Science and the Problem of Political Values (EXTENDED)

Sometimes we act like the scientific method was only invented a few hundred years ago. Don’t you know that even an absolute savage seeing a thin tree spanning a narrow river would use something like the scientific method in deciding whether to cross at that point? He’d probably figure in his mind whether the the tree would bear his weight. He’d test it near the bank. He might get as far out as he could without totally committing and then come back. If he were really ambitious he might even roll a heavy log out onto the tree to see if it would hold. Then, he would take his data and decide whether he should cross. That’s scientific thinking and it’s been going on probably for as long as there have been human beings.

We like the scientific method. I’m a devout person, but I prefer knowledge vetted via the scientific method to any other kind. I think everyone does. If I hear about someone claiming to have been healed of cancer, I ask whether they’ve had it confirmed by a doctor and some tests. Anybody who tells you they don’t like knowing things scientifically is probably lying. The scientific process is a good thing.

However, the scientific method is really limited in terms of what it can tell us about life and how to live it. No matter how much we learn about the natural world and how it works, the simple fact is that science has zilch to say about most of what we talk about in politics. For example, there is a lot of passion on this website about the policy the United States takes toward dealing with poor people. What does science have to say about that? Is mercy a scientific matter? Is compassion? The truth is that virtually all of us want to see the poor better off, but if we try to discuss why that should be, science just won’t much enter the picture.

Science helps us figure out how to do things we want to do, but it is very little aid in figuring out what the wants are. Does science say whether we should have an anti-poverty policy? No. Does science say whether we should be aggressive or pacifist in our foreign policy? No. Does science say whether we should rebuild Iraq? No. Does science say whether we should have an affirmative action policy or that we should have ended slavery? No. Science is blind to most of politics and not surprisingly, to much of life.

Values help us figure out what our wants are. Things like freedom, loyalty, brotherhood, mercy, love, bravery, honesty, commitment, etc. Now, there are different ways to decide what your values are, but none of them are dead-on scientifically rational. I’m sorry, but it’s true. This is why we get jarring statements like the one from Richard Dawkins the atheist who tells us he is a passionate Darwinist (and atheist) who is just as passionately anti-Darwinist in his politics. He is telling you that scientific knowledge about the world won’t resolve the issue of your politics and for once, he is right.

What will resolve the issue of your politics? The answer is that you have to think about things like what is the nature of human beings, what is good for human beings, what does good even look like, whether something like evil exists and if so what qualifies as evil, what should you care about, what should government care about, etc. In figuring out your politics you figure out yourself. For most people, that process includes thinking about what God thinks and looking for clues to answer that question in religion. It should be clear, however, that those who do not look to religion to help answer these questions are no more rational or scientific than their religious co-seekers. Both persons or groups of persons, religious and irreligious, are filling their cups of value with something and they are not doing so on the basis of scientific analysis.

I think that is the substance behind Ann Coulters’s claim that left-liberals are religious. They are engaged in the experience of determining their values and they do so in a way that is no more logical or reasonable than those who are religious. This is the ineffable territory of the soul — defined as who you are.

Further Thoughts

This inability of science to provide any warrant for our longing for things like justice, good order, compassion, fairness, truth, etc. leads us to where we are and have been for some time. Despite the moniker “political science” we have no science of determining political (or personal, for that matter) ends. Thus, we accept the non-mathematical precision presented us by politics (as did Aristotle) and try to reason from experience and observation about ourselves and society. Natural law tries to deduce our morality in this way.

Religion enters the picture either as a mystical dropping out, a dismissal of the earthly world as an illusion, or (more relevantly) as a massive claim upon history. This last is what we encounter with the Jewish and Christian faiths in particular. Both say “This really happened (the giving of the law or the resurrection of Jesus)” and “Because this thing happened we can draw the following conclusions from it.” The Christian faith in particular offers us this way out of the conundrum of little-explained or mysterious values.

The first kind of religion, that which drops out, is in fact irrational and proudly so. The latter kind, that based on a witness of real history, can only be seen as an attempt at rigorous rationality, perhaps even of the scientific kind. Thus, the Christian claims to have a better idea of what values one should advocate than others who grasp at the issue with no better guide than practical reason well beyond the parameters of the scientific method.

Advertisements

70 thoughts on “Science and the Problem of Political Values (EXTENDED)

  1. What will resolve the issue of your politics? The answer is that you have to think about things like what is the nature of human beings, what is good for human beings, what does good even look like, whether something like evil exists and if so what qualifies as evil, what should you care about, what should government care about, etc. In figuring out your politics you figure out yourself.

    Elegantly said, Hunter, and little there that any reasonable preson should disagree with.

    You have mapped out the common ground.

  2. “However, the scientific method is really limited in terms of what it can tell us about life and how to live it.”

    It tells us nothing about the “meaning” of life, if that’s what you mean.

    “No matter how much we learn about the natural world and how it works, the simple fact is that science has zilch to say about most of what we talk about in politics.”

    Can’t agree with you there. Most of politics boils down to determining the most effective solution to issues. Science is enormously useful there.

    Even on value issues there is generally a aspect that deserves and benefits from scientific inquiry. For instance if we make the non-scientific judgement that abortion is bad we are then posed with the question of how to reduce it. That question very much deserves a scientific approach.

    “The truth is that virtually all of us want to see the poor better off, but if we try to discuss why that should be, science just won’t much enter the picture.”

    True, but if we want to discuss HOW to make it happen, science does help. If we already agree it should happen then lets move right on to the part of actually doing something.

    “Science is blind to most of politics and not surprisingly, to much of life.”

    Politics is not about figuring out what you want, it is about enacting what you want. Nobody, and I mean literally nobody, formes their moral views based on politics. It is quite the reverse.

    “Now, there are different ways to decide what your values are, but none of them are dead-on scientifically rational.”

    Certainly.

    “It should be clear, however, that those who do not look to religion to help answer these questions are no more rational or scientific than their religious co-seekers.”

    Also agreed. However those who rely on god to solve their problems are inherently irrational. Once a problem is decided upon science is a very good first step in devising a solution.

    “I think that is the substance behind Ann Coulters’s claim that left-liberals are religious.”

    It might be but she’s wrong. You can have a world view that does not rely upon metaphysics. Not many people strictly do, but you can. Religion is a specific thing. It is an organized form of spirituality. It is a faith based world view that relies upon an assumption of various tenants that implicitly or explicitly can never be proven. The word does not mean what she uses it to mean.

  3. To be more clear, Tlaloc, I think she is saying left-liberalism operates like religion in its value-generating function as opposed to any ritual or institutional function.

  4. “To be more clear, Tlaloc, I think she is saying left-liberalism operates like religion in its value-generating function as opposed to any ritual or institutional function.”

    That’s again a problem of putting the cart before the horse. Left liberalism isn’t a cause of particular values (like religions are) it is a function of an expression of certain values.

    No one decides to be a democrat and then adopts liberal moral values. They develop liberal moral values and then get really annoyed that the democrats are (barely) the closest thing to what they actually wanted.

  5. I liked the addendum. Science, because it must avoid absolutes, can sometimes opine as to what is better, but never what is best.

    Or even what is good.

  6. You can have a world view that does not rely upon metaphysics. Not many people strictly do, but you can.

    In light of Tom’s wonderfully succinct post, I’d like to know how.

    The only thought that comes to mind is that there is some confusion when one’s privately held religious beliefs are sacrificed in order to contribute to an orderly society. The idea being that there is a separation of religious and political beliefs.

    But isn’t this still part of the search for what is good? If so, the search must have a foundation – and a metaphysical one at that.

    Religion is a specific thing. It is an organized form of spirituality. It is a faith based world view that relies upon an assumption of various tenants that implicitly or explicitly can never be proven. The word does not mean what she uses it to mean.

    ‘Liberal’ may not mean what she uses it to mean; but your definition of religion and hers are identical.

  7. “In light of Tom’s wonderfully succinct post, I’d like to know how.”

    You can simply not react to anything that is not immediately verifiable. Or alternatively you can act strictly according to your desires. Neither relies upon any mysticism. Nor would I personally say that either is a particularly good way to live but that judgement is of course based on my personal mysticism.

    “‘Liberal’ may not mean what she uses it to mean; but your definition of religion and hers are identical.”

    Then there is no way for her to say liberalism is religious. There is no unified metahysical source of liberal beliefs. There is no church of liberalism.

  8. “So, are you prepared to concede intelligent design is not religious?”

    Bu-huh? That leap of reasoning should qualify you for a slot on the olympic track and field team.

    Intelligent Design is another name for Creationism. Creationism is based on a literal reading of the bible. The bible is one of those holy books people talk about and I’m reliably told it is the foundation of some religion or other.

    There is absolutely no other motive for propogating ID than religious. None. Whatsoever. Most of the ID proponents have given up pretending the contrary. They openly claim that ID is about dragging god (kicking and screaming) back into the science classroom.

    Now do you see the difference between that and liberalism, which may be motivated by a religious background but also may not?

  9. Intelligent Design is another name for Creationism. Creationism is based on a literal reading of the bible. The bible is one of those holy books people talk about and I’m reliably told it is the foundation of some religion or other.

    Talk about making leaps. That’s quite a syllogism. Just how many ID advocates claim the Creationism moniker? But if it’s fine to just attribute labels regardless of how people view themselves, you’ve lent credence to Coulter’s thesis, such as it is.

    I think there’s a parallel argument that Ms. Coulter could make, along the lines of Liberalism is another name for godless atheism, which is founded on the faithful adherence to the belief that there is no God, blah blah blah.

  10. There’s no church of intelligent design, either, Tlaloc. No priests. No rituals. No holy book. You get the idea. So, are you prepared to concede intelligent design is not religious?

    Come on, Hunter! What is intelligent design besides an appeal to magic, the supernatural? By its very nature it is religion by definition, and in fact, it specifically invokes the Western deterministic God concept that originated in the Levant and is the basis of Western religion.

  11. Just how many ID advocates claim the Creationism moniker?

    How is what ID advocates call – or don’t call – themselves relevant? ID, no matter how it is presented…..errrrr…..disguised by its proponents, invokes a NON physical mechanism, i.e. the supernatural, to explain processes occurring in this physical Universe. No amount of rationalizing (for want of a better word) changes this simple fact.

  12. Buzz, I think your disgust over intelligent design is causing you to miss the basic argument. Tlaloc claimed left-liberalism is not religious because religions have these certain signifiers like ritual and institutions and clergy, etc. I was just providing him with something he surely thinks is religious — intelligent design — in order to show that his definition of religion might not be as clear-cut as he thinks.

    Take a pill, baby. I.D. tends to make you sputter, man.

  13. Actually, Hunter, I really have no interest in the basic argument on this thread. Everyone “knows” what Ann Coulter means about liberals’ religion, and, in fact, I agree with her. Much to your apparent chagrin, I zeroed in on ID. Perhaps (or perhaps not) you can counter my comments with something other than an ad hominem swipe?

  14. This is sorta my point, Buzz. You weren’t actually disagreeing with me so much as you were freaking about I.D., which is something you do with regularity. No ad hominem. I didn’t call you stupid or condemn your basic personality, just pointed out a bad habit.

  15. “Just how many ID advocates claim the Creationism moniker?”

    Just the honest ones, but really the line about “ID isn’t creationism” never really flew so you don’t hear it too much anymore. There are a few who still pretend not to be creationists but not many.

    “I think there’s a parallel argument that Ms. Coulter could make, along the lines of Liberalism is another name for godless atheism, which is founded on the faithful adherence to the belief that there is no God, blah blah blah.”

    I’m sure she could. The difference between that argument and mine is simply one of accuracy. Mine is, her’s isn’t.

    ID is creationism. That’s a fact. It’s a conclusive fact. It is a historical fact. It is also an obvious fact.

    Liberalism can spring from many different areas. I have no doubt that there are more atheists who call themselves liberals than conservatives. However it is a huge exaggeration to claim liberalism was “godless.”

    Believe me I wish it were a lot more godless than it is.

  16. “Tlaloc claimed left-liberalism is not religious because religions have these certain signifiers like ritual and institutions and clergy, etc. I was just providing him with something he surely thinks is religious — intelligent design — in order to show that his definition of religion might not be as clear-cut as he thinks.”

    The problem hunter is that ID does in fact spring directly from a religion. So the point doesn’t really work.

  17. You’d have to define your terms, Tlaloc. Creationism is generally understood to refer to the efforts of Christians of certain varieties to refute old-earth theories and Darwinism by showing the Genesis account to be literally superior, which includes holding to a young-earth scenario of approximately 10,000 years. This is the definition that has traditionally been used in American history during the last century and in American journalism.

    If Creationism is taken more generically to mean anyone who thinks God or a god or gods created the world, then that would take in a much wider scope of individuals and schools than the Christian ones. You could be talking about certain types of philosophers rather than religionists per se.

    The link you are trying to make is not a clear one. I’m tired of pointing it out, but I.D. could point to a Star Trek style scenario of some superior beings seeding planets with lab-created DNA or some other imaginative scenario. The only thing that is really being suggested is the presence of some active intelligence in the creation/evolution of certain biological creatures. There really isn’t anything more than that. I’m not sure that is so obviously defined as religion as you seem to be.

  18. True, Hunter, the creationism I mean is not (as I incorrectly said above) the form based on a literal reading of the bible. Or at least if it is I can’t show that. Rather I mean creationism in the sense of God (specifically the Christian god, not just any god) created the universe and us.

    That’s the entire point of the Discovery Istitute which, for all intents and purposes, is ID.

    “I.D. could point to a Star Trek style scenario of some superior beings seeding planets with lab-created DNA or some other imaginative scenario.”

    Not really because of course all that does is shift the debate one step farther back. Those aliens are still “irreducibly complex” and you have to either invent another stopgap alien to have made them or you finally admit it was God you were after the whole time.

    Besides which as above the founders of the ID movement have made it entirely clear that their goal was to prove god and put god back into the schools. See the wedge document.

    The star trek stuff was just a bit of smoke screen they threw up to try and confuse people.

    “The only thing that is really being suggested is the presence of some active intelligence in the creation/evolution of certain biological creatures. There really isn’t anything more than that. I’m not sure that is so obviously defined as religion as you seem to be.”

    If that was all that was being suggested it wouldn’t be religious. However that is simply not the case. That’s the cover story.

  19. The problem hunter is that ID does in fact spring directly from a religion.

    So when Carl Sagan says, “The Cosmos is all there ever was or ever will be.”, does he know this or does it ‘spring’ from somewhere?

    More than a few books have been profoundly shaped by that concept, in every discipline in the academy. A modernist canon has, for all practical purposes, already ‘sprung’ from this religious statement.

  20. “So when Carl Sagan says, “The Cosmos is all there ever was or ever will be.”, does he know this or does it ‘spring’ from somewhere?”

    He does not know it. It comes from his beliefs on the matter. Sceince has not nor I suspect ever will be able to establish such a proposition.

    “More than a few books have been profoundly shaped by that concept, in every discipline in the academy. A modernist canon has, for all practical purposes, already ‘sprung’ from this religious statement.”

    I doubt it. While the religious right likes to pretend that science is materialistic, it really is not. At least not in the sense of denying spirituality. It simply is mute on the topic. Science has nothing to say in a discussion of what god is. I t can on occassion weigh in on discussions of what god has done.

    I can swear to you honestly that the only time any matters of spirituality were invoked in any of my science classes was einstein’s famous declaration that “God doesn’t play dice” which is really much less about god than it is about the difficult nature of quantum mechanics.

  21. This is sorta my point, Buzz. You weren’t actually disagreeing with me so much as you were freaking about I.D., which is something you do with regularity. No ad hominem. I didn’t call you stupid or condemn your basic personality, just pointed out a bad habit.

    OK, guilty as charged. Science is supposed to be the ultimately rational discipline based on objective logic, unencumbered by emotionalism and zealotry. I resent it when science is distorted by ideologues for their own ends or even perverted into something other than science. Two supreme examples of this on the front burner today are creationism and the human-induced global warming hysteria, the latter, by the way, being a great example of Ann Coulter’s “liberal religion” point. I will maintain my “bad habit” of insisting on scientific integrity, thank you very much.

  22. Buzz, I don’t even have a problem with the way you feel about I.D. I have repeatedly said I’m no expert on the matter. The introduction of I.D. into this conversation was really very limited. My complaint is that you started to re-fight that war all over again when what was at stake was a matter of rhetoric.

  23. So when Carl Sagan says, “The Cosmos is all there ever was or ever will be.”, does he know this or does it ‘spring’ from somewhere?

    He does not know it. It comes from his beliefs on the matter. Sceince has not nor I suspect ever will be able to establish such a proposition.

    I’m not so sure, because when Stephen Hawkings says time (space-time, to be correct) has no meaning before the big bang or inside a black hole, he’s mathematically derived it insofar as I can tell. The idea of there being parallel universes was questioned recently as well. Sagan speculating about the future by saying ‘…ever will be’ is belief, but I doubt the rest is. If we’re going to start looking at meta-physical explanations of a god, then by definition it is… well, meta-physical and a belief. Can this change? sure. Will monkeys build skyscrapers? pretty unlikely.

    Since everyone and their dog seems to be accepting this ‘godless liberalism’ thesis, why don’t I just start calling the author a heretic, and start the proceedings for burning her at the stake? (Tickets will be a dollar.) Why don’t I call Republicans supporters of a Theocracy? A Theocracy not based on the bible, but on neo-conservatism and corporatism. I don’t, because there are enough real heretics out there already, and neo-conservatism and corporatism aren’t religions. Would you really like to call Clinton’s presidency a theocracy?

    Are we arguing about definitions… it seems so.

    Even saying “They are engaged in the experience of determining their values and they do so in a way that is no more logical or reasonable than those who are religious.” means liberalism and any other religion cannot both be used at the same time while determining a persons values, which is completely false. Perhaps some of their values are derived from each. It depends on the person, and it’s the generalization which is the culprit. Nationalized healthcare, liberal policy based on the reality about shortfalls in the current policy. Food stamps, religious policy for taking care of the needy, or not.

    Liberalism’s social policies are as Dawkins says anti-Darwinist, we are defenders of the free market where it works, we can argue about natural law, as well as be a Hindu or Buddhist.

  24. we can argue about natural law, as well as be a Hindu or Buddhist.

    Exactly, my friend. Natural law does not depend on a bible, or a veda. Before there were bibles and vedas, there was the natural law.

    That’s the point. Either there isn’t a natural law or there is. But in our heart of hearts, we suspect there is, because whenever we find ourselves by purpose or by accident in resonance with it, some little bell inside us rings.

    And when we’re not, it doesn’t. By trial and error, by pings and silences on our moral sonar, we start to find our direction. We set foot on the right path. The Tao, if you will.

  25. Buzz, I don’t even have a problem with the way you feel about I.D. I have repeatedly said I’m no expert on the matter. The introduction of I.D. into this conversation was really very limited. My complaint is that you started to re-fight that war all over again when what was at stake was a matter of rhetoric.

    Fair enough, Hunter, no problem. There will be other threads to hash out I.D. again!

    Back to the main topic here. As I said earlier, everyone here, whether he admits it or not, “knows” what Ann Coulter meant about liberals’ “religion”. The argument, it seems to me, reduces to one of semantics and the inexactness of language. Perhaps she should have said something like “liberals use a religious-type approach to their positions”. Maybe “zealotry” is a better word, in the sense of illogic and emotionalism rather than logic and rationality, to describe many liberal positions. By no means, of course, is “zealotry” limited to liberalism, but it seems that modern day liberalism is particularly affected by illogic and irrationality. This happens inevitably to any tired, aging ideology with no new ideas, especially one which has demonstrated so many failures in the real world.

  26. “I’m not so sure, because when Stephen Hawkings says time (space-time, to be correct) has no meaning before the big bang or inside a black hole, he’s mathematically derived it insofar as I can tell.”

    Certainly. Our spacetime originated with our big bang. But we cannot say that there are not other universes, before, concurrent, or after ours. We simply have no way to rule out the possibility.

  27. “Either there isn’t a natural law or there is. But in our heart of hearts, we suspect there is, because whenever we find ourselves by purpose or by accident in resonance with it, some little bell inside us rings.”

    No, Tom, that’s not true for all of us. It appesrs to only be true for those who are already predispositioned to believe. Hence it would appear likely it is a function of what you want to believe.

  28. If we’re going to start looking at meta-physical explanations of a god, then by definition it is… well, meta-physical and a belief. Can this change? sure. Will monkeys build skyscrapers? pretty unlikely.

    No disagreement here. The trouble though, Mr. Devang, is that the metaphysical belief classification applies to all statements regarding the existence of God. Denying existence requires the exact same leap of faith – though no one likes to admit it. (This is why an Ann Coulter can sell a boatload of books for a fairly unremarkable observation.) Each of us comes to the God question from our own starting point, and puts the onus on the other side to make the case for change.

    And this is where the Tom’s pings and bells come in. How do we evaluate these odd notions and bizarre tales that have been used to explain both ourselves and our world? We say there is an internal (conscience) and external (consequences) side to the natural law, and that it eventually reveals the beauty behind one particular story. (Hmm. Beauty, where did we ever get that idea?)

    Maybe you notice the natural law, maybe you don’t. But the fact that many can deny something as obvious as their faith in the non-existence of God leads me to believe that our powers of observation are able to be compromised. What else might we deny? One of those silly little stories from long ago tells of design discarded in favor of something better by way of an apple. That the apple itself was the product of (the) design(er) seems to have gone unnoticed.

    So if it applies to you, embrace your faith in godlessness. Maybe it will help Ms. Coulter channel her wit elsewhere. And as a favor to me, every once in a while ask yourself if consequences are the result of poor design or a resistance to it.

  29. “The trouble though, Mr. Devang, is that the metaphysical belief classification applies to all statements regarding the existence of God.”

    Mostly true, but with a caveat:
    the statement “I only react to those things I know exist” is not religious or metaphysical and at the same time dispenses with god, not as fictional but as irrelevant.

  30. Mostly true, but with a caveat:
    the statement “I only react to those things I know exist”

    Is it humanly possibly to live in this fashion?

  31. But we cannot say that there are not other universes, before, concurrent, or after ours.”

    That’s what he’s refuting, if there can be no space-time before and after, surely there can’t be anything else before and after. And having parallel universes emerging from ours “mangles” our own. Leaving us with just this one. There is some scientific basis to Sagan’s statement. Why do I mention this junk? because it’s literally the same theory which gives us modern computer chips, give or take some truncations which were too hard to model.

    Zealotry? I could accuse the other side of the same illogic and fundamentalism. In fact, I’ll add another title to that list. One Percent Doctrine. Maybe the WH will get wise and stop calling these books fiction.

    Matt, To answer in terms of beauty, the social sciences tell me I like things that are symmetrical, they also tell me I like certain colors more than others in nature. It’s not so much resistance to a design, as much as trying to understand it. I could live and accept the design, I could. But the world judges anti-authoritarian personalities too harshly. Trampling permanently on their faith. It’s not that they can’t provide for themselves, but that their beliefs are are ones constantly being unfairly marginalized.

    Your faith may be unquestionable to a strong degree, but it’s wrong to expect others to who’ve lived a vastly different life to have the same faith.

    The world continues to be unfair, in places like India, there’s capitalism now, with the same old socialist institutions, and watching that spectale makes anarchism more and more appealing by the day.

  32. So if it applies to you, embrace your faith in godlessness. Maybe it will help Ms. Coulter channel her wit elsewhere. And as a favor to me, every once in a while ask yourself if consequences are the result of poor design or a resistance to it.

    It seems to me that this is a false dichotomy: There is God or there is Not. There is faith in Him or there is faith in Not Him.

    I am reminded of one of Eric Hoffer’s best aphorisms: “The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.”

    There appears to be little room for that view here.

  33. “Is it humanly possibly to live in this fashion?”

    I’m sure it’s difficult but possible. Not many do to be sure, which why I said Matt’s point is mostly true.

    It’s also probably possible to construct a similar but less severe formulation that still discounts things that are so totally out of our realm of experience while allowing the smaller bits of faith to pass.

  34. “That’s what he’s refuting, if there can be no space-time before and after, surely there can’t be anything else before and after.”

    But that isn’t the case. We cannot say there isn’t ANY spacetime before or after, merely that it would not be part of our spacetime.

    Other realities may exist “before” ours or “after” ours or concurrently but separate or emerge from ours. Our science is entirely predicated upon the laws of our universe and cannot be used to make suppositions about other potential universes unless and until we manage to actually gather some data from them.

  35. “…manage to actually gather some data from them.”

    Which would be a scientific impossibility. “The Cosmos is all there ever was or ever will be.” known to us.

  36. “Which would be a scientific impossibility.”

    Why would that be? It’s always possible that some way of bridging one spacetime to another might be found. I’m not saying it’s likely to occur, but to discount the possibility seems odd.

    “”The Cosmos is all there ever was or ever will be.” known to us.”

    What is, and what is known are two distinct things. A lack of knowledge does not reclude the existence of a thing. It may of course make its existence irrelevant.

  37. I am reminded of one of Eric Hoffer’s best aphorisms: “The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.”

    The first thing I notice about the Hoffer quote is that he agrees with the idea that faith in Him and Not Him are both religious beliefs. So far, so good.

    Now if that is true, then his focus on the fanaticism/indifference continuum is merely a matter of application of those beliefs. The fanatic will induce more extreme reactions than the cynic, but I really don’t see how the indifferent person avoids entering a de facto position on the question of God’s existence.

    I’m all for indifference on matters that don’t matter. But the rubber meets the road eventually. Can a person take the moral position of indifference on the issue of slavery or genocide? I suppose he could try, but the reality is that this indifference is nothing short of tacit approval. [There may be legitimate grounds for opposing but not intervening in such cases – indifference is not one of them.] In order to do the work involved in pursuing virtue, one cannot avoid dealing with God.

  38. With regard to genocide, Matt says one cannot avoid dealing with God?

    Matt, you may not have noticed, but in the Abramic faiths, there are many stories where God commands a genocide. Is it your claim that it is only the rationalist, the atheist, who can oppose genocide? Please clarify. Perhaps you’ve not thought this one through.

  39. With regard to genocide, Matt says one cannot avoid dealing with God?

    I believe that my example was directed toward the legitimacy of being indifferent in morally challenging circumstances. I don’t claim that one has to spend an inordinate amount of time wrestling with God, but one should at least be aware that he has decided to exclude God – and that this amounts to a de facto religious belief.

    As for the Old Testament, feel free to dive further into that one. Interesting that we would include information so ‘damaging’ to our credibility, no?

    Now Mr. Van Dyke (and Mr. Miller) has better things to say on this than I do. I only note that men (even the atheists) tend to want to point the finger at God for all the problems of this life. If only God had…what…been a little firmer, maybe laid the rules out a little clearer…say early on – then things would have been different. But when we look back we find that zero tolerance policies and pillars of cloud and fire have never been enough to keep us from our own pursuits.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe now, as humanity moves from troubled teen to a more independent adulthood, God will become irrelevant and we’ll be able to set things right. If not, we all know who to blame.

  40. “The first thing I notice about the Hoffer quote is that he agrees with the idea that faith in Him and Not Him are both religious beliefs. So far, so good.”

    Well, Matt, then you have a real problem, because you don’t understand Eric Hoffer at all. In fact, you completely missed the point. Hoffer is referring to fanaticism and dogmatic thinking, not articles of faith. The fanatic atheist is not so different from the fundamentalist in temperament and irrationality of thought and behavior.

    Atheism is not an article of faith. “I don’t think there is a god” is not the same as “I believe there is a god” in either quality or rationality. In fact, atheism is the only honest starting point. Without atheism as a beginning, the concepts of faith, revelation, and redemption are completely and totally meaningless.

    (Hoffer himself might be best described as a Deist with a real jonesin’ for Jewish thought.)

    “…I really don’t see how the indifferent person avoids entering a de facto position on the question of God’s existence.”

    That is because you have great faith, and it has colored your thought process. You cannot fathom an ethical grounding without a metaphysical article of faith as its underpinning. So, for you, belief in Not-God must be the same as belief in God. It’s quite simple to not care if there’s a god. I, for example, honestly don’t give a rat’s flying patootie one way or another. It makes no difference to how I will live my life. I am completely open to the possibility of revelation in His existence. I’m also completely prepared to enter oblivion. I don’t care, and the non-existence or existence of a deity doesn’t impact my ethical choices. “I don’t care” is a position.

    “Can a person take the moral position of indifference on the issue of slavery or genocide?”

    You could, but you’d be a pretty messed up person. But I think the question you’re really asking is, “How can you take a position on those matters without God?” Again, pretty easily. The question of virtue goes back to Plato, and I’ve dealt with it in earlier threads. Virtue, like faith, requires axiomatic assumptions. They can only be asserted, not reasoned. It is perfectly reasonable to hold virtues while recognizing their subjectivity. Which is what I think you’re objecting to.

    “Is it your claim that it is only the rationalist, the atheist, who can oppose genocide?”

    Actually, Ed, I think he was claiming quite the opposite.

    “At face value, it’s quite troubling. But it’s not quite what it seems.”

    I don’t know, Tom. I found your “whole lot of work” rather disengenuous. The Canaanites were hardly the first or last people whom that bloodthirsty fellow you call God ordered to be slaughtered. The Torah is filled with the Israelites gleefully participating in such genocidal missives.

    In fact, Miller hits it on the head: “It is easy to believe that such writings could be the attempted self-justification of a territorially minded people, who excuse their aggression and genocide against other nations as ‘divine instructions’.”

    Remove God from the equation, and the Israelites were merely fanatical followers of a charismatic, homicidal schizophrenic. Almost like they were Germans of the 1930s and ’40s.

    But then, “[the] God[s] told me to” has long been used as an absolution for acts that others find inexcusable. It is ultimately self-referential. It’s perhaps more useful to judge people by what they do rather than their metaphysical or mythological excuses.

  41. Well put, James. May I interject the classic agnostic position that one cannot KNOW one way or the other whether there is a God (somewhat different from indifference to same). Furthermore, from the agnostic point of view it is the height of arrogance to claim special knowledge with our limited, finite being of what by definition is Unknowable and Infinite, special “knowledge” that invariably turns out to be anthropomorphic. (The agnostic view sees the atheist who claims with absolute certainty that there IS no God as equally foolish). Moral behavior is most certainly possible without a need to invoke a God.

  42. Precisely, Buzz.

    My goodness, more agreement ‘twixt the two of us. The universe boggles.

  43. James, let’s say that I grant you that atheism is the only honest starting point. Out with the supernatural. Atheism still has the natural to explain, and it just can’t – not without a giant leap of faith of its own.

    You have asserted that virtue is reasonably understood to be subjective. If the only potential source of objective morality is a fixed point of reference, namely God or goodness, haven’t you then just said that there cannot be a God? I’m not saying that you’re not open to the possibility of God; only that your operational ethics function from the religious foundation that there isn’t one.

    As for your rat’s flying patootie, ‘I don’t care’ is not a position – it is a level of conviction/certainty with respect to an actual position. The opposite of Yes is No. Maybe is the recognition that there is reason for doubt, and that the answer might be No.

    But maybe I misunderstand Hoffer. (For the record, I’m indifferent as to whether my inability to understand him constitutes a real problem.)

  44. Matt, I suggest that there are any number of reasons that one might oppose genocide simply as a matter of good politics, or as a matter of preserving the gene pool, or as a matter of not-related-to-religion morality. Eastern, non-religious ways of thought do not approve of genocide on the same basis that Christianity doesn’t (not that such disapproval stops either group from practicing it), and I don’t see that such oppostion to genocide makes non-religious thought, religious.

    We might accept as a reasonable-though-unproven assertion that religion tends to promote values more than non-religious rationality. It’s not necessarily so that religion is superior to science in evaluating policy on any given issue, however. For example, making poor people rich tends to increase market size and improve profits to corporations who sell to people, which is an adequate justification for lifting people out of poverty that has nothing at all to do with religion. Non-poor people tend to consumer fewer public resources with regard to health care, too, lowering health care costs for everyone who does pay. That’s not an inherently religious claim.

    History in this nation has demonstrated often enough that the religious person lacks the better view of morality on enough issues — meat processing, child labor, slavery, Jim Crow laws, child and spousal abuse, collective bargaining, science education — that one would be wise to consider very carefully before asserting that any one system offers superiority in values.

  45. I wondered, “Is it your claim that it is only the rationalist, the atheist, who can oppose genocide?”

    James said: >>Actually, Ed, I think he was claiming quite the opposite.< < Yes, I know — and I was pointing out too subtly that genocide prior to the 20th century was usually justified on religious grounds, not opposed by it.

  46. I only note that men (even the atheists) tend to want to point the finger at God for all the problems of this life. If only God had…what…been a little firmer, maybe laid the rules out a little clearer…say early on – then things would have been different. But when we look back we find that zero tolerance policies and pillars of cloud and fire have never been enough to keep us from our own pursuits.

    Yes, I’d say that’s the thological point, Matt. Just as God doesn’t let Abraham slaughter Isaac, the Israelites do not complete the genocide. If the Israelites wish to be pure of wickedness, then they must slay all the wicked. They don’t, and won’t.

    And James, unless you read the Bible as it understands itself, you miss the point of the whole thing. And I will not play wack-a-mole with amorphous Biblical “genocides.” The theme is the same. It is repeated often because people miss the point. You wanna talk Amalakites, we’ll talk Amalakites. If you wish to indict the Bible with the Bible, you must first read it. To do otherwise is disingenuous.

    And the proper philosophical stance, that is to say inquiry, is agnosticism, of course. What if there’s no God is fine. But one must also ask, what if there is?

    Pascal’s Wager.

  47. Sorry for being dense, Ed, but on what grounds do you state that “…the religious person lacks the better view of morality on…child labor, slavery…

    To make such a statement requires that there exists a moral viewpoint that is better than another.

    Here we go again …

  48. “You have asserted that virtue is reasonably understood to be subjective. If the only potential source of objective morality is a fixed point of reference, namely God or goodness, haven’t you then just said that there cannot be a God? I’m not saying that you’re not open to the possibility of God; only that your operational ethics function from the religious foundation that there isn’t one.”

    Well, Matt, the big problem here is… morality isn’t objective. It cannot be so. It’s impossible. It cannot be proven, only asserted – like faith. It is perhaps human nature to seek large, overarching theories of explanation, but they are predicated on human construction, not whether or not they are true.

    “The opposite of Yes is No.”

    Perhaps you should go visit a few threads below where I discuss the false dichotomies of metaphysical binary pairings.

    Let’s just say I find a focus on God to be supremely nihilistic – it is the anti-life, as Nietzche would say.

    Let’s put this another way: You would reject, out of hand, the statement that your religion is your non-belief in the flying spaghetti monster. However, if you want to approach the question rationally, logically, it’s the same proposition. It’s ridiculous to even think that non-belief is the same as faith. It’s the lowest kind of semantic game and completely dishonest.

    Tom asks, “What if there is a god?” Fine, if there’s a god, I think he’s a selfish child and I hope I get the choke the life out of him before I go to hell. Create all mankind and have one favored people? Forget him. Demand to be loved but have that act be one of free will, and then punish those who exercise their gift of free will to not love him as he wanted? Pathetic. I don’t care if there is a god because nothing in my life has given me reason to think there is one; and if there is, all I have had to learn of him thorugh the teachings of others tells me that he isn’t worth my respect.

    The only thing we can be certain of is the life we are living: the people we live with, the environment we live in, and the actions we take. The only transcendence we know for certain exists we know because we live in the world our forebearers made for us and by the marks they left in history. To focus on anything other than life and our fellow man is to reject life and worship death. We transcend through action, not faith. Immortality is leaving your mark on the lives of others.

  49. Pascal’s Wager.

    Ah yes, the old argument for belief based on fear and intimidation. It certainly is not an argument making the case for the existence of a god. With this kind of reasoning, one may as well pick the religion with the worst hell.

  50. Tom asks, “What if there is a god?” Fine, if there’s a god, I think he’s a selfish child and I hope I get the choke the life out of him before I go to hell. Create all mankind and have one favored people? Forget him. Demand to be loved but have that act be one of free will, and then punish those who exercise their gift of free will to not love him as he wanted? Pathetic. I don’t care if there is a god because nothing in my life has given me reason to think there is one; and if there is, all I have had to learn of him thorugh the teachings of others tells me that he isn’t worth my respect.

    Amen!

    I have never understood the worth of the concepts of worship and prayer. I find it supremely foolish to conceive of an Infinite Being who creates finite beings to “worship” him and punish those who don’t, with eternal pain and damnation, no less. And what is prayer besides begging for something, a form of bribery, so to speak. An omniscient God knows perfectly well what you need, but the only way to get it is to overtly take the time to ask “Mommy, can I have this?”, otherwise you don’t get it. Yeah right, that’s what God is about. The concepts of prayer and worship, frankly, are manifestations of neolithic culture. The God of the Bible is nothing more than a tribal desert strongman.

    The only thing we can be certain of is the life we are living: the people we live with, the environment we live in, and the actions we take. The only transcendence we know for certain exists we know because we live in the world our forebearers made for us and by the marks they left in history. To focus on anything other than life and our fellow man is to reject life and worship death. We transcend through action, not faith. Immortality is leaving your mark on the lives of others.

    In other words, the practice of religion, i.e. concentrating on a mythical, otherworldly higher being, not to mention worrying about the afterlife, is a waste of time, draining valuable human resources from improving this world. Religion demands time, energy and money that could be put to better use. If people need to be taught certain religious precepts before they will do “good” in this world, something is seriously wrong.

  51. Immortality is leaving your mark on the lives of others.

    The problem is we have the capability to be monsters, with or without the guise of religion. Don’t we? I completely agree with James, the less religion the better. If you must have faith, have faith in your parents when you’re a teen growing up. Next you’ll hear me say there isn’t much of a difference between capitalism and communism. The problem is we have the capability to be corrupt with or without the guise of communism.

    Tom, that’s the 2nd time you’ve self-censored yourself. Stop it. 😉

    God being dead does not make esotericism affecting a lot of people a good thing, and the answer to Why? is Enron needed a motto.

  52. I find that God cannot possibly be the answer to “Why?” precisely because of what I call the Child Conundrum. Children are perfect deconstructive philosophers, because they reveal the axiomatic choices at the grounding of all metaphysics and philosophy by continually asking “Why?” If you reply “God,” they merely ask, “Why is there a God?” And then you’re left with two responses: “Because!” or “Go ask Mommy, she’s omnipotent, she knows everything!” Neither of which is a satisfactory answer to the question.

    I much prefer the Buddhist response, sent to me by a friend, because it is the only honest answer given our limitations: “Things are the way they are because they are the way they are.” Beautiful

  53. “Things are the way they are because they are the way they are.”Beautiful

    I am in utter shock that this statement was made by you, James.

    Thats a sure-fire way to snuff out a childs curiousity. Might as well say “go away”.

    Must not have kids …

  54. “But it’s man’s nature to ask “why.””

    And..? It sure is man’s nature to ask the question. That doesn’t mean there are metaphysical answers. I never said man shouldn’t ask… just that he shouldn’t expect a good answer.

    “I am in utter shock that this statement was made by you, James.

    “Thats a sure-fire way to snuff out a childs curiousity. Might as well say “go away”.

    “Must not have kids …”

    CLA, the boat left and you weren’t on the boat. (And the apostrophe is your friend; learn to love it and it’ll love you back. Like sumo wrestling.)

    That the Buddhist response is the only honest answer doesn’t preclude or discourage the asking of the question. Just that ultimately there are those questions that are unanswerable beyond, “That’s just the way it is; we don’t know why.” Or, as my good friend puts it, “How could it be any other way?”

    Didn’t you get the whole point about the “Go ask Mommy…” bit? “Why” is a vexing question, and when we’re talking about the metaphysical, it’s unanswerable. It’s impossible to do so with reason. And so we invent magical men in the sky with flowing beards and a pathological hatred of women to solve our unanswerable questions, like “what happens when we die” and “why shouldn’t I take a crap in a baby carriage if I feel like it.”

  55. That the Buddhist response is the only honest answer doesn’t preclude or discourage the asking of the question.

    What is wrong with a simple, “I don’t know?”

    Last time I checked, that was honest as well.

    The Buddhist answer is a cop out.

    I’m kinda glad I wasn’t on the boat, as it appears to have only one oar in the water.

  56. But James, you do use your reason as a weapon against your very nature. You say you do stop asking “why.”

    Your conclusions are these: a) there are no answers or b) if there are, man cannot begin to discern them.

    That’s nihilism, my friend.

    But with that said, and despite your protestations, I think you do ask “why,” or at least are working up the nerve to ask it. Reason cannot rest. It’s in your nature.

  57. “The Buddhist answer is a cop out.”

    Honestly, Tom, I don’t see how it’s any different than “I don’t know.”

    But at least we agree on that much, then.

    “Your conclusions are these: a) there are no answers or b) if there are, man cannot begin to discern them.”

    Actually, the conclusion is more like: “There may be no answers we can discern.” Nothing precludes the exploration. All I’m doing is acknowleding that all human thought and knowledge – our “truths” – are provisional.

    “That’s nihilism, my friend.”

    I disagree. Nihilism is an embrace or belief in nothing. Or it is to reject life, to worship a fear of oblivion or death by being concerned for what happens after one dies. Nihilism arises from a concern with mortality.

    I prefer a doctrine of historical transcendence, as I indicated earlier. To be concerned with the life of those around you and those to come is quite the opposite of nihilism. To recognize that “why” may never be answered to our satisfaction, and we must be honest about that. Honesty and uncertainty don’t preclude action or ensure despair. Quite the opposite.

    As for Kierkegaard, repetition makes about as much sense as Hegel’s dialectic leading to one glorious (w)hole. While I love Nietzche’s work dearly, eternal recurrence is just plain whacked; and it was an unnecessary step.

  58. Actually, the conclusion is more like: “There may be no answers we can discern.” Nothing precludes the exploration. All I’m doing is acknowleding that all human thought and knowledge – our “truths” – are provisional.

    No matter what they try to tell you, James, that’s the way of faith, too. 😉

    The believer remains human. Even in a life of faith there are good days and bad days.

    The “nihilism” you describe does indeed seem to comport with militant Islamism, to hurry death and therefore the afterlife.

    However (and I believe we may credit Martin Luther for this), the Christian cannot “earn” salvation. It is a gift.

    As is one’s life itself, and it’s not for man to dispose of. The purpose of life comes in and out of focus, but on the not-good days, faith that there is a purpose, no matter how unclear, gets you through it.

    I chose Kierkegaard because your outlook is quite existentialist, and akin to Sartre’s: devotion to one’s fellow man or social justice or whatever is your self-created/affirmed purpose, and that’s fine as far as it can go.

    But you cannot truly identify what is “good,” and so can’t truly do “good” for your fellow man. You can only attend to his material needs, that which you can see and quantify.

    But you already know that man does not live by bread alone, or else you wouldn’t be here. There is that quality to life to which your reason and experience attest.

    You cannot truly do good for your fellow man until you acknowledge his full humanity. And your own.

    These are lessons my Spockian self is learning too, even as we write to each other. Look, I cut my philosophical teeth on existentialism. Kierkegaard, regarded by many as the father of existentialism, was left behind by philosophy and its stringent if not astringent secularism and modern materialism because of his engagement with faith, and perhaps he deserves liberation from his ghetto. Much better than Heidegger’s angst and Sartre’s nausea is Kierkegaard: life without faith is friggin’ depressing.

    Even the Jewish tradition, some of which contemplates no afterlife at all, acknowledges this.

    (And although it wasn’t me who said the Buddhist approach is a copout, at least one former Buddhist decided that was true.

    But to walk the Righteous Path, the Tao, one must first set foot on it. Your foot remains poised, hesitant, hovering.

    One day you’ll read The Abolition of Man. It’s far from being castor oil for the soul—it’s quite tasty. 🙂

  59. I have one word for the Brit who converted from Buddhism to Chiristianity (sorry for the terribly harsh judgement): Selfish. It’s a good review, I’m sure, definately worth a read. But I’ve always been highly skeptical of such books, including the one which starts asking questions of Atheism and leads towards Christianity. The last lines are worth repeating:

    “The lesson for those of us wishing to deepen our engagement with Buddhism is that our practice must include unacknowledged desires. It needs to be rooted in the whole of our experience. Buddhism may never feel completely natural to westerners until it has been re-expressed in the language, symbols and archetypes of their own culture.”

    Unacknowledged desires, that’s either selfishness or religious hypochondria. And his main excuse for leaving Buddhism is his interpretation of it doesn’t fully interpret an arbitrary culture well enough? Gee… maybe those in the middle east are entitled to their religion because of their culture. I know there are no such limits, but that either makes the author lazy for not re-interpreting buddhism, or the reason why christianity has a foothold on every continent (except maybe Asia) is because it’s been tailored to different cultures. Neither makes me think highly of religion or humanity.

    but one should at least be aware that he has decided to exclude God, and that this amounts to a de facto religious belief.

    By that account, I have faith in those incharge when I ride the train, who is to say this faith is worth less any other, because what the train driver does could easily kill me. It seems to me this kind of faith is easily discounted, unless it’s in a god who all of a sudden happens to have a stand on a specific issue like gay marriage.

    You cannot truly do good for your fellow man until you acknowledge his full humanity. And your own.

    I don’t think one is disadvantaged while starting from James’s premise: To focus on anything other than life and our fellow man is to reject life and worship death.

    Can this position be philosophically and rationally explained? I don’t know. Can I still believe it? Yeah.

    This just happens to be funny: the new HBO sitcom, Lucky Louie opens it’s first episode with this conversation between a dad and maybe 9-yr old daughter having breakfast:

    little girl: can i play outside
    dad: no
    girl: why?
    dad: because it’s 5 in the morning
    girl: why?
    the sun hasn’t come up yet
    girl: why?
    because the sun comes up later
    girl: why?
    the earth turns around and when it goes a certain amount, the sun shows up on the horizon
    girl: why?
    i don’t know
    girl:why? why don’t you know?
    because i didn’t pay attention in school, because i didn’t pay attention in class
    girl: why?
    because i was high all the time, i smoked too much pot
    girl: why?
    i didn’t think it would matter
    girl: why?
    i just figured my life would come together on it’s own, and then mom came along, and you came along, and now i work at the muffler shop
    girl: why?
    well, it’s too late for me to pursue another career now, and since your mom has a job with benefits, now i stay home and take care of you because what i make is pretty much a joke
    girl: why?
    well the surface economy replaced manufacturing jobs, there’s no more real jobs in america anymore
    girl: why?
    well we had good jobs for a while, but that was because we were lucky and now we’re unlucky
    girl: why?
    it’s just the way it goes
    girl: why?
    because god is dead and we’re alone
    girl: ok.

    I could replace the stupid cuteoverload website if people would video their little deconstructive philosophers.

  60. It’s a good review, I’m sure, definately worth a read.

    It would have been better if you read it then, because it was by a Buddhist who disagreed with Paul Williams’ decision to convert to Christianity.

    I did enjoy the piece from “Lucky Louie,” although you might have missed the intended irony.

    In fact, Mr. Devang, you prove that one cannot get by in life through skimming and Cliff’s Notes. (I’ve tried, myself.) You can only see what you already know and believe, and can learn nothing new that way.

    As hard as it is to believe, some folks have thought about the Deep Questions that tickle us, and have given them a lot of work in order to share. And even though CS Lewis is known as a Christian apologist, The Abolition of Man is not a Christian book. But the only way to find that out is to read it.

    In case you came in late, you may read it for free here. (I would not expect you to buy a book just on my say-so.)

    It’s understandable by high-schoolers. Until you do understand it, I’m afraid you are not yet at entry level on this blog. Sorry. We are not 9-year-olds. It’s quite short, actually, and so Cliff’s Notes are unnecessary. But neither can you fake your way around it. It starts out a bit slowly, but picks up considerable steam. And don’t miss the appendix.

    Good luck and happy reading.

  61. Miss a little, miss a lot. Last time I was on this thread we were merely discussing the religious nature of anti-theism. I see now that we’ve already reached the end in abolishing man. My first thought is that this was a rather quick journey from the start to the end, but then if our foundations are true the logical outworkings will be true also. Nietzsche would agree.

    But maybe some don’t agree with Lewis’ calculations, that the road doesn’t necessarily have to go that route. At least that’s the hope. But those outworkings can be so problematic. Shaw, in his last writings, says, “The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, led, instead, directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions of worshippers in the temples of a thousand creeds. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith.”

  62. It might interest you to know, Tom, that I read Abolition the first time you posted a link to it. I was not encouraged after being able to eviscerate its opening arguments.

    And that was before I started reading philosophy.

  63. And now maybe I can slip in a little housekeeping…

    Well, Matt, the big problem here is… morality isn’t objective.

    If there is a God that is interested in such things, then we would have everything needed (the fixed standard and judge) for an objective morality. This is where the story in the garden comes in. Adam and Eve choose to become self-determining – to become ‘like God’ – and make man the (subjective) measure of all things. God is displaced, but you’ll notice, not killed. When we find that we can’t come up with the sum of two plus two, it does not mean that there is no one left who can.

    Let’s put this another way: You would reject, out of hand, the statement that your religion is your non-belief in the flying spaghetti monster.

    The opposite of Republican is not Democrat. I get that. There are numerous possible Him’s out there, but how many Not Him’s can there be? Or maybe we could say that there’s either something supernatural worth listening to or there isn’t? I don’t know, James, if I asked you if the door was closed, would you be able to tell me?

    I find it supremely foolish to conceive of an Infinite Being who creates finite beings to “worship” him and punish those who don’t, with eternal pain and damnation, no less. And what is prayer besides begging for something, a form of bribery, so to speak. An omniscient God knows perfectly well what you need, but the only way to get it is to overtly take the time to ask “Mommy, can I have this?”, otherwise you don’t get it.

    One of these days we’re going to need to do a little something on the nature of worship around here. But for now, let’s try this. Think of (or imagine) your relationship with your kids. What is it that you love about them? Would you say that you are looking for them to worship you? Or is it something else.

  64. Think of (or imagine) your relationship with your kids. What is it that you love about them? Would you say that you are looking for them to worship you? Or is it something else.

    Matt … these are great questions. Some of the commenters here appear to look at God as some being that has to give them something material.

    The relationship between parent and child, in my simple view, is modeled after the relationship between God and man.

    If a parent truly loves their children, they do not always *give* them material goods; sometimes yes, but not always.

    Why?

  65. Honestly, this discussion has lost all interest for me. Not because the questions aren’t important, or because I haven’t learned anything. Rather, the problem is that y’all rely on moving the goal posts as your principal form of disputation. Every time you’re backed into a metaphysical, philosophical, or rational corner, you just expand your definition of what is a religion. At this point, religion is apparently whatever you believe, don’t believe, know, feel, practice, observe, or fail to observe. It’s a definition so expansive as to embrace all forms of thought and feeling and thus utterly worthless.

  66. “Some of the commenters here appear to look at God as some being that has to give them something material.”

    A parent or loved one demonstrates their love and caring for another. Love isn’t assumed; it’s demonstrated.

  67. Between you and me, James, I find the opening the weakest part. However, it’s an illustration, not a peg of his argument, which is really more of an inquiry.

    What do you think his point is?

    See, when we discuss “religion” around here, it’s merely in contradistinction to radical empiricism.

  68. At this point, religion is apparently whatever you believe, don’t believe, know, feel, practice, observe, or fail to observe. It’s a definition so expansive as to embrace all forms of thought and feeling and thus utterly worthless.

    Where do you get that from? Are the terms religious and religion that hard to sort out?

    Fine, let’s run it out. All rational thought is based on either authority or foundational presuppositions. Authority may be something you determine empirically, or it may be derived from authoritative sources. (Devang has faith in those in charge when he rides the train because he accepts the collective authority of engineers, manufacturers, governments, etc. that operate the train.) But eventually, we find that all authority rests some foundational presuppositions – its not turtles all the way down – and we’re calling these religious beliefs.

    Religion is merely a specific system of religious beliefs, usually centered around man’s place in the universe. Ann Coulter thinks liberalism is a religion. Whatever. But whether or not we are proponents of any particular religion, all of us are religious (even if we don’t like the word). Your Child’s Conundrum works against you every bit as much as it does for you.

    The argument that God cannot exist (or is not worth acknowledging) because he is a piece of garbage is an intellectually honest one. Pointing out the other side’s dependence on religious beliefs is just an evading the argument.

Comments are closed.