Much of the discussion I see in the Atheosphere revolves around the conflict between science and religion. IS there a conflict? IS there a way to reconcile the two? Do science and religion attempt to describe the same things, or are they part of two nonoverlapping magesteria (NOMA) as Stephen Jay Gould postulated in his book, Rocks of Ages? Does science deal with the natural world, and religion the supernatural, and never the twain shall meet?
When I first read the Gould book years ago, I didn’t think I was an atheist, and I was open to the possibilities that he was right. There was a place for religion, and there certainly was a place for science, and they really didn’t conflict with each other, unless one went out of one’s way to create a conflict. They could exist peacefully, side by side, I thought, as long as everybody stopped getting their dander up, looking for a fight. If religion could just stick to the supernatural plane, and science to the natural, why should anyone care?
As I matured into my current atheism, however, I began to see why that wouldn’t work. First, as an atheist, I realized that there really was no supernatural sphere for religion to stick to. The natural world, the natural universe is all there is; or at least there is no evidence for a supernatural world. Someone a long time ago thought there was, and that thought seems to have been perpetuated into the present, but a close look at the genesis of that thought, and the evidence to support it, indicates fairly convincingly, at least to me, that the original notion of the supernatural was mistaken.
Second, if there is no supernatural plane, then exactly what is religion sticking its nose into? The answer, of course, is the natural world. In the guise of spirituality, religion fabricates all manner of pronouncements about the natural world. It coats it with a thin veneer of supernaturalism, but rub lightly and you’ll find that it’s just smoke and mirrors. Ignore the man behind the curtain at your risk, because he’s the one manipulating the knobs and levers in order to give the appearance of the great and powerful Oz. Those knobs and those levers are as real as you and me, and Oz is an illusion.
Look at the big one. Immortality. Religion says that when we die, we really don’t, we just go somewhere else; to a better place where all of the people we loved in this life will join us, and we them, in the next. And we’ll all congregate with god, for eternity, in an place of immense joy and bliss. It sounds so wonderful, but in reality what religion is promising is the negation of a natural phenomenon – death. Death, we know, is a reality. The promise of immortality, so far, is nothing but words.
Look at another “big’ example. Creation. Religion tells us that god created us, the Earth and the entire universe, and not just for the fun of it, but specifically for us. To provide a home for humankind, a place where we can give glory to our creator for putting us here. Sure, there’s an element of magic and supernatural woo-woo in this creation story, with the entire process occurring on six successive days, in a manner that can only be described as unbelievable, but at its heart the claim of creation is one that steps on the toes of science. We live here now, in this natural world. Our ancestors did too. Creation of our physical reality can only be explained by natural science, because that is the realm of science. Religion, by making claims about our natural genesis, fails to stay within the bounds of its Gouldian magesterium. It’s cleverly overlapping the line by making a claim about the natural world.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a conflict between the two Rocks of Ages – science and religion. It is very difficult to reconcile the two. That’s a no-brainer, however. Clearly, you can’t believe that science explains the natural world, has in past, does so in the present, and will continue to do so in the future, while at the same time hold the contradictory belief that magic had something to do with it. It is one or the other. You might just as well believe that the Three Stooges were real, and that they were comedic actors portraying fictional nincompoops on screen, both at the same time.
Here’s a recent article that implicitly, at least, acknowledges the fact that science and religion are incompatible, although that’s not the intent. It is written by a theologian (an academic non-discipline if ever there was one), James Emery White, Professor of Theology and Culture, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Senior Pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. In it he comments on the recent publication by the National Academy of Sciences of a book supporting the theory of evolution, called “Science, Evolution and Creationism“, which was purportedly produced to help diffuse the recent tension between science and creationism, especially as manifested in the Dover Debacle.
Dr. White criticizes the booklet, not, as you might expect, because it supports evolution (he’s sees evolution as the method god used to create us), but because it trivializes religion, and especially faith, to that of one’s favorite color, or piece of music. As he says:
There is the experience which can be validated as fact (science), and there is the experience that can only be embraced in faith (religion). So believe what you want about God – that is your prerogative – just don’t treat it like you would a scientific reality.
To him, faith is far more important to understanding reality. He starts to stumble onto some truths, however:
…there is more at hand here than science doing its job, and knowing its limitations in regard to matters of faith. It is about limiting what religion can say about science. The working idea is that we can maintain our religious faith and our scientific discoveries not by seeing both as operating in the realm of public truth – to be jointly engaged and interpreted accordingly – but by seeing them as separate categories altogether that should never be allowed to intertwine. If you wish to believe in God, fine; just don’t posit that this God actually exists as Creator, or that He could actually be pulled out to explain anything.
He’s that close, yet he’s so far! But he doesn’t take that logical step, instead falling back on typical Christian hubris. The light bulb over his head just isn’t getting any juice.
At issue here is the larger cultural current of privatization. …privatization is the process by which a chasm is created between the public and the private spheres of life, and spiritual things are increasingly placed within the private arena. So when it comes to things like business, politics, or even marriage and the home, personal faith is bracketed off. The process of privatization, left unchecked, makes the Christian faith a matter of personal preference, trivialized to the realm of taste or opinion. Yet faith does not simply have a new home in our private lives; it is no longer accepted outside of that sphere. More than showing poor form, talk of faith has been banished from the wider public agenda.
As it should be. We’ve had eight years of one man’s faith being forced onto the public agenda. Critical thinking, logic and science have been placed on the back burner. But I digress.
C’mon, click on the light bulb! It’s time to realize that magic, superstition, and indeed, faith has no place in the public agenda. We live in the real world, not a fantasy one.
No, science and religion are encouraged to co-exist…as long as religion knows its place.
Which is no place at all.
I held a theist evolutionary view for a number of years. Even after my de-conversion, I figured I could encourage my Christian friends by saying that their theology didn’t necessarily conflict with science. It’s only within the past couple of weeks that I’ve come to understand how incompatible evolution and Christianity really are. I’m a little sad that I won’t be able to offer Christians the false comfort of theistic evolution anymore, but I certainly can’t lie to them. White is right. There is no place at all for religion as human inquiry continues on its course.
Actually, Gould first presented his idea of Nonoverlapping (one word) Magisteria in an essay for Natural History magazine in 1997. That essay in its entirety can be found here. It can also be found in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, a collection of essays edited by Paul Kurtz. In that book, Gould’s silliness is immediately followed by a short piece called “You Can’t Have It Both Ways,” written by Richard Dawkins.
I think SI’s article here should also be included if the Kurtz anthology ever goes into a second edition.
While I’m not entirely convinced that religion and science are necessarily incompatible, I always ask myself WHY should you believe in the supernatural when you already have science? I don’t see why someone CAN’T believe theist evolution, but what’s the point? Like Chappy, I held that belief for my whole life– that god started evolution and plays an active hand in how life evolves. When I read Dawkins’ account in The Selfish Gene of how life may have begun, however, it struck me that I didn’t see why god needed to be involved in it at all.
I’m actually reading Kurtz’s anthology now, and I recommend it to anybody interested in the topic.
Unfortunately (and I keep harping back to that first essay, “Fear of an Idea,” which vjack published over at Atheist Revolution), because christianity enforces orthodoxy so strongly, the two cannot, in the mind of most (not all) theists, be separated. Remember, for most sects of christianity, belief in god an jesus is not enough. One must believe exactly the right thing (orthodoxy) in order to attain one’s heavenly reward.
Science, though, is built upon doubt. Cope and Marsh were brilliant (not to mention egotiistical) palaeontologists. However, today’s palaeontologists do not view the papers they published on dinosaurs to be holy writ. The findings in these papers are open to new interpretation based upon new insights and discoveries. This means that, although science approaches the ultimate answer, it can never (except in a very few cases) achieve that answer. If that happened, then science would end.
This level of doubt is unnacceptable to many theists. The bible is the innerent word of god. Paul’s epistles, despite glaring evidence that at least some of the verses were added later by unknown authors (especially the parts about putting women in their place) , are the rock upon which modern christianity was built. The Nicene Creed (even though none of the apostles, nor Paul himself, would have been considered christians by its standards) is the one and only way to be a christian.’
Such attitudes transfer into real life. Politics becomes black and white, no shades of grey allowed. GLTB rights, black and white. Abortion, black and white. Slavery, black and white (though it was black and white for pro- an anti-slavery theists). Science, then, must be black and white. And it is not. Science is a series of grey stretching from 0,0,0 to 254,254,254, and every shade of grey in between. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is at about 254,254,254 and, because it cannot make that finall step to pure black (255,255,255), it is invalid because there is still uncertainty (not about the theory, but about some of the mechanisms and processes involved).
I have met many people within whom theism and science can co-exist through compartmentalization. But as soon as an individual decides that one of the two is the only way to view the world, the other becomes invalid.
Good article. I have always had a problem with Gould’s compartmentalization. I find it odd that a man as brilliant as Gould could keep a piece of his brain in the belief area, while the rest of it was purely in the evidence realm.
Lifeguard said: While I’m not entirely convinced that religion and science are necessarily incompatible,
They aren’t. Just as long as religion stifles itself when it comes to ANY factual claims. ANY. Now, if you can show me the religion that does this, and I’ll show you a religion that I would never bother debating.
(((Billy))) said: I have always had a problem with Gould’s compartmentalization. I find it odd that a man as brilliant as Gould could keep a piece of his brain in the belief area
While highly intelligent people are LESS like to do this, knowledge doesn’t completely insulate. Think Francis Collins….
Who is Francis Collins?
is one of our countries greatest geneticists. He is a Christian who fully embraces evolution.
The story is, a number of years ago he was wandering in the woods in winter – feeling at awe with nature. He came upon a frozen waterfall that had three distinct frozen streams (THE TRINITY! – what else could it be?) He fell to his knees and invited Jesus into his heart. Makes me want to sell all of my science library – or just puke and move on.
Thank you. I think I had heard of him.
Thanks for posting this, SI. I grew up in Mecklenburg county. It reminds me of an article I read somewhere from an immigrant who said that Charlotte was a nice city to live in, except for the religion. And that religion was stagnating progress in the city. I couldn’t agree more.
Rocks? I see one rock, and I hear tales of another.
Science – a proven method of discovering facts about the real world, here and now.
Religion – mumbo jumbo, fairy tales, fables, and lies with no purpose other than to encourage weekly holy day coffeeklatches to make the natives feel better about shunning, torturing, murdering, and slaughtering members of the coffeeklatch down the street or across the border.
Which to choose, which to choose, oh me oh my, life is so short, decisions are so hard.
Misanthropy forever! Rah rah rah!
Not to rain on the parade and all, but since there are so many religious people in America, and indeed, the world, there’s no getting around it.
SI is right that that “magic, superstition, and indeed, faith has no place in the public agenda, but the reality is that it does and will continue to do so for reasons beyond our control at the moment.
The question is, how do we get to the point where religious fundamentalists are rendered powerless so that they are no longer an obstacle? Whatever the strategy is, it can’t happen overnight, or even over the course of a few years. It is something that will have to span decades, and most people don’t have that kind of patience.
One of two things has to happen. Either the American people wise up and accept the need for the separation of church and state or the religious become dissatisfied with politics and walk away from it like the amish or jehovah’s witnesses. I’d say there’s better odds in trying to piss in the political pool so they don’t want to get in.
It is unfathomable to me that anyone would even use Religions as an argument against science. The latter is mostly tangible and provable. Religions have one up on non believers.. They are master manipulators of the mind.
Altoona; Unfathomable – yes. But we have to get beyond that. We have to accept that even if it’s beyond all logic, there it is. Like TommyKey and Philly are discussing, we need to figure out how to get around it.
“…talk of faith has been banished from the wider public agenda.”
With all due respect: Is he high?
What country does he live in?
More specifically — what Presidential election has he been following?
The question is, how do we get to the point where religious fundamentalists are rendered powerless so that they are no longer an obstacle?
Sounds a little dark & Hitleresque.
I think an interesting show is how conservative evangelicals continue to act like faith-talk has been banned from the public arena, but really, the fact that they can say that disproves their claim. I think this may be what Greta Christina is getting at.
I think what Greta Christina is getting at, joel — and correct me if I’m wrong, GC — is that every fucking candidate has been ramming his or her religioin down our throats almost every day of this campaign so far. Forget the Republicans; they’ve been working hand-in-glove with religious leaders for the past twenty-something years. I’m talking about the Democrats. Clinton has had her evangelical consultant on the payroll for ages, and she loses no opportunity to talk Biblese at places like Rick Warren’s Saddleback mega-Church. Obama is, according to one of his South Carolina brochures, a “Committed Christian” who has been “Called to Christ.” He, too, loves to preach from the Sunday pulpit. So my heart goes out to those poor victimized evangelicals who can’t get a word in edgewise with all the atheists running around.
That’s what “Sheesh” means.
Joel, I don’t appreciate the Nazi inference.
What I meant was in terms of political influence.
Tommy – Don’t take it too hard. There will always be communications problems and I think most readers understood that you weren’t talking about doing away with Christians, but rather rendering their religious beliefs inconsequential in the public sphere.
I am new to putting comments on blogs so bear with me if I going against blog etiquette in posting this comment.
Here are two questions I have that have never been answered by atheists. I would appreciate if any of you can do this.
1. If nature and natural laws are all that exists then our brains and therefore our thoughts and actions are controlled by these laws and therefore we have no choice in what we do or think. If that is so then your belief in atheism is simply a result of your neuronal actions and you have no way of knowing whether it is true.
2. How do you define morality? ie. Is there a way we ought to live by and a way we ought not to live by?
1. I don’t see how
You are creating a logical fallacy called a straw man. Just because brain activity defines consciousness, doesn’t mean that we have no choice in what we do or think. If that’s what you believe, you need to go back and rethink your premises.
2. That’s a very broad question. There are a lot of books, articles and websites that deal with the question of morality without god. I’m not going to get into a general dissertation on the subject, but if you want to narrow your question a little, I may change my mind.
1. Would you agree that in a naturalistic world that our actions and thoughts are a result of brain activity? If our brains, made up of neurons etc. obey the natural laws that exists how can we have independent thoughts? I didn’t mention consciousness in my question.
2. How can I narrow the question any further than asking for a definition of morality in a naturalistic world?
Yes. Motivated or stimulated by many things, including what happens outside our brain.
Our brains don’t work in a vacuum. Without external stimulus, the brain slows down, and waits. I’m not a scientist, but I understand that the brain is partially reactive (there are functions that it does automatically for body maintenance, such as respiration, circulation, digestion, etc.). You may not have mentioned consciousness, but your question is focusing on what the conscious part of the brain does, at least as I understand it. So your question doesn’t make any sense. Are you trying to say that because the neurons fire off in our brain as a result of electrical or chemical processes, we therefore have no control over them?
That’s an interesting concept. Perhaps it explain why some people’s neurons result in religious thinking, while others don’t. However, I think the fact that some people can, with a little effort, (called the use of reasoning) actually change their beliefs, it seems to imply that we are capable of having some control over those neurons. That, by definition is independent thought, and we control it by controlling the stimuli – books, evidence, etc stimulate our neurons to fire off in a particular way.
If that makes any sense.
You’re asking for my view on morality. I simply don’t have the time or inclination to write it all out, other than to say that we should live as humans in the way that causes the least harm and the greatest happiness to other humans and ourselves. The Golden Rule is a good start on human morality. More than that… Sorry.
1.Thanks for your response. Please think this through carefully. When you use the word “we” or “I” or “you” you are either considering another entity, such as a soul, or you are saying that there is no other entity but “we”, “you” etc are simply the matter that we are made up of. What I am saying is that if matter is all we are made up of, which is the naturalistic assumption, then our actions and our thoughts are simply the outcome of how this matter moves in response to the laws of nature. Take for example the question you asked, “Are you trying to say that because the neurons fire off in our brain as a result of electrical or chemical processes, we therefore have no control over them?” In this question you are assuming that the “we” you refer to is something outside of the matter we are made up of which is the theistic position. If “we” is simply the matter we are made up of (the general atheistic position) then indeed this matter has no control over itself since it is going to follow the natural laws that act on them.
Similarly, in your statement “…actually change their beliefs, it seems to imply that we are capable of having some control over those neurons”, the only way we can have control over our neurons is if we are also composed of another entity, again the soul, that can interact with the neurons.
2.No, I am not asking for your view on morality but what does it mean or is there a way we ought to live by. You actually did provide that definition in your second sentence, that we should live as humans in the way that causes the least harm and the greatest happiness to other humans and ourselves. This is indeed the standard definition given by atheists. But consider this, when a particular action (and there are plenty of such actions in this world which I am sure you can acknowledge) gives happiness to the individual but causes harm to other humans what should the individual do? Before you say, s/he should refrain from doing it think about why that should be the case.
Also, why happiness to other humans or should it include other primates, especially if we evolved from them, or should it extend to the whole animal kingdom?
Ummm…no. When I use the singular or plural pronouns, I mean you and me and the guy next store, and the lady down the street, and…human beings in general. No soul there. You can define them your way, but yours is a limiting, not explanatory definition.
And how it reacts to external stimuli, which we (humans) can control. We can, for instance, choose to read only the Bible,or pornography, and our brains will have only those sources as stimuli for kick starting those neurons.
No. You are excluding the possibility that our brains have a capacity to be used in the exploration of our brains. There doesn’t have to be some extra external observer, independent of the brain to observe the brain. That whole dualism thing is a crock. WE humans are perfectly capable of using our brains for introspection.
As I implied, this “matter” you refer to DOES have control over itself, by controlling our hands, for instance, which can be used to hold a scalpel and cut into the matter in an effort to understand it better. Also by doing research and studying other brain matter, and using that knowledge gleaned from that study to build upon further knowledge.
You have a hard time jumping from our ability to control our brain neurons, i.e thinking, to the existence of a soul. You’ll have to do a lot more to convince me. Where is this soul? In the pineal gland?
Well, the idea is to minimize harm as much as possible, and maximize happiness as much as possible. There is a sort of continuum, along which there is no bright line. If for instance there is something that I can do that maximizes my happiness, while creating harm in others, then it will depend on the relative amount of happiness and the amount of harm there is, and a balancing test is applied. Say for example, I can obtain a promotion but can only do so by hurting a co-worker in some way, the harm to the co-worker could outweigh the benefit to myself, such that if I did so, it would be considered immoral. If the harm to the co-worker was something as innocuous as getting his shoes dirty, I could still create that harm, and make it up by cleaning his shoes, if the benefit of a promotion is the result.
Humans first, then other creatures. We are the highest of the primates. That doesn’t mean we indiscriminately slaughter monkeys, but if, e.g., drug tests on monkeys results in beneficial medical therapies for humans, then that’s OK.
Instead of asking sneaky questions here, why don’t you just make your point and let others respond. It looks like you’re trying to prove the following two propositions:
1. Without a soul, free will is impossible.
2. Without a god, morality is impossible.
Those propositions are both nonsense, at least as you’re presenting them. Here’s why. Your questions show that you’re assuming both free will and morality “exist.” You’re trying to get atheists to accept those propositions: that both free will and morality, as absolutes, exist.
Then, you no doubt plan to show that, lacking a supernatural explanation, the existence of free will and morality cannot be “proven” using our current scientific knowledge. I’m not versed enough in cutting-edge science to evaluate whether those points are true, but let’s say for the moment that they are: Science cannot prove the existence of free will or morality.
OK. Now you trot out those eternal souls and a god. But you fail to show why your particular explanations are cogent ones. In fact, your explanations lack coherence even within their own narrow philosophical confines. Any idiot has but to read the bible to find out that the the god there wavers back and forth between wanting his creatures to have free will and not wanting them to have free will. And his moral system is barbaric, unjust, and, in fact, hateful. So where do you wind up?
SI, you said:
We are the highest of the primates.
I’m not sure I agree with the word “highest” unless you define what that means. All primates now alive have been evolving as long as humans have. In fact, all living things now alive have been evolving as long as humans have. So in what way are humans “higher?”
In the evolutionary sense, you are absolutely correct. But we have developed the highest form of primate, in the sense that we are probably the only species that is conscious of itself, and have the ability to alter the course of our own, and other species, evolution. Of course, I suspect that Harris R would say that this is evidence of god. I say it’s a natural culmination of evolution. Other primates may get to this point sometime also.
In other words, we’re the top banana at the moment. Humans rule, god drools. 8)
1. I don’t think you are getting my point.
You say “You are excluding the possibility that our brains have a capacity to be used in the exploration of our brains…” but our brains are simply made up of neurons etc that is reacting to internal and external stimuli. Take an individual neuron. When it receives a signal and if it reaches the action potential it fires and then the next neuron in the pathway of the signal behaves the same way. So it is with all the neurons in our brains. It is all started with some stimuli it receives from the outside world. How does choice enter into this scenario? How can matter have control over itself when it has to follow the forces that act upon them? If there are greater forces that act upon them to go right it cannot decide to go left can it? So when you talk of controlling scalpels with your hands to cut… these are all controlled by the external stimuli of light rays hitting the surgeon’s retina which sends a signal to the neurons to start firing to move the hands to move the scalpel. It is all completely mechanistic in a world made up only matter.
2. You say that if there is something you can do that maximizes your happiness, while creating harm in others, then it will depend on the relative amount of happiness and the amount of harm there is, and a balancing test is applied. My point here is even if the happiness to you, by a particular action, is much smaller than the unhappiness to others, what underline reason is there for you to not do the particular action. Why OUGHT someone to consider the unhappiness of others and not only do things that make the individual happy.
Why humans first just because we are the highest of the primates? Suppose there was a more advanced species than humans… should we do things for their happiness more than ours?
you are correct that I am trying to prove the two propositions you mentioned. And, yes, you are correct that I am assuming that both “free will” (I prefer “choice”) and morality exists. I think most atheists implicitly agree to these assumptions otherwise they have no grounds to claim that their position is correct (choice is needed for this) or no grounds to claim that racism, slavery, murder, rape, war etc is immoral. This has not to do with science but logic. Either we came into being solely by a natural process or there was a supernatural being that brought us into existence. My point is that choice and morality is only consistent with the latter.
My point is that choice and morality is only consistent with the latter.
That’s no point at all, except to a ninny. It’s a pointless assertion, for which you’ve offered no evidence in support. And it takes only a few hours of bible reading to find tons of evidence to the contrary; the god of the bible may well be the most morally reprehensible character in all of world fiction.
So far, about the only conclusion I agree with.
And you’re not getting my point. The choice is in seeing beyond the fact of one cell acting an another, to the sheer complexity of all cells working in combination to create the environment where we can choose the outside stimuli that keep the whole process moving. If I buy your argument, then when you type the next key on your keyboard, you’re saying you’ll have no control over what you type. Let’s do a test.
1. I type “Harris Ratnayake’s mother is a hamster and smells of elderberry” What do you type?
2. In the alternative, I type “Harris Ratnayake is clearly a handsome, debonair man of the world”. (Harris is a man, right?) What do you type?
I’ll bet they would be two different things. You choose what you type, based on the stimulus of what I type. Otherwise, all you would type , over and over, is “God is Good. God is Good.”
If you assume the latter first, then work your way backward, that might be correct. As The Exterminator indicates, though, one needs evidence. I need evidence. Your assumption of how the brain works is not that.
You do realize that there is more than one brain in this world. I can use my brain to analyze your brain. And vice versa. My brain is the source of my intellect. Not some ephemeral soul.
You’ve got to do a lot better than reducing us to single cells, and claiming only a higher power can control them.
I don’t think that Harris is trying to suggest that choice does not exist. It looks to me like he thinks it does. Harris attributes free will to a soul acting on the material in the world. SI attributes free will as an emergent result of large numbers of mechanistic processes.
If I’m reading this correctly, it seems that both sides can’t fully explain how it works. Trusting in the emergent result is no less faithful than trusting in the existence of a soul. Unless, of course, you can fully explain the emergent result.
So, can you explain it?
Please, let’s not use the term “faith” in the context of science. One doesn’t have faith in science, one evaluates the claims of science to determine whether the explanations it offers fits the evidence. If not, it’s discarded and a new theory is sought.
Considering that we still know only a fraction of how the brain works, what exactly the processes are that result in consciousness, thinking, deduction, memory, intellect, rationalization, belief, etc, it’s a bit hard to come up with an answer to your question. However, we do know a lot, with more and more being discovered and explained every day by neuroscientists, and others (no theologians, not surprisingly). Our understanding of the brain, while limited, far exceeds our understanding of any alleged soul.
As for the soul, we’ve believed in that for 2000 years, and so far there is not a scintilla of evidence for its existence, much less its ability to direct the processes of the brain.
So right now, I’ll put my money on the brain.
I was wondering where Harris R came from. Now I know. Dr. White (who wrote the article that turned on the light bulb) himself encouraged this dialog. I’m honored.
I loves me a good discussion.
My point is that you’re making a claim without proof. No one knows the mechanism of how the brain produces consciousness or free will. But yet you seemed to agree that it was entirely mechanical without without being able to describe the biochemical processes that you believe produces these results.
If the definition of faith is believing in something w/out proof, then aren’t you doing just that?
But we don’t even have to go that far. I believe in tons of things without proof, and I’m pretty sure that you do, too. Have you ever been to Antarctica? How do you know it exists? Are you trusting the authority of others who tell you it exists? I’ve never been there and I believe it exists. But by rigorous standards of proof, I can’t prove it. I can look at maps. I can look at photographs. But to a determined skeptic, I couldn’t prove it existed.
One of the interesting things that Kurt Godel proved (*) was this: for any logical system, there exists within that system something that is true but can’t be proven, or something that is false but can be proven. My point: be careful what standards you have for belief. There is a limit to proof.
(*) Gödel’s incompleteness theorems
SI, I went to the link to see what Dr. White said. Here’s part of it:
I’m not sure they receive many thoughtful Christian visitors who would be willing to engage them in a winsome and compelling way.
I’m trying to figure out how anyone could be both winsome and compelling, since those seem like mutually exclusive characteristics unless you’re Bambi.
Anyway, I must admit that I find Harris neither winsome nor compelling.
Someone else chastised me for confusing proof for evidence, either on this thread or another recent one. You’re doing the same thing. Faith is believing something without evidence for it.
Me, I’m playing the odds on a subject with no certainty. I find the odds are heavily in favor of a scientific explanation, than a supernatural one. When I say heavily, I mean that science has consistently moved forward with satisfactory explanations for natural phenomena. Religious explanations have consistently been proven wrong. (When was the last time man believed lightning or thunder were acts of god?).
Sorry, common sense says go with a winner, not a loser. My “faith” is based on evidence, not intuition.
Ok. I understand your distinction between faith being based on proof and on evidence.
And sorry if it sounded like I was chastising. I meant it to be a question.
As far as evidence goes, imagine this scenario: You take a trip to New York. And as is typical, you get a hotel room with a wonderful view… of an alley. Just as you’re “admiring” the view, you happen to see a black car pull alongside a homeless guy. The driver gets out, shoots the homeless guy, wraps him up, shoves him in the trunk and disappears. Of course, you call the police. When they arrive, they find almost no evidence at all that such an event occurred: no blood spatters, no squealed tires marks, no evidence whatsoever that this event took place. And of course, you can’t convince them of what you saw. So they poll other hotel guests. No one else saw or heard anything. All you have is your direct experience that it happened.
The question is this: is it possible to be convinced that something is true even though you can provide no tangible evidence to someone else that it happened?
If so, then how does the above story change is lots of other people experience the same thing? If you’re the police in the above scenario with only eye witness accounts of the crime occurring, but no other evidence at all, does that change your response to it’s validity?
That’s an interesting scenario you paint, mjh, but ultimately not helpful to the question at hand.
Remember what we are talking about: Evidence of something that is not of this natural world. Evidence of something that defies all known laws of physics, biology and chemistry; indeed, contradicts them.
You are positing the personal experience of someone that cannot be reproduced in any way. In your scenario, while the person who witnessed the murder may have no corroborating evidence, ultimately, if a body is found, or a witness comes forward, your story will be used in conjunction with the other evidence to piece together what happened. If no subsequent evidence shows up, well, it will be one of those circumstances of nature that will remained unexplained. It happens every day. Notice I used the word “nature” there, as in the natural world. We do have mysteries of nature, yet unexplained. We had many more in the past, but one by one they have been, and are continuing to be, explained. Your murder may someday also.
The other distinction is that what you saw was not something totally outside the realm of the natural. If your claim was that the homeless man was turned into a frog when a witch in a long black gown zapped him with a lightning bolt that came out of her fingers, how do you think the police would respond to that report? Do you think the report would even be made?
The point is that personal revelation is evidence only for the recipient who experienced it. Everyone else is free to reject it, and the recipient ought to be extremely skeptical, and do his best to eliminate all other possible explanations before accepting it as real. Something beyond the sensations experienced by you is needed to prove the existence of something that defies the laws of nature.
In the 1970s, I lived at Grand Canyon National Park. In addition to the park, there is also Albright Training Center which provides training for National Park Service employees. My best friend was the son of the chief ranger at the park and his dad provided some of the training for law enforcement officers as well as some of the seasonal interpreters at the park (interpreters are the ones who give tours (and trust me, I am going somewhere with this)). His dad also sometimes recruited us to help with the part of the training regarding witnesses.
He had us dress up in really strange clothing (it would be normal today) and we walked into the room where the training was taking place, my friend ‘shot’ his dad, I grabbed one object off of a student’s desk, and we ran out. His dad popped back up and said: “Your assignment, right now, is to write a narrative of what happened and describe the people doing it.” No two narratives agreed. Only about 10% even had the age close to correct (we were 11 years old). No one even came close on the clothing.
My point is that eye witness accounts are extremely unreliable. That is why police work hard to match eyewitness testimony to physical evidence. That is also why scientists try to create replicable situations within the laboratory.
In the extremely unlikely scenario you posit above, the police would most likely record your statement and, if anything else comes along to support it, revisit. This is also why (in my opinion) the ‘personal witness’ of god’s existence is highly suspect.
Yes, it’s true that eye witness accounts are extremely unreliable. But they’re not so unreliable that we no longer trust anything we witness. For example, I hand someone a fork and they take it. Most of the time, people don’t sit back and question whether or not there’s really a fork there. They trust their experience and most of the time it turns out to be correct. We act like the things we see are real. We act like it all day long and react accordingly. Our reactions tell us what we really need to know about our beliefs about the validity of witness. But beyond that, completely dismissing eye witness accounts in their entirety doesn’t pass the smell test. If our senses weren’t (on average) correct, natural selection would have weeded us out of the gene pool long ago.
In the scenario that you gave, I’d bet that 100% (or very high percentage) of the witnesses indicated that someone was shot. They may have got details wrong, like clothing color, or possibly the event sequence. But I doubt very seriously that any of the witnesses would have claimed that a shooting did not take place.
So sure, eyewitness accounts are not 100% reliable. But they’re also not 0% reliable either.
This is not a big problem for agnostics. But it’s a pretty big one for atheists. Because some enormous percentage of the world’s population believes in the supernatural. Doesn’t that at least have to give you pause to doubt the assertion that there is no supernatural?
FWIW, I used to say the exact same thing.
True, but that’s not the point. How about if I hand you an invisible magical harp, made by the Angel Gabriel. Do you accept it? Do people watching say, “Oh, the invisible, magical harp! How cool!”?
If I tried that on you, you’d look at me and assume I had a mental problem. So would everybody else.
Look over at My Favorite Quote in the right hand column. Over there. ——->>>>>>
No. Not at all. If you remember (I know this is a common example, but it’s valid) an enormous percentage of the world’s population used to believe that the world was flat. An enormous percentage of the world’s population used to believe that the sun revolved around the earth. Mass delusion is a very common phenomenon. In fact, the more people that believe in something, right or wrong, the more people will join in. Basic psychology there.
I think we’ve reached the point in the development of human civilization and knowledge where we understand the mechanics of thought well enough to know to not trust popular belief, to place our trust in those things we can discern using the scientific method, reason and critical thinking. It is not critical thinking to believe something just because the rest of the block, town, state, country or world believe it. Make up your own mind.
By the way, what you are suggesting is a known fallacy, called the Appeal to Popularity .
Actually, none of them said that anyone was shot. No one was. They did report that they heard what appeared to be a gunshot (though even that one was only about 60% (its amazing how many people think a gunshot sounds like the ones in the movies)).
I’m not appealing to popularity to try and prove anything. I’m appealing to popularity as a tool of casting doubt. Science does basically the same thing when it says, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” That statement in itself does not disprove anything. However it is reasonable as a tool for casting doubt. And the thing I’m trying to cast doubt on is this statement: There is no supernatural. That seems an extraordinary claim given the number of people who dispute that. Now, of course the number of people who do believe in the supernatural does not prove the supernatural. But it seems odd to closed to the possibility.
FWIW, I’ve never offered an invisible magic harp. What I’m saying is closer to, “Hey I saw a murder last night. Unfortunately, I can’t provide any other direct evidence for it. But I’m not alone. Lots of other people saw it, too.”
Your response to it appears to me to be, “There was no murder.” rather than, “Maybe there was a murder. I don’t have enough evidence to act on it, but I’ll keep this case opened in the event that more evidence turns up.” The first statement seems a bit strong considering the plurality of witnesses. If I saw law enforcement acting that way, I would question their objectivity.
What changes when the thing being witnessed is the supernatural?
What changes when the thing being witnessed is the supernatural?
What is ‘supernatural’ (other than a Santana song)? Seriously. At one time, lightening and thunder were thought to be a supernatural phenomena. Now we know it is an electical discharge. At one time speciation was thought to be a supernatural phenomena. Now we know that speciation comes about through evolution via natural selection (and possible punctuated equilibrium). At one time, nearly everythiing in nature was considered a supernatural phenomena. Today, nearly every natural phenomena has a theory supported by facts and/or replicable experiment providing the naturalistic explanation for said phenomena. The few things which are not explicable (and I can’t think of one of the top of my pointy little head) are situations for which we have not found the explanation yet.
William of Occam once wrote that (and this is paraphrasing) one should not create supernatural causes without need. If a natural explanation exists, why insert any god(s)?
What I am trying to say here, mjh, is that there is no supernatural. There are natural events for which I don’t have an explanation, but that doesn’t mean they are supernatural.
Are you sure you want to admit that? Because that is exactly what we accuse Christians of doing all the time, and they keep denying it. What you are saying is that you have no problem using fallacious (illogical) thinking to cast doubt on a reasonable argument. To what end? To get people to think illogically and fallaciously? To, in short, believe in something for which there is no evidence, by convincing them to stop thinking clearly?
That’s outstanding! Thank you. I will cite to this comment in the future.
Tell me , what is the practical difference in a debate to using a fallacy to “cast doubt”, as opposed to “proving” something?
Interesting. You do agree that as the proponent of the claim that there is a supernatural plane of existence, you have the burden of proving it? I don’t have the burden of disproving it. Instead of providing positive evidence for the claim, you find it acceptable to simply cast doubt on the negative of the claim. “It’s doubtful that there is no supernatural” is not the same thing as “There is a supernatural”, though you are trying to say that it is.
Let’s be more specific. The statement is now: God exists.
Using your argument, it’s OK to simply say “you cannot prove that god doesn’t exist”, and that is sufficient to justify the belief that he does.
If that’s how you make decisions in your life, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
You can’t prove that I don’t own the Brooklyn Bridge. Here’s a deed. Pay up.
I don’t think I was saying that at all. I was saying that the standards for proving something are different from the standards for doubting something. Just because you doubt something does not mean it’s proven either way.
Perhaps there’s a misunderstanding here. I’m not trying to prove that God exists or that there’s a supernatural plane of existence. I believe those things, but just like the witness of the murder, I can’t prove it. So I’m not trying to.
What I’m asking, however, is why don’t you believe it? And I could understand the answer if it was simply, “there’s no evidence”. But your claim seems to be more than that. You seem to also be saying, “and there never will be”. It’s this last part that I’m confused about. I don’t see how you can hold onto that last part and also hold the standards that you have. It seems logically inconsistent to me.
There’s no evidence.
Never said that. Don’t believe it either. I actually believe almost the opposite. I’m open to any evidence that may come down the pike, and I’m willing to change my mind and believe in god, the son and holy ghost if someone provides the evidence. I’m dubious that it will occur, but if it does, I’ll be on my knees.
So mjh what you are saying is that because there is no evidence to disprove the supernatural exists that you have to allow for the possibility.
While you probably don’t believe in fairies or elves are your saying that it’s possible that they exist? If you allow the possibility of the supernatural or magical don’t you then have to allow all the possibilities?
I wouldn’t hold your breath that either mjh or Harris R will be back. They shot their wads.