The same bad arguments come up again and again, in conversations between atheists and believers. You’ve heard them all before. They’re almost boiler-plate stereotypical.But these are taken verbatim from recent comments on this blog.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “the way the world appears to our five senses is deeply rooted in our physiological makeup.”
THE APPEAL TO SUBJECTIVITY: Sometimes this argument is paired with the quote from Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” This is why it’s so important to root out subjective perceptions. We can define ‘truth’ as what corresponds to observed conditions. The discussion of what exists, is the basis for any ontological argument.
If we want to remove bias in any perceptual system, like our senses, we need to use controlled conditions, and multiple observers.
Consciousness is subjectivity. But we should try to get as close to the perception of “reality” as we can. It’s like the old story of trying to jump out of an imaginary circle by traversing half the distance to the edge each jump. We never get out of the circle, but we can get infinitesimally close to doing so. Science is imperfect, and the problem of induction still remains.
There could exist a variable, or “state vector” that would represent the entire universe as it “is.” A completely omniscient being would know the value of that state vector. If we call that being ‘god,’ we have the basis for much of what passes for religion. Since humans have no way to ever know the ‘mind of god,’ we haven’t solved anything.
If we instead compare notes with others, and attempt to eliminate our preferences and biases, we can collectively do much better as a group, than we could on our own. The system for doing this is science.
Many people assume science is a collection of knowledge. It’s really a system for the continuous improvement of knowledge. When scientific principles are refined or superseded, people tend to pounce and say “aha” science is contradicting itself. But that’s what it’s designed to do. Deliberate questioning of prior assumptions, peer review, and relinquishment of false conclusions are the essence of it.
It sure would be nice to see this kind of self-correction from religious leaders!
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “I know of no science, theory or fact, that has proven there is no God or higher force of nature.”
PROOF-BURDEN SHIFTING: Science doesn’t rule things out, it rules things in. And by “rules,” what I mean is “establishes with a high degree of probability.” There can be no certainty of anything. Not even with strongly supported theories like gravity. More importantly, there’s simply no way to demonstrate with certainty that anything you can think of doesn’t exist somewhere in the universe. This was discussed in Bertrand Russell’s famous “Teapot” thought experiment. Objective science requires hard evidence to recognize existence. And it doesn’t comment on “non-existence” except to say “unproven.”
There’s no evidence for a supreme being that stands up to any scrutiny. No one’s even defined what such evidence would look like. It’s impossible to even describe the question. Such a proposition is unfalisifiable. If you assumed for the sake of argument that there is a supreme being, you you have to ask what created that being. This sets up an infinite chain of ever more powerful deities, to justify the existence of the first one. In the end, you are still left with a need for some spontaneous causal event to start the chain of god or universe creation. Which theologians sidestep with their “First Cause” argument, which is the presupposition of the existence of god as the very basis of cosmology. Richard Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker” outlines this paradox with respect to a different problem, the evolution of complex life.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “How is believing something with reason and logic a contradiction?”
FAILURE TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN BELIEF AND EVIDENCE: Because belief is a feeling, which is an interior brain state (subjectivity). Reason and logic are skills used to interpret data from systematic (objective) observations. Belief puts subjectivity ahead of evidence.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “What if many people have had similar experiences for many hundreds if not thousands of years and these experiences were recorded.”
THE ARGUMENT FROM POPULARITY: Millions of people are often wrong. If they were not following objective standards, it doesn’t matter how many people had an experience. From personal experience, the world looks flat, after all. You can find hundreds of examples of mass hallucinations, hypnosis, or just plain superstition throughout history. Believing thunder was caused by angry gods, believing disease was caused by evil spirits, or believing human sacrifice was justified to appease gods, are just a few small examples.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “I’m not out to attack anyone or anything, nor do I hope to lower the status of anyone who would take issue with my beliefs”
APPEAL TO DECORUM: The truth of an idea has nothing to do with decorum or lack thereof. It has nothing to do with the status of the person asserting it. Religious apologists commonly say that science is “hostile” or “attacks” religion. But science is neutral. It’s the only system that is not swayed by human emotions. You have to show your work. When it comes to science, something isn’t true because I say so, or even because Carl Sagan said so. It has to be verified by rigorous experiments. They must be repeatable by different scientists, in different places, under different conditions. Whether or not we like the result, it’s either true or it isn’t.
RELIGIOUS APOLOGIST: “You have used the word psyche to describe the importance of subjective beliefs and their importance in connection with creativity.”
FAILURE TO SEPARATE ART AND FICTION, FROM MYTHS CLAIMED TO BE REAL: Storytelling, imagination, and art are all respectable and important. These are the realms where we can allow subjective feelings to run wild. We can dream up all sorts of fantasies, and scenarios in literature, or on the screen. This is a highly valuable process, and also has great utility in codifying the archetypes that make up human nature and personality.
This is very different from declaring myths to be real, and the characters in those myths being worthy of worship. “Psyche” as a term, is related to “soul.” But remember that the concept of the “soul” was derived as a means to describe the “animating force” of life at a time when metabolic principles had not yet been discovered.
How can the identity of our senses and mind be “coloration” ? That implies there is a “true color”. This can only be true if God (identity-less observer) exists. You haven’t converted back have you ? ;)
No, dude, you know what I’m sayin’…
Not really, no.
Blacksun, I feel a little like the student that has been singled out in class :o) I’m really not sure what I have written thus far that might lead you to conclude that I do not respect or appreciate science or the scientific process.
As I wrote in my last comments to you, I believe that science ought to be the instrument of religion. Is that not high praise coming for someone who believes there is a God or higher power, being or whatever? I certainly think it is .
But perhaps I should put “think” in place of “believe”? Yes. I think, therefore I am. I think perhaps this substitution will help me to remove subjectivity or may at least serve a well intended begining.
I also wrote that evolution is indeed a wondrous thing. This statement is my acknowledgment that evolution has played a role in all of the processes of human (and divine) life, that is far larger than I can fully appreciate at this time.
I really do not want to appear to be defending religion, as it exists in formal or organized structures today or in the past. I think the hope of mankind lies not in organizations, but in each individual actualizing their full potential, physical, mental, emotional and yes spiritual.
So spiritual is I think a better word for what I am speaking about in terms of communion with the divinity of oneself. And science has always been a catalyst for understanding, that leads to wise dominion.
Of course this too is subjective and irrational from the stand point of what can be demonstrated and known outside of ones own self. The best I may be able to do (in an effort to jump completely out of the circle), may be to offer by way of an experiment, a project I am involved with.
This project is a kind of audio/visual tool for meditation. Using certain imagery, sounds, colors and rhythms the individual participant is assisted in raising his/her consciousness. This requires no more effort, than might be used by an infant whose eyes are fully trained, on a rotating mobile placed above a crib.
The participants brain waves could be monitored to determine the level of activity and states asscoiated with meditation such as theta. Control groups etc. might be introduced into the mix, to make the process less subjective. Because of the nature of such a test, It is highly unlikely that I will be able to remove all subjectivity. There are too many variables.
But such an experiment or device if you will, does I think hold great promise to enrich the lives of people: To enable or assist humanity to have a consciousness raising, “spiritual” and balancing experience, that is free from any ritual, doctrine or dogma.
Ultimately such a device offers the capability to train each individual how to consciously control processes that ordinarily would be autonomic or lay dormant.
I think that in the decades ahead we will be able to prove with a scientific certainty that we are in fact Gods. Within the fields of science having to do with human potential research, working in tandem with advances in DNA research, I have every expectation that in the near future, we will be able to completely erase undesirable traits form our biological makeup. The children of the future will be born, with far more sensitive bodies and minds, as to be thought of as superhuman and living gods.
“Let’s assume there is no God, for a moment. Take God out of the question entirely.”
It’s not an assumption. It’s a fact.
“Could there be a physical phenomenon that we don’t yet have the instruments to measure or test–such as, roll the clock back, the hypothesis that white light is composed of the entire spectrum of colors. (Newton’s original thought.)”
Yes. But the unknown is not an argument.
“Ok, I think I see what you’re saying. It’s ok to have a hypothesis, but not to state it as though it were a fact, or “argument”?”
The idea that something unknown is somehow justifying your beliefs is not a hypothesis. A hypothesis is based on something observable. Please do not glorify it with that appellation.
“Therefore, if I do understand you, an objective thinker would not state that, for example, a new element existed, even though there seemed to be some reason to believe it should exist”
To put it bluntly, if it’s not based on anything observed, it’s shite. Wishful thinking.
“One might hypothesize it–that’s ok, but it is not ok to state it as a fact?”
I think that the progress of science has been enabled by the discipline of scientists. By this I mean their rigorous avoidance of jumping to conclusions without evidence. So for example, if someone thought that white light could be broken down into colors, they avoided stating their conclusion until they could figure out a way to test the hypothesis.
Eventually when they discovered refraction, they could see with their eyes that the light was colored. They then STILL needed to avoid jumping to conclusions until they could come up with the idea that different colors of light were bent by different amounts, and that is why they saw rainbows generated prismatically from white light.
The next step was when the dual wave/particle nature of light was discovered, and they could come up with a full explanation for what they saw.
This is all I’m advocating–a measured, layered approach to stating the truths that are uncovered. And the avoidance of jumping to conclusions based on what SEEMS obvious, or FEELS good in the moment.
“I believe that science ought to be the instrument of religion.”
Why should science be the instrument of something that is so antithetical?
I agree that much of the debate may center around what we could term “semantic” issues, such as belief vs. thought, religious vs. spirituality, etc. But even the term spirituality could be construed to refer to the supernatural. If you are speaking in terms of the “awe and wonder” we might feel from spirituality, I would argue that this is entirely natural. I would argue that this feeling can arise from purely natural causes.
There is documented evidence of a “god spot” in the brain, that encourages this natural desire for spirituality. Clearly, this has some evolutionary purpose, whether it is to spur the drive for “awe and wonder,” or perhaps simply to encourage cooperation.
There is documented evidence that this “god spot” becomes more active in the brain when a person is meditating or thinking spiritual thoughts.
All of these are physical phenomena, and do not require any belief in supernatural forces or beings. This to me argues for further study of these phenomena under controlled conditions so that we can figure out how to achieve higher states of consciousness.
I think this speaks to what you are saying, and holds promise for further spiritual (which I would simply refer to as human) development.
My statement about coloration was simply referring to social, cultural, and psychological overlays that would prevent any human being from being completely objective.
“My statement about coloration was simply referring to social, cultural, and psychological overlays that would prevent any human being from being completely objective.”
I don’t believe anything apart from our own will can prevent us from being objective.
You don’t really want to split hairs with me on this point, do you?? I’m really sure you DO know what I’m saying here, Francois.
Not everyone is in touch with their will, nor can they necessarily be free from learned or enforced biases. We can try, but you or I or anyone could easily get it wrong. That’s why I think we can compare notes with others and use the scientific method–to be sure that something we are thinking or seeing is actually objectively true.
Fine, it’s not that important anyway. By the way, you didn’t answer to my last email.
Francois; To be human is to be subjective. We are complex psychological creatures. No matter how reasoned or objective one may try to be in any situation (strong willed or otherwise),we are still opererating under the influence of subconscious and unconscious processes.
We can make rational decisions, given what material we are conscious of, but that does not mean they are objective ….necessarily.
Obviously, one of the beauties of the scientific method, of double blind controlled studies, is it’s capacity to remove from the equation, subconscious / unconscious processes that may bias the process of inquiry…( but even then, the unconscious intentions of the researcher can come into play…)
This is one of the beauties of consciouness enhancing practices/disciplines like meditation, bio- feedback, neurofeedback, as well; they can help us move toward more objectivity in that these techniques, not only help develop a witnessing self…or a detatched observer within, they can also help move the content of formerly unconconscious and subconscious material up into the realm of accessability and consciouness. They can help us be more whole.
Only when all psychological material is fully conscious and the content of that material becomes understood acknowledged, integrated,(and no one I have ever met has that degree of actualization, at all times) can someone begin to hope to make a truly objective decision/obeservation. Human preferences are always present, but if fully aware of these , objectivity is closer at hand, more possible, more likely…
When the time arrives that biological and non biological intelligence are blended, we can hope for more of the detached rational mind to dominate. But as long as we have material that resides in veiled parts of our mind/psyche, our thinking will remain to some extent subjective.
At Blacksun’s request, I am not going to debate this any more. But you’re still wrong.
Ok.. I have to say though,I never really heard you debate this, or present your reasoning other than to say it was wrong. In any case you are entitled to your (subjective) opinion, as we all are.