Monday, November 13, 2006

The Silly Science of Richard Dawkins

Does Richard Dawkins, professor of evolutionary biology at Oxford University, know what a hypothesis is?

Apparently not.

Dawkins, author of the new book The God Delusion, is featured in last week’s Time Magazine cover story, “God vs. Science.” It’s great that Time has been taking on important religious issues, and even better that for this particular article, they avoided the temptation of finding Dawkins’ ideological opposite for a debate, but instead paired him up with Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Still, like Time’s previous exploration of the “Prosperity Gospel” phenomenon of American Evangelicalism, the article fails to be fully illuminating because the author appears not to understand Christian theology well enough to ask the right questions.

There is a difference between faith and science, and here Dr. Collins’ expertise could have been very useful; instead, he is left to repeat variations on a theme of, “Evolution doesn’t disprove the existence of God.”

He does, however, get a chance to cut right to the heart of Dawkins’ misunderstanding of faith – and science.

“The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator, a God, is one of the most important questions we have to answer,” says Dawkins. “I think that it is a scientific question. My answer is no.”

I guess Dawkins wasn’t paying attention to last year’s national debate over “intelligent design.” If the existence of God were, in fact, a scientific question, then it should be part of the science curriculum, no? Especially if, as Dawkins argues, it is “one of the most important questions.” But it’s not, because the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved through scientific methods.

Furthermore, as many Christians will tell you, there is no “proof” of God, nor will there ever be, because the freedom to choose belief is the essential component of salvation. We are asked to believe in spite of an absence of hard evidence; that is the core proposition. If we could find God in a laboratory, that would be a fundamental challenge to Christian thinking that would dwarf evolution. What would happen to ideas about free will? Who would willfully choose not to worship a God who’d been scientifically proven to exist?

Dawkins’ hypothesis is that God does not exist. But how is this a scientifically testable assertion? As a tool for evaluating the merits of faith, it’s irrelevant, because faith specifically means belief in the unprovable.

Dawkins would call this response a “cop-out,” as he frequently describes Collins’ answers (one reply is even labeled “the mother and father of all cop-outs”). But the cop-out is Dawkins’ own attempt to define God using methods that simply don’t apply. He has reached a predetermined conclusion, and then selected methods which are guaranteed to be non-responsive to his inquiry. The resulting lack of evidence Dawkins interprets as proof of his non-scientific assumption.

“The difference,” explains Collins, “is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.”

36 comments:

DJRainDog said...

Dawkins, as far as I can tell, is like so many other contemporary philoscientists (I'm not 100% sure that's the term I want to use for him, but for now, it stands), a moron. He (and most of the world) would do well to go read Pascal. I'm not saying I'm a believer out of "game theory" or the application of Pascal's Gambit, for I've wrestled with my faith and tried repeatedly to deny it -- it is neither out of some silly weak-minded neediness nor out of good business sense that I am a Christian -- but seriously, if I were in doubt, I would realise that belief is certainly the more potentially profitable proposition and the consequences of non-belief could be catastrophic indeed.

Anonymous said...

Once again, the boys on South Park have a great quip concerning evolution, not that I watch the show to glean some kind of cosmic truth.

Stan: "Maybe evolution is the answer to how and not why."

Dagon said...

In quick response to djraindog-- every philosophy-savvy Christian I have ever encountered finds Pascal's wager to be the most vulgar, repulsive rationale possible for believing in God. I'm not a believer, but I see their point.
I can't imagine Andy is a big fan of faith based solely on the fear of hellfire...

Andy, regarding last year's debate over the teaching of I.D.: I think you're on to something, but you and Dawkins are kind of talking past one another on that point. My impression is that he dislikes the way that fight was fought, namely, claiming that religious claims are separate from scientific ones and thus do not belong in biology class. Don't you think he'd say that such claims do in fact belong in a scientific discussion, and that it would only take about five minutes to refute them? Refutation wouldn't be the same as disproving religion.
I know Dawkins doesn't think you can prove a negative. Remember his whole schtick about God's existence being equally possible as Thor's existence or the Flying Spaghetti Monster...can't disprove any of it but all's equally unlikely, blah, blah...
I think his angle would be to classify religious claims among those things that are sufficiently unlikely as not to raise major concern...

Paul said...

"Furthermore, as many Christians will tell you, there is no “proof” of God, nor will there ever be, because the freedom to choose belief is the essential component of salvation."

How, precisely, do you know that the freedom to choose belief is the essential component of salvation? Says whom exactly?

Andy said...

Paul: Well, I believe in salvation through faith (acknowledging that without works, faith is dead). In the Time interview, Dr. Collins describes God as "a deity that we must seek without being forced to." So while you won't find my exact wording in the Bible, I feel it's accurate because true faith must be a product of free will.

Dagon: I can't imagine Andy is a big fan of faith based solely on the fear of hellfire...

Yeah, not so much. I'm actually trying to work on a post about that. I have a great graphic I want to use.

Don't you think he'd say that such claims do in fact belong in a scientific discussion, and that it would only take about five minutes to refute them?

He might. I think it takes more than five minutes to explain to people why "irreduceable complexity" isn't as good as it sounds, but yes. Actually, taking a day in high school biology to explain why Intelligent Design isn't science would be very helpful. But you see, this is where the secular fundamentalists get in the way of their own cause: any mention of "God" in the public sphere sends some people into apoplexy. And yes, certainly the wingnuts on the other side would have a cow, as well. But there are people in this country who think it's a violation of their First Amendment rights if I happen to walk past them and say "God" on the street. I'm not joking.

However, I was absolutely stunned silly that Dawkins opened this debate with Time by saying "I thnk it is a scientific question." Can he really believe that? I mean, it is the FIRST thing he says, it's his opening salvo. If he honestly thinks it's a scientific question -- specifically the existence of God, not evolution or ID -- then I don't really see how anything else he says can be taken seriously.

I thought about addressing his point that if there IS a God, it's highly unlikely that it's any of the literally countless gods that humans have revered during their short time on earth. Actually, he concludes the interview by saying, "If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything any theologian of any religion has ever proposed." And you know, I think a lot of Christians, certainly, would agree with that, and I bet people of many other faith traditions, as well.

He proposes that it might be the God of the Martians or of Alpha Centauri or something like that, instead if the statistically impossible chance that it's the God of Jesus. Well, I admit I'm a little unorthodox on this point, but I would respond that God is just exactly as big and as complex as Dawkins says he would have to be, so many religions (I can't bring myself to say all...) are different and probably valid ways of understanding the same thing, the same phenomenon we simply call God. Rather than his argument that so many people have had so many different ideas about God (which is true), and suggest we should infer therefore that there is no God because no one agrees on who he is, I would suggest taking a step back and recognizing all the similarities between disparate faiths. The recurring themes, to me, are more remarkable and significant than their differences. And now I have to give the cats breakfast and go to work.

Paul said...

So. You find yourself in a slightly odd position I think.

You don't believe that the existence of God is a scientific question; a nice simple yes or no because there is no, or neither could there be, evidence.

However, you do have complete certainty when it comes to 'essential components of salvation'. Indeed, in salvation itself.

Presumably you must have good reasons for your belief over other beliefs. Surely a Muslim god is just as credible. Or Greek gods. Or anything else for which there is no evidence.

Can I ask what tipped the balance to complete certainty for you? And how you're sure you've got the 'right' god?

Cheers

Paul

Andy said...

Hi Paul, thanks for coming back. Looks like you're new to this blog. I am not certain of anything, nor have I ever claimed to be; and I often point out that certainty is the opposite of faith, and I don't believe that a faith that isn't regularly tested and challenged by doubt holds up under much scrutiny.

I would use the word "conviction," rather than certainty. It's possible to have strongly held, long-pondered, well-reasoned beliefs and still not be certain.

I didn't mean to say there was no evidence for God; not in the least. There is no scientifically testable evidence. In a courtroom, for example, sometimes there is no "Exhibit A" type evidence, merely the testimony of witnesses. Well, God has billions of witnesses.

I believe in Christianity as it is outlined in basic doctrines like the Nicene Creed. But I have never believed that the God I know exists, a God if infinite wisdom, compassion, love and mercy, turns a deaf ear to the sincere prayer of someone who calls on him by some other name. I realize that is unorthodox. But I agree with Dawkins insofar as God is probably greater and more complex than any specific theology can encompass. That doesn't invalidate sincere efforts to understand him, though.

The God of Islam is the same God as mine. Ever read the Koran? It says as much. The Koran itself says the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels are genuine revelations from God.

DJRainDog said...

Dagon, I think you just called me vulgar and repulsive. I'm still giggling as I type. I didn't convey my tone in that comment particularly well. I don't actually think that believing in God out of fear that there MIGHT be one and the punishment for not believing in Him might be that you'd get your ass smacked into the eternal unquenchable lake of fire. I don't even really believe in Hell, at least not as many Christians paint it. My intention was a tongue-in-cheek jab at those who believe, as a scientist friend of mine once said, that we know everything we need to know to explain every phenomenon in the universe, which I believe is hubristic bullshit.

Paul said...

I apologise if I misrepresented the strength in your conviction in the path to salvation. You did sound rather sure :-).

I wonder what you mean by evidence for god though - can you think of any examples?

I see lots of evidence to the contrary - untreatably aggressive infant leukemia for example. Were dinosaurs an experiment that backfired? Trivial, nay trite, points I'm sure. But a theory of god needs to encompass all observed phenomena no?

It seems to me that atheists look around at the world and see it how it is. Theists look around and say, look how great god is.

The Law Fairy said...

"It seems to me that atheists look around at the world and see it how it is. Theists look around and say, look how great god is."

Paul, assuming you're talking about materialists (which I think you must be, since atheists, as I understand them and as opposed to agnostics, believe in no supreme spiritual force), then I think this description is inapt. Rather, I'd say that atheists look at the world and say, this is all I can sense so this is all there is. Theists look at the world and believe that there is something there that their five senses can't detect.

Dagon said...

I wasn't calling djraindog vulgar and repulsive, rest assured.

I was just recalling the horror with which Christian friends of mine in college reacted to reading about Pascal's Wager. It's a mathematical formulation of hellfire-based "ole time religion"...takes us back to Johnathan Edwards and "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in the 1740s.

Modern Christianity is all about the Love and not about the divine wrath, with notable exceptions among the 30% of the US population who call themselves evangelicals, of course. Ugh.

Andy said...

So, you're saying that in order for there to be a God, the world would have to be disease and disagreement free, where everyone was equally prosperous, never died, there were no earthquakes and the temperature was always 72 degrees with a 17% chance of precipitation?

I'm not sure I can take too kindly your suggestion that only atheists can see the world as it is, fully aware of injustice and inequality. Was Martin Luther King, Jr. some deluded ideologue living in a fantasy world? Or did he find justifications in faith and scripture to work for justice and equality? Many people of faith today are working to bring attention to rampant poverty, curable disease, global warming, Darfur, etc. On the civil rights front here in America, religious coalitions from various Christian and Jewish denominations have submitted amicus briefs to courts in New York, Washington, New Jersey and California arguing in favor of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

I have no idea how the dinosaurs and their disappearance fit into God's intentions. I think it is largely irrelevant. That the culture that wrote Genesis 3,000 years ago (and the beliefs existed orally for thousands of years before that) could not have understood evolution does not remotely threaten or undermine the spiritual truths found in scripture. I really don't know what to make of people who insist the Bible is supposed to be a biology textbook -- which includes many atheists. These are not people with objective points of view. I am not particularly worried that science shows the ancient Hebrews didn't know how the earth came in to being or how long it took for life to appear.

The Bible is FULL of instructions to take care of the poor, the oppressed, the sick and the marginalized. The Bible absolutely wants us to live in the present and be fully aware of the suffering that exists and do what we can to help.

As I said in my post below "Bridges and Windows," I happen to be really bad at making good arguments for the existence of God. I defer to others. C.S. Lewis, a late convert from atheism, does a pretty good job of it, if you're of a mind to read any of his theological apologies.

Andy said...

Ditto exactly to what Law Fairy said.

Paul said...

the law fairy. fascinating response.

"Theists look at the world and believe that there is something there that their five senses can't detect."

so do madmen! every single human society seems to have constructed a legend of creation and afterlife, etc. in each of those societies they seem to believe that they've struck lucky with their chosen deity. they can't all be right - in fact you yourself probably refute a few hundred of them. I just go one further.

andy

nice point but a little aggressive; at least tempered with a little humour.

no i do not believe that the world has to be perfect (for whom?) in order for god to exist. but surely if we are going to construct a story of a god beyond our senses, then at least we might be able to construct a bit of a narrative for him (always a him isn't it?). and presumably a benevolent one - hence the example i gave. if we can't see him, he could at least use his fantastic supernatural powers to some end.

sorry, i don't understand the relevance of some well-meaning believers doing good work. can i counter with some well-meaning atheists?

the bible is a big book. i'm sure it does have a few 'hits' morality-wise. but it also has horrors too - is it ok to sell your daughter into slavery? if we have to use our judgement on which of the bible's moral we want to adopt - do we need the bible at all?

Andy said...

(always a him isn't it?)

No, not always. Especially not if you defer to the Bible: we are created, male and female, in God's own image. God is genderless. I think the problem is twofold: yes, the Bible came down to us from a patriarchal culture, and secondly, we don't have a good pronoun other than "it" that isn't gender-based. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a mainstream Christian who will adamantly insist that God is definitely and completely a "male" entity. I can't speak for other traditions on this subject.

All information that we have about God is filtered through imperfect human minds. Cultural bias -- including gender -- is inevitably going to be a part of that.

You don't see the relevance of people of faith doing good things in this world? Even as a response to your claim that religious people choose not to see the world as it is?

Paul, are you actually eager to understand Christian thinking about the significance of the Bible? Because I can explain it to you, point you to posts I have written previously instead of rehashing complex ideas in the comments section here, and give you other, better points of reference, as well.

Paul said...

andy

i apologise - i am new to your website and i probably should read more before troubling you with issues that you have already covered.

anyway. i am no expert on christian theology but i like a nice argument. i apologise again for any lack of sophistication.

it seems to me you are suggesting that you believe in the prophets - that must be a bit of a stretch? why has god stopped communicating with us? or has he not?

with regards christians doing nice things - my point has been misunderstood. i look into the night sky and see the vastness of the universe and i think "wow". my point is that the theist goes one step further and says "wow, praise the lord". this last bit is what causes me trouble and would appear to have no justification.

anyway, time to pack up and cycle home.

bon soir.

cheers

paul

Andy said...

I like a good argument, too. Obviously. I have to keep reminding myself that you are not the same person as the last skeptic who came through here asking the exact same questions. If I'm going to put myself out there as an advocate for Christianity, clearly I will have to develop more patience, because these questions are going to keep coming back to me.

I don't believe for a moment God has stopped speaking. In fact, another denomination, the United Church of Christ, has adopted a slogan that says precisely, "God is still speaking!" Now, there are Christians who believe that the period of revelation ended with Revelation. I don't.

When you gaze into the universe, what is it that makes you go "Wow"?

Paul said...

when i gaze at the night sky i think...

wow. that's a lot of stars. in fact, seemingly, we can see with telescopes as many stars as there are grains of sand on the planet.

then i think of the amusing possibility that human beings play a significant role in the universe. too implausible.

then i marvel at the progress made by science in understanding our universe - from quantum theory through cosmology. from the very first few fractions of a second through to 14 or so billion years later.

then i think of the progress made in the sciences to explain the formation of the stars, the planets, organisms. the beauty, simplicity and elegance of evolutionary theory to explain life on the planet - all described with the same 4 'codes'.

then i think. where on earth would god fit into all of this? there's nowhere left for him to hide.

as i oft joke - it's as if he's not there at all.

then i think of the bible. very much trapped in the time it was written. not a single insight beyond it's years.

then i think of the dubious moral guidance in the bible and i wonder... could the 10 commandments have been made up by a man? is there a single moral guide from the bible that could not be derived from 'do unto others'?

that's roughly what i think :-)

cheers

paul

DJRainDog said...

Dagon: Drat! I rather like when people call me vulgar (I most certainly am!) -- repulsive, not so much. Otherwise, though, you puzzle me on some points (though I generally quite enjoy reading you and agree with you fully about democracy -- that didn't stop me from voting, though, as I consider myself among the "intellectual elite" and consequently "entitled" -- kidding...well, sort-of). You say, "Modern Christianity is all about the Love and not about the divine wrath," but you have a seemingly ongoing series of posts of "Reasons to Despise Christianity". Zoiks! Some of that discussion made me so sad I nearly cried at my desk this morning, despite the bouncy Groove Armada disc I was playing. Or perhaps you're beginning to see some middle ground? (I hope?)

DJRainDog said...

Paul: "then i think. where on earth would god fit into all of this? there's nowhere left for him to hide. // as i oft joke - it's as if he's not there at all."

Where on earth, indeed! The Wiccans seem to believe that THEIR god is infused into EVERYTHING. Andy will whip me for bringing the Gnostics into this again, but the Gospel of St. Thomas has Jesus saying, "Split a piece of wood, and I am there; lift a stone, and you will find me." I don't believe that Heaven is a place that can be reached via spacecraft any more than I believe that Hell is a pace that can be reached by digging. There IS a place for God in creation, though, and Einstein, according to a quotation from mathematician Max Born, hit on it. Born wrote: "Even he, with his great formula about energy and mass, agreed that there must be something behind the energy." Now, while I don't believe Einstein ever publicly espoused any adherence to organised religion, I've also read that he said, "In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I with my limited mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what really makes me angry is that they quote me for support of such views." He might not like me using his quotes to SUPPORT a belief in God, either, but my point is that if there's a place for God in this universe, I would say that the place is sort-of parallel to and behind it, with tendrils (Eep! Unintended Lovecraftian image) reaching into everything that is, slowly crafting it all to, hopefully, its eventual perfection. I cannot look at the night sky, nor watch a sunrise (or a sunset), nor stand atop a cliff in Costa Mesa National Park looking across the miles, nor swim in the ocean, nor look down from a plane, nor look up at snow-capped mountain peaks, nor walk in the shadow of skyscrapers, nor regard the fruits of the artist's labours upon canvas or in sculpture, nor observe the intensity and complexity of human emotion, nor listen to my beloved music -- I cannot bear witness to such beauty and believe that it is random or has merely evolved with no guidance.

You also write, "then i think of the bible. very much trapped in the time it was written. not a single insight beyond it's [sic] years." REALLY?! Are we referring to the same book, or have you just not read it? Or perhaps not thought about what you were reading? There is a GREAT deal in the Bible which resonates as truth in the present and which becomes applicable in new and (I think) astonishing ways with every day that time progresses. I'll refrain from posting examples here, but the continued application of the truths found in the Bible (I'm going to pass over the heinous bits which are, yes, mired in the culture and time in which they were written, here, but I do acknowledge their existence.) is, for MY money, the purpose behind the sermons which clergy write and deliver to their parishioners. I'm unable to locate the precise text, but one of my favourite pre-sermon prayers, regularly delivered by an old priest friend of mine, went something like, "Grant, O Lord, that from ancient scripture, new light may shine forth, daily guiding thy pilgrim people." (And you must realise that your own "do unto others" comment seems to void your dismissal of the Bible as inapplicable to the present. ;-) )

The world you describe, and indeed in which you seem to live (?!), seems TO ME dull and bleak to the point of untenability, filled with formulae and calculations, and utterly bereft of any mystery to be examined or purpose to be pursued. If I inhabited such an existence (for I would hesitate to call it a life), I think it would turn me to a desperate man, indeed. I pray it is not so for you.

Andy said...

? I have no issue with you bringing the Gnostics into this, especially not Thomas. Please, did you not see where I referred to the Koran earlier? One of my favorite quotes came from Justice Ginsberg: "I'll take enlightenment wherever I can get it." She was referring to international law, but its applicable to my search for God. I really like the Gospel of Thomas.

Paul...nothing in the Bible applicable to modern life? I suggest you look again.

DJRainDog said...

Andy: I was kidding about the Gnostic thing. Just remembered the last time I quoted the Thomas Gospel, you made a wisecrack about "We'll have no heresy here", which I found amusing, given the wide range of beliefs which are represented in your comments. ;-)

Paul said...

djraingod

in a work of the size of the bible it is of course possible to find elements in the text that have relevance today. it would be incredibly suprising if this wasn't the case.

i think that you would find the same thing if you were to study the works of shakespeare or dickens and come to the same conclustion.

my point - the bible does not need any influence from a supernatural god to exhibit the characteristics you describe.

you go on to describe my world as untenably bleak and "filled with formulae and calculations". are you really talking about me? what on earth would make you say that?

of course i'm aware of the origins of 'do unto others' and i'm happy to give credit where it is due. however, i don't think you need the power to create every single atom in the universe to be able to come up with such a simple formulation.

can i lay down the challenge again? name a single moral tenet that can be derived from the bible that cannot likewise be derived from the simple principle 'do unto others'?

Dagon said...

djraindog:
My "reasons to hate Christianity" are personal things I dislike--they don't have any bearing on religious truth claims--I try not to confuse the things Christians do that make me angry with the actual reasons I am not a Christian.

I'm not really looking for middle ground; I mean, I'm inundated with Christians here (in Texas, in my family), so their tolerance for me is more consequential than my feelings for them.
Unless provoked I'm generally happy to live a godless life and hope others will do the same. This election season was tough though; I felt constantly provoked. Our governor kept spouting off about who was or wasn't getting into heaven...

And I think you do belong to the "intellectual elite" since you clearly know how to piece together a paragraph. Standards might be lower than you'd think!

What made you borderline tearful?

Andy said...

Paul: name a single moral tenet that can be derived from the bible that cannot likewise be derived from the simple principle 'do unto others'?

Well, would it help at all if I casually pointed out THAT PHRASE IS FROM THE BIBLE???? Please turn to Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.

Dagon: DJRaindog is hardly intellectually elite. Please, he went to the same college as the President.

The Law Fairy said...

"my point - the bible does not need any influence from a supernatural god to exhibit the characteristics you describe."

and earlier:

"then i think. where on earth would god fit into all of this? there's nowhere left for him to hide."

Paul, isn't it possible that you're missing the forest for the trees? I noted earlier that atheists look at the world and believe that their five senses tell them everything they need to know. You didn't dispute this, and from your quotes above this appears to describe your viewpoint -- but please correct me if I'm wrong.

I just can't help but wonder if this view might be a bit myopic. Just as in the modern day we have developed technological tools that help us understand the workings of the physical universe better, might it not be possible that other, faith-based tools could help us understand the metaphysical world better? Our five senses used to tell us that the world was flat. We developed sailing ships that taught us otherwise. Our five senses used to tell us the sun was different from other stars. We developed sophisticated measuring instruments that taught us this often isn't true. Our five senses used to tell us we could hear sounds. We developed tools that taught us there are many soundwaves the human ear cannot sense without the aid of scientific instruments. Bear in mind that great scientific minds no less formidable than Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking have all acknowledged that there is more to the universe than meets the eye, so to speak. It seems to me the height of arrogance to presume that we, insignificant humans that we are, can understand, manipulate, control, KNOW reality itself with five meager senses connecting us to the physical world.

Further, if reality is only the physical, how do you explain consciousness? What is it? Where does it come from? Is it an illusion? If so, why do we pretend that anything matters?

Which, I guess, leads to my ultimate question: if there's "no room" for God (or, I take it, spiritual reality of any ilk), from whence morality? From whence rules like "do unto others"? We Christians have an answer to this question. Do you?

And this:

"as i oft joke - it's as if he's not there at all."

Well, remember Keyser Soze's words: "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." Who knows, maybe the same applies for God ;)

Andy said...

I second what Law Fair wants to know from you, Paul.

I mean, I'm confused. If I understand you correctly, it seems all morality boils down to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If that is your position, then your position is that all morality can be summarized by a quote attributed to Jesus, yet you said earlier, of the Bible, "not a single insight beyond it's years. " Is the Bible really "very much trapped in the time it was written" if you agree with Jesus about what is at the heart of moral law?

Andy said...

Law Fair*y*, sorry. I got a raise today. I'm drunk. I can't type. Sue me. Yay God. I'm going to bed now. Whoo!

Paul said...

andy

congratulations on the raise!

regards 'do unto others'. i have made rather plain in my previous posts that i am aware that this phrase is from the bible.

my point to you. is it possible that a man made this up? or would it require the supernatural might that is required to fabricate from nothing every atom in the visible universe.

i hate to sound immodest but i think it's a formulation i could have derived myself.

so back to my original question; are there any principles so advanced that can not be traced back to 'do unto others'?

you can see where i'm going with this can't you? the moral authority of the bible seems to be rather impugned on two grounds

1. there is nothing particularly groundbreaking in the bible to my knowledge. certainly nothing that could not have been made up by a well-meaning human being.

2. we have to be selective to say the very least in which morals we decide to extract from the bible. i shall not quote endless examples - but i'm sure you know what i mean. if we have to select which morals to extract from the bible, do we need the bible as an authority at all.

law fairy
i suppose it is possible that i'm missing the forest for the trees (or wood as we say in the uk).

however, you can hopefully see my point. at the time the bible was written god had it all - from creation to heaven and earth, thunder, lightening, good luck, bad luck - it was all attributed to the lord. to me it seems that, through the advancement of science, the only place god is now able to insinuate himself is between the cracks of understanding. and those cracks are fast disappearing.

i like your analogies of our belief in a flat earth. however, it illustrates what i like about science. i rather like the steady march of progress heralded by scientists. the ability to shed previous theories and adopt new ones in light of new evidence and the relative absence of dogma.

it may seem to you "the height of arrogance" to presume that we can understand reality - i wonder who there is to be upset by this arrogance in your view?

surely a man can't be faulted for simply trying to find the best explanation for the things around him? it seems more rational to do this than conjure the supernatural for which their is no evidence to explain nothing.

finally. the notion that morality can only spring from a biblical source and frankly under some considerable duress (be good or it's burning lakes of sulphur for you laddy) is a notion that i find rather irksome at best, offensive at worst.

do you really believe that had you have grown up on a remote island and had never been exposed the the teachings of the bible that you would feel no compassion for fellow human beings? if so i feel that says more about you than religion. if the only reason you don't steal, rape and murder is because the bible says that you shouldn't i think that's rather damning.

The Law Fairy said...

"surely a man can't be faulted for simply trying to find the best explanation for the things around him?"

PRECISELY, Paul. That's what we religious folk do, too, we just open our minds to more ways of doing it than a couple.

I think I may have put my point somewhat inelegantly, so I'll try again: to you "do unto others" seems self-evident. Why is this? Why is it so obvious? Why is logic right? Why do things make sense to us? I think this goes back to my consciousness point -- science has a long and uncertain relationship with consciousness. Perhaps science will help us understand it better, perhaps not. Personally, I'm of the opinion that science will never be able to fully explain the mind, but certainly reasonable people can disagree. My point is this: *what* is so self-evident about "do unto others"? We Christians believe in the conscience -- we believe that God has written his law into our hearts. This is where our notions of right and wrong come from, even if we have no moral training (these can be enhanced or deadened by training and socialization, but there you have it -- thus, someone on a desert island very well could have empathy for others). I do not deny, by any means, that you can have a workable system of morality without God. Many philosophers have outlined such moral systems (Hume springs to mind). I'm just asking, what is your explanation? The problem is that most such systems, that I'm aware of, still make reference to some plane of existence which we cannot see, smell, touch, taste, or hear. I'm perfectly willing to accept the existence of more than five senses, but this then takes us outside the realm of pure empirical science. So I'm wondering how you account for this.

I *think* that addresses the points you raised, but I need to get to work :)

And Andy, congrats on the raise!! Woo hoo!

kr said...

disparate thoughts:

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It would be my general impression that "do unto others" is pretty damn unintuitive to most humans. As witness, all historical events.

Secondly, and I recognize this doesn't help the Bible Is Great side, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is yet another step in a good direction (steps recorded in the Bible traced previously on this blog)--"do unto others as THEY would like done" is certainly more enlightened ;).

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From the article I recently cited about the ridiculous Nazi-Pope claims:
a quotation ... given after the War by the most well-known Jewish figure of this century, Albert Einstein:
"Only the Catholic Church protested against the Hitlerian onslaught on liberty. Up till then I had not been interested in the Church, but today I feel a great admiration for the Church, which alone has had the courage to struggle for spiritual truth and moral liberty."

Although I like Einstein find it terriby odd he is used to justify religion, apparently he believed in "a spritual truth"

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The Catholic Church, o Paragon of Close-Mindedness, agrees that all religions--all honest examinations of the world--have truth in them. It is completely logical if God created the world and if you assume a rational God (which the Pope recently took some heat for suggesting was the major thought-revolution of Christianity): everything ties together and reflects upon everything else. We call it "the Book of Nature," and it is technically held in as high of theological esteem as the Bible.
Relatedly, no shame for appropriating pagan holidays--people always throw this like a bomb to expose the pagan underpinnings of my Church. Um, no, just exposes that people have been trying to figure out the spiritual+physical world since forever.

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DJR--Pascal is like the source and fountainhead of all atheist argument that theists are weakminded cowards. I totally choked when you cited him : P. (But then I had an especially bad experience being Catholic at my college, so I'm probably over sensitive ;). )

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Paul. evidence for God
I assume you will discount as hooey all testimony involving angels, demons, miraculous physical healings, miraculous psycho/spiritual healings, multiplication or transmutation of material things, and, yes, modern Prophecy. (I had a professor in college who constantly countered with "we just can't explain it yet." Fair enough ... possibly true ... but it is awfully suspicious that these healing type events occur in conjuction with prayer in every belief tradition I have heard of, traditional or new age.)
The real problem comes with the number of people who have experienced these things. A determined atheist formerly evangelical friend says, "mass delusions," asked to expalin his previous (now rejected) experiences. This is just a name, not an explanation. Empty words. The more humans are involved, the less science is capable of explaining,it seems like. Perhaps humans create the non-deterministic parts of reality. (See also movie mentioned below.)
Since I assume you will say hooey (I am sorry if I assume incorrectly), the hmanistic evidence Andy might have been referencing (Andy you never followed up?) would include the HUGE number of people who were willing to die terrible horrible deaths rather than deny their belief, especially in the early years, when the people who experienced Jesus directly were teaching and dying (and reputedly performing miracles).
I read a book that claimed Jesus didn't die on the cross but his "Apostles" created the mythos because they didn't want to admit they were wrong to have thought he was the Christ, for their own glorification (presumably in this world, if the whole thing was a lie). Because, you know, a peripatetic, impoverished life lived often in hiding and deeply reviled by both the Roman and Jewish over-cultures seems like a GREAT way to live out that dream of self-glorification.

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Non-Christians have seen Christian visions that guided them to Christians for teaching (Mary, angels) even still in the last century.

I alsways laugh that Mary appears mostly in fields, like a fertility godess of old ... as many revisionist feminist spiritualists claim she is--the old godsess(es) in new clothes.

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Physics / no room for God:
Movie: What the bleep do we know anyway?
Occasionally irresponsible "parallels" and "connections" drawn, but does a nice job of showing where the mysteries of quantum physics might be that realm in which we can effect real and lasting change by our choices and thinking (I liked the concept of a scientific proof not only for human free will, but for the suggested vital necessity of free will in the physical universe; it made me laugh).
The movie makers were deciededly anti-theist, which showed in both editting and writing (nonetheless I think everyone should watch the movie). However, if God exists, these quantum spaces are where we might find Him also: an electron Here or There 7 billion years ago might have been the difference that lead to your birth, yes? If every aspect of phsyical existence matters absolutely to every other (which I think, and I believe is generally acceptable in scientific inquiry?), yet we cannot know--and we have some evidence we can change--some of those physical aspects ... I suspect, Paul, that you might agree there is still an infinity in the quantum universe ... certainly enough room for at least a biggish, fairly active God ;). (Myself, I have seen much more direct intervention in standard causal reality, so my picture of God is ... larger ;). )

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Bible as trapped in its time:
Well, interesting, because those happy moral things Andy refers to are generally inveighglements (ooh, new word!) against the bad shit going down around/within the Hebrew culture-group, where the moral screwups (raping entire towns after killing the menfolk and babies, that sort of thing; stoning as a punishment for immorality; etc.) are largely, to my understanding, cross-cultural commonalities at that time and place. Similarly, in the New Testament, most of those moral good things Jesus suggests are directly countering cultural assumptions and teachings ... the Apostles later teach specifically against ethnic prejudice and considering slaves as less of people than free (this would be another place where later "Christians" should maybe have examined the New Testament more closely : P ).

So sure, from here, the Bible is a warren of horrendously backwards assumptions. But at every point, the Bible records attempts to push past the then-current less-good assumptions, which path we are still on today. In it's time, I think it was probably at all points in its development forward-looking.

Whether that just took some very determined more enlightened than average thinkers or was especially speeded up--extra revolutionary--due to input from someone(s) outside of humanity is of course where the theist/non-theist thinking is likely to divide.

But again, I see no evidence that things like "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is, for humans, either intuitive nor easy to live out even if one accepts it.

kr said...

sorry for the typos and general lack of grammar--lots of ground to cover and not much time : P

Steve said...

It is clear that the author of this post has not read the fleshed-out versions of Dawkins' arguments in, say, The God Delusion. In it, Dawkins spends a lot of time arguing why the God question can be answered with science and probability, and does not simply take it as read.

He also asks interesting questions, such as why an eternal being would even care about faith or belief. It seems an awful odd (and ultimately cruel) move to pull, creating something whose eternal salvation rests upon believing a theory which is wholly untestable and unprovable by your own making. Then there is the question of which faith, out of the hundreds of thousands in existence. From an objective perspective, one faith is just as "believable" as any other faith, so long as the believer is willing to abandon empirical evidence to get to said belief. Most people simply accept the faith of their parents, or the dominant faith of their society. To say that this arbitrary distinction holds any reasonable explanation, I think, is a stretch.

Pascal's Wager is also addressed by Dawkins, and found wanting. Briefly, for it to hold any significance whatsoever, the probability of the existence of a God has to be equal to or greater than the probability of the nonexistence of a God. This is quite simply not the case. Everything in our universe has developed through a series of small incremental steps. This is true in physics, geology, and biology, among many others. Believing in an infinitely complex intelligence creates an insurmountable problem of probability, as it brings up the question of its origin. There is simply no reason to resort to a complex intelligence when many of the building blocks of the universe can already be answered through natural causes. (See 'The God Delusion' for a fuller version.)

Finally, the argument that a God answers the question of "why?" is wrong on its face as it presupposes the existence of a "why." It is an argument from a predetermined conclusions: since we exist, we must exist for a reason, therefore God must be the answer to the reason. Quite simply, there is not reason to believe that anything, including us, exists for a particular purpose; it just simply exists. Fortunately, human beings are capable of complex emotions that allow us to create our own reason (family, spouse, children, achievment, knowledge, wisdom, etc.)

I have many more fleshed-out arguments towards these ends on my blog, so feel free to check it out if you are interested.

Steve said...

Oh, and one more thing. The moral statement of "Do unto others..." can be found in writings from all over the world (Confuscious, the Old Testament, the New Testament, countless ancient philsophers, etc.) It is an expression of an innate human condition of reciprical altruism, and not a "law" created by God.

The origin of human morality can, and is, explained through evolution. Again, there is no need to invoke a higher power when their is a natural explanation. For a fuller description, see 'The Science of Good and Evil' by Michael Shermer.

Andy said...

Hi Steve,

I'm sorry, I thought you'd been posting in response to my most recent blogpost, so I replied to them here.

Anonymous said...

If the existence of God were, in fact, a scientific question, then it should be part of the science curriculum, no?

No. Just because if there were a god, it would be a science question does not mean we should teach ID. That is retarded.

Furthermore, as many Christians will tell you, there is no “proof” of God, nor will there ever be, because god does not exist.