Jack Krebs posted Entry 1507 on September 25, 2005 11:47 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1503

As we have discovered in Dover, public statements by Board members that are subsequently reported in the press can later become important pieces of evidence about the true motivations of those Board members’ actions

Now Kansas sate BOE chairperson Steve Abrams, mastermind of the 1999 creationists standards, the May 2005 “science hearings’’ and the current 2005 creationist standards, has given us a quote to remember. Speaking to a “group of Christian men called Open Public Education Now,” the Lawrence Journal World reports that

During a question-and-answer period to a mostly receptive audience of church-going social conservatives fed up with evolution, Abrams said one couldn’t believe in the Bible and evolution. You must believe one or the other.

“At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe,” Abrams said. “That’s the bottom line.”(my emphasis)

Well, that takes care of that, it seems.

My friend Red State Rabble (Pat Hayes) comments:

Abrams statement that one must choose between evolution and the bible is somewhat different than his mantra at the science hearings in Topeka last May. There, he said “I have been a proponent… of empirical science being defined by observable, measurable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable… “ so often, that the audience began to mouth the words with him.

This is but one more example, among the many that might be cited, of the basic dishonesty of creationist and intelligent design advocates who say one thing in public where everyone can hear them, and quite another when they are speaking privately before groups that share their views.

Yep, (or perhaps “amen”) is what I have to say to Pat’s remarks. (By the way, I highly recommend you bookmark Red State Rabble as a concise and thoughtful blog for regular news and commentary on ID, evolution and related topics.)

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Comment #49543

Posted by Ken Willis on September 25, 2005 12:14 PM (e)

I think a lot of red-state conservatives strongly disagree with Abrams and see no need to believe there is a conflict between evolution and religion. Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.

Comment #49545

Posted by harold on September 25, 2005 12:17 PM (e)

It is, of course, not “the Bible”, Abram’s interpretation of the Bible which is in conflict with science. Many religious authorities accept science…

http://www.mindandlife.org/hhdl.science_section.html

http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/5025_statements_from_religious_orga_12_19_2002.asp

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0504505.htm

However, Abrams shows dishonesty by completely changing his message according to his forum.

Dishonesty violates the ethical teachings of the Bible. That’s pretty much true under any Biblical interpretation.

ID - neither valid science, nor valid Christianity, either. Just a politically motivated, self-serving con game.

Comment #49546

Posted by Grey Wolf on September 25, 2005 12:22 PM (e)

I think you mean “It’s either the evolution or the Bible, not both” in both the title and the hyperlink to the extended article.

Hope that helps,

Grey Wolf

Comment #49548

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on September 25, 2005 12:31 PM (e)

Ken Willis wrote:

I think a lot of red-state conservatives strongly disagree with Abrams and see no need to believe there is a conflict between evolution and religion. Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.

**** you. I have read open calls on this forum to stop ‘religion-bashing’. If this is desired, atheist-bashing should be stopped as well. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Comment #49549

Posted by harold on September 25, 2005 12:33 PM (e)

Ken Willis -

“Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism”

This is partly true. But people should have some judgment as well.

It is more or less guaranteed that at any given time in a free society, someone will be a prominent atheist, and that hard core atheists (including prominent ones) will claim that science “supports atheism”.

The idea that science deals only with the vast but limited sphere of things which are, at least in principle, observable (directly or indirectly), measurable, and testable, appears to be a subtle one, at least for some people.

Rather than wish that Dawkins would stop exercising his perfect right to express himself, a more rational answer would be to recognize the difference between his testable scientific ideas and his religious ideas.

Comment #49550

Posted by SteveF on September 25, 2005 12:33 PM (e)

I’m in shock.

Comment #49551

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 25, 2005 12:41 PM (e)

Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.

Well, Dawkins is entitled to whatever religious opinions (or lack of them) that he likes. What he’s NOT entitled to do is claim that his religious opinions (or lack of them) are “science”. Which, of course, he does *NOT* claim.

IDers, on the other hand, *DO* make that claim.

Once again, I will point out that “atheism” simply isn’t relevant to whether or not ID should be taught. ID isn’t science, whether there is a god or not. ID doesn’t belong in a sciecne classroom, whether there is a god or not. ID makes no testable scientific statemnets, whether there is a god or not. And it’s illegal to teach religious opinion in public schools, whether there is a god or not.

So it simply does not matter to this debate if there is a god or not.

Comment #49552

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 25, 2005 12:48 PM (e)

“At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe,” Abrams said. “That’s the bottom line.”

One of my worst fears is that, after the Dover judge laughs the IDers out of his courtroom, the school board elections kick out all the nutters, and a new board composed of sane members drops the case before it goes to the Supreme COurt and kills ID once and for all.

Fortunately, though, the Kansas Kooks seem to be every bit as determiend to shoot themselves in the head as the Dover Dolts have been. So I relax, knowing that we do indeed have a very solid Plan B if the Dover case gets withdrawn before it kills ID.

Comment #49553

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 25, 2005 12:50 PM (e)

It is, of course, not “the Bible”, Abram’s interpretation of the Bible which is in conflict with science.

Indeed, the fundies seem to seriously beleive that not only is the Bible infallible, but THEIR INTERPRETATIONS of it are also infallible.

Sorry, but I simply don’t believe that fundies are infallible. (shrug)

Comment #49554

Posted by Jack Krebs on September 25, 2005 12:55 PM (e)

The critical difference between Dawkins and Abrams is that Dawkins is not voting on (nor devising) proposals to change what it is taught in public schools. Everyone is free to have your opinions, but an elected official has legal responsibilities when acting in his official capacities. Therefore Abrams’ beliefs are significant here in a way that Dawkins’ aren’t.

Also, to Lenny: if the current BOE creationist majority is overturned in next year’s elections, the Kansas situation won’t wind up being settled in the courts either. However, if they retain their majority so they’re in power for two more years (until early 2009), then I think you’ll see the Kansas situation in court; and remarks like Abrams’ will be evidence of a sectarian purpose behind their actions.

Comment #49555

Posted by McE on September 25, 2005 1:40 PM (e)

Jack Krebs wrote:

By the way, I highly recommend you bookmark Red State Rabble as a concise and thoughtful blog for regular news and commentary on ID, evolution and related topics.

Red State Rabble has been on my reading list for some time, and I second Jack’s recommendation.

To Panda’s Thumb I would add another recommendation: put Red State Rabble on your list of Science & Evolution Blogs, right after Pharyngula. It belongs in that company.

Comment #49556

Posted by McE on September 25, 2005 1:43 PM (e)

I ran my last post through spell check. It doesn’t like “blog” and it doesn’t like “Pharyngula.” Can the dictionary be modified to add these & other words we’re likely to use?

Comment #49558

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 25, 2005 2:44 PM (e)

Also, to Lenny: if the current BOE creationist majority is overturned in next year’s elections, the Kansas situation won’t wind up being settled in the courts either. However, if they retain their majority so they’re in power for two more years (until early 2009), then I think you’ll see the Kansas situation in court; and remarks like Abrams’ will be evidence of a sectarian purpose behind their actions.

Well, there’s always Buttars as a Plan C. ;>

But then, if the political tide turns and all the looney right-wingers who give the political fig leaf to the IDers are kicked out on their butts, then ID will go back to being an ignored lunatic fringe. As it should.

Comment #49564

Posted by Gary Hurd on September 25, 2005 3:29 PM (e)

One of my worst fears is that, after the Dover judge laughs the IDers out of his courtroom, the school board elections kick out all the nutters, and a new board composed of sane members drops the case before it goes to the Supreme Court and kills ID once and for all.

Ditto

Comment #49569

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on September 25, 2005 4:05 PM (e)

Ken Willis: … scientists like Richard Dawkins … insisting that evolution proves atheism.

Pls provide a specific citation in which Dawkins makes that claim.

Comment #49570

Posted by harold on September 25, 2005 4:30 PM (e)

Lenny Flank et al -

I’m not so sure I trust the upcoming Roberts court. I’ll be happy when the ID school board nuts are booted out by the voters. A bird in the hand…

ID, Discovery Institute version, cannot be “killed” per se, not even by a supreme court decision. Fortunately, it will undergo exponential decay. Right now, people are realizing that it is garbage from a scientific, political, or religious point of view, and that bilking “supporters” out of money is a big part of its function. There will be a rapid decline in popular support for ID. Things like school boards pushing ID, “conservative” teen-agers declaring themselves ID advocates, “ID groups” at colleges other than Liberty U and BJU, and editorials that take ID seriously, will rapidly drop off the radar. Funding for the DI will suffer less, since it comes disproportionately from brains that have been exceedingly well-washed, and since DI has other sleazy products to tout, but DI funding will fall as well.

However, as time goes on, the rate of decline will decrease. Twenty years from now, Dembski will still be preaching ID to a very small group of supporters, whose numbers will decline only very slowly. The DI will be there as well. But they’ll be yesterday’s nuts, about as influential as the “Chariots of the Gods” crowd is today.

As for nutjob attacks on teaching science, especially from would-be authoritarians who want their own opinions taught to children as “science”, those will continue to arise. They’ll prosper in times when the politicians in charge are hostile to science for short-term self-serving reasons (as was the case for ID in the period that we are now seeing the end of); they’ll do more poorly when the public sees a need for science (as in the “Sputnik era”, or as may happen soon if the public begins to realize that science could have largely prevented or greatly lessened the impact of the recent hurricane-related tragedies). But they’ll always be there.

Classic Kent Hovind style, rip-off-the-poor-and-uneducated, theme-park-and-“debate” creationism will continue on, unabated, largely unaffected by the decline of ID.

Comment #49571

Posted by Arden Chatfield on September 25, 2005 4:44 PM (e)

Well, as Lenny always points out, it is just asking too much of these creationist types to conceal their evangelical motives for five minutes, even if their whole political success depends on it…

“Oh. Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” -Voltaire

Granted!

Comment #49573

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 25, 2005 5:09 PM (e)

Ken Willis:

I think a lot of red-state conservatives strongly disagree with Abrams and see no need to believe there is a conflict between evolution and religion. Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.

The problem is not with Dawkins. He famously said that “Evolution makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” But that is neither an attack on religion nor a claim that evolution proves atheism. Indeed, stripped to its essentials it asserts no more than Philip Johnsons claim that without evolution, atheism would be incoherent. But even so anaemic a claim is greated with howls of outrage by (some) Christians.

The problem is, then that those “red state conservatives” interpret any failure to ringingly endorse Christianity as an explicit attack on Christianity. The problem is that while US Christians are not persecuted in any way, they need a persecution complex to maintain there faith.

Comment #49574

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 25, 2005 5:17 PM (e)

I’m not so sure I trust the upcoming Roberts court.

I think the current political influence of the fundies is seriously overestimated.

I don’t think hte Republican Party wants to implement any of the funide agenda. And neither do the courts.

The corporados still run the Republicrat Party, and theocracy is bad for business.

Comment #49578

Posted by Flint on September 25, 2005 5:29 PM (e)

At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe

And is there any doubt about the nature of the Belief Abrams is referring to? I think his “choose one or the other to believe in” is entirely consistent with the notion that Belief is something adopted blindly and defended on the grounds of righteousness rather than evidence. In Abrams’ view, he is being presented with two texts of Received Wisdom, each of which demand his worship, and which flatly contradict one another. The Path of Wisdom between the two passes through the Valley of Knowledgeable Thought, and Abrams can no longer travel it.

Comment #49599

Posted by Ed Darrell on September 25, 2005 11:04 PM (e)

I hope someone has the good sense to go depose a few of the attendees at that affair, quickly, to get their views on what Abrams really said. Abrams, being not of the scientific view, will deny he said it, at trial, later. Get him on the record now.

Comment #49611

Posted by NDT on September 26, 2005 5:55 AM (e)

Jack Krebs wrote:

The critical difference between Dawkins and Abrams is that Dawkins is not voting on (nor devising) proposals to change what it is taught in public schools. Everyone is free to have your opinions, but an elected official has legal responsibilities when acting in his official capacities. Therefore Abrams’ beliefs are significant here in a way that Dawkins’ aren’t.

Bingo! No one is trying to get Dawkins’ books on philosophy and religion in biology classes or school libraries. The same cannot be said for “Of Pandas and People”.

Comment #49700

Posted by Chance on September 26, 2005 4:13 PM (e)

‘I think a lot of red-state conservatives strongly disagree with Abrams and see no need to believe there is a conflict between evolution and religion. Those conservatives could get some help in dispelling the notion that there is a conflict if scientists like Richard Dawkins were not so in league with Abrams in fostering it by insisting that evolution proves atheism.’

Look, let’s be honest here. Evolution does serious damage to Christianity. Maybe not Buddism, Hinduism, Deism and others but it does throw a monkey(no pun intended) into the workings of Christianity. Just because many Christians accept evolution doesn’t make their position any more tenable. It most cases it creates even more questions that cannot be answered.

But it does show the flexibility of the religion. But trying to fit evolution into the religion creates problems either on the front end or the back end. Particuarlly when evolution is accepted as the continuim that it is. I mean is it only homo sapiens that has a soul while neanderthal had none?

Comment #49703

Posted by Flint on September 26, 2005 4:36 PM (e)

Chance has a good point. Christianity generally seems to brim with hubris. They concocted not just any old god(s), but one who made our species the crown of creation, the purpose of that creation, in a miracle of poof, and designed to look just like him. Christianity goes to considerable lengths to make people not only vastly and specifically above the “lower animals” (who in turn were specifically created for our pleasure), but very nearly gods in our own right.

And though some claim to be Christians and also claim to see no conflict, I can’t see how this incredibly lofty pedestal can be reconciled with the scientific position that people are Just Another Accident, essentially a transient and purposeless outcropping of a totally indifferent creative process which has for billions of years and may for billions more produce one such contingent accident after another, for no better reason than that’s what the process does.

Comment #49704

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 4:37 PM (e)

harold:

The idea that science deals only with the vast but limited sphere of things which are, at least in principle, observable (directly or indirectly), measurable, and testable, appears to be a subtle one, at least for some people.

The idea that there exists anything other than the “limited” sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.

Rather than wish that Dawkins would stop exercising his perfect right to express himself, a more rational answer would be to recognize the difference between his testable scientific ideas and his religious ideas.

What “religious” ideas would those be?

Comment #49708

Posted by Flint on September 26, 2005 5:01 PM (e)

Don P:

The idea that there exists anything other than the “limited” sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.

I think you are making a category error here, in what you are regarding as a “thing”. So here we go again: science can tell us if person A killed person B. But science can never tell us if this was the right thing to do. We recognize multiple circumstances where this behavior is acceptable (for example, self-defense) or even worthy of awards and decorations. In other words, rightness or wrongness is very real, very meaningful, and very much outside the limits of science.

You might wish to watch some court cases for a few days. The actual facts are in dispute only in a small minority of the cases – everyone agrees on what happened, and usually agree on why. But which party is “right” is important not just to the parties involved, but to all of us (because precedents are important). And science has nothing relevant to say about any of it. You call this “no justification”? Tell it to the judge.

Comment #49710

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 5:16 PM (e)

flint:

I think you are making a category error here, in what you are regarding as a “thing”. So here we go again: science can tell us if person A killed person B. But science can never tell us if this was the right thing to do.

I think you’re the one making the category error. I never said anything about morality. My statement concerned beliefs about what exists, not beliefs about how one ought to behave.

We recognize multiple circumstances where this behavior is acceptable (for example, self-defense) or even worthy of awards and decorations. In other words, rightness or wrongness is very real, very meaningful, and very much outside the limits of science.

Huh? Why are moral beliefs any more “outside the limits of science” than any other kind of belief?

Comment #49712

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 26, 2005 5:27 PM (e)

Flint:

And though some claim to be Christians and also claim to see no conflict, I can’t see how this incredibly lofty pedestal can be reconciled with the scientific position that people are Just Another Accident, essentially a transient and purposeless outcropping of a totally indifferent creative process which has for billions of years and may for billions more produce one such contingent accident after another, for no better reason than that’s what the process does.

Fortunately, the argument from incredulity washes no better in religion than it does in science. Just because you cannot understand it does not make the positions of Kenneth Miller, Simon Conway Morris, or Howard van Till any less coherent.

As a matter of interest, there is no “scientific position that people are Just Another Accident”. For there to be such a position, there would need to be a scientifically meaningfull concept of “intended” to operate as a contrast to “non-intended” (ie, accidental). It is a broadly accepted scientific finding that humans unusually or uniquely complicated in any biological sense (they have unique adaptions, but biologically they are not more significant than unique adaptions found in other species) - which is irrelevant to whether they are morally or ‘spiritually’ unique. There is also a commonly accepted, but disputed (see “Life’s Solution” by Simon Conway Morris) scientific hypothesis that given the existence of life on earth, the evolution of sapient bipeds with dextrous appendages is stastically improbable. Such a finding would be challenging to Simon Conway Morris’s theology, but he challenges the finding on cogent scientific grounds. It would be irrelevant to Kenneth Miller’s theology unless the probability was so small, or the probability of the naturalistic origin of life so small that the probability of such sapient life in the universe was small. It is completely irrelevant to Howard van Till’s theology regardless of other scientific findings.

Comment #49714

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 5:38 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

Just because you cannot understand it does not make the positions of Kenneth Miller, Simon Conway Morris, or Howard van Till any less coherent.

They’re not necessarily “incoherent.” They’re irrational. The world we actually find ourselves living in is not the world we would expect to see if it were the creation of an omnipotent and benevolent God. Science doesn’t disprove Christianity, but it does make it very implausible.

As a matter of interest, there is no “scientific position that people are Just Another Accident”.

Yes there is. The scientific evidence suggests that human beings exist at all only because of a series of cosmic accidents, such as the impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If it had not been for this string of chance events, human beings would never have evolved. It’s hard to reconcile this evidence with the Christian doctrine that human life is part of some grand plan by a benevolent and omnipotent God.

Comment #49725

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 26, 2005 6:21 PM (e)

Don P:

Actually, it’s not hard at all. If one posits that we are here because of a cosmic Grand Plan concocted by the Intelligent Designer Formerly Known As YHWH, then the dinosaurs HAD to give way, and their extinction was preplanned like everything else.

Don’t fall in the trap of accepting the reversal of the burden of proof: it isn’t science that has to show that those were chance events; it’s those who claim otherwise who need to show evidence of their teleology.

Comment #49730

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 6:41 PM (e)

Aureola:

Yes. What I meant by “reconcile” is that it’s hard to reconcile rationally from the evidence. If you make the right assumption, you can reconcile any evidence with any hypothesis.

A young-earth creationist might reconcile his religious belief in a young earth with the evidence that the earth is very old by assuming that God planted the evidence to make the earth appear much older than it really is. A “theistic evolutionist” Christian might reconcile his religious belief that the existence of human beings is part of some Grand Plan by an omnipotent and benevolent God with the evidence that human beings arose by chance through indifferent natural processes by assuming that we are misinterpreting the evidence because we don’t understand the Plan well enough. In neither case is the assumption rational or justified.

Comment #49731

Posted by Ken Willis on September 26, 2005 6:41 PM (e)

Science cannot disprove Christianity or any other religion because Christianity and other religions are not about what is true or not true but about what people believe through their faith. It hardly matters whether religious myths are true. “Intelligent design” is pernicious dogma because it purports to bring matters of faith into the realm of scientific proof.

There is no need for a specific reference of Dawkins claiming that evolution proves atheism, one cannot read far in his writings without knowing for certain that is what he believes and that is what he wants his reader to believe. And evolution can no more prove atheism is true that it can prove Christianity is false because both atheism and Christianity depend not upon proof or disproof but upon faith.

The ID’ers really get up my nose, but it should be admitted that they do have a case to make that science popularizers like Dawkins are trying to teach their children atheism and they’d like to put a stop to that. If we want true separation of church and state it ought to be acknowledged that atheism is just as must a religion as Christianity and should not be taught in public schools.

Comment #49732

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 6:51 PM (e)

Ken Willis:

Science cannot disprove Christianity or any other religion because Christianity and other religions are not about what is true or not true

Of course they are. “God exists” is an example of a claim of truth made by Christianity.

There is no need for a specific reference of Dawkins claiming that evolution proves atheism, one cannot read far in his writings without knowing for certain that is what he believes and that is what he wants his reader to believe.

I’ve read Dawkins’ writings extensively and nowhere that I am aware of does he say or suggest that “evolution proves atheism.” That’s just your silly strawman. What Dawkins does say is that evolution, and science more broadly, renders the God of Christianity implausible.

Comment #49736

Posted by Micah on September 26, 2005 7:04 PM (e)

Don P

You seem to be falling into a common pitfall of creationists they criticize evolution without a deep (usually even a shallow) understanding of the current ideas. They say it just doesn’t make sense to them to believe - insert standard misrepresentation of evolution here - so evolution just cannot make rational sense.

You don’t seem to have a good grasp of what theistic evolutionists believe but you can’t really come up with a rational explanation that satisfies you so there must not be one. Maybe you should/could do a little research. Learn what some of the current thinking in the field is then decide to post/read posts on a blog about theistic evolution and then come back and tell us why it doesn’t make sense.

Comment #49739

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 26, 2005 7:12 PM (e)

The idea that there exists anything other than the “limited” sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.

Really.

Please use the scientific method to determine for us whether or not murder is wrong.

Thanks.

Comment #49740

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 26, 2005 7:14 PM (e)

(yawn) We’re not gonna have yet another religious war, are we?

ID isn’t science, whether there is a god or not.

ID doesn’t belong in a science classroom, whether there is a god or not.

It’s illegal to teach religious opinions in public schools, whether there is a god or not.

So what difference does it make in this fight whether there is a god or not?

Comment #49742

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 7:19 PM (e)

Lenny Flank:

Really.

Yes, really.

Please use the scientific method to determine for us whether or not murder is wrong.

I can’t. I have no idea what you think that has to do with the statement of mine you quoted.

Comment #49743

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 7:31 PM (e)

Micah:

You don’t seem to have a good grasp of what theistic evolutionists believe

I’m talking about people who believe in science/evolution and who also believe in a benevolent and omnipotent creator God. Many Christians fall into this category. The evidence from science is inconsistent with the doctrine of a benevolent and omnipotent creator God for the reasons I have explained. You are perfectly free to make the assumption that human beings arose as part of some divine plan, even though the evidence suggests that we arose by accident. You are perfectly free to make the assumption that we were created by a benevolent God who loves us deeply, even though the evidence suggests only indifference. Those assumptions are no more consistent with evidence or reason than is the assumption of a Young Earth Creationist that the world is only 6,000 years old.

Comment #49744

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 26, 2005 8:03 PM (e)

Please use the scientific method to determine for us whether or not murder is wrong.

I can’t. I have no idea what you think that has to do with the statement of mine you quoted.

Indeed, I am quite sure you don’t.

Comment #49745

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 26, 2005 8:07 PM (e)

The evidence from science is inconsistent with the doctrine of a benevolent and omnipotent creator God for the reasons I have explained.

And yet others think it is perfectly consistent. (shrug)

That’s the problem with opinions, isn’t it. You say yours is right; they say theirs is right – and, unless you can find a way to apply the scientific method to questions of opinion, such as “is murder wrong?” or “are brunettes cuter than blondes?” or “is god benevolent?”, science can’t help us, and simply has nothing to say on the matter.

It’s why ID religious opinions not only are not science, but CAN’T be science.

Ditto for everyone else’s religious opinions, pro or con.

Comment #49746

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 8:08 PM (e)

Lenny Flank:

Indeed, I am quite sure you don’t.

I’m quite sure you don’t, either. Do you have an actual argued critique of my point, or are you just going to keep playing these silly games.

Comment #49747

Posted by Flint on September 26, 2005 8:16 PM (e)

Don P:

My statement concerned beliefs about what exists, not beliefs about how one ought to behave.

But that wasn’t how it was phrased. You said there was “no justification” for claiming that *anything* lay outside the boundaries of science. But beliefs about how one ought to behave indeed exist, and our decisions about such things genuinely matter, and science cannot inform us in this respect.

Huh? Why are moral beliefs any more “outside the limits of science” than any other kind of belief?

We may need some definitions here, I think. If I believe that if I release a brick it will drop, this sort of belief can be evaluated by science, which presumably can fully explain (and perfectly predict) the action of the brick. But if I believe that dropping the brick is immoral under some particular circumstances, science can’t help me. Science might be able to predict everything involved from the action of the brick to the reactions of everyone who ever becomes aware that it was dropped, but none of this applies to whether it was “a right thing to do”.

Tom Curtis:

Just because you cannot understand it does not make the positions of Kenneth Miller, Simon Conway Morris, or Howard van Till any less coherent.

I will take your word for this. I contend that I personally can’t reconcile these positions. But if you can, I applaud you.

As a matter of interest, there is no “scientific position that people are Just Another Accident”.

As I intended the phrase, of course there is such a position. This is what evolution SAYS, plain and simple. The evolutionary process throws out entirely contingent life forms due to nothing beyond what random effects made available for selection, and what an unpredictable environment happens to select under any given set of transient conditions.

There is also a commonly accepted, but disputed (see “Life’s Solution” by Simon Conway Morris) scientific hypothesis that given the existence of life on earth, the evolution of sapient bipeds with dextrous appendages is stastically improbable.

To be sure. In fact, the probability of the evolution of ANY particular life form is statistically infinitesimal. The probability of SOME life forms evolving is unity. The variety of possible forms is essentially infinite. Which ones have, and shall, come to pass is sheer accident.

Comment #49748

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 8:20 PM (e)

Lenny Flank:

And yet others think it is perfectly consistent. (shrug)

Yes, and still others think that science supports Intelligent Design. Religious beliefs have a way of blinding people to reason and evidence.

That’s the problem with opinions, isn’t it. You say yours is right; they say theirs is right — and, unless you can find a way to apply the scientific method to questions of opinion, such as “is murder wrong?” or “are brunettes cuter than blondes?” or “is god benevolent?”, science can’t help us, and simply has nothing to say on the matter.

I never claimed that science can answer the question “Is murder wrong?” Do you claim that religion can answer it? If so, what is that answer from religion, and how do know the answer is correct?

And to get back to the original assumption I was disputing, what reason is there to believe that there exists anything other than the “limited” sphere of things observable by science? What reason is there to think that, even if such a thing exists, religion can demonstrate that it exists or tell us anything about its nature?

Comment #49750

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 8:37 PM (e)

Flint:

But that wasn’t how it was phrased. You said there was “no justification” for claiming that *anything* lay outside the boundaries of science.

On the contrary, it is exactly how it was phrased. I said “The idea that there exists anything other than the ‘limited’ sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.” That statement is about beliefs regarding what exists, not about beliefs about moral vs. immoral behavior.

But beliefs about how one ought to behave indeed exist,

As I said, moral beliefs can be investigated by science just like beliefs about anything else, so they’re not an example of something beyond the scope of science, are they?

We may need some definitions here, I think. If I believe that if I release a brick it will drop, this sort of belief can be evaluated by science, which presumably can fully explain (and perfectly predict) the action of the brick. But if I believe that dropping the brick is immoral under some particular circumstances, science can’t help me.

Neither can religion, or anything else. And yes, you should define what you mean by terms like “is right” or “is immoral.” Assuming that by “is immoral,” you are referring to an objective moral fact or truth, rather than a subjective moral belief, religion is no more able to tell us whether there are such things as moral facts, and if so what those facts are, than science is. The claim that science cannot answer moral questions (“Is murder wrong?” etc.) does not even establish that such questions have answers, let alone that anything else besides science is capable of providing those answers.

Comment #49756

Posted by Flint on September 26, 2005 8:59 PM (e)

Don P:

I’m not sure if I’m being incomprehensible, or you’re being deliberately perverse. You spoke about what exist. Beliefs exist. I agreed that beliefs can be investigated, and science might explain them completely, but this does NOT address whether a belief in something is worth holding. That’s an extremely important personal matter, by no means irrelevant or trivial. Also completely beyond the scope of the scientific method.

I have no idea what you might mean by “an objective moral fact or truth”. You remind me of an engineering student who signed up for a public policy analysis class. He came in with his calculator ready to determine the answers, and after a few classes dropped the class in disgust. Any answer that couldn’t be calculated wasn’t worth the effort, as he saw it. To at least three decimal places!

But the question “is murder wrong” MUST have an answer, and that answer must be coherent, must make sense to people. There are protocols by which societies must live, if they are to be workable. WHAT those protocols are is within some wide range irrelevant. But they must be agreed on as workable and “right” by a high enough percentage of the polity nonetheless.

And so I repeat: There is a very large class of answers science can’t provide. I think one could make a strong argument that the answers most important to us, both as individuals and as members of a social group, fall into this class. Science can do no more than provide pertinent data and accurate explanations. What people choose to DO with what science provides is what matters. And science is completely useless for telling people what to do. Science can tell people HOW to do it, it can tell people what works and why. But the ultimate decisions are based on values, on preference, on hopes and dreams, on perceived needs.

And yes, religion can help in these matters a great deal. Religion can be viewed as a vehicle of social glue; a source of shared goals and values. It does not matter that these goals and values are irrational or arbitrary. It matters that they are accepted and shared. In practice, the question “is murder wrong” has an answer: that whatever we decide, we agree to abide by our decision, as a society. The answer is to establish a procedure for making these decisions, and to believe in the procedure and accept its output. Science is how the facts are collected and organized. Civilization is what we DO with it. Different “thing”, but if anything even more “real”.

Comment #49759

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 9:19 PM (e)

Flint:

I’m not sure if I’m being incomprehensible, or you’re being deliberately perverse. You spoke about what exist. Beliefs exist. I agreed that beliefs can be investigated, and science might explain them completely, but this does NOT address whether a belief in something is worth holding.

So what? The claim of mine you were disputing is “The idea that there exists anything other than the ‘limited’ sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.” Since you agree that moral beliefs can be investigated by science, they’re not an example of something that exists beyond the scope of science, are they?

That’s an extremely important personal matter, by no means irrelevant or trivial. Also completely beyond the scope of the scientific method.,

It’s hard to know what you mean by “worth holding.” But again, if science cannot answer the question of whether a moral belief is “worth holding,” how can anything else answer it either? What makes you think there even is an objective answer to such questions, rather than just subjective beliefs?

I have no idea what you might mean by “an objective moral fact or truth”.

I mean a moral proposition that has an objective truth value; that is, it is true or false independently of anyone’s subjective belief about whether it is true or false. I assume you agree that “The sun exists” is an objective fact. It is objectively true. It is true regardless of whether you, I or anyone else believes it is true. We can verify its truth using the methods of science and reason. What makes you think moral questions have objectively true or false answers? Even if they do, what makes you think we can discover what those answers are? The claim that morality lies outside the scope of science presupposes that morality consists of something more than subjective moral beliefs that can be investigated by science, and I deny that there is any reason to suppose that that is true.

Comment #49760

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on September 26, 2005 9:21 PM (e)

Don P: … The world we actually find ourselves living in is not the world we would expect to see if it were the creation of an omnipotent and benevolent God. Science doesn’t disprove Christianity, but it does make it very implausible.

By that measure, *casual observation* doesn’t disprove christianism, but makes it very implausible.

Ken Willis: There is no need for a specific reference of Dawkins claiming that evolution proves atheism, one cannot read far in his writings without knowing for certain that is what he believes and that is what he wants his reader to believe.

Hoo, also hah. We know from the Rev Dr Flank’s writings on this forum that an anarcho-syndicalist political stance causes a constant craving for pizza (or maybe the other way around), since he regularly orates on both those topics. You can tell from reading S.J. Gould that marine invertebrate paleontology requires enthusiasm for professional baseball. One cannot read far in Prof. Steve Steve’s oeuvre without knowing that high standards in practically everything lead directly to dogmatic bamboo-shootarianism.

How can a person propound such flimsy illogic and not buy into ID?

Comment #49763

Posted by Don P on September 26, 2005 9:34 PM (e)

Flint:

But the question “is murder wrong” MUST have an answer, and that answer must be coherent, must make sense to people. There are protocols by which societies must live, if they are to be workable. WHAT those protocols are is within some wide range irrelevant. But they must be agreed on as workable and “right” by a high enough percentage of the polity nonetheless. And so I repeat: There is a very large class of answers science can’t provide.

Huh? What makes you think science can’t determine which “protocols”–which rules of social behavior–are “workable” (by which I assume you mean something like “conducive to a healthy and stable society”) and which are not? That is exactly the kind of question that science can answer.

I think one could make a strong argument that the answers most important to us, both as individuals and as members of a social group, fall into this class. Science can do no more than provide pertinent data and accurate explanations. What people choose to DO with what science provides is what matters. And science is completely useless for telling people what to do.

There you go again. If by “telling people what to do” you mean something like “telling people which kinds of moral behavior are socially beneficial” then science can certainly answer that kind of question. But if you mean something like “telling people objective moral facts” (e.g., “Murder is wrong”) then, as I said before, we have no reason to believe that there are such facts.

And yes, religion can help in these matters a great deal. Religion can be viewed as a vehicle of social glue; a source of shared goals and values.

So what if religion can be a source of shared goals or values? That doesn’t mean those goals are moral. And it doesn’t tell us anything about what exists. A religion might promote slavery or child sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean those things are moral. A religion might claim that God exists, but that doesn’t mean he does. A religion might claim that there is something beyond the natural world we can investigate using the methods of science, but that obviously doesn’t mean that there is such a supernatural reality.

Comment #49784

Posted by Ken Willis on September 27, 2005 12:16 AM (e)

Richard Dawkins is an atheist. As an atheist Dawkins states emphatically, “I know there is no God.” He does not say “There might be a God or there might not be, I just don’t know.” If he said the latter he would be an agnostic. But he says, and he believes, that he knows.

Can any of you show me, by the scientific method, just how Dawkins or any other atheist knows this?

No you can’t. Because atheism is a religion. It is what Dawkins and other atheists believe. And when they claim to know, they are doing the same thing the ID’ers do. They are trying to put their religion on a scientific footing. It is just as pernicious and dishonest when they do it as when the ID’ers do it.

Comment #49785

Posted by Ken Willis on September 27, 2005 12:45 AM (e)

Pierce R. Butler, do you really think it is worth arguing over what Richard Dawkins believes? If it isn’t clear to you from all of his many books and writings, I think Dawkins himself would take issue with you. “Flimsy Illogic?” Man, get a life.

Comment #49787

Posted by KiwiInOz on September 27, 2005 1:01 AM (e)

As noted by many others, the scientific method is unlikely to be able to prove the existence of a god.

However, the many lines of historical evidence suggest that the common concept of the Christian god is an evolving entity. Amongst other things it appears to have moved from a pantheon of gods and earth spirits (e.g. Elohim) to a single all powerful and jealous god that was revealed to a primitive and nomadic middle eastern tribe (the chosen people) that originally feared and revered the Elohim, taking on and modifying characteristics of earlier and (then) contemporary gods along the way. It then became flesh (adopting characteristics of other gods e.g. virgin birth). It has then split off into an Islamic god, and other “incarnations” along the way. Forgive us for being skeptical of the current biblical god.

Comment #49793

Posted by NDT on September 27, 2005 3:16 AM (e)

Ken Willis wrote:

It is what Dawkins and other atheists believe. And when they claim to know, they are doing the same thing the ID’ers do. They are trying to put their religion on a scientific footing. It is just as pernicious and dishonest when they do it as when the ID’ers do it.

No it isn’t, because atheists are not trying to get school boards to teach that science supports atheism. See the difference?

Comment #49795

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 27, 2005 4:23 AM (e)

I never claimed that science can answer the question “Is murder wrong?”

I’m sorry, was it some imposter who used your name when he wrote:

As I said, moral beliefs can be investigated by science just like beliefs about anything else, so they’re not an example of something beyond the scope of science, are they?

Make up your damn mind, Don. Can science answer the question “is murder wrong”, or can’t it? Is the question ‘is murder wrong” outside the scope of science, or isn’t it?

Do you claim that religion can answer it?

Sure it can.

If so, what is that answer from religion

Depends on which religion you ask. Also depends on which interpretation of that religion the answerer holds.

, and how do know the answer is correct?

You don’t. After all, religious opinions are just that – opinions. Just like yours.

Comment #49796

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 27, 2005 4:26 AM (e)

But the question “is murder wrong” MUST have an answer, and that answer must be coherent, must make sense to people.

Lotds of different answers are coherent and make sense to people.

Yet they are different.

Please feel entirely free to use the scientific method to determine which is right. If you can. And if you can’t, then all of these different answers are opinions. None more valid than any other. Jsut like “brunettes are cuter than blondes” is an opinion. No more valid than “blondes are cuter than brunettes”.

Comment #49797

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 27, 2005 4:31 AM (e)

We know from the Rev Dr Flank’s writings on this forum that an anarcho-syndicalist political stance causes a constant craving for pizza (or maybe the other way around),

Both are caused by a liking for loud heavy-metal music. :>

since he regularly orates on both those topics.

Hey! I don’t “orate”. Do I “orate”?

Comment #49799

Posted by guthrie on September 27, 2005 5:29 AM (e)

Would you prefer “Rant”?

;)

Comment #49800

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 5:58 AM (e)

Ken Willis:

“Richard Dawkins is an atheist. As an atheist Dawkins states emphatically, “I know there is no God.” He does not say “There might be a God or there might not be, I just don’t know.” If he said the latter he would be an agnostic. But he says, and he believes, that he knows.

Can any of you show me, by the scientific method, just how Dawkins or any other atheist knows this?

No you can’t. Because atheism is a religion. It is what Dawkins and other atheists believe. And when they claim to know, they are doing the same thing the ID’ers do. They are trying to put their religion on a scientific footing. It is just as pernicious and dishonest when they do it as when the ID’ers do it.”

Your description of what atheists “must” believe and say is very wrong. An atheist is, at a minimum, one who does not believe any god exists. What you describe as the atheistic position is indeed held by a tiny minority of atheists, called “strong atheists”.

This is not the right venue for this sort of discussions, but you are offending a lot of people (and being irrational to boot) by claiming to know what they think and say better than themselves.

Atheist-bashing, albeit very popular, is a despicable occupation, and I suggest you stop it.

Comment #49801

Posted by norm on September 27, 2005 6:12 AM (e)

Ken Willis:
“If we want true separation of church and state it ought to be acknowledged that atheism is just as must a religion as Christianity and should not be taught in public schools.”

Didn’t someone once say that “calling atheism a religion is like calling not stamp collecting a hobby”?

Comment #49802

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 6:50 AM (e)

Actually,

the quote I’ve heard was “Calling atheism a religion is like calling ‘bald’ a hair colour”.

Comment #49804

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 6:56 AM (e)

“I suggest you stop it.”

Or else what?

Some atheists (not all, nor so many as to be in the majority) are to the evolution side like the Creationists in the Dover case are to ID. They are inconveniences and hinderances to the pro-science advocacy movement precisely because they are too stupid to know when to shut up. To the extent many of us are here to fight against ignorance and stupidity, “bashing” the incredibly stupid, hardcore/extremist atheists is just par for the course, I imagine. These atheists should get it through to their thick heads that they hold minority viewpoints which many find disagreeable or offensive (just like Creationists). They should stop hijacking science as a vehicle for their own metaphysics/philosophies (just like Creationists). And they should stop playing out the role of the helpless victim routine (just like Creationists).

In science, as in science advocacy, there is no such thing as a protected inner circle immune from criticism. Hardcore atheists need not apply.

Comment #49806

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 7:20 AM (e)

Lurker,

Ken Willis was not “bashing” the incredibly stupid, hardcore/extremist atheists. He was claiming (without support) that “atheists” per se “think” something which simply isn’t true.

“Some” atheists may be a liability, but not more so than “some” theists; and nobody’s been playing the “helpless victim routine”.

“I suggest you stop it” or else be shown as an ignorant atheist-basher, one who does not hesitate to lie in order to pretend that people who simply lack a god-belief are somehow guilty of something-or-other.

In science, in philosophy, in religion or anywhere else, one would do well to know what he is attacking before attacking it.

Comment #49809

Posted by Grey Wolf on September 27, 2005 8:11 AM (e)

Aureola: “I suggest you stop it” or else be shown as an ignorant atheist-basher, one who does not hesitate to lie in order to pretend that people who simply lack a god-belief are somehow guilty of something-or-other.

Interestingly, no-one has suggested Don P to stop his irrational Christian-bashing which is even more hurtful to the cause of science that atheist defense through science could ever be.

For the record, Mankind being the chosen species is not an a priori conclussion for all Christian evolutionists, and thus poses no problem to evolution. In my particular case, I understand that we are the chosen species because we’re intelligent enough to need guidance. A lion, or a zebra, or a bacteria lives their lives fully without any need of moral teachings. We are intelligent enough to be stupid enough to purposedly destroy ourselves (and take a big chunk of Life with us). We were chosen to be taught - by a long string of prophets ending in Jesus Christ who gave the ultimate rule (which doesn’t exclude, mind you, other people for having come up with it independently in other times and places - I talk of what I know. Ask Lenny about the Asiatic beliefs). That makes us special, to my knowledge. It doesn’t, however, make us *better* than the rest of the living creatures in the planet.

Sincerely, Don P is an *ss that for some reason believes that he knows the private understanding of some 2 billion people enough to rant about it. I will not bash atheists, even if I disagree with their ideas because this is neither the place nor the time, and would manage nothing. Some kind of mutual respect, however, seems to be out of place in trolls like Don.

Hope that helps,

Grey Wolf

PD: *Anyone* uttering the phrase “Science doesn’t disprove Christianity, but it does make it very implausible” better be an expert in Christian theology (including every possible religious belief, not just that of the vocal extremist minority) or will look like an *ss.

Comment #49810

Posted by Flint on September 27, 2005 8:15 AM (e)

Don P:

So what if religion can be a source of shared goals or values?

So these are what holds society together and gives our lives meaning. If you think science gives your life meaning, you are missing the point. You may have decided (IMO wrongly) that science can answer every question worth asking, but your justification for that is no different from the justification of the religious believer. It’s where YOU find value. WHY you find value there, science can’t tell you.

That doesn’t mean those goals are moral.

On the contrary, that’s *exactly* what it means. Without that framework, nothing is moral. Within the framework, what is declared moral is what is moral.

And it doesn’t tell us anything about what exists.

This terminology is confusing you. Does god “exist”? Let’s presume there is nothing in the physical universe meeting that description, that gods are nothing more than a shared delusion. Now, do they exist? Of course they do. Long and bitter wars are fought over them.

A religion might promote slavery or child sacrifice, but that doesn’t mean those things are moral.

Once again, that’s *exactly* what it means. Religion defines morality. What’s interesting is that you are declaring a practice rejected by YOUR value system as immoral. Science isn’t involved in any way; you are a product of a culture that has decided that slavery and child sacrifice are immoral, and sure enough, you parrot those values as though they were “real”. Yet scientists can hold slaves and sacrifice children if they believe it’s appropriate.

A religion might claim that God exists, but that doesn’t mean he does.

He exists for members of that religion.

A religion might claim that there is something beyond the natural world we can investigate using the methods of science, but that obviously doesn’t mean that there is such a supernatural reality.

Here, I think we’ve missed communication again. I don’t think a religion can make this claim usefully. Religion properly addresses matters science can’t touch - matters of values.

So I must say I’m amused. From one side of your mouth, you claim science can answer every question worth asking, and from the other side you claim some values are immoral. NOT on the grounds of social dynamics – we know that some societies who have followed practices you find immoral lasted over a thousand years.

What makes you think moral questions have objectively true or false answers? Even if they do, what makes you think we can discover what those answers are? The claim that morality lies outside the scope of science presupposes that morality consists of something more than subjective moral beliefs.

Nope, we didn’t communicate. Moral questions do NOT have objectively true or false answers. Protocols aren’t true or false, they are *agreements* as to proper behavior. We do not “discover” what the answers are to moral questions, we DECLARE the answers a priori. Within a large range of workable behaviors, morality DOES consist of arbitrary subjective beliefs, as you demonstrated by declaring immoral, values other than your own which work perfectly well when agreed on as protocol.

Anyway, I can only repeat in the hopes that it gets through this time: Science is a most marvelous vehicle, but it can’t tell us where we wish to travel. Science can make the vehicle comfortable, fast, and efficient. Science can evaluate the routes we might take to reach our goals and tell us which are easiest or least expensive. Science is an *enabler*, the best one ever devised. But WHAT we use it to enable, science can’t tell us.

If you wish to commit murder, science can be used to facilitate this goal. If you wish to know the consequences of murders on society, science can tell you those consequences fairly accurately. Now, do you LIKE those consequences? This is the most important question of all, because it determines whether you DO THE DEED. And here, science is silent.

Comment #49811

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 8:17 AM (e)

Grey Wolf,

It looks to me as if several people have taken Don P to task for his opinions, including some (like Flint) who are definitely not Christians.

Comment #49813

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 8:22 AM (e)

There’s yet another similarity between Creationists and hardcore atheists – the endless nitpicking over labels. To nitpick whether it is atheists stritu sensu who declare there is no God is like IDists nitpicking over whether they are Creationists. In the end, extremists, whether atheist or religious, always miss the bigger picture: the stereotypes associated with a particular label are often in place because some morons within the stereotyped group have popularized and perpetuated them. Blame the hardcore atheists who have shaped Ken Willis’ perception of atheism, not Ken Willis, as I have no evidence Ken Willis is so close minded as hardcore atheists. Are there philosophies which declare that there is no God, to which atheists subscribe? You betcha. Can it be helped that Ken is not aware of the proper terminology for those people? Absolutely. Is calling him a liar the way to do it? Only if one wants to help perpetuate Ken Willis’ stereotype that hardcore atheists are smug, self-righteous, putridly offensive bastards, I suppose.

Comment #49814

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 8:41 AM (e)

Lurker:

in other words, you have already decided, a priori, that what atheists themselves think and say does not count; what counts is your opinion of them.

Now that you’ve clarified who’s really close-minded, you can go back to lurking.

By the way, I wouldn’t dream of claiming that anyone right-of-centre has to agree with the Nazis, or that anyone left-of-centre must be a Stalinist, or that Christians of course are murderous crusaders.

Most likely, what shaped Ken’s misperceptions about atheists is not atheists themselves, not even the incredibly minority group of strong atheists; it is the convenient lies spread about atheists, dating back to Saul of Tarsus himself.

Comment #49816

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 9:00 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #49818

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 9:09 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #49819

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 9:11 AM (e)

Putting words in my mouth is a deliberate attempt to lie. Shame on you.

Despite my patient explanation of the issue, you completely miss it and go on this meaningless rant of martyrdom, throwing the obligatory references to Stalinists, Nazis, and murderous Christian crusaders. [yawn]

I am not excusing Ken from misusing the label, or not knowing better the next time. But the only way for Ken to be “misrepresenting” atheism, as you argue, is if he actually knew what atheism is. Yet, you clearly argue that he has no knowledge of atheism. So, naturally, the only course of action is to belittle his ignorance as a lie? The only way to see your quibbling over labels is to create a diversion from the issue at hand. After all, the easiest option to clear up this minor detail was to provide Ken with alternative labels: materialists, naturalists, antitheist bigots, whatever. That’s not what you did. One has to wonder why not.

Ken has made good points about atheist extremists, regardless of whether or not he has selected the appropriate labels. The bigger picture is that there are subgroups who are eroding the pro-science advocacy movement from the inside, specifically by antagonizing theists. Some of these vocal idiots are atheists. And they, like the Creationists, need to be stopped.

Comment #49820

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 9:15 AM (e)

By the way, I am an atheist strictu sensu. So there is no further need to address further Aureola Nominee’s misrepresentation of my views.

Comment #49821

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 9:21 AM (e)

Lurker:

I didn’t put any words in your mouth. You, on the other hand, did. Case closed.

By the way, since those miserepresentations have already been addressed countless times, even on this forum, repeating them regardless is a lie. Strawman fallacies are not the exclusive domain of IDiots, as Ken and you amply demonstrate.

Comment #49822

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 9:26 AM (e)

I am sorry, you do not get to close the case on your own whim. As I stated, hardcore atheists do not have special privileges in this forum. The case on hardcore atheists who wish to hijack science for anti-Christian/anti-theist missions is quite open, and fair-minded people will continue to prosecute it it to the fullest extent possible.

Go ahead, Aureola Nominee, keep calling us names. It is quite apparent that is your substitute for poor argumentation.

Comment #49823

Posted by Flint on September 27, 2005 9:35 AM (e)

I don’t see Dawkins as being harmful to biology. Sure, rabid Christians who abhor evolution and atheists equally can try to equate the two, and Dawkins can be used to symbolize both. But this approach is only effective in persuading those who are already seated in the choir. Certainly Dawkins is no more strident in his atheism than any and all creationists are in their devotions. Indeed, if the views Dawkins holds were in the overwhelming majority and believers were the ones swimming upstream, the standard creationist output would look indistinguishable from genuine organic brain damage, while they’d be reduced to getting funny haircuts and obstructing people at airports.

I also don’t like the notion that for tactical reasons, the creationists get to snort and bray and wave Jeezus around like drunks on New Year’s Eve, while those not sharing that particular faith must tiptoe around, pretending that their OWN firm beliefs somehow never cross their minds. Some theists seem to walk around looking for anything they can use as an excuse to become antagonized, secure in the knowledge that the overwhelming majority can be persuaded to feel “persecuted” because someone, somewhere, doesn’t share their faith.

Comment #49824

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 9:37 AM (e)

Dear Lurker,

you keep mentioning these semimythical “hardcore atheists”. Yet, they are nowhere to be seen. Don P’s positions were not strongly atheistic; Flint’s were not strongly atheistic; mine are not strongly atheistic.

The burden of proof is on someone claiming that anyone here is a strong atheist.

I’m sorry, but hardcore atheists do not enjoy special privileges especially because nobody here was proposing they did.

But I’ll agree, they are a convenient strawman. Keep bashing them. Keep pretending they exist and are a significant force in science. And keep attacking atheists like me, who really am an atheist strictu sensu, because of what this strawman of yours allegedly does.

Comment #49825

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 9:40 AM (e)

…and by the way, the case is closed because you have yet to present one teewny tiny shred of evidence that your claims do in fact correspond to reality.

Until you do, there’s not even a case to be opened.

Comment #49827

Posted by qetzal on September 27, 2005 9:54 AM (e)

Lurker wrote:

Some of these vocal idiots are atheists. And they, like the Creationists, need to be stopped.

The ones who need to be stopped are the ones who want to force their religious belief systems on others.

If by “vocal idiots” you mean people who want all kids taught that science proves no God(s) exist(s), I agree they should be stopped. Just like their religious counterparts, who want all kids taught that their God does exist.

But if you’re saying we should stifle the “vocal idiots” from speaking their minds in general, I think you’re very wrong. They should have just as much freedom to propound their religious beliefs (i.e. hardcore atheism) as anyone else.

Comment #49828

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 10:08 AM (e)

The point, qetzal, is that these “vocal idiots” are nowhere in sight, but make for a very convenient punching ball.

Can anyone here please point me to a prominent atheist thinker who has advocated teaching that”no Gods exist”?

Maybe I’m ignorant, after all I’ve only studied theism and atheism for a mere 30 years now, but since neither the American Atheists (USA), nor the British Humanist Association (UK), not the Union of Atheists, Agnostics and Rationalists (Italy), nor the late Bertrand Russell - possibly the most influential atheist thinker of the 20th century - ever advocated anything even remotely close to what “atheists” have been accused of thinking…

well, “fair-minded people” can draw their own conclusions.

Comment #49829

Posted by Ken Willis on September 27, 2005 10:10 AM (e)

The genesis of this discussion was the false, unnecessary and destructive conflict that creationists set up between science and religion. My purpose is to acknowledge and deplore this phenomenon but to also point out that atheists such as Richard Dawkins are equally guilty.

Having bought and read all of his books, I’m hardly a Dawkins Basher or even an atheist basher. To observe the nature of something is not to bash it.

I guess there may be degrees of atheism. But then there must be degrees of pregnancy also, because atheism is not a complex dogma. Whatever degree of atheist one may happen to be, all atheists believe, know, surmise, and are pretty darn sure that God does not exist. Since there is no way, by the scientific method or any other method, to prove that claim it falls into the realm of religious dogma.

Maybe the best way to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist is to simply admit that it is what you believe through faith alone and not because of evolution. To claim that evolution is the source of your intellectual fulfillment as an atheist is to do exactly what creationists do, to set up an unnecessary and destructive conflict between religion and science.

If evolution makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled athiest, then presumably one would not be an intellectually fulfilled atheist were it not for evolution. Therein lies the conflict, same one the creationists claim. Both camps find faith alone inadequate to sustain their beliefs.

Comment #49831

Posted by Aureola Nominee, FCD on September 27, 2005 10:22 AM (e)

Ken:

“Whatever degree of atheist one may happen to be, all atheists believe, know, surmise, and are pretty darn sure that God does not exist.”

Once again, you are wrong, and I challenge you to defend this incredible claim you are making.

Atheism is nothing more and nothing less than the lack of belief in god-claims. Then you have red-haired atheists (atheists who also happen to have red hair), left-handed atheists (atheists who also happen to be left-handed), vanilla-ice-cream-liking atheists (atheists who also like vanilla ice cream), strong atheists (atheists who also happen to believe that no god exists), and so on and so forth.

The one thing all these people have in common is not a belief but the lack of a belief. If you need to think that atheists have religious dogmas, I’d say that your opinions must be pretty shaky.

Comment #49835

Posted by Flint on September 27, 2005 10:59 AM (e)

Ken Willis:

OK, I’ll take a crack at this. Viewpoints clearly differ, but…

Whatever degree of atheist one may happen to be, all atheists believe, know, surmise, and are pretty darn sure that God does not exist. Since there is no way, by the scientific method or any other method, to prove that claim it falls into the realm of religious dogma.

This mischaracterizes atheism rather seriously. Let’s say someone claims indetectable aliens are peering over our shoulders all the time. Since I don’t see any evidence that this is the case, this makes me an “ashoulderist”. In fact, I’m an a-anything that I see no indication might be the case, including everything nobody has ever even thought of yet. By your reasoning, this would make everyone (and *especially* those with less imagination) overwhelmingly religious, hopelessly dogmatic about things that have never even crossed their minds. To me, this is stretching the language out of shape. If you find the Spaghetti Monster amusing rather than a serious proposal, does this make you dogmatically religious about it? If you are pretty darn sure that the Spaghetti Monster does not exist, is that religious dogma?

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s generally considered sensible NOT to believe in things for which no evidence yet exists. I propose that if gods DID exist, the evidence for that existence would be so overwhelmingly self-evident you’d have to be in a persistent vegetative state not to notice. It is NOT religious dogma to remain skeptical of the existence of anything for which there is no evidence.

Maybe the best way to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist is to simply admit that it is what you believe through faith alone and not because of evolution. To claim that evolution is the source of your intellectual fulfillment as an atheist is to do exactly what creationists do, to set up an unnecessary and destructive conflict between religion and science.

I regard this as a serious misunderstanding. Dawkins wrote very clearly, that BEFORE Darwin had proposed a plausible mechanism for biological diversity, there were only two explanations available: goddidit, and “I don’t know”. Neither of which is very satisfying for those who find gods hard to swallow. What Darwin did was to provide a natural mechanism that would produce exactly what we observe without *requiring* any gods. You don’t seem to see the difference between believing there are NO gods, and NOT believing there ARE gods. Darwin removed the tacit requirement for any gods, in at least some respects.

If evolution makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled athiest, then presumably one would not be an intellectually fulfilled atheist were it not for evolution. Therein lies the conflict, same one the creationists claim. Both camps find faith alone inadequate to sustain their beliefs.

So long as you insist on viewing LACK of a belief as a belief itself, you will remain tangled in confusion. Evolution is a fact. Darwin proposed a *mechanism* which was not supernatural, the first non-supernatural mechanism that really made sense. Dawkins is saying that “I don’t know” is not intellectually fulfilling, and I agree with him. But “I don’t know” is not a religious belief, and RM+NS is also not a religious belief, but it’s a hell of a lot more satisfying. Faith is not involved.

Comment #49836

Posted by Arden Chatfield on September 27, 2005 11:00 AM (e)

I guess there may be degrees of atheism. But then there must be degrees of pregnancy also, because atheism is not a complex dogma. Whatever degree of atheist one may happen to be, all atheists believe, know, surmise, and are pretty darn sure that God does not exist. Since there is no way, by the scientific method or any other method, to prove that claim it falls into the realm of religious dogma.

Suddenly atheists now have to ‘prove’ God doesn’t exist, but Christians don’t have to prove he does? Sounds like you’re saying that any set of perceptions drastically different from yours is a religious ‘dogma’.

Conservative christians like taking all beliefs that make them uncomfortable and calling them ‘religious dogmas’. This is basically a rhetorical maneuver. In addition to the fact that it makes it easier for them to wrap their brains around it that way, it then boils down to ‘my religion is now at war with your religion’, which makes them more confident that they will prevail. If science is agreed to be something very different from religion, it makes it much harder to ‘fight’ it.

Comment #49838

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 11:06 AM (e)

My notion of a hardcore atheist does not fall neatly between the strong/weak atheist dichotomy. I am, and have been, speaking specifically about atheists who use science as a vehicle to badger Christians/theists. In fact, I gladly apply my attention to any person who politicizes science to attack another group. But in this particular instance, it happens to be an atheist, and on this forum, there have been many other instances of atheists engaging in this behavior. I will call them as I see them.

It is part of a developing society to figure out how to deal with each other’s diverse collection of firm beliefs. Oftentimes, this entails people figuring out what we dislike about an opposing group’s behavior… and then not doing it ourselves. If we dislike Creationists for wearing their religion on their sleeves, then should it not occur to us that our doing so is equally distasteful? Or is the agreed upon solution to resolving differing, firmly held beliefs to always have an all out shouting match and war?

The specific goal of this forum is to promote evolution and good science. It should not be seen as an opportunity for hardcore atheists to coopt the message for their philosophical and political purposes. Ask yourself. What is the political difference between a Creationist who believes that evolution promotes atheism, and a hardcore atheist who is promoting evolution? Is it really only that one tends to sit on a school board, and the other one doesn’t? To a Christian parent who is voting for a school board member, does it matter to her whether she hears a Christian claiming evolution destroys God or a hardcore atheist claiming evolution destroys God?

But, qetzal, in my wildest dreams I would not think of stifling opinions. I think we can stop an idiotic message by opposing it vigorously. I do however resent people who purposefully sidetrack discussions by engaging in meaningless rhetorical ploys. In that regard, all politically active minority interest groups, whether Creationists or hardcore atheists, more or less engage in the same behavior.

Comment #49840

Posted by Chance on September 27, 2005 11:27 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #49841

Posted by Lurker on September 27, 2005 11:28 AM (e)

“I propose that if gods DID exist, the evidence for that existence would be so overwhelmingly self-evident you’d have to be in a persistent vegetative state not to notice. It is NOT religious dogma to remain skeptical of the existence of anything for which there is no evidence.”

Flint, I rather think this is a theological argument about the nature of God. Or perhaps that was your point?

Comment #49842

Posted by Chance on September 27, 2005 11:30 AM (e)

”No you can’t. Because atheism is a religion. It is what Dawkins and other atheists believe. And when they claim to know, they are doing the same thing the ID’ers do. They are trying to put their religion on a scientific footing. It is just as pernicious and dishonest when they do it as when the ID’ers do it”

Stupid beyond belief.

‘Whatever degree of atheist one may happen to be, all atheists believe, know, surmise, and are pretty darn sure that God does not exist. Since there is no way, by the scientific method or any other method, to prove that claim it falls into the realm of religious dogma.’

You are one confused fella. Your correct the scientific method cannot dissprove Gods existence. But as usual your like forgets it cannot disprove the FSM, Zeus, or flying turtles, santa or many other things either. All these atheists are saying is you have zero evidence hence they lack your belief. Absecnce of a belief is not the same thing as you are positing. You are an atheist to many Gods. Does that mean your religion is athesim as well?

Religion is a group activity, belief is not. Your a theist who happens to be a Christian. Christianity is your religion. Your a theist by belief. An atheist is an atheist as he lacks belief. He has no religion.

Comment #49843

Posted by Chance on September 27, 2005 11:34 AM (e)

‘What is the political difference between a Creationist who believes that evolution promotes atheism, and a hardcore atheist who is promoting evolution?’

Evidence. Evolution is a fact creationism is not. He who is promoting it is of little matter. The fact that it matters to some shows how little they care for truth and evidence.

‘To a Christian parent who is voting for a school board member, does it matter to her whether she hears a Christian claiming evolution destroys God or a hardcore atheist claiming evolution destroys God?’

Of course it matters to her but the question is, as an honest voter, should she not seek to be informed rather than giving over to the false rhetoric of ‘evil’ atheists. Perhaps if she knew more atheists she wouldn’t think the preachers drones about them were correct.

Comment #49849

Posted by Flint on September 27, 2005 12:58 PM (e)

Lurker:

Flint, I rather think this is a theological argument about the nature of God. Or perhaps that was your point?

No, my point was about the relationship between belief and evidence. And specifically about the difference between two flavors of belief: the one backed by adequate evidence, and the one backed by none at all.

Ken Willis was placing BOTH of these flavors into the realm of religious dogma, and I was disagreeing. Belief in the absence (or defiance) of evidence is religious dogma. Skepticism in the absence of evidence is not dogma. Belief backed by sufficient evidence is not dogma.

And so, finally, my position is that the claim that NOT believing in something for which NO evidence exists is dogmatic, is simply silly. Atheism is, in general, simply one otherwise unexceptional instance of reserving belief until evidence justifies it.

Ken Willis is, IMO, guilty of a common error believers make, that of projecting belief onto everyone else about everything. Perhaps to such people, belief is the ONLY path to “knowledge”. Their gods are so real to them that those who first demand evidence must be both perverse and dogmatic. And I really despair of getting through to Ken Willis that his god and the Spaghetti Monster are orthogonal with respect to evidence, and differ only within the context of his faith.

This harks back to the discussion about whether absence of evidence is evidence of absence. And I think in a very real sense, this is the case. When Sherlock Holmes observed that the dog did NOT bark in the night, absence of barking was evidence for non-barking (which must be explained). The burden lies on anyone who believes without evidence, that this belief can be supported (by something more than citing a Biblical verse to the effect that faith is the evidence for the non-evidenced).

Comment #49862

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 27, 2005 2:59 PM (e)

Flint:

This harks back to the discussion about whether absence of evidence is evidence of absence. And I think in a very real sense, this is the case. When Sherlock Holmes observed that the dog did NOT bark in the night, absence of barking was evidence for non-barking (which must be explained). The burden lies on anyone who believes without evidence, that this belief can be supported (by something more than citing a Biblical verse to the effect that faith is the evidence for the non-evidenced).

It is not true that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. What is true is that absence of expected evidence is evidence of absence. However, theological views about creation are too diverse even within Christianity for evidence of evolution to be evidence against Christianity simpliciter. It can be evidence against particular theological views, but need not be, and is not evidence against many other views.

On the other hand, if we assume the religious belief has rational content, then their must be some rationally investigatable domain in which the belief has consequences. Traditionally, for Christianity that domain is history - and in that domain, the predictions fail.

Strong atheism - the belief that no gods exist - is the most rational religious belief because their is a deafening silence from all gods in every rationally investigatible domain - not just science.

Comment #49863

Posted by Don P on September 27, 2005 3:01 PM (e)

Lenny Flank:

Make up your damn mind, Don. Can science answer the question “is murder wrong”, or can’t it?

As I already told you, no, it can’t. As I also told you, moral beliefs can be investigated by science. You seem to think that investigating moral beliefs is the same thing as answering moral questions. They’re not the same thing.

You don’t. After all, religious opinions are just that — opinions. Just like yours.

If they’re just “opinions,” then they’re not “answers” in the sense of knowledge or fact. Religion is no more capable of answering questions like “Is murder wrong?” than science is. Religion may offers guesses or hopes or wishes about these questions, but it cannot answer them. Which is why your claim that science cannot answer moral questions is completely irrelevant. There is no way of answering them. We don’t even know if the premise that they have an answer is correct.

Comment #49864

Posted by Don P on September 27, 2005 3:20 PM (e)

Flint:

So these are what holds society together and gives our lives meaning.

That’s irrelevant. You were suggesting that the fact that there are questions science cannot answer (such as moral questions) means that something exists beyond the natural world we may know through science. I’m still waiting for you to justify that claim. The fact that religion can be a source of goals or values does not mean that religion is a source of knowledge. It doesn’t mean that religion can tell us anything about the nature of the world. Nor does it mean that religious values and goals have merit.

On the contrary, that’s *exactly* what it means. Without that framework, nothing is moral. Within the framework, what is declared moral is what is moral.

Then you are simply defining morality as subjective moral beliefs, in which case it is meaningless to ask objective moral questions like “Is murder immoral?” It’s like asking whether chocolate tastes better than strawberry. There is no answer, there are only subjective beliefs.

This terminology is confusing you. Does god “exist”? Let’s presume there is nothing in the physical universe meeting that description, that gods are nothing more than a shared delusion. Now, do they exist? Of course they do. Long and bitter wars are fought over them.

If Gods are nothing more than a delusion, then no, of course they don’t exist. If you really see no difference between the ontological status of a real object and an imagined one, then it’s hard to know how you can even function in the world. And the fact that wars have been fought over them is completely irrelevant to the question of whether they exist. The belief that Gods exist may have caused wars, but that is not the same thing as the existence of Gods causing wars.

Comment #49865

Posted by Chance on September 27, 2005 3:22 PM (e)

‘Which is why your claim that science cannot answer moral questions is completely irrelevant. There is no way of answering them’

For an interesting read try Shermer’s ‘The Science of Good and Evil’

Then we’ll all come back and discuss.:-)

Personally I see no reason why science will not unravel the root of moral questions. After reading the above mentioned book there are some pretty good research starting points.

My 2 cents, murder is wrong in the majority of cases simply because it removes genes from the pool that may prove beneficial to the species. Whether it state sanctioned murder(war) or a homicide, murder has the potential to damage the species biologically and the social order which again is a biological construct.

Looking at the issue at this point in human history it is hard to see it’s origins but imagine a smaller band of humans and one overly aggressive individual who had no qualms about wooping you for your food or mate. Such actions are counterproductive to the species. Hence the majority of ‘weaker’ individuals have a vested interest in preventing murderous individuals from prospering and removing them from the herd so to speak has been our answer.

But I could be wrong.:-)

Comment #49867

Posted by Flint on September 27, 2005 3:51 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

I suppose we’re saying the same thing. I don’t like these terminological distinctions between flavors of atheism, because I don’t accept the context in which they are framed. I think Christian sects generally make testable claims (though testable claims do not constitute the entire faith), and that those claims have a lousy track record.

As for no gods existing, I wouldn’t regard this as a belief so much as a working assumption that acceptance of the existence of anything attestable by evidence should be withheld pending the appearance of such evidence. For example, dark energy is accepted quite easily because it does NOT “violate a belief” that it doesn’t exist. It’s simply something unexpected that cropped up in our continuing examination of our universe.

Don P:

As I already told you, no, it can’t. As I also told you, moral beliefs can be investigated by science.

Weird. Lenny asks you to use science to investigate a moral belief. You admit science can’t do so, and then claim that science CAN do so without even pausing for breath. And you see no problem here?

If they’re just “opinions,” then they’re not “answers” in the sense of knowledge or fact.

But nobody was demanding that answers be valuable in the sense of knowledge or fact. I’ve consistently said they are valuable in terms of consensus, and in terms of finding meaning in life. You are trying without success to cram a large part of philosphy into a tiny container, and then claiming that anything that doesn’t fit, doesn’t count.

Religion may offers guesses or hopes or wishes about these questions, but it cannot answer them.

Sorry, but you are simply missing the point completely, over and over and over and over and over. Do you never tire of it? Religion’s job has nothing to do with answering testable questions. Religion’s job is to provide us with hopes and dreams, with values and preferences, with agreements and good will.

Once again, you have carefully constrained your world so that the only possible answers to anything are the answers that science can provide. But when I pointed out that you yourself set forth values science could not address, I notice you carefully ignore this. Religion indeed provides the answer to “is murder wrong”. One religion (indeed, most religions) say the answer is “yes”. How can you say religion is “not capable” of providing an answer religion obviously provides?

And notice that if religion said that the answer is 42, THAT would be the right answer, so long as nearly everyone accepted it as the right answer. Religions that stop providing answers become obsolete. You are faulting religion because it fails to be science; you hold religion up to the standards and requirements and purposes of science and naturally find it wanting. And these seem to be the ONLY methods and purposes you are capable of seeing (though you make ample use of value and preference without even noticing you do it with every sentence).

The fact that religion can be a source of goals or values does not mean that religion is a source of knowledge. It doesn’t mean that religion can tell us anything about the nature of the world. Nor does it mean that religious values and goals have merit.

Amazing. Religion is NOT a source of knowledge. Science is a source of knowledge. Please don’t confuse them. Religion is NOT just lousy science. Religion is neither intended, nor properly used, to tell us anything about the nature of the world. As for whether religion has “merit”, you have defined science as the ONLY source of merit. In other words, you have put forth a value science can’t investigate. Religion of course lacks scientific merit, but that’s not the only kind of merit there is.

If Gods are nothing more than a delusion, then no, of course they don’t exist.

And here, I give up. OF COURSE they exist. And the wars fought over them exist. And the peace of mind people find by believing them exists as well. No, they don’t exist in a scientific sense. You have walled yourself into the tightest box I’ve ever encountered.

Chance:

murder is wrong in the majority of cases simply because it removes genes from the pool that may prove beneficial to the species.

But how about self-defense? How about military exercises? How about public safety? How about capital punishment? All of these remove genes from the pool, but not nearly so many as some childhood diseases. I suspect you may have decided a priori that murder is wrong (because we are taught this from infancy), and are now pasting a thin justification on it. And so you say “in the majority of cases” but not in ALL cases, even though the genetic effect is identical in all cases.

In any case, evolution works because NOT every organism survives to breed. That is, by selection. Personally, I don’t accept your implication that being a murderer is genetic. In fact, I think that’s absurd. Murder is a social convention; all organisms die.

Comment #49881

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 27, 2005 5:04 PM (e)

Don P:

They’re not necessarily “incoherent.” They’re irrational. The world we actually find ourselves living in is not the world we would expect to see if it were the creation of an omnipotent and benevolent God. Science doesn’t disprove Christianity, but it does make it very implausible.

I will be more explicit. Each of Kenneth Miller, Howard van Till and Simon Conway Morris hold certain (distinct) theological beliefs, and also hold the belief that evolution through random mutation and natural selection is the best explanation of the diversity and adaptation of life on earth. For each of them, these sets of beliefs approximatly satisfy a standard of bayesian coherence: ie, that altering the a priori probability of any belief in the set would reduce the a posteriori probability of the conjunction of all the beliefs in the set. Further, for each of their beliefs, the set approximates even closer to a local maximum of conjoint a posteriori probability.

While we might expect an Ideal Knower not just approximate to, but to meet these standards; and to not just achieve a local maximum, but a global maximum - there is no higher standard of rationality which we can reasonably expect of humans than those satisfied by Miller, van Till and Conway Morris. Consequently, if they are acting rationally, while a major change of biological belief would force a major change of theological belief, their beliefs are as rational as can be expected given their biological beliefs. If they are irrational, no fact of biology shows it - and no currently known fact of biology requires significant modification of their beliefs.

Yes there is. The scientific evidence suggests that human beings exist at all only because of a series of cosmic accidents, such as the impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If it had not been for this string of chance events, human beings would never have evolved. It’s hard to reconcile this evidence with the Christian doctrine that human life is part of some grand plan by a benevolent and omnipotent God.

Granted that within all current scientific theories, meteor impacts are not caused by life on earth, your conclusion does not follow. For it to follow, you would need to establish that “God’s plan” involved not just the evolution of sapient bipeds (ie, human like creatures), but of humans explicitly (ie, the particular descendants of a particular lineage). Miller and Conway Morris both agree that “God’s plan” would have been satisfied if sapient biped descendants of dinosaurs had evolved on earth, just as much as in the current situation. You would also need to establish that it was important to “God’s plan” that the sapient biped appeared on earth, rather than on some other planet (Miller disagrees). Alternatively you would have to show that the evolution of any type of sapient biped is improbable given only the existence of life. Conway Morris disagrees with this on scientific grounds, and it is an as yet unresolved dispute in biology. Finally you would have to show that the Christian doctrine of providence was incoherent to refute van Till. That doctrine asserts that even events which are completely random with respect to causal antecedents within the universe are under God’s complete controll. Given that on the standard interpretation of general relativity, if a being were to create a single moment in the universe, that being must create all moments in the universe at the same “time”, and that therefore the creation of the big bang must also have involved the creation of the alverez impactor; proving the incoherence of providence will be a particularly difficult task.

Flint:

As I intended the phrase, of course there is such a position. This is what evolution SAYS, plain and simple. The evolutionary process throws out entirely contingent life forms due to nothing beyond what random effects made available for selection, and what an unpredictable environment happens to select under any given set of transient conditions.

See my comments about GR and providence above.

To be sure. In fact, the probability of the evolution of ANY particular life form is statistically infinitesimal. The probability of SOME life forms evolving is unity. The variety of possible forms is essentially infinite. Which ones have, and shall, come to pass is sheer accident.

Yes. But what is the probability, not of a particular lineage, nor of a particular exhaustive set of characteristics, but of a tool using, language using species simpliciter? Gould certainly thought it was low, but Conway Morris and Dawkins (amongst others) disagree.

Comment #49884

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 27, 2005 5:22 PM (e)

Flint:

As for no gods existing, I wouldn’t regard this as a belief so much as a working assumption that acceptance of the existence of anything attestable by evidence should be withheld pending the appearance of such evidence. For example, dark energy is accepted quite easily because it does NOT “violate a belief” that it doesn’t exist. It’s simply something unexpected that cropped up in our continuing examination of our universe.

For me, on the other hand, I am very definitly asserting something about all things which exist, ie, that none of them are (a) god.

Comment #49893

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 27, 2005 6:19 PM (e)

(yawn)

I will simply state once again:

ID is not science, whether god exists or not.

ID offers nothing to science, whether there is a god or not.

ID is nothing but religious apologetics, whether there is a god or not.

It is ilelgal to teach religious apologetics in US public schools, whether there is a god or not.

So (1) what the hell difference does it make in this fight whether there is a god or not, and (2) why are we wasting time arguing over it?

Comment #49894

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 27, 2005 6:27 PM (e)

Make up your damn mind, Don. Can science answer the question “is murder wrong”, or can’t it?

As I already told you, no, it can’t.

So then … you agree there are things that lie outside the arealm of scientific investigation?

As I also told you, moral beliefs can be investigated by science. You seem to think that investigating moral beliefs is the same thing as answering moral questions. They’re not the same thing.

Umm, I don’t recall saying they were. (shrug)

My point is a crushingly simple one, Don. You made the claim that

he idea that there exists anything other than the ‘limited’ sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.

I have asked you if science can answer the question “is murder wrong”. You said, “No, it can’t”.

That sure sounds to ME like something “other than the limited sphere of things observable by science”.

Unless, of course, you want to change your mind and show me how to use science to answer the question “is murder wrong” … ?

Science is a method, Don. It’s not a philosophy, not a worldview, not a religion, not a way of life. And those who try to turn it INTO one are misusing and abusing science, every bit as much as the foaming fundies do.

I sincerely hope you’re not as Spock-like in real life as you present yourself here. It would be an awfully crushing way to live, I’d think.

Comment #49896

Posted by Flint on September 27, 2005 6:47 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

But what is the probability, not of a particular lineage, nor of a particular exhaustive set of characteristics, but of a tool using, language using species simpliciter?

I don’t know if it even makes sense to talk about probability in this context. We know that, at least by our definitions, such a thing happened after 4 billion years of random results. But what is the probability of any such category? What, for example, is the probability that a class of reptiles would arise and dominate the fauna of the planet for 150 million years or so, and then abruptly vanish? What is the probability that life would adapt to an oxygen atmosphere/fly through a fairly thin air/NOT evolve from an aerogel, and so on ad nauseum?

Personally, I don’t think your species description is any more nor less likely than any OTHER description. Are you saying that because it describes YOU, it’s special in some way that a description that describes the bacteria in your gut is not? Do you really NEED to pound your chest and struggle to convince yourself that you are superior? Why?

Comment #49900

Posted by MGrant on September 27, 2005 7:21 PM (e)

Lenny: “So then … you agree there are things that lie outside the arealm of scientific investigation?”

There’s a great difference between saying that science cannot answer a question and saying that science cannot investigate it. As Don P said, science cannot ANSWER the question of murder’s morality. This does not, however, place it “outside the realm of scientific investigation,” because the morality can be investigated in a scientific manner.

Comment #49902

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 27, 2005 7:43 PM (e)

There’s a great difference between saying that science cannot answer a question and saying that science cannot investigate it. As Don P said, science cannot ANSWER the question of murder’s morality. This does not, however, place it “outside the realm of scientific investigation,” because the morality can be investigated in a scientific manner.

Reeeeaaaallllyyyyyyy.

So you have a scientific method to answer questions of morality, then? Do tell.

Is abortion moral, or not.

Is the death penalty moral, or not.

Is homosexuality moral, or not.

Please demonstrate to us how you intend to investigate these questions in a scientific manner. And please illustrate each step in the scientific method that you use, for us.

Thanks in advance.

Comment #49909

Posted by Flint on September 27, 2005 8:40 PM (e)

There’s a great difference between saying that science cannot answer a question and saying that science cannot investigate it.

Yes, of course this is true. Just as science can investigate questions it can’t answer, religion can answer questions without investigation. These are entirely different approaches. Science discovers what’s true within its domain, religion makes things true with its domain. It answers these questions by saying “Here is what we believe, because our belief is good and proper and required for righteous thought and living.”

I suppose science could investigate and see that yes, indeed, this is how religion operates. But science would not be investigating the morality itself, only the mechanism by which morality is decreed. I think it’s entirely possible that science and religion are based in different parts of the brain, with religion occupying the much older and entirely dominant hindbrain, the seat of instinct and emotion.

Comment #49913

Posted by Mike S. on September 27, 2005 9:15 PM (e)

Don P. wrote:

The evidence from science is inconsistent with the doctrine of a benevolent and omnipotent creator God for the reasons I have explained.

Don, I’ve seen you make this statement, or a variation of it, many times on PT, but I don’t understand why you think it has any explanatory force. One does not need science to think life is incompatible with a benevolent and omnipotent creator God - people have been dying and suffering, and Jews and Christians defending God’s goodness in the face of such suffering, for millenia. Modern science, including evolution, doesn’t really provide any novel arguments against theodicy. (In fact, according to Michael Ruse, evolution actually provides some support for theodicy, but that’s another topic.)

Furthermore, it seems to me that you are making the exact same error the ID people make: you are basing an argument based upon the statistical probability of an event (that if God exists, He is omnipotent and benevolent) for which you have no possible way of calculating the odds. You can’t say, “well, in this universe, which was created by an omnipotent and benevolent god, things work much differently, and it this one over here, which just appeared randomly, things look more like our universe, so that means it is more likely than not that our universe was not created by an omnipotent and benevolent creator.” You are making this claim based upon various assumptions about what a benevolent and omnipotent creator would or wouldn’t do, but those assumptions might as well be pulled out of your ass. Just like Dembski’s assumptions are pulled out of his ass.

Comment #49914

Posted by Don P on September 27, 2005 9:29 PM (e)

Lenny Flank:

So then … you agree there are things that lie outside the arealm of scientific investigation?

Yes. Unfortunately for you, those things cannot be investigated by religion either. Religion can no more tell us whether murder is wrong than science can. Religion can no more tell us whether there is a God than science can. The fact that there are questions science cannot answer does not mean that religion can answer those questions. Religion tells stories, expresses hopes and fears, makes guesses, but it does not provide us with knowledge. And in particular, religion does not tell us whether anything exists beyond the natural world we may know through our senses. Religions make various assertions about such a supernatural reality, but assertions are not the same thing as knowledge or truth.

I have asked you if science can answer the question “is murder wrong”. You said, “No, it can’t”. That sure sounds to ME like something “other than the limited sphere of things observable by science”.

You are deliberately misrepresenting my statement. I said that “The idea that there exists anything other than the ‘limited’ sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.” Such things might include Gods, demons, angels, ghosts, heaven and hell or any other kind of supernatural reality or entity.

Comment #49918

Posted by Don P on September 27, 2005 10:05 PM (e)

Mike S:

One does not need science to think life is incompatible with a benevolent and omnipotent creator God - people have been dying and suffering, and Jews and Christians defending God’s goodness in the face of such suffering, for millenia. Modern science, including evolution, doesn’t really provide any novel arguments against theodicy.

I didn’t say that one “needs” science to conclude that the God of Christianity is implausible. Science lends very strong support to that conclusion by making supernatural explanations look increasingly unlikely. Science has not disproven the religious belief that volcanos erupt because the Fire God is angry, or disproven the religious belief that mental illness is caused by demonic possession. But it has made those beliefs look rather silly by providing increasingly sophisticated naturalistic explanations of those phenomena. Evolution has allowed us to explain the enormous complexity and diversity of living things in terms of mechanical natural processes. That explanation inevitably eats away at the notion that life was created by an Intelligent Designer.

Furthermore, it seems to me that you are making the exact same error the ID people make: you are basing an argument based upon the statistical probability of an event (that if God exists, He is omnipotent and benevolent) for which you have no possible way of calculating the odds.

Huh? I never suggested that if God exists, he is omnipotent and benevolent. An omnipotent and benevolent creator God is one of the premises of Christianity. I am saying that that premise is very implausible in light of what science has revealed to us about the world, including the accidental nature of our own existence as a species. If Christianity posited a limited God, or an indifferent God, or an evil God, it would be much easier to reconcile with what we have learned from science. But it doesn’t.

You can’t say, “well, in this universe, which was created by an omnipotent and benevolent god, things work much differently, and it this one over here, which just appeared randomly, things look more like our universe, so that means it is more likely than not that our universe was not created by an omnipotent and benevolent creator.” You are making this claim based upon various assumptions about what a benevolent and omnipotent creator would or wouldn’t do, but those assumptions might as well be pulled out of your ass.

Nonsense. The characteristics of omnipotence and benevolence have implications. Those implications are at odds with the nature of the world we find ourselves living in. It is deeply ironic that “theistic evolutionist” Christians criticize young earth creationist Christians on the grounds that young-earth creationism is inconsistent with the evidence of science, and then turn around and claim that there is no inconsistency between their own religious belief that we are all part of the divine plan of an omnipotent and benevolent God and the evidence from science of indifference and randomness. They can’t have it both ways.

Comment #49921

Posted by Don P on September 27, 2005 10:16 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

I will be more explicit. Each of Kenneth Miller, Howard van Till and Simon Conway Morris hold certain (distinct) theological beliefs, and also hold the belief that evolution through random mutation and natural selection is the best explanation of the diversity and adaptation of life on earth.

Then I would ask them why they think their theological beliefs are plausible in light of what science and ordinary human experience reveals to us. If we were created by an omnipotent and benevolent God, why is there so much suffering? If we are the planned creation of an omnipotent and benevolent God, why does the scientific evidence suggest that we exist only because of a series of accidents, like the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs? Did God deliberately plant false evidence to mess with our heads? If God wants us to believe he exists, why doesn’t he make his existence self-evident to us, or at the very least provide some clear evidence of it?

As I have pointed out before, the clear tension between the premises of Christianity and the nature of the world as revealed by science is illustrated by the fact that so few scientists are devout Christians, especially top scientists. The more you learn about the world from science, the harder it is to believe that the claims of Christianity are anything more than primitive stories and wishful thinking.

Comment #49922

Posted by Don P on September 27, 2005 10:30 PM (e)

Flint:

Sorry, but you are simply missing the point completely, over and over and over and over and over. Do you never tire of it? Religion’s job has nothing to do with answering testable questions. Religion’s job is to provide us with hopes and dreams, with values and preferences, with agreements and good will.

I think I’m just going to ignore you, because you are ignoring the plain, accepted meaning of the word “religion” and pretending it means what you would like it to mean instead. For your information, religions do not simply claim to provide us with “values and preferences,” they make factual claims, truth claims, about the existence of various kinds of supernatural being and reality, about the nature of human beings, about the origin of the universe, and so on. Christianity, for example, claims that there is a God. Christianity claims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Christianity claims that human beings possess a soul that continues to exist and to experience joy or suffering after the person dies. Christianity doesn’t claim that these doctrines are mere “hopes” or “preferences,” it claims that they are truths.

Comment #49927

Posted by Ron Zeno on September 27, 2005 11:31 PM (e)

Don P wrote:

“make factual claims, truth claims, about the existence of various kinds of supernatural being and reality, about the nature of human beings, about the origin of the universe, and so on”

What definition of religion do you have in mind? There are billions who would disagree with your definition, while Flint’s encompasses all religions.

Comment #49929

Posted by sanjait on September 27, 2005 11:57 PM (e)

Don P: “The idea that there exists anything other than the “limited” sphere of things observable by science is an assumption for which there is no justification.”

The idea that there doesn’t exist anything other than things observable by science is also an assumption. In your opinion, as Lenny was trying to point out, it is a plausible assumption, but by its very nature it is one neither you nor anyone else will ever be able to prove. It is in this way that the belief there is no God is also accurately considered an article of faith.

Then, the concept that some questions are not answerable by science (such as moral questions) is a fairly obvious one. You kept saying that religion nor any other non-scientific method provides an objective way of answering questions of morality, but you discount (with help from others who did not point this out) the presence of subjective methods.

Religions do make factual claims about this or that, but they also serve a function by providing a conceptual framework that helps people make these subjective analyses of morality. You can bash religion all you want, but as stated there is no way to disprove theism in general, and it does serve the function stated above, and has for millenia. My personal theory is that religions with their dictums have helped societies survive, and part of the reason they are so persistant is because cultures that embraced them have had a selective advantage. You can correctly claim science has disproven their beliefs in the past, but religious beliefs have always eventually accepted these findings and will adapt to the theory of evolution.

Finally, atheists generally aren’t as “pernicious” (as Ken Willis stated) as IDists for a couple good reasons: 1. they aren’t nearly as powerful 2. to my knowledge they aren’t leading a nationwide movement to pass off their religious beliefs for science in schools. You claim Dawkins is equivalent of an IDer, but do you have an example of where he claims atheism to be demonstrable by the science then makes up some baloney pseudoscience fraudulent methodology to justify the statement? That is what IDists do, and that is our biggest qualm with them.

Comment #49930

Posted by sanjait on September 28, 2005 12:01 AM (e)

I should also have qualified the statement “Religions do make factual claims…” as Ron Zeno pointed out. Probably some religions and religious people accede their beliefs are in the subjective or speculative realms only, which would make my statement false. Although generally, it is true, as Don P said as well.

Comment #49932

Posted by Jim Harrison on September 28, 2005 12:25 AM (e)

When it’s convenient, religions are said to make no factual claims. Since, with trivial exceptions, none of the claims made by any religion are factually true, it’s pretty much always convenient.

Comment #49939

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 28, 2005 1:49 AM (e)

Flint:

I don’t know if it even makes sense to talk about probability in this context. We know that, at least by our definitions, such a thing happened after 4 billion years of random results. But what is the probability of any such category?

Well, at a minimum, if we cannot know the probability, the improbability of it cannot be a reason for evolution making religions improbable! (May a I recommend you read Simon Conway Morris’ “Life’s Solution” on this topic. It is a factually dense scientific book which provides an interesting counter argument to the better known Gouldian view.)

Personally, I don’t think your species description is any more nor less likely than any OTHER description. Are you saying that because it describes YOU, it’s special in some way that a description that describes the bacteria in your gut is not? Do you really NEED to pound your chest and struggle to convince yourself that you are superior? Why?

Actually, I was reporting on the Christian belief that such beings are religiously (not scientifically) important. Such beings are religiously important because they are capable of “affective communication” with God (or at least they would be if there were a God).

There is a common creationist fallacy that because humans are religiously important, therefore they must also be scientifically important, ie, in some sense the end of any biological process which produces them. Because evolution does not have humans as an end (as opposed to a product), theists who commit this fallacy are certain that evolution cannot be the story of how humans got here.

There is also, unfortunately, a distressingly common fallacy amongst atheists: that because humans are not scientifically important (ie, not the “end” of the evolutionary process any more than bacteria or birds are), therefore they are not religiously important. This is supposed to be the essential discordance between religious belief and science - that religions assert the religious importance of humans, but that science shows they are not “anything special”. Thus while creationists assert “If religiously important, then scientifically important”; these atheists assert the contraposition - but it is a fallacy in either case. The most that can be legitimately be asserted is that science does not provide independant confirmation of the suposed religious importance of humans.

I think that is largely irrelevant, however. We humans are without question of moral significance; for we are the only beings on this planet capable of having moral values, of acting morally or immorally. That simple fact both acts as a counterexample to the fallacy, and underwrites as well as could be hoped any claim to religious significance by homo sapiens. The claim to religious significance fails not because it is without basis in the facts about humans; but because there is no God to underwrite it.

Comment #49941

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 28, 2005 2:33 AM (e)

Don P:

Then I would ask them why they think their theological beliefs are plausible in light of what science and ordinary human experience reveals to us. If we were created by an omnipotent and benevolent God, why is there so much suffering?

So you were trying to raise the problem of evil with your repeated mention of the “benevolence of God”. I think that evolution is fairly much irrelevant to the problem of evil. There is enough suffering in any given year in Botswana (in the natural world) to raise it as a genuine philosophical issue; but any answer that is cogent against the evidence of that one year will also be satisfactory as an answer for the 500 million odd years in which there has potentially been suffering on Earth.

I will not attempt to defend any theodicy here. Rather, I will point out that the problem of evil, of necessity, is always a problem relative to a particular set of moral values. For it to be a problem for a particular theology, it must be a problem given the moral values endorsed by that theology (or its adherents). Consequently it is far to large a topic for this forum, and is not capable of categorical endorsement or refutation.

If we are the planned creation of an omnipotent and benevolent God, why does the scientific evidence suggest that we exist only because of a series of accidents, like the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs? Did God deliberately plant false evidence to mess with our heads?

If you wish to ask these questions, perhaps you ought to read their relevant books were they have answered them. To me, at least, that seems a prefferable strategy to assuming they have no answer without bothering to read their comments on the topic.

If God wants us to believe he exists, why doesn’t he make his existence self-evident to us, or at the very least provide some clear evidence of it?

Some common answers to this question (which I am not attributing to any particular Christian) include that God has made his existence clear through Jesus death and ressurection; or through the fulfillment of biblical prophecy; or through the transformation of individual lives when they become Christians. Now I think all these areas stunningly fail to provide evidence for God’s existence (there is a reason I am an atheist). But the important point for this debate is that Christians need not be committed to claiming that the evidence of God’s existance must be found in any particular area. Afterall, we are all happy to accept special relativity despite the fact that it finds absolutely no confirmation in psychology. I cannot see, therefore, how it is reasonable to insist that theism must find confirmation in biology to be considered rational.

As I have pointed out before, the clear tension between the premises of Christianity and the nature of the world as revealed by science is illustrated by the fact that so few scientists are devout Christians, especially top scientists. The more you learn about the world from science, the harder it is to believe that the claims of Christianity are anything more than primitive stories and wishful thinking.

If top scientists were noted for their theological sophistication, you might have a point. There is, however, no such thing as universal competence; and indeed, scientists in general are not noted for their theological (or philosophical sophistication). Nor should they be. A life devoted to studying science is, ipso facto, a life not devoted to studying philsophy or theology. The typical scientist’s understanding of theology, therefore, is not likely to be much better than a typical theologians understanding of evolution. So while the data is evidence that science is incompatible with naive theologies (ie, fundamentalism); it is not relevant to the issue of the compatibility of science and religion in general. Being a scientist no more puts you in a priviliged position to judge theology than being a lawyer puts you in a privileged position to judge science.

Comment #49952

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 28, 2005 7:30 AM (e)

So then … you agree there are things that lie outside the arealm of scientific investigation?

Yes.

See? That didn’t hurt, did it.

Unfortunately for you, those things cannot be investigated by religion either.

That’s fine with me. (shrug) In case you’ve forgotten, Don, I don’t assert the existence of any god, goddess, or supernatural entity of any sort whatsoeever, and I don’t use any religious doctrine or dogma whatsoever to tell me what is or isn’t “morally right”. I decide those things for myself. Just like everyone else does.

Comment #49955

Posted by Flint on September 28, 2005 9:18 AM (e)

I can agree with Don P to this extent: To the degree that a religion makes scientifically testable claims, that religion risks a sort of cognitive conflict when the claims are tested and fail (which they usually do). This conflict we see resolved in two ways: by denying that the claims were in fact scientifically testable (i.e. intended as allegory, or as a vehicle for moral illustration), or by denying the test results (i.e. God has spoken, science must be wrong). I think it’s fairly clear that religion is not the proper mechanism for explaining how the world around us works, and should restrict itself to what the world MEANS (i.e. provide a framework for values).

Tom Curtis:

We humans are without question of moral significance; for we are the only beings on this planet capable of having moral values, of acting morally or immorally. That simple fact both acts as a counterexample to the fallacy, and underwrites as well as could be hoped any claim to religious significance by homo sapiens.

May I question this assertion? We observe “social norms” operating in other species, and we observe violations of those norms by individuals. We observe punishment meted out to the violators if they are caught. Should we project that we are seeing the operation of “moral values” in these behaviors, or should we insist that we are the only species so capable because WE SAY SO?

In my personal model, a moral tenet is a social protocol, nothing more. Social protocols are implemented in two ways: by convincing individuals from birth that they are the “right thing to do” so that we do them pretty much without thinking, or are appalled by the idea of breaking them, or at the very least feel guilty and unworthy if we do break them (enforcement by morality). And by declaring civil penalties for violation (passing laws against something) whereby the motivation to behave “properly” is disconnected from our sense of self-worth, and associated with the probability of getting caught times the penalty if we are. The first enforcement mechanism is what religion strives to instill, the second is entirely secular.

Finally, I get thin entertainment out of Don P (and others) saying “IF there were any gods, here is what they would do instead of what we observe. They would do things different because I say so, or because believers’ descriptions of the motivations of their gods fail to match what we see.” If there are any gods, they are completely alien; we have no clue what they’d do, or what it might look like. As anthropomorphized agents to enforce acceptable approved behavior, I would expect them to be outgrown by at least puberty. Very strange…

Comment #49959

Posted by Chance on September 28, 2005 9:45 AM (e)

‘But how about self-defense? How about military exercises? How about public safety? How about capital punishment?’

I think you missed the point. I mentioned war-it’s tribalism plain and simple. All the other examples you mentioned help to enforce the social aspect of our species and hence our survivability. We are a social species. Again I see no reason why science could not one day uncover the answer to this question. To say that it is outside the realm of science from the get go if a faulty argument.

‘All of these remove genes from the pool, but not nearly so many as some childhood diseases.’

yes they do. But they are not a direct result of a dismarmony in our social structure. All species deal with them.

‘I suspect you may have decided a priori that murder is wrong (because we are taught this from infancy), and are now pasting a thin justification on it.’

I feel killing another is wrong. I personally don’t remember any direct instruction on this issue. I feel wanting our species and it’s members to survive is a natural instinct. I doubt many ants, bees, whales, and chimps contemplate the morality or murder of have to be taught not to do it. I think it is more likely an instinct to help the members of one’s species survive.

‘ And so you say “in the majority of cases” but not in ALL cases, even though the genetic effect is identical in all cases.’

Not really, although I tend to agree with you here. A war, in nature and in us, is often one sect/nation against another for a variety fo reasons most often over resources. In that regard our wars are not so different than other animals.

‘In any case, evolution works because NOT every organism survives to breed. That is, by selection.’

I agree, which is why the social costruct that makes us call murder bad is important. Evolution occurs across a population. Eliminating overly aggressive murderous individuals is a successful strategy in a social species.

‘Personally, I don’t accept your implication that being a murderer is genetic. In fact, I think that’s absurd. Murder is a social convention; all organisms die.’

Your actually making my argument here. You have misunderstood my intent to some degree. Murder is a social convention. It is one deemed unaceptable by a social species as it creates a disharmony and is harmful to the population as a whole.

Having said that I don’t think there is much doubt that some individuals are more prone to violent acts than others. The field is not level in this area. One simply has to visit any school and it is plain to see out of every 100 kids a few will be aggressive a few placid and many in between. There is obviously a genetic component. The same component seen in many animals from dogs, to birds, to whales.

Again, I think science will figure out the root causes of all of this, a good start is already there. We are a biological system. So even our thoughts of what is right or wrong are inherently biological. There is nothing about us that isn’t.

Comment #49966

Posted by Flint on September 28, 2005 10:54 AM (e)

Chance:

I seriously doubt that morality has the sort of biological reality I infer that you are saying. Or perhaps I see it the other way around: there is (IMO) such a thing as “human nature” which is biological. That nature places loose constraints on the sort of social organization we can sustain in a stable manner. So I think that to this extent our biology informs our morality, but I don’t see a feedback happening, where our morality is doing any meaningful breeding selection.

Comment #49972

Posted by sanjait on September 28, 2005 11:20 AM (e)

It is clear that morality does influence selection, which we presume from observations of altruism and fairness in animals. Kin selection can account for this. But, Chance nevertheless seems to be making a presumption here. Just because moral systems generally can have a selection advantage, doesn’t mean science has answered the questions of what is right an wrong. We can even investigate how our minds evolved to ask and answered some moral questions in certain ways, but that still doesn’t make the answers right. In almost ever species, including our own, Nature’s way is brutal and only mildly tempered by evolved morality. We will definitely try to improve on that basis, and even our current state, and that process is only informed by science rather than defined.

Comment #49973

Posted by Chance on September 28, 2005 11:42 AM (e)

Morality is a word and it varies from person to person.Culture to culture. Nation to nation. All our actions are of a biological origin. They can be nothing else. If an action is performed, morality is simply the opinion placed on that action. Nothing more.

The action itself originates from a biological starting point. I’m trying not to presume anything. I’m trying to take it down to the base level. Science can discover and describe reasons for our biological responses. Our opinions, while based in our biological origins, will vary from tribe to tribe(culture to culture). Each having evolved to appreciate different survival aspects.

‘I seriously doubt that morality has the sort of biological reality I infer that you are saying’

Why? If it’s not biological what is it? Our thoughts are biological, our instincts, everything.

‘ So I think that to this extent our biology informs our morality, but I don’t see a feedback happening, where our morality is doing any meaningful breeding selection.’

I disagree. I think there are plentiful examples. Again read Shermers book as he delves deeply into it.

‘ That nature places loose constraints on the sort of social organization we can sustain in a stable manner. ‘

The social organization IS our biology. Your making my argument, the biology of social constraint enables stability withinour species.

‘Just because moral systems generally can have a selection advantage, doesn’t mean science has answered the questions of what is right an wrong. ‘

Science will likely tell us WHY we think things are right or wrong and WHY we have formed such revulsion of certain behaviours. But I don’t think science has even scratched the surface yet. So this is a conversation we should resume in say 20 years or so? See you then gang.:-)

Comment #49974

Posted by Mike S. on September 28, 2005 11:49 AM (e)

Don P wrote:

An omnipotent and benevolent creator God is one of the premises of Christianity.

I think this exemplifies a fundamental misunderstanding that many critics of Christianity (or of religious beliefs in general) have. Christianity is a combination of revelation (the Scriptures), rational argumentation (Christian philosophy and theology), and tradition. Many critics of Christianity start with the assumption that its adherents have some sort of ulterior motives for their particular beliefs (e.g. control over people, economic power, political power, to explain away unpleasant aspects of reality, or to explain natural phenomena). Thus your claim that an omnipotent and benevolent creator God is a premise of Christianity implies that someone set out to create a religion, and for whatever reason (e.g. to placate people insecure about their place in the world) developed a set of premises for it, one of which was that God must be omnipotent and benevolent. But that is counterfactual - the theological claim that God is both omnipotent and benevolent has roots in revelation, rational arguments, and tradition within the church. The Christian claim that God is omnipotent and benevolent cannot be isolated to just one of these sources. As I said, Christians and Jews have argued for centuries over the correct interpretation of Scripture; the contradictions between God being wholly powerful and in control of the universe, while also being benevolent towards creation (and mankind in particular), in the face of the obvious suffering and brutality evident around us; and whether previous explanations of God’s power and/or benevolence were correct. None of these issues are completely cut-and-dried within the church, nor immune to criticism from outside the church. But in order to criticize them you have to criticize something resembling the actual claims made by Christians, not a straw man of your own construction.

As someone pointed out above, this isn’t really the place to go into detailed theological arguments about the nature of God. But when you make a claim that the notion of an omnipotent and benevolent God is incompatible with our modern scientific understanding of nature, surely you recognize that all three of these ideas need explication: what does omnipotent mean, and how does that meaning apply to the natural world? What does benevolent mean, and how does that apply to God’s relation to His Creation? What are the implications of our modern scientific understanding of nature? If all you offer are brisk, one-line answers to these questions, I don’t see how you can expect anyone to take your arguments seriously.

Comment #49976

Posted by CJ O'Brien on September 28, 2005 12:02 PM (e)

I seriously doubt that morality has the sort of biological reality I infer that you are saying. Or perhaps I see it the other way around: there is (IMO) such a thing as “human nature” which is biological. That nature places loose constraints on the sort of social organization we can sustain in a stable manner. So I think that to this extent our biology informs our morality, but I don’t see a feedback happening, where our morality is doing any meaningful breeding selection.

But “feedback” between that “nature” and “the…social organization” MUST have occured, right, because that “nature” is itself a product of natural selection. It didn’t come from nowhere.
And in Chance’s last comment, I detect a bit of “group selection” thinking in phrases like an instinct to help the members of one’s species survive and Eliminating overly aggressive murderous individuals is a successful strategy in a social species.
Now while evolution certainly occurs within populations, populations do not, in themselves, evolve. So, there’s got to be something more to our “moral nature” than survival of the species.
To reconcile these ideas, we need a way in which morality, or altruism, can arise that is a survival advantage for every individual that possesses the trait. And, it needs to be “enforceable” by conspecifics. So, to my mind, we have the beginnings of an “arms race” between “morality” and “cheaters,” or individuals taking advantage of the warm fuzzy community around them by murdering and raping.
The answer, or the outcome of the arms race, lies, I believe, in our emotions, often denigrated as our “base instincts,” but actually very complex, and, most importantly, they are largely “unfakeable.” The revulsion most people feel when witnessing violence and death is no accident. The reflexive, unfakeable element is the “enforcement” provision that tells us when someone is lying, or cheating, or killing without remorse. Sociality, in this view, is held togethar against the equally rapacious instincts that we all also share, by our shared emotions, and our shared experience of being very sensitive “emotion detectors.” In the arms race against cheaters, proto-morality made it hard for us to fool each other, and made many (most?) of us revolted by violent acts.
Of course, to the extent that murderous warlords seem to have directed a great deal of the history of our species, I think we have another case of “good enough” or “suboptimal design,” but that’s a whole other can of worms.

Comment #49977

Posted by CJ O'Brien on September 28, 2005 12:06 PM (e)

PS, not Chance’s last comment anymore, but the one preceding Flint’s that I quoted. I’m behind.

Comment #49978

Posted by Mike S. on September 28, 2005 12:09 PM (e)

Tom Curtis wrote:

There is a common creationist fallacy that because humans are religiously important, therefore they must also be scientifically important, ie, in some sense the end of any biological process which produces them. Because evolution does not have humans as an end (as opposed to a product), theists who commit this fallacy are certain that evolution cannot be the story of how humans got here.

There is also, unfortunately, a distressingly common fallacy amongst atheists: that because humans are not scientifically important (ie, not the “end” of the evolutionary process any more than bacteria or birds are), therefore they are not religiously important. This is supposed to be the essential discordance between religious belief and science - that religions assert the religious importance of humans, but that science shows they are not “anything special”. Thus while creationists assert “If religiously important, then scientifically important”; these atheists assert the contraposition - but it is a fallacy in either case. The most that can be legitimately be asserted is that science does not provide independant confirmation of the suposed religious importance of humans.

I think that is largely irrelevant, however. We humans are without question of moral significance; for we are the only beings on this planet capable of having moral values, of acting morally or immorally. That simple fact both acts as a counterexample to the fallacy, and underwrites as well as could be hoped any claim to religious significance by homo sapiens. The claim to religious significance fails not because it is without basis in the facts about humans; but because there is no God to underwrite it.

Except for the last sentence, which I disagree with because I’m a Christian, this is an excellent point. It’s at the heart of the evolution-Creationism conflict.

This is also an excellent point:

Tom Curtis wrote:

If top scientists were noted for their theological sophistication, you might have a point. There is, however, no such thing as universal competence; and indeed, scientists in general are not noted for their theological (or philosophical sophistication). Nor should they be. A life devoted to studying science is, ipso facto, a life not devoted to studying philsophy or theology. The typical scientist’s understanding of theology, therefore, is not likely to be much better than a typical theologians understanding of evolution. So while the data is evidence that science is incompatible with naive theologies (ie, fundamentalism); it is not relevant to the issue of the compatibility of science and religion in general. Being a scientist no more puts you in a priviliged position to judge theology than being a lawyer puts you in a privileged position to judge science.

Flint wrote:

Tom Curtis:

We humans are without question of moral significance; for we are the only beings on this planet capable of having moral values, of acting morally or immorally. That simple fact both acts as a counterexample to the fallacy, and underwrites as well as could be hoped any claim to religious significance by homo sapiens.

May I question this assertion? We observe “social norms” operating in other species, and we observe violations of those norms by individuals. We observe punishment meted out to the violators if they are caught. Should we project that we are seeing the operation of “moral values” in these behaviors, or should we insist that we are the only species so capable because WE SAY SO?

You are begging the question. In order to act morally or immorally, one must understand the difference between right and wrong, and be capable of freely choosing one or the other free of coercion. Your example changes the definition of acting morally to acting according to external coercion (or reward), not according to free choice. Your argumentation is that there is no such thing as moral choice, not that chimpanzees or dolphins are also capable of the same kind of moral choices that humans are.

In my personal model, a moral tenet is a social protocol, nothing more. Social protocols are implemented in two ways: by convincing individuals from birth that they are the “right thing to do” so that we do them pretty much without thinking, or are appalled by the idea of breaking them, or at the very least feel guilty and unworthy if we do break them (enforcement by morality). And by declaring civil penalties for violation (passing laws against something) whereby the motivation to behave “properly” is disconnected from our sense of self-worth, and associated with the probability of getting caught times the penalty if we are. The first enforcement mechanism is what religion strives to instill, the second is entirely secular.

Do you see the problem here? Free societies depend upon people following social protocols - the alternative is either chaos or a totalitarian state. And people following these social protocols depends upon them being inculcated in children, such that they learn to follow the norms instinctively. But the way they are inculcated is by telling children that it is imperative that they follow these norms, even if nobody is watching. Yet your “personal model” states that these norms don’t have any external reason for existence, aside from keeping society ordered. But why should any given individual care whether society is ordered? Especially if they would gain more personal power in a more anarchic society. If everybody adopted your “personal model”, your personal model could not exist.

Comment #49983

Posted by shenda on September 28, 2005 12:40 PM (e)

While there has been a great deal of interesting information and view points shared on this thread…..

In summary, the arguments:

Argument 1.

Atheist: There is no god.

Non Atheist: Is too.

Atheist: Is not!

Non Atheist: Is Too!

Atheist: Is Not!

Non Atheist: Is TOO!

Atheist: Is NOT!

IS TOO!

IS NOT!

Continue ad infinitum.

Argument 2.

Theist: There can be no morality without a belief in God.

Atheist: Sure there can.

Theist: Can not.

Atheist: Can Too.

Theist: Can Not!

Atheist: Can TOO!

Theist: CAN NOT!

Atheist: CAN TOO!!!

Continue ad infinitum.

Have I missed the basic grist?

Shenda

Comment #49986

Posted by CJ O'Brien on September 28, 2005 12:55 PM (e)

It’s “gist”, unless you meant your post to be grist for the mill.

And I’d like to think there’s been a little more substance than that, but I’m not about to go back and read any of it again, tell you that.

Comment #49988

Posted by Uber on September 28, 2005 1:03 PM (e)

Mike S with all due respect you are all wet.

‘I think this exemplifies a fundamental misunderstanding that many critics of Christianity (or of religious beliefs in general) have. Christianity is a combination of revelation (the Scriptures), rational argumentation (Christian philosophy and theology), and tradition.’

I’ll give you the first one, the rational argumentation is just funny and then tradition is simply an argument from authority saying nothing about whether the underlying premises are correct or not. The critics are not wrong, whatever it is it still posits the omnipotent, omnibenevolent God. Which is not a bad thing, but it is what is presented.

‘Many critics of Christianity start with the assumption that its adherents have some sort of ulterior motives for their particular beliefs (e.g. control over people, economic power, political power, to explain away unpleasant aspects of reality, or to explain natural phenomena).’

OK, but your forgot about simple indoctrination and cultural forces. The simple fact is your religion is a product of your culture. And you haven’t proven any of the assumptions incorrect.

‘Thus your claim that an omnipotent and benevolent creator God is a premise of Christianity implies that someone set out to create a religion, and for whatever reason (e.g. to placate people insecure about their place in the world) developed a set of premises for it, one of which was that God must be omnipotent and benevolent.
But that is counterfactual - the theological claim that God is both omnipotent and benevolent has roots in revelation, rational arguments, and tradition within the church.’

Not rational arguments, arguments. What value is revelation really? I mean it could be revealed to me that you are totally wrong and you could provide no defense whatsoever outside of faith. And again tradition could just be building on the mistakes of a previous generation. No way to smell them out if you give deference to tradition as some form of idealistic endeavor. In science tradition is virtually nonexistent and an idea can be toppled with evidence and reality.

And whether you like it or not someone did set out to found each and every religion that exists in the world today. They were created and nursed by humans.

‘ut why should any given individual care whether society is ordered? Especially if they would gain more personal power in a more anarchic society. If everybody adopted your “personal model”, your personal model could not exist.’

This is so naive’ I’m suprised to actually read it on a science board. An individual will care is society is ordered for the same reason any social species does, it’s hardwired. We are social, it causes us emotional pain to be seperated or shunned from our ‘herd’. You have a common misunderstanding of human behaviour and seem to think ALL humans seek more personal power. We have some aspects of ‘alpha’ or dominant males in our culture but the majority of humans seek to provide good lives for their families and concentrate more on subgroups/ aka families.

This was not always the case, as smaller populations tend to favor more concentrated power to a few individuals. You see a similiar event in communes and among certain religious groups where a leader emerges who monopolizes the commune and eventually the reproduction.

A good argument could be made that those who give their minds over to ‘tradition’ are simply following the perceived alpha leader without actually thinking for themselves. From a biological perspective that is.

Comment #49989

Posted by Flint on September 28, 2005 1:03 PM (e)

Mike S:

I think we are talking past one another, which often happens in discussions of this sort.

In order to act morally or immorally, one must understand the difference between right and wrong, and be capable of freely choosing one or the other free of coercion.

In the cases I had in mind, this is *exactly* how I interpret the known behavior. The individuals know they’re violating norms. They know they risk punishment by doing so. They calculate the odds, and sometimes cheat. As I see it, the only way to dismiss this behavior as “not understanding what they’re doing” is to DECLARE that they don’t understand, behavior be damned. These species are by all indications making moral choices.

Do you see the problem here?

No.

Free societies depend upon people following social protocols - the alternative is either chaos or a totalitarian state.

Totalitarian states ARE societies. I said nothing about “free”; this is a loaded political term.

And people following these social protocols depends upon them being inculcated in children, such that they learn to follow the norms instinctively.

On the contrary, as I wrote, this is ONE way it’s done. If it were the only way possible, our entire legal system would be moot.

But the way they are inculcated is by telling children that it is imperative that they follow these norms, even if nobody is watching.

Yes, this is one way. Speaking generally, moral rules won’t work otherwise. Our efforts to legislate morality are worse than a failure, they are the poster child for the Law of Unintended Consequences. It doesn’t work.

Yet your “personal model” states that these norms don’t have any external reason for existence, aside from keeping society ordered.

So what? As an aside to Chance here, I own and have read Shermer’s book, in which he contends that “human nature” evolved over the last 100,000 years or so SOLELY because it kept society ordered. It was only formalized into religion as we know it over the last 10,000 years or so. What other “external reason” would you have in mind?

But why should any given individual care whether society is ordered?

Because a disordered society is extremely unpleasant, unpredictable, dangerous, and confusing.

Especially if they would gain more personal power in a more anarchic society.

You are assuming your conclusion. There is no such thing as an “anarchic society”, since anarchy is the absence of any society. And in such an absense, personal power is meaningless. Personal power is a *social construct*, and makes sense only within that framework.

If everybody adopted your “personal model”, your personal model could not exist.

My personal model was not a recommendation for how to behave, but rather an explanation for WHY people behave the way they do. If my model poorly describes what people do, this doesn’t change social behavior anymore than Ptolemy’s system prevented the earth from orbiting the sun.

sanjait:

It is clear that morality does influence selection, which we presume from observations of altruism and fairness in animals.

I’m not convinced. I agree with you that we are *observing real moral behavior* in these animals (although Mike S disagrees), but I still don’t see the feedback being significant. I’m sure there is some, but I consider morality to be a general category of behaviors not very reducible to genetics. In other words, I think gregariousness is heritable, so perhaps morality in the abstract (institutionalizing what works through socialization) reduces breeding opportunities for non-gregarious individuals. But specific behaviors (though shalt not do X, but always do Y) are highly cultural.

Shenda:

Some societies (and religions) have no gods. Yet they have morality, often exquisitely defined.

Comment #49991

Posted by Chance on September 28, 2005 1:05 PM (e)

Just for the record I’m a theist and I think you can have morality as a natural construct. As mentioned. So I guess it blows the gist.

This is the thread that will never die. Maybe it should now.

Later folks.

Comment #49992

Posted by shenda on September 28, 2005 1:08 PM (e)

“It’s “gist”, unless you meant your post to be grist for the mill.”

From Merriam-Webster OnLine:

Main Entry: grist
Pronunciation: ‘grist
Function: noun

3 : matter of interest or value forming the basis of a story or analysis

Comment #49993

Posted by CJ O'Brien on September 28, 2005 1:14 PM (e)

Huh. Thanks. never seen it used thataway.

Comment #49995

Posted by Chance on September 28, 2005 1:23 PM (e)

‘ I agree with you that we are *observing real moral behavior* in these animals (although Mike S disagrees), but I still don’t see the feedback being significant.’

See here we go, I think you folks see it but don’t A. want to accept it B. can’t see the origins of ‘morality’ among simpler life forms.

You can see traces of what we call moral and immoral behaviour among many animals-higher and lower if such a term has validity at all. I mean what is ‘real’ moral behaviour. Morality is an opinion and nothing more. What you are actually talking about is behaviour among an animal species- homo sapiens. Then assigning a value to it.

Imagine if you were an alien field researcher studying homo sapiens. Through that lens you would make observations of behaviour minus the ‘moral’ opinion. Using said observations your determining nature for an action would have a biological origin. Just as when we see ants attack another colony, chimps hunting monkeys or making war, etc.

It’s only our language and our prejudices which keeps this from being fairly obvious.

‘I’m sure there is some, but I consider morality to be a general category of behaviors not very reducible to genetics. In other words, I think gregariousness is heritable, so perhaps morality in the abstract (institutionalizing what works through socialization) reduces breeding opportunities for non-gregarious individuals. But specific behaviors (though shalt not do X, but always do Y) are highly cultural.’

But again ones actions in said culture is often determined to a large degree by ones genetic predispositions. It’s unlikely a timid individual will rise to the alpha position, likewise the overly aggressive individual may not succeed do to the ‘herd’ response to their actions.

Thats it for me, great conversation but man this thread is to long.

20 years we’ll pick it up folks.

Comment #49996

Posted by shenda on September 28, 2005 1:25 PM (e)

“Huh. Thanks. never seen it used thataway.”

An English degree is occasionally (but not often) useful. :(

Comment #49997

Posted by Jim Wynne on September 28, 2005 1:47 PM (e)

Shenda wrote:

An English degree is occasionally (but not often) useful.

An English degree in what? Or did you mean “degree in English”? :)

Comment #49999

Posted by Rilke's Granddaughter on September 28, 2005 2:14 PM (e)

Well, in either case it’s better than a degree Celsius. %:->

Comment #50007

Posted by Mike S. on September 28, 2005 3:24 PM (e)

Uber,

I’m not going to get into the weeds on the theology/morality issue. I do want to respond to a couple things you said, however,

In science tradition is virtually nonexistent and an idea can be toppled with evidence and reality.

This is flat-out false - tradition is highly important in science. Tradition alone does not justify any particular scientific claim, but the process of doing science is highly influenced by tradition. I know you don’t agree, but the same is true of Christianity.

A good argument could be made that those who give their minds over to ‘tradition’ are simply following the perceived alpha leader without actually thinking for themselves. From a biological perspective that is.

The same argument can be made about those who intinctively reject tradition. No thoughtful person blindly accepts all traditions, and no thoughtful person rejects all traditions.

Comment #50011

Posted by Mike S. on September 28, 2005 3:53 PM (e)

Flint,

I think we are talking past one another, which often happens in discussions of this sort.

I think the problem is that we have fundamentally different concepts of what morality is, which is not going to be reconciled in the comment section (if it’s even possible in the first place).

In the cases I had in mind, this is *exactly* how I interpret the known behavior. The individuals know they’re violating norms. They know they risk punishment by doing so. They calculate the odds, and sometimes cheat. As I see it, the only way to dismiss this behavior as “not understanding what they’re doing” is to DECLARE that they don’t understand, behavior be damned. These species are by all indications making moral choices.

To me, choosing not to do something bad because you might get caught is not moral choice (or morally good choice) - it’s simply behaving based upon the external coercion of being fined, or put in jail. I do not think that e.g., chimps, are making moral choices at all - they are making choices based upon risk/reward calculations. Sometimes humans do this as well. You seem to think that these types of choices are a) moral choices, and b) the only kinds of choices that humans are capable of. But we aren’t going to get to the bottom of this issue here.

Totalitarian states ARE societies. I said nothing about “free”; this is a loaded political term.

It’s only “loaded” if you want to argue that there is no moral difference between totalitarian and free societies. If that is the case, there really is a chasm between our respective understandings of morality.

And people following these social protocols depends upon them being inculcated in children, such that they learn to follow the norms instinctively.

On the contrary, as I wrote, this is ONE way it’s done. If it were the only way possible, our entire legal system would be moot.

Here I think we are talking past one another. My point was precisely that our legal system would be moot without the vast majority of people instincively obeying the rules. If all we had was the coercive power of our legal system to control people’s behavior, either the system would break down or the state would have to completely control everyone’s lives - hence, a totalitarian state.

Yes, this is one way. Speaking generally, moral rules won’t work otherwise. Our efforts to legislate morality are worse than a failure, they are the poster child for the Law of Unintended Consequences. It doesn’t work.

I don’t understand why this statement and the previous one are not contradictory.

But why should any given individual care whether society is ordered?

Because a disordered society is extremely unpleasant, unpredictable, dangerous, and confusing.

Not to the person with power. Iraq was such a society when Saddam was in charge, but it was great for him - he could indulge his every whim. You seem to be arguing here as if humans are all perfectly rational. And you also seem to be ignoring the fact that the vast majority of humans, past and present, have lived under such societies. Although perhaps we are talking past each other regarding the meaning of an “ordered” society. To me, Saddam’s Iraq, North Korea, and Haiti are all disordered societies.

You are assuming your conclusion. There is no such thing as an “anarchic society”, since anarchy is the absence of any society. And in such an absense, personal power is meaningless. Personal power is a *social construct*, and makes sense only within that framework.

This is an artificial distinction. Places like Liberia, or Haiti, are anarchic, but there are still groups of people there interacting with each other. If you want, we’ll come up with some other word besides society to describe “groups of interacting humans”, but I don’t know what that word is. And personal power in such a context may seem meaningless to you, but it’s not to the warlord, or 16 year old thug whose stronger and meaner than everyone in his neighborhood. Nor to the weak who live or die at the mercy of the strong.

Comment #50019

Posted by Flint on September 28, 2005 4:58 PM (e)

Mike S:

OK, I’ll talk past you now…

It’s only “loaded” if you want to argue that there is no moral difference between totalitarian and free societies. If that is the case, there really is a chasm between our respective understandings of morality.

I guess so. I regard states and societies as amoral. Individuals are moral. And this is why legislating the sort of morality you are referring to doesn’t work. It’s a good question whether you can have a functional society composed of groups whose varying value systems are to heterogeneous.

My point was precisely that our legal system would be moot without the vast majority of people instincively obeying the rules. If all we had was the coercive power of our legal system to control people’s behavior, either the system would break down or the state would have to completely control everyone’s lives - hence, a totalitarian state.

This could lead to a very long discussion. Perhaps for convenience, we can divide legal rules into two categories: those that cast moral codes followed by most people anyway into legal terms to provide a legal excuse to punish those who do NOT follow them, and those that are morally neutral in the minds of most of us. Few people find it immoral to speed, I suppose. Most administrative regulation falls into your risk/benefit calculation category. I certainly agree that society could not work unless most people acted in predictable ways most of the time. But not even the most totalitarian state would work otherwise: you’d need at least one cop per citizen, and the cops themselves wouldn’t follow the rules…

I don’t understand why this statement and the previous one are not contradictory.

My fault, I was talking about different things. The sort of legislation that fails is the sort that attempts to enforce the moral behavior almost entirely honored in the breach. Generally, this is the sort of moral behavior *other people* should adopt, but not me.

Not to the person with power. Iraq was such a society when Saddam was in charge, but it was great for him

Nope, we missed completely. Iraq wasn’t even remotely disordered under Saddam, it was HIGHLY ordered. When I speak of order, I speak of people speaking the same language and able to communicate, people working together at any time to do anything, etc. Iraq was downright monolithic by comparison. My idea is, there CANNOT BE a “disordered society” by definition. Some species are extremely solitary, coming together only to mate (and even then, one party being eaten). THAT’S the kind of behavior I was thinking of. Personal power means little during anarchy.

This is an artificial distinction. Places like Liberia, or Haiti, are anarchic, but there are still groups of people there interacting with each other.

I think you may misjudge the political reality in such places. In real life, the national borders of places like Liberia are arbitrary lines drawn on maps by outsiders, not corresponding to traditional social (tribal) territories. The “recognized government” (by the US, anyway) may not be able to exercise meaningful authority outside the capital city (i.e. can’t raise taxes elsewhere), and each outlying population center has its own effective governance. This isn’t anarchy for the individual, but it means the lines the outsiders drew are not politically meaningful. Imagine the surprise all of the Amazon tribes (who exist in a kind of prickly territorial mutual tolerance) if they were to learn that they were all “Brazilians”. Imagine how many different languages you’d need to tell them this. Yet each tribe is a society, not anarchic at all.

personal power in such a context may seem meaningless to you, but it’s not to the warlord, or 16 year old thug

I understand what you’re saying, but you don’t seem to. What’s to prevent the warlord or thug’s potential victims from simply moving on? What ties them to circumstances that cause such misery? Clearly, these ties are even more powerful than the motivation to get away. And it is THOSE TIES that give the thug his power. What are they, anyway? The thug’s power derives from his use of the ramifications of ordered society as leverage.

Comment #50022

Posted by darwinfinch on September 28, 2005 5:15 PM (e)

Not to insult the several rather thoughtful people who have contributed into turning this thread into a discussion of morality, but discusssing morality with a Christian is kind of like discussing sexual technique with an eighty-year-old virgin: they have neither knowledge of the subject nor the ability or courage to act upon any useful information offered to them.
To set forth my ultimate indictment of many humans, and most Christians, and all Xians: they have no interest in seeing things working out in their own compromsed-but-increasingly-reasoned-ever-disorderly way, in a human and therefore very “imperfect” (by their standards) world, but in their ideals, which they have no stake in save pride, being proclaimed supreme, at varying costs of (others’) life.

(Get’m here, folks! Long, convoluted sentences!)

Comment #50032

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on September 28, 2005 6:00 PM (e)

Have I missed the basic grist?

Nope, you got it jsut fine.

And I’ll just repeat what I said before:

ID isn’t science, whether there is a god or not.

ID has nothing scientific to offer, whether there is a god or not.

ID is nothing but religious apologetics, whether there is a god or not.

It is illegal to teach religious apologetics, whether there is a god or not.

So what difference does it make, in the fight against ID, if there is a god or not, and why the hell are we wasting so many electrons arguing over it?

Comment #50033

Posted by CJ O'Brien on September 28, 2005 6:06 PM (e)

I’m recycling my electrons.

Comment #50034

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 28, 2005 6:10 PM (e)

Flint:

May I question this assertion? We observe “social norms” operating in other species, and we observe violations of those norms by individuals. We observe punishment meted out to the violators if they are caught. Should we project that we are seeing the operation of “moral values” in these behaviors, or should we insist that we are the only species so capable because WE SAY SO?

In my personal model, a moral tenet is a social protocol, nothing more. Social protocols are implemented in two ways: by convincing individuals from birth that they are the “right thing to do” so that we do them pretty much without thinking, or are appalled by the idea of breaking them, or at the very least feel guilty and unworthy if we do break them (enforcement by morality). And by declaring civil penalties for violation (passing laws against something) whereby the motivation to behave “properly” is disconnected from our sense of self-worth, and associated with the probability of getting caught times the penalty if we are. The first enforcement mechanism is what religion strives to instill, the second is entirely secular.

Evidentally we have different definitions of morality. I follow Kant in only accepting as moral those principles which can be stated without use of proper names or indexicals. So “everybody ought to give me the money they owe me” can only be a moral principle if derived from a statement of the form, “For all x, and for all y, if x owes y money, then x ought to give y that money.” But this statement also has the implication that, “IF I owe someone money, I ought to give it to them”. That is the cruncher about moral principles - any principle you expect others to comply with must also be complied with by you, if it is a moral principle. Of course, if it is not a moral principle, we cannot rationally expect them to comply with it except by the threat of punishment or reward.

I would argue that such principles are cognitively complex. They are well beyond the comprehension of two year olds, for example. And cognitive capacity is significantly a function of linguistic capacity (not just the ability to speak, but the ability to use language mentally). Given that the linguistic capacity of even the most capable of non-human primates equates to that of a two year old, this strongly suggests that such primates do not have the cognitive capacity to be moral agents.

Of course, the best cognitive performance (not linguistic, but cognitive) by a non-human primate equates to that by a seven - nine year old human; and seven to nine year old humans are certainly capable of moral discrimination. Further, it is certainly possible to act according to a principle without being able to express or understand it. So in principle, higher primates and cetaceans may be capable of moral behaviour. The test of this is not whether they are punished for violating social norms, but whether they (occassionaly) punish themselves for doing so, either by guilt or remorse. I am not aware of behaviour that could reasonably be interpreted as guilt or remorse in the animal kingdom (but what I don’t know about observational ethology would swamp the world’s data bases).

Given the above, I am prepared to concede for the sake of argument that higher primates and some cetaceans (and possibly some other animals) are capable of moral agency. This would just mean a putative god would have reason to be interested in them also. It would not challenge humanities special status on this planet. The moral capacity of humans for good or ill far outstrips that of any other animal without question.

Discovering genuine moral capacity (by my definition) in another animal species would, however, have momentous consequences. If chimps had a genuine moral capacity, however limited, then killing them would be murder just as much as killing a human.

Finally, this stark (as I see it) moral contrast between humans and other animals is not a significant biological contrast. The difference in moral capacity is almost entirely a function of difference in linguistic capacity. And that difference is almost certainly very small in terms biochemistry and neurological function. In formal terms, an automaton capable of moving only one way on a tape is equivalent in computational capacity to the language ability of chimps. Just allowing that same machine to move in both directions lifts its capacity so that it can be a universal turing machine, and gives it the same formal capacity as human language.

Comment #50035

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 28, 2005 6:23 PM (e)

Lenny Flank:

So what difference does it make, in the fight against ID, if there is a god or not, and why the hell are we wasting so many electrons arguing over it?

A) Because it is enjoyable to have an intelligent conversation; something all creationist debaters face a lack of on the internet;

B) Because we are all opinionated, and opinionated people always suffer from last-word-ittis;

C) Because the science versus pseudo-science aspect of the debate is the sympton rather than the disease in creationism. By debating the relationship of God and science, and or morality, we hope to treat the disease both in creationists and in some anti-creationists who present differently but suffer from the same disease.

Comment #50036

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 28, 2005 6:27 PM (e)

darwinfinch:

Not to insult the several rather thoughtful people who have contributed into turning this thread into a discussion of morality, but discusssing morality with a Christian is kind of like discussing sexual technique with an eighty-year-old virgin: they have neither knowledge of the subject nor the ability or courage to act upon any useful information offered to them.

I will note your opinion that discussing morality with Martin Luther King Jr would have been a total waste of time; and that discussing it with Nelson Mandella or Desmond Tutu would also be pointless - and treat it with the contempt it deserves.

Comment #50037

Posted by Flint on September 28, 2005 6:37 PM (e)

Tom Curtis:

Given the above, I am prepared to concede for the sake of argument that higher primates and some cetaceans (and possibly some other animals) are capable of moral agency. This would just mean a putative god would have reason to be interested in them also. It would not challenge humanities special status on this planet. The moral capacity of humans for good or ill far outstrips that of any other animal without question.

As I read it, what you are describing is the mental horsepower necessary to think abstractly enough to be able to (more or less) predict the consequences of one’s actions. With that predictive ability comes a corollary - the notion that we can (more or less) *control* those consequences by behaving differently. And in this context, morality is one step more abstract: given that we are able to exercise this control, we can encourage organized behavior which by trial and error turns out to produce what we approximate as the greatest good for the greatest number, within a society. And the more clearly any desired behaviors are codified, the larger the society that can operate under them.

So in my lexicon, morality is the behaviors we wish to make universal (Kant’s “platinum rule” – that we should do unto others as we would wish everone to do unto everyone in the same circumstances), while ethics are the codification of that morality. Of course, Kant is presenting us with a framework for devising protocols which will (if properly applied) result in a certain class of behaviors, one which Kant likes. I’m not sure that ANY stable human society MUST use Kant’s framework or something close to it.

Finally, this stark (as I see it) moral contrast between humans and other animals is not a significant biological contrast.

Well, we aren’t going to agree here. I see it as a PURELY biological result of the computing power of a given brain. I’m not sure what to think about your associating this power so tightly to the ability to articulate our thoughts. I wonder – do you think dogs think in words, because they can trained to obey verbal commands? How about parrots? I personally have a hard time regarding the behavir as “moral” of any organism incapable of constructing a behavioral model – IF I do this, THAT will happen. That is, organisms that are strictly stimulus-response.

Comment #50059

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 29, 2005 12:37 AM (e)

Flint:

Well, we aren’t going to agree here. I see it as a PURELY biological result of the computing power of a given brain. I’m not sure what to think about your associating this power so tightly to the ability to articulate our thoughts. I wonder — do you think dogs think in words, because they can trained to obey verbal commands? How about parrots? I personally have a hard time regarding the behavir as “moral” of any organism incapable of constructing a behavioral model — IF I do this, THAT will happen. That is, organisms that are strictly stimulus-response.

Last comment first for reasons of logical clarity.

There are two issues raised by this comment. The first I will tackle is the nature of linguistic representation. The minimum level of linguistic representation is simple words, in which an arbitrary association is established between a semantic unit and a lexical unit. Many examples are found amongst animals, of which the most famous is that used by Vervet monkeys. Such systems are limited in that the number of concepts expressible is strictly limited to the number of lexical units. Further, such systems cannot express abstract concepts; and suffer from terminal semantic ambiguity (but not behavioural ambiguity).

The next step up is where two or more lexemes are used together, and that use modifies the meaning of each. At its simplest level, this is represented by the kind of “sentences” uttered by chimps in language laboratories. A typical sentence would be something like, “Nim, banana, banana, Nim, Nim, banana.” Frequent utterances of different words without regard to word order show that their is no grammatical ability; but the number of expressible concepts rises significantly above the number of lexical units.

The next step is where word order (or equivalently, inflections) determine some aspect of the meaning. Thus “The cat was on the mat” means something quite different from “The mat was on the cat”. This stage of linguistic competence is represented by two year old children, who unlike chimps, get word order right.

Finally, the next stage is reached by recursion. In this stage, a two word unit is itself treated as a unit that can be further modified. With this stage and only at this stage, the number of concepts expressible rises without limit, even with a fairly restricted vocabulary. For example, all of mathematics can be expressed using around 20 basic lexemes (although not very conveniently). Also at this stage, abstract concepts become relatively easy to express, whereas before this stage they are undefinable (unless given as primitive by the hardwiring of the brain). Finally, at this stage great economy of expression becomes possible. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in fact purely linguistic information can express far more information (of some types) than can pictures. The more abstract the information, the more this is so. That is why we write encyclopaedias rather than picture books to summarise knowledge.

It is only language use at the recursive stage that carries the conceptual capacity to ensure moral capacity. In fact, without recursive linguistic conceptual capacity, morality simply could not be understood, though concievably somebeing could have the full suite of moral behaviour hardwired in without the linguistic capacity. Thus while concievable that some animal might be a moral agent without recursive language; they could not be a moral agent in virtue of their conceptual capacity and we need not fear the assignment of moral agency to dogs and parrots because they can learn a few commands (the lowest level in the sequence).

The second issue is a moral issue. Every moral system must have a basis to determining which sorts of being count as moral agents, and hence are bound by the rules of, and protected by the rights of the system. Because every moral system must satisfy the universalisability requirement (my view), it must set its limit at the limit of capacity to be a moral agent. If its limit includes beings not capable of being moral agents, then it will quantify over those beings when it asserts particular obligations; which is absurd. If it excludes beings capable of being moral agents, then it will undercut the universalisability by arbitrary restrictions.

So, the first part of my claim, the ability to be a moral agent makes a vast moral difference. It does not follow from that that it makes a big biological difference, or arises from a big biological difference. In fact the biological difference is probably quite small (a few tens of point mutations on a handfull of proteins and regulatory sequences would probably be enough). In ethological terms, these differences will make almost no difference. In ecological terms, they make a huge difference. In this it is no different from a number of major transitions (eg, fish to tetrapod; theropod to bird).

As I read it, what you are describing is the mental horsepower necessary to think abstractly enough to be able to (more or less) predict the consequences of one’s actions. With that predictive ability comes a corollary - the notion that we can (more or less) *control* those consequences by behaving differently. And in this context, morality is one step more abstract: given that we are able to exercise this control, we can encourage organized behavior which by trial and error turns out to produce what we approximate as the greatest good for the greatest number, within a society. And the more clearly any desired behaviors are codified, the larger the society that can operate under them.

That is almost it. Again we can identify a cognitive hierarchy. The first step is solipsism - the being has a mental representation of the world, but does not recognise that others also have that mental representation. Such a being is capable of predicting the consequences of their actions. The next step, which has certainly been evidenced in higher primates is the ability to recognise that others also have a mental world, which is not necessarily the same as your own. This results in a more complex environment to manipulate, but does not by itself include the capacity of moral action. The next step is recognising the mental states of others as possible ends in themselves rather than just as means to achieve your own ends. It is this additional step which makes morality possible. In contrast, without it we could not even recognise the “greatest good for the greatest number” as a possible goal. To take this step, all that is necessary is the recognition of others mental states, together with the cognitive capacity that comes with recursive linguistic ability.

Finally, you appear to be misunderstanding me because you are trying to read my ideas in the light of your definition of morality. But I do not accept that definition.

Comment #50062

Posted by darwinfinch on September 29, 2005 1:11 AM (e)

Dear Tom,

Um, I believe it’s being pointed out that your posing has become tiresome, especially as it seems grossly snik!> out of place.

Now, c’mon! Have you been talking with Dr. King recently? You little pompous ass! As you have exposed yourself here, you are a VERY silly person. No doubt you scanvenge the bottom of web sites around the world, sucking up comments you can hold in contempt, and yet remain unsatiated.
I’ll just be moving on now. Believe me when I say I’ll never knowingly bother reading or responding to you again: today’s contempt for me will have to be made to last!

Comment #50068

Posted by Tom Curtis on September 29, 2005 2:30 AM (e)

darwinfinch,

Apparently you are unable to notice a past tense when it hits you in the face. I will revise my estimate of your intelligence accordingly.

I notice also that you have total disregard to how offensive your remark would have been to Christians, some of whom are very valuable contributers to the PT. The obvious offence with which you took my remark marks you as a hypocrite. Duly noted.

I have noticed that on the PT there are a clique of atheists who believe their atheism gives them the right to be offensive to all, and shallow thinkers to boot. If you wish to include yourself in that group, it will not lessen my opinion of you.