A priest goes after scientism (again)

The physicist Sean Carroll is a really nice guy—not strident at all, but uncompromising in his godlessness.  But Sean’s affability doesn’t immunize him against attack, for he’s recently published an essay in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (see my take on this execrable volume of apologetics here,  here and here) that is one of the book’s two or three pieces that doesn’t kiss the butt of Christianity. (The book’s editors falsely claimed that it would not be a volume “defending or promoting Christian faith.” What a joke!)  You can read Carroll’s excellent essay online. It’s called “Does the universe need God?” and the answer is “Hell, no!”

That, of course, will inevitably raise the hackles of theologians, who earn their daily bread from asserting the opposite. In particular, it’s ticked off the smug and foolish priest Father Robert Barron, who has responded to Carroll below, mistakenly calling Sean’s pieces a book rather than an essay.

We’ve previously encountered Barron, a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago and Rector*/President of Mundelein Seminary/University of Saint Mary of the Lake.  In May of this year I wrote about his complaint that atheists were at fault for not being nihilistic enough, and in July of 2010 I discussed Fr. Barron’s request for Christians to pray for Christopher Hitchens.

Watching this guy is like listening to fingernails on a blackboard, and in this video he scratches about scientism for nearly nine minutes:

It’s the usual trope: “science can’t explain the beauty of Michelangelo’s work,”  and “science can’t analyze truth, meaning, and goodness.”  He decries the “incredible arrogance” of scientists who claim otherwise. But really, which scientist does that?  We might one day be able to explain emotions like love or the admiration of beauty—and perhaps many moral intuitions—by analysis of brain patterns and evolution, but “meaning and goodness” will probably remain the purview of philosophy for a long time to come. Note that I said “philosophy,” not “religion.”  For religion has made no progress in any of the “nonscientific” questions Father Barron raises, and of course the whole point in his decrying scientism is to enable religion.  Sadly, different religions have different standards of truth, beauty, and meaning (Islam prohibits music and depictions of the human figure, for instance, which aren’t considered beautiful; and to a Catholic, the good life doesn’t include nonmarital sex).  Give me secular philosophy over theology any day!

Barron then goes on to make—get this—the cosmological argument for the existence of God, though he dresses it up in fancy words appropriate for his Sophisticated Parishioners™.  But it still hasn’t progressed beyond the arguments of Aquinas. As Barron argues:

“This process [the chain of  contingent "causes"] must end in some reality which is not contingent; whose very nature it is ‘to bei: in sum esse—being itself [note how he adds gravitas to this his dumb argument by using Latin words]. This is precisely what serious believers mean by ‘God.’  That is why God is not one fussy cause among many; one element within a mechanistic system. God is rather the answer to this question: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ ‘Why should there be a universe at all?’ ‘What finally explains contingent reality?'”

And my responses, hardly novel, are these:

1. The universe may well not be “contingent.” That is, not everything, including physical phenomena, must have a contingent “cause”.  Why does a radioactive atom decay when it does? As far as we can tell, and as physics tells us, there is no “cause”. It just happens at a given moment, and it’s a probabilistic phenomenon.  In light of quantum mechanics (and also earlier philosophers), the notion of “cause” in the universe is outmoded.  And if quantum phenomena have no cause, why must the universe?  Ergo, the universe could have caused itself, as physicists keep telling us. Barron is simply wrong when he argues that “one must evoke an extrinsic cause to explain why matter behaves this way.”

2.  I know this question makes theologians snicker, but I still think it’s a good one: “WHAT CAUSED GOD, THEN?”  Their usual response is that God doesn’t need a cause, for He is the “Uncaused Cause.” But that’s just semantics; you terminate a (false) infinite regress in something that is by definition called “God.”  But that could be the universe, in which case the universe is God.  Saying that “God” is the ultimate cause is like saying, as Dan Dennett argues, that “Fred” is the ultimate cause, for you can call the Uncaused Cause anything you want.  It’s not an explanation, but a semantic device to make the questions stop.

And I needn’t point out that even if you accept an Uncaused Cause, that is no evidence that it corresponds in any way to the Abrahamic God of Fr. Barron, or indeed to the God of any religion.

Finally, if there is a cosmic “being” that created the universe, what was it doing before the universe was around? Just sitting around twiddling his celestial thumbs? SOMETHING had to bring God into being, amirite? If theologians want to argue that the Abrahamic God needs no cause himself, then they have to do more than assert it: they need to provide evidence.  And, of course, that is just what Fr. Barron doesn’t want to do: at the end of his spiel he argues that God is beyond scientific proof or disproof.

Sean has a brief response at Cosmic Variance, “The absolute limits of scientistic arrogance“, which includes this riposte:

As good scientists, of course, we are open to the possibility that a better understanding in the future might lead to a different notion of what is really fundamental. (It is indeed a peculiar form of arrogance we exhibit.) What we’re not open to is the possibility that you can sit in your study and arrive at deep truths about the nature of reality just by thinking hard about it. We have to write down all the possible ways we can think the world might be, and distinguish between them by actually going outside and looking at it.

So tell us, Fr. Barron, how did your lucubrations in your library lead you to the notion that the Uncaused Cause was the God of Abraham, who spawned a divine son who was resurrected?

What this clip does show, beyond question, is that theological explanation has not progressed beyond that of medieval times.

___________

*I strove mightily not to mis-type this word.

206 Comments

  1. Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    We might one day be able to explain emotions like love or the admiration of beauty by analysis of brain patterns and evolution …

    You are conceding way too much Jerry. It is already obvious that those emotions are evolutionary programming, and science can tell us much more about them than philosophy (or religion) can or ever will.

    Sure we don’t know everything about them, any more than we know everything about our immune systems, but that’s not a reason for conceding the ground to philosophers (let alone theologians).

    • jose
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      What’s so scary about the idea that when we love someone, that’s going to have a material basis? I mean why are disappointment, fondness, happiness, resentment or just boredom perfectly material but love is somehow magical?

    • jimroberts
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      sub

  2. ethologist
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    I like that Fred might be the uncaused cause ’cause that’s my name.

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      Almighty Fr-d! You have spoken to us! We followed the Prophet Dan for many years, trusting in his wisdom that you would reveal yourself to us and now you have! Oh blessèd day!

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      Give us this day our daily Fred…

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:21 am | Permalink

      When writing COBOL programs, you sometimes want to force a program to fail (“ABEND”) when you encounter certain error conditions, and one way of doing this is to call a non-existent routine. In my firm, the standard was “CALL FRED”.

      Ergo, FRED doesn’t exist. QED.

      /@

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        For what sins has your firm been doomed to write code in COBOL?

        • Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          There’s actually still a hell of a lot of software out there written in COBOL, and good COBOL programmers earn their weight in gold every year.

          Where you get the biggest problems, though, is when those COBOL programmers write SQL…and, rather then do things properly with set theory, they simply (mentally) write a COBOL program and translate it into SQL.

          If you’ve got any sort of financial process (payroll, general ledger, whatever) that takes more than a minute or three to process, it’s a sure bet that that’s why, and that a competent SQL programmer could re-write a several thousand line stored procedure into a few hundred lines that does in under a minute what today takes a couple hours.

          b&

          • Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

            “There’s actually still a hell of a lot of software out there written in COBOL, and good COBOL programmers earn their weight in gold every year.”

            I know that; I actually have a relative whose job, just a couple or so years go, was to maintain and write COBOL code for an American consulting firm (he was based in India). But I still consider it some sort of programming penance to have to do that :)

            “rather then do things properly with set theory, they simply (mentally) write a COBOL program and translate it into SQL.”

            This sounds really scarey: most versions of SQL are not even Turing complete, whereas COBOL is (I still can’t imagine someone writing a for loop in SQL). They must be really wedded to the language to try something like that. Especially given that most databases that use SQL are heavily optimized for SQL queries.

            • Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps by number of implementations most SQL engines aren’t Turing complete, but the overwhelming majority by number of major installations sure is. Oracle and Microsoft’s versions have had at least as much functional conditionality as BASIC for ages, as has PostgreSQL. (MySQL isn’t even fully ACID, so I’ve never considered what else it might or might not have.)

              But, yeah. It’s really easy to tell when a stored procedure was written by somebody who only really knows COBOL, and that code always winds up being incredibly ugly. Typical is a SELECT that populates a bunch of variables with, say, a bunch of employees, and then a loop for each one of those employees to do the same thing for each of them. Sometimes that “same thing” even involves calling other stored procedures with their own nested loops. When you peel the whole thing apart, you realize that the whole mess should be replaced by a single, very simple, six-line UPDATE statement.

              I used to trust the former programmer in such situations, assuming that there was some arcane business rule that provided some sort of really good reason why they didn’t do the obvious. Now I start out by assuming that the programmer was an idiot. Saves me so much time, and I’ve yet to have that initial assumption steer me worng.

              b&

        • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          This was over 20 years ago.

          And I’ve never written bad SQL. Or any.

          /@

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I’ve been looking for a god to worship & Fred sounds like just the ticket! Let’s all genuflect to Fred!

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        No need to go to made-up gods if you’re looking for one worthy of worship.

        If you have a cat, there’s your god right there.

        And everybody, cats include, have the Sun.

        And, yes. I am totally serious on this one.

        Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go grab a leash so my one god can worship the other….

        b&

  3. Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    The Ottawa Citizen includes an “Ask The Religion Experts” column every week, and every week, on the Canadian Atheist website, I criticize the responses. I am running out of phrases to show how annoying the religion experts answers are, especially the answers from the panel’s Catholic priest. Reading the priest’s same old and tired answers is “like listening to fingernails on a blackboard.” Thank you for the phrase, but I’m sure, even if he reads my post, he won’t stop being irritating.

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      Right, this type will be ‘forced’ to repeat his nonsense over and over and over again, because you see, he knows what is best for everybody, after all, he has a hotline to god and it his life’s vocation. He can’t ever be wrong, while he considers us to be sadly mistaken and in needing of guidance, no matter how unwanted. Disgusting perspective, indeed.

  4. Flo M
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Oh my God! This comical figure just exposes that he has absolutely no business defining what science can and cannot do, for all the examples he mounts, aesthetics, moral and so on, are of course the subject of fruitful scientific enquiry. By contrast religion has not led to a single tenable explanation of a natural phenomenon. From the cloak to the cloaca in no time…

  5. Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Intelligent Catholic kids are adored, courted, and directed into becoming slick ‘intellectuals’ compelled to varnish the crudeness and cruelty of Catholic dogma. Behold an excellent example of what Catholicism does to intelligence if allowed by the individual: Fr. Barron.

    If I remember correctly, he also pushes lies regarding female reproduction (can’t find the relevant links).

  6. Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I watched 2 minutes. That was enough.

    My summary:

    Science may be able to understand the molecules. But it will never be able to match the pure unadulterated bullshit that comes from religion.

    Hmm, there might be a point to that.

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Two minutes! I hit Stop after “… the absolute limits of scientistic arrogance…”

  7. Lynn A (Ottawa)
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Irritating indeed on so many levels – commandeering human creativity, ascribing beliefs to “scientists” which are just not true, his own arrogance, and the usual gross generalizations. I may just be a simple librarian (without a science background), but the so then, “what caused god” question is one of the many reasons I moved into the atheist camp.

  8. jose
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I wonder why linguists never accuse scientists of arrogance and claim science can’t explain why you have to write the adjective before the noun.

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      Or after, en Français. Except for grand & petit.

      /@

      • jose
        Posted November 13, 2012 at 4:22 am | Permalink

        Seems to me all professions with a real subject of study of their own are too busy working on their stuff to go after science for being arrogant and everything we keep hearing from theologians.

      • Posted November 14, 2012 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        Vraiment? I was taught (by a peppery Colonel, who probably got his French from a Mademoiselle from Armentières) that “In French, adjectives of colour come after the noun” and later learnt (or rather, found out and forgot) it was “shape, color, taste, nationality, religion, social class, and other adjectives that describe things like personality and mood.” More here.

        • Posted November 14, 2012 at 1:36 am | Permalink

          Ah, merci. I did know some of that; but it’s been nearly 40 years since I studied French. In my defence, I didn’t say only those two… :-/

          /@

  9. Mattapult
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Wouldn’t God be considered “Something.”

    Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      “God is rather the answer to this question: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’”

      So to repeat an oldie but goodie: If God is the answer, must have been a silly question.

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

        Why should there ever have been nothing rather than something?

        /@

  10. Sastra
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    “This process [the chain of contingent "causes"] must end in some reality which is not contingent; whose very nature it is ‘to bei: in sum esse—being itself [note how he adds gravitas to this his dumb argument by using Latin words]. This is precisely what serious believers mean by ‘God.’

    Bait ‘n switch alert!

    The term for a reality which is not ‘contingent’ — whose very nature it is ‘to be’ — is not “God.” When we wish to refer to this concept, we use the term “reality.” Meaning, reality as a whole. We might also call it “existence.” Whatever. It answers “why is there something rather than nothing?” or similar questions by playing around with tautologies like “whatever exists is real.” It is the nature of reality to be real. Dude.

    Not informative, no — but it’s not meant to be informative, so that we’re finding something out. We shouldn’t be finding anything out when we sit back and explore concepts. The existence of existence is not discovered, or in any dispute. We have to ask details about what exists, or what is real — and how and in what way — but we assume reality as the obvious background.

    But “serious believers” try to stick “God” in to the conceptual space we give to “Reality” and thus sneak in a whole lot of excess baggage. The automatically make God real with this trick. And because God has additional content, they sneak in mind and values, as fundamental existents.

    That’s the whole trick in the explanation-trick. They’re not explaining — they’re just moving a question around to look like an answer. Consciousness comes from Consciousness; personhood comes from Personhood; free will comes from Free Will; reason comes from Reason; value comes from Value; morality comes from Morality; life comes from Life; purpose fulfilled comes from a Purpose to Fulfill a Purpose. On and on. God is the sort of thing which is apparently made out of consciousness, personhood, free will, reason, value, morality, life, and purpose in some fundamental way which would and could require no further explication and which would and could forbid any further analysis.

    It’s a splendid advantage.

    Lucky, lucky Catholic priest, that he can do this. This whole approach has the supreme value of being easy. It’s a shortcut to actual thought because there’s nothing to investigate outside of the thought itself. No mechanism, no development, no process, no reductionism. Where does X come from? From X. From an X source. From an X power. From an X Force. X is what results when an X uses its powerful X force to be the X source to establish X. It is X, has X, so it has X to give. Dude.

    So here we have it: Creation came from a creative Being which creates by creating as part of its creative nature which chooses to create! Yay! We’re done! It fits right into an established pattern which would satisfy even a two-year-old. Hell, it probably comes from the intuitions we had when we were two. Science is hard work. So is philosophy. Go with what we know. Go with the simplest explanatory context. Call it Occam’s razor and it’ll even sound consistent with science.

    They want it to look like atheists who argue against the existence of God are arguing against the existence of reality. They also want to appeal to “like comes from like” when they talk about beauty and purpose and love and pretend that THIS sort of “explanation” is on par with a scientific explanation and thus BETTER because there are no awkward steps between the objective and the subjective. The subjective IS the objective because essentialist thinking is involved and all they have to do is reify an abstraction and pronounce themselves satisfied.

    Nice try, Barron. You can only fool people with this who WANT to be fooled. Which group probably includes yourself.

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • irritable
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      +1 Sastra.

      The so-called cosmological arguments for the existence of god, more recently tricked up by William Lane Craig as the Kalam Cosmological Argument, characterise “the Universe” as a “thing” caused by a Something Else which has a Personality (but no physical neural structure to do the Deep Thinking with).

      But there is no warrant for concluding that the universe is a thing. As if it were an object in a container, rather than part of the container: ie reality/existence.

      Nobody knows what happened before inflation. Certainly not Fr Barron, a representative of a disreputable superstitious movement.

      Nobody knows the extent of the unobservable universe, and whether or not the universe is part of a constantly inflating Multiverse (as some string theorists reasonably speculate).

      Nobody knows whether the region which expanded during inflation to become the observable universe is a consequence of quantum fields in a greater plenum.

      But it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that either the observable universe, or the process which includes the observable universe, is reality/existence itself.

      Why should reality/existence be “contingent” on some prior cause? Any prior cause must be part reality/existence, and so on, in endless regression.

      Why isn’t it reasonable to assume that the “default” state is existence?

      Is there any warrant for suggesting that there can be a state of true “nothingness” – lacking dimensions, fields or propensities? The idea of total nothingness seems to be a purely mental construct (picture “everything”, then subtract it) which no plausibility.

      The arguments produce the utterly unconvincing scenario of Primordial Nothingness, inhabited by a Mind (with no neurones) which has recognisably anthropoid emotions (love of anthropoids, enjoyment and approval of things anthropoids enjoy and approve of) which abruptly creates inflation from a singularity so that 13.8 Billion years later, on a tiny speck of dust in an insignificant galaxy amongst hundreds of billions, people can start adhering to silly dietary laws.

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:39 am | Permalink

        I should’ve waited to say it here, but it bears repeating, as it summarises what you said: Why should there ever have been nothing rather than something?

        All empirical evidence suggests that something exists and nothing doen’t. (What does it even mean for nothingness to exist?)

        To misquote Arostotle, Nature abhors nothingness.

        /@

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 6:08 am | Permalink

        There’s an ancient tradition of assuming, without evidence, that matter is inert, and can do nothing by itself. Since Newton at the absolute latest we have known that to be false …

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:31 am | Permalink

      +1

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted November 13, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      “Hell, it probably comes from the intuitions we had when we were two.”

      I can recall being amazed that you can get a bar of soap dirty, and write on an eraser. Up till then, things obviously worked by magic.

      Pretty much the same thing when I found out the stairs up the back of the church only went to the organ loft.

  11. Hempenstein
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Islam prohibits music…

    IIRC, in the timeframe of ~100yrs ago certain variants on the Baptist persuasion were convinced that the fiddle was the devil’s instrument, while others weren’t. I think the dividing line was somewhere in the vicinity of Louisiana – west of there fiddles were OK, and to the east they weren’t.

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      My grandfather, a strict Scottish Presbyterian, deplored the church organ as “a chest of whustles”.

      And the history of church music is a sawtooth wave of progressive elaboration and polyphony until some Pope deplored it as worldly, ordered homophony, and the cycle began again.

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:53 am | Permalink

      Now I have the Charlie Daniels Band going through my mind…

      /@

  12. Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    This process [the chain of contingent "causes"] must end in some reality which is not contingent

    You remember when you were young and you played a game of “name the biggest number”? And how, after a few rounds of “nine hundred ninety nine trillion nine hundred…” somebody finally piped up with, “infinity”? And then, “infinity plus one!” soon followed by “infinity plus a trillion infinities” and you were off to the races again?

    “Father” Barron’s logic here is every bit as laughably juvenile. Suggesting that an infinite regress must terminate in something finite is as idiotically absurd coming from an adult as if he were to claim that “infinity” is the largest counting number.

    I know this question makes theologians snicker, but I still think it’s a good one: “WHAT CAUSED GOD, THEN?”

    Joke’s on them, in a rather depressingly embarrassing “What the Hell did you step in, and why the fuck are you tracking it all over the carpet?” sort of way.

    b&

    • Bebop
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think infinite regression is a logical option.

      The only logical option is that the first cause is uncreated.

      Which means it is outside time because it never began and can never end.

      So it is logical to think that if God exists, it has an uncreated nature.

      That doesn’t make God a finite phenomenon.
      What has no cause can’t be finite.

      And our senses and our intellect can’t really grasp that. Not with the our common default state of consciousness.

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink

        “I don’t think infinite regression is a logical option.

        The only logical option is that the first cause is uncreated. ”

        Sure. Just like it is logically necessary that the smallest strictly positive real number must exist?

        But wait, it doesn’t.

        “What has no cause can’t be finite.”

        Like beta decay, for example.

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:55 am | Permalink

        Poop!

        /@

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        I don’t think infinite regression is a logical option.

        So sorry you’re stuck in the Dark Ages. The rest of the world came to grips with infinity centuries ago. Indeed, thanks to Bertrand Russell, we know that there are actually different kinds of infinities, some bigger than others. For example, though there are exactly as many rational numbers as there are counting numbers (and both are infinite), there are infinitely more irrational numbers than either.

        Oh — since you’re so far behind the times, you might want to look up this other fascinating concept: the number “0.” Scary, sure, but quite useful.

        b&

        • Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          “Indeed, thanks to Bertrand Russell, we know that there are actually different kinds of infinities, some bigger than others.”

          That would be George Cantor.

          Plus, people had come to grips with infinites way before even Newton. Archimedes and Aryabhata, for example, approximated the value of pi using different limiting processes. A lot of integral calculus (and some differential calculus) was quite well known in several parts of the world much before the groundbreaking fundamental theorem of Leibniz (and Newton).

          • Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            Thanks for the correction to my pre-tea brain fart…and I’ll see your correction and raise you a spelling Nazism: the terminal “e” in Cantor’s first name is invisible.

            It’s certainly true that the Classicists toyed with the idea of the infinite, but many of them rejected it. That was the point, as I understand it, of Zeno’s Paradox. We see that rejection in full force in the Aristotelian concept of an unmoved mover, which, of course, the Christians continue to this day.

            Imagine if, rather than Aristotle and Plato, our modern religions had latched on to Lucretius, Democritus, and Epicurus….

            b&

            • Posted November 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

              “Imagine if, rather than Aristotle and Plato, our modern religions had latched on to Lucretius, Democritus, and Epicurus….”

              And Kanad, Charvaka and Ajitha Keshkambali.

              For what it is worth, ancient Greece was not the only culture of the time grappling with these problems. Concentrating just on the notion of “infinity” here is, for example, a description of Bhaskaracharya’s algebraic rules for dealing with “infinity”, and he also wrote about a version of the Zeno’s paradox. The work of a whole tradition of mathematicians coming from the so called Kerala school focused on the process of summation of infinite series and limiting processes. I am sure (though I don’t have specific examples to illustrate) that such considerations of infinity must appear in other ancient cultures, such as China, too.

              Thanks for that ‘e’-quip though :). I had never noticed that Georg Cantor is spelled like that: in fact I most probably have used the wrong spelling several times even in my academic work.

              • Posted November 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

                As a Westerner who grew up in the West, it’s the Greeks I was taught about and whom I’m most familiar with. I’d hope that other cultures would have their parallels from that era, and that modern students and adults would have a similar knowledge of them — and, if you’re at all a representative example, such is the case.

                It’s also interesting to note how many concepts tend to emerge nearly simultaneously in different cultures. It’s as if, once a certain foundation is laid, the next steps are almost inevitable. Once those next steps become firmly established, they themselves lay the foundation for the next stage of advancement.

                Oh — and I can all but guarantee you that the only reason I’m aware of Cantor’s missing “e” is because somebody else called me on it….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted November 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

                The “e” isn’t missing; it’s just infinitesimally small…

                /@ 

              • Posted November 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

                Zeno’s e!

                …which is, apparently, somewhat smaller than four and a quarter….

                b&

        • Bebop
          Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

          Infinity, math and infinite regression are 3 different things.

          But one thing is sure, in the end, we need an uncreated no-thing to “start” with…

          • Posted November 14, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

            “But one thing is sure, in the end, we need an uncreated no-thing to “start” with…”

            Why?

          • Posted November 14, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

            Or to give a more detailed reply at the risk of plagiarising one of our hosts questions, even if this were true (which as physics has shown it isn’t) then why isn’t the answer more likely to be “laws of physics” or “the universe” or the “multiverse” than “a semi-mythical Jewish preacher born in the Middle East”?

            • Bebop
              Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

              I think brahman is a better option when it comes to explaining an uncreated no-thing.

              How can physics state there is no uncreated background that was there before matter?

          • Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

            But one thing is sure, in the end, we need an uncreated no-thing to “start” with…

            How do you know this to be true?

            b&

            • Bebop
              Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

              There can’t be nothing because even nothing is something. 0 is something. 0 is uncreated, it never started and can never end. The void is the form and the form is the void.

              • Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

                I didn’t ask what you know. I asked you how you came to have that knowledge.

                More to the point, what have you done to verify that your knowledge is true — and, even more importantly, what have you done to attempt to discredit your own ideas and how did your ideas fare against that test?

                b&

              • Bebop
                Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

                First, from where I come from, atheism is the default mode of “spirituality”. No big deal about that. So I was an atheist for the majority of my life. And to make a short story, I slowly changed my mind the more I was learning about buddhism and eastern traditions, but more important, after I experienced other modes of perception.

                Now, how do I know if this was real?
                The honest answer is I can’t know. But to be able to relate my experience to what I could only understand intellectually before and understand on a much deeper level what “uncreated” means, in other words, to “see” what “uncreated” is, that led me to think it was a real experience. Let’s say that all your life, you would be seeing in black and white and that for 15 minutes, you could see in colors. The contrast would be so big, the colors would be so colorful, even if that wouldn’t last, the impression it would leave would be one of deep truth.

                Can I be sure 100% about my experiences? No. But I’ll go with what I find useful. I’m a pragmatic guy you know…

                But is 0 something or not?

              • Posted November 14, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                By my observations, the method you describe of gaining knowledge, though sometimes useful for generating hypotheses to test, has been repeatedly demonstrated to be profoundly unreliable as an actual source of information.

                You would be unwise to disregard your experiences, but you are even more unwise to trust them without subjecting them to independent empirical verification.

                How do I know this? Because there is no consistency between multiple people in the “knowledge” gained through personal revelation, beyond the already-prevalent tropes in their respective societies. Christian revelations are of the power of Christ; New Age revelations are of the beauty of Mother Nature; and Islamic revelations are of the righteousness of Muhammad. Never will a Buddhist never exposed to Islam have a revelation of the necessity of Shari’a; nor will a Christian ignorant of New Age beliefs have a revelation of the utility of casting Wiccan spells or chanting in the presence of a vortex.

                In contrast, scientists from all cultures agree upon the force of gravity, the charge of the electron, the structure of the Tree of Life, the distance to every star you see in the sky, the current weather conditions on Jupiter, and on and on and on. They come to such remarkable agreement by devising empirical tests designed to DISprove their hypotheses; they check each other’s work; and they only conditionally agree upon that which withstands every assault.

                b&

              • Bebop
                Posted November 14, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                As you may known, eastern traditions are more empiricist than the abrahmic ones. The Buddha himself said to not just believe him but to practice in order to get the results he was talking about.

                Science is a powerful and useful tool but I guess it can’t be the right one for everything… Consciousness involves subjectivity, objectively speaking. That some phenomenon can’t be tested via the scientific method isn’t the problem of Reality, despite the claim scientism makes…

  13. Myron
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    “Why does a radioactive atom decay when it does? As far as we can tell, and as physics tells us, there is no ’cause’.” – J. Coyne

    The first premise of the Kalam cosmological argument reads:

    “Necessarily, everything (every object/substance) that begins to exist has a cause.”

    What (object/substance) begins to exist in a case of radioactive decay? If nothing, no object/substance begins to exist in such a case, then spontaneous radioactive decay simply isn’t a relevant counterexample to that premise. Spontaneous radioactive decay entails the emission but not the creation of particles. That is, the emitted particles are pre-existent and thus don’t begin to exist when the decay occurs. The decay event doesn’t bring new particles into existence, does it?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but particles arise out of quantum vacuums all the time WITHOUT A CAUSE. So you’re dead wrong there.

      Also, how do we know that God didn’t begin to exist.

      • Myron
        Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        Your example was radioactive decay, which is different from particle creation out of the quantum vacuum. So, again, the question is what things are caused and thus begin to exist when radioactive decay occurs.

        We know nothing about God because God doesn’t exist; but we know something about the existent concept of God, namely that the concept of eternity is part of it. So a god who began to exist would not be the god of Jewish/Christian/Islamic monotheism.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted November 12, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

          Yeah, but the concept of a God is one thing, a real God is another. We don’t think there is a god, but if there is, we have no idea if it’s the Abrahamic god. So yes, it’s up for grabs whether an EXISTING god actually had a beginning.

          • Bebop
            Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

            If God had a beginning, well, it couldn’t be God…

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        If he “began” to exist, does he realize it or is he deluded into thinking he’s always been around?

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      n -> p + e + nu
      So yes, the additional up quark is ‘new’, as are the electron & neutrino – they came into existence through the decay of the W boson that mediates the decay.

      • Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:36 am | Permalink

        Bah, poor choice of word at the end there. Should have said “interaction”, not decay.

      • Myron
        Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Okay, in the case of beta decay you may say that a proton begins to exist through transmutation of a neutron. But what is uncaused is the beta decay, i.e. the transmutation, but not the proton’s existence beginning, because its cause is the uncaused nuclear transmutation.
        Nothing causes the beta decay, but the beta decay causes the existence beginning of a proton. So, it seems, we still haven’t any genuine counterexample to the claim that every thing which begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

        You might object that there aren’t two events involved but only one: the nuclear transmutation = the existence beginning of the proton. If this is true, then it obviously follows that if the transmutation is uncaused, the existence beginning is uncaused too. But I doubt that this is true, i.e. that we have only one event here rather than two distinct events.

        • Myron
          Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

          That is, my point is that nothing (external) causes the nucleus to transmute, but that the nucleus’s transmutation causes a proton to begin to exist, which means that the proton’s existence beginning is not uncaused.

          • Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

            …and so there is a process (beta decay) that causes a particle to exist without needing anything to trigger it. So the analogy stands, as nothing causes the beta decay, which causes particles (‘the universe’ in the analogy) to come into existence. So quantum physics gives us an example of a natural process that can be uncaused. No need for a god.

          • Myron
            Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

            Processes are entities, and if we don’t read “everything” as “every object/substance” but as “every entity”, then the occurrence of uncaused processes is a plausible counterexample to the claim that everything (every entity) which begins to exist is caused to exist.

            By the way, to say that radioactive decay is causeless is to say that it lacks an external cause but not necessarily to say that it lacks an internal cause. In my view, causation is best explained in terms of dispositions (dispositional properties, powers) and their manifestations. Certain nuclei undergo radioactive decay because they possess the physical disposition to do so (by virtue of their intrinsic physical qualities). As opposed to other kinds of disposition, this one is spontaneously self-manifesting or self-triggering, which phenomenon is due to the nature of the nuclei in question.
            Above, I mentioned the distinction between external causes and internal causes, which corresponds to the distinction between transeunt causation and immanent causation. Given this distinction, one can argue that radioactive decay is best regarded not as being uncaused but as being immanently caused.

            “W. E. Johnson…drew a distinction between two types of cause. He called the one transeunt causation (going across), and the other immanent (remaining within). Transeunt causation is the more ordinary sort of causation, when one thing brings about something in another particular (or sustains something, as when supporting something or keeping it in existence) and it can be argued that it is the only sort of causation there is. But I think that immanent causation is also actual. Spontaneous emission from an atom of uranium 235, radioactive decay, might be such a case. It is spontaneous because not produced by causal action from outside the atom. It doesn’t matter that probability rules in this emission case. Probabilistic causation is causation when the law ‘fires’. Does the ‘spontaneous’ suggest that there is no causation here? Well, it obeys a probabilistic law so why should it not count as a case of the uranium atom causing one of its constituent electrons, say, to be emitted?”

            (Armstrong, D. M. Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 57)

    • Curt Cameron
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I see Jerry and “J” have already pointed out that subatomic particles actually do come into existence without a cause.

      Now I’ll turn the challenge back to you: what else “begins to exist”?

      As far as I know, there are only two things: subatomic particles, and the universe itself. For particles, we know they happen uncaused. What about the universe?

      How can you possibly get from the one thing we know that begins to exist, doing so uncaused, to asserting that the universe itself must have a cause? If you’re going to work from the only other example we have, wouldn’t the default be to suppose that the universe is probably the same?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 12, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Actually you can choose to see the creation and destruction of particles as ephemeral conversions of energy.

        And the larger structure formation in the universe evolved from fluctuations and will eventually dilute to zero energy density in the standard cosmology. (I’m picking this out of Carroll’s texts.)

        So structures are ultimately a result of quantum fluctuations in the inflation field.

        You make a good point on particles and local universes. They can happen spontaneously.

        But we can also take the processes of structures and combine it with the processes of universes as such. Then it all goes back to what caused inflation.

        Susskind has made a good point in that eternal inflation, the natural and most likely state of inflation, may have no beginnings. In which case it is unknown if cosmology eventually may need initial constraints as we expand on it.

        At the moment we have no need for initial constraints (or gods, for theologians). It is an ironical reversal of theologians worrying about gods – turns out it was all premature.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Better to say that particles and universes happens spontaneously, seeing that you wanted to describe the default physics. It is _very_ unlikely universes are not spontaneously initiated.

        • Posted November 12, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          I am quite happy to suppose that anything that seems “spontaneous” is the culmination of some underlying confluence of influences of which we are not yet aware – just as we don’t say that an avelance, or a balanced rock finally falling, is “spontaneous.

          • Posted November 13, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

            avalanche, of course.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      As I say below, I usually point out that relativistic causality of processes have replaced philosophical notions of cause and effect for a century now. But Carroll has upped the ante with throwing in correlations as well.

      “Cause” is an old casualty of causality. So there is no cause to speak of “cause” any longer.

      Yes, decays are like particle collisions in that every particle field participates. (But some are constrained to not appear in the results, see Strassler’s blog on this.) Particles are destroyed and created, and I believe the underlying physics works from “constructors” and “annihilators”.

      The particle fields on the other hand are varying in strength (I assume, not having studied quantum field physics) but they always exists of course.

      It is quantum processes that results in the observed outcomes, which is why we can’t speak of ‘what caused what’. Uncertainty relations guides decays, making some energetically tunnel through potentials they shouldn’t be able to classically.

      In a similar manner particle collisions results in different outcomes, branshing ratios and “decay channels“. In these cases the different outcomes (set of particles) are probabilistic.

      But we know the processes obey relativistic causality.

      • Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        “Cause” is an old casualty of causality. So there is no cause to speak of “cause” any longer.

        Even before modern physics, causality was far too fuzzy a concept to be useful in this type of context.

        Did the water in my electric teapot boil this morning because the electric element input sufficient heat energy into the system, or because I wanted some tea? If the latter, was it because it was cold this morning, or because I thought the Sichuanese oolong I’ve got would go well with the home fries and sausage I had for breakfast? And if the latter, that wouldn’t have been the meal plan if I hadn’t spotted the bag of quarter-sized red, white, and blue potatoes at the market on Saturday, so what caused me to buy them and thus boil the water to make tea?

        Religionists like to proclaim that “something” must have caused it all…but if we can’t even figure out what made my pot of water boil this morning, let alone that there even was a cause for it to boil, of what sense does it make to insist that the Cosmos itself had a cause?

        b&

        • Posted November 13, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

          On the other hand, there’s been a revitalization in the notion of causation, created for use in AI, machine learning, the social sciences, and other fields. We can apply that notion (put into general form by the likes of Woodward) – is there a hypothetical ideal intervention that would change the beta decay (prevent it from happening or other). No, so it is causeless. (Or yes, if I’m misremembering how beta decay works. The point is that there is a lot of work on causation these days …)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I have web problems, so didn’t find Strasller’s article on particle field interactions I wanted to ref. Meanwhile this article shows how particles (and virtual particles) are complex composite disturbances in many fields at the same time.

    • Posted November 13, 2012 at 12:58 am | Permalink

      “The decay event doesn’t bring new particles into existence, does it?”

      FWIW, it does. Neutrinos are produced in almost all instances of radioactive decay, even if you are inclined to not call the alpha or beta particles produced as “new”.

  14. Sastra
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Not only can we ask why God exists rather than doesn’t exist, but we can as why God has the nature it has rather than some other nature. Different possibilities are conceivable. If there are alternatives, now you have something which the theists insist “requires further explanation.”

    Simply insisting over and over again with smug little chuckles and nods that God is thought of as self-existing and its characteristics are considered necessary — that nothing about God is contingent because God is understood to be non-contingent — is a wad of intellectual masturbation. Even sitting back in an armchair, we can think of a reality without God because God has specific properties involving mind and mental products. It’s not tautologically necessary and without content. Like “reality.”

    God exists at the level of mental explanation and analysis not because God is some sort of essential Being but because God is a sloppy place-holder for human thoughts, concerns, values, and ideas. It’s like us — except when it’s very conveniently not.

    When it’s in the Ground of Being form, it’s useless. It’s a conceptual dump, a graveyard where explanations go to die. Existence has to exist because otherwise it wouldn’t be existence and we’re plugging God into that in hopes you won’t notice (we do.) Empty and inert.

    It only does any actual work when it becomes like a person or mind-force or spirit or agent-intention and those are details. You don’t get to refer back to the part where you equated it with the sum total of existence — where it had no parts or features because the mental abstraction of that has no parts of features — and pretend you’re dealing with the same thing.

    You don’t get to do it for two reasons. One, it’s not justified. Two, the atheists are going to call you on it. Chuckle and nod all you like. We know which one of us is being naive.

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Not only can we ask why God exists rather than doesn’t exist, but we can as why God has the nature it has rather than some other nature.

      There’s an even simpler, and, I think, more effective way to get that point across, and it’s with a two-word question:

      Which god?

      Each religion has its own set of gods, generally including one or more creator gods. And the differences even between different sects of the same religion are so great they have to be considered different gods, too — the Catholic gods will have you roasted in Hell for all eternity for participating in an abortion; the fundamentalist gods will withhold punishment if you say the Sinner’s Prayer after getting an abortion; and the Anglican gods probably don’t have anything nearly so gauche as a torture chamber in the first place. How on Earth can any of those gods be the same?

      I’m particularly fond of this approach because it makes apparent the true nature of all gods: they’re nothing more than fictional literary devices. That’s clearly what they started out as, the storytelling equivalent of MSG. And they’ve yet to evolve beyond that.

      This priest has his just-so story about how the universe came to be, and aborigines ’round the globe have their own just-so stories. Some are more entertaining than others, with this priest’s version not ranking very high in that regard.

      One might suggest that that then makes the Big Bang theory just another just-so story…but the difference is that anybody with even a small bit of technical know-how can turn a TV satellite dish into a radio telescope that’ll do a very good job at observing the Cosmic Microwave Background. Many of the other fundamental experiments that confirm the scientific version of events are similarly well within reach of a decently-equipped high school science lab. None of the other stories can hold up even remotely close to similar scrutiny.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted November 13, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        Is MSG part of the same pantheon as FSM?

        /@

        • Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          No, MSG is the subject of RFC 821….

          b&

          • Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

            RFC 822, surely?

            In any case, I’m more inclined to worship a deity conformant with RFC 2324.

            /@

            • Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

              Good point. 822 is about the MSG; 821 is about getting the MSG from hither to thither and yon.

              2324 might get you going in the morning, but it’s 2549 that’ll keep the MSGs going when the shit hits the fan. Of course, it’ll also cause more shit to hit the fan, and everything else, but….

              b&

              • Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                RFC 4824 is less messy.

                /@

              • Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, but 4824 is so dry. It needs something to help spice it up — add in some judicious use of 3514, for example….

                b&

              • Posted November 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

                So, on 1 April 2003, Richard Steinnon and I had a vendor briefing from Symantec about their intrusion prevention products. At the end, I asked, “Do you plan to make this RFC-3514 compliant?” Since they were on the West Coast, eight hours behind me, and this was first thing in their morning, they didn’t twig, and said in all seriousness, “We’ll have to review that with our engineers and get back to you.” Richard (a couple of hours ahead of them) had to stop himself bursting out laughing.

                Well, maybe you had to be there.

                /@

              • Posted November 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                I remember the days when April First wasn’t wall-to-wall jackanapery, and the fools were all that more effective. I think it might have been Slashdot’s OMG Ponies that ruined the day for me.

                b&

  15. Strider
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Rector? Damn near killed ‘er!

  16. Bebop
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    You got to admit, F. Barron is a very good teacher.

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Teacher of what? Bullshit by example?

      Even if so, he pales in comparison with a real master such as…oh…say…any of the prominent voices in the Republican party in the past few months. As Stewart put it, there was a whole mountain of the stuff….

      b&

    • mandrellian
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      If the lesson was misleading, intelligence-insulting navel-gazing tripe, the dude’s practically Gandalf.

      • Bebop
        Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

        You may not agree that scientism exists but he explains it very well…

        • mandrellian
          Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

          He explains his version of it very well. As many theological “thinkers” he tends to ignore what actual people say about actual things and inserts in their place his versions of them.

          Scientism – it might well exist but it appears to mean something different depending on who’s talking about it. When a religious ideologue talks about Scientism, it’s more often than not a slander of science in general and a deliberate misrepresentation of the words of actual scientists. Seems to work just fine on the rubes, though, sitting at home using their computers that science built to whine endlessly about science on the internet that was made possible by science.

          • Bebop
            Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

            There is no whining against science in his definition of what is scientism. He explains very well how science can’t answer everything, which is what scientism is mostly about.
            Popper was far from being a theologian…

            Wiki:
            “Scientism is a term used, usually pejoratively, to refer to belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints. The term frequently implies a critique of the more extreme expressions of logical positivism and has been used by social scientists such as Friedrich Hayek, philosophers of science such as Karl Popper, and philosophers such as Hilary Putnam to describe the dogmatic endorsement of scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to only that which is measurable.”

  17. Graham Martin-Royle
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    “This process [the chain of contingent "causes"] must end in some reality which is not contingent; whose very nature it is ‘to bei: in sum esse—being itself

    Why? Why must the process end in some reality which is not contingent?

    • Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Oh, that’s easy.

      Because that’s the last remaining gap for the theological gods to hide in. If it turns out that there’s no gap, there, either, then there’s no intellectually sound reason to propose an entity that vaguely resembles the gods of today’s popular religions.

      And if there’s no way to say that those gods might maybe possibly could exist, then all the theologians and everybody else making money off the religion racket are now out of work (as soon as word gets out).

      We can’t have that, now, can we?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • mandrellian
        Posted November 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

        I just wonder how the theobots will squirm when God no longer fits inside a Planck length – will they put Him inside a bubble in the quantum foam? Piloting a Higgs boson? Ruling the inside of a wormhole?

        • Bebop
          Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

          God is certainly not something. A phenomenon that is uncreated can’t be some-thing.

          • Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

            To famously quote Dr. Dawkins, “How do you know that?”

            b&

          • mandrellian
            Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

            Define “not something”.

            Define “uncreated”.

            Explain how something being “not something” implies that it was “uncreated”.

            • Bebop
              Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

              Our default mode of perception prevents us to fully understand what “not something” and “uncreated” means. We grasp the world through discontinuity, that is how we can feel and reason, and that is what feeds the ego.
              An “uncreated not something” that would be the ground of being can’t be seen as such when evolving on a space/time plane because all what he experiences is somehow created. So to think
              about something that is outside time, that never began so it can never end, i.e.: uncreated, doesn’t match with what our intellect is able to figure and our senses experience.

              Eastern and mystic traditions are very good at explaining this. But to fully understand what it involves, you have to do the work that can give you a different perspective than what our default, not absolute, and limited state of perception is giving us.

              • Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

                Our default mode of perception prevents us to fully understand what “not something” and “uncreated” means.

                Since you’re so confident that the subject is incomprehensible, I’m equally confident that you don’t comprehend a word you’ve written on the subject.

                b&

              • Bebop
                Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

                Language is limited. Words require discontinuity in order to make sense. It doesn’t mean language is able to talk about everything.
                You need a direct experience, beyond what language is able to talk about to fully understand what “uncreated” means.

                You can know that a major chord is a sound made by 3 notes simultaneously; the 1st, the 3rd and the 5th, but you won’t fully understand a chord until you hear it for real.

              • mandrellian
                Posted November 14, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

                Our default mode of perception prevents us to fully understand what “not something” and “uncreated” means…”

                Then I hardly see why any reason for you to invoke such things in defence of your religion. If you can’t perceive it or sufficiently understand it, don’t invoke it as necessary and don’t expect others to swallow it.

                to think
                about something that is outside time, that never began so it can never end, i.e.: uncreated, doesn’t match with what our intellect is able to figure and our senses experience.

                Despite what your intellect, by your own admission, is unable to experience, you nonetheless profess certainty that “something (which, of course, isn’t something) that is outside time and which never began and can never end” is a “ground of being” – another telling bit of theological jargon. Despite being a limited human with limited experience, you choose to believe in an unlimited non-something that’s the basis of everything based on … what, exactly?

                I see you’ve commented on this site before, and made just as much sense. Perhaps you’d like to just explain, using non-jargon and not asserting things (or non-things) that aren’t in evidence, precisely why we should believe in your desert-god and leave it at that.

              • Bebop
                Posted November 14, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

                First, I don’t have a religion.

                Second, language is limited in describing what is beyond discontinuity, or dualism would say the oriental tradition.

                Our intellect works in a certain way. It can’t make sense of something that isn’t something and language can’t name that paradox (A can’t be non-A).

                But that doesn’t mean our intellect can grasp the whole picture. If you learn how to bypass its average mode and experience another mode, like a lot of oriental tradition are teaching, well you could be able to have another perspective so that a “something that is nothing” makes sense (the form is the void and the void is the form).

                It is like believing that you could understand what music is because you know that a C major is made of C, E and G. But if you don’t hear or play it, you don’t really “understand” it. You have a strictly intellectual comprehension.

                I don’t invent anything, eastern traditions and mysticism in general explain very well what they often call “the coincidence of opposites” and how you can gain a new picture about it. But no one or no instrument can do the job at your place.

                http://www.newkabbalah.com/coinc.pdf

              • Posted November 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                You have it exactly backwards.

                We experience a C major chord, then through mathematics, acoustics, anatomy and neuroscience we can explain that experience. (See, e.g., This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin.)

                Thinking you can explain something through experience alone is … poop!

                /@

              • Bebop
                Posted November 14, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

                The point here was that I was asked to explain something words can’t explain.
                But even if language could speak about it, you wouldn’t understand fully the thing, just like you can’t understand fully what is a major chord just with language or theory.

        • Posted November 13, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

          Wasn’t there a whole Star Trek franchise built around gods inside wormholes?

          b&

          • mandrellian
            Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

            Yep, it was Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (the one that isn’t Next Generation but is better than Voyager). The gods in question were actually powerful pandimensional aliens, but (congruent with Clarke’s Law) their powers were indistinguishable from magic (to religious Bajorans anyway). Non-godliness aside, they did intervene in a very deus ex machina fashion on occasion.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Good question. When a theologian says something, ask “Why?” and watch him squirm.

      In inflationary cosmology this is an open question, see Susskind’s work this year.It is a consistent pathway in several models.

      Science to Barron: You are wrong, again.

  18. Posted November 12, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    There is nothing more insufferable than an idiot like him making a ludicrous argument while being so condescending toward science. If your argument requires attempting to belittle your opponent, you probably have no worthy argument in the first place.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I usually point out that relativistic causality of processes have replaced philosophical notions of cause and effect for a century now. But Carroll has upped the ante with throwing in correlations as well:

    “It’s the laws of nature that are fundamental, according to the best understanding we currently have, and those laws don’t take the form of causes leading to effects; they take the form of differential equations, or more generally to patterns relating parts of the universe.” [ My bold.]

    Yes, that would be the generic description of the possibly differing parts of the inflationary multiverse. Good work as always, as is this post, so a good start of the week.

    Carroll also says:

    I’ve finally figured out the definition of “arrogance,” from repeated exposure: “you are arrogant because you think that your methods are appropriate, when it fact it’s my methods that are appropriate.”

    Barron to a tee.

  20. J.J.E.
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    When people claim that things are “contingent”, I find it difficult to understand what they are on about. As far as I know, most explanations of reality have to do with reordering existing matter an energy into new configurations, so nothing ever really comes into existence as a result of something else. Human language tends to treat building something or giving birth as “contingent existence” but all I can see is “contingent arrangement”. Given the role that such “contingency” has in explaining the existence of all reality by theologians (as opposed to the arrangement of existing reality), the distinction is crucial. And as others have pointed out, apparently non-contingent phenomena at the quantum level are observed all the time. So, not only have we never observed a true “cause” that is relevant the existence of anything, when we have watched things that have begun to exist, and they had no discernable cause.

    • Myron
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      To say that something exists contingently is to say that it exists non-necessarily. That is, it is possible for a contingent existent to begin or cease to exist.

      When a pot begins to exist or comes into existence, this is certainly not a creation out of nothing but out of some pre-existent material. A pot begins to exist when a lump of clay is formed into a pot.

      Generally, there are four possibilities, four modes of existence beginning:

      1. x begins to exist ex materia et cum causa (out of some pre-existent stuff and with a cause).
      2. x begins to exists ex materia et sine causa (out of some pre-existent stuff but without a cause).
      3. x begins to exist ex nulla materia et cum causa (not out of any pre-existent stuff but with a cause).
      4. x begins to exist ex nulla materia et sine causa (not out of any pre-existent stuff and without a cause).

      • J.J.E.
        Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        Exactly the distinction I was talking about. Theologians and religious “philosophers” try to adduce logical evidence in favor of god by comparing “ex materia contingency” (as you are labeling it, and with which we have tons of experience and therefore intuition about) with “ex nulla contingency”, with which most people have no experience, and the bit of experience we do have with it (ie from quantum physics) is not at all salutatory to the thesis of the theists. So, best case scenario, they rely on an apples to oranges analogy, which can’t possibly support their thesis as it stands. Ergo, Fr. Barron is just parroting timeworn words from over-cited apologists and actually demonstrates nothing but the flexibility of language and motivated reasoning.

  21. cornbread_r2
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Though Barron’s much more personable, he’s a lightweight in the bullshit-slinging arena compared to the Jesuit apologist Robert Spitzer.

  22. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    something in me still yearns to understand what is being said. an inner :

    “yeah, .. ok, … hmm, I’ll have to think about that one… ok I heard about that before…”,

    its the same thing I do at any lecture or seminar, but something of a hypnotic feeling comes around with religious notions like this… (particularly the Christian mythology, because I grew up with that stuff in my family) … as if the speaker is a word magician (viz. Penn+Teller), or using magic spells (viz. Dennett). when Jesus comes up, I can’t help but feel a bit of superstition start to grip me.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      an adjustment to my post in case anyone cares : when I say “…I grew up with that stuff in my family” I mean it wasn’t really taken too seriously, it was more just around and trickled away to nothing after a while. – i.e. I was not indoctrinated or “raised Christian”.

  23. guilherme21msa
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    This post needs a Henry Louis Mencken quote ASAP.

    “One of the most irrational of all the conventions of modern society is the one to the effect that religious opinions should be respected. …[This] convention protects them, and so they proceed with their blather unwhipped and almost unmolested, to the great damage of common sense and common decency. that they should have this immunity is an outrage. There is nothing in religious ideas, as a class, to lift them above other ideas. On the contrary, they are always dubious and often quite silly. Nor is there any visible intellectual dignity in theologians. Few of them know anything that is worth knowing, and not many of them are even honest.”
    ― H.L. Mencken, H.L. Mencken on Religion

    • Vaal
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      That Mencken quote…like breathing fresh air.

      Vaal

  24. Kevin
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    And if quantum phenomena have no cause, why must the universe?

    That is not what the principle of contingency implies. Think of the contingency of this proposition: quantum phenomena exist. That statement may or may not be true. Proof of existence is required. The proposition “existence exists”, however, is necessarily true.

    Yes, you can call the “Uncaused Cause” by another name, whether “Existence” or “Fred” or whatever you choose. What is your point?

    The priest would not say that natural theology indicates the divinity of Jesus Christ. Why would he? He would say history points to it. (I am sure you know that.)

    By the way, is it not perhaps convenient that “secular philosophy” has not progressed towards considering fornication to be immoral. What a challenge to intellectual integrity that might present.

    • Gary W
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      The proposition “existence exists”, however, is necessarily true.

      I don’t know what the proposition “existence exists” is even supposed to mean.

      Yes, you can call the “Uncaused Cause” by another name, whether “Existence” or “Fred” or whatever you choose. What is your point?

      That even if there is such a thing as “the Uncaused Cause,” it’s not a reason to believe in God.

      By the way, is it not perhaps convenient that “secular philosophy” has not progressed towards considering fornication to be immoral[?]

      No.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you can call the “Uncaused Cause” by another name, whether “Existence” or “Fred” or whatever you choose.

      Whatever I choose? Then let’s try nonexistent or “the product of a puerile intellect and vapid personality”.

      is it not perhaps convenient that “secular philosophy” has not progressed towards considering fornication to be immoral. What a challenge to intellectual integrity that might present.

      Zzzzzz…..

    • Posted November 14, 2012 at 1:31 am | Permalink

      “By the way, is it not perhaps convenient that “secular philosophy” has not progressed towards considering fornication to be immoral.”

      I don’t know about convenient. It’s slightly interesting. You seem to assume that fornication (already a value-laden word) is immoral, and that for secular philosophy to consider it so will be “progress”, but what is your evidence for that assumption?

      “What a challenge to intellectual integrity that might present.”
      Indeed it might. Why don’t you try and we’ll see how well you do?

  25. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    God is rather the answer to this question: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

    I like Dennett’s answer: WHY NOT?

  26. Sagra
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    He kept going “blah blah, science can’t explain this and science can’t explain that…” But all of his examples were psychological phenomena.

  27. Vaal
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s always amusing to see a representative of a REVEALED RELIGION like Christianity dusting off arguments from the archives of ancient monks for the existence of God (e.g. the argument from contingency).

    Here they think God had actually decided to manifest, reveal Himself to mankind and become explicit about His wishes for us.

    But, poor old omnipotent God, somehow the effort just wasn’t good enough. All he left “sophisticated” believers was an old book full of stories and claims, of highly debated authenticity and authorship. So God’s best effort has in the end left it to
    “sophisticated Christians” to scramble for mere ancient human efforts to bolster the idea that God exists instead. Those are the ones “serious believers” like this guy always appeal to when talking to skeptics.

    Could the FACT such an effort is needed be any more damning for the very enterprise?

    What’s more ironic is “sophisticated” and “serious” Christians like Father Barron talk of all these contingency arguments, implying the God-as-intervening-super-powerful-guy
    is the God of the simpleton and the naive.
    And yet the very bible he appeals to for revelation about God is filled with characters – Jesus Himself included! – who
    describe and treat God exactly as the type of being Father Barron would dismiss as a naive caricature. But, of course, we are to take Father Barron’s depiction of God – it’s just naive of us to look at what the characters in his religion’s holy text actually say about this God.

    Yeesh.

    Vaal.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 12, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      Nice. 😀

      You like that [the refried cosmological argument], did you? Good! Now for my next magical trick, let’s talk us some resurrection and transubstatiation…!

  28. djockovic
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    While Barron’s theological points may, or may not, be up to much, he ceratinly put forward some points that show scientism to be about as ludicrous an idea as any that was ever put forward. I mean, let’s hear the physics of meaning. The very idea that such a thing is possible shows either a gross misunderstanding of meaning, or science, or both. And if such a thing is not possible, then what price scientism?

  29. Doc c
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the universe does not need “God”, as a noncontingent cause of being, but that does not preclude the Human species from from flourishing better with faith in a universe that includes “God” than in one that doesn’t. I’m Still waiting for a response to the question of what sort of empiric evidence do we have, or can we gather, to answer that question.
    Judging by Jerry’s tribally configured vilification of those he disagrees with, one might even posit that religion evolved into humans because it prevented us from killing each other off in a manner along the lines of the emmotionally charged animus exemplified in Jerry’s vituperative rants. Clearly scientific reasoning has not eliminated the tribal instincts our genes provided us with. And while Jerry might respond by claiming that reason enables us to override the worst tribal behaviors that we possess, as an evolutionary biologist he ought to know that reason is a trait with variable penetrance, and so any one who cultivates tribal behavior is fomenting tribal violence for at least some of the species who represent one end of the cognitive spectrum of the human species.

    • jeffery
      Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps part of why religion “evolved” was because it enabled us to kill off our competitors with less remorse or hesitation!

    • Susan
      Posted November 13, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

      I am a lurker here. This is my second post. But your post confused me enough that I’m asking questions in the hope that you will clarify.

      When you suggest that humans might flourish better in a universe that includes “God” than in one that doesn’t, which “god” do you mean? Would any god do?

      >I’m Still waiting for a response to the question of what sort of empiric evidence do we have, or can we gather, to answer that question.

      It might be worth defining “flourishing” and then measuring the lives of individuals in societies that don’t include a god in any meaningful sense of the word.

      >Judging by Jerry’s tribally configured vilification of those he disagrees with

      I read the post again and watched the video again to be sure I hadn’t missed something. How is criticism of very old, terribly flawed assertions delivered in a “checkmate” tone “tribally configured vilification”?

      >one might even posit that religion evolved into humans because it prevented us from killing each other off in a manner along the lines of the emmotionally charged animus exemplified in Jerry’s vituperative rants.

      Vituperative? Good one. Show me where.

      And posit all you like. One could also posit that there is nothing so tribal as religion,and that nothing amplifies the tribal tendency to kill off other tribes like religion. But without evidence, we’d both just be spouting off. Do you have some evidence behind that positing?

      The host of this site was criticizing bad, clearly underdeveloped ideas that are delivered as though they represent some profound, never before heard wisdom.

      No suggestion that anyone kill anyone.

      I’d just like you to connect some dots.

      Thank you.

      Once again, sorry to interrupt.

      • Posted November 14, 2012 at 1:20 am | Permalink

        +1

      • Posted November 14, 2012 at 1:39 am | Permalink

        Good one. Please come out of the woodwork more often! ;-)

        /@

      • Doc c
        Posted November 14, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

        Susan, thanks for such intelligent questions. Yes, any god would do. I am speaking of religious faith as a way of dealing with the ultimate unknown that our cognitive behavioral system cannot effectively work with. One response is to dismiss that unknown as irrelevant to how we conduct our lives, and the other is to give life to the unknown as a part of our own lives. Science does the former, Religion does the latter. See “36 arguments for the existence of God, a work of fiction” by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein for a deeper look at this distinction.
        Your proposal for defining which cognitive system would work better for human flourishing is a great start. Fill in some details with realistic possibilities and get back to me. I would add, however, that since “the best system” is environment dependent, you will have to include some method that accounts for unpredictable changing environmental conditions. I believe that a diversity of traits is the best way to ensure human flourishing, in a strictly evolutionary model. Thus, religion and science should coexist in the species, and indeed they do in most people. Very few religious believers do not use any science or the technology which is based on it. In fact, some of the most technologically and scientifically advanced humans – our astronauts – uniformly believe in god. Hmmm.
        The criticism in the Jerry’s post includes the descriptions “foolish” “smug”, and “like listening to fingernails on a blackboard…scratching on for 9 minutes”. Vituperative vilification could be used to describe such language use in human discourse.
        Tribal behavior, religion, reason and science have evolved together. There is no empiric separation we can make of how they all evolved or how they contribute to our current evolutionary state. Hell evolutionists can’t even agree on whether altruism and eusociality evolved through inclusive fitness or a through simpler evolutionary mechanisms. As to the destructiveness of religion by inciting tribal behavior, there is no doubt that it has. However, so has atheism. Ask a victim of Stalin. Science, atheism, or religion, when misused, will be destructive. Bad science is not even science, and bad religion is not even religion. Bad atheism is, well, you tell me. (I am not religious, nor am I an atheist. I’m best described as a probabilian, to borrow from David Eagleman, and perhaps Pascal)
        Jerry was criticizing old ideas and their presentation, but in fact, those ideas are neither bad, nor undeveloped. They are problematic. Having no easy answer for them does not make them bad or undeveloped. That said, back to the “36 arguments.” Jerry is criticizing ideas that are best understood and used in the complex biological, social and cultural context in which they developed and continue to persist. He is trying to dismiss them, rather than to deal with them in that context.
        Jerry’s criticism does not explicitly suggest that anyone kill anyone else, but his style of attack on religious traditions and thinking does not create an atmosphere of mutual respect and exploration among sincere people trying to make the world we live in a better place (nor does it when used by religious leaders who go back at him in a similar style). Rather it exacerbates tribal divisions and emotions that make tribal violence more, not less likely to occur under the right conditions. If we want to help each other, and the world we inhabit, we have to respect differences as well as similarities, and find common ground to work on, not stake a claim to own the best and exclude all others who refuse to acknowledge our superiority. Goes for both sides of the debate. The Dalai Lama is one who shows how we can bridge the divide well.

        • Doc c
          Posted November 14, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          Ps – sorry, I missed the typo, I’m a possibilian, not probabilian, per David eagleman’s description.

  30. jeffery
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    “Science can’t explain the beauty of Michelangelo’s work,” and “science can’t analyze truth, meaning, and goodness.”

    “But WE can: our invisible “sky-man” did it all with his magic! So there! How’s THAT for an explanation, you atheists?”

    If neuroscience progressed (and, given enough time and effort, it will) to the point where we could finally pinpoint the origins and the mechanisms by which “feelings” originate in the brain, these types, like the cretards who demand more and more “transitional fossils”, will simply demand “proofs” of more and more subtle emotions.

    • djockovic
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Not sure truth, meaning or goodness are feelings.

  31. Susan
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Shuggy, Ant and Ben:

    Thank you for being so nice. :-) I’ve really enjoyed following this site. The discussions are fantastic.

    Doc c:

    Thank you for your response. I’m still unclear about a lot of your points. I’m a little thick some times, so I’ll have to ask you to spell things out.

    >One response is to dismiss that unknown as irrelevant to how we conduct our lives, and the other is to give life to the unknown as a part of our own lives. Science does the former, Religion does the latter.

    I honestly don’t follow. As far as I can tell, science is a highly disciplined methodology that explores unknowns and doesn’t pretend to know things it doesn’t.

    And religion does not give life to the unknown. Religions rely on the unknown. It is the curtain behind which their ultimate claims hide. Robert Barron is repeating very old arguments that ignore what we’ve learned about reality. If he had bothered to learn one tenth of the physics that Sean Carroll has, he’d recognize that arguments written centuries ago fail to address what science has discovered about reality.

    >Jerry is criticizing ideas that are best understood and used in the complex biological, social and cultural context in which they developed and continue to persist. He is trying to dismiss them, rather than to deal with them in that context.

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean. It’s important to consider the context from which ideas emerge. I agree. That provides both insight and caution about the ways in which humans can fool ourselves. In what way has he failed to do that?

    He is NOT dismissing them. He addresses every one of them and will have to continue to do so because the people(Robert Barron, for instance) he addresses proceed as though we have made no progress in our understanding of reality since Aquinas. It is Robert Barron who seems to be doing the dismissing.

    I can’t address all your points. This is my third post and I’d hate to wear out my welcome. Sorry if this seems slapdash.

    But I have to address this. Atheism gave us Stalin? Seriously? Ideology and delusion gave us Stalin. Stalinism was a religion. That was obvious when I was thirteen (and still a christian). It was the awareness of the Stalins of the world that made me begin to take a sceptical look at religion.

    • Doc c
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      Susan,
      I am sorry that I misused the word unknown. You are correct. Science dismisses the unknowable, not the unknown. I think Religion does give vivid life to the unknown and the unknowable. See Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age” for an in depth discussion of that notion. While I certainly agree that a scientific description of reality encompasses objective elements that allow us to make accurate predictions about it, there are limits to the capacity of science to fathom complex adaptive systems, and to the ultimate unknowables beyond our ability to measure. Those unknowables are alive in our imagination, and religion does address them (as does art and philosophy).
      While I agree that people who limit their view of reality to a magical universe with a meddling deity are out of touch with modern knowledge, I think you and Jerry have painted religious believers with a single stroke in that regard, when religious belief is way more complex than that. Many believers harbor doubts and explore continuously, and far from dismissing science, embrace it. And many superb scientists hold religious beliefs.
      As for Stalin emerging from atheism, neither his ideology not his delusion preclude that.
      It’s been an interesting discussion, Susan, thank you.

  32. Susan
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    >I think Religion does give vivid life to the unknown and the unknowable.

    I don’t. But I am willing to be convinced. Can you explain how it does?

    >there are limits to the capacity of science to fathom complex adaptive systems, and to the ultimate unknowables beyond our ability to measure.

  33. Susan
    Posted November 14, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    >I think Religion does give vivid life to the unknown and the unknowable.

    I don’t. But I am willing to be convinced. Can you explain how it does?

    >there are limits to the capacity of science to fathom complex adaptive systems, and to the ultimate unknowables beyond our ability to measure.

    What are those limits? And if they are beyond the capacity of the scientific method, what method do we have that will ever reliably grasp them?

    >Those unknowables are alive in our imagination, and religion does address them.

    Please give me some examples.

    >I think you and Jerry have painted religious believers with a single stroke in that regard

    I can’t speak for Jerry Coyne. My impression is that he’s made great, honest efforts to understand religious claims and the possible value of religion. I’ll leave you to take up his position with him. I’ve been very impressed with his work. He has put a lot of intelligent, detailed effort into trying to understand the other side. He addresses their arguments. They don’t address his. That seems to be the pattern so far.

    I haven’t painted religious believers with a single stroke. I have done everything I can to assess religious belief and claims about gods and I see no value whatsoever in Robert Barron’s arguments. They’re not even his arguments. They are old, failed arguments that he has learned by rote and he doesn’t seem to have even acknowledged the obvious counter-arguments that inevitably rise from the evidence.

    Stalin didn’t emerge from atheism. He emerged from christianity. He eventually made a god of himself. You said any god would do. There are many cases of flesh and blood emperors being gods to humans throughout history. I assume you don’t think Stalin would do as a god. Good call.

    I wonder if you think worshipping Yahweh is less dangerous.

    I appreciate the time you took to respond. I’d be happy to continue but we should keep our posts short. One or two points at a time, maybe.

    I’ve only just showed up here and I don’t want to take advantage of the hospitality.

    I hope others will respond to you as well. It’s somebody else’s turn.

    • Doc c
      Posted November 15, 2012 at 2:39 am | Permalink

      1. The limits of science are defined by our ability to measure and to imagine based on our experience of measurement. A study of people born blind with congenital cataracts who later had them removed looked at their ability to understand shapes visually by teaching them to distinguish a sphere from a cube by touch. Then, when their site was restored, they were given a sphere or cube to hold, and asked to visually pick the same object out on a table with both. Could they? No. Our senses constrain our imagination and our abstract cognitive ability. Science will advance only as far as our senses, or their incredible extension via math and technology allow. Phenomena that we cannot measure accurately enough will remain opaque to us. We improve our sensory extension and measurement with technology, and who knows what the limit is, but it is an act of faith for now to say there is none.

      2. Faith in a meaning behind our universe is not the same as worship. Religious thinking deals with both, but not all in the same ways. Our brains operate by faith. they make predictions and they act on them, despite incomplete data. We have faith that a car coming down the street will stop at a light. The faith is based on experience, and thus scientific, but nonetheless, we act as if the probability were 1, not somewhat less than that, and go forward. It is thus a kind of “faith” that enables us to conduct our lives effectively. Religious faith has similar influence, even though its measurements are less accurate. However, they are accurate enough if they enable us to conduct our lives safely and effectively.

      If faith in an afterlife allows a person to deal with the death of a loved one, it is effective. That they’ve never experienced anyone in the afterlife, but can imagine it, brings it alive for for those who believe. Some can deal with death without resorting to a faith in an afterlife. Should they be empowered to take the faith away from those who rely on it? Does one person requiring better evidence for an afterlife to act on such faith mean that everyone should require better evidence? Maybe someday no one will, but maybe the faith trait for acting without full predictability is too powerful for that to happen. Maybe that diversity of thinking is good for the species.

      3. Worship is another trait we have. We all worship something. We use worship to organize our priorities in conducting our lives. What we worship matters. Science can’t define for us what we chose to worship. It can give us predictions about the effects of our choices, but none will lead to probabilities of 1. I will leave you with a link to writer David Foster Wallace’s observations on worship in everyday life. His suicide after years of depression treated by every means available through modern medicine is a tragic reminder of the limits of science.

      http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122178211966454607.html

      • Susan
        Posted November 15, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

        >The faith is based on experience, and thus scientific,

        Faith, in this case, means “reasonable expectations based on prior evidence”. I stole that from a friend. I hope I got it right.

        >Religious faith has similar influence, even though its measurements are less accurate.

        Religious “faith” is accepting claims without evidence or despite the evidence.

        It’s not useful to use the same word, “faith” for these entirely different scenarios.

        I’m trying to understand what you’re saying here. It’s still very unclear. The best I can come up with is that you’re suggesting that even if religions are entirely made up, it’s possible that we need them, or that at least, some of us do. It’s up to you to demonstrate that that’s the case. I don’t see it.

        Back to Robert Barron. He is stepping into the crucible when he makes intellectual claims. He is pretending that science and religion are technically intellectual equals (with style points going to religion), and using incredibly stupid arguments to do so, presenting them in a way that suggests that “the sciences” are unwilling or unable to grasp his parroted assertions. (They’re not. There’s just no evidence and the logic is useless.)

        The more I hear the “scientism” argument, the more it sounds like the “Why are there still monkeys?” argument. Especially when it tries to use the cosmological argument to support it. The questions and claims are not even wrong. Read Professor Coyne’s response. Notice that he says that it is hardly novel.

        I hear from so many theists that they just LOVE science and think it’s compatible with religion. Then, they bring up the cosmological argument, or the fine-tuning argument or the argument from design. They ignore where the science points. Worse. They pretend they care about science, when they learned their science from theology. Scientists try to explain this to them. They claim scientists are “arrogant” and don’t understand “meaning”. (as arrogant a claim as any). Then the snow globe gets shaken again and we’re back to “scientism”.

        Robert Barron is full of shit. And he’s pretending that reality hasn’t pointed that out. And if he wants to make ultimate claims about reality, and pretend that he knows what he’s talking about, then he has to do better than that.

        I am not being vituperative. He is claiming a place among the big boys and girls without earning it.

        He is wearing a tin-foil hat while he’s doing it. Religion is not immune from criticism exactly because it makes ultimate claims.

        • Posted November 16, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

          He is stepping into the crucible when he makes intellectual claims.

          This is a very important point that the religionists often overlook, and, I think, the source of all those “Stop being so mean!” complaints.

          Scientists are exactly as unforgiving with each other, and it’s exactly because science is so vicious towards ideas that it’s so successful. Indeed, it is exactly the sort of “nature, red in tooth and claw” that is popularly believed to be the driving force behind Evolution.

          You’re welcome to put forth your pet fluffy bunny ideas all you want, but realize that you’re tossing them on the Serengeti in the midst of a pack of lions. Even if the lions aren’t especially hungry, they’ll be more than happy to play with the squeaky toy for a bit before they get back to wrestling amongst themselves or hunting wildebeest.

          Naturally, your fluffy bunny will neither enjoy nor survive the experience. But, hey — it’s your fluffy bunny. If it’s a pet to you, don’t treat it like a cat toy. Protect it and keep it to yourself. Don’t let it get out, and certainly don’t put sniny ribbons and a bell on its collar, sprinkle it with fresh blood, and toss it to the lions.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Vaal
          Posted November 16, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

          (Susan, your posts seem familiar. Do you post on the Dawkins site? I post there sometimes myself).

          I was masochistic enough to watch several other Father Barron’s videos as well. (Boy that guy’s tone is hard to take). In them he describes, with implacable confidence, the nature of angels, the devil, etc.

          Scientists spend extraordinary time, teamwork and resources in trying to simply inch our understanding of things like basic physics forward – simply to discover if something like a Higgs Boson exists, and then they continue with extreme caution and many more resources before they will even start speaking with any confidence about the nature of the new particle.

          Meanwhile, Father Barron feels perfectly comfortable and confident telling us about an entirely different realm of being, the entities that inhabit it, and their nature.

          The arrogance is astonishing on his part. But religious people have been given a pass on this ludicrous state of affairs because for so long we have allowed the term “religion” to be a cover for such self-deception. People have allowed “religion” to stand for some other type of knowledge when there is no reason whatsoever to consider it knowledge at all.

          People like Father Barron make their living by confidently telling people about how reality works, when they have earned no right to have such confidence. If he’s piqued about being called out on this fact, tough luck. He can put “scientism” in as many scare quotes as he wants and it won’t do one iota to bolster the justification for
          the claims he makes about his religion.

          Vaal

        • Doc C
          Posted November 16, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

          How is action upon a reasonable expectation rather than a known fact not faith? If the outcome is not guaranteed, the action is not a simple response. The process of creating that action requires some leap from known to expected. That leap is faith, not knowledge. Good science creates a small leap for our faith to cross. If the science is not robust due to the inaccessibility of measurable phenomena, then the leap will be large, science or no science. So large as to be conjecture. That is why weather reports only go out 7 days. We can’t measure the afterlife, nor the universe before the big bang. We can conjecture about them, and some will conjecture that our experience here likely precludes an afterlife or a supernatural creator, but that is conjecture nonetheless. Close to knowledge, but closer to a daily weather report from the farmer’s almanac.

          Allow me to stipulate that Robert Barron is full of shit in the way he presents the above argument because he leaves out the conjectural nature of his own ideas. Then I will say that the argument you have with his shitness is a dog that will hunt. But using that same argument to say that religion or religious thinking is useless or even wrong is a dog that won’t hunt.
          I fully agree that religious faith has no place trying to explain the known world or natural phenomena, nor does it have a place trying to do any more than make a conjecture about the currently unknowable. However, it does have a place in helping us know how to respond to the unknowable, or even to the knowable here on earth, and in how to conduct our lives. Here, I will separate “Religion”, from religious faith tradition. Let’s stipulate that religion is the hierarchical attempt to control minds using religious faith as a tool, where religious faith tradition is the culturally evolved behavior of people who have religious faith.
          Religious faith traditions evolved a fairly generalizable response we call altruistic, caring, empathetic, collaborative, even loving. Are those scientifically derived? We can say that inclusive fitness, or just plain natural selection somehow allowed those traits to evolve. However, in evolutionary models those traits might not be useful under different environmental conditions, and the prevalence of those traits within groups will rise and fall under any environmental conditions. Might religious faith traditions, as a repository and cultivator of the positive aspects of those traits, be a useful cognitive style for maintaining them?

          • Posted November 16, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

            How is action upon a reasonable expectation rather than a known fact not faith?

            Ultimately, there are no absolutes. Not even that 1 + 1 = 2; it could well be that you’ve spent your whole life in a sadistic conspiratorial computer simulation, and that 1 + 1 = 3, despite everything else you think you know to the contrary.

            What we have are probabilities. The probability that 1 + 1 = 2 is so close to 100% that there’s no point in even giving it a second thought outside of these sorts of discussions. Similarly, the probability that the Sun will rise tomorrow is, with rounding 100%, as is the probability that an apple will fall from a tree.

            The probability that Newtonian, Quantum, and Relativistic Mechanics are correct for their respective domains is also, effectively, 100%. Same deal with Evolution, Big Bang Cosmology, Continental Drift, and on and on and on and on.

            In contrast, the probability that any significant non-trivial tenet of any major religious dogma is true is effectively 0%.

            That includes your examples of an afterlife and a supernatural creator. We don’t know all the details of cognition, sure, but we know far more than enough to know that it can no more survive cessation of bodily functions than a fire can keep burning once its fuel is exhausted. And the “supernatural creator” bit is incoherent babble, as meaningless as “north of the North Pole.” Either concept, as with basically everything the religious insist must be true, can potentially make for some entertaining fiction, but it has no more bearing on reality than anything else you’d find in a book of fantasy.

            And, yet, the religious flavor of “faith” insists that we must still hold that all that plainly obvious fiction is really fact. And it does so by invoking all the same techniques of any other scam artist — “Trust me, there’s no need to take this cream puff to your mechanic before you buy it.”

            If people brought the same skepticism to their pastors that they do to the used car lot, religion would evaporate in an instant.

            That’s why I define religious faith as belief not apportioned in proportion with a rational analysis of the available empirical evidence, and why I consider it the worst vice a human being is capable of.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Doc C
              Posted November 16, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

              b&,

              If all that religious faith represented was the argument you make, it would have evaporated long ago as well. Why hasn’t it? If it is the worst vice a human is capable of, why has it survived as a behavior for so long? You focus on a single aspect of religious faith compared to rational empiricism, instead of looking at the positive social, cultural and biological purposes it serves. Just because you think that your brain doesn’t need faith (yet), does not mean it does not help other people’s brains to function better. And I still have not heard how we test the superiority of a purely secular, rational, atheistic culture compared to a religious one, particularly one balanced by respect for rational, scientific cognitive work. History gives us no examples, and the measurement we would need to find the answer is limited by the changes that we would be going through as a species and a universe, even as we were measuring.

              • Posted November 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                I thought I made it clear: religion is nothing more than a confidence scam. You’d likely agree with me with the Johnny-come-lateleys, such as Scientology or perhaps Moronism.

                They get away with what they do in large part because of the accumulated powerbases they hold; the Roman Catholic Church, for example, is the direct inheritor of the Roman Empire. They’ve also learned to offer sniny treats to placate its victims, such as pleasant music in beautiful concert halls. Similarly, they disguise their most effective recruitment campaigns as charity affairs, just as Hamas runs schools and hospitals.

                Do people gain some benefit from their religions? Sure. But people also gain some nutritional value from sugary cocktails. That doesn’t make it a health food, let alone something you’d want to regularly indulge in.

                b&

              • Doc C
                Posted November 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

                Check.

                So we should just ban sugary cocktails, or at least those of a certain size, like they did in NYC? Ah,a slippery slope indeed that you put us on.

              • Posted November 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                I should also add: they’re superlative manipulators of human weaknesses. Pascal’s Wager is idiotic logic, but it’s brilliant manipulative fear-based rhetoric on a level that even Goebbels couldn’t have matched.

                b&

              • Posted November 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                Who wrote anything about banning anything?

                Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. We’ve also rejected prohibition of alcohol for damned good reason, and we’re starting to come to our senses with respect to prohibition of cannabis, too.

                I only rarely partake of alcohol and not at all of either religion or cannabis, but making any of that illegal would be even more idiotic than getting stoned and drunk so you could work up the courage to join a monastery.

                b&

              • Doc C
                Posted November 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

                Got it.

            • jimroberts
              Posted November 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

              +1

          • Vaal
            Posted November 16, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

            Doc C,

            “How is action upon a reasonable expectation rather than a known fact not faith? If the outcome is not guaranteed, the action is not a simple response. The process of creating that action requires some leap from known to expected. That leap is faith, not knowledge.”

            The problem is that you are smearing the term “Faith” to cover epistemological cracks, and the logic you are using ends in smearing that very word out of any use.

            It seems no matter how much inductive confidence one could have in a future prediction, the very fact that “there is still a chance it is wrong” urges you to start putting the word “faith” in the cracks, and then using that to expand that term to cover the whole enterprise – e.g. “How is action upon a reasonable expectation rather than a known fact not faith?”

            But if you are going to shove “faith” into a crack on the basis “I can’t be sure” then it doesn’t stop there (except arbitrarily). Because, at bottom, nothing about the world can be known “for sure” in terms of “not possibly being wrong.”

            Are you more secure that if something has already happened, e.g. that it rained yesterday and we saw it rain, that this could constitute “knowledge” and not faith? But it’s always POSSIBLE we are wrong about any of our observations. The logical possibilities go from simply mistakes in apprehending what happened, to logical possibilities we can not “disprove” such as that magical beings made us think it rained yesterday when it did not, etc. So since it’s always strictly possible about anything we observe, or think we have observed, that we “could be wrong” then do you insert “faith” in there as well, and hence call EVERY SINGLE act of inference and reasoning based on experience “faith?”
            That’s what you’d have to do to be consistent with your faith-of-the-gaps approach. And all that would do is produce conceptual mush. You just replace all the things we call “Knowledge” and “reasonable inference” and “evidential reasoning” with the term “Faith,” and with nothing gained or illuminated.

            It’s better to adhere more closely to how the term “Faith” is actually understood and how it is employed by people. In general, “Faith” is usually adduced when you have no evidence for a belief, or in the face of contradictory evidence. If my wife is with me this weekend, I have knowledge – in the form of evidence-supported-belief – that she is not with some other guy making love. If she is away in New York for a conference over the weekend, I don’t have direct evidence that she isn’t making it with another guy, but I have some reasonable inference from my experience with her that it’s likely she is not. But the less evidence I have in favour of her fidelity I posses, and the more evidence that would point to a contrary conclusion, the more “faith” will take place of “knowledge” and “reasonable inference.” If she is away and all sorts of evidence starts cropping up that seem to indicate she is having an affair, then to the degree my belief in her fidelity doesn’t track the evidence, I start employing more and more “faith.”

            Whereas you are trying to portray the very process of inductive inference as “Faith,” there is a distinct difference in how they are normally understood. The difference is that inductive inference does it’s best to TRACK THE EVIDENCE and will change it’s conclusions to best fit the evidence. Whereas “Faith” tends to denote holding a belief WITHOUT evidence or DESPITE evidence to the contrary.
            This is why when, over and over, massive natural disasters and horrible fates befall so many good people,
            you see Popes and ministers and preachers admonishing the faithful to “Don’t let this shake your faith. Maintain your belief in the reality of a Good God!” So it’s when the evidence seems so strongly AGAINST the belief that faith is adduced to keep believing DESPITE how this evidence might imply otherwise.

            The virtue here is keeping some conceptual clarity, looking at how faith is often adduced among people, and keeping the word useful in distinguishing “faith” from other ideas like “knowledge” and “reasoning-from-evidence.” Rational, inductive reasoning amounts to beliefs that best conform to evidence; Faith is used to maintain belief TO THE DEGREE that one does not have evidence to justify that belief as being “knowledge.”

            Vaal

            • Doc C
              Posted November 16, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

              Vaal,

              I appreciate your argument, and it is technically correct. However, even in the example you use regarding marital infidelity, I see a smearing of cognitive behavioral output that belies the pure distinctions you make. At what point does the evidence become strong enough to draw a conclusion that creates or suppresses action? What if you had such deep relationship with your wife that you “felt” that, even with a myriad of circumstantial evidence against her, there was no cause for action? Would reason be better than faith? What if she actually truly did love you in every way, and your relationship was wonderful despite a single bad night? Does it help or hurt for you to count up the evidence, and make a rational conclusion, as opposed to going on the faith that you have in her? Lots of contingencies there that elude a purely linear rational scheme.
              This illustrates my problem with the harsh treatment of religious faith by atheistic scientists. Such treatment smears the totality of cognitive behavioral output that religion entails.

  34. Susan
    Posted November 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Doc C:

    I watched this video because I was trying to figure out what you are trying to suggest. (All of this discussion and I’m still not clear. Maybe my questions and those of others haven’t been clear enough.

    http://www.possibilian.com/

    For those who don’t have the time and/or patience, I recommend it from about 7:25 on. It’s worthwhile to listen to the entire thing though, if you haven’t heard it before and you have twenty minutes.

    I particularly recommend that you (Doc C) watch the video again.

    This is science. This is what science does. He is talking about the ridiculous conversation into which “new atheism” is consistently forced. He didn’t put it that way, but I will.

    There is no suggestion that humans need relgion, that there is something specific about relgious delusion (among all of our other human delusions) that is useful.

    Based on the video, you don’t sound like a Possibilian to me. Not by his description.

    Can you please explain how you’re a Possibilian in the sense that David Eagleman describes Possibianism?

    Vaal:

    Yes. I occasionally post on RD.net. Not so much any more. It doesn’t seem as conducive to discussion as it was, but it’s under construction right now, according to the Mods. I look forward to its new phase. I still check in regularly and comment occasionally. I learned an awful lot there and I still do.

    Ben:

    I love your fluffy bunny analogy.

    And it is an analogy. The best thing about shredding ideas is that nothing gets hurt but egos and lazy brains. Oh, and of course, bad ideas.

    Great analogy.

    Doc C:

    Please clearly define your understanding of the word “reason” and your understanding of the word “faith”.

    For bonus points, please explain by what standards you consider yourself a “Possibilian.”

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted November 17, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      thank you for reminding us about David Eagleman’s possibilian talk, an example of religion getting a free ride :

      http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-worlds-nicest-accommodationist/

      http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/whither-eagleman

    • Vaal
      Posted November 17, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      Susan,

      Cool. I thought your tone seemed familiar.
      I post(ed) as “RH” over on Prof. Dawkins’ site. Had lots of fun discussing W. L. Craig, Free Will, and got into it with Steve Zara over his “there can be no evidence for God” stance (a stance that I’m worried to see cropping up more often. like Jerry Coyne, I think it is misguided and has the unfortunate consequence of playing into the “other side’s” view of atheists as close-minded..and they’d be right).

      I’d post there more but I’m not fond of the site re-design. Somehow it feels like there is less content or something. I don’t know…

      It’s nice to see you posting here as I always find your view thoughtful and considerate.

      Vaal

      • Susan
        Posted November 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        >I post(ed) as “RH” over on Prof. Dawkins’ site. Had lots of fun discussing W. L. Craig, Free Will, and got into it with Steve Zara over his “there can be no evidence for God” stance (a stance that I’m worried to see cropping up more often

        Of course. I definitely remember you.

        >like Jerry Coyne, I think it is misguided and has the unfortunate consequence of playing into the “other side’s” view of atheists as close-minded..and they’d be right).

        I’m not sure I agree. It depends on the definition of the “god”. Evidence for a conscious being that created the universe… yes. But why call it a god? The word “god” comes with so much baggage, that it obstructs everything. I don’t know what sort of evidence could possibly support an “omniscient” being. It’s a very important question but it’s off-topic, so I won’t blather on about it. I’ll bet if I poked around here, Professor Coyne has already written about it. If you know the name of the link, I’d love to read it.

        >I’d post there more but I’m not fond of the site re-design. Somehow it feels like there is less content or something. I don’t know…

        I agree. I’m glad I found this site a while back. I actually found it because I heard Jerry Coyne’s debate with John Haught (from a link on RD.net, after John Haught tried to bury the corpse. BAD John Haught! If you hadn’t done that, people like me wouldn’t have even known the debate happened).

        I thought Jerry Coyne couldn’t have done a better job. He was prepared, informed, thoughtful, concise, laser-like in his approach and just plain likeable. So I watched his lecture, “Why Evolution is True” and my impression didn’t change and then I started reading here regularly.

        I love the mix of biology, philosophy, (bad) music, cats, politics, art, and random stuff.

        Great contributors too. It’s been a wonderful read.

        Sorry. Also off-topic.

    • doc c
      Posted November 18, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Susan,
      Bonus points?! You gotta be kidding me. That demonstrates exactly the kind of attitude that makes the new atheists come off as such a group of arrogant know it alls who think they have all the answers.

      Let me be perfectly clear. I value science, and the use of reason, which is carefully gathering facts and experiences to build a logical model of what those facts and experiences tell us about the world we inhabit. Certainty in that cognitive model depends on the reliability of our fact gathering methods, and the expansiveness of our models, both of which are less than complete for science (especially the 2 sigma biological sciences), and even for logic (see Godel). Religion, can be defined as a cognitive model based on culturally defined traditions that are used to guide thinking and behavior. Anyone who believes that science creates certainty is as wrong as anyone who believes that religion does.
      Given that state of affairs, I find it absurd to criticize those who use religious faith to guide their lives, and particularly those who use it in the context of accepting the uncertainty of their faith, as well as the benefit of using the probabilities that real science creates to help guide them. I also find it offensive for atheists to believe that because science measures things rigorously, and can’t measure any of the facts used to support religious belief, atheism must be the best way for people to guide the conduct of their lives. Are there facts to support that claim? Honest religious belivers don’t treat the facts behind their religious beliefs in the same way that they treat scientific facts.

      Science will likely never be able to tell us which cognitive/cultural/social style is best for human well being. Until there is a robust evidential and theoretical paradigm it can create along those lines, scientists ought to open a dialogue with religious believers that allows them to engage in productive discussion of ways to coexist with all people within our culture.

      And Ben,

      To say that religion is a fluff bunny that too often gets a free ride misses the point of discussion about the value of religion, atheism and science. Religious cognitive behavior has existed for thousands of years, as the human species has proliferated and thrived on the planet. What free ride are you talking about; that given to religious arguments, or that given to religion’s value? Clearly religious cognitive behavior has the fact of humanity’s continued existence to support its evolutionary value to carry the species forward. That is more than can be said of atheism, since no species, society or culture has, as of yet, used atheism alone to survive or thrive. The coexistent cognitive behaviors of science and religious belief also have the fact of humanity’s continued existence to support their value, since they have coexisted in human culture for about 500 years. Fluff bunny? That’s a pretty robust fluff bunny. Free ride, I would say that atheism has had the free ride on facts supporting its evolutionary value. Can you provide some?

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted November 18, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        >What free ride are you talking about; that >given to [..arguments or value...]

        I said “free ride”, so I can take back it up:

        this means that religion gets a free ride in precisely the same way that astrology does not.

        • doc c
          Posted November 18, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

          Okay, TP, but astrology is not the same as religion in either cultural or cognitive impact. Sure, there are simlarities in the lack of predictable, falsibiable claims, but astrology cannot stake out the same claim as to its success in helping the human species survive and thrive. Astrology does not help create many useful cognitive behaviors, whereas religion has and does.

  35. Susan
    Posted November 17, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    And very nice to see you here too.

  36. Susan
    Posted November 18, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    >Bonus points?! You gotta be kidding me. That demonstrates exactly the kind of attitude that makes the new atheists come off as such a group of arrogant know it alls who think they have all the answers

    I certainly didn’t mean it in as sarcastic a tone as you’ve inferred it. I had three questions that I thought might help me make sense of a lot of your posts. (I still don’t quite understand what you’re trying to say and I’ve really been trying.) At the third, I thought it would be fun to put it in quiz show style. Things don’t always translate well over the internet. I will ask them again without offering bonus points.

    1) What is your definition of “reason”?
    2) What is your definition of “faith”?
    3) Please explain what you mean when you say you are a “Possibilian”.

    >Clearly religious cognitive behavior has the fact of humanity’s continued existence to support its evolutionary value to carry the species forward.

    Correlation is not causation. In what way has religion carried the species forward? It’s also possible that the species has been “carried forward” despite relgion, not because of it. Or we would have to give points to warfare,fascism, pedophilia, slavery, and all manner of unsavory things that have enjoyed a robust longevity along with the survival of humans.

    >Science will likely never be able to tell us which cognitive/cultural/social style is best for human well being.

    Why not? If not, what will? I know you can’t derive an ought from an is. That doesn’t mean you can necessarily derive an ought from an isn’t. What can we derive oughts from?

    >Astrology does not help create many useful cognitive behaviors, whereas religion has and does.

    What are those exactly? What useful cognitive behaviours has religion created?

  37. Susan
    Posted November 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    And, wait a second. The phrase “for bonus points” demonstrates that I am a new atheist and that I am arrogant and that I think I have all the answers?

    >That is more than can be said of atheism, since no species, society or culture has, as of yet, used atheism alone to survive or thrive.

    Atheism is not a tool.

    >Fluff bunny? That’s a pretty robust fluff bunny.

    Because it’s survived, it’s useful? Malaria’s one hell of a bunny too, then.

    >Free ride, I would say that atheism has had the free ride on facts supporting its evolutionary value. Can you provide some?

    Really. You are suggesting that religion has “evolutionary value”. What in the heck is evolutionary value? And give me an example of a religion that continues to provide something that is useful to this day. Something that can’t be provided through other means.

    >Can you provide some?

    You have yet to provide a single fact to support your position. You’re the one making the claim that “religion” should not have its claims subjected to scrutiny, because it has special “evolutionary value”.

    Does this include Ernest Angely AND the pope AND the 911 suicide bombers AND the men who shot a fourteen-year old girl in the head and neck and left her for dead because she stood up for the education for girls? I don’t even know what you mean when you say “religion”. There are “religions”. Where do you draw the line when you work out your data for evolutionary value?

    • Doc c
      Posted November 19, 2012 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      Susan, offering me bonus points in our discussion suggests that you have answers that I must somehow provide correctly. I did not say what your philosophic position was, I merely compared your stance to the stance of the new atheists, who treat people of faith similarly.
      You have missed my point, stated earlier about the difference between religious faith as a cognitive behavioral trait and religion as a hierarchical system the uses the faith trait to control minds. The cognitive use of religious faith by the human brain has been around for thousands of years, based on a variety of paleontological and archeological evidence of ritualistic behaviors, and on the traditions of cultures we have more direct evidence of. The ugliness of religiously incited violence coexists with religiously incited service, connection, and empathy. You cannot separate out the bad consequences of the cognitive behavioral trait from the good ones. I certainly would stand with you in condemning religious hierarchies that misuse the trait to create certainty where it does not exist, or to incite hatred of other people that enables violence. However, the malevolence of those hierarchies is not the only consequence of the cognitive behavioral trait that religious faith represents, any more that the malevolence of dogmatic scientists who condemn new (and often correct) scientific ideas because it violates the scientific paradigm (see Thomas Kuhn for the definition of paradigm I use) that they have turned into dogma rather than hypothesis represents the cognitive behavioral trait of scientific thinking.
      Religious faith and worship can be used to inspire helpful and hurtful behaviors. (See “reimagine the world” for a helpful version of christianity that many adhere to). However I am merely pointing out that the persistence of the trait suggests that it provides some selective advantage to the species. I am not suggesting that its use by certain groups or individuals to inspire violence or domination is good.
      Jesus argued against the religious hierarchy of his time and place, and created a new way for religious believers to use their religious faith. His way inspired the non violent leadership of Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela.. His use of faith was also turned by a catholic hierarchy to purposes he never seemed to intend. That is the nature of the human cognitive behavioral trait. The nuclear technology unleashed by the discovery of quantum mechanics was not intended to kill thousands, but the American government used it to. Religious faith, or science don’t kill people. People kill people. Which is more likely to create group behaviors that discourage people from violence, religious faith or atheism? I really don’t see how you can answer that question in any empirically based way, given the facts at our disposal.

      The exclusive use of science and reason to guide our approach to the world we inhabit have simply not been tested in large groups of the human species. We don’t really know how they would affect the ability of human groups to create cultures that enhance the ability of the individuals in those groups to survive. Not to say they wouldn’t. But it’s never been done that we know of.

      Would the humanistic use of science today exist without the inspiration of the golden rule that Jesus and others like him espoused, or would the technology inspired by science be used to allow one group of atheists to dominate other groups? 70 years after the hatred inspired by Pearl Harbor, Americans warmly honored the Japanese man, Hideki Matsui, as a sports hero in a parade up broadway. Such forgiveness was inspired by, among other things, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and other teachings of Jesus. Could pure reason similarly inspire such forgiveness? One would like to think so, but Jesus’ inspiration to forgive is already deeply ingrained in our culture, so how can we ever know?

      The reasonableness of the forgiving philosophy may be a natural evolutionarily derived trait, but its cultural expression came via religious faith. How do we know whether its cultural expression would have come via atheism? How do we know whether atheism would be the way that evolution would lead to other such traits? There is simply no way to know. Only a hope based on theory. Hoping in a theory is not the same as testing one. The quantum physicists taught us that lesson.

      • Posted November 19, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        Jesus argued against the religious hierarchy of his time and place, and created a new way for religious believers to use their religious faith.

        Jesus is the boss monster in a particularly nasty third-rate faery tale.

        Would the humanistic use of science today exist without the inspiration of the golden rule that Jesus and others like him espoused, or would the technology inspired by science be used to allow one group of atheists to dominate other groups?

        The Golden Rule was around looooooooong before it was put in the mouth of a character in a novel Hellenistic / Jewish syncretic cult. And the version the Christians invented for themselves is powerfully defective; Torquemada’s tortures were perfectly in keeping with the Christian Golden Rule. As Torquemada himself put it: better a few weeks of Earthly torture than an eternity in Hell.

        And that’s one of the least evil things attributed to the Jesus character. It starts, of course, with Armageddon and Hell; kinda hard to top that. But there’s also his command to his followers to do as he will and kill all non-Christians before then in the here and now. And he comes not to bring peace but a sword, he will set father against son and daughter against mother, and on and on and on and on.

        Hell, even in the Sermon on the Mount, right there after the introduction, he condemns to infinite torture all men who’ve ever looked admiringly at a woman and failed to immediately gouge out their own eyes and chop off their own hands.

        I mean, really? Of all the religious characters you might pick to hold up as a virtuous example that makes the world a better place, you pick Jesus? What on Earth are you thinking?

        If Jesus truly is your idea of a moral model, you have no place in civilized society. It’s only the post-Enlightenment Jesus, altered beyond all recognition by the advent of secular morality, that you can even pretend to hold up as an exemplar…and, even then, why bother? It’s like a Monty Python sketch. Chocolate-coated Crunchy Frog is still nasty, no matter the quality of the coating.

        b&

        • Doc C
          Posted November 19, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          Absurd. Simply absurd.

          • Posted November 19, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

            Yes, Christianity is as absurd as they get.

            But what else would you expect?

            The holy book opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard; it features a talking plant (on fire!) that gives magic wand lessons to an angry wizard; and it ends with a bizarre zombie snuff pr0n fantasy that has the king of the undead ordering his thralls to thrust their hands into his gaping chest wound and fondle his intestines.

            Absurdity is the specialty of Christianity.

            b&

        • Doc C
          Posted November 19, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          You are using a caricature to create your own reality. Enjoy.

          • Posted November 19, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

            ORLY?

            Does the serpent in the Garden of Eden not advise Adam and Eve to eat of a wisdom-granting fruit from a hallowed tree, and does this not anger the garden’s caretaker into exercising supernatural powers?

            Is Moses not reluctant to do as “I AM” commands, and does “I AM” not cure Moses’s reluctance by teaching him how to turn the Rod of Aaron into a snake?

            And does not Jesus tell Doubting Thomas to “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing”?

            That you think I have in any way caricatured Christianity indicates that you are either utterly unfamiliar with it or deeply ashamed of it.

            And, I’m sorry, but, either way, that’s your problem, not mine.

            And if you think any rational human will respect you for the respect you have for such inane and offensive fantasies, you’re even more sorely mistraken.

            b&

  38. Susan
    Posted November 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    What’s absurd Doc C, is that you think that religion gave us the golden rule. Which religion? Ben has already pointed out that it was not christianity. Which one religion gave it to us?

    >The reasonableness of the forgiving philosophy may be a natural evolutionarily derived trait, but its cultural expression came via religious faith.

    How do you know that?

    What specifically is wrong with what Ben Goren wrote?

    Also, you tell me I have missed the point. But you haven’t answered the questions I keep asking that might help me see your point.

    • Doc C
      Posted November 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Susan,

      It is clear to me that you have not read my posts well. I have answered all of your questions in my posts.

      >You have yet to provide a single fact to support your position. You’re the one making the claim that “religion” should not have its claims subjected to scrutiny, because it has special “evolutionary value”.

      I never made such a claim.

      What is absurd is that B, and you by concurrence, have claimed that a literal interpretation of the bible is the only mode of religious thinking. That is nonsense. And if you read carefully, I attribute the appearance of the golden rule to evolution, as manifest by a variety of cultural expressions, including that of early Christianity. I think I noted that you cannot separate the evolutionary process from its cultural manifestations.

      hahahahahahahah.

      I must have missed the joke.

      • Posted November 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        What is absurd is that B, and you by concurrence, have claimed that a literal interpretation of the bible is the only mode of religious thinking.

        I have done no such thing.

        You have pointed to Jesus as a great and wondrous religious source of superior moral principles. I used the only commonly-claimed primary source for Jesus’s words to indicate the utter absurdity of that claim.

        Really, it’s no different than if you had held up Voldemort as the ultimate paragon of virtue, and I had responded by citing the works of Ms. Rowling to indicate how worng you are and then proceeded to point out how silly it is to take such an obvious work of fiction so seriously in the first place.

        So, you indicate sympathy with Christianity yet here openly reject the Bible as inconsequential fiction. What, then, would be your best citable source as an example of the superiority of religion?

        b&

  39. Susan
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    >>You’re the one making the claim that “religion” should not have its claims subjected to scrutiny, because it has special “evolutionary value”.

    >I never made such a claim.

    Then, what claim are you making? I am thick but I’m not THAT thick. The only question I’ve asked that you’ve sorta answered, (as far as I can tell), is what the definition of “faith” is for you. You say “religion is a cognitive behavioral trait” at best.

    The rest of my questions, you haven’t even attempted to answer.

    You keep asking me how atheism will achieve goals as opposed to religion, as though there are only two choices.

    Atheism is a response to religion. It says, “I don’t believe you.” Simple. Religion makes absolute claims about physical reality. It makes absolute claims about morality and it puts stop signs on our imagination. wants to control our imagination.

    Unlike scientists, ethicists and artists, it expects to be taken seriously no matter how badly those claims measure reality. The onus is on you to explain why we can’t move forward without it. Arguing religion as a delivery system for the golden rule is the same as arguing slavery for economic prosperity. The onus is on you. Morality and economics are inevitable. We need good ideas. Religion doesn’t provide them. Explain how it does.

    >I merely compared your stance to the stance of the new atheists, who treat people of faith similarly.

    >What is absurd is that B, and you by concurrence, have claimed that a literal interpretation of the bible is the only mode of religious thinking.

    >You are using a caricature to create your own reality. Enjoy

    Pot… kettle… kettle.. well, you know the rest.

    What’s fascinating is that neither Ben nor I (nor Jerry, because that was your original concern) are doing that.

    The religions with which we are familiar, specifically the Abrahamic traditions that are given unmerited authority in our culture, specifically Judeo-christianity, and MOST specifically christianity, stake objective, moral and artistic claims without showing their work. They demand credibility from tradition.

    No. You didn’t say the golden rule came from religion. But you suggest that it can only be delivered by religion.

    You haven’t explained why.

    You still haven’t explained what you mean when you say “religion”. Your metaphorical interpretation of christianity (a cult of blood sacrifice, based on a cult of blood sacrifice that was forced into metaphorical interpretations by the erosion of Enlightenment principles)shows progress. Ben pointed out that it used to mean torturing human beings to save their eternal soul. If the Mayan sensibility had survived, you’d be calling our assessment too literal too. Why is Odysseus literature, and Mayan human sacrifice a historical miscalculation, but christianity a “cognitive behavioural trait” that is based on “forgiveness” and “the golden rule”?

    (I apologize for my excessive use of quotes. I don’t know how else to punctuate it right now.)

    You pretend that religions didn’t begin with literal belief and that they didn’t retreat to metaphor when they lost authority.

    If the worst caricatyre that you can make against “new atheists” (and it IS a caricature) is that they are snippy and arrogant, and the worst caricature against religion is that, yes.. they do oppress and kill in the name of religion because they accept weak premises above reasonable standards of reason, imagination and compassion (much less a caricature, considering its impact on the world) … well… the onus is on you.

    You’re afraid of throwing the baby out with the bath water. That’s my most charitable assessment. And I hope if you read back, that you’ll recognize that I, along with all the people who’ve responded, have done our best to understand your position and that it hasn’t been easy.

    I’m just asking, “What baby?”

    • Doc C
      Posted November 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Susan,
      Allow me to change the trajectory of this conversation, because you have clearly not read much of what I wrote way back, and I could not expect you to.

      I have separated the political aspects of Religious dogma and the various institutions built to support it from the cultural and cognitive behavioral aspect of religious faith, just like one can separate from the process of creative scientific reasoning the political aspect of scientific dogma and the institutions that support that dogma by suppressing the exploration of novel ideas (see h pylori and other episodes like it, ad nausea).

      Religious faith and scientific reasoning are different, but not mutually exclusive individual cognitive responses to an uncontrollable abyss that presents itself to us each day that our consciousness returns to us. If you doubt the utility of the religious response, spend time, as I do every day as their physician, with terminally ill people. Many have lived long and prosperous lives holding both religious faith and scientific reasoning together in their heads. Some have even done incredible scientific research and come up with amazingly brilliant ideas. Many have helped others in a variety of ways based on their religious faith, and all believers gain comfort from their religious based cognitive responses at the time of their demise. What is the problem with a faith based cognitive style for those individual human beings?

      You are mixing up the dogma and politics of Religion with the cognitive process that religious faith represents. Religion is an abstract set of rules, traditions and descriptions. Religious faith is cognitive and behavioral style of responding to the world. That is why some people who have religious faith can separate so easily from the dogma of their own Religious traditions and still hold onto their faith in some form. I mentioned the novel, “36 arguments for the existence of God…” in my first post, as a treatment of how religious faith and Religious Traditions conflict and collaborate.

      And along that line, to answer another of your accusations, did religious faith suppress Galileo’s or Newton’s creativity? No. Their scientific reasoning coexisted with that faith. They could explore the abyss for patterns and make predictions based on what they found, but they also saw the limits of their explorations, and stood in awe with emotions that led them to believe that a loving God was a force that was the force behind the creation of the whole place. There are at least 36 arguments supporting that belief that lose, but that does not change the cognitive behavioral effectiveness for the believer of having an attachment to his or her belief.

      As for morality, it is by nature arbitrary; based on agreed to values within a group. All value systems, including any that scientists can dream up, come with constraints. That’s the nature of the beast.

      I did not suggest that the golden rule can only be delivered by religion. I said it evolved into us as a species, and at the same time so did the religious faith traditions that HELPED TO nurture it. Those are facts. When you have the facts to somehow define how those 2 processes interacted to get us to this point of our evolutionary development, let me know. Evolutionists still disagree on how altruism was selected for in an evolutionary model.

      I am not saying that Religion gets a free ride in evolution. My experience speaks to the utility of religious faith for individual human well being, as does the fact that religious faith has persisted in our species, EVEN DESPITE the cultural conflicts it has created in its dogmatic and political iterations. religious dogma and religion based political suppression are not free from criticism, nor are they evolutionarily privileged, but religious faith as a cognitive response to an uncontrollable abyss that the universe presents to us has proven its evolutionary value by surviving as a cognitive process in a dominant species of hairless apes, even as other cognitive processes, like science, have arisen.

      And Again, there is no evidence that scientific reasoning as a sole cognitive response to the world will serve the human species any better than religious faith in combinations with scientific reasoning, has up to now. Not that any arguments about religious dogma are likely to eliminate a trait as powerful as that which religious faith provides. Making fun of the Bible does not change the processes that led up to its creation and spread, nor does it change the thriving that non-dogmatic religious faith enables for those who hold it. And, I might add, the Bible and its stories likely were not invented as scientific descriptions of reality. The evidence points to people of that era thinking differently about what those stories represented, and to those people using them in very different ways than religious fundamentalists do now.

      TO REPEAT, DOGMA AND RELIGIOUS SUPPRESSION ARE NOT THE SAME THING AS RELIGIOUS FAITH. RELIGIOUS FAITH IS A COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL RESPONSE TO THE ENVIRONMENT THAT INDIVIDUAL HUMANS HAVE USED FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS TO HELP THEM LIVE LONG AND HAPPY LIVES. ATHEISM IS A DIFFERENT RESPONSE. IT TOO HELPS INDIVIDUALS WHO USE IT, BUT IT HAS HAS NOT EXISTED OUTSIDE OF THE SPHERE OF A CULTURE LARGELY BASED ON RELIGIOUS FAITH, AND SO THERE IS NO WAY TO KNOW WHETHER PURE ATHEISM WOULD BE AS BENEFICIAL TO INDIVIDUAL HUMANS IN A SETTING WITHOUT RELIGIOUS FAITH AS A BACKGROUND COGNITIVE STYLE FOR HUMANS.

      • Posted November 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        Religious faith is the apportioning of belief other than in proportion with the available empirically observed and rationally analyzed evidence. It is how one is able to conclude with confidence that there are one or more invisible entities with great power who desire the wellbeing of humanity despite the overwhelming mountains of evidence that no such entities are active at a measurably significant scale.

        Atheism is entirely irrelevant to the question of religious faith. Atheism is no more and no less than the conclusion, however arrived at, that there are no gods active or detectable within the universe accessible to humanity.

        Religious faith is utterly contemptible, for, as I have already addressed at length elsewhere, it is the mechanism by which all confidence scams operate. There’s no need to have the mechanic check the car, or to verify the deed to the bridge, or to investigate the fundamentals of the mortgage-backed securities, or to confirm that the gods are real and their priests are accurately representing their wishes; just have a little faith and open up your wallet and do as the nice man in the funny clothes tells you to.

        And it’s faith that makes it so easy to make fun of the Bible. Do you see me making fun of the Odyssey or A Midsummer Night’s Dream? No? You do know that both are as absurd as anything there is in the Bible, right?

        Mature adults have no trouble recognizing the works of Homer and Shakespeare as fiction. But when religious faith kicks in, we witness absurdities such as people sincerely claiming, as you yourself have done, that great wisdom can be gained from a superficial analysis of the words of an unquestionably fictional character who is unambiguously and repeatedly and overwhelmingly emphatically portrayed in his official biography as a zombie from Hell.

        Truly, there is no greater threat to the success of humanity than religious faith.

        b&

        • Doc C
          Posted November 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          >Truly, there is no greater threat to the success of humanity than religious faith.

          Whatever the great Goren says must be true, then.

          • Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

            Then you must have a definition of religious faith which is inconsistent with mine — belief apportioned other than in proportion with available empirically-observed and rationally analyzed evidence.

            Except, of course, that your definition isn’t inconsistent with mine.

            So the next rational conclusion is that you’re one of the many con artists dependent upon exploiting people’s faith, and you’re fighting a rear-guard action here in a doomed effort to protect your ability to profit from being a parasite.

            b&

            • Doc C
              Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

              You’re clueless, Ben.

              • Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                And you’re countering my evidence and arguments with invective, which very forcefully demonstrates the utility of my position and the futility of yours.

                I’ll be happy to continue this discussion should you wish to actually engage with observation and reason. But, since both are anathema to religious faith, and since that’s what you’re espousing, I rather doubt you will…meaning this is likely my last response on the subject.

                The last word is yours, should you wish it.

                b&

              • Doc C
                Posted November 21, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

                and you’re full of crap. You have never answered the totality of my evidence or argument, nor do you look at religion or religious faith in other than a very narrow and hateful manner. Your arguments are not scientific, they are emotional, with a scientific veneer. My invective is aimed at your failure to engage in a two way conversation.

  40. Susan
    Posted November 20, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    >because you have clearly not read much of what I wrote way back

    I did Ben. I really did. I read everything. Your point still seems vague and unsupported. Which is why I’ve tried to boil things down into some very specific questions, to be sure that I am not missing something. Did you read what I wrote? The questions, at least?

    >I said it evolved into us as a species, and at the same time so did the religious faith traditions that HELPED TO nurture it. Those are facts.

    You can’t claim that “religious faith” helped to nurture anything without supporting it. You might as well say that fleas helped to support dogs. It might be true, but you haven’t established it. You can’t claim it as a fact without supporting it.

    >just like one can separate from the process of creative scientific reasoning the political aspect of scientific dogma

    It’s this sort of equivocation that makes my skin crawl. Dogma is eventually flushed out by the scientific method. Religious and “scientific” dogma. Dogma is not scientific. I am well aware of the fact that humans are prone to dogma. The entire methodology of science was founded on and refines itself on the principle of not fooling ourselves. What you mean by “scientific dogma” is the inevitable human politics that can occur in the field of science. The scientific method eventually takes care of that, because it is designed to do exactly that. And when science corrects scientists, they don’t get to come back with the “but it was a metaphor” response.

    >And Again, there is no evidence that scientific reasoning as a sole cognitive response to the world will serve the human species any better than religious faith in combinations with scientific reasoning, has up to now.

    And again, you have failed to define your terms no matter how many times I’ve asked you to. What do you mean when you say “scientific” reasoning? Your terms are vague, and you continue to A-B science and religion. That IS absurd.

    >TO REPEAT, DOGMA AND RELIGIOUS SUPPRESSION ARE NOT THE SAME THING AS RELIGIOUS FAITH.

    Repeating a vague point without clarifying your definitions doesn’t illuminate things and block caps won’t make anything better.

    You are implying that the value of religious faith is supported by evidence without providing any evidence for that claim. And alluding to the fact that without evidence, how could we know? Do you see the double layer of irony there?

    • Doc c
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      Sorry Susan, you cannot argue sentence by sentence and word by word, because that is not the way I think. I wrote a reply that you broke into small pieces, and critiqued them, but you have not addressed the concepts that the entire reply lays out. There is nothing vague about what I am getting at. You are trying to hide your inability to answer my thesis behind some question sabout my use of well established terms in the English language, like “scientific reasoning”. You pretend that dogma in science has a different effect than dogma in religion, but that ignores the temporal nature of all change. You are looking at the abstract concepts and not what the behaviors mean for the people. Neither the dogma of religion, not that of science remain static in their effect, but they both serve to change the course of people’s lives. Ask all of the women who died in childbirth until the pompous scientific assholes finally let Semmelweis’ well established theory become new dogma. And most religious believers discard useless dogma similarly, which is why many faithful catholic people have abortions. Believing in spirits only hurts you if you stand behind them to shield you from material objects orr use them to make decisions that are better informed by empiric facts. Using spirits to cure mental anguish or enhance positive emotions does no harm. And in fact is one way that religion and religious faith bring positive survival value to the human species. Google up Andrew Solomon’s story of ritual arfican healing for depression on The Moth for a nice view on that.

      You completely ignored my examples, in this prior post, of how religious faith is used successfully by individual humans to live happy and productive lives, much in the same way that our use of the scientific method to improve technology has. That is evidence enough of their evolutionary value. Since both pervade in our species over the past many thousands of years, they cannot be separated out from what helped us get to this point in time. The same thing simply cannot be said for atheism.

      You can’t deny those simple empiric facts, or the examples I provided, so you go after small snippets of my argument in abstract terms. I can’t engage in that kind of conversation. Answer me, my argument as a whole, don’t parse my use of language.

  41. Susan
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    >Sorry Susan, you cannot argue sentence by sentence and word by word, because that is not the way I think.

    That has become abundantly clear.

    >There is nothing vague about what I am getting at.

    Then, why is my head spinning?

    >You are trying to hide your inability to answer my thesis behind some question sabout my use of well established terms in the English language, like “scientific reasoning”.

    I am hiding nothing. I’ve made it clear that I’m having trouble understanding your argument and have asked specific questions and probed for definitions to see if we can make some progress. Defining terms is basic in any argument. Particularly when there’s confusion.

    >You pretend that dogma in science has a different effect than dogma in religion,

    No. I said that dogma, in the sense that you seem to be using the word, is not scientific. Your reference to Semmelweiss is a perfect example. Those “pompous scientific assholes” might have been pompous assholes but they were not being scientific.

    It was the use of the scientific method that ultimately cut through the “dogma” and saved countless women from unnecessary suffering and death in childbirth. You seem very confused on this point, which is why it’s important that you explain what you mean by “scientific reason”.

    >Answer me, my argument as a whole, don’t parse my use of language.

    I don’t understand your argument. I’m not really sure you have one. So far, I have done my best to wade through allusion, anecdotes and equivocation.

    I’m about ready to give up.

    Did you even read Jerry Coyne’s post?

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      there’s this thing out there called a “concern troll”. not sure there’s any here, but…

      just sayin’

      • Doc C
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        I am not writing about the way atheism presents itself because I want to improve its message. I am writing because i am convinced that the message is wrong.

    • Doc C
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Susan,

      Let’s try this to establish a basis for communication.

      Religious faith helps many individual humans to live long and happy lives.
      T or F

      Religious Faith usually includes the belief that there is something more to natural events than what we are able to at the present time experience or measure.

      Religious faith has been a part of the human cognitive behavioral repertoire for many thousands of years.
      T or F

      The scientific method creates hypotheses about the rules that create natural events based on the logical analysis of carefully measured patterns of natural events.
      T or F

      the scientific method has been a part of the human cognitive repertoire for thousands of years
      T or F

      After you answer those questions, we can proceed forward.

      • Doc C
        Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        missed the T or F for question 2. sorry

      • Posted November 21, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        Since you’ve yet to present a coherent definition of “religious faith,” your questions amount to nothing more than: “True or false: You have stopped beating your underaged prostitutes.”

        If were to define your terms, perhaps we could proceed forward.

        b&

        • Susan
          Posted November 21, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

          >Since you’ve yet to present a coherent definition of “religious faith,” your questions amount to nothing more than: “True or false: You have stopped beating your underaged prostitutes.”

          Pretty much.

          >If were to define your terms, perhaps we could proceed forward.

          It’s become very clear that he has no intention of doing that.

          I apologize. I missed his last couple of comments to you before I sent my last response. If I’d seen them, I wouldn’t have bothered to respond to him at all.

          It was going nowhere anyway.

          • Posted November 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

            When somebody refuses to define terms after repeatedly being pressed to do so, there are only two possible conclusions: either the person’s command of rhetorical persuasion is so poor that no discourse is possible, or the person has realized the indefensibility of the position and, as the joke goes, has resorted to banging neither on the facts nor the law but rather on the table.

            Either way, it’s a sure sign of defeat — and not a very pretty defeat, either.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Susan
              Posted November 21, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

              >When somebody refuses to define terms after repeatedly being pressed to do so, there are only two possible conclusions: either the person’s command of rhetorical persuasion is so poor that no discourse is possible, or the person has realized the indefensibility of the position and, as the joke goes, has resorted to banging neither on the facts nor the law but rather on the table.

              There’s a third possibility that is related to the two. The person is so convinced that they are onto something that the person they’re addressing has never considered, that they don’t understand the process of showing their work. Which means that they’ll never recognize that it’s possible that they haven’t done their work.

              >Either way, it’s a sure sign of defeat

              It’s a missed learning opportunity, no matter how you slice it.

              My mind remains open to a good argument for religion, but I haven’t heard one yet. (Not so open, that my little brain will fall out.) :-)

  42. Doc C
    Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    missed the T or F for question 2. sorry

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      All right, Doc C, apologize to the people you’ve tarred here (you’re full of crap, etc.). You come over here, almost as a troll, and get nasty immediately. I think you’d be happier at a religious website with your friends.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27,795 other followers

%d bloggers like this: