Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Making a distinction:

There is a difference between institutions and individuals.

There is a difference between Ray Comfort and CS Lewis.

There is a difference between Dr. Francis Collins and the leader of his church.

There is a difference between me and Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

There is a difference between Fred Phelps and Osama Bin Laden.

I’m sure you know this and now you know that I know it too, even if I haven't explicitly said it before. 

When I criticize ALL religions, or justifications for dogmatic beliefs than yes, I’m criticizing ALL religions. When I criticize a certain aspect of faith or dogma, I’m criticizing only those institutions or people that exhibit those aspects.

If I say Answers in Genesis* tries to teach people (primarily children) very poor science, even deliberately mislead them, then I’m talking about Answers in Genesis. If I say that institutions that teach creation science are teaching bad science then I’m talking about any institution, including Answers in Genesis*, including Living Waters**, including any other institution that teaches it, including publicly funded ‘private’ schools*** I am NOT talking about a mother telling her children that she believes in God and she doesn’t worry about reconciling the story in Genesis with carbon dating. I am NOT talking about a teacher that suggests that science doesn’t answer every important question, or points out the scientific knowledge is forever growing and changing. (Should that same teacher, representing the institution of public education, try to suggest that these things invalidate or call into question all scientific assertions, and their students should look to God instead, well now we have a problem)

So please, understand that I understand this. Please know that if I say that I disagree with a church’s stance on the issue of gay rights I am NOT leveling that criticism against every member of that church. How could I? I don’t know what their stance is. I don’t know what every person is thinking or why they choose what they do. Nor do I assume that I have it all figured out any more than anyone else. Now, does that mean that I have to give the same respect to all points of view? Certainly not. I don’t think that anyone will assert that I should. I should respect all people, as people - absolutely. But that’s not the same thing.

Do I give my mom’s opinion on string theory the same weight as say, Edward Whitten, Steven Hawking, or Sheldon Cooper - if she makes some strong points, I just might. If she says “I just know it has to be true”, then I am not as likely to respect her assertion as much as someone who can back it up with evidence and reasoned logic. There is such thing as an area of expertise. There is something of value in a carefully examined and well established position. There is a difference between “I believe this to be the case for reasons 1, 2 and 3 with these objective facts to support it” as opposed to “I believe it to be true, because of how it makes me feel to do so.” 

Does that mean every person has to defend their beliefs to me before I will respect them, no. Does that mean that I think everyone that is religious can’t make a reasoned argument for their faith? No. Do I think they should have to? No. Does someone have every right to think what they think, for whatever reason they want to think it? Of course! Do I respect them any less for doing so, No! BUT, neither do I have to respect the general mindset that faith should not be questioned or critically examined. Nor do I have to give equal weight to their assertions as well supported ones. AND when a group of similarly minded people try to influence public policy with those beliefs it’s not a private matter anymore. It’s affecting me and my family and you darn well better be able to defend it, logically and objectively without calling on a faith I don’t share.


  1. My point (again) is that you have an implicit assumption that someone who can/will argue, "I believe this to be the case for reasons 1, 2 and 3 with these objective facts to support it" has a "more carefully examined and well-established position" than someone who is simply not willing to discuss their position and decides to respond to an inquiry with "I just know it to be true."

    The latter is not necessarily less reasoned, examined, or established; it's simply less strongly argued. As you, I'm not arguing that those who push to teach creationism in schools are in the same position as someone who is private in their faith. However, I do think you're still mixing the two in your writings and assertions, though that is possibly unintentional.

    Since you brought up String theory (of which there happen to be many--there is not one unified String theory), let me ask you to defend quantum mechanics (because I won't ask anyone to defend the mathematics of String theory, which only a very few people fully understand and no-one has tested in the real world yet), assuming you are a proponent of QM.

    Why do you believe quantum mechanics to be an accurate representation of the way our universe behaves?

  2. No, I am NOT making the assumption that someone who is willing to critically examine their reasons for belief will always HAVE better reasons than someone who doesn’t. I also don’t assert that an assertion that sounds well supported, is. There are people who can sound quite competent when supporting hydroplane theory to prove the occurrence of a global flood and 6000 year old mountains/canyons. That doesn’t make their theory more valid because they try to support it with ‘logic’. It just means they are using bad logic. – check this one out..

    Sure, I’m going to listen a little more carefully to an assertion WITH supporting information than the same assertion based on feelings or intuition. Hydroplane vs. simple faith in the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Their points are equally invalid (in my opinion and the opinion of the vast majority of scientists.) but the former has at least tried to make an argument for it. that’s neither here nor there as far as I’m concerned, however. The important part is how we willingly we consider the evidence we are presented with.

    This is where MY point comes in. When a geologist starts to demonstrate the falsehoods in the hydroplane theory, dismantles their logic, if they honestly and seriously consider the evidence then they aren’t the subject of this discussion. When they say:

    ”It’s okay for you scientists to think that way BUT I put my faith first and the bible tells me your science is wrong. I don’t need to consider your evidence and logic. I’m going to stick with this hydroplane ‘theory’ no matter what you say.”

    That is when they lose credibility. That it when they demonstrate a intellectual dishonesty and inhibition of free thought. They aren’t saying I DON’T understand, they are saying I WON’T understand. They might as well be sticking their fingers in their ears and singing la, la, la. It doesn’t matter how well they present THEIR point. What I’m talking about, what I’ve always been talking about, is how openly we consider contradicting evidence.

    Quantum Mechanics? I am not a physicist, I never tried to say I was. I never used string theory or quantum mechanics as a foundation for any argument I have ever made for or against, anything. So my inability to intelligently discuss quantum mechanics has no bearing. If I ever said God exists (or doesn’t) and I can prove it using quantum mechanics THEN I should be willing to demonstrate some understanding of the subject. More to my point, if someone was trying to prove to me the existence of God and I said, I don’t understand QM, and I don’t want to – I still know there is no God, and you can’t prove to me there is. Then, I would refusing to consider my position critically.

  3. That having been said this is what little I understand about QM (bad science to follow).. it is used to understand and predict the behavior of atoms, atomic particles, (and some other stuff I’m sure). It has foundations in the observed property of ‘particles’ behaving like waves and ‘waves’ behaving like particles. I seem to remember Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and the double split experiment get involved in demonstrating that behavior duality. (Really I remember Heisenberg’s principle more because of a joke about a cop pulling him over and asking him if he knew how fast he was going. Dude! I took physics III but I’m more comfortable with relativity than QM) So anyway, these behaviors must be considered more like probabilities when trying to model or predict the behavior of said particles/waves…or something like that. Acknowledging that highly improbable event s are still possible (which is where we get most of the bad QM jokes and bizarre interpretations like, GM says the molecules above this bar stool could rearrange themselves into a golden retriever… and stuff like that). To say that I believe that QM accurately describes how the universe behaves would be a stretch considering how little I know about it. From class, and my own reading, I do know that those that DO understand it find it to be reliable and predictive.

    The point is I don’t know QM well, and I KNOW I don’t know it well. So I listen to the physicists that do, and I don’t hang any world view on it, place it in opposition to it. If I encounter someone that says they don’t understand evolution and so it doesn’t play into their world view, I can’t argue that they are refusing to consider contrary evidence. I would try to explain it to them because I’m pretty sure that it could be understood by just about anybody – but that’s beside the point. IF, however, they start parroting Ray comfort’s talking points, saying that we have no evidence of transitional species, or evolution must be wrong because there are still monkeys today, or we never see a croca-duck AND they refuse to listen to how their position doesn’t have anything to do with an understanding of evolution THEN they are demonstrating the behavior that prompted this discussion in the first place.

  4. In my first comment I wrote "Check this out" then forgot to post the link:

    Here's a vid that introduces the Hydroplate Theory:

    Here's a vid that criticizes the hydroplate theory: WARNING - Includes F-bombs.

  5. Alright, I'll try one final time.

    You say you don't understand QM, so I'll leave that one alone. I presume you would admit that you're familiar with nuclear power generation and could speak intelligently on that topic, and that it's important to our lives.

    If I asked you to explain how nuclear power generation works, you could explain it to me. You would explain fission to me, how a neutron accelerated to a high enough velocity can impart enough energy to a Uranium 238 nucleus to break it apart, which would start a chain reaction of newly-accelerated neutrons bombarding other U-238 atoms and releasing energy. You could go into a lot of detail about it.

    But, you would only be repeating theory taught to you by experts you trust. All of these experts' knowledge is also based on previous experts, and it all goes back to Fermi (well, further, but let's stop at him).

    You've never seen a uranium 238 atom, you've never seen a neutron, you've never seen such a chain reaction. You've seen what you believe to be the products of those reactions, in the form of heat, possibly a blue glow in a reactor formed by something called Cherenkov radiation, maybe you've seen pictures of the effects of radiation poisoning, maybe you've even seen first-hand the effects of such poisoning. But, do you really KNOW that these are all effects of something we call fission?

    I realize that you will argue that there's a preponderance of evidence that fission actually happens, but your knowledge of all of this is based on those who come before you and who you consider experts in this field; this field that was (basically) started by Fermi. You've never performed any of the experiments that could confirm or falsify your faith that nuclear fission exists.

    So, sure, you have reason (lots and lots, to be fair) to believe that fission is a real effect, but you have no realistic way of justifying your belief other than basing it on your trust in those who've taught you what you know. I know you would argue that reputation, repeatability, etc., are the hallmarks of a strong scientific theory. But YOU cannot personally repeat any of the experiments that have apparently convinced the nuclear physicists: you base your belief in fission on what you've been taught by those physicists.

    So, whose talking points are you parroting when you explain nuclear fission to me? How is this terribly different from others who have faith in their own particular Fermis?

    Now, I don't want, particularly, to hear about repeatable experiments unless you're the one repeating them. You won't convince me with reputation either: 83% of Americans claim to be religious; their faith is based, in part, on their trust in people who have a strong reputation for knowledge of whatever particular religion of which they are a member.

  6. "Faith is believing in something you know ain't so" Mark Twain. I don't think that's what you meant by it.
    One thing that makes me hesitate to admit to putting 'faith' in science, is that SO many people that have confronted me about my de-conversion ASSUMING that it was science that caused me to doubt. It wasn't. It wasn't the geologic record or ANY scientific assertion that started me doubting. It was my sense of morality.
    I DO admit to having 'faith' in science, but I think the reason why supports my original point. It is not the scientists I have faith in, it is the scientific process, BECAUSE IT IS SKEPTICAL and SELF CRITICAL. People refusing to accept evidence that challenged their faith BECAUSE it challenged their faith is where this discussion started. That was my objection. I don't think you disagree with that so I'm wondering what it is you are really trying to get me to concede here.
    It IS the results, the evidence and logic that convince me, NOT the character of the individual or emotional appeal of the theory. I don't have 'faith' in string theory(s) or quantum mechanics - I wouldn't even really try to defend them, cool as they are. I DO know that gravity works (Bill O'Riley, eat your heart out). I can't see how and I don’t have to. I see the EVIDENCE of it. I DO know that electricity works but I don't see electrons flowing. I DO know that washing hands reduces infections much more reliably than prayer. Which is why I DO know microscopic organisms cause infections, not the devil. I know atomic energy works. I don't see the atoms fission but I see the submarine powered for twenty years without refueling. Sure it could be something other than fission that's making it happen, the evil scientists could have trapped angels in that core and just called it fission so they don't have to admit they were wrong about God. We could say that about ALL of it. I'm going to go with fission. I'm betting you are too. So what are we arguing about?
    A case based on logic and evidence is better than one that isn't. The better the evidence and logic, the better the case. Agree or disagree?
    A willingness to critically consider the foundations of your beliefs (either in God or infectious diseases) is a much better way to learn and understand truth on those topics. Agree or disagree?
    You and I both know there is a vast difference in placing faith in the experts of their field and placing faith in people who argue against the evidence because they don't like what it may mean.
    The scientific process gets stuff wrong, sure. That's why peer review and critical examination is PART of the scientific process. This is why it supports my point. Science ASSUMES that it's going to get things wrong, that a theory is only good as long as it gets us to the next, better, or more complete theory. This is NOT how unalterable dogma works. THAT's the key difference. Religious dogma (generally) isn't trying to learn more about the world, and it certainly isn't looking to disprove anything about itself. Religious study is about developing a better understanding of what is already 'known;. Personal progress maybe, new knowledge, no.
    Science is expanding our knowledge while religion either adapts to that knowledge or inhibits it's progress. When the proof is irrefutable the church either adapts or it dies out. What of the flat-earth, or the earth centered universe that religion asserted must be and fought science on? Gone. Where is Zeus? Gone. Assur? Gone. Ra? Gone.
    I think you want me to concede that everyone has a right to their opinion, and their own way of justifying it. If so, then go back and re-read my other comments. I ABSOLUTELY agree with that. I think you find my words too aggressive and dismissive of other points of view. I hope that isn’t true. It’s not how I feel. Would YOU not agree that not every justification, or approach to understanding is equally sound? If not, why not?

  7. BTW: The neutrons are actually slowed down. To improve the probability that they will be absorbed creating the fission. At least that's how it works in slow fission reactors, which most American/DOD power production reactors are. Not important, and kinda petty really considering you let my hack job of QM slide...

    I know you said this was your last attempt with me. I appreciate your patience. I asked you some direct questions in my response but no worries if you want to be done. Thanks for sticking it out this long.


  8. 1) I do find your posts too aggressive and dismissive. I realize that's not your intent, but I think that more carefully examining your words and thoughts will get you further than you imagine.

    2) I think that when you make broad statements about religions, "dogmas", etc., even if you (parenthetically) disclaim that it doesn't apply to everyone, you are overstepping.

    3) Statements such as "Religious study is about ... [no new knowledge]" are patently and demonstrably wrong, not only because they are overly broad, but also because those statements create scary, faceless institutions (much as religious fundamentalists do to further their causes) and discount the individuals who are part of that group. People are at the heart of all studies, religious or scientific; some do it one way others do it another (etc., etc., etc.). Some make more sense than others, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to justify such a statement.


    5) "A willingness to critically consider the foundations of your beliefs (either in God or infectious diseases) is a much better way to learn and understand truth on those topics. Agree or disagree?"
    5a) I agree, but I could argue (successfully) that you are being too quick to conclude that because someone is religious they cannot have been open to a critical review of their beliefs. Whether you truly believe this or not is irrelevant--your words have been written in such a way that it is quite easy and perfectly justified to come to that conclusion.
    5b) I would disagree that "Truth" is attainable in any way, shape, or form. Neither science, nor religion will ever, ever, ever provide us with some perfect insight into anything.

    6) "Would YOU not agree that not every justification, or approach to understanding is equally sound? If not, why not?"
    6a) I would, BUT I would not agree that anyone should have to justify their private world views. I would not needle someone who says, "I don't care if they're incorrect or if He didn't exist, I still believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ." That's their choice. Similarly, it's your choice to believe that Quantum Mechanics is a valid description of our universe at the microscopic level, even if you don't really have a clue how the mathematics work; it's your choice not to learn more about it so that you can have a more intelligent conversation--you are also saying "I DON'T understand and I WON'T understand." I'm not here to needle you about your lack of knowledge in that particular field, I'm here to point out your logical and intellectual inconsistencies.

    7) I will strongly criticize anyone who is out there throwing their beliefs around, theistic, atheistic, or otherwise. Politicians, Billy Grahams, Phelps, Dawkins, etc., etc., etc., all invite criticism because they've decided to make themselves public figures, and they're ALL wrong when it comes to private beliefs.

    So, I say to you: Don't be so quick to hit the post button; re-read your posts; consider whether you truly mean to say "all" or paint with such broad brushes; consider whether you would jump on the author if it were written with the words "atheists", "agnostics", "non-religious", "scientists", "science", or etc., rather than the group, people, or whatever you've actually written...

    BTW, slow fission reactors generally utilize U-235 (or P-239), not U-238. U-238 is hardly fissible in the classic sense, and not at all in a slow fission reactor, so if you want to critique my nuclear energy paragraph, you should start at the beginning. ;)

  9. my last (hopefully)

    This seems to boil down to the following:

    1. We agree that being open to criticism and willing to critically consider the foundations of your beliefs/worldview is important for us to be able to be open to the truth of things. I’m NOT getting into the concept of objective vs. subjective truth, suffice it to say, I’m talking about physical/natural truths.
    2. We agree that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and their own way of reasoning/justifying their opinions. We also agree that no one is under any obligation to defend their position to me or anyone, else - with the possible exception of those that publicly assert their opinions.
    3. We agree that a thoughtful and well supported understanding of things is more convincing and more likely (not a guarantee) to be correct than that which is based on intuition and feelings.
    4. We disagree about what I’m saying, or more to the point, what I’m communicating. Let me quote myself:
    a. This post: “When I criticize ALL religions, or justifications for dogmatic beliefs, then yes, I’m criticizing ALL religions. But when I criticize a certain aspect of faith or dogma, I’m criticizing only those institutions or people that exhibit those aspects.”
    b. FB: “I take issue with any worldview ...that refuses to be critically examined, and held to the same standards of proof that we hold for everything else.”
    c. FB: “There are lots of people who seriously consider the same evidences I do and come up with different conclusions, this discussion isn't about them.”

    You seem to be demonstrating a persecution complex here in that you seem to be putting words or inferences into my statements that really aren’t there. I’m looking, I’m not seeing them.

    Here is what I DIDN’T say, or insinuate - EVER:
    a. “All religious PEOPLE refuse to critically examine their world view.”
    b. “All religious PEOPLE resist contrary evidence.”

    5. If there are generalized statements about religious dogma/organizations it is these.
    a. FB: “Dogmatic, faith-based belief structures resist disproof even by strong evidence BECAUSE they are faith based. They often dismiss those presenting counter evidence as 'worldly', 'capitalist', 'socialist', etc.”
    b. “Religious dogma (generally) isn't trying to learn more about the world, and it certainly isn't looking to disprove anything about itself. Religious study is about developing a better understanding of what is already 'known’. Personal progress maybe, new knowledge, no.
    Science is expanding our knowledge while religion either adapts to that knowledge or inhibits its progress.”

    I stand by these statements. Your Vatican Observatory is an observatory. (BTW ironic? Galileo, anyone?!?!) Religious organizations can fund research, they can be sincerely invested in the results, and they can even inspire scientific inquiry. That doesn’t make astronomy into theology. Religious study is not astrophysics. They may search for God in the science as this quote from your link suggests:
    "I am going to try to present in broad strokes what I think is some of the best of our modern scientific understanding of the universe, and then ask the question at the end: Did God do it?"
    — Fr. George V. Coyne. S.J

    When they are searching for new knowledge, it is science they employ.

    The closest to ‘new knowledge’ religious studies gets is in the form of new revelations from a modern day Prophet, or a Pope. Even this, I would argue, isn’t the pursuit of new knowledge it is the receipt of that knowledge with no ‘study’ associated. Joseph Smith didn’t receive the golden plates because he studied Mesoamerican history. He prayed for wisdom.