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Hostility toward spiritual traditions may be hampering empirical inquiry (nytimes.com)
49 points by pseudolus 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments



The article containing the quote from Richard Dawkins can be found here:

https://uktech.wordpress.com/2006/09/25/dawkins-on-theology/

To paraphrase, he's arguing that very little beyond the obvious has come from religious teachings, and much of the rest can be proved false with science.

The article posted suggests that science may have more to learn from religion, given that science has shown there is some benefit to practices like meditation and ritual. This reads a little bit like a justification for all of religion after science was able to pick some of the interesting parts out and show they have use beyond a religious context. I'm not sure I buy the argument. A seized engine doesn't become workable simply by showing the bolts are still in good condition.


But would science have ever come up with the concept of meditation in the first place? How long did it take for it to be accepted in the western scientific tradition as something possibly worth investigating, something with value beyond mystical yogi hocus pocus?

Almost any historical practice with social or psychological meaning would have been understood at least partially within the context of a "spiritual tradition". If you write off anything that smells of religion you throw away an awful lot.


Yes. The original similar concept is called TENS. Oldest, uses electric current simulation.

The other concept was using sound interaction with brainwave monitoring - monaural and binaural beats. There are also light based variants.

Yet other used magnetic fields and another is called tDCS.

There is also hypnosis, pretty old.

These have nothing in common with religion yet are similar to meditation when measured... not exactly identical of course.

I'm quite sure someone would figure out a link between specific thought patterns and physiology in a specialized field like neuroscience...


TENS and tDCS are nothing like meditation and have nothing in common.


Science doesn’t tell you what to investigate only how to do it with intellectual honesty and carefully.


Are you disagreeing? Because, well, that's kind of the point.

Not that I entirely agree - science lets you pull on threads to see where they lead, and sometimes they're tangled up with other threads, and you pull those, and you end up with a great massive ball - but it's also nice to have a fresh end to pull, and that can come from anywhere.


I think it is a bit strange to ask "could science 'discover' meditation completely independently of a religious context?". Given that meditation is so common in eastern practices it seems unlikely that science would ever be needed to discover it - someone else is likely to stumble upon it first. If it were rarer than that, however, I'm reasonably confident that science could discover it. Given that science is all about discovering how things work, learning the quirks of the brain and consciousness is high on the list of things to do.

To flip that question on its head however, perhaps we should ask "could religion discover gravitational waves independently of a scientific context?". I would be very hard pressed to answer anything other than an emphatic "no". Indeed only a few hundred years ago you were probably likely to be imprisoned or killed for suggesting much less.

In terms of how long it took science to find meditation worthwhile - not long at all. Science is new. It wasn't until recently that we had the tools to be able to study the brain and study meditation. Any delay in attention toward meditation from then on may well be due to a bias against religion among scientists - but then so much of religion can be explained away leaving the signal to noise ratio so low it's unlikely to be of any interest to many scientists anyway. You don't go shopping for motorcycles in the grocery store. No doubt western religion itself would have contributed to delays though anti-eastern religious bias as well.

Of the people that are interested in religion - psychologists, neuroscientists, social scientists, historians - I have no doubt that they are already interested in it for all the reasons mentioned in the article. It's not as if religion is such a small part of our lives and we need to go digging to uncover it's secrets.

I very much doubt that there is any scientist out there whose area of expertise abuts religion that is inclined to disregard the entirety of religion as irrelevant. Richard Dawkins himself - quoted in the article - recommends that everybody should read the King James version of the Bible as a piece of literature and an important text culturally [1]. There just happens to be very little reason to bring along the hocus pocus with it.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/may/19/richard-dawk...


I am an atheist but I believe pursuing religious thought can be a laudable thing for individuals who do it as a spiritual and self-reflective exercise.

When it becomes an instrument of social control, whether that means using religion to excuse bigotry or merely using religion as an excuse for manipulation or control in your own household, then I can no longer agree and feel it is an intrinsic civic duty of all people to actively discontinue that portion of religious practice.

Somewhere there is also a gray area related to what I would call “faith-based reasoning.” In some circumstances it’s fine to make decisions by consulting some form of faith. But in others, say denying a child’s medical care, it is clearly indefensible.

On this side of things I subscribe to the idea that was described on LessWrong in terms of “making beliefs pay rent in the form of anticipated experiences.” Along the same lines I admire a quote from Robin Hanson: “I wish there was less of a feeling of entitlement to believe whatever you want, and more of a sense of social responsibility to believe accurately.”


I just Ramanujan wikipedia page, his mathematical insights were often inspired by his faith (as he said, even though it's hard to understand what this means). It was in complete opposition of his fellows in UK when he went there. Funny contrast.

Religion also as a different domain of study.. human life. Hard science was concerned with ideals and material. Few for what your soul~ needs.


I am an atheist and I meditate and practice Yama and Niyamas like hell, because the practice of meditation has helped me in enumerable ways.


I often see this word "social control", I wonder what would be your strategy to escape from technological developments and use of such tools by states to control masses. I don't see there is any escape and these are getting more powerful and effective with the time. So science and technology has same effects and I see there is no escape for humanity except to find shelter in religious camp to find reason and morality etc ...


If you'd like to understand the Greek religion and specifically the intellectual core of it -- which was opposed by Christianity but is philosophically pro-science and math -- read Plotinus. 700 years after the Pythagorean beginnings of spiritual-scientific integration, by the time of Plotinus, there was a core recognition of "The One" or "Oneness" as the origin and basis of reality -- and goodness. Acheiving this oneness ("henosis") is possible for anyone through meditation, ritual, psychelics, etc. Plotinus claimed to have merged with the Oneness of the universe several times. This oneness is what Alduous Huxley described as the "perennial philosophy" found in all religious traditions.

This oneness is, also, fully commensurate with science. The notion of "oneness" sounds like monotheism, but is so dramatically different. It was, in fact, the reason Christians got so worked up about the Trinity -- and killed off the Arian heresy (who believed that Jesus was born after god, as an emanation of the one) -- because otherwise, you fall back into this competing pagan philosophy that begins with One, and then builds the universe through "logos".

Few know this, but early christianity was out of the Essenes Jewish sect, which was described as Pythagorean by the historians of the time, Philo of Alexandria and Josephus. This creates a possible future for the Catholic Church to use textual sources to integrate with science and not throw away everything. Won't be easy, but wtf else will be done with all those churches and billions of dollars?? Jesus was the voice of the logos, according to early church father Origen.

In the meantime, atheists/pantheists like myself can read Plato, Plotinus and Pythagorean texts for inspiration on how a quantitative world gains qualia -- and how harmony serves as a secular (yet spiritual) source of value. Did we did all come from "the one"? The big bang claims that the universe was fit into a sphere smaller than a proton-- that's about as close as it gets.

Happy to provide references, but the terms are searchable.


The "God of the gaps" phenomenon works both ways. I don't think the scientific method depends upon religion, nor would I want to live in a world without science. However the idea/phenomenon of once something is in the science column it is no longer in the religion column doesn't really make any logical sense to me. If an organized religion funds legitimate science, does it automatically cease to be somehow related to religion in their eyes? Doubtful, and this doesn't even take into account that much of the contemporary university system spun out of religious institutions in the 12th century.


> However the idea/phenomenon of once something is in the science column it is no longer in the religion column doesn't really make any logical sense to me.

It doesn’t mean the phenomenon is so longer relevant to religion, or that religions can’t offer some insights into how the phenomenon might effect humans, but it certainly obviated the need for religion to invoke the supernatural to explain the mechanics of the phenomenon. Which is, after all, what the “God of the gaps” perspective pertains to.


Right, I just wonder to what extent someone like https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Lemaître or even Einstein felt the need to distinguish science vs religion as they pondered scientific concepts. I think the debate or dichotomy makes far more sense as reason vs xyz rather than science vs religion.


Does this article actually say anything? To me it sounds like a bunch of nice words without any message.


Psychology could learn something from studying some of the tools religions apply for example to for example influence and guide people.

Which is sure is true, just like you can learn a lot watching a used car salesmen with the tools he or she uses. Robert Cialdini wrote some great books about that topic.

The author is how ever mixing up things here on purpose, best seen with the title.

>What Science Can Learn from Religion

It should read what Psychology can learn by studying religious groups. Those two are very different things.


But that’s just saying that science can learn from studying religion, not that science can learn by following the teachings of religion. Of course science can learn from studying religion, just like it can from studying the rainforest, or stars, or diseases.


It's saying that the bias against religion in the sciencey tribe presents a barrier to actually studying religions as sources of psychological knowledge that are better than random speculation (presumably on the grounds that there was some competition between religions, so that religions that were based on bad ideas about psychology died out and the ones that remain are based on better-than-random ideas about psychology)

Sciencey people think religions are wrong, so they are prone to acting like all ideas to come out of religion are bunk. They shouldn't, so the hostility of sciencey people toward religion hurts science.


A most excellent summary.

It's funny how hardly anyone in this comment thread seems to have taken away this message. I do however see a whole lot of rather defensive comments about how religion is useless and bad for this reason or that reason, or attacking the article (which I thought was very reasonably written) for religious apology. I think that offers a visible example of the phenomenon under discussion - any suggestion of positive things flowing from religion is met with a kind of allergic reaction.


The religion as a concept has a use or a few. The allergy cuts both ways, with religious people not wanting their sociotechnological or psychological practices broken down and appropriated without core memes.

To do so is considered heresy or worse. More so if done with required irreverence of science where anything can be shown wrong.


well said !


I don't think anybody sees a problem with religion as a tool for self-improvement: discipline, patience, altruism, etc.

The problems start when religion attempts to "fix" others against their will.


> Hostility toward spiritual traditions may be hampering empirical inquiry.

The hostility is not towards the tradition, it's towards the selected individuals who take it upon themselves to aggressively attack all secular issue, and then shied themselves under the "religious haters" shield when one defends their invaded territory.


I am surprised we don't hate scientists who developed devastating weapons ! Instead I see otherwise. I think there are also extremists in secular camps by this definition.


[flagged]


> Religion is nothing but falsehood.

That's an inaccurate conclusion.

Religions include all sorts of truth. Something being part of a religon is _not_ enough reason to label it as false.

Given that there are a wide variety of religions and belief systems, I'm surprised that you outright decry them as all false. I'd say it's quite likely that some religion approaches "truth".

I personally belong to a religion which encourages experimentation[0]. I also happen to belief it has a very coherent theology - I'd say similar to math.

I'd say the major thing that sets many religions apart from science is that results don't generalize - knowledge is personal.

So to sum up: religion is pretty analogus to anecdotes. Not widely generalized, and can often lead to wrong conclusions. But doeant definitely lead to wrong conclusions.

[0] https://www.lds.org/study/scriptures/bofm/alma/32?id=p26-p40...


I don't want to personally attack you for how you believe. I believe you ought have a right to come to your own personal conclusions.

That said the scripture you linked was started by a literal convicted con man who received revelation by looking at golden tablets that never existed in his hat and translating the truths found therein. He also famously found part of the religious text in Egyptian hieroglyphics that he "translated" into English that turns out not to match the actual text that we can now read. Because of the faiths relatively more recent vintage there is a mountain of non subjective evidence that the faith is literally built on a pile of lies by a bad person. I in particular find that your comparison to math completely baffling.

Just because I disagree emphatically with your beliefs and your founder this doesn't mean that you personally are a bad person but I believe your belief system is a huge net negative for the world and allowing you to spread it here unopposed would be net negative for the world. I don't want to shut you up but I really want other people to know the truth of what you are trying to push.

If you want a multi page analysis of everything wrong with the latter day saints we can go there.


I'd say my religion is a net benefit, by the type of people it teaches its members to be. I know I've seen great blessing in my life, and am a better person because because of what I've learned trying to live my religion.

I have various answers to the points you brought up. They probably aren't satisfactory to you. You probably have more points, and I won't have answers to some of them. And that's OK by me. And have mistakes been made? Most definitely. That doesn't take away from the truths I've learned (you might disagree, and that's understandable).

I compare it to math because there are principles taught in the church, and teachings about how the plan of salvation works, and certain principles. And you can approach them in various ways and they fit together nicely. Like being able to complete a mathematical proof in different ways. It's the consistency that drives the comparison. And although I do have unanswered questions, they gradually get answered over time (we're talking years here), and I'll probably go to my grave with unanswered questions. I'm OK with that.

-----------------------

To address your criticisms.

Which conviction are you talking about - is it the one where the "victim" testified that Joseph Smith (the founder) was innocent?[0] He was in the courts a lot of times (as you know), leading to his eventual death. That's the first court case that comes to mind when you say convicted felon.

I'm also not surprised that the text didn't match. You know about the portion of Isaiah quoted in 2 Nephi that doesn't match the Joseph Smith translation of same part of the Bible, right? I don't consider that a mark against him as a fraud, given the nature of his transactions (e.g. the process with the stones, of which there is copious documentation).

(Edited for clarity:) Your statement about the gold plates could be read that there was proof he never had the gold plates (tablets). For the record, he was consistent about his statement about their existence (sorry for the awkward phrasing - he didn't have them all the time, and I'm trying to not be ambiguous...). Interestingly enough, the people he showed them (the plates) to never recanted their testimony about said plates, even though they left the church.

You must know the standards the restored church encourages, so believing that it's a net negative signals to me that you might think it's because of moral issues the church takes a stance on, like pornography, drugs, sex outside of marriage, the divinity of gender and that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of god? I'm guessing? Otherwise, I'm not sure how you could call the church a net negative...

Edit: I do encourage perusing the church's official history stuff[1]. I say this not to convince you that I'm right, but because they've put up a lot of stuff in recent years; you might be pleasantly surprised at the number of contentious history items that had formerly been basically ignored or undocumented that are now up there.

[0] https://www.lds.org/study/history/topics/joseph-smiths-1826-...

[1] https://www.lds.org/study/church-history?lang=eng


If evolution is concerned by culture, which it is, there must be metric of ‘survival of the fittest religion’...

Religion has evolved, and servived, and not necessarily because it is weak. There is plenty room for bias here, and I am not a religious person myself, but I most fear the secular religious who speak like you, like an all-knowing, all-seeing eye.

There is no all-seeing-eye. Dimensipns of time, space, and perspective inherently limit any one person from understanding the ways of our world. It is that gapt that myth and religion fills. By way of evolved cultural formations, religion is an instinct among men. All societies will have a religion, whether they adhere to the traditions or not.


>I most fear the secular religious who speak like you, like an all-knowing, all-seeing eye.

I'm an atheist no idea where you got the above. The fact that religion survived says little about its fitness going forward.


As somebody else said, I have nothing against you personally but I believe that the narrative that you are pushing is false so I have to rebut it.

> Religions include all sorts of truth.

How so? By definition, there is only one truth. Either something can be demonstrated or it cannot. If it can't be demonstrated then it is false. There is no room for interpretation in truth.

But I will give you the benefit of the doubt:

If what you were trying to say was: there are some things in religion that cannot yet be explained by science, then you are using the god of the gaps theory. That argument has been debunked many times before.

If what you are trying to say is that there are some things that will always be unknown, therefore God did it, then you are using the argument from ignorance.

Finally, if what you are trying to say(but I doubt it as it would require you to admit that your religion is not entirely correct), is that even though religion and everything that comes with it, the morals, the miracles so on and so forth have been largely debunked, there are still some things that hold up even today(eg: a phenomenon was explained properly and its explanation is not far from the one we actually have today), then what you are doing is the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket, finding out that you guessed a single number correctly but instead of admitting that you were mostly wrong, proclaim that because you guessed that single number, then the rest of them must be correct as well.

That's deceitful.

> Given that there are a wide variety of religions and belief systems, I'm surprised that you outright decry them as all false

Well that's the problem, isn't it? There are many religions out there and not one of them can be deemed as the correct one. Not by scientist but most importantly, not by believers as well.

The result is a collection of different accounts about how the Earth was created, who should be worshiped or not(a cow or a virgin?), which prophet was correct(Jesus?) and when the end of the world will occur.

So if there are not correct then they are not true. Whether some of them have some semblance of truth in them(by luck most likely) does not make them true.

Not one of them has provided evidence that what they preach is true.

> I personally belong to a religion which encourages experimentation

I dont think so. If that was true we would not be having this conversation. To do some experimentation, you need to apply logic. Religion is based on faith. Faith requires you to suspend your own logic and accept the answers provided to you as the truth.

Therefore experimentation in the realm of religion is not possible as you would inevitably come to a point where logic would tell you that something is not true but your religion says it is or vice versa.

In this case, you would either give up on logic and accept your religion as the source of truth or you would start realizing that religion is not the source of truth, but a lie.

> I'd say similar to math.

Math is based on logic, Math does not require faith. Religion is not Math.

> religion is pretty analogus to anecdotes. Not widely generalized, and can often lead to wrong conclusions. But doeant definitely lead to wrong conclusions.

Either you did not proofread yourself or you really have abandoned logic and coherent thoughts completely. If a premise is false, then conclusions based on those same premises can only lead you to the wrong conclusion.

The fact that it could potentially lead you to something akin to truth is based purely on luck not because the premise was correct.

Anecdotes are not a reliable source of truths. Even though witness testimonies have been given a lot of weight in our current judicial system, it does not mean that it is a reliable way of sensing our world.

Our brain constantly applies all kinds of filters to the information that is communicated via our senses so that we can make sense of what is going on in the world.

That is also the reason why scientists do not rely on their eyes(in particular) to validates experiments but on empiric measurements.

I just want to conclude by saying that I have no problem and I even encourage you to practice your religion, but where I do not agree with you is that you present your view of the world through your religion as an alternative to the truth when it is nothing but.


> Either something can be demonstrated or it cannot. If it can't be demonstrated then it is false.

Here's my definition of truth: "Things as they really are, have been and will be.". That sits independent of observation.

> Religions include all sorts of truth

That was about things like mediation, fasting, etc. being real effective principals.

> > I'd say similar to math.

> Math is based on logic, Math does not require faith. Religion is not Math.

It depends on your religion I guess. The religion I practice describes a God with some constraints (if he broke those constraints, then he wouldn't be God). And from these contraints (axioms), various doctrines and results fall out logically. And they're coherent. And you can take the first principals and combine them in various ways to arrive at the same consistent conclusions. So that's why I say it's like math - the internal consistency, and the ability to logically derive more stuff without meeting contradictions.

> > religion is pretty analogus to anecdotes. Not widely generalized, and can often lead to wrong conclusions. But doeant definitely lead to wrong conclusions.

> Either you did not proofread yourself or you really have abandoned logic and coherent thoughts completely. If a premise is false, then conclusions based on those same premises can only lead you to the wrong conclusion.

I think this goes back to my interpretation of truth, so a small example to illustrate what I mean. A buddhist can practice meditation because of their religion. If Buddhism is wrong, that doesn't logically mean practicing meditation is silly, wrong or ineffective.

> > I personally belong to a religion which encourages experimentation

> I dont think so. If that was true we would not be having this conversation.

> Therefore experimentation in the realm of religion is not possible as you would inevitably come to a point where logic would tell you that something is not true but your religion says it is or vice versa.

You're using some bad logic here. You're starting with "All religion is false" as a the starting point to arrive at the conclusion of "your religion is false".

I'm here because I have applied logic. I have experimented with my religion, and my experimentation has brought me to where I am. I have found it to bless my life as and not contradict other sources of knowledge. I have found my religion to be a better, more reliable source of truth than "science" though.

Science gets us iteratively closer to truths, not doubt, but the result of a scientific experiment never gives us absolute truth. The scientific method is about disproving things. It ultimately moves us from one imperfect model to a better but still imperfect model.

> If a premise is false, then conclusions based on those same premises can only lead you to the wrong conclusion.

Wrong - that's actually a false premise, an innocuous one at that, but at least easily disprovable.

Proof by contradiction:

1) Suppose that x = -1 (i.e. true premise)

2) Then a false premise is x = 1 (i.e. contradicts the true premise)

3) From the false premise, conclude x^2 = 1

4) That's correct though, contradicting your statement of "false premises can only lead to wrong conclusions".

...

That's pretty much the entire point of my post - false premises don't always lead to false conclusions, and if you think false premises preclude any conclusions built upon them from being true through other logical means, then you're throwing out the baby with the bath water.


>Fun fact, if tomorrow Science discovers that god mentioned in one particular religion exists, scientists would accept that because of the underlying methods and tools of science used to prove the existence, but you know who wouldn't accept the existence of this discovered god? Religious people of other religions.

You are comparing the abstract ideal of science with the concrete adherents of religion. Every scientist has beliefs that aren't supported by or are contradicted by evidence, so I'm sure there would be many science followers, both atheist and religious who would refuse to believe in the deity discovered in your scenario.


You conveniently ignore things like yoga and meditation. (Your comment is, unintentionally, a prime example of the kind of attitude mentioned in the article.) Many forms of meditation are nothing but sustained observation and investigation of internal states of mind from a first-person perspective.


> Many forms of meditation are nothing but sustained observation and investigation of internal states of mind from a first-person perspective.

It is not that fact, that is usually argued. It is the claim, that this investigation actually gives any benefits over sleep/brainstorming/you name it.


There are tons of research that meditation is beneficial. An easy Google search will reveal that.


The problem is that religions have a reputation of tricking people into believing in stories, with a motive that might or might not be a good one.

Meditation, yoga are examples of the good one's. Sacrificing babies, worshipping cows are the bad one's.

Religions don't provide us with the tools to actually determine whether something is real or just a story.

The scientific method is to my knowledge the only feasible way to figure out the ground truth.

Religions do promote exploration of ideas, but they are mostly a waste of time and energy that might be better spent elsewhere.


>The scientific method is to my knowledge the only feasible way to figure out the ground truth.

The scientific method can't be used to figure out truth. It can't be used to prove anything. It is an extremely useful method for describing how the world likely works, and for building tools.

It tells us nothing about what the goals of society should be even though it can help us learn how to accomplish those goals.

Should we try to build a society that optimizes for per capita happiness today, or should our goal be to maximize total happiness by ensuring as many people can exist as is physically possible in the future.

This is the realm of philosophy and religion.

>Religions do promote exploration of ideas, but they are mostly a waste of time and energy that might be better spent elsewhere

Our modern concept of egalitarianism is mostly a product of religious thinking. I'd say that idea wasn't a waste of time.


> Should we try to build a society that optimizes for per capita happiness

Are you aware of the hedonic treadmill?

> Our modern concept of egalitarianism is mostly a product of religious thinking

You must be kidding. Religions promote the most brutal form of inequality ever. Study up on "dalits" in India.


And other religions promote the idea that all people are equal before god or the universe or whatever greater power they believe in.

Whilst some deeply anti-religious ideological systems promote highly anti-equality ideas like eugenics, racial supremacy, "social Darwinism".

For that reason, it's best you keep sneers like "you must be kidding" out of comments on this topic; it's a profoundly complex issue that requires nuance and care, not ridicule.


1) Not true, especially not in Hinduism or Shintoism.

2) Religious too, see above. What's karma? Who will be condemned to hell in Abrahamic religions?

3) Please educate yourself before trying to correct others and being plain wrong.


What claim of the OP's are you disagreeing with exactly?

That there exists some religions that promote the idea of equality?


> Please educate yourself

Sure. Over about 6 years I read multiple books and watched countless videos by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris etc, and was fully bought into their “all-religion-is-evil” worldview.

Then I kept educating myself further.

Is there something I’m missing that you can suggest?

As another commenter pointed out, you didn’t say anything to refute my argument.

But you’ve implied that nuanced arguments are less preferable than dogmatic ones, which is surprising for someone critiquing religion.


> The scientific method can't be used to figure out truth. It can't be used to prove anything. It is an extremely useful method for describing how the world likely works, and for building tools.

How the world works is the truth which science seeks to figure out. And scientific method is the best tool we have for that task. Certainly much better than religion, which starts with "the truth" and then walks backward to prove it.

However I get a feeling you use different meaning of the truth, than I do. If by it you mean some profound reason for our lives, then I agree that is not the truth that science seeks.


When i say prove, I don't mean colloquial definition of very likely true. I mean in the mathematical/logical sense.


Of course, and I'm not arguing with that.

I'm arguing with the notion that science can't be used to figure out the truth. Even if it can't reach the truth in the mathematical/logical sense, it is still the best tool we have to move in the direction of truth.


In which case it's a pointless diversion, as you are just saying "there is no absolute certainty on anything". Well, yeah, true, but also irrelevant, as science still is by far the most reliable method for obtaining a working model of the world, while religion is completely worthless for the purpose.


>as science still is by far the most reliable method for obtaining a working model of the world

Where did I say otherwise?

Science doesn't allow us to make value judgements. The closest ethical framework we have to allowing us to use science to make value judgements is utilitarianism. But it still relies on axiomatic assumptions about what is intrinsically good. The decision as to what axioms to choose is philosophy, not science.


> Where did I say otherwise?

You didn't explicitly say otherwise, but the way you put your objection doesn't make too much sense if you were just nit-picking the fact that proof and evidence are distinct concepts and that what was called "truth" would more precisely be called "rationally justified belief" or something.

> Science doesn't allow us to make value judgements.

Yeah, actually, it does, for all intents and purposes.

> The closest ethical framework we have to allowing us to use science to make value judgements is utilitarianism.

Well, somewhat depending on details, but sure, overall I think that's a defensible statement.

> But it still relies on axiomatic assumptions about what is intrinsically good.

No, it doesn't. All it requires is consensus about what people consider good. Luckily so, as "intrinsic good" is obviously an instance of "intrinsic value" and thus nonsense for the same reason.

> The decision as to what axioms to choose is philosophy, not science.

No, it's primarily science, because (a) those axioms are decided by consensus (just as in mathematics), and consensus is oviously a thing you can only study empirically, and (b) if the choice of axioms is supposed to make any sense, it is based on observations of consequences, which are also a matter of empiricism. Of course, philosophy also deals with the question, but philosophy without the empirical observations won't get anywhere on that question.


The choice of axioms is in an ethical system isn't "primarily science."

You just moved it down a layer. What choice of axioms would lead to desired outcome x? Once you've decided on desired outcome x, science can help, but now the philosophical question is: "How should we determine what the desired outcome should be?" Consensus? Why is consensus better than just going with what zAy0LfpBZLC8mAC believes?


> You just moved it down a layer.

Nope.

> What choice of axioms would lead to desired outcome x?

Yes, that is the part about figuring out consequences.

> Once you've decided on desired outcome x, science can help, but now the philosophical question is: "How should we determine what the desired outcome should be?"

No, that's really a bad question. Or rather, it's first of all an ambiguous question. One can interpret that question as "What method should we use to determine the desired outcome, given a desired meta-outcome" or something of that sort, which is obviously just another question about consequences in disguise, and thus is obviously one that is accessible to empiricism. I'm guessing that's maybe not what you mean, but I just want to make sure we don't chase another equivocation. So, if we ignore that interpretation, what remains is a bad question, for two reasons:

1. It's similar to "intrinsic value", in that "should" without a goal it is directed towards is ill-defined, so you are essentially asking "What do you have to do to reach a goal, absent the goal?", which is a similar nonsensical structure to "What's the judgement of a valuer, absent the valuer?"

2. Even if we suppose that you had an answer that X is what you should do, regardless what your goal is, that answer would be useless. If you are talking to someone who already agrees with you that X is the thing they should do, it's pointless to say to them "you should do X!", because they are already doing X. And if you are talking to someone who does not agree with you, it's equally pointless, because simply stating "you should do X!" has zero potential to convince them of anything, even if that statement happens to be true somehow.

If you want to convince someone that they should do something, you have to show them how it helps them achieve their goals. Just saying that they should do something regardless what their goals are won't get you anywhere. If someone's goal is to kill as many people as possible, telling them "you should not kill other people, and that is the truth" won't have any effect whatsoever. You have to either show them a conflict with some other goal of theirs that they might consider more important, or you have to create that conflict (such as, if their goal is to live in freedom, by threatening to put them in prison while being credible that you can actually make that happen).

> Consensus? Why is consensus better than just going with what zAy0LfpBZLC8mAC believes?

That question doesn't make sense. It's not a matter of whether consensus is better than something else, it's just that consensus is what is, whether it is good or not. Either you get some significant proportion/the majority/everyone to do adopt a certain view, or you don't. Going with what I believe is not an alternative to consensus, it's just one of the many options as to what could potentially become the consensus, and if there is no consensus that you should go with what I believe, it is of no consequence that what I believe is better than what the current consensus happens to be.

You might as well be asking why digestion is better than eating apples. It's just a confused question.

And just to make sure we are not equivocating: This is by definition not about the question whether we should adopt consensus based governance structures, say. Because that is a question about consequences, and thus a question that is accessible to scientific inquiry.

All these questions as to "what is the ultimate goal/value/intention/taste" are simply the wrong question, in that they make an unfalsifiable assumption that makes any answers to those questions useless, while at the same time leading you to ignore the interesting questions that actually have some solid answers, which also largely obviate the need to ask those pointless questions.

Questions such as "How did it happen that humans have a social structure that uses consensus between individuals as a survival strategy?", or "How did it happen that humans have a tendency to help other humans even when there is no immediate benefit to them?", or "How did it happen that humans generally prefer happiness to suffering?", but also "Is it actually true that helping other humans without an obvious immediate benefit indeed does not have any benefit to the person helping?".

Those and many other similar "how" questions have quite a body of knowledge to answer them, with loads of evidence to back up those answers, and some very interesting and often highly unintuitive insights, and understanding both the questions and the answers is way more intellectually satisfying than making up some "ultimate invisible valuer" in order to prop up nonsensical concepts like "intrinsic value" or "ultimate should".


I'm going to respond only in the other thread because I'm tired of following 2 threads.


Religions don't always have "doctrine" or "beliefs" -- so they don't always rely on failing to question them.

This was one of the earliest difficulties that students of comparative religion had to grapple with when the field was getting started -- around 1800 -- and they began to look into classical cults like the Eleusinian Mysteries in a serious manner. The substance of many religions is just ritual. There is a mythic story to back the ritual, for sure; but the elaboration of this story into a vast body of doctrine with an attempt at logic holding it together is rare in the history of religion.

Most religious behaviour is a little like the conceit of NORAD tracking Santa Clause. It's pursued in a serious way, and there is a serious ethic behind it -- the promise of just rewards will be kept -- but the function of it is more in the practice and sincerity of the people working together on the religious performance than it is in any particular ideas that they have. If you asked the people at NORAD, if they believed in Santa Clause, and if they were really tracking him, they would say no, but it would not change their behaviour one iota, because the show they are putting on is not about the "fact" of Santa Clause's existence.

Religion is, for the most part, a dramatisation of sincerely held community values. It is rare in history for religion to have the kind of gate keeping power over scientific matters, or even over ideas, that the Catholic Church famously exercised over Galileo, and it is rare for religion to care that much or to try to exercise that kind of power. In many parts of the world, religions coexist and share believers, without any drive to bring their ideas in line with one another. In historical China, the "Three Sages" -- Laozi, Buddha and Confucious -- were often worshipped together, although it was accepted that they were the founders of different religions. One can easily find similar examples of syncretism throughout East Asia today.

Religion is how people connect their lives to one another and to story. It is present whenever people gather in remembrance or humble themselves before some great symbol -- the Starship Enterprise, the great cube at Mecca, the old corn cob pipe of a famous movie star -- which embodies shared values or hope for the future. Religion is something fundamental to human behaviour, universal when you can recognise it -- and subtly powerful and controlling when you can not.


Why should science learn from religion [0] or religion learn from science? They serve two different purposes.

"Science" (ultimately the scientific method) concerns itself with empiricism, and exploration of outcomes without regard to their inherent meanings and purposes. This is GOOD.

Religion / Ideology (whether with a deity or not) is teleological and imparts purpose and meaning to empirical observations as well as things that are beyond empiricism. This is also GOOD.

Both should probably work together. But they should probably remain separate concepts.

[0] "Religion" in my mind includes all teleological ideologies; things like 'capitalism', 'Marxism', 'Nazism', 'Baathism', 'emacism', etc.


> While fundamentalist faiths cast science as a misguided or even malicious source of information

I wonder which faiths they are talking about here.

When it comes to Christianity, well, we love science. We look at it like this - science answers "what and how" while religion answers "who and why". So there's no competition between the two.

For more on the topic: https://soundcloud.com/bulldogcatholic/122518-but-why (around 4:00 mark)


> When it comes to Christianity, well, we love science.

Christian attitudes toward science vary quite strongly. The Catholic Church has an attitude generally similar to what you describe (but still gets uncomfortable with scientific inquiry on some questions clearly within the domain that is empirically explorable), other groups (particularly within, say, parts of the evangelical and fundamentalist parts of Protestantism, and the quote you respond to addressed “fundamentalist faiths” specifically) have different general attitudes (or wider or more intense areas where they are resistant to or oppose scientific examination.)


> When it comes to Christianity, well, we love science. We look at it like this - science answers "what and how" while religion answers "who and why". So there's no competition between the two.

"Why" questions are either nonsense (like, questions about some made-up "ultimate purpose") or "how" questions in disguise, "who" questions are presupposing an answer to what are actually "how" questions, in order to pretend that it's not a scientific question.


>"Why" questions are either nonsense (like, questions about some made-up "ultimate purpose")

In addition to religion, you're outright dismissing entire fields of study, philosophy, ethics, law etc... that are extremely relevant to all of our lives. Whether you believe the "why" questions can every be answered is one thing, but dismissing them as nonsense without even trying to support your argument is extremely arrogant.


Do you have an example of a "why" question that is not a "how" question in disguise and that you think is not a nonsense question?


Why should I should I try to minimize the suffering of another person if it has no impact on myself and there is no chance of a reward?


This seems to me a "how" disguised. Presumably, you WANT the answer to be conducive to people caring about other people. Or would you accept as answer "No, there's no reason to care about others in this situation"?

So if you want a particular answer then you are asking "How can I make it so that people care?"


>Or would you accept as answer "No, there's no reason to care about others in this situation"?

That's an acceptable answer. My next question is: "Why don't you believe it's wrong not to care about another's suffering?"

And you say: "There is no inherent right or wrong--self interest is the only arbiter of morality."

And we go back and forth until you get to a level where you've basically made an arbitrary assumption.

That assumption is an axiom that you base your world view on. The why that came before that discovery wasn't nonsense


> That's an acceptable answer. My next question is: "Why don't you believe it's wrong not to care about another's suffering?"

First, that's a straw man. It's a straw man because they didn't say they didn't care about another's suffering, they said there might be no reason to care in that particular highly unrealistic scenario that you presented that was intentionally crafted so as to not have a reason to care.

Then, in so far as you refer only to your hypothetical scenario, the answer has already been given: Because there is no reason, or at least there is no reason that they are aware of. If you were asking them for justification as to why they aren't aware of any reasons, that's obviously a nonsensical question if you don't provide a reason for which they might be able to investigate how it came that they weren't aware of that reason.

> And we go back and forth until you get to a level where you've basically made an arbitrary assumption.

No, that's bullshit, and probably a whole load of equivocation to make the unreasonable seem equivalent to the reasonable.


>Strawman

It's not a strawman, it doesn't matter what the reason the person gave was. I'm not trying to make my hypothetical person supply the easiest answer to attack, I'm not even trying to attack their answer.

>No, that's bullshit, and probably a whole load of equivocation to make the unreasonable seem equivalent to the reasonable.

It's not possible to have beliefs that aren't based on assumptions. I guess you can think that's bullshit, but your belief doesn't make it so.


> It's not a strawman, it doesn't matter what the reason the person gave was. I'm not trying to make my hypothetical person supply the easiest answer to attack, I'm not even trying to attack them.

Well, maybe, that depends on which path of the equivocation we follow.

> It's not possible to have beliefs that aren't based on assumptions. I guess you can think that's bullshit, but your belief doesn't make it so.

Yeah, that's the equivocation I am talking about. You didn't say "you've made an assumption", you said "you've basically made an arbitrary assumption".

Let me guess what you are really trying to say:

"It is just an assumption that reality is real, therefore, if you think that that assumption is acceptable, you should also not have any objection to the assumption that god exists/gave us morals/some other unjustified supernatural claim."

Right?

It's not that there isn't an interpretation of what you wrote that is indeed true (kindof), it's just that that interpretation is irrelevant to the argument that you are trying to make, which relies on a different interpretation, which unfortunately is not true.


>Yeah, that's the equivocation I am talking about. You didn't say "you've made an assumption", you said "you've basically made an arbitrary assumption".

Arbitrary isn't the right word. Not self-evident is better.

>Right?

No, I'm not trying to prove to you that God exists.

>the argument that you are trying to make, which relies on a different interpretation, which unfortunately is not true.

You are having that argument with yourself, not me.

>unfortunately

I don't think I could write a more condescending, disingenuous statement if I tried.


So, do I understand you correctly that you are looking for an answer to that question that does not in any way refer to observable consequences of that choice? The queston is unfortunately ambiguous and could also be taken as a "how" question in disguise (asking for how it is that humans tend to have an innate tendency to minimize the suffering of another person without too much consideration of the economics of the particular situation, for example).


That's not the question. I'm not asking why humans tend to do something.

I'm asking why should one person's suffering or one person's life be intrinsically important to another---not why it often is.

To get to the point another way. To decide how to act you need some kind of ethical system. Let's say you pick utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism says that the suffering and happiness of each individual counts equally.

The obvious question is: "Why is that so?"

A possible answer is that, this is the premise that leads to the optimal outcome of maximum total happiness.

Which leads to the next question: "Why is maximum total happiness the optimal outcome?"

It's never ending. There is always another why question. Going deeper and deeper into that rabbit hole can be maddening and it's not always useful, but sometime it is. Ands it's almost always useful to ask a few whys.

Without asking the whys, you have no justification for any of your beliefs, and thus no way of knowing which beliefs to hold on to.


> That's not the question. I'm not asking why humans tend to do something.

I suspect that you are ... or you are indeed asking a nonsense question. But let's see ...

> I'm asking why should one person's suffering or one person's life be intrinsically important to another---not why it often is.

OK. I'm still not sure what exactly you mean by that question, though.

> To get to the point another way. To decide how to act you need some kind of ethical system.

Sure, that seems sensible to me.

> Let's say you pick utilitarianism.

OK.

> Utilitarianism says that the suffering and happiness of each individual counts equally.

I am not sure it necessarily does, but I guess that doesn't matter for the point that you are trying to make, so let's assume it does ...

> The obvious question is: "Why is that so?"

Which is a "how" question in disguise, isn't it? "How did it come that philosophers chose to define utilitarianism this way?" That certainly sounds like a very much empirical question to me!?

> A possible answer is that, this is the premise that leads to the optimal outcome of maximum total happiness.

That might well be a justification given by some philosopher, sure!?

> Which leads to the next question: "Why is maximum total happiness the optimal outcome?"

Which is another "how" question in disguise, isn't it? It's again asking for how it came to be that this was considered the optimal outcome, isn't it?

> It's never ending. There is always another why question. Going deeper and deeper into that rabbit hole can be maddening and it's not always useful, but sometime it is. Ands it's almost always useful to ask a few whys.

Well, if they are "how" questions in disguise, yeah, sure ... but you might as well directly ask the "how" questions in order to avoid the confusion? If you really don't mean a "how" question by those (be it exactly the ones I suggested above, or possibly slightly different ones), though, I don't really understand what your question is here either.

> Without asking the whys, you have no justification for any of your beliefs, and thus no way of knowing which beliefs to hold on to.

Well, yes, again, if you actually mean disguised "how" questions. I mean, just asking the question doesn't give you a justification, right? Rather, it's the first step towards potentially finding an answer, which then can serve as a justification. It's just that "why" questions that are not "how" questions in disguise don't have answers, which is why they are useless for the purpose, or if they have "answers", then that's only because the answer is assumed in the question, which obviously doesn't make for a good justification for anything.

I am still curious though what exactly it is that you mean by "I'm asking why should one person's suffering or one person's life be intrinsically important to another"!


Im asking to attempt to provide a justification for the commonly held belief that a person has intrinsic value.

If you reject that belief and don't believe it is justifiable, why is that the case. Either way it doesn't really matter to my point.

If you arbitrarily decide that all why questions are how questions, then you can't really ask a why question can you?

>if they have "answers", then that's only because the answer is assumed in the question,

Many ethical systems make the assumption that human happiness has intrinsic value--that it is an inherently good thing.

They work backwards from that because what is "good" can't be discovered from observation and experimentation.

>I am not sure it necessarily does

It's definitely one of the basic tenets of Utilitarianism.


> Im asking to attempt to provide a justification for the commonly held belief that a person has intrinsic value.

OK--and that's rather obviously a nonsensical question, because "intrinsic value" is a vacuous phrase. Value is by definition a subjective property assigned by a "valuer", while "intrinsic" is by definition a property that is independent of other entities. So, you are asking for a justification for the belief that a person has a value assigned to it by a valuer, absent any valuer. Obviously, such a thing doesn't exist due to logical self-contradiction, and thus no justification for it can exist either.

> If you reject that belief and don't believe it is justifiable, why is that the case.

Because it is a logical impossibility.

> If you arbitrarily decide that all why questions are how questions, then you can't really ask a why question can you?

I didn't do that? There are "genuine" "why" questions, they just are nonsensical (when not asking about a demonstrated conscious entity). "Why" has two distinct meanings, one of which is asking for an underlying mechanism, which maps to what I am calling "how" questions (because questions using "why" in that sense can be rephrased using "how"), the other is asking for an underlying intention, those are the "genuine" "why" questions.

So, "Why does the sun rise in the east" is ambiguous. That question might be asking for the mechanism that makes the sun rise in the east, in which case it's a "how" question in disguise that is obviously one that can be examined empirically. Or it might be asking for the intention behind making the sun rise in the east--in which case it makes the unjustified assumption that there is some sort of consciousness behind it that had an intention when making the sun rise in the east, which is why it is a nonsensical question.

Obviously, it is perfectly sensible to ask genuine "why" questions about entities that are known to have intentions, like "Why did you leave the light on?".

> Many ethical systems make the assumption that human happiness has intrinsic value--that it is an inherently good thing.

Arguably, they don't. Obviously, it's difficult to say anything specific about some unspecified ethical systems, but are you sure that you are not confusing the assumption that human happiness has value with the assumption that human happiness has intrinsic value? The assumption that human happiness has value seems common, the assumption that that value is intrinsic, not so much, very much to the contrary: It would seem rather obvious that that assumption is based on the valuation by the philosopher who is making the assumption. Really, it is questionable whether it is even an assumption, given that there is pretty overwhelming and ubiquitous evidence that humans almost universally value their own happiness. While that might not always be discussed explicitly, that often seems more like a technicality to me than like an actual lack of justification.

> They work backwards from that because what is "good" can't be discovered from observation and experimentation.

How else would it possibly be discovered? Or maybe I should ask first: What do you mean by "good"?

> It's definitely one of the basic tenets of Utilitarianism.

Well, I don't necessarily agree, but I also don't think it matters for this discussion, as it's probably a good enough approximation for the purpose.

Also, if you are interested in a longer explanation of why the concept of "intrinsic value" doesn't make much sense, you might be interested in this video: https://youtu.be/2ASKV7Wg2jE


>I didn't do that? There are "genuine" "why" questions, they just are nonsensical (when not asking about a demonstrated conscious entity).

If you accept that why questions are only applicable in the context of a "demonstrated conscious entity", and you are a believer in strict determinism, then there are no genuine why questions.

>Also, if you are interested in a longer explanation of why the concept of "intrinsic value" doesn't make much sense, you might be interested in this video: https://youtu.be/2ASKV7Wg2jE

If you want to learn more about the concept of "intrinsic value" I suggest you start here for a history of the concept and a summary of current work on the subject-- https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/value-intrinsic-extrinsic..., and not on a popular speaker's YouTube channel.

Rejecting the concept of intrinsic value raises many problems for ethical frameworks--none of which have been adequately solved. Don't pretend that it's a settled topic because you said it is.

It's only during the last century or so that philosophers have even entertained the idea that it might be possible to have an ethical system without the concept of intrinsic value.


> If you accept that why questions are only applicable in the context of a "demonstrated conscious entity", and you are a believer in strict determinism, then there are no genuine why questions.

Your point being?

> If you want to learn more about the concept of "intrinsic value" I suggest you start here for a history of the concept and a summary of current work on the subject-- https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/value-intrinsic-extrinsic..., and not on a popular speaker's YouTube channel.

Haha, seriously? You think that reading all those pages would help me understand that there is such a thing as a valuer absent the valuer? Like, reading will help with accepting a logical contradiction as truth?

> Rejecting the concept of intrinsic value raises many problems for ethical frameworks--none of which have been adequately solved. Don't pretend that it's a settled topic because you said it is.

So? I am not pretending anything, it's just an obvious fact that "intrinsic value" is nonsense, and it doesn't become less nonsensical because rejecting the nonsense maybe raises problems for ethical frameworks.

Really, this not the difficult question that you make it out to be. You might as well argue that there is intrinsic taste and that it's an unsolved problem for culinary frameworks if we think that whether something tastes good or bad is not intrinsic in the thing we taste. Because, how do we know something really tastes good if it isn't intrinsic in the thing? You may be asking questions back and forth, but ultimately, you will end up with a non-self-evident assumption that a certain taste is a good taste. An axiom of taste that defines your way of eating. Yeah, that's all kinda, sorta true, but also completely missing the point.

All of that, both for taste and for ethics, simply comes down to consensus and individual preferences, which themselves are broadly based in evolution (as is the interest in consensus for a social species), which is based on natural selection according to the environment our ancestors lived in, which behaves according to some natural laws. It's "how" questions all the way down, some of them answered, many not, with no indication that "why" questions are anything but baseless speculation.

> It's only during the last century or so that philosophers have even entertained the idea that it might be possible to have an ethical system without the concept of intrinsic value.

So? It's only during the last century or so that scientists have entertained the idea that light is quantized and that there is an absolute speed limit to the universe, and marginally more than that that there are things like bacteria causing disease or that phlogiston is not a thing, or that biodiversity can be explained by mutation of DNA and natural selection. Yeah, people were ignorant in the past--fortunately, that's no reason to stay ignorant?


>Haha, seriously? You think that reading all those pages would help me understand that there is such a thing as a valuer absent the valuer? Like, reading will help with accepting a logical contradiction as truth?

>fortunately, that's no reason to stay ignorant?

Do you see the irony?

You really need to read more about intrinsic value before you dismiss it. Your arguments have been made and debated in academia, some of them have been refuted, and some of them are still being argued.

Most of what you're saying is exactly as convincing as someone who argues that God must exist because nothing can exist without a cause.

Also given how grayed out most of your responses are, maybe consensus isn't self evidently preferable.


> Do you see the irony?

Nope, there isn't any.

> You really need to read more about intrinsic value before you dismiss it.

Nope, I don't think I do. But feel free to make a concise argument as to how I am wrong.

> Your arguments have been made and debated in academia, some of them have been refuted, and some of them are still being argued.

By anyone serious, or just theologians? The fact that something is "debated in academia" does not really mean anything, unfortunately.

> Most of what you're saying is exactly as convincing as someone who argues that God must exist because nothing can exist without a cause.

Well, except that the gap in that argument can trivially be shown in one sentence.

> Also given how grayed out most of your responses are, maybe consensus isn't self evidently preferable.

More importantly, it shows that consensus is all that ultimately matters, whether that is good or not, which was exactly my point.


I'm not going to rehash the last century of metaethical debate with you, and you seem to be under the impression that only theologians disagree with you.

Your entire argument is just a half formed version of metaethical moral relativism, which is a minority view among philosophers. Your views are demonstrably not self-evident.


That smells of equivocation. There is science, the methodology, and there is the body of knowledge constructed using that methodology, colloquially also often just called 'science'.

Yes, obviously one can use scientific methodology to study religion, and given that religiosity is a very common human behavior, it is hardly surprising that you can learn something about human psychology this way, thus contributing to the scientific body of knowledge.

But that does not in any way suggest that the methodology (that is, the epistemological practice of science) has anything to learn from religion, which is obviously the claim that Dawkins and Pinker are rejecting, because that is the claim that religions make when they make assertions about how the world works, as all religions do.

So, the article at best substantiates the obvious and completely uncontroversial interpretation of the title that you can make empirical observations of religious behaviour, while failing to provide any arguments in favor of the interpretation that at least some people will be prone to read into the title, that religion somehow has to offer any useful methods for distintuishing fact from fiction that should be adopted by science.


I think you are absolutely correct. Many famous scientists were and are deeply religious. Science as a methodology is antithetical to religious methodology. The only problem with this is that some people think it's a problem. Science attempts to make observations, build models and predict things based on those models. It tries to actively falsify its own models by checking whether new observations follow the predictions based on the models. Your choice of whether or not to believe in the reality of the models is still your choice. While unfair and out of context, I like to quote Einstein here: "God does not play dice with the universe". He didn't like quantum mechanics because it didn't sit well with his belief of how the universe worked. Similarly, after Michelson and Morely won the nobel prize for demonstrating that the speed of light was a constant, no matter what reference frame you were in, they spent the rest of their years trying to disprove it! They knew that the consequences of a constant speed of light was crazy physics as envisioned by Einstein and they didn't believe in that kind of universe. This happens all the time in science. We use our scientific models because they are useful, not because we believe in them as some kind of absolute truth. Granted, some people do believe that, but that belief is not science. The big takeaway is that it doesn't matter what you believe if you are using a scientific methodology. It is irrelevant -- you use what works, not what you believe.

Religion is a methodology of belief. I can't tell you the number of people I've met in my life who would curl up and shut out the world if they didn't believe in something more than they could measure or extrapolate form existing models. This is human nature, for better or for worse. Belief is necessary for most people -- even scientists (though, as I said, quite a few of them choose to believe their own models).

Like some people, I have a problem with many organised religions. Historically, religions have been very adept at using people's belief in order to liberate them from their money or their freedom (or even their lives!). However, I don't think religion, per se, is the problem. Like I said, people need to believe something and religions offer that service. It's just that having inserted themselves into that picture, people have a tendency to abuse their position (often with a considerable amount of internal justification, but I think it is abuse none-the-less). On the other hand, I've seen religious organisations do a world of good as well. This rallying force of belief is extremely strong. Even when countries have made religion illegal, they simply insert the state as the object of belief. This is because (IMHO) belief is necessary to the normal operation of human communities (and sometimes also because they want to abuse their populations ;-) ).

WRT the idea that traditional ideas may have useful applications for science, this is undeniable. But many traditional ideas are also just snake oil. The best methodology for telling the difference that I know of is science. Starting with the assumption that traditional ideas are likely to be beneficial, I think is a poor idea. However, so is starting with the assumption that traditional ideas are necessarily snake oil. If you have a question, make observations, build a model, make predictions, test those predictions with new observations. You might be wasting your time, but you might not. That's science. If you want to believe something and it makes you feel happy, then go for it. That's religion.


> Science as a methodology is antithetical to religious methodology.

“Religious methodology” varies by religion and, in some cases, varies by individuals within a religion. In a number of those religious variations, scientific methodology is an acceptable (or even the preferred) methodology for some (or even all) of the scope to which it can apply on its own terms.


That's how Hinduism is like a service.

Other major religions like Christianity, Islam were forced upon people.


I would hope we could discuss the general idea without promoting or slamming any individual groups.


> However, I don't think religion, per se, is the problem.

That I would disagree with. The defining characteristic of religion is faith, or the acceptance of unsubstantiated claims as factual truth. Faith is the most dishonest and irresponsible epistemology there is and has an obvious potential to be used for justifying unlimited badness, as has been demonstrated over and over. Ideas that have such massive risks I would say are pretty obviously a problem.

> Like I said, people need to believe something and religions offer that service.

That sounds very much like an unsubstantiated claim. The mere fact that it is common does not imply an innate need, but would be explained just as well by indoctrination--and the fact that lots of people who once felt just that need do overcome it using rational thought also suggests that it's at least not as inherent to humans as you make it out to be.

> Even when countries have made religion illegal, they simply insert the state as the object of belief.

I don't think that's a contradiction. Countries that aren't autoritarian just don't care about (lack of) religiosity of their citizens, but authoritarian states always demand submission to their doctrine and thus ban all other belief systems--in the case of theocratic states, they ban all other religions and sects, in the case of non-theocratic states, they ban all "traditional religions". None of that is about religion vs. lack of religion, it is only about banning competition.

> This is because (IMHO) belief is necessary to the normal operation of human communities (and sometimes also because they want to abuse their populations ;-) ).

I don't see why that should be.


> The defining characteristic of religion is faith...

That's actually not true. One clue here is that many religions do not ask for faith, which is to say one does not actually observe a demand of faith universally in religions. Faith per se is not observable, so it would not do as a defining characteristic of religion.

Frequently, religions only ask for ritual observance. This is the defining characteristic of religion -- ritual observance that affirms a person's commitment to a community and its values. Whether people "really believe" or not has no simple effect on whether the ritual serves to reinforce shared values or not. Many people feel bonded to a community and its values even when engaging with a mythology that is obviously fictitious, as for example when people go to the desert to burn the man every year; or dress up like aliens and head to Star Trek Vegas.


> Many people feel bonded to a community and its values even when engaging with a mythology that is obviously fictitious, as for example when people go to the desert to burn the man every year; or dress up like aliens and head to Star Trek Vegas.

Seriously? You are including hobby clubs of sorts into the definition of religions in order to support your claim that many religions do not ask for faith?

So, atheist associations with regular meetings are religions, too, then, I suppose?


It is probably better to think of most religions as very dramatic hobby clubs.

Just having regular meetings is not enough to be "performative" or "ritualistic". What if the atheist association always began every meeting with a hymn to Richard Dawkins, and then a ceremonial swim of a little model HMS Beagle around a miniature island, always widdershins (opposite to the sun)? This would be the beginnings of religion.


I have a potentially interesting task for you to perform. If I am wrong and belief is not required for human communities, then it is sufficient to build a general community that does not require belief. To show that this is generally applicable, and not just applicable if you cherry pick the individuals, the members of the community should be as picked as randomly as you can manage. Convince such a population and you will convince me as well!


Arguably, humanity is in the process of doing just that?

Mind you, I didn't claim that you can de-indoctrinate all humans on the planet today. Chances are that some people are beyond that. But that's not even all that special for faith or indoctrination, some people just have extreme problems with rationally controlling their behaviour in some regards, and be it that they have OCD or some eating disorder. But just because some people have eating disorders that they have trouble overcoming, we don't say that "eating disorders are required for human communities".

So, let's ignore that some minority might always exhibit some sort of religious behaviour. Then you will notice that religiosity is shrinking massively, despite being almost universal not so long ago, both due to people overcoming their religion and due to children not being indoctrinated and thus never getting the idea in the first place. That suggests that it's not all that hard-wired, doesn't it?

Now, will there be a barrier where religion will stop shrinking? Who knows, but I don't see any reason why it unavoidably should.


Possibly it is. I'll be honest, if so then I'll be the first one celebrating. I'm not religious, but my wife is very religious. I suppose it is not surprising, both her father and younger brother were priests. It's taken me quite a long time to learn to appreciate what she gets from religion. I'll tell you, without pretense, that it has been challenging for me. However, at least for me (and you may very well find it different) I came to a realisation that I was being unreasonably biased against my wife's religion. In fact I had my own religion: science -- which I believed in quite strongly. I'm not talking about accepting models because they are useful. I generally believed these models to be true. Eventually I started to question why I believed the models to be true. Consistent things are often not as they appear. Why do I believe this consistent thing to be true. At least for me, I decided it's just another religion. And strangely, that allowed me to abandon it. I now believe in a very strange religion in which the universe appears to me to probably be very different, although consistent with our scientific models. Possibly I'm the only one in that religion and I have no problem with that.

I think the point I'm trying to make is that, especially those of us who have a hard time with religion fall just as easily into our own religions. That's an embarrassing and difficult thing to look at. I literally moved from my native Canada to Japan, partly because I was frustrated with the implied Christianity of Canadian society -- almost as if it's a matter of common sense that you will be Christian if you aren't already spoken for by a different religion. I really enjoyed the fact that Christmas in Japan meant going out with your girlfriend to Kentucky Fried Chicken (seriously, you have to book 3 months in advance!)

This is a pretty personal thing to post on a public forum, but I think it should be fine to say these kinds of things (or at least I wish to live in a world where it is), so hopefully nobody will take offense. But, (again my personal opinion, which I hope you will take as just an old guy being friendly) my wife really enjoys her religion. It brings many good things for her and, to be completely honest, while her religion has doctrine (which, incidentally, not all religions have) I haven't actually met anybody in her church that demands that doctrine.

I was going to say that I have not met a single person who really had any interest in exploring the world beyond their doctrine in a church, but this is actually not true. One of my wife's friends is a priest who got a double major in astronomy and computer science (and had a pile of scholarships and studied in a whole bunch of famous universities). Then he became a priest. I asked him why, with the education he had that he decided to become a priest. He just said that he enjoyed being a priest. He believes in his religion and has no way to reconcile his education and his beliefs, but he is completely OK with that.

I really miss him to be honest. He got posted to Malaysia (being a priest is a super hard job). He's one of the few people I've met in a church who ever accepted me for who I am and what I believe. He frequently stood up for me and explained to other people that not everybody believes what they believe. I was very grateful for that.

These days, even though I don't believe what other people believe, I feel it is important to respect that belief. In human life there are a lot of contradictions. There are many things that don't match up (like my wife's friend, the priest). However, we all have biases and we all have points beyond which we regretfully don't look. We look past our own bigotry and somehow think that only our view must be right. Ironically, we tend to all be united in our discrimination.

It's just my idea and it may be horribly flawed, but I think we need to first accept other people as they are before we invite them into our own field of vision. Sometimes that's hard to do.

Anyway, again, I apologise if this meets you at a time when you aren't really in the mood to read it. I hope you take it in the spirit in which it is offered -- just an old guy rambling on about stuff that probably doesn't matter ;-) Even if I don't agree with you, I've really enjoyed thinking about what you have had to say. Thank you!


> In fact I had my own religion: science -- which I believed in quite strongly. I'm not talking about accepting models because they are useful. I generally believed these models to be true.

In other words: The problem was your religion of sorts, which was rather obviously not science (because of lack of falsifiability), and not science?

> I think the point I'm trying to make is that, especially those of us who have a hard time with religion fall just as easily into our own religions. That's an embarrassing and difficult thing to look at.

Well ... all the more reason to consider religion a problem per se, then? I mean, not acknowledging that it is a problem won't help with avoiding it, will it?

> But, (again my personal opinion, which I hope you will take as just an old guy being friendly) my wife really enjoys her religion.

Well, and some drug addicts really enjoy their drugs ... your point being? I mean, yes, there is essentially nothing where you can't find some subjective positive aspect to it for someone, but that's hardly much of an argument in favor of the thing?!

> It brings many good things for her

But does it? Or is that merely religion taking credit? Like, would she be any worse off if you took her life and removed only precisely the religious aspects? Mind you, that does not mean removing church from her life, for example, as in the social organization, but only those aspects that involve faith/doctrine/supernatural claims. Just because the institution that she belongs to happens to have religion as a declared goal, doesn't mean the religion aspect of it actually provides her any benefit.

> and, to be completely honest, while her religion has doctrine (which, incidentally, not all religions have) I haven't actually met anybody in her church that demands that doctrine.

Well, or do they? How would they react if she started questioning things in her church? Would they willingly engage, give her a podium? Also, do they still indoctrinate children? Will they stand with her when she protests indoctrination? Doesn't the faith aspect of her religion impair her epistemology and that of the other people in her church? Bad ideas are still bad ideas when they are used in small doses.

> He believes in his religion and has no way to reconcile his education and his beliefs, but he is completely OK with that.

Which is just obvious nonsense? I mean, how aren't you saying that he is simultaneously accepting as true multiple propositions that contradict each other, which would be an obvious impossibility?

> I really miss him to be honest. He got posted to Malaysia (being a priest is a super hard job). He's one of the few people I've met in a church who ever accepted me for who I am and what I believe. He frequently stood up for me and explained to other people that not everybody believes what they believe. I was very grateful for that.

Well, that's great--but the problem that he is helping you with there wouldn't exist in the first place if there weren't people like him teaching all those falsehoods that create the division in the first place, so I am not sure I can see more than a net zero contribution to your well-being in this? First teaching people that there are (completely fabricated) reasons to reject people like you, and then standing up for you when those people act on what he taught them is not exactly a contribution to society.

> These days, even though I don't believe what other people believe, I feel it is important to respect that belief.

Why? I understand it that you are not talking about respecting the person, but about respecting the belief, right? How could that possibly be a good idea? And how do you decide where that applies? I believe that white people are inferior to black people. Do you respect that? If not, why not?

To the contrary, I think that respect for the person trumps respect for a belief. If someone is a member of scientology and they believe that Xenu fought the aliens (or whatever their theology was, I don't remember), how would respecting that belief rather than challenging it be anything but a sign of lack of respect for the person that is stuck in that belief system? They don't have the means to defend themselves against the abuse, and you leave them to their fate out of respect?!

> It's just my idea and it may be horribly flawed, but I think we need to first accept other people as they are before we invite them into our own field of vision. Sometimes that's hard to do.

Well, maybe? But then that's respect for the person, not for the belief, isn't it?

stephenr 19 days ago [flagged]

How to systemically abuse various groups of people for centuries?

How to use people’s fear of the unknown for tax free profit?

How to dress up bigotry so it sounds like something less obviously horrible?

Did I miss anything?


Please don't do religious flamewar on HN. We're hoping for somewhat higher quality here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Then why is the article even allowed?


Because it makes intellectually interesting points that can be responded to thoughtfully.


Right. Just don't mention all the abuse and everyone can pretend everything is fine.


That's certainly not the intention here! But HN is not a good place to sort of vent the fumes that have resulted from abuse, in an unprocessed way. The feelings are legitimate, but if you (or I or anyone) simply blasts them out, we're not really conversing. We're either venting—not a community activity—or battling, which is about defeating enemies rather than exchanging information.

This might make more sense if you review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html about the intended spirit of this site. These other links might also be helpful:

https://news.ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html

https://news.ycombinator.com/hackernews.html

http://www.paulgraham.com/hackernews.html

http://www.paulgraham.com/trolls.html




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