With regard to religion, because religion asks one to ask very different questions, one has to ask not: 'is it statistically probable that X will result from Y', but rather 'is X consistent with what we understand or intuit about the human condition', operating under the assumptions that: a.)
there is such a thing as 'the human condition', and b.)
that X has anything meaningful to do with it. I realise that this is getting fairly philosophical, but these topics are unavoidably philosophical.
If you place a great deal of significance that human existence is, in the grand scope of the affairs of the universe, insignificant, then you're simply never going to agree with proposition b.)
. But even for many scientists who have studied natural history and evolution, and who contributed more than anyone else to the appreciation of the scope of the universe and the fragility of the human place in it - notably Alfred Russel Wallace
- proposition b.)
was never completely out-of-the-question. (For which, interestingly, he was ruthlessly and somewhat unfairly mocked by one Samuel L Clemens.)
I think philosophy and philosophical debate do have great value, but in my experience it can very quickly muddy concepts which really aren't all that complicated, and I believe this is one of those cases. For example, I believe any system which asks (whether itself or as a product of choices made by a student of that system) someone to avoid the question of 'is this belief probable—how probable?' is one which will inherently mislead. Probability should never be the only evidence used, but as probability diminishes the amount of evidence needed to support a claim should increase.
Or, in the words of some other assorted peeps:
"An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof." –Marcello Truzzi
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" –Carl Sagan
"The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness." –Pierre Simon Laplace
"A wise man ... proportions his belief to the evidence", and "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish." – David Hume
Even something we can 'intuit from the human condition' should be subject to probability. And, in my opinion, this doesn't really change my fundamental argument. It's enough to define a creative force. But once we start to make assumptions about that creative force? For example, any argument born of the perception that humans are the most advanced creatures, and thus, the most closely connected to this creator. Just as surely as there are small creatures which exist on a scale we cannot be perceived, there may be life existing on a scale humans cannot perceive. There may be similar life elsewhere in the universe. Or simply, other life, more advanced or less. Some scientists have argued for its improbability, but it seems shortsighted to me (and indeed, many other scientists)—once the scale of the universe is accounted for, and the progression of technology (why would that other form of life even be using radio waves after or before a certain point of advancement?), it seems an arrogant question to answer. We may or may not be the most advanced life in the universe. And if this creator is something ascribed with active thought, involvement, and intent, why must this creator concern itself with only one creation?
Fundamentally, though, my concern is not so much one of scale. Scale is my concern for specificity in defining the concept of a creator or ascribing to it actions. It is about, simply, basing belief on evidence, and expressing a greater degree of skepticism in light of a claim as it becomes more and more improbable.
Every step we take in defining a creator walks away from these concepts. Once we've defined a creative force, sure, I have no better answer. Why is there anything? But once we've described that creator—something completely beyond any perception of humans outside the select collection who claim to speak with or see it (mixed track record) and his intentions for our world and population; his ongoing care for our race—I'm lost. Evidence no longer matters at all. And then we can continue to describe this creator—sent its son to die for our sins, deliberately messed with Adam and Eve with an apple, created all those dead dinosaur bits just to add some tapestry to our relatively young world which actually started with and revolves around us... gone is any hope of an argument based on the human condition or really anything else. It's just one flavor of one of many religions which have come and gone from this world and a choice to accept its literature and the humans educating others about it at face value. Which they have done for those before them, and those before them have done for many generations.
Once we establish that it is not necessary to consider probability in choosing what to believe, though, it is very easy to conclude a debate such as this with 'agree to disagree'. It simply becomes a disagreement of how much weight one should place in 'having faith' within the confines of a given subject. And faith is a lovely concept—it cannot be challenged except by the person who has it, and it can allow for any belief.
WeiWenDi wrote:There are a lot of unfalsifiable conclusions that we live by in the modern world, though: that there are such things as 'human rights', or that human beings have inherent value, or that human beings have free will and are therefore responsible for their own actions. To paraphrase Kant, these things are never evidenced scientifically, but we simply have to operate by them for legal, social and pragmatic reasons.
And again, I'm not defending Christianity specifically (or religion more generally) as scientific fact, but as a different dimension of truth. Call it moral if you like, or aesthetic, or existential.
Sure! But something like 'human rights' isn't the same thing at all. Sure, someone could interpret the use of 'rights' in that word as a thing inherent to our people and not at all born of law or human interest, but I doubt many of those people would hold to that argument once someone questioned them philosophically or expressed the position you have here. 'Human rights', to myself and to most people, are a human construct used to frame law. And the most simple legal basis of, 'bad things happening to me are bad for you too' is a much better argument than exists for many other unfalsifiable positions.
Now, free will—that's another matter entirely. As far as we can perceive through any factual approach we do get to make our own choices and the consequences of those choices (however just) are ours. A counter-argument that, for example, our lives are destined, or that our actions are the subject to god's will (or any number of other conflicting considerations here) becomes just as faith based and distant from factual reasoning as the more specific religious interpretations of god.
I know a few Mormons myself, as coworkers and friends. Incredibly good, decent and thoughtful people. I think their beliefs are a bit... shall we say, goofy? That's the word my dad used to describe them. But I have no problem at all being compared to them.
Regarding whether or not some human event is actually divinely-inspired or -sourced, that depends a lot on a certain kind of reasoning which is internal to the idea of faith. The Orthodox Church makes the distinction between saints and false teachers all the time, and one of the major standards is: are their words and works consistent with each other, and are they consistent with the life and words of Christ as they were imparted to us? Now this may seem like a kind of circular logic, particularly to someone who doesn't at the first principle consider Christ to have been God.
No foul intended for members of the LDS faith! I met quite a few outside Utah who were absolutely fantastic, open-minded, and considerate people. There's no person I have admired more than my own late grandfather, who was a devout Mormon. The Mormons here where they live in heavy concentration, though—they bizarrely seem like an entirely different people from those who live in minority elsewhere, but that's another subject.
Let's consider the strange beliefs of the Mormons. How strange are they, really? I think if we take an honest
look at essentially any religion, its history, its beliefs for the afterlife—if we set aside our preconceived notions and try to think of them simply as new information being delivered to use—are they not extremely strange as well? The LDS faith is a little easier to pick apart than older religions because actual history exists to contradict many of its beliefs, or to provide an alternate biography for its original leaders.
What you wrote, though, does make me want to stress one important thing regarding Christians: damn, if they were actually to try and be Christ-like as Christ is described to them, they would be incredibly fine people. And I'm personally quite pleased to see Pope Francis talking the Catholic church in that direction. It's just far too rare for the actual clergy and followers to actually live up to. Accumulating great personal wealth is highly opposed to Christian teachings. So, I would argue, is a deliberate effort to express intolerance though the legal system (or indeed, in their own faith). Whatever I write, I don't want to express that religion is necessarily a bad thing in someone's life.
There seems to be a fundamental (no pun intended, really) disconnect between the creationism / evolution controversy and all its assorted ends on the one hand, and the stem cell research and sexual orientation debates on the other.
The fundamentalist Protestants do not have a moral
objection to evolution or to the idea of 'survival of the fittest' (with a very high-profile exception
or two). The (American) fundamentalist Protestant embrace of capitalism, broadly stated, is proof of this - they obviously don't take exception to the idea of 'survival of the fittest' in the economic realm. In general, the fundamentalist Protestant objection to creationism is constative
rather than moral - they take issue not with the moral implications of Darwinism when applied in a brutish and unsophisticated way to human affairs, but with the actual propositions
for fear that they will undermine a faith which is dependent on conflicting propositions.
The same doesn't hold true with stem-cell research or sexual orientation. I don't think any intellectually-honest Catholics or Orthodox who are concerned with bioethics would deny that stem-cell research has the potential to drastically improve medicine; they just don't want said research to be conducted in ways that would treat human beings as lab animals rather than as, well, human beings. (I have the same objections about GMO research carried out on unwitting children in China
; that doesn't make me anti-science.)
With regard to sexual orientation, the ascription of meaning to certain biological acts is, again, working on a different dimension than the dimension of scientific inquiry. It may indeed be that there is a genetic component to same-sex attraction, just as it may indeed be the case that there is a genetic component to other, more obviously problematic paraphiliac attractions (like paedophilia). But that doesn't make any and every action that follows from said attraction morally correct.
I won't get into this further on the current topic, as this is getting more into sexual ethics and should be moved to the appropriate thread, as you suggest.
Quite a few good points here, but fundamentally, whether a religion is opposed to something because it challenges their faith or beliefs, or because they see it as immoral—this reasoning doesn't really change the fact that those religions (really, Christianity in this case since that's the subject religion, though not far from the only viable example) are expressing their position in ways that oppose scientific research. In the real world it takes the form of political lobbying, activism (frequently sanctioned or even sponsored), and other efforts to gain leverage. Something as simple as opposing a politician for supporting something in lieu of their religious beliefs is an expression of religion opposing and hindering science.
What could be done about it? Well, maybe not that much. Society would have to more fully embrace the notion of separating church and state. But even then culture plays a significant role. I can see why a religion would be uncomfortable with a position that undermines their story of creation or which they deem (however properly or improperly) to be immoral.
A few asides:
Stem-cell research: I think there's a not-insigificant disconnect with an argument about stem-cell research treating humans as lab animals both with reality (typically real-world drug and treatment trials are consensual and informed, and frequently involve people who are struggling with existing treatment for a particular condition), and with actual sentiment expressed by those opposed. I think the most common opposition I've heard expressed is that it simply crosses into a realm not meant for mankind. Kind of a shame, really, given the potential to save so many lives and help so many people. But you never know where people land—there's the sort that opposes all medical treatment.
GMO: That example as it relates to GMO is rather similar to the police officer who shoots someone because they're black. It's a very rare case of bad ethics which should not be used to describe an entire peoples (or in this case, an entire branch of science). Actual GMO research involves very little overlap with human testing and, done responsibly, really shouldn't require it. There are really bad characters in the GMO world like Monsanto, but GMO is also probably our best hope for feeding our future generations as we overpopulate this world
WeiWenDi wrote:My point was, though, that even to draw theories and conclusions based on observable realities, one has to be able to equate and compare observable realities across contexts in a way that would not be possible in a polytheistic universe. This is getting more into the anthropology of science, actually, but it stands to reason that if one god governs a particular place and another god governs another particular place, any differences between the empirical realities which hold true in each particular place can be 'chalked up' to the gods disagreeing with each other, or to them merely each going his own way.
The very idea that two realities in two different places and times of the universe can be empirically comparable to each other depends on the assumption that the same cosmic rules apply no matter where you go. Speaking in philosophical terms, such an assumption is only possible thanks to monotheism.
You might have lost me in a different direction here.
I don't see a polytheistic universe as necessarily less defensible than a monotheistic one. Outside, I suppose, an actual analysis of polytheistic systems. Having a god in charge of wine, another war, and another love—all with their own very human jealousies and other characteristics—serves as a highly specific and arrogant representation of the creator and steps well into the realm of the unbelievable as based on my arguments in this discussion. And obviously it is far less credible to accept that different patches of land and peoples in this world would have their own according structure of gods (as opposed to a structure of gods that applies to all peoples). I would say it's just another representation of religion through history that looks strange from the outside but somehow feels perfectly normal and acceptable to those inside. And another means of obtaining answers to the unexplainable.
WeiWenDi wrote:I'm not talking about Dr. Tyson here - he may be a science populariser, but he's also a qualified astrophysicist with a Ph.D. from Columbia. He's not just a talking-head or an ideologue. Mostly I'm talking about the Dennett-Dawkins-Hitchens-Harris school of liberal 'new atheists', who as a rule tend to have a highly-inflated sense of the long-term infallibility of human reason.
Hmm... in the context of your argument I'm not sure I have much of a disagreement to muster here. I actually do think even some of these people (I'm more familiar with some than others) play an important role in evolving these debates and contribute usefully to discussion. And I think being an atheist certainly is not a strike against scientific contribution. Indeed, an atheist view, if its product is not colored by an active dislike of religion, is generally excellent for evaluating fundamental concepts like fact and cause-and-effect. Once a person's motivation turns to philosophy and focuses more on advocating for or against religion, though, I honestly lose interest in it.
I'm much more interested in people like Dr. Tyson.
Their opinions, their actions, their contributions.
And for what it's worth, I think any steps people take (on either side) to turn science into an us vs. them (religion) argument are actively doing long-term harm. It can lead to the same sort of problems down the road that have plagued political subjects like climate change and if the goal is to encourage religious followers to think more critically about scientific subjects, it won't be successful built on a foundation of attacking their beliefs.
WeiWenDi wrote:But you're right that, at best, I think we're talking about the edges of the magisteria where things are the least clear, and maybe are in some disagreement about where religious understandings are most appropriate. But we seem to be in broad agreement at the least that there are certain fields of competence where different sorts of reason apply.
... *Leaves for Wikipedia*
That's a handy way to describe it. I'll have to remember that word.
P.S. I apologize for the length of this. It is, as Hermain Cain might say if he were discussing this subject in forums, too damn long. There's a lot of overlap between individual responses and I'll try to cull it in the future rather than responding point-by-point. Edit: Multiple instances of 'it's' in a possessive context. I don't know if I'm selectively an idiot or if some autocomplete-like features on my computer are messing with me...