Angela’s Reasonable Religion

This is a response to Angela’s Reasonable Religion, which in turn was a response to my comments here.

Yes, there are some generalisations we can make. All theists are, well, theists – a belief in God. The fact that the generalisation covers a wide variety doesn’t detract from the generalisation. If you don’t believe in God then you are an atheist – though precisely how that is interpreted and used does vary.

The charge you make against Dawkins isn’t unique, but nor is it true.

“Many will happily throw away all scientific objectivity to take a pop at religion…” – Can you give instances, or are you too making sweeping statements.

“as though ‘religion’ is a genus” – Well, it is sort of like a genus, with lots of species below it. Or maybe religion is the family, Christianity a genus, and the various versions of Christianity a species. But then, just as in our species there is a variety of individuals. And just as there are evolutionarily determined common features across species, such as some of the morphological similarities between humans and apes, then so there might be some similarities across Christian species. So, yes, some sort of taxonomy might well be used to describe theists.

Can you show me one piece from a Dawkins book, or site where Dawkins makes any such generalisation? The problem is that in context Dawkins may be speaking about one particular type of believer, or one particular aspect of theology, and he’s usually clear about that; but it’s the reading thesis who says, “Hold on, that doesn’t apply to me. Dawkins is making sweeping generalisations.” As I said originally – selective reading.

“…but most people are too willing to sacrifice reason on the altar of prejudice.” – This is precisely what the religious do when they put their faith in their dogma above reason. Note I don’t say all religious all the time. Wouldn’t want you to make the same mistake again of assuming I meant that.

“What fascinates me is the way in which those more interested in blaming…” – Well, here’s a quote from a reasonable theist:

“What has science actually done for us to date in this regard? Probably – on balance – exacerbated the problem rather than done anything to ameliorate it. Your faith in science is touching!”

You can find this here, for context (Mike’s 23 June 2010 18:39 comment).

Science or atheism are often blamed for the ills of the world, sometimes in the context of, “You can’t be good without God.”, or, “Look what atheists like Hitler/Mao/Pol Pot have done.”

Sometimes we do blame religion for certain problems. With good reason. In the case of abusing Catholic priest it’s actually individual humans to do this, not the religion as such. And the cover ups that have occurred have been performed by individual or collectives of humans within the church, so again it’s not the religion as such. But it is the religion that sustains the authority that allows these things continue. It’s religious authority that allows religious fanatics to manipulate the gullible into acts of terrorism. It is the religion that helps to maintain a sectarian division in Northern Ireland.

Sometimes science, or at least scientists deserve blame too. It’s an impartial view. The difference is that science doesn’t hold itself up to be following the perfect word of anyone. All science claims is to be the best method we have of acquiring knowledge, and even then it has specific means of dealing with the fallibility of the humans that implement it.

Science is just one more system invented by humans. It’s the best we can do, given our limited access to knowledge and all our fallibilities. This isn’t to say science is perfect. But science is the best we can do.

“The Social Sciences may have proven…” – The social sciences haven’t proven anything of the sort. They have acquired some supporting evidence. We have to be careful how we use the term ‘proof’. It has a very specific meaning in logic, and is generally inadequate for describing scientific ‘truths’. And ‘truth’ is another word we have to use with care – it’s something we strive for, but not something we can be sure we have found.

“You [God] have repeatedly shown us that the violence that really destroys this world begins in ourselves.” – We’re nearly on the same page here. The scientific atheist view is that there is no evidence for God. Everything we worry about, all our problems of morality, come from us, as an evolved species that has developed innate and culturally evolved behaviours into a moral system. Given both the common ancestry and individual variety it is to be expected that there will be a some common features and plenty of variety in the belief in God – which is what we see. If there really was a God that revealed himself to us, either he made a very bad job of it, or he created us so that to us it looks as if belief is a human invention that comes out of our evolutionary and cultural history – how else would you explain the variety, inconsistency and contradictory nature of belief.

This isn’t to say categorically that there isn’t a God (and Dawkins is specific about this too: there might be, but there’s no evidence.) The problem with all theologies is that they start with this basic unknown – is there a creator agent or is it all non-anthropomorphic cosmic fluctuation?; pick one of them, that there is a creator; and then go on to create all fantastically unsubstantiated theologies, without the slightest bit of evidence.

Theists are keen to tell us what God wants. “You [God] have repeatedly shown us…” – How do you know that? All your claims about God are based on what one particular branch of a whole group of societies made up: ancient superstition. Even the most basic attempts to verify any of this (such as experiments on the power of prayer) have failed utterly.

“Thank you [God] for the gift of reason…” – If you’re using reason, and we know reason is fallible (that’s why we need science, to compensate), how do you come to reason that there is a God? The only difference between those people who believe they are Napoleon and the faithful is that the Napoleon’s are adamant they are in the face of irrefutable contradictory evidence, whereas the religious are relying on the fact that there is no data whatsoever, and also relying on the momentum that the organised religions provided.

“We may have mapped the human genome, but to the best of my knowledge, we have yet to find a way of accurately and predictably mapping the thoughts of a single human mind.. Even though we know this, even though we know that we cannot really know the mind or heart of another human being, we persist in pretending that we know enough to identify, label and blame..” – Even though we know we can’t know the mind of God, and can’t establish there is a God, some of us persist in pretending we know what he wants of us.

7 thoughts on “Angela’s Reasonable Religion

  1. Just spotted this Ron"What fascinates me is the way in which those more interested in blaming…" – Well, here's a quote from a reasonable theist:"What has science actually done for us to date in this regard? Probably – on balance – exacerbated the problem rather than done anything to ameliorate it. Your faith in science is touching!"I think I am with you on the value of blaming. There is not enough blaming around in my view. I do think it's reasonable to blame Pol Pot and 'abusing catholic priets'. I also blame that nice man Darwin for spreading bad science (in Goldacre language) and that rather less charming Luther for spreading bad theology. Though, of course, not all of Luther's theology and Darwin's science is bad. There is surely a distinction to be made between people who use their religion/ideology to justify their behaviour and those who perpetuate and spread falsehoods?The blame game is interesting but perhaps more interesting is the 'value of science' in ameliorating the worlds problems. Give me an example of where you think science has been unambigously useful. (Apart from the bicycle that is.)

  2. Hi Mike,I too blame Pol Pot, for his deeds, not his atheism. He didn't, as far as I'm aware, perform his deeds in the name of Atheism. And since atheism isn't a doctrine he can hardly have been said to have derived beliefs from atheism. Catholic priests used the privilege and power of their religion to enable and cover up their deeds.Do you blame Henry VIII for the CoE?"There is surely a distinction to be made between people who use their religion/ideology to justify their behaviour and those who perpetuate and spread falsehoods?" – Depends on the behaviour being justified."Give me an example of where you think science has been unambiguously useful. (Apart from the bicycle that is.)" – No, not one I can think of. I doubt there are any. The bicycle was used as a means of mobilization during the first world war. I also recollect seeing clips of Mao's Red Army using them too. But that isn't the problem of science, it's the problem of humans that use the science. Science doesn't have a code of practice that insists that people who leave science should be killed, or that women can't be scientists. Considering how it impacts our lives and how inclusive it is, it's probably the most egalitarian human endeavour there is.

  3. ‘I too blame Pol Pot, for his deeds, not his atheism. He didn't, as far as I'm aware, perform his deeds in the name of Atheism.’Just because he didn’t claim to perform his deeds in the name of atheism doesn’t mean that his atheism didn’t influence his deeds'And since atheism isn't a doctrine he can hardly have been said to have derived beliefs from atheism.' Of course atheism is a doctrine. And it’s easy to derive beliefs from atheism. There is no God therefore there is no after-life. Or if you prefer: There is no God therefore all we have is science to explain the way things are.'Catholic priests used the privilege and power of their religion to enable and cover up their deeds.' Yes I agree but I do not think atheists are exempt from using their privilege and power when they are in the majority (Stalinist Russia?)'Do you blame Henry VIII for the CoE?'Yes'"There is surely a distinction to be made between people who use their religion/ideology to justify their behaviour and those who perpetuate and spread falsehoods?" – Depends on the behaviour being justified.'Well no. How does it?'"Give me an example of where you think science has been unambiguously useful. (Apart from the bicycle that is.)" – No, not one I can think of. I doubt there are any. The bicycle was used as a means of mobilization during the first world war. I also recollect seeing clips of Mao's Red Army using them too.' Yes you are right. No scientific discovery has been unambiguously useful. I was being stupid'But that isn't the problem of science, it's the problem of humans that use the science.' But how can you have science without humans. (I think we have discussed this before but I still fail to see how science in the abstract is either good or bad. Unproblematic or problematic) 'Science doesn't have a code of practice that insists that people who leave science should be killed, or that women can't be scientists. Considering how it impacts our lives and how inclusive it is, it's probably the most egalitarian human endeavour there is.'Of course there are implicit codes of practice for science/scientists. Most science is done by men: so women can’t as easily be scienitis as men. Most of science is funded by big business. Look at food science for starters. Does this make it egalitarian. I don’t think so.

  4. Hi Mike,"Just because he didn't claim…" – This is a bit thin. For example, do you have any record of him saying that my atheism, or my atheist…(God? Oh sorry, there isn't one)… dictates I should persecute homosexuals, or anything similar, where it was atheism specifically that he used as a justification? I'm sure it did influence his deeds though – the deed of not praying for example. All out actions influence us – but this is a trivial observation. This is quite different than an Islamic terrorist who actually goes to great lengths to ensure his deeds are done in the name of his religion. The crusades were very specifically religiously motivated."Of course atheism is a doctrine." – Then what is it? Atheism is just the absence of belief in any god. I don't have an atheist doctrine, no more than I have an a-fairy doctrine. Again, a trivial point."And it’s easy to derive beliefs from atheism." – There may be corollaries of atheism; but they are derived from the same interpretation of data as is atheism. Atheism isn't the starting point."There is no God therefore there is no after-life." – No necessarily. Again you're thinking seems to be limited by Christianity (or God beleif in general) as if that's the only option. It's a false dichotomy. It's logically possible that there could be an afterlife. A non-theistic dualism could contain the hypothesis that the other aspect of the dualism – the non-material mind for example, could go on after, of could merge with a pantheistic consciousness, or could reincarnate."Or if you prefer: There is no God therefore all we have is science to explain the way things are." – Really, quite wrong, as I've pointed out many times. Rather, "All we appear to have are our senses and reason, which we use rigorously (and call that science) to investigate our experiences and draw what reliable conclusions we can from the data – all tentatively. The tentative conclusion is there is no God; i.e. no evidence."Yes I agree but I do not think atheists are exempt from using their privilege and power when they are in the majority (Stalinist Russia?)" – The corruption of communist doctrine on which Stalinist Russia was built is not an atheist doctrine, clearly – though atheism was a part of it. You might as well say Stalin's Russia was a fairy a-fairy doctrine.OK on the blame. If you're going to cast blame so equitably then I won't complain."Well no. How does it?" – because it's obvious that someone can both use religion to justify behaviour and spread falsehoods."Yes you are right. No scientific discovery has been unambiguously useful." – Good, we're agreed then that science is value neutral."Most science is done by men" – I don't know how you've got the balls to even come out with that line, since our gender prejudice has been one of the main problems with religion. It's a wider cultural problem than just science. Oh hang on, you may have a point, wasn't it the Royal Society that has recently been debating whether women should have some of the top jobs? Oh no, silly me, that was the Gen. Synod."Most of science is funded by big business." – I did point out at one point that it's other parts of our culture that discriminate, not specifically science. In fact science is a better equal opportunities employment prospect than most religions."Look at food science for starters." – What about food science?

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