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polymorphic
03-07-2007, 06:49 AM
Anyone read Dawkin's book (The God Delusion) and/or the McGrath response (The Dawkins Delusion) ?

I enjoyed The God Delusion immensely whilst being subconsciously aware that I'd always kinda wanted to have my own thoughts confirmed by some academic smarter than thou !

I'd always been curious that these arguments hadn't been addressed before (of course they had but I had never bothered to read up on them, perhaps not by such an populist esteemed writer anyhow).

Seems to be a popular theme to bash religion at the mo - the Hitchen's book being released around the same period. Guess it's a sign of the times..

swears
03-07-2007, 09:36 AM
Dawkins' response to McGrath in a letter to The Times:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/debate/letters/article1368831.ece

Edward
03-07-2007, 10:28 AM
The McGrath book is a very poor thing full of "strawman" type arguments - criticising Dawkins for things he doesn't actually say.

Probably comforting for slightly thick religious people but anyone thinking as they read will find themselves seeing lots of holes very quickly.

swears
03-07-2007, 10:36 AM
A lot of people are agnostic now, or say things like "I believe in God, but I'm not religious." Most don't seem willing to actually come to terms with being an atheist, it's not something they want to think about.

DannyL
03-07-2007, 10:37 AM
I personally cannot stand Dawkins on religion - he certainly is one of those people who polarises opinion - though I like what I have read of his scientific work.

I think his focus on religion as cause of the world's ills is a little dangerous, I think, because it serves to occlude the real and complex roots of conflict situations. There's more to the world's conflicts than religion - there's questions of resources, geopolitics, ethncity, history, economics. His Roots of Evil - quick whistlestop tour through the world's hotspots and pointing the camera at some of the most fanatical people he could find - was a good example of this.

Having said that, I think there are reasons behind his his extreme and uncompromising stance - I suspect this comes from his professional work - evolutionary biology, which brings him directly into contact with creationist fundamentalists.

jonny mugwump
03-07-2007, 01:44 PM
Dawkins is a complete fool who manages to blame every ill on the world on everything other than the possibilty that human beings might in themselves be 'the problem' and that 'problem' shouldn't be perceived as something that can be overturned so that we can reach a norm together and hence arrive at some utopian ideal. 'humans' clash, its 'the way of things' (sorry, couldn't come up with anything better- some asshole has been poisining me with kaiser chiefs and my brain melts to guacamole) and if it wasn't religion it would be something else. As for the selfish gene, has he no comprehension, as i've said before, that we are ourselves might be the contagion.

i'm not interested in reading the dawkins delusion but am still lauging hysterically at the quote "Dawkins makes me embarrased to be an atheist". I don't want ot read it cos i'm sure it can't deliver on that wonderful byline.

swears
03-07-2007, 01:59 PM
I think people attribute a lot of opinions to Dawkins that he never had in the first place.
"Science should replace god and is the absolute key to all truth..." etc.

Also accusing him of being a racist bigot because he attacks Islam, when in fact he has probably directed more energy overall into attacking American Christian fundamentalists/creationists.

Gavin
03-07-2007, 06:05 PM
I find Terry Eagleton's review (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html) excellent, though I haven't read the book (nor do I intend to).

Guybrush
03-07-2007, 08:07 PM
Dawkins is a complete fool who manages to blame every ill on the world on everything other than the possibilty that human beings might in themselves be 'the problem' and that 'problem' shouldn't be perceived as something that can be overturned so that we can reach a norm together and hence arrive at some utopian ideal. 'humans' clash, its 'the way of things' (sorry, couldn't come up with anything better- some asshole has been poisining me with kaiser chiefs and my brain melts to guacamole) and if it wasn't religion it would be something else.

OTM.

rhi
03-07-2007, 08:15 PM
In mute support, The Dawkins book is really rather good and along with a number of the other pro-a texts makes a strong case against fundamentalism and the horrors of social-political thought founded on religious and theological thought. They tend to focus on the mono-theistic traditions but the logic works just as well on the equally horrible polythesisms as well.

The failing of these works is that they don't sufficiently address areas of theology such as process-theology and the idealisms of people such as T.J.Sprigge. (Whose book the god of metaphysics is worth checking out if you want to have a defensible faith...)

As for the thread title 'dawkins delusion' ... humm well I can read and will now dissappear into the great silence.... thinking of the idiocy of the bishop of carlisle....

swears
03-07-2007, 08:17 PM
Dawkins is a complete fool who manages to blame every ill on the world on everything other than the possibilty that human beings might in themselves be 'the problem' and that 'problem' shouldn't be perceived as something that can be overturned so that we can reach a norm together and hence arrive at some utopian ideal. 'humans' clash, its 'the way of things'

Is that what he's really getting at, though? I want quotes!

I have only read The Selfish Gene and a couple of essays, so if you are going to critisize him, please provide quotes spoken by himself in context.
I can't help but feel that liberal westerners are squeamish about bashing religion, as if doing that is calling millions of people idiots.

Guybrush
03-07-2007, 08:29 PM
I can't help but feel that liberal westerners are squeamish about bashing religion, as if doing that is calling millions of people idiots.

A good example of how the religion-bashers overestimate the role that religion plays in conflicts is a comment that I heard Hitchens make regarding the conflict in Palestine. He basically said that agreeing on a settlement would be child’s play were it not for religion. I think he’s wrong.

swears
03-07-2007, 08:38 PM
Israel wouldn't exist if it were not for religion!

zhao
03-07-2007, 08:46 PM
this guy may be educated about a lot of things but sounds like an ignorant fucking TWAT when he talks about religion.

as my friend put it very accurately - he's a materialist fundamentalist. but an absolute fundamentalist just the same.

this current trend of religion bashing is just completely fucking retarded.

Gavin
03-07-2007, 10:01 PM
Israel wouldn't exist if it were not for religion!

It wouldn't exist but for many things -- ethnic nationalism for one.

Edward
03-07-2007, 11:00 PM
I think Dawkins is clearly a hugely important scientific theorist, he updated Darwin to create the theory of evolution most universally accepted among today's scientists. Calling him a complete fool is unfair to say the least.

But I think in one respect he is foolish - it's a terrible shame that he's been sidelined into writing all this anti-religious stuff when he could be using his mind to come up with more first-class scientific work.

I can understand how he is goaded into it and I share his conviction that there is no god but I am amazed that he hasn't worked out that it's a waste of time trying to convince people that he is right on this one, because they don't want to be convinced. With issues such as religion that go so deep into peoples' personalities, they will ignore the evidence and go with believing that which allows them to function and accept their place in the universe.

Truly being an atheist is obviously very hard to come to terms with because of the extreme nihilism it can tend to lead to and the absence of the hope given to billions by their religions.

And also he is SO uncharismatic, almost makes you wanna sign up for some religion because when you see him on TV, you really don't want to agree with him.

I think he is right about religion in some ways, specifically in that it is a delusion.
But it's obviously not the root of all evil and the world's problems would not go away if we were all atheists. I think it is perhaps this mistaken belief that drives him to denounce religion so vociferously - that religion is causing all the suffering and it must be stopped.
His intentions are good but the premise is wrong and he's wasting his talents.

zhao
04-07-2007, 02:26 AM
what i actually said is that he is an ignorant twat WHEN he talks about religion.

i'm not discounting his other work at all.

DRMHCP
04-07-2007, 08:44 AM
Isn't it accepted even by most evolutionary biologists that Dawkins is a complete charlatan...Stephen Jay Gould for instance making it obvious what he thought of him for instance

And regarding his materialist fundamentalism isn't it very likely if he'd been born in the middle ages there's a good chance he would have been one of the most intransigent religious fundamentalists causing all the kind of problems he himself blames on religion.

Ironic that these two books are coming out now when at the cutting edge of certain scientific disciplines (quantum physics etc) there's more consideration for some kind of non-materialst explanation for certain phenomena than possibly at any any time since the early 19th century....

swears
04-07-2007, 09:11 AM
Isn't it accepted even by most evolutionary biologists that Dawkins is a complete charlatan...Stephen Jay Gould for instance making it obvious what he thought of him for instance



In what sense a charlatan?


And regarding his materialist fundamentalism isn't it very likely if he'd been born in the middle ages there's a good chance he would have been one of the most intransigent religious fundamentalists causing all the kind of problems he himself blames on religion.


I don't think so, he's not that much of a conformist. The mainstream now is more of a wishy washy agnosticism in the UK and Christianity in the states. Also, he has never advocated any form of violence towards believers. (Unlike religious fundamentalists.)


Ironic that these two books are coming out now when at the cutting edge of certain scientific disciplines (quantum physics etc) there's more consideration for some kind of non-materialst explanation for certain phenomena than possibly at any any time since the early 19th century....

So what? I'm sure he's well aware of these developments, they still have nothing to do with any supernatural idea of a supreme being.

Woebot
04-07-2007, 09:38 AM
I find Terry Eagleton's review (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html) excellent, though I haven't read the book (nor do I intend to).

thanks for that link.

jonny mugwump
04-07-2007, 10:07 AM
yeah for sure, the eagleton link is brilliant.

IdleRich
04-07-2007, 10:27 AM
"I find Terry Eagleton's review excellent, though I haven't read the book (nor do I intend to)."
So do you agree with what Eagleton says about criticising something you haven't read in depth?

Edward
04-07-2007, 10:35 AM
Don't worry Zhao, it wasn't you I was disagreeing with, it was exoticpylon who said "dawkins is a complete fool" with no qualification.

-=-=-==-=-=-=-=-


Isn't it accepted even by most evolutionary biologists that Dawkins is a complete charlatan...Stephen Jay Gould for instance making it obvious what he thought of him for instance

not at all. there is a lot more contention around what gould had to say.


And regarding his materialist fundamentalism isn't it very likely if he'd been born in the middle ages there's a good chance he would have been one of the most intransigent religious fundamentalists causing all the kind of problems he himself blames on religion.

who knows? and what is the point of such counterfactual speculation?
it's just character assassination with no basis in fact. I agree that he's not likeable but the above quote is just fantasy.



Ironic that these two books are coming out now when at the cutting edge of certain scientific disciplines (quantum physics etc) there's more consideration for some kind of non-materialst explanation for certain phenomena than possibly at any any time since the early 19th century....

I think it's ironic that Dawkins is spending his time disputing with creationists when he has the talent to do something worthwhile. I suspect he feels sufficiently worried about the rise of fundamentalist religion that he thinks it IS worthwhile. I think he misunderstands human nature in a big way or else he wouldn't bother.

hamarplazt
04-07-2007, 10:39 AM
Isn't it accepted even by most evolutionary biologists that Dawkins is a complete charlatan...Stephen Jay Gould for instance making it obvious what he thought of him for instance
Well, haven't Dawkins made it clear that he thought more or less the same about Gould?

dHarry
04-07-2007, 10:48 AM
Eagleton's piece starts well, but soon lapses into the wooly thinking that Dawkins is surely critiquing in the first place. Here he criticises Dawkins' naivety in imagining God as a "chap" with or without a white beard, having taken Dawkins to task for not appreciating the subtlety of theology, but then continues to call God a "him" who "sustains all things in being by his love" and "might well have come to regret his handiwork some aeons ago" with no theological or any other justification for these bold claims or unexplained anthropomorphism.


[Dawkins] seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.

This, not some super-manufacturing, is what is traditionally meant by the claim that God is Creator. He is what sustains all things in being by his love; and this would still be the case even if the universe had no beginning. To say that he brought it into being ex nihilo is not a measure of how very clever he is, but to suggest that he did it out of love rather than need. The world was not the consequence of an inexorable chain of cause and effect. Like a Modernist work of art, there is no necessity about it at all, and God might well have come to regret his handiwork some aeons ago. The Creation is the original acte gratuit. God is an artist who did it for the sheer love or hell of it, not a scientist at work on a magnificently rational design that will impress his research grant body no end.


Why is God some kind of person/entity full of love and even regret? Why is "he" an artist rather than a scientist? Why does creation ex nihilo imply love rather than need?
This to me is all-too-human fantasy, projecting our ability to think, love and imagine out beyond even the infinity of the universe and endowing some imagined super-being with the "best" of these qualities.

If the concept of God has any meaning for me (and having been brought up a Catholic, I have to say it doesn't generally), it must be more like Spinoza's (seen through Deleuze's idiosyncratic lens), where God is simply a concept for All That Is, essentially synonomous with or immanent to nature and material reality, and not some figure/being/person with pesudo-human qualities. And it is for philosophy, not the old either/or of science versus theology, to tease out and argue over the mysteries of that reality, "why there is something rather than nothing" etc.

And I don't consider this an impoverishment of imagination or a bleak materialist unspiritual way of looking at the world - there are still plenty of mysteries to go around for science, art and philosophy to ponder and investigate. I love Nietzche's caustic line on the emergence of the single God of monotheism, something like: "If the old pagan gods have vanished, they must have died laughing at the vanity of God proclaiming himself the only one".

dHarry
04-07-2007, 10:50 AM
Anyone have any links on the Dawkins Vs Gould debate?

swears
04-07-2007, 11:05 AM
Eagleton: "...one can be reasonably certain that he would not be Europe’s greatest enthusiast for Foucault, psychoanalysis, agitprop, Dadaism, anarchism or separatist feminism. All of these phenomena, one imagines, would be as distasteful to his brisk, bloodless rationality as the virgin birth. Yet one can of course be an atheist and a fervent fan of them all."

I can't imagine the sort of believer that would be a "fervent fan" of these "phenomena". All of them have their roots in atheism one way or another.

borderpolice
04-07-2007, 01:13 PM
If the concept of God has any meaning for me (and having been brought up a Catholic, I have to say it doesn't generally), it must be more like Spinoza's (seen through Deleuze's idiosyncratic lens), where God is simply a concept for All That Is, essentially synonomous with or immanent to nature and material reality

I hear this a lot. but exactly why does one need a new word for nature? and such a loaded one at that? What intellectual benefit does one derive from saying god or vishnu or zeus when meaning nature? I'm baffled.

Dusty
04-07-2007, 01:22 PM
I would just like to point out that from my remembered reading of the book, Dawkins does not blame religion for all the world's evils, and I seem to recall he is happy to accept the fact that humans could and would have found / would find other outlets for evil and violence, regardless of belief.

This is yet another method of A: misquoting him for the purposes of knocking him down and B: avoiding the main crux of the issue which is societies 'blind spot' when it comes to questioning the evidence behind belief systems with the same scientific rigour we question everything else.


this current trend of religion bashing is just completely fucking retarded.

Sorry to sound like a 4 year old, but why?

dHarry
04-07-2007, 01:39 PM
I hear this a lot. but exactly why does one need a new word for nature? and such a loaded one at that? What intellectual benefit does one derive from saying god or vishnu or zeus when meaning nature? I'm baffled.
I guess in 17th C Europe it wasn't so easy to write or even think that God simply didn't exist - Spinoza didn't go this far but still was excommunicated from Judaism. It wasn't using a new word for nature, so much as dragging God-as-concept back into the real world (even if this ultimately makes it redundant).

Maybe it's also a way of preserving a space for imagination and philosophy in accounts of material reality, and not claiming that it is self-evidently understandable or completely accounted for by science.

borderpolice
04-07-2007, 01:59 PM
I guess in 17th C Europe it wasn't so easy to write or even think that God simply didn't exist - Spinoza didn't go this far but still was excommunicated from Judaism. It wasn't using a new word for nature, so much as dragging God-as-concept back into the real world (even if this ultimately makes it redundant).

Sure, I understand that S. and others where trying to synthesize religious tradition with modern science. In the same way that political writers at the time tried to fuse monarchy and democracy. but this option is pretty threadbare these days.


Maybe it's also a way of preserving a space for imagination and philosophy in accounts of material reality, and not claiming that it is self-evidently understandable or completely accounted for by science.

It's not really clear to me why the pantheistic option does that in a constructive way: what do i learn about imagination if somebody says: Thor is just an alternative term for Everything.

Moreover, the phenomena you refer to are not accounted for in a comprehensive way by science. Why are people afraid to say: I don't know where the universe comes from, I have no idea how self-consciousness emerges etc?

dHarry
04-07-2007, 03:20 PM
It's not really clear to me why the pantheistic option does that in a constructive way: what do i learn about imagination if somebody says: Thor is just an alternative term for Everything.

Moreover, the phenomena you refer to are not accounted for in a comprehensive way by science. Why are people afraid to say: I don't know where the universe comes from, I have no idea how self-consciousness emerges etc?
God knows ;) Maybe it's fear of the cold vastness of the universe and the implacable certainty of time and death. But I'm not propounding this position - as I said originally I have no interest in God; all I meant was that if it has to exist as a concept then I might accept it in a particular Spinozist fashion.

But that's not what most people mean by God, which seems to be either Eagleton's loving artist and underwriter of being, an anthropomorphised and/or nebulous spiritual version of physical energy as animator of matter and life, a pre-Big Bang prima causa, or the guy with the beard and robes up in the sky. I don't see the validity of any of these.

Edward
04-07-2007, 03:44 PM
Why are people afraid to say: I don't know where the universe comes from, I have no idea how self-consciousness emerges etc?

I am not afraid to admit to those things.

I think any rigorous scientist or philosopher would be happy to admit the same thing, and add: here are some theories we're working on that might lead towards some possible answers.

Science doesn't claim to have the answers to everything, it just claims to have a better method for finding things out than "it was in a book" or "the priest said so".
We have had a massive thread on that already.

Surely it's only the religious who are afraid to admit those things and instead subscribe to beliefs for which there is no evidential basis.

Dusty
04-07-2007, 05:36 PM
Exactly, to break it down into its simplest form; Scientific thinking simply draws a conclusion from the presented evidence... there are no absolutes, nothing is set in stone. If something came along that turned evolution on its head tomorrow, Dawkins would look at the evidence, take it on board and if it was convincing, he would change his mind.

The same cannot be said of the people he is arguing against. To assume something exists until proved otherwise is fundamentally flawed logic. Hence http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster

tryptych
05-07-2007, 04:52 AM
dharry is right about Eagleton's lapses back into anthropomorphism. I think he's also thinking wishfully when he declares that God as ontological ground of being is in anyway a mainstream view amongst believers. Eagleton is I guess stuck in his Catholic ways, force of habit bringing "love" into the equation when it's unwarranted. Much more appealing is the cold, uncaring creator of Olaf Stapledon's "Star Maker".

RE Spinoza etc - Of course saying God = everything is trivial and buys you nothing. I think better to equate God with the pre-condition and ground of being . As far as I am aware, even the most advanced cosmology bangs up against the question of why there is anything at all, rather than nothing.




Moreover, the phenomena you refer to are not accounted for in a comprehensive way by science. Why are people afraid to say: I don't know where the universe comes from, I have no idea how self-consciousness emerges etc?

Because such statements jar with reductionist materialism? Once you admit that one thing can not be accounted for by science/materialism, then you open up the possibilities of lots of other things being outside that realm too.

Dusty - see the "critiques of science" thread...

polymorphic
05-07-2007, 06:26 AM
Well, I thought this post might rattle a few cages :)


The McGrath book is a very poor thing full of "strawman" type arguments - criticising Dawkins for things he doesn't actually say...

Exactly, I read the McGrath response to try and get a rounded view. It's pretty tough to confirm these points though unless you have a grounding in the Theology (which I don't).

I recognised the character assassination of Dawkins and was kind pleased to find the following factual refute of the McGrath case :


I am not particularly interested in fighting Richard Dawkins’ corner. Firstly, he can look after himself. Secondly, atheism does not stand or fall by Dawkins’ presentation of the issues. Thirdly, I don’t always agree with Dawkins. The God Delusion is not the book I hoped he would write. This is not, then, primarily a defence of Dawkins. My purpose here is simple: to document the scholarly failings of Alister McGrath

http://homepages.shu.ac.uk/~llrdjb/shs/delusion.html


Well, haven't Dawkins made it clear that he thought more or less the same about Gould?

Well, he certainly addresses Gould's case for not using scientific analysis on religion. The section on Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA).


I would just like to point out that from my remembered reading of the book, Dawkins does not blame religion for all the world's evils, and I seem to recall he is happy to accept the fact that humans could and would have found / would find other outlets for evil and violence, regardless of belief.

This is yet another method of A: misquoting him for the purposes of knocking him down and B: avoiding the main crux of the issue which is societies 'blind spot' when it comes to questioning the evidence behind belief systems with the same scientific rigour we question everything else.


Totally agree.

----

It's the context and purpose of both these books that I find a little difficult. I enjoyed the Dawkin's book, well, cos I'd kinda been waiting for someone to say this stuff but I also think it's important that we question these ideals. Why should people believe in unobtainable "truths". Why should children have beliefs forced upon them ?

I suspect many religious people are just be happy that there is a published refute* and leave it at that. Kinda means we're not any further forward in the debate..

I'd be interested to know if there's an religious person swayed by the Dawkin's book. Are the people here that think he's a fool etc religious (oh no he isn't, oh yes he is ;) ) ?

* Dawkin's response in The Times (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/debate/letters/article1368831.ece)alludes to the fact that the Dawkins Delusion is a commercial exercise. The McGraths could've just addressed these arguments succinctly on a web site ?

borderpolice
05-07-2007, 03:59 PM
Surely it's only the religious who are afraid to admit those things and instead subscribe to beliefs for which there is no evidential basis.

My take of this is that (one of) the social function(s) of religion is precisely to cover up the fact that it doesn't have answers to the questions about why there is a universe/god at all, rather than nothing, and use (meaningless) rituals instead so people forget that these questions are really not answered.

Edward
05-07-2007, 06:23 PM
BP, I agree!


_____+____+_____+____+_____+____+_____+____


even the most advanced cosmology bangs up against the question of why there is anything at all, rather than nothing.

I don't think science attempts or claims to answer "why" questions, only "how" and "what" kind of questions.
Cosmology attempts to come up with a verifiable theory of how the universe started, not why.

"Why" is for philosophers, or in the view of some, for theologians (who in my view are just very poor unrigorous philosophers).

john eden
06-07-2007, 12:53 AM
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/07/01/nflood201.xml

http://news.independent.co.uk/media/article2737140.ece

Mr. Tea
06-07-2007, 12:36 PM
RE Spinoza etc - Of course saying God = everything is trivial and buys you nothing. I think better to equate God with the pre-condition and ground of being . As far as I am aware, even the most advanced cosmology bangs up against the question of why there is anything at all, rather than nothing.

Hmm...I think Edward's bang on about science's ability to answer "how/what" questions rather than "why" questions - "why" after all implies meaning or at least purpose, which are purely human terms.
For example, science doesn't really answer questions like "why is the sky blue?", it answers "how is the sky blue?" (Rayleigh scattering, etc.): asking "why" the sky is blue is tantamount to asking "for what purpose is the sky blue?" (Because it's God's favourite colour, perhaps).



Because such statements jar with reductionist materialism? Once you admit that one thing can not be accounted for by science/materialism, then you open up the possibilities of lots of other things being outside that realm too.


There are certainly things that cannot be answered by science, yet. A hundred years ago, asking questions like "how did the universe start" would have been regarded as the realm of theologians or mystics, not scientists, but now there is an entire academic field (cosmology) dedicated to answering just this question, in scientifically rigorous terms. Furthermore, they deal not just with abstruse mathematical theories, but with hard observational evidence.
Also I think it's not quite true to imagine that all scientists are hard-boiled reductionists: a lot of work is being done at the moment on ideas like emergence, in which complex systems arise out of simple physical laws and are described by more complex laws that cannot be derived purely from the initial physical laws.
Just because reductionism doesn't explain something that's no reason to throw up your hands and say "Oh well, it must be God/spirits/morphogenic fields" or whatever.

Eric
06-07-2007, 12:47 PM
one might argue that, at least on one understanding, some why questions are answerable by science: e.g. evolutionary biology seems to have something to say about why certain species have certain behaviors: just because they are adaptive. (as formalized in say maynard smith's game-theoretic work)

i once had an argument with a physicist who claimed biology was not a science, however, so perhaps this claim is ill-founded

also, i think that the how-question about the sky's blueness partly answers the why-question, in the sense: `why do we perceive the sky as being blue?' well maybe I am just being obtuse now

Mr. Tea
06-07-2007, 12:54 PM
I see what you mean, Eric, about questions as to "why" dogs have a good sense of smell, "why" certain animals have a poisonous sting, etc. - as you say, it's to give them an evolutionary advantage. So that's a purpose, of sorts. But unless you're a creationist, it's a blind, impersonal sort of purpose, which is different from the purpose behind the various components of a car or a computer, which have been designed because a human or humans thought "We need a device to do such-and-such, so we'd better invent one".

(Interesting that I should have chosen the example of a dog's sense of smell, actually, since the reason some breeds have such acute smelling abilities is that they've had it selectively bred into them by humans, so that comes under the second kind of "purpose". But I guess that's by-the-bye.)

(Edit: also, I'd take issue with someone claiming biology 'is not a science' - sounds like a case of scientific one-up-manship there.)

Eric
06-07-2007, 01:15 PM
yes it makes perfect sense. clearly created objects have a different kind of purpose than natural ones (you can see my religious noninclinations in this phrasing). this is really just a question of intentionality, don't you think? when we think about purposes we think `what object/function x is FOR.' probably purposes of created objects have this + `this function is put in place on purpose'. from this perspective creationism is just a kind of ontological fallacy.

Eric
06-07-2007, 01:16 PM
(Edit: also, I'd take issue with someone claiming biology 'is not a science' - sounds like a case of scientific one-up-manship there.)

yeah I think he was just trying to get me worked up actually, in which he succeeded for a little while until I was satisfied that's what he was doing.

Mr. Tea
07-07-2007, 04:26 PM
Sorry, just saw some things here I can't help but comment on:


Isn't it accepted even by most evolutionary biologists that Dawkins is a complete charlatan...Stephen Jay Gould for instance making it obvious what he thought of him for instance

Er - no? Obviously Dawkins has stirred up something of a hornet's nest with his broadside attack on religion, but I think he's regarded (in professional biology circles) as knowing what he's talking about when he talks science. Of course, he's so dogmatic he's naturally made a lot of enemies, some of whom are going to try and attack him on his professional work.


And regarding his materialist fundamentalism isn't it very likely if he'd been born in the middle ages there's a good chance he would have been one of the most intransigent religious fundamentalists causing all the kind of problems he himself blames on religion.

So he's a 'born' fanatic, and it just so happens that he's taken up the cause of rationalism and atheism rather than, say, Christianity? Purely because he was born in 20th-century Britain?
This sounds rather unlikely to me; in fact it seems to stem from the old falacious argument that people decide not to believe in God for the same reason others believe. Atheism is not a religion in the same way no ice-cream is not a flavour of ice-cream.


Ironic that these two books are coming out now when at the cutting edge of certain scientific disciplines (quantum physics etc) there's more consideration for some kind of non-materialst explanation for certain phenomena than possibly at any any time since the early 19th century....
Ahh, good old quantum mechanics: the ultimate conceptual Get Out Of Jail Free card. :)
All I'll say on this is that you're welcome to try and find God in the wave-function if you like - He's as likely to be there as anywhere - but all you'll succeed in doing is making yourself look foolish to both scientists and theologians.

zhao
07-07-2007, 05:59 PM
actually just starting The Ancestor's Tale... so far so good as he points out the distorted views of evolution stemming from the ego and vanity of humans...

Mr. Tea
07-07-2007, 06:17 PM
actually just starting The Ancestor's Tale... so far so good as he points out the distorted views of evolution stemming from the ego and vanity of humans...

Which is precisely *why* I think it's so foolish to assume that humans don't come 'pre-loaded' with a whole set of instinctive behaviours just as all other animals do! (cf. the 'human nature' thread). :)

zhao
07-07-2007, 06:45 PM
Which is precisely *why* I think it's so foolish to assume that humans don't come 'pre-loaded' with a whole set of instinctive behaviours just as all other animals do! (cf. the 'human nature' thread). :)

in this sense of course there are sets of "instinctive behaviours". but it is a very different thing to say that humans are inherently "good" or "evil" or "selfish", etc.

Mr. Tea
07-07-2007, 07:30 PM
Oh, of course - those concepts would only have come along long after humans evolved, and are of course highly culture-dependent.

I'm reading a novel at the moment about an English sailor who gets washed up in 1600s Japan, and has all sorts of adventures - the total dissimilarity between his culture and theirs is one of the main themes of the book.

subvert47
07-06-2010, 08:01 PM
:eek: at some of the unreasoned responses in this thread

swears
07-06-2010, 09:07 PM
Religion is good, because it's anti-imperialist or something and the only alternative to religion nowadays is mindless consumerism. Jeez... hadn't you heard?

swears
07-06-2010, 09:09 PM
I find Terry Eagleton's review (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/eagl01_.html) excellent, though I haven't read the book (nor do I intend to).

I find it a complete load of smug, wooly-minded ill-thought out shit.

Mr. Tea
07-06-2010, 10:22 PM
:eek: at some of the unreasoned responses in this thread

From whom?

subvert47
08-06-2010, 08:55 AM
From whom?

Good question. Going back and reading it again I guess this thread isn't so bad. I was just :eek: ed by the vehemence of the Dawkins is a moron, twat, complete fool type posts, accompanied by various counter-arguments, misconceptions and fallacies that Dawkins has already dealt with in the book... and it seems these are explained by other posters in this thread.

Mr. Tea
08-06-2010, 11:33 AM
I don't consider Dawkins a "twat" or anything like that, but I think he might not be terribly politically or psychologically astute. I mean, I haven't read TGD but I'm already an atheist with a fairly negative opinion of religion in general, so I don't "need" to read it; clearly most religious people are unlikely even to consider reading it, so that leaves the agnostic, those with shaky or weakening religious beliefs and those you might call 'God-curious'. And I can't help but think that Dawkins' highly combative and hostile tone is more likely to make someone in this category seek solace in the religion he so relentlessly bashes, than to bring them over into the 'light'.

I should make it clear that I'm essentially on his side here, I'm just not sure he necessarily goes about it in the best way. What does piss me off though is people who aren't actually religious themselves but launch these great political and philosophical attacks on him, as Eagleton does in that review. So many of the typical attacks on him seem to follow the same misguided formula:

Dawkins is wrong because he attacks a personal God rather than some waffly Spinozan concept, which is what all the kewl right-on philosophers dig these days (let's ignore the vast majority of religious believers around the world who actually do believe in an old-skool personal God);
he's wrong because he "considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly" (aren't they, for the most part? The very word 'Islam' literally means 'submission', FFS! You don't question something you've submitted to, do you?);
he's wrong because he doesn't understand theology - to which see A. C. Grayling's excellent riposte that there's not much point trying to understand a system of thought if you reject the very premises it's based on, giving the example that it would be a waste of time learning about the distinctions between different schools of astrology if you have no truck with the idea that the chance distribution of stars and planets can influence the characters and lives of human beings.
Also, lol @ Gavin's "This is an excellent review of a book I haven't read and have no intention of reading..."

DannyL
08-06-2010, 11:59 AM
Which is precisely *why* I think it's so foolish to assume that humans don't come 'pre-loaded' with a whole set of instinctive behaviours just as all other animals do! (cf. the 'human nature' thread). :)

This is a good book about that sort of thing. But will continue to fall on deaf ears as what she proposes goes against some of our current cultural practices.

luka
08-06-2010, 12:07 PM
hes a publicity whore. loves it. dirty bastard. plaus he always looks like hes wearing powder and makeup like some jacobean ponce.

DannyL
08-06-2010, 12:12 PM
Eagleton: "...one can be reasonably certain that he would not be Europe’s greatest enthusiast for Foucault, psychoanalysis, agitprop, Dadaism, anarchism or separatist feminism. All of these phenomena, one imagines, would be as distasteful to his brisk, bloodless rationality as the virgin birth. Yet one can of course be an atheist and a fervent fan of them all."

I can't imagine the sort of believer that would be a "fervent fan" of these "phenomena". All of them have their roots in atheism one way or another.

Sorry to revive an old argument, but Dawkins does not like the expression of "irrationality" - the province of the surrealists/dada/unconscious etc - one jot irregardless whether it has it's roots in atheism.In his book Unweaving the Rainbow, he rails against the popularity of The X-FIles and says it's something like "propaganda for the irrational". He compares this to rascism - "What if there was a show every week which showed black people ...blah blah".

Which is, simply put, fucking nuts.

Mr. Tea
08-06-2010, 12:14 PM
This is a good book about that sort of thing. But will continue to fall on deaf ears as what she proposes goes against some of our current cultural practices.

Sounds interesting, though I think you forgot to link...?

Edit: agreed (with you, I mean) on Dawkins' comments on X-Files, that's ridiculous. I used to like that show, doesn't mean I think I've been implanted by aliens, FFS...

DannyL
08-06-2010, 12:18 PM
Sounds interesting, though I think you forgot to link...?

Sorry dude, I'm such a div:

http://www.continuum-concept.org/

Here you go.

DannyL
08-06-2010, 12:29 PM
Incidentally, while we are banging on about this subject, one of the big reasons I don't like the Dorks on religion is because he doesn't present anything alternative in it's place that attempts to address some of it's concerns. What does it mean to be human and alive? How can I live a good life? This is why I've got more time for humanism than outright atheism as at least it's an attempt to assert some positive values.

Obviously one doesn't need religion to do this, but simply putting scientific enterprise and method in the place of religion as some do misses the point and blinds us to questioning science, it's goals and conclusions.

We gave my Dad a humanist funeral and felt we'd honoured his life in a way that respected his memory. There was a feeling there for life's emotional tone which I don't find in Dawkins work. Religion can and does address these concerns and until similar matters are addressed as part of the "work" of atheism, relgion will always have a hold on us.

Mr. Tea
08-06-2010, 12:37 PM
Sorry dude, I'm such a div:

http://www.continuum-concept.org/

Here you go.

So hardcore, jungle and dubstep are the keys to human happiness? How very Dissensus. ;)

(Cheers, I'll have a look later)

IdleRich
08-06-2010, 01:25 PM
"This is an excellent review of a book I haven't read and have no intention of reading..."
Possibly the stupidest thing I've ever read on the internet.

Mr. Tea
08-06-2010, 01:30 PM
Possibly the stupidest thing I've ever read on the internet.

Yeah I remember you picking him up on that at the time - thought it was so daft as to be worth mentioning again.

subvert47
08-06-2010, 01:46 PM
Incidentally, while we are banging on about this subject, one of the big reasons I don't like the Dorks on religion is because he doesn't present anything alternative in it's place that attempts to address some of it's concerns. What does it mean to be human and alive? How can I live a good life? This is why I've got more time for humanism than outright atheism as at least it's an attempt to assert some positive values.

Actually, Dawkins discusses all these concerns — albeit with the primary aim of refuting religion's right to answer them.


Obviously one doesn't need religion to do this, but simply putting scientific enterprise and method in the place of religion as some do misses the point and blinds us to questioning science, it's goals and conclusions.

Dawkins isn't putting science in religion's place exactly, and he certainly isn't holding it up as something definite and concrete to be accepted blindly and unquestioningly. On the contrary, science is about explaining things and its conclusions are justified by evidence — or if the evidence is later overturned then science is corrected.

DannyL
08-06-2010, 02:15 PM
Actually, Dawkins discusses all these concerns — albeit with the primary aim of refuting religion's right to answer them..

I have't really seen him do this, the main thing that stick in my mind is that strong distaste for the irrational as I mentioned above but then again I've not read The God Delusion (though I am open to the possibility of doing so!) A lot of the time the best argument is not an frontal attack, it's simply presenting a strong and satisfying alternative position. I can see this in humanism, I don't see this in atheist vs religion pissfights.


Dawkins isn't putting science in religion's place exactly, and he certainly isn't holding it up as something definite and concrete to be accepted blindly and unquestioningly. On the contrary, science is about explaining things and its conclusions are justified by evidence — or if the evidence is later overturned then science is corrected..

I recognise he isn't doing that but he seems very hostile to the idea of science being questiioned from without. it seems to me obvious that science is a social process, and subject to influences from capital, ideology and so on - I don't ever recall seeing any acknowledgement of this in his work other than to lay into extreme and easy to critque/cariciture post-modernism. In contrast, one scientist I really rate because he has a deep and powerful grasp of these issues is Steven Rose. I think Rose's understanding of the arises out of a life long engagement with leftist politics as well as his partnership to sociologist Hilary Rose. The first few chapters of his book "Lifelines" blew my mind on that score. he's got an intense awareness of how scientific knowledge is a production - a kind of awareness that isn't even hinted at in Dawkin's books.

IdleRich
08-06-2010, 02:29 PM
"one of the big reasons I don't like the Dorks on religion is because he doesn't present anything alternative in it's place that attempts to address some of it's concerns"
I see no reason why he should
This line of criticism reminds me of Christians saying "Dawkins freely admits that his description gives rise to no morality" as though it's a weakness. Presumably Dawkins is trying to describe how things are and whether or not that description gives rise to morality or helps deal with questions of spirituality has no bearing on its accuracy whatsoever. If the way the world turns out to be doesn't chime with how one wants it to be then that's tough luck, not an argument for it not being that way.
A lot of criticisms of Dawkins centre on his abrasive stule and rudeness; well perhaps it would be better if he was less rude but really these arguments are nothing to do with the underlying substance. If you don't like the guy it's probably better to have a stab at proving him wrong than merely insulting him.

vimothy
08-06-2010, 02:43 PM
scientific knowledge is a production

Surely no scientist would ever dispute this?

droid
08-06-2010, 02:48 PM
Even though I have a lot of sympathy for Dawkins and his views, I still think that Southpark nailed him - or at least one aspect of his argument.

DannyL
08-06-2010, 02:52 PM
[QUOTE=IdleRich;233810]I see no reason why he should
[QUOTE]

You're right. No reason why he should do this at all - and it's a ridiculously "big ask", to ask one person to come up with a totally coherent system to replace religion. However, this isn't what I'm really asking - - "drawing attention to" might be a better phrase actually. If you look at the critical discourse on religion that we have - people questioning the value and utility of relgion and it's relevance to society - most of it seems to be quite angry attacks on religion like those of Dawkins and Hitchens. Their followers follow course, and what we end up is two polarised camps who can't hear each other. I think it would be far more useful and interesting to read about the positive values of a life lived without religion and how one fills an irreligous life with meaning and significance. Such a discouse would be much more likely to "convert" me to atheism anyway.

DannyL
08-06-2010, 02:58 PM
.... and perhaps more importantly would convert those who are actually religious.

I feel unless atheism recognises what religion actually does, in strengthening communities, providing indivduals wtih meaning, rituals for celebration, grieving etc. then it will always be defining itself as a negative and weakening it's cause. Just saying " ....but it isn't true" isn't enough.

subvert47
08-06-2010, 03:03 PM
read the book ;)

IdleRich
08-06-2010, 03:47 PM
Just saying " ....but it isn't true" isn't enough.
Maybe not but I think that showing something isn't true is a pretty big step on the way to defeating it as a worthwhile pursuit.

rob_giri
17-06-2010, 03:21 AM
this guy may be educated about a lot of things but sounds like an ignorant fucking twat when he talks about religion.

As my friend put it very accurately - he's a materialist fundamentalist. But an absolute fundamentalist just the same.

This current trend of religion bashing is just completely fucking retarded.

otm

padraig (u.s.)
17-06-2010, 07:22 AM
no, it's not. Dawkins is a bit of a c**t. albeit a v. smart one. & I'm not the biggest fan of his self-appointed atheist spokesmanship (see also Hitchens, C.) but that's just a cheap attempt to fob off fundamentalism, w/all its attendant connotations, onto him. the difference being that scientists are willing to change their beliefs upon the presentation of contradictory evidence, while the word fundamental by definition precludes change under any circumstances.

Benny B
17-06-2010, 07:23 AM
I'm reading a novel at the moment about an English sailor who gets washed up in 1600s Japan, and has all sorts of adventures - the total dissimilarity between his culture and theirs is one of the main themes of the book.

Samurai William? Amazing book.

Mr. Tea
17-06-2010, 10:51 AM
I'll tell you what's "retarded": people who don't actually follow any one particular religion but nonetheless stick up for religion in general because they kind of 'like the idea of it', concentrating exclusively on what they see as its good points while conveniently ignoring all the manifold social evils that almost invariably accompany it.


Samurai William? Amazing book.

Nope, not heard of that - I meant Shogun by James Clavell. But it's a fictionalised account of real events, which could well have inspired other books I suppose.

nomadthethird
17-06-2010, 01:52 PM
I'll tell you what's "retarded": people who don't actually follow any one particular religion but nonetheless stick up for religion in general because they kind of 'like the idea of it', concentrating exclusively on what they see as its good points while conveniently ignoring all the manifold social evils that almost invariably accompany it.



Nope, not heard of that - I meant Shogun by James Clavell. But it's a fictionalised account of real events, which could well have inspired other books I suppose.

Narcissists love religion. It makes them feel special, like they're an important part of very important goings on- like God Itself is shining a light directly on them. Since narcissists like the idea of ideal love, but have no interest in actually experiencing mutual or reciprocal love, God is their perfect foil. The concept of God stands for "ideal love" as a kind of floating signifier, in a sort of "universal" way... but since there is no actual God, the narcissist is free to project his or her own ego into the sky. This is the only kind of "love" narcissists can handle, because it doesn't preclude their own sense of control and mastery over their life situation. They love themselves, and simply troll for people who make them feel god-like and powerful. (Good looking people, people other people seem to want, but they never choose someone because they actually care about them.) Then they suck them dry, using their energy to fuel their own personal self-love project.

The type of people who don't really have much truck with religion but 'believe' or go to church anyway because they like the idea of what religion means to people are, a lot of them, just plain narcissistic.

The truth hurts. Very few people want to confront the fact that they're worm food or at best an interesting but temporary sludge on what will be RNA's billions of years, less than a blip in space-time.

luka
17-06-2010, 02:23 PM
oh yes the cold hard light of science that only the very brave and strong are able to stand... how noble.... how self-agrandising.

luka
17-06-2010, 02:24 PM
im not an apologist for religion or religious people. just saying...

droid
17-06-2010, 02:27 PM
oh yes the cold hard light of science that only the very brave and strong are able to stand... how noble.... how self-agrandising.


Yeah, as if Dawkins isn't going to be shitting himself and whimpering to the lord on his deathbed like the rest of us...

nomadthethird
17-06-2010, 02:36 PM
oh yes the cold hard light of science that only the very brave and strong are able to stand... how noble.... how self-agrandising.

I'm not saying it's noble, or that only scientists know the truth. Buddhists are pretty good with it.

I'm just saying. Making up stories about a perfect parent in the sky is infantile.

luka
17-06-2010, 02:39 PM
you just reminded me of a poem i hate thats all. like i said i think its self-aggrandising and juvenile. in terms of an attitude to take towards life/universe/etc
not knocking science as a project or defending sky daddies or anything.

Benny B
17-06-2010, 06:08 PM
Nope, not heard of that - I meant Shogun by James Clavell. But it's a fictionalised account of real events, which could well have inspired other books I suppose.

Ah right, just noticed you said it was a novel. You should really check out Samurai William by Giles Milton then for the real story, or indeed pretty much anything by him. Wonderful popular history writing.

Sorry about going OT though, carry on...

rob_giri
04-07-2010, 03:08 PM
I'm not saying it's noble, or that only scientists know the truth. Buddhists are pretty good with it.

I'm just saying. Making up stories about a perfect parent in the sky is infantile.

This is such a typical atheist response. The thing is of course is that this 'atheist tenet' is right (but bleatingly obvious) - most of the manifestations of institutionalized religion, and the standard 'concept of God' are nothing short of a con, that play into infantile desires for a father-figure, to bestow meaning into a meaningless world. This is true - and suffices to say, I think that most religious fervour will be looked upon (correctly) as mental illness in years to come.

But what atheists don't realize is that that is not the end of the story, at all. Religion didn't arise purely out of this sort of human ignorance. Religious traditions arose out of mystical practices and magical ritual - practices that allowed the participator in ancient societies (and indeed the participator today) to go beyond the limitations of their perceptive faculties and into spheres of awareness that reveal one to be intimately connected to all of life, and to have the possibility of becoming more connected and 'more human'. This is not merely a 'concept' - so don't think saying you are nothing but worm food is somehow intelligent, it is just a concept and has not arisen out of the sincere emotional experience of what it means to be truly alive and to be part of a greater living process. It is simply regurgitated knowledge that is dull and has arisen out of a lazy mind.

rob_giri
04-07-2010, 03:17 PM
The atheist in the end fails because he is, metaphorically, trapped in his head. The atheist is imprisoned by an intellectual certitude that there is no possibility beyond the mundane spheres of his limited awareness, too arrogant to admit his awareness is limited in the first place, too afraid to accept that his perceptual limitations can be transcended and experimented with, and too lazy to muster the real will to honestly and sincerely address, on a level of deep conscience, the reality of what it is to be connected and engaged with the living presence of his very being.

The atheist fails because atheism is not a system of knowledge or a way of living, or a way of life that truly welcomes the apparent uncertainties of existence - but rather it is just 'not' something - 'not' institutionally religious, in the same way that someone can be 'not capitalist'. It is simple for someone to claim they are anti-capitalist or anti-fascist - but it is much harder and takes much more guts to actually stand for something. In the case of politics it would mean then to use practical intelligence to formulate ideas about new forms of governance and production. In the same sense, a response to being atheist would not be merely to mull about and repeat the same tired and smug atheist slogans - but would mean to actually face the ontological uncertainty of life with the balls to explore the possibilities of perception.

If one does this with great commitment (and all great mystical traditions suggest this), one eventually discovers the emptiness of life - but not the dry intellectual 'emptiness' that atheists talk about like babies screaming for the bottle - but an emptiness which is itself living, growing, and intimately connected to every fibre of one's being.

This experience is, funnily enough, originally where the 'concept of God' came from. Ancient texts were allegories and stories which were intended to evoke the feeling of this sort of mystical experience - but were, in time, bastardized and dogmatized by fearful and repressed human societies until the religious institutions that we know today were formed.

Atheists are always winging and screaming about the 'concept of God' as if they understand what the 'concept of God' is and think they are more intelligent than people in churches because of their supreme understanding of relativity. They ultimately fail because, for the most part, they are the only one's playing around with concepts - God is not a concept at all (mostly) to truly spiritual people, but a feeling and a living reality that is not validated by theological logic but by the grace of the heart and the light of an empty mind. An atheist cannot conceive of how it could be possible to truly live without constructs and live open to the life-process of the world, just as a repressed follower of religion who has never truly questioned the constructs of his church cannot. In the end they both fail, whilst the things carry on in the world of the living.

And in the end it's one of those things. Religious tradition is mostly held up by outdated notions of the spiritual, and people have every right to want to be 'anti-religious' - but to walk around as an atheist, feeling smug that you are comfortable with being worm-food, and deluding yourself into believing you are sincerely open to the strata of perception possible for one with a open mind and heart, is truly infantile and ultimately pathetic.

Mr. Tea
05-07-2010, 01:07 PM
Yes, us atheists are far too scared to admit that our perceptual limitations can be transcended. That's why space telescopes, electron microscopes, particle accelerators, weather satellites, supercomputers and the Human Genone Project notably don't exist. Also, scientists can't cope with anything outside the mundane spheres of their limited awareness, which is why they never talk about parallel universes, quantum entanglement, black holes or the origin of space-time itself. Oh no siree, if we can't see it with our bare unaided eyes, it doesn't exist. I personally don't even believe in the back of my own head.

Dr Awesome
05-07-2010, 01:25 PM
Touché.

grizzleb
05-07-2010, 04:02 PM
There's a problem here because both sides of the argument automatically think there is more worth in beleiving what they beleive - that the moral/epistemoligal high ground are the same thing, and also the easiest place to be. Who wants to be wrong? I beleive in that which is false...

BTW Tea I love that ripe sarcasm. 8)

Mr. Tea
05-07-2010, 05:08 PM
But that's a category error, because science doesn't deal in belief; it deals in hypothesis, theory and empirical evidence. I don't "believe" the Earth is round and not flat, I know it is round because there is incontrivertible evidence to suggest this. I don't "believe" in evolution by natural selection, I consider it overwhelmingly likely to be correct because it is internally consistent, doesn't require supernatural agency and, again, is amply supported by the available evidence. If you want to take the Popperian view, you can say that it hasn't been falsified yet - and, to go out on a limb here a bit, I think it is unlikely ever to be falsified.

And if you want to talk about religious beliefs, that's fine, because all the established religions have highly complex systems of scripture, theology and myth. But rob_giri isn't bigging up any one particular religion or even established religion in general (and I'll him credit for that, at least), his "beliefs" seem to amount to a conviction that there's this deep interconnectedness between things and a kind of unified "life process", and that this might as well be called God. Is that fair, r_g? I'm not trying to misrepresent you here.

grizzleb
05-07-2010, 05:18 PM
I agree with all that tea, there's so many complexities to this that belief was probably a foolish word to use in that context. I meant more basically that people should be a bit more humble on all sides. The things that you pointed out have nothing to do with the idea of a God, or of some spirituality or whatever, anything that does encroach from a scientific point of view does. You can argue with Creationists that humans came about as the result of evolutionary processes, and you can argue with flat-earthists that the earth is round. You can't really argue from whence came the universe. I think that's a subjective stance, but it's just one you take...and shouldn't go about feeling as if it is more noble to take this that or the other view. If that's moral relativism then cool, I don't mind admitting that I don't really know and that maybe you are all better people than me because you doooo...

Mr. Tea
05-07-2010, 06:06 PM
I agree with all that tea, there's so many complexities to this that belief was probably a foolish word to use in that context.

Yeah, fair enough - would "worldview" be more appropriate? I'd certainly call science a "worldview", though of course it's a process and a methodology as well. Also, so as not to muddy the waters any more than necessary, I should acknowledge that rob was talking about atheists, not scientists per se; having said that, I think atheism has become a widespread view largely because of scientific advances over the last few centuries, and it's probably fair to assume any given scientist is more likely than the average person to be an atheist or at least an agnostic (which could be said to be a more 'scientific' opinion to hold than outright atheism, I suppose).



You can argue with Creationists that humans came about as the result of evolutionary processes, and you can argue with flat-earthists that the earth is round. You can't really argue from whence came the universe. I think that's a subjective stance...

I think you can, though, and you can use empirical evidence to back up those arguments. A hundred years ago Einstein supported a steady-state model of the universe for what you might call metaphysical, even spiritual, reasons; this model has been rejected for decades by all serious cosmologists because observations made since that time contradict it. And solid observational evidence has been around since at least the early 19th century that the Earth is at the very least millions (we now know billions, of course) years old, which flatly contradicts the creation myth in the holy books followed by most theists worldwide.



If that's moral relativism then cool, I don't mind admitting that I don't really know and that maybe you are all better people than me because you doooo...

Nah, if I'm better than you it's because I make amazing breakfasts. Though for all I know, maybe you make amazing breakfasts too.

scottdisco
05-07-2010, 06:15 PM
Tea puts blue cheese in his scrambled eggs, Grizzleb.

i am agnostic on religion but very much a man of faith wrt Tea's brekkers.

grizzleb
05-07-2010, 06:21 PM
Yeah, fair enough - would "worldview" be more appropriate? I'd certainly call science a "worldview", though of course it's a process and a methodology as well. Also, so as not to muddy the waters any more than necessary, I should acknowledge that rob was talking about atheists, not scientists per se; having said that, I think atheism has become a widespread view largely because of scientific advances over the last few centuries, and it's probably fair to assume any given scientist is more likely than the average person to be an atheist or at least an agnostic (which could be said to be a more 'scientific' opinion to hold than outright atheism, I suppose).

I think you can, though, and you can use empirical evidence to back up those arguments. A hundred years ago Einstein supported a steady-state model of the universe for what you might call metaphysical, even spiritual, reasons; this model has been rejected for decades by all serious cosmologists because observations made since that time contradict it. And solid observational evidence has been around since at least the early 19th century that the Earth is at the very least millions (we now know billions, of course) years old, which flatly contradicts the creation myth in the holy books followed by most theists worldwide.
Yeah worldview was what I was getting at. The point I was trying to get at is that everything inside the big-bang is up for grabs in terms of argumentation. Some people who 'believe' in whatever version of whatever faction of whatever offspring of whatever cult will say that such and such a sacred text is just allegory and metaphor, and that evolution fits harmonically with the idea of a creator God (or a 'non'-God - an impersonal non-thing which gives substance to everything and shimmers in the crackle of a fire or the electrical impulses which give rise to a flood of tears or some such romantic, nauseating (but still not morally inferior/superior) position.) And there are some who argue that the bible is word for word FACT. Those people you can argue with by using evidence, but evidence for these people is almost an incitement for belief - that to go against the evidence is a stance which is moral and brave in its cosmic stupidity. Of course you have the worst - which are the ones who create phony scientific logic which 'proves' that there is some sort of evidence for their beliefs. The point I try to make is, we don't really know what happened prior to the big-bang, and to assign morality to the ideas people hold about what did or didn't happen is daft - morality can be guaged by behaviours and not by what one believes at this basic level.

To say that 'oh those people who believe are arrogant' or 'those who don't beleive are arrogant' is I think a bit lacking in humility. Of course, by making a point here I'm negating my own argument - so that's why I'm assuming the position of having historically, empirically even, made worse breakfasts than Tea has.

Mr. Tea
05-07-2010, 06:24 PM
Your piety and devotion have been noted, Brother Scott, and will not go unrewarded when the Faithful awake to the Hangover of Apocalypse and I shall prepare for them the Great Fry-Up. :)

Martin Dust
05-07-2010, 08:14 PM
I shall prepare for them the Great Fry-Up. :)

Does Stephen know?

mixed_biscuits
05-07-2010, 08:26 PM
I think it is more likely that we (and other beings, all evolving happily) have been created than not, as all that is needed is for a universe like ours to have been brought into existence is a reasonably advanced civilisation, a few computer programmers and a large hard disk.

DannyL
05-07-2010, 08:33 PM
But if science is a worldview and one that can be contrasted, albeit clumsily, with religion you have to recognise that they are two completely different projects. Science doesn't do the good things that religion does - provide a sense of personal identity, orientation, meaning and community. Religion can't do the good things that science does - make technology work and explain the Universe. This is what I was trying to get at upthread - any assault on religion or attempt to rid the World of the evils it causes has got to occupy the positive spaces in people's lives that it now occupies. How to live life, not how things work. Any atheist project is doomed to failure otherwise.

grizzleb
05-07-2010, 08:50 PM
I think it is more likely that we (and other beings, all evolving happily) have been created than not, as all that is needed is for a universe like ours to have been brought into existence is a reasonably advanced civilisation, a few computer programmers and a large hard disk.From whence came the non-computer world? Infinite regress going on there.

Mr. Tea
05-07-2010, 08:53 PM
I think it is more likely that we (and other beings, all evolving happily) have been created than not, as all that is needed is for a universe like ours to have been brought into existence is a reasonably advanced civilisation, a few computer programmers and a large hard disk.

There are serious mathematicians, physicists and philosophers who hold views like this - dunno if that's what you were getting at, or just having a laugh. :)

Edit: I was just about to make the same point grizzleb just made - I should add that the models some physicists talk about don't really require a "creator" as such, it's more an impersonal conjecture that the universe is in some sense "a simulation of itself", a vast quantum computer, cosmic Turing machine and so on.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_universe

grizzleb
05-07-2010, 08:55 PM
There are serious mathematicians, physicists and philosophers who hold views like this - dunno if that's what you were getting at, or just having a laugh. :)It's a theory that's been punted about a lot, I don't think it solves the problem at all really for reasons mentioned above.

mixed_biscuits
05-07-2010, 08:57 PM
From whence came the non-computer world? Infinite regress going on there.

Not necessarily: I'm not saying that we are necessarily mere data or that there is not a meta-harddiskical universe, merely that we (specifically, us) are more likely to have been created by sentient beings than not.

Original universe comes to be ex nihilo/via an ineffable process -> technologically advanced civilisation evolves, develops Intel i9 processor, synthetic consciousness -> vast number of artificial worlds created inside PCs

grizzleb
05-07-2010, 08:59 PM
Yeah that seems fair enough to me - but it also doesn't really say anything that interesting from my point of view. Also we'll still be in the 'real' world. On a computer chip. So what then?

mixed_biscuits
05-07-2010, 09:03 PM
Yeah that seems fair enough to me - but it also doesn't really say anything that interesting from my point of view.

What, that it's vastly more likely that God exists than not, you mean?

I suppose an advantage of this argument is that it gives everyone what they want: evolution, intelligent design, Godful universe and Godless universe. Everyone's a winner.

grizzleb
05-07-2010, 09:07 PM
I genuinely don't get it, I'll need to get back to you. Just seems like a 'we created ourselves' kind of thing that is more asinine than it seems at first glance.


I suppose an advantage of this argument is that it gives everyone what they want: evolution, intelligent design, Godful universe and Godless universe. Everyone's a winner.
Yeah I know what you mean. All roads lead to Rome kind of thing... 8)

Mr. Tea
05-07-2010, 09:16 PM
With respect, this is all getting a bit philosophy-freshman-has-mind-blown-while-watching-The Matrix-on-a-couple-of-spliffs... ;)

grizzleb
05-07-2010, 09:18 PM
With respect, this is all getting a bit philosophy-freshman-has-mind-blown-while-watching-The Matrix-on-a-couple-of-spliffs... ;)
It wasn't me who started it!! haha

mixed_biscuits
05-07-2010, 09:18 PM
With respect, this is all getting a bit philosophy-freshman-has-mind-blown-while-watching-The Matrix-on-a-couple-of-spliffs... ;)

Wait a minute, so you're saying that we won't have artificial consciousness/intelligence in the near future and thereby be able to create beings who will be in precisely the proposed situation?

I would say that's much less likely than not, right?

Dr Awesome
05-07-2010, 09:36 PM
Do you reckon our host-disk is part of an array or just a single volume?

Mr. Tea
05-07-2010, 09:48 PM
Wait a minute, so you're saying that we won't have artificial consciousness/intelligence in the near future and thereby be able to create beings who will be in precisely the proposed situation?

I would say that's much less likely than not, right?

Roger Penrose thinks not. And he is sickeningly clever, which doesn't make him right of course, but he does seem to have thought about this a great deal.

In short, I dunno. I don't how much of the progress that's been made in recent times is really 'artificial intelligence' or just apparent intelligence, i.e. powerful algorithms written by smart people being run on very fast computers with lots of memory. Even the chess programs that can infallibly beat grandmasters work simply by using the brute force of modern processors to iterate deterministic algorithms zillions of times over, which is not clearly not "intelligence" in any meaningful sense. But all the same, I'm a hardcore materialist (though not a reductionist) on this issue, and I'm damned if I can name some special property that human grey matter possesses that can't, even in principle, be duplicated in silico. Penrose thinks it's quantum superposition in neural structures, which I have to admit strikes me as unlikely. My (very vague) guess is that it's some kind of emergent phenomenon to do with the complexity of neural connections.

(Ha, "in short...")

mixed_biscuits
05-07-2010, 09:49 PM
Simulation arguments by non-freshmen philosophers can be found here (http://www.simulation-argument.com/)

rob_giri
05-07-2010, 10:01 PM
Yes, us atheists are far too scared to admit that our perceptual limitations can be transcended. That's why space telescopes, electron microscopes, particle accelerators, weather satellites, supercomputers and the Human Genone Project notably don't exist. Also, scientists can't cope with anything outside the mundane spheres of their limited awareness, which is why they never talk about parallel universes, quantum entanglement, black holes or the origin of space-time itself. Oh no siree, if we can't see it with our bare unaided eyes, it doesn't exist. I personally don't even believe in the back of my own head.

Of course I see your point here and appreciate the sarcasm but that's not what I was really driving at.

First of all telescopes and scientific instruments and the HG project and all that might be hinting at transcending perceptual limitations in one (very literal) sense, but still they do not address the issue of directly changing the nervous system and the possibilities of consciousness and the existence of it beyond space and time. That's not to say they are meant to, but I just thought I'd distinguish what I was sayin' from what you was sayin'

I don't consider 'scientists' to be an enemy of this non-atheism that I'm talking about - but instantly you seemed to think I was. Strange, no? I don't consider any branch of science that studies quantum phenomena and things like entanglement to be barking up the wrong materialist tree. If anything quantum physics has been the breakthrough that has destroyed the barrier between rational science and mysticism, forever discrediting atheistic Materialism - and virtually any scientist who studies quantum theory today will vouge for that. Meanwhile, atheists continue to insist that not only 'God' 'doesn't exist', but that non-local information exchange doesn't exist (which everything seems to point to the possibility that it does) and that it's possible to really know anything concretely (which of course, it isn't)

A lot of people who call themselves atheists are clearly not materialists, and really would be closer to agnostics. Others are materialists, and delude themselves into thinking they are people of reason, when clearly their emotional fixation on the fallacy of religion is clouding them from properly philosophically and even scientifically addressing the entirety of these issues. I see Dawkins as being a perfect example of this, and from what I remember The Dawkins Delusion book says much to that effect.

mixed_biscuits
05-07-2010, 10:03 PM
I don't how much of the progress that's been made in recent times is really 'artificial intelligence' or just apparent intelligence, i.e. powerful algorithms written by smart people being run on very fast computers with lots of memory.

Bear in mind that quite a lot of progress has been made in a very short period of time (as a proportion of time since the beginning of our (probably simulated) universe) - I don't think that it would be especially foolish to extrapolate to an optimistic conclusion.

DannyL
05-07-2010, 10:49 PM
virtually any scientist who studies quantum theory today will vouge for that (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuJQSAiODqI)

Now this I'd like to see.

mixed_biscuits
05-07-2010, 10:50 PM
Furthermore, simulated worlds could be of importantly different types:

1) simulation involving complex facsimile - requiring re/creation of consciousness or neural architecture, for instance
2) simulation with initial conditions only - what I was thinking of, I guess: provide building blocks of life and let an evolutionary mechanism take care of the rest
3) simulation of simpler life-forms - we might have been created by more advanced beings for whom the task of creating us is trivial (we, ourselves, can be expected to create basic AI and a rogue's gallery of artificially intelligent 'creatures' before we manage to crack human-like AI)
4) simulation of higher life-forms - facsimile + 'tweaks'

I reckon that we are most likely to be living in a simulation that involves 2) and 3), as evolved, digital, relatively simple life-forms that 'take care of themselves' would be most likely to be created and easiest to manage.

nomadthethird
05-07-2010, 11:56 PM
If anything quantum physics has been the breakthrough that has destroyed the barrier between rational science and mysticism, forever discrediting atheistic Materialism - and virtually any scientist who studies quantum theory today will vouge for that.

Snicker.

nomadthethird
06-07-2010, 12:05 AM
I don't how much of the progress that's been made in recent times is really 'artificial intelligence' or just apparent intelligence, i.e. powerful algorithms written by smart people being run on very fast computers with lots of memory.

I used to have great discussions about this with a friend of mine who I think recently finished a PhD in AI.

Basically, to play devil's advocate, because I don't really believe this, I said- if intelligence seems to be something that isn't algorithmic (which he actually believes, iirc!), then most of our AI machines thus far are just simulacra of what intelligence looks like to us as third-person observers. (Convincing facisimiles where little robotic creatures raise their eyebrows when your tone registers as sarcastic, etc...) Which he basically conceded. I thought maybe if you could design an algorithm that would evolve in tandem with its environment, you'd get closer...

Re: earlier discussions, claiming that we must have been created by sentient beings merely moves the problem of origins back a step, it does not solve it. I.e., who created those beings? Really the worst argument for creators that there is.

grizzleb
06-07-2010, 12:30 AM
Re: earlier discussions, claiming that we must have been created by sentient beings merely moves the problem of origins back a step, it does not solve it. I.e., who created those beings? Really the worst argument for creators that there is.
Yeah that's what I meant when I talked about an infinite regress earlier. I mean, under that argument we could be a billionth order from the 'original' world. Computers making computers creating more computers. Sick bastards. I think we should agree to not make any universes if we can. It's pretty big headed I think. Loads of universes running about in our image...

mixed_biscuits
06-07-2010, 07:25 AM
Re: earlier discussions, claiming that we must have been created by sentient beings merely moves the problem of origins back a step, it does not solve it. I.e., who created those beings?

No, it doesn't solve the problem of the existence of an original creator or not but it does suggest that, locally speaking, we were created. This is not surprising, as the argument does not seek to solve the ultimate problem, merely to shed light on the nature of our own existence and environment. The argument does, however, have implications for the formulation of any theories relating to the primary originating event as, because we should not expect that our universe necessarily to be of the same kind as our creator's universe, we can expect to be further away from solving the problem of the original popping-into-existence than we think.

Regarding the relevance of not thereby solving the problem of the original coming-to-be, the greater the difference between the conditions applying within our universe and that of our creator's universe (and however many nesting universes regressing on), the less inclined we would be to look to the primary originating event to help us interpret our particular existential situation (re science and religion's comparative strengths in helping us to do this) and the less it might actually pertain to it.

Mr. Tea
06-07-2010, 10:27 AM
I don't consider any branch of science that studies quantum phenomena and things like entanglement to be barking up the wrong materialist tree. If anything quantum physics has been the breakthrough that has destroyed the barrier between rational science and mysticism, forever discrediting atheistic Materialism - and virtually any scientist who studies quantum theory today will vouge for that.

Umm...no. What is it with quantum mechanics? So many people seem to think you can start with the Schroedinger equation and derive the existence of ESP or some shit. How many "scientists who study quantum theory" do you actually know, by the way? I've studied it to postgraduate level and it hasn't turned me into a mystic - however I can vogue with the best of them. ;)



Meanwhile, atheists continue to insist that not only 'God' 'doesn't exist', but that non-local information exchange doesn't exist (which everything seems to point to the possibility that it does)

Really? What evidence is there for this?

I should imagine most atheists, not being physicists, have no strong opinions one way or the other on non-local communication. And what if it were found to exist, after all - how would that in any way support the existence of god?



and that it's possible to really know anything concretely (which of course, it isn't)

Yeah, because everything's like, relative maaan...

Any physicist will tell you there are plenty of situations in which it's not possible to know something concretely. Heisenberg demolished the notion that one could have perfect knowledge of a physical system the better part of a hundred years ago.



A lot of people who call themselves atheists are clearly not materialists, and really would be closer to agnostics. Others are materialists, and delude themselves into thinking they are people of reason, when clearly their emotional fixation on the fallacy of religion is clouding them from properly philosophically and even scientifically addressing the entirety of these issues. I see Dawkins as being a perfect example of this, and from what I remember The Dawkins Delusion book says much to that effect.

He gets worked up about a subject he's emotionally invested in; that's not the same thing as being irrational. He may be irrational for other reasons, I don't know. He's not a Vulcan, he has the same right to get emotional about things as anyone else, surely?

Mr. Tea
06-07-2010, 10:31 AM
I don't think that it would be especially foolish to extrapolate to an optimistic conclusion.

http://snarkerati.com/movie-news/files/2008/05/terminator.jpg

rob_giri
06-07-2010, 12:24 PM
Umm...no. What is it with quantum mechanics? So many people seem to think you can start with the Schroedinger equation and derive the existence of ESP or some shit. How many "scientists who study quantum theory" do you actually know, by the way? I've studied it to postgraduate level and it hasn't turned me into a mystic - however I can vogue with the best of them. ;)

Well if you've studied it to a post-graduate level then that means you probably have more knowledge about it than I do. However, I know a few people who have - one imparticular who is doing a masters in physics and quantum theory and is on some sort of world-class elite panel of researchers here at the university - and when I put all of this too him he agrees that the whole malarky proves only one thing - that the uncertainty there is at the highest level of science about the sources of energy and consciousness in our universe is matched only by the complexity and immaterial elegance that all the theory and observation suggests. You have said 'Umm..No' here, but what are you disagreeing with? When did I ever suggest that quantum theory can 'prove ESP'? I merely suggested that there is an uncertainty about these things that cannot be ignored (and therefore not discredited)


Really? What evidence is there for this?

I should imagine most atheists, not being physicists, have no strong opinions one way or the other on non-local communication. And what if it were found to exist, after all - how would that in any way support the existence of god?

By saying this I was pointing out that atheists and cynics seem to be so certain that 'ESP' and other psychic phenomena doesn't exist, whereas the truth is that these things still cannot be totally disproved but merely speculated not to exist. In terms of non-locality and entanglement - as far as I know this is still an open issue - but if it were proven to be possible I don't see (nor do I care at all!) about whether or not it can 'support the existence of God', but certainly it could point to the possibility that consciousness was infinitely more complex and powerful than we have ever imagined - and therefore has possibilities of it's own that have been hinted at in other ways throughout the ages in poetry, mythology and religion.

Just to simplify that - from my perspective you seem to be overly concerned with 'the existence of God', whereas I don't really see it that way. 'God' as we know it is mostly a construct and only relates vaguely poetically/allegorically to the formation and circulation of energy and consciousness in our universe. I see that quantum theory and related fields, such as in the work of Penrose, as not being able to prove anything mystical, but certainly not being at all in opposition to the basic tenets of ancient mystical schools, but definitely in opposition to religious fundamentalism, new ageism and other plagues of the planet. Speaking of which, what to you think of Kapra?


Yeah, because everything's like, relative maaan...

Any physicist will tell you there are plenty of situations in which it's not possible to know something concretely. Heisenberg demolished the notion that one could have perfect knowledge of a physical system the better part of a hundred years ago.

Now I really don't understand you here. I've already stated that I'm not talking about scientists, but materialist atheists, and stated that quantum mechanics (Heisenberg, in other words) has discredited materialism. You are trying to disagree with me by saying exactly what I have said. If you haven't, please explain.


He gets worked up about a subject he's emotionally invested in; that's not the same thing as being irrational. He may be irrational for other reasons, I don't know. He's not a Vulcan, he has the same right to get emotional about things as anyone else, surely?

I see where your coming from but I do see it as being irrational. That's really a whole other argument but most of the time if a person of reason and science 'gets worked up' in this way it can either bolster their integrity or cloud their perception. In his case I see it as the latter.

The last question is - what is 'getting worked up'. What is the nature of emotional investment. The answer is simple - emotional investment is a form of certitude, just as territorial drive is a stabilizing instinct. When someone gets emotional invested in a rational argument they automatically begin to become irrational, precisely because they lose touch with the universal law of uncertainty. The closer one stays to the uncertain, the more he/she stays closer to the truth. These days that's the only thing I am truly certain of (yawn).

Thus for me it doesn't matter these days if it is someone proclaiming the truth of mystical realities, or atheists like Dawkins proclaiming they know the mechanical truth about the meaningless of life - or even myself when I realize I'm becoming zealous about my opinions - they're all bullshit artists, who have lost touch with being able to think properly, imprisoned by their constructs, and unable to remain truly open.

Slothrop
06-07-2010, 12:45 PM
I'm going to have to nick a Richard Tyrone-Jones poem at this point.

Richard Dawkins

‘We can, then, with complete confidence, reject the third of our three hypotheses: the bonkers one.’ – Dawkins, The Ancestor’s Tale.

One day, Richard Dawkins was taking his wife up the arsehole.
Mid-thrust, he halted, mouthing:
‘What evolutionary purpose does this serve?’
Well, he couldn’t get hard again after that,
And his wife had to finish herself off.

Mr. Tea
06-07-2010, 01:08 PM
Well if you've studied it to a post-graduate level then that means you probably have more knowledge about it than I do. However, I know a few people who have - one imparticular who is doing a masters in physics and quantum theory and is on some sort of world-class elite panel of researchers here at the university - and when I put all of this too him he agrees that the whole malarky proves only one thing - that the uncertainty there is at the highest level of science about the sources of energy and consciousness in our universe is matched only by the complexity and immaterial elegance that all the theory and observation suggests. You have said 'Umm..No' here, but what are you disagreeing with? When did I ever suggest that quantum theory can 'prove ESP'? I merely suggested that there is an uncertainty about these things that cannot be ignored (and therefore not discredited)

Quantum mechanics describes very well the uncertainty in things like the energy levels of excited atoms or the positions of subatomic particles. Here you seem to be talking about uncertainty over concepts from the unexplained or paranormal - at least, that's what I got from your mention of non-local communication, which some people like to talk about in the context of ESP, telepathy or whathaveyou.

You said in an earlier post that "quantum physics had destroyed the boundary between rational science and mysticism". All I can say is: not from where I'm standing, it hasn't. Yes, there is "uncertainty" in quantum mechanics but it is a kind of uncertainty that is very precisely quantified and subject to rigorous physical laws, just like the behaviour of macroscopic objects that obey Newtonian mechanics.
It isn't magic, put it that way. Consciousness is another thing altogether and I think it's fair to say no-one understands where it comes from yet - explicitly quantum-mechanical phenomena may well have some part to play in it, who knows? I still don't think it lends any support to some ghosty 'pneuma' that is somehow generated by neurons and exists apart from the material universe. That's why I call myself a materialist, and I think quantum mechanics is in no way incompatible with it. It's still a materialistic framework, even though it radically redefines what we understand by "matter".



By saying this I was pointing out that atheists and cynics seem to be so certain that 'ESP' and other psychic phenomena doesn't exist, whereas the truth is that these things still cannot be totally disproved but merely speculated not to exist. In terms of non-locality and entanglement - as far as I know this is still an open issue - but if it were proven to be possible I don't see (nor do I care at all!) about whether or not it can 'support the existence of God', but certainly it could point to the possibility that consciousness was infinitely more complex and powerful than we have ever imagined - and therefore has possibilities of it's own that have been hinted at in other ways throughout the ages in poetry, mythology and religion.

Just to simplify that - from my perspective you seem to be overly concerned with 'the existence of God', whereas I don't really see it that way. 'God' as we know it is mostly a construct and only relates vaguely poetically/allegorically to the formation and circulation of energy and consciousness in our universe. I see that quantum theory and related fields, such as in the work of Penrose, as not being able to prove anything mystical, but certainly not being at all in opposition to the basic tenets of ancient mystical schools, but definitely in opposition to religious fundamentalism, new ageism and other plagues of the planet. Speaking of which, what to you think of Kapra?

Ha, a mate of mine leant me The Tao Of Physics when I was a physics freshman, and I remember thinking it was kind of cool at the time...there are *some* analogies, I think, between certain ancient schools of metaphysics and the worldview of modern physics, but they are only analogies, and some people have tended to make too much out of them. As far I as I remember the latter part of the book goes into properly crazy territory (or maybe that's other books by Kapra) with regards to explaining alleged paranormal or mystical phenomena using particle physics or somesuch. I could be wrong though, it was ages ago that I read it.

Consciousness, I think, is incredibly powerful and complex anyway - it doesn't require weird quantum phenomena* for us to understand this. A modern computer would have seemed 'magic' to someone in the 19th or early 20th century, but computers are based on 20th century physics which has been well understood for a long time now (admittedly, the interpretation of the quantum phenomena by which computers (and, presumably, brain cells) work is an open question - but that's more a metaphysical problem than a physical one). And a motor car would have seemed 'magic' to someone in the middle ages, and firearms must have seemed 'magic' to pre-modern peoples during the age of European exploration/colonialism, and so on...as science and technology progress, things that once seemed inexplicable come into the domain of rational understanding. There's no reason to suppose consciousness won't go the same way one day, I think.



Now I really don't understand you here. I've already stated that I'm not talking about scientists, but materialist atheists, and stated that quantum mechanics (Heisenberg, in other words) has discredited materialism. You are trying to disagree with me by saying exactly what I have said. If you haven't, please explain.

Then it sounds like we're using the word "materialist" differently. As I said above, I don't think there's anything in QM that requires a non-materialist position. I don't think an electron is in a radically different ontological category from a brick or a block of wood; it just has some properties that are unexpected if you've not come across them before because your intuitive understanding of what matter is is based on a familiarity with large objects like bricks. Whether there's a radical ontological difference between a brick and a living human brain, well that's a bit tougher - I think we'll be better able to examine that question when our understanding of neurology and consciousness is a lot more advanced than it is now.

*Specifically, maintaining an entangled state between two particles separated by any distance or a superposition in a system over any physical extent is extremely difficult, and can only happen in very specific laboratory conditions whereby interaction with any other particles is prevented. Typically, this is done in a lab by preparing entangled photons using lasers, precision mirrors and so on and then sending them down evacuated tubes. The warm, dense, messy environment inside a brain is the exact opposite of the kinds of conditions whereby entanglement or superposition can be maintained over anything other than atomic distances and time scales.

padraig (u.s.)
08-07-2010, 07:02 PM
Science doesn't do the good things that religion does - provide a sense of personal identity, orientation, meaning and community.

in fact, working in a scientific laboratory doing research provides all of those things (except perhaps "orientation", which is too broad/vague a term to know exactly what you mean by it w/o further elaboration).

also, why must atheism be a "project"? why can't just be, yunno, atheism? it doesn't follow at all that denying something means one has to then come up with an alternate thing to replace what's being denied.

padraig (u.s.)
08-07-2010, 07:04 PM
also, all this about the infinite layers of simulacra & so forth is really just intellectual masturbation innit? entertaining if you're into that sort of thing but ultimately pretty irrelevant (tho I suppose the same could be said about most philosophy, so).

padraig (u.s.)
08-07-2010, 07:13 PM
You said in an earlier post that "quantum physics had destroyed the boundary between rational science and mysticism". All I can say is: not from where I'm standing, it hasn't.

hear hear. not really a more point-blank way to say it.


A modern computer would have seemed 'magic' to someone in the 19th or early 20th century, but computers are based on 20th century physics which has been well understood for a long time now...

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"
-a famous science fiction author of the last century

Sick Boy
08-07-2010, 08:07 PM
This is a common mistake that is made again and again in arguments against atheism. Atheism is a lack of belief in a god (or gods) as the creator of the universe based on insufficient evidence. Time and time again you see religious arguments (or even more ridiculous non-religious arguments (http://www.slate.com/id/2258484/pagenum/all/)) that begin at the conviction that all atheists have declared an absolute certainty in the non-existence of anything that can't poke them in the eye. This just isn't the case, as Mr. Tea has so dutifully pointed out.

EDIT: This actually is in response to a point made a few pages back, but for some reason the browser on my computer at work can't get its head around the "last page" button on this board. Apologies if the discussion has since moved on.

mixed_biscuits
08-07-2010, 08:19 PM
in fact, working in a scientific laboratory doing research provides all of those things.

I don't see how this goes any further than the quotidian satisfaction of being gainfully employed whilst doing something one deems worthwhile. Even if there is something particularly elevating about working within the scientific community, these pleasures are, comparatively, available but to a fraction of us. How many years before a convert to science feels that they have drawn near to its centre? How many minutes before a religious convert can feel (rightly or wrongly) the same?


all this about the infinite layers of simulacra & so forth is really just intellectual masturbation innit? entertaining if you're into that sort of thing but ultimately pretty irrelevant

Not irrelevant if it makes atheism an irrational stance.

Sick Boy
08-07-2010, 08:20 PM
It is also probably worth mentioning that it is virtually the same kind of abductive logic that has been used to argue both for God and the sub-atomic particle. So atheists are totally into leaps of faith.

Sick Boy
08-07-2010, 08:27 PM
Also for the record, this:


The last question is - what is 'getting worked up'. What is the nature of emotional investment. The answer is simple - emotional investment is a form of certitude, just as territorial drive is a stabilizing instinct. When someone gets emotional invested in a rational argument they automatically begin to become irrational, precisely because they lose touch with the universal law of uncertainty. The closer one stays to the uncertain, the more he/she stays closer to the truth. These days that's the only thing I am truly certain of (yawn).

Doesn't actually make any logical sense. Although I guess that's what you're going for.

nomadthethird
08-07-2010, 10:18 PM
No, it doesn't solve the problem of the existence of an original creator or not but it does suggest that, locally speaking, we were created. This is not surprising, as the argument does not seek to solve the ultimate problem, merely to shed light on the nature of our own existence and environment. The argument does, however, have implications for the formulation of any theories relating to the primary originating event as, because we should not expect that our universe necessarily to be of the same kind as our creator's universe, we can expect to be further away from solving the problem of the original popping-into-existence than we think.

Regarding the relevance of not thereby solving the problem of the original coming-to-be, the greater the difference between the conditions applying within our universe and that of our creator's universe (and however many nesting universes regressing on), the less inclined we would be to look to the primary originating event to help us interpret our particular existential situation (re science and religion's comparative strengths in helping us to do this) and the less it might actually pertain to it.

Either you're coming off peyote or .... I don't even know how to respond to this.

nomadthethird
08-07-2010, 10:41 PM
He gets worked up about a subject he's emotionally invested in; that's not the same thing as being irrational. He may be irrational for other reasons, I don't know. He's not a Vulcan, he has the same right to get emotional about things as anyone else, surely?

Yeah, there's this really strange tendency in religious apologists to make an argument against atheism/freethinking that goes like this:

Atheists (which is almost always shorthand for scientists or methodological naturalists) can't ever be Spock, because they're human. Humans all have emotions, which are irrational.* Therefore, no scientist can ever be rational, so all scientific conclusions are speculative and anything supernatural goes.

But it's a disingenuous and limpid argument. Scientists and atheists are the first to admit humans are shitty thinkers and that we have to overcome all kinds of in-built cognitive limitations and biases in order to get any solid, rational work done. They also admit that much of their work is speculation: in fact, they have a special term for this, "hypotheses". The way rational discourse and discovery are accomplished by scientists is methodological and community-based: peer review is the gold standard, and the scientific method the model for because without it, individual scientists ARE practically useless, BECAUSE of things like observation bias. This is also why experimental results are only as good as they are able to be replicated.

But I get the sense that the people who don't already understand this probably won't be persuaded, and it's not really worth reasoning out.

*Which, by the way, I don't grant. There are plenty of times when it's perfectly rational to react to x or y with a given emotion. Emotions are in fact adaptive, and limbic activity can and often does serve as a survival strategy.

padraig (u.s.)
09-07-2010, 12:40 AM
I don't see how this goes any further than the quotidian satisfaction of being gainfully employed whilst doing something one deems worthwhile. Even if there is something particularly elevating about working within the scientific community, these pleasures are, comparatively, available but to a fraction of us. How many years before a convert to science feels that they have drawn near to its centre? How many minutes before a religious convert can feel (rightly or wrongly) the same?

well, you'll note I didn't say science was particularly elevating or noble, merely that it can offer the same kind of fulfillment that people claim religion does. you'll also note that this was a direct response to someone who specifically said science could not do so, rather than a general claim about its superiority. that said, I do believe science is unique in the sense that it's the only human pursuit which is about the addition of new knowledge to the human race (that's science broadly, including both the hard & the social sciences, as well as mathematics), while everything else either describes, interprets, or applies what is already known or believed. that's "unique", mind, not "better".

the point that only a relative few can actually work in science is freely taken, nor did I say otherwise (again, this was a direct refutation), but science is hardly the only secular pursuit that offers benefits comparable to those often ascribed to religion.

what is the center of science? what is the center of religion, or a particular religion? your temporal comparison is meaningless. plus, if religion is so accessible, why do people spend their whole lives trying to become enlightened, or understand the Kabbalah, or etc? why do so many people switch religions at some point in their lives? perhaps the answer is that religion (and thus religious ecstasy), like science, or anything, is more accessible to some & less to others.

(there are no "converts" to science in the same sense that are to religions, which I'm sure you know. this tactic of attempting to equivocate science as merely another religion is very overused and very, very wearisome.)


Not irrelevant if it makes atheism an irrational stance.

if it did, but it doesn't. not at all. not atheism, nor any theistic stance either. everything you've said can be boiled down "it's likely, because". I dunno why you're acting like you've introduced an earth-shattering argument here; it's an idea at least as old as the allegory of the cave, and probably much older still, and interesting thought exercise & that's about it. the other v. obvious point is, who cares? for the sake of argument let's assume our reality is artificial, the contents of a computer chip. so what?

I have a hard time believing you're not just having a laugh but hey, whatever.

padraig (u.s.)
09-07-2010, 12:44 AM
But I get the sense that the people who don't already understand this probably won't be persuaded

t'were ever thus

mixed_biscuits
09-07-2010, 08:32 AM
well, you'll note I didn't say science was particularly elevating or noble, merely that it can offer the same kind of fulfilment that people claim religion does...science is hardly the only secular pursuit that offers benefits comparable to those often ascribed to religion.

Yes, but I don't think that it (nor other mundane activities) can offer the same kinds of fulfilment that religion can (they can replace only some of the activities that religion enables - the ones that involve socialising, mainly). Many up-thread have pointed out what believers feel religion offers that other activities can't.


what is the center of science? what is the center of religion, or a particular religion? your temporal comparison is meaningless. plus, if religion is so accessible, why do people spend their whole lives trying to become enlightened, or understand the Kabbalah, or etc? why do so many people switch religions at some point in their lives? perhaps the answer is that religion (and thus religious ecstasy), like science, or anything, is more accessible to some & less to others.

To justifiably feel that you're getting the 'straight dope' in science takes smarts and years of hard graft; a religious n00b can talk to God or be visited by the supernatural from the off.

And if the recent convert doesn't get his unearthly moment early on (the point is that many do), they are welcome to stay within the community for as long as it takes.

In science, if you don't come up with the goods on time, you're out on your ear - science is only useful to you for as long as you're useful to it.


there are no "converts" to science in the same sense that are to religions, which I'm sure you know. this tactic of attempting to equivocate science as merely another religion is very overused and very, very wearisome.

I wasn't trying to make a cheap point there - by 'convert' I only meant someone who had begun scientific work voluntarily, having been doing something else previously.


everything you've said can be boiled down "it's likely, because"

You need to refute what follows the 'because' to make it seem less likely - at the moment, the simulation argument gives the probability of the existence of a designer/creator/'god' for our universe at 20% (Bostrom's figure). No-one's beaten him down in the literature so, if we want to be rational, that's what we should work with (P(no creator/'god') = 80% is not good enough for atheism).


for the sake of argument let's assume our reality is artificial, the contents of a computer chip. so what?

Well, use your imagination - for one, it means that there may be a reason for the existence of the perceptible universe and its contents.

mixed_biscuits
09-07-2010, 08:38 AM
Atheists (which is almost always shorthand for scientists or methodological naturalists) can't ever be Spock, because they're human.

What I find funny is that Spock and Data are very often obviously discomfited or even downright pissed off.

matt b
09-07-2010, 10:23 AM
at the moment, the simulation argument gives the probability of the existence of a designer/creator/'god' for our universe at 20% (Bostrom's figure). No-one's beaten him down in the literature so, if we want to be rational, that's what we should work with (P(no creator/'god') = 80% is not good enough for atheism).


Probably because they're too busy pissing themselves with laughter.


Oh hang on, I've just had a thought!

I think there is a 19% chance of the existance of a designer/creator/god.

I think this designer creator god looks like a massive pink elephant.

If you disagree, you are not being rational, as according to my made up figures, you only have an 81% chance of being correct.

Mr. Tea
09-07-2010, 10:42 AM
This discussion reminds of the guy - apparently some kind of professor, unbelievably - who declared that the LHC had a 50% chance of destroying the world "because it'll either happen, or it won't". :rolleyes:

Mr. Tea
09-07-2010, 01:23 PM
This is a common mistake that is made again and again in arguments against atheism. Atheism is a lack of belief in a god (or gods) as the creator of the universe based on insufficient evidence. Time and time again you see religious arguments (or even more ridiculous non-religious arguments (http://www.slate.com/id/2258484/pagenum/all/)) that begin at the conviction that all atheists have declared an absolute certainty in the non-existence of anything that can't poke them in the eye. This just isn't the case, as Mr. Tea has so dutifully pointed out.


In full agreement here, SB. Many people don't seem to realise (or willfully ignore) that the statements "God exists" and "God does not exist" are not equivalent (whereas a disagreement between two theists will typically involve contradictory statements of an equivalent nature, e.g. "God incarnated Himself on Earth as a man" vs. "God exclusively revealed His word to man through his prophet Mohammed"). The reason is just that there is no good evidence that God exists. Bertrand Russell makes the argument even more explicit by postulating a teapot in space out beyond the Earth's orbit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_teapot): if someone were to claim that such a thing exists, of course it is impossible to disprove the claim; but any rational person would assume the burden of proof lies on the teapot-ist, not on the teapot-sceptic, and would be justified in dismissing the claim as nonsense, pending any future discovery that might provide evidence for the teapot.

That Slate piece is attrocious, by the way - just recycling the tired old chestnut about how atheism is "a kind of faith", blah blah, and also ventures intrepidly into A-level philosophy territory by asserting the "logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing". Apart from the bleedingly obvious point that this rather puts any putative Supreme Creator in a rather dubious position, it's been rigorously proven to be untrue. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_energy) The author even, laughably, claims not to find arguments about "multiverses" and "vacuums filled with quantum potentialities" very "convincing" - if I may go out on a limb here, maybe that's because you're not a physicist or cosmologist? Does he also doubt evolution by natural selection because he's not a geneticist?

Sick Boy
09-07-2010, 02:19 PM
That part where he suggests that if agnostics were to have a team t-shirt, it would read "I just don't know" is amazing. If the image of a bunch of agnostics standing around in matching sloganized shirts wasn't good enough, he had to go and make them t-shirts.

It's almost like he thinks Socrates recognized his own acknowledged ignorance as being fundamental to his wisdom just so that he could have a convenient excuse for being an absolute berk.

Dr Awesome
09-07-2010, 02:45 PM
I think, at it's most basic and fundamental level, religion provides people with a placation to the big questions of the universe. All they have to do is go somewhere once a week and say a few things, be blessed by a holy man or face a certain direction. In return, their soul is saved for all eternity, they are provided with ethical and moral values, and a sense of belonging (cosmically and otherwise).

It's a pointless waste of time even engaging fundamentalists of any denomination with an argument based on facts. Even today, people disbelieve in evolution and the fossil record - two of the most grounded theories in all of science, each with so much overwhelming evidence supporting them, and none* to the contrary.

Imagine for a moment, that scientists or mathematicians could conclusively prove via irrefutable evidence and formulae, that there was no god(s). Do you think people would leave the churches, mosques, shrines, temples and synagogues in a gigantic wave of enlightenment?

Jus' Sayin'

Mr. Tea
09-07-2010, 03:01 PM
Jus' Sayin'

Well it couldn't ever happen, even in principal, so I'm not sure it really has any value as a counterfactual. But if it some could, consider that science has already proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the living species that exist today evolved from older species over the course of billions of years yet some people still cling to young-earth creationism, so I think it'd be unwise to underestimate the human capacity of willfill self-deception.

Conversely, we could ask if scientists would abandon their space telescopes, particle accelerators and genome projects if millions of supernovae suddenly appeared in the sky, spelling out 'HEY ASSHOLES, I EXIST, ALREADY!'?

Martin Dust
09-07-2010, 03:12 PM
HEY ASSHOLES, I EXIST, ALREADY!'?

That made me laugh, proper.

padraig (u.s.)
09-07-2010, 04:27 PM
Yes, but I don't think that it...what believers feel religion offers that other activities can't.

alrite, so rather than making a categorical statement that "science (or other secular activity) can't offer what religion offers", say "some people feel they get something fm religion which cannot be duplicated elsewhere". which is a different proposition, as well as one not unique to religion. on a point-by-point basis clearly there is not any single element religion offers that cannot be found elsewhere; maybe nothing else captures the particular blend of elements that religion has, but the same can, again, be said for any comparably involved secular pursuit. (basing your claim on what religious believers think is a bit biased too innit - perhaps I should claim the moral/spiritual/etc benefits of science based on a survey of biochemists or similar, no?)


To justifiably feel that you're getting the 'straight dope' in science takes smarts and years of hard graft; a religious n00b can talk to God or be visited by the supernatural from the off...

aside from the very narrow view you're taking of "science", you're still (esp. for someone who seems to be so concerned with categorization & precise language) just making vague offhanded claims. what is this "straight dope" exactly? I explain basic tenets of molecular biology to laypeople all the time in conversation w/o much difficulty. sure, only a v. few people can appreciate physics at the highest level; the same could be said for various orders of religious esoterica, tho. everything has an entry-level, followed by higher levels. your "talking" to God is another person's understanding of DNA (the basics of which can explained, I'd think, in about 15 minutes).

all the business about science only uses you & so forth - believe, I know the pressure on post-docs (yet another reason I'd never want to do a PhD in the hard sciences) in terms of getting academic positions. again tho, this is an incredibly limited & narrow view of "science" & what it offers.


You need to refute what follows the 'because' to make it seem less likely

no, I don't. it's not something one has to refute in the same sense that a lawyer refutes an argument in a trial; the latter is based on evidence, this is all logician's tricks & hypotheticals. being that Bostrom (et al) is a v. clever dude, they're good logician's tricks, but that's about it. where is he/others obtaining this probability from? i.e. garbage in/out, etc

also, as Matt said, the argument that no one's slapped him down in the literature imparts validity is not a good one. there are all kinds of crackpot theories that flit along unabated b/c no one wants/cares enough to spend the time slapping them down; this is, admittedly, a more serious endeavor than, say, the Flat Earth Society, but perhaps most people just don't care?


Well, use your imagination

yeh, as I said to begin with, it's an interesting thought experiment. I ask again, suppose you proved conclusively tomorrow that this was the case. the impact on day-to-day life would be...?

and there already is a reason for everything to exist - existence: a hydrogen molecule exists to be a hydrogen molecule; a transcription factor exists to turn on a particular gene; a fruit fly exists to be a fruit fly. atoms form molecules form cells form tissues & organs form organisms form populations etc etc simple organization proceed to complexity w/each advancing layer form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. if you want something else, fine, but don't ever suggest that that lack of desire to search for extraneous meaning is due to a lack of "imagination".:rolleyes:

padraig (u.s.)
09-07-2010, 04:31 PM
This discussion reminds of the guy - apparently some kind of professor, unbelievably - who declared that the LHC had a 50% chance of destroying the world "because it'll either happen, or it won't".

that is the most awesome thing I've heard in a hella long time. who is this guy, so we can go get wasted together? "there's a 50% chance of me scoring w/that hot girl, b/c it'll either happen or it won't. there's a also a 50% chance of me vomiting all over myself, b/c it'll either happen, or it won't."

I'm going to start living my life by this happen/won't maxim

padraig (u.s.)
09-07-2010, 04:41 PM
other things that will happen/won't

-super-intelligent zebras enslave the human race
-Obama peels off the rubber mask and reveals that he is, in fact, Vladimir Lenin
-California sinks into the Pacific Ocean
-England wins the World Cup in our lifetimes

happen/won't is great. pisses all over the simulation hypothesis doesn't it?

Mr. Tea
09-07-2010, 04:42 PM
Yeah, I've got a 50% of getting Angelina Jolie in the sack tonight - pretty cool, huh? If my head doesn't unaccountably explode between now and then, that is, which unfortunately is also 50% likely to happen. :eek:

Edit: the guy's name is Walter L. Wagner - he's even set up a nifty website! http://www.lhcdefense.org/ :D

Apparently "61% of over 250,000 participants in an AOL survey say that operating the LHC is not worth the risk" - well you can't argue with that! I wonder what the survey questions were: I'm guessing "Would you be [A] very concerned, or [B] not very concerned, if the DOOMSDAY MACHINE being built buy those LATTER-DAY FRANKENSTEIN CRACKPOT MADMEN destroyed the ENTIRE WORLD?"

padraig (u.s.)
09-07-2010, 07:24 PM
Yeah, I've got a 50% of getting Angelina Jolie in the sack tonight - pretty cool, huh? If my head doesn't unaccountably explode between now and then, that is, which unfortunately is also 50% likely to happen.

you also have a 50% chance of your head exploding while you're in the sack w/Ms. Jolie. happen/won't -> it's invincible.


Apparently "61% of over 250,000 participants in an AOL survey say that operating the LHC is not worth the risk" - well you can't argue with that!

well, AOL surveys are a notorious repository of advanced scientific knowledge

mixed_biscuits
09-07-2010, 08:10 PM
on a point-by-point basis clearly there is not any single element religion offers that cannot be found elsewhere.

God? A basis for morality? An over-arching purpose to the existence of everything?


aside from the very narrow view you're taking of "science", you're still (esp. for someone who seems to be so concerned with categorization & precise language) just making vague offhanded claims. what is this "straight dope" exactly? I explain basic tenets of molecular biology to laypeople all the time in conversation w/o much difficulty. sure, only a v. few people can appreciate physics at the highest level; the same could be said for various orders of religious esoterica, tho. everything has an entry-level, followed by higher levels. your "talking" to God is another person's understanding of DNA (the basics of which can explained, I'd think, in about 15 minutes).

Hmm yes, but it's a mistake to think that the apogee of religious experience is 'understanding' - the zenith is surely the feeling of communion with a supernatural power. And it is this feeling that is potentially available to all at any time, quite unlike the nec plus ultra of scientific experience (which I would propose might take the form of a moment of synthetic understanding and subsequent progress), which has intellect and much hard work as pre-requisites.

Dawkins seems to be saying to us, 'leave your religious friends and family and follow me into the fantastic adventure playground that is rational enquiry and understanding.' Well, I'm sorry, but I have neither the wit nor resources to negotiate the playground. And nor do 99% of us.

Of course, for Dawkins, that's probably fine. He doesn't care whether the majority of his followers are barely conscious, his aim is to unseat the clerics who hold the masses in their thrall and replace them with sensible people who know what's what.


there are all kinds of crackpot theories that flit along unabated b/c no one wants/cares enough to spend the time slapping them down; this is, admittedly, a more serious endeavor than, say, the Flat Earth Society, but perhaps most people just don't care?

Yes, but it's a theory that is presumably amenable to being contradicted effectively, as it takes very simple assumptions and makes very clear steps and was then published, having been through peer review; it's not some idle speculation he pulled out from the back of his wotsit.

Furthermore, there are attempted rebuttals.

But this is a problem of psychology first and foremost: to accept a rational conclusion that is prima facie whacky.


I ask again, suppose you proved conclusively tomorrow that this was the case. the impact on day-to-day life would be...?

I suppose it depends on how conclusive proof was reached. Perhaps the simulation will be found to have been created in order to preserve ur-humans threatened with extinction digitally (this will make people feel special and they will recycle more); perhaps the simulation was created to run disaster scenarios and gauge the efficacy of various responses (this will make people feel a little used and also scared); perhaps the simulation was created for the Nontando 3DS (this will make people suicide).

To explore my speculation properly, you would need to ask people other than yourself, in order to move towards a confirmation that they would be left similarly unmoved.


and there already is a reason for everything to exist - existence: a hydrogen molecule exists to be a hydrogen molecule; a transcription factor exists to turn on a particular gene; a fruit fly exists to be a fruit fly. atoms form molecules form cells form tissues & organs form organisms form populations etc etc simple organization proceed to complexity w/each advancing layer form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. if you want something else, fine, but don't ever suggest that that lack of desire to search for extraneous meaning is due to a lack of "imagination".:rolleyes:

No, what I implied was only that a reticence to imagine implications of the simulation argument suggests a lack of imagination.

I'm quite happy with the meaninglessness, being a rationally-motivated agnostic who feels like an atheist. It's just that so many others seem to feel differently.

mixed_biscuits
09-07-2010, 08:43 PM
Imagine for a moment, that scientists or mathematicians could conclusively prove via irrefutable evidence and formulae, that there was no god(s). Do you think people would leave the churches, mosques, shrines, temples and synagogues in a gigantic wave of enlightenment?

I've written a crap playlet to speculate on the fallout:

- There's no God? From where do I get meaning for my life now?

> Oh, that's fine, you may have lost your God but you have gained liberty - you can create meaning for your life in whichever way you see fit. Go to town, man!

- Right I'm back now, I've cracked this meaning problem: I've created this nebulous father figure whose role it is to ennoble us and give us a purpose. I shall call him 'Todd.' He's got a white beard btw.

> Oh, for Christ's sake.

nomadthethird
10-07-2010, 01:31 AM
What I find funny is that Spock and Data are very often obviously discomfited or even downright pissed off.

But males experience anger; that means it isn't really an emotion. At least, it's not like the other wimpy ones that women admit to having. [Male thinking is the definition of rationality, in the common usage, and so, (see how this works?) what men think is always more rational than what women or other men think.]

Re Dawkins: he's not asking anyone to "follow" him, or become a scientist. He simply thinks higher of people than you do, I suppose. He thinks that most people have the basic intellectual resources necessary to look at the world rationally and to live without superstition- it's just that many people have been lied to from a very young age by representatives of large, powerful institutions that have a vested interest in keeping the world ignorant. Institutions that, in fact, at one time ruled the world on the backs of the ignorance and poverty of most of the world's population. Many of which are still largely regressive political forces, hell bent on keeping women subordinate and brown/othered people oppressed.

So, you're making a strange strawman argument. No atheist I've ever run into, least of all Dawkins, expects anybody to give up Jesus and then replace him with engineering satellites in geostationary orbit. They do, however, expect people to, when they hear the facts, give up on long-held beliefs about afterlives and magical sky wizards in order to try to focus on building a better life for people on earth. And yes, since we're living in the era we call the information age, most atheists do think there's no excuse for the sorry failures in public science and math education we're seeing in the first world, but that's a side issue.

nomadthethird
10-07-2010, 01:39 AM
Apparently "61% of over 250,000 participants in an AOL survey say that operating the LHC is not worth the risk" - well you can't argue with that! I wonder what the survey questions were: I'm guessing "Would you be [A] very concerned, or [B] not very concerned, if the DOOMSDAY MACHINE being built buy those LATTER-DAY FRANKENSTEIN CRACKPOT MADMEN destroyed the ENTIRE WORLD?"

Let me guess. AOL's survey question went something like this...

LHC: Scientific progress or like the Tower of Babel, too risky?

Edit: Speaking vaguely of math and science: How much fun is calculus? It's the first math that's made intuitive sense to me... I even read about some mathematician who thinks we should start teaching it to 2nd graders, because of all advanced maths its central tenets are intuitive and young kids have no trouble picking them up. If there were three of me I'd want to spend a lot more time on physics and math.

Richard Carnage
10-07-2010, 03:32 AM
Re Dawkins: he's not asking anyone to "follow" him, or become a scientist. He simply thinks higher of people than you do, I suppose. He thinks that most people have the basic intellectual resources necessary to look at the world rationally and to live without superstition- it's just that many people have been lied to from a very young age by representatives of large, powerful institutions that have a vested interest in keeping the world ignorant. Institutions that, in fact, at one time ruled the world on the backs of the ignorance and poverty of most of the world's population. Many of which are still largely regressive political forces, hell bent on keeping women subordinate and brown/othered people oppressed.

So, you're making a strange strawman argument. No atheist I've ever run into, least of all Dawkins, expects anybody to give up Jesus and then replace him with engineering satellites in geostationary orbit. They do, however, expect people to, when they hear the facts, give up on long-held beliefs about afterlives and magical sky wizards in order to try to focus on building a better life for people on earth. And yes, since we're living in the era we call the information age, most atheists do think there's no excuse for the sorry failures in public science and math education we're seeing in the first world, but that's a side issue.

BOOM. Nail on the head, Nomad. Mixed Biscuits seems to be implying that it is his personal choice not to fully understand the science, and prefers a life of ignorance because he is either too lazy, or not bothered enough, to follow the scientific argument of why there isn't a God. We're not talking a 20% likelihood, we're talking billionths of a percent, if that. I'm definitely being too generous here. I respect people's independence in making their own decision about it, but I sure as hell don't respect them for choosing to conform to something that has unleashed stain a of oppression and conflict on the world! I just find things like Christians bemoaning people like Scientologists fucking funny. Just because they had a headstart on the brainwashing process! It's more plausible that the Earth started off as some sort of Noah's Ark for an alien race... Hang on - that's Scientology, right? :D

Richard Carnage
10-07-2010, 03:39 AM
How much fun is calculus?

From this statement, I can tell that you've never done triple integrals.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_integral

mixed_biscuits
10-07-2010, 07:11 AM
They do, however, expect people to, when they hear the facts, give up on long-held beliefs about afterlives and magical sky wizards

Yes, people might then accept that the story that religions might tell is false, but that still leaves itches that need to be scratched - and because science does little to help people to scratch the itch, religion would recur as a creative response to existential angst, justified not by rigour but by results.

When I refer to the inaccessibility of science to the vast majority, I mean the difficulty for most of being able to understand science's answers to the same questions that religion answers, not the difficulty of being able to understand how science makes God very unlikely (putting the simulation argument to one side for a moment). Readily comprehensible stories are replaced by incredibly gnarly narratives: Genesis by counter-intuitive Big Bangery; straight ethical injunctions by fundamental ethical uncertainty and so on.

In other words, the religious would find science's 'negative project' (there is no God) easy to understand (albeit difficult to swallow), yet would find science's 'positive project' (to answer fundamental questions to which religion previously gave answers) to be somewhat less accessible.

nomadthethird
10-07-2010, 08:29 PM
Yes, people might then accept that the story that religions might tell is false, but that still leaves itches that need to be scratched - and because science does little to help people to scratch the itch, religion would recur as a creative response to existential angst, justified not by rigour but by results.

When I refer to the inaccessibility of science to the vast majority, I mean the difficulty for most of being able to understand science's answers to the same questions that religion answers, not the difficulty of being able to understand how science makes God very unlikely (putting the simulation argument to one side for a moment). Readily comprehensible stories are replaced by incredibly gnarly narratives: Genesis by counter-intuitive Big Bangery; straight ethical injunctions by fundamental ethical uncertainty and so on.

In other words, the religious would find science's 'negative project' (there is no God) easy to understand (albeit difficult to swallow), yet would find science's 'positive project' (to answer fundamental questions to which religion previously gave answers) to be somewhat less accessible.

If you have to make up fairy stories to stratch some itch- whatever, go for it, I won't stop you. I happen not to have this itch, so I have no clue what you're talking about. But I'm not going to sit by mute while fundamentalists take over world governments with their white male privilege centered "values systems". Not. gonna. happen.

What good has religion's "straight ethical injunctions" done for the world, really? Other than be employed to justify some of the most outrageous crimes against humanity?


From this statement, I can tell that you've never done triple integrals

Yikes, no... definite integrals at infinity is about as far as I got. What's fun about calculus is that it's when you realize that math isn't about sums and accounting, necessarily. What it can do is much more expansive than that.

mixed_biscuits
10-07-2010, 09:40 PM
If you have to make up fairy stories to stratch some itch- whatever, go for it, I won't stop you. I happen not to have this itch, so I have no clue what you're talking about. But I'm not going to sit by mute while fundamentalists take over world governments with their white male privilege centered "values systems".

No, I'm fine itch-wise - as I said, personally, I feel like an atheist. I'm pointing out what I think are flaws in some of the current attempts to coax believers away from their practice. Surmounting these difficulties would make it easier to weaken the value systems that you, I or AN Other might take issue with.

grizzleb
10-07-2010, 10:11 PM
As I said way back, isn't there a way to separate an attack upon the multitudinous forms of organised religion that do negatively impact people's lives in various forms already outlined- oppression, segregation, bizzare and pointless rules etc, and the actual act of some form of belief. It seems to me that they are two pretty distinct arguments to be having - one of them is concrete and winnable, the other nebulous and intractable. It would be helpful to this whole debate from my perspective if instead of focusing on whether or not x and y really happened the argument was focused on actually challenging some of the harmful effects that organised religion has.

For example - instead of the British Humanist Society (iirc) putting ad's on buses saying "There's probably no God" (which is crass and immature imo), they could better spend their money by placing ads saying "X amount of people die in Africa every year of AIDs, and yet the Vatican is against the use of condoms".

Fuck arguing with them about theology, lets do them at morality...

mixed_biscuits
10-07-2010, 10:33 PM
For example - instead of the British Humanist Society (iirc) putting ad's on buses saying "There's probably no God" (which is crass and immature imo), they could better spend their money by placing ads saying "X amount of people die in Africa every year of AIDs, and yet the Vatican is against the use of condoms".

Fuck arguing with them about theology, lets do them at morality...

Yes, but that would just lead to a never-ending tit-for-tat, with contradictory adverts proclaiming, 'Christian charities save X amount of people every year' or 'X people died under anti-religious governments.' Neither side would gain any converts. It would be another negative project, failing to deal with the problem of replacing the positive things that people feel religion does for them.

As for morality, atheists are on to a loser. Since areligious value judgements cannot be definitive, atheist claims to have the moral upper-hand are ultimately comparatively weak. A believer would see renouncing God as equivalent to renouncing the means by which they could confidently say that something is immoral.

luka
11-07-2010, 02:49 AM
im all for a bot of science, wonderful stuff. not really into religion per se. not terribly interested in morality. i am into metaphor though and i think its important. religious texts and myths are full of good metaphor and illuminate/structure experience, actual life experience, what it feels like, in a way that science doesn't (doesn't intend to, doesn't need to, doesn't want to)
its not a thing where you say either you beleive in science or you believe in religion. one doesn't cancel the other out any more than science and art are opposed.

mixed_biscuits
11-07-2010, 09:15 AM
i am into metaphor though and i think its important. religious texts and myths are full of good metaphor and illuminate/structure experience, actual life experience, what it feels like, in a way that science doesn't (doesn't intend to, doesn't need to, doesn't want to)

Quality

Dusty
11-07-2010, 06:31 PM
you beleive in science or you believe in religion. one doesn't cancel the other out any more than science and art are opposed.

No, they just begin to overlap in a really horribly messy way when you get into the details.

nomadthethird
11-07-2010, 08:19 PM
Since areligious value judgements cannot be definitive, atheist claims to have the moral upper-hand are ultimately comparatively weak. A believer would see renouncing God as equivalent to renouncing the means by which they could confidently say that something is immoral.

Don't you realize that your simply asserting this again and again doesn't make it so?

I'm sorry, but insisting that your imaginary friend co-signs all of your ethical decisions, and thus makes them "moral", is on the same level as believing in santa claus, intellectually.

Mr. Tea
11-07-2010, 08:46 PM
Yes, people might then accept that the story that religions might tell is false, but that still leaves itches that need to be scratched - and because science does little to help people to scratch the itch, religion would recur as a creative response to existential angst, justified not by rigour but by results.

But why is that 'itch' there for some people and not others? I don't think there's an 'atheism gene', or that I'm any different in my fundamental biological make-up from the next Christian, Muslim, Hindu or whatever (although I'd be pained to extend that list to Scientologists, I'd have to admit...) - and if you extend that to societies or nations, why are there some countries where pretty much everyone follows one religion or another, while in others like the UK you have widespread atheism/agnosticism? Whatever the spokespeople for established religion (and their non-specific-theism running dogs ;)) may say about religion fullfilling the kind of 'itch' you talk about, why do a large proportion of people around the world now apparently feel able to face life without believing in Flying Spaghetti Monsters?

Also, I appreciate the argument Dan and others have made, here and elsewhere, about religion providing moral guidance for want of a better phrase, but I have two big problems with that. One is that it kind of implies that atheists are necessarily immoral, or at best amoral, and in consequence likely to rob, rape or murder the next person they run across; the other is that the moral guidance offered by religion quite often fucking stinks, to put it bluntly - whether it's women getting stoned to death in Iran for adultery or Christian fundies in America picketing the funerals of Aids victims. The UDHR may frequently be regarded as scarcely worth the paper it's written on when considered against the sum total of appalling wickedness and inequality that goes on all over the world, but I think it can only be considered a step in the right direction when you consider the alternative (other than complete lawlessness), namely theocracy.

Edit: some great points from nomad in the last couple of pages - had to laugh at "what men think is always more rational that women and other men think". :)

Edit2: I see where luka's coming from too, but I think you can get that benefit of metaphor, psychic structuring or whatever from myths without literally believing them to be true. In zhao's thread about the 'lack of the mysterious' he made some (pretty silly, I thought) point about the wonder-filled world view of magic realist authors versus the drab, grey, soulless (ad nauseam) universe espoused by us unimaginative rationalists, and he name-checked a few authors including Rushdie. Because obviously the Cambridge-eduated, Booker-winning author literally believes in ghosts, witches, prophecies and all the rest of it. I mean, seriously! You can enjoy fairytales without needing the fairies to be real, can't you? I think this is one area where Hinduism and Buddhism maybe do a little better than the Abrahamic religions, because a lot of the stories in their ancient scripture are so transparently fantastical (I mean psychedelically fantastical, in contrast to the common-or-garden fantastical mythology in the Bible/Qu'ran) that there's a case to be made that it's implicitly understood that they're not literally true, but are metaphors for deep spiritual truths, whatever you think of those. So followers of those religions might be susceptible to all sorts of other superstitions and quackery, but they don't have this crazy insistence on ideas that have been flatly disproven, like the world being 6,000 years old.

mixed_biscuits
11-07-2010, 10:44 PM
Don't you realize that your simply asserting this again and again doesn't make it so?

Not necessarily, but your saying that doesn't make my assertion wrong either. After all, there are no absolute values in a Godless universe.


I'm sorry, but insisting that your imaginary friend co-signs all of your ethical decisions, and thus makes them "moral", is on the same level as believing in santa claus, intellectually.

The factual correctness of the belief doesn't matter - it's the effect that it has on what people do that matters.

DannyL
11-07-2010, 11:05 PM
in fact, working in a scientific laboratory doing research provides all of those things (except perhaps "orientation", which is too broad/vague a term to know exactly what you mean by it w/o further elaboration).

True, but what about people who don't work in the field? What I'm asking is, if science is a "worldview" (and I may be mis-representing whichever posters mentioned it upthread), what does it offer the layperson, in making sense of his/her life? That is a what a worldview implies, surely? What does a scientific worldview have to say about the areas traditionally occupied by religion - community, celebration, a sense of personal meaning and connection and so forth. I would argue that science doesn't address these areas particularly well, there are areas of human experience that aren't served well by science-as-worldview and atheism.

Humanism though, is a different kettle of fish.



[QUOTE]also, why must atheism be a "project"? why can't just be, yunno, atheism? it doesn't follow at all that denying something means one has to then come up with an alternate thing to replace what's being denied.

Depends how successful you want it to be surely? I have no problem with what you're saying but it seems to me that Dawkins and other prominent atheist wish to very much "advance their cause". I'm pointing out some other reasons why I don't think they will succeed.

Mr. Tea
11-07-2010, 11:09 PM
After all, there are no absolute values in a Godless universe.

c = 299,792,458m/s

(SO glad I had to look that up past the first three figures...)



The factual correctness of the belief doesn't matter - it's the effect that it has on what people do that matters.

That's no reason not to challenge those beliefs, though. Beliefs aren't immutable; no-one still worships the old Greek or Egyptian gods, and the core creeds of all the older world religions have undergone a lot more mutation over the thousands of years since they started than most of their current representatives are probably prepared to admit.

mixed_biscuits
11-07-2010, 11:16 PM
But why is that 'itch' there for some people and not others?

Other posters have proposed a number of religion's uses. As for the lack of blanket coverage, it doesn't matter - what is important is that there will always be people for whom it performs an important function, and they will prove very resistant to any attempts to divert them (cf. many communist states' failed attempts to atheise their populations).

Being generally uber-rational/intelligent or scientifically-minded doesn't preclude practising either, as I know absurdly-qualified folk who have either continued to practise their faith or even taken religion up in adulthood - they must have had an itch that they couldn't find any other way to scratch, right?


Also, I appreciate the argument Dan and others have made, here and elsewhere, about religion providing moral guidance for want of a better phrase, but I have two big problems with that. One is that it kind of implies that atheists are necessarily immoral, or at best amoral, and in consequence likely to rob, rape or murder the next person they run across

Well, atheists are taken to consider their own values as not-absolute, personal. So it might well stand to reason to find atheists less trustworthy:

“…those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all” (J. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689)

To the religious, atheists can be considered less trustworthy than believers from their least favoured competing faith!

While 33.5% of Americans would disapprove if their child married a Muslim (the second least popular group in America) an amazing 47.3% would disapprove if their child married an atheist. ref. Should Believers Trust Atheists? (http://www.practicalethicsnews.com/practicalethics/2010/05/should-believers-trust-atheists.html)

This shows that it is not the content of the moral values that matters most, it is the fact that a.n. other believers are likely to believe in the existence of absolute right and wrong.


I think you can get that benefit of metaphor, psychic structuring or whatever from myths without literally believing them to be true.

Why would that be the case? I would imagine that this would be a case of 'you get back what you put in.'

mixed_biscuits
11-07-2010, 11:17 PM
That's no reason not to challenge those beliefs, though. Beliefs aren't immutable.

To repeat: it's not the content of beliefs, it's the quality (absolute, rather than relative).

DannyL
11-07-2010, 11:21 PM
But why is that 'itch' there for some people and not others?

Complex question, innit? And not one arguably on the level of individual biology! I'd hazard a guess that it's to do with the society that surrounds people. We are well-off, reasonably well educated, in a scientifically literate culture that privileges individualism, moreover one that has been writing religious explanations out of the picture for the last 150 years or so. Some combination of of this range of factors must feed into our atheism (I can describe myself as an atheist quite happily btw), while a person in a more religious culture is enmeshed in similarly complex web of discourses and relationships that feed into their religious beliefs and practices. I doubt very much someone is going to abandon all this just 'cos "it's not true" - I'm too knackered to write much more (stag do related) but I like the way this thread is going - because it's heading towards complexity - life as lived - rather than reductive black and white posturing (stupid comments about magical sky wizards aside).

DannyL
11-07-2010, 11:40 PM
Tea, you should have a read of this:

http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/

Got lots of say about the positive value of religion. I know it looks like a horrible self-help book but it's very good - and it's all scientific with numbers and everything! So your eyes wont' fall out if you read it :p

Richard Carnage
12-07-2010, 01:29 AM
Well, atheists are taken to consider their own values as not-absolute, personal. So it might well stand to reason to find atheists less trustworthy.'

Hang on. Agnostics (of which you consider yourself) are taken to consider their own values as non-absolute. Atheists consider their views to be absolute.

I think the "trustworthy" issue is an awful hypothesis, nevertheless.

Richard Carnage
12-07-2010, 01:33 AM
“…those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all” (J. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689)

Locke was an idiot when it came to religion anyway. He did a lot to advance the philosophy of science and the scientific method with his empiricist way of thinking, but his "logical" argument to prove the existence of God was laughable. His major flaw as a philosopher, in my opinion.

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 02:52 AM
What I'm asking is, if science is a "worldview" (and I may be mis-representing whichever posters mentioned it upthread), what does it offer the layperson, in making sense of his/her life?

first, off you -are-, in fact, badly misrepresenting science by referring to it as a worldview. at least in the sense you're using worldview, to mean a comprehensive metaphysical weltanschaaung, rather than just a general framework through which to view the world (which science can be/is). as to community, celebration, personal meaning, etc surely science itself in a technical sense has quite a bit to say, being as there are multiple scientific fields (psychology, sociology, various subbranches thereof) devoted to those things. I dunno what a scientific "worldview" has to say about them, mostly b/c there is no such thing as a comprehensive scientific worldview.

it is almost certain that there are areas of human experience not particularly well-addressed by atheism; it's also true that there are areas of human experience not well-addressed by religion. nothing is perfect, you see. your argument assumes many things, foremost that people need to be told by some kind of authority - religious, in this case - how to interact w/one another & define their place in the world. you're also assuming that people need an overarching metaphysical structure. well, there was community & celebration & personal meaning before there were ever gods, or organized religion at least. no gods, no masters, innit.


Depends how successful you want it to be surely?

I don't care how "successful" it is. it's not a competition. nor am I running atheism as some kind of small business.

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 03:05 AM
After all, there are no absolute values in a Godless universe.

well, Tea beat me to it, but I cannot resist b/c there are loads of absolute values in the Godless universe. like oh, I dunno, absolute zero.

(also, how are these abs vals defined yr God universe? cos wouldn't human interpretation of them always be imperfect, & thus not absolute? unless somebody had perfect knowledge of God, but that would make them God. I know Xtianity tries to sidestep this whole quandary w/the Trinity but I've always been less than impressed w/that particular piece of sophistry)

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 03:08 AM
His major flaw as a philosopher, in my opinion.

the major flaw of every philosopher who's set out to "prove" God's existence & failed miserably.

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 03:18 AM
Other posters have proposed a number of religion's uses.

which have, ahem, been shot down or at least rather easily found not to be exclusive to religion. conceding that there will always be some people, likely many, who derive comfort fm religion, tho not b/c of its inherent uniqueness but rather b/c of its placement in history/society/etc; obv there's no way to test but it is my contention that children born into a 100% religion-free society wouldn't spontaneously reconstruct it.


I know absurdly-qualified folk who have either continued to practise their faith or even taken religion up in adulthood - they must have had an itch that they couldn't find any other way to scratch, right?

this says, what exactly? one refers again to the presence of religion as a thing to take up. having an itch doesn't mean it's a religious itch, or a God itch.


Well, atheists are taken to consider their own values as not-absolute, personal. So it might well stand to reason to find atheists less trustworthy:

speaking of sophistry.

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 03:24 AM
But why is that 'itch' there for some people and not others...I'd hazard a guess that it's to do with the society that surrounds people...

well, of course


(stupid comments about magical sky wizards aside)

I will defend stupid comments about magical sky wizards until the day I die


I know it looks like a horrible self-help book but it's very good

:eek: (no, no I'm sure it is very good, Mr. L. it has numbers, after all)

Dr Awesome
12-07-2010, 05:18 AM
obv there's no way to test but it is my contention that children born into a 100% religion-free society wouldn't spontaneously reconstruct it.

well, I doubt very much they'd spring into full papal regalia, but religions, like other memes - evolve and develop over time. Provided the children grew up in a world where things could be explained using science and reason they'd have no reason to invent an omnipotent sky god - But, if like early man all they saw was lightning and thunder they'd probably eventually anthropomorphise the various aspects of the world around them which they couldn't explain into spirits and gods.

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 07:43 AM
Hang on. Agnostics (of which you consider yourself) are taken to consider their own values as non-absolute. Atheists consider their views to be absolute.

I think the "trustworthy" issue is an awful hypothesis, nevertheless.

I think you're conflating different terms here (values and facts/beliefs). Atheists would certainly not believe that there are absolute moral values.

Absolute zero is not a moral value.

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 07:47 AM
obv there's no way to test but it is my contention that children born into a 100% religion-free society wouldn't spontaneously reconstruct it.

But we have already constructed religion uninfluenced, unless you think it was already part of the cultural scene in the African cradle of humanity.

luka
12-07-2010, 07:50 AM
I see where luka's coming from too, but I think you can get that benefit of metaphor, psychic structuring or whatever from myths without literally believing them to be true.

of course. im not suggesting anyone should take that stuff literally. im not sure its even intended to be taken literally although im aware people do.

luka
12-07-2010, 07:59 AM
american atheists always seem to have this really quite gauche way of shaking their fist at god, which you dont see atheists who grew up in mature secular socieites doing. the sky wizard comments etc are embaressing.

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 08:00 AM
Locke was an idiot when it came to religion anyway. He did a lot to advance the philosophy of science and the scientific method with his empiricist way of thinking, but his "logical" argument to prove the existence of God was laughable.

If you're referring to the argument implied in the quotation I posted, well, it shouldn't be taken as an argument for God's existence. It's merely an argument for the goodness of people believing in God, mistakenly or otherwise.

re Richard's reference to the 'trustworthiness' hypothesis, we can then test Locke's contention by investigating whether atheists are indeed less moral than believers (especially in situations where they believe their actions to be unobserved) and consequently less deserving of trust.

It may be the case here that some false beliefs may lead to better outcomes than the corresponding true beliefs and that encouraging religious practice would be morally desirable.

This is what an atheist friend of mine had concluded before deciding to bring up his children within the C of E.

After all, there's no moral obligation always to privilege the factually true; just go with 'what works.'

luka
12-07-2010, 08:16 AM
i think in reality religious people tend to be bigots and hypocrites and if anything less likely to be moral than normal people but thats a side issue. i like what you're doing in this thread biscuits. someone needs to. dissensus has become very boring and commonsensical. in politics music and thought.

craner
12-07-2010, 10:03 AM
Putting blue cheese in scrambled eggs is pretty nihilistic.

Mr. Tea
12-07-2010, 10:36 AM
Tea, you should have a read of this:

http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/

Got lots of say about the positive value of religion. I know it looks like a horrible self-help book but it's very good - and it's all scientific with numbers and everything! So your eyes wont' fall out if you read it :p

I'm sure you've posted this link before, Dan, and while admittedly I haven't looked at it, I can't imagine what it could contain that might make me change my mind on this issue. Personally I'm quite happy enough most of the time, and in a more general sense I'm really not too keen on the idea of mass delusion being endorsed or defended because it "makes people happy". For one thing, it's easy to see how this kind of spiritual placebo effect can hamper efforts to actually improve the lot of poor people around the world. In the Christian view, for instance, the poor and downtrodden are blessed and will inherit the Earth, blah blah, so why try to improve their material condition in the here-and-how when eternal spiritual bliss awaits them?* It's just a psychological trick, like a 'Free Beer Tomorrow' sign except people really believe it.

*I think this is a major criticism of the work of people like Mother Teresa: no doubt she did a lot to ease the most acute suffering of the very poorest (who were ignored, if not actively despised, as 'untouchables' in the Hindu caste system) but she wasn't too interested in helping them escape their desperate poverty - because if they stopped being poor, they'd stop being blessed, right?

scottdisco
12-07-2010, 11:04 AM
Luka is well qualified to discuss nihilism and dubious faith structures as he's a West Ham fan

Dusty
12-07-2010, 12:43 PM
Richard's reference to the 'trustworthiness' hypothesis, we can then test Locke's contention by investigating whether atheists are indeed less moral than believers (especially in situations where they believe their actions to be unobserved) and consequently less deserving of trust.

I find it odd to think of someone as 'more trustworthy' because they do not commit socially unacceptable behaviour due to a fear of punishment from God rather than some internal reasoning of their own. They may suppress the behaviour, but they still might have the desire to do it.

http://c2.api.ning.com/files/wmAtvoesyIx8dJXWiJUChGnVFZfmCTr4byzxqZg4aYd6obpzPN PigwGypC6m3bwd/rehab477.jpg

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 01:59 PM
I find it odd to think of someone as 'more trustworthy' because they do not commit socially unacceptable behaviour due to a fear of punishment from God rather than some internal reasoning of their own. They may suppress the behaviour, but they still might have the desire to do it.

The atheist is in a far worse position if this 'reasoning' (which is actually either an appeal to an innate concern for one's fellow men or coercion by sleight of hand) fails. As soon as A.N. Aughty Boy finds that this process inexorably leads to arbitrary assertions and punishment-by-peer power play, then it's sin-a-go-go. The only thing stopping him is his ability to play hide-and-seek.

But from God there is no hiding one's sins. Oh no.

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 03:39 PM
Atheists would certainly not believe that there are absolute moral values.

we're not talking about absolute moral values tho, we're talking about perceived-to-be absolute moral values, which is an entirely different order of thing. your argument is that it doesn't matter what people believe so much as it does how that belief influences what they do. well: the Inquisition, all the Catholic v. Protestant wars, the conquistadores, persecution of & re-education for homosexuals, endorsement of slavery (the childern of Ham & so on), persecution of Jews, opposition to birth control, etc ad infinitum. that's just Xtianity, surely we could go on w/litanies of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu etc offenses. clearly non-religious persons & regimes, some avowedly atheist, have committed similar offense, some lesser & some worse; this isn't an argument for the morally superior history of non-belief. it is to say, tho, that a belief that your moral values are absolute, when in fact they aren't, is a v. dangerous jumping off point, as it leads to a rigid belief in one's own rightness rather than the ability to think critically & evaluate. (unsurprisingly, non-believers/skeptics tend to be slightly more intelligent on average than dogmatists, tho it's difficult to say which direction causation runs in that relationship)

you haven't said anything that even remotely convinces for the superiority of "absolute" religious morality over secular, non-religious morality, & I doubt you will, either.


we can then test Locke's contention by investigating whether atheists are indeed less moral than believers

go do it then. go do a double-blind study & report back on your findings. or don't. either way, don't offer up anecdotes about your "atheist friend" & C of E as proof of anything.


But from God there is no hiding one's sins. Oh no.

right, religious belief is such a great deterrent. b/c it's not as if deeply religious people sin constantly.

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 03:41 PM
But we have already constructed religion uninfluenced

I meant a society now, not a society at the dawn of human history, i.e. :


Provided the children grew up in a world where things could be explained using science and reason they'd have no reason to invent an omnipotent sky god

Dusty
12-07-2010, 03:47 PM
. As soon as A.N. Aughty Boy finds that this process inexorably leads to arbitrary assertions and punishment-by-peer power play, then it's sin-a-go-go. The only thing stopping him is his ability to play hide-and-seek.

But from God there is no hiding one's sins. Oh no.

What about the whole issue of repentance? You don't need to hide your sins if you commit them and then at a later date renounce your earlier actions. Suddenly it is sin-a-go-go with a get out of jail free card.

Tentative Andy
12-07-2010, 03:58 PM
There seems to be a lot of dubious points being made in this thread. I don't think I have quite enough grasp of the required concepts/vocabularly to refute them all, but to make a start:
In my experience, it is definetly not just theists who believe in absolute moral values.
Of course, this does not mean that those atheists who believe in absolute values are always right to do so, just as religous believers are not always so.
But that feeling of absolute moral certainty about one's actions, which is what m_b seems to keep claiming is the special preserve of the followers of a religion, in fact seems to apply to people across many different belief systems, including those with no place for a creator.
(Again, I think it's also worth bearing that this feeling of moral certainty might not always be a positive thing, if it means one's moral views are made immune from doubt, reasoned debate, evidence to the contrary and so on).


Edit: I guess a much briefer version of my position would be to say that the widely-repeated 'if God does not exist then everything is permitted' view is in fact bullshit.

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 04:01 PM
one thing, it's easy to see how this kind of spiritual placebo effect can hamper efforts to actually improve the lot of poor people around the world. In the Christian view, for instance, the poor and downtrodden are blessed and will inherit the Earth, blah blah, so why try to improve their material condition in the here-and-how when eternal spiritual bliss awaits them?

quite a few people have been on to that particular scam over the centuries. the Wobblies were particularly good on it, in re "apple pie in the sky when you die" & so forth, the way in which the clergy (or at least, the Church establishment; there are always at least a few radical individual priests or pastors) functioned as another tool to keep the downtrodden pacified.

another criticism of Mother Teresa might focus on her staunch opposition to both contraception & abortion, in a country that surely has a surplus of unwanted children (thanks, moral absolutism!). she also took $ from & supported the Duvaliers of Haiti, those great & humble Christians. plus, fun fact: the Catholic Church -still- requires "proof" of miracles for beatification. in this case it seems prayer to the Mother cured a woman's tubercular tumor. just by coincidence, of course, she happened to be on anti-TB medication at the time.

grizzleb
12-07-2010, 04:05 PM
I meant a society now, not a society at the dawn of human history, i.e. :
Haha, that's such a ridiculous point - "if you brought up children in a certain way they would almost certainly believe you and not make up something which is complex and dense that has otherwise evolved over centuries of time."

People would do well to have a watch at the latest 'Storyville' avaliable on bbciplayer, about a bunch of youngsters who escape from some mormon cult in the american midwest. Really eye-opening and touches on much of what's being discussed here.

Richard Carnage
12-07-2010, 04:11 PM
If you're referring to the argument implied in the quotation I posted, well, it shouldn't be taken as an argument for God's existence. It's merely an argument for the goodness of people believing in God, mistakenly or otherwise.

I wasn't referring that that quote, actually. It was more the second book of An Essay Of Human Understanding.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Essay_Concerning_Human_Understanding

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 04:27 PM
I wasn't referring that that quote, actually. It was more the second book of An Essay Of Human Understanding.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Essay_Concerning_Human_Understanding

That's all right, because I wasn't trying to argue that God exists by using Locke.

padraig (u.s.)
12-07-2010, 04:28 PM
Haha, that's such a ridiculous point

you'd think so, wouldn't you? but people keep saying that religion & religion alone can fill some kind of specific void in the human being, so it seems necessary to point out that there's no proof of that, & that there's no reason to think a religion-less society - that is, one in a world in which religion was completely unknown, rather an atheistic state in our own world (in which the state is trying to impose non-belief onto believers) - wouldn't be just fine.

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 04:36 PM
Children obviously wouldn't spontaneously create all the trappings of the church but there is an argument that humans innately tend to view the world around them animistically (they read agency into everything) and then have to be deprogrammed.

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 04:38 PM
I guess a much briefer version of my position would be to say that the widely-repeated 'if God does not exist then everything is permitted' view is in fact bullshit.

Why?

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 04:39 PM
What about the whole issue of repentance? You don't need to hide your sins if you commit them and then at a later date renounce your earlier actions. Suddenly it is sin-a-go-go with a get out of jail free card.

Repentance is unfortunate, but Original Sin means that you can't wash the slate completely clean.

Mr. Tea
12-07-2010, 05:02 PM
Why?

The UK has laws which are codified and enforced in an attempt to stop people doing Bad Stuff. These laws are not created in reference to any holy scripture (as they once were, of course) but by appeal to concepts like human rights, innate freedom, equality, respect for others' property and so on. Many other countries around the world have something similar. So any argument along the line than atheism negates the very concept of law is clearly specious bollocks.

Edit: and let's face it, if religious belief actually did instil morality into people, human law would be redundant, since everyone would naturally perform virtuous acts for the promise of eternal reward (or good karma, or whatever) and refrain from committing sins for fear of damnation (or reincarnation as a slug). The very existence of temporal law-and-order in religious societies is proof that faith alone doesn't make people behave nicely, isn't it?

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 05:48 PM
The UK has laws which are codified and enforced in an attempt to stop people doing Bad Stuff.

Convince me (the devil's advocate) that this 'stuff' is truly 'bad.'

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 05:54 PM
don't. either way, don't offer up anecdotes about your "atheist friend" & C of E as proof of anything

It's proof that the 'truth' stick that atheists beat religious people with doesn't always work: he knows full well that the premise on which the church is based is very likely to be false, but chooses to suspend disbelief.

It's proof that secular-minded people will live a lie in order to scratch the itch that they cannot scratch otherhow.

If your goal is the wholesale elimination of religion, then this is the fly in the ointment.

Mr. Tea
12-07-2010, 05:58 PM
Convince me (the devil's advocate) that this 'stuff' is truly 'bad.'

Devil's advocacy is one thing, but that's just asinine. Is there really any value to be gained from examining this kind of thing? It strikes me as being a bit like trying to have a conversation about maths with someone who keeps saying "Yeah, but how do you know 1+1=2?".

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 06:04 PM
Devil's advocacy is one thing, but that's just asinine.

No, you need to show that one can prove that personal moral values can be objectively wrong.

It would be as fruitless a quest as proving an aesthetic judgement incorrect.

Morality is not mathematical.

Unless one suspends disbelief and establishes some axioms: the rights of men; thou shalt not kill etc.

Spot the difference, eh.

Mr. Tea
12-07-2010, 06:20 PM
OK, well you could say something like "All the world's religions say it's wrong to kill and steal, so although we, as a secular society, regard the nominal origin of these injunctions (Ten Commandments etc.) as mythical, we consider that their universality is proof that the perceived immorality of murder and theft are in some sense hard-wired into the human make-up, and therefore a good starting point for constructing a set of laws that do not depend on a false status as god-given in order to be considered to be legally binding."

Or something like that.

Edit: in any case, you've side-stepped my previous point, namely that the existence of the rule of law in secular societies is a clear demonstration that theism is not a prerequisite for a lawful society.

Tentative Andy
12-07-2010, 06:31 PM
No, you need to show that one can prove that personal moral values can be objectively wrong.

It would be as fruitless a quest as proving an aesthetic judgement incorrect.

Morality is not mathematical.

Unless one suspends disbelief and establishes some axioms: the rights of men; thou shalt not kill etc.

Spot the difference, eh.

I think you're muddying the debate a little now.

For my part, I've encountered theories of objective secular morality that I find partially, but not wholly convincing. I think this is an area where we still have a lot of intellectual work to do and that in the future we have a clearer, more codified picture of things. (And I certainly have more confidence in this project than the one of establishing an objective aesthetics).
But regardless of my personal views, the main point is that there clearly are many people out there who believe in a system of objective secular morality much more strongly and with more confidence than I do (believe me, I've had the somewhat dubious pleasure of engaging in intellectual discussion with such people in the past).
As you yourself were arguing upthread, in terms of morality being 'absolute' for someone, what seems to matter most is not whether the moral beliefs in question are actually true, but just that they feel totally certain to the person holding them. What I and (I think) Tea were pointing out is that certainty is in fact present in people other than religious believers and is a part of institutions which are not religious.

mixed_biscuits
12-07-2010, 06:40 PM
I'm feeling a bit Out of Office today tbh. I'll have a proper think and reply later, possibly after a good night's sleep.

Thank God, eh. ;)

Mr. Tea
12-07-2010, 06:41 PM
Bit of a break from the current topic, but I wonder if anyone else spotted this on today's beeb:

Schools told 'no swimming in Ramadan' for Muslim pupils (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/stoke_and_staffordshire/10596808.stm)

It strikes me that stories like this weren't common ten or even five years ago. It seems to follow a pattern: a lot of Muslims feel their religion and way of life to be under threat, their unelected 'community leaders' make ever more hysterical demands for special treatment, moderate Muslims and liberal non-Muslims in local government feel they have to comply for the sake of community relations, word gets out and the Tory press have a field day, there's a reaction of outrage and/or pisstakery from non-Muslims, and the whole thing starts again from step 1.

Note that this is merely a recommendation from Stoke-on-Trent council - I don't know how much weight such things carry, but that won't stop the Sun from turning this into "NUTTY COUNCIL BANS SWIMMING OVER RAMADAN MADNESS!".

nomadthethird
13-07-2010, 07:44 PM
go do it then. go do a double-blind study & report back on your findings. or don't. either way, don't offer up anecdotes about your "atheist friend" & C of E as proof of anything.

The studies have been done on this- religious people (in the U.S. at least) have a higher incidence of abortion, homicide, rape, violent crime, etc. I don't think there's a single measure that they do better, instead of worse, on than the general pop.

But I will have to dig up the reference...

nomadthethird
13-07-2010, 07:54 PM
Not necessarily, but your saying that doesn't make my assertion wrong either. After all, there are no absolute values in a Godless universe.



The factual correctness of the belief doesn't matter - it's the effect that it has on what people do that matters.

There aren't absolute values even in a universe where you insist there's a Ceiling Cat, either.

There are some pretty useful constants though, yeah.

Why would an axiomatic moral system need God? You could posit the same moral axioms (it's wrong to kill, don't steal, etc.) without positing the God axiom and get the same results; that is to say, shitty ones. Because people don't live by axioms. We're organic machines, we live by necessity- I'm not that optimistic, reallly.

nomadthethird
13-07-2010, 07:59 PM
quite a few people have been on to that particular scam over the centuries. the Wobblies were particularly good on it,

The mob is good at it. Patriarchy's based on it. It's called a protection racket. Make up a threat so you can provide the protection against said threat- at a price! In the case of the church, it's eternal damnation. In the case of patriarchy, it's rape and prostitution.

mixed_biscuits
13-07-2010, 08:18 PM
The mob is good at it. Patriarchy's based on it. It's called a protection racket. Make up a threat so you can provide the protection against said threat- at a price!

otm

mixed_biscuits
13-07-2010, 10:11 PM
This house believes that the theist meme is either hard-wired, long-lasting or both and that there is no evidence that atheism is either a compelling meme or especially beneficial to human flourishing (which I take to be success at spreading one's genetic and cultural material).

There are only three stories that can be told about the history of theism:

1) A broken historical record with hard breaks in cultural transmission. Implication: theism is hard-wired and reoccurs spontaneously.
2) A broken historical record with intermittent periods of atheism: Theism can be over-powered by atheist materialism but the latter is unsuccessful (there is no evidence of an atheist society having met with great success).
3) A broken record with dislocation of cultural transmission: The theist meme is appealing enough to survive 1000s of years of dislocating incidents and consequent reinterpretations.

Given that attempts completely (within ring-fenced, local contexts) to suppress religion in the 20th C failed spectacularly, I propose that a) expectations that theism disappears globally are hopelessly optimistic b) expectations that an exclusively atheist society might be possible, let alone prove successful are highly optimistic c) thoughts of being able to bring about a successful atheistic society through coercive means are, in view of the recent historical record, foolish.

I would also contend that recent atheism has only proved possible in states that are mature and already stable and that the subsequent shift from theism within those states has not been reflected in a great increase in their fortunes.

nomadthethird
14-07-2010, 01:03 AM
But there's another option.

It's also possible (and imo highly likely) that theism isn't itself hard-wired, but is a byproduct of certain tendencies/deficiencies in human thinking that *are* based in our neural hardwiring. The types of models that chalk up theism to blindspots or general tendencies in human thought are especially useful because their powers of explanation are so multifarious- they end up accounting for all sorts of strange human beliefs and behaviors, not just theism or beliefs in gods/divine beings.

I could waste my time trying to explain a bunch of these, but plenty of people have already done it, and better than I would. Here's a vid of one my favorite theories about the neural basis of religion... (it's not too jargony or technical)... Andy Thompson on Hyperactive Agency Detection:

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vimothy
14-07-2010, 09:38 AM
Interesting discussion, but: how come no one has mentioned China?

mixed_biscuits
14-07-2010, 09:39 AM
Ah cool, I like this kind of thing.


It's also possible (and imo highly likely) that theism isn't itself hard-wired, but is a byproduct of certain tendencies/deficiencies in human thinking that *are* based in our neural hardwiring.

At 18:14 he says that 'Children will spontaneously invent the concept of god without adult intervention.' So perhaps 'hyperactive agency detection' always makes the leap to theism.

So, in order to maintain itself, atheism will need to do constant work correcting biases. In order to survive - at least before a 'change in fundamental human nature' (52:59), which he judges unlikely - it will need to be culturally transmitted successfully.

To prosper culturally, atheist societies will have to meet with comparatively more success at enabling human flourishing. Can they or are we better off indulging some, or all, of our biases?

Other points:

The vocabulary he uses suggests opposition - disabusing believers rather than informing them. Given that negative tactics (rejection rather than substitution) have generally failed (even the most coercive ones), this approach seems ill-conceived. That he uses overly oppositional language suggests possible bias - perhaps why he was unable to meet the 'religious belief is adaptive' implication proposed by the last questioner.

His ascription of intentionally manipulative, hierarchical structures to even primitive religion - that religion has been 'exploiting' biases thousands of years before science became aware of them - is odd. Presumably the first religious followers were just that: followers, sharing experiences of the disembodied god agent produced by hyperactive agency detection bias.

The brain scanning argument is surely a non-sequitur: it is obviously not the case that because something has a correlate in neural activity it then has no metacognitive existence. When I look at a plate the parts of the brain that process visual information might light up. This doesn't mean that the plate has no independent existence.

matt b
14-07-2010, 10:05 AM
At 18:14 he says that 'Children will spontaneously invent the concept of god without adult intervention.'

He keeps kids in a sealed box from birth?

I'd invent all sorts of rubbish if so.

matt b
14-07-2010, 10:12 AM
Which reminds me of an old Simpsons episode:

http://images1.wikia.nocookie.net/simpsons/images/0/03/Marvinmonroe.jpg

Invented by Dr. Marvin Monroe, The Monroe Box is a special isolation chamber wherein the subject pulls levers to receive food and water; the floor can become electrified, and showers of icy water randomly fall on the subject. All that is missing is an infant to raise in the box until the age of thirty.
The theory is that the subject will be socially maladjusted and will harbor a deep resentment towards Dr. Monroe. (http://everything2.com/title/The+Monroe+Box)

Monroe: It's a special isolation chamber. The subject pulls levers to receive
food and water. The floor can become electrified, and showers of
icy water randomly fall on the subject. I call it... The Monroe Box!
Grampa: Uh huh. Sounds interesting. How much will it cost to build?
Monroe: Oh, that's the beauty part! It's already built! I need the money
to buy a baby to raise in the box until the age of thirty.
Grampa: What are you trying to prove?
Monroe: Well, my theory is that the subject will be socially maladjusted and
will harbor a deep resentment towards me.
Grampa: Mm. Interesting.

mixed_biscuits
14-07-2010, 10:30 AM
He keeps kids in a sealed box from birth?

Children come up with the god concept without having it given to them.

lol @ Dr Monroe

matt b
14-07-2010, 10:36 AM
Children come up with the god concept without having it given to them.

The point being, this is completely unproveable/unverifiable, unless the child IS kept in a sealed box from birth, then asked about the god concept at some point

Mr. Tea
14-07-2010, 11:09 AM
I've been an atheist for as long as I can remeber, pretty sure the same goes for my brother. Our parents never sat us down and said "God does not exist", AFAIR, we just weren't brought up in a religious (or even pomo-feelgood-vaguely-theist) household. Though it's not like we weren't exposed to Christianity at a young age, because we both went to a C of E primary school and had daily prayers and hymns, RE lessons about Christmas and Easter, all that jazz.

OK, so a sample of one (or two, even) isn't much of a sample, but I certainly don't think children spontaneously 'invent god' if they're brought up in an implicitly secular environment, even with some (mild) exposure to organised religion like I received.

.................................................. ..........................................

Vim, what do you have to say about China? I really don't know jack about people's religious beliefs over there, aside from a skim-reading of a couple of Wikipedia articles. I imagine religion was suppressed strongly during the Mao years, but didn't people just start 'worshipping' Mao instead? I know he's subject of some massive personality cult over there.

I should imagine the general situation is one of widespread atheism among urbanised populations with folk Taoism (or whatever you want to call it) still going strong in the more traditional rural/small-town communities - anyone got any input on this?

mixed_biscuits
14-07-2010, 11:11 AM
The point being, this is completely unproveable/unverifiable, unless the child IS kept in a sealed box from birth, then asked about the god concept at some point

What is unprovable here? What do you understand by 'Children will spontaneously invent the concept of god without adult intervention'? Can we feel certain that certainty is implied here?

Do you doubt his general thesis on the mind's inference of disembodied agency? 'God' or 'gods' is or are merely the disembodied agent/s produced by hyperactive agency detection. Do you doubt that hyperactive agency detection is hard-wired, or even common? What does a rejection of h.a.d. do to theories of the genesis and transmission of belief systems that are highly populated with inferred agents, such as animism?

Researchers should be able to distinguish between children's references to a disembodied figure who has agency in their world and references to an abstract representation or figure with no or very mechanical agency. Ultimately, one would have to take a look at the literature to rebut the original claim effectively.

mixed_biscuits
14-07-2010, 11:23 AM
OK, so a sample of one (or two, even) isn't much of a sample, but I certainly don't think children spontaneously 'invent god' if they're brought up in an implicitly secular environment, even with some (mild) exposure to organised religion like I received.

I wonder if an environment that readily provides agency explanations might mollify hyperactive agency detection tendencies and instil rational thinking habits.

Or if early exposure to god-as-representation can take the place of or anticipate of the inferred god gained through h.a.d., to neutralising effect.

I also wonder what age the children he is referring to are. Adult self-reports may be of limited validity.

matt b
14-07-2010, 11:26 AM
What is unprovable here? What do you understand by 'Children will spontaneously invent the concept of god without adult intervention'? Can we feel certain that certainty is implied here?

I don't know of many children who have lived 'without adult intervention'. There are isolated examples (feral children etc), but as they have had no 'adult intervention', they have found it tough to communicate with adults, so are unable to articulate any concept of god.


Do you doubt his general thesis on the mind's inference of disembodied agency?

Well, yes, just as I doubt the findings of most evolutionary biologists/psychologists/whatever. It is reductionist and speculative.

That's not to say that there is not such a strand in the evolutionary development of the brain, but it is not something we are able to untangle (yet, if ever), just as dogs, whilst intelligent would struggle to untangle quantum physics.

Even so, I don't think an acceptance that a belief in god is hardwired in the brain means that a god exists, it just shows that our belief in god does.

Mr. Tea
14-07-2010, 11:30 AM
I wonder if an environment that readily provides agency explanations might mollify hyperactive agency detection tendencies and instil rational thinking habits.

Well it goes without saying I was brought up in a technologically and scientifically developed society, just as you and everyone else here (I assume) were. My mother in particular has a scientific background and my parents never filled my head with rubbish about storks delivering babies or whathaveyou, and I don't remember having any mad tealeaf-reading aunts. In short, I was brought up in an environment that was unsuperstitious as well as secular, I suppose: I learnt that things happened for natural, not supernatural, reasons.

mixed_biscuits
14-07-2010, 11:53 AM
There are isolated examples (feral children etc), but as they have had no 'adult intervention', they have found it tough to communicate with adults, so are unable to articulate any concept of god.

I suppose there may be ways to see whether children have a concept of a disembodied, godlike agent without asking them directly - by seeing whether they act as if there were a god, for instance.


I don't think an acceptance that a belief in god is hardwired in the brain means that a god exists, it just shows that our belief in god does.

Oh yeah, it definitely doesn't prove that god exists. But what I think might be important is that if people will often tend to intuit god/s, a society that wishes to become wholly atheist/materialist will need to put in constant work to suppress these hard-wired tendencies.

Mere awareness of these biases' negative influence doesn't suffice, as they are active processes, part of our physical endowment and cannot be simply discarded. Individuals will need diligently to monitor and correct their own thinking, including thinking that may be misleading but still pleasurable (belief as consolation).

Further to the consolation point, individuals will need to feel that the extra effort required in order to maximise the proportion of rational thoughts is worth it. For this, atheist societies will need to prove that they enable human flourishing above and beyond religious ones. Doggedly tracking the truth may be the raison d'etre of science but it need not necessarily be the best guiding principle for the good life.

matt b
14-07-2010, 12:04 PM
I suppose there may be ways to see whether children have a concept of a disembodied, godlike agent without asking them directly - by seeing whether they act as if there were a god, for instance.

ahh, lock 'em in a box and film them 25/7...


Oh yeah, it definitely doesn't prove that god exists. But what I think might be important is that if people will often tend to intuit god/s, a society that wishes to become wholly atheist/materialist will need to put in constant work to suppress these hard-wired tendencies.

Mere awareness of these biases' negative influence doesn't suffice, as they are active processes, part of our physical endowment and cannot be simply discarded. Individuals will need diligently to monitor and correct their own thinking, including thinking that may be misleading but still pleasurable (belief as consolation).

Further to the consolation point, individuals will need to feel that the extra effort required in order to maximise the proportion of rational thoughts is worth it. For this, atheist societies will need to prove that they enable human flourishing above and beyond religious ones. Doggedly tracking the truth may be the raison d'etre of science but it need not necessarily be the best guiding principle for the good life.

^ all speculation.

Dr Awesome
14-07-2010, 12:07 PM
Talking about the concept of God(s) over the lifetime of one feral child, or other such human iteration for example, makes no sense.
The very notion of spirits and mysticism would (and does) takes many many generations to evolve.

matt b
14-07-2010, 12:14 PM
Talking about the concept of God(s) over the lifetime of one feral child, or other such human iteration for example, makes no sense.
The very notion of spirits and mysticism would (and does) takes many many generations to evolve.

Yeah, but isn't the point that IF notions of god are hardwired through thousands of years of evolutionary change, you should be able to observe said notions in any individual of the species?

Mr. Tea
14-07-2010, 12:30 PM
Oh yeah, it definitely doesn't prove that god exists. But what I think might be important is that if people will often tend to intuit god/s, a society that wishes to become wholly atheist/materialist will need to put in constant work to suppress these hard-wired tendencies.

I don't think anyone would argue that regimes that have tried to ban or supress religion have tended to be brutal dictatorships, but if you look instead at a secular society like the UK there has been no active 'programme of atheisation'; just a gradual decoupling of Church and State and the leaking away of religion from most people's lives for all sorts of reasons. There's never been a National Atheism Act passed in Parliament, has there? In fact the Queen is still the official head of the Church of England, which is nominally the state religious body.



For this, atheist societies will need to prove that they enable human flourishing above and beyond religious ones. Doggedly tracking the truth may be the raison d'etre of science but it need not necessarily be the best guiding principle for the good life.

Well let's forget about 'atheist societies' as such and consider the weaker condition of generally secular societies. I'd be surprised if there are many secular societies that are less developed (in terms of wealth, wealth distribution, life expectancy, female education, anything you like) than even most highly developed theocracies. Theocracies are almost by definition reactionary and backwards-looking, which aren't great for general social or economic development.

Of course, there are societies that aren't theocratic in the strict sense, but in which the religious establishment nonetheless holds a huge amount of political clout and social influence. I suppose these are in between secular societies and true theocracies; Latin American countries where the Church is still very strong, Ireland a couple of decades ago? Israel?

mixed_biscuits
14-07-2010, 12:45 PM
I don't think anyone would argue that regimes that have tried to ban or supress religion have tended to be brutal dictatorships, but if you look instead at a secular society like the UK there has been no active 'programme of atheisation'; just a gradual decoupling of Church and State and the leaking away of religion from most people's lives for all sorts of reasons. There's never been a National Atheism Act passed in Parliament, has there?

Oh, we're secular in some respects (that public bodies are secular need not mean that they deny religion's claim per se, they may be secular in order fairly to negotiate between religions, for instance) but not atheist by majority. From wikipedia:


In the United Kingdom, a 2007 survey found 15% of the population attends church more than once per month.[18] A poll in 2004 by the BBC put the number of people who do not believe in a God at 39%,[19] while a YouGov poll in the same year put the percentage of non-believers at 35% with 21% answering "Don't Know".[20][dead link] In the YouGov poll men were less likely to believe in a god than women, 39% of men as opposed to 49% of women, and younger people were less likely to believe in a god than older people.

There is also the issue that, even if a state is exclusively atheist, its lifeways may still be inherently religious. For instance, the values enshrined in law here owe a great deal to Christian values (equality, inherent worth of man etc). Many atheists' belief in moral absolutes (see upthread) is also a religious hangover. But anyway, if the UK were largely atheist, can it be said that this shift has been generally beneficial - has led to greater 'human flourishing'?


Well let's forget about 'atheist societies' as such and consider the weaker condition of generally secular societies. I'd be surprised if there are many secular societies that are less developed (in terms of wealth, wealth distribution, life expectancy, female education, anything you like) than even most highly developed theocracies. Theocracies are almost by definition reactionary and backwards-looking, which aren't great for general social or economic development.

I reckon that atheism, as a social phenomenon of moderate influence, cannot be supported by a state that is not already stable: secularism succeeds stability. Note, my definition of flourishing focuses on comparative success through competition (spreading genes and culture) rather than distributive 'justice' within a state. I would also propose that a state of advanced distributive justice is a consequence of the balance of power (stable societies benefit from virtuous feedback) rather than especial rational maturity.

I've got to go do some work. :(

Mr. Tea
14-07-2010, 01:05 PM
How does 'equality' stem from Christian values? The Bible makes it quite clear that women are subordinate to men. That's without even starting on trad Christian views of heathens, Saracens, Jews (they killed Jesus, you know!)...or gays...or, indeed, legislation that discriminated against the wrong kind of Christians, which I think was still in force in the 19th century. Or still is today, if you include the Act of Settlement.

Whatever good you want to attribute to religion - social cohesion, sense of purpose, blah blah - equality is certainly not on that list.

mixed_biscuits
14-07-2010, 01:53 PM
Whatever good you want to attribute to religion - social cohesion, sense of purpose, blah blah - equality is certainly not on that list.

I can concede that as my point didn't rely on it. That said, a) I do think your characterisation is not wholly fair and b) the idea of inherent moral equality between any two people (this can then be upscaled) probably has a religious basis. Well, in fact, most traditional practices probably have a religious basis or connection, come to think of it, given religion's historical scope.

I think I should probably emphasise my original use of 'human flourishing' as being roughly equivalent to the maximisation of opportunities for cultural transmission of the concept of atheism - by maximising the number of people who are atheistic and maximising their influence on surrounding cultures. This definition gets at the question of atheism's robustness.

Whether individual people are happier in an atheistic society can be treated as a separate issue, I guess. Though if atheism tends to be unrobust, the spread of this satisfaction may be inevitably tightly limited in time and space.

nomadthethird
14-07-2010, 01:54 PM
Fwiw, my parents tried to make me believe there was a god when I was a kid, but it didn't work. So I think there are some children who don't spontaneously create the god concept. I think Thompson was just remarking on a general tendency of young, discontinuous minds.

mixed_biscuits
14-07-2010, 02:03 PM
Fwiw, my parents tried to make me believe there was a god when I was a kid, but it didn't work.

Out of interest, have you got any theories as to why?

Mr. Tea
14-07-2010, 02:09 PM
Out of interest, have you got any theories as to why?

Nomad was already on Beyond Good And Evil while you and I were getting to grips with The Very Hungry Caterpillar. ;)

nomadthethird
14-07-2010, 02:14 PM
Out of interest, have you got any theories as to why?

Hmm... well, it just seemed ludicrous that out of all cultures in all of human history, all of which had differing accounts of the divine origins of the universe, none of which made any logical sense, that only one got it right- and this was supposed to just happen to be the one I lived in. All the rest were infidels or something.

When I was a kid I wanted to live in China or somewhere far away, though, I hated the U.S. Perhaps I was just too aware of other cultures, that was the problem.

I was skeptical, suspicious, and contemptuous of most everything in general from pretty much day one iirc.

Sick Boy
14-07-2010, 03:28 PM
Nomad was already on Beyond Good And Evil while you and I were getting to grips with The Very Hungry Caterpillar. ;)

I would prefer The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the God of Christianity actually. On the seventh day, the Caterpillar ate a leaf, and God just sat on His ass.

DannyL
14-07-2010, 03:34 PM
c) thoughts of being able to bring about a successful atheistic society through coercive means are, in view of the recent historical record, foolish

...or incredibly violent and destructive. John Gray is very good on this sort of thing - see his Black Mass in particular. There's a couple of wild mis-representations that Padraig has made of what I said that I'd like to address, but we'll see if I can be bothered.

Mr. Tea
14-07-2010, 03:37 PM
Hmm... well, it just seemed ludicrous that out of all cultures in all of human history, all of which had differing accounts of the divine origins of the universe, none of which made any logical sense, that only one got it right- and this was supposed to just happen to be the one I lived in. All the rest were infidels or something.

Yeah, exactly - if the options were a single Religion(tm) or atheism, you might naively assume the Religionites were onto something - but when you consider that even the biggest religion accounts for under half the total believers on Earth, and most of them consider most of their co-religionists to be heretics or splitters, it just seems entirely arbitrary to belong to one religion or another, depending on what country or community you were born in. And when people change religion, it's hard to see it as anything other than 'going shopping for belief'.

After all, most theists around the world don't just 'believe in' some abstract and generic god; they worship Christ, Allah, Brahma and so on. You pays your money and you takes your choice...

Mr. Tea
14-07-2010, 03:41 PM
I would prefer The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the God of Christianity actually. On the seventh day, the Caterpillar ate a leaf, and God just sat on His ass.

But the caterpillar's pupation and emergence as a butterfly is surely an allegory for the Resurrection?!?!

padraig (u.s.)
14-07-2010, 05:06 PM
There's a couple of wild mis-representations that Padraig has made of what I said that I'd like to address, but we'll see if I can be bothered.

please, by all means elucidate how I've -wildly- misrepresented you.

oh & citing John Gray does you no favors in the self-representation department.

padraig (u.s.)
14-07-2010, 05:41 PM
Many atheists' belief in moral absolutes (see upthread)

wait, wait, where upthread? where were was anyone expressing a belief in moral absolutes? the argument was that moral absolutes, including religious ones, aren't actually absolute to begin with and further are generally a mostly bad idea.


I would also propose that a state of advanced distributive justice is a consequence of the balance of power (stable societies benefit from virtuous feedback) rather than especial rational maturity.

I don't see how you're sorting out cause & effect there. (for a bunch of these broad strokes you're painting, really, but that one in particular)

nomadthethird
14-07-2010, 09:34 PM
John Gray

John Gray is easier to refute than... Zhao.

j/k! I agree with Zhao on most of the important things, it's just the little stupid things...

mistersloane
15-07-2010, 12:51 AM
n children's references to a disembodied figure who has agency in their world

God, children wish they had a disembodied agency in their world. That's where it comes from. There will always be a 'need' or 'desire' for 'god' until we have eradicated the 'need' and 'desire' for parents.

nomadthethird
15-07-2010, 01:16 AM
God, children wish they had a disembodied agency in their world. That's where it comes from. There will always be a 'need' or 'desire' for 'god' until we have eradicated the 'need' and 'desire' for parents.

Yeah, I think that's exactly where a lot of the impetus for religion comes from.

But I also think that Biscuits is being overly literal about that part of the speech where Thompson talks about children inventing god. What he's really saying is that the normal, unsophisticated human mind will tend to create agents to rationalize unexplained phenomena- and you see this very often in children, who make up imaginary friends, or characters who make the snow fall or the wind blow. Ask them about how a machine works and a lot of small children will assume there are little men in there, etc. These are perfectly "intuitive" cognitions at the point in development, before people have the cognitive apparatus necessary to understand really complex systems (and concepts like equilibrium, disequilibrium, which don't require agents).