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325 thoughts on “Demonizing “Big Pharma”

  1. BillyJoe says:

    …hey, that was interweaving, not interviewing

  2. BillyJoe on disproving the existence of a spiritual reality:

    “It is the *assumption* of science that everthing is physical.
    That is the philosophical part.

    Actually I would take the proposition that everything is physical as a null hypothesis, making it a scientific part of science. It’s theoretically possible to discard this null hypothesis if the data require it.

    So far the data have not required it.

  3. wales says:

    1) “It is the *assumption* of science that everything is physical.
    That is the philosophical part.” Exactly, we’re back to “assuming” with no proof. You have just confirmed that the entire premise of science is based on a presumption which is accurate because so far there has been no scientific disproof. Of course this is a foregone conclusion, as the scientific method is applicable only to physical entities…..tautology anyone? Science assumes only physical existence, and the scientific method can test only physical entities, so it can never prove or disprove the existence of a spiritual reality. So believers and atheists alike rely upon unprovable theories to support their beliefs. I wouldn’t be so critical of the “new atheists” if they would stop pretending they have magically transformed their philosophy into a scientific fact.

    2) “let’s just say that you could ask that question only if you don’t understand evolution.” Nice attempt to transform your non-answer into my lack of knowledge. Try enlightening me.

    This is becoming repetitive.

  4. Alison – “I don’t think I ever said otherwise. I just said that the useful part is not the part where there’s an eternal tyrant yelling at you.”

    :) Yes, While one question may be “Does the (insert religion here) God exist?” My first question was “Do I agree with him?”

    Regardless – I don’t think you said otherwise – I think I inferred it from your statements

    “I am real, and medicine really addresses the real things I need it to.

    What is real that science can’t — by definition — address? How do you know it’s real?

    What do you mean by reality? What non-scientific methods do you use to distinguish reality from fantasy?”

    “What I am trying to get at is what people are thinking when they say that science can only explain part of reality; that there are parts of reality that are beyond the scope of the scientific method.”

    Probably I was taking these comments out of the context of the discussion with Wales and applying to my own personal questions. But, based on your comment to me and your most recent comments, I think I understand your point of view better now.

    I think for my part some of my misunderstanding is based on some comments (sorry, not sure whose) that use the concepts of science and natural/physically/biologically interchangeably.

    So I have been (perhaps mistakenly) inferring a kind of logic that goes something like this.
    if science=natural,
    then not science=supernatural.

    To me this is a false dichotomy. The study of science is the study of the physical world, but understanding that physical world will not give us all the answers we need in all cases. So science may someday understand the physical mechanisms that the brain uses to come to an ethical decision, but that understanding may not help us to make an ethical decision. Is that ethical decision real? Is a concept real? Nether is supernatural (by my definition).

    BillyJoe – One of the things I like about science is that it generally does not seek to disprove things. It only looks at ideas as ‘more likely, less likely’ and follows the route of the more likely.

    I find myself disturbed at the notion that the non-existence of anything (God, Santa, Teapots in space) can be presented as “truth” in a scientific way. To me “truth” is a mental devise that often blinds people to new evidence when it arrives. As human’s, I think we have an unfortunate tendency to see 30% as not likely (or likely), 1% as barely possible and .000001% as impossible. I prefer science sticks to 30%, 1% and .000001% – more promising – less promising-facts and let the truth take care of itself.

  5. wales – regarding evolution

    I will take a shot at an explanation. Natural selection does not eliminate non-desirable traits. It only allows naturally occurring traits (mutations) to propagate more often. So a non-desirable or not obviously advantageous genetic trait may be present within any species as long as that trait does not prevent a certain number of the individuals within that species from reproducing.

    How religion relates to evolution is a very interesting question being discussed in evolutionary anthropology. I wish I had time to add more, but alas, I’ve had my SBM fix for the morning. I will have to wait until I’m jonesing again this afternoon.

  6. oh no! not the moderation demons. There will be a comment posted by me at 10:11am that (supernaturally) will appear upthread at some unforeseeable time in the future. Read it. Don’t read it. I am practicing a mindful awareness that I can not control the moderation process or life itself. ;)

  7. Fifi says:

    The question isn’t really whether the big pharmaceutical companies that dominate the industry are unethical and promote pseudoscience, we know they do because they get caught doing it with regularity. The question is how influenced by big pharma doctors are (or by Big sCAM). The “pharma shill” gambit which is equivalent to the “CAM shill” gambit…both sides have their simplistic, unidimensional cardboard cutouts they’re fighting against rather than dealing with the complexity of reality. It’s the taking of sides, rather than simply trying to discern the truth and going from there, that creates these kinds of simplistic gambits.

  8. Harriet Hall says:

    “It is the *assumption* of science that everything is physical.”

    Not really. I think the only assumption science makes is that we have a shared external reality that is consistent enough to study with the scientific method. Science will readily follow anywhere the evidence leads. If anything nonphysical had any detectable effects on the physical world, science could study those effects. But then they would be part of the natural world and not really “supernatural.”

  9. wales says:

    Michele: “Natural selection does not eliminate non-desirable traits.” Right. So if religion is detrimental (a Dawkins supposition, not Billy Joe’s, my apologies) then atheism should confer a reproductive advantage, which should lead to more atheists and fewer believers, eventually phasing out religion entirely. Only history has not borne this out. The world population has doubled in the past 50 years, from about 3 billion to over 6 billion, with an estimated 70-90% practicing religion of some sort.

    Another thing I don’t get about the “new atheists” who promote “atheist pride” (i.e. Dawkins, parading around London in a bus bearing the slogan “There probably is no god, so enjoy life” or some such evangelical message). These “new atheists” are obviously enjoying the camaraderie and support of consorting with their fellow atheists, of belonging to a group where they all hold the same philosophy about life, yet many of them (under the Dawkins model) want to deprive “believers” of that pleasure and support by doing away with religion because of its “dangers”.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/06/atheist-bus-campaign-nationwide

    Why anyone should be “prideful” about their philosophical/religious beliefs or disbeliefs is beyond me, be they staunch believers, agnostics or staunch unbelievers. I’ve always felt that public displays of this sort are exhibitionistic and in bad taste. Well time to run. Hopefully there will be more interesting comments from others later.

  10. Harriet Hall says:

    Another possibility: what if religion offered an evolutionary advantage to early human societies but is no longer advantageous in our modern world?

  11. wales says:

    Anything’s possible Harriet, but I am not convinced without proof.

    Sorry for another long comment but I am fascinated by this subject. I’ll take a break after this one. A few comments were made earlier in this thread about writers being annoyed by theists trying to co-opt Albert Einstein. I see from the UK Guardian article I cited in my last post that the athests are doing the same thing. “Organisers unveiled a set of quotes from public figures – including Albert Einstein, Douglas Adams and Katharine Hepburn – who have endorsed atheism, or at least expressed scepticism about a Creator.” However, in addition to stating that he was not a theist, Albert Einstein clearly stated that he was not an atheist.

    The Dawkins troupe just takes another page from the playbook of the party they criticize. It is interesting that both “sides” want to claim dear Albert as their own.

    Einstein quotes: “You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

    And

    “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s pantheism, but admire even more his contributions to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and the body as one, not two separate things.”

    I got a chuckle out of this from the UK Guardian article “Atheists in Australia have fared badly with their campaign. Attempts to place slogans such as “Atheism – sleep in on Sunday mornings” on buses were rejected by Australia’s biggest outdoor advertising company, APN Outdoor.”

  12. Harriet Hall “Another possibility: what if religion offered an evolutionary advantage to early human societies but is no longer advantageous in our modern world?”

    what? we might evolve out of religion AND our little toe? Someone must put a stop to this evolution thing, now! :)

    Since I’m listening to James Brown, I have to point out, without religion, sin is so much less attractive…that might give it some sort of evolutionary advantage.

    Wales – “I’ve always felt that public displays of this sort are exhibitionistic and in bad taste.”

    Oh dear, so not a big fan of gay pride, the garden club or the VFW either, I guess?

    I shouldn’t even start on MargiGras – exhibitionistic and in bad taste? You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  13. wales says:

    Bad taste can be amusing, but not so much when paraded around by scientists pretending they have found scientific proof refuting something that is irrefutable. I guess I expect/expected more of someone like Dawkins. As Einstein said, “I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.” I think some “painful acts of liberation” are best worked out in private, at least by certain public figures. But I’m sure I am in the minority, most enjoy the spectacle.

  14. wales says:

    Bad taste can be amusing, but not so much when paraded around by scientists pretending they have found scientific proof to refute something which is irrefutable. I guess I expected more o fDawkins. Einstein calls the “crusading spirit of the professional atheist” a result of the painful process of liberation. I believe some forms of painful liberation should be worked out in private, especially by public figures in science. There’s a fine line between the psychological rite of “breaking the fetters” and misstating scientific fact. But I am sure I am in the minority, most enjoy the spectacle.

  15. Joe says:

    @Harriet Hall on 26 Apr 2010 at 12:29 pm in response to “It is the *assumption* of science that everything is physical.” Harriet replied ‘Not really.’

    Yes, it is the fact of science that we cannot study that which has no physical manifestation.

  16. “Yes, it is the fact of science that we cannot study that which has no physical manifestation.”

    What is the difference between ‘no physical manifestation’ and ‘no manifestation’?

  17. lkregula says:

    “What is the difference between ‘no physical manifestation’ and ‘no manifestation’?”

    Hallucinations? Perception? Emotional response? An insult may have no physical manifestation, but still have plenty of repercussions to the individual experiencing the insult. Faith/belief, the reasons for them, and the results of them, are largely based in the mind, a person’s past experience, and interpretation/perception.

    “Yes, it is the fact of science that we cannot study that which has no physical manifestation.”

    So research psychology has no business being studied as a science?

    And the Albert Einstein quotes- beautifully stated!

  18. JMB says:

    wales

    Thank you for saving me from my stupid use of supernatural/natural. I was just trying to avoid falling into the trap of any specific belief system. The analogy from the Einstein quote of the child in a library would have saved me from the connotations of the supernatural.

    BillyJoe

    “Science is the only source of reliable knowledge.”
    Neither mathematics (including mathematical logic) or Orcam’s razor is science. Do you deny that they are reliable sources of knowledge? They are not observable. And where would science be without mathematics?

    One more thing, what we can observe is dependent on our senses and our instruments. Our scientific instruments have greatly extended what we can observe. Science is limited to what we can observe. That does not mean that in the future we will not have a new or more powerful instrument that can extend our observations and science. The are many things that we will be able to prove real in the future that we cannot prove real now. How can you decide, now, what is real and what is not without a crystal ball telling the eventual limit of the power of our instruments (although, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle may be considered the eventual limit). The scientific method does not restrict the possible discoveries in the future, it only can be used to settle an argument for things that we can currently observe. Science is limited, and limiting. It is the best paradigm to base technology on. However, our knowledge is not limited by the paradigm of science.

  19. Zoe237 says:

    wales@:
    “A few comments were made earlier in this thread about writers being annoyed by theists trying to co-opt Albert Einstein. I see from the UK Guardian article I cited in my last post that the athests are doing the same thing. “Organisers unveiled a set of quotes from public figures – including Albert Einstein, Douglas Adams and Katharine Hepburn – who have endorsed atheism, or at least expressed scepticism about a Creator.” However, in addition to stating that he was not a theist, Albert Einstein clearly stated that he was not an atheist.”

    I was the one who said that about Einstein. I agree with you. I’ve read Dawkins and Hitchens and others and still find that being sure about anything is antithetical to science.

    Regarding the discussion of “in the past there has never been anything non-physical detected” thus it is logical to conclude that nothing non-physical ever will be detected in the future, I think a lesson on deductive versus inductive logic is in order. That’s why I’m an agnostic rather than an atheist:

    http://www.nakedscience.org/mrg/Deductive%20and%20Inductive%20Reasoning.htm

  20. wales says:

    Here are a few comments by nobel laureate physicists expressing dissatisfaction with the limitations of a “science-only” reality. I find these quotes cheering. But of course that’s because they coincide with my own beliefs.

    Wolfgang Pauli: “Contrary to the strict division of the activity of the human spirit into separate departments – a division prevailing since the 19th century – I consider the ambition of overcoming opposites, including also a synthesis embracing both rational understanding and the mystical experience of unity, to be the mythos, spoken and unspoken, of our present day and age.”

    Erwin Schrodinger: “The scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives me a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really dear to our heart, that really matters to us.”

  21. Wales “So if religion is detrimental (a Dawkins supposition, not Billy Joe’s, my apologies) then atheism should confer a reproductive advantage, which should lead to more atheists and fewer believers,”

    Possibly yes, possibly no. My understanding is some detrimental traits die out, but only if they are detrimental enough to keep the species from reproducing.

    A trait could be considered generally detrimental by human kind, say the trait of violence, but still be naturally selected, violence eliminated competition. Also, a trait may work in some environments and not others. Spider’s in the rainforest where food is plentiful, live in colonies. Spiders in the desert where food is scare are highly competitive and territorial.

    As to evolutionary anthropology and religion. I have heard a couple of theories. Religion aids group cohesion and/or religion acts as a enforcement mechanism of social rules. I tend to believe that religion is also a bi-product of our questing, storytelling minds, two traits that have their obvious evolutionary advantage.

    As to atheist parades, I was being tongue in cheek, but my general belief is that folks who feel like parading, should, as long as it’s peaceful. I am also not wild about proselytizing, but only in the case were I can not get away. I don’t want to be preached at when I’m at work or on a plane, train, at the theater, etc. But if someone wants to march up the street (with their required permit) singing “The Old Rugged Cross or Hey Dude there is no God.” then that’s fine with me. If I don’t like it, I can leave. But, I don’t feel I need to be protected from ideas that I disagree with 24/7.

  22. wales says:

    Michele: I agree with you about parades and I certainly don’t feel the need to be protected from ideas. What I object to is the parading falsely being done in the name of “scientific proof”. Having spent 25 years in LA and San Francisco though, spectacle does wear thin over time.

  23. Oh, I just had to point out (the?) one example of religion and a natural selection disadvantage. The Shakers. From an evolutionary standpoint chastity is not advantageous.

  24. lkregula on non-physical manifestations:
    “Hallucinations? Perception? Emotional response?”

    They are all physical. They are creations of the physical brain, possibly in response to a physical stimulus (e.g. light or sound). Emotional response in particular is very easy to detect by an outside observer: involuntary muscular contractions; skin conductivity; pulse and blood pressure; EEGs; hormone levels. EEGs, a relatively crude measure, can even be used to determine which of three items a person is thinking about. Definitely physical. Nothing supernatural there. We do not need to postulate ghosts or fairies to understand what a hallucination is.

  25. lkregula on non-physical manifestations bis:
    “So research psychology has no business being studied as a science?”

    Case in point. Physical manifestations are the domain of research psychology. Checklists, interviews, behavioural observations, fMRI. Whatever. These are all physical things.

  26. lkregula says:

    “They are all physical.”

    We now know they are, but what about before we had EEG’s or other instruments to measure brain activity? There was a (fairly significant) time where people were studying emotions and perception before that technology. The science of research psychology existed before the technology did. We can study things that we don’t know to have a physical manifestation, and we can study things that don’t have a physical manifestation.

    Your example of interviews as a physical manifestation? Really? I’d hardly call self report measures reliable. Ever heard of lying?

  27. JMB: “The analogy from the Einstein quote of the child in a library would have saved me from the connotations of the supernatural.”

    But the supernatural is exactly what we’re discussing. If science can only describe 30% of reality and the rest of reality requires some combination of the supernatural and something else to describe it, what is this proposed “rest of reality” exactly? I have gotten the physiology of sleep (a physical phenomenon well within the domain of science, nothing supernatural required here); attachment (can be studied scientifically); philosophy (which is not empirical science, but neither does philosophy require us to postulate the supernatural to explain how philosophy could exist); religion (this is not knowledge)… everyone drawing a blank.

    Nobody here who is claiming that there are some domains of knowledge about the real world to which science cannot contribute has been able to propose a single real thing that is not physical, that is imperceptible, undetectable, has no manifestations, and for which the supernatural offers a superior account. (For one thing, if something is imperceptible, undetectable and has no physical manifestations, how do we know it’s there to need an explanation of any kind?) If nobody can give an example of something explained better by the supernatural, I’m really not sure why someone would be confident that most of reality is supernatural.

    There’s a difference between saying that science is incomplete (of course it is, that’s why scientists exist), and that the scientific method could not, even under the most ideal circumstances, explain or describe any given part of the real world and that the supernatural offers a superior account for those things science does not describe well today. We don’t know what dark matter is? Must be fairies! We don’t know absolutely everything there is to know about cancer? Must be fairies! I don’t know exactly how much I weigh? Must be fairies! Today’s medical science can’t cure everyone all the time? Must be fairies!

    Would science be improved, would knowledge accumulate more quickly, if we included the fairy hypothesis in every experiment? How would we even do that? What would a fairy explanation look like? How would we know whether we needed to look for fairies, gods, demi-gods or totemic spirits?

    RE mathematics, yes, it’s knowledge and no, it’s not a physical substance though it has physical correlates. But does the supernatural improve our understanding of math? Does math have religious correlates?

    If all we need is to bring a sense of wonder to the universe, my understanding is that’s exactly what scientists (and mathematicians) do. They practice science because they have a profound sense of wonder that inspires them to dedicate much of their lives to learning more and to learning how little they know. Einstein is a charismatic figure but hardly unique in this respect.

  28. lkregula on physical manifestations:
    “Your example of interviews as a physical manifestation? Really? I’d hardly call self report measures reliable. Ever heard of lying?”

    I didn’t say it was reliable. I said it was something that research psychologists study. Research psychologists do not study ether, today or 100 years ago. They study things they can observe.

  29. lkregula says:

    Alison, I don’t see anyone saying that faeries are the answer to everything, I see people saying that there are some things that science can’t answer. Why do people fall in love? Science may explain the hormonal stuff, but not the actual “why”. Why do individuals stay in abusive relationships? Why this person and not that person? Why this put up with infertility or annoyance in a mate? What about art? Why is the Mona Lisa revered as such a great painting? What makes Brahms so popular? Why did anyone ever listen to N’Sync? Do you really think that science can explain every minutiae of the human experience?

  30. lkregula says:

    “I didn’t say it was reliable. I said it was something that research psychologists study. Research psychologists do not study ether, today or 100 years ago. They study things they can observe.”

    I never said they study aether, I said that self report measures can be wrong. If one can observe a hundred million people’s reports of talks with god, would you believe it? No, you wouldn’t, but it would be an observable measure by your standards, and how are you going to show that those hundred million people are lying?

  31. weing says:

    “If science can only describe 30% of reality and the rest of reality requires some combination of the supernatural and something else to describe it, what is this proposed “rest of reality” exactly?”

    I don’t know who made that claim but it seems preposterous. First of all science tells us that baryonic matter makes up only about 5% of the universe and we have just barely begun to describe that. The scientific approach is the most useful tool we have to understanding it. If you wish to use imaginary ie supernatural approaches to reality, that is fine. We will judge you by the results you produce. I will stick with science.

    “Do you really think that science can explain every minutiae of the human experience?”

    Most definitely, yes. If you think that science somehow diminishes for me the beauty of a rainbow, sunset, song, or a beautiful woman, then you are sadly mistaken.

  32. lkregula says:

    “If you think that science somehow diminishes for me the beauty of a rainbow, sunset, song, or a beautiful woman, then you are sadly mistaken.”

    I never said diminishes, I said explains. An explanation doesn’t have to diminish.

  33. weing says:

    “An explanation doesn’t have to diminish.”

    Agreed. My misunderstanding.

  34. weing on the ability of science to describe only 30% of reality, the rest of reality requiring some combination of the supernatural and something else to describe it:

    “I don’t know who made that claim but it seems preposterous.”

    wales made it. This is the full quote:

    “If I had to bet on what is the basis of reality I would bet that scientific theory has it 30% right, spiritual theory has it 30% right, and the remaining [40%] of the pie is composed of A) a creative, integrative synthesis of ideas from those two realms or B) a completely novel paradigm that is beyond our ken at this stage of humanity’s cognitive evolution.”

    This is what I’ve been complaining about. This statement is supposed to sound broad-minded but is meaningless.

  35. JMB says:

    Part of the problem with my use of the analogy of supernatural/natural is the susceptibility to the criticism that I am using supernatural explanations for those things I cannot find natural explanations. That is not the case. If something happens that we do not understand and appears to be supernatural, and you ask me how it happened, then I would say we do not yet have a scientific explanation, I would not venture a supernatural explanation. If something happens that we do not understand and appears supernatural, and you ask me why it happened, then I might try to compose an answer based on my experience in philosophy and/or religion. I do not try to explain how things work with supernatural concepts, that is a historic mistake. What I am doing is classifying the type of question, and then determining what paradigm will work the best to yield an answer.

    If patients ask me why something happened, I tend to answer the question as if they asked how it happened. If they persist in asking why, then I know it is time to address the illness, not just the disease.

    You can be a atheist, and still use nonscientific paradigms for knowledge. Even BillyJoe professes a belief in Occam’s razor, which is a heuristic that cannot be proven by math or science. Therefore, part of BillyJoe’s knowledge is not based on science or logic.

    Mathematics tends to be proven by formalized derivation. Science tends to be proven by reproducible observation. Beyond math and science, we cannot determine whose knowledge is right and who is wrong. (We can still judge a persons actions as being right or wrong.) We can only choose based on faith. If somebody thinks being smarter will determine who is right or wrong in an issue beyond math and science, then good luck. Better arguments may win an argument, but does not determine who is right or wrong. There is a reason Einstein was so humble as to compare himself to a child in a library. But you don’t have to be a genius to be humbled by how little we know. Technological progress does not equate to the breadth of our knowledge.

    Finally, I will try again to make the point. If we are to have complete knowledge of a system, we must have both the knowledge of the equations that govern the transition from one state to the next in a given interval in time, and the information about the current state. The scientific paradigm focuses on causality, the equations that tell us what the future state will be given the information of the current state. Obtaining the information to reduce the uncertainty of the current (or previous states if we need to establish a trajectory), is not part of the scientific process. Information is part of the process to complete our knowledge. Science alone cannot result in complete knowledge. If I drop a box on your foot, science will tell you the formulaes to predict how fast it will be going when it hits your foot, and the kinetic energy of the box when it hits your foot. You would have had to measure the weight of the box and the distance it falls to tell you what you really want to know.

  36. JMB,

    I agree with everything you say… except the bit about Occam’s razor and information. :)

    If you want to know the weight of the box and the distance the box is falling you’re going to have to use applied science to obtain that information. You might need to know the centre of gravity of the box and how it’s going to rotate when it lands.

    Occam’s razor is a scientific heuristic but it’s not knowledge about the world in the sense that it will tell you if something is true or not. You must know that yourself when you tell someone they have X problem because of Y predisposing factor and they are satisfied. They aren’t looking for more explanations because they don’t need them (Occam’s razor at work) but you happen to know that their problem is vastly more complicated because you know a lot more about bodies. (Occam’s razor fail.)

    You seem to be arguing against the idea that human science can know everything about everything in the universe simultaneously, which I don’t think anyone proposed. On one end of the scale there is the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and on the other end – while we’re getting very clever with astronomical observation techniques, there will always be a limit to what we can see from here. And while it would not be possible to know what everyone on the planet weighs simultaneously (even if an alien race were to issue us all digital scales wirelessly connected to the mothership and programmed us all to weigh ourselves at 12h00 GMT there would be limits, and that is quite a bit of observation to interfere with the results) there is no reason to think that we could not know any given person’s weight using applied science, or that our lack of knowledge is a gap that requires spiritual theory to explain. Saying that we require spiritual theory to explain the gap, or that we need to keep our minds open to the possibility that spiritual theory explains the gap, is senseless.

    You also seem to be arguing against the idea that if it isn’t a testable scientific postulate we don’t need to think about it, which again is something I don’t think anyone proposed. If I gave that impression I apologize.

    The idea I am arguing against is that it could somehow make sense to say that 70% of reality is undescribable using the scientific method (not undescribed right now, but totally out of scope) and requires spiritual theory to account for it.

    The universe is big. If the 70% of reality refers to the moral significance of human compassion, we are giving our feelings an awful lot of weight in the grand scale of things.

    My assumption has been that the proposed 70%-of-reality-is-supernatural figure refers to some Chopra-type theory of reality, but I haven’t checked. Lots of people believe Chopra makes sense. They think The Secret is an accurate description of how things work. They think The Celestine Prophecy is true. For these things to be true descriptions of reality, the universe would have to be a very supernatural place.

    wales, have I been on the wrong track about this?

  37. BillyJoe says:

    BillyJoe: “It is the *assumption* of science that everything is physical.
    That is the philosophical part.”
    Wales: “Exactly, we’re back to “assuming” with no proof. You have just confirmed that the entire premise of science is based on a presumption which is accurate because so far there has been no scientific disproof.”

    The evidence has been accumulating for over 500 years!
    So far one hundred percent physical explanations and not a single supernatural explanation in sight.
    How certain do you want to be?
    Do you still give flat Earth any credence?

    “Of course this is a foregone conclusion, as the scientific method is applicable only to physical entities. Science assumes only physical existence, and the scientific method can test only physical entities,

    You wish!
    So, if someone claims they can levitate a plate off the table, you think science can’t test that claim? If someone claims a miracle happened, you think science can’t test that claim?

    “so it can never prove or disprove the existence of a spiritual reality.”

    As I said before, define your spirituality and we’ll what science can and cannot disprove

  38. BillyJoe says:

    michelinmichigan,

    “BillyJoe – One of the things I like about science is that it generally does not seek to disprove things. It only looks at ideas as ‘more likely, less likely’ and follows the route of the more likely.”

    So you haven’t discounted the Flat Earth theory yet?
    You still think the Earth might be the centre of the universe?

    “I find myself disturbed at the notion that the non-existence of anything (God, Santa, Teapots in space) can be presented as “truth” in a scientific way.”

    On the other hand, I’m disturbed by the notion that science has to seriously entertain ideas that people completely make up out of thin air. Does science serious need to entertain the notion of Santa, an idea that parents thought up to entertain their children? Or teapots in space that were thought up to show how ridiculous the idea of having to disprove god is. Those teapots have to be defined so that they are undetectable in any way. Similarly when you define god in such a way that he is completely undetectable, you end up with an entity that no one believes in. How that is not a disproof of god still escapes me.

  39. BillyJoe says:

    Harriet,

    BillyJoe “It is the *assumption* of science that everything is physical.”
    Harriet: “Not really. I think the only assumption science makes is that we have a shared external reality that is consistent enough to study with the scientific method.

    Fair enough. It seems to me it amounts to the same thing. The underlying philosophy of science is Materialism, the other choices being Dualism, and Idealism. To entertain the supernatural is to stop looking. Science keeps looking…for physical explanations (including within claims of the supernatural).

    “Science will readily follow anywhere the evidence leads. If anything nonphysical had any detectable effects on the physical world, science could study those effects. But then they would be part of the natural world and not really “supernatural.””

    I couldn’t agree more.

  40. BillyJoe says:

    wales,

    “Dawkins, parading around London in a bus bearing the slogan “There probably is no god, so enjoy life” “

    I hope you similarly deride the religious adverts that presently appear on public transport.

    I got a chuckle out of this from the UK Guardian article “Atheists in Australia have fared badly with their campaign. Attempts to place slogans such as “Atheism – sleep in on Sunday mornings” on buses were rejected by Australia’s biggest outdoor advertising company, APN Outdoor.”

    So you’re in favour of censorship.
    Well, good on you wales.
    I trust you’d also chuckle when theists have to pull down their adverts.

    “scientists pretending they have found scientific proof refuting something that is irrefutable. I guess I expect/expected more of someone like Dawkins.”

    Dawkins does not put himself in the category of “disbelief in god because there is evidence that god does not exist”. He has been quoted as saying that he is merely leaning towards that view but he doesn’t see it as absolutely proven.

  41. BillyJoe says:

    JMB,

    BillyJoe: “Science is the only source of reliable knowledge.”
    JMB: “Neither mathematics (including mathematical logic) or Orcam’s razor is science. Do you deny that they are reliable sources of knowledge? They are not observable. And where would science be without mathematics?

    Fair enough.
    Let’s just say that maths and logic are the hand-servants of science. ;)
    In any case I have mentioned both previously in relation to science and, here, I meant only to distinguish science from “other ways of knowing”.

    “Even BillyJoe professes a belief in Occam’s razor, which is a heuristic that cannot be proven by math or science. Therefore, part of BillyJoe’s knowledge is not based on science or logic.”

    Ockham’s razor is not a belief, it is a sort of practical principle. An exercise in house-cleaning. For simplicity’s sake, do not burden yourself with unnecessary assumptions.
    I’m not going to take ten pairs of underpants on an overnight hike. Sure I may get lost and need every last one of them but, hey, it aint gonna happen.

  42. BillyJoe says:

    Alison:

    “Nobody here who is claiming that there are some domains of knowledge about the real world to which science cannot contribute has been able to propose a single real thing that is not physical”

    And ain’t that the truth.
    And that includes god. Otherwise someone please define god in such a way that he is not susceptable to scientific investigation and, at the sane time, is something more than a hand full of people actually believe in.

  43. BillyJoe – I missed the part where I said “seriously entertain”. I believe I suggested that science should follow the most likely route. Do you disagree with that?

  44. JMB:

    I thought you’d like this article on the science of medical decision-making, in this case evidence-based theories.

    http://mdm.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/28/6/829

  45. BillyJoe on extra underpants:
    “Sure I may get lost and need every last one of them but, hey, it aint gonna happen.”

    You might, and you’ll discover that you need them as soon as you get lost. As long as you’re not lost, one pair of underpants is just fine.

    Same in science. As long as your bare-bones hypothesis continues to explain data, you don’t need the extra ones. Once you stop being able to explain data you go back to your luggage and start repacking your hypotheses.

    The advantage of science over travelling is that in science it’s never too late to go back and revise the hypothesis. When you travel it’s perfectly possible to become stranded without access to underpants!

  46. Fifi says:

    Of course, that’s always the problem with true believers – they’ve got one set of rules for Others that they don’t apply to themselves. A simple ad on a side of a bus that lightheartedly essentially says “there’s no god so enjoy yourself” is treated, well, like blasphemy and all kinds of religious leaders rush to impose their religious beliefs upon everyone else in secular society. They’re attempting, once again, to control secular society and the cultural discourse so their assertions and attempts to control us can’t be questioned. Do the major religions advertise? They sure do, some even have door to door salesmen. Yet apparently both believers of various stripes and religious officials think it’s okay when they do it but nobody else should. Why are they so upset by these simple ads? Because they’re satire and if you point out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes and his willy is waving about in the wind then it damages the illusion religion creates. It’s a slightly milder version of threatening to kill people who show pictures of Mohammed, not that Christian Fundies don’t kill people and believe it’s righteous too.

  47. Fifi – yes. It’s not about the feelings of people who would like to believe in a god or a sentient universe; it’s about what’s true. And willies waving in the wind!

    Anyone else: If you don’t subscribe to Steve Novella’s blog, this post is relevant to the discussion of fantasy vs reality. http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=1885

  48. So I guess I’m missing why is it imperative that one close one’s mind to something that has no evidence to recommend it? Why is it imperative that one believe that the non-existence Santa, God and ESP is the “truth”?

    The way I see it science and medicine do not work by deciding what can is NOT possibly be true and then disprove various other unlikely things until they have come to the answer. (could be wrong here.)

    SBM (and science in general, I presume) starts with the most likely cause of the complaint. As an example, chest pain may be heart attack, acid reflux, etc. Does the doctor have to know the “truth” that it can not be a demonic possession, a toe injury, or chi misalignment?

    So I guess I’m asking what is the advantage of knowing that something doesn’t exist over knowing that something is far less possible or that there is no or little evidence for something?

    Also, as a safeguard, how does the human mind make the distinction and communicate to others the lines between no evidence, little evidence and rare evidence, through the spectrum, when deciding these truths?

  49. Alison – “Nobody here who is claiming that there are some domains of knowledge about the real world to which science cannot contribute has been able to propose a single real thing that is not physical, that is imperceptible, undetectable, has no manifestations, and for which the supernatural offers a superior account.”

    I know this is going to be annoying, but I guess I’m unclear on your premise and this is probably only because I’m reading from my viewpoint, not wales.

    So I will say, yes, everything has some sort of physical manifestation that can be observed. I have to add, some of those observations can be so indirect as to very unreliable. One can observe the physical components of thought, but that will not give you much information on the actual thoughts. Regardless, I see your point. But I feel like the point where I am not understanding is the distinction between science observing, contributing and answering.

    Because everything has some sort of physical manifestation, science can observe everything (within it’s limits of tools for observation). Because of it’s observations science can contribute to many things. But, there are many questions that science can not answer. As JMB said you will not find proof in ethics, art, philosophy, etc.

    I understand that you are not saying that science does answer everything (I think?) only maybe one doesn’t need the idea of the supernatural to answer these questions(?).

  50. “Because they’re satire and if you point out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes and his willy is waving about in the wind then it damages the illusion religion creates.”

    Love the image, :) I was going to say that I’ll have a no willy waving clause in my parade permit, but I forgot The Naked Mile, where UofM students would run naked through the streets to celebrate the end of winter semester. But there is no theistic-atheistic affiliation.

  51. micheleinmichigan,

    For me the important distinction is not between what couldn’t possibly be true and what is definitely true, but between fantasy and reality.

    Fantasy is making shit up. That’s it. Somebody sits around and decides that it would be really cool if they could control the universe with their minds, so they write the Secret. They have no evidence, no reason to think it’s true other than it would be nice if it were. Fantasy.

    Defining reality is more complicated. It has to do with consensus, which I think of as that which can be explored using the scientific method.

    Unless there is a reason to think that I can create everything I want just by thinking about it, that notion is just clutter. There’s an infinite quantity of shit that can be made up. There’s no reason to rank it in order of probability. Some shit that is made up turns out to be true, but if there was no context for the idea at the time somebody fantasized it, it’s not helpful.

    This started with wales’ statement that there were different “sides” in science and that the only honest position is that of the agnostic who does not take sides.

    My position is that the only “sides” in science are fantasy and reality. If you are just making shit up, I don’t have to pay attention to your ideas. If you have a basis for your ideas then we have something to talk about. Anthropogenic Global Warming is not a “side.” It’s a falsifiable theory. It’s either true, not true, or partly true and that has nothing to do with what I think about it. It’s not about making friends or waging wars. It just is. (Or is not, as the case may be.) (Of course it is, but that’s not what we’re talking about.) Reality is the only “side” we need.

    wales appears to believe that science can be right some of the time, but it’s more likely that making shit up that couldn’t possibly ever be verified is right more often. This is proposed as the honest, scientific, agnostic point of view.

    “SBM (and science in general, I presume) starts with the most likely cause of the complaint. As an example, chest pain may be heart attack, acid reflux, etc. Does the doctor have to know the “truth” that it can not be a demonic possession, a toe injury, or chi misalignment?”

    I think the doctor should be aware that demonic possession and chi misalignment are examples of making shit up. They shouldn’t be on the differential at all. Toe injuries are probably very low on the differential but could have a legitimate place there.

    If there’s a reason to think that there is such a thing as a demon, and that it’s definable, then sure, put demons on the differential. Until then, they have as much place there as èopinjk and vwugby or even ;sèaèc,hadtuiru.

  52. “The advantage of science over travelling is that in science it’s never too late to go back and revise the hypothesis. When you travel it’s perfectly possible to become stranded without access to underpants!”

    Then again, you can wash the underpants in the sink, the disadvantage of science backtracking is “Whoops, we did thousands of surgeries that resulted in sleep apnea and we just found out sleep apnea is worse than we thought”

    Yeah, now I’m just being a curmudgeon.

  53. micheleinmichigan on parsing Alison Cummins:
    “I understand that you are not saying that science does answer everything (I think?) only maybe one doesn’t need the idea of the supernatural to answer these questions(?).”

    Bingo!

  54. lkregula says:

    “So I guess I’m missing why is it imperative that one close one’s mind to something that has no evidence to recommend it? Why is it imperative that one believe that the non-existence Santa, God and ESP is the “truth”?”

    Because “truths” belong in the realm of ideology, and science has to be set up as an ideology (instead of the tool that it is) in order to compare it to, say, the ideology of a given religion. Once you’re comparing two ideologies, then you can engage in the fun of us-versus-them thinking, use your ideology to castigate the other side and use your ideology to prove your superiority. If one admits that science is merely a tool, it has limitations.

  55. You get to stay at my place next time you visit Montréal!

    (This invitation actually extends to all the commenters here. Really. You’re all so smart and civilized. Contact me through my blog. I have a guest room.)

  56. Oh, one last thought for me on the evolution, religion, science theme. There is a high possiblity that it is a crock, but it’s rattling around in my head.

    The relationship between the productivity of science vs. religion and the possiblity of replacing scientific thought with religion thought gives rise to the question, ‘is that a good idea?’*

    If one can accept the premise that both religion and science are human constructs that have evolved to fulfill certain human needs, then one must ask are those needs the same? I would say not. I would say that religion was constructed to: give a feeling of certainty to an uncertain existence, to maintain social cohesion and to enforce desirable codes of conduct. Science was constructed to gain knowledge, to control our environment, our health, etc.

    If I believe that humans change their tools to meet their needs (as they have with both religion and science), that leads me to wonder what would happen if humans were convinced to replace science with religion. Would they be able to resist the temptation to change the scientific method to give certainty where none exists, maintain social cohesion or enforce social codes of conduct? Is that what we want of science?

  57. to replace religion with science, that is.

  58. Alison – cool! that’s much better than a toaster and right back at you on the smart and civilized front.

  59. lkregula says:

    Michele- Very interesting thought train! The misuse of tools is not such a great idea. Science doesn’t provide certainty any more than a hammer fixes a stomach ache, and religion doesn’t provide knowledge any more than a a hard drive cures Alzheimer’s.

  60. Geekoid says:

    Wales is like every logical fallacy and misunderstanding of science rolled into one big ball.

    I mean come on:
    “I meant proof that a spiritual reality does not exist.”

    Also we should prove the pink invisible monkeys don’t live on the moon.

    You believe there is a spirituality you need to prove it.

    The He sues Einstein as some sort of bases to make theological arguments. Falling into the ‘Hey,, he is really smart about subject A, therefore I can take his opinion on subject B out of context and use them as a bases for my belief.”

    Wales doesn’t even grasp the fact that Science is a way of thinking about the universe. He also seems to lack the ability to grasp the fact that if something has effect, it can be measures, quantified and put into a logical thought..aka Science.

    He seems to think unknowable unknowable and that people need to prove negatives.

  61. wales says:

    Well I just tried to wade through all these comments quickly.

    Alison: you lost me somewhere back when you mentioned Chopra and the Secret. Knowing these are widely espoused/derided by certain individuals but not knowing much about them I don’t know how they relate to anything I have said. You keep trying to understand a comment I made about what I believe science can definitely say about the basis of reality. I admire your persistence, but I think I explicitly stated a while back that I have given up on explaining my take on reality on a blog. It is my take after all, and I don’t intend to persuade anyone else to my point of view, least of all staunch materialists. Since you stated that my comment was meaningless, perhaps you should leave it at that. I am content to be in your “meaningless” category with the likes of Wolfgang Pauli and others who “make stuff up”.

    Billy Joe: I find adverts for religion and atheism equally repugnant. As for censorship, I interpreted the Australian item as more of a corporate decision against a money losing proposition, even though the ad was an appeal to hedonism by “sleeping in”. Hadn’t thought of it as censorship, but you may attempt to put words in my mouth if you wish.

    Sorry can’t contribute more, been busy, as well as following the engrossing unfolding Goldman Sachs congressional hearings. High drama. Talk about “making stuff up”…….

  62. wales says:

    Oh yeah, Geekoid: “The He sues Einstein as some sort of bases to make theological arguments.” You haven’t been paying much attention. I have made no theological arguments of any kind.

  63. “Alison: you lost me somewhere back when you mentioned Chopra and the Secret. Knowing these are widely espoused/derided by certain individuals but not knowing much about them I don’t know how they relate to anything I have said.”

    Yeah, I never asked you. I realized I was making assumptions, so I thought I could at least make them explicit. I haven’t read them either, but my understanding is that they attribute a level of conciousness to the universe as a whole that can interact with the consciousness of an individual.

    No, you don’t have to persuade me of your point of view, but you aren’t being very helpful to people who simply want to know what it is. Especially when you come onto a blog, hint that you have a point of view that we could benefit from, and then say it’s too private to explain.

  64. wales says:

    Sounds like you believe I made a sales pitch for agnosticism. If so, it was completely unintentional. I guess we are all enthusiastic about our own points of view. I did make a pitch for trying to overcome binary thinking, which I thought was helpful. I believe I started this conversation with a recommendation to read a book called “Opposable Mind” in response to DG’s comment that someone’s head might explode from holding opposing viewpoints.

  65. wales on sales pitches:

    “Some have criticized self-labeled “skeptics” as “pseudo-skeptics” who practice a type of asymmetrical skepticism; for example rather than a truly skeptical perspective, (agnostic or doubting), the pseudo-skeptic consistently takes a denialist stance against certain ideas. “The true skeptic takes an agnostic position, one that says the claim is not proved rather than disproved.””

    “Sounds like you believe I made a sales pitch for agnosticism.”

    You are correct, that is the conclusion I drew.

  66. wales says:

    I was quoting the paper I cited. But with regard to skepticism in general and the “skeptical” movement, yes, I do think the agnostic stance is more objective and balanced than much of the “skepticism” I have seen. Of course just standing in the middle doubting both sides rarely makes for good blogging. Taking a stance and developing an argument is more likely to attract commentary.

    With regard to religious agnosticism, I made no pitch, simply stated my preference.

  67. JMB says:

    Just because someone chooses not to share their beliefs, does not mean they are agnostic.

    We would not replace scientific knowledge with religious knowledge. If there is a disagreement between religious knowledge and scientific knowledge, the the scientific knowledge is correct. Science and religion gives us answers to different questions, not the same question. Science claims any domain in which observations can lead to an agreement between observers.

    The difference between questions addressed by science and religion is not a novel argument. I am following more or less the arguments made by Galileo (considered the father of science) about the relationship of science and religion.

    SBM is not science, it is the art of practicing medicine with understanding of medical science. The practitioner is bombarded with so many claims that different choices are based on science, that we must learn how to be skeptical of those claims. The faculty of this site shares with us their concepts and methods that they use in the skeptical review of those claims, and we benefit by learning from their example.

    The use of Galileo and Einstein in arguments of the relation of science, religion, and skepticism is not an attempt to prove religion, it is an attempt to prove that you can be a scientist, and still have religious beliefs.

    In a fairly restricted definition of complete knowledge, I would define complete knowledge of a system as that which would allow us to answer a specific question correctly. If the question is, “When I hold out this ball, and release my grip, what will happen?”, then all that is necessary for complete knowledge is the concept of gravity. If the question is, “will it rain tomorrow?” then complete knowledge will require both computer models based on scientific study as well as a very large set of wide ranging weather observations as data input to allow a (sometimes) accurate prediction. Traditionally, we describe the equations used in the computer models as the scientific concepts. The data we collect to input into the model may be collected by scientific instruments, but that data used is not considered part of the scientific process. IMHO, I offer that in the question of predicting the weather we must use scientific concepts, as well as data collected for input (not a scientific process), to arrive at a complete knowledge.

  68. JMB says:

    Thank you Allison for the reference. That used to be my area of interest in research, although I published more on the issues of data compression (that was where the money was for the chief of the department). In some ways, I wonder if the emphasis on “evidence based” is just a way to appeal to those who dole out the federal grants. It has always been, ‘evidence based”. I guess if MDM adopted a more formal framework like the Cochrane Collaboration, then MDM might get more notice. But the Cochrance Collaboration comes out with papers that sound like policy making scientific studies (which the current healthcare reform wants), as opposed to, lets improve the quality of medical decisions, which is the focus of MDM. When Clinton proposed healthcare reform, we were excited that perhaps MDM would come to prominence because it could improve the quality and efficiency of medicine, but it was never even mentioned in the proposal. MDM seemed to whither away after that. Now the focus is “should we pay for that test when the evidence of efficacy is weak?”, rather than, “what is the most efficient and accurate way to diagnose appendicitis in a given case”.

  69. JMB says:

    BillyJoe,

    “Let’s just say that maths and logic are the hand-servants of science. ”

    I think mathematicians, statisticians, and logicians might view scientists as unsophisticated and needing help to get their thoughts straightened out. I don’t think they view themselves as handmaiden’s of science. But if you have grant money, they might be happy to help you out.

    Math and science are two methods of gaining knowledge in which there is a proof available in the method. Math can be used separate from science, and proof can be obtained without science (in most cases). Science requires some minimum math to result in a proof.

    Religion does not require or provide proof (in spite of what its current leaders may say), it only requires faith.

  70. BillyJoe says:

    JMB,

    I should have used a smily. :)

    Still I think what is needed is maths and statistics savvy scientists skilled in logic.
    Maths can have proof independent of science but then maths tends to be divorced from reality. And science does require math to result in proof but then those proofs tend to be grounded in reality.
    Of course there’s nothing wrong with pure maths, it’s just that you can’t beat believers around the head with it. :D

    “If there is a disagreement between religious knowledge and scientific knowledge, the the scientific knowledge is correct.”

    So, in what sense is there religious knowledge?

    In the beginning there was only religious “knowledge” (sorry, I’m going to use scare quotes) and all “knowledge” was encompassed by religion. Then there was science. And, as time passed and science knowledge increased, whenever science knowledge disagreed with religious “knowledge”, science knowledge was acknowledged to be correct. And, consequently, religious “knowledge” decreased.

    In what sense, then, could you say that religious “knowledge” that was eventually superceded by science knowledge actually knowledge in the first place? And, in what sense, and on what basis, can you say that what remains of religious “knowledge” today can really be called knowledge.

    “Science and religion gives us answers to different questions, not the same question. Science claims any domain in which observations can lead to an agreement between observers.

    The non-overlapping magisteria argument. Well, it doesn’t rub.
    Whenever science and religion disagree, science is correct. How does that gel with the NOMA argument. And, please, what questions are open to religion and simultaneously closed to science?

    “The use of Galileo and Einstein in arguments of the relation of science, religion, and skepticism is not an attempt to prove religion, it is an attempt to prove that you can be a scientist, and still have religious beliefs.”

    Firstly, I still think you’d be hard pressed to describe Einstein as religious in the sense most religious people describe themselves as religious. The vast majority of religious folk believe in an interventionist god. Einstein clearly did not, and he expressly said so. So, to my mind, there is little to be gained by religious folk in quoting him.

    Secondly, sure you can be a scientist and have religious beliefs but I cannot accept that this is not at the sacrifice of cognitive dissonance. Some scientist just cannot give up the faith into which they were born even when their science keeps nodding no at every turn.

    “I offer that in the question of predicting the weather we must use scientific concepts, as well as data collected for input (not a scientific process), to arrive at a complete knowledge.”

    Data collection is not a scientific process! Well, I’ll be damned. On the other hand, it certainly aint a religious process, and that’s for sure. So, come on scientists, mathematicians, statisticians, and data collectors, let’s get it together! With one loud voice now: “There is no

    …god damn!

  71. BillyJoe says:

    wales,

    Of course I don’t think you’re in favour of censorship, I just think you should stop acting like one. Who cheers when anyone’s point of view is being denied a fair hearing?

    ‘But with regard to skepticism in general and the “skeptical” movement, yes, I do think the agnostic stance is more objective and balanced than much of the “skepticism” I have seen.”

    Well, standing on the fence certainly requires good balance, but the correct position is rarely halfway between two opposites.

  72. BillyJoe says:

    wales,

    Of course I don’t think you’re in favour of censorship, I just think you should stop acting like someone who is. Who cheers when anyone’s point of view is being denied a fair hearing?

    ‘But with regard to skepticism in general and the “skeptical” movement, yes, I do think the agnostic stance is more objective and balanced than much of the “skepticism” I have seen.”

    Well, standing on the fence certainly requires good balance, but the correct position is rarely halfway between two opposites.

  73. BillyJoe says:

    Alison,

    “You might, and you’ll discover that you need them as soon as you get lost. As long as you’re not lost, one pair of underpants is just fine.

    Same in science. As long as your bare-bones hypothesis continues to explain data, you don’t need the extra ones. Once you stop being able to explain data you go back to your luggage and start repacking your hypotheses.

    The advantage of science over travelling is that in science it’s never too late to go back and revise the hypothesis. When you travel it’s perfectly possible to become stranded without access to underpants!”

    How can I disagree.
    Except to say that there are bushwalkers that get lost and bushwalkers who do not, and this bushwalker does not get lost. ;)

  74. BillyJoe says:

    Alison,

    “Fantasy is making shit up”

    Okay, I’m dropping my “making things up out of thin air”. :)
    Religion is just people making shit up.
    God is just people making shit up.

    IN the beginning there was a god for every damn thing that couldn’t be explained. Then there was a god of the gods that ruled over all the lesser gods. Gradually the lesser gods dropped off as scientific explanations usurped their role. Eventually only the god of gods remained. And this pile of shit (I’m blaming you, Alison!) was adorned with the emporer’s clothes of religion.

    Why should science have to disprove the shit that people make up? That was Russell’s point with his teapot. It’s just ridiculous to have to disprove something that’s set up to be nondisprovable. Once you strip god of all the bits that science can disprove, you end up with an undisprovable core god that no one believes in.

    If that’s what you mean when you say that science cannot disprove god, then I’m not going to argue.

  75. BillyJoe says:

    …okay, my last response lingers in moderation.
    Goddamn, no one going to read it.

  76. weing says:

    I don’t think there is such a thing as religious knowledge. I think they call it revelation. Religious theories, if you want to call them that, or claims, are not falsifiable. If they are not falsifiable, they do no belong in science.

  77. And in what way is religious knowledge, “knowledge” at all?

    There are mystics who are very good at doing cool things with their brains so they can experience the world in particular ways. I don’t think they typically talk about what they experience in terms of knowledge so much as immanence – and the irrelevance of knowledge.

  78. wales says:

    BJ said: “Of course I don’t think you’re in favour of censorship, I just think you should stop acting like someone who is. Who cheers when anyone’s point of view is being denied a fair hearing?”

    Since when is paid advertising about “a fair hearing”? It is likely that the Australian outdoor advertising company got a more lucrative advertising contract with a profitable enterprise. So far, atheism hasn’t been that profitable, except for those who write books about it in the name of science. I didn’t see any reference to censorship in the Australian advertising blurb. Buses only have so much advertising space, and the advertising company will choose the most lucrative contract, which will likely be with the most profitable business enterprise having the largest advertising budget. I live in a large metro area and all the buses are covered with ads for new movies, banking institutions and cell phone companies. Haven’t seen any ads for theism or atheism.

    Interesting idea though, advertising as a “fair hearing”.

  79. BillyJoe says:

    wales,

    First you need to get your facts straight. The advertising company weren’t going to lose out financially by running ads for atheist organisations. They declined to run them because they thought they would be too controversial.

    “Since when is paid advertising about “a fair hearing”?”

    When they have no problems accepting money from christian churches promoting god and religion but decline money from atheist organisations promoting the opposite view. APN is also the largest outdoor advertising company by a large margin, so their rejection is tantamount to the atheist organisation being effectively silenced.

    Heres is how the conservation went:

    “We started off with ‘Atheism – because there is no credible evidence’, we put that to the bus companies, they didn’t like that and they said the wording wasn’t to their acceptance,” he said.

    “And then we changed that to ‘Celebrate reason’ and thought we’d make it a bit comical – ‘Sleep in on Sunday mornings’. But they refused that also.

    “The end conversation I had was I asked why we were refused and my answer to that was, ‘well we have to refer this to our legal department’, and chappie hung up,” he said.

    “Nearly immediately after that he rang back with a message saying listen this is all finished, we’re not putting the signs on.”

    And here’s the view of some reasonable christians:

    Greg Clarke, the director of the Centre for Public Christianity, says freedom of expression should be favoured as often as possible [and] says he is surprised the atheist advertising campaign has been knocked back in a secular society like Australia.

    Associate Professor Carole Cusack, of the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, said … “If religions can buy advertising space, then why not atheists?”

    Friar Peter McGrath, of St Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in Paddington, agreed: “The [atheists] should have a right to advertise. They should be able to say what they want.”

    (Discalimer: I haven’t been able to determine whenther Carole Cusack is a christian or simply has an academic interest in religion.)

  80. wales says:

    BJ: Well of course they should have a right to advertise. I am all for free speech. My point was that the UK Guardian blurb I cited did not say that the Australian ads were rejected due to controversy. You are quoting someone or something as proof, but you don’t identify who or what.

  81. wales says:

    On the other hand, some people want to ban McDonald’s Happy Meal toys…….what’s next?

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2010/04/no_toys_in_happy_meals_calif_c.html

  82. Wieng regarding Religious Knowlege – whether you believe that there can be religious knowlege would depend upon which meaning of knowledge you select.

    Merriam-Webster – Knowledge

    “1 obsolete : cognizance
    2 a (1) : the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2) : acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique b (1) : the fact or condition of being aware of something (2) : the range of one’s information or understanding c : the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning : cognition d : the fact or condition of having information or of being learned
    3 archaic : sexual intercourse
    4 a : the sum of what is known : the body of truth, information, and principles acquired by humankind b archaic : a branch of learning”

    That could be a long discussion the ends up with “oh, I was talking about a different knowledge”

  83. weing says:

    I think most of us are looking for 3.

  84. JMB says:

    BillyJoe

    “And, please, what questions are open to religion and simultaneously closed to science?:

    “Why?”

    Galileo argued that spiritual questions are open to religion, and closed to science.

    Thank you, micheleinmichigan, for bringing up the issue of definitions. If someone is to define knowledge as that which we can prove, then there is no knowledge that can be gained from the study of art, literature, philosophy, or religion.

    I am guilty of using a restrictive definition of science, but I think it is one that fits the skeptical spirit of SBM. By defining science as the process of developing a theory, designing an experiment to test it, and relying on results than can be reproduced, then it becomes easier to weed out pseudoscience.

    I also used a restrictive definition of knowledge in the term, “complete knowledge of a system”, but I did define it for that restricted frame of reference. I did not mean to imply it was a definition for general use.

  85. JMB says:

    I should have said, developing a plausible theory.

  86. BillyJoe says:

    JMB,

    BillyJoe: “And, please, what questions are open to religion and simultaneously closed to science?”
    JMB: “Why?”

    Why what?

  87. BillyJoe – Some might say that if you never get lost, you are not challenging yourself. Well, actually, my sister and BIL would say that. But, they also say “cotton kills”.

    Weing – then perhaps the religion of Tantra would be able to offer some knowledge. :)

  88. weing says:

    I didn’t know Tantra was a religion. I always thought of it as a practice that leads to a religious experience.

  89. wales says:

    The belief that science can answer all the “why”questions is scientism. Here’s Michael Shermer in praise of scientism http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-shamans-of-scientism

    “First, cosmology and evolutionary theory ask the ultimate origin questions that have traditionally been the province of religion and theology. Scientism is courageously proffering naturalistic answers that supplant supernaturalistic ones and in the process is providing spiritual sustenance for those whose needs are not being met by these ancient cultural traditions. Second, we are, at base, a socially hierarchical primate species. We show deference to our leaders, pay respect to our elders and follow the dictates of our shamans; this being the Age of Science, it is scientism’s shamans who command our veneration. Third, because of language we are also storytelling, mythmaking primates, with scientism as the foundational stratum of our story and scientists as the premier mythmakers of our time.”

    I understand Shermer is attempting to transform the pejorative term “scientism” in this essay. But I didn’t know followers of scientism had “spiritual needs”…….what does Shermer mean by “spirit”?

    Karl Popper criticized ‘scientism’ as the notion that “science gives us certain knowledge and might even be able one day to give us settled answers to all our legitimate questions.”

  90. weing – :) I had to google it, actually. Apparently, some say religion, some say spiritual path. I wouldn’t know. I’m from the Midwest.

  91. BillyJoe says:

    weing,

    That’s why I asked JMB “why what?”. Which “why” questions are open to religion but closed to science? The ones Shermer outlined are actually closed to religion and open to science. So, which “why” questions? I can’t think of a single one myself.

    BTW, I don’t think Shermer means anything religious or otherworldly by “spirit”. He is trying to usurp the word from religion, like Dennett tries to usurp the word “freewill” from religion. In my opinion, it never works because the religious just think you’re agreeing with them.

    Same with Einstein. The religious are always referring to Einstein as religious even though his meaning of “religious” is so far removed from their idea of religious as to be unrecognisable. In my opinion, he should not have used the word.

  92. Why?

    I’ll take a stab at it. Why is it okay or not okay to use a kidney from a prisoner executed for murder to save a life?

    And no using how science will tell you if it works.

  93. JMB says:

    Why are there laws of nature?

  94. JMB says:

    There are many different varieties of religion. You must let Einstein’s words speak for himself as to whether he is a theist, atheist, or agnostic. You cannot use your perception of religion to define if another person’s view is religious or not. Einstein’s words just does not match your idea of religion. Science must be impersonal, because it requires that different observers can observe the same thing. Religion, art, literature, and philosophy can be personal, with no one having the exact same view.

  95. It is neither okay nor not okay, and it’s not a question that either science or religion can answer.

    Science will help us balance the costs and benefits, medically, economically, politically, psychologically. Science will also tell us that it’s up to us to balance them.

    Religion can do a few things.

    It can offer us different theoretical scenarios to make the basic one more complex. The basic situation is the same, but now … both the murderer and the kidney recipient came into the world with karma and will take karma into their next lives. Or … they were both created de novo by a creator god who wants us all to love him while we suffer. Or … they were both created de novo by a creator god who wants us all to love and forgive eachother. We still have to decide what we are going to do, but now we are taking fantasy into account in addition to the here-and-now. Religion is not giving us an answer and the different hypotheses about our origins are not knowledge. (However, religion might tell you that the conditions of your afterlife depend heavily on getting the right answer. This is not knowledge either.)

    An important thing religion can do is give us ways to come to peace with ourselves (or with one another) when we do things we aren’t entirely comfortable with. We can experience or offer forgiveness; we can make offerings; we can decide we are entitled to anything we want because we are privileged. Religious people know that these things work for human beings because they do work for human beings. Atheist psychotherapists can help us get to the same place.

    There is a kind of backwards religious thinking that tells you what the outcome is so that you have to choose the premises that will get you there. For instance, the book of Genesis is literally true, so we must disbelieve in evolution no matter what the evidence is. This thinking doesn’t impress me much. It can seem to work though in this example: Do I want to live in the kind of world where kidneys are taken from executed prisoners to save lives? What premises must I accept to rationalize my answer? These premises then become truth.

    The thing is, existentialist philosophy gets us there much more quickly. You need to make a choice, so make one. Deal with the consequences. In this version you don’t work backwards to figure out what premises you need to rationalize your answer. You work forwards to take responsibility for outcomes.

    Religions typically come with sets of stories that we can look to for analogies, but we don’t need a religion to have stories. Religion might tell us who the hero is in the story, who is on the right side, so we can try to make decisions that are sort of like those of a given hero. But we’re generally pretty good at identifying our own heroes even without the benefit of God announcing the good guys and bad guys as they step into the ring.

    Finally, religion can remove the need for thought about things that are too complicated to come to a meaningful decision about. An individual in the community can be designated the person most in touch with The Spiritual Answers that are beyond the rest of us and we can just do whatever this person thinks is best. We don’t need religion for that either. We abdicate complicated choices all the time, leaving them to a designated committee or The Invisible Hand.

    Religion does not give us a correct answer. It can makes the question and the answer more or less complicated by introducing fantasy elements and it may give us coping rituals that are particularly powerful if our parents and grandparents used the same ones. But there is no specific religious knowledge that answers the question about kidneys and executed murderers.

  96. JMB says:

    Alison, after my limited training in psycotherapy, I can unequivocally state I would rather find peace in art, literature, philosophy, religion, or riding my motorcycle.

    Existentialism can lead you many ways quickly, including to religion by a “leap of faith”.

  97. JMB says:

    Thanks for the discussion, I’d better go for awhile.

  98. BillyJoe says:

    micheleinmichigan,

    “BillyJoe – Some might say that if you never get lost, you are not challenging yourself.”

    If you get lost around these parts, you have the whole of the SES looking for you and lots of media exposure telling everyone what a bad boy you’ve been for tackling something obviously beyond your capabilities and putting the lives of those trying to find you and pull you out at risk.

    I never get lost. ;)

  99. BillyJoe says:

    JMB,

    “Why are there laws of nature?”

    That is a question religion can answer???

    I dunno, multiverse is a stretch with only a single piece of uncomfirmed evidence for it, but, if I had to choose between a multiverse and god….

    “You must let Einstein’s words speak for himself as to whether he is a theist, atheist, or agnostic. You cannot use your perception of religion to define if another person’s view is religious or not.”

    I have tried to do just that, but I just wish he had been more explicit. My best guess is a deist.

    “Einstein’s words just does not match your idea of religion.”

    Neither do Einstein’s words match the popular concept of religion and belief in a personal god. That was completely out of the question for him.

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