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Science and Religion
November 3, 2002 6:51 AM   Subscribe

The Paradox of God, the Bible, and Religion have fascinated humans since the dawn of civilization. What are your favorite web pages and books on the intersection of science and religion? Do you feel that the human concept of God evolves through time? Is science displacing God? And what about miracles? Are miracles possible?
posted by Morphic (69 comments total)

 
Science cannot displace God because no one really know's what God is. To me, 'God' is just a word used by many different people in many different ways, depending on the belief system a person has been indoctrinated into.
posted by disgruntled at 7:13 AM on November 3, 2002


Jesus...
posted by languagehat at 7:20 AM on November 3, 2002


Are miracles possible?

yes, it is called Cambodia.
posted by clavdivs at 7:38 AM on November 3, 2002


The nail in the coffin of doctrinal religion for me was this article in the New York Review of Books, which reviews several enormous tomes dedicated to reconciling evolution and doctrinal Judeo-Christian religion (sadly, only the first of two parts is online -- it also appears here). Frederick Crews argues that you have to draw a line somewhere between what is basically incorrect and correct -- and that creationism in any form is, essentially, incorrect, even 'mild' forms of creationism ('watchmaker' creationism), which is what you'll find most religious people believing in today. Many people -- including the very powerful -- believe in even stronger variants of creationism -- which are of course even more wrong and farfetched.

I agree with the sentiment that discussions about 'God' are always inconclusive and that no one can say anything truly for sure about the spiritural problems we all face, etc. etc.; but "no one can say" does not equal doctrine, especially when science has shown that the doctrine's just wrong-headed and incorrect.
posted by josh at 7:57 AM on November 3, 2002


http://www.abarnett.demon.co.uk/atheism/
posted by ed\26h at 8:00 AM on November 3, 2002


Are miracles possible?

miracles are by definition impossible, so no, they're not possible. 'Cause if they happen, then they can happen after all, and they're not miraculous. Believing that things that never happen sometimes happen is oxymoronic.

If you define a miracle as something just extremely unlikely, not impossible - that is, someone recovering from a cancer that was 95% certain to kill him, as opposing to coming back to life 24 hours after dying - then yes, unlikely things happen, by definition. 5% of the time that man will survive. The fact that it happens to you instead of joe in minnesota is not miraculous; it's only egotism that makes someone define it that way.
posted by mdn at 8:15 AM on November 3, 2002


In the "religion is for the suckers born each minute" catagory, here is a listing of the great religious saviors in human history (a far from inclusive list.) The bottom line for religion is that they are ALL interchangeable. Go ahead, believe in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first.

Adad of Ninevah (Assyria)
Alkestus of Aegeia
Atys of Chaldea (Phrygia)
Baal of Phoenicia and Tyre
Bal of Babylon
Bali of Orissa
Beddin (Beddru) of Japan
Beli (Bali) of Afghanistan
bi-Amrih al Hakim of Egypt
Bremrillah of the Druids
Budha Sakia of India
Cadmus of the Hellenes
Coyote Droppings (Wovoka) of the Piute
Crishna of India (Hindostan)
Crite of Chaldea
David Koresh
Deva-Tat and Sammonocadam of Siam
Elaides (Alcides) of Thebes
Elizabeth Claire Chapel/Count St.-Germain
Eugene Vintras of France
Father Divine (George Baker) of New York
Feta of the Madaites
Fohi of China
Gentaut of the Aztecs
Hel and Fata of the Mandans
Hesus (Eros) of the Druids
Hil of the Madaites
Holy One of Xaca
Horns of Egypt
Hung Hsiu-chuan of China
Hung Hui Ching of Taiwan
Iao (Jao) of Nepal
Indra of Tibet
Ischy of Formosa
Ixion of Rome
J.R. "Bob" Dobbs of Texas
Jacob (ne Leibowicz) Frank of Poland (Zoharists)
Jan Bockelson (Anabaptist of Munster)
Jim Jones (U.S./Guyana)
Joseph-Antoine Boullan
Joshua bar Joseph of Palestine
Kameloxis of Thrace
Konrad Shmidt of Thuringia
Luc Jouret (Joseph di Mambro)(and daughter, Emanuelle)
(of Int'l Chivalric Order Solar Tradition)
Mani of Babylon (Manichaeanism)
Maria Devi Christos (Marina Tsvygun) of Ukraine
Marshall Applewhite
Mikado of the Sintoos
Mithra of Persia
Moate Kim Miller (of Concerned Christians)
Orus of Egypt
Osiris of Egypt
Prometheus of Greece
Quetzalcoatl of Mexico
Quirinus of Rome
Rael (Claude Vorilhon) of France
Sakia of Hindustan
Salvahan(a) of Caribec (Bermuda)
Shabbatai ben Zevi of the European Jews
Shiloh, son of Joanna Southcott
Shoko Asahara (Chizuo Matsumoto) of Japan
Sun Myung Moon of Korea
Tammus (Thammuz) of Syria
Tanchelm of Antwerp
Taut of Phoenicia
Tenskwatawa of the Shawnee
Thulis of Egypt
Tien of China
Tornieli Dolcino of Novara
Universal Monarch of the Sibyls
Wittoba of Telingonese (Bilingonese)
Xaniolxis of Thrace
Zoar of the Bonzes
Zoroaster of Persia
Zulis (Zhule) of Egypt
posted by kablam at 8:27 AM on November 3, 2002


Science cannot displace God because no one really know's what God is. To me, 'God' is just a word used by many different people in many different ways, depending on the belief system a person has been indoctrinated into.

Isn't what you just said a contradiction? No one really knows what God is, but then you feel free to define God.

Kablam, why didn't you include Jesus Christ of Nazareth in that list?

Also, an interesting read on the definition of the word religion.

You say that religion is for suckers, I say that everyone is a sucker. Every person worships, or is devoted to, something or someone, hence religious. Usually the worst kinds of people are devoted to themselves.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:42 AM on November 3, 2002


the writings of bertrand russell
posted by Voyageman at 8:43 AM on November 3, 2002


Also, I would argue that scientism in the Modern world (or what is now being called the post-Modern world) is perhaps a new religion. You know, the Gene Rodenberry, humanistic "science has all the answers" stuff.

Science does not have all the answers, science is just a tool. It can help explain the how, but never the why.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:52 AM on November 3, 2002


Check out the wonderful Skeptic's Dictionary for lots more interesting history and background...
posted by twsf at 8:53 AM on November 3, 2002


Ahem... please be kind to this ranting from a newbie MeFi-er, but I just had to jump in and wade in this Divine pool... so here's my response...

Perhaps there are as many opinions about God as there are persons existing to develop them. Even within the rigors of those homogenized and fundamentalists faiths each human being is intrinsically different, and each approaches their concept of the holy in a way unlike any other being alive. I feel that the endlessly variant spiritual belief systems are valuable tools/models created to bring some form of goodness into the world. God exists where you want It to exist; in the caterpillars, in the televisions, in the watermelon, in your eyes because unlike any other concept our creative and curious consciousnesses have stumbled upon, ultimately what shape it takes and what it means it entirely up to us. We can all agree more or less on the color blue but God is utterly different because we struggle with that definition in the same way that the idea of infinity is unnerving. It feels so vast, so improbable, that were left stammering when asked to name God in 50 worlds or less. As for miracles... how about the Earth? How perfectly aligned to the sun we are, this rock in space that has so delicately sprouted not only life, but love... from a scientific aspect our chances of doing everything human that we're doing right now are astronomical! I'd call typing on this keyboard right now, eating fruit and breathing this air through the sunlight shining down a miracle in any sense of the word. My cat resting on my lap is God, the water i'm sipping is God, and from this tiny spot in the Carolina mountains, that's just the beginning.
posted by moonbird at 9:15 AM on November 3, 2002


Para - what? -yer post is makin' my head hurt.
posted by troutfishing at 9:32 AM on November 3, 2002


Can you riddle me this, though: is the tire of a car running over your cat also God? Does a change in your circumstances change your perception of God? I think it is somewhat arrogant to claim that you are God (which you just did), and then you go and make everything irrelevant by telling me that I am God as well (which, by implication, you did).

and each approaches their concept of the holy in a way unlike any other being alive.

Interesting. You see the beauty of life and then try to explain it in a really confusing way.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:34 AM on November 3, 2002


insomnyuk: I *did* include him. But with the name he was probably known as at the time. Speculative at best, considering the complexities of Hebrew.
posted by kablam at 9:48 AM on November 3, 2002


Joshua bar Joseph of Palestine

I see it now.

Fascinating. So what would you say you believe in kablam? Being clever?
posted by insomnyuk at 10:00 AM on November 3, 2002


*Cough* Books. Books I can do. (This will be a somewhat Victorio-centric list.) Alvar Ellegard's Darwin and the General Reader: The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution in the British Periodical Press, 1859-1872 argues, in essence, that most of Darwin's contemporaries intentionally or unintentionally missed his point. Cynthia Eagle Russett's Darwin in America: The Intellectual Response 1865-1912 includes a chapter on the theological reaction. James R. Moore goes into considerably more detail in The Post-Darwinian Controversies : A Study of the Protestant Struggle to come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America 1870-1900. David Livingstone discusses some of the same problems in Darwin's Forgotten Defenders, which examines pro-Darwinist evangelicals. James Secord examines an earlier example of evolutionary theory and its reception in Victorian Sensation : The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
. On geology, Charles Gillispie's famous Genesis and Geology is the usual place to start. Ronald L. Numbers argues that creationism is of relatively recent vintage in The Creationists.

For a good overall introduction, see John Hedley Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives. David C. Lindberg and Ronald Numbers edited a collection of essays spanning a wide historical range entitled God and Nature.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:18 AM on November 3, 2002


Wow. Alright then, I'm going to duck out of this invective with a little clarification. With all due respect nowhere in the post did I say anything like I AM GOD- rather my point was saying that i believe that everything contains God, that the Universe is an expression of the Divine. Everything in the Universe; from the beauty of a dandelion to the horror of an atomic bomb is an expression of what i call God, an energy which includes my cat and a car tire. i prefer not to think of God as a bearded omniscient superhero flying through the clouds but as a living energy which is invested in all things at all times... a concept beyond the reckoning of our young minds but eager to be more fully discovered, challenging us to grow. We humans can singlehandedly renew or destroy the world with our creativity, and i'd rather believe that we can choose to to the Godly thing with our talents and live our lives as if they were miracles.
It's just my opinion, and i'm just another microbe on this ball of mud, struggling to understand... Opinions are not right or wrong, no one can define that. i know it's goofy but it's what i've got to work with. Peace.
posted by moonbird at 10:37 AM on November 3, 2002


Insomnyk: I did not provide a defintion for God in my posting and in no way was I contradicting myself.
posted by disgruntled at 10:46 AM on November 3, 2002


Marshall Applewhite

IcyVision: Major Applewhite.

I thought you were making some sort of comment on Big XII football. But apparently you weren't.
posted by iceberg273 at 11:11 AM on November 3, 2002


miracles are by definition impossible, so no, they're not possible. 'Cause if they happen, then they can happen after all, and they're not miraculous. Believing that things that never happen sometimes happen is oxymoronic.

I usually find quoting from the dictionary to be kind of obnoxious, but I think it's called for here:

miracle: : 1. an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.

I don't think any religious person would define a miracle as something that is "impossible" or "extremely unlikely." It is, as the definition says, a direct intervention of God into human affairs. If someone is cured of a serious cancer, it may be a miracle, or it may just be a physiological quirk. It's very hard, or even impossible to tell which, but most religous people are going to chalk it up to miracle in absence of evidence to the contrary. Christians generally believe in a rather interventionist God, so we tend to be disposed to see miracles where others see really good luck.

If you don't believe in God, you're obviously not going to believe in miracles. The more interesting debate is between people that do believe in God but have different ideas about whether and how frequently God actually does work through miracles in today's world. Some believe that God works almost exclusively through those that follow Him (Mainline Protestants tend to fall into this category) while others believe that direct intervention by God into the world is fairly commonplace (Catholics and evangelicals tend to make up this category).
posted by boltman at 11:17 AM on November 3, 2002


Joshua bar Joseph of Palestine
...the name he was probably known as at the time. Speculative at best...

Since it's speculation anyway, and you obviously knew that some Mefites wouldn't catch it, perhaps it would have been nice to list him as "Joshua bar Joseph of Palestine (Jesus Christ)." That would have been in exactly the same style as many of the other listings. Like insomnyuk said, the way you did it has a "Got you, ignoramous!" tone to it. Accurate maybe, but obnoxious as hell.

God exists where you want It to exist; in the caterpillars, in the televisions, in the watermelon...

I don't care if it makes sense--I like this whimsical God!
posted by hippugeek at 12:15 PM on November 3, 2002


I like moonbird's approach to the issue at hand. How can anyone answer the questions above without being whimsical, personal and metaphysical? That said, where are we hoping to go with this thread? God exists? God doesn't exist? My God is bigger than your God? Religion is a highly personal and highly divisive issue, especially in America were nearly everyone believes in something but has no idea what it is they believe. That sounds trollish, but I'm leaving it in because I very rarely hear anything about what God is in these kind of conversations, but what God is not.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:30 PM on November 3, 2002


::: declines to bite :::
posted by rushmc at 12:47 PM on November 3, 2002


Considering that our top scientific minds presently believe the universe is made mostly (like 90% mostly) of dark matter and dark energy, the only problem being we don't have a friggin' clue what either of them is, Reality Reality is still way up for grabs.
posted by quercus at 1:03 PM on November 3, 2002


god is good. god is great. Now let's kill the farkers who don't believe what we believe.
posted by Postroad at 1:07 PM on November 3, 2002


::: declines to bite :::

Oh c'mon rushmc, MetaFilter and religion are two great tastes that go great together.
posted by mikhail at 1:08 PM on November 3, 2002


I refuse to make JBJ *unique*. And it's not in the spirit of "gotcha ignoramus", it's in the spirit of (yawn) he's just another huckster in a whole field of hucksters. Nothing special, nothing unique.

For those of you who embrace *that* brand of foolishness, I just ask you to identify anything really special about him.
Something that none of the others did. If you can't, then why not pick one of the others and worship them? Same dif...
posted by kablam at 1:25 PM on November 3, 2002


wow kablam, is that horse high enough or should we find you a taller one?
posted by mikhail at 1:37 PM on November 3, 2002


Any horse is a high horse to those that grovel in the mud.
But hell, I outnumber them 1 to 2 billion odd, so they have a right to feel persecuted.
posted by kablam at 1:45 PM on November 3, 2002


Viruses of the Mind
posted by sexualchocolate at 1:55 PM on November 3, 2002


Kablam: What is your point? I've never understood the need to create atheist dogma. Is the idea to talk people out of their faith just to prove you're right? Or is it that you feel superior for not falling for the "con"? I'm not a religious person, but I don't feel the need to question the faith of others unless their faith leads to intolerant actions.
posted by elwoodwiles at 2:06 PM on November 3, 2002


"Any horse is a high horse to those that grovel in the mud.
But hell, I outnumber them 1 to 2 billion odd, so they have a right to feel persecuted."


Glad you feel you've purged yourself of the gullibility of generations and dragged yourself out of the mud. Maybe next you'll be walking upright. ;)

"I refuse to make JBJ *unique*. And it's not in the spirit of "gotcha ignoramus", it's in the spirit of (yawn) he's just another huckster in a whole field of hucksters."

Actually it seems it was just in the spirit of copying a list from another webpage.

"Truly, you have a dizzying intellect"
posted by mikhail at 2:13 PM on November 3, 2002


I think maybe Metafilter needs to start putting up a FPP every couple of weeks that says: "Isn't Religion Dumb?" All the militant atheists could go there and vent their pent-up rage towards people of faith and leave the other religions threads to people that actually would like to discuss the topic at hand
posted by boltman at 2:23 PM on November 3, 2002


I don't think any religious person would define a miracle as something that is "impossible" or "extremely unlikely." It is, as the definition says, a direct intervention of God into human affairs.

right, but the way you know that god intervened is because it couldn't have happened otherwise, right? I mean, in the bibles, miracles are performed as a way to show that the prophet has some direct line to the man upstairs - by healing, or dividing a sea, or walking on water, or whatever, the prophet proves he's got god on his side because he was given special powers to be able to do things that can't be done. The thing is, if god did exist and did provide moses and jesus and the rest with these special abilities, then he would be simply another force of nature.

A waterbug can walk across the miniskis; a man will step through the water. This is a simple result of the laws of nature. The laws of nature are not rules which a grumbing Nature must "follow or else," but rather just descriptions of what nature is, how nature is. They can't be 'broken' because they are just descriptive. If a god intervened to provide JC with the ability to mimic a waterbug, he would have to produce a way for this to happen. He would have to introduce another force. So it would still be scientifically comprehensible, which is antithetical to the notion of miraculous. I just think this is an interesting philosophical point.
posted by mdn at 2:24 PM on November 3, 2002



::: declines to bite :::

Aw, and we had so much fun on this topic...what, three or four days ago =)

I think maybe Metafilter needs to start putting up a FPP every couple of weeks that says: "Isn't Religion Dumb?" All the militant atheists could go there and vent their pent-up rage towards people of faith and leave the other religions threads to people that actually would like to discuss the topic at hand
Actually, I think MeFi has got much better about this. Sure, people still argue against religion a lot and such, but I find the relogious much more thoughtful than in the past...I think the resident atheists are more tolerant than in the past and the religious apologists are not quite as....bunnyistic?
posted by jmd82 at 2:29 PM on November 3, 2002


oops...relogious = religious debates
posted by jmd82 at 2:30 PM on November 3, 2002


Arg...trying...so hard....not to bite...

Kablam, I wasn't suggesting that you make Joshua/Jesus stand out in any way. Putting, in parantheses, an alternate or more familiar name would be entirely consistent with the rest of your format:

Beddin (Beddru) of Japan
Beli (Bali) of Afghanistan
Father Divine (George Baker) of New York
Joshua bar Joseph of Palestine (Jesus)
Luc Jouret (Joseph di Mambro)
Rael (Claude Vorilhon) of France


See how un-unique that looks? If you avoid adding "Christ" (as I generally do) because you think it gives the appearence of some kind of false legitimacy, why not just say "Jesus"? And how about a "(Muhammed)" while we're at it?
posted by hippugeek at 2:35 PM on November 3, 2002


"Joshua bar Joseph"

... unless yer Catholic & strictly believe in the Virgin Birth ... in which case it wolud be "Joshua ben Miriam". Tee hee.

Oh c'mon rushmc, MetaFilter and religion are two great tastes that go great together.

Yes. The true intrellectual analog of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ("You stuck your MeFi in my religion". "No, you got your religion all over my MeFi". MMMMmmmmm, good.)
posted by MidasMulligan at 3:20 PM on November 3, 2002


I'll admit I borrowed Dr. Zinn's list, but I doubt he'll mind, being dead or in Siberia or somewhere last I heard, and I couldn't resist leaving "J.R. "Bob" Dobbs" on it, as a ha-ha (though a previous list included "Gerald Ford" for the attentive.)
The absence of the "Jesus" in parentheses I will put down to very few people being able to offhand identify most of the names on the list (those who can are notably of the B'Hai faith), and since otherwise they would just look to see if "Jesus" was there, and skip the rest, it might give them pause to try and figure out the omission.
As research, the list is really enjoyable. George Baker, "Father Divine", especially, is one of my favorite American scoundrels--one who got away with it.
posted by kablam at 3:30 PM on November 3, 2002


Evolution is not incompatible with religion. And extraterrestrial life is recognized in the bible and Talmud.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:46 PM on November 3, 2002


Science does not have all the answers, science is just a tool. It can help explain the how, but never the why.

In fact. I see this as a major advantage of scientific thought over religious thought. Science is quite comfortable with the possibility that the ultimate origins of life on earth are unknowable (although we can say a lot about what happened once life developed.) The religous seem to feel the need to fill in "god did it". Scientific thought is a question that may never find a true question while religious thought is as answer looking for a problem to fill.

This hit home this week after reactions to the results of kidney surgery on tuesday. My surgeon found that what everyone believed was a probable renal cell carcinoma on multple cat-scans and ultrasounds was the remains of an infected cyst filled with old puss and blood. The more religious family members on hand immedately applied the miracle label arguing that god healed the Cancer in response to much prayer. Lacking 30 years of retroactive cat-scans and biopsies, I don't know and don't have more than a mild curiosity.

I suspect some ammount of confusion in that I checked in as an Athiest who occasionally celebrates at the Unitarian Church, and I checked out as an Athiest without the hospital-bed conversion that is supposed to be routine in crisis medical situations. I certianly was supportive of the needs of others to pray in my presence but I also think they understood this as polite tolerance.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:00 PM on November 3, 2002


I just ask you to identify anything really special about him. Something that none of the others did.

How about spawned the religion with the most followers, before or since.

God, that was easy. What do I win?
posted by David Dark at 5:57 PM on November 3, 2002


"Science is quite comfortable with the possibility that the ultimate origins of life on earth are unknowable..."

KirkJobSluder (OT: glad you got good news), I'd say quite the opposite. Science and scientific thought, by its very nature seeks to know. Science may be used to not knowing something, and be comfortable with that, but I wouldn't say that Science is comfortable with leaving questions unanswered.

I tend to agree with you that Religions, having their answer(s), apply it to the questions at hand, while Science seeks to explain the universe as concretely as can be discerned, but the underlying purpose of each is different, so it's hard for me to consider them comparable. Certainly people can, and do exist with the dichotomy of Religious and Scientific thought.

I don't fully agree that belief or faith in a God, or some philosophy of Divinity, is a delusion. I think God, in all its variations, can be inferred in the mysteries of existence and conciousness. Putting a fine point on what 'God' is, or means, is what I believe can lead to delusion.
posted by mikhail at 6:08 PM on November 3, 2002


On a side note, Jesus was probably known mostly as "Yeshua bin Miriam", since that's how he's referred to by others in the Bible. It's a subtle insult in the culture of the day, since legitimate children were known as 'of [father]' while bastards were known only by their mother's name.

Irregardless of whether you think he was Joseph's son or not (somewhat unlikely in my view as an atheist with an interest in the matter; since according to the only reports of the matter, Joseph was an old man who spent his days looking after his kids and grandchildren from a previous marriage and Mary was a sixteen year old temple virgin who lodged in his household), the Jews of the day didn't consider him to be so.

Also, calling him 'Joseph bar Palestine' is a bit silly. He was a Nazarene, which is a specific region in historical Palestine (Nazareth). It's the difference between saying someone is an American' and that someone is a Virginian or Californian. While either epithet is technically accurate, if two Americans meet, they refer to their states to distinguish themselves. Likewise with the ancient Jews, who all lived in 'Palestine', but came from different regions of it.

One need not be religious to have a fondness for accurate scholarship.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 6:34 PM on November 3, 2002


mdn: I guess I'm not sure what you're driving at. Are you saying that there is no way to tell for certain that some highly improbable occurance was a miracle or that the word itself is meaningless because any intervention of God in our universe is cannot be considered miraculous because it would be measureable and therefore "natural"? If it is the former, I suppose I agree with you, if it the later, you're just playing a semantic game--you still need a word for "God manipulating our universe to suit His purposes"

The test I would use for miracle would be a "but for" test. As in, "would things have gone differently but for divine intervention?" If so, it's a miracle. If not, no miracle. Obviously, there are insurmountable problems of proof with my test, but if there weren't, there would be no need for faith.
posted by boltman at 8:34 PM on November 3, 2002


I'm not a religious person, but I don't feel the need to question the faith of others unless their faith leads to intolerant actions.

Are you similarly tolerant of all other irrational beliefs, or do you make a special exception just to patronize the religious folk?
posted by rushmc at 8:37 PM on November 3, 2002


i thought that sniper guy was god?
posted by quonsar at 8:39 PM on November 3, 2002


I'm pretty sure that the sniper guy deserves to die. And I know you can't kill God.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:18 PM on November 3, 2002


God in a Cutlass? Wouldn't he drive some sort of eco-friendly car like the one that burned down Veronica Webb's house?
posted by mikhail at 9:34 PM on November 3, 2002


Metafilter: The true intrellectual analog of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup

I love it for it's misspellling.
posted by Neale at 9:51 PM on November 3, 2002


mikhail, are you kidding? God drives a Hummer.
posted by David Dark at 10:43 PM on November 3, 2002


"Science does not have all the answers, science is just a tool. It can help explain the how, but never the why."

Why do you assume there is a "why?"

* * *

Paris, although you may read into the Bible and Talmud many things, it sure doesn't say anywhere "In the year 2050 (or 57xx) you will discover life on the second planet in the XXXXX system." Methinks you are more willing to overlook ambiguity in the Bible than in, say, Nostradamus, for reasons other than logic.
posted by callmejay at 8:31 AM on November 4, 2002


callmejay: my point was simply that those who claim an incompatiblity between religion and science are ignorami. As are those who believe the Bible should be treated literally. Also, the link I offered didn't refer to a predicition.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:40 AM on November 4, 2002


I see science as being self contained, like the game poker.

Both have rules and are unto themselves. Religious arguments have no more place in science than do checkers rules in poker. When something is "proven" in science, that only means that it is "proven" to do what is expected of it, consistently, under the same scientific ground rules, excluding factors pre-determined to *not* influence the experimental process.

For that matter, religion is not unique in being "excluded" from science. Everything that can be catagorized as a "Social Study", or any subjective or anecdotal thing or event is (or should be) likewise excluded. "Miracles" are non-reproducible, so they are not scientific. But so are unique historical events. So also is true "novelty" in art, defining "novelty" as something truly new and not re-worked from an existing concept.

The closed system of science, for its part, is dependant on abstracts to interpolate and extrapolate from what can be proven in its closed system. And it is in these abstracts, like mathematics, where science reaches out into areas that are not and cannot be evaluated by its strict rules; and yet, the interpolations and extrapolations are still for the most part, reasonable ones.

So there is the final argument: faith v. something that cannot be proven but is reasonable to someone not convinced by faith otherwise.

And yet look at what man accomplished through faith alone, very little indeed, versus what he has accomplished in a much shorter period of time by interpolating and extrapolating from science into technology.
posted by kablam at 10:44 AM on November 4, 2002


Osiris of Egypt

Not a religious savior -- Egyptian religion didn't have the concept -- but probably on the list because he keeps getting compared to Jesus. His myth was Greek rather than Egyptian; in a nutshell he gets murdered and dismembered by Set, reassembled by Isis so he can father Horus on her, and then becomes king of the dead. There's no indication he "saved" those dead people.

(The other "of Egypt" ones on that list are either serious misspellings ("Orus" and/or "Horns" = Horus?) or from later in history than I'm interested in.)


But back off that tangent... I don't think the "religion vs. science" thing has been around since civilization. Religion and science were essentially the same thing in the earliest civilizations, to the extent that something as purely rational as measurement had its associated rituals and gods.

I think it was necessary and good that they become separate disciplines... but like PP, I wish some religious people wouldn't give other religious people a bad name by taking myth literally. If they didn't, the whole "Creationism vs. Evolutionism" thing wouldn't be a problem for anyone.
posted by Foosnark at 11:20 AM on November 4, 2002


You guys sound like a bunch of fleas arguing over who owns the dog....
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:37 AM on November 4, 2002


"And yet look at what man accomplished through faith alone, very little indeed, versus what he has accomplished in a much shorter period of time by interpolating and extrapolating from science into technology."

Whoa, let me back you up on that one. What we call science has been in the employ or Faith or Religion for centuries. The achievements and monuments of civilizations, created in the name of Religion, outstrip those created purely for scientific gain. And I wouldn't hold modern technology up any higher than the heights of technology past. It's just different.

"You guys sound like a bunch of fleas arguing over who owns the dog...."

Shh, you'll make us lose our place, and then we'll have to start over.
posted by mikhail at 12:08 PM on November 4, 2002


Shh, you'll make us lose our place, and then we'll have to start over.

As has happened routinely since the discussion began, long before any of us were born.
posted by oissubke at 12:30 PM on November 4, 2002


The achievements and monuments of civilizations, created in the name of Religion, outstrip those created purely for scientific gain.

Very careful wording in that. However, a cathedral may be useful for religion, but the Hubble telescope advances the knowledge of the universe by hundreds of times. Religion, it seems, has no equivalent to technology from science. It only serves itself.

Religion did not cure diseases, it did not create machines that could fly or swim beneath the water. It did not foster knowledge, only empty repetition. It despairs of anything that does not bow down before it. And while science may tolerate religion when in power, were the roles to be reversed, I doubt that religion could for long resist the temptation to twist science to religious ends.

How very often the religious cry out that they are persecuted--even when they are persecuting. That they are somehow denied justice when they cannot inflict themselves on others.

And yet in my life MY VERY LIFE has been saved by science more times than I can mention, but religion has given me nothing. The religious are just variations on the Taliban theme--Xtians no different from Moslems that offer to kill someone because they say that Islam promotes violence--and see nothing hypocritical in their actions.
posted by kablam at 12:54 PM on November 4, 2002


but the Hubble telescope advances the knowledge of the universe by hundreds of times.

Hundreds of times? Defined by distance? I don't think so.

Also, what about the many scientific discoveries and advances made by believing people?
posted by ParisParamus at 12:59 PM on November 4, 2002


Science evolved from religion. Two branches of the same tree, said Einstein. In fact we are still in a halfway period. Many scientists continue to assume the universe has a rational explanation (where is the proof of that?) and stive to come up with "laws" governing nature (a.k.a. commandments). Science thus continues the original religious longing for union with some deeper reality. I expect science to eventually drop these viewpoints altogether-and it's a whole new ontological ballgame!
posted by quercus at 1:18 PM on November 4, 2002


Also, what about the many scientific discoveries and advances made by believing people?

Like my personal hero, Philo T. Farnsworth!
posted by oissubke at 1:30 PM on November 4, 2002


"Religion, it seems, has no equivalent to technology from science."

How can it? You're seeking to compare the fruit to the tree. How do you separate what was created from the desire and reason it was created?

Religious ritual has helped the sick, people sought to fly to for various reasons, one of them being trying to be closer to God.

"were the roles to be reversed,..."

They pretty much have been, and you do see religion trying to twist science to its own ends, but what's your point? I've seen scientists twist the science of others to their own ends as well. Nobody gets aways with it.

"How very often the religious cry out that they are persecuted--even when they are persecuting."

Religious beliefs, being so closely intertwined with society, I fail to see your point. An oppressed group (whether former oppressors or not), is likely going to point to its fundamental difference as reason for its persecution. Do you know of a civilization of Athiests who were persecuted by some religious zealots?

"And yet in my life MY VERY LIFE has been saved by science more times than I can mention, ..."

Hallelujah, you've been saved brother!! Now go erect a temple to Hubble, the God of telescopes.

But seriously, for every ROI technology has brought, for every person saved, there are just as many horror stories and disasters. Just as many 'bad' things are done in the name of science, knowingly and unknowingly, as are done in the name of religion. If you believe Science and Technology are a panacea for life, and the way to some utopia, you are as deluded as you make out the religious folk to be.
posted by mikhail at 1:43 PM on November 4, 2002


"Many scientists continue to assume the universe has a rational explanation (where is the proof of that?) and stive to come up with "laws" governing nature (a.k.a. commandments)."

I kinda, sorta, disagree (how's that for wishy-washy?). Scientists assume there is an explanation there somewhere, but I believe many of them understand that everything they know breaks down when trying to formulate that explanation. I also don't think they strive to come up with 'laws', but rather provide a basis of communication and understanding. I think while scientists love the science, they understand that the concept is not the thing itself. Math is a convention that is useless unless it's used to explain something. Though 2+2=4 has meaning as an equation, its invocation is meaningless without context. In the same way, the 'law' of gravity does not purport to be gravity, but merely an explanation of the observable phenomenon.

"Science thus continues the original religious longing for union with some deeper reality."

Not at all. Science doesn't seek union. Science is the ultimate compartmentalizer. It separates. Science seeks to understand union by breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. Religion sees separation and seeks to provide a way back to union. Actually it's man himself that may well be the ultimate compartmentalizer. It could be that this view of separateness spawned the need for religion.

The problem with Science is that it breaks down in what we perceive as a causal universe. Everything is an effect of some prior cause. But how do we explain the existence of what became the known universe; rationally, with what we know, and perceive as logical?
posted by mikhail at 3:31 PM on November 4, 2002


In the same way, the 'law' of gravity does not purport to be gravity, but merely an explanation of the observable phenomenon.

I assert that the desire to "explain", i.e. to know, is basically a religious impulse. Mere pragmatic explanation, i.e. who knows or cares if electrons really exist but let's use that explanation to build a better transistor, is also present in some scientists. I believe the further evolution of thought will leave us only with pragmatism. There is no foundation to be "explained". No ultimate "knowledge" to be gained qua knowledge, simply theories to be used in accordance with their cash value. Just as we have seen the death of God, we must now face the death of Truth.

Science is the ultimate compartmentalizer

This is only the first stage of scientific analysis. Synthesis is the goal, e.g. the search for a "theory of everything" is the ultimate in unification efforts. Again, i believe that goal will ultimately have to be abandoned.
posted by quercus at 9:37 AM on November 5, 2002


As for miracles... how about the Earth? How perfectly aligned to the sun we are, this rock in space that has so delicately sprouted not only life, but love...

I've noticed this old argument has come back into fashion lately. Even scientists are falling for this one again. I think Voltaire put this one to rest most succinctly with the scene in Candide where Pangloss argues that this must be the best of all possible worlds because one only need look at how well suited is the nose for holding spectacles. Could the nose be any more perfect? Of course what Pangloss misses is that the eyes are imperfect enough to need spectacles. So, the world may indeed appear wondrous, but that in itself is hardly an argument for the existence of God. While there are many beautiful things to enjoy about life, one need only look around briefly to see that this "perfect" world is full of random pain, suffering, cruelty and unkindness.

Perhaps if people were better educated and well-read, we might not be going round and round with these appealing but wrong ideas. Put on your Memefilter!
posted by Brewer at 6:07 AM on November 6, 2002


I'm amazed that this thread is still alive. It was a troll from the very beginning (and being Mormon, I'm usually a sucker for religion troll threads!). :-)
posted by oissubke at 7:37 AM on November 6, 2002


mdn: I guess I'm not sure what you're driving at. Are you saying that there is no way to tell for certain that some highly improbable occurance was a miracle or that the word itself is meaningless because any intervention of God in our universe is cannot be considered miraculous because it would be measureable and therefore "natural"? If it is the former, I suppose I agree with you, if it the later, you're just playing a semantic game--you still need a word for "God manipulating our universe to suit His purposes"

why? if it's explicable through natural means, why call it a miracle? The thing about improbabilities is that they're different from impossibilities. If a man recovers from a disease very likely to kill him, there is no miracle involved. He was lucky to be part of that 5% instead of part of that 95% but that 95% still all died. Considering yourself specially loved by god instead of simply lucky is just drawing egocentric conclusions. No divine intervention is necessary to explain the situation.

Now, if a man levitated above water or split a sea in two, it would at least seem to be something impossible and therefore would require some heretofore unknown force. You call that force "god". I have never come across evidence that it exists, but if evidence were to come to light of it, then scientists would set about trying to understand how it worked. People used to think ice, or mercury, or various other natural things were miracles. Once they became normal or comprehensible, they no longer were categorized as such. imo, miracle is just a word people use for things they don't understand, or for cases where they were lucky.
posted by mdn at 10:04 AM on November 6, 2002


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