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2johnthefireman
Sep 2, 2012, 2:16am Top

From the article: "Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage".

The lack of "critical thinking" is key to so many problems. I wonder how many people in the USA really know (or care?) how their country is viewed on the global stage?

3Helcura
Sep 2, 2012, 2:45am Top

Some of us do both know and care. I for one am frustrated with and ashamed of most of the actions our leaders have taken on the international front in the last two administrations.

One of the things I think we really need to work on is the anti-intellectualism of the culture in the U.S. We're not really a nation of idiots, but a lot of people would rather be thought an idiot than an elitist. That was one of the things George W. Bush played on. We need to counter the idea that educated means elitist, and we need to keep pushing education in critical thinking skills in our public schools. Unfortunately, we haven't found a way to make congresspeople go back and retake elementary school science.

4Lunar
Edited: Sep 2, 2012, 3:01am Top

#3: While I'm no fan of anti-intellectualism, tackling that issue won't have the effect you might want upon the political sphere. Believe me, there's no "smart" way of being the world's policeman.

5Helcura
Sep 2, 2012, 3:03am Top

Point - but better thinking might lead the U.S. away from the idea that that's our job.

6johnthefireman
Sep 2, 2012, 3:30am Top

>4 Lunar: Lunar, are you serious about "the world's policeman" bit, or is that irony?

7Lunar
Edited: Sep 2, 2012, 3:48am Top

#5: I think that would take a very substantial amount of "better thinking" to buck the incentives built into the system. As it stands now, if graded on behavior, even a constitutional law professor like Barack Obama would flunk his own class. And that's not because he didn't get enough 8th grade biology. It's because he can get away with it.

And coming back to the specific gripes in the article above, they seem be arguing the opposite. They want the US to exert its authority in all sorts of areas with the excuse that they know better. They make hay over Bachman's ignorance about the cervical cancer vaccine... yet the opposing opinion is actually that the vaccine should be mandated. And a few months ago there was some doctor being interviewed by Jon Stewart saying that the use of aspirin should be mandated. Nevermind that aspirin has been shown to have no benefit for people not suffering from specific ailments. In fact, its effect as a blood thinner increases the mortality rate in the general population enough to offset the lives it might save from heart-attack and stroke. But because that doctor got a whiff of political power, all his smarts became a detriment. It's for reasons like these that I'm skeptical of those who complain about anti-intellectualism. Some people wear science on their sleeves the same way that others do with religion. It's just an excuse for more power.

#6: Why would that be irony? I thought our opposition to American intervention worldwide was one of the few things we both agreed on.

8johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 2, 2012, 4:13am Top

>7 Lunar: Sorry, I just wasn't quite clear on what you meant in >4 Lunar:. Thanks for clarifying. Yes, I would generally agree with you on this, I think.

9ambrithill
Sep 2, 2012, 8:43am Top

Does the writer of this article really think it is only Republicans who say stupid things?

10ambrithill
Sep 2, 2012, 8:44am Top

As a person who works in the American education system I will simply say that there are way too many things wrong with the way our system is set up to ever begin telling all of them.

11nathanielcampbell
Sep 2, 2012, 3:44pm Top

>10 ambrithill:: So we're just supposed to throw our hands up in despair and do nothing? I don't accept that as an answer.

There are problems, perhaps more than any one person can deal with or even comprehend. But that shouldn't stop us from trying to solve the ones that are before each us, staring us in the face, waiting for us to solve them.

And since my wife is an evolutionary biologist having to deal with the disaster that is the science education of the freshmen coming into her classroom, we'll start with that: we need to stop pretending that creationism or intelligent design are "scientific", or that evolution is "just" a theory. And even if secondary-school teachers don't use the "e-word", there is much they can do to teach about population biology, geo-physics, etc. to prepare our students to do real science at the college level.

And since I teach the history side of things, it would be helpful if students came into my class with an idea that human beings have populated the world for far more than 10,000 years -- it doesn't take a rocket scientist to teach students about prehistoric humans (Neanderthal, the recently decoded Denisovans in Siberia, etc.) and prehistoric art (e.g. cave paintings that are 20,000 years old). And even if they don't want to deal with human specifically, they should be teaching about dinosaurs and the formation of solar system and the beginnings of the universe 14 billion years ago.

There is simply no excuse for science and history teachers not to be teaching this material in our schools.

12richardbsmith
Sep 2, 2012, 4:05pm Top

I do not think it is possible to encourage excitement and enthusiasm for the sciences and for math at the secondary level when science is denied at fundamental levels.

I hate being asked if I believe in evolution. Believe in evolution - what in the world does that mean? As if it were a matter of faith?

Evolution is one of the WOW's of science.
Physics should stir the souls of high school students.

13rrp
Sep 3, 2012, 12:16am Top

But that shouldn't stop us from trying to solve the ones that are before each us, staring us in the face, waiting for us to solve them.

I couldn't agree more. The question of the best strategy is still open though. It is a fact that many students come to science from a fundamentalist religious background. The worst way to start is to tell them that everything their pastor told them is wrong. I'd bet you could almost hear the sound of minds shutting to science. You shouldn't tell them that humans have populated the world for more than 10,000 years, you should tell them about the evidence that supports the theory that humans have populated the world for more than 10,000 years. You should not tell them that mankind had a common ancestor with apes, you should tell them about the evidence that supports the theory that humans and apes had a common ancestor. You should not require them to believe those theories, you should only require them to know about those theories. There is always a dangerous line in education between teaching students what to believe and teaching students how to make their way in the world. They need to know about stuff, they do not need to believe it. In fact, if the next generation is to advance, we need them to believe just one thing, that we give them permission to make up their own minds what to believe.

14johnthefireman
Sep 3, 2012, 2:15am Top

>11 nathanielcampbell: it would be helpful if students came into my class with an idea that human beings have populated the world for far more than 10,000 years

This is what flummoxes me. I find it difficult to understand that they don't come into your class understanding this. I come from a different generation and a different country, of course, but in a Catholic primary school in England in the late 1950s and early '60s we learned about neanderthals and cave paintings and dinosaurs and the solar system and evolution and much more, all at a very basic level, of course, but when we moved on to secondary school and started doing serious science and history we had the foundations. We also learned about bible stories, and were taught that there was no contradiction. I have trouble comprehending how a few decades and an ocean can contribute to such a major difference.

15nathanielcampbell
Sep 3, 2012, 11:28am Top

>14 johnthefireman:: I live in rural southeastern Kentucky (aka Appalachia). In my wife's General Biology class last week (the general education biology course, mostly for freshmen), when she introduced the concept of evolution (a topic in which she is very good at being very subtle, delaying the use of the "e-word" for as long as possible and soft-peddling it in ways which I think rrp in post 13 might appreciate), she was approached by one student after class who asked her if they were going to talk about creationism.

My wife carefully and easily explained that such issues were best dealt with in the philosophy and religion department, and that if the student had questions about them, he should inquire with the faculty over there.

Did that student represent the majority of students? Probably not. But did this happen in a university classroom? Yes. (Caveat: it's a Baptist-affliated university.)

16richardbsmith
Edited: Sep 3, 2012, 11:47am Top

What is in a creationism text?

What are the chapter headings?

17nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 3, 2012, 4:49pm Top

>16 richardbsmith:: Seven chapters? Morning and Evening the First Day, etc.?

(Never mind that the first morning and evening come before the heaven and the earth have even been separated from each other, so how was the earth rotating to create the changes in days? I mean sure, on the first day Night and Day were created, but there weren't any of the physical mechanisms yet to cause them to succeed each other cyclically. And I suppose earth could start spinning on its axis starting in the second day, when it is separated from the waters above; but how do you mark the difference between night and day with that axis rotation since there isn't a sun "to separate the day from the night" until the fourth day? And how did the vegetation created on Day 3 grow, since there wasn't any sunlight until the next day? Etc., etc., etc.)

18modalursine
Edited: Sep 3, 2012, 1:12pm Top

ref 17

Q: Which is more important light, the sun or the moon?
A: The moon, which lights the dark night, whereas the sun shines in the daytime when its light anyway.

Q: How did the (stereotypically dumb ethnic or social group) plan to send astronauts to the sun?
A: They planned to go at night when the sun isn't shining.

There is a point to all this, but its left as an exercise for the reader.

19richardbsmith
Sep 3, 2012, 1:14pm Top

I have wondered about that, well not that specifically.

But how is it that the Moon rules the night if it is only completely in the night sky, one day in each 28+ days. For about half of those days it is more in the daytime than the nighttime.

20Mr.Durick
Sep 3, 2012, 4:46pm Top

You notice the moon in the night sky. You don't notice the moon in the day sky. I remember as a kid finally noticing the moon in the day sky and commenting on it to a fellow. We thought it was some kind of anomaly but not one to be concerned about. That is, despite its changes, the moon is a disk in the night sky, primarily. So we can remark on its merits from there.

Robert

21ambrithill
Sep 3, 2012, 7:58pm Top

>11 nathanielcampbell: I agree that we should not throw up our hands and give up, but believe me, whether creationism or evolution is being taught is not the biggest problem facing education, and I find it interesting that you think it is.

22nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 3, 2012, 8:57pm Top

>21 ambrithill:: I didn't mean to imply that I thought it was "the biggest problem facing education", though I think it is symptomatic of what I would identify as one of the three biggest problems (and I am writing here as a college teacher, the son of former elementary school teacher and the husband of a college teacher whose undergraduate degree included elementary ed certification): the failure to teach (or perhaps better, to develop) critical thinking skills, which have been replaced either by political fiats (in the case of dismissing evolution as "just a theory", for example) or by "teaching to the test". I have students coming into college who can't figure out which side of a map goes up because map-reading skills aren't a priority (geography doesn't lend itself to standardized tests very well). As another example: when he asked students on a test to describe the borders of the Roman Empire from the perspective of Rome (e.g. to north it reaches to the Danube river, to the south it reaches into Africa to the edge of the Sahara desert, etc.), a colleague of mine reported that one student wrote, "to the west you go through Spain to Syria".

The second of the biggest problems is the broken system we use to fund our public schools. By tying school funding primarily to property taxes, we virtually ensure that poor neighborhoods will have poorer schools -- and this is especially disconcerting because we know that education can be the magic bullet to ending cycles of poverty and the many other social ills that come with it. The other problem in school funding is tying it to those damned standardized testing results -- for as they've been implemented, they do little to test actual education.

The third problem, as I see it, is in how we as a society treat teachers. For all the lip service we pay in our nostalgic periods to the great teachers who helped us we get where we are today, we do little to actually reward teachers with decent salaries and social respect. How many times have you heard -- or perhaps even repeated -- the quip that "Those who can't do, teach"? What does that say about how we view teaching as a profession?

So now that I've listed the three biggest problems I see, I'd like to ask you: what do you see are the biggest problems with the education system?

23Lunar
Sep 4, 2012, 12:26am Top

#22: The second of the biggest problems is the broken system we use to fund our public schools.

This assumes there's a significant relationship between throwing money at public schools and public school effectiveness. A school could get plenty of money. But spending is another story altogether. I'm not going to say that the Los Angeles area schools are representative of the rest of the country, but the school district is plagued with one spending scandal after another, often in the form of billions of dollars thrown away on wasteful building projects. It actually reminds me of something faceinbook once said about the endless "remodeling" that goes on at hospital facilities. As with hospitals, schools just so much guaranteed cash flowing in that they have no reason to spend their money where it's needed.

24StormRaven
Edited: Sep 4, 2012, 12:41am Top

What is in a creationism text?

Here are some highlights from a creationist textbook.

Apparently electricity is a mystery to creationists.

25johnthefireman
Sep 4, 2012, 1:23am Top

>24 StormRaven: Thanks, StormRaven. I've never actually seen one of these.

Mind you, I also think it's worth drawing attention to the quote: "if you're completely dismissive of religion, that doesn't make you opposed to zealotry, it just makes you a different kind of zealot".

26johnthefireman
Sep 4, 2012, 1:39am Top

>22 nathanielcampbell: Nathaniel, I may not be comparing like with like because from personal experience I can only compare a British undergraduate degree 40 years ago with a US graduate degree 20 years ago, in only one university in each country.

In the British university, the emphasis was on students taking responsibility for their own learning. Resources were provided, including lectures, seminars, tutors, libraries, laboratories, etc, but the focus was on the student. Most of the lecturers were primarily researchers rather than trained teachers; while their pedagogical skills left much to be desired, we were often listening to blokes who were (or had been at some point in their career) at the cutting edge of research in various fields. Lectures were not compulsory, and I recall that our final year history students only had one lecture a week timetabled anyway, the rest was reading and seminars; science and engineering students had far more lectures and timetabled laboratory work. We were given a list of books at the beginning of each term and expected to read them (or discern which parts needed to be read). Exams took place only at the end of each year, with no intermediate tests. The grammar school which I attended had begun to prepare us for this, particularly in the sixth form.

In the US university, the masters programme which I did was extremely good, open, flexible, student-oriented, adult learning, etc, and I was very impressed. But what I saw of the undergraduate programmes was that they were just like a glorified high school. Lectures were compulsory. Students were spoon-fed by lecturers. They were told which pages of the book to read each week and given a test on it. The university attracted some really excellent extra-curricular speakers in the evenings, but I noticed that normally there would only be a couple of dozen in the audience, mainly masters students, unless a lecturer had made it a compulsory course requirement, in which case there would be about four hundred youngsters packed into the auditorium furiously taking notes for the test which they would get at the end of the week.

Who knows, maybe British universities are like that these days too, but I have to say I was really struck by the difference.

27richardbsmith
Sep 4, 2012, 8:05am Top

>24 StormRaven:

The section on electricity is interesting. I was not aware of the scientists who argue that electricity comes from the Sun or from the Earth's rotation.

It would have been good to have some of the section that presented straight science as a comparison.

28nathanielcampbell
Sep 4, 2012, 9:44am Top

>26 johnthefireman:: "But what I saw of the undergraduate programmes was that they were just like a glorified high school. Lectures were compulsory. Students were spoon-fed by lecturers. They were told which pages of the book to read each week and given a test on it. "

Yeah, that's pretty much how we have to do it. If I used the older brit model -- tell 'em what books to read, and then expect them to read them and learn from them -- I'd have a bunch of students who didn't do anything in college except party. Then they'd get to those end-of-year exams and fail. Miserably.

I would love to be able to expect more self-driven learning from my students; but it takes an awful lot of hand-holding to get them there. On the other hand, I think that having teachers more engaged in actually teaching is a strength of the U.S. system. The semesters I spent in German universities left me less than impressed -- the faculty (especially the older ones) rarely seemed to care whether their students were actually learning or not, and were rarely available for extra help if you needed it.

Of course, there were exceptions. The classics prof who led a seminar in Cicero's De Finibus did an excellent job of being aware of my limitations (as good as my Latin is / was, it still took an incredible effort to sight-read Cicero into German); and the medieval German linguistics prof also took extra time to make sure I was staying up to speed (that class was in some respects easier, because medieval German is a step closer to English).

One of the great lessons I've learned both as a student and now as a teacher is that there will be good teachers and there will be bad teachers. There are, however, two related traits that I think mark out the good teachers from the bad ones: (1) a passion for learning, for knowledge, for discovery, for thinking; and (2) a genuine interest in passing on not just that learning, knowledge, discovery, and thinking, but also the passion to the students -- which ultimately means being genuinely interested in the students themselves.

29nathanielcampbell
Sep 4, 2012, 9:44am Top

>24 StormRaven:: Thanks SR for the link. It's both hilarious and incredibly depressing at the same time -- I'll have to wait for just the right moment to share that with my biologist wife.

30StormRaven
Sep 4, 2012, 10:11am Top

25, 29: I can find more. There are plenty of "creationist" textbooks, some of which have even zanier things in them than this. I think I'll try to track down the creationist dinosaur book for kids that explains how dinosaurs breathed fire from their noses.

31StormRaven
Sep 4, 2012, 10:30am Top

Its not a textbook, but rather a creationist dinosaur book aimed at children. I don't know which is worse, a textbook full of disinformation or a children's book full of disinformation. In any event, here is Dinosaurs by Design.

32modalursine
Sep 4, 2012, 11:28am Top

OK, Lets talk about that for a minute or two:

"if you're completely dismissive of religion, that doesn't make you opposed to zealotry, it just makes you a different kind of zealot".

For one thing, the statement above is a form of name calling. As if one were saying:
"I'm not a zealot, you are" or perhaps "You think I'm a zealot? Well you're another! (Nya nya nya!) "

For another thing, its awfully sloppy and verges on the "straw man" argument:
1. Dismissive
Atheists here are not "dismissive" of religion's role historically or anthropologically, and are not "dismissive" of religions power to " Cloud men's miinds" (Anybody remember the radio show "The Shadow"? .... "While traveling in the orient, Lamont Cranston learned the power to cloud men's minds.... " or the power of religion to claim people's allegience
to a cause "higher than themselves"

We are only dismissive of its truth value and of its intellectual (as opposed to emotional) foundations.

2. Zealot
A zealot is someone who is fanatical, excessive, over the top. A zealot will sacrifice all other considerations, morality, logic, loyalty to friends and family, whatever, to further the Great Cause. Blow up a bus full of children or bomb a hospital? Assasinate the Fat Duke? Its all been done in the name of The Cause.

But the atheists here and in the world at large (well there are crazies everywhere, but by and large) are trying to be reasonable. We can't claim always to succeed but we do claim always to try.

There may be thoughtful intelligent plausible defenses of theism possible, but so far, those have been thin on the ground.

Then too, there is plenty of low hanging fruit where the religious defenders come off as total looney tunes, as in the creationism,

33johnthefireman
Sep 4, 2012, 11:39am Top

>32 modalursine: That sounds like rather an elaborate and labyrinthine defence, modalursine. You personally are not one of the zealots, I would say, but I think it would be difficult to argue that there aren't quite a lot of atheist posters who are "completely dismissive" in the most extreme form of that word and thus qualify for zealotry in the way that the (atheist) blogger meant. And I agree with you entirely, there's plenty of "low hanging fruit" (that's a new Americanism for me; hadn't heard it before) on the religious side. So "dismiss" them rather than all religion and all religious people.

34richardbsmith
Sep 4, 2012, 12:01pm Top

Are there creationist text books at the college level?

35cjbanning
Sep 4, 2012, 3:01pm Top

I really want to ask which species God created first, humans or dinosaurs.

36rrp
Sep 4, 2012, 3:08pm Top

#22

I would identify as one of the three biggest problems ... the failure to teach (or perhaps better, to develop) critical thinking skills

I agree wholeheartedly.

My wife carefully and easily explained that such issues were best dealt with in the philosophy and religion department, and that if the student had questions about them, he should inquire with the faculty over there.

But if I had a niggle, it would be to pint out that the first step in critical thinking it to question everything. I am sure your wife is a wonderful teacher, but perhaps, by passing the buck there, squelched that particular student's inclination to be critical. A student should be free to question the orthodoxy that is evolution. I waver on this point but agree that philosophy and religion are more appropriate frameworks in which to discuss creationism. But creationism is a critical response to evolution and if evolution is not subject to critical review in biology, then the wrong message is being sent. Evolution is just a theory, it's just that when the word theory is used, it means different things to different people. Being a critic of the theory of evolution is not, in itself, unscientific.

37rrp
Edited: Sep 4, 2012, 3:24pm Top

I know everyone is enjoying pilling on the Creationist Science Book, but even the review admits that it packs some science in. If some of the homeschooled children come away with some science, that's a good thing right? I have reviewed a few science textbooks and none of them is perfect; in fact many of the textbooks from some of the biggest and well known publishing houses are full of howlers. This one just fits that mold.

There were a few points that the reviewer did get wrong in nuance though. The first is the it is true that most scientists don't know the answer to the question "where does electricity come from" but certainly one generator of electric and magnetic fields is indeed the sun.

And the first point is way off the mark. Science does indeed contain a large dollop of faith (faith as in trust). Sure, in the balance of "trust but verify", the verify part gets a strong role. But the trust part doesn't go away. No scientist can ever avoid taking some things on trust.

And no one indeed was around to observe the Moon when it was created. That is was created so many billions of years ago is inferred, not observed. Observations that are made of the Moon are consistent with the theory that it is old, but they are also consistent with the theory that it was made 10,000 years ago and made to look like it was old.

38nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 4, 2012, 4:05pm Top

>36 rrp:: "But creationism is a critical response to evolution"

You seem to use one of the stranger and less useful definitions of "critical thinking" if you actually believe that creationism qualifies as an appropriate critique of evolution. Critical thinking is not simply a carte blanche to question everything under the sun (that's called skepticism). Rather, a fundamental component of critical thinking skills is the ability to discern vapidness from substance -- the ability to evaluate the substance of a claim. Creationism is not a substantial critique of evolution, for it misrepresents both the claims of science and Judaeo-Christian theology. Perceiving those holes in the claims of creationism should be the fruit of good critical thinking skills.

39nathanielcampbell
Sep 4, 2012, 3:59pm Top

>37 rrp:: "The first is the it is true that most scientists don't know the answer to the question "where does electricity come from"

I don't know where you got your science education, but I hope my children aren't subjected to it. Of course we know where electricity comes from: electric current and electric charge are phenomena of the electromagnetic interactions of atomic particles. For all those who flunked high school physics, electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental forces (along with gravitation, and the weak and strong forces). I'm a frickin' theologian and I know the answer to the question "where does electricity come from"!

Just because you don't want to go down the dark and damning path of materialistic atheism doesn't mean that you have to completely misconstrue the nature of science and scientific evidence to fit your worldview. Apologetics for any introduction of creationism into the science classroom are simply ill-conceived and misbegotten.

40rrp
Edited: Sep 4, 2012, 7:30pm Top

You have to be a little bit careful here. I said creationism is a critical response to evolution picking up on the word the student used to your wife. Do you know for sure what he meant by "creationism" and what I meant by "creationism"? If you were just assuming that we both meant "What we think it says in Genesis" you might be wrong and in that case your reaction is counter productive. What your reaction suggests is that you are all for "critical thinking" so long as we don't criticize you. You switched from an engaging tone "let's work this out together" mode to a "let me tell you how it is because I'm the teacher" mode.

I agree that working out how creationism is not a substantial scientific critique of evolution is worthwhile. (One of the problems with evolution is that no substantial critiques of evolution are allowed. If you even dare to suggest that there might be something wrong with evolution, you get immediately labeled a heretic.) And creationism doesn't misrepresent science, because it isn't science. Why it isn't science is the important point, but blankly stating that it isn't does not answer the initial criticism. You have to explain why. And if you need patiently explain why over and over again, while maintaining engagement with the student, you will have taught something. If you close his mind by telling him to go away, you have only taught him that critical thinking and evolution are not allowed in the same room.

There are other legitimate critiques of evolution, both philosophical and theological. They may be wrong, but if you dismiss them all you are again suggesting your mind is closed to "critical thinking".

Now as to electricity. I think, if you only knew, you might want to withdraw your hope that your children aren't subjected to the same education in electro-magnetism that I received. You are again jumping to unwarranted conclusions. In your response, you describe what electricity is, not "where it comes from". The answer to where it comes from is the answer to the question "where does the fundamental electroweak force of physics come from", and for that it might be useful to have a theologian or two handy.

41cjbanning
Sep 4, 2012, 9:34pm Top

"And if you need patiently explain why over and over again, while maintaining engagement with the student, you will have taught something. If you close his mind by telling him to go away, you have only taught him that critical thinking and evolution are not allowed in the same room."

Perhaps, but at least your not wasting all the other students' time.

42richardbsmith
Sep 4, 2012, 10:51pm Top

rrp,

Are we to require complete unification before we claim knowledge?

43Jesse_wiedinmyer
Sep 5, 2012, 1:53am Top

But creationism is a critical response to evolution

I think I just wet my fucking pants. Bwahahahaha!

44Lunar
Sep 5, 2012, 2:08am Top

#43: Actually, the second half of his sentence is even more uproarious.

if evolution is not subject to critical review in biology, then the wrong message is being sent.

In other words, when Darwin came in with evolution, no one was persuaded by the evidence and the only people who still believe evolution today are Darwin's direct descendants who were raised to believe it.

45Jesse_wiedinmyer
Sep 5, 2012, 2:14am Top

Evolution is subject to critical review. It's just that Creationism (or it's proxy, Intelligent Design) clearly ain't it.

46Jesse_wiedinmyer
Sep 5, 2012, 2:14am Top

I believe that this is what upsets rrp, so...

47StormRaven
Sep 5, 2012, 8:40am Top

One of the problems with evolution is that no substantial critiques of evolution are allowed. If you even dare to suggest that there might be something wrong with evolution, you get immediately labeled a heretic.

The problem is that to have a substantial critique of evolution you have to come armed with evidence to support your critique. To assert that there is something "wrong" with evolution, you have to have evidence to back your claim. You aren't labeled a "heretic" if you don't. You are labeled an idiot.

Creationism and its bastard offspring "intelligent design" are not supported by any evidence.

And if you need patiently explain why over and over again, while maintaining engagement with the student, you will have taught something.

A student who gets to college and takes a biology course who is so ignorant of biology that he has to have this patiently explained to them again and again isn't likely to be susceptible to being taught critical thinking. Neither is a person who maintains that there are legitimate philosophical or theological critiques of evolution.

48StormRaven
Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 10:06am Top

Observations that are made of the Moon are consistent with the theory that it is old, but they are also consistent with the theory that it was made 10,000 years ago and made to look like it was old.

No, actually they aren't consistent with the theory that the moon was made 10,000 years ago and made to look like it was old. Because there are no observations that point towards it being made recently and made to look old. To support a theory you have to have evidence that actually supports it, and no observations actually support the "made to look old" portion.

49rrp
Sep 5, 2012, 9:40am Top

#41 Perhaps, but at least your not wasting all the other students' time.

Good idea. Just preach to the converted. What's the worst that can happen. They can waste their vote on the politicians in the article of the OP.

50rrp
Sep 5, 2012, 9:41am Top

#42 Are we to require complete unification before we claim knowledge?

Please elaborate.

51eromsted
Sep 5, 2012, 9:56am Top

>48 StormRaven:
Or more to the point, if you allow for omnipotent creation as an explanation the question of evidence is of no importance.

52modalursine
Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 6:30pm Top

So who designed the designer?

If the world is so complex and so artfully arranged that only an intelligent designer could account for it, then that designer himself (herself? itself? themselves? ) must be even more intelligent and complex than the world is, to have designed and implemented it.

If something so complex as the world requires an intelligent designer, then how much more so does that designer in turn require an even more intelligent designer, and so on.

Turtles (or designers) all the way up, this time, instead of turtles all the way down.

"All the fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bit em.
And little flees have lesser fleas and on ad infinitum.

The little fleas themselves have greater flees to go on.
And greater fleas have greater still, and so forth and so on. "

53nathanielcampbell
Sep 5, 2012, 7:53pm Top

>52 modalursine:: Again, the category error. The "designer" (if that's the term you want to go with) is undesigned: the relationship between creator and creation is not symmetrical but asymptoptic.

54AsYouKnow_Bob
Sep 5, 2012, 8:50pm Top

Is there evidence for such a claim, beyond bald assertion that "the designer is undesigned"/ "that's just the way it is"?

Because, ya know, that sort of proof by assertion is pretty weak.

55modalursine
Sep 6, 2012, 12:52am Top

ref 53

I have to assume that you nave something serious to say, but what you've written isn't it, and here's why:

A category error assigns attributes to an object that the object is incapable of having, like asking "What color is your name ?" Names don't have and can't have
colors. Names are a category of things that just don't have color, so its a category error to ask the color of a name.

If the world requires an intelligent designer (and by the way, what else would I call an intelligent designer besides "The designer" ?. I'm not making this up, you know. ) then surely the designer must be something complex.

Do you disagree? If so, say so.

The world is something complex and hence according to Creationist presuppositions requires a designer. But the designer is something complex and by the same token would also require a designer.

If you think there's a category error here, you'll have to explain why a designer is by its nature a category of thing which is incapable of having a designer of its own.

The second part of your sentence says first:
"...the relation between creator and creation is not symmetrical..."
The creator creates the creation, the creation does not create the creator, so there's a bit of asymmetry right there. Agreed, but to what larger point? It seems like a gratuitous and irrelevant observation so far.

Then you add, that the the relation between creator and creation is "asymptotic".

Pardon my ignorance, but the only meaning in contemporary English of the word "asymptotic" that I'm aware of, after consulting a few on-line dictionaries, is the mathematical sense of approaching something but never quite reaching it, except "in the limit" . So you're saying that a creator approaches the thing created asymptotically
(or maybe the other way around, the thing created approaches its creator asymptotically. I suppose that would amount to the same thing in the end).

I have no idea what it could mean for a created thing and its creator to "approach" each other, let alone asymptotically, but why would that have any bearing on whether a creator or designer would need or not need its own creator/designer ?

So help me out here. Explain if you will why we would be wrong to think that you're just evading the question by throwing around words such as "category error" and "asymptotically",thereby "blowing smoke up my nose" (I think that is what they say in English) , in the hopes that I or others who read this will be dazzled into thinking you've presented a reasonable answer to my objections.


56johnthefireman
Sep 6, 2012, 1:04am Top

>55 modalursine: a designer is by its nature a category of thing

The apophatic tradition would point out that God isn't a thing, and that might be relevant to Nathaniel's point.

57prosfilaes
Sep 6, 2012, 3:28am Top

#56: The definition of designer or creator is something that designs or something that creates. I think that excludes a not-a-thing as the Creator.

58johnthefireman
Sep 6, 2012, 4:51am Top

>57 prosfilaes: Just goes to show how complicated it is when you try to describe the divine using human language, which of course is all we have and, by definition, is thus inadequate.

59Lunar
Sep 6, 2012, 5:39am Top

#58: ...human language, which of course is all we have and, by definition, is thus inadequate.

That's a open question. We don't yet know if human language (and I'm including mathematics here as also being a form of human communication) is adequate or not to understand reality. But we've done a great deal so far. So saying that the "divine" is beyond us by definition seems a bit like moving the goal posts lest it be found to be not so divine in nature.

60StormRaven
Sep 6, 2012, 8:30am Top

53: It's only a "category error" because you engage in special pleading. That's not actually a category error on modalursine's part. It is a logical fallacy on yours.

61modalursine
Sep 6, 2012, 1:18pm Top

ref 56

We aren't talking about "God", we're talking about a hypothetical creator/designer allegedly needed to account for the existence of the complex world we see before us.

A "Creator" sure can be a "thing", go into any factory and watch the robot assembly line.
If you don't think the robots are "things", then we're not using the same language at all.

Even people (who create things, I propose) can be thought of as "things", though we usually give ourselves more dignity. Still, people are "things" that have complexity and
might be thought to require a designer/creator to account for their existence.

For all I know the universe was designed by a committee of hyperdimensional beings on a Monday after a three day drunk.

Its a Loooong way from "designer" to "God". First things first.

The same objection, by the way, that what you're talking about isn't a "thing" applies to the universe as a whole. Everything (Sorry, the English for "alles" or "todos" or "hakol" has "thing" in it) in the universe is a "thing", but the collection (the set of all things) is not itself a "Thing". Does the set of all things contain itself?

62Jesse_wiedinmyer
Sep 6, 2012, 4:48pm Top

A category error assigns attributes to an object that the object is incapable of having, like asking "What color is your name ?" Names don't have and can't have
colors. Names are a category of things that just don't have color, so its a category error to ask the color of a name.


I wonder what a synaesthete might say about that.

63rrp
Sep 6, 2012, 5:39pm Top

It seems we have wandered back into the territory of the "Why is there something rather than nothing" thread. It occurred to me that there was something left over from there that I wanted to ask. modalursine mentioned "The Principle of Sufficient Reason" in that other thread, and I was unsure if he subscribed to it or not. Here are three sub-versions of it from Wikipedia.

1. For every entity x, if x exists, then there is a sufficient explanation for why x exists.
2. For every event e, if e occurs, then there is a sufficient explanation for why e occurs.
3. For every proposition p, if p is true, then there is a sufficient explanation for why p is true.

It may be a good place to find some common ground on which to build understanding. So here is a question for all. Which, if any, of 1, 2 and 3 do you hold is true?

64AsYouKnow_Bob
Sep 6, 2012, 7:41pm Top

johnthefireman at #58:Just goes to show how complicated it is when you try to describe the divine using human language, which of course is all we have and, by definition, is thus inadequate.

I take your point, but the theists can't have it both ways:

IF the divine is beyond human language

THEN theists can't claim that their conception is correct, and that modalursine's attempts to think about the divine are inherently in error.

If we accept for the sake of argument that the divine is beyond human ken, then any given human's attempt to understand are as valid as any other's.

65ambrithill
Sep 6, 2012, 8:33pm Top

>22 nathanielcampbell: I would agree with your top three as being very important, and possibly would agree that they are the top three. However, when it comes to teaching to the test, remember teachers do this to retain their jobs, not because it is their choice. I would also ask why accepting the possibility of creationism does not apply as critical thinking? Isn't part of critical thinking reaching your own opinions? I think perhaps the way schools are funded could be the key problem, because as you said, that will lead to always having the haves and the have nots. Having taught in two very low-income schools I can say that funding definitely affects education, probably in more ways than most people realize. And as a teacher I certainly agree with the part about the lip service given to teachers. I would also add that some of the modern methods of teaching (which are supposed to lead to critical thinking) are more detrimental than helpful. As a math teacher, a perfect example of this is the education system of today does not want to use rote memorization for anything, and therefore, I get many students in middle school who do not have a clue how to do the basics, such as multiplying or borrowing when subtracting. I do think critical thinking is important, but there must also be a balance with getting the students to know the basics. If students are always allowed to "discover" things for themselves, what do you do with those who "discover" the wrong answers but think they are right.

Overall, I think we agree much more than we disagree.

66prosfilaes
Sep 7, 2012, 1:01am Top

#58: Just goes to show how complicated it is when you try to describe the divine using human language,

Old debating trick: whenever someone points out a contradiction in your claims, claim "it's complicated and they don't have the whole picture".

67johnthefireman
Sep 7, 2012, 2:30am Top

>64 AsYouKnow_Bob: If we accept for the sake of argument that the divine is beyond human ken, then any given human's attempt to understand are as valid as any other's.

Broadly, I agree, except that I prefer to think of "groups of humans" rather than "any given human", to rule out the loner who thinks that God is calling him to kill everybody. Atheism is a valid attempt to understand reality, and I have no problem with that, only with the atheists (and religious people) who think that theirs is the only valid attempt and who ridicule the others and dismiss them as irrational, etc.

>66 prosfilaes: Old debating trick

No, not an "old debating trick", just an attempt to introduce into the conversation the apophatic tradition as one of the elements to be considered when talking about the divine, countering the "old debating trick" often used by atheists of trying to define the divine in the narrowest sense.

68nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 7, 2012, 10:13am Top

66: "Old debating trick: whenever someone points out a contradiction in your claims, claim "it's complicated and they don't have the whole picture".

Or it could just be that it really is complicated. Or is there no such thing as complexity? Must everything in a debate be reducible to sound-bytes that we can snatch away and flog or flaunt at will? Or is it possible that there are things out there that are complex, that are not reducible to a single post in LibraryThing?

I'm reminded continuously of a great episode of The West Wing, from the fourth season, I believe, as President Bartlet is running for reelection against a George W. Bush-style Republican. He eventually creams the Republican in the debate because his staff came to the realization that Bartlet's complexity of thought was a virtue, not a hindrance. "Complexity is not a vice," they said.

69johnthefireman
Sep 8, 2012, 2:18am Top

>68 nathanielcampbell: Thanks, Nathaniel. Actually I spend a great deal of my working life pointing out to diplomats, aid workers and the media that the situation in and between Sudan and South Sudan is, er, complicated and complex, and that their limited understanding and simplistic analyses of it are wrong, unhelpful and at times dangerous. Funnily enough people, including the ones I'm criticising, are willing to pay me to indulge in this and they actually seem to appreciate it as a useful contribution to the conversation rather than dismissing it as an "old debating trick".

70Lunar
Edited: Sep 8, 2012, 5:28am Top

#69: You're taking an example of a real-world situation where people can either be informed or ignorant about the facts on the ground and applying it to theology? With something like South Sudan you have a subject that you can actually investigate. Sure, some people are in a better position to know some things than other people, but even someone like myself living all the way over here can still inform someone "on the ground" in Africa that South Sudan offered to send troops to join America's neocolonialist efforts in Somalia the very first day they got AU membership. But when someone says that the divine is beyond human definition or reasoning... says who? On what basis? How can the claimant possibly know that the "divine" is beyond definition except by pure assertion, let alone claim that there even exists a "divine" to make assertions about in the first place?

71johnthefireman
Sep 8, 2012, 10:07am Top

>70 Lunar: And how can you state the opposite about the divine, particularly if you don't even believe it exists?

72Tid
Sep 8, 2012, 11:49am Top

This is a very interesting discussion. I'd like to throw a pebble in the pond. Recently there was a "Horizon" documentary on the BBC which asked the question How Small Is the Universe (There had been a companion documentary the week before, How Big Is the Universe, which laid out the latest theories relating to the Big Bang, Inflation Theories, cosmology, black holes, etc). The most striking aspect of the "How Small.." documentary was the examination of what happens when you break down the smallest particles - which they are trying to do using the Large Hadron Collider. The current theory is that the tiny particles of matter that form the atomic nucleus are in fact not matter at all, but consist of the theoretical energy packages that form the branch of physics, "String Theory". It was stated by one of the scientists involved that at this tiniest remove, the principles of size and location no longer hold good, and that it is theoretically possible that where the dimensions we are familiar with break down, an entire universe can exist within the heart of an atom.

Now, where do we fit such a concept - physics? science generally? philosophy? metaphysics? religion? It seems that where our understanding breaks down and can no longer encompass the implications of our latest discoveries, then the formal classifications we have become familiar with over a few thousand years, may also start to break down.

Just thinking out loud...

73LolaWalser
Sep 8, 2012, 2:12pm Top

Scientific discoveries ought to reflect on our philosophy, yes.

74prosfilaes
Sep 8, 2012, 4:14pm Top

#66: But "God is not a thing" is not complexity; it's absurdity. Being nameable is a property of things and only things.

75StormRaven
Sep 8, 2012, 4:46pm Top

Just goes to show how complicated it is when you try to describe the divine using human language, which of course is all we have and, by definition, is thus inadequate.

No, it isn't inadequate. Pretending that "the divine" is too complex for human language to describe is nothing but a raw assertion based upon no foundation at all.

Further, if it is too complex for human language to describe, then "the divine" is entirely irrelevant to human concerns, and can be discarded as useless junk.

76AsYouKnow_Bob
Sep 8, 2012, 5:17pm Top

Me, I can deal with the notion that "The divine is beyond human ken".
Maybe that's even true.

(IF true, that statement probably invalidates most of the content of most religions, which seems to be chock-full of assertions about the nature of the divine, and assertions about what various gods wants various peoples to eat, what they want people to do with their genitals, etc. Either we can know things about the divine, or we can't.)

But you don't get to say BOTH that

"The divine is entirely beyond human ken"

AND

"MY understanding of the divine is of course completely correct, and
YOU are WRONG for speculating about it."

If true, "Beyond human ken" would apply equally to highly trained theologians as much as it applies to civilians.

77modalursine
Sep 8, 2012, 5:43pm Top

ref 76

I have to agree with AYKB.

The contemporary Abrahamics, for example, want to have a god who is entirely good.

But once you say the divine is beyond human ken or beyond human language to describe, then how do you say or know that the god, if it exists, isn't at least partly evil?

Or perhaps the divine is not the um "unified executive" singular being that the Abrahamics like to talk about.

Maybe god has good days and bad days, and does good sometimes and evil at other times?

Or perhaps there are two or more gods.

The Zoroastrians, with their Lord of Wisdom (the good guy) and their Vengeful Spirit (the bad guy) at least don't run into the stark contradiction of a supposedly all good and powerful god in a world with more evil than one would reasonably expect in a world owned and operated by the one good god.

If the divine is ineffable, you've got to stop effing around, n'est ce pas ?

78nathanielcampbell
Sep 8, 2012, 8:45pm Top

>77 modalursine:: As I pointed out over at the religion and supernatural thread (in regards to pantheism in Christianity), I think that you take an overly conservative view of what, exactly, the Abrahamic religions think about the divine. If you looked more closely at the wide swaths of various traditions--including especially the mystical and apophatic--I think you would find that Abrahamic thought on the nature of the divine is much more diverse and much more "big tent" than you are giving it credit for.

79paradoxosalpha
Sep 8, 2012, 8:46pm Top

> 72

For any developed intellectual culture, there seem to be points where empiricism exhausts or exceeds its available instruments and provides a screen for exotic, quasi-mystical speculation. In past eras, alchemy and astrology filled these niches for the West, but now we can see them occupied by particle physics and relativistic cosmology.

80timspalding
Sep 8, 2012, 11:34pm Top

In reply to those who think Creationism is basically a right-wing thing, a factoid: What demographic group has the highest percentage who believe the Biblical account of creation (80%) and smallest support for evolution (16%)? Black Americans. ( See http://evostudies.org/2010/06/how-does-creationism-harm-african-americans/ )

81johnthefireman
Sep 9, 2012, 12:30am Top

>74 prosfilaes:-77 I find it rather incongruous that people who don't believe in God are defining what God can and can't be. When religious believers try to explain that that's not their idea of God, they are told they are being absurd: the God who doesn't exist must match the definition held by those who, er, don't believe in God...

>76 AsYouKnow_Bob: But you don't get to say BOTH that "The divine is entirely beyond human ken" AND "MY understanding of the divine is of course completely correct, and YOU are WRONG for speculating about it."

I hope I have never said that, Bob.

>78 nathanielcampbell: Nathaniel is correct: the Abrahamic religions contain much broader views than atheist posters apparently are aware of. You may not understand the mystical and apophatic traditions (I certainly doubt whether I fully understand them), but they are very much part of these faiths. While I don't deny that "God is a white-bearded old man sitting on a throne in the sky making judgements, working miracles and occasionally zapping people when they do wrong" is an image of God which has done the rounds in Christianity, it would be a big mistake to think that it is the be all and end all, or even the norm.

82Lunar
Sep 9, 2012, 1:06am Top

#71: And how can you state the opposite about the divine, particularly if you don't even believe it exists?

Because without evidence, to merely be agnostic about the "divine" is even more absurd than being agnostic about little pink unicorns.

#81: You may not understand the mystical and apophatic traditions (I certainly doubt whether I fully understand them), but they are very much part of these faiths.

Understanding them and judging them to be a bunch of hooey are not mutually exclusive. There are only so many "not this" and "not thats" you can invoke before I can infer that you're just making it up as you go along. It's just an excuse not to rationalize your beliefs.

83johnthefireman
Sep 9, 2012, 3:53am Top

>82 Lunar: So once again it seems that the main aim of atheists is to dismiss and ridicule anything to do with religion rather than to try to understand where religious people are coming from. You sound a bit like the words Bob draws attention to in >76 AsYouKnow_Bob:: "MY understanding of the divine is of course completely correct, and YOU are WRONG for speculating about it."

84prosfilaes
Edited: Sep 9, 2012, 6:06am Top

#81: I wasn't saying anything about God; I was talking about the nature of "thing"-hood. "X is not a thing" is incoherent for any value of X.

85Lunar
Sep 9, 2012, 6:33am Top

#83: Why is it ridicule if I compare the "divine" with pink unicorns? Would the celestial teapot seem a less pejorative comparison? Or other religions? The subject of the comparison is irrelevent. It's about what can be substantiated and what can be dismissed. If it were Arctic replying, he would at least interject that there's a qualitative difference between the "divine" and pink unicorns, but then that just raises the question of how you determine that there is a qualitative difference for something you have prejudged to be "beyond definition." It's just a copout.

86Tid
Sep 9, 2012, 11:12am Top

74 Being nameable is a property of things and only things.

I suppose it depends on your definition of a "thing". After all, justice, love, truth, law, and evolution are all named, yet are all also abstracts. I guess you were including abstracts in your statement?

79 there seem to be points where empiricism exhausts or exceeds its available instruments and provides a screen for exotic, quasi-mystical speculation.

Well, that's very true, but is simply a reflection on human nature. But it is science rather than mysticism that currently theorises (part of String Theory?) that at the smallest level of existence, our notions of size and location break down. Perhaps it really is possible that each universe in the (supposed) multiverse started out as a singularity at the heart of an atom? It's a wild thought, but no more wild than the Big Bang theory as currently held.
One thing is certain, philosophers will speculate on unanswerable questions, until the day scientists demonstrate they are no longer unanswerable.

87StormRaven
Edited: Sep 9, 2012, 3:31pm Top

I guess you were including abstracts in your statement?

Abstracts are things.

But it is science rather than mysticism that currently theorises (part of String Theory?) that at the smallest level of existence, our notions of size and location break down.

"String theory" at this point, really isn't a theory, or even a single attempt to describe a theory. Some in the scientific community don't even aver that it is science, at least not yet.

Saying "string theory says" is kind of fraught with peril, because there are competing versions of string theory, and none of them have any experimental or observational support as of yet. Until the question of which version of string theory is supported by evidence, it isn't really useful for much of anything. Some people think it may be possible to test some of the attributes of string theory in the future. Others don't. But until we can, string theory is just a set of interesting mathematical toys.

88modalursine
Sep 9, 2012, 5:00pm Top

ref 83

But suppose atheists have a pretty good idea about "where religious people are coming from" and think that that's a really big mistake?

Also, amplifying a point by Lunar (ref 82), you don't have to be a super expert in a given
field to understand enough to know its hooey:
1. There may be some valuable insights in Marx's thinking, and in that of some of his followers, but his system as a whole didn't quite work out as he expected. As it stands, it just won't do.

2. There may be some valuable insights in Freud and in those heavily influenced by him, but in the end, psychology has moved on.

Defender's of "the old time religion" of Marx or of Freud can cite deeply serious and scholarly work by people with more brains in their old shoes than we've got in our heads combined.

How can you criticize the works of the Master when you haven't read all these works (and in their original languages), let alone all the commentaries?

They can also trot out tombs of technical jargon and show that your criticisms are deeply flawed by fundamental misunderstandings of the true meaning of the technical terms which you, Bob Dog, are perversely misinterpreting, possibly because of your bourgeois background or due to unconscious repression (depending on whether the Master is Marx or Freud).

Appeals to authority and to mystery won't cut it.

When it comes to the divine, there are no authorities, "All men are equally ignorant about the gods". Contradictions are contradictions, they are violations of logic. They don't point to greater mysteries behind the veil, they point to "Error some place" even if its not quickly apparent just where the error lies.

89Tid
Sep 9, 2012, 5:56pm Top

87

You could indeed argue that abstracts are "things". But that would require allowing anything that is conceptual or can be imagined is a "thing". And therefore the concept of "God" - whether abstract or not - is by that definition, a "thing".

Until the question of which version of string theory is supported by evidence, it isn't really useful for much of anything. Some people think it may be possible to test some of the attributes of string theory in the future. Others don't. But until we can, string theory is just a set of interesting mathematical toys.

Yes, but that's what makes such theoretical graspings so joyful, at least to me! At that level there is a fluid blurring of the lines between science and philosophy, which at present only the most abstruse mathematics can even begin to bridge. It's this 'frontier' nature of science, especially (currently) particle physics which has the power to make my mind trip as only LSD used to be able to do.

Richard Dawkins admits to feelings of wonder and awe at the way the universe works, and this is what blows my mind too. Who needs religion when there is such mysterious unexplained beauty at the heart of things?

90prosfilaes
Sep 9, 2012, 9:02pm Top

#89: You could indeed argue that abstracts are "things". But that would require allowing anything that is conceptual or can be imagined is a "thing". And therefore the concept of "God" - whether abstract or not - is by that definition, a "thing".

Yes. Ultimately, I stand by my response in #66; "it's complicated" is not a response. Explaining exactly what is meant by the apophatic tradition when it says that "God isn't a thing" is a response. Then we can discuss whether that has any connection to what it was used in response to. Does the apophatic tradition believe that "God created the universe" is even a meaningful statement?

91prosfilaes
Sep 9, 2012, 9:09pm Top

#68: Or is it possible that there are things out there that are complex, that are not reducible to a single post in LibraryThing?

I do not believe there is anything that is complex in such a manner that there is not a better answer in the scope of an LT post then "it's complicated", where a thousand words and links--bibliographic, URL--to other sources would not at least give the reader the understanding that it's really complex, not just a dismissal. johnthefireman has not meaningfully introduced the apophatic tradition into the discussion; he just introduced vaguely one of its elements and refused to deal with its implications.

92johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 2:31am Top

>88 modalursine: But suppose atheists have a pretty good idea about "where religious people are coming from" and think that that's a really big mistake?

A lot of the conversations on LT suggest that a lot of the atheists posting here do not "have a pretty good idea of where religious people are coming from" (except, perhaps, the dominant forms of evangelical Christianity in the USA). The fact that their posts are often (not in all cases) riddled with anger, bitterness, hate, ridicule, complete dismissiveness, lack of respect for the person (rather than the idea) and a seeming inability to listen does not really inspire confidence about their level of understanding.

>90 prosfilaes:, 91 You may well stand by your definition of God as a thing (which I still find rather amusing as you don't believe there is a God so you are defining a supposedly non-existent concept as a "thing"). That's your right. But I'm pointing out that there is a strong tradition within religion which we call the apophatic tradition which says the opposite; the mystical tradition would be along the same lines.

Edited to add: Nathaniel's post >70 Lunar: in this What would change your mind? thread might also have some relevance here.

93prosfilaes
Sep 10, 2012, 3:31am Top

#92: But I'm pointing out that there is a strong tradition within religion which we call the apophatic tradition which says the opposite; the mystical tradition would be along the same lines.

Who cares? I can stubbornly repeat that light is both a particle and a wave, but I don't think I have the right to expect you to suddenly ooh and aah over that statement if we're having a discussion about the nature of light, particularly if I'm not interested in doing anything but repeating that statement and saying "Just goes to show how complicated it is when you try to describe the physical world using human language, which of course is all we have and, by definition, is thus inadequate."

94johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 4:18am Top

>92 johnthefireman: Who cares?

Well, if you don't care about the religious point of view in a conversation on religion in a group called "Let's Talk Religion", why are you here? I'm not trying to make you agree with the religious point of view, merely pointing it out to you.

Edited to add: And that question "why are you here?" is not intended as an attack or a snide barb. It really seems to me that many posters here only intend to dismiss religion rather than "Let's Talk Religion". Is there no interest whatsoever in understanding religion and religious people, in listening to their point of view rather than imposing your own, in accepting that religion exists whether you like it or not? That trying to find an accommodation with it (particularly its more "moderate", "progressive", "liberal" and tolerant manifestations) might be more useful than simply attacking, ridiculing and dismissing it and trying to prove it wrong?

95prosfilaes
Sep 10, 2012, 5:21am Top

#94: I'm not trying to make you agree with the religious point of view, merely pointing it out to you.

No, you're not. You're repeating words at me, not explaining the point of view. You have absolutely refused to explain this point of view.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqAxcs9lC1U comes to mind; if you don't know anything about sodium after that song, they don't what else they can do for you.

96nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 10:11am Top

>93 prosfilaes:: "I can stubbornly repeat that light is both a particle and a wave, but I don't think I have the right to expect you to suddenly ooh and aah over that statement if we're having a discussion about the nature of light"

To extend the analogy in order to illustrate where the disconnect is: you seem convinced that what religious people believe about God is the equivalent of what physicists believed about light back when they proposed the luminiferous aether. (This would be when you compare all concepts of the divine to ancient beliefs of animism and Zeus the thunder god.)

Again, extending the analogy: every time a physicist insists that our understanding of light has evolved to a far more complex model based on the wave/particle duality, you would respond by insisting that they have to play by the rules of the luminiferous aether. That is, every time a theist tries to point out that religious concepts of God are much more complex, evolved, and nuanced than you give them credit for, you get mad at us and insist that we're just playing word games, and that our discussion of the divine must still fit within the box of ancient ideas about animism and Zeus the thunder god.

>95 prosfilaes:: "You're repeating words at me, not explaining the point of view."

It may be a fair criticism that we have not recently offered a nuanced explanation of the long and complex history of the traditions of Christian mysticism and apophaticism, let alone that of other religions traditions. Unfortunately, I (at least -- and I suspect this is true of John as well) do not at the moment have the time to evaluate and compose an easily-digestible precis of those traditions for the LT audience (as it is, I really should be preparing to teach the Covenant with Abraham to my college freshmen today). So instead, what I will do is point you to some resources that can do a far better job than I can:

1. Primary Sources: Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works; The Mirror of Simple Souls by Marguerite Porete; Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense and Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher by Meister Eckhart. (These have the benefit of being available, mostly through the Classics of Western Spirituality, in high-quality English translations with good introductions and commentary, all for a very reasonable price.)

2. Secondary Sources: The single best study I can suggest of the Western Christian Mystical Tradition is the four-volume series The Presence of God by Bernard McGinn.

97StormRaven
Sep 10, 2012, 10:05am Top

every time a physicist insists that our understanding of light has evolved to a far more complex model based on the wave/particle duality, you would respond by insisting that they have to play by the rules of the luminiferous aether. That is, every time a theist tries to point out that religious concepts of God are much more complex, evolved, and nuanced than you give them credit for, you get mad at us and insist that we're just playing word games

The difference is that the physicist is capable of explaining the "new" complex version of light without resorting to word games, whereas you seem completely unable to explain the "complex, evolved, and nuanced" concepts of God without doing so.

98johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 10:36am Top

>95 prosfilaes:, 96 Not sure that I could recommend anything that summarises it all, but I would add Julian of Norwich and Thomas Merton to Nathaniel's list of authors, and The Cloud of Unknowing to works. Of course the mystical tradition can also be found in other faith communities, including Islam.

I agree with Nathaniel that our attempts to explain are often very inadequate. In my case that is not only because of time; I'm not sure I have the capability to summarise 2,000 years of tradition (more if you include the other faiths), and I don't have my notes or my books from the times when I actually studied it in detail. Anything scholarly which I try to say about it is a shadow of the reality, just as it would be if I tried to pontificate on physics on the basis that I got a degree in it nearly 40 years ago. Nevertheless, it is a lived experience.

99StormRaven
Sep 10, 2012, 10:42am Top

98: I suspect that if someone asked you to explain the basics of physics, or some particular subpart of the discipline, you probably would be able to fairly clearly.

100paradoxosalpha
Sep 10, 2012, 10:49am Top

While the category of "mysticism" is an object of contention among both laity and credentialed scholars, I think it's a mistake to frame it as a body of doctrines within Christianity or any other religious tradition, and more helpful to understand it as a range of practices (sometimes purely intellectual practices, and often productive of experiences subsequently coded into doctrines) with a shared object of transcending ordinary consciousness within a religious context.

In Western traditions, since at least pseudo-Dionysius, the two main subdivisions of mysticism have been the cataphatic (transcendence through affirmation of the transcendent) and the apophatic (transcendence through denial of the non-transcendent). McGinn's books are a sterling historical survey of mystics, but for the mechanics of apophatic mysticism, a more profound general study (although I don't always agree with it) is Denys Turner's The Darkness of God.

101johnthefireman
Sep 10, 2012, 10:49am Top

>99 StormRaven: I think physics has moved on so much since I graduated in 1975 that I would find it difficult to do so, other than to give some generalised basics, which I can of course also do with theology. But as well as being out of touch with the latest developments and having forgotten much of what I learned (tensor calculus is one that springs to mind instantly, but my grasp of things like relativity and quantum mechanics is fuzzy to say the least), I can't refer to or cite texts and sources, can't answer detailed questions nor be sure in refuting challenges, etc.

102StormRaven
Sep 10, 2012, 11:18am Top

101: I think you're selling yourself short there. Yes, some material may be outdated, but you could probably explain the basics quite capably.

103Tid
Sep 10, 2012, 11:49am Top

100

I think your definition of 'mysticism' is a good one, but I would quarrel slightly with the phrase "within a religious context". If you are using the word 'religious' in its conventional context, then that denies the entire Aldous Huxley / 1960s / LSD ~ Owsley Stanley / S. American mescaline & peyote usage (I hesitate to refer to Carlos Castaneda as that would ensure a few people here jumping on me from a great height!) range of experience. Can we not agree that 'transcending ordinary consciousness' is something that has outgrown religion? (Though religion does give a disciplinary and moral framework that would - for example - have prevented the tragedy of Syd Barrett.)

104paradoxosalpha
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 12:10pm Top

> 103

Well, it depends on your definition of "religious" I suppose. I consider modern psychopharmacological mysticism to have a geniunely religious aspect.

I do think that there are efforts to transcend ordinary consciousness that take place outside of contexts I would consider religious, which is why I inserted the qualifier. Parapsychology per se is not mysticism. (Although parapsychological culture seems to find mysticism unavoidable.)

105Tid
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 12:11pm Top

90

Yes, I agree. Apophatic tradition denies ANY definition of God as valid, saying that anything that can be defined and verbalised is thereby limited or bounded by such definitions, and that God is beyond all definitions (in much the same way that the Christian blessing "the peace of God which passes all understanding" is in its own way apophatic).

As for the phrase "God created the universe" - it is a grey area, apophatically speaking. Can we ascribe to an indefinable non-thing the ability to create a thing (the universe)? There are so many imponderables that require to be defined. For example, how much could one infer or deduce of the life of Leonardo da Vinci given access SOLELY to the Mona Lisa which he created? That would be a direct comparison to inferring anything of God from the thing that is the universe, or so a mystic might argue.

In that sense, trying to define God is not to be equated to defining the laws of physics. A philosopher-mystic might respond by saying that the existence of certain constants that we understand as "laws" is its own evidence for an ultimate intelligence, another might respond similarly by saying that those laws can be seen as a kind of "shadow of God".

106Tid
Sep 10, 2012, 12:14pm Top

104

Ok, you're using 'religious' in a rather wider, more unconventional sense! The drug culture does though lack any moral or disciplined set of boundaries to behaviour. Some might argue that's a good thing, in that it removes the supernatural element entirely. Others might argue that it's a recipe for self-indulgence or for a uniquely subjective view of experience.

107StormRaven
Sep 10, 2012, 12:22pm Top

Apophatic tradition denies ANY definition of God as valid, saying that anything that can be defined and verbalised is thereby limited or bounded by such definitions, and that God is beyond all definitions (in much the same way that the Christian blessing "the peace of God which passes all understanding" is in its own way apophatic).

You do realize that this means that apophatic tradition is inherently self-contradictory, don't you?

108paradoxosalpha
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 2:23pm Top

> 106 moral or disciplined set of boundaries to behaviour

Yeah, not my critereon for "religion" at all. And I'm not alone in seeing the religious dimension in the mystical segment of what you gloss (rather high-handedly, it seems) as "the drug culture."

See for example:
Entheogens and the Future of Religion
The Boo Hoo Bible (of particular note here is the article "Judge Gerhard A. Gesell's Sunday-School Quiz and Instructional Manual on Who Is a Religion and Who Is Not")

ETA: Huxley himself did not avoid the religious dimension of psychedelic mysticism, see Heaven and Hell.

EATA: Timothy Leary entitled his autobiography High Priest, and he wrote drug-mystical treatises based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead (The Psychedelic Experience) and the Tao Te Ching (Psychedelic Prayers).

I honestly find the religious element of the psychedelic mystique to be incontrovertible.

109nathanielcampbell
Sep 10, 2012, 1:13pm Top

>100 paradoxosalpha:: If I had the time, I might quibble slightly about a nuance here or there; but overall, an excellent introductory nod that, it seems, has sparked some fertile (and civil!) discussion.

Before I head back to class prep, I would both second the suggestion of Denys Turner's The Darkness of God and add its "cataphatic counterpart", if you will, in his recent work Julian of Norwich, Theologian.

110eromsted
Sep 10, 2012, 1:48pm Top

>100 paradoxosalpha:, 109
Oooh, references. I like references. I've now read the portion of The Darkness of God available on Google Books (Up to page 39 with a few pages missing). It's quite well written and I may consider getting the book from the library. But for now I'll go with what I've got.

Up above nathanielcambell complained that athiests on this message board dismiss theists as "just playing word games." But for the life of me, when I read the quotations and analysis in The Darkness of God that's all I see. In logic, one way to prove a proposition is false is to assume that proposition is true and then work out the logical consequences. If the result is a contradiction then the original proposition is false.

But these apophatic writers seem to, on the contrary, revel in contradiction and find that the piling up of contradiction upon contradiction leads (transcendently?) to a higher truth, or since one can never get to that truth at least as close as a poor human can manage.

I would draw a different conclusion from all of this verbal wrangling. The initial proposition that there is a "cause of all" (or whatever inadequate name one wishes to use) is simply false.

I encourage any attempts to help me see it differently.

111Mr.Durick
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 4:10pm Top

The law of noncontradiction may be both not provable and not falsifiable. Dialetheism proposes that problems can be solved by showing that there are propositions that can be both true and false.

Robert

112eromsted
Sep 10, 2012, 4:41pm Top

>111 Mr.Durick:
Based on the wikipedia article linked, dialetheism just sounds silly. But I'll grant that a wikipedia article is likely and incomplete presentation of any idea.

113Tid
Sep 10, 2012, 5:05pm Top

107

How so? Or are you picking me up on saying that particular blessing is apophatic? That's my interpretation only, and yes I can see a potential contradiction there in that claiming to know anything about "the peace of God" is by apophatic reasoning a kind of definition. (I was thinking off the top of my head, rather than quoting a maxim of the apophatic tradition).

114Tid
Sep 10, 2012, 5:12pm Top

108

Yes, I can see that using "religion" in the widest sense (to include a largely secular, mystical experience rooted in the use of psychedelics) is a perfectly valid POV. I wasn't intentionally trying to be high-handed, it's just that as a child of the 60s I remember that the prevailing culture was about breaking down conservatism and institutional orthodoxy - which I assumed would include religious institutions.

However, widening the definition of religion could sweep up the Huxley / Leary experience-based 'theses'.

115StormRaven
Sep 10, 2012, 5:14pm Top

113: How so?

Because this statement:

Apophatic tradition denies ANY definition of God as valid, saying that anything that can be defined and verbalised is thereby limited or bounded by such definitions, and that God is beyond all definitions

Is inherently contradictory. By saying that God is "beyond all definitions" you are defining God.

116Tid
Sep 10, 2012, 5:15pm Top

110

"The initial proposition that there is a "cause of all" (or whatever inadequate name one wishes to use) is simply false."

What is your evidence to back up such a confident assertion?

117StormRaven
Sep 10, 2012, 5:19pm Top

116: Did you even read the post you are responding to?

118Tid
Sep 10, 2012, 5:22pm Top

115

"By saying that God is "beyond all definitions" you are defining God."

Not really - only if you are playing with semantics. What the apophatic tradition is doing is what the Hindu attempts to speak of the Absolute is doing; in other words, "not this, not this", i.e. anything you can point to or define, is part of the phenomenal universe, and therefore not the Absolute (which they believe created the universe). Yes, that's a kind of definition, but it's a negative one, saying "You can't locate the Absolute, as it is not located anywhere, has no shape, no form, no qualities, does not change, it simply IS".

I am assuming - unless someone states it isn't so? - that the apophatic position is the same.

119eromsted
Sep 10, 2012, 5:31pm Top

>116 Tid:
Did you actually read my whole post, or just the last sentence? Anyway, my conclusion is based on all of the contradictions the authors in cited reference encounter when they attempt to make sense of "cause of all" (or whatever inadequate name one wishes to use). They seem to draw from this difficulty of expression the transcendence of their subject of discussion. I may be using transcendence incorrectly as I'm not sure what it means. If fact, I'm doubtful that it means anything. I draw from their difficulty of expression the conclusion that there is no referent in that discussion beyond their own words.

120nathanielcampbell
Sep 10, 2012, 5:32pm Top

>118 Tid:: I think you will find that there is a low tolerance amongst the materialists and atheists here for any violation of the law of noncontradiction -- nevermind that the West has long had a vocal minority suspicious of said law, nor take mind that the very fundamentals of eastern worldviews and thinking require that one leave the western notion of a law of noncontradiction at the door.

They're simply wedded to this law, just as they are to Ockham's Razor (nevermind that Ockham believed in God) and to Godwin's Law. Question any of those assumptions and, at best, you'll get blank stares -- but more often, open hostility.

121prosfilaes
Sep 10, 2012, 5:36pm Top

#111: Logic as we know it blows up under the grip of dialetheism. It doesn't seem very helpful in practice; it may be true in a dialetheism sense that Obama is and is not the president of the United States, and that Joe Biden is and is not the president of the United States. But the consistent statements that "Obama is accepted by most and rejected by a few as the standing president of the United States" and that "Joe Biden is not the president of the United States so long as Obama holds that position (most likely by living) but could be right now if Obama has died unbeknownst to us" are just that, consistent statements which are vastly more powerful, both logically and in practice.

We accept many things that are neither provable nor falsifiable, like existence. The law of noncontradiction seems like one that is powerful yet consistent with real life experience.

122LolaWalser
Sep 10, 2012, 5:39pm Top

nevermind that Ockham believed in God

What has this got to do with... anything? A great many people who contributed to human science (in widest possible sense) believed in god.

123eromsted
Sep 10, 2012, 5:45pm Top

>120 nathanielcampbell:
I would be interested in an example of a discussion in which violating the principle of non-contradiction helps in understanding something. Preferably, something beyond pointing out that language can be ambiguous and that the truth of many statements can be partial or indeterminate. So it is not terribly interesting that I can say "John is both brave and cowardly," for John may be brave in some aspects and cowardly in others.

124prosfilaes
Sep 10, 2012, 6:19pm Top

#120: I think you will find that there is a low tolerance amongst the materialists and atheists here for any violation of the law of noncontradiction

That's because the law of noncontradiction is a standard in normal thought. That's because I have a hard time understanding how that statement holds meaning without the law of noncontradiction; you're assuming that you can separate people into materialists and atheists and NOT (materialists and atheists), that there is such a thing as low tolerance distinguishable from NOT (low tolerance), that there is such a thing as a violation of the law of noncontradiction that's not also not a violation of the law of noncontradiction, etc.

Godwin's Law

You know, Hitler strongly opposed Godwin's law.

125Tid
Sep 10, 2012, 6:30pm Top

119

This comes from Wikipedia (better than I can define it):

In religion, transcendence refers to the aspect of God's nature and power which is wholly independent of (and removed from) the material universe. This is contrasted with immanence where God is fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways. In religious experience transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence and by some definitions has also become independent of it. This is typically manifested in prayer, séance, meditation, psychedelics and paranormal "visions".

It is affirmed in the concept of the divine in the major religious traditions, and contrasts with the notion of God, or the Absolute, existing exclusively in the physical order (immanentism), or indistinguishable from it (pantheism). Transcendence can be attributed to the divine not only in its being, but also in its knowledge. Thus, God transcends the universe, but also transcends knowledge (is beyond the grasp of the human mind).

Although transcendence is defined as the opposite of immanence, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some theologians and metaphysicians of the great religious traditions affirm that God, or Brahman, is both within and beyond the universe (panentheism); in it, but not of it; simultaneously pervading it and surpassing it.


I'm glad the article refers to panentheism, as that seems to sum up the Eastern philosophical tradition (Hinduism, Vedanta, etc) I was referring to above.

I'm not entirely clear where your difficulty lies? Is it that you don't accept that there might be a limit to our capabilities as sophisticated animals, i.e. you don't actually believe that there are things that our minds cannot encompass? This I realise is something of a grey area, as String Theory postulates eleven dimensions, a theory which, coming from the imaginative speculation of a creature that operates in three-dimensions, is quite some achievement even though it remains as speculation.

The same difficulty exists in science, of course. Trying to get back even to the first fraction of a second of the Big Bang (if that theory is even true) is proving almost impossible; getting back to the cause of the Big Bang is a similar problem to that of the apophatic tradition - we lose the referents to speak of it. The difference I guess is that physicists will believe that the question of the ultimate cause of the universe will one day be answerable in scientific terms. The apophatic position denies that God can ever be known in 'defining' terms.

126rwb24
Sep 10, 2012, 6:39pm Top

>123 eromsted:

I'm not a dialetheist, but for what it's worth Graham Priest (An Introduction to Non-Classical Logic) suggests the following motivations for logics that allow propositions to be both true and false:

Inconsistent legal systems; paradoxes of self-reference (eg. the Liar Paradox); the state of affairs realised at an instant of change; statements about some object in the border-area of a vague predicate; contradictory statements in the dialectical tradition of Hegel and Marx; statements with predicates whose criteria of application are over-determined; and certain statements about micro-objects in quantum mechanics.

Dialetheism aside, I do think we would do well to be cautious of ex falso quodlibet, and that paraconsistent logics (that is, those which remove or weaken the law of non-contradiction) do have useful applications. Consider belief-revision - I learn a new set of facts, which turn out to derive a contradiction with my existing knowledge-base (whose own consistency may not be proveable, and perhaps already inconsistent!); I have no immediate way of determining which of my existing beliefs are false; how do I reason cautiously so as to avoid the reductiones ad absurdum of believing everything (by explosion) or rejecting absolutely everything I thought I knew?

127Tid
Sep 10, 2012, 6:46pm Top

124

I understand that you are quoting the Bertrand Russell formulation of the law of non-contradiction? That implicitly assumes the application of the law in our familiar three dimensions. However, if you bring in the 4th dimension, the earlier Platonic ruling that the law cannot apply in a changing world, comes into operation.

In 4-dimensions one can indeed be a materialist atheist and NOT a materialist atheist, if the two positions apply at different times in a particular lifetime. They cannot apply simultaneously of course, but Plato argues that the "becoming" contains both the first and second states, one as 'historic', the other as 'potential'.

128rrp
Sep 10, 2012, 6:47pm Top

#126

Isn't that a case for adopting probability as a basis for beliefs? The new contradictory evidence reduces the probability that my belief is true.

129eromsted
Sep 10, 2012, 7:19pm Top

>125 Tid:
I certainly admit that there are many things I do not know or understand. I also admit that there may be things which I can not know or understand. What I don't get is the sense in talking about things that I can't know or understand. All this talk seems to imply that there is some non-knowing way to come to know that which I can't know. Huh? I don't understand how I could tell the difference between something I can't know and something that does not exist. It may well exist, but for I who can't know it, it might as well not.

130nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 7:23pm Top

>122 LolaWalser:: "A great many people who contributed to human science (in widest possible sense) believed in god."

But we are told time and again that believing in God is such a nonsensical position that anybody with any sense in their head won't do it. If that is true, it follows that all those nonsensical believers wouldn't be very good at contributing to scientific advances, because there's something so obviously screwy with their good sense.

I'm just pointing out the logical conclusion of the position that declares that people who believe in God are irrational. Why would you want irrational people adding to the rational advances of science? Wouldn't they just screw things up with their irrationality?

131LolaWalser
Sep 10, 2012, 7:41pm Top

the following motivations for logics that allow propositions to be both true and false:

Inconsistent legal systems; paradoxes of self-reference (eg. the Liar Paradox); the state of affairs realised at an instant of change; statements about some object in the border-area of a vague predicate; contradictory statements in the dialectical tradition of Hegel and Marx; statements with predicates whose criteria of application are over-determined; and certain statements about micro-objects in quantum mechanics.


Why want to assign either/or truth/falsity values to the propositions in these cases at all? The point of self-reference paradoxes is that they upend expectations of either/or solutions. They are insoluble, neither true nor false. Hegel's dialectic doesn't allow for opposite statements to be true, they get subsumed and transformed into a synthesis of novel significance. Quantum mechanics doesn't insist on assigning true/false values to "micro-objects", their attributes are described probabilistically. Etc.

In 4-dimensions one can indeed be a materialist atheist and NOT a materialist atheist,

But the "contradiction" doesn't lie in a temporally changing person, it lies in the positions held by the two worldviews. It is trivially true and utterly uninteresting that a person can change his mind, hold ambiguous views, waver between opposites or across a range of possibilities etc.

None of which addresses, let alone answers, the real crux of the debate: can a given materialist and a non-materialist position be simultaneously true.

132LolaWalser
Sep 10, 2012, 7:46pm Top

#130

That post could catch fire, or, more benignly, scare some birds, if the straw is artistically arranged. :)

133StormRaven
Sep 10, 2012, 8:29pm Top

118: No, it is not playing with semantics to point out that by giving attributes, even negative attributes, you are engaged in defining God. The peson playing with semantics is the person defining God but insisting that they are not

134nathanielcampbell
Sep 10, 2012, 8:44pm Top

>132 LolaWalser:: Well yes, it makes an argument that no self-respecting atheist would make, because they're not stupid.

Yet, it also states the logical implications of the routine charges made against those who believe in God. So I will ask it in the form of a question: if a scientist, when believing in God, is irrationally ignoring the evidence of reality, how can you trust that such a scientist isn't irrationally ignoring the evidence of reality when it comes to, you know, reality?

135modalursine
Sep 10, 2012, 9:30pm Top

ref 130
I'm just pointing out the logical conclusion of the position that declares that people who believe in God are irrational.

A human is said to be "irrational" if they are seriously out of touch with reality most of the time, so much so that they lose the ability to function socially and professionally.

The vast majority of us who do function socially and professionally, who are, mostly in touch with reality, who are capable of reflection and of rational thought also have moments when when we act on impulse, hold views that our neighbors may think and which may in fact be odd, untenable, irrational or unsupported by evidence.

It is only the fictional Vulcans of the Star Trek world who act rationally in every case and whose motivations derive from logic alone.

Actual humans, as all of us here know, are something of a "mixed bag" when it comes to rationality.

Pretending that anyone here claims that simply holding an irrational opinion or even a set of them , especially when such opinions are reinforced by social institutions of long standing, renders that person unable to function socially or professionally betrays either a great weakness of understanding or a willful attempt to engage in sophistry.

It is unworthy.

136nathanielcampbell
Sep 10, 2012, 9:44pm Top

>135 modalursine:: I'll remember that the next time I read some trollop in these threads about the irrationality of those who believe in God...

137LolaWalser
Sep 10, 2012, 10:02pm Top

#134

Modalursine pretty much said what I would, but, perhaps repetitiously, I don't recall anyone calling people who believe in god irrational, and, personally, I wouldn't even call the most "basic" theist tenet (if we can agree on what it is--economically, that there exists a god-creator of the universe) irrational. It is untestable, therefore unprovable, therefore I don't see how one could proclaim its irrationality or rationality, any more than one could call it purple, or hear it in A-flat.

And it's no news to me that people who are religious may be scientists, and vice versa. We compartmentalize. We have sets of ideas, notions and behaviours, sometimes harmonious, sometimes not, which we apply in different spheres of our lives or our thinking. As I've had occasion to explain before, if some of my religious colleagues sacrifice goats or virgins or say twenty Hail Marys before work, I haven't noticed. If some of them believe they obtain results with intervention from above--or because they are wearing their lucky red socks--I haven't noticed, but I'd be perfectly OK with them believing that as long as they did the work.

138LolaWalser
Sep 10, 2012, 10:03pm Top

#136

Trollops aren't for reading. :)

139ambrithill
Sep 10, 2012, 10:38pm Top

>135 modalursine: "It is only the fictional Vulcans of the Star Trek world who act rationally in every case and whose motivations derive from logic alone."

You must not be a serious watcher of the show (Trekkie, Trekker, etc.) or you would know that is not a true statement about Vulcans.

140ambrithill
Sep 10, 2012, 10:42pm Top

>137 LolaWalser: "Modalursine pretty much said what I would, but, perhaps repetitiously, I don't recall anyone calling people who believe in god irrational, and, personally, I wouldn't even call the most "basic" theist tenet (if we can agree on what it is--economically, that there exists a god-creator of the universe) irrational. It is untestable, therefore unprovable, therefore I don't see how one could proclaim its irrationality or rationality, any more than one could call it purple, or hear it in A-flat."

I agree, but why is it that evolution (the part that all life began from one...something) is considered rational rather than irrational since it is also untestable and unprovable?

141LolaWalser
Sep 10, 2012, 10:56pm Top

Evolution is the single most-tested and best-proved theory in biology.

I've knocked around on the Internet since 1992. I've lost count of how many discussions of this I've had; and also any interest in encores.

Now I simply tell people to go here:

http://www.talkorigins.org/

And if they think they've discovered a novel point, call the news, stop the presses, claim your T-shirt.

142modalursine
Edited: Sep 11, 2012, 12:01am Top

ref 139

I bow to your superior command of Xenobiology and Star Trek-ology.

I suppose I should have said "Not EVEN the Vulcans etc .... "

143johnthefireman
Sep 11, 2012, 12:59am Top

>137 LolaWalser: I don't recall anyone calling people who believe in god irrational, and, personally, I wouldn't even call the most "basic" theist tenet (if we can agree on what it is--economically, that there exists a god-creator of the universe) irrational.

Thank you, Lola. That claim may not have come up on this particular thread but it has been a recurring theme on many LT threads.

144ambrithill
Sep 11, 2012, 7:08am Top

>141 LolaWalser: "Evolution is the single most-tested and best-proved theory in biology."

Micro-evolution is certainly provable and testable. However, macro-evolution (everything from nothing) is neither. If it is, then show me the evidence where the event of life coming from nothing has been recreated.

145ambrithill
Sep 11, 2012, 7:09am Top

>142 modalursine: not superior, just probably way too much lol

146StormRaven
Edited: Sep 11, 2012, 9:26am Top

However, macro-evolution (everything from nothing) is neither.

Macroevolution is both provable and testable. And it has been. Your ignorance on a topic is not evidence against it.

If it is, then show me the evidence where the event of life coming from nothing has been recreated.

See, this is where you display your ignorance. Life "coming from nothing" is not part of the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution explains the diversity of life. It is among the best supported theories in science. We have observed both micro and macroevolution, we have a historical record that demonstrates the veracity of the theory. There are multiple converging lines of evidence from the fossil record, to DNA patterns, to ring species, to observed experimentation that all support the theory of evolution. Every new piece of evidence that has been accumulated in biology has served to clarify and strengthen the theory of evolution.

Life coming from nonlife is the study of abiogenesis, which is an entirely different field of study. When you conflate evolution and abiogenesis you just demonstrate that you haven't got the slightest clue what you are talking about. And although abiogenesis is much less well understood than the theory of evolution by natural selection, it still has an infinitely greater amount of evidence supporting it than any competing conjecture. It certainly has more evidence supporting it than creationism, which has zero evidence supporting it.

147nathanielcampbell
Sep 11, 2012, 9:28am Top

>144 ambrithill:: "However, macro-evolution (everything from nothing) is neither. If it is, then show me the evidence where the event of life coming from nothing has been recreated."

I'm pretty sure the reason there isn't any evidence for this is that "everything from nothing" is not what evolutionary biology proposes. What you call "macro-evolution" isn't actually what the biologists are talking about -- so we're at the same level as when the atheists suggest that theism must be the same thing as the anthropomorphic polytheism of the Iliad.

Someone with more expertise here (Lola?) is going to have to fact-check me, but I'm pretty sure that we have successfully produced basic carbon organics out of primordial "soup" in controlled laboratory settings.

148rwb24
Sep 11, 2012, 9:42am Top

>131 LolaWalser:

No, I didn't find Priest's list very convincing either, especially if I'm right to suspect that by "certain statements about objects in quantum mechanics" he means (a common misconception of) wave-particle duality. The paradoxes remain the dialetheist's strongest suit.

You say the paradoxes are neither true nor false. A dialetheist would counter that it is possible to give perfectly correct proofs both that the Liar sentence is true and that it is false. Furthermore consider the modified liar sentence "this sentence is not true" - if it is neither true nor false (or any other tertium quid), then it is true... Refusing to work with self-referential statements eliminates a lot of unobjectionable and transparently meaningful natural language. "This sentence is six words long." However I am not persuaded the dialetheic alternatives of which I am aware don't require even greater sacrifices to our rules of inference!

>128 rrp: "Isn't that a case for adopting probability as a basis for beliefs?"

Perhaps. And various probabilistic logics have been formulated, which permit uncertain contradictions.

My chief hesitation in applying them here (besides the difficulty in calculating inferences in probability logic!) might be that the probabilities I assign my beliefs are themselves uncertain, so the whole thing risks becoming a bit too meta. I would prefer to reason with the belief "it is 90% certain that X" rather than a 90% certain belief "X"?

149rrp
Edited: Sep 11, 2012, 10:03am Top

There I was toying with the idea of challenging StormRaven's claim that nathanielcampbell, or anyone, could explain the basics of physics "fairly clearly" when along comes LolaWalsers "http://www.talkorigins.org/".

(Oh what the heck. I challenge anyone to "fairly clearly" explain the concept of mass. I would suggest building you start by on Concepts of mass, in classical and modern physics by Max Jammer. If you succeed you can perhaps move on to explaining Time.)

But "http://www.talkorigins.org/" is as full of holes as a Swiss Cheese and so it simply can't be passed by without comment. In a priceless answer to "I thought evolution was just a theory. Why do you call it a fact?" we get, in quick succession, three different definitions of "evolution". Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And the "Evolution and Philosophy" section is a real giggle.

150StormRaven
Sep 11, 2012, 10:23am Top

149: Your objection is noted, and laughed at.

151Tid
Sep 11, 2012, 11:17am Top

129

Two things...

One is what Wittgenstein said : "what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence." Clearly, talking about things which cannot be either known, or - and this is very different - which cannot be put into words, is in essence futile. But we seem to enjoy the futile in these forums!

Two, the premise that because something cannot be expressed in words, it therefore cannot be known, is questionable. This is surely the true meaning of transcendence - something that one can either experience or even become, that is a state beyond the power of words to express. Most mystical traditions seem to accept this transcendental state exists, i.e. is a fact that adherents of these traditions have experienced, but nevertheless they struggle to even begin to express the state in words. It is analogous to what is inadequately described as "a timeless moment"; as all language describes 'change' (i.e. 'processes'), there is no language to describe the changeless - and if the so-called 'timeless moment' is experienced as changeless, then language must by default break down in attempting to describe this.
As you see, I too struggle to talk about the transcendental, but that does not mean that I deny its existence. I certainly wouldn't call it God, though.

152Tid
Sep 11, 2012, 11:25am Top

131

"can a given materialist and a non-materialist position be simultaneously true."

But that's what I was referring to - the law of contradiction (& non-contradiction) was first postulated in Ancient Greece, and discussed by Greek philosophers including Plato. The term "simultaneous" would be accepted by Plato as one parameter to discuss the law, and he would accept that contradictory statements cannot simultaneously be true. To my mind - and this is a value judgement, and purely subjective - that is "utterly uninteresting" and so obvious that it is trite. It starts to get more interesting, and more subtle, when you include a state of "becoming", and then see if the law still holds.

153Tid
Edited: Sep 11, 2012, 11:49am Top

133

"By saying that God is "beyond all definitions" you are defining God."

No, it is not a definition as such. I am not defending God or religion nor have any interest in doing so, but I am defending logic. The argument presented would have its analogy in such statements as
Weightlessness is a description of an object's weight
Infinity is a finite term, it even has its own mathematical symbol
The Set Of All Sets is false, as it cannot include itself
Gödel's incompleteness theorems


All of which are either false logic, or else paradoxes.

A similar paradox would be:

The more love you give, the more love comes back to you
which is a substantive paradox (superficially, false logic), but not a qualitative one.

To say that something is "beyond definitions" is not itself a definition, just as the (theoretical) Set Of All Sets cannot ever include itself.


154StormRaven
Sep 11, 2012, 11:53am Top

153: The argument presented would have its analogy in such statements as Weightlessness is a description of an object's weight

And that IS a definition of an object's weight. It excludes all other values for its weight. Pretending that negative definitions aren't definitions is playing semantics.

When you say something is "beyond definition" defines it. It is an inherent contradiction. You have excluded certain characteristics that could be applied to the thing you are defining, which serves to define the thing you have described while pretending you are not describing it.

155nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 11, 2012, 11:57am Top

>154 StormRaven:: So we're agreed that there can be instances (usually in defining universals, whether inclusionary {as with the Set of All Sets} or exclusionary {as in weightlessness defining weight}) in which the Law of Non-Contradiction can break down. It is a useful logical property that has its own limits.

Good. We're making progress.

156LolaWalser
Sep 11, 2012, 12:15pm Top

It starts to get more interesting, and more subtle, when you include a state of "becoming", and then see if the law still holds.

Well, that's in your opinion. From where I'm standing, it looks as if you are simply muddling the issues by forcing a continuum ("state of becoming") on singularities. How about a non-trivial, highly controversial example? You've offered none so far.

157paradoxosalpha
Sep 11, 2012, 12:19pm Top

To say that weight = 0 (i.e. weightlessness) is not to deny that the quality of weight exists. Storm has it right in #154, and Nathaniel is obfuscating in #155.

158rrp
Sep 11, 2012, 12:20pm Top

#150

Your objection is noted, and laughed at.

On the one hand it's always nice to brighten someone's day. One the other hand, it's a little disappointing to find that people are unable to backup their admittedly rash statements, like "anyone could explain the basics of physics fairly clearly".

159Tid
Sep 11, 2012, 12:28pm Top

154

"When you say something is "beyond definition" defines it. It is an inherent contradiction."

No, I don't see that at all. Your first sentence is the contradiction, in terms of the law of contradictions :
You're saying effectively NOT definition = definition

160Tid
Sep 11, 2012, 12:30pm Top

156

"Non trivial" and "highly controversial" are both value judgements, entirely subjective. I do not know what you regard as non trivial and highly controversial, therefore no example can be offered until I do know.

161nathanielcampbell
Sep 11, 2012, 12:33pm Top

>157 paradoxosalpha:: (I'm sincerely trying to work through the logic puzzles here, so please bear with me. This should not be read as an attempt to be combatively obfuscatory -- if there is continued obfuscation, it means that I'm either not understanding things correctly or not doing a good job of expressing them in words.)

I'm going to try parse this by distinguishing between a property and its manifestation.
(1) To say that an object is weightless (i.e. weight = 0) is not to deny that it is has the property of weight; it is to say that its value for that property is nothing.

(2) The analogy back to the original statement, then, would be that to say "God has no limits" is not to deny that God has the property of finitude, but that there is no value in his finitude.
Presuming that there aren't any hidden semantic traps in either of these statments, I (at least) would accept (2) as a valid statement about God's limit and limitlessness.

If I try to reformulate (2) -- and this is where I may trip up, so I apologize if I do -- I might try it thus:
(3) God can be both infinite and possess the property of finitude.
and further...
(4) God is beyond definition and possesses the property of definition.
At this point, I'm not sure where to go. I think I need to sit and think a bit more.

162Tid
Sep 11, 2012, 12:36pm Top

157

My example was a poor one, I freely admit. "Weight" is an entirely substantive quality, whereas "definition" - exclusively reliant upon language, semantic content, and the mutual agreement of a collective body of people, for its validity - is not.

163paradoxosalpha
Sep 11, 2012, 1:00pm Top

And negative definitions are still definitions. It is not meaningless to say, "This is meaningless."

164StormRaven
Sep 11, 2012, 1:44pm Top

159: No. The problem is that you are claiming a property of something (i.e. that it is beyond definition) whiich serves to define it, and then trying to claim that you are not defining it.

"X cannot be defined" acts as a definiition for X. It gives parameters for X, and is ironically, a definition.

165Tid
Sep 11, 2012, 2:40pm Top

164

We'll have to agree to disagree then (assuming that doesn't fall foul of the law of contradictions!).

Saying that "X cannot be defined" is itself a definition, may be a paradox in mathematical terms, and perhaps unresolvable by that test (but I'm no mathematician). However, the X is this case is not a mathematical function, and the paradox is linguistic, and it highlights the limits of language and not the properties of X. (The statement can be read as stating that X is beyond logic and language which are the tools of definition, so using those tools to disprove it is invalid).

166ambrithill
Sep 11, 2012, 9:19pm Top

>146 StormRaven: "See, this is where you display your ignorance. Life "coming from nothing" is not part of the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution explains the diversity of life."

Okay, then let's not call evolution going all the way back to the "nothing." We will take your definition, that is explains the diversity of life. When has science ever taken something that did not have life and arrive at life in a reproducible way?

167StormRaven
Sep 11, 2012, 9:29pm Top

166: I pointed you to the study of abiogenesis, you could look that up. As I pointed out, this is much less well understood than the theory of evolution, but you could start with the Miller-Urey experiments and go from there. I also pointed out that even though the record is not complete regarding abiogenesis, there is still an infinitely greater amount of evidence supporting the various theories in the field over the "creationist" claims. And that is because the creationist claims are supported by zero evidence of any kind.

168StormRaven
Sep 11, 2012, 9:32pm Top

165: Saying "X is beyond language" is inherently contradictory - because you just used language to define it. You still don't seem to understand that saying something cannot be defined is in fact a definition of that thing. Once you begin assigning properties to something, you have begun the process of defining it, whether you are using math, logic, or language to do so.

Note that because I am using "X" here does not mean I am using it in a mathematical sense. In this case, X merely stands for whatever it is that is being discussed - God, the supernatural, bunnies, anything. "X cannot be defined" is a definition for X, no matter what you fill in for X.

169Tid
Edited: Sep 12, 2012, 4:10pm Top

168

This is where we will never agree, it seems. I can make a statement like "X is beyond language", and I know what I mean by that. But however I explain it, you will come back at me by re-asserting that "(any) use of language defines it".

I can only try my best to explain, but it seems I am either failing badly, or you don't want to understand my position.

Let me try again. Language is simply a tool. Each civilisation has invented its own language(s), and there are many different world languages. I (we) am here speaking only of verbal language, not the language of science, mathematics, and formal logic; this forum engages in discussion in the English language, and I am / we are constrained by that to express our ideas, beliefs, etc.

Now, any language is neither universal or comprehensive. I'm sure you are familiar with 'pidgin English' (which exists in many forms) which is how some obscure cultures who have some familiarity with English, manage to communicate with English-speakers. If a native Pacific Islander sees a plane in the sky for the first time, the verbal formulation might be "him big angry white bird", ascribing anger for the roaring of the engines, and "bird" being the closest thing in experience to the sight of a plane. Is "big angry white bird" language? Most certainly. Does it define what we understand by an aircraft? Manifestly not.

Now here I play Devil's Advocate, for I am about to make a comparison AS IF I was religious; but no, I am simply advancing the logic of my argument, not expressing a personal belief in "God". The comparison is this : we, as sophisticated animals, members of the species homo sapiens sapiens are - for the purpose of understanding (let us say) a "God" - like those Pacific Islanders. We have language, but conceptually we are unable to formulate a definition of "God", due to our animal limitations. (I am assuming a being far beyond our animal level - I won't insult our intelligence by adducing a Roman or Greek-style pantheon, filled with Marvel Comic style superhumans!) In that sense, "God" is beyond language by also being beyond our intellectual capacity to understand "him/her/it". If we did understand, we would be able to add a new set of concepts and terms to our language to reflect our understanding.

Language is limited. To use it to express that something is beyond both our conceptual understanding and therefore our language, is only a sort of quasi-definition; it is a sort of negative definition, saying "That which I fail to understand, I cannot find words to express". Only by a kind of special use of logic is that in itself a definition, and it actually tells us only one thing about the object concerned - that it is beyond (our) language. It is - I believe - what Wittgenstein meant when he said (paraphrase) "What can be spoken of should be expressed with clarity, what cannot be spoken of we should pass over in silence."

170ambrithill
Sep 12, 2012, 8:08pm Top

>167 StormRaven: Okay, I looked at the Miller-Urey experiments. They did not accomplish bringing life from non-life. You say there is abundant evidence, yet all I see is faith that it happened the way you think it did, which is also my stance on my belief. My only point is that you still have not shown that it is testable, recreatable, or provable.

171StormRaven
Sep 12, 2012, 9:46pm Top

170: I think you are a bit slow on the uptake. I said there was abundant evidence of macroevolution - and by that I meant real macroevolution, not the made up version you conflated with abiogenesis.

I also saiid that abiogenesis is less well supported, but it still has an infinite amount more evidence supporting it than creationism, because even as incomplete as our understanding of abiogenesis is, it has supporting evidence, as oppoesed to your version, which has zero evidence supporting it.

I said to start with the Miller-Urey experiments and go from there. Not to look them up and stop there, which is what you apparently did. Dealing with difficult scientific topics takes work, so go do the work and educate yourself.

Or just sit around and spout ignorance on the internet and wonder why you are ridiculed. Your choice.

172ambrithill
Sep 12, 2012, 10:23pm Top

> 171 If being ridiculed for standing up for believing the Bible is the worst thing that ever happens to me then I truly am living a blessed life. After all, Jesus said, "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first." But as I said, I embrace my faith while you deny yours, because evolution, the big bang, and life from non-life are just as unprovable as creation.

173prosfilaes
Sep 13, 2012, 2:46am Top

#172: evolution, the big bang, and life from non-life are just as unprovable as creation.

Our universe is not generally subject to being provable; it is however generally suspect to being studied. It is amazing that people can use the Internet--the result of detailed and protracted scientific study of our universe--and just blow off evolution and the big bang. The Big Bang is a neat explanation for what we see; the cosmic microwave background radiation, the red-shift of virtually every object we see in the sky. Everything astronomers see is completely incomprehensible in a world that's 6,000 years old; did God toss together a universe and add the microwave radiation and redshift for the hell of it? The only explanation of the universe that makes sense to astronomers is that it blew up some 14 billion years ago. Be there whatever God or gods you want, but we have a good idea of what's been going on in the universe for the last 14 billion years, and the only other option is a variant on Last Thursdayism, that the universe was created with solid evidence that it was very, very old. (And the problem with Last Thursdayism is that it destroys your arguments; if we accept it, there's no reason to believe the world is 6,000 years old instead of 30 years; it's not disprovable that the real universe looks very like ours and instead of writing this post someone started up a simulation of their universe so I would write the post for them.)

174johnthefireman
Sep 13, 2012, 2:56am Top

>173 prosfilaes: Be there whatever God or gods you want, but we have a good idea of what's been going on in the universe for the last 14 billion years

Worth noting again, perhaps, that the majority of Christians have absolutely no problem with that. We do have a God who we believe to be behind creation in some way, but we don't see any contradiction between that and the generally accepted scientific understanding of the beginnings of the universe, the earth and life on earth. ambrithill represents a minority interpretation of the bible.

175StormRaven
Edited: Sep 13, 2012, 10:15am Top

But as I said, I embrace my faith while you deny yours, because evolution, the big bang, and life from non-life are just as unprovable as creation.

You aren't ridiculed for your faith. You are ridiculed for being a scientific ignoramus. Every post you make demonstrates that you have no idea whatsoever how science works, or why the explanations provided by science are not simply based on faith.

Asserting that a theory is "unprovable" for example, just demonstrates that you don't know how science works. Proofs are only found in math and geometry, and have no place in science. What theories have is supporting evidence. In fact, theories are made up entirely of supporting evidence. But none of them are "proven".

That doesn't mean that theories are somehow not true. Atomic theory is "unproven", and yet we use it to build nuclear reactors and weapons. Electromagnetic theory is "unproven" and yet we use it to build a power grid that pipes electricity into your home and allows you to use your computer. Quantum mechanics is "unproven", and yet your computer relies upon our understanding of them to function. And so on. And the theory of evolution by natural selection, Big Bang theory, and abiogenesis are at least as well supported by evidence as any of those theories. So when you say creation is somehow on equal footing with these theories, you get laughed at. Because "creation" is supported by no evidence at all.

Theories aren't just created by some person sitting in a university office who comes up with an interesting idea that everyone else gloms onto. A scientific theory arises out of observations of the world. Scientists then ask "what would be a comprehensive explanation for all of these facts that we have observed?" They fit together all of the known facts and come up with an explanation that accounts for all of them. They then work out the implications of this explanation and try to see if observation or experiment accords with their proffered explanation. And as Feynman pointed out long ago, if your prediction doesn't accord with observation or experiment, then you're wrong, and you have to go back and revise your proffered explanation. It doesn't matter how elegant or beautiful your theory is, if it doesn't accord with what we observe, then it is wrong and must be discarded.

But notice that at no point is the explanation "proved". It merely holds up when tested against observation or experiment. If a new set of observations or experiments shows up that is not in accord with the theory, then the theory has to be discarded or revised. And theories for which this happens have been discarded or revised. Contrast this with "creation", which does not fit with any observations or experiments. Is it discarded or revised? Nope. Creationists continue to stick out their bottom lip and claim that they are correct, despite the fact that observations of the universe have repeatedly shown their "theory" to be false. And when creationists, like you, claim that their "theory" is on equal footing with theories like the theory of evolution, you get laughed at, because you clearly don't understand the massive amounts of evidence that supports the theory of evolution.

Big Bang theory and the theory of evolution by natural selection have been tested time and again, and have been found to be in accord with observation and experiment. Big Bang theory started with scientists trying to understand observed facts about the universe, most significantly the observed red shift of galaxies indicating the universe is expanding. They then worked out the implications of this theory, and went to check and see if the predictions the theory made were accurate. One of those predictions was that there would be background microwave radiation. And it was found to be true. Other implications were worked out, and observation and experiment have consistently supported the theory.

The same holds true for the theory of evolution. Darwin started with observations about the world and came up with an explanation that accounted for them. Scientists worked out the implications of the theory, made predictions, and then went to see if those predictions were accurate. They were. Not only that, other lines of scientific inquiry have buttressed the theory of evolution by natural selection. Darwin didn't know much if anything about genetics, but genetics supports the theory of evolution by demonstrating that instead of regressing to the mean, some characteristics will breed true. DNA wasn't discovered for many decades after the theory of evolution was formulated, but the discovery of DNA further buttressed the theory of evolution. Every discovery in biology since Darwin has reinforced the validity of the theory of evolution. Scientists can make predictions about what fossils will be found where, and those predictions hold true - we never find bunnies in the Precambrian. The analysis of DNA shows that we have one fewer chromosome than other primates, and shows that one of our chromosomes is the fusion of two chromosomes. Chickens have genes for teeth, but those genes are turned off. Humans have genes to manufacture Vitamin C, but those genes are turned off. Whales and dolphins have the genes for rear legs, and sometimes they grow them. These are only explainable via the theory of evolution. Ring species undermine the creationist account of "kinds", but are entirely in accord with the theory of evolution. And so on.

The difference between "creation" and the theories you foolishly assert are somehow on the same footing is that those theories are supported by mountains of evidence. Creation is supported by no evidence, and is actually contradicted by substantial evidence. That's why you are laughed at.

176paradoxosalpha
Sep 13, 2012, 9:30am Top

> 174 ambrithill represents a minority interpretation of the bible.

I really have to wonder, John -- and here I'm trying to keep a global perspective. I mean, it's probably a minority interpretation among educated Christians in industrialized countries. But Christian evangelism (with a lower-case e) doesn't generally bother with caveats about the latest scientific understandings of cosmology, biology, and so forth. And that evangelism reaches a lot of people who aren't in any position to receive a scientific education, let alone to take a nuanced position relative to the apparent conflicts between scientific theories and biblical narratives.

177johnthefireman
Sep 13, 2012, 9:49am Top

>176 paradoxosalpha: Well, without getting into exact numbers, it seems to be the official position of a number of large and significant churches, including Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, etc. I admit I don't live in the USA and I don't mix with the more extreme fundamentalists, but in the countries on four continents where I have interacted professionally and ecumenically with Christians, I've met very few who are hung up on creationism. For most people I know, even those who have no scientific background, they are happy to talk about creation when talking religion, and equally happy to accept science when talking about science. If you asked some of them to articulate the difference they might not be able to, but I think there is a sort of gut common sense in most of the Christians that I have met which makes that distinction. I could be wrong.

178nathanielcampbell
Sep 13, 2012, 10:09am Top

>176 paradoxosalpha: and 177: At the following link, you can find statements from a very wide swath of several religions indicating their support (or at least, non-opposition) to evolution:
http://ncse.com/media/voices/religion

179paradoxosalpha
Edited: Sep 13, 2012, 10:16am Top

> 177, 178

"Official positions" are all well and good, but I know from study and from anecdote how widely the rank and file can diverge from such opinions, which are generally attempts to characterize what the larger body should believe, rather than what they do -- even though the two are rhetorically conflated in the discourse of "faith."

When I reflect on what is happening outside of the educated segments of the "First World," I'm not talking about "being hung up on Creationism." I mean having a naive conviction about the biblical narrative that is unchallenged by science, because the science is either unavailable, or of insufficient prominence to pose any dilemma.

180nathanielcampbell
Sep 13, 2012, 10:18am Top

>179 paradoxosalpha:: "I mean having a naive conviction about the biblical narrative that is unchallenged by science, because the science is either unavailable, or of insufficient prominence to pose any dilemma."

So essentially, your point is that in many third-world countries, modern scientific knowledge of the world is unavailable, and so believers (of many stripes, not just Christian, but also perhaps Muslim, or animist, or Hindu, or....) continue to believe about the world as they have long traditionally believed, because no one has told them otherwise.

Are we supposed to criticize them for that?

181johnthefireman
Sep 13, 2012, 10:35am Top

>179 paradoxosalpha: how widely the rank and file can diverge from such {official} opinions

True, but if your faith community has a culture which is not against science, the Christian books and pamphlets you read are not anti-science, and your leaders are not preaching creationism, then it's more difficult to form a group of creationists who feed off each other as apparently happens in the more fundamentalist churches.

having a naive conviction about the biblical narrative that is unchallenged by science, because the science is either unavailable, or of insufficient prominence to pose any dilemma

Well, that may be true to some extent, but I still think that common sense would prevail when the science became available. It is apparently in the supposedly most technically advanced country in the world that denial of science seems to be the most prominent, not in the less developed countries, who are actually craving more science and technology.

182paradoxosalpha
Sep 13, 2012, 12:15pm Top

> 181 It is apparently in the supposedly most technically advanced country in the world that denial of science seems to be the most prominent,

And how do we account for that? Freak mutation? The US is the country where technological advancement most intersects with public Christian piety.

> 180 Are we supposed to criticize them for that?

No, but we should be leery about claims that "most Christians" have some sort of dual-magisteria philosophy regarding scientific theories and biblical narratives.

183modalursine
Sep 13, 2012, 12:59pm Top

ref 172

If being ridiculed for standing up for believing the Bible ...

"Believing the Bible" is one thing, and reasonable people can discuss its origins, intended and imputed meanings, the historicity of its stories, the value of its moral views or its concrete "do's" and "dont's" and on into the night; but what people find risible is taking every last word literally and thinking that it can serve as a textbook of geology, linguistics, biology and hosts of other subjects where its literal reading is manifestly at odds with known facts.

Even theists who strive to be more sophisticated and insist that God had something to do with creation even if its not exactly as described in Genesis are making quite an intellectual "stretch" and would have to ignore much of what is in fact known about time and space and the actual history of the Universe. If God were to have something to do with it, the only chance is something approximately 14 billion years ago where our equations break down.

In Abrahamic thought, God didn't just create the universe, he created it according to his will. A small point perhaps, but a telling one. What was created all those billions of years ago was something very different from the world we see around us. But the evolution of the world into its present from its earliset form involves huge numbers of random events which not even God could influence by setting initial conditions.

There are way's to escape that conclusion, but only by introducing even more magic into the system. So the attempt at sophistication lands one in the same sort of muddle as the naive believer, except with more epicycles and a more complex vocabulary.



184Tid
Sep 13, 2012, 2:18pm Top

176

Christian evangelism is also being practised by the likes of John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg, and Dominic Crossan, who are all members of what is called the Progressive Christianity movement (which upholds science and opposes fundamentalism) - it may well be a minority compared to the mainstream evangelists, but I would suggest that fundamentalism and Biblical literalism are also comparatively minority, except possibly in the USA (though even there, we in Europe may be receiving a kind of 'cartoon impression' of it).

185Tid
Edited: Sep 13, 2012, 2:31pm Top

179

Forgive me, but your tone sounds rather patronising - it implies that outside of the educated segments of the "First World," there is a kind of primitive ignorance of science and technology, and a simple adherence to religious texts. I know a few Africans who would explode in fury to hear that view (though I apologise if that wasn't what you actually intended to imply). India and China, too, have university faculties doing some of the latest research at the frontiers of science.

And here in the supposed "First World" UK, there is much healthy scepticism at what you call "official positions", whether that be in political or religious spheres. In contrast, where there is adherence to them, it often springs from a kind of laziness on the part of people who have busy lives, no strong commitment to religion, but who might well change their views if asked to examine them closely.

186nathanielcampbell
Sep 13, 2012, 2:35pm Top

>183 modalursine:: "What was created all those billions of years ago was something very different from the world we see around us. But the evolution of the world into its present from its earliset form involves huge numbers of random events which not even God could influence by setting initial conditions. "

The problem is that this is not at all the conception of the divine creator that those of us who count ourselves proponents of theistic evolution hold. God is not just a giant computer who holds all these mathematical calculations in his head. Whether the "numbers of random events" are huge or huger than huge, has no bearing on the creative divinity: the difference between infinity and a large finite number or that large finite number's square is the same.

What you display here is, once again, your complete either unwillingness or inability to conceive of God as something transcending the material realm.

187StormRaven
Sep 13, 2012, 2:41pm Top

Whether the "numbers of random events" are huge or huger than huge, has no bearing on the creative divinity: the difference between infinity and a large finite number or that large finite number's square is the same.

The universe is infinite, therefore, it will contain an infinite number of random events. Whether this has any bearing on something for which there is no evidence that "transcends" the material realm is left as a matter for the reader to contemplate.

188Tid
Sep 13, 2012, 3:26pm Top

187

I had not heard that the universe is infinite? I have heard it said that infinity is a concept that does not exist outside mathematical (and by extension, scientific) formulae. Whichever theory you hold to (Big Bang, Inflation, 'soap bubble multiverse', or others) there is a measurable age, expansion rate, and size / volume of the observable universe.

It is true that science is not yet sure of its 'shape', nor of its ultimate destiny, nor where its edge lies or what form the edge takes, but I've never heard that it is infinite.

189StormRaven
Edited: Sep 13, 2012, 4:33pm Top

I had not heard that the universe is infinite?

Yes. The universe had a definite age. But it is infinite. The observable universe is bounded, to the roughly 93 billion light year circumference we can see. But because there is no privileged position in the universe, someone 46.5 billion light years away from Earth would also have a roughly 93 billion light year circumference of observable universe, including portions of the universe that are forever beyond our horizon.

190rwb24
Sep 13, 2012, 4:23pm Top

>182 paradoxosalpha: "And how do we account for that? Freak mutation?"

To some extent, yes. If I understood the historical argument of Ron Numbers' The Creationists correctly, modern 'scientific creationism' (as opposed to eg. 'day-age' and 'gap' readings of Genesis, which, whatever their faults, had saved the appearances of biblical inerrancy with far less hostility to mainstream science) owed a great part of its inspiration to the interaction between Adventists committed to the infallibility of Ellen G. White's visions, and ultra-conservative Lutherans who in some cases thought even heliocentricity contrary to the Book of Concord. It wasn't inevitable.

(Though clearly, the mutuation having occurred, it has in time won over a wider audience. It's less apparent to me whether this too relied on quite specific circumstances.)

191modalursine
Sep 13, 2012, 5:16pm Top

ref 186
What you display here is, once again, your complete either unwillingness or inability to conceive of God as something transcending the material realm.

Ah! I get it! "Transcendent" is a cantrap to get out of jail free when tangled up in a logical contradiction or when there's a need to contravene the laws of physics.

Of course I am both unable and unwilling to conceive of something transcending the material realm. That's the major issue between us. I say the whole concept makes no sense and you just assume there's such a thing and get annoyed when I refuse to follow.

If god "transcends" space and time, where does he get the time to do anything...to think, to act, to be an agent? And if he lives in a realm with its own space and time, how does he manage to influence anything in our space and time?

I can believe in "transcendence" as a feeling, an emotional state we can experience under certain conditions such as contemplating the beauty and the vastness of it all under a starry sky, listening to Beethoven's Ode to Joy, dropping acid, whatever; but once one starts to postulate "transcendent" beings and then invokes them to explain the world, as if we could explain a mystery by an even greater mystery, you'ld better believe
I want to hear more than a vague invocation of "that which can't be expressed, not this, not that and so on" before I take it seriously.

192Tid
Sep 13, 2012, 5:31pm Top

189

Is it infinite, or is it an ever-expanding balloon? I found this on a science blog (I don't pretend to be anything resembling a cosmologist!):

"How does this expansion work? Well, this is the not-so-simple part. Expansion isn’t a velocity. It’s a velocity-per-unit-distance. Let’s say that it’s 0.4 cm/second per centimeter. This means that if the ant is 1 cm away from something, it expands away from her at 0.4 cm/second. The top of the balloon, initially, since it’s 2 cm away, expands away at 0.8 cm/second. And something that’s 15 cm away would be expanding away at 6 cm/second.

So if I run through the math of this ant walking at 1 cm/second to a point 2 cm away on this expanding balloon, it doesn’t take 2 seconds to get there. In fact — doing the math correctly — it takes just a shade over 3 seconds for the ant to reach her destination. Moreover, the balloon has continued to expand, so when she looks back at her starting point, do you know how far away it is? Over 6 cm away! When she looks back at her starting point, not only is it more than three times as far away as it was when she started, but the entire balloon is bigger than it was before.

And that’s what our Universe is doing: expanding while the light is traveling towards us from distant sources. There is, of course, one more caveat in our Universe. The expansion rate is mind-bogglingly slow, 72 kilometers per second per Megaparsec. In the ant’s terms, that’s 2.3 x 10^-18 cm / second / cm. It’s just that our Universe is so big that as you get far enough away — just under 13 billion light years — the expansion rate eventually becomes greater than the speed of light.

But this is okay. It’s only that space (i.e., the balloon) is expanding; there’s no matter that’s moving. So, in principle, space can expand as quickly as it wants, even faster than the speed of light, because there’s nothing moving. And that’s why, even though the Universe is only 13.7 billion years old, we can see things that are 46.5 billion light years away."


I'm struggling with the concept of "infinite" in relation to all this.

193Tid
Edited: Sep 13, 2012, 5:57pm Top

191

If god "transcends" space and time, where does he get the time to do anything...to think, to act, to be an agent? And if he lives in a realm with its own space and time, how does he manage to influence anything in our space and time?

This is a classic atheist error - assuming that the God of religious believers is just an anthropomorphic being, sort of Superman if you like. I'm completely agnostic, I don't believe in a supernatural being whether called "God" or anything else. However, I do have enough sophistication to intellectually grasp that whereas a god of prehistoric times, or Roman times, or medieval Christendom, might be considered to "think" or "act" or be an "agent", the God of the modern era might be considered transcendent. In other words, not a being, but something akin perhaps to what we might call a power, or a force, or an energy, or simply an ultimate Law. Richard Dawkins - while not believing in this one iota - has "no problem" with people believing along these lines.
It's interesting that the oldest religion - Vedanta - holds that "The Absolute" is simply universal consciousness, with no characteristics other than existence. But that's panentheistic - i.e. an Absolute within everything and comprising everything, which I suppose is not the same as 'transcendent'.

I can believe in "transcendence" as a feeling, an emotional state we can experience under certain conditions such as contemplating the beauty and the vastness of it all under a starry sky, listening to Beethoven's Ode to Joy, dropping acid, whatever; but once one starts to postulate "transcendent" beings and then invokes them to explain the world, as if we could explain a mystery by an even greater mystery, you'ld better believe
I want to hear more than a vague invocation of "that which can't be expressed, not this, not that and so on" before I take it seriously.


I share your range of experiences which can be called 'transcendent', and also your unease that a supernatural God is anything other than religion's attempt to explain the cause of the universe.. But I cannot write off - as you do - the inability of our limited language to express something of ultimate complexity or sophistication. You are seeking an expression in English of what a transcendent being might be, a definition if you like.
However, you might as well go back 500 years and explain nuclear physics to the world's citizenry. The language didn't exist at that time, and you would be met with baffled looks. English can now express nuclear physics for the simple reason that we understand nuclear physics and have therefore developed the terminology in language to talk about it.
I don't know what a 'cantrap' is, but I do know enough about language to recognise that it can only express what is within the range of experience of those who speak it.

194ambrithill
Sep 13, 2012, 6:16pm Top

>173 prosfilaes: "The only explanation of the universe that makes sense to astronomers is that it blew up some 14 billion years ago."

If science is the answer, why is it when I was in school it all supposedly happened maybe 100 million years ago and now it is up to 14 billion. It is because science keeps showing that the claims that were made were impossible.

As to why God would create an old world, I do not know. I do not even know why He created the world at all. Just glad that He loved the world enough to send His Son to die on a cross to pay the price to bring about our redemption.

195ambrithill
Sep 13, 2012, 6:19pm Top

> 175 "Atomic theory is "unproven", and yet we use it to build nuclear reactors and weapons. Electromagnetic theory is "unproven" and yet we use it to build a power grid that pipes electricity into your home and allows you to use your computer. Quantum mechanics is "unproven", and yet your computer relies upon our understanding of them to function. And so on. And the theory of evolution by natural selection, Big Bang theory, and abiogenesis are at least as well supported by evidence as any of those theories."

The difference is all of those other "theories" can be reproduced time and time again. I am still waiting for you to show me where life from non-life has been reproduced, or where nothing exploded again.

196prosfilaes
Sep 13, 2012, 6:29pm Top

#183: I don't see it. If we posit the existence of a creator who is sitting at the console of the computer on which our world is running, there's no reason to think that creator couldn't introduce arbitrary changes into the simulation. The only way to reject it is to dismiss it as magic, which amounts to assuming your conclusions.

197prosfilaes
Sep 13, 2012, 6:39pm Top

#194: why is it when I was in school it all supposedly happened maybe 100 million years ago and now it is up to 14 billion.

Because that's what happens when you study something. You get answers that don't necessarily correspond with your assumptions. I'm skeptical about your 100 million years; there hasn't been a time in the 20th century when astronomers would have put a solid bet on that number. But yeah, we've done a lot of looking at the universe and revised our numbers.

#195: The difference is all of those other "theories" can be reproduced time and time again.

That's a majestic rejection of evidence. By those standards, you can't even show that the world existed in Biblical times, or yesterday. Show me where we can reproduce yesterday.

Give me an explanation for what I see. Give me an explanation for the red-shift. Give me an explanation for the background radiation. Your rules are one way; you have neither provided any repeatable evidence for anything you assert, nor have you even provided any evidence suitable to science for why things are the way they are.

198ambrithill
Sep 13, 2012, 7:27pm Top

>197 prosfilaes: "you have neither provided any repeatable evidence for anything you assert, nor have you even provided any evidence suitable to science for why things are the way they are."

You are correct! I have admitted that my beliefs are based on faith. However, as far as I can tell, so are yours, you just refuse to admit it.

199AsYouKnow_Bob
Sep 13, 2012, 8:39pm Top

Wow, the rrp fallacy again.

No, people holding a conversation over the internet BOTH have a "faith" in science. Religious believers have other "faiths" on top of that.

200rrp
Edited: Sep 13, 2012, 11:47pm Top

Wow. Not only do I get a fallacy named after me, I even get an acknowledgement that science is built on faith. I'm right chuffed, I am.

201prosfilaes
Sep 13, 2012, 11:55pm Top

#198: But you argued that scientists changed their minds; so obviously my "faith" is different in an important way then yours. I don't know how you can look at something that changes in the face of new evidence and dismiss it as faith.

202johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 14, 2012, 2:44am Top

>193 Tid: Just to reinforce what Tid says, which I think is important, there are two aspects here.

One is the divine itself, which religious people believe exists because it seems to explain their experience of reality, but which by its very nature is beyond our language and definitions. If it wasn't beyond them, then it wouldn't be the divine, it would just be some sort of super-human. The second is how we come to terms with and try to understand whatever we can of the divine. That's where anthropomorphism comes in. Different cultures and societies in various geographical locations at different points in history have tried to do so, in their own terms. We recognise all of these as being incomplete and perhaps even defective in some regards, for at least three reasons: (1) they are anthropomorphic and the divine isn't; (2) they are limited by the culture, language, level of development, etc of the people who made them; (3) the felt need to fashion a common narrative for each faith community. Thus much of the ancient thought about the divine is from pre-scientific societies and therefore does not take science into account. Modern exploration of the divine, while building on what has gone before, takes note of scientific and other developments, and is also able to take account of global religious and secular thought rather than that of just one culture.

Lest this be dismissed as the domain of a small sophisticated elite, I really believe from my daily experience of religious people (and that is not only my own Catholic persuasion but also ecumenical Christianity and inter-faith interactions) that many people of "simple faith", even though they might not know the word "anthropomorphism" if it jumped up and bit them on the arse, still have an intuitive feeling for this. They know that God is not actually a white-bearded old man who sits up there judging, but for some people at some times that might be a helpful image; for others, definitely not.

203rrp
Edited: Sep 14, 2012, 11:50am Top

#173

There is no substantial problem with Last Thursdayism. It's point is to highlight the fact that if any piece of evidence, say the apparent age of the earth, is consistent with two independent theories, say that the earth was created last Thursday or that the earth was created 6000 years ago, then that evidence is of no use whatsoever in deciding between those two theories. And there are always an infinite number of theories that are consistent with any piece of evidence.

This just goes to show that those who keep bleating "evidence", "evidence", "evidence" are barking up the wrong tree (I do so love mixed metaphors.)

204rrp
Sep 14, 2012, 11:51am Top

#201

But of course it's faith, it's faith in the process that caused you to change your mind.

205StormRaven
Sep 14, 2012, 1:34pm Top

If science is the answer, why is it when I was in school it all supposedly happened maybe 100 million years ago and now it is up to 14 billion.

I seriously doubt that the answer was "100 million years" when you were in school. Allan Sandage came up with an estimate of the Hubble Constant, and as a result, the age of the universe in 1958. The only difficulty posed by his estimate (which was within a few percent of the estimate accepted today) was that some people believed that it was too short, because they estimated the age of some stars as being older than the estimated age of the universe. Better dating for stars brought their estimated ages in line with the estimated age of the universe.

Prior to 1958, there was some debate over the age of the universe, but the debates all centered around whether the universe was in a "steady state" and thus the age was much longer than the current accepted age of 13.75 +/- .11 billion years old, or whether the universe was expanding - but that debate had ended in 1929 when Hubble showed that the universe was expanding.

No scientist since the 19th century has proffered an age of the universe as short as "100 million years". This makes the likelihood that you were taught that in school essentially nil, unless you happen to be more than 100 years old, and even then it is doubtful. In short, I believe that you are just making up bullshit with this claim.

206StormRaven
Sep 14, 2012, 1:48pm Top

The difference is all of those other "theories" can be reproduced time and time again.

So can the evidence for evolution and the Big Bang. But you don't want to see that. You just want to stay in your cocoon of ignorance. Far easier to remain ignorant and keep to easy answers rather than doing the hard work of actually understanding the world.

I am still waiting for you to show me where life from non-life has been reproduced, or where nothing exploded again.

This just shows how ignorant you are, and it is why you are laughed at. Suppose the police found a dead body, with a bloody knife sticking out of it. They examine the body, they dust the knife for fingerprints. They find that there is human flesh under the body's fingernails. They determine that the fingerprints belong to a neighbor named John.

They go to John's house. They find him, with his face covered with scratches. The skin under the corpses fingernails matches John's. They search his house and find bloody clothes stuffed into his hamper, covered with blood that matches the victim's. They charge John with killing his neighbor.

You walk in. You are shocked that they would arrest John. They have no evidence! "But nobody saw John do it" you protest. "You say you have all this evidence, but no one has seen it, and you can't reproduce the murder!" You then announce that it is just as likely that aliens came down and killed the victim and made it look like John had done it. You have no evidence this is true, but you have faith. After all, according to you, their conclusion that John killed his neighbor is just based on faith too.

They laugh at you.

The evidence for the Big Bang and for abiogenesis is like the evidence that John is the killer. There are multiple lines of evidence that point to that conclusion. The theories are used to make predictions about the universe, and those predictions are investigated and found to be true. Simply repeating "it hasn't been reproduced" over and over again in the face of this evidence is nothing but childish pique. You get laughed at because your are willfully ignorant, and are so willfully ignorant that you don't even realize how stupid your "challenges" are.

Big Bang theory, the theory of evolution, and abiogenesis are not based on faith, no matter how much you wish they were. Pretending they are exposes you as a scientific ignoramus, and the sad thing here is that you are a scientific ignoramus by your own choice. You are laughed at because you deserve to be laughed at.

207nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 14, 2012, 2:02pm Top

>204 rrp:, etc., Re: The "faith" of science:

I think it might be useful to unpack this a little bit. I think (and correct me if I am wrong) that what rrp means by the claim that science involves a certain amount of faith, is that science has faith that, in making repeatable and testable observations of the world, we can, in fact, deduce information about how reality works. Scientific "faith" is a trust that the methods and processes of science are sound, but not a faith that its conclusions are the final and unchanging truth.

So, for example: the "faith" here is that all of the repeated observations (whose number is overwhelming) indicate that the earth rotates on its axis at a steady (and measureable rate) and that there is very little (verging on none, I would wager) evidence to the contrary. From those observations, we conclude that the sun "rise" and "sets" each day at predictable times and intervals. We can reliably predict that the sun will, in fact, rise tomorrow.

The "faith" of science is that such conclusions and predictions are validly drawn from the data.

So what happens if the sun doesn't come up tomorrow? (Other than the cataclysm that would accompany the earth's cessation of spinning?)

This, I think, is where those who object to saying that science has an element of "faith" in it would say that it departs from religious faith. The believer in God will still believe in God, regardless of whether the sun comes up tomorrow -- i.e., the sun's failure to rise is not a deterrant to believing in God.

The scientist, however, will say, "We need to jettison our previously-held theories, conclusions, and predictions about the earth's rotation, because they no longer fit the observable data." The scientist will then try to determine new predictions, conclusions, and theories, based on newly-observed data.

But I believe rrp would argue that the scientist still, even in that process of reevaluation, has a certain type of faith, i.e. the faith that he or she can actually make valid predictions, conclusions, and theories from the observations of evidence. It is a faith in the process, not the conclusions.

208rrp
Sep 14, 2012, 4:06pm Top

Thank you Nathaniel, you explained it well.

I agree that faith in the process is the main aspect of faith in science but would add that that there are perhaps other nuances. Faith in the process includes a faith that reality is, at its fundamental levels, explainable, that there are indeed laws of nature that the process of science uncovers. Faith in the process also assumes faith in the ability of humans to correctly and reliably apply reason to the process of science. Our knowledge of these things are not, and cannot be part of science.

209Tid
Sep 14, 2012, 5:36pm Top

202

Thank you for that John. I think our arguments are sound, as no-one has jumped up to disagree with them! Either that, or they are thinking long and hard about them, and will come up with a disagreement ere long.

208, and passim

There seems to be a reductio ad absurdum going on re. the term "faith", to the effect that there is a scientific faith, and a religious faith. May I suggest that there are many kinds of faith, and those two are clearly distinct from each other.

When I wake up in the morning, my faith is that when I open my eyes I will see daylight streaming through the bedroom window. This is "faith from experience" - it's always happened and I've read enough basic astronomy to understand why it happens. I don't need to keep checking to see if my experience and theoretical knowledge about it, continue to operate. There are many moments during the day when this kind of faith functions - if I didn't just accept things like this, I wouldn't be able to live a life, as I would be constantly either re-checking my experience or else studying the theory behind everything I experience.

Scientific faith is of a different order, and indeed there is more than one kind. For example I have faith that particle physicists know what they are talking about and didn't set up the Large Hadron Collider just for the hell of it. I don't experience particle physics in any meaningful way, and if someone was to show that our current knowledge is wrong and we need a new theory (e.g. as physicists are now beginning to challenge the Uncertainty Principle), I would shrug and accept that these are experts and I should accept what they're at.

Then there is the science of my daily life. I may not need to understand electricity or internal combustion engines or medicine or biology, but these are all functions that impact on me daily, and I could read up and understand the basics without TOO much difficulty.

I also have faith that my family and friends will be benign towards me and not cruel. But human nature can change due to external (or even internal) circumstances, so if someone changed towards me, I might be shocked but it would be within the parameters of human nature. It's noticeable that some people have more faith in human nature than others do. This is neither religious nor scientific faith, it's more psychological.

Religious faith is a different thing again. It's the only faith that cannot be verified in experience. I exclude Zen Buddhists and mystics of all religions (and none), as their techniques and disciplines give rise to direct experience. However, they may require some faith at the outset in order to be convinced that the techniques are worth following. But I don't see that as any different from anyone who enrols in a course of study, hoping it will lead somewhere useful.

So really, what I'm saying is, religious faith and scientific faith are so different in their terms of reference, that they cannot really be compared. And there is no reason that people should not have both. It's when someone's religious faith goes to war with what has already been demonstrated in science, that I get alarmed, and would have to say there is something terribly wrong with that religious viewpoint.

210prosfilaes
Sep 14, 2012, 5:41pm Top

#207: But I believe rrp would argue that the scientist still, even in that process of reevaluation, has a certain type of faith, i.e. the faith that he or she can actually make valid predictions, conclusions, and theories from the observations of evidence. It is a faith in the process, not the conclusions.

I will take the bus today because historically I have found the bus to be a reliable form of transportation, from the observations of evidence. I don't see that the faith involved science is essentially distinct from the evidence based actions we take in normal life. I don't have faith in science per se, and my faith that what worked in the past will probably work in the future is almost part of the definition of sanity. And not only is science at its heart observation, it has a long history of successful working. There's certainly some bias against authoritarianism and towards repeatability, verifiability and ability to be objectively recorded--yay for the century where audiovisual equipment with effectively unlimited storage is ubiquitous--but not everyone who accepts science, or even is a professional scientist, shares those biases in the same way.

In short: science works quite well. Trusting that things that worked in the past will generally work in the future may be faith in a sense, but it's also sanity; I don't know how you live on your own if you didn't accept that.

211modalursine
Edited: Sep 14, 2012, 5:53pm Top

I heard a story, who knows if its true, that al Ghazali at one point totally doubted the reliability of his senses and of his (and everyone's) ability to reason. His um, "faith" that his senses and intellect, though not perfect, were nevertheless not totally misleading was restored by Allah.

He also (If I've got this right) believed that there are no "laws of nature". If a burning piece of paper gives off light and smoke, it is only because the will of Allah makes it so.

All your so called objective phenomena are neither more nor less than the will of Allah made manifest.

Anybody want to buy into that?

If so why so, if not why not?

PS. Whether one accepts that or not (no prize for guessing my own opinion on that one) it has at least the merit of being a clear and unambiguous concept.

212nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 14, 2012, 6:18pm Top

>210 prosfilaes:: "In short: science works quite well. Trusting that things that worked in the past will generally work in the future may be faith in a sense, but it's also sanity; I don't know how you live on your own if you didn't accept that."

I would absolutely agree. In 207 I was simply trying to unpack what, exactly, rrp meant by saying that science has its own version of faith. I believe we have done a good job of sussing it out.

The ability to make quick and sometimes vast prejudgments and simplifications is a necessity in order to keep on top of the vast amount of information that our senses are continually collecting, every second of waking consciousness (and, based on what I understood from a recent NOVA episode on new research into dreaming, the same processes are hard at work reorganizing that data when we are asleep).

The example I often use is of red lights. There is nothing inherent in the properties of a red light that means, "Stop". However, our culture has invested red light with that property in the context of motor vehicles on the road. Thus, each time I see a red light, I react based on the prejudgment that it indicates I should stop my vehicle, rather than reevaluating the meaning of "red light" and going through the process of determining, what does this particular red light mean, is there a reason for me to stop, is there traffic in the intersection, etc. I simply don't have time or mental capacity to redo that entire complex of thought (at least not consciously); instead, I operate on the "faith" that the red light means I'm supposed to stop.

Skeptics make for bad drivers.

213Tid
Sep 14, 2012, 6:34pm Top

212

"The example I often use is of red lights. There is nothing inherent in the properties of a red light that means, "Stop". However, our culture has invested red light with that property in the context of motor vehicles on the road."

That's not quite true. Red is the colour of blood throughout the natural world (pretty much) and many creatures have a reaction to it that's a genetic response. Tthe first animals to adapt to life on land, could not see the colour red, it only became part of the eye's range of rods and cones later on, and was used to be able to see berries and blood and other things necessary to survival. So the use of red as a stop light was not, I believe, accidental or whimsical.

Sports scientists have also found - better than statistical chance - that teams playing in a red strip perform better than those playing in other colours.

But I understand the general point you're making.

214southernbooklady
Edited: Sep 14, 2012, 7:06pm Top

>208 rrp: what you are describing as "faith" in the reliability of the scientific method a scientist would ascribe to experience. And a scientist would use that experience to make predictions about other like situations, and widen the scope of his knowledge as those predictions did or did not come true as expected. Likewise, what you are describing in your reaction to red lights is not a kind of faith that you should stop, it is a cumulative set of experiences that tells you it is extremely likely that you should stop. I have to go to a funeral tomorrow, so I will wear my black suit, because cumulative experience leads me to conclude that black is what will be expected of me. If I happen to find myself in India, however, a new set of observations will make itself known and I will realize that now I might be expected to wear white, instead of black, at a funeral. This is not "faith" in any mystical sense, it is simply an educated guess. That is what science does--make endless series' of educated guesses based on observable evidence. Some of those guesses have so much observable evidence--evolution, natural selection, quantum physics, the "big bang," -- that they are treated as facts for the pragmatic purposes of building nuclear power plants, designing computers, and breeding better livestock.

ETA: this just popped up on my facebook thread, thank you George Takei:

"If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview." --Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, The New York Times (12 November 2005)

215prosfilaes
Sep 14, 2012, 7:21pm Top

#213: Sports scientists have also found - better than statistical chance - that teams playing in a red strip perform better than those playing in other colours.

I'm skeptical. Too many of those studies get published in the popular press as "teams perform better playing in a red strip" turn out to be "the Stanford soccer team in two tests performed better playing in a red strip". Very rarely do they have samples large and varied enough and tests culturally neutral enough to really make broad sweeping statements about all humanity.

216modalursine
Sep 14, 2012, 8:04pm Top


Most of us seem to agree that "faith" that the world has more than a few dependable regularities, that our senses are not a complete confabulation, that for the most part neither are our memories, and that "if it happened before, we can expect it to happen again" is probably unavoidable and in any case usually a mark of sanity.

Theists seem to be claiming that "faith" that The Great Favak favors us and will bring victory to our outnumbered troops (provided we honor him appropriately, of course) or that certain books are the true words of immortal beings is of equal intellectual merit.

And yet these same theists know perfectly well when they are off duty that not all assumptions are created equal, they are not all equally tenable, and that people can't really levitate, astral travel, walk on clouds or speak in tongues.

217alco261
Edited: Sep 22, 2012, 10:18am Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

218ambrithill
Sep 14, 2012, 11:41pm Top

>206 StormRaven: Actually, I would agree that Joh is guilty. But the science of DNA can be reproduced. You may laugh at me all you want, but you still have not show how the Big Bang or life from nothing has been reproduced. You may find it childish that I keep repeating this, and that is okay. If you want me to stop repeating it, give me the example. And I will even admit that I could be wrong about what they taught about the age of the universe when I was young. But I am not wrong that the number keeps getting bigger and bigger because science keeps showing that what science has previously said could not happen in the amount of time that it was earlier thought to have happened.

219johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 15, 2012, 12:52am Top

>210 prosfilaes: I will take the bus today because historically I have found the bus to be a reliable form of transportation

Afghanistan bus crash kills 51

India bus crash in Himachal Pradesh kills at least 2

US band's bus in 30ft plunge near Bath

Tourists killed in Greece bus crash

Carrollton, Kentucky bus collision

Etc... Take the train. It's the safest form of transport, although even trains crash occasionally.

220johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 15, 2012, 1:02am Top

>212 nathanielcampbell: our culture has invested red light with that property

Definitely cultural, not universal. They say that in England a red light means compulsory stop, in France it is a recommendation and in Italy merely a suggestion. In Nairobi people rarely stop at red lights. In Cairo I got knocked off my bike once because I made the mistake of stopping at a red light but the bus behind me didn't.

As a railway enthusiast, let me also point out that in the USA (and UK) many people apparently do not seem to think it is necessary to stop at the red lights at railroad crossings.

221johnthefireman
Sep 15, 2012, 1:01am Top

>214 southernbooklady: If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change

I think this is true of other religions too. It usually occurs because in a pre-scientific society where there was no distinction between science and religion, religion made claims which we now understand to be the preserve of science. As has been said often on LT, most parts of the Christian community (with notable exceptions represented by ambrithill amongst others) have withdrawn from their prior position against evolution, on the earth being the centre of the universe, etc. This change is often too slow (at least in terms of "official" recognition, although the de facto position often changes long before that, eg Galileo) as the great religious traditions tend to be a bit conservative, but I don't think this type of change represents a major existential problem for them.

Now if science were to prove that there is no divine, that would present a problem, but since the divine is not within the province of science, that is unlikely.

222prosfilaes
Sep 15, 2012, 6:34am Top

#219: It's the safest form of transport, although even trains crash occasionally.

That's not even a meaningful comparison for me, not now or historically. Only once has bus versus train been a question for me, and train was a clear winner for convenience reasons. And then the travel to the train was by bus or foot.

#218: Actually, I would agree that Joh is guilty. But the science of DNA can be reproduced.

The same science of DNA proves the worldwide flood didn't happen. If it did, every lifeform on the planet would show descent from a small group (2 or 7) of individuals that existed at the same time in the recent past. And yet they don't. The most recent matrilinear ancestor of humans existed 200,000 years ago; the most recent patrilinear ancestor of humans existed 142,000 years ago. All of this is reproducible in the exact same way that the science that convicts John is reproducible.

223ambrithill
Sep 15, 2012, 9:51am Top

>222 prosfilaes: DNA proves age? Also, those seem like mighty specific numbers that you give. How are those numbers arrived at?

224AsYouKnow_Bob
Sep 15, 2012, 10:04am Top

How are those numbers arrived at?

The genes you inherited from your parents are close copies, but not perfect copies.

The rest of it is working out the implications of that observable truth.

225ambrithill
Sep 15, 2012, 10:39am Top

>224 AsYouKnow_Bob: So you are saying that the amount the copy deviates from the original determines how far removed from the original it is? And that can be traced back 142,000 or 200,000 years to the original?

226southernbooklady
Sep 15, 2012, 11:52am Top

Yes. Specific molecular markers in mitochondrial DNA can be used as a "molecular clock". Although a recent study of ancient frozen penguin DNA suggests that time figures could be seriously underestimated.

227StormRaven
Sep 15, 2012, 2:14pm Top

Actually, I would agree that Joh is guilty.

Then you are hypocrite, because the exact same type of evidence used to demonstrate John is guilty is the science used to draw the conclusion that the Big Bang happened.

But the science of DNA can be reproduced.

So can the observations of the redshift of the galaxies, and the microwave background radiation, the observation of the abundance of light elements, and the large scale structure of the universe, all of which are independent of any cosmological model and point towards a Big Bang.

You may laugh at me all you want, but you still have not show how the Big Bang or life from nothing has been reproduced.

You are laughed at when you claim that well-supported scientific theories that have vast amounts of evidence are based on "faith" and that somehow they are equivalent to your magic based version.

But I am not wrong that the number keeps getting bigger and bigger because science keeps showing that what science has previously said could not happen in the amount of time that it was earlier thought to have happened.

You are wrong. The 13.75 billion year estimate of the age of the universe is one of the shorter estimates, far shorter than the competing "steady state" model that was discarded when the redshift of the galaxies was discovered.

Given how little you seem to understand about the science you keep dismissing, I'm sure at some point you were told that something took 100 million years, but I suspect that it was something completely different than the age of the universe, and you just didn't pay attention. Because you just don't care to actually understand the science you dismiss, because it is clear that you are happy being uneducated and don't want to actually learn anything that might upset your cocoon of ignorance.

"Creation" is supported by no evidence. The theories you dismiss are supported by massive amounts of evidence - the same kind of evidence you accept when you agree that John is the criminal without anyone having seen him kill his neighbor. We look at the universe and come to conclusions. The shape and nature of the universe is the evidence. You've got nothing but ignorance and wishful thinking in response.

228Tid
Sep 15, 2012, 3:35pm Top

215

You're possibly right to be sceptical - the reports I read were of the "university research project into.." kind. I was also slightly inaccurate in my reporting - the research alleged that teams playing in red enjoyed more SUCCESS than those in other colours. So it may be nothing to do with better performance, but it MAY be more to do with the very marginal effect of red on the other teams. (No huge difference was found anyway, just "statistically better than chance", which as we all know can be a small number indeed.)

229Tid
Sep 15, 2012, 3:43pm Top

218

"But I am not wrong that the number keeps getting bigger and bigger because science keeps showing that what science has previously said could not happen in the amount of time that it was earlier thought to have happened."

Several points here :

1. The effect of the Theories of Relativity on cosmology are still being felt and still being understood.
2. Cosmology itself undergoes radical shifts as more discoveries are made. What started out as very approximate estimations are subject to some degree of refinement as understanding grows or shifts.
3. Science never ever claims that any of its tenets are forever fixed and cannot change. That's what makes it science - it's "the best we can do with what we know and what we've seen so far, but that could and probably will require amendment or total revision in due course".

You're talking about ultimate causes, and those are - for now - in the realm of philosophy and metaphysics rather than science.

230Tid
Sep 15, 2012, 3:51pm Top

225

Better even than that. By following genetic 'branches' back and back in time (in a similar fashion to dendrology) it has now been shown that all current DNA can be traced back to a single branch that came out of Africa, migrating possibly due to climate change many tens of thousands of years ago. Which makes racism somewhat farcical as well as repellent.

231Jesse_wiedinmyer
Sep 15, 2012, 4:19pm Top

I think it might be useful to unpack this a little bit. I think (and correct me if I am wrong) that what rrp means by the claim that science involves a certain amount of faith, is that science has faith that, in making repeatable and testable observations of the world, we can, in fact, deduce information about how reality works. Scientific "faith" is a trust that the methods and processes of science are sound, but not a faith that its conclusions are the final and unchanging truth.


Ummm, given rrp's history and postings in the past, I doubt that that's what he means at all. He's repeatedly tried to indicate an equivalence between all "faiths,' whilst constantly promulgating one at the expense of others, yet constantly denying that this what he does.

232Jesse_wiedinmyer
Sep 15, 2012, 4:21pm Top

This is precisely why we have this.

233ambrithill
Sep 15, 2012, 5:35pm Top

>230 Tid: So all DNA points back to a single couple? Would that be Noah and his wife, per chance?

234ambrithill
Sep 15, 2012, 5:38pm Top

> 226 "Although a recent study of ancient frozen penguin DNA suggests that time figures could be seriously underestimated."

Yep, frozen penguin DNA. May we all bow and worship you. I think not. Since the study only suggests that the figures could be seriously underestimated that also leaves open the possibility of being seriously overestimated.

235ambrithill
Sep 15, 2012, 5:40pm Top

> 227 "it is clear that you are happy being uneducated" Just because my education does not agree with your education does not make me uneducated, nor does either have anything to do with my state of happiness or lack thereof.

236AsYouKnow_Bob
Edited: Sep 15, 2012, 5:43pm Top

#233 Nope, not a single couple. 'Most Recent Common Ancestor' seems to be different on the male side and the female side.

There apparently was (at least one) population bottleneck. (Never down to single couple, though.)

237Tid
Sep 15, 2012, 6:03pm Top

233

Did I say "a single couple"? I think you'll find I said - in accordance with the facts - a single branch. The story of Noah is a direct Israelite version of the earlier story of Gilgamesh, the Sumerian account of a Great Flood.

If you are a Christian, why do you believe literally the Jewish Old Testament, which actually the Jews - who wrote it - no longer believe literally?

238StormRaven
Sep 15, 2012, 6:20pm Top

233: No. The matrilineal common ancestor and the patrilineal common ancestor are separated in time by about 60,000 years, a fact that prosfiles made clear in his post.

I'm starting to wonder about your reading comprehension.

239StormRaven
Sep 15, 2012, 6:22pm Top

235: You are woefully uneducated on the subjects you are trying to discuss here. So much so that you don't even realize how out of your depth you are. In fact, your arguments here would seem to be an excellent example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

240southernbooklady
Sep 15, 2012, 6:22pm Top

>234 ambrithill: Yep, frozen penguin DNA. May we all bow and worship you. I think not. Since the study only suggests that the figures could be seriously underestimated that also leaves open the possibility of being seriously overestimated.

Being scornful is not a valid counter argument.

Your statement that if data is wrong in one direction it may also be wrong in the opposite direction is based on the assumption that the study invalidates genetic dating, when in fact it refines it. Although, since you are so clearly dismissive of even the concept of drawing conclusions from penguin DNA then your subsequent analysis of the study's methods or efficacy is pointless and irrelevant. It's like you said Fairies don't exist! And they don't have wings!

241nathanielcampbell
Sep 15, 2012, 7:19pm Top

>236 AsYouKnow_Bob:: Correct me if I've got this wrong, but as I understood it, part of what factors in here is that there were several different subspecies of homo sapiens (e.g. Neanderthal and whatever name they use for the branch in Siberia that they just decoded), none of whom survive past ca. 30,000 B.C.

242prosfilaes
Edited: Sep 15, 2012, 8:58pm Top

No, all DNA does not point back to a single couple. And even if it possibly could, it wouldn't be Noah, as there wasn't a world-wide flood. And that's reproducible; we know what the results of a flood look like, and we don't see them.

Abiogenesis is unproven; I personally regard panspermia, the idea that life originated under more favorable circumstances elsewhere and was transported here, at least not dismissable, and I regard the evidence as far too weak to argue with people whose metaphysics permit answers mine don't.

The Big Bang, on the other hand, is pretty darn clear. We know the distances to the stars; we know how long it took light to get here from them; we know that they are moving away from us, and how fast they are. All of this is pretty simple physics, all of which is easily replicable. You don't need the bomb squad to tell you this universe blew up.

Noah? We've known for two centuries that there just wasn't a global flood. That's reproducible; we know what floods look like, we know what damage they do. We've know for probably centuries before that that you can't get two of every species on the ark. The National Zoo in DC takes 5 square miles for a mere 2000 animals of 400 species. Any solutions above the level of species get biologists laughing; creationists end up proposing evolution vastly faster then anything any evolutionist would propose. In 1646, Sir Thomas Browne wondered how the Americas had ended with rattlesnakes (that no humans would have carried with them) but not the horse. I would ask about the marsupials; you're talking about a group of animals that got dumped out on Mount Ararat and somehow ended up in the Americas south of the Rio Grande (except for the North American opossum) and Australia, and nowhere in between.

The problem in #234 is that either you reject the evidence or you accept it. If it matters at all, Noah's flood has been crushed.

#241: I believe the general argument is that males practice exclusionary practices--men historically took several women as wives, mistress and concubines to the exclusion of other men--but women rarely did. So a higher percentage of women had descendents then men did.

243ambrithill
Sep 15, 2012, 10:10pm Top

> 237 "If you are a Christian, why do you believe literally the Jewish Old Testament, which actually the Jews - who wrote it - no longer believe literally?" The main reason is because Jesus validated much of it by quoting from it, including the part about Noah. So if I am going to accept Jesus as my Messiah it only makes sense to believe what He believes.

244StormRaven
Sep 15, 2012, 11:40pm Top

So if I am going to accept Jesus as my Messiah it only makes sense to believe what He believes.

Well, that would be an argument against accepting Jesus as your messiah. On the other hand, most of your co-religionists seem perfectly capable of accepting large chunks of the Old Testament as allegorical, exactly how do you come to the conclusion that Jesus (assuming such an individual did exist) did not share their allegorical view of the Jewish scriptures?

245Tid
Sep 16, 2012, 3:44pm Top

243

But Jesus was a Jew! He never claimed to be anything else. So if he knew his own scriptures, that is hardly surprising - he was the 1st Century equivalent of a peripatetic Rabbi, after all.

If you are going to accept Jesus as your Messiah, you are adopting a notably Jewish strand of faith terminology. Most Christians speak of Jesus as their "Lord" or "Saviour", but not as their Messiah, unless they are Messianic Jews.

It makes more sense to practice what Jesus taught, than to believe what he believed, as his beliefs were informed largely by his upbringing in a particular religion. You should read some of Vincent Donovan's Christianity Rediscovered where he teaches the need to "liberate" Jesus into being a timeless worldwide figure, rather than the 1st Century AD Palestine "prison" he has been put in.

246ambrithill
Sep 16, 2012, 9:55pm Top

I suppose it depends on how you think of Jesus. If He was just a Jewish man then you are right. But if He is God then His beliefs were not based on his upbringing. I choose to believe that He was exactly who He claimed to be.

247johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 17, 2012, 1:02am Top

>245 Tid: I second Tid's recommendation of Christianity Rediscovered and Jesus (or rather, the Christ) as a "timeless worldwide figure". The incarnation is not simply God becoming human in the one man, Jesus, in one culture in one historical period in one geographical location, but God coming into every human culture in every period in every location. The theological concepts first of inculturation (that Christianity needs to be liberated from western culture to reach into all cultures) and then incarnation (that God is incarnated into all cultures) had a profound influence on missionary thinking in the latter part of the 20th century, and on the local churches which had developed from missionary activity in non-western cultures.

248ambrithill
Sep 17, 2012, 6:52am Top

I personally believe that Christianity led to western culture, not the other way around.

249johnthefireman
Sep 17, 2012, 7:31am Top

>248 ambrithill: ambrithill, I agree with you that Christianity had a huge influence on western culture, although one would also have to say that ancient Jewish, Roman and Greek culture had a huge influence on Christianity. One could also argue that Christianity and western culture have mutually influenced each other, eg western individualistic culture helped to spawn modern evangelical protestantism.

Jesus, the Christ, appeared in the midst of that ancient culture and from that sprung a new religious direction, Christianity. So what do we do when the Christ is introduced to a different culture, say in Africa, one which is distinct from both ancient Jews, Greeks and Romans on the one hand and modern western culture on the other? Preach Christianity with all its accretions, or preach the Christ incarnated in that local African culture? I prefer the latter, and that is what has influenced the thinking of missionaries and local churches (with exceptions, particularly amongst protestant evangelical churches).

250StormRaven
Sep 17, 2012, 8:21am Top

I agree with you that Christianity had a huge influence on western culture, although one would also have to say that ancient Jewish, Roman and Greek culture had a huge influence on Christianity.

The salient point is that Western culture was already well underway when Jesus supposedly showed up. Large chunks of Christian philosophy were borrowed from Greek philosophers, who looked to them for inspiration, much as the Roman pagans did. Most of the fundamental pieces of what is now Western culture were already in place before anyone outside of a handful of people in Israel had ever heard of Jesus.

251Tid
Edited: Sep 17, 2012, 9:26am Top

246

Jesus claimed to be the "Son of Man", and no-one is now sure what he meant by that, though ex-Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong believes he was a fully evolved human being (Spong does not believe in an external supernatural being called God, or any other name).

The idea of Jesus's divinity was first raised by Paul, who referred to him as being "raised up" by God (no mention of being born God, which was a later myth story). Even in the time of Constantine there were competing factions in the Church, some of whom adhered to the divinity of Christ, and some did not, which is why you get that ultimate compromise phrase "begotten not made" in the Creed formulated at Nicea, presided over by the Emperor.

The early Jewish Christian community referred to Jesus as the "Messiah", who was foretold in the prophecies in their Hebrew Bible - the Messiah was not a god, but a man, and supposed to be of the house of David, which is why you get such an elaborate genealogy at the start of Matthew's Gospel.

As for Jesus's reference to "Abba" ("Father"), that was a common patronymic used by all the peripatetic rabbis of the time, and it may (this is a grey area) have originated with the Essenes, the community John the Baptist came from. In any case, it was not spoken to indicate a quasi-biological relationship, but as a term of endearment directed at the divine believed to inhabit the hearts of all men. Remember too, that Jesus spoke of "Our Father" and "Your Father", in the same way as he did "My Father".

252johnthefireman
Sep 17, 2012, 9:25am Top

>251 Tid: he was a fully evolved human being

Which I think has also been explored by others apart from Spong. It has echoes in Orthodox thought on divinisation, and even in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. We all have the potential to become "fully evolved human beings" which might, indeed, be Godlike... or even God.

253Tid
Edited: Sep 17, 2012, 9:30am Top

251 (numbering glitch? There are two 250, then 251, then 253!! I had better assume yours is actually 252?)

Which also has echoes in Eastern philosophies, which teach that the "Absolute" is simply pure consciousness, and is our real nature (panentheism).

254southernbooklady
Sep 17, 2012, 9:59am Top

The notion of a "fully evolved human being" is counter to evolutionary theory in the sense that it implies an apex or fulfillment of potential or purpose. Evolution is understood to be a theory of constant change, but not one of "progression" at least in the sense of always becoming more "advanced." In a sense we are all "fully evolved" to the state we find ourselves now, but the processes of evolution do not rest, and they do not have some end goal of a perfect human being in mind that they are moving towards.

255johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 17, 2012, 12:26pm Top

>254 southernbooklady: Point taken, and maybe "fully evolved" isn't quite the right term. Tid?

256nathanielcampbell
Edited: Sep 17, 2012, 3:49pm Top

>250 StormRaven:: "Most of the fundamental pieces of what is now Western culture were already in place before anyone outside of a handful of people in Israel had ever heard of Jesus."

I think the one notable exception--the key innovation that Christianity added--was the nature of Divine Love. Agape was a relatively minor player in the Greek conception of love; eros was far more important, as was the relationship between ariste ("virtue", in its many different meanings, including that of "strength"), alethe ("truth"), and sophia ("wisdom") -- see Plato's Symposium.

But agape was different, and meditating upon the irruption of a divine love that subsumes the erotic into the creative and redemptive was an extraordinary development.

(You may have noticed that I'm on a theology-of-love kick -- influenced by Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen.)

257Tid
Sep 17, 2012, 5:54pm Top

254 and 255

"Fully evolved" is the phrase used by Jack Spong, so we'd have to ask him what he means. One thing I'm certain of though, he doesn't mean it in the physical sense of evolution. He's talking, at least I think he is, about the best a human being can be, so that would be psychological, emotional, spiritual, and presumably mental, too?

I have no doubt that evolution (i.e. via the process of natural selection) has more surprises in store for homo sapiens sapiens , but whether we're still around to see them is another matter, with our violent and destructive tendencies.

258southernbooklady
Sep 17, 2012, 6:16pm Top

>257 Tid: He's talking, at least I think he is, about the best a human being can be, so that would be psychological, emotional, spiritual, and presumably mental, too?

I think this is a common misconception that gets tacked onto the idea of evolution as both a concept and a physical process. We tend to think of it as "becoming better" -- so that all that came before was "less evolved" and all that comes after is "more evolved." It is the stuff of a thousand science fiction horror flicks. Evolution is not like that. It is simply adaptation via several devices, including natural selection and random genetic mutation. It's the biological equivalent of Newton's first law of motion--that an moving object will continue to move until another force acts upon it. Evolution is the process of a billion biological changes caused by a billion outside forces. But there's no finish line, no goal, no "best in show" beyond the ability to reproduce the next generation.

Thus there is no "intention" implied in evolution, or, for that matter, in the physical universe. That is, I think, at the heart of the abyss between the atheist and the person who believes in God.

259prosfilaes
Sep 17, 2012, 7:18pm Top

#254, 258: The word "evolution" was not invented for the theory of biological evolution. I don't think it fair to get stressed out when people use it in their own way, provided they aren't leaning on the biological theory.

260ambrithill
Sep 17, 2012, 8:20pm Top

> 251 "The idea of Jesus's divinity was first raised by Paul"

Jesus actually raised the idea. In John 10:30 He said, "I and the Father are one." And before you say that He was not claiming to be God, if you read the next few verses it is clear that the people He was talking to thought that is what He was claiming.

Also, in John 17:5 He said, "O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was."

Also, in John 8:58 He said, "Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

You might not accept that Jesus is God, but do not say that it was Paul's idea. Jesus clearly believed and taught that He was God.

261paradoxosalpha
Sep 17, 2012, 9:28pm Top

> 260

Not that I expect you to believe me, but most people who've seriously studied the matter agree that the "genuine" Pauline epistles predate the writing of the gospel of John.

262johnthefireman
Edited: Sep 18, 2012, 1:03am Top

>260 ambrithill: In John 10:30 He said, "I and the Father are one."

Or rather, in John, John has Jesus saying...

John was written quite late, as paradoxosalpha says in >261 paradoxosalpha:, certainly long after Paul's letters, and is the result of the Johannine Christian community's reflections on what Jesus said and did.

263ambrithill
Sep 18, 2012, 6:01am Top

Of course we can get into the quibbling about John said Jesus said, etc. However, I choose to believe that John was writing what he actually heard Jesus say. So whether or not John or Paul wrote first is of little consequence. If you choose to believe it another way that is your choice.

264johnthefireman
Sep 18, 2012, 6:16am Top

>263 ambrithill: That's your choice, of course, but as far as I can remember from my study days in the dim and distant past most biblical scholarship would suggest differently.

265ambrithill
Sep 18, 2012, 6:23am Top

>264 johnthefireman: Biblical scholarship suggests which differently, that John wrote what he heard Jesus say, or that who wrote first is of little consequence?

266johnthefireman
Sep 18, 2012, 6:47am Top

>266 johnthefireman: Biblical scholarship would suggest that the author of John was not one of the apostles and not someone who had been with Jesus personally, therefore it is unlikely that these are direct quotes from Jesus. That doesn't mean they aren't authentic Christian teaching, simply that the message of Jesus has come to us via the Christian community (in this case the Johannine branch thereof, which had some differences from the Pauline branch), which reflected on what they knew and understood of Jesus' teaching.

More broadly Tid is referring to quite a significant discussion within Christianity as to whether Jesus actually claimed to be God, or whether this is an interpretation which his followers gradually came to; they experienced God in the man Jesus and they gradually came to understand a truth about him, and about God. While there is disagreement on what are the actual words of Jesus, "Son of Man" seems to be better attested than claims to be God, and "Son of Man" is open to a lot of different interpretations.

In that sense it doesn't really matter who mentioned it first. Neither does it really matter whether Jesus said it explicitly or whether it dawned on his followers, the nascent Church, gradually. Many theological doctrines were not explicitly stated by Jesus or the bible and are the result of later theological reflection by the Christian community. To take a couple from your side of the Christian family, bible literalism and the rapture are both very recent doctrines, although I happen not to agree with those just as you presumably don't agree with some of the doctrines of my Church.

I'm in Juba and my biblical commentary is in Nairobi, so I'm not sure I can say much more until I get back there and can refer to it.

267Tid
Sep 18, 2012, 7:36am Top

259

Quite. That was point Spong was making, though he also does affirm biological evolution passionately, too!

268Tid
Sep 18, 2012, 7:40am Top

260 261, and following

Yes, Paul is the oldest source for Christian teaching. The Acts is the oldest historical account, and the Gospels were all written at least one generation or more after Jesus (and post-Masada - think how much was lost, in relation to the earliest Christians, who were of course Jews). John is believed to be the last of the four gospels, and the least reliable for quoting the actual words of Jesus. A whole theology surrounding Jesus was beginning to emerge in John's time.

Though having said that, there are some quite wonderful things in John. The Samaritan woman at the well being one.

269johnthefireman
Sep 18, 2012, 7:50am Top

>268 Tid: I love the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11): "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone".

270lawecon
Sep 18, 2012, 8:26am Top

~172

" If being ridiculed for standing up for believing the Bible is the worst thing that ever happens to me then I truly am living a blessed life. After all, Jesus said, "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first." But as I said, I embrace my faith while you deny yours, because evolution, the big bang, and life from non-life are just as unprovable as creation."

Particularly if you stick your fingers in your ears and shout "NAH, NAH, NAH, NAH ........" really loud.

271lawecon
Sep 18, 2012, 8:30am Top

~180

"So essentially, your point is that in many third-world countries, modern scientific knowledge of the world is unavailable, and so believers (of many stripes, not just Christian, but also perhaps Muslim, or animist, or Hindu, or....) continue to believe about the world as they have long traditionally believed, because no one has told them otherwise.

Are we supposed to criticize them for that?"

Now you are engaging in the evasions that ambrithill usually engages in. It isn't a matter of "blaming" anyone. It is a matter of acknowledging the situation and concluding, therefore, that their faith is probably not critical and nuanced - which was what the conversation was about.

272lawecon
Sep 18, 2012, 8:34am Top

~199

"Wow, the rrp fallacy again.

No, people holding a conversation over the internet BOTH have a "faith" in science. Religious believers have other "faiths" on top of that."

Now, now, lets not get strident about these things. After all, it is just a chat room where no really serious discussions should occur.

273lawecon
Sep 18, 2012, 8:36am Top

~202

"One is the divine itself, which religious people believe exists because it seems to explain their experience of reality, but which by its very nature is beyond our language and definitions. If it wasn't beyond them, then it wouldn't be the divine, it would just be some sort of super-human."

Commonly known as the onthological argument. Something that Kant definitively disposed of some 300 years ago, but glad to see that it is still alive and kicking in some venues.

274Tid
Edited: Sep 18, 2012, 12:42pm Top

273

Thomas Aquinas objected to it long before Kant. But since Kant, it has been revived by others including Kurt Gödel. You could argue that a vaguely ontological argument was used to preconceive the necessary existence of the Higgs Boson, (aka "The God Particle"!) before it was actually proven to exist.

Since I don't believe in an external being (God or any other name) particularly one with supernatural qualities, I do not suggest that God's existence will, like the Higgs Boson, someday be proved. But, it's only my belief.

275Jesse_wiedinmyer
Sep 18, 2012, 3:02pm Top

The universe is infinite, therefore, it will contain an infinite number of random events. Whether this has any bearing on something for which there is no evidence that "transcends" the material realm is left as a matter for the reader to contemplate.

Up for debate, actually.

276AsYouKnow_Bob
Sep 19, 2012, 8:11pm Top

"One of the standard problems with the universe is that it's large enough that unlikely things happen pretty often."

- Nigel Sharp, program officer for extragalactic astronomy and cosmology at the NSF

277paradoxosalpha
Sep 19, 2012, 8:17pm Top

> 276 One of the standard problems ...

I thought it was a feature.

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