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Christianity’s Bogus Claims to Answer Life’s Big Questions

Christianity claims to be able to answer the Big Questions of Life®. I can buy that, but anyone (or any religion) can answer them. It’s whether the answers are credible that matters.

For discovering reality, religion comes up short. Surprisingly, we rarely turn to science, the discipline that has faithfully answered so many other questions. But science can help with the Big Questions, too.

For example: Why are we here? Science can answer that: we’re here for no more cosmically-significant reason than why deer, jellyfish, and oak trees are here.

For example: Where did we come from? Science has some remarkable answers (Big Bang, evolution) and still has a lot of work to do in other areas (string theory, abiogenesis). Science never answers anything with certainty, but the scientific consensus, where there is one, is the best explanation that we have at the moment. The retort “Well, if Science can’t answer it, my religion can!” is not a meaningful answer. Sure, your religion may have an answer, but why trust its answer over the incompatible answers of the other religions?

For example: What is my purpose? There is no evidence of a transcendental or supernatural purpose to your life. One great thing about rejecting dogma is that you get to select your own purpose! And who better than you to decide what that is?

For example: What will happen to me after I die? There’s no evidence that anything more remarkable will happen to you than happens to a deer, jellyfish, or oak tree when they die.

And so on. Science has answers; it’s just that religion doesn’t like them.

Science has only one reality to align itself with. By contrast, each religion makes up its own, which is why they can’t agree. Science provides answers and doesn’t demand faith to accept them.

Think about a church steeple with a lightning rod on top. The steeple proclaims that God exists, and the lightning rod says that it can reduce lightning damage. Which claim provides the evidence to argue that it’s true? Religion makes truth claims and so does science, but science takes it one step further: it actually delivers on its claims.

Religion … well, not so much.

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 9/2/11.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • LINDA

    I FEEL SORRY FOR YOU!

    • Bob Seidensticker

      :) Not necessary, but thanks for the thought!

      If you have concrete objections to the points that I raise, please put them forward.

      • Don Gwinn

        Oddly enough, I don’t feel the slightest twinge of compassion for you . . . . but then, I’m an atheist and we’re notably deficient in such things.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          From Linda I get “yer goin’ ta hell!!” but when I ask for concrete reasons for the argument, I get silence. Oh well.

    • BabyRaptor

      Why? Because he doesn’t follow the same belief system you do?

      Pretty egotistical, yeah?

  • DrewL

    Scientism. Such a lovely statement of faith on reality. Completely self-contradictory, but always worth a try.

    Anthony Kenny (an atheist) recently summarized the absolutism and dogma of scientism in reviewing Alex Rosenburg’s new book:

    “The main tenets of this philosophy are bracingly summed in a series of questions and answers. Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is. What is the purpose of the universe? There is none. What is the meaning of life? Ditto. Why am I hear? Just dumb luck. Does prayer work? Of course not. Is there a soul? Is it immortal? You must be kidding. Is there free will? Not a chance! What is the diference between right and wrong, good and bad? There is no moral diference between them.”

    To each his own, I suppose. I’d take the time to google “logical positivism” and to note how it’s been dead as a serious philosophical belief since the 1950s, but hey, there are still flat-earth creationists, no need to change views based on argumentation or new evidence.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Drew: Thanks for your comments.

      Given our interactions before, I suspect yet more erroneous bin assignments. Do “scientism” and “logical positivism” apply to me? I dunno.

      What would be more productive would be a succinct statement of my error. I’m not seeing the contradiction in my position. If you could point that out, I’d appreciate it.

      • DrewL

        That’s fair. I would encourage you to read these articles:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logical_positivism
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism
        I’m using these words because your system of belief is not new but has a long history behind it. Part of that history is its debunking and dismissal by a consensus of philosophers who, themselves not theists, find the basic premises contradictory. Dennett and Dawkins proudly disagree, but this is why Dennett and Dawkins have no influence on actual scholarly thought: they are 50 years behind the curve.

        • DrewL

          But to help you out:
          You use the phrase “there is no evidence that…” several times. Several philosophers (including many atheists) have pointed out that “evidence” is never a neutral term used without particular presumptions and biases: there is no “objective” definition of evidence. Now, you may argue, “Well MY definition of evidence is that all of X is valid evidence.” This is where you run into the same problem logical positivists had. Kenny said it with incredible precision.:
          Logical positivists proclaimed the verification principle: meaningful propositions were either analytical or capable of verification or falsification by experience. However, the verification principle itself was neither analytic nor empirical. Accordingly, it had to be meaningless.

          In other words, your definition of what evidence is is going to be a non-scientific, non-verifiable statement. It will be a statement that requires a certain amount of faith. In the end your reductionism to “only what we have scientific evidence for” undermines itself.

          You will also have the additional problem, which you spotted in an earlier thread, that you have a host of beliefs that science isn’t able to produce evidence for: civil rights, beliefs on gender equality, perhaps the existence of the unconscious, moral beliefs, being anti-slavery. In these cases you yourself have recognized the limitations of reducing all beliefs to what “scientific evidence” can tell us….this undermines your entire post.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          In these cases you yourself have recognized the limitations of reducing all beliefs to what “scientific evidence” can tell us….this undermines your entire post.

          Again, you see the smoldering ruins of an argument where I don’t see the problem.

          I agree that “if science hasn’t weighed in, then there is nothing to say” is a weak position. And it’s not my position. As you point out, I have tentative truths that didn’t come from science. (Maybe they came through the scientific method–I dunno.) Anyway, we can agree that beliefs on civil rights aren’t traditionally classified as scientific hypotheses.

          You use the phrase “there is no evidence that…” several times.

          Let’s take an example: There is no evidence (or negligible evidence) of fairies. I conclude from this that there is no reason to believe in fairies. Am I on firm ground here?

          There is no evidence of the afterlife. Conclusion: no reason to believe in the afterlife.

          Is the evidence situation different in these two cases?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          your system of belief is not new but has a long history behind it

          Again, I doubt that I fit into your pigeon holes. A sweeping, “Oh, that’s all old stuff; philosophers demolished that decades ago” is helpful neither in correcting my error nor in making a strong argument.

        • DrewL

          This is borderline anti-intellectualism that you refuse to do some basic research on the historical antecedents of your arguments. You’re acting very Colbert-esque in consulting your own sense of “truthiness” rather than relevant experts/academic authorities.. I can lead a horse to wikipedia, but I can’t make him read it, so it appears.

          The argument is really over when you admit this:
          As you point out, I have tentative truths that didn’t come from science.
          You got riled up about slavery in some previous posts (and weren’t very “tentative” about opposing it), yet you lacked any “scientific” evidence why you believe it to be wrong. So is there scientific evidence slavery is wrong? No. Do you believe it? If you’re limited to “science answers only,” then no, you have no evidence slavery is wrong. In fact, let’s plug this into your original post:

          There is no (scientific) evidence of a slavery being wrong. One great thing about rejecting dogma is that you get to select your own views on slavery! And who better than you to decide what that is? ….and from your last comment: There is no (scientific) evidence of slavery being wrong. Conclusion: no reason to believe slavery is wrong.

          Southern slaveholders would rise to applaud: in fact this has a resonance with Stephen Douglas’ argument against Lincoln.

          Here’s the takeaway: you’re right that we don’t have “scientific” evidence for a lot of things, fairies included. Yet we seem pretty comfortable consulting other sources of knowledge in those cases, including experience, authority, intuition, history, even “self-evidence” in the case of the Declaration of Independence.

          Welcome to the world of multiple sources of knowledge. You’ve been here a while but you just didn’t realize it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          This is borderline anti-intellectualism that you refuse to do some basic research on the historical antecedents of your arguments.

          Not anti-intellectual; pragmatic. You’ve not been on target in the past with the bins you’ve put me in, so I’m expecting similar results. And in this conversation, we’ve already come across the same problem.

          Let’s discard the labels and simply make arguments. That’ll avoid the detours.

          If you’re limited to “science answers only,” then no, you have no evidence slavery is wrong.

          You’re difficult to agree with. Didn’t we already go over this one in the last comment? I’m not limited to science answers only.

          Here’s the takeaway: you’re right that we don’t have “scientific” evidence for a lot of things, fairies included.

          “Women deserve the right to vote” vs. “they don’t.” The choice relies on what kind of society we want to create for ourselves–not a decision disjoint from evidence, but not really a scientific choice, I wouldn’t think. This is fairly subjective decision.

          “Fairies exist” vs. “the afterlife exists.” Much more objective this time. Sounds like two scientific claims. I think I’ll evaluate them both based on evidence in a scientific fashion. If either one comes up short, I’d be foolish to believe in it.

  • avalon

    Hi Bob,
    Funny you should use the church steeple and the lightning rod as examples.
    According to this site, http://evolvefish.com/freewrite/franklgt.htm , religion had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to acceptance of using lightning rods.
    But, of course, there’s an apologetic for that: http://www.tektonics.org/lp/norods.html .
    It consists of the following ‘logic’:
    1. ‘Christian’ churches promote non-christian ideas; otherwise known as the ‘wrong interpretation excuse’. (Right book, wrong interpretation. Aren’t you glad science texts don’t work that way?)
    2. A few Christian individuals had different ideas. (I guess with all the various beliefs within Christianity, someone, somewhere, must have the ‘right’ interpretation of the bible, right?)
    3. Science didn’t completely agree, so there! (Pointy vs blunt rods doesn’t really veer from the reality of lightning, but it makes the apologist feel better and that’s what counts in their world.)

    Unfortunately, not all unrealistic Christian beliefs can be demonstrated as vividly as the lightning rod controversy.

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      Given the tenacious hold that fundamentalists have on Creationism (or is it the other way around?), I’m actually a bit surprised that they’re so reasonable in accepting lightning rods, heliocentrism, the Big Bang (OK–some don’t accept this), germ theory, and so on.

      It’s the 21st century, and some people refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus because they don’t like it. Wow.

  • machintelligence

    Think about a church steeple with a lightning rod on top. The steeple proclaims that God exists, and the lightning rod says that it can reduce lightning damage. Which claim provides the evidence to argue that it’s true?

    The job of bell ringer used to be a hazardous occupation. There were specially consecrated storm bells that were rung to remind God that there was a church here and many bell ringers got fried. After Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod, there was some debate about whether to use these secular, scientific devices, but within 50 years almost all churches and cathedrals had them.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I believe it was Franklin that retorted: We have roofs on churches to protect us from the rain, don’t we? Assuming that God has no problem with that, what’s the problem with protecting ourselves from lightning as well?

  • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

    I agree that “if science hasn’t weighed in, then there is nothing to say” is a weak position. And it’s not my position. As you point out, I have tentative truths that didn’t come from science. (Maybe they came through the scientific method–I dunno.) Anyway, we can agree that beliefs on civil rights aren’t traditionally classified as scientific hypotheses.

    I believe DrewL’s point was that your definition of what counts as evidence is one of those “tentative truths”, which means that your whole argument of “trusting only science” is one which requires an unsubstantiated leap of faith.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Who trusts only science? As Drew pointed out, I trust other things (not typically called scientific) like my opinion on civil rights, etc.

      • DrewL

        This is progress: you’re positioning yourself as a sort of arbitrator of epistemologies (what evidence you will trust for different beliefs) and you’re sort of an assembly-line worker, sorting beliefs into several different bins:

        “ahh, women’s suffrage? no evidence needed here, I’ll consult what kind of society I want….fairies? I’ll need some scientific evidence….afterlife? evidence please…should i discriminate against minorities? i’ll consult utilitarian arguments….is it right to beat my wife? i just need some subjective opinions here…slavery? history will probably do here….transcendental purpose? evidence please…dark matter? i’ll accept unverifiable best guesses here…”

        This sorting process is:
        a) a completely different vision of how beliefs work than your earlier argument suggested.
        b) assumes there is only one epistemology for each belief: as you said earlier, no scientific evidence for afterlife? clearly we won’t be consulting another epistemology.
        c) this is the most important: a completely non-scientific endeavor, to its very core. There’s no way to subject your decisions of categorization here to verification by experimentation…this is a faith-and-intuition process, completely subject to your own biases and prejudices, all the way down.

        You may argue here that you apply a simplistic subjective-objective split for your sorting, and THAT’S scientific. The problem is, even for objective beliefs, in practice, you accept a variety of means: sometimes you personally come up with the scientific evidence in a lab (incredibly rare), most times you trust an authority, you may rationalize from nonscientific axioms, or you may even deduce objective beliefs from your subjective experience. So when will you do which? And WHO will you trust? When will you trust yourself? Would you let authorities override your own intuitions (we all do at times)? Who are authoritative on what issues?

        How you answer will come down to non-scientific prejudices. This is why scientism is dead. You trust sources other than science. And you trust yourself (and not science) to make the decisions about when you’re going to trust sources other than science.

        • avalon

          Hi Drew,
          You said, “How you answer will come down to non-scientific prejudices. This is why scientism is dead. You trust sources other than science. And you trust yourself (and not science) to make the decisions about when you’re going to trust sources other than science.”

          You’ve presented a well-crafted philosophical argument. However, I suspect it’s one you don’t actually believe. Imagine that you, Bob, and I all live in the same little town. I’m a master bell-ringer and you’re both my apprentices. There’s two steeples in town, same height, both the tallest structures in town. One church believes in science and has a lightning rod, the other believes God would never strike their church with lightning so has no lightning rod. Both churches need a bell-ringer. I come to you and ask, “Which church do you want to work at?”. Will your answer be, “There’s more than one epistemology for each belief and there’s no real proof why one is better than the other, so it doesn’t matter to me.”??!!
          And if I then ask Bob to choose, and with his scientific bias, he chooses the one with the lightning rod; you’re telling me the real-world results will be the same?

          I suspect that when the ‘rubber hits the road’ you’ll abandon your philosophy and opt for the church protected by the lightning rod.

          avalon

        • DrewL

          “There’s more than one epistemology for each belief and there’s no real proof why one is better than the other, so it doesn’t matter to me.”
          There are three statements here, none of which are either claims I have made or logical conclusions from those claims I have made. The first part might be true in some cases (probably most cases if you recognize we accept most scientific evidence THROUGH trust and authority), but the next parts don’t follow from that premise.

          You’re confusing me with someone who doesn’t accept the findings of science, or someone who would declare all epistemologies equal in all cases. Nope. I’ll take the medical doctor over the witch doctor any day. I’m pointing out that Bob and I (and probably you) have an agreement that science isn’t the only source for all our beliefs. Bob just forgets this sometimes.

          So the bellringer should consult the authority of lightening science and trust in that evidence. You’ve set up a scenario with pretty straightforward conditions that could be replicated, tested, etc within a controlled environment…..no surprise that science will help out here. Compare that to Bob’s question: What is my purpose? Notice a difference?

  • mooseman

    Why does so much of Atheism revolve around trying to burst every religious person’s bubble? I’m not a Christian, here to troll. Just an agnostic who’s noticed that Atheists have become every bit as relentless in trying to hammer their beliefs into other people’s heads as any religion. Every time I read an Atheist editorial it essentially boils down to “we have a rational explanation, the religious do not”. Not saying that’s not true, but I just don’t get the need to throw it in other people’s faces. It’s not like many religious people are going to be convinced that anything other than their own belief is valid. I mean, the same goes for christians, just leave us be. I guess I can’t wrap my head around why people feel it necessary to throw “truths” at one another when neither will accept that of the other.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      mooseman:

      My goal isn’t bubble bursting; it’s encouraging Christians to think. I wrote a book with that as its goal.

      If Christians read my stuff, become uncomfortable because they’ve been going through life fairly mindlessly, and then start reading up on the foundations (or lack) underpinning Christianity, that’s all I’m asking for. They might become a stronger Christian or an atheist, I don’t much care. I just want them to think.

      There’s too little thinking going on in the Christian community IMO, and I listen to podcasts and sermons where the Christian says the exact same thing.

      This stuff is too important to be drifting along on autopilot. This is not knitting vs. needlepoint–I don’t care what hobbies occupy your time. Doesn’t affect me or society. But Christian is society’s 800-pound gorilla, and when it blunders around and crashes into things, that’s a legitimate concern, it seems to me.

      • DrewL

        Bob this is nicely said (sorry I’m jumping in on this…forgive me). There is a significant portion of the American population that is “culturally” Christian or nominally Christian. I’d like to see them examine their assumptions and contradictory beliefs a little more closely.

        But I have to ask…
        …then start reading up on the foundations (or lack) underpinning Christianity, that’s all I’m asking for.
        Why haven’t you done the same for yourself? You refused to read wikipedia earlier…wikipedia! Why not do some research on the inherent problems of scientism or logical positivism? Or read the many atheist thinkers who think your breed of New Atheism is (almost) entirely foolish – Anthony Kenny, Terry Eagleton, Michael Ruse, Jonathan Haidt. They could help show you the foundations (or lack of) for your belief system. Is there something you fear about this endeavor? Or some intellectual superiority you have that makes this prescription only appropriate for those who disagree with you? I’m of the crazy view that atheists “need to think” too.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Why haven’t you done the same for yourself?

          That’s what I do for hours every day.

          You refused to read wikipedia earlier

          No, I refused to get into an argument about which bin you wanted to put me in.

          You’ve already been burned by this, right? Let’s avoid statements like, “Oh, you’re clearly a [category goes here]” and instead use questions or proposals with descriptions. Half of my responses to your comments seem to be correcting your misattributions.

          The other problem with labels is that my definition and yours may not line up. Even if my definition is correct and you’re the one making the error, we aren’t communicating by using those words. Just avoid the labels and we avoid the problem.

          read the many atheist thinkers who think your breed of New Atheism is (almost) entirely foolish

          Sure, I could accept your tedious homework assignment, but unfortunately I’m a little busy. But what would be better for all of us (me as well as readers) would be for you to make your point or show my error in a few sentences or a paragraph. Then we’re all a little smarter, we’re all on the same page, and I can respond.

        • DrewL

          Both of these statements made me laugh out loud…
          That’s what I do for hours every day.
          Sure, I could accept your tedious homework assignment, but unfortunately I’m a little busy.
          Hmm…so you read up on the underpinnings of your belief system every day “for hours,” but you’re too busy to read anyone who disagrees with you? That’s some very critical research you must be doing. Heck, I’m even suggesting–no, begging!–you to read atheists!

          Your refusal to engage with even a few paragraphs on wikipedia suggests rigorous intellectual enquiry doesn’t play a very substantial role in your belief system. I’m disappointed that you then seem to think it’s my responsibility to spoon-feed you what real intellectuals have said about the arguments you present. Why do you have this blog exactly, if you want commenters to do all the heavy lifting for you? Why do you fear picking up some authors who are actually going to challenge you?

          There’s too little thinking going on in the Christian community IMO.
          Maybe they’re just “too busy” to read things that disagree with their beliefs and don’t like wikipedia either.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          Your refusal to engage with even a few paragraphs on wikipedia suggests rigorous intellectual enquiry doesn’t play a very substantial role in your belief system. I’m disappointed

          And I’m a bit disappointed myself that I must keep repeating that learning something new is fine, while arguing about the definitions of words (and which bin I properly belong in) is not my idea of a good time. Why don’t we avoid that, and then everyone’s happy?

  • avalon

    Hi drew,
    Drew:”The first part (There’s more than one epistemology for each belief) might be true in some cases (probably most cases if you recognize we accept most scientific evidence THROUGH trust and authority), but the next parts don’t follow from that premise.”
    Did you not criticize Bob because he “assumes there is only one epistemology for each belief”? The “next parts” (there’s no real proof why one is better than the other) came from this statement of yours: “a completely non-scientific endeavor, to its very core. There’s no way to subject your decisions of categorization here to verification by experimentation…this is a faith-and-intuition process, completely subject to your own biases and prejudices, all the way down.”

    So, I’m curious, how did you “categorization” your decision concerning lightning? Was it just the “faith and intuition process”?

    Drew: “You’re confusing me with someone who doesn’t accept the findings of science, or someone who would declare all epistemologies equal in all cases.”
    Actually, by saying they’re all based on faith and intuition, you’re claiming they’re all equally invalid!

    Drew:”I’m pointing out that Bob and I (and probably you) have an agreement that science isn’t the only source for all our beliefs. Bob just forgets this sometimes.”
    Sure, as humans we’re both rational and emotional and we make decisions based on both reason and emotion. But we should recognize the road we took to make those decisions and not try to confuse the two. If you’re claiming that religious belief is an emotional decision, I agree totally. Just don’t make the claim that it’s rational, like science. That’s what bugs Bob.

    Drew:”So the bellringer should consult the authority of lightening science and trust in that evidence. You’ve set up a scenario with pretty straightforward conditions that could be replicated, tested, etc within a controlled environment…..no surprise that science will help out here.”
    And if the church authorities said you’d burn for eternity in hell if you attached a lightning rod, what then? ‘Rationally’, a true believer could make the case that a single lightning strike is a burn that’s over in a moment, but hell…that’s forever. ‘Do not be afraid of lightning that can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.’
    You claim the bell-ringer should consult science as if that’s an objective answer, but as you said:
    “You may argue here that you apply a simplistic subjective-objective split for your sorting, and THAT’S scientific. The problem is, even for objective beliefs, in practice, you accept a variety of means: sometimes you personally come up with the scientific evidence in a lab (incredibly rare), most times you trust an authority, you may rationalize from nonscientific axioms, or you may even deduce objective beliefs from your subjective experience. So when will you do which? And WHO will you trust? When will you trust yourself? Would you let authorities override your own intuitions (we all do at times)? Who are authoritative on what issues?”

    All you’ve demonstrated here is that religious belief is an emotional comfort rather than rational thought.

    Drew:”Compare that to Bob’s question: What is my purpose? Notice a difference?”
    Yes, you look for the emotionally satisfying answer and Bob looks for a rational one. That’s fine as long as you’re honest about why you prefer the emotional one. Just don’t try claim it’s scientific.

    avalon

    • DrewL

      The “next parts” (there’s no real proof why one is better than the other) came from this statement of yours: “a completely non-scientific endeavor, to its very core. There’s no way to subject your decisions of categorization here to verification by experimentation…this is a faith-and-intuition process, completely subject to your own biases and prejudices, all the way down.”
      So, I’m curious, how did you “categorization” your decision concerning lightning? Was it just the “faith and intuition process”?

      Ahh I can see what jump you made: IF our categorization of beliefs into science and non-science epistemologies is a process that cannot be scientifically verified, THEN all epistemologies become equally valid.

      Nope. One doesn’t follow from the other. There are still very good reasons to choose one epistemology over another in certain circumstances, say, your lightening example. So just because it’s a non-scientific categorization process (again, you can’t replicate/test/control/verify your decision making process, so non-scientific) doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all.

      You call it just a faith-and-intuition process because you’re desperately trying to cloak all decision-making with the cloak of scientific evidence. Think about your everyday life: how often do you act on a belief that you’ve personally encountered lab-certified, peer-review published scientific evidence for? Rarely. The truth is we operate from moment to moment and day to day on a faith-and-intuition process of interpreting the events around us, processing the limited evidence personally available to us combined with other experiences, history, trusted authorities, trusted friends, etc. So just a faith-and-intuition shouldn’t be so scary to you; it’s your state of being every day.

      Yes, you look for the emotionally satisfying answer and Bob looks for a rational one. That’s fine as long as you’re honest about why you prefer the emotional one. Just don’t try claim it’s scientific.

      I’d advise you to read “Thinking Fast and Slow” or a number of recent psychology books that have completely debunked the sort of cold, rational, detached decision-maker vision of human beings that philosophers dreamed up in recent centuries. If you like scientific evidence, then you will need to adjust your beliefs here: experimental data is pretty universal that we are not the cold, detached reasoners that we think we are, whether that concerns religion, lightening rods, global warming, or what car we buy. You can continue dividing the world into rational decision makers and emotional decision makers but you’d be rejecting a significant amount of peer-reviewed, lab-certified scientific evidence to the contrary. But that doesn’t stop creationists, so do what you want.

      • avalon

        Hi Drew,
        “I’d advise you to read “Thinking Fast and Slow” or a number of recent psychology books that have completely debunked the sort of cold, rational, detached decision-maker vision of human beings that philosophers dreamed up in recent centuries.”
        Thanks, but I already agree with you and could recommend a dozen more for your reading list.

        Drew: “If you like scientific evidence, then you will need to adjust your beliefs here: experimental data is pretty universal that we are not the cold, detached reasoners that we think we are, whether that concerns religion, lightening rods, global warming, or what car we buy.”
        I agree. I’ve been trying to convince Bob that religion more like falling in love than discovering some mathematical fact. I’ll go further here and say it provides a sort of ‘mental orgasm’ for some people. It’s like a fetish. I don’t understand why some people get off on shoes, for example. Bob doesn’t understand why some people get off on religion. You can’t ‘reason’ someone out of a shoe fetish (why would you want to?), but Bob continues to try to reason people out of religion.

        Drew: “You can continue dividing the world into rational decision makers and emotional decision makers but you’d be rejecting a significant amount of peer-reviewed, lab-certified scientific evidence to the contrary. But that doesn’t stop creationists, so do what you want.”
        I don’t see the neat divide you assume I do. But I can look at history and see how many religious ideas were overturned by science. Sure, science had to change as well; but it wasn’t religious ideas which corrected science, it was better scientific methods. I agree with you that when it comes to “the purpose of life”, science isn’t the only tool for finding answers. But when it comes to things like the afterlife, that’s a different story. So if a person’s view of the purpose of life contains an assumption of an afterlife, I’d need some scientific evidence to believe it. But if they’re willing to admit they believe in an afterlife just because it’s more pleasant than non-existence, I’d accept that answer. Who am I to deny them their mental orgasms?

        avalon

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve been trying to convince Bob that religion more like falling in love than discovering some mathematical fact.

          I think we’re on the same page here. What bothers me is someone who’s “fallen in love” but argues that his action is as logical as following the facts in a mathematical proof.

          If Christians would simply say, “Look–I just believe, OK? I’m not arguing that there’s any solid grounding to my beliefs. That’s why it’s called faith” then I’d have nothing to respond with. It’s when they say that their beliefs are firmly grounded in evidence that I’m compelled to point out their error.

          You can’t ‘reason’ someone out of a shoe fetish (why would you want to?), but Bob continues to try to reason people out of religion.

          I agree with your lament to some extent. You can’t reason someone out of a belief they were never reasoned into. But, at the same time, people do fall away from religion. Doesn’t happen often, but it happens. And if I can discourage a few of them from claiming that their beliefs are firmly grounded in evidence, that humility would be a nice improvement …

        • DrewL

          Bob, when you talk about religious people, the world becomes a bit binary: everything either has hard (scientific) evidence, OR is taken on faith, without “logic” or “proof” and should recognized as lacking “solid grounding.”

          Yet lets look at how you hold your own moral beliefs, from a previous thread:
          -Your moral views don’t come from scientific evidence, as you acknowledged, so they apparently come from the second category (taken on faith), yet…
          -You don’t hold them with much humility: “From my standpoint, my moral opinion trumps yours (and anyone else’s) where there is conflict.” (8/19/2012 comment)
          -You are deeply troubled when they are breached: “And in those situations where this isn’t an academic issue but actual harm needs to be stopped, I will indeed take that action …”(8/19/2012 comment)
          -You don’t have any criteria or outside evidence to appeal to except your own intuition, which is adequate for a provisional certitude. “I appeal to my own moral instinct. And that trumps your opinion, in my mind, every time.” (8/19/2012 comment)

          So why do YOU get to hold non-scientific beliefs without evidence, without outside criteria for justification, and without very much humility or uncertainty, and even see them as a charge to action at times….but no one else gets to do this?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          You don’t hold [your moral beliefs] with much humility

          You say this as if we do this differently, which I find hard to believe.

          When you and I disagree on a moral issue, who do I think is right? Who do you think is right? It’s rather obvious that if I thought that your beliefs were superior, I’d switch. Humility has nothing to do with this.

          Where humility comes in is in quite a different area: do I think I could be wrong? Of course! To a large extent, I realize my limitations (and where I don’t realize them, that’s where you come in).

          You don’t have any criteria or outside evidence to appeal to except your own intuition, which is adequate for a provisional certitude.

          I use outside evidence all the time. Indeed, an argument from you might get me to rearrange my opinions on what I think is true and what not.

          You’ve imagine a hideous paradox, but it’s not there.

          Do you find anything interesting here besides pointing out what a hypocrite I am? Surely there’s something else to critique.

          So why do YOU get to hold non-scientific beliefs without evidence, without outside criteria for justification, and without very much humility or uncertainty, and even see them as a charge to action at times….but no one else gets to do this?

          Is it just me, or are we going round and round on this? Again: my contention is that I process this precisely how you do. Show me how you do it differently.

        • avalon

          Hi Bob,
          B:”If Christians would simply say, “Look–I just believe, OK? I’m not arguing that there’s any solid grounding to my beliefs. That’s why it’s called faith” then I’d have nothing to respond with. It’s when they say that their beliefs are firmly grounded in evidence that I’m compelled to point out their error.”
          How likely is it for any of us to perform an unbiased self-assessment?

          B:”I agree with your lament to some extent. You can’t reason someone out of a belief they were never reasoned into. But, at the same time, people do fall away from religion. Doesn’t happen often, but it happens. And if I can discourage a few of them from claiming that their beliefs are firmly grounded in evidence, that humility would be a nice improvement …”
          But if you agree that the purpose of religion (or any other supernatural belief, like esp, etc…) is to make people feel better, aren’t you just acting like a kill-joy? What do you propose to fill that void of pleasure?

          avalon

        • Bob Seidensticker

          avalon:

          How likely is it for any of us to perform an unbiased self-assessment?

          Sure, we have biases, but the issue isn’t self-assessment. If Christians are not evaluating evidence to come to their religious views, then I simply ask them not to claim that they are.

          But if you agree that the purpose of religion (or any other supernatural belief, like esp, etc…) is to make people feel better, aren’t you just acting like a kill-joy? What do you propose to fill that void of pleasure?

          I’m saying that it’s a poor way to feel better. You want to really feel better? See reality for what it actually is.

          Admittedly, you could find someone whose life truly sucks, and maybe religion is the soggy lifejacket that keeps them afloat. Okay, that’s fine. I only ask that there be no peripheral damage from that belief.

          If religious belief has as much negative impact on society as knitting as a hobby, no problem. It’s when religion slops outside these bounds and has a detrimental effect on society that I start to lose sleep.

        • DrewL

          Avalon, glad we are on the same page on the “irrationality” of all beliefs and the undeniable role that emotion plays. Your falling-in-love analogy is insightful, although I would argue (along with many theologians) that there is an additional (perhaps secondary) component of most religions that, beyond simply a feeling, is also assenting to particular historical propositions. But yes, I would never try to reason someone in or out of a religion, and I pity people who think this is how human reasoning works. Evolutionary accounts of human reasoning are quite helpful here: we are all at our core very poor reasoners who reason much more tribally, much more emotionally, and much more from biases of our core identities than what we realize. I’ve found atheists to be least accepting of this truth; thus they have “Reason” conferences, put up billboards promoting reasoning, etc.

          But I can look at history and see how many religious ideas were overturned by science. That definitely happened at many significant points, but I’d encourage you to develop your views here a little more by reading some historians. The “conflict” thesis or warfare thesis of religion and science has now been rejected by most historians: check out this Wikipedia article and perhaps grab a book by Lindberg or Fernbreg listed in Further Reading.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_thesis

          To push you a bit: Do you think all non-scientific beliefs are mental orgasms? Was the civil rights movement just a bunch of people mentally “getting off” on their fetish for equality? What about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Or people’s belief in their entitlement to their own opinions and personal freedoms? Just mental self-pleasure?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I would never try to reason someone in or out of a religion, and I pity people who think this is how human reasoning works.

          It’s not a matter of how reasoning works; it’s that reasoning isn’t a factor in the issue at hand. People can’t be reasoned out of a religion because they were never reasoned into it. (Well, to a tiny bit they can–people deconvert rarely.)

        • avalon

          Hi Drew,
          D: “To push you a bit: Do you think all non-scientific beliefs are mental orgasms? ”
          I’d say our decisions fall into two broad categories: reasoned or emotional.

          D:”Was the civil rights movement just a bunch of people mentally “getting off” on their fetish for equality?”
          No, just the opposite. Fear of those who appear different in some way is a primitive, emotional response. Civil rights is the reasoned idea that we’re all human, despite some superficial differences in appearance.

          D:”Was the civil rights movement just a bunch of people mentally “getting off” on their fetish for equality?”
          That’s a number of different statements. I see some as rational and some as emotional.

          D:”Or people’s belief in their entitlement to their own opinions and personal freedoms?”
          Emotional basis.

          To push you back a bit: I assume you’d agree that morals today and morals in the distant past are different. If you were to predict the morality of the future, how would you go about it and what would you expect those morals to be like?
          Do you see a trend toward ever larger ‘tribes’? Will that eventually expand to the entire planet? How would a planet-wide morality differ from today? What personal freedoms will ‘fall out of fashion’ when they threaten the existence of the human race?

          avalon

        • Bob Seidensticker

          avalon:

          I assume you’d agree that morals today and morals in the distant past are different.

          This is strong evidence that moral truth is not objective. We look at the Bible and see a snapshot of morality in a different culture. Not surprisingly, our view is rather different on many areas (genocide, slavery, polygamy, for example).

          Not much evidence for objective moral truth–unless you simply want to say that it exists and the Bible had no clue what it was.

  • DrewL

    You say this as if we do this differently, which I find hard to believe.
    When you and I disagree on a moral issue, who do I think is right? Who do you think is right?

    This is fascinating: when it comes to your own moral beliefs, you elect not to try JUSTIFYING your beliefs in some way (solid grounding, evidence, etc), but instead merely appeal to convention (well everyone else doesn’t justify them…why should I!). You made the same shift at the same point in the argument last time.

    I’ll do you a favor and add this to your list.
    For Bob’s moral beliefs, he….
    –does not have scientific evidence, so takes them on ungrounded blind faith (according to his binary world)
    –doesn’t hold them with humility, but a ready-to-fight certitude.
    –is deeply troubled when they are breached and is ready to take action.
    –has no outside criteria to appeal to, but instead draws on his “moral intuition.”
    –defends this lack of criteria by arguing “everyone else does it too.”

    So remind me, what exactly do you have to say to other people who hold their faith beliefs with certitude, have no evidence for them, are ready to act on them, and can’t warrant them beyond intuition? “Hey, that’s only allowed if your beliefs line up with mine!” is one possibility.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      This is fascinating: when it comes to your own moral beliefs, you elect not to try JUSTIFYING your beliefs in some way (solid grounding, evidence, etc), but instead merely appeal to convention (well everyone else doesn’t justify them…why should I!).

      If, despite our best efforts, we are unable to communicate, perhaps we should simply go our separate ways. If you are here just to pass the time, I’m afraid I have better things to do.

      Work with me here, OK? Think how you decide moral issues. Then use that as your first approximation of how I think. As I said, I’m pretty sure we both do this the same way.

      I come to my moral conclusions the same way anyone else does.

      (1) I have visceral opinions about the rightness of the golden rule (and perhaps other instinctive morals). This is what gets me to put myself in danger in an instant when I see someone in need.

      (2) I have learned opinions on issues like same-sex marriage, euthanasia, abortion, the morality of war and self-defense, and on and on. These are the cerebral issues, the ones that vary widely across societies (and even within societies). These issues I can change my mind on, based on new information and experience.

      Does objective moral truth exist? Show me that it does and that we can reliably access it.

      If this doesn’t help you understand my moral reasoning, then I think any further conversation would be useless.

      • DrewL

        You just validated my list: I actually already understand your moral reasoning perfectly well.

        So are religious people allowed visceral opinions, or only atheists?

        And to consider something a “learned opinion” that someone is willing to “change his mind on, based on new information and experience,” does it necessarily have to concur with your learned opinion? In other words, are your learned opinions the only ones that are “right”? Sometimes you plead imperfect access to moral certainty, sometimes you claim we should all see ourselves infallible at the moment that we hold a particular belief, because we hold it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I actually already understand your moral reasoning perfectly well.

          I’m surprised it took so long to get on the same page then.

          So are religious people allowed visceral opinions, or only atheists?

          … or are we on the same page? This is all answered in my previous posts.

          How about you? Do you claim that objective moral truths exist? If so, do you plan to support this claim?

  • DrewL

    It seems your ability to “defend” your visceral opinions (aka faith claims) has pretty settled to this level: “Look–I just believe, OK? I’m not arguing that there’s any solid grounding to my beliefs. That’s why it’s called faith.” You would add something about your “well everyone else does it too!” justification.

    So now I’m waiting for you to either:
    a) tell me why YOU are entitled to hold beliefs with certitude (you’re ready to fight for them, you say) have no evidence for them, are ready to act on them, see as superior to everyone else’s, and can’t warrant them beyond intuition…but no one else is afforded this capacity, particularly anyone who disagrees with you, and needs an entirely different set of criteria for their beliefs (perhaps Bob Seidensticker was born with special belief-knowing abilities the rest of us lack)

    or
    b) correct all these statements from your post, which no longer make any sense:
    For discovering reality, religion comes up short. Nope, no criteria for these types of beliefs.
    Sure, your religion may have an answer, but why trust its answer over the incompatible answers of the other religions? Nope, you say consensus doesn’t matter for these types of beliefs.
    There is no evidence of a transcendental or supernatural purpose to your life. Nope, you don’t have any evidence for your beliefs either.
    There’s no evidence that anything more remarkable will happen to you than happens to a deer, jellyfish, or oak tree when they die. Nope, see previous.
    By contrast, each religion makes up its own, which is why they can’t agree. Again, you argue consensus irrelevant here.

    Or you could just admit
    c) I have unjustifiable, non-scientific, and non-rational prejudices against religious people who don’t believe like me, but I enjoy cloaking my superiority complex in an appeal to “reason” that I myself don’t actually employ.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      It seems your ability to “defend” your visceral opinions (aka faith claims) has pretty settled to this level

      Do I make faith claims? That’s news to me.

      So now I’m waiting for you to either:

      Why should I expend any more effort correcting a bizarre worldview that exists only in your mind? I’ve certainly tried, and I guess I’ve failed. Oh well.

      • DrewL

        Do I make faith claims? That’s news to me.
        Why yes you do, check your words at August 24, 2012 at 11:51 pm:
        I trust other things (not typically called scientific) like my opinion on civil rights, etc.
        Or how about this statement….
        “I appeal to my own moral instinct. And that trumps your opinion, in my mind, every time.” (8/19/2012 comment)
        Or maybe your appeal to “visceral opinions” (you use opinion to cloak your resolute rigidity with these beliefs–you’ve said you’re ready to fight/argue for these “opinions” and you think they trump others).

        You’re a man of faith, Bob Seidensticker. I just wish you’d stop holding other people to standards different from what you hold yourself.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Trust? Faith? Pretty different things.

          You’ve got a lot of energy and a sharp mind, Drew L. I wish you could focus that on constructive projects. Most people, me included, get a little annoyed at repeated refusal to accept their own explanations of themselves.

          Perhaps we’ll get off on a better foot in a discussion of a future blog post.

        • DrewL

          faith: [feyth]
          Part of Speech: noun
          Definition: trust in something
          http://thesaurus.com/browse/faith

        • Bob Seidensticker

          That is indeed one definition. But is that what Christians mean when they use the word “faith”?

          If you’re speaking for the majority of Christians, what I’d appreciate is Christians dropping the f-word and simply using “trust.” If “belief firmly grounded in evidence” is what they mean and “trust” means that, great! Let’s just use “trust” and this confusion will go away.

  • DrewL

    I think you bring on the confusion by holding the concept of faith to be diametrically opposed to anything that could possibly be part of your belief system. I would guess your definition of faith is something like “holding beliefs that I don’t agree with.” This reminds me of how Marxists sometimes reason: I’ve got the facts, they’ve got ideology.

    What I’d appreciate is Christians dropping the f-word and simply using “trust.” If “belief firmly grounded in evidence” is what they mean and “trust” means that, great! Let’s just use “trust” and this confusion will go away.

    I can write you a browser script that does find-and-replace if that would help you. Would that make you stop demanding “scientific evidence” for “trust” beliefs other people hold while feeling no need to provide evidence for your own plethora of “trust beliefs”?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I would guess your definition of faith is something like “holding beliefs that I don’t agree with.”

      No.

      • DrewL

        Not going to answer my question eh? Looks like we’ll leave it there then.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I do my best to clarify my position, you misunderstand (or deliberately lampoon) my position, and then we repeat. Not fun.

          Yes, let’s leave it there.

  • Bob Calvan

    Hey DrewL could you give me an email? pcalvan@cox.net. Thank you!

  • joeclark77

    Science? You mean empirical science? How can you empirically test for non-empirical realities like metaphysics and morality? The answer is you can’t. Which is why the so-called “answers” you offer to the great questions all seem to start with “We have no evidence…”, i.e., you have no answer.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The scientific approach is simply to follow the evidence.

      Where do slugs go when they die? Is there an afterlife for slugs, or do they just … die?

      We have about the same evidence for slug afterlife that we do for human afterlife. I would never say that I know that there is no afterlife, but where does the evidence point? What’s the best hypothesis given the (admittedly incomplete) evidence that I have?

      • joeclark77

        Where’s the evidence that that question is an empirical one? A scientist is a philosopher first (obviously, many today are not classically trained, but that’s not an excuse) and a scientist who doesn’t understand the metaphysics underpinning his methodology isn’t going to be able to answer any serious question. Before you tell me what the empirical evidence is, tell me what kind of evidence one would look for to answer that question empirically.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          No, a scientist doesn’t need philosophical or metaphysical training to be a good scientist. Similarly, becoming a Christian (and realizing that God is the underpinnings for logic and mathematics and anything else fundamental in science) won’t help a scientist or mathematician do his work any better.

          Is the question, “Is there an afterlife?”? Evidence that would be nice would be (1) God telling us unambiguously and so that everyone can understand that there’s an afterlife or (2) someone dying and then coming back to report.

  • Arkenaten

    DrewL has a real problem, much like all those of a religious bent, and it’s this: anything as omnipotent as ‘God’ (capital for effect) should be self-evident and not need puny squishy life forms like us to explain in huge tomes of philosophy about ‘Him’.
    ‘Go on, show us a sign.” Life of Brian.

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