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Yoohoo? Evidence Of God?
Five children on a church outing were swept to their deaths. Where was god? Pick one:

a. working out on his treadmill in hopes of ridding himself of the Divine Spare Tire
b. watching porn on DVD
c. non-existent

If god not only exists, but is "all-seeing," and all that crap, what's your explanation for this, god-squadders? Did god watch the kids drowning, and just think, "Whatever!"?

Posted by aalkon at July 10, 2006 7:59 AM

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Don't you know, Amy? When things like this happen, it's always "Gods will" "God has a reason". i always asked that about the victims of September 11th, The Great Tsunami, Pearl Harbor, The Indians, The Holocaust, and other assorted tragedies....let alone 5 kids under 15 years old....

Posted by: Rob at July 10, 2006 8:27 AM

What could that reason be? God finds children annoying little shits? Or, the millions of 4-year-olds who died at the hands of dictators, child molesters, and other torturers needed to be snuffed out for the greater good? I'm open to explanations -- with evidence, please.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 10, 2006 8:30 AM

We need to talk to the parents. It's really possible that these children were horrible sinners.

Posted by: Lena at July 10, 2006 8:36 AM

Perhaps this is not the time to make religious or anti-religious capital.

Posted by: Norman at July 10, 2006 8:45 AM

Well, Norm, it is awful that kids died. But, people always talk about how god saved a kid when a kid doesn't die. What is their explanation when a kid does die? God was on break? They were shitty little children? There was some point to be made by god? Or...more likely, there doesn't seem to be any evidence there is a god, so parents should be more watchful of children playing in water that isn't the kiddie pool?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 10, 2006 9:10 AM

Well, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, check out the book of Job. Message: yeah, the rain falls on the just and the unjust, deal with it. At least, that's how I read it.

Anyway, I'm no expert. Check out this: Theodicy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodicy

Posted by: meep at July 10, 2006 12:33 PM

It's a strange sort of atheist who finds delight in these stories. If I thought you were really interested in what 'idiots' like me believe, I might try to share it with you.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at July 10, 2006 2:10 PM

With evidence? I'm sorry, Amy, that's a category error, which is a kind of logical error, on your part. If I thought less of you, I would say it's your way of framing the debate so you can't lose in order to make a snarky point. Smart people, who take theology seriously, know that we cannot even imagine the totality of God. So, how can we explain Him?

In any case, God's time-line is eternity. Why must all of God's justice be focused on the temporal, given that He exists outside of time?

Posted by: Fritz at July 10, 2006 2:14 PM

If you accept that children get to go to Heaven for eternity, a brief horrible death really isn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. They'll be fabulously happy for ever and ever and the bad stuff will soon recede way into the past.

Posted by: LYT at July 10, 2006 3:30 PM

Wow. Luke, do you honestly believe that? Somehow it doesn't make me feel one iota better.

Posted by: Rojak at July 10, 2006 4:08 PM

Ok, all you agnostics...got a question.

Do you "LOVE" your [mother/spouse/bro/sis/whoever]?.......How do you "KNOW" you "LOVE" them? It wasn't the supposed "big bang", I.....GUARANTEE that with all the science you want to use to prop it up with. THAT will hold water...maybe enough for even you to walk on.

Posted by: darren at July 10, 2006 4:59 PM

Jackie, if that was directed at me, I don't find joy in this. I find it puzzling that people believe in stuff without evidence, and then use it to justify the good, but ignore it in the face of the terrible.

I find religion one of the most damaging forces on the planet, which is why I rail against it. If everyone stopped believing in god right now, do you think people in the Middle East would be blowing each other up or maybe inventing something important?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 10, 2006 5:00 PM

Darren, love is an emotion. Do you understand the difference between saying you feel something and saying there's a big purple dinosaur moving us all around like chess pieces?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 10, 2006 5:20 PM

God isn't some mystical chess master up there playing pawns against queens in the galactic match against good and evil. God just is. It is much more complex than I can fathom. I of course am not religious. Religion is made by humans to try to explain a yearning for improvement and a hope that we can't explain. I find as I examine our universe everything has a purpose. Including religion. Religion does allow a "safe harbor" for those who need it. It is cultures way of providing solice. It isn't perfect, but not much that humans touch is.

Posted by: Jake at July 10, 2006 8:17 PM

>>If you accept that children get to go to Heaven for eternity, a brief horrible death really isn't a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.

If you accept that children get to go to Heaven for eternity, the best thing you could do is murder them before they get old enough to have any risk of not going to Heaven.

Think this through. Compared to ETERNITY, any finite number of years is essentially zero*, whether the person lived to be a hundred or died as a preemie. If you're born with a 100% chance of spending ETERNITY in HEAVEN, and keep it for a few years, why on Earth (pun definitely intended) would you risk that?

Your propsition renders mortal life meaningless. And that can't be right.

* - apologies for "Hitchhiker's Guide" reference

Posted by: Gary S. at July 10, 2006 8:54 PM

Gary is quite right.

Once you apply a little logic to these questions, it becomes apparent exactly how silly and irrational it is to believe in this stuff.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 10, 2006 9:05 PM

but i thought that all humans are born with the mark of original sin. therefore, they have to have faith. (then again, i haven't seriously debated anything religious since i threw in the towel 8 years ago.)

sucks to be them.

go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company.

plagiarized quote thanks to mr. clemens and the fine folks at thewaronfaith.com

Posted by: g*mart at July 10, 2006 10:20 PM

“Perhaps this is not the time to make religious or anti-religious capital.”

Oh, please. It’s not like she’s ranting in front of the podium at the memorial service.

‘Do you "LOVE" your [mother/spouse/bro/sis/whoever]?.......How do you "KNOW" you "LOVE" them?’

I know that I love them by the ways in which I behave toward them.

Posted by: Lena at July 10, 2006 11:43 PM

"God just is. It is much more complex than I can fathom."

Are you sure you're not talking about the female orgasm?

Posted by: Lena at July 10, 2006 11:47 PM

"If you accept that children get to go to Heaven for eternity, the best thing you could do is murder them before they get old enough to have any risk of not going to Heaven."

But don't murder the children until after they're baptized, otherwise they'll go to Limbo. Oh, silly, forgetful me -- the Church just decided that there is no Limbo, after promoting the idea for 600-700 years. How long do you think we'll have to wait before they decide to toss the whole Heaven fantasy into the same trash pail?

Posted by: Lena Cuisina, Queen of the Damned at July 10, 2006 11:59 PM

I don't have a problem exposing religious nonsense - just with choosing this particular piece of nonsense at this time. It's not as if there's a shortage of nonsense. Give these people a break - they've just lost their kids, they need support, not lessons in logic.

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 3:12 AM

"but i thought that all humans are born with the mark of original sin. "

Mark of original sin? Or mark of The Home Of The Whopper? Or just a big, ugly mole with a hair growing out of it? Sorry, but can you find any of these (except maybe the mole) on your body?

And regarding "original sin"...before you're even born, you're an evil piece of shit? What were you doing in the womb, jerking off to video of dogs fucking pigeons?

HOW CAN PEOPLE BELIEVE THIS CRAP?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 11, 2006 4:59 AM

Complaints about giving these people a break don't make sense. I'm not posting these people's names, simply linking to this one story as an example. This is reminiscent of people complaining that I'm "horribly mean" in being honest in my advice column. To an anonymous person? Right.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 11, 2006 5:00 AM

If god not only exists, but is "all-seeing," and all that crap, what's your explanation for this, god-squadders? Did god watch the kids drowning, and just think, "Whatever!"?

See Old Testament

By the way, even if He/She/It is a fictional character, don't fictional characters have proper names? Or is using the small "g" a way of cutting the ol' figment down to size? That'd show Him. Her. It.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at July 11, 2006 5:19 AM

It's kind of funny that people think of god anthropomorphically, since there's no evidence god exists. If I have to refer to god, I do it in lower case, same as I'd refer to a mantel knicknack. God is only important because so many irrational people are believers.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 11, 2006 5:36 AM

God is only important because so many irrational people are believers.

You mean god.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at July 11, 2006 6:42 AM

"they've just lost their kids, they need support."

And you think they're looking for it in the blogosphere?

Posted by: Lena at July 11, 2006 7:13 AM

I think a very big question would be just what are the reasons that you do what you do in such a rabid and loathsome manner. Oh yeah, you're a bitch.

Webster's -

3. Slang.

a. a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, esp. a woman.

I can't for the world see how that's a positive or goal-worthy thing. In the arena of religious discussion, you truly are malicious, unpleasant, and selfish with a huge dollop of petty thrown in. Ie: You're just mean.

Jackie - Amy's pretty much alone in her rabid approach. Her and Richard Kulitz.

Posted by: Oligonicella at July 11, 2006 7:36 AM

Amy, your claims to rationality, especially on this topic, are, at best, laughable.

First of all, you haven’t answered my questions: Why the insistence on scientific evidence when God, and God-claims, are of a different category from science claims?

Second, why do you insist on mangling religious arguments, presenting them in their worst light, adding nothing in the way of context or investigation, and then dismissing them out of hand as unworkable? Aren’t you really just presenting the clumsiest of strawman arguments? An intellectual might actually try and take those claims seriously, investigate what the smartest people who make those claims actually mean, and then try to come to a conclusion based on the strongest arguments available. If I tried to explain higher mathematics or physics to you, mangled it badly because of my ignorance, and then you dismissed what I was saying as nonsense, is it physics’ fault, or my inability to fully come to terms with the argument?

Third, why must you understand the full scope of God’s justice in temporal terms when God operates outside of time?

Finally, please realize that God-claims are not necessarily tied up with the arguments of any particular theology or sect. So, when you dismiss, from ignorance, a mangled version of the Original Sin concept, which you don’t understand, and cannot present clearly, please understand that you are arguing against a particular interpretation from a particular church (stated badly by you), and not the concept of God generally.

Posted by: Fritz at July 11, 2006 9:02 AM

Amy, your claims to rationality, especially on this topic, are, at best, laughable.

First of all, you haven’t answered my questions: Why the insistence on scientific evidence when God, and God-claims, are of a different category from science claims?

Second, why do you insist on mangling religious arguments, presenting them in their worst light, adding nothing in the way of context or investigation, and then dismissing them out of hand as unworkable? Aren’t you really just presenting the clumsiest of strawman arguments? An intellectual might actually try and take those claims seriously, investigate what the smartest people who make those claims actually mean, and then try to come to a conclusion based on the strongest arguments available. If I tried to explain higher mathematics or physics to you, mangled it badly because of my ignorance, and then you dismissed what I was saying as nonsense, is it physics’ fault, or my inability to fully come to terms with the argument?

Third, why must you understand the full scope of God’s justice in temporal terms when God operates outside of time?

Finally, please realize that God-claims are not necessarily tied up with the arguments of any particular theology or sect. So, when you dismiss, from ignorance, a mangled version of the Original Sin concept, which you don’t understand, and cannot present clearly, please understand that you are arguing against a particular interpretation from a particular church (stated badly by you), and not the concept of God generally.

Posted by: Fritz at July 11, 2006 9:03 AM

God claims are in a different category than scientific claims, because they're unproven hoohah.

As Carl Sagan said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Religious arguments aren't basic on logic. Hence, they're child's play to rip apart. I don't base my thinking on peer pressure -- what "the smartest people" think. I think about what makes sense based on evidence, and if other people conclude similarly, based on evidence, I'll probably conclude that they're smart, or at least thinking.

"Third, why must you understand the full scope of God’s justice in temporal terms when God operates outside of time?"

You assume god exists. Why?

God claims are tied up with belief without evidence, as is belief in "Original Sin" (handy marketing tool for the Church, huh?), and all the rest of the silliness.

When you present a rationally based argument, I'll be happy to entertain it. Until then, I'll consider you the intellectual equal of Lucy.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 11, 2006 9:45 AM

Hi, Fritz -- Good science actually goes beyond making claims. It provides us with reliable methods for evaluating them by comparing them with systematically collected observations. Scientists are in the business of rejecting claims (ie, hypotheses) -- including their own. Because your claim that "God operates outside of time" can't be evaluated empirically, there's no way to distinguish from fantasy or hallucination (honestly, you sound a little crazy). I think one of Amy's main concerns is that social and economic policies are being formulated by people who think that claims such as "God operates outside of time" are easily acceptable.

I know some very intelligent people who are religious. Their religious beliefs seem hugely inconsistent with their clear-sighted perspective on other matters, but it's okay. Their religion is just a quirky little hobby to me. They like to pray. I like to be tied up and fucked like the bitch that I am. To each his own.

Posted by: Lena at July 11, 2006 9:57 AM

You guys really ought to have some humility about this. Anytime people get this pleased with themselves, it's a sure sign they're fucking up.

Posted by: Crid at July 11, 2006 11:04 AM

Lena,

Science is a tool for evaluating claims about the world. It is limited to evaluating claims to which there is possible evidence. There is no possible evidence for the supernatural. Science is not in a position to evaluate claims as to the supernatural. Claiming the existence of God is not 1+1=3. That would be an incorrect answer. Claiming the existence of God is 1+1=Blue. It is an answer in a language that the question cannot understand because it refers to a different category where there is no possibility of translation.

The claim that there is "No God" is also an extraordinary claim because it implies positive, certain knowledge about the universe. How do I test your question? What is a good determinant? I might start with the whole Coelacanth argument, just because nobody has observed it doesn’t mean that no one will observe it in the future, but that rather misses the point. In terms of God-claims good science understands when a question cannot be answered because there is no possible evidence for or against.

I don't assume the existence of God. To quote: "I wish I had faith in God, but I wasn't born with that gift." I operate on the assumption that I cannot know whether there is or is not a God because those kinds of claims are not open to scientific examination. I am not privy to any possible experiments or possible observations that would cause me to form a positive belief on way or the other. Because I cannot know, I am very careful in my condemnation and examination of those who seem or claim to have knowledge, whether they are Atheists or Theists. From a strictly scientific worldview, the Atheist’s claims are as non-sensorial, non-sensical, non-testable, and without foundation, as the Theist’s. For the scientist, agnosticism is the only non-self-contradictory position.

According to the best theological works I’ve read the only possible means of knowing God is through revelation. I have not been reveled to. Have you? Obviously, not, unless your snarky attitude and schadenfreude to other’s suffering is some kind of extraordinary reaction. Maybe like Jonah, I suppose. Some people claim that they have received revelation. I don’t know how it is even theoretically possible to test or asses their claims using science. I, thus, reserve judgement as to the validity of their claims because I don’t have tools to do otherwise. On this point I’m thinking of Wittgenstein’s argument: “What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.”

By the way, for intellectuals, it's just common sense that if you're examining someone's positions, if you're trying to come to terms with a politics or a theology, that you would examine the best arguments. What’s the point otherwise? I can spend all day making fun of the Pentecostals with the snakes and all that, but I still have a sneaking suspicion that the Jesuits are going to come kick my ass (metaphorically speaking). The Catholics generally have some very subtle, interesting arguments that stem from a number of axioms that you may or may not accept. That's what philosophers do, Amy. They love wisdom, so they don't waste their time ripping apart the worst arguments, they try and understand the best because they are interested in the truth, not "winning" the argument (whatever that would mean in this context).

Amy, you’re wrong: religious theology is based on ruthless logic applied to fundamental axioms. Please, read something. You’re ignorance of what you argue against is embarrassing for someone who claims to be intelligent and thoughtful. I find it surprising that for all your carping about science you don’t even understand its acknowledged limits. I’m sure there’s enough meta-scientific and metaphysical arguments and debates sloshing around out there to give your doctrinaire pronouncements pause. You’re becoming the Ann Coulter of atheism.

Posted by: Fritz at July 11, 2006 11:18 AM

"Science [...] is limited to evaluating claims to which there is possible evidence."

It seems to me that those are precisely the claims that are worth the mental efforts of anyone who isn't spending their life mumbling on a bench somewhere in Central Park.

'The claim that there is "No God"'

I would never formally make that claim. But I would confidently reject the claim "There is a god." If that seems like hair-splitting to you, go look up Karl Popper. His work isn't a quick read, but judging from the length of your blog entries, you seem to have a good deal of free time.

Posted by: Lena at July 11, 2006 11:45 AM

Lena,

I've read Karl Popper. You'll have to be more specific as to your reference. A link would be fine. Thanks.

I was also wondering, how would one scientifically examine the idea of Justice? Is Justice observable? Is it a thing in the world, like a stone or a whale? Is Justice a value, like my preference for chocolate over vanilla, or is it transcendent, and thus the same for all men in all times? Is Justice more than what men believe Justice to be, does it exist separate from Man's will, or is it only an excuse for the strong to pursue their own interests? Do you think Socrates was wrong to spend time examining Justice, given that it wasn't a thing that you could pick up and examine like a rock or a whale?

Is Justice worth talking about? Why?

Posted by: Fritz at July 11, 2006 12:10 PM

Lena,

In case you missed it: "For the scientist, agnosticism is the only non-self-contradictory position."

Posted by: Fritz at July 11, 2006 12:17 PM

Fritz-


"religious theology is based on ruthless logic applied to fundamental axioms" - quite so. It has no basis in fact, just axioms; it is an edifice built entirely on speculation and noisy synapses. People can do this till the cows come home and it goes nowhere. This is why science uses experiment: ruthless logic gives different answers depending what direction you point it in. Logic seems to be a powerful tool, but it only works in practice if you can check it at every step. In religion, there's no possibility of that, so it just builds castles in the air.


To say that it is impossible to decide whether god exists is making a statement about existence as well as god. If you mean existence in some non-detectable metaphysical way, then sure it's not decidable. But believers hold that (a) what we do in this physical continuum affects god (he knows what we're up to) and (b) that god can change things in this continuum (the Red Sox win again!). That is, we have read-write access to god, and by my ruthless logic, that puts him in this continuum, along with you and me. If he "exists" he "exists" in the same sense as you or I do, and is therefore subject to physical rather than metaphysical enquiry. And the physical evidence is that he ain't there.

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 12:22 PM

Amy- I've just posted a reply to Fritz. I'm posting this because I've had another post go missing recently, even after it appeared on my browser window. No need to post this!

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 12:25 PM

Fritz-


What do you think justice is? Put a moment of your own thought to it, not someone else's. BTW it whould have to be a very small whale if you could pick it up. What size are they when they are born?

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 12:34 PM

Fritz-


What do you think justice is? Put a moment of your own thought to it, not someone else's. BTW it whould have to be a very small whale if you could pick it up. What size are they when they are born?

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 12:36 PM

Fritz-


What do you think justice is? Put a moment of your own thought to it, not someone else's. BTW it whould have to be a very small whale if you could pick it up. What size are they when they are born?

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 12:37 PM

Norman,

It is impossible to decide whether God exists based on strict scientific observation, which, if you haven’t noticed, is Amy’s hobbyhorse. If you have some special insight into the supernatural, then I might allow that you have a better handle on whether God exists or not. Better than me, at least, because I have no insight into the supernatural.

Since God is part and parcel with the continuum, and cannot be separated in any meaningful way from the continuum of existence, then your objection is moot. To observe God, at least in part, would be to observe the world. Scientific observation is, at heart, the investigation of God’s law as it is applied to physical world using rules and methods appropriate to the kinds of knowledge it is possible for human beings to attain without revelation.

Our knowledge of God’s totality, if we have any knowledge at all (and I don't), does not and can not come from scientific observation because God, as he is formally defined, exists beyond the observable. How do you measure something which has no body and does not exist in time?

Posted by: Fritz at July 11, 2006 12:53 PM

Norman,

You amazing man. I have no idea what Justice is. I'm only now beginning to investigate what other people think it is. Any suggestions as to appropriate directions for investigation would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by: Fritz at July 11, 2006 1:00 PM

Fritz-


What do you think justice is? Put a moment of your own thought to it, not someone else's. BTW it whould have to be a very small whale if you could pick it up. What size are they when they are born?

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 1:06 PM

Oops, sorry for multiple posts, weird server behaviour.


Fritz, since you define god to be unknowable, shouldn't we follow Wittgenstein's advice and say nothing? Whatever we say can have no rational basis.


Of course you have an idea what justice is. Don't tell me you never cried "no fair!" as a child when you were treated unjustly. Or, if you have no idea, is it simply a nonsense word that you are quizzing other people about?


Do you have the same difficulty with other abstract nouns like truth, beauty, good and bad? If so, how do you get through an ordinary day?


BTW - If you think that I am dragging these concepts down to earth, you are right.

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 1:17 PM

Fritz --

The Popper reference is "The Logic of Scientific Discovery."

Of course Justice is worth talking about, and I think that legal scholars would say that instances of it are indeed observable. In stats jargon, Justice would be considered a "latent variable" or construct that needs to be operationalized with specific measures. By the way, there are plenty of people out there who are working on operationalizing spirituality.

You won't find me talking too much about Justice, however, or Democracy, or the Rights of Man. I get impatient with all the capital letters.

Anyway, I gotta go review some grant proposals. By the way, Fritz, I meant no disrespect to you at all. You sound very sharp and thoughtful. I just don't have a lot of time to read all this stuff!

Posted by: Lena at July 11, 2006 1:25 PM

Amy-I'm getting an error opening this:


http://ad.doubleclick.net/adj/advicegoddess.pajama.tmus/comments;tile=2;sz=160x600;pos=2;ord=909208101643812000?


it comes up as a "zero-byte resource" which means it's an empty file or similar.

Posted by: Norman at July 11, 2006 1:32 PM

Norman,

God isn't unknowable. That's what revelation is for. God, however, is not scientifically observable/measurable/definable.

And, yes, you amazing man, from the standpoint of science, we should remain silent. Thus, agnosticism and hope.

I have many opinions regarding Justice (and all the rest). I might even have some true opinions (let's hope!). I just wouldn't say that I have knowledge.

Posted by: Fritz at July 11, 2006 1:58 PM

Sorry, Norman...we're rebuilding the site. I'm not allowed to touch the software this afternoon...that was probably just a glitch.

"Amy, you’re wrong: religious theology is based on ruthless logic applied to fundamental axioms."

Such as, "I see no evidence god exists, but I'll believe in god anyway"?

Ruthless, simply ruthless.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 11, 2006 3:20 PM

'Such as, "I see no evidence god exists, but I'll believe in god anyway"?'

First, that's no axiom. Existence, consciousness, and identity would be axioms. Stating such blatantly bad sentences as that belies the "child's play" you claim to be so good at.

Second, logic is about inference, not empirical evidence. For instance, there are those who can play complete games of chess in their head. Absolutely abstract and absolutely logical.

Third, you presume way too much. Inspiration and revelation would be internal evidence of one's observation of god(s). Just because it cannot be displayed to you means nothing as to its existence to the author. Therein lies your inability to understand the religious. You require them to prove it to you through your senses and you are really in no position to demand such of them except as it pertains to your personal belief, which in turn, makes no difference as to theirs.

"I think, therefore I am." "I have seen, therefore I believe." Explain the difference between those two statements.

Now, when they step beyond philosophy and insist on their god(s) being an active, observable part of the world, you have the right to ask them to point it out. Problem is, many of them don't do that and you ignorantly lump them in with the others. A very fundanutter point of view -- ie: evolutionist = athiest -- religious = illogical. And just as untenable.

Posted by: Oligonicella at July 11, 2006 4:21 PM

I see we've entered the overthink and masochism phase of this blog item. I'll make it simple for you:

1. Zero evidence god exists
2. Belief in god is not evidence -- although it does suggest gullibility

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 11, 2006 4:52 PM

"shouldn't we follow Wittgenstein's advice and say nothing?"

I love a man who knows his Wittgenstein! Norman, can I blow you?

Posted by: Lena at July 11, 2006 5:07 PM

Well, here we go about the irrational again.

How irrational? Not only do they not realize that nothing in a Universe created by God can be "supernatural" - pay attention to definitions, dammit! - they never notice the supreme irony of faith.

What's that?

If there were no doubt, there would be no need of Faith.

Posted by: Radwaste at July 11, 2006 5:09 PM

Oli, you sound like you're all about "Pascal's wager" in your cocksure pronouncements. Nothing like hedging...

Posted by: Rojak at July 11, 2006 5:26 PM

Oli, you sound like you're all about "Pascal's wager" in your cocksure pronouncements. Nothing like hedging...

Posted by: Rojak at July 11, 2006 5:26 PM

"I see we've entered the overthink and masochism..."

Me, I think that's better than sadistic shallowness. I see you avoided responding to any of my arguments.

"I'll make it simple for you:"

Fuck your condescension, little girl (some back).

"1. Zero evidence god exists"

Correction, zero empirical evidence. Another funny. You claim repeatedly that oil energy can be supplanted with other sources, and yet provide no empirical evidence and argue on in face of those more in the know. A fact free picture of a cute little car doesn't suffice. That is faith also, you know. Seems hypocritical to me.

"2. Belief in god is not evidence -- although it does suggest gullibility"

I didn't state belief was empirical evidence, I took pains to state otherwise -- reread. I stated that inspiration and revelation would be personal evidence. You know, like your personal and unsupportable belief in electric cars.

I'm happily existing in the natural world with no need for the supernatural. The difference between us is much like the differenct between me and Richard Kulitz. I don't make the fallacious assumption that religious people are idiots as you do. My reactions to you are in response to the maliciousness you display.

Rojak -- Perhaps you missed that I'm an athiest.

Interesting that you state that about Pascal. The wager is about not being cocksure -- you know, believe just in case. I don't. That does not preclude me understanding the other side of the debate or deriding them erroneously, ala Amy.

Posted by: Oligonicella at July 12, 2006 6:23 AM

Radwaste, I'm not clear where you're coming from, but in response to your comment about faith, what's so great about faith? Why should we be in need of it?


My personal opinion about faith is that it's easier than careful discovery of knowledge. Any moron can have faith. Anyone's faith is as good as anyone else's, because there's no way to choose between them. Consequently, faith is the tool of choice for the church that wants to grow. It's cheap, easy, and powerful. You just need to be careful manipulating it. It has downsides: it leads to schism and it fights a rearguard action against encroaching knowledge (ie science). For this reason you are best to have faith about metaphysical claims where science cannot tread, and indeed, neither can anyone else.

Posted by: Norman at July 12, 2006 6:54 AM

"I don't make the fallacious assumption that religious people are idiots as you do"

I'll put it more politely: people who believe that a giant Easter Bunny is watching over them aren't thinking too hard.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 12, 2006 8:08 AM

Amy,

After your dismal, thoughtless dismissal of Oligonicella, I've realized that this is fundamentally personal for you. That’s why you keep resorting to insults and barely disguised joy at others’ misfortune. You don't like people of faith, in fact, you may actually hate them. Philosophical argumentation has nothing to do with any of this. How many more, different ways could we show you that your appeal to evidence is inappropriate? In fact, all the philosophical argumentation in the world could not overcome your thoughtless hatred of those you don’t understand. You rely on the same tired bromides, but what it comes down to is a visceral dislike. You're prejudiced!

If you want anyone to take you seriously as something mroe than a thoughtless, scientific fundamentalist, I have a suggestion: Get over it.

Posted by: Fritz at July 12, 2006 8:37 AM

Yes, it is personal, because I personally seek to make the world a less miserable place, and one of the most obvious ways to do that is to stop people from being, actually, heh heh, thoughtless in their thinking.

I'm not thoughtless at all. If I were, I'd probably believe, without evidence, in god, like you. Hey, how come you believe in Jesus, not Allah. The Muslims are just as convinced they have The One True Way. How come your One True Way is better than their One True Way? Since there's no evidence of either god, can't you say they're sort of an equal level of silliness?

How is using rational thought a form of prejudice?

Oh, and I guess your notion that I have joy at others' misfortunes comes from the same place as your notion that there is a god...a place there's very, very little sunshine.

I don't hate anybody. I simply think it's ill-advised to go through life believing in stuff without evidence, and very damaging to many of the rest of us. Again, it's 2006, get rational and join the modern age.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 12, 2006 9:28 AM

There you go again, Amy, missing the point entirely.

Why don't you do yourself a favor and start making some distinctions and offering some definitions. You might start with words and concepts like rational, empirical, scientific, and evidence.

Given their axioms, Jim Jones and company were very rational. They even had empirical evidence to back up their claims of persecution.

Martin Luther King Jr. was not scientific: he was a man of faith, who held it as a testament of God that all men were created equal, and was presented with evidence from his dealings with his fellow man. He observed, following Jefferson, that it was readily apparent that some men were not born with saddles on their backs. He didn’t undertake any scientific experimentation to justify his beliefs.

The Nazi's and Soviets were eminently scientific in their study of humanity, but they were, I would hope you would agree, immoral. They scientifically demonstrated, following Darwin, and building on his theories of evolution, that men were not in fact equal and that some races were higher than others. In fact, some of what we know about DNA we can trace back to Dr. Mengele. They gave him Jews, and he experimented on Jews. What could be more scientific than that? We need to know what happens to human bodies in extreme circumstances, like being dropped in boiling water, right?

What I can’t understand if how you get by the point that scientific methodology is inherently amoral. Science does not deal with moral questions. Science can tell us how to clone; science can not tell us whether to clone Churchill or Hitler. Science can help us create better ways of killing one another. It can also give us better ways of saving lives. Science can not tell us which of those paths to follow. Is this an argument for God? No. But it’s an indication that there is perhaps more to the world than what unaided science can investigate or explain.

Now, in my examples, I've committed a whole host of informal fallacies. It's your job, if you're as thoughtful you claim, all opposing evidence aside, to sort them out, and determine, from empirical evidence I suppose, why some are actually true and useful for understanding the world and why others are actually meaningless.

Posted by: Fritz at July 12, 2006 10:20 AM

When you write: "Hey, how come you believe in Jesus, not Allah. The Muslims are just as convinced they have The One True Way. How come your One True Way is better than their One True Way? Since there's no evidence of either god, can't you say they're sort of an equal level of silliness?" you rather artfully miss the point. I have not come here to praise or condemn any particular sect or church. I have come to defend the possibility of a rational belief in God, not the actuality of any doctrine. You get the difference, right?

Posted by: Fritz at July 12, 2006 10:47 AM

How can it be rational to believe in something if you have no evidence it exists?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 12, 2006 11:12 AM

If one starts with the theory that God does exist? They can find plenty of evidence to prove that theory.

If one starts with the theory that God does not exist? They can find pleny of evidence to prove that theory.

The evidence runs right down the middle. I have played devils advocate myself to both sides of this coin.

We will never be able to answer it, why not just try to get along instead of trying to sound smarter?

Posted by: Jake at July 12, 2006 11:51 AM

Jake -- I think we need to think more about the meaning and proper use of the word "evidence." -- Lena

Posted by: Lena at July 12, 2006 11:57 AM

ev·i·dence ( P ) Pronunciation Key (v-dns)
n.
A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment: The broken window was evidence that a burglary had taken place. Scientists weigh the evidence for and against a hypothesis.
Something indicative; an outward sign: evidence of grief on a mourner's face.
Law. The documentary or oral statements and the material objects admissible as testimony in a court of law.


I think I used it properly. The problem with this whole debate is the human race will never answer it. All people who believe in God have to do is say something to the effect that science is mechanism. It really all boils down to point of view. Neither side of the arguement are factual. We simply don't know and will probably never know how it all started. At least for sure.

Posted by: Jake at July 12, 2006 12:05 PM

If God reveals himself to me, then its very rational for me to believe in God because I have evidence of his existence: my experience of the revelation. There are a lot of first person reports of revelatory experiences. I don't think one can believe all of these reports, but can one believe any of them? The evidence is not scientific or scientifically verifiable because there is no way for me or you or anyone to independently test, verify, or examine it other than by comparing it to our own revelatory experiences (or lack thereof, as in my case).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but there is no necessary formal logic problem with the basic idea of the existence of God. By this, I mean a very abstract understanding, from which one must first drain most of the particular dogmas of any particular sect.

Another example,

Moral ideals are not scientifically verifiable and are not necessarily dependent on evidence for their power over human behavior. Is it rational to hold moral ideals? Do moral ideals have any truth content? Kant argued that you could decide moral questions only by ignoring scientific evidence and turning towards a meditation on what a being “pure reason” would decide. It was only when you separated yourself from questions of evidence that you could say you were acting morally. Any time you think that you’re doing “the right thing” you are acting in a non-scientific manner because you are acting without evidence about a future state of affairs.

Posted by: Fritz at July 12, 2006 12:10 PM

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but there is no necessary formal logic problem with the basic idea of the existence of God."

I don't think you're wrong, but formal logic needs only internal consistency to be valid, correct? For example, if you make the following two statements:

'God is male.'
'All males have white beards.'

Then the following conclusion is indeed valid:

'God has a white beard.'

I don't find this particularly satifying. For me, this conclusion is a hypothesis that needs to be tested through the systematic collection and analysis of observations. If it's not possible to gather data on God's facial hair, then we have a project that isn't worth pursuing. Of course, I'm speaking only as someone who was trained in the scientific method.

Posted by: Lena at July 12, 2006 12:35 PM

Subjective experience is proof of nothing, Fritz. What you're saying is "I know there's a god because I believe there's a god." This is not proof of the existence of god, but simply a statement of your belief.

"If one starts with the theory that God does exist? They can find plenty of evidence to prove that theory."

Present even one shred, please.

FYI: the fact that god is referred to in the Bible does not count, nor does the fact that Fritz really, really, really believes god exists. Revelation, huh? What, god sat down with you for coffee, or you closed your eyes really tight and spun around until you hallucinated?

It isn't really hard for you to present evidence that there are cars on the road or that I'm not topless at this moment. If you're sitting next to me, you could just reach down my shirt and snap my bra. God do that often to you, Fritz?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 12, 2006 1:04 PM

Present one shred of evidence that God doesn't exist?

Posted by: Jake at July 12, 2006 2:00 PM

Sorry that wasn't a question.

Provide me evidence that God/god does not exist and I will provide you with evidence that he does. All I ask is that you go first.

Posted by: Jake at July 12, 2006 2:02 PM

Sorry that wasn't a question.

Provide me evidence that God/god does not exist and I will provide you with evidence that he does. All I ask is that you go first.

Posted by: Jake at July 12, 2006 2:03 PM

Lena,

You're right. Not satisfying. But those are the limits of science. That's why arguments about the proof of God are properly understood to be metaphysical arguments, they are arguments about what it is possible for us to know and what is the ultimate nature of the universe. They are prior to science; they are what make science possible. Now, I trust that you can see why, for some, faith is a kind of hope.

Amy,

I don't think you read what I wrote. I have not tried to prove the existence of God. I will not do so. I will repeat myself, for your edification: If God reveals himself to me, then its very rational for me to believe in God because I have evidence of his existence: my experience of the revelation. There are a lot of first person reports of revelatory experiences. I don't think one can believe all of these reports, but can one believe any of them? The evidence is not scientific or scientifically verifiable because there is no way for me or you or anyone to independently test, verify, or examine it other than by comparing it to our own revelatory experiences (or lack thereof, as in my case). Is it impossible that God could reveal himself to people? How would you scientifically test that theory? It would be as impossible to prove as it is impossible to disprove. Science has nothing to say on the matter.

Faith is not proof, Amy. It is hope. Can I trust reports by other people (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul for instance); can I place my hope in them? You would say no. I would say maybe. Religious folks would say yes.

The idea of God (as separate from the belief) is not open to scientific proof or disproof. The idea of God is not logically inconsistent with what we know about the world empirically.

Posted by: Fritz at July 12, 2006 2:07 PM

"You're right. Not satisfying. But those are the limits of science."

Well, no. Those are the limits of formal logic (and that's why I prefer informal logic -- see "The Uses of Argument" by Stephen Toulmin).

I don't understand your assertion that metaphysical arguments "make science possible." I'm don't think there's any such thing as a "metaphysical argument."

You really like making these beautiful sweeping statements about God, existence, mind, etc that seem kind of, well, vacuous. I'm not trying to insult you. It's just that I grew up with a lot of potheads who talked the way you do.

Posted by: Lena at July 12, 2006 2:23 PM

I'm presenting the problem generally, Lena. Anything more specific or technical isn't appropriate in this forum.

Metaphysics is the discussion about the first causes of all things and includes, or presupposes, the discussion of what it is possible for human beings to know. Catholic Encyclopedia defines it:

"As a science, it has, in common with other sciences, this characteristic that it seeks a knowledge of things in their causes. What is peculiar to metaphysics is the difference "of being as being". In this phrase are combined at once the material object and the formal object of metaphysics. The material object is being, the whole world of reality, whether subjective or objective, possible or actual, abstract or concrete, immaterial or material, infinite or finite. Everything that exists comes within the scope of metaphysical inquiry. Other sciences are restricted to one or several departments of being: physics has its limited field of inquiry, mathematics is concerned only with those things which have quantity. Metaphysics knows no such restrictions. Its domain is all reality. For instance, the human soul and God, because they have neither colour nor weight, thermic nor electric properties, do not fall within the scope of the physicist's investigation; because they are devoid of quantity, they do not come within the field of inquiry of the mathematician. But, since they are beings, they do come within the domain of metaphysical investigation. The material object of metaphysics is, therefore, alI being."

Now, Catholic Encyclopedia jumps the gun a bit, with its already assuming that God and the soul have being, but I think you'll get what they mean. To conduct scientific research one must have already taken to heart the notion that human beings can have knowledge about the world, that scientific exploration is telling us something (knowledge) about something (the world) which is outside ourselves (not created by our minds). That is an assumption for which there is no evidence, because our only means of gathering evidence rests on the acceptance of that assumption. Yes?

Posted by: Fritz at July 12, 2006 2:56 PM

Got it. Unlike most of my colleagues in the humanities, I'm comfortable assuming that there's something we can call "reality." The nice thing is that the assumption pays off pretty quickly.

On a personal note: When life gets tough, I sometimes tell myself to "surrender to reality" (meaning "don't deny what's going on"). I've pointed out to my Christian friends that the feeling behind this self-talk is very similar to "thy will be done."

Posted by: Lena at July 12, 2006 3:18 PM

Were the Isrealites idiots by sending thier army into the field of battle to fight off an invading army instead of just saying "god will sort us out and look after us"?? No! they sent thier army out anyway just in case it was gods day off....

Just my opinion.

Posted by: Rob at July 13, 2006 8:38 AM

Fritz-

I'm not sure the Cath Enc is correct in saying that science "seeks a knowledge of things in their causes." Before the enlightenment, people wasted their time seeking the true causes and essences of things. That avenue led nowhere. Science now simply makes predictive models. You can use experiments to choose between models that predict different things, and if they predict the same thing, you can apply Occam's Razor to choose. It doesn't matter whether reality is "real" or not; we try to predict it, whatever it is. The strange thing is that reality is so amenable to mathematical modelling. It might not have been so, but at present it is.


Metaphysics does not so much have unlimited scope, as the bits left out of all other scopes. There's not much metaphysics in engineering - though you might talk about the metaphysics *of* engineering if you so desired. But that doesn't make it unlimited scope any more than library science has unlimited scope, simply because there's a library classification for "engineering."

Posted by: norman at July 13, 2006 8:43 AM

"Provide me evidence that God/god does not exist and I will provide you with evidence that he does. All I ask is that you go first."

It's not up to me to prove that god doesn't exist. I see no evidence there's a god, therefore, I'd be an idiot to believe in god, same as I would be if I believed that my horoscope would chart my day, or that I will be eaten by a giant green bunny on my way to Starbucks this morning.

Carl Sagan said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." You're the one who needs to prove god exists.

It's obvious that there's no evidence god exists, or we wouldn't be having this discussion. Again, a strong feeling is proof of nothing, unless it's in your bladder, in which case it probably suggests you need to urinate.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 13, 2006 8:58 AM

So instead of providing the evidence I asked for, you just turned around the question, quoted Carl Sagan, and said it was obvious (your opinion).

My point all along is that this is a pointless argument. I'll believe what I believe, you believe what you believe and don't worry about it. Hey, people who believe in God/god do so because it helps them get through the day. Just like your coffee at Starbucks. Some people need it.

For me, as I have said, I am not religious, but there is a spiritual part of me.

Posted by: Jake at July 13, 2006 9:54 AM

But, it's not a pointless argument, since religion is a tremendously damaging force. Think about all the women burned at the stake as witches. Think about the children who grow up taunted and told they're going to burn in hell, or get stomped by Allah, because they don't believe in the neighborhood majority's irrational bullshit. Think of all the ridiculous decisions made about health care based on irrational beliefs. Are we going to continue abstinence-only sex ed when data shows it only staves off sex for a few years for many kids, and then they have sex without protection from disease or pregnancy?

The question one asks is not always the right question. I encounter this all the time in my column. This week, a woman wanted to know if she'd had the last laugh on her not-yet-ex-husband. The real question was what could she do to make her child less screwed up that he most likely already was.

Present me with evidence there is a god. You have none, I'm sure. Just because you ask a silly question doesn't mean I should respond in kind.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 13, 2006 10:10 AM

Norman,

From an engineer's point of view, you're probably right. However, for a physicist the "why" question is much more important. In any case, all scientific investigation has as axiomatic certain metaphysical claims that are reasonable and logical and useful (whatever that may mean), but not necessary strictly supported by evidence. Descartes doubted everything, he even doubted the possibility of doubting, but he could not deny that he was a thing that doubted. It was the objective content of his subjective experience that allowed him to make a metaphysical determination about the nature of the universe, that he was a thing that thought. As a thinking thing there must be something that he could think about. He moved from his own thinking process to the world, not the other way around. Now, it's not the "metaphysics of physics", rather it's metaphysics generally, to which physics looks for its justification. It's also good that mathematics as humans have developed it has a connection to the world, that the a priori synthetic knowledge of mathematics works in the world as evidence shows. However, it is, after all, possible to create a completely reasonable, internally consistent mathematics that does not have any connection to the world.

Amy,

An idiot to believe in God? That’s an extraordinary claim. Do you have any evidence for the supposed idiocy of those who make God-claims? Oh, and why is Carl Sagan an expert? Do you think that you could unpack that for us? I think it’s an extraordinary claim on your part that is expecting us to take to heart his claim. Do you have any evidence to back up your imperative?

Now, insofar as we’re talking about revelation, I’m talking about the Subjective Experience of an Objective Occurrence with reference to the Objective Contents of Thoughts. Not just a strong feeling.

When you write, “It's obvious that there's no evidence god exists, or we wouldn't be having this discussion”, I get the eerie feeling that you haven’t actually read any of what has been written before. My evidence is that you skate over all the arguments showing exactly that point: asking for evidence is asking the wrong question. Any evidence to the contrary?

Posted by: Fritz at July 13, 2006 10:10 AM

Regarding Starbucks' coffee -- I like drinking coffee (especially RistrettoRoasters.com, which I'd have a hard time going without -- "like drinking velvet"), but my life wouldn't be meaningless and directionless without it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 13, 2006 10:13 AM

Just think for a moment of all the mass graves, famines, and wars that were the direct results of the avowadly atheistic forces of global Communism. There's plenty of bad to go around, which, of course, does not touch on the underlying philosophical argument. Again, science is only a tool. What helps us decide between guns and medicine? What evidence do you have to support the value judgement or moral argument that we ought to pursue one and not the other? When was the last time you read Chambers' Witness, Amy?

Posted by: Fritz at July 13, 2006 10:20 AM

Oh, I hate to be the first person to break this to you, Amy, but irrational is not equal to non-scientific. Just, FYI.

In any case, what does one have to do with the other? You don't like the consequences of God-claims. First, you're making a value judgement or moral argument (I use both terms with the understanding that they are very different things) based on moral/metaphysical/value judgements the content of which I don't know that you know the "ought" better than religious folks. Maybe you do know better, I don't know and I'm not going to venture to make that determination.

What is the underlying understanding of the world that informs your "ought" claim, Amy? What evidence, other than begging the question by point ing to results, do you have that gives weight or authority to your moral argument?

Why should we believe in your idea of the Good?

Posted by: Fritz at July 13, 2006 10:26 AM

Fritz-

I'm not a physicist, I'm a computer scientist, but I don't think physicists spend any time looking for justification. Bertrand Russell and others tried to do this for maths, but it was not successful. It led to Gödel's theorem, which showed that maths was limited in ways that had previously not been thought of. Metaphysical axioms of science are of interest to metaphysicists, not to scientists. They have no real bearing on science because they lie outside it.


"However, it is, after all, possible to create a completely reasonable, internally consistent mathematics that does not have any connection to the world." - this is what maths has in common with theology. What makes maths different is that on the whole, mathematicians agree about maths. There are no schisms. They have a way to resolve differences. And they don't use maths to justify murdering people or building a huge money-making church. Maths is a huge, abstract, cooperative achievement, quite without parallel. (OK, metaphysics doesn't do the church thing either - but would I be correct in thinking that MP has various schools of thought which simply don't connect with one another? There is only one "maths.")

Posted by: Norman at July 13, 2006 11:12 AM

Atheism means not believing in god. It doesn't mean being absent morality.

PS Communism is the height of irrationality.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 13, 2006 11:15 AM

Amy,

Okay, what is your moral foundation, then?

Marx thought he was scientific. He had data and everything. Why is he wrong.

You're begging the question. Again.

Norman,

I agree with you: Scientists have already internalized the metaphysics appropriate for their mode of inquiry. They're too busy putting them to use, because they work, to worry about examining them closely. Which is a different thing than to say that metaphysical justifications of scientific inquiry don't deserve careful examination. They do. It's just a different field. However, they do have a bearing, from an abstract point of view, because it's the assumptions about the nature of the universe that make the examination of the universe possible and determine the means we use to carry out that examination.

You're second paragraph is at once ad hominem (behavior is different from justification) and an argument from results. I only use math as an example to show Amy that rational non-scientific thought is possible without necessarily equating particular religious ideas with mathematical inquiry.

Speaking of Sagan, in Contact what is the difference between Ellie Arroway’s (Jodie Foster) experience of the Vegans and a revelation?

Posted by: Fritz at July 13, 2006 11:43 AM

Fritz-

"it's the assumptions about the nature of the universe that make the examination of the universe possible" - surely it's the nature of the universe, not our assumptions, that make things possible? Except in the sense that these assumptions ecnourage me to get out of bed in the morning, that is.


I don't see where I'm being ad hominem - you'll need to point it out, and then I can apologise.


I take your point about maths being an example of rational non-scientific thought. But maths and science work so closely together that you'd find it hard to put a cigarette paper between them. Most people would class maths as science; is there any university, for instance, that has maths in a faculty other than science? In short, if maths is your best example to buttress theology, I'd say it was rather far away to be effective even as a flying buttress.


Re Contact (great film, BTW) I try not to argue from Hollywood. But the difference is the fact that the tape has an 18-minute (?) period of static on it, that Ellie has a reputation for scientific integrity, and that the whole experiment could be repeated with a different observer or different equipment. Presumably Ellie's watch was 18 minutes ahead of everyone else's. There's a pile of experiments we could do; we don't need to rely on what may have been a hallucination.

Posted by: Norman at July 13, 2006 12:09 PM

Norman,

"And they don't use maths to justify murdering people or building a huge money-making church."

The abuses of religion, the behavior of religious people, and the inconsistancies of various flavors of religious thought are one thing, the justification of the possibility of religious thought or the logical coherence of God-claims is another altogether.

You're not wrong, but assumptions is the wrong word, so I think my point is uncler: axiom is a better word. The scientific method, or the scientific project, is not justifiable (which is different than possible) without reference to certain axioms or postulates which are themselves rational, but not necessarily scientific. Justifications are post hoc activities and you'll see that a lot of philosophy of science has been done after we have enjoyed a few centuries of scientific activity. The question becomes, what are we doing we when do science and are we justified in doing it? The philosophy of science article at Wikipedia, while probably wrong on many accounts, is a good place to start because it at least acknowledges or points out some of the arguments.

Hell, there are prophets in the Bible who come from wealthy, respected families, who have no reason to lie or make up stories. Why does Ellie's reputation make her different? What would you do with Ellie if you didn't have the 18 minutes of tape? What do the 18 minutes of tape really mean? Theoretically they could repeat the experiment, but would they have, and if they did, and if it by all accounts did nothing again would they have any more information than they had already gathered? Remember the science fiction canard: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Posted by: Fritz at July 13, 2006 12:57 PM

Fritz-

I have to call time out just now as it's getting late on this side of the planet, and I'm going to be away for a few days. But it's an interesting discussion, so I'll be back!

Posted by: Norman at July 13, 2006 1:44 PM

Amy-

You said, "But, it's not a pointless argument, since religion is a tremendously damaging force."

It can be, it also is a tremendously positive force. What we can agree on is the concept of adhering to a moral code that is black and white. The truth is though, there are a lot of people out there who aren't smart enough to do anything else, so giving them a rule book is a good thing.

I think that the people who are religious need it, and without it, they would probably be less responsible people.

Posted by: Jake Horn at July 13, 2006 2:10 PM

"a rule book is a good thing."

Especially for drunks and drug addicts like me.

Posted by: Lena at July 13, 2006 4:34 PM

Hey everybody, (If anyone missed me - which I doubt, but I'm always a little afraid of upsetting people - I apologize. I was stuck in Bumbleweed GA without so much as a Starbucks to connect to).

Anyway, to digress back to some of the topics above.
-God does not prevent bad things from happening to good people. He does not cause every good thing either. I never really liked the phrase 'God works in mysterious ways.' We suffer the consequences of our actions. Run out in the highway, you'll probably be hit by a car. Jump into a raging river and you might be drowned. Physics does not go out the window just because you have faith. On occasion, things happen wildly out of probability (someone recovering from a lethal illness spontaneously). This is not the same as the suspension of natural law which is my definition of a miracle. (the sun and moon standing still, rising from the dead, water into wine etc.).

-On original sin. It is my belief we are born with original sin. On the other hand, I don't think God condems those who are incapable of recognizing right from wrong, sin from righteousness, moral from immoral, whether because of youth or mental handicap.

-Lessee, there is no *scientific* proof for God. No more than there is for the turkey sandwich I had for lunch, Abraham Lincoln, Moses, or my copy of the Alien Quadrilogy. This is more a semantic point than a theological one. Scientific proof relies on predictable, repeatable results through numerous trials. There is evidence of all these things, you can argue they existed, but not scientifically prove they did. Okay, I guess you could scientifically prove Lincoln existed, digging him up and running DNA tests on the remains. None of this helps me figure out what happened to my copy of the Alien Quadrilogy.

-Norman, Fitz, please for the love of all that is good and beautiful in this world, speak not of that craptastic crapfest that was the movie Contact. I'm not even talking the God/Science debate. I don't even mean that the entire thing was Carl Sagan stroking his . . . er, ego. The alien is her father? She's the only one who knows what to do? It's got all the plot holes of ID4 wthout any of the fun explosions. WTF!!
But Sagan is right, extrordinary claims do require extrodinary proof. That's why I don't swallow evolution.

-Finally, people do incredibly stupid shit. They slaughter each other for all manner reasons, trying to ultimately justify it by some higher power. God/Religion, Country, etc. Faith does not mean that all the bad things in life skip you by. Sometimes you do something stupid and get sucked under by the riptide. Sometimes you're just unlucky and in the path of the hurricane. I have faith in God, but I slao believe 'Shit Happens.'

Posted by: LXV at July 13, 2006 7:28 PM

Fritz-

Back again


The abuses of religion, the behavior of religious people, and the inconsistancies of various flavors of religious thought are one thing, the justification of the possibility of religious thought or the logical coherence of God-claims is another altogether. OK, I understand that you want to separate these two things. I'd do the same for science, and separate the pursuit of knowledge from its application (specifically, its application to killing people). I'm not sure it's possible to separate these things in reality, but I assume that you, like me, haven't used your philosophy to harm anyone.


I don't want to get into the philosophy of science because the topic is theology, and whether religious thought is worth while. I don't think it is, and I haven't yet seen a counter-example. To recap why I think this, it's because (a) the starting points are weak, and (b) the long chains of logic are weak.


The starting points, or axioms, are provided by means such as revelation and miracle. They are very complex occurrences - if they occur at all - and therefore subject to endless interpretation. Revelations are indistinguishable from any other idea popping into someone's head. They may appear special to the recipient, but our psychiatric wards are full of people who receive special messages. Miracles are unrepeatble and generally beyond investigation by the time they are reported, so it is not certain that a miracle has occurred. An image of a face appears in a vegetable. What does it mean? Usually it is taken as a sign that we have strayed from the true path and must mend our ways; I don't recall a sign being interpreted that we are doing well and keep it up. In short, the axiomatic foundation is pretty shaky, to the point where a great many people dispute that it exists at all.


Next comes the chain of logic. You called this "ruthless logic" above, implying that it was unshakeable. This is plainly not the case, as it gets revised from time to time. Consider the cases of (1) Galileo and (2) limbo. Both have been revised recently. The only example of unshakeable chains of logic is in maths, where the subject matter is trivially simple compared to that in theology. It is feasible to have axioms about things like numbers, and then to deduce theorems. I don't think it is feasible for complex things like people.


The closest we come is in law and taxation, where the government spends oodles of cash defining terms such as "a naturalised citizen" and drafting the laws that apply. These codified systems show just how complex human life is, and they always have a get-out-clause in that the courts and judges have to apply judgement. In other words, it's not a true formal system of axioms and rules of inference.


Science uses chains of logic, but they are kept as short as possible - just long enough to show a difference in the predictions of competing theories. These are then tested by experiment, and one (or both) of the chains of logic is thrown away.


The fact is that logic is not as powerful as we like to think. In fact the meta-message of this whole posting is how to get reliable knowldege despite various forms of human frailty.


Re Contact:


(To LXV) The alien wasn't her father. The alien chose to appear like her father because it reckoned that was a good idea. It got the details from her brain by techno-magic.


I don't think there's much to be gained from Contact - too many counter-factuals and the whole thing is fiction, after all.

Posted by: Norman at July 17, 2006 6:54 AM

"and the whole thing is fiction, after all."

Just like much of the Bible, far as anybody knows.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 17, 2006 7:11 AM

Isn't it question begging to apply the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" standard to theism? The issue is whether or not the existence of God is likely. Saying something is extraordinary implies that it is unlikely, so at the very least that is stacking the deck against theism.

Posted by: Mr. Grouchypants at July 17, 2006 7:44 AM

Noman,

You argue as if I've said that God-claims are as certain as scientific claims. I have not. Thus, why we again return to my original assertion: agnosticism and hope.

Why is it that everytime Amy writes I hear calliope music? Amy Alkon: the rodeo clown of atheism.

Try Philosophy of Science: Contemporary Readings, edited by Yui Balashov and Alex Rosenberg, Routledge Contemporary Readings in Science, 2002.

Posted by: Fritz at July 17, 2006 9:04 AM

Just wanted to make comment #100 - Yay!

Posted by: Norman at July 17, 2006 11:12 AM

Fritz-


I'll have a look at your reference, but I have to say I've only just begun "A treatise of human nature" (Hume) and it is quite thick...
but why do you point me at a book on the P of S when it's not science that's in question? Perhaps the answer's in the book.


Calliope: in music, an instrument also called steam organ or steam piano in which steam is forced through a series of whistles controlled by a keyboard. It is usually played mechanically, and its shrill music is a familiar accompaniment of circus parades. [www.answers.com] Meow!


Re hope: I don't think you made an assertion, you merely referred to it. What's the difference between "agnosticism and hope" and "wishful thinking?" From the descriptions I've seen of the Xian god I hope that such an unpleasant character is no more real than a hideous collective nightmare. What are you hoping for?

Posted by: Norman at July 17, 2006 11:27 AM

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