "proximity" in that chain of ever approaching the Supreme in this limit of regress you speak of? It's a good idea Goxewu--that's why I'm being hard on you!.

I cannot say that my sense of your less than profound invocation of a "Flying spag... monster" means anything more than my being all the more grateful for Christ having the love, grace, insight and courage to do what His Father had Him do--for you, for Zagro, for me, for Vroom... etc.

Put yourself in His position. He knew that His friends would suffer for following Him. How many Christian lives given in obedience to our Lord might be sufficient for one to have the decency of giving at least an ounce, only a shred of a human heartfelt thought for why these souls felt so compelled. What kind of nerve has one to slight the passion Jesus ignited in millions of believers around the world. Consider the suffering souls who turn to their Christ Jesus for comfort, many without the education to be as ingenious as one who can write the kind of paragraph quoted above.

Consider those without 7-11's, TV, AC's, or college degree's. They were born "somewhere else." Therefore, heck, why not blow them off. Disrespect anything they might (ridiculously) hold dear... It's all relative. Absolutes? Those are for the puny minded (and the theoretical scientists who depend upon mathematical models to invent the medicines, appliances, means of food and shelter, etc. etc. all of their mathematical modeling results about nature are arbitrarily relative--the results of using logical absolutes where clearly recognizable situations existed, well, obviously one might have devised a Flying Spagetti Monster and it would have all been the same--it's all relative--yes, it's all relative, afterall, if you or I were born in Palestine today, or were a Jew in Europe 70 years ago, or Cambodia 30 years ago, you know... It's all "Relative"--there is no good or evil, and life is all about as precious as, well, say a metaphor about throwing food, or anything ridiculous I can dream up---).

And I see no reason to respect things I've read or been told about a man who some believe was a great moral teacher--who like Socrates, gave His life before He would give up His beliefs. Why respect a man like that (or His beliefs)? I've heard some ridiculous spagetti monster stories about things I cannot quite fathom--I think they call them parables. Someone told me they are meant to connote things because (truly) many things are relative, but I don't REALLY buy that stuff about things being relative. It's all black and white--anyone silly enough to believe in something larger than themselves, hah, a "God"--they must really believe things actually might be relative, but they suffer the conflict we all cannot escape (thank heaven) of feeling they believe there actually is a right and wrong in many, well, too many cases to count...

It's like that infinite regress of one supreme being under another, under another, ad infinitum. There really does seem to be an order of Truth to things beyond my (dare I say? ;) ) limited mind (smiles).

I'm not good at holding onto insult/grudge. Goxewu, if you care, I forgive you, and if you don't, I'll pray for you.

So truly, think about others (like at least me and a few million more of us, at least 1 of which just might have pondered the "mystery of faith" a bit beyond your (a), (b), (c)'s above in post 146) before you reduce my (our, Yours if you decide) Lord and merciful Saviour to... pure insult. I know Christ doesn't need or want me to go over board on this, but perhaps showing a healthy indignation where it is due (and THEN some) is appropriate. I mean, ESPECIALLY if Goxewu, you don't believe Jesus of Nazerath was God, how could you not (at least) RESPECT the man for what He did??

Finally, ZAGRO, this leads me to your conclusions in post 148:

"It is funny because if science were to "prove" God and all the atheists came on board because of it, I would lose my reason for believing in God. God just would be (so belief would have nothing to with it)."

Well, I understand and agree completely with you that (and I think this is Goxewu's point also about the infinite regress of potentially "more" supreme beings) if God were merely provable, He would not be much of a God now would he?

Zagro went on...


"However, I do not support discerning whether God exists for three reasons: (a) proving God does not exist eliminates my external arbitrator of truth and such elimination will make me a less moral person; (b) proving God does exist will kill my faith and free will, as I would no longer be able to freely exercise my opinion and instead would have to listen to whatever God told me and blindly follow it; and (c) I think that it is foolish to try to prove something that I believe cannot be proven one way or the other.

In other words, there are some truths we really should not try to seek out."

I'm not sure if we differ, but I have a couple comments and I'm out. I think it's sort of a "healthy exercise" to sharpen our sensibilities by at least trying to convince others of God's existence. One, we might help spark a potential believer's interest, and what greater gift could we give? Also, even if there were 50 logical irrefutable proofs for God, we people still have the free will to turn away, and might likely exercise it. It's not easy to respond to a being who know's your deepest heart--when our heart can too often be less than as pure as we wished.

I think arguments for the existence of God serve us in a scientific culture (a culture steeped in education in logic and mathematics, and it's many cogent fruits)to direct our minds BACK to the MINDFUL questions about moral treatment of ourselves and others, the stewardship of our planet, etc. As Zagro points out, God points us at thinking about the deeper purpose of our very lives (something our consumer culture can certainly distract us from!).

Zagro, my sense is that I "know" God exists, whether I have an explicit proof that can be "languaged" and stamped as a logically sound, valid argument is unnecessary (maybe you agree, I apologize if I have not read you deeply enough to answer that question, but it seems to me you might agree). But EVEN THOUGH I KNOW THIS FOR A (subjectively and objectively warranted) FACT, my free will causes me all too often to struggle with sin.

So, the way I see it, God CAN Irrefutably exist, and I STILL must struggle with decisions, interpretations of scripture, Gee Whiz, just life... My free will gets in the way a lot (many argue Free Will is the Root of Evil and Suffering in a world otherwise created by a Perfect Loving God), but I do agree with you about how WONDERFUL that we are created with this freedom, and we can strive and aspire to the deeper and deeper... Truths that God makes plain to us (whether they can be "languaged" or "stated" in Absolute terms, we feel the Gravity and Majesty from where they emerge, and aspire to those Virtues to which they point--perhaps most importantly, if nothing more than to bear some kind of Witness to their real existence in this too often dingy, small minded, even mean world--these Ways of living well (e.g., Godly, righteous, sober, loving, charitable, just, merciful, grateful...) that Jesus taught those "with ears to hear (He who came in fulfillment of God's promise/covenant to Israel, because He is eternally Faithful to us, if we only put our trust in Him)."

159. goxewu - May 24, 2010 at 09:24 am

I don't understand #158. Is it written in "Tongues"?

(And too bad for all those Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, et al., who, like goxewu, will apparently have to make do with amordeo's condescending prayers.)

160. stinkcat - May 24, 2010 at 10:33 am

"And too bad for all those Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, et al., who, like goxewu, will apparently have to make do with amordeo's condescending prayers."

Of course these same groups have to deal with the condescending attitudes of the new atheists, so I am not sure how much more they are harmed by condescending prayers.

161. goxewu - May 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm

The new atheists--of which I am not one--may condescend, but at least they don't say, in effect, "You're going to burn in Hell, and I'm not--ha ha ha ha ha." And they haven't yet figured out how to drum up tax-deductible new atheist mega-non-churches with food courts, gymns, hair salons, parking for 10,000 cars, TV networks, endless cons for cash, etc. On balance, I'd rather suffer the relatively concise condescension of the new atheists than the logorrheaic patronizing of zagros, amordeo, and their pals in the various clergies.

162. ztkl40a - May 24, 2010 at 06:05 pm

"Since we are all going to die anyway, do whatever you want, whenever you want. There are no consequences of your actions."

Out of all of Zagros's long postings, I think this statement is the most absurd. Whether there's an afterlife or not, our actions most assuredly have consequences. If I punch somebody, they will feel real pain. If I give my brother in law a loan, he can pay his mortgage and keep living in his house. If I hug my daughter, she will experience a real embrace. If I kiss my wife, she will have the real sensation of my lips against hers. You can argue about the meaningfulness of it all, but you certainly can't say that our actions have no consequences, or that they can't cause real joy or suffering.

163. stinkcat - May 24, 2010 at 08:04 pm

"Whether there's an afterlife or not, our actions most assuredly have consequences. If I punch somebody, they will feel real pain."

Of course, most believers in the afterlife and nonbelievers in the afterlife are sufficiently selfish to discount the pain that we cause others. If I punch my enemy, the joy I feel may very well offset the harm I cause to the enemy. Of course, if I read the bible, I am told to love my enemy and if I am judged to the extent that I do that it can cause me to rethink the calculus, which is a good thing. I will admit, however, I am unaware of atheists going around telling people that they should love their enemies. Perhaps they do and some sort of moral suasion provides the same incentives not to punch the enemy.

164. ztkl40a - May 25, 2010 at 01:44 pm

stinkcat,

If you're unaware of atheists telling people to be good to each other, just google 'secular humanism'. It doesn't take an external moral agent to determine that the golden rule is a good thing, just empathy. (Where empathy came from is a separate question, but I don't find it hard at all to accept that as a social species, natural selection favored empathy, especially for the tens of thousands of years when our ancestors lived in small family groups.)

If you think that a deity makes for a good external moral agent, google the 'Euthypro dilemma'. Maybe you've already heard of it and have a good response to it. If so, I'd be interested to read it.

165. goxewu - May 25, 2010 at 03:00 pm

I heard an interesting episode of the NPR program, "Radiolab," that dealt with what stinkcat and ztkl40a are getting into--the origins of morality. Here's a synopsis of part of that episode:

A Stanford psych researcher posed the following question to lots of people: "A train is coming down the track unseen by five workers on one track past the switch, and one worker on the other. You're standing on a bridge and can see what'll happen. But there's a lever; if you pull it, the train will divert to the track with only one worker on it. You'll kill one to save five. Would you pull the lever?"

90 percent said yes.

Then, a different question: The same train situation, only no lever. But a fat man is watching on the bridge with you. Push him off the bridge and he's killed by the train, which stops before it kills the five workers. Would you push the man off the bridge?

90 percent said no.

What's up with that? the researcher wondered. Being a neouroscientist, he then asked people the same questions while they were strapped into a giant brain-scan machine. Lo and behold, two entirely different parts of the brain went into action for each question. For the first (with the lever), the part of the brain that made the decision dealt with conscious reason. For the second (the fat man), the part of the brain was something more primal, pre-reason.

Tentative conclusion (subject to further research, of course): the "empathy" that prevents those who answer "no" to killing the fat man--no to hands-on murder--seems to be part of evolutionary psychology, i.e., a psychological trait that's a part of natural selection that led to the survival of those who didn't readily kill their own kind.

Tentative theist/atheist conclusion: morality comes from evolution, from the ground up so to speak, and not from "God," or from the top down. Of course, if one's theism embraces evolution as simply "God's" way of getting the job done, then there's no problem. Well, at least there's not that particular problem.

To me, this tilts the debate tentatively in favor of those who say that humans can be moral without holding a religious belief.

So, argue on, stinkcat and ztkl40a.

166. dank48 - May 25, 2010 at 03:43 pm

Zagros, awhile back, ended: "The enemies (atheists) of my enemies (fanatical literal interpretist theists) are not my friends. Unless proven otherwise: a pox on all thy houses."

Sorry, but the plural is "your" not "thy," and it would be anachronistic to sound the h anyway. Singular "thine houses"; plural "your houses." Never mind that the quote is "A plague o' both your houses!"

167. amordeo - May 25, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I am concerned that (a) my last post came off as condescending, and (b) my sort of writing as my stream of conscience took me may have insulted some.

This is like really serious, sort of "at people's core" kind of discusiion here, and I want to give every benefit of the doubt to non-believers if they are being sincere to their deepest feelings when they write.

Let me say off the bat, there was a really interesting movie called "Doubt" -- http://www.newsweek.com/id/171190 -- that had a fascinating message at the end.

Meryl Streep makes the obserrvation, towards the end of the movie, that when you engage in trying to sort of "right" certain things (that might be "not right"), you kind of have to "step away" from faith to do it. Great movie in a lot of ways. I think "Doubt" presents why it is, if arguing from a strictly secular standpoint, that the sort of "guidance in living" that scripture portends to matters. This being when taken not in any hyper-Fundamentalist, fanatical, or non-interpretive ignoring of the contexts at hand. Suffice to say, we are all human, and we all sin, i.e., we can be self-centered, selfish, self-absorbed, ego-trippy, etc.

When I read my last post 158 in context of GOXEWU's, STINKCAT's, and ZTK140A's later posts, I see how SELF-ABSORBED I probably came off, so I genuinely do hope you understand that I felt personally insulted, and was kind of lashing out. It just hurts to hear Jesus put in the context of something so demeaning (i.e., the Flying Spag.. Monster reference). So anyway, that's where I was coming from.

The other thing I'd like to say is that ZAGROS shared a really intimate detail about her (or his, Lord have mercy) very very personal life in post 147. See, I feel things personally about Jesus' life and suffering for me, and that is relevant here with respect to the personal sharing that ZAGROS braved.

I really hope you forgive me if I came off "condescending." It is really difficult to express all this. And I know in your hearts GOXEWU, STINKCAT, and ZTK140A, you too have sympathy for ZAGROS personal experience written about in 147.

My sense, as a growing Christian (previously an agnostic who argued for atheism) is that the CONNOTATIONS rift in Scripture SOMEHOW speak to men's hearts in hugely delicate, deeply inspired ways. I




168. amordeo - May 25, 2010 at 11:23 pm

oops. I accidentally posted above without a chance to finish or edit--must have hit some key...

GOXEWU, I do understand that you meant to point out (at the least, I suppose) that I am a horrible writter when you said I was speaking in "Tongues." Please do feel me though. I know I can't write my way out of a paper bag when it comes to cogency. I really do hope though that if you read my last (#158) post in the context of someone who felt horrifyed in reading what happened to ZAGROS, and imagine if you will how a Christian might interpret that suffering in the context of what Jesus did voluntarily, perhaps my attrocious(sp?) writing might at least connote something of value.

GOXEWU, I really appreciate your good spirit and sense of humor. I think life can take its toll on us at times, and maybe we feel it necessary to somehow defend, rather than simply witness. I enjoyed your joke about the horse in the bar--"Why the long face?"

So anyway GOXEWU, I hope you know I was trying to do a sort of "Jewish Mother" with you (post # 158) and try to lay a little guilt down where I thought it due. And Jewish Mothers (my mom being cut from that cloth) only do it out of love. God bless!

169. amordeo - May 26, 2010 at 02:29 am

I do see how I sound "condescending." It's legit to ask, "Who is this person? Where do they come off telling me etc. etc.?"

Well, picture in your mind living a life that you think makes sense, but then realize that that life should have had the humility to have been a Christian all along... I have turned out to have been more my own worst enemy than anyone else. I feel for ZAGROS because ZAGROS has been truly victimized, not merely by "themself."

I think my autobio. may be close to many on this site in certain aspects. I teach, and I love my students. Unfortunately, as I matured, I became perhaps more and more interested in my subject matter, and may somewhere along the way have lost sight that many of my students, basically, were not as inspired by the material.

Now throw in the mix the changes that have occured in sort of external-political-bureaucratic "affirmative action" stances to teaching. To my mind, most all genuinely spirited teachers already have "built in" a loving, affirming intentionality towards their students.

I, as perhaps many, left a high paying job where all the "externalities" of a "happy life" were in the bag. But I wanted to share with others the beauties that my industry employment afforded my exploring (I worked for Lockheed Aerospace in engineering R & D, had a fellowship from the company, the whole nine yards, they were wonderful to me).

I left Lockheed and took a job as a graduate teaching assistant in math. Several of my early students went on to become secondary math teachers, and I got some really encouraging feedback on my teaching evaluations.

I think where it all started to become complex was when I took a year off from my thesis, and taught 8th grade math at a huge inner city school. Oh My Sweet Lord. I loved these kids so much--and it seemed the more I did, the more some of them found a way to just RIP ME TO SHREDS (aack).

Now, in retrospect, I have a clearer understanding--and it is not a simple "convergent problem" here, but a swirl of divergency.

I truly believe, in retrospect and in moving forward, that if implemented in its ideal sense (i.e., assuming a thoughtful, humble pursuit one's faith), Christianity is (at least as I see it, and my Anglican church teaches it) one of the best ways to approach teaching in American public schools.

Children, especially in our selfish-tempting sort of post-Vietnam era malaise: children crave and need just, respectful boundaries. Society in America seems "shiney and supportive" on the outside, yet "stressed and a bit lost in self-absorbed hopes" (some might say "greed") internally.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

Keeping this short--I only want to say that I love America and all it (at least Pre-Vietnam era) fairly innocently and directly in times past was noteworthy in standing for. My sense today is that Christianity has a lot to offer to help we individuals in contemporary society re-gain the moral authority that our youth so rightly crave.

Where I went wrong was thinking somehow I could just "love" the problems away that my students were facing in the inner city, and since, in other "affirmative action" teaching environments. Need it even be said; I am not God. However, I cannot even imagine facing more inner city middle schoolers without that reminder of WHO IS God, and what He stands for--in the midst of the suffering one cannot help but sometimes be overwhelmed by in certain school situations.

I can only witness that now, today, as a Christian, the problems are still there and may be getting worse. However, so long as I remember who God is, and how He know's the truth in each of my students' hearts, and my own--that somehow (because He IS who He is, by definition and my faith in that), that somehow, He has already suffered for me, so I need NOT.

It's pretty simple. I give my soul to Him, and because I believe He is the God "whose property is always to have mercy," I can have faith that as long as I try to keep "my ears open to hear" (i.e., be open to the CONNOTATIONS of good solid Christian "literacy," which should help one be open to the Holy Spirit of God as exemplified by Christ), I might model for my students that which I hopefully intend to do. The point is: I can do NO MORE. I humble myself to Him, contemplating that I am "not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under [His] table." We Christians are to not trust "in our own righteousness, but in[Jesus'] manifold and great mercies."

See, this hopefully is at least partly why I sound condescending (pathetic writing ability aside). I am stuck with this belief in my own inability to do anything of worth outside the Grace of God. But, for those of us who have taught in challenging middle school environments, especially if we were in the unpleasant position of being asked to teach from a somewhat unforgiving math curriculum to students that felt more and more threatened the more they came to understand the depth of some of the concepts they had yet to "mature" into--it's difficult.

My sense is that many students are still struggling with enough emotional issues in secondary school that when presented with the threat; a false perception their future was at stake because they "weren't smart enough," they can become chaotic in their behavior as a means to "normalize" the perceived intellectual situation among their piers.

I can personally relate analogously to my own moral behavior at times in life. This is why I may have argued for atheism in the past. I believed it was distasteful (my being incapable); likely impossible that I could live up to being a "good Christian"--so "normalizing" the surroundings by trashing the delicate ideals of faith seemed rational.

What has changed over the years is in part a mellowing and easing of feeling "pressed" to want to defend certain immoral or sinful behavior (knowing God weighs all contexts, and I do understand the one's that at least I "break")--but more importantly, the following. I realize Jesus died fully recognizing that I can never be "perfect." He only wants me to be "deliberate." He wants us to have right intentions. This is why I think Christianity always emphasizes Truth with a capital 'T'. Pontious Pilate, made sense GOXEWU, when he pointed out the relativity of truth: "Truth, what is truth?" This is part of the mystery of faith--that God can weigh it all--each of our "genuine" intentions, and further, know the "right" from the wrong in the most intricate of recursively deep contexts.

If we do not believe there is a right and good--well, how could I stand up to my middle schoolers? Is there any such thing as moral authority? Finally, as a scientist chooses the most simple, yet most elgant theory (parsimonious, cogent, and fruitful), I choose to believe in... yup, "God." :)

Our actions may in fact completely "suck" at times. But it's what is in our heart that matters--perhaps precisely because we aspire to that inner moral compass (IF we dare entertain that there at least may EXIST an "absolute" good, i.e., an approachable direction) that a Christian believes that God created man in His image. So whatever that innermost moral compass of absolute clarity may be (i.e., the "Holy Spirit" of "God"), we do only what we can--never acting out of desparation or anger (gulp), because we know God is Infintely Gracious in His control.

In fact, our free will to be angry is something that by His Grace He allows (even if He would rather us not feel that). It's kind of like the God of the Old Testament, however His anger was intended for us to fear. Now did it sometimes seem unreasonable? Certainly. But do we know all the reasons God may have for His anger? A bit presumptuous, eh? It seems a bit analogous to our middle grades teacher who teaches 6 or 7 periods, and we get him or her 7th period one day, and they seem unresonable. Aack.

What did we do to deserve getting our heads seemingly bitten off??

Remember how self-oriented we were? If we ourselves didn't feel we deserved something, then surely there could be no other reason outside that! It was all about "us." But what if the teacher was really loving. What if they experienced behavior from other 6th-8th graders that caused them to react a bit "quick on the draw?" Surely, we understand all teachers cannot be angels all the time!

One hope is the teacher has a good sense of humor and can turn lemons to lemonade--or maybe by explaining some previous mis-adventure that day, some students may sympathize. In fact, some students may actually EMPATHIZE--and that would be TREMENDOUS if in fact the teacher was being deliberate from their heart of hearts, and in fact had justifiable intentions.

So, "the moral of the story"--smiles--or should I say "this exemplarily written diatribe" ha!--is that the connotations of scripture *generalize.* Analogously from my little story, a perceived to be "angry" teacher, if their INTENTIONS are pure, can help teach the receptive student "with ears to both sympathize and empathize."

So much for the Old Testament.

Perhaps the New Testament helps us realize WE alone are not capable, without depending on Christ's grace and mercy, to do what's best. Our pre-requisite is that we first take what He did seriously, as intended, *for us.* In other words, Jesus did all He did in deferrence to God. He believed in that absolute stake in the ground, and His cross serves as the absolute stake He has in our hearts (where this latter "stake" is as in "stakeholder"--Jesus believes in us, He loves us, He mediates with the "Father" on our be-half). He literally intentionally died *for us.*

But He did this so I do NOT need to get angry if something doesn't go my way. How quickly I can forget--this is why I pointed to that movie "Doubt" with Meryl Streep. And how she says (at the end) how far we might have to move away from Christ if we pursue things that are far from Him. You really have to see the movie.

So, GOXEWU, I bet you wish the glib metaphor of the Flying Sp. Monster never entered your mind (if you've suffered having to read this far!!). You're a person with a good sense of humor, so I hope you can digest my lacking attempts to put words to paper. But I'm sure I've at least made clear why I was hurt by one comparing Jesus Christ with a Flying Sp. Monster (makes me sick to write that).

Gotta run. Love you guys-- God Bless.



force feed a curriculum that may have been too sophisticated



170. amordeo - May 26, 2010 at 02:37 am

strike the last line above--

Thanks for your patience with my TRULY "Flying Spagetti Monster" circuitous writing streams. :)

171. goxewu - May 26, 2010 at 09:18 am

I don't think I was the one who brought The Flying Spaghetti Monseter into the thread. I certainly didn't originate it. The FSM is, I gather, a recently common cutesy term used by anti-religionists to indicate what they think is the silliness of "faith" in something irrational as the be-all and end-all of humankind. I just referred to it.

And no, I didn't carefully read #169, just skimmed it. Personal testimonies about "His Grace" and the like, while poignant, don't bring much to a philosophical discussion.

Amordeo seems like a nice person, and I believe that he/she should be allowed to practice his/her religion in peace. Just spare me the Congressional prayer breakfasts, the official obeisances to Billy Graham, the tax-deductible mega-churches, the insertion of religious beliefs ("creationism," "intelligent design," etc.) into science classes, blather about whether the U.S. is or is not "a Christian nation," clergy having the legal power to declare people married, leaflets on my doorstep, proselytizers knocking on my door, TV preachers and their multimillion-dollar empires, etc., etc., etc., etc.

Having no dog in the disputation between amordeo and zagros (I hope "Brainstorm's" server is big enough to handle it), I'll say, "Gotta run," too.

172. vroomfondle - May 26, 2010 at 01:12 pm

...what goxewu said.

173. zagros - May 28, 2010 at 01:05 am

ztkl40a,

You are the one being absurd with your "refutation" of my comment that if you steal with half an hour to go before the world will definitely come to an end and with the knowledge that you cannot be caught or that anyone will miss the item that this is not a case where the obvious atheistic answer is "Since we are all going to die anyway, do whatever you want, whenever you want. There are no consequences of your actions."

If you bother to look at the context, you will see that my reference isn't what you do on a daily basis. It was a specific moral question wherein the atheist will do what the theist will not do. The fact that even at that late hour there are consequences for theists and there are *no* consequences for atheists suggests that atheists will do the wrong thing while theists will do the right thing.

Granted, theists may do it for the "wrong" reasons but understand this point that my discipline of economics has long made and proven: incentives matter. The incentive that you will be rewarded with heaven for good behavior is a powerful one and the incentive that you will be punished with eternal damnation for bad behavior is also a powerful one. This means, at the margin, the believer will act in a more moral manner than an atheist provided the moral code followed by the two is the same (and remember that my argument was one for "mere belief" in a being that will enforce your moral code, not an argument for any particular moral code of any particular religion.

I'm sorry but I really hate it when people read things out of context and then slander people as a result.

The other fact is that I can take comfort in the knowledge that since people are punished for their misdeeds that I do not have to undertake revenge against them. God will judge and His will shall be done is a reason why I need not strike myself. Thus, the belief that God will do this serves as a comfort to me and that increases my utility. This is a good thing because it (a) causes no one else any harm if God does not exist and (b) it means that justice is served if God does exist.
------------------------------------------------------------------
goxewu,

that being said, it does not mean (if the comment is directed in any way at me) that I believe, "You're going to burn in Hell, and I'm not--ha ha ha ha ha." I very well might burn in Hell as well and, in any case, I would not laugh about it (and neither would any true believer -- the fact someone is condemned to Hellfire is not a laughing matter, it is truly a sad fate).

I certainly should receive the flame if justice demands it and even though I have tried always to do the moral thing, I am human and thus fall short. I certainly do not believe that I am entitled to Heaven (nor do I believe that anyone is). Instead I hope that I will be rewarded with Heaven based not only on my faith but also my works (although such a reward will only be bestowed by grace since we all fall short of God's perfection) and I pray that I am granted such entrance.

I even hope that you will be granted such entrance since I see no reason why you should not, despite your non-belief in God. Indeed, I hope that all will be rewarded with Heaven but I am realistic to know that there are those who deserve punishment and I hope that God mets out punishment as well. Let justice be served by God and trust in His judgement.

----------------------------------------------

Now once again, can we just agree to disagree? I mean, after all, I do believe that you should be allowed to hold a wrong opinion (sorry, couldn't resist).

174. ztkl40a - May 28, 2010 at 02:37 pm

I guess I did miss the context. The phrase "whenever you want" made me think this was a general statement, not a statement about the impending end of the world, since "whenever" in that scenario would be a pretty short time. Though if I accept your armageddon scenario, now it's a more interesting question. If you know for a fact that the world's going to end, and you know that the shopowner will never notice that you've stolen something, then is it even wrong? The reason I would normally say that stealing is morally wrong is because you're causing somebody harm by taking their property, but in your scenario, stealing doesn't cause anybody any harm. So, what is it that would make somebody more moral by not stealing in that situation? Is blind obedience to rules really morality? For a less abstract scenario, is it okay for people in disaster stricken areas to steal food from an abandoned grocery store to feed their starving children?

I would still say that my original response applies even in your end of the world scenario. Even if what we experience is finite, it's still real. There are still consequences to our actions, even if those consequences are only going to last for the next half hour.

Leaving behind the end of the world scenario, if your argument is that theists will behave more morally than atheists because of the incentives, look up the study titled "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies" by Gregory S. Paul. I don't think you can take that study so far as to say that atheism leads to a better society, but I think it certainly demonstrates that atheism doesn't lead to worse morality than theism.

175. zagros - May 28, 2010 at 04:19 pm

"If you know for a fact that the world's going to end, and you know that the shopowner will never notice that you've stolen something, then is it even wrong?"

Yes, it is morally wrong. This is precisely my point. That being said, there are sometimes reasons to behave immorally when the outcome will be worse by behaving morally. For example, your next point:

"For a less abstract scenario, is it okay for people in disaster stricken areas to steal food from an abandoned grocery store to feed their starving children?"

No, it is still wrong. You cannot justify stealing food even to feed the starving. That being said, you can justify such taking under the scenario you gave, provided you have a plan to pay for the food once the grocery store owner returns. Similarly, you do not have the right to break into my house, even if you will die without doing so. You must request permission and I have the right to say no. It would be a cruel heartless decision for me to do so but that does not give you the right to take under any circumstances without providng compensation.

Finally, your study by Dr. Paul does not prove anything about atheism and theism. You seem to not understand the basic premise: I am not arguing that a theist is necessarily more moral than an atheist. I am saying that if the sole difference between a person is that they believe in a God who punishes the wicked and rewards the good and that they believe that this God will enforce their own moral code, then that person cannot behave in a worse manner (relative to their own moral code) and probably will behave better. The mere fact that we have punishment for crimes and that such punishments do reduce criminal activity is proof of this point. If you dispute this, then get rid of criminal punishment since you have no reason to have it at all. I dare you to do so.

176. zagros - May 28, 2010 at 07:31 pm

I forgot to mention that rewards work wonders as well. Otherwise we wouldn't reward people for "doing the right thing" such as returning a wallet or a lost puppy. The fact is that positive incentives (such as Heaven) can also help in steering people to what is right. The carrot and the stick still have their purposes. If you do not believe this, let's get rid of all incentive mechanisms that reinforce good behavior (or punish bad behavior) and see what will happen (I can tell you already: you get less good behavior and more bad behavior and there are thousands of studies that back me up--look up any study in the economics of crime and punishment for proof of this).

One more point:

If there are no consequences to others (and those others may be defined as animals or plants or even the Earth if you like), you basically seem to be suggesting that there are no consequences. The theist would argue that there are always consequences to yourself regardless of whether someone (or something) else is impacted because God will judge.

Let me provide another concrete (and real) example: stealing is wrong whether that means that someone else is hurt or not. It doesn't matter. It is a moral imperative not to steal. The only thing that you can use against a moral imperative is another moral imperative. For example, downloading music off the Internet is morally wrong unless you have been given permission by the copyright owner (or the music is no longer within copyright but that means that it is quite an old piece of music). However, downloading music off the Internet will not harm the original musician and that is especially true if you would never have paid for the music under any circumstances. Under your scenario since no one is hurt, why not download? Again, that is where one can see that it is immoral.

Now there is one thing that is clear: if you do not think that it is immoral to download music (or steal at the end of the world), no consequentialist argument (such as I am making) will stop you. After all, the only reason this works is because you realize that it is immoral to do this but since you do not believe that this is an immoral act, I will concede that believing that God will punish you for your sins will not dissuade you, since you do not see it as a sin (that doesn't mean that you won't be punished, however!).

The fact is that people respond to incentives and people do wrong things when they feel that there are no consequences to themselves. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from students that it is acceptable to cheat because, in their words, "it doesn't harm anyone." This attitude corrupts society and I attribute it at least partially to a reduction in belief in hellfire everlasting (most Americans do not believe in Hell even though most Americans are relgious).

That last aspect is most telling as to why studies such as Dr. Paul's cannot properly measure the point that I make: you can be religious and not believe in Hell. You can also be religious and believe that Hell will not happen to you (see born-again Christians for an example). You can even be non-religious and believe in Hell (in this case you are a deist). However, a God that punishes the wicked and rewards the good is certainly one additional tool to enforce each person's personal moral code.

177. goxewu - May 29, 2010 at 09:22 am

Re #175:

"I am saying that if the sole difference between a person is that they believe in a God who punishes the wicked and rewards the good and that they believe that this God will enforce their own moral code, then that person cannot behave in a worse manner (relative to their own moral code) and probably will behave better."

This assumes that what the believer believes his or her "God" will punish as "wicked" and reward as "good" coincides with what most of us on this thread would take as the same in everyday life. The trouble is, though, that the world's religions have, in practice, a tendency to regard non-belief in their particular religion as the ultimate "wickedness," which gives them the right to punish it accordingly. Witness the wars caused directly by religion (e.g., the one between Hindus and Muslims after India won independence from Britain), the ones caused indirectly but powerfully by religion (e.g., the Irish civil war and the continuing "troubles"), and the pogroms of persecution of Jews by Christians because, essentially, they didn't recognize Jesus as the alleged messiah, and the jihands and fatwahs of Islam. Then there's the fallout from most religions' making a fetish of female virginity: FGM, honor killings, women having to dress as beekeepers (or shave their heads and wear wigs once married) to make them "undesirable" to men on the street. Then we have the prohibition against abortion, even, as in one recent case of the excommunication of a nun in a hospital, when it's performed to save the life of the mother. Or, if one is a pro-lifer, we have one powerful religion's denial of contraception to a great deal of the population in overpopulated areas, and its easily foreseeable consequences of poverty and crime. Or how about the considerable Mormon Fundamentalist redoubt in several states with forced "marriages" of 14-to-16-year-old girls to polygamous older men because "God" told them that this sexual abuse of children was part of a divine moral code. Finally, in the United States, socially unsalutary behavior (domestic abuse, drunkeness, and even the rate of serious crimes) is at least as high, if not higher, in the "Bible Belt" than it is in more secularly-influenced areas.

In short, while zagros's abstract construct of a believer who behaves better because he or she believes he or she will be punished by "God" if he or she doesn't may work in theological theory, in actual practice in the real, messy world, the situation is quite something else.

Then there's the business of that huge, defying-all-reason leap of...you guessed it..."faith"...from the intellectual heavy lifting that results in, "OK, maybe there is Something Else out there affecting the universe beside the laws of physics," directly to this granddaddy-like "God" who punishes people in an alleged afterlife for fornicating or shoplifting. (Uh-oh, here comes amordeo again, with tales of "His Grace" and the rest.)

178. vroomfondle - May 29, 2010 at 10:37 am

Goxewu, we are not worthy....

You said what I wanted to say earlier but the best that I could do was allude to it when I said that mere belief carries the risk of falling into the religious trap where non-belief does not.

Not only do different religions have their own take on wickedness but believers will follow only the rules that they feel are right and worth following just as Zagros described, and worse, they will interpret the rules to their own ends. Although this can sound reasonable, because everyone knows what a load of rubbish religious texts can be (like any set of rules can be), but that anything a believer decides he then carries it out in the name of his god, and nothing trumps human laws and morals like god's!!

Zagros, you have made your point about incentives and we saw how they served Wall Street in the last few years. 9/11 was also the result of the incentives which you say make a theist philosophy superior to that of an atheists'.

179. zagros - May 29, 2010 at 05:34 pm

vroomfondle,

"Zagros, you have made your point about incentives and we saw how they served Wall Street in the last few years. 9/11 was also the result of the incentives which you say make a theist philosophy superior to that of an atheists'."

No, you are wrong again! (how can you be so consistently wrong? Oh, that's right because you are not listening to what people are writing and are instead listening to what you want them to say)

9/11 is not the result of the incentives that make a 'theist philosophy superior to that of an atheists'. They are the result of improper incentives. Duh! Read what I write before you try to rebut it. You cannot rebut my argument. If incentives are misaligned, then, of course, you get worse behavior. This is proof of my point, not a contradicition of it: people respond to incentives.

My point is that if the atheist has the superior moral philosophy (as you are obviously claiming), it is automatically made no worse (and probably better) by adding mere belief in a God who will punish and reward according to your moral philosophy. You cannot rebut this. In fact, you proved it again! You keep on adding particular religions into the mix instead of defending the only central difference between theists and athiests: belief in God (and please stop refering to God as god--it is quite offensive; either you refer to God as "a god" or [correctly] as you did once, "his god", but if you are going to refer to the Almighty in a context that can only be reference to the One God, you must capitalize like any proper noun).

The point is that atheists have absolutely no good reason to argue against 'mere belief'. Everything that they are against goes beyond 'mere belief' and if you atheists would stop being so arrogant as to think that your belief that God does not exist is superior, you would concede that not only is this logical but also absolutely self-evident!

goxewu,

"In short, while zagros's abstract construct of a believer who behaves better because he or she believes he or she will be punished by "God" if he or she doesn't may work in theological theory, in actual practice in the real, messy world, the situation is quite something else."

Again, I do not make this claim. I make the claim that all other things being equal, a believer behaves more in concert with his or her own moral code than an atheist. This is again not possible for you to rebut no matter how many pages you try. Similarly, an atheist would behave more in concert with his or her own moral code if he or she adopted the mere belief in God (deism).

Every single argument that either of you have and can have with me is with the moral codes of believers. It is impossible for you to rebut my argument in any way, shape or form with regard to mere belief.

Now that this has been proven (and really, stop arguing, you both are looking silly on this), I will concede that moral codes of certain believers are really quite bad (in fact, when have I not conceded that). However, the problem is with the moral code, not with religion, per se. This is the fundamental reason why people such as Dr. Singham are dangerous: they are attacking religion and blaming religion when they should be attacking and blaming the moral codes that certain religions foster. Mere belief is good (as I have proven) when it is coupled with a good moral code. Fix the code and stop complaining about either God or religion.

As to your argument that 'nonbelief' is the ultimate sin, it is equally obvious that such 'believers' do not believe that God will punish. Why? Because there is no need to punish the wicked if someone else will punish them. As I have indicated, the mere fact that God will punish has stayed my hand before. It is a weak person who cannot see that. Furthermore, again, your problem is with the moral code, not with belief in God. Why can't either of you see that (oh, that is right, because you so deny God that you can never see any good that can come from belief in Him and His word).

Yet, in each and every case, I can come up with an argument why the moral code is being misinterpreted by "believers":

On why Muslims cannot punish those who are not Muslims:

Surah 2:256: "Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things."

On why Christians cannot punish those who are not Christians:

Matthew 5:43-44: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

It is God who will punish. Man should not (and it is unclear from these verses whether God will punish you for mere unbelief in Him, although it is clear that He will punish you for acting in an evil manner).

Interestingly, Jews have never believed that they should go out and punish non-Jews. The Law was always meant for Jews, not for gentiles, and thus Jews do not have such a history of violence against those who are not Jewish because of their nonadherence to Judaism.

Finally, while 'mere belief' can lead to the 'religion trap' this slippery slope argument is as nonsensical when applied to religion as to anything else. Why not abolish all rewards and punishment systems in such a case? After all, they might end up being used for the wrong things. No, the problem is not with the reward/punishment scheme (such as mere belief in a God who punishes the wicked and rewards the good) put rather with what we are incentivising in the first place (i.e., the moral code). Fix the moral code and all your problems disappear. Eliminate God without eliminating the problematic aspects of the moral code and you fail to accomplish the task of making the world a better place (and, indeed, you might make it worse since the vast majority of religious people are lawabiding decent people, yes, just like the vast majority of atheists, but you might end up with a few more kooks as a result since religion does have an additional method of controlling believers that atheism cannot).

In any case, science cannot answer questions that are nontheless important: why are we here? what should we do? what is our purpose? Religion provides answers (whether they are correct or not is anybody's guess until we die, of course). A world in which I am the ultimate arbitrator of right and wrong (and yes, in an atheistic world, by definition, I am and you are and he is and she is and so forth whether it be by collective action or by individual belief) is one which can lead to all manner of bad behavior as well (witness the following atheists and their actions: Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro, Kim Jung-Il, Envar Hoxha, etc.). Indeed, the only people who have advocated and succeeded in eliminating religion from their realms have been Communists, who all have a terrible track record on human rights, despite (or perhaps because of? hey, if you are going to keep attacking religion as the source of evil, I can show that it can be done with atheism as well) their avowed atheism.

180. zagros - May 29, 2010 at 05:36 pm

Oops, I mistyped it. I should have typed, "in fact, when have I conceded that" with regard to the fact that there are some moral codes that some religious people have that are bad.

181. goxewu - May 29, 2010 at 05:54 pm

Re #179:

"On why Muslims cannot punish those who are not Muslims:

"Surah 2:256: "Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things."

"On why Christians cannot punish those who are not Christians:

"Matthew 5:43-44: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Then I must have been hallucinating reading all those credible accounts of religious massacres of infidels throughout history. Zagros must also believe, on the basis of reading the Soviet Constitution, that the USSR was a paradise of freedom of speech and political freedom.

That's what's so slippery about religion's apologists: It ain't the reality on the ground that counts, it's what's on paper--or up in the clouds.

PS: I'm not attacking religion as "the" source of evil, just as "a" (considerable) one.

PPS: zagros's additional 1300+ words (why isn't there an 11th Commandment that prohibits prolixity?) have convinced me, though, to re-set my computer yet again for the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin. It's now 14,072,989, if anyone's interested.

182. zagros - May 30, 2010 at 07:29 am

1) "Zagros must also believe, on the basis of reading the Soviet Constitution, that the USSR was a paradise of freedom of speech and political freedom."

You are really dense if you think that I believe that. Every single person who I listed as a source of evil who was atheist was also a Communist for God's sake! If you are going to engage in meaningful discussion, please don't be stupid (yes, you are being stupid when you invoke things for mere debating points -- you are certainly smarter than that and know what you are doing but it is quite irritating that you cannot veer off like this: if you must know why I have to write so much, you are the reason since you keep throwing in claims that are clearly contradicted by reality. Stop making outrageous claims and I won't have to treat you like someone who has to have even the most basic principle explained to them..

The point is that anyone who interprets the Qu'ran or the Bible using reason and a good moral code cannot use it against unbelievers. People who do so are wicked in the beginning. You cannot prove otherwise. If your point is that religion is the source of all evil, every single atheist would be dead by now (only 0.4% of all Americans are atheists--don't you think that if we deist were commanded to eliminate those who disagree, we would have you all put to through the hangman's noose? This fact alone demonstrates that religion cannot be the source of evil -- it can only be used as an instrument of evil for those who are so inclined).

There is also a critical difference (again, if you weren't dense, you would see it) between how leaders in a country interpret their Constitution and the Constitution itself. By your illogical reasoning, since Constitutions obviously do not matter (through your USSR example), we should abolish the US Constitution!

Religion is not a source of evil any more than the Soviet Constitution was. Can't you understand that? Or are you so dense? Religion per se cannot be good or evil. It can be used for evil or good but it cannot (by itself) be good or evil. Mere belief in God (which, by the way, is the original debating point) cannot be good or evil either, although it can be used for good or evil.

What you also can say is that religion, more than atheism, can be used for evil (oh, and that also means that it can be used for good more than atheism--the two go hand in hand) because of the social control aspect. Again, I do not deny that. It is, in fact, my point: if someone couples a bad moral code with religion (or mere belief in God) you will get worse outcomes. However, the problem is with the moral code and not religion or mere belief in God. We don't propose eliminating cars simply because some drivers are idiots.

Does atheism really cause its adherents to abandon all logic when debating? Apparently it does using your logic on yourself. That's another point against atheism! (see, I can use outlandish claims as well--no, this is not a real claim against atheism, it actually is a claim against you for trying to throw up illogical claims, which I strongly suspect happens because you realize that I am right and you can't accept that because of your extreme arrogance, which prior to discussing this with you I had thought was a character flaw only of those with extreme religiousity--how I have been proven wrong on that point!).

Now stop trying to make debating points and get back to the real issues.

2) I suggest that you look at a religion for which you cannot object (oh, by the way, you ought to like this: adherents to this religion don't even accept as a creed that there is a God even though a large number of them do have such mere belief): Unitarian Universalism. Tell me why they are bad. They are a creedless religion. Surely you cannot object to them (and if you do, well then, you moral code is worse than any moral code actually used by common practitioners of religion in the United States because of your promotion of intolerance of other opinions).

Realistically speaking, if you regard religion as a source of evil and if we refuse to give up religion (and we will refuse to do so), you have only one logical choice: kill us.

Thus, if you seek to eliminate religion, you will have to kill us (believers) down to our last man, woman or child for so long as we exist, we will believe (after all, we have truth on our side!). Thus, we have come full circle: don't make war against religion. We are far more willing to die to defend our right to practice our religion AND we are far more numerous than you atheists who see our position as untenable.

Thus while atheism may be benign, your belief system is not. Give up your quixotic fight to try to destroy religion and instead try to reform religion (perhaps along the lines of Unitarian Universalism). Fail to heed this advice and you will lose. Indeed, using your (twisted) logic, I will have to state for the record that the problem with atheism is the "slippery slope" as well: the only way to eliminate religion is to kill us. Hmmm.... that means that we must eliminate all atheists too using your same (twisted) logic before you do that, right? Can't you see that your logic is, well, going to lead to (physical) war? Can't you see that these militant atheists (and you) are playing with a fire that cannot be controlled? Can't you understand why militant atheism must be stopped? Please try to understand an absolute truth. Religion itself cannot be the problem: it is the intolerance of religion by both those with (other) religion(s) and by militant atheists and only that intolerance that is the problem.


183. zagros - May 30, 2010 at 07:48 am

vroomfondle,

". . . and worse, they will interpret the rules to their own ends"

You mean like atheists? (Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro, Kim Jung-Il, Envar Hoxha, etc.)

You cannot have it both ways. If you fail to have a written code of rules, by definition, all of your patterns of behavior are "interpretations". Have the wrong moral code and you have the same problems whether you are atheists or religious devout. Religious people have no monopoly on evil. The problem is with the moral code, not with religion.

Try to eliminate religion and you have only one choice: kill all of us believers down to the last man, woman, and child. Oh, yes, that has been tried before (see Communism) and it doesn't work.

Luckily, for you, most of those of us with religion have long since accepted that God will punish those who pursue evil, so we don't have to punish them ourselves, unless their evil actions directly impact us. Thus, we can tolerate your attacks on God because, in the end, you will get yours (note: I don't actually believe that you will be punished for mere unbelief, since I think that God is inherently unknowable, but I am pointing out a reason why religious people who do believe that you will face hellfire everlasting have no good reason to attack you in this world).

Finally, note that no religious adherent has ever gone after atheists with the vengence that they have gone after those with other religions. When was the last time that you heard of a congregation of atheists being firebombed (like churches, synagogues and mosques have been)? So what is your problem? Either (a) we religious people are so intolerant of each other that we kill each other off, leaving only atheists (and, hey, think of the overpopulation problem that we just solved, right?) or (b) we are not as intolerant as you suggest and instead accept that you have the right to be wrong about God. Oh, wait, that is the problem for you militant atheists, isn't it?

184. zagros - May 30, 2010 at 07:51 am

goxewu,

"If your point is that religion is the source of all evil..."

Okay, I should have written "a considerable evil" but the statement still stands. If this were the case, goxewu, you would be dead by now. Religion is not the problem, bad moral codes (such as those that promote intolerance -- hmm, militant atheism anyone?) are.

185. zagros - May 30, 2010 at 08:13 am

Ultimate irony: if God does not exist, then certainly those who "invented" religion knew that (no one can claim that a book is divinely written unless (a) they received it from God, in which case God exists, or (b) they did not receive it from God, in which case they are lying about God's authorship, in which case, they must be athiests). Therefore, anyone who "invented" religion must be an atheist or God must exist. However, militant atheists deny God, so, therefore, people who "invent" religions must be atheists. Therefore, by logic, atheism, not religion is the considerable "source" of evil in this world, according to militant atheist belief.

Q.E.D.

186. vroomfondle - May 30, 2010 at 10:00 am

zagros,
Yes you're right (again), I was writing 'god' as a reflection of my belief at the detriment to grammatical correctness. I don't wish to be offensive so I'll pay more attention to my grammar in the future.

"9/11 is not the result of the incentives that make a 'theist philosophy superior to that of an atheists'. They are the result of improper incentives. Duh! Read what I write before you try to rebut it. You cannot rebut my argument. If incentives are misaligned, then, of course, you get worse behavior. This is proof of my point, not a contradicition of it: people respond to incentives." [#179]

9/11 is a result of the incentives that make a 'theist philosphy superior to that of an atheists' and you realise that because you have taken the emphasis off the incentives (which are the same ones of eternity, the afterlife, hell, etc.) by introducing "improper incentives" and "If incentives are misaligned..." and shifting the focus to the more relevant morality of the individual.

I have to concede that theoretically, in an individual case, a person who is more good than bad (to make your point that it's a good thing) will be incentivised to apply his morals (good as well as bad....) if he believed in an afterlife than if he didn't (your point all along). But as a general philosophy I argue that it is overall bad as other people fly planes into buildings and murder abortion doctors for the same beliefs - it doesn't matter that they're following other religions and that they are interpreting according to their own moral code; if they didn't believe in the afterlife, in the extreme punishments and rewards, they would never go to such extreme measures which can only ever be justified (in their minds) by the existence of a 'greater good'. If it means that someone finds no reason not to steal a cookie so that one fanatic decides, finally, all things considered, it's not worth hijacking a plane full of innocent people to fly into a building full of more innocent people, then I say where's the buffet? (God's watching the apples anyway)

"It ain't the reality on the ground that counts, it's what's on paper--or up in the clouds." [#181 goxewu]


Your theist philosophy obviously doesn't work, it may make some people better but it makes others worse - despite the threat of eternal damnation people have done terrible things which have even been encouraged and aggrevated by this belief. The philosophy is undermined and outweighed by the wealth of cases against it.

"Mere belief is good (as I have proven) when it is coupled with a good moral code. Fix the code and stop complaining about either God or religion." [#179]

See? the emphasis is shifting from incentives to moral code.

I think that mere belief is not good because it conditions the mind to accept things without evidence and is the first step on the ladder to religious fundementalism (however long that ladder may be) and an afterlife demotes real life to a mere stepping-stone, whereas in reality it is everything. Our time here is immeasurably precious, and a believer cannot appreciate that (even I have trouble), and I'm not sure he wants to (not that I do, particularly).

187. goxewu - May 30, 2010 at 11:27 am

Re #182:

* Of course I don't believe that zagros actually believes that the USSR was a paradise of freedom. T'was a syllogism in extremis to demonstrate that zagros was deducing actual, on-the-ground conduct by believers from some things (rather cherry-picked things, in fact) stated in a couple of religions' founding texts. Which is like naively deducing the actual, on-the-ground conduct of the USSR from its Constitution.

* "...why I have to write so much, you are the reason"

No, no, no. The Devil doesn't make zagros do it. zagros does it because he's prolix and stentorian (witness the boldface), totalizing (an inevitable trait of monotheistic believers).

* I said in #181, "I'm not attacking religion as 'the' source of evil, just as 'a' (considerable) one."

zagros answered, "If your point is that religion is the source of all evil..." (zagros doesn't listen very well, does he.)

* "...religion cannot be the source of evil -- it can only be used as an instrument of evil for those who are so inclined)."

Well gee, you could say that about fairly well anything, including gunpowder, radar, Hegelianism, kung fu and atheism.

* "People who do so are wicked in the beginning."

Like, in the beginning-beginning, when "God" first made the zygote, or inserted the soul during "quickening"? Whoa! That means that "God" is responsible for creating evil believers and, therefore, the evil that they do. That alone ought to require another 1300 words of convoluted explanation from zagros.

* "Now stop trying to make debating points and get back to the real issues."

Definitions: "Debating points" = points zagros loses. "Real issues" = points zagros [thinks he] wins.

* "Tell me why [religions such as Unitarian Universalism] are bad. They are a creedless religion."

A "creedless religion"* certainly doesn't help zagros's argument that "a believer behaves more in concert with his or her own moral code than an atheist." Unless--as I suspect zagros can offer 1300 words to prove--there's some crucial semantic difference between "creed" and "moral code."

* * "...if you regard religion as a source of evil and if we refuse to give up religion (and we will refuse to do so), you have only one logical choice: kill us."

Psychologically, zagros seems to be projecting a repressed religious impulse (i.e., kill the infidel) onto his detractors. No, we non-believers (of which militant atheists are a subset) don't have the sole choice of killing believers. We rely on law enforcement to punish believers when they commit actual crimes, on reasoned argument to dissuade them of their beliefs, and on tolerance due to the fact that most believers most of the time are just having a beer watching sports on TV or taking their kids to the mall.

* "...if you seek to eliminate religion..."

Can we finally put this one to bed? We agnostics and non-militant atheists do not seek to "eliminate" religion. (It's rather the proselytizing religions who seek to "eliminate" non-belief in them. It's in their marching orders.) Like pornography, bribery, sightings of ghosts, combat sports, and bullying, religion will probably be with the human race for the long haul. And as with feminists who battle male-chauvinism without actually killing all male chauvinists, we non-believers seek to reduce the political and economic clout of religion without killing believers.

* "Religion itself cannot be the problem: it is the intolerance of religion by both those with (other) religion(s) and by militant atheists and only that intolerance that is the problem."

Try this -- Atheism itself cannot be the problem: it is the intolerance of atheism by both those with (other) religion(s) and by militant believers and only that intolerance is the problem.

* I attended a Unitarian Universalist church as an adolescent. The minister preached mostly about/against Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It seemed more like the school Young Democrats club than a church.

I see that my word count is approaching zagrossian numbingness, so I'll quit after a parting shot. I used to think that logorrheaic, late-night-in-the-dorm, bull-session believers were teasable, with at least a vestigial sense of humor, and kind of cute when they're mad. zagros's self-righteous, triumphalist, waxing paranoiac preaching is leading me rapidly away from that apparent misconception. (In advance of the inevitable "ad hominem" bleat, note that I'm talking about the preaching, not zagros himself, who's probably not all that intolerable at a dinner party if you can keep the conversation away from religion. I know many believers who are perfectly likeable people--more likeable than I am in many cases--but who start to go haywire once they've uttered, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" or words to that effect with other religious beliefs.)






188. zagros - May 30, 2010 at 04:22 pm

zagros answered, "If your point is that religion is the source of all evil..." (zagros doesn't listen very well, does he.)

No, I mistype and Goxewu cannot read very well -- see post #184, where I corrected myself (before you responded . . . if you bother to read . . [oh and that is a short post]).

"Well gee, you could say that about fairly well anything, including gunpowder, radar, Hegelianism, kung fu and atheism."

I don't claim that atheism is a source of evil, you claim that religion is a source of evil. Apparently, now you agree with me that it is not. Of course, if you are going to claim that religion is a source of evil, then, by your logic, atheism is as well (see Communism) and this must be the case because, according to your belief system, religion is made up (see #185).

"A "creedless religion"* certainly doesn't help zagros's argument that "a believer behaves more in concert with his or her own moral code than an atheist." Unless--as I suspect zagros can offer 1300 words to prove--there's some crucial semantic difference between "creed" and "moral code."

It doesn't hurt it either. The "creedless religion" is used to rebut any argument to eliminate religion rather than the "mere belief" argument. In any case, I can give you a crucial semantic difference between "creed" and "moral code" in just 60 words, which even you can appreciate: the creedless aspect means you can believe anything you like and you are welcome at a Unitarian Universalist gathering but the moral code is what you actually use to determine what is morality. Atheists may have no "creed" (in that they do not have a doctrine) but they all have a "moral code" (it is impossible to not have one).

"Psychologically, zagros seems to be projecting a repressed religious impulse (i.e., kill the infidel) onto his detractors. No, we non-believers (of which militant atheists are a subset) don't have the sole choice of killing believers. We rely on law enforcement to punish believers when they commit actual crimes, on reasoned argument to dissuade them of their beliefs, and on tolerance due to the fact that most believers most of the time are just having a beer watching sports on TV or taking their kids to the mall."

Wrong! First of all, believers rely on exactly the same things with regard to atheists who subscribe to an incorrect moral code (don't forget as well that it is the believers who write the laws, not the unbelievers -- only 0.4% of Americans are non-believers). Second, it is the intolerance of the militant atheists (who are the only ones with whom I have a real problem) who seek to eliminate religion (read Mario Singham, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchins--that is their goal!) that makes them identical to the very people they hate (the preachy kind of believers). My point is, if you want to eliminate religion, you have only one choice: kill us believers. The same is true for the believers who want to get rid of all other belief systems (unfortunately, the militant Muslims have learned this point only too well...).

"We agnostics and non-militant atheists do not seek to "eliminate" religion."

Then I have no issue with you. Keep to yourselves and we will keep to ourselves. Problem solved. Please note that my entire rant has been against militant atheism. If you really believe what you say, why are you attacking me? Surely you would have a problem with militant atheism as well -- unless you are a closet militant atheist...

"It's rather the proselytizing religions who seek to "eliminate" non-belief in them."

Believe me, I can't stand them either. I'd love to see a law that says that they cannot proselytize. Let them teach their children and anyone who comes to them asking them but proselytizing should be stopped. I only go up against people who proselytize against me (that includes militant atheists by the way). I support your right to be atheists. I actually would make the point that the "mere belief" argument that I use cannot be used by atheists because . . . well, gee whiz, you actually have to believe it for it to work. However, there is a place for tolerance and that means stop trying to convert me to your perspective (either atheist or a particular brand of theism). I have good reasons to believe what I believe (and if you would just accept that they are good reasons we wouldn't continue this debate!) but once you try to convert me, you have crossed the line and shall receive my firepower back (notice that I have always stated that the "God is watching you" argument only works if you actually believe it).

"Atheism itself cannot be the problem: it is the intolerance of atheism by both those with (other) religion(s) and by militant believers and only that intolerance is the problem."

Oh, so atheism is a religion now? Well, that is what you are suggesting by your verbiage (see, I can be irritatingly unreasonable in terms of how I take apart your prose as well). What you really mean is "Atheism itself cannot be the problem: it is the intolerance of atheism by militant believers and only that intolerance that is the problem." In any case, I never said that atheism was the problem. The problem I identified is with militant atheists who are intolerant of religion and militant believers who are intolerant of other religion(s) [and, I would think, by extension, intolerant of atheism, although I will admit I did omit that part] and if you go back and bother to read the statement, that should be clear.

"Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"

Yeah, that ticks me off too...

"I attended a Unitarian Universalist church as an adolescent. The minister preached mostly about/against Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It seemed more like the school Young Democrats club than a church."

Isn't that a good thing?

"That means that "God" is responsible for creating evil believers and, therefore, the evil that they do. That alone ought to require another 1300 words of convoluted explanation from zagros."

I can explain why you are wrong in 2 words: free will.

Finally, I am not self-righteous (although you appear to be!). I don't claim to know that God exists or fails to exist. I am quite humble in this regard. I don't claim that my moral code is superior to any other (which would be the definition of self-rigteousness). Now to prove that I have a sense of humour even if it doesn't seem like it at first: I merely claim that anyone who attacks my moral code should be attacked back, vehemently and unrelentlessly, until they are beaten into submission and accept the One True God and renounce the devil that they currently secretly worship like all true atheists really do as they covort in a life of sin without a proper moral compass, and, if they refuse to submit to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we should have them drawn and quartered, stoned to death, placed on a cross and burned at a stake, etc. because my God, who is the epitome of love and goodness, commands that I do this in the name of Jehovah, so that I might be able to command Allah to grant me entry into paradise and provide me with 72 (female) virgins at my beck and call! (again, what I have just italicized is a joke, by the way, mocking those who are true religious fanatics--unfortunately, those same fanatics actually do seem to believe that this is what they should do, which just goes to prove that they have a faulty moral code).

No, in reality, all I am doing is defending two principles on which I cannot compromise: (1) the right to believe in religion (or, in your case, non-religion) without having others question it and (2) the right to believe in God (or no God) without having others question it. I have always maintained that you should be free to believe in no God. There is no good argument in favor of God existing. However, there is equally no good argument against God existing. As for atheism, when I have "attacked" atheism, it has always been to illustrate the insanity of attacking religion or God or to illustrate how militant atheism is itself a religion to the extent that it positions itself as the "anti-religion".

After all, just because I know that the world would be a better place if everyone thought that God was watching over them doesn't mean that someone can be made to believe that God is watching over them. Since we cannot make you believe (nor should we try to make you believe), you are better off (as are we) by maintaining your non-belief (the worst thing for everyone would be for you to claim that you believed without actually believing).

"who's probably not all that intolerable at a dinner party if you can keep the conversation away from religion."

Likewise for you, I am sure. There are always two things never to discuss in polite company unless you are certain that those with whom you converse are in agreement: religion and politics.

189. zagros - May 30, 2010 at 04:54 pm

Vroomoodle,

"if they didn't believe in the afterlife, in the extreme punishments and rewards, they would never go to such extreme measures which can only ever be justified (in their minds) by the existence of a 'greater good'."

Yes, many of them would. Many of them are doing it for tangible rewards for their relatives. Another obvious example: the Japanese zero warriors who had no belief in the afterlife yet still sacrificed themselves on suicide missions.

The best you can say is that SOME would do evil. That is conceded. The problem is with their moral code, not with the punishments and rewards system. If you don't like punishments and rewards, abolish the legal system since that is all that a legal system is: a system of punishments and rewards. However, I don't see you arguing that. In fact, I would think that you would agree with me that the legal system is a good thing because it aligns people with a proper moral code (namely the laws we have). However, since there are problems with some human laws (such as for example enforced segregation in the South prior to the 1960s), the solution is to change the laws (like changing the moral code), not abolish the legal system (the system of rewards and punishments).

"Your theist philosophy obviously doesn't work, it may make some people better but it makes others worse - despite the threat of eternal damnation people have done terrible things which have even been encouraged and aggrevated by this belief. The philosophy is undermined and outweighed by the wealth of cases against it."

Wrong again. If that is the case, abolish every legal system that exists on the planet. The problem isn't with the system of rewards and punishments, it is with the things that we decide shall be worthy of rewards and punishments (i.e., the incentives are misaligned).

"See? the emphasis is shifting from incentives to moral code."

I don't get what you are trying to say. An improper incentive is an incentive that gets you to do the wrong thing. That improper incentive is, fundamentally, the moral code itself. The system of incentives (damnation for evil, heaven for good) is not in question here. It is the specific application of incentives: by misidentifying that which is good as evil (e.g. tolerance) and misidentifying that which is evil as good (e.g. killing those not like yourselves), what was a system for ensuring that people do what is right becomes perverted. Anything can be perverted in this fashion: democracy (Hitler was elected in a democracy), free speech (hate speech), freedom of religion (proselythizing), atheism (Communism), etc. You don't see me arguing to get rid of those, do you?

"I think that mere belief is not good because it conditions the mind to accept things without evidence and is the first step on the ladder to religious fundementalism."

Okay, how about this: I think that mere non-belief is not good because it conditions the mind to accept things without evidence and is the first step on the ladder to Communism.

Of course, this statement is wrong but so is your statement. Belief in God is mere opinion. God cannot be proven or disproven. Indeed, by definition, a belief cannot be proven or disproven. However, active denial of a belief (i.e. non-belief) is still a form of belief, which is that the belief that is not believed by others is false (i.e., denial that God exists is fundamentally a belief that there is no such thing as God, which is entirely different than my agnosticism, which states that God cannot be proven). Only the agnostic (who may be a believer [who, in fact, can be the only person with "mere belief"] or a non-believer [who, in fact, can be the only person with "mere non-belief"]) can claim the moral high ground on this one.

Furthermore, "mere belief" does not "condition the mind to accept things without evidence." So long as the believer remains an agnostic, there is the possibility that one is wrong. So long as one retains this (and that is what is true for those with "mere belief" -- note that it is belief in and not knowledge of God), there can be no slippery slope towards religious fundamentalism (religious fundamentalism requires a certainty that God exits--there are no religiously fundamentalist agnostics).

A better way to argue is to take issue with those who claim to know God exists without having any evidence and I will accept such a claim is a slippery slope towards religious fundamentalism. Of course the same is true with strong atheists who deny that can exists -- for them, the slippery slope is a movement towards Communism.


190. zagros - May 30, 2010 at 05:12 pm

Oops -- deny that God exists, not deny that can exists (I'm just lucky that I didn't write doG). Time for bed. But first a few jokes:

What is Zagros? An agnostic insomnaic dyslexic who spends all night wondering if there really is a doG. :)

And now for a few wonderful definitions from The Devil's Dictionary (I think we can all agree that Abmrose Bierce was a genius, right?):

KORAN, n. A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.

RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

"What is your religion my son?" inquired the Archbishop of Rheims.
"Pardon, monseigneur," replied Rochebriant; "I am ashamed of it."
"Then why do you not become an atheist?"
"Impossible! I should be ashamed of atheism."
"In that case, monsieur, you should join the Protestants."

TRINITY, n. In the multiplex theism of certain Christian churches, three entirely distinct deities consistent with only one. Subordinate deities of the polytheistic faith, such as devils and angels, are not dowered with the power of combination, and must urge individually their claims to adoration and propitiation. The Trinity is one of the most sublime mysteries of our holy religion. In rejecting it because it is incomprehensible, Unitarians betray their inadequate sense of theological fundamentals. In religion we believe only what we do not understand, except in the instance of an intelligible doctrine that contradicts an incomprehensible one. In that case we believe the former as a part of the latter.

UNITARIAN, n. One who denies the divinity of a Trinitarian.

UNIVERSALIST, n. One who forgoes the advantage of a Hell for persons of another faith.

Good night and thanks for all the fish!

191. goxewu - May 30, 2010 at 07:04 pm

I think I've figured it out.

When the number of words on this thread from zagros equals the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin, the Seventh (or Eighth, or Ninth, or Whateverth) Seal will be opened and The Flying Spaghetti Monster will reveal The Cause of the First Cause Which Itself Cannot Be Caused and all the militant atheists who have Richard Dawkins books overdue at the library will be cast into the Pit of the Eternal Recitation of zagros posts, where they will suffer his last-ditch-and-now-neverending poignant attempt to make friends with his detractors by trying to prove he has a spavined, antiquated little sense of humor after all.

2650 words on his most recent consecutive posts--The Moment is nigh! Tremble, ye militant atheists!

192. zagros - May 31, 2010 at 12:09 am

Well, goxewu, here is another one for you:

Zagros, Goxewu, and Vroomoodle all die. Goxewu is placed in a room filled with three born-again Christians who spends all their time trying to convince Goxewu that Christianity is wonderful and how Goxewu should accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Vroomoodle is placed next in a room with three economists who keep trying to explain to Vroomoodle why incentives matter.

The two then go into the room with Zagros who is in the same room as Richard Dawkins, Mario Singham, and Christopher Hitchens. "Well, at least Zagros will have to listen to three militant atheists for all eternity," say Goxewu and Vroomoodle with a smile. At which point, a voice out of the Heavens booms, "How dare you question the eternal punishment of Dawkins, Singham, and Hitchens!"

Oh, come on, admit it, it's funny :)

--------------------------------------------------------------

193. goxewu - May 31, 2010 at 07:43 am

It's T. Deus.

194. vroomfondle - May 31, 2010 at 01:58 pm

"The problem isn't with the system of rewards and punishments, it is with the things that we decide shall be worthy of rewards and punishments" [#189 zagros]

It took me some time to get my head around that (duh!), but of course your right, any system can be perverted in this way - I was so fixated on the fanatics martyring themselves to get into heaven that I couldn't see it. I still find it lacking though, whether it be reward systems which can be compared to earthly ones or religious texts as inconsistent and anachronic as any written by man, I would expect more from something designed by a supreme being - which is why I don't buy it; it eerily resembles something we dreamt-up.

I don't want to eliminate religion, as I said; if what it takes for some people to not lie and steal is a bit of faith, better that than prison (although often it's prison, then that!).

195. zagros - May 31, 2010 at 03:37 pm

Thanks Vroomfondle,

I like that we can have a discussion and come around to a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Oh, and anyone who suggests that atheists are to be punished for believing that there is no god needs to have their head (and morality!) examined. Atheists absolutely can be good. In fact, if you think about it, taking my argument to its logical conclusion, atheists who do what is right are actually morally superior to those who are religious who do what is right, provided those who are religious are doing what is right only to avoid punishment ;) Yeah, they don't sin in practice, but they do in their hearts, right?

However, don't let that end result go to your head. You know, sin of pride, and all that. :)

Shalom.

196. sammy_ayers - May 31, 2010 at 08:07 pm

All theories that are promoted in the absence of solid supporting evidence (data) fall into the category of "faith".

That being said, based on the evidence and the numbers that I have seen, it seems that one must have as much faith to believe that life formed from a primordial soup, as to believe that life was formed by the result of an intelligent design, i.e. by a creator.

So, why would our educational system allow the teaching of one unproven theory while excluding others??? It seems there are factions in our educational system who wish their unproven theories to be taught to the exclusion of others' unproven theories.

A fair solution might be to eliminate ALL unproven theories (i.e. "faiths") from the body of education. But that would be clearly contrary to scientific method! Progress in science is dependent on the proposal of hypothesis and the research and development of unproven theories surrounding those hypothesis.

So, conversely, maybe we should give ALL unproven theories equal treatment. In other words, allow them ALL to be recongnized as theories that could potentially explain the origins of life. Call them "unproven theories", or call them "faith". But if science is about data, let the data equally deny (or permit) ALL faith-based theories.

197. zagros - May 31, 2010 at 10:06 pm

sammy_ayers,

Science is not about "unproven theories." However, there are certain axioms that are taken as fact either because they are considered to be "self-evident" or are subject to necessary decision (i.e., you couldn't do anything unless you accepted them as fact). These, and only these, are faith-based in science. However, we have only the minimum number of such axioms as are needed and which allow us to test our hypotheses.

In addition, there are certain things that we assume are true even though we cannot prove them because there is sufficient evidence for them. However, in all cases, for an "unproven theory" to be accepted in the body scientific, it must adhere to what is known as "falsifiability".

Regarding God, He can neither be proven nor disproven. Therefore, He is not falsifiable. Therefore, He is automatically outside the realm of science. You are free to believe in intelligent design. Interestingly, intelligent design does not imply "God". It very well may be that we were simply created by aliens from other worlds but then what created them?

In any case, we could never falsify that which is the force that was never created. Eventually, in fact, we must assume God (as axiom) or assume something else.

Science assumes something else (i.e., not God). This does not mean that science is against God. It merely means that religion and science don't mix (now if religion starts to insist that it trumps science, we have a problem).

Now on to the evidence for the "primordial soup." It is called the Miller-Urey experiment and occurred in 1952 at the University of Chicago. Miller and Urey proved (by experiment) that amino acids (the so-called "building blocks" of life) can be created out of the so-called "primordial soup". Does this prove that life evolved from that soup? No. But there is additional evidence that suggests as much.

For one thing, it took millions of years for anything to even come out of the primordial soup that approximates life. That is a very long time. Bacteria called stromatolites have been around for at least 3.5 billion years but the primordial soup is at least several hundred million years older than that (and that is a little too long for us to prove that amino acids could organize into cells, don't you think?). Complex multicellular life is only around 600 million years in existance (so it took about 2.9 billion years for evolution to occur, which is a little too long for us to experiment, don't you think?). The first animals appear around 540 million years ago. As time progressed, more and more complex life occured.

Inherently, however, this theory is falsifiable. How, you might ask? Well, although we do not have the time to move from primordial soup to humans, we can show that primordial soup can generate amino acids. We can show that conditions under which the Early earth was first formed can allow for the formation of nucleotides, which are the precursors to RNA (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v459/n7244/full/nature08013.html). However, this does not prove falsifiability. So, what does?

Interestingly, the Miller-Uley experiment (primordial soup hypothesis) is falsifiable--and it has been falsified. It simply could not have been what occured because it does not appear that there was sufficient methane or ammonia for the Miller-Uley experiment to have come about in the early Earth. This does not mean that the hypothesis cannot be modified if an experiment can be devised that shows that it is possible to create these same amino acids under the conditions that actually were present in the early Earth.

Oh, but wait! We don't even need to do this! We have another explanation which allows for this. It is called the Murchison Meteorite, which contained organic material that is of a distinctly non-Earth origin (the organic material is unlike the organic material that we have here on Earth). There is also the ALH84001 meteorite, which came from Mars and which also contains organic material, so there is evidence that organic material can be created in the universe, even outside of Earth.

Notice something else about each of these hypotheses that are presented as theories that is different than intelligent design. No one began with "let's put the primordial soup" into a textbook. Instead, they ran an experiment based on what was then thought to be the early Earth's atmosphere and when it generated the amino acids, they published the theory, since it could have happened that way. When they discovered that it could not have happened that way but there was a different explanation that was possible (coming from Outer Space), we substituted that theory instead.

Intelligent design doesn't work that way. Instead, someone said, "this evolution thing must be wrong because it denies God's involvement but I can't use creationism becasue there is no evidence for it and a lot of evidence against it, so let's come up with an explanation that shows God's handiwork." Real science does not and cannot work that way.

Oh well. In any case, intelligent design probably does merit a paragraph in the science textbooks. Here is my suggested paragraph:

"Intelligent design is a religious-based doctrine that masquerades as science. That does not mean that it is incorrect but since there is no way to disprove it and since there is no way to prove it either, we cannot discuss it in this science class. However, feel free to discuss it during Sunday School where you will find a more receptive audience."




Now this again is not evidence against intelligent design. However, intelligent design is non-falsifiable. So, therefore, again, it isn't science.

In fact, wouldn't intelligent design look exactly like evolution since intelligent design is (by its admission) "directed evolution"? So then the question is: why should we accept intelligent design when non-intelligent design works as well? The fact that science considers non-intelligent design to be what has occured does not preclude intelligent design. It merely means that intelligence is unnecessary.

So accept intelligent design and teach it in the private schools (can't teach it in the public schools because it is religion, not science) but leave it in the religion class, where it belongs.




198. goxewu - June 01, 2010 at 10:17 am

Re #197:

Wow! Out of the mouths babes, etc. Great comment. Congratulations.

(Now, my comment here should be #198 (unless somebody else or "God," "G-d," "Krishna," "Yaweh," "Allah," the FSM, et al. intervenes), which means only two to go to get to a possible milestone and CHE record of an even two hundred. Are there un Testigo de Jehova and Bahá'í-ist out there who can, in effect, call in to this telethon, to keep it going? Operators are standing by.)

199. zagros - June 01, 2010 at 01:41 pm

Goxewu,

See, we can agree, right? LOL. You will note that there is nothing in there that contradicts anything I have written. As I have stated, I don't like doctrinaire theists either, even if I do believe in God. That's why I'm a strong agnostic (100% certain that God cannot be proven) and a weak theist (I believe in God without being certain that God exists).

Zagros

More from the Devil's Dictionary (all definitions are in the public domain):
FAITH, n.
Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.

HOMOEOPATHY, n.
A school of medicine midway between Allopathy and Christian Science. To the last both the others are distinctly inferior, for Christian Science will cure imaginary diseases, and they can not.

MIRACLE, n.
An act or event out of the order of nature and unaccountable, as beating a normal hand of four kings and an ace with four aces and a king.

MYTHOLOGY, n.
The body of a primitive people's beliefs concerning its origin, early history, heroes, deities and so forth, as distinguished from the true accounts which it invents later.

PRAY, v.
To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

PROOF, n.
Evidence having a shade more of plausibility than of unlikelihood. The testimony of two credible witnesses as opposed to that of only one.

REDEMPTION, n.
Deliverance of sinners from the penalty of their sin, through their murder of the deity against whom they sinned. The doctrine of Redemption is the fundamental mystery of our holy religion, and whoso believeth in it shall not perish, but have everlasting life in which to try to understand it.

SCRIPTURES, n.
The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.

200. ztkl40a - June 01, 2010 at 05:10 pm

Zagros,

I didn't get a chance to respond before the 3 day weekend, so here's my late response now.

I don't want to belabor the point on stealing, but you still haven't really responded to it satisfactorily. You've called it a moral imperative, but don't provide any justification for why. I may be swayed by your argument, but you haven't presented one, yet.

The other examples you listed can be accounted for by maximizing good/minimizing harm. You stated that "downloading music off the Internet will not harm the original musician and that is especially true if you would never have paid for the music under any circumstances." Pirated downloads are lost revenue for the musician/company. That's why it's stealing, and why it's morally wrong. If you wouldn't have actually paid to listen to it if it wasn't available for free, that does make it a bit more like the armageddon stealing scenario you invented above, but I don't think it's quite the same, especially in the real world. Why would you take the time to download the song if you didn't have some interest in it? And if you do have some interest in it, then you're really just trying to get out of paying.

Cheating also causes harm. Aside from the breach of trust during the test itself, you are now misrepresenting yourself to future employers, who have an expectation that your grades represent a certain mastery of material. You are also hurting fellow students by cheapening the degree (if this guy got a B from such and such university and has such a piss poor understanding of the material, why should I hire this other guy from that school who got the same grades?)


You've stated several times that the existence of gods is an opinion. This may be semantics, but I disagree. Gods either exist or they don't. It's a fact one way or the other. We may not be able to reliably determine the truth, but that doesn't make it an opinion.

You've also stated, that if two people have the same moral system, and the only difference between them is that one believes in a judgmental god while the other doesn't, then the believer will probably behave better because of the incentives. I guess I finally see your point, but when does this actually apply? This is similar to what Gowexo said in comment 177, but if a person believes in a judgmental deity, they don't get to pick any old moral system that they want. They can't just say that they personally think an action is right or wrong. They have to go by what the deity will reward or punish for. This is why I brought up the 'opinion' point above. We don't define reality with wishful thinking. If a deity did exist, and if the deity did reward and punish certain actions, then we ought to try to truly understand the deity's criteria for judgment.

Of course, it goes without saying (and I'm not saying this is your position, just clarifying for anyone else still following this thread), that whether or not belief in a deity makes people behave better or worse says nothing about the actual existence of the deity. Children may behave better around Christmas time because of their belief in Santa Claus, but it doesn't make Santa any more real.


Several times, you've said something to the effect that a god can neither be proven nor disproven, so it's perfectly reasonable to believe in a particular god (in your case, Yahweh). From your response to people bringing up the FSM (which was originally intended as a mockery of teaching Intelligent Design in schools, not necessarily religion in general), I take it you don't think Russell's Teapot is a good example of why lack of evidence is a good reason to doubt the existence of something. So, I'm curious about your take on other mythological beings, like fairies and leprechauns. These are not inventions intended to make religion look silly, but things many people have sincerely believed in. Since they're magical creatures, similar arguments that people use for gods can be made about why there's no strong evidence for them (they can use their magic to hide themselves, make the evidence disappear, etc). Do you take a similar agnostic stance on their existence, or do you dismiss these beings as products of our imagination? If you do dismiss them as imaginary, what is your justification for the different treatment of a deity?

201. sammy_ayers - June 01, 2010 at 06:35 pm

All,
Note that I didn't mention God, or gods, the devil, satanism; I didn't mention ANY of those things. I only mentioned the plausibility of "Intelligent Design" as a potential theory regarding the origin of life as we know it on earth.

And, wow, what a reaction! Quotes from the Devil's Dictionary! And these quotes seem to dominate this entire discussion thread! And many are finding them to be entertaining!

But, you see, now you have demonstrated the precise problem. The void that is left by the denying the mention of "Creator" or "God" fills the conversation with quotes from the Devil's dictionary!

And, likewise, denial of Intelligent Design as a hypothesis and potential theory explaining the origins of life fills the science curriculuum with equally unproven theories that openly refute any potential consideration!

It is no wonder why those who would consider Intelligent Design, and who are THEMSELVES scientists, and who do in fact share the company of Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Blaise Pascal, might take great offense to the apparent closed-minded state of the scientific educational community!

202. ztkl40a - June 01, 2010 at 06:43 pm

sammy_ayers,

zagros already responded to your post pretty well, but I'll add to it. You wrote, "based on the evidence and the numbers that I have seen, it seems that one must have as much faith to believe that life formed from a primordial soup, as to believe that life was formed by the result of an intelligent design, i.e. by a creator."

Concerning the faith part, and assuming that you're talking strictly about abiogenesis (not evolution), I can almost see your point. We don't know exactly how life got started on this planet. However, I wouldn't call it faith to expect that we'll discover a non-supernatural explanation for it, any more so than I'd call it faith to expect that politicians will lie in the next round of campaigning. I can't see into the future, so I can't say with 100% absolute certainty that future politicians will lie, but given their past performance, I'd say it's a pretty safe bet. Similarly for the history of this planet, we have a decent idea of how it was formed naturally over 4 billion years ago, and we have a really good understanding of how the life on it evolved naturally from several billion years ago to the present. There's a gap in our understanding between the formation of the planet and once life was already going strong and evolving, but I don't see any reason to jump to expecting that a supernatural cause will be required to explain that period, especially if you consider everything zagros wrote about in his response to you.

I don't doubt your sincerity when you wrote that you doubted abiogenesis "based on the evidence and the numbers that [you] have seen", but I'd wager that's because of how poorly evolution and abiogensis are taught in many schools, and how many anti-science organizations there are that spread misinformation (such as Answers in Genesis or the Discovery Institute). The Talk Origins website is a great place to learn about this, along with rebuttals to many of the common anti-science arguments. A couple of really good books that discuss evolution in general and touch a bit on abiogenesis are Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Donald Prothero, and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution by Carl Zimmer. The former focuses mostly on the fossil evidence for universal common descent, while the latter is more of an explanation for the theories describing evolution.

203. ztkl40a - June 01, 2010 at 06:51 pm

sammy_ayers,

I'm sorry. I hit the submit button before refreshing one more time and seeing your latest comment. Your comment at 201 seems to be implying that you think the intelligent designer was non-supernatural, while in my response I assumed you meant a supernatural intelligent designer. After thinking about it a bit, though, I don't think there's much to change. We still understand the formation of the planet and the subsequent evolution of life without needing to invoke an outside intelligence, whether it's a deity or advanced aliens. I don't think there's any reason to suspect that the initial start of life required an outside intelligence, either.

204. sammy_ayers - June 01, 2010 at 08:33 pm

I respectfully submit that there is no "scientific" basis for believing ANY particular theory regarding the origins of life on this planet.

Those who speak as though they are representing the greater body of science, i.e. those who use language like "we" know the answers, speaking as though the entire scientific community were backing them, to the best of my ability to discern those so-called scientists are just "baffling us with BS" (pardon my French).

I will share with you a solid scientific observation, however, that the pattern of "entropy" within our universe, i.e the scientifically observed and measured pattern that suggests matter and energy tend to evolve from higher, more organized states, to lesser, more disorganized states, does at least partially falsify the theory that humans, such as you and I, who are capable of this very discussion, got their start as a primordial soup or even that we evolved from a single cell (presuming that a single cell could in fact be jump-started, which statistically is impossible, even over a billion years time).

Summarizing, I respectfully submit that it all boils down to what one believes. If one were to boldly insist on scientific method, then one would not so proudly side themselves OPPOSITE Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Blaise Pascal and myself ;-)

205. zagros - June 02, 2010 at 01:29 am

ztkl40a,

Pirated downloads are not stealing, at least as it is commonly thought. First, there is no physical loss. With no reduction in the ability to supply the good, the musician (or, more accurately, the record company) does not lose the cost of production, which is most assuredly lost when physical theft occurs. Second, it is unclear whether the person who pirates would have purchased at all. Indeed, surveys suggest that the "pirates" are the music industries best customers in that they still purchase more records than anyone else, which suggests that pirating is used to (a) sample new music; or (b) use it to transform locked content into other formats.

Of course, there is some piracy that causes a loss in sales (this only occurs when the pirate substitute their actual purchase for the download) but to equate a dollar worth of theft to a dollar worth of piracy is quite ludicrous.

To understand the difference, let's assume that I have no intention of ever buying a CD. However, I am evil and so I still a CD that cost $7 to make from the store and which the store had hoped to sell for $10. What I really stole was $7 since that is the replacement cost, not $10. Using the same example, what is the replacement cost for pirated music? $0 since no physical loss occurred. Thus, if I have no itention of ever buying a CD, their loss is zero.

What about if I did have the intention of purchasing the CD? Then in the case of the physical item, I am really stealing $10. What about pirated music? Well, since the physical item is not stolen, they can sell it, so the theft is the margin, which is their profit per item ($3).

What about if they make no margin on the music? In that case, they are not harmed at all! If it costs you $2 to produce and you sell it for $2 but someone pirates it, how are you harmed? You make no money off of it, after all, so your answer that the company loses revenue cannot be the reason why it is immoral to steal.

Indeed, the answer is that it does not depend on who is harmed economically. Indeed, even if I never would have purchased it, it isn't moral. I haven't hurt anyone but I have failed to respect someone else's property rights (similar to stealing the item at the end of the world). It is this failure to respect property rights that is the key problem for pirated music.

As to your argument, "Why would you take the time to download the song if you didn't have some interest in it? And if you do have some interest in it, then you're really just trying to get out of paying", you miss the point: I am paying for it. I just am not paying the artist. I am paying for it in terms of my time, most certainly, and I am paying for it in terms of my electricity as well as hard drive space [which has a cost], etc. It may be a di minimis amount of dollar cost, but make no mistake there is a cost.

How about if I lack the wherewithal to purchase it? If I don't have money, there is no way for me to purchase it, so does that justify piracy? Clearly it does not justify physical stealing since no one is harmed and only I benefit, but it still is not respecting property rights.

As for the "taking some interest in it", I frequently listen to music and enjoy it on the radio. I borrow it from the library (and thus can listen to it when I want to do so) or from friends who do not want to listen to it at the same time. So long as I do not copy it, I am not violating anyone's property rights. Therefore, it is ethical for me to do these things. However, in all other respects, am I not simply figuring out how to "not pay for it"? So how is it different from piracy? You can guess my answer: I am not violating anyone's property rights, therefore, I am not doing anything unethical.

Your argument of cheating also has problems. You have asserted that cheating "cheapens" the grade. No, it is failure to learn the material that "cheapens" the grade. If you learned the material but the grade does not reflect that learning (test anxiety anyone?), you have not "harmed" anyone by "cheating". I know many students who do well on tests (legitimately) and don't remember their material even the next semester. I know other students who struggle with the material and yet have mastered it. Your grade does not reflect anything more or less than your ability to recite what you need to know at the time of the test.

Indeed, your grade matters little in the long run. All that really matters is whether you mastered the material (and, in many cases, that doesn't matter either).

So why is cheating bad? Because it means that you take shortcuts. Even if you don't harm anyone else, you are still taking shortcuts and that is a lesson we do not want people to learn (for examples on why you should not take shortcuts, see BP's handling of the oil spill).

"You've stated several times that the existence of gods is an opinion. This may be semantics, but I disagree. Gods either exist or they don't. It's a fact one way or the other. We may not be able to reliably determine the truth, but that doesn't make it an opinion."

If I have mistakenly conveyed the impression that I believe that whether God exists or not is an opinion, I am sorry. That has never been my position and I may have used a shortcut myself (bad Zagros!) in this respect. A better way to put my position (which should be seen as consistent with my position as a strong agnostic) is that the existence of God cannot be proven nor disproven. Any statement which cannot be proven nor disproven is, by definition, opinion. Thus the statement "God exists" or "God does not exist" is mere opinion, although I do agree with you that there may be an underlying fact (unproveable, however) of whether God exists or fails to exist.

"if a person believes in a judgmental deity, they don't get to pick any old moral system that they want."

Why not? I believe in a judgmental deity and I pick the moral system that I want. Indeed, I submit to you that most religious people do. We call them "cafeteria Catholics". You don't get to decide what my religious beliefs are--I get to decide them. No one else. God gave me a brain and I use it. I divide scripture into three categories: the good, the neutral, and the ugly. The good I follow (things like do not kill, do not steal, etc.). The neutral I follow (things like pray to God, don't eat pork, etc., stuff that does not hurt anyone else). The ugly, I contextualize and thus find that they don't mean what they claim to mean because, well they are ugly. This includes stuff like all atheists go to Hell -- actually, they don't according to the Bible; in fact, the Bible says NOTHING about condemning atheists to Hell simply because of lack of belief: for example, the first commandment tells the faithful not to place gods before God and it applies only to those who are in the faith since the Commandments were for the faithful; since atheists place NOTHING before God since they do not acknowledge God, they cannot be violating the 1st commandment. I can go on. As to the notion that the faithful cannot leave without punishment, well, that all depends on how faithful they were in the beginning. If you believe strongly that there is a God and then reject, that very well might be a sin but since I regard sin towards oneself as something that is subject to personal interpretation, I would only say that I would sin if I became an atheist and would not state the same about anyone else. Indeed, I believe that I judge myself as much as God will judge me. I certainly believe that I know what is right and wrong and believe strongly that God will only judge me based on a violation of such a moral code or because I really should have known better.

Perhaps I believe in Yahweh. Perhaps not. I do not believe that I have indicated a preference for anything other than Unitarian Universalism on this board, which, by the way, is perfectly compatible with atheism too. I prefer to keep my actual religion secret because I am definitely considered a "heretic" according to many who "share" my religion and I do not like it when others (either within or outside) try to define what my religion is for me.

It is probably clear that I subscribe to some form of the Abrahamic religions and since Judaism is the mother form of all three main religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and since it is also the least "offensive" from a "let's convert everyone" basis, I think it is the safest to offer. However, I may not actually be in that religion based on my upbringing and I may have a personal set of beliefs that differs from it. What I can tell you is that my religion has no supreme pontiff to tell me what to think. So, no, I am not Roman Catholic.

"Children may behave better around Christmas time because of their belief in Santa Claus, but it doesn't make Santa any more real."

1) You are right that children do behave better around Christmas -- kinda my point, eh?

2) Does it matter if Santa Claus is real or not? That isn't the issue. The issue is whether mere belief makes you behave better. I think you just indicated that it does (see Santa Claus).

3) Wait . . . do you mean that there is no Santa Claus? But, but, but, but then who eats the cookies and drinks the milk then? What is next? Are you going to claim that there is no such thing as the Tooth Fairy? Noooo!!!!! ;)

4) LOL. Here is the real question: why do we tell our children that there is a tooth fairy? (I choose the tooth fairy because you might claim that Santa Claus is crass consumerism but the tooth fairy cannot be so thought of since the tooth fairy just brings money, not stuff, and does not make her appearance at any specific time of year) The answer is: it gives children comfort at a time when they have fear. It makes them look forward to an inevitable part of life that is, well, quite scary for a six-year old. The tooth fairy myth is a good one and it is something that virtually all parents tell. So if you want to tell the truth to everyone and that is the reason you want to spoil (what you believe to be) our little fantasies, why don't you start with something that is universally agreed by adults does not exist and walk into each and every kindergarden in American with proof that the tooth fairy does not exist. In fact, why don't you go up and down not only doing this but don't stop until every kid disbelieves in the tooth fairy. I think you will find that you would become the most hated person in America at that point. Some of our myths are useful, even if they are myths.

As to other fairies and leprechauns, I tend not to believe and would agree that I am agnostic towards them as well, although I am not a strong agnostic. The reason I do not believe is that they are supposedly in this world (but God is not). Thus one can (at least theoretically) prove fairies and leprechauns if they existed. One cannot prove God no matter if God exists or not. Yet, they, like UFOs (which, by the way, do exist, by definition--it is just that flying saucers may or may not exist but an Unidentified Flying Object is well, any flying object that has not been identified whether terrestrial or not) and ghosts, are things in which I do not believe. Still, interestingly, you could theoretically prove them, which is why I tend to not believe in them (so, in answer to your question, I tend not to believe in things that could be proven; as to why I believe in God still, I will believe in things that cannot be proven at all, especially if I started out with that belief--call it status quo bias, which everyone, including atheists, tend to do, which is why it is extremely difficult to convince either atheists or believers that their belief system is incorrect (i.e., I need more than no good reason to believe, I need a good reason not to believe in order to stop believing and, there really is nothing in it for me not to believe and it gives me comfort to believe, so why stop believing?). Then again, my non-belief does not have anything to do with whether they actually exist.

I should point out that all scientists believe in certain things that they cannot prove. These are called axioms. For example, one fundamental axiom of physics is that the universal laws have not changed. You either believe this -- or you don't but you cannot prove it. This is from one physicist at Duke University:

"The damnedest thing is, of course, that I can no more prove my axioms than they can prove theirs, and hence both our conclusions are in some deep sense equally irrational. Maybe the laws of physics have changed over time in a way that (precisely) cannot be detected now. Formulated this way, how can I prove otherwise by any experiment or experience, by definition?" (this is from Robert G. Brown, a physicist who is also a strong atheist--his axioms are scientific, their axioms are religious)

He continues, "We thus see that far from mocking religion as being ``less rational'' than science, that both science and religion are based on faith - the faith that your prime axioms, however unprovable, are reasonably consistent (where consistency at least can be explored by pure reason) and correct, where correctness is beyond proof."

http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/Philosophy/axioms/axioms/node38.html

His essential message: religion is bullshit but so is science (just that science is useful bullshit and religion isn't):

"Belief is belief, whether it is belief in the Laws of Physics or the Book of Genesis. Both are, alas, Bullshit. Useful Bullshit in the case of the laws of physics and in my own personal opinion useless and even evil Bullshit in the case of Genesis, but Bullshit either way."

So, you can see, I am not exactly quoting a person who has the same belief system as I do but I do respect Dr. Brown as a very brilliant freethinker since he is the first avowed atheist to openly acknowledge a key defect in the atheistic "proof" against God (at least I think he is an atheist, with some of his missives, he might just be a misanthrope).

Whew! 2,665 words -- oh, and by the way, goxewu, the answer to your question of "How Many Angels Dance on the Head of a Pin?" has been answered by science:

Quantum Gravity Treatment of the Angel Density Problem
by Anders Sandberg
SANS/NADA, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
Annals of Improbable Research 7(3)

The answer is "dependent on the assumed mass of the angels, with a maximum number of 8.6766*10exp49 angels at the critical angel mass (3.8807*10exp-34 kg)."


Thought you would like to know ;)














206. zagros - June 02, 2010 at 02:14 am

Why Intelligent Design Does Not Work:

George W. Bush and Richard Dawkins were discussing evolution and intelligent design. Richard Dawkins said that intelligent design was not falsifiable and, therefore, not science. George W. Bush said that was not true. Richard Dawkins asked former president Bush to provide an example that would falsify intelligent design. Bush thought for a moment and said that an intelligent designer would not cause evolution to work in reverse but a non-intelligent (random process) designer would. Dawkins thought for a moment and realized the exception brilliance of the ex-president, which heretofore had never been realized. Yes, he concluded, the ex-President was correct! Indeed, what Bush had done was solve one of the most perplexing riddles because not only would it falsify ID but also prove random evolution if true! Bush looked smug as Dawkins then released his bombshell: but you have just proven that intelligent design is false and evolution is true. Bush looked confused. Dawkins then gave a two-word answer that anyone who listens to talk radio will immediately understand is self-evident evidence that ID is false and random evolution is true: Rush Limbaugh.

Come on, admit it. Made you laugh.

In any case, you misrepresent and misinterpret the second law of thermodynamics (which is at the heart of why the creationist entropy argument does not work). Now, of course, I might have the following wrong, so please our more physics-minded people, please help me out here (Damn it, man, I'm an economist, not a physicist! to paraphrase Bones McCoy) The second law of thermodynamics is not about the spatial organization of matter but rather how molecules move or vibrate. Essentially, according to the second law of thermodynamics the entropy in a closed system must increase but it does not state that self-organization is impossible. Indeed, if this were the case, it would be impossible (under the creationist perspective) for such things as planets to form at all. The issue is resolved by two words "closed system". One can reduce entropy by adding to the "closed system", such as by the sun. Oh, but isn't the universe a closed system, you might ask? Well, yes -- and no. Yes, it is closed in the sense that there is nothing outside of it. However, let us look at just a part of the system and describe it as "closed". Is it? No. The Earth is not a closed system relative to the sun. So what is happening here? Well, the 2nd law of thermodynamics is about the entire system, not about a particular part of the system. The entropy may even decrease within a part of the system but not for the system as a whole. Think about it. To organize matter, it requires energy. Some of this energy is cast off into the vast universe as we organize matter into different stages. Entropy simply states that the organization of energy will tend to disperse in the entire system but it does not mean that energy cannot locally coalesce. Think of it this way: the mass required for you to eat each day is vastly greatly than your mass that you actually gain each day, right? That's entropy in practice: some of that energy self-organizes into fat but most is dispersed from your activities (fight entropy by exercising!)

207. sammy_ayers - June 02, 2010 at 05:58 pm

It is interesting that you mention Richard Dawkins. I saw a video clip in which Mr. Dawkins, allowing him a very wide margin of error with respect to interpretation, stated that life as we know it here on earth could have been the result of intelligent design!

But Mr. Dawkins went on to clarify that the intelligent design would not have been the result of the work of a creator (or the Creator), but rather would have been the work of aliens from another world. Hmmm...

So, according to arguably the most outspoken atheist on this planet, intelligent design is a possibility! But we are not permitted to assign the name "God" or "Creator" to the designer?
It seems to me at this point that we are arguing semantics...

Regarding entropy, since no one is able to actually place a bound on the size of the universe (and as some believe there are universes outside our universe), how can one possibly establish the definition of a "closed system"? But where does one draw the boundary for a closed system when the universe is at the same time both infinite and infinitesimal?

The fact is, entropy does not seem to be a law at all. It is more, as I put it, a "pattern". The jump-starting of life and evolution of man from a single cell defies the pattern of entropy.

And, if one would wish to model and understand the boundaries of entities that are infinite and/or infinitesimal, perhaps one would consult reputable scholars who really made significant contributions to science - such as Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of Calculus! Sir Isaac Newton believed in Intelligent Design, as does Richard Dawkins.

And Sir Isaac Newton assigned a name to the Intelligent Designer in which he believed. Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of Calculus, called his Intelligent Designer "God". I suppose Sir Isaac was unaware of the additional possibility of the existence of alien beings possessing god-like powers LOL

(Come on, made YOU laugh :-)

208. zagros - June 02, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Yes, Sammy, you did make me laugh. I do agree with you the ID does not require "God" for humans but if intelligence cannot be created except by intelligence (what you seem to be arguing), then those space aliens must have been created by an intelligence all the way back to a founding intelligence, which must have been uncreated. Both religion and science come back to the same basic principle: something was uncreated. If I am to take your argument correctly, ID disagrees with evolution is the notion that ID theory requires intelligence to create intelligence. Thus, I think that you are arguing "isn't ID theory falsifiable?" In other words, if I can somehow devise an experiment whereby intelligent life arises without interference from intelligent life, then ID is false. Correct? Fortunately, I have an answer that will bring joy to creationists everywhere! I present a 100% absolute concrete guaranteed proof that Intelligent Design is falsifiable that even Richard Dawkins is guaranteed to accept as the Gospel truth (pun intended):

COMPLETE AND CORRECT PROOF THAT INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS FALSIFIABLE

Ah, but that creates a logical issue. You see, ID cannot be falsified because the only way to prove such a thing is to devise an experiment. Unfortunately, all experiments thus created are by intelligence, right?

Of course, . . . wait a minute! Since all of our creation processes are experiments and since all experiments are created by intelligent creatures, then any experiment that we devise to test ID automatically confirms ID and, moreover, each and every experiment we devise whether we are trying to test ID or not must also conform to ID since an intelligence created the experiment.

Unfortunately, for ID, that renders ID inherently non-falsifiable since it merely repeats the following tautology: intelligent people created the experiment that created intelligent life, therefore, intelligent life was created by intelligent people and since we cannot devise an experiment that is not set up by intelligent people, we know, for a fact, that this is a tautology.

Oh, but wait! I have a solution! Have George W. Bush design the experiment. Then if he can create intelligent life, any random process can, since we already know a priori that he isn't intelligent (oh, and if you want to support affirmative action, you can have it done by Sarah Palin, since there is no intelligence up there either).

;)

209. zagros - June 02, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Sammy,

All silliness aside, the reason why ID is not given any credibility is precisely because of your statement:

"So, according to arguably the most outspoken atheist on this planet, intelligent design is a possibility! But we are not permitted to assign the name "God" or "Creator" to the designer?
It seems to me at this point that we are arguing semantics..."

In other words, you see this as a backhanded way of proving God. This isn't mere semantics--this is your "bait and switch."

Look, I have an easier way to get God to do His work for you. You have to redefine what creation is (you already did with intelligent design anyway since obviously this isn't a creator that created the world and every living thing in 6 days, some 6000 years ago and who then caused a flood of the Earth to wash away all the evidence at the time of Noah).

Just suppose that God recreates the universe every moment every day. This gives you creation. Wonderfully, it also denies time so you can have the world being only 6,000 years old. Of course, the world is also only 1/1,000,000 of a milisecond old because the universe is continually being recreated, but let us leave that problem aside for a moment. Essentially the concept here is that the first creation occured precisely at 9 AM Oct 3, 4004 BC (I know this is true because my Bible tells me so). This is wonderful because with this occuring, there is no causal efficacy of created things and, get this, no real time (after all, we are creating the universe, so we are constantly recreating time). We can then get the Earth to stand still in Joshua 10:12-14. We can have a flood. We can have an ark filled with every living creature that do not eat each other. Hey, we can have anything we want because then God can create the universe in one way one moment and in another a different moment (including changing the laws of Physics and the universal constants). Oh, and Richard Dawkins would never know because when God recreates Richard Dawkins, he can give him a reason to dispute all of this. Yeah, too bad that theory isn't falsifiable either since the recreation always seems to wipe away all evidence to the contrary... or does it? Maybe God does recreate it with all the evience every once in a while but then we all go crazy because we cannot stand a universe that does not behave logically, so to preserve our sanity, He simply creates it so that we believe that we have time, causal efficacy, etc. I don't know...seems like an awful lot of work with no payoff for the Creator.

Here is a good question for you, though: if God created the universe through intelligent design, my question is "why?" I mean do we create anything intelligently and systematically for no reason at all? But then if He did do that, why go to all the trouble of designing things to run based on intellgent deliberate design?

Doesn't it make more sense to believe in a Creator who, after creating the world, did exactly what it says in Genesis 2:2? You know, rest? Furthermore, doesn't it make more sense to believe that the creator either (a) did everything by creation and simply didn't do evolution at all (much less work) or (b) designed a system of trillions of stars and trillions of planets, let everything mix up randomly, and then see what occurred: repeat until random chance brought out man.

But here is my absolute proof that ID is, well, complete BS:

Zagros: Do you agree with the first principle: intelligence can only be created by intelligence?

ID proponent: Why, yes, that is what ID states.

Zagros: Do you agree that the Bible is created by intellgence?

ID proponent: Why, yes, the Bible is produced by God.

Zagros: Then you agree that God is intelligent?

ID proponent: Why, yes!

Zagros: And that only God could have created the Bible?

ID proponent: Why, yes!

Zagros: What if I told you that I could prove absolutely and categorically that the Bible could have been created by some entity without having any a priori knowledge of the Bible and, therefore, that entity could not have copied it. Would you agree that such an entity must be God?

ID proponent: Why, yes!

Zagros: And furthermore, that the entity, which so created it must be the direct ancestor of man and by that I mean that man was created directly by that entity.

ID proponent: That is what the Bible says.

Okay, here is my proof:

Suppose we have a billion monkeys pounding on a billion keyboards for a billion years: after all that time (or maybe a little longer or with a few more monkeys and a few more keyboards but still at some point in the future), guess what? Eventually the monkeys would create the Bible purely randomly.

Therefore, God is a monkey and you just agreed that we are descended from a monkey. Therefore, evolution is true, man is descended from monkeys, and I used the Bible to prove it!

Score one for the Agnostics (you atheists can thank me later for my brilliance but don't get too cocky--if you buy my argument, you also have to buy that I can use the Bible to prove evolution and that man is descended from monkeys, so therefore religion and science are not only completely compatible but you actually need religion in order to prove science; oh, and God exists as well, 'cept He's a monkey!).

210. sammy_ayers - June 03, 2010 at 01:53 am

Wow, 'looks like I must have touched a nerve here. I don't recall even mentioning the Bible.

My point was that both Richard Dawkins, whom YOU quoted, and Sir Isaac Newton, who invented Calculus and established the foundations of Physics, both believe(d) in Intelligent Design. Richard Dawkins believes Aliens were the designers. Sir Isaac Newton believed God was the designer.

It follows, why is it true that factions in the scientific educational community are so head-strong on disallowing Intelligent Design as a hypothesis for how life on earth originated, while at the same time promoting and encouraging hypothesis and theories that are statistically much less likely than Intelligent Design?

I can answer that question. It is because those same factions, under the guise of science, are leveraging shallow interpretations of science in order to "baffle our children with bs".

Those factions wish to pervert true scientific method not only to distract and misdirect our children from belief in God, but to deny even the possibility of any proposal of a hypothesis that suggests Intelligent Design. And they wish to use our publically funded education system as a weapon for punishing anyone who might wish to propose such a hypothesis!

Historically, science has been used as a tool of religious people, to promote their personal causes. But now the penduluum has swung too far. Our educational institutions are now being used as a tool of atheists, to promote their equally unscientific and personal causes!

It is no wonder that taxpayers are lashing out at the fraudulent use of our education system by folks who are altering and biasing scientific method in order to promote their personal agendas! And, closing, these days, the scientific fraud is being committed not by the religious factions, but rather by the athiest factions!

Stick to scientific method. Let people state their hypotheses (their "faiths", whether they be primordial soup or intelligent design). Identify their hypotheses as exactly what they are - hypotheses. Let the reader be ware, and may the truth be proven in the end!

211. zagros - June 03, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Sammy,

You are being disingeneous. Oh, and by the way, I am a believer in God, so I am definitely not in the atheist camp. I have nothing but contempt for Richard Dawkins, and only used him as a foil for my jokes (I happen to think that one could reverse my joke and probably should to make Richard Dawkins the person who lacks intelligence, given his apparently statement beliving that space aliens created us).

Go back and read the argument carefully. If space aliens are our creators, what created space aliens? Eventually, you have to have an uncreated "intelligence" if you believe that intelligence begats intelligence. Either that or you have to eventually believe the primordial soup theory. Pick your poison.

However, if you believe in an uncreated "intelligence" then ID becomes nothing more or less than an argument for a creator that is God. Sounds great, we proved God, right? Wrong. You actually have just provided a tautology, which is not a proof. You began with an axiom that there is an intelligent creator that is itself uncreated and concluded that there was an intelligent creator that is itself uncreated. That is the issue here. Come up with a mechanism to falisfy it and I will grant that it should be allowed in the public schools. Until then, it should not be taught because it is not science. Remember that you cannot proclaim truth unless you are prepared to allow it to be unmasked as falsehood.

Finally, please identify exactly how science by proving that God need not exist can possibly prove that God cannot exist (atheism). This is the great leap of faith and (to my religious mind) stupidity of atheists because they assume that "need not" implies "cannot." It is on this assumption we should call them out.

212. zagros - June 03, 2010 at 12:26 pm

One final point: you state that I quoted Richard Dawkins. I do not believe that I did. I believe that I made up a quote that I purported that Richard Dawkins said as part of one of my jokes about ID. Then again, I am somewhat subject to the foibiles of intermitant senility even at my young age.

213. zagros - June 03, 2010 at 12:41 pm

By the way, I hadn't read Richard Dawkins but I was intrigued by your claim that Richard Dawkins thought alien life forms had created us, so I went out to his blog. Under the title, "Lying for Jesus", I find that he makes precisely the same argument I did about why ID is complete BS. Essentially, he constructed a thought experiment, which he did not believe but which he used as a device to present what he felt was the best possible case for ID from a scientific point of view, to state that alien life forms created us. He goes on to point out (as I did) that such alien life forms themselves would have to be created and thus you are stuck in an endless loop until you get back to either an uncreated intelligence or the primordial soup theory (or a variation on that, i.e., our intelligence was created by something that was not intelligent, that being some chemical process that occurs naturally rather than by intelligent design).

Guess I have to revise my estimate upwards regarding his IQ but he is still quite irritating and irrational in his grand 'leap of faith' from God need not exist to God cannot exist.

By the way, here is a further proof as to why this grand 'leap of faith' is, well, stupid:

PROOF THAT GOING FROM 'NEED NOT' TO 'CANNOT' IS UNSUPPORTED BY LOGIC:

Richard Dawkins need not exist. But Richard Dawkins exists anyway. Therefore, need not does not imply cannot, although in Richard Dawkins case, given he is so infuriatingly irritating, I wish that my proof was incorrect. Sadly, logically, I cannot disprove Richard Dawkins. On the other hand, this proves that my proof is not motivated by a desire to reach a certain conclusion (i.e., ID) and since my proof actually contradicts what I want to have occur, I must accept my proof as correct. Q.E.D.

214. zagros - June 03, 2010 at 01:17 pm

Oh, and don't argue again that Richard Dawkins supports the idea that space aliens created us or that he believes in Intelligent Design. Read the truth here:

http://richarddawkins.net/articles/2394

As for Sir Isaac Newton, yes, he believed in ID but not in the ID that you propose. He certainly did not believe in ID as an evolutionary process, since no one believed in evolution at the time. The same is true for Pascal. Neither used science to establish their belief systems. They simply saw things that science does not explain and thus concluded that science cannot explain them. This is akin to the leap of faith and stupidity that strong atheists make. Strong atheists see "need not" and conclude "cannot". Strong theists see "does not" and thus conclude "cannot". The error of strong atheists has already been documented. Now for the error of strong theists:

Richard Dawkins does not believe in God. Therefore, Richard Dawkins cannot believe in God. Okay, maybe that isn't a good example ;)

Here is one though: I do not like green eggs and ham. Therefore, I cannot like them, Sam I Am.

Finally, with regard to Einstein: Your argument comes from the famous, "God does not play dice" retort to quantum physics. This does not prove that Einstein believed in ID. Einstein actually said, "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings."

This gets a little more complex. Obviously, Einstein does not believe in a God that interferes with the universe. Indeed, he goes further:

"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious
convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

This is a statement that is not an argument from design but rather the argument in design in reverse. He argues that he see order and does not see how that could possibly have been generated out of chaos, so he accepts the notion that something may have created it. Is this a valid point?

The problem is that since Einstein died, we have developed Chaos theory, which demonstrates, get this: we will see order even in chaos. Our minds are conditioned to see order. So when Einstein says (paraphrasing now, not a quote, unlike the others: "I see order, therefore, I see "God", because I cannot imagine how randomness could have created order"), his belief is conditional on the axiom that order cannot be created out of chaos. Yet the order that he sees not only can result from chaos but oftentimes does. Therefore, his basis for believing in ID must be rejected. Wow! I'm smarter than Einstein!

Time for another joke: Three men were on an island and they found a genie bottle: The first asked to be smarter than Bush and so the genie turned him into Obama. The second asked to be smarter than Obama and so the genie turned him into winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. The third thought for a moment and decided that the current Nobel Prize winner in Physics wasn't as smart as Einstein, who he believed to be the smartest man ever, so he wished to be smarter than Einstein. The genie turned him into a woman.

Now before you think this is sexist against men, remember that every woman is smarter than Einstein. Oh, no, I am really stepping in it here. Does that mean that I am making a claim that women are inherently smarter than men. No, because every man is smarter than Einstein. Oh, boy, now I am really in it, right? Well, not exactly, if you understand how logic works, I will prove to you that this is absolutely true and absolutely non-controversially.

You see, this is all because the statement that I made that I am smarter than Einstein (repeated in the joke and the above examples) is a present tense statement about me and Einstein and since Einstein is dead and I am not, I am, by definition, smarter than Einstein (as is my pet goldfish and you as well).

Why is this important? Because too often we attack people because we misinterpret what they say (see Richard Dawkins on ID) because it does not fit conveniently what what we want them to say. I am guilty of it too and I am happy when you call me on it. However, I never do it deliberately, which is the difference between me and strong atheists and strong theists, neither of which group is intellectually honest enough to have a serious debate with anyone who is intellectually honest (like me!). Yep, I may be only slightly smarter than a rock and somewhat contradictory but I do think that the best way to discuss things is to believe what one's opponents say and then . . . show then the truth when they repeat a lie (the assumption is that your opponents never actually lie but merely [a] don't know the truth, [b] forgot the truth, or [c] are incapable of understanding the truth -- too bad the answer is usually [c]).

215. sammy_ayers - June 03, 2010 at 06:27 pm

I suppose I am not so studious as some. One night I was bored and decided to download a movie on Netflix (how's that for genuine! LOL) I happened upon "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" by Ben Stein. I did not read a blog, or research the web. Instead, I watched Ben Stein interview Richard Dawkins. It is video, it is words coming from the horses' mouth so to speak.

Anyone participating on this discussion thread - regardless of which side you take - should watch that video, particularly the interview with Richard Dawkins at the end.

I found the movie a bit dull, and I found I had to stick-with-it a bit. But I did stick with it, and the interview with Dawkins at the end made it all worthwhile!

That is how I know Richard Dawkins and his Aliens hypothesis!

216. zagros - June 03, 2010 at 08:06 pm

Remember that you can commit sins of omission and sins of commission but they are both equally sins in the eyes of the god of logic.

After all, if someone were to quote me out of context without understanding the full story, I would come across either as a godless atheist or a radical religious extremist, when what I really am is a strong agnostic with weak religious tendencies (i.e. "mere belief" in God).

217. sammy_ayers - June 03, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I am an electrical engineer by degree, an software developer by trade, and a part-time educator. I am a member of Engineering, Electrical Engineer, Physics and Math honor societies. I was formally trained in logic both in the school of philosophy and logic in the school of engineering. I spent the early days of my career designing complex logic circuits in minimal nand gate, and the latter parts of my career developing highly complex software applications. A more logical person you are not likely to meet ;-) Those are my credentials.

Watch the film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"; suffer through it (or fast forward), but be sure to watch the personal interview with Richard Dawkins at the end of the film. After you watch this film, then you will better understand objections to the status quo of scientific education!

Thank you for listening!

218. zagros - June 04, 2010 at 12:18 am

Your Argumentum ad Verecundiam is noted and rejected. Most of us discussing these matters have degrees and many of us have formal training in logic. I have a philosophy minor and my dissertation had a chapter of formal proofs. I hold an interdisciplinary doctorate (economics/political science/international relations), a bachelor's degree in computer science and another in economics, have published papers in formal logic, have taught in university departments of economics, political science, public administration, and computer science, have published refereed academic articles and books in the areas of religion, politics, economics, international relations, sociology, and philosophy. You know what? None of those credentials matter a bit here when I present an argument that is fallacious or I continue to repeat an argument that has been debunked.

I have already pointed out to you that Richard Dawkins refuted you. In fact, he refuted you on the interview in the film you cite (I went ahead and watched the film -- yes, it is a tedious argumentum ad nauseam). What Richard Dawkins was asked by Ben Stein was "What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in Darwinian evolution?"

What Richard Dawkins said was "Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved by probably some kind of Darwinian means to a very, very high level of technology and designed the form of life that they seeded onto, perhaps, this planet. Now that is a possibility and an intriging possibility and I suppose it is possible that you might find that if you looked at the details of our chemistry and molecular biology we might find a signature of some sort of designer and that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe but that higher intelligence would itself have had to have come about by some explicable or ultimately explicable process. It couldn't have jumped into existence spontaeously. That's the point."

Let's take apart what Richard Dawkins said and did not say. He did not say that he believes in Intelligent Design. He said that Intelligent Design could be true and here is how it possibly could happen. He implies that if you look for evidence in our DNA, we might be able to detect that alien signature. Thus, find some evidence of alien signature and then we can talk about it. However, there is a problem that he notes. Intelligent Design cannot be the ultimate creator since those aliens would have to have themselves come about from somewhere and when you go back far enough, that process must be abiogenesis. You basically have to have the primordial soup theory or some other mechanism whereby self-replicating cells emerge through a complete natural and non-intelligently designed process. This is what makes ID religion and not science: Without God, it is worthless as a creation story--we have no evidence of aliens creating our lifeforms (the only other possibility for Intelligent Design). You see, even if we found such evidence of aliens creating us, those aliens would have to be coming from somewhere as well and ultimately that intelligent life must have come from non-intelligent molecules, so we are back to our abiogensis story. Since we have no evidence of alien lifeforms, why (by Occum's Razor) invent them?

Now Richard Dawkins has given ID proponents a legitimate avenue of exploration in their quest to be scientific but that is all it is. It is currently a hypothesis and we don't teach hypotheses in textbooks. We teach theories and theories must be consistent with the evidence that we have found to date while providing no ultimate recourse to a supernatural (and thus extrascientific) explanation. ID fails because it ultimately requires a supernatural creator (God). The only way that we can accept ID is as a waystation theory. That would mean that you would have to teach ID as a possible way for life to come about on this Earth but it would have to be from intelligent life that itself arose via abiogenesis. However, this is a far more complex argument than just saying we came from abiogenesis and, therefore, cannot be accepted until evidence of alien creation of our DNA is found and confirmed.

So please stop implying that Richard Dawkins thinks that intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory. He has given you a pathway to make it one but, in any case, it cannot explain the origin of life writ large.

219. ztkl40a - June 04, 2010 at 01:47 pm

sammy_ayers,

Regarding your arguments from authority for ID, zagros has already provided a link to Richard Dawkins' own site showing that Dawkins doesn't support ID. The 'documentary' you've cited, Expelled, is really little more than propaganda. The interview with Dawkins was edited dishonestly in such a way as to misrepresent his actual position. I've already written a review of Expelled on my own blog, if you're interested in reading more of my opinion of the movie, but I won't go on about it here.
http://www.jefflewis.net/blog/2009/04/review_of_expelled_no_intellig.html

You also cited Isaac Newton as a supporter of Intelligent Design. As Zagros already pointed out - who cares? Newton died in 1727, while Darwin and Wallace didn't publicly present the theory of natural selection until 1858. Newton may have been a genius, but he was limited to the knowledge of his time. Besides, would you use Newton's belief in alchemy to suggest that the Philosopher's Stone is real and can change lead into gold?


You wrote, "Regarding entropy, since no one is able to actually place a bound on the size of the universe (and as some believe there are universes outside our universe), how can one possibly establish the definition of a "closed system"? But where does one draw the boundary for a closed system when the universe is at the same time both infinite and infinitesimal?"

Defining open and closed systems is something people do all the time. We can't model the entire universe every time we want to calculate how different things interact, so we have to define a system that covers just enough to accurately predict what we're interested in. Defining the system is largely a matter of convenience and what makes sense. For example, if you were interested in the short term heat transfer between an ice cube and water in a well insulated thermos, you could reasonably approximate that as a closed system, because heat transfer to the outside world would have a negligible impact on what actually happens. However, if you're interested in studying something like global climate, and you want to define your system as just the Earth and it's atmosphere, you'd have to define it as an open system, to account for the energy coming in from the Sun, and the energy being radiated off into space. If you expanded your system further to the solar system, then you probably could make it a closed system.

So, as far as evolution is concerned, there's no problem in how you define the systems. If you look at the solar system as a closed system, any local decrease in entropy on Earth is more than made up for by the increase of entropy in the sun. On a smaller scale, if you treat an organism as an open system, any local decrease in entropy in the organism's gametes (which is where the raw material for natural selection comes from, after all), is accounted for by the energy the organism gets from food. Look at it another way. If the second law of thermodynamics said there could never be any local decreases of entropy ever, it would be impossible for any of us to exist, since we grew from single cells into full adults, which definitely required a decrease in entropy to organize all the raw materials into us.

You went on to write, "The fact is, entropy does not seem to be a law at all. It is more, as I put it, a 'pattern'. "

Of course entropy is not a law. It's a property of matter. Just like gravity isn't a law, but a force. Law's are what describe these phenomena. The second law of thermodynamics describes entropy, and it has been backed up experimentally over and over again.

I've written more about entropy on my own blog, as well, if you're interested in reading more of what I've said about that.
http://www.jefflewis.net/blog/2007/05/creation_museumcreationist_rul.html


On the topic of scientists being close minded to intelligent design because they want to deny a creator, I'll quote a section of that review of Expelled that I linked to above. "Science of any stripe is secular, not atheistic. Meteorology predicts weather without resorting to divine intervention, and the germ theory of disease doesn't include demonic possession. Yet most people don't accuse those branches of science as being atheistic. Why, when looking at how life changes over time, is it all of a sudden atheistic to describe it naturally? It's not. It's just following the evidence."

220. ztkl40a - June 04, 2010 at 01:53 pm

sammy_ayers,

I have one more question. In one of my previous comments, I mentioned a few good resources for understanding evolution. I don't expect that you'd rush off to the bookstore or library based on a suggestion from a stranger, but have you bothered to look at the Talk Origins website? It really is pretty good, especially at addressing the misconceptions and misinformation that abound regarding evolution.

221. zagros - June 04, 2010 at 02:28 pm

ztkl40a,

Actually, alchemy does work! You just need a particle accelerator and a few billion dollars and you too can do it. Of course, the process is so expensive that it costs at least $10,000 to do each ounce, at the margin, which makes it impractical (but it does set an upper limit on the price of gold -- take that, Glenn Beck!):

http://chemistry.about.com/cs/generalchemistry/a/aa050601a.htm

222. sammy_ayers - June 04, 2010 at 07:44 pm

I apologize for mentioning credentials. I mentioned them only because the arguments that were being posted on this blog were insulting and belittling: Quotes from the Devil's Dictionary. Sarcastic "proof" that God is a monkey. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Likewise, if you watch that movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Required", you will see that it escalates from there. Highly respected members of academia have been dismissed from their jobs for merely mentioning the phrase "Intelligent Design" in a HYPOTHESIS.

A less qualified participant in this discussion would be crushed by the onslaught of your floggings. And a professor at an American college or University would justifiably fear for his/her job even for mentioning the phrase "Intelligent Design".

That is the problem, and that is the reason I mentioned my credentials. The bloggers on this discussion thread have been talking down to me as though I were some kind of uneducated imbecile. Sorry, NOT SO! And you do not win this debate so easily.

You are correct, credentials are of no consequence. And the fact that so many talented scientists and mathematicians have believed, and do now believe, in Intelligent Design is also of no consequence.

I am OK with numbers! As Isaac Newton did, and as Albert Einstein did, run them! And may the readers of this blog run them! And may academia BE PERMITTED to run them and to talk about them without fearing for their jobs!

223. zagros - June 05, 2010 at 07:47 am

Sammy,

The quotes from the Devil's Dictionary were never presented as arguments. In fact, they were presented as jokes. Similarly, as well, the argument that "God is a monkey" was presented as an argument, NOT that God is a Monkey, but rather that the basic premise (one must have an intelligent designer), is complete BS. One cannot point to the literature of Shakespeare (on its face) and claim that it came about as the result of great intelligence because, well, a monkey could do it. Similarly, one cannot point to the Qu'ran or the Bible (on their face) and claim that they came about as the result of God for the same reason.

The claim of greatness is derived based on the fact that there isn't a really long time and a lot of different possible permutations to them. Shakespeare's works, the Bible, and the Qu'ran contain complete, coherent essays that were written in an extremely limited time during a period in which few had the ability to write. This and only this can be measurement of intelligence.

However, there are literally billions upon billions of stars and the evidence suggests that there are perhaps trillions of planets. Furthermore, there was 13.6 billion years to develop life. The monkey thesis starts to become quite useful now as a rhetorical device. The problem with ID is not that it could not happen that way, but rather it might not have.

Furthermore, if abiogenesis is not possible, then how did the intelligent designer create life in the first place? You have made the claim that the intelligent designer need not be God. However, without abiogensis, this claim must be dismissed. The sole manner in which you can create life in any other fashion would be supernaturally, i.e., violate the laws of nature.

Intelligent design provides no non-supernatural mechanism to support how life was created and evolved on this Earth. Again, it must be dismissed for that reason alone as being not science and anyone who desires to teach it in the classroom as science must be stopped (though dismissing them from their jobs, is, admittedly, going too far).

Intelligent Design is as insulting and satiric to scientists as my "God is a Monkey" argument is designed to be insulting and satiric in the case of creationists. The difference is that my argument is presented as satire, while intelligent design is presented as a valid scientific argument. It is not.

Now, if you do not like this concept, prove otherwise. Construct an experiment that could provide some empirical validation for intelligent design. Hmm.... how about if you find a rock buried burried 100 feet below the surface at the South Pole in Antarctica that contains the complete genetic code for humans spelled out in English. Then, not only will I agree that you should be able to teach Intelligent Design, I would tell you that it should be the very first page of every single biology text in America... but you still could not teach that this rock is proof of God nor could you teach that life (other than that found on Earth) was created by an intelligent designer (remember the intelligent designer would have had to have come from somewhere as well, so either the ID is uncreated [see God] or was created by some natural process, such as biogenesis, which means that any intelligent designer that is not God can never be the first creator of all life).

Thus, ID becomes an argument for God and, therefore, must be dismissed as unscientific religious expression that has no basis in the science classrooms.

Now that I have said that, let me go about insulting everyone in science with my proof that SCIENCE IS RELIGION TOO!

PROOF THAT SCIENCE IS RELIGION:

Scientist: We hold that all supernatural causes are not part of science.

Zagros: So, therefore, if something is supernatural, then it is not science, correct?

Scientist: That is correct.

Zagros: And science holds, matters is neither created nor distroyed.

Scientist: That is an oversimplification because it has to be in a closed system and . . .

Zagros: Okay, but generally speaking, it is true, and if I am talking about the universe as a system, then can we accept it as a basic premise?

Scientist: Well, not exactly, it is the law of conservation of mass, not matter, they are different.

Zagros: I am a little confused.

Scientist: That is because you are not a physicist.

Zagros: Okay, fine, then mass is a universal constant.

Scientist: Well, in a closed system . . .

Zagros: What happens in an open system.

Scientist: Well, since energy can escape in an open system, we can lose mass.

Zagros: Wait a minute, I thought you were talking about mass, where did energy come about?

Scientist: I don't have time to explain it all but energy equals mass times the constant (speed of life) squared.

Zagros: Einstein's theory of relativity says that mass can be converted into energy.

Scientist: Well, actually it states that they are equivalent through this formula.

Zagros: Okay, now, then how about me. If mass is neither created nor destroyed, then the mass that is me has always existed, right, but I was born on . . .

Scientist: Okay, I see where you are going here. That is an incorrect assumption. Your mass was neither created nor will it be destroyed on your death, it is mere reconfigured.

Zagros: So, what you are are really saying is that everything that is me is something called mass that was reconfigured from somewhere else and then become me?

Scientist: Yes, you take in mass (food) and that mass is transformed into energy and that energy fuels your growth (mass)...

Zagros: But that implies that energy is not mass, so wasn't energy created by destroying mass. I'm a little confused.

Scientist: Well, in a closed system, energy may be converted to mass. It is documented in Einstein's Theory of Relativity: E=MC^2.

Zagros: Whatever. So what created mass?

Scientist: Excuse me?

Zagros: Yeah, what created mass. I mean it had to come from somewhere, right?

Scientist: No, it is neither created nor destroyed.

Zagros: So then mass is God.

Scientist: Where do you get that from?

Zagros: Well, it has always existed, right? It reconfigures into various stuff, right? Isn't that God?

Scientist: But God is a supremely intelligent being that configures the universe.

Zagros: So, you admit that there is a God.

Scientist: No, I am telling you what God is.

Zagros: That requires that you admit that God exists.

Scientist: No, I am telling you that the concept of God is such that . . .

Zagros: And this can be proven scientifically?

Scientist: No, this is the concept of God as given by religion . . .

Zagros: I don't accept that.

Scientist: What?

Zagros: I don't accept that. I only accept what science provides. I just defined God scientifically as the uncreated mass. I said nothing about intelligence -- you did.

Scientist: Fine, but every other person in the world . . .

Zagros: I am not every other person in the world. I am me and I say that the univese is God. After all, God is everywhere and in everything.

Scientist: How do you know that?

Zagros: God told me.

Scientist: How?

Zagros: Does it matter?

Scientist: Yes, it does, because I want to know . . .

Zagros: What? If I believe in the Bible, the Qu'ran, the Torah?

Scientist: Exactly.

Zagros: Why?

Scientist: So I can show you the error of your statement.

Zagros: How?

Scientist: By demonstrating to you that the Bible, the Qu'ran, etc. do not have a God like that.

Zagros: Oh really? So, give me an example of my error.

Scientist: Well, God grants prayers.

Zagros: Did I say that?

Scientist: But those books say that.

Zagros: Okay, define "granting a prayer".

Scientist: You ask and God causes something to happen that otherwise would not have happened.

Zagros: So, that would make me God then right? Because, through prayer, I can command God to . . .

Scientist: No! None of your books say that you can command God to do anything!

Zagros: Okay, so prayer is useless, so . . .

Scientist: No! Your books suggest that God answers some prayers . . .

Zagros: Oh, so God is picky and choosy about which prayers to answer. They answer my prayers but not yours, right?

Scientist: Whatever.

Zagros: How about God does answer all prayers? God answers 'yes' to some, 'no' to others, and 'you have got to be kidding' to the rest.

Scientist: Okay, that's fine.

Zagros: Then science says that a scientist prays to God and he grants them but he only grants some prayers to believers.

Scientist: What?!? Where the hell did you get that idea from! Scientists don't pray!

Zagros: Because you are atheists?

Scientist: No! Some of us are and some of us aren't . . .

Zagros: So some of you pray and others don't is what you are saying.

Scientist: Yes, and . . .

Zagros: So God grants the prayers of the scientists who are believers . . .

Scientist: No, scientists don't pray . . .

Zagros: But I thought you said they did.

Scientist: No! Scientists do not pray as scientists. They may pray as religious people but not as scientists.

Zagros: Okay, only the prayers offered by the atheistic and theistic scientists who are praying as scientists are answered and those offered by them as religious people are not.

Scientists: You aren't listening. We aren't praying as scientists!

Zagros: Oh really? What is a prayer?

Scientist: It is a request to God to do something.

Zagros: You mean, . . . like an experiment?

Scientist: No, you have to get down on your knees, close your eyes, and . . .

Zagros: I don't pray that way.

Scientist: Well, however, you do, you have to ask for divine intervention and . . .

Zagros: I don't pray that way.

Scientist: Well, then, how do you pray?

Zagros: I pray by doing things and God's will be done.

Scientist: No, your will be done.

Zagros: But God is everywhere and in everything, so God's will be done.

Scientist: But God is intelligent and . . .

Zagros: And you are saying that I am not?

Scientist: I have serious doubts. Wait a minute: are you saying that you are God?

Zagros: I didn't say that.

Scientist: Yes, you did. I can play your game too! You implied...

Zagros: I did not state. Your implication is that because I implied, I am.

Scientist: Okay, I will grant you that but . . .

Zagros: No buts. I am no more God than you are.

Scientist: So then I am God, you are saying, as well.

Zagros: I did not state that either. I am simply stating that you and I are expressions of God's will. After all, we were made by God and God knows everything, so therefore whatever God wills, will happen.

Scientist: But I thought we have free will.

Zagros: You do, as far as you are concerned but God knows in advance what you will do.

Scientist: So I do not have free will.

Zagros: No, you do.

Scientist: But God knows what I will do so...

Zagros: Hmm... let me use science to explain it to you.

Scientist: Huh?

Zagros: Yes, does a quantum have free will?

Scientist: Of course not.

Zagros: Okay but if I observe the quantum does it change its behavior?

Scientist: Yes, that is the observer effect in quantum mechanics.

Zagros: So, my will (action of observing) caused the quantum to change.

Scientist: I guess but that is a proof of determinism, not free will.

Zagros: So, my will be done. But how is it determinism?

Scientist: Because your will determined that it would change.

Zagros: So I determined where it would go, so I can determine where it will be in . . .

Scientist: No, you cannot. Quantum mechanics says that one cannot predict . . .

Zagros: Oh! So quantum have free will since the quantum determines . . .

Scientist: (sigh) What does this have to do with . . .

Zagros: So, quantums have free will in a deterministic system and scientists pray to God to get . . .

Scientist: Wait a minute. Scientists don't pray to God.

Zagros: But you said that some do . . .

Scientists: They don't pray to God as scientists!

Zagros: Yes, they do.

Scientist: No, they don't.

Zagros: Yes, they do.

Scientist: No, they don't. Look, you cannot prove anything through argumentum ad nauseum.

Zagros: I agree, but scientists do pray to God when they conduct experiments.

Scientists: No, they don't.

Zagros: They do through their actions, they are praying that the actions will occur....

Scientists: Stop right there. We know this to work because of cause and effect.

Zagros: And this is different from prayer, how?

Scientists: Well, it always happens, for one, provided all initial conditions are the same and the activity is replicated precisely.

Zagros: Okay, so when scientists pray, they have a ritualistic prayer (experiment) that must be precisely undertaken to generate the result (what they hope to achieve).

Scientist: It isn't a prayer!

Zagros: How so? Is the rain dance a prayer?

Scientist: Yes.

Zagros: Why is it undertaken?

Scientist: To get rain to fall.

Zagros: How does it work?

Scientist: It doesn't work. It is just a stupid superstition.

Zagros: So science maintains that prayers of all other religions are just stupid superstitions, while their prayers to their one true God (nature) are not.

Scientist: You are hopeless.

Zagros: Why thank you. Luckily science isn't according to you, since you obviously believe in it.

Scientist: The difference is that even if you don't believe, it happens.

Zagros: Wow! What a powerful prayer! Even a non-scientist can do it!

Scientist: It isn't prayer!

Zagros: Why do you say that?

Scientist: Because it isn't! Look, darn it! We don't have a God that rewards the good and punishes the wicked!

Zagros: Yes, you do.

Scientist: No, we don't.

Zagros: Sure, if you violate God's laws, you sin and you are punished, right?

Scientist: Finally, we are getting somewhere.

Zagros: So, when you violate a physical law, you are punished, right?

Scientist: You cannot violate a physical law.

Zagros: Wow! You do have a powerful God!

Scientist: Nature isn't a God!

Zagros: Okay, so when you ignore a physical law, you are punished. Like walking off a cliff, you are punished for attempting to disobey the law of gravity.

Scientist: You really are hopeless.

Zagros: And you really have a religion.

Q.E.D.

Come on, made you laugh!

224. ztkl40a - June 05, 2010 at 09:26 am

Zagros,

Your explanation was good overall, but I do have a few nits to pick.

"Intelligent design provides no non-supernatural mechanism to support how life was created and evolved on this Earth. Again, it must be dismissed for that reason alone as being not science and anyone who desires to teach it in the classroom as science must be stopped (though dismissing them from their jobs, is, admittedly, going too far)."

People get hung up here on the natural vs. supernatural distinction. Science just requires evidence. If there were evidence to support the creation story in the Bible, then science would lead us to accepting that story. In fact, prior to Darwin and Wallace, special creation was the dominant scientific theory for the origin of life. It was the stronger evidence for evolution over creationism that lead scientists to accept it as the better answer.

"anyone who desires to teach it [ID] in the classroom as science must be stopped (though dismissing them from their jobs, is, admittedly, going too far)."

For a first offence, maybe, but why is it going too far to fire teachers who teach students false information? What if an elementary teacher taught students that 2+2=5? Or if a history teach taught that the moon landing was a hoax? Teachers have a responsibility to teach students true information, and they have no business being teachers if they intentionally teach students falsehoods.

Professors have the freedom to research ID all they want, just not to teach it to their students.

Also, sammy_ayers was referencing Expelled, which to be frank, lied about actual events to portray people as being harassed for discussing ID. I included a link to my own blog about Expelled above, but two better places to read full rebuttals to the claims of harassment are given below.
http://www.expelledexposed.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expelled

225. zagros - June 05, 2010 at 04:28 pm

ztkl40a,

Special creation was not a scientific theory prior to Darwin. There was no scientific theory and there was no evidence for special creation. It just seemed, well, obvious since no one had an alternative.

However, science requires more than a scintilla of evidence in order to dislodge accepted dogma, even if that dogma is nonscientific. That is why Darwin had the requirement to collect evidence in support of his thesis. It was required that he find enough evidence that what he suggested could have occured. He found that not only did the marching order of history seemed to go from simple to complex but that animals seemed to be adapted uniquely to their environments that indicated that these differences were based on adaption.

In addition, I should note that Christianity prior to the Protestant revolution was amenable to non-literalist readings of scripture (Bowler, Peter J. (2003), Evolution: The History of an Idea (3rd ed.), University of California Press), thus there is no inherent conflict between Christianity and evolution and never has been: there is only an inherent conflict between literalist readings of the Bible and evolution.

Indeed, Darwin himself refers to a creator in his book and does not take exception anywhere in it to God. In fact, this is what Darwin wrote in the first edition of the book:

"He who believes that each equine species was independently created, will, I presume, assert that each species has been created with a tendency to vary, both under nature and under domestication, in this particular manner, so as often to become striped like other species of the genus; and that each has been created with a strong tendency, when crossed with species inhabiting distant quarters of the world, to produce hybrids resembling in their stripes, not their own parents, but other species of the genus. To admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown, cause. It makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore."

Notice the italicized and boldfaced portion (this has been added for emphasis by me, it is not so highlighted in the original). Darwin believed in God, at least at the time of his original elaboration of the theory of evolution.

Supernatural effect is always outside of scientific examination and, as such, is not science, except within the branch of paranormal science, which seeks to determine something is supernatural by demonstrating that there is no natural explanation of the occurance. So long as we can demonstrate a possible natural explanation, any supernatural explanation must be discarded.

The problem of God for science is that although science can seek to limit the scope of God, it can never eliminate God Himself. Science can demonstrate that various things need not have God undertake them. That is all that it can do. However, as I have indicated earlier, simply noting that something need not be does not in any way, shape or form imply that it is not. God is simply outside the realm of legitimate scientific inquiry.

Yet, in some ways, science and religion are alike. Both attempt to provide explanations for why things are the way they are (scripture vs. theories) and both attempt to tell us how to control the world around us (prayer vs. experimentation).

Yet science must play by certain rules, whereas religion need not. When a scientist finds that he is wrong, he revises his theory. If we discover that the law of gravity as given by Newton is in error (and it is -- Newtonian physics is a first approximation but it is not the end all, be-all explanation -- general relativity is much better), we do not ignore this evidence, we revise our theories. Religious leaders, on the other hand, have two options: change the interpretation or suppress the facts. Too often, they choose the latter.

This is because religious leaders do not see scripture as a living, breathing doctrine. They fear that if people can interpret the document for themselves, they will lose the social control aspect of religion -- and they are right. Once people can think for themselves about what is to be read literally and what is to be interpreted in a non-literal fashion, they become aware that they are the ones in control of their own fate, whether it is on this Earth or in Heaven.

The Bible itself suggests that those who follow false prophets will await the same fate as the prophets themselves (Jer 14:14-16), which isn't a good fate if you must know. The point is that the religious person cannot stand up and say before God's judgement that the reason they sinned was because their priest told them that it was right. God gave everyone a brain and expects everyone to use it.

Please note that this last bit of commentary has nothing to do with whether the Bible is true or not. After all, it might be the Bible that is the false prophet (oh, and did you ever notice that prophet and profit sound alike?).

One final point I should make: it is frequently written by atheists as an argument against Pascal's Wager that there are an infinite number of gods out there, so Pascal's Wager is false because the chances of choosing the right one is infintessimal.

The problem with this attack on the Wager (which, properly thought through is really a reason for those who are religious NOT to abandon faith rather than those who are not religious to become faithful) is that it is entirely possible that most, if not all, religions are actually speaking of the same God. How can that be? Remember the story of the blind man and the elephant? Each describes the elephant differently but they are not describing different animals. Even in pantheonic religions, there is [almost always] a supreme god (Zeus, for example) that reigns over. Couldn't pantheonic theologies be a representation of God and angels (with the angels being the non-supreme Gods)?

Furthermore, the other argument put forward against the Wager is God might just punish the believers and reward the unbelievers. That is a very silly argument given that there is no religion that has ever made that claim (except maybe a religion invented by atheists for the purpose of ridiculing those who are religious).

So, what is the problem with the Wager? It is this and this alone: it requires belief (or at least requires no active non-belief) at the start. You can hardly believe in something if you don't believe (non-belief). God would know you weren't really believing. However, if you are an agnostic, it is a legitimate (and sufficient) reason to believe in a god. Whether it is the Abrahamic God or one of the pantheonic creations is not required to be discussed but mere belief is all that the Wager suggests.

Finally, there was one thing that was funny in Expelled (and this is not subject to editing or any other of the tricks that are replete in that mockumentary). Richard Dawkins did state in answer to the question about the probability that there was no God that the probability was about 99%. At that point, Dawkins clearly should take the Wager. Isn't a 1% chance (by his own admission) that he is wrong a sufficient reason to believe in a God as first cause?

If atheists were intellectually honest, they would understand that while belief in a god that goes beyond first cause effects is defensible, it is very hard to understand how strong atheists can exist (those who state that there is NO possibility of God). As such, if they admit to some possibility, they have no reason to attack the concept of God in the abstract. They still can attack the concept at any level other than First Cause but until they have a good argument (and corresponding evidence) that another first cause is possible, by your argument, shouldn't they all accept the concept of a creator as "good science"?

Well, no. They should accept the concept of a creator but not as science because it is a supernatural explanation. That is why you cannot use the "weight of evidence" argument EVER to support a supernatural explanation. There clearly is a larger "weight of evidence" in support of a supernatural creator of the universe (God) but that is not science and can never be science for the reasons thus explained.

Finally, for a good laugh, read my economics "creation myth" in the April 2004 issue of Rethinking Marxism (yes, even though I feel that science is, in some respects, a religion, so it is equally true of my discipline of economics--indeed all inquiry shares with it some aspects of religion because we all demand adherence to certain unprovable and untestable assumptions that everyone must believe to be let into the camp of being able to practice inquiry within the discipline and, in fact, religion actually has the fewest of all because religion has only one assumption: God exists) entitled "Genesis: An Economic Interpretation". It is Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 as if an economist had written it. Good fun.

226. sammy_ayers - June 05, 2010 at 05:26 pm

Numbers...

Compute the statistical probability for a single cell with minimal DNA to be bootstrapped from primordial soup (or from any source).

Show a single example of a living cell bootstrapping from primordial soup.

If cell bootstrapping has happened in the past, why isn't it still happening now? Why can't we find a single example, anywhere? Why would it have happened in the past yet is no longer happening?

Presuming a single cell has already evolved into some minimal aquatic lifeform, compute the number of generations and the approximate amount of time that would be required for the minimal aquatic lifeform to mutate into a human lifeform, male and female.

Submit your work for open review by the scientific community.

227. sammy_ayers - June 05, 2010 at 05:46 pm

Visit Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There you will find the real Neanderthal Man, the real thing. It was quite a discover in its day! Most still think it is the missing link. Now it is in a tiny corner of the museum, with an inconspicious sign that indicates the Museum's own DNA labs have proven that homo sapiens could not possibly have decended from neanderthal man. Neanderthal man is a different species. According to the Field Museum's own DNA labs, it is a genetic impossibility that humans decended from Neanderthal man. Yet most people have not been made aware of this.

Visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Visit the display on Evolution. There are only mock-ups. There is no scientific evidence of any missing link.

Since fossilized creatures are plentiful, why has no example of a missing link ever been found? Why do the premier museums in this world including New York and Chicago have no concrete scientific evidence? Why would all evolution have occurred at the same time? Why are there no apes today that exist in various stages of mutation into man? Upon what scientific basis would they all have to mutate at the same?

There is evidence that creatures can mutate and adapt to their environment. But there is no evidence that single cells can bootstrap from primordial soup; statistically it is impossible.

Despite the huge amount of money the finding would be worth :-) there is no scientific evidence that man decended from apes.

Perhaps it might be possible for apes to descend from man? Perhaps apes were men who managed to successfully mate with other species and adapt to living in the jungle in the trees? Not sure of that one. Perhaps you could call that one the theory of extinction? :-) (the opposite of the word evolution is literally extinction) This possibility is not only easier to prove than evolution (as there is actual evidence!) but it is also not contrary to Intelligent Design or even to the Bible! I state this case toungue-in-cheek, but think about it!

228. zagros - June 05, 2010 at 08:19 pm

"Numbers...

Compute the statistical probability for a single cell with minimal DNA to be bootstrapped from primordial soup (or from any source)."

Answer: Red herring. Since there are almost an infinite number of such cells somewhere in the universe, even if the probability is incredibly small, the likelihood very well might be large enough. In any case, this cannot be done scientifically since it is, by definition, a subjective probability. In any case, with 1 billion years to do this (the time from the Earth's formation to the creation of the first cell) in this solar system (oh, and by the way, since the universe's creation, there was over 10 billion years to do so), I would say that the probability of it occuring somewhere in the universe is damn near close to 100%. Oh, and before, you say, "Yeah, but what is the probability of it happening here?", remember that you can't use that kind of argument: if it happens anywhere, it can happen here (after all, it happens somewhere).

Oh, and it gets even worse for your argument when you consider the current best theory of the universe is that we live in parallel to an infinite number of universes, each slightly different from one another and jointly accounting for all possible permutations. If that is the case then even if the subjective probability is incredibly small (but positive--even 1 in a googleplex or worse), so long as it exceeds zero, the probability of this occuring is, actually, 1. See, proven through probability theory...

"Show a single example of a living cell bootstrapping from primordial soup."

Answer: Unnecessary. Again, a process that takes a really long time may not occur. Indeed, all we really have to do is prove that mankind can figure out how to do it. If we can figure out how to do it in a replicatable manner, we can use the "millions of monkeys typing on millions of keyboards will produce the Bible" argument. We are getting closer and closer to doing this every day. We have already proven that you get amino acids (the building blocks of life) from primordial soup. In any case, I just proved it could happen with probability theory, right?


"If cell bootstrapping has happened in the past, why isn't it still happening now? Why can't we find a single example, anywhere? Why would it have happened in the past yet is no longer happening?"

Answer: How do you know that is the case? It takes a LONG time, remember? Indeed, you want to know an example? How about this: the deep sea vents that have bacteria. Why do those exist? They don't seem to have any purpose. What is the "intelligent design" behind that one?


"Presuming a single cell has already evolved into some minimal aquatic lifeform, compute the number of generations and the approximate amount of time that would be required for the minimal aquatic lifeform to mutate into a human lifeform, male and female."

Answer: We already have. It takes, by our estimate, 3.5 billion years. We don't have 3.5 billion years to replicate, however.

"Submit your work for open review by the scientific community."

Answer: We already have. It is called the abiogenesis theory of life.

Here is a question for you, however. If your intelligent designer is so intelligent, why didn't he just create us in a day? You know, like the Bible claims? Why is there absolutely no evidence of creation like that? Why is it that he waited until 4.5 billion years after the Earth was created and 13.4 billion years after the universe was created to create us? Either he isn't that intelligent, he is incredibly patient, he really doesn't care, or he basically did the million monkeys thing: you know do everything and see what happens because, you know, if you create a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters, after a million years, you are bound to get Shakespeare...

229. zagros - June 05, 2010 at 09:25 pm

"Visit Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. There you will find the real Neanderthal Man, the real thing. It was quite a discover in its day! Most still think it is the missing link. Now it is in a tiny corner of the museum, with an inconspicious sign that indicates the Museum's own DNA labs have proven that homo sapiens could not possibly have decended from neanderthal man. Neanderthal man is a different species. According to the Field Museum's own DNA labs, it is a genetic impossibility that humans decended from Neanderthal man. Yet most people have not been made aware of this."

This has what to do with evolutionary theory? We already know that both neanderthals and humans were descended from a common ancestor. However, we also have evidence (not completely compelling but some evidence) that you and I (assuming you are not of African descent) are part-Neanderthal because there is actually DNA commonality between Neanderthals and Europeans and Asians that is not found between Neanderthals and Africans. This suggests that Neanderthals and early Homo Sapiens mated in Europe and in Asia.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/05/06/human-neanderthal-mating-left-its-mark-in-the-human-genome/


"Visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Visit the display on Evolution. There are only mock-ups. There is no scientific evidence of any missing link."

Well, duh! That's why it is called the "missing link." Let me give you a real-life example to make you realize the ridiculousness of demanding the missing link:

Do you really think that O.J. Simpson did not kill Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman merely because "the glove didn't fit"? I mean we have motive and opportunity. We have DNA evidence. Yes, we don't have the murder weapon but we know what type of weapon it was and we have a receipt showing that OJ purchased a knife that matches that description 6 weeks before the murders. Oh, and the reason the glove didn't fit: it had been soaked in blood! When you do that, gloves tend to shrink...

Oh but what about the missing links: no actual murder weapon, no eyewitness, no confession -- I mean couldn't someone else, maybe OJ's cousin, have done this instead? Yes, it is possible but highly unlikely.

"Since fossilized creatures are plentiful, why has no example of a missing link ever been found? Why do the premier museums in this world including New York and Chicago have no concrete scientific evidence? Why would all evolution have occurred at the same time? Why are there no apes today that exist in various stages of mutation into man? Upon what scientific basis would they all have to mutate at the same?"

Think of how many creatures have ever lived. Realize that, at most, we find a few hundred examples of any of them--and only those which were likely plentiful and fossilized under ideal conditions. Evolution did not occur at the "same time" -- it all happened with isolated populations. It did not, and could not, have happened when populations are not isolated. Here is probably the best evidence for evolution: why is it that there has never been the case where two isolated populations ended up appearing identical? This doesn't even occur in breeds and races within species. If the intelligent designer was so intelligent, why is it that genetic Asians only come from Asia? Why don't they come from Portugal? Why is it that genetic Africans only come from Africa? Why is it that Indians (on the North American and South American continent) are genetically much closer to Asians than to, say, Africans (answer: they evolved from Asians who crossed the land bridge from Asia!).

We have evidence of evolution. You just don't care to examine it.

"There is evidence that creatures can mutate and adapt to their environment. But there is no evidence that single cells can bootstrap from primordial soup; statistically it is impossible."

No, statistically, it is actually certain. There are an infinite number of universes in the multiverse of parallel universes (based on current physics theory) with each one differing only slightly from one another, such that every possible permutation is covered (this is actually how time travel will work -- you would slip into another universe, so you could go back and kill your grandfather without ill effect to you, since you would not be killing your grandfather but rather your grandfather in a different parallel universe). The only way you get it to be impossible is if there is actually a zero probability of it occurring no matter what. However, that means that your intelligent designer theory FAILS. After all, the intelligent designer has to create life from non-life too! So ID cannot be used against abiogenesis. You really are arguing for God, rather than an intelligent designer -- and you and I both know you are, so stop with the silliness and admit it.

"Despite the huge amount of money the finding would be worth :-) there is no scientific evidence that man decended from apes."

Of course not. It has been proven that man was not descended from apes. Apes and man are descended from a common ancestor, not from each other. By the way, what does this have to do with intelligent designer theory? ID theory does not contradict Darwin -- did I not prove to you that Darwin believed in a creator, i.e., God? However, God cannot be discussed in a scientific manner because He is supernatural. As scientists, all discussion must revolve around natural explanations. Any supernatural discussion must be relegated to the religion department. Oh, and don't forget, your intelligent designer requires the primordial soup, unless you are talking about God, so you really don't have a competing theory anyway (you instead are making the "argument from design" argument for God--doesn't work on this agnostic).

"Perhaps it might be possible for apes to descend from man? Perhaps apes were men who managed to successfully mate with other species and adapt to living in the jungle in the trees? Not sure of that one. Perhaps you could call that one the theory of extinction? :-) (the opposite of the word evolution is literally extinction) This possibility is not only easier to prove than evolution (as there is actual evidence!) but it is also not contrary to Intelligent Design or even to the Bible! I state this case toungue-in-cheek, but think about it!"

There is no evidence that apes descended from man. Indeed, it could not have happened since apes predate man.

By the way, none of this contradicts the possibility that an intelligent designer exists. It merely states that an intelligent designer is unnecessary. I happen to believe in God (with a very high probability, although less than 100% certainty) but I also happen to believe that God cannot be proven (with 100% certainty)--at least not until the afterlife happens.

Oh, and if He doesn't exist, I'm going to be pretty pissed off in the afterlife (assuming that this is one!). I mean, Pascal's Wager and all that (didn't get to have as much "fun" because it is contrary to God's law, you know).

230. sammy_ayers - June 06, 2010 at 11:04 am

Regarding the quote "By the way, none of this contradicts the possibility that an intelligent designer exists. It merely states that an intelligent designer is unnecessary."

No unproven theory is necessary. Therefore, it is evident that educators should not be punished for including Intelligent Design in published Hypothesis and Theories. And Intelligent Design should not be ommitted from text books so long as other Hypothesis and unproven Theories are being published. If you agree with this assessment, then we really have no argument at all!

231. sammy_ayers - June 06, 2010 at 12:27 pm

So, let's "cut to the chase" so to speak. Please answer these questions. Yes or no will suffice, but explanation is also welcome.

Do you believe educators should be punished for mentioning intelligent design within hypotheses and theories published to the scientific community?

Do you believe that intelligent design should be ommitted from textbooks and classrooms while other, less likely hypotheses and theories are included within text books and classrooms?

Do you believe that hypotheses and theories regarding intelligent design should receive less public resources and funding than equally unproven and potentially less likely hypothesis and theories?

232. zagros - June 06, 2010 at 12:47 pm

"Regarding the quote "By the way, none of this contradicts the possibility that an intelligent designer exists. It merely states that an intelligent designer is unnecessary."

No unproven theory is necessary. Therefore, it is evident that educators should not be punished for including Intelligent Design in published Hypothesis and Theories. And Intelligent Design should not be ommitted from text books so long as other Hypothesis and unproven Theories are being published. If you agree with this assessment, then we really have no argument at all!"

Good--then we are agreed then. Intelligent Design can be published . . . in religious texts. However, it cannot be published in science texts until you develop it further. The reasons for this are listed in answers to your subsequent questions.


"Do you believe educators should be punished for mentioning intelligent design within hypotheses and theories published to the scientific community?"

Answer: Define punishment. No papers that advance intelligent design as currently contemplated should be published by the scientific community because intelligent design is not science. However, you are free to write whatever you like without fear of punishment (we just won't publish it!). You are also free to attack intelligent design as being, well, religion.

"Do you believe that intelligent design should be ommitted from textbooks and classrooms while other, less likely hypotheses and theories are included within text books and classrooms?"

Answer: Yes, because intelligent design is not a theory that exists without divine intervention. Look, do you not listen? Darwin agreed with your "intelligent design", yet you want to argue that evolution is incompatible with it! The problem with intelligent design is that it adds nothing to the debate. It is not a competing theory of how life arose. It is an argument for God. After all, how did the first intelligence arise? Unless your theory details that -- and shows that it can happen without God (abiogenesis, perhaps?), you cannot advance intelligent design. But if it can happen without God, why do we need the theory of intelligent design?

In addition, how do you get intelligent design when, by definition, simulations of intelligence can occur. Ever heard of the Turing Test? If a machine passes the Turing Test (which means that we cannot detect whether it is human or not), would you agree that intelligent design must be discarded? Although no machine has, as of yet, we are getting closer to that possibility every day....

Remember that no one disputes that intelligent design might have happened. We are just disputing that it must have occurred and that is precisely what intelligent design holds. I have already conclusively proven to you that this need not be the case.

"Do you believe that hypotheses and theories regarding intelligent design should receive less public resources and funding than equally unproven and potentially less likely hypothesis and theories?"

Answer: Intelligent design theories and hypotheses should receive ZERO public resources and funding. We do not fund religion, only science.

233. sammy_ayers - June 06, 2010 at 08:54 pm

Hmmmm... so, you believe we taxpayers who are paying for public schools and universities, should simply overlook the fact that our children are exposed to every hypothesis and theory regarding the origins of life, except that the possibility that life originated by intelligent design will be expressly not permitted. Let's take that a bit further... I presume you would say the same holds for Kindergarten, Elementary School, Middle School through High School, and then including College and Graduate School.

Let's expose our children and youth to all those theories, but explicitly deny them the consideration that life might have been created by intelligent design.

'Sounds to me like you and Hitler had a common plan - brainwash the youth! Hitlers' youth for Science!

234. zagros - June 06, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Sammy,

Apparently you do not appreciate the fact that theology cannot be taught as science in public schools and universities. There is nothing wrong with teaching your children at home about intelligent design: we do it every week in Sunday School.

Now, you can read the Bible as literature and you can teach them comparative religion in various classes (including in the public schools) but what you are advancing is the notion of trying to "prove God exists" through science and all your denials does not obviate that basic fact.

Why not just have them discard their science books altogether and just read Genesis (to establish the creation of the world) and then have them calculate the age of the universe based on the Bible as well? Why not just teach them about Noah and the Flood and present that as verifiable fact? After all, it is just a hypothesis, right?

Come on! That is inane and you know it.

You have not addressed the sole reason why intelligent design is not science, so let me state the problem with it once again, very clearly so that you can understand it:

Intelligent design requires God.

That makes it religion, not science. End of story. You make the parallel mistake as atheists make in trying to disprove God, which they cannot do either. God is not the subject of scientific inquiry.

Now you may deny it but the basic premise of intelligent design is that the complexity we see cannot be but for the fact of some intelligent designer. You can try to argue that some other intelligence could have created us but then I ask you, "How?" You cannot have a theory unless you explain exactly HOW it occurs.

Notice what abiogenesis states. It not only says that we came out of the primordial soup but it actually tells us HOW it happened. Now abiogenesis might be wrong on the how and, if that is the case, we have to modify the theory and try again but until you tell us HOW an intelligent designer designed us WITHOUT invoking God, you are not telling us anything than "I have a reason why God exists", which, I might add, has been totally discredited.

Read this:

http://www.ucsusa.org/scientific_integrity/what_you_can_do/why-intelligent-design-is-not.html

Especially note this:

Objection: "Most scientists are atheists and believe only in the material world"

Answer: "Such accusations are neither fair nor true. The scientific method is limited to using evidence from the natural world to explain phenomena. It does not preclude the existence of God or other spiritual beliefs and only states that they are not part of science. Belief in a higher being is a personal, not a scientific, question."

This, by the way, is also why Mano Singham and Richard Dawkins should be "expelled" when they attempt to use science to disprove God (meaning that their "theories" should never see the light of day in any scientific journal if they attempt within them to state that God does not exist--they are free to publish these in religious journals, however). Oh, and if one of them taught at a public university in the United States and attempted within his physics class to "prove" that God did not exist, just like those who try to teach within science classes at public universities that God does exist, they would be disciplined (not necessarily by firing, though).

So really, know who you are dealing with. I am equally disdainful of atheists who assert that they can know that God does not exist as I am of theists who assert that they can know that God exists. Both groups are being equally silly and now I know that you are in one of those groups.


235. ztkl40a - June 07, 2010 at 02:05 pm

Re: Religion

Zagros, your arguments for 'mere belief' so far haven't convinced me. There may not be an infinite number of gods that people have believed in, but there are enough, with mutually contradictory attributes, that it makes Pascal's Wager break down. If the commonly accepted view of Christianity is correct, it does you no good to believe in a deistic god but to not accept Jesus. You'd still go to hell (similar arguments apply to Islam, or Zoroastrianism). You can argue that you don't believe Yahweh is like that, but your personal opinion makes no difference to objective reality. So, it does you no good to just believe what you want to be true. You have to do your best to determine what is actually true. (I've heard the elephant story before. My same objections still apply. It's fine if a god is nice and forgiving and gives you an A for effort. It's worthless if the god is vindictive and punishes you for not following a specific scripture. Besides, if the elephant story is true, I'm in no danger as an atheist as long as I live a good life and try my best to do good in the world.)

The other problem with Pascal's Wager, which you alluded to yourself, is the argument that belief in the absence of a deity costs you nothing. That's clearly not the case. If you actually attempt to determine a deity's wishes, there are some clear instructions on how to live your life. In the case of the Abrahamic religions, some of these seem to make no sense (no mixed fibers, not eating shellfish, not being able to work on a specific day of the week, no homosexual relations). These do have actual, real consequences on our lives, so why should we even attempt to follow these rules if they're based on an imaginary being, or on a being with a very low probability of existence?

Your definition of a strong atheist is different from what most of us who call ourselves strong atheists actually use. As you pointed out, Richard Dawkins, who I'm sure most would refer to as a strong atheist, conceded a tiny possibility that a god exists. (When pressed, we'd also admit a small probability that Last Thursdayism is true, or that The Matrix was a documentary. We can't rule out those possibilities entirely, but we can say that the odds are so small that we're pretty sure they're false.)

You wrote, "There clearly is a larger 'weight of evidence' in support of a supernatural creator of the universe (God) but that is not science and can never be science for the reasons thus explained." What weight of evidence are you referring to? We don't know what caused the big bang, so what good reason is there to assume that it was supernatural? More importantly, what reason is there to assume that it was intelligent (and if your definition of a deity says that it need not be intelligent, then why even call this concept a 'god')?

236. ztkl40a - June 07, 2010 at 02:13 pm

Re: Evolution

Zagros, you're trying to neuter science. In your definition of science, if special creation did actually happen, we couldn't use science to study it. To disqualify potential real world events from scientific study is absurd. As I said before, we can use science to study anything that leaves evidence. If there were evidence for special creation, we could study it with science. If miracles happened, they could be observed and documented. Even things traditionally classified as supernatural, such as fairies, could be studied by science if they actually existed (look at the fraudulent photos that fooled Arthur Conan Doyle). Way back up in this thread, new_theologian listed some supposedly miraculous occurrences he thought were evidence for the divine, and I responded with ways that the miracles could be studied scientifically. The only things we can't study with science are those things that leave no evidence, or in other words, those things that don't interact with our universe. A deistic god who set everything in motion at the start of the universe but then remained hands off for the rest of eternity fits this description, but not the interventionist type god required by Intelligent Design.

Let me touch briefly on what Intelligent Design actually is, since I think that would clear up some of the confusion here. ID advocates are usually pretty vague on what ID actually entails, but here are a couple quotes from Of Pandas and People, the ID textbook that was going to be used in Dover.

First, in discussing tetrapod evolution on page 22, the book said, "Instead, fossil types are fully formed and functional when they first appear in the fossil record. For example, we don't find creatures that are partly fish and partly something else, leading gradually, in the dozens of characteristics which they exhibit, to today's fish. Instead, fish have all the characteristics of today's fish from the earliest known fish fossils, reptiles in the record have all the characteristics of present-day reptiles, and so on."

In discussing the incompleteness of the fossil record on page 25, the book said, "There is, however, another possibility science leaves open to us, one based on sound inferences from the experience of our senses. It is the possibility that an intelligent cause made fully-formed and functional creatures, which later left their traces in the rocks."

The main difference between Intelligent Design and creationism seems to be that ID doesn't specify who the creator actually is, and leaves open the possibility that Earth is one giant lab experiment for advanced aliens (without specifying how the aliens themselves came into existence). If you accept evolution but believe that a god was involved in the process, there are other terms that better match your position. 'Theistic evolution' accepts that evolution has happened largely as the scientific theories predict, but that a god has been imperceptibly tweaking the process to ensure its desired outcomes. 'Front loading' accepts that a god created the universe with the right conditions from the outset to result in its desired outcomes, but that the god hasn't directly intervened since. This may all be semantics, but I think it's relevant to this conversation.


Re: Origins of Life

sammy_ayers wrote, "If cell bootstrapping has happened in the past, why isn't it still happening now? Why can't we find a single example, anywhere? Why would it have happened in the past yet is no longer happening?"

For the same reason it's hard for a start up business in an established market - competition. The first life had no competition. It could afford to be inefficient and have a lousy metabolism. But life has had 4 billion years of competition to hone us into pretty efficient organisms. First of all, any free floating proteins and amino acids that could be used as building blocks for new life are likely going to be consumed up almost immediately by bacteria or protozoa. Even if given a chance to come together, any incipient life forms on Earth now would themselves probably be gobbled up almost immediately by bacteria or protozoa, or at the very least be out-competed.


Re: missing links

There's an old joke about missing links. When a scientist finds a fossil that fits into a previous gap, a creationist says, 'Well now you've just made the problem worse. Instead of only one gap, now you have two.'

Fossilization is rare. We don't have fossils of all living animals, so why should we expect to have fossils for all extinct animals? Look at it this way, if you could trace your ancestry back several generations, but couldn't find any record of your great great great grandmother, would you assume that she didn't exist, or that you simply couldn't find the records?

That being said, there are some remarkable transitional fossils. I've already recommended Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, which is full of fossils. To list just a few here, Archeopteryx is probably the most famous, clearly having traits of both living birds and its non-avian theropod ancestors. There's the recently discovered Tiktaalik Roseae, which has been dubbed a fishibian. There are Pakicetus and Ambulocetus showing whale transitionals.

But this whole focus on 'missing links' misses the point. It's the overall story that paints the picture, not isolated fossils. For example, Tiktaalik on its own would be interesting. But it's when you compare it to other organisms like Eusthenopteron, Panderichthys, Ichthyostega, and Acanthostega, that you begin to better understand the evolution of tetrapods.


Re: human evolution

sammy_ayers wrote, "Why are there no apes today that exist in various stages of mutation into man?"

Why should there be? There is no ladder of progress. Humans are no better or worse than the other apes. We're adapted to our environment. The other apes live in different environments, so there's no pressure to make them adapt to be like us.

sammy_ayers also wrote, "Despite the huge amount of money the finding would be worth :-) there is no scientific evidence that man decended from apes."

I would disagree strongly. There's both strong fossil evidence and genetic evidence. In fact, there's too much to list here, so I'll recommend two good places as starting points:
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/11/handing_out_a_little_rope.php#c273929

zagros wrote, "It has been proven that man was not descended from apes."

I understand what you're getting at, but this is one of my pet peeves. It would be like saying blue jays aren't descended from birds. Of course we're descended from apes because we are apes ourselves. You can't possibly classify chimps and gorillas as apes without including humans, since chimps are more closely related to us than to gorillas. I imagine that you meant that humans are not descended from any living apes, but I'm pretty sure that if we got in a time machine and traveled back 6 million years to find our ancestors, we wouldn't hesitate to call those creatures apes.


Re: sammy_ayers Questions:

"Do you believe educators should be punished for mentioning intelligent design within hypotheses and theories published to the scientific community?"

It depends. If it's taught in the same way as the aether theory of light, or the law of recapitulation, then there's nothing wrong with mentioning ID. If it's presented as credible science, then the teachers should be punished.

"Do you believe that intelligent design should be ommitted from textbooks and classrooms while other, less likely hypotheses and theories are included within text books and classrooms?"

Unless presented as above, ID should be omitted, and less likely explanations should definitely be omitted. However, evolution and current thoughts on abiogenesis are much more likely than Intelligent Design.

"Do you believe that hypotheses and theories regarding intelligent design should receive less public resources and funding than equally unproven and potentially less likely hypothesis and theories?"

As soon as someone can present a testable theory for ID, I wouldn't mind a little taxpayer money going to test it. But what are these "equally unproven and potentially less likely hypothesis and theories" that you're referring to? Because as I already said, evolution itself is pretty much a fact, and current thoughts on abiogenesis are much more likely than Intelligent Design.

This isn't one of your three questions, but it's close. You wrote, "...you believe we taxpayers who are paying for public schools and universities, should simply overlook the fact that our children are exposed to every hypothesis and theory regarding the origins of life, except that the possibility that life originated by intelligent design will be expressly not permitted."

First of all, children aren't exposed to "every hypothesis and theory regarding the origins of life". They're only taught the most credible ones. Regarding Intelligent Design, I disagree with zagros here. If there were any evidence for intelligent design, I think it would be a fruitful area for research. I wouldn't exclude it a priori just because it may have to do with a deity or may have religious implications. The problem is that the evidence just doesn't exist. That's why it's not suitable to teach to children.


Re: Talk Origins

sammy_ayers, I've already mentioned this to you twice, but I'll mention it a third time. I'd highly recommend that you peruse the Talk Origins website. I'd especially recommend that you browse their Index to Creationist Claims before posting anything further about evolution on this thread. Many of the erroneous arguments that you've picked up from dishonest sources are refuted on that page.
http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html

237. sammy_ayers - June 07, 2010 at 06:15 pm

After having heard all the explanations, it is clear the American system of scientific education does very much bias our children against even hypothesizing and theorizing regarding Intelligent Design, while strongly encouraging them to consider such wild ideas as "parallel universes" (which, by the way, doesn't sound so far-fetched to me - but clearly it is equally unprovable and improbable - and is perhaps even related to Intelligent Design!)

I don't believe our education system should teach religion. Yes, we should save that investigation for the churches, as the US education system can't afford the research bill LOL!

But neither do I believe our education system should brainwash our children by intentionally leaving out a clearly contending hypothesis that life as we know it on Earth might have been formed as a result of an Intelligent Design. Even Richard Dawkins agreed to that!

The scientific community should just fess up and say "Gee, we don't know, it very well could have been the result of Intelligent Design". At least that honesty would not brainwash our children, who are so easily baffled by all the scientific BS that has and continues to float around! I know so many kids these days who will not consider believe in God, because of this brainwashing by our scientific education system!

Yes sir, I'm beginning to see Ben Stein's point! Expelled, No Intelligence Required! That is the video to watch.

238. zagros - June 08, 2010 at 12:11 am

ztkl40a,

Pascal's Wager is clearly based on subjective probability. The atheistic argument is nonsensical to the believer because a believer's subjective probability of God existing is much higher than an atheist's. You apparently do not understand my position regarding Pascal's Wager. My argument is that Pascal's Wager is not an argument to become an deist. It is an argument not to stop believing in God and become an atheist and, for that, it is a very good argument. After all, it requires that one already believe, which means that one accepts a subjective probability that is much higher than that placed by any atheist. Furthermore, since it is a subjective probability, we already place a subjectively sufficient probability on God existing that it makes sense to take it. Indeed, the Wager is a tautology for both sides and, therefore, absolutely correct and fundamentally irrelevant (you really should use that argument instead of disputing the Wager--every other atheistic arguement against the Wager is nonsense for this reason).

How so? Because the Wager basically says the following, if you believe in God, you should continue to believe in God. That is all that it says. If you don't believe in God, well, the Wager can't really convince you (since if you only "believe" in God because of the Wager, you really don't believe, right? I mean you are only hedging your bet), so, therefore, the Wager cannot be used! Yet the Wager is a really good argument not to dispense with belief, just like a fellow religious nut who will kill you if you leave the religion is a real life example of the Wager. Why do you atheists want to have people killed?

Furthermore, let me point out something to you that is fundamentally flawed and that is your analysis of the wager. After all, the fact remains that with many gods (assuming one is correct), a theist has a better chance than any atheist does. That is the reason why it is fundamentally better to stay as a theist (if you believe). Of course, as I have already pointed out, the atheist gains nothing by becoming a believer because, guess what, you must believe! So you are asking me to no longer believe something that I believe? At this point, I ask: what do I gain by it? To that I answer: very little. It would not alter my moral code. My moral code is not based on a literalist reading of scripture (note: you are wrong about how the deist must try to divine what God wants--that is only true if you believe in literal interpretations of scripture; if you believe in a liberal interpretation, you pretty much get what you want out of it because you apply reason to establish ethical behavior). I would only get to do a couple of things that I didn't do before (like eat pork). Oh, and I probably would have killed my rapist. Why? Because the only thing that stopped me was because I believed that I would be punished in the hereafter for all eternity. So, therefore, in my case, atheism would have made me worse. Hmm.... better for me (at least) to believe. Better for you to stop trying to convince me otherwise. I mean what does it harm you if I believe, especially if I don't think that you will go to Hell for being an atheist (of course, if God thinks differently... oh, but that doesn't matter, because you don't believe in God).

Now let us get to the crux of the matter: science requires belief in objective truth. But objective truth is a fairy tale -- and science has proven it. Einstein himself gave the example:

How do you know that every molecule in the universe is not doubling in size every second. Answer: you cannot and there is no way for science to tell either.

Similarly, you certainly cannot tell if there is a God if God does not interfere in the world and that is precisely the type of God in which I believe. Science cannot say anything about such a God and even the most ardent of strong atheists (Darwin, Singham, etc.) would agree with me on this point. Or maybe you are even more ardent than they are.

As to your question, "There clearly is a larger 'weight of evidence' in support of a supernatural creator of the universe (God) but that is not science and can never be science for the reasons thus explained." What weight of evidence are you referring to? We don't know what caused the big bang, so what good reason is there to assume that it was supernatural? More importantly, what reason is there to assume that it was intelligent (and if your definition of a deity says that it need not be intelligent, then why even call this concept a 'god')?"


Actually, by definition, if the universe was created, it must be a supernatural force. You are assuming that the "Big Bang" created the universe. Well, yes and no. What created mass is more accurately my question. Therefore, the statement is a tautology. The proper way to attack it isn't the way you did, but rather: what makes you assume that the universe was created?

Well, I don't actually assume that it was created. However, my statement is that supernatural force is required for creation and it is. If we begin with the assumption that something is created, it must be either an external force that does so and that force would be God (by definition) or it is not an external force and the creation will just happens by . . . magic?, which doesn't make any sense whatsoever since it violates all laws of nature and so, therefore, it too is supernatural! The only way that the atheist (non-supernatural) position makes any sense whatsoever is to assume that the universe is eternal.

However, by eternal, that does not mean that you can't have a continuous cycle of big bang and then collapse into singularity. So long as this cycle occurs forever and never had either a beginning or an end, it is eternal.

Therefore, I don't see why you would get your head wrapped up around creation of the universe when atheism cannot support creation of the universe anyway.

As to it being intelligent, that is your assumption, not mine. I would still call such a supernatural force God. Granted it might not make sense to worship a force that is not intelligent but it certainly wouldn't hurt either (see Pascal's Wager!).

In any case, only an eternal universe makes sense from a scientific perspective (law of conservation of mass). Indeed, if you want an argument for atheism, that is the only one that makes sense as well. All other arguments are arguments for God (in the sense of a supernatural force) whether you want to admit it or not.

Unfortunately, for scientists, it is also impossible to prove this. They must accept it on faith.

Rather than discuss Last Thursdayism and the Matrix being a documentary, I would state that I am 100% certain that the Invisible Pink Unicorn is nonexistent. Why? Because if it is invisible, it can't have a color, that's why! Oh, and if you say that if you have faith then you can see it, then it isn't invisible. Since both are contradictory, the Invisible Pink Unicorn cannot exist (although what could exist is a Invisible to all non-believers but Pink to all believers Unicorn but that is another matter entirely).

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.