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

Offline Noldi400

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #30 on: January 15, 2013, 08:31:24 PM »
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The human body yields to reductionism.  A human life does not.


I would agree with the first sentence only up to a point.  The human body is such a complex system that I don't think it's possible to completely explain it in terms of its separate sub-systems. (At last being trained in biology instead of astrodynamics is germane to a discussion here.) The same could be said for weather, or global ecology, or any other complex, highly interactive system.

It's kind of interesting to note that our common opponents, the HB-ers,  almost always use reductionism as a primary tool in their contentions - they tend to pick out one aspect of Apollo (generally one they have an imperfect or nonexistent understanding of) and pound on that while ignoring the "big picture".  I'm not comparing anyone here to an HB - just stating my opinion that we ignore the complexity of systems at peril to our understanding of them.

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Atheists have caused their own share of misery in the 20th century.

Not nearly as much misery and bloodletting as people acting on the basis of "religion".

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Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #31 on: January 15, 2013, 08:33:09 PM »
As a kid I didn't have much to compare it with, but as I began to learn about other religions I realized that Catholicism is actually among the saner religions, relatively speaking. And that's not saying much for it.

I want to make it clear that I believe very strongly in freedom of religion. I wouldn't even think of trying to ban it even if that were possible, and the very same reasoning leads me to also support the legalization of drugs.  But just as the end of alcohol prohibition didn't legalize drunk driving, I  want to limit the harm that religion causes to third parties. That harm can take many forms, from terrorizing children and keeping them ignorant of modern science, to promoting the spread of disease, and even to inducing fanatics to fly airplanes into buildings.

One of the most pernicious effects of religion is how it lets people hide their own prejudices. Isn't it strange how often someone's god feels exactly as they do about other ethnic, racial and sexual groups?

Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #32 on: January 15, 2013, 08:38:58 PM »
A hint: Delusion doesn't mean mental illness.
The formal definition of a "delusion" is a belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary with the exception of religious beliefs widely held in the person's culture.

Isn't it interesting that such an exception had to be explicitly made?





Offline raven

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #33 on: January 15, 2013, 08:40:33 PM »
That's not just religion, or maybe, religion is broader than that.
Religion is something made by people, and people make mistakes.
Some of those mistakes have been simply horrible, the kind of thing that make me weep for humanity.

Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #34 on: January 15, 2013, 08:57:07 PM »
The human body is such a complex system that I don't think it's possible to completely explain it in terms of its separate sub-systems.
I think the expression people are looking for is 'emergent behavior'. Many systems, not just living organisms, exhibit behaviors that cannot be found in their individual components. This is certainly recognized by science even if we don't understand much of them yet.

As a computer person I see such things in terms of layers of abstraction. Since the early-mid 20th century we've had a pretty good handle on nature's lowest layer of abstraction, the fundamental laws of physics relevant to us on an everyday basis. Vitalism (the view that there's something "special" about living things that distinguishes them from nonliving things) was rejected long ago.

But even though living things obey all of the fundamental laws of physics, and even though in principle their behavior can be predicted entirely from those laws, they still exhibit complex "emergent" behavior that we're still figuring out and will be figuring out for some time. Biology can be seen as another layer of abstraction built on top of fundamental physical laws. Understanding the latter is necessary but not sufficient to understanding the former.

The 20th century was the century of physics. I think the 21st century will be the century of biology, and this will only be possible because of the understanding of physics that we gained in the 20th.



Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #35 on: January 15, 2013, 09:10:52 PM »
Religion is something made by people, and people make mistakes.
You're absolutely right: religion is a purely human invention. I just think it's an especially pernicious one as its very nature tends to negate some of the most positive attributes of human beings, specifically our ability to reason, to understand the world through empirical observation and to predict the likely consequences of our actions.

The ability to predict the likely consequences of your actions is about as succinct a definition of "intelligence" as I can think of. And when those consequences involve human happiness or suffering, intelligence (or the negation of same) takes on a fundamental moral tone.


Offline raven

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #36 on: January 15, 2013, 09:41:31 PM »
Religion is not alone in these features. Look at fandom for sports and media for example.
Frankly, in my case, it was my belief in a divine creator that inspired my sense of curiosity and fascination. It is said "by their works you shall know them." and how better to know a Creator then by Their Creation?

Offline gillianren

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #37 on: January 15, 2013, 09:48:10 PM »
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.

To be perfectly honest, because I am not a member of an organized religion, explaining my religious beliefs and practices is a lot more complicated than "I'm Catholic" or "I'm Shinto."  Indeed, my chosen religion is so new and erratic that I don't even agree with a lot of the people with whom I perform rituals about how to define God.  Heck, probably more than half of them are polytheists, and I'm more of a Deist! 

I went to a relatively liberal Catholic church, I think.  Yeah, they did "Right to Life Month" every October, and I was hugely opposed to that, but the priests were sometimes more sympathetic than my mother.  Mom made my sister go to confession on Christmas Eve '93, the day she found her house had been robbed while she was on vacation, and the priest let my sister just sit there for a few minutes and relax.  He said she could talk if she needed to, but she wasn't required to.  She'd obviously had a bad day.
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Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #38 on: January 15, 2013, 11:12:57 PM »
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The human body yields to reductionism.  A human life does not.


I would agree with the first sentence only up to a point.  The human body is such a complex system that I don't think it's possible to completely explain it in terms of its separate sub-systems.

Yes, up to a point.  I'll expand the idea.  By "yields to reductionism" I mean for example that a study of the biology of a small subset of bodies properly examined will produce information that can be generalized to most.  The whole human kind is reduced to a sample and a model of what is learned from that sample.  Whereas I would say that a similar examination of a few lives, to determine for instance the objective traits to build a model of how people should live their lives, will not generalize to all people, because each experiences life differently and weights the value those experiences diffidently. 
The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. —Samuel Beckett

Offline Not Myself

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #39 on: January 15, 2013, 11:42:26 PM »
Religion is not alone in these features. Look at fandom for sports and media for example.

Or look at the crude caricature of science which substitutes for real science among a large portion of the CQ membership.

One of the top posters there told a story about how he used to be some sort of religious fundamentalist, until he read a book by some angry atheist, and now he believes in science.  Although he's changed teams, he's still playing the same sport - I don't see much evidence of scientific thought processes in his posts.
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Offline Not Myself

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #40 on: January 15, 2013, 11:45:48 PM »
I  want to limit the harm that religion causes to third parties. That harm can take many forms, from terrorizing children and keeping them ignorant of modern science, to promoting the spread of disease, and even to inducing fanatics to fly airplanes into buildings.

Was the value judgement that caused you to describe these things as "harm" based on scientific principles?  ;D
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Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #41 on: January 16, 2013, 03:48:42 AM »
Was the value judgement that caused you to describe these things as "harm" based on scientific principles?  ;D
Of course not, because values per se are not a part of science (except the axiom that knowlege itself is inherently good).

Every system of philosophy has its axioms. The fundamental axiom of religion (at least the Abrahamic ones) is that there exists an omniciscient and omnipotent god who must be obeyed at all costs, even if doing so causes humans to suffer horribly.

But does this omnipotent god simply tell everyone what he wants them to do? No. You have to find out indirectly from other humans acting as self-appointed communication channels, often by "interpreting" documents written by long-dead humans that must be accepted as, uh, gospel.

One would think the extreme hazards of such practices would be obvious, but I guess not.

I'm a humanist, a philosophy (not a science) based on the axioms that human happiness is good and human suffering is bad. There's still plenty of room for debate here, particularly when trading off one human's interests against another or when considering other species that may share our self awareness. But at least we have the tools to further the debate by determining if our actions are consistent with those axioms.

That's a hell of a lot easier (and a lot more honest) than determining if our actions are consistent with the wishes of an imaginary diety.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2013, 03:50:19 AM by ka9q »

Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #42 on: January 16, 2013, 03:58:48 AM »
Evolutionary explanations for decisions both trivial and profound are passed around like candy, I am pretty skeptical of them.
Okay, then explain the strength of the human sex drive without recourse to evolution.

Offline Echnaton

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #43 on: January 16, 2013, 08:08:59 AM »
Evolutionary explanations for decisions both trivial and profound are passed around like candy, I am pretty skeptical of them.
Okay, then explain the strength of the human sex drive without recourse to evolution.

I do not doubt that the mating drive is best understood through evolution nor do I disdain the explanatory power of the theory of evolution.  The meaning is that it is easy for anyone, biologist or layman, to make a plausible sounding claim of an evolutionary mechanism for an array of conditions, decisions or actions without much evidence.  E.g. eugenics.   One simply needs to be skeptical in accepting specific evolutionary claims from those who are simultaneously working on a social or political agenda.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2013, 08:12:30 AM by Echnaton »
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Offline ka9q

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Re: Tyson, Dawkins, and religion
« Reply #44 on: January 16, 2013, 07:33:12 PM »
The meaning is that it is easy for anyone, biologist or layman, to make a plausible sounding claim of an evolutionary mechanism for an array of conditions, decisions or actions without much evidence.
I actually agree.
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  E.g. eugenics.
This belongs in a different category. By definition, science is descriptive, not proscriptive. It merely explains what is or what has been; by itself, science says absolutely nothing about what should be. That's an entirely different error from making a description that is simply wrong.

Science can be an extremely useful tool to show that a certain set of values is (or is not) furthered by a certain course of action, but the actual choice of those values is outside the realm of science.
« Last Edit: January 16, 2013, 07:38:34 PM by ka9q »