Doesn’t Look Like a Duck!

Saw something worth sharing on the most excellent Bad Astronomy blog today. It’s a series of images by reddit user, jerfoo. Click the picture below to open a window on the whole thing (it’s very tall and skinny, so restore it to 100% magnification and scroll down as you read the “story’).

Basically, it’s an illustration of the difference between science and an inflexible dogmatic approach to reality. The punchline, the last image, is what is particularly telling. (If nothing else, it illustrates why people with a grounding in science get annoyed with a common response from folks who oppose climate change or who support creationism.)

Science doesn’t always find all the pieces right away (or sometimes ever), but that doesn’t mean we can’t see the picture clearly enough to know what isn’t correct or that we can’t make a pretty good guess as to what is correct.

If you’ve read my posts last year about spirituality you know I don’t think science necessarily excludes a spiritual reality. (If you haven’t read those posts and would like to, see The Spirituality Series on my Reading List page.) But I do believe that ones spirituality needs to include science, because science obviously works. If it didn’t, neither would our cell phones, cars, TVs or computers. If you accept that an MRI machine works, you believe in some pretty serious science.

The big problem with creationism is that it requires believing in a Trickster God. A God that has created a universe in which science clearly works… but which tricks us into believing it’s 13+ billion years old. I simply don’t believe—and, in any event, would want no part of—a lying, trickster God.

The speed of light is established fact, except when it comes to light sources many billions of miles away. Our knowledge of radioactivity works, except when it comes to carbon dating. Our  understanding of life and biology works, except when it comes to evolution.

I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid.

To me creationism isn’t just stupid, it’s unnecessary. And incredibly vain. It is a very human conceit that we imagine God doesn’t work on a scale of billions of years, a scale of billions of light years, a scale of billions of other worlds and other life.

Any God that created all this… is so, so, SO much bigger than that.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

41 responses to “Doesn’t Look Like a Duck!

  • onestillbreathing

    Indeed…if true he is infinite, and in some religions (Christian Science for example), that is the way God is described. Great post…loved the ‘duck’ analogy that went with it! Truly ‘inspired’…just teasing 😉

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Pretty clever use of puzzles, I thought! And he leaves you to recognize the “looks like a duck” thing. (Although I only saw his image. There may have been accompanying text on reddit (which I know nothing about).)

  • thegreenstudy

    I’m a bit of an empiricist when it comes to divining the nature of the universe and rarely ponder questions like origin, since no one has a fully supported answer. It would be an argument exactly like the puzzle example, except louder and with less reason (humans seem more dogged in their opinions than stuffed bunnies). Enjoyed this – thanks!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Ah, the curse of an interest in theoretical physics, cosmology and philosophy… searching for those origin answers. Some of which may be forever out of reach! But I do find the search interesting. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Linda Vernon

    Oh I really like this. We see what we want to see and/or think we see regardless of whether we are creationists or scientists. I think that supernatural events are just science we don’t understand. (And there was a lot of that going on in the old Testament, that’s for sure!)

    But I don’t like the way science throws out things they can’t explain or that seem impossible. Like hazelnuts that rain out of a cloudless sky, etc.

    But a great post Wyrd and I love this kind of thing. 😀

    • Wyrd Smythe

      One big difference, though: science tries very hard to be self-correcting when the facts don’t match what we want or wish for. It consists of humans, who are fallible, social and political, so it’s not perfect by a long stretch, but at heart it’s nothing more than the factual study of the world we live in.

      I would argue that science doesn’t throw out things it can’t explain so much as label them as unexplained. Often, down the road, an explanation does present itself, but science doesn’t turn its back or a blind eye so much as seek a factual explanation. Any phenomenon that is real must have a real explanation… the trick is finding it sometimes!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting! I’ve been enjoying your humor blog!!

  • Linda Vernon

    Yes, you’re right Science does make every effort to be self correcting! Good point. 😀 And I’m so glad to hear you enjoying the blog. I’m like yours too!

  • 0over0

    In response to what you wrote to Linda Vernon, I wonder what you consider an “explanation.” That is, many say that science has explained, for example, electromagnetism through its theories of the interactions of micro-molocules, but those theories really only shift the issue from one question to a different one. Now we are asking what makes protons and electrons attract. A physicist (Feynman) does a pretty good job discussing something close to this sort of problem at the following URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFPe-DwULM

    While this issues doesn’t much effect science itself, it does effect what science means. Science is merely a methodology of expanding our inexplicable model of the physical universe.

    This epistemological issue is a large part of what makes a distinction between the empirical and the normative–and by the normative, I mean something of what Kant called “pure philosophy”–so indispensable in many cases.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      A physical effect has physical causes, so an “explanation” is a rational, fact-based account of how the causes lead to the effect.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “micro-molecules,” but Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism has nothing to do with molecules of any kind. Electromagnetism is well-explained in the gauge theory known as the Standard Model. Protons and electrons attract because the former is positively charged, the latter negatively.

      I’m not sure you understood the video of Feynman… did you read the text below that video? “Physicist Richard Feynman explains to a non-scientist just how difficult it is to answer certain questions in lay terms!”

      Those last three words are key. The whole video is Feynman trying to explain why he can’t answer the question in terms the interviewer can understand. That is not at all the same as saying physicists don’t understand it. They do.

      You are correct that science is a method (“methodology” is an unnecessary word). It is a very good, very successful, very proven method. That we are using our computers to communicate over the interweb is just one example of how well science works.

      Epistemology, as a branch of philosophy, is also a science, by the way. It’s the science of trying to understand what we call knowledge, how we can know things, and the limits of what we can know.

      “Normative” is a general term (in my business, normative refers to an abstract model representing how, for example, a communications protocol, must behave). By invoking Kant, I’m assuming you mean it in the philosophical context where it’s usually used to refer to how things “ought” to be, or the difference between right and wrong actions.

      I’m almost as big a fan of philosophy as I am of science (I actually consider the former a branch of the latter, although many don’t), and I do believe both are required in our lives. Most of the older scientists (up to Einstein or thereabouts) were also philosophers or interested in philosophy. Lee Smolin, a contemporary theoretical physicist whose work I regard feels strongly about philosophy as well, so there are some modern scientists who do.

      • 0over0

        I do apologize for saying micro-molocules; I meant protons and electrons. I find, upon re-watching, that you’re also mostly right about the video; it’s been a while since I looked at it; and I must have remembered it slightly differently.
        Nonetheless, I don’t think you understand what I’m getting at.

        You must re-read the preface of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (I can’t figure out how to do italics on these things) to see how I intend to use the term ‘normative.’ He calls it “pure philosophy”–though, it’s not all that important to this discussion at present.

        My issue is, to continue with the former example, the fact that “protons and electrons attract because the former is positively charged, the latter negatively” then presents new questions: Why do positively and negatively charged particles attract? What makes particles positive or negative? Certainly a theoretical physicist would have an answer for this, but his answer would then present new questions. I guess that’s why I must have thought the video was more relevant than it is. He mentions that the universe could just be like an onion who’s layers we peal back one at a time through science, but for which we never really find an ultimate explanation.

        I think I understand your decision to group philosophy as a branch of science. I personally tend to view all subjects as a part of the same thing, but sometimes a division is necessary for the sake of practical understanding. For it is clear, from the nature of knowing, that science only expands our model of the physical universe (and yes, it does so effectively), but cannot, if you will pardon my poor use of language, ‘infinitely explain it’s explanations,’ while philosophy seeks to look for some sort of final answer, as it were, as the explanation for all reality.

        My reference to Kant was an attempt to carry this same distinction over into the methods used for each of the respective subjects. We see that, for Kant, “pure philosophy” should not be based on the empirical; that is, there should be a division of labor between “philosophy … based on grounds of experience” and philosophy based on grounds of “priori principles.”

        This, in no way, undermines science, but it does lead us to rethink the relationship between science and metaphysics, because for Kant as for myself, metaphysics is “pure philosophy,” (thus related to reason alone) ” … limited to determinate objects of the understanding.”

        One last remark:
        “(‘methodology’ is an unnecessary word)”
        … really, you’re going to criticize my word choice? What does that have to do with the argument? … I think ‘method’ is an unnecessary word.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        What you’re describing is sometimes called the “turtles all the way down” problem. It’s also expressed as the question of, “Why is there something rather than nothing.” Some scientists do seek to address this problem, but there is always a point where one has to just accept that “what is, is.” Within the context of the Standard Model, for instance, electrons are fundamental particles with certain properties. They simply exist. (Protons, of course, are made of quarks and gluons, which are also fundamental.)

        I agree completely that science is the process of understanding our physical reality. Many scientists feel that the physical reality is the only reality, but not all do. I do not; I believe there is a higher reality, although I have no rational basis for that belief. Regardless, our physical reality appears to be entirely consistent, and therefore science is an outstanding tool for understanding it.

        I think it might be a bit of an over-simplification to say that philosophy looks for an explanation for all reality. Philosophy seeks answers to fundamental questions (just as science does, which is why I group them), but the questions involve metaphysics rather than physics. A key difference is that many philosophical theories are not falsifiable, a trait considered crucial to scientific theories. But to its credit, as with science, when philosophical theories are proven logically inconsistent, they are discarded.

        Kant’s philosophy is very complicated, and life-long Kant scholars struggle to fully understand what he meant. I don’t feel qualified to discuss Kant in detail without doing some reading. I can say that he had heavy Idealist leanings, although he did believe in an external reality. But Kant believed that a huge amount of the “real world” was in our minds, our ideas. As such he believed in a priori concepts the mind has with which to understand the external world.

        The thing about Kant is that, as with all moral philosophers who seek to define morality in the absence of Holy Writ, he ultimately had to basically just say, “Well, you know it when you see it.” He believed that moral principles were a form of a priori knowledge, but of course this can’t be proven (or even demonstrated, really). Exactly as with electrons and quarks, you just have to accept that what is, is. (Or in the case of something that’s impossible to measure or quantify, perhaps isn’t.)

        (With regard to “methodology,” I put that in parentheses because it was an aside, not a criticism. Most very literate people find it a case of over-speak. The “-ology” doesn’t add anything, but makes it seem more erudite. That is what makes it unnecessary, and to the educated ear it comes off as pretentious. You referred to “poor use of language.” I was just opening a door to something richer.)

      • 0over0

        As I said, you are wrong about the definition of methodology–look it up.

        I agree, you are not really approaching Kant correctly, and so we should probably drop the subject. It has little to do with “knowing morality when you see it.” Kant is all about formality. He thinks that morality can be defined as a conformity to duty, for the sake of duty, where duty is defined as the absence of a logically paradoxical will, but that is not the part of Kant’s theorizing that I was referencing–I was only referring to what he writes in the prologue of his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals about the difference between empirical and pure philosophy. It’s not a matter of the real world being in our minds, so much as purely normative investigation being the source of metaphysical theory.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Understood. A big part of this discussion is in the context of “well, what caused that?” Kant’s idea that morality is based on duty: well, what caused that? It’s, as you say, based on universal will that does not result in a contradiction. Well, how does duty, let alone morality, arise from that? What is the grounding for equating universal will with duty with morality? Ultimately Kant is stuck, as are all moral philosophers.

        Science, philosophy and religion all have the same “turtles” problem. At some point you are forced to accept something fundamental as being “what is.” Ultimately, it’s a matter of faith, belief and worldview.

        …purely normative investigation being the source of metaphysical theory.

        To me that’s something of a tautology. Metaphysics, very much by definition, comes from pure reason. Would you agree that it is constrained and informed by empirical results, though? If so, I don’t see where we have any disagreement.

      • 0over0

        It’s not a tautology because it serves to establish the fact that, as you wrote, “metaphysics, very much by definition, comes from pure reason.”

        Your right about the turtles. I completely agree, but the beautiful thing about Kant is that he only has to deal with one Mega Turtle–that is reason. Duty arises from the reason, for Kant, because it is merely a matter of a will being logically consistent with itself. Kant gives the following example (in summary): A person may will to lie that he or she is going to repay a loan which he or she has no intention of repaying in order to get cash when hard up, but if said person then applies the Universal Formulation of the Categorical Imperative to his or her maxim, that is “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law,” an imperative that arises exclusively from a chain of reasoning of Kant’s–with no dependence on the empirical–he or she will soon find that the lie can be willed, but not the universal law without creating a logical paradox. That is, if it were a universal law that all persons were permitted to lie in order to receive a loan when hard up, the act would not achieve its desired end, as a promise would no longer mean anything, and loans would not be distributed; thus, the maxim undermines itself when it because a universal law.

        What’s great about this is that the chain of reasoning requires no knowledge of what actually DOES happen in the real world (i.e. anything that Kant would call empirical), for even the knowledge that loans would not be distributed if the maxim were universalized arises from the structure of human reason; that is, I know that people would not distribute loans if the maxim were universalized because I would not do so myself on the very basis of my own reason.

        In this regard, I tend to side with Kant. We must first establish our normative principals before really dealing with empirical facts, and then simplify our models so that they may be practically applied to the empirical (of course, he writes this much better than I have here; it can be found in the beginning of section two of the aforementioned writing).

        In any case, one thing that’s lovely about philosophy is that, in science, we must only deal with one turtle at a time, but in philosophy, we can construct theories of the infinite. That is, we can discuss the very structure of that mysterious, seemingly endless, chain of causality and knowing.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Firstly, I said “something of a tautology,” and secondly, when something is “by definition” that’s exactly what I mean by a tautology.

        We’re probably going to have to agree to disagree at this point, because I don’t agree with Kant, and I don’t agree that one can form normative principles a priori. I hold that the real world and any philosophy of the world are bound together. As I mentioned before, Yin & Yang.

        On this matter of universal will, I think Kant’s just flat out wrong. Let’s take the example you cited. Firstly, the concepts of loans, money and needing money are real world objects. How do you get to them by pure reason without admitting the real world? Secondly, what is the grounds for universal law? Very few things in our experience are universal, why should behavior be? That is an axiom on Kant’s part, and it’s not one with which I agree. Kant moves between everyone lying to no on lying, and I think there’s a middle ground. Thirdly, I don’t believe moral law can be established in isolation. Is it wrong to lie? Generally, yes, but not always. If your family were starving, would you lie to obtain a loan? Would you steal? Would you kill?

        To me the world is a hugely complex place with myriad interacting pieces. Kant studies things in the abstract, and that is hugely useful in seeking core meaning, but I definitely don’t see it as being necessarily normative. It is sometimes not even practical.

        We clearly have different views on this, and that’s fine, it’s not a case of right and wrong views, just a case of seeing the world differently. I don’t see much point in circling the matter much further, since it’s unlikely either of our worldviews will change.

      • 0over0

        Well a tautology, as I understand it formally, is saying the same thing twice in different words, ex: “there must be something that made the universe, for if there wasn’t
        nothing could have ever made the universe.” Not that such statements are ALWAYS useless to an argument, sometimes, I think it can be helpful to express the same idea in different words, but that aside, by this understanding of what a tautology is, what I wrote was not a tautology, for I only defined metaphysics once.

        No, there is no point in taking it further, but there are some issues–which are mostly my fault I suppose–in the way you are understanding Kant’s model.

        The point is that all of the reasoning works on its own, and the example I’ve cited is an application of the reasoning to the empirical.

        Also, one must be certain not to cross scopes of specificity when defining a maxim–that’s always what people do with Kant. That is, the maxim of lying in the particular SITUATION (situation and purpose being, for Kant, an element of a maxim) of borrowing money is to be evaluated separately from the maxim of lying to save your life or what have you.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Once again: I said “something of a tautology,” and secondly, when something is “by definition” that’s exactly what I mean by a tautology. In blunt words, when you define metaphysics as being of pure reason, my response is, “Well, duh.”

        If you are under the impression that I would agree with Kant’s model here if I understood it better, I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve run into the model you’re describing several times, and I simply don’t agree with it for reasons that I think I’ve covered in sufficient detail.

        I disagree that reason is sufficient in many cases. And I simply don’t believe that morality is a matter of pure reason. You clearly think otherwise, and that’s fine. My worldview includes the possibility of varying points of view. (I hope yours does as well.)

  • 0over0

    BTW: Aside from the word choice not being particularly relevant to the discussion, my choice is more proper. A “methodology” is a SYSTEM of methods used in a particular area of study, which is exactly what I was referring to; that is, the methodology of science.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Not that it’s in any way relevant, but I disagree. If a “methodology” is anything, it’s the study of methods used in some field. The casual use of the term to refer to a collection of methods is generally proscribed (for the reasons I just mentioned). But, again: it was an aside and has no connection to anything.

      And looking over the conversation so far, I realize I’m not quite sure what your point is. That philosophy is important? I absolutely agree (and have always said so). That science is limited to the physical world? I absolutely agree (and have always said so).

      You seem to be disagreeing with something here, but I’m not clear on exactly what that is.

      • 0over0

        You’re right I haven’t been very clear. I’m mainly trying to get at what Kant wrote. Physical science is great for rhetorical debates about God and the like, but it doesn’t really have a particularly strong bearing ultimately on what we should believe in that regard–for that we must turn to formal reasoning. Perhaps you already agree with me about this. Feynman tends to agree with this (though that isn’t apparent from the particular clip I referred you to).

        Look up a formal definition of methodology.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        methodology (plural methodologies)

        1. The study of methods used in a field.
        2. (proscribed) A collection of methods, practices, procedures and rules used by those who work in some field.
        3. The implementation of such methods etc.

        (I assume you know what “proscribed” means.)

      • 0over0

        Well then it is a matter of disagreement even among the dictionaries, for I looked it up several places where what you’ve listed as number two is number one and is not marked as proscribed. Therefore, I certainly do not think that there is any black and white answer as to whether it is okay to use it in that manner, and such a liberty should be allowed especially in such an informal setting as this. The OED sides with me in its final definition of the word, URL: http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/117578?redirectedFrom=methodology#eid

        “(more generally) a method or body of methods used in a particular field of study or activity.”

        It does agree with you in the first definition. Therefore, let us agree that there is a “general,” as the OED indicates, usage of the word that functions as I intended it to.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Look, it was a parenthetical aside of no account when I mentioned it. The fact that some sources indicate the use is proscribed should tell you something. My only point is that some people do find its use somewhat pretentious. If, knowing that, you choose otherwise, that is your absolute right and privilege.

      • 0over0

        And the fact that some sources (including the Oxford English Dictionary!) do not so mark it as so should tell you something. Whether the word comes of as pretentious or not is largely dependent on the culture in which your writing–of course on the internet, this is largely impossible to measure.

        Sorry for dragging this out so much; I only do so because I care about words too.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You really, really should have left it alone. You really, really should have just said, “Oh, I see what you’re saying, but I’m fine with my own usage.” By claiming you care about words, you leave yourself open to my pointing out you haven’t used them very well in this discussion.

        For example, you misspelled molecule when you mistakenly talked about “micro-molocules” even though WordPress would have underlined it to indicate a problem. If you cared about words, it seems you should have tried to figure out why it did that. And you’ve consistently misspelled “you’re” including in the comment you just wrote telling me how you care about words. You also misspelled “off,” which gives you two misspellings in a single sentence.

        Normally I ignore that sort of thing, since this is an informal medium, and we all make the occasional typo. I even ignore consistent misuse, because it’s really not relevant to the discussion or the ideas expressed. But when someone just won’t let it go and then goes on to tell me how much they care about words… well, what can I say, you’ve crossed a line with me.

        This entire discussion is closed. We’ve both said all that can be said.

        (I intend to delete further comments unless they take things in a fresh and interesting direction.)

      • 0over0

        Thank you for correcting me. You may delete whatever of this you like; I only hoped to present another point of view. The friction is an indication of the quality of the discussion. I apologize if I have over stepped a boundary.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Perhaps I’m over-reacting, so I’ll tender my apology as well. My objection is that we’ve spent a considerable amount of time on this today (time I can ill afford), and it’s taken an awful lot of words to get to what I think is your real point. I’m willing to give this a second shot, and I will suggest we try to focus on being concise and precise.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I absolutely agree science has little do with religious faith, except for something I’ll mention below. To me, physics and metaphysics form a Yin/Yang pair, and both are required for the whole.

        I do not agree that spirituality can be based on formal reasoning. Faith comes from the heart and from your personal view of reality and may well be contrary to reason. I have no good reason whatsoever for my very strong belief that a metaphysical reality exists. In fact, reason very much suggests it does not. I believe in it contrary to reason. My belief is the Yang to the Yin of my scientific and rational view of the physical world.

        What science may someday do is discover the “god circuit” in the human mind that generates the nearly universal apprehension of some sort of god. If science ever does prove such a thing incontrovertibly, then we may have to accept that all forms of perceived spirituality are mental delusions.

        But until that happens, I chose to believe that apprehension has a deeper meaning.

      • 0over0

        Hm, interesting. Your discussion of the “god circuit” does raise an enquiry about the function of the recursion associated with the study of the human mind, a study which, like all studies, itself requires the functionality of the mind. I don’t really have any comment to make on this matter, perhaps you do, but I do think it’s worth bringing it up.

        But also, I don’t think the fact that a “god circuit” exists in the brain, if we do one day find it, would necessarily exclude a possible validity to the belief in spirituality. That is, if we one day find good evidence that our minds are designed to believe in spirituality, which it already seems they are, this would not invalidate such a believe, only locate where the act of that belief takes place.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I confess I don’t quite follow what you’re getting at with recursion. I don’t know that I see any recursion in psychology or brain science, and those are the areas of study that would be likely to discover a “god circuit.”

        You are correct that such a finding would not conclusively disprove god, which is why I wrote “we may have to accept,” but depending on how strong the finding was, it could be a real blow to the idea. And to be clear, it is not a matter of finding the “seat” of such belief, but the circuitry that pushes that belief on us. You’re probably familiar with the Voltaire quote, “If God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” The “circuit” I’m talking about would the circuit that causes us to invent god. Finding such would be a major blow to religion.

        I have long thought that there could be an evolutionary basis for believe in god, since it does build community and generally keeps us from casually killing each other over french fries. The animal kingdom is almost as universal in lacking moral apprehension as the human kingdom is in having it.

        What that means remains an interesting question for now.

      • 0over0

        Very well. I think we will have to once more agree to disagree. For my whole system of philosophy is dependent on the belief in reason and principal–this being the faith part–regardless of what physical explanation we may find for those faculties. There are those who think that if we can find a physical “explanation” for everything that goes on inside of us, then we will have disproven the existence of a soul, but I find it most probable that there is indeed an physical phenomenon that can be associated with every one of our cognitive processes but that such a fact has no baring on the existence of a soul whatsoever. For a soul must be, by definition, something beyond the physical, which is, in some manner, embodied and expressed in the physical. Thus, there is no physical debate that has any effect of the notion of spirituality. Of course we should be able find a physical explanation for each of our physical processes, but what does that have to do with the possibility of a spiritual reality causing those “physical explanations” to be as they are.

        As for the recursion, it results from us using our minds to study themselves. Do you see what I’m getting at? The way we study the subject is effected by the very object that the subject is studying. It relates to the whole paradoxical issue of a “proof that disproves proofs.” Of course such a concept is total nonsense, and therefore, there must be some distinction between that and the use of the mind to study the mind, i.e. determining whether our beliefs our true based on what research accumulates from the study of the mind when that research itself is dependent on, at least some, of our beliefs being true. I don’t feel like this poses a serious blow to the study of the brain, but, if we are to make some abstract distinction, it may do so to the study of the mind. I don’t really have a strong feeling one way or the other on this, but I do think it’s worth considering.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        This explains why you started this discussion. You seem to be saying that, regardless of what science might ever show, you would persist in a belief that would not only lack evidence, but which would have evidence to the contrary. If so, fine, that’s your choice. I do find it odd that you so favor reason, since pure reason would suggest otherwise. If nothing else, reason suggests that the immaterial can have no connection with the material, which makes a “ghostly” soul problematic.

        Recursion: yes, I see what you’re getting at. I wouldn’t label it as recursion, but I’m not interested in another semantics discussion. The thing is that brain science and psychology use tools and methods that reduce the problem. Besides, isn’t philosophy the mind studying the mind? The problem of self-reflection can be overcome, is the point.

      • 0over0

        “You seem to be saying that, regardless of what science might ever show, you would persist in a belief that would not only lack evidence, but which would have evidence to the contrary.”

        That’s not it at all; I’m rather saying that such physical data is not in fact metaphysical evidence.

        I don’t see how reason suggests that the immaterial cannot cause the material. It seems reasonable to me that if there were a God, he/she/it would be the cause of everything, including the material “medium of existence,” and would therefore somehow exist on a higher level than it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I think you’re still missing what I’m saying, which is: What if science reaches the point of determining that (a) the universe is fully explained by physical causes and (b) the human mind has a “circuit” that (perhaps for evolutionary reasons) generates a strong tendency to believe in some kind of god.

        Under such circumstances, would you admit that god very probably does not exist?

        Your last paragraph about the material and immaterial is, I think, a key part of this whole discussion, so I’m going to start a new thread to see if we can nail down the exact places we agree and disagree. I’m going to present a series of numbered points, and I’m going to ask you to respond to each of them by number. I’ve come up with these points by going over the discussion so far and trying to extract what seems key.

        Please feel free to add any further numbered points you feel are important, and I will respond to each.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Let’s see if we can restart this. I’m going to ask you to respond to each point below by number. Feel free to add any new points you feel are important. Our ultimate goal is to reach a point where we either agree or disagree on each point. I will also suggest that we each keep this to a single thread of replies to help keep things straight.

    1. We agree that science is a method for attempting to understand how the physical reality works.

    2. We agree that science has a proven track record of success within its proper context (physical reality). Science, for instance, in roughly 500 years (since Galileo & Kepler) has taken us to the moon and beyond.

    3. We agree that philosophy is an important tool for attempting to understand the nature of existence.

    4. We agree that ‘pure philosophy’ means based on reason alone.

    5. Do we agree that reason is based on logic? Do we agree that logic is a sub-set of mathematics?

    6. I agree that normative (ethical or moral) philosophy can be a sub-set of pure philosophy (there are forms of ethical philosophy that do invoke empiricism, and there is pure philosophy that is not concerned with ethics).

    7. You wrote that, “The point is that all of the reasoning works on its own,” and this may be a key point of disagreement. I hold that reason can return false results. Reason (based on logic) is a method of constructing valid arguments. But logic fails if the inputs—the axioms—are false. Reasoning based on false axioms returns false results.

    8. You wrote that, “Physical science is great for rhetorical debates about God and the like, but it doesn’t really have a particularly strong bearing ultimately on what we should believe in that regard–for that we must turn to formal reasoning.”

    I agree that science isn’t useful when it comes to debates about god. I think attempts to prove (or disprove) god through science are misguided (at best), because god, if he exists, transcends the physical world of science.

    I disagree that formal reasoning can be successful in debating the topic of god.

    I do not think God cannot be proven through reason. Any rational argument in favor of god has an equally valid rational counter-argument. Such arguments and counter-arguments go back all the way to Aristotle and have not been resolved in over 2000 years of philosophical reasoning.

    9. You wrote that, “I don’t see how reason suggests that the immaterial cannot cause the material.”

    I reply: Because there is no basis in reality for such a belief. There is no factual case you can point to in order to support such a belief.

    10. You continued with, “It seems reasonable to me that if there were a God, he/she/it would be the cause of everything, including the material “medium of existence,” and would therefore somehow exist on a higher level than it.”

    Yes, that is reasonable, ***IF*** god exists. But it does nothing to support the putative existence of god.

    11. I believe our key disagreement is that rational argument can prove god. To me, belief in any metaphysics is an irrational belief, by which I mean it is not, and cannot be, based on any logical argument.

    Note that, as I mentioned before, I have my own irrational belief in a metaphysics, so I’m not making a claim that an irrational belief is necessarily ultimately wrong or bad.

    12. But such is a matter of faith and belief, not logic and reason.

    • 0over0

      1. Yes, but only within the physical domain
      2. Yes
      3. Yes
      4. Essentially
      5. Hm, I agree with the second of those, but as for the first, I might, personally, define logic as a subset of reason; though, this seems to make little difference.
      6. Right
      7. Ok, we’ll stick with your definitions of reason and logic. Right, there is such a thing, as you have described, as an argument that’s valid but not sound.
      8. “I do not think God cannot be proven through reason” did you mean the opposite of this?
      I think that within a given scope, objective reasoning can be done that can lead to very conclusive results that are hard to disagree with, assuming they are derived properly. The real rhetorical debating comes in trying to determine the best scope to base that reasoning off of. But, if I believe in logic, then I might be prone to using the logical scope for my argument, and while there may be disagreements as to what the “logical scope” actually is, those aside, if I am real meticulous about my work, I can come to an absolute answer whose truth is certain relative to its scope (my own errors aside).
      9. “I reply: Because there is no basis in reality for such a belief. There is no factual case you can point to in order to support such a belief.”
      Right, and so I think we must turn away from the empirical and towards ‘pure reason’ for such matters, and I can’t find any purely normative reason why such is an impossibility.
      10. Right
      11. I disagree. It seems to me that logic itself is metaphysical. It is real, but is not physical, so I don’t know what else one would call it. Sure you can relate physical processes in the brain to the act of thinking logically, but the logic itself is purely conceptual, not physical.
      I suppose this is a key point for me. Physics can only show us things in the physical world, but as most religions suggest and I believe, God is metaphysical, and therefore we must turn to the metaphysical in order to discuss him; that is, pure reason.
      12. Faith is so interesting. I don’t think of faith as the act of believing in spite of reason, but rather the act of believing and depending on the truth-hood of what your most honest mental lead you to conclude in spite of any lower desire that might cause one to want to do otherwise.

      Thanks so much for organizing this; sorry it took me so long to respond.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    I’m just replying to the points still open. Others are agreed upon by us both.

    5. As much of this discussion is based on reason, it might be good to see what that difference is (if any). If reason is a superset of logic, what do you feel reason has that logic does not?

    7. In view of any difference on #5, perhaps I should reframe this. We do agree that logic returns false results if the axioms or inputs are false. Is there a case where reason is still successful in light of false axioms or inputs?

    8. Yes, typo on my part. I meant, “I do not think God can be proven through reason.” (Thanks for catching that!)

    This, I think, remains a key point on which we disagree. In the context of, let’s call it, “logical reasoning” (or even “rational reasoning”), I absolutely disagree. As I mentioned before, for every such argument, there is a counter-argument, so there is no “winner.”

    And this is why it might be good to take a close look at #5; the ways reason might extend beyond logic. I think there is such a thing as, let’s call it, “human reason” that grounds itself in human experience and mind. Such reasoning cannot be proven or disproven, but amounts to a form of belief based on ones view of reality.

    For example, my view of reality intensely dislikes the idea that the universe just happened. I prefer to believe in a more teleological reality. Given that science has no answer one way or the other (yet), and given that science may never be able to answer the fundamental question, “Why?” or “What caused it all?” I am free to indulge in my view.

    But I don’t hold it as a rational belief. It is not logical reasoning so much as human reasoning. It is based on the awe I feel when I look at a starry sky. It is based on the love I can feel for someone. It is based on how I feel about reality.

    It may be that we’ll just have to recognize that we have different views on this!

    9. Right, and so I think we must turn away from the empirical and towards ‘pure reason’ for such matters, and I can’t find any purely normative reason why such is an impossibility.

    Okay, fair enough. Does experience count? Does the fact that no such case exists in the world we know (and can prove) not argue against the idea? Given an idea that is counter-factual to experience, the onus is on that idea to provide a rationale for its truth.

    To me, reason suggests that material things are part of the material world where science obtains. From a material point of view, the idea is impossible. Thus, the idea needs some grounding, some rationale, some explanation, to account for its possibility.

    11. It might be good to distinguish between meta-physical (non-physical) and metaphysics (a branch of philosophy dealing with existence). My statement about belief in a metaphysics had to do with the latter.

    Logic, which is a form of math, is meta-physical in the same sense as math is. You may be aware of Plato’s belief in a world of pure forms. There is, in the real world, no perfect circle or sphere, and pi, for example, never truly exists in our physical world, except as an idea.

    A common analogy I’ve heard is that math (and hence logic) is as real as are the rules of baseball. Which is to say entirely real. But math (and baseball rules) are an abstraction of the physical world. We look at real world circles and abstract from them the idea of a circle.

    Or we count our sheep or our coins and abstract the idea of counting, from which all mathematics springs. (A key unresolved issue in the philosophy of mathematics is which is more real: math or the real world! Aristotle took the “math is an abstraction of reality” view; Plato believed in a genuine meta-world of forms.)

    So I would not include math and logic in metaphysics (the philosophy), per se. Math (and logic) is very much a science even though it deals with abstractions. (There are some mathematical Platonists, but most are ultimately Aristotelian.)

    You wrote: “[A]s most religions suggest and I believe, God is metaphysical, and therefore we must turn to the metaphysical in order to discuss him; that is, pure reason.”

    I agree completely, except for that last word. That remains our difference. That’s not to say reason can’t be applied as a way of thinking about god. But the ultimate belief in god, at least for me, is an irrational belief.

    Which is not to say it’s bad (I have that same irrational belief). Some might argue that love is irrational. (And it’s certainly irrational that I continue to be a Minnesota Twins fan, but that’s love and loyalty for ya!)

    I’ll even go so far as to suggest that reason is the wrong approach to believing in god. Some theologians hold that (irrational) faith is a key element, that the belief is meaningless otherwise. (There’s a bit in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that touches on this. God is proved logically, but since god is dependent on faith, the proof causes the end of god. If you’re unfamiliar with the book(s), it’s very silly SF comedy informed by some genuine underlying philosophy.)

    12. I’m not quite sure I follow. Can you provide an example?

    For me, as I’ve mentioned above, faith is the act of believing in something you cannot prove. If you could prove it, either empirically or logically, then it isn’t faith anymore.

    (Welcome back to the discussion! I’ve got a busy day, so this will be the only reply I allow myself today. Feel free to answer whenever. I’ll be back maybe tomorrow, but certainly eventually.)

  • reocochran

    I recently in a lighter conversation with someone who said “God did not include life on other planets in the Bible.” Well, I answered, “My Dad was a very faithful follower of the Bible and God, would always say almost the EXACT words, Wyrd, that you said, “How BIG is your God?” Also, “God created the heavens and the Earth.” He even was a member of the Ancient Astronaut Society with Carl Sagan and Kurt VanDaniken (sp?) and they also were frequent talkers about why people wanted to make God finite and faith less open to all.

    He made us laugh when he died and had to have his life given back to him 4 years before chemo and cancer did him in. As he was pulled back to Earth from his Heaven, he said he went to Heaven in a space ship and went through a tunnel of light where warmth, love and his parents were. Very close to many people’s experiences. My very Christian aunt and uncle who sometimes thought Catholics, Buddhists and Episcopalians (my family) were going to Hell. (Yes, even told me that as a child as my mother had a glass of wine when my grandma died!) But they accepted my father’s story and stopped saying the words, “There is only ONE WAY to get to Heaven; accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and get immersed Baptism.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Indeed, the god that many people believe in seems a very unpleasant, unloving entity. I wouldn’t choose to worship such a god even if I was convinced he existed. Such a very small and very human god!

      • reocochran

        I think you are definitely open minded and I think that you have all you need with or without a god. I am content with my personal relationship with God and don’t profess to anyone (much) except that He gives me comfort. I understand more of the agnostic reasoning than the atheistic but again am fine with each person making their OWN choice on beliefs.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Good for you! I can’t add much to that; it’s right on the money!!

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