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Why Map of World Religions but not World Science?

Map of world religions

Everyone’s seen maps of world religions like this one, but why do you never see a Map of World Science?

Imagine such a map. Over here is where scientists believe in a geocentric solar system, and over there, a heliocentric one. This area is where they think that astrology can predict the future, and that area is where they reject the idea. The Intelligent Design guys reign in the crosshatched area, and evolution in the dark gray area.

Naturally, each of these different groups think of their opponents as heretics, and they have fought wars over their opposing beliefs. (To keep it manageable, I’ve shown on the map only the conflicts with more than 1000 deaths.)

Of course, the idea is nonsense. A new scientific theory isn’t culturally specific, and, if it passes muster, it peacefully sweeps the world. Astronomy replaced astrology, chemistry replaced alchemy, and the germ theory replaced evil spirits as a cause of disease. One scientist should get the same results from an experiment as another, regardless of their respective religions. Evolution or germ theory or relativity or the Big Bang are part of the consensus view among scientists, whether they are Christian, Muslim, atheist, or Other.

Sure, there can be some not-invented-here thinking—scientists have egos, too—but this only slows the inevitable. Contrast this with the idea that Shintoism will sweep across America over the next couple of decades and replace Christianity, simply because it’s a theory that explains the facts of reality better. It works that way in science, not religion.

Let’s go back to our map of world religions. Religions claim to give answers to the big questions—answers that science can’t give. Questions like: What is our purpose? Or, Where did we come from? Or, Is there anything else out there? Or, What is science grounded on?

But the map shows that the religious answer to that question depends on where you are! If you live in Tibet or Thailand, Buddhism teaches that we are here to learn to cease suffering and reach nirvana. If you live in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, Islam teaches that we are here to submit to Allah.

We ask the most profound questions of all, and the answers are location specific? What kind of truth depends on location?

For discovering reality, religion comes up short. Next time someone nods their head sagely and says, “Ah, but Christianity can answer the Big Questions,” remember how shallow that claim is.

The trouble with ignorance is that it picks up confidence as it goes along
— Arnold Glasow

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 8/31/11.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • DrewL

    A new scientific theory isn’t culturally specific, and, if it passes muster, it peacefully sweeps the world. Astronomy replaced astrology, chemistry replaced alchemy, and the germ theory replaced evil spirits as a cause of disease.

    Again, see Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Or Michael Polanyi. Your views of “science” seem to be outdated by about a century.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      I need something more precise than “This is all wrong.”

      • DrewL

        I’m just pointing out you may want to be more informed on this subject if you’re going to blog about it. Good rule of thumb.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Being accurately informed is a great rule of thumb. If I’m not, you’re welcome to point out specifically what is wrong and I’ll try to correct it.

  • DrewL

    You also have a larger problem here. Your argument seems to be:

    1. The truth obtained by science is recognized to be true everywhere.
    2. The truth obtained by religion varies by location.
    3. Truths that are recognized regardless of location can be trusted; truths that vary cannot.
    4. Therefore, science is a better source of truth than religion.

    1 is empirically false: you are in a bubble of Western thinkers who agree with the basic premises of of the scientific-rational worldview. Poll rural African tribes on the role of supernatural spirits involved in the weather or their health; heck, poll Alabama on evolution. Evolutionary theory is not subscribed to by a majority of Americans. Or consider the anti-vaccine movement in Western countries. Or beliefs about genetically-modified food worldwide.

    3 then becomes an even larger problem: it appears scientific knowledge does vary by location (premise 1 is false), which means 3 now undermines your belief in science and religion.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      1. The truth obtained by science is recognized to be true everywhere.

      Nope. I’m saying that scientists worldwide almost all accept the consensus view.

      it appears scientific knowledge does vary by location

      You do have agenda-driven examples where science is held back (Lysenkoism is, to me, the best modern example), but these are perturbations. Science in general is the same worldwide.

      • DrewL

        “Scientists worldwide almost all accept the consensus view” and “Science in general is the same worldwide.” Nice, you’ve qualified your original statements; I applaud you for that. You will admit that some “scientific” answers DO actually depend on location and culture (so you could make a map after all!), but you’ve now shifted the site of infallible, non-culturally-influenced scientific knowledge to only a subgroup of the population: people who are identified (self-identified?) as “scientists.” These are our noble bearers of truth who “almost all” accept a consensus, “in general.”

        That’s a fine concession. However, your recognition that the veracity of science is not itself threatened or delegitimized by variation in belief undermines the entire argument. Yes, you can move the goalposts and say “well subgroup X (in general) (most of the time) (under these political conditions) has a consensus, so we know it’s true!” but I could do the same with religion (Catholic bishops, regardless of location and culture, have a pretty strong consensus of things too!). You’re also ignoring the historical fallibility problem: scientists have frequently had consensus about beliefs that ended up not being true. America’s top scientists at all the Ivy League schools had a consensus on eugenics and biological determinism at the beginning of the 20th century: that didn’t make it true.

        In the end, you yourself don’t believe the “truth” of science is dependent upon or related to a particular threshold of acceptance, either among the general population or scientists. The truth of global warming and evolution will not be threatened by the beliefs of either the people or the scientists residing in the Bible belt. So it turns out you’ll hold onto germ theory and evolution despite geographic and cultural variation–this is a far cry from your original post. Therefore, you’re going to need another reason to dismiss religion.

        It’s okay to have prejudices against certain belief systems (we all do), but please, let’s try not to dress up our prejudices in bad arguments.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          That’s a fine concession.

          I missed the concession, but if you understand my point better, that’s a good thing.

          “well subgroup X (in general) (most of the time) (under these political conditions) has a consensus, so we know it’s true!”

          Who says, “We know it’s true”? Certainly not me. Certainly not science.

          Science is always provisional. Proof is confined to mathematics and logic.

          but I could do the same with religion (Catholic bishops, regardless of location and culture, have a pretty strong consensus of things too!).

          Nope; doesn’t work that way. “Evolution is the scientific consensus” gives the example of a consensus within science; what might be a consensus view about a truth within nature within theology across all religions? I don’t believe there is such an example.

          You’re also ignoring the historical fallibility problem: scientists have frequently had consensus about beliefs that ended up not being true.

          Quite so, but this is a different topic. We’re talking about consensus (science has many of them; theology has zero).

          The scientific consensus is the best provisional statement of a facet of nature that we have.

          America’s top scientists at all the Ivy League schools had a consensus on eugenics and biological determinism at the beginning of the 20th century: that didn’t make it true.

          For this conversation, no one cares about scientists’ views outside of science.

          The truth of global warming and evolution will not be threatened by the beliefs of either the people or the scientists residing in the Bible belt.

          Bible belt scientists pretty much accept the consensus view along with all the rest.

          The truth of AGW or evolution is what is it. The consensus is simply our best approximation of what that truth is. We laypeople have no option but to accept that consensus.

          So it turns out you’ll hold onto germ theory and evolution despite geographic and cultural variation

          What variation?

          this is a far cry from your original post.

          If I’m losing ground, that’s news to me.

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          The point is, you’re mixing apples and oranges. It’s bad statistics (which, last I checked, had some relation to science).

          The map is a demographic one showing majority religious belief systems within national boundaries. You then compare that to the dissemination of scientific knowledge. These are not at all the same category of thing. This is especially clear when you limit your claim to “I’m saying that scientists worldwide almost all accept the consensus view.” That is, you are comparing the question “Are there more Hindus than Muslims in India?” to “Do scientists worldwide generally share the same basic consensus?”

          A better comparison might be, “Are there more Hindus than Muslims in India?” to “Are there more chemists than physicists in India?” or maybe “Are there more engineers than economists in India?” or maybe “Are there more scientists than restaurant workers in India?” In other words, to compare counts of definable categories of people.

          Or, if you want to compare dissemination of knowledge, you might try asking, “Do Muslims have consensus on doctrine based on location?” and comparing to “Do particle physiscists have consensus on theoretical matters based on location?” Or you might ask, “Do Catholics worship in the same way based on location?” versus “Do chemists use the same lab equipment based on location?” These would also be comparing the same sort of thing: agreement, or practices.

          DrewL’s critique of your argument is basically sound.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Robert: Thanks for the comment.

          These are not at all the same category of thing.

          Agreed. If I understand what you’re saying, this is my point.

          you are comparing the question “Are there more Hindus than Muslims in India?” to “Do scientists worldwide generally share the same basic consensus?”

          I don’t think so. I’m comparing “What is the scientific consensus on X?” with “What is the religious consensus on Y?” They don’t have to be the same thing (science doesn’t spend a lot of time on how many gods there are, for example), but the point is that there is very little religious consensus on religious truth statements.

          DrewL’s critique of your argument is basically sound.

          I invite you to shore it up then. I didn’t find it convincing.

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          My point (and I think at least part of DrewL’s – but I’m not him, so I’ll leave him out of it from here on), is that the map is not presenting “the religious consensus on Y”. The map isn’t even trying to present that. It is simply presenting majority population adherance to a variety of religious belief systems clustered by national boundaries. This isn’t consensus; it’s demographics.

          This is especially true if, for science, you limit yourself to consensus among scientists. This map does not limit itself to consensus among clergy. It looks at adherance among the general population. It does not ask for explanations, or depth of understanding – much less consensus.

          It still looks to me like you’re comparing apples and oranges. You have an interesting argument about whether/why religion is so varied, but it has nothing to do with the map, and your argument about locality falls on its face because of it. We would need an entirely different kind of study to compare science and/or religion to locality in terms of consensus.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Robert:

          You’re concerned about something, but I’m afraid I’m still missing the error that you’ve found.

          the map is not presenting “the religious consensus on Y”. The map isn’t even trying to present that.

          The map that I chose was indeed created to show demographics. At the same time, it also (roughly) represents views on the afterlife, for example. It’s a good first step to polytheism vs. monotheism. And so on for other theological issues.

          This map does not limit itself to consensus among clergy. It looks at adherance among the general population.

          Is there not a strong connection between what the clergy consensus in a region is and what the public religious consensus is?

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          Clearly, I’m not communicating my point well enough. Let’s try again:

          The map shows different religions in a sort of first-past-the-post distribution within national borders. So, take India: you might get 40% Hindu, 35% Muslim, 20% Buddhist, 5% Christian (numbers made up for the sake of argument), but the whole country is colored for Hindu because they have the most. This says only that more people identify as Hindu than any other religious group. It is based on a sample of the entire population of India, without regard for education, status within religion (e.g., clergy, theologian, layperson, dissenter, etc.), or degree of involvement with/practice of religion.

          It says absolutely nothing about whether there is any consensus on any issues other than what religion a person claims to belong to.

          If you wanted to see whether there was consensus among religious people, and have it comparable to whether there was consensus among scientists, you would have to find a class of religious people who are equally educated and active in their religious traditions as scientists are in science. You would also have to define particular issues about which there could be consensus or lack of consensus. For example, among religious you could ask whether there is agreement that there is more to this world than our physical senses can detect (I would expect broad consensus across the globe) or whether the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path is the way to enlightenment (I would expect few to agree outside of Buddhism). Or, among scientists, you could ask whether the experimental method is the foundation of scientific knowledge (again, broad consensus expected) or whether the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics is the correct one (I’d expect a great deal of disagreement among particle physicists and confusion from biologists, chemists, etc.).

          Now, the mere fact that there are many religions and only one scientific method is interesting to point out. But the map is hardly necessary to make this point. Nor does it make any of the points you are trying to make, beyond noting that there are many religions.

          Moreover, the map says nothing whatsoever about science. If you sampled the entire global population, you might find a great deal of diversity about the degree to which people adhered to “science.” It might even be distributed geographically, as religions are – or it might not; I don’t know. We don’t have that data in front of us.

          My point is, the conclusion you draw from the map, that there is no consensus among religions, is not supported by the map. (Consensus about what? is the very first question here.) The comparison to an assumed consensus among scientists is to compare A) a weakly supported (if we’re generous) conclusion to an assumed one, and B) a general population to a specialized one. In other words, it’s a comparison that doesn’t really compare comparable objects, and is incapable of yielding any valid conclusions.

          The question of consensus is an interesting one, and worth exploring. But this comparison is a problematic (at best) way to approach the question.

          I’m not sure how to make my point clearer. If you still think the comparison is a valid one, could you explain what is comparable, and what the basis of comparison is?

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          One direct response. You ask:

          Is there not a strong connection between what the clergy consensus in a region is and what the public religious consensus is?

          I would guess that there is about the same connection as that between what the consensus among scientists is and the public consensus about the same issue.

          In other words, the general public has not clue one about what most physicists agree and disagree on; most of them get by having forgotten even the Newtonian physics they learned in high school, and considering what they see on TV and in movies to be plausible, and maybe picking up some spiritualist murmurings about quantum mechanics working some kind of magic.

          Well, sadly, most religions are in no better shape. A poll of the general public is not indicative of consensus (or lack thereof) in religion any more or less than in science.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Robert:

          I would guess that there is about the same connection as that between what the consensus among scientists is and the public consensus about the same issue.

          You could be right.

          The consensus within the public isn’t the point. All I’m talking about is the consensus within two groups of experts: scientists and theologians.

          The form can make a consensus; the latter can’t. That’s the point.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Robert:

          take India: you might get 40% Hindu, 35% Muslim, 20% Buddhist, 5% Christian (numbers made up for the sake of argument), but the whole country is colored for Hindu because they have the most.

          If the country has an obvious majority, they color it one color, but in your example they would cross-hatch it to show that two religions share the majority.

          If you wanted to see whether there was consensus among religious people, and have it comparable to whether there was consensus among scientists, you would have to find a class of religious people who are equally educated and active in their religious traditions as scientists are in science.

          You mean like scientists vs. theologians? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.

          Scientists can create a worldwide consensus; theologians can’t.

          Nor does it make any of the points you are trying to make, beyond noting that there are many religions.

          The point I’m making is that the “truth” about the Big Questions, to which religion claims to be the sole arbiter, depends on location.

          The most important truth of all, and it varies depending on location? What kind of “truth” is that? Obviously, not much of a truth at all.

          If you sampled the entire global population, you might find a great deal of diversity about the degree to which people adhered to “science.”

          I’m not interested in lay people, just scientists.

          the conclusion you draw from the map, that there is no consensus among religions, is not supported by the map. (Consensus about what? is the very first question here.)

          Consensus about whatever your religion finds interesting.

          Take a Christianity creed–the Apostle’s Creed, for example. This is a succinct statement of what some Christians claim is true about the supernatural world. Do other theologians agree with much of this? Would a similarly succinct statement from Sikhism or Hinduism or Shintoism look the same? I’m sure not.

        • http://www.virtue-quest.com/ Robert King

          I’m not sure what we’re arguing about, then. I think we both agree that the map doesn’t represent theologians; it represents the general population. Therefore, it doesn’t compare the categories you (and I) are interested in comparing.

          Your point:

          The point I’m making is that the “truth” about the Big Questions, to which religion claims to be the sole arbiter, depends on location.

          is not supported by this map. It may be supported by lots of other kinds of evidence, but this map is not one of them. That is my entire point.

          Now, if we looked at consensus among religious experts, it seems very likely to me that we would find a strong association with locality. But that would be a different study.

          Here is a separate point: Given the fact that many (not all) religions have a strong association with place, this raises the interesting questions that you raise: why are religions distributed locally, while scientific consensus is distributed uniformly across the globe?

          Other questions might be raised at that point, about what kind of consensus we’re looking for, and what local vs. uniform distribution implies.

          One might even bring in other fields of study apart from empirical science. History, for example, or philosophy, or even literature or music. It would not surprise me to see historical consensus vary from location to location, and there are good reasons we can speak of “Anglo-American” or “Continental” or “Eastern” philosophies. And yet, no one argues that these approaches to knowledge are wrong or negligible simply because they are locally distributed.

          However, we can say that they approach knowledge in a different way than empirical science. Perhaps they seek a different kind of knowledge altogether. Perhaps they approach truths that are not susceptible to experimentation, or to sensory observation, that are nonetheless truths about the real world.

          Is this a possibility?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Robert:

          I’m not sure what we’re arguing about, then. I think we both agree that the map doesn’t represent theologians; it represents the general population.

          Is that what this is all about? That this is about population, not theologians?

          Technically, that’s right. Actually, that’s wrong. The population of a region and the theologians there track pretty well. If a region is 95% religion X, you can bet that the fraction of theologians of religion X will also be pretty close to 100%.

          Your point … is not supported by this map.

          I can’t imagine why. It seems like you’re splitting hairs (“This map is about individuals, not theologians“). If you’re simply trying to refine the words I use, that’s fine. But if I’m way off base, I’ve seen no evidence of that.

          It really seems that my point is clearly made in the post. If it’s ambiguous or sloppy or simply off target, I’m not seeing it.

  • DrewL

    Science is now “provisional,” you affirmed it is historically fallible, and it’s merely our “best approximation of what the truth is.” You admitted in an earlier comment that it can be “held back” at times. Kuhn’s empirical study shows it can actually be held back quite significantly and quite intentionally by its practitioners, and I’ll assume you concede to his work (you said we “have no option but to accept [scholarly] consensus” after all, and Kuhn’s thesis meets that criteria in the philosophy of science).

    So you’re edging out of the Enlightenment-era “Myth of Progress” where you began (scientific determinism: scientific truth always inevitably spreads across the earth!) to a more contemporary, respectable view of science: fallible, provisional, located within a particular social context of practitioners (vs. canvases the entire world population!), and even subject to cultural and political forces (if you submit to the “scholarly consensus” of philosophy of science.)

    If you’ve come that far, I’m pretty happy. If you insist you were always arguing that, you should think about clarifying some things in your original post to make that clear.

    Of course, the problem that remains is: you’ve set out a nicely qualified notion for the criteria of scientific knowledge. That’s great, but that doesn’t work for most things you believe. You believe in human rights, gender equality, a particular parenting style, etc. You don’t have a universal consensus on those: your beliefs would get smoked in a worldwide vote, yet you believe them. So to answer your scare question “What kind of truth depends on location?” Quite a few things, it appears. Your real argument becomes: if I believe so many other things that DON’T meet my criteria for scientific knowledge, why would I demand religion to do so?

    Would love to see a follow-up post on that.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Drew:

      scientific truth always inevitably spreads across the earth

      No, not inevitably, but pretty much (within the scientific community).

      … fallible, provisional

      Agreed

      … located within a particular social context of practitioners (vs. canvases the entire world population!)

      “a particular social context of practitioners”? You mean “scientists”?

      I’m only talking about (and have only been talking about) the consensus within scientists. That was clear within the original post, I think.

      You believe in human rights, gender equality, a particular parenting style, etc. You don’t have a universal consensus on those: your beliefs would get smoked in a worldwide vote, yet you believe them.

      That’s an interesting point, so let’s explore that. There actually aren’t just the two categories that I gave in this post—(1) scientific consensus and (2) religious opinion—but there is also (3) personal moral opinion.

      About this third category, you ask, “if I believe so many other things that DON’T meet my criteria for scientific knowledge, why would I demand religion to do so?” My answer is that religion (perhaps there are exceptions) claims that it is more than simply moral opinion, and so we must evaluate it with a higher standard. My own opinion on right and wrong is simply my opinion. I have no evidence that it is built on some sort of absolute standard and so I don’t make that claim. But religion does make that claim, so it must be held to a far more rigorous standard. That it fails is the point of the post.

      • DrewL

        It seems there’s some unsettled tensions if the consensus of scientists is both provisional, fallible, limited to scientific practitioners, and influenced by cultural and political forces, and yet “we laypeople have no option but to accept the consensus.” Stanley Fish examines this “blind trust” mandate that you’re imposing and points out the prejudices and assumptions often not seen by people who are preaching scientism. I don’t really have anything to add beyond his argument.
        http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/citing-chapter-and-verse-which-scripture-is-the-right-one/

        Your moral relativism (morals as personal opinion) has well-recognized problems by philosophers and social scientists alike; I won’t go through those here. But I did scroll through some of your previous posts, and I have some bad news: you are not a moral relativist. From a June 11th post, you’re quite certain “Slavery is a bad thing.” You’ll need to say “In my personal moral opinion, slavery is a bad thing.” Then your righteous indignation at Christianity, Scripture, and God himself becomes unfounded. You have your personal opinions, Christianity has theirs, it’s basically the same as liking one ice cream flavor over another. Even if you just want Christianity to avoid self-deception about its history, who is to say self-deception or affirming falsehoods is a bad thing (beyond your own personal opinion, of course)? There’s no objective or absolute standard by which we can judge all these personal opinions, so why not just live and let live?

        It appears, again, you have beliefs that depend on “location,” whether cultural, geographical, or historical, that you’re still holding to be objectively true, despite their failure to meet scientific criteria. It’s okay: scientism has been thoroughly dismissed by probably every living philosopher, you’re in good company here. But it also reduces your objection to religion to some rather non-scientific a prior prejudices…seems like you could save time and just start there.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          It seems there’s some unsettled tensions if the consensus of scientists is both provisional, fallible, limited to scientific practitioners, and influenced by cultural and political forces, and yet “we laypeople have no option but to accept the consensus.”

          Yep, that’s how I see it.

          Stanley Fish examines this “blind trust” mandate

          Thanks for the link. Let me read it and get back to you.

          Your moral relativism (morals as personal opinion) has well-recognized problems by philosophers and social scientists alike; I won’t go through those here.

          Most Christians define “moral relativism” as someone who says, “I have my truth and you have yours, and I have no right to judge your truth.” That’s not me, so I’m not that kind of moral relativist.

          I have some bad news: you are not a moral relativist.

          No, not bad news, just news. (And it’s not news to me.)

          You’ll need to say “In my personal moral opinion, slavery is a bad thing.”

          I figured that that qualifier was obvious, but you are right that this is just my opinion. I could qualify every statement I make, but the necessary qualifiers are usually clear from the context (though, of course, conversations do occasionally run aground when presuppositions are misunderstood).

          You have your personal opinions, Christianity has theirs, it’s basically the same as liking one ice cream flavor over another.

          From an absolute standpoint, or even perhaps from an outsider’s standpoint, that’s right. And yet from my standpoint, my opinion obviously is always right (in a symmetric way, I’m sure you think that your opinions are right). So it’s not at all like ice cream from my standpoint when we’re talking about right and wrong.

          There’s no objective or absolute standard by which we can judge all these personal opinions

          There’s no absolute standard, but there is mine. You’re probably not surprised that I take it very, very seriously. Moral breaches (again, from my standpoint) may be serious enough for me to take action (step in physically, write a blog post, fume silently, or whatever).

          It appears, again, you have beliefs that depend on “location,” whether cultural, geographical, or historical…

          Yes, these moral beliefs are just my own beliefs.

          … that you’re still holding to be objectively true

          I can’t imagine where you got this notion, but let me correct you: I don’t claim to be able to access objectively true beliefs or moral truths. I’ve never seen anyone give anything more than paltry, pathetic support for the idea—nothing more than, “Well, we all know that some things are just wrong, don’t we?”

          If you have strong support for the idea that objective moral truths exists and that we can reliably access them, I’d like to see it. I’m always disappointed when the topic comes up in Christian podcasts or lectures.

          it also reduces your objection to religion to some rather non-scientific a prior prejudices

          We could dismiss my objections as “prejudices,” but when I build on opinions and instincts more-or-less universally held by all people (science is a reliable path to knowledge about reality, and so on), I think your denigration is extreme.

        • DrewL

          There’s no absolute standard, but there is mine. You’re probably not surprised that I take it very, very seriously. Moral breaches (again, from my standpoint) may be serious enough for me to take action (step in physically, write a blog post, fume silently, or whatever).

          Let me try to spell this out in argument form.
          1. You have moral standards.
          2. Because they are YOUR moral standards, they are superior to all other moral standards.

          If this is true for you, it’s also true for other possessors of moral standards, such as God, Scripture, Christianity, etc. If you’re affirming radical subjectivity, then affirm it, but it becomes incredibly irrational for you to protest anyone else’s moral standards. After all, you’ve already affirmed that, for them, their moral standards are superior to everyone else’s, including yours. So you affirmed both your own anti-slavery but also the hypothetical slaveowner’s pro-slavery as equally valid.

          Your argument against someone else’s moral standards then becomes: you should abandon your own superior moral standards for inferior moral standards. How persuasive.

          You’re essentially handing out provisional individual infallibility to every moral agent (or perhaps to just yourself?) that is itself a contradiction. You’re a man of both great faith and absurd contradictions.

          Eventually you’ll come down from this nonsense and realize your own language betrays a belief in criteria for moral truth outside your own subjectivity. Otherwise it’s probably time to delete your insanely irrational anti-slavery rants.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Let me try to talk you down from the ledge. Where you think my position is insane, you probably have misunderstood something.

          1. You have moral standards.
          2. Because they are YOUR moral standards, they are superior to all other moral standards.

          … from my standpoint.

          If this is true for you, it’s also true for other possessors of moral standards, such as God, Scripture, Christianity, etc.

          Obviously. If someone thought that their belief was wrong and someone else’s was right, they’d switch views on the spot and (once again) their views would be, in their mind, 100% correct.

          it becomes incredibly irrational for you to protest anyone else’s moral standards.

          Why? Isn’t this what everyone else does?

          I’m missing the irrationality. I have moral views, and if anyone violates them, I think they’re wrong. Seriously—does anyone do it any other way?

          you’ve already affirmed that, for them, their moral standards are superior to everyone else’s, including yours.

          Correct. And where they differ from mine, I think they’re wrong.

          So you affirmed both your own anti-slavery but also the hypothetical slaveowner’s pro-slavery as equally valid.

          I can’t imagine what I could’ve said to provoke this sentence and don’t know how to begin to respond to this erroneous statement.

          You’ve stumped me! I wish there were a prize.

          Your argument against someone else’s moral standards then becomes: you should abandon your own superior moral standards for inferior moral standards. How persuasive.

          It’s almost like you’ve never seen two people argue or discuss an issue. Or you don’t know how laws are made.

          Two people discuss things, and sometimes one person changes their mind. If we differ on a moral issue, I can try to convince you of the rightness of my position (and you’ll surely do the same). Maybe one of us will succeed; maybe not.

          You’re essentially handing out provisional individual infallibility to every moral agent

          Where did infallibility come from? I’m talking about moral opinion.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          Re the Stanley Fish post that you referred me to: this seems to be the relevant passage:

          If you hold to the general skepticism that informs scientific inquiry — that is, if you refuse either to anoint a viewpoint in advance because it is widely held or to send viewpoints away because they are regarded as fanciful or preposterous …

          Assuming we’re talking about issues for which there is a scientific consensus (evolution, AGW, etc.), this isn’t me. I don’t pretend to be a scientist, so me pretending that I can select the correct scientific conclusion is ridiculous. I accept the scientific consensus wherever it exists.

          Fish continues by equating the validity of the presumptions of liberals and the presumptions of the religious—each set is biased and unreliable. Or at least that’s what it sounded like to me.

          My response: science and evidence-following have proven themselves.

  • avalon

    Hi Bob,
    You’ve clearly gotten ahead of yourself with this post. The main difference between religious truth and scientific truth isn’t the answers or the consensus, it’s the METHOD of obtaining the correct answer.
    Scientists share a consensus view because they share a common method of finding answers: the scientific method. Science’s mistakes in the past have been brought to light because of this method, which wasn’t followed in the past. Compare this method of truth discovery with the religious method of discovering ‘truth’: intuition and revelation.
    It’s easy to see why the religious method has no consensus.
    The quotes below illustrate the difference very well:

    “We know that reason is the Devil’s harlot, and can do nothing but slander and harm all that God says and does…Therefore keep to revelation and do not try to understand” Martin Luther

    “I find every sect, as far as reason will help them, makes use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, ‘It is a matter of faith and above reason’” Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      The main difference between religious truth and scientific truth isn’t the answers or the consensus, it’s the METHOD of obtaining the correct answer.

      The methods are different, I agree, but we can also evaluate the results. That was my focus here, and that’s where we see an important difference.

      Science’s mistakes in the past have been brought to light because of this method, which wasn’t followed in the past.

      You can still follow the method correctly and still come up with an incorrect theory—our knowledge is always limited. But I’ll agree with you that the scientific method is then crucial in uncovering those errors.

      It’s easy to see why the religious method has no consensus.

      Agreed. Intuition and imagined revelation aren’t particularly reliable ways of finding the truth. I’m not trying to shoehorn religion into science (I don’t think), but religion’s approach is simply not up to the task.

      Nice quotes. Luther comes out the loser in this particular exchange, I think.

      • avalon

        Hi Bob,
        “The methods are different, I agree, but we can also evaluate the results. That was my focus here, and that’s where we see an important difference.”

        The desired result of science is to find the truth, even if you must abandon your original hypothesis.
        The desired result of religion seems to be to maintain faith. This means never abandoning the hypothesis. So I’m not sure what comparisons could be made on the results.

        “You can still follow the method correctly and still come up with an incorrect theory”
        If you still have a theory then you haven’t completed the SM which includes repeated experiments and independent confirmation.

        “I’m not trying to shoehorn religion into science (I don’t think),”
        You have two different areas that use different methods of discovery and have different goals. Given those differences it seems odd to expect any similar result.
        When it comes to religion it might be better to compare it to falling in love. The methods and desired results are similar.

        avalon

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’m not sure what comparisons could be made on the results.

          Science delivers reliable results; religion doesn’t.

          If you still have a theory then you haven’t completed the SM which includes repeated experiments and independent confirmation.

          I’m not sure I’m understanding your point. Every theory is provisional, even the ones accepted by today’s scientific consensus. It’s not like a theory is provisional, and then it graduates to something better and more reliable. Just because a theory is overturned doesn’t mean that some mistake was made by those who accepted it.

          You have two different areas that use different methods of discovery and have different goals. Given those differences it seems odd to expect any similar result.

          I can accept that. That’s why I marvel that theists imagine that religion will actually deliver new knowledge about how reality works (prayers get answered, for example).

          If the purpose of religion is just to feel good or provide groundless answers to unanswerable riddles, that’s fine, but let’s make sure everyone sees it that way.

  • avalon

    Hi Bob,
    “Science delivers reliable results; religion doesn’t.”
    Again, different goals. “Reliable” for science is to find facts and truth. “Reliable” for religion is to maintain the love-affair with certain religious ideas (inspired, holy texts; supernatural beings, miracles etc.). In that sense, religion delivers reliable results because theists will jump thru hoops to re-interpret those sacred texts in order to find reasons to believe.

    “I’m not sure I’m understanding your point. Every theory is provisional, even the ones accepted by today’s scientific consensus. It’s not like a theory is provisional, and then it graduates to something better and more reliable.”
    A theory like evolution would be provisional because it can’t be demonstrated by experiment.
    But when science says the earth orbits the sun (and not visa-versa) it’s more than just theory, it’s proven fact.
    There are facts which can be better understood by further experiments. Like gravity, a force proven by early experiments. But understood better as a bending of space (at first a theory, then proven by experiment).

    “If the purpose of religion is just to feel good or provide groundless answers to unanswerable riddles, that’s fine, but let’s make sure everyone sees it that way.”
    Exactly right! Science can start with an intuition and then it uses evidence to support or overturn that intuition. The benzene ring was an intuition proved true. The ether was an intuition proved false. But religion starts with an intuition that must always end up being true so theists will continue to find new reasons to believe.
    You were talking about OMV earlier and how we could indentify them. William Lane Craig tries to avoid any discussion of the method we might know them but I did find one quote on his website where he discussed this. I think it’s very enlightening:
    “This is not a question of the existence of objective moral values, but a question of the knowledge of them. And I don’t have any special insight on that – about how one knows them. I think that, in many cases, we would simply say that we intuit morally the intrinsic worth and dignity of human beings, and that therefore anything that would tend to depreciate the value of human beings or contravene their rights would be immoral. In other cases, we may need to find revelation from God of what His moral will is for us in certain circumstances. So I would say you would do the project based both on these sorts of moral intuition and then on divine revelation.”
    and this:
    “So I would say that we have fundamental moral intuitions. In fact, the Bible says that God has planted these on the heart of every human person so that we intuitively recognize objective moral values. ”

    So while you and Craig might agree that we humans have moral intuitions, where to go with that differs greatly. You might look to biology, evolution, DNA, etc. in an effort to find the truth. but Craig sees this as ‘proof’ of a supernatural being and the validity of an ancient text as inspired. That’s because he’s in love with those ideas and you’re indifferent to them.
    Religion is a love-affair, not a rational exploration of truth. Look at it this way, I love my wife. I could give you reasons why I do, but that won’t explain everything about that love. And no matter what reasons I give, it’d be unreasonable to expect you to feel the same way I do. That’s what belief is for theists, and because they think it’s supposed to be universal they can’t understand why you don’t love it too. The reasons they give are always secondary to (and in support of) the feeling. Compare the evolution of a love relationship between spouses and the evolution of born-again christians. Born-agains start out all hot-to-trot and passionate then cool off with time, eventually falling into a comfortable routine. Some, like Ehrman, fall out of love completely and get ‘divorced’.
    Think about it….

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      avalon:

      But when science says the earth orbits the sun (and not visa-versa) it’s more than just theory, it’s proven fact.

      A theory is a well-evidence scientific explanation. Yes, that the earth orbits the sun is a fact. Theories never graduate to facts; theories are built on facts. Evolution is a theory, just like germ theory or quantum theory. Each of these three is the consensus, each is over a century old, and each is very well evidenced. None of them will graduate to anything else; they’re each at the pinnacle of scientific credibility.

      Like gravity, a force proven by early experiments.

      The law of gravity is an equation. It says absolutely nothing about why or how; that explanation is where a theory comes in. The law of gravity is very mature (though Einstein’s discoveries amended Newton’s), but the theory of gravity is still in flux.

      You were talking about OMV earlier and how we could indentify them.

      Apologists often argue that objective moral values exist but ignore the all-important question of whether we humans can reliable access these values. Arguing about values that exist but are inaccessible is as useless as arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and I have no interest in that conversation.

      WLC: “in many cases, we would simply say that we intuit morally the intrinsic worth and dignity of human beings, and that therefore anything that would tend to depreciate the value of human beings or contravene their rights would be immoral.”

      So now he’s being fuzzy about how we can access them. These “objective” moral values are useless, and he’s given us zero reason to imagine that they exist.

      but Craig sees this as ‘proof’ of a supernatural being and the validity of an ancient text as inspired.

      Yes. But without evidence.

      Religion is a love-affair, not a rational exploration of truth.

      Good analogy.

      Now: how do we talk them out of it? Or is that a fool’s errand?

  • DrewL

    I’m missing the irrationality. I have moral views, and if anyone violates them, I think they’re wrong. Seriously—does anyone do it any other way?

    you’ve already affirmed that, for them, their moral standards are superior to everyone else’s, including yours.

    Correct. And where they differ from mine, I think they’re wrong.

    You’re not getting it: you may think my views are “wrong,” but by your view of morality, they actually can’t be wrong. Why not? Because I HOLD THEM. And that ALONE is sufficient to make them right for me. Just like yours are for you. (“And yet from my standpoint, my opinion obviously is always right–in a symmetric way, I’m sure you think that your opinions are right”). So why argue? Why do you think they’re “wrong” when rightness and wrongness are subjectivity-dependent?

    You yourself detect the absurdity here: notice how you’re abandoning rational justification for arguing morality, and instead retreating to convention. “I have moral views, and if anyone violates them, I think they’re wrong. Seriously—does anyone do it any other way?” Again, if the only necessary property for “right” moral views is what you’ve argued–someone holds them, therefore they are right for that person–you shouldn’t think they are wrong (see quote above, they’re right for me!) and you definitely shouldn’t be arguing for the rightness of your own (those are wrong for me!). The problem is that there’s no criteria in this system for you to judge moral views, and beyond that, you’ve already granted all moral agents an unprovisional subjective rightness!

    This actually leads to a Nietzschean problem: when our moral views differ, you have recognized you quite naturally are compelled to argue mine are wrong, but you don’t have any criteria to appeal to, and you’ve already recognized I’m inherently as right as you are, regardless of the content. So why the arguing? This really turns into merely an exercise in power, of imposing your personal preference on me and suppressing my own, not because yours is necessarily objectively superior (that’s ruled out), but solely because yours belong to you. This is an incredible sense of entitlement and power: shaping my moral views become a means to your ends of power.

    You’re doing incredible mental gymnastics here (and at times appealing to conventions when you can’t find justifications) all to desperately deny that you actually subscribe to your anti-slavery views pretty darn seriously, and in fact more seriously than you do to mere personal opinion. You sense that, beyond just recognizing moral view variance, there is something deeply unsettling about a Christian tradition that legitimizes slavery, something that infuriates you and is worth writing 3 blog posts about.

    At some point you will recognize you take some knowledge very seriously, more seriously than merely your own personal opinion, and yet it does not meet the criteria you demand for scientific knowledge (particularly universality). At that point, we can again recognize you reject religion solely because of nonscientific nonverifiable prejudices against it, not because of any failure to meet particular criteria.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      And that ALONE is sufficient to make them right for me. Just like yours are for you.

      You’re not getting it. From my standpoint, my moral opinion trumps yours (and anyone else’s) where there is conflict.

      So why argue? Why do you think they’re “wrong” when rightness and wrongness are subjectivity-dependent?

      Why is this hard? On moral issues, I think my opinion is right where there is a difference of opinion (just like everyone else, I’m sure).

      notice how you’re abandoning rational justification for arguing morality, and instead retreating to convention.

      Sorry–I’ve missed any retrenchment on my part. Is that what you’re saying?

      Again, if the only necessary property for “right” moral views is what you’ve argued–someone holds them, therefore they are right for that person–you shouldn’t think they are wrong

      Wow–I’m really getting tired repeating myself. Am I just not being clear? Are you trying to shoehorn my position into a box that doesn’t fit? I don’t know what the problem is.

      Where I differ with someone else on a moral issue, I think they’re wrong. I’m pretty much the expert on my view of morality, so let’s let that be the final word.

      The problem is that there’s no criteria in this system for you to judge moral views, and beyond that, you’ve already granted all moral agents an unprovisional subjective rightness!

      Yeah, where’s the problem? On moral issues, everyone (obviously) thinks they’re right. If they thought they were wrong, they’d immediately switch to the superior position and (again) think that they were right.

      Where there’s a clash of moral opinions, there is no equality of opinions (“You have your truth and I have mine, and I have no right to object to yours”); I think that mine is right. Always. Just like pretty much everyone else on the planet. And in those situations where this isn’t an academic issue but actual harm needs to be stopped, I will indeed take that action (to the limits of my own courage).

      when our moral views differ, you have recognized you quite naturally are compelled to argue mine are wrong…

      Yes

      … but you don’t have any criteria to appeal to

      I appeal to my own moral instinct. And that trumps your opinion, in my mind, every time. Sorry.

      You got something better? An appeal to objective moral values perhaps? Show me.

      … and you’ve already recognized I’m inherently as right as you are

      No: I’m no more right than you are from an absolute standpoint … which is pretty much irrelevant until we have access to an absolute moral anything.

      This really turns into merely an exercise in power, of imposing your personal preference on me and suppressing my own, not because yours is necessarily objectively superior (that’s ruled out), but solely because yours belong to you.

      I’m assuming you’ve never had an earnest conversation with a friend where one of you has changed his mind at the end? Happens to me fairly regularly.

      • DrewL

        Now we’re getting somewhere:
        Where there’s a clash of moral opinions, there is no equality of opinions (“You have your truth and I have mine, and I have no right to object to yours”); I think that mine is right. Always. Just like pretty much everyone else on the planet. And in those situations where this isn’t an academic issue but actual harm needs to be stopped, I will indeed take that action (to the limits of my own courage). …I appeal to my own moral instinct. And that trumps your opinion, in my mind, every time. Sorry.

        No need to apologize. I now see that you’re a moral intuitionist, somewhat similar to Hume. (I wasn’t shoehorning before, just probing, but now I’m going to shoehorn a bit).

        This concludes the argument. If you will place the veracity of moral claims within your own moral instinct, and find this instinct up to the task of anchoring a sufficient certainty (though with concessions noted earlier) so as to “take action” at times, you’ve introduced a new way to “know” something. Moral instincts will not conform to the rigorous scientific standards of knowledge, as we saw earlier. Yet you’ve also developed your initial statement about morality (“My own opinion on right and wrong is simply my opinion.”) to also recognize your opinion is superior to everyone else’s (see above quote), and not because of any rational argument (or at least you haven’t attempted to provide one), but simply because your moral instinct is your moral instinct. In a sense moral instincts are self-authenticating.

        Like you recognized earlier, your moral instinct is doing more than choosing an ice cream flavor; it is leading you to substantial conclusions that you would be ready to argue for and act upon, perhaps at great personal cost. and sacrifice. It’s also leading you to substantial conclusions that are inherently better than alternative conclusions that others hold on these issues (“there is no equality of opinion”–very nice point). Unlike science, variation is no threat, and consensus is not a requirement.

        What you’ve actually done is carved out a space for religious belief, should you overcome your unscientific prejudices against it. As we’ve seen, this is not a site for flimsy, whimsical half-ass beliefs; this is a place where you root deeply-held intuitions about things; other people just happen to root deeply-held religious intuitions here. I know you’ll probably argue here: no, the moral instinct is still subjective, religion concerns the objective. However,

        a) All knowledge has a subjective aspect of it in our cognitive relationship to it, religion included.
        b) The subjectivity of moral instincts does not seem to undermine in any way the seriousness and sincerity with which you hold your moral intuitions. Again, you’re ready to argue/fight for these “subjective” beliefs.
        c) You’re not a subjective relativist: your subjective moral views are better than anyone else’s. And they’re not threatened by variance, nor do you require consensus. There is no reason why this couldn’t apply to religion too. Interestingly, this means a map of moral views worldwide and a map of religious views worldwide should have about the same effect on your instinctive knowledge: diddly-squat.

        Terry Eagleton (an atheist Marxist) says everyone is a fundamentalist in some sense because we all harbor certain fundamental commitments, even within a culture that is squeamish toward metaphysics. You recognize your fundamental commitments to a fallible body of scientific knowledge, and you also recognize your fundamental commitments to a fallible intuition or instinct about non-scientific knowledge. The first at least partially authenticates itself through widespread consensus among certain knowledge practitioners. The second does not. In the end, you’ve lost your rational grounds for dismissing religion as somehow not living up to particular criteria for knowledge, as you implied in the original post. And so we land solely at your unscientific prejudices. Don’t worry, I have those too, we all do.

        I’m going to leave it there unless you want reading recommendations on Hume or moral philosophy, in which case I’d be glad to comply. Otherwise, cheers.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I now see that you’re a moral intuitionist, somewhat similar to Hume.

          Labels haven’t helped us so far in this discussion, so I’d avoid them …

          You recognize your fundamental commitments to a fallible body of scientific knowledge, and you also recognize your fundamental commitments to a fallible intuition or instinct about non-scientific knowledge. The first at least partially authenticates itself through widespread consensus among certain knowledge practitioners.

          The first very thoroughly authenticates itself by its results. “I trust science” isn’t some vague hope or tenuous belief. The last 200 years of modern science have shown that science delivers the goods.

          you’ve lost your rational grounds for dismissing religion as somehow not living up to particular criteria for knowledge, as you implied in the original post. And so we land solely at your unscientific prejudices.

          If your point is that religion doesn’t pretend to compete in the domain of reason alongside science, that’s fine. But the Christian apologists that I read would insist that the “truths” that religion gives are every bit as valid (and, in many cases, every bit as testable) as those from science.

          BTW, do you think there is objective moral truth? Is this moral truth reliably accessible by we humans?

  • avalon

    The objectivity ascribed to judgements which arise from our unconscience as intuitive knowledge comes from the similarity of the mental constitution of men.

    Our moral consciousness is part of our subconscience, which we cannot change as we please. We approve or disapprove because we cannot do otherwise.

    Owing to their exceptional importance for human welfare, the facts of the moral consciousness are emphasized in much higher degree than would be ordinary subjective facts.

    As clearness and distinctness of the conception of an object easily produces the belief in it’s truth, so the intensity of a moral emotion makes him who feels it disposed to objectivise the moral estimate to which it gives rise, in other words, to assign to it universal validity.

    There are different degrees of badness and goodness, a duty may be more or less stringent, and merit may be smaller or greater. These quantitative differences are due to the emotional origin of basic moral concepts.

    Edward Westermarck 1906

  • avalon

    “If you will place the veracity of moral claims within your own moral instinct, and find this instinct up to the task of anchoring a sufficient certainty (though with concessions noted earlier) so as to “take action” at times, you’ve introduced a new way to “know” something. Moral instincts will not conform to the rigorous scientific standards of knowledge, as we saw earlier.”

    Moral instincts will not conform to the rigorous scientific standards of knowledge because instincts are subconscious, emotional reactions and science is conscious, rational decision.

    “Like you recognized earlier, your moral instinct is doing more than choosing an ice cream flavor; it is leading you to substantial conclusions that you would be ready to argue for and act upon, perhaps at great personal cost. and sacrifice. It’s also leading you to substantial conclusions that are inherently better than alternative conclusions that others hold on these issues (“there is no equality of opinion”–very nice point). Unlike science, variation is no threat, and consensus is not a requirement.”

    It should not be surprising that involuntary emotional responses would vary from rational facts.

    “What you’ve actually done is carved out a space for religious belief, should you overcome your unscientific prejudices against it. As we’ve seen, this is not a site for flimsy, whimsical half-ass beliefs; this is a place where you root deeply-held intuitions about things”

    Yes, religious belief is subconscious and emotional just like moral instincts. So all those ‘reasons to believe’ books are red herrings. Theists believe because of emotional feelings, not rational reasoning.
    Why a map of religion but not of science? Because religion is based on subconscious emotion and science is based on conscious rationality. Justifying religious emotion with scientific reasons is just as just as convoluted as trying to justify scientific theory because it feels right. Cold hard facts and emotional responses are very different areas of study.

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Theists believe because of emotional feelings, not rational reasoning.

      And theists marshal their substantial intellectual resources to defend beliefs that they didn’t arrive at through intellectual avenues. They say, “Of course I have good reasons for my faith. I believe because of intellectual reasons A, B, and C” when the truth is that they believe because of emotional reasons X, Y, and Z.

      • avalon

        “And theists marshal their substantial intellectual resources to defend beliefs that they didn’t arrive at through intellectual avenues. They say, “Of course I have good reasons for my faith. I believe because of intellectual reasons A, B, and C” when the truth is that they believe because of emotional reasons X, Y, and Z.”

        No surprise there. It would be unethical to believe something without evidence (see this: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/w_k_clifford/ethics_of_belief.html) so they try to strengthen what little evidence they have.

        avalon

  • jammgor

    The trouble with ignorance is that it picks up confidence as it goes along
    — Arnold Glasow

    My my, how you do go on – I’m a simple man – just follow the 10 commandments (if you can) and you won’t go wrong! Who the hell cares what YOU think is right or wrong. Hitler thought killing 20,000,000 people was ok. Mao thought killing 60,000,000 was right. Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, The Kaiser, Napoleon, all justified their respective slaughters. Muslims justify murder. Justify domestic violence. You cannot naturally come up with your own moral ideas , because you are a degenerate. An unregenerate degenerate. There only 2. Degenerates and regenerated degenerates.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/ BobSeidensticker

      jammmm:

      just follow the 10 commandments (if you can) and you won’t go wrong!

      Which one? Check out the set in Exodus 34—hilarious! And the set in Ex. 20 talks about God cursing the children to the 3rd and 4th generation. Do you follow that guideline as well?

      My own reaction to the 10 Cs is that “don’t covet” is nice, but the omission of “don’t enslave” and “don’t rape” pretty much pegs it as the blatherings of an early Iron Age culture. Interesting, but not much reason to feel bound by it.

      Who the hell cares what YOU think is right or wrong.

      Golly—can I be on a committee with you? You must be a hoot to work with!

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