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God save me from ur ppl!
December 9, 2004 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Don't put a restraining order on God the toughest challenge of living in a democracy is to respect the freedom of other people to live according to values that are not your own. Real freedom, however, does not thrive in a moral vacuum (the ardent secularist) or a moral straightjacket (the ardent theocratic). What does my ideal of democracy look like? I can sum it up in a single sentence: A person arrives at faith freely, practices it openly, and uses dialogue with others about their own life path to deepen their understanding. another interesting read from the same webpage: God is not a Republican or a Democrat: the Religious Right does not speak for you. Remind America that Jesus taught us to be peacemakers, advocates for the poor, and defenders of justice.. this article is a little dated, but it is relevant for people who choose to accept Jesus as the Christ but do not want someone's political agenda attached to their belief system.
posted by Hands of Manos (127 comments total)

 
exactly. that's cause God is a libertarian.

rockin' post.
posted by Lisa S at 12:08 PM on December 9, 2004


... a moral vacuum (the ardent secularist)...

Bit of a straw man, that: Truly "ardent" secularists understand that in the absence of religious dicta, moral behavior is more important than ever. There's a difference between "moral vacuum" and not being interested in surrendering the moral ground to religion.
posted by lodurr at 12:08 PM on December 9, 2004


lodurr, I've always been confused with the "straw man" term. I know this puts me at "ditz" status, but can you (or someone) elborate on what that means.

thanks!

Lisa - that's stupid...God would never vote Libertarian...he'd vote for the Green Party!!!

God and Gaia in 08!
i'm kidding, Lisa
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:12 PM on December 9, 2004


and while you're elborating over my statement, could you also E L A B O R A T E

(sorry, I can't spill good!)
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:14 PM on December 9, 2004


straw man is something that is easy to knock apart. A cheap trick used in an arguement, I present my opponents ideas in a simplified fashion that is easy to defeat.

Instead of arguing with secularists on their terms (religion has no place in public life) the blurb claims they are pure moral relatavists (or amoral). This makes more room for the case of a moderate religious presence, since the absence of religious presence is a moral vacuum.
posted by allan at 12:20 PM on December 9, 2004


A straw man is an argumentative fiction - it's like you make up an imaginary person with an extreme viewpoint, and proceed to win an argument with them. This is meant to undermine all arguments that are even a little bit similar to the specious one that you gave to the straw man.
posted by metaculpa at 12:22 PM on December 9, 2004


ah okay. Thanks for the heads up on that.

I still thought it was an interesting read. It is better, at least, than articles such as:

God hates fags
Jesus voted for Bush
God hates everyone in the Southeast
The masterbatory diaries, read by Jack Chick
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:27 PM on December 9, 2004


Hands of Manos: the terms derives from the practice of some atheists to create effigies made of straw and then to burn those effigies in order to frighten the religious into submission. A "straw man" argument is a line of discussion that attempts to bully God-fearing people into forsaking everything they believe.
posted by esquire at 12:33 PM on December 9, 2004


Straw Man
posted by mkultra at 12:35 PM on December 9, 2004


HoM, believe me, if you care as much about your religion as you claim to, then you have nothing to fear from secular people. We're the least of your worries. I mean that in the strongest possible sense.

You need to convince the fundamentalists in your camp to get your God out of government, not the rest of us, who just want to live our lives in peace and are happy that the Constitution is supposed to protect that right.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:46 PM on December 9, 2004


One day, everyone will see God is just a construct of humanity's wish for a moral existance.

Religion would hold no power to wage and incite war, as there is nothing humane in war.

One day, we could all live as one. As it is, leaders use religion to wage war to consolidate power. Democracy is an attempt to wrestle power back into the many, but religion is the stop gag that binds that transfer.

Thus, organized religion is the enemy of God.
posted by orange clock at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2004


esquire is joking, as far as i can tell.

i think it's a great article.

yes, he caricatures the secular position, but that's a different battle that can be fought another day. much more importantly, this argues for a moderate middle ground for christianity - something that (at least from the perspective of this foreigner) needs to be emphasized in america at the moment.

i'm an atheist, but i have no problem at all sharing the world with moderate believers in any faith. it's much more important, in my opinion, to support encourage moderate at the expense of fundamentalism than worry about winning the argument over whether god exists at all.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:48 PM on December 9, 2004


On ardent secularism: There are quite a few attempts to come up with an ethical system that is divorced from the "will of G-d." The only one that I would say succeeds is utilitarianism. I fail to see why I need accept Kantian prima facie values, for example, unless these values derive from some divine will. The "feeling" of right and wrong is an evolutionary response, and while that may make it adaptive or maladaptive, does not make it moral in any objective sense.

Of course, utilitarianism runs counter to intuitive ideas of morality, so I think that it needs to be amended. I suspect the problem lies with the amorphous "utility" as its criterion; I would prefer something like "diversity" instead.

Getting back to the thread, though, I think John Dominic Crossan does a fine job of proving that, historically at least, Jesus was an anarchist so radical he'd make Noam Chomsky blush. Fundamentalist Christianity contradicts the Bible on so many points I can't imagine how they can stand to even read the book.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:49 PM on December 9, 2004


HoM, believe me, if you care as much about your religion as you claim to

Did I make a claim to be a Christian? And what is this "we" "you" crap? (I say this politely and just gaining clarification) I don't want to be put in an "us" camp, nor do I want to be put in a "your" camp either.

I do have beliefs (and strong ones at that), I prefer to not enforce them on people (and I try to highly respect folk's that do not believe the way I do) but I would hope that if you and I sat down at a table together that there would not be any prejudgements on my part.

One day, everyone will see God is just a construct of humanity's wish for a moral existance

Orange: how do you propose this will be executed?

Karl Marx said that religion was an opiate for the people. Why hasn't that stuck? What could be done to make people believe it?

How do you propose we all live as one? (I purposely don't want to live as "one" I want to remain an individual -- which is almost contrary to my first statement to Alex).

I'm not inciting an offensive argument, I'm truly interested in your answers.
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:57 PM on December 9, 2004


Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
Seneca

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814
posted by orange clock at 12:58 PM on December 9, 2004


ooga booga
posted by quonsar at 1:03 PM on December 9, 2004


Did I make a claim to be a Christian?

*sigh* Not in so many words, but your FPP attempts to mount a defense for Christianity despite its political leanings, and your follow-up posts do so as well. If you're not a Christian, you have been taking a Christian stance for the purpose of discussion, and I am posting within that framework.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:04 PM on December 9, 2004


How do you propose we all live as one? (I purposely don't want to live as "one" I want to remain an individual -- which is almost contrary to my first statement to Alex).

In the sense that one day, the Iraqi child just killed by an 18 year old from Nebraska will be worth as much as my father's life. Individuality does not create tiers of human value, at least in terms of the value of life.

However, Christianity, at the center of its dogma, is the valuation of human life. Some will burn forever, some will live in a gold cube for a while, then live on the New Earth forever. It is all dependant on whether or not the individual is one with the religion, and seperate from humanity.
posted by orange clock at 1:07 PM on December 9, 2004


I've found The Ethics of Ambiguity does an excellent job of laying out a secular ethics that both respects the individual and creates space for caring for others without requiring wholehearted acceptance of Kant's arguments. Existenialism: not just for poseurs in berets. More here.
posted by dame at 1:11 PM on December 9, 2004


How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God's decomposition? Gods too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."
Who among you is worthy of inheriting this deed? His blood is on our hands and the hands of our children.
posted by Endymion at 1:12 PM on December 9, 2004


or a moral straightjacket (the ardent theocratic)

to echo lodurr, this is a bit of a strawman too, except that it is rather fashionable on mefi to burn the ardent theocrat directly.

i used to work with a mormon who was one of the most ardent theocrats you will ever meet, and he was also one of the most honest and hard working people i've ever met. a thoroughly decent human being and completely hard line in his moral views. he was also a great jazz fan would go to bars with me to listen to 3 piece sets and never drink, never swear - or complain when i (frequently) did.

he lived according to the rules of his religion and never sought to impose them on me.

the risk is when the ardent theocrat OR the ardent secularist tries to impose their will on the other.

alex reynolds, i really can't agree with your reassuring words to ardent theocrats that ardent secularists "are the least of least of your worries. i mean that in the strongest possible sense." honestly, we (the secularists) are quick to complain when "they" try to force their religion on us, but i think "we" are far less sensitive to the subtle and not so subtle ways in which we force our views on them.

for example, i am not offended by voluntary prayer in school. it's not an affront to me and i realize it is important to the fundies. as a left leaning libertarian i am more uncomfortable with the zealotry that some "ardent secularists" exhibit in banning such activities.

it's a two way street,

excellent post hands of manos.
posted by three blind mice at 1:16 PM on December 9, 2004


Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?

Poetic but meaningless, because faith allows infinite interpretation of the answers provided to these questions, and any one interpretation of said answers becomes just as valid as another. This moral flexibility is only useful for politicians, preachers, and the mentally dim.

It is beautiful writing, but faith does nothing to really answer these meaningful and important questions. Morality does not necessarily equal wide-eyed wonder at the splendor of Santa Claus.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2004


Alex,

That's cool. I just don't want labels strapped to me (because it seems that identification/labels is what defines people now-a-days. for example: "that Hands of Manos is against pr0n because he's a god fearin' xian" --I would hate that).

I have no hang ups with Jesus and his teachings. In fact, they are pretty good things to implement: "don't get caught up in greed," "respect others," "retaliate to bullies with genuine love and respect (even though you could kick the ever-loving-shit out of them)," "don't hate" (but I'm sure that doesn't cover "don't playa hate"), etc.

But if I did claim to be a Christian, I'd rather not have all the bad stigma added to it...rather to say "The man who claimed to be the Messiah had some relevant things to say that I find useful. Since I find these things meaningful I will choose to choose to believe that he is the Christ however I would never, not in a billion years, want to enforce my personal beliefs upon anyone else. I would however fight for the things I do believe in as it would be arrogant & spineless of me not to (ex: that would be like an Athiest saying 'There is a God, but I don't believe in you.'"

But if you must know what I really am this is it:
Chaotic Neutral (until I'm ready to go for a prestige class)
posted by Hands of Manos at 1:22 PM on December 9, 2004


shit...sorry for the bad sentence structure (above)...scratch one of those "but if's" (my father-in-law is an English Prof at a University...he'd have my head if he saw how much bad grammar I was using)
posted by Hands of Manos at 1:23 PM on December 9, 2004


honestly, we (the secularists) are quick to complain when "they" try to force their religion on us, but i think "we" are far less sensitive to the subtle and not so subtle ways in which we force our views on them.

Feel free to document examples of how we force atheism on religious people practicing their faith in religious contexts.

I don't recall any atheists visiting churches and trying to teach evolution, for example.

The opposite, however, is not only done but being codified slowly into law.

"Voluntary" prayer is code for sneaking and legitimizing only certain very specific religious ceremonies into realms that this country's founding principles have determined should remain separate.

Your premise is not something that reflects fact.

Further, it isn't only secularists; anyone who believes in a non-Christian faith has a stake in separation of church and state.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:24 PM on December 9, 2004


three blind mice: I would argue that theocrat implies one who wants to impose his beliefs, as a theocracy is government according to religion. There may be ardent religionists or believers or whatever, and I think that is what you describe.

Besides, "voluntary" prayer in school isn't voluntary. You have to be at school and unless everyone is in their own little cube, others will see if you pray or not. If the majority does, then you have made a situation of peer pressure. In the public arena, that is not acceptable. Secularists don't care what you do privately, and given our pluralism, that is appropriate. Besides, didn't Jeebus make a point of prayer being better in the closet than on the street corner?

Also, I wanted to note that my second link up there is not how I would describe the work; it was just an easily fould summary.
posted by dame at 1:26 PM on December 9, 2004


a moral vacuum (the ardent secularist)

WHAT.

I'm sorry, I can't take any of the rest seriously after reading this.
posted by azazello at 1:28 PM on December 9, 2004


faith does nothing to really answer these meaningful and important questions.

Neither does reason. Reason takes premises and churns out conclusions, conclusions that are as reliable as their premises, but reason cannot provide the first premise in the chain. If it did, you'd be reasoning from other premises to get your "first" premise, meaning that it wasn't really your first premise after all. Something else must provide that first premise, and that something else must be arational.

Relying on empirical evidence doesn't help either. See Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism, 1951. Even within the context of empiricism, most statements more complex than "I see a chair in this room" are indeterminate. To put it another way, given any collection of empirical data, there is almost always an infinite number of consistent interpretive possibilities.

So where, then, will you turn to find the answers you seek?
posted by gd779 at 1:32 PM on December 9, 2004


Besides, didn't Jeebus make a point of prayer being better in the closet than on the street corner?

yep. it's a shame people feel that "prayer has been taken out of schools." My mother used to tell me the story that when they had "mandatory prayer," they would get the boy who could pray the longest so they could catch a nap.

Azazello: sorry you feel that way. I still think it's better than a lot of articles that are written for pro-xian.

*A QUESTION FOR ALL*

If you were all-of-the-sudden a divine being and were infinite and omnipotent...what would you do and how would you do it? (I am actually looking for well thought out answers).
posted by Hands of Manos at 1:37 PM on December 9, 2004


Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.

Nice quote, but I doubt it had the same meaning in 65 AD as people give it today. During Seneca's time, either the Emperor was a god, declared a god after his death, or he was the head of the Roman church. Quite different than simply manipulating a group of people to vote for you.

Face the facts: all (American) political groups manipulate organizations. The Republicans manipulate the Christians and the NRA. The Democrats manipulate the gays and the blacks. There's nothing special about the Christian bloc, other than it is another institution.
posted by sbutler at 1:47 PM on December 9, 2004


Reason takes premises and churns out conclusions, conclusions that are as reliable as their premises, but reason cannot provide the first premise in the chain.

What you are describing is faith, not reason.

Reason takes premises and churns out conclusions, but conclusions are as reliable as the data collected and the inductive interpretations of that data.

Many disagreements are made about the mechanisms of data collection, the empirical data itself, and the interpretations.

But what can be said is that the reasoning must always align itself to the data from the real world. When reasoning does not match the data, the reasoning is rethought and adjusted, or thrown out for something better, not the other way around.

For example, when Newton's equations for the motion of bodies at the speed of light did not match measured data, new theories were proposed until Einstein came up with a theory of relativity, which more accurately describes properties of bodies at those speeds. Newton's equations do not apply to the data, no one uses them for measurements in that realm.

Faith takes the real world and tries to force fit it into the religious view. People's houses get hit by lightning circa-1700s? That's G-d's Will. Sexually active people spread a particular STD? That's G-d's Will. Whatever. In the faith view, it might as well be called anything with a capital letter: "G-d's Will" is as simplistic and meaningful an interpretation as anything else.

I turn to reason to find answers. The process more accurately reflects the real world where it can, and doesn't attempt to make up BS when it can't, but tries to come up with clever and meaningful answers.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:47 PM on December 9, 2004


but it is relevant for people who choose to accept Jesus as the Christ but do not want someone's political agenda attached to their belief system.

Maybe I should be more plain: Christianity is by its very nature a political agenda. There is no other honest perspective that is able to deny this.
posted by orange clock at 1:49 PM on December 9, 2004


alex reynolds: Feel free to document examples of how we force atheism on religious people practicing their faith in religious contexts.

the public sphere is not a "religious context" but religious people share this space with secularists. what i am objecting to is the near total ban on religion in the public sphere demanded by the secularists appears to me as much of an imposition of a religious view as anything else.

an example: the secularists don't want creationism taught in the schools along side evolution because it is a religious belief yet neither can be proved as "fact" and both are plausible explanations. i happen to reject creationism, but neither can i disprove it. as kant observed "the actual proves the possible."

all i am saying is that the strident removal of religion from public life may well be the cause of the backlash from the "religious right" that is occuring now. tolerance and moderation from both sides is perferrable to the pendulum swinging back and forth.

orange clock Christianity is by its very nature a political agenda. and secularism is not?
posted by three blind mice at 1:50 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds, gd779:

I think you might be misreading the quote that Endymion posted. It's hard to read this as an exhortation to faith. Nietzsche, while many things to many people, was not a big advocate of faith ("Faith means not wanting to know what is true."; "A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything."; etc.). If anything, I read The Gay Science as a radically humanist work: I think Nietzsche seeks to deify that which is human. But then again, I don't really understand him.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:51 PM on December 9, 2004


My mother used to tell me the story that when they had "mandatory prayer," they would get the boy who could pray the longest so they could catch a nap.

Perhaps then instead of prayer there should be education. It is a school, after all. Do we now send our kids to school specifically for nap time?
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:51 PM on December 9, 2004


By the way, Endymion, thanks for that. That's one of my favorite passages from Modern philosophy, and it's so rare to see "God is dead" in context.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:54 PM on December 9, 2004


Perhaps then instead of prayer there should be education. It is a school, after all. Do we now send our kids to school specifically for nap time?

you are preaching to the choir, Alex.
posted by Hands of Manos at 1:55 PM on December 9, 2004


both are plausible explanations. i happen to reject creationism, but neither can i disprove it.

I can disprove many of the creationist conclusions ("the Earth is 6000 years old" etc.) because of contradictory evidence (transuranium dating, for one).

Creationism is faith-based -- and from one particular faith, no less -- and has no place in the public sphere.

Evolution is fact-based, rooted in evidence and analytical results collected over two centuries. It has no religious element to it, other than a willingness to accept the real world as it is.

If I'm religious because I believe in the real world being consistent enough to yield repeatability, then I give up on this discussion because every premise we discuss is flawed from the start.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:57 PM on December 9, 2004


Creationism is faith-based -- and from one particular faith, no less -- and has no place in the public sphere.

Evolution is fact-based, rooted in evidence and analytical results collected over two centuries. It has no religious element to it, other than a willingness to accept the real world as it is.


More to the point, evolution is the product of the scientific method, where as creationism is the product of a belief in magic.
posted by orange clock at 2:11 PM on December 9, 2004


Well, Alex, you just admitted, you "believe in the real world being consistent enough to yield repeatability."

Frankly, I marvel at the appearance of rational, even mathematical, principles in nature. After all, mathematics exists solely in the mind, yet we find it everywhere around us (and if you want to dispute the mental nature of mathematics, I challenge you to describe what a "two" tastes like).

To believe that human reason is capable of truly understanding the world around us is a leap of faith--a pretty big one too. Maybe even bigger than believing in invisible superheroes flying around in space.

At its root, theists have a fundamentally different axiom of the world; there is a god, and everything follows from that. When that axiom is accepted, theism is not only understandable, it is amazingly sophisticated and consistent.

At its root, empiricists have a fundamentally different axiom of the world; we can understand and measure the real world. But this is no less a statement of faith than the theist claim; Descartes' evil demon still haunts us. Cognito, ergo sum; we can only truly know that which we experience first-hand, things in our own mind. Our eyes decieve us, we hallucinate, and even our memories are malleable. To make any claim at all about the world beyond ourselves requires some statement of faith. Once we make that axiomatic statement, all else follows. But we shouldn't kid ourselves; one axiom may be more useful than others, but none can be more "correct," since no axiom--by definition--can be proven, only accepted or rejected, on faith.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:25 PM on December 9, 2004


alex reynolds and orange clock you prove my point better than i could myself. you are as dogmatic in your beliefs as the fundies.

orange clock, this is a getting a little OT, but evolution is a theory and one which has many holes in it. the "fact" is that species reproduce. whether or not they evolve is still a subject of debate. the fossil record doesn't support evolution for there is a conspicuous lack of transitory creatures. punctuated equilibrium is a scientfic criticism of evolution, but you appear prepared to force feed evolution to public school students as a fact perhaps because it is in line with your atheistic beliefs. this isn't intellectual curiosity, it is atheisitic dogmatism.

kant believed in god for the simple reason that he could think of no other "rational" explanation for all he observed.

getting back on topic, it seems to me that there is a fair bit of denial going on from the "ardent secularists" that they are not in any way forcing their dogma onto the public sphere. you are quick to point fingers at the fundies, but when the finger is pointed at you, all you do is deny it.

everyone owns the public arena and has a right to try and shape it. i reject atheism as much as i reject christian fundamentalism and for me at least i think we all suffer when the public sphere becomes one, or the other.

great post hands of manos and excellent discussion from everyone.

on preview jefgodesky, zero tastes nothing, one tastes sour, two tastes sweet, and infinity is the creme brule i had last night.
posted by three blind mice at 2:37 PM on December 9, 2004


But we shouldn't kid ourselves; one axiom may be more useful than others, but none can be more "correct," since no axiom--by definition--can be proven, only accepted or rejected, on faith.

You are saying all axioms are equivalent. I am not. Here's why:

Religious people shoehorn data into axioms.

Scientific people try to match up axioms to the data out there.

If the data doesn't match the axiom, the scientist throws out the axiom. The religious throw out the data and keep the axiom.

I suggest that, at its roots, the process used to agree upon the axioms that scientists keep have had more success in answering those questions Nietzsche posed.

Real-world axioms are better than religious axioms, which have not been able to answer those questions reliably.

This is a moral judgement, and one I can make because I wake up everyday and put my feet on the ground, and breath deep the air that I assume will be there in the morning.

The real world is reliable. The supernatural world has no basis in the real world.

Religious people's axioms make claims about the real world based upon suppositions about the supernatural, which are not backed up by the data.

So again, if I am religious because I believe in the real world, then we cannot discuss anything -- everything and anything becomes equally true and has equal utility in your worldview, once you take your argument to its logical conclusion.

Your premise boils down to: When everything is true, nothing (in particular) is true.

Unfortunately, the natural world does not work that way -- the natural world has demonstrated itself to work a mostly consistent way -- so I have to reject your premise.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:37 PM on December 9, 2004


alex reynolds and orange clock you prove my point better than i could myself. you are as dogmatic in your beliefs as the fundies.

My only "dogma" (if you can really call it that) is that I am willing to rewrite my worldview (base of axioms) if the real world changes.

Real fundies do not give themselves that flexibility.

So far the real world has been consistent.

We're all sitting in front of computers moving electrons around, right? Or do you believe there's a Ghost in the Machine?
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2004


"You are completely misunderstanding it," said Father Paissy sternly. "Understand, the Church is not to be transformed into the State. That is Rome and its dream. That is the third temptation of the devil. On the contrary, the State is transformed into the Church, will ascend and become a Church over the whole world -- which is the complete opposite of Ultramontanism and Rome, and your interpretation, and is only the glorious destiny ordained for the Orthodox Church. This star will arise in the east!"

The question is: In a democracy is voting one's beliefs ultramontanism or its opposite?
posted by Endymion at 2:45 PM on December 9, 2004


Secularism is not athestic. All it says is, "Some things are private, like religon and sex. Religon especially, because in a plural society it is the height of rudeness to tell other people they are going to hell or to attempt to force them to live according to beliefs they do not hold." It is protection of the minority by making religion a nonissue in civil business. If Christians were a minorty, they would think secularism was the greatest ever.

Why do people have such trouble with this? Free speech means the government can't shut you down, not that other people have to listen. Secularism says religon does not belong in state business, not that you cannot be religous anywhere. It cannot advocate anything because it is simply a prohibition. Nobody owns the public arena, tbm. That is why it is unacceptable to cordon it off via "your" religon. Because it isn't "yours."
posted by dame at 2:47 PM on December 9, 2004


To believe that human reason is capable of truly understanding the world around us is a leap of faith--a pretty big one too.

To say this you would 1. need to know the limits of "human reason" and 2. know what a "full understanding" of the world around us is. Since I have a feeling you do not know either of these, I cannot agree with your claim, much less accept your statement as valid.

But I am not so literal and I think I know what you're trying to say. And to respond I don't think there is no such thing as a limit to human understanding. We are bound only by the unknown. And by those that do not wish to know. No "leap of faith" necessary, only time and the will to seek truth, no?
posted by orange clock at 2:56 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds: I suggest that, at its roots, the process used to agree upon the axioms that scientists keep have had more success in answering those questions Nietzsche posed.
"It is no different with the faith with which so many materialistic natural scientists rest content nowadays, the faith in a world that is supposed to have its equivalent and its measure in human thought and human valuations - a "world of truth" that we can master completely and forever with the aid of our square little reason. What? Do we really want to permit existence to be degraded for us like this - reduced to a mere exercise for a calculator and an indoor diversion for mathematicians? Above all, one should not wish to divest existence of its rich ambiguity: that is a dictate of good taste, gentlemen, the taste of reverence for everything that lies beyond your horizon. That the only justifiable interpretation of the world should be one in which you are justified because you can continue to work and do research scientifically in your sense (you really mean, mechanistically?) - an interpretation that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing, and touching, and nothing more - that is crudity and naivete, assuming it is not a mental illness, an idiocy. "(335)
posted by Endymion at 2:59 PM on December 9, 2004


If you were all-of-the-sudden a divine being and were infinite and omnipotent...what would you do and how would you do it? (I am actually looking for well thought out answers).

Well I suppose I would start out with a bit of the old hedonism... lots of pretty lights, music, sex. Once I started feeling some of that Protestant guilt, I imagine I'd go on the productivity trip, building skyscrapers that defy gravity, writing music with any instrument (i also have infinite talent), and so on and so on. I'd probably get tired of that, too, and switch back to hedonism eventually.

The cycle would probably continue for God knows how long until eventually I just got tired of it all, threw up my hands and said "fuck all this power, I hate being omnipotent, I never asked for this, I take it all back." At that point I would probably fall asleep, and have omnipotent infinite dreams in which I could forget myself more and more until I've completely lost myself and now I'm just the world, the whole world in all its glorious splendor and squalor, its breathtaking hierarchy of chaos upon order upon chaos upon order, stars swirling out of nebula, planets whizzing past one another, atoms fusing, molecules swirling into cells, cells into tissue, until after eons and eons and eons I'm finally sitting here at my computer typing a reply to a post on MetaFilter.
posted by Laugh_track at 3:12 PM on December 9, 2004


orange clock, this is a getting a little OT, but evolution is a theory

I agree and I don't mean to threadjack. But what I am saying is this:

The Scientific Method: "Here are the facts. What conclusions can we draw from them?
The Creationist Method: Here's the conclusion. What facts can we find to support it?


There is a sustainable methodology in producing theories from facts. In other words, it is a system to obtain truth. Collecting data or facts is science, and the theories from known data just steer the fact finders to more facts or better data. We scan the sky for radio waves, but we look in certain places more than others because theories from facts give us direction.

However, padding a belief with facts will never be sustainable, because like heliocentrism, it will always collapse under the weight of truth, which comes in the form of facts, which align to no belief.
posted by orange clock at 3:12 PM on December 9, 2004


Terracentrism, I mean, not heliocentrism.
posted by orange clock at 3:16 PM on December 9, 2004


well said dame. please i don't want to defend the fundies. don't get me wrong. i lived 10 years in georgia and if i never hear the word "saved" again it will be too soon.

but it seems to me that secularism can be as bad by never allowing me to hear the word "faith" in the public arena except when condeming it. how is this not forcing a belief onto others? because it's science? please.

jefgodesky's excellent comment sums it up very well. science is as much "faith" based as faith is. it is built on axiomatic mathematics which are nothing more than facts agreed upon. if you reject the notion that 1 + 1 always equals 2 it all falls apart.

it seems to me as unacceptable to cordon off the public arena via a religion as to cordon it off from all religion. to me one dogma is as corrupt as the other.

orange clock: And to respond I don't think there is no such thing as a limit to human understanding.

our ability to perceive the world around us is limited by our senses as interpreted by our intellect. it is the height of hubris to imagine we can possibly understand that which our senses cannot perceive and that which our simple minds cannot process. this is the problem i have with fundamentalists, it is absurd to imagine that creations of god can understand god.

very enjoyable discussion. thank you everyone. the pubs are closing and so am i. cheers.

on preview laugh_track, i would do nothing at all - just to see if my self-control was the stronger kung-fu.
posted by three blind mice at 3:16 PM on December 9, 2004


our ability to perceive the world around us is limited by our senses as interpreted by our intellect. it is the height of hubris to imagine we can possibly understand that which our senses cannot perceive

I think technology will translate these things to our senses, as it does with atoms and stars.
posted by orange clock at 3:19 PM on December 9, 2004


our ability to perceive the world around us is limited by our senses as interpreted by our intellect. it is the height of hubris to imagine we can possibly understand that which our senses cannot perceive

Stay away from magnets.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:20 PM on December 9, 2004


science is as much "faith" based as faith is.

This is just it. They are not the same.

Science is a method to obtain a conclusion. Faith is a conclusion.
posted by orange clock at 3:24 PM on December 9, 2004


Science is a method to obtain a conclusion. Faith is a conclusion.

Theology, like Science, is a method to obtain a conclusion. Both theology and science rest on opposing faith committments, and the conclusions that are drawn from those differing committments flow with equal logic or illogic. You need to read this article, in which Professor Fish of Duke University uses Milton to explain the limits of reason.

AlexReynolds:

Can you define "data" or "fact" for me? What, would you say, constitutes "evidence"? For example, say that a Christian "feels" the existence of God spiritually - is this, to him or her, valid evidence? If not, why not? Note that I'm not asking you to evaluate any conclusions that might be drawn from this evidence, merely to lay down explicitly your criteria for what things count as data to be interpreted, what things don't, and how you're going to assign a weight to each piece of data?

Second, say you have two points, A and B. How many valid lines can be drawn between points A and B, in order to explain their mutual existence and relationship?

The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be redistributed over some of our statements. Re-evaluation of some statements entails re-evaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections -- the logical laws being in turn simply certain further statements of the system, certain further elements of the field. Having re-evaluated one statement we must re-evaluate some others, whether they be statements logically connected with the first or whether they be the statements of logical connections themselves. But the total field is so undetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to re-evaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.

If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement -- especially if it be a statement at all remote from the experiential periphery of the field. Furthermore it becomes folly to seek a boundary between synthetic statements, which hold contingently on experience, and analytic statements which hold come what may. Any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system. Even a statement very close to the periphery can be held true in the face of recalcitrant experience by pleading hallucination or by amending certain statements of the kind called logical laws. Conversely, by the same token, no statement is immune to revision. Revision even of the logical law of the excluded middle has been proposed as a means of simplifying quantum mechanics; and what difference is there in principle between such a shift and the shift whereby Kepler superseded Ptolemy, or Einstein Newton, or Darwin Aristotle?...

Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries -- not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer....

Total science, mathematical and natural and human, is similarly but more extremely underdetermined by experience. The edge of the system must be kept squared with experience; the rest, with all its elaborate myths or fictions, has as its objective the simplicity of laws.... this difference is only one of degree, and that it turns upon our vaguely pragmatic inclination to adjust one strand of the fabric of science rather than another in accommodating some particular recalcitrant experience.... Each man is given a scientific heritage plus a continuing barrage of sensory stimulation; and the considerations which guide him in warping his scientific heritage to fit his continuing sensory promptings are, where rational, pragmatic.

posted by gd779 at 3:42 PM on December 9, 2004


if you reject the notion that 1 + 1 always equals 2 it all falls apart.

I'm genuinely curious: What would lead you to reject that notion? I ask because this subject (building sets from induction) is pretty basic graduate mathematics stuff, and a lot of technology -- computers in particular -- is based upon the reliabilty of that process. Even moneychangers and TV Christian evangelists agree upon the benefits of believing in $1 + $1 = $2.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:44 PM on December 9, 2004


I'd have to defend the moral vacuum/ardent secularist remark. Any attempt to construct a morality in the absence of a divine essence is a waste of time. There is no way around this. The term "moral relativist" has gotten a bad rap lately--this is too bad.

The author of this article is just dishonest. Statements like "For most secularists, it does not matter. Any teaching about religion in history or contemporary life is akin to "indoctrination" are clearly untrue. No secularist would ever complain about religion in history--considering what an enormous role religion has played in history the very notion is stupid.

The author is trying to draw a (false) equivalence between two "extremes"--religious conservatives and secularists. He doesn't come out and say it but it's clear he has fallen for the silly old notion that atheism is a religion.

(three blind mice seems to have fallen for this too with his equating of evolution and creationism as competing "theories").

The author has also (deliberately) misconstrued the issue here. The issue is not "freedom of religion." Secularists, by definition, are willing to tolerate all religions that don't intrude on the political sphere. The solution is not "tolerance" or "compromise." The conflict here comes from legitimacy. What religious conservatives want more than anything is for the government to legitimize their religion. For the secularist--and pretty much everybody else--such an event would be completely unacceptable.
posted by nixerman at 3:44 PM on December 9, 2004


orange clock: Science is a method to obtain a conclusion. Faith is a conclusion.

You seem to be missing the point that there are systems built atop these axioms. Faith and science are not in the same category. Science and theology are. Faith is simply what gets you to the point at which one can begin reasoning. Science can't provide its own axioms. Your conception of science seems to be some sort of celestial light that can shine even upon itself in order to drive away the darkness of ignorance. Don't confuse the principle of falsification with even-handed objectivity about first principles. The first principles of science are not subject to the standard of falsification and are not scientific.

Laugh_track: When I first heard Alan Watts say that it blew my mind.

orange clock: To say this you would 1. need to know the limits of "human reason" and 2. know what a "full understanding" of the world around us is. Since I have a feeling you do not know either of these, I cannot agree with your claim, much less accept your statement as valid.

I know both those things but I can't prove them because they are unreasonable. If I could prove them then they wouldn't be the limits of reason would they. They are plenty of examples of the limits of Reason. Any paradox will suffice but my personal favorite is:

The following statement is false.
The preceding statement is true.

Godel formalized the study of paradoxes within his field and showed that "No consistent system can be used to prove its own consistency."

But according to rational principles even one exception is sufficient to disprove a theory.
posted by Endymion at 3:50 PM on December 9, 2004


I think Endymion has the right idea, relying on Godel. Perhaps Alex Reynolds and orange clock will be better persuaded if the argument that Endymion and I are making is supported by sources that they will respect.

So:

"There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination"

-- Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995.

"Science is not knowledge: it can never claim to have attained truth, or even a substitute for it, such as probability... We do not know, we can only guess. And our guesses are guided by the unscientific, the metaphysical (though biologically explicable) faith in laws which we can only uncover-discover. Like Bacon, we might describe our own contemporary science... as consisting of 'anticipations, rash and premature' and as 'prejudices'.

-- Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, p. 278.
posted by gd779 at 4:00 PM on December 9, 2004


orange clock, this is a getting a little OT, but evolution is a theory and one which has many holes in it. the "fact" is that species reproduce. whether or not they evolve is still a subject of debate.

*sigh*

At its simplest, evolution is a tautology. "If something has something that lets it reproduce more, it will reproduce more." That's all evolution is. Even if G-d snapped everything into existence just 5,000 years ago, then everything has been evolving for 5,000 years. To say otherwise really just shows a distinct lack of understanding of what evolution is.

Evolution is "just a theory" in the sense that "2+2 = 4" is "just a theory." There's no reasonable objection left; only irrational reactions, and misunderstandings of what the word means.

punctuated equilibrium is a scientfic criticism of evolution

It's really not; punctuated equilibrium is, I think, almost certainly true. It's an elaboration on evolution; to call it a criticism of evolution is to call the bicameral system a criticism of federalism.

If the data doesn't match the axiom, the scientist throws out the axiom. The religious throw out the data and keep the axiom.

No, scientists throw out data points and theories that differ from their observations, not their axioms. Axioms cannot be proven true or false; that's what makes them axioms. You can no more disprove an axiom than you can break something unbreakable. If it's falsifiable, it's not an axiom. The scientific axiom is the scientific process itself; the idea that our senses can reliably give us measurements and data about the real world, and that reason is capable of understanding that data and forming it into an understanding of the world that might one day resemble reality. There is nothing in that idea that can be proven true or false. We cannot prove that our senses give us reliable information, as any check on our senses would also require our senses. Neither can we prove that our senses don't reliably tell us about the world around us. We cannot prove that reason is sufficient to understand the world, because we can never know the limits of human reason, or what "understanding the world" fully entails. Neither can we ever prove that reason is insufficient to the task.

I happen to believe the scientific axiom. It just makes more sense to me. But I do recognize that it is a belief, not a proven fact. This makes me much more understanding of the religious point of view. That's really what I'm trying to communicate. Neither side can ever prove itself right, or the other wrong, but our insistence on attempting that impossible feat keeps us from ever being able to communicate with one another. Humans can think both logically and mythopaeically; I think we're at our best when we use both. (For a fine example, see Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz)

Your premise boils down to: When everything is true, nothing (in particular) is true.

Unfortunately, the natural world does not work that way -- the natural world has demonstrated itself to work a mostly consistent way -- so I have to reject your premise.


No, my premise is that the fundamental axioms cannot be proven or disproven, and thus, cannot be taken as more or less true than any other. We do not know if the natural world is consistent or not; we only know that your sensory experiences of the natural world are consistent. Whether or not that has any relationship whatsoever to the actual natural world is, well, a matter of faith, isn't it?

To say this you would 1. need to know the limits of "human reason" and 2. know what a "full understanding" of the world around us is. Since I have a feeling you do not know either of these, I cannot agree with your claim, much less accept your statement as valid.

But neither do you know these things. I'm not claiming that reason is insufficient to understand the world; if I were, you'd have a point. I'm saying you can't prove it one way or the other. Or are you claiming to know both of those points, to be able to prove that reason is enough?
posted by jefgodesky at 4:01 PM on December 9, 2004


Can you define "data" or "fact" for me?

I think this misunderstanding gets to the heart about the confusion suffered the faith=science crowd.

Data is information about the real world from sensory information that we all agree upon. Facts are conclusions drawn from data we all agree upon, conclusions that are true whether we choose to believe it them or not.

I have to accept my body needs oxygen, whether I choose to breathe or not. Either that, or I die and cease to exist.

Premise: my body needs intake of whatever fluid (air) I'm embodied in.

Observation 1: if my body is not in that fluid (I'm underwater), I will eventually pass out.

Observation 2: if other bodies with the same physiology are not in this fluid, they pass out and die.

Observation 3: if my body is in that fluid and the fluid is removed (the air is sucked out of the room) I will pass out

Conclusion: my body needs something constituent in the fluid I am in, in order to not pass out and die.

With enough repeated observations, and with other similarly designed experiments, I strengthen the conclusion to fact.

I "believe" in data because I will die if I do not. It has been demonstrated that people who do not believe in the observations above will die 100% of the time (so far).

I choose not to be that foolish, and take it as axiomatic that the real world is the real world, and behaves consistently in relation to itself, yielding a pool of statistically consistent observations.

Those observations lead to inductive conclusions of a level of certainty that has enabled the human race as a whole to prosper in the same real world, despite some of its constituents' irrational beliefs in metaphysical nonsense.

Some axioms are better than others.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:01 PM on December 9, 2004


gd779, what is your point? The validity of science and religion, as mechanisms necessary "to reach a conclusion", is irrelevant. Imagine a world where science failed to explain the world--would this change anything at all? Are you trying to imply that science is another kind of religion? Is this the reason for all your talk of the scientific "faith" in its "first axioms"?

BTW, you should think carefully about the value of science. Nobody does science in order to live in the world. Nobody lives their live in accordance with "scientific principles." Heck, what does "scientific principles" even mean?
posted by nixerman at 4:02 PM on December 9, 2004


We do not know if the natural world is consistent or not; we only know that your sensory experiences of the natural world are consistent. Whether or not that has any relationship whatsoever to the actual natural world is, well, a matter of faith, isn't it?

Except that before I was born, the same experiments of sensory evidence used to confirm Newton's laws (for example) are as useful today, now, when I am alive, as when they were first written down. Consistency -- repeatability -- among multiple observers is a hallmark of the power of an axiom.

We base entire legal systems and the legitimacy of journalism around the power of evidence from multiple sources.

Not all axioms are equal.

To say all axioms are equal denies the possibility of ascribing meaning to any one axiom. This denies the power of an axiom to describe the world in any meaningful way. We may as well babble like babies, otherwise.

Some axioms are better than others.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:10 PM on December 9, 2004


Don't confuse Gödel's proof with the real world. The real world is independent of the language we use to describe it. The language (mathematics) is a codification that works, but can be shown to be inconsistent within its own axiomatic constituency. This makes no statement about the real world, only about the language we use to describe it. So we invent (and have invented, many times) better, more intrinsically consistent languages to describe the world.

The "my next statement is false/my previous statement is true" paradox says nothing -- attempts to say nothing -- about the real world, and only points out the binary failings of our language. Fuzzy logic is one mathematical construct that attempts to work out "partial" truths in logic chains, and has demonstrated utility in many real world applications. Do you believe in imaginary numbers as useful for buying soda from a vending machine? Can you picture driving a car made out of a four-dimensional hypercube?

Not many people can, but these are useful mathematical constructs for describing the real world behavior of certain specific phenomena.

Some axioms are better than others.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:20 PM on December 9, 2004


Some days I think mathematicians and particle physicists are the only true philosophers left, in the original Renaissance sense of the word.
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:23 PM on December 9, 2004


The scientific axiom is the scientific process itself; the idea that our senses can reliably give us measurements and data about the real world, and that reason is capable of understanding that data and forming it into an understanding of the world that might one day resemble reality.

This may be true in principle, but it is not true of Alex Reynolds and orange clock, who adhere to a worldview called "scientism". It's a common mistake for non-scientists to make.

You'll note that Alex Reynolds ignored my questions. He's avoiding the issue, refusing to define what rules he uses to determine what constitutes "evidence".

When analyzing an issue, you can always make the conclusion come out any way you want by properly determining that some things a priori constitute evidence and some things don't. That's the whole ballgame. Alex Reynolds wants to sneak his philosophy (probably materialism) in under the wire, and he does that by studiously refusing to precisely examine the foundations of his beliefs. He also does it by remaining ignorant of the nature and limits of induction, but that's another discussion entirely.

nixerman: my point is that the vast majority of what we think we "know", we don't actually know.

The difference between a believer and a nonbeliever is not that one reasons and the other doesn't, but that one reasons from a first premise the other denies; and from this difference flow others that make the fact that both are reasoning a sign not of commonality but of its absence.

If, as Neuhaus says, a secularist liberal and a committed Christian recognize and deploy the same "rules of reason, evidence, and critical judgment," sooner or later they will disagree about whether something is or is not evidence or about what it is evidence of, and such disagreements cannot be resolved by the rules of reason because the rules of reason unfold in relation to a proposition they do not generate. That proposition-God exists or he doesn't, Christ is the word made flesh or he isn't, human nature is perfectible or it isn't-is an article of faith, and while two persons proceeding within opposing faiths might perform identical operations of logical entailment, they will end up in completely different places because it is from different (substantive) places that they began.

Does this mean, as Neuhaus asks, that the central beliefs of Christianity cannot be falsified? No, it means that the central beliefs of Christianity cannot be falsified (or even strongly challenged) by evidence that would not be seen as evidence by those who hold the beliefs. If you tell a believer that no one can walk on water or rise from the dead or feed five thousand with two fishes and five loaves, he will tell you (in the mode of Tertullian) that the impossibility of those actions for mere men is what makes their performance so powerful a sign of divinity. For one party the reasoning is, "No man can do it and therefore he didn't do it"; for the other the reasoning is, "Since no man could do it, he who did it is more than man." For one party falsification follows from the absence of any rational account of how the purported phenomena could have occurred; for the other the absence of a rational explanation is just the point, one that, far from challenging the faith, confirms it.

When Neuhaus declares that essential Christian truth claims would be in very deep trouble "were a corpse to be identified beyond reasonable doubt as that of Jesus of Nazareth," it depends on what he means by "reasonable doubt." If he means the kind of doubt an empirically minded nonbeliever might have, then the doubt is a foregone conclusion since it is implicit in the way he (already) thinks. "A virgin birth? A God incarnate? A dead God who rises again? Come on! Give me a break!"


Science and faith are not in conflict. But Scientism and religious faith are; they're opposing faith systems. The soul exists or the mind is reducible to the body. Spiritual experiences can count as evidence or they cannot. Miracles are a priori ridiculous or they are conceivable. From these different articles of faith flow all the differences of "fact".

Faith is utterly inescapable, unless you're a complete philosophical skeptic. And though people tend to get defensive and even angry when you challenge them to justify their most basic faith commitments, the truth is that we all have them and should recognize them. Because, if we don't, we fall into the mistake of scientism, and we start to believe that our conclusions are more reliable than they actually are.

I believe in nothing but clarity and accuracy, in other words.
posted by gd779 at 4:29 PM on December 9, 2004


Some days I think mathematicians and particle physicists are the only true philosophers left, in the original Renaissance sense of the word.

That's an ironic statement, because you continue to use the word "axiom" in a way that a mathematician would find unintelligible.
posted by gd779 at 4:30 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds: You took my statement completely out of context. I was merely providing and example of the limits of reason. I never said that formalized mathematics has anything to do with the natural world. As to such trivial matters being a mere result of language I'd quote Karl Popper, father of the science of philosophy "You shouldn't threaten visiting lecturers with pokers." But the entire point of Godel was that such matters are not simply a flaw of language but are intrinsic to the very nature of the system. I don't see how you can bridge such disparate ideas in a mere sentence.

Some axioms are better than others.

What heuristic do you use to measure "better" and does this system itself has axioms or did it spring forth fully formed like Athena.
posted by Endymion at 4:34 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds, your argument does no service to science. The idea that some axioms are "better" than others--that we should prefer some axioms while rejecting others--is completely irrational. You are, in my opinion, little better than many religious conservatives. You use hide behind science the way they hide behind God. You use science just as a means to prop up your morality (your little notions of what's "good" and "bad").
posted by nixerman at 4:34 PM on December 9, 2004


Are you trying to imply that science is another kind of religion? Is this the reason for all your talk of the scientific "faith" in its "first axioms"?

I think his point is more than science and religion are both kinds of something else - discourse communities or paradigms. Science is incredibly dogmatic, as AlexReynolds and orange clock have demonstrated better than any argument could - but this isn't a bad thing. As Thomas Kuhn pointed out, such dogmatism is a necessity - it allows scientists to assume certain givens long enough to perform experiments about them.

If I had a nickel for every scientific method fundamentalist whose most passionate concern was how awful religious fundies are, well, I'd have heavy pockets at the very least.

Speaking of that, why hasn't five fresh fish attacked this thread yet?
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:35 PM on December 9, 2004


eustacescrubb is right about my point. I seem to be strikingly inarticulate (not to mention unnecessarily longwinded) today, perhaps because I'm distracted. So just read his post, directly above this one.

It should also be mentioned that my view of science used to be somewhat similar to Alex Reynolds'. It took a couple of years of hard work, putting my arguments down on paper and examining my own assumptions, to turn me around.
posted by gd779 at 4:45 PM on December 9, 2004


eustacescrubb, calling science dogmatic reveals a very fundamental misunderstanding of what science is. The very phrase "scientific dogma" is nonsense. It doesn't mean anything.

As I often encourage other people, imagine if science failed to predict the future. In this case it'd be obvious that it's nothing but a method. Something that the more curious among us do to pass the time.
posted by nixerman at 4:51 PM on December 9, 2004


nixerman: The validity of science and religion, as mechanisms necessary "to reach a conclusion", is irrelevant. Imagine a world where science failed to explain the world--would this change anything at all? Are you trying to imply that science is another kind of religion? Is this the reason for all your talk of the scientific "faith" in its "first axioms"?

That I think is a crucial issue. Science is very good at explaining the things within its domain. It is also very consistent. Theology on the other hand is becoming increasingly diluted by fundamentalist literalism. Such simplistic theology is rife with contradictions and inconsistences. Theology for most people is no longer a valid explanation of the world as it is. Too many churchmen quibble over scientific matters when there is no need to do so. A well developed theology would easily subsume science in its entirety. They are on the defensive against science, and a defensive person is someone who thinks he is losing. The God of the Gaps may slip through the same. Meanwhile they have deserted their bastions in morality and spiritual salvation not to mention the poetics of which they were once masters. I think too many of these churchmen have been storing up their treasure in this world rather than the next.
posted by Endymion at 4:53 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds: "Some days I think mathematicians and particle physicists are the only true philosophers left, in the original Renaissance sense of the word."

So "philosophy" is just a Renaissance word now? What about people who talked about "philosophy" for the, oh, two thousand years before that?

A further question: you say that "not all axioms are equal." Agreed. You also seem to think that, on the basis of science, we can proceed to judge among them. Now, while I can see that observation and experiment can decide some issues, and shed light where such repetition is possible and helpful, what about the situations in which you can't observe and experiment? And I'm not even pointing to the obvious ones that everybody spends all their time on, like the existence of G-d; sure, we can't test it, and we can't observe it, so we can't know it scientifically, but I'm sure you don't care.

No, I'm thinking about, for example, this axiom: "observation and experiment will lead to a better understanding of the nature of the universe." Or, if you don't really mind one way or the other on that one, try: "observation and experiment will lead to practical ways of living." How can you draw conclusions by observing and experimenting about the very nature of observing and experimenting-- before you know its worth?

Science is only a product of philosophy, and it remains in need of the grounding that philosophy provides. The alternative is a world where we can't assert anything. I might not mind that world; but I have a feeling scientists would.

That bit of Nietzsche that Endymion quoted is worth a lot, by the way; you should read it again. Better yet, read a lot of Nietzsche-- he's bad taken out of context, and he's the best authority on the place of science in the modern world. Hell, he was its biggest champion and most violent opponent.
posted by koeselitz at 4:56 PM on December 9, 2004


Heck, what does "scientific principles" even mean?

I missed this question the first time through, sorry.

Within the context of scientism, the philosophical presuppositions (which is what I assume you mean by "scientific principles) generally include materialism, the a priori impossibility of miracles, the nonadmissibility of "spiritual" evidence (evidence of this type won't even be considered), the non-existence of the supernatural, the importation of humanistic values, etc. Naturally, the precise presuppositions can vary from person to person, and generally they remain entirely unexamined and implicit, so it can be tricky to get someone to nail them down at first.

imagine if science failed to predict the future. In this case it'd be obvious that it's nothing but a method.

Wait. What do you mean? Science routinely fails to predict the future results of experiments (see, e.g., the inability to reconcile relativity and quantum mechanics), but I'm sure that's not what you meant.
posted by gd779 at 5:00 PM on December 9, 2004


endymion: that last bit won my contact.
posted by koeselitz at 5:02 PM on December 9, 2004


That's an ironic statement, because you continue to use the word "axiom" in a way that a mathematician would find unintelligible.

The real irony is that the concept of an axiom has been corrupted to prop up supernatural beliefs.

Okay, I'll try again, so here goes:

Axioms are root assumptions upon which systems of proofs are built. Proofs are used to describe real world phenomena.

Some axioms are better than others, because some axioms yield proofs that can be used to describe real world phenomena, and others can yield entirely different sets of instrinsically consistent proofs that have shown to yield certain consequences, like belief in supernatural beings.

Axiom A: 0 and 1 exist.

Axiom B: God exists.

So I'll ask: Which axiom is more useful for building a computer, for example? A or B? Since we're all sitting in front of one, I think that would be a one reasonable measurement for utility.

Feel free to accept all axioms as equal, which I suppose they are in some rhetorically meaningless sense, but the conclusions reached from all axioms are not always consistent with how the real world works.

While I can't show that Axiom A (or similar) can disprove Axiom B, a lot can be done with Axiom A and similar to describe the real world, that does not require Axiom B.

I prefer to have as few, consistent systems as possible. Axiom B is not required in the real world. In fact, Axiom B often conflicts with the real world (there has been no demonstration of parthenogenesis, for example). So what requires the addition of Axiom B's unnecessary and contradictory complexity?
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:04 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds:

Just to be clear, the observations are the facts, the conclusions are the hypotheses and the conclusions supported by overwhelming data are the theories. That one dies when submersed in water for a long period is a theory not a fact. That Joe Blow died after he was submersed in water for a long period is a fact. As everyone has noted, that fact relies on your capability of observing the world accurately (not something to put much faith in given the well known divergence of eye-witness accounts).

BTW: Great thread, Endymion and jefgodesky's comments were exceptional.
posted by spaceviking at 5:05 PM on December 9, 2004


As everyone has noted, that fact relies on your capability of observing the world accurately (not something to put much faith in given the well known divergence of eye-witness accounts).

Measure twice, cut once.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:07 PM on December 9, 2004


When analyzing an issue, you can always make the conclusion come out any way you want by properly determining that some things a priori constitute evidence and some things don't. That's the whole ballgame. Alex Reynolds wants to sneak his philosophy (probably materialism) in under the wire, and he does that by studiously refusing to precisely examine the foundations of his beliefs. He also does it by remaining ignorant of the nature and limits of induction, but that's another discussion entirely.

I'd like to know what "foundations" he is refusing. And science, again, is not a belief.

Faith is utterly inescapable, unless you're a complete philosophical skeptic.

This is another wild statement. I realize that the possibility of living outside the idea of Faith would mean it is possible for religion to be useless to an individual. You can never accept this, so you keep dragging Faith into everything.

There is no Faith in the stars, no Faith in love. There is only a planet full of people, held together by each other.
posted by orange clock at 5:12 PM on December 9, 2004


This may be true in principle, but it is not true of Alex Reynolds and orange clock, who adhere to a worldview called "scientism". It's a common mistake for non-scientists to make.

Non-scientist? Scientism? You mean I've been getting a paycheck all these years and I didn't need my degrees? Where were you ten years ago?

You'll note that Alex Reynolds ignored my questions. He's avoiding the issue, refusing to define what rules he uses to determine what constitutes "evidence".

Don't confuse disagreement with not getting an answer. Evidence: observations collected from the real world, as applied to determine the truth or not-truth of a premise.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:20 PM on December 9, 2004


Why cant people be relaxed about their religion like this guy?

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rd=1&item=3768164215
posted by iamgood at 5:21 PM on December 9, 2004


I realize that the possibility of living outside the idea of Faith would mean it is possible for religion to be useless to an individual. You can never accept this, so you keep dragging Faith into everything.

Let's clear this up right now. I am not religious. At all.

Is this the reason for all your talk of the scientific "faith" in its "first axioms"?

My point is that, to be true, a proposition (any proposition, scientific or otherwise) requires support. This support must take the form of another proposition (or more than one, taken together). But these propositions also require support. And down and down and down it goes - sooner or later, you must either A) accept on faith that the chain is infinite, and it is turtles all the way down or B) accept on faith a "first axiom" or C) accept that nothing can ever be proven.

Evidence is only evidence, in other words, because it is asserted in the form of a proposition that is known to be true. How do we know it to be true? More evidence, also taking the form of propositions. How do we know those propositions to be true? More evidence. It can't keep going on forever.

This makes empiricism seem very attractive, because it seems like you can accept one basic axiom (my senses truly represent the world) and proceed with certainty from there. But, as I have tried (inadquetly, because I am tired and busy) to show, that is not nearly enough, because there are questions of the "rules of evidence" to be determined; e.g., What counts as evidence? are spiritual senses as reliable as sight? Given multiple competing interpretations of the data, how should we choose between them? That sort of thing. Which leads into my second, practical, point, which is that empirical questions are indeterminate, because there are almost always ways adjust your "web" of propositions to fit something that you want to believe while remaining consistent with sense data. It's a house of cards.

I prefer to have as few, consistent systems as possible.

Alex Reynolds: This is good, we've turned up part of one of your hidden assumptions. Let's examine it.

Say that point A and point B represent sense data. I represent reality. I draw three different lines between points A and B - each line represents reality as it might or might not B. Because I alone represent reality, I am the only one that knows which reality is "real".

The first line goes straight from A to B. The second line goes from A up, then down to B. The third line goes from A down to B. You prefer simple systems, so you would choose the straight line. Does your preference for simple systems help you in any way to determine which line accurately reflects reality?

Now let's say that we add point C, which is above points A and B. Some people see point C, and they believe that the line that goes up to C before hitting B accurately reflects reality. Other people do not see point C, and they choose one of the other lines. You are now an impartial observer, and you cannot see any of the points. How do you arbitrate between the different people - how do you decide which line accurately reflects reality?

I hope you can see that 1) you, through your unjustifiable philosophical presuppositions, are refusing to consider some "pont C's". This is okay, everyone does it, but you need to realize that it's logically arbitrary. 2) regardless, even if point C does not exist, your preference for simplicity does not reflect reality - it merely reflects your emotional preferences.
posted by gd779 at 5:22 PM on December 9, 2004


Evidence: observations collected from the real world, as applied to determine the truth or not-truth of a premise

What, precisely, is the "real world"? For example, may spiritual intuitions be considered as evidence? Why or why not?

How, precisely, do you determine whether or not a statement is "true"?
posted by gd779 at 5:25 PM on December 9, 2004


I've always been fascinated by religion, and have had what I would describe as "religious feelings" since childhood. I did a double major in English Lit and Religious Studies for my undergrad (which has yet to be completed). I used to think that atheists were often just as obnoxious as fundamentalists, too. “Great, you don’t believe in God, just shut up about it!” But as I've gotten older, I've grown much more sympathetic to the atheist point of view. Atheists believe only in what can be proven empirically, and I can't argue with that. It seems a completely honest and sensible way to live one’s life.

Science and religion are similar for many people because most people aren't trained in the hard sciences. People depend on scientists to tell them how the universe works in much the same way that they depend on priests to tell them how the universe works.

The difference, of course, is that anyone can become a scientist and test the theories and hypotheses for themselves.

Count me as an ardent secularist. Unless you want to live in theocracy (and you don’t really, do you?), there's no room for religion in the public sphere. There are too many religions. There simply isn't time include all the creation myths of the world in a biology class, and if you're going to teach one, you've got to teach them all.

It’s always so disheartening to hear people of faith in the US complain about atheists/liberals who want to take “In God We Trust” off the money and “under god” from the pledge of allegiance.

Politics and money cheapen religion. They destroy it and make what is beautiful and important about it meaningless. My religious feelings, whether they come from sitting in a cathedral or admiring an anthill, are personal--like anyone's. I usually have no problem with Christians. I just wish they could keep Jesus in their hearts, where he belongs.

Religion: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.
posted by apis mellifera at 5:25 PM on December 9, 2004


gd779, no, sorry, I'd have to degree with your entire list of "scientific principles." I'm not sure what you mean by "scientism," (I suppose it must be your word for people like AlexReynolds--I'd just call them "dishonest"), but it is certainly not science. Most importantly, science has absolutely nothing to say about the so-called "supernatural." (And it's ok to just say "God" instead of using codewords like "supernatural.") There are no scientific principles. There is no way you can live your life "in accordance with science."

BTW, Endymion, I'd have to disagree with you also. Since the dawn of science, religious thinkers have wanted nothing more than to set their beliefs on a scientific/rational basis. Witness all those charming proofs for the existence of God that emerged during the Middle Ages. This is not a new thing invented by recent fundamentlists. Modern religious conservatives want nothing more than to set their proofs on a "scientific" basis. You should think about the psychological motive here... This is not simply a question of "theology" vs "science."

(BTW, I still maintain this whole idea of pitting theology vs science as two ways of understanding the world is nonsense. Neither science nor theology are interested in understanding the world. This is why scientists and theologians like so much to speak of universal "laws" and "truths" that transcend all worldly bonds. Scientists, at least, have the sense to be ashamed when this happens.)
posted by nixerman at 5:29 PM on December 9, 2004


nixerman: As I often encourage other people, imagine if science failed to predict the future.

I find it fascinating that God became so Hellenized that modern people think he must be a science unto himself. That he must behave in a consistent and logical manner seems to be the prevailing impression of the divine. People want in God a second science. They have become used to predicting the future and want explicit results. He has become a platonic idea with a will. People long pervaded by the immediate gratification of science now demand that their divinity serve them. They no longer tolerate causes without effects. However in the literature of the Old Testament the semitic God was very much a cause onto himself and behaved in a quite capricious manner. The people might be inexplicably stricken and the onus was on them to discover in what way they had offended God. He would prop up their enemies and ransack Israel. He wasn't wholly irrational, he was simply not mechanistic, one could not input a moral stimuli and receive either a boon or a smite. To quote the man Himself "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. "

koeselitz & spaceviking: Thank you kind sirs
posted by Endymion at 5:32 PM on December 9, 2004


The first line goes straight from A to B. The second line goes from A up, then down to B. The third line goes from A down to B. You prefer simple systems, so you would choose the straight line. Does your preference for simple systems help you in any way to determine which line accurately reflects reality?

You assume too much about what I prefer. :)

My answer is as simple as deciding, for example, between Euclidean or Pointcaréan system of geometry. Different systems are "simple" depending on their application or utility to phenomena the real world.

Now let's say that we add point C, which is above points A and B. Some people see point C, and they believe that the line that goes up to C before hitting B accurately reflects reality. Other people do not see point C, and they choose one of the other lines. You are now an impartial observer, and you cannot see any of the points. How do you arbitrate between the different people - how do you decide which line accurately reflects reality?

This is a very hypothetical question, but I will suggest you read about differential geometry. Surfaces have intrinsic (local) and extrinsic (global) properties that determine how you do measurements like this, depending on your perspective. Its not much of an answer, but that's the best I can do with your question the way it is framed.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:39 PM on December 9, 2004


nixerman: I'm sorry, I'm being unclear. Your point is also my own: scientism (your practical definition is close enough to accurate) is emphatically not the same as science. The axioms that I listed are the axioms of scientism, and they weren't meant to be criticisms of science.

It's not clear to me why you think God and the supernatural are the same thing, but okay. I agree with you that science cannot directly say anything about the supernatural.

If you were asking for the axioms that true science relies on, it depends a lot on how you view true "science". Science is not some uncontroversial, monolithic paradigm, you know. By "science", are you referring to Popper's falsification? Are you an inductivist? Etc.

In other words, that's a long and tricky question, and in fact it's an entire scientific discipline - the philosophy of science.
posted by gd779 at 5:43 PM on December 9, 2004


What, precisely, is the "real world"? For example, may spiritual intuitions be considered as evidence? Why or why not?

I do not consider a single event "evidence". Trust, but verify.

Does the supernatural being repeat his or her communications from beyond the grave in a similar setting?

How, precisely, do you determine whether or not a statement is "true"?

Consistency in repeatability. That's the best anyone can do, I think, but certainly as much as I will claim. I will say it is a useful process for verifying axiomatic beliefs and the beliefs that derive from said axioms.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:47 PM on December 9, 2004


nixerman: BTW, Endymion, I'd have to disagree with you also. Since the dawn of science, religious thinkers have wanted nothing more than to set their beliefs on a scientific/rational basis. Witness all those charming proofs for the existence of God that emerged during the Middle Ages. This is not a new thing invented by recent fundamentlists. Modern religious conservatives want nothing more than to set their proofs on a "scientific" basis. You should think about the psychological motive here... This is not simply a question of "theology" vs "science."


A perfect example of how no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. I don't think there is any simple reductionist psychological motive here though. For some I would say that they have no real belief in God, that they believe only in their own righteousness and that they use God as a container for their own intuitions. That they posit God as simply the transcendent embodiement of their personal proclivites and that they employ a dual stradegy of manifesting those morals through legislation and through the "scientific" proof of Leviticus. Both are a way to allay their own doubt by removing contrary evidence becuase their faith is too weak to exist in a non homogenous enviroment. What such people really beleive in is science religion is just a vehicle. For others their motives are more pure. Others are using such attempted proofs as an evangelical tool trying to reach the people in the vernacular of science. Others practice it simply as a philosphical exercise.
posted by Endymion at 5:49 PM on December 9, 2004


So I'll ask you, gd779, what requires the addition of Axiom B's (belief in a supernatural entity) unnecessary and demonstrably contradictory complexity?
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:53 PM on December 9, 2004


I give up folks, you win: I worship at the temple of Occam. I shave with his razor each morning.

Gotta run. Thanks for the fun convo.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:54 PM on December 9, 2004


In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814


I do find T.J.'s attitude interesting in the context of the ridiculous assertion that the Founding Fathers intended America to be a Christian nation.

But I wonder why it is that people quote him as an authority in their "religion is bad for you" arguments. Isn't the belief that Thomas Jefferson had all the answers tantamount to a kind of faith?

My real point though is that the statement is flawed anyway. Do you really believe that rabbis really supported Hitler, for instance? What percentage of Wiccan priests voted for Bush this year?
posted by Foosnark at 6:04 PM on December 9, 2004


I should not have participated in this discussion. I lacked the time and energy to make myself clear tonight, and I probably did more to muddy the waters than clear it. Sorry.
posted by gd779 at 6:25 PM on December 9, 2004


wow guys, thanks for the great responses! This has been very informative.
posted by Hands of Manos at 6:44 PM on December 9, 2004


I haven't taken the time to read all of these posts, so forgive me if I am repeating another, but in response to HoM's question, if we were to become omnipotent and omniscient, then might it not be the case that everything we would do in such a state would follow necessarily from this condition (Spinoza, natch)?

Any plan we make now is made from a position of ignorance. The blessing of omniscience and omnipotence would profoundly affect our plans for the future: it would be a strange notion of omniscience if the possession of it wouldn't affect our decision-making. So we cannot expect that anything we plan in our state of ignorance would remain viable in a divine state.

However, all of this aside, if we grant that we could make a plan in the state of ignorance and then be willing to follow through with it in a divine state, then I have three words:

X-Wing Starfighter, biatch.
posted by Tullius at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2004


I learned a lot by reading this.
posted by iwearredsocks at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2004


If you were all-of-the-sudden a divine being and were infinite and omnipotent...what would you do and how would you do it? (I am actually looking for well thought out answers).

First, I would make quonsar my prophet. Then I would get down to some serious smiting. I think Yahweh or whatever his name is needs a serious ass-whipping. I would also write a nice book, with some good values laid out (no slavery, war promotion, or keeping my sisters down allowed in my tome), some nice stories, and some *humor*. I would also be consistent with my miracles. Oh yeah, and no more Christmas - it's Festivus from now on, kay?

What, precisely, is the "real world"? For example, may spiritual intuitions be considered as evidence? Why or why not?

When I had a psychotic episode, I had *plenty* of spiritual experiences. They disappeared when I got on the right medication. Amazing, huh? You might try some of the newer atypical antipsychotics, just to see what would happen to your belief circuits. Or are you scared to?

But if you admit spiritual evidence, how do you decide who is right when two people have conflicting views? (Islamicist A says God wants everyone to live under Sharia laws, especially America, and Fundamentalist Christian Zealot B says God wants us to send missionaries to convert the heathen Muslims. Which view is the right view? On what basis do you decide?).

The point I am getting at is that spiritual "evidence" isn't really reliable. Personally, I believe that having the vast majority of the population rendered easily tractable by believing in supernatural entities & whatnot was somehow a survival advantage way back when. The good news is we have outgrown that era.

Some of us, anyway.
posted by beth at 8:13 PM on December 9, 2004


I give up folks, you win: I worship at the temple of Occam. I shave with his razor each morning.

Dangerous, given that both popular constructions of said razor involve the value judgements of either simplicity or needlessness....

So I'll ask you, gd779, what requires the addition of Axiom B's (belief in a supernatural entity) unnecessary and demonstrably contradictory complexity?

The claim of another human being that they've encountered something unexplained requires adding some kind of entity to the system, whether it's a defect in perception, or an actual uncatalogued/unmeasured entity. In objective situations, historically, it's gone both ways -- so how do you know which one to discard as "needless" in subjective cases?

Axiom A: 0 and 1 exist.

Axiom B: God exists.

So I'll ask: Which axiom is more useful for building a computer?

Which is certainly not the same thing as asking which axiom is useful. Nor does it really turn out that the answer to that question would be as different as, I'd guess, you might think. Both assumptions (basically made from individual observation) are part of sets of other assumptions that yield complex bodies of thought that can be enormously useful in their problem domain. And can be used for good or ill.
posted by weston at 8:17 PM on December 9, 2004


It's struck me how far the discussion has come away from what perhaps my favorite sentence of this post:

"A person arrives at faith freely, practices it openly, and uses dialogue with others about their own life path to deepen their understanding."

Would anybody really have a problem with this?
posted by weston at 8:22 PM on December 9, 2004


agreed, weston
posted by Hands of Manos at 8:25 PM on December 9, 2004


Laugh_track: When I first heard Alan Watts say that it blew my mind.

Aw yeah! Thanks, I almost got away with that.
posted by Laugh_track at 8:57 PM on December 9, 2004


beth: But if you admit spiritual evidence, how do you decide who is right when two people have conflicting views? (Islamicist A says God wants everyone to live under Sharia laws, especially America, and Fundamentalist Christian Zealot B says God wants us to send missionaries to convert the heathen Muslims. Which view is the right view? On what basis do you decide?).

Many religions have a process of determining authenticity of spiritual experiences. It is the original basis for church hierarchy, post-Constantine politics aside. Apostolic succession was the way the Catholic Church combated heresy. Even today at a mass the Nicene creed includes the line "One, Holy and apostolic Church." Actually most religions use a similar metric to apostolic succession. One is assumed to have a genuine understanding and experience of religion if one has studied under the tutelage of a qualified elder. In India there were yogis, in christian monasteries there were abbots. Catholicism happens to have a more formalized system then most but getting a Church imprimatur is by no means a simple matter. It takes years for a mystical experience to receive authentication by church authorities as they are very wary of mysticism in general. They don't give credence to anyone who simply asserts that they have some knowledge of the will of God. In Zen Buddhism, which is more receptive to such experiences in general, one undergoes frequent dokusans, in which one meets privately with one's roshi in order for him to measure and direct spiritual progression. If the roshi is satisfied that an experience is genuine he can confer his inka shomei and graduate his pupil. Zen Buddhists have another fascinating way in which they ascertain the veracity of their personal experiences which is to dharma duel another master to deepen and verify the experience. Zen Buddhism is rife with examples of Zen masters recognizing the enlightenment of others through superficially arbitrary actions but consistently none the less. I have only seen one enlightened person myself but his attainment shone as radiantly and obviously as the sun. Certainly there are frauds and charlatans as in any discipline not to mention varying degrees of understanding. If you would like to determine the authenticity of your own experience I would suggest you find a qualified spiritual master to question you.

As a postscript, I find the circumvention of this process implicit in post Protestant personal relationships with God to be extremely pernicious. It is a razor sharp edge between freedom of conscience and conscience as the voice of God and an evaluative hierarchy. The former can spiral into innumerable sects and a spiritual relativism whereas the latter tends to stifle legitimate but esoteric or inscrutable personal experiences.
posted by Endymion at 9:20 PM on December 9, 2004


Dangerous, given that both popular constructions of said razor involve the value judgements of either simplicity or needlessness

It is possible, albeit very, very difficult, to define the Earth at the center of the solar system, and come up with a complex arrangement of equations to try to model the motions of the rest of the heavenly bodies.

The alternate arrangement centers the Earth around the Sun and makes modelling much easier, with less error.

Simplicity is pursued for a reason. You seem to argue there is no need to make a value judgement between the two approaches. I think that not only can one make a value judgement, but that the above is a clear example why one should.

Please explain your goal in needlessly complicating interpretations of the real world.

The claim of another human being that they've encountered something unexplained requires adding some kind of entity to the system, whether it's a defect in perception, or an actual uncatalogued/unmeasured entity. In objective situations, historically, it's gone both ways -- so how do you know which one to discard as "needless" in subjective cases?

Firstly, you're saying "in objective situations, it's gone both ways". Can you please expand upon that with a little history? I've never heard objective evidence provided for supernatural entities in the recorded history of the species, so I'm genuinely curious what you're referring to here, or if this is a typo.

Secondly, I make no assertion about a supernatural entity's existence or non-existence. If you assert axiomatically that such a being exists, then your responsibility is to align that claim with evidence from the real world. Attributing my inability to validate your assertion to a defect in my perception is what psychologists call transference and what I would call not doing your homework.

I suggest further that adding such a being introduces inconsistencies with the real world that add unnecessary and contradictory complications (one of which I already mentioned, namely the conception of Christ, which is provided by the faithful as "evidence" of a supernatural being), and therefore -- for the same reason I "believe" the earth rotates around the sun -- simplicity suggests that it is unnecessary, and indeed harmful, to introduce this supernatural entity into interpretations of the real world.

Human beings do enough damage to each other with religion without the need to blame technology.

Which is certainly not the same thing as asking which axiom is useful. Nor does it really turn out that the answer to that question would be as different as, I'd guess, you might think.

I asked what axioms are useful in the real world. Read the thread again (or not).

When you walk into a microprocessor factory, engineers do not discuss supernatural entities in relation to their work, but they do discuss how to get transistors to move binary around. Utility forms the basis for acceptance of axioms.

Can Axiom B answer questions about the real world? No, at least not consistently (as I've shown).

Can Axiom A do so? Yes, certainly within the scope that applies to a wide range of mathematics, which is useful for many situations in the real world.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:26 PM on December 9, 2004


weston: I have a problem with it. I think the sentence is false--dangerously so. Similar to the people who suggested that science is "faith-based", the sentence implies that faith is something we arbitrarily choose and--since there there is no right choice--we'll accept all faiths.

This is closely related to creationism, Intelligent Design, the anti-gay marriage Constitutional ammendment, school prayer, faith-based social programs--and all these so-called "moral issues." All of these issues seem to stem from the same basic desire to force the state to endorse and affirm the Christian faith. Now this isn't a new thing; since the dawn of time religious faithful have attempted to intrude upon all spheres of life, from the scientific to the political, with the intent of affirming their own faith.

What is new here is the element of democracy. Religous tolerance--the willingness to accept all faiths--is a fundamentally democratic notion. It's not something you can accept rationally unless you envalue pluralism and freedom. Similarly, it seems that issues like creationism aren't moral issues per se(1) but rather political issues--they come not from notions from what is "good" and "evil" but from notions of what is legal, just, healthy (for children, usually), and appropriate for a democracy.(2)

In both the people who attempt to level science and religion against one another and the people who would codify their faith in laws I detect the same underlying, unquestioned belief in the value of democracy and democratic principles.(3)

This question of how to deal with faith in a democracy is misleading. The "in a democracy" part essentially pre-supposes that there be no definitive answer.

Unfortunately the collisions between democracy and religions will only grow more frequent and violent--as long as so much value is placed in democracy.

(1) At least I've never seen a moral defense of creationism, only pseudo-scientific and Bible-quoting. If anybody can point me towards a modern one I'd be very interested.

(2) Which is why, it seems, so many religous conservatives insist that all government policies have religous implications. Not so much because government policies interfere with people's ability to practice their religion but because people now understand their religion in political terms.

(3) This irritates me to no end: the way both religous conservatives and their opponents try so hard to drape themselves in the American flag. This touches on the constant Founding Father quotations so casually thrown about by both groups.
posted by nixerman at 9:26 PM on December 9, 2004


If you would like to determine the authenticity of your own experience I would suggest you find a qualified spiritual master to question you.

May I ask how this answers Beth's question?
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:33 PM on December 9, 2004


Doh, I'm a latecomer to this thread.

Seriously, MeFi has some of the best discussions I've ever read about religion, you guys are great.

I'm personally fairly confused about religion. I guess you could call me a non-christian christian. Specifically, I believe that jesus was an incredible, totally enlightened, man with some excellent views on morality. I tend to pick the parts of the bible that seem to fit together as a whole and go with those, and ignore the parts of the bible that seem to be the result of politics (you know, anything written by Paul). Are there other people who embrace the teachings of christ, but not the concept of his special divinity? I always thought what he was trying to say is that we're all sons of gods, and that we didnt need a messiah in the first place. Anyone know of any good writings on this subject, or am I just totally hypocritcal and wacko?

The reason I haven't rejected the teachings of christ is because of the inadequacy of utilitarianism. Basically, I am a very goal oriented, utilitarian person. I feel a basic desire to maximize the level of "good" in the world. But, utilitarianism doesnt give you any clue as to what the "good" is that we should be maximizing. In many cases, happiness beats out life, bliss doesnt seem as good as accomplishment, and concepts like "freedom" never seem to work out. When I ask myself what it is I should be maximizing, I have to fall back on "religion", and for that I work with a dual answer: The first idea is that in order to figure out what the actual meaning of life/the thing to maximize is, we need knowledge. The best way to get knowledge is science, thus I am an adherent of the religion of science, as well as a advocate of the process. But, that does not encompass all of morality, at least to me, so for everything else, I think the teachings of jesus are an excellent way to start.

I'm not athieistic, because I believe in a god. I'm not typically religious, becuase I think organzied religion is often an evil in the world. Does this make sense to anyone, or am I just horribly deluded?
posted by JZig at 9:34 PM on December 9, 2004



But, utilitarianism doesnt give you any clue as to what the "good" is that we should be maximizing. In many cases, happiness beats out life, bliss doesnt seem as good as accomplishment, and concepts like "freedom" never seem to work out.


For me, I look to science for the unknown. As to "meaning", I think it is that we are simply alive. Life is the meaning, to continue life and to insist life is maintained, not destroyed. We are the only ones who can keep us alive, everything around us wants to destroy us. Why continue to kill ourselves, when life is all we have?

I'm not athieistic, because I believe in a god. I'm not typically religious, becuase I think organzied religion is often an evil in the world. Does this make sense to anyone, or am I just horribly deluded?

I really think the idea of God is so dug into global culture that it is difficult to understand our surroundings without the aid of a divine construction.

Maybe it is difficult to value life when a violent ending of life is so common? If life is everything, and everyone around us is dying or being destroyed, it seems to make sense to create a life that never dies.

Maybe one day, we will live forever, and we will no longer rely on God.
posted by orange clock at 9:49 PM on December 9, 2004


Jzig, many people believe Jesus was a great teacher but not divine. If I understand correctly this is what Islam teaches about Jesus.

Of course there are a number of arguments one could make. One well known one suggests he could not be both a great spritual teacher and also so crazy as to make the claims he did about his relationship with God. In other words he didn't leave us this 'great teacher' option, we have to chose either son of god or crazy. Naturally some will say it's entirely possible to be nuts and also spout off a few good sayings; I guess such is the nature of logical argument.

Anyway here's a link which may be of interest. This guy exercised his freedom to be an active atheist and then later in life a deist.
posted by scheptech at 10:03 PM on December 9, 2004


JZig: Are there other people who embrace the teachings of christ, but not the concept of his special divinity? I always thought what he was trying to say is that we're all sons of gods, and that we didnt need a messiah in the first place. Anyone know of any good writings on this subject, or am I just totally hypocritcal and wacko?

Jefferson famously took to his copy of the New Testament with a pair of scissors and cut out all the miracles so I don't think you are alone in your intrepretation. Actually the genealogy of Jesus as presented in Luke 3 lends itself well to such an intrepretation as it ends with Son of Adam, Son of God. Plenty of people have arrived at a similar conclusion as you about the divinity of man. Most of them look to John, the most mystical of the cannonical Gospels, for justification of their intrepretation. Many of the Gnostic Gospels also tend towards such a understanding. The Gospel of Thomas which is a short collection of the sayings of Jesus with no uniting narrative has a very humanistic bent.
29. Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels.

Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty."
77. Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.

Split a piece of wood; I am there.

Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."
113. His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?"

"It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, 'Look, here!' or 'Look, there!' Rather, the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it."
Alan Watts who has already been mentioned in this thread has some very good introductions to such interpretations. He called the message of Jesus "the democratization of heaven." Two of his better books are The Supreme Identity and This IS it. But I would actually reccomend his audio lectures. He is an extremely witty, erudite, and warm speaker and there are scads of his lectures on Kazaa. I think there are limits to his understanding for more advanced theologians but as an introduction I can't reccomend it enough.
posted by Endymion at 10:12 PM on December 9, 2004


So much for a democratic heaven:

``And when he [Jesus] was alone, those present along with the Twelve questioned him about the parables.  He answered them, "The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you.  But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that 'they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.'"''  

Mark 4:10-12 NAB
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:26 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds: May I ask how this answers Beth's question?

Very well thank you. Beth asked for a criteria by which to judge religious experiences. "On what basis do you decide?" I referenced a common one. I hardly think suggesting consulting a religious teacher could do more harm than her suggestion to "try some of the newer atypical antipsychotics, just to see what would happen to your belief circuits. Or are you scared to?" It seemed to me like a fairly benign endeavor compared to taking drugs designed to alter the chemical balance of one's brain in a radical way, but if I gave offense I am sorry.
posted by Endymion at 10:26 PM on December 9, 2004


Beth asked for a criteria by which to judge religious experiences.

In my mind she asked about a specific conflict between religious ideologies in direct opposition to one another, and how that is resolved. Specifically:

"[I]f you admit spiritual evidence, how do you decide who is right when two people have conflicting views? (Islamicist A says God wants everyone to live under Sharia laws, especially America, and Fundamentalist Christian Zealot B says God wants us to send missionaries to convert the heathen Muslims. Which view is the right view? On what basis do you decide?)."

It doesn't offend me, but it is interesting to me that you answered the question with a long, seemingly erudite non sequitor about how religious cults judge individual experiences within their own scope.

This had little to do with her original question, which was about the complications that arise from contradictory, opposing viewpoints that cannot seemingly be validated.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:44 PM on December 9, 2004


It is disingenuous to take such a quote so far out of context. One doesn't go around preaching if one wants one's esoteric knowledge to remain a secret. He frequently admonished with "let him who has ears hear." The idea of his secret gnostic knowledge was that not all were prepared to hear such a radically democratic things necessitating a cloaking of his message in parable. To those who had access to his direct instruction he could afford to be more blunt without leading them astray. So I see your Mark and raise you one:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Followed by a:
Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. "
And a:
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete...You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
posted by Endymion at 10:47 PM on December 9, 2004


It is disingenuous to take such a quote so far out of context.

I would suggest politely it is disingenuous to pick and choose which quotes you want to profess as the truth. I am taking nothing out of context.

Further I suggest it is these sorts of contradictions that validate skepticism, not only about this work of fiction as a basis for understanding the world, but also about the honesty and motives of its preachers.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:52 PM on December 9, 2004


gd779, if you're still paying attention:

I'd email you if you had your address in your profile, since this is such a tangent, but I've been meaning to ask you....

Isn't the statement "all logical arguments must be ultimately derived from axiomatic assumptions which themselves cannot be evaluated by logic" itself an axiomatic statement? If it is, how can we evaluate its validity? If it's not, must it not be a product of reason based on axioms which cannot be established as definitively valid?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:09 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds: I would suggest politely it is disingenuous to pick and choose which quotes you want to profess as the truth. I am taking nothing out of context.

Further I suggest it is these sorts of contradictions that validate skepticism, not only about this work of fiction as a basis for understanding the world, but also about the honesty and motives of its preachers.


You've got to be kidding me. I made a passing remark that a contemporary religious thinker called the message of Jesus democratic to which you replied with a quote that you seem to think demonstrates that his message is not. I then explained why it is that Jesus talked in parable to the masses but more directly to his apostles, namely he could afford to correct them if they should go awry, and that such metaphors in no way to prevent others from attaining the kingdom of heaven. In addition to this explanation I furnished several quotes with egalitarian messages which you construed to be cherrypicking. There is simply no contradiction between any of those quotes. The kingdom of heaven is open to all a fact espoused by every single Christian denomination and mentioned numerous times in the Bible. No one can honestly read the Gospels and come away with the impression that Jesus is reserving the kindgom of heaven for his apostles and no one else. But to prevent future accusations of cherrypicking. You can browse the words of Jesus at your leisure here
posted by Endymion at 11:17 PM on December 9, 2004


You've got to be kidding me.

I am, unfortunately, quite serious.

Getting beyond the odious statements about slavery, women and gays that Christians seem to overlook or quote as the situation pleases them, there are a number of other contradictions and logical problems inherent in this document.

I will be happy to point them out, but as you so eloquently put it, you can read at your leisure a few examples, such as these and and those.

All of which can be cross-referenced against your link, and its various inconsistent translations.

You seem like a genuinely nice person, but I do need to point out that this document's flexibility is highly convenient for its followers to do some awfully dodgy stuff, morally speaking.
posted by AlexReynolds at 11:28 PM on December 9, 2004


AlexReynolds: It doesn't offend me, but it is interesting to me that you answered the question with a long, seemingly erudite non sequitor about how religious cults judge individual experiences within their own scope.

This had little to do with her original question, which was about the complications that arise from contradictory, opposing viewpoints that cannot seemingly be validated.

I was perhaps too general in my statement so allow me to clarify to her specifics.

"[I]f you admit spiritual evidence, how do you decide who is right when two people have conflicting views? (Islamicist A says God wants everyone to live under Sharia laws, especially America, and Fundamentalist Christian Zealot B says God wants us to send missionaries to convert the heathen Muslims. Which view is the right view? On what basis do you decide?)."

The contradiction is based on several assumptions she makes which are necessary for it to be truly contradictory. There is no real contradiction to her specific statements. They don't contradict one another directly or logically. They have an awkward overlap granted but it is not a contradiction in the same way as one person saying we should live under Sharia Law and another saying we should not. The rightness of living under Sharia laws does not mean that America need codify those laws in legislature. In a predominantly muslim country that is democratic such laws could become codified but that is irrelevant. Furthermore God could very well want Christians to convert to Christianity. Sharia Law could be correct without the muslim faith being correct. So there could be interpretations simultaneously. I simply don't see how these statements contradict one another. Both could be true or both could be false or one could be true.

But least this start a quest for the perfect religious contradiction let me continue with this: Among the Judeo Christian faith there are differences but a difference is not necessarily a fundamental contradiction. In fact there is a growing ecumenical movement to create a dialogue between the various interpretations of the bible. But such contradictions as are frequently touted about are not intrinsic to the nature of religion. There are numerous revisions of God's law even within the Old Testament and God makes and breaks covenants several times over. Furthermore what is to say that God has not made different covenants with different tribes. The answer is follow your own religion as dictated by its internal principles. If you want to say but surely monotheism and polytheism are contradictory then I would agree. On the face of it they are contradictory but religion is not bound by logical principles. It can be existent at anytime in anyplace in myriad forms. religious truth abounds in all religions there is no need for one truth. Existence of one thing does not preclude the existence of another. So I would turn the question back to you. Why do you look for only one incarnation of truth. When you find one thing to be true should one simply stop.

posted by Endymion at 11:44 PM on December 9, 2004


I'm tired and need my beauty sleep so I'll sign off with this.

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

--G_d
posted by Endymion at 11:58 PM on December 9, 2004


Actually, Endymion, I think that was Whitman. That's OK though: I mix those two up all the time. Kinda like I used to do with Yeats and Keats (how embarrassing!).
posted by mr_roboto at 12:09 AM on December 10, 2004


I should be asleep. Anyway, thanks for the reference, I shall indeed pick up some stuff by Watts.
posted by JZig at 12:52 AM on December 10, 2004


Isn't the statement "all logical arguments must be ultimately derived from axiomatic assumptions which themselves cannot be evaluated by logic" itself an axiomatic statement? If it is, how can we evaluate its validity? If it's not, must it not be a product of reason based on axioms which cannot be established as definitively valid?

Good question. This is similar to the question posed to deconstructionism: can't you deconstruct deconstructionism?

The answer, of course, is that while my statement is not an axiom itself (because I am "proving" it using other propositions) it does ultimately rest on axioms, so it seems to me that the root of your comment is valid. But, the axioms that my statement rests on are simply the axioms of the modern, rational outlook - my argument requires only an acceptance of the general structure, function, and purpose of classic Western logic. You therefore cannot deny my statement and simultaneously accept the sort of rationalism that, it seems to me, people like Alex Reynolds want to defend; both sets of conclusions flow from the same premises.

You can deny my statement by redefining or altogether refusing to acknowledge the validity of logic. People do this, of course, all the time - it's a common feature of eastern mysticism. But my point is, I'm therefore not making an independent claim about the nature of reality - I'm not sure you can do that, as I don't see any neutral and objective epistemic ground to stand on - I'm simply pointing out the inherent limits of reason and rationalism.

I'm pointing out, in other words, that Alex Reynolds has made an error of logic and is contradicting himself, and I'm hoping that a recognition of this contradiction will provoke a cognitive crises that motivates Alex to resolve the contradiction. But I'm operating entirely within Alex Reynolds' basic worldview (broadly, Western reason), so I am only subject to my own criticism if you're willing to reject and step outside that worldview. At which point, whatever worldview you accept is likely to require some kind of faith anyway.

That seems, to me, to be right, but please check my reasoning here - have I missed something?
posted by gd779 at 5:52 AM on December 10, 2004


Actually, Endymion, I think that was Whitman.

"Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
posted by orange clock at 6:26 AM on December 10, 2004


Late (back) to the party, I know....

jefgodesky remarked farther up (sorry, I'm on a system that doesn't permit little things like copy and paste) on the attempts by atheists and non-theists to develop "moral systems" that weren't based ultimately in the idea of a god. In his opinion, none had come close to succeeding, aside from utilitarianism.

That's because they were being created as "systems". Of course they failed. Human morality isn't a "system" that can be comprehended and written down -- it's an ethos, that has to be lived, and has to be learned by example.

Put another way: We are continually involved in an effort to find more appealing, less threatening explanations for things that are better explained by natural selection and the exigencies of existence. Sometimes it actually is best just to let understanding stop at that which cannot be understood; if more religionists understood that, they'd be a lot less threatened by useful but inconvenient things like science.
posted by lodurr at 12:29 PM on December 10, 2004


Oh come on, you dudes can't reasonably use Hume-ean criticisms about the deductive fallacy to equate the human act of science to the social process and construct of religion.

Any thought more complex than immediate sense perception is an act of "faith", but faith in "the sun will come up tomorrow" is of a qualitatively different nature than "there is a bearded man in the sky who watches over me".

To advocate for a regime of control based on abstracted parental figures and reward/punishment schemes because "science is just a different kind of faith" is to willfully obscure the power hierarchies that such control regimes are designed to serve.
posted by sandking at 2:09 PM on December 10, 2004


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