Does Religion Still Have a Place in the Modern World?

Although we may gather for worship believing that what we do is the best way to honour God, I want to suggest that disentangling background from our actions in the worship is no easy matter. Deciding on the value of a religion may mean first identifying which components are to do with culture and social function.

Some components may turn out to have more value than others. It should not surprise us that the word “religion” evokes clearly different feelings for many people. In order to make sense of the world and our place in it, we call on acquired knowledge, some of which comes to us via our cultural setting, where a mix of family and community sources of knowledge is inextricably intertwined with formal education and a range of feelings and emotional responses.  There is a modern assumption that religions are often slow to adapt to new knowledge and therefore it is best to set aside religion and turn instead to the growing knowledge available from science.  Although science based understandings can suggest a clear relationship between evidence and understanding of the physical world, science is much more limited in what it can tell us about what we might mean by the supernatural and in particular, religion as a means of  inspiring us in the area of values.
Stephen Jay Gould suggested the divide between science and religion as one which might be best described by “non-overlapping magisteria” in which science gets to attend to the realm of physical fact whereas religion largely attends to the area of values. Not everyone would of course agree with Gould’s statement yet it may explain why sometimes science and religion appear in dispute – particularly when the specialists in one of these magisteria insist on attempting to establish limitations in the other.

Thus the creationists might try to obstruct those who promulgate scientific findings about evolution and the age of the earth, and Christian conservatives might seek to prevent stem cell research and genetic engineering. Where religious conservatism is substantial this can and does influence research and in the US scientists have often expressed frustration that they are unable to lead the way in stem cell therapy, nor to take full advantage of the possibilities of genetic engineering in developing improved plant strains with a legal system developed to serve the interests of those who are in a position to influence decisions.

At the same time scientists might seek to undermine cherished beliefs about sin (eg the nature of homosexuality), life after death, and the effectiveness of intercessory prayer in faith healing. Part of the problem here is that the knowledge in both magesteria is still largely at a formative stage, with the additional problem that both science and religion are not in fact free from one another’s influence. Science can for example inform religion about the nature of ancient sacred texts, about biological causes of behaviour and about physical phenomena previously assigned to supernatural interactions. Science in its turn can learn from religion about values which help discriminate about the desirability of conducting various forms of research. Bioethics is one area of agreed potential partnership – particularly when it comes to the conduct of research affecting people or animals.

Because Religion in its many forms is grounded in a collection of cultural settings, varying belief systems and noticeably different world views which emerge from a mixture of radically different backgrounds of varying sophistication, the produced beliefs and attitudes of different groups of religious believers may result different views on morality, ethics, an understanding of the significance of life and opinions about ultimate meaning.

The problems which result when one group from one tradition seeks to impose values on another group are exacerbated when strongly held religious views of disparate religious groups are forced into close proximity to one another.

The use of alcohol, sex outside marriage, and women wearing what might be thought to be promiscuous clothing might enrage some groups of conservative Muslims, while Sharia law, veiled women and honour killings might equally enrage some groups of Christians. Eating beef can horrify Hindus and eating any meat can horrify Buddhists and Jains who treat all animal life as sacred.

Religion serves a variety of social purposes which are not necessarily dependent on the precise truth of the religion’s propositions. For example familiarity with a common mythology and religious history helps us establish our identity within a group. In such cases outcomes may be more important than the likely-hood of the religious stories having correspondence with actual events. For Christians and Jews, Old Testament stories such as Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Moses parting the sea, Jonah and the big fish, the walls of Jericho falling in response to the blast of trumpets etc help establish a set of accepted narratives.

These are vastly different from the traditions of the Buddha, or the stories of the beginning of Hinduism. In themselves the stories may appear fanciful in the extreme but if they are part of a way of thinking that leads to a stable and mutually caring society it would be foolish to reject them as having no value. In many religions the membership of the group may be indicated to strangers by forms of dress and group behaviour particularly in regions like the Middle East where appearance helps signal recognition of likely fellow believers in a setting where a stranger might have no empathy with someone of a different religion.

When we meet with those with similar views to our own there is a sense that this not only identifies those who belong – but also those who do not belong. This in turn gives access to social support and even a form of group social insurance. Where religions have a degree of common heritage there is typically some commonality in terms of understood sources of spirituality, similar perceptions of transcendence, the same claimed appreciation of love, and often place for charity and the expectation of good works (although not always evidence of tolerance for those who come through different traditions!)

Many religions have unique symbols, stories and traditions which appear to associate with their preferred lifestyle and accepted morality in which laws and customs are often found to have religious associations. Strangely, widely different views on God and right living often arrive at similar accepted morality, which is perhaps why Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion has relatively good buy-in across the religious spectrum. Some religions place an emphasis on belief and formalized observance, while others emphasize practice.

Some religions focus on the subjective experience of the religious individual, while others consider the activities of the religious community to be most important. At times it may also seem that the religious observance eg massed choir singing and use liturgical symbols have little to do with life. Some religions claim to be universal, believing their cosmology and laws to be binding for everyone, while others are intended to be practiced only by a closely defined or localized group. This can cause difficulties in that those brought up in the Abrahamic faiths assume that their world view is the common desirable one and hence act as if there is a need to treat minor local religions which have developed in isolated settings as aberrations of no intrinsic worth. The challenge for those who wish to supplant others’ beliefs is to ensure that there is objective evidence that this would leave the targeted community better off.

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40 Responses to Does Religion Still Have a Place in the Modern World?

  1. tildeb says:

    Maybe you can see the problem with the notion of non-overlapping magisteria: unlike science, which quite properly adheres to the boundaries of <a href=""methodological naturalism, religion and the religious accept no boundaries whatsoever to where their faith can (and believe should) have an authoritarian voice. Any attempt to curtail or demote religious faith claims to align with what’s true in reality meets with this silly argument of magisteria… as if any boundaries is some kind of unwarranted and unjustified limitation!

    Religions and religious belief cross this imagined boundary all the time and attempt to make factual claims about reality unsubstantiated and unimpeded by evidence found within it… and often contrary to it. This is not a small problem and never has been. It is a never-ending epistemological battle that has no middle ground; one either accepts reality to arbitrate what’s true about it, or one accepts faith-based beliefs to arbitrate. It cannot be both. Your willingness to grant some kind of authority to religion for granting any special voice about human values is not based on any good reasons to do so. In fact, there is much evidence to indicate that this willingness to grant to religion any special and/or privileged moral authority is like throwing a chicken to the foxes; the various competing and contrary religious moral claims do not yield any evidence of better informed moral positions about anything attained through religious faith whatsoever. But it does impede any honest moral considerations about various ethical concerns with presumptions and assumptions and assertions about supernatural support for its privileged voice in any human matter.

    So we are left with good evidence in reality that granting religion any moral authority and privileged voice is demonstrably unreasonable, demonstrably unwarranted, and demonstrably harmful. There is no different magisteria for knowledge claims; there is only what’s true in reality. Unless and until religious proponents can demonstrate why their religious voice concerning values deserves special treatment and special consideration, we should be honest enough to admit that in spite of thousands of years to find a moral blueprint through faith that works consistently and reliably well, religious beliefs have utterly failed to justify any such division in magisteria.

    • peddiebill says:

      While I think you make some interesting points and assertions I cannot truthfully say they match my personal experience. After a lifetime working in science – and having involvement with the Church at the same time I dont find the evidence for differences in approach that you refer to in the magisteria. My sister is a case in point. Her PhD was in microbiology (after a first class honours degree) and she worked all her professional career in medical research where her publication record showed she was totally accepted. Since retiring from medical research she became Vice President of the Methodist Church in New Zealand and completed a masters degree in theology. She is now an ordained minister and uses her qualifications in both areas as Chairperson of the Interchurch Bioethics Council. From the bioethics publications of that group it is quite clear that their recommendations are thoughtful and careful. They dont make the silly and unfounded claims you imply. My own observation is that the only area where such claims are frequently made is by the ultra Conservative Christian right, where I do admit they move far beyond what is reasonable. On the other hand I can also think of silly moral decisions made by scientists eg Nobel who claimed his invention of dynamite would make war obsolete, Fritz Haber who developed gas warfare in the first world war calling it a “higher form of killing” and those scientists who developed nuclear bombs and cluster mines. I think Jesus’ notions of forgiving ones enemies and turning the other cheek might have been better in the long run. Might I suggest you read some of my other posts eg in areas like right to life (abortion), homosexuality, the testing of prayer, evidence for life after death, the shaping of God etc etc and show me why my assertions are as unreasonable as you appear to assume they will be.

      • tildeb says:

        It would be very handy if you linked to the posts you mention.

        Your sister sounds very accomplished. But what you are suggesting is that because she is able to incorporate a career in science with faith, the two are indeed compatible… perhaps even complimentary, although I haven’t found these other posts yet. But this point contains a problem:

        Here is Father John the priest, and here is Father John the child rapist. Obviously pedophilia and catholicism are compatible… perhaps even complimentary.

        See? One needs to look no further than Francis Collins to find an accomplished scientist on one hand and a man who converted to christianity on his knees before a frozen three stream waterfall that obviously represented the truth of the holy trinity.

        Yes, we are quite capable of partitioning our minds to maintain incompatible notions. But my point is that you attribute unwarranted authority to religion (in the areas of building community and espousing moral values) – again, I haven’t read your other posts – yet fail to see how these come from religion and not from some other source. Because moral values are expressed throughout humanity that cross all boundaries like culture, language, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, and so on as well as through similar behaviours exhibited by other species, I would think a scientifically minded person like you might look for a common root cause, namely, biology. As for your sister’s work in bioethics, I look forward to reading some support for the notion that the values she brought to the table were derived from her religious accomplishments not derivable from other sources.

  2. peddiebill says:

    I really like the notion of methodological naturalism – ie dismantling brick – by brick the different superstitions which abound. For other visitors to this site I suggest clicking on the methodological naturalism tag above. But surely these superstitions have abounded in science as well as religion – and still do. The trick is to take the assertions one by one and test them – thereby making progress. There is a common view that only science has made progress – yet I suspect this is only seems true for those who dont actually read the modern theologians. Because I read the history of science as well as the history of religion I would suggest that both areas have been transformed. Yes some who claim to be religious are still mired in medieval ideas, yet I would also say I have met a large number who steadfastly refuse to accept advances in science yet see themselves as believers in science. eg those who talk of electrons orbiting a nucleus of protons and neutrons, those who think mutations cause evolution, those who think humans came from monkeys…
    all hopelessly outdated concepts.

    • tildeb says:

      Oh, you have enabled moderation for comments. Although I very rarely have to delete a comment, a free and open forum for discussion is certainly standard in what I’ll jokingly refer to as the ‘Atheist Community’… although I have noticed that most religious sites do, in fact, moderate and often ban contrary comments.

      • peddiebill says:

        I dont ever reject views on the grounds that they express contrary opinions to mine… but if you look at some of the comments you will note I cop a fair bit of abuse, especially when I advocate tolerance for people who are often targeted by hate groups eg Muslims and homosexuals. I find leaving moderation on good to bump people who either get too abusive or make excessively long comments – ie pages of Bible quotes etc. I also usually bump anyone who uses foul language. Sorry if this offends you. I do however welcome atheist ideas. cf my “Battle of the Bards”

  3. peddiebill says:

    I am not sure how you can expect a scientist to somehow be free from their life background – particularly when at times in history virtually all science has been done by people who have clear religious affiliations. For example Faraday, Newton, Robert Brown (brownian motion)…even Darwin and Einstein were all clearly affected by their religious beliefs and values. I take the point about those who stuff up eg the paedophilic priest, and those who have a faith for bizarre reasons – but I still think consideration for some of the key principles most often associated with the Sermon on the Mount – eg compassion, concern for your neighbour etc are important. When they are ignored we get hideous consequences eg germ warfare, Monsanto destroying the livelyhood of indigenous farmers etc etc. You are quite correct that religion is not needed for good ethics and at times it excuses bad ethics but in reality it may be the best we can get. While atheism has its own standards the reality is that few are currently pure atheists and those like Karen Armstrong with her Charter of Compassion is far more likely to gain wide attention.We can hardly pretend that our whole social system has no history – and that our thoughts are not emerging from a complex background that includes our religious thinking. I do however appreciate your contributions because they help me think – which is of course the purpose of the site.

    • tildeb says:

      Again, you make the mistake of attributing a role for religion in scientific inquiry by many of the great minds of the past. There is no meaningful role. These folk produced new knowledge not because of but in spite of religion’s meddling as some kind of pseudo-authority it has always claimed for itself. To test this statement for yourself, name one single piece of new knowledge religion itself has ever produced. Now can you think of any scientific findings that religion has fought against? See what I mean? The former has nothing and the latter full of such examples.

      Religion has played, now plays, and always shall play a negative role in gaining knowledge that’s true for everyone everywhere all the time. And this happens because religious belief is not in the least concerned with what’s true in reality; it is a self-consuming method that honours only what is believed to be true within its a priori conclusions. This is why the epistemological difference between a method of inquiry that honours faith – a virtue in religious terminology and a flaw in scientific terminology – and the method of inquiry that honours what’s demonstrably true in reality are in direct conflict when opposite claims are made. They are incompatible when a faith claim is contrary to a scientific claim and leaves us with a stark choice because there is no middle ground. Those who believe there is a middle ground are simply fooling themselves and (usually) others. We can pretend the two get along just fine if everyone were just a little more reasonable, but when we put aside such imaginings, religion adds zero knowledge to science and science only corrects faith claims about reality that are demonstrably wrong. The two in no way, shape, or fashion sit comfortably together as equivalent ‘ways of knowing’. Our ‘religious thinking’ is equivalent in all ways with wishful thinking, flights of fancy, and delusion. Although many scientists may be subject to the same kind of thinking as people, the products of knowledge constrained by methodological naturalism are not. You can bet your life on them… and you do. That’s why there is only one, let’s say, chemistry. Religion, without a doubt, fails this equivalency test and its products are as varied, often unknowable, and blithely asserted to be true as the people who promote faith as ‘another way of knowing.’

  4. peddiebill says:

    I think you are being unkind to scientists who say that they have been motivated in their research by their religious beliefs. For example: Lord Kelvin, Gregor Mendel, Max Planck, Michael Faraday, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, Sir Francis Bacon, Nicholas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei. You cant think of a single piece of scientific research which owes its existence to religious belief. I thought that when people are inspired by faith to give money to research in line with their faith intentions eg Church funds for medical research, that is precisely what they are trying to achieve. When missionaries draw the attention of scientists to medical conditions they encounter – is that not setting in train research. Or when ancient manuscripts are being studied or religious archeology is commissioned?
    Having started out in Chemistry I am surprised you say there is one Chemistry and imply that it is scientific. In practice scientists, regardless of how they might prepare a manuscript for publication, often in real life come up with their theories in distinctly unscientific ways (including stealing one another’s ideas). Think Kekule with his dream of snakes swallowing their tails as the basis for his model for Benzene. When I was briefly on the staff in the Chemistry Department at Auckland University a good proportion of the senior academic staff had strong Church connections and it didnt seem to inhibit their thinking..

    • tildeb says:

      Bill, that is not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that religion did not, does not, will not add anything to finding new knowledge, any more than we should attribute sleep to be the cause of identifying the benzene ring.

      You continue to attribute to religion the findings of scientists. This is untrue and dishonest. Good luck finding any scientist from 150 or more years ago who wasn’t proclaimed motivated by religion. Imagine if you admitted otherwise! The few who did were at best ostracized and at work killed for heresy. And you want to use this as a shining example? Come on.

      The fact you stuck Galileo into that mix reveals just how easily you attribute religious belief to scientific inquiry with a wave of your hand. Copernicus, for example, didn’t publish until his deathbed and insisted his work be for calculations of calendars only, knowing as he did that the Church would not tolerate claims – no matter how well founded nor on what evidence there was – contrary to scripture. Galileo also tried unsuccessfully to argue that surely god would demand respect for what was true so scripture would need to be reinterpreted to fit its perfect word of god. It was thesemen who Newton admitted to standing on their shoulders in his famous quip, men for whom their religion played an active role in hindering their quest to know by empowering < to be the higher master than reality.

      Your willingness to pretend that chemistry is not a single unified field of inquiry but something equivalent in practice to the varieties of religious belief is also, for lack of a better word, intentionally dishonest. You know perfectly well there is no such thing as Israeli chemistry different in content and principles from Korean, afro-chemistry different in content and principles from euro-chemistry, First Nations chemistry different in content and principles from Maori. There is only chemistry, a single field of study with all the usual personal preferences and personal biases found within any human community. But acceptable chemistry works for everyone everywhere all the time, which diametrically different than religion where christianity itself, for example, is divided into more than 30,000 sects. The study of chemistry yields new knowledge that is reliable, consistent, practical, and applicable. The study of religion yields…

  5. peddiebill says:

    I admire your optimism about what happens in science. Presumably your contempt for ideas which prove to be wrong in religion means you dont agree with Popper who says that falsification of ideas by having them tested and found wanting is the only way we can learn. I am puzzled….. you contrast your contempt for religious ideas that can be falsified with the truth that is discovered in science. Surely if the ideas are to be trusted then by definition they are not science. The study of chemistry reveals new knowledge which is reliable, consistent, practical and applicable….. really??? What: like cold fusion? like Dalton’s hooks on atoms? like Kelvin’s age of the earth from temperature? perhaps homeopathy?? like Madam Curie getting cancer, workers with mercury getting Mad Hatter’s disease, mustard gas and chlorine in World War 1, lunatic German scientists inventing nerve gases, Israeli scientists inventing dirty bombs, mad US chemists making phosphorus bombs – and dont get me started on Halliburton.

    • tildeb says:

      How do twist my respect for what is true and knowable in reality to be contempt for ideas that prove to be wrong? Scientific hypotheses are proved wrong all the time. That is part of its strength. I read just today how a scientist changed his mind due to better evidence than that on which his old opinion was based. I have yet to read of a theologian doing likewise.

      You know perfectly well the vital role for falsification in science. Why attribute to me that which you know has been twisted into a straw man? All I asked is evidence of new knowledge produced by religious belief alone and this is the best you can do? Are you seriously trying to argue that we should not trust the scientific community who have achieved consensus in chemistry any more than we do religious claims? Seriously?

      The only reason you are presenting chemistry as equivalent kind of belief – as absurd a notion as you know that to be – is because you wish to defend that which (I charge) produces none. And yet in your mind the two are both faith-based beliefs in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary and so you would have me honestly consider the two to be equivalent kinds of inquiry? Good grief, Bill. The boiling temperature of water really has nothing whatsoever to do with what you or I believe about it. The same cannot be said of the truth claims of your religious convictions, can it?

      • peddiebill says:

        You have yet to hear of a theologian changing his mind on the evidence??? You’re kidding right? OK…. Start by reading John Robinson’s Honest to God – an oldie but a goodie. He explains where he started.
        Then read Bishop Spong’s books. The man started as a conservative for goodness sake.
        Then Looking in the Distance by Richard Holloway (the ex moderator of the Church of Scotland) before he became a sceptic or Richard MacKenna’s God for Nothing. And they are the easy ones.
        As it happens I dont believe the sort of knowledge produced by chemistry equivalent to the knowledge produced by religion. Read my posts on the topic – there are plenty. But you ask if I know of new knowledge produced by religious belief alone. No I cant think of any. That doesnt apply to my faith. Can you think of any produced by science alone…….? …….nor me!
        Ask the Bishop of Berkley – who exclaimed metaphysically darkly. Quite half what I see cannot possible be – and the rest’s altogether unlarkly.
        But more seriously you seem to be hung up on the outdated philosophical notion of conflict between religion and science. Can I suggest you start with Wikipedia and look up Relationship between Religion and Science. Reading the History of Science eg Ronald Numbers gives a much more nuanced view than the one you assume.
        If you want to know where I am coming from I frankly admit to being influenced by Charles A Coulson who you will be familiar with if you indeed know anything about Chemistry – which you refer to in a number of places.

      • tildeb says:

        Again and again, you read into my words what you believe rather than what they say. I refer to the truth claims of your religious beliefs are based on your faith in in them and not on reality, whereas the truth claims from scientific inquiry are open to new evidence and change because they are based on reality. This does not mean that theologians don’t change their minds! Good grief but you keep misunderstanding my points to try to consistently portray me as referring only to fundamentalists and fundamental beliefs. You seem to think that a liberal interpretation of scripture is somehow qualitatively different from the point I repeatedly make, that the truth claims derived from religious belief are not based on reality but on the faith of the believer and that this order of what informs a truth claim are in conflict. Furthermore, I point out that this conflict in epistemology for truth claims – one from reality, the other from faith – is not mitigated in any way by liberal interpretations of scripture. In fact, the incompatibility problem is made ven worse although you refuse to see it… probably because nothing I write will be interpreted by you to have any merit. So I will quote at length Eric MacDonald who clarifies my opinion about the problems from liberal interpretations of various scriptures with words I hope you can comprehend:

        “In my own experience over the years not only did reinterpretation come to seem unethical — in part, of course, because substituting one’s own favoured understanding of morality (to go no further) in place of that of the original authors or redactors is in itself a questionable practice – but primarily because it leaves the texts to continue to distort people’s moral outlook. That is, it fails to address the real moral problems to which the texts give witness. It pretends that the texts really mean something that they do not mean. As chairperson for a time of a Human Sexuality Task Group in the Diocese of Nova Scotia, I frequently had the experience of arguing with conservatives about the meaning of texts; and whereas I wanted to read the texts as providing latitude for the recognition and acceptance of gay and lesbian Christians, my conservative opponents rightly pointed out that this is not what the texts meant. So there was a deadlock.

        More serious than the deadlock was the refusal to address the texts’ obvious meaning, and reject it because the original meaning was morally unsound. A lot of religious believers accuse the new atheists of thinking of the fundamentalists as representing some sort of archetype of what religious belief looks like, when the truth is that there are religious believers who are quite prepared to read the foundational texts of their religion in a liberal fashion. People keep saying that there can be a liberal Islam. Yes, indeed there can be a liberal Islam, just as there is a liberal Christianity, but you can only come to these happy conclusions by reinterpreting and adjusting the meaning of foundational texts so that they are consistent with a more liberal view of the world and society. But this is done at the expense of the original meaning which is left in the texts to be used by the next lunatic fundamentalist who believes that these are the very words of God himself.

        It is vitally important that religious belivers — especially religious believers who think of themselves as liberal and modern — recognise what they are doing. Reinterpretation leaves everything just as it was. It cannot change the plain meaning of the text, so someone is bound to come along and read it with this plain meaning, and if Christians or Muslims or Jews, etc., are bound to uphold the idea of the sacred text of the Bible, the Tanach or the Qu’ran, this plain meaning, even if the liberal does not accept the text in this sense, is till lurking in the text, and it will come to be applied in that fundamental sense by someone, with the disastrous consequences that such application has in so many parts of the world today.”

        And this reinforces my point, that any method of inquiry that allows for faith-based beliefs to arbitrate what’s true about reality is incompatible and in conflict with a method that tries to circumvent exactly this to arrive at truth claims about reality. Can people possess the ability to respect both? Yes, in the same way a priest can also be a pedophile but one does not support the other. The two stand diametrically opposed because together they are incompatible. That’s why religious believers who are scientists is no argument that the two methods ARE compatible, which is why does not add to religion and religion does not add to science. They remain divided by opposite methods of epistemology.

  6. dave says:

    The study of religion yields … an understanding of our social nature and the evolution of the various perspectives on popular world views. Before books, teaching was personal so the young learned what was accepted in the community. Religions grew out of the local cultural context. After books, it became easier for the literate to compare teachings outside their community. The competition can lead to extreme positions, for differentiation. Is it a coincidence that the Spanish Inquisition arose within a few years of Martin Luther’s birth as Europe’s views on religion in that generation were overturned?
    The major and minor religions are still evolving as the world’s cultures become more integrated, as the world’s economic structure is fracturing, as the top and bottom economic classes compete (one for dominance, the other for survival) throughout.
    Religion exists in whatever form because human beings, having an intelligent brain, seek an understanding of the universe and there are no education systems that truly teach toward that goal, so as a social creature each must learn from others but in a piecemeal fashion. Science does a divide and conquer on nature, leading to narrow specialties that focus on the trees losing a perspective on the forest so oddities like parallel universes can be considered something worthy of study. Contemporary science is burdened by those that can exert control, where they can make the claim ‘the science is settled’ leading to major dead ends like AGW or the Big Bang (where someone like Halton Arp can be viewed as the latest Galileo). Have you read the recent story about Dan Shechtman? Unfortunately, since any scientific discipline is still in some way managed by people, their personal biases can come into play in any science because there are always those more interested in control (especially when fame and fortune can be found) than anything else like a better understanding of some aspect of nature.
    I am not trashing science, just recognizing that politics (competing views for control) can be found there as well. The scientific method is straightforward but after compiling observations and test results the process of reaching a conclusion becomes subjective. Progress in any scientific discipline can be found over time but it is not always a smooth progression without detours.
    Trashing religion in general is a fruitless exercise unless a viable alternative can replace it for a fundamental understanding of nature. Bill’s web site offers a interesting cross section of views so hopefully his readers can refine their own perspective – and that learning process is the only way change will occur, from within.

  7. tildeb says:

    The study of religion yields … an understanding of our social nature and the evolution of the various perspectives on popular world views.

    Poppycock. It yields more thoughts about religion. If you want to understand more about our social nature, study biology and psychology and even sociology. If you wish to know more about world views, study anthropology and linguistics and history and politics. Unlike religion, these fields of study actually produce knowledge about the world you inhabit rather than the beliefs in realms you do not.

    As for the claim that religions are evolving (meaning changing), go argue with theologians who will tell you why this is the best thing possible and others why this is the worst thing possible. Consensus among the religious, after all, can only be achieved by grouping together people who hold incompatible faith-based beliefs agreeing that the only people worse than those other believers are those who have the audacity to ask them to show evidence for the faith-based beliefs they hold about reality. When faced with the abject failure of reality to substantiate the beliefs they hold about derived from faith, believers are rather chuffed that sceptics have the effrontery to dismiss all these unknowable religious claims as irrelevant. As The Hitch often said, that which can be presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Your hint that scientific consensus is sort of, kind of , perhaps, maybe, in the short term, subjectively held which is somewhat like faith-based claims is another weak attempt at Quick! Look-over-there! tactic to avoid proclaiming the very clear order of which – science or religion – yields knowledge.

  8. peddiebill says:

    Oh dear, what a depressing view of knowledge. Your hypothesis is (repeated several times) that religion does not yield knowledge. Do I follow you correctly? The Bible contains history. The Bible does not contain knowledge … so therefore history is not knowledge???? Eh? The Bible contains helpful aphorisms for values eg forgive your enemies, turn the other cheek, love your neighbour: indeed 1st Corinthians 13 is a whole string of helpful aphorisms…alas the Bible does not help your knowledge, therefore aphorisms are not part of knowledge. The Bible contains poetry – Oh silly me – poetry is not part of your valued knowledge.
    Previously unknown languages have been translated expressly for religious purposes (including ancient languages). Silly linguists! … fancy wasting their time when you could have told them that this was not knowledge. The Bible inspired Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa….if only the Nobel Committee had checked with you before coming to those two decisions. The Bible contains rudimentary science – science has moved on therefore ancient science is not part of the progress of the only form of knowledge you claim to value. Jesus said you were taught an eye for an eye……but I say to you ….turn the other cheek (moral progress??)….Oh darn you think we have no need of that as part of knowledge.
    – Silly me – fancy thinking these were helpful examples of useful knowledge….Do you need more examples?

    • tildeb says:

      Come on, Bill you really are getting quite silly… probably because you’re writing from how you feel rather than from what you think.

      Religion produces no new knowledge, I claim. To counter that point, you say but the bible contains history, and history contains knowledge. Note what you’re doing here.

      1) You are equating religion – that is, faith-based beliefs about some sort of divine agency – with BEING the bible. Sigh.
      2) You then equate historical references made in the bible to be history. Sigh.
      3) You then conclude that I am saying that whatever the bible contains is not knowledge, forms like poetry and fables, and so on. Sigh.

      I actually think very highly of myths to contain wisdom pertinent to how we live our lives today but I would never be so silly as to insist that the stories actually happened as written or possessed factual and historical truth claims, but I suspect you will not grasp how that can be. Sigh.

      You keep erecting straw men and you keep tearing them down. Much heat, little light. Sigh.

  9. peddiebill says:

    Sorry – now you have me confused. First you told me there was no knowledge in religion and challenged me to find a single piece of knowledge developed by religion. I thought history in the Bible would constitute fact based knowledge. Surely you are not claiming that all of the History in the Bible is totally wrong.You tell me I am silly to think of poetry or history in the Bible as representing pieces of knowledge you challenged me to find – or perhaps silly to think you were not aware this was knowledge – or was it simply not knowledge of the sort you were challenging me to find.????? Then you tell me you admit to thinking very highly of myths which contain wisdom pertinent to how we live our lives today (parables perhaps?) Then you tell me you would not be silly enough to confuse this with a factual claim. Is a psychological truth not a factual truth or a form of knowledge. When I think of those like Bishop Tutu getting the Nobel Peace prize for his application of what he believes his faith to represent, why can you not see that this means that an independent committee agrees that this has value….? and why cannot I use this as an example
    of applied knowledge developed by religion which is what you said you wanted me wanted me to show? If you now think this was a silly task – dont forget who set it. In what way does my example of linguists performing the service of translating an ancient language not constitute useful knowledge…. is it because it is not science? Please remember that it was you not me who said there was no knowledge of any worth developed in religion. If by worth you mean recognised worth – this takes us back to Bishop Tutu.
    If you want me to take your points more seriously you will first of all show that you are concerned for the truth and not simply regurgitating atheist arguments against fundamentalism developed by the Hitch. For example what exactly is wrong with Kuhn’s argument that religion and science both share the same characteristics of reluctant paradigm shift – or Ronald Numbers’ careful work describing the characteristics for the developing interaction between science and religion. Have you actually read Numbers work… if so which of his text books are your rubbishing and why?

    • tildeb says:

      Your confusion is evident. If you removed the belief in divine agency, can you study linguistics? Yes. Religion itself adds nothing to the study. Does one gain any knowledge of, let’s say, history if one completely removes the belief in divine agency? Of course. Is the bible in any way useful to the study of history? Yes, but that doesn’t mean belief in its stories as evidence for divine agency adds anything useful to the study of history of these times. Belief is unnecessary. It adds nothing new. Yes people continue to promote the notion that belief itself is a different way of knowing but you have nothing to show this is true, that belief is a necessary component for discoveries made in its name. But there is much evidence that empowering beliefs to overlay reality actually impedes and misdirects honest pursuits of knowledge. To stick to the bible, there is zero evidence outside of belief that there was any such thing as a Jewish exodus from Egypt. Yet this widely believed to be an historical event not because there is any evidence but in spite of it. This ‘historical’ knowledge promoted only by religious belief is in fact not knowledge at all but it’s opposite: a made-up event to suit a religious belief. And this is what we find in, let’s say, Genesis… a perfectly good and useful creation myth that tries to dictate to genetics about our origins. And so on.

  10. peddiebill says:

    I am curious . You keep going on about Divine agency. It is a term I have never used. I make it very clear in my sermons and posts what I understand by the term God and find no real meaning in your term. I am also curious as to why a starting hypothesis has to be correct to generate useful progress in knowledge. This most assuredly is not true in science. In fact to follow Popper, the hypothesis is the relationship to be tested. If the relationship still seems the same after the testing you have learnt nothing. If on the other hand you can falsify( or more commonly partly falsify) the hypothesis by the experiment or the gathering of appropriate data you have now learnt something you didnt know before. That is how Newton and Einstein made progress. That is how the historians make progress. That is how the Bible scholars make progress. Read some of them. You may be surprised.

  11. tildeb says:

    Bill, it would very handy if you stopped referring to sermons and posts as if I should be very familiar with them and link directly to them. I know perfectly well that you have no clue how to define god in any meaningful way because the notion is so nebulous in sophisticated theology that it defines nothing. At least, that’s what I keep coming across with terms like ‘god behind the god most people believe in’ and ‘the ground of our being’ and so on. I have shortend my use of the term ‘religion’ to means some kind of belief in divine agency as if god were actual in this universe and known by some method of inquiry to exist as an agency capable of affecting us and our planet. If your god is not an agency, not actual in this universe at this time but still knowable, then you’ll have to explain how it/he/she/whatever matters in the slightest.

    You write I am also curious as to why a starting hypothesis has to be correct to generate useful progress in knowledge. This most assuredly is not true in science. Please give a specific example of where I make this extraordinary claim.

    As for your explanation about the importance that falsifiability plays in gaining trust for truth claims (where applicable) in honest inquiry, you’re talking to the wrong person. Turn it on yourself: what evidence would be acceptable TO YOU to falsify your faith-based religious beliefs (assuming you have some… but if you don’t, then you have no need to claim that they are religious!). I await this answer with breathless anticipation.

  12. peddiebill says:

    Sorry. I thought that because you have found your way onto my site the sermons and posts are there to read.
    I believe God is the term we use as shorthand for the mysteries behind the Universe. (If I already knew the scientific truth to encompass what is currently mystery I would have no need to search further).
    When you say:”What I’m saying is that religion did not, does not, will not add anything to finding new knowledge” then contradict yourself by getting offended when I imply that therefore you dont accept poetry and history as legitimate knowledge. I say I am making an extrordinary claim that you dont accept science works by disproving hypothesis then you admit that science can disprove some of the claims of religion. Is not that exactly how knowledge is shaped whether it be in science or religion. I assume you have at least read some of the Bible scholars work where this is done all the time as a matter of course. For example showing which of Paul’s letters he actually wrote – and which verses are subsequently added.
    Like Einstein I do not believe this means a God that interferes with nature on request.In a human context in terms of the God revealed in religion I find it handy to think of God as the personification of Love, which because we only have ethical decisions to make in terms of the way we live our lives, I find this to be a useful way of thinking of the ideal to which we strive. Because it takes a while to explain the difference between Eoros and Agape it is probably easiest to explain this love as compassion. Because I try to put this first in my life I have faith that this is a worthwhile ideal to follow. Other direct principles I get from my faith include the desire care for the environment, to forgive, to help ones neighbour and to work for justice. Another feature of my faith is I try to apply it to real life.
    In terms of the evidence I would look to to falsify my beliefs, if I discovered that compassion turned out to produce unhappy outcomes particularly in relationships then I would find it of less worth.

    • tildeb says:

      Bill, you’re getting a lot of practice in these exchanges with what I call the ‘bait and switch’. Every time I ask about your religious faith, you serve me up something else as if it were one in the same… and you’ve done it again.

      I, too know nothing about the ‘mysteries behind the universe’; I just don’t have the – what’s the word? – gumption to project my beliefs into this incoherent notion. Pretending that there IS anything ‘behind’ the universe is like asking what was time before time began. It is simply specious. But that doesn’t stop you for one second calling this obfuscation ‘god’. What’s wrong with the perfectly good word of ‘mystery’ and leave it at that? What possesses someone like you to then attribute human emotions like love and our mirror neuron responses that instigate the feeling of compassion to this ‘mystery’… a mystery I should point out beyond our ability to know anything about? But that doesn’t stop you from pretending you know something about it. Clearly, you cannot.

      I highly value compassion and caring for their effects in this world in the here and now and feel no gumption to use them to promote my idle speculations about the universe’s mysterious origins. You do not seem in any way obligated to similarly constrain your musings and attributions nor feel any reticence for doing so. Like you, I too have great concern for the environment and the policies that enhance responsible sustainability. And this the point here: religion is not a necessary component for anything you have attributed to it because, although we share similar concerns, I do not share your religious faith. At all. And in case you were wondering, my concerns falsify your hypotheses that religion is the responsible factor for these human responses.

      I think it is rather ironic to project yourself standing beside Einstein (when it comes to your religious beliefs) who, by the way and perhaps to your surprise, was not a self-proclaimed preaching methodist. At the most generous, one might describe his beliefs as deistic and in practice identical to that of an atheist:

      “I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”

      In this sense and this sense alone, then we all are. But note that his sentiment accepts not one shred of pretending that substituting faith-based beliefs as if it were knowledge is somehow – magically – compatible with honestly pursuing knowledge through methodological naturalism alone.

  13. peddiebill says:

    I am not clear why you are happy to admit to acknowledging Mystery in the Universe without defining it – but you are unhappy when I use the God label for mystery you too claim to accept under a different name?.
    If I renamed what I call God “Mystery” would you either accept my thinking there is still mystery for me (which I choose to call God) or would you acknowledge truthfully that you too are not quite sure what you mean when you say mystery. If not then define exactly what you mean by mystery and tell me how you will test for it scientifically..
    You say that Einstein was in effect an atheist. Sorry. This is not what Einstein says. Look at my post on Einstein if you dont believe me ….on this site!!
    You highly value compassion???? and dont want me to give it preeminence in my life because I came at it via religion??? and you think I am confused! There is nothing unscriptural about valuing this so highly that I can say in human terms this is the equivalent of love which because I wish to personify it I call it God. Certainly that is a human construct – along with most of the words we define. It says in the Bible “God is Love”. Perhaps if I met a few more atheists helping the poor I might have looked at their philosophy too.
    Here is another. “Love your neighbour as yourself”. (A simple faith based precept….not often acted on in todays world) I dont see why this is not a helpful piece of knowledge which can help me order my life. Knowing that I should love my neighbour as myself is actually just as helpful to me as knowing that water at the appropriate pressure will boil at 100 degrees Celsius. Or would you only allow this as knowledge if you could measure it with a thermometer or weigh it? Next another Biblical precept at the heart of the faith I follow. “Love Justice”. I actually believe in that… and helped get a falsely accused woman off from a charge of murder. Much of my political writing about terrorism and conflict resolution has this as an emphasis. Shall I pretend Loving Justice is not important to me so that I can get the good housekeeping atheist sticker because it doesnt qualify as knowedge?
    While I am sure that you can find me atheists who similarly love justice the trouble is most of them are like Bertrand Russeell with a keen appreciation of those philosophical principles which I suspect you would not accept as measurable knowledge. In fact in the same way that Gandhi rejected Christianity because he thought that their behaviour didnt measure up to the principles of Jesus who he did admire – similarly I am not attracted to atheism because I simply dont encounter them doing the things I value. Even in Rotary when we are chopping firewood to raise community funds it is not the atheists in the club who are there weilding the chainsaws or axes. They dont stock the food bank – it is the Church people, they say they care about famine – but it is still Christian World service that are on site when the chips are down. Perhaps Mother Teresa was a rotten philosopher in your terms – but at least she got involved. In the words of My Fair Lady. Dont talk of Love. Show me!

  14. tildeb says:

    To go back to the post about non overlapping magisteria , you claim science is much more limited in what it can tell us about what we might mean by the supernatural and in particular, religion as a means of inspiring us in the area of values. So you are willing to limit science when it comes to what is meant by the supernatural – whatever that might mean and on what basis of knowledge one claims to know about it – and then grant religion a privileged place to determine values as if it relates to divining moral insight from the supernatural. This is an empty claim yet you build on it. You write science gets to attend to the realm of physical fact whereas religion largely attends to the area of values. What you fail utterly to mention is that this divide is based entirely on your belief that religion deserves such privilege. I say it doesn’t. In this latest comment, you start attributing to the bible certain moral concepts as if without scripture we wouldn’t have any access to these moral precepts. But scripture really the source?

    You are so busy pretending – for that is all I have seen you do in comment after comment – that these values derive from religion itself, you fail to account for all other inputs. If I show you a chimpanzee demonstrating the same behaviours that in humans we attribute to compassion with another chimp suffering the loss of an infant, would that be enough to convince that maybe, just maybe, religion is not the conduit through which we derive our own compassion? Of course not, because you already assume religion properly owns moral values. If I show you scripture that by any modern standard would be loathsome morality in action, might that persuade you that you again and again apply your own morality TO the scripture you assume originally provides it? Of course not, because you already assume religion properly owns moral values. What you’ve created is belief that is non falsifiable – because, after all, it comes from the supernatural that science can’t investigate (but that YOU somehow can) and then say this is the proper role for religion. It’s turtles all the way down. When pressed on what informs these moral values you assume derives from religion, you say it is Mystery with a capital M to indicate a proper noun, meaning a name rather than an unknown, which is obviously the sense in which I used it. You don’t honestly believe god is simply a mystery, an unknown; you believe it is a magical supernatural agency that uses a magical mechanism to pass on moral precepts to us by means of a magical book that contains these divinely sanctioned moral values. But you won’t come clean on any of these ill-informed assumptions I keep pointing out. You’ll hint at some divine overlord, word your way around the very basic question of How do you know, suggest that good deeds should be attributed to this capital M meaning a supernatural interventionist god, but when confronted outright for evidence for any of it you shift the goalposts, substitute terms, and pretend that the problems contained within this framework you offer come from elsewhere, belong to others, are unfairly imposed, because, after all, you already assume religion properly owns moral values and that’s true as a starting point. Nothing anyone can say, no evidence anyone can provide, no description of your circular reasoning, no evidence of your intellectual dishonest and apologetic rationalizations to maintain this starting assumption will break through this belief you impose ON reality because you grant to your belief alone that it is sufficient to counterbalance any and all conflicting points and internal inconsistencies regardless of your position’s inherent incoherency.

  15. peddiebill says:

    If you bothered to read any of my other writing on the subject you would notice I specifically point to multiple sources for these teachings including culture, tradition etc If for example you read Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion you would find many of the same precepts are also found in other religions. I dont remember writing that Christianity or even religion is the only source of such thinking, or that the thinking can only be derived from such a source. If I did refer me to the quote. Of course I know others can discover and teach the same truths. The reason why I refer to the Sermon on the Mount for a source of teaching of useful moral precepts is because it is much more widely known than the hugely popular atheist teaching on the same topic. Sorry I forget the name of this important text… jog my memory please.

  16. tildeb says:

    Look, Bill, when you write about NOMA and state that Science in its turn can learn from religion about values, you are attributing to religion that which does not derive from it. You are privileging to religion this magesterium called ‘moral values’ when you cannot show that it deserves any such privileging. A much stronger case can be made, for example, that moral values derive from our biology, in which case the central plank for NOMA collapses entirely. By trying to keep this privilege in place, granting to religion as you do authority over moral concerns, you are merely supporting the assumption that religion deserves this authority without showing why it is so. I argue that religion deserves no such authority because it has not earned this place. Science is perfectly capable of and justifiably so to inquiring into the many considerations of moral values and deservedly so.

    That certain tenets of various faiths promote certain moral values is not in question. We have a long history to examine and draw our own conclusions as to whether which moral precepts are superior or inferior to which. What is in question is whether or not religion’s role in promoting certain moral values over other moral values is justified to privilege. And the results are clear: the results of pandering to favoured religiously sanctioned moral values cause as much harm as they do to promote benefit. Religious support for certain moral values, in other words, does not enhance their quality because they are deemed to be religious. That’s simply a moniker applied to the moral values themselves. The quality of a moral value is determined not by this religious affiliation but by what effect it produces. In other words, a moral value stands or falls on its own merit, and we are perfectly justified examining that merit using all the tools of scientific inquiry.

    Nor is it argued by anyone that atheism should be a substitute source for moral authority. But I will argue that the metric for moral value should reside, not in respect for the supposed wishes some divine agency who seems sprinkles morality a pinch more favourably on this religion than that, but in the real world effects such moral motivation has on promoting or infringing on the very secular notions of human rights, human freedoms, and the dignity of personhood. What is under review is this dubious notion that religion is a separate ‘way of knowing’ when it comes to gaining knowledge about moral values, a way that deserves special respect for its authority in this matter. This case is not made and, in fact, shown to be false. Religion has no legitimate claim over ownership or inquiry into moral values.

  17. tildeb says:

    Speaking of the god-is-love notion and the importance of biblical scripture in helping to inform us of the true source for our moral values, don’t consider this death counter to be of any significance worthy of our consideration at all.

  18. peddiebill says:

    I suspect the mental world you inhabit is rather different to mine. With the human race around for two million years or more – and no sign of biologically induced love your neighbour, while a case can be made for developing such a morality from first principles the biological case I would think leads to Spenser’s Nature red in Tooth and Claw. When people have assisted the natural process eg Hitler (and earlier Churchill!!) with their advocated policy of Eugenics, I would have thought even by your standards this turns out to be disastrous. You persist in placing the only value for a religion in terms of its correspondence with absolute truth. Quite apart from the fact that even science only contains a smidgen of absolute truth religion also has a host of cultural and social purposes. Believe or not a group with similiar religious and cultural belief has a real supportive role for individual members. Maybe one day atheist groups will achieve the same.
    The other thought is that I used to believe in lots of things that had little correspondence with any form of reality – eg SantaClaus and the Tooth fairy! The fact that these were only part of a process of growing up does not make it silly for a child to have such beliefs. These days I believe I have moved past Theism which seemed appropriate at the time to a kind of Deism – cf Tillich and Bonhoeffer. To my way of thinking this is similiar to a Child being taught that electrons orbit a solid nucleus of an atom – and finding out about quantum mechanics and advanced atomic theory later.

  19. tildeb says:

    When people have assisted the natural process eg Hitler (and earlier Churchill!!) with their advocated policy of Eugenics, I would have thought even by your standards this turns out to be disastrous.

    Funny you should mention Hitler and and directly confuse ‘natural process’ with artificial selection. Nazi ideology derived from Hitler has nothing to do with Darwin and natural selection and everything to do with preserving the original God-created master Aryan race against contamination due to cross-breeding with other “inferior” races. This is amply demonstrated by the prevalence of religious Nazis in positions of authority who inserted good old fashioned belief in a christian god everywhere they could.

    The Wehrmacht had “Gott mit uns” on their uniform belt buckles.
    Hitler wrote “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord”
    Joseph Goebells wrote “We have a feeling that Germany has been transformed into a great house of God, including all classes, professions and creeds, where the Führer as our mediator stood before the throne of the Almighty.”
    Hermann Göring wrote “God gave the savior to the German people. We have faith, deep and unshakeable faith, that he [Hitler] was sent to us by God to save Germany.”
    Rudolph Hess said “No matter what human beings do I shall some day stand before the judgement seat of the Eternal. I shall answer to Him, and I know he will judge me innocent.”
    All SS officers took an oath that said “I swear before God this holy oath, that I shall give absolute confidence to the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people.”

    Something seems to have gone a bit askew in the delivery of moral values through religious belief to these god-fearing ‘volk’.

    Do you notice a trend in your comments, Bill? No? Let me point it out: you insinuate that religious belief magically empowers moral values we otherwise would not have – or be exposed to – and in every circumstance where I confront your point to be without good evidence, you switch to the next point and go right back to another similar insinuation. In this case, you insinuate that the natural process of evolution – of which you are a fan, I know – leads to amorality or immorality. This is patently false. We come biologically equipped a full gamut of moral values you insinuate comes to us from – or exposes us to – the Mystery Behind The Universe. Studies of infants show clearly this moral awareness long before any exposure to religious ideas have occurred and have been demonstrated by children as young as four months of age. We find similar behaviours – that we exhibit as demonstrations of moral awareness – in other species. We are at the forefront of linking mirror neurons directly to our emotional responses we call empathy and sympathy and compassion and we find mirror neurons in these other species, too. We know through the trolley studies that moral values are shared across all social boundaries like religion, culture, nationality, linguistics, age, gender, and ethnicity. This is good evidence that the root of this shared library of moral values comes to us not from any eternal source but from our biology we inherit. In total, we have gained a great deal of insight into how morality is based in our common biological heritage and why is of benefit to us. We have made good progress linking cause with effect and by what biological mechanism this is done. This falls under the purview of science. In stark and bleak contrast, religious believers have long been satisfied with the pseudo-answer belief in a moral giver offers: an agency I like to call Oogity Boogity, which you prefer to call Mystery, meaning god, sort of… but it seems to all be the same ‘thingie’. I have yet to come across any good reasons to alter my opinion. The problems associated with ‘first principles’ have been thoroughly exposed and adequately refuted. We need not go into those yet again.

    Your repeated slurs against atheists don’t add anything meaningful to your poor argument that religion is an equivalent way of knowing anything about anything or why religious spokesmen and leaders should be granted any privilege whatsoever to be at the grownup’s table on issue of public policy that involve moral and/or ethical considerations. In fact, I’m left with no good reasons why any of us shouldn’t seriously suspect with deep suspicion the motivations of those who lend privilege to religious beliefs to affect public policy. Obviously, these folks are confused over their own incompatible methods of thinking about what’s true in reality… so why subject the rest of us to their delusions of insight without evidence?

  20. peddiebill says:

    The first question this raises is how is this brave new world you are advocating – ie a moral system based on biology alone – to be instituted? Perhaps you are thinking about Wilson’s claims which havent exactly escaped unscathed at the hand of the philosophers of science. But more to the point even if your system was capable of producing a form of morality that worked in society, where does this actually happen? Remember you only have the general population to deal with. I know Marx thought the Russians could pull it off without recourse to the “opiate of the people” but I thought this experiment failed.
    What you call the delusions of insight, eg Jesus’ Golden rule?, may eventually turn out to be be based on delusion – but the fact is that when these precepts are accepted and applied they turn out to be helpful to society and have appeared to produce some helpful results. So why subject the rest to these delusions of insight?you ask. Coming up with a useful conclusion for the wrong reasons has of course happened many times in science.I would have thought that your question therefore has a pragmatic answer.
    You tell me I dont know what I am talking about when I attribute Nazi eugenics at least partially to a misapplication of Social Darwinism. Since my PhD gave supporting evidence for this and was examined by experts on this topic – and passed! – I am relatively confident that my reasoning on that point is at least approximately right – however if you give me the titles of your publications on the topic or alternately other authors’ papers disproving the hypothesis, I am happy to see where I went wrong.
    You keep insisting that I believe that religious belief magically empowers morality. I certainly have never claimed this – in fact on many occasions I have pointed to a whole host of influences on morality including biology.(for just one of many examples see what I say in my post: “Theology and the Einstein Effect”) And since you brought it up, when I talk of cultural influences and the influence of social function on religious thought (see the article that started these comments)- I am not sure how to get this through to you but what I meant to say was our religious thinking is influenced – guess what? – by culture and social function!!!How do you get from this to my reliance on magic? You will find other articles on my site where I talk of the Nazi misuse of the concept of God using some of the very same examples that you choose to change my thinking with..
    Did you even read the article at the top of this column before telling me what I meant to say?Second – even Dawkins allowed that should religion be of the form advocated by Tillich and Bonhoeffer he would not have needed to write his book. I similarly have gone on a long crusade against fundamentalism and very conservative Christianity… but I am sorry if you think I am misled – but I happen to admire Bonhoeffer whose morality I believe to be of a very high standard. You may think him stupid – but I (and even your mate Dawkins) seem to have time for his version of Christianity. Because I greatly admire thoughtful scientists like Coulson who show how science fits with his faith, those like Bonhoeffer and those like those like Schweitzer I am attracted to those who walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

  21. tildeb says:

    Look how intellectually dishonest you are!

    You wrote When people have assisted the natural process eg Hitler (and earlier Churchill!!) with their advocated policy of Eugenics…. Now look what you do when I challenge the insinuation that eugenics represents the natural process by pointing out what’s actually true in fact, that eugenics is artificial selection. You won’t admit truthfully that you misrepresented natural processes with an artificial one – a straw man yet again – and then damned its consequences as if it were the kind of moral values supported by atheists. This is disingenuous all the way through when you know for a fact that I suggested no thing and when confronted you change terms yet again. Now ‘natural processes’ is altered by your wave of the hand to actually mean Social Darwinism – which is not the natural process of evolution that I referred to for our shared morality from our shared biology, which is the actual point you are pretending to respond to but aren’t – but misguided and ill-informed social factors like, you guessed it, eugenics! And then, as if to show why your opinion should be validated, you tell us you have a PhD in ‘this’ topic. Which topic? The one you misrepresent? The one that you keep changing? The art of creating straw men arguments? The one trying to make atheists seem to be anything but moral?

    Not satisfied with abusing Hitler to try to demonize those who insist there is no evidence to suggest religion deserves a separate magesterium, you change gears again and this time go after Marxism, quote mining his reference to religion as an opiate as if this stands as a counter example to a world without religiously sanctioned morality! This is dishonest and you know it is…. or, at least, you should if your moral compass hasn’t gone haywire. Your use of false dichotomies (religious magesterium OR atheism/Hitler’s eugenics/Marxism) is becoming as tedious as your straw men arguments, but then this whole exchange has been an exercise of me trying to hit a moving target on a playing field on which you keep moving the goalposts.

    You have nothing to back up your assertion that moral values belong to the area of religion and religious inquiry justifiably separate from science. Nothing you have written shows this to be true in reality. All you have are these debating tactics to mislead, to divert, to substitute and alter words to suit your intentional prevarications and misrepresentations. These are the ‘reasonable’ tools you use to back up your opinion about religion’s privileged role in moral values and they reveal the desperation of someone who has no good reasons, no solid evidence, no real argument from merit on which to base your assumption that religion is an equal method of inquiry different from science but as productive to yield new knowledge specifically about moral values. Your attribution to Jesus for the rule of reciprocity that predates his supposed life and times by many centuries shows just how easily you fool yourself into believing you have knowledge that supports your religious assumptions about morality. You don’t… or, to be clear, have utterly failed to show any.

    I’m sorry, Bill, but you’ve got nothing to offer on this issue that is intellectually honest, that is worth consideration. I’ve tried to get you to show me something from reality to back up your belief about religion’s special role in morality but I grow weary of this useless exchange. You just keep moving, keep shifting, keep misrepresenting, keep cheating, and think your avoidance by all means fair and foul is a kind of win for the home team. It’s not. It’s a pathetic, old, and tired attempt to insist on special privilege for religion that deserves none on any merit you can point to. You can choose to believe differently, of course, but then there are people who will believe anything. That’s the home team in this case and you’re welcome to represent it. But it’s hardly an enlightened moral stand.

    • peddiebill says:

      I suspect from your repeated charges there is nothing I could possibly find to make you consider that there maybe something beyond what you already believe you know. I know you will say this only applies to me but it suddenly remined me that Terry Pratchett once said that the presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely preferable to those who have already found it. I am sure I have much more to learn and cannot really dialogue with someone certain they have already arrived. I am sure you are sincere and proably have some other characteristics beyond those you show to me as a consequence of what you believe to be enlightened form of biological based morality. I am sorry that we appear unable to find common ground. I would be interested to find if your attitudes resonate with others and invite others visiting the site to comment. It is hopefully more objective to have independent observers say how the arguments appear to them. Despite my many suggestions you refuse to look at any other posts (eg the Theology and the Einstein effect) so I will have to live with the fact that I believe you to be misrepresenting my position. Because the only real privelege for religion I can find owes its position to some very nice, thoughtful and compassionate people who appear to me to have derived their inspiration from religion – and because you cannot allow that as a possibility- I will seek to try to stimulate thought elswhere. Have a nice day.

      • tildeb says:

        I suspect from your repeated charges there is nothing I could possibly find to make you consider that there maybe something beyond what you already believe you know.
        Honest evidence to support your claim that science can learn from what religion alone has access to would be immensely helpful.

        I know you will say this only applies to me but it suddenly remined me that Terry Pratchett once said that the presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely preferable to those who have already found it. I am sure I have much more to learn and cannot really dialogue with someone certain they have already arrived.
        You’ve confused to which of us this pithy observation applies.

        I am sure you are sincere and proably have some other characteristics beyond those you show to me as a consequence of what you believe to be enlightened form of biological based morality.
        I’m very sincere, but as far as informing the claim you make that religion somehow enlightens us with moral values inaccessible to scientific inquiry is concerned I do not find your position compelling. That’s not a comment about my characteristics but a criticism how weak your position on this matter is.

        I am sorry that we appear unable to find common ground.
        Yes, I am unwilling to go along with your shifting stance, your prevarications, your insinuations, and your intellectual hand waving as a substitute for good reasons and evidence. I’m funny that way.

        I would be interested to find if your attitudes resonate with others and invite others visiting the site to comment.
        And which attitudes might those be? An unwillingness to grant privilege to religion just because its followers insist on it without cause?

        It is hopefully more objective to have independent observers say how the arguments appear to them.
        First, you lace my comments with negative motivations you assume underlie them, don’t address the specific criticisms I raise, but are now appearing to want ‘objective’ feedback? If you didn’t want to deal objectively with them to begin with, why suddenly now?

        Despite my many suggestions you refuse to look at any other posts (eg the Theology and the Einstein effect) so I will have to live with the fact that I believe you to be misrepresenting my position.
        I dealt with this post… you know, the one that asserted without good reasons and have not been shown to informed by good evidence that religion properly deals with moral values inappropriate to scientific inquiry. You’ll have to live with the fact – as you’ve managed to live with all along – that you continue to privilege religion’s contribution to our knowledge of moral values without cause. It doesn’t appear to me to be much of hardship for you and your refusal to deal with criticism for this stance is not a misrepresentation but a tactic you employ to maintain it.

        Because the only real privelege for religion I can find owes its position to some very nice, thoughtful and compassionate people who appear to me to have derived their inspiration from religion – and because you cannot allow that as a possibility- I will seek to try to stimulate thought elswhere.
        What you fail to realize is the profoundly negative effect this privileging of religion has on real people in real life in the here and now. You are not saying that religion – like astronomy – can inspire thoughts about moral values and so is as useful as any other subject to do so; you are stating that religion properly belongs to a separate but equal magesterium from science! Why do you refuse to remain consistent?

        Public policies and laws that respect religiously-inspired moral values not informed by any other good reasons and evidence from reality but belief in its pious truth value alone continue to cause unnecessary suffering, impede honest inquiry, and adversely affect human rights, freedoms, and dignity of people. This direct link – respecting religiously inspired moral pronouncements – is the avenue by which much suffering has been, is, and shall continue to be promoted in the name of pious respect rather than respect for what’s demonstrably true in reality. I could go into specifics with specific issues (they are far too numerous) where religiously supported moral values have played and continue to play such a caustic and detrimental role for many people… issues like gay marriage, euthanasia, abortion, condom use, medical research, women’s rights, and so on and so forth. Education, law, governance, public policies, medicine, science… all are subjected to this constant attack by those who think religiously inspired moral values have a place in establishing affect in these portions of the public domain. The list is nauseatingly too long but the point here is that the justification for religion’s special role in ANY these issues is suspect from the get go. But as long as people are willing to grant to religion that which it has not earned on merit but simply believed to be meritorious, then there is no end in sight. And this is exactly what you’ve shown in this exchange: a failure to indicate why religion has a special voice in matters of moral concerns. The fault, of course, must be mine because unlike you I refuse to simply believe it is so. Appealing to to others and pointing to their compassion, niceness, and thoughtfulness as the cause for your belief is dishonest and a cheap debating tactic. You don’t attribute religion’s privilege to people at all! You attribute it to god, aka, Mystery, aka the unknowable… based solely on your religious belief it is so.Like any addict, you will do and say whatever you must to continue to protect your high. Respecting what’s true in reality matter not at all in this regard to protecting your belief and that’s why this discussion has gone nowhere.

  22. peddiebill says:

    Thank you for attributing Stephen Gould’s statement to me. Although I am flattered that the idea of separate Magesteria for science and religion should be presented as mine, I stress that it is his idea and my use of Gould’s idea in my original article was simply that in my view like any good model it causes us to consider looking at the situation (in this case the debate between science and religion) in a new way. His suggestion clearly doesnt help you! If you read the science/religion literature you are probably surprised that others think his suggestion is interesting. (I acknowledge there are some like Dawkins and Collins who dont find it helpful) As it happens although I find his notion helpful I do not entirely agree because I cannot see that science is essentially value free – or that religion deals only with values independent from their physical setting.
    Because I have never believed that science can learn from what religion alone can offer I am puzzled why you should insist that I am required to show this to be the case. Each religion is developed to produce a form which is an amalgam of a variety of influences,( which I thought I may have already mentioned!). These include the religion’s cultural setting – each religion with different history (including history of religious insights), different leaders (who themselves are limited by a host of influences), different political, anthropological and sociological settings, different access to education – and a stack of evolving religious insights. Isolating what you wish to call the purely religious component is beyond my current understanding and ability, so although I accept you believe I am required do so to your satisfaction, this is way beyond my pay scale.
    We are also coming at this from totally different viewpoints. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that you think what I value in a religion – its ability to foster compassion, peace, justice etc etc is irrelevant unless I can prove that it only comes from objectively established realities, pure religious input and that religion’s only value is in terms what it can contribute to science.
    My view is much simpler. I value religion ( and for me this happened to be a rather liberal form of Christianity) simply because for me it has given me a focus and inspiration for compassion, justice, concern for environment etc. As it happens I also get inspiration from other sources as well but because I have been brought up in the methodist Church and many of those who I admire and inspire me have also come through this tradition I am comfortable staying within this tradition.
    I admire the occasional non-Christian and in particular have been impressed by some of the writing of Bertrand Russell and Gandhi, but for reasons which would take rather too much space to explain, am not entirely convinced by their specific alternatives.
    Because I am unfamiliar with your writing or your actions I have no way of assessing your thinking outside this discussion – but perhaps I might just suggest that since I have always had difficulty with turning the other cheek (although I happen to think it is good advice) you will note every time you make comments about my dishonesty, tell me that I believe things that I have specifically denied elsewhere yet refuse to look at posts where I claim I have made such comments, tell me I use unfair debating tactics, imply I am stupid, tell me I am a religious addict etc I tend to respond in kind which is bad for my blood pressure and does nothing to help anyone in their thinking. In addition because I only have your comments to go by in making my assessment, the frequent insults risk having me dismiss your thinking as not worth considering.
    If I only had to respond to your legitimate points of genuine debate I can however see some worth in what you suggest. Can I appeal to you to desist with the insults, then I can do the same.

  23. peddiebill says:

    Now for something different. I have been rereading an older article in Time Magazine November 2006 God v’s Science and encountered a debate between two highly respected spokespeople on opposite sides of the debate. Richard Dawkins (who probably needs no introduction as one of the leading sceptical scientists) and Francis Collins who as an eminent Geneticist had been Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute since 1993 for the Christian case. Dawkins after listening to Collins allowed that there may well be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible outside our present understanding. However Dawkins further suggested that whatever wonderful revelations from what lay beyond, he remained sceptical, not so much that there may not be a supernatural intelligent designer (which although not his preferred idea was at least in his view a worthy idea) but that should one exist “I dont see the Olympian Gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as being parochial. If there is a God” he went on “its going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has proposed.” I hate to admit it, but I suspect he may have a point!! Reactions please.

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