Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mr. Olvlz Regrets He’s Unable to Hunch Today.

You know, I’d really rather be thinking about progressive taxation.

Ok. What about Dawkins, etc. on religion ?

When people of science stray into the area of religion they shouldn’t expect to use their accustomed tools. Science deals in the physical world as it can be known to the scientist. Science is a human activity that is dependent on the means and limits of the people doing it. It depends for its existence on what can be known through observation, measurement and analysis. Anything that might exist outside of physical reality, as a matter of definition*, cannot be observed, measured or analyzed. Gods, saints, or any other possible supernatural entity cannot in any sense be the subject of science.

Not all questions of religion fall into this unknowable category. When religion makes assertions about the physical world then those are subject to scientific investigation. Science can show that the Genesis account of creation cannot be real because physical creation is subject to scientific analysis. Creationism is superstition because it makes false claims about things that have been successfully studied by science. ** I don’t remember if I’ve run on about those ‘prayer studies’ here. But if there is an activity that can’t be defined or observed you can not know if it exists as any one thing or if that one thing will be present at any one time so you can’t study its possible effects. To study prayer you would have to accept the testimony of the people doing the praying that they were each doing the same thing, impossible for them to know, or that any one of them was doing the same thing more than once, something I doubt is any more reliable. Neither of those batches of ‘studies’ rises past the first hurdle of what is required of science, a phenomenon that can be studied.

The latest batch of popular scientist anti-religionists are dishonest about their anti-religious activities, many of the non-scientists pretending to be scientists are equally dishonest. They conflate different religions, ignore those that are inconvenient to their purpose, make wild assumptions based on little but conjecture, and often act like religious bigots. Maybe this would be easier to see if we had a term corresponding to “superstition” to deal with that kind of breech of honesty. Extrasentient misconception?

The attempts to explain away religion as the product of genetics and evolution are naive. There is no way of knowing what the implications of evolution and genetics are for religion. As has been stated by others, if there is a creator who wishes to be known to human beings then it would be expected that the creator, who made the physical world, after all, would create physical means of making that happen. It could be that a creator wanted there to be just a possibility of its happening, no one can say. As a part of the physical world those mechanisms might be subject to discovery but any possible design of it can’t be known. That is what is so stupid about ‘intelligent design’, it’s not science.

The atheist’s hunch might be right but there is no way to prove it. That must be frustrating to some people but that is no excuse for them to pretend that their methods can do what they cannot do. If they insist on making those kinds of assertions and calling it science, they fall into dishonesty. I certainly don’t know the answer to these questions and since no one can find an one, I don’t really care. Their effects on my own belief are nil.

Religion, likewise, should not pretend to be or to dismiss science. In other words, I agree with Stephen J. Gould.

* It’s the definition in so far as the physical side of things go. I’m not too hot on defining God. Any definition of God will inevitably be inadequate and incomplete and will almost inevitably turn into an idol of the mind, the most dangerous kind.

**I would argue that creationism is also bad religion because it turns the Bible into an idol and it lies. To do this they have to lie about its text, its history, its authorship, its many different meanings and the enormous diversity of views of all of those. The Bible is a collection of writings from many different authors from many different times. Many of the individual “books” are pastiche in themselves. Many of the words in the original tongues are subject to different interpretations. The Bible is not what fundamentalists pretend it is. I think we can demand that much of any religion, that it not lie.

I'd agree with you 100% on this post, but I know you won't like that, so I'll find something about which to quibble: of course science can very well explain many aspects of religious experience: physiological changes during prayer, religion as a social phenomenon, etc.

It just cannot explain all aspects of religion. To ask science to explain all aspects of religion -- whether one is an atheist seeking to "explain away" religion or a theist seeking to "prove" religion as necessarily true -- is, as you indicate, problematic. So I guess I do agree with you and Gould -- but I still would say that science can and does shed constructive light on religious experience.
That's not 100% in agreement, I love it when people are in 100% agreement with me. At least people like you who I respect. If a troll agrees with me, now that does get me worried.

I do think science has more to teach religion than religion can teach science. Religion is a much more general area of activity, science has boundaries. Since the subject matter of religion includes the natural universe then it would be expected that it could learn from science.
I got the impression otherwise, regarding 100% agreement, from your post "on (the dearth) of comments".

Anyway, I would add to creationism being bad religion by pointing out that while, IMHO, the metaphysical design argument (if referring to a sufficiently abstract notion of design, e.g. the "fine-tuning" of physical constants) is good theology, "Intelligent Design" is even worse religion (at least from a "Judeo-Christian" point of view) than "Creationism" because Intelligent Design either proposes a Creator before God (in violation of the 10 commandments) or "credits" God for actually designing creation ... and given how piss-poor creation is designed (If I were designing people, I would place some easy to clean, non-stick coating in a few places on the human body, if you catch my drift), this is a rather poor evaluation of God, nu?
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