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A Christmas Card from the SkepDoc

The holiday season is upon us. As a bit of a holiday from science-based writing, I thought I would offer some thoughts inspired by the season and not supported by any scientific evidence.

One of my friends refers to Christmas as “The Feast of St. Dyspepsia.” Holidays are indeed an occasion for over-indulging. People change their routine: they have time off work, they travel, spend too much money, go to parties, skip exercising, eat and drink things they ordinarily avoid, gain weight, and then suffer from post-holiday guilt.

Science and Mom both tell us we will be healthier if we eat our fruits and vegetables, exercise, avoid large quantities of alcohol, get enough rest, avoid stress, and control our weight. I would argue that if we follow that guidance most of the time, an occasional lapse is not likely to matter very much. And the pleasure we experience might even be good for our health.

Now for some heretical words.

Science isn’t everything. Health isn’t everything. Even truth isn’t everything. Humans find value in other things like music and mythology, things that bring great pleasure and help make life worth living.

We value truth, but tell white lies to be kind and to maintain interpersonal harmony (“No, those pants don’t make your butt look too big.”) Things that are not true play a big part in human life. Religions are based on myths — not your religion, of course, but certainly all of those other religions! We appreciate stories and read fiction for pleasure and enlightenment. We watch sci-fi and fantasy movies: we temporarily suspend judgment to accept the most improbable premises for the purpose of a good story.

Whether you think the “reason for the season” is axial tilt or Jesus’ birthday, Christmas probably matters to you in some way, either as a tradition to celebrate or an occasion to avoid the crowds at the mall. Even nonparticipants and bah-humbug curmudgeons can appreciate some things about it. The excitement is contagious, the decorations and lights are pretty and imaginative, the seasonal music can be appreciated for its own sake. The holiday season brings families and friends together. Santa isn’t real, but he has brought very real pleasure to generations of children and parents. The pleasure of giving and receiving gifts is very real, and gifts have meaning as tokens of love. Following family traditions serves to remember and honor our forebears and to reinforce family bonds.

New Year’s is not just an excuse to wear funny hats and drink champagne, to invite friends over for football and Hoppin’ John. It serves as a landmark to help us appreciate the passage of time and reflect on our history and our future plans. And it’s an occasion to relish the company of others, to relax, and to enjoy pleasures we usually deny ourselves.

So please keep reading Science-Based Medicine, but don’t forget that, along with science, there are other aspects to life that are valuable too. We find meaning in things like love and beauty that don’t readily lend themselves to randomized controlled trials. Science is essential, but it isn’t everything.

I hope you will enjoy the holiday season in your own way, that you will allow yourself some indulgences (hopefully short of St. Dyspepsia or St. Hangover), and that you won’t feel guilty about your holiday pleasures.

Merry Whatever You Choose and Best Wishes for a Fruitful New Year

from Harriet Hall, The SkepDoc

 

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100 thoughts on “A Christmas Card from the SkepDoc

  1. rmgw says:

    “……and that you won’t feel guilty about your holiday pleasures….” especially if, like the thousands of vegetarians and vegans all over the world, your holiday pleasures don’t involve the end of life for some poor fellow creature.

    There are indeed “things that bring great pleasure and help make life worth living” – life IS worth living, all sentient beings struggle to hold on to it: we don’t need to kill them to make merry.

    Happy Holidays to all!

  2. DKlein says:

    Thanks for a lovely “Christmas card.” Best wishes to everyone here for the holidays and the 2012. Discovering this blog has been one of this year’s highlights for me.

  3. Janet Camp says:

    I have no quarrel with you trying to wish everyone a Happy Holiday, but for the record, I do not have ANY religion, nor do I “… read fiction for pleasure and enlightenment, …watch sci-fi and fantasy movies,…temporarily suspend judgment to accept the most improbable premises for the purpose of a good story.” Perhaps occasionally on the last one.

    Science and reason do very well for me. I participate in some of the trappings of Christmas because it is rewarding to delight my grandchildren and because it is difficult to not participate in any way. We need holidays for psychological reasons I suppose, and I even go to church on Christmas Eve sometimes because I like the music and the candlelight service is pretty, but I do not ever suspend reason or temporarily get the notion that a child was born of a virgin mother in order to save humankind. Lately, I’ve started attending “Festivus for the Rest Of Us” parties even though I’m not a Seinfeld devotee. It is sponsored by the local skeptic group so at least I can share the season with some like-minded people.

  4. Thanks rmgw – it is nice to have someone standing up for the animals (of which we are a part, let’s not forget) (And though not a vegan, I avoid meat simply because I don’t enjoy it.).

    Without humans killing and eating animals, animals would live happy lives forever and ever. When I get discouraged at the idea of humans slaughtering animals for food, I turn to the nature shows – to remind me of the peaceful and harmonious lives that animals live in the wild. Imagine how I’d feel if non-human animals were actually eating other animals and just imagine how disturbing that would be! (It’d probably also make me feel not so bad for eating the occasional dish that contains meat.)

    Oh, wait, that’s not what Harriet’s blog entry was about? Thanks for hijacking it!

    Harriet,
    Great entry. Sadly your reminder is necessary – too often we are referred to as heartless and inhuman. This season (because of axial tilt) is a time for spending time with family and friends and catching up on some of the _other_ important things in life. It reminds me to load up Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” on YouTube.

    Whatever your reason, enjoy the season. Looking forward to a rational and science-based new year.

  5. DevoutCatalyst says:

    “…but I do not ever suspend reason or temporarily get the notion that a child was born of a virgin mother in order to save humankind.”

    No, the virgin birth was so that David Bowie could sing that lovely Peace on Earth duet with Bing Crosby on YouTube one day. Here’s to skeptics in the church on Christmas Eve — or not; may all your LED Christmas lights be merry and bright.

  6. cervantes says:

    I’ll take this as an open thread and use the opportunity to bring the Good News to all nations: Appeals court upholds $37.6 million dollar fine for Kevin Trudeau. He’s blathering about his free speech rights and appealing to the Supreme Court yadda yadda yadda. He also says he’s going to run for Congress. Bring it on, you vile scum.

  7. Nice post. Merry Christmas, SBM blog and community!

    BTW: not only does “Science and Mom both tell us we will be healthier if we eat our fruits and vegetables, exercise, avoid large quantities of alcohol, get enough rest, avoid stress, and control our weight.”

    This is all part of a Biblical life. It is comforting to me to know that as we humans use our intellect to figure out what leads to health and what leads to illness, the Bible’s guidelines hold up.

    Cheers! (Eccl 8:15; Is 22:13; 1 cor 15:32; Luke 7:34)

  8. Lovely sentiments, Dr Hall. Your post reminds me of a quote I heard awhile back. “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”*.

    On another topic, I, for one, have decided to make better health choices this holiday season. I have elected to replace my traditional eggnog and rum with a** Bloody Mary :) They are like a salad with a shot of vodka AND oh so festive with the red and green color palatte.

    I’ll take this opportunity to wish all the SBM writers and commenters a wonderful holiday season and good health and fortune in the New Year. Thanks for providing a reliable source of stimulating and thought provoking material.

    *William Bruce Cameron, although often credited to Einstein.

    **well hopefully more than “a”, several at least, there’s a lot of excited kids at home and visiting relatives ahead of me.

  9. ConspicuousCarl says:

    My Christmas card had ten dollars in it.

  10. Dpeabody says:

    Heresy!

    As I sit here in my ivory tower enjoying the cold, as it suits my personality. Know that on Christmas day the children will be taking part in a RCT. To discover when it comes to gifts, whether it is really the “thought that counts”.

    Christmas dinner will be a study to find out whether gravy really does enhance the taste of turkey. This will involve a Gravy / No Gravy / Imitation gravy (water & brown) semi-randomly controlled trial. (Guess who will be getting the gravy.) And because self reporting is so unreliable the children will be hooked up to electrodes to measure their reaction to the meal.

    A Christmas devoid of science is a Christmas that forgets the true meaning of the holiday. A time for risky experimentation on those that are too inebriated to defend themselves.

    Happy Holidays

  11. Roadstergal says:

    Dpeabody – fantastic ideas! I’m there! I’ll have a paper next year – “Thought versus monetary value as factors in gift appreciation.” We’ll have to control for the different ways to quantitate thought – intensity vs. time spent? Does it has to be rational thought? This is going to be a big study.

    My husband and I will be not eating animals, not giving each other gifts, not drinking terribly much, but we will be enjoying the festivities, the time off, and the opportunities for two-wheeled adventure.

  12. aeauooo says:

    @MedsVsTherapy

    Don’t forget Daniel 1:8-15

    Merry Christmas!

  13. @Dpeabody and Roadstergel, I suspect that the income and square footage of the home of the recipient should be a factor in your research.

    While I appreciate anyone taking the time to give me a gift, a big expensive gift that I’m unlikely to use often, can not afford to reciprocate and falls on my head often due to lack of storage space is not more appreciated than an inexpensive, small, useful, evocative or at least soft, gift.

  14. Daniel M says:

    @MedsVsTherapy,

    Does that include the biblical idea that many diseases, including epilepsy, are caused by demon possession? And that genetics is wrong and mammal coats take on the shape of the environment they were bred in (Genesis 30:37-42)? Sorry, but I don’t think those biblical ideas have held up well to scientific scrutiny (and don’t get us started on talking donkeys and snakes, a global flood, seances working in 1 Samuel, or the Magi using astrology to find Jesus). There are a lot of skeptics here, so you might be wasting your time trying to cherry-picking verses to back up the science in the Bible. Just a friendly tip, but good luck and Merry Christmas!

  15. aeauooo says:

    @Daniel M

    “Does that include the biblical idea that many diseases, including epilepsy, are caused by demon possession?”

    “In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 110

    “‘Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.’ ‘Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.’” CCC, 159

    Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA – terrible acronym! Cancrum oris, New Orleans Museum Of Art)

  16. nybgrus says:

    Just couldn’t resist:

    NOMA is a failed notion. It is a false defensive wall set up by theists to isolate their views from the auspices of science. Which is all well and good, except who wants to take bets that the religious authorities would continue to uphold NOMA if there was rock solid genetic evidence of the divinity of Jesus Christ? Do you really think they would say “Oh no, we don’t want or need your science, don’t forget about NOMA!” or would they jump all over it and demand that everyone respect it as proof of their religion?

    No, NOMA is just a one way valve to throw up when science disproves religion but would be gone in a flash the moment even the slightest sliver of science came about to support some theistic trope.

    Beyond that, a sincere Happy Holidays to all (my family celebrates Christmas with a giant tree and a big feast) – I know I will be enjoying it immensely since my medical board exam is tomorrow and I will finally be free.

    However, it will not be devoid of science, since I have recently acquired the entire Frozen Planet series and will enjoy the soothing sounds of the amazing Mr. David Attenborough whilst sipping on a spiked hot chocolate by the fire.

  17. OMG, this is perfect, it’s just like the holidays of my youth….sigh, good times, gathered around the table of delicious food, adamantly arguing about, whatever.

    I will be the mom and weepily exclaim. “sniff, sniff…can’t we all just get together for the holidays without arguing.”

    :)

  18. aeauooo says:

    @nybgrus

    I can’t resist: how has science disproved religion? Religion is a phenomenon. Perhaps you meant that science has disproved the existence of God – again, how?

    I can’t speak for others, but my faith does not interfere with my capacity for scientific skepticism.

  19. Harriet Hall says:

    NOMA is fine for things that really don’t overlap, but it doesn’t apply when religion makes testable claims about things like the age of the Earth.

  20. aeauooo says:

    @Harriet Hall

    “it doesn’t apply when religion makes testable claims about things like the age of the Earth.”

    Religion does not make such claims; men who allow their non-scientific beliefs interfere with scientific objectivity make those claims.

    Attempting to scientifically prove or disprove matters of faith seems to me to be naïve and hubristic.

  21. Quill says:

    The problem with many people is that they don’t get enough fun out of life. Singing (often while mildly drunk) helps. For the holidays I offer the following, a list to sing along to the popular tune “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but made for here as “The Twelve Days of SBM Christmas.”

    1. A doctor in a dapper lab coat
    2. Two valid studies
    3. Three tiresome trolls
    4. Four blogging bloggers
    5. Five RCTs!
    6. Six interns following
    7. Seven pharms a-dispensing
    8. Eight CAM-ers quacking
    9. Nine residents napping
    10. Ten dentists drilling
    11. Eleven nurses griping
    12. Twelve surgeons stitching

  22. nybgrus says:

    @aeauooo:

    Actually, my comment is not predicated on science having proven or disproven anything. It was a fundamental attack on the very concept of NOMA.

    And of course, Dawkins was the one who said it quite nicely.

    The point being that the only things that “don’t overlap” are those that are inherently un-provable (such as the existence of a god, at least as defined by the common religions). The only defense a theist has is to either cherry pick the parts that, to some extent or another, jive with science or those that are yet to be disproven or are inherently unprovable. So NOMA exists as a convenient way to decscribe special pleading and maintain that veneer of independent respectability and veracity.

    However, if you would like an example of where science has disproven something in religion, the moon is not a light. It reflects light, which is quite contradictory to what the bible says.

    The point is that when you invoke NOMA it is a one way street (as stated quite nicely in the link I provided). Furthermore, this notion that science and religion can somehow “co-exist” is only true insofar as fantasy books and science can co-exist – nobody takes the former seriously. The moment one takes some part of a religion or holy book seriously, it is an (intentional or otherwise) deliberate suspension of anything having to do with science in order to favor an idea that someone likes instead of one supported by evidence.

    So when you say:

    Attempting to scientifically prove or disprove matters of faith seems to me to be naïve and hubristic.

    You’ve missed the boat. Science can’t and doesn’t need to disprove “matters of faith.” By definition, faith is unscientific and a useless construct for determining truth and reality. The very existence of and success of science has sufficiently demonstrated that. So anything else that a holy book lays claim to is fair territtory for science and thus, once again, NOMA falls apart.

    So invoking NOMA and “matters of faith” leaves one clinging to absolutely nothing more than “nuh-uh! Cuz I said so.” Everything else can and is tested by science, and it has been shown quite nicely (no, I won’t get into every example) that the holy books are either flat out wrong in their assertions or that they are so vague and/or obvious that they loosely agree with current scientific understanding.

  23. Harriet Hall says:

    “Religion does not make such claims;”

    Some religions don’t, and can claim NOMA status; other do, and they can’t hide under the cloak of NOMA. Fundamentalist religions do. Young earth creationists believe a literal interpretation of the Bible proves that the age of the earth is much less than the scientific evidence shows. It’s not just individuals “who allow their non-scientific beliefs interfere with scientific objectivity” but rather a solid tenet of their religion. And many religions make claims about the power of prayer that are not substantiated by the facts. Some Christian sects even claim to be able to resurrect dead people. http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/faith-healing/ If you don’t think it’s the religion, just imagine how a fundamentalist religious group would respond to a parishioner who spoke out saying evolution is factual, the earth is billions of years old, “miracles” have never been corroborated, and prayer is not effective.

  24. aeauooo says:

    @ nybgrus

    “However, if you would like an example of where science has disproven something in religion, the moon is not a light. It reflects light, which is quite contradictory to what the bible says.”

    That’s a matter of hermeneutics, not science. Neither is it necessarily a matter of faith. Refer back to CCC 110, which I cited above.

    “By definition, faith is unscientific and a useless construct for determining truth and reality.”

    Half-correct. Faith is unscientific, but whether or not it is useful for determining truth and reality depends upon the individual and/or group of individuals.

    “Everything else can and is tested by science…”

    Everything?

    I love my wife. I can’t prove that scientifically. My behaviors demonstrate a symbiotic relationship between my wife and me. My love for my wife is certainly useful to me.

    We can’t measure consciousness. We can measure physiological events and behaviors that are associated with or suggest consciousness.

    My brother-in-law has been in a minimally conscious state for eight years. He inconsistently demonstrates behaviors that suggest awareness. My in-laws’ belief that he is aware is useful to them.

    @Harriet Hall

    “Fundamentalist religions do.”

    Fundamentalists make those claims. I am not aware that fundamentalism is a religion per se.

    Religion is a human construct, so perhaps my statement that “religion makes no such claims” was too broad. Nevertheless, stating that religion makes claims is anthropomorphism. Religion cannot make claims or statement any more than science makes claims or statements. People make claims and statements.

    As a rule, I am offended by people attempting to dictate their religious beliefs as facts that others must accept. It seems to me that NOMA was intended to be a boundary to prevent those incursions in either direction.

  25. Harriet Hall says:

    @aeauooo,
    You are quibbling about semantics. Established religions have formal creeds, statements of faith, and catechisms.

  26. aeauooo says:

    @Harriet Hall

    Perhaps, but are we discussing what people believe or how they behave?

    Would you object to NOMA as strongly if there weren’t religious people who cross that boundary?

    “Science isn’t everything. Health isn’t everything. Even truth isn’t everything. Humans find value in other things like music and mythology, things that bring great pleasure and help make life worth living.”

    Faith is one of the things that, for some of us, brings pleasure and help make life worth living.

  27. Daniel M says:

    @aeauooo,

    I was responding to medsvstherapy cherry-picking Bible verses to imply the Bible contained good science on health. NOMA has been discredited by just about every philosopher I’ve read on the subject, and most theologians. I find it strange that you don’t care that there are gross science errors in the Bible. If many of the testable, ordinary claims in the Bible are false, than why should we trust the (supposedly) untestable extraordinary claims? And just because you can’t 100% disprove something doesn’t mean it is logical to believe it. You can’t 100% disprove the idea that thunder is caused by Thor (“maybe scientists just show HOW Thor creates thunder…”), but it would be ridiculous to claim since you can’t 100% disprove Thor that it is logical to believe in him.

    You wrote “whether or not [faith] is useful for determining truth and reality depends upon the individual and/or group of individuals.” Can you explain to me how faith is a reliable guide to truth? And how you can tell, absence evidence, when one group’s faith is a guide to reality and another isn’t? I used to be a committed Christian, and discovered that using the faith gambit was my excuse for not having any better evidence to substantiate my beliefs than a Greek would faith in Apollo and Dionysus.

  28. Harriet Hall says:

    @aeauooo,
    “Would you object to NOMA as strongly”

    You are reading something into what I wrote. I don’t object to NOMA when it really refers to non-overlapping areas, in fact my Christmas card specifies that I appreciate that nonscientific things make life worth living. What I object to is the doublespeak of calling it NOMA and then overlapping the magisteria. If a religious person says he can’t prove his beliefs with evidence but chooses to believe anyway, OK. If he tries to convince me that he has solid evidence, he crosses into the scientific magisterium.

  29. aeauooo says:

    @Daniel M

    “NOMA has been discredited by just about every philosopher I’ve read on the subject, and most theologians.”

    I have no particular attachment to NOMA. You won’t offend me by rejecting it. It seemed to me to be analogous to the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I cited above (159). Of course, you won’t offend me by rejecting the CCC either.

    “I find it strange that you don’t care that there are gross science errors in the Bible. If many of the testable, ordinary claims in the Bible are false, than why should we trust the (supposedly) untestable extraordinary claims?”

    The Bible is not a science textbook. Please refer back to CCC 110, which I cited above.

    “Can you explain to me how faith is a reliable guide to truth?”

    Why? You stated that you were once a committed Christian. If so, then you understand the purpose and meaning of faith to Christians.

    I’m not proselytizing.

  30. aeauooo says:

    @Harriet Hall

    “If he tries to convince me that he has solid evidence, he crosses into the scientific magisterium.”

    Which is exactly my point. It is the behavior, not the belief per se, to which you object.

    As I said above, I have no particular attachment to NOMA.

  31. Harriet Hall says:

    @aeauooo,
    “It is the behavior, not the belief per se, to which you object.”
    Not exactly. I object to beliefs that persist after they have been overturned by evidence, especially when they are part of the confession of faith of an organized religion and are excused as non-overlapping magisteria when they are not overlapping.

  32. aeauooo says:

    @Harriet Hall

    “I object to beliefs that persist after they have been overturned by evidence…”

    Respectfully, I suspect that you would consider my response to that statement to be a semantic argument.

    I would consider it redundant.

  33. Daniel M says:

    @aeauooo,

    The Catholic Church doesn’t buy into NOMA either, despite what that the CCC says. Any religion that admits to miracles, intercessory prayer, god involving himself/herself in evolution, eternal souls, god communicating through mediators, etc is not practicing NOMA. That’s why most theologians I’ve read have major problems with NOMA. I guess a religion without truth claims about the way the world works is possible, but just about no religion I am aware of does that (except for some secular Buddhists and atheistic/deistic Unitarians).

    You claimed that faith can be a guide to reality (which is an explicit denial of NOMA), and I should understand that since I used to be a Christian. Yes, I was a Christian so I do know how faith claims work, but I now highly doubt they are a guide to truth. You are claiming that faith “is useful for determining truth and reality” and I’d be interested to hear your explanation for this position, because I’ve read a lot of apologetics and never heard a rational explanation for faith determining reality.

  34. aeauooo says:

    @Daniel M

    “Any religion that admits to miracles, intercessory prayer, god involving himself/herself in evolution, eternal souls, god communicating through mediators, etc is not practicing NOMA.”

    Those who profess the Catholic faith do not profess to have scientific evidence of miracles, the Incarnation, souls, or any of the other articles of faith.

    “I’d be interested to hear your explanation for this position…”

    Would you really be interested in what I have to say? Why? My beliefs are not on trial and, since I’m not foolish enough to try to convert you to Catholicism, I don’t see why I should make the effort.

    “I’ve… never heard a rational explanation for faith determining reality.”

    What do you mean by reality? Reality, from what I recall from my readings of philosophy and human consciousness, is what we perceive. Faith is a framework for that perception.

  35. Harriet Hall says:

    Reality is what we perceive? But our perceptions deceive us; they are mental constructs rather than direct access to our surroundings. Isn’t reality determined by testing our own perceptions and those of others for consistency and response to our actions? A patient hallucinating from DTs may perceive a snake, but no one else can see it and he can’t grab it and put it in a box.

  36. aeauooo says:

    I stand corrected.

    Faith is better described as a worldview. Like culture, it influences our perceptions and interactions with the world. In that sense, it is a guide to reality for the individual.

    It is not a scientific tool.

  37. aeauooo says:

    Incidentally,

    “You are claiming that faith ‘is useful for determining truth and reality.’”

    Those weren’t my words.

  38. Daniel M says:

    aeauooo,

    I see where the confusion is. NOMA says that science is used to find truth about how the world works, and faith’s domain is solely values and morality. Any religious truth claim about how the world works (incarnation, miracles, intercessory prayer, etc) is a violation of NOMA, which is why the vast majority of both non-religious and religious philosophers find the view lacking to solve the science/religion conflict. And the Catholic church does claim to have evidence for miracles and the incarnation, maybe not scientific evidence, but certainly historical evidence. The church doesn’t rely on pure faith to postulate those things (look at the church just ‘verifying’ a miracle that a boy with a bacterial infection undergoing modern medical care, complete with surgery and antibiotics, was really cured by praying to a woman who died centuries ago).

    Reality is not “what we perceive”, and I’m afraid I’m not a postmodernist so describing faith as a guide to truth because it is a ‘framework for perception’ is not convincing. That is why we have science, because our perceptions and intuitions about the world often trick us (for example: optical illusions, magic shows, a flat earth, or thinking supernatural forces cause thunder or disease). I certainly can’t make you explain yourself, but if you think that “faith is useful for determining truth and reality” I really don’t know why you are so reticent to explain how faith can determine reality and truth, and what criteria you use to tell a false faith claim from a true one.

  39. Daniel M says:

    Sorry, but in your comment to nybgrus you wrote “Faith is unscientific, but whether or not it is useful for determining truth and reality depends upon the individual and/or group of individuals.” This clearly says that faith is useful for determining truth and reality for some groups and individuals, but not all groups and individuals. That’s why I want to know how you tell the difference between a true faith claim and a false one.

  40. Harriet Hall says:

    @aeauooo,
    “You are claiming that faith ‘is useful for determining truth and reality.’”
    “Those weren’t my words.”

    No, your exact words were: “Faith is unscientific, but whether or not it is useful for determining truth and reality depends upon the individual and/or group of individuals.” and then you said faith “is a guide to reality for the individual.”

    That is demonstrably not true. If faith were a guide to reality for the individual, all faiths would agree and would guide individuals to the same truths. Faith might alter one’s perception of reality, but it is not a guide to reality. The only reliable guide to reality is science.

  41. Quill says:

    If reality is not what we perceive, then what is it? It is usually defined as the state of things as they actually are. But how do we know that state? By perceiving it. There is no way to access such a thing that does not involve perception of some kind. The senses will always be involved and as such they’re liable to be deceived in any number of ways. Proper science tries to minimize or at least control those deceptions in a measured way but isn’t always successful.

    The idea of “direct access” to our surroundings is an interesting one though. One one hand, how can a human being access anything without using the senses? On the other, how are we not constantly in direct access with our surroundings, unless we’re suspended in deep space in a perfect void?

  42. Harriet Hall says:

    Reality is best approached by comparing and testing our perceptions against those of others. We can only access the world through our senses, but our brains put the sensory input into mental constructs, so our perceptions can’t be trusted in isolation. In a deep sense, we can never truly know reality, and science doesn’t claim to ever know “the truth” about reality, but it is the best way to reach provisional conclusions and get a handle on how the world works, enough to accomplish practical things like sending a man to the Moon.

  43. Quill says:

    “The only reliable guide to reality is science.”

    That is a fundamental tenet of philosophical realism but not a scientific assertion. Mathematically speaking, a system can’t prove itself.

  44. Quill says:

    @ Harriet Hall: Exactly so. I like that explanation of perception and science, especially the moon landing examples. I’ve always wondered in a kind of Monty Python-way what craziness would happen if NASA operated on “faith based” aeronautics.

    One of my favorite things about my own science education (such as it was!) was that it gave me a very practical and useful knowledge of those “provisional conclusions” about the workings of the world while vastly deepening my own sense of wonder at the vast nature of it all, the “true reality.” I can still go to my workshop and build a transistor radio to then go out and sit under the night sky, listening to Mozart and marveling at the sight of the stars.

  45. aeauooo says:

    My use of that sentence was a quotation of nybgrus on 21 Dec 2011 at 2:26 pm: “By definition, faith is unscientific and a useless construct for determining truth and reality.”

    @Harriet Hall

    “If faith were a guide to reality for the individual, all faiths would agree and would guide individuals to the same truths.”

    There are those who argue that to be true. I won’t go there.

    Do all cultures agree and guide individuals to the same truths?

    @Daniel M

    “NOMA says that science is used to find truth about how the world works, and faith’s domain is solely values and morality.”

    Then perhaps I misunderstand NOMA. I do not misunderstand the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    FWIW, a long-time family friend recently retired from the Vatican Observatory. He took great pride in is ability to argue against creationism. That’s the Church that I know.

  46. Harriet Hall says:

    ‘Mathematically speaking, a system can’t prove itself.” Mathematics accepts truths that can’t be formally attained from the axioms of the system itself (see Godel). We accept truths about reality from science even though science can’t formally prove that it works. Philosophy is not a reliable guide to truth, since philosophers have come to different conclusions.

  47. Harriet Hall says:

    “Do all cultures agree and guide individuals to the same truths?”
    Cultures differ. Science is the same everywhere.

  48. Quill says:

    “We accept truths about reality from science even though science can’t formally prove that it works. Philosophy is not a reliable guide to truth, since philosophers have come to different conclusions.”

    This sounds quite reasonable. Science is reliable even though individual scientists may not be, which is better than philosophy which is very unreliable — as are most philosophers! ;-)

  49. aeauooo says:

    “Cultures differ. Science is the same everywhere.”

    I agree, but that doesn’t answer my question.

    Truth and fact are not necessarily synonymous.

    You have no argument from me that “The only reliable guide to reality is science.” I conceded my misuse of the term reality.

    I will argue that both culture and faith, as frames of reference, are relevant and valuable to individuals and groups of individuals. There are a few cultures are based in science but, in general, neither culture nor faith are scientific frames of reference or worldviews.

    I have no difficulty distinguishing what I know to be facts from science and what I believe to be true from faith. I also see no conflict between the two.

  50. Daniel M says:

    aeauooo,

    And all the young earth creationists I grew up with accept that our solar system isn’t geocentric. Being scientific on some questions, like evolution, is admirable (although even the Catholic Church talks about God stepping in to impart souls in the evolutionary process and claims it can verify supernatural miracles), but that doesn’t mean the Church is correct when it postulates numerous things by faith that don’t have a lick of evidence supporting them. By the way, when I was a Christian my definition of faith was CS Lewis’, which paraphrased is: faith is accepting, despite changing circumstances and emotions, what reason has led you to believe is true. At least that definition open to new logic and evidence, but I know that isn’t how most Christians, or the dictionary, defines faith.

    I’ll not harass you further on what criteria you use to tell a true faith claim from a false. I do hope maybe you’ll be a little more careful about claiming faith is a way for some people to determine reality and truth in the future. Thanks for being a good sport and Merry Christmas!

  51. aeauooo says:

    @Daniel M

    If you were harassing me you were doing a very poor job of it!

    That’s a good quote from Lewis, paraphrased or not. I don’t know how most Christians define faith and I wonder how well those who are most vocal about their faith would respond if their faith was put to the test.

    That’s one of the things that I admire about my wife and my in-laws. I met my wife and her family while I was caring for my wife’s brother after a traumatic brain injury. After seeing what they’ve been through and the resilience of their faith (they would say that they are resilient because of their faith), many people’s professions of faith sound hollow to me.

    According to the footnote, this was not meant to be a definition of faith either:

    “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1

    Peace!

  52. NYUDDS says:

    Wonderful discussion! Civil and informative. One of the best parts was the link to Stephen Jay Gould’s essay on NOMA. Faith, as Hebrews 11:1, Paul Tillich and St. Paul mention, is basically belief in things unseen, sort of like the Higgs boson. We live in an age where science is miraculous ( the first instance of gene therapy targeting hemophilia; actually finding another chi particle) and denigrated (creationsim and the rise of the cults; the easy acceptance of “alternative” methods and materials.))

    But life is short, few are “converted”, and we all go on our merry way as comfortable as we can be, in our own skin. I choose to believe in my immortal soul and the covent of God and Abraham, always mindful that science, in the end, rules my body, as Poe suggested:

    “Out- out are the lights- out all!
    And, over each quivering form,
    The curtain, a funeral pall,
    Comes down with the rush of a storm,
    While the angels, all pallid and wan,
    Uprising, unveiling, affirm
    That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
    And its hero the Conqueror Worm”

  53. rork says:

    I have not nearly said often enough how great I think the authors here have been. (I should probably write an homage to my favorite commenters as well, but I’d be fearful of not naming some of the very best.) Do not doubt that your pens matter. I want bumper stickers for the computers of my crew at work saying “this computer kills tumors”. It is indisputable that many here have more deserving machines. Thankyou all.

  54. rork says:

    “Mathematics accepts truths that can’t be formally attained from the axioms of the system itself (see Godel).”
    I’m a great admirer but that was painful. Stick to stuff you know about.

  55. pmoran says:

    What is science? We talk about it a lot, but does anyone have a good definition?

  56. Harriet Hall says:

    Science is a way of thinking and a process of investigation involving various methods of testing hypotheses and beliefs against reality, as opposed to other alleged ways of knowing without testing, like reasoning, intuition, assumptions based on personal experience, and revelation.

    Britain’s Science Council has defined it as “the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.”

  57. Daneil M sez:
    “@aeauooo,
    I was responding to medsvstherapy cherry-picking Bible verses to imply the Bible contained good science on health.”

    1. The Bible does not contain “good science.” The knowledge and wisdom in the Bible come from God sharing info on a healthy lifestyle with us humans. We don’t need the scientific method to benefit from these basics.

    I am a scientist. I understand how science contributes to knowledge. When you are just given the info, rather than developing it thru hypothesis testing, it is not science.

    2. I don’t have to cherry-pick scriptures to trump up some shakey case that the Biblical lifestyle is salubrious. Cherry-picking suggests that there is healt-related advice all through the Bible, with some actually being healthy and some not, and I selectively picked those that match epidemiological or trial-based evidence, or that I might select various scriptures and declare that they somehow relate to health.

    A healthy lifestyle is just part and parcel of the Bible.

    Any of the SBM crowd is welcome to go read Leviticus and compare what it says to what might be healthy. The concept of quarantine is in there. The concept of sanitization is in there. Plus, some advice on what to not eat, including pork, considering the Hebrews were in the near east – Marvin Harris, an atheist Marxist, has clarified the reasons why pork is not a good idea for those in the near east, before the current era where we have finally mastered germ theory and refridgeration. You can read “Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches,” then move on to “Cultural Materialism.”

    Marvin Harris has a thin argument that our cultures, somehow, come up with these taboos. My argument is simply that God gave us this info, take it or leave it.

    Science is a method for working toward knowledge. Science is not knowledge.

    Scientism is the faith that scientific methods will reveal all knowledge, and all other possible avenues of ascertaining knowledge are inferior, if not faulty. As weak as our health-related knoweldge is, as we mull over our beliefs and check them against evidence, it gets surprising that so many keep the Scientism faith.

  58. Harriet Hall says:

    “God gave us this info”

    That belongs on a religious website, not a science-based one. At most, the Bible is hypothesis-generating: it doesn’t give us any “info” about the dangers of trichinosis, it simply prohibits eating pork. Anyway, if God gave us “info” about pork, why is it that Jews listened to that info and Christians didn’t, when they read the same text?

    Believe what you want to believe, but don’t expect us to accept that we shouldn’t rely on science because there are “others ways of knowing.” We do not subscribe to any “faith”of scientism, nor do we claim that “scientific methods will reveal all knowledge.” We simply observe that science is the only reliable way humans have yet found of separating false from true beliefs about how the world works.

  59. aeauooo says:

    @Harriet Hall

    “why is it that Jews listened to that info and Christians didn’t, when they read the same text?”

    Early Christians were Jews.

    “The next day, while they were on their way and nearing the city, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime. He was hungry and wished to eat, and while they were making preparations he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all the earth’s four-legged animals and reptiles and the birds of the sky. A voice said to him, ‘Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘Certainly not, sir. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean.’ The voice spoke to him again, a second time, ‘What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.’ This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into the sky.”
    Acts 10:9-16

  60. Harriet Hall says:

    @aeauooo,
    Now I’m really confused. God said no Jews should eat pork and then he said Jews who were Christians could eat pork? He gave us health information but he changed the information some time between the Old and New Testament? I’m sure there is some convoluted theological rationalization to explain the apparent discrepancy, but I think I’ll stick to science as a more reliable guide. Science says you can only get trichinosis from pork if you fail to cook it thoroughly.

  61. A side note , Anthrpologist Marvin Harris hypothethized that the ban on pig on Jewish and Muslim religions was actually ecological, farming practice based. Pigs dietary and environment needs competed more with humans and they are not well suited to hot dry climates.

    So perhaps the bans on eating pork are an early example of attempting to curb negative industrial practices by lowering demand for the product rather than an example of early health department regulations. Kinda interestin’, I think.

  62. aeauooo says:

    Peter’s vision was one of the events that led to the decision that a person need not be a Jew to be a Christian.

    There are a number of verses in the New Testament that nullify ritual laws of the Old Testament, e.g., circumcision and, most significantly, animal sacrifice.

    Whether or not the prohibition on pork was because of the risk of trichinellosis and cysticercosis is speculation. Others have speculated that the “seraph serpents” from Numbers 21 was dracunculiasis, that the bronze serpent that Moses mounted on a pole was both an instruction for removing Guinea worm, and the origin of the caduceus and that that first child of Solomon and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12) died from neonatal tetanus (which would have been a serious risk for another child who was born in a stable).

    Speculative attempts to explain historical events are not limited to Biblical history.

    I’m not, by any means, arguing against science. My last post was an answer to your question, “why is it that Jews listened to that info and Christians didn’t.”

  63. aeauooo says:

    Correction:

    Whether or not the prohibition on pork was because of the risk of trichinellosis and taeniasis is speculation.

  64. pmoran says:

    Any of the SBM crowd is welcome to go read Leviticus and compare what it says to what might be healthy. The concept of quarantine is in there. The concept of sanitization is in there.

    From a historical perspective, the health advice in the Bible is nevertheless suspiciously close to what any ancient civilization might have worked out for themselves, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly, and formalized over time in priestly lore.

    Communities experiencing at least one epidemic illness every year could hardly fail to eventually work out the principles of contagion and quarantine (the non-Jewish Chinese even got to try out variolation!). The polytheist Romans are said to have worked out that malaria was associated with swamps, if not knowing why.

    This, again, does not challenge the existence of a God of some less scrutable kind. Logic being a bi-directional tool, it does weaken certain religious doctrines, such as that God has and intimate abd active involvement in the welfare of His/Her flock.

    I am ashamed to admit that I am a Survivor addict. I cringed when in the recent series contestants credited God with favoring their perfomance in challenges, presumably through having an interest in them winning the million dollars!

  65. pmoran says:

    Excuse usual spelling mistakes. You must be used to them by now.

  66. aeauooo says:

    “it does weaken certain religious doctrines, such as that God has and intimate abd active involvement in the welfare of His/Her flock.”

    To my recollection, the Bible gives us no indication of why certain animals were considered “unclean.” Without the assumption that prohibitions in Leviticus were intended as public health instructions rather than instructions on ritual purity, I don’t see the weakening of the doctrine of a personal God. The dietary prohibitions are a small part of the book, which also include instructions on holy days (Lev 23) and animal sacrifices (Lev 6:17-7:38).

    Nevertheless, I don’t disagree with your statement that, “the health advice in the Bible is nevertheless suspiciously close to what any ancient civilization might have worked out for themselves.”

  67. Daniel M says:

    @Medsvstherapy,

    Sorry, but it is cherry picking if you point to a few parts of the Bible to say that “It is comforting to me to know that as we humans use our intellect to figure out what leads to health and what leads to illness, the Bible’s guidelines hold up” and ignore the fact that the Bible clearly places the blame for a lot of disease and mental illness on demon possession and explicitly contradicts how genetics works.

    As aeauooo rightly points out, it doesn’t say those dietary laws were for health reasons in the Bible, the traditional interpretation is that those laws had to do with ritual cleanliness and to mark them as different from surrounding cultures, not for public health (look these passages up in a good Bible commentary please). As for Leviticus, it also says that women need to be quarantined during menstruation because they are ‘unclean’, as is anyone who touches her. Also Leviticus says that squids, most insects, many birds, and even rabbits and shellfish are ‘unclean’, that does not line up with a public health role for these laws.

    Do you try to fully follow the Old Testament cleanliness laws? Because if you eat shrimp, pork, or meat pizza (or wear blended fabrics and shake hands with a menstruating woman) than you are weakening your own argument, since you don’t follow the Biblical purity guidelines you are championing. If someone wants to do all that for religious or cultural reasons I have absolutely no problem with them (except the sexist parts), but I’m afraid I have to disagree with your claim that science is backing up the Bible’s view of illness and health.

  68. Daniel M says:

    @ Medsvstherapy,

    I just read the chapter ‘Pig Lovers and Pig Haters’ in the book you referenced and there Marvin Miller explicitly rejects the idea you say he supports. He says Maimonides’ guess about pork being banned because it was a public health problem is not supported by either the theological or scientific communities. He has another explanation having to do with economics and scarce resource use, but it doesn’t have to do with public health at all.

    Did you really read ‘Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches”? Because Miller says the opposite of what you are claiming he said, at least in the chapter I read. Does he contradict this view somewhere else in the book?

  69. nybgrus says:

    I should know by now that when I poke such a bear as religion, no matter how lightly, the thread will blow up.

    I apologize for poking and running, but it was unintentional. I was busy over the past few days and managed to forget to put this comment thread in my RSS feed and didn’t realize till this morning I hadn’t looked at it since my last post.

    It is now xmas morning and since I am oft to wake at least an hour or two before any of my other family I am sitting looking at the ocean and suddenly remembered this thread.

    It has been an interested read, and it played out exactly as I would have predicted. I am not joking that with some effort I could have essentialy pre-written the entire discussion almost in its entirety. But such is the case when you are used to reading religious apologists. The reality is that religion is an old and unchanging set of ideas and the defenses of it are similarly old and unadaptable. They are merely repeated ad nauseum as if saying them enough times would actually prove something. I’ll comment on a few such tropes that I noticed:

    “However, if you would like an example of where science has disproven something in religion, the moon is not a light. It reflects light, which is quite contradictory to what the bible says.”
    That’s a matter of hermeneutics, not science.

    Bible says one thing that is clearly false and everyone knows it. Theistic answer: its a semantic thing, don’t read to much into that.

    By contrast, Leviticus says that a man lying with a man as a woman is an abomination and it is either entirely ignored (as I think the commentariat here likely would) or taken as semantically perfect like most Christian Americans and exemplified fully by the Westboro Baptist Church.

    “Everything else can and is tested by science…”
    Everything?
    I love my wife. I can’t prove that scientifically.

    Yes, everything. You do not have faith that your wife loves you. You have actual evidence. Evidence that is exactly of the same ilk and strength as any molecular biology text. Do you think that the random woman in the mall loves you? No? Why not? Did you walk up to your (future) wife, and without any interaction simply “know” that you loved each other? Of course not.

    She regularly gives you evidence that she loves you. She tells you she loves you. She gets you thoughtful gifts at special times of the year and also just because. She offers you support and listens to you. She takes care of you when you are ill and brings you chicken soup. She is excited to tell you about good news from her day. She is willing to listen to how bad your day was and try to make it better. The list goes on. This is not faith that she loves you – this as direct and strong of evidence that she loves you as we have that the typical membrane spanning protein has 7 hydrophobic alpha-helical domains. Both are evidence by proxy – repeatable, independently verifiable, and not an observation of the thing in question directly (love vs 7 transmembrane domains) but of the effects that can only be explained by the existence of such a thing in question.

    And just like any conclusion that is reached scientifically, sufficient evidence to the contrary can overturn it. If your wife began cheating on you, told you she never loved you, said she was only interested in your for your money and manly pectorals and now that those are both gone she has no further interest in you…. would you still have faith that she loves you? Would you cling desperately to your belief that she loved you as she spat in your face and outlined – 6th Sense style – your entire relationship and how she was manipulating you for her own ends that are now complete? Or would you, albeit with difficulty and immeasurable angst, come to the rational conclusion and admit that she certainly no longer loves you and probably never did? And if we discovered that our methods for assessing the molecular structure of the transmembrane proteins was faulty for some intrinsic reason, so to would our scientific conclusion as to its structure (and likely with some angst as well).

    The point is that yes, everything is amenable to the scientific method. And in everything that we do, we employ it – just many times it is not in a conscious and systematic way. For relatively simple every day things, that is quite sufficient. And when the consequences aren’t dire a random “leap of faith” is not punished significantly enough to preclude the actual use of un-scientific faith based thought to come to a decision. However, the Bible also says that true Christians cannot die from drinking poison (Mark 16:17-18). Yet nobody we would consider sane would actually act on that in a purely faith based manner to determine their own personal reality. Science trumps that proclamation from the bible and we don’t think twice about it.

    Science as we mean it here is simply the rigorous codification and consistent application of the very basic method by which everyone makes significant and important decisions and conclusions in their lives. Nothing more, nothing less.

    We can’t measure consciousness. We can measure physiological events and behaviors that are associated with or suggest consciousness.

    And then you go ahead and prove exactly what I have been saying. Nobody will ever directly “measure” an electron. Yet you would call it a scientific fact that they exist. No faith needed. And evidence in abundance.

    Fundamentalists make those claims. I am not aware that fundamentalism is a religion per se.

    Fundamentalists are the only ones who actually practice religion. Everyone else is picking and choosing the parts and ideas that they like best (or were brainwashed to believe from an early age). The key distinction being that when a fundie says something, and a “moderate” says “well, he is just a fundie that isn’t really what my holy book says” all that exists is a “nuh uh!” statement. There is absolutely no independent way of verifying who is correct. And interestingly enough, the “moderate” is usually denouncing fundie statements that are contradictory to the current social mores… which are derived independently and usually against previously established religious principles (think about racial and homosexual discrimination for poignant examples of this).

    Religion is a human construct, so perhaps my statement that “religion makes no such claims” was too broad.

    In its entirety. From “god” to the books to the churches to the application therein. And sadly, it can’t even claim to be internally consistent. Else there would not be over 38,000 sects of Christianity based on the same book.

    Faith is one of the things that, for some of us, brings pleasure and help make life worth living.

    And if that is all it did, even I would take no issue with it. But it is oftenly, consistently, and loudly used to lionize and separate. Gay marriage? Stem cell research? Abortion clinics? Pre-marital sex? Abstinence only education? Those are just a few topics I could think of off the top of my head where the evidence shows us one thing, and religious “faith” claims another… and those that are in power and authority to make laws and vote use that as a basis for making real world decisions that impact everyone. Including me. People actually believe the stuff of faith and religion to be correct and indisputable reflections of the reality and “T”ruth beyond scientific reproach and necessary for the making of laws and decisions It is undeniably not just something that brings “pleasure and help[s] make life worth living” for some.

    Those who profess the Catholic faith do not profess to have scientific evidence of miracles, the Incarnation, souls, or any of the other articles of faith.

    No, of course not. They simply state they are true. Period. And they are at odds with scientific knowledge and understanding. As I said above, if it were just a personal idea and held solely within your own head, that’s fine. But these “truths” are used as the basis for justifying actions and policy with impacts on actual people.

    Reality, from what I recall from my readings of philosophy and human consciousness, is what we perceive. Faith is a framework for that perception.

    Dr. Hall said it well, but I will add that one can add any amount of distortion (faith) to reality they wish. But reality is NOT what we perceive. Otherwise we wouldn’t call optical illusions “illusions” now would we? Reality must be what everyone can dispassionately agree on to exist by independently verifiable means. Hence, anything that comes from religion cannot possibly be reality.

    I have no difficulty distinguishing what I know to be facts from science and what I believe to be true from faith. I also see no conflict between the two.

    Not everyone can say the same. In fact, the majority of those that say they have faith would certainly not say the same. So the question is, what do you do with those bits that you know are “true from faith?” Do you actually act on them? If so, how do you determine that those specific things are actually true from faith? Because a lot of people would disagree with you – religious and areligious alike. So what way do you have to be certain that your “truth from faith” is actually true? What test, what knowledge, what anything do you have at your disposal to demonstrate to anyone in any way that said “truth of faith” is actually correct?

    And that is the point of this whole discussion that I started – your only way is to just state that it is true and… well… that’s it. Regardless of whether it actually is or not. And that is where the very basic concept of NOMA breaks down because so long as no one can present evidence to contradict said vacuous religious claims of “faith based truth” then they can stand. But the moment science corroborates them, theists will jump on it to claim independent verification of the veracity of their faith and the use of faith in general. But they never consider how many other “faith based truths” were false or remain unverified and yet cling to them with equal ferocity.

    Put simply, there is no “other way of knowing” and even theists devout in their faith know this intrinsically, else they genuinely wouldn’t care about any sort of evidence or rationalization of their holy book. And those people exist – we call them “fundamentalists” but as I have attempted to demonstrate they are the only ones that are actually “practicing what they preach.” Everyone else, including those here, are picking and choosing whatever is convenient and not too contradictory with what science has demonstrated to us to be true and/or the current social mores of the culture in which you live.

    So with that, my family has awoken and told me I need to have coffee and do the whole presents thing with them, so I will bid you farewell and a very happy happy holiday – Christmas in our case.

  70. Harriet Hall says:

    @nybgrus,
    “my family has awoken and told me I need to have coffee”
    Are you going to obey the Biblical injunction that men, not women, are supposed to prepare the coffee? It says so right in the title of a section of the New Testament. It says “Hebrews.” (Joke) :-)

  71. Newcoaster says:

    Thanks for the Xmas card Harriet, and best of the season to all at SBM.

    I’m on call in the ER today and catching up on SBM. I’m always a week or two behind. So far things are quiet, but I expect the abdominal and chest pains to start rolling in after noon, if history is any judge.

    As a long time atheist, but coming from a fundamentalist evangelical background, I always have mixed feelings about this time of year. I do enjoy seeing the Xmas lights, and usually put up a simple string. I keep thinking about putting up “Bah, Humbug” lights…but it seems like a lot of effort just to thumb my nose at the religious. Most of the music doesn’t do it for me, though there are some classics that are nice to hear…except we start hearing them in October, and by Xmas I’m sick of them. What I hate most is the rocked or popped up versions that “entertainers” feel compelled to release !

    We haven’t had a Xmas tree for years, but mostly because my wife hates the needles in the carpet that show up for months afterwards. Some years we exchange gifts, this year we are just getting something for the house. We don’t have kids, so that has taken a lot of the pressure off to conform to expectation.

    My parents and family are still very religious, and take Xmas very seriously, and keep praying that I will one day too. (Sorry, mom..not going to happen!) We Skyped them last night, and they were appalled that we were just going to go out for sushi, had no discernible Xmas decorations in sight, and were planning to watch The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest as our Xmas Eve entertainment…

  72. Quill says:

    I’ll offer a couple Christmas day notes to what is an interesting discussion. First, the word “religion” is being used a lot here, but based on the context people are really talking about Christianity. Seems better to be more precise as using so broad a word is regrettably muddling.

    Second, a lot of people are referring to “the bible” or “the Bible” but again, this obscures a lot. There is no single, set book of this name — the two major Christian sects can’t agree on what it’s supposed to contain. In addition, there are dozens of translations and versions that all call themselves “-the- Bible” and making note of which one you’re using would be helpful for those trying to follow along.

    Lastly, I’ll add a quote from Albert Einstein, something he wrote in his personal letters. Seems a nice thing to think about during this holiday season.

    “A human being is a part of the whole called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.”

  73. nybrgus, “She regularly gives you evidence that she loves you. She tells you she loves you. She gets you thoughtful gifts at special times of the year and also just because. She offers you support and listens to you. She takes care of you when you are ill and brings you chicken soup. She is excited to tell you about good news from her day. She is willing to listen to how bad your day was and try to make it better. The list goes on. This is not faith that she loves you – this as direct and strong of evidence that she loves you as we have that the typical membrane spanning protein has 7 hydrophobic alpha-helical domains”

    This is sweet. :) but also spoken like someone who hasn’t been married a good number of years. In my experience, sometimes you have evidence your spouse loves you, sometimes you rely on faith (season with a dash of inertia.)

  74. nybgrus says:

    @Dr. Hall – good one, I chuckled reading it.

    @Quill – that is very true and a good point. My attempt was to make the discussion applicable to all religions. Obviously, being where we are Christianity comes to the forefront, and “the bible” was indeed used. But I feel that anything I wrote (or really has been written here at all) can be made absolutely generic. Change “the bible” to “holy book of choice” and “religion” to “any somewhat consistent faith based belief or set of beliefs” and I’d say 99% of it still works just fine (ok, maybe 98%).

    @Michele – I certainly have not been married for any number of years. However, I would argue you aren’t still taking it on faith that your spouse still loves you. You have a history established that makes the theory sound, and perturbations to that can still fit in with it. In other words, it is just modified to encompass any spans that are devoid of such evidence (I don’t see evolution happening in front of my eyes at all times, yet it is so well established that isn’t going to make me think it isn’t true).

    The counter I would have is imagining those scenarios which you say need to rely on faith and a dash of inertia at the very beginning of the relationship – before all those evidences I listed were manifest at a sufficient level for a sufficient time. You would be, IMO, less likely to “have on faith” that there is love there. But once that theory is sufficiently established and tested, things are different. You can also imagine if those spans of faith lasted “too long” – whatever that may be in your case. It might be sufficient to challenge the veracity of your theory and you might question whether your spouse still actually does love you and then you will undoubtedly attempt to seek evidence to support a conclusion one way or another.

  75. nybrgus, If you think you have adequate evidence to prove that someone loves you, then I would suggest that your requirements for evidence, you process for gathering and analyzing data has very low standards.

    I would suggest that many if not most people come to the conclusion that their spouse (to be) loves them through cherry picking the evidence to suit what they want to believe. If they choose to cherry pick in the opposite direction (that the potential spouse loved their money, for instance) they probably could also find evidence to support that. Continuing to believe something based on evidence that was gathered and analyzed with a considerable bias sounds a heck a lot like faith to me.

    I would hope that theory of evolution is on more solid ground than that.

  76. nybgrus says:

    michele:

    just because you can cherry pick it one way or another doesn’t mean that in principle all such cases are cherry picked. Unless I am misreading your statement, you are basically saying that you cannot, in principle, prove or at least provide sufficient evidence for the fact that someone loves you.

    Of course one can be mislead, but the point I was trying to make is that there does exist actual evidence that one can cite for the existence of love – in other words, it is not some ethereal thing that we must only take on faith as existing, like the common theistic trope to try and prove why believing in something completely intangible and non-provable/supported by evidence like god is reasonable to believe in.

    We may decide that what we think of as love is different, or that our standards for determining its existence and state are “low” or “high” relative to someone else’s framework on the topic. But none of that negates the fact that actual evidence can be citing as reasons for the existence of love. The same cannot be said for the existence of a god.

  77. Quill says:

    nybgrus replied:

    @Quill – that is very true and a good point. My attempt was to make the discussion applicable to all religions. Obviously, being where we are Christianity comes to the forefront, and “the bible” was indeed used. But I feel that anything I wrote (or really has been written here at all) can be made absolutely generic. Change “the bible” to “holy book of choice” and “religion” to “any somewhat consistent faith based belief or set of beliefs” and I’d say 99% of it still works just fine (ok, maybe 98%).

    I think I see your point. Nevertheless, feelings are notoriously easy to fool, as what a person might feel doesn’t jibe with the very broad use of the word “religion” and perhaps isn’t what people are actually thinking. As discussed here and by your definition, it probably does apply to Christianity and Islam almost perfectly, Judaism not as much, Hinduism not very much and Buddhism & Taoism hardly at all.

    Indeed, in the case of Buddhism, the definitions of science as given by Britain’s Science Council and Dr. Hall apply to it very well. The story goes that Shakyamuni Buddha’s final words were something to the effect of “Don’t take my word for any of this — go figure things out for yourself.” More recently, the Dalai Lama had this to say:

    “Buddhist teachings stress the importance of understanding reality. Therefore, we should pay attention to what modern scientists have actually found through experiment and through measurement the things they have proved to be reality.”

    (The whole quote and an interesting article here: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/08/uncommon_ally.html)

    It may seem like I’m being fussy about a definition, but I think it’s very important to be more specific in complaints about “faith based” things, especially as they apply to CAM. It’s sort of like the War on Drugs is a misnomer, as it should really be called The War on Some Drugs. We subsidize, massively, some drugs while working to eliminate others. Similarly, some religions are quite compatible with science and willingly work with it to enrich all of humanity while others seem irreconcilable. I think it would help everyone out to be more specific in criticisms not only for the sake of accuracy but also so as not to put off potential allies.

  78. nybgrus “Of course one can be mislead, but the point I was trying to make is that there does exist actual evidence that one can cite for the existence of love.”

    I’m sorry, I can think of any actual physical evidence of love beyond behavior changes in the person who believes in love (that could be accounted for by many explanations). Same thing for a god. I can’t think of any physical evidence, beyond behavior changes in person who believes in god.

    Maybe you had a citation in mind for the existence of love?*

    Then we can have one of those ridiculous semantic discussions, which so highly resemble the contortions that theologians put themselves through.

  79. Stray asterisk. poor thing I guess it’s punctuation purgatory for him.

  80. Drat, I CAN’T think of any evidence.

    sorry for the multi posts.

  81. nybgrus says:

    @quill:

    I lost what I had started to write, so this may be a bit shorter…

    In essence, I was starting to say that the most fundamental problem with religion is that it requires the notion of faith to be laudable and exist as “another way of knowing.” Buddhism, as you rightly say, is more more compatible with scientific progress and has much less such faith based supernatural dogma. As such, it does not quite fit the generic mold I had outlined above – at least not as well as the Abrahamic religions.

    But unless you can demonstrate that Buddhism is in no way a religion (i.e. absolutely no faith based belief in supernatural events) then it still fits the basic definition of a religion that I outlined. It is merely not as noticeable an issue since the Abrahamic religions are currently at the forefront of the problem. However, sometime in the future it is indeed conceivable and likely that even the relatively smaller supernaturalist dogma of Buddhism will become the significant hindrance to human progress.

    So while you see it is being more compatible and thus less fitting of my writings, I merely see is as less of a hindrance but still very much an impediment to progress.

    I am not interested in seeking allies in which the common ground must be along the lines of “Your religion has much less supernatural dogma and that makes it OK.” Any such belief is an inherent and immutable rock blocking the path of of progress. The fact that the rock may be smaller or much further down the road, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a rock (hopefully that makes sense outside of my own head).

  82. nybgrus says:

    @michele:

    How is the change in behavior and action not evidence?

    For example, we have no direct measure of dark matter. And there may indeed be a few different explanations (including ones we haven’t even thought of yet) that may explain things better than the existence of dark matter. Yet, we have this body of evidence – mostly changes in the behavior and actions of distant cosmological bodies – that are not explained by what we currently know and that dark matter could well explain.

    The same is for love. Assume, for a moment, that your husband’s behavior and actions did not change one iota from the 5 minutes before he met you until now. Would you still find some way of claiming that you know he loves you? Or if I pressed you and demanded you explain to me why you think your husband loves you… would you only be able to tell me “Because I simply believe it to be true?”

    What if you tell me a list of things and I respond by saying, “Well, he could just be interested in obtaining [X] and that explains all his behavior.” Would you simply throw up your hands and say, “Yes – that is equally likely a possibility and I have absolutely no way of determining which is the case?”

    I reckon you would have some sort of way to demonstrate that his love for you is a much more likely conclusion than my [X].

    Would you be able to unequivocally and absolutely prove it to me or even yourself? Of course not. But I cannot do the same for anything – evolution included. We have a limited amount of resolution and certainty which varies from claim to claim. In physics, they want the chances to be 1 in 10^7 certainty before declaring something the be “true.” In love, that chance may be acceptably lower (and of course it is).

    You may say that your definition of “love” is different than mine. And some people find love in the throes of bondage and masochism. I may claim that they do not have evidence of “love” as I see it, but they would differ. That does not change the fact that evidence for it exists – it merely means that we must agree upon what we are defining first. But in any case, one can always present evidence for the case.

    You may say that at a certain point, you cannot provide any evidence sufficient to definitively distinguish “love” from [X]. The same issues of evidenciary resolution exist for any science based endeavor. The only difference is that in love we would accept such ambiguity, betting on the likelihood that our SO loves us rather than is playing a very long and elaborate ruse on us (and we actually can present evidence for that being more likely based on observations of human nature). In science, we may demand a higher level of certainty before gambling on something (airplane design, for example).

    But the fact that we experience and tolerate more alpha error in our assessment of love (and jointly that we often desire it so much as to intentionally delude ourselves and increase that error) does not intrinsically negate the fact that in a non-pathological state we can and do provide evidence for the fact that someone else loves us and fact-check that periodically throughout our relationships/lives.

    Take me as an anecdote. I was convinced that I would not find “love” and that I would never care to settle down in a serious monogamous relationship. My current SO has provided me with sufficient reason and evidence that I was mistaken in that conclusion. I actually have a very low tolerance for alpha error and so actually actively thought about and looked for evidence of her sincerity and quality (and she did the same for me, though to less of a degree). In fact, she once was rather distraught that I was so actively evaluating the state of our relationship. My response was simple: “Would you rather have a boyfriend who didn’t think about these things and just went with the flow instead of actually having good reasons to be with you?” And with that, we both realized the utility and power of making it clear (i.e. providing evidence) that we genuinely loved and valued each other.

    The fact that many people go along and are quite content without any sort of significant evidence of love does not disprove my assertions about the fact that love can be described by evidence. If you can make a good case that the relationship in question can be accurately described in many other ways and that the likelihood is better that it isn’t love, I would then say you have made the case that love was not in existence in the relationship in question – not that it was there anyways and that faith was enough to prove it was. I would also point to the 50%-ish divorce rate and generally large amount of dating before settling down into succesful relationships.

    But when one is speaking of a god, the definition is similarly important. If you wish to define god as some sort of non-conscious entity (like saying that the laws of physics is “god”) then I can’t adequately disprove that. I may also reject your definition as being useless and equivocal. But at least you can make some sort of claim that I can’t demonstrate to be false. If you wish to claim that “god” is conscious, all loving, all powerful, all knowing, and is necessary for the existence of the universe and humanity – then I can offer numerous lines of evidence that don’t support that claim. The only thing in response is one of “faith” and “belief.” Before the vast amount of evidence for evolution, the notion of design and creation was actually a valid position to take. Paley made a good argument for his time. But now, the counterveiling theory has been shown to have vastly more support and so the argument should be done with.

    In sum, the argument for god always boils down to “well, despite all of the evidence, you must just believe” whereas instances of love (such as mine) can actually provide positive evidence for the claim. You can (correctly) state that it doesn’t meet your definition or that my evidence is insufficient for you to accept the claim. Same as I can say about any religion. However, if one chooses to accept such relatively lower standards, that is his/her own decision. That is the same for religion and love and I would fully respect anyone’s personal decision on the matter.

    But if you try and impose your definition and standards on me that is where problems arise. And in the same way I would perhaps campaign for what I think is a “better” definition and evidence standard of love, so would I for religious claims. But I would not impose that on others. Theists do not accept this line of thinking though, and demand that their definition of religion, god, and love be imposed on everyone. I could never love another man the way I love my girlfriend but that doesn’t mean I would doubt the veracity of a gay man’s claim to love. I cannot show it is inferior to my claim. I can, however, show that faith based thinking and supernatural dogma is inferior to critical scientific based thought.

    And I’ll end my tangent there. I’m sure we could quibble about semantics a-la theological rhetoric. But my goal was to open things up to a definition on basic commonalities, instead of squabbling about specific examples. Hopefully my point was made. If not, I can try again at some point.

  83. nybgrus ” I can, however, show that faith based thinking and supernatural dogma is inferior to critical scientific based thought.”

    In every instance? Based on who’s goals? How can you show that?

  84. nybgrus says:

    The converse is easier – show me any significant forward movement in society that was based entirely on faith instead of rational thinking that wasn’t be sheer accident. I’m aware that such a statement seems to outwardly shift the burden of proof of my statement. However, I certainly cannot think of one, and the converse list is essentially exhaustive. The very computer on which I type this, the internet over which it is transmitted, and all the technologies associated with that would be an excellent example. As would planes, radios, xrays, CTs, MRI, acceptance of homosexuality, good parenting practicies, and even plastic. I can’t come up with a counter example wherein faith based thinking and the utilization of supernatural principles actually led to any sort of significant discovery of any kind. So if someone else can come up with an example that cannot be sufficiently explained as an accident or a post hoc justification, then I will stand corrected. But based on the “scientific knowledge” of the Bible as explained by Answers in Genesis, I doubt that I will (they claim that the Bible predicted Schrodinger’s wave/particle duality and the collapse of wave functions because when Jesus walked on water he was exploiting the “wave” nature of his being and when he converted water into wine he was forcing the collapse of the wave function towards “wine” instead of “water” in the otherwise dual state of the liquid in the glass – and no, I am not making that up).

    The point being that anything positive to come out of faith based thinking and supernatural dogma is pure accident or so obvious as to be pointless (thou shalt not kill is not something that need be divinely inspired and taken on faith alone – in fact an excellent argument surrounding that is that a society in which indiscriminate killing is allowed simply cannot ever exist – the people would fractionate into smaller groups which would agree not to kill each other, thus forming a group in which killing is not allowed) – the basic methodology of such thinking inherently cannot generate consistent and cogent positive outcomes, regardless of the goal.

    One may claim that a religious society still accomplishes its goals. Besides the fact that one need employ cultural relativism the likes of which I despise, I would argue that there is no consistency in said goals. They are cherry picked and the faith based thinking is used as post hoc justifications of whatever those in power wished anyways. In other words, the type of thinkery involved did not produce the outcomes but instead was merely cherry picked to justify them, changing as the whims of those in power change. There is no consistency in its application to lead to a progressively improved society by any definition.

    How can I show that? Well, that is the topic of entire books that have already been written on the subject. In a short post on a forum, the most general and basic concepts is all I can take the time to elucidate.

  85. Nybgrus, you are listing examples of technology. How about examples that would be more applicable to NOMA.

    Try Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the Quakers during slavery…passive resistance has been primarily faith-based.

  86. Also, if you don’t have time to support your claims with anything but cherry picked anecdotes, perhaps you should forgo making those claims.

    Personally, I use try to use morality, ethics, faith, science, critical thinking etc as tools that I carefully choose based on my needs and goals. You seem to believe that people who select faith for one task, are incapable of selecting the appropriate tool for another job.

    Yet, strangely, there are many people who are good or excellent scientists, apparently good people and hold religious or faith based beliefs who seems to manage to do just that.

    There are also many people who are good or excellent scientists, apparently good people and hold no religious or beliefs*. But I haven’t seen it demonstrated that they make BETTER scientists or people.

    *I’ve never actually met anyone who I would say is free of faith based beliefs, although I have met some who think they are.:)

  87. Quill says:

    nybgrus wrote: “…show me any significant forward movement in society that was based entirely on faith instead of rational thinking that wasn’t be sheer accident.”

    Hmm. Seems like a false dichotomy with an unverifiable qualifier added on the end.

    @michelleinmichigan: I don’t think nybgrus is actually as dogmatically black-and-white in life as he’s been writing but rather it is the bloom of youth influencing his observations. ;-)

  88. @quill, yes of course you are right. A written conversation does so often come across as much more black and white than one in person (literally and figuratively).

  89. nybgrus says:

    @quill:

    Fair assessment. And no, I am really not quite as black and white IRL.

    As for the false dichotomy with a qualifier…. yeah, fair enough I suppose. I’m happy to re-word it to just leave it as:

    “Give an example of faith based thinking being the basis of consistent progress in society.”

    Perhaps that is better?

    @michele:

    You are, of course, right that I should be able to back up my claims more sufficiently. And usually I do. I must admit that I am not in a time or place where I can devote as much time to these posts as I usually do, so I did take a bit of liberty there in making the claim. I still stand by it, but if you insist on debating it in detail (which is perfectly reasonable) then I am afraid I cannot satisfy you at this time and I am happy to just drop it since it was a tangent that went a bit too far (which was entirely my fault, I agree).

    But I don’t think there is such a thing as NOMA stuff – as I’ve said above, it is a false category created to try and create a niche for religion to exist, not an actual thing. And I did not just cite technology – acceptance of homosexuality and good parenting practices are not technology.

    You go on to cite passive resistence. Did the faith itself actually give those figures the insight to be passively resistent? Or was it a critical thinking based realization that passive resistence was a useful method of achieving their goal which they then used faith to justify and explain post hoc?

    I’d argue the latter considering that each one of those figures had contemporary counterparts of the same faith that used completely different techniques – even the exact opposite ones – and still claimed their faith led them to that conclusion and path.

    You seem to believe that people who select faith for one task, are incapable of selecting the appropriate tool for another job.

    I never said that and if it was implied I certainly did not mean it. In fact, I have argued before that someone of deep faith can indeed be an excellent scientist – just so long as the science in question does not encroach on the faith.

    My argument is simply that when a person does select faith for a task, they are either blindly guessing or actually using critical thinking – not faith – and then post hoc claiming it was faith that accomplished the goal. If they only use faith then they become like the WestBoro Baptist Church or the Amish and completely shun progressive ideals.

    In short – I recognize that people can switch around and indeed do. I just think that it is foolish to do so.

    So when you say:

    Yet, strangely, there are many people who are good or excellent scientists, apparently good people and hold religious or faith based beliefs who seems to manage to do just that.

    That, to me, does not seem strange at all. Francis Collins is a good scientist – but the science he does does not contradict his faith. Can you imagine what would happen if we had genetic proof that Jesus was just a regular ol’ Mesopotamian man? What would his response to that be? I can imagine something along the lines of “God clearly made his DNA look like that” as a way to still maintain his faith.

    Perhaps that is a poor example, but the point being that as long as your faith isn’t contradicted by the science you are doing, of course you can be an excellent scientist. But look at the example of Kurt Wise to see what happens when they two directly abut each other.

    There are also many people who are good or excellent scientists, apparently good people and hold no religious or beliefs*. But I haven’t seen it demonstrated that they make BETTER scientists or people.

    I hold absolutely no religion or faith based beliefs (I never in my life believed in any god or religion, actually). I may hold incorrect understandings of things, and believe I am correct, but when shown to be wrong I am quick and happy to change said belief.

    But in terms of them being better scientists or people I would say that, when taken as a whole, they are. In terms of science… I think I’ve beaten that one to death. The take home point of that is simply that they can be equally excellent scientists so long as faith doesn’t impinge on the science. Since someone with faith/religion has nothing to impinge on their science, they have a greater capacity on the whole to be better scientists.

    In terms of people in general… I would argue that consistent and conscientious application of critical thinking and being able and willing to change your thoughts on any topic when presented with sufficient evidence makes someone a better person. By definition, holding anything as true because of faith negates that.

  90. I’m sorry nybgrus, but I just feel that you have a conclusion and you are writing arguments to defend your conclusion, I don’t get the sense that you are genuinely exploring the issues for the pros and cons of faith.

    Yes, I know, IYO faith has no pros.

    Have you ever really sat down with someone and listened to them about how they use faith or what faith means to them? And I don’t mean some radical fundamentalist, I mean just some normal person.

    Ask them if faith gives them something that critical thinking or reason doesn’t, then don’t try to rationalize your way around their answer.

    At this point, I don’t think this is going anywhere, so I’ll leave you alone.

  91. nybgrus says:

    there is nothing to be sorry about Michele.

    You are spot on – it is a conclusion I have come to after a few years of seriously and intensely researching the subject. There is nothing left for me to genuinely explore – especially not on this forum. This is not a question of medicine or science that is something new and has anything left for me to try and understand.

    I do think that faith has some pros. I think they are very limited and in no way make up for the cons. I also think that heroin use has some pros in the same way.

    And yes, I have sat down with numerous people of serious faith – from “moderate” to “radical” – and taken the time to try and understand what it “means to them.”

    I’m unsure of what you mean by saying I shouldn’t “rationalize [my] way around their answer” regarding what faith means to them. Something can have some wonderfully symbolic meaning (I, for example, wear a particular necklace that I have only ever taken off a handful of times in the last 4 years) but that doesn’t make it particular useful outside of that.

    Faith may make someone feel good, or have a center or purpose to their life, but it is an illusion (and in the case of religious faith a delusion) and has no actual utility beyond that individual feeling. As D2U has pointed out here before, a continuous morphine drip also has some positives to it, but overall it is of no benefit. Religion as the opiate of the masses was one of the most accurate things Marx ever said.

    So yes, I fully acknowledge that faith can certainly give a “normal person” something that critical thinking and reason don’t. But I also have very good reason to believe that “something” is a delusion and not something I find to have any utility beyond mindless placation. Critical thinking and reason also give “something” that faith cannot as well. Much more in fact, and much more amazing and useful.

  92. nybgrus says:

    not an attempt to beat a dead horse, but I just came across this and it it sums up faith nicely.

  93. nybgrus, that’s fine, the atheists have as much right to be evangelical as other’s do. It’s funny that the banner chooses to use “You” rather “I” or “We”. I wonder what that’s about.

    Personally, I have been a follower of a religion that has given me many of the things I need for many years now. Although I have not always followed all of the scriptures, they have sustained me in times of need.

    I recommend you try it out.

  94. As an informal discussion, this is abt the best I have ever seen on the net. Ppl have criticized or questioned what I have said, but have yet to go to the ad hominem, and label me dumb, foolish, or brainwashed for being a theist.

    –One topic raied has been the matter of whether “science” is a culture.

    Does “science” exist, and it just took “us” a super-long time to discover it?

    Is all of “science” merely some cultural preference for how to answer questions, with no more strong claim to legitimacy as a path to knowledge than a high priest or shaman, or piublic opinion, has?

    Paul Feyerabend’s book, Against Method, really portrays the degree that science cannot be “pure,” since it happens via culture, and depends upon culture to be received, shared, and to have its influence.

    From this, he makes a good case that we need to recognize this aspect of science so that we are less likely to get seduced by “orthodoxy” – by the idea that some authorities can declare the best ways to conduct science, and cull out “science” that does not fit.

    To make the case, he points out the types of ‘revolutions’ and evolutions that Kuhn points out, and then notes how the cultural shape of science is changed AFTER these undeniable revolutions.

    Feyerabend then ends up promoting something much closer to ‘anarchy’ than orthodoxy. He uses that word, but explains that he does not quite mean ‘anarchy.’

    This is a really good read if you want to get some perspective on the ways that we tend to get a little too far down the road into the faith of Scientism.

  95. nybgrus says:

    @michele:

    Interesting. I’d actually never heard of it before. I do praise the FSM from time to time, however I tend to ascribe more to the PZ Myers school of thought on it that the culture of establishing a religious structure is counterproductive. In short he and I both don’t like the idea of “atheist pastors” and an organized atheist group that models itself after that of a church congregation – even in jest. Though, of course, I find such notions to be much less odious than actual religious congregations and agree that it is a reasonable point of contention and would not seek to eradicate such “congregations” as I would actually religious ones.

    As for being evangelizing…. I’m honestly not quite sure how to take that. From my perspective, what I do and have done in this thread is not much different from any stance I have taken on CAM in general or specific CAM modalities. The point is the “evangelize” critical thought, evidence, and rational discourse regardless of the topic. I apply that to every aspect of my life from medicine to religion to relationships. So I suppose in one sense it is “evangelism” except that I cringe at the necessarily sectarian aspect of that word.

    And lastly, for the banner – yeah, I suppose it takes on the perspective of “me” talking to a believer. I didn’t claim it was perfect, but it did seem to be a succinct and reasonably accurate representation of my main thought on the matter.

    By the way – happy new year! My best wishes to you and your family for a succesful, happy, and productive 2012. Assuming the Mayans weren’t right, of course ;-)

  96. nybgrus says:

    @MvT:

    Man, I had a nice long response that I managed to close out because I clicked “X” one too many times and I don’t have the time to rewrite the whole thing. I’ll try and do a quick bullet point, but my apology for the now-lacking response.

    As an informal discussion, this is abt the best I have ever seen on the net. Ppl have criticized or questioned what I have said, but have yet to go to the ad hominem, and label me dumb, foolish, or brainwashed for being a theist.

    You don’t come off (to me) as dumb, foolish, or brainwashed. I just think there are other reasons as well to still remain a theist (though obviously, I don’t think they are good enough reasons). Also, you have not been slinging ad hominem yourself. I try and reserve my ad hominem for when it is being sent my way with little else to go on. In cases like that I am happy to dish it out.

    Does “science” exist, and it just took “us” a super-long time to discover it?

    A fundamental difference I see between theistic thought and scientific thought is the notion that (in the former obviously) there exists some eternal, all-knowing, all-perfect, “thing” to discover about how the universe works, how we should lead our lives, and any other questions that may be answered. Whether you call this thing “god” or what-have-you, I obviously think this is not the case.

    As such, science was not existed to be discovered, but was developed as a cultural construct to help remove the bias and fallacy intrinsic to us being human. In other words, to remove the distortion of the only lens through which we can view the universe and attempt to answer questions we may have.

    So it is a process not a thing. As such, I would offer the hypothetical of a radically different alien race practicing science. How they “do” science may well be quite different from us, but IMO the basic driving force of removing bias and fallacy in an attempt to answer questions would be inherently the same.

    Is all of “science” merely some cultural preference for how to answer questions, with no more strong claim to legitimacy as a path to knowledge than a high priest or shaman, or piublic opinion, has?

    So I would say yes and no. Yes, it is a cultural construct that is a directly outgrowth of and intrinsically dependent on the unique nature of our (as humans primarily) biases and fallacies. But no, it certainly has a much stronger claim to legitimacy than any other method for answering questions we have yet devised.

    An interesting question to me would be, “Does this mean there is no better way of answering questions?” I would argue that at base, no, since the ultimate driving force of all scientific inquiry is an attempt to remove said bias and fallacy from the lens of our worldview. Can we come up with better ways to “do” this? Of course, and we do as well realize more and more the depth and extent of our bias and fallacy. I would argue that the changes in scientific though after the revolutions and evolutions you speak of is most commonly (if not always) a result of a progressive shedding of belief in the power of faith and higher valuing of evidence (as well as a better understanding of how to actually go about it as we learn more).

    An inherent difficulty in trying to answer questions without bias is that we have no other means of viewing the questions themselves and the answers except through our lens of humanity. As such we are blind to many of the biases we have and have to strive to do our best knowing this whilst attempting to discover and improve upon our methods.

    The easy biases have already been picked off (well, for the most part) which include things like confirmation bias. The first person to start marking down outcomes and changing how (s)he acted as a result was the first scientist, IMO. Dr. Jay Gordon is an example of someone who doesn’t get this notion, as his vaccine screeds are based “in his experience.”

    The problem is that what remains are the tough biases… and the tough questions! Some questions need massive amounts of data to answer accurately. Data which may not be easily available and, in theory at least, could be logistically unattainable. However, an informed and critically thought out answer based on the rest of our knowledge will always be superior to anything derived from the perspective of faith.

    And of course, a disregard for the progress made so far along with ideology and agenda taint the science we do “do” – which is the entire point of this blog (albeit from a medical perspective, of course).

    From this, he makes a good case that we need to recognize this aspect of science so that we are less likely to get seduced by “orthodoxy” – by the idea that some authorities can declare the best ways to conduct science, and cull out “science” that does not fit.

    I agree with this statement. However, the caveat was said best by Dr. Novella – “Standards are being sacrificed at the altar of equality.” The danger, which is once again the focus here, is that standards that are set for good reason and with good evidence can (and are) overturned for bad reasons. Like the Yale professor who said that standards of evidence for CAM should be different because it is somehow inherently different than “Western Medicine.” (sorry, kind find the link right now).

    When everything is on equal footing and demands equal rigor (which is not synonymous with level of evidence, to be clear) then the best answers come forth. I am of the camp that thinks this applies to everything – not just things of “scientific inquiry.” Hence my complete dismissal of the very concept of NOMA. Besides the fact that theists would jump on scientific “evidence” of their worldview, I do not think there exists any question which is principally and inherently unassailable by scientific inquiry. There only exists questions which we cannot thusly assail yet.

    This is a really good read if you want to get some perspective on the ways that we tend to get a little too far down the road into the faith of Scientism.

    So I think this usage of the term scientism is off the mark. We can be mislead, even with the best of intentions. Which is why rigor and uniform standards are not just a good idea but absolutely necessary, as is intellectual honesty and a willingness to change your entire worldview when contrary evidence arises. The intellectual honesty, IMO, is part and parcel with not establishing a worldview when lacking evidence as well. This, of course, is a sliding scale if you will with the amount of evidence needed varying depending on the breadth, depth, impact, and tenacity of the worldview in question.

    So the notion is that “scientism” is not a faith and in the sense that it is a worldview of critical thought and inquiry applicable to everything should be followed to its ends. Where we shouldn’t go is down false paths and that is where the rigorous thought and intellectual honesty come in. But not in the notion that there is some “better” way to answer questions.

  97. nybgrus says:

    sorry to spam the comments, but I am actually on vacation now, having taken my medical boards and made it through the holidays. Since I am recovering from a cold I can’t find the energy to surf, and since my SO is out of town I have the time to write a bit more.

    An appropriate anecdote to our conversation came up just yesterday. Some friend of my parents came by after church yesterday morning to bring by some gifts and chat. They are extremely wonderful people and the husband is my dentist and my step-father’s best friend. They are also very religious.

    The anecdote is interesting because they were in Jeresulem a few months ago. The husband suffered a lacunar stroke which was pure motor (from which he has almost entirely recovered). However, at the time, things were quite scary especially being a (very) foreign land. My step-father is a critical care phsyician and knows his friend’s history quite well (they met some 25ish years ago when he was a critical trauma and pops saved his life).

    So the interesting part of the anecdote is that the wife was telling us about the experience and how she really, really wanted to call my step-dad for his input, advice, and counsel since she is not a medico herself. However, the cell call charges were extremely expensive and she was relating how she sat there with the phone in her lap, clutching it tightly, and telling herself quote:

    “We are in the holy land. Have faith. God will help you through this. Have faith. You don’t need to call Bruce.”

    And then she said that was stupid and “forget faith” and called my step-dad.

    The point being that when the chips are down and your loved one is in serious trouble, a rational person will quickly eschew faith when they are aware of a better route – asking someone who actually knows.

  98. nybrgus ” Though, of course, I find such notions to be much less odious than actual religious congregations and agree that it is a reasonable point of contention and would not seek to eradicate such “congregations” as I would actually religious ones.”

    Oh good, I’m glad that my “faith” isn’t on your list of those you seek to eradicated. Of course my husband’s faith, my in-laws and those of my children’s birth-parents probably are, luckily you won’t have to work on the religion of my ancestors’ (some of them) since it was already eliminated by those who considered it too superstitious.

    But, of course you have critical thinkingy reasons to seek to eradicate other people’s religious congregations, so it must be OKAY.

    Yeck. I’m out of this conversation.

  99. Quill says:

    nybgrus wrote: “I do think that faith has some pros. I think they are very limited and in no way make up for the cons. I also think that heroin use has some pros in the same way.”

    So “in the same way” you think faith and heroin use are equivalent? Now you sound like Pat Robertson! And in
    exactly “the same way.” Oi.

    And nybgrus also wrote: “I find such notions to be much less odious than actual religious congregations and agree that it is a reasonable point of contention and would not seek to eradicate such “congregations” as I would actually religious ones.”

    So your critical thinking has led to a desire in you to seek to destroy religious congregations? Really? This goes beyond the foolishness of youth right into atrocities such as perfectly logical genocide.

    Yeck, indeed, michelleinmichigan. I’m out of this conversation as well.

  100. nybgrus says:

    I make no secret that I am an anti-theist, though it doesn’t generally come up often in these fora.

    And yes, I would be interested in eradicating religion in the same way I am interested in eradicating CAM. And yes, critical and rational thought led me to both conclusions.

    That does not mean I wish to eradicate religious people or their right to be religious, but merely to continue a progression of human culture and society to the point where enough critical thought has been reached that everyone genuinely finds it silly and strange that our ancestors thought that way. Think Star Trek’s Picard (video). So yes, I would like to see all superstition disappear as a

    As for the heroin analogy – yes. Actually I do. How that makes me like Pat Robertson I don’t know. But in the same way that heroin is used to forget the reality of the world around you when things are tough, so does religion and prayer. Look at Rick Perry organizing a prayer rally to try and end the drought in Texas while cutting the budget for firefighting services. The notion that people would find a prayer for rain an even remotely reasonable thing to do is something I simply cannot begin to wrap my head around. Even if everything else done was actually useful, wasting the time, money, and energy to do it is completely ludicrous in my opinion.

    And of course, the heroin analogy is exactly that – an analogy. Not a perfect point-for-point comparison, but pretty close.

    This goes beyond the foolishness of youth right into atrocities such as perfectly logical genocide.

    You are comparing the eradication of wrong, superstitious, and downright silly ideas to genocide? Now who is off the rails of analogy?

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