No Gods, No Masters


Did you really think I was addressing all those times atheists bring up Stalin/Pol Pot/Mao as *good* examples for atheism, but are then frustrated by religious types who argue those are not actually atheists? Because that's the only situation where what you're saying makes sense. In which case, how the heck did you get there?

The conclusion I arrived at was that you were citing Objectivism as an atheist system you approved of, because you contrasted it to the usual cites. That's where you lost me; it appeared to me when you were saying that citing Rand *improved* the argument, it seemed to me that you were arguing that she was a better cite for atheists because... that's where I lost you again.

Yonder:

It's more basic than that. As I've been pointing out, the Catholic faith goes through a great deal of trouble to assert that only God is good and that all men are sinners to a greater or lesser degree. Discovering that priests are sinners, too, shouldn't surprise anyone; least of all a Ctholic who really understands what the faith teaches.

It's not a case of someone not being a true Catholic or not. It's that the Church has a great deal of tolerance for people going against its teachings; even as those self same people exhort other people to practice the virtues they themselves do not practice. The moral authority of the Catholic Church is not based on cults of personality, which is where I think modern Westerners get snagged up.

At the very least it's based only on the person of Jesus as He's portrayed in the Bible. Jesus himself referred to Peter, the Rock of the Church, as "Satan" at one point. Can't get much lower than that.

Larry:
The problem is that a corrupt moral authority is useless (at best).

If your priests and the entire organization of the Church is corrupt then how do you tell the difference between the church "handing down divine edicts from on high" and the church "behaving as a human institution out for selfish gain."

Are you just deciding that when you agree with the church it's divine guidance, and when you disagree it's human failings?

Yonder:

Church theologies are generally tiered according to authority and prominence. That's how. The Catholic Church rarely actually hands down divine edicts from on high. Generally, it employs theologians to use logic to derive conclusions based on its most basic moral assumptions. Anyone can examine those assumptions and the logic for themselves.

It's a very rational sort of religion, as religions go.

LarryC wrote:

It's a very rational sort of religion, as religions go.

Operative words bolded.

"Are you sure that this is the blood of Christ? It still smells like wine to me."

That's one of those non-negotiable things. Just roll with it.


Jesus himself referred to Peter, the Rock of the Church, as "Satan" at one point.

He doesn't mean that literally, does he? I read that as figurative; after all, he singles out Peter as one of three to bring to the desert and witness Jesus' meeting with Elijah, Moses, and God, so if it's literal, why would he take Satan along? What about five verses later, when Jesus says that some of those listening to him will live to see God coming into his kingdom? Is that figurative, or literal? How do we tell whether one is literal and the other not? Thousands of sects disagree on that very point, and it deeply affects their interpretations of the Bible overall.

With all due respect to you, I'd argue that Catholicism is no more rational than any other religion.

Robear:

Its theology is rational in the strictest sense of the word: it starts from assumed axioms and uses logic to move forward. That's as rational as rational gets. I sense that it's not "rational" in the sense Americans seem to use the word commonly, often to refer to things and ways of thinking that are anything but.

An example of a philosophical view that is not as rational would be Buddhism which follows its own system of logic separate from that normally associated with rationalism.

It's the starting axioms that I have a problem with, of course. As one of my professors used to say "Never mistake good logic for correct logic", meaning that if your starting points are flawed, then it doesn't matter how perfectly you've constructed the rest of your assertion.

The test of an axiom is usually "does it conform to the real world?" - it is a statement that is so obvious that everyone who hears it will regard it as true - and yet religious axioms are only true for the followers of that religion. That's why there is a separate word for "Biblical exegesis" - a *logical* defense of religious thought which itself is based on the axiom that the divinely inspired and revealed beliefs of the religion are correct. In that case, all the logic in the world can't step outside the "we're right" starting point. It's only "rational" within the beliefs of the religion. Logic is not enough to understand the world; meaning must also connect to reality, rather than just to beliefs, in order for rational inquiry to be correct.

Imagine what science would look like if it's logic started with "my beliefs about the world are true" and proceeded from there. That alone is enough to show that religious interpretations are special cases which indeed use logic, but don't have to start with or arrive at conclusions that actually reflect what's real. Which is fine; religions are all about what's not real. But it's not a good way to understand the world around us, which is why we have the scientific method to guide us more fruitfully now. Religions and religious thought can indeed tell us many useful things about the world, but they intersperse that with doctrinal ideas that are not actually true. Science does not have that weakness, but then, it's not designed to do the job of religion, so that too is okay.

Catholicism and Buddhism are pretty much equivalent in their rationalism, since both assume counterfactuals as starting axioms for their systems of thought. The same can be said of any religion, really, since they all depend on beliefs rather than observation as the basis for understanding the world. An example of this in Catholic thought is the concept of ensoulment; arguments have been made that it occurs at various times (at conception; at the time the fetus' movement is noticed; after 40 days for men, and 90 days for women; and so forth), all of which use varying amounts of logic, but all of which depend utterly on the idea of the "soul", which has no basis in observation and has never been experimentally verified, and indeed there are strong arguments against it. It's no more plausible than taking 49 days to move through the Bardo after death, before one enters a new body and begins a new life.

Robear:

Er, Science DOES start out with "my beliefs about the world are true."

http://www.penny-arcade.com/patv/epi...

That's not the definitive source, of course, but it's more entertaining. Also, with regard to the thread, James Portnow in this piece relates a profound disappointment with the intolerant anti-religious iconoclasm that went on in the related forums, ostensibly in support of "science." I share that disappointment when I come on certain discussions here from time to time.

Reality is a nebulous thing. What's obviously true for you may not be for me. In scientific inquiry, we call this inter-observer variability, and it's a documented phenomenon. Religious logic obviously starts out with axioms that some people very strongly feel are real, or they wouldn't have any followers. Just because you don't think so doesn't give you any special observing privilege. You're just starting with different axioms, not necessarily better ones, or "more real" ones.

You're one of the few guys who understands what I mean when I talk distinctly about ratonalism and empiricism, but I confess that I'm disappointed that you would still get hung up on "Truth" and "Reality," and specifically with asserting that the one you personally subscribe to is the only valid one.

LarryC wrote:

Er, Science DOES start out with "my beliefs about the world are true."

No, it starts out with "all I know is what my senses tell me", which is a different assertion entirely. Beliefs are not sensory observations in the same sense as directly perceived phenomena. Your assertion would reduce that to solipsism, which while it is a philosophical stance, is not an *interesting* one.


"all I know is what my senses tell me"

That's one of the beliefs on which science is founded. There are other axioms of course. But that's the most obvious one.

"all I know is what my senses tell me"

That's one of the beliefs on which science is founded. There are other axioms of course. But that's the most obvious one.

Yes, but that's different from "my *beliefs* about the world are true". Without that as a basis, then any asserted system of thought is equivalent to any other, and we have no way of actually communicating about the world, much less establishing what's true (or real). Solipsism.

I can use the scientific method as a basis to judge competing theories about the world. But I can't use religious axioms to do that, since they assume things that not everyone agrees with. Science tells us that both Catholicism and Buddhism depend upon assumptions that are unprovable, and thus are essentially arbitrary in the conclusions that are based on unprovable assumptions. But I can't use Catholic religious logic to draw the same conclusion, since it tells me that it is the only true belief system.

Inter-observer variability does exist, but that does not mean that there is nothing that all observers agree upon. For example, try finding someone who defines a kilogram as something other than "a mass equivalent to the IPK". Science is full of assertions that are axiomatic and easily agreed upon. Reality, as you note, can be interpreted in different ways, but not *all* aspects of reality.

So a *Catholic* axiom can only tell us about how *Catholics* view the world, while a *scientific* axiom tells us about how *humans* view the world.

Robear:

My apologies. I'm a little over-tired of the "science" worship topic at the moment. I'll bow out of this one this time. Take you up on it another time, perhaps.

No problem my friend.

Thanks. I'll make it up to you next time, I promise.

Robear wrote:

"all I know is what my senses tell me"

That's one of the beliefs on which science is founded. There are other axioms of course. But that's the most obvious one.

Yes, but that's different from "my *beliefs* about the world are true". Without that as a basis, then any asserted system of thought is equivalent to any other, and we have no way of actually communicating about the world, much less establishing what's true (or real). Solipsism.

I can use the scientific method as a basis to judge competing theories about the world. But I can't use religious axioms to do that, since they assume things that not everyone agrees with. Science tells us that both Catholicism and Buddhism depend upon assumptions that are unprovable, and thus are essentially arbitrary in the conclusions that are based on unprovable assumptions. But I can't use Catholic religious logic to draw the same conclusion, since it tells me that it is the only true belief system.

Inter-observer variability does exist, but that does not mean that there is nothing that all observers agree upon. For example, try finding someone who defines a kilogram as something other than "a mass equivalent to the IPK". Science is full of assertions that are axiomatic and easily agreed upon. Reality, as you note, can be interpreted in different ways, but not *all* aspects of reality.

So a *Catholic* axiom can only tell us about how *Catholics* view the world, while a *scientific* axiom tells us about how *humans* view the world.

While I agree with you in this debate, according to Wikipedia the kilogram may be redefined in 2014 according to Planck's constant, as the IPK's mass has been found to vary over time.


While I agree with you in this debate, according to Wikipedia the kilogram may be redefined in 2014 according to Planck's constant, as the IPK's mass has been found to vary over time.

Yes. Then everyone will agree on the new mass (although likely it won't be different, just *specified* differently as I understand it), and we'll all go on our way. After all, the statement was "a mass equivalent to the IPK", and the IPK can change as needed without affecting the relationship between it and the term "kilogram". Measurements do advance, standard items do degrade, all of that needs to be accounted for over time, and can be without breaking the system.

It may be worth pointing out that the reason for the revision to the standard for the kilogram is to decrease variability, to bring it more closely to an absolute objective value. It's still going to be a little fuzzy, because of the limitations of our measurement devices, but not by very much.

Religions axioms are basically: 'X is true. If you think X is not true, you are wrong. If you have evidence showing that X is not true, the evidence is wrong.'

That's one of the things I really like about Buddhism, in comparison with most religions. When the Dalai Lama was asked what would happen if reincarnation was conclusively disproven, he first said that it wasn't likely to ever happen. (which is true). But when pressed about what would happen if it were, he said that Buddhism would have to change.

I really respect that. Most religions seem to demand that the evidence change.

That's true of all Rational axioms, Malor. You can't do Euclidean math without assuming the truth of Euclidean axioms. Where you meet with an observational disparity, Euclidean math simply asks you to overlook it.

The crucial differences being that: the science accepts the Euclidian geometry as "good enough for the most of the time" when the world around us needs to be descibed. If and when the observational disparity comes into picture, non-Euclidian tools become applicable based on the same scientific principles.

Have we not mentioned before that science is NOT a rational discipline? I was not referring to Euclidean math as a tool for science to use, but in and of itself, as a rational discipline.

You ever stumble into a group at a party and people are talking intelligently about the Higgs Boson? And you were more prepared to discuss the fiscal cliff, and the coming depression in Europe?

I feel like that right now. Side note, my wife laughed at me last night as I tried to defend the science of zombies.

LarryC wrote:
Have we not mentioned before that science is NOT a rational discipline? I was not referring to Euclidean math as a tool for science to use, but in and of itself, as a rational discipline.

We have, but that ended with us realizing that what you call science and what we call science are two different things. I'm slow to argue with you on these topics like this as you've been nice to me and you frustrate the sh*t out of people who have been jerks to me and I enjoy watching that, but I gotta throw the challenge flag on this one because I think geometry is just groovy.

You can't say in one post that "[y]ou can't do Euclidean math without assuming the truth of Euclidean axioms" and then in the next say "I was not referring to Euclidean math as a tool for science to use": that's moving the goalposts. Using Euclidean math as a tool for science is 'doing' Euclidean math, no two ways about it.

CheezePavilion:

I was referring to context in which a scientist abandons Euclidean math when its axioms are not consistent with his observations. That's still within the context of "using" it (in the sense that you keep it handy as a tool without actually employing it) and particularly the context Gorilla was using. When I said "You can't do Euclidean math without accepting Euclidean axioms," I was obviously referring to "doing Euclidean math" as a rational exercise.

Please don't be slow to discuss with me. I like having discussions with people who disagree with me. Nice civilized discussions, not nasty angry ones. I don't need people to agree with me. That's boring. I'm happy enough in my own skin not to need an echo chamber.

"all I know is what my senses tell me" is also not accurate.

There are people that interpret pain as pleasure. There are people who see some colors that are generally accepted by others as yet other colors. There was a point at which "science" believed that rats and maggots and flies and such spontanteously generated from refuse. It is now generally accepted that this is not the case. And radiation? Hoo boy.

There are points all over science where the scientists of today look back and chuckle at how backward their progenitors were. How very quaint.

What is similar between all of them is that we hadn't yet come across a method to observe the system we were attempting to quantify.

Let's pretend for a minute that something approximating the god of the old testament existed and the bible came from him. How would he have communicated that information to the writer? Visons? Something akin to a giant flatscreen? Try to imagine yourself as that ancient man... attempting to reconcile all this information into a readable form, knowing only what those at the time did. Imagine reconciling the scale of all this happening. World created in 7 days? Sure. If you imagine it as a time lapse photograhy over however long it actually took, but possibly it took 7 days to watch. Or 7 god days. Who knows.

I'm not really arguing that everything in the bible makes sense. Personally I feel it's silly to demand that anyone accept everything in there as wholly accurate. It was initially meant to convey a series of events that were unknowable, and at the the largely indescribable.

I believe in god. I also believe in some form of evolution as well. Either I believe that, or I would have to believe that I believe in a god that meant to create some of the stupidest, most awful people I have ever met, on purpose.

I feel like the best people are going to do for a long time is approximations. Reality at almost every level is subject to inter-observer variability. It takes too much time to do otherwise. When you say table, I see one thing in my mind and you see another. But I don't doubt that what you are seeing is a table. I just accept that there is a level of variance between your interpretation and mine.. and a molecular physicist's.

Not all of science's axioms are true. Not all of religions are true. Which religion? Which science? String theory? Chaos theory? Global warming? Relativity? What if our reality, is rocks speed of light? They seem like they don't move at all, because we move so fast, relatively. We can't measure what happens at light speed. Even colors, again, no longer adhere to "what our senses tell us".

The the thing I think is most important about "religion", is accountability. In the absence of an entity that watches and measures, all things are subjective. All events are, to an extent, unrelated. Everyone's suffering is over as cessation, so nihilism begins to look like a valid viewpoint. Noone will care about anything when everyone's dead, so why worry about it? So small scale cruelties, unwitnessed, should technically be ok, as long as they end in cessation.

It's an extreme. Sure. But like you said - change the startpoint - change the destination and all the points along that road. I agree. In the absence of a standard laid out by some cosmic superman, who then decides which reality should be the established standard? Without that established standard... really, just start anywhere you like.

Objectivity and subjectivity are important. It is comforting to me, that everyone believe in a being that watches and measures. In that reality - even my suffering has value. There are some who exist wholly in spaces that are too awful to countenance. Who know, they can only expect to suffer until they are dead. Their suffering is lessened by the knowledge that something watches and will catch them when it's over. Even if it wasn't real, why wouldn't it be better to believe that it is. If all it does it's takes that edge off some of the worst things I might have to go through?

For the record, I entertain the plausibility of multiple reality paradigms (AKA points of view, positions, or perspectives). One can entertain the usefulness of Euclidean math (geometry and maths in a flat plane like a table) while also knowing about and using non-Euclidean math (geometry and math on a non-flat surface like a globe) as well; "believing" each in their own turn.

Apologies to participants if I seem a little short. I'm tuckered out on this subject as I've explained to Robear. I'm not up to doing my usual length.

oddity wrote:
"all I know is what my senses tell me" is also not accurate.

There are people that interpret pain as pleasure. There are people who see some colors that are generally accepted by others as yet other colors. There was a point at which "science" believed that rats and maggots and flies and such spontanteously generated from refuse. It is now generally accepted that this is not the case. And radiation? Hoo boy.

There are points all over science where the scientists of today look back and chuckle at how backward their progenitors were. How very quaint.


That doesn't mean that the base statement is wrong, just that they drew incorrect conclusions from what their senses told them. It was still all they knew.
It's very possible that we're currently drawing incorrect conclusions from what our senses are telling us now. In some cases we know that the conclusions we're drawing are incomplete, but are accurate enough to still be of some use while we try to draw better ones.

Even if it wasn't real, why wouldn't it be better to believe that it is. If all it does it's takes that edge off some of the worst things I might have to go through?

I think the answer to that question is: at what cost? And the question can be further divided into personal and worldly.

Because we do live in a world where that tiny personal comfort multiplied across millions (billions?) of people has tremendous power.

"The path to hell is paved with good intentions."
This particular 'good intention' actually created hell.
"We will withhold your only source of comfort unless you submit to our whims."