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Does this book# deny afterlife/God? 
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DWill wrote:
We need to define spirituality just as we need to define God if we use the word.


I agree. I think traditionally "spirituality" is concerned only with metaphysical concerns, i.e. "of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical." However, I find it insulting when it is assumed that atheists are not spiritual simply because they don't believe in a supernatural entity. To me the word means more. I consider myself a spiritual person. I have a sense of awe for the majesty of nature and the cosmos. If "spirituality" requires a belief in an afterlife and a supernatural deity then the word is demeaned and we are demeaned at the same time.


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Johnson1010 wrote:


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I was not saying that all the ideas or principals of religion are incorrect, i was saying that you could say particular ideas could be dismissed, but you could not say that religion does not exist, simply because you disagree with it.

This was an argument against "If god does not exist, then the culture in support of it does not exist."


Would you tell me where the "if god does not exist, then the culture in support of it does not exist" argument came from. I find this very curious. Please be specific.

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Suzanne

See the majority of the first page of this thread, beginning around the 4th post.



Sat May 30, 2009 9:19 pm
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Wow, great responses guys. Here is an effort to respond to some earlier comments from Johnson. There are such a lot of good comments that I haven't yet got to all of them that I want to.

By the way Johnson, you might like an avatar. There is a famous Johnson whose picture is at http://www.abc.net.au/children/includes ... son_87.gif that you could consider, if you just chop off Michael's torso to get within Chris's 100x100 pixel limit. Johnson is the pink elephant and is Michael's favourite and oldest toy. His friends are the hot water bottle, the truck, the accordion and the robot. Sorry if it is not your style. :)
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johnson1010 wrote:
I enjoy debates with you RT for the simple fact that your position is unlike other defenders of religion. However, I do find your arguments faulty in many ways.
Thanks Johnson, I much prefer discussion with atheists because they are more honest than Christians. Christians tend to get very emotional about factual questions such as whether dogma is true or whether Jesus Christ existed as a person, whereas by and large atheists are more able to consider the evidence objectively. I have much sympathy for atheism, but as you would have noted, I also think atheism often brings a set of assumptions which are questionable, notably the belief that the empirical way of studying truth is the only valid method. My view is that empiricism is necessary but not sufficient, so I am suggesting a version of Christianity which is compatible with atheism, and arguing that this version is imbedded in the Bible.
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God is a mystical, magical word. It’s whole basis for existence is the description of a supernatural entity whose realm is that of magic and irrationality. That is what God is!
You say “what God is” is an entity - something that science finds grossly improbable if not impossible. Such 'entity' thinking is of course widespread, almost consensus, but is really a pre-modern vestige, constraining our ability to make productive use of religious texts. Your argument that the realm of God is 'irrationality' is strongly present in folk cults such as creationism, but goes completely against the Logos spirituality of the Bible which identifies God with reason. If we junk the idea of God as entity then the texts acquire greater utility. This is what Jack Spong, Tom Harpur and Acharya S advocate, based on scholarly investigation of themes such as how the Christian ideas were plagiarised from more ancient sources and how theism has become a corrupt and dangerous political device.

I am not alone in defining 'our God' as what we value most highly. This theory is present in the Biblical idea of false Gods. Some people go to church on Sunday and formally worship the Judeo-Christian God, but really most value their possessions, friendships, career, family, etc, and see religion as an instrument to serve their material ends. The Bible describes this attitude as idolatry, the worship of false Gods. Of course the claim regarding truth and falsity begs the question of whether the God promoted by the church is true, or just another form of idolatry, but the point is that the Bible defines what people value as a God to them, with sustainable values linked to a true God and unsustainable values linked to a false God. In ancient times people worshiped idols in a way that has lost favour – no one now explicitly worships their car as a God – but there is a continuity in the attitude of reverence for whatever you most value.

Using the term God in this way, as what we value most, Christianity, at least in the Bible if not the institutions, values the idea that the source of creation in the universe is manifest in our world in a spirit of truth, love, mercy and forgiveness. So Christians tend to invoke the God of truth, the God of Love, the God of Mercy, etc, equating these all with the creative source. Atheists, by contrast, value the idea that we should only support claims that have strong evidence, and demand logical argument rather than authoritarian tradition. So by this trope, atheists believe in the God of evidence, and the God of logic. This is no more to say atheists believe that logic is an entity than to say Christians believe love is an entity.

Where this use of God as highest value becomes interesting is that people become emotionally vested in their God. Just as Christians become annoyed when people question their God, atheists become annoyed at the suggestion that evidence and logic might not be sufficient to explain human spirituality. This annoyance is justified, because evidence and logic are important, but my point is that people have an emotional investment in their beliefs, and are often unaware of the hidden assumptions they are making.

Neil Gaiman provides a related argument in American Gods, that the existence of Gods is purely relational, dependent on people believing in them. Based on this framework, Gaiman pits the modern highest values – cell phones, iPods, the internet, shopping malls – against the gods of pagan mythology, suggesting a deeper meaning within the forgotten stories that still has power to resonate.

The Biblical idea that God is Love is a way of saying that people should make love their highest value. Much modern Christianity instead heretically reworks the Bible to claim God's blessing on people's material values. I suspect the resonance of Christianity is in decline partly in reaction against the irrationality of prosperity theology.
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‘Of course there are subtle hidden links at unknown levels. The world climate is interconnected and has many systemic links which science has not yet understood. …love, understood as hidden linkages, is essential for human life, and is somehow built in to the emergence of complexity.”
So then Love, as you have defined as god, is therefore intimately involved with the subtle hidden links at unknown levels throughout our reality. I call shenanigans on this sentiment. Feel-goodery is not responsible in any way for the climate or the natural mechanisms of the universe. It is a product of them.
In trying to understand the Biblical statement that God is Love, we need to be careful in defining love. It is not just talking about human sentiment, but claiming something embedded in reality. The claim, as I see it, is that (i) nature has an intrinsic tendency to build greater complexity, working against the general entropy, (ii) the greater the complexity of a system the greater the interconnectedness between its parts, and (iii) love can be equated with interconnectedness. In any complex ecosystem, there are dependencies or links which are hidden. For example, aspen forests in Yellowstone have a hidden dependency on wolves to prey on moose, and this is likely to be just at the more evident end of the spectrum.

Now, on your comment that 'feel-goodery is not responsible in any way for the climate', yes, but the climate does have hidden stabilisers, linkages and dependencies which we have to respect if we want to avoid catastrophe. So we could say, God so loved the world that he gave our planet four billion years of temperature between 0 and 100 degrees Celsius. This anthropomorphising of the world thermostat is not intended to suggest God exists as an intentional entity, but to say that the mysterious complexity of life, with the anthropic nature of the laws of physics, can be reconciled with the core Biblical idea that God is love.
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...to invent supernatural layers to add on top of the already daunting task of understanding the natural world ... stirs in confusion where we need clarity. It exists, as Interbane said, solely to salvage religious faith and does not contribute to our understanding of the universe. Love can be better understood as love, rather than as the manifestation of a, from your position, non-existent god which is really just a synonym for love in the first place. If it is just a synonym, lets not use it. It has many connotations not found in other synonyms such as affection. If it is a means to an end, such as keeping the use of god on life support, then it is a very useful practice, and not fully on the level.
The contribution to understanding is in the theme of grace – that our universe is so harsh, and complex life so unlikely and rare, that it is rational to postulate deeper levels of connectivity which sustain our life. By the grace of nature our world is not only unlike the dead planets of Venus and Mars, but has evolved the fantastic complexity of human language, enabling the cosmos to become self-reflective. My view is simply that the story of Jesus, centred on the idea of God as love, actually does help us to understand how human life has departed from the natural law of love, and the grave risks this poses for our future.

More Johnson pictures are at http://www.tvmem.com/OZST/tv/A-Z/J/JOHN ... NSON&.html



Sun May 31, 2009 4:31 am
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Robert Tulip wrote:
The contribution to understanding is in the theme of grace – that our universe is so harsh, and complex life so unlikely and rare, that it is rational to postulate deeper levels of connectivity which sustain our life. By the grace of nature our world is not only unlike the dead planets of Venus and Mars, but has evolved the fantastic complexity of human language, enabling the cosmos to become self-reflective. My view is simply that the story of Jesus, centred on the idea of God as love, actually does help us to understand how human life has departed from the natural law of love, and the grave risks this poses for our future.

Robert, I don't have a problem with how you choose to use some elements of Christianity to give yourself a framework of meaning for our existence. I simply think that your use of metaphor and myth is tailored to you very personally, and since there is certainly only one you, your program is not likely to suit others. Your views seem to be in Hitchens' category of the private and the optional.

Yet I do agree that there needs to be a framework in which we place ourselves and that Hitchens doesn't apparently see this need at all. His answer is a recommitment to the Enlightenment. Hitchens does complain about the solipsism of our species, but he doesn't mention that the greatest solipsism would be to refer all matters to human creation. This leads us to say that meaning is just a human construct and is not some real entity in the universe. I keep prattling about Stuart Kauffman because he gives us solid, scientific reasons for believing that meaning, agency, value, and purpose are not labels we have invented but are real entities, part of the "furniture" of the universe. We need to expand the scientific dogma of reductionism, he says, into a view that takes into account emergence and self-organization. This is real knowledge that should be tremendously encouraging.

His book, Reinventiing the Sacred, has many good passages. I make the bold prediction that you will agree with the following:

"Even in our lives in nature we are reduced to consumers, and our few remaining wild places, to commodities. But the value of these [national] parks is life itself and our participation in it.
This materialism profoundly dismays many thoughtful believers in both the Islamic world and the West. The industrialized world is seen to be, and is, largely consumer oriented, materialistic, and commodifided. How strange this world would seem to Medieval Europe. How alien it seems to fundamentalist Muslims. We of the industrialized world forget that our current value system is only one of a range of choices. We desperately need a global ethic that is richer than our mere concern about ourselves as consumers." (p. 9)

"Why does this matter to us? The reason is Weinberg's second famous dictum: 'The more we comprehend the universe, the more pointless it seems.' Once again, what about organisms evolving, values, doing, acting, meaning, history, and opera? Are these all not real, not part of the furniture of the universe? Is science to have nothing to say about it? To accept this is to resign oneself to an impoverished view of both science and the world. One can empathize with the reductionist philosophy. It seems so tough-minded and clearheaded. So much outstanding science has beeen accomplished under its influence and guidance. I empathize but do not agree that reductionism alone suffices to know the truth of the world, and more broadly to understand it." (p. 18)

For the creativity in the universe, a creativity that is only partially explainable by natural law (yet violates no natural laws), Kauffman chooses to use the word God. This is, however, a fully natural God.


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Tue Jun 02, 2009 4:13 pm
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DWill wrote:
Robert, I don't have a problem with how you choose to use some elements of Christianity to give yourself a framework of meaning for our existence. I simply think that your use of metaphor and myth is tailored to you very personally, and since there is certainly only one you, your program is not likely to suit others. Your views seem to be in Hitchens' category of the private and the optional.
Bill, the question of the mythic content of Christianity is actually subject of wide scholarly controversy, and while I have some original ideas on this, I am also trying to draw attention to the broader debate. For example, Acharya S in her book Suns of God examines the evidence for links between Christianity and the older religions of Egypt and India, demonstrating the systematic suppression of historical evidence by the church. The result of these demonstrated linkages is that there are widespread mythic patterns whose compelling explanation is that religion has a close bond with astronomy which has been denied by the church.

Fundamentalists may find these linkages repugnant, but more fool them.

This is not about ‘private and optional’ opinions, but about scientific analysis of the nature of religion. You argued that I take selective readings from the Bible to support the claim that Christianity believes that God is love. I feel you are rather unfair here. Theology has to have an internal logic, seeing some texts as central and others as less so. One text that has long been considered central regarding the teachings of Jesus is the story of the Greatest Commandment, copied below. You might describe my discussion of the Bible statement that God is love (1 John 4) as “private and optional”. Yes, but only if you resolutely ignore what the Bible says about love. At Matthew 22, Jesus is asked
Quote:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."


Now, I can see two options to read this.

I interpret the greatest commandment as Jesus saying love is the only way to know God, and that in knowing God, people can represent God through love of neighbour. So where there is love, we find God, where there is no love, God is absent. The implication is that God is love, as per 1 John. Again this is supported by Paul in Philippians 2, where he describes being united with Christ as ‘being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose’. So the spirit and purpose of Christian faith is love, and any departure from this love is a departure from Christ and God.

Your view, which I hope you don’t mind if I paraphrase, seems to say that (i) any discussion of God as anything but an entity is ruled out by cultural convention; (ii) love is not an entity; therefore (iii) God is not love. Your further implied step might be to suggest that since science has proved God is not an entity, all discussion of God is absurd, arbitrary and irrational.

This atheist manoeuvre asserts that dominant cultural expressions of Christianity, where the central teaching that God is love are ignored or distorted, have a monopoly on defining Christian faith. Dawkins makes the same straw man mistake by saying his purpose is to combat fundamentalism, and then ignoring the modern theological critiques of fundamentalism. It is easy to be an atheist if you restrict the debate to tearing down absurd conventional views and refuse to enter dialogue with more nuanced interpretations.

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Yet I do agree that there needs to be a framework in which we place ourselves and that Hitchens doesn't apparently see this need at all. His answer is a recommitment to the Enlightenment. Hitchens does complain about the solipsism of our species, but he doesn't mention that the greatest solipsism would be to refer all matters to human creation. This leads us to say that meaning is just a human construct and is not some real entity in the universe. I keep prattling about Stuart Kauffman because he gives us solid, scientific reasons for believing that meaning, agency, value, and purpose are not labels we have invented but are real entities, part of the "furniture" of the universe. We need to expand the scientific dogma of reductionism, he says, into a view that takes into account emergence and self-organization. This is real knowledge that should be tremendously encouraging.
Thanks Bill, this discussion of frameworks and entities is important. You are right about Hitchens’ recommitment to the Enlightenment. I have suggested, perhaps provocatively, that Hume and Russell take on an almost talismanic legendary quality in Hitchens’ worldview, which is ironic given that their aim was to illumine the false thinking of earlier dogmatic use of totems and talismans in Christianity.

What do you mean “the greatest solipsism would be to refer all matters to human creation”? Solipsism tends to be an individualistic idea, along the lines of Descartes’ fear that only his mind existed. Your comment seems to extend it to humanity as a whole, with the idea that all meaning is constructed rather than perceived.

I can’t agree with Kauffman’s discussion of meaning, value, and purpose as entities, any more than I could accept God or love as entities. It just looks like a category mistake. These ideas are labels for relational beliefs, and they require a believer in order to exist. ‘Entity’ seems to me to describe a thing made of matter, and while spiritual qualities obviously influence matter through the influence ideas have on decisions, those value qualities are not themselves entities. There is no meaning, value, and purpose except that conferred by people. Where God comes into the picture, in my view, is that such spiritual qualities can either be sustainable, pointing towards human flourishing, or unsustainable, pointing towards human destruction. My reading of the Bible, which I accept is original on this point, seeks to use the Beatitudes as a text for evolutionary biology, a framework for sustainable values. I think this is intellectually defensible, although rather counter to the dominant paradigm.
Quote:
His book, Reinventiing the Sacred, has many good passages. I make the bold prediction that you will agree with the following: "Even in our lives in nature we are reduced to consumers, and our few remaining wild places, to commodities. But the value of these [national] parks is life itself and our participation in it. This materialism profoundly dismays many thoughtful believers in both the Islamic world and the West. The industrialized world is seen to be, and is, largely consumer oriented, materialistic, and commodified. How strange this world would seem to Medieval Europe. How alien it seems to fundamentalist Muslims. We of the industrialized world forget that our current value system is only one of a range of choices. We desperately need a global ethic that is richer than our mere concern about ourselves as consumers." (p. 9)
I interpret this material against the clash between linear and cyclic worldviews. Modern values have internalised dynamic linear progress as their framework of meaning, justified by the material abundance of capitalism. However, as someone somewhere said, what profit a man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul? The problem is that the older pious soul thinking is mystical and illogical and stagnant and often factually incorrect. Hitchens has a clear perception of the practical superiority of Enlightenment thinking. However, I think he misses the symbolic, often cyclic, content of mythical thought, which is not about a rival empirical vision but a deeper vision of the lessons in stories.
Quote:
"Why does this matter to us? The reason is Weinberg's second famous dictum: 'The more we comprehend the universe, the more pointless it seems.' Once again, what about organisms evolving, values, doing, acting, meaning, history, and opera? Are these all not real, not part of the furniture of the universe? Is science to have nothing to say about it? To accept this is to resign oneself to an impoverished view of both science and the world. One can empathize with the reductionist philosophy. It seems so tough-minded and clearheaded. So much outstanding science has been accomplished under its influence and guidance. I empathize but do not agree that reductionism alone suffices to know the truth of the world, and more broadly to understand it." (p. 18) For the creativity in the universe, a creativity that is only partially explainable by natural law (yet violates no natural laws), Kauffman chooses to use the word God. This is, however, a fully natural God.

Weinberg’s comment derives from the modern empirical disproof of the old ideas about God as an entity who determines meaning. If we think of meaning as conferred by an objective God we lose the intrinsic involvement of people in the creation of meaning. Kauffman provides a useful re-writing, in your summary, by showing that meaning conferred by people has an objective quality and is not merely subjective. Part of the issue here is that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, so the deepest conferred meaning is aligned to the objective direction of the whole as creativity in the universe. I see a resonance between this ‘creativity in the universe’ and the Biblical idea of God as love.



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First, Robert, I hope you don't think that I'm attacking your beliefs. I do agree with Hitchens that the modern and necessary route for religion is for it to be optional and private, and I see its morphing into a "nebulous humanism" in a positive light, too (not dismissively as Hitchens does). By "private," I don't mean that everybody has to keep their belief and worship under wraps, only that they will recognize that their beliefs are theirs only, and however strongly they want to believe in them, there is no cause for proseltyzing. If we can say that right now the threat of proseltyzing Christianity is at bay, the next job would be to defang Islam. I hope Obama's diplomacy to the Muslim world can start to have this effect.

Once religion loses its ability to control us by fear (of punishment temporal and eternal), it becomes much less compelling, thank god. At that point, we become able to freely select whether to continue in the path worn by religion or to abandon it. The argument that I think we have around here is whether there are valuable traditions, habits, and beliefs from religion that can still serve us and may even be necessary to retain--whether we should throw out the baby with the bath water. I have always stated my friendliness to religion "tamed and sequestered" (Hitchens' words). I simply can't see how it can be anything, on balance, but good. Others still see even it as an obstacle to progress, but toward what progress exactly is unclear to me.

In an effort to find something that might still compel belief, I brought up Stuart Kauffman. His frank mission is to deliver us from the meaninglessness that physics has put us into, that everything will be reduced in the end, to particles in motion or strings vibrating. He shows us how the physicists themselves are rebelling against science's reductionistic orthodoxy, how the newer sciences of complexity and emergence are changing the landscape. And his defense against Weinberg's dictum is that meaning, purpose, doing, agency, are real in the universe and are at least partially beyond explanation through natural law. The agency of natural selection is at least partially unexplainable through physics; there is no way that the evolution of the biosphere as we have it could ever be predicted by physics. This radical, unpredictable creativity is where Kauffman invests his notion of God. This is where we might still be justified in seeing the miraculous. These qualities do not exist just because humans have named them; they are real entities--or if you prefer, existences--in the universe.

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"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

My only thought about this is that it is unobjectionable as a belief. What, though, makes it uniquely compelling? Aren't there other belief statements in other faiths that have a similar status? What makes a non-religious statement of ehtics any less or more compelling?

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s makes the same straw man mistake by saying his purpose is to combat fundamentalism, and then ignoring the modern theological critiques of fundamentalism. It is easy to be an atheist if you restrict the debate to tearing down absurd conventional views and refuse to enter dialogue with more nuanced interpretations.

But Dawkins prefaces his whole discussion with the statement that he is not talking about the philosophical or only vaguely Christian/Biblical ideas of God that also are floating around. He knows that there is nothing against these that can be argued. Hitchens. too, doesn't argue against that which does not ground itself in falsifiable assumptions about the world. I can't imagine why you would expect an atheist to be interested in dialogue about theology..

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What do you mean “the greatest solipsism would be to refer all matters to human creation”? Solipsism tends to be an individualistic idea, along the lines of Descartes’ fear that only his mind existed. Your comment seems to extend it to humanity as a whole, with the idea that all meaning is constructed rather than perceived.

I put myself in a partial bind here, because I define myself as a humanist, yet I want to find ultimate reference outside our humanity. Our species can be solipsistic as a whole, yes, when we make oursleves the measure of all things. If we end up using up the earth for our sakes, we will have taken solipsism to an extreme.

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I see a resonance between this ‘creativity in the universe’ and the Biblical idea of God as love.

I saw a link, too, but I wouldn't go this far toward anthropomorphism. This creativity is a pretty tough love, after all!


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DWill wrote:
First, Robert, I hope you don't think that I'm attacking your beliefs. I do agree with Hitchens that the modern and necessary route for religion is for it to be optional and private, and I see its morphing into a "nebulous humanism" in a positive light, too (not dismissively as Hitchens does). By "private," I don't mean that everybody has to keep their belief and worship under wraps, only that they will recognize that their beliefs are theirs only, and however strongly they want to believe in them, there is no cause for proseltyzing.
A couple of things here. I am actually not sure that I have any beliefs, in the sense of claims which I would defend against evidence or in the absence of evidence. I do have an interest in an evidence-based approach to Christianity, but this produces conclusions that are very different from church convention, suggesting a reformist direction to make faith compatible with atheism – paradoxical as that may sound. I hate the relativist implication of views being “private and optional” in that carried to extreme it puts scientific knowledge on a par with creationist rubbish. I agree with you that there is no cause to proselytize beliefs which are rubbish, but the worry is that this exclusion also prevents people from learning about things that are true.
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If we can say that right now the threat of proselytizing Christianity is at bay, the next job would be to defang Islam. I hope Obama's diplomacy to the Muslim world can start to have this effect. Once religion loses its ability to control us by fear (of punishment temporal and eternal), it becomes much less compelling, thank god. At that point, we become able to freely select whether to continue in the path worn by religion or to abandon it.
Control by fear is politically compelling, but intellectually bankrupt. Religion has induced skepticism through this approach. However, as I said earlier here, the Bible itself predicts such an outcome with the claim in the parable of wheat and tares that truth and lies would become so intermixed that people would be unable to separate them. Your options of continuing or abandoning are too stark – my view is we should recognise the church has been the rather poor custodian of deep wisdom, so we can hold on to that wisdom while abandoning the false framework in which it has been carried.
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The argument that I think we have around here is whether there are valuable traditions, habits, and beliefs from religion that can still serve us and may even be necessary to retain--whether we should throw out the baby with the bath water. I have always stated my friendliness to religion "tamed and sequestered" (Hitchens' words). I simply can't see how it can be anything, on balance, but good. Others still see even it as an obstacle to progress, but toward what progress exactly is unclear to me.
'Sequestering' reminds me of carbon capture and storage, sending CO2 into subterranean chambers never to surface again. I still think that the ethical message and archetypal myth of Christ has an intellectually persuasive content which is compatible with a rational atheist scientific perspective. So the 'Chinese wall' that Hitchens implies between religious belief and secular life impoverishes both. Your phrase 'what progress exactly' is very important. I argue the Gospels suggest a vision of ideal human purpose, and a frank recognition of the great divide between these ideas and actual worldly values. So the Bible contains a vision of progress that can stand up in debate against its detractors, who need to take seriously the central messages rather than continually pointing to the various obsolete ideas that surround this central message.
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In an effort to find something that might still compel belief, I brought up Stuart Kauffman. His frank mission is to deliver us from the meaninglessness that physics has put us into, that everything will be reduced in the end, to particles in motion or strings vibrating. He shows us how the physicists themselves are rebelling against science's reductionistic orthodoxy, how the newer sciences of complexity and emergence are changing the landscape. And his defense against Weinberg's dictum is that meaning, purpose, doing, agency, are real in the universe and are at least partially beyond explanation through natural law.
This is a big claim – that real things cannot be explained in principle - which seems to surreptitiously justify a magical worldview. I am now reading de Waal's Primates and Philosophers. The paradigm difference that he describes is more about uncovering the prejudices of conventional science rather than suggesting any new ways of thinking that are not compatible with science, which is how this line about Kauffman could be read. I would prefer to say that physics simply has not taken interest in the dimensions of meaning and purpose which are constructed by human agency because they are too complicated for it, and as a result, in the 'reductionistic orthodoxy', scientists have wrongly concluded that these human dimensions are incompatible with a scientific outlook. Freely willed acts are too complex to be predicted by physics, but that does not put them in principle beyond explanation.
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The agency of natural selection is at least partially unexplainable through physics; there is no way that the evolution of the biosphere as we have it could ever be predicted by physics.
This is a non sequitur. Your implication seems to be that evolution is incompatible with a mechanistic universe, whereas the beauty and elegance of evolutionary thought lies precisely in its natural logical structure, fully compatible with all evidence. You are right that contemporary physics has not, for instance, cracked Gaia's thermostat, but that does not make this mysterious observation unexplainable in principle.
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This radical, unpredictable creativity is where Kauffman invests his notion of God. This is where we might still be justified in seeing the miraculous. These qualities do not exist just because humans have named them; they are real entities--or if you prefer, existences--in the universe.
I have a different view. To me, unity with God is the ultimate purpose of human life, so God is a natural ethical goal rather than a miraculous gap in the laws of physics. I agree with you that naming does not bring things into existence at the cosmic level, but in our anthroposphere, naming has immense influence on the nature of entities. If we see meaning and purpose as defined and circumscribed by human intentions, as we generally do for anything that matters to us, it makes sense to say these “existences” are real because people have created them. Where I suggest the idea of God can usefully come into the frame is that our beliefs can either be sustainable or unsustainable, with sustainable beliefs aligned to God by definition, as an analytic proposition.
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My only thought about this [love is the greatest commandment] is that it is unobjectionable as a belief. What, though, makes it uniquely compelling? Aren't there other belief statements in other faiths that have a similar status? What makes a non-religious statement of ethics any less or more compelling?
What I like about the Christian vision is that it claims an ultimate status for the human ethic of love. Yes, we might construct a new secular ethic which has equivalent power and meaning, but why would we when we have the option of reforming Christianity?
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Dawkins prefaces his whole discussion with the statement that he is not talking about the philosophical or only vaguely Christian/Biblical ideas of God that also are floating around. He knows that there is nothing against these that can be argued. Hitchens. too, doesn't argue against that which does not ground itself in falsifiable assumptions about the world. I can't imagine why you would expect an atheist to be interested in dialogue about theology.
Well, God Is Not Great and The God Delusion do seem to be arguments about theology, that it is all a crock. It is intellectually dishonest to attack the debased popular forms of a belief and refuse to engage with its intellectually coherent defenders, while tarring those defenders with the brush of their debased associates. It would be like a Christian attacking social Darwinism and refusing to listen to explanations that this is a debased popular form of evolutionary thought.
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I put myself in a partial bind here, because I define myself as a humanist, yet I want to find ultimate reference outside our humanity. Our species can be solipsistic as a whole, yes, when we make ourselves the measure of all things. If we end up using up the earth for our sakes, we will have taken solipsism to an extreme.
This is an interesting analogy between solipsism and individualism. Solipsism is the absurd idea that only I exist, whereas selfish individualism is its unethical conclusion. Again, de Waal's critique of rational autonomy as a moral theory without evolutionary basis is very telling here. Obviously we need an ultimate reference outside humanity, in that we physically depend on the health of the planet for our continued existence. Global warming is the obvious example, with selfish use of fossil fuels regardless of the consequences causing high risk of climatic catastrophe.
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I see a resonance between this ‘creativity in the universe’ and the Biblical idea of God as love.
I saw a link, too, but I wouldn't go this far toward anthropomorphism. This creativity is a pretty tough love, after all!
I look forward to discussing anthropomorphism which I suspect is misused by de Waal. Creativity, in Kauffman's analysis, is compatible with a rigorous scientific outlook. I would argue the use of the term God as a collected description of love is equally reasonable. It is not about imagining human characteristics displayed in non-human reality, but saying that an anthropic quality of objective reality manifests itself in love as the saving grace of humanity.



Thu Jun 11, 2009 4:58 am
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I hate the relativist implication of views being “private and optional” in that carried to extreme it puts scientific knowledge on a par with creationist rubbish. I agree with you that there is no cause to proselytize beliefs which are rubbish, but the worry is that this exclusion also prevents people from learning about things that are true.

Robert, I don't see an alternative to the particular cloaking of religious beliefs being considered private and optional. This is not to denigrate the power that these views have for individuals and groups. If the views are rubbish, what happens? The believers will in some manner suffer the consequences of their beliefs. They might be marginalized, or they might actually prosper as the Mormons do. No reasonable person would put creationism on a par with science. If unreasonable people try to inject creationsim into the mainstream, it is then our duty to put those people back in their place.

I also think that prosletyzing is never justified, no matter how highly one regards his views and how strongly he thinks they need to be adopted by others.
Quote:
'Sequestering' reminds me of carbon capture and storage, sending CO2 into subterranean chambers never to surface again. I still think that the ethical message and archetypal myth of Christ has an intellectually persuasive content which is compatible with a rational atheist scientific perspective. So the 'Chinese wall' that Hitchens implies between religious belief and secular life impoverishes both. Your phrase 'what progress exactly' is very important. I argue the Gospels suggest a vision of ideal human purpose, and a frank recognition of the great divide between these ideas and actual worldly values. So the Bible contains a vision of progress that can stand up in debate against its detractors, who need to take seriously the central messages rather than continually pointing to the various obsolete ideas that surround this central message.

But it's not debate or argument that will make this acceptance happen. And if your interpretation is accepted, what then? It doesn't mean that any transformation will be forthcoming. I fail to see how you can enforce an emotional commitment to any interpretation.
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This is a big claim – that real things cannot be explained in principle - which seems to surreptitiously justify a magical worldview. I am now reading de Waal's Primates and Philosophers. The paradigm difference that he describes is more about uncovering the prejudices of conventional science rather than suggesting any new ways of thinking that are not compatible with science, which is how this line about Kauffman could be read. I would prefer to say that physics simply has not taken interest in the dimensions of meaning and purpose which are constructed by human agency because they are too complicated for it, and as a result, in the 'reductionistic orthodoxy', scientists have wrongly concluded that these human dimensions are incompatible with a scientific outlook. Freely willed acts are too complex to be predicted by physics, but that does not put them in principle beyond explanation.

Well, all he is saying is that a freely willed act cannot be reduced to physics alone, just as natural selection can't be. He is not saying that science should have no role in continuing to reveal to us properties of history, the economy, and all of human and non-human life. "Explanation" might not be the best word to use. It is that natural selection, among many other phenomena, cannot be reduced to natural law, though it violates no laws. A natural law is a" compact descripton, available beforehand, of the regularities of a process." Kauffman says it will never be possible to "prestate" all the conditions or regularities that apply in natural selection. We'd have to know all the Darwinian preadaptations, all the novel functionalities that could emerge, all the possible selective environments that could exist. So we just need to have different expectations when we engage the science of emergence. We will find that prediction will sometimes be beyond us when "the explanatory arrows point up" rather than down as in conventional physics.
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Your implication seems to be that evolution is incompatible with a mechanistic universe, whereas the beauty and elegance of evolutionary thought lies precisely in its natural logical structure, fully compatible with all evidence. You are right that contemporary physics has not, for instance, cracked Gaia's thermostat, but that does not make this mysterious observation unexplainable in principle.

Kauffman's idea is that evolution is incompatible with a universe in which mechanism is the ONLY thing that's real. Another thing Kauffman implies about Darwinism--in which he fully believes--is that we may THINK it physically explains everything we need to know about natural selection, when it does not. Without a proper appreciation of emergence, Darwin is incomplete.
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Yes, we might construct a new secular ethic which has equivalent power and meaning, but why would we when we have the option of reforming Christianity?

It seems to be a lot less bother not to have to convert everyone.


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Mon Jun 15, 2009 4:11 pm
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