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June 8, 2001
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Belief in Astrology up 3% to 28% and belief in ghosts up 13% to 38%. I find the new Gallup Poll on Americans' Belief in Psychic and Paranormal Phenomena depressing, but not surprising. Aren't we supposed to be headed in the other direction?
posted by quirked (93 comments total)

 
Um, can you think of a particular reason why we're "supposed to be" headed in that direction?
posted by solistrato at 9:06 AM on June 8, 2001


I think the Age of Reason jumped the shark about 1800.
posted by luser at 9:09 AM on June 8, 2001


Belief in witches? Isn't that similar to being asked if one believes in Christians? Believing that witchcraft works is another thing entirely, and would have been a better question if asking about belief in the supernatural.
posted by Electric Elf at 9:16 AM on June 8, 2001


science and reason vs. the supernatural and the illogical.
posted by kv at 9:18 AM on June 8, 2001


Isn't that similar to being asked if one believes in Christians?

Pretty much, yeah. If the link is to the actual wording of the study (and I have no reason to believe it isn't), "Witches" is quite vague. I don't believe in green-skinned people with warts and noses and pointy hats, for instance - are those classified as "witches" too?
posted by hijinx at 9:19 AM on June 8, 2001


I can't believe that over 40% of the people polled thought the devil has possessed people on Earth. I just can't.
And clearly, Electric Elf, they're refering to evil, magical witches, not high school girls hugging trees.
posted by Doug at 9:23 AM on June 8, 2001


65% of Post-Grads believe in Psychic or Spiritual Healing?! Stunningly poor.
posted by BoatMeme at 9:26 AM on June 8, 2001


Well, looking at the questions, power of the human mind to heal the body has always seemed kind of reasonable to me.

Of course, I believe in most of the others too, but I don't really see them so much in a scientific concrete way. If you believe the power of myth and story, then these things can have a meaning beyond physical senses and gross perception mechanisms like eyes, ears, etc.

For example, say as part of ritual you allow a benevolent spirit being to enter your body regularly or you see yourself as that spirit, and you associate with that being's aspects and so on. Where does the real/notreal designation exist if you participate according to the idea that this being is with you, and you know the purpose and aspects of this being and behave accordingly?

Now, I'm not going to get into whether this should be a cause for burning at the stake and sacrilege, but I am saying that it is more believable than you might think if you relate to it properly. This is like a ritual basis.

Same distinction goes for if you feel a subtle being is present somewhere. It may be a fabrication of the mind, but you can still associate with it, usefully even. Like if you feel the presence of someone you knew who died, you know them, you know your relationship with them, you know what their presence feels like. How do you say if they are there or not? Is it crazy to wish them the best or maybe even pour a glass of water for them?

I feel like I should make some kind of a disclaimer though, that people have gotten themselves into some strange situations doing rituals and communicating with beings willy-nilly, like charles manson for example. That would be a funny psa on Conan O'Brien: "If you're considering allowing a subtle being into your body, check with a spiritual authority for possible dangers first." Just wanted you to know.
posted by mblandi at 9:27 AM on June 8, 2001


mblandi, if you ever want to help me out, I'd be willing to try to channel the spirit of Satan himself into my body. Because, besides blatant insanity, I'm pretty sure nobody has ever gotten in trouble trying to communicate with "beings" through ritual.
posted by Doug at 9:31 AM on June 8, 2001


I'm pretty sure nobody has ever gotten in trouble trying to communicate with "beings" through ritual.


I'd wager there've been a few burned at the stake.
posted by BoatMeme at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2001


Excerpt from The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan:

"A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage."

Suppose (I'm following a group therapy approach by the psychologist Richard Franklin) I seriously make such an assertion to you. Surely you'd want to check it out, see for yourself. There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence. What an opportunity!

"Show me," you say. I lead you to my garage. You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle-but no dragon.

"Where's the dragon?" you ask.

"Oh, she's right here," I reply, waving vaguely. "I neglected to mention that she's an invisible dragon."

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon's footprints.

"Good idea," I say, "but this dragon floats in the air."

Then you'll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

"Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless."

You'll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

"Good idea, except she's an incorporeal dragon and the paint won't stick."

And so on. I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't work.

Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder. What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.

The only thing you've really learned from my insistence that there's a dragon in my garage is that something funny is going on inside my head. You'd wonder, if no physical tests apply, what convinced me. The possibility that it was a dream or a hallucination would certainly enter your mind. But then why am I taking it so seriously? Maybe I need help. At the least, maybe I've seriously underestimated human fallibility.

Imagine that, despite none of the tests being successful, you wish to be scrupulously open-minded. So you don't outright reject the notion that there's a fire-breathing dragon in my garage. You merely put it on hold. Present evidence is strongly against it, but if a new body of data emerge you're prepared to examine it and see if it convinces you. Surely it's unfair of me to be offended at not being believed; or to criticize you for being stodgy and unimaginative-merely because you rendered the Scottish verdict of "not proved."

Imagine that things had gone otherwise. The dragon is invisible, all right, but footprints are being made in the flour as you watch. Your infrared detector reads off-scale. The spray paint reveals a jagged crest bobbing in the air before you. No matter how skeptical you might have been about the existence of dragons-to say nothing about invisible ones you must now acknowledge that there's something here, and that in a preliminary way it's consistent with an invisible, fire breathing dragon.

Now another scenario: Suppose it's not just me. Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you're pretty sure don't know each other, all tell you they have dragons in their garages-but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive. All of us admit we're disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill supported by the physical evidence. None of us is a lunatic. We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on. I'd rather it not be true, I tell you. But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren't myths at all. . .

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported. But they're never made when a skeptic is looking. An alternative explanation presents itself: On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked. Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon's fiery breath. But again, other possibilities exist. We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible-dragons. Such "evidence"-no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it-is far from compelling. Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.
posted by BoatMeme at 9:45 AM on June 8, 2001


Well, there's the famous comment by Arthur C. Clarke that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

And modern science -- particularly the liminal disciplines of brain science, genetics, and theoretical physics -- often carries the impression of a gnostic sect, with its modern-day guild system and choice of language. When you read something like Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, you get the sense that modern theoretical physics is only a breath away from mythopoeia. Newton's alternate career as an alchemist wasn't an anomaly.
posted by holgate at 9:52 AM on June 8, 2001


Hey, 95% of Americans believe in God, too — once you teach children to believe unquestioningly what they're told no matter how ridiculous, you can't expect them to tell fact from fantasy or truth from lies when grown. (Hence, for example, the ability of the Republicans to foist the current President on us. Or, mblandi's post above.)
posted by nicwolff at 10:12 AM on June 8, 2001


13 posts to a Bush-bash. Is that a record?
posted by starvingartist at 10:19 AM on June 8, 2001


Depressing that some people have a beleif in the supernatural? I find it hard to beleive that there isn't such a thing. I am rational person, but I beleive in ghosts. I beleive in God and Angels, and I beleive in psychic phenomena to an extent. I can't not.

I wouldn't beleive in all these things if at some point in my life I hadn't had some kind of contact with each one of them.

My grandmother died when my younger brother was an infant. Shortly after her death, my mother was in the kitchen ironing when she heard, as clear as day, my grandmother's voice come over the baby monitor intercom. She was talking to my brother, while he laid alone in his crib on the second floor, telling him that it was ok, and things would be alright. My mother ran upstairs immedietly, but of course found no one besides my brother in his room.

As far back as I can remember, I've on a consistant basis been able to spontaneously predict what my brothers are thinking and about to say, before thay say it. It's not a conscious act, and it could probably be just coincidence. All I know is that hundreds of times, I've thought of something only to have one of my brothers say something about it seconds later. *shrug*

I also knew a pair of twins, who, when one twin was hit by a car a while back, his brother was thrown out of his chair at home at the exact moment that he and the car impacted.

And lastly, I've worked at a summer camp for a number of years, which sits on a few acres in the hundson river valley. The grounds itself have a history and are made up of many unique, older buildings. While there, I've seen lots of strange things, and I beleive I've genuinely seen ghosts with my own eyes, right up close, a number of times. Many of my friends say the same thing. Oh, the stories I could tell about that place.

And there you have it. I just thought I'd share. Today's atmosphere is one that exists on logic, science and skepticism. Some may try to refute my claims, or discount them with logical explanations of how my mind was playing tricks on me or my mother was imagining things. That's fine. You didn't experience it first hand. Many people today have a hard time accepting anything that is not completely tangible. I don't see anything that's wrong with that, and I'm not trying to insult anyone. I'm just saying that I think there's a little more out there than what we think. And sometimes you just have to go out on a limb.
posted by tomorama at 10:26 AM on June 8, 2001


I don't know if this is the right thread to post this, but go here (click on Field Reports) and see what you think! I can't believe that this guy is lying, and if he is, his reports surely scare the hell out of you!
posted by Rastafari at 10:42 AM on June 8, 2001


>Many people today have a hard time accepting anything that is not completely tangible.<

except for science. in which the scientists do some experiments and then agree on the meaning of the results, only to have new results appear months later, which are then factored in, and then new "facts" are agreed upon, and so on.

I'm not anti-science, I'm just pointing out that it's as much a matter of faith for most of us as anything else is, and probably more ephemeral than most religions are.

I have noticed something that I find interesting: most believers in religion/psychic phenomenon/astrology/etc are quite open to the idea that their belief may be wrong. usually they've considered that possibility and rejected it. in any case, they can understand and accept that someone else may not see it their way. many of them even acknowledge that they may not be right.

most non-believers are in no way open to the idea that the conclusions they've reached may be wrong. some seem to have been believers at one time who are now very angry to have been "tricked" as children, but most would never acknowledge that they may be wrong, and are usually quite insulting when referring to those who believe.

in fact, I'd say that many, many more of the non-believers I've met (who care about the topic at all) are far more narrow-minded and intolerant than most of the believers I've met.

just an observation.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 10:43 AM on June 8, 2001


13 posts to a Bush-bash. Is that a record? — starvingartist

Oh, I doubt it. But I'm not just bashing Bush — I really see religion and democracy as basically at odds. America raises little believers and then we complain that they lack the critical faculties to competently evaluate the candidates — what do we expect? Note that the current beneficiaries of this credulity are in favor of prayer in schools and "faith-based" charity — gotta train more believers!
posted by nicwolff at 10:55 AM on June 8, 2001


Koestlers 'Ghost in the Machine' addresses this problem with amazing clarity.
posted by clavdivs at 11:00 AM on June 8, 2001


Several posters have maintained that they are "rational" and yet profess to believe in ghosts/witches/etc. Poppycock. The two are mutually exclusive.
Investigating ghosts/witches/etc is another thing, though - wanting to find out *the truth* does not mean that one accepts these things as they are commonly perceived. For instance, I do not believe that there is a "Bigfoot" - in the sense of some sort of missing link-type creature - but there is nothing wrong with going to WashOreCal to examine prints, trails, and other gathered evidence to try to figure out exactly what "Bigfoot" is (or isn't).
posted by davidmsc at 11:03 AM on June 8, 2001


science and reason vs. the supernatural and the illogical.

I don't think that those two groups are mutually exclusive. Reason is only what your mind can comprehend and explain. Illogical comprises all else. Would you be so vain as to say that your mind defines the line, for all of us, between what IS and what ISN'T?

I am scientific. My training is in microbiology & immunology. I also have a strong belief in the supernatural. Not "Miss Jean, the Carribean Psychic", but psychic powers, for sure. Not David Copperfield and the spoon-benders, but the belief that we have the power to transform the physical world with the mind. Not the Ouija board, but the idea that those who have passed on are not just worm-bait.

Throughout all history, scientists have stuggled to explain the world around them. As science advances, sometimes our "supernatural" becomes scientific. Other times however, a scientific explanation gets disproved and the 'thing' moves back into the realm of the supernatural.

Science is nothing more than a collection of present knowledge, ideas and hypotheses about this strange place we live in. Some things about it are well proven and some things are, in truth, nothing but cool fiction. (We just haven't found out about that yet...)

That which can't be explained by science remains in the realm of the supernatural. Well, you say, if we have so many cases of "supernatural" events later being explained by science, why don't we disbelieve in the supernatural?

It's because there is still far more to be explained, and scientists have tried their damndest to prove that there is a scientific basis behind it. They have failed time in and time out.


Also, one last thing, can you tell me how religion and the supernatural are different? The original poster and some others can't possibly be religious or spiritual and reject the "supernatural". Or is "supernatuiral" defined in your world as "the freaky stuff" outside of science and your religion?

they're refering to evil, magical witches, not high school girls hugging trees.

Someone's been watching too many movies...
posted by fooljay at 11:04 AM on June 8, 2001


most believers...are quite open to the idea that their belief may be wrong. most non-believers are in no way open to the idea that the conclusions they've reached may be wrong...in fact, I'd say that many, many more of the non-believers I've met (who care about the topic at all) are far more narrow-minded and intolerant than most of the believers I've met.

Well said, Rebecca...
posted by fooljay at 11:09 AM on June 8, 2001


except for science. in which the scientists do some experiments and then agree on the meaning of the results, only to have new results appear months later, which are then factored in, and then new "facts" are agreed upon, and so on.

Scientific (scare-quote) facts are based on informatoin verifiable by other humans, not just that you felt a prescence, or something like that. Facts are demonstratable.

Unless an outside source can corraborate, it's wrong to present it as fact, or to place the phenomenon on the same level as scientific facts. It's hardly the same thing.

Right on, davidmsc.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:11 AM on June 8, 2001


>Scientific (scare-quote) facts are based on informatoin verifiable by other humans, not just that you felt a prescence, or something like that<

no scare quote at all. just making the point that we think of a "fact" as being permanent unassailable truth, but real world application of science is that these "facts" change over time; lately they change very rapidly. we call this the expansion of knowledge, but the end result is that interpretations we all agreed on once are discarded and a new interpretation is put in place over and over again.

I'm not arguing against science or the scientific method, and I'm not claiming that religious and other experience is (usually) as rigorously examined as scientific truth; I'm just making the point that science isn't as solid and certain as most people *feel* that it is.

my comment was really more about open-mindedness than the merits or demerits of either belief system (which I don't see as being mutually exclusive.)

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 11:25 AM on June 8, 2001


Unless an outside source can corraborate, it's wrong to present it as fact, or to place the phenomenon on
the same level as scientific facts. It's hardly the same thing.


But the relationship between fact and hypothesis is more complex, surely? After all, people kept coming up with observations that proved the geocentric model, or circular planetary orbits, and devised physical laws to accommodate the difficulties of that model.

If you assume that factual data are simply out there to be discovered, like veins of gold underground, you're fooling yourself. The scientific revolution was born out of an acknowledgement of the need for a dialectic (hence the transactions of the Royal Society) that juggles with observation and hypothesis. In fact, it was explicitly opposed to the notion of purely subjective "enthusiasm", as demonstrated by the more extreme Protestants at the time. (Swift's Tale of a Tub is a great satirical record of that dispute.) That's not irrational; simply an appreciation that shared subjectivity approaches objectivity asymptotically.

And if scientists weren't willing to challenge accepted beliefs, they'd be working in the Catholic Church ;)
posted by holgate at 11:26 AM on June 8, 2001


"As science advances, sometimes our "supernatural" becomes scientific. Other times however, a scientific explanation gets disproved and the 'thing' moves back into the realm of the supernatural."

Much in the same way that philosophy is a "science without facts". A philosopher may pursue an idea or a notion, but once he establishes factual data and proven explanations in support of said idea, it moves from being a philosophical idea to a scientific fact, law, etc... Therefore something like philosophy or the supernatural will never possess solid grounding.

Note: I'm quoting. I had a discussion about this in an Ethics class, but I don't remember who said it. I just know it wasn't me who thought it up.
posted by tomorama at 11:53 AM on June 8, 2001


I cannot wait for the day when all these folks that believe in this crap put on their purple robes and Nikes and drink the special Kool-Aid that will take them to the mothership.
posted by bondcliff at 12:21 PM on June 8, 2001


Fooljay, they are certainly refering to magical witches, not wiccans, which is what the poster I was responding to said. It's be ridiculous for millions of people to not believe wiccans exist.
Rebecca, could you maybe help me out with what merit the belief in demonic possession has? Cause I can't think of any. I do agree that people in general tend to be closed minded, but when something strange happens, the Art Bell crowd pretends to know what caused it, when a rational person should try to find out, or just admit that they don't know. Not invent Angels and Demons and whatnot.
posted by Doug at 1:13 PM on June 8, 2001


most believers...are quite open to the idea that their belief may be wrong.

Bwuhahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahhahaha!

I'd like to meet that believer :) Please let me know when you booga-booga types find him/her/it.

In the meantime, your wonderful myths and legends will continue to entertain and amuse me :)
posted by UncleFes at 1:19 PM on June 8, 2001


Today's atmosphere is one that exists on logic, science and skepticism.

As indicated by the Gallup Poll, quite the opposite would appear true.

Regarding "open-mindedness", it has been my experience that this is the typical defense from those who are unaware of their own biases and subjective enthusiasm (ty holgate) for a particular belief.

Faith is NOT a virtue, folks.
posted by BoatMeme at 1:19 PM on June 8, 2001


Faith is NOT a virtue, folks.

Faith is a kind of a mental tunnel vision we humans are susceptible to, a sort of "optical illusion of the mind's eye" that is caused more by the way our brains work than by any objective factor. We believe in things for which there is no conclusive evidence, for a variety of stated reasons that boil down to a desire for comfort in the face of an indifferent universe. In an attempt to rationalize this behavior, we call the reason we believe "faith," as if we can conjure the proof we need by giving a name to its lack.
posted by kindall at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2001


Faith is NOT a virtue, folks.

I've always considered quite the opposite.
posted by tomorama at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2001


Kindall: that may be the best definition of faith I've ever read.
posted by UncleFes at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2001


Well, I'm not trying to foist fantasy on you, nor was I taught to believe this as a child. I agree that these are mental fabrications. I'm suggesting that this is the space where we find such things, and they can be useful as representations of aspects of our experience that we can interact with through ritual participation. I feel that it is healthy to recognize them as empty of any real existence.

If an ancient Greek supplicates Athena as he is going into battle and he would like to exhibit valor, wisdom, and dignity because he feels it to be noble and good, would you say that Athena is not real if he exhibits valor, wisdom, and dignity in battle? It would exist within him as part of his nature, that's my point. It is a method of relating to these things. Someone described Athena's attributes upon noticing the nature of valor, dignity, and wisdom. She emerged.


Now Doug, in the case of getting into trouble, say on the other hand that someone supplicates Ah Pook the destroyer because he wants to be powerful and work internally with complete destruction through Ah Pook's help, but part of him is a bit squeamish or maybe Ah Pook wants a few hundred human sacrifices first, this guy's head might soon get a bit fuX0red up as part of this relationship.


Does anyone see my point? Maybe I'll just write this one off.
posted by mblandi at 1:49 PM on June 8, 2001


I'd like to meet that believer :) Please let me know when you booga-booga types find him/her/it.

Hi. I'm one. If you read the article you would see a significant number of people choosing 'not sure' over 'Believe' or 'Don't Believe.' I think the yes/no mode of thinking when it comes to things that are clearly weird and have not been explained properly is the problem. I take the agnostic look while entertaining "paranormal" beliefs. Usually I use multiple explanations for the same phenomenon.

For instance, I notice synchronicities and consider them in the Jungian sense and might come up with a few paranormal explanatiosn and usually end up with 'who knows' but don't dismiss the meaning of the coincidence in my life.

The issue is so much more complex than Art Bell vs. CSICOP. Both groups are very dogmatic and inflexible. For one phenomenon I might experiece, both these groups have their own curt explanation. Either the scientific materialist 'its swamp gas' or the Bell 'well that was a class 4 gray, blah blah.' Sure they offer other explanations but the assurdness of the majority is just frightening. I'd rather not be associated with either.

I find the results of this poll pleasing because the 'im not sure' crowd has some decent numbers. Nice to know there aren't so many fanatics out there on both sides and people are still willing to withold judgement until we either are able to explain these phenomenon or just admit they're beyond our ability to comprehend. That's the true deefinition of a skeptic, not the CSICOP style psuedoskepticism.
posted by skallas at 2:46 PM on June 8, 2001


Please let me know when you booga-booga types find him/her/it.

What a logical argument you present! The pure objectivity and divorce from emotion, not to mention the self-evidentness of your assertion, is astounding.

I don't know if I believe in elves, but I sure believe in trolls.
posted by solistrato at 3:06 PM on June 8, 2001


There's a first time for everything. I totally agree with Fes on this one.
Religion is based on acceptance of faith, not questioning, hence most religious people don't seem to respond too well to contrary points of view. You question a faithfull person long enough, it ultimately comes down to some version of "just because".
posted by dong_resin at 3:24 PM on June 8, 2001


I am an atheist, and I try to stay out of people's religious arguments...but I have to agree. Every christian I have ever met has told me flat out that I was wrong, and that I would be smoking a big wolf turd in hell with the Devil when I found out they were right....( maybe not the same words,but...)
If you say you are christian, and then you say that you may be wrong...then to me....you aren't a christian,you are agnostic. But this has never happened to me, so I am only assuming. I have never met a christian who said.."Hey, this God stuff could be just a bunch of bull".
posted by bradth27 at 3:32 PM on June 8, 2001


Now, to continue:

Perhaps one might consider that the upshot to take away from the poll results is that there is something that SCIENCE (all caps, because it's so very imposing) is not addressing.

Humans need more than just food, water, shelter, and other bare-boned physical needs. Imagination - the active use of consciousness - is also fundamental to our existence. Thus all this. Thus the fact that we're having our nice little conversation here in this completely imaginary realm with no physical correspondence.

Now then: the realm of imagination has been policed by the best of 'em. The Catholic Church managed to sweep away an incredibly diverse array of pagan beliefs and declare the Great Chain of Being between God and man. A few noble spirits of justice, purity, etc. were called "angels"; the rest of the lot were thrown in with the Devil.

Then SCIENCE (ooh, tremble) with its dreary materialist stance cast even that flimsy cosmological framework out the window. There is nothing but raw physical reality. But there isn't, but SCIENCE demands that there is. Therefore, there is a paradox.

People need to believe. Without belief, there is no life. Even if you believe in no belief, that's still the same thing. Granted, I think it's a lot less fun, but hey, you believe whatever you want to.

See, you're asking people to objectively corroborate a subjective experience. One that may be unique to that person alone, something that might have tapped into Imagination or the Anima Mundi or the collective unconscious or whatever other metaphor one believes in. That does not mean that the experience didn't occur. That doesn't make it not real. That means that SCIENCE has no yardstick for measuring such things, and therefore declares it Impossible And Foolish Why Aren't You Believing Only In Me.

Real science is constantly self-checking, always open to the possibility that it might not be 100% right. Real science is a passionate quest to determine the secrets of the universe and readily admits that someone may come and overturn every theory that we take for granted. SCIENCE, on the other hand, is a dogma, a crusty old loadstone of outdated 18th-century nonsense that was kicked to the curb by general relativity and quantum mechanics. SCIENCE is the fallacy of Occam's Razor - if it's too complex, don't try to dive into it, just cut it off and find a simple explanation. Sorry, chaos theory makes everything interdependent on everything else, and there are no simple and elegant solutions like in the days of the "Enlightenment." SCIENCE is a dead weight propped squarely on the shoulders of the bitter, the unimaginative, and those who still need to put their faith in idols but could never possibly admit that. And SCIENCE is, as we've seen here, a crutch for those seeking some sort of petty snobbery against people who might crave real experience, rather than getting the Reader's Digest version.

Your oh-so-disdainful attitude regarding anomalous phenomena only blinds you to other possibilities. Many people here can accept both scientific theories and supernatural possibility without any cognitive dissonance. Such things are possible, even if you're not able to do it.

Get over yourselves.
posted by solistrato at 3:33 PM on June 8, 2001


I also knew a pair of twins, who, when one twin was hit by a car a while back, his brother was thrown out of his chair at home at the exact moment that he and the car impacted.
This made me chuckle. I don't know why....I apologize in advance for the following statement-
I once knew a pair of twins, who, when one twin was eating breakfast, he found a toothpick in his cereal. 500 miles away, his twin opened a closet door and a bowling ball fell on his head.
posted by bradth27 at 3:38 PM on June 8, 2001


Perhaps one might consider that the upshot to take away from the poll results is that there is something that SCIENCE (all caps, because it's so very imposing) is not addressing.

I don't think the issue is that SCIENCE isn't addressing some things. I think the real issue is that SCIENCE isn't coming to the conclusions that many people would prefer therefore it is (according to them) :

"...a dead weight propped squarely on the shoulders of the bitter, the unimaginative, and those who still need to put their faith in idols but could never possibly admit that."

And on to...

Your oh-so-disdainful attitude regarding anomalous phenomena only blinds you to other possibilities. Many people here can accept both scientific theories and supernatural possibility without any cognitive dissonance.

Again with the open-mindedness? Open-mindedness, much like faith, is not necessarily a virtue. Finally, just a thought..."supernatural" must be the most oxymoronic word ever.
posted by BoatMeme at 4:18 PM on June 8, 2001


Boatmeme said: Open-mindedness, much like faith, is not necessarily a virtue.

You're partly right. Open-mindedness is not necessarily a virtue.. but faith (at least in yourself) certainly is.

Someone else said: Hey, 95% of Americans believe in God, too — once you teach children to believe unquestioningly what they're told no matter how ridiculous, you can't expect them to tell fact from fantasy or truth from lies when grown.

Might be true in the US, but not in the UK. In the UK we're taught to be Christians at school. This works when we're 6 or 7.. but at the age of 15, most people claim that they're 'atheists'. Church turnout has never been so low in this country. It's a country of atheists. Wonder why.
posted by wackybrit at 6:58 PM on June 8, 2001


>doug: Rebecca, could you maybe help me out with what merit the belief in demonic possession has? <

well, I don't remember making a case for demon possession having merit, so no, sorry, I can't help you out there.

that does remind me of an old saturday night live skit in which steve martin played the medieval doctor. he walked into the hut, examined the sick girl, and said, "50 years ago, we would have said that her sickness was caused by a demon; today we know that it's caused by a small gnome living in her stomach...."

do you see the point? experts do their best to figure it out, they tell us what they think they know, and, if our everyday life experiences don't deviate too strongly from their explanation, we believe them. have you ever seen a bacteria or a virus? I haven't.

if someone prays for me and I get better, why shouldn't I believe that there is a cause and effect? I rarely go to the doctor when I get sick, but I always get better. if I'd taken an antibiotic, would that have been the cause of my healing, or would I have gotten better anyway?

as for believing in things you can't see: do you love someone? prove it to me.

you can't.

anything you set forth as proof can be discounted by me, if I choose to do so. your proofs will always be intangible. some things are simply not proveable, not really. that doesn't make them less real.

new information changes old facts. six months ago we would have said that kaycee was real; we now know that she was caused by a poor woman with a gnome in her stomach. :)

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 7:11 PM on June 8, 2001


fooljay: ...how religion and the supernatural are different?

No pun intended, but hallelujah for that post, foojay. There IS no difference. Either you accept reality completely, or you do not. Religion = faith = Casper the friendly ghost = Loch Ness monster = you get the idea.
posted by davidmsc at 9:34 PM on June 8, 2001


if someone prays for me and I get better, why shouldn't I believe that there is a cause and effect?

The urge to conclude that an event that happens before another event caused the second event is a natural one. This rule of thumb is correct frequently enough that it is useful to survival, and therefore has been hard-wired into our brains by evolution. But it is also wrong a lot of the time. To arrive at truth, we must learn to second-guess our gut instincts when they contradict logic. The capability to reason is at the root of what it means to be human; it is when we fail to use this ability that we become most like animals.

if I'd taken an antibiotic, would that have been the cause of my healing, or would I have gotten better anyway?

It's impossible to be 100% certain in any specific case, but antibiotics have been found to be extremely effective in double-blind clinical trials. Physicians understand the methodology of this sort of test and it gives them (and us) a reasonable expectation that cause (administration of a drug) will be followed by effect (a return to health or at least a remission of symptoms). In order for the drug to be considered effective, this must happen in far more cases than one would expect when nothing at all is done for the patient.

So far as I know, prayer has never proven itself to have any significant efficacy to treat illness in the same sort of trial used to test drugs.

new information changes old facts. six months ago we would have said that kaycee was real

Physical laws do not change capriciously depending on the mood of the universe. The unverse cannnot develop a mental condition that causes it to behave erratically. It does not, so far as we can determine, lie. In the Kaycee Nicole case, the fact was always the same -- she never existed. Debbie Swenson, it appears, intentionally clouded public perception of these facts. It does not appear that the universe has what the philosophers call intentionality -- the reason behind the act. Thus, the events that result directly from universal laws have no inherent meaning. There is no deeper reason why gravity follows an inverse-square law. There is no goal to evolution.

We want there to be meaning, but the fact that we want this does not mean that it exists, and we must be careful of finding meaning where there is none.
posted by kindall at 10:14 PM on June 8, 2001


davidmsc said: No pun intended, but hallelujah for that post, foojay. There IS no difference. Either you accept reality completely, or you do not. Religion = faith = Casper the friendly ghost = Loch Ness monster = you get the idea.

Not true. Religion does not equal faith.

"Some scholars have denied that Buddhism is a religion because Buddhists do not believe in a Supreme Being or a personal soul. But is this judgement based on too narrow a definition of 'religion'? According to Ninian Smart, religions have the following 'seven dimensions'. If Smart is correct, it seems justifiable to classify Buddhism as a religion.

1. Practical and Ritual
2. Experiential and Emotional
3. Narrative and Mythic
4. Doctrinal and Philosophical
5. Ethical and Legal
6. Social and Institutional
7. Material"

Most people that religion is not just 'all about God'. Infact, that's a small part. Infact, in Buddhism, practical elements such as the Five Precepts or the Eightfold Path (which are plain commonsense which could apply to anyone in almost any religion) are far more important than considering 'who made the universe?'

Religion is not faith. Faith is not religion. Religion is not related to the supernatural. Faith can be (believing in Gods, etc) but many people, like Buddhists, have a strong faith without an all encompassing 'God' figure.
posted by wackybrit at 10:25 PM on June 8, 2001


bradth27 said, "I have never met a christian who said.."Hey, this God stuff could be just a bunch of bull".

*waving* Hi! Nice to meet you. I'm Zach. I'm a Christian SubGenius. I'm no agnostic, but I will put to you that this God stuff is just a bunch of bull. I take what works for me and I run with it. You take what works for you. Doesn't make your beliefs or mine any more or less valid. Objectively, none of our beliefs are necessarily valid to anyone but ourselves. What works for you won't work for me and vice versa. That's the beauty of it.

The muslim, christian, and jewish faiths, and for that matter any faith of any kind invented by representatives of mankind on this planet throughout history, are all bull. It's all a bunch of unscientific guesswork. When the greeks and romans had that whole pantheon of gods, each one responsible for everything from lightning bolts to beer kegs? That was the blind leading the blind, man. And when that long haired hippy was walkin' around Jerusalem barefoot telling people how nice it would be if people were just nice to each other, JC certainly had nothing to do with what happened to Him. When that fat dude in the far east was sittin' there contemplating his navel, and a bunch of guys walked by and said, "well he looks happy. maybe he's got the right idea.." that was just the birth of couchpotatoism. He did have the right idea though. All these people got the right idea. The problem is when other people come along and turn ideas into beliefs. That's what makes them dangerous. That's what starts wars and witch hunts.

Picture a suburban home with parents and two young adult children. The mother's upstairs, walks down the hall, passes her daughter's bedroom where there's loud music playing, the mother walks down stairs to the kitchen. Her husband asks her if she's seen their daughter. The mother says, "I believe she's upstairs in her room." Now understand the mother hasn't seen shit, but she believes her daughter's upstairs in her room. Why? Well in the past, when the door is closed but the music's cranked up, they would find their daughter on the other side of the closed bedroom door, probably to yell at her to turn down the music.

The mother doesn't know. She's got no evidence. Rather, she has a circumstantial hypothesis. If her husband were to go up the stairs and open that door, we may or may not find the mother's belief to be correct. It probably is, but maybe the daughter just left the stereo on and left the house when her parents weren't looking. Maybe she left the stereo on and climbed out the window to elope with the boy next door, but more often than not, she's in her bedroom on the bed talking to her best friend on the cellphone. Or pretending to do her homework. The point is she's probably in there.

Just because we don't see it, that doesn't automatically mean the belief is wrong. Doesn't make it right either. It's an idea. The best scene in Dogma (and yeah I know how much y'all loved Dogma) went something like this:

RUFUS: Crisis of faith over?
BETHANY: I think I'm now burdened with an over abundance.
RUFUS: When it rains it pours. You saying you believe?
BETHANY: No. (beat) But I have a good idea.


We don't honestly know. We can't see God, but I don't see a lot of stuff that I know is out there. I've never been to England, but I've read about it. I've heard what other people have to say about it. Shakespeare lived and died before I was born, but I read his plays and I like to believe he was real at one time. Does that make me crazy? To believe someone existed based on stuff I read in dusty old books? Even though when you really think about it, those plays couldn't have been written by a mere stable boy with very little education. Just doesn't figure.

But I believe. I believe in the possibility. Aliens? Ghosts? ESP? OBE? Bermuda Triangle? Bigfoot? Nessy? The fact Amelia Earhart just freakin' disappeared?? Crop Circles? Mind over matter? Maybe I've never had any of that stuff happen to me personally. That doesn't mean it didn't happen to those who say it did. Doesn't mean it did. Doesn't mean anything. I know one thing: We know enough to know we don't know nuthin'.

There was a time humanity believed the Earth to be flat. We believed the Earth was the center of the universe, and the sun revolved around us. We once believed God to be in the clouds. Well, some of us. We once believed everything on Earth was made out of combinations of earth, wind, fire, and water. We weren't too far from the truth, but if you went back in time and tried to explain to someone there that everything is made up of atomic particles, they'd call you crazy. I now believe we're all made from starstuff and God is somewhere in between all the subatomic particles, everywhere. And sure you can believe I'm crazy all you want. I don't give a shit. Believe what you want. Just don't insist I assume you to be right. We once believed there to be a barrier at the speed of sound. Now we're questioning the barrier of the speed of light. Einstein told us one thing, and now Stephen Hawking's questioning Einstein's theories.

Whether you put your trust in an all-knowing entity out there somewhere, or in laboratory experiments and empirical evidence, there's some things you're just assuming and accepting on faith. I don't care who you are, there's a certain point where you can't just know. There's a point where knowing takes a back seat to believing.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:53 AM on June 9, 2001


that does remind me of an old saturday night live skit in which steve martin played the medieval doctor

Or the Day Today sketch with the modern clinic offering medieval medicine:

[A doctor prepares a woman's foot for surgery, starting with her ankle.]



DOCTOR: I'm going to make the incision here, and make the incision all the way around here, to the other side, and then cut through, and remove this foot, and then take it away and bury it with some gooseberrys.



The patient nods.
posted by Grangousier at 12:57 AM on June 9, 2001


Whoops. Lost track of my point. It got lost in the Dogma. My point, and I did have one, is this:

I am a Christian who believes.."Hey, this God stuff could be just a bunch of bull." Not because I don't believe in God. I do believe in God. I do not however, necessarily believe in Man.

Believing in God works for me. Believing that there was this dude 2000 years ago who allowed Himself to be crucified in order to prove a point, that works for me. May not work for you. That's cool. I ain't prosletyzing here. I'm tryin' to make a point. I can believe in God, but I can't believe in all the stuff Mankind has carried out in God's name. It's Man that makes Religion a bunch of Bull.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:00 AM on June 9, 2001


For me, being atheist is just as "bad" as being religious. Saying empirically that "there is no God (or deity of choice)" has as much scientific evidence to me as saying "without a doubt there is a God" - which is to say, none. So I wuss out and consider myself agnostic.

And also, aren't rules of science usually expressed as "theory" vs. "fact" as in "we're pretty damn sure the speed of light is 186,000 miles/sec BUT if you can prove that wrong, we'll listen. It's only a THEORY after all."
posted by owillis at 1:02 AM on June 9, 2001


There's a point where knowing takes a back seat to believing.

Then some of us figure life is too short and uncertain to "know" and "believe" and sit back on the couch and play Madden.
posted by owillis at 1:05 AM on June 9, 2001


There IS no difference. Either you accept reality completely, or you do not. Religion = faith = Casper the friendly ghost = Loch Ness monster = you get the idea.

This may surprise you but there are quite a few people that don't subscribe to a religion AND have "paranormal" beliefs. Do they then belong to the Church of Loch Ness? Sounds like you're comfotable clumping anything out of the scientific materialist handbook together with the hobgoblin of organized religion.

There IS no difference. Either you accept reality completely, or you do not.

Considering that reality is a subjective experience this is a neat way of saying 'Either you accept MY reality...' Define and prove reality, explain consciousness, prove the "reality" you know is real to begin with, etc.

How about the larger issue of being so sure what reality is when we can only look forward to the next big thing that'll make Einsteinian and quantum physics look like phrenology. Ideally, science is only going to get better as time progresses. I won't even bother mentioning the chilling effect of doing any parapsychologic work.

I'm pretty curious how this poll would play out, as most of the dogmatic rationalists I've met are stuck in a Newtonian tunnel reality.

1. Do you really believe that if you travel around the world in a fast jet that when you land you'll actually be younger than your twin?

2. Do you believe if you go fast enough you'll get heavier?

3. Do you believe that behavoir of sub-atomic actions are variable until someone actually observes them?

4. Do you believe we can actually teleport light?

5. Do you believe the Big Bang is a valid theory?

6. Do you believe that something can travel faster than light?

7. Do you believe that a bolling ball and a pebble fall at the same speed?


Take those questions to the least common denominator and we'll see what people think of current scientific theories. We'll get the same ignorance as the gallup poll.

What I don't like is how our cosmologies are broken up into the rational and the irrational in this thread as most people that aren't fundamentalists have a fine time believing in a haunting and that light is the fastest a photon can go.

Ideally, a poll that had both scientific facts and paranormal anomolies would be much more telling because we can see what someone might dump to support the other group e.g. Bang bang=No God=Yes, Speed of light=Yes Aliens=no, etc.

Getting back to the original post, going in one "right" direction would be pretty damn scary. If scientific materism was all rage we'd see endless explanations about how the paranormal just isn't there just like the proving that the earth really is the center of the universe with some backbending mathematics and an one eye closed to nature.

The same backbending would happen if we were going towards a paranormal credulity. Ideally, a combination of both approaches would be a good start as the schism between atheists/religious, irrational/rational would have to take a backseat. Or disposing of the antiquated notion of "I believe" and replacing it with the mental juggling of unbiased examination of multiple theories and never believing totally in anything, in other words agnosticism.
posted by skallas at 1:08 AM on June 9, 2001


>kindall: So far as I know, prayer has never proven itself to have any significant efficacy to treat illness in the same sort of trial used to test drugs.<

well there was that study where they had a prayer group pray for certain people in the hospital, and the ones that were being prayed for (neither group knew about the study) got better, faster.

the point I was trying to make is that causes are often obscured. was it the antibiotic? was it the prayer? was it time?

my point is, I suppose, that there is more we don't know, than that we do know, and I think it's useful to be open-minded to *all* the possibilities, not just the comfortable ones.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:11 AM on June 9, 2001


Well, I must say that I read a lot of great stuff so far. I wish the poll asked how much people believed in statistics. I am not a major believer in them.

Science, religion, and Loch Ness monster? Bah. I like a good story. May the best story win! I beleive in the mystery of life. I believe that it doesn't want to be found out, but that it enjoys the game as much as we do.
posted by john at 2:39 AM on June 9, 2001


The web of this world is woven of Necessity and Chance. Woe to him who has accustomed himself from his youth up to find something necessary in what is capricious, and who would ascribe something like reason to Chance and make a religion of surrendering to it.
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.
--Bertrand Russell
posted by rushmc at 2:44 AM on June 9, 2001


A thought: isn't it good (in strictly practical terms) that people are content with their beliefs, whether it be horoscopes or religions or aliens or the authenticity of wrestling contests, given that a world composed entirely of those with enquiring scientific minds, desperately sceptical of such things, would most likely be non-functional? After all, there's nothing a bishop hates more than a saint in the diocese: it messes up the bureacracy.

Beliefs are mental crutches, to be thrown aside once you know better. But without a crutch, you're not going to be able to hop to the bus before it drives off.
posted by holgate at 7:08 AM on June 9, 2001


most believers...are quite open to the idea that their belief may be wrong.

Bwuhahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahhahaha!

I'd like to meet that believer :) Please let me know when you booga-booga types find him/her/it.


OK, this is probably just a troll, but it pissed me off. Over time, I've found atheists to be as annoying as the worst fundies in marginalizing other views. You know, when I went through confirmation at a Calvinist (RCA) church, one of the things they talked about to us is that you have to question the foundations of your faith. Since they were there, obviously they assumed you'd come back to it, but the idea was that just believing it because you'd been told to wouldn't do you any good.

Of course, I questioned my faith quite a bit a couple years later and became as vehement an atheist as any you'll find, and I'm still not a Calvinist any longer, but I don't like to write off everything that doesn't fit into a purely "scientific" worldview.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:41 AM on June 9, 2001


Beliefs are mental crutches, to be thrown aside once you know better. But without a crutch, you're not going to be able to hop to the bus before it drives off.

One hears the "crutch" analogy all the time, but I believe it is patently false. A physical crutch is something that one uses to offset a demonstrable physical injury/handicap. It serves a clear and inarguable purpose, and is not something that one chooses to utilize without need. I fail to see how this applies to a person who chooses to interpret the world via nebulous superstition rather than exercising their reason and developing their logical skills.

We are all born unable to walk, but we practice until we learn how--we don't use crutches as babies and then graduate to upright bipedal locomotion at some point. I think that's a much better analogy to rational thought: we're all born with the capacity, but we don't all develop it to the same degree. Those who choose to embrace superstition (including organized religion) in their worldview are directly analogous to a baby who chooses never to learn to walk. You don't see that happening in the world, and like several other posters here, I am baffled that you see so many of the former.
posted by rushmc at 9:43 AM on June 9, 2001


we don't use crutches as babies and then graduate to upright bipedal locomotion at some point. I think that's a much better analogy to rational thought: we're all born with the capacity, but we don't all develop it to the same degree.

I don't actually accept that notion: I think that "reason" describes a set of intellectual techniques that have been developed over the past few thousand years, and pushed forward at particular points in history: in Western history, that'd be fifth century Athens, or the late 1700s in Europe. There's Swift's famous correction of Aristotle, describing man as animal rationis capax rather than animal rationalis, but I wonder whether we're actually "capable of capabilities", particularly in the context of modern brain science, which suggests that the neurones don't fire syllogistically.

In that respect, I'll change the analogy, and note that when learning to ride a bicycle -- a learned, mechanical activity -- children often start with stabilisers (or "training wheels", as they're known in the USA), which they remove once they develop the balance to stay upright on just the two wheels.

You don't see that happening in the world, and like several other posters here, I am baffled that you see so many of the former.

Well, I've spent much of the past five years studying the transition between 1650 and 1750, realising the extent to which the architects of the scientific revolution relied upon the terminology and taxonomy of earlier pseudo-sciences and superstitions. I'm not comparing Georges Canguilhem to someone who reads the tabloid horoscopes; simply noting that just as few theology students are religious fundamentalists, few historians of science are fundamental advocates of scientism.

And personally, I like the idea that WIlliam Blake had conversations with angels when a child. And had somebody corrected him of his belief, or prescribed him Ritalin, it would have been a wholly reasonable act that deprived us of a great artist.

I'm much more worried about the cultivation and valorisation of other paranormal beliefs, such as the ghosts of "ideology", or "market forces", or "fashion", or "celebrity".
posted by holgate at 10:45 AM on June 9, 2001


Just found this page, showing anti-Falun Gong posters from China.

The title of the one on the left? "Uphold science, eradicate superstition." Quite.
posted by holgate at 1:33 PM on June 9, 2001


holgate, i have not been impressed in awhile. the anti-fulan gong posters... a vast departure from Lao-tzu. "exterminate the sage, crush all knowledge" I would like Copyrights to "Ghosts of Fashion". very nice.
posted by clavdivs at 6:11 PM on June 9, 2001


Really? MetaFilter.com has anti-Falun Gong posters? Which posters here are anti-Falun Gong?
posted by kindall at 8:55 PM on June 9, 2001


Razzen frazzen browser. Link to posters of a pictorial variety to be found here.
posted by holgate at 9:49 PM on June 9, 2001


Science is the new religion. As any good scientist should tell you, there is no fact in science, everything is theory, accepted until proven wrong by a new theory. There's always the possibility that things held as gospel in science, say for example evolution, will eventually be proven wrong.

I'm not saying evolution is wrong, just that we must always keep in mind the possibility the precepts we've been told are true and proven correct by science, may be proven wrong later.

On a grander, more philosophic scale, accepting scientific theories because experts who we've never met, conducted experiments we could never verify personally doesn't differ much in practice from a religious believer taking the word of the priest about god and his or her beliefs.

This isn't meant as an attack on science, but a reminder to be skeptical about anything purporting to be scientific fact.
posted by drezdn at 12:44 AM on June 10, 2001


Science is the new religion.

Balderdash. Religion is exclusionary and intentionally vague. Religion, not science, is based on appeal to authority (those "experts we've never met" you cite). Science is about what is demonstrable, empirical, and repeatable. You, or anyone else, can (and are encouraged to) follow step-by-step the process by which any experimental result has been obtained, should you wish to take the time and make the effort required to understand what was done, and why. Science is a METHOD, a technique for discovering information and for trying to identify patterns in that information. It is not a philosophy, an opinion, and it most certainly is NOT a religion.

Are there bad scientists? Who do rotten science? Of course there are; they are legion. That doesn't change what science is.

Religion, on the other hand, says "Don't bother thinking for yourself--we've already got it all figured out for you. Just buy our conveniently prepackaged product, no independent analysis required (and a good thing, or it would quickly crumble into the heap of nonsensical, contradictory, fallacious, immoral, manipulative and baseless crap that it is). And anyway you're not CAPABLE of doing any such thing for yourself, you're not worthy, you're a pathetic little sinner damned before your birth by our capricious--yet loving!--god, so don't put on airs and think you might have independent value in the world, or be able to create meaning and purpose in your life. All is predestined, unknowable, and terribly hopeless, so give in, pay up, play along, and be a good, meek, obeying member of our flock."

Bah.
posted by rushmc at 1:23 AM on June 10, 2001


Brilliant, rushmc. The dichotomous & contradictory nature of religion (Christianity in particular) has always amazed me. You did a nice job of summing it up.
posted by davidmsc at 7:29 AM on June 10, 2001


They were some kind of men. What does it matter what you say about people?
posted by muppetboy at 9:16 AM on June 10, 2001


Anyone who's heard Richard Dawkins on one of his regular anti-religon rants at the Oxford Union and elsewhere would think that the Scientist Protesteth Too Much. But as I said, I don't fear science, but scientism: a thing professed, quite often, by those who aren't scientists.
posted by holgate at 9:36 AM on June 10, 2001


science is a method, as rushmc points out, but it's not regarded that way by most laypeople; I would agree that science is, for all practical purposes, the new religion. scientism, as holgate calls it, if you will.

as for religion being "Just buy our conveniently prepackaged product, no independent analysis required" apparently you missed the Reformation. I don't know enough to speak about religions other than Christianity, but obviously there is history of dissenting opinion there, or there wouldn't be so many denominations.

as I understand Judaism, there is a long history of reading and thinking and interpreting and arguing about meanings.

in any case, I reference you back to my earlier comments. - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 10:03 AM on June 10, 2001


On a grander, more philosophic scale, accepting scientific theories because experts who we've never met, conducted experiments we could never verify personally doesn't differ much in practice from a religious believer taking the word of the priest about god and his or her beliefs.

Of course it does. Everyone learns about the scientific method in school and repeats enough classic experiments to understand that if we wanted to, we could repeat the same experiments and get the same results, to variable degrees of accuracy.

It's as if in Sunday School they had you perform some of the same miracles described in the Bible. Maybe raising people from the dead is a little advanced, but if they showed you how to change water into wine, you'd be a lot more inclined to believe resurrection was possible.

Science is all about how-to. Every widely-accepted theory includes loads of results that support it. And every result includes full documentation on how to reproduce it yourself. Now of course for most people, checking cutting-edge results is impractical, but you can understand the method used and you can see that a large number of people have obtained confirming results and they probably can't all be in a conspiracy. Furthermore, the things they make using these principles (that we do have access to) work. Want proof that quantum mechanics actually is a viable model of how the world works? Turn on your computer -- whoops, I see you already did. Although we cannot test the conclusions of, say, cosmology, we can see that its theories were constructed using the same methods as theories we can test, and that they fit available evidence and make useful predictions. We can also see that there are several competing cosmological theories that all explain most of the evidence we currently have, and that this is a good thing when the evidence is inconclusive.

Religion, on the other hand, doesn't tell you even how to begin to check its claims, even if you wanted to. Since there is no rigorous way to verify what happens to us after we die, for instance, any theory we might come up with is just as valid as any other, and there is no reason whatsoever to accept resurrection over reincarnation or cessation. (The last theory, that nothing happens to us because after death there is nothing left of us for anything to happen to, at least has Occam's Razor going for it, since in order for there to be any kind of life after death we must postulate the existence of an otherwise completely unnecessary entity called the soul.)
posted by kindall at 12:02 PM on June 10, 2001


Science certainly isn't a religion, but I do see some people and organizations (namely CSICOP) doing their best to preach 'scientism' with the zeal of a hell and brimstone fundie. Like someone just wrote, its even sadder when that person isn't even a scientist, just look at the ravings of James "the amazing" Randi.

I will point out that religion can be just as meticulously logical as any science. Look at Aquinas's 13th century proof for the existence of a creator:

1. There is something moving.
2. Everything that moves is put into motion by something else.
3. But this series of antecedent movers cannot reach back infinitely.
4. Therefore, there must be a first mover (which is god).


If your premise is 'Witches exist and are evil' you can work your way down, quite logically, to the conclusion that burning them at the stake is merciful. The premises and assumptions may not be agreeable to the 21st century reader, but its a syllogism none the less.


Science has the same failings, to work Objectivity must exist (the observer and the observed are different things) so we can be sure we are describing outer space not inner space. Another is that nature has order and isn't random.

Quantum physics has suggested that objectivity might not exist and nature on a certain level doesn't seem to have order. Wacky.
posted by skallas at 1:12 PM on June 10, 2001


Quantum physics has suggested that objectivity might not exist and nature on a certain level doesn't seem to have order. Wacky.

I think that's a pop-philosophical interpretation--and a dubious one--of some quantum-physics ideas and not "quantum physics" per se. "Objectivity doesn't exist" is a kind of crude reading of *one* school of thought, but there are others that don't require any metaphysical gymnastics. And "nature on a certain level doesn't seem to have order" means what? Are you talking about "quantum foam"-type ideas? If we're on the Dancing Wu-Tang Masters* level of debate here, most physicists won't recognize that as an accurate description of what they are saying.

*I know
posted by rodii at 2:07 PM on June 10, 2001


Oh yeah, those perfectly logical religious syllogisms, like this one:

1. God is, by definition, perfect.
2. That which is perfect must surely have as one of its attributes existence, because otherwise it wouldn't be perfect.
3. Therefore, God exists.
posted by kindall at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2001


I think that's a pop-philosophical interpretation--

I was more or less focusing on wave particle duality and probability waves, but isn't most of this thread pop-something? The religious criticisms are exclusively based on the hobgoblin that is Christianity, rarely mentioning other religions. Its even more odd when you consider the poll is more about the paranormal than it is about religion.


Just goes to show what many are interested in rehashing and the odd assumption that if you don't dismiss the paranormal entirely e.g. subscribe completely to Scientific Materialism, there's an accusation of that person being religious i.e. credulous, old-fashioned.
posted by skallas at 2:34 PM on June 10, 2001


Buddhism is, in fact, one of the few religions to have close ties with science. Scientists agree that every action has a reaction (karma). Psychologists agree that abstaining from sexual misconduct and intoxication promotes good health. Science also sympathises with the idea of 'Rebirth' (note: rebirth is not reincarnation) through the studies of child prodigies, and various studies into hypnotic regression. Western psychologists also belief in the power of meditation.

I just feel it is a little unfair to take the same brush to every religion. No, not every religion sees itself as separate to science and not every religion has a 'God' figure. Some are simply based in basic science and philosophy.
posted by wackybrit at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2001


>No, not every religion sees itself as separate to science and not every religion has a 'God' figure.<

in fact, most of the religious people I know are very interested in and accepting of science (I guess most of your fundamentalists aren't, but they're a small - albeit vocal - percentage of *any* religion).

for most of the religious people I know, religion and science do not cancel each other out. it's only the fundamentalists on *both* sides that feel they do.

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 4:11 PM on June 10, 2001


Amen to that.
posted by holgate at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2001


oh, I forgot to say that you can disprove the existence of God with the exact certainty that you can prove the existence of God. both, essentially are articles of faith.

I don't have a problem with either belief, I just have a problem with the attitude that if I don't agree with this article or that, I'm stupid and obviously wrong. you know, closemindedness is closemindedness, whatever you happen to be closeminded about.

the carl sagan quote above is much more interesting to me: the neighbor with the dragon can't prove it, and therefore carl doesn't buy it; and yet he's fascinated with the fact that millions of people profess to have dragons as well, all through history, and he wonders what it is that makes all of them think that that they do. - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 4:42 PM on June 10, 2001


skallas: but isn't most of this thread pop-something?

Fair enough, but that makes it less interesting, doesn't it? I mean, either you're serious about ideas or you're not.

wackybrit: Science also sympathises with the idea of 'Rebirth'… through the studies of child prodigies, and various studies into hypnotic regression.

There may be cases where individuals with credentials in science have studied such things, but I doubt that there's very much credible, peer-reviewed science supporting the ide of rebirth. I'd be interested in any citations, if you have any.

As someone with an interest in Buddhism, I'm sympathetic to what you're saying. But I think the particulars of what Buddhist societies believe are more complex and more prone to superstition than westernized approches to it are willing to admit. In Burma, good Buddhist believe all kinds of stuff about charms, amulets, magic, ghosts, and so on. It's only people that have bought into Western ideas about Buddhism that want tp claim those beliefs are somehow "not Buddhist." (It's one of the ironies of the situation that, if there were such a thing as "fundamentalist Buddhism," it would be found in the West.)

Then again, who cares? If you're genuinely religious, you shouldn't have to seek "validation" in cases where your religion is compatible to science.
posted by rodii at 4:53 PM on June 10, 2001


Fair enough, but that makes it less interesting, doesn't it? I mean, either you're serious about ideas or you're not.

Sure I'm serious, but obviously my point was to show how logic, thus belief, is molded by certain assumptions and how shakey those assumptions can be. Early 22th century's "rational common sense thinkers" will probably see us the way we see 13th century philosphers.

Also, I was getting tired of reading words like rational and common sense like they're the cure to ignorance. You can reason away from any premise you like. Common sense once told us that the earth is flat and the moon no bigger than a large pizza. Sure looks and feels that way doesn't it?

Modern common sense, amongst the materialists tells us that paranormal events are not real, a substitute for religion, selective memory, etc. They might be right and they might be wrong.

In the end I don't think the poll has anything to do with cosmology (science) or religion (philosophy) as much as how the average person who is willing to take a gallup poll is influenced by the greatest influencer of them all: the media.

Like I wrote before I'm glad there are more 'don't know' answers to a lot of these questions. Its pretty easy to blame the X-Files for the sudden increase of interest and belief in UFOs, but at the same time it re-introduces ideas to the mainstream for examination.
posted by skallas at 6:58 PM on June 10, 2001


In the end I don't think the poll has anything to do with cosmology (science) or religion (philosophy) as much as how the average person who is willing to take a gallup poll is influenced by the greatest influencer of them all: the media.

Quite so. There's a difference between having an inquisitive attitude towards unexplained phenomena, and the $1/minute psychic hotlines in the USA, or "Ruth of Truth", the "medium" who reassures bereaved correspondents in the News of the World. But that was always so.

(I'm just reminded of how a research group actually worked out why a slice of buttered toast, when dropped, is more likely to fall buttered-side down. And the pursuit of superstition actually produced some decent scientific findings.)
posted by holgate at 8:34 PM on June 10, 2001


Rebecca said:
...but real world application of science is that these "facts" change over time; lately they change very rapidly. we call this the expansion of knowledge, but the end result is that interpretations we all agreed on once are discarded and a new interpretation is put in place over and over again.

While there can be no doubt that science changes over time, indeed that its goal is to provide tentative, ephemeral summations of the state of our knowledge on something, I would like to point out that at the level of description there is no rapid discarding of knowledge.
Newton's laws are still very much in use and applicable to all everyday phenomena; the description of dynamics they provide is used by everybody from bridge-builders to NASA rocket scientists. Relativity simply showed that their realm of applicability was limited i.e. that there is a very miniscule departure from Newton's laws that becomes overwhelming at very high speeds, very strong gravitational fields etc. The same holds I think for most other scientific theories. I find it completely improbable that the descriptive aspect of evolutionary theory will be ever overturned (species deriving from species) although the mechanism, history, importance and details of evolution might plausibly be dramatically rethought.
It is, as you point out, scientific interpretations mostly that are under constant review. Newton's interpretation of space and time was completely demolished by relativity. Quantum mechanics admits, it seems of more than one interpretation, all consistent with the theory's basic description of the behavior of the microcosm. Interpretations themselves are constantly evolving, of course, but not towards a singular interpretation of a theory, but rather towards a "weeding out" of previews interpretations that are inconsistent with current descriptions of nature (a Newtonian absolute space is no longer a viable interpretation of the fundamental entities underlying the theory). At the same time new interpretations arise and there is always a useful dialectic on this level that "pushes" the theoretical work forwards.
The point, however, as far as this discussion is concerned is that science describes something that is "out there". It also has some very successful filters for weeding out the patently false. The fact is that, say, after 50 years of trying to verify the existence of ESP there has been no concrete evidence of its existence. Similarly for UFOs and ghosts. There seems to be no physical (as opposed to psychological) reality to describe. Should someone discover at a "UFO landing site" some technological gadget that could not have been created on earth, or should someone show up that can guess 25 Zener cards correctly time after time, I have no doubt that there will be immediate interest and research from the scientific community on these issues.
On another note, believing and not believing in God are not at all logically equivalent. If I claim that there exist a species of intelligent coffee tables somewhere in the universe no one can logically disprove me, but is the species existence or non-existence equiprobable? I think not. Thus with God: an all powerful entity with an active interests in the moral lives of the intelligent inhabitants of an insignificant little planet at the outer rim of our milky way cannot be logically proved or disproved, but I would expect some sort of evidence from the proponents of this blatantly improbable theory.
posted by talos at 4:41 AM on June 11, 2001


>talos: God: an all powerful entity with an active interests in the moral lives of the intelligent inhabitants of an insignificant little planet<

well, you know, that's *your* interpretation of God, but others have different interpretations.

someone prays and experiences a miracle. you say that it wasn't a miracle, no matter how unlikely it seems, it obviously would have happened anyway; he says that it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't prayed, and it is added to (or starts) his list of evidence in the existence of God.

who is right? who knows? neither of you can prove your theory.

another person believes in a God that doesn't intervene in human affairs, but who exists as a creator of it all. you see no evidence for that; she clearly sees that everything starts from something.

who is right? who knows? neither of you can prove your theory.

I think an absolute belief in either view is equally unprovable, and both come down to faith. - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 8:26 AM on June 11, 2001


rodii said: In Burma, good Buddhist believe all kinds of stuff about charms, amulets, magic, ghosts, and so on. It's only people that have bought into Western ideas about Buddhism that want tp claim those beliefs are somehow "not Buddhist."

When Buddhism was initially 'spreading' amongst the peoples of Asia, many cultures took it on as a philosophy, but continued to practice their own beliefs and rituals.

Western Buddhism (not Zen) is, as you say, generally more 'fundamentalist' in its approach. Most Western Buddhists are initially atheist or Christian, like myself. Often we take parts of our old religion, as the Asians did, into Buddhism with us. This does not mean those other 'parts' are parts of Buddhism.. but, in a most personal way, they are to us.

Of course, this could easily mean that Buddhism is simply a 'philosophy'.. and that your 'spiritual' beliefs are separate. For those of us who are studying the religion, the spiritual side of Buddhism is certainly a poser.

rodii said: Then again, who cares? If you're genuinely religious, you shouldn't have to seek "validation" in cases where your religion is compatible to science.

Not entirely true. Many Western Buddhists are followers of science as much as they are followers of Buddhism. Of course, this, once again, raises the point of whether you accept Buddhism as a philosophy, or in a more spiritual way.

To finish.. the Buddha himself had some wise words on the subject of belief.. which he would possibly post to this thread if he were still around!

Do not go by hearsay nor by what is handed down by others. Nor by what people say, nor by what is stated on the authority of your traditional teachings. Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument as to method, nor by reflection on and approval of an opinion; nor out of respect - thinking that a teacher must be deferred to. But, when you know of yourselves: 'These teachings are not good; they are blameworthy; they are condemned by the wise: these teachings, when followed out and put in practice, conduce to loss and suffering' - then reject them.

He believed in using your own brain, and not blindly following a religion.. not a very Christian view?
posted by wackybrit at 8:44 AM on June 11, 2001


Rebbeca ,three points:
- An absolute belief in anything is unprovable. But mortals are usually quite content with extremely likely or unlikely.
- My personal mystical experiences do not constitute an argument for the existence of anything, as far as you are concerned. So I may believe that a God performed a miracle and cured me, but unless I can show that 1000 faithful who prayed were cured of say cancer, at a significantly higher percentage than 1000 unbelievers, I am hardly presenting evidence for anything.
- The kinds of faith required for science and religion are quite distinct. I mean lasers are a concrete reality and so are airplanes. How many people do you think would successfully fly off a cliff by force of faith alone? Science is magic that works and its results are visible by all. Plus you do not need some kind of divine enlightenment to understand science, studying will suffice.
posted by talos at 9:13 AM on June 11, 2001


talos: - An absolute belief in anything is unprovable. But mortals are usually quite content with extremely likely or unlikely.

that's my experience, too, on both sides of the argument. it doesn't change that some people find the existence of God, UFOs, ghosts, or the efficacy of reiki, highly likely. or merely possible.

My personal mystical experiences do not constitute an argument for the existence of anything, as far as you are concerned.

no, but they do as far as *you* are concerned, and if I know you and respect your judgement, I may be inclined to accept your interpretation of things, or just reserve judgement on the whole deal, since you obviously believe it so strongly.

more importantly, if that particular interpretation makes your life easier or happier, I'm all for you holding it. I personally believe that there are many paths through life, and that the best one for each individual is distinct to him. what works best for you may make a mess of another life, and vice versa.

The kinds of faith required for science and religion are quite distinct. I

thank you. and, for many, they don't cancel each other out.

really, I'm only proposing that many people who consider themselves "rational" are as closeminded as they accuse the religious (often very open-minded in my experience) of being. :)

rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 9:42 AM on June 11, 2001


Of course, this could easily mean that Buddhism is simply a 'philosophy'.. and that your 'spiritual' beliefs are separate. For those of us who are studying the religion, the spiritual side of Buddhism is certainly a poser.

Interesting distinction--though, as i say, one that wouldn't make much sense to my Burmese friends, to whom it's all one thing. But let's not stray too far from the larger topic. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this.
posted by rodii at 10:08 AM on June 11, 2001


I think there is a fundamental clash between (some varieties of) religious experience and science, which is that, at some level (as I think someone pointed out here) a fundamental tenet of science is that there are no miracles. There certainly are miracle-free forms of religion, but those that insist on miracles, like Catholicism, I think will always have a problem with science.
posted by rodii at 10:15 AM on June 11, 2001


>rodii: those that insist on miracles, like Catholicism, I think will always have a problem with science.<

surely you mean that science will always have a problem with them?

the point of a miracle, after all, is that it violates science (or whatever you consider to be the norm).
posted by rebeccablood at 10:29 AM on June 11, 2001


Fine. Either way. The point is that there will be a problem. I said that they will have a problem with science because science will always approach their miracles from a debunking standpoint.

the point of a miracle, after all, is that it violates science (or whatever you consider to be the norm).

I don't know. I'd bet that miracles are defined more in terms of the direct intervention of god than they are in contradistinction to science. But I'm not sure where I'm going with this thought, so feel free to ignore it.
posted by rodii at 11:20 AM on June 11, 2001


the point of a miracle, after all, is that it violates science

A perfect cue for David Hume, on superstition and miracles; the point being that the underlying principle -- Hume's critique of causation -- can be applied to the laws of science (and reason) with similar validity.
posted by holgate at 11:52 AM on June 11, 2001


Touché.
posted by rodii at 8:27 AM on June 12, 2001


Sorry to butt in here. Just can't keep my mouth shut.

Rebecca: someone prays and experiences a miracle. you say that it wasn't a miracle, no matter how unlikely it seems, it obviously would have happened anyway; he says that it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't prayed, and it is added to (or starts) his list of evidence in the existence of God.

This is a classic example of the logical post hoc fallacy

who is right? who knows? neither of you can prove your theory.

The burden of proof clearly lies with your Someone. An absence of belief does not constitute a theory.

more importantly, if that particular interpretation makes your life easier or happier, I'm all for you holding it. I personally believe that there are many paths through life, and that the best one for each individual is distinct to him. what works best for you may make a mess of another life, and vice versa.

Your comment -- this thread -- reminds me of why I stopped openly identifying myself as an atheist several years ago. Though I'd still consider myself an atheist, if the conversation arises I now just shrug and assume a quiet agnosticism. If you need your beliefs to get out of bed in the morning and feel good about the world, who am I to try and change you? Cheers.
posted by BoatMeme at 4:57 PM on June 12, 2001


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