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Alister McGrath on Atheism, Christianity, Religion and Science
January 24, 2006 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Breaking the Science-Atheism Bond. "When I was growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the 1960s, I came to the view that God was an infantile illusion, suitable for the elderly, the intellectually feeble, and the fraudulently religious."
posted by brownpau (160 comments total)

 
And he changed his mind? Proof positive that age and wisdom are not necessarily commensurate.
posted by MaxVonCretin at 2:46 PM on January 24, 2006


"Atheism, I began to realize, rested on a less-than-satisfactory evidential basis. The arguments that had once seemed bold, decisive, and conclusive increasingly turned out to be circular, tentative, and uncertain."

So nice that he chose not to cite any of these arguments. Remind me again why atheists are required to evince the non-existence of a non-existent thing?
posted by milquetoast at 2:53 PM on January 24, 2006


So, in short: Can't we all just get along.

There, now you don't have to read that.
posted by thanotopsis at 2:59 PM on January 24, 2006


I'm a bit surprised the post-modern view hasn't dismissed the word "god" outright. Its not gods or the supernatural, its the monotheistic God of a handful of religions. The inability to jettison this concept sounds like to me that someone has some good old fashioned Christian guilt. I would think a new post-modern spirituality would not use any of the old terminology.

The author may be right about some new spiritual path coming about (there always is, somewhere) but most of what I read is very revealing from the terminology used. It seems to be more about the personal monotheistic god who is kind and loving and watches over you vs materialism/determinism instead of aging atheism vs some new spiritual understanding. Color me skeptical.
posted by skallas at 2:59 PM on January 24, 2006


I find it insulting that he doesn't devote a single line of his essay to the wonder of Pastafarianism. Until you've been touched by his noodly appendage you've never known true happiness.
posted by bshort at 2:59 PM on January 24, 2006


Crappy one link FPP opinion post :(
posted by doctor_negative at 3:02 PM on January 24, 2006


There's no science-atheism bond, just a religion-ignorance bond.
posted by boaz at 3:06 PM on January 24, 2006


Atheism, I began to realize, rested on a less-than-satisfactory evidential basis.

Erm, logic gap or simple total misunderstanding of atheism?
posted by wilful at 3:08 PM on January 24, 2006


To say science is atheistic is 100% correct.

The best proof of this is that you can be a christian, muslim, buddist or any other religion and believe in 100% the same science as a scientist who is atheistic.

Science requires no theisitic belief, just as the atheist has no theistic beliefs.
posted by jboy55 at 3:15 PM on January 24, 2006


Argh. Atheism isn't a belief or a system of beliefs. It's just the absence of a belief. Why do people seem to not understand this?
posted by xmutex at 3:18 PM on January 24, 2006


It's just the absence of a belief. Why do people seem to not understand this?

I think it's because people think that's what agnostic means. They think that atheist means "without god," and not "without belief." Go figure.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:21 PM on January 24, 2006


My atheism isn't simply a 'lack of belief in god' but a rejection of the "supernatural" (including but not limited to "god") which I find inherently pseudoscientific.
posted by dgaicun at 3:27 PM on January 24, 2006


ha! stupid religious people.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:27 PM on January 24, 2006


They think that atheist means "without god," and not "without belief." Go figure.

I don't think the literal meaning of the word is an appropriate defintion of the theory as it's held. It's the rejection of a belief. This is not an active, functioning belief that relies on premises and things that can be considered untenable or otherwise. I reject many things that I feel are fantastical or based on otherwise flimsy ideas, and I don't think my atheism is somehow magically different or elevated from those ideas.
posted by xmutex at 3:31 PM on January 24, 2006


Right, I don't just 'not believe' in Smurfs, they are fictional cartoon characters - they don't exist. Period. And neither does "god".
posted by dgaicun at 3:33 PM on January 24, 2006


Can you Believe it ? is a documentary on the subject of religion by professor Richard Dawkins recently aired on Channel 4.

Those who know how to use the torrent can find the two episodes. It's quite interesting, even if not ground breaking, an address the main subject of The God Delusion.
posted by elpapacito at 3:33 PM on January 24, 2006


Who is this guy, and why the fuck should I care?

Boo
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:36 PM on January 24, 2006


I think it's because people think that's what agnostic means. They think that atheist means "without god," and not "without belief." Go figure.

Yeah, well, 'without belief in any gods' is pretty clear. And common usage defines the atheist as taking a harder position than the agnostic.

Anyway, as Sam Harris points out, if you were to substitute some outdated god for the god referred to in most common speech, you'd think the person insane.

For instance if Bush said:
"We are defending the nobility of normal lives, lived in obedience to Odin and conscience, not to government."

instead of 'God and conscience' he'd be laughed out of the presidency. To those of us who are atheists, switching the words around doesn't make you sound any less crazy.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:37 PM on January 24, 2006


I don't think my atheism is somehow magically different or elevated from those ideas.

Sure you do: You think your atheism is correct, while those ideas are wrong. You may not think that there's "magic" involved, but I'm not really sure what you meant by that part of your comment, anyway.

I don't just 'not believe' in Smurfs, they are fictional cartoon characters - they don't exist. Period. And neither does "god".

Of course, where the Smurfs are concerned, nobody's claiming that they're real. In fact, the people who made them up freely admit doing so. So unless you're an idiot, you didn't do any real analysis in order to determine that the Smurfs are fictional. With God, on the other hand, you probably should go through a bit more analysis before reaching the "it's fiction" conclusion.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:40 PM on January 24, 2006


Of course, where the Smurfs are concerned, nobody's claiming that they're real.

So wait, if I were to claim that the Smurfs were real, then, since someone claimed it, you'd be intellectually required to go do some sort of as-yet unspecified analysis to figure out if they really were or not? Must be exhausting being you.
posted by boaz at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2006


I'll mention, at this point, that I've never seen a smurf.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2006


Of course, where the Smurfs are concerned, nobody's claiming that they're real. In fact, the people who made them up freely admit doing so. So unless you're an idiot, you didn't do any real analysis in order to determine that the Smurfs are fictional.

So what? Does the sole fact that other people express a belief in something, make it any more plausible? No. There is nothing to me that is even remotely more plausible, on its surface or with deeper consideration, about 'god' than there is smurfs.
posted by dgaicun at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2006


jinx
posted by dgaicun at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2006


Why's that, JekPorkins? You can easily substitute "pixies" for "Smurfs". I don't believe in pixies. I'm not agnostic on the matter, I have an absence of belief. That's a stronger position, but I don't think it's a controversial position. Athiests really do equate the notion of the Christian god with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. For athiests, belief in either entity is equally silly.
posted by salmacis at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2006


[self-link warning] A bunch of scientists and tech folks -- including neurologist Oliver Sacks, Perl inventor Larry Wall, biologist Kenneth Miller, and "Gaia hypothesis" co-author Lynn Margulis -- on their spiritual beliefs or lack of same.
posted by digaman at 3:49 PM on January 24, 2006


The distinction between agnostic and atheist is really important.
Most religious nuts conflate the two, and that is one of the prime ways I can tell that they are in fact nuts.

It's like the difference between "nameserver not reachable" and "NXDOMAIN" (with an SOA).
posted by freebird at 3:50 PM on January 24, 2006


I'm not agnostic on the matter, I have an absence of belief.

Um. What do you mean? That's pretty close to the definition of being agnostic.
posted by freebird at 3:51 PM on January 24, 2006


For athiests, belief in either entity is equally silly

Yep. And, like theists, some atheists believe that way because they've thoughtfully considered it, and others believe that way because they are simple-minded dolts who just believe according to what they think their peers will accept.

Does the sole fact that other people express a belief in something, make it any more plausible? No.

Of course not. Does the fact that the inventor of a fictional character admits on the record that the character is fictional make that character more obviously fake than others? Of course.

You can dismiss the idea of God as quickly or as thoughtfully as you want, but if you don't apply any scrutiny at all before doing so, I think that's a bit foolish.

And Pixies most certainly do exist. They are the greatest rock and roll band in the history of the universe, and that's an empirically provable fact.

On preview: people are nuts because they don't properly distinguish two definitionally ambiguous english terms? That's the dumbest thing I've heard all day.
posted by JekPorkins at 3:55 PM on January 24, 2006


I think you (plural) have a slightly wrong idea of what "agnostic" means. It doesn't mean "I have no idea if God exists or not" -- it's a much stronger statement that the truth value of claims about Gods, etc, is inherently unknowable.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:57 PM on January 24, 2006


Sure you do: You think your atheism is correct, while those ideas are wrong. You may not think that there's "magic" involved, but I'm not really sure what you meant by that part of your comment, anyway.

I think the point is that there are countless assertions people do not believe, and no one is repeatedly challanged on the basis for the lack of belief. I don't believe in leprechans, Santa Claus, gods, or astrology, though some people do. For most of these things it is sufficient to say "I've not been shown convinving evidence to justify belief in what is claimed."

But with atheism, the burden is often shifted; you cannot simply reject theist claims as unsupported, but must instead somehow disprove those assertions.

Curiuosly, this seem tact does not seem to apply to most theists themselves. If you ask monotheists if they believe in multiple, distinct, gods, gods who create other gods, they never seem to come up with any compelling disproof; they are atheists in their own way.
posted by Ayn Marx at 4:00 PM on January 24, 2006


Does the fact that the inventor of a fictional character admits on the record that the character is fictional make that character more obviously fake than others? Of course.

No, actually it doesn't. I didn't realize that troll from the Billy Goats Gruff folk tale was 'less fake' than Smurfs until now.
posted by dgaicun at 4:00 PM on January 24, 2006


people are nuts because they don't properly distinguish two definitionally ambiguous english terms?

Um. Ambiguous?
atheist: believes that God does NOT exist. This is a belief.
agnostic: does not believe it's possible to KNOW whether or not god exists. This is an absence of belief.

There is no ambiguity, and I think people who insist that "I don't know if there is a God or not" is the same thing as "I believe there is no God" are nuts, yes. Because they are confusing an absence of belief with an actual belief, and judging people on that basis. Nuts nuts nuts nuts nuts.
posted by freebird at 4:02 PM on January 24, 2006


I didn't realize until now that the folk tale of the three billy goats gruff purported to be a true story. I always thought it was an overtly fictional tale.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:03 PM on January 24, 2006


they are atheists in their own way

Right! They already reject an infinite amount of 'gods'. Why is one more even special?!
posted by dgaicun at 4:03 PM on January 24, 2006


freebird: I got taken to task just the other day for relying on your same incomplete definitions of agnostic and atheist. I was harshly informed that the terms are not so neatly distinguished. FWIW, I used to agree with you.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:06 PM on January 24, 2006


I didn't realize until now that the folk tale of the three billy goats gruff purported to be a true story. I always thought it was an overtly fictional tale.

Your statement is quoted right above my comment:

"Does the fact that the inventor of a fictional character admits on the record that the character is fictional make that character more obviously fake than others? Of course."

This condition is met for the Smurfs (I guess) and not for BGG.

If you'd like to shimmy around, fine, you never answered how things magically become "less fake" just because they say they are true, or because others "believe" in them either.
posted by dgaicun at 4:14 PM on January 24, 2006


dgaicun: Please read every word I write, instead of just the ones that make it easier to argue with me. I didn't say "less fake." I said "less obviously fake."

Things magically become more obviously fake when the person who invented them admits that they're fake. If you want to argue with that statement, go ahead, but you're just being pedantic at best.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:17 PM on January 24, 2006


Jek,

If the creators of the Smurfs declared their existance, would you believe? What would it take for you to believe in little blue people?

If you say to a person, prove to me that god is real, we first have to agree on what god that person believes in. Even if you regulate it to Christianity you are still left with 10s or 100s of Gods.

Is that person's god the God that literally wrote the bible through the hands of man, and thus everything is 100% correct?

Is that person's god the one who is unkowable and works in ways 'mysterious'?

Is that person's god the god that created the universe and its mechanics and afterwards let the universe to work as it was designed?

So given a god that is "provable" like the first one, I can very easily dismiss those claims. Likewise, I reject a non-deterministic un-provable god as meaningless and I reject an non-interventialist god as a waste of time.
posted by jboy55 at 4:18 PM on January 24, 2006


Things magically become more obviously fake when the person who invented them admits that they're fake.

No, actually it doesn't. I didn't realize that troll from the Billy Goats Gruff folk tale was 'less fake' than Smurfs until now.

Spin. Dry. Repeat.
posted by dgaicun at 4:20 PM on January 24, 2006


Or excuse me all to hell - "less obviously fake" - talk about being pedantic.
posted by dgaicun at 4:23 PM on January 24, 2006


jboy55: If the creators of the Smurfs declared their existance, would you believe? No. It would take some kind of proof. The same goes for religion. IMHO, people should not believe any particular religion or religion in general without some kind of proof. That said, it is equally foolish to simply dismiss the notion of God without making a thorough and honest inquiry. God's not a cartoon show, as much as you might want to pretend he is.

So given a god that is "provable" like the first one, I can very easily dismiss those claims. Likewise, I reject a non-deterministic un-provable god as meaningless and I reject an non-interventialist god as a waste of time.

To the extent that my understanding of this grammatically strange statement is correct, I agree 100%
posted by JekPorkins at 4:24 PM on January 24, 2006


Freebird, check out infidels.org intro to atheism for more widely (amongst atheists at least) recognised distinctions and a bit of history about the term agnostic. It also points out that people can use the terms in slippery ways (tricksy language english she is), so it's always useful to be able to pinpoint exactly what you're referring to within a common frame of reference. Saves time for more constructive mudslinging.
posted by Sparx at 4:26 PM on January 24, 2006


agnostic: does not believe it's possible to KNOW whether or not god exists. This is an absence of belief.

No, it is not -- it is also a belief. You are believing something is impossible.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:26 PM on January 24, 2006


Let's play define our terms. *deep breath*

Agnosticism, commonly defined, is actually an illogical position. That is, if you think agnosticism is defined as one who sits on the fence, religiously speaking - one has no beliefs either for or against god. This is logically equivalent as to being on the fence as to whether or not the Smurfs exist, which should seem a fairly absurd position to take. Importantly, an common-vernacular agnostic can claim to be an agnostic, but it is not clear whether we can be agnostic in our actions - if an agnostic is, in their day to day life, faced with a choice of to sin or not to sin, how can they reach a logical conclusion given that they refuse to make any assumptions about god or not-god?

Contrast the above to the formal definitions of agnosticism: Empirical agnosticism, the belief that evidence for god could exist but we do not have it; and strict agnosticism, the belief that evidence for god could never exist and thus the existence of god is unknowable. Both of these are positive beliefs, NOT an absence of belief.

Atheism is more simply understood - an atheist asserts/assumes/believes that the arguments for God are unsatisfactory and that the burden of proof lies on the claimant, and thus the possibility of the existence of God, while not necessarily utterly refuted, is safely dismissed. This is the general form of "weak atheism." Weak atheism is not a positive belief, the only assumption/belief here is of the subject's past experience of arguments for God and their perceived validity - an epistemological (not metaphysical) issue.

"Strong atheism"s are specific arguments demonstrating the impossibility of the existence of particular conceptions of god.
posted by mek at 4:27 PM on January 24, 2006


God's not a cartoon show, as much as you might want to pretend he is.

No, no, he's a cartoon character. I mean, if we're going to be pedantic, let's not be half-assed about it.
posted by boaz at 4:27 PM on January 24, 2006


talk about being pedantic.

if we're going to be pedantic, let's not be half-assed about it.

Aw, did I teach you guys a new word today? Cute.
posted by JekPorkins at 4:30 PM on January 24, 2006


ok so:

My rather pathetic excuse for this intellectual haughtiness is that a lot of other people felt the same way back then. It was the received wisdom of the day that religion was on its way out, and that a glorious, godless dawn was just around the corner.

and then:

Atheism now seems a little old-fashioned, the establishment position of a previous generation. And in its place, postmodernity has recovered an interest in spirituality. I have no idea where this trend will take us, but certainly it seems to take us away from atheism.

...so this guy is obviously some kind of slave to trends (and probably wears Abercrombe & Fitch, if this is any indication)...he's atheist/non-atheist with the changes in the wind...

...i never was big on the atheism-science connection...i'm an atheist (1) because i'm old enough to know better, (2) because i can take responsibility for my life, and (3) because i'm happy enough with the obvious complexity of the world and interpersonal relationships as explanation for life's ups and downs...it doesn't really have to be any more complicated than that...
posted by troybob at 4:31 PM on January 24, 2006


>>That is, if you think agnosticism is defined as one who sits on the fence, religiously speaking - one has no beliefs either for or against god.

Lets not speak religiously then. An agnostic is someone who assumes the supernatural (which you call God) is unknowable by man either forever or at least now, thus taking on a religious belief based on faith (the lack of evidence) would be foolish.

Let me introduce you to my friend the wikipedia.
posted by skallas at 4:33 PM on January 24, 2006


>>a choice of to sin or not to sin, how can they reach a logical conclusion given that they refuse to make any assumptions about god or not-god?

You can have a bazillion moral systems without religion (which you call god here). Sin is a loaded religious term. Thanks for the schooling, but it looks like you have a lot of reading to do and a lot of bias to shed.
posted by skallas at 4:34 PM on January 24, 2006


God's not a cartoon show? What about God, Bob and the Devil?.

But anyhow - this article is as useful as bulls on a tit. Atheist arguments are circular and tenuous? Such as...? Or possibly opposed to "the bible is true because the bible says so"? (I know, it's a straw man, but at least it's a man of some description).
posted by Sparx at 4:37 PM on January 24, 2006


Aw, did I teach you guys a new word today? Cute.

Sure thing guy. Remember to be an ass and fling shit if you can't make a logical argument.
posted by dgaicun at 4:39 PM on January 24, 2006


i never was big on the atheism-science connection

I have to agree with that. But for different reasons. Science on the whole looks for answers.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:39 PM on January 24, 2006


It's tough to take someone seriously who thinks pedantic is a word you teach anyone over 8. If I use the word 'cute' next, are you gonna say you taught me that one too? Cute.
posted by boaz at 4:40 PM on January 24, 2006


I wholly and completely reject the works and ways of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

If only because that shit was funny for about, oh, 2 minutes.

What's worse than humorless fundamentalists (of any variety)? People who beat a moderately amusing joke into the ground.
posted by erskelyne at 4:54 PM on January 24, 2006


I hate to moderate my own thread, but outside of McGrath's more trite assertions regarding atheism as a form of belief (a silly argument all too often rehashed), what do you make of his stand that it is "not the only conceivable worldview for a thinking person?"
posted by brownpau at 4:59 PM on January 24, 2006


As a scientist myself, I can understand his point of view. As I've said in previous threads - if "god" is truly omnipotent (and one has to be to be a "god", I feel) then this god can do whatever she wants with the universe, and yet remain beyond our detection. This might be the god of chaos, the god of quantum mechanics, the god who decides where the electrons really are, the god of Brownian motion, the god of entropy, the god of the vacuum, the god of the missing dimensions. I feel confident in science's ability to disprove the existance of a 6,000-year old, flat-earth, creationist, heaven-and-hell Biblical god. I'm not so sure science has disproved the nature of a god in the deeper fabric of the universe. Lately, I've been tending towards agnostic.
posted by Jimbob at 5:01 PM on January 24, 2006


Likewise, I reject a non-deterministic un-provable god as meaningless and I reject an non-interventialist god as a waste of time.

This is true, and I agree - why would you bother to please an omnipotent god who can change the rules at any time? Why would you care about a non-interventionalist god? A god might still be there though, even if she has nothing to do with us. I guess it doesn't really matter. I don't spend that much time worrying about it, except as a philosophical argument.
posted by Jimbob at 5:05 PM on January 24, 2006


Stolen from slashdot, but I like it:

If atheism is a belief, then that means not-collecting-stamps is a hobby.
posted by beth at 5:08 PM on January 24, 2006


True beth. One would consider the basic nature of a human to be unbelieving, unless told about religions and gods - atheism should be the natural state. Unfortunately, for reasons I'm sure anthropologists are still trying to figure out, religion is a very common and almost universal occurrence around the world. You can find remote, untouched tribes in the jungle who have systematic belief systems. This doesn't mean god exists, but it makes it makes it clear that humans seem to want to believe in gods.
posted by Jimbob at 5:13 PM on January 24, 2006


It doesn't mean "I have no idea if God exists or not" -- it's a much stronger statement that the truth value of claims about Gods, etc, is inherently unknowable.

That's a valid point. I tend to disagree that it's as strict as you make it out - a common dictionary definition says stuff about "One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism." But I tend to like your view, where atheism is a positive statement, a belief.

The thing is, though, that's a very large statement, about much more than belief in God. It was coined by Huxley, and in essence is a statement that we can ONLY know things about the physical world, period. That's a much larger statement than "we can't know whether God exists". For example, I might think I couldn't be sure about God, but was damn sure fairies don't exist. Under the strict definition, that's not Agnosticiscm, but is a pretty common position.

So it seems to me there's room for the position that God may or may Not exist, without the full materialist view of technical Agnosticism. What would you call that? I tend to lump both positions under agnosticism, but am aware that's perhaps over-simplifying.

JekPorkins, you've said several times that atheism and agnosticism are differnt, but not given any details. The dictionary makes the distinction pretty clear. So I'm left thinking you mean "not being sure about God" is just as EVIL as "believing God doesn't exist". Please clarify so I don't classify you with the Mixed Nuts.
posted by freebird at 5:13 PM on January 24, 2006


As a scientist myself, I can understand his point of view. As I've said in previous threads - if "god" is truly omnipotent (and one has to be to be a "god", I feel) then this god can do whatever she wants with the universe, and yet remain beyond our detection.

But as a scientist why even spend a second of serious thought on such a meaningless self-fashioned nonfalsifiable belief, when literally an infinite amount of such beliefs could be imagined up? 'God' (whatever that means) may well be "hiding" in the cracks, but so may be the invisible pony that lifts up Michael Jordan to make those slam dunks.
posted by dgaicun at 5:14 PM on January 24, 2006


Durnit: where atheism is a positive statement -> where agnosticism is a positive statement
posted by freebird at 5:14 PM on January 24, 2006


But as a scientist why even spend a second of serious thought on such a meaningless self-fashioned nonfalsifiable belief.

Because it's entertaining? I'm only a scientist between 9 and 5. In the evenings, I can sit back with a beer and ponder the nature of the cosmos.
posted by Jimbob at 5:16 PM on January 24, 2006


freebird: I question the validity of whatever dictionary you're using that makes the distinction between agnosticism and atheism so well-delineated. The terms are not interchangeable, but they are also not terribly well defined, when so many people can describe themselves using them and mean different things.

So I'm left thinking you mean "not being sure about God" is just as EVIL as "believing God doesn't exist".

Wow. I don't recall ever saying (or even thinking) that either one is "evil." I think that affirmatively believing that God doesn't exist is stupid, but not evil. I think that "not being sure about God" is an unavoidable part of the human condition, and that absent direct divine intervention, everyone is "not sure about God" whether they like it or not.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:20 PM on January 24, 2006


None of us has, I imagine, gone into outer space, and yet we all "know" it is there, and that it is real, and we accept current scientific descriptions of it (like that it's a vacuum) without checking it ourselves, to the point that the battle noises in Star Wars movies sstrike us as "unrealistic" even though, odds are, few of us are capable of testing to see if space is really the sort of place we've been told it is.
In short, we have a cultural system set in place that gives authority to certain parties to disseminate "facts" about the natural world, and we believe them based solely on the fact that we grant the insititutions of science authority.
So, atheists (and everyone else) believe stuff all the time, and they (and everyone else) do so because of cultural practices, not because of any innate superior ability to reason.
This doesn't mean all explanations are equal, of course -- some will be more useful than others, but the long and short of it is that atheists don't find explanations involving God useful, while believers do.
In any case, there is no such animal as "lack-of-belief" except for apathy. And I think that being in this thread disqualifies anyone from claiming apathy, so the one thing that can be determined is that the only people who can truly be said to have a lack of belief in God don't care enough to discuss the matter and so, the atheists who protest loudly about their beliefs in no god being characterized as such do protest too much.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:20 PM on January 24, 2006


If atheism is a belief, then that means not-collecting-stamps is a hobby.

If only if belief and collecting are the same sort of thing.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:22 PM on January 24, 2006


Actually, my atheism is not a belief. I know there is no god. Prove me wrong.

I'd certainly be willing to revise that position in the light of new evidence, but it would have to be a real 'Truman Show' moment in which the entire curtain of reality was parted and the gears behind it revealed. The same as my knowledge of electricity being a natural force would need a really huge amount of evidence to change it. I'd need to see the pixie-smurfs moving light from one place to another. Often. After being checked by several doctors. And be around others who saw them too. And have it be in all the papers. And even then I'd be really, really suspicious.

Look, this world is no different than the world would be if there was no god. I've met plenty of people who spoke to god, but most of them lived on the street. And furthermore, if god exists, made the world, made us to live on it, then perhaps the phrase 'little help' has missed her/him/it/them.

Agh, I promised myself I wasn't going to waste anymore time arguing about invisible superheros in the sky. Sorry for the tone.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:23 PM on January 24, 2006


I'm not so sure science has disproved the nature of a god in the deeper fabric of the universe.

as science can't disprove the pastafarism deity either - your proposed 'unknowable' god is therefore entirely equivalent then to the now universally accepted all-seeing flying plate of bolonaise and meatballs.

i certainly don't agree with the implication that lack of dangly appendages necesarily makes any one diety any more plausible that any other. which appears to be what you're basically saying.
posted by rodney stewart at 5:23 PM on January 24, 2006


And I think that being in this thread disqualifies anyone from claiming apathy...

Ha, got you there!
Is there a word for one who doesn't know if there is a God and is relatively unconcerned?
posted by 235w103 at 5:24 PM on January 24, 2006


what do you make of his stand that it is "not the only conceivable worldview for a thinking person?"

It's pretty damn near an empirical fact that there are many non-atheistic worldviews held by thinking people. Shall we ask Terry Schiavo and Jesus' decomposed corpse what non-thinking people believe?

Oh I'm sorry, trite you say. Why yes, this FPP is.

On preview: Oh snap, eustacescrubb just cornered the market on trite. France will, no doubt, surrender shortly.
posted by boaz at 5:28 PM on January 24, 2006


your proposed 'unknowable' god is therefore entirely equivalent then to the now universally accepted all-seeing flying plate of bolonaise and meatballs.

Aah, but this difference is, I don't care about this god. I offer make no offerings of Parmesan cheese to please his devine spaghettified nature. Whether this god exists or not is of no concern to me. I couldn't care less either way. Just:

(a) It's interesting to ponder, in an off-handed sort of way.
(b) To me it makes more sense not to care, than to get all worked up and argumentative whenever anyone so-much as mentions the "G" word. Does it affect you if this god does or doesn't exist? Does it hurt you in any way that I like to think about the existence (or not) of this god? This god is, as you say, unknowable - why should you care either way?
posted by Jimbob at 5:29 PM on January 24, 2006


I know there is no god. Prove me wrong.

I know that the earth is surrounded by rings of invisible, sentient Lucky Charms. Prove me wrong.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:30 PM on January 24, 2006


(People who have complained that I waste my scientific mind pondering the existance of an unknowable god - aren't you also wasting your scientific minds arguing against the existance of an unknowable god, when it couldn't have the slightest effect on us?)
posted by Jimbob at 5:31 PM on January 24, 2006


I actually waste my mind on sex, drugs, and loud music. This is where I waste my keyboard muscles.
posted by freebird at 5:38 PM on January 24, 2006


Because it's entertaining? I'm only a scientist between 9 and 5.

C'mon this doesn't make any sense. Do historians come home after a hard days work and "unwind" by believing Lincoln died when Einstein bit off his penis?

I seriously cannot understand how Intelligent Design Creationism (which is what you are describing with 'god' hiding in the cracks "explaining" all our as yet unknowns) is not ok as science but is fine as recreation? Why would anyone find it pleasurable to be a crank, and out of an infinite series of absurd, unfalsifiable ways for Lincoln to die, why would this particular theory stand out as one to mysteriously waste time on ' for pleasure' if it weren't out of cultural conformity to some moralized superstition? What you are describing sounds like Stockholm Syndrome to entrenched myths, that you know are ridiculous but they have dug their roots so deeply into your psyche, you feel the need to pay fealty to them anyway.
posted by dgaicun at 5:39 PM on January 24, 2006


brownpau describes himself as a Bible-thumping fundamentalist in his MeFi bio. He seems to feel the need to regurgitate old (when was this published originally) poorly written material in hopes of saving our souls (in this and other posts). If he is incapable of stopping his proselytizing, can he at least link less mind-numbing material?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:40 PM on January 24, 2006


but they are also not terribly well defined, when so many people can describe themselves using them and mean different things.

Nope. That indicates people misunderstand the terms. The terms themselves are clearly defined, and you've repeatedly dodged the issue of actually saying why you think they're not.
Here, I'll make it easy - tell me why these aren't clear:
a·the·ist (ā'thē-ĭst) n.: One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.
ag·nos·tic (ăg-nŏs'tĭk) n.
1. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God. 2. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.3. One who is doubtful or noncommittal about something.

posted by freebird at 5:45 PM on January 24, 2006


C'mon this doesn't make any sense.

You are right - the view I expressed does come across as "intelligent design" the way I expressed it, and I didn't intend it to come across that way. I didn't intend to evoke a god that "explains" what we don't know, but rather to demonstrate that if any entity exists that was truly omnipotent, these are the places it would hide, and these are the mechanisms by which it would remain unknowable.

Nowhere in my comment have I suggested that such an entity actually exists, that such an entity is interventionist, and I didn't intend to suggest that such an entity should be used to explain gaps in our knowledge. That's what creationists do - "We don't understand it - so it must be god, let's give up" - my attitude is more like "We don't understand it - (heh, what if it's "god"!) - let's keep working on it".

And, as for your analogy with historians, well, I'm sure some historians do spend some time wondering what it would be like if history turned out differently, as a mental excercise.
posted by Jimbob at 5:49 PM on January 24, 2006


Scientists are used to dealing with abstractions - do you take issue with the thought excercise of Maxwell's little "entroy demons" sorting molecules?
posted by Jimbob at 5:55 PM on January 24, 2006


The terms are not interchangeable, but they are also not terribly well defined, when so many people can describe themselves using them and mean different things.

Well, you may think they're not well defined, but some of us have dictionaries.

I know that the earth is surrounded by rings of invisible, sentient Lucky Charms. Prove me wrong.

Look, you're the one saying we should be all hesitant and careful when we dismiss the idea of an invisible superhero that lives in the sky and hears our prayers. If you'd like to provide some sort of evidence of that we'd be glad to talk about it.
posted by bshort at 5:56 PM on January 24, 2006


freebird: The definitions you have provided are quite clear. You haven't given the source of those definitions and, as I said before, I suspect that your source is less than reputable. Dictionary.com? Merriam-Webster? Just because an internet dictionary defines the terms clearly doesn't mean that they're well-defined in the real world.

Again, I was taken to task not long ago for using the same oversimplified definitions, and I used to agree with you.

On preview: Look, you're the one saying we should be all hesitant and careful when we dismiss the idea of an invisible superhero that lives in the sky and hears our prayers.

I have said nothing about an invisible superhero that lives in the sky and hears our prayers. That's the straw man you've invented to make my belief in God seem stupid. Whatever. There is no evidence of the imaginary superhero you've invented, AFAIK.

If you're going to pretend to give deference to the scientific method (and maybe you don't), then yes, you should be meticulous in evaluating the nature of the universe.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:05 PM on January 24, 2006


The definitions you have provided are quite clear. You haven't given the source of those definitions and, as I said before, I suspect that your source is less than reputable. Dictionary.com? Merriam-Webster? Just because an internet dictionary defines the terms clearly doesn't mean that they're well-defined in the real world.

That's just stupid. Is M-W not as reputable as the OED? What about the SOED, is it ok if he uses that? Which dictionary would meet your stringent requirements?

I have said nothing about an invisible superhero that lives in the sky and hears our prayers. That's the straw man you've invented to make my belief in God seem stupid. Whatever. There is no evidence of the imaginary superhero you've invented, AFAIK.

But, lots of people do believe in an invisible superhero. Who are you to say they're wrong? Don't you need to apply your scientific method to each and every claim?
posted by bshort at 6:09 PM on January 24, 2006


I think a lot of the sworn-athiests around here are trying to push the idea that "real" scientists have to follow some atheistic creed in order to do good science. I simply don't believe this to be true.

Look at the greatest scientists of the past - how many of them believed in a god? Einstein certainly liked to comment on god.

My supervisor, a well respected ecologist, is catholic. But his beliefs don't interfere with his scientific research. He doesn't evoke god in any of his papers. Science is a job, not a belief system. As long as your perception and understanding of god doesn't interfere with the conclusions of your research, what's the big deal? I don't believe in any gods, but besides pseudo-scientific Intelligent Design advocates, I don't see where belief in god has interfered with science.
posted by Jimbob at 6:15 PM on January 24, 2006


"I know there is no god. Prove me wrong"

Thinking is occuring. Something exists rather than nothing. God is everything (the process of thinking as well as the thought). That thinking exists - that anything exists - by my definition means God exists.

"I'm not so sure science has disproved the nature of a god in the deeper fabric of the universe."

Depends on the definition. Omnipotence equates to omnipresence equates to omniscience. Why is God's 'will' utterly separate from human will? I see no reason why there cannot be components that are lesser parts of the whole, but still actors. You can force your left hand to fight your right hand if you want. Taken from the perspective of the hand, it seems like a real struggle.

"not the only conceivable worldview for a thinking person"

I think atheism is an anathema (in several senses of the word) to any thinking person. The crux of that world view is that there is no God. This means that the matter is settled. There can be no possible ontological state of being that can equate to "God." So there is no inquiry into that ground of being.
We can certainly remove the term "God" from the equation.
Wittgenstein talked about the hazards of linguistic confusion.

But I know of no atheist who has done any work, philosophically or otherwise into the ground of being. But that gets back into - can one call an athiest "spiritual" etc.

I suppose I'd be a nontheist, but again, not really an accurate term.

And that gets back to the "deeper fabric of the universe" thing. We can argue about the features God has - but by it's nature it's tautology (predicated on the inital fact - if God exists then he has "x" features or doesn't have "x" features - same).
So it gets to the definition there.

Which for me is a matter of inquiry. Atheism - as I see it, is a lack of inquiry.

There are indeed factors in other - let's call 'em sections of thought (to avoid confusion with words seen from different perspectives) - such as Christianity that resist inquiry. And many permutations of those focus on the same tautological details mentioned above (Pat Robertson f'rinstance: God hates gays or the Quakers: God loves everybody). Dogma - is endless speculation, athiesm is devoid of speculation.

Certainly this does not mean speculation into questions that religeon and spiritualism often goes into such as questions of morality. I would certainly concede not having the supernatural spectre of God sitting above you frees up a lot of otherwise unexplored moral and ethical turf. I'm not at all deriding atheism as a useless perspective.

But at some point any thinking person will discover that inquiry into ontological questions are not invalid as athiesm seems to assert.

This doesn't require a specific definition of deity, a specific ethos, or specific section of thought, it really probably does better without them.
But it certainly requires metaphysics.

"Is there a word for one who doesn't know if there is a God and is relatively unconcerned?"

There is: Ignosticism. I'm not asserting ignosticism. I think the question - and the very process of inquiry - has very real and profoundly personal importance.
The difference is that many people hold empricism as the only valid set of deriving ... oh, let's be Epistemological assholes and say - knowlege from the universe. However Taoism f'rinstance recognizes that there is a priori knowlege, it just can't be expressed.

This is reiterated in the "Mu" answer given by Buddha as to whether there is a God and whether a dog has (rough western equivalent) a soul.

In western thought Spinoza and Leibniz held that knowlege could be derived a priori through reason alone, but in practice it wasn't possible except in certain areas where deductive reasoning was most powerful like in math.

Currently the empiricists seem to dominate - because science is so nifty (and so obviously valid) and because it's easy to teach.

And that's where we get hung up. 'Cause folks keep wanting to look at the moon or the finger that points to it instead of absorbing the teaching.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:15 PM on January 24, 2006


bshort: But, lots of people do believe in an invisible superhero. Who are you to say they're wrong?

I'm me, that's who. I'm the last word on what I believe.

Don't you need to apply your scientific method to each and every claim?


Only if I care enough about their claim to bother. And it's not "my" scientific method.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:26 PM on January 24, 2006


Thinking is occuring. Something exists rather than nothing. God is everything (the process of thinking as well as the thought). That thinking exists - that anything exists - by my definition means God exists.

Why is God everything? You make this strange leap that doesn't follow.

Depends on the definition. Omnipotence equates to omnipresence equates to omniscience. Why is God's 'will' utterly separate from human will? I see no reason why there cannot be components that are lesser parts of the whole, but still actors. You can force your left hand to fight your right hand if you want. Taken from the perspective of the hand, it seems like a real struggle.

So... we're all part of god's will? Yeah, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.

I think atheism is an anathema (in several senses of the word) to any thinking person. The crux of that world view is that there is no God. This means that the matter is settled.

Straw-man it however you want, but you're privileging an omnipresent god over leprechauns, which, should be given just consideration in the world view that you're espousing.
posted by bshort at 6:26 PM on January 24, 2006


Why is God everything? You make this strange leap that doesn't follow.


Why do you get to define "God"? You make this strange leap that doesn't follow.

So... we're all part of god's will? Yeah, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.

What a reasoned cogent philosophical argument. Wow. Right up there with "Oh yeah?"

"Straw-man it however you want, but you're privileging an omnipresent god over leprechauns, which, should be given just consideration in the world view that you're espousing."

I don't get it. Considering omnipresent physical laws as my definition of God is the equvalent of asserting the existance of leprechauns?



I will say - it is noticable that some empiricists tend to go right for the skepticism as opposed to recognizing the possibility of any a priori thought. If sense experiance can't show it, it doesn't exist.

Irritating habit really. And it seems to get picked up a lot. The whole "man in the clouds" criticism.

Causation f'rinstance. God caused 'X' to happen or God didn't cause 'X' to happen.

But as I said - it's about the system, the inquiry, not the content or the description which always seems to fall back into tautology. And Hyakujo's Fox keeps getting reincarnated.

Of course, bshort does have a point. Reason with a pig and he's still a pig. And you waste your time using logic.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:37 PM on January 24, 2006


(To bludgeon the point - God is causality) But again. Moon. Finger. All that.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:38 PM on January 24, 2006


The definitions you have provided are quite clear. You haven't given the source of those definitions and, as I said before, I suspect that your source is less than reputable.

Snicker. The definitions I provided are from the American Heritage dictionary, that well known bastion of liberal satan-worship and fuzzy-headed postmodernism. Any other dictionary will give a very similar definition, and as you've again avoided actually stating why you think the two concepts are not distinct, I think we're done here.
posted by freebird at 6:39 PM on January 24, 2006


I've said it again and again, freebird. I think they're not well-defined and wholly distinct because their usage in the real world is not well defined. If you'd like to see examples of usage of the terms by people who describe themselves with the same, please see above in this very thread.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:43 PM on January 24, 2006


Why do you get to define "God"? You make this strange leap that doesn't follow.

Look, feel free to define god however you want, but I was quoting what you wrote. You said "God is everything." I was responding to that. Some people call that a discussion.

I'm me, that's who. I'm the last word on what I believe.

Ok, then enlighten us. What do you believe?
posted by bshort at 6:50 PM on January 24, 2006


Jek - I also hear people confuse "Emigrate" and "Immigrate" with some regularity. Does this mean the concepts are not "not well-defined and wholly distinct"? Or does it just mean people often don't understand the concepts?
posted by freebird at 6:52 PM on January 24, 2006


Ok, then enlighten us. What do you believe?

Been there, done that. If you're really interested, then look at my previous comments in other threads. Email me if you have further questions. I'm happy to discuss.

I also hear people confuse "Emigrate" and "Immigrate" with some regularity. Does this mean the concepts are not "not well-defined and wholly distinct"? Or does it just mean people often don't understand the concepts?

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're being intentionally obtuse. But on the topic of "emigrate" versus "immigrate," you must live in Salt Lake City.
posted by JekPorkins at 6:57 PM on January 24, 2006


I think a lot of the sworn-athiests around here are trying to push the idea that "real" scientists have to follow some atheistic creed in order to do good science . . . My supervisor, a well respected ecologist, is catholic.

Actually I believe nothing of the sort. Isaac Newton was a lunatic who believed in all manners of junk science along with his real, unsurpassed, scientific accomplishments. Fine, people work quite well within their contradictions - its hard to deny this.

What I do say is that 'god' is a crank anti-scientific belief, just as surely as a belief in Smurfs is idiotic and contemptible. If scientists are theists, or especially Christians who believe all the lifeafter death and walk on water malarcky, then they are being unscientific for believing in those things, regardless of their achievements in the lab.

"I know there is no god. Prove me wrong"

Thinking is occurring. Something exists rather than nothing. God is everything (the process of thinking as well as the thought). That thinking exists - that anything exists - by my definition means God exists.


Wee. I define "god" as a broom - "god" exists. I define "god" as cold fusion - "god" doesn't exist. This "god" thing is just like an all-purpose concept for sophistry isn't it? I seriously hope you aren't making some crank creationist argument that "god" must have designed the human brain because it's too complex to have evolved, with that "I think therefore 'god' exists" crap.

I think atheism is an anathema (in several senses of the word) to any thinking person. The crux of that world view is that there is no God. This means that the matter is settled.

No, it means cranks like you aren't allowed to play conceptual parlor games with a metaphysically-loaded three letter symbol. Your comment is pure bullshit - materialism certainly has more of an established, or at least working definition, than "supernatural" nonconcepts like "god", so let's please stop with this Cosmological Creationism. Once "god" becomes a working hypothesis within any scientific discipline, or any forensic study of reality, then it will stop being pseudoscience. Until then (and that will never happen) this is just pure snake-oil.

Which for me is a matter of inquiry. Atheism - as I see it, is a lack of inquiry.

What about Asmurfism? Oh, that's different because you say so. I guess it has something to do with 'matter", eh?

But at some point any thinking person will discover that inquiry into ontological questions are not invalid as atheism seems to assert.

If "ontology" requires taking the ill-defined, arbitrary and ridiculous pseudo-concepts of tradition and your choosing seriously for explaining reality, then I guess I'm not a "thinking" person.

Of course the real "unthinking" people are the ones who tell us we should reserve some sort of special belief space in our minds, not for fairies or trolls, but for a concept they've never bothered to provide one iota of evidence for, or even adequately define.
posted by dgaicun at 6:58 PM on January 24, 2006


I've said it again and again, freebird. I think they're not well-defined and wholly distinct because their usage in the real world is not well defined.

This statement applies to every word. Does this mean we can stop attempting to communicate with you now?
posted by mek at 6:59 PM on January 24, 2006


Does this mean we can stop attempting to communicate with you now?

To the extent that you've genuinely been attempting to communicate with me, I wish you would stop altogether, yes.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:02 PM on January 24, 2006


Wow. He really converted me out of my modern ways of thinking. Not.

Let's stop calling it religion. Let's start calling it "personal mythology".

Let's stop pretending that believing in fairy stories helps at all. People wrote those books. Those that talk to god are either insane or salesmen, lying to sell you product. I suspect that many of them are and were a bit of both. The books are full of people talking to god. These people, whether based on fact or fabricated, are not to be trusted.

Let's stop pretending that believers of all religions are not practicing cultists, mired in communal self-delusion.
posted by sydnius at 7:02 PM on January 24, 2006


"...but I was quoting what you wrote. You said "God is everything." I was responding to that. Some people call that a discussion."

And I wrote a long post explicating that point. Some people call it reading.

But feel free to ignore or distort any abstract reasoning I engage in, just don't call it a discussion.

God is by many definitions omnipresent.
Omnipresent - om·ni·pres·ent, adjective, meaning present in all places at all times.

If God is omnipresent he is by definition in all things. He's also by many definitions omniscient and omnipotent.
(unfortunately I'm running into some of Wittgen...fuck that, why bother referencing anything).

If he's everywhere, knows everything, can do everything - why can 'he' not be everything. Furthermore why not define God as one with all things - that is - exactly as all things - as opposed to some kind of add-on to the universe?

But as I pointed out there are problems with using the term "God" because idiots tend to fixate on pre-concieved notions of what 'God' is and gainsay the argument into tautology rather than get into an ontological discussion or indeed have any sort of productive converstation.

To my mind a discussion is when you read and absorb someone elses' comments and respond on some equal basis. But whatever. No one says I have to respond.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:08 PM on January 24, 2006


I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're being intentionally obtuse.

Eh?

Look, you said concepts A and B aren't as distinct as I thought. I supplied (very standard) definitions which were quite distinct. Then you said they weren't distinct because people confused them often when they used them. I pointed out that people confuse all manner of words, and that this (generally) means the people are confused - not the definitions. If anyone *breathes* the words "prescriptive" or "descriptive" linguistics I will cry.

I was hoping you actually had something interesting to say about the actual concepts of agnosticism and atheism, like lupus_yonderboy did. Apparently you just want to muddy the waters. Which doesn't help get you off my Religious Nut list. No big deal for either one of us, I'm certain.
posted by freebird at 7:11 PM on January 24, 2006


Scientists should admit the possibility of a Deist god, since there is no good evidence for or against it. Active belief in any god is not scientifically justified.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 7:13 PM on January 24, 2006


Yeah, dgaicun really nailed your little pseudo-scientific bullshit far better than I ever could. Feel free to continue using tortured little semantic games to try and prove your "point." You'd probably be much better off just talking to yourself. That way no one could misunderstand you or distort your words.
posted by bshort at 7:13 PM on January 24, 2006


Oh, and I was talking to Smedleyman, there.
posted by bshort at 7:14 PM on January 24, 2006


Fuck you back bshort.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:17 PM on January 24, 2006


Freebird: I still fail to see how my recognition of differing usages of the terms "agnostic" and "atheist" puts me on the Religious Nut list. What the hell does one have to do with the other?

Like I've said umpteen times: I made exactly the same definitional statement that you did recently, and was taken to task for those definitions being oversimplified. If you don't think they're oversimplified, that's fine. You and I would have agreed before a boatload of self-proclaimed atheists jumped down my throat to tell me how I was wrong and those definitions are incomplete.

Ultimately, I'm sure I'll stay on your religious nut list, since I am, in fact, religious. But what do the definitions of atheist and agnostic have to do with whether I'm a religious nut or not?
posted by JekPorkins at 7:19 PM on January 24, 2006


I made exactly the same definitional statement that you did recently, and was taken to task for those definitions being oversimplified.

Right! I want to know what the reasons given were! Why did you change your mind?!! What convinced you that the definitions were oversimplified?!?! That's all I'm asking. It sounds like someone presented you with actual arguments for the conflation of the two, and I'm curious what those were. Unless you're going to say "because people confuse them." Then I un-ask the question. :)

But what do the definitions of atheist and agnostic have to do with whether I'm a religious nut or not?

Because I started out saying that religious nuts considered them the same concept, because not being certain if God exists is as wrong to them as believing It doesn't. You immediately jumped in with your still un-explained claim that they are in fact not distinct. It's mostly guilt-by-association, I admit. I find it pretty accurate, but apologize if I'm painting with an overly broad brush.
posted by freebird at 7:27 PM on January 24, 2006


Smedlyman, replace god in that statement with X (some deity or whatever you please), again replace god with Y. Create X such that it is mutually exclusive with Y. How can the original statement then be correct for any X or Y? You have proven that both X and Y are true but that only X OR Y can be true.....

I think you are begging the question here.
posted by dibblda at 7:28 PM on January 24, 2006


"This "god" thing is just like an all-purpose concept for sophistry isn't it?"

Hmmm... doesn't look like I said that. In fact, seems like I said the opposite.


I seriously hope you aren't making some crank creationist argument that "god" must have designed the human brain because it's too complex to have evolved, with that "I think therefore 'god' exists" crap.


I didn't say that either. Intriguing how you seem to fall back onto skepticism and criticism instead of rational argument.

"Once "god" becomes a working hypothesis within any scientific discipline, or any forensic study of reality, then it will stop being pseudoscience."

I did assert philosophical inquiry. And I was using "God" as a convenient term. But if you want to switch to using ground of being I'd be happier with that.

"What about Asmurfism? Oh, that's different because you say so. I guess it has something to do with 'matter", eh?"

Ah yes, and it's me who is being irrational.

If "ontology" requires taking the ill-defined, arbitrary and ridiculous pseudo-concepts of tradition


Well let's start there. Since you put it in quotes I'm thinking you don't know what it is. I'm not trying to denegrate your knowlege, but I'm thinking we're not communicating. I'm using it as rational cosmology. Not so much in the Kantian sense or the discredited Ontologism sense. More in the Aristotalian First Philosophy, the science of the essence of things. The Sartre inqury into the explicit assertions and implicit presuppositions about the existence of entities, substances, beings, etc. - in this case the ground of being.

"...but for a concept they've never bothered to provide one iota of evidence for, or even adequately define


Well, I don't think it's me you're arguing with but them then. Cause I've defined it. I've also addressed "providing evidence" as part of the problem - as outlined above - there are inherent presuppositions about "God" that many people have and are reenforced by their world view or belief systems or paradigms of philosophies or what have you.

I believe it is these presuppositions that are getting in the way of the philosophical discussion of the nature of existance, the foundation of being, etc.

This thread - QED.

I will add as a rhetorical point that I don't believe I can prove something like beauty and indeed it is not fully defined.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:32 PM on January 24, 2006


Smedlyman, replace god in that statement...

Which statement?
posted by Smedleyman at 7:35 PM on January 24, 2006


Beauty is an adjective, not a noun. The existence of Adjectives is a very different type of existence than that of Nouns, since they are "properties" not "things".
posted by freebird at 7:36 PM on January 24, 2006


Scientists should admit the possibility of a Deist god, since there is no good evidence for or against it. Active belief in any god is not scientifically justified.

Yes, it is. There is no there there. First of all scientists have no obligation to "admit the possibility" of a 6000 year old earth in the sense that we are using "admission". This is "possible" by the stupid Matrix definition of possibility, but by the scientists defintion, it is not possible the earth is 6000 years old and Fred Flintstone rode a dinosaur to work. Period.

Meanwhile, scientists have no obligation to "admit the possibility" of Smurfs. What the fuck is a Smurf? Anything small and blue and human like? Smurfs do not exist. Period.

Finally, scientists have no obligation to "admit the possibility" of a nkdbnt5^^Y^HRF because it isn't even a concept, I just banged on my keyboard. Nkdbnt5^^Y^HRFs do not exist. Period.

Once God is something other than a reactionary pseudoconcept with little more substance than a series of random keystrokes in its nontestable formalutaions, and with no evidence for it, and all evidence against it by its most testable definitions, then thinking people have an obligation to give it any special theoretical consideration. Right now a thinking person has no obligation to give this "idea" one iota of credence, and every reason to be offended that it even has to be debated like we aren't actually debating the existence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Christ.
posted by dgaicun at 7:37 PM on January 24, 2006


Beauty is an adjective, not a noun.

ack I can't believe I wrote that. This is why I've avoided arguments like this since college. It goes nowhere and from far away, all of us in this thread look like stupid onanistic tail-chasers.
posted by freebird at 7:38 PM on January 24, 2006


jekporkins: With God, on the other hand, you probably should go through a bit more analysis before reaching the "it's fiction" conclusion

Please provide any support you can think of that shows your god-concept to be anything but fictional.

If you cannot do so, then why should anyone treat your god-concept differently than other unsupported fictional beings?
posted by jsonic at 7:40 PM on January 24, 2006


Beauty is an adjective, not a noun. The existence of Adjectives is a very different type of existence than that of Nouns, since they are "properties" not "things". - posted by freebird

Is that for clarification or are you attempting to equate proving the existance of "God" to proving the edistence of a property. I'm not trying to parrot the ontological argument here. I've already said - a bunch of times - "God" is a convenient term.

But you know, I'm a major league asshole and fuck me for attempting to engage in a productive dialogue.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:46 PM on January 24, 2006


This is why I've avoided arguments like this since college. It goes nowhere and from far away
- posted by freebird

Thanks for asserting my point freebird. Welcome aboard.

But that is not by far the dumbest thing said in the thread...this is:

Right now a thinking person has no obligation to give this "idea" one iota of credence, and every reason to be offended that it even has to be debated like we aren't actually debating the existence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Christ.
posted by dgaicun



The degree of fanatacism a person holds is directly proportional to their inability to detect irony.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:50 PM on January 24, 2006


Freebird: Here's a link to the previous discussion. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading others criticize me for using those definitions ;-)

And jsonic, there are numerous firsthand acccounts of divine intervention and communication with God. Some can be dismissed easily. Others perhaps not so easily. Most are weak evidence, if that. The support for my own belief in God is my own personal experience -- not face-to-face or voice from the heavens type stuff, but enough for my own belief. You'd be an idiot to believe based on my experience. Nobody should believe in God unless they have experiences of their own that act as support their own belief.

Why should anyone treat my god-concept differently than other unsupported fictional beings? They shouldn't unless they want to. I usually hope that people will be intellectually honest about it, rather than being jerks who pretend that a rational person's honest beliefs based on real experiences are the same as believing in a cartoon character. I don't ask you to believe as I do, nor do I offer my experiences as proof to you. You want proof? Have your own experiences. But you should treat a person's honest beliefs with more respect than another person's intentional fictional joke. If you can't figure out why, I don't care to explain it.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:53 PM on January 24, 2006


MU
posted by freebird at 7:54 PM on January 24, 2006


"Materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself" - Schopenhauer
posted by Smedleyman at 7:54 PM on January 24, 2006


Is there a word for one who doesn't know if there is a God and is relatively unconcerned?

Yup. There's a whole church for it, in fact. Not to be confused with this group.
posted by Zinger at 7:56 PM on January 24, 2006


jekporkins: Why should anyone treat my god-concept differently than other unsupported fictional beings? They shouldn't unless they want to.

Ok, but that doesn't jive with your statement I quoted previously that people should treat your god-concept differently.

I usually hope that people will be intellectually honest about it, rather than being jerks who pretend that a rational person's honest beliefs based on real experiences are the same as believing in a cartoon character.

Some people may be jerks about it, but they aren't incorrect in comparing the unfounded nature of god-concepts with other unevidenced characters.
posted by jsonic at 8:04 PM on January 24, 2006


Sorry,

Smedleyman this statement is the one I was referring to:

"Thinking is occuring. Something exists rather than nothing. God is everything (the process of thinking as well as the thought). That thinking exists - that anything exists - by my definition means God exists."

Cheers....
posted by dibblda at 8:08 PM on January 24, 2006


dgaicun, bshort, a gift for you: Eliminative materialism.

W.V.O Quine argues in Epistemology Naturalized that because there could be no such thing as a first philosophy which provided a foundation for all other inquiry, epistemology and the natural sciences could not be separated from each other.

Huh? Huh? *pokes playfully*
posted by Smedleyman at 8:19 PM on January 24, 2006


"This "god" thing is just like an all-purpose concept for sophistry isn't it?"

Hmmm... doesn't look like I said that. In fact, seems like I said the opposite.


Hard to tell, just some gobbedly gook about "'god' existing" because you have a brain. If your intention was to says that "'god'=everything therefore 'god' exists by definition", then this is indeed crass sophistry, not "the opposite".

I seriously hope you aren't making some crank creationist argument that "god" must have designed the human brain because it's too complex to have evolved, with that "I think therefore 'god' exists" crap.

I didn't say that either. Intriguing how you seem to fall back onto skepticism and criticism instead of rational argument.


I said "I hope you aren't arguing", not "you are arguing". When your proof that "god exists" is "Thinking is occurring. Something exists rather than nothing.", forgive me if that can be interpreted as only "god" can create the evolved human mind and the universe, when this is a common argument for the existence of god. I fail to see a lack of "rational argument" on my part, and unfortunately for you, the alternative interpretation of your statement is that you were simply defining 'god' as everything so he would exist by definition, which is textbook sophistry, so don't lecture me on lack of "rational argument".


"What about Asmurfism? Oh, that's different because you say so. I guess it has something to do with 'matter", eh?"

Ah yes, and it's me who is being irrational.


Yes, in fact - by this very statement it seems you take it for granted that Asmurfism and Atheism are somehow fundamentally different. They are not.

"...but for a concept they've never bothered to provide one iota of evidence for, or even adequately define


Well, I don't think it's me you're arguing with but them then. Cause I've defined it.


Right, like a weasel, you defined it as "everything". Fine. "God" is simply a broom. Brooms exist. Therefore 'God' exists. QED.

Seriously, though, if 'god' is a "magical" human with nonsensical super adjectives attached, like Omni-sexy, then 'god' is a bunch of nonsense. If 'god' is some unknown variable x, that we put into every bit of knowledge we don't know yet, then 'god' is nothing more than Intelligent Design Creationism, farting into evolution, cosmology or whatever scientific arena religious cranks everywhere are trying to stake a claim to, before science moves them even further into their ever tinier reservation of make-believe.

I believe it is these presuppositions that are getting in the way of the philosophical discussion of the nature of existence, the foundation of being, etc.

What's truly getting in the way of figuring out (as opposed to "discussing") anything about the nature of existence is bargain basement unfalsifiable philosophical wanking that never bothers to posit a testable hypothesis or generate evidence- and thus advance knowledge even one tiny bit.

But that is not by far the dumbest thing said in the thread...this is:

Well, fuck you too. Rather than harping about what a "fanatic" I am, maybe you'd like to dissect for me why 'god' is a more respectable belief than any other cartoon superhero instead of guffawing at the statements like they are self-evidently wrong. I suppose ninja turtles do exist because I'm defining them as the number 2.
posted by dgaicun at 9:06 PM on January 24, 2006


Thanks, dibblda. It was a bit tongue in cheek to begin with but I'll take a swing at it.

"Thinking is occuring. Something exists rather than nothing. God is everything (the process of thinking as well as the thought). That thinking exists - that anything exists - by my definition means God exists."

replace god in that statement with X (some deity or whatever you please), again replace god with Y. Create X such that it is mutually exclusive with Y. How can the original statement then be correct for any X or Y? You have proven that both X and Y are true but that only X OR Y can be true.....

Thinking is occuring. Something exists rather than nothing. X is everything. Y is everything. X is mutually exclusive with Y.
.... ok, I'm broke down here - are you asking how can the original statement be correct for any "everything"?

Or are you asking whether thinking and "God" are mutually exclusive?

To clarify - I'm not trying to reason from the content of the concept of god to prove the existence of god. I like Spinoza, but I disagree with him and Decartes on the ontological argument. I somewhat agree with Kant on his refutation, with the exception that while metaphysical speculation about the ultimate nature of reality invariably fails, the inquiry is relevant because it is not an equation to be solved or expressed. A great deal of eastern thought is devoted to this point.

To put it in western terms - the debate about ontological commitment - how to approach answering questions about what the stuff is reality is made out off and what the most general features and relations of these things are and the debate in meta-ontology - what the hell those questions really are, are valuable processes in and of themselves.

So we look first at if what we believe already rationally settles this question.

Given certain beliefs (yeah, yeah, lots of epistomological issues in this thread with that word) do these beliefs we hold already rationally commit us to an answer?

The inquiry in ontology is to figure out what it is you are committed to with a certain set of beliefs of theory - etc.

Kant dismisses inquiry into the ultimate nature of reality as meaningless - but makes the mistake Schopenhauer characterizes for the materialists - he disregards the subject. (I'd trot Godel into the argument, but I'm too tired to make it cogent or even clear - and he's too close to the ontological argument anyway (he made a modal logic version of it)).

At the very least the inquiry tells us about ourselves. In Zen terms you must empty your cup before you can fill it with tea.

In "God" terms - when someone says "God" I think of the ultimate nature of reality. It is equivalent really. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent - basically the universe or reality, etc.

I'm asserting that "God" is inherent in being without using a predefined concept of God. So we only have the ultimate nature of reality ("God") as something undefined, unknowable. I disagree with Anselm that there exists something than which a greater cannot be imagined because that defines a category, an attribute. In eastern thought the Tao that can be expressed is not the Tao. In any degree.

Certainly it is a first order logical truth that something exists. Beyond that lies inquiry, whether the internal framework correctly corresponds to reality. Obviously science does this. But meditation (f'rinstance) inquires into the thinking process - into the observer - in a way that science avoided until Heisenberg. I'm enthusiastic about scientific inquiry into the universe, nature, etc.

The more we know the greater degree of complexity, more questions, greater scope of thought and knowlege, the augmentation of the complexity and intensity of intelligent life, extending the evolutionary tendency inherent in being.

It is useless to ask - from an empirical basis - for proof of "God" (again, convenient term) because it is useless to know the answer to the wrong question.
(Mu).
To put it in western thought - because experimentation in this direction alters the experimenter. Because you already have preconceptions and an internal framework to contextualize the question and the answer - therefore it is meaningless rhetoric rather than earnest inquiry into the nature of reality.

...probably seems like I'm dodging the skullwork to put it into symbolic logic dibblda, but it is getting late here. Honest question tho, so I thought I'd give you an honest answer. Try anyway.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:27 PM on January 24, 2006


just some gobbedly gook about "'god' existing" because you have a brain

I didn't say brain. I was referencing the Cartesian argument. And I mention further up that it was mostly tongue in cheek. You should really try to read stuff. As opposed to insulting people doing you the courtesy of responding.

I said "I hope you aren't arguing", not "you are arguing".

Yeah. It's nothing like an insinuation.

when this is a common argument for the existence of god.

In fact it's the ontological argument. Except it isn't. It'd be nice if you'd state it that way so I'm sure that's what you mean.

I fail to see a lack of "rational argument" on my part,

Let me refresh your memory: "No, it means cranks like you aren't allowed to play conceptual parlor games...Your comment is pure bullshit"

I must have missed the categorical propositions in your: "Your comment is pure bullshit" syllogism. But I guess I'll take your word for it that it's a rational argument.

"by this very statement it seems you take it for granted that Asmurfism and Atheism are somehow fundamentally different. They are not."

Take it however you will. You seem to be making up my side of the argument as you go along. I take it for granted that anyone addressing me will give me the respect I give them. Guess I was wrong there too. I thought the: "What about Asmurfism? Oh, that's different because you say so. I guess it has something to do with 'matter", eh?"
was insulting to my intelligence and didn't address any point I'd made. You want to argue that they're not parallel go right ahead. I think it's entirely silly. But sure, perhaps because I'm sleepy and my wife is being nice to me I'll dignify your comment with a reasonable answer:
I accept as valid that not believing in smurfs is the intellectual equivalent of not believing in a deity. Again, not anything to do with the point I made, but....

Fine. "God" is simply a broom. Brooms exist. Therefore 'God' exists. QED....Seriously, though...

No, no, let's pause there for a sec - you get to joke and be lighthearted. Me, I'm such an asshole that everything I say is taken to task whether it's purely for illustration or humor or however qualified simply because I slightly disagree with some of your perspective here. We must all be complete athiests - or whatever the hell it is you are on about - or we're utter fools, addled in mind and unworthy of the slightest respect.
Indeed, even those of us who take a philosophical position on a tangentially related concept must be taken to task. And somehow it is the religeous nuts who are the rabid dogmatists?
Fuck, I'd rather read bevets blather on about religious fundamentalism.


"...if 'god' is a "magical" human with nonsensical super adjectives attached...before science moves them even further into their ever tinier reservation of make-believe."

You're so clearly superior to me in intellect you must address to me these brilliant observations even though I've taken pains to couch my terms philosophically and pointed out I was using the term "God" - again and again - as a convenient term since I suspected not many folks are grounded in eastern concepts. Wow.

"What's truly getting in the way of figuring out (as opposed to "discussing") anything about the nature of existence is bargain basement unfalsifiable philosophical wanking that never bothers to posit a testable hypothesis or generate evidence- and thus advance knowledge even one tiny bit."

"Bargain basement unfalsifiable philosophical wanking" - wow. And I said you were being irrational.

"Well, fuck you too."

Yeah, you wanna step outside?
*waggles fists*

Rather than harping about what a "fanatic" I am, maybe you'd like to

No, no, harping on what a fanatic you are is fun. It's awesome to watch someone with little capacity for abstract thought invoke the name of Jesus Christ after a diatribe arguing against the obligation of a thinking person to give the idea one iota of credence.

Yeah...yeah, that's fun. You're a fanatic. Face it. You are defined by your cause in opposition. Arguing with me just proves it more and more. 'Cause I'm really not arguing against your position. But since you say "fuck me," I thought I'd throw my own negative attachments out there. I've got a lot, too. I'm an obsessive personality. Very focused. You don't have a corner on the feces throwing market. I'm working towards a compassionate mind, but I really haven't reached it yet.
Do you really want to continue to argue with someone who has no quarrel with you? Oh, never mind. You answered that, lotsa times.

instead of guffawing at the statements like they are self-evidently wrong

I'm not guffawing at them I'm guffawing at you. It's ok. We're all the buffoon sometimes. I've been an idiot too.


I suppose ninja turtles do exist because I'm defining them as the number 2.


No, they exist because they made lots of money for their creators.

to dissect for me why 'god' is a more respectable belief than any other cartoon superhero

Yeah, here's the thing. I already did that and explained about all that lots of times in a variety of ways for which I should be commended not only in creativity but on depth. I should also get a sainthood for patience for taken the time to respond to you even like this (but that would require some sort of anthropomorphic deity, which I don't believe in, not that you care).

But I'll do it again. In two ways, as I have been doing.

1. God is a more respectable belief than a cartoon superhero because there is more to be learned from exploration of such a state of being, fictional or otherwise than there is in the exploration of, for example, Superman.
While Superman is an exellent character for study - in that he is entertaining and instructive, the inquiry into God is more respectable in that he is more entertaining and more instructive. Where Superman is limited in form and variety God is infinite. Where Superman is a fully realized fiction, God can be used as a convenient fiction or even believed in as true for the sake of comfort or relief or as a crutch for those with damaged psyches or offered as comfort to those for whom we have no word.

Wow. That was probably the most evil thing I've ever done to someone. I answered a question like that in context and using the word definitions you offered. And I used to kill people for a living.

....meh, I'm going to "Hell" anyway.
*laughs uproariously*

Perhaps I can redeem myself with the second answer.

2.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:15 PM on January 24, 2006


My atheism isn't simply a 'lack of belief in god' but a rejection of the "supernatural" (including but not limited to "god") which I find inherently pseudoscientific..

What an odd thing to say.

(Hint: Science is the study of the natural world, if something is supernatural then you can not say anything about it scientifically, one way or the other. Once you use the word "supernatural" you are no longer talking science at all)
posted by delmoi at 12:42 AM on January 25, 2006


Um. Ambiguous?
atheist: believes that God does NOT exist. This is a belief.
agnostic: does not believe it's possible to KNOW whether or not god exists. This is an absence of belief.


No, this is wrong. It's the agnostics who have a belief, not the athiests.

For example:

Color-blind man: There is no way to tell if the truck is green or brown by looking at it

Blind-man: I don't know if there is a truck there or not.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 AM on January 25, 2006


Or actually, the blind man should say "I don't believe there is a truck there." There may be a truck, there might not. The blind man is simply not thinking about it, while the color-blind man is spouting off about what he believes about the nature of his eyes.
posted by delmoi at 12:49 AM on January 25, 2006


Hi Smedlyman,

my point was that if you apply the statement with X, you get the answer that X exists. If you then independantly apply the statement with Y, then Y exists.

By choosing X such that it requires Y to not exist, and Y such that it requires X to not exist, you create an unresolvable conflict because you can apply the statement to both X and Y.

Basically, the argument sounds reasonable but something is wrong with it if you can create a paradox using the rational given. I'll admit to having read almost no philosophy, except for science...so a lot of the philosophers you mentioned I've heard of but I am unfamiliar with their theories. It sounds like you have a different conception of god than the bible version...

I'll stick with reality as I experience it personally. God hasn't shown his face around so I'll stick with not believing. He also hasn't been seen be any number of people reliably.
Miracles don't impress me...life is full of random chances and noise and picking the occasional peak and holding it up as a miracle while ignoring the valleys seems like self deception.

Technically, you can't disprove the existence of god (a hole in logic apparently), but the simplest explanation is probably the correct one.

This is messy but:
1. Thinking is occuring. Something exists rather than nothing. "God A exclusively" is everything (the process of thinking as well as the thought). That thinking exists - that anything exists - by my definition means God A exists exclusively.

2. Thinking is occuring. Something exists rather than nothing. "God B exclusively" is everything (the process of thinking as well as the thought). That thinking exists - that anything exists - by my definition means God B exists exclusively.

God A exists exclusively (1), God B exists exclusively (2)...oops **(Sound of reality imploding)**

Fun Talking, Good Night.
posted by dibblda at 1:37 AM on January 25, 2006


Stephen Jay Gould wrote a whole book about this subject, Rocks of Ages. In it, he argues that science and religion are in completely different realms, and there should be no overlap.
posted by Jatayu das at 4:09 AM on January 25, 2006


Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
P.K.D.
posted by signal at 6:12 AM on January 25, 2006


Jatayu das

Stephen Jay Gould wrote a whole book about this subject, Rocks of Ages. In it, he argues that science and religion are in completely different realms, and there should be no overlap.

In any case, the belief that religion and science occupy separate magesteria is dishonest. It founders on the undeniable fact that religions still make claims about the world which, on analysis, turn out to be scientific claims. Moreover, religious apologists try to have it both ways, to eat their cake and have it. When talking to intellectuals, they carefully keep off science's turf, safe inside the separate and invulnerable religious magesterium. But when talking to a non-intellectual mass audience they make wanton use of miracle stories, which are blatant intrusions into scientific territory. The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, The Raising of Lazarus, the manifestations of Mary and the Saints around the Catholic world. Even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and very effective they are with an audience of unsophisticates and children. Even on of these miracle amounts to a scientific claim, a violation of the normal running of the natural world. Theologians, if they want to remain honest, should make a choice. You can claim your own magisterium, separate from science's but still deserving of respect. But in that case you have to renounce miracles. Or you can keep your Lourdes and your miracles, and enjoy their huge recruiting potential among the uneducated. But then you must kiss goodbye to separate magesteria and your high-minded aspiration to converge on science. ~ Richard Dawkins

The worldview of scientific naturalism preserves a place for religious beliefs: a place, that is, among the things to be explained by science. The Christian religion thus enters the university with a status precisely equal to that of other comparable religious systems -- say, the Aztec system of human sacrifice. Any individual, even a person of eminence in science, can make a personal choice to "be religious." Such choices are made on the basis of "faith," meaning subjective preference. A problem arises only if the Aztecs or the Christians claim access to knowledge. If they do that, they are claiming that their own beliefs are normative for unbelievers. Only scientists can claim that kind of authority, because what is endorsed by the scientific community constitutes knowledge, not belief. That is why Darwinian evolution can be taught in the schools as fact, however strongly parents or students object, whereas a simple prayer acknowledging God as our Creator is deemed unacceptable -- because somebody might object. ~ Phillip Johnson
posted by bevets at 6:35 AM on January 25, 2006


Why are the anti-theists so vehement in their insistence on using their definition of God? It seems to be a wholly western / Abrahamic definition, which may fit with the original article, but certainly does not fit with my understanding, or I would imagine Smedleyman's.

To be clear about this (my understanding is):
  • The Jewish idea of God is widely misunderstood in the 'educated west', but posits the (to my mind) ridiculous idea of a personal God
  • The Christian idea of God is self-contradictory and batshit crazy
  • The Islamic idea of God is close to the Jewish one
Most Eastern spiritual views™ take a view of God similar to that explicated by Smedleyman. Personally, philosophically I believe in the teachings of Buddha, with a leaning towards the 'religious' elements of Sikhism, but I totally reject the definition of (a western) God like that repeated above.

<aside>
There seems to a strong thread of belief stated above in 'Science' - given that no-one has ever provided a convincing argument (epistemologically) for a scientific method that works, why are you so wedded to this belief?

What do you think drives the indeterministic nature of concepts at a quantum level? Einstein thought that is was God (and that he didn't play dice), where is your scientific theory that explains this feature of nature better than the suggestion that it part of the nature of god (in everything) that determines the behaviour.
</aside>
posted by daveg at 8:03 AM on January 25, 2006


(Hint: Science is the study of the natural world, if something is supernatural then you can not say anything about it scientifically, one way or the other. Once you use the word "supernatural" you are no longer talking science at all)

Delmoi, I don't find this the least bit convincing, for reasons Dawkins partially highlights above. The fact of the matter is that god is a "supernatural" "explanation" for natural phenomenon. That is absolutely pseudoscience. "Supernatural" claims are knowledge claims, but ones that are inherently structured to be unfalsifiable. This absolutely makes them pseudoscience.

If not then you must have a really meaningless definition of 'pseudoscience'. I'd say the whole 'god' "belief" [sic] fits rather perfectly below this umbrella:

A theory, methodology, or practice that is considered to be without scientific foundation.
posted by dgaicun at 8:03 AM on January 25, 2006


yeah, as smedleyman's making clear, the problem is really in defining what is meant by "god". Deism and atheism seem pretty compatible to me. The problem that atheists sometimes ignore is the absurdity of existence. If we accept the ridiculous proposition that the universe exploded into existence with no cause and from nothing, we can maintain atheism (I am not denying this is what happened by calling it ridiculous). If it has a cause or 'prime mover' or whatever, that's god by most definitions. Neither 'solution' really clears the table altogether. In one sense deism seems to be just having sufficient awe for the existence of existence; if you understand god deistically it becomes pretty obvious to accept its existence, since the Everything exists. Philosophers who are staunchly atheistic usually either go with sartrean absurdity or humean skepticism, essentially concluding that the world fundamentally can't make sense. In a way the ground of science is the unity traditionally known as god. Of course this is quite a different comprehension of god than folks who honestly think a man in the sky protects them from danger etc.

And there are people out there who believe in superheroes - one has to assume they simply haven't really given much thought to philosophy. But people who have a deistic conception of god are taking a perfectly reasonable position. As smedleyman says, at least they're recognizing the problem of existence - strict atheists sometimes fail to notice the fundamental question that god is meant to answer. There's the pragmatist's approach, to claim that metaphysical questions are meaningless and we just have to accept the groundlessness of the world. And there's the existentialist approach, that we recognize that existence is fundamentally absurd. And then a lot of philosophers use the concept of "god" in one form or another - not as a man sitting on a cloud, tho'.
posted by mdn at 8:12 AM on January 25, 2006


freebird: Nope. That indicates people misunderstand the terms. The terms themselves are clearly defined, and you've repeatedly dodged the issue of actually saying why you think they're not.

And later

The definitions I provided are from the American Heritage dictionary, that well known bastion of liberal satan-worship and fuzzy-headed postmodernism. Any other dictionary will give a very similar definition, and as you've again avoided actually stating why you think the two concepts are not distinct, I think we're done here.

Going into an argument on a technical term using just a dictionary that was designed to pack the maximum number of common-use definitions into the minimum number of printed pages is perhaps the defining case of sophomoric asshattery. And if you are going to pull from a dictionary, you might as well find a definition that does not contradict your own claims about what the word means:

a·the·ist (ā'thē-ĭst) n.: One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.

dis·be·lieve P Pronunciation Key (dsb-lv) v. dis·be·lieved, dis·be·liev·ing, dis·be·lieves v. tr. To refuse to believe in; reject.

And of course you do know that dictionaries are descriptive in their data collection and analysis, and prescriptive at the hands of the well-intentioned but foolish pundit such as yourself? It's not hard to find plenty of definitions that get into dictionaries considered to be inadequate by the people who actually think about those definitions.

I mean, if you are going to argue about the distinctions in detail between atheism and agnosticism, you might as well start at the horse's mouth and start with Huxley's definition of agnosticism as just a method that involves saying "I don't know" when your inquiries are inconclusive. Then you have Bertrand Russell's point that while he can't disprove the existence of God, he considered himself an atheist because he felt warranted disbelief was a more rational position than warranted belief:
Here there comes a practical question which has often troubled me. Whenever I go into a foreign country or a prison or any similar place they always ask me what is my religion.

I never know whether I should say "Agnostic" or whether I should say "Atheist". It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.

Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.
Of course you can disagree with Huxley, Russell, and a dozen other people who have used the terms in those ways following them. But one would be wise to come up with a better argument for your definition than just a citation in the dictionary.

mdn: If we accept the ridiculous proposition that the universe exploded into existence with no cause and from nothing, we can maintain atheism (I am not denying this is what happened by calling it ridiculous).

Well, one of the things I've found interesting counterpoint to this is Stephen Hawking's argument in Black Holes and Baby Universes that what seems arbitrary at one stage of inquiry frequently turns out to be necessary when more data is uncovered. This is frequently the case in natural history when something like the absurdity of feathers turns out to be pretty darn reasonable for ancestor organisms in another context.

A major difference I find here is that the deist/theist sees the lack of knowledge about the Big Bang as a problem and attempts to fill in the gaps with "god did it." However, there are dozens of other hypotheses about the Big Bang. Why should we grant God any special privilege over the rest? And since we don't know which of the dozen hypothesis are most viable, why make a commitment to one or the other?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:28 AM on January 25, 2006


freebird: And if you really must have the technical difference between atheism and agnosticism handed to you on a silver platter. It's because in the philosophical traditions from which these terms come from, there is a difference between belief, and knowledge (aka, warranted belief). For example, it is reasonable to believe that something like Riemann Hypothesis is true because there is some strong evidence that it should be true. It is unreasonable to claim that you know it is true without offering a proof.

So, Huxley's argument is that confronted with a notoriously difficult problem like the Riemann hypothesis, it's reasonable to say, "well, shucks, I don't know" and get on with whatever you need to do. What does not get mentioned is that Huxley's agnosticism ends up at an early form of humanism. Huxley proposes that since we don't know about the existence of a god, that philosophical inquiry should be based on what we DO know.

Then you have James come along a few years later with a "Will to Believe." Basically, James says that even if you don't know you still have to take a position and believe in order to move on with day to day existence.

Russell has some serious problems with James, so he proposes a rather nicer version of the invisible pink unicorn. Russell admits that he can't prove the non-existence of a tea-set in orbit around Mars. But until worshipers of the Martian Tea-Set come up with some evidence for their tea-set, it's reasonable to not believe in its existence. From there you have his argument that for him, philosophical agnosticism becomes practical atheism.

For the most part, atheism in the 20th century has chosen to talk ontology, they talk epistemology. So you have Russell's "Will to Doubt." And the position that theological claims can't be falsified, and therefore are not worth considering.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:51 AM on January 25, 2006


yeah, as smedleyman's making clear, the problem is really in defining what is meant by "god".

I've stressed this numerous times, as the exact problem. Any 'god' that means anything is either self-contradictory or contradicted by evidence, but most god concepts are just incoherent.

Deism and atheism seem pretty compatible to me. The problem that atheists sometimes ignore is the absurdity of existence. If we accept the ridiculous proposition that the universe exploded into existence with no cause and from nothing, we can maintain atheism (I am not denying this is what happened by calling it ridiculous). If it has a cause or 'prime mover' or whatever, that's god by most definitions . . . But people who have a deistic conception of god are taking a perfectly reasonable position

"The absurdity of existence" is a problem approached scientifically by cosmology and evolutionary biology - scientific disciplines that take years of advanced mathematics and study and lots of raw brain power to master. religion just spouts off vulgar and simplistic make-believe. Science has relevant things to say about the origins of existence, religion does not. So please don't give me this junk about scientists "ignoring" the questions, while noble cultists at least give us the benefit of pulling things out of their asses.

A "prime-mover" god of Deism, of course explains nothing. What "moved" that "god"? A prime-prime mover god? You've just multiplied your assumptions, you didn't add anything of value. Furthermore why is this hypothesized 'prime-mover' given this anthropomorphized persona, 'god'. Does a first cause need to be some giant human? Its laughable. Even if I did sense you had put forth the effort to understand what actual cosmologists say on this subject, calling cosmological concepts 'god', is extremely misleading and unhelpful.

In one sense deism seems to be just having sufficient awe for the existence of existence . . . In a way the ground of science is the unity traditionally known as god. Of course this is quite a different comprehension of god than folks who honestly think a man in the sky protects them from danger etc.

Look, defining 'god' as a broom or a love of sex, or some other thing, just so it has to be true, is just pure absurd dishonesty. Why don't people do this with any other discredited concept with a widely understood meaning? Why don't people claim "cold fusion" does exist because "cold fusion" is really just the love a mother has for her child or the warm spirit of Christmas time? Why do we play this parlor game with the god concept, redefining it illogically just so those filthy atheists have to be wrong?

How about we leave the 'god' metaphor for poetry, but we're trying to discuss what exists and what doesn't exist, not how we like to describe things. It really isn't helping to mesh the two conversations, and the fact that people always do it, tells me they themselves are confused about the subject, and indeed that they like metaphor and reality to be confused if it will lend a hand to protecting cherished mythical concepts.

As smedleyman says, at least they're recognizing the problem of existence - strict atheists sometimes fail to notice the fundamental question that god is meant to answer.

Uh huh. Why don't we compare the rates of atheism among people who actually figure out these "origins" questions for a living - who actually add to our understanding instead of wank on about make believe like theologians (or just wank like philosophers). Its nonsense of course, evolutionary biologists and cosmologists are much more likely to be atheists - they not only notice these questions, but are infinitely more likely to actually say things that help answer them.
posted by dgaicun at 9:16 AM on January 25, 2006


Ohh, I missed this until it was quoted:

mdn: In one sense deism seems to be just having sufficient awe for the existence of existence; if you understand god deistically it becomes pretty obvious to accept its existence, since the Everything exists.

I think one of the more annoyinng things about religion is the way in which it has managed to claim a monopoly on things like awe, beauty, and wonder. Ann Druyan, the widow of Carl Sagan has written at length about Sagan's deep love of the universe, and feeling of awe. Asimov also manages to express jaw-popping wonder at the beauty of the universe. Then you have people like E. O. Wilson and Barlow who propose that cosmology includes some powerful fuel for alternative myths.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:47 AM on January 25, 2006


I had a long rant brewing in my brain but KirkJobSluder came in and said most everything that needed to be said. I will say that it's just unfortunate that so many people still fall prey to the old saw that atheism is a religion or a belief.

I'll also add that science has no problem with religion. It's religion that has a problem with science. Scientists simply don't care whether God or gods exist. Nowhere does the scientific method place any sort of constraints or criteria on anything that might be called a god. Consequently, whether God (or Santa Claus or any of the other various fairy tale figures) exists will have no impact whatsoever on any field of science.

In light of the previous two points it's clear why this article is ultimately just a dishonest rationalization of one man's personal foolishness. The article employs a very interesting trick: in questioning the "science-atheism bond"--a bond that is purported neither by scientists nor atheists but rather religious propagandists--it attempts to reduce atheism to the same status as religion, the status of unjustified belief that's "unsupported" by scientific inquiry. Of course, this is just a side-step of the real issue: religion is unjustified belief that's been proven false. Thanks to previous scientific discoveries there are several religious claims that we now know to be false. The only reason why science seems to "work with" atheism is because it has the power to disprove unfounded, religious claims about the world and each time such a claim is disproved the atheist is indeed vindicated. There is always the possibility that the reverse will happen: science will lead to proof of a God-like entity in which case atheism will take a hit and the various religions will all claim vindication. (Indeed you can already see this happening on another level where, in the ultimate irony, various religious thinkers are attempting to use evolutionary psychology to support their various claims.) Still, religions will always have a problem with science because, ultimately, its fact-finding power doesn't come from God. Scientific knowledge and discovery will forever be dangerous to those who claim to have all the answers.
posted by nixerman at 9:53 AM on January 25, 2006


Look, defining 'god' as a broom or a love of sex, or some other thing, just so it has to be true, is just pure absurd dishonesty.

Look, I'm an atheist by all popular definitions - I generally call myself an atheist. But I'm a philosophy student as well, and I think questions of metaphysics are worthwhile. When I first got into philosophy I was annoyed that so few of the great thinkers had been purely atheistic. But the deeper I get into the questions, the more I'm convinced that we have lost touch with what people originally meant by "god". It isn't redefining god arbitrarily to call it the unity of existence or the being of being. It's right there in heraclitus. It's there in the bhagavad gita. It's in aristotle and spinoza - the universe is a single form or substance, i.e., god. This is an ancient definition. I'm not saying it's completely clear and without problems, by any means - but to suggest that this is some new trick to avoid the silliness of god is disingenuous at best.

Any 'god' that means anything is either self-contradictory or contradicted by evidence, but most god concepts are just incoherent.

well, I more or less agree with this, but I think that has a lot to do with the fundamental problem that Being itself seems self contradictory, which is what gets us into the mess in the first place.

"The absurdity of existence" is a problem approached scientifically by cosmology and evolutionary biology - scientific disciplines that take years of advanced mathematics and study and lots of raw brain power to master.

?how is the absurdity of existence approached by biology? The difficulty with the question is that in a certain sense it can't have an answer - as you point out yourself, and as any 2-year old can demonstrate, there will always be another "why" behind any answer. The "idea" of god is the "infinite totality" - that which can ground itself, the necessity of existence. Of course, it is an absurd idea. And yet the world is somehow here, which is itself absurd.

religion just spouts off vulgar and simplistic make-believe.

some religion does that. there are people whose conceptions of god are worth thinking about, though. Basically, what it comes down to is either positing that the universe has no cause, or positing that there can be such a thing as an uncaused cause, which they call god. Many theologians posit such a thing, and then attempt to work out what that uncaused cause is (i.e., whether it is the totality of existence, or 'outside' of time & space, etc)

A major difference I find here is that the deist/theist sees the lack of knowledge about the Big Bang as a problem and attempts to fill in the gaps with "god did it."

I think the more reasonable deistic sorts are not saying "god did it" at any point, but simply use "god" as shorthand for infinite regresses and such... I dunno, I'm on the fence about the terminology. I'm 100% in favor of learning as much as we can as if everything can be made sense of. I just feel a need to point out that when the ancients were talking about "zeus" they did not mean "a guy throwing thunderbolts" - they meant the unmoved mover, the tendency toward complexity, the beingness of being. I think sky-men are laughable, but I also think that some atheists are plowing through strawmen. A possible scientific conception of god could be a non-local unity of all space-time, e.g., if the universe really is all one substance - as opposed to a humean conception of arbitrary chance accounting for the seeming regularity of the activity of nature.
posted by mdn at 10:45 AM on January 25, 2006


“ If you then independantly apply the statement with Y, then Y exists...you create an unresolvable conflict because you can apply the statement to both X and Y”
- dibblda

Your logic is sound dibblda. But I’m not asserting exclusivity - I tried to make that point elsewhere (in that the term ‘God’ does carry a lot of extra freight with it - one of those being that idea)

The Zen fox thing gets into that.

Once when Hyakujo delivered some Zen lectures an old man attended them, unseen by the monks. At the end of each talk when the monks left so did he. But one day he remained after the had gone, and Hyakujo asked him: `Who are you?'

The old man replied: `I am not a human being, but I was a human being when the Kashapa Buddha preached in this world. I was a Zen master and lived on this mountain. At that time one of my students asked me whether the enlightened man is subject to the law of causation. I answered him: "The enlightened man is not subject to the law of causation." For this answer evidencing a clinging to absoluteness I became a fox for five hundred rebirths, and I am still a fox. Will you save me from this condition with your Zen words and let me get out of a fox's body? Now may I ask you: Is the enlightened man subject to the law of causation?'

Hyakujo said: `The enlightened man is one with the law of causation.'

At the words of Hyakujo the old man was enlightened. `I am emancipated,' he said, paying homage with a deep bow. `I am no more a fox, but I have to leave my body in my dwelling place behind this mountain. Please perform my funeral as a monk.' The he disappeared.

The next day Hyakujo gave an order through the chief monk to prepare to attend the funeral of a monk. `No one was sick in the infirmary,' wondered the monks. `What does our teacher mean?'

After dinner Hyakujo led the monks out and around the mountain. In a cave, with his staff he poked out the corpse of an old fox and then performed the ceremony of cremation.

That evening Hyakujo gave a talk to the monks and told this story about the law of causation.

Obaku, upon hearing this story, asked Hyakujo: `I understand that a long time ago because a certain person gave a wrong Zen answer he became a fox for five hundred rebirths. Now I was to ask: If some modern master is asked many questions, and he always gives the right answer, what will become of him?'

Hyakujo said: `You come here near me and I will tell you.'

Obaku went near Hyakujo and slapped the teacher's face with this hand, for he knew this was the answer his teacher intended to give him.

Hyakujo clapped his hands and laughed at the discernment. `I thought a Persian had a red beard,' he said, `and now I know a Persian who has a red beard.'

Mumon's comment: `The enlightened man is not subject.' How can this answer make the monk a fox?

`The enlightened man is at one with the law of causation.' How can this answer make the fox emancipated?

To understand clearly one has to have just one eye.


Controlled or not controlled?
The same dice shows two faces.
Not controlled or controlled,
Both are a grievous error.


The cute details in the story aside it’s more like the commutative property, if that helps. The order doesn’t make a difference. Even the specific properties don’t matter (so - no exclusivity). One could argue in the same way all infinities are equal to each other. The Axiom of infinity thing (every natural number is equal to the set of all preceding natural numbers)

From the Indian Veda -"if you remove a part from infinity or add a part to infinity, still what remains is infinity"

Or western tradition - Aristotle - it is always possible to think of a larger number: for the number of times a magnitude can be bisected is infinite.

I’m fine with substituting “God” with infinity. More comfortable actually.

And zero * Infinity is of course undefined.



"Any 'god' that means anything is either self-contradictory or contradicted by evidence, but most god concepts are just incoherent. "
Then perhaps you should read a book or something. ‘Cause it was mostly philosophers who came up with ways to think about things.
You insist on applying your own definitions to anyone elses “god” concept. “God is a broom” etc.

I don’t see how describing “god” as infinity, is self-contradictory when I agree that they are undefined.
Should we then eliminate the term ‘infinity’ because it is equally undefined?

I’ll give you the same pile of shit you gave me - prove infinity exists. Show me all of the evidence.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:45 AM on January 25, 2006


Smedleyman: To suggest a counter parable, Einstein was always a bit miffed to find how his statements about God as universe were taken as support of God as the meddler and miracle worker.

To be blunt, the "god as infinity" bit makes it clear to me why ontological atheism can't win. You can't make an argument about the non-existance of something that is not clearly defined. There is an equally old argument against such redefinitions of god. If god is not omnipotent and personally concerned with the welfare of humanity, why call it god?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:55 AM on January 25, 2006


I'm a little confused what you're arguing with me about, KirkJobSluder. Are you saying that atheism and agnosticism *aren't* distinct philosophically? Or are you making the point lupus_yonderboy made, that agnosticism is a positive belief that some things *cannot* be known, rather than the common usage that it simply means being unsure about the existence of God? Or something else? I'll try and reread your comments in more detail, it seems there's a lot there and I'm genuinely interested.
posted by freebird at 10:59 AM on January 25, 2006


freebird: I'm a little confused what you're arguing with me about, KirkJobSluder. Are you saying that atheism and agnosticism *aren't* distinct philosophically?

1: I think that if you want to say anthing about what atheism or agnosticism *are* philosophically you need to engage in what has been written and said by philosophers on these issues, and note the points of debate and agreement.

2: A common question in 20th century philosphy has to do with epistemology and levels of certainty. In what conditions is it reasonable to believe in a proposition without ironclad proof as to the truth of that proposition? The question of what we should believe, is a different question from what we can claim to know. Atheism is an answer to one question while agnosticism is an answer to the other.

As a result, you can have agnostic theism as well, (Pacal's Wager being a good example.)

Or are you making the point lupus_yonderboy made, that agnosticism is a positive belief that some things *cannot* be known, rather than the common usage that it simply means being unsure about the existence of God?

3: Well, here is a case in point. Huxley left the door wide open in suggesting that knowledge of god may be possible in the future, while insisting that the state of the debate at his time was dismal. Spencer avanced the claim that the god question was unknowable. Personally, I side more with Huxley than with Spencer. But any reasonable discussion about "what is agnosticism" should include a nod to both positions.

Or something else?

4: Using the AHED or *cringe* anything with the Webster name when you lecture someone is at best lazy and at worst stupid.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:56 AM on January 25, 2006


Using the AHED or *cringe* anything with the Webster name when you lecture someone is at best lazy and at worst stupid.

Not if the point one is making is that there are clear and established definitions for the concepts in question. That is what dictionaries should be for. Not that they represent the full historical context, or all the subtleties of the philosophical positions and common usage. But the case was made that atheism and agnosticism are *not* distinct in their definitions, and thus definitions are an entirely appropriate rebuttal. To return to my previous example, if someone confuses "emigration" and "immigration", is it lazy and stupid to point them to a dictionary?

More substantively, I'm still not clear on what you're disagreeing with. I've said there are two common meanings of "agnosticism":
1) The existence of God is Unknowable
2) The existence of God is unknown by me at this time.
(I actually think of Huxley as saying, "Nothing beyond the physical world and direct experience is Knowable", a third choice, but I freely acknowledge you've read him more closely than I).

How are these wrong? You say agnosticism answers an entirely different question than atheism, which seems to me to be the third option I mention. To me, the first two adress the same question as atheism, but say: "there is no answer" or "I don't know the answer", respectively.
posted by freebird at 12:10 PM on January 25, 2006


“If god is not omnipotent and personally concerned with the welfare of humanity, why call it god?”

I’m not calling it “god.” I’m noting that “personal concern with the welfare of humanity” is a feature of the universe in that it is a trait of (some) humans as opposed to demanding that there be a separation, a division in that kind of knowlege.

God - again - is just a convenient term for me for sake of discussion. In absolutely no way am I - or have I ever - asserted that god is a meddler or miracle worker.
But this distorted characterization of my argument has been floating about quite a bit here.

I am in fact quite close to Einstein in his conception of God.

No snark intended, perhaps you didn’t get the point of the zen fox story.

I suspect, given your citations of Huxley and Spencer, we’re somewhat close in perspective.


“A possible scientific conception of god could be a non-local unity of all space-time,” - mdn

dgaicun, why don’t you tell him to go fuck himself too?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:43 PM on January 25, 2006


Mdn is a her. You, on the other hand are just an ass. A liar for sure, because I never told you to fuck yourself because you said "god" was a scientific idea (though I believe that viewpoint to be ridiculous in the extreme), but because you were talking shit:

You: But that is not by far the dumbest thing said in the thread...this is: [my quote].

Me: Well, fuck you too.
posted by dgaicun at 1:00 PM on January 25, 2006


Smedleyman, I really don't think quoting the gateless gate is particularly edifying. Nor is saying stuff like I don’t see how describing “god” as infinity, is self-contradictory when I agree that they are undefined. It really tells us nothing except that God is useful for solving certain types of equations. God is your metaphysical calculator? So what? God caused nothing, said nothing, did nothing, wants nothing, and has no state of existence or non-existence (otherwise s/he/it would have some form of definition). Why bother? God has become indistinguishable from your navel before you you were born in terms of contemplation-worthyness.

And infinity is hardly undefined. How could Cantor identify separate kinds of infinity without definition?

I think your nebulousness is increasing inversely to your usefulness. I take you point that the non-rational can be edifying to contemplate, but calling it God is just asking for so much trouble I just can't see why you'd bother.
posted by Sparx at 1:06 PM on January 25, 2006


Religion is far too often judged on the basis of the beliefs and actions of its most common or even worst adherents rather than on its best exemplars when one doesn't judge art by xanga poetry or music by some garage band or science by my electrician. Science abets this process by having the valuable category of psuedoscience to keep out the riffraff whereas religion, with the rare exception of some gnosticism, is thought to be for all. Religion is about the inner life of man and so it is more difficult to say that anything is not religion. Furthermore religion cuts to the very ground of Being and transcends normal categories. But surely if one can count the worst believers against one can count the best saints for and to denounce religion because a mass of its followers were base seems to me to be a valuation of the crudest type of quantitative reasoning.

In the western world we have inherited a Greek conception of truth which was then merged with a Hebraic mythology to create a very convoluted metaphysic. The Greek obsession with infinity was also merged with the Jewish conception of a personal God to create a strange amalgam of Logos and Will. Ironically, theologians have been hard at work for millennia trying to give structure and coherence to what Paul originally said with obstinate pride was to the Greeks foolishness. Christianity is fairly unique among religions for its emphasis on dogma and the necessity of 'correct' belief for salvation. In many ways it is still under the burden of the Greek philosophy which it has never been able to totally reconcile with Judaism, a religion so antitheological that it was considered blasphemous to utter the name of God and was rebuked by its prophets for its descent into iconography. "The Lord God is praised in silence." Most religions stress the need for belief but more for practical reasons of pursuing the religious life. Christianity inherited a very Greek conception of truth as correspondence which resulted in a theology of naming and description, to create words to describe and correspond to attributes all of which reside in the logical grid of Logos. But when critiquing Christianity it is also important to remember that Christianity inverted knowledge and belief; one believes so that one may know. Faith then becomes 'faith in' that is a assertion of a positive fact rather than the more Jewish conception of 'faith that'; ie a trust in the Lord. Judaism had no such distinction of faith and knowledge and no systematic metaphysic. It's scripture was poetry and not dogma; the truth of God was emeth, reliability or trustworthiness. In Job, one of the best repudiations of theology in all of literature, it is Job's friends who engage in metaphysical speculation based on the alleged nature of God and on assumed motives while Job remains firm in his faith. This is a more pragmatic idea of truth; that which can be relied upon; that which works. "The Lord is my Rock" There is however, as in all religions, an acknowledgement in Christianity of the fact that there can be no exhaustive knowledge of God. There is a strong current of Via Negativa in Christianity and it is important to remember that 'neti neti' is not exclusive to eastern religions. It is not entirely forgotten that after Aquinas had his mystical experience he wrote no more saying that he considered what he has written 'so much straw.'

The truth of religious doctrines is actually much closer to the verisimilitude of literature than it is to the truth of scientific propositions. Scripture possess the same ambiguity as rich literature or poetry and is inexhaustible in its interpretability. However this is not to say that it lacks a distinct meaning or that it is meaningless. Like art it intimates a reality that is deeper than our everyday perceptions and hints at how one can live in accord with this but unlike art it poses an obligation not just a challenge. 'You must awake, you life as you are now living it is not the best life, don't waste a moment arise from your slumber.' All words sunder things from their reality, cutting them out so they can be manipulated as pieces but religion strives for the whole so in the end words will be of no avail.

However, it is also true that a certain metaphysical edifice is necessary in order to suggest to another where to search for God. Because humans are not born with a constant presence or unity with the Divine it is important to inform them the practices one can undertake to achieve it and the direction one should set out when pursuing it. Metaphysics also describes some of the salient features of the spiritual landscape to help one recognize it when one approaches it. Metaphysics tacitly says: 'When you understand how the this is not that then you will have that.' It is the relationship of the Word to the thing that is understood when metaphysics is transcended. At that moment one realizes precisely how the Word stands to the thing for the Word is not the thing in a specific way. People, limited as they are, often mistake the word for the thing. It is at this level that I think most assertions of God begin to be made, whether it be in terms of His properties, nature, will, desires, acts, etc. There is no end of ways in which words can be rearranged and manipulated and so derivations for other propositions are continually made. Inconsistences inevitably arise and are argued back and forth with no reference to God Himself at all. It is important to remember though that only words can contradict one another Being cannot contradict.

A brief note on agnosticism: I think it is important to mention James' Will to Believe. If we suspend judgement "although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve."

The starting point of religion seems to me to be a feeling of lack. Religion addresses this lack whether it be polytheistic, atheistic or monotheistic. It answers the question 'How shall I attain to the Kingdom of Heaven, where is my salvation to be found?' It seems to me to be much more efficacious to address this question than to concern oneself with byzantine belief systems. Religion is not just a series of assertions or dogmatic truths because God cannot be held in the mind like any other word. Religion is an orientation of life, a direction of the heart. It is mysticism and morals and poetry and ritual and practice and reverence. To give up religion is to give up holiness. Perhaps some think it would be better to give up religion because of its flaws but I would just as soon gouge out my eyes and deprive myself of beauty as give up the experience of the holy.

I apologize for the length of this post, had I more time it would be shorter.
posted by Endymion at 1:35 PM on January 25, 2006


freebird: Not if the point one is making is that there are clear and established definitions for the concepts in question. That is what dictionaries should be for.

No, that is what domain specific handbooks are for. Dictionaries are descriptive of popular use.

But the case was made that atheism and agnosticism are *not* distinct in their definitions, and thus definitions are an entirely appropriate rebuttal. To return to my previous example, if someone confuses "emigration" and "immigration", is it lazy and stupid to point them to a dictionary?

1: obvious false analogy. This debate is not that agnostic means atheist, but that they address two different philosophical questions that are not mutually incompatible.
2: It only works as a rebuttal if the definitions say what you claim they say. As it is, the definition you use is inclusive of both empirical atheism and strong ontological atheism.
3: It is still lazy and stupid to cite a dictionary in a debate about the technical meaning of the term. It certainly should be avoided when arguing against people who are better read, more diligent, and smart enough to reference primary sources.

More substantively, I'm still not clear on what you're disagreeing with. I've said there are two common meanings of "agnosticism":

*deep breath*

Just as a political matter, I'm almost always interested in how insiders define themselves rather than "common meanings." This is because I've been the recipient of too many lectures from people whose only understanding ofthe issue was the "common meaning."

To me, the first two address the same question as atheism, but say: "there is no answer" or "I don't know the answer", respectively.

Because it is frequently reasonable to say, "I don't know the answer, but I do/don't believe..."

For examples of agnostic theism, see Pascal's Wager and James' "Will to Believe." For examples of agnostic atheism, see Bertrand Russell or google search for "weak atheism."

Atheism is a condition of belief. You either don't believe in god (disbelieve) or deny. Agnosticism is a statement about knowledge or strongly justified claims. You either believe that claims about god are stongly jutified, or you believe that the evidence and logic are inconclusive

Does that help?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:36 PM on January 25, 2006


Smedlyman:God - again - is just a convenient term for me for sake of discussion. In absolutely no way am I - or have I ever - asserted that god is a meddler or miracle worker.
But this distorted characterization of my argument has been floating about quite a bit here.


I didn't say you did. What I said was that by using a term for something (still don't know what) that is also associated with personal gods that put images of the virgin on underpasses and punish cities with hurricanes, that its almost impossible to avoid that association.

But I come to atheism though a rounabout way via neopaganism. God language bothers me because I can't use it without some degree of anthropomorphism. I prefer to see the universe as the universe.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:49 PM on January 25, 2006


“Mdn is a her. You, on the other hand are just an ass. A liar for sure...”

Care to back that up? Or are you just talking shit? ‘Cause I did mention many times I was using ‘God’ as a convenient term.
And if you don’t see the humor in saying “Christ” after arguing giving any thought to religion then in addition to being a fanatic bully, you have no sense of humor either.


Also you haven’t answered my question.
Or would you rather continue to argue with me while trying to put words in my mouth?

My mistake mdn.

“And infinity is hardly undefined. How could Cantor identify separate kinds of infinity without definition?” - Sparx

Point taken. I misspoke. Irritation is giving rise to errors. I meant empirically speaking.

dgaicun has asserted essentially there is no possible knowlege beyond what we can prove empirically. (”Science has relevant things to say about the origins of existence, religion does not” - and so forth).

I meant to challenge that. Got a bit off the track there. Sorry.

“I think your nebulousness is increasing inversely to your usefulness.” - Sparx.

Again, point taken. You could well be right. I’m probably too emotionally attached to the argument to do much good.

“but calling it God is just asking for so much trouble I just can't see why you'd bother.” - posted by Sparx

Exactly the point of answering the question with ‘Mu.’ Or asserting that the question be unasked.

Since it’s caused so much trouble, I’ll drop the term for any purpose here.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:18 PM on January 25, 2006


“I didn't say you did. What I said was that by using a term for something (still don't know what) that is also associated with personal gods that put images of the virgin on underpasses and punish cities with hurricanes, that its almost impossible to avoid that association.”
- posted by KirkJobSluder

Point taken. I didn’t mean to imply that you did say that. More of a general statement. Although it can certainly be read as applied to you. I apologize for that.

“I prefer to see the universe as the universe.” - KirkJobSluder

Actually so do I. Unfortunately the “God” term seems to have to come up when discussing metaphysics with atheists. Or even discussing Epistemology (obviously), the difference beween belief and knowlege.

Unfortunately all the focus goes onto “God” as opposed to treating “God” as subject ‘P’ where if one thinks that P is true, then one believes P. - Or in the atheist case, the opposite.

I assert there is knowlege (that is something that is believable and true) that is a priori and reference the Cartesian, Spinozan and Leibniz arguments in that vein and get lumped in with the irrationalists for pointing out atheism on the whole doesn’t?

I mean that’s not argument from dogma?
posted by Smedleyman at 2:34 PM on January 25, 2006


Still no answer dgaicun.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:40 PM on January 25, 2006


Any "conversation" between you and I ended a long time ago, due to your combined cockiness and fuzzy thinking nonsense. I don't even know what question you're referring to, and don't really care much either. Further, that you appear to feel entitled to my responses gives me even less incentive to respond.
posted by dgaicun at 7:29 PM on January 25, 2006



The question was for proof that infinity exists.

I feel entitled to a response because I responded to your questions even after you began to be insulting.

I also felt it only fair to give you a chance to prove you were not simply an abusive troll. As it is, you obviously have no desire to engage in any legitimate dialogue or indeed accept any chance of reconciliation.

As such I think it’s clear that your only aim in this thread was to castigate anyone who was in any way critical of atheism.

Your assertions that my thinking is fuzzy is a paltry excuse when you are the one who snarked on me when I offered an opinion on atheism from an epistemological basis and began to go far afeild on this topic drawing me into this “god” bullshit when I had clearly and repeatedly said I was using the term only out of conveniance.

I thought that the “god” term was a better counterterm to “atheism” than any existential terminology because I suspected - as folks were bandying about dictionary definitions of “atheism” and “agnostic”, etc - we could get bogged down in nuances of meaning.

Apparently I was mistaken in using the term “god” since, as others have pointed out, it is too loaded.

But at least I’m honest enough to admit making a mistake.

You don’t have even the character to admit when you say something that could be seen as funny much less apologize for biting my head off in the first place for offering an opinion.

Perhaps you can’t see the ground from that ivory tower.

/on preview - “I don’t live in an ivory tower you ass! Ivory is much to weak a building material to support...etc.”

Anyway, thought I’d put my hand out. You want to spit on it, ok. That has no bearing on my actions. I apologize for being cocky and for insulting you, people often get very emotional in these things and if my earlier comment “still no answer” seemed rude I apologize for that as well.

Again it was meant with an eye towards resolution, this medium is given to a degree of misunderstaning and I can see how you could interpret it the way you did.

That said my criticisms of your character remain. I don’t believe you made any effort to understand what I said initially. I concede that I may have expressed it poorly, but others pointed that out and I conceded it then and changed. (a couple threads up I re-reframed my initial statement - atheism doesn’t believe in non-trivial a priori knowlege - as far as I can interpret it)

I’ll go further and say yeah I did put more heat into the thread than I should have. That was disruptive and further obscured the issue.

But at least I have the intellectual honesty and the guts to admit when I’m wrong.

You? You have “less incentive to respond.”

So I’ll forget about this cluster fuck, cash in my half of the chips for my part in it and you can live with your own karma*
(*term used in the secular common usage sense).
posted by Smedleyman at 10:35 AM on January 26, 2006


I think one of the more annoyinng things about religion is the way in which it has managed to claim a monopoly on things like awe, beauty, and wonder.

No, I think it's just a little miscommunication between folks. Sagan wrote some beautiful things about his awe for the universe. I love those kinds of atheistic accounts. But if you read a lot of deistic philosophers, they're really saying more or less the same thing. just think "uncaused cause" when you read "god" - what does it mean to claim that the uncaused cause doesn't exist?
posted by mdn at 2:38 PM on January 26, 2006


what does it mean to claim that the uncaused cause doesn't exist?

In real terms, more than the counter claim. Sans evidence of uncaused causes, it's the way to bet.
posted by Sparx at 5:18 AM on January 27, 2006


I suspect that as awe, beauty and wonder are unquantifiable they have no place in science. It's entirely possible that they don't exist at all in a scientific universe, except as chemical subroutines like "like", "dislike", "happy", "irritated" and "horny". Carl Sagan's awe for the universe and Joey Redneck's awe for Miss July's breasts are equivalent, if they're just responses to stimuli that the individuals have conditioned themselves to respond to, which in a purely materialistic universe is the only explanation that makes sense.

Science can only concern itself with that which can be consistently and reliable measured.
posted by Grangousier at 5:40 AM on January 27, 2006


The question was for proof that infinity exists.

Are you talking about infinity as an actual concrete thing or infinity as a concept?

The universe is finite (there's a limit to what we can see) and so we could, given finite time, count all the particles. Therefore "infinity" isn't something that is physically present in our universe.

If, however, you want to argue about whether infinity exists as a mathematical concept, well that's just stupid. It's like arguing about whether algebraic groups are "real".
posted by bshort at 9:04 AM on January 27, 2006


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