Thursday, May 13, 2010

Heap big woman you made a bad boy out of me

Just when I thought it was safe to come back to the blog, another nasty comment this morning. Honestly, loyal troll-readers, I have absolutely no interest in what you have to say, and I now enjoy consigning your comments to the abyss. No more First Amendment Guilt for Daisy! Yes, I once tossed and turned at night, torturing myself over whether I was unfairly denying people their right to insult me, but no longer. Once again, be advised.

Perhaps it is just impossible to have a public blog without assholes invading. I mean, that happens everyplace else, doesn't it? As my late mentor, Steve Conliff, used to say (he was specifically talking about the Yippies, but it's a great adage to keep in mind): If you let anybody in, then anybody will come in. I've noticed, over the years, that this is a rock-solid truth.

The troll was pissed off about my "lack of awareness" about fat; the continuing drama and foofaraw around this post. Never mind that I have probably been much fatter than the troll, for much longer. Trolls know everything, including what you should be blogging about.

I have NOT turned this blog into a "diet blog"--nor will I. But it's quite amazing to me that it is now apparently considered EVIL to try to heal oneself of something one considers limiting and debilitating. (?) Some of the "big" feminist and progressive bloggers constantly reference working out and doing yoga. Why are they allowed to do this without being censured, but I'm not? Amanda Marcotte looks like she weighs maybe 95 lbs soaking wet; you gonna climb her ass over her little wispy frame? Why doesn't she gain weight in solidarity with fat women? (Is that the next demand? Kit Reed's very witty short story titled "The Food Farm", comes to mind.) I can find twenty million lefty blogs in which the author talks about getting in shape for grueling triathlons, weight-training, marathons, 5K runs, afternoon yoga sessions, tennis, hiking, you name it. Speaking of class, God forbid some old working class redneck thinks any of this might be for her, too: You just stay fat, retail-worker grandma, and stay OUT of our 5K marathons! You just don't understand fat awareness, barked the rail-thin marathon-runner as they whizzed by. Um, okay.

The person who left the nasty comment this morning self-righteously announced that my awareness of "fat and class" was lacking, but until I get a good answer for why I am singled out as a baaaad, baaaaad girl for trying to salvage my overworked, overstressed knees and feet ... while none of these other (middle-class, college educated) people are called on the carpet for looking like skinny movie stars... well, I politely invite all people who think I lack "fat awareness" to go fuck themselves.

And the direct question I posed in the comments of the aforementioned post, still stands: Do you have a 400+ lbs best friend you lost before their time? (Well, I guess if you did, you'd shut the hell up and understand where I'm coming from, now wouldn't you?)

Meanwhile, lovely Thene showed me this wonderful set of posts about fat from Greta Christina's very readable and fascinating blog. (Aside: At some point, I'd like to argue atheism/religion with this person, since she seems basically respectful, not like some nasty atheists I won't name, who call me vicious names as a confirmed sky-fairy [1] believer and refuse to dialogue in a polite fashion.) Greta Christina has already grappled with some of the "fat awareness" issues I find most confusing, and has (rationally!) deconstructed some of the arguments from the fat-positive movement that I find most disturbing and contradictory. I have quoted some excerpts I especially relate to.

From The Fat-Positive Skeptic (Part 2 of 2):

I completely agree that the fat-positive movement does often trivialize the very serious, extensively documented, no-joke health risks of being fat. I think they focus on their political ideology about bodies and feminism, at the expense of the actual scientific facts on the ground. I think they're often guilty of wishful thinking: of acting as if the mere act of saying "Fat is as healthy as not-fat" over and over again will somehow make it true, regardless of the medical evidence. And I think they dismiss the fact that, while it's fairly easy to be a healthy, active fat person in your youth, it gets increasingly harder as you get older.
Ohhhhhh goodness mercy yes. This is the crux of it, for me. I found it pertinent that the people who became so angry with me for daring to diet are all significantly younger than I am, and do not work on their feet all day. It does make a difference.

And in the post I linked above, I was trying to talk about the American Problem with Fat, which got me roasted alive. But Greta Christina gets it, and goes further in her analysis than I did:
It's helped for me to think of this as a political issue. It helps to remember that the multinational food corporations have spent decades carefully studying the abovementioned evolutionary food triggers, so they can manipulate me into buying and eating way more food than is good for me. It helps to think of weight loss, not as giving in to the mainstream cultural standards of female beauty, but as sending a big "Fuck You" to the purveyors of quadruple-patty hamburgers and Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick.
...
There's a weird circularity to the arguments as well. "Weight loss never works... but when it does work, it's harmful... but even if it would be beneficial, it doesn't matter, because it never works." And the arguments are rife with logical absurdities. If set points can get re-set upwards with crash diets or poor eating and exercise habits, then why can't they be re-set downwards? If it's okay to accidentally lose weight as a side effect of a "health at every size" food and exercise plan, then why is it so unhealthy to consciously lose weight... even if the "conscious weight loss" plan is identical to the "health at every size" plan? If weight is genetically determined and diet and exercise have nothing to do with it, then why have Americans become so much heavier in the last 50 and indeed 20 years... and why do other cultures who start eating an American diet almost immediately start putting on weight?
This IS what I was trying to say, and thanks to Thene for referring me to someone who has already said it far better than I could.

In her "Open Letter to the Fat Positive Movement", Great Christina writes:
In addition, an unsettling tendency has apparently developed in the fat-positive movement: a tendency to take the most extreme positions -- no matter how logically absurd or morally repugnant -- simply to avoid having to concede any points whatsoever. Many fat-positive advocates insist that weight loss never, ever, ever works. Others insist that there are no health problems caused by any degree of fatness. Still others insist that even if some health problems are caused or exacerbated by fatness, weight loss is never, ever, ever the more healthy choice for anyone to make. Ever. Even if you weigh 400 pounds and have had three heart attacks… you still shouldn't try to lose weight. And if you're me, if you weigh 200 pounds and are having serious mobility impairment due to knee problems and have exhausted all other treatment options for it... forget about it. It's better to have a fourth heart attack, it's better to gradually lose mobility over the years to the point where you can no longer climb stairs or walk more than a block, than it is to try to demonstrate that any belief of the fat-positive movement might be mistaken.

I was frankly shocked at how callous most of the fat-positive advocates were about my bad knee. I was shocked at how quick they were to ignore or dismiss it. They were passionately concerned about the quality of life I might lose if I counted calories or stopped eating chocolate bars every day. But when it came to the quality of life I might lose if I could no longer dance, climb hills, climb stairs, take long walks, walk at all? Eh. Whatever. I should try exercise or physical therapy or something. Oh, I'd tried those things already? Well, whatever.
This is alarmingly similar to what happened to me... all my whiny blogging about my painful knees and feet (the conditions that finally brought me to the conclusion that weight loss was worth pursuing) was patently ignored. Instead I got (more or less, distilled to its essence): "Fuck your knees and feet! Fat rules!" (This is actually a type of ideological fundamentalism, which is why an atheist blogger like Greta Christina can spot this line of defense in a line-up.)
It is not up to you to decide for me that the costs of losing weight are greater than the costs of losing my knee. It is not up to you to decide for me that the long odds against successful long-term weight loss (roughly 10 to 1) mean that my attempt to treat my bad knee by losing weight isn't worth it. My body. My right to decide.

Let me ask you this. If you read a post from a blogger saying that they were a heavy drinker, but it was adversely affecting their health and they'd decided to quit... would you send them comments and emails saying, "Don't bother, it's a waste of time and energy, the overwhelming majority of problem drinkers who try to quit eventually fail, and the ones who succeed get obsessed with it and have to go to all these meetings for the rest of their lives and aren't any fun to be around any more, and anyway the connection between heavy drinking and poor health has been totally made up by our anti- drinking society, so instead you should just focus on being the most healthy drinker you can be"?

If not -- then why would you say it to someone who's losing weight?
Actually, I did hear that from a few people back in the day, now that I think of it.[2]

And they were wrong. I stopped. And after an admittedly-long while, I stopped the meetings too; I learned what I needed to learn and moved on to another aspect of my life. I simply cannot imagine 1) taking a drink after 28 years and 2) going to an AA meeting after so many years of not going; those people are all strangers to me now. But according to the myth, once you get sober through AA, you are a lifelong 12-step slave. Not true. (This is why I call myself "12-step fugitive" in my bio.)

And I wholeheartedly agree with this:
[If] the fat-positive movement wants to be a serious voice of opposition to the current scientific consensus, it needs to stop denying reality. It needs to stop with the circular reasoning, the cherry-picking of data, the "all or nothing" thinking, the taking of good ideas to ridiculous and repugnant extremes, the logical absurdities, the elaborate rationalizations, the insularity, the flat denial of simple facts that are staring them in the face. It needs to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads... even if where it leads is unpleasant or upsetting. It needs to stop with the true believerism. It needs to treat the principles of fat positivity as hypotheses that can be debated -- not as articles of faith.

And I heartily wish it would do that.

Because we really, really need a sane, evidence- based, reality-based fat-positive movement.
AMEN, AMEN! Preach it, preach it! (jokey jokey with the atheists!) Seriously, she is just so right.
I really, really want to be part of a sane, evidence- based, reality- based fat-positive movement. But it looks like I may have to find a way to do that on my own.
Well, I had to learn to forge a new kind of sobriety on my own, one that didn't classify mostly-harmless reefer with cocaine; one that didn't interrogate every single antihistamine with "Am I high? OMG, did it make me high?" I'm sure the atheist will laugh when I say that I felt I needed to CONFESS to AA every time I took an antihistamine, rather like that other type of confession. (the more things change, the more they stay the same) [3]

My thanks to Greta Christina for her incisive take on fat. This is why we need the atheists, for this kind of cut-to-the-quick stuff. I just wish they'd admit they need us too, to keep things endlessly wacky and interesting! ;)

~*~



[1] I see nothing wrong with believing in sky-fairies. When the atheists call me a deluded sky-fairy believer, my reply is always the same: What's wrong with fairies? I like fairies. I do NOT want to live in a world without fairies, magic, and similarly delightful irrationality, which is my whole point. When we can get to THIS stage of the discussion, then we'll be getting somewhere. Why is human "rationality" (as historically defined by white, male, educated, bourgeois, heterosexual men, of course) any more real or ethical than supposed "irrationality"--since the most "rational" people in history have often turned into mass-murderers and had all kinds of logical, rational, pragmatic reasons for it (yes, I'm looking at you, Josef Mengele... a very rational man, by all accounts).

Rationality is an illusion, and this means the atheists believe in a sky-fairy called rationality--and that is no different than my belief in sky-fairies, saints and tarot cards. Really, it isn't. If you can convince me otherwise, I will take on all comers. Beware, been reading some heavy Buddhist texts, which I can add to the Cistercians, the Desert Fathers, Wittgenstein (I blame Philip K Dick for ever attempting to read Wittgenstein) and all that kinda intense philosophical gymnastics, so I'm ready, willing and able to defend my sky-fairies. BRING EM ON, as a major-movie character once said; I'd prefer a fair fight to all this sneaking around.

[2] Another criticism of AA, concerns the specific wording of the First Step: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. For some inexplicable reason, the word powerless sends certain people into a frenzy.

If you are powerless over something, then you are, whether you choose to admit it or not. NOT admitting it, does not make it LESS true. The focus is on the ADMISSION. If it's not true, then it isn't... why should the word bother you? If it is, then admit it. NOT ADMITTING IT, DOES NOT MAGICALLY MAKE IT NOT SO.

The same is true for any other substance, of course... and I speak as one who quit multiple substances AT ONCE. I also speak as one who easily falls into the pattern of abusing substances, unless I am ultra-careful (they call this an "addictive personality"--ya think?). THIS INCLUDES FOOD, A SUBSTANCE. It is interesting that I never crave celery, but I do crave macaroni and cheese. I would venture to say that not all substances are created equal... a lesson I had to learn on my own, not from AA. But learn it I did.

[3] In Catholicism, this is known as having scruples. Apparently, as an Augustinian monk (before he permanently defected), Martin Luther used to spend hours and hours in the confessional, carefully going over every wayward thought. Finally (in disgust, no doubt) he decided to jettison the whole Sacrament of Confession: the hell with it! I guess he saw no other way out.

We are supposed to call it The Sacrament of Reconciliation now, but I don't know anyone who does.

[4] And of course you know that today's blog post title comes from the redoubtable QUEEN. (We miss you, Freddie!)

106 comments:

D. said...

Some friends of mine are in the fat-acceptance movement, and they are willing to make exceptions for people losing weight for health or their own reasons; but I think they don't like talk about it. (Also, as you know, the young can be extreme.)

Greta Christina made a lot of sense (I sat nodding at her entry on "age-appropriate" fashion); her name turned up somewhere in the last week. I'm going to have to spend an afternoon there...

How are your walks going?

YogaforCynics said...

As I'm sure you know, the First Amendment says the government isn't allowed to tell you you can't say something. That's all. Therefore, you can censor comments on your blog as much as you want and it will have nothing to do with the First Amendment or free speech unless you call the cops and they arrest the trolls for saying things you found disagreeable. (And, even then, it'll be the cops, not you, who are violating the First Amendment. Private citizens, really CAN'T violate the First Amendment, because it provides us with a right; it doesn't deny us the right to censor other people's speech. It just limits the government.

SMH said...

Goodness gracious why is it that "acceptance" (insert flavor of the day here)folks" are so intolerant and apologetically even smugly proud of being of being self righteous and judgmental.

Silly me I thought acceptance was about respecting each individuals having their own truth. From that respect regardless as to whether you agree with their choices acknowledging their sovereign right to be self determining.

As a woman of substance and worth I make choices that fit my truth where I happen to be in my journey and encourage others to do likewise - if our paths converge they come on in if not merry meet and fair thee well on your journey.

The next troll that makes a comment needs to be told accept this I have a right to not accept your intolerance.

Much success to your on your journey and thank you for the post!

Lyndsay said...

I support no one commenting on what anyone else is eating except to say how delicious something looks. Then maybe people would feel less pressure to lose weight to look good and if they decide to lose weight for health, no one would comment on it.

"a tendency to take the most extreme positions -- no matter how logically absurd or morally repugnant -- simply to avoid having to concede any points whatsoever."

Unfortunately, I find this happens for other feminist topics as well. Sometimes I think people say what sounds like the most feminist thing rather than trying to thoughtfully examine a situation and look at more than one perspective.

Virginia said...

Well, I guess I'm just lost out here in the wilderness somewhere. I thought "fat acceptance" meant simply that we don't discriminate against each other based on size.

And I thought that feminism meant, among other things, keeping our opinions off each others' bodies.

What am I missing here? Or is it your troll who is missing something?

Drake said...

Many tend to think that those of us with developed blogs and websites designed for public debate and polemic are out to glorify their self styled intellects but any real seeker of truth who has such a website knows that most of the time we are getting our teeths kicked in by people and though our insulters may damage our blood pressure little by little we we grow sharper everyday.

Rootietoot said...

Dear Daisy,
While I don't always agree with you (our political leanings are...erm..well, you know), I wanted to jump up and shout "AMEN SISTER!" when I read this.
First of all:
Trolls: your blog isn't an entity of the Federal, State, or local governments. It is not a democracy nor is it ruled by the First Amendment. Delete away. Go ahead and"silence". I do it all the time and the police have yet to stop me.

Secondly:
Fat is heavy. It's hard on the joints, blood pressure, pancreas, heart, digestive system. That's a natural fact. Bleating on about Fat Positive won't change that. I,too, am fat. I'll never be a rail thin marathon runner. All the medical stuff says I ought to weigh 50-60 pounds less than I do now. Over the last 6 months I've lost about 10 pounds (sooooo slooooow) and just that bit saw a significant drop in my blood pressure and joint pain. It's not about body image. It's about being able to walk through the park without having to stop, or being able to bend my knees to pick something off the floor. I just want to kind of be able to keep up with my family!

Anyway, Daisy, today with this post, I love you and will eat an all organic quinoa salad with snow peas and greens from my garden. Just for you.

JoJo said...

Dayum girl! Who the hell is attacking you, yet again, for wanting to lose weight and make your joints feel better? And on a post from over 2 months ago no less? Do I need to kick someone's ass? Seriously!

As one who has struggled w/ weight issues for my entire 45+ years, I am very supportive of those who can really, truly make the commitment to lose it for good. One of my bffs has been on her own journey and has lost 100 lbs in one year. That's AMAZING to me. Hell I just look at a cookie and I gain weight. And I just despise exercise in all it's forms. ;p You do what's best for YOU Daisy and fuck what anyone else says. And you have every right to delete a troll-like post.

I have struggled w/ the free speech thing too, esp. on my FB page. I've broken my own rule on more than one occasion and put a politically charged status on my page. That ALWAYS opens the door to people fighting. Not even with me, but with each other!! "This is what I believe and if you don't you are an idiot", "oh yeah? well fuck you too!". It makes me sad. Then I end up deleting the entire status thread b/c it just gets too nasty.

To the Trolls: Be gone, before someone drops a house on you! Leave my friend alone. If you can't be supportive or say something positive, then don't say anything at all. Jackass.

Jeff Coleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Coleman said...

Hi Daisy,

I wanted to respond to your footnote about atheism vs. sky fairy belief. You wrote: "Why is human 'rationality' (as historically defined by white, male, educated, bourgeois, heterosexual men, of course) any more real or ethical than supposed 'irrationality'...?"

I don't see an ethical dimension to the question. But we can talk about reality, and in particular, how we come to know about it. How do you know what's true?

Science (which I believe is the more precise term than "rationality") and sky fairyism answer that question differently.

Science answers that we learn what is true by observing the world around us using our senses and their instrumental extensions (telescopes, microscopes, etc.), and then reasoning about those observations to create theories that describe some aspect of the truth.

Sky fairyism answers that we learn what is true through faith and revelation. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Which approach is better? Can faith lead you to the truth? It's clear that faith cannot, if only for the simple reason that many faiths have their own mutually exclusive Truth. They can't all be right, because there is only one truth. The "truth" that the sky fairy believer typically embraces is that of his or her parents, making that "truth" an accident of birth.

Science, on the other hand, continually brings us closer to the truth. This is because the above mentioned theories are always open to revision as new observations are made, or as better theories are developed (a "better" theory is one that is simpler and/or explains a wider range of observations). Science is always converging on the truth. And that truth is not dependent on the culture of your birth: A Muslim physicist and a Hindu physicist will both agree that an electron has a mass of 9.10938 * 10-31 kg.

Science is an open, self-correcting system, as opposed to sky fairyism, which is closed and static, always stuck with the misconceptions of its saints/prophets. And obviously most of them are misconceived, because there is only one truth and each religion offers its own. Will the Real God please stand up?

The results of science are indisputable. We can now trace in considerable detail the evolution of universe back to a small fraction of a second after the Big Bang. We understand how life works down to the molecular level. We understand how the various life forms on this planet are related to one another. We can, in principle, reduce nearly every observed phenomenon at every scale -- cosmic, stellar, and planetary -- to the Standard Model of physics. The very tools you use to construct this blog and present it to the world are the products of the application of scientific knowledge. The medical care that you seek when you are ill is a product of that science.

We have a tremendous amount of evidence (and more arriving every day) that science reveals what is real. If you could, please show us how sky fairyism leads us to the truth, because I can't.

Jeff Coleman said...

P.S.

For a rocking, four minute trip from the Big Bang to now, see the following music video from UK DJ N4th4n J4y, featuring his remix of my song "Be Mine" (lyrics below):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxRTLlCi_80

Be Mine
Jeff Coleman © 2006

14 billion years ago, time and space were born,
filled with homogeneous, nearly uniform
quark and lepton plasma that led to you and me,
through the interplay of chance and necessity

The plasma later cooled to make mostly hydrogen,
fueling fusion in the stars’ generation one
Supernovas blew up and scattered into space
heavier elements upon which all life is based

On the surface of the Earth, soon after it cooled,
some organic molecule, floating in a pool,
chanced to have a form that made copies of itself:
the ancient ancestor of Prokaryotic cell

Next Eukaryota, with nucleated cells,
symbiotically engulfed power-plant organelles
Multicellular life gained high complexity,
in the bargain trading off immortality

The Cambrian Explosion created the array
of nearly all the phyla found on the Earth today
Chordata with its notochord and post-anal tail
had the backbone needed to, in the end, prevail

Fish and reptiles laid their eggs, but mammals chose live birth,
milking viviparity for everything it’s worth
Hominidae stood up when Ardipithecus
jumped down from the ape branch, a biped much like us

Habilis was handy with fire and stone axe
Erectus kept his butt warm in stylish furry slacks
Neanderthals: a dead end, no trace of them remains,
squeezed out by us sapiens, despite their bigger brains

Hunters became farmers, now software engineers
How strange our cosmic voyage of 14 billion years
This journey without meaning, goal, purpose, or design,
could have a happy ending: Just say that you’ll be mine

DaisyDeadhead said...

Jeff, thank you for answering. On various occasions, I have informed atheist bloggers that I co-interviewed Madalyn Murray O'Hair once, and none of them ever believe me. YOU'RE MY WITNESS! ;)

Okay, on to the fun and games.

Jeff: I don't see an ethical dimension to the question.

I do. Scientists have done some horrible things in the name of rationality and science, just because they can. (Just because we can, doesn't mean we should.) I named a famous example of a mass-murdering scientist/doctor. If rationality/science is "objective" and impartial--it can therefore participate in genocide. This is a problem for me. Science dug a hole in the ocean and now there is a helluva leak the size of Maryland. Science DOES THINGS without regard to the consequences.

How do you know what's true?

I don't, so I have faith in my own senses and mind to sort it out. But you sound more "faithful" than I am, but your faith is in science. Because science is "true"--you seem to think it is therefore automatically good. To me, the "truth" (as you define it; the account of how the world began?) is secondary to love and goodness.

though truth and love
can never really differ, when they seem to,
the subaltern should be truth.
(WH Auden)

Shitty science (See: Dalkon shields, Vioxx, Fen-phen, etc etc etc) convinces me that not all science can be trusted, since we live in a patriarchal world guided primarily by profit motives. How can you trust scientists who are working for big bucks? BigPharma (to name one example) sits on the board of the FDA, so they can maximize profits and usher through their employer's drugs. If something is dangerous (Vioxx), they just bury it. There's how your "science" works in real life.

Now, I assume you will say that is not science, but a few greedy individuals and bad people. (I can say the same about religion, TV preachers and religious authority.)

Sky fairyism answers that we learn what is true through faith and revelation. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

I suppose some sky fairyism does, but I am an existentialist. I do what I do because it makes me feel better. And that is why I believe religion can be a good force in people's lives: it makes me feel better and teaches me to be a better person and not kill people. (really) (do you remember how bad my temper can be?) If you can become an exemplary person without religion, be my guest, rock on, etc.... but calling something "a scourge" that gives many of us strength and teaches us morality that our parents were incapable of teaching us, well, that is disturbing.

2b continued

DaisyDeadhead said...

sky-fairy defense, continued:

Question: Would you call similar irrational phenomena such as music, art, orgasms, love, "a scourge"? Why not? Religion and spirituality are the same. And that's why the preferences and practices differ with each person. There are cultural religions, just as there is cultural music, and as you say, most of us seem to stick with what we were raised with, since we understand the language. Some Americans can enjoy (example) Bollywood musicals, Japanese pop music, Chinese opera, whatever, but I can't. It is very 'strange'-sounding to me, as one deeply steeped in western music... but I do enjoy their take on the spiritual, and have learned a great deal from their religious traditions. My main reason for sticking to the church is that it is what I know best. (I would feel like some silly tourist going to a Hindu, Jain or Buddhist temple, and that is disrespectful.) I understand the moral language, and it is the way I process existential life-lessons that I learn.

Which approach is better? Can faith lead you to the truth?

Well, if not for faith, I wouldn't be here. So I offer myself as Exhibit A. (see AA reference in post) I experienced what I believe is a direct spiritual intervention, which is how I went from interviewing Madalyn Murray O'Hair to defending the concept of belief. When you say things like "religion is a scourge", people like me who feel that they were salvaged from the garbage heap, hear it as not caring about what happened to us, not caring about the people who are IN NEED. And that's a very good point: where are the atheist soup kitchens and homeless shelters? Do atheists give a shit? When you say things like this (as in my bell hooks example), it sounds like you don't need a higher power because you like the world just fine as it is. Again, this is a position an affluent, American heterosexual white male can feel free to take... hell, if I was in your position, I would never have had (or needed) a revelation and might agree with you.

When I watched the atheist convention on C-Span, I counted NO people of color in the audience, it was as white as the KKK. A youngish, foxy blond was the president of the organization (not sure which one?), but that was funny as hell, since she was maybe one of three women in the room.

Now, I ask you, what's up with THAT? Maybe some people need religion more than others? And why might that be? Religion is also social, and provides an altruistic network that people depend on. A church congregation paid for a root canal of mine once. Atheists didn't. Where would the atheist in need of the root canal go to ask for alms? Do you contribute to charity? I do, and likely a higher percentage of my income than you do? Know why? I was ORDERED to! ;) The Bible tells me so, indeed... it tells me to give to the poor, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead and comfort the afflicted (and as Dorothy Day so memorably added, afflict the comfortable). I have FAITH that this is correct, because I would want someone to do it for me... and in fact, they have done it for me.

(wind-up is imminent!)

DaisyDeadhead said...

Jeff: They can't all be right, because there is only one truth.

Actually (I assume you've read Joseph Campbell?)-- the same motifs, the same stories, are present again and again in all religions. The more you study them, the more obvious it is that they all have a common root. The similarities are far more striking that the differences. It depends on whether you are looking for similarity or difference; I typically concentrate on similarity and connection.

A Muslim physicist and a Hindu physicist will both agree that an electron has a mass of 9.10938 * 10-31 kg.

But which one will peddle the Vioxx as safe and which one won't? Which one will use their electrons to hurt and which to heal? This is the real question.

Science is an open, self-correcting system

Actually, it was "60 Minutes" that exposed the evil FDA/Big Pharma scientists who pawned Vioxx and Celebrex off on an unsuspecting public. Scientists/doctors were happily writing prescriptions; I got one. Translation: Scientists nearly killed me. Good thing journalists are there to check the greedy scientists.

And I haven't even gotten to Oppenheimer yet. Are you SURE you want to unabashedly make science your God?

The results of science are indisputable.

Really? Did you read this? Apparently, antidepressants are a scam and even placebos do better. But... you said it was INDISPUTABLE?! How can there be any argument about how these drugs work (indeed, if they DO even work)? I thought this was a done deal? The FDA said it was. And now we find out---? Well? THERE IS A DISPUTE.

I thought science was indisputable?

The PLACEBO EFFECT is about FAITH, not about science. And the most-prescribed drugs in USA are apparently operating on faith, not science.

Profits are indisputable, for sure. Profits are more important than science, and some half-baked science will always materialize to serve the God of Profit. A self-correcting system? You mean like BP trying to plug that hole in the ocean while trying to make sure they don't get held liable for anything over $27 million? Hey, drill baby drill, its INDISPUTABLE!

(this time for sure!--Bullwinkle)

DaisyDeadhead said...

If you could, please show us how sky fairyism leads us to the truth, because I can't.

Somebody seriously needs to read Kierkegaard. ;)

What I think is the TRUTH is that religion makes people happier, which is why they/we participate. And THAT HAPPINESS is the truth and why people won't stop community worship of some kind (or a sacramental exchange of some kind). I won't bore you with where I believe that happiness comes from. Certainly, I could be wrong. But the truth of religion is that people like their lives better with it than without it. And again, when you say its "a scourge"--believers hear atheists endorsing unhappiness. (Really, that's how it comes off to some of us.) For existential believers (whom I believe are becoming the majority in the world) it is not about the creation of the world, the Big Bang, etc. Boring. I could give a rats ass, really. All very nice and interesting, but so what? It all happened a long time ago! The real question: How then shall we live? Am I a good partner, worker, friend, comrade, parent, grandparent? I think so. And these are things my faith and my religion have done for me, because I had no damn clue. And speaking personally, I am very pleased with where religion has taken me in my life. THIS is what religion is for, and why it has EVOLVED with humans over millions of years: it was good for us or it would not have flourished with humans. Populations that had strong religions, had taboos against killing their own, had rules that you should help one another and not leave the weak or sick one by the side of the road. This helped insure the survival of humanity. RELIGION IS PART OF EVOLUTION.

And yes, the fact of my basic contentment, is the truth... just as much of a truth as antidepressants that don't outperform placebos in double-blind tests. Are you ready to take all the antidepressants away? (why not? The placebo fact is INDISPUTABLE.)
Well, some people might get upset if you take away their drugs. They still want them, just like some of us want religion. What do you say to them/us? Are the scam-antidepressants okay with you, since they come from science? (and they make BigPharma rich rich rich) And religion is just always wrong, even if its just another kind of placebo? Why is one placebo okay but the other isn't--because one came from a lab?

I don't understand the RATIONALITY of this argument AT ALL.

Anyway, thank you for engaging me and my sky fairyism. :D

SnowdropExplodes said...

A Muslim physicist and a Hindu physicist will both agree that an electron has a mass of 9.10938 * 10-31 kg.

Science is a faith-based system. It is based on the belief, unsupportable by rational argument, that what has happened in the past will continue to happen in the future. There is absolutely nothing that you can use to prove that the next time a scientist measures the mass of an electron, that it will come out with the same result. Indeed - there is nothing you can say that proves that there really is something called an electron at all. All you can tell me is that when you perform thus-and-such actions with so-and-so equipment that you get a certain outcome - and it's happened that way every time anyone has done it so far. The electron is as much of a sky fairy as God. We choose to believe in electrons because that makes the world easier to understand.

Daisy's answer explains belief in God in much the same way, except that God is a theory for the emotional and spiritual universe, not the physical one.

We can, in principle, reduce nearly every observed phenomenon at every scale -- cosmic, stellar, and planetary -- to the Standard Model of physics.

It's nice that you think that. Quite a lot of actual physicists (especially cosmologists) disagree with you, though. The Standard Model is full of holes and rough patches to paper over the cracks, and many scientists think that there has to be a better model somewhere.

science reveals what is real.

Not always. I cannot, by scientific endeavour, discover the truth of whether the light stays on when I close my fridge door. I have a theory that says it doesn't based on all the observations I can make from outside, and from what I know about electronics, but I cannot know whether the light is off once the door is closed. My theory may very well be right, but I can't ever know - the truth is hidden from me.

And I already discussed whether electrons are real.

God, on the other hand, definitely isn't "real" in the way you use the word here. And I say that as a theist! To be "real" in your sense, God would have to be a part of the universe and bound by its laws. In general, religions hold that God is distinct from the universe but acts upon it, in the same way as an artist is distinct from the drawing zie creates, but acts upon the page to create it. God, therefore, is not "real" but is still "true". (Galileo, one of the key early proponents of scientific method in Western culture, made the observation that there are two divine texts: "The Book of Scripture, and the Book of Nature.") IIRC, theologians came up with this idea something like 900 years ago. (Incidentally, this is a direct refutation of the label "sky fairyism"!)

If you could, please show us how sky fairyism leads us to the truth, because I can't.

For me personally, God is the best theory to explain the events I have observed. Spiritually and emotionally, God makes more sense than any of the alternative theories I have encountered. Religion is a journey (and not, as you claim, static) - and it leads us closer to spiritual truth and, if practised with an open heart, to greater genuineness (and truth). (And if you doubt that science can be practised with a closed mind, I remind you that no less a scientist than Einstein refused to accept that quantum theory could be valid - and Pythagoras murdered a student who proved the existence of irrational numbers because he refused to believe in them.)

Siren said...

This may be my only chance to post a comment that doesn't end up being the longest one on the thread and I just can't pass it up, so here goes.

Back to the troll thing. I can only imagine how frustrating and discouraging it must be to have assholes picking on you and trying to start senseless fights. And at the same time, even though it makes me sound like a totally annoying pollyanna, I'd like to say I think there's something good you can take from this sort of thing.

It's my opinion that trolls don't bother with you unless you have a voice that matters -- a voice people listen to. I think of trolls almost as like a barometer or something, a sort of gauge for how influential your words are. Or maybe they're more like some sort of parasite that only goes after really yummy people. Like, coolness ticks. They're gross and a pain in the ass, but they're only attracted to you because you're cool.

This is probably small comfort when one of them manages to hit you where it hurts. But it is a bit of a silver lining, maybe?

Even so, I'm really glad you're exercising your blog-given powers of deletion. From what I understand, that's the only way to really control an infestation, since what trolls live for is the attention and/or the opportunity to sit back and watch their seeds of discontent take root and grow. You shouldn't feel guilty for a second for kicking their sorry asses to the curb. It's your blog, for pete's sake. You have every right to control the content and the tenor of what gets said here.

And personally, I think you do this really well. I think you do an admirable job of creating an intelligent space where people can hear about and respond to thought-provoking and controversial stuff, and I have a great respect for the way you deal directly with polite disagreement and challenge. Your blog is one of the few I actually read on a regular basis, and this is one of the main reasons I do. Aside from the basic thing of you having an interesting and intriguing and engaging point of view, I mean.

All of which is to say, I'm glad you're not letting the stupid shitheads of the world silence you, because I, for one, really enjoy hearing the stuff you have to say.

Pickly said...

On all three of these things: Perhaps there should be some internet, or argument rule in general, that has people take regular mental steps backwards, and do something else for awhile. Certainly some method would come in handy to reduce the tendency of arguments to go to extremes that probably no one involved actually wants, just to make a point or appear strong. (In the science/religion thread for instance, I have a feeling that no one will be giving up water treatment, computers, laws against murder, etc., despite all the arguments being made.)


(I am more of a "science" than a "religion" person, although not enough to want to get too involved in on of these types of arguments. Plus my thought processes on what should or shouldn't be done don't usually go in that sort of direction.)

DaisyDeadhead said...

Snowdrop, you know I think you're awesome. :) And Siren, thank you for the new and novel way to look at a troll infestation!

Rootie, I love seeing you anywhere and everywhere. SMH and Jojo, thank you!!!

Pickly, computers are an excellent example, now that you mention it. They are IMPARTIAL. They can open up the whole world to a person seeking knowledge, or they can be used to increase production on workers until they are more exhausted than ever. As I alluded to in this post, now we can be more overworked than ever. My former customer-service employer added more and more windows to our computer programs over the years I worked there... and thus, more and more CALLS could be taken per hour. We went from like 30-40 calls an hour to over 100 in a five-year period. It was just like an assembly line. (Who cares if it fries some poor girl's BRAINS?) Science is impartial, and that's why it can't "check itself" for its own impact on the world. Other people have to do that.

Science can not (or should not) serve as a deity in and itself.

SnowdropExplodes said...

Snowdrop, you know I think you're awesome. :)

Aww, shucks! The feeling is mutual :-)

I just do what I do with what I've got.

Dave Dubya said...

Whew, deep, thoughtful, and stimulating commentary. There may not be much for me to add, since I am no scientist or theologian. (Full disclosure: I am one of those on-line ordained ministers. My “calling” was a request to officiate some friends’ wedding.) The “truth” I see in the religion v. science debate is in what you have discussed. Both science and religion are double edged swords. They have both been abused in politics and other struggles for power. While science may give modern comfort and aid in survival it is also poisoning out planet. For many, faith in God has been vital to the nurturing of our need for the love and compassion necessary to survive. Unfortunately others use religion to selfishly wrap themselves in arrogance and self-righteousness.

This is simply the nature of our world. Almost anything we can name has the potential to be a blessing and a curse. Water is a blessing because it sustains life and a curse when we drown in it. Everything from sex and drugs to oil and automobiles have been used and abused. It ultimately comes down to the duality within humans; whether it is the angels or demons of our nature that guides these double edged swords.

Jeff Coleman said...

Hi Daisy et al,

I don't want to debate science vs. religion. I simply wanted to answer Daisy's question about why science is "more real" than religion, from a philosophical perspective. Anyway, the debate ended a long time ago and science won.

Science is superior to religion as a way to the truth simply because it is based on EVIDENCE. Religion is based on SOMEBODY'S SAY SO.

Now SnowdropExplodes, you really should know better. You wrote:
"Science is a faith-based system. It is based on the belief, unsupportable by rational argument, that what has happened in the past will continue to happen in the future."

As far as we can tell, the laws of physics are unchanged from the beginning of time, so it's not completely unreasonable to expect that they will remain unchanged tomorrow. Your assertion is hardly a challenge to my point that science converges on the truth.

You wrote:
"There is absolutely nothing that you can use to prove that the next time a scientist measures the mass of an electron, that it will come out with the same result."

True. Science depends in part on induction. Yet, it WORKS. Our knowledge of our universe has steadily increased using this inductive approach. Religion, in contrast, has contributed NOTHING to our understanding of our universe. Please feel free to offer evidence to the contrary. If you can.

You wrote:
"Indeed - there is nothing you can say that proves that there really is something called an electron at all. All you can tell me is that when you perform thus-and-such actions with so-and-so equipment that you get a certain outcome - and it's happened that way every time anyone has done it so far. The electron is as much of a sky fairy as God. We choose to believe in electrons because that makes the world easier to understand."

Here, Snowdrop, you are just being silly. We can say with an accuracy of several positions to the right of the decimal point what an ensemble of electrons will do in a given experimental setting. We know their mass and their charge. We can measure their spin. The very computer you wrote your blog entry on consists of millions upon millions of switches that manipulate those electrons with extraordinary precision. Nothing sky fairy about it, and we all know that.

You wrote:
"God is a theory for the emotional and spiritual universe, not the physical one."

But there isn't A God. There are countless numbers of them, and no, Daisy, they're not all the same. Are we inherently sinful or not? If so, must a sacrifice be made to cleanse us of that sin? How many gods are there? One or millions? If one, does He have three aspects? If one, does He have a Son? If there is one and He has a Son, was his mother without sin? If there is one and He has a Son, can we say that the successor of Peter in the Vatican speaks absolutely without error under certain conditions? Or is there one God, his name is Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet? These are such NON-TRIVIAL differences, Daisy, that many people have died -- AND KILLED -- over them. Snowdrop, HOW can you say that religion offers a theory for ANY kind of universe, when it's clear that there are many, many, many, COMPETING, mutually exclusive theories and no way of judging which one is right?

Anyway, let me close out by restating the answer to the question in your footnote. Science is "more real" because its explanations depend on evidence, and because it is open to changing, improving, and enlarging those explanations as needed by new evidence. Religion is "less real" because it depends on the say so of some prophet or other religious figure, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that they are particularly privy to the truth.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Jeff, not a single word about my multiple BigPharma examples? Again, I ask, if Science "won"--why did these patently unsafe drugs make it through the supposedly "scientific" vetting process?

Science didn't win, money won, a long, long time ago. Money bought science outright, and didn't miss a beat.

SnowdropExplodes said...

Okay, Jeff.

First of all, several cosmologists theorise that the laws of physics have NOT remained unchanged but that key "constants" have in fact changed in value over time.

You state that induction WORKS, but that doesn't mean that it has any rational basis. There is no rational, logical, provable basis that what happened every time before, will happen the next time I do something. Although I do, as you do, firmly believe that the next time I let go of a pen, it will fall to the floor, there is no rational basis for that belief.

Just because something works, that doesn't make it rational.

Here, Snowdrop, you are just being silly. We can say with an accuracy of several positions to the right of the decimal point what an ensemble of electrons will do in a given experimental setting. We know their mass and their charge. We can measure their spin.

No, you're being silly. Your claim "we can measure their mass/charge/spin" is pure sky-fairyism. I say there is no such thing as an electron - that it is a purely theoretical construct, and not necessarily in any sense "real". You give these names and numbers "charge", "spin" etc to an idea that helps to explain what happens when you plug your machines together and turn them on.

Admittedly, this idea has proved very useful in predicting how the universe behaves (again, the induction thing) but an idea is all it is: we believe in it because it is useful to do so, not because it is "real".

What is more, there are some very eminent physicists who talk in the same way about electrons as I just have done.

I could just as easily use the same numbers that come out of scientists' machines to talk about little tiny angels and fairies dancing together (thus the spin of an electron would relate to the turns in the electron-fairy's dance and so on) and it would give the same predictions. Fairies or electrons, it's the same thing. And I think my fairies theory explains better why sometimes my computer does what I want it to, and sometimes it doesn't! (Okay, that last sentence IS being silly, I admit it, but the point still stands.)

(Incidentally, you ask for something that religion helps explain - here's one: if God exists and created the Universes to operate on established Laws of Nature, then that explains why induction works and why there can be such a thing as scientific method.)

To Be Continued...

SnowdropExplodes said...

Continued from above:

Jeff, we have a slight language problem here. And you know what? It's something that comes from the sky-fairyism in your background, I think. You see, I speak of truth as an unnumbered or mass noun, but you speak of "the truth" as a definite article, as though there can be only one truly true truth of all truthiness. So from my perspective, "truth" can be found in many places and in many forms; from yours, only one thing can be "true" and the rest must be "false". That may or may not be valid in the physical world (I'm sure you know of the "Schrödinger's Cat" thought-experiment!) but I think you'll find when it comes to people, it is much less the case. (Incidentally, you are very keen on the physical sciences, but what's your view of the social sciences?)

You also speak as though the whole scientific community were of one mind about everything, and that just ain't so, I think you'll find. In many fields there are many controversies over which theories best fit the available evidence and what the best way is to figure out which is better.

You speak of science as a way to the one true truth of all truthiness, but that in itself is an article of faith: evidence of underlying sky-fairyism. Again, several scientists who have dabbled in philosophy have written about the fact that there is no reason for scientists to believe there is "the truth" or that they are getting closer to it: all that can be said is that the theories make predictions that come closer to what we actually see happening. Those theories do not have to resemble "the truth" in order to do so. Of course, if there is a Creator God, then we know that there is a truth to the laws of the universe, because the Creator made it so. So your belief in "the truth" is itself a form of sky-fairyism.

To Be Continued (again)...

SnowdropExplodes said...

Continued from above:

You wrote:
"God is a theory for the emotional and spiritual universe, not the physical one."

But there isn't A God. There are countless numbers of them, and no, Daisy, they're not all the same.


Well, here's where it gets interesting. You see, because God has a personal relationship with Creation, and because we are always changing, it makes sense that God both changes and remains the same (God is the fundamental Constant, but at the same time, adapts to relate to ever-changing and inconstant humanity). I sometimes talk about God having 6 billion faces (because God relates personally to each of us, and because we are all divinely inspired beings who have "that of God in us", to use the Quaker phrasing).

So, yes: there are indeed billions of Gods, but they can also be the One True God at the same time (in fact, Hinduism states this directly about the many Gods, and I think it is the essential truth that Hinduism captures most effectively about God). So all religions can have something of value in them.

These are such NON-TRIVIAL differences, Daisy, that many people have died -- AND KILLED -- over them.

Actually, in general, all supposedly religious wars have been fought over economics. Religious differences have been the reasons used to motivate the lower classes to fight the wars that would economically benefit the ruling class in their own country. In general, religious differences in themselves have rarely been enough to cause violence. Where you find religiously-motivated conflict, there is always an underlying economic problem or incentive (e.g. in the modern era, poverty, oil, and land have been key motivators).

Snowdrop, HOW can you say that religion offers a theory for ANY kind of universe, when it's clear that there are many, many, many, COMPETING, mutually exclusive theories and no way of judging which one is right?

You are introducing "mutually exclusive", and I reject that. This goes back to the language issue, "truth" vs. "the truth".

As for "competing" - that goes back to the economic causes of conflict that I mentioned above. People in power have a vested interest in keeping people at each other's throats and so they create these conflicts where really, none need exist.

Religion is "less real" because it depends on the say so of some prophet or other religious figure, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that they are particularly privy to the truth.

That is a very narrow view of religion. I would say that spiritual truth, when I hear or read it, resonates strongly and to me that is a good reason to believe in it. This is why people found the words of prophets worthy of recording, and copying, and re-copying, so that they would be preserved for future generations to read.

And religion doesn't stop with those. The Talmud, for example, is evidence of vibrant, changing, and learning within religion. The vast reams written since the 1st Century CE by Christian theologians also speaks to the ongoing and living nature of religion. The same goes for Islamic scholars interpreting the Qu'ran and Hadith.

Ultimately, religion doesn't work the same way as science does, and that's your whole complaint against it. It doesn't fit your world view. But that in itself is your article of faith: you believe your world view to be better than anyone else's, but can only justify that belief by appealing to the tenets that form your own world view.

Jeff Coleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Coleman said...

OK, a couple more responses and that's it.


Daisy: "Jeff, not a single word about my multiple BigPharma examples? Again, I ask, if Science 'won'--why did these patently unsafe drugs make it through the supposedly 'scientific' vetting process?"

I'm not suggesting that scientists, or the capitalists who profit from science and its technologies, are more ethical than anyone else. As noted several times before, I'm showing why science is "more real."

At the same time, you cannot argue that religion makes people more ethical, either. Not a day goes by when there isn't a story about some priest or preacher found guilty of sexually abusing a child in their care. Not to mention the usual litany of Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms, witch burnings, abortion doctor murders, jihads, etc. Which I think justifies my characterization of religion as a "scourge."


Snowdrop: "First of all, several cosmologists theorise that the laws of physics have NOT remained unchanged but that key "constants" have in fact changed in value over time."

True, but it's far from a consensus. At this point, most cosmologists are of the opinion that "constants" are. Constant, that is. But this controversy shows the great advantage of science: it is open to new evidence and ideas. Religion is forever stuck with its errors.


Snowdrop: "Just because something works, that doesn't make it rational."

Don't know about "rational," but it makes it more real. When you are sick, do you visit a faith healer or a doctor taught scientific medicine?


Snowdrop: "Admittedly, [the concept of the electron] has proved very useful in predicting how the universe behaves (again, the induction thing) but an idea is all it is: we believe in it because it is useful to do so, not because it is 'real'."

But it is useful BECAUSE it is real! Unreal things tend not to be particularly useful.


Snowdrop: "You see, because God has a personal relationship with Creation,..."

Prove it.


Snowdrop: "Actually, in general, all supposedly religious wars have been fought over economics."

Which is it? In general, or all? One thing we can say for sure is, no one ever died in a disagreement over the mass of an electron! No one was ever burned at the stake in a disagreement over its charge!


Snowdrop: "I would say that spiritual truth, when I hear or read it, resonates strongly and to me that is a good reason to believe in it."

Fine. Believe in it. But we're responding to a question about which is "more real." Your faith applies to your personal, subjective reality. Science applies to the entirety of our observations of the objective universe. Hence, "more real."

Jeff Coleman said...

One final post outside of the original response to Daisy's question. This is to clarify some of Snowdrop's comments.

Snowdrop: "So from my perspective, 'truth' can be found in many places and in many forms; from yours, only one thing can be 'true' and the rest must be 'false'. That may or may not be valid in the physical world (I'm sure you know of the 'Schrödinger's Cat' thought-experiment!) but I think you'll find when it comes to people, it is much less the case."

As I noted above, I'm not addressing people's personal, subjective experience. When I speak about "truth," I'm talking our knowledge of the objective universe.

What does that knowledge consist of? In general, it's about relationships and patterns in and between the interchangeable elements of energy and matter through the interrelated elements of space and time. F=MA. E=Mc^2. Based on the ASSUMPTION that the universe is lawful, as such there is only one true description for each of those relationships. This is not to say that there cannot be more than way to NAME the various energetic, material, and spacio-temporal elements of the truth, or to TRANSFORM a particular relationship as prescribed by mathematics. What I'm talking about is the essential physical character of the UNI VERSE: Latin for "everything rolled up into one."

It is THAT truth that science converges on. And personally, that happens to be the kind of truth I'm interested in. You know, the truth that's truthful.

One other characteristic in the scientific approach to the truth: it also explicitly includes LIMITS on what we can know about the universe. This is particularly evident in quantum mechanics, as in the example of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

"Schroedinger's Cat" is a thought experiment from the scientist of that name, in an argument against the explicit limits that quantum mechanics places on knowledge. But as it turned out, the evidence shows that we really don't know the state of the cat until a "measurement" is made. That's because before that, it doesn't exist in a particular state, but rather in a mixture of them. Quantum mechanics predicts to an extraordinarily high degree of precision the probabilistic relationship of those two states.


"(Incidentally, you are very keen on the physical sciences, but what's your view of the social sciences?)" They're fascinating! I totally loved my cultural anthro, psychology, linguistics, and sociology classes as an undergrad, and still read extensively in those subjects.

SnowdropExplodes said...

Jeff, my darling:

Religion is forever stuck with its errors.

That's a mistaken view. Religion is constantly evolving. The original texts may not change, but new understanding of them can and does happen, and religions are much more than the old texts. I already pointed you to three examples of that happening!

Snowdrop: "Just because something works, that doesn't make it rational."

Don't know about "rational," but it makes it more real. When you are sick, do you visit a faith healer or a doctor taught scientific medicine?


That's irrelevant. Of course I go to the scientific medicine doctor. Why? Because science is the best approach for that type of situation. But for spiritual matters, I turn to God. I don't try to cut a tree down using a spoon, and I don't try to eat my breakfast cereal with an axe.

Snowdrop: "Admittedly, [the concept of the electron] has proved very useful in predicting how the universe behaves (again, the induction thing) but an idea is all it is: we believe in it because it is useful to do so, not because it is 'real'."

But it is useful BECAUSE it is real! Unreal things tend not to be particularly useful.


Nonsense. You might as well say that a computer model is a real world.

Snowdrop: "You see, because God has a personal relationship with Creation,..."

Prove it.


I don't need to. You wanted to claim that, because religions differ, therefore religion is useless and "less real". I was explaining to you a way in which that needn't be the case, and thus disproving your point. My point doesn't need to be true, it only needs to be possibly true. Since you can't disprove my point, your original argument fails.

Snowdrop: "Actually, in general, all supposedly religious wars have been fought over economics."

Which is it? In general, or all?


I admit it: I'm a bad copyeditor. I originally had "all", but intended to alter it to "in general", and accidentally failed to delete the original wording. In fact, I suspect that my original version is more accurate, but I am not sufficiently versed in all of human history ever, to make that assertion.

SnowdropExplodes said...

continued from above:

Your faith applies to your personal, subjective reality. Science applies to the entirety of our observations of the objective universe. Hence, "more real."

Except that this is only going by your personal, subjective definition of "real".

When I speak about "truth," I'm talking our knowledge of the objective universe.

Then, frankly, you have no business trying to debate the "realness" of religion, because (as I already explained to you) theologians several hundred years ago already accepted that by your definition of "truth", God doesn't exist. And yet, those same theologians continued to believe in God, for reasons they felt were rational. I, for reasons that I consider rational, also believe in God even though in your terms, I accept that God doesn't exist.

You can pack your bags and go home now, because in the terms you are willing to argue, God doesn't exist, religion isn't real, and you've won (by choosing the rules and field of play). As I said before, your one argument is that religion doesn't fit into the way you see the world, therefore religion must not be real. This amounts to a demand that everyone should accept your worldview as definitive.

There's just one problem: your definitions of "real" and "true" are small and blinkered. As a famous man once wrote, "There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy". Other people are a bit more broad-minded.

Religion is as real as the people and minds that believe in it (it's up to you to decide how real you believe other peoples' minds are!). I believe that Daisy may have been making that point all along. You want to deal purely with the physical world and science and all that, fine. But don't start thinking that qualifies you to make declarations about God or religion!

I feel I've answered all your points. We're going to have to agree to differ, because your arguments only make sense in your own worldview, and my arguments can never fit into your worldview so we can never accept each other's position.

Jeff Coleman said...

Hi again, SnowdropExplodes,

S: "Except that this is only going by your personal, subjective definition of 'real'."

Not at all. This is the common use of the terms "objective reality" and "universe."


S: "...Theologians several hundred years ago already accepted that by your definition of truth', God doesn't exist."

Precisely correct, but I previously stated that science already won the debate. I'm doing this only because Daisy asked a specific question about the differential relationships of science and religion to reality (paraphasing her footnote). She's clearly not aware that theology already threw in the towel on the whole objective reality thing.


S: "You want to deal purely with the physical world and science and all that, fine. But don't start thinking that qualifies you to make declarations about God or religion!"

I'm not the first in this discussion to broach the subject about whether God and religion or science are "more real." I simply offered a careful philosophical explanation for why science is "more real." I have shown a valid argument for why that is true.

Anyway, it's more correct to say I'm dealing purely in the OBSERVABLE and VERIFIABLE/FALSIFIABLE. I'll gladly proclaim the "more realness" of a science that you restrict to merely everything observable! Religion can have all the non-observable stuff, which is better for it because faith is all stuff and nonsense anyway. Facts tend to cause problems for such things!

DaisyDeadhead said...

Jeff: But that in itself is your article of faith: you believe your world view to be better than anyone else's,

I do? And where did I say that? I don't believe this at all; where are you getting this from? I said, it works the best for ME, which is why I do it and why I believe other people also do. And you have not once addressed this argument, which is the whole reason for belief (IMHO).

Jeff Coleman said...

I cannot take credit for that sentence. That's from SnowdropExplodes.

Daisy: "[Faith] works the best for ME, which is why I do it and why I believe other people also do. And you have not once addressed this argument, which is the whole reason for belief (IMHO)."

Again, you asked why science is "more real." I'm not saying anything about what makes you feel better. But then again what makes you feel better is something different than what's "more real."

As you noted earlier, the placebo effect demonstrates that people can feel better for no other reason than they expect to. The reality of the sugar pill has nothing to do with it.

But when the research is all over, we know who got the sugar pills and who didn't. THAT's the objective reality. Just THINKING that you have the real pill because it makes you feel better doesn't make it so.

In fact, I think it's useful to think of religion as one big placebo effect in the sky!

Jeff Coleman said...

One last bit of shameless self-promotion, courtesy of my dear friend Daisy's blog. (And in turn I will testify to Daisy's having talked with Madelyn Murray O'Hair, because I was right there beside her when she did).

I put my philosophical position on religion to music and video, in an anniversary present to my wife a few months ago. The song/vid is called "The Church of Jessica" (lyrics below) and you can see the video here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tl7_6X9V1Oc

The Church of Jessica
Jeff Coleman © 2010

Some folks look to Jesus for salvation
To me it all just seems like science fiction
People say the Bible's really groovy
I never read it but I saw the movie
I don't need St. Peter
Or his Basilica
I worship at the Church of Jessica

Some folks like to meditate a lot
But I say crap or get off of the pot
Go shove your Eightfold Path the Threefold Way
Renounce desire 'cuz that leaves more for me
Yes I am enlightened
No thanks to Siddhartha
I worship at the Church of Jessica

Hallowed be her name
Her kingdom and her glory
My alpha and omega too
And that's the end of story

As a kid I loved the Lord the most
And Casper was the friendly Holy Ghost
Then I started thinking on my own
And filed religion with the Twilight Zone
I found my happy heaven
She's here in flesh and blood
I worship at the Church of Jessica

Amber Rhea said...

"If you let anybody in, then anybody will come in."

So, so true.

aileen said...

this entry is brilliant daisy. i don't believe in fat acceptance or anything like that i believe in looking after your own nutritional and health needs on an individual basis which i think might be a similar point to what you make here.

hope you are feeling well :)

SnowdropExplodes said...

S: "Except that this is only going by your personal, subjective definition of 'real'."

Not at all. This is the common use of the terms "objective reality" and "universe."


Misses the point. It's only your subjective opinion that "objective reality" is more real than "subjective reality". It is also your subjective opinion that the universe only comprises of the physical universe. By your definition "universe" = "all things together" a) you include neither the Copenhagen Interpretation, nor the cosmological idea that there are other universes outside our own. But you also implicitly include anything non-physical as a part of the universe, which includes spiritual matter if such exists - again bringing religion into the real of the "really real".


S: "...Theologians several hundred years ago already accepted that by your definition of truth', God doesn't exist."

Precisely correct, but I previously stated that science already won the debate. I'm doing this only because Daisy asked a specific question about the differential relationships of science and religion to reality (paraphasing her footnote). She's clearly not aware that theology already threw in the towel on the whole objective reality thing.


You're a really poor philosopher, Jeff. You are absolutely wrong to say religion threw in the towel on objective reality, and I never conceded that point. The theologians stated God as an objective reality but showed that God does not exist by the terms that you prefer to use. Clearly, not everyone accepts those terms, otherwise we wouldn't be having this discussion in the first place.

We are agreed that the physical universe is an objective frame of reference. We are agreed that God is not a part of that frame of reference. Theologians argue that God can act upon things within that frame of reference in such a way as to appear as though that were not the case, or can act upon it in such a way as to produce miracles (events not explainable from within that frame of reference).

You claim that the physical universe is the only possible objective frame of reference, and therefore the only truth, and "more real" than anything else. That, however, is as yet unproven by your arguments, because it uses itself as a definition of what is real and true.

I demonstrated to you that even though there may be an objective physical frame of reference, people's experiences of that frame of reference will be different from one another's. That is, even though we may agree on an objective frame of reference, our experience of it remains subjective. That remains true regardless of science. Indeed, the theory of relativity demonstrates that mass and distance are subjective depending upon the observer's movement in space and time (which is how come light always appears to be moving at the same rate of propagation regardless of the observer's relative velocity). Science has advanced to the point where it can take into account the subjectivity of nature.

Similarly, religion is composed of many people's subjective experiences of God, and finding where they coalesce into a shared reality.

To Be Continued...

SnowdropExplodes said...

Continued from above:

So here's where your argument falls down, Jeff: you are not comparing like with like. Let me ask you something: is an individual experiment "as real as" a scientific theory? If the answer is "yes", then a person's religious experience (which is directly analogous to an individual scientific experiment) is as real as scientific theory. If the answer is "no", then by comparing "religion" to "science" you are not comparing like with like, because religion is still the same as the individual experiment, and so you only win because you chose the frame of reference yourself in such a way that you had to win.

Your argument is in effect like a person saying "every living thing breathes air to live" and then asking someone to prove that a fish is a living thing. By that frame of reference, it is impossible: I would have to show you a fish breathing air, and fish can't do that. But a fish is a living thing nonetheless. If I tried to explain about dissolved oxygen in the water, the person would tell me that that wasn't the same as breathing air and that the fish was still not a living thing.

I am happy for you to go on believing that fish are not living things (i.e. that science is the only reality), but do not expect others to share your delusion: we are happy with our own delusions!

And that concludes today's lecture in philosophy!

Jeff Coleman said...

Hi Snowdrop and other fascinated readers,

Continuing to clarify things for Snowdrop, as we answer Daisy's question about why rationality/science is "more real" than religion.

From Snowdrop: "It's only your subjective opinion that 'objective reality' is more real than 'subjective reality'."

Are you sure? Objective reality includes everything observable, which is an awful lot of stuff. Furthermore, there is an objective reality *beneath* and *supporting* your subjective reality. That's because your subjective reality is a product of the objective reality of neural anatomy and neural activity of your brain (of which our scientific understanding is growing at a phenomenal rate, thanks to stunning improvements in brain imaging techniques). Objective reality is the SOURCE of your subjective reality.


S: "You're a really poor philosopher, Jeff."

That's not what Jehovah, Allah, and Lord Krishna just whispered in my ear! Prove that I'm wrong. My subjective reality trumps your objective reality!


S: "It is also your subjective opinion that the universe only comprises of the physical universe."

Again, I must direct you back to my earliest post, in which I noted that science is based on observation, contrasting it with religion's being based on revelation. As such, science concerns itself with that which is OBSERVABLE.

Now I ask you: how do you know that something exists if you cannot observe it? Simply relying on your "feelings" is not very persuasive, as our discussion of the placebo effect demonstrated.

And as already noted, without solid observations to back them up, the religions of the world disagree about reality. A Hindu physicist and a Moslem physicist will disagree on the number of gods, but they will agree on the mass of an electron.


s: "...religion is composed of many people's subjective experiences of God, and finding where they coalesce into a shared reality."

Or finding that they need to torture someone to death for believing in the wrong god.


S: "Theologians argue that God can act upon things within that frame of reference in such a way as to appear as though that were not the case, or can act upon it in such a way as to produce miracles (events not explainable from within that frame of reference)."

So? What makes a theologian especially privy to the truth? Show us EVIDENCE that God can do squat!


S: "So here's where your argument falls down, Jeff: you are not comparing like with like."

Only because religion has ceded the universal explanations to science. At one time, people looked to religion to explain how the world was created, why we exist, where we came from, where other animals came from, where human morality is derived, and so on.

But that was a long time ago, at least for educated Westerners. We now look to science for those explanations, for the good reason that science has proven itself to be trustworthy. People understand that, as I have shown to Daisy, science is "more real" than religion.

And even where some faithful dismiss science and claim that religion remains the ultimate truth, they still see a doctor when they're sick. Jesus may have insisted that our faith will heal us, but that infected appendix is really starting to hurt! God bless you, Oral Roberts Jr., but I'm pretty sure science will work better than your prayers.

And perhaps THAT concludes today's philosophy lecture. (But I wouldn't bet on it!)

Jeff Coleman said...

Hi again,

Outside of our philosophical discussion, I'd like to address some scientific misunderstandings.

From SnowdropExplodes' most recent pair of postings: "By your definition 'universe' = 'all things together" a) you include neither the Copenhagen Interpretation, nor the cosmological idea that there are other universes outside our own."

The Copenhagen Interpretation is an explanation of a phenomenon in quantum mechanics, which is the study of physics at the smallest scales. Specifically, quantum mechanics makes very precise predictions about the probability associated with each possible outcome of any given experimental setup in which the behavior of matter at the smallest scales is being observed. However, when the experiment is run, we observe only one actual result out of that set of possible results. The Copenhagen Interpretation holds that it is the act of OBSERVING the experiment itself that somehow selects that one actuality from the set of possibilities.

Keep in mind that this is only an interpretation, and although some physicists embrace it, it is controversial and increasingly out of favor.

Another interpretation is the "many universe" theory, which holds that each time the experiment is run, the universe splits into a separate "copy" for each possible result. We ourselves split into separate copies too, one in each universe, and we see the result -- and only the result -- for that universe. This interpretation is also controversial.

What is NOT simply an interpretation is the fact that we observe only one result each time the experiment is run. But when we run the experiment many times, we see precisely the distribution of events predicted by the probabilities calculated by quantum mechanics.

For example, let's say that each of four possible outcomes has a quantum mechanical probability of 1/4. We cannot predict precisely what outcome will result from any single experimental run, but after many runs, the results will be equally divided among the four possibilities. Quantum mechanics calculates those probabilities with extraordinary accuracy.

The behavior I just described, and which the Copenhagen Interpretation/"many universe" theory try to explain, falls ENTIRELY within my defined "universe." In the case of the "many universe" theory, that universe is the sum of all the split-off sub-universes.

Again, from SnowdropExplodes: "Indeed, the theory of relativity demonstrates that mass and distance are subjective depending upon the observer's movement in space and time (which is how come light always appears to be moving at the same rate of propagation regardless of the observer's relative velocity)."

Snowdrop is describing Einstein's theory of Special Relativity. It does NOT suggest that mass, distance, time, or space are "subjective." It DOES state that observers in different "inertial frames of reference" (basically, in uniform motion with regard to each other) will measure distance (in direction of motion), mass, and time differently, such that the speed of light is constant to all observers regardless of their motion. It calculates PRECISELY how different their measurements will be.

In fact, Einstein himself wanted to call it the "Theory of Constancy," because it allows the laws of physics to remain constant regardless of relative motion.

And it too, like quantum mechanics, falls ENTIRELY within my defined "universe."

DaisyDeadhead said...

Hey you crazy kidz! Just a note to say: I love hosting this discussion, so don't worry about it. In fact, one of my long-time blog fantasies is to host a thread that stretches into thousands of posts, and I personally have no part of it. :D Be polite and I am okay with you fellas arguing until (haha Jeff) the Second Coming. Really, carry on, very entertaining! Bring your friends! I might re-enter the discussion if anyone decides to get existentialist about it (Jeff seems unwilling or unable to go in that general direction)... Right now, dealing with the Infernal Revenue and not in a good mood.

Jeff, I think your worship at the Church of Jessica is understandable; she is quite lovely! But it's not that different from any other kind of "worship"--really. (I know, you find this hard to believe, just as you find so much else hard to believe, but it's true!)

Thank you Aileen! And everyone else, continue to discuss! Thank you, Snowdrop and Jeff, for being nice fellas.

word verification: coyegnou... good lord, they just get longer and longer...

SnowdropExplodes said...

Since our good host invites us to continue:

This is going to be stretched over several comments because of the length limit. I have tried to be thorough!

Objective reality includes everything observable, which is an awful lot of stuff. Furthermore, there is an objective reality *beneath* and *supporting* your subjective reality. That's because your subjective reality is a product of the objective reality of neural anatomy and neural activity of your brain (of which our scientific understanding is growing at a phenomenal rate, thanks to stunning improvements in brain imaging techniques). Objective reality is the SOURCE of your subjective reality.

Not really. I remain sceptical about what brain imaging technology actually shows in terms of how thought is related to brain events, and think more is claimed of it than can realistically be supported.

But, even so - let's take that as read: "there's an objective reality beneath and supporting your subjective reality." That's precisely the point I've been making concerning religion: that there is (or at least can be) an objective reality of God behind the subjective reality of religious believers' experience of God.

That's not what Jehovah, Allah, and Lord Krishna just whispered in my ear! Prove that I'm wrong. My subjective reality trumps your objective reality!

Easy.

Either a) you genuinely believe that one deity comprising all three, or else, three deities separately, did this - in which case, you now concede that religion is real. Or b) you're lying. If b) then you have disproved your statement for me because you're lying. If a) then you have disproved the point that you were trying to prove (that religion is less real).

Incidentally, you don't know your Abrahamic religions very well: Allah is specifically identical with YHWH (commonly transliterated as "Jehovah"), the God of the Septuagint/Hebrew Scriptures, and Allah is also given many other names besides in the Qu'ran, "Allah" is just the most commonly used one, and the one that is the main identifier through the majority of that book.

SnowdropExplodes said...

Continued from above:

Again, I must direct you back to my earliest post, in which I noted that science is based on observation, contrasting it with religion's being based on revelation.

Revelation is a form of observation, in that the person to whom God makes a revelation then observes that revelation and, in the case of the surviving texts, recorded the observation as best he could (invariably a "he" in terms of religious scripture, although some later Catholic saints who had visions were female).

It is not a scientifically repeatable observation, and fails most of Karl Popper's tests for scientific data as a result. But it is still observation.

Now I ask you: how do you know that something exists if you cannot observe it? Simply relying on your "feelings" is not very persuasive, as our discussion of the placebo effect demonstrated.

On the contrary: the placebo effect proves that there is a very real and measurable, and observable, effect of religion (assuming that actually is the effect that is involved). In that sense, religion is real in a scientific sense!

Similarly, "feelings" needs more definition here. Are we talking here about physical sensations, or emotions? Perhaps you want to include all mental events in "feelings", in which case we are never going to be able to have a constructive discussion because we simply can't agree on any terms at all, it seems!

And as already noted, without solid observations to back them up, the religions of the world disagree about reality. A Hindu physicist and a Moslem physicist will disagree on the number of gods, but they will agree on the mass of an electron.

But they might disagree on whether it was a particle or a wave, depending on how they chose to look at the electron (you know, of course, that two different teams won the Nobel prize for Physics in different years, one for "proving" the electron is a particle, the other for proving it's a wave). Similarly, perhaps there is a many/one "uncertainty principle" when it comes to God: if you choose to look at God in such a way as to see one God, then that's what you see (just as, if you choose to look at an electron as a particle, that's what you find). But if you look for the plurality of God (for instance, as I do when I use the compound pronoun "He/She/It/They") then you can see God as a number of different deities - just as looking at electrons through the two-slit experiment will reveal an interference pattern characteristic of waves rather than particles.

Jeff Coleman said...

Thanks, Daisy! SnowdropExplodes and I are well on our way to those thousands of posts!

At first, I really meant only to specifically address your question about which philosophical approach is "more real." I hope that I've been clear enough in explaining to you why I think science is indeed more real. And I think Snowdrop has nicely captured the opposing view, towards which I would guess you are more sympathetic.

At the very least, I hope I've shown you that those of us who do believe science is "more real" have a substantial philosophical case to back us up.

I really don't have anything against existentialism. I read "Being and Nothingness" and liked it, and I also like existential-flavored psychology (e.g., R.D. Laing).

The Jessica song/vid is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but she sure is worthy of my adoration. I don't subscribe any supernatural powers to her, however. Not yet, anyway.

SnowdropExplodes said...

Continued from above (yup, still going!):

What makes a theologian especially privy to the truth? Show us EVIDENCE that God can do squat!

I don't have to. All I have aimed to demonstrate is that you have not yet proved that science is more real than religion (no matter how many times you claim to have done so!) As long as it remains possible within your that God exists and can do these things, your argument has failed - and so far you have not disproved that God can do these things. Nevertheless:

You know, of course, that a person can only be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church if there is a miracle attributed to them as intercessor with God, right? And you know that they tend to be pretty thorough in investigating whether science can explain the miracle some other way? Is that not evidence enough for you? (Incidentally, this is relevant to your "science will be more effective than prayers" remark I deal with later - since most of the miracles recognised in recent times have been medical in nature, in situations where doctors have said "there is nothing more we can do to help you".)

Then I ask you, what makes a scientist especially privy to the truth? Only that they have studied their field of knowledge in the most thorough depth. Similarly, theologians study their field of knowledge in thorough depth. Your argument from higher knowledge is not convincing.

I noticed that you don't yet appear to have addressed my observation that a God hypothesis at least provides an explanation of why induction and the scientific method work so well - this is not proof of God's existence, but you asked for "evidence", not "proof". There is evidence, on the same basis as you argued that we know electrons exist (because we find the hypothesis useful and "untrue things are rarely useful").

Still not enough? Well, I would say that this is because you have decided in advance on tests for evidence that are inappropriate. As I explained with the analogy of determining whether a fish is alive. If in someone's opinion, for a thing to be alive, it has to breathe air, then nobody can ever prove to that person that a fish is alive. Just because there is no evidence that you will accept, does not mean that there is no evidence.

S: "So here's where your argument falls down, Jeff: you are not comparing like with like."

Only because religion has ceded the universal explanations to science.


No, you completely missed the point of my statement. I'll ask you again: is a single scientific experiment "as real as" a whole scientific theory? Is it more real or less real than that theory?

And even where some faithful dismiss science and claim that religion remains the ultimate truth, they still see a doctor when they're sick.

You continue to frame religion as being antagonistic to science, but that just isn't true. We go to see a doctor, because that doctor has studied from the great book of nature, written and composed by the (figurative) hand of God (NB - I'm not asking you to accept that thesis, I am explaining the logic of why a religious person finds no conflict between the two). There is no conflict between science and religion, except in the minds of those who cannot tell the difference between figurative and literal language.

God bless you, Oral Roberts Jr., but I'm pretty sure science will work better than your prayers.

Ah, but the science of medicine is an answer to those prayers! As this little parable shows. (In fact, the linked article puts it directly into a medical care context.)

SnowdropExplodes said...

Almost done now!

On "scientific misunderstandings", I admit it: I got my terminology wrong: I meant to say many universes theory instead of Copenhagen Interpretation. It was late and I was tired. Such is blogging life!

Snowdrop is describing Einstein's theory of Special Relativity. It does NOT suggest that mass, distance, time, or space are "subjective." It DOES state that observers in different "inertial frames of reference" (basically, in uniform motion with regard to each other) will measure distance (in direction of motion), mass, and time differently, such that the speed of light is constant to all observers regardless of their motion. It calculates PRECISELY how different their measurements will be.

Well, now - we differ again on definitions. Even though relativity explains (as you say, very precisely) how different the observations will be, that still means that they are different depending on who observes them, and in what way. That, to me, is the definition of "subjective". The subjective experiences are linked in a clearly defined (even objective) way, but I still maintain that the observations themselves are subjective.

All you have proved is that, as yet, there is no religious equivalent of relativity or quantum theory. But in 1870, say, there was no physical theory of relativity or quantum physics either, but the problems that they eventually solved were just beginning to come to light.

And on this note, I think we can end with a compromise statement, if you're willing to accept it:

Religion is equally valid as a quest for truth, but it is not as advanced down its path for spiritual truth as science is down its path for physical truth. Because in these terms, science is closer to the truth with which it is concerned, science can be said to be "more real" (in your terms) than religion is close to the truth with which it is concerned.

For you, the truth that religion seeks to address cannot be approached by physically objective means, so for you it is less real in that sense also. However, this viewpoint is not shared by many people in the world, and therefore your definitions of what is "more real" are subjective and cannot be proved without falling foul of a "begging the question" logical fallacy.

I will agree to let you be happy with your subjective definitions if you will let me be happy with my subjective "reality" (and no, I don't ask you to accept it as real - it's my subjective reality and needn't be yours!). That is what is called "religious tolerance".

SnowdropExplodes said...

One last thing: Many thanks to Daisy for hosting this debate, and also many thanks to Jeff for the very entertaining mental workout that this has provided. I've run out of "oomph" to keep on debating further (I do have a life to lead besides this!), but it's been great :-)

Jeff Coleman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff Coleman said...

Continuing the back-and-forth with SnowdropExplodes.

S: "...there is (or at least can be) an objective reality of God behind the subjective reality of religious believers' experience of God."

What evidence do you have that God exists in OBJECTIVE reality? Show me something that anyone could observe that demonstrates his OBJECTIVE existence. A measurement, for example.


S: "As long as it remains possible within your [universe?] that God exists and can do these things, your argument has failed - and so far you have not disproved that God can do these things."

It is a fundamental rule of debate that the burden of proof lies with the affirmative. You are AFFIRMING that God exists and can do things, therefore it is also your task to PROVE that.


S: "Then I ask you, what makes a scientist especially privy to the truth?"

The dependence of the scientific process on evidence, on repeatability of experimental results, on the falsifiability of hypotheses, on the openness of the scientific method toward new observations and theories, and so on.


S: "I'll ask you again: is a single scientific experiment 'as real as' a whole scientific theory? Is it more real or less real than that theory?"

Not sure what you are getting at. A theory is an explanation. An experiment is a event. An experiment can confirm or cast doubt on a theory.


S: "You know, of course, that a person can only be declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church if there is a miracle attributed to them as intercessor with God, right? And you know that they tend to be pretty thorough in investigating whether science can explain the miracle some other way? Is that not evidence enough for you?"

Absolutely not. Simply because we have no scientific explanation for an observation DOES NOT SHOW that NO scientific explanation CAN exist. Many many phenomena that were once considered miraculous are now easily explained scientifically.


S: "I remain sceptical about what brain imaging technology actually shows in terms of how thought is related to brain events."

Brain imaging is already so advanced it can detect whether you are thinking of a noun or a verb, which makes it quite clear that thought is related to brain events. Hence, your subjective reality is grounded in a measurable objective reality.


S: "Revelation is a form of observation, in that the person to whom God makes a revelation then observes that revelation ...It is not a scientifically repeatable observation, and fails most of Karl Popper's tests for scientific data as a result. But it is still observation."

Well, there you have it. It's not repeatable. What gives some prophet any particular claim to the truth? How do you know that his "revelation" even happened? If your truth depends on revelation, then it depends on the say-so of some person, often dead for centuries. That is a poor excuse for finding the truth.

And if revelation reveals the truth, how can revelations be mutually exclusive? Muhammad's revelation is diametrically opposed to Paul's. How can that be, if revelation is a path to the truth? Either Jesus is the Son of God or he's not. You can't have it both ways. But we are offered both "revelations."


S: "But [Hindu and Moslem physicists] might disagree on whether it was a particle or a wave..."

But not because they're Hindu and Moslem! Scientists can and do disagree. It's part of the process. But it has nothing to do with the culture of their birth or their religious tradition.


S: "You continue to frame religion as being antagonistic to science, but that just isn't true."

But they ARE antagonistic because science depends on observation and evidence in its approach to the truth and religion depends on revelation. It's as simple as that. Never the twain shall meet.

Jeff Coleman said...

Looks like our responses passed each other through the internets, SnowdropExplodes!


From you: "Even though relativity explains (as you say, very precisely) how different the observations will be, that still means that they are different depending on who observes them, and in what way. That, to me, is the definition of 'subjective'. The subjective experiences are linked in a clearly defined (even objective) way, but I still maintain that the observations themselves are subjective."

The Special Theory of Relativity is a theory of electromagnetism (as opposed to the General Theory, which is a theory of gravitation). It is really *compelled* by the laws of electromagnetism (the classical form are Maxwell's Equations), because those laws contain a constant term, "c," which happens to be the speed of light.

The problem is, if two observers are moving in relation to each other, then how can the speed of light be constant for BOTH of them? What Special Relativity does is allow the laws of electromagnetism to work consistently even when observers move. It preserves the (objective) laws of physics regardless of (subjective) frame of reference.


Also from you: "I will agree to let you be happy with your subjective definitions if you will let me be happy with my subjective "reality" (and no, I don't ask you to accept it as real - it's my subjective reality and needn't be yours!). That is what is called 'religious tolerance'."

I DEFINITELY think you should be happy no matter how our philosophies may differ. I really love science, and what I've been writing about here is the epistemology of science. But I certainly don't insist that you or anyone else share my epistemic views. Obviously, I think science is more truthful than the alternatives, and that is exactly why I love it. I wanted to answer Daisy's question as effectively as I could, because we've been friends forever and I think she might appreciate my perspective. And you've posed interesting and worthwhile objections that I wanted to address. But in the end, we're all just people trying to find our way, and if epistemology is the only thing we differ on, well that's a pretty minor thing! What's important to me is that people are kind and open, and that they don't unnecessarily hurt each other or the rest of the living things on the planet.

Cheers!

SnowdropExplodes said...

Okay, just one more quick one, because this literally made me LOL when I saw it. I think it encapsulates just how different our two perspectives truly are:


S: "You continue to frame religion as being antagonistic to science, but that just isn't true."

But they ARE antagonistic because science depends on observation and evidence in its approach to the truth and religion depends on revelation. It's as simple as that. Never the twain shall meet.


You see, I think "never the twain shall meet" is precisely why there is NO antagonism! It's only when practitioners of one field try to venture into the realm of the other that problems occur. Otherwise, because their subject matter is different, there is no area for direct disagreement or conflict.

I think I see where your view comes from, and can accept it as valid on those grounds, but it's not one I can ever imagine myself sharing.

Thanks again for a most entertaining discussion. I thought I'd close by quoting from you two things on which we most heartily agree:

What Special Relativity does is allow the laws of electromagnetism to work consistently even when observers move. It preserves the (objective) laws of physics regardless of (subjective) frame of reference.

(Cos that's what I thought I said in my post!)

And:

What's important to me is that people are kind and open, and that they don't unnecessarily hurt each other or the rest of the living things on the planet.

McDuff said...

I think, if you start an argument about science by defining rationality as axiomatically illusory, you're not really going to have a conversation with a scientist — ever — that has much common ground.

I also think that two and two still comes to four whether you're a straight white Christian male or a black Somalian lesbian Sikh. There are some things that even the patriarchy can't be held responsible for. You can throw a brick and I can throw a brick, and our belief systems have nothing to do with the trajectories those bricks follow through the air. I can believe as hard as I want that the sky goddess will fly in on the magical unicorn and take that brick out of the air and transport it to the gumdrop castle, but it won't happen. The brick will have no truck with such notions, and will move according to its mass, the gravitational field of the planet, air resistance, and how hard I threw it in the first place. Maybe some temperature stuff in there as well.

Anyway, these are all measurable, physical characteristics. They are all, for want of a better word, true. They may well be considered illusory if we are delving deep into the impossibility of knowledge, or something, but then if I throw that brick at your head, I don't get to claim that I haven't assaulted you because you don't *really* know if the pain you feel isn't just illusory. We have a standard operating assumption that the world is approximately as it appears to be, and that this appearance is approximately constant across different observers. Everything else is beard stroking, because it won't change the functional merits of these assumptions.

So let's assume you're *not* arguing that *all* human experience is illusory, I think (it seems anyway) that you're conflating things on behalf of rationality and then berating rationalists for conflating them, even if they didn't.

"Scientists have done mean things" is... well, true. But has no bearing on whether or not science uncovers the truth. The atomic bomb was a terrible thing that killed millions of people, but you couldn't talk it out of that by telling it it was being mean. The laws of general relativity hold whether they're being used for good or evil.

Now, if you want to make the argument that there is a subjective kind of truth, based on the internal emotional self, in which one can classify something like "God" as a meaningful concept along the same lines as "love" or "beauty" then I can see the argument. But, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder (or, probably more appropriately, in the frontal cortex of the beholder), so your belief in this subjective truth of God doesn't make him, her, it or they actually exist in the same sense that the brick falling through the air exists. If the brick hits your head and disables your frontal cortex, your particular god disappears, and nobody would be able to reconstruct it. The brick, on the other hand, would still be there. It requires no observer. We could use our evil science rays and nukes and destroy all life on this planet, in the process wiping out all gods, all understanding of love, peace, hate, war, lust and fear, and the brick would still sit there, being all brick-like, absolutely indifferent to whether we knew of it or valued it or named it or otherwise.

Wanting the world to be different does not make the world different. Wanting the world to be different, plus a dollar, buys you a cheeseburger. Changing the world requires you to physically interact with it, and with the people around you. Praying isn't going to cut it - that's you interacting with yourself, which might be helpful in changing you into a better tool to then go out and change the world, but will not, in case of fact, actually change the world.

Jeff Coleman said...

That's a clear and concise analysis of objective vs. subjective, from Mr. McDuff. I'm glad he posted that, because I think there was still some confusion about the difference.

In particular, in our discussion of Special Relativity, the reality of the observers in the various moving reference frames is NOT subjective. They may disagree about some aspects of each others' observations, but they all agree on the fundamental rules of the game: the physics of the objective reality.

Furthermore, all observers in a given reference frame will agree on an observation, demonstrating again that reality within the frame is not subjective.

McDuff said...

I dunno, when you're dealing with people who claim that reality is illusory, it's hard to reference special relativity because "nothing proves anything, man! how do you know we're not just imagining each other!"

That's why I use bricks rather than scientific theories, and call it a useful assumption rather than a proof. "If I hit you in the face with a brick, it would hurt, so you do not want me to hit you in the face with a brick." Regardless of whether this plane of perception is, like, *really* real, the ultimate truth or whatever, it is nonetheless the only one to which we have direct access. It is our sole plane of experience. It therefore does us good to say that, whatever we mean by "me" "you" "brick" "hurt" in that example, we should accept that these things are as true as it gets.

I find this gets past a lot of the "you can't really know, all knowledge is suspect, can't we just meditate our way to the truth" stuff. We don't know, can't know for certain that the mass of an electron will be the same tomorrow as it is today. But we do know that every single time we have measured an electron in the past, it has been that mass. We do know that every single piece of electronics, of which there are billions, relies on this truth. I know that every time I do my job I am marshalling trillions of electrons in my service, every single one of which must be the same because otherwise the whole thing wouldn't work - because the system was designed to operate according to electronic principles which break down if electrons are different masses. MAYBE that experience isn't based on any hard and fast law, and MAYBE it's just the appearance of rules within a much bigger and more arbitary environment which would render science inaccurate. But by the same token, MAYBE if I hit you in the face with a brick it won't hurt, at all, and will in fact give you a mindblowing orgasm.

But would you bet on it?

Jeff Coleman said...

I think the brick approach is excellent and makes the point in such a way that it's hard to use specious arguments against it. Trust me, I'll be plagiarizing it in future debates.

The Special Relativity and quantum mechanics subjects were introduced by SnowdropExplodes, above. I wanted to show that they do not suggest that objective reality is really subjective.

My usual approach is epistemological, showing how science converges on the truth, and challenging the other side to show how faith leads to truth, as you can see in my earliest posts waaaaaaay up above.

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff, ever seen FIGHT CLUB? Ever read the Marquis de Sade? Some people DO have mindblowing orgasms from getting hit. You know that, right?

Sorry, Jeff and McDuff, but I find the analogy lacking.

Jeff Coleman said...

"Some people DO have mindblowing orgasms from getting hit."

In the head with a brick??

So far in this discussion, you haven't argued that reality is illusory, and I don't think you hold that position. But you can construct a nice counter argument to it using bricks. And a bit of mortar.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Jeff, I think the Buddhists are right that the "self" is an illusion. Not sure about everything else, but I do know for sure that "reality" is way over-rated. :)

McDuff said...

Some people DO have mindblowing orgasms from getting hit.

How very pedantic of you.

Yes, BDSM exists. But people who get off on pain, get off on pain. The psychological reaction to physical stimulus is different, the physical stimulus remains exactly the same.

And very few people, as has been pointed out, get off on being hit in the face with a brick.

but I find the analogy lacking.

What analogy?

If I throw a brick at your head, it will follow certain physical laws, connect with your head, and really hurt you. That's not an analogy for anything. That's me talking about bricks.

The funky thing about bricks is that you're free to believe that they, as mere aspects of an illusory reality, are unreal and imaginary, but they still hurt if you get hit by one. That fact is entirely and utterly independent of your belief system, my belief system, anyone's belief system. You can spend decades of your life carefully constructing a philosophy that derides mere reality and its many brick-like substructures as shadows designed to obscure the fundamental truth about the universe, and it doesn't matter at all because I can still, if I have enough bricks, build a house that will protect me from the elements.

The only thing a brick is analogous to here, in this context, is a brick.

Frankly, if you can't even agree that there is a mutually useful set of assumptions that we all share here, such that when I say "here is a brick" you can understand the concept I'm conveying, then I think it's fair to say you can't have a conversation about anything, at all. If we can't mutually agree that "hard things hitting you in the head at speed will hurt" then, frankly, we've no hope of agreeing on god, truth, justice and beauty, have we?

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff...okay, so?

McDuff: If we can't mutually agree that "hard things hitting you in the head at speed will hurt" then, frankly, we've no hope of agreeing on god, truth, justice and beauty, have we?

I guess the hitting-with-bricks story doesn't really speak to me and doesn't strike me as this big revelatory truth. It's who is hitting whom, and why, and what we do afterwards, that *does* speak to me. (As usual, men reduce everything to a Three Stooges routine.)

How very pedantic of you.

And no reason to get snotty with me. Please read GENERAL NOTICE, above. Thanks.

SnowdropExplodes said...

@Jeff:

I wanted to show that they do not suggest that objective reality is really subjective."

Since I never argued that they do show that, this is pointless. What I did argue is that individual people's experiences are subjective. I never denied that there is (or could be) a single objective reality on which those experiences are based.

I did this to show how religious subjective experience could also be in relation to an objective reality of God. That therefore, the statement that religion is less "real" than science is not proven. I have never claimed to disprove that statement, only to show that it cannot be taken as a definite axiom.

***

...your belief in this subjective truth of God doesn't make him, her, it or they actually exist in the same sense that the brick falling through the air exists.

True enough. But I believe in an objective reality of God, that we detect through our subjective experiences. True story: I am told that I was hit by a car when I was 12 years old. To this day, I have no memory of the event. As far as my subjective reality is concerned, that car did not exist. Yet, I ended up in hospital with a scar and all sorts to prove that there was a car and it did hit me. My subjective reality is that there was no car. Objective reality is that there was. My belief that there was no car apparently does not make it the case that there was no car. I now accept others' word for it that there was a car because that best fits the other experiences I had (e.g. waking up in a hospital bed with a scar and bandages and stuff).

Similarly, Aristotle's subjective reality was that heavy things fall faster than light things, and that is indeed how many people perceive the world. It turns out that this subjective reality does not match what was determined by serious scientific inquiry by such figures as Galileo (who demonstrated that all things fall at the same rate) and Newton (who created equations to show why).

We all construct subjective realities based on our individual experiences of a shared objective reality (leaving aside all "Matrix"-style brain-in-a-jar hypotheses). I cannot know what it is like to be you, and you cannot know what it is like to be me. Does that make my "me"ness or your "you"ness less real?

Now, equally, it is possible to say that every religious believer has their subjective experience and reality of God based upon a shared objective reality.

Praying isn't going to cut it - that's you interacting with yourself, which might be helpful in changing you into a better tool to then go out and change the world, but will not, in case of fact, actually change the world.

Well, gosh, you know where else you can find that sentiment? In EVERY SINGLE RELIGIOUS TEXT I'VE EVER READ. Baghavad Gita, Qu'ran, Old Testament, New Testament, even to a small extent in the Tao Te Ching (which tends to be more about letting stuff happen).

SnowdropExplodes said...

oops, I forgot to clarify that most of my last post (the bit after the "***") was aimed at McDuff, not Jeff! Sorry!

Jeff Coleman said...

Hi again, SnowdropExplodes and everyone,

OK, so let's see where we are in agreement:

1) An objective reality exists.
2) Our subjective experiences are based on that reality. I will take that to mean that we can know at least something about objective reality.

Now we are back to the original question, "HOW do you know/HOW do you know that you know?" We are examining the two principal answers:

1). Science is empirical: We know about objective reality by observing it and interacting with it.

2). Religion is revelatory: We know about objective reality through revelation.

Science has clearly demonstrated that its application brings us ever closer to an understanding of objective reality, based on the examples and reasons discussed above. I don't think any of us would deny this.

So what about religion? CAN we know about objective reality through revelation?

We cannot, because as I have shown, the revelations are CONTRADICTORY. There is only ONE objective reality. In it, Jesus EITHER IS the son of God OR he is NOT the son of God. I'm sure we agree on that. Yet we have one revelation that he IS the son of God (Paul) and another that is NOT (Muhammad).

So we see that scientific understanding CONVERGES and revelation DIVERGES. Therefore, revelation CANNOT be a path to the truth. Therefore, science is WAY "more real" that religion.

QED. And t-t-t-t-that's all, folks!

McDuff said...

Daisy.

I wasn't getting snotty with you, that was a daft thing to say. What point did you think you were making? "Well, according to 1000 days in Sodom, being hit in the face with a brick *doesn't hurt at all!*" Did you honestly think that was a compelling "gotcha" moment?


I guess the hitting-with-bricks story doesn't really speak to me and doesn't strike me as this big revelatory truth

It's not supposed to be a big revelatory truth. It's supposed to point out the very real, very relevant limits to the "reality is all illusory" canard. Indeed, its mundanity is part of the point. Nobody except lunatics would argue against it, because it's merely an example of the position we find ourselves in as a matter of course, simply by existing.

Sure, to you people may be more interesting than bricks - they are to me too. But you don't understand people's motives by making things up about how they may be creating their own realities as they move through a fluctuating miasma of all possible universes. It's only possible for you to comprehend motive at all if you first start from the baseline operating assumptions I described above: that there is some form of objective reality that we can perceive, describe and interact with; that one person's perception of this reality is broadly but functionally similar to another's. Also useful to recognise is that it is possible to communicate subjective views about the outside reality between observers and to use them to update our understanding of internal models of the exterior reality. I.e. You call me on the phone and say "where did you leave the peaches?" I say "they're on the bottom shelf in the pantry" and you know where the peaches are even though you have no experiential knowledge.

Why did you then go directly to the pantry to get peaches rather than searching for them? Because you knew they were there. Without those three simple assumptions, we can't explain why you did what you did. We can't even be sure we did do what you did. This might strike you as simplistic, but it's analogous to everything: we can understand and explain nothing about human action or behaviour unless we first assume that your world is, broadly speaking, my world.

Once you have those assumptions in place — and as I say, you must have them — science starts winning. Slowly, bit by bit, because it's a process and not an authority, it eradicates smallpox, splits the atom, takes a million pictures of the universe with orbital telescopes and publishes them on the internet. You can argue that these things are for good or ill, but all science has done is create a more detailed model of the objective world that people can use to manipulate and create. What they create with that knowledge is up to them. The knowledge itself is as amoral as the brick flying through the air. If a brick hits you in the face it neither knows your pain nor cares one jot. If it misses you and lands in a pile it has no feeling of a crisis narrowly averted. Such concepts are irrelevant to it.

This might, to you, make it feel as if bricks are uninteresting, but this is not the case with science. Science is a way of describing bricks in detail. If someone later uses the detailed description of a brick to build a more efficient house or a more efficient brick throwing catapult, this in no sense affects the truth of that initial description. And, indeed, if both work well, both are confirmations that the science was correct.

You might not like that science is amoral. You might not like the fact that discoveries don't come with a tag saying "you must only use this knowledge for good, yo" on them. But your displeasure, while noted and valid, isn't a reasonable objection to the accuracy of that knowledge.

McDuff said...

This is going to be a long reply to Snowdrop, sorry. I have edited as much as possible, but there are some concepts that have brevity limits.

I did this to show how religious subjective experience could also be in relation to an objective reality of God.

It could also be in relation to a subjective experience of being dreaming apes with limited experience. See the third useful global assumption above: that experiences of the outside world can be communicated between subjective observers.

Consider this example. I tell you "there is a goat in the barn." You go and look: there is no goat in the barn. You think: there may have been a goat in the barn that has now gone (i.e. my internal model of the world was out of date), or that there never was a goat in the barn and I was lying or mistaken. You don't think "there's a goat there I can't see." If I then come into the barn next to you, point to a patch of empty space and say "look at that goat," you start to question *my* sanity - the accuracy of my internal model of the world, not your own.

But *function* is an important word here. Many things our outside any of our direct experience. Are the stars giant balls of nuclear fusion many light years distant, or are they lights suspended on a sphere twenty miles up? From the point of view of the average human, either is plausible. Indeed, because of the complexity of the universe it is highly unlikely that you would guess the right answer from observation without context. I can tell you something incorrect and, as long as it doesn't directly contradict your experience, you have no reason to disbelieve me. Our functional experience of most aspects of the universe is not at the convenient scale of "is the goat in the barn", so it's possible to create internal models of the external universe which are functionally accurate despite being wrong.

We know from experience that people will see things that are not there — dreams and hallucinations. Indeed, the more we begin to understand about cognition, we realise that "seeing things that aren't there" could almost be called the baseline state of human existence. We use the same visual parts of our brain to comprehend concepts like "the peaches are in the pantry" or "last week Bill was out of town" even if we are not directly apprehending them. This is the reason we can even have a model of reality in the first place.

It also, though, indicates that it's a process that can go wrong. We can see things that aren't there, which means we can see things which were never there. We can have an internal model which is incorrect, which we then pass on to someone else. When dealing with things like goats in barns the errors can be corrected, but when dealing with things like the positions of the stars, what happens to people who are alive when they die, what causes the thunder, where do diseases come from etc etc, the actual causes are outside of our immediate grasp.

Although talking about the "evolution" of religion is a simplification, it is not that controversial to say that at root all religions are an attempt to explain the inexplicable ("spiritual" is a word that I find pretty circular). It's extremely likely, and very plausible given the evidence, that the further back you go into our own evolutionary history, the more similar religions are to animist beliefs which anthropomorphise physical characteristics of the world in order to make them more comprehensible, as part of a shared cultural history (a necessary part of any cohesive human social network). Concepts like "God" are useful, even if they are not true, for any number of reasons, be they explaining mysteries or enforcing social norms.

(tbc...)

McDuff said...

Returning to the goat: your confidence in your internal model is dependent on external corroboration. If the rest of the village came into the barn and said "There's no goat here" you'd have much more reason to believe that I was either lying or insane. On the other hand, if they came in and said "Look at that goat, why can't you see it?" you would instead begin to doubt your own sanity, your own internal model of reality.

Extrapolating that out, acknowledging our status as subjective observers, scientific enquiry places great stock on corroboration, particularly corroboration from across disciplines and geographic distances. If everyone in the same lab in Chicago observes something, it might be true, or it might be because they're all using the same inaccurately calibrated measuring device. If people studying the same problem in Paris and Beijing also return similar results, it becomes much more likely that there's something to it — that the measurements reflect something true about the world.

When it comes to religion, the closer you are to someone socially, geographically, historically, the more likely you are to share their religious beliefs. The further away you get, the more mutually incoherent the belief systems get. You can claim things like

Well, gosh, you know where else you can find that sentiment? In EVERY SINGLE RELIGIOUS TEXT I'VE EVER READ.

and not be strictly wrong, because, of course you can — people can and do read whatever they like into the religious texts, informed by the what they believe they ought to say. That's why you can get murderous and peaceful Muslims, agnostic and fundamentalist Christians, and people from western countries basing their knowledge of Buddhism off the culturally colonialist stuff the Beatles brought over. Believing that God is a path to internal revelation and not an active force in the world is by no means consistent with the majority of historical religious interpretations of the Christian texts, which emphasise an external God who can influence the world alone. See, as an illustrative example, this study on Elisha and the bears. And, of course, underlying the initial statement I made was the assertion that God was a product of your internal mind, which is something you can't find in the Koran, but something you chose to discard to concentrate on the one section of the statement you *did* believe in.

That you read something fundamentally different from the Old Testament than other scholars doesn't mean you or they are right or wrong, because religious texts are not functionally bricks. They are used for post-hoc rationalisation of existing social and psychological predispositions. What it does indicate, though, is evidence for a lack of cohesion between religious experiences. Not just the fact of religious diversity, but the manner and distribution of that diversity, fits in with a model that you would expect to arise if such experience were based, not on reference to an external reality, but to internally constructed "inaccurate but useful" models passed on and reinforced via known social channels of communication.

Subjective experience does not mean that all people are islands, alone unto themselves. Societies are, in the historical context, pretty insular in comparison to individuals, who constantly cross-pollinate ideas and concepts from head to head. And its at the social level that we, now, in a modern age which has brought about an ability to view things from an unprecedented global vantage point, and can see not just that people are different, but the manner and style of these differences and the ways in which the differences evolve and mutate over time and with exposure to other human beings.

(tbc again!!...)

McDuff said...

(final post, sorry about the length here)

To turn the whole thing round now, the "objective existence of God" is a proposition about objective reality and must therefore have some testable hypotheses that spring from it.

The "non-overlapping magesteria" concept is, I believe, a cop out. If human beings can interact with God, which they must be able to do in order to have a perception of him/her/it/them, then there must be an overlap. To argue for a *complete* lack of overlap is, in essence, to argue that God exists but is functionally irrelevant to any actual human belief in God — a God we cannot perceive or interact with is the same, from our point of view, as there being no God.

Further, you make the argument that all people everywhere can have some conception and understanding of God, thus indicating that God is, in your model of the universe, something *easily* perceivable at least in part, even if not fully graspable (analogously, like the stars, which everyone with vision and access to the night sky can see, but which nobody can directly experience and which few can understand completely.)

On the contrary, our knowledge of bricks and associated entities requires no superfluous entities like God to make them work. Our understanding of the universe is not helped by adding a deity to it; in fact, it adds unnecessary and sometimes unfathomable complexity. Our understanding of electricity, of molecular biology, of gravity, not only does not require a God entity but is actively hindered if we have to explain the way things are given the assumption of an external intelligent force influencing it. No engineer would design a four-limbed biped by modifying a quadrupedal form, but a series of gradual changes operating under the pressure of selection for reproductive fitness would have no other option. The human spine is entirely explicable with natural selection, entirely inexplicable given the assumption of a guiding intelligence.

To ask you, then, about the big fat *therefores* implied by the God Hypothesis, what benefit does it bring to our understanding of the objective world to place this supernatural entity in it? The scientist in me asks the question: given the two competing hypotheses, that God is an external entity perceived imperfectly by humans (and potentially by other animals, but certainly not by rocks), or is a socially created concept that has emerged as a result of a particular kind of social/cognitive feedback loop, what measurable differences would we expect to see in the world?

Is there any way of measuring, or even of imagining, a difference between a world with an external God and a world without one? And if not, what good has it therefore done us to place this entity in our model of the world? Have we not, by doing so, merely all chosen to believe the man who claims that there is an invisible goat in the barn, which gives no milk or wool, which makes no noise, which eats no grass or hay, which does not require mucking out, but which nonetheless is held to exist in some conceptual state beyond our comprehension? What benefits do we glean by going with your hypothesis over mine, if we cannot tell the difference between the two?

And if we can tell the difference, what do you think we should be looking for?

Genuine questions all, and I'd be keen to hear your answers.

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff: But you don't understand people's motives by making things up about how they may be creating their own realities as they move through a fluctuating miasma of all possible universes.

Sure I do, since I do it all the time. :) I am the one arguing existentialism here. I think you might be the one who doesn't understand the emotional motives of the religious-minded.

It's only possible for you to comprehend motive at all if you first start from the baseline operating assumptions I described above: that there is some form of objective reality that we can perceive, describe and interact with; that one person's perception of this reality is broadly but functionally similar to another's.

What do you think of the "Wittengenstein's beetle" thought experiment? (a favorite of Philip K Dick, which is what sent me looking for it.)

First, we have to agree about what reality is and what it means. Otherwise, how do we know what we are talking about?

Example: Could you explain ONE thing to me? Why will one person say a song sucks, but its #1 on the charts and lots of people think its great? Isn't the existence of the music OBJECTIVELY true? Hell yes, you can hear it. You can replay it. If you have the sheet music, you can peck it out on a piano. Yet one person says "Great!" and another says "Yuck!" and they may even come from the same family, may even be twins who share the same DNA. Why?

My contention is that religion is like music and art, and thus involves subjective judgment.

You can talk science all you want, but as Stephen Jay Gould said, religion tells us how to get to heaven, while science tells us how the heavens work. I see no contradiction or why they have to be in opposition, any more than science has to be in opposition to music and art. This is my position, and until someone tells me why I'm WRONG, that will remain my position. Works for me.

And BTW, WORKS FOR ME is the crux of the existential argument. Bottom line, you cannot tell me what works best for me, just as I cannot tell you what works best for you. (and you can't dictate to me which music is best and what I must listen to) If you read upthread, you will read that I *was* an atheist before (Jeff has witnessed! I have known Jeff since I was a TEENAGER!) and it simply didn't work for me. You can talk science till the cows come home, and that won't change that fact.

Atheists seem as intactable about that as the religious fundamentalists: NO, YOU AREN'T ALLOWED TO CRAFT YOUR OWN BELIEF SYSTEM, YOU (choose one) IDIOT/HERETIC! Can't tellem apart without the proverbial scorecard.

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff: Our understanding of the universe is not helped by adding a deity to it; in fact, it adds unnecessary and sometimes unfathomable complexity.

Nope, it doesn't feel that way to us. In fact, believe it or not, some of us can't conceive of it any other way. We have even tried to *force* ourselves.

As I wrote here (page down to point #5), when I have tried not to be religious, I am overtaken with superstition and fear. Religion is a RATIONAL (by comparison, IMO) way to channel this impulse that I fully admit I have tried to eliminate from my being, and simply cannot.

Just because something is true for you, does not mean its true for everyone. The sooner you understand this fact, the better your interactions with other people, the better your ability to feel compassion and empathy for them.

And that's what I'M about.

McDuff said...

Sure I do, since I do it all the time. :)

No you don't. You wouldn't be able to make it out of the front door. You wouldn't be able to have this conversation with me if you thought that was the case. The evidence that you are sitting there, arguing the point, is evidence that you operate based on shared assumptions of a mutually explicable world, even if you don't believe that's what you're doing. That you have some sense of social justice is further evidence that you think reality is, in some sense, unmalleable; taking food from the hungry can only be *unfair* if food is a limited resource that depends on a physical universe that corresponds between the one doing the taking and the one taking from. Otherwise the entire concept of fairness falls on its arse. Without an assumption that when you see someone take candy from a baby that's what they think they're doing too, you have no grounds to tell them not to do it.

Wittengenstein's beetle vastly overstates the case, frankly. Even within its own terms it overstates its conclusions by assuming that the only mechanism people have for gaining knowledge is direct observation. As I've said, that's not how the mind works. Even if I cannot see whether someone's "beetle" is the same as mine, I can work various things out about it from the box. I know that "beetle" as a subclass must be something small enough to fit in the box, that it must be a physical object, that it must be light enough to carry. I can also talk to someone about their beetle. "Does it have six legs?" "Is it alive?" "Beetles" are a wide class of object, but it doesn't take very much at all to narrow down what kind of object they are, even if you have never seen one.

But not only does it fail in that sense, it fails more generally because we can experimentally show that, in many ways, the human mind is a construct based on very similar shared processes. Indeed, it can't really be any other way, since we *can* all communicate with each other, all recognise people, all share a similar understanding of the outside world. Take a look at this example of a very simple but very powerful optical illusion. Such things — examples of the real ways in which our perceptions of reality can indeed be "illusory" — are common across the whole population, because of the very real trade-offs our brains have to make when constructing a machine like the mind that has to filter and interpret vast swathes of sensory data and make a sensible model of the world with it. Everything from language to faces to emotional intelligence has a built in pattern of neurons that is built by DNA, in the same place across all humans, to the extent that you can register and understand the message conveyed by a human making the expression for "disgust", even if that person is merely in a photograph taken fifty years ago in South Korea — and that person living in South Korea a hundred years ago could conceivably have drawn a cartoon version of a disgusted person which you would be able to interpret relatively easily despite the massive distance of time, geography and culture, using only a few facial cues which are coded to work across the entire species. When it comes to more fundamental emotional states — fear, anger, contentment — we can interpret them across species, because the visual representation and interpretation of emotions has been a useful trait for mammals for millions of years and our brains are all modified versions of the same common ancestor.

Your mind is not exactly the same thing as my mind. But it is verifiably built by the same process, out of the same stuff, and functions in much the same way. Otherwise we wouldn't work right.

McDuff said...

(has the thread just lost some comments?)

McDuff said...

My contention is that religion is like music and art, and thus involves subjective judgment.

Subjective judgement based on an objective reality, Daisy. You may hate Metallica and I may love it, but in order for us to even get to that stage we have to share a vast number of common reference points. We both have to listen to the same pattern of compressed and rarefied air pressure waves. We both have to interpret them with the same physiological mechanism for converting air movement into electrical signals, and from there with the same psychological mechanism for interpreting tone, language and rhythm. Once in there we may differ on our opinions, but that represents a tiny divergence at the very end point of a long string of steps, most of which are, by necessity, common between us.

So comparing it to art and music isn't answering the question. It's a subjective opinion... of what? I can dislike a painting that you love, but we both have to agree that the painting is physically there, hanging on a wall, made of canvas and oil and wood or whatever. It's not art criticism to say "I dislike this Picasso because I believe it has no material existence."

So what is "religion" a subjective interpretation of? Is it an interpretation of a real, external entity, or a set of social and cognitive conventions?

And that's what I'm talking about. You can believe whatever you want, I can't stop you. But, you didn't just say "this is my personal belief system," you said "reality is overrated," you said "rationality is an illusion" (with overtones of "rationality is propagated by the patriarchy to keep people down, yo"). You said not just that it was your belief system, but that it was one you were prepared to defend, if necessary by slamming "science" for being a patriarchal dead end that was totally bought by monied interests — ironic given that what you were defending is a system of belief that has been used by patriarchal monied interests for centuries! That is not just a nice, easy system of personal growth and development - that's politics.

I've said above that I've no problem with personal subjective definitions of "truth" that are based on internal emotional models. "I love cheese" is something that can be true for me and not for thee. But "if i drop a rock off the Tower of Pisa, 1 second later it will be travelling at 9.81m/s" is not something that's open to debate and argument. This is the difference between an objective truth and a subjective one, and you don't get to claim that the existence of subjective truths means that all truth is subjective. Because that's bollocks.

I'm not saying "don't you, personally, be religious." I am saying "be aware that your own personal subjective love-in with the divine is exactly that, and if people point out that there's no scientific and rational basis for believing that your subjective experience is reflective of an external reality, because no other mofo shares it, that's not the fault of science and reason. Don't dismiss the most useful methods we have for not only formulating reasoned and accurate models of the world, but also for breaking down millennia old intellectual barriers that have kept people locked in harmful traditions for their whole lives, just because it makes you feel more comfortable believing in fairies."

SnowdropExplodes said...

Now we are back to the original question, "HOW do you know/HOW do you know that you know?" We are examining the two principal answers:

1). Science is empirical: We know about objective reality by observing it and interacting with it.

2). Religion is revelatory: We know about objective reality through revelation.

Science has clearly demonstrated that its application brings us ever closer to an understanding of objective reality, based on the examples and reasons discussed above. I don't think any of us would deny this.

So what about religion? CAN we know about objective reality through revelation?

We cannot, because as I have shown, the revelations are CONTRADICTORY. There is only ONE objective reality. In it, Jesus EITHER IS the son of God OR he is NOT the son of God. I'm sure we agree on that. Yet we have one revelation that he IS the son of God (Paul) and another that is NOT (Muhammad).

So we see that scientific understanding CONVERGES and revelation DIVERGES. Therefore, revelation CANNOT be a path to the truth. Therefore, science is WAY "more real" that religion.


Well, now. here we have one experiment that says an electron is a wave, and here we have another experiment that says an electron is a particle. They can't BOTH be true, can they? Oh, but wait! It turns out that when we understand the underlying truth, then it appears that when we look at an electron one way it appears to be a wave, but when we look at it another way it appears to be a particle.

Now, when we look at God, we see that when we look at God one way (the Christian revelations of John the Apostle and Paul/Saul of Tarsus) that it appears God has a Son, the Word who was with God in the Beginning and through whom Creation was made, and who became flesh. But when we look at God in a different way, it appears that God is utterly unified and indivisible, and can therefore have no Son.

It is not necessary to assume the two propositions are contradictory, only that they are paradoxical (much as quantum theory appears paradoxical). Heck, early Christian theologians wrestled with the problem of how the Trinity could yet be a single unified God.

Since I have not accepted your distinction between revelation and observation (except to observe that personal revelation does not conform to Karl Popper's philosophy of science). To my mind, revelation is another form of observation, but it is not scientific observation (mainly because it does not deal with the stuff of science).

In your worldview, that makes it less real. But I do not accept your worldview as definitive, and therefore I do not accept that you have proved anything.

SnowdropExplodes said...

@McDuff:

Re: Goat in the barn.

If someone says they see a goat when I don't, then my first instinct is to check out the space where they claim to see a goat. I will test by smell, touch and sound (preferably not by taste!) whether I can detect this goat by any other means that I normally associate with goats. If this goat is something that I can neither touch nor smell nor hear nor see, then it is not a goat from my experience. If my friend claims that he can touch it, smell it, see it, hear it (taste it if he wants to!) then I am forced to accept that in many ways it is, for him, real. If my friend were to attempt to ride this goat, then we might have an interesting test: if my friend falls to the floor instead of sitting in (from my perspective) mid-air, then we might be more inclined to suggest it is not really there. What gets really interesting is if we both try to sit on the goat. If we both end up suspended in mid-air, then I will accept that there is a goat that I cannot feel (even though I am evidently sitting on its back!) If, on the other hand, i fall down and my friend doesn't, then something very strange is going on that falls outside of what my knowledge of science can explain. But if that did happen, it would prove that our competing subjective realities were both true. This, experience leads us to believe, is unlikely.

In which analysis, I seem to have covered my remarks on "function": if the goat functions as a goat despite my inability to perceive it, then I will conclude it is a goat. But if it fails to do any of the things a goat normally does, then I will conclude it is not there.

In all of this, I assume that my friend is accurately reporting his observations. We have in this thread already discussed how Relativity and Quantum theory explain how different observers can find different results, and yet both be correctly observing an objective reality. So now, I and my friend can try to work out what is causing us to disagree in our observations of the goat (or not-goat).

Jeff Coleman said...

Hi again, SnowdropExplodes et al,

S: "Well, now. here we have one experiment that says an electron is a wave, and here we have another experiment that says an electron is a particle. They can't BOTH be true, can they?"

Wave-particle duality is more of a philosophical issue. The key fact for this discussion is, for any given experimental setup, EVERYBODY SEES THE SAME THING. A Christian physicist will see the same thing as a Moslem physicist. In science, things CONVERGE.

In contrast, regarding the character of Jesus, a Christian claims he is the son of God, a Moslem claims that he is not. In religion, revelation DIVERGES.

Your fancy footwork trying to explain away the central contradiction in these two revelations is silly and transparent. The fact is, the faithful have killed and died over this contradiction.


S: "It is not necessary to assume the two propositions [regarding Jesus] are contradictory, only that they are paradoxical (much as quantum theory appears paradoxical)."

We are not ASSUMING that they are contradictory; they are contradictory ON THEIR FACE. And once again, here is the essential difference: EVERYBODY running the quantum mechanical experiments, whether in Rome or Mecca, sees the SAME "paradoxical" results. But the faithful born in Rome and Mecca disagree about Jesus's godhood. How can what's real depend on place of birth?


S: "Revelation is another form of observation..."

It is to the person to whom the revelation supposedly occurred. But to ANYBODY ELSE, it is mere hearsay.

Anyway, one "observation" holds Jesus as god, another holds that he isn't. Revelation SUX as a way to the truth.


S: "In your worldview, [contradictory revelation] makes it less real. But I do not accept your worldview as definitive, and therefore I do not accept that you have proved anything."

You're certainly entitled to your opinion. But as I said before, science already won this debate, long ago. I'm just trying to explain to Daisy how and why it did.

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff: So comparing it to art and music isn't answering the question. It's a subjective opinion... of what?

Of spiritual experience, prayer, meditation, trances, theophany, epiphany, etc. I said upthread (did you read?) that I had the personal experience of direct divine intervention. I believe God spoke to me in a moment of severe panic, trauma, emotional tumult. And I have been to enough AA meetings to hear that same basic experience presented by both atheists and believers alike (as well as people like me, who considered ourselves agnostics at the time of the occurence, and were sufficiently jarred by it that we eventually changed). Some say their "conscience" suddenly found them. (My standard line is that I didn't have any conscience at the time, so this was patently impossible.) Some say God, others Allah, one person reported hearing from the Goddess Lakshmi. I've heard it all ways. Thus, you can choose how to interpret the experience. Likewise, LSD experiences... The Beatles, Ram Dass, me, Tim Leary, other people who might even be in this thread (whistles dixie), all interpret such an experience differently, although there are (as you say about music) similarities. The drug itself is the same, yet people often have radically different reactions to it. Some see God, some see (borrowing a line from Harlan Ellison) a great deal of what passes for God.

I can dislike a painting that you love, but we both have to agree that the painting is physically there, hanging on a wall, made of canvas and oil and wood or whatever. It's not art criticism to say "I dislike this Picasso because I believe it has no material existence."

What accounts for the difference in opinions about art? I notice you didn't answer my question about the song. Objectively, is the song good or bad, and why can't we agree?

So what is "religion" a subjective interpretation of?

The presence of God (my own word, God, may be limited, and I refer to ALL spiritual experiences by that blanket term). The CULTURAL cultivation of these experiences, is how religion developed. The personal decision to try to repeat those experiences, or to understand them further/better, is why people pursue religion.

Is it an interpretation of a real, external entity, or a set of social and cognitive conventions?

Since you're the scientist, I'm sure you have all the answers and can explain this. Nothing I say will matter.

As I said upthread, I see far more similarities across all faiths, than I see differences.

Once in there we may differ on our opinions

You and Jeff glide right over this. BUT THIS IS MY WHOLE POINT. Why do we disagree on ANYTHING, if its all self-evident, as you say? Why don't we all agree on this objective reality? We all agree on (say) the color green. Yes, that's green, we say. But we don't all LIKE the color green. Some people love it and some hate it.

This is what I believe constitutes humanity, our unique humaness. Our souls, that part of us created in God's image.

If you can account for the differences in perception and consciousness among people, I'm ready to hear it. To me, this is the whole crux of it, not something to glide over as if it is of no consequence.

2b continued

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff: But, you didn't just say "this is my personal belief system," you said "reality is overrated,"

My personal belief system is that reality is overrated.

you said "rationality is an illusion" (with overtones of "rationality is propagated by the patriarchy to keep people down, yo").

My personal belief system is that rationality is an illusion.

I do believe the INVENTION of the CONCEPT of rationality (which has changed considerably over the millenia), was by a bunch of white men, who run everything. I believe this is YOUR religion, as I think your copious posts here have made clear.

You said not just that it was your belief system, but that it was one you were prepared to defend,

And you don't like it, since I am supposed to defend my belief system using YOUR RULES, and no, ain't doing that. I've never been a Three Stooges fan.

if necessary by slamming "science" for being a patriarchal dead end that was totally bought by monied interests —

Have they plugged that oil leak yet?

ironic given that what you were defending is a system of belief that has been used by patriarchal monied interests for centuries!

Really? Which system is that? My OWN belief system, which is very idiosyncratic and particular and defies most categories, has not been used by anyone but me in my lifetime. Are you talking about existentialism? You do realize there are atheist existentialists (Sartre) as well as believers (Kierkegaard)?

That is not just a nice, easy system of personal growth and development - that's politics.

Who says? You? (You make *pronouncements* just like a preacher, you realize?) Religious belief can be anything we want it to be. But its interesting that when you scratch the surface, atheists are often far more dogmatic than many believers, as yhour statements here make clear... see how you decide what MY belief must be?

I'm not saying "don't you, personally, be religious."

Of course you are.

I am saying "be aware that your own personal subjective love-in with the divine is exactly that, and if people point out that there's no scientific and rational basis for believing that your subjective experience is reflective of an external reality, because no other mofo shares it, that's not the fault of science and reason. Don't dismiss the most useful methods we have for not only formulating reasoned and accurate models of the world, but also for breaking down millennia old intellectual barriers that have kept people locked in harmful traditions for their whole lives, just because it makes you feel more comfortable believing in fairies."

Speaking of patriarchy, I don't take orders too well. From priests, from atheists, from boys, from whoever. Take your marching orders elsewhere, thanks.

BTW, my fairies say you are mistaken.

DaisyDeadhead said...

In Philip K Dick's THE WORLD JONES MADE, moral relativity is the law. Nobody is permitted to say anything as a clear statement, unless it is an objectively-true statement (i.e. "Its raining")...any other statement must be qualified with "I think" or "In my opinion" ...or you could get arrested.

Along comes Jones, a carnival clairvoyant who can tell the future, and he is accurate. Thus, Jones becomes the only person allowed to make definitive statements.

Jones is then worshipped as a God, because people are starved for moral certainty and are tired of qualifying their statements.

For some reason, this thread reminded me of the novel.

McDuff said...

"In all of this, I assume that my friend is accurately reporting his observations."

You don't think it's an equally valid possibility that he's insane? That he might, actually, be wrong? Sometimes people are wrong, you know. It does happen. Not everyone can be right about every single thing.

And, look, I'm really going to have to call you out on the whole butchering of "wave-particle duality" thing. Electrons and photos aren't sometimes waves and sometimes particles. They are quanta which exhibit behaviour which, at the non-quantum scale (the "goat in the barn" scale that you have clearly demonstrated you're capable of grasping, which was a point I'd already made for you but, um, cool for elaborating the process of sensory perception, I guess) we would call "wave-like" or "particle-like". But this does not mean that quanta are waves, particles, or both. In other circumstances, photos and electrons behave in a manner that nothing except a quantum-scale particle would ever behave in. Transmission of photons through glass, for example - a process we're all intimately aware of and see every day - is the result of some *really weird shit* at the quantum level. The "wave-like" and "particle-like" behaviours are results of us trying to shoehorn events at a scale we have zero capacity to grasp into a reference frame we can understand. It's not an example of subjectivity.

Similarly, the special relativity thing is another example of us trying to shoehorn something from outside our capacity for comprehension into our "medium-sized, medium speed" reference frame. Had we evolved, as a species, in an environment where we had to travel at appreciable percentages of the speed of light, and shift between those speeds, we would have developed a mechanism for understanding and comprehending relativistic effects with the same ease that we can apprehend colour — which is to say, not especially well, but good enough to hunt an antelope. We didn't, so we are forced to try and define it in inexact terms that don't make sense to our model-building programs inside our heads, which didn't evolve at 0.6-0.9C but at approximately 5-10Km/Hr, and which are calibrated accordingly.

Incidentally, did you read the rest of the comment, or just the bit about the goat? Did you read the questions at the bottom? I don't know if you thought I was making a big point about the goat or something, I was just using it as an example of easily graspable and communicable scales of reality - as contrasting with cosmology, or he germ theory of disease. So, seriously, explaining that you know how to perceive a goat is not really answering any of the points I made.

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff: You don't think it's an equally valid possibility that he's insane?

We do not engage in blatantly ableist language at this blog. Rephrase, knock it off or leave.

McDuff said...

Sorry, let's rephrase. The possibility exists that the person is hallucinating, delusional, or has some other mental impairment which causes them to see goats, to firmly believe goats exist where none do - that their internal model of the world, in other words, does not match up with the actual external world.

Contra your claims that we can make up reality as we go along, such a pathology would clearly impair someone's ability to function in the real world, particularly if they were a goatherd.

Also contra claims that we can make up reality as we go along, you still seem to be clinging to this sense of fairness that you've picked up from somewhere. But, since you haven't yet conceded that human beings have shared experiences of the world that can be corroborated by talking to other humans (except by your actions, in talking to me), I'm not sure what you're basing that on.

I mean, how do you even know that these people exist to be discriminated against, or that their experiences of discrimination aren't just something that you're projecting onto the blank cave wall?

McDuff said...

My personal belief system is that reality is overrated...
My personal belief system is that rationality is an illusion.


This isn't the get out of making sense free card you think it is. My personal belief system could be that I could flap my arms and fly to the moon, if I so wanted. The point I've been making all along is that there is a distinct difference between "my personal belief system is X" and "X is a true fact about the world".

I do believe the INVENTION of the CONCEPT of rationality (which has changed considerably over the millenia), was by a bunch of white men, who run everything.

In some cases, they were Chinese, Arabian or Persian men, although that's an aside that's not really relevant. In pursuit of relevance, I await with curiosity the defense of the notion that there are people being forced at cultural gunpoint to put "4" at the end of "2+2=", which is stifling their creative spirits or whatnot.

To reiterate, one of the fundamental things about science and rationalism is that it works. You plug your GPS unit into your car and off you go, and the very fact that you can do that proves that the various stages of rational thought that went into the design of that device, from the orbital mechanics of the satellites, to the corrections for gravitational time dilation, to the measurements of fundamental electronic principles that underpin the circuits, are all correct. Otherwise your GPS machine would be a plastic box. (probably not even a plastic box - plastics require an in depth knowledge of chemistry to manufacture.)

Do you actually believe that the reason you hit send on this blog and it makes the shiny words appear all over the internets is down to white men telling the laws of physics they have to be that way in order to keep the women and minorities down? Because, if so, seriously, how does that work?

And you don't like it, since I am supposed to defend my belief system using YOUR RULES, and no, ain't doing that

Don't blame me, I didn't invent the universe. If there is a God he put some pretty precise rules in place, and we both have to follow them. Ain't no concern of mine, his or the universe's if you think the way your DNA constructed your brain is a conspiracy against you. Because, seriously, if it is, it's a *really* elaborate one.

Have they plugged that oil leak yet?

Do you believe that the failure of engineers in a politically charged event like the Deepsea Horizon to take one politically costly course of action over another undermines the efforts of the chemists and geologists who found the oil, analysed it and worked out ways of separating it into its constituent parts? Is crude oil not a thick soup of hydrocarbons now because of this event? Do you really believe that?

Because, if not, what's your point? That imperfection implies annihilation?

My OWN belief system, which is very idiosyncratic and particular and defies most categories,

Bet you half a dollar.

Religious belief can be anything we want it to be.

I suppose, technically, anything can be anything we want it to be, as long as we're prepared to disregard history, culture, common understanding and language. But, um, that's not massively useful, is it?

see how you decide what MY belief must be?

Just calling it as I see it, yo.

Speaking of patriarchy, I don't take orders too well. From priests, from atheists, from boys, from whoever. Take your marching orders elsewhere, thanks.

You'll march downwards at 9.81 m/s^2, just like everyone else. There's no court of human rights you can appeal to that will exclude you from this, I'm afraid.

McDuff said...

BUT THIS IS MY WHOLE POINT! Why do we disagree on ANYTHING, if its all self-evident, as you say?

Then your whole point is based on a fatal misunderstanding.

1) it's not "self evident". As I've pointed out, many things that are true are not self evident. The positions of the stars, the germ theory of disease, quantum electrodynamics. These are not things that an individual with common sense can be expected to work out, absence the context of centuries of cumulative knowledge provided by scientific enquiry.

2) Your question here is astounding in failing to comprehend its own terms. You might as well have asked "a train departs from New Orleans at 50mph and a train travelling the other direction departs from Chicago travelling at 70mph. Four hours later, WHY AREN'T THEY IN PARIS, HUH?? Aren't they both TRAINS!!?!"

Subjectivity and objectivity are words with actual meanings, you know?

You have an apple you're going to feed to your kids. I steal your apple and give it to my kids. Is this act "good" or "bad"? Objectively, there is no answer. Objectively, nothing is good or bad - they're descriptors of relative, subjective, value judgements. The universe could give a shit about which particular arrangements of matter metabolise other arrangements of matter. From the point of view of your kids, its bad: they have no food and are going to die. From the point of view of my kids, it's good: they now have food and are going to survive. (for the purposes of the example, yes, I'm assuming the indivisibility of apples and a simple society made of two families. Yes, in the real world good and bad are more finely grained than that. Let us both assume that such an in depth analysis is omitted because of the character limit, please, shall we, especially since it does not and will not affect the final outcome.)

The objective reality that has changed here is the part that looks the same independent of the actors. The size, weight, chemical composition of the apple; the number of primates fighting over it; the chemical reactions that happen as it is digested; the structure of the DNA strand that is passed on to the next generation of apple-thieves (or, in an alternative universe, successful apple defenders). These are all things that are measurable. They are part of the objective reality. The subjective values are all things that are laid on top of this objective universe as a result of the presence of an observer.

If there is a single observer, she may find the presence of apples "good" and the presence of volcanoes "bad". This is still a subjective judgement even though there's only one of her - in your model this would represent absolute agreement between all observers and thus fulfil the terms you asked for, albeit by cheating, but it still wouldn't make it objective. A single observer applying values to the universe is still creating subjective values. A group of observers who all agree on a value are similarly not creating objective values. Objective doesn't mean "all observers agree". It means "constant independent of observers". The Observers may be creating subjective values such as "weight" that are based on observational evidence - everyone agrees that the apple is red, that the rock is heavy - but here's where we get into philosophy of science. Although all observations are subjective, some are able to be tested for independence of the subjective observer, and some are not.

(ctd....)

SnowdropExplodes said...

The "wave-like" and "particle-like" behaviours are results of us trying to shoehorn events at a scale we have zero capacity to grasp into a reference frame we can understand.

...

Similarly, the special relativity thing is another example of us trying to shoehorn something from outside our capacity for comprehension into our "medium-sized, medium speed" reference frame.


Thank you for making my point for me.

God is the ultimate "scale we have zero capacity to grasp", the ultimate "outside our capacity for comprehension". Religious texts, and the apparent contradictions between them, are the consequence of thousands of years of having interacted with something so totally beyond the finite, mortal, physical scale and frame of reference to which we are naturally suited!

It took hundreds of years of research to get to relativity and quantum theory, and those things are at least finite and attainable by interacting with the physical world. Is it any wonder that religion is, in those terms, quite a way behind physics, when grasping physics is dead easy compared to God?

But we're lucky: it is a general theme of religion that God wants us to be able to grasp God, and is helping us along the way. The laws of physics can't help you to understand themselves, you have to figure it out by yourself.

Which, incidentally, seems to me to answer most of the rest of your questions. The reason I didn't respond to them before is because I felt I was investing far more time and emotional energy in a debate that cannot be won by either side.

Finally, I spoke only of observations, not of objective fact. I never said "an electron is sometimes a wave and sometimes a particle", but only "An electron sometimes appears to be a wave and sometimes appears to be a particle." (i.e. "Exhibits wave-like properties" and "Exhibits particle-like properties.") Similarly, God sometimes appears to be a Trinity (Christianity), sometimes appears to be myriad deities (Hinduism) and sometimes appears to be an indivisible whole (Islam). That does not mean that God actually is all those things at different times (indeed, both Christianity and Hinduism include explicit statements that the apparently distinct elements are parts or aspects of a unified whole). As you say, "In other circumstances, photos and electrons behave in a manner that nothing except a quantum-scale particle would ever behave in. Transmission of photons through glass, for example - a process we're all intimately aware of and see every day - is the result of some *really weird shit* at the quantum level." The same goes for God. What God does and how God is related to the Cosmos, is "some really weird shit" that is best described as God behaving "in a manner that nothing except God would ever behave in".

Thank you for enabling me to complete my analogy so neatly.

And there, I will leave things. If I haven't answered your questions to your satisfaction then that is not my problem: for the sake of my emotional wellbeing I feel I must withdraw. I let myself be drawn back into this thread against my better judgement, I hope I show stronger willpower from now on!

SnowdropExplodes said...

[Okay, this is posted out of sequence because the full post was too long - this was originally the beginning of the previous post (and so pre-dates the "I'm withdrawing now" statement]

That he might, actually, be wrong? Sometimes people are wrong, you know. It does happen. Not everyone can be right about every single thing.

He could be wrong, but he would still be reporting his mistaken observations accurately. It could be that he is suffering from some form of delusion, but even then I would accept that he is reporting as accurately as possible what he is experiencing. Unless I had reason to suspect that he was actually lying about his experience of the world for some reason, I would happily accept that to him it genuinely appeared that there was a goat in the barn. I would not base my own actions on the assumption of a goat, but I would not judge or criticise my friend for acting on his assumption that there was, unless such action proved to be detrimental to others.

McDuff said...

When we all weigh the rock and come up with values, the more times we weigh, the more we are reasonably convinced that there is an objective rock that weighs something like the average of our subjective values. We can test with different hypotheses and use this knowledge to affect the world — it is yay heavy, so it can be used to stop these papers flying away, or to bash this door down. If we're wrong in our observations, the engineering we do won't work.

When we say, on the other hand, "this music rocks", we're not referring to anything with mass or energy. We're instead talking about a shared concept — created in human minds, adapted by them, transferred between them.

Malleable and concrete at the same time, concepts are not unreal: I differ from Jeff in not thinking that religion is some unreal thing. On the contrary, I hold that it can be folded up into the rest of the physical world, that religion is a subset of the rest of reality. But it is, along with good, bad, evil, etc, an experience based on concepts, an emergent property of a complex social structure organised between thinking apes, rather than something imposed by an external reality.

How would one describe the external platonic solid of "good", for example? You can't mine good out of the ground or extract it from the soil or filter it from the air. There isn't a "good" element right next to Helium. It exists, it is real, people can say "this is good" — but nonetheless it does not reference an actual substance which can be measured exactly with physical tools. It's a value applied to other things based on the position and values of the observer. It's real as long as we say it's real, which, since we are saying it's real, makes it real. But when we stop saying it, when we *change our minds*, the concept changes or disappears completely. The concept "this is good" is an emergent byproduct of the system of thought we use to model the world.

Thus, we answer your remarkably simple question:

If you can account for the differences in perception and consciousness among people, I'm ready to hear it.

It's, frankly, no more difficult to explain than it is to explain why the two trains setting off from different cities at different times and different speeds aren't in the same place. It follows naturally and logically from the fact that people are different from one another. They have different opinions and tastes because they are physically different entities, with different DNA, different environmental influences, different cultural influences.

And, to reiterate the point made about religion earlier on, the closer you are to another individual (geographically, culturally, socially) the more likely it is that more of your values will be shared between individuals. Other people, other tastes, are part of your environmental influence. They're the cultural soup you drink to provide the building blocks of your own personality. The fact that we can see this provides more evidence that this is the mechanism for difference, rather than your proposed mechanism - that individuality is a result of souls being created in God's image.

The diversity of human experience is explicable by pointing out that we are biological creatures, evolved from primates with highly developed thinking brains, who live in complex social groups with shared audible and visual languages. That establishes not just the kinds of differences and the distributions of differences, but also the limits of those distributions, the boundaries at which the potential for difference ends.

For special moonflakes individually touched by Jesus, we behave an awful lot like you'd expect a bunch of chattering, somewhat evolved primates to behave.

McDuff said...

Snowdrop: I'm not asking you to judge the goat-believer. I was using it as an example of the kind of external influences that can alter your own internal mental model of the world, and those that can't.

I would not base my own actions on the assumption of a goat

Yes, I know, I said that upfront. It would take a great many people all telling you the goat was there before you began to doubt your senses and believe that you were the mistaken one rather than the goat-believer.

So, now we've established that you agree with the general model of cognition that the goat example was supposed to illustrate, did you notice the context in which it was placed? Any thoughts on the rest of it?

Jeff Coleman said...

SnowdropExplodes, in her final post, wrote:
"God is the ultimate 'scale we have zero capacity to grasp', the ultimate 'outside our capacity for comprehension'. Religious texts, and the apparent contradictions between them, are the consequence of thousands of years of having interacted with something so totally beyond the finite, mortal, physical scale and frame of reference to which we are naturally suited!"

How do you know? You are affirming these things to be true, therefore you bear the burden of proof.

It's not my job, or McDuff's, to prove that your assertions are false.

In light of the "apparent" contradictions of revelation, though, we might want to re-write the Apostles' Creed:

"1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
2a. I also believe in the same Jesus Christ, except he's not his son, he's not our Lord, and he's basically just another prophet.
3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
3a. No he wasn't.
4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
5a. I seriously doubt it!
6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
6a. Are you kidding? No way!
7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
7a. You are very funny, infidel! There is one God, his name is Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.
8. God help me, I'm confused. Amen.

McDuff said...

Religious texts, and the apparent contradictions between them, are the consequence of thousands of years of having interacted with something so totally beyond the finite, mortal, physical scale and frame of reference to which we are naturally suited!
...
But we're lucky: it is a general theme of religion that God wants us to be able to grasp God, and is helping us along the way.

I'd dispute "general theme", but aside from that, if we can grasp quantum physics unaided, why can't we get a better grasp of this "God" character if He's apparently doing all this handholding? Complexity doesn't seem to cut it - we converge on shared understandings through science, no matter how complex the subject matter. The God thing seems, if anything, even less settled than it used to be back when we believed it was all thunder and our dead grandfather.

Where's the evidence of this handholding, anyway? From what I can gather, the state of religion doesn't look anything like a bunch of people all coming together to achieve a mutually understand some divine external force - it looks like an emergent property of human societies all individually attempting to grasp a toehold in an unfeeling universe. How can we tell the difference between a God as dissonant, incoherent and ungraspable as you posit, and no external God at all? What aspects of the current state of religion are attributable to God hanging around doing all this handholding that you wouldn't expect to find if we were just, y'know, making it up?

What God does and how God is related to the Cosmos, is "some really weird shit" that is best described as God behaving "in a manner that nothing except God would ever behave in".

Well... yeah, OK. But what is it? What has God done? What really weird shit exists in the world that is best described as something nothing except God could be? Because, so far, everything inexplicable has been classified into the box marked "actually not God after all" and it seems unlikely the trend will end soon. Indeed, God's running out of inexplicable to hide behind. He's absented entirely from maths, physics, chemistry and biology, except in some cases as a little luggage tag that says "God could have done this bit (even though he didn't need to)". He's not much cop in psychology or sociology any more, and even theology only gives him the briefest of nods, which is sort of embarrassing. When I examine religions, the actual existence or otherwise of their specified deit(y/ies) is the last thing that bothers me, since it's completely irrelevant to any given religion whether it's *true* or not.

Which bit of the universe is the bit that you point to and go "well, that's clearly the manifestation of an incredibly complex, immutable, ungraspable, undefinable supreme being with a personality strangely in tune with the egos of our species, and definitely not the result of any of this physics or chemistry or biology that we have lying around the place explaining most of the rest of the world"?

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff: Contra your claims that we can make up reality as we go along

And I said this where?

McDuff, showing his superiority: This isn't the get out of making sense free card you think it is.

Do you actually believe that the reason you hit send on this blog and it makes the shiny words appear all over the internets


Okay that's it, condescending asshole, you've worn out your welcome. You will not address me in this SNOTTY way, which I warned you before. I should have started the deletion the minute you called me "daft"--but let it go. Mistake. It always is.

All further comments will be deleted. You will not patronize me and talk down to me ON MY OWN BLOG.

(Why is BEING NICE AND DECENT so motherfucking hard for some people?)

DaisyDeadhead said...

I won't delete McDuff's last comments, so whoever wants to reply can do so. But I will be deleting all further comments. Some little boys never learned how to talk to people politely. Consider me the nun with the ruler, and now I understand why they seemed to enjoy it so much. ;)

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff: Subjectivity and objectivity are words with actual meanings, you know?

Is there some reason this kind of condescension is necessary? (Rhetorical question only, your opinion is no longer sought.)

Subjectively and objectively, I will delete your comments with much joy and aplomb. Hallelujah!

DaisyDeadhead said...

McDuff, the fact that you have been so respectful to Snowdrop during your arguments, and yet so nasty and patronizing to me, is something called SEXISM, and we don't like that on a feminist blog. Get a clue.

Jeff Coleman said...

Daisy, it's your blog, of course, and you can ban whom you want. My take is that McDuff has been at least as collegial as you. He has patiently and thoughtfully presented the rational counter to your and SnowdropExplodes' arguments.

So is it really McDuff's supposed condescension, or is it the extremely good points that he makes, at religion's expense? That's what you need to ask yourself.

DaisyDeadhead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DaisyDeadhead said...

Jeff, actually, worried about setting a bad precedent. The invasion by the gun trolls started out with just a few condescending comments (like McDuff calling me "daft"--they first rhetorically asked me if I was crazy, stupid, etc.), next thing you know, it was a full-scale invasion, full-tilt boogie 100% nastiness, and they kept my blog up on their browsers ALL NIGHT LONG (not kidding). All because I suggested that raffling off an assault rifle at a political rally was somewhat extreme and added some vegetarian cheap shots at the fact that they also served BBQ. (I am not even anti-gun in general). Bottom line, I just don't want people to think I'm going to keep on accepting that shit.

I don't see where McDuff has been as nasty to Snowdrop as he has to me, and that is what I am using as my yardstick. I don't think Snowdrop is that much more brilliant than me (no offense dude), that he deserves the respect and politeness that I don't. People see a southern-based, older female's blog, and they are just derisive and nasty in a way they aren't to men, young people, and/or people who live in different areas. I pay attention, and this has been a chronic problem on DEAD AIR.

An apology might soften me, with a promise to BE FUCKING NICE, so I am not as intractable as all that. (My deity counseled us to forgive 70 X 7, and I am all for it.) But something tells me McDuff is far too proud for that; call it a hunch.

And BTW, I think your arguments are far better than his. I can't even understand what he's talking about; obviously, I am just too stupid. (Then again, I know you and how you talk IRL, or at least how you used to.)

And this statement by McDuff kinda made my blood run cold:

You have an apple you're going to feed to your kids. I steal your apple and give it to my kids. Is this act "good" or "bad"? Objectively, there is no answer. Objectively, nothing is good or bad - they're descriptors of relative, subjective, value judgements.

Of course there is an objective answer: one kid starves and one goes hungry, and that is a physiologically measurable fact. The fact that he misses this basic truth? Creeps me out, quite frankly. I want moral atheists here, not scary ones. (I doubt you'd argue with scary Christians.) I won't argue with adherents of a certain deceased Alisa Rosenbaum either. (Experience has shown me: type her well-known pseudonym, and they will come)

Anyway, he can apologize to me properly, or go away. I am not intolerant, believe it or not.

Jeff Coleman said...

Hi Daisy,

Thanks for the kind words on my style of argument. As I said early on, I don't care to debate religion, but I wanted to respond to your question in the blog and your comment on my FB page. For me, the principal difference between science and religion is in their epistemologies (how do you know?/how do you know that you know?). The case for the scientific approach to knowledge, and against the religious approach, appears extremely strong to me. Because of that, my style when brought into debate is to single mindedly keep hammering away at the epistemological problems of religion (a style I have amply demonstrated).

McDuff shows more patience than I. Time and again he carefully worked through the logical implications of your and SnowdropExplodes' arguments, using practical examples to illustrate their problems. His comments revealed a deep familiarity with the subject matter.

I wasn't aware of the details of your history with troll invasions, though I read various references in your blog. I can understand why you are sensitized to perceived troublemaking. But McDuff is anything but a troublemaker. He brought a lot to this discussion, and clearly spent considerable time thinking about your statements and constructing his analysis and analogies. In my mind, there is no doubt that he acted in good faith. And speaking for myself, I enjoyed the learning experience.

SnowdropExplodes said...

Jeff:

My take is that, with both Daisy and myself, McDuff has not made careful, rationally-based arguments but consistently gone for reductio and straw man fallacies. However, his language when addressing my arguments in this way has tended towards respectful language. When addressing Daisy's points, he is shirty, rude, dismissive and downright obnoxious.

Maybe that's because I've been speaking "science" a bit more than Daisy, and McDuff actually gets closer to understanding my arguments as a result of my being on more or less the same field of play, but as Daisy says, that is still not an acceptable reason for rudeness. He does not appreciate the argument Daisy makes but instead offers ad hominem assertions.

SnowdropExplodes said...

Jeff:

I admit, I was intrigued by your "oh, we'd better rewrite the Apostles' Creed" thing - not because it's anything clever you did there (the reason why it's not should become apparent if you think about the analogy I was making with quantum theory, and think about what the equivalent document to your rewrite might have looked like in physics) but because the idea of encapsulating in a single creed what I've been getting at seemed like a nice challenge. Here's what I've got, and I'll explain where each bit comes from:

1/. [I] believe in the one true God, indivisible and encompassing all things and persons, known by many names.

This comes directly from the Qu'ran, but also encompasses the Hindu conception of God: the most monotheistic and the most apparently polytheistic religions share the same underlying conception of God - how about that?

2/. The true essence of God cannot be recorded but only appreciated; the God that is written is not the true God, and the Way that is written is not the true Way.

The Tao Te Ching, combined with a little of St John; it can be applied without contradiction even to the Qu'ran.

3/. Prophets have been sent to all nations and in many forms, revealing to others what is known to them of God through imperfect speech and writing and seeking to enable others to come to appreciate God.

The Qu'ran again, with the logical implications of point 2 being made explicit. There is nothing in the Bible to contradict this statement.

4/. God, through God's wisdom and caring, also presents God's self to the world in many different ways and many different forms, to enable us better to appreciate God.

Implicit in point 4, and explicitly stated in Hinduism especially. It also encapsulates the Trinity while preserving the essential monotheism of previous points.

5/. Among these forms, the person of God that is the eternal Son took human form and appeared to be a prophet named Jesus, in the land of Judah.

Obviously, mostly St Paul and the Gospel attributed to St John. The point about appearing to be a prophet explains the apparent contradiction with the Qu'ran; Jesus may be said to be the prophet, while the eternal Son is "God made flesh". It should be noted that the eternal Son is a person(a) of God, but is not distinct from God, because God is indivisible. Monotheism is preserved.

6/. The eternal Son took upon itself the burden and price of our wrongdoing, an offering made explicit for us to understand it, through Jesus' suffering on the Cross.

The essence of Christian belief. The explanation is to combine this with the Qu'ran's challenge that surely God could forgive us without the need for a sacrifice (that is, WE needed to see the sacrifice in order to be able to accept the forgiveness fully)

7/. Through this act (and others) of ultimate and divine forgiveness and sacrifice, we are saved from condemnation and should extend forgiveness and not condemnation to others.

Still Christianity, but adding "and others" acknowledges that God forgives us and sacrifices for us on a daily basis, and some religions have other accounts of such sacrifice and forgiveness.

Points 1-4 are such that they can be found and understood easily in every religion. Points 5-7 really explain the apparent contradictions between Islam and Christianity in such a way as to make both right. It's just like we were discussing in quantum physics: "wave" and "particle" are just figurative terms there; likewise, "Son of God" is a figurative term that nevertheless helps to explain something about what was going on.

For the record: I'm not going to campaign for anyone else to adopt this creed: it's just my personal theory for how it could work.

McDuff said...

I'm not going to defend anything else but I would like to say, for the record, that I thought SnowdropExplodes was female. Reasons for the apparent difference in tone are therefore still up for debate.

I thank Jeff for his defense of my posts.

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