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July 11, 2010

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Great piece. I love Jon Stewart, but he does rely on that, "I'm just a comic" thing from time to time when he gets criticized. Usually when the mainstream media get their asses kicked by his interviews.

That stupid "both relying of faith" comment was maybe the dumbest thing I've ever heard that smart guy say. Well done calling him on it.

And a million scientists went, “huh?”

So did I.

I'm not a scientist and saw the show for the very first time last week - and it was this episode. To be honest I'd never heard of Stewart or his show before but I don't think I'll be checking the guide for it again.

I couldn't figure out what Robinson was about but I guess it's just another call for accommodationism.

I imagine the "ants" reference refers to E.O. Wilson, who studied ants as well as being a founder of sociobiology.

The ridiculous "ants to cosmology" business is, of course, used to imply that "atheistic" scientists have developed a spurious ideology which over-reaches the "facts" of science. Scientists should just stick to studying the trivial nuts and bolts, and leave all the clever "interpretation" to professionals like Robinson.

It's a way of trivialising and neutering science, and placing scientists a bit lower on the intellectual hierarchy.

He really said the universe is mostly made of anti-matter? Really? I'm glad it's not.

Confusing "anti-matter" with "dark matter" is like calling a cat a pickle.

While I agree with the thrust of your article and the point you made about proposing dark matter's existence as a result of other measurements accounting for it, I'm inclined to think that Jon's point could be taken a bit more generally. What if, instead of his comment about anti/dark matter, Jon had said something like:

I’ve always been fascinated that the more you delve into science, the more it appears to rely on faith. They start to speak about the universe as if, well there’s "matter and energy". Oh really, where did it come from? "Well, energy is neither created nor destroyed, so it's always been there." Well, where did it first come from, the very first time, the very first unit? "It was just there, just like matter."

It’s a very similar argument to someone who would say God created everything. Well where is he? "Well, he’s there." Well where did he come from? "He has no beginning or end." And I’m always struck by the similarity of the arguments at their core.

Note that I am not an expert on the big-bang or anything, and I may simply be ignorant. I am also not attempting to support the interviewee. But that's the question on my mind and may perhaps be the angle Jon was attempting to take. What do you think? Is there a book or web page I could reference for an answer to the above "similarity"?

Thanks for the great blog!

@Tyler: the big difference in your example is that at least we all know matter and energy exist beyond question, and we have a pretty good handle on how it interacts, what the force carriers are, what the range and relative strengths of interactions are...

To argue that God must have existed always, one must first prove that he exists at all.

Tricky.

And, of course, to prove god exists, you first have to come up with some sort of definition or prediction about how gods would affect the universe. So far, religion only diverges on that sort of thing.

When science studies a question, the answers tend to converge.

I think that a lot of people find science intimidating, not just because it’s “hard” but because there’s so damn much of it. I mean, if you want to know everything there is to know about Christianity, there’s really only one book you need to read. Most people who don’t work in science simply don’t have the time it would take to become even superficially conversant in a handful of fields. So from that standpoint, taking the scientists’ word for it doesn’t feel fundamentally different from taking the priests’ word for it.

Except of course that science, you know… produces results.

Wait a minute... Postmodern atheists? I don't see a way to make that work for any (conventional) use of the term "postmodern".

ahhh man.. Give the guy a break. He's a comedian not scientist or a nu-athiest lecturer. When it comes to political commentary he's poignantly hilarious. As a comedian he's hilariously poignant. The guy can't know everything. He's not.. er. god

"He's not.. er. god"
That's Colbert's job!!

I'm not an atheist, but I don't have a religion either.

I'm not a scientist either, but I do love science!

Love Jon Stewart - politically. I believe he is religious, so it seems reasonable that he would say those things about religion.

But I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Great post!

The correct answer is that religion fears science – because science, bit by bit, has proved the various claims of religion to be totally wrong.

This is so reductive and simplistic as to make any discussion useless.

Many religions and religious people do fear science and are stupid to do so.

And millions, millions, do not.

AndyD

I wouldn’t judge Stewart by that one interview. The show is actually pretty funny, and reliably skewers the stupidity and hypocrisy of politicians. More the stupidity of the right than the left, admittedly (and mostly US – which may not interest those outside the country so much). And his political interviews are usually very good. I guess he has a blind spot about religion.

Anyway, in my opinion, it’s usually a good show.

yakaru:

You may be right, although if so I don’t think she was representing it correctly.  Looking at Wilson’s Wikipedia page, I see something about “a sociobiological explanation for all social behavior,” but nothing about “a conclusion about the nature of the cosmos.” So I'd say if that's what she meant, she failed again

The correct answer is that religion fears science – because science, bit by bit, has proved the various claims of religion to be totally wrong.

This is so reductive and simplistic as to make any discussion useless.

Many religions and religious people do fear science and are stupid to do so.

And millions, millions, do not.


Posted by: DairyStateDad | July 14, 2010 at 07:06 AM

It's a metaphor dude.

Sorry, my comment was a bit vague. E.O. Wilson and others argued that altruism, as it appears in the animal kingdom (including among ants, Wilson's special subject) can be explained by natural selection.

Sociobiology sought to apply this reasoning to human behaviour, thus incurring the wrath of everyone who thinks altruism is a gift from God.

In Robinson's eyes, by postulating an alternative explanation which doesn't mention God, Wilson and the other biologists have made a statement about cosmology. And what do biologists know about cosmology?

I might be wrong, but she would be the right age to have been involved in that controversy.

As for Dawkins being postmodernist, that is so absurd, that I suspect she meant to say "reductionist" but got mixed up.

@DairyStateDad: Saying religion is (or should be) afraid of science is not the same as saying every person who’s religious is (or should be) afraid of science.

yakaru:

Thanks for that explanation. I'm still not sure what it has to do with cosmology. Isn't cosmology to do with the universe - big bang / how stars are formed and stuff? Seems a stretch to go from " altruism" to how the universe was formed.

I'm not saying you're wrong in what she might have meant; just that it doesn't seem to make any sense. But then neither did most of what she said make any sense, so nothing new there.

As for Dawkins being postmodernist, that is so absurd, that I suspect she meant to say "reductionist" but got mixed up.

I dunno... I think we've just reached the point where the word "postmodern" doesn't really mean anything any more - it's just one of those random words with vaguely negative associations that people throw at things they don't like. Which is rather ironic, really... ;)

Who knows what she was on about. Maybe I am being overly generous in ascribing a semi-rational position to her.

I'm just guessing she meant reductionism rather than post modernism. In any case, in her article at the Huff post, she actually mentions "brutal reductionism" (which "justifies as inevitable every sort of meagerness and rapacity").

Ho hum. The next few decades of listening this line of non-argument are going to be a bit dull.

The man who studies ants and has a deep scientific perspective on the cosmos is E. O. Wilson.

I watched that interview with my family, and their reaction was "what the hell was that even about?" I got the impression that not even Stewart was confused but, thanks to that generic must-be-nice-to-religious-beliefs idea, said nothing and just tried to keep it going. Would have been nice if he had just said "lady, I gotta be honest: I have no fucking idea what you're talking about".

I'm not sure why Stewart gets touted as a paragon of critical thinking anyway. He's a "TV Funnyman" who, rest assured, views himself in much more vainglorious fashion than "TV Funnyman." However, Stewart can conveniently use the "I'm just a TV Funnyman!" excuse whenever critics come calling for his head.

During Jon Stewart's best moments, he kind of falls into the category of "I am at my most serious when I am joking." Humor has a great power to expose absurdities in the world. These days, comedians tend to have a better grasp on reality than journalists.

Of course, the "just a comedian" defense is a real facepalm invoker with me. If you have to use it, it usually means you're a poor comedian.

Any joke you have to explain isn't funny. If you have to explain jokes frequently, you should consider another profession with a little less innate humour involved.

Such as funeral arranging.

When will this argument move beyond religion and on to the subject of the paranormal? That's the true debate. Religion is just the codified theories of those who could not explain certain phenomena wrapped in the shroud of theism.

If we drop the theology debate there are still many interesting areas of unexplained evidence (not yet proof).

There are plenty of interesting phenomena which point to areas of potentially valuable scientific exploration yet they are marginalized by the same fear of upsetting the accepted status quo that you accuse religion of. Science has a comfort zone and true advancement only comes when we abandon thatcomfort to explore the edges and the anomalies.

Daniel, you obviously haven't been paying attention to people like us.

All that non-religious paranormal stuff has many, many mundane explanations. Whenever we point out a creative and plausible explanation for something, some paranormal believer gets shrill about how our curiosity and imagination are bad things. Because the universe is built around their imagination, not ours.

Of course, it doesn't help that other paranormal believers typically do their best to keep those phenomena as uninteresting as possible by leaving them within the realm of the everyday. Give us a properly controlled and blinded experiment and then get back to us.

Until you can do that, it's just another boring, everyday event to us: Human perceptual errors and bias. Unless you do the science to rule that out, we're more likely to bet you made a mistake than believe something new and strange showed up just for you.

What really disgusts me about woo and "mysteries": Woos think mysteries are mere shiny baubles they have the sole right to. They want mysteries kept in a box, unsolved, so that they can parade them around so that likeminded people will ooo and aah. They hate it when we "spoil" the mystery with a sensible explanation.

Skeptics, on the other hand, believe mysteries belong to the world and demand solving. And we aren't so arrogant to think that all mysteries require a nice answer. The universe doesn't exist to stroke the human ego, either individually or collectively.

To put it another way:

For me, most "paranormal" phenomena fall into the category of your uncle pulling a quarter from behind your ear: Palming a coin is an easy, ancient trick. I don't see something as boring as that convincing me that magic exists.

I'd be much more interested in seeing a guy teleport from a cage suspended above the floor (no trap doors) viewed from multiple angles (no visual hiding spots or perspective tricks), without a sheet or pyrotechnics display to obscure the view. Someone who could do something like that would be on much better ground, since those measures would pretty much reduce or eliminate known explanations for such an event.

Daniel:

Science has a comfort zone and true advancement only comes when we abandon thatcomfort to explore the edges and the anomalies.

Then what method other than science does one use to "explore the edges and the anomalies"? Until you provide a better one, you're just spouting verbal poop.

And what BronzeDog said.

Bronze Dog said:

They hate it when we "spoil" the mystery with a sensible explanation.

Can you provide a sensible explanation for why anything exists at all?

[snark] Well, if nothing existed, we wouldn't be here to wonder about that. [/snark]

Of course, I'm no cosmologist or physicist, so I don't really know about quantum vacuum events or whatever they're currently saying. Science is still working on it.

Of course, one thing that should be obvious, and be brought up in case you're trying to wink-wink it in: Theism doesn't answer the problem, it only compounds it.

Theism doesn't answer the problem, it only compounds it.

I suppose that's true, if the problem has an answer.

Nearest I can follow the theories: it is sensible to conclude that the first-cause of our universe is unpredictable. So, if it's unpredictable then it's unprovable and if it's unprovable then it's unscientific.

When a theist claims that a super-natural entity created the singularity or some sort of space-time tunnel, there's really not too much science can say in the matter because the claim is unprovable and hence unscientific. So, if it's likely we will never be able to answer the question of why anything exists at all, that would leave both the theist and the positivist in a similar position, which seems to me the point Robinson was trying to make.

Unpredictable is not the same as unprovable, John.

In dynamic systems, such as certain weather patterns, the next state may be chaotic - in principle, utterly unpredictable beyond a few hours. However, a map of the overall system over time may reveal the location of the attractor - the cause, if you like.

And in any case, the Sun is the driver of pretty much all Earth weather, with our huge Moon perhaps responsible for a little more through tidal effects. However, the exact atmospheric drivers that go to produce a single storm are utterly indecipherable. Short-term weather prediction is a losing proposition, but climate prediction over far longer and "coarser" periods may allow longer range predictions.

If I toss a dart up in the air so that it comes down on its tip on a polished granite floor, I could not possibly guess in which direction it will topple over. It is unpredictable.

However, the cause is not unprovable by any stretch of the imagination.

Nearest I can follow the theories: it is sensible to conclude that the first-cause of our universe is unpredictable. So, if it's unpredictable then it's unprovable and if it's unprovable then it's unscientific.

Your grasp of logic and English appears to be very tenuous. There's a big difference between "unknown" and "unpredictable."

1. Just because something is unknown does not mean that it is unknowable or absolutely unpredictable.

2. Unpredictability comes at varying grades. Big Al's dart example can vary quite a bit: If you toss it up by a human arm, it's more difficult to predict since there's going to be variation in each throw. If you throw it up while there's a steady wind, you can make a better-than-chance prediction of where it might go. If you throw it up with a consistent machine in a vacuum, you can just do a ballistics test to get high accuracy.

3. I fail to see any reason why the origin of the universe must be declared "unprovable" from the outset. The only reason I can imagine someone would argue otherwise would either be a mathematic proof that it's unknowable (which I'd take with a grain of salt anyway), or just sheer, absolute woo pessimism and defeatism.

4.

...the theist and the positivist...
[Whips out his cell phone's camera] Positivist? Where? They're so rare these days! The last one I met turned out to be a rather stupid woo who can't tell the difference between the falsificationism of science and the verificationism of logical positivism, trying to pretend to be an 'ultraskeptic' and utterly failing! [Puts cell phone away] Oh, wait, false alarm. It's just another straw man.

Your grasp of logic and English appears to be very tenuous. There's a big difference between "unknown" and "unpredictable."

1. Just because something is unknown does not mean that it is unknowable or absolutely unpredictable.

It depends on the context. With the examples from Big Al, I'd agree that the unknown or unpredictable does not equate to the unprovable. However, at the earliest state of the universe what the cosmologists are talking about is unknowable. A singularity is basically the ontological equivalent to nothingness. So what's the cause of nothingness? Is that cause provable?

The entire physical universe could have originated out of a single, random, unknowable, absolutely unpredictable quantum jump. Such a scenario is possible, however it's not provable. And not that we have to declare it unprovable, but what if science can't prove the originating cause of the universe? Then what?

@john,

Indeed, there is a hypothesis that the unierse started due to a huge Heisenberg uncertainty "blip". Unproven at the moment, but that doesn't mean we will never prove it.

Think about Penzias' and Wilson's detection of the "echo" of the Big Bang, and the later COBE cosmic background mapping satellite.

Saying the ultimate cause is unprovable (can never, ever be proved by any means whatsoever) is a very strong statement for which I would like to see the justification.


Saying the ultimate cause is unprovable (can never, ever be proved by any means whatsoever) is a very strong statement for which I would like to see the justification.

I can't say it's unprovable, nor should I have referred to it as unlikely (not "probable"). I'd go as far as:

(T) Possibly, the ultimate cause is not provable.
(F) Necessarily, the ultimate cause is provable.

(T) Possibly, the ultimate cause is provable.
(F) Necessarily, the ultimate cause is not provable.


So with the issue at hand, "possibly not provable OR possibly provable," is about it. However, just as it was erroneous to claim that it is unlikely that science will be able to prove ultimate cause, it's just as wrong to claim it likely or probable that science will.

I am in total agreement with you there, John.

I never threw up the "we know lots of things we never thought we could" as any kind of proof of the likelihood of proving anything else (it isn't), but just as a kind of caveat for the "definitely unknowable" statement I perceived in your post.

The current state is that we don't know. We may be able to prove it in the future, or not.

There are pretty compelling reasons at the moment for believing that we will never know what happened immediately before the Big Bang.

However, it may be that that "before" is a meaningless concept, assuming that time "fell out" of the Big Bang as the basic forces did.

Who can tell?

I find Jon Stewart interesting and funny. I missed the program in question and I'm glad I did.
I would find a discussion among scientists on the existence of God interesting, as I have in the past.
A discussion of religion by anyone, either by itself or in comparison to anything else, to be inherently boring because it is aimless and incoherent, sort of like "Who's on First" but not funny.

This is a little out of topic but, have you heard about this guy Dr. William Lane Craig, another person that makes money out of selling people that god exists and it can be proved through reasonable thinking... or something...

I've come across that name briefly, can't say they were particularly impressive.

They were an interviewee in Strobel's 'Case for a Creator', you can see a critique here at Ebon Musings. Craig's appearance is in chapter five with the usual tired Xian apologetics.

Fair enough review but what on earth does dis-confirm mean. I understand what it is meant to mean but this is not an English (UK) word. Is it really a word in American-English?

Still divided by a common language...

Oh, thanks Tatiana! I really needed a good dose of mind-numbing...

The article was too long and the narrator too smug and I lost interest.

That's all i wanted to say.

Hugs and Kisses,
Peter Pan.

Uh... excuse me. While I don't in any way want to lend credence to religion it is a mistake to say there are no elements of faith in science. While the scientist is not quite so liberal about their use of it, any axiomatic foundation of the sciences is taken on faith. That's what it means to be an axiom. It's a self evident truth you accept without proof. Now.. many people use this as a rationalization for anything they can't prove. That's wrong too. But you must take some 1st premise on faith or you'd need an infinite number of steps to justify that 1st premise. And yes.. some 1st premises are better than others. If you're confused research Godels theorem.

While the scientist is not quite so liberal about their use of it, any axiomatic foundation of the sciences is taken on faith. That's what it means to be an axiom. It's a self evident truth you accept without proof.

Axioms such as?

About 95% of the time I see someone bring this up, the "axioms" they list are straw men or semantics games.

The rest of the time, A) the "axioms" are subject to falsification and accepted because we observe positive evidence for them and haven't yet found evidence that falsifies them, not because of faith or B) They're incredibly subtle philosophical arguments about things like the validity of induction.

So, I recommend you elaborate what you're arguing about.

…any axiomatic foundation of the sciences is taken on faith

…says Cletus, tapping on his keyboard into his computer, attached to the internet, all powered by electricity, in the sure knowledge that his words will be visible the world over. All faith, yeah sure.

I think Cletus is mixing science up with mathematics. I can see how there is an element of faith in some of the basic Euclidian axioms, for example (such as the parallel postulate, which cannot currently be proved but which underlies much Euclidian geometric proof).

Yet, on the other hand, mathematicians pride themselves on being much more ruthless with regard to proof than scientists can ever be!

However, I think it fair to say that some of the axioms are at least falsifiable in principle , and it is relatively easy to imagine possible counterexamples to many of them.

Others are definitional, e.g. if A = B and B = C, then A = C - the meanings of the operators really dos make the axion self-evident.

And science doesn't really have any axioms that I can think of.

Can you point to some evidence of this?

But you must take some 1st premise on faith or you'd need an infinite number of steps to justify that 1st premise.

Is there a scientific understanding or theory that doesn't begin with an observation/s? If so, please elaborate. If not, are you suggesting that anything detected or measured must be taken on faith? If so, that means that everything ever known could just be made-up nonsense making nothing falsifiable in the first place and rendering science (that thing that gave you your computer) useless. Which is just dumb.

It sounds like Cletus also has some philosophy jumbled in there. Is it possible to know anything? Is there an objective reality? To an extent, science takes some of these philosophical issues "on faith", but they are not part of science. Given that there is an objective reality, and that we can learn about it, science is the process we use. There is nothing within science that relies on axioms.

Big Al, this is way outside my area of competence, but I thought the Parallel Postulate was definitional - there is nothing to prove because we define parallel lines as those that do not meet. An axiom is something we assume is true, and a postulate is true because we define it. No?

Big Al, this is way outside my area of competence, but I thought the Parallel Postulate was definitional

Sorry, Yojimbo, but it's not such a simple matter. There are several definitions of the word "parallel" (describing lines that never meet, lines that maintain a constant distance from each other, lines that intersect another line at the same angle), and these are only necessarily compatible in two-dimensional geometry, a very special case. When extended into the case of non-Euclidian geometries, they may not be compatible.

For example, the Great Circle routes that airline pilots take all meet the notional line of the equator at exactly 90 degrees by definition, but they do not maintain a constant distance, meeting at the Poles. and if extended infinitely will intersect an infinite number of times.

Note that I do not for a moment believe that belief in scientific or mathematical truths is equivaent to religious faith.
However, I admit that despite a better command of maths than most, I am never, ever likely to be able to fully understand Andrew Wiles' proof of the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture (and consequently Fermat's so-called Last Theorem). I don't understand Ken Ribet's proof of Gerd Falting's proposed equivalence between the T-S conjecture and Fermat.

I don't understand Faltings' work either. And so on, back and back. The best I can do is to see why the 18th and 19th century attemped proofs are wrong.

However, I don't expect someone to overturn Wiles' proof, and I have the feeling that the matter is closed. I cannot deny that it kinda feels like I imagine faith does.

And I can easily see that the purported proofs of the inevitability or necessity of God's existent are pretty feeble.

It's been over a month since the last post was written, but I wonder if I can still rekindle this conversation in any way.

I don't think Robinson was trying to discredit science or the scientific method as Jon Stewart Epic Fail seems to presume. She appeared to be arguing that Atheists are being unscientific if they claim that science disproves God. And that is true. Science has disproven some specific fundamentalist religious beliefs such as the age in years of planet Earth or how animals were created, etc, but it has not disproven the existence of God as an ultimate intelligent force irrespective of specific religious doctrines.

So when she says it depends on the quality/type of religion, I think Robinson is talking about the difference between fundamentalist literal interpretations versus interpretations that see scripture as more allegorical or symbolic. If that's the case, what she is saying makes sense and is not stupid at all, but the author of this blog post seems to be presuming otherwise.

Science is a wonderful way of investigating the mysteries of how our universe functions, but I'm not so sure it will ever answer questions that seem to transcend the physical/material. For example, the wavelength of the color green cannot explain what green looks like to you or me. Our conscious experience of the world is arguably more significant than the physical sturctures and forces that make it possible in the first place. You could try to reduce "love" to the neurotransmitters and measurable phenomena of the brain that accompany its experience, but that comes nowhere near to explaining the experience. And which is more important? The physical process that enables love to be felt or the experience? Which one is love?

they both are love and the wavelength of green explains why we see green

since our conscious experience of the world cannot exist without the physical forces and structures which make it possible in the first place, doesn't that render our experience less significant than the environment which gave rise to it?

EricR:

Where did Robinson argue that atheists claim that science disproves God?

And which atheists argue that science disproves God?

…the wavelength of the color green cannot explain what green looks like to you or me. Our conscious experience of the world is arguably more significant than the physical sturctures and forces that make it possible in the first place. You could try to reduce "love" to the neurotransmitters and measurable phenomena of the brain that accompany its experience, but that comes nowhere near to explaining the experience. And which is more important? The physical process that enables love to be felt or the experience? Which one is love?

What does that have to do with anything Robinson said, or with how good atheist’s arguments are?

So when she says it depends on the quality/type of religion, I think Robinson is talking about the difference between fundamentalist literal interpretations versus interpretations that see scripture as more allegorical or symbolic. If that's the case, what she is saying makes sense and is not stupid at all, but the author of this blog post seems to be presuming otherwise.

Please explain why it makes more sense to see scripture as allegorical or symbolic rather than seeing it literally.

Please explain which holy books are better interpreted as symbolic rather than literally (with evidence, of course).

Please explain (again, with evidence) who is and who is not qualified to extract symbolism from said holy books.

I don't know whom I fear more; those that believe every word of a magic book as true or those who can construe the passages in those books to represent whatever they want as true and godly.

Thanks for your replies. Let me start with the first one by gmcevoy:

"they both are love and the wavelength of green explains why we see green. since our conscious experience of the world cannot exist without the physical forces and structures which make it possible in the first place, doesn't that render our experience less significant than the environment which gave rise to it?"

Yes, the wavelength explains how and why we see green but it doesn't explain the experience or what green looks like. Try explaining it to someone who's been blind since birth. Yet a sighted person gets a very clear picture when they hear the word "green", the quality of which cannot be explained by science nor language, and it cannot be measured by any tools. But it exists as an experience and is very much real. You could also just as easily from a philosophical standpoint that our experience is more significant than the physical structures and processes that make it possible. You could see the whole physical apparatus as existing for the purpose of enabling that experience to occur. Your argument is like saying that the ink and paper is more significant than the ideas communicated by the words in a book.

Now for Skeptico:

I don't know if that's what she's arguing specifically because I haven't read her book or heard the interview, but it seems that's what she may be implying. That's why i said "it appears that..." I myself have heard people who call themselves atheists argue that God does not exist because science proves otherwise. I wasn't planning at the time on having to cite them later to anyone, so I can't give you any names. I haven't read Dawkins so I don't know his stand on that particular point. If he and more prominent atheists don't try to argue that science disproves the existence of a spiritual reality or ultimate intelligence associated with the universe and existence, then I applaud them for that since it's the rational stance to take. (I'm trying to avoid the term "God" only because it could be taken to mean something more specific to a specific religion, which is not my intention).

In getting into the discussion of green, that has to do with Robinson because I'm building a case for religion or spirituality potentially being able to provide insights that can compliment those of science rather than conflict with them.

Ryan W:

First of all, allegorical mythology, stories, and scripture are a fundamental part of human culture and serve the purpose of transmitting ideas, values, wisdom, and knowledge. Most of it, of course, was meant for entertainment or to recount past events orally and not sanctified by anyone as holy scripture. But when people jump up to organize a religion and form a cannon of doctines and texts, they may take from these and assign them as holy even if they once were just stories that generations passed down in fantastical enactments around the communal fire at night and understood well to be only symbolic or allegorical (at least until a certain point in the past). Then you get these truly wild, fanciful, magical stories being treated by religious leaders as literal truth even if that wasn't the original intention. Trying to understand what these stories were really about in more ancient times is the task of scholars who can study the original texts in their original languages and compare them to other stories and oral traditions of the area and also study what is known about the ancient cultures and contexts in which they emerged. I wouldn't trust any dogmatic religious leader or person with a specific political or ideological agenda to do that for me. I think religious leaders and scholars who are more open-minded and liberal and open to different interpretations and discussion can be very insightful in culling out wisdom and spiritual lessons from scripture without falling into the trap of dogma.

"and it cannot be measured by any tools."

Funny, Home Depot has a device which will match the colour of anything you put in front of it, including green things

the green wavelength exists with or without sight or people to see it

pen & ink or ideas don't exist without us to create them, the green wavelength does

If we talking monkeys weren't here to call that particular wavelength green, some other semi-sentient life form in another part of the galaxy might call it 'tim'

I'm a bit puzzled.

EricR you initially posted:

I don't think Robinson was trying to discredit science or the scientific method as Jon Stewart Epic Fail seems to presume. She appeared to be arguing that Atheists are being unscientific if they claim that science disproves God.

Your post above then contains:

I don't know if that's what she's arguing specifically because I haven't read her book or heard the interview, but it seems that's what she may be implying.

So you are trying to defend Robinson from the allegations made in this article, yet you don't know what she says in her book or the full contents of the interview upon which this article is based. Should you not make yourself more informed - at least with the interview - before you presume to interpret what it is she means, even if excerpts are provided?

Also I kind of took it that it was aimed at Stewart's poor handling as much as her poor arguments.

Darth: my point was that I saw no indication from the exerpts posted in the article above that Robinson was trying to discredit science or the scientific method. For example, the amazon exerpt states:

"Absence of Mind challenges postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner of science. In Robinson’s view, scientific reasoning does not denote a sense of logical infallibility, as thinkers like Richard Dawkins might suggest."

I take this to mean: Robinson thinks science does not intend to be logically infallible, even though some atheists such as Richard Dawkins might think it does.

And that's true. Science does not denote or intend or signify logical infallibility.

Yet, the writer then said the following:

"Already you know you are hearing from someone who doesn’t understand even the basics of that which she seeks to criticize, since science does not claim anything even close to “logical infallibility,” it merely claims to be the most reliable method of investigating reality".

So basically the writer is agreeing with Robinson's point (at least as it appears by what's written in the exerpt) yet he presumes she meant the opposite.

The second part of what I said (refering to atheists) was intended to be an example of how atheists may use "the banner of science" to defend a position that's not supported by the scientific method. It appears she may be addressing this because of what's mentioned in the exerpts. That's why I said "She appeared to be arguing", because that's what appears likely to be one of her arguments based on what I read in the exerpts. I certainly have come across atheists who have tried to argue that science disproves God, which I think is an absurd argument.

Garth: I should also add one more thing because you questioned whether I should see the whole interview before the comments I posted. But my comments were in response not to the whole interview nor to Robinson's views in general but simply to the specific responses in the article above to the specific exerpts that were posted therein. But I will watch the interview now to see if my interpretation of the wording is consistent with it. Thanks.

EricR:

I don't know if that's what she's arguing specifically because I haven't read her book or heard the interview, but it seems that's what she may be implying.

Eric, a tip: before you argue that someone is saying (or even “seems” to be saying) something, you should first ascertain that they are actually saying those things. Otherwise you run the risk of looking like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

I myself have heard people who call themselves atheists argue that God does not exist because science proves otherwise.

Very few atheists think such a thing. Although many opponents of atheism continue to argue against that straw man, no matter how many times atheists’ true positions are explained. It gets tiresome.

Yet, the writer then said the following:

"Already you know you are hearing from someone who doesn’t understand even the basics of that which she seeks to criticize, since science does not claim anything even close to “logical infallibility,” it merely claims to be the most reliable method of investigating reality".

So basically the writer is agreeing with Robinson's point (at least as it appears by what's written in the exerpt) yet he presumes she meant the opposite.


She was saying that “thinkers like Richard Dawkins” suggest that science is infallible. They don’t (Dawkins certainly doesn’t), so I am correct that she doesn’t understand even the basics of that which she seeks to criticize (ie what Dawkins, and people like him, believe).

I should also add one more thing because you questioned whether I should see the whole interview before the comments I posted. But my comments were in response not to the whole interview nor to Robinson's views in general but simply to the specific responses in the article above to the specific exerpts that were posted therein.

No they weren’t, they were in response to additional positions that you think she must also hold, even though you have never heard her say those things.

"In Robinson’s view, scientific reasoning does not denote a sense of logical infallibility, as thinkers like Richard Dawkins might suggest".

It is clear to me both from that statement as well as what she said in the interview that Robinson is not intending to criticize science itself nor say that science takes itself to be logically infallable. On the contrary, she argues that science was not originally intended to try to be logically infallable, but that some contemporary thinkers might suggest otherwise. What she says in the interview corroborates this position. She is critiquing those thinkers, not science itself. So I am saying that your comments following that exerpt miss the point she's trying to make and wrongly presume that she's criticizing science and saying that it aspires to be logically infallable. She's saying the opposite.

Thank you for informing me that atheists worth their salt don't try to argue that science disproves God. My only experience with atheist arguments is from people I've met who call themselves atheists, so I don't know what Dawkins or other prominent writers say.

I was also taking issue with your response to Robinson's statement that "It’s the quality of science and the quality of religion that determines the nature of the conversation" in terms of controversy between science and religion. You found that statement unimpressive, but I think it was a very good point on her part. There are plenty of religious people who accept science and vice versa because they don't ascribe to exclusive literal interpretations of religious scripture. I don't see why you would find that observation lacking insight.

Skeptico: just to add: Despite taking issue to those particular items, I think you had some good points, especially in response to Jon Stewart's ridiculous comment about "anti-matter".

just found out a friend's kid has been sucked into a religion

Of course, the quality of his religion is that it is the only correct interpretation out of approx. 38,000 variations of christianity

no doubt, the religion referenced here is of a higher quality

all based on a magic book that the fundies let speak for itself

another friend, who thinks the magic book has some kinda universal wisdom, likes to say it isn't an instruction manual - as do some Islamic scholars for their book

however, in letting the words speak for themselves, these books quite clearly depict a god demanding worship in a certain way - or else

Deut. 28 explains 9/11 perfectly -

"The LORD shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand"

It is clear to me both from that statement as well as what she said in the interview that Robinson is not intending to criticize science itself nor say that science takes itself to be logically infallable. On the contrary, she argues that science was not originally intended to try to be logically infallable, but that some contemporary thinkers might suggest otherwise.

I know.  You are missing the point, which is that she is wrong in saying that contemporary thinkers such as Dawkins, suggest otherwise. Dawkins does not. Very few atheists do.

Eric, in your response to me, I think you move the goalposts quite a bit when you consider stories and scripture to be the same thing.

Beowulf =/= Quran/Bible/Torah/other holy book.

Or are you arguing that holy books, while considered inspired by or directly written by god(s), are actually stories that the authors made up? If they are made up, what wisdom do they hold for modern science aside from some historical/anthropological viewpoints?

First to Skeptico: If the point you were making was that Robinson was wrong in saying that Dawkins and others like him suggest otherwise, that's not what comes across in your writing here:

Already you know you are hearing from someone who doesn’t understand even the basics of that which she seeks to criticize, since science does not claim anything even close to “logical infallibility,” it merely claims to be the most reliable method of investigating reality.

But Robinson doesn't seek to criticize science; and she doesn't say that sicence claims logical infallability. If you wanted to take her to task for asserting that Dawkins et al might suggest otherwise, then that's fine. That would be a legitimate point I think, and I'd have to read Dawkins to see if she was indeed wrong. But that's not what I see you saying in the above text.

Now Ryan:

What I'm saying is that things like Beowulf got incorporated into the Bible and came to be treated as literal accounts rather than allegorical stories. I don't think that's all the Bible contains by any means. It is also full of geneologies, hymns, prayers, rules made by leaders to live by, claims of divine intervention, all kinds of stuff. Fundamentalists think you have to accept it all as the word of God. More liberal religious practitioners take a different approach. That's the point I was trying to make. Whether science and religion can be compatible depends on the quality of the religion, just as Robinson put it. Fundamentalists can't accept science that contradicts their literal interpretations, but my mother who is a religious scholar accepts science wholeheartedly.

What wisdom does literature like the Bible hold for modern science on understanding the nature of the cosmos, etc? Perhaps none if any at all. Science and Religion are basically addressing different things if they are doing their jobs responsibly. Science addresses the measurable, testable material world. Questions pertaining to the scientifically indescribable realities of experience can only be addressed by philosophy or religion.

Eric:

For fuck's sake, "science" doesn't claim anything (it's not conscious you know), so clearly I was talking about defenders of science, promoters of science etc - ie people such as Dawkins. And you (should) know that from the amazon blurb that I was responding to:

...scientific reasoning does not denote a sense of logical infallibility, as thinkers like Richard Dawkins might suggest.

As I wrote - she doesn't understand understand even the basics of that which she seeks to criticize - ie Dawkins' position.

Eric said:

...and scripture are a fundamental part of human culture and serve the purpose of transmitting ideas, values, wisdom, and knowledge...

Then:

What wisdom does literature like the Bible hold for modern science on understanding the nature of the cosmos, etc? Perhaps none if any at all.

Well, I agree with the last one.

Questions pertaining to the scientifically indescribable realities of experience can only be addressed by philosophy or religion.

Eric, if it's real and can be experienced, it produces observable effects. These effects can then be measured and tested. There is no such thing as a scientifically indescribable reality.

Maybe you can't tell, but people like Skep, Darth Cynic and myself are arguing against Robinson's assertions that science and religion are compatible in any way.

See, the only (real) thing that doesn't produce observable effects is nothing. So if religion is only good for addressing the "scientifically indescribable", it's basically good for nothing. Describing it at least.

Science addresses the measurable, testable material world. Questions pertaining to the scientifically indescribable realities of experience can only be addressed by philosophy or religion.

Ahhh that old chestnut, science has been granted in its remit the domain of the testable material world. Which religion had previously laid claim to as well but was clearly rubbish at. However look here, religion too can have a remit and one declared beyond science, the intentionally fuzzy realities of experience whatever they may be, oh happy are we to have found this life saver for religions real world utility.

And just what are these realities of experience that are beyond science, in fact why are they assumed to be beyond science? From what fuzzy source, disconnected from our very material, very testable brains do these spring? Then, what questions or insight has religion brought, what incredible discovery has religion pioneered in this field?

Ryan said:

There is no such thing as a scientifically indescribable reality.

Ryan, how would you describe what green looks like to someone who's been blind since birth?

Darth said:

And just what are these realities of experience that are beyond science, in fact why are they assumed to be beyond science? From what fuzzy source, disconnected from our very material, very testable brains do these spring? Then, what questions or insight has religion brought, what incredible discovery has religion pioneered in this field?

To the first question, I would refer you to the question I just posited above to Ryan. To the second question, I would say that experiential reality springs from (or is at least tied to) the material world that's testable. That's why the measurable wavelength of green combined with our eyes and brain enables the experience of green. But the experience is indescribable.

So what is the experience? What is consciousness?

Skeptico: I don't think Robinson sees Dawkins as a representative of true scientific thinking because she finds him having an air of logical infallability, which she doesn't think is in line with true scientific thinking. Perhaps she's wrong in that assessment of Dawkins, but that's what came across to me in the exerpt. But I'm done trying to speak for her.


Sceptico invited someone to explain who or what Robinson was referring to when she commented about ants and the cosmos. Has anyone read Edward O. Wilson, the ant scientist and science writer who claims that only the scientific method can explain everything? Robinson is referring by shorthand to Wilson's claim, which is, of course, reductionism.

Eric said:

Ryan, how would you describe what green looks like to someone who's been blind since birth?

Green - Light having a spectrum dominated by energy with a wavelength of roughly 520–570 nanometers. Scents commonly associated with green in U.S culture are forests, trees and grass.

I'd describe it scientifically; how do you think scientists detect and measure things they can't see like exosolar planets and dark energy?

Now I ask you - how does religion describe green to a person blind since birth?

Holy books don't describe experience or consciousness, let alone ethics or morality

To experience green, go camping somewhere off the beaten path for a day or two

On a moonless night without a fire, all anyone will have is the sounds and smells under an almost indescribably wondrous canopy of sparkling jewels

If it's cold & wet the whole time you'll experience blue

"Men would rather believe than know..." - E. O. Wilson

Thanks for that Sofie

What would medicine be without reductionism? Bloodletting and leeches for whatever ails you. Earthworms for phlegm. Homeopathy, even.

What would computing be? 000...

If Robinson was referring to E. O. Wilson studying ants, it still stands she doesn't understand what she's critiquing.

Studying ants or the cosmos requires the same general principles and methods which are by design meant to reduce personal bias.

Personal bias is another thing Holy Tomes do not address, witness the tens of thousands of variations of christianity

I have a certification in spatial science. Part of that was getting A's and B's in courses where I had to work with data from remote sensing satellites. "Green" is, as others have pointed out, and this should be common knowledge among anyone who's been through 6th grade, is defined as a range of light wavelengths.

That's what the "green" sensor on the color satellites is for. If "green" didn't have an objective, measurable quality, what I did in those classes, and what countless GIS users do every day, would be impossible.

Of course, the world doesn't stop turning just because some woo says it's impossible.

I think what Eric is missing with his question about describing the experience of green is that someone blind from birth cannot share the experience of seeing green, so no description can be meaningful. This says nothing at all about what green is. The only objective reality the color has is what can be objectively described, i.e., its scientific description.

In fact, Eric, you can't describe what green looks like to a sighted person who is familiar with the color. You can only agree that you detect the same range of wavelengths. "What it looks like" is something with no objective reality at all.

Ryan: OK, so after your description, the blind person is nowhere closer to knowing what green looks like. The wavelength you gave me needs to have a consciousness there to perceive it before it can produce the experience of green. Green as we experience it only exists thru a combination of physical processes and consciousness. And what is consciousness?

I'm gradually building a case for the existence of a huge facet to reality that can't be measured. Maybe you are not used to thinking this way because you just take consciousness as a given. Relgion is largely a result of man's (usually pathetic) attempt to address questions concerning the conscious/experiential side of reality. But trying to describe the indescribable with language won't work for religion nor for science, so neither one can describe what green looks like. The correct goal of religion should not be to describe things.

I see you guys on here railing against religion in a very general way, clumping all that is religion together as one entity. That's like railing against magazines. But there are all kinds of magazines with all kinds of things in them. I'm not trying to defend religion in general, but to point out that there are areas where theology can offer insights and wisdom that don't negate science. What I hear you guys attacking about religion are those aspects of religion that I also denounce. But not all religious practitioners or followers espouse those things.

Yojimbo: EXACTLY!!! You got it! I'm not talking about objective reality. But it is reality nonetheless. A reality none of you seem to have ever stopped to consider.

gmcevoy: How do you know that this canopy of stars is "wonderous"? What does that mean? There's no objective reality to that.

The wavelength you gave me needs to have a consciousness there to perceive it before it can produce the experience of green.

The "green" light exists independently of the consciousness. A sighted person's eyes pick up the photons and react in such a way that they send certain nerve signals to his visual cortex, which then processes those signals into an overall picture to be perceived and thought about.

Green as we experience it only exists thru a combination of physical processes and consciousness. And what is consciousness?

Consciousness is a rather complicated physical process we're still learning more about as neuroscientists study the questions.

I'm gradually building a case for the existence of a huge facet to reality that can't be measured.

Can't be measured YET. Of course, last I checked, we can measure some of the coarser aspects of consciousness, but we're getting into finer and finer details as our understanding and technology advance. Remember a show where they more or less observed a lab rat's dream as he reviewed a course in his sleep, first in semi-random sputters then in a continuous fashion.

Maybe you are not used to thinking this way because you just take consciousness as a given.

In my case, because anti-reductionist ideas compound the problems, rather than solve any.

Relgion is largely a result of man's (usually pathetic) attempt to address questions concerning the conscious/experiential side of reality.

I have yet to see one that isn't pathetic.

But trying to describe the indescribable with language won't work for religion nor for science, so neither one can describe what green looks like.

You're avoiding the problem by putting an "impossible" in there: "Indescribable."

Of course, I'm not one to rule out the possibility that some day we may be able to invoke such specific experiences, (which would negate the need to describe them in words) but I'd imagine such measures would be impractical and risky.

The correct goal of religion should not be to describe things.

In other words, religion isn't about truth.

I see you guys on here railing against religion in a very general way, clumping all that is religion together as one entity. That's like railing against magazines. But there are all kinds of magazines with all kinds of things in them.

In my case, it's more like railing against bad comics: They all have many similar cliches, some more specific than others.

I'm not trying to defend religion in general, but to point out that there are areas where theology can offer insights and wisdom that don't negate science.

But you said that religion shouldn't be used to describe things. Which is it?

A good scientific theory is descriptive and predictive. If one of those predictions comes out wrong, correction ensues.

Yojimbo: EXACTLY!!! You got it! I'm not talking about objective reality. But it is reality nonetheless. A reality none of you seem to have ever stopped to consider.

The fact that we have experiences is objective. So far, I see subjectivity as a result of objectively real barriers to experience between observers. To use a computer analogy, my PSP cannot run software or read files from my laptop or vice versa without some form of connection. When I play Patapon on my PSP, the electrical impulses are still running around in objective reality.

"I'm not talking about objective reality. But it is reality nonetheless."

Its a reality in that you really had an experience. You experienced something with measurable attributes. To claim that the experience was real in the same way as the thing experienced would be like saying that dragons are real because you can imagine them.

I think you're either playing with semantics, or have a very odd idea of what "real" means.

I'm not trying to defend religion in general, but to point out that there are areas where theology can offer insights and wisdom that don't negate science.
Reading through this conversation I keep seeing this claim here. EricR, what are some of these specific insights that theology offers? Not vague "areas" where theology might offer an insight; what are some of the specific insights you think it offers?

More importantly, by what standard do you judge the reliability of those insights? In other words, how do you know those insights are accurate? What method does theology use to come to those insights? Is that method a reliable generator of accurate statements about reality?

Bronze Dog:

There's a good reason you put "green" in quotes. You are apparently aware at some level that the wavelength of light is really not green without consciousness to see it that way. Please try thinking about this more intently. It's not as simple as you're implying.

Yes, we're getting better and better at understanding the mechanisms of the brain that coincide with consciousness, but I don't see any way, theoretically, that we could ever come to explain what consciousness/subjective experience is itself.

You're avoiding the problem by putting an "impossible" in there: "Indescribable." Of course, I'm not one to rule out the possibility that some day we may be able to invoke such specific experiences, (which would negate the need to describe them in words) but I'd imagine such measures would be impractical and risky.

No, I'm not avoiding anything. The way green looks is actually indescribable with words. How can it possibly be described? Now if you can invoke an experience for someone who doesn't have the faculties (such as a blind person), that's a great thing. But my purpose in bringing up this issue was not to solve blind people's deficiencies but to pose a theoretical and philosophical question to get to the heart of what conscious subjective reality is (as opposed to objective unconscious reality) (although the two interact with each other).

I said: The correct goal of religion should not be to describe things. You say: In other words, religion isn't about truth

What I meant is that religion is better when it concerns itself with trying to address questions of meaning, not in trying to describe experiences that are indescribable with words. And it shouldn't try to describe or explain the material world either because science can do a more accurate job at that. "Religion isn't about truth" only if you think there's no meaning to life beyond physical survival and think that subjective conscious experience is not a true reality or facet of reality.

When you say religions are more like bad comic books, I see that you know as little about the breadth of religion/mysticism/mythology/etc as religious fundamentalists usually know about science. I can understand your sentiments if you're talking about the masses of people who take religious symbolism literally and apply it as such. So then I'd say get out of the bad comics section and get to know some of the better publications in the magazine stand. I'll try to come back with some suggestions.

Your last paragraph is about structures that enable or interact with consciousness. It's about hardware. It's not about subjective experience, which is a non-material phenomenon that occurs in concert with that hardware and which you are experiencing right now (I hope).

Yojimbo said:

You experienced something with measurable attributes. To claim that the experience was real in the same way as the thing experienced would be like saying that dragons are real because you can imagine them

Yes, the physical object I experienced (green paint) has measurable attributes. The experience, however, does not. And I'm not claiming that it's "real in the same way". It's only real as an experience. The dragon thing is interesting.

Don: I'll get back to you soon. I need to get some sleep first.

Short on time right now, just a slap and dash comment sorry.

EricR you mention above that...

but I don't see any way, theoretically, that we could ever come to explain what consciousness/subjective experience is itself.

Unless I am very much mistaken, that is an argument from incredulity you have there. Any individuals inability to conceive of how something could be or ever be explained is not a sound argument against an issue.

EricR - I know the canopy of sparkling jewels is wondrous because I marvel at it every time I see it.

The 'subjective experience' you're trying to come to grips with is as a result of the reality of the physical properties of our environment, AKA The Universe. It is an ephemeral result of the workings of a material phenomena - the phenomenal grey matter.

No energy input to drive our grey gloop, no more subjective reality. Meanwhile, the Earth spins, tides and the Moon wax and wane and the sun also rises.

Science doesn't disprove God, the Holy Bible - as the one in front of me is called - does. Printed aboot a century ago, it doesn't address green any more than it does any kind of meaning.

When I read a book, I read it line by line, paragraph following paragraph, chapter and verse, front to back. Try reading 'War and Peace' by hop-scotching to and fro.

I can read the original magazine. One that claims right up front to be diligently translated from the original tongues. Why would I need another, better, comic book?

When I read the source, I see the Fundies are more truthful aboot the contents - at least the parts they toss their stones on; far more so than those who proclaim God is warm and fuzzy.

Of course there's more to life than physical survival, at least for the talking monkeys. Religion is one of its more useless salves. Harry Potter is a more entertaining aspect, yet no less deserving of physically sitting next to any holy book in the Fiction section of the local library.

There's a good reason you put "green" in quotes. You are apparently aware at some level that the wavelength of light is really not green without consciousness to see it that way.

Duh. "Green" is just a name. It's a label we use to communicate. It's a word. Words are not more "real" than the things they describe.

Please try thinking about this more intently. It's not as simple as you're implying.

Then where's the complexity? If you want me to think about something in a new way, that usually requires giving me new information.

Yes, we're getting better and better at understanding the mechanisms of the brain that coincide with consciousness, but I don't see any way, theoretically, that we could ever come to explain what consciousness/subjective experience is itself.

Your incredulity doesn't mean anything to me.

No, I'm not avoiding anything. The way green looks is actually indescribable with words. How can it possibly be described?

That's a sign that you aren't thinking very hard. We can describe it with analogies: You could say color is to light as pitch is to sound.

And even if we can't describe it to your arbitrary satisfaction with language, so freaking what? Human language doesn't define the universe.

But my purpose in bringing up this issue was not to solve blind people's deficiencies but to pose a theoretical and philosophical question to get to the heart of what conscious subjective reality is (as opposed to objective unconscious reality) (although the two interact with each other).

Your "question" seems to be getting vaguer and vaguer to me.

What I meant is that religion is better when it concerns itself with trying to address questions of meaning, not in trying to describe experiences that are indescribable with words.

But why would religious people be any more qualified than non-religious people to talk about meaning? How can one be an expert on meaning when every human being already does that, often arriving at different answers? Why are the theologists' conclusions any better?

My answer: They aren't. Religion has no better claim than any other human endeavor.

"Religion isn't about truth" only if you think there's no meaning to life beyond physical survival and think that subjective conscious experience is not a true reality or facet of reality.

Straw man. I do think there is more meaning to life than simple survival. The fact that you jumped right to that conclusion about me suggests you're awfully cynical and possibly incapable of looking beyond religion for meaning.

And as I said before subjective experience is a side effect of objectively real barriers to communication between conscious beings.

When you say religions are more like bad comic books, I see that you know as little about the breadth of religion/mysticism/mythology/etc as religious fundamentalists usually know about science.

Courtier's Reply. I've dueled with a lot of religious people and read plenty of religious arguments. If you've got one I haven't heard, speak up. Simply asserting the existence of good religion isn't going to convince me.

I can understand your sentiments if you're talking about the masses of people who take religious symbolism literally and apply it as such.

Talk about jumping to conclusions. I've dealt with my share of the literalists, but my complaint with you is that you're one of the fluffy nothing crowd: A lot of words that don't amount to saying anything.

So then I'd say get out of the bad comics section and get to know some of the better publications in the magazine stand. I'll try to come back with some suggestions.

You do that. Just for reference: I have read John Shelby Spong. It was fun the first time, but on rereading, it felt like a lot of padding.

Your last paragraph is about structures that enable or interact with consciousness. It's about hardware. It's not about subjective experience, which is a non-material phenomenon that occurs in concert with that hardware and which you are experiencing right now (I hope).

Non-material. Fun with dualism. What's the non-material component of a game of Patapon? There are 1's and 0's on the game's UMD, but Patapon is the result of the arrangement of those bits, not a distinct, explicit entity of its own. How is consciousness any different?

Yes, the physical object I experienced (green paint) has measurable attributes. The experience, however, does not.

Of course it does. The experience is the electrochemical activity in your brain. It is triggered by your interaction with a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that we label green. Your interpretation of it may be nuanced by other experiences (electrochemical activities) you have had, that make the experience unique to you, but it is still your interaction with a specific wavelength. If you are arguing that something else is at work you need to show what it is.

The dragon thing is interesting.

The dragon thing is central.

Two points: The article that got this thread started stated that the author did not know what Robinson was alluding to in her "ants...cosmos" comment. I supplied her reference, which demonstrates that she has read Wilson and is dealing with the intellectual limits of reductionism.

Secondly, religion needs no defense when the attacker presumes to define the entire subject. Religion is prior to science, has been seriously studied as proto-science, by Malinowski initially, and is perhaps the most fertile soil for law, civics, philosophy, ethics, and civilization. Science had to propose things like phlogiston before it progressed. A religious person today is one who is "ultimately concerned." By that inclusive and analytical definition, the people on this blog who attack religion and defend "science" are acting religiously. Radical dualism (us v. them) is not only a feature of religion in its extreme forms, but also grounded in the cognition of the human species.

religion is indefensible and not immune to criticism

yep, science is wrong sometimes because the people doing it are often more interested in proving themselves right than in the truth of a subject, hence phlogiston

there are people today that still subscribe to ideas like that - only four or five elements etc.

Nice straw man by your definition of a religious person.

Intellectual limits? Have a go at this - http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/read/2005/11/01/the-perimeter-of-ignorance

Eric:

We all know what you are doing. Using "if blind people can't perceive green, the there are some things we can't perceive, so we can never perceive them" to back up your argument to incredulity. What insights to reality does religion bring?

And you use semantics to back up the old "science doesn't know everything" bit of Doggerel. Which will lead to "there are other ways of knowing" which you won't describe but will rely on heavily. We've heard it a hundred times. Right on this blog even.

Sofie:

Oh dear.

Religion was prior to science, has been seriously studied as pseudo-science, by Malinowski initially, and is perhaps the most fertile soil for war, conflict, intellectual limitation, defeatism, and creationism..

Fixed it for you.

A religious person today is one who is "ultimately concerned."

As defined in what language? Because no English dictionary defines it that way. And that definition is so broad it could include anyone, as you're about to point out:

By that inclusive and analytical definition, the people on this blog who attack religion and defend "science" are acting religiously.

So what is the word for "person who makes up whatever they want and applies it to strengthen their position"?

Radical dualism (us v. them) is not only a feature of religion in its extreme forms, but also grounded in the cognition of the human species.

Which (if true) is why we have an unbiased method like science to best describe things and explain how the universe works.

The straw argument has dominated the thread. I did not introduce it, since when the attacker presumes to define the thing attacked, he/she sets it up subject to his/her limitations and prohibitions.

Religion is not "proved" or "disproved," nor was the Scientific method (a latecomer in human symbolic systems)developed to investigate religion.

Religion, per se, is not limited to proof texts selected in splendid isolation from this or that text, but is an integral aspect of human functioning.

It is prior to science, even the Ionians. It is a "claim to truth" as is science. It addresses questions of human meaning, which are not subject to experimental designs of truth or falsity, but instead address issues of social purpose, which I contend is a bit more complex than the social purpose of an ant colony. While science can enlighten us regarding specific aspects of human psychology (lit. soul study) or social/political functioning, it cannot explain everything.

On the other hand, M theory does envision accounting for everything. And it does so in a grandiloquent symbolic rendering of the many "realities" that are probably "out there" somewhere. We live in one of those realms where Newtonian law obtains. We are part of another realm where quantum functions obtain. We are shut out of still more realms where laws we know nothing of may obtain. It all looks remarkably like Hindu cosmology, an intuition created a few thousand years ago. In short it is the latest cosmogonic myth created by high priests of a given era of human history.

Religion is not fundamentalism, friends. It is something one needs to study, just like one has to apply oneself to learn anything properly.

Science and religion today happen to have at least one effort in common: answering the age-old Valentinian gnostic questions: Where did we come from? Into what were we thrown? Whither do we go?

Cosmology supplies answers that are speculative and delivered in symbolic language--just like M theory and Feynman's diagrams. It is lovely, and we should just enjoy it!

Sofie:

...since when the attacker presumes to define the thing attacked, he/she sets it up subject to his/her limitations and prohibitions.

So we can only argue against things we can't define? Where did you come up with that?

Axiomatic to any debate is that the contenders agree on the assumptions, which includes definitions of things debated.

The most authentic way to define something is to accept the "unbiased," i.e., "scientific" definition developed by experts in a given field. Any other definition is somehow suspect for purposes of a debate.

Religion is, actually, the object studied by a social science, albeit one little known in the U.S. and developed over time in Europe, carried to the U. of Chicago; and its practioners have their own methodology, called phenomenonlogy, which seeks to define the object of study without giving in to any theological bias.

Let me now pose a question to those who set up a binary opposition between "religion" (their straw definition) and "science" (note: setting up things this way is an example of employing the human cognitive tendency towards radical dualism, BTW).

A group of islands (formerly mainland mountains or "high places") off a remote coast of Australia contain over 90,000 examples of Aboriginal rock art dating back at least 20,000 years. A mining industry is extracting an important mineral beneath these flooded mountains--which activity tends to destroy the rock art.

Is science served best by destroying the (religious) art, or by curbing the mining and preserving the symbols?

Jean

Sofie:

Interpret Deuteronomy 28 for us. I already have an interpretation from someone I trust in my pocket. I'm just curious as to yours.

That there might be a semblance of Hindu cosmology in what is really just theory and fancy math - at the moment - is more than likely just down to a coinky-dink.

The math seems to fit. The Large Hadron Collider has yet to substantiate this, AFAIK.

If religion has been so far been ill defined, please do provide the proper version.

I doubt it jives with the one my buddy's kid has been indoctrinated into as The Truth(TM)

AFAIK ant colonies don't erect temples where the servants of God claim the moral and ethical authority of that God drives their behaviour as outlined by the scripture while they as an organization hide the fact their members are often putting their members up the bums of children on a regular basis.

So yes, in that respect ants are less complex. Regardless, ants and humans have a common ancestor.

industry is served by destroying the rock art due to a lack of imagination regarding preservation

Science is preserved by using the same destructive technology to first cut the images from the rock faces without damaging them - a la Aswan Damn

Damn? damn?

Sofie/Jean: Thanks for your input.

Garth and gmcevoy: This is a really hard thing for me to get across to you guys because you are thinking from the perspective of strict materialism. I'm very much aware of the difference between all of the physical things that my conciousness is interacting with, on the one hand, and my consciousness itself on the other. But how do I get that across to you? I've been trying. All I can say at this point is really ponder this deeply and see if you can start to get where I'm coming from. It may take some time if you're not used to thinking this way.

gmcevoy said:

I know the canopy of sparkling jewels is wondrous because I marvel at it every time I see it. The 'subjective experience' you're trying to come to grips with is as a result of the reality of the physical properties of our environment, AKA The Universe. It is an ephemeral result of the workings of a material phenomena - the phenomenal grey matter

I'm not denying that the experience results from the physical phenomena. Never was. I think you are getting closer to my notion when you call it an "ephemeral result". The materialist bias would be to dismiss this as an illusion or a non-reality. It just happens to come up when we get enough neurons acting in a certain way in response to a certain object. So how does it just happen to come up? And why should it? Why should there be any consciousness at all?

I said:

I said: "Religion isn't about truth" only if you think there's no meaning to life beyond physical survival and think that subjective conscious experience is not a true reality or facet of reality.

Bronze Dog replied:

Straw man. I do think there is more meaning to life than simple survival. The fact that you jumped right to that conclusion about me suggests you're awfully cynical and possibly incapable of looking beyond religion for meaning.

Sorry you took that interpretation. That's not what I meant. They key word is "about". I was replying to your conclusion that "religion isn't about truth" by trying to explain that religion is intended to be about the pursuit of truth. It is humans trying to understand truth. I'm not saying that religion itself is truth. So my statement extracted above means that you only can think that religion does not pursue truth if you think that life has no meaning beyond physical survival because that is the meaning that religion mainly pursues and tries to address (I mean "you" the general sense, as in "one", not you Bronze Dog per se). So if you/one thinks there's no truth to meaning beyond physical survival then it follows that religion's intention is not to pursue truth.

Yojimbo: How do you know that the experience is the electromagnetic activity of your brain? How does electromagnetic activity have a conscious experience?

Ryan W: what you've all heard a million times is probably people looking at things in much more paradigmatic and inside-the-box ways than I do. I doubt that what you think I'm talking about is really what I'm talking about.

Don (finally): Without getting into specific literature and citations, let me try to give an example of a contribution to understanding of life made by religion: The widely pervasive theme of giving up material gain/comfort/pleasure/success for a higher spiritual reward that comes about thru self-discipline and denial of the parts of oneself that desires more immediate material things. Various religions have different ways of trying to put this into practice. When done in an enlightened and reasonable way (not extremist), this leads to better-lived lives, more communal cooperation and cohesion, happier people who have a sense of purpose, stonger social bonds, more stability to relationships, etc etc.

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