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Ch. 12: For Goodness Sake 
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Post Ch. 12: For Goodness Sake
Ch. 12: For Goodness Sake

Please use this thread for discussing this chapter. :P



Tue Oct 14, 2008 10:12 pm
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Post Be good for goodness' sake
Thus far, I've mercilessly ragged on Barker and his tendency to argue against rather mundane and simplistic religious beliefs, but to some extent I'm playing Devil's advocate (har har). I'll grant that he certainly has his finer moments. In Ch. 12, predominantly a discussion about morality, Barker eloquently espouses a naturalistic worldview. I thought this section, in particular, was worth repeating here.

Quote:
Since "god" has never been defined, much less proved, its "image" can't be used as a basis for anything. "Nature" on the other hand, means something. Darwinism shows us that all living organisms are the result of a natural evolutionary process. We have been fashioned by the laws of nature.

This revelation can only fail to impress you if you have been taught that there is something wrong with nature, something shameful about being a mere animal in a debased realm beneath the supernatural, whatever that is. Many theists seem eager to play this game of nature bashing. The "blind chance" of evolution, they say, is a brute force incapable of producing something as "lofty" as humans.

But evolution is not blind chance. It is design that incorporates randomness-not intelligent design, but design by the laws of nature, by the limited number of ways atoms interact mathematically and molecules combine geometrically. It is design by extinction, by the way a changing environment automatically disallows organisms that happen not to be adapted, leaving the "fittest" behind, if any. The randomness of genetic variation is a strength of evolution, providing a greater chance that something will survive.

This is amazing. Instead of speculating about an unknown "creator," we can actually look at our origins. Evolution shows how complexity arises from simplicity. Creationism can't do that. Creationism tries to explain complexity with more complexity with more complexity, which only replaces one mystery with another mystery. If functional complexit requires a designer, then how do you account for the functional complexity of the mind of the designer?

Darwin's enlightening concept is empirical, testable, provable and relevant to creatures that inhabit a physical planet. It shows us who we really are. We are not above nature. We are not just a part of nature. We are nature. We are natural creatures in a natural environment. Through the startlingly sloppy, painfully unpredictable, part-random, part-determined process of natural selection, life has become what it is" imperfect yet doggedly hanging on.

And that's what makes life valuable: it didn't have to be. It is dear. It is fleeting. it is vibrant and vulnerable. It is heart breaking. It can be lost.

It will be lost.

But we exist now. We are caring, intelligent animals and can treasure our brief lives. Why is eternal better than temporal, or supernatural "higher" than natural? Doesn't rarity increase value? God is an idea, not a natural creature. Why should his "image" be more valuable than our own "nature?" What right does an immaterial existence-a ghost in the sky-have to tell us natural creatures what is valuable?

If we were created in his unknowable image, then we have no idea who we are. But being fashioned in the "image of nature." we do know who we are and we can find out more. Right in our backyard, here on earth, we can investigate, study, and continue to improve conditions on tbhis planet. It wasn't faith that eradicated smallpox. Contemplating the "image of god" will not cure cancer or AIDS.

Science has given us much. What has theology ever provided?

Theology has given us hell.

The threat of damnation is designed to be an incentive to right action, but this is a phony morality. Humanists think we should do good for goodness' sake, not for the selfish prospect of reaping individual rewards or avoiding punishment. Any ideology that makes its point by threatening violence is morally bankrupt. (Hitler's horrible ovens were at least relatively quick. The torment Jesus promised is a "fire that shall never be quenched.") Anyone who believes in hell is at heart not moral at all.

If the only way you can be forced to be kind to others is by the threat of hell, that shows how little you think of yourself. If the only way you can be motivated to be kind to others is by the promise of heaven, that shows how little you think of others.

Most atheists will say, "Be good for goodness' sake!"


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Thu Dec 11, 2008 4:20 pm
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geo book quote
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If the only way you can be forced to be kind to others is by the threat of hell, that shows how little you think of yourself. If the only way you can be motivated to be kind to others is by the promise of heaven, that shows how little you think of others.

Most atheists will say, "Be good for goodness' sake!"


Our goodness is better than yours. I think this is pretty discriminatory. Every person is an individual, not a carbon copy of others in the same group as they. 'Most atheist will say'....how does he know and who cares. Everyone has ulterior motives for what they do. Many people belong to religious organizations because they like to help others and they feel good inside about doing good...not because they are afraid that if they don't they will go to hell. Belief in God provides many people with a good feeling that in turn prompts them to share that good feeling with others.
There are moral people everywhere, with or without belief in God.



Thu Dec 11, 2008 7:52 pm
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realiz wrote:
geo book quote
Quote:
If the only way you can be forced to be kind to others is by the threat of hell, that shows how little you think of yourself. If the only way you can be motivated to be kind to others is by the promise of heaven, that shows how little you think of others.

Most atheists will say, "Be good for goodness' sake!"


Our goodness is better than yours. I think this is pretty discriminatory. Every person is an individual, not a carbon copy of others in the same group as they. 'Most atheist will say'....how does he know and who cares. Everyone has ulterior motives for what they do. Many people belong to religious organizations because they like to help others and they feel good inside about doing good...not because they are afraid that if they don't they will go to hell. Belief in God provides many people with a good feeling that in turn prompts them to share that good feeling with others.
There are moral people everywhere, with or without belief in God.


It's true that Barker is a little one-dimensional in his thinking about religion, but it's also true that many, many people claim to base their morality on the Bible. In fact, it comes from somewhere else; it comes from us. People knew it was wrong to kill long before the Bible came along. The Bible just codified what was already embraced as moral behavior. That some people pretend otherwise is plain dishonest.

Otherwise, I agree that the church provides a kind of infrastructure for people to do good and it's not because they're scared of going to hell.


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Thu Dec 11, 2008 9:33 pm
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Post Re: Be good for goodness' sake
Quote:
But evolution is not blind chance. It is design that incorporates randomness-not intelligent design, but design by the laws of nature, by the limited number of ways atoms interact mathematically and molecules combine geometrically.

Is the force of creativity in nature as shown in the generation of random mutations and Darwinian pre-adptations something that is really understood, or is to say it is understood to commit to an illusion? To call all aspects of these processes lawful would mean that we have defined and mapped out their regularities, that we can make predictions based on this knowledge--at least I think it would. Some would say that we cannot do this yet, but with more science we will. Others, such as the complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman, say that we come up against a limitation of the main tool of science, which is reductionism, or explaining larger processes in terms of ever smaller ones. The arrows always point down in our science, he says. Somehow we must learn to understand how the arrows can point up. In this, too, science can be an aid, but science will have to change its focus, he also says, in order to understand processes that are only in part lawful. The other, unlawful parts express the force of creativity that Kauffman prefers to call God in purely naturalistic terms. Others prefer to call it God in anthropomorphic terms. He sees no great need to argue about the terms. If this appears to introduce mysticism into the debate, he says all the better. His goal is to "reinvent the sacred." I don't understand Kauffman fully, probably won't without some help, but have a hunch that he is key.

It's fair to castigate creationists for the backwardness of their beliefs, but I think strict honesty as well as desirable humility demands that we not paper over what might not be explained, or perhaps explainable, by current scientific theory.



Fri Dec 12, 2008 12:16 am
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Quote:
It's fair to castigate creationists for the backwardness of their beliefs, but I think strict honesty as well as desirable humility demands that we not paper over what might not be explained, or perhaps explainable, by current scientific theory.


Maybe it is fair to criticize creationist for their beliefs, but if we are talking about morality in behavior, I don't think it is fair to say that the reasons you act mean more than the act itself. If someone stopped to help me change a flat tire, I would be thankful regardless if their reason was only to get themselves to heaven. But, if there were a God, would he care about the motivation behind our actions? A completely unselfish act would probably mean more than a kind act for selfish purposes, one might think.



Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:19 pm
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Post Re: Be good for goodness' sake
DWill wrote:
Quote:
But evolution is not blind chance. It is design that incorporates randomness-not intelligent design, but design by the laws of nature, by the limited number of ways atoms interact mathematically and molecules combine geometrically.

Is the force of creativity in nature as shown in the generation of random mutations and Darwinian pre-adptations something that is really understood, or is to say it is understood to commit to an illusion? To call all aspects of these processes lawful would mean that we have defined and mapped out their regularities, that we can make predictions based on this knowledge--at least I think it would. Some would say that we cannot do this yet, but with more science we will. Others, such as the complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman, say that we come up against a limitation of the main tool of science, which is reductionism, or explaining larger processes in terms of ever smaller ones. The arrows always point down in our science, he says. Somehow we must learn to understand how the arrows can point up. In this, too, science can be an aid, but science will have to change its focus, he also says, in order to understand processes that are only in part lawful. The other, unlawful parts express the force of creativity that Kauffman prefers to call God in purely naturalistic terms. Others prefer to call it God in anthropomorphic terms. He sees no great need to argue about the terms. If this appears to introduce mysticism into the debate, he says all the better. His goal is to "reinvent the sacred." I don't understand Kauffman fully, probably won't without some help, but have a hunch that he is key.

It's fair to castigate creationists for the backwardness of their beliefs, but I think strict honesty as well as desirable humility demands that we not paper over what might not be explained, or perhaps explainable, by current scientific theory.


I don't think Barker is saying we are close to understanding the kind of complexity that encompasses all of nature. That would be absurd. Scientists, too, generally are concerned with their specific realm of scientific study-and probably don't see the bigger picture (the forest for the trees). I don't know anything about Kauffman, but I have read some of Steven Strogatz's discussion of complex systems. The human brain is an example of a complex system, which means that the individual components work together in ways that we don't understand. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. When a thought occurs in the brain, millions of synapses fire off in absolute synchronicity, and we have no idea how it all works. Strogatz says we are probably hundreds of years from figuring it out, if ever. In fact, we would have to invent a new kind of mathematics. Weather is a complex system too, which is why we simply cannot predict it beyond a day or two. That's why I'm always skeptical about some of the specific predictions related to global warming. It seems obvious that pumping all of those carbons into the atmosphere could potentially raise global temperatures and maybe current warming is human-caused, but really weather systems are far too complex for such simplistic renderings. We have no idea how much or how fast, or if at all, global warming is occurring. We just don't have all of the information.

Strogatz, by the way, wrote a book called Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life, which would be great to discus here sometime.

So, granted, science is not going to answer all of our questions about nature and the universe. But clearly it's the best thing we have. Scientific study continues to yield enormous benefits for the human race. The benefit of religion is miniscule in comparison and, indeed, it can be argued actually does much more harm than good. If anything, religion gives us a false, delusional sense of "meaning," so the "benefit" isn't even real. It's illusionary.

Despite the limitations of science, evolution is key to helping us understand our naturalistic world. In that respect, Darwin is a vastly more important figure than the mythical Jesus and, yet, how many people actually study evolution or understand even on a rudimentary level. Here we are, more than 150 years after the Origin of Species was written and less than half of Americans even accept evolution as a mechanism that explains the process of change in all forms of life over generations. I suppose it took hundreds of years before the majority of people began to accept the heliocentric model of the solar system as well. Progress on some fronts is painfully slow.


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Last edited by geo on Sat Dec 13, 2008 3:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.



Sat Dec 13, 2008 12:14 pm
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Dwill
To call all aspects of these processes lawful would mean that we have defined and mapped out their regularities, that we can make predictions based on this knowledge.


Science can and does make predictions based off of that type of knowledge and they are more often than not correct.

Later


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Sat Dec 13, 2008 1:01 pm
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I think it would be a good idea to do Stogatz's book or maybe Kauffman's latest, Reinventing the Sacred. The tone of the passage from Barker that you quoted struck me as somewhat more complacent than warranted, as though science has already answered these questions, when maybe it has just made a start, compared to what still is to be known. Another question is whether science can answer questions deeply enough to satisfy people's need for meaning. We may know basically how a natural process works, yet we may feel a lack of knowing about it just the same. If the science turns out to be incomprehensible to non-scientists--a definite possibility when even scientists might not understand what is being done in an adjoining lab--the problem is compounded. These are just cautionary statements about an endeavor, science, that has been spectacularly successful.

The feeling that Richard Dawkins describes of being awed by nature arises partly from the sense of not understanding it, I think. Dawkins does not think there is anything mystical about this awe, but I disagree; feeling oneself in the presence of something so much greater than oneself is key to mystical experience. To me, if one doesn't feel this way about nature, one is not just missing out on something, but is missing something, not noticing. Science doesn't have it all wrapped up, concerning matters of meaning, and I think probably most scientists would agree.



Sat Dec 13, 2008 1:10 pm
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Frank 013 wrote:
Science can and does make predictions based off of that type of knowledge and they are more often than not correct.

Undoubtedly. But if there are areas of inherent unpredictability--including aspects of natural selection, human history and the economy, perhaps weather systems--then science has something different to reckon with, the presence of unlawful phenomena. The ambition of physics to reduce everything in the universe to particles in motion, predictable with enough data inputs, will then be finally impossible.



Sat Dec 13, 2008 1:21 pm
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DWill
Undoubtedly. But if there are areas of inherent unpredictability--including aspects of natural selection, human history and the economy, perhaps weather systems--then science has something different to reckon with, the presence of unlawful phenomena.


There is no evidence that I am aware of that concludes that there is any such unlawful phenomena, although I agree that we haven't discovered everything and we lack the technology and computing power to include all known possible lawful elements in any future models of our world.

But the fact that science can and does predict things like the number of generations between species based off of the geological record and is proven correct by genetic testing says something about the knowledge acquired so far.

While the predictions made by religion are, and have always been, vague and less than reliable.

Later


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