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Consider Humanism
November 11, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Consider Humanism. You'd be in good company.
posted by GernBlandston (151 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I doubt anything will ever drive me back to religion; but if anything does, it will certainly be evangelical atheism. Ugh.
posted by auto-correct at 10:16 AM on November 11, 2010 [12 favorites]




I've considered Humanism, but ultimately, I find Anti-Humanism more spiritually fulfilling.

DARKSEID IS
posted by Greg Nog at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2010 [25 favorites]


From the website: Humanists Launch Largest National Advertising Campaign Critical of Religious Scripture.

Ah. yes. That will surely convince everyone.
posted by auto-correct at 10:25 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nothing frightens evangelicals like the blind anarchy and nihilism of the absence of belief. This, on the other hand, is like fresh meat laid out before lions. They will love this. They already rail against the "secular humanists" from the pulpits, and now to have an advertising campaign that literally attacks scripture? Wow. Worst of all, the vast majority of atheists and agnostics recognize implicitly that one doesn't have to "be" something to reject silly teachings. That sound you heard was the fringe believers, now thinking they have to be one of these assholes to leave the church, scurrying back into the skirts of their mommies.
posted by norm at 10:33 AM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sensing some negativity already.

Everybody in this world has their own philosophy on "how to live". How we attain that philosophy can vary. We are fortunate to live in a society where ideas like "equality" and "freedom" are of importance. We didn't get that way by sitting on our hands wishing for it to be so.

We express our ideas.

Sometimes with facts.

Many people don't listen. Some do. Over time things change.

The question of "what is good" will not stop being an important question to ask.
posted by strangememes at 10:34 AM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


DARKSEID IS

Whatever you do, don't forget to carry the one in the anti-life equation. I've been worshiping Giant Turtle Boy for three years now.
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the website: Humanists Launch Largest National Advertising Campaign Critical of Religious Scripture.

I remember when they put banner ads on the side of CTA buses while I was back in Chicago one time about how there's no God or whatever, and they had somebody on each bus that would go up to you and ask if you noticed the ad and how it made you feel. Turns out agreeing with their message doesn't make that any less irritating.
posted by jackflaps at 10:37 AM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Seeing as the US is entering an imperial collapse phase, maybe we can get some bread, circuses, and lions to go with our fundamentalists.
posted by clarknova at 10:40 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remember when they put banner ads on the side of CTA buses while I was back in Chicago one time about how there's no God or whatever, and they had somebody on each bus that would go up to you and ask if you noticed the ad and how it made you feel. Turns out agreeing with their message doesn't make that any less irritating.

These days I've been seeing a lot of ads for the Quran on CTA trains. Welcome to Obama's America
posted by theodolite at 10:41 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


They should consider hiring a designer. Blech.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 10:47 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Turns out agreeing with their message doesn't make that any less irritating.

Yes, can we make this thread a lot shorter by stating right here that liking or disliking particular people does not need to correspond to liking or disliking those people's ideologies?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:49 AM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I love the idea of humanism (and indeed, I was even married in a humanist ceremony), but I wish they would focus on the creative and positive parts of their organisation rather than the destructive parts. I remember when I told my (christian fundamentalist) mom that we were getting married by a humanist, and so she googled the British Humanist Society. On the front page, there was a huge photo of a bus ad that screamed THERE IS NO GOD. Thanks guys. Nothing about how we as human beings have a responsibility to each other, and perhaps how beautiful and brave it is to not rely on a higher power, but take responsibility for yourself and the world around you. Nope, just a giant bus ad guaranteed to piss my mother off.
posted by ukdanae at 10:49 AM on November 11, 2010 [24 favorites]


Oh good, an atheist thread, that means I can post our new theme song!
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:50 AM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


As a ten-year-old Barrett Caulk who often wondered if I was the only person who found Christianity (and upon further reflection--theism) completely unconvincing, I would have found a campaign like very heartening. I didn't suffer for my beliefs; my family was supportive, though not enthusiastic, and certain teachers were very helpful. But publicly declaring oneself an atheist is a bit of a 'coming out' moment. I have had to justify myself to friends, family, and strangers alike. No biggie: turns out a little reading goes a long way in this regard. But this campaign can at least empower some people out there to embrace personal beliefs that are not favored by the larger culture. Now, as long as they don't go too far with the confrontational, antagonistic angle. I'm looking at you, Dawkins . . .
posted by barrett caulk at 10:54 AM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sure nobody else in this world has the same beliefs or the same philosophy as me, so why would I want to join a group or apply a label?
posted by rocket88 at 10:55 AM on November 11, 2010


I can feel it, folks. This is the day - so appropriate for it to happen on the anniversary of that long-ago armistace - and this is the thread where devout theists, fiery athiests, and everyone in between lay down their rhetorical weapons and agree on a single secular authority resident in the common humanity of all of us.

The brass plate at the base of the abstract sculpture that is neither cross nor Flying Spaghetti Monster but makes respectful reference to them both will read: "It was that guy with the whisp of a grey mustache and the vague John Waters air of condescending insouciance quoting I Timothy that turned the tide and united the warring factions forever. So many things had been tried and found wanting, but I Timothy read kind of unctuously was just too powerful to deny."

That's how it's going to go. You watch. Some may say I'm a dreamer . . .
posted by gompa at 10:56 AM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


(and indeed, I was even married in a humanist ceremony)

How does it differ from a traditional ceremony? Besides there being no praise-God stuff, presumably?
posted by circular at 10:56 AM on November 11, 2010


What's problematic about actually spending money to ask people to think critically about something?

Typically money is spent to hose down the fires of critical thought.
posted by banal evil at 10:57 AM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


A big personal belief that I have as a humanist is that proselytism is extremely distasteful.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:58 AM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


I saw one of those ads last night on a DC bus. Took me a bit by surprise....
posted by schmod at 11:01 AM on November 11, 2010


They should consider hiring a designer.

as long as it's not an intelligent designer
posted by pyramid termite at 11:02 AM on November 11, 2010 [21 favorites]


> On the front page, there was a huge photo of a bus ad that screamed THERE IS NO GOD.

Well, if a crowded bus at the height of rush hour isn't proof that there is no God, I don't know what is.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:04 AM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


as long as it's not an intelligent designer

Sad trombone
posted by shakespeherian at 11:06 AM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


LONELINESS + ALIENATION + FEAR + DESPAIR + SELF-WORTH ÷ MOCKERY ÷ CONDEMNATION ÷ MISUNDERSTANDING x GUILT x SHAME x FAILURE x JUDGMENT N=Y WHERE Y=HOPE AND N=FOLLY, LOVE=LIES, LIFE=DEATH, SELF=DARKSEID

posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 11:06 AM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not impressed, but I left Christianity a full decade before I realized I was an atheist, so I'm not particularly interested in attempts to define humanism by poking holes in scripture.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:07 AM on November 11, 2010


I doubt anything will ever drive me back to religion; but if anything does, it will certainly be evangelical atheism. Ugh.
posted by auto-correct at 6:16 PM on November 11


Yeah, because speaking out to suggest that religion is, y'know, maybe not so great for human beings and the world and that hey, there's quite a bit of evidence to support that is *so* much worse than religion itself. Eww, those nasty, nasty atheists.
posted by Decani at 11:07 AM on November 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


They should consider hiring a designer.
...
as long as it's not an intelligent designer


How can you look at the complexity of that website -- its code, its color choices -- and doubt that it was created by a thinking, loving entity? What, did it just happen? All those scripts and divs just fell into place?
posted by Greg Nog at 11:08 AM on November 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


HI LET'S NOT START THIS HERE
posted by shakespeherian at 11:08 AM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Humanism takes one of the most obviously wrong and pernicious ideas common to many religions, that human beings are the endall and beall of existence, and elevates that idea into its founding principle.

Humanism is not an escape from the foolishness of religion, it's an intensification of that foolishness.
posted by jamjam at 11:09 AM on November 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


Could God make a bus so convincing in its refutation of the existence of a god that even he would not believe in himself?
posted by found missing at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2010 [23 favorites]


How does it differ from a traditional ceremony? Besides there being no praise-God stuff, presumably?

You can pretty much do as you like. Here in Scotland, Humanist ceremonies are legal (they aren't in England or Wales, which is really annoying) and they require each ceremony to include a small part about the fact that it is a humanist ceremony. Ours was this:

As you will have realised from my introduction, Douglas and Danae have chosen a Humanist Ceremony, as they feel that their ideals and beliefs may be described as ethical rather than religious. Humanism is a philosophy of life based on a concern for humanity and the natural world. Humanists believe that every society needs a moral code if people are to live together in harmony, and that morality comes from within us. It is about unselfishness, kindness and consideration towards others, about accepting responsibility for our own lives, whilst recognising our responsibility to the whole world.

We went on to have a relatively "normal" ceremony involving vows and the exchange of rings, and finished with a Celtic blessing. We had two readings - one from the Song of Solomon (which was allowed because it wasn't too worshipful), and one from Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (well, not really, it's a David Feinberg poem).
posted by ukdanae at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


These days I've been seeing a lot of ads for the Quran on CTA trains. Welcome to Obama's America
posted by theodolite at 6:41 PM on November 11


And yet astonishingly I have yet to see comments like "I doubt anything will ever drive me back to atheism; but if anything does, it will certainly be evangelical Islam" on Metafilter. Or indeed, the equivalent for Christianity, because of evangelical Christians. Mystifying, that.
posted by Decani at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Against humanism.
Auguste Comte, the founding father of modern humanism...for him, “humanism” was a word parallel to “theism”. It just altered the object worshipped, substituting humanity for God. He called it the “religion of humanity” and devised ritual forms for it that were close to traditional Christian ones. He thought – and many others have agreed with him – that the trouble with religion was simply its having an unreal supernatural object, God. Apart from this, the attitudes and institutions characteristic of religion itself seemed to him valuable, indeed essential. And he certainly had no wish to get rid of the habit of worship, only to give it a more suitable object. Surely (he said) worshipping human beings – who are real natural entities – would easily be able to replace the existing idle and artificial practices? So he ruled that, for instance, the enlightened citizen should start his day by worshipping first his mother, then his wife and then his daughter – after, of course, ensuring that they all did exactly what they were told for the rest of the time. And the other occasions of life could be similarly hallowed. This would all be part of his positivistic enterprise of developing the human scientific faculties that would finally enable us to abandon superstition.

These precepts, however, did not work out easily...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:14 AM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


They got that young Dawkins fella, I think that young man may go on to big things!
posted by Mister_A at 11:14 AM on November 11, 2010


Could God make a bus so convincing in its refutation of the existence of a god that even he would not believe in himself?

What if it was a bus...

THAT COULD NOT STOP.

Think about it, brethren and sistren.
posted by Mister_A at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't even mind the confrontational aspect as much as the cold humorless joyless pedantic pessimistic scolding tone. Eddie Izzard, Julia Sweeney, Patton Oswald, Steven Fry can confront the faithful using the very wit that makes humans wonderful creatures. Without God as the all-powerful creator and destroyer, life, the universe and humanity is all the more miraculous and mysterious, and yet I never get a sense of awe or wonder from these capital H Humanists.
posted by tula at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really understand the general feeling of rancor towards proselytizing for atheism (Among atheists; I certainly understand the general effects of people being confronted with things that imply that they're wrong.)

There's nothing inherently wrong with trying to convince people to think certain ways, the wrong part is the dishonesty and harassment typically involved, neither of which is present here, or at least no more than any other paid advertisement.

Does it matter that the world really would be a better place if people considered reasonably justifying their beliefs to be a virtue?
posted by EtzHadaat at 11:20 AM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


*Urge to post lyrics to Joan Osborne's "One of Us" rising...too hard to fight...must resist..."
posted by me3dia at 11:22 AM on November 11, 2010


Should've previewed, but the value of calling it "Humanism" is the sense of identity and community you get from having some group in common with others. It's terrible, but it seems a pretty central human need.

I usually fulfill this by seeing who listens to indie rock and using their marketing machine to convince myself this is exclusive in any way.
posted by EtzHadaat at 11:26 AM on November 11, 2010


We here on MetaFilter are not, by and large, the target audience. It is possible that some people will stop and think about things, and at least question received wisdom a little more... but I doubt it. I think it takes more than dry readings of ancient scriptures; I think you have to confront people with the disconnect between what modern spiritual leaders say and do and the ideals of Christianity. Because this doesn't accomplish that at all. It pulls brutal passages that do not, in truth, reflect the core beliefs of most Christians in America, and contrasts them with rational modern approaches to the subject. This is a battle waged against a straw-man version of Christianity.

I would prefer to see a treatment that says, "hey look, your ideals are wonderful and noble—but your leaders actions and words undermine those ideals, and here's how." In other words, out-Christian the Christian hucksters - take the most cherished Christian ideals and show how modern Christian leaders and organizations fail miserably to live up to those ideals. Now you're talking. This is just kind of silly, what they're doing here—they are trying to make people feel bad about being Christian instead of trying to get them riled up about their leaders' terrible misdeeds. Because in many ways, the ideals of the secular humanist and those of the devout Christian overlap. Take advantage of this belief system instead of belittling those who subscribe to it.
posted by Mister_A at 11:29 AM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Consider Pastifarianism
posted by mandro at 11:29 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could God make a bus so convincing in its refutation of the existence of a god that even he would not believe in himself?

What if it was a bus...

THAT COULD NOT STOP.


If you were on a crowded bus that could not stop and you were about to go over the edge of a cliff, and if you jumped out you could save yourself but if you convinced the driver, Richard Dawkins, that god was real he could levitate the bus and save everyone, which would you choose?

- The Book of Whoa!, I Utilitarians 12:25
posted by gompa at 11:29 AM on November 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Oh jesus this is so predictable.

You can't mention anything to the left of apologetic milquetoast doubtful aw shucks agnosticism on the blue without raising the ire of the Keep it To Yourself clan.

I don't care that you argued with a smug atheist this one time and I do not at all care that you belong to a church that had a gay guy in it.

These tiny movements (this, the bus ad, Dawkins-era atheism) grow out of a very fertile soil that you as believers in the irrational help to create. They fill a need a little more potent than just putting bees in your superstitious bonnet.
Of course when the world we all have to live in is calibrated to align with the ingrained prejudices and blinders of your chosen delusion, I imagine that anyone trying to carve out a little space for themselves must seem like a threat. After all, reflecting on why you believe what you believe is so inconvenient and all.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:35 AM on November 11, 2010 [32 favorites]


You humanists are going to feel pretty silly when the Great Old Ones wake up.

Although, actually, I guess you'll be gibbering incoherently and squatting in the corner in a pool of your own blood and viscera, just like everybody else; so maybe not.

Carry on.
posted by steambadger at 11:38 AM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh jesus

who dat
posted by found missing at 11:38 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Crazy-level "religion-ism" is best fealty with through quality, integrated schooling.

The more you know, the less likely you are to allow faith to guide your decisions about society.

Living in a logical, fact-based, science-backed society is reliance on knowledge, and less on belief.

I believe it is a bad idea to use uncontrolled addictive drugs. I know that Portugal radically changed its drug laws toward less criminality in use, and more support in counselling. I know the results were substantially good Thus I choose to support those changes that lead to those results.

Faith is what what gets society into messes. If you want a faith-based society, expect to live as a tribal peasant. You can't have both that and this integrated society.

Teach a man to think and he'll have knowledge for a lifetime.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:41 AM on November 11, 2010


These tiny movements (this, the bus ad, Dawkins-era atheism) grow out of a very fertile soil that you as believers in the irrational help to create.

I've said it before... modern-day literalist religious fundamentalists and Dawkins-era atheists share their most important position, so completely that most of the New Atheists don't realize it — which is that religiosity is mainly about whether you believe in various factual claims in religious scriptures. This campaign reaffirms that narrow view and is thus another salvo in the back-and-forth between two groups neither of whom represent most people's feelings about religion, awe, wonder, etc. It's got nothing to do with religiosity and very little to do with secularism, a proud liberal ideal about the organization of society (not about sophomoric debates about whether there's a god) that I don't think Richard Dawkins even slightly understands.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:41 AM on November 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Jesus? He lives around the corner from me. Great guy.
posted by kmz at 11:41 AM on November 11, 2010


S/fealty/fought/

We can't engineer buildings, build cars, make handheld Internet devices, all on having faith in it. Faith-based thinking doesn't scale.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:44 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anything with an "ism" is just playing with its supposed antithesis.

"Ist, however, works. As in plenist, situationist or arborist.
posted by emhutchinson at 11:44 AM on November 11, 2010


Meant to type "Ist"
posted by emhutchinson at 11:45 AM on November 11, 2010


I don't really understand the general feeling of rancor towards proselytizing for atheism

I think it's because a lot of us non-believers know how shitty it feels to be on the other side of proselytizing.

It's one thing to have a respectful conversation with someone, to hear their viewpoints or invite them to hear yours. It's another thing to buy big advertisements or stop them on their way to work to tell them how wrong they are without even knowing anything about them or their personal circumstances. Bleh.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:46 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be slightly more serious, while I greatly enjoyed both works, I found Pratchett's Small Gods to be much more persuasive than Pullman's Golden Compass trilogy. Now how much of that is in their approaches and how much of that is just Pratchett being a much better writer than Pullman, I can't say. And in either case they were preaching to the choir for me, but with Pullman I felt like I was going to get a concussion from all the anvils being dropped.
posted by kmz at 11:48 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you actually want to convince people that hold fundamentalist religious beliefs, i.e. the sort of people that literally believe every word of ancient scriptures, that their beliefs are wrong and/or harmful to society, this is not the way to do it.

You cannot reason with fundamentalists. They do not believe in reason. They think reason is trickery. They hold true to belief. Belief is what makes something true, not reason.

The only way to change fundamentalists' minds is through exposure. Exposing them to different beliefs, yet showing how those different beliefs generally contain the same core set of values.

Fundamentalists have an extreme persecution complex, and generally wall themselves off from what they perceive as opposite to their beliefs, without any investigation as to whether or not it is actually true. Because, again, belief is truth. They don't need proof.

So, if they think homosexuality is an abomination, they will wall themselves off from any contact with homosexuals. If you want to convince them they are wrong, expose them to a gay married couple. Show them that a gay marriage has the same values - love, support, etc. - as any "traditional" marriage.

If they think atheism leads to immoral depravity, expose them to an atheist that has the same values they do. Let them see that their beliefs are not the only way to get the values they hold.

The simple fact is that fundamentalists love to be attacked. They love to be told they're wrong. It simply reinforces their conviction that they're right. Fundamentalists would LOVE to see shit like this on buses. They believe that "secular humanism" is inherently wrong and ALWAYS leads to things like Stalinism and gulags. Expose them to secular humanism that doesn't lead to that.

For example, I'm a vegetarian. If I wanted to convince people not to eat meat (which I don't), the most effective way would be to have them eat tasty meals that don't have any meat in them. Let them see that its a viable alternative to their beliefs, yet shares the same core values (eating tasty food). If wanted some self-serving sanctimonious bullshit that made me feel smug and superior in my own beliefs, I'd show them some slaughterhouse videos.
posted by fryman at 11:49 AM on November 11, 2010 [21 favorites]


I am disappointed in the ads.

At first glance, I was assuming the "what some believe" portion would quote common misconceptions about atheists -- for example, I know many, many Christians (from non-practicing to the devout) who insist that atheists cannot have a well-informed moral compass because of the lack of a belief in God. Or that atheists are nihilists. Etc.

I think they missed a huge opportunity to educate without alienating. (It's also a little disingenuous of these ads to quote so much from the Old Testament, but I do see some New Testament stuff in there, at least.)
posted by Wossname at 11:50 AM on November 11, 2010


Oh man, is this where I can post my favorite quote about humanism? Good, because I'm going to. It's from A Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut.
My parents and grandparents were humanists, what used to be called Free Thinkers. So as a humanist I am honoring my ancestors, which the Bible says is a good thing to do. We humanists try to behave as decently, fairly, and as honorably as we can without any expectation of rewards or punishments in an afterlife. My brother and sister didn't think there was one, my parents and grandparents didn't think there was one. It was enough that they were alive. We humanists serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any real familiarity, which is our community.

I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in heaven now." That's my favorite joke.

How do humanists feel about Jesus? I say of Jesus, as all humanists do, "If what he said is good, and so much of it is absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?"

But if Christ hadn't delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn't want to be a human being.

I'd just as soon be a rattlesnake.
posted by NoraReed at 11:51 AM on November 11, 2010 [24 favorites]


I've said it before... modern-day literalist religious fundamentalists and Dawkins-era atheists share their most important position, so completely that most of the New Atheists don't realize it — which is that religiosity is mainly about whether you believe in various factual claims in religious scriptures.

Well, the important thing is that you've found a way to feel superior to both.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:54 AM on November 11, 2010


Linking to xkcd as an argument is a pretty good way to express equanimity and empathy.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:59 AM on November 11, 2010


Alternatively, you could always consider Phlebas.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:59 AM on November 11, 2010


you could always consider Phlebas

According to Google autocomplete, Me Gone is more often considered than the lobster or the lilies. Phlebas doesn't even rate a mention.
posted by RogerB at 12:04 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fryman nailed it, and good.

One of the most common elements to managing a faith based organization is to hammer away at the idea that you are "under attack". It works in cults, religions, politics, and sports. Actually attacking them is 100% counterproductive.

Also, you cannot reason someone out of a position they did not reason themselves into.
posted by Xoebe at 12:04 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


TheophileEscargot, if you ever get a chance to read the Positive Philosophy by Auguste Comte, I really recommend it. I find it fascinating the things that people were trying to accomplish at the time, socially & politically.

I don't think most Humanists today would agree with the ideas of 19th century positivism, though.

Still, I like Gouldner's description of the period (from his Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, 1971):
"Whereas European men had once expressed their estrangement from themselves in terms of traditional religion and metaphysics, they now began to do so through academic social science, and scientism became, in this way, a modern substitute for a decaying traditional religion."
I'm not sure he'd use the word "scientism" nowadays. Nice quote, though, imo.
posted by ServSci at 12:08 PM on November 11, 2010


shakespherian: Linking to xkcd as an argument is a pretty good way to express equanimity and empathy.

Pardon, I'm wrung out of equanimity and empathy for the kind of bullshit that game warden just pulled. I'll save it for those who are actually willing and interested in engaging in significant dialog in this area.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:12 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've said it before... modern-day literalist religious fundamentalists and Dawkins-era atheists share their most important position, so completely that most of the New Atheists don't realize it — which is that religiosity is mainly about whether you believe in various factual claims in religious scriptures.

Those are the ex-Protestant Atheists, or people raised in cultures that are heavily influenced by Protestant values. The content is easy to swap (Jesus: pro or con, right?), the larger categories about what the core of religiosity is, are more difficult to find in oneself, forget critiquing them.

Atheists from other backgrounds are different. It's just the heavy UK & US representation that makes them all seem that way.
posted by ServSci at 12:15 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really understand the general feeling of rancor towards proselytizing for atheism

Speaking for myself, it's not what proselytizers are proselytizing for that annoys me and provokes my rancour, it's that they are proselytizing. As fun a word as proselytizing is to type and say, I'm just not the right kind of audience for that form of persuasion.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:16 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The exception I take to hardcore proselytizing is the idea that someone is stupid if they don't see the world the way you do, as though the only experiences and life that could ever really matter is your own.

That said, I see nothing wrong with the idea of having a campaign for humanism. I don't really see the difference between humanism and atheism, but if it's what they want to do, more power to them.

I don't care whether someone's religious or not, and it seems pretty clear to me the world wouldn't be particularly better or worse off if there were no religious people in it. I do believe that a lot of the "there is a God, you idiot / there is no God, you idiot" energy would be better spent on the idea that it doesn't matter whether or not you believe whatever you believe, but how you treat others. If you have a problem with two ladies marrying each other, that's fine, go ahead and have it. The problem arises when you try to make it so they can't, or try to make their lives harder. That's never going to be okay.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:17 PM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


There have been plenty of very successful campaigns for humanism that don't require overt proselytization. Among them: cosmology, astronomy, physics, genetics, geology, anthropology, medicine...

The best part is that if you want to support such endeavors there are any number of ways to do so, and you don't even have to pay advertisers!
posted by norm at 12:29 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


One thing that I've realized about my feelings on religion is that what I really hate is being proselytized to. I don't like it when my friends do it, I don't like it when random people on the street do it, and I don't like it when my family does it. Someone find me a religion that doesn't care give a shit about what I think, doesn't ask me for money and doesn't care if I join their goddamned club.
posted by empath at 12:32 PM on November 11, 2010


You will never convince a religious fundamentalist about anything based on scripture, especially their own. That is where this campaign errs.

While many people claim to be Biblical literalists, and claim that they believe every word of scripture is true, this is simply not the case. Most religious fundamentalists (in America) believe a bizarre combination of American exceptionalism, free market capitalism, and conservative social values. They merely pick and choose what scripture to believe, based on how it supports beliefs they already hold. These beliefs they already hold are generally based on how they were raised, an ignorance of history (especially their own), and a lack of critical thinking, not an evaluation of scripture.

I mean, have you ever tried to get an American Christian fundamentalists to examine how their notion of hell derives more from the Great Awakening preachers like Jonathan Edwards rather than anything found in scripture? I have, and it's not fun.

Religious fundamentalists hold a complex, often contradictory, set of beliefs that is not entirely based on their religious convictions. Rather than attack (which is, no matter the intent, how these ads will be perceived by fundamentalists) a portion of that web of beliefs, this campaign should focus solely on promoting humanism.

Look at how many people in this thread, ostensibly aligned with humanist ideals, are put off by the ad campaign. How many would feel the same way if the ads were just like a picture of Einstein with a quote and line that said "This is humanism looks like" or something?
posted by fryman at 12:34 PM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


This is humanism looks like

I would be puzzled, but intrigued.
posted by found missing at 12:37 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Name recognition and concept recognition are what I think this advertising campaign will garner. And those are both good, in my opinion.

As a Humanist, I feel very strongly about respecting other people's belief structures as much as my own. And in my experience, most people have never heard of my belief structure. "What is a Humanist?" they ask. "Does that mean you worship... humans?"

The biggest benefit of this advertising campaign that I see is that it will hopefully spark a neuron in a few brains that have never heard of Humanism before. Hopefully more people will start to get an inkling that this country is comprised of more than just Christians and that non-Christians aren't just nameless, faceless "other" kind of people. It will hopefully open a door to the conversation about Humanism and other beliefs that are not of the "big three". And if it doesn't open the door, it will at least leave a bread crumb or two on the path to the door.

I live in a very strong Catholic and Christian community and I've seen so many of my friends, family and acquaintances make blatantly ignorant statements about this being a Christian nation, "Under God" and the like. And that is just not true. And when I tell them that I am not Christian, I mostly meet a blank stare and silence. They have no idea what to think or to say. They are so immersed in a local culture where EVERYONE is Catholic or Christian that they haven't had the chance to realize that the girl in the cubicle next to them isn't.
posted by jillithd at 12:44 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Humanism takes one of the most obviously wrong and pernicious ideas common to many religions, that human beings are the endall and beall of existence, and elevates that idea into its founding principle.

And what's your theory, honey?
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:44 PM on November 11, 2010


Know what the problem is with proselytizing? It assumes that you haven't made up your mind yet.

With enough persuasion on the proselytizer's part, surely the poor listener will soon see the True, Correct Path and put their mind towards achieving it. I would think that of all people, a fellow non-theist would be the most likely to understand why I'd find that annoying. No, thanks, my mind's made up and I'm no more interested in becoming a humanist (of the stripe personified by this group, anyway) than I am in becoming a Christian, Muslim, or Hindu.

So it sounds like this group offends Christians to the point of closing their minds (why yes, it is possible to have an open mind and be Christian) and it annoys fellow non-theists. I'm not seeing any potential upside to this plan.
posted by librarylis at 12:47 PM on November 11, 2010


On preview, fryman nailed it. I generally love advertising campaigns, and the only reason that atheist advertising is at all controversial is because atheists are doing it.

This one bothers me because my opinions on sexuality have nothing to do with Leviticus, my opinions on war have nothing to to with Isaiah, and my opinions on feminism have nothing to do with Colossians. The whole point of being a humanist in my opinion is that I don't look to the Bible either for validation or things to argue against.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:48 PM on November 11, 2010


How about a big banner that just says: "It's okay to not believe in God."?
posted by Eideteker at 12:57 PM on November 11, 2010


Back on the real topic of discussion:

"DARKSEID IS"

Help a former Marvel kid out. What's the origin of this phrase? I'm familiar with the "I AM" thing. I imagine the Darkseid thing occurring in a particularly badass speech.
posted by Eideteker at 1:01 PM on November 11, 2010


You will never convince a religious fundamentalist about anything based on scripture, especially their own.

So who cares what they think?
They are unreachable.
What this does do is allows the closeted, the skeptical, and the reachable a nice bit of cover to pursue getting out of that racket entirely.

Who cares if this won't do anything to sway Carrie's mom?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:07 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


i asked jesus for help. when i opened my eyes, left the chapel, there was a copy of '2063' (ACC)
by the 'take me' bin.
i followed jesus' advice
posted by clavdivs at 1:12 PM on November 11, 2010


Sometimes, when I am driving down the roads of the USA, I see billboards such as "God listens ...," "God's Way is The Way," and "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is Near."

I find them utterly unconvincing.

Furthermore, I suspect that I am not the only one. I suspect that the people behind this Humanist campaign also find them to be utterly unconvincing.

So I ask myself, "Why do the people behind this Humanist campaign, who are unconvinced by billboards from religions they do not believe in, think that others will see their billboards, and be convinced?"
posted by moonbiter at 1:12 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


BURMA SHAVE!
posted by clavdivs at 1:14 PM on November 11, 2010


Appropriately, today is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:15 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was going to run a poster campaign to teach people the benefits of misanthropy, but, well, fuck 'em.
posted by pompomtom at 1:25 PM on November 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


moonbiter: Advertising like this is generally not designed to convince. It's designed to raise awareness and encourage a set of associations.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:32 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


We can't engineer buildings, build cars, make handheld Internet devices, all on having faith in it. Faith-based thinking doesn't scale.

I'm going to take your comment out of context a little, because it made me think of something. I assert that faith-based thinking is the ONLY way things can scale.

Have you ever met a scientist who has recreated every experiment that his or her research is based upon? There's faith there, and it's a fantastic shortcut when trying to get things done.

Yes, the probability that every scientist in the ancestry of your research is bullshitting you is low. But, still, there's faith that the models that you've been taught are accurate, for the duration that you believe in them, as long as the outcomes are expected.

One may say that this scientific faith is just a good grasp of probability, which has nothing to do with true theistic faith. Well, then go calculate that probability. You probably won't, because that's difficult, and not very useful, and it's much easier to lie to yourself and just have faith in it so you can worry about other things that make your life feel fulfilled.

So.. Faith, in general terms, is how we deceive ourselves so we can worry about other things.

How this tool is then used obviously varies between science and religion. Once faith helps one find a conclusion, scientists are encouraged to admit that a hypothesis and even past results are wrong if the evidence suggests it (in the best case). Religion expects traditions and dogma to be upheld in the face of either no evidence, or evidence to the contrary.

I just wish that it was as great a virtue to actively disprove one's own assertions as it was to have the satisfaction of being right. Being right is for (happy) suckers.
posted by hanoixan at 1:56 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, but to raise awareness and encourage a set of associations to what purpose? I assume the end goal is evangelical. When I wrote "unconvinced," I probably wrote the wrong word. I don't just mean convinced in terms of immediate conversion, but also interest in the message or in the messengers.

But then, I am often wrong.
posted by moonbiter at 2:01 PM on November 11, 2010


Humanist is where you're prejudiced against humans, right?

And why always "godless"? "God-free" sounds better, like you're not lacking anything.
posted by klangklangston at 2:02 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


That was in response to KirkJobSluder, btw. You'd think that after several years here, I'd get that whole "preview" thing.
posted by moonbiter at 2:03 PM on November 11, 2010


I assume the end goal is evangelical.

You could have just the web site:
"Humanist values are mainstream American values, and this campaign will help many people realize that they are already humanists and just did not know the term," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "Humanists believe in and value love, equality, peace, freedom and reason – values that are comparable to those of moderate and liberal religious people."
But most advertising works by putting the message and images in front of a lot of eyeballs that don't care. I'm not certain how the AHA is that different from the local community college or Ford Motor Company on this point.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:08 PM on November 11, 2010


On the topic of how unpleasant proselytizing is, at least for the religious people it is part of their personal moral responsibility to provide people with the opportunity to convert. At least in some religions, when they weigh your possible irritation against your chance to be exposed to the truth, they err on the side of giving you the chance.

I don't know about the Humanists but I assume their rational would be similar.
posted by ServSci at 2:10 PM on November 11, 2010


"And yet astonishingly I have yet to see comments like "I doubt anything will ever drive me back to atheism; but if anything does, it will certainly be evangelical Islam" on Metafilter. Or indeed, the equivalent for Christianity, because of evangelical Christians. Mystifying, that."

You do not read the same MetaFilter I do, obviously. People talk all the time about how Christianity drove them to atheism; the difference in saying that atheism will drive you back to Christianity is that it is an obvious joke.
posted by klangklangston at 2:16 PM on November 11, 2010


Consider vegetarianism (or veganism). You'd be in better (and much more attractive) company.

Humans are overrated.

(That is one damn short list. 59 people and ... 4 women?!)
posted by mrgrimm at 2:19 PM on November 11, 2010


And yeah, I'd rather have an ad campaign that shows humanists, like, helping their neighbors or standing up to bullies or anything from those old LDS commercials.

"But he helped me fix my bike, even after I told him he was going to burn in hell!"
"He's a humanist, Bob, they believe that people are the only ones who can help people."
posted by klangklangston at 2:20 PM on November 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


Or just "God won't help you change a tire. A humanist will!"
posted by klangklangston at 2:20 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


"DARKSEID IS"

Help a former Marvel kid out. What's the origin of this phrase?


I don't know if the phrase pre-dates Grant Morrison's JLA run, but that's where I was introduced to it; it's in the Rock of Ages storyline, issue 13. If I recall correctly, the phrase appears on a number of Darkseid propaganda posters throughout the issue, although Darkseid doesn't appear anywhere in the issue itself -- until at the very end, in a moment of high drama; a prophet is shouting an announcement of his impending arrival:

"On your knees for the master! The hour has come! HE has come! Who is beyond Good and Evil? Who is the prophet of Anti-Life? Who is the Rock and the Chain and the Lightning? All powerful! All unforgiving! All conquering! WHO IS YOUR NEW GOD NOW AND FOREVER?"

Next panel:

"Darkseid Is."
posted by Greg Nog at 2:21 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


"On the front page, there was a huge photo of a bus ad that screamed THERE IS NO GOD. Thanks guys. Nothing about how we as human beings have a responsibility to each other, and perhaps how beautiful and brave it is to not rely on a higher power, but take responsibility for yourself and the world around you. Nope, just a giant bus ad guaranteed to piss my mother off."

What, they should have taken out a bus ad that says, "THERE IS A GOD" instead? Or they should have not mentioned the fact that believing there is no god is central to their worldview? If this ad pisses someone off, it's because they're pissed off they can't pretend people who don't believe in god don't exist.

Here's a counter-story. Where I'm from, a common getting-to-know-you question is "What church do you attend?" After I started answering, "I'm an atheist." I got a scolding. It was fine to be an atheist, my parents said, but telling other people you're an atheist is rude, because it's like telling them there is no god. I pointed out that they saw no problem with the other side of the equation -- theists claiming there is a god -- so they should have no problem with mine.

Now, maybe you think this is different because people were asking about my religious affiliation, but the basis of offense is the same: some religious people are offended by people publicly not believing in god. Ad campaigns like the "THERE IS NO GOD" are intended to draw attention to this fact, and to the double standard it sets. That won't convince theists, but it might make things easier on atheists in the long run.
posted by Marty Marx at 2:28 PM on November 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Greg Nog, you are a scholar xor a gentleman.
posted by Eideteker at 2:43 PM on November 11, 2010


But do they have any good songs is what I want to know. Say what you like about the bible, but the church I was raised in had a pretty good floor show. Until these guys get something as moving as, say, Jerusalem or the Navy Hymn, well, it's just a bunch of guys sitting around thinking right.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:43 PM on November 11, 2010


Steve Martin is wrong. John Lennon's "Imagine" is a great Atheist/Humanist song and was a Top Ten hit before anybody realized it was. The Beatles may not really have been "bigger than Jesus", but they were a lot less fictional.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:56 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


In other words, out-Christian the Christian hucksters - take the most cherished Christian ideals and show how modern Christian leaders and organizations fail miserably to live up to those ideals. Now you're talking.

Amen. Let's knock out usury and tax the rich to hell.

That's why I like the Universalist Unitarians. To me, they are far more "Christian" than any Christian church, and yet lots of Christians equate them with Satanists.

If I had to join any church (aside, of course, from the Universal Life Church, which was kind enough to ordain me for free 20 years ago), it would be the UUA.

It was fine to be an atheist, my parents said, but telling other people you're an atheist is rude, because it's like telling them there is no god.

You know, I sort of agree. Plus, you didn't really answer the question asked. I would tell my daughter to say, "I don't go to church," and then, if the questioner persists, explain why.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:03 PM on November 11, 2010


Consider Inhumanism.
posted by wadefranklin at 3:12 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


> There's nothing inherently wrong with trying to convince people to think certain ways,

So why, no matter what POV you're having shoved at you , does it feel so much like being harangued by a 14 year old who just read all of Ayn Rand (twice)? It doesn't have to be that way, it just is that way.
posted by jfuller at 3:12 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What, they should have taken out a bus ad that says, "THERE IS A GOD" instead? Or they should have not mentioned the fact that believing there is no god is central to their worldview? If this ad pisses someone off, it's because they're pissed off they can't pretend people who don't believe in god don't exist.

You can look at humanist beliefs in a few ways, I guess. Humanism could center around the belief that there is no god, or could just as easily center around the belief that we, as members of humanity, are are all in this together, and we should look after one another. I'm just saying that a banner that asked WHAT IF GOD DOESN'T EXIST? would be a lot more interesting than a shout-y message that's just going to get backs up. The beautiful, positive ceremony that my family got to watch on our wedding day was a far stronger message for humanism than a gotcha bus ad.
posted by ukdanae at 3:37 PM on November 11, 2010


John Lennon's "Imagine" is a great Atheist/Humanist song....

Well, here my atheism shows but - I never thought it was that good a song. Lacks that frisson factor. Does nothing for the hair on the back of my neck nor puts a lump in my throat.
Treacly, in a word.

But, full marks for example. Clearly I am in the minority on this one. (Don't much care for Give Peace A Chance, either. New York City, on the other hand....)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:02 PM on November 11, 2010


(What's the Steve Martin reference?)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:03 PM on November 11, 2010


John Lennon's "Imagine" is a great Atheist/Humanist song....

Meh, the original was a bit more on target, I think.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:11 PM on November 11, 2010


(That is one damn short list. 59 people and ... 4 women?!)

They left out my favorite atheist, Katherine Hepburn.
posted by the bricabrac man at 4:11 PM on November 11, 2010


Hanoixan: you are wrong. There is no faith involved in building one's science on science. Just because I havent galvanicized a frog's leg does not mean I base my electrical knowledge on faith. The facts don't change on a whim. They exist outside of faith: they are reality.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:24 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm just saying that a banner that asked WHAT IF GOD DOESN'T EXIST? would be a lot more interesting than a shout-y message that's just going to get backs up

Yes, and that is an excellent reason not to do it. The idea is that getting people's backs up with the simple public proclamation "GOD DOES NOT EXIST" in a society where proclamations about god's existence are taken without remark will make the double standard painfully obvious.

It's not about making theists feel good, but making clear that it is unfair to be upset at atheists in the first place (and in so doing, make it easier for atheists to be atheists in the public sphere).

That's not to say there's no place for conciliatory outreach or even evangelism, just that those two goals are not the only legitimate aims of an atheist group.

Now, if you want to say that atheism doesn't have anything to do with humanism, okay, but then we're not talking about the people who put "GOD DOES NOT EXIST" banners on buses, and those folks are the one's whose methods are in dispute.
posted by Marty Marx at 4:27 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really see the difference between humanism and atheism, but if it's what they want to do, more power to them.


The tenets of humanism can explore atheisms definition without religious dogma?
posted by clavdivs at 5:07 PM on November 11, 2010


hate to drag the ole bitch out

'A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.'
-Friedrich Nietzsche
posted by clavdivs at 5:12 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, I sort of agree. Plus, you didn't really answer the question asked. I would tell my daughter to say, "I don't go to church," and then, if the questioner persists, explain why.

I doubt you'd agree on reflection. I presume you wouldn't think it rude if, upon being asked, "What church to do you go to?" someone were to say, "I'm Jewish" instead of the coy, "I don't go to church," to be explained only after persistent questioning.

(And I assure you, "I'm an atheist" is responsive; they want to know about your social group, not where they can find you on the weekend if they need to get in touch.)
posted by Marty Marx at 5:23 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have you ever met a scientist who has recreated every experiment that his or her research is based upon? There's faith there, and it's a fantastic shortcut when trying to get things done.

There's not faith there. What is there is the entire apparatus of the scientific community. It's called publishing, peer review, repeating experiments, challenging results. You act like the scientific community is a nice peaceful place where facts are just handed down and accepted with a docile smile. It's not. It's rough and tumble. There is yelling. There are egos. People actually do the legwork. Results *are* found to be bullshit and thereby overturned. It's absolutely the opposite of taking things on faith in every single way.
posted by scarabic at 5:42 PM on November 11, 2010 [15 favorites]


I used to have faith in peer review, but then Jan Hendrik Schon happened. Now, I'm highly skeptical of both Science and Nature.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:15 PM on November 11, 2010


How come humanists never try to debunk Confucianism?
posted by Apocryphon at 8:44 PM on November 11, 2010


I used to have faith in peer review, but then Jan Hendrik Schon happened. Now, I'm highly skeptical of both Science and Nature.

Well, you do know about it, which says something about the scientific community, as well as the scientific method.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:40 PM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


> How come humanists never try to debunk Confucianism?

In the US, at least, Confucianists aren't trying to push their (whatever the Confucianist-equivalent of the word theocratic would be) agenda into law.

This ad campaign isn't telling people they can't be Christian or Muslim. It's saying that there are some vile things in the holy texts of those traditions. Nearly everybody picks and choose what to believe anyways. This campaign encouraging critical thinking about some of the tenets of faith that many religious people don't commonly think about, and then brands the contrasting, reasonable opinion as being in keeping with Secular Humanism (something not all of them have heard of--it's not decried from every pulpit).

I would've though the blue would've been able to parse the subtly there, but I'll just have to be disappointed, I guess.

Furthermore, the complaints of proselytizing, and how we should know better than to do it. Fuck it. We'll never convince everybody. And we'll never carve out a space for ourselves by being "polite" (pretending we don't exist, or worse, that we don't have the same rights to express our existential/philosophical views as everyone else.)

Finally, if someone really and truly believes the literal interpretation of any of these passages, I certainly hope they're offended by the billboard. They're mean-spirited, terrified people that deserve pity and compassion for believing in such a brutal mythology.
posted by wires at 10:35 PM on November 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Hanoixan: you are wrong. There is no faith involved in building one's science on science. Just because I havent galvanicized a frog's leg does not mean I base my electrical knowledge on faith. The facts don't change on a whim. They exist outside of faith: they are reality."

This sort of argument comes up a lot, and is one that I'd like to sort of get rid of on both sides.

Generally, apologists (and I use that term in the nice way) want to equate faith in reason and consistency and what we generally know of the physical laws with religious faith. This leads to people who are On The Side Of Science (which I also mean in a nice way) to say, paraphrased, that there's no faith in science, only fact!

To take the second claim first, there is faith in science. But it's a very different faith than faith in God. Faith in science is epistemological faith. It's a faith that says, given what we know, we believe this to be true. It is a positive belief, it does rely on unprovable assumptions, but (and this is pretty key), those assumptions are verified by observation all the time. We all assume that we really exist, that other people are real, that electrical fields will hold their coherence enough that I won't go plunging through my chair. Those are very mundane "faiths," from which larger "faiths" spring.

But the important thing to remember is that this faith in science isn't equivalent to religious or spiritual faith. It's more like having faith in someone to pay back a loan than it is in believing in something supernatural. I mean, think about it, if you say, "I'm a person of faith," you'd be annoyed if someone said, "Me too! I have faith that consequence always follows action!" Saying there's no faith in science isn't exactly right, but so rarely are the people arguing that there is faith in science because they want to have a serious discussion about Hume and whether actions necessitate consequence inherently.

Rather, they're generally trying to say, "Hey, we're the same! I also believe in an unverifiable set of assumptions that are just as good!" without being held to the same standards as science holds itself to. Even starting to compare science with faith from the position of the faithful subverts the nature of faith. It makes faith worse and also pisses off atheists, so it's pretty much a bad argument to make on every level.
posted by klangklangston at 11:39 PM on November 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


How come humanists never try to debunk Confucianism?

A noted humanist once wrote, "Live by the foma [harmless untruths] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy." Many humanists have no problem with others being religious as long as that religion is not used in a harmful or oppressive way. As wires notes, Confucianism generally isn't used as an excuse for oppression in the western world.

If you are happy believing in an afterlife, and would be miserable if you didn't believe in an afterlife, then I certainly won't try to talk you out of your belief as long as that belief doesn't harm anyone else.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:42 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


How come humanists never try to debunk Confucianism?

A claim that's trivially false looking at the history of Confucianism in Asia, where it receives considerable critical attention.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:38 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Have you ever met a scientist who has recreated every experiment that his or her research is based upon? There's faith there, and it's a fantastic shortcut when trying to get things done.

Boo. Hiss.

The point is a scientist could in fact recreate every experiment their research is based upon for themselves. They often do. Students in science do this as a learning exercise. Sometimes they even find out that the experiments were flawed or incomplete. In these cases, yay! more science.

Giving a library full of recorded knowledge the benefit of the doubt when trying to figure something out is not faith.

Operating under the assumption that people preceding you did an OK job and were reasonably correct is not faith.

This is a classic shell game, conflating casual definition of 'faith' - meaning confidence in or trust in something - with the religious version of faith. This is typically done to falsely equivocate between the two world views.

This is done by religious types to avoid culpability for unjustifiable beliefs, this is done by non religious types to feel superior to both.

It's either misinformed or dishonest.
posted by device55 at 7:50 AM on November 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


I know I already said it, but I'm already pretty tired of people linking to that xkcd comic. Is there any position on any topic that anyone can advance that cannot then be used as evidence that that someone merely wants to feel superior to everyone else in the conversation? Isn't linking to that comic just a way of expressing your superiority to the person with whom you disagree? Jesus Christ.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:03 AM on November 12, 2010


Isn't linking to that comic just a way of expressing your superiority to the person with whom you disagree?

No, it's sarcastically responding in kind. When one smugly equivocates between faith and reason with facile word games, the correct response is a smug dismissal of that position.
posted by device55 at 8:12 AM on November 12, 2010


shakespeherian: Is there any position on any topic that anyone can advance that cannot then be used as evidence that that someone merely wants to feel superior to everyone else in the conversation?

Yes, advance your own argument and reasons for it. Don't strawman other people in order to advance your claims. It's really quite simple.

Isn't linking to that comic just a way of expressing your superiority to the person with whom you disagree?

Addressed by the comic, which is a much gentler criticism than what I can provide of the bigotry of both religion and atheism expressed by game warden.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:46 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ultimately I find that most arguments along the lines of, "blargh is just like blurgh, and they're both wrong" do excessive violence to the principles behind both.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:14 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


It is a positive belief, it does rely on unprovable assumptions, but (and this is pretty key), those assumptions are verified by observation all the time.

Is the unprovable assumption you refer to that there is(are) no god(s)? It seems to me that you must assume there is no being that can arbitrarily bend the derived laws such that, suddenly and capriciously, they no longer hold; that any violation mandates a change in the law that accommodates this novel situation because the alternative explanation--that a magic being made the universe deviate from its apparent path--is not allowed.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:19 PM on November 12, 2010


I presume you wouldn't think it rude if, upon being asked, "What church to do you go to?" someone were to say, "I'm Jewish" instead of the coy, "I don't go to church," to be explained only after persistent questioning.

I don't think it's rude. I don't think it's rude to say "I'm an atheist," either. I just don't think it's the best response.

I certainly hope they're offended by the billboard. They're mean-spirited, terrified people that deserve pity and compassion

How does offending them provide them pity and compassion?
posted by mrgrimm at 1:27 PM on November 12, 2010


In the long run, I don't think it's necessarily compassionate to hide the fact that we disagree on points of theology and scripture. We can't be held responsible for the problem that mere disagreement causes offense.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:37 PM on November 12, 2010


MentalWimp, I read that as if the unproveable assumptions include things like "consequences follow actions", etc. because of the following "those assumptions are verified by observation all the time". Not so much addressing the existence or not of a deity. But I may have misinterpreted it.
posted by harriet vane at 9:04 PM on November 12, 2010


"Is the unprovable assumption you refer to that there is(are) no god(s)?"

No, it's that there's a consistent physical universe, basically. For a philosophical treatment of those assumptions, see problems like the arguments positing that we're brains in vats or Descartes' evil genius. And as I mentioned above, Hume's critique of inductive reasoning is a strong one, at least epistemologically, but kind of weak in the face of daily experience, i.e. I might not be able to prove that the sun will come up tomorrow, but it would be consistent with all previously observed data to predict that it will, and everyone, theist or atheist, feels no problem acting with the assumption that things will continue pretty much as they have prior. It's a limit of logic and rationality, but it's not a case for anything supernatural; it's a "faith" but a faith of an incredibly different kind from the belief in God, and it's a "faith" that we all share pretty implicitly. Science just codifies it and holds it to some amount of rigor.
posted by klangklangston at 10:14 AM on November 13, 2010


I do not understand why this is not the solution:

[RANT ON]

"God, it really bothers me that sixteen children a week kill themselves because they are gay and have not found You. I pray you change it.

I confess my sins.

I did not cast a vote in the gay marriage ballot. I don't know how to speak for you, because of that sixteen kids thing. Let your will be done.

I did vote for supporting the school district ballot for an optional religious studies class It's a foot in the door at the schools, at any rate! You should get at least half the class time, I'll see what I can do about that.

I must confess, I am a little confused about what should be Caesar's and what should be your's, but I'm trying. Gay kids killing themselves bothers me at least as much as their sex sins. It's not right. That can't be your will. I hope I did right using you in government. Your will be done.

I must confess, I ogled a sexy bum the other day, and it was not my wife's. I did not think long about it, and put it out of my head.

I must confess, I schtupped the secretary. Again. I am a weak man, God. I must try harder. Please forgive my sin, God. Your will be done.

I shall try to be nicer to people. Your will be done.

Etc. WTF use is prayer if you're not confessing and conversing with God? Isn't the whole point to look within, admit one's sins, pray for guidance, and seek forgiveness, so that His will can be done?

This isn't exactly rocket science, folks. It's the New Covenent, where Old Testament is re-examined and old social mores are challenged. Dude died to let you do that. It's been 2000 years! does he have to do it again, or is the testament old?

The old New Testament was created by committee. Convene a new committee and breathe some life into what has become a unchanging—and thus dead—testament into one that meets an exponentially more diverse society; just as they did in Christ's time of rapid human expansion.

[RANT OFF]

Mostly I can't understand how people can vote for harm. There are a bunch of radical social conservatives who are thwarting God's will. He promises to toss them in Hell, and they're aware of the risk. Is it really our role to make real life worse for them, too?!

Just doesn't seem to me to jibe with the messages in the red letters. I can't see Christ promoting gay suicides or voting against gay marriage in this modern diverse society. He accepted gentiles; we have to accept these gay people even if we don't like them, so that they may (a) find God and seek forgiveness and (b) kids stop killing themselves so much.

Not. Rocket. Science.

Whoops. I meant to do this:

[RANT OFF]
posted by five fresh fish at 12:36 PM on November 13, 2010


No, it's that there's a consistent physical universe, basically.

Perhaps it's my paucity of imagination, but all those elaborations you give seem to boil down to "There's no magical being out there who has the power to trick us through unobservable means that violate the laws of the observable universe as we've come to know them so far." Without this assumption, which encompasses all the elaborations as far as I can see, reality is capricious and its laws ultimately undiscoverable, because at any time this magic being or beings can fuck with us.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:51 PM on November 13, 2010


but it would be consistent with all previously observed data to predict that it will,

More to the point, it would be inconsistent with our derivations of natural law derived from previously observed data. Further, if it happened, we would need to find a modification of those laws to explain that occurrence. It seems to me that the faith required for this effort is that there is no being (or force or will or intelligence or power, whatever words you want to plug in here) outside of those physical laws that provide an unexcludable explanation.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:55 PM on November 13, 2010


"Perhaps it's my paucity of imagination, but all those elaborations you give seem to boil down to "There's no magical being out there who has the power to trick us through unobservable means that violate the laws of the observable universe as we've come to know them so far." Without this assumption, which encompasses all the elaborations as far as I can see, reality is capricious and its laws ultimately undiscoverable, because at any time this magic being or beings can fuck with us."

Yeah, I'm not sure whether I'm not explaining this clearly or whether you're looking for something that's not there in what I'm saying.

Whether or not there is a God is immaterial to the assumptions, i.e. there are entirely atheist arguments that deal with the same question of secular "faith." The question of magical beings fucking with us is orthogonal.

Instead, the "faith" is on the basic level of things that cannot be proved with reason, in that there is no inherent reason why they follow. Again, Hume is a good place to look for this in atheistic terms — Hume's arguments might be termed extreme skepticism. There doesn't need to be an external "God" to make it so that effect doesn't follow cause; his extreme skepticism points out that there is nothing inherent in effects that makes them follow from causes. But we all have "faith" that when we drop a ball, it will fall to the earth instead of hovering. We generalize from past experience into future effect. That's one of the two big "faiths" of science.

The other big "faith" of science is that we can legitimately trust our senses (broadly writ). It's trivial to give an atheistic version of an attack on this faith too: we simply cannot ever prove that we, as individuals, are not hallucinating every single sensory input. Descartes' evil genius (or demon) doesn't have to be supernatural, and regarding it that way mistakes the very simple claim that he's making. So the second faith is that there is a real, durable and consistent external world.

"It seems to me that the faith required for this effort is that there is no being (or force or will or intelligence or power, whatever words you want to plug in here) outside of those physical laws that provide an unexcludable explanation."

Except that's not really a faith and it's not really a positive claim. Again, I'm not sure if I'm not being clear on this, but the "faiths" that people talk about when they say something like that scientists don't bother to recreate every experiment they rely upon is a subset of broader epistemological "faiths" that fundamentally cannot be proved by reason, but that we all operate under all the time. The point I was trying to make is that comparing the faiths is (perhaps unintentionally) dishonest, as they're fundamentally different in a really important way, and that by equating the epistemological faiths with spiritual faiths they debase spiritual faith while misunderstanding epistemological faith.
posted by klangklangston at 2:12 PM on November 13, 2010


Whether or not there is a God

You see, you keep saying this, *G*od, and that's not what I'm saying at all. I'm drawing an equivalency between your alluded-to assumption and a broader concept than *G*od, by which I assume you mean some variant of the Judeo-Christian deity that most commonly gets assigned the name *G*od. (Otherwise, I don't know why you're using that term.) I'm trying not to be that specific, but rather referring to any "magical" being, i.e., any entity that can violate the expected trajectory of reality at will. For example, one capable of fooling our brains that are actually in vats into thinking there's a world that looks like what we experience. Or creating our reality out of dreams. These beings would be referred to as "gods" or "deities" were we to run across them, because they would exist outside the rules of reality. To be a scientist, one has to have faith that nothing like this is going on, which means we have to assume there is no being with powers to do these things, or at least, that refrains from using such powers. But a being that has powers it currently doesn't use might at some point use them, so the assumption remains that such a being doesn't exist.

So I'm saying that the faith that a scientist has is that the only explanation for observable events are observable phenomena and to not assume that is to allow some entity to capriciously violate the laws derived from relating observable phenomena to other observable phenomena. What I'm looking for from you is either some form of agreement with that observation or some rebuttal of it such that the rejection of this scientific assumption doesn't admit of "magic" entities, that is, an entity that resides outside these derived rules.
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:03 PM on November 13, 2010


Sorry: "...between your alluded-to assumption and rejection of a broader concept..."
posted by Mental Wimp at 5:05 PM on November 13, 2010


"So I'm saying that the faith that a scientist has is that the only explanation for observable events are observable phenomena and to not assume that is to allow some entity to capriciously violate the laws derived from relating observable phenomena to other observable phenomena. What I'm looking for from you is either some form of agreement with that observation or some rebuttal of it such that the rejection of this scientific assumption doesn't admit of "magic" entities, that is, an entity that resides outside these derived rules."

Yeah, so you're not getting what I'm saying.

The "faith" that a scientist has is the same "faith" that all of us have, epistemological faith. Entities, beings, whatever, that's all irrelevant.

And to sidetrack a little bit, the claim that there isn't a God or being or whatever supernatural entity thingamajigger, that's a different type of claim. That's a negative claim, rather than a positive one, in that it's saying that something does NOT exist rather than saying that something DOES exist. That's not really faith, as faith needs a positive claim.

You seem to keep wanting to have me say that scientists can't believe in God (a term that's perfectly serviceable), when that's not true, and isn't really related to the argument I was making upthread.

Instead of getting hung up on the causes, which I feel like you're doing, think about it in a much more mundane way — you have "faith" that when you toss a ball up in the air, it will come back down. You can't prove that will happen, not really. But science is based on that sort of "faith," the faith of inductive reasoning along with the faith in an objective universe. If you want to argue that means that there's also a "faith" that the Flying Spaghetti Monster won't snake his holy tendrils into the path of the ball, that's fine, but it's unnecessary to the argument.

A similar way of thinking about that would be the deist conception of God — where the universe moves in exactly the same way that it would if it were purely material, but there's still a God. That God is wholly unnecessary. You can say that God moved the ball up, then brought it back down, but because we can already describe the path of the ball without God, there's no real reason to bring God in when you're talking about the ball.

But the point that I was making upthread is that it's very different to have an objective faith (epistemological) than a subjective (spiritual) one, to the extent that it's not very helpful at all to describe objective faiths as faiths. Which is why I kept using the scare quotes.
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 AM on November 14, 2010


So I'm saying that the faith that a scientist has is that the only explanation for observable events are observable phenomena and to not assume that is to allow some entity to capriciously violate the laws derived from relating observable phenomena to other observable phenomena.

Oh, humans. They think they're looking out a window when they're looking in a mirror.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:19 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


To be a scientist, one has to have faith that nothing like this is going on, which means we have to assume there is no being with powers to do these things, or at least, that refrains from using such powers. But a being that has powers it currently doesn't use might at some point use them, so the assumption remains that such a being doesn't exist.

Utter nonsense. All but the most radical arguments that science is incompatible with religion treats this assumption as methodological materialism. Materialism is assumed as long as materialistic explanations are sufficient for understanding phenomena. "God works in mysterious ways" is an untestable hypothesis and thus, outside of the domain of what science can address.

So I'm saying that the faith that a scientist has is that the only explanation for observable events are observable phenomena and to not assume that is to allow some entity to capriciously violate the laws derived from relating observable phenomena to other observable phenomena.

This is trivially false because modern cosmology and physics is quite comfortable with the fact that certain phenomena are likely not even remotely observable. There is, in fact, a strong argument made that we're living in a privileged position in cosmic history where the Big Bang theory is testable with multiple lines of evidence that will be unavailable in the distant future due to the expansion of the universe.

Science can't and doesn't say that such an entity doesn't exist, or can't exist, only that materialistic explanations appear to be robust and sufficient in looking at a wide range of phenomena.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:17 AM on November 15, 2010


Utter nonsense.

and

This is trivially false because modern cosmology and physics is quite comfortable with the fact that certain phenomena are likely not even remotely observable.

I'd say the same about your discursion, but that wouldn't get us anywhere, would it? Perhaps this is one of the most radical arguments, according to your characterization, but calling it nonsense or radical is not a disputation, IMO.

KJS, I'm not saying that scientists can produce data to prove or not prove that a magic being exists, rather that the value of scientific enterprise depends strongly on the assumption that what we observe can be explained by the other things we observe, even those cosmological models you vaguely refer to that depend upon phenomena that are not "even remotely observable" depend upon them having predictable effects that are observable. Otherwise, they are not science, they are preparatory throat-clearing. Speculating on potentially useful models is part of science, but without the bit I referred to, the relating observations to other observations, it's just mental masturbation. Which can be fun, no doubt, but it ain't science by any definition I would use willingly.

If one doesn't lean heavily on the idea that a magic being does not exist who can capriciously bend whatever rules exist out there to be discovered, then why bother? Everything is just a big shadow show run by the magic ones and we are left to dangle. All our "knowledge" is just constructed appearances for the amusement of those magical entities. What's the point? And those rules? Assuming they exist is the same as assuming there is no magic being. That's the core of my argument. Whether it's right or wrong is another issue, but I'm not sure calling it nonsense or trivially false is advancing in either direction.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:33 PM on November 15, 2010


A similar way of thinking about that would be the deist conception of God — where the universe moves in exactly the same way that it would if it were purely material, but there's still a God. That God is wholly unnecessary.

And this God, you cite, what makes it a god? It seems to be pretty much useless.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:35 PM on November 15, 2010


Mental Wimp: I'd say the same about your discursion, but that wouldn't get us anywhere, would it? Perhaps this is one of the most radical arguments, according to your characterization, but calling it nonsense or radical is not a disputation, IMO.

Yes, and I've explained why which is:
1) Your claim that science is ontologically materialist is a strawman not characteristic of most discussions of the epistemology of science.
2) Your claim that science requires that there must be an observable material cause is also a strawman that's trivially alien to the epistemology of science, which admits up front that we can't observe everything.

Until you can come up with an argument that's not centered on two trivially-dismissed strawmen, your argument is nonsense.

So to start with the observation strawman I'll quote again the problematic passage:

So I'm saying that the faith that a scientist has is that the only explanation for observable events are observable phenomena and to not assume that is to allow some entity to capriciously violate the laws derived from relating observable phenomena to other observable phenomena.

As you note, there are a number of cases in which we infer the explanation absent any observation of it. You won't find a meteor at Meteor Crater, AZ. We can't go back in time and observe the impact. We can, however, infer that it's an impact site by using multiple lines of evidence to show it's the case. We can't observe a common ancestor for Pan and Homo. We can infer a common ancestor using multiple lines of anatomical and genetic evidence. We can't observe electrons in a water atom. We can infer properties about them by measuring various properties of water. We can't observe the proto-planet Tethys. We can infer it's probable historic existence by looking at peculiar qualities of the Earth and Moon.

Now onto the ontology strawman:

If one doesn't lean heavily on the idea that a magic being does not exist who can capriciously bend whatever rules exist out there to be discovered, then why bother?

Because science via methodological materialism produces theories that appear to be sufficient for explaining a wide variety of phenomena. Note that this isn't exclusive of a God that rarely performs miracles or Deism.

All our "knowledge" is just constructed appearances for the amusement of those magical entities. What's the point?

Well, an advocate of the TAG or scientific panentheism would say that's exactly the point. Science is about understanding the mind of God, and the fact that the universe is astoundingly orderly and consistent says something about God.

Granted I'm not an advocate of TAG or scientific panentheism. But an important thing to note is that the scientific method does not favor or exclude either of these possibilities.

And those rules? Assuming they exist is the same as assuming there is no magic being.

No, for the same reason that my ability to construct a proof of the pythagorean theorem doesn't say anything about God.

Two problems here, the first is that science is methodologically materialist and therefore theories must be consistent with empirical observation. If it's not empirically testable, it's not relevant to science. The question of whether the scientist is testing real phenomena or is a brain in a jar at the whim of a higher power is beyond the scope of what science can address.

The second problem is that claims in science are tentative and statistically inferential. If you don't put a P-value on it, you're not really doing science. As a result, science cannot fully exclude a God of the gaps, only argue that one is extremely unlikely WRT specific phenomena. It's an essential limitation of the epistemology.

And this God, you cite, what makes it a god? It seems to be pretty much useless.

I agree. But it's an aesthetic argument for me to make. Not one that can be supported within the limitations of the scientific method.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:33 PM on November 15, 2010


KJS: Don't have time to respond to everything, so I will cherrypick what I consider the most relevant comments. Apologize in advance if I shortchange you.

As you note, there are a number of cases in which we infer the explanation absent any observation of it. You won't find a meteor at Meteor Crater, AZ. We can't go back in time and observe the impact. We can, however, infer that it's an impact site by using multiple lines of evidence to show it's the case.

You seem to be drawing a distinction between "observations" and "other lines of evidence" here that most scientists would not. It puzzles me. All that stuff you're referring to? It's all observation, all the way down. It, of course, relies on previously validated models. This is the core of my argument. We depend upon those observations not being the result of a mischievous deity or demon.

Because science via methodological materialism produces theories that appear to be sufficient for explaining a wide variety of phenomena. Note that this isn't exclusive of a God that rarely performs miracles or Deism.

You seem to think science is a static thing, producing a theory, but it isn't. It's a process that is ongoing and never ending. I'm not done when I build an accelerator and find a new particle. That's just the beginning. A "God" that even rarely performs miracles makes no sense. What's it doing the rest of the time, watching TV. And even if it only "rarely" intervenes (whatever that means in the context of eternity), it still renders futile the development of scientific models, because they are then doomed to failure.

my ability to construct a proof of the pythagorean theorem doesn't say anything about God.

There's a reason we say "science and mathematics." The first is a different thing than the second. And yes. Yes it does. Without this assumption of the non-capriciousness of the universe, there is no such thing as a proof. It's just that magic dude fooling you into thinking you're proving something. At least you can't prove that it isn't. So you haven't proven anything. Sorry about that.

the universe is astoundingly orderly and consistent

I guess we live in different universes, then. Chaos is everywhere and the power of science is that it can quantify it in some cases, and, perhaps eventually, in all cases.

I agree. But it's an aesthetic argument for me to make. Not one that can be supported within the limitations of the scientific method.

You used the term "nonsense" referring to my rather lucid argument. How do you feel about applying it to this collection of words? Seems like a pure dodge of the argument. Neat trick, but hardly an argument.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:59 PM on November 15, 2010


"And this God, you cite, what makes it a god? It seems to be pretty much useless."

Spiritual faith. And the utility of God is irrelevant to the ontology of God.
posted by klangklangston at 5:15 PM on November 15, 2010


Mental Wimp: As a hint, saying that nonsense is lucid on the third time around doesn't make it lucid, you first have to actually provide a decent argument.

Problem 1: the only explanation for observable events are observable phenomena

This is falsified by high school Chemistry. Observable events (covalent bonds) are explained by an inherently unobservable and theoretical construct (electron clouds.) In fact, if you treat electrons as directly observable, you break the bond. This is a key distinction because our understanding of electrons isn't the same as it was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, or even last week.

Microbiologists as another example are tasked with constructing theories about the evolutionary history of things that leave nondescript and ambiguous fossils. The observable event (apparently related "species" of bacteria) is explained by theoretical and unobservable constructs (mathematically derived common ancestors.)

Problem 2: That's just the beginning. A "God" that even rarely performs miracles makes no sense. What's it doing the rest of the time, watching TV.

Until you can provide empirical evidence to evaluate between these two hypotheses (TV-watching gods/no gods) your argument here is merely that such a God violates your aesthetics about God.

Lemaitre would probably say that the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Passion of Christ have no implications on the relationship between General Relativity and the red shift of galaxies. His theological views on the Big Bang theory are irrelevant to his theoretical invention of the theory.

Problem 3: And yes. Yes it does. Without this assumption of the non-capriciousness of the universe, there is no such thing as a proof. It's just that magic dude fooling you into thinking you're proving something. At least you can't prove that it isn't. So you haven't proven anything. Sorry about that.

Well, welcome to the previous century. The fact that we can't prove anything without some key assumptions is something that most of us cried, yelled about, and got over decades ago. It's an old problem, and if you're not willing to deal with the sausage-making of knowledge, you have no business making stupid claims about the epistemology of science.

But here's your big problem. You want to elevate methodological uniformitarianism to ontological uniformitarianism. Science assumes the former but can't address the latter for two big reasons:

A) You can't actually use science to show the assumptions of the scientific method are valid.
B) You can't use science to make claims that are not tentative, derivative from available observation, and statistically probabilistic.

Here, I'll point you to Russell's teapot. Science absolutely cannot say that in the vast universe, there are no teapots in space. That would require the entire universe as a sample. It can say that a teapot is extremely, enormously, and absurdly improbable. It also cannot say at what probability we reject a hypothesis, that's a value judgement.

Likewise, without a sample the size of the universe, you cannot say that all laws are uniform across all spacetime. (In fact, there's a couple of conditions where we're pretty certain the laws break in ways we might never be able to understand.) If you want to argue for ontological uniformitarianism, go for it. Don't pretend that it's something that's essential to the epistemology of science though.

And of course, many flavors of theism are practically uniformitarian.

Problem 4: And this God, you cite, what makes it a god? It seems to be pretty much useless.

I thought that the fact you were making an aesthetic judgement here was blatantly obvious. How do you empirically test the utility of statements about god? What is your evidence? There's nothing wrong with this statement, but until you can operationalize it as an empirical question, it's not science.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:33 PM on November 15, 2010


And the reason why I object strongly here is because it's obvious to me that failing to respect the laws and limits of science as a methodology usually ends up producing garbage science.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:45 PM on November 15, 2010


KJS: I get it now. All the misdirection about the quality of observations and such that miss the point of science aside, you think I'm trying to prove the non-existence of any god-like beings. Can't be done, primarily because of the poor definitions used. No, I'm saying that to be a scientist one has to assume their non-existence. I am perfectly aware of all the problems with proving/not proving the existence of fairies. That ain't my issue. It's that the assumption of their existence makes the scientific enterprise useless, as it can't then be counted on to produce results you can use to predict with quantifiable certainty. You know, black swans and all.

Rest assured, I wouldn't undertake such a noble task. I'm just saying that to undertake science seriously, not as an aesthetic pursuit, but purposefully, as a way to understand what is happening around you, one needs to assume no one is messing with rules arbitrarily. I.e., no gods.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:46 AM on November 16, 2010


By the way: Well, welcome to the previous century. Is an example of ad hominem cleverly disguised as a history lesson. And You want to elevate methodological uniformitarianism to ontological uniformitarianism. Is a retreat into jargon to mask the fact that you didn't understand what I was arguing for, much less my argument for it.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:51 AM on November 16, 2010


Mental Wimp: Well, first of all you don't get to make a profoundly nonsensical statement that science demands observable explanations for observable phenomena and then complain about misdirection when I point out that you've rendered Chemistry a pseudoscience.

So on one level, your claims are nonsense because they're horribly ignorant about the nature of science. It's gone beyond just misunderstanding to arguing the wrong things for the wrong reasons because you won't admit that you're wrong, only whine about misdirection, history, and jargon.

But beyond that you're putting yourself into a hypocritical position of admitting that there are problems supporting ontological materialism while claiming ontological materialism as essential for science.

If you admit that there are problems proving the non-existence of gods, then you must abandon ontological materialism (there are no non-material entities) for the lesser claim of methodological materialism (non-material entities don't falsify scientific hypothesis). Which, as you're probably well aware, is what mainstream thinkers about science from Russell to Dawkins have done.

If you want to say that ontological materialism is essential to science, you shoulder the burden of proof to show that ontological materialism is a reasonable position beyond a mere sketchy assumption. And no, arguing a strawman of religious thinking WRT the nature of the universe doesn't do that.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:26 AM on November 16, 2010


I am impressed with the patience and thoroughness you've all shown us. I personally side with the XCKD approach, but I'm glad you haven't!
posted by five fresh fish at 2:02 PM on November 16, 2010


a profoundly nonsensical statement that science demands observable explanations for observable phenomena

I made no such claim. I said that scientific theories demand that observations can be explained by other observations. I'm not even sure what an "observable explanation" would be. I'm pretty sure you made that phrase up. A scientific theory is something that ties observable phenomena together. The theory part isn't "observable", it's the part that ties observations together in a precise way. And it stands or falls on its ability to do that reliably. When it fails, then it is modified to accommodate the new observation and the testing on yet even newer observations begins. Some of those observations are, in fact, experiments to test whether the theory works outside of the accidental operations of the universe.

I think it good to stay away from words like "non-material entities", because they are unclear. Is an idea a non-material entity? Then it would be at the core of science, innit? The whole concept of "ontological materialism" has got itself so wrapped around the philosophical axle as to be worthless. No, I'm merely asserting and believe I have demonstrated that to take science seriously as a pursuit that allows us to understand how reality works and how to manipulate it, one must assume that there are no tricksters out there who can evade the scope of science. Otherwise, it is a futile pursuit.

So, to put it in your language, I am not making the assertion that ontological materialism is true, whatever that would mean. I am not even asserting that it is a "reasonable position", whatever that means. I am not asserting the truth of the conditional, I am asserting the truth of the implication of the conditional. If, then. I am asserting that in order to pursue science for its stated goals, one must assume that in this world, what you observe can be explained by other things you observe given the correct conceptual framework. There are no magic fairies or other such entities. There very well may be, but if there are then science is an exercise in futility and I and other scientists who spend their days in pursuit of scientific knowledge are pretty much wasting our time, since the magic beings might change their minds at any time for their own, unknowable reasons and sweep away our carefully constructed house of cards. Science is an untrustworthy mechanism for anticipating what will happen next.

I can tell that this topic is vitally important to you, because I don't think you usually use such harsh language to discuss an intellectual point. "Profoundly nonsensical", "horribly ignorant", "hypocritical position", etc. I have to say, I don't feel the same about your argumentation. I think you've thought about this a lot. I hope your harshness doesn't reflect your true estimation of my intellectual strivings. I've been thinking hard about this ever since I began thinking about science and during the time I studied philosophy (with many modern forms of which I've grown quite impatient) and earned my degrees. I'll give it a rest now, because I think we might be going in circles. I think you're arguing something you may not be and I'm pretty sure you think I'm arguing something I'm not and not arguing what I am.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:06 PM on November 16, 2010


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