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In his image

I rather like this observation from Simon Hoggart:

But it’s not just the bigots who confidently announce what’s on the deity’s mind. Often on Thought For The Day on Radio 4 (the equivalent on Radio 2, at around 9.20 on the Terry Wogan show, is usually less embarrassing) someone declares solemnly that God believes this, or God wants that. Usually God turns out to have the same views as a north London bien pensant, who wishes the best for everyone, within certain limits.

He’s completely right. The Most Reverend, the Most Fluffy, Archbishop Rowan Williams is, in his determined niceness, on precisely as solid ground as is his scarey African co-churchman whom I just heard pronounce on Radio 4 that The Bible says the punishment for homosexuals is death and we are not entitled to disagree with God’s word. The ground is precisely as solid because it really amounts to ‘Because I say so. This is what scripture means because this is what I wish it did mean. It accords with the sort of society I want to live in, and therefore it is correct.’

At the risk of waking the throbbing-veined antimussulmen among the commentariat, the same is true of all proponents – and almost all interpreters – of a religious world-view. Those who say cosily with Tony Blair that Islamist terrorists are engaged in a “dreadful perversion of the true faith of Islam” are on precisely as strong a ground as both the followers of ibn Qutb and their countersupporters in western fearfandom, who say that that is what Islam ‘really’ is. Tapdancing in a vacuum.

The assertion of ‘truth’ is meaningless without the possibility of falsehood. The oxymoron ‘true faith’ invariably means the model of a religion, his own or someone else’s, that the speaker prefers, the one that gives him the most explicable, grippable, world.

They all say, without any real self-doubt, and without the glorious dramatic irony of Alf Garnett: “It stands to reason.” No it doesn’t. It is the opposite of reason. All of it.

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63 comments to In his image

  • Absolutely. And one doesn’t have to be an atheist to subscribe to this POV.

  • OK, Guy, you’re on fire right now, you sexual anarchist, you!

    Then I read Alisa’s comment which is very good and now I have no idea what to say because I’m embarrassed about the doggerel I spout over at the feline enumerator.

    The problem is that religious texts are almost infinitely re-interpretable. Perhaps the clearest and therefore most obviously off-kilter compared to contemporary mores is the Qu’ran.

  • MDC

    If it can’t be explained unambiguously on one side of A4, it probably isn’t worth believing in.

  • MDC, you forget that worth is subjective:-)

  • throbbing-veined antimussulmen

    Wot? Who these?

    Nah, it is always restrained and rational discussion. Dunno what you mean.

  • guy herbert

    NickM,

    The problem is that religious texts are almost infinitely re-interpretable.

    No it isn’t. Every text contains almost infinite scope for interpretation.

    The problem is that they are religious texts, so no proposition derived from them is testable, or stands on anything other than the faith of those claiming it in how the world should be. Deistic propositions are always deontological ones dressed up as ontological ones. What is is what ought to be.

  • RAB

    Stardust is all we are and why we need to invent anything beyond that is so far past me as to be risible. Isn’t it?

    Nick M from CCIZ

    Yep just about wraps it up for me.

  • So , you, Guy, don’t have faith in anything. Unlike Alf Garnett, nothing “stands to reason” unless it’s been established.

    Good, good. Excellent in fact. You have no presuppositions about the Universe which you aren’t prepared to justify from other principles and established facts. Fantastic! At last! A rational man speaks.

    You have faith in nothing.

    Can you tell me then, how you rebut solipsism? By appealing to what principles and facts do you justify the objective reality of sense data? By what logical mechanism do you contrive to validate your subjective experience self-referentially?

    I’m only asking. But I’ll bet a pound to a penny the answer is synonymous with “it stands to reason”.

  • Guy,
    Are you saying religion is intrinsically nonsense?

    I’m not sure I agree with that. Where I really lose the religious plot is when it makes claims well beyond it’s scope. The Qu’ran is frequently claimed to be a profoundly advanced scientific document for example. That is religion becoming farce in my book.

    Religion as moral instruction I shall listen to, and parse on it’s own merits. Hell’s teeth, because I don’t believe in it as divinely inspired then I obviously see it as a human creation and sometimes, well, right. “Thou shalt not steal”, whether derived from the code of Hammurabi, the Old Testament or the works of Hayek is still true.

    I’m glad RAB picked up that line. We are cognitive star-dust. That is so much more beautiful than any of the demented rantings of creationists. Because it is true.

  • Ian B

    Nick M-

    Are you saying religion is intrinsically nonsense?

    I’d just like to step in here and answer before Guy with a resounding “yes”. Of course it’s nonsense.

    Religion as moral instruction I shall listen to, and parse on it’s own merits. Hell’s teeth, because I don’t believe in it as divinely inspired then I obviously see it as a human creation and sometimes, well, right. “Thou shalt not steal”, whether derived from the code of Hammurabi, the Old Testament or the works of Hayek is still true.

    Simple legal codes incorporated into a religion are not any validation of the religion itself. The nonsense is “thou shalt not steal because God says so“, which effectively reduces any concept of ethics or morals to an external code imposed- literally- from above. You don’t need to explain why stealing is bad, or why women not wearing a black burlap tent is bad, or why people must wear sacred underwear, because it’s not longer an ethical issue. It’s simply because God will smite you if you don’t. So not only is it unscientific and ludicrous, it’s also corrosive because it excuses people from responsibility for ethical or moral behaviour. In a religious worldview people, individuals, have no intrinsic moral nature so no morality can be expected of them. The only question one needs ask is “does God want/not want me to do this thing?”

    Which is why it ends up being acceptable to blow yourself up on a bus, because that’s what God wants you to do. There is no other consideration to apply. As such seeking morality in religious texts is worse than useless. Even if they say the right thing, it’s for the wrong reasons.

    Also, Guy, as a throbbing-veined anti-musselman, may I humbly suggest that it took society too long in the 1930s to listen to the throbbing-veined anti-nazis, and we’re all suffering now because we failed to listen adequately to the throbbing-veined anti-communists. All fanatical beliefs are a gross danger to freedom; caricaturing their opponents as throbbing-veined extremists is not very productive. You cannot prevail against a threat by simply declaring it doesn’t exist.

  • Pa Annoyed

    There are two distinct questions to ask: what Allah says, and what Islam says. You are right to say that the former is unanswerable, but the latter can potentially be answered, and it’s perfectly possible for the RoPers to be wrong in an absolute sense.

    However, not all divine revelations are equal. The Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan had a habit of coming up with the most astounding and bizarre formulae, with no apparent working or proof, and having had no formal training in mathematics, and yet which were generally proved, after great labour by other mathematicians, to be correct. When asked once how he did it, he replied that the Goddess Namagiri whispered them in his ear as he slept.

    I put it to you that this grants his notebooks as much a claim to being divine scripture as any of the more… mythological documents.

    For those who are religiously inclined, and yet who, in this rational scientific world, find themselves distressed and conflicted by the regrettable tendency of religions to contradict the bloody obvious, these holy scriptures ought to be a Godsend. If the problem is simply the existence of a “God shaped hole” in people’s minds, then why cannot any God or Goddess fill it?

    But alas, theists still seem perfectly capable of the most stubborn disbelief, even in the face of precisely the sort of pro-scripture scientific evidence you would have thought would make them happy. It seems there’s no pleasing some people.

    It is said that a monotheist is an atheist who stopped one short. Every theist is atheist about everybody else’s Gods, and seems to have no difficulty in justifying this non-belief to themselves. Everybody doesn’t believe in millions of Gods. It makes you wonder how atheism could possibly be so controversial.

  • Kevin B

    At the risk of waking the throbbing-veined antimussulmen among the commentariat

    Yawns — Stretches — Scratches balls*

    Having not yet had my raw beef and beer breakfast, I’m not yet in full throbbing-veined ‘Kill them all and let God sort them out’ or ‘Nuke them from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure’ mode, but I do reckon Ian B has a point.

    After all, Archbishop Swampy doesn’t want to saw my head off and your African gay-basher doesn’t live round here.

    Islam has, at it’s core, the desire to convert, subdue, or kill me. I recognise that other religions, (or political ideologies) have had iterations where the faithful have evinced similar desires, but Islam, (and extreme progresivism), are the biggest, loudest and most visibly threatening dangers at the moment, so when I assess the problems facing the world, (or more particularly facing me), these are the threats I take most seriously.

    The desire to boss people about or kill them if they demur is a human trait that’s been about since before we were humans, but Islam seems to embody this particularly nasty trait in it’s core scriptures, so it’s a bit difficult to appeal to the moderates among muslims, (of which I’m sure there are many), since they don’t want their heads sawn off either.

    (*Why do women rub their eyes when they wake up?)

  • Kevin B

    Pa Annoyed

    As an agnostic, I bet I don’t believe in more gods than you don’t.

  • RAB

    Um because thay cant believe their eyes that they were so smashed last night that they came home with the snoreing, belching, balls scratching individual, who now lies asleep next to them.

    Just a guess 😉

  • Kevin B

    Before that bastard Al Gore invented the internet, I had very little trouble telling the difference between it’s, it is, and its, it his. I could manage most of the grammer, spelling and punctuation stuff. I could even handle homophones.

    The Internet is a corrupting influence!

    I denounce myself, BECAUSE OF THE HOMOPHONOPHOBIA!

    (opps, sorry. Thats a PW thing.)

  • Gregory

    Mr herbert:

    Indeed, religions deal with the unscientific, and hence unempirically-testable and provable.

    Including atheism and agnosticism.

    Sideline: what are you smoking and where can I get some?

    There are people of faith that do not like and do not want what their religious texts say, but feel obligated nonetheless to follow through. For example, do you think I like the idea that my fellow schoolmates not of the Christian faith, unless they repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, will have no part in heaven? Or my own deceased grandparents, who I have never seen? Yet this is what I am obliged to believe. So, in at least some sense, it is not the case that we twist the words of our texts and say God says this because we believe this.

    The word reason, I do not believe it means what you think it does.

    Reason, and its companion logic, only work once you have a series of assertions and unprovable axioms. Some axioms are more conformant with external reality than others; certainly I am convinced that there are some things that can never be explained by science or materialism; more convinced that the couter-assertion that *everything* is ultimately explainable by scientific principles and hence there is no such thing as ‘the supernatural’.

  • Sunfish

    Pa Annoyed

    If the problem is simply the existence of a “God shaped hole” in people’s minds, then why cannot any God or Goddess fill it?

    If the hole has a definite shape, then only a God(s) with the same shape will fill it properly. Which means that a Muslim won’t get any satisfaction out of my weird Quakerish-Buddhistic sort of Anglicanism I’ve got going on here, and I’ll get little from Judaism and so on.

    That is, if you insist on us taking analogies as far as they were meant to go and then a few AU beyond. I don’t have a problem milking good analogies and bad puns for all that they’re worth and more. It’s a pleasant night for stealing WiFi from my neighbors for the greater glory of philosophy.

    Kevin B:

    The desire to boss people about or kill them if they demur is a human trait

    FTW

    that’s been about since before we were humans, but Islam seems to embody this particularly nasty trait in it’s core scriptures,

    Some people take longer to outgrow childish behavior than others. I spent most of today dealing with a toddlerlike sense of appropriate behavior from adults older than me, I don’t have a problem believing that some cultures will take longer than others to move beyond the same.

    so it’s a bit difficult to appeal to the moderates among muslims, (of which I’m sure there are many), since they don’t want their heads sawn off either.

    Intimidation by the greater asshats is no doubt a factor[3] but I submit that it’s not the only one. I have friends from Bosnia. They’re Muslim. They’re not wild and violent[2]. I have no fear that they will behead me if we go out to lunch together and I order a beer. Part of that is surely cultural: they’re not Arab or Persian. Their culture is Slavic, which makes it western to some greater or lesser degree, which means that their Islam is informed by western values at least slightly.

    Without much personal knowledge, my understanding is that Indian and Indonesian Muslims aren’t that far apart from the rest of Indian/Indonesian society. Which makes me wonder how much of the nastiness is the religion and how much is the metacontext in which the religion is practiced.

    [1] Is that the correct word?

    [2] Except when someone asks if they’re Serbian, Croat, or Russian. I don’t agree with that sort of collective hatred, but I can sort of understand where they get it.

    [3] ..as it is for normal people who live in areas populated by the Klan, although that’s rather less a problem than it used to be.

  • Sunfish, culture and religion are inseparable, they are like chicken and egg (atheism and agnosticism being religions for the purpose of this argument). It is no accident that Islam came out of Arabia, it is more of an accident that it managed to reach the Balkans.

    I agree about ‘outgrowing childish behavior’. Cultures (and religions) can change. MEMRI is worth watching for early signs of that happening in the ME.

  • Ian B,
    Simple legal codes incorporated into a religion are not any validation of the religion itself. The nonsense is “thou shalt not steal because God says so”, which effectively reduces any concept of ethics or morals to an external code imposed- literally- from above.

    I don’t buy that. Christianity at least, to my knowledge, accepts the idea that some concepts are logically prior to God. Example God didn’t make the natural numbers odd and even, they just are that way, otherwise they wouldn’t be natural numbers. I suspect on most moral issues God (a Christian one anyway) acts as a judge, not a legislator.

    This is my understanding anyway and it is informed by the large amount of neo-platonic thought the early church hoovered up.

    Allah on the other hand makes everything up on the hoof.

    Sunfish is right to point out that our God-shaped holes do vary. Because well… I’m sick to the back teeth of the “all religions are basically the same” schtick. It’s total multi-culti touchy-feely rot. No wonder the idea appeals to the likes of a Commie like Dr Williams. I’m not even sure how useful a term “religion” actually is to cover them all.

    Pa,
    I’d forgotten that about Ramanujan. He’s not alone though. If you don’t know anything about him I suggest you Google “George Green”. He was a completely self-taught mathematician who went from running a windmill to having a fellowship at Cambridge. You say Ramanujan’s notebooks are less “mythological” than religious scripture. On the basis of my (very) limited knowledge of number theory I’m calling you on that. To the likes of a humble physicist like me they’d be positively occult.

  • Accident Alisa?

    If you were a Byzantine it was a bloody catastrophe!

  • guy herbert

    Canker, Gregory,

    You have both completely mistaken my point. My post points out that someone is reasonable in the sense of bearable company doesn’t mean he has necessarily any better reason for being so than the fanatic has for being a nuisance.

    My own position is that I am willing to expose my beliefs and suppositions to test. I don’t claim my physical beliefs as “revealed” by nature in the same way that religious beliefs are generally claimed to be revealed by the gods. They are necessarily provisional.

    My moral beliefs generally derive explicitly from personal preferences and from consequential analysis. This doesn’t necessarily put me in a different position from the religious, but I’m not kidding myself about the nature of my authority.

  • Paul Marks

    Only a small minority of Christians (including traditionalist Christians – who are almost all Christians) actually hold the position that “right and wrong are, by definition, whatever God says they are”.

    That position (the position that “right and wrong – good and evil” are just names for the arbitrary will of God) is called “voluntarism” and is held by extreme Calvinists and …. – well they are virtually the only Christians who do believe that.

    Most traditional Christiains (who, again, are the great majority of Christians) believe something closer to “natural law is God’s law, and if God did not exist natural law would be exactly the same”.

    Yes traditional Christians do tend to hold that homosexual acts are sins (not crimes by the way, the bishop with his execute stuff was off base – and, no doubt, put on by the B.B.C. because he was off base). But this is nothing to do with “being homosexual”.

    Some people may be more likely to commit some sins than other people (for all sorts of reasons), but it is the sin that is the sin (not the nature of the person that is the sin).

    And this is not changed by the idea of sin by thought.

    Natural law reasoning (and ethical reasoning) is rather more complex than you present it -and is certainly not arbitrary.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Nick M,

    Yes, there have been a lot of self-taught mathematicians about. I have long been an admirer of Sophie Germain, too.

    But I’m not aware that any of them claimed their works were divinely inspired as directly as Ramanujan did.

    “Occult” is a very good description. While mathematicians don’t take Ramanujan’s claims of divine inspiration seriously, I think most would agree that if anyone were to contact the sort of entity that could create the universe, you’d be far more likely to get hyper-advanced mathematics than you would rules on how to have sex. Most religion is just so very human. It’s so depressing the way people don’t see it.

    But perhaps I just have the wrong shaped hole in my head.

    Gregory,

    “I am convinced that there are some things that can never be explained by science or materialism”

    Certainly, but is there any reason to think religion can do a better job?

    Sunfish,

    “Which makes me wonder how much of the nastiness is the religion and how much is the metacontext in which the religion is practiced.”

    It depends on whether you define Islam as what Muslims believe, or what they’re supposed to believe. I know a fair few people who would claim to be CofE but who wouldn’t be able to tell you what was in the Sermon on the Mount. Are they Christian, just because they say they are?

    With Islam, the nastiness is quite definitely in the religion. To what extent modern ‘nominal’ Muslims really believe in the tenets of Islam is a complicated question. The answer, when push comes to shove, is probably “too much”, but it’s a bad idea to generalise. It may surprise people to know most Muslims can’t even read Arabic, and recite sounds that are largely meaningless to them. It would hardly be surprising if they were ignorant or neglectful of a lot of the rest of it. But all the bad bits? I don’t know. If asked I would say I oppose Islam wholeheartedly, but I try to judge Muslims on their individual merits. Many of the other “throbbing-veined antimussulmen” I’m sure would say the same.

  • Sunfish

    I know a fair few people who would claim to be CofE but who wouldn’t be able to tell you what was in the Sermon on the Mount.

    Maybe they needed to clean out their ears so that they weren’t hearing “Blessed are the cheesemakers…Blessed are the Greeks!” Personally, I always thought the entire fait derives from what Jesus told the adultress and the people who wanted to stone her, but I think I’m in a minority.

    And your reply to Gregory:

    Certainly, but is there any reason to think religion can do a better job?

    I thought that was the role of religion: to explain things that weren’t subject to observation or any of the various flavors of the scientific method. Whether or not it does a good job of it is another question, but if not religion for these questions, then what?

  • Pa Annoyed

    “Maybe they needed to clean out their ears…”

    I think the problem was that they never heard it in the first place. A lot of people in Britain learnt all they know of Christianity in primary school or thereabouts, and it’s heavily sanitised for the kiddies. (They don’t even do the really cool stories, like Balaam and his amazing talking donkey, which I’m sure would be a big hit.) Their understanding of Christianity is a bunch of vaguely remembered bowdlerised morality tales told in school assembly, what I call “fluffy bunny” Christianity, and they count themselves Christian because there’s nothing they strongly disagree with in it, and it’s traditional and they’re considered nice people and it’s sort of expected. Telling people you’re not religious might be considered rude. But you only have to look at the statistics on the official number of Christians in this country, and how many of them go to church.

    I do sometimes have fun with even regular churchgoers who generally know their stuff, quoting the disreputable bits of the Bible they don’t do in Church. (Moses and the Midianites and Dinah’s brothers with the people of Shechem are my favourites, but I also like to pretend surprise at them eating gravy and other products made from blood – recalling Acts 15:28-29.) You can’t expect ordinary people to know it all. But I suspect the average American Christian would be horrified at what we’re calling ‘Christians’ over here. Or maybe that’s a stereotype, and you guys are much the same?

    “Whether or not it does a good job of it is another question, but if not religion for these questions, then what?”

    If that isn’t the question, then what’s the point? If you don’t care whether it’s right, just so long as you have an answer, then it seems to me that anything would do. Magic 8 ball. TV-show plot lines. Make it up.

    I’ve often found that if there isn’t any possibility of a good answer from reason, it’s because the question doesn’t really make sense. Or it isn’t that science can’t answer it, but that people don’t like the answer. But sometimes the truth is simply that we don’t know, and possibly never will. Which for the sake of keeping life interesting, is no bad thing.

  • Laird

    Nietzsche was right; Christianity is a “slave morality”, as it associates “goodness” with meekness and subservience. Islam, despicable as it is, at least has some balls.

    Give me pastfarianism any time!

  • Guy,
    You have both completely mistaken my point
    Read your own last paragraph again.

    Reason is about deduction (or possibly inference): deductive logic essentially allows only one method-modus ponens. No logic allows the deduction that anything is true without the affirmation that some statement is true (or false – which is the same thing as it is simply the affirmation of the contradiction [in the presence of the Law of the Excluded Middle and if you’re throwing that out then we aren’t speaking the same meta-language and I’d like to sell you some insurance].
    In other words , you have to have presuppositions to deduce or infer any damn thing. They can be relative presuppositions, but then they need to have been derived from other presuppositions and so on, until you get back to absolute presuppositions. So, when you say “It is the opposite of reason. All of it.” you are mistaken. Or more precisely, you are making a category error. This stuff does not admit of reasonable analysis. It is the sort of stuff you need before you start with reasonable analysis.

    Before you start condemning me as a dribbling Neanderthal you might check up on where you got the idea that the Universe was rational (i.e. describable by natural laws). You won’t find that idea in Islamic theology, sure enough. You won’t find that idea in any pre-monotheistic culture. Natural laws and the idea that morality is not God-given do, however, form part of the bedrock of Judaism and Christianity-indeed those two, I would argue, are where humanity got these absolute presuppositions from (and the monotheistic Platonists).

  • Gregory

    Mr herbert: yeah, what Canker said. Although if I misunderstand, well, I am not any more enlightened so I welcome further clarification.

    Pa Annoyed: I believe we have a failure to communicate here.

    Science is a process, really. At least, the scientific method is. Science, therefore, can be described as the knowledge/information/data/whatever that is obtained from (as the result of) the scientific knowledge. Technology, therefore, is teh result of applying that knowledge (‘scientia’) to a particular need.

    It used to be called natural philosophy; the knowledge gained from observing the natural world.

    But this knowledge, this scientia must fit together in a framework of seeing the world. That framework is supplied, necessarily, by something other than the scientific method.

    We usually call that ‘something other’ as ‘religion’. Well, that and metaphysics, but metaphysics has been overused and abused, so I prefer the term religion (which has also been overused and abused, but what to do?)

    Science/the physical world/universe encompasses everything? That’s a religious statement to be found in two movements closely related to each other; Scientism and Materialism.

    Even atheism makes several religious claims; namely:

    1. There is no God or gods; nor more powerful spiritual being equivalents.
    2. There is no afterlife; this life is it.
    3. The Universe and everything in it came as a result of random processes and accidents – no intelligence/sentience was part of its overall formation.
    4. There are no absolutes imposed by an absolute authority.

    Or something like that. Which are RELIGIOUS statements. However, if you say, rather, there is no EVIDENCE of such, hence my personal beliefs that 1-4 is true, then that is in itself irrational (because to hold those statements as true, either they are a priori, or there is strong enough evidence of such).

  • Laird

    I accept that the refusal to believe in a supernatural, all-powerful deity can itself be considered to be in the nature of a religious tenet, just as much as can acceptance of a traditional religion. Both have at their core a nonprovable belief. The difference, obviously, is that the religious person sees no evidence and therefore posits a cause, whereas the atheist sees no evidence and refuses to invent a cause simply as a means of making himself feel better in his ignorance.

    But it itself that really doesn’t matter. If you want to believe that life, the universe and everything was created by some all-powerful being, and I prefer to believe that it all came out of a Big Bang, there’s really no meaningful difference between the two. Both seek to describe a “first cause”, and neither is likely to be provable. Where I draw the line, however, and where I find religion (especially organized religion) to be both irrational and (generally) offensive, is when you move beyond the concept of a Great Creator and into the realm of an anthromorphic, human-focused god who cares about ephemera such as human sexual preferences, or whether you consume (or refrain from consuming) some particular food on some particular day. Absolutely arrant nonsense. A god powerful enough to create the universe shouldn’t need “worship” from the likes of us, and any which does isn’t worthy of it.

    As I said earlier, it’ll stick with Pastafarianism. At least it’s rational.

  • Laird,

    The difference, obviously, is that the religious person sees no evidence and therefore posits a cause, whereas the atheist sees no evidence and refuses to invent a cause”.

    You still haven’t got it, have you. Some people have seen evidence of a God. If it’s indirect and sufficiently tasteful and abstract we say they are religious. If it’s too direct then we call them “nutters”.
    Essentially, we say they’re a nutcase because we don’t believe their report of their sensory data. We don’t believe that they’ve seen an angel. They’re a nutter because they claim to have seen an angel. We don’t believe them because people don’t see angels. People don’t see angels because angels don’t exist. Angels don’t exist because our absolute preconceptions are that what we see is all there is, there is no God and no manifestations of God.

    I put it to you that if you saw a flying spaghetti monster you would immediately conclude that you were hallucinating. So let’s have no more of this pastafarian nonsense. It wasn’t funny the first time and it’s mindnumbingly boring now.

  • The commandment about “not taking the name of the Lord in vain” is about this exactly. It’s not about bad language or even false promises. It is about forging God’s signature underneath your own words. We Christians are nowhere near careful enough about this. It is a grave risk to declare what God wants – witness the words Scripture has to say about false prophets.

    In comment to the more general theism/atheism argument, both sides rather tire me with their second-hand arguments that they haven’t really thought through, but more especially the atheists. The sport seems to be to find someone in a lower league than yourself and pummel him, avoiding those in your own league or higher. You may not find an NT Wright or a CS Lewis (or gasp! an Aquinas or Augustine) persuasive, but you should at least pit your belief against the stronger representatives of a creed before you dismiss it. Much of what is written here has been dealt with in a paragraph of Lewis.

    There is evidence for a thousand things, not all of them true; there is proof of very little. The events that happen around us might point to even contradictory things on their own. It is the aggregate of evidence, and choosing what is most likely, that is more important.

  • dan

    this post is littered with shockingly ill-informed and morally/culturally relativistic nonsense.

  • Mwalimu Daudi

    The oxymoron ‘true faith’ invariably means the model of a religion, his own or someone else’s, that the speaker prefers, the one that gives him the most explicable, grippable, world.

    That is a pretty sweeping statement that I don’t think you can back up. I may not be able to justify a particular mathematical theorem (I am a mathematician), but that does not automatically mean that the theorem is false, let alone false and the product of wishful thinking.

  • Celebrim

    Since when did Derrida become fahionable in these circles?

    If religioius texts are infinitely mallable, then all texts are infinitely mallable. Texts either say things or they don’t. We can either come to a close agreement on what a text means, or we should cease bothering trying to communicate for there is no point in writing or speaking.

    Your post is the opposite of reason. All of it.

  • Bob

    I find it ironic that those who spend the most time extolling the immense power, and vision of an omnipotent God are those who also give him the most mundane understanding of the universe.

    If there is an omniscient, omnipotent, immortal being in the universe that has always exists and always will, who operates in timeframes of billions of years, and sees the entirety of the universe in his/her field of view, how can anyone hope to know what God thinks?

    A flea would have an easier time figuring out how a human thinks than we could possibly understand the mind of a God.

  • Captain Ramen

    Most traditional Christiains (who, again, are the great majority of Christians) believe something closer to “natural law is God’s law, and if God did not exist natural law would be exactly the same”.

    I think Dr. Gene Scott put it best in one of his sermons (please note that I am paraphrasing): ‘If God wanted to cut you down this instant He would be perfectly justified in doing so, because by definition whatever He does is justified. The reason I worship him is not becuse He will do these terrible things to me, but because he can but chooses not to.’

    My moral beliefs generally derive explicitly from personal preferences and from consequential analysis. This doesn’t necessarily put me in a different position from the religious, but I’m not kidding myself about the nature of my authority.

    If right and wrong doesn’t come from above, then all fact is reduced to opinion. And since a simple majority of you Britons (via your parliament) agree that income should be redistributed, or that you should become another Soviet Republik of the EU, you have nothing but your own opinion to counter it.

    The bishop in question apparently forgot the story of the woman who was about to be stoned to death. ‘Let any of you who hath no sin cast the first stone.’ But Jesus also told the woman ‘now go and sin no more.’

    The bible was never meant to be taken literally (other than the history of the jewish people), but rather it all needs to be put in context. That’s the problem of taking it literally… people end up picking the parts that they like (i.e., their personal opinions) and throwing out the rest.

  • Celebrim

    “The oxymoron ‘true faith’ invariably means the model of a religion, his own or someone else’s, that the speaker prefers, the one that gives him the most explicable, grippable, world.” – Guy Herbert

    “That is a pretty sweeping statement that I don’t think you can back up.” – Mwalimu Daudi

    By his own standards, it doesn’t matter whether he can back it up, its still useless babble. The problem with his statement is that it is also in the class of statements in which there is an assertion of truth for which there can be no test which demonstrates the falseness of the theorem.

    He also fails to note the irony in the claim, in as much as it is a model of religion (as being utterly dismissable) that gives Guy Hebert what is to him the most ‘explicable, grippable, world’. That of course does nothing to prove his assertion, and it would be nice if Mr. Hebert showed any of the ‘self-doubt’ he is demanding in others.

  • Celebrim

    “A god powerful enough to create the universe shouldn’t need “worship” from the likes of us, and any which does isn’t worthy of it.”

    Interestingly, orthodox Christianity asserts the truth of both statements.

    a) God doesn’t doesn’t need our worship.
    b) Anything we do or offer him isn’t worthy of his love.

    I think those two truths are somewhat self-evident given you accept a first cause and generally non-contriversial amongst extant religious traditions. It’s where you go from there that is interesting.

  • George

    You wrote: “The assertion of ‘truth’ is meaningless without the possibility of falsehood.” Is this assertion itself falsifiable? If it is, how can we use it as a critique of religion? If it isn’t, why should anyone believe it?

  • Citizen Grim

    “It is the opposite of reason. All of it.”

    Ah, absolutism! Unarguably, the most reasonable position of all…!

  • Citizen Grim

    Also, +15 points to Celebrim for this:

    “If religioius texts are infinitely mallable, then all texts are infinitely mallable. Texts either say things or they don’t. We can either come to a close agreement on what a text means, or we should cease bothering trying to communicate for there is no point in writing or speaking.

    Your post is the opposite of reason. All of it.”

    Heh. Ouch. 🙂

  • Silly people. As a vet I speak for God.

    Er. sorry, dyslexic moment.

    I speak for dog.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Canker,

    “In other words , you have to have presuppositions to deduce or infer any damn thing.”

    Yes, any logical system has to start from a set of axioms which are input externally. In the scientific method, these are the result of inventing many possible explanations and keeping those that prove necessary and useful and survive the test of observation.

    “You won’t find that idea in any pre-monotheistic culture.”

    I think the Eleatic school developed a lot of the essential idea, and the Greeks in general were the origin of the Western tradition of relying on reason rather than divine authority. The Greeks of course were polytheists, and none the worse for it. Nothing of the sort seems to have emerged from the Biblical era of monotheism AFAIAA, although there are large parts that came later as Christians followed the Greeks’ path. But there are also large and essential parts of the scientific philosophy that are post-Christian too. A lot has been claimed for the Christian contribution to the foundations of Western thought, but in my view most of them were attempts to resolve the conflicts of religion with Greek-inspired rationality, rather than originating from Christian doctrine. But I would never condemn anyone as a dribbling Neanderthal for holding a different view.

    Gregory,

    “But this knowledge, this scientia must fit together in a framework of seeing the world. That framework is supplied, necessarily, by something other than the scientific method.”

    I’m not sure I follow that. The scientific method develops an explanatory framework as part of the way it works, but I suspect that’s not what you’re talking about. Can you give an example?

    “Science/the physical world/universe encompasses everything?”
    No, and it’s never claimed to. But the question is not whether science does, but whether there is any reason to think anything else can do better?

    Not all those ‘religious’ claims are made by all atheists, although they might be common.

    1. I’ll agree is atheist as a matter of definition. Science does actually have something to say regarding hypothesised deities that interfere in the world or in history (including by talking to people), in that we can (in principle) observe that. More Deist deities that merely implement natural laws or who live elsewhere entirely are unobservable, and rejected only by Occam’s razor. The question of whether they might exist is the purely religious one. But if they are entirely unobservable, how did the religious originators first find out about them?

    2. does not logically follow from 1. It’s possible to posit an afterlife without a deity to preside over it, and people have. (e.g. Buddhism, but I’ve seen the idea explored in science fiction too.) Conversely, even if there were a God, there doesn’t have to be an afterlife. Either way, the idea has a lot of logical difficulties that are hard to get around. Life is a process, not a thing, and when a process stops there is no “essence of process” to continue a ghostly existence. You have to make the claim that the person is somehow copied into another ‘material’ form (not necessarily any form of mundane matter, but something in which to express the pattern, subject to restrictions on its behaviour to ensure the pattern is preserved over time), and then you have to ask questions about what physics that form obeys, and what that means for the faithfulness of the reproduction.

    Generally speaking, this one is such obvious wish-fulfilment and so badly thought out in detail that I find it hard to see how anyone could take it very seriously. Nevertheless, once science figures out how to download people into computers, we may have something to discuss.

    3. isn’t actually what science claims. This charge is normally laid regarding the theory of natural selection, but in fact natural selection is anything but random. That’s rather the point. The theory of natural selection comes in two parts – random mutations and selective success or failure to reproduce before dying. It’s the latter that is the core of the process, that is the source of progress, and it only works to the extent that who dies isn’t random, but dependent on the genetically determined form. If you take the philosophical stance known as strong AI, then any physical system that can solve general problems can be called “intelligent”, and this definition applies to genes undergoing this process, and quite possibly to more fundamental physics too. (Although most of the latter happens because the maths says it’s the only way that it could happen.) There’s a lot more I could say on this topic, but I’ll spare you the essay.

    4. I assume you’re talking about moral absolutes here. Science can certainly discuss meta-morality – to say what morals are, what they’re for, how they originate, what rules they do and don’t follow. It is true that they can’t pick out any privileged moral system as correct, although it could probably comment on how well one achieved its purpose.

    Moral systems are like languages. Just as one is the result of a human instinct to enable people to cooperate and work together, so the other is a human instinct to enable them to live together. Like language, they are a mixture of common high-level structures essential to this purpose, and arbitrary details that don’t matter so long as everyone uses the same convention. Every language has a different and arbitrary vocabulary of sounds and symbols, but every language has verbs and nouns that work in essentially the same way. Every moral system has different particular rules and rituals, but common themes of there being categories of the forbidden, allowed, and compulsory, property ownership, justice, dispute resolution, limits on violence, assigning value to a person’s reputation, and so on.

    Science has a lot to say regarding morality, and we are only just starting to unpick how it all works. But science can no more judge their correctness than it can say the English words for things are “correct” and all foreigners get it wrong. It can say whether a language is more expressive, or efficient, or prone to ambiguity, but not whether it is “right”. Note, that doesn’t mean that things are entirely fluid in the sense that moral relativism often takes it, the moral equivalent of saying that there is no such thing as correct English – grammatical and correctly spelt. Language has a purpose, to allow people to communicate, and grammatical but ambiguous constructions defeat it. Likewise, morality has a purpose, and rules that lead to people not getting along defeat it. That’s in an absolute sense.

    Morality is a part of the way people are built, and while complicated and poorly understood, is not nearly as mysterious as they imagine. But I can understand that this viewpoint isn’t popular with moral absolutists.

    Assistant Village Idiot,

    I debate who I find. If C S Lewis wants to come here and present an argument, I’ll happily discuss it.
    (I’ve read a fair amount of Alvin Plantinga’s work, does that count?)

    I more-or-less agree with your final paragraph (Was that Lewis? Reference?), but fail to see how it bears on the question. Perhaps you could elucidate?

  • AST

    As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe in current and ongoing revelation from God, but the first modern-day prophet, Joseph Smith, wrote that “no power or authority can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood (ecclesiastical authority), only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

    “By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—”

    God speaks for God, and his views are seldom in step with mankind’s current conventional wisdom and political correctness. He has no degree in divinity, nor requires one.

  • Alt Numlock

    And in thus declaring on behalf of God (or the lack thereof) that no one can possibly speak for God, you thereby speak for God, rendering yourself no better than those you decry. It could be that God wants particular people to speak for Him. Yet you declare on God’s behalf that this could not possibly be what God wants. In fact, your declaration of what God wants seems to trump all the others. Mighty presumptuous, I’d say. How dare you?

  • Seerak

    Reason is about deduction (or possibly inference): deductive logic essentially allows only one method-modus ponens.

    Reason consists of both inductive and deductive processes. Induction is how we go from the givens of perception to the wider abstract concepts, including the wides ones such as existence and identity.

    Even atheism makes several religious claims; namely:

    1. There is no God or gods; nor more powerful spiritual being equivalents.
    2. There is no afterlife; this life is it.
    3. The Universe and everything in it came as a result of random processes and accidents – no intelligence/sentience was part of its overall formation.
    4. There are no absolutes imposed by an absolute authority.

    This is psychological projection at its best — one that I’ve always found a funny one, because the religionists are effectively trying to declare that atheism is no better than religion, as if they were unaware that the same logic says that atheism is as good as religion — in which case, what exactly are they knocking?

    Anyway, the real issue that the religionists will evade, and must always evade, is that atheism is not a positive belief of any sort. It is simply a consequence of the recognition that there is a test *before* the question of truth or falsehood, which any assertion must pass in the affirmative before it can be evaluated as true or false.

    This test is how we detect and filter out made-up bullshit — technically known as the arbitrary — apart from those assertions that represent potential new knowledge about the world that are worth investingating — these we know as the possible.

    It consists of the question “Is this assertion evidence-based?” If the answer is “no”, then there is no information, nothing real to be addressed. Making an arbitrary claim is therefore cognitively inconsequential — it’s just noise. Arbitrary claims don’t even qualify to be evaluated as true or false; thusly, they are not even wrong.

    Given this, the argument that “there is no evidence *against* my assertion, therefore you must grant that it is possible, otherwise you are the one making arbitrary claims” is a common religionist ruse, that relies on a stolen concept and is calculated to exploit the fact that most people are not really aware of this earlier test; when considering such things, they ask the “true or false” question first. This does the same thing to your mind that swallowing food whole does to your digestion; it eventually clogs and paralyzes the process.

    The onus of evidence is on the positive claim; evidence must exist for the question of truth versus falsehood to even apply. The “God” concept has not met this test.

    Note also that evidence must be more than a mere fact; “evidence” is facts that bear a demonstrable relationship to the assertion in question, else what you have is a non sequitur. In other words, for something to be considered as “evidence” it must actually point the way towards something, not be merely “inexplicable”; an inexplicable fact or event is evidence of something, but it is not yet evidence of something in particular.

    This particular dodge is related to the “God of the Gaps” argument, and is the one Canker is using in his 3:29PM post.

    Contrary to his claim, no actual evidence of the existence of God has ever been found or presented. People going around saying “I can’t explain it, therefore it must be God’s doing” is evidence of people who don’t know what happened (or is happening), no more.

    The Spaghetti Monster remains therefore, an eloquent and as yet unanswered concretization of arbitrary ideas.

    Strictly speaking, “atheism” is a misnomer; what is commonly referred to by that term actually isn’t about God at all, but is part of a blanket rejection of all arbitrary claims — and as such is therefore not any kind of positive claim. Calling atheism “religious” therefore makes as much sense as declaring that one’s refusal to eat dog feces, as part of a general refusal to eat *any* feces, nevertheless somehow constitutes a positive affinity for bird poop.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    God’s easy enough. If we work the way the world works, then since we experience ourselves as working by will, it follows that the rest of the world also works by will.

    Since the objection of the ‘subjectivity’ of this argument will inevitably be raised, I point out that our experience of ourselves is the only direct access we have to how the world works.

    God’s details, however, remain obscure.

  • Non-active Mormon

    So, AST, please explain why the leadership of the LDS church wants to use the rule of law in California to maintain moral power or authority. Why does the LDS church do the same internally? Fact is, the LDS general authorities don’t believe in Joseph Smith’s adage any more than Joseph Smith did.

    And the revelation on blacks and the priesthood seemed awfully convenient, even politically correct. So did the relatively recent pronunciations on tattoos and earrings. The LDS God, in fact, seems to respond pretty contemporaneously and conveniently.

  • Tex Taylor

    “If there is an omniscient, omnipotent, immortal being in the universe that has always exists and always will, who operates in timeframes of billions of years, and sees the entirety of the universe in his/her field of view, how can anyone hope to know what God thinks?”

    As a Christian, I believe Christ answered this in the first Chapter of the Gospel John…

    That is, unless His word doesn’t count either.

    A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.
    ~ C. S. Lewis

  • Inductive logic …pah! that’s not logic. We may use it
    but it’s just the voice of experience and as some other
    dweeb said the only direct evidence we have of anything is our subjective experience of the world. Most of the commenters here just haven’t taken that on board. Most scientists haven’t taken that on board. the great pseudodeity Richard Dawkins (PBUH) has apparently never taken it on board.

    Oh, what’s the point. One tries and tries but …just sod it.

    Have a bit of good will everybody and try a little respect!

    Every time I listen to an atheist and a theist talking I become a little more theist.

  • rfortuin

    Canker, I am with 100%, well said!

  • rfortuin

    Canker, I am with you 100%, well said!

  • Gregory

    Seerak posits that:

    This is psychological projection at its best — one that I’ve always found a funny one, because the religionists are effectively trying to declare that atheism is no better than religion, as if they were unaware that the same logic says that atheism is as good as religion — in which case, what exactly are they knocking?

    Nothing, really. As long as everybody admits it, I’m fine.

    Here’s the problem. Atheists act as if they’re the only ones around without a religion, and therefore the only secular people in the world. Hence, because the USA and many other countries are supposed to be secular, then only atheists and/or atheistic values do not violate the conceptual ‘separation between church and state’.

    No, you do not get away with that. Either your belief system makes some pretty unequivocal truth claims about the state of the universe and supernatural powers, or it is entirely useless. You seek to drive education, justice, usage of public property, morality, ethics, science, technology pretty much all of civilisation in accordance with your belief that there is no god and/or we’re not accountable to anyone but ourselves.

    Because I believe atheists have a religion, they should be subject to exactly the same limitations as all other religions; namely, that there be a separation of church and state where such a concept exists, for instance.

    Seerak goes on:

    Anyway, the real issue that the religionists will evade, and must always evade, is that atheism is not a positive belief of any sort.

    Well, here’s the problem, though; the term ‘atheist’ is derived from ‘a’ meaning without, and ‘theos’ meaning God (or god). So, it does seem that atheism is a positive belief system after all.

    Here’s another way of looking at it. Logic states that either A or not-A is true; it cannot be that A and not-A are both true.

    A. There is (at least) a God.
    not-A. There is no God.

    We usually call those who say A is true ‘theists’ and those who say not-A is true ‘atheists’.

    Again, what might your response be? That this question is irrelevant? Whether Bigfoot exists or not I consider irrelevant also, but that does not change the truth value of proposition one bit

    Similarly, the FSM’s existence is also not impacted by my belief or lack thereof.

    Please tell me how you can call yourself atheist without affirming not-A as above. This is the bloody definition, for crying out loud.

    Or perhaps I misunderstand atheism completely. Perhaps judging by the more famous atheist ‘representatives’ such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Peter Singer and Friedrich Nietszche is not the right thing to do, considering their militant, almost evangelical zeal to promote atheism. Maybe they’re better labelled anti-theist instead.

    So, Seerak, why don’t you tell me exactly what your belief towards God is? And don’t say, ‘none’. Or rather, go ahead, but try not to evade the natural consequences of your statement.

    “I don’t believe in ghosts” is semantically equivalent to saying “I believe in no ghosts” i.e. ‘There are no ghosts”. Many atheists try to weasel out of it; but the fact is, all negative statements have equivalent positive statements. Saying that A is not true (i.e. A is false) is equivalent to saying not-A is true. And however you want to word it, this was always true, is always true now, and will always be true, world without end.

    You know how this ends. 🙂

  • “The problem is that religious texts are almost infinitely re-interpretable.”

    Odd. The original post is a religious text. It’s certainly a text and it is about religion, yet everyone here seems to be able to understand what it says and basically agree on what it means.

    Of course we could come up with an infinite number of alternative interpretations of what GH was saying, so in theory his writings are “infinitely re-interpretable”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to grasp an accurate understanding of his words (and of mine!).

    If none of us have any hope of understanding one another, why are going through the illusion of engaging in communication?

  • Gregory: spot on. That’s why I call myself an agnostic, rather than atheist. I tend to think that there is no god, as I have seen no convincing evidence to the contrary. But I am not prepared to unequivocally assert that there is no god, until I am presented with a convincing evidence of such non-existence (if it is even possible, which I think it isn’t).

    Now, I wouldn’t go as far as calling atheism a religion. I would rather go only half way there: I would speak of ideologies, some of which involve a deity, and some don’t. Atheism is a class of its own: it involves all possible deities, in that it is based on a blanket denial of the existence of all and any of them.

  • Gregory

    Dear Alisa;

    Commendations on intellectual honesty! Isaac Asimov, who was one of my favourite authors in my youth, said pretty much the same thing; he was personally leaning towards atheism, but his intellect forced him to remain agnostic.

    I also agree that the term ‘religion’ is so wide and encompassing that if you specifically defined it one way (sociologically, for instance), you would exclude some faiths. But have a look at this; (I’m lazy, so I don’t know how accurate this is, but it seems legit)

    Linky here

    1. Practised in groups.
    Check. Atheists are rarely alone; they may be called Secularists, Humanists, Pastafarians, but they certainly work in groups. Probably even an Association of Atheists somewhere around.

    2. Beliefs that make up the structure of the ‘religion’.
    Yup. Namely, the beliefs I posited as above.

    3. Practices of the group.
    Well, here’s a harder one, but militant evangelism seems about right. Derision of the beliefs of theists, attempts to persuade them to turn to the light (so to speak), materialism (this life is all there is), I think they sorta qualify. Perhaps one of the things that you can see a number of atheists doing is actively trying to deny others their religious practices, mostly if involving the public sphere.

    4. Set of morals.
    I ain’t touching this one, but suffice to say that for militant atheists at least, it is indeed immoral to teach children about religion. Or to deny ESCR. Or to make laws based on Judaeo-Christian teachings.

    5. Respect for the sacred.
    Here I throw my hands up. What constitutes sacredness to atheists? Closest I can come to is Darwin/Dawkins/Huxley, and even then I’d have to stretch.

    Nevertheless, you can see that atheism really does come quite close to being a full-fledged religion, and I would say that even if there are no official sacred cows, there are some de facto ones.

    Anyways, that long ramble was just to clear my own head, and also to point out that atheism is a belief system, if nothing else.

  • Sue

    Until the human race accepts full responsibility for its actions without parsing of any kind, then and only then will it no longer require a deity or ideology and we can consider them “grown up”…mature if you will. Until that time, there will be all kinds of deities, ideologies and a lack of understanding by all and the institution of “rules, laws and restrictions” to force adherence. It has been that way since the beginning and will continue for another long stretch of time. We are, after all, only toddlers on the way to being fully human beings.

  • Gregory, I was going to quibble over some of the paragraphs, but then I consulted etymology dictionary (as I often do), and realized that the term ‘religion’ does not necessarily involve a deity at all. So yes, it fits.

  • Midwesterner

    Usually when I have encountered passive atheists, they turned out to really be agnostics and just not care enough about the distinction to self identify correctly.

    But I have definitely encountered religious atheists who collared me with lapel grabbing fervor and demanded that I acknowledge the fundamental truth of their (a)theology. If you want to have some fun, put on an innocent face and tell them to prove there is no god. Virtually without exception, they react by demanding that I prove there is. Epistemology is never their strong suit. Nor lexicology.

  • Midwesterner: exactly! And I have an excuse for evangelical fervour, after all – “you’re going to hell unless you believe in the Gospel, which I or someone else have to communicate to you” kinda thought process.

    But what excuse do atheists have for hashing my cool? Will I be happier? Will I be safer? Will I know any more? Jeez.

    Pa Annoyed: sorry, moderators being lazy for a bit, I suspect.

    “But this knowledge, this scientia must fit together in a framework of seeing the world. That framework is supplied, necessarily, by something other than the scientific method.”

    I’m not sure I follow that. The scientific method develops an explanatory framework as part of the way it works, but I suspect that’s not what you’re talking about. Can you give an example?

    Sure thing. The scientific method absolutely relies on certain things being true (and unprovable by the scientific method, you understand), namely:

    1. ceteris paribus, you will always get the same results from the same actions, within experimental/measurement error.

    2. The natural world follows normally unvarying ‘rules’ and ‘laws’, and through experimentation, these can be discovered.
    2a. These rules cannot be bent or broken or otherwise modified as a result of ‘belief’.

    3. The branches of ‘hard science’; namely physics, chemistry, and biology, all operate within the realm of logic and reason, and can be described mathematically as a result.

    Where do these assumptions come from? They must come from outside, because empirically speaking, just because the first 1 million times pure water at 1Atm boils at 100 deg Celsius, doesn’t mean that it will do so the millionth and first.

    “Science/the physical world/universe encompasses everything?”
    No, and it’s never claimed to. But the question is not whether science does, but whether there is any reason to think anything else can do better?

    No? Then atheists subscribe to supernatural being and/or forces at work? And if so, why not the possibility of one such supernatural being to be the Judaeo-Christian God (for example; atheism does not even allow for Wicca)?

    Why is science/the scientific method insufficient? Because it cannot explain many, many things. Why people cling on to their beliefs so strongly. Why over 500 people could have claimed to have seen a risen Jesus. Why murderers kill. Why pedophiles exist when the object of their sexual desires cannot produce children.

  • Why is science/the scientific method insufficient? Because it cannot explain many, many things.

    Wrong. Potentially, science can explain everything*, including the existence of god(s)/ghosts/tooth fairies, if/when enough hard evidence to support it presents itself. The only reason these entities are considered supernatural, is because such hard evidence has been lacking so far.

    *

    Why people cling on to their beliefs so strongly. Why over 500 people could have claimed to have seen a risen Jesus. Why murderers kill. Why pedophiles exist when the object of their sexual desires cannot produce children.

    Ever heard of psychology? Human behavior by definition does not fall into the realm of hard science.

  • Ah, but Alisa, that’s why I specified the hard sciences above (admittedly, I was not as clear as I should have been). I am an a(soft/social sciences) kinda guy. I will admit to economics as having some basis in reality, I’ll grant psychiatry some basis as well, but the rest of them might as well be witch doctors waving acupuncture needles around to placate the gods.

    I mean, can you call anything a science when the results you get depend on whether someone broke up with someone, or whether the sun is shining, or whether the fellow read his horoscope that day or not? And I’m not talking about different people but the same person. (this is a hypothetical, but nevertheless representative). Okay, deviating off topic a little here. Just makuing my point clear; I’m an empiricist of the first order when it comes to observable phenomena.

    Wherefore, Alisa, when you say that potentially, science can exlain everything, you have just made the claim that science can be omniscient (science knows everything there is to know), and you have now become a member of the scientism church. 🙂

  • Gregory, I never said, nor do I think, that science (and humans in general) can know everything, only that it can explain anything it knows. If, for example, a natural phenomenon presents itself that justifies the establishment of a scientific hypothesis assuming the existence of god, that would be something the scientists know. They then would research that phenomenon, until they develop a theory that would explain it. That theory might include the existence of a god, or it might not. In neither case does it mean that they will ever know whether that god actually exists.