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Man vs. God
September 25, 2009 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Noted religious thinker Karen Armstrong and noted atheist thinker Richard Dawkins face off - sorta kinda - in the WSJ: We commissioned Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins to respond independently to the question "Where does evolution leave God?" Neither knew what the other would say. Here are the results. Previously.
posted by fleetmouse (310 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
The first two words in noted religious thinker Karen Armstrong's article were Richard and Dawkins.
posted by fire&wings at 5:38 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Very nice. I particularly liked Dawkins' response to the question. But Armstrong's was interesting, too. Thanks for posting this.
posted by The World Famous at 5:46 PM on September 25, 2009


In my mind, part of what makes Dawkins such a wonderful writer is his ability to call out and sustain a sense of wonder far deeper than even his most theistic opponents, for whom wonder is (ostensibly) a rejoinder to science.
posted by limon at 5:48 PM on September 25, 2009 [13 favorites]


Without reading either, my answer is: No one scientific theory "leaves God" anywhere. It's the entire process of science that "leaves God" as an unnecessary (so far) hypothesis.
posted by DU at 5:51 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I love the fact that they needed to put "WSJ Illustration" on this two minute photoshop
posted by delmoi at 5:53 PM on September 25, 2009


Very nice. I particularly liked Dawkins' Armstrong's response to the question. But Armstrong's Dawkins' was interesting, too. Thanks for posting this.
posted by ...possums at 5:54 PM on September 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Not only that, delmoi, but you can click to "view full image" which is four times as big. Like, to see the details.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:57 PM on September 25, 2009


Not only that, delmoi, but you can click to "view full image" which is four times as big. Like, to see the details.

They want to make sure that you can see the tiny legs that are not visible in the smaller version.
posted by The World Famous at 5:58 PM on September 25, 2009 [11 favorites]


Without reading either, my answer is: No one scientific theory "leaves God" anywhere. It's the entire process of science that "leaves God" as an unnecessary (so far) hypothesis.

Of course, within the scientific method we use today, god is not present, and therefore unexplained phenomena are merely that, unexplained.

But before evolution, there was an open question about how people came to exist. People want an answer to that question and "We don't know" isn't good enough for them. With evolution we have an answer to that question. The fact that science an answer pretty much any question about the observable world now is a huge blow to religion.

In other words, "We don't know" is a perfectly good answer only if the person you are replying too already believes that the scientific method is the only way to the truth. Otherwise, they'll be happy believe other things.

In other words, the world that is observable (without instruments) is now "closed under science" Any question that a person who is not familiar with science can be answered, and only by learning a lot about science can they even begin to understand the questions we can't answer yet. (other then the 'why' questions, of course. Unless the answer is just "no reason")
posted by delmoi at 6:03 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think a lot of believers agree with Karen Armstrong's crunchy and idiosyncratic view of God. Sure, we can all agree that an "indescribable transcendence" may exist, and even need a name - but why call it "God"? It just sounds like so much ad-hoc extrapolation, linking the literal God of creation to the transcendent. Doesn't ring true to me.

Alfred Mohler also took a look at the debate and to him, Dawkins comes out looking better than Armstrong:
We should at least give Dawkins credit here for knowing what he rejects. Here we meet an atheist who understands the difference between belief and unbelief. As for those, like Armstrong, who try to tell believers that it does not matter if God exists -- Dawkins informs them that believers in God will brand them as atheists. "They'll be right," Dawkins concludes.

So the exchange in The Wall Street Journal turns out to be a meeting of two atheist minds. The difference, of course, is that one knows he is an atheist when the other presumably claims she is not. Dawkins knows a fellow atheist when he sees one. Careful readers of The Wall Street Journal will come to the same conclusion.
posted by micketymoc at 6:09 PM on September 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


I love the fact that they needed to put "WSJ Illustration" on this two minute photoshop

They were acknowledging its creator.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:15 PM on September 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


They really seem to be talking at cross purposes and have such a coarse rendition of both God and Science.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:16 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


They're both good writers. I have three Dawkins books and three Armstrong books. Deadlocked in an contrived standoff!
posted by rokusan at 6:18 PM on September 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I also find it hard to believe Karen Armstrong's supposition that before Newton all Christians were these philosophers who just thought the bible was all allegorical, and god just meant the un-moved mover or whatever.

I mean obviously there is a debate between Atheists and religious people but there a lo of people who take the side of religion and then proffer this weak tea version that essentially boils down "God is whatever you believe in." They don't seem to understand that they're not actually a part of the debate, or that they're not actually disagreeing with the Atheists.

It's like a Mac vs. PC debate that went like this:
Mac fanboy: I love macs and I hate PCs!

Other person: Well, but Macs are "personal computers" so PCs are good!
It's totally missing the point.
posted by delmoi at 6:29 PM on September 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


They don't seem to understand that they're not actually a part of the debate, or that they're not actually disagreeing with the Atheists.

Really? It seems Karen Armstrong's position is that God is the comfort in the unknown, and God is the soul of things in ways science can not (yet?) measure. I am comfortable with the thought that there is something beyond the measurable like the 1998 film Dark City. The soul cannot be measured by experiences and art is not created because of the laws of physics (as far as I've seen mentioned or explained).

Some want their God to be master and overseer of all, and cannot accept what most understand as truth (see: evolution). Others are comfortable with a God who is involved with things like higher mental faculties (as poor, forgotten Alfred Wallace did). Perhaps, one day scientists will be able to make all theories into indisputable laws, but until then, there some find a comfort in God existing between the cracks.

Atheists do not believe in souls or afterlife, as far as I understand, where religious folk do. Perhaps it's a delusion in the hopes that there's something more than what we have now, so the daily realities of solitude, boredom, uncertainty, or even terror are less daunting. But atheists aren't standing on the street corner with signs saying "you only get one life, so don't fuck it up" or "Your God is Dead, and all you got was a dead-end job," where the religious fanatics are trying to save a damned world and getting all up in your business.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:43 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]



Religion. Comfort for the many.
posted by notreally at 6:45 PM on September 25, 2009


On the whole "believe in him, don't believe in him" thing goes, I am fond of ignosticism lately, in a certain way it takes a much stronger and more consistent stance than either atheism or agnosticism.
posted by idiopath at 6:45 PM on September 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


In my mind, part of what makes Dawkins such a wonderful writer is his ability to call out and sustain a sense of wonder far deeper than even his most theistic opponents

Agreed, but just don't let him loose on film.
posted by fire&wings at 6:46 PM on September 25, 2009


Bringing Karen Armstrong into a debate with Richard Dawkins is just editorial laziness. She's not really a scholar, in the sense that she hasn't contributed anything fundamental to our understanding of human religious behavior. She's the equivalent of a well-published science journalist and facing her off with Dawkins is like fighting a chihuahua and a pitbull. As a result, she's incapable of doing anything other than polishing platitudes.

Had they wanted an interesting debate, they'd have squared Dawkins off against someone like Mark Lilla. The resulting exchange would have forced Dawkins to speak about politics and theology, territory on which he doesn't occupy a commanding position and where science, though certainly relevant, isn't a dominant analytical voice.

Or they might have invited the literary critic Terry Eagelton, who has recently weighed in on the science vs. religion debate.
posted by felix betachat at 6:57 PM on September 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


I mean obviously there is a debate between Atheists and religious people but there a lo of people who take the side of religion and then proffer this weak tea version that essentially boils down "God is whatever you believe in." They don't seem to understand that they're not actually a part of the debate, or that they're not actually disagreeing with the Atheists.

I suppose then that the atheists in general should specify that their issue is with organized religion and anti-scientific religious dogma? Because the distinct impression I've received from every atheism thread MeFi has ever done has not been that one. Rather, the sense I've gotten is that either one is an atheist or an anti-science mouthbreather, and it's been my insistence over and over that this is a pretty bad stance for atheism to take, really, and that's just about never penetrated with anybody; so if in fact what you're saying is true, that would be awesome, but I kind of think what you're saying would be nice but is in fact not true.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:00 PM on September 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


My real problem with the creationist world view is their God just isn't all that clever. I mean make a fish of the sea. Make a bird of the air. Stick some legs on a creeping thing that creeps upon the Earth. "Oh, hey, lunchtime! I'll put the vitamin C bits in the primates after I eat."

That's it? The guys in the cheesiest home handyman magazine at least make jigs and stuff. If your all powerful and everlasting God is routinely trumped by the folks at Fine Woodworking you need to reconsider your faith or something.

Now an unstable singularity that explodes into all of creation and makes more creation as it goes along. That's more like it. Fix it so every photon arrives at it's destination by taking every possible path at once and now you've got a God I can get behind.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:02 PM on September 25, 2009 [14 favorites]


Now an unstable singularity that explodes into all of creation and makes more creation as it goes along. That's more like it. Fix it so every photon arrives at it's destination by taking every possible path at once and now you've got a God I can get behind.

What's a photon?

(Humor me... I'm getting at something here)
posted by Acromion at 7:20 PM on September 25, 2009


Acromion: "What's a photon?"

A photon is a subatomic particle, a subatomic particle is a model for understanding behaviors on a scale too small to observe with the naked eye, and too small to measure directly without drastically perturbing the thing being measured.

When the results of our experiments don't make sense, we either correct our math somewhere or propose a new particle to account for the unexpected measurements. We then follow up with more experiments to verify expected properties of that new particle, repeat as needed.
posted by idiopath at 7:27 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


> What's a photon?

Twenty bucks. Same as downtown.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:29 PM on September 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


Rather, the sense I've gotten is that either one is an atheist or an anti-science mouthbreather, and it's been my insistence over and over that this is a pretty bad stance for atheism to take,

But aren't you doing essentially the same thing? If the loudest and most self-congratulatory and preening atheist says something, is that the stance of atheism? It isn't my stance, and that lot doesn't speak for me. Certainly the "Rational Response" douchebags don't speak for me. However, I can see how you could get the impression that all atheists feel that way, in much the same way that atheists get the impression that religious people are either hypocritical theocrats or primitive superstitious cretins. Because as the debate, if you can call it that, goes on, everyone else on either side loses their stomach for the discussion and leaves the field to the spittle-flecked zealots.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:31 PM on September 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


Atheism isn't a philosophy, movement or stance. It's a lack of belief in deities.
It's pointless to debate or speculate about 'atheists' as a group, as there's no group.
Just a lack of belief.
posted by signal at 7:35 PM on September 25, 2009 [12 favorites]


Yeah, Karen Armstrong does not appear to be much of a believer. I don't think her essay really advanced the position that she was apparently expected to try to advance. But it also doesn't look like she really was trying to advance the position. Her argument seems like it could be boiled down to "well of course God doesn't exist - but why can't we just call something else 'God' anyway?" Is that what high-profile "religious thinkers" have reduced themselves to?

Meanwhile, Dawkins makes a statement that is, frankly, one of the most brilliant things I have read in years:

"But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us."

I recognize that, in the end, Dawkins' point is always something along the lines of it being foolish to believe in God when the actual evidence and sound scientific analysis finds no trace thereof (and I don't entirely disagree with him on that). But he also tracks an important aspect of theology that Armstrong seems to just want to wave off: That if something that could be called God exists, then he/she/it must be reconcilable with human experiences and observation, including science - and that whatever reconciliation is to be made should not be hand-wavy.

And meanwhile, Armstrong's essay seems like hand-waving to me.
posted by The World Famous at 7:36 PM on September 25, 2009


This article is a smidge moldy by web 2.0 standards. And a topic which has been beaten to death here about a million times before.

When I read it last weekend I just couldn't get past how Dawkins' deliberately dismisses the whole of theology and the gnosticism by saying something like, well if you redefine the idea of god as something other than my straw man then I have no argument for you (paraphrased and editorialized, btw). Seems a little lazy and disingenuous to me. He's a condescending fuck with no demonstrated ability for transcendent thought. His loss.

This is a very fair fight. I don't think anyone won. Unlike this one.
posted by valentinepig at 7:41 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


That if something that could be called God exists, then he/she/it must be reconcilable with human experiences and observation, including science

Religious people would dismiss this as anthropomorphism. At any rate, his scope is far too limited.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:41 PM on September 25, 2009


Forgot to editorialize the video: where he takes on a clearly unarmed woman and bashes her head in (metaphor and hyperbole).
posted by valentinepig at 7:42 PM on September 25, 2009


Religious people would dismiss this as anthropomorphism.

Not all of them would.
posted by The World Famous at 7:44 PM on September 25, 2009


science can answer pretty much any question about the observable world now

Really?
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:51 PM on September 25, 2009


Belief is a coping mechanism for living in a vast, beautiful, but meaningless universe. Much of humanity seem to need some form of it just to get through the day. You can take that as proof that our brains did not evolve well enough to help us deal psychologically with the reality of our own pointlessness, or you can take that to mean that there is a god or we wouldn't need one.

Take your pick.
posted by emjaybee at 7:52 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


All gods are anthropomorphic, regardless of whether or not their worshippers are willing to acknowledge it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:52 PM on September 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


Religious people would dismiss this as anthropomorphism.

Anthropocentrism maybe?
posted by empath at 7:54 PM on September 25, 2009


science can answer pretty much any question about the observable world now

Really?


Yes. Really. It might not get the answer right, but it can provide an answer based on something more sound than mythology. The key word is "observable." And the key word not to read into it is "correctly."
posted by The World Famous at 7:54 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Man, the either/or arrogance on Metafilter is really sad.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:55 PM on September 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


However, I can see how you could get the impression that all atheists feel that way, in much the same way that atheists get the impression that religious people are either hypocritical theocrats or primitive superstitious cretins.

I guess I should be more specific and say "Dawkinsites," or even more specific than that and say "the vocal atheists of MetaFilter," which pretty much means the same thing. Also:

All gods are anthropomorphic, regardless of whether or not their worshippers are willing to acknowledge it.

PG, how on earth would you know that?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:58 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, that about wraps it up for God.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:02 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


if something that could be called God exists, then he/she/it must be reconcilable with human experiences and observation, including science - and that whatever reconciliation is to be made should not be hand-wavy

Strawman alert level: red

Clearly jack needs more [self-censored because of the inevitable flag and call to the drab gray principle's office]. You know, the odd thing is that atheists constantly seem to feel the need to prove that there is nothing more than pinch me, punch me reality.

You can hate religion, but if you ignore the spiritual and psychic aspects of being human, you are decidedly ignoring a key dimension to being human. Kinda like cutting off your arms because you don't like to play baseball. There's a lot more to spirituality than handling snakes and fire and brimstone and right-wing nuttery.
posted by valentinepig at 8:09 PM on September 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Belief is a coping mechanism for living in a vast, beautiful, but meaningless universe. Much of humanity seem to need some form of it just to get through the day. You can take that as proof that our brains did not evolve well enough to help us deal psychologically with the reality of our own pointlessness...

Science is a belief.

Well, that about wraps it up for God.

Maybe your god. Mine's got three beers left.
posted by valentinepig at 8:15 PM on September 25, 2009


Much of humanity seem to need some form of it just to get through the day. You can take that as proof that our brains did not evolve well enough to help us deal psychologically with the reality of our own pointlessness, or you can take that to mean that there is a god or we wouldn't need one.

I would argue our position is much more precarious than this.

Steven Pinker first introduced me to the concept of evolutionary "spandrels" when I was an undergraduate in his course, "The Human Mind." In architecture, a spandrel is the positive space that exists between two arches as a mere accident of design. Something selected for has the consequence of producing an additional something not selected for. The unselected entity nevertheless exists.

Certain spandrels coalesce and create what Pinker calls "The Cheesecake Effect." Cheesecake does not exist in nature. But creaminess, richness, smoothness, and sweetness are all taste sensations that evolution has selected because of a long-ago-and-far-away strategy of acquiring calories to help us survive. The individuals whose tastebuds were most stimulated by these flavors clearly had an advantage over those whose were not.

We can easily imagine certain traits that posed an evolutionary benefit. Deference to authority, confirmation bias, an extended adolescence, well-defined insider/outside group mentalities, and the tendency to impute meaning to meaningless data all came together to create human consciousness and to place humankind ahead of other creatures in the evolutionary race to control the earth. But those are the same traits that come together to create and sustain religious belief. In this way, God is cheesecake.

It may very well be that religion is simply an opiate for the masses and can be written off as such. But my fear is that religion is too deeply embedded in our genes as a by-product of our essential evolutionary path. I'm not sure what will become of humanity if we satisfy our intellect that no God can exist, but fall to re engineer those dimensions of our minds that continually presuppose God must.
posted by jefficator at 8:16 PM on September 25, 2009 [35 favorites]


valentinepig, are you under the impression that I'm an atheist?

You can hate religion, but if you ignore the spiritual and psychic aspects of being human, you are decidedly ignoring a key dimension to being human.

First, I don't hate religion. A lot of religions hate me, but I try not to hate them back. Second, I don't think that it's ignoring the "spiritual and psychic aspects of being human" (whatever that means) to posit that the true nature of God, to the extent that God exists, must be reconcilable with human experiences and observation. I'm not saying that human experiences, observation, and science always lead to the correct conclusions. In fact, maybe sometimes the reconciliation includes a statement that, for some reason, the experiences, observation, etc. are flawed. But I prefer there to be something more than just "well, the scientific explanation is wrong, ipse dixit."

Kinda like cutting off your arms because you don't like to play baseball.

Thanks. I actually did cut my arms off because I don't like to play baseball, and I am horribly offended by your analogy.
posted by The World Famous at 8:17 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


He's a condescending fuck with no demonstrated ability for transcendent thought.

...with at least enough civility and respect for his intellectual foes to not call those who disagree with him "condescending fuck"s. More than can be said for you.
posted by inoculatedcities at 8:20 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's a lot of things I could say about mistakes that I think both Armstrong and Dawkins makes, but they wouldn't be the most important point that I think Dawkins misses but Armstrong grasps and more or less manages to elaborate.

Cosmology has always been one thing religion does, but that's not its only function. More importantly, sometimes when it's doing that, it's not a simply a "just-so" story. In fact, I suspect that to the extend that a religion acquires a real influence beyond a social influence, the cosmological stories have to be at somewhat attached to visceral experiences of some kind, and this is where they become particularly useful as tools for orientation of purpose, place, and identity. A lot of theists, particularly post-enlightment but probably before as well, decided to try to see these things not from a narrative point of view but as rational models of the universe, and rationalists who follow that cue unsurprisingly tend towards atheism when a literal reading of Genesis doesn't work out as well as Maxwell's equations. Experientially-grounded religion encounters its own problems and isn't immune from rational challenges, but it weathers considerably better and remains very relevant even as science tends to further dominate the landscape when it comes to modeling the universe.
posted by weston at 8:21 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


The simplest possible refutation of my argument is to respond, "I don't believe in God. I am a human being. Therefore your argument that God is engrained in human consciousness because of by-products of evolution--irrespective of God's own existence--is therefore faulty."

But any good evolutionary theorist will suggest that evolution works on population-level and not on individual-level. I imagine the George W. Bush Presidency alone could suffice to certify that at least a critical mass of a given population continues to believe in God.

There have been rational skeptics who have opted out of religious ideology for all of recorded history. But the idea of God persists. I can't help but wonder whether it is more than mere comfort that perpetuates this idea.

Nature selected for people who believe in God. If there is no God, then there will be a lingering emptiness of some kind in the human experience until nature selects for people who do not believe in God. (But I wonder how evolutionarily successful those people would be on the population level?)
posted by jefficator at 8:24 PM on September 25, 2009


You can hate beer, but if you ignore the foamy and tipsy aspects of being human, you are decidedly ignoring a key dimension to being human.

You can hate atheism, but if you ignore the skeptical and evidence-loving aspects of being human, you are decidedly ignoring a key dimension to being human.

You can hate goth music, but if you ignore the postpunk and swirly, ethereal aspects of being human, you are decidedly ignoring a key dimension to being human.

Seriously, if you don't value the things I value, you are less of a human being than I am.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:25 PM on September 25, 2009 [32 favorites]


World Famous - statement, response. Nothing more. I have my own pantheon that I developed long ago which fits into my own cosmology. This is one of my favorite topics.
posted by valentinepig at 8:26 PM on September 25, 2009


What the hell, Pope Guilty? Go away.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:26 PM on September 25, 2009


Nature selected for people who believe in God.

Maybe. Maybe it just didn't select against them. Or maybe the whole "be fruitful and multiply" thing gave an evolutionary advantage.
posted by The World Famous at 8:27 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seriously, if you don't value the things I value, you are less of a human being than I am.

If I don't value the things you value, I'm going to make a killing selling you my old stuff.
posted by The World Famous at 8:28 PM on September 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


What the hell, Pope Guilty? Go away.

Why? It was a pretty ridiculous and insulting assertion. Key dimension to being human, my ass.
posted by ODiV at 8:30 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


What the hell, Pope Guilty? Go away.

Theist impugns the humanity of atheists based on their beliefs: A-OK.

Atheist mocks theistic dehumanization of atheists: Unacceptable.

Got it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:30 PM on September 25, 2009 [11 favorites]


Seriously, if you don't value the things I value, you are less of a human being than I am.


Sorry to hear that.
posted by valentinepig at 8:31 PM on September 25, 2009


A quanta of light. Next question?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:32 PM on September 25, 2009


Where are theists dehumanizing atheists here?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:33 PM on September 25, 2009


valentinepig: You developed your own pantheon? I thought it was supposed to be the other way around. I'm seriously confused.
posted by ODiV at 8:33 PM on September 25, 2009


Sorry to hear that.

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posted by Pope Guilty at 8:33 PM on September 25, 2009 [15 favorites]


When I read it last weekend I just couldn't get past how Dawkins' deliberately dismisses the whole of theology and the gnosticism by saying something like, well if you redefine the idea of god as something other than my straw man then I have no argument for you (paraphrased and editorialized, btw). Seems a little lazy and disingenuous to me. He's a condescending fuck with no demonstrated ability for transcendent thought. His loss.
It's not condescending, it's realistic It seems like the vast majority of religious people, at least in the U.S. and the U.K and probably the middle east believe in a personal god who is similar to the one described in their religious texts? Why should dawkins spend time debating people who he doesn't really disagree with in the first place, when there are so many people you do disagree with? Also It's a bit hilarious that you'd criticize someone for being both "condescending" and "no ability for transcendent thought" at the same time.
science can answer pretty much any question about the observable world now
Really?
Well, what's your question? I'm talking about questions people have about the world that they can see and experience with their own senses without scientific instruments.
You can hate religion, but if you ignore the spiritual and psychic aspects of being human, you are decidedly ignoring a key dimension to being human.
Well, what does being human have to do with what's outside the Human, atheists like Dawkins, I think, are talking about what's going on outside your head, not in it.

If you think god is only inside your head, not out of it, then you agree with Dawkins, at least about the "existence" of god.
posted by delmoi at 8:33 PM on September 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Nevermind, this is all very pointless. Have a good night.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:33 PM on September 25, 2009


These threads always leave me spinning. So much crazy so fast, there's no way to parse it all. A few thoughts.

I'm an atheist. I don't think that all religious people are mouth-breathers. I know quite a few. I think they've all made a logical error. That's okay, everyone does it sometimes. So do I. I disagree with you completely. That's okay.

Religious Mefites always accuse the atheists of having contempt for religious people. Right before they refer to (more or less) literal religious belief as stupid and indefensible. Check yourself, that's what my family believes in, what many of my friends believe (or once believed) in. You're the one insulting what is in my experience, the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves religious.

Science is not a belief. It is not a set of beliefs. Science is a system of obtaining beliefs. It is not picked willy-nilly. It is based on the way humans reason. If our civilization was annihilated, and the survivors forgot all about science, when they re-invented it, it would have exactly the same form. Science never discovers "truth", that's not it's goal. It describes the world around us, based on reliable, repeatable observations. You want something more than that? What do you want to give up? Reliable or repeatable? It seems like mainly around metafilter, the answer is "describeable".
posted by Humanzee at 8:34 PM on September 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


You can hate religion, but if you ignore the spiritual and psychic aspects of being human, you are decidedly ignoring a key dimension to being human. Kinda like cutting off your arms because you don't like to play baseball.
To be fair, it's a little easier to prove that I have arms than it is to prove that I have a 'spiritual essence', rather than emergent sensations.

As someone who spent a couple decades as an active "true believer" in a Charismatic branch of the Christian faith, and now considers himself an agnostic (perhaps atheist), I think there are aspects of belief and basic assumptions/terminology mismatches on both sides of these kinds of discussions.

Vocal atheists -- at least the ones that are the loudest in these discussions -- tend to collapse the nuances of various beliefs into a single 'anti-science fundamentalist Christian or Muslim' camp. Those may be dominant voices in public discourse now, and that's definitely a problem, but those things are not inherent to the nature of spiritual belief or practice.

Religious believers tend to assume that atheists do not believe in transcendent experience, or that all atheists are by definition materialists. This is not the case, any more than the idea that all religious people are monotheists. They also tend to assume that experience of the transcendent is validation of their particular ideological and theological beliefs. The Bible, for example, says that "The heavens declare the glory of God" -- but they don't. They are simply amazing and awe-inspiring.
posted by verb at 8:35 PM on September 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I didn't dehumanize you. I apologize that my statement made you feel that way - I was merely positing a widely held foundational theorem. I was really hoping to debate it's validity.
posted by valentinepig at 8:36 PM on September 25, 2009


I imagine the George W. Bush Presidency alone could suffice to certify that at least a critical mass of a given population continues to believe in prove that there is no God.

That he and Dick Cheney are working on competing (and almost certainly ghost written) books arguing that the other is responsible for the Bush Presidency train wreck is a pretty strong argument for a God though.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:38 PM on September 25, 2009


The author I don't agree with wrote an unsatisfying essay, the author I agree wrote the Truth.
posted by oddman at 8:39 PM on September 25, 2009 [9 favorites]


Is that what high-profile "religious thinkers" have reduced themselves to?


Diana Eck invited Karen Armstrong to speak with our undergraduate Religion seminar when I was a sophomore. Armstrong and Eck are both very much of the camp that God is the numinal and the study of religion tells us more about the culture that created that religion than about any Gods. Its the sort of deity-as-Rorschach concept that was always...disagreeable...to me. I suppose it somehow smacks of a 19th century Protestant superiority, oddly enough. "Oh look at the cute little brown people. They have cute little ideas about God. How quaint. Let's study them."

Armstrong started in on the whole all-paths-lead-to-the-top-of-the-mountain business. "Five Yogis found an elephant. One touched the nose and said, "Its a vine!" One touched the leg and said, "Its a tree!" One touched the side and said, "Its a wall!" One tugged on the ear and said, "Its a tapestry!" And a final yogi grabbed the tail and said, "Its a little worm!"

Me: Mrs Armstrong?

She: Yes?

Me: How do you know its an elephant?

She: I'm sorry?

Me: How do you know its an elephant?

She: Because that's just the story. It illustrates how everyone has an incomplete part of the whole and can't therefore know precisely what they are encountering.

Me: But you know its an elephant?

She: I don't see your point.

Me: My point is that you are confident that the others have an incomplete picture of reality because they lack knowledge of the whole. Your argument presupposes knowledge of the whole. If your knowledge is not garnered by sensory perception as is theirs, then how can we know that your assessment of the whole is correct? What if there are five yogis holding precisely the objects they describe?

She: Because we know its an elephant.

Me: I seem to believe you have faith that your meta-narrative is true entirely without recourse to proof of any kind. In that case, you're argument that God is the numinal is no more sustainable than the yogis respective arguments that the elephant was what was available to their immediate sensations. Your rationalist religion is precisely the same as the irrational religions it purports to subvert.

Diana Eck cut in to suggest that I was dealing in pre-modern conceptions of religion. "Contemporary religious people don't think that way."

"With all due respect, Professor Eck, even if that's true? There are religious people who feel compelled to fly planes into buildings at least in part because of the gloss religion puts on their experience. Shouldn't we try to understand those people's motivations?"

Though I was genuinely inquisitive and not combative, she suggested I was sidetracking us and declined to answer any other questions of mine. I still would like to know the answers.
posted by jefficator at 8:42 PM on September 25, 2009 [41 favorites]


All gods are anthropomorphic, regardless of whether or not their worshippers are willing to acknowledge it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:52 PM on September 25


Well, you're wrong. According to the New Testament, God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. That is precisely not anthropomorphic. Secondly, and notably I think, God never actually appeared to anyone as a man. He was a burning bush, a dove, etc. but never a person. Jesus was a person, but the bible makes it clear that he was a man.

If you really want to get specific about what the Bible says about God, here it is:
Εν αρχή ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

In the beginning was logos, and it was divine

What Dawkins doesn't understand, and what Christians, atheists and countless others have been arguing about for roughly 2000 years, is the meaning of λόγος (i.e. "logos" for the non-Unicoded). It is a word whose definitions include rationality, reason, order, etc. It is the suffix of the name of nearly all branches of study not previously named by Greeks or Romans. Read that link carefully, because then you might understand better what the person who originally wrote John 1:1 was trying to communicate. Not only is God not a man, he's not a being. He (it, whatever) is the the uncreated order, rationality of all things, which order created itself. And science has demonstrated time and again that there is order, and that the universe operates rationally.

The fact that some people might harbor an idea that god is a bearded guy in the clouds is irrelevant. They're wrong. The text never said that. And most adults who maybe thought that as kids don't think in those terms anymore. You don't get to hold up misguided Christians who take the old and new testaments literally as the arbiters of Christianity any more than you can say that Mohammed Atta defines Islam. We don't have to guess what Christianity is about, it's written down in a book.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:45 PM on September 25, 2009 [24 favorites]


I'm seriously confused.

Well, my personal cosmic work-up is the product of four decades of exploration of the human experience, so in the immortal words of Dr. House, (paraphrased) it'll take 40 years to get to the end of it.

I often see folks leveling their scientific fire at the "God of the Bible". When the rhetoric is refined, I see a lot of folks relly taking fundamentalist Christians to task (maybe because they are so prominent) for their unsupported beliefs. Fair enough. I'm pretty irked at the damage done by fundamentalists, too.

But by my way of thinking, atheists are pretty fundamentalist in their stance, too.
posted by valentinepig at 8:47 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is that a picture of applause? Thanks, and good night.
posted by valentinepig at 8:51 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


But by my way of thinking, atheists are pretty fundamentalist in their stance, too.
Everyone who believes anything is a fundamentalist: they just disagree on what the fundamentals are.
posted by verb at 8:51 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I get your meaning a lot better when put it like that, thanks.

Sounds a bit heretical though. ;)
posted by ODiV at 8:52 PM on September 25, 2009


He (it, whatever) is the the uncreated order, rationality of all things, which order created itself. And science has demonstrated time and again that there is order, and that the universe operates rationally

Pinker was quoted in the Times perhaps two weeks ago? He noted that Mathematics is a language the expresses a universal reality. "1+1=2" is not a linguistic invention. Its an expression of an eternal truth. Nothing surprising here.

He goes on to (admittedly with reluctance) concede that evolution has produced creatures all around the world that believe an individual should, "Do unto others..." whenever possible.

I won't pretend to quote directly, but he basically implied that morality is a universal truth that we have discovered and not created. I was shocked.
posted by jefficator at 8:53 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Or you could read any of the many writings on cooperation and sociality as a factor and result of evolution.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:56 PM on September 25, 2009


Everyone who believes anything is a fundamentalist: they just disagree on what the fundamentals are.

In the Study of Religion we say that the essential problem is always and only epistemological in nature. How do we know what we know?

If you begin with the presupposition that only the observable can be quantified and commented upon, then you can move forward with a scientific worldview.

If you begin with the presupposition that forces exist which are not observable and may not be quantified, you cannot rely on a observation alone to explain the world as we encounter it.

My present psychological torture and career dead-end stems from my inability to find a meta-system that dictates which system should be followed. With infinite regress, the problem is always and only epistemological in nature.
posted by jefficator at 8:58 PM on September 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't know what his definition of "universal" is, but considering all the human-inflicted suffering going on right now, I'm going to guess it's wildly different than one I'd find in a dictionary.
posted by ODiV at 8:59 PM on September 25, 2009


Read that link carefully, because then you might understand better what the person who originally wrote John 1:1 was trying to communicate. Not only is God not a man, he's not a being.
Of course, that assumes that one sentence out of the entirety of Christian scripture and teaching is the be-all end-all definition of what 'The Christian God' means. Orthodox Christians, for example, don't go for the whole 'Sola Scriptura' stuff that underlies a lot of strict literalism. They hold, roughly, that Scripture is meaningless outside the context of a collective body of believers, practicing spiritual rituals and interacting with each other.

That isn't a cop-out to avoid textual ambiguities, it's an explicit part of their theology: in most cases, they would argue that even the obviously true and verifiable parts of Scripture are not theologically meaningful or helpful outside of that broader context of the life of faithful spiritual practice. (Disclaimer: this is based on reading and discussions with a close friend who is an Orthodox believer. If anyone wants to correct me on this, or clarify ambiguities that come from my relatively limited understanding, fire away.)

Of course, most of the biblical literalists we are familiar with don't believe Eastern Orthodox Christians are actually Christians. Hell, most don't even understand that the Orthodox Church is something fundamentally separate from the Catholic church.
posted by verb at 8:59 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


As a non-believer, I fully understand that it's difficult to understand why anything exists, and it's not clear you can rule out any specific answer.

That said, it's hard not to think of true believers in specific religions as, um, a little slow, because they believe things are, at least for me, very very hard to take seriously.

I have zero issues with Ms. Armstrong. She's making no specific claims - I cannot gainsay a word she says. (Of course, I don't really feel she's saying much at all, if she wants to lump all the things we don't understand in a box called God, so what?)

But Ms. Armstrong is not really a Christian, in the sense that most Christians believe. There are a huge quantity of things that one must believe are specifically true to be a Christian, that Christ was born of a virgin, could perform miracles, died and came back, and more.

These claims baffle me. They seem highly implausible, but worse, they seem to have no place at all in a theory of "how should I live my life" and "how is the universe put together". The obsession with sex seems particularly small potatoes compared to the problem of existence - there are large, consistent ethical systems like Buddhism that simply don't consider sex as being intrinsically ethically problematic at all.

tl; dr: spiritually inclined, good; miracles, ha ha ha.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:02 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually I find their ignorance and lack of imagination appalling, f'instnce:
"Symbolism was essential to premodern religion, because it was only possible to speak about the ultimate reality—God, Tao, Brahman or Nirvana—analogically, since it lay beyond the reach of words.
It's precisely the core theme of Taoism that it is in fact NOT possible to speak about the ultimate reality and analogy is completely misleading. Furthermore that it is not possible to know, nor is it necessary to TRY to know the Tao.

Dawkin's is just as goofy. Why is the process of the creation of the universe assumed finished at the initiation of, apparently, the Big Bang. Or any era? Indeed why do we assume that our perspective of time is the apex of intellect?
Why is it assumed that the making of the universe is not something intelligence is intrinsically involved in?
It's here isn't it? Why assume a discrete ego for any given intelligence? Or indeed, a discrete subject/object relationship?
Why assume only forms of life we can currently perceive - after only really getting our shit together for the past 10,000 years - are the only possible forms describable as 'intelligence.'
Hell, we can't talk to almost all life on the planet, who's to say a gigantic slime mold covering 300 miles of underground caves isn't 'thinking' but very very slowly, or in a pattern quite alien to us?
And why is it presumed that pattern isn't a natural and self-organizing event in the first place and therefore evolution was inevitable?

All this mostly is to argue against the Judeo-Christian God concept. And mostly in defense of science.
Really, it's just a social movement. And, ok, yeah, a necessary one because I don't like folks telling me where and when and how I can use my whip or telling me I have to get up early or can't eat for a month or can't think about certain things or can't say certain things, yeah.

But don't let's pretend this is any kind of exploration of the mysteries of the universe because it's exactly this kind of crap sets parameters and limits on imagination, there's nothing that says we're not deeply connected in a personal and meaningful way with the most fundimental forces of the universe and that we ourselves, the pattern of our intellect and the effect in whatever regard that has in the universe and its reciprocation.

Every time I see some sci-fi channel exploration crap it starts off with how insignificant and meaningless we are. Dawkins at least celebrates the complexity of life. But still - in form and moving however express and admirable or how sublime in action or apprehension it is indeed our faculties that are infinite.
We allude to an infinite complexity such that we ourselves are analogues for all the forces of the universe in such variety and depth and endless recursion that we ourselves must always question the ground of our being.
And yet, to these debates, what is this quintessence of dust?

All the charm of one parent taking a toy dump truck of a child pretending to fly though the air and demanding that: "NO! Dump trucks don't fly!" and the other parent arguing that anything can do anything.
There is indeed nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. And the world is a prison if one lets demagogues define meaning in one's relationship to being.
Does a soaring eagle know Jesus? Does he not? The questions are ridiculous. And the idea that evolution ends with Darwin is just as silly.
One million years from now whatever the human race is will not know, or even understand an intellectual dilemma like this. Whatever the analogue of the term 'evolution' means then will be understood as fundamentally more than just biological process. And hopefully the meaning of being for a given intelligence will be grounded in experiencing a meaningful connection to the fundamental essence of the totality of existance and iterations of perspective valued rather than rendered into such a ham fisted dichotomy as 'making the universe' or 'statistically improbable appearance of something from nothing.'

I mean, I know I don't know what I'm talking about when I begin to explore this. It'd be nice though if folks had a bit more imagination than demanding it's all about this big book written by dehydrated semites or it's all empiricism and physical laws are extraneous to human meaning.
Hell, if we're not part of the universe howcome we're here? I mean, statistics, logic, they're human constructs based on abstract reasoning and ultimately self-contradictory (thanks Godel) unlike, say, reality.
All arguing about the map rather than apprehending the actual road. (Again, there are folks trying to grab the wheel, demanding that their map of Nazareth is better than the GPS here in Chicago, so the actuality of the debate is important. But we have to recognize that it's this that is the debate).
posted by Smedleyman at 9:02 PM on September 25, 2009 [8 favorites]


Today we'd amend the statement: Evolution is the universe's greatest work. Evolution is the creator of life, and life is arguably the most surprising and most beautiful production that the laws of physics have ever generated. Evolution, to quote a T-shirt sent me by an anonymous well-wisher, is the greatest show on earth, the only game in town.

Indeed, evolution is probably the greatest show in the entire universe.


because at the end of the road, it resulted in you, richard? - the universe is a mindless set of properties - it does no work - it does no creating - it does not surprise, nor does it appreciate beauty, nor does it produce, nor does it pass laws or generate - nothing it does is a show or a game, it just is - that is a truly strict, scientific view of the universe - whatever meaning you give it in your article is YOU imposing and projecting on it

all you've done here is substitute man's ego for god - and from your choice of words, you seem to be quite worshipful

thus man's deep instinct to be religious and to have something to worship betrays your atheism with your own rhetoric
posted by pyramid termite at 9:12 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


He goes on to (admittedly with reluctance) concede that evolution has produced creatures all around the world that believe an individual should, "Do unto others..." whenever possible.

I won't pretend to quote directly, but he basically implied that morality is a universal truth that we have discovered and not created. I was shocked.
Well, there are plenty of evolutionary hypotheses about why altruism would have created a selective advantage on a group of humans, who would be likely to share similar DNA.
posted by delmoi at 9:16 PM on September 25, 2009


On check back:

Everyone who believes anything is a fundamentalist: they just disagree on what the fundamentals are.

(don't hate me, Mr. Shatner) They're $20, same as in town. (Sorry couldn't resist)

Ain't That The Truth. Word.
posted by valentinepig at 9:17 PM on September 25, 2009


These claims baffle me. They seem highly implausible, but worse, they seem to have no place at all in a theory of "how should I live my life" and "how is the universe put together".

I no longer claim to know much about which claims are implausible and which claims are truth. But as someone who was nurtured in an extremely loving evangelical Christian family who was then blessed with a far greater education than he ever believed possible, I can only say that I miss God. Rationality has made it more or less impossible for me to believe in God, but something within me wishes indescribably that I could shut off my rationality.

I can't speak to you at all the feeling of lostness and hopelessness that emerges for someone who lived his entire life feeling intimately connected to the universe and to humanity in a very particular way, but who no longer feels that same connection very much at all. There is a distinct presence of absence.

I feel like an orphan.

Perhaps your experience with religion was markedly different. Please don't impugn mine and call it inaccurate. No one's experience can be inaccurate.

For those of you who believe in God: be gentle with those who don't. They are not in sinful rebellion. They are merely using the mind God has given them.

For those of you who do not believe in God: be gentle with those who do. They are not simple-minded fools, satisfying their emotional desires at the expense of good sense. They are merely treasuring the meaning they hold so dear.
posted by jefficator at 9:18 PM on September 25, 2009 [18 favorites]


because at the end of the road, it resulted in you, richard?
And God's supposed to be awesome because he made a bunch of howling meat-bags that can't even get health insurance legislation passed?

I mean, that sort of response is really nothing more than counter-snark. Dawkins' transcendent reverent monlogues about the universe and the evolutionary process are not, as best as I can tell, an act of devotion or worship. Those statements are simply an expression of the wonder and awe that biblical literalists frequently claim atheists are fundamentally incapable of.

If you turn it around and say that awe and wonder are fundamentally religious, then we're veering into some questionable semantic games.
posted by verb at 9:18 PM on September 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


A photon is a subatomic particle, a subatomic particle is a model for understanding behaviors on a scale too small to observe with the naked eye, and too small to measure directly without drastically perturbing the thing being measured.

When the results of our experiments don't make sense, we either correct our math somewhere or propose a new particle to account for the unexpected measurements. We then follow up with more experiments to verify expected properties of that new particle, repeat as needed.


That's good. I like that definition and you would make Karl Popper proud.

We select phenonomen out of a cosmic morass of events and make them dicreet "things" by giving them properties. We quantify and describe the way these bits interact with each other. In the case of a photon, we describe it as a particle, even though it has no geometric volume like a particle of dust would. We also describe it simultaneously as a wave, even though when observed in a certain way, it is more like a particle.

But sooner or later, it appears, this reductionism breaks down to some fundamentals that we can't explain. Why does a photon travel at a constant speed? It just does. Its a "law." Why does mass attract mass? It just does. Its a "force." Furthermore, it remains to be seen if we can nail down a perfectly consistent, quantitative theory of everything. Like it or not, when you run your equations, certain axioms must be accepted on faith.

It could that the universe has always existed in some form or another, always obeying these laws and forces, but that is not totally satisfying to me. It is rather like saying God has always existed and will always be there. Something that has always existed and always will exist is something so far outside of the ordinary that it is really beyond human comprehension. This ineffable nature of reality is what a lot of people call God.

I think religion also deals with the realm of the possible, not the probable, likely, or proven. For instance, it is possible that there is a god. It is possible that some type of being or force endowed our bag of proteins with consciousness and free will. It is possible that there is an afterlife. None of these things are particularly likely, but they are something we can hope to exist. There is no way you can say definitively that they do not exist. Faith is dwelling and pondering these possibilities without having that proof. It is demeaning and elitist to tell people that their faith is a delusion to help them cope. They are not after the same type of rock solid proof that science is after. They understand (for the most part) that faith involves some real leaps, and that their idea of god is imperfect and not completely describable.

But then again, scientists do the same thing. Do you really believe gravity is actually a warping of the geometry of space? Although it's a conveinent way to describe the pheonomen we call "gravity" it's so completely abstract and theoretical to the point of being meaningless. What exactly is "space" and how do you "warp" it? Besides, that paradigm is starting to break down, but that's a topic for another post.

Sorry to be long winded. I guess what I'm getting at is that science and faith are two valid ways of looking at the world. The universe is large enough to accomodate them both.
posted by Acromion at 9:18 PM on September 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


I take exception to Armstrong's equating Nirvana with God. There's no equivalence there at all - Nirvana is a state of being, while God supposedly is a being.
If God didn't create the universe (or us), doesn't personally intervene in our lives, and is not a self-aware entity, then what the hell are we talking about?

God is that peaceful feeling you get sometimes? No, that's just oxytocin.
posted by bashos_frog at 9:22 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yet again Armstrong cherry picks history and theology to project her new age views on God and the Universe. Quoting from her essay:

"The fossil record reveals a natural history of pain, death and racial extinction, so if there was a divine plan, it was cruel, callously prodigal and wasteful."

Racial extinction? I wasn't aware that T-REX had a racial identity. So God's a racist now, in addition to being cruel, callous, prodigal, and wasteful? I hear he smokes too and possibly may have asked for the blood sacrifice of an only child. Don't look now or he'll turn you into a pillar of salt (seriously don't turn around darnit Lot's wife what part of don't turn around). Maybe Armstrong should try to see things from another angle. Another way to look at it would be to consider it continuos generational optimization of life forms when faced with a chaotic dynamic and changing universe which favors entropy. Without this process life itself wouldn't last very long, or it wouldn't be very interesting. It would have been hardly worth becoming self aware if we couldn't be interesting enough to be entirely self absorbed or at least have some decent programming on basic cable to pass the time. Without billions of years of evolution, thousands of years of recorded human history, etc would we ever have had a TV show like Mad Men? I mean we couldn't create a TV drama exploring human faults and commercialism through the lens of characters living in the backdrop of a 1960s Ad Agency had we never had a 1960s or advertising agencies to begin with. Now please go update your Facebook status or twitter, God is watching.... maybe...be sure to use a topical hash tag. Also the new folks should note, God does not read MeFi. He was banned by the mods for a self-link back in 07 iirc.
posted by humanfont at 9:22 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those statements are simply an expression of the wonder and awe that biblical literalists frequently claim atheists are fundamentally incapable of.

he's anthromorphizing the universe - it's the same thing christians supposedly do with the white bearded man above the clouds ...

it's not only the same impulse, it's the same logical error

now why would an avowed rationalist and skeptic make such an error as that unless some deep seated impulse was at work?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:24 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


anthropomorphizing, of course
posted by pyramid termite at 9:26 PM on September 25, 2009


I still would like to know the answers.

What answers? With all due respect, jefficator, it does not sound like you had any actual questions to ask her. According to your story, Armstrong was telling a familiar parable/fable/analogy/story, and you sought to upstage her--to trip her up--by adding what you believe(d) to be a very clever paradox and twist to what she was saying. I think you may have been motivated more by attempting to have a "gotcha" moment than by wanting to enter into a conversation.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 9:27 PM on September 25, 2009 [9 favorites]


>Well, there are plenty of evolutionary hypotheses about why altruism would have created a selective advantage on a group of humans, who would be likely to share similar DNA.

Which are pretty widely regarded as incorrect.
posted by ixohoxi at 9:31 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


>They are not simple-minded fools, satisfying their emotional desires at the expense of good sense. They are merely treasuring the meaning they hold so dear [at the expense of good sense].

Sounds like a semantic difference to me.
posted by ixohoxi at 9:34 PM on September 25, 2009


now why would an avowed rationalist and skeptic make such an error as that unless some deep seated impulse was at work?
I anthropomorphize my car. It does not mean my I believe that my car is a human being.
posted by verb at 9:35 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why does a photon travel at a constant speed? It just does. Its a "law."

You can choose to stop there if you like, but perhaps the question boils down to a tautology, like why is an inch exactly an inch long? You don't have to live with "it just does" if, for example, you can establish via experiment and observation that our term for velocity is defined in a way that exists in a fixed relationship to the properties of light.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:39 PM on September 25, 2009


Well, there are plenty of evolutionary hypotheses about why altruism would have created a selective advantage on a group of humans, who would be likely to share similar DNA.

There's actually a less strained way to describe altruism.

Through evolution, beings came into existence with the capability of abstract thought.

Using this capacity, these beings contemplated ideas such as values, ultimate meanings, and morals.

These beings were also social and passed these values and morals to their kin.
posted by Acromion at 9:42 PM on September 25, 2009


But altruism has been observed in other species, whose capacity for abstract thought is definitely in question.
posted by bashos_frog at 9:45 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


link for above
posted by bashos_frog at 9:46 PM on September 25, 2009


Seriously, if you don't value the things I value, you are less of a human being than I am.

I think that pithily sums up just about every religion ever invented. It's the premise on which millions have been murdered, after all.
posted by rokusan at 9:50 PM on September 25, 2009


You can choose to stop there if you like, but perhaps the question boils down to a tautology, like why is an inch exactly an inch long? You don't have to live with "it just does" if, for example, you can establish via experiment and observation that our term for velocity is defined in a way that exists in a fixed relationship to the properties of light.

Yeah its a tautology, but that doesn't diminish its importance. At a certain point you have to say "it is what it is." So when reductionism is exhausted we are left with some fundamentals that must be explained. You choose to say "it is what it is" because you can go no further with the scientific method. To others THAT is the mystery they choose to ponder. It is a question of ultimate origins, purposes, and possibilities.

PS: I don't think an inch is a good analogy, since it is an arbitrary unit of measurement. The speed of light (at least seems to be) a fixed constant throughout the universe.
posted by Acromion at 9:52 PM on September 25, 2009



That isn't a cop-out to avoid textual ambiguities, it's an explicit part of their theology: in most cases, they would argue that even the obviously true and verifiable parts of Scripture are not theologically meaningful or helpful outside of that broader context of the life of faithful spiritual practice. (Disclaimer: this is based on reading and discussions with a close friend who is an Orthodox believer. If anyone wants to correct me on this, or clarify ambiguities that come from my relatively limited understanding, fire away.)


Sort of, but not quite. According to the Greek Orthodox Church:
We cannot speculate about the Logos after the coming of Christ, who is the divine Logos in the flesh, and who sent the Holy Spirit to the world and "teaches us all things." The mystical experience spoken of by the classical Greeks is abstract and conceptual. That is, in ancient Greek philosophic contemplation, the soul or spirit goes outside the body to be liberated. Philosophy plays only a linguistic role in Orthodoxy, lending the use of its terminology after the terms have been transformed and purified of their secular meanings, "Christianized" philosophy and culture, as Father Georges Florovsky used to say. A master of spirituality, a monk of Mount Athos, describes this point in the following manner: "Many of the Greeks tried to philosophize, but only the monks found and learned the true philosophy." The Logos became flesh and revealed to humanity the divine revelation. He is the Truth and through him we can attain knowledge of the divine will. The metaphysical patterns of the philosophic speculation of the Christian revelation distort the divine mission of the incarnate Logos.
The traditions, the rituals, are what purify or "Christianize" the terms. But the terms are most definitely meaningful. But note the absoluteness of the first sentence "We cannot speculate about the Logos..." We don't know and will never know. You have to master spirituality to get to the underlying meaning (which you never will because you can never really master it - it is "unknowable"). The orthodox talk about dwelling on the mystery, but the focus is on the dwelling part (the verb, the act) and not on the mystery which is not simply unknown but unknowable.

Of course, most of the biblical literalists we are familiar with don't believe Eastern Orthodox Christians are actually Christians. Hell, most don't even understand that the Orthodox Church is something fundamentally separate from the Catholic church.
posted by verb at 11:59 PM on September 25


Again these people are stupid. An argument can be made that the only true Christians are the Greek Orthodox, as they are working off the primary source material in the original language, and their rituals and dogma are the least adulterated by history. "In the beginning was the Word..." Are you kidding me? The word? What word? "Hello"? "init"?
posted by Pastabagel at 9:53 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


The soul cannot be measured by experiences and art is not created because of the laws of physics (as far as I've seen mentioned or explained).

Art is created by people; people are governed by the laws of physics. Right? I mean, if you think the brain is a physical object, you have an in-principle mechanistic explanation of every facet of human behavior, from the making of art to religion. And if you think the brain is a physical object whose important functions can all be described classically (this is where the smart money is), you have an in-principle easy mechanistic explanation (because it is then settled that the brain is no better than a Turing machine).

There is a weak argument that the experience of appreciating art can't be completely understood in these terms; some of us began to hint at it in the philosophy of mind discussion here.
posted by grobstein at 9:53 PM on September 25, 2009


I think that pithily sums up just about every religion ever invented. It's the premise on which millions have been murdered, after all.

What about Communism, a philosophy based on materialism?
posted by Acromion at 9:54 PM on September 25, 2009


Yeah its a tautology, but that doesn't diminish its importance. At a certain point you have to say "it is what it is."

Mmm, I was driving in the opposite direction, really. I wasn't asserting that it was a tautology, I was offering a hypothesis that would form the basis of a line of inquiry; a reason why you _don't_ have to stop at "it is what it is". A line of investigation would be to discover what it is about the directly observable macroscopic phenomena that led us to define velocity -- distance over time -- as a term millennia ago when we hadn't the vaguest notion of subatomic physics, only to discover that a fundamental part of nature exists in fixed relation to that term. That -- described in very different ways -- is a line of inquiry that doesn't even consider for a moment settling for "it is what it is", but rather sees in it a reason to dig further.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:01 PM on September 25, 2009


What about Communism, a philosophy based on materialism?

Weak troll is weak.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Are_communists_atheists
posted by device55 at 10:02 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


It could that the universe has always existed in some form or another, always obeying these laws and forces, but that is not totally satisfying to me.
Why is it supposed to satisfy you?
We quantify and describe the way these bits interact with each other. In the case of a photon, we describe it as a particle, even though it has no geometric volume like a particle of dust would. We also describe it simultaneously as a wave, even though when observed in a certain way, it is more like a particle.
No, we describe it as a particle wave duality. It's an analogy to particles of dust to make it easier for people to understand. But the fact that it isn't exactly like a particle of dust doesn't man that there is anything wrong with the analogy, the analogy is just there to make the math more relatable, to give people something to visualize in their heads.
But sooner or later, it appears, this reductionism breaks down to some fundamentals that we can't explain. Why does a photon travel at a constant speed? It just does. Its a "law." Why does mass attract mass? It just does. Its a "force." Furthermore, it remains to be seen if we can nail down a perfectly consistent, quantitative theory of everything. Like it or not, when you run your equations, certain axioms must be accepted on faith.
No, no, no. Nothing needs to be accepted on "faith" The "laws of the universe" are mathematical equations derived from observations. Terminology like "the laws of nature" was coined centuries ago by people with all sorts of religious beliefs. Newton, in particular thought that science was a way to understand god.

But nowadays, that kind of terminology is really just a collection of words, somewhat obsolete. All physics says is that if you apply these equations to these initial conditions, you'll get this result. There is no faith involved (other then the faith that the universe won't change between when the laws were first thought up and tested and today)

Your problem is that you're taking terminology intended to describe and explain science imperfectly and using it as a stand in for science itself.

If you say, "these equations are wrong, and here is an example of where they break down" then that's a criticism of science. If you just say "you say a photon is like a particle, but it's not exactly like a particle" that's just a weird form of literalism.

Finally, the fact that we haven't found a "theory of everything" doesn't mean there isn't a fundamental set of rules, it just means we haven't found it. And we may never find it.

No offense, but you seem to have a pretty weak understanding of both science and logic.
What answers? With all due respect, jefficator, it does not sound like you had any actual questions to ask her. According to your story, Armstrong was telling a familiar parable/fable/analogy/story, and you sought to upstage her--to trip her up--by adding what you believe(d) to be a very clever paradox and twist to what she was saying. I think you may have been motivated more by attempting to have a "gotcha" moment than by wanting to enter into a conversation.
Besides, Armstrong could have said "Well, we don't know if it was an elephant, that's just an example to help you visualize. It could have been anything".
posted by delmoi at 10:12 PM on September 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


I thought jefficator's anecdote was a pretty solid illustration of why postmodernism is shit, personally.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:15 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you say, "these equations are wrong, and here is an example of where they break down" then that's a criticism of science

Actually, that's just more science.
posted by device55 at 10:17 PM on September 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


Cast off the shoe! Follow the gourd!
posted by Admira at 10:21 PM on September 25, 2009


If you say, "these equations are wrong, and here is an example of where they break down" then that's a criticism of science

Actually, that's just more science.


Science continues to exist as a system because its inherent value is the capacity for ceaseless self-critique.
posted by jefficator at 10:23 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, no, no. Nothing needs to be accepted on "faith" The "laws of the universe" are mathematical equations derived from observations.

Well, if you can't do the math yourself, you sort of have to take it on faith that the people telling you what the equations mean are a) right, and b) not lying.

I have had enough dealings with scientific fraud situations that I think it's pretty dumb to just believe what is written even in the most respected journals. If you never believe anything without scientifically testing it yourself, you're going to be pretty limited.
posted by The World Famous at 10:23 PM on September 25, 2009


what I'm getting at is that science and faith are two valid ways of looking at the world.

"Science" and "faith" aren't exclusive terms.

Sadly, "faith" and "religion" very often are.
posted by regicide is good for you at 10:24 PM on September 25, 2009


I take exception to Armstrong's equating Nirvana with God.

Clearly. Nirvana is not God.

Hendrix on the other hand...
posted by Bonzai at 10:27 PM on September 25, 2009


How do you know its an elephant?

It's too bad she didn't really come to grips with your question. It's a good one. Of course only we know it's an elephant in the story because the story is constructed to illustrate a specific possible occurrence where people grasp different aspects or presentations of a whole. In reality, we don't always know when this is what's really happening, and I think it'd actually be interesting to try to hash out a rough "how to" guide for determining when it is and what to do next.
posted by weston at 10:28 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I take exception to Armstrong's equating Nirvana with God.

Clearly. Nirvana is not God.

Hendrix on the other hand...


Meh. Comparing Clapton to Hendrix is sort of bringing a knife to a gun fight, isn't it?
posted by The World Famous at 10:29 PM on September 25, 2009


If you say, "these equations are wrong, and here is an example of where they break down" then that's a criticism of science

Actually, that's just more science.


Yeah yeah. I meant it would be a critique of existing science.
posted by delmoi at 10:31 PM on September 25, 2009


By and large we accept on faith with no scientific evidence whatsoever that other people have internal lives similar to our own.
posted by Wood at 10:33 PM on September 25, 2009


Meh. Comparing Clapton to Hendrix is sort of bringing a knife to a gun fight, isn't it?

Do not tempt the wrath of Lemmy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:33 PM on September 25, 2009


I've always wondered, "Just which God it is you're wondering about?" Odin? Cranky old Jehovah? I do know this — as science marches ever forward, some of the things we once ascribed to God (disease, lightning, and let's not forget the coherence of the nucleus, despite the Jack Chick tract about God holding the atom together) we know have given, permanently, to science. As each mechanism is probed, there's just a little less room for the God of the Gaps. The God who hurled thunderbolts is dead, but there are still more varieties of possible Gods, each with slightly different roles and responsibilities, left.

Eventually, the set of deities remaining to those who don't ignore science is going to be smaller and more remote. A God who guides evolution through probability, a God who might have selected some physical constants for the universe, that's a smaller crowd than the God who just zapped various critters into being, or the God who did that and then hurriedly went around planting fossils of creatures humans have never seen living, as sort of a toy surprise in the cereal box of the Earth. "Trilobites, they're gonna love these!"

The urge towards religion might be up there with the hiccup as an unfortunate, annoying consequence of other traits evolution has perpetuated. Unfortunately, geology and evolution just don't happen fast and obviously enough to override the "we'd rather believe this" urges of a species which can cheerfully deny the existence of the Holocaust and repeat the mistakes of one previous generation before another.

So, to answer the question, evolution probably leaves God with just enough room to dwell in the varied members of a species, some of which will happily use televisions whose workings they do not understand, powered by electricity generated by nuclear decay whose rates they deny, to watch similar members of the same species who will tell them not to believe the other members of the species who have made that very activity possible through the most dreaded Science.
posted by adipocere at 10:35 PM on September 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Do not tempt the wrath of Lemmy.

You know I'm born to lose, and gambling's for fools. But that's the way I like it, baby. I don't wanna live forever.

Pope Guilty, if you can successfully turn this into a Motorhead thread, you will be my MetaFilter hero for a long, long time.
posted by The World Famous at 10:38 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I meant it would be a critique of existing science.

I'm glad you said that like that, as it highlights that "science" is indeed a belief system in a certain way. Not pure science, which is a actually a bit of a myth in practice because even great minds are hindered by blind spots and biases, but more Scientism. Often in these debates here people talk about science as not being a belief system, and it isn't, but that's a bit disingenuous. People hold certain viewpoints that are derived from scientific methods and discoveries, but the actual viewpoints themselves are not science even when they're assumed as such.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:39 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those of you who do not believe in God: be gentle with those who do.

I hate to break it to you, but the typical interaction is usually us saying, "Live and let live," and the theists saying, "Those godless people are dishonest, immoral and bad citizens."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:39 PM on September 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


@smedlyman

Every time I see some sci-fi channel exploration crap it starts off with how insignificant and meaningless we are. Dawkins at least celebrates the complexity of life. But still - in form and moving however express and admirable or how sublime in action or apprehension it is indeed our faculties that are infinite.
We allude to an infinite complexity such that we ourselves are analogues for all the forces of the universe in such variety and depth and endless recursion that we ourselves must always question the ground of our being.
And yet, to these debates, what is this quintessence of dust?


I often wonder why Carl Sagan liked to refer to humans as insignificant scum huddling to an average planet in an insignificant universe. Was it out of some kind of misanthropy? Was it some kind of egotistical posturing, like, hey I'm so cool because I can totally accept that I'm meaningless scum and all the rest of you need some kind of fuzzy wuzzy blankey of purpose?

So evolution has described, codified, and quantified our current stage of creation. Is that any excuse to debase our humanity? To dismiss our conscious, aware, and profound experience on this earth as something without value outside of the mere replications of nucleotides?

All the charm of one parent taking a toy dump truck of a child pretending to fly though the air and demanding that: "NO! Dump trucks don't fly!" and the other parent arguing that anything can do anything. There is indeed nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. And the world is a prison if one lets demagogues define meaning in one's relationship to being.

"During the Dawn Era they researched . . . what we now call the laws of nature, dissecting the process of the sacred willing itself into the profane."
-- B. Demnevanni

One million years from now whatever the human race is will not know, or even understand an intellectual dilemma like this.

I can only hope . . .

Whatever the analogue of the term 'evolution' means then will be understood as fundamentally more than just biological process. And hopefully the meaning of being for a given intelligence will be grounded in experiencing a meaningful connection to the fundamental essence of the totality of existance and iterations of perspective valued rather than rendered into such a ham fisted dichotomy as 'making the universe' or 'statistically improbable appearance of something from nothing.'

That we may be for now, from our infantile perspective, hapless and seemingly worthless by-products of arbitrary collisions of what we call atoms, statistically whittled over time just well enough to painfully comprehend our own mortality and futility . . . but perhaps someday we can be something far greater - participants in our own creation, the fusing of egos and intelligences, the creation of new lives. Intelligence and purpose and creativity could become a force within the universe as real and raw as magnetism or gravity. And perhaps even this exists now in front of our very noses, but we lack the perspective to see it. Or perhaps it is in another universe somewhere. All these are within the realm of possibility.

I mean, I know I don't know what I'm talking about when I begin to explore this. It'd be nice though if folks had a bit more imagination than demanding it's all about this big book written by dehydrated semites or it's all empiricism and physical laws are extraneous to human meaning.

I get it . . . at least I think so :)
posted by Acromion at 10:43 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Saying that humans evolved to believe in "god" is like saying humans evolved to believe in god is a bit of a stretch, I think. Clearly, lots of people believe in god, but the kind of religion people have today is in many ways different from the religions people believed in at the dawn of recorded history. People share their beliefs and pass from generation to generation, just like language. But no one would say we evolved to speak languages based heavily on Latin. It just happens that in the west that's common.

I think there's a tenancy to anthropomorphize things. That, combined with the way ideas are passed from person to person and fought over, plus the random walk of history brought us to where we are today.
posted by delmoi at 10:44 PM on September 25, 2009


But no one would say we evolved to speak languages based heavily on Latin. It just happens that in the west that's common.

Ah, but fluency in a romance language surely gives a reproductive advantage and tilts natural selection our way.
posted by The World Famous at 10:46 PM on September 25, 2009


As each mechanism is probed, there's just a little less room for the God of the Gaps.

Adipocere, in the interest of my own insatiable curiosity, will you please overlook any flaws in the following question?

I agree with you that a God of the Gaps is untenable. The logical conclusion of a faith that retreats when a question is answered is that eventually all questions will be answered and no gap will exist for God. But is it possible that this assertion is fallacious? Does it not presuppose that "function" is a necessary prerequisite to "being," such that in order to possess the quality "being," a given entity must also posses a "function"? Pinker was not amenable to questions so my desire to have them addressed by minds greater than my own remained frustrated. Perhaps you can help?

It just seems that Evolutionary Theory predisposes us to think of "function" and "being" as being so intimately related that one cannot exist without the other. From the standpoint of logic, is it not possible that God possesses "being" but has no "function" whatsoever? God "does" not, but simply "is"?

Most of my scientific colleagues think this is senseless wordplay, but I'm still curious about possibilities, probabilities notwithstanding.
posted by jefficator at 10:50 PM on September 25, 2009


"for example, you can establish via experiment and observation that our term for velocity is defined in a way that exists in a fixed relationship to the properties of light."
Well yeah. But specific details (photon) aside, you still have the internalization of reality problem (as well as it's communication).
I mean - ok, is a given value a constant simply because the math needs it to be or because only a given set of physical laws with a given set of parameters can lead to an intellect that can perceive and reflect such a thing?
I mean, take the elephant quandary above. Let's take the given as - it's an elephant because I can see that it's an elephant (that is, I can see the whole thing) and those five guys don't have the apparatus to apprehend the whole.
Ok. So how is it I'm able to discern the elephant as an elephant, that is, from the background of - whatever, trees, mountain, etc. How do I know it's supposed to be a discrete system?
(Indeed, how do I know an elephant is supposed to be observed visually and the tactile reality isn't something very different?)

So f'rexample the fine structure constant. It's a measure that's not of a 'thing' in the way a wrench is a thing or a plate of beans is a number of things.
And yet, were it any different we would have exactly the problem of distinguishing an elephant (matter, something) from the background (nothing). And we wouldn't be here to see that we can't see the elephant there anyway.
F'ing weird.
But again - is a universe without an intelligent observer possible (there Berkeley)? Well, we're not really directly 'observing' (in the old philosophical empiricist sense) the fine structure constant so are we really even here?
(No way to say 'I refute it thus' because we'd just be kicking ourselves in the subjective ass).

I'm of course setting aside God as the observer in the way Berkeley answered the problem, because the more fundamental problem isn't why the tree continues to exist when we don't observe it, or how the tree came into being in the first place, but rather, as above - how it is we can see it as a tree in the first place as differentiated from everything (or nothing) in the universe.
That says more about our perceptual bias, but the weird thing is - we would have no perception, indeed nothing resembling our form of being at all, were the thing we're perceiving were any different.
Pretty bootstrappy place, the universe, God or no or the question not mattering or not.

And fundamentally - what really scares the crap out of me - is I think that's part of the nature of the universe and consciousness. 'Cos if we did know and if our apprehension was wider I think we would have to exist not only without the respite of uncertainty (imagine if you knew, at every moment, how every moment of your existence would occur there Paul Atreides) but without the variety of different perspectives and the sense of 'other' nor the differentiation of the passing of time.

Lot of folks have said the universe is God hiding from himself.
That makes my nuts shrink into my stomach. And it's worse if there isn't a God and that's still true. Me, I like the idea that we can't have LaPlace's demon. (I love me some quantum mechanics.) And the God/no God thing strikes me as an equivalent drive to some degree - that is - knowing and the assumption that things can be essentially known to the point of certainty. Even if someone else knows (God) you can't. And nothing anyone can imagine can either, to the point of infinite regress.
That vastness and incomprehensibility scares some other folks and so they try to derive certainty whether it's God or not God. I can see that. Feeling lost.
But I find that you can't know (even if you can't express it either way) pretty comforting in the implications of the liberty of being.
The hole in the wheel is the only thing that lets the wheel turn.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:54 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Weak troll is weak.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Are_communists_atheists


What? Are you serious?

You cite some half ass, unsourced WikiAnswers page as your proof. Listen kid, do some real research and get back to me.

I will give you a starting point: Marxism. An explicitly atheist philosophy that Communism was based upon. Marx and Lenin made it clear that theism was incompatable with the acheivement of a Communist state. Stalin and Mao: both avowed atheists who believed, in no uncertain terms, that Communism could not thrive in a nation of religious believers. These were people who were not just atheists, but they reeducated, purged, and killed people who did not subscribe to their philosophy.
posted by Acromion at 10:58 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


jefficator: "Does it not presuppose that "function" is a necessary prerequisite to "being," such that in order to possess the quality "being," a given entity must also posses a "function"?"

Suppose "god" exists but does nothing, is undetectable, and has no function. Why would you want to talk about him (unless you were stoned or whatever). What significance would this functionless undetectable nonacting being have to you, and how would it be different from the significance of an invented being?
posted by idiopath at 10:59 PM on September 25, 2009


What significance would this functionless undetectable nonacting being have to you, and how would it be different from the significance of an invented being?

I'm not sure how to reply without giving someone an opportunity to divert, but I suppose you can't return a volley without setting yourself us to be shot at.

There are some who believe earnestly that in the observable world God exists but does nothing, is undetectable, and has no function. But in the invisible world, God observes and determines who will be relegated to damnation. Now that's a cartoon, clearly. But if you've been raised to believe it, shaking it off would certainly prove difficult, would it not? God the invisible guard in Foucault's Panopticon. Maybe he's not there, but if you bet that he's not and he is, you're in trouble.

I suppose an essential problem with religion for many people is the proposition of infinite consequence despite no rational means for determining a course of action. Many people consider this conundrum so bafflingly infantile that it merits not effort to solve. But still I wonder.
posted by jefficator at 11:07 PM on September 25, 2009


There are some who believe earnestly that in the observable world God exists but does nothing, is undetectable, and has no function. But in the invisible world, God observes and determines who will be relegated to damnation....Maybe he's not there, but if you bet that he's not and he is, you're in trouble.

This seems like a strange position to hold. If a god exists but is undetectable and does nothing, it follows that a person would not have any clue as to what (if any) system that god uses to make its determination w/r/t damnation. If I believe god is undetectable and does nothing, I can't say "This book of rules tells me how to pass that judgment" since, obviously, an inert god could not have had anything to do with the writing of that book. If one believed in that sort of god, how could it affect your life?

Such a person couldn't say "God bases this judgment about eternal damnation on whether my actions were in accordance with morality X" any more forcefully than they could say "God bases this judgment on whether I put my $100 on red or black that night in Vegas."

No?
posted by krakedhalo at 11:18 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Krakedhalo, I see your point.
posted by jefficator at 11:20 PM on September 25, 2009


It just seems that Evolutionary Theory predisposes us to think of "function" and "being" as being so intimately related that one cannot exist without the other.

The fact that you believe something does not mean evolutionary theory proves that people are predisposed to believe it. I mean seriously.

Most of my scientific colleagues think this is senseless wordplay, but I'm still curious about possibilities, probabilities notwithstanding.

Ugh, half the stuff in this thread is meaningless wordplay.
posted by delmoi at 11:20 PM on September 25, 2009


Acromion: These were people who were not just atheists, but they reeducated, purged, and killed people who did not subscribe to their philosophy.

I agree with the "weak troll is weak" comment.

These people were very strong believers. They believed in their "communism", "maoism" or whatever. They killed anyone who disagreed with any part of their strong beliefs. One small component of their beliefs was atheism.

This has as little to do with what unbelievers do as you, Acromion, have to do with other people who do not play the bagpipes.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:22 PM on September 25, 2009 [4 favorites]



No, no, no. Nothing needs to be accepted on "faith" The "laws of the universe" are mathematical equations derived from observations. Terminology like "the laws of nature" was coined centuries ago by people with all sorts of religious beliefs. Newton, in particular thought that science was a way to understand god.

Mathematical equations derived from observations. Observations of what, exactly? I know and you know that its not all just "math." There is something there, whereas math is a complete abstraction. My ass isn't sitting on math. Math is used to quantitatively describe relationships between things. Things that exist. At a certain point you have to describe something in human terms. I don't think "particle" is simply a useful metaphor. We understand that photons are emitted when electrons fall from a higher energy state to a lower energy state in an atom. These are actual events occuring to things according to certain rules. I would like to see that described completely mathematically without referring to anything except numbers.

But nowadays, that kind of terminology is really just a collection of words, somewhat obsolete. All physics says is that if you apply these equations to these initial conditions, you'll get this result. There is no faith involved (other then the faith that the universe won't change between when the laws were first thought up and tested and today)

And trust me, I used to be you. Years ago, I would be making the same arguments you are right now, but I no longer believe them. I take a more postmodern view of science. I no longer believe we can seperate our metaphors from what is reality ... or in other words, our metaphors (words, math, laws, ect . . .) so thouroughly shape our understanding of reality that it is impossible to completely divorce ourselves from them. I believe the quest for complete watertight objectivity is an enlightenment conceit.

Your problem is that you're taking terminology intended to describe and explain science imperfectly and using it as a stand in for science itself.

No the problem is you are pretending that the terminology intended to describe and explain phenomen is inconsequential.

If you say, "these equations are wrong, and here is an example of where they break down" then that's a criticism of science. If you just say "you say a photon is like a particle, but it's not exactly like a particle" that's just a weird form of literalism.

Well, I can give you plenty of examples of where the equations break down. They are well known and have been discussed here before.

And I don't think I'm being weirdly literal. I think you are being weirdly abstract. Explain what a photon is and why it behaves the way it does in a purely mathematical way.

Finally, the fact that we haven't found a "theory of everything" doesn't mean there isn't a fundamental set of rules, it just means we haven't found it. And we may never find it.

Agreed. But why can't the scientific method explain why the universe exists and why it behaves the way it does? Is it absurd to think that because it is here, it might be here for a purpose. I don't know. Maybe.

No offense, but you seem to have a pretty weak understanding of both science and logic.

No I disagree with you here. I have spent a lot of time studying both science, logic, and the history and philosophy of science. I will admit, though, that I have difficulty getting some of my points across on a blog post.
posted by Acromion at 11:38 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: My ass isn't sitting on math.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:39 PM on September 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry to be long winded. I guess what I'm getting at is that science and faith are two valid ways of looking at the world. The universe is large enough to accomodate them both.

This is true, and it's also true that science and faith are two valid ways of looking at the world. But it's only true in a trivial way, and in a deeper sense they are not equivalent. I note, for example, that only one of those ways of looking at the world has landed a man on the moon, eradicated or nearly eradicated smallpox and a host of other awful diseases, created the incredible machine you typed your message on, lets us communicate nearly instantaneously with people on the other side of the planet, and, in fact, tells us why in some senses it's pointless to talk about some things happening "instantaneously" at all.

And the other of those ways of looking at the world has done none of those things, nor anything comparable.
posted by Justinian at 11:56 PM on September 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I agree with the "weak troll is weak" comment.

These people were very strong believers. They believed in their "communism", "maoism" or whatever. They killed anyone who disagreed with any part of their strong beliefs. One small component of their beliefs was atheism.



You say: "One small component of their beliefs was atheism."

I know where you are getting this argument, and its from Dawkins. It is a ridiculous, absurd thing to say, and it reveals how little Dawkins knows about history. (And I don't blame him - you can only know so much)

Its like saying anti-Semetism was only a small part of Nazism.

You cannot have Marxism without Atheism. Atheism was never just one small part of Marxism. It was from its very inception right down to its praxis as Communism an explicitly atheistic, materialistic philosophy. Religion was antithetical to the Communist state. Lenin knew this, Stalin knew this, Mao knew this. All three of these Communists made serious, concerted efforts to purge the influence of religion from their societies, often using violence.

My mind reels at how flippantly you call me a troll when you have no evidence, no reasoning, no sources, nothing to back up your argument.

But the perturbing thing about this insistence you maintain in the absence of any real evidence to support your argument is that it reveals you have an obvious bias. It is the same type of bias that religious people have when they whitewash historical figures who think like them.
posted by Acromion at 12:00 AM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Smedleyman, perhaps you have the causal relationship inverted. It may be that, rather than the universe needing to have been perfectly defined in order for us to come into being, the fact that we exist creates, from moment to moment, a requirement for a universe to exist that can explain us. That shift of perspective converts the universe from wildly improbable to absolutely inevitable. Perhaps we ourselves (and by we I mean the existence of rational thought) implies the universe into existence.

We are the Alpha, motherfuckers. We don't have to explain the universe, it's the universe's job to pretend it existed all along in order to explain us.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:01 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is true, and it's also true that science and faith are two valid ways of looking at the world. But it's only true in a trivial way, and in a deeper sense they are not equivalent. I note, for example, that only one of those ways of looking at the world has landed a man on the moon, eradicated or nearly eradicated smallpox and a host of other awful diseases,

Or guns, or nuclear weapons, or global warming. . . .

But that isn't the point.

You are arguing from an instrumentalist viewpoint. You are saying what makes science valid is the technology it produces.

Well of course faith doesn't do that. Faith in a more global sense, is a way for people to understand their place in a vast, incomprehensible universe.

You probably think that one day science will be able to explain the universe in a few simple equations... but that solve the problem that people are seeking answers for in faith.
posted by Acromion at 12:06 AM on September 26, 2009


But why can't the scientific method explain why the universe exists and why it behaves the way it does?

Because if that information exists, nobody has any way of accessing it. All religion, philosophy, and the like can do is offer up vague hypotheses with nothing to recommend one over the other; the ones that become popular tend to be the ones that it feels good to believe in. Anyone who purports to have a means of accessing that knowledge is talking out of his or her ass; anyone who says they know is lying (or, more charitably, severely deluded).

Is it absurd to think that because it is here, it might be here for a purpose.

No, but it is absolutely absurd to pretend that we have any way of investigating it.


I know where you are getting this argument, and its from Dawkins.


No, this refutation to your asinine argument precedes Dawkins, who didn't (and this is obviously coming as a surprise) invent atheism or the defense of it.

Faith in a more global sense, is a way for people to understand their place in a vast, incomprehensible universe.

It is no such thing. Faith gives the illusion of understanding while stridently shutting down efforts at understanding.

You probably think that one day science will be able to explain the universe in a few simple equations... but that solve the problem that people are seeking answers for in faith.

Wait, are you suggesting that faith will somehow lead to breakthroughs in cosmology?
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:22 AM on September 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


the ones that become popular tend to be the ones that it feels good to believe in.

Not really. The ones that became popular did so because of determined adherents. Early Christians and Muslims were persecuted but eventually held on and became military powers. Their concept of heaven and hell were probably at least a shade more unpleasant than many of the existing cults of the time that were into indulgence and reverie.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:28 AM on September 26, 2009


It's not just heaven and hell, though. The idea that there is a being who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and just generally cosmic and mighty, and that it's personally interested in your personal wellbeing and your personal conduct, is pretty goddamn flattering. Combine that with the human fascination with what we'd call sin or just generally being less than the spiritual and the offer of Christianity and Islam to provide forgiveness for that and you've got a pretty powerful memetic package.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:35 AM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


And oh god, I used the word "meme", that proves that I'm really just parroting talking points from Richard Dawkins!
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:35 AM on September 26, 2009


And oh god, I used the word "meme", that proves that I'm really just parroting talking points from Richard Dawkins!

Heh. the أركان الإسلام are highly polished and effective memes and enabled Islam to be easily transmitted from person to person. Makes you wonder how they knew so much about human nature that they could just devise a system that became ingrained over such a wide area in such a short span of time.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:42 AM on September 26, 2009


I'm kind of deeply skeptical of the idea that there really is such a thing as a "meme", but I do find it a sometimes useful way of talking about ideas.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:47 AM on September 26, 2009


I think we all probably have given the Grays watching over this thread enough data for their continuing experiments. Everyone's viewpoint has some degree of validity, and everyone's viewpoint has its share of inconsistencies. Problem resolved!
posted by Burhanistan at 12:53 AM on September 26, 2009


"Lenin knew this, Stalin knew this, Mao knew this. All three of these Communists made serious, concerted efforts to purge the influence of religion from their societies, often using violence."

yeah, but is this atheism or communism at work? or something more like megalomania? this is more like some cult of personality behavior, than atheism. all three of these dudes made certain their image was branded in minds in a major way.
posted by rainperimeter at 1:48 AM on September 26, 2009


Pastabagel, you probably won't even see this because I'm so late to comment, but I think you are taking "morphos" too literally. The common use of "anthropomorphize" is to attribute properties like human desires and thoughts to nonhuman entities. When we anthropomorphize animals, for instance, we aren't saying "Hey, that animal is the same shape as a human!" We are attributing human thoughts to the animal.

In this sense, the Christian God is most definitely anthropomorphic. The Christian is sort of a disembodied surperhuman - retaining all the abstract qualities of people (logos) but the physical body, and the limitations that come with the physical body. He is jealous, seeks justice, compassionate, forgiving, etc. The "character" of God is the ideal of what we can be, at whatever point of history God is being considered. The Christian God is anthropomorphic.\

Also, the claim that God never appeared as a human is false. See Genesis 3:8-10 (well, technically, it doesn't say human, but God definitely has a physical presence).
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:27 AM on September 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


"I agree with the "weak troll is weak" comment.

These people were very strong believers. They believed in their "communism", "maoism" or whatever. They killed anyone who disagreed with any part of their strong beliefs. One small component of their beliefs was atheism."
Um, no. Acromion is right.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 2:30 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


No one has ever changed their belief about god rationally, and no one will ever admit to doing so irrationally.

The whole question here is pretty dumb though: "Where does evolution leave God?". If you believe god created the plants and the animals individually, and you believe evolution is true, you get to choose. God is stone dead forever or the description is a metaphor. If you don't believe that god did all the creating like that, then evolution leaves god well alone. If you don't believe that evolution happened, you have been misled, and it's in your interests to find out why (hint: follow the money).

Also, I like "ignosticism", but I'm going to stick with "atheist" even though its present associations are awful. I'm not a shouty anti-Christian, my life has plenty of wonder and spirituality, and my soul is in good shape, even though it doesn't exist.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:43 AM on September 26, 2009


He (it, whatever) is the the uncreated order, rationality of all things, which order created itself.

Oh, bullshit. You can't just throw a bunch of philosophical buzzwords together like that, do some Jedi handwaving and conjure the whole issue away.

The God of the Judeo-Christian Bible is most definitely a being. He talks, he gives commands, he has desires and requirements, he is loving and vengeful, he fights wars, has a son, makes plans, and so on. To say "the uncreated order, which is not a being, requires that you have no other uncreated orders other than it" is just ludicrous.

"Man, I wish I had Fred's donkey."
"Ooh, now you've done it. The rationality of all things, which order created itself, really doesn't like it when you do that. It told us so itself."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:50 AM on September 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


"Lenin knew this, Stalin knew this, Mao knew this. All three of these Communists made serious, concerted efforts to purge the influence of religion from their societies, often using violence."

yeah, but is this atheism or communism at work? or something more like megalomania? this is more like some cult of personality behavior, than atheism. all three of these dudes made certain their image was branded in minds in a major way.


Just another form of human arrogance. They were simply interested in eliminating the competition. They weren't thoughtful enough to understand that guns cannot dispense with that which reason has failed to do away with.
posted by metagnathous at 3:06 AM on September 26, 2009


I don't understand the "religious" people who say science misses the "spiritual" or "mysterious" parts of human existence. The entire reason for science existing is that scientists have a drive to explore those things. No appreciation of the mysteries of the universe, no science. It is that simple. The idea that I often hear from religious people that "science" just doesn't offer anything for the "ineffable" side of humanity is ridiculous on its face (at least, to this scientist), and could only be held by nonscientists.
I am a scientist because of, not in spite of, my appreciation for the unexplained and the related transcendent sense of awe.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:06 AM on September 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Karen Armstrong's mission as a writer seems to be trying to describe non-conceptual aspects of experience in words. That this is an ultimately unwinnable quest doesn't make it valueluess; every good spiritual writer ever has been engaged on the same mission. The problem with her journalism is that she frequently (as here) doesn't point up the paradoxical, contradictory nature of this effort. If she did, the sense in which she uses the label "God" would become much clearer, but using the word "God" would also become much less necessary; any alternative would do, so long as it did the job of pointing to the non-conceptual. I can't help thinking she resists this because of the brand-value, in publishing and journalism, of being identified as a defender of "God". Apart from anything else, it really irritates the ranks of the strident "new atheists" well represented here on Metafilter, which is great for page views and circulation.

Dawkins is a different matter. There's nothing wrong with him reaching so far outside his field of expertise to offer his thoughts, if he wants to. But he seems unwilling even to read high-school level textbooks on the history of religion. He claims in the closing paragraphs of this article that folk religion and trendy postmodern religion are the only two kinds of religion there has ever been. This is so obviously ignorant as to cast suspicion on the rest of his contribution.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:07 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Science is a belief.

No, but that's a very common, if really unfortunate mistake. Our education system has failed badly when people espouse this ignorant view.

Science is a process of discovery. That's all it is.

Whether science reliably explains the nuts and bolts of reality is the belief. Philosophers and the religious step in at this point and argue this matter. This discussion is now no longer about science, nor can its truth or falsity be validated through any known scientific process.

Nonetheless, if you wear eyeglasses, heat your home with gas or electricity, drive your car with gasoline, or take medicines, you already believe science works, at least enough to enjoy its fruits and for it to enrich and ease your life.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:21 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dawkins is a different matter. There's nothing wrong with him reaching so far outside his field of expertise to offer his thoughts, if he wants to. But he seems unwilling even to read high-school level textbooks on the history of religion. He claims in the closing paragraphs of this article that folk religion and trendy postmodern religion are the only two kinds of religion there has ever been. This is so obviously ignorant as to cast suspicion on the rest of his contribution.

Religion, as I have seen it for the last forty plus years, is basically a habit. There's not a lot of thought put into it beyond making sure that your ass is inhabiting a seat in a church somewhere, listening to some old fart expound on the nature of god. I remember vividly the exact moment when religion revealed itself to be bullshit for me: the old guy told us that the bible was to be taken literally. In his next breath he was telling us that the flock was meant to represent the congregation.

That, of course, is only my own experience, and I don't assume that it's representative of all religious experience everywhere. Still, when you get right down to it, faith is just another way of saying 'Trust Me.' I think history will back me up when I say that humans - along with all their institutions - are not necessarily worthy of trust.
posted by metagnathous at 3:28 AM on September 26, 2009


He claims in the closing paragraphs of this article that folk religion and trendy postmodern religion are the only two kinds of religion there has ever been.

Did you read the same essay as I did? He claims no such thing. You read that into what he wrote.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:31 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Even if god really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him."

Next up on MetaFilter, how to create debate where there is no debate. We'll be back after this brief word from our sponsors.
posted by Eideteker at 3:48 AM on September 26, 2009


And don't forget the Joker...
posted by Eideteker at 4:06 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


only one of those ways of looking at the world has landed a man on the moon

I read somewhere that science flies you to the moon, while religion flies you into the World Trade Center.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:17 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought jefficator's anecdote was a pretty solid illustration of why postmodernism is shit, personally.

I thought jefficator totally pwned this thread myself.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:39 AM on September 26, 2009


Philosopher Dirtbike: Did you read the same essay as I did? He claims no such thing. You read that into what he wrote.

Dawkins writes:

Now, there is a certain class of sophisticated modern theologian who will say something like this: "Good heavens, of course we are not so naive or simplistic as to care whether God exists. Existence is such a 19th-century preoccupation! It doesn't matter whether God exists in a scientific sense. What matters is whether he exists for you or for me... Well, if that's what floats your canoe, you'll be paddling it up a very lonely creek. The mainstream belief of the world's peoples is very clear. They believe in God, and that means they believe he exists in objective reality, just as surely as the Rock of Gibraltar exists.

The clear implication is that the two views of religion expressed here — "everything's subjective, existence doesn't matter" vs. "God is real in the same sense as a physical object" — are the only two worthy of being discussed. Dawkins is thus excluding countless theological, philosophical and spiritual perspectives, historical and contemporary, on what we call "God". Presumably if he didn't exclude them he'd actually have to address them, something he shows no sign of being equipped to do.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:40 AM on September 26, 2009


Perhaps on rereading my initial post I shouldn't have said Dawkins claims that other perspectives never existed. But he certainly implies that other perspectives are completely irrelevant, when in fact I'd argue they are much closer to the mainstream experience of spirituality and religiosity than the creationist literalism he rightly condemns and wrongly blows out of all proportion.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:43 AM on September 26, 2009


You cannot have Marxism without Atheism.

Ho hum.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:44 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


GWTTER: Dawkins has a particular viewpoint, and he obviously knew that Armstrong was also asked the same question. Since the question used the words "Darwin" and "God" (which specifically frame the as being about modern, mainstream religion and modern science), he contrasts his view with Armstrong's view within a particular context. Your criticism that he didn't address all other possible theological viewpoints, past and present, and thus is implicitly arguing for their nonexistence or irrelevance, is silly. He didn't say anything of the sort in the essay. You seem too ready to take the essays out of the context in which they were written.

And Biblical literalism is only the strongest version of what he is criticizing. There are a whole swath of things in the middle between atheism and Biblical literalism that are in fact covered by his argument. Theistic evolutionism, which is held by many protestants, the Roman Catholic church, and many nonchristian "spiritual" people is covered by his argument, and is not literalism. Your reading of Dawkins is overly simplistic. You are attributing to him a dichotomy he never made.

Dawkins celebrates Christmas in the Anglican church. Obviously, he appreciates at least some aspects of religion which do not come into conflict with scientific evidence.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:26 AM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


game warden to the events rhino: "But he certainly implies that other perspectives are completely irrelevant, when in fact I'd argue they are much closer to the mainstream experience of spirituality and religiosity than the creationist literalism he rightly condemns and wrongly blows out of all proportion."

The problem here is that no matter what argument you make about God, about what God is or whether He exists, there are about 20,000 other versions of what God is that you are not addressing directly. This is why ignosticism appeals to me: the ludicrous numbers of fine grained and large grained mutually incompatible and often self-incompatible definitions of God mean that talking about the existence or non-existence of what this term is supposed to represent is folly, because the term has no useful referent.

There are a few ways this game could be played - you could expect me to not avow atheism until I have argued with all 20,000 theological variations of what God could be; I could play the same game and tell you, every time you defend some implied definition of God, that there are a vast number of definitions that do not match the definitions that are not defensible on those grounds; finally, we could talk about larger, comprehensive categories in order to try to have a meaningful conversation.

Dawkins is doing the latter. He is saying, implicitly, that either you believe in a God that is so abstract that you may as well be an atheist as far as he is concerned (he means that as a compliment, remember) or, alternatively, you believe in another, more common kind of God that is not so abstract, which he is addressing directly.

Where I think he is wrong here is that he has fallen into the trap of discussing the subject directly. The variety of meanings attached to the word "God" are so diverse, that if you are dealing with a conversation where literally any of them could be brought into play, you are not having a conversation, you are engaging in a meaningless game of language that transcends logical rules. You cannot come to a sensible result from such nonsensical premises.
posted by idiopath at 5:32 AM on September 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


Obviously, he appreciates at least some aspects of religion which do not come into conflict with scientific evidence.

Indeed, since Santa Claus is a measurable phenomenon.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:33 AM on September 26, 2009


I was 6 or 7 years old, sitting outside my house in Ithaca, NY, watching an ant line struggle with bits and pieces of food and such, thinking about what I'd read about ants, how they'd work all their lives just to make more ants that could in turn struggle along ant lines, etc.
It hit me, like a bolt of lighting out of the #006699: the world was obviously absurd, no rational creator would have created untold generations of beings that would toil away their whole lives just to bring into existence more beings doomed to the same fate, over and over and over again. There was no god, the world just was. It was my moment of illumination.
This child-like lack of faith has been with me since then.
posted by signal at 6:35 AM on September 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sorry, jefficator, I was asleep.

No, I understand your reasoning there entirely. I'm not necessarily requiring that God have any testability or function at all. I'm starting off with a crowd of Gods such as "God is ..." and you can fill in any text there you like, any text at all. "God is being without form." "God lives only in liver sandwiches." Anything could be in that text. How many Gods are there? Just as a starting number, take all the people who ever lived (what is that, around ten billion now? twelve?) and then take every conception each of them had of what God could be. Many are ill-defined, and would collapse into one another, but you probably have millions of personal instances of God. Rick and Cynthia go to the same church, believe in almost all of the same things, but maybe Rick's God thinks that abortion is A-OK. That's a whole new God right there.

Like Schroedinger's cat in a box, not only could he be alive or dead, he could be a she. It could be a tabby, or a calico. It could be sleeping or frisky about. It might have one mangled ear. As science has pried open the edge of the box, various potential cats have vanished. God is now a bit more remote in direct function; instead of chucking lightning at various locations from Heaven, he instead is at a remove, having created the physical laws and the Earth with certain cloud systems which guarantees the existence of lightning. That God was always potential, but the other God has vanished. That is the God of the Gaps.

But mere science does not just limit the numbers of Gods who live in the gaps. Let's say you argue for self-consistency. Totally apart from science, you just want statements about God that are coherent and not self-contradicting. Right there, that weeds out the God who totally loves everyone, but also feels it necessary to select some of them to suffer a boundless amount of pain as integrated from death to infinity. That is more or less what killed my childhood God, whose conception was not unlike a very large, crabby version of Santa, without the rad red suit, and instead of presents he was likely to hand out smitings. I was not able to reconcile a loving God, and one who made us in his own image (presumably mind, and therefore reasoning, would be in there) as having a fairly cruddy life for people to live, after which some might reside in his private torture chamber, forever. With an imperceptible bzzzzt, that God died. Other, darker Gods remain: one so utterly insane and self-divided that he deeply believes he loves us, but feels it necessary that some helpless souls (who he created knowing from the dawn of time that they would be doomed) must writhe and howl . The kind of God who pulls out his belt and says, "I worry about you, Bev. I worry a lot." God as the bad, mad Daddy.

Think of it as Pascal's wager, writ very large. Maybe God is some berzerker God, and you'd be punished for not slaughtering enough. Maybe God is wicked, and you'd be punished for being kind to animals. For every God you can postulate, I can come up with an anti-God, who exacts in an exact opposite manner. No objection can be given on the basis of "Well, God can't be like that," since we are continually reminded by the faithful that we may not know the mind of God, some things remain a mystery, and so forth. Buying into that creates a whole cloud of potential Gods who are utterly irrational and who might act in a way you would find loathsome. I find it easy to postulate a God who created a finite universe, knowing before he lifted a metaphorical finger to do so that the consequence of putting beings with a survival drive in a finite universe is that there would be limited resources, and therefore conflict, and suffering. This God thinks that's better than television, billions of years of insignificant creatures who twitch and die, and then, even better, time has passed and they can now scream. It's like going from silent movies to the talkies for God; he's got a big tub of popcorn and thinks evolution is great fun — what new eyes you creatures have; the better with to witness the death of your offspring. What new teeth you creatures have; how exciting that they might rend one another's flesh in their ceaseless hunger. That God rejoiced when those fragile bags of protoplasm, fizzing away with entropy, could begin to contemplate their own deaths; His popcorn is now smothered in a new flavor called despair. My horrible God gets up from the sofa and does a little victory dance when they slaughter one another by the thousands, all in His name. He's cackling "Suckers! Don't you know? You're all gonna burn when I'm done with you!" and is reduced to hiccuping laughter at the idea that anything we do would possibly appease Him, for although the universe is limited, He is not, and nor is His lust for the suffering of mortal flesh.

With so many possible Gods, they average out to zero; there's no safe path for the faithful, as they are buffeted from the left and from the right with all of these potential Gods, many awful. Even as science removes Gods of form and mechanism, our daring imaginations create more. So what is left to us?

Carl Sagan wrote a great book called The Demon-Haunted World about the nature of skepticism. In it, there's a great bit about someone who has a dragon in their garage. Of course, you can't see the dragon, so he's invisible. Oh, and sure, dragons exhale fire, but this is heatless fire. And so on and so forth, until the dragon that lives in the garage is indistinguishable from a dragon which isn't there at all, except in one key instance — someone believes in that dragon.

The God without function or form, only being, he is certainly possible, and perhaps nothing can be done to rule him out, but that God is indistinguishable from a God who is not there at all. This makes for a very boring God to talk about, after all. Apply all of these ideas to a TV set and see where it goes: a television you cannot watch, you cannot touch, it has always existed, it takes no power to run, but you can never know that it is there. It's very much like not having a television at all.

That's why I threw out the entertainment center and moved the sofa into that corner; I could do better things with that might-as-well-be-empty space than leave it as a shrine to the best and worst imaginings of humanity.
posted by adipocere at 7:21 AM on September 26, 2009 [18 favorites]


... Nirvana is a state of being, while God supposedly is a being.

Nirvana was a band consisting of three young men - a trinity if you will. God is a monosyllabic exclamation most commonly uttered during orgasm, and therefore coyly known by association as 'The Word'.
posted by Ritchie at 7:34 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


According to Karen Armstrong, we need God in order to

a) produce enough food for everyone
b) live long and prosper
c) enjoy sex and/or reproduce
d) govern our diverse civic lives
e) wallow in awe and wonderment
posted by Brian B. at 7:50 AM on September 26, 2009


>I often wonder why Carl Sagan liked to refer to humans as insignificant scum huddling to an average planet in an insignificant universe. Was it out of some kind of misanthropy? Was it some kind of egotistical posturing, like, hey I'm so cool because I can totally accept that I'm meaningless scum and all the rest of you need some kind of fuzzy wuzzy blankey of purpose?

So evolution has described, codified, and quantified our current stage of creation. Is that any excuse to debase our humanity? To dismiss our conscious, aware, and profound experience on this earth as something without value outside of the mere replications of nucleotides?


This is the weirdest, most inaccurate thing I've ever heard said about Sagan in particular, or his particular flavor of scientific philosophy in general.

Sagan certainly believed that we were insignificant, yes. It's hard to look at the inconceivably miniscule proportion of time and space the universe has devoted to us and think otherwise.

But he never referred to human beings as "scum" or anything like it, he never said that our experience on Earth had no value (quite the opposite), and I challenge you to cite a single instance where he debased humanity. If you've taken "we are insignificant" to mean "we are scum", then you're simply mistaken, and you've wholly failed to appreciate what Sagan was actually saying.

Sagan was a humanist, through and through; one of the things for which people love and remember him is his optimism about the human race. Would a misanthropist devote a significant portion of his life to opposing nuclear proliferation?

And, "egotistical posturing"? Are you serious? Have you even read Sagan, or are you just basing your opinion of him on what you've heard from your church group? Sagan's entire point in describing our insignificance was to deflate hubris. There is a deep humility that runs through his work.

What's egotistical is the notion that we are the favorite pets of some invisible, omnipotent sky-man—a sky-man who thinks so highly of us that he created the entire Universe for the sole purpose of giving us a place to live. What an utterly arrogant, self-serving, convenient, ludicrous idea.

Sorry—there's no sky-man. We're just monkeys crawling around on a big rock floating around in space.*

But what's so bad about that? I'm fine with being "just a monkey". Monkeys are pretty awesome. Hell, I'm stoked to be a monkey, and what's more, a monkey who is blessed with the ability—however limited and fleeting—to be aware of my own monkeytude, and try to understand the Universe in which I find myself, in the brief instant for which I exist. We are the universe's way of knowing itself, and however small and insignificant we may be in the grand scheme of things, that's absolutely fucking staggering. I'm sorry that you find the idea so intolerable.

*Yes, I know that we're actually apes. Monkeys are funnier.
posted by ixohoxi at 8:18 AM on September 26, 2009 [16 favorites]


> Much of humanity seem to need some form of it just to get through the day. You can take that as proof that our brains did not evolve well enough to help us deal psychologically with the reality of our own pointlessness, or you can take that to mean that there is a god or we wouldn't need one.

I would argue our position is much more precarious than this.

Steven Pinker first introduced me to the concept of evolutionary "spandrels" when I was an undergraduate in his course, "The Human Mind." In architecture, a spandrel is the positive space that exists between two arches as a mere accident of design. Something selected for has the consequence of producing an additional something not selected for. The unselected entity nevertheless exists.

Certain spandrels coalesce and create what Pinker calls "The Cheesecake Effect." Cheesecake does not exist in nature. But creaminess, richness, smoothness, and sweetness are all taste sensations that evolution has selected because of a long-ago-and-far-away strategy of acquiring calories to help us survive. The individuals whose tastebuds were most stimulated by these flavors clearly had an advantage over those whose were not.

We can easily imagine certain traits that posed an evolutionary benefit. Deference to authority, confirmation bias, an extended adolescence, well-defined insider/outside group mentalities, and the tendency to impute meaning to meaningless data all came together to create human consciousness and to place humankind ahead of other creatures in the evolutionary race to control the earth. But those are the same traits that come together to create and sustain religious belief. In this way, God is cheesecake.

It may very well be that religion is simply an opiate for the masses and can be written off as such. But my fear is that religion is too deeply embedded in our genes as a by-product of our essential evolutionary path. I'm not sure what will become of humanity if we satisfy our intellect that no God can exist, but fall to re engineer those dimensions of our minds that continually presuppose God must.


re-quoted for awesomeness, and an interesting viewpoint.

I essentially agree with this proposition, and I would add that even today, there are aspects of the human experience that get missed or undervalued when we remove the religious framework. We currently suck at effectively expressing some fuzzy, mystical yet shared experiences and feelings when we reject or exclude religious frameworks.

But here's the thing. Regarding nutrition, we have advanced to the point where we know what balance of foods will give us the longest and healthiest life, and we now have food in abundance (give or take some sharing/distribution issues), and so our evolved preference for cheesecake now causes us to make choices that lead to poor nutrition, obesity, and other health complications.

Similarly, the world is now a smaller, more tightly-knit place, with a much higher level of knowledge and understanding. Religious tenets, taken literally, clash with our heightened knowledge of the world, and impede our ability to work together and cooperate.

To those who use their own religious beliefs as metaphor and guide, bravo. But too many people lack this understanding, they accept their religion as literal truth, and they become mentally obese and intellectually malnourished from gorging on God-as-Cheesecake.

The task in front of us is to nurture a better understanding of ... everything... without having to cling to religious flotsam. For me, embracing a rational scientific view hasn't meant diminishing or removing the awesomeness of being alive... it's the opposite - the more I know about stuff, the more amazed and grateful I am that I'm a part of it and able to understand a few fragments of it.

Another part of this is to understand and accept our own limitations. We're evolved animals, on our planet we're apparently unique in our ability to think and communicate in symbols, but we do not have perfect understanding, and our modest brains will only be capable of so much (till we improve or augment them).

I don't know, and I no longer care whether there is or isn't a God. He/She/It hasn't bothered to contact me. But anyway I don't need personal confirmation of a Deity to desire to do good and to be grateful for what I'm a part of.

adipocere expresses this last point magnificently, I think.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:25 AM on September 26, 2009


also props to ixohoxi. monkeytude indeed.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:29 AM on September 26, 2009


But my fear is that religion is too deeply embedded in our genes as a by-product of our essential evolutionary path.

I would argue that monotheism is not this evolutionary religion at all, but a pseudo-atheism that did away with mythical religion in order to maintain a human power structure akin to monotheism.
posted by Brian B. at 8:43 AM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


^^^

I admit it was unfair to Sagan I was paraphrasing the scum quote out of Pale Blue Dot (I think). And yes I've read Contact and A Demon Haunted World. I was using him as a stand in for the type of sentiment you express, which is: "We're just monkeys crawling around on a big rock floating around in space." Smedleyman and I expressed our dislike for this sentiment upthread.
posted by Acromion at 8:57 AM on September 26, 2009


Artful Codger: "We currently suck at effectively expressing some fuzzy, mystical yet shared experiences and feelings when we reject or exclude religious frameworks."

First, who is "we"? I presume this "we" you speak of does not include poets or artists or musicians?

Religion is a weird middle ground where people try to translate these fuzzy things you speak of into rational discourse. Acknowledging and even expressing and sharing these experiences in no way requires reference to the supernatural or belief.

On the other hand if you are looking for a mechanism for justifying totalitarian control over human thought and action, this hodge-podge of fuzzy experiences and strict doctrine does an excellent job of it.
posted by idiopath at 8:58 AM on September 26, 2009


Just so I am not misunderstood here, I am not calling religion a "hodge-podge of fuzzy experiences and strict doctrine", but rather if the niche of religion is to express these fuzzy things, and it includes those aspects that I would categorize as religious: an emphasis on belief in specific metaphysical claims, and a set of real world imperatives derived logically from those claims, that is the hypothetical thing I am calling a hodge-podge.
posted by idiopath at 9:16 AM on September 26, 2009


You cannot have Marxism without Atheism.

Ho hum.


You think your snarky Ho-Hum link to a wiki page about some Christian Communists is going to deflate my argument? I seriously worry about the quality of discourse in the age of Google.

You clearly have no understanding of what Marxism is. It is a materialist philosophy that attempts to prove there will be a utopia on Earth when all class conflicts are eventually metted out and resolved over time. Religion, or faith, was called a type of false consciousness and would eventually wither away like the state. Communist leaders initiated revolutions to accelerate this process towards a communist world, and part of the process was getting rid of false consciousness.

Furthermore, if you had actually bothered to READ at least to the third paragraph of the article you cite you would encounter this little nugget:

In general, Christian communism evolved independently of Marxism, and most Christian communists share the conclusions but not the underlying premises of Marxist communists.

Christian Communists are like Jews for Jesus. It doesn't make sense and Marxist-Leninists like Stalin would laugh at them and send them to Siberia. Maoists would give them a Little Red Book and send them to a reeducation camp. It was never any kind of serious, organized branch of Communism, and it has very little to do with Marxism.
posted by Acromion at 9:20 AM on September 26, 2009


yeah, but is this atheism or communism at work? or something more like megalomania? this is more like some cult of personality behavior, than atheism. all three of these dudes made certain their image was branded in minds in a major way.

OK Then that's the same thing as saying that the Holocaust was just the result of megalomania and had nothing to do with the underlying beliefs of Hitler. (Yeah I went there.)

Look I know you really want to believe that no one has killed in the name of atheism, but that is absurd on the face of it. It is a pretty common thing to do, whitewashing historical figures that share your belief system. I don't care how you slice or dice it. Some of the biggest mass murderers of this past century were through and through Communists. Atheism was central, nay the starting point, from which Marxism and Communism sprung.
posted by Acromion at 9:34 AM on September 26, 2009


because at the end of the road, it resulted in you, richard?

Is this a Morrissey lyric?
posted by well_balanced at 9:36 AM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Science is a process of discovery. That's all it is.

But you believe this process of discovery yields true and objective information about the world. I used to, but I don't any more.

I believe science operates out of a non-objective conceptual framework that limits the questions we ask, what we see, how we talk about things, and the experiments we perform.
posted by Acromion at 9:41 AM on September 26, 2009


Acromion: are you saying that atheism leads to mass murder as an inevitable consequence? If you are saying that, would you also say that religion does not lead to mass murder as an inevitable consequence, or that some characteristic of religion prevents mass murder?
posted by idiopath at 9:48 AM on September 26, 2009


Acromion: are you saying that atheism leads to mass murder as an inevitable consequence? If you are saying that, would you also say that religion does not lead to mass murder as an inevitable consequence, or that some characteristic of religion prevents mass murder?

No.
posted by Acromion at 9:50 AM on September 26, 2009


I thought jefficator's anecdote was a pretty solid illustration of why postmodernism is shit, personally.

actually, that method of calling truth claims into question is postmodernism. he even used the term meta-narrative, which we owe to Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition. it doesn't get any more postmodern than that.
posted by spindle at 9:58 AM on September 26, 2009


Wow, I thought they were criticizing jefficator's postmodernism, it didn't even occur to me that they would call his stance a critique of postmodernism.
posted by idiopath at 10:08 AM on September 26, 2009


Physics is the mother of all metanarratives.
posted by Acromion at 10:18 AM on September 26, 2009


What kind of knowledge is physics incapable of accommodating? In other words, given that physics is a metanarrative, what could we know if not for physics that physics blinds us to?

It seems to me that physics is not a metanarrative because it does not claim to extend beyond the domain of knowledge and experiment - it very fastidiously criticizes and tends to avoid formal claims that cannot be tested. Of course people say all sorts of crap and justify that crap with references to physics, but I don't personally see how physics is overextending its domain.
posted by idiopath at 10:25 AM on September 26, 2009


Posted too soon. I see now that the term metanarrative is meant as a critique of totalizing in the domain of knowledge, which my comment above does not address. I amend my comment above to specify that physics does not claim to extend beyond the explanation of physical phenomena, ie. a physicist is not going to presume knowledge of modern dance or novel writing, or any other domain, except where it makes claims which overlap physics as a specific domain.

Regarding the recursive attempts to account for discrepancies within a theory based on the existing theory, I am currently unaware of any advance to human knowledge that operates in a manner other than that.
posted by idiopath at 10:34 AM on September 26, 2009


Just ducking in to say I'm really enjoying reading this thread. For some reason, I've had these issues on my mind even more than usual lately.

Also:

MetaFilter: a smidge moldy by web 2.0 standards
posted by brundlefly at 10:43 AM on September 26, 2009


You clearly have no understanding of what Marxism is.

He's from Liverpool. I think he's met Marxists. Conflating Marxism and socialism in general with the Soviet Union is another strange problem with the Cosmic Blame Game that a lot of this seems to come down to.

I think the record does show, though, that the Soviet Union and Mao's China were explicitly materialist and atheist, you're right there, and did punish people who strayed from that.
posted by Grangousier at 11:02 AM on September 26, 2009


Grangousier: "the Soviet Union and Mao's China were explicitly materialist and atheist, you're right there, and did punish people who strayed from that"

I found it interesting that there was a significant Muslim involvement in Soviet politics. It was not that the Communist Party had no tolerance for faith - the Communist Party was in a pissing match with the Christianity, and it was as much the Church who would not accept members who belonged to the Communist Party as visa versa.

On the other hand, they appointed openly Muslim individuals to positions of power in the Party, because there is no Muslim equivalent of a Church that can decide whether you are a member or not, and the Muslim community was generally co-operative with the Soviets, seeing them as on the most part preferable to Christian rulership.
posted by idiopath at 11:21 AM on September 26, 2009


Amendment to the above: I am talking about Lenin's regime there, Stalin reversed these policies.
posted by idiopath at 11:24 AM on September 26, 2009


I would like to thank those who've been complimentary of my comments. Because I've had to make a living outside of my field for a while now, I've forgotten what it's like to comment on something important to me and have others respond favorably.

Out of curiosity, does anyone feel that the Sprandel Faith idea would make for a book I should flesh out?
posted by jefficator at 12:01 PM on September 26, 2009


Eh, it's not really worth using any examples from the history of communism/marxism/maoism/etc in this particular debate. Stalin loosened his clamp on the Russian Orthodox Church during WWII to help motivate the faithful to fight. All of those variants are a combination of ideology and practical compromise with regional ethnic populaces to ensure a measure of control over the rabble. The only place where you can find a really atheistic form of communism is probably in the "Communist Manifesto".
posted by Burhanistan at 12:02 PM on September 26, 2009


(Armstrong's position is being characterised as postmodern in this discussion; I thought it safe to read Pope Guilty's comment in line with that. Pope? can you clarify?)
posted by spindle at 12:05 PM on September 26, 2009


I amend my comment above to specify that physics does not claim to extend beyond the explanation of physical phenomena, ie. a physicist is not going to presume knowledge of modern dance or novel writing, or any other domain, except where it makes claims which overlap physics as a specific domain.

I would agree, except that this was written upstream:

Art is created by people; people are governed by the laws of physics. Right? I mean, if you think the brain is a physical object, you have an in-principle mechanistic explanation of every facet of human behavior, from the making of art to religion. And if you think the brain is a physical object whose important functions can all be described classically (this is where the smart money is), you have an in-principle easy mechanistic explanation (because it is then settled that the brain is no better than a Turing machine).

which is fine as a hypothesis, and if we were placing bets on future research that's where my money would be, but if we're talking about using physics as we currently understand it as a practical guide to literary criticism then it's not so good. and that would be where physics crosses the line into meta-narrative and (to make this less of a derail) scientism.
posted by spindle at 12:27 PM on September 26, 2009


*grumble*

One should require a license to use the word "random".
posted by effugas at 12:27 PM on September 26, 2009


spindle: "but if we're talking about using physics as we currently understand it as a practical guide to literary criticism then it's not so good"

Indeed, and I seriously hope nobody is doing that.

What you are quoting:

grobstein: "if you think the brain is a physical object, you have an in-principle mechanistic explanation of every facet of human behavior, from the making of art to religion. And if you think the brain is a physical object whose important functions can all be described classically (this is where the smart money is), you have an in-principle easy mechanistic explanation (because it is then settled that the brain is no better than a Turing machine)"

It severely overestimates the state of current knowledge to say that we have an existent mechanistic explanation of every facet of human behavior. Physics describes the principles upon which chemistry is based, but chemistry is still a strong and independent discipline. Physics affects literary criticism via chemistry then biology then cognitive science etc. etc. after a very long path leading to literary criticism. Even presuming we had full knowledge of the intermediary states, this is far from being a hegemony of all domains being applied physics.

As a direct analogy, we have a full understanding of a) the material design and fabrication of transistors b) the electronics of transistors c) the design of transistorized logic circuits d) the design and assembly of computer systems e) the design and programming of operating systems f) the design and programming of end user applications and f) using a web browser to make a comment on metafilter. This in no way reduces what I am doing right now to materials engineering, and I would be surprised to hear anyone make such a claim.
posted by idiopath at 12:50 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the subject of communism and atheism- Acronomion is right. The atheism of Marxism-Leninism was not merely an incidental aspect of the whole belief system, but something that was as fundamental a part of it as belief in the Resurrection is to Catholicism. There are many other forms of communist belief besides Marxism-Leninism, but that (unfortunately) is the only one which was able to get real political power. It's true that communism as a whole isn't inherently atheistic, but in the context of discussing the atrocities committed by Leninist states, attempting to use that as a refutation is like arguing that the Spanish Inquisition didn't have anything to do with Catholicism because there's lots of theistic beliefs that aren't the same as medieval Catholicism. That's basically the argument made by that WikiAnswers page, and it's nonsensical sophistry.

The specific reason why atheism was so intrinsic to Marxism-Leninism is that they believed fervently in the virtues of science, modernity and rationalism, and viewed religion as something inherently opposed to these things- as primitive superstition, a relic of feudal oppression that would have no place in the communist utopia which would be the end stage of history. (Though it's true that in practice, ideology often distorted the practice of science in fairly extreme ways in the Marxist-Leninist states- see Lysenkoism, among other things.) It wasn't the case that it was atheistic simply because there was no room for reverence of anyone other than the Great Leader, as I sometimes see people claim- the cult of personality aspect didn't really develop until Stalin.

Now of course, atheism is a much broader category than Marxism-Leninism, and I view the atheism of the Marxist-Leninist regimes as a black mark against atheism as a whole to the exact same extent that the Spanish Inquisiton is a black mark against theism as a whole- which is to say that both are such broad categories that it's IMO ridiculous to try to claim that either ultimately says much about atheism or theism as a whole. I don't think the Crusades indicate that the average Quaker is itching for the opportunity to go out and kill for God, and likewise I don't think that Marxism-Leninist antitheism indicates that Richard Dawkins wants to see a new Cultural Revolution. Both would be completely ridiculous and insulting arguments to make. (Which doesn't stop people from making versions of both those arguments.) But what the history of the Marxist-Leninist states does prove is that an atheistic worldview is not inherently a guard against atrocity and oppression.

(On preview: with regards to Soviet policy towards Islam, my impression is that the degree of tolerance shown for it was largely tactical and based in the realpolitik of the Russian Civil War. From what I've read, the Bolshevik policy towards the Islamic peoples was primarily an attempt to win popular support against the Whites in the Islamic areas of the former Russian Empire, and once the civil war was over and the Whites defeated, the comparative tolerance towards Islam decreased, something which accelerated under Stalin. They weren't more tolerant of non-Christian religions as a matter of principle- they were quite brutal towards practitioners of the animist religions of Siberia, for example.)
posted by a louis wain cat at 1:02 PM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


idiopath, you have no disagreement from me. my last paragraph became a tangled mess, but I wanted to describe what it would take for physics to become a meta-narrative. I believe we're agreed that it it would no longer be what physicists actually do.

(and I'm sorry if I implied that you had said what grobstein said.)
posted by spindle at 1:04 PM on September 26, 2009


No the problem is you are pretending that the terminology intended to describe and explain phenomen is inconsequential.

It's not inconsequential in terms of helping people to understand concepts by grounding them. But it is inconsequential in terms of the underlying truth. The consequences of the labels stay inside your head.

Well, I can give you plenty of examples of where the equations break down. They are well known and have been discussed here before.

But you don't.

Is it absurd to think that because it is here, it might be here for a purpose. I don't know. Maybe.

Um, yes?

No I disagree with you here. I have spent a lot of time studying both science, logic, and the history and philosophy of science. I will admit, though, that I have difficulty getting some of my points across on a blog post.

You seem to have read a lot of stuff without understanding it. You can't get your points across because you don't really know what you're talking about.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 PM on September 26, 2009


It's not inconsequential in terms of helping people to understand concepts by grounding them. But it is inconsequential in terms of the underlying truth. The consequences of the labels stay inside your head.


umm, no. ideally, they would stay in your head, but that is not what actually ends up happening. there are the various feminist critiques of science, thusly:
in “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles” (1991), Emily Martin shows how scientists have superimposed cultural sex stereotypes inappropriately onto the process of fertilization, resulting in inaccurate descriptions of cell and molecular interactions, faulty understandings of the physiology of fertilization, and skewed research priorities.
and there is the question of Newton's religious convictions. yes, he was wrong when it came to that, but nonetheless what came of his religious inspiration proved invaluable to future researchers. to dismiss them out of hand is to do a disservice to the history of science, and possibly also to any understanding of how research actually happens.
posted by spindle at 1:44 PM on September 26, 2009


The consequences of the labels stay inside your head.

This most certainly isn't the case, and its not due to some psychological error or failure of logic. It has to do with the epistemology of science and logic, ie what constitutes knowing, truth, and objectivity. The objective purity and certainty you are seeking though science is a chimera. Everything is observed through a filter of symbols and language. We can only define things in relation to other things.

You seem to have read a lot of stuff without understanding it. You can't get your points across because you don't really know what you're talking about.

It's not that I don't understand it. It's just that it takes more than a few paragraphs to fully elucidate a postmodern view of science and dig away at some of the enlightenment baggage embedded so deeply into our thought process.

Maybe there is someone who can step in and explain it better than I can.

If you are interested and have an open mind, I really suggest you read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn.
posted by Acromion at 2:20 PM on September 26, 2009


It's always interesting to me how quickly "Hey, the people doing x are doing it in insensitive, privileged or biased ways and should correct that" becomes "Down with x! Up with anti-x!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:23 PM on September 26, 2009


@louis wain cat.

Thanks!

And you are right about the Soviet's cooperation with the Muslims. Strictly realpolitik.
posted by Acromion at 2:31 PM on September 26, 2009


Well, I can give you plenty of examples of where the equations break down. They are well known and have been discussed here before.

Sorry I forgot to address this.

Well for one . . . our theory of gravity is completely broken. It's possible that we can't find the answer because we are stuck in a paradigm of the Standard Model: Particles, Waves, Forces, Laws and can't see outside of it.

The string theorists attempted to initiate a paradigm shift by scrapping the whole standard model altogether, but it remains an untestable, complete abstraction.
posted by Acromion at 2:35 PM on September 26, 2009


>in “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles” (1991), Emily Martin shows how scientists have superimposed cultural sex stereotypes inappropriately onto the process of fertilization, resulting in inaccurate descriptions of cell and molecular interactions, faulty understandings of the physiology of fertilization, and skewed research priorities.

Scientists did that, not science. Scientists also thought for the longest time that ulcers were caused by stress and other external factors... now we know that bacteria are responsible.

We are human, we have limitations.

Anyway, back to the marxism derail.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:54 PM on September 26, 2009


> I'm an atheist. I don't think that all religious people are mouth-breathers. I know quite a few. I think they've all made a logical error.
posted by Humanzee at 11:34 PM on September 25 [6 favorites +] [!]

Contemplative religion doesn't make any assertions, either logical or empirical. Where no statement of logical truth or empirical fact has been made, no error can arise. (The "Εν αρχή ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος" that pastabagel quotes has the form of an assertion, which has confused many into trying to parse it logically or test it empirically. But it asserts something no more than the lilies of the field assert something just by being there. Sakyamuni smiles, waggles flower at disciples. Though he could have made the same point by holding up an old boot.)


...other then the 'why' questions, of course.
posted by delmoi at 9:03 PM on September 25 [2 favorites +] [!]

Would just point out parenthetically that any "why" question can be re-expressed as a "how" question, e.g. How did it come to be that there is anything, rather than nothing? How did it come about that there is anything, rather than nothing? What were the steps that led to there being anything, rather than nothing?
posted by jfuller at 3:00 PM on September 26, 2009


"How" questions are not just "Why" questions re-phrased:

"How did you kill the postman?"

"By hitting him repeatedly with an aluminium baseball bat"

"Why did you kill the postman?"

Which is the more interesting question.
posted by Grangousier at 3:08 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Besides, I'm not sure that anyone can say how there came to be something rather than nothing. There are some entertaining (and moderately violent) stories, but that's about it, isn't it?
posted by Grangousier at 3:15 PM on September 26, 2009


That's largely my point, Grang. We don't know, and we don't have any way of knowing, and should you meet anybody who tells you they do know, figure out what they're trying to scam you out of.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:16 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


It severely overestimates the state of current knowledge to say that we have an existent mechanistic explanation of every facet of human behavior.

Quite true, and I would even go further: the sense that some people have that science is hierarchical, and that all reality reduces, fundamentally and in-principle, to the laws of physics, or perhaps to the mathematics without which most physics is unthinkable, is a grandiose and monolithic view of "Science" that is akin to scientism (the view that science is omnicompetent, or able to explain every aspect of experience).

It's more like a myth for meta-epistemic unity, than it is an accurate depiction of our current understanding of the world. There are a lot of blurred edges and explanatory gaps in science; a lot of shifting and not always easily or even ultimately reducible perspectives.

Rather than fashion a myth out of science, we should have a more pragmatic understanding of how it works. There are many perspectives worth considering considering. For instance, the book Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science speaks to this problem directly, as do many others.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 3:27 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm always suspicious of criticisms of scientism because they always seem to be an effort to get religion in the back door. Yes, science is not a monolithic and perfect entity. No, that doesn't make religion any less useless in investigating reality.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:44 PM on September 26, 2009 [5 favorites]



>Well, there are plenty of evolutionary hypotheses about why altruism would have created a selective advantage on a group of humans, who would be likely to share similar DNA.

Which are pretty widely regarded as incorrect.


Actually, no. No less than EO Wilson has dropped his opposition to group selection and not all evolutionary theories of altruism require group selection anyway. For example, game theory shows quite clearly that in certain environments a "tit for tat" strategy of cooperating with cooperators and punishing defectors allows altruism to spread without it being taken over by free riders.

Read Frans de Waal or Sarah Hrdy or Marc Hauser for lots about why evolution and altruism are completely compatible.

And, I can't imagine Steven Pinker being apologetic about arguing for a universal human nature-- it's a core part of his perspective and he's written many books fiercely attacking those who don't think so. The Blank Slate, most directly.
posted by Maias at 3:53 PM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I read somewhere that science flies you to the moon, while religion flies you into the World Trade Center.

I bow to no one in my willingness to make the occasional snark about religion but this is clearly unfair. It would be exactly as accurate to say that science aims for the stars, but sometimes it hits London.

"Vunce ze rocket goes up, who cares vere it comes down? Zats not my department, says Werner von Braun."
posted by Justinian at 3:53 PM on September 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


The consequences of the labels stay inside your head.
This most certainly isn't the case, and its not due to some psychological error or failure of logic. It has to do with the epistemology of science and logic, ie what constitutes knowing, truth, and objectivity.
Yawn. "Epistemology", "knowing" and "objectivity" are things that only happen inside your head. Again, the problem here is that you don't understand the difference between your thoughts (inside your head) and the universe (which includes all the things outside your head). That's a pretty big mistake to make. "Truth" is another matter, but I would say that truth can never exist inside your head, and thus the consequences of labels can have no effect on it. Or, you could talk about the (incorrect) feeling of knowing the truth, which would be better called certainty. This of course is also only in your head.
The objective purity and certainty you are seeking though science is a chimera.
What on earth are you talking about? I'm not seeking anything, except to point out how ridiculous the nonsense you're spouting is.
Well for one . . . our theory of gravity is completely broken.
How is it broken? Can you given an example of an experiment where standard theory would predict X but the actual result is Y?
posted by delmoi at 4:19 PM on September 26, 2009


I'm always suspicious of criticisms of scientism because they always seem to be an effort to get religion in the back door.

Always? You'll note that I did not mention religion in my previous comment. Only someone with an axe to grind would see all legitimate criticisms of scienctism as motivated by religion. To be clear: I was not advocating religion in my comment (neither was I--implicitly or explicitly--condemning it). Instead, I was referring to a side-theme within the larger thread: that sub-thread concerns what science actually tells us about the world, versus what some reflexive proponents of "Science" want it to tell us. Science by definition offers only an incomplete working picture of the world. For many questions, that picture is enough. But it's misleading to imply all of human experience can be captured with broad brush strokes on a single canvas.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 4:19 PM on September 26, 2009


How is it broken?

He's probably referring to the non-existent grand unified theory that explains gravity.
posted by empath at 4:29 PM on September 26, 2009


"Epistemology", "knowing" and "objectivity" are things that only happen inside your head. Again, the problem here is that you don't understand the difference between your thoughts (inside your head) and the universe (which includes all the things outside your head). That's a pretty big mistake to make.

This distinction between "outside" and "inside" one's head may be comforting, but upon a moment's reflection it proves extremely tenuous and facile; it's not always especially useful. The conditions for what constitutes knowledge, for how judgments are formed, is not a simple matter of common-sense: such questions preoccupied Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, Polyani, etc. There's a lot of science that is counterintuitive, and even some (such as in physics) that breaks down any clear subject/object distinction. These are difficult questions.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 4:29 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do you really believe gravity is actually a warping of the geometry of space? Although it's a conveinent way to describe the pheonomen we call "gravity" it's so completely abstract and theoretical to the point of being meaningless. What exactly is "space" and how do you "warp" it?

That's such a weird argument. You can't understand it, therefore what? It's not true? It's meaningless?

We say gravity warps space because modeling it in such a way seems to produce reliable predictions that match experimental results. That doesn't mean it's the whole story, and I wouldn't think very many scientists would say it is. It's just the best model we have currently.

Science doesn't 'believe' anything. It has models that either match reality or they don't. Science is perfectly willing to jettison anything if it turns out later to be wrong.
posted by empath at 4:40 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the subject of communism and atheism: Laos is an odd bird in that department. You know how communists are fond of murals and statues depicting a solider, a factory worker and a farmer? In Laos, the statist art has these three but also the salaryman and the monk. I realize this doesn't punch a hole in the argument that atheism is a fundamental part of communism, but I thought it was interesting how a belief system based on older texts get interpretted in different ways by different cultures, so that the definition of said belief system becomes increasingly flexible with time.

Oh, also, Lemmy was a bass player, and as such has no place in a Clapton vs. Hendrix discussion. Hell, Clapton has no place in a Clapton vs. Hendrix discussion. It's not bringing a knife to a gun fight; it's bringing a slingshot to the Battle of Iwo Jima. The best riff Clapton ever played was one he stole learned from Joe Walsh.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:46 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I only referenced Lemmy for the running joke quality of it and am not that into Motorhead. If there's a guitarist that I revere, it's Daniel Ash. The solo in "She's In Parties" just makes me all fluttery.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:55 PM on September 26, 2009


Ash is amazing. I'm reluctant to confess this, but, Paul Leary is probably my guitar idol. I know a lot of people say he plays anti-solos, but the closing melody of 22 Going On 23 is just perfection to me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:59 PM on September 26, 2009


None of these guys you are talking about can match the epic majesty of a 45 minute Kevin Drumm guitar solo.
posted by idiopath at 5:09 PM on September 26, 2009


"Wrong, dickhead, trick question. Lemmy is God".

:::: Thread=Closed ::::
posted by nimsey lou at 5:15 PM on September 26, 2009


There's a lot of science that is counterintuitive, and even some (such as in physics) that breaks down any clear subject/object distinction. These are difficult questions.

I'm not sure if you understand what "counter intuitive" means. It just means "not what you would expect". "Subject" and "object are linguistic terms. Some interpretations of quantum physics have to deal with the fact that observation a system changes it, and many people who don't understand the mathematical basis imbue quantum physics with all kinds of spiritual/philosophical nonsense. Apparently including you, "HP LaserJet"

The conditions for what constitutes knowledge, for how judgments are formed, is not a simple matter of common-sense: such questions preoccupied Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, Polyani, etc.

Yes, but all of those things stay inside the mind. I understand that people like spending time thinking about stuff that goes on inside people's heads, but those are pretty much irrelevant to the accuracy of scientific predictions (except, of course in psychology and other sciences that study people's minds)
posted by delmoi at 5:16 PM on September 26, 2009


Apparently including you, "HP LaserJet"

Christ, what an asshole.

Higher mathematics, theoretical physics, QM, etc.: such working areas of knowledge cannot be described in common-sense terms without serious distortion. That what was what I meant by counterintuitive: counter to what common sense might in all ways suggest. You know, like in common sense we make a wave/particle distinction that physicists don;t when talking about light. Your ad hominem attack on me, that I "imbue quantum physics with all kinds of spiritual/philosophical nonsense," is just patent fucking bullshit: all your seeking to do is muddy the waters. If one considers what mathematics actually is, and how it "hangs on" to, or reveals underlying structures of, reality, then the issue of what "goes on inside people's heads" cannot necessarily and in all cases be neatly separated from what goes on in the "external" world. I don't expect you to see this: you would much rather have kneejerk reactions to all such lines of inquiry. Plenty of people trained in both science and philosophy are willing to grant that many common-sense views about these matters are less than helpful.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 5:40 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Atheism is the only religion on the autism spectrum.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 6:13 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Not collecting stamps" is the only hobby on the autism spectrum.
posted by idiopath at 6:46 PM on September 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


The best riff Clapton ever played was one he stole learned from Joe Walsh.

what riff was that?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:25 PM on September 26, 2009


If one considers what mathematics actually is, and how it "hangs on" to, or reveals underlying structures of, reality, then the issue of what "goes on inside people's heads" cannot necessarily and in all cases be neatly separated from what goes on in the "external" world.

Huh? Why not.

Let me see if I can understand your argument. I think it goes like this:

1) The "Common sense", or intuitive view of the universe is mine, what I've outlined above: That what's inside your head makes no diffrence to what happens outside of it, essentially.

2) Some things in science are counterintuitive.

3) Therefore because my idea is intuitive, there is a possibility it could be false

Is that it? Because that's not really much an argument. I mean. There are obviously some things which are true (in the everyday sense) and also intuitive. It's intuitive and true that a burning stove will burn your hand.

Anyway, just to clarify, here is my point:

A) The way you think about the world, the labels you use, have no effect on the world (other then your own behavior, of course). It certainly doesn't change the laws of physics. Whether you think of light as a particle or a wave doesn't change how it behaves.

B) Because of A, it doesn't matter how you think about it, except to the extent that it helps you understand and learn. Using words like "particle" and "wave" can make it easier for you to think about phenomena like light. So it makes a difference inside your head how you think about it. But it makes no difference outside your head.

Anyway, my theory is helpfully falsifiable. All you have to do is come up with an experiment where the experimental result changes only depending on whats going on in the experimenter's mind, and nothing else in the material world. (and of course the experiment doesn't directly measure the mind itself, like with an MRI or something)

Somehow I doubt I'll be proven wrong at any point.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 PM on September 26, 2009


Unsurprisingly, you've missed my entire point. Furthermore, you are trying to back me in to making a positive argument, replete with empirical and verificationist experiment, where I was in fact only responding to some of your statements. It is therefore necessary to back up.

My first comment of the three you have responded to was itself in response to this statement by you:

"Epistemology", "knowing" and "objectivity" are things that only happen inside your head. Again, the problem here is that you don't understand the difference between your thoughts (inside your head) and the universe (which includes all the things outside your head). That's a pretty big mistake to make.

Let me pick apart why I think this represents its own conceptual confusion, and may be self-negating.

You are convinced we can have knowledge of mind-independent reality, as am I. However, you are also saying that knowing "only" happens "inside" one's head. Here's the first problem: if "knowing" is a thing trapped in one's head, how can one say anything positive about one's ability to know anything? Clearly, "knowing" connects, in some way, to what you are calling external reality. How it connects is the question. Particularly, where mathematical objects exist (are they "inside" or "outside" our heads?) and are applied in physics, is where the real problem asserts itself. There are several approaches to these objects: Platonist, nominalist, constructivist, intuitionist, Kantian, Carnappian, Husserlian, Fregean, Whiteheadian, Quinean, Sellarsean, etc.

My only point has been to show that what you take to be a simple dichotomy (outside head/inside head) is in fact the source of a great number of puzzles about how knowledge of the "external" world is possible at all. How thought bridge themselves into the external world, and thus are something other than wholly trapped in their own subjective perspective, is a little more complicated, in my opinion, than your simple dichotomy indicates.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 9:42 PM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


The problem I see with ignosticism is that it commits you to certain presuppositions that are no more justified than the non-empirical claims that ignostics refuse to evaluate. It is also runs the risk of making it difficult to talk about other concepts that IMO we ought to keep around like "justice" or "love". So it seems too entangled in the meta-problems that beget verificationism and logical positivism to accept. I think we should still allow for people to speculate even in transcendent matters, which by their very nature, we can know nothing about. But why not talk about it? Let's just not kill each other over it. Even stoicism in the normative sense is its own special breed of dogmatism.

I wonder how many atheists would prefer to call themselves agnostics if the term "theism" was expanded beyond the caricature of God as a bearded man living amongst the clouds. To accept the acculturated epistemic paradigm that you find yourself in is to sell your imagination short. Bertrand Russell wrote:
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.
A raison d'etre might be beyond us because the ultimate nature of reality transcends a "reason" in any sense that we can relate to, but science is a start in getting acquainted with what this nature might look, sound, smell, taste, and feel like, or even what it might be like, albeit framed in terms of abstract models of our mind. As pastabagel mentioned above, God, faith, spirituality, and theism for many is not about praising a separate ontological creator, but instead it is a reverence for a more transcendent notion of the ultimate; "the logos". Scientists and mystics feel the same sense of awe when they gaze out at the universe (or inward I suppose for the mystic), and I think that is an important thing to keep in mind instead of just drawing simple either/or dichotomies.

Pastabagel said: In the beginning was the logos and it was divine. (...) He (it, whatever) is the the uncreated order, rationality of all things, which order created itself. And science has demonstrated time and again that there is order, and that the universe operates rationally.
I might revel in the world of intelligibility which still remains to me, but although I have an idea of this world, yet I have not the least knowledge of it, nor can I ever attain to such knowledge with all the efforts of my natural faculty of reason. It is only a something that remains when I have eliminated everything belonging to the senses… but this something I know no further… There must here be a total absence of motive - unless this idea of an intelligible world is itself the motive… but to make this intelligible is precisely the problem that we cannot solve.
- Immanuel Kant
6.52 We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been
answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched.
- Wittgenstein
posted by ageispolis at 9:58 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


But you believe this process of discovery yields true and objective information about the world.

No, I just believe the information is useful, when empirically verified. I don't claim to know what "True" means. But I do know what repeatable means. If something is repeatable, I acknowledge it as "true" or "True enough".

I believe science operates out of a non-objective conceptual framework that limits the questions we ask, what we see, how we talk about things, and the experiments we perform.

Because of evidence and repeatability, I believe religion and its supernatural mythology have demonstrated they are uniquely, horribly equipped to dealing with these same issues, mostly to the detriment of humanity, and that the process of science continually throws out or modifies its frameworks as scientists find, verify and resolve current limitations, mostly to our benefit.

In any case, science is not a belief. It is just a process. You should go back to school and do your homework.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:10 PM on September 26, 2009


Here's the first problem: if "knowing" is a thing trapped in one's head, how can one say anything positive about one's ability to know anything?

Yes, but the ability to "say" something, or not say something is again an internal question. Think about it like algebra. The "operations" on objects of thought are closed Nothing comes out, other then though physical manipulation of the body. Whether we can say or not say anything about our ability to know anything is still a question about thoughts, not the reality outside our heads. So the "internal" set of thoughts is like an Ideal in an algebraic Ring. (Or a subgroup in an algebraic group)

I'm not saying that these questions are not interesting, only that they have no effect on the outside world, a point which Acromion seemed confused about while he was blabbering on about his supposedly post-modern take on science.
posted by delmoi at 10:11 PM on September 26, 2009


Whether we can say or not say anything about our ability to know anything is still a question about thoughts, not the reality outside our heads.

Only I'm not so sure these questions (the epistemological and the metaphysical) can be separated without creating confusion. For instance, the view of language you are now implicitly advocating does not withstand the scrutiny of your own defense of "the reality outside our heads." What is the nature of that reality and how did you come to know it? Why would you (or I or anyone) defend your (or mine, etc) version(s) of that reality (let's say a scientific version) over another (let's say unscientific or solipsistic), if not through sense-experience (empiricism), deductive/inductive/abductive reasoning (rationalism), and their ultimate combination (modern scientific inquiry)? So the question then is the way in which one's thoughts overlap, connect, match up with the world: one cannot say there are two separate and totally disconnected boxes (one's thought and the reality outside one's thought). One must either find a third box, a trap door, a connecting wire, what have you.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:22 PM on September 26, 2009


Or a ladder.
posted by ageispolis at 10:28 PM on September 26, 2009


ageispolis: "I wonder how many atheists would prefer to call themselves agnostics if the term "theism" was expanded beyond the caricature of God as a bearded man living amongst the clouds."

There is no need to expand the term, it is already so broad so that it contains a multitude of self contradictions, if anything the term is too broad to be meaningful. This is exactly the point of an ignostic approach (this approach is one I am not committed to, but am trying on for size lately).

Take the famous phrase "purple monkey dishwasher" as an example. Let's make it a question. "Purple monkey dishwasher?". I am not agnostic as to the answer to the question, because even presuming I am uncertain gives the statement more credit as a meaningful proposition than it rightfully deserves.

ageispolis: "It is also runs the risk of making it difficult to talk about other concepts that IMO we ought to keep around like "justice" or "love"."

I don't believe in love the way one believes in a god. When I use the word love I mean an emotional experience of affection; I recognize the experience reflected in the actions and words of others as having a similarity to my own. I am familiar with versions of deities that do not work in this way at all.

I don't believe in justice the way one believes in a god. We live in a world where one can have meaningful normative deliberations about what is or is not just, and an individual society can come close to a consensus. I am familiar with versions of deities that do not work this way at all.

ageispolis: "I think we should still allow for people to speculate even in transcendent matters"

Q: purple monkey dishwasher?

A: anthropophageous also turnip lightning!

I don't deny the speculation, I deny the meaningfulness of any conclusions reached from this speculation. I speculate about meaningless things constantly, that is what it means to make music and art. What I don't do is presume these poetic and fanciful self indulgences act as a basis for deciding what is right or wrong.
posted by idiopath at 11:39 PM on September 26, 2009


What is the nature of that reality and how did you come to know it?
Who says I know anything about it? What's the metaphor about being able to see only the shadows of things? I don't think we can every really "know" the true nature of the universe, all we can do is store a model of the universe that can fit inside of our heads (plus algorithms we can't actually fit directly into our heads, but which we can examine, create, and verify piece by piece, etc)
Why would you (or I or anyone) defend your (or mine, etc) version(s) of that reality (let's say a scientific version) over another (let's say unscientific or solipsistic), if not through sense-experience (empiricism), deductive/inductive/abductive reasoning (rationalism), and their ultimate combination (modern scientific inquiry)?
Because it's fun? Also, arguing about ideas forces you to think them through and refine them.
So the question then is the way in which one's thoughts overlap, connect, match up with the world: one cannot say there are two separate and totally disconnected boxes (one's thought and the reality outside one's thought).
I don't think they are completely separate, rather there is a one way input between the material world and the mind. And also, the mind can manipulate a small subset of the material world (it's body)

You can think of it this way. There is one set of physical rules that govern the material world. You could call these things platonic ideals, or whatever. Then, you have the material world. Inside the material world is your brain, which contains thoughts and ideas. The thoughts are material too, but they are so complex that we don't think of them that way. So let's think about the mind, the set of ideas and thoughts as a separate set. The mind can take in information about the material world though sense perception. Through these observations, it develops a model made of thoughts of both the material world and the platonic ideals that it thinks governs the material world.

Finally, the mind may convert these thoughts into words. It seemed like Acromion was saying that if these words were inconsistent, there was something fundamentally wrong with science. His mistake that he didn't understand the fact that words and labels have no effect on that material world. The concern of physics is the material world, and if the math works out and makes predictions correctly, then it's doing it's job. If the words seem wrong, then that represents a failure to understand the mathematical basis of that they are meant to describe a 'particle' in the standard model doesn't need to be like a particle of dust or whatever it's only a label applied to a mathematical object to make it easier for people to learn.
posted by delmoi at 1:22 AM on September 27, 2009


Oh, going back to what I mentioned about rings.

An algebraic Ideal is another Ring, made with some of the elements of the first ring so that if you have a Ring R and an Ideal I ∈ R

Given any a, and b ∈ I and any x ∈ R, then a + b ∈ I and a * x ∈ I

So for example, The set of Integers (Z) is a Ring, and the set of Integers that are multiples of 5 is also a Ring, and it's an Ideal of Z. So 25 + 10 = 35, which is a multiple of 5. And 25*6 = 150, which is also a multiple of five.

So that's an analogy to what I was talking about. I'm not saying that's how it is, it's just a way to think about it.

So imagine if thoughts + thoughts = more thoughts, and thoughts about anything also equal more thoughts, whether those thoughts are about other thoughts, or objects in the material world, or whatever. That's kind of what I'm talking about.
posted by delmoi at 1:30 AM on September 27, 2009


I believe science operates out of a non-objective conceptual framework that limits the questions we ask, what we see, how we talk about things, and the experiments we perform.

So how is it we keep coming up with understandings that the universe is nothing like what we would have guessed at first blush? We should all be visualizing mechanistically and finding again and again that the universe is just like Newton would have guessed. Instead, we keep scratching in weird placed and find out that no matter how weird you think you can handle it, the universe is just a little bit weirder than that and the scientists who get remembered are the one's who've shattered the dominant paradigm the hardest.

To put this another way, if postmodernists have such keen insight on this stuff, why did they fall so hook, line and sinker for the Sokal paper?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:53 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is no need to expand the term, it is already so broad so that it contains a multitude of self contradictions, if anything the term is too broad to be meaningful. This is exactly the point of an ignostic approach (this approach is one I am not committed to, but am trying on for size lately).

Take the famous phrase "purple monkey dishwasher" as an example. Let's make it a question. "Purple monkey dishwasher?". I am not agnostic as to the answer to the question, because even presuming I am uncertain gives the statement more credit as a meaningful proposition than it rightfully deserves.


These arguments have been beaten to death in the last century, but I'll take the next appropriate step here. In order for you to commit to an ignostic position (and even though you are just "trying it on for size", pretend like you are committed to it here), you must accept the presupposition that only sentences that can be empirically verified can be meaningful. Now, can you point me to precisely where in the empirical world that very presupposition is verified?

I don't deny the speculation, I deny the meaningfulness of any conclusions reached from this speculation. I speculate about meaningless things constantly, that is what it means to make music and art. What I don't do is presume these poetic and fanciful self indulgences act as a basis for deciding what is right or wrong.

On a more serious note, nowhere in my comment did I say that any conclusion reached by people speculating about the transcendent would be "meaningful" in the parameters that you specified. Nor did I say that such speculation ought to then decide what is right or wrong. So if that part of your response wasn't a straw man but an additional comment, then I agree with you in the sense of "meaning" that you prescribe (although this sense has problems of its own).

However, such speculation is meaningful in the sense of meaning that I prefer. Some would say that much like music and art, such speculation is profoundly meaningful. Indeed, it might be a futile enterprise to speculate on "what this all means", but it is a human activity worthy of celebrating instead of simply dismissing full stop. So I am not claiming that people can sustain justified true beliefs about the transcendent. I just think the activity is as important to us as human beings as science and art are.
posted by ageispolis at 2:32 AM on September 27, 2009


Ageispolis: [religious speculation] it is a human activity worthy of celebrating instead of simply dismissing full stop. So I am not claiming that people can sustain justified true beliefs about the transcendent. I just think the activity is as important to us as human beings as science and art are.

Since worthiness is inherently subjective, all you've really added here is that humans believe that such speculation is "worthy." No one is arguing about this. We can empirically determine that, yes, humans believe that these activities are worthy. This is clearly on the "is" side of the "is/ought" divide. Atheists, however, would note that this speculation is often not an end in itself. Many, many, people believe that the END of such speculation is "truth" in the epistemological sense. Now, you seem willing to concede the possibility that such speculation will not lead to truth. Thus, the entire reason for the speculation is undermined. If your goals are epistemological, then you ought not to engage in religious speculation. THAT is the ignostic position. The "importance" of art is not relevant because art rarely makes epistemological claims.

I believe your criticisms of ignosticism miss the whole point of ignosticism.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 3:32 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


ageispolis, your version of theism sounds like a kind of literary criticism at first glance, but I also find myself in a situation much like Dawkins describes regarding certain kinds of postmodern God: I can hardly find it offensive, and as I understand it so far, I cannot even find anything to distinguish it from non-theological ways of understanding transcendent experience.

But if you think that when you are defending this kind of minority so-called believing, you are implicitly defending all the kinds of believing that use a mainstream definition of belief, the kind that cannot for practical purposes be called the same as non-belief, the kind that follows up belief in something transcendent with some kind of dictation of an imperative in the world, then I cannot follow the argument there. If a claim's only grounding is an argument based on transcendent speculation, then it has no grounding.

I don't have to follow the turtles all the way down, epistemologically speaking, in order to find a question absurd. In the sense that our definitions of "gods" or, now, in this conversation, even "belief in gods", are so wide that they describe a thing and also the opposite of that thing, arguing about them can have no epistemological significance.
posted by idiopath at 5:49 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


>you don't understand the difference between your thoughts (inside your head) and the universe (which includes all the things outside your head)

This is something I've encountered many times when discussing these matters with theists (and people who are into other mystical/supernatural stuff).

If someone is working from the idealist point of view, there's no sense in presenting them with materialist reasoning. They will just grossly misconstrue everything you say (willfully or not; I don't know), build elaborate cathedrals out of incoherent nonsense, and never once realize that they are doing this, just as Acromion has done.

That's why I've stayed out of this one. Unless you can first convince the person that imagining something doesn't make it so, the rest is futile. Kudos if you have the stomach for it, but I've learned not to wrestle with pigs.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:41 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


what riff was that?

The opening riff to Layla, or so the legend goes anyway. I was being facetious.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:00 AM on September 27, 2009


I take exception to Armstrong's equating Nirvana with God. There's no equivalence there at all - Nirvana is a state of being, while God supposedly is a being.

Karen Armstrong had problems in her personal relationships so she doesn't get the importance of this distinction.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:06 AM on September 27, 2009


In order for you to commit to an ignostic position (and even though you are just "trying it on for size", pretend like you are committed to it here), you must accept the presupposition that only sentences that can be empirically verified can be meaningful. Now, can you point me to precisely where in the empirical world that very presupposition is verified?

Empiricism need not justify itself, for its outcomes- that is, all of science, up to and including the computer you so ungratefully type this on- speak for themselves and provide ample justification. Tell me, what grand discoveries have been made by irrationalism and superstition? What great advances in the human condition? Which diseases have been cured by interpreting transcendent experiences as evidence of universal telos or the presence of the supernatural and the immaterial?

And I know the facile response, which is always: "Science made the atom bomb." But science is not of a kind with theism, not of a kind with irrationalism and superstition; I am unaware of any theistic belief which does not include moral imperatives, nor am I aware of any action or inaction which can be justified or condemned scientifically. Science can build bombs, but it is only Gods and Men who can direct their use.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Karen Armstrong had problems in her personal relationships so she doesn't get the importance of this distinction.

Wow, what? Really? Can you elaborate on this? Because this sounds a lot like a cheap ad hominem.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:15 AM on September 27, 2009


Karen Armstrong had problems in her personal relationships so she doesn't get the importance of this distinction.
posted by Obscure Reference


eponysterical
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:36 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey I never confused what's outside my head with what's inside. I'm sorry if that came through on any of my posts, or perhaps you are reading that into what I'm saying. I'm saying that we view reality through an interpretive framework, a paradigm. Because of the inherent limitations of how we create these models and view reality through them, we will never create a perfect rendering of how reality works.
posted by Acromion at 12:15 PM on September 27, 2009


If someone is working from the idealist point of view, there's no sense in presenting them with materialist reasoning. They will just grossly misconstrue everything you say (willfully or not; I don't know), build elaborate cathedrals out of incoherent nonsense, and never once realize that they are doing this, just as Acromion has done.

There are some very legitimate critiques of materialism, and I am not completely sold on it.

But then again, I tend to think the standard model is pretty much a cathedral of nonsense that fails to predict some the most basic phenomenon that occurs in the universe.
posted by Acromion at 2:28 PM on September 27, 2009


Just want to step in here with an endorsement for neutral monism, the idea that the ultimate nature of reality is neither mental nor physical - rather, that these are attributes of it that we are able to comprehend. So arguing materialism vs. idealism is a bit like arguing whether an apple has volume or flavor.
posted by fleetmouse at 3:17 PM on September 27, 2009


(the volume of the best apples goes to 11)
posted by fleetmouse at 3:18 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


> The mind can take in information about the material world though sense perception.
> Through these observations, it develops a model made of thoughts of both the material
> world and the platonic ideals that it thinks governs the material world.

The very first postulate of the model is that there is a material reality out there that exists independently of your thoughts and experiences, and which can cause you to have certain experiences to build a model with. We're all pretty much satisfied that this is right, but the existence of an objective reality independent of the mind has to be accepted as an axiom--that is to say accepted without proof. Nobody is really convinced by Berkeley's argument for idealism, but so far nobody has come up with a refutation of it better than G. E. Moore's "Here is a hand" (holds up hand.) "Here is another hand" (holds up other hand.) "Therefore there are at least two objects in the external world. Therefore there is an external world." Or Dr. Johnson's, which makes the same point with a more Johnsonian style:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."
(Boswell: Life)


I actually hope I never encounter Prof. Dawkins in real life. Given his implacable opposition to unprovable beliefs, I expect he'd make me give up my unprovable belief in an external reality and revert back to solipsist idealism.
posted by jfuller at 3:43 PM on September 27, 2009


Relevant Video
posted by empath at 4:30 PM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


sounds a lot like a cheap ad hominem.

First of all, I'm a big fan of Karen Armstrong and didn't mean what I said as an attack, ad hominem or otherwise. I've read several of her books and in the post you quote, I linked to what is basically an autobiography. Her social difficulties are what she honestly reports in her book.

Incidentally, she also had difficulty as a nun in having a "personal relationship with God," though not for lack of trying. I am attributing, perhaps glibly, her conflating nirvana with God as a being, to her lack of relationship success.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:54 PM on September 27, 2009


"a bed made out of sleep"
"fossilized flame"
"a human sun"
"the back of love"

All from empath's link above.

Did this man come up with these poetic absurdities on his own, or is he quoting someone? Because that shit is gorgeous and if it comes from a book I want to read that book.

Oh, and also I have seen some of that dude's videos before and I like his style, any clue who or what to look up to read about where he is getting his ideas (one thing I hate about video as a platform for ideas is the rarity of footnotes).
posted by idiopath at 5:25 PM on September 27, 2009


But then again, I tend to think the standard model is pretty much a cathedral of nonsense that fails to predict some the most basic phenomenon that occurs in the universe.

Because obviously you're way smarter then the entire communal effort of the world's top physicists in the past century. The standard model doesn't even try to predict everything in the universe, just the behavior of particles at the microscale. In particular, it doesn't explain gravity. But to say it's nonsense because it doesn't do something it isn't even trying to do indicates you're as arrogant as you are ignorant.
posted by delmoi at 6:31 PM on September 27, 2009


Also evolution totally doesn't answer the question of how life originated, making it worthless.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:12 PM on September 27, 2009


Pope Guilty: "Also evolution totally doesn't answer the question of how life originated, making it worthless."

Your momma doesn't answer the question of how your life originated, making you useless.

Oh, wait...
posted by idiopath at 7:40 PM on September 27, 2009


Your momma doesn't answer the question of how your life originated

all she would tell me was 20 dollars, same as in town

what the fuck does that mean?
posted by pyramid termite at 8:22 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Look I know you really want to believe that no one has killed in the name of atheism, but that is absurd on the face of it. It is a pretty common thing to do, whitewashing historical figures that share your belief system. I don't care how you slice or dice it. Some of the biggest mass murderers of this past century were through and through Communists. Atheism was central, nay the starting point, from which Marxism and Communism sprung."

i wasn't try to whitewash anything. i don't hold these dudes, communism or atheism on a pedestal. and just because these guys were atheist i don't feel that makes me look bad as an atheist today. i have nothing in common with those guys. i was just asking a question. and i think a reasonable one.

i really don't think these guys killed for atheism. there was a lot more going on that that.
posted by rainperimeter at 9:05 PM on September 27, 2009


i really don't think these guys killed for atheism. there was a lot more going on that that.

Well, since at this point in the thread we're just making up various suppositions anyway, you could say something of the obverse here: Atheists killed because they lacked the central guiding rules such as "thou shalt not kill" that religion instills.

But anyway, it's really an asymmetrical argument.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:25 PM on September 27, 2009


Burhanistan: "Atheists killed because they lacked the central guiding rules such as "thou shalt not kill" that religion instills."

Per capita murder rates and per capita religious belief correlate strongly. Not that that it is causative, but claiming a causation that is reverse of the correlation seems pretty hard to defend.
posted by idiopath at 9:34 PM on September 27, 2009


Incidentally, she also had difficulty as a nun in having a "personal relationship with God," though not for lack of trying. I am attributing, perhaps glibly, her conflating nirvana with God as a being, to her lack of relationship success.

That's what confused me - I clicked the link, saw it was an autobipgraphy that specifically focused on how she went from living in a convent to eventually leaving the order, and wondered what this had to do with her confusing Nirvana with God. But if I understand you correctly, you were making a play on "personal relationships" there. Thanks for the clarification, sorry to have misread you.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:34 PM on September 27, 2009


The standard model doesn't even try to predict everything in the universe, just the behavior of particles at the microscale.

Well since everything in the universe is made out of these particles, then the standard model DOES try to predict how everything in the universe operates. But it doesn't. And as you mentioned, its not from lack of trying, or from lack of smarts. Perhaps it is lack of data, or perhaps it is because we are modeling it completely wrong.

In particular, it doesn't explain gravity.

That's a pretty big whopper of a problem, wouldn't you say? But that's not the only thing it doesn't explain.

But to say it's nonsense because it doesn't do something it isn't even trying to do indicates you're as arrogant as you are ignorant

Yes I said its nonsense and I stand by that. Its a hodgepodge of particles, constants, flavors, spins and various other observations crammed into perhaps obsolete categories. I believe the standard model resulted from pushing atomic theory too far, past its point of usefulness.
posted by Acromion at 11:23 PM on September 27, 2009


Acromion: You sound like a crank. The standard model is the most rigorously tested theory in all of science and produces testable predictions to an almost unbelievable degree of accuracy.
posted by empath at 11:46 PM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I believe the standard model resulted from pushing atomic theory too far, past its point of usefulness.

hahaha holy shit son
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:15 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


empath: Well at least I'm in good company then, along with Stephen Hawking. If you really believe that science is about skepticism and not dogma, then why are you intolerant of people who question the most commonly held beliefs? Isn't this how new theories are generated? If you look the history of science, it is full of cranks who turned out to be right.

Pope Guilty: Holy shit what? What is so radical about what I am proposing? It is the exact line of reasoning that the string theorists followed when they were attempting to replace the standard model with something more elegant and explanatory.
posted by Acromion at 7:49 AM on September 28, 2009


If you really believe that science is about skepticism and not dogma, then why are you intolerant of people who question the most commonly held beliefs? Isn't this how new theories are generated?

Except, no, you're not doing that. You're posting on a message board with your ignorance and crankness (crankitude? crankiosity?). Questioning commonly held beliefs means actually fucking testing them, which unless you're actually on the cutting edge of particle physics (which, based on your wildly inane dismissal of the standard model, it is clear that you are not), you're not actually doing. You're just some dude who doesn't know what he's talking about bullshitting on the internet, which is about as scientifically useful as jerking off.

You know, what really fucking gets me is that the "cranks" who turned out to be right were scientists who were engaged in research and worked hard to publish papers and speak and conferences and so forth. They were actually doing something. They weren't random assholes posting on internet forums. That you want to equate their tireless work and comprehensive educations with your internet wankery and ignorance is offensive and weak.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:53 AM on September 28, 2009


If you look the history of science, it is full of cranks who turned out to be right.

This is what cranks always say.
posted by empath at 8:57 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


"...the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

I, too, miss Carl Sagan.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:00 AM on September 28, 2009


Acromion: to adapt the old saying, they laughed at Wegener, they laughed at Galileo, they laughed at Einstein, they also laughed at Bozo the clown.

The fact that the ideas of the biggest innovators are initially mocked and dismissed does not vindicate all dismissed ideas. Human understanding does not move forward by indulging new speculations, it moves forward by challenging them, and then changing our minds if someone shows they can stand up to the challenge.

And what you are doing is the equivalent of watching a boxing match and critiquing the heavyweight champion. His style may have flaws, but you sure as hell don't seem to be ready to get up in that ring, and everyone who does want to has a chance. And so far they all lost.
posted by idiopath at 9:05 AM on September 28, 2009


If you look the history of science, it is full of cranks who turned out to be right.

It's also full of cranks and non-cranks who turned out to be wrong. Being wrong and figuring out why is an important part of science. Indeed, one of the most valid criticisms of religious dogmatism is the refusal to admit when predecessors were simply flat-out wrong about something. Good scientists have no problem admitting that science has and will continue to make major mistakes and errors, but that the whole point of science is to continue testing prior understandings and conclusions in order to approach a better understanding.
posted by The World Famous at 9:24 AM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Empiricism need not justify itself, for its outcomes- that is, all of science, up to and including the computer you so ungratefully type this on- speak for themselves and provide ample justification.

I so ungratefully type on? Your arrogance towards others is telling, and your response to my comment is a straw man. I was not suggesting that empiricism needs to justify itself. I was saying that verificationism cannot.
posted by ageispolis at 9:42 AM on September 28, 2009


One does not need to be a verificationist to dismiss certain questions as being meaningless.

For example, if a fundamental term defining the question is used in such a variety of ways that for every statement that you make about the term, there is a competing definition of the term with a contradictory meaning - in a case like that one, the question is as meaningless as the term it relies upon.
posted by idiopath at 10:06 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Your arrogance towards others is telling

Quite so!

I was not suggesting that empiricism needs to justify itself. I was saying that verificationism cannot.

It works out in the real world, though, so who cares?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:12 AM on September 28, 2009


It works out in the real world, though, so who cares?

Sometimes that's the way I feel about my religion. Not always, but sometimes.
posted by The World Famous at 10:51 AM on September 28, 2009


It may very well be that religion is simply an opiate for the masses and can be written off as such. But my fear is that religion is too deeply embedded in our genes as a by-product of our essential evolutionary path. I'm not sure what will become of humanity if we satisfy our intellect that no God can exist, but fall to re engineer those dimensions of our minds that continually presuppose God must.

I think there is an evolutionary/physiological component which allows epiphany. However, the form that epiphany takes depends entirely on the subject's social framework and upbringing. I have known people who have undergone this epiphany and have become: Buddhists, Christians, Jews, or "enlightened," or they describe it as an experience they fit into their memories as spiritually enriching but not specifically about any sort of religion or "god." Those people all experienced the same thing through their own mental filters, but to them their own interpretation is what happened.

This is not to say what happened is somehow not "real." The epiphany is real, even in a purely biological sense, and there is even a way to directly stimulate parts of the brain to induce it "artificially" (it's all brain chemistry anyway, whether or not we induce it). That's not to say that "god" is real, or religion, however, or that god is not real. It's to say that there is indeed this need, or at least the brain circuitry for it, but it's not necessary to create a religious framework to explain it nor to be fulfilled through it. If someone has a strong foundation of family/community, such events typically enrich someone's life, though they're not always blissful even for someone who is centered and grounded.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:17 PM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


By the way, ATHEISM IS NOT THE STARTING POINT FOR COMMUNISM. That is some ignorant shit to be slinging.

Take the atheism out of all practiced communism. is it somehow less communist? Where in communism is a requirement for not believing in a god or gods?

SOURCES PLZ
posted by grubi at 11:27 AM on September 30, 2009


ATHEISM IS NOT THE STARTING POINT FOR COMMUNISM

I'm pretty sure nobody said it was, capslock man. Atheism , however, was part of the official state ideologies of the most murderous communist regimes.

That doesn't mean that atheism BY ITSELF is at fault for mass murder.

But at the same time, a belief in god BY ITSELF is not that cause of the terrorist groups that claim to be doing it in the name of religion.

A belief or disbelief in god by itself has no bearing on the character of the rest of the persons beliefs -- You can have a secular humanist that's an atheist and is a swell guy, and have a communist that's an atheist who murdered millions of people. In the same way, you can have a bin Ladin, or you can also have a Martin Luther King.
posted by empath at 11:55 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure nobody said it was, capslock man.

Except, empath, someone actually made this claim (Atheism was central, nay the starting point, from which Marxism and Communism sprung.). And no-one called him/her out on it.

And I used capslock to vent my frustration at no-one calling out this ridiculous assertion.

Atheism , however, was part of the official state ideologies of the most murderous communist regimes.

Because they sought to replace god-worship with state-worship. It's still religion. And atheism had nothing to do with their motivations for murder. Preserving power and removing perceived threats to that power was the reason they went after churches. As long as peasants believed in God, they could resist -- they had God on their side, y'see. But if you have state-worship, then, well, why resist the State?

It's about power, not about disbelief. When people (they know they are) make claims that ATHEISM IS THE BASIS OF COMMUNISM or that ATHEISM IS A BIG PART OF COMMUNISM, they're full of shit. The accurate statement would be PRESERVATION OF POWER AT ANY COST IS A BIG PART OF COMMUNISM (AS PRACTICED).

That doesn't mean that atheism BY ITSELF is at fault for mass murder.

Yet, that was one person's take on it.

But at the same time, a belief in god BY ITSELF is not that cause of the terrorist groups that claim to be doing it in the name of religion.

No, it isn't. It's not THAT they believe in God; it's HOW they believe in God.

But take away that belief in God entirely from the religious crazies. Are they still going to blow people up in a holy war? Will they still have a justification for their crimes?
posted by grubi at 12:55 PM on September 30, 2009


And no-one called him/her out on it.

And I used capslock to vent my frustration at no-one calling out this ridiculous assertion.


You know, it's ok for an incorrect assertion on the internet to stand without being called out. Someone positing that Spock was a Klingon need not send anyone into a capslock tizzy. Step back. take some deep breaths. Decide if you're really that angry. And if you are really that angry, maybe step back a bit more.

But take away that belief in God entirely from the religious crazies. Are they still going to blow people up in a holy war? Will they still have a justification for their crimes?

Yes. Because, as you state in all caps, it's about power.
posted by The World Famous at 1:18 PM on September 30, 2009


By the way, ATHEISM IS NOT THE STARTING POINT FOR COMMUNISM. That is some ignorant shit to be slinging.

Take the atheism out of all practiced communism. is it somehow less communist? Where in communism is a requirement for not believing in a god or gods?

SOURCES PLZ


Incredible. Absofuckinglutely INCREDIBLE. You no clue what you are talking about do you? Where are your sources grubi? Why don't you sling some of that shit my way grubi?

Yes I made the claim that Atheism is the starting point for Marxism and Communism and I will stand by that until the day I die. In no way does Marx's dialectical materialism make sense with presence of a supernatural deity. The whole edifice of Marxism would crumble. No Marxism = No Communism. Full stop.

In fact, I will take it even further to say that Atheism was also the necessary ending point for Communism. Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Stalin all believed that history was inevitable progressing towards Communism, and they were just there to speed it along through revolution.

SOURCES PLZ??? ... oh how about Das Kapital or the Communist Manifesto, which I'VE ACTUALLY READ. I didn't just do a couple Google searches to find a web page that confirms what I already believed.

And actually, other people did call me on this and backed me up on it.


Because they sought to replace god-worship with state-worship.

No. That's called fascism, or statism. Fascism is pretty much the opposite of Communism, which is the inevitable stateless society that Marx predicted through his "scientific" study of history. Most Communist states devolved into fascism because they were run by dictatorships, and because Communism is silly and would never work.

It's about power, not about disbelief. When people (they know they are) make claims that ATHEISM IS THE BASIS OF COMMUNISM or that ATHEISM IS A BIG PART OF COMMUNISM, they're full of shit. The accurate statement would be PRESERVATION OF POWER AT ANY COST IS A BIG PART OF COMMUNISM (AS PRACTICED).

I feel like I'm reading a history paper written by a potty mouthed 9th grader who didn't do any research. Communism was all about redistributing power to the proletariat. Were some of the dictators who ruled Communist states more interested in power? Yes. Is Catholicism about maintaining power? No. Were some Popes more interested in power than religion? Of course. Same deal.

I am sick of arguing this point with people who have no clue what they are talking about. Look, if you are going to argue with me, have an iota of a clue about what you are talking about before you start bloviating in ALL CAPS.
posted by Acromion at 1:50 PM on September 30, 2009


Can we have a new Godwin-style rule that, as soon as someone uses the word "bloviating" on the internet, we all take a nap?
posted by The World Famous at 2:00 PM on September 30, 2009


What is not commented upon so far is R.Dawkins's glorification of the laws of physics, about which, as a biologist, he knows very little. Though he declares straightaway and unabashedly that life cannot escape physics at any level, he falls back on the crutch of emergent complexity to justify the difference. To have arisen to his status as author, leading academic, and defender of science against the presumptions of religion, he had to swallow and not cough-up, as an abecedarian, the idea bioelectricity, especially that used in nervous signaling and information processing and storage, was the result of the rundown of ion concentration gradients. John Eccles, who received a Nobel in 1963 for the ion channel model, along with Hodgkin and Huxley (for what became known as the Hodgkin-Huxley Model of the Nerve Impulse), abjured the model as inadequate for information encoding and processing, in a paper in 1993.

R.Dawkins, posturing as one in harmony with physics, waves his hands about unctiously as he postulates emergent complexity allowed the midwifery at the birth of life in the 'miracle-free zone.' Having learned little of the nature of this zone as a student, he joins Daniel Dennet in ignorant reveries of 'cranes' and 'skyhooks' that operated in the 'miracle free zone' to fashion 'creative intelligence.' This sounds like religion to me, or science fiction. These clowns have no working understand of electromagnetism, yet could expatiate on the breath-takingly naive confabulations called 'chemiosmosis,' ion currents, and the 'proton motive force'. These things are part of the liturgy of neuroscience and bioenergetics, two fields known for their clinical irrelevance beyond diagnosis and study. And why can't they do more? Emergent complexity - get it?

Life scientists will never understand the nature of aging or biological organization as long as they treat life as an emergent epiphenomenon too complex to understand in terms of its essentials. Instead these life scientists will continue to generate new taxonomy, and new promises of a better life someday if their pet research projects are funded.
posted by Veridicality at 4:18 PM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't get your point.
posted by empath at 4:26 PM on September 30, 2009


I thought it was fairly straightforward, but I'll repeat it succinctly. Those hectoring as warriors of reason who invoke naturalism in its defense against belief in a divinity, should know more about science then Dr. Dawkins. The foundations of twentieth century understanding of electrophysiology, known affectionately as neuroscience, are footed on irrelevant mathematics and premature, poorly-informed notions of electricity and battery functioning. Dr. Dawkins is a defender of this account, and even takes it a step further, launching from a biophysics that only allows for metaphors like skyhooks, or cranes, blackboxes, protein construction kits, or the other taxonomic ephemera of the life science specialist. A scientific sciolist's presumptions in the defense of naturalism, especially presumptions that uphold Darwinian evolution as the midwife of life, are shaky ground upon which to base atheism. Armstrong's fuzzy, a-historical account of divinity's handling and pseudo-intuitiveness is more satisfying and less mirthful than Dawkins's intellectually-dishonest pandering. Furthermore, it lends itself more to fathoming the creative intelligence without which science would go nowhere.
posted by Veridicality at 5:30 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, okay, you could have just skipped all the jargon and said "God in the gaps" and that would have sufficed.
posted by empath at 5:35 PM on September 30, 2009


No. That wouldn't have sufficed actually. What is being imparted is not any take on deism or theism, but Dr. Dawkins's arrogation as a spokesman for science when he knows only a small part of it, and is an invested member of an academy that celebrates as a proud tradition an outrageous distortion that conflicts with the physical sciences. This is not jargon. That tradition is not Darwinian. It concerns the nature of energy. The topic is too involved to elaborate upon here. What I wanted to convey was that our Mr. Dawkins's arguments from authority were not anchored in physical reality, not that his conclusions were flawed. The leap from chemistry to Darwinian evolution, with its dependence upon genetics, cannot be made with thermodynamics alone, despite what the good doctor has to say. We must include electrochemistry. We must regard origins. Well, Richard is part of a club for whom life is entirely about genetics, with nothing to say about origins other than to toss off a metaphor or two. And isn't that what religion is about - origins?
posted by Veridicality at 6:40 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Veridicality: "presumptions that uphold Darwinian evolution as the midwife of life"

The chemical soup was not darwinian.

Veridicality: "The leap from chemistry to Darwinian evolution, with its dependence upon genetics, cannot be made with thermodynamics alone"

Are you citing the second law here? if you are, the earth is not a closed system, it is powered by the sun.

If you are seriously claiming that there are flaws in mainstream evolutionary theory and neuroscience, please cite some sources.

Stop obfuscating your point, this is a weblog, not a poetry reading. Your unusual word choices and convoluted sentence structure, while entertaining, seriously impede communication without adding meaning. For example, why use the word mirthful? Did you mean comical? because Dawkins hardly seems happier than Armstrong, and I don't know what that claim would have to do with your point anyway.
posted by idiopath at 7:51 PM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


R.Dawkins, posturing as one in harmony with physics, waves his hands about unctiously as he postulates emergent complexity allowed the midwifery at the birth of life in the 'miracle-free zone.' Having learned little of the nature of this zone as a student, he joins Daniel Dennet in ignorant reveries of 'cranes' and 'skyhooks' that operated in the 'miracle free zone' to fashion 'creative intelligence.' This sounds like religion to me, or science fiction. These clowns have no working understand of electromagnetism, yet could expatiate on the breath-takingly naive confabulations called 'chemiosmosis,'

I have a bet with a friend. He says you obviously travelled forward in time from the 19th century. But I think that's crazy and the truth is that you were raised in solitude by mute monks and learned English by reading Dumas and such.
posted by Justinian at 7:56 PM on September 30, 2009


dammit, idiopath, I hadn't finished wading through his comments yet and I wanted to be the first to snark. But I couldn't decide what angle to take. There were so many options.
posted by Justinian at 7:58 PM on September 30, 2009


Flaws in evolutionary theory were the topic of this previous post
posted by hortense at 8:01 PM on September 30, 2009


Veridicality appears to have been published in at least one scientific journal. So maybe he's just weird and not a crank. Though the paper seems to be saying you can directly inject calories into a person by hooking him up to a battery which seems like complete quackery.
posted by empath at 11:02 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


empath: the batteries cited in that article seem to be cell batteries, ie. electrical storage in bodily cells, not battery cells ie. storing electricity in a metal battery.
posted by idiopath at 11:21 PM on September 30, 2009


I'm picturing Veridicality as wearing a waistcoat, watch fob and monocle.
posted by brundlefly at 11:25 PM on September 30, 2009


I'll freely admit to not having a clue what he's talking about, but I'm pretty sure towards the end there he's talking about applying normal electrical current...
posted by empath at 11:26 PM on September 30, 2009


Yes. Veridicality is all about interpreting kleiber's law to mean that you can use direct stimulation by an electrical current to induce mass gain and such. But only DC, not AC, obviously because using AC would be crazy.
posted by Justinian at 12:39 AM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Six Easy Pieces
posted by hortense at 11:03 AM on October 1, 2009


Good fellow Justinian, Dumas is in French, not English, and although I can read him, I prefer the cinema or Cliff's Notes. The monks were not mute; they were mutant, and jesuitical. Empath, I am a weird crank. You should Google equivalents to learn that calories from food can be converted to calories of heat can be converted to watts. The imputation of quackery is often an indication of the background knowledge of the speaker, and this indication sometimes reveals the imputation as uncalled for. You, like Justinian, have the electromagnetism exactly right, especially in the application of 'normal electrical current.'

Idiopath, you grasp the essence of the matter, that the chemical soup entails a theory of abiogenesis that necessarily precedes the RNA/DNA world. Abiogenesis is beyond the ken of Dawkins. You rival in my esteem, despite your lack of facility for nuance, the insightful Hortense whose posts are astoundingly appropriate, in particular the link dealing with problems with evolutionary theory, and with calls for its supplementation to account for epigenetics and development. It is important to keep in mind that the metaphor of the biocell as like a battery, upon which I build, presents the choice of batteries as primary or secondary, or a combination. The organic battery, known as a cell or a collection of cells, has both properties. Some of its chemical reactions are reversible, others are not and depend upon vascular delivery of nutrients. The reversible parts are those characteristic of a secondary cell, and upon which we can influence changes using regular DC.

Brundlefly, the device is a stereoopticon, not a monocle. It takes two images, that of the life sciences and that of the physical sciences, and joins them through a bit of optics based upon electromagnetism and mathematics. I have been known to put it down from time to time, but the view is kaleidoscopic and endlessly fascinating for all its relevance to life and its phases. I enjoy the jolt from the electrode daily. To understand what I am doing you must penetrate to the conclusion of the paper empath has linked to. Therein is an inference testing whether the hypothesized forces and thermodynamic pressures behind the origins of life, abiogenesis, are still in effect, and determine the phases of our own lives, and the rate of aging.

Justinian, using AC is not crazy. It is useless. And this uselessness is an integral part of modern electrotherapy and electrical medicine, called "functional electrical stimulation.' Christopher Reeves was duped into promoting it at the behest of those who let him die from complications from a bedsore. This is the world of Richard Dawkins, the world of academic biology, where social status and considerations of tenure trump the principles of science and hypothetico-deductive logic, where truth is conflated with Nobel Prize Committee guesses and presumptions. To associate the cogency of arguments for atheism with the scientific acumen of Richard Dawkins is to ask for crow-eating embarrassment. The man has done more for scientific stasis than for scientific progress, by virtue of his authority alone.

There is much more to the story. Perhaps it will emerge.
posted by Veridicality at 7:24 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey guys, haven't read the thread, but does anyone know if they're still running that 90% off Roget's Thesaurus down at Borders?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:15 PM on October 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


OMG don't ever stop posting.
posted by empath at 11:19 PM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seconded.
posted by brundlefly at 11:31 PM on October 1, 2009


Good fellow Justinian, Dumas is in French, not English

I know that; the translations I've read of the 3 Musketeers stuff are exceedingly verbose, with convoluted, stilted sentence structure in the dialogue. I assume that's how it was in the original French although, obviously, I can't swear to it (not speaking French). That the books were translations and not the originals was a feature, not a bug, given that it implies your sentence structu... never mind.

I mostly wanted to reply to this:

Christopher Reeves was duped into promoting it at the behest of those who let him die from complications from a bedsore.

This is exceedingly unfair. The man was paralyzed: sepsis from a bacterial infection secondary to being paralyzed is a common complication in such cases. If it hadn't been a pressure sore it could have been any number of other things, like a bladder infection from being catheterized. Implying that it was negligent that he happened to die of this particular infection is misguided.
posted by Justinian at 12:40 AM on October 2, 2009


what empath said. You gotta blog?


Also, my father-in-law also succumbed to a bedsore, among other things. It happens, even today.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:05 AM on October 2, 2009


I have been in a wheelchair for over 37 years following a motorcycle accident that broke my back. Reeves' bedsore could only have come from neglect. I have had bladder infections repeatedly during this time. I have broken a hip in a fall in a Paris hotel claimed to be wheelchair accessible, but wasn't. I broke both legs in an accident involving me being ejected from my wheelchair by an abrupt stop. I have had skin grafts twice on the right lower leg after burns caused by a heater in a plane I was flying, a heater that I couldn't feel because it exhausted the air on my feet; and (the second time) I was burned by a fire in a hearth in a village in southern France after a snow storm interrupted all electricity for several days. The U.S. Army hospital in Heidelberg was where I got the second graft over the same area. Christopher Reeves was neglected. Yes, Artrful Codger, neglect even happens today.

Reeves, whose celebrity raised over $30,000,000 for spinal cord research, said that treatment of the spinal cord injured must get back to exercise. He was in the hands of quacks who held that paralysis following non-destructive spinal cord injury (in which readings showed the nervous system still functioned, yet the muscle would not contract), was due to learned non-use, and that this sort of paralysis was a learning problem, and not due to the wasting of the muscle from disuse. These quacks pushed FES (functional electrical stimulation) that used AC, and so did nothing. These quacks did not know the difference between volts and amperes, just like Richard Dawkins. Muscle restoration for them was possible only through resistance exercise, something the paralyzed are incpable of.

A key point of the paper empath linked to was that amperage could restore muscle mass of muscles not otherwise usable, muscles which could be made usable. This would render almost all paralysis from stroke, concussion and neck injuries reversible, and a large fraction of paraplegia where destruction of the cord is not extensive enough to have destroyed the sympathetic chain that runs parallel to and outside the backbone. These two nerve pathways, the cord and the cranial nerves, are so close together at the brainstem that if a victim survives a neck injury, chances are his cord is still intact. The research has been done to verify this. But Reeves' handlers could not figure out why the muscle doesn't respond to the nerve message. It doesn't help matters that they cannot restore muscle without resistance exercise, but, until they understand physics and the electrochemistry of the nervous system, they will continue to condemn people like Reeves (and me) to wheelchairs unnecessarily. What I have found in my research is that given the stimulation described in the paper cited, even muscles that haven't worked for 3 decades can be restored to functionability. This mode of treatment is totally outside of the conceptual box within which Dawkins and life scientists prefer to dwell, while at the same time declaring all life is constrained by physics.
posted by Veridicality at 12:23 PM on October 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


In no way does Marx's dialectical materialism make sense with presence of a supernatural deity. The whole edifice of Marxism would crumble. No Marxism = No Communism. Full stop.

How? How can make a claim like that? You're saying believing in the belief in the idea of all things are physical precludes a belief in God? What's weird is that, often, when people believe in God, they do so despite the fact that intellectually they "know" God cannot exist. Yes, there are plenty of people who magically believe in both God *and* science.

But, no, your degree in political science obviously overwrites the facts.

In fact, I will take it even further to say that Atheism was also the necessary ending point for Communism.

Nope. Show me where these folks you list advocated atheism. I don't mean opposing the Church (Roman or Orthodox, either way). Show me the speeches, the quotes (in context), and the writings where they specifically advocated not believing in God.

SOURCES PLZ??? ... oh how about Das Kapital or the Communist Manifesto, which I'VE ACTUALLY READ.

Congratulations. Cite the portions which require the removal of God. Those parts which require the complete disbelief in God.

Communism was all about redistributing power to the proletariat. Were some of the dictators who ruled Communist states more interested in power? Yes.

Communism, in its ideal form, is all about redistributing power to the proletariat. Which Marx wasn't advocating as much as predicting. Also, which part of "as practiced" are you having a hard time with? Marx insisted that in order to get to the Communist phase of humanity, a society would first stop off at Capitalism and Socialism. In fact, he even specifically said that such a revolution would only take place in an industrialized nation like Great Britain, Germany, or France, not an agrarian nation like Russia. Given that, it doesn't seem like marxism ever took off anywhere as a viable option. If the practiced version of Communism is fundamentally different than Marxism, it isn't Marxism.

But, no, you got me beat, what with your not being vulgar and having read something somewhere sometime. Uh-huh.
posted by grubi at 3:48 PM on October 2, 2009


"science can answer pretty much any question about the observable world now "

Dawkin's perspective arguably springs from the "now" evidence--- evolution's product (including "us") as "now" hypothesized is without guidance from any source.

But, consider extending Dawkins wonderful "sense of wonder" to the currently absurd:

how might the argument (between Armstrong and Dawkins) change if it were eventually established that the "now" evolutionary biology hypotheses cannot explain how animal forms came to be?
posted by CDevoclast at 8:46 PM on October 18, 2009


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