Time: God vs. Science

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Time has an interesting article on God vs. Science which includes an interview with Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins.

The article points out how the Intelligent Design movement may have inadvertantly given science a much needed boost, as more and more scientists express their frustrations with the level of scientific vacuity of this new form of creationism. Even more ironically, ID may have provided atheists a much needed boost.

Like Freudianism before it, the field of evolutionary psychology generates theories of altruism and even of religion that do not include God. Something called the multiverse hypothesis in cosmology speculates that ours may be but one in a cascade of universes, suddenly bettering the odds that life could have cropped up here accidentally, without divine intervention.

Some have wondered why such pro-ID blogs as Uncommon Descent seem to have abandoned much of anything relevant to Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor and instead are focusing on people like Richard Dawkins. Looking at Amazon rankings, it is clear that the works by these authors ranks high, especially compared to that of prominent ID authors.

Dawkins is riding the crest of an atheist literary wave. In 2004, The End of Faith, a multipronged indictment by neuroscience grad student Sam Harris, was published (over 400,000 copies in print). Harris has written a 96-page follow-up, Letter to a Christian Nation, which is now No. 14 on the Times list. Last February, Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett produced Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, which has sold fewer copies but has helped usher the discussion into the public arena. If Dennett and Harris are almost-scientists (Dennett runs a multidisciplinary scientific-philosophic program), the authors of half a dozen aggressively secular volumes are card carriers: In Moral Minds, Harvard biologist Marc Hauser explores the—nondivine—origins of our sense of right and wrong (September); In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast (due in January) by self-described “atheist-reductionist-materialist” biologist Lewis Wolpert, religion is one of those impossible things; Victor Stenger, a physicist-astronomer, has a book coming out titled God: The Failed Hypothesis. Meanwhile, Ann Druyan, widow of archskeptical astrophysicist Carl Sagan, has edited Sagan’s unpublished lectures on God and his absence into a book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience, out this month.

While some opponents of Dawkins have chosen to attack Dawkins, not on a scientific foundation but on biblical foundations, there are some who have chosen a path of reconciliation.

Informed conciliators have recently become more vocal. Stanford University biologist Joan Roughgarden has just come out with Evolution and Christian Faith, which provides what she calls a “strong Christian defense” of evolutionary biology, illustrating the discipline’s major concepts with biblical passages. Entomologist Edward O. Wilson, a famous skeptic of standard faith, has written The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth, urging believers and non-believers to unite over conservation. But foremost of those arguing for common ground is Francis Collins.

Collins, in the interview, points out that “I don’t see that Professor Dawkins’ basic account of evolution is incompatible with God’s having designed it.”

COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.

Dawkins sees this as a ‘cop out’ but his argument is not much better, as it is based on his personal disbelief that God would use such a roundabout way to create.

DAWKINS: I think that’s a tremendous cop-out. If God wanted to create life and create humans, it would be slightly odd that he should choose the extraordinarily roundabout way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years until you got human beings capable of worshipping and sinning and all the other things religious people are interested in.

In fact, as I will argue elsewhere, by using evolutionary pathways, God ensured that such fundamentals as a natural law of morality or moral grammar could evolve based on the simple premises of kinship selection and reciprocal altruism. Both are fundamental to evolutionary theory and Biblical teachings.

While there will always be people on both sides who insist that Darwinian theory is incompatible with religious faith, and thus either Darwin’s theory has to go or religious faith, reality is that the two may be intricately combined. Or as a recent paper in Zygon suggests: evolutionary dynamics form the basis for Biblical ethics (Teehan, THE EVOLUTIONARY BASIS OF RELIGIOUS ETHICS). I can’t see how such a finding would be objectionable to both religious people and atheists.

From a religious perspective it shows how God’s Creation evolved into God’s Image, including such concepts as morality, ethics, language while from an Atheistic perspective the addition of a God may be argued to be superfluous.

And yet, there are still some who argue that Darwinian theory should be rejected as it is incompatible with religious faith and leads to such evils as social Darwinism, eugenics and other societal evils (West, Wiker, Dembski). Would it not be ironic if it turns out that these evils where the outcome of God’s Creation, providing us with free will?

Perhaps, that may be what causes creationists most concern, the realization that in the end, we are personally responsible for our own actions, even though we believe they are based on solid scientific or religious foundations.

Postscript: Intelligent Design may have caused significant damage to Christian faith as well as enabled atheists to make a powerful attack on religion by insisting that Darwinian theory is not just flawed by at odds with religious faith. In addition, ID made pseudo-scientific claims that science could actually provide evidence of ‘design’ where these concepts were sufficiently vague to confuse both opponents and proponents of these ideas. In response, countless scientists have spoken out against these scientifically vacuous concepts and many atheists have taken the opportunity to present not only the vacuity of intelligent design but powerful explanations why, in a scenario of either Darwinian theory or ID, ID may have to be abandoned. In fact, it seems to me that ID has presented the most powerful weapons of its own destruction to its worst enemies, and I am not talking about science here but about the christian faith.

146 Comments

PvM quoted Dawkins:

DAWKINS: I think that’s a tremendous cop-out. If God wanted to create life and create humans, it would be slightly odd that he should choose the extraordinarily roundabout way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years until you got human beings capable of worshipping and sinning and all the other things religious people are interested in.

Dawkins is fantastic at explaining the power and wonders of cumulative natural selection, and I will strongly recommend his The Blind Watchmaker and in particular, Climbing Mount Improbable, anytime. However, in philosophy Dawkins is plain uninformed and shallow, and thus, his book The God Delusion will only convert fence sitters who are philosophically uninformed themselves. I personally was not offended by it, just very amused.

Collins gives the answer in PvM’s quote:

COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out, perhaps even including our having this conversation. The idea that he could both foresee the future and also give us spirit and free will to carry out our own desires becomes entirely acceptable.

Exactly. God does not need to “wait” for billions of years, since he is outside time. Dawkins’s argument — one that rehashes a standard objection of atheists — therefore is silly.

PvM wrote:

In fact, it seems to me that ID has presented the most powerful weapons of its own destruction to its worst enemies, and I am not talking about science here but about the Christian faith.

Yes, it’s a shame. I have come to see evolution as a most amazing way of unfolding of God’s creation, and I also believe that God obviously was intelligent enough to create the laws of nature in such a way that they allowed for an origin of life by natural causes — I would be disappointed if ultimately it could only be explained by a miraculous intervention (something that I do not assume for one moment). Religious people should fully and wholeheartedly embrace science — from a theistic perspective, its findings suggest a grander vision of God than ever before, a reason for great excitement. Along the way, they should realize (just like atheists should) that the methodological materialism of science does not imply philosophical materialism. The idea that there is nothing outside science — an idea that atheists have every right to entertain if they choose to — is not a scientific idea, but a philosophical one.

Although I agree with the basic thrust of this article, I would be reluctant to equate the idea of “a natural law of morality” with “Biblical teachings”. The origin of our sense of ethics is an infinitely-debatable philosophical (and, perhaps scientific) issue, but the _Biblical_ position, among those Christians who regard the Bible as the inerrant word of God, at least, is simple; Biblical morality consists in following the arbitary dictates of God as laid down in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 Corinthians, etc. Morality can’t be derived from nature, or from our own feelings; it can only be ascertained by reading The Book, no matter how unpleasant or counter to “natural” morality some of the Bible’s teachings may be.

Of course, many, if not most, Christians _do_ follow a more reasonable set of moral principles. However, I still think it would be incorrect to describe such principles as “Biblical”.

Collins, in the interview, points out that “I don’t see that Professor Dawkins’ basic account of evolution is incompatible with God’s having designed it.”

Of course evolution is not incompatible with religious faith, since god can be invoked to explain anything. I’m not sure god is a failed hypothesis so much as it’s a vacuous and useless one.

Why is it that “informed conciliators” always seem to refuse to address this fault and instead pretend god is a sensible option in the absence of disproof? What an intellectually dishonest standard of evidence.

He is “outside of space and time” is a deep philosophical argument? Theology is in worse shape than I could have imagined.

In fact, as I will argue elsewhere, by using evolutionary pathways, God ensured that such fundamentals as a natural law of morality or moral grammar could evolve based on the simple premises of kinship selection and reciprocal altruism. Both are fundamental to evolutionary theory and Biblical teachings.

Morality doesn’t set Christianity and its Bible apart from any other religion that preaches threats and promises in an afterlife for your behavior.

And the kind of morality in the Bible, both new and old testament versions, seems rather unworkable in the modern world.

Only your utter vagueness about what Christianity says about God lets you see a parallel.

Intelligent Design may have caused significant damage to Christian faith as well as enabled atheists to make a powerful attack on religion…

Intelligent Design is not the only thing that has done “significant damage to Christian faith.”

When one thinks about people like Ted Haggard Christianity starts looking rather sick.

When one thinks about 9/11, religion itself doesn’t look like a healthy thing.

This is how Dawkins ends his part of the debate:

DAWKINS: My mind is not closed, as you have occasionally suggested, Francis. My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. What I am skeptical about is the idea that whatever wonderful revelation does come in the science of the future, it will turn out to be one of the particular historical religions that people happen to have dreamed up. When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable—but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.

Any attempt to combine evolution with theology is post-hoc, and done solely as a means of salvaging belief in the face of contradictory evidence. So the question is not whether it can be done, but whether it should be done.

Myers Wrote:

He is “outside of space and time” is a deep philosophical argument? Theology is in worse shape than I could have imagined.

Perhaps a better statement would be that the statement is more of a scientific argument…

So let’s for the moment accept that God was there at the beginning of Creation, yet via Quantum Theory He would indeed reside outside space and time (quantum time and quantum length).

As a scientists I can at least reconcile such a faith with science. YMMV

I’d love to read the paper on the evolutionary basis for Christian ethics. Though I’m having a hard time understanding the link to the “image of God”. That Judeo-Christian term I’d say refers to the possibility that God can indwell us- it uses the same Hebrew word as idols, and is the idea that the spirit has a seat in the physical realm- an idol, or a human. I’m not sure that I see the evolutionary precursor to that- but it would be interesting to find out.

PvM wrote:

Myers wrote:

He is “outside of space and time” is a deep philosophical argument? Theology is in worse shape than I could have imagined.

Perhaps a better statement would be that the statement is more of a scientific argument…

Really? You can make that “God is outside of space and time” a falsifiable hypothesis?

COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time.

When I see comments like this, and the word “silly” comes to mind, it is not of the critics of such self-serving gibberish that I am thinking. A clearer example of the victory of desire over intellect I cannot imagine.

It also sounds oddly familiar…something about a chap in red getting around the world in one night. And no, sorry, it isn’t any more sophisticated than that. It’s just an older audience using larger vocabulary.

PvM Wrote:

So let’s for the moment accept that God was there at the beginning of Creation

Er, if God “was there,” he was present in space. And if he was there “at the beginning,” he was present in time. If, however, God exists outside space and time, we should be able to formulate this without reference to spatial or temporal terms. Anyone game to try?

Indeed, the argument that God exists outside time and space has deep philosophical problems, not the least of which is how anything can exist without temporal or spatial dimensions.

Morality doesn’t set Christianity and its Bible apart from any other religion that preaches threats and promises in an afterlife for your behavior.

And the kind of morality in the Bible, both new and old testament versions, seems rather unworkable in the modern world.

Only your utter vagueness about what Christianity says about God lets you see a parallel.

And you concluded all that before even hearing the arguments? Interesting.

Perhaps it would help if I tell you that threats and promises are both explained by an evolutionary foundation in kinship selection and reciprocal altruism?

would it help that the author of the paper, Teehan, goes through Biblical examples to show how they relate to these concepts?

Would it help to understand that evolutionary ethics does not explain everything?

Would it help to understand that a moral grammar, as also found in the bible, helps in fact present day society to function?

I’m not sure god is a failed hypothesis so much as it’s a vacuous and useless one.

Scientifically speaking it probably is but there is more than science.

Really? You can make that “God is outside of space and time” a falsifiable hypothesis?

As falsifiable as the Big Bang at least which originates in a time and space beyond science’s direct visibilities.

If we accept as scientists the existence that there is time and space outside our direct observations, then the statement that God lives outside time and space is fully consistent with both the Big Bang theory as well as Quantum Theory. Can it be falsified? I do not know.

Indeed, the argument that God exists outside time and space has deep philosophical problems, not the least of which is how anything can exist without temporal or spatial dimensions.

Outside our space and time dimensions…

PvM Wrote:

Would it help to understand that a moral grammar, as also found in the bible, helps in fact present day society to function?

A moral grammar may indeed help society to function. I would query - no, I would go as far as denying - that such a grammar is to be found in the Bible. Possibly in some specific words of Jesus (which can also be found in Confucius, Aristotle, Kant, and any moralist of any religious persuasion), but not in the Bible as a whole.

Would it help to understand that a moral grammar, as also found in the bible, helps in fact present day society to function?

You mean the parts where it says to kill all the little boys and keep the little girls to ourselves? Stone sabbath-breakers? Stone non-virgins on their father’s doorsteps? Kill gays?

You mean the parts where it says to kill all the little boys and keep the little girls to ourselves? Stone sabbath-breakers? Stone non-virgins on their father’s doorsteps? Kill gays?

Yes. These actually make quite good evolutionary sense, of course, they need not make for good morals but that’s the beauty of the moral grammar… So yes, I believe a good case can be made for these instances as found in the Biblical teachings as founded in evolutionary processes or principles.

Could you remind me where the Bible speaks about killing gays?

Scientifically speaking it probably is but there is more than science.

I meant in every sense.

Scientifically speaking it probably is but there is more than science.

I meant it in every sense.

I’m not sure god is a failed hypothesis so much as it’s a vacuous and useless one.

PvM Wrote:

Scientifically speaking it probably is but there is more than science.

I meant it in every sense.

Then I politely disagree with your evaluation.

PvM Wrote:

Could you remind me where the Bible speaks about killing gays?

Seriously? Leviticus 20:13. “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Note particularly the “both of them”.

PvM wrote:

And you concluded all that before even hearing the arguments? Interesting.

I’ve heard plenty of arguments. I’m familiar with C.S. Lewis and others.

You were and are vague up to this point. If you’ve got more arguments, then lets hear them.

Perhaps it would help if I tell you that threats and promises are both explained by an evolutionary foundation in kinship selection and reciprocal altruism?

Perhaps it would. Why don’t you give us that argument instead of just claiming you have this argument you’ve never made.

would it help that the author of the paper, Teehan, goes through Biblical examples to show how they relate to these concepts?

Would it help to understand that evolutionary ethics does not explain everything?

Would it help to understand that a moral grammar, as also found in the bible, helps in fact present day society to function?

No, it wouldn’t. Why do you think it should?

You mean the parts where it says to kill all the little boys and keep the little girls to ourselves? Stone sabbath-breakers? Stone non-virgins on their father’s doorsteps? Kill gays?

Yes. These actually make quite good evolutionary sense, of course, they need not make for good morals but that’s the beauty of the moral grammar…

There is another way to think about that argument and it’s in a book THE LUCIFER PRINCIPLE: A Scientific Expedition Into The Forces Of History http://www.bookworld.com/lucifer/

It is not a good argument for the existance of God, but it does explain why religion is so dangerous.

Yes. These actually make quite good evolutionary sense, of course, they need not make for good morals but that’s the beauty of the moral grammar… So yes, I believe a good case can be made for these instances as found in the Biblical teachings as founded in evolutionary processes or principles.

Could you remind me where the Bible speaks about killing gays?

(Leviticus 20:13 13 If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.)

I don’t follow you at all. Please explain what you mean by “moral grammer”. Is there a biblical backus-nauer form or something?

Then I politely disagree with your evaluation.

Ok, would you mind providing me with one example of a context where the god hypothesis isn’t vacuous? I want to see where you’re coming from.

As pure spirit, God is not part of the material world, and thus not just outside our material nature, but outside any material nature. Therefore, he is outside any space and time.

(Of course, you can find this nonsense, but it is standard philosophy about God.)

Dawkins on the other hand, who, like most atheists, cannot get out of his naturalistic phenomenological skin, apparently thinks that God would have to be some sort of super-brain, which is nonsense. Such a material super-brain would indeed be the most improbable assumption of all, one which cannot explain anything — and with such an assumption Dawkins would indeed be right. Certainly, a pure spirit does not explain anything for an atheist either, but it does to a believer in God.

As pure spirit, God is not part of the material world, and thus not just outside our material nature, but outside any material nature. Therefore, he is outside any space and time.

(Of course, you can find this nonsense, but it is standard philosophy about God.)

Dawkins on the other hand, who, like most atheists, cannot get out of his naturalistic phenomenological skin, apparently thinks that God would have to be some sort of super-brain, which is nonsense. Such a material super-brain would indeed be the most improbable assumption of all, one which cannot explain anything — and with such an assumption Dawkins would indeed be right. Certainly, the concept of a pure spirit does not explain anything for an atheist either, but it does to a believer in God.

I don’t follow you at all. Please explain what you mean by “moral grammer”. Is there a biblical backus-nauer form or something?

Good question:

Moral grammar is a concept by Marc Hauser that there exist set of moral rules which are inherent to all and which arose through evolutionary processes. In many ways this reflects the concept of natural law, a concept that ranges from Aristotle, via Aquinas and de Groot to present day natural law concepts.

I will return to the rest in a later posting

When logic has you cornered and you need god to escape the consequences of cause and effect, you simply say he’s “outside of space and time”. Because causality depends on causes being prior to their effects. Once you throw away cause and effect, those troublesome questions look a lot less threatening. Such a small price to pay, to keep god.

As pure spirit, God is not part of the material world, and not just outside our material nature, but outside any material nature. Therefore, he is outside any space and time.

(Of course, you can find this nonsense, but it is standard philosophy about God.)

Dawkins on the other hand, who, like most atheists, cannot get out of his naturalistic phenomenological skin, apparently thinks that God would have to be some sort of super-brain, which is nonsense. Such a material super-brain would indeed be the most improbable assumption of all, one that cannot explain anything — and in this Dawkins would be right. Certainly, the concept of a pure spirit does not explain anything for an atheist either, but it does to a believer in God.

In some ways they were social animals playing their inescapable social roles in war. However, religion seems to have played more of a part in it than you assume.

Japan followed the Shinto religion at the time, it taught reincarnation, the Emperor was, supposedly, the descendant of the Sun goddess causing him to be worshiped like a living god. Kamikazes went through elaborate religious rituals and ceremonies before going on their suicide missions. And the name itself, kamikaze, is religious, it means the “divine wind.”

It appears that you assume a lot. I pointed out that the one could argue the kamikazes did it for religion, and you assume that I don’t know that religion was mixed in with all of the rest of state, cult of emperor, etc. How do you jump to such unwarranted assumptions? You didn’t tell me anything new at all.

You don’t believe that BS about Hitler being some anti-Christian atheist, do you?

What would that even have to do with the suicidal defenses of non-Hitler humans? Can you understand that it wasn’t religion that made Germans die for the state?

Most importantly of all, you have pointedly ignored the fact that Germans didn’t die for a Nazi religion that promises an afterlife. How convenient for you, to not pay attention to the very “special features” that you yourself brought up, then to attack a strawman.

You change the subject again, unwilling to deal with what actually motivates people, in your defense of Dawkins and a fundamentalist-style of atheism (I have to wonder if you were raised religious—it seems that most who have to demonize religion were). It isn’t only the Bible that serves as an inadequate authority, you know, or that makes the true believer change the subject whenever questions are raised that he cannot answer.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Undoubtedly there are cultural differences, but the promise of eternal life has never made a majority of those who “believe it” act reckless with their lives.

Suicide bombers excluded? And if so, why?

Sorry if this has been discussed - I may have missed some things, since I lazily scrolled through most of the multiple-posts…

By the way, “kamikaze” is believed not to refer first of all to the literal meaning “divine wind”, but to the winds (typhoon, IIRC) that destroyed the Mongol ships that had set out to conquer Japan. Nature is divine in Shinto, hence that wind was not “un-religious” (was anything really non-religious in original Shinto?), however the historical reference to a phenomenon that saved the Japanese from the violence of the Mongols seems to be top-most in the reason for the term “kamikaze”.

Religion in Japan was like other early religions, simply a way of knowing the world. Hence there was no divorcing religion from any aspect of life, which is why I said one could argue for religion as a basis for kamikaze (the exigencies of war and devotion to state seem stronger to me, however). By the same token, it is difficult to look at the earlier Japan and suppose that religion caused this or that to occur, vs. the state, societal needs, or the Japanese hierarchy.

Much as atheists in Russia, who also fought to the death (sometimes with a bayonet in their backs—but this doesn’t explain the defense of Stalingrad and Leningrad).

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

PS Dizzy: The majority of those “who believe” the “promise of eternal life” are not suicide bombers. Pay attention to the meaning of the text.

Altair IV Wrote:

I think that what athiests like Dawkins are really promoting is the idea that, with our (evolved) intelligence and capacity for rational thought, we can now abandon the non-optimal solution of religion, and consciously replace it with something better, a system of values that gives us all of the benefits of cooperation and group cohesion without the baggage of irrational belief that went along with it. We have the capacity to have the best of both worlds now. All we have to do is embrace it.

That’s pretty much my take as well. It’s too bad that, for many people, irrational belief is so enjoyable and consciously replacing it is so hard.

Also, the effectiveness of “turn the other cheek” (and to a lesser extent “love thy neighbor”) is directly proportional to the percentage of people who practice them. Since that percentage is never anywhere close to 100, I would say that no, Jesus did not have a workable moral philosophy.

The purpose of this post seems to be to argue that ID has provided atheists a boost, and that that is a bad thing

I thought it was pretty clear that the purpose of this post was to pick a fight.

And it succeeded. No surprise there.

Just what we needed, though — yet another 400-comment religious war. (yawn)

normdoering Wrote:

True. But all the ancient state religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam among them, had the special features Dawkins described in his snarky way that supported war and terrorism, a paradise after death, a religious call to war, etc..

Well, how ancient are we going here? Pre-Christian Rome didn’t have a paradise (except in certain private cults), nor AFAIK did it have a strong religious rationale for war or conquest. Neither did much of the Middle East until Zoroastrianism took over Persia. China was mostly dominated by Confucianism, which AFAIK has no clear position on the afterlife and certainly doesn’t reward doers of good with automatic paradise.

In modern times, Communism has been the state ideology in the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.–and in China at least, Maoism was most definitely a religion, complete with sacred texts and miracles and so forth. Yet the soldiers of these states had no reluctance to risk their lives for the cause.

A ton of suicide bombings and other terrorist acts have been performed by largely secular organizations, such as the Lebanese Phalange party and the PLO. The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka are practically the world champions of suicide attacks, and they’re secular Hindus driven by nationalism with a dash of socialism.

I don’t think it’s the “ton” you claim.

I question your estimation of the relative numbers.

The Boston Globe reviewed Robert Pape’s “Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.” From that review:

“Dying to Win” draws on a thorough database of all suicide attacks recorded since the contemporary practice was born during the Lebanese civil war in the early 1980s: a total of 315 incidents through 2003, involving 462 suicidal attackers. Of the 384 attackers for whom Pape has data, who committed their deeds in such danger zones as Sri Lanka (where the decidedly non-fundamentalist, quasi-Marxist Tamil Tigers have used suicide attacks since 1987 in their fight for a Tamil homeland), Israel, Chechnya, Iraq, and New York, only 43 percent came from religiously affiliated groups. The balance, 57 percent, came from secular groups. Strikingly, during the Lebanese civil war, he says, some 70 percent of suicide attackers were Christians (though members of secular groups).

Now one could certainly argue that most suicide bombers are nonetheless religious–they are. So are most people. If you want to implicate any particular religion, family of religions or religious concept in suicide attacks, you need to show that their followers really do value their lives less than other people. Dawkins hasn’t done that, so far as I’ve seen.

Keith Douglas:

Much of this thread leaves me cold. The Bible is not sociobiology, duh! However, I’m not sure every argument mustered against PvM works so well, either. You wrote: “The big bang is only the origin of a local expansion, at best…”

Keith, how could you possibly actually know that claim is true?

Curiously…Scott

AC Wrote:

Also, the effectiveness of “turn the other cheek” (and to a lesser extent “love thy neighbor”) is directly proportional to the percentage of people who practice them. Since that percentage is never anywhere close to 100, I would say that no, Jesus did not have a workable moral philosophy.

Did Jesus ever claim that pacifism would be “effective?” AFAIK he just said a) it’s the right thing to do, and b) it would win you a reward from God after death and/or the apocalypse.

“So what about it?”

Re-read my first sentence.

Dizzy Wrote:

Undoubtedly there are cultural differences, but the promise of eternal life has never made a majority of those who “believe it” act reckless with their lives.

Suicide bombers excluded? And if so, why?

Sorry if this has been discussed - I may have missed some things, since I lazily scrolled through most of the multiple-posts…

PS Dizzy: The majority of those “who believe” the “promise of eternal life” are not suicide bombers. Pay attention to the meaning of the text.

Not a majority at this time, that much seems true at this time. Certainly there have been times where a majority has acted recklessly with *other people’s* lives.

But we don’t need a “majority” nowadays to endanger the lives of thousands - we just need, say, 19.

Now one could certainly argue that most suicide bombers are nonetheless religious—they are. So are most people. If you want to implicate any particular religion, family of religions or religious concept in suicide attacks, you need to show that their followers really do value their lives less than other people. Dawkins hasn’t done that, so far as I’ve seen.

I’m not sure exactly how it would be done, but a poll could probably show that.

But I’m also not sure if, logically, that’s even required. It seems to me that all that’s necessary is to determine if: 1) One truly believes in an eternal life after this (temporary) one 2) One truly believes that actions in this life affect the outcome of the next

Given those two beliefs, the rational course of behavior would be to perform actions in this life that improve one’s outcome in the next. In situations where an action would be harmful to oneself in this life, but beneficial in the next, the rational choice would be to perform the action. People don’t always behave rationally, of course, but they usually try to.

China was mostly dominated by Confucianism, which AFAIK has no clear position on the afterlife and certainly doesn’t reward doers of good with automatic paradise.

Bit of a sidebar here, but as someone who majored in Chinese philosophy, this is pretty much correct - original Confucianism (via the Analects) does mention “Heaven” in multiple contexts, but more as a detached set of universal governing forces than a conscious entity. And there is no “afterlife” in any form.

So God slaughtered trillions of organisms that didn’t meet his needs in order to create us?

No not from God’s perspective, because everything is all instantaneous to God. Everything happens all at once.

Perhaps we are also in the process of being culled in order to produce the sort of creatures that God really wants.

Whatever are the creatures that God really wants, they are already in existence to God for he is outside of time and space and evolution.

Using such a brutal mechanism is incompatible with a kind and loving god, IMO.

There are no mechanisms when everything happens all at once. So it’s all good, man. No worries.

Dude, what are you smoking? None of your responses make any sense.

1) How does everything happening all at once change the number of orgaisms killed? 2) So maybe we are in the process of being culled? 3) So God is neither kind nor brutal, just oblivious?

Dizzy Wrote:

It seems to me that all that’s necessary is to determine if: 1) One truly believes in an eternal life after this (temporary) one 2) One truly believes that actions in this life affect the outcome of the next

Given those two beliefs, the rational course of behavior would be to perform actions in this life that improve one’s outcome in the next. In situations where an action would be harmful to oneself in this life, but beneficial in the next, the rational choice would be to perform the action.

Thing is, a pleasant afterlife is only one possible post-death condition which it would be rational to try to achieve. A Marxist can rationally prioritize the accelerated development of the classless society over their own safety, even if they’ll never live to see that society. An environmentalist can rationally risk their own life for the future health of the planet, and so forth. Rationality is not limited to maximizing one’s own benefit unless that’s the only thing one desires in the first place.

And while you might argue ala Pascal that believers should place supreme importance on where they’ll spend eternity, since that will provide them with an infinite reward or punishment, it’s pretty clear from folks like Ted Haggard that they don’t.

That’s why you’d need to do actual research to verify that believers in merit-based afterlives really do prioritize them more highly than nonbelievers prioritize their future-based goals.

Certainly agree with your main point, that those who do not believe in an afterlife certainly may find reasons to sacrifice their own lives.

I will hypothesize, however, that those “secularly-motivated” sacrificers primarily focus on improving conditions for others in this life. There’s an important distinction to be made there, in my opinion.

Anton Mates wrote:

… how ancient are we going here?

How about ancient Sumeria and Egypt?

Pre-Christian Rome didn’t have a paradise (except in certain private cults), nor AFAIK did it have a strong religious rationale for war or conquest.

No “paradise,” you’re right, but the ancient Romans did believe in an afterlife. They believed in the immortality of the soul and had a complicated belief system about life after death. When you died you were taken to the river Styx, which flowed nine times around the underworld. You paid the ferryman, Charon, a fee to cross the river where they were met and judged by Minos, Aenaeus, and Rhadymanthas. The ancient Romans buried their loved ones with a coin (pennies on your eyes) on the body with which the soul would pay Charon, the ferryman, for passage across the river Styx. The underworld were ruled over by Pluto, brother of Jupiter.

The Romans called Christians “atheists.”

The Romans had a state religion.

The Romans liked to watch Gladiators try to kill each other for sport.

The Romans had so many temples you can’t keep them all straight in one city. They believed in ghosts and prophecy and witches and wizards.

What the ancient Romans did not believe in was eternal damnation and a vague paradise/heaven. The afterlife was just a new life in another world. After you were judged you got sent either to the Fields of Elysium, if you were a warrior or hero, or to the Plain of Asphodel, if you were an ordinary citizen. But, if you committed a crime against society, you went to Tartarus to be tortured by the Furies until such time as one’s debt was paid.

So there were afterlife rewards and punishments – just not so polar and extreme as the newly evolving religions of Christianity and later, Islam.

normdoering Wrote:

How about ancient Sumeria and Egypt?

Egypt, yes; in fact the Egyptians are one of the earliest known cultures to believe in a merit-based afterlife. The Sumerians, on the other hand, apparently believed in a dismal afterlife like the Greek Plain of Asphodel, and didn’t think anyone could improve or worsen their eternal state by good or bad behavior.

What the ancient Romans did not believe in was eternal damnation and a vague paradise/heaven. The afterlife was just a new life in another world. After you were judged you got sent either to the Fields of Elysium, if you were a warrior or hero, or to the Plain of Asphodel, if you were an ordinary citizen. But, if you committed a crime against society, you went to Tartarus to be tortured by the Furies until such time as one’s debt was paid.

Tartarus and Elysium were imported from Greek mythology; although they were invoked in upper-class Roman literature and art, I haven’t seen very good evidence that most Romans actually believed in them, let alone thought there was any chance they’d go to either one. They seem to have been reserved more for the epic good guys and bad guys of distant myth. (For that matter, many Greeks apparently agreed. In Homer, even a top-notch semi-divine warrior prince like Akhilleus goes to the same dark, dismal afterlife as everyone else.)

On the whole, the average Roman seemed to follow the Mediterranean view that existence after death is boring and depressing for pretty much everyone, and they had a number of festivals (Feralia, Lemuralia, Parentalia) where they appeased and honored the restless dead. Individual cults such as those of Isis, Mithras and Christ promised a better class of paradise, but they weren’t officially allied with the Roman state until Constantine.

I suppose I should also mention Cicero’s “Dream of Scipio,” which portrays a sort of Platonic/Pythagorean fusion where patriotic heroes are granted a bodiless, superpowered afterlife in space. However, Cicero seems to be echoing Plato here in constructing a “noble lie” to inspire good behavior; there’s no indication that even he believed his story, let alone that any other Roman did.

Till a couple of years ago you hairless apes didn’t even know about the existance of most of the matter in the universe (dark matter). You still don’t have a very good grasp of how your own cells function. Yet I see both the atheists and the theists here making very confident predictions about the make up and abilities of God.

I keep observing strong similarities like this between extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists. Both seem to have very little to no humility. Saying “I don’t know.” is just unthinkable for them. Both are prone to claiming that science supports their metaphysical conclusions.

Rationality is not limited to maximizing one’s own benefit unless that’s the only thing one desires in the first place.

the examples you used are not ones of rationality, but rather rationalization.

big difference.

Time to clarify some confusions

1. Jesus’s statement is not about pacifism, although some may have interpreted it to be. The commandment ‘thou shall not kill’ and ‘turning the other cheek’ need to be seen in their proper context, taking into consideration such statements as ‘an eye for an eye’. One cannot just create a strawman of Jesus the pacifist.

2. The concept about reciprocal altruism does not require immediate return of favors, it need not be ‘x did y to me so let me return a favor to x’ it is sufficient that there exists a possibility of a future return of a favor, not even necessarily by the same person (direct versus indirect reciprocity). A good starting point for these concepts can be found in Reciprocal Altruism: Wikipedia

But evolution isn’t just a slow process; it’s an incredibly cruel and wasteful one. It’s a never-ending arms race fought through pure trial-and-error. It’s impossible to even imagine the amount of human and animal suffering that it’s taken to get us to where we are today.

That is such a simplistic viewpoint of evolution which only serves to distort what evolution really is. Sure, evolution is about ‘survival’ but to suggest that this involves tooth in claw arms race just serves to over-simplify these matters. It’s a valid question why God would have chosen evolution and I personally think the answer is very simple: it’s a natural process set in motion at the time of Creation (Big Bang). By using this path, the concept of free will was given a real meaning.

People have asked why the need for religion in this day and age of modern technology. I believe that this strengthens rather than reduces the need for religion, providing an ever more isolated society ways to build relationships based on a foundation of trust and common grounds. Trust is becoming more and more scarce in our society, mostly due to technology creating a gap between the source and the receiver. My wife reminded me the other day how the Church, if anything else, serves a very important role to meet new people, new mothers in a society which has made meeting new people more and more difficult.

Norm Wrote:

Pvm: Some Christians are more forgiving than others, look for instance at the Amish and their response to the killing of their children.

In some ways the Amish have the Bible right on that one single score.

How do you know they have it ‘right’, are you saying there indeed exists an absolute standard here?

Norm Wrote:

They will not fight back and they are almost all conscientious objectors to our wars. But the Amish have other problems, but in this case just their refusal to fight means they could not exist without existing within a larger and more aggressively and violently defensive society. If they were a nation, they’d be an easily invaded third world nation.

They would indeed go singing when you feed them to the lions.

And yet the more violent nation declined and the Christians survived and flourished. Seems that ‘going to the lions’ may not be that bad an approach after all.

Do you not know your history as well as not knowing your Bible? It’s not really a prediction, it’s history. Christians were fed to the lions and they did sing and freak out the Romans by not fighting. Soon after that abuse, Christianity became violent and went to war with the Pagans, violating their own principles.

What principles? Your interpretation of how Christians should behave? Funny, you are starting to sound like a Born Again :-)

Nathan Parker Wrote:

PvM:In fact, as I will argue elsewhere, by using evolutionary pathways, God ensured that such fundamentals as a natural law of morality or moral grammar could evolve based on the simple premises of kinship selection and reciprocal altruism.

So God slaughtered trillions of organisms that didn’t meet his needs in order to create us? Perhaps we are also in the process of being culled in order to produce the sort of creatures that God really wants. What evidence exists that we are the final product?

Using such a brutal mechanism is incompatible with a kind and loving god, IMO. This rationalization may preserve your religious faith, but you’re had to reduce God down to something not worth having

This is an example of very poor logic. God did not slaughter trillions of organisms, they were all relevant for His Plans and none of them were slaughtered, most died while living their life as part of an ecology. Good question, there is no evidence that we are the final product, we seem to be doing fine in gaining the reasoning and language capabilities to become potentially suitable candidates. Only by calling evolution brutal can you make your strawman argument. Surely you were jesting?

Sir_Toejam Wrote:

Rationality is not limited to maximizing one’s own benefit unless that’s the only thing one desires in the first place.

the examples you used are not ones of rationality, but rather rationalization.

big difference.

Why do you say that?

Glen Wrote:

The Bible’s moral teachings wouldn’t be a “moral grammar”, rather they would be a result of the hypothesized moral grammar. We might call it a “moral language”, or at least we might say that the Torah has a “moral language”, the prophets another moral language, and the NT still another moral language.

I see the biblical statements about love thy neighbor and do unto others, as essentially similar expressions of kinship selection and reciprocal altruism. While you are correct that the moral grammar itself does not prescribe what is good and bad perse, it provides us with rules that help us evaluate how to best to act.

A moral grammar at best sets parameters, while society has to define the rules for itself. It remains to be seen if some commonalities in the moral response actually are composed of a sort of “grammar”, or if the moral differences in the Bible manage to sink such an notion, of course with the help of other cultural evidence. That societal rules are necessary appears certain, while the differences among those rules hardly seem to be the result of moral constancy. Perhaps unity in diversity will someday be shown, but I wouldn’t base my conclusions about morality on “moral grammar” just yet.

Yes, societies will take the rules, either from the grammar or from the teachings of God and adapt them to the reality of society.

. God did not slaughter trillions of organisms, they were all relevant for His Plans and none of them were slaughtered, most died while living their life as part of an ecology.

In the (now?) immortal words of Kent Hovind, convicted felon:

“How do you know? Were you there?”

I do sincerely hope you are using one strawman to argue against another here, Pim.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on November 5, 2006 2:31 PM.

Against Nature? An exhibition on animal homosexuality was the previous entry in this blog.

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