Guest Post: Thinking My Way Out of Religion

This is a guest post by Lewis Vaughn, a former child preacher and author of the recently published memoir Star Map: A Journey of Faith, Doubt, and Meaning. In it he tells how as a boy he fell deeply into dogma and blind faith but as a young man climbed out of the abyss to find solid ground in science and reasonable doubt. But his deconversion is only half the tale. After leaving the faith, he set out to discover whether without God there could be such a thing as moral truth and meaning in life. After a long and anguished search, he unexpectedly found both. 

Guest PostStar Map is about my ten-year odyssey through the upside down world of Christian fundamentalism. I try not only to tell the strange, half-mad tale of my religious conversion and deconversion, but also to document my bruising confrontation with the philosophical and theological implications of my religious (and irreligious) beliefs. My faith shattered because my religious beliefs self-destructed. When I took them at face value and accepted them without question, they undermined themselves, their inconsistencies cracking my faith like an egg. Then science and reason punched holes in the pieces that were left.

This is how I described to a friend the pivotal moment of doubt:

“When the Holy Spirit spoke,” I said, “I was always sure it was the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit told me something, I was always certain it was true. But when I was most certain, when I was most sure, the Holy Spirit spoke—and the Holy Spirit spoke falsely. It looks like I had been speaking to myself all along. Anything I took on faith before is—”

“Is what?”

“Unknown. I now know nothing.”

“Are you telling me you’re a damn agnostic?”

“I don’t know what I am.”

Simon stared at me for a long time, and when he spoke, he spoke softly. I was surprised not to be getting the full Billy Sunday treatment.

“Do you think you’re the only Christian who has ever felt this way?”

I wasn’t about to tell him I felt hopeless and alone, like the last person left on a dying planet. “No,” I said, “I think every devotee of every religion of faith is in the same boat with me. I don’t see how they can know anything based on their inner experience.”

This crushing revelation came after years of my trying to abandon the concerns of this world and focus every thought and action on the other world, the spiritual realm that bred a disregard for anything human, natural, and real. The two worlds pulled at me so hard I thought I might split in two. Much later I would identify other-worldliness as a critical flaw in nearly every religion.

This is how I viewed my cosmic tug-of-war:

Inside me began another battle in the war of the two worlds: the spiritual, or heavenly, world, and the earthly world. I had been trying to give myself over to the world where every coin in life is spent for the sake of the spiritual or the heavenly, where faith and scripture hold sway and earthly concerns wane. In this ethereal other world, the first commandment is believe, the second is obey, and the last resort is evidence and reason. In that sphere I was supposed to have the faith of Abraham, the biblical hero who believed God had commanded him to sacrifice his firstborn son and who raised the knife to do what human morality forbade. Abraham’s hand was stayed at the last moment because he proved that he would murder the human race if God asked him to. Most Christians saw this story as a vindication of Abraham’s faith. That’s what I wanted to believe too. But I couldn’t help viewing it sometimes as evidence that faith and obedience can lead a good man to commit horrific acts.

Some of me was still in this world, the sphere of the finite and earthly and secular. The prime commandments here are live, think, and feel. In this sphere, Abraham is a moral monster willing to drown common decency in the blood of his own child. Here Abraham is ready to do the unthinkable without thinking. Why? Because a voice from a burning bush commanded him?

Bewildered and traumatized by the loss of my God and my pious absolutes, I wondered what all godless seekers must wonder at one time or another: If there is no God, is there any such thing as right or wrong? If God is dead, is everything permitted? Without religion, is earthly life bereft of all meaning?

Trying to answer these jagged questions dropped me into intellectual and spiritual agony but also pulled me slowly down a path to enlightenment. I turned to the only truth-detector I had left—reason:

I had already lost faith in faith, and I decided that, contrary to the true believer’s creed, reason was a wiser bet. After all, it was through reason that I had uncovered the failures of faith, the fallibility of the church, and the phoniness of my miracles. On these issues, faith had gone dark, and I had gone dark with it.

I figured reason could not be the bugaboo that believers made it out to be. First, they used reason themselves every day in all sorts of ways. Second, from their perspective, reason was a gift from God, just as the senses of smell and touch were. Did they presume that God gave them this light and forbade them to shine it on the world?

Ultimately I found there really were objective moral truths and objective sources of meaning—and God had nothing to do with it. I was driven to this conclusion not by dogma or scripture but by philosophical reflection on the goods and evils of the real world. In an odd, painful way, I had come round to secular views on morality and meaning that philosophers and other thinkers had articulated hundreds of years before and after Christ. Now, at age sixty-six and after authoring or coauthoring almost twenty books on philosophy, ethics, and religion, I still think those views are essentially correct—except that now they are, I hope, more solidly backed by science and reason.

Most deeply committed believers don’t respond to critiques of their religion from external sources like philosophers and biblical scholars. What is more likely to turn their heads is internal critiques, those that arise from the contradictions and conflicts in their own beliefs. When religious beliefs themselves lead to rational doubt, a grain of honest skepticism is born, and that can lead to personal transformation. This is why religions work so hard to douse even the smallest flames of doubt. But for people who aren’t afraid to think critically, doubt is the way to wisdom.

Atheism isn’t a religion,
it’s a personal relationship with reality.
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  • Pofarmer

    Atheism isn’t a religion,
    it’s a personal relationship with reality.

    I gotta say, that makes me happy.

    • Rick

      Happiness is great. The more relevant question might be, “Is atheism true?”

      The definition of atheism is, “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” To me, this does not appear to be the same thing as “a personal relationship with reality.”

      • GubbaBumpkin

        Tis true, tis true; tis pity tis true.

      • Jim Jones

        Whimsy has its place.

      • Greg G.

        Atheism is a personal relationship with what evidently exists.

        • Michael Murray

          So just me, 24 quantum fields in the standard model and gravity.

      • adam

        “”Is atheism true?””

        Of course it is, I have disbelief.

        • MR

          The typical -ism strawman; as if atheism is an institution. There’s no institution in “I don’t believe you.”

        • Rick

          OK, so we have established that there are people who are genuinely atheists. My point was the question of whether the lack of belief in the existence of God or gods was well founded. Is the absence of God or gods the best explanation of reality? Does it accurately describe the actual state of the univerise? That question.

          But you all knew that. And you wonder why folks who don’t share you views don’t stay long on the site…

        • Joe

          My point was the question of whether the lack of belief in the existence of God or gods was well founded.

          Does it matter? Lots of believers don’t have well-founded beliefs.

          Is the absence of God or gods the best explanation of reality?

          The absence of anything doesn’t explain reality. Only something can explain reality.

          And you wonder why folks who don’t share you views don’t stay long on the site…

          Yes, they flounce off when we point out their arguments don’t even hold together logically. I see you’ve got your bags packed already.

        • MR

          The absence of anything doesn’t explain reality.

          Thank you. His phrasing is a rather silly way of expressing the problem, isn’t it? “Pardon me, but your bias is showing!” Nobody asks the question, “Does God not exist?” The real question is, “Does God exist?” Or to rework his question more honestly, “Does the existence of God or gods best explain reality? Does it accurately describe the actual state of the universe?” Yeah, that question.

        • Joe

          Unluckily for him I was just reading about issues with Matt Slick’s TAG just yesterday, as it happens.

          Our friend here commits the same fallacy. God or not-God is the same as saying ‘God or nothing else’, or just ‘God’. Which of course is circular and question begging without external evidence.

        • Pofarmer

          Circular question begging. Throw on some presupposition and you have the basis for most Christian apologetics.

        • Pofarmer

          I beleive that’s the literary device known as foreshadowing,

        • Rick

          My bags aren’t packed. I have been discussing these things with Bob long before he started the blog or wrote the books. He hasn’t convinced me, and vice versa. I just don’t comment that often.

          No one here has offered any evidence to challenge my views, and besides, I’m not that good at flouncing.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “Is the absence of God or gods the best explanation of reality?”

          Gee, I wonder why no God answers such a question. Also, what’s a “God”?

        • Kevin K

          In certain circles God’s name is “God”. Actually, it’s Yahweh or Jehovah, but that’s its “secret” name that people aren’t supposed to mention without being fried by lightning or something.

          And god is that little voice in your head that agrees with your every thought, including the thought that those who disagree with you are going to hell.

        • Michael Murray

          I’ve not seen any sufficiently persuasive evidence to change my lack of belief in gods.

        • Kevin K

          Yes, it is. The absence of “God” or gods is the best explanation of reality.

          Glad we could clear that up for you.

        • adam

          “My point was the question of whether the lack of belief in the existence of God or gods was well founded.”

          Of course it is.
          but you are free to demonstrate that YOUR “God” is anything but IMAGINARY

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6597272c55aa1dd14b2602406d98ba576903e53dce5800dd7f26a6fb2ca9728c.jpg

          ” Is the absence of God or gods the best explanation of reality? ”

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cec86c13ff651044ebf846246f7b360fb2d8a3eccf42e97c497a2d680eb4b44d.jpg

          ” Does it accurately describe the actual state of the univerise?”

          Science is predictive, that’s why we can use science to design technology.

          what predictive power does God provide anyone?

          “But you all knew that.”

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/984030700e86062e2deb26f5244a20edfd5d804ca6e1cfaafac40f75368cdb20.png

          ” And you wonder why folks who don’t share you views don’t stay long on the site…”

          No I dont wonder

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1857ec854654ff933edab768fb01631702abb139f83db1b2d8e772f7e9929322.jpg

        • GubbaBumpkin

          My point was the question of whether the lack of belief in the existence of God or gods was well founded.

          Yes, it is well-founded. It is the null hypothesis, the default position. If you want to move us over to some other position, provide some evidence. Apparently you’re not up for that.

      • Pofarmer

        Congrats on being a humorless twat.

        • Rick

          And thank you for the thoughtful response. “Humorless twat” always advances a discussion.

        • Pofarmer

          Then it worked out quite well, as I had no intention of advancing any discussion.

        • Joe

          Nit-picking over a humorous metaphor doesn’t advance anything either.

        • Rick

          True. Forgive me for interpreting it as an insult instead of a humorous metaphor.

        • Joe

          Only Pofarmer can forgive your sins.

        • eric

          It is not an insult at all! You see, we love you believers but hate the belief.

        • Pofarmer

          How the fuck would you take that as an insult?

          Humorless twat indeed.

      • Joe

        Is atheism true

        If that person doesn’t believe in a god or gods, yes.

      • Susan

        this does not appear to be the same thing as “a personal relationship with reality.”

        It doesn’t necessarily indicate a personal relationship with reality.

        But it’s one step closer.

        One can be an atheist and a Raelian for instance.

        But not believing vague and unsupported claims is important when it comes to addressing reality.

        Not believing in god claims is a result of that. Not the only result but a result.

        Thank you for getting the definitions right.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        From the standpoint of someone who doesn’t believe in god, atheism can be seen as a personal relationship with reality.

        But you already knew that.

      • Gerald Moore

        Yes, atheism is true. The truth of atheism is that there is insufficient evidence to convince some of the existence of God or gods.

        I too, thank you for getting the definition correct. Asking if atheism (or anything) is true, suggests that it is a claim, which is contrary to the definition.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Traditionally, it is-that God (or sometimes gods) does not exist. See most dictionaries and atheist philosophers. “Lack of belief” has become the definition for many, but is hardly the only one still.

        • epeeist

          Traditionally, it is-that God (or sometimes gods) does not exist. See most dictionaries and atheist philosophers.

          Such as this dictionary you mean.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          See the word “most”. Dictionaries tend to follow usage, so some are changing.

        • Adam King

          The syllable “god” is so ill-defined that assessing the existence of whatever vague referent this syllable might be used to indicate is impossible. Thus assertions like “There exists a ‘god'” or “There exists no ‘god'” are nonsense, as significant as a fart. I use “atheist” for myself because I don’t believe a ‘god’ exists in the same way I don’t believe a [insert nonsense syllable] exists. You may, of course, feel free to use words differently. “God” is currently a word so widely and variously applied it can refer to such disparate things as “the Ground of all Being” or the comic-book hero Thor. Among the manifold things that I believe exist I can’t think of any that it would seem appropriate or useful to call a “god.”

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          “God” must be defined of course. Definitions vary, but traits are usually that can be assessed either way. What you seem to be putting forth at first is what’s often called theological noncognitivism, or ignosticism, which says the word “God” makes no sense at all. I also agree that nothing seems to exist which I’d call God, however defined. The problem I have is similar with atheist having so many definitions. It becomes very difficult to tell what people are saying by using the word “atheist” or “atheism” for their views.

        • epeeist

          The problem I have is similar with atheist having so many definitions.

          Atheist is easy, a minimal definition is a lack of belief in the existence of gods.

          Theist is much harder, theists don’t seem to believe n gods generally, rather they believe in a single god or pantheon of gods for which they cannot agree a comprehensive or coherent list of properties. They take a variety of positions in respect of other gods, from lack of belief, belief in non-existence or belief in these other gods being a mistaken belief in their own god in some way.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Well, I’ve pointed out the different definitions for it. You’re right of course they are generally very specific. However many atheists also focus on pretty specific gods for disbelief.

        • epeeist

          However many atheists also focus on pretty specific gods for disbelief.

          Do they? You mean you have come across atheists who, for example, disbelieve in the existence of Yahweh/Jesus but believe in the existence of Ahura Mazda?

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          No, I mean disbelief is generally focused on a specific god, not just any. Yahweh/Jesus is popular. This isn’t a surprise given that it represents the majority religion.

        • Greg G.

          This blog is Cross Examined so we argue primarily against Yahweh/Jesus as anything from a god who might walk through a camp without knowing shit from shinola to the “Ground of All Being”. But we will also argue against Sparkling Moon’s god or any other.

        • Joe

          But we will also argue against Sparkling Moon’s god

          You mean “ctrl+C”?

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Yes, I know, I’ve been here a while. It wasn’t meant to be a criticism. Anyway, I thought that Sparking Moon was just a Muslim. Their god is pretty similar.

        • Greg G.

          Sparkling is an Ahmadic Muslim, if I got the term right.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Ahmadi, I think.

        • Greg G.

          Thanks, the “c” was the letter I had the least faith in.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Sure.

        • adam

          ” However many atheists also focus on pretty specific gods for disbelief.”

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fe4f85db4759e41e6b97a929743f5278be0c5c5b4ac46c7d4849a954219e949c.jpg

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          That’s a new one to me.

        • adam

          All atheists are polyatheistic, as are all christians.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          It seems to be a redundant term for atheists then.

        • Michael Neville

          Hindus claim there are 30 million gods, demons, avatars, etc. That gives a lower limit of the number of gods and other supernatural critters I don’t believe in.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          I guess it would.

        • TheNuszAbides

          I’m not convinced it’s “very difficult”, assuming the sample size of views is more substantive than a glib one-liner, or the extent of investigation is more than a checked atheist box under the religious section of an application. I’m definitely unconvinced as to “atheist having so many definitions”, though i recognize the purist pedantry of those who insist on the narrowest possible definition. I personally would prefer an igtheist box on most relevant forms/questionnaires, but can’t expect general awareness of the term to be widespread any time soon, if ever.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Perhaps “very” is wrong, but it can be difficult at times. At least two common definitions exist: belief there is no God, and lack of belief in god(s). Even an igtheist view is deemed another kind of atheism sometimes.

        • TheNuszAbides

          I do think individuals should be as specific as they can. When i declare my personal position (which is quite a rare occurrence), i tend to specify igtheist. Whenever i make a generalization about nonbelief, i dither between ‘nonbelief’ and ‘atheism’. And i lean toward the most inclusive definitions for any ‘ism’ with wiggle room. (And to further complicate matters when necessary, i argue that atheism is the only ‘ism’ that ain’t — i.e. a conclusion “a-” in reaction to already-established “-theism”, or even merely a lack of commitment to such — which is of course where those who insist on a ‘hard-line’ definition will again disagree …)

          Cristina Rad has a reasonable take on the potential derailing effect of telling someone else “well technically you’re a _____ [rather than what you call yourself].” (Let alone the possibility that such a ‘correction’ could itself be imprecise, in light of what this here thread is about)

          So yeah, i agree there’s some difficulty! But I suppose i consider it a minor issue of semantics, quickly clarified in brief and direct discussion among nonbelievers at least. I usually only get irked when pedantry brute-transcends others’ personal preference. (Or, of course, when theists (or even self-glorified agnostics) galumph around pretending they have an authoritative handle on what we are/think/do.)

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Yes, being specific helps to be sure. There are actually many isms defined by being a negation. I thought of more right off: skepticism and anarchism, to start.

          It’s derailing yes. Having to explain what you mean by a term with multiple competing definitions is also though. This can cause conflict and confusion.

        • Gerald Moore

          I beg to differ. I’ve let some pretty significant farts. Ask my wife.

        • Rick

          My question was inartful. Atheism per se is not a true or false thing. It is a belief system in which there is “disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.” Suggesting it is true or false is contrary to the definition. The better question would have been, “Is atheism correct in its belief that no God or gods exist?”

          Atheism does make claims, which books like Bob’s are written to defend.

        • MR

          The better question would have been, “Do gods or God exist?”

        • adam
        • Joe

          Atheism does make claims,

          Claim. Singular.

        • TheNuszAbides

          Meh. Arguable, not cinched. ‘positive’/’strong’/’gnostic’ atheism = “gods don’t exist, never existed, aren’t real, are only vague expressions of concepts” etc.
          ‘negative’/’weak’/’agnostic’ atheism = essentially the same but qualified with something like “apparently”, “as far as I/we know”, etc.

          The only persons i’ve encountered who would deny that an igtheist [e.g.] is a type of atheist, are those who insist that the term ‘atheist’ is only applicable/accurate to those who declare ‘positive’ atheism.

          The best catch-all generalization i’ve seen is “i find no theist propositions convincing.” But there are plenty of atheists quite unwilling to express their nonbelief so carefully, those who consider more nuanced expressions of atheism “merely agnostic” as though there is distinct middle ground, fence-sitting etc.

          Or, going by the scale popularized by Dawkins, we could mash degrees 5-7 into a less precise “i am not a believer”.

        • Gerald Moore

          That’s even more in inartful. Immediately after defining atheism as “disbelief or lack of belief,” you referred to atheism as a belief (that no gods exist).

      • Otto

        I think the tongue in cheek aspect of the quote flew over your head as it relates to Christians who say they are not ‘religious’ but instead have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’.

        • Rick

          Shockingly, it did not fly over my head. Thanks for your concern, however!

        • Otto

          OK…despite all indications to the contrary it did not fly over your head…

  • Mr. A

    Interesting post. I always like hearing about peoples stories.

    • Michael Murray

      You might like

      “Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary”

      by Kenneth W Daniels

      http://www.kwdaniels.com/

      It’s on kindle for less than $1 and there is also a free pdf I think. I was raised as a Catholic Australian so this insight into the US Protestant evangelical world was a real eye-opener.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Bewildered and traumatized by the loss of my God and my pious absolutes,
    I wondered what all godless seekers must wonder at one time or another:
    If there is no God, is there any such thing as right or wrong? If God
    is dead, is everything permitted? Without religion, is earthly life
    bereft of all meaning?…
    Ultimately I found there really were objective moral truths and objective sources of meaning—and God had nothing to do with it.

    I disagree with your current conclusion. I think “moral truths” is a category error. So let me just ask you:
    Why does morality have to be objective?
    Why does meaning have to be objective?
    In short, why does anything have to be absolute?

    Isn’t it obviously true that some event or situation may occur, and different people derive different meaning from it? Isn’t it obviously true that for any given event or situation, whether it is “good” or “bad” depends on point of view?

    Theists have a lot of absolutist arguments. The gist is that if something is not absolute, then it has no value at all. Finite, ephemeral value is still value.

    There is a debate stunt I would like to pull in the extremely unlikely event I ever got to debate the likes of William Lane Craig. I would ask him to pull out his wallet and tell us all how much money he has in it. Whatever the amount, is the value of that money infinite? is it eternal?
    Presumably the answer is no. So in light of many statements WLC has made, that money has no value at all. In which case I invite him to give it to me, because for me it has value.
    The $10 in my pocket does not have infinite value. It does not have eternal value. It will not feed me forever. It will not even feed me for a lifetime. But it will buy me lunch today, so for me it has value, and that is better than nothing.

    • Jim Jones

      > Burnham says as a baby, his mother once briefly left him in a playpen in the backyard, which faced the Trump grounds, and shortly thereafter, returned to catch Trump—four years older than her son—throwing rocks at the baby. “She saw Donald standing at the fence using the playpen for target­-practice”.

      http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/donald-trump-menace-american-society-presidential-candidate-or-not

      It’s hard to see a moral purpose in that – except as a terrible example.

  • Halbe

    Ultimately I found there really were objective moral truths and objective sources of meaning

    Really? I live my life happily without any need for objective moral truths or objective meaning…

    • Duane Locsin

      unless of course the objective is to live a good life with truth, morals and meaning.
      :)

      • adam

        Which objective morals give you a good life with truth, morals and meaning?

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/fc08e92607fbb10ca5d9fec66168d9bf582a2748fa716fdb4283c37e046c25e1.jpg

        • Joe

          Which objective morals give you a good life with truth, morals and meaning?

          To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women

        • Greg G.

          For me, it’s faster horses, younger women, stronger whiskey, more money.

        • Joe

          Only one of the three above will lead to more money.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Actually, people have exploited all three for more money.

        • Joe

          If you know how to make money from drinking good whisky, I’m all ears.

          I’d quit my job in a heartbeat.

        • Greg G.

          I have known a few ex-co-workers who drank so much whiskey, they didn’t have to quit their jobs.

        • Joe

          Sounds like a plan.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “Let no man be called happy until he is dead”, aye?

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          You’re saying you’re just giving that piss away?!!?

        • Duane Locsin

          there are wine testers, but I think you need some hefty qualifications and experience first.

        • Kuno

          There is a German whisky shop with a website where one of the owners has a tasting video for every single whisky they sell. That seems like a nice way to spend your working hours.

        • Greg G.

          I bet the rehearsals are even more fun.

        • Joe

          Part of me has thought of indulging one of my hobbies as a way of making a living.

          The problem is, everyone seems to get there before I do, and the market reaches saturation point very quickly.

        • GubbaBumpkin

          Depends on whether you’re buying or selling.

        • Duane Locsin

          sounds like the synopsis for the game ‘God of War’ or show ‘Game of Thrones’

          holy crap the Bible is written by savages.

        • Joe

          It was actually a quote from Conan the Barbarian, the Arnold Schwarzenegger version.

          Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

        • Otto

          First R rated movie I saw in the theater…I was 13 so it was a big deal to me then…;)

        • GubbaBumpkin

          (Pssst – it’s a quote from Conan the Barbarian)

        • Greg G.

          My reply might be more obscure. It’s a line from a Tom T. Hall song.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnvMcX95G20

        • Adam King

          Obviously.

        • Duane Locsin

          that is the objective of a psychopathic god of course.
          which lacks morality, cares little for truth and who’s cruelty is meaningless.

        • Brett Harris

          An objective system in which you follow behaviours which can be said to be universally preferable. It is not universally preferable to kill children because most children want to live, and their parents do not want them to die. The Golden Rule applied in all contexts. Do not steal if being stolen from is not universally preferred. Do not aggress against people because most people don’t like being aggressed against. Do not initiate force against people as it is universally prefered to not be subject to the forced will of another. Traditional libertarianism follows as the State must be immoral because it uses force to steal your money, and if you resist, they will drag you away and put you in a cage – which is not universally preferred.

          Alternatively you could go online and find the Lecture Series – Maps of Meaning 2017 by Professor Jordan Peterson from University of Toronto, and consciously choose to follow a Christian set of moral beliefs, that is the product of millennia of biological and social evolution.

        • GubbaBumpkin

          An objective system in which you follow behaviours which can be said to be universally preferable…

          You can stop right there.
          Universal != Objective.

          You appear to accept everything that Professor Jordan Peterson from University of Toronto says without question. It is tiring to us.

        • Adam King

          That’s what happens when you idolize scripture.

        • Greg G.

          You can also choose to follow a Hindu moral system, a Buddhist moral system, or a Muslim moral system, all the products of millennia of biological and social evolution.

          Alternatively, you can choose to follow a moral system based on a sense of fairness, which comes from millions of years of biological and social evolution, and reason, which eliminates some of the heuristic shortcuts that come from biological evolution that lead us into fallacies, and skip all of the religious mumbo-jumbo that exploits those heuristic shortcuts.

        • Joe

          Firstly, you outline a moral system that is not biblical.

          Then you equate libertarianism with morality, for purely specious reasons.

          Your argument doesn’t hold together.

        • Halbe

          None of the behaviours you describe are “universally preferable”, and they are absolutely not objectively moral. Stealing can be morally justified (e.g. in a society with a very unfair distribution of wealth). Killing can be morally justified (e.g. in self-defense). Force against people can be morally justified (e.g. to restrain someone that is a danger to others). The list goes on and on.

          Your jump from “an objective system” to “libertarianism” is not convincing at all; maybe you could expand a little there.

          Following “a Christian set of moral beliefs” of course immediately begs the question: Which Christian set? There are many, and there are huge differences between them. And unfortunately almost all of them are full of arbitrary rules that go against the basic principles of secular humanism, and which cause real suffering in the real world. Most of these arbitrary rules have to do with what we can and cannot do with our genitals, and with gender roles.

          So, no thank you, I will just stick with the intersubjective morality of secular humanism.

        • epeeist

          An objective system in which you follow behaviours which can be said to be universally preferable

          No, as others have said there is a difference between “objective” (independent of mind) and “universal” (accepted by all).

        • Gerald Moore

          It’s curious how you define universal by using the qualifier “most.” Situations can be imagined where the most extreme actions are moral. A child and his parents may both be pleading for a situation (suffering) to end. Is that why you said “most?” Are there situations where stealing to preserve life is preferred? Sure their are! Is aggression called for in some situations, lets say to stop a holocaust? Morals are situational, especially in day to day applications.

        • Lewis Vaughn

          I apologize for the length of this post, but it’s difficult to explain and defend moral objectivism in a few brief paragraphs.

          Moral objectivism is the view that there are correct moral norms or standards that are true independently of what people think about them. (Moral absolutism is a different, dubious theory; it says that moral principles are rigid and have no exceptions, ever.) By this definition, utilitarianism–the theory that right actions are those that produce the greatest overall happiness for everyone involved–is an objectivist theory of morality. That’s because whether an action is right is determined independently of people’s opinions on the matter. You just objectively measure how much happiness or well-being actions produce.

          Many philosophers (including a lot of atheists and skeptics like me) also think that non-utilitarian (or non-consequentialist) moral theories can also be objective. There are several reasons in favor of this objectivist view. For one thing, the main opposing view–moral relativism, the theory that moral standards are relative to what individuals or cultures believe–is unfounded; it conflicts with our commonsense moral experience. It implies implausibly that (1) we are morally infallible, (2) that horrific actions such as murdering six million Jews in WWII are morally right because a person like Hitler or a culture approved of those actions), (3) that moral disagreement is nearly impossible, (4) that all cultures are morally equal (e.g., that a culture that sacrifices virgins and executes gays is morally equivalent to a culture that bans such acts), (5) that there is no such thing as moral progress (e.g., halting the practice of slavery is not an instance of moral progress), etc. Such absurdities count heavily against moral relativism.

          Perhaps the most powerful argument for moral objectivism is that it is the best explanation of the basic facts of the moral life. Moral objectivism explains the nature of moral error and fallibility, the nature of moral disagreement, the seeming fact of moral progress, the rejection of moral equivalence, and the non-arbitrariness of moral judgments. Most of us believe that these commonsense elements of our lives are real, but they are very difficult to explain without moral objectivism.

          As for examples of objective (prima facie) moral principles, consider these: It is wrong to torture babies for fun; it is wrong to wantonly kill innocent people; slavery is an abomination; it is wrong to inflict unnecessary and unwarranted suffering on others. These principles are about as plausible and undeniable as they come. If someone wants to deny them, then the burden of proof is on him or her to show that they are false. The evidence of the moral life favors objectivism.

          Certainly skeptics about moral objectivism have put forth some respectable arguments against the theory. But in my view, the arguments fail to prove their case.

    • Michael Neville

      I have yet to see a compelling argument that any morality is objective.

      • Lewis Vaughn

        Lewis Vaughn: I apologize for the length of this post, but it’s difficult to explain and defend moral objectivism in a few brief paragraphs.

        Moral objectivism is the view that there are correct moral norms or standards that are true independently of what people think about them. (Moral absolutism is a different theory; it says that moral principles are rigid and have no exceptions, ever.) By this definition, utilitarianism–the theory that right actions are those that produce the greatest overall happiness for everyone involved–is an objectivist theory of morality. That’s because whether an action is right is determined independently of people’s opinions on the matter. You just objectively measure how much happiness or well-being actions produce. Many philosophers (including a lot of atheists and skeptics) also think that non-utilitarian (or non-consequentialist) moral theories can also be objective.

        There are several reasons for this objectivist view. For one thing, the main opposing view–moral relativism, the theory that moral standards are relative to what individuals or cultures believe–is unfounded; it conflicts with our commonsense moral experience. It implies implausibly that (1) we are morally infallible,(2) that horrific actions such as murdering six million Jews in WWII are morally right because a person like Hitler or a culture approved of those actions), (3) that moral disagreement is nearly impossible, (4) that all cultures are morally equal (e.g., that a culture that sacrifices virgins and executes gays is morally equivalent to a culture that bans such acts), (5) that there is no such thing as moral progress (e.g., halting the practice of slavery is not an instance of moral progress), etc.

        Among philosophers, perhaps the most powerful argument for moral objectivism is that it is the best explanation of certain phenomena in the moral life: the nature of moral error and fallibility, the nature of moral disagreement, the seeming fact of moral progress, the rejection of moral equivalence, and the non-arbitrariness of moral judgments. Most of us believe that these commonsense elements of our lives are real, but they are very difficult to explain without moral objectivism.

        As for examples of objective (prima facie) moral principles, consider these: It is wrong to torture babies for fun; it is wrong to wantonly kill innocent people; slavery is an abomination; it is wrong to inflict unnecessary and unwarranted suffering on others. These principles are about as plausible and reasonable as they come. If someone wants to deny them, then the burden of proof is on them to show that they are false. The evidence of the moral life favors objectivism.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        That’s because there aren’t any. :)

        Noel Plum over on YouTube has the best analogy I’ve come across: sense of taste. Clearly there is no objective standard for taste, or any need for one to validate our dispositions.

        At the same time, taste is anything but random. Most people enjoy sugar, salt or both, and dislike of dogshit is as universal as our revulsion of murder. Subjective =/ arbitrary.

        As far as I can tell, it is a perfect analogy; consensus at the extremes, fluidity in the middle and the each framework is grounded in evolutionary advantages. I wish I thought of it.

        • Kuno

          It’s my go-to analogy when people are trying to ban something they deem immoral while it doesn’t really concern them: I despise pineapple on pizza, I would never eat a pizza with pineapple on it but I won’t support banning pineapple on pizza and I have no problems with people eating pineapple pizza, as long as they don’t expect me to join and they don’t try to force others to eat pineapple pizza.

          Substitute “pineapple on pizza” with gay sex, SSM, SM sex, polygamy, etc. etc..

        • Greg G.

          I used to work in a gourmet pizza delivery. You haven’t lived if you haven’t tried a deep dish pizza with a honey-sesame whole wheat crust with a blend of Provolone and Mozzarella, topped with chipotle peppers and pineapple with enough grated Parmesan on top to brown when baked.

          Now I am making my mouth water for the Artichoke Parmesan Pie we made. I heard it described as “a culinary orgasm”.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Good one. I like Noel’s outline because it explicitly deals with those universe moral “truths”, but yours definitely mines the same territory.

  • Douglas Baadilla

    I have almost the same experience, doubting all the time on what I used to believe for 64 years since born as a Muslim 66 years ago!
    Doubting caused my reasons and brain to search for all the origins concerning us, of all living things and the universe.
    Starting from philosophy thinkers in search of the truth what reality is, helps lead me to finding facts on the origins of how we have become as we all are now!
    By constantly reading new discoveries in each field of research available on the internet, even though only knowing a bit about the whole background of it, lead me to the conclusion that all that we all are now is due to the processes of EVOLUTION!
    Even religion is the product of evolution in the brain of all our ancestors activities! Thanks to all the great scientists, and especially on Charles Darwin’s findings on this subject.
    Whether there exist a Creator or not is not important, but for sure religion is wrong! Allowing and motivating any killings, for whatever reasons, in religions is wrong!
    R. Dawkins and D. Dennett is right, the rituals are like memes, the selfish genes take over the brain, beliefs on promises in the hereafter and instructions of a religion become deeply rooted in it! and the reasons in the brain of an individual become shut on religious instruction and accepting all of it as truth and facts!
    That is what have created extremists, in history and now as well!

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Brett Harris

      You conclude that religion is the product of evolution in our ancestors, but you fail to see that our entire system of beliefs about the world is also an evolutionary process. So if we are here because our ancestors actions were guided by ideas and beliefs which conferred an advantage, allowing them to reproduce, how can you say the beliefs are “wrong”? It may not mean that the religious ideas are metaphysically “true”, but if they lead to actions which favour your chances of reproducing, then they are should be rejected at our peril. Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson from University of Toronto, believes that this idea may be the key to saving Western civilization from the postmodernist nihilism and cultural marxism slowly destroying our society. He has many lectures and video’s on his youtube channel which offer a unique new perspective on evolutionary psychology and religious beliefs.

      • Greg G.

        Beliefs don’t have to be right to be useful. Monkeys who climb trees when they hear a strange noise are almost always wrong that there is a predator in the grass but that is evolutionarily advantageous because being wrong in the other case is worse.

        There are many things about us that are exploited by religion to you cling to it.

        • Brett Harris

          Yes, but humans are not monkeys and if we find an action no longer gives us a outcome we can stop, look around and make a different choice. The problem seems to be that in contrast to easily understood physical cause and effect, we have little idea about societal influences at a conscious level, and finding some way of integrating our motivations and drives at different levels, will allow the most creative and effective actions at the border between the known and unknown, That’s Peterson’s idea anyway, and he has been thinking this problem through for over thirty years, well worth a look, then decide for yourself.

        • Greg G.

          Yes, but humans are not monkeys and if we find an action no longer gives us a outcome we can stop, look around and make a different choice.

          That is right except that humans are monkeys and that often prevents taking a better action. There are monkey traps where a fruit is put into a box with holes big enough for a monkey hand to go in but too small for the fruit to come out. A monkey can be captured because it really wants to escape with the fruit. The first time I bought a stock in the stock market, the price went down but I didn’t want to sell it until the price went back up so I didn’t lose money on the stock. That’s the monkey brain that prevented me from cutting my losses and moving on. I had to learn to cut the losses and invest in something else.

          Sticking with a religion is the same monkey mistake.

        • Joe

          Yes, but humans are not monkeys

          No, we’re apes.

          if we find an action no longer gives us a outcome we can stop, look around and make a different choice

          Then why do people still pray for things to happen?

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Oh snap!

      • GubbaBumpkin

        So if we are here because our ancestors actions were guided by ideas
        and beliefs which conferred an advantage, allowing them to reproduce,
        how can you say the beliefs are “wrong”? It may not mean that the
        religious ideas are metaphysically “true”, but if they lead to actions
        which favour your chances of reproducing, then they are should be
        rejected at our peril.

        There are other conclusions one could draw from the same data.

        It could be that holding religious beliefs are a by-product of some other trait that provided an evolutionary advantage.

        It could be that holding religious beliefs used to provide an advantage at some time in the past, but that is no longer the case.

        It could be that religious belief is a cultural parasite, and that what is good for the continuation of religious belief is not good for the host, human beings.

        Etc.

        So even if we agree on the factual data, our views on what we should do about it are not constrained to agreement.

        • Brett Harris

          If there are multiple factors and its possible to isolate a different cause for the advantageous behavior, that’s even better, but for behaviour originating from cultural practices, it could be almost impossible to disentangle the various influences. Peterson would say that our interactions with levels of society are so complex and poorly understood that we may not be consciously aware of what drives us to act. He thinks that integrating our actions and motivations across different levels produces more effective actions and provides insight into what to do next, and change what you are doing if actions are not having the desired effect.

      • Philmonomer

        Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson from University of Toronto,
        believes that this idea may be the key to saving Western civilization
        from the postmodernist nihilism and cultural marxism slowly destroying
        our society.

        What leads you (or Mr. Peterson) to conclude that our society is being slowly destroyed?

        • Brett Harris

          How about the destruction of the traditional family, increased rates of mental illness and addiction, due to childhood trauma, the carnage of the 20th century due to the twin evils of fascism and marxism, the fragmentation of society in the name of diversity, the widening gap between rich and poor, the plummeting birth rates in Western countries, the increasing cognitive divide between groups subject to online echo chambers and the increasing resort to violence to solve problems, increasing government indebtedness, environmental destruction, is that a good start?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Some of those, I’d agree with you; some of those are indeed problems but aren’t necessarily worse now than before; and some aren’t problems.

        • MR

          My goodness that’s a whole lot of drama. If only the truth were so simplistic!

        • Greg G.

          I think the drama comes from his echo chamber.

        • adam

          “How about the destruction of the traditional family, ”

          which traditional family?

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b1420c6652b353bf50eff7954e5fba825f575ac4e97675c6864df6ee1b5fc967.jpg

        • Philmonomer

          I think by most all measures, 2000-2017 has been a heck of a lot better than 1900-1917. So no, I don’t see our society being slowly destroyed. (Heck, we don’t even have Communism to worry about any more. Remember when that was going to ruin Western Civilization?)

          If you want to think our society is being “slowly destroyed” you can always find something. Indeed, I suspect some group of people has always thought that our society is being destroyed–for the entire time our Country (or “Western Civilization”) has existed.

        • MR

          No one promised us a rose garden, but, Christ, we live at the apex of human existence and still all we can do is bitch and moan. I don’t see “slowly destroyed” so much as “slowly changed.” Just in my lifetime (let alone the past 100, 500, 1000+ years) that has principally been for the better. End Times narratives sure do fuck up people’s perceptions.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Yes, this slow destruction of society is about as substantive as the way modern music seems to get worse every year. Back In my day….

        • Adam King

          Everything after the Beatles is crap, I tell you.

        • Joe

          End times predictions that require the world to get worse, instead of better, you mean?

        • MR

          That I know, all end time predictions talk of things getting worse and worse. This was the narrative of my church. They’re always looking for signs of the end, and so their worldview, their future, is filtered through a negative lens. It has to end poorly. This is also the message of Trump. Bad, sad, frowny, frowny. They don’t see the great good that has come along, too. They ignore the positives, and even want to throw some of mankind’s achievements under the bus. They focus on the negative and squander opportunity to celebrate and to build upon the good things we’ve achieved as humans.

        • Joe

          That’s my point as well.

          It’s helped me realize that all those who cry about the decline of society are, at least unconsciously, influenced by Christian eschatology.

          The hypocritical thing is: Don’t they want society to decline in order to bring Jesus back?

        • MR

          Right? They should be celebrating. I remember when Obama was first running, there was a video going around that portrayed him as the Antichrist. It was meant to garner votes against him, but you think they would have welcomed his ushering in the end times! How many end times warnings have I experienced in my lifetime? I have end times fatigue. 😛

        • Joe

          “All these people worshiping a cross are destroying our society based on traditional Roman values.”

        • Kuno

          “Those new-fangled inventions like fire and the wheel will destroy our society!”

        • Greg G.

          Eeeew! Domesticating chickens to eat what comes out of their butts.

        • MR

          Oeuf! That sounds disgusting!

        • Kuno

          And don’t get me started on cows’ milk!

        • Greg G.

          Many years ago, a dairy farm ran radio spots for their milk. They had a talking cow with a deep voice. It made me wonder if they were milking the right ones.

        • epeeist

          How about the destruction of the traditional family

          And don’t forget the terrible tragedy of confusing correlation and causality.

        • Adam King

          My traditional family hasn’t been destroyed. Funny.

        • RichardSRussell

          When I hear fundagelicals sing hosannas to the concept of “Biblical marriage”, I always delight in trotting out what I’m sure must be the model they have in mind, namely Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 concubines. After all, he WAS the wisest man in antiquity and much beloved of Yahweh, right? So that HAS to be what they’re talking about!

        • Michael Neville

          Damn, boy, you sound just like a rightwing Christian.

          Things weren’t as great as you seem to think they were back in the bad old days. In the 14th Century Timur, aka Tamerlane, and his merrie men killed some 17 million people, about 5% of the estimated world’s population. But Timur was a piker compared to his predecessors, Genghis and Kublai Khan. Their conquests from China to Europe killed between 40 and 70 million people, mainly through disease and starvation. One of the bloodiest wars you’ve never heard of, the Three Kingdoms War in China (184-280 CE) killed about 40 million. And that’s just a sampling of wars.

          Until the 19th Century most Europeans were illiterate peasants and serfs. Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan published in 1651, described the lives of the majority of people as: “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

        • Joe

          increased rates of mental illness and addiction, due to childhood trauma,

          *citation needed.

          You sir, are an idiot. A typical Christofascist who lives in a bubble where his ideas are always good and never questioned.

        • Kuno

          What you call “traditional” family is something rather new. Mental illnesses are better and more often recognized today. Look up the “Great Binge” if you think today’s drug culture is something new and increased. If you want to talk about carnage, look up the 30 Years War, etc. etc.

          In other words, there is nothing new under the sun and society is always changing, that’s the normal state of affairs and also nothing new.

        • Adam King

          White male Christian privilege has recently been slightly eroded. It must be the end of the world!

      • adam
      • Cartwright

        Humans have been rejecting fallacious belief systems for millennia. They just keep toppling. How do we know that’s not our evolutionary trajectory?

      • Herald Newman

        It may not mean that the religious ideas are metaphysically “true”, but if they lead to actions which favour your chances of reproducing, then they are should be rejected at our peril.

        It’s rather unlikely that evolution would select for people who are religious, given that everythe vast majority of humans are religious.

        Religious beliefs themselves aren’t an adaptation, but rather are a bi-product of an adaption that allowed our brains to “detect” agency, which is an advantageous trait to have. As a social species, many of our “unique” adaptations can be understood through our evolutionary past.

        If an adaption has a cost, but otherwise has a net benefit, the adaptation is still likely to propagate. The cost of our “agency” detecting brain is that we got religions in the process, which is slightly survival detrimental.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Religious beliefs themselves aren’t an adaptation, but rather are a bi-product of an adaption that allowed our brains to “detect” agency, which is an advantageous trait to have.

          I’m curious; have any ingenious experiments been run to try to falsify this hypothesis? At one point I checked out two books on the HAAD, but I didn’t get into them. Part of science is trying hard to falsify things; I’m not aware of whether this has been done with the HAAD and if so, what was tried.

          I would also like to understand what precisely is meant by the term ‘agency’. I’ve hammered away at that issue for a while, from a few different angles, and there seems to be a “from above” notion that comes from the first-person experience of making things happen, as well as the “from below” notion of very complex mechanism, but still mechanism—that is, still no more complicated than a certain class of mathematical formalisms (e.g. Turing machines).

          P.S. Whenever it is said that humans (or anything, really) are “just X”, the only possible sense I can make of that is that X means some class of mathematical objects of fixed maximal complexity. Otherwise, X becomes an infinitely expandable thing and “just X” becomes meaningless. Or at best, it becomes a statement of the sort, “In order to understand greater levels of complexity, you must employ this method with these entities.” But that seems to have been falsified by the empirical evidence Paul Feyerabend cites in Against Method.

        • RichardSRussell

          Daniel Dennett refers to “agency” as the “intentional stance”, meaning the position that there is some actor behind every action, and the actor intends that action to occur.

          I find that phrase too opaque for ready use in conversation and prefer to call it (more memorably, I believe), the “secret-agent theory”. Here’s a little parable I ginned up to explain where it came from and why it endures:

          = = = = = =

          Three million years ago, the australopithecines Lug and Wug are walking across the African veldt when there’s a rustling in the tall grass. Lug thinks “it’s a lion” and runs off screaming. Wug thinks “it’s the wind” and laffs at Lug. Same thing happens another 98 times. Then, on the 100th occasion, it really IS a lion. Wug (whose skepticism has been absolutely justified so far) becomes lunch, but Lug gets to pass his pattern-recognition gene on to the next generation, along with a dread-inspiring cautionary tale.

          Thus our predisposition to see things, patterns, and especially living beings that aren’t really there.* In more dangerous ancient times it was better to be safe than sorry, and that’s the biology we organic humans have inherited.**

          –––––

          *Scientific terms for this are apophenia and pareidolia.

          **It may take awhile for our cybernetic offspring to catch up.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Daniel Dennett refers to “agency” as the “intentional stance”, meaning the position that there is some actor behind every action, and the actor intends that action to occur.

          Ahh, but then we have to ask whether ‘intentionality’ is real (like teleology) or a simulacrum (like teleonomy). Gregory W. Dawes explores what is at stake[1]. It is self-referentially incoherent to say that people act as if they had irreducible-to-physical-entities[2] intentions, because the very concept referred to would not have a physical referent. To be less clumsy, you cannot say that intentionality is not really real, because then you cannot construct the idea of intentionality. Or so I claim—maybe my intuition is wrong or in need of enhancement. On physicalism, even fictions have a distinct causal history. Furthermore: if emergence can explain anything, it explains nothing.

          The way I phrased the matter above probably seems ridiculously abstract, as if it is a little logic problem with some solution someone will discover, to little fanfare. However, I disagree; I think that the dominant mode of explanation—the mechanical philosophy—cannot even account for the most basic of things: how humans use language to create. So does Noam Chomsky:

          Specifically, Descartes speculated that the workings of res cogitans—second substance—may be beyond human understanding. So he thought, quoting him again, “We may not have intelligence enough to understanding the workings of mind.” In particular, the normal use of language, one of his main concepts. He recognized that the normal use of language has what has come to be called a creative aspect; every human being but no beast or machine has this capacity to use language in ways that are appropriate to situations but not caused by them—this is a crucial difference. And to formulate and express thoughts that may be entirely new and do so without bound, may be incited or inclined to speak in certain ways by internal and external circumstances, but not compelled to do so. That’s the way his followers put the matter—which was a mystery to Descartes and remains a mystery to us. That quite clearly is a fact. (Noam Chomsky – “The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding”, 9:58)

          Three million years ago, the australopithecines Lug and Wug are walking across the African veldt when there’s a rustling in the tall grass. Lug thinks “it’s a lion” and runs off screaming. Wug thinks “it’s the wind” and laffs at Lug. Same thing happens another 98 times. Then, on the 100th occasion, it really IS a lion. Wug (whose skepticism has been absolutely justified so far) becomes lunch, but Lug gets to pass his pattern-recognition gene on to the next generation, along with a dread-inspiring cautionary tale.

          Thanks, but I’m afraid this doesn’t at all get at my questions about falsification. Before rigorous falsification is attempted, false/​radically incomplete/​parochial explanations can seem like truth. Isn’t that what the scientific revolution taught us?

          I’ll give a concrete example: what explains the HADD causing humans to generate understandings of agency which outstrips their own agency? After all, they can represent a lion as a sort of quasi-intelligent proto-human. But The understanding of God goes in completely the other direction. What explains this? I’m aware of the evolution of understanding of the gods and God in human history, but that’s data, not an explanation.

        • RichardSRussell

          Thanks, but I’m afraid this doesn’t at all get at my questions about falsification.

          That’s because I was replying to your question about the meaning of the word “agency”.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Ahh, ok. But what’s the difference between agency and not-agency? Until we tease out that difference, the meaning of the word is deliciously vague. I mean to be slightly pedantic here: does Dennett see humans as having agency qualitatively different from that of lions, or quantitatively different? (Qualitative differences sometimes present as refusing to let a word describe one side of the difference. Here, it would show up as saying “the lion doesn’t really have agency”.)

        • RichardSRussell

          Dennett wrote the book Consciousness Explained, so I’m pretty sure he associates agency with some level of mental activity that could create intentions. That would include humans, of course, but also lions. But not grass.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Ok, but then we’re back to the following:

          LB: To be less clumsy, you cannot say that intentionality is not really real, because then you cannot construct the idea of intentionality. Or so I claim—maybe my intuition is wrong or in need of enhancement. On physicalism, even fictions have a distinct causal history. Furthermore: if emergence can explain anything, it explains nothing.

          If Dennett has scientifically explained consciousness, he will be able to say what we will never observe (according to Popperian treatment of deterministic law) or at least assign probabilities to what we will observe (according to Popperian treatment of statistical law). Has he done this? That is, has he done a good job showing how “consciousness works like this, not like that”, with both options well-articulated?

          BTW, Consciousness Explained is on my reading list, albeit a ways down at the moment. You could help move it higher, if you can show me Dennett addressing the problem of “the normal use of language”, which Chomsky describes in my excerpt.

        • RichardSRussell

          The primary problem with consciousness — which Dennett only partially alleviates — is that it’s so damn hard to define. It’s like Justice Potter Stewart’s “definition” of pornography: I know it when I see it. It’s kind of sui generis, which makes it difficult to find anything to compare it to, or simpler terms with which to describe it.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Wait, so the book is titled Consciousness Explained and yet he doesn’t have a reasonable definition of it? I realize that publishers tend to have their way with titles, but seriously. I know the same thing is happening with scientific research grants: you have to promise the moon, though you’ll [virtually] never deliver it.

          Anyhow, I realize that the first step toward an explanation is not “it’s this [articulated] explanation, not that [articulated] explanation”, but just an explanation, no matter how shoddy. That’s the philosophical stage, which can give birth to a scientific stage. I just wanted to know if we were at a scientific stage. It appears that we are not. Godspeed to those working on this problem.

      • Joe

        cultural Marxism

        Get out of here with your weak apologetic bullshit.

        If you want to be taken seriously, don’t use terms like the one above.

      • Douglas Baadilla

        Thank you Brett for your comment and especially your correction and suggestion. Much appreciated! I must admit that I am still a learner in understanding why people are so divided and even some are willing to die for God! So, I thought that I must find first the origins of everything that are related with the brain and the mind, especially on finding what reality (the truth) is. The bombing of the World Trade Centre triggered my reasons working and start questioning myself. The well-known words of US President echoed in my brain “either you are with us or…”, and also the words of the late President Soekarno of Indonesia during the confrontation against Malaysia in the sixties: “Ini dadaku! Mana dadamu” (Here is my chest! Where is your chest!) and I thought, in my understanding, aren’t this words in essence the same as a verse in the Qur’an: “for you your religion, and for me my religion”?? This self-reasoning has caused myself to conclude that everything stated in the Qur’an, which I believe as the words of God and as the absolute truth, is in reality just the words and product of a human brain, the thinking of Muhammad the Prophet of the religion!
        I was born in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia and I think I had been a devout moslem in the past. Six (6) years ago I decided to follow my three daughters in Australia, which I sent them (one by one) to Australia for their further education. The main reason on sending them abroad (starting on 1998) was, because I found out that the radical-Islamic stream is becoming stronger and stronger in Indonesia. In Australia I tried to get work as a professional structural engineer but to no success, my age and the unrecognized Indonesian degrees were the problem. After doing a bit “research”, starting with reading philosophy-quotes of the great Greek philosophers leads me to delft deeper into the origins of our universe, to civilizations and yes…my “research” continued to almost everything that interest me and could be found on the net…so thank you Brett and I will continue learning a bit from the Professor on YouTube. Thanks.

      • Adam King

        You’re equivocating morally “wrong” with factually “wrong” with functionally “wrong.” Very sloppy thinking. Just because an idea has what you might fancy is a useful societal function doesn’t mean it’s true.

  • cobalt100

    The other day, my son asked me: “Dad, how did religion begin? I said that it was manufactured when the first con-artist met the first patsy.”

    With deep regards to Mark Twain.

    • Kevin K

      I always thought that religion was invented by the smart guy who wanted an indoor job but wasn’t related to the tribal ruler.

      • Greg G.

        That somebody just thought the job market was skewed toward blue-collar workers.

  • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

    This is why religions work so hard to douse even the smallest flames of doubt.

    This seems like a gross overgeneralization. Abraham questioned God, Moses questioned God, Jeremiah questioned God, etc. Jews argue about God aplenty. They sometimes mock Christians for not being able to get back together for a meal after heavy disputation. But not all Christians have that problem. Some do, and ostensibly the OP is talking about those. But wouldn’t it be helpful to not overgeneralize?

    It seems to me that there is a distinct possibility that the Jewish religion is part of the reason that Jews constitute 0.2% of the world’s population and yet have been awarded 22.4% of Nobel prizes. Now, surely part of the reason is that the repeated persecution Jews have experienced over the millennia has played a role. But it is fairly well known that plenty of Jews are quite happy to entertain religious doubts. They have a reputation for arguing quite vigorously. Is it impossible that this could be part of why Jews are so good at science?

    • Otto

      It seems to me that there is a distinct possibility that the Jewish religion is part of the reason that Jews constitute 0.2% of the world’s population and yet have been awarded 22.4% of Nobel prizes.

      Do all of those 22.4% specifically identify as Jewish in the religious sense? I know that many Jews identify as such as only a cultural/racial label and are not in fact religious/theistic. I find it interesting that you seem to latch onto the religious label as an explanation and I am wondering what part of Jewish religious belief you think leads to Nobel Prizes?

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        Religious influence can have an impact well into the atheist phase, as one sees documented by Carl L. Becker in The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers and Dominic Erdozain in The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx. Many aspects of culture are momentum on timescales much greater than one generation. So we have to be careful.

        As to why the religion of the Jews in particular might be helpful, here is one candidate:

            I first began to look at Christian materials in relationship to the legal teachings of Judaism when working on my MA at the University of Toronto. I soon discovered that most seasoned scholars of New Testament, not knowing the intricacies of talmudic texts from deep study but from secondary sources, formed skewed opinions and could not penetrate the meanings that lay behind some remarkable rabbinic texts. I found it difficult to explain to them that unlike most literature talmudic texts often do not, for whatever reasons, expose the precise contexts upon which their cases rest. The ability to discern these contexts develops from the experience of spending years of concentrated study utilizing the works of the best talmudists over the last thousand years as well as developing a critical sense of how talmudic passages are constructed from earlier materials. This experience permits dedicated students to engage not only the rabbinic texts they study but also early Christian texts from unique standpoints. Most scholars of the New Testament lack such training. (Studies in Exegesis, 2)

        Last week I had dinner with one of my wife’s Jewish labmates (heading to a postdoc in biochemistry at Harvard) and he said he liked studying religious history. I immediately thought of the above passage and read it to him. He responded with immediate recognition: that did characterized early Jewish religious/​legal texts quite well. I asked him whether perhaps the carefulness inculcated by challenging acolytes to come up with multiple different possible contexts for a given text might be valuable for doing scientific study. He seemed amenable to it—although he’s not a psychologist or sociologist.

        You could see the shift from Newtonian mechanics → { quantum theory, general relativity } as a change of context or a change of foundation. Oftentimes you can frame the same observations in multiple different contexts. Staying aware that there isn’t necessarily One True Context™ seems like it could be quite valuable to making breakthroughs in science. Max Planck described some of those people who refused to engage in this type of reasoning:

        A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. (Max Planck)

        Possibly, the willingness to consider alternative contexts can be connected to “not worshiping idols”. I was introduced to that idea by Owen Barfield in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. It is quite a different view of idolatry than I had ever seen before, but the more I studied it and thought about it, the more it made sense. IIRC in one of the books of Maccabees states that the Jews finally learned to stop worshiping idols.

        • Otto

          Religious influence can have an impact well into the atheist phase

          And how do you know how many of the 22.4% had a religious phase to begin with? As I said many Jews identify as such culturally but have not had much (if any) religious training. It seems like you are arguing the opposite of your discussion over on the Secular outpost where the discussion is whether being an atheist helps the doing of science (just so you know I don’t agree that atheism helps the doing of science). I think you are grasping at straws here.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          LB: Religious influence can have an impact well into the atheist phase, as one sees documented by Carl L. Becker in The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers and Dominic Erdozain in The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx. Many aspects of culture are momentum on timescales much greater than one generation. So we have to be careful.

          O: And how do you know how many of the 22.4% had a religious phase to begin with?

          I didn’t mean “religious phase” necessarily within the same generation; see the underlined.

          It seems like you are arguing the opposite of your discussion over on the Secular outpost where the discussion is whether being an atheist helps the doing of science (just so you know I don’t agree that atheism helps the doing of science).

          I don’t see any contradiction.

          I think you are grasping at straws here.

          You are of course welcome to think whatever you’d like. I could choose to think that you don’t want to admit that some religion might help the practice of science.

        • Otto

          I readily admit it could be the case that religion could help science. As of yet I have not seen anything that would lead me to conclude that, including your poorly reasoned supposition. There could be all kinds of factors that lead to the fact that 22.4% of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, just like there could be all kinds of factors that around 80% of members of the National Academy of Sciences are not religious. They are just numbers until we can verify what the likely reasons for the numbers are and not just jump to conclusions on raw information. The contradiction is that you took your opposition to task for making this same mistake that you yourself then make here.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I readily admit it could be the case that religion could help science. As of yet I have not seen anything that would lead me to conclude that, including your poorly reasoned supposition. There could be all kinds of factors that lead to the fact that 22.4% of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, just like there could be all kinds of factors that around 80% of members of the National Academy of Sciences are not religious.

          I will note that you are willing to give “all kinds of factors” plausible existence, but you are quite resistant to give precisely one factor plausible existence: the Jewish religion being beneficial to the conduct of science. It stays at a bare possibility. I find that interesting. Do you have hard, empirical evidence for this imbalance? For example, might you know of empirical evidence for one or both of the following:

               (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
                       [s]he does better science.
               (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
                       [s]he does worse science.

          ?

          They are just numbers until we can verify what the likely reasons for the numbers are and not just jump to conclusions on raw information. The contradiction is that you took your opposition to task for making this same mistake that you yourself then make here.

          Sorry, can you sketch that out? Recall the language I used:

          LB: It seems to me that there is a distinct possibility that the Jewish religion is part of the reason that Jews constitute 0.2% of the world’s population and yet have been awarded 22.4% of Nobel prizes.

          How does that qualify as “jump to conclusions”?

        • Otto

          >>>”I will note that you are willing to give “all kinds of factors” plausible existence, but you are quite resistant to give precisely one factor plausible existence: the Jewish religion being beneficial to the conduct of science.”

          You apparently missed my very first sentence where I said it was possible.

          >>>”Do you have hard, empirical evidence for this imbalance? For example, might you know of empirical evidence for one or both of the following:”

          (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
          [s]he does better science.
          (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
          [s]he does worse science.

          No, I never claimed I did and I specifically said I disagreed that either were true.

          >>>”How does that qualify as “jump to conclusions”?”

          Because you are throwing out one possibility as if it holds more weight than other possibilities that could explain the situation with really no reason to do so.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          LB: I will note that you are willing to give “all kinds of factors” plausible existence, but you are quite resistant to give precisely one factor plausible existence: the Jewish religion being beneficial to the conduct of science. It stays at a bare possibility.

          O: You apparently missed my very first sentence where I said it was possible.

          See the underlined text, which you managed to omit in your quote.

          No, I never claimed I did and I specifically said I disagreed that either were true.

          Huh; why? I mean, isn’t religion damaging? At least, remotely orthodox religion?

          LV: This is why religions work so hard to douse even the smallest flames of doubt.

          LB: It seems to me that there is a distinct possibility that the Jewish religion is part of the reason that Jews constitute 0.2% of the world’s population and yet have been awarded 22.4% of Nobel prizes. Now, surely part of the reason is that the repeated persecution Jews have experienced over the millennia has played a role. But it is fairly well known that plenty of Jews are quite happy to entertain religious doubts. They have a reputation for arguing quite vigorously. Is it impossible that this could be part of why Jews are so good at science?

          O: Because you are throwing out one possibility as if it holds more weight than other possibilities that could explain the situation with really no reason to do so.

          That seems like a rather weird way to characterize what I actually wrote. Now, the reason I picked out religion as the second possible cause is because that matches the context of the quoted text from the OP. Especially since I provided a rationale for the underlined.

        • Otto

          >>>”It stays at a bare possibility.”

          Yes it stays a bare possibility…have you provided any reason to do otherwise? No, not even a little bit. I did omit the rest because you saying… “but you are quite resistant to give precisely one factor plausible existence”… essentially ignored my point that I am willing to give it the same weight as other plausible, but also unsupported factors, and you are disgruntled that I am not willing to give it more for some reason.

          >>>”Huh; why? I mean, isn’t religion damaging? At least, remotely orthodox religion?”

          This smells like bait Luke, for what reason are you trying to bait me? Maybe because I actually agree with you here and God for bid that an atheist like me might have a nuanced position? Is that too much to handle for you?

          To answer your bait yes I think religion can be damaging, mainly on the level that it attempts to get people to believe propositions that can’t be supported properly which leads to all kinds of issues.

          But that isn’t the problem when doing science, science has built in checks and balances that while not perfect, none the less are a far cry superior to anything religion has ever been able to do. Those checks and balances put everyone doing science on the same playing field with the same rules regardless of their religious view (what rules does religion play with?), therefore the scientist’s religious views are a non factor; a non factor because the scientists themselves know better than to bring religious views into the lab so to speak, it won’t fly. This isn’t a difficult issue and I have no idea why you are pressing me on an issue I agree with you on unless you are just trolling for an issue to parse…we will see.

          >>>”Especially since I provided a rationale for the underlined.”

          Coming up with a rational is not really impressive. I can come up with rationals that would also ostensibly explain the number using other possible factors, but if I did I would just be talking out my ass.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Yes it stays a bare possibility…have you provided any reason to do otherwise?

          I thought I had with my excerpt of Studies in Exegesis, especially when linked up to (admittedly, this stuff was in reply to @disqus_ChQuy24muS:disqus) my excerpt of The End of Certainty and the subsequent links to Sean Carroll’s stuff. Oh well.

          Do you have a sense of how much scientific knowledge we have of what it takes to be a good scientist, both in the sense of causes which help and causes which hinder? That is, in proposing that maybe aspects of the Jewish religion promote scientific competence, am I up against lots of scientific evidence, or mostly just Enlightenment dogma? BTW, feel free to separate this out into matters of theory justification and matters of hypothesis formation. Both are quite important to the execution of scientific research.

          LB: Huh; why? I mean, isn’t religion damaging? At least, remotely orthodox religion?

          O: This smells like bait Luke, for what reason are you trying to bait me? Maybe because I actually agree with you here and God forbid that an atheist like me might have a nuanced position? Is that too much to handle for you?

          It is my experience that a number of atheists honestly believe that religion is damaging. Guessing that you may be one of them is thereby not an offensive thing. If you are in fact not one of them, it will be interesting to me to compare & contrast you to those who do think this thing.

          To answer your bait yes I think religion can be damaging, mainly on the level that it attempts to get people to believe propositions that can’t be supported properly which leads to all kinds of issues.

          But no issues which can be demonstrated to impinge on scientific competence? Or are you distinguishing between religion simpliciter and some religion, where “some” is not determined my some formalized scheme of “how orthodox?”? Again, I see a lot of hostility from atheists toward religion; I realize that not all atheists target all of religion. So I’m trying to understand the targets more precisely. I have multiple reasons for this investigation; one is that I might agree with the targets and want to help better target. :-)

          But that isn’t the problem when doing science, science has built in checks and balances that while not perfect, non the less are a far cry superior to anything religion has ever been able to do.

          I’m afraid I don’t know what this means, given that there is good reason to think that some of what Christianity did may have been crucial to the scientific revolution taking off. An example is [1]. By the way, this is different from saying that without Christianity, modern science would not have arisen. It is frequently important to distinguish sufficient from necessary conditions.

          Those checks and balances put everyone doing science on the same playing field with the same rules regardless of their religious view (what rules does religion play with?), therefore the scientist’s religious views are a non factor; a non factor because the scientists themselves know better than to bring religious views into the lab so to speak, it won’t fly.

          That all, of course, depends on how you define “religion” and its cognates. I’ve come across precisely one plausibly scientific definition for the term, and on first and second blush it is rather weird and abstract. Furthermore, what you say here appears to be falsified by [2].

          This isn’t a difficult issue and I have no idea why you are pressing me on an issue I agree with you on unless you are just trolling for an issue to parse…we will see.

          I’m not sure the extent to which we agree. The fashion around here seems to paint me as an idiot, a dumbass, and/or evil—which means everyone is biased against not admitting any points of agreement. That makes many forms of discussion remarkably hard for me—and maybe the same would happen for normal people who got the same treatment.

          Coming up with a rationale is not really impressive. I can come up with rationales that would also ostensibly explain the number using other possible factors, but if I did I would just be talking out my ass.

          Fine, but how much discussion about what it takes to do good science is just talking out of one’s ass? Stuff like the following empirical evidence is not promising:

          And when we add that work to the mountain of research on motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and the fact that nobody’s been able to teach critical thinking. … You know, if you take a statistics class, you’ll change your thinking a little bit. But if you try to train people to look for evidence on the other side, it can’t be done. It shouldn’t be hard, but nobody can do it, and they’ve been working on this for decades now. At a certain point, you have to just say, ‘Might you just be searching for Atlantis, and Atlantis doesn’t exist?’ (The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Psychology, 16:47)

          So again, I’m left asking for the evidence, not Christian Enlightenment dogma. That’s something I’ve found is not always a welcome action in atheist-dominated environments. Social groups like their taken-for-grantedness. I mean, it’s so obvious! Blargh.

           
          [1] From Amos Funkenstein, on Scholastic thinking which Galileo used to do his revolutionary work:

              Medieval theologians engaged in a new and unique genre of hypothetical reasoning. In order to expand the logical horizon of God’s omnipotence as far as could be, they distinguished between that which is possible or impossible de potentia Dei absoluta as against that which is so de potentia Dei ordinata. This distinction was fleshed out with an incessant search for orders of nature different from ours which are nonetheless logically possible. Leibniz’s contraposition of the nécessité logique (founded on the law of noncontradiction) and the nécessité physique (founded on the principle of sufficient reason) has its roots in these Scholastic discussions, and with it the questions about the status of laws of nature in modern philosophies of science. But medieval hypothetical reasoning did not serve future metatheoretical discussions alone. The considerations of counterfactual orders of nature in the Middle Ages actually paved the way for the formulation of laws of nature since Galileo in the following sense: seventeenth-century science articulated some basic laws of nature as counterfactual conditionals that do not describe any natural state but function as heuristic limiting cases to a series of phenomena, for example, the principle of inertia. Medieval schoolmen never did so; their counterfactual yet possible orders of nature were conceived as incommensurable with the actual structure of the universe, incommensurable either in principle or because none of their entities can be given a concrete measure. But in considering them vigorously, the theological imagination prepared for the scientific. This is the theme of my third chapter. (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 10–11)

          [2] From Mary Douglas and Seven Ney; this shows a taboo area in science, which may still be taboo:

              There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

        • Otto

          >>>”I thought I had with my excerpt of Studies in Exegesis”

          You loosely linked things that may or may not have an impact on this situation, we don’t know.

          >>>”But no issues which can be demonstrated to impinge on scientific competence?”

          Asked and answered

          >>>”I’m afraid I don’t know what this means, given that there is good reason to think that some of what Christianity did may have been crucial to the scientific revolution taking off.”

          Give me an example of something Christianity did to facilitate science (there is that word again), that was Christian specific, i.e. that could not have been achieved unless specifically the Christian world view was in play?

          >>>”That all, of course, depends on how you define “religion” and its cognates.”

          Yeah you are right, if you muddy definitions enough I am sure you can make it fit.

          >>>”I’m not sure the extent to which we agree.”

          We agree that neither of these statements is true…

          (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
          [s]he does better science.
          (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
          [s]he does worse science.

          Unless you think one or both is true…then of course we don’t agree.

          >>>”The fashion around here seems to paint me as an idiot, a dumbass, and/or evil”

          None of which I have ever done…disingenuous yes…not evil and definitely not dumb.

          >>>”Fine, but how much discussion about what it takes to do good science is just talking out of one’s ass?”

          Probably a lot, one thing that it takes is money, and Jewish people have a disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth for their population…is that more of a factor than religion? I don’t know but if I were to venture a guess like you are doing I would bet that it does. You need to rule out other obvious factors like this one before you go jumping to conclusions that religion should be given more weight than them.

          >>>”So again, I’m left asking for the evidence, not Christian Enlightenment dogma.”

          Sounds like your ass is chapped and you are trying to shoehorn your hypothesis.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          You’ve illegitimately strengthened my conclusions:

               (1) Christianity critically helped science.
                ↓
               (2) Christianity is necessary for science.

               (A) Jewish religion possibly helped science.
                ↓
               (B) Jewish religion greatly helped science.

           
          Here’s (1) → (2):

          O: … yes I think religion can be damaging …

          But that isn’t the problem when doing science, science has built in checks and balances that while not perfect, non the less are a far cry superior to anything religion has ever been able to do.

          LB: I’m afraid I don’t know what this means, given that there is good reason to think that some of what Christianity did may have been crucial to the scientific revolution taking off. An example is [1]. By the way, this is different from saying that without Christianity, modern science would not have arisen. It is frequently important to distinguish sufficient from necessary conditions.

          O: Give me an example of something Christianity did to facilitate science (there is that word again), that was Christian specific, i.e. that could not have been achieved unless specifically the Christian world view was in play?

          You simply ignored—completely—the sentences following about sufficient vs. necessary conditions. Even though “sufficient” is all I required to respond to the sentence in the OP which sparked my first comment.

           
          Here’s (A) → (B):

          LV[OP]: This is why religions work so hard to douse even the smallest flames of doubt.

          LB: It seems to me that there is a distinct possibility that the Jewish religion is part of the reason that Jews constitute 0.2% of the world’s population and yet have been awarded 22.4% of Nobel Prizes. … Is it impossible that this could be part of why Jews are so good at science?

          O: You need to rule out other obvious factors like this one before you go jumping to conclusions that religion should be given more weight than them.

          I never said “given more weight”. Just “given possible weight”, where “possible” is not for pretend (when it is really meant that other factors contributed aplenty, and the Jewish religion possibly contributed something, but probably contributed nothing). If it is even remotely plausible that the Jewish and/or Christian religions positively contributed to science—and more than just via “emotions management”—I will have created a serious problem for the sentence I quoted in the OP (first one in the second quote chain, here).

           
          You might want to be careful about throwing around the word “disingenuous”. Maybe … it’s all in your head.

        • Otto

          (1) Christianity critically helped science.

          So? I am not sure why this is important if Christianity was not necessary. If your conclusion that Christianity as an institution helped science was bolstered it must have been weak, I could have told you that and would agree that as an institution it did…but I really don’t find that interesting or surprising. I would only be interested if Christian specific belief was instrumental. That was the point I was making by ignoring your qualifier.

          You seem to have the wrong conclusion that I think Christianity (as an institution) produces nothing of value.

          >>>”I never said “given more weight”. Just “given possible weight”

          I already granted that it was possible but you took issue with that, so what am I supposed to think?

          >>>”(when it is really meant that other factors contributed aplenty, and the Jewish religion possibly contributed something, but probably contributed nothing)

          I never said that or inferred it.

          >>>”If it is even remotely plausible that the Jewish and/or Christian religions positively contributed to science—and more than just via “emotions management”—I will have created a serious problem for the sentence I quoted in the OP (first one in the second quote chain, here).”

          Two points here

          1) I think both Jewish and Christian religions as institutions positively contributed to science, but again I don’t find that all that interesting because they were not necessary, only sufficient.

          2) That wasn’t my quote in the OP and was not what I was addressing. It is maybe the case that the OP stretched the issue here, but the point that very often ‘doubt’ in religion is only encouraged ‘up to a point’ is rather obvious.

          >>>”You might want to be careful about throwing around the word “disingenuous”. Maybe … it’s all in your head.”

          It is my opinion, one that seems to be shared by many who interact with you here as your yourself have admitted. I will concede our discussions are limited to online comment boards and it could be the case we just have a hard time with understanding/expressing with each other in such a format.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          LV[OP]: This is why religions work so hard to douse even the smallest flames of doubt.

          LB: (1) Christianity critically helped science.

          O: So? I am not sure why this is important if Christianity was not necessary.

          You see no connection between the specific examples of Christianity and Judaism bolstering science and the sentence from the OP I picked out? No connection whatsoever?

          You seem to have the wrong conclusion that I think Christianity (as an institution) produces nothing of value.

          Nope, that’s not what I was talking about at all. Again, go back and look at the sentence I picked out of the OP. That’s the sentence with which I started my original comment and it is crucial context for pretty much everything in this thread.

          I already granted that it was possible but you took issue with that, so what am I supposed to think?

          I was very clear with my objection: I don’t think it should be given less weight than the alternatives until there is sound reason to do so. What I detect is a prejudice towards giving it less weight based not in the evidence, but in Enlightenment dogma. BTW, the sentence from the OP I quoted gives it negative weight. That should help explain some of the force of my comments; to bend a paperclip back to straight, you have to temporarily over-bend it.

          2) … but the point that very often ‘doubt’ in religion is only encouraged ‘up to a point’ is rather obvious.

          Is this true of all [remotely orthodox] Judaism? True of all [remotely orthodox] Christianity?

          LB: You might want to be careful about throwing around the word “disingenuous”. Maybe … it’s all in your head.

          O: It is my opinion, one that seems to be shared by many who interact with you here as your yourself have admitted. I will concede our discussions are limited to online comment boards and it could be the case we just have a hard time with understanding/​expressing with each other in such a format.

          I doubt the problem is limited to online comment boards. There was a study of two groups which emigrated to France, the same in all respects except for religion: one was Muslim, one was Christian. The Christians integrated well while the Muslims did not. The authors found that this was because of subtle distrust of the Muslims expressed by the French, which seems to have created the problem out of thin air. After all, if you treat a group with distrust, interacting with you will be taxing for them and they will naturally withdraw, choosing to predominantly interact with those who aren’t dicks like this. And yet, that very withdrawing is one of the key worries of the French! It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I find that this kind of thing happens all over the place. Perhaps even with y’all and yours truly.

          If you really want to understand who is disingenuous, look at attempts character assassination with zero supporting evidence, and then refuses to then back up the claims with evidence or retract them with apology. Ours is a culture where the Other is refuted not with evidence and reason, but by finding ways to paint them as morally evil. How about we don’t contribute to this, but instead work against it?

        • Adam King

          Try working with the idea of “Jewish culture” rather than conflating it with “Jewish religion.”

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          How separable are they, especially if you go back a few hundred years? You know that “religion” and “culture” haven’t always been separable categories, right?

        • Adam King

          Well they are now. You can use your brain to make distinctions and clarify things, or you can use it to muddy them up. The latter is a great way to avoid uncomfortable truths, isn’t it?

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Of course we must distinguish disparate things, and fail to introduce false distinctions. We should also note the various timescales at play, as I said recently:

          LB: Many aspects of culture are momentum on timescales much greater than one generation. So we have to be careful.

          So, where do we go from here? Do we default to saying that probably the Jewish religion has approximately nothing to do with their excellent science abilities? This is, after all, what I was getting at with my original comment:

          LB: Is it impossible that this could be part of why Jews are so good at science?

          We all know that it’s easy to leave open a bare possibility while never intending to let it become more than that. I wonder if that’s the case, here.

           
          Note that some people in this discussion are going to care more about advancing their ideas about how the world works (whether it’s me thinking religion can help scientific confidence or others who think it cannot or even hurts scientific confidence), while others will care more about improving scientific competence no matter what pretty little ideas about reality get smashed in the process. Are there any in the second category?

        • Adam King

          You’re using “religion” too broadly, I think. It’s not an umbrella term for all aspects of Jewish culture even among the most devout Jews. (“Fiddler on the Roof” didn’t have a song about “Religion”–the song was about “Tradition.”) Jewish tradition values scholarship extremely highly and reasoned argument within that scholarship. That habit of reasoning was never confined to “religious” topics by any means.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          It does depend on what one means by “religion”. I’ve only ever found one satisfying definition, and it seems very odd at first:

          A religious belief is:

               1. a belief in something as divine, or
               2. a belief about how the non-divine depends on the divine, or
               3. a belief about how humans come to stand in proper relation to the divine, where
               4. “divine” means the self-existent reality which is the origin of all that is non-divine no matter how that is conceived.
          (A New Philosophical Guide for the Sciences: Ontology without Reduction)

          Here, “divine” really means “that which is non-dependently real”. And it means everyone has religious beliefs—even atheists. Because we all hold something to be real and not reducible to something else.

          Now, if you take the above notion of “religious belief”, I think it slots in quite nicely with my excerpt from Studies in Exegesis. It does apply to a rather wide swath of reality. But I’d like to focus on the kind of reasoning it promotes in science—like the following, from Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine:

              Nearly two hundred years ago, Joseph-Louis Lagrange described analytical mechanics based on Newton’s laws as a branch of mathematics.[33] In the French scientific literature, one often speaks of “rational mechanics.” In this sense, Newton’s laws would define the laws of reason and represent a truth of absolute generality. Since the birth of quantum mechanics and relativity, we know that this is not the case. The temptation is now strong to ascribe a similar status of absolute truth to quantum theory. In The Quark and the Jaguar, Gell-Mann asserts, “Quantum mechanics is not itself a theory; rather it is the framework into which all contemporary physical theory must fit.”[34] Is this really so? As stated by my late friend Léon Rosenfeld, “Every theory is based on physical concepts expressed through mathematical idealizations. They are introduced to give an adequate representation of the physical phenomena. No physical concept is sufficiently defined without the knowledge of its domain of validity.“[35] (The End of Certainty, 28–29)

          It seems rather fashionable these days to suggest that quantum mechanics is “divine”. Of course we don’t use that word, but you do see stuff like Sean Carroll’s Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood (update with nice visualization).

        • Joe

          It’s funny that, while I can no longer see Luke’s posts, I can still get a feeling for the rubbish he’s spewing in this thread.

        • Adam King

          It’s been suggested that Noam Chomsky’s early work in linguistics betrays habits of thought influenced by Talmudic scholarship, e.g. in discovering “deep structures” of unconscious grammar concealed under the surface of ordinary discourse.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Interesting. He has since admitted that there’s some very important stuff he has no idea how to solve:

          Specifically, Descartes speculated that the workings of res cogitans—second substance—may be beyond human understanding. So he thought, quoting him again, “We may not have intelligence enough to understanding the workings of mind.” In particular, the normal use of language, one of his main concepts. He recognized that the normal use of language has what has come to be called a creative aspect; every human being but no beast or machine has this capacity to use language in ways that are appropriate to situations but not caused by them—this is a crucial difference. And to formulate and express thoughts that may be entirely new and do so without bound, may be incited or inclined to speak in certain ways by internal and external circumstances, but not compelled to do so. That’s the way his followers put the matter—which was a mystery to Descartes and remains a mystery to us. That quite clearly is a fact. (Noam Chomsky – “The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding”, 9:58)

    • Greg G.

      This seems like a gross overgeneralization. Abraham questioned God, Moses questioned God, Jeremiah questioned God, etc.

      Aren’t those examples of doubt extinguishers? Be like these Bible heroes and get over your doubts. Being willing to kill your favorite child if that’s what God wants.

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        I had the same thought, though it likely would have taken me 3X as many words to say it. :)

      • JustAnotherAtheist2

        I had the same thought, though it likely would have taken me 3X as many words to say it.

      • Adam King

        Lot questioned God, and look at the answer he got. “Shut up, is why! I’m God and you’re not.” (Only in poetry, of course.)

        • Herald Newman

          Are you by chance confusing Lot with Job? Been a while since I read through Genesis, but I don’t remember this.

        • Adam King

          Of course I am. I’m always confusing those two names, even tho I know the difference perfectly well. It’s one of those infuriating mental glitches I can’t seem to fix. They’re both three-letter, one-syllable names with an O in the middle and consonants on either side, and they both spell common everyday English words. My life would be so much better if one of them had been named Marmaduke or something. Plus they both had doomed wives. Bah.

        • Greg G.

          The father of John the Baptist questioned the angel that foretold of the birth and got muted until the birth happened.

          Mary questioned the same angel, and got an explanation. I guess she needed to be able to make some excuses when she began to look pregnant.

    • Greg G.

      Is it impossible that this could be part of why Jews are so good at science?

      This article has several theories of natural eugenics for the Ashkenazi Jews.

      http://immortallife.info/articles/entry/why-is-the-iq-of-ashkenazi-jews-so-high

    • Phil Rimmer

      Christian religious tradition and religious oppression certainly play into the intellectual (portable!) wealth of Jewish folk and their high cultural (if not dogmatic) mutuality.

      Jewish religious writings are extensive and diverse and often only obliquely about religion and the tradition of scholars dedicated to them is long and culturally ingrained. (The Christian bible by contrast is edited to better constrain, but committee based is still a little too diverse to avoid free thinking altogether. Third try Qur’an gets a far greater focus to seal off too much thinking.)

      Defensive mutuality, portable wealth, including intellectual and other skills, and a tradition of debating and studying is the result of religious happenstance not because religion.

      • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

        Defensive mutuality, portable wealth, including intellectual and other skills, and a tradition of debating and studying is the result of religious happenstance not because religion.

        How do you know this to be true? You aren’t laying it out as one empirical possibility among others in wait of testing by the evidence; why?

        • Phil Rimmer

          Parsimony. Happenstance covers it. Harassed for some made up shit does the job. Complicated ancient verbiage spawning a tradition of puzzlers does the job.

          Less readily explicable needs more explanation.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Seems more like just-so stories than parsimony to me.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Its how any good detective story starts. Try for the simplest, least exotic account of the evidence. The bummer is….. here the pieces fit first time. The cleverer sidekick needs to come up with a reason to propose complex tricky shit, else no story. So…?

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          The rise of scientific prowess is slightly more complicated than your run of the mill detective story. We actually know very little about how the former happened; if we did, we would be able to design machine learning/​AI programs to do science for us. We can’t. Not by a long shot.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Maybe but anthropology has a further way to go than other disciplines before science can claim a reliable and comprehensive traction of it. You are somewhat jumping the gun here.

          FWIW AI increasingly shows scientific discovery to be accessible to it. The deficit is in demonstrating salience and providing inventive application. A further deficit is front loading with metaphysical hypotheses, inventing entities that may or may not exist before testing (reality!) for their actual existence directly of indirectly.

          Humans can be metaphysically generative perhaps because they can do metaphorical thinking, and they can do this perhaps because of the huge overwiring and brain growth of the infant from birth to eighteen months (when human brains are at their most complex). This chaotic wiring appears mostly in the associative corteces and is later pruned back to something more rational. (The terrible twos is a very confusing time.) Brighter and more creative folk often have more of this over-wiring remaining and are synaesthetic (yellow sevens, tinkling Thursdays).

          Metaphorical and evolutionary thinking (the latter, consciously rejected thoughts replaced by adaptions spontaneously provided by the sub conscious) are the mother of invention and aesthetic needs part of the valuation of this novelty along with the cultural apps of maths, logic, language and dogma. AI has a way to go before it can have our metaphorical generation and aesthetics, though evolutionary thought is a done deal already.

          Creative AI may need to be grown in a similar manner to us…. It may need gloomy prospects and adversity to thrive. By rights they should wish to kill their self-serving creator were it anything other than physics.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I can use the same level of explanation (all the stitching is done with just-so-story thread) to argue that the following phenomenon—

              I first began to look at Christian materials in relationship to the legal teachings of Judaism when working on my MA at the University of Toronto. I soon discovered that most seasoned scholars of New Testament, not knowing the intricacies of talmudic texts from deep study but from secondary sources, formed skewed opinions and could not penetrate the meanings that lay behind some remarkable rabbinic texts. I found it difficult to explain to them that unlike most literature talmudic texts often do not, for whatever reasons, expose the precise contexts upon which their cases rest. The ability to discern these contexts develops from the experience of spending years of concentrated study utilizing the works of the best talmudists over the last thousand years as well as developing a critical sense of how talmudic passages are constructed from earlier materials. This experience permits dedicated students to engage not only the rabbinic texts they study but also early Christian texts from unique standpoints. Most scholars of the New Testament lack such training. (Studies in Exegesis, 2)

          —is very important for good scientific work, and something humans seem highly resistant to doing (at least when they’ve “grown up”). I would not be surprised if the above were causally related to this prerequisite for the scientific revolution:

              Medieval theologians engaged in a new and unique genre of hypothetical reasoning. In order to expand the logical horizon of God’s omnipotence as far as could be, they distinguished between that which is possible or impossible de potentia Dei absoluta as against that which is so de potentia Dei ordinata. This distinction was fleshed out with an incessant search for orders of nature different from ours which are nonetheless logically possible. Leibniz’s contraposition of the nécessité logique (founded on the law of noncontradiction) and the nécessité physique (founded on the principle of sufficient reason) has its roots in these Scholastic discussions, and with it the questions about the status of laws of nature in modern philosophies of science. But medieval hypothetical reasoning did not serve future metatheoretical discussions alone. The considerations of counterfactual orders of nature in the Middle Ages actually paved the way for the formulation of laws of nature since Galileo in the following sense: seventeenth-century science articulated some basic laws of nature as counterfactual conditionals that do not describe any natural state but function as heuristic limiting cases to a series of phenomena, for example, the principle of inertia. Medieval schoolmen never did so; their counterfactual yet possible orders of nature were conceived as incommensurable with the actual structure of the universe, incommensurable either in principle or because none of their entities can be given a concrete measure. But in considering them vigorously, the theological imagination prepared for the scientific. This is the theme of my third chapter. (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 10–11)

          We seem to be in constant danger of thinking that our current conceptual categories for understanding reality are gospel truth. One could argue that the no-idols thrust in the OT was a constant move to shatter conceptual categories, to allow for growth. Hardened hearts (Hebrew, not Greek), hearts which have taken idols into themselves, cannot grow.

        • Phil Rimmer

          I covered the first part.

          Complicated ancient verbiage spawning a tradition of puzzlers does the job.

          Interestingly Newton (a fellow overly trusting of the ancients) spent his life paring away the nonsense of of a triune god to to get back to a form of arianism. (He had no reason not to need a creator.)

          For the second

          Since Kant and Schopenhauer and the noumen we are under no illusion of seeing to the very fabric of the universe in un-parsed phenomena alone. Proof finally 1905. We think the strangest things possible.

          Unknown causal agents (and their mis-identification) predate gods. We are already prepared for hidden process. Spurious theological agency and metaphysical sophistry may or may not have helped thinking skills, but we mostly worked through, thinking our way clear from the muddle. At least it gave us grandparents and their fireside tales to keep them fed….

          PS I’ll have to think through the specific second quote more. I see very little direct science generation here that flows from necessarily religious thinking. Rather I see the creation of problems from theology that need solutions.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I covered the first part.

          PR: Complicated ancient verbiage spawning a tradition of puzzlers does the job.

          You mean you uttered the vaguest of just-so stories. Christianity has plenty of material for that job and yet my excerpt of Studies in Exegesis indicates that Christian scholars tend not to do the thing I say is important for science—at least, the kind of scientific innovations that get you Nobel Prizes. Surely Islam also has plenty of material. And Hinduism. And so forth.

          Spurious theological agency and metaphysical sophistry may or may not have helped thinking skills, but we mostly worked through, thinking our way clear from the muddle.

          Ahh, so our thinking is clear now? We don’t sit on a huge tradition worshiping Reason (capital R) which ran thoroughly aground upon stuff like the following:

          And when we add that work to the mountain of research on motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and the fact that nobody’s been able to teach critical thinking. … You know, if you take a statistics class, you’ll change your thinking a little bit. But if you try to train people to look for evidence on the other side, it can’t be done. It shouldn’t be hard, but nobody can do it, and they’ve been working on this for decades now. At a certain point, you have to just say, ‘Might you just be searching for Atlantis, and Atlantis doesn’t exist?’ (The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Psychology, 16:47)

          ? That doesn’t look like especially clear thinking is anything like the norm. And being smarter hurts you, if we go by Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government.

        • Phil Rimmer

          You mean you uttered the vaguest of just-so stories.

          Well I was agreeing with you. I could have used the longer earlier account but, I was agreeing with you. I just think you proved my case.

          Also, it is but one part of my compact thesis for current Jewish intellectual achievement. I think Muslim scholars might have swept the board in the tenth century. The Jewish uptick became noticeable after this with the Christian persecution and the need for a reviled and persecuted people to have portable wealth.

          No I don’t know that our “thinking is clear now”. That’s the whole point. More than ever we understand the myriad consecutive ways we have been fooled, from self serving religious tosh through unwarranted certainties after predictive success went to our heads several times. Now we are far more tentative, breeding scientists increasingly intellectually rewarded with greater certainty and fame by breaking things and proving them definitively wrong. Thanks, Popper.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          PR: I covered the first part.

          PR: Complicated ancient verbiage spawning a tradition of puzzlers does the job.

          LB: You mean you uttered the vaguest of just-so stories. Christianity has plenty of material for that job and yet my excerpt of Studies in Exegesis indicates that Christian scholars tend not to do the thing I say is important for science—at least, the kind of scientific innovations that get you Nobel Prizes. Surely Islam also has plenty of material. And Hinduism. And so forth.

          PR: Well I was agreeing with you. I could have used the longer earlier account but, I was agreeing with you. I just think you proved my case.

          Your original vague just-so story is like this: “Toss some ingredients in a bowl, mix, bake, and out comes banana bread.” That’s only true if a very specific class of ingredients is used. You didn’t specify that class with nearly enough detail.

          What you really seem to be doing is denigrating the particular, as if a forward Hegelian motion will push us toward utopia (or as close as we can get in a dysteleological universe)—at least if humans discover & worship the universals properly.

        • Phil Rimmer

          unlike most literature talmudic texts often do not, for whatever reasons, expose the precise contexts upon which their cases rest.

          Complicated ancient verbiage spawning a tradition of puzzlers

          Your original vague just-so story is like this: “Toss some ingredients in a bowl,

          1.) No. I think I specified flour and bananas at least. Not forgetting after centuries of Christian oppression Jews finally surfaced, intellectually honed by the harassment. You seem to be neglecting the importance of religion here in stimulating an intellectual immune response to itself..

          2.) WTF? I loathe idealism, utopianism. I don’t do religion-lite.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          1.) No. I think I specified flour and bananas at least.

          Same problem.

          You seem to be neglecting the importance of religion here in stimulating an intellectual immune response to itself.

          You seem close to presupposing that it couldn’t do or be much more than that. That is, I see no avenues you have provided for it being anything other than that. You’re neglecting the particulars, as if they don’t matter.

          2.) WTF? I loathe idealism, utopianism. I don’t do religion-lite.

          You missed my parenthetical.

        • Phil Rimmer

          You seem close to presupposing that it couldn’t do or be much more than that.

          I gave you two reasons for Jewish intellectual performance, the result of but not the fruit or the flowering of religion. This is a third concept how science develops to dispatch the unsustainable. It is new here.

          You’re neglecting the particulars, as if they don’t matter.

          Demonstrate their needfulness, For the life of me you are not saying anything that gives a better account.

          I missed not calling you something impolite. Your last comment seemed meaningless to me…sorry.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          LB: You’re neglecting the particulars, as if they don’t matter.

          PR: Demonstrate their needfulness, For the life of me you are not saying anything that gives a better account.

          I have an excellent example. The bias in much scientific publishing, including biophysics and biochemistry, is to be rather sparse on your methods. For more sophisticated experiments, this means leaving much unspecified and presenting little to none of the information which would be helpful in troubleshooting. My wife, a postdoc in biophysics/​biochemistry, has run into this problem twice now, costing multiple months each time. Problems with scientific reproducibility have been getting a lot of airtime recently; I happen to be attending a talk on that very problem with my wife, tomorrow. I’m also working on software to help collect, organize, and facilitate collaboration on the particulars of experiments.

          A major reason the above is a problem is that there is a strong bias in the sciences (less so in the human sciences) to discovering universal law. If you can do that, you get a gold star. If not, maybe you get a silver or bronze star. Maybe no star. If you want to see an example of this prejudice in action, see Doing Research that Makes a Difference.

          I missed not calling you something impolite. Your last comment seemed meaningless to me…sorry.

          I’d rather the truth than politeness. Charitable interpretation is nice; dunno if you lump that in with politeness.

        • Phil Rimmer

          The whole point of not giving a recipe for getting specific results is to raise the bar for corroboration. It is the cautious thing to do. The specific results may be a quirk of the specific test regime. Part of the corroboration is the test set up itself. Is it reasonable? Inventing your own test set up and getting the same results is the best possible corroborative result.

          For students getting the expected repeat result is what will get you the pass for your lab work. For all other science a negative result is as powerful and worthwhile as a positive. It means all have to review their methods. The problem in biotech is the level of investment in research and paymasters that desire a specific positive result. Middle managers are notorious for shielding directors from news they don’t want. Pure science is difficult to do then. Scientists betting reputations on the toss off a hunch make life difficult for their colleagues also. But the scientist who breaks an hypothesis definitively, is recognised by the institution of science as a positive contributor and lauded. In our new age of large teams and collegiate science a lot of these anti-scientific pressures are mitigated. Its a better way. False consensus at the crowded bench is a tough deception to contrive.

          I hope you will get (sufficient) politeness first (consistent with a pearl producing “irritance”) and truth in the fullness of the exchange. Though I find you mistaken and maddening by turns I have never doubted your earnest intention.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Could you be wrong in your denigration of the particular? That is, could future developments in science show your current emphasis on universal truth to be suboptimal to the purpose of maximizing the rate of scientific progress? Your emphasis could be subordinate to matters such as “maximizing the rate of scientific progress”, but it could also be a philosophical choice.

          Your bit on corroboration is an informal means for ensuring robustness of experiment, for ensuring that one hasn’t set up a Rube Goldberg machine. Were the details of experimental technique to be published, we could have a formal means. Only the latter will allow us to conduct more and more complex experiments. Furthermore, at least in the life sciences, you don’t necessarily know whether two different experimental setups are testing the same thing.

          Anyhow, it is my suspicion that paying insufficient attention to the particulars could easily be a recipe for stunted growth—in all domains. You end up relying on extant intuition of your best and brightest, while depriving yourself of powerful ways to improve it. And you teach people that the particular ultimately doesn’t matter.

        • Phil Rimmer

          I invent products and systems and the means to test them, design verification and manufacturing test are essential. Formalised test procedures grow and develop running along behind experience. But new and unexpected experience, new (legitimate! well not debarred) elements in the mix catch you out where the expected is simply catered for. So

          Were the details of experimental technique to be published, we could have a formal means.

          The counter that counts is not an informal process but an utterly unconstrained process else we fall into the trap of thinking we know what we don’t know. It may give more variability in progress but randomness, as much as can be achieved, promises true novelty of insight if not dependably so. In fact teams (outside of commercial interest when publication is mostly reluctant anyway) often seek each other out to puzzle over different results and the use of off the self and bespoke equipment, achieving the best of both approaches, unconstrained, later formalised.

          I like random in its ability to generate real novelty, by-passing our truly habitual ways. It may progress with less speed but it progresses on a broader front.

          As for “my” products, testing with ever changing beta sites, not too carefully assayed, yields better assessments and discovery of un-imagined problems and (best of all) better ideas for future progress.

          Evolution is a more innovative problem solver than intelligent design.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          The counter that counts is not an informal process but an utterly unconstrained process else we fall into the trap of thinking we know what we don’t know.

          How experimental scientists do science is far from “utterly unconstrained“. Their education and training are extremely constraining. Your suggestion would blind us to the characteristics of these constraints. And because just getting the experiment up and running in the first place is so obnoxious (because there is little access to the wealth of knowledge about particulars of experimentation), less parameter space can be explored.

          Self-imposed blindness is far from the best way to ensure that we don’t think we know what we don’t actually know.

        • Phil Rimmer

          How experimental scientists do science is far from “utterly unconstrained”.

          Strawman. We are discussing one aspect of doing science not doing science.

          Your suggestion would blind us to the characteristics of these constraints.

          Nonsense. Re-inventing experiments is deeply important. Much great discovery comes from properly understanding the constraints of experiments like thus and so.

          I latterly did plasma physics at uni and they wanted me to stay on and do research. I wanted to get the hell out of there, but as a parting gift I was given the task of mapping a physical and temporal air blast profile for a high power arc extinction experiment they were having problems with. I realised from the kit and the results a grad student was getting that the tiny Kistler pressure tranducers they used would deliver increasingly wrong results as the milliseconds mounted (the piezo generated charge would just leak away suggesting a declining pressure rather than a steady one.) I could see this decline was believed real because they didn’t understand their equipment. I redesigned the experiment using the sensor as part of a pressure sensitive resonant system. This delivered stable in time sensing and saved a further three months of wasted effort. If you don’t understand the equipment you are not equipped to do the tests. Do theory and stay out of the lab, you’ll waste others time. Inventing better tests, cleverer tests is how most progress is gained.

          Taking the equipment on trust is the big risk. Knowing how you would do it fits you for being an experimenter.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          PR: The counter that counts is not an informal process but an utterly unconstrained process else we fall into the trap of thinking we know what we don’t know.

          LB: How experimental scientists do science is far from “utterly unconstrained“.

          PR: Strawman. We are discussing one aspect of doing science not doing science.

          I meant my “How experimental scientists do science” to match up with your “process”. Perhaps I should have said “… do experiments”. Would you care to define that “process” so that we can be sure we’re talking about precisely the same thing?

          LB: Your suggestion would blind us to the characteristics of these constraints.

          PR: Nonsense. Re-inventing experiments is deeply important. Much great discovery comes from properly understanding the constraints of experiments like thus and so.

          Blinding us to the characteristics of those constraints may be “Nonsense” according to your philosophical outlook, but it does seem to be precisely what you are advocating. Any such “properly understanding the constraints of experiments” will be stuck going into the individual scientist’s intuition, because you don’t seem to want those things to be published. Have I misunderstood?

          Taking the equipment on trust is the big risk. Knowing how you would do it fits you for being an experimenter.

          Sure; when I was a freshman at university, I impertinently asked a maths prof why it was so important that we prove calculus. He asked whether we wanted to drive over bridges by engineers who merely plugged numbers into a program and accepted its results. But I don’t see what this has to do with our discussion. Surely you looked into the characteristics of those sensors, which had been carefully studied by other humans?

        • Phil Rimmer

          If a scientist is interested in the results of another’s experiment I want her to think first how she would best reproduce the result reliably, such that if it weren’t reproduced we could more confidently discount it for the time being. The methods could then be examined to see if it reflects an uncontrolled, unexpected parameter or other. If a scientist has no idea about a methodology then they aren’t the right scientist for the job.

          Newton was a pants experimental scientist. Hooke did the work for him and was brilliant at it. (He even put the idea into Newtons head that planets moved in ellipses and not circles. As a person rooted in observing the physical in the minutest degree and documenting it, he new the circular paths of a weight on a piece of string varied effortlessly through ellipses including circles. The forces involved were not different. Newton hadn’t noticed this. His experiments were too involved in proving hs ideas rather than finding things out.)

          The constraints of accuracy, precision, variables controlled for, statistical significance, the epidemiological tricks to distinguish the causal from the correlated etc. are granted (and subject to further expansion and improvement) but the nature of the experiment involving direct or indirect processes, direct or indirect physical or modelled setups or data-mined or machine evolved, or…or…whatever, all that constitutes the mode of the experiment is utterly unconstrained.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Could you have done what you described in your previous comment, had the Kistler pressure tranducers not been characterized, with those characterizations published?

        • Phil Rimmer

          Yes. I understood piezo-crystals. I understood how surface charge in real systems is lost through a myriad leakage mechanisms, not least the oxides of oxygen and nitrogen (created by arcs) make condensation highly conductive.

          I knew well how piezo elements have an electro-mechanical resonance altered by strain.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          So why are the specifications of transducers published? For lesser beings? (Like engineers?) Should we prohibit scientists from accessing them by law? Or … might it be the case that for science to progress past a certain point, not all scientists who use piezo crystals will be able to understand them like you do?

        • Phil Rimmer

          The key thing to understand is the system. It is not just the piezo ceramic elements in particular its understanding the novel circumstances of their application. The list of caveats for their use could be infinite. Were these little circular tablets medicine the warnings stuffed in the box would fold out and fold out endlessly. People who understand the physics of the measurement system (or insist on it within their team), who understand the transducer mechanism and its equivalent model, the housing the cabling the materials, the amplifier front end will understand the areas of risk.

          No, I think you misunderstand what I am saying. I would prohibit nothing. My point is to encourage the injection of more thought more expertise not less. I am encouraging much better education of experimental scientists. I am encouraging a broader education for them. (I vividly remember Professor Throop in our introduction to lab work explaining a piece of lab equipment to the class quite incorrectly. I tentatively corrected him and received high praise for this. Had I not been there…)

          I wouldn’t stop scientists from contacting experimenters they wish to emulate, but emulation is a low bar.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          My point is to encourage the injection of more thought more expertise not less. I am encouraging much better education of experimental scientists. I am encouraging a broader education for them.

          Me too. With my approach, a person interested in becoming an expert could look at the details of all experiments which touch on that area of expertise, with indications of where more of that expertise would have been beneficial, if not critical (we need to publish failure more). With your approach, all you get is word-of-mouth. Not only is there less information for the potential expert, but there is less information about demand, and demand is important to getting paid.

          I get your worries about lock-in, but it’s not clear that my approach would produce more lock-in than already exists. Perhaps it is because your model is strongest if there is dysfunction in that one area and no dysfunction anywhere else. But there is dysfunction everywhere. I’ll bet a lot of it is from a universal tendency to lock-in. (IIRC, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite is all about lock-in and avoiding it.) And yet, if we fight lock-in everywhere, your basis for objection disintegrates.

          I wouldn’t stop scientists from contacting experimenters they wish to emulate, but mere emulation is a lower bar.

          Emulation is virtually a prerequisite to innovation. We stand on the shoulders of giants. BTW, that’s how evolution works, too. Very small alterations from the prior generation. It’s mostly emulation. The possibility space being explored at any point in time is rather small.

        • Phil Rimmer

          I appreciate your intentions here. Perhaps, I am an outlier on the matter, but I suspect the votes would fall for your approach or mine based on ability to invent experimental procedures from scratch, the which I prefer.

          I’m still involved with university and commercial science-based research and have been off and on for all my professional life. A modest current uni based program is from on an idea of mine in extending the number of growing cycles in the year of particular crops. The experimental set up was managed by the lab assistant. In my day the lab assistant was a lowly functionary. Our lab assistant was a biology Phd with extensive knowledge seemingly in most other areas, really taking the biology and physics leads (her and me) as his functionaries. He was awesome in his competence.

          Team science given the way that we are working at much more complex levels than ever, really creates the opportunity for education and qualification in experimental science as a discipline. Team structure and capacities need formalising I would argue, to ensure the right combination of abilities is available, employed or contracted.

          People rightly laud Maxwell and Newton, but the giants shoulders they stood on were Faraday and Hooke. (Newton hated Hooke who had the unnerving ability to upstage some of his best ideas. Hooke was rather a crook backed dwarf of a man, unlike the aquiline Patrician featured Newton. Absolutely an Igor to Dr. Frankenstein. It has been suggested that the shoulders of giants comment was an unkind dig at Hooke whilst, faux modest, acknowledging his work.)

          Copying works in two ways. Copying exactly and copying intention. Over-imitation in children (as demonstrated by Victoria Horner) shows the former. Its reliability in preserving culture is the essential distinction perhaps of the naked ape. Copying intention (possibly a modest gender dividing attribute….not reading the instructions before use) is when the essential education of screwing it up happens and new solutions appear. Bell and 240 odd others invented the telephone. 100 or so independent wireless sets happened around Marconi’s time. Multiple invention greatly accelerates the inventive, problem finding and problem solving processes. For the life of me I can’t imagine invention and problem solving without problems. I remain keen to not have paths smoothed. I want many solutions and the habit of many solutions.

          I understand accountants have another “valid” view, and as yet I have not perfected my demathlificating ray, but if I can only get the funds together….

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          It’s taking me forever to write these replies because you make a lot of good points! I think it would be valuable to have some segment of society voluntarily do as you suggest, reinventing the wheel to see if maybe we missed something when we did it the first(?) time. History is highly contingent; it could have gone very differently. We could easily have missed some excellent things.

          On the other hand, I think your worries about lock-in to articulated experimental technique are too narrowly focused. Max Planck said [paraphrased] “Science advances one funeral at a time.”; I take this to include theory. But I also think the West itself is stuck in a disastrous lock-in, which I call “pathetic imagination”. We say we live in “the developed world” and we act like it. Alan Kay’s The Real Computer Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet (see also his 1997 OOPSLA talk) still seems sadly true.

          I’ve thought long and hard about this matter and I see a disastrous lack of competence, such that most humans just muddle along. Some want to do better but don’t have the time/resources, while the creative spirit in others has been murdered or at least severely maimed. When competence is scarce, progress is slow and imagination for what could be done erodes (or is not developed as much). Who is thinking 200 years out like Francis Bacon et al did? I suspect that the nurturing environments for those who would and could execute experiments “from scratch” are shrinking.

          If society were to adopt my idea of articulating experiment methods and the result were a lock-in that caused us to become like philosophy’s McEar—a being who is “omnipotent” because it can do all it is capable of doing—scratching his ear—I think we’re already hosed. If my idea were all it takes for innovation to be [mostly] extinguished, then our innovation is already on life support. Or do you disagree?

        • Phil Rimmer

          I think neither of our approaches would cause spectacular change. Both would have virtues. Yes, I still favour demanding creativity to join the club of experimenters and coax higher standards.

          I have a thing about creativity, and a new degree course is forming in my head, crossing interdisciplinary lab science with the cultivation of inventiveness. How many different ways can you establish bond length under different levels of excitation?

          I use computer modelling extensively but invention happens in my head. The modelling is to build a portable enough model for my own head where my subconscious does the heavy creative lifting. I’m with Feynman, insisting that mental arithmetic is essential to invention. You need to dismiss the wrong very quickly because the numbers are orders of magnitude out. You need to have key data in your head ready to go about materials and geometries. You need to be able to calculate the output of the sun or the earth’s core from the bits in your head for instance or the weight of the atmosphere or nitrogen dioxide production from a thousand Joule arc. You need to do the numbers in your head and test the limits of ideas taking them to extremes to see how they break.

          Being interested in everything helps creativity hugely. Metaphorical thinking is the generative process and having lots to choose from works well. I think generalism is on the increase. I see it more and more, which is why I am the opposite of you very enthusiastic about our creative prospects. My dad made me a generalist very early and he was made one by his wartime experience when he was lucky enough to be taught electronics by Fred Soddy. His lectures were about everything, just everything and they had to catch up the radio stuff in their own time.

          Your link, interesting but out of date in my view, had this

          H.G. Wells said that “Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe

          Yep pretty much. The archetypal scientist for Wells and where much of his material was gleaned was the self same Professor Frederick Soddy, Nobel discoverer of isotopes and the astonishing quantity of energy in some and coiner of the idea of the petrodollar and peak oil. In Glasgow Polytechnic Nissen huts teaching a misbegotten bunch WWII RAF airmen, health rejects, wireless,and why all the world is fascinating. The best present I ever got. I try to pay it forward.

        • Andy_Schueler

          The bias in much scientific publishing, including biophysics and biochemistry, is to be rather sparse on your methods. For more sophisticated experiments, this means leaving much unspecified and presenting little to none of the information which would be helpful in troubleshooting.

          Not quite. We nowadays have much more space to elaborate on methods than scientists of earlier generations had – because all journals are online we can submit supplementary pdfs of practically arbitrary length and describe the methods we used in as much detail as we want (I am a co-author on a paper that’s just 4 pages long in the printed journal, but has an online supplement with almost 150 pages).
          From my vantage point, the problems are rather
          a) that reviewers are too busy or lazy (usually the former) to check the methods section as rigorously as they check results + discussion
          b) that there are no enforced standards for describing statistical analyses (you wouldn’t believe how often authors write something like “data was normalized analogous to the approach in Randomscientist et al. 2011” with you then finding out that Randomscientist et al. 2011 also just refers to another paper and the trail eventually leading nowhere)
          c) that authors are not forced to upload the source code of the scripts they used for preparing and analyzing their results (which could be problematic in case of proprietary software, but the vast majority of scientists use open source tools like R anyway, and having access to, say, a Mathematica script without a license for the software, is still better than having nothing at all).

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Sure, there are SIs. But the way you note them being used merely reinforces my description of the prejudice for universal knowledge, against particular knowledge.

        • Andy_Schueler

          That was genuinely surprising. I’ve seen you using superfluous hyperlinks often before, but that link might take the cake so far.

  • Adam King

    Having been raised in a family without religion but with a strong humanist ethic, I can assure you it never occurred to me to ask, “If there is no god, is there any such thing as right or wrong?” Although I understand the point of view now–after some study of philosophy–it always seemed to me to be a complete non sequitur. So no, not all “godless seekers” wonder that.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      I was raised religious and that question never occurred to me, either. Realizing that I had no good reason to believe god exists didn’t in any way diminish my reason for thinking murder, stealing, etc. are wrong.

      • TheNuszAbides

        This exactly. I never swallowed any of the authoritarian pills once i decided (around age 6) that “because i’m older” was an arbitrary excuse. But i’m still probably lucky that nobody ended up focusing the slipperier apologetics on me before i drifted out of orbit around churchliness.

  • Sophia Sadek

    There is a story from the ancient world about a Jewish rabbi who was attacked for questioning the tenets of the Jewish faith. It did not end well.

    • TheNuszAbides

      It did not end well.

      Not unless his ‘sacrifice’ is ‘justified’ with egregious presumptions, anyway.

  • RichardSRussell

    Ultimately I found there really were objective moral truths and objective sources of meaning—and God had nothing to do with it.

    Well, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy. The guy’s still looking for objectivity in places where objectivity is logically impossible: the realm of pure, untestable opinion.