Author Topic: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion  (Read 33748 times)

Offline Valis

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #15 on: January 15, 2013, 11:54:45 AM »
That is certainly true.  But science does not matter to all people in all circumstances.
Of course not. An often mentioned example of this is "why do I find this song beautiful?" Science can't answer that question, at least at the moment. However, when you are making claims about a deity or deities affecting our lives, you are making a claim that can be tested by the scientific method.
 
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Sorry for the confusion, it is properly spelled "holism."  Holism is the counterpart to reductionism.  It is the view that takes things as a whole, with no objective basis for a reduction into constituent parts.   We get into trouble when we apply reductionism to what is not reducible, either because it is inherently irreducible or because we lack sufficient knowledge of the constituent parts.
OK. What are those irreducible parts? The elementary particles (quarks, gluons, electrons, and so on)? What part of a human is irreducible in your opinion?
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Literature is one category that reductionism does not work well on and romanticism is a literary response to the over reaching of reductionism.
Now we are talking about value judgements. One might claim that a collection letters in a certain order brings forth the emergent property of beauty in the text, but you'll probably also find people who don't find the produced text beautiful. 
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We divide literature in a way that makes sense to us, not because the division approximates something in nature.
Sure. That's because value judgements in this sense have little to with more fundamental things like survival or basic particle interactions. You need an intelligence capable of making those evaluations in the first place, and the results of the evaluations may well be the result of more fundamental properties of the intelligence.
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The conception that God, envisioned as an all powerful supernatural entity, can be reduced by looking at essentially arbitrary chapters and verses of the Bible has always appeared to me as the height of arrogance. 
You lost me here. Should we not judge the God of the Bible by his actions depicted in the book?
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One poor use of reductionism that scientist are prone to use is extending into areas where the knowledge of nature is far to incomplete for a meaningful division to me made.  I have read critiques of Dawkins books from fellow atheist evolutionary biologist that make this claim.
This sounds like hand-waving. Dawkins is surely and correctly critiqued on a scientific basis for some of the scientific hypotheses he is putting forth in his books, but I've yet to see a proper rebuttal of his religious claims, i.e. the lack of evidence and the problem of the cornucopia of different religions.
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The technique is useful in  developing hypothesis, but Dawkins appears to some, to extend his claims regarding religion from hypothetical in a scientific theory without sufficient evidence.  That is what, in my opinion, make him appear arrogant.
Have you actually read for example God Delusion? He  acknowledges the possibility of a god or gods, that's why he puts himself to a grade of 6.9 out of 7 on the disbelief scale, meaning that he's pretty sure at the moment that there is no higher power, but still doesn't outright deny the supernatural.  That's the scientific stand: There is no evidence at the moment, so we discard the hypothesis, but reserve the right to revisit it if any evidence emerges at a later point.
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I think we should embrace holism, for what it is, and be adamant in pointing out the overreaching of reductionism when it occurs.
Again, what is this "holism" of a human? Are we not a collection cells? Do our brains not work by the combination of electric and chemical interactions, governed by the laws of physics? What is the holism we should embrace?

Offline Valis

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #16 on: January 15, 2013, 12:02:39 PM »
And the thing is, he does need to pull punches if he wants to convince people.
What are the punches he should pull? Do you deny that he has actually made an impact in turning people away from religion? 
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Very few people are fence-sitters on the subject on religion; I'm pretty rare because I know my religious beliefs don't make any sense, and that if it were entirely under my control, I wouldn't believe.
There may be few fence-sitters in the US, but that's not the case in the rest of the world. 
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Belief in a deity is not scientific, because I have no evidence and I know it.  However, I believe nonetheless and cannot explain why.  Is it a delusion?  Perhaps.  Is telling me so going to change what I believe?  No.  And if I can't be reasoned out of my beliefs, who is he going to convince?
No offence meant, but I've seen this time and time again. What do you believe in? Is it omnipotent, omniscient, the ultimate good, and so on? Would you believe in another deity, had you been born in India, Afghanistan, or Japan? What is your basis for believing in the deity? And most importantly, what would be the evidence that'd make you not believe in your deity?

Offline gillianren

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #17 on: January 15, 2013, 01:26:25 PM »
What are the punches he should pull? Do you deny that he has actually made an impact in turning people away from religion?

Well, he should stop calling religious people mentally ill.  I am mentally ill and religious both, but I know plenty of people who are only one--and it isn't all the same one.

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There may be few fence-sitters in the US, but that's not the case in the rest of the world.

I don't know if that's true or not; my definition of "fence-sitter" in this case is one who can be convinced of the existence, or not, of God/gods by pure reason.  However, I don't think there's ever been a study that showed how frequent it is, so we'll have to agree to disagree here.

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No offence meant, but I've seen this time and time again. What do you believe in? Is it omnipotent, omniscient, the ultimate good, and so on? Would you believe in another deity, had you been born in India, Afghanistan, or Japan? What is your basis for believing in the deity? And most importantly, what would be the evidence that'd make you not believe in your deity?

I don't know what evidence would make me not believe, because evidence isn't why I believe in the first place.  I have intellectually accepted that there almost certainly is no God, and yet I still self-identify as religious.  I haven't reasoned myself into the position; quite the opposite.  Ergo, I don't see any way I can be reasoned out of it.  I know it's unscientific of me, and I wish there were something I could do about it, but there doesn't seem to be.  Why do I believe?  I don't know.  I have no basis for believing, and quite a lot for not, but I just feel something resonate sometimes.  I can't help it.

And certainly my deity isn't the ultimate good, because I do not believe in such a thing.  I'm not quite a "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so," but I certainly don't believe that most of the universe cares what we do.  I don't believe in an interventionist deity--but on the other hand, I do find myself praying, probably out of the force of habit instilled by a Catholic childhood.  I might well believe in another deity were I born somewhere else, but I don't know.  I do know that the deity I currently believe in isn't the one I was raised to believe--in a few months, I'm going to have to have the "I'm not having the baby baptized" conversation with my mother, which isn't going to be fun.  In a sense, the deity I believe in is the rules of the universe.  This may be a variation on the anthropic principle; I don't know.  Of course, I also believe that any deity that a human can truly understand isn't much of a deity.
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Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2013, 01:47:16 PM »
Perhaps I should have said this earlier in case there was a misunderstanding.  My initial response to you was not to dispute what you say, so much to explore a tangent that your post brought to my mind, I do that alot and it simultaneously annoys and amuses my friends..  I do not think we have any fundamental disagreement about science and I appreciate your taking the time to read my post and respond with pointed questions.


OK. What are those irreducible parts? The elementary particles (quarks, gluons, electrons, and so on)? What part of a human is irreducible in your opinion?

The human spirit, the joy of music and literature, the sacrifices we make for our children...  Many things that give meaning to our lives. 


You lost me here. Should we not judge the God of the Bible by his actions depicted in the book?

The God of the Bible is a literary character, I see no more need to judge him that I do for Sauron in Lord of the Rings.  But we certainly need to understand why people see one as as more than a literary character and not the other, and how that view affects their lives and ours.  Something that cannot be done by parsing people into "quarks, gluons, electrons, and so on."

Now we are talking about value judgements.
Life is full of value judgements.  The more we understand the human nature of assigning value the better off we are.  That is why I chose to study  economics and finance rather than science. (Finance also lets you support a family with a bachelors or master degree.) We do make value judgements in characteristic ways, no doubt driven in part by biology, but not universally nor predictably.


This sounds like hand-waving.

It is a personal opinion supported by my thoughts on the mater and presented as such.

Have you actually read for example God Delusion?

No, reviews and excerpts.  The digression from the OP was started largely to discuss why several of us perceive Dawkins as an abrasive or arrogant.  This is my contribution.  To me, and some in his field, he gives an veneer of science to his public presentations on atheism, and against religion, beyond that which is supported by science.  I make no claim to expertly judge the science.  Dawkins abrasiveness has nothing to do with the science of evolution, but Dawkins is making his case directly to the public sphere with the intent of affecting how we live and govern ourselves.  There is more to life and governance than science.  The arts of life and governance need to be addressed for what they are.

Again, what is this "holism" of a human?

Holism is an approach to understanding meaning. That meanings are gained by taking works as a whole that can cannot be empirically broken into constituent parts because the parts do not retain the meaning they have within the whole.  That a sentence in a book is not the same as identical words used as a song lyric.  This stands in counterpoint to science, where a hydrogen atom extracted from dung is indistinguishable from hydrogen taken from the sun.  The human body yields to reductionism.  A human life does not.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2013, 01:50:05 PM by Echnaton »
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Offline Sus_pilot

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #19 on: January 15, 2013, 01:51:42 PM »
Of course, I also believe that any deity that a human can truly understand isn't much of a deity.

This is probably the most profound thing I've read in weeks.  Brings to mind Arthur C. Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God".

Offline Sus_pilot

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #20 on: January 15, 2013, 01:57:57 PM »
The human body yields to reductionism.  A human life does not.

OK, two great quotes in one day. 

BTW, in my opinion, the hidden danger in reductionism is that it ultimately lessens the value of life.  If all we are is a few dollars (what is that number these days?) of chemicals, then why are we important to each other?

Offline Valis

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #21 on: January 15, 2013, 02:09:29 PM »
The human spirit, the joy of music and literature, the sacrifices we make for our children...  Many things that give meaning to our lives. 
One of those is different from the other two. "The human spirit" at least to me means an urge to explore new things and to advance, to make sacrifices for your offspring is more or an evolutionary trait, ensuring that your children have the best possible starting points for their lives without their parents. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who haven't read a book in their lives, nor enjoyed a song.
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The God of the Bible is a literary character, I see no more need to judge him that I do for Sauron in Lord of the Rings.  But we certainly need to understand why people see one as as more than a literary character and not the other, and how that view affects their lives and ours.
Could the cultural and ancestral contest have something to do with this? Maybe quite a lot fewer mothers have been telling their children stories of Sauron compared to Jesus. Would you tell your children that Sauron is going to judge them when they die? If not, do you think that's it's OK to tell your children that God will judge them when they die? 
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Something that cannot be done by parsing people into "quarks, gluons, electrons, and so on."
So you don't think that human consciousness can be reduced to physics at the bottom level? Where is the cut-off point? There are plenty of mind-altering drugs that work simply on the chemical level, for example.

[edit:] Sorry, left the rest of the post at the bottom accidentally. Will be answered soon.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2013, 02:17:56 PM by Valis »

Offline Valis

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #22 on: January 15, 2013, 02:31:00 PM »
We do make value judgements in characteristic ways, no doubt driven in part by biology, but not universally nor predictably.
Why should universality or predictability matter? The quantum theory tells us that at the bottom level, there is no predictability in the conventional sense. There are only probabilities.
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Have you actually read for example God Delusion?

No, reviews and excerpts.
And that shows, to be honest. The book is nothing like you describe, no fire and brimstone, and only coolheaded arguments.
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The digression from the OP was started largely to discuss why several of us perceive Dawkins as an abrasive or arrogant.  This is my contribution.  To me, and some in his field, he gives an veneer of science to his public presentations on atheism, and against religion, beyond that which is supported by science.  I make no claim to expertly judge the science.  Dawkins abrasiveness has nothing to do with the science of evolution, but Dawkins is making his case directly to the public sphere with the intent of affecting how we live and govern ourselves.  There is more to life and governance than science.  The arts of life and governance need to be addressed for what they are.
Yet you say that you haven't even read what the man has to say. Your dislike of Dawkins seems to be based solely on second-hand accounts. How about going to source?

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Holism is an approach to understanding meaning.
New Age rubbish, to be honest. If you disagree, please provide peer-reviewed literature.
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The human body yields to reductionism.  A human life does not.
That's again rubbish. The human body may develop cancer due to decay of a radioactive particle in an inconvenient place, which ends the human life.

Offline Valis

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #23 on: January 15, 2013, 02:45:07 PM »
Well, he should stop calling religious people mentally ill.
And when did he do so? A hint: Delusion doesn't mean mental illness.
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I don't know what evidence would make me not believe, because evidence isn't why I believe in the first place.  I have intellectually accepted that there almost certainly is no God, and yet I still self-identify as religious.  I haven't reasoned myself into the position; quite the opposite.  Ergo, I don't see any way I can be reasoned out of it.  I know it's unscientific of me, and I wish there were something I could do about it, but there doesn't seem to be.  Why do I believe?  I don't know.  I have no basis for believing, and quite a lot for not, but I just feel something resonate sometimes.  I can't help it.
As a talking point, what would you think/say about a person who'd say the same thing as you do above, replacing God with "unicorns" for example?
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And certainly my deity isn't the ultimate good, because I do not believe in such a thing.  I'm not quite a "there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so," but I certainly don't believe that most of the universe cares what we do.  I don't believe in an interventionist deity--but on the other hand, I do find myself praying, probably out of the force of habit instilled by a Catholic childhood.  I might well believe in another deity were I born somewhere else, but I don't know.  I do know that the deity I currently believe in isn't the one I was raised to believe--in a few months, I'm going to have to have the "I'm not having the baby baptized" conversation with my mother, which isn't going to be fun.  In a sense, the deity I believe in is the rules of the universe.  This may be a variation on the anthropic principle; I don't know.  Of course, I also believe that any deity that a human can truly understand isn't much of a deity.
I was baptized as a child, my parents are very religious, yet I left the church and didn't baptize my child. I'll also note that you don't seem to want to put down any specifics about your god.

Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #24 on: January 15, 2013, 02:55:35 PM »
The human spirit, the joy of music and literature, the sacrifices we make for our children...  Many things that give meaning to our lives. 
One of those is different from the other two. "The human spirit" at least to me means an urge to explore new things and to advance, to make sacrifices for your offspring is more or an evolutionary trait, ensuring that your children have the best possible starting points for their lives without their parents. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who haven't read a book in their lives, nor enjoyed a song.


Reading this as "more of an evolutionary trait...."

Are you sure that the sacrifices we make or our children are exclusively for evolutions sake?  If you ask a parent who would willingly give a life for a child do you think the answer would be, "it was to for evolutions sake?"  A young parent that would do this to save an only child when a second, third or fourth could easily come along to provide a greater chance of passing genes along?   Humans are the product of evolution, no doubt, but at what level can science say our decisions are guided by evolution?  The point is that individual decisions cannot be scientifically reduced to evolutionary motives.   Evolutionary explanations for decisions both trivial and profound are passed around like candy, I am pretty skeptical of them.


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Could the cultural and ancestral contest have something to do with this?

I think we can agree that it has the greatest effect.

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do you think that's it's OK to tell your children that God will judge them when they die? 

That is a not a practice I have used or suggest using in child rearing.  There are far better ways to teach personal responsibility and how to treat others fairly, such as role modeling, discipline and etc.

So you don't think that human consciousness can be reduced to physics at the bottom level? Where is the cut-off point? There are plenty of mind-altering drugs that work simply on the chemical level, for example.

I see no basis for human consciousness outside of the material.  Nevertheless, it does not seem that science has a full understanding of what consciousness is, much less a full understanding of the matter.  So a claim as to how the science of consciousness should change the way we live should be regarded skeptically. 

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. —Samuel Beckett

Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #25 on: January 15, 2013, 04:01:21 PM »
And that shows, to be honest. The book is nothing like you describe, no fire and brimstone, and only coolheaded arguments.

I never reviewed or characterized his book in any way.   But I did mention that some review of his book by atheist evolutionary biologist have criticized it for being overreaching in its scope on the subject of the biological underpinnings of religion.  They may or many not be correct, but it appears that the matter is still open to question.  One may be both cool headed and wrong.  Sorry I can't cite them but it has been along time.   The discussion has always been about Dawkins overall public stance public religion and evolution.  It started by a comment that he was an "ass."  Some may agree some may not.  I think he is and have given my reasons why. 

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Yet you say that you haven't even read what the man has to say. Your dislike of Dawkins seems to be based solely on second-hand accounts. How about going to source?

I have not read God Delusion but have read other things by him and seen a number of his presentations. All second hand, as you say.  Never met the man in person.  But his lambaste of Rebecca Watson is sufficient proof that he is a man that can needlessly overstate his case to the point of being an ass. 

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New Age rubbish, to be honest. If you disagree, please provide peer-reviewed literature.

First, this is not science.  Second, there are scores of lit crit profs that have lambasted reductionism in peer reviewed lit journals.  If I dug into the lit crit lit to produce one would you change your mind?

It is neither new age nor rubbish, it simply isn't science. The anti-reductionist movement started almost immediately after Newton, when people were applying indiscriminate reductionism to all sorts of things.  The great mathematician, scientist and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is one of those indiscriminate users.  In doing so he put forward the idea that we live in the best of all possible worlds.  One romantic response was Voltaire's Candide.  We now see Leibniz's optimism as naive. 

So this discussion goes back far further than new age crap.  Holism as an idea does not make the claim that nature is indivisible, but that human experience cannot be dived into interchangeable parts.  Holism lets us more clearly see how hucksters use ideas from both holism and reductionism to fool us.  Modern, new age hucksters are particularity good at fooling people because they use the trapping of both.



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The human body yields to reductionism.  A human life does not.

That's again rubbish. The human body may develop cancer due to decay of a radioactive particle in an inconvenient place, which ends the human life.

"A human life" means our existence from when we are born to when we die.  The concept has a beginning and end are embedded in the meaning.  If you think it is rubbish, then I suggest you ask the oldest person you know to sum up their life in terms of particle decay.

I'd rather run the gauntlet of the Bulgar army than live without science. But I'd also run the gauntlet rather than be limited to a reductionist perspective. 
« Last Edit: January 15, 2013, 05:54:57 PM by Echnaton »
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Offline Andromeda

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #26 on: January 15, 2013, 04:49:43 PM »
Well, he should stop calling religious people mentally ill.
And when did he do so? A hint: Delusion doesn't mean mental illness.

Repeatedly, and worse - just do a quick Google search.  Richard Dawkins says far more than he just wrote in his books.  He is a public speaker and very active online, including Twitter.  He breaks the Wil Weaton rule a LOT.  Don't even get me started on the way he started on Rebecca Watson or his comments about child sex abuse (http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2012/11/24/child-sexual-abuse-what-yucky-means/)


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I'll also note that you don't seem to want to put down any specifics about your god.

Um, why should she?  Gillianren may or may not know entirely what she believes or does not.  Even if she does, it is an intensely persona thing and not something you should demand to examine.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2013, 04:56:29 PM by Andromeda »
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Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #27 on: January 15, 2013, 06:22:57 PM »
I do find myself praying, probably out of the force of habit instilled by a Catholic childhood.
Having been raised Catholic is a major reason why I am so anti-religion now. As a kid, before I knew better, I was continually taught absurdities like "1==3", that as a mere human being I was simply too stupid to truly understand them, and it was morally wrong to even use my brain to question them.

More importantly, I was constantly reminded that my thoughts were constantly being read and that "wrong" thoughts (not just actions) would be punished by eternal, horrible torture should I have the misfortune of dying before I "apologized" for them to certain designated adults.

And, I was continually reminded, those "wrong" thoughts included (among many others) those universally engaged in by every single normal human being who reaches adolescence.

If that's not psychological child abuse, I don't know what is. And I'm supposed to pull my punches and not criticize those who continue to do the same to other kids today?

This is why Dawkins and other atheists are often so strident. When you see something that has caused, and continues to cause so much human suffering, aren't we supposed to speak out? Why is religion the one thing we're not supposed to criticize out of fear of offending others? Is that maybe because it's so hard to defend, and people know it?


Offline raven

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #28 on: January 15, 2013, 06:57:07 PM »
Is the Trinity that absurd a concept? When we say things like quarks have flavour and electrons  have spin, we don't literally mean they have those properties,  but rather that it is a model to help us comprehend the rather impossible and outside the concept of the human brain is capable of understanding except through allegory and mathematics world of quantum mechanics.
Is it so odd an idea that the posited creator of a universe should be so far outside of our understanding that one way to understand them is to separate them into three individuals?
My own beliefs are a little confused and probably heretical to some Christians.
I don't believe the Bible as the 'word of God', but rather a book written by people who saw certain extraordinary and supernatural events, filtering it through their own understanding and biases. Some, even maybe  many, events likely did not happen at all.
Atheists have caused their own share of misery in the 20th century.
Is it Atheism itself that is to blame, or people, considering others less than themselves?
Religion or, rathe,r faith, has also inspired great works of beauty.
Many of the greatest works of art throughout history have been done as an act of worship.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2013, 06:59:47 PM by raven »

Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #29 on: January 15, 2013, 07:09:55 PM »
Having been raised Catholic is a major reason why I am so anti-religion now.

About half the people I've met that say they are anti-religious are from Catholic backgrounds and describe an experience similar to yours. I went to fourth grade at a Catholic school and found they could be a despicable lot, with a few exceptions.  I begged my Mother not to send me back.   The other half are from families with various fundamentalist faiths.  Episcopalianism doesn't seem to produce that strong a a reaction.
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