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My reassesment of End of Faith
Posted: 30 May 2007 01:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”]I suggest that such word-concepts as “supernatural” tend to be catch-all terms for mysterious feelings and ideas that scientific methods seem far removed from being able to approach.

I use the word as a classification for deities and other beings that religions define as living in some realm outside of the natural one, or for beings that cannot be perceived or detected by empirical science.

The question is not whether there is a supernatural, but whether there is a conscious being in the supernatural that gives commands to humans. The only “proof” for such commands are claims made by believers, who do not agree on the nature of those commands. If believers made no such claims, perhaps we could debate the supernatural in the same manner in which we debate topics such as the idea of other dimensions of reality. Someone else’s belief in the supernatural affects me when the person uses that belief to harm others, or to threaten others with eternal suffering for having a different belief about the supernatural.

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Posted: 30 May 2007 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]
This is only the case if a person accepts science, as it is today, as the ultimate arbiter of what is true about the world.  But there are vast areas of human experience that are not accessible to present day science and a rational person might well decide to suspend judgment about claims made in these areas.

Sorry to jump into this discussion late, but science, as it is today, is the ultimate arbiter of what we know to be true about the world.  Why not just wait for the parts that haven’t been explained yet?  Either science will get around to explaining them, which will be interesting, or it won’t. 

I don’t suspend judgement because suspend for what?

[Edited to fix a typo.]

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Posted: 30 May 2007 03:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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[quote author=“made_maka”][quote author=“burt”]
This is only the case if a person accepts science, as it is today, as the ultimate arbiter of what is true about the world.  But there are vast areas of human experience that are not accessible to present day science and a rational person might well decide to suspend judgment about claims made in these areas.

Sorry to jump into this discussion late, but science, as it is today, is the ultimate arbiter of what we know to be true about the world.  Why not just wait for the parts that haven’t been explained yet?  Either science will get around to explaining them, which will be interesting, or it won’t. 

I don’t suspend judgement because suspend for what?

[Edited to fix a typo.]

Science only applies to a small portion of what we know about the world.  For example, it says little about our knowledge that Elizabeth I was queen of England, that Rome was an Imperial power, and so on.  Even in areas where science is working (as in consciousness studies) there is far more that is not known than is known.  In these cases, suspension of judgment is often the reasonable thing: is string theory, or loop quantum gravity the proper way to try and unify general relativity and quantum mechanics?  Some experts say one, some the other.  I’m certainly not qualified to evaluate the claims so suspend judgment.  All it comes down to is that some people say one thing, some say another and I am not ready to form an opinion.  The prosecution says guilty, the defense says not guilty and until the evidence is in any judgment is premature jumping to conclusions.

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Posted: 30 May 2007 11:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”] Even in areas where science is working (as in consciousness studies) there is far more that is not known than is known.  In these cases, suspension of judgment is often the reasonable thing…

One cannot compare that to theistic doctrines that explain natural events as the work of gods. Those doctrines do not suspend judgment, but instead assert unprovable causes. Your point about suspending judgment is appropriate if the ideas being considered are grounded in empiricism.

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Posted: 31 May 2007 04:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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[quote author=“Carstonio”][quote author=“burt”] Even in areas where science is working (as in consciousness studies) there is far more that is not known than is known.  In these cases, suspension of judgment is often the reasonable thing…

One cannot compare that to theistic doctrines that explain natural events as the work of gods. Those doctrines do not suspend judgment, but instead assert unprovable causes. Your point about suspending judgment is appropriate if the ideas being considered are grounded in empiricism.

But empiricism alone may not be enough.  There is always the danger of using an epistemic system that defines “the evidence” in such a way as to exclude important areas of experience.  Materialism, for example, automatically excludes the possibility of immaterial causation and so any evidence for this never gets past the door.  This is not to support theistic or other doctrines, just to leave open the possibility that the current rational/empirical epistemology of science may not be sufficient.  If they turn out to be insufficient (which I think is the case) then we need something more.  The situation to me seems parallel to that in the early seventeenth century when the rationalism of Aristotlians had to be extended by discovery of empirical methods and validity criteria.

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Posted: 31 May 2007 04:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]But empiricism alone may not be enough.  There is always the danger of using an epistemic system that defines “the evidence” in such a way as to exclude important areas of experience.  Materialism, for example, automatically excludes the possibility of immaterial causation and so any evidence for this never gets past the door.

What “important areas of experience” are you talking about? What possible evidence could there be for immaterial causation? As I understand the definition of the immaterial, it cannot be perceived with one’s senses. So how would one know of its existence?

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Posted: 01 June 2007 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]
Science only applies to a small portion of what we know about the world.  For example, it says little about our knowledge that Elizabeth I was queen of England, that Rome was an Imperial power, and so on.

How are you defining “science”?

[quote author=“burt”] Even in areas where science is working (as in consciousness studies) there is far more that is not known than is known.  In these cases, suspension of judgment is often the reasonable thing: is string theory, or loop quantum gravity the proper way to try and unify general relativity and quantum mechanics?  Some experts say one, some the other.  I’m certainly not qualified to evaluate the claims so suspend judgment.  All it comes down to is that some people say one thing, some say another and I am not ready to form an opinion.  The prosecution says guilty, the defense says not guilty and until the evidence is in any judgment is premature jumping to conclusions.

But you aren’t suspending judgement in a way that allows for something other than science to provide an answer.  This seems no different to me than just waiting to see what comes out of the science working.  Not that we’ll live long enough to see more than a tiny part of the results.

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Posted: 01 June 2007 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”] Even in areas where science is working (as in consciousness studies) there is far more that is not known than is known.  In these cases, suspension of judgment is often the reasonable thing: is string theory, or loop quantum gravity the proper way to try and unify general relativity and quantum mechanics?  Some experts say one, some the other.  I’m certainly not qualified to evaluate the claims so suspend judgment.

That’s not a valid comparison to theistic spirituality. With such scientific questions, it’s reasonable to suspend judgment because there is no definition of humanity riding on the outcome. String theory doesn’t proclaim that humanity is inherently disposed to do evil instead of good. Loop quantum gravity doesn’t proclaim that string theorists deserve to suffer for eternity in black holes. The problem with attributing natural phenomena to acts of deity is the logical conclusion that the deity is using those phenomena as rewards or punishments. Made_maka has the right idea - wait to see what comes out of the science working, instead of using the cop-out of attributing the unexplainable to supernatural entites.

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Posted: 01 June 2007 07:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]  
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[quote author=“Carstonio”][quote author=“burt”]But empiricism alone may not be enough.  There is always the danger of using an epistemic system that defines “the evidence” in such a way as to exclude important areas of experience.  Materialism, for example, automatically excludes the possibility of immaterial causation and so any evidence for this never gets past the door.

What “important areas of experience” are you talking about? What possible evidence could there be for immaterial causation? As I understand the definition of the immaterial, it cannot be perceived with one’s senses. So how would one know of its existence?

It depends, mathematical Platonists, for example, believe that at least some mathematical objects have a real existence, accessible to the mind via “mathematical intuition.”  Kurt Goedel went so far as to claim that there was no difference between the problem of how mental perception of mathematical objects was possible, and the question of how we perceive physical objects.  Physical objects are perceived via sensory intuition, mathematical ones via mathematical intuition.  A strictly materialistic appproach, on the other hand, runs into what is called “the hard problem” in consciousness studies, that is, how could electro-chemical neural processes in the brain ever produce qualitative experiential aspects (for example, of perceiving a color)?  That’s dismissed as irrelevent by some in the field, but has driven others into dualism or panpsychism.

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Posted: 01 June 2007 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”] A strictly materialistic appproach, on the other hand, runs into what is called “the hard problem” in consciousness studies, that is, how could electro-chemical neural processes in the brain ever produce qualitative experiential aspects (for example, of perceiving a color)?  That’s dismissed as irrelevent by some in the field, but has driven others into dualism or panpsychism.

I’m not familiar with either school of philosophy. In any case, I don’t consider intuition to be proof of anything in the material world. I understand that intuition is formed by experience and thus can be subjective or faulty. One’s head can contain any idea that would have little or no connection to material reality.

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Posted: 01 June 2007 07:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]  
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[quote author=“Carstonio”][quote author=“burt”] Even in areas where science is working (as in consciousness studies) there is far more that is not known than is known.  In these cases, suspension of judgment is often the reasonable thing: is string theory, or loop quantum gravity the proper way to try and unify general relativity and quantum mechanics?  Some experts say one, some the other.  I’m certainly not qualified to evaluate the claims so suspend judgment.

That’s not a valid comparison to theistic spirituality. With such scientific questions, it’s reasonable to suspend judgment because there is no definition of humanity riding on the outcome. String theory doesn’t proclaim that humanity is inherently disposed to do evil instead of good. Loop quantum gravity doesn’t proclaim that string theorists deserve to suffer for eternity in black holes. The problem with attributing natural phenomena to acts of deity is the logical conclusion that the deity is using those phenomena as rewards or punishments. Made_maka has the right idea - wait to see what comes out of the science working, instead of using the cop-out of attributing the unexplainable to supernatural entites.

For Made_maka, the way I see it, science is the social tool for knowledge generation about reality.  That means that it has to satisfy certain conditions that allow us to accept its claims as valid (very important since our survival may well depend on our knowledge).  In particular, it has to be communicable and publically verifiable as well as empirically testable.  But the nature of science has changed over the past 2000 or so years.  Aristotelian science only required syllogistic deduction from first principles or commonly agreed upon initial statements.  In the scientific revolution, the condition of repeatable empirical testing (experiment, in the modern sense of the word) was added.  That gives the science we know today, with its requirements of rational coherence and experimental confirmation.  But that doesn’t mean that there may not, in the future, be further developments in scientific method.  These would not replace the current rational/empirical conditions but would add another set of conditions.  A book by Richard Maxwell, Is Science Neurotic? (published by World Scientific) addresses some of this (in a way that is not completely satisfactory from my point of view).

As far as suspension of judgment retarding theistic claims, since science as it currently is can’t even address the question we can’t look for a “scientific” answer.  We can look for a sociological or psychological answer, and that is, as far as I can tell, the main thrust of atheistic arument—these are beliefs that may satisfy certain psychological needs but they have horrendous social consequences.  Perfectly good lines of argument, but not specifically scientific.  I think MDBeach has a point though when he asks, if we abolish these religions, what will replace them?

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Posted: 01 June 2007 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]But that doesn’t mean that there may not, in the future, be further developments in scientific method.  These would not replace the current rational/empirical conditions but would add another set of conditions.

What would those conditions be?

[quote author=“burt”] We can look for a sociological or psychological answer, and that is, as far as I can tell, the main thrust of atheistic argument—these are beliefs that may satisfy certain psychological needs but they have horrendous social consequences. Perfectly good lines of argument, but not specifically scientific.

That’s because a sociological or psychological answer would only be able to address the belief in God, not whether such a God actually exists. One source of “horrendous social consequences” is the notion of pleasing God, which often leads to the suspension of one’s own moral judgment or the relegation of that judgment to a secondary status.

[quote author=“burt”] I think MDBeach has a point though when he asks, if we abolish these religions, what will replace them?

I’m not talking about abolishing religion. I’m talking about dissecting them and keeping any of the ethical teachings that may have value. Perhaps religions need not have anything about deities, or they could regard their deities as not actual beings but as metaphors for certain ideas or truths.

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Posted: 01 June 2007 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]  
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[quote author=“Carstonio”][quote author=“burt”]But that doesn’t mean that there may not, in the future, be further developments in scientific method.  These would not replace the current rational/empirical conditions but would add another set of conditions.

What would those conditions be?

 

Ay, there’s the rub.  In the late 70s I worked for a psychologist who had come up with what he called psycho-epistemology where he claimed that there were three forms of epistemic evaluation: rationalism, empiricism, and “metaphorism.”  The criterion he used for the last of these was “universality” in the sense of general agreement.  It seems to me that there is some validity in that, although I always have felt that “universality” is too vague.  My general thought was to try and replace it with “teachability” in the sense that if somebody makes a claim to know something that can’t be demonstrated rationally or empirically (and, can’t be falsified on those grounds) then he or she is obliged to provide a means of teaching (not involving hypnosis or conditioning) that will allow me to experience the validity of the claim.  Think wine tasting as a partial analogy: somebody tells me, a slob, that wine A is far superior in quality to the ordinary rot gut I’ve been drinking.  To validate that claim I have to be educated in wine tasting to the point where I can validate this claim by my own individual experience.  The analogy is only partial because wine tasting involves sensory experience rather than some more abstract internal recognition. The whole point, however, is that adequate criteria are not existent at present—I’m just pointing out what I think is a need.

[quote author=“Carstonio”]
[quote author=“burt”] We can look for a sociological or psychological answer, and that is, as far as I can tell, the main thrust of atheistic argument—these are beliefs that may satisfy certain psychological needs but they have horrendous social consequences. Perfectly good lines of argument, but not specifically scientific.

That’s because a sociological or psychological answer would only be able to address the belief in God, not whether such a God actually exists. One source of “horrendous social consequences” is the notion of pleasing God, which often leads to the suspension of one’s own moral judgment or the relegation of that judgment to a secondary status.

[quote author=“burt”] I think MDBeach has a point though when he asks, if we abolish these religions, what will replace them?

I’m not talking about abolishing religion. I’m talking about dissecting them and keeping any of the ethical teachings that may have value. Perhaps religions need not have anything about deities, or they could regard their deities as not actual beings but as metaphors for certain ideas or truths.

I think we are pretty much in agreement on this: save the advances and minimize the losses.

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Posted: 01 June 2007 12:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]As far as suspension of judgment retarding theistic claims, since science as it currently is can’t even address the question we can’t look for a “scientific” answer.

Is it that science can’t or science doesn’t, because there is no evidence. The few ongoing experiments (e.g. efficacy of prayer) go nowhere.

[quote author=“burt”] I think MDBeach has a point though when he asks, if we abolish these religions, what will replace them?

Who’s going to abolish them?

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Posted: 02 June 2007 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]  
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[quote author=“made_maka”][quote author=“burt”]As far as suspension of judgment regarding theistic claims, since science as it currently is can’t even address the question we can’t look for a “scientific” answer.

Is it that science can’t or science doesn’t, because there is no evidence. The few ongoing experiments (e.g. efficacy of prayer) go nowhere.

[quote author=“burt”] I think MDBeach has a point though when he asks, if we abolish these religions, what will replace them?

Who’s going to abolish them?

 

As currently practiced, science can’t really address theistic, or more broadly, supernaturalist claims because the only empirical approaches it employs and accepts eliminate the possibility of finding anything supernatural a priori.  To quote Wittgenstein: “Tell me how you are searching and I will tell you what you are searching for.”  Things like prayer experiments and so on are pretty ridiculous.  What sort of deity would heal somebody because a bunch of people engaged in an experiment were praying for them?  (“Dear God, please accept this sincere prayer and heal this person so I can write up the results for a publication.”)  It’s not even something science ought to try and investigate.  On the other hand, tracing out brain regions relating to moral judgment, etc., holds lots of promise.

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