More on (A)Theism and Morals

I quote Bad Astronomy

If I do think the Universe is accidental, that does not mean there is no rhyme or reason– all of science depends on the Universe obeying a set of rules (even if the rules are hidden, or hard to understand, or involve seemingly random events as quantum mechanics does). So right away, even if I do think the Universe is accidental, I would say that quotation is going too far and is wrongheaded, but not in the way the quiz means.

I also may not think life on Earth is inconsequential. I have heard this many times from religious people talking to atheists: how can you cherish life if you don’t believe in God? I find that question pretty funny, actually! The mindset is, if atheists don’t cherish life, what is to keep them from simply murdering anyone who ticks them off?

The answer is that atheists, as well as believers, have evolved a sense of morality over millions of years. Mammals tend to be family-oriented, and primates very much so. Tribal customs evolved to aid survival, which means helping others when needed. It’s not hard to get an idea of how morality evolved from that, although of course I am grossly oversimplifying things here.

If you think this is wrong, then consider this: if no God means no morality, then you’d expect atheists to commit more crimes. Yet, if you look at prison statistics, atheists are grossly underrepresented in jail. Only 0.21% of prisoners are atheists, though in the US some 3-9% of the population call themselves atheists. If religious people were more moral than atheists, then you’d expect the number of atheists in prison to be much higher than their percentage in the population. Yet the opposite is true. This means that atheists commit proportionately fewer crimes than religious people (well, it really means that atheists are caught and successfully prosecuted less, but one can assume those numbers scale with the numbers of crimes committed).

Are atheists more moral than believers? That’s a hard jump to make. But those numbers are very interesting.

27 Replies to “More on (A)Theism and Morals”

  1. These statistics are deliberately misleading. Many inmates convert to Christianity/Islam as a desperate bid for either freedom or absolution. Rather than looking at inmate stats, what about the %s of individuals arrested for jailable offensives.

    The question would seem to be instead, why are there so few atheists in prisons, foxholes, etc.?

  2. I think it is simply a matter of Atheists tending to apply rational thought to social interaction more rigorously then other folk. It isn’t any kind of *moral* code that suggests screwing other people is a bad way to act. It’s that it *doesn’t make sense*. You don’t get to be an athiest, generally speaking, by casually deciding there is no god. You do so by applying reason to your assessment of the world. If you apply reason to the understanding we all live in a social *context* you would tend to naturally come to the conclusion that what some others might call the ‘golden rule’ is just good sense and other than copping out by being a sociopath having respect for other people (and implicitly their persons and their ‘stuff’) is the best way to maintain a healthy social milieu.

    I sincerely doubt that the majority of ‘converts’ in the prison system come to the decision simply because it’s a ‘way out’. They likely do so because they likely had some kind of low grade inclination toward faith long before whatever it was that put them in the slammer. Having had an extended chance to ponder their beliefs a move towards faith seems very likely (if not inevitable).

    I have some trouble with the idea that a rationalist would see things in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. These notions seem to be a simplification of a much harder to assess ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’. My personal tendency is to see most ‘moral’ reasoning (particularly of the religious variety) as a painfully obvious methodology to control people through fear (at some basic level). Morality is inextricably bound to social behaviour and because knowing what is good and bad in such complex systems is so difficult it it much simpler to slap down an artificial ‘moral’ code imposed from on high than deal with the uncertainties imposed by our assessment what might be good or bad for us.

  3. I do enjoy good shades of gray (something that is not so easily come by in organized religion).

  4. Sure. Rules and laws are a societal convention based on moral codes. But if you stick to pure rationality, then the end necessarily always justifies the means. Rationality will not and does not save us. So we are stuck with the manta of codifying “moral” law, which as far as I am concerned is where most organized religions have missed the boat. It’s easy to recongnize a casual truth such as “taking things that don’t belong to you is wrong,” but when we turn this into a dictum we run into all sorts of logistical problems that arise per the situation.

    Personally, I find that even the most dyed-in-the-wool atheists possess what you call “low grade inclination toward faith.” Pure science is in fact largely based on theory. Logic itself holds devoutly to a set of tenets. Example: Many scientists believe that life must exist elsewhere in the universe, if only due to its immense size. This is based on nothing more than faith, as we have only one life-containing planet to point to. To say that “it would be a waste of space” to have all these galaxies and planets without life is a moral conclusion – A waste according to who? Is it logical to say that because something could be true that it is likely or even certain?

  5. Well, scientists “believe” in evidence, and indeed they do make theories based on that evidence, but those theories are constantly open to criticism and change. That scientists believe that life must exist elsewhere is garnered, no doubt, from the fact that as we gather more information about the systems around us, the evidence is pointing in that favour. There are a lot more planet-supporting stars than we thought. So mathematically this increases the odds. I don’t think any credible scientists are saying that the universe must contain other life or else it’s just a big waste.

  6. Well…only Ellie’s dad and he wasn’t really a scientist (Insert pointer to ‘Contact’ here if the comment isn’t obvious).

    I have to disagree that rationality always leads to the assumption that the ends justify the means. It seems like the kind of conclusion one would draw if they were only to cast their net in a very shallow pond of criteria. Hume talks about surrendering some of our freedom in order to avoid lives that are nasty, brutish and short as a reasoned argument, not because of any inherent sense of right or wrong. We make these decisions because they make sense and achieve the best results for ourselves and our fellow beings. Morality is almost always pretty damned arbitrary because its rules are drawn up by someone(s) who want certain results in their notion of social conditioning. Someone who applies reason to their social interaction is always acting in self interest but they have to try very hard to envision the great push and pull of cause and effect and get past the simple and erroneous notion that ‘taking what I want’ is a functional model of social behaviour.

    I suspect the presented example, that many scientists ‘believe’ in life elsewhere is a convenient oversimplification of the case. It wraps what the scientists think in the term ‘belief’ to muddy the point altogether. If pressed those scientists would likely admit that they are inclined to accept the idea of life elsewhere based on their specific knowledge of (perhaps) Biology and Cosmology and perhaps Mathematics. This kind of ‘belief’ is so far removed from the ‘belief’ that a large bearded man/being in white robes is responsible for the creation and continued exsistence of everything as to clearly not mean the same thing. I would contend that these same scientists would be willing to acknowledge that their ‘belief’ in the ‘life elsewhere’ theory is much less firm than their belief that human beings are having a noticeable and perhaps deleterious affect on the world’s climate. All this seems to stem from the rather obvious attempt to disavow the simple fact that people are willing to use the term ‘believe’ rather than ‘I think this thing is likely although I have insufficient evidence to be confident’. Sadly, all scientists are not data-like androids and have a tendency to assume that people will understand their use of a term like ‘believe’ is a simplified way of saying they are far from sure.

  7. If you think something is likely based on the available data, yet have no substantial physical evidence to make that assumption an absolute certainty, that is a belief and it is based in faith, not in fact. It is a guess, a hypothesis, a theory. Scientists may not hold hard and fast to these as “rules” – in point of fact, they don’t. If something is demonstrably true, scientist call it a law. This does not mean that scientists are unwilling to make assumptions based on theory, especially if the theory is a widely accepted one.

    I get rather tired of responding to the claim that a person who believes in so-called “divine” creation by necessity believes that some sort of invisible Santa Claus is the culprit. Who’s talking about bearded guys in white robes in the 21st Century? That’s a quite limited concept of “cosmic intelligence” that pretty much disappeared with the Dark Ages. Belief is belief, whether in intelligent design or the existence of Extra-terrestrial life. If one chooses to believe in intelligent design, one has only to look at the symmetry and geometry of the natural world. There is no intractable forensic evidence to “prove” such a theory, but many people of many times and many creeds think it is likely, though they have insufficient evidence to be perfectly confident.

    Belief is a CHOICE that is made by rational, thinking, feeling, reasoning humans to explain that for which they have no explanantion. Some tend to think that the conclusions reached by “educated” scientists of today are somehow more valid than those reached by the uneducated masses of the past. And that’s okay. You can believe that if you like. Just remember that general relativity, along with significant portions of cosmology, statistical mechanics and quantum physics were borne of the mind of a deeply religious patent clerk.

    We’ve strayed quite far from our original topic (as usual) of whether atheists are “more moral” than their deity worshipping counterparts. My final word on that: There are good atheists and bad atheists, good teachers and bad teachers, good doctors and bad doctors, etc… and I am not telling anyone anything they don’t already know. But to point to prison populations and say “hey, there are fewer atheists in there, so atheists are nice people” is a spurious argument. I could as easily argue that since there are so few atheists in jail, then atheists must be far better criminals than religious people as so few of them have been caught and incarcerated.

  8. I have to agree with Grond, belief in mathematics and imperical evidence is not the same as belief in a deity. We have to assume that what we see with our eyes is fact and not faith, otherwise we’re not talking about religion anymore, we’re talking about existentialism. And for all the imperical evidence we have on Jesus’ dad, he may as well be a bearded man in robes, a robotic marmot, or the spaghetti monster.

  9. The Religious love to equate the validity of their beliefs with scientific theories. This seems to be caused by a lack of understanding in the Scientific Method coupled with an understandable need to rationalize their irrational beliefs.

    Another error the religious make about science is that the current theories are held in the same unquestionable regard as religious doctrine and this simply isn’t the case. Scientific theories are the best fitting explanation of observed phenomenon, not dogma created by a scientific hierarchy. Questioning of these theories and testing of their validity are at the very heart of science.

    Science is based on how we perceive the Universe to function.

    Religion is based on how we wish the Universe functioned.

  10. Yeah. Fine. Whatever. God is dead. Long live empirical wisdom.

    If you’re just going to insult religion, I don’t need to read any further. If you really treated scientific methodolgy and study and held it under the same scrutiny that you do religion, you’d find that you are simply not being objective. You are merely attacking a belief system that you disagree with. Science and Religion can work in perfect harmony, if only the detractors on both sides of the fence would stop hurling rocks at each other. I know this because I am a religious person of highly scientific bent. You spout the same attacks over and over and offer no direction toward compromise. Example: “Religion is unyielding. Science is Flexible.” This is nothing but baloney. Religion is merely Law if it is stagnant. In the eyes of the faithful, religion is alive and divinity is part of every harmonious movement in the cosmos and community. Or: consider the completely unmoveable scientific community, unwilling to accept a perfectly rational new theory, simply because it is unpopular, or because it runs counter to a previous and more popular theroy. Gentlemen, your scientific community can be as unflinching and as zealous as the fundamentalists themselves.

    The reason I am a great fool is not because I hold that the universe spins under the design of greater intelligece, but because I expect reasonable people to acknowledge that certain truths have existed for centuries before there was anything remotely resembling Scientific Method (and I do know what this is. I was graduated from high school, too). I am a fool because I expect reasonable people to acknowledge that science frequently does as much harm as good, and to acknowledge that scientific theories are frequently as wrong headed and self-serving as any religious diatribe. I acknowledge the potential power and validity of science, and yet you cannot do the same for religion? You blame religion for hatred and war, ignoring the counsel and peace it offers and all the while you claim science and rationality will be the language of peace, and yet it is used to find more efficient ways to spy on people and kill them. How can you be so certain that one is preferable to another, when both are equally laudable and damnable?

    No one wants to actually offer a counterargument to anything I’ve previously posted, as it’s so much easier to just write me off as “the religious”. Since no one here seems to desire a counterpoint to the argument that religion is dumb and science is smart, I’ll stop posting.

  11. Deadeye, your rhetoric skills are amazing and you’re to be commended. You’ve basically said that your concept of religion only believes in things that are unprovable while pointing out that even scientists are faillble.

    There certainly are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy, but to base your worldview around a fairy-story used to represent “the unknown” isn’t something you’re going to see me backing up any time soon.

    Religion certainly can have a lot of beneficial effects. That doesn’t make the claims of religion true.

    As for your point about science finding more efficient ways to spy on people and kill them, it can certainly be viewed that way — it can also be argued that science saves far more lives through medical technology. Half the humans who have ever lived are alive today and it’s not because they prayed for it.

    I also don’t see any scientists lining up to fly airplanes into buildings or explosive trucks into bunkers. The people doing that convinced that their God will reward them for striking down His enemies — and their belief is just as irrational as yours, even if yours is more pleasant and friendlier. Neither of them are based on facts, just old books transcribed from an older oral tradition. Ever play “telephone”?

    I’ve read your Bible. I suggest you read “The Demon Haunted World” and get back to me about your “Dragon In The Garage“.

  12. Damnit, Puck, you’re right. I really wanted to just drop this, but I think you’re missing my larger point. It is what we DO with knowledge and belief that makes it good or bad. Religion is the opiate of the masses, is it not? Neitzche was very much on target by saying that we are used by the powers that be through our faith. Not many faiths deal with this issue, but both Christianity and Islam deal with false prophecy, and Buddhism seeks to expose those who are pretenders from those who are truly awake.

    You say that the claims of religion do not make them true. This is so. It is the belief in a thing that makes it so – what is currency if not a consensual hallucination? Even quantum math shows us that it is not merely the experiment but also the observer that affects the outcome. The observation is what causes the waveform to collapse into a singularity, a plus or minus that until the moment of observation is simultaneously niether or both.

    You may say that this does not apply to religion, but I disagree. You mention the power of medicine, but what of the power of positive thinking? It has been well documented (as any practicing PhD will tell you )that recovery from/ survival of trauma is largely dependent on the patient’s frame of mind. What of the so called “magical” placebo effect? Your belief and outlook create synaptic connections in your brain, like any other thought process, and with time these connections grow stronger and faster. If these processes decrease, so does the connection. What is this but belief’s effect on human pysiology? So you may say that medicine saves innocents but that “it’s not because they prayed for it,” but I submit that, in part, it is.

    Scientist may not be flying planes into buildings ala _the Running Man_, but they are designing planes that are invisible to radar. And some may argue that this saves lives. That is an argument for a military statistician to make, and I won’t argue the practical implications of proportionality in war. But when a scientist or engineer as an individual starts designing a new explosive (one small enough for, say, one person to strap some onto themselves and blow up a building), I wonder if there is a moment of decision when that person realizes the magnitude of their discovery/invention. Religion may have given the motive for Jihad, but science and technology have prvided the means.

    As for the passing of traditions, orally or otherwise, this is certainly more true for some religions than others. When thousands of years pass between the death of the teacher and the birth of the work, serious questions should be raised. But let’s assume (safely in most cases) that the followers of the teacher are certain of the special nature of the teachings. I contend that followers, if they had not only believed but actually _seen_ the working of miracles, enlightenment, etc… that they would remain faithful in the keeping of the lessons, if not the identical word of the text. When you look at the fate of the disciples of Jesus, you see that they were tortured and martyred. At any moment, they could have cried out and denounced Jesus and saved themselves, and yet they did not. They died horribly. My question on reading this is “why?” and I must conclude that they did truly believe in what their teacher had said, and would therefore insofar as they were able maintain the integrity of the teaching.

    My neck is tired and my dinner is ready. There are many things that lie beyond the scope of religion and science. Science seeks to know what these things are, and to light up these dark places so we may see, to know the unknowable. Religion, while also encouraging us to “Seek, find”, shows us that there is harmony, balance, and even purpose to existence, even though we may not know what they are, and thus enlightens us.

  13. OK…one last kick at the can. This a comment well outside Deadeye’s assumption that we’re name calling religion. In regards to the discussion (in addition to the connection between Atheists and morality) of ‘belief’ vs ‘something else that shouldn’t be confused with belief’ DD sez “If you think something is likely based on the available data, yet have no substantial physical evidence to make that assumption an absolute certainty, that is a belief and it is based in faith, not in fact.”

    I cannot disagree more strongly. You somehow equate a poorly substantiated ‘theory’ with a ‘belief’ when the two things have almost no relationship to one another. A theory, no matter how poor conceived, is by definition available to all and any scientific scrutiny. Pointing out that some theories win hidebound champions who have become entrenched in their desire to see it accepted, merely acknowledges that there are plenty of people who end up becoming crappy scientists when they let their desire for results override the understanding that good theories gain more and more supporting data the more they are tested. If poorly supported to start with and based on whimsical reasoning such a hypothesis rapidly becomes understood to be a lousy theory (lets say Velikovsky’s ‘colliding world’ theories for example).

    ‘Belief’ brooks no such poking and prodding. It’s proponents do not wish it to be examined at every angle or they immediately declare its irrefutable nature or some level of ‘inscrutability’. A ‘belief’ (and a believer) doesn’t want evidence because in many cases the search for such evidence misses the point. The belief itself holds all ingredients to satisfy those who have invested in it.

    Finally, back to the main issue that we’re using as an example. When I say that I believe it likely (I’ll have to stand in for a scientist here) that there is life elsewhere in the universe I do so not based on much corroborating evidence but largely because of statistics and Cosmology. Rough math projects 10 thousand billion, billion stars in the ‘Verse (10 sextillion for those nitpickers out there) in what’s likely a pretty low estimate. We then lowball solar system formation to the tune of one system in a million and then habitable planets by the same ratio (keeping all those potential solar systems down to one planet each for the sake of simplicity and disavowing our observed knowledge of several multiple planet solar systems) and come up with a nice round figure of ten billion worlds with a ‘potential’ for life. This simple (and very conservative) mathematical musing connected to what we know the planetary conditions on our immediate neighbours makes a pretty damned strong case for accepting the notion that we aren’t the only infested rock. This is a theory. A hard one to test (although we’re working away at even as I speak) but based completely on a rational assessment of the evidence (and some hypothetical math) with nary a wiff of ‘faith’ required in its formulation.

    It bears no relationship to ‘belief’ beyond the fact that at this point in the big temporal flow it cannot be proved.

  14. Look, you can pad this “theory” as much as you like. But here’s what we can prove: Space is infinite, or huge enough to be considered nearly infinite. We have discovered one (1) planet containing life.

    So, according to the actual data, the odds are 1 in nearly infinity that another planet is inhabited. We can show statistically that there are planets capable of supporting life, but that isn’t really the same thing, now is it? Just because a thing CAN be true doesn’t mean it is.

    So there is a rational assessment of the hypothetical math and the compilation of this data indicates that, theorhetically, life elsewhere is (alomst) a certainty? Wow. Way to take a stand, science. That would be the working definition of a theory, alright.

    You claim that belief doesn’t require prodding, or that “proponents” don’t encourage exmination. This is false! What do you think religious scholars do all day – recite bible verses and pat each other on the back? No way! Lifetimes are spent decoding centuries old documents to gain the slightest hint at new meanings of ancient techings. Debate is RAMPANT amongst religious scholars and experts. This is like holding up a middle school chemistry teacher and saying he is a proponent of science. You cannot take the ridiculous, under/uneducated, zealous fundamentalists and say that these are the spokepeople for religious thought. It isn’t fair. The equivalent of this would be for me to read your previous comment, and then ask you, as a “proponent of science”, to show your work and explain in detail all of the math. As you say, you are standing in for a scientist. Well, I’m standing in for a theologist. Most Theologists I know are absolutely brilliant people who are more than willing to discuss the most obscure theorhetical minutiae and are happy for the opportunity to exchange ideas. They absolutely are not satisfied with half answered questions and are constantly mulling over the implications of religious teachings. I would never look at a Mad/Amatuer Scientist’s rantings and say “All those scientist’s are crazy!” because that is not an accurate sampling of what is happening in amongst actual experts in the field.

  15. A) Correction: I was attributing an idea from ‘Hobbes’ to Hume. You can make your own assessment about how long ago it was that I read the Leviathan or my failing memory.

    B) In our case the dictionary says this about ‘theory’ “5 : a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.” It has nothing to do with science ‘taking a stand’ or ‘making a judgement’ or whatever it is you seems to think science is in the business of doing. It is simply a process by which scientifically minded people approach questions about the universe in general.

    C) ‘Theologans almost exclusively *argue* about how to intrepret ‘the will of god’ in ancient texts, patterns of thought or the observable universe. They are in the business of studying god and god’s relationship to the world. From a scientific (here read ‘skeptical’) standpoint they are skipping the most overriding question of the lot.

  16. The simple FACT of the matter is that modern science is based on FACT. Observable, testable, fact. Gravity is a fact. Evolution is a fact. They can be proven. God, divining, psychics, the supernatural, faeries and unicorns cannot be (sometimes almost by definition). I don’t have FAITH that gravity exists. If we cannot agree on the definition of fact and of belief then we might as well be arguing in Esperanto. I know that a THEORY is not the same as a FACT. However, scientific THEORIES are founded on FACTS. Keeping religious studies out of the argument (because I’m sure there are many atheists who study the bible and other facets of religion), the tenets of religion have everything to do with the absence of fact–of crazy make-em-ups. A good scientist is not going to say that there is life on other planets, as a fact. The theory is that it’s probable. That is based on math. Math is a scientific fact. Intelligent design is not based on any fact. It has nothing to do with science. Theories can be proved and disproved in a blink of an eye – and that is the beauty of science. Joe said all this better than I could rehash.

    The fact that Einstein and Darwin believed in God does not make God any less of a superstition. And yes, the fruits of science can be used for evil just like religion can fuel evil*. People of all races and beliefs can be jerks. At least when atheists are jerks, they are (in my opinion, generally speaking) taking responsibility for their actions, not because some other divine will has told them to.

    I’m sure that Jesus was a great man. He was an activist and proponent of social change, like Ghandi and Che Guevara. But he wasn’t the son of a diety. My wish is that all Christians followed his teachings of peace. Sadly, a great many do not, while at the same time they put stock in the unreal. Double trouble, in my book.

    *Science has benefits that all religious people can enjoy (i.e. medicine) should they choose. Religion has benefits that all scientists can enjoy if they choose to—I just hope it doesn’t interfere with their work. It may help keep scientists from making armies of killbots because their god will punish them, or it may make them do exactly that because if they don’t their god will punish them, but I don’t personally BELIEVE that faith in the supernatural helps scientists with their objectivity and critical thinking. But that’s just an opinion.

    PS – I agree with the placebo effect and prayer as such. I’ve said it before, if belief in god & heaven is all that is keeping you a decent person, by all means, continue believing.

    PPS – To get back to the atheists in prison statistics thing, see my general thoughts on stats:

    PPS – You write “religion shows us there is…purpose to existence.” Well, it shows those who believe in that purported purpose. I don’t need a purpose, thanks. I’m with Lovecraft on this one. I don’t need to think that I’ll go to heaven when I die. I’m happy living a life without murdering or robbing anyone and ending up worm food.

    See also being a good scientist:

  17. DD: Yes, you’re right, the theory that there is other life in the universe is a theory. It is not fact. What scientist is arguing that?

    Now, these theologists who are researching old texts and discussing minutiae and mulling over religious teachings–they are examining the facts about religion. Are they revising the laws of religion? How does this affect the body of work? What happens if they find out god doesn’t exist? They can’t. Can they? I wish they could. Tell me they can!

  18. “Just because a thing CAN be true doesn’t mean it is.”

    Of course not. But when science lacks a proven answer it tests and attempts to validate or disprove the most likely hypothesis and generate a new one based on the results. That’s the Scientific Method. After enough time testing these hypotheses and reworking them to fit with the data, we get closer to truth and call it a Theory.

    With Relgion, you read a book and then try to figure out what some 2000 year dead guy meant when he wrote it.

  19. Gravity is an observable fact. Natural Selection is an observable fact. Evolution is a popluar theory. It cannot be proven. Neither can spontaneous generation. No scientist would ever assert that evolution is a fact. Theories are based on facts, and yet they are NOT facts. Facts are provable, theories are educated guesses. And when you use a group of accepted principles to explain a phenomena, you are most certainly making an assertion.

    You don’t have faith that gravity exists? Um… Okay. How do you explain all the falling and sticking to the ground?

    I assume you meant that belief doesn’t effect gravity. What about levitation? It has been observed (admittedly not by me), if not well documented. What about other “miracles” and Fortean Phenomena that defy, nay, fly in the face of popular sciece? Well, we can just ignore these things, can’t we, as they are not helpful in aeducational sense. Thus the information becomes oocult, forbidden. Anyone who pursues it is labled a pseudoscientist, or a parapsychologist, or just a dadblamed fool. That way the scientific community knows who to ignore. Any phenomena that is not readily classifiable or or runs counter to popular knowledge is made a mockery. There is a glut of these type of phenomena, and anyone who makes an attempt to explain them is not welcome in the scientific community, no matter how persuasive their evidence may be.

    It infuriates those who have observed these phenomena to be dismissed, much as it infuriated the faithful to have their beliefs made light of, called myth or fantasy or unreal. This is where science fails to win adherents: they want to corner the market on what reality IS. Ghosts don’t exist because we can’t catch one and ask him what’s up with all this ghostin’ around. Since Jesus can’t put in a personal appearance at Cal Tech and turn all of the professors slide rules into serpents, he is clearly not the son of God, who doesn’t exist anyway, because when I told him to strike me down or pay my rent, it didn’t happen. Not provable = Not real. Right? According to Science, yes, unless we can come up with a series of “acceptable” (whatever THAT means)principles that will provide a probable cause for the phenomena. A theory.

    I’m just rambling now, which means I should stop. It’s been fun, but I can see that until Jesus shows up in Vancouver and buys a DotHT tee-shirt, which he then spins into gold, no one on this page will make the leap. Which actually answers your final question, Toren. Religion is being revised, which is one of science’s biggest complaints about it. An no, you can’t prove whether or not God exists, and believe me if people could prove this one way or the other, someone would have by now. But it would kind of throw the whole grace through faith thing out the window.

    I’m going to be a good Christian now and stop proseletyzing. I know how much you atheists hate that.

  20. See that’s what I mean when I say we can’t agree on the definitions of fact, belief, and faith. I can’t spell out any more for you that gravity is a fact, and not a belief.

    As for levitation, etc, I direct you to James Randi.

  21. Beyond the fact that this has been done to death I must once again point out that DD’s casual use of the words ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ do seem to be somewhere at the heart of his/her unwillingness to imagine them not being used differently in different situations. I’ll blame this on the English language’s horrible habit of accepting fifty different meanings from one word.

    Just in case DD helped muddle the issue let me clarify. When I have ‘faith’ in gravity I am saying that I am in the habit of accepting that there is a physical force which I cannot discern directly involved in drawing me toward the much larger object that I am standing on. When I flip a light switch I am relying on that same faith that there are electrical systems in place that will make the light come on. This is simply a function of the fact that I have finite sensory capabilities but again *bears no resemblence* to the ‘faith’ a person claims in relation to supernatural beings and or phenomena. This use of the term faith simply supplants the use of the phrase ‘I am in the habit of accepting X based on my knowledge of the world around me’.

    The notion that people ‘who have seen’ are somehow dismissed carte blanche is preposterous. They are generally dimissed when they cannot reliably repeat said observations under strict impartial controls (like the oft quoted ‘levitation’ which ends up being a group of transcendentalists hopping around on their asses in the lotus position). James Randi laid down the gauntlet decades ago offering large cash incentives to anyone who could ‘repeat the performance’ of any such supernatural claims. The fact that no-one has stepped forward to claim the money speaks volumes about how many ‘miracles’ get past the proof of hearsay…which is to say ‘zero’ so far.

  22. And no, I’m not going to make a leap of faith into a world of apparitions, talking serpents, people being turned into pillars of salt, arcs, women created by ribs, and a planet created by an invisible entity solely for the exploitation of a species made in His image, any more than I should believe in the healing power of crystals, reflexology, or telepathy. Why should I?

  23. Yeah, that is a pretty big part of it. Scientific method not only asks that we be able to quantify the findings of the experiment, but that the experiment be repeatable by other scientists so that we can all sit down and learn from it. So if Bigfoot walks out of the woods and bites your arse, and you are the only witness(es), you’re just out of luck as BF isn’t likely to do a command performance. Not repeatable = Unproven = Not fact.

    And I don’t think I’m trying to muddle anything. I actually think this has been a rather clarifying discussion of Fact, theory, belief and faith. I think we’ve pretty firmly established that belief and theory, while similar, are completely separate. Theory was very well defined by Grond as an assesment derived by using available knowledge to explain phenomena. Fact is basically anything that is quanitfiably provable. Belief requires Faith, or the being in the habit of accepting something as true.

    So I guess that’s where we stop. I don’t think I can prove that faith or belief are anything worthwhile to people who are in the habit of relying solely on empirical data. I can tell you that while my belief hasn’t spared me the usual tribulations of life, it has made me a happier person. Which I know means precisely dick to anyone who isn’t me. I can’t tell you why faith is worthwhile, and if I could it wouldn’t make much sense anyway. Like Bigfoot, it’s just one of those things you have to experience yourself.

    As for the Amazing Randi and his million-dollar miracle, I think it would be a fairly poor sort of miracle if one was willing/able to do it for money.

    PS – I actually saw that “levitation demo”. Hilarious!

  24. I don’t really want to get into this thing, but have to say that all “facts” are bound by our own limited knowledge and facilities. At one time, it was an accepted scientific fact that the sun revolved around the Earth. One might argue that those were the days when the Church governed scientific knowledge, but at the time, it was a very logical assumption, backed by repeated observation of actual phenomena. We may find in time that facts we hold to be true are just misconceptions we back with factors we witness, measure and attribute to “x” cause. We are not as all-knowing as we may like to think, and an open mind is best suited to those things which would break an ordinary (read: narrow-minded) person. The only real fact is that nothing is fixed, and we were designed to grow and learn and change. Those who would remain stagnant will be left behind, while those with the flexibility of mind to adapt will thrive. This group contains athiests, Satanists, mystics, and yes, even Christians. It’s not religion or lack thereof that is the problem, it is an unflexible, closed mind.

    And don’t get me started on God.

  25. Yes, Kerry, facts change. Absolutely. And that is the great thing about science. We learn more and change our conceived facts to that they reflect reality. Especially in medicine.

Comments are closed.