What's an Atheist? Catch-All

Rezzy wrote:
LarryC wrote:

Faith is belief without evidence.

Not by definition. I have faith in lots of stuff due to the evidence available to me.
Unless we are talking about faith purely in a religious context, which did not seem to be the case since 'Faith in Science' was brought up...

If you "believe" in something because it's substantiated and proved, then it's not really what could be called "faith." That's just recognizing empirical realities.

When I say that some people have "faith in science," I don't mean that they feel that they can rely on technology, or that science is empirical and consistent - that's just obvious based on what science is.

What I mean is that some people take science's empirical statements and apply its precepts to a Rationalist worldview, essentially turning scientific theory into dogma. Let's take Evolution. It's common to find the question "Do you believe in the Theory of Evolution?" It makes perfect sense to Americans, it seems. To me, it makes no sense whatsoever. The ToE is an empirical construct, a thought model used to organize data. You neither believe it, nor disbelieve it. It is useful, and it is falsifiable, but it is only to be used and taken so far as its philosophical underpinnings and limitations allow - something many people, and even many anthropologists, seem to forget.

In short, it is not a faith object subject to belief or disbelief. It does not make statements about an immutable Rationalist ideal world, because science does not presume that such a thing exists.

It is essentially taking science and making a religion out of it.

LarryC wrote:

What I mean is that some people take science's empirical statements and apply its precepts to a Rationalist worldview, essentially turning scientific theory into dogma.

I guess I fail to see how that is a bad thing unless those people lock into a specific moment in the past or make some egregious errors in interpreting the empirical statements.
Treating Empirical Scientific statements as dogmatic positions sounds like a pretty valid place to be... maybe a little hard to maintain since Science likes to shift as our understanding improves, but locking into the most up-to-date empirical position would seem to be quite rational....
As far as I know no Scientific position is beyond revision should new data arise.

EDIT: I should point out that I can understand it being a bad thing if people are latching onto bad Science or fail to update with evidence... but we have the same issue with Religions. If someone does Religion incorrectly you end up with stuff like the Lutherans.

EDIT2: I should also point out that at this juncture we're probably veering off of the main topic since none of these nuances dictate a belief in a god figure. Unless your claim is that Science represents a god since dogma can stem from it.

It's a problem because science draws its strength from its empiricism. That is its nature. When you start accepting theories as dogma, you tend to overlook other possibilities, exceptions, and interpretations. The Theory of Evolution COULD be completely and totally wrong. It normally shouldn't matter because it is neither wrong nor right. It is a theory.

Bt when you start dogmatising scientific theories, you run into scientists who assume things they shouldn't be assuming, and moralists who think they can use factual observations to settle moral questions. You are using something meant for empirical investigations for deciding moral questions? That makes about as much sense as using the Bible to estimate the age of the universe "scientifically."

EDIT2: it is certainly something atheists often use to "combat" religious dogma. I'm starting to understand why because I've finally glommed on to the dogmatization, but it had me scratching my head for a while. It's very strange.

LarryC wrote:

Bt when you start dogmatising scientific theories, you run into scientists who assume things they shouldn't be assuming, and moralists who think they can use factual observations to settle moral questions.

But wouldn't that only affect those scientists? The process of Science would work to disprove those erroneous assumptions based on evidence. And if there is no supporting evidence then other Scientists would discard it and the Scientific world would move on. Maybe not instantly, but as I said up-stream... the process is built to heal itself. Evidence trumps Authority.

Edit: As for the using the wrong tool for a problem issue... that's a human failing. I'll refer you to our Military Industrial Complex as exhibit A.

Rezzy:

Er, I'm not sure how to put this.

The body of scientific knowledge is advanced through the activity of scientists. When the empiricism of the scientists is undermined by dogmatic thinking, then the so-called "process of Science," is fundamentally undermined. There is no "Them" to fix things here. The buck stops here. We are the scientists. If our processes are compromised, no one will notice the flawed results until the basic problem is fixed.

Conversely, if only some scientists are undermined, then it just happens that you make some underperforming scientists, and the damage they can do depends on how much political influence they wield. It is not a given that the damage will ever be recognized or fixed.

As for worshiping Science - I dunno. It strikes me as being fundamentally flawed, probably because I work so closely with the investigations. I don't know how you can possibly settle moral questions with data. Doing so will probably only expose your own internal leanings and biases - confirmation bias and all, you know?

LarryC wrote:

The body of scientific knowledge is advanced through the activity of scientists. When the empiricism of the scientists is undermined by dogmatic thinking, then the so-called "process of Science," is fundamentally undermined.

Right, but you are projecting a Micro problem onto a Macro entity. Scientists do not breathlessly await the divine word of His Lordship Hawkins... they eagerly anticipate the results of his next international collaboration, to see if it will survive peer-review and duplication from colleagues around the world.

If a set of results are 'enshrined' and discovered to be flawed I believe, and I could be wrong, that revealing and correcting the flaws in those 'dogmatic beliefs' is considered one of the higher coups a scientist can achieve.

There is very little concern for protecting the feelings of fellow scientists so I cannot fathom how a true scientist would refuse to follow where the evidence led...
The influence of politics and celebrity are there, obviously, but even those will only fly so far in the face of evidence.

I don't think anyone is arguing that Science can provide answers for Moral questions, since Morals and Ethics are social constructs. Biology may inform the basis of these, but there is nothing in our DNA that speaks of Justice, Truth, or Beauty. The realities of those remain in the minds of the observer.

Rezzy:

It is true that overturning a previously widely accepted and fundamental theory is something sensational a scientist might hope to achieve as a lifetime goal, but he can't achieve that goal if he can't see the possibility of it. I am not projecting a personal problem systemically. I perceive the dogmatization of American scientific process as very much a systemic problem.

You must understand that the problem of confirmation bias, politics, and peer pressure often serves to confound evidence that would seem to be right before our very eyes. It is not concern for the feeling of other scientists that prevents a new anthropologist from trying to overturn, let's say, Evolution. It's lack of funding. It's widespread professional ridicule. It's public ridicule.

Science is not an impersonal machine that churns out facts. It is very much a human endeavor and it is only as strong as the humans who do it - subject to the same petty rivalries, politics, rumor mongering, and other problems that traditionally plague human endeavors. An enshrined theory is very difficult to overturn, not only because the evidence thus far has been in its favor, but often because its acceptance puts unwarranted obstacles to investigators who may wish to retest its validity.

It does not help matters when scientists and people in general fight faith-based corruptions of science by themselves corrupting the very science they are purporting to defend, by worshiping it as a god.

It is essentially taking science and making a religion out of it.

What are you talking about? Nobody does this, at least not that I've seen. Creatures change over time; this is as close to absolute fact as we can get. It's the best-supported set of facts in science, except possibly quantum mechanics. Evolution is our explanation for why those changes happen, and that explanation is continually refined, because 'fitness' is an amorphous term that means whatever the speaker wants it to mean.

You just really, really, really want to believe that evolution and faith are equally valid, because you're a believer. But evolution has a lot of evidence behind it, where faith has a great deal of contradicting/disproving evidence. If you use evidence to make decisions about the world, the two positions are not even vaguely comparable.

It does not help matters when scientists and people in general fight faith-based corruptions of science by themselves corrupting the very science they are purporting to defend, by worshiping it as a god.

Scientists get attached to ideas, because often their careers are built around certain ones, and if disproved, they'd suffer personal loss. So it's fairly common for old, distinguished scientists to ruthlessly squelch young scientists with contrary ideas, even when the young scientists are right.

Fortunately, science is a long process, and humans die, so eventually, errors of this type are corrected.

This is not religion. You just want it to be, because your faith is not compatible with evolution, so you look for reasons to think that evolution is incorrect. This is foolishness, however, because we know creatures change over time. We know that the Biblical Creation did not happen as claimed, or if it did, it happened along with a huge amount of evidence designed to make it look as if it didn't.

We can argue about why creatures change, and our definitions for 'fitness' change almost on a per-creature basis, but either creatures change into new creatures, or a mountain of evidence so enormous that you couldn't read it in ten lifetimes is all incorrect.

I know which way I'm betting.

LarryC wrote:

It does not help matters when scientists and people in general fight faith-based corruptions of science by themselves corrupting the very science they are purporting to defend, by worshiping it as a god.

I now have a clearer understanding of your position, but I do not share your concern.
I will concede that this scenario lives in the realm of possibility. Unless you can point to some evidence that this has happened and isn't just an extrapolation based on laypeople misrepresenting scientific works in the heat of a religious debate, then I assume that it is a fear along the same lines as having the Bible supplant the Constitution.

It is also not the lack of funding, widespread professional ridicule, or public ridicule that is preventing the overturn of, let's say, Evolution. It's lack of evidence to the contrary. I can guarantee to you that there is more money available for anyone able to provide evidence overturning the blasphemy of Evolution than you can imagine.

Yeah, anyone who could actually provide hard data overturning evolution would have the backing of half the Christian churches in the world. They'd be effing rich.

No, they wouldn't. In fact the only Christian-backed work being done isn't done to test the validity of Evolution, but rather to show evidence that Creationist theory is right - essentially putting the conclusion before examining the facts. There is no money in honestly and forthrightly testing the hypothesis, largely because everyone involved already has the answer they want.

Some atheists share the same practice, so I submit that it's not a lack of a god that defines atheism and atheists, with the definition of god being "something that is worshipped."

It's not merely extrtapolation. The very site of the NSA (was it?) exhorts scientists to see Evolution as a fact rather than as a theory - that's religious dogma right there.

By the way, Malor, my faith IS compatible with Evolution. The Pope's already made a statement on it. Don't assume.

LarryC wrote:

It's not merely extrtapolation. The very site of the NSA (was it?) exhorts scientists to see Evolution as a fact rather than as a theory - that's religious dogma right there.

The NCSE? No, it doesn't. The confusion may arise from the following passage.

One source of confusion about the status of the science or theory of evolution stems from the difference between the "everyday" meaning of the word "theory" and the scientific meaning the word.

Below we list some common misconceptions about the term "theory" and describe a classroom activity that can help students rethink their understanding of this term.

Misconception 1 "Evolution is 'just a theory'".

Misconception 2 "Theories become facts when they are well supported and/or proven."

There are three important misconceptions propagated in the above statements. The first statement implies that a theory should be interpreted as just a guess or a hunch, whereas in science, the term theory is used very differently. The second statement implies that theories become facts, in some sort of linear progression. In science, facts never become theories. Rather, theories explain facts. The third misconception is that scientific research provides proof in the sense of attaining the absolute truth. Scientific knowledge is always tentative and subject to revision should new evidence come to light.

You see, in the US the word "theory" is colloquially used as a synonym for "hunch" or "guess," largely due to successful smear campaigns on evolution by religious fundamentalists. What the NCSE is trying to do is straighten out the misconception in the popular phrase "just a theory," while explaining the actual relation of theories, facts and evidence.
There have been efforts by a few scientists to get evolution rebranded from "theory" to "fact," but only as an easy means to route the science use/public use discrepancies of the word "theory," not to enshrine it as unassailable dogma. Their efforts are at best misguided, but hardly represent a corrupting of scientific standards.

EDIT: isn't this like the fourth thread in the last year that we've all discussed this same exact thing? Do we really need to go down this road again?

EDIT2: anyway, I think that we can all agree that what we need more of is science:

ruhk:

It's the common one. We could talk about how people see estimates of the age of the Earth or universe as facts rather than as a provisional estimate used for specific purposes. Again, neither "true" nor "false." It's an estimate based on certain assumptions.

I think that the misconceptions the NSCE is trying to correct even exist is indicative of the systemic problem and corruption. There shouldn't be any scientists trying to push a theory as a fact, or even acknowledging a linear relationship. They should be pushing science not beliefs.

LarryC wrote:

I think that the misconceptions the NSCE is trying to correct even exist is indicative of the systemic problem and corruption. There shouldn't be any scientists trying to push a theory as a fact, or even acknowledging a linear relationship. They should be pushing science not beliefs.

No, those problems exist because the religious fringe in this country have propagandized so well that they have changed the meaning of words to the public that scientists normally use to convey their scientific models. This has created a fundamental disconnect between the public and academia in this country that is constantly exacerbated by a vocal minority of religious zealots who will spare no dirty trick to bring more people over to their side. It has nothing to do with scientists pushing beliefs onto people, it's about scientists trying to communicate more clearly with the public so that during the next election cycle the public won't continue to elect politicians who make deeper and deeper cuts to funding for science and science education. It's sort of hard to teach science to the next generation when you can't afford lab equipment and teaching supplies, and the only textbook available to you is the bible (which isn't hyperbole- classrooms are already horrifically underfunded in the US and the religious fringe is constantly sneaking religion into schools, which civil rights watchdog groups are constantly having to crack down upon.)

ruhk:

I defer to your assessment of your own country's situation, but it doesn't seem that way to me. Even the way these scientific concepts are discussed here is often dogmatic (see Malor's take on Evolution) rather than scientific. It seems to me that the religious zealots have managed to change the discussion from one of science to one of dogma, and instead of changing it back, your scientists prefer to discuss science AS dogma rather than as science.

I found it positively horrid that every single one (no exception!) of the Miss America contestants discussed the topic of Evolution in schools as if it were a faith item rather than a scientific item. Even Rezzy thinks that it's okay to think of scientific items as faith items (see above).

All this strongly suggests to me that a corruption of science has happened in your society. This is further reinforced by many atheists using science items to dispute faith items, as if science items were competing faith items. I interpret this to mean that it is to them, so these atheists effectively do have a god in the sense that they worship something or "believe in something."

So we're back to the "oh you Americans" phase of this thread again?

DSGamer:

This forum is American, talking about American issues. I would like to talk about other things, but I'm generally talked over, or ignored. Is it not okay for subhuman foreign brown people to talk about American foibles?

I didn't say that. Accepting something as a faith item doesn't mean it becomes permanent. Even actual, really real religious dogma changes. That's what the Vatican 2 was all about.

LarryC wrote:

Even Rezzy thinks that it's okay to think of scientific items as faith items (see above).

Incorrect.
Let me fix that for you:
Even Rezzy thinks that it's okay to have confidence that the scientific method will continue to either verify or disprove scientific items. He has faith in the process.

EDIT: Final sentence removed because we may be dealing with a simple misunderstanding:
LarryC, accepting the possibility of your premise does not make it mine. You seem to define Faith as exclusively a belief without evidence. I do not. Remember kids, words can mean multiple things... when in doubt, use a different word that means the same.

When Rezzy says Faith he means Confidence, (And in Rezzy's world you may assume that something he is confident in has a strong body of evidence.) unless he is talking specifically about the Faith of someone else. He does not presume to know the reasoning behind their faith, hell... they could be walking around with a clear cut 'touched by god' moment in their memory banks and just don't have a way to provide enough evidence to convince others.

Thank you, Larry, for telling us our opinions on things even as we explain to you multiple times how we actually approach the subject.

LarryC wrote:

I didn't say that. Accepting something as a faith item doesn't mean it becomes permanent.

Then why would it be a problem in Science?

Edit: I mean, if even the Vatican can overcome years and years of operating under flawed dogma and managed to revise the original word of God. What makes you believe that Science couldn't achieve the same thing?

Let's review.

I said that it's a problem when lay people and scientists accept scientific theory as dogma. Rezzy, you said that you failed to see anything wrong with that - ergo you see nothing wrong with accepting science items as faith items (or dogma items, if you prefer).

I already talked at length about why this is a problem.

LarryC wrote:

I said that it's a problem when lay people and scientists accept scientific theory as dogma. Rezzy, you said that you failed to see anything wrong with that - ergo you see nothing wrong with accepting science items as faith items (or dogma items, if you prefer).

Theory: It is a problem when lay people and scientists accept scientific theory as dogma.
Evidence: Trust me.
Peer Review:
Can dogma change if needed? Yes.
Does the Scientific Method still discard theories not supported by Evidence? Yes.
What is the problem? *waves hands* Stifled Innovation, Preconceived Notions, Failing to Consider Alternative Theories!
Do you have evidence? Evolution has not been shown to be false.

... What's the problem? The evidence is currently in support of the theory of Evolution. Unless you are suggesting a decades long global suppression of evidence against what was for many years a highly unpopular idea even in the scientific community. Or if you somehow mean to imply that accepting anything as a given will doom every scientist to automatically discard new evidence if it doesn't fit our current notions. I still do not see the problem except for the semantic similarity to religious dogma.

LarryC wrote:

Let's review.

I said that it's a problem when lay people and scientists accept scientific theory as dogma. Rezzy, you said that you failed to see anything wrong with that - ergo you see nothing wrong with accepting science items as faith items (or dogma items, if you prefer).

I already talked at length about why this is a problem.

The issue that we're having is that you are insinuating that this is a problem endemic to the core of the American science community, while we are telling you that it isn't. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen AT ALL, but at best it's a fringe issue among the older and more belligerent scientists who are trying to "protect their turf-" the type of people who are largely irrelevant anyway. It's not common enough that we really need to be concerned about it.

There is no need to frame my objections negatively. Arguments stand on their own. If you were confident that my objections were weak, then let's please refrain from the insulting dramatizations.

If you guys want an important example where dogmatic belief in theory retarded falsification and investigation, I can refer you to the history of using digitalis as a drug for treating heart failure.

This is not a fringe set of scientists, and it is not a trivial issue. This was the entire medical community in the Western world, for decades.

LarryC wrote:

There is no need to frame my objections negatively.

*waves hands* is a shortcut in my world for "It hasn't yet and there is no real evidence that it will, but What if the worst happens!"
That does not pass judgement on the severity of your valid concerns, but on the likelihood that they will become relevant in any meaningful sense.

LarryC wrote:

This is not a fringe set of scientists, and it is not a trivial issue. This was the entire medical community in the Western world, for decades.

So the entire medical community in the Western word have been worshiping Science as a god for decades? That's, surprising! I honestly would have assumed that the Christian gods would have held sway over their morals and ethics.

Rezzy, you're referring to the wrong things in both instances of reply. My objections are not based on speculation. They are based on scientific oversights that have already happened. There is no need for more evidence here. The thing speaks for itself.

For the second, well, it not that uncommon for practitioners to pay lip service to their stated religions, but really worship science. It is not universal, but it is not unheard of.

Is it atheism to worship a particular god which we seem to like?

LarryC wrote:

Rezzy, you're referring to the wrong things in both instances of reply.

I disagree.

You are making several leaps to support your premise. Leaps that I am not prepared to make with you because you haven't shown that 'people treating Scientific theory as dogma' follows the same rules as religious dogma. All you've shown is that bad science happens and no one here disputes that.

LarryC wrote:

Is it atheism to worship a particular god which we seem to like?

No. The worship of a god precludes atheism. EDIT: Heh... with all the back and forth I'm tripping up myself! The worship of a god does not speak to atheism. The BELIEF in a god does and that does not require the act of worship.
What is the 'god element' of treating science as dogma?

Rezzy:

Er, just a clarification. Did you not just dispute before my statement that dogmatic belief in scientific theory ever leads to bad science? Just asking. It seemed like you were.

The god element of treating science as dogma is worship and belief beyond what the evidence says.

LarryC wrote:

Did you not just dispute before my statement that dogmatic belief in scientific theory ever leads to bad science?

Ever? No. Always? Also no. Bad science leads to bad science. Dogmatic belief in science COULD taint science, but it could also produce good science. Remember that not all dogmatic beliefs are false. My argument was that a dogmatic belief in good science is can be functionally indistinguishable from good science. Edit: Correction.

EDIT:

LarryC wrote:

The god element of treating science as dogma is worship and belief beyond what the evidence says.

Can you give me an ideal hypothetical situation how this could be expressed and manifest itself? I'm having difficulty rolling a singular position like that into a religious context worthy of a god label.
To put it another way: It seems like you're saying that someone that ignores evidence is worshiping whatever that evidence would disprove... and that doesn't seem like a valid application of the term god.