Templeton Redux

Not much more to say about the Templeton Foundation, but in the interest of open discussion it seems fair to point to a couple of alternative viewpoints. My original post was republished at Slate, where there are over 3300 comments thus far, so apparently people like to talk about this stuff?

For a more pro-Templeton point of view, here’s Jason Wright, explaining why he didn’t think it was wrong to take money from JTF. While he is a self-described atheist, he thinks that “questions like the ultimate origin of the Universe and Natural Law may be beyond scientific inquiry,” and correspondingly in favor of dialogue between science and religion. To be as clear as possible, I have no objections at all to dialogue between scientists and religious believers, having participated in such and planning on continuing to do so. I just want to eliminate any possibility that my own contribution to such a dialogue will favor any position other than “religion is incorrect.” (Obviously that depends on one’s definition of “religion,” so if you want to indulge in a boring discussion of what the proper definition should be — be my guest.)

From an anti-Templeton perspective, here’s Jerry Coyne, who doesn’t accept that it’s okay to draw a line between JTF itself and distinct organizations that take money from them. (Jerry’s post is perfectly reasonable, even if I disagree with it — but a short trip down to the comment section will give you a peer into the mind of the more fervently committed.) That’s fine — I admit from the start that this is a complicated issue, and people will draw the line in different places. But let’s admit that it is a complicated issue, and not pretend that there are any straightforward and easy answers.

One thing that seems to bother some people is that I agreed to be on the Board of Advisors for Nautilus, a new science magazine that takes funding from Templeton. It’s instructive to have a look at the Board of Advisors for the World Science Festival, another organization that takes funding from Templeton. It’s a long and distinguished list, and here are some of the names included: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss, Steven Pinker, Steven Weinberg. Are these folks insufficiently sincere in their atheistic worldview? Alternatively, would the world be a better place if they all resigned? I would argue not, for the simple reason that the WSF does enormous good for the world, and is an organization well worth supporting, even if I don’t agree with all of their decisions.

Refusing to have anything to do with an organization that takes money from a foundation we don’t like is easier said than done. What about, say, the University of Chicago? Here they’re taking $3.7 million from Templeton for something called Expanding Spiritual Knowledge Through Science: Chicago Multidisciplinary Research Network. And here’s $5.6 million from Templeton for a program labeled New Frontiers in Astronomy and Cosmology, celebrating “a unique opportunity to honor the extraordinary vision of Sir John Templeton.” And here’s $2.2 million for a program on Understanding Human Nature to Harness Human Potential. Not to mention that the UofC has quite a prominent Divinity School (home of the best coffee shop on campus) and Seminary. (They also denied me tenure, which doubtless set the cause of reason and rationality back centuries.)

There’s no question that the University of Chicago has done much more to promote the cause of religion in the world than Nautilus has — which has been, to date, precisely nothing. One could say, with some justification, that some parts of the UofC have promoted religion, while other parts have not, and it’s okay to be involved with those other parts. But we begin to see how fuzzy the line is. Big grants like those above generally put a fraction of their funds toward “overhead,” which goes into general upkeep of the institution as a whole. Can we really be sure that, as we walk across the lawn, the groundskeeping was not partially paid for by the pernicious Templeton Foundation?

But that doesn’t mean that self-respecting atheists employed by the UofC should instantly resign. I’m sure you could play the same game with most big universities. The world would not be improved by having thousands of atheist professors abandon their posts out of principle.

It’s much more sensible to be a consequentialist rather than a deontologist when it comes to these ethical questions. I’m not going to stay away from Nautilus, or the World Science Festival, or the Foundational Questions Institute, out of some fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine according to which they have become forever tainted by accepting money from Templeton. Rather, I’m going to try to judge whether these organizations provide a net good for the world; I will complain when I think they are making a mistake; and if I think they’ve gone too far in a direction I don’t personally like, I will disengage. That’s the best I think I can do, according to my own conscience. Others will doubtless feel differently.

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92 Responses to Templeton Redux

  1. Joan Hendricks says:

    Not sure if you are counting how many are “with you” and how many “against you” on this issue with Templeton, but if you are you can add me to those 100% “with you”.

    I’m a lifelong outspoken atheist and always appreciate scientists taking some time to try to explain how science is about finding facts and religion is about indoctrinated belief with no factual back-up.

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  2. Wes Hansen says:

    I posted the following on the wrong blog; I believe it is more suited to this new blog post. Please excuse my oversight.

    Science and religion share the same origin, mystery, hence, mysticism; as such they are classically entangled and absolutely resistant to decoherence. Both science and religion are generally ruled by priesthoods and both deny the fundamental (historical) role of mysticism. Unlike priests mystics don’t preach, rather, they wait and it would seem the waiting is over. Mystics are in the process of demonstrating the compatibility between science and religion and this process cannot be thwarted; its time has come!

    People who deny the compatibility of science and religion either don’t properly understand science, don’t properly understand religion, or some combination thereof. This being a scientific blog I’ll briefly discuss religion.

    Religious works, such as the Christian Bible, are esoteric texts; they’re written in the twilight language. Improperly translated (but sufficient for present purpose), the twilight language is the language of metaphor. This is to prevent harm befalling those who are not yet spiritually (mentally) evolved enough to handle the information contained therein. The relative truth underlying religious stories has been universally distorted. Some have done so with pure motive, i.e. to protect the knowledge and spiritual beings underprepared for that knowledge, and others with impure motive, i.e. in the pursuit of power and wealth.

    The Christian Bible was completely reworked after a Christian sect managed to convert Emperor Constantine (313 C.E.). Although this is controversial amongst historians it really shouldn’t be. The modifications were perfected and authorized during the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. The Christian sect which managed to convert Emperor Constantine took the name Catholic which, literally translated, means universal. Their objective, which becomes obvious in light of their name and their repugnant history, was world dominance, hence, their motive impure. And look at what they have become, a community of pedophiles and protectors of pedophiles.

    The forefathers of modern science, the alchemists, often spoke of turning lead into gold; this is a metaphor. It refers to the same process, a psychophysiological process, which Jesus Christ referred to when he metaphorically spoke of being twice-born, once of the flesh and once of the spirit (mind). Humans, spiritual (mental) beings, “fall” into a state dominated by the physical when born into this physical world. As such we are dominated by three primary concerns: physical survival; physical reproduction; physical dominance or will to power. The mystic dies to this physically dominated state and is “resurrected” or “born again” into the spiritual or mentally dominated state; this is a return to the enlightened point of origin, hence, a return to Source.

    There are different processes which all yield the twice-born state but religions are all founded on the stories of virgin mother/hero savior pairs. The virgin mother is a woman who has never compromised her heart, a woman pure of heart, i.e. Mary (Christian), Parvati (Hindu/Vedic/Tantric), White Buffalo Calf Woman (Lakota Sioux), etc. The hero savior is the male counterpart to the virgin mother; he sees the Source made manifest in the virgin mother (spiritual mother) and immediately falls in love. In the pursuit of that love he discovers the Source within himself.

    The journey to this realization is long and arduous and it can happen in a couple of different ways. There are three guardians at the gate to illumination: duty; fear of death; desire for life. The hero savior does whatever necessary in his personal context to overcome duty. Briefly thereafter he encounters the virgin mother and the mother immediately disappears from the hero’s life. After a period of nine months the hero is given a choice: accept the boon offered and leave the journey or continue. Heroes who accept the boon offered are somewhat common; those, like Jesus Christ, Shiva, Krishna, etc., who choose to continue, experience an additional period of spiritual growth terminating on the hero’s biological day of birth. This is the nadir of the mythological round. At this point it could be said that the hero is intellectually or philosophically enlightened and it is at this point that the hero goes to the cross. That is to say, it signifies the commencement of the supreme ordeal. The supreme ordeal is the confrontation with fear of death (reasonably easy to overcome) and desire for life (a real bitch).

    This journey is described rather well by the Arthurian Romances where the virgin mother becomes a chalice bearing the knowledge of everlasting life. In the Tantric tradition the virgin mother is the “ferry across the ocean of existence.” The ‘Lapsit exillis’ refers to the divine seed, the philosopher’s stone, the golden embryo. This physically resides in the hero’s prostate gland resulting in a physically dominated existence (think of the lower three chakras). The whole point of the journey is to transfer this “seed” to the pineal gland resulting in spiritual (mental) enlightenment (think of the upper three chakras). The heart chakra is the Gate to the Garden of Eden, so to speak. This knowledge is tens of thousands of years old. It represents one of the oldest recognized patterns in human history and informs the longest continuous scientific experiment in human history (the contemplative tradition).

    Consider the knowledge of Hermes Trismegistus as presented in the Corpus Hermeticum in a book called, interestingly enough, Krater or The Cup:

     “Tell me then, father, why did God not impart intellect to all men?
     It was his will, my son, that intellect should be placed in the midst as a prize that human souls may win.
     And where did he place it?
     He filled a great Krater with intellect, and sent it down to earth; and he appointed a herald, and bade him make proclamation to the hearts of men, ‘Dip yourself in this Krater, you who are able; you who believe that you will ascend to him who sent this Krater down.’ Now they who gave heed to the proclamation and were baptized in intellect, those men got a share of gnosis.”

    The Krater is the virgin mother! Women do not have such a vast chasm separating the profane from the divine; the Golden Embryo is already, for the most part, resident in the pineal gland of women. This is why their prostate gland (Skene’s gland) is so miniscule! Woman is the Tree of Life; Man is the Tree of Good and Evil. In woman the opposites are, for the most part, harmonized – think of it as complete symmetry. For after all, both the river of life (ovulation) and the river of death (menstruation) flow from their bodies. The masculine creative principle (sperm) unites with the feminine creative principle (egg) within the bodies of women bringing forth new life! This is why the virgin mother leads the hero savior on his journey of spiritual (mental) enlightenment.

    When the journey is successfully completed the virgin mother and the hero savior are united in holy matrimony; this is the origin of marriage. The virgin mother and the hero savior are soul mates; they represent the scale-free binary pattern permeating all of existence, the solar physical and the lunar mental.

    For the last 400+ years science has concentrated on the solar physical. The transition now taking place will include the lunar mental. All of existence, including the Multiverse, has both a mental and a physical component. Mystics take this for granted but priests tend to refute it. But then mystics are enlightened, priests tend not to be.

    I commend the Templeton Foundation for the work they’re doing. For certain esoteric knowledge, the historical basis of both religion and science, deserves a seat at the table; the table is, after all, round! Esoteric knowledge is knowledge of the absolute; scientific knowledge is knowledge of the relative; a comprehensive understanding should include both. This is the Buddhist Theory of Two Truths. His Holiness the Dalai Lama (a recipient of the Templeton Prize), working in conjunction with Emory University, is integrating a math and science curriculum into the standard fare utilized by his monks and nuns (http://scienceformonks.org/). Watch the documentary The Yogis of Tibet (http://www.theyogisoftibet.com/) and then imagine the yogis therein with a full working knowledge of math and science!

    You know, the only research program adversely affected by your refusal to accept Templeton funds is your own – it’s something to ponder!

    Some other things to ponder:

    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html
    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2006/02/meditation-found-to-increase-brain-size/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thich_Quang_Duc

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  3. Ron Murphy says:

    I guess Templeton want scientists also for the philosophy of them being ‘inside pissing out rather than outside pissing in’. Perhaps they don’t worry about scientists being inside pissing inside.

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  4. Meh says:

    DENIED YOU TENURE?! those dirty sons of bitches!

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  5. Just a reminder that one can be a “self-respecting atheist” without thinking that all religion is a social evil, or recoiling in horror at activities perceived as “promoting religion”.

    The idea of an “atheistic worldview” that requires knee-jerk hostility toward religion is an unhelpful canard. So is your preferred definition of religion, according to which religion is “incorrect”.

    Religion can be studied as a set of social behaviors or as a symbol system used in moral discussion and the raising of children. To regard it solely or even primarily as a set of beliefs about the natural world is to miss most of its phenomenal reality. Sorry to be boring!

    I don’t like Templeton, because they promote the idea that religion aims at knowledge. I wish they would divert their resources toward fighting fundamentalism, which is the only real problem underlying all these controversies.

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  6. Doc C says:

    I find it fascinating that this entire string is about the use of money to promote a preferred way of thinking. Isn’t that one of the biggest problems that arises from organized religion? If atheism and faith are different ways of appreciating the world, and different ways of negotiating it, then there is no right answer to the question of which is better, and really the only time of them is objectionable is when dogma determines action, rather than honest negotiation. It is a personal and environmental decision as to whether faith or atheism works better for an individual’s cognitive style. If the question is whether religion or naturalism are more correct, the answer depends on the question being asked.

    This entire debate is not about whether atheism or faith is better, it is about the political and financial promotion of one point of view over another, i.e. religion as a social promoter of certain beliefs, as opposed to secular groups undertaking such promotion. Does it really matter where the money originates if it serves a purpose? Does JTF ac5tively promote one way of thinking over another?

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  7. Monty S says:

    Agree with this blog post – just commenting on your blog to say how much I appreciate reading your thoughts and to say how I noticed your great contribution to this BBC documentary on Richard Feynman: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p016d3kk/The_Fantastic_Mr_Feynman/

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  8. Charles LaCour says:

    RE: Wes Hansen I completely disagree.

    If you look at religion at a very general level yes you can reconcile it with science it is when you get to the details of what it means that you run into problems. The idea that the mind of a Mystic can understand reality by just thinking and experiencing is predicated on the idea that the human conscious is transcendent to begin with which basically turns these argument into tautologies.

    I agree that the origins of the motivations for religious and scientific inquiry come from the same need to understand and put meaning to things. Just because two ideas com from the same need doesn’t mean that they are equally valid.

    By saying that science is ruled over by a “priesthood” is laughable. Yes you do need to make s study of the related material but anyone who can support their clames can overthrow an entrenched idea in science but in religion and mysticism even if you are well versed in the subject you are dismissed and labeled an outsider and in some areas possibly killed.

    The biggest difference in Religion/Mysticism what ever you want to label it is the approach to what we “know”. Religion places pure thought, faith and belief as the arbiter of truth and knowledge. Science places repeatable observation and experimentation in the place of criteria for what is valid or not.

    I find the argument that you need to be religiously mature enough to understand various writing like the Hebrew, Christian bible an empty and self fulfilling argument. It is basically the sam as saying if you really understood it you would agree with me so since you disagree you must not understand it.

    Having studies a number of religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity I do not see any truths coming out of them that don’t exist in secular contexts. They are all basically philosophic attempts to explain the world as it is through thought and conjecture placing the final definition of reality beyond our physical world making it by definition unknowable and untestable.

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  9. vmarko says:

    Sean,

    I don’t quite understand such level of enthusiasm in claiming that “religion is incorrect” that you appear to be engaging in every now and then. Have you ever studied religion seriously enough to consider yourself competent for such a strong and sharp claim?

    I remember a conversation that I once had with a wanabee-scientist (i.e. a crackpot) about general relativity, and some of his claims that there is a better theory (soon to be developed from his ideas). At one point he said something on the lines of “I certainly don’t need to take a course on general relativity in order to conclude that it is incorrect, it is quite obvious!”, after which I saw no point in continuing the conversation.

    While I am not a person who blindly follows authority, I would take your claim that religion is incorrect much more seriously if you actually had a degree in theology (do you?). Otherwise, you can easily come across as a “theological crackpot”, claiming that all religion is garbage without actually knowing what you are talking about. If that happens, people will stop taking your claims seriously. Why do you risk getting yourself into such a position?

    Best, :-)
    Marko

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  10. Charles LaCour says:

    Marko: When religions make statements that have direct effects on the physical world they can be compared against scientific theory as well as tested. The statements that have supposed quantifiable real world results violate many ideas in physics and those that have been tested have all failed.

    Sean is just applying the same skepticism for fairies and elves to religion. I do not have to be an expert in the mythos of fairies and elves to without hesitation say that there are no and have never been fairies and elves.

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  11. vmarko has expressed my main motivation for harassing Sean: it makes scientists look bad when they seem ignorant of a wealth of empirical data on some phenomenon (here religion) about which they keep making assertions. Reducing religion to a theory about the natural world ignores the research of generations of naturalistic scholars, as well as the everyday experience of millions, even if it does express the view of some polemical atheists.

    Religious language is poetic and transactional, and reading poetry literally shows a lack of education.

    Charles LaCour: The point is not that one needs to be an “expert” in religion to evaluate it. One only needs some familiarity with the vast range of religious phenomena that don’t depend on supernatural beliefs, and with the large number of religionists who have explicitly renounced the literal interpretation of myths and legends. You don’t have to be an expert to know that Buddhists are atheists, for example; but you do have to know something.

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  12. vmarko says:

    @ Charles:

    “When religions make statements that have direct effects on the physical world they can be compared against scientific theory as well as tested.”

    I know of no such statements, at least unless they are very badly misinterpreted. The tricky thing about religion is that one can easily fall into a trap of interpreting statements literally (things like “god created the world 6000 years ago”, or such). It is similar to situations when a cosmologist says in a popular lecture “the universe was created by a big explosion of a primordial egg of matter”, and the audience starts imagining a hot chicken-sized egg sitting in empty space and exploding at some moment.

    This situation is particularly bad in the US, with all the Protestant congregations and churches having each their own interpretation and understanding of what Christianity is supposed to be, and even encouraging people to interpret the Bible themselves. It leads to a big messy mix of religion, superstition, prejudices and sheer human stupidity. I can certainly understand Sean and you (and many others) not bothering to disentangle that mess. But claiming that religion is incorrect only because some people have mixed it with a bunch of bullshit is flat out wrong.

    Every major religion has a serious, proper interpretation (sometimes more than one, like interpretations of quantum mechanics :-) ), and this is often quite non-obvious. This requires to be thoroughly studied before one can claim that religion makes testable predictions about the physical world. I am not familiar with any religion that makes such claims.

    “Sean is just applying the same skepticism for fairies and elves to religion.”

    This is just a consequence of ignorance. Religion can be compared to fairy-tales as much as theoretical physics can be compared to astrology and alchemy. It is like stating that all of theoretical physics is a bunch of garbage because planets certainly cannot have any influence on my faith through my birthdate. Is that a fair assertion? Hey, I am applying skepticism to theoretical physics, like you apply it to religion. :-)

    This is usually done by people who do not distinguish religion from superstition, magic, and such.

    “I do not have to be an expert in the mythos of fairies and elves to without hesitation say that there are no and have never been fairies and elves.”

    You are rephrasing the same line of thought as the crackpot scientist I talked to: “I certainly don’t need to take a course on general relativity in order to conclude that it is incorrect”. On the contrary, you *do* need to have a reasonable amount of knowledge about the myths of fairies and elves, if you want to discuss them seriously. At the very least you need to understand the terminology, definitions and main assertions about them (and maybe some history, interpretations of myths, usage in popular culture, etc.), before proceeding to draw conclusions about them.

    In short, do some research on the topic before you start making claims about it.

    Best, :-)
    Marko

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  13. Meh says:

    vmarko,

    scientific evidence proves that history according to religion is false. There are certain religious historical claims that directly violate history as it is described by science. You are put in a situation of having to choose 2 versions of history; history as it is described by science or history as it is described by religion. Science also explains away many of the pillars of religion. You stopped listening to the crackpot because he had zero evidence to support his claim that relativity was incorrect. There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that religion is incorrect. The first and most recited being the timeline of religious events (through various religions) and what we find using scientific measurement not matching any of them. The age of the earth for example. If you’re a cosmologist, you would obviously not believe in something that directly violates some of the fundamental ideas in your field.

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  14. Meh says:

    Show me a cosmologist that believes the earth is 9,000 years old and I’ll show you one of the many fine employees of Lense Crafters.

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  15. vmarko says:

    @ Meh:

    “There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that religion is incorrect. The first and most recited being the timeline of religious events (through various religions) and what we find using scientific measurement not matching any of them. The age of the earth for example.”

    Have you ever read the tale of the three little pigs and a big wolf? I’m sure you know the story — the first pig made a house out of grass, the other out of wood, and the third out of brick. The wolf would come, say something like “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house away!”, and would blow off the grass house and the wood house, but was not able to blow off the brick house.

    The story has a very important point, and children are being taught about it all over the world, in virtually all primary schools, for a very good reason.

    And then you come around and say that the story is dead wrong and should be dismissed, since nobody has ever saw a pig making brick houses, nor a wolf that can talk and blow strong wind. Sure, of course, technically you’re completely right. In addition, you have also completely missed the point of the story.

    There is this thing called “allegory”, and it is heavily used in religious texts. And for a good reason. But I guess nobody around here knows *why* religious texts are written purposefully allegorically. And that is the crux of my question to Sean — some people have actually bothered to *study* the concept of religion, and know that allegory has a very important role in expressing ideas. Allegories are being used in almost all aspects of human life (except in science), and ignoring them as a way of expression is just… well… ignorant! :-)

    “If you’re a cosmologist, you would obviously not believe in something that directly violates some of the fundamental ideas in your field.”

    I am actually engaged in an area of physics which is as closely related to cosmology as it can get (without actually being cosmology). But if you have ever read some serious text discussing how the Book of Genesis in the bible should be understood, you would never even try to compare its contents to cosmology. Apples and oranges stuff… ;-)

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

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  16. Meh: The Bible contains myth, legend and history. Most of what’s in Genesis is myth and legend, so it’s pointless to treat it as history or scientific hypothesis (“age of the earth”). Some books like Kings contain numerous elements of historical truth; of course miraculous elements are added, and also they sometimes get things wrong. It’s not at all a question of “two versions of history”, merely of ancient documents and how to evaluate them. But first you have to quit confusing myth and history. Yes, the ancients often confused them. Can’t we be smarter?

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  17. Lord says:

    “The world would not be improved by having thousands of atheist professors abandon their posts out of principle”

    Are you so sure of that? Sounds like a religious belief to me.

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  18. Chance says:

    I need to buy some of your books, you’re such a lucid writer and thinker. Well said in this post, I agree 100%

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  19. Neil says:

    If Templeton puts restrictions on the prize money–say, that you have to promote the view that science and religion are compatible–and you agree and accept, then you could be criticized as selling out. But if there are no restrictions and you can use the money to promote views opposite to those of Templeton, what is there not to like? Deontologist ethics often seem to involve shooting yourself in the foot.

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  20. Peter says:

    As long as your writing remain as rational as it is now then I don’t have a problem who you work for – within reason :)

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  21. Meh says:

    vmarko,

    I respect your position, but you’re changing the subject in order to avoid the fact that there is a clear cut reason why Sean says “religion is incorrect”…because religion is factually incorrect. That’s the answer to your original statement I commented on. You’re line of reasoning can basically be summed up as:

    vmarko: I would take your claim that religion is incorrect much more seriously if you actually had a degree in theology (do you?)
    meh: (butting in) he makes that claim because it is proven incorrect with overwhelming evidence. Either religion is correct or science is correct in many instances.
    vmarko: oh no no, you misunderstood, I was talking about something different from than the factual integrity of religion when I said…”I don’t quite understand such level of enthusiasm in claiming that “religion is incorrect” that you appear to be engaging in every now and then. Have you ever studied religion seriously enough to consider yourself competent for such a strong and sharp claim?”

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  22. Meh says:

    parables may be allegory, and allegory may be used as the cover for the blatant faults in religious logic in modern times; but what’s the excuse for all those years religions claimed they were 100% factual stories (aside from mentioned parables)? i.e. history before 1950 A.D.

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  23. To those who claim that the Bible should not be taken literally, I submit the fact that it was until it started to conflict with science.

    Metaphor? Allegory? Metaphor or allegory for what?

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  24. Meh says:

    And if a person needs a degree in theology to truly understand religion, then that means anyone who isn’t a theologian doesn’t understand it. By that logic, religion is a waste of time which most people don’t understand and should abandon. The reason why we should completely abandon religion becomes obvious if it’s purpose is to guide followers through life; because its’ meaning is lost if you aren’t a theologian! It is thereby completely ineffective in its purpose unless you dedicate your career to it.

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  25. N. says:

    @vmarko:

    You quite amuse me by putting the Three Little Pigs story and religions into the same pot.

    Because you are right, you see.

    :)

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  26. N. says:

    And to equate theoretical physics with religion is stupid, IMHO.

    Nobody says that you shall go to hell if you don’t accept ST.

    Although there are some who would very much like to send you there.:)

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  27. Meh says:

    N.

    We aren’t talking about theoretical physics or string theory or comparing religion to any science. We are talking about every branch of science being fundamentally incorrect if religion is assumed to be correct. There is no possible way around it; either science is correct which makes religion incorrect by default, or religion is correct which makes science incorrect.

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  28. I’m a science fan. I continue to be dismayed by other science fans getting their facts wrong! It’s utterly incorrect to say that all religionists were literalists before 1950, or before 1600. Philo promoted allegorical readings of the Bible 2000 years ago. The Talmud is full of such readings. Maimonides wrote a book in the 12th century giving non-literal meanings for every key term. Ever hear of Spinoza? How about an example of someone saying “Don’t take it literally, it’s the morality that matters” 2800 years ago? That would be Hosea and Amos. Then there was a teacher named Jesus who emphasized the same points.
    Philip Helbig: Metaphor for MORALITY. Got it? (And by the way, millions of people know the answer to this question. No degree in theology is needed. Only those who remain willfully ignorant on the subject could ask it.)

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  29. One more point that seems too obvious, yet folks like Meh can’t seem to get it: religious literature can only be “incorrect” if it is taken literally. But it isn’t intended that way, nor is it understood that way by many of the most respected religious authorities. The narrative in your head about all religionists being literalists, at least until 1950, is a made-up fairy-tale.

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  30. Meh says:

    Gabe,

    that simply isn’t true. There have been a handful of people here and there until around the 1950s ( I think that’s actually pretty generous, because it’s more like the 1990s ). If you don’t want to accept that then you don’t want to accept it, and there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind. But I will argue that even today, 90% of those who are religious take their religion to be a literal translation. We see less of that attitude in 1st world countries where education is considered mandatory, but in places like India, Mexico, Brazil, most of Africa and the Middle East, etc… it is taught as a literal word for word translation of events thought to be factual accounts. Most Americans who are part of a religion take it to be a literal translation as well.,

    To say that it is not intended to be taken literally is to continue the long tradition of religious manipulation via lies and ignorance. Since you’re naming historical figures, how did things turn out between the Catholic church and Galileo? how about Copernicus? You conveniently forgot them. Religious organizations treated the founders of science so poorly simply for their ideas because they ever so slightly questioned a few of the literal translations of the bible. To say that religion has never been taken literally is to be either completely ignorant of history or willfully deceptive.

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  31. Meh says:

    To correct my previous statement; to say that religion was never intended to be taken literally is either completely ignorant of history or willfully deceptive.

    I would also say that using a fictitious biblical figure such as Jesus in order to support the idea that the bible was not intended to be taken literally is an extremely irrational argument rooted so deeply in irony that it leaves me bored with the entire debate.

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  32. vmarko says:

    @ Meh:

    “I respect your position, but you’re changing the subject in order to avoid the fact that there is a clear cut reason why Sean says “religion is incorrect”…because religion is factually incorrect.”

    Religions, or more precisely the religious teachings, have never even claimed to be factually correct. I completely agree with you that — if you are interpreting religion as having a factual integrity — it is completely wrong. Religious teachings never claimed factual integrity in the first place. But when Sean says “religion is incorrect”, it is a much broader statement than “religion taken at face value and interpreted literally is incorrect”. I completely agree with the latter, but completely disagree with the former. And when Sean makes such a vague but sharp claim, a lot of people are going to misunderstand him, either by interpreting his words as “science has proved that god doesn’t exist”, or as “Sean is a crackpot and doesn’t have a clue what religion is actually about”. Or something in between these two extremes. In most cases, Sean’s statement will come across in a wrong way. My question to Sean is why isn’t he a bit more careful in such statements.

    So no, it’s not me changing the subject, it’s you over-specifying Sean’s original claim.

    “but what’s the excuse for all those years religions claimed they were 100% factual stories (aside from mentioned parables)?”

    The religious teachings have never claimed factual correctness. The problem was that laypeople sometimes interpreted religion in that way, given the absence of better explanations regarding natural phenomena (back in previous centuries). When science developed enough to provide answers to most of the questions about nature, some of those people gave up literal interpretation and went back to the initial proper teachings, while others decided to stick to a (fundamentalist) literal interpretation. And because of that, today you have a messy mix of all sorts of stuff that people around the world believe in. But if you ever bother to take a serious scholarly book on religion, you will find out that there was never any aim at factual integrity and correctness, or explanation of natural phenomena. You will find out that the only topic religion is talking about is human relations. Religious teachings are about morality, human psychology, social behaviour, and such. Not about facts of nature.

    “And if a person needs a degree in theology to truly understand religion, then that means anyone who isn’t a theologian doesn’t understand it. By that logic, religion is a waste of time which most people don’t understand and should abandon.”

    I claim that most people on this planet don’t understand most of physics. Should physics be abandoned because of that? Moreover, is physics incorrect because most people don’t get it right?

    “The reason why we should completely abandon religion becomes obvious if it’s purpose is to guide followers through life; because its’ meaning is lost if you aren’t a theologian! It is thereby completely ineffective in its purpose unless you dedicate your career to it.”

    The purpose of the institution called “church” is to help laypeople understand religious teachings better. That’s what preachings are for, that’s what rituals are for, that’s what all “religious practice” is for.

    A physics-undergraduate learns physics by (a) reading textbooks, (b) visiting lectures given by experts (from popular science lectures to more serious and sophisticated courses), and (c) solving exercises from problem-books and doing homework problems (given by teachers). In the same way, a religiously uneducated person should (a) read scholarly books about religion, (b) visit lectures given by experts in theology (from elementary preachings to more sophisticated serious lectures), and (c) practice religious way of life (through rituals, services, and implementation of religious guidelines in daily life). Given enough time, proper religious teachings can be learned.

    Of course, this process is never perfect — a lousy lecturer will produce lousy students, whatever the topic. :-)

    But not understanding religious teachings from the get-go doesn’t mean that it loses the point. Priests are usually somewhat more knowledgeable about religion than laypeople, and their job is to help people understand religion better. It’s similar to what Sean and other popularizers of science are doing — helping laypeople understand physics a bit better. Priests have the analogous duty. //N.B.: Discussing how good priests are in communicating religion to people is an entirely different topic… ;-) //

    “To say that it is not intended to be taken literally is to continue the long tradition of religious manipulation via lies and ignorance. Since you’re naming historical figures, how did things turn out between the Catholic church and Galileo? how about Copernicus? You conveniently forgot them. Religious organizations treated the founders of science so poorly simply for their ideas because they ever so slightly questioned a few of the literal translations of the bible. To say that religion has never been taken literally is to be either completely ignorant of history or willfully deceptive.”

    I think you got this the wrong way around — the people who *did* take religion literally were manipulative liars and oppressors of freedom of thought. Religious teachings have often been abused by such people. But this is a problem with people abusing religious institutions to gain (or maintain) political power, rather than the religious teaching itself. What you are saying sounds like we should abandon the knowledge of nuclear physics because some idiots (ab)used that knowledge, made nuclear bombs and killed a lot of innocent people. If you have a problem with miss-application of religious teaching, go fight the people who are miss-applying it, rather than fighting the concept of religion itself. I completely agree that religious fundamentalism has brought more evil than good, but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon religion altogether, or claim that it is incorrect. It just means that we need to help people get better education in what religion is really about.

    Getting back on topic, I see the Templeton foundation trying to do precisely that — get experts in both theology and science to educate laypeople about both religion and science. On the other hand, Sean is dismissing all that and favours the fundamentalist approach of “religion is incorrect”, trying to abolish the concept of religion altogether, without bothering to seriously understand what he is talking about. He is dangerously close to being interpreted as a crackpot. I don’t understand why he does this — being a serious scientist that he is, I am sure he knows to do better than that.

    Best, :-)
    Marko

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  33. Charles LaCour says:

    Gabe Eisenstein: What emperical data? I have yet to see any emperical data that conclusivly shows religion as an accurate explination for observations.

    Just because millions of well educated people believe that Mohammed accended into heave on a whinged horse doesn’t make it true. No does the experiences of millions of people who have seen/felt ghosts or had out of body near death experiences make them real either.

    Language can be poetid regardless if it is religius or secular. Just because somthing is said poetically dosen’t make it any truer than anything else.

    Unfortunately after an atheist shows some knowledge about religion often the argument given by a believer to an atheist basically boiled down to: you don’t understand because if you did you would believe.

    Saying “Buddhists are atheists” is like saying “Christinas belive that the earth is less than 10000 years old”, only partially true. I will agree that Buddism started as a atheistic philosophy and portions of Biddism are stil that way but there are portions of Buddism that believe in the idea of celestial bodhisattvas that are incarnations of the Buda that have achieved enlightenment but refrain from completly trancentding samsara to help others on the path of enlightnment. How is this any differnt than having gods?

    vmarko: I am not referring to the literal errors in religious doctrinal literature, these can be explained away by saying that they are just allegorical tales. What I was referring to are that most religions are theistic and have a god that is present and active in our world. Because of this they make claims that their god(s) have an effect on and interact with the natural world. These effects are contrary to what what is defined by physics. This has nothing to do with extraneous stuff added to the bible and other pieces of religious literature.

    For someone who is already a believer in religion of course you see a difference from fairy tails. However at a time much later than when the Hebrew or Christian bibles were written people had stories about fairies that they believed and offerings were placed to keep fairies happy and keep them from causing mischief just like many polytheistic religions. We have moved forward enough to understand the actual causes and not have to believe in fairies. Both make assertions that things occur in the real world caused or controlled by entities that have super-natural abilities over the natural world of which there is no evidence supporting either of them.

    You are blowing my statement out of proportion, I am not saying that I don’t need any information about the subject to dismiss it I just don’t need to be an expert on the subject to evaluate its claims.

    By the way I have studied religion, I was born into a fairly devout Roman Catholic family and went to 12 years of catholic school. This experience is what started my questioning of religion and my looking into religions other than Christianity. I have looked at Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, a little bit of Hinduism as well as a couple forms of Pagan religions.

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  34. mean and anomalous says:

    To Wes Hansen: you’re already wrong by the 1st sentence of the 2nd paragraph…

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  35. Meh says:

    vmarko,

    That’s a lot of responses to give to a lot of convoluted arguments that seem to contradict your original statement. You say I’m over-specifying the original statement I say you’re applying it in too broad of a context, that you’ll twist words into whatever pretzel helps support you’re beliefs. I could twist the words of General Relativity to mean anything I want them to if I stick to the words, just like religious “teachings”. With that in mind, I’m done. I’m either too lazy or too busy…alright, too lazy. Until next time bud.

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  36. Mark says:

    Let’s not be naive, or even worse, obtuse. Religion is about believing in a powerful, perhaps omnipotent being who created the world and us, too, and who controls everything and if you meet certain criteria, you will live forever. Philosophy is not a critical part of religion; belief in the supernatural is. So in that respect, it is perfectly acceptable for Sean to say that religion is wrong, because it is wrong in its defining aspect.

    And, Sean, the judging any organization of system of beliefs on the basis of whether it provides a net good for the world is, in my view, the ideal. That’s the way I judge religion. If some religious organization or system of beliefs provides a net good, I do not object to it, even if I do not follow it.

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  37. Tim says:

    vmarko,

    I’m trying to understand your position. So far as I can tell, it is:

    1) any apparently factual claim in the Bible concerning the physical/material world should not be understood literally, because it was never intended by those who wrote the Bible to be understood literally.

    2) somewhere along the way people forgot this, and started interpreting the Bible as intending to describe real truths about the physical/material world.

    I have some follow up questions:

    1) Does this intention to be understood non-literally also apply to the metaphysical claims the Bible makes? E.g. when the Bible speaks about the continuation of people beyond their physical deaths, should that be understood literally or non-literally? or is it only that which might actually be open to the purview of science?

    2) How many people at the beginning of Christianity took a non-literal view of the Bible concerning natural-world factual claims? As a rough percentage. So if you were an early Christian listening to Paul give a sermon, how likely would it be that you would understand anything he said that relates to worldly events as allegorical vs actual?

    3) Was the Bible still inspired by god in some way, even though only allegorical when it comes to the physical facts? But if the answer is yes, why didn’t god just speak plainly about the physical facts of the world?

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  38. vmarko says:

    @ Mark:

    “Religion is about believing in a powerful, perhaps omnipotent being who created the world and us, too, and who controls everything and if you meet certain criteria, you will live forever. Philosophy is not a critical part of religion; belief in the supernatural is. So in that respect, it is perfectly acceptable for Sean to say that religion is wrong, because it is wrong in its defining aspect.”

    Actually, I can agree that a critical aspect of religion is the belief in supernatural. It is not the *only* aspect of religion, but it certainly is essential and crucial.

    However, can you elaborate on what is the problem with this? In what sense (and why) do you consider belief in supernatural to be *wrong*? Please define what do you mean by “wrong” in this context. Also, you could define what you mean by “supernatural” while you’re at it. :-)

    If I am anticipating your answer correctly, I’ll be able to give you one very funny consequence of the definitions of “wrong” and “supernatural”.

    Best, :-)
    Marko

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  39. Riccardo says:

    Hello! I would like to try to point out a couple of things:
    1) Religion is not about facts regarding the physical world, i.e., it is not about science. This stems from the fact that a literal interpretation of religious works is complete nonsense, as @vmarko correctly underlined. Religious works were not compiled as investigations of the empirical world, but as representations of the human experience. That religious works have been interpreted literally can be explained by a number of factors (most notably ignorance or politics), but this does not mean the literal interpretation is correct.
    2) Religion is allegoric, as @vmarko points out, but this does not mean that it can be interpreted arbitrarily. Poems are allegoric and thus require interpretation, but this does not mean that any interpretation will do; an interpretation is an act of engagement with the text, so that that text can come be understood by us, i.e., so that we can gather the meaning of the metaphors and poetic language which underlies it. And this is not an arbitrary process, as anyone who has read any poem knows.
    3) If one holds the naturalistic view that the real is exhausted by the “material”, i.e., by what can be investigated empirically by means of experiment, then I think one certainly ought to reject religion, and consider it essentially as fiction. But the argument cannot be that religion is fiction because it is factually wrong about the world, because, as I said above, this would be like looking at the finger without seeing the moon; namely, just a misunderstanding.
    4) In my opinion, naturalism (along with strict empiricism) is, as a philosophical perspective, completely untenable, but I won’t go into it here :D

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  40. I guess Sean doesn’t weigh in at this level, because we’re just debating the definition of religion, something he finds boring. He might consider, however, the level of ignorance on display here, and how it factors into his wider project of science education. A generation with an “atheistic worldview” that requires such historical and cultural ignorance will not lead to good results in the long run.

    Charles LaCour: The data I was talking about show that the bulk of religious phenomena has nothing to do with “accurate explanations for observations”, but you are locked into thinking that’s all we’re talking about. You don’t even seem to understand what poetry is, thinking that it’s to be evaluated according to its truth. Please understand: I reject supernatural explanations, am an atheist, and don’t regard the Bible as history (although it does contain some history). My point is only that to regard religion in literal terms is to misunderstand what it is and how it functions.

    Tim: don’t be so black and white. The Bible contains myth, legend, allegory, parable and poetry, compiled by ancient editors we know nothing about. When Ezekiel describes bones rising from graves, he is telling a parable about Jerusalem, and 100% of his audience understood it that way. Many other kinds of examples can be given, some of which involve large amounts of superstition and historical credulity. The Bible is a library compiled over a 1000 years. It’s not homogeneous.
    Early Christian sermons must be understood above all in the political context of the Roman Empire and the oppressed province of Judea. What fraction of the activists were actually convinced that they would triumph by supernatural aid is unanswerable (as it would be today). The Bible was not “inspired by God”. Inspiration is a psychological state in which a person feels that his artistic creations come from beyond him, because he wasn’t conscious of his intentions in the usual way.

    Meh: I gave concrete historical examples, you ignore them and just say “that simply isn’t true”. Are you aware that there is such a thing as Reformed Judaism? Do you know how long it has existed? Have you ever heard of Immanuel Kant? He wrote about religion from a naturalistic point of view in the 18th century. Why pretend to know about things you simply haven’t investigated?

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  41. Tim says:

    Gabe:

    I didn’t know I was being so black and white. I was just asking a series of three questions. I’m happy to entertain any answer given to them. But let me ask you: when the early Christians heard stories about Jesus raising the dead and walking on water, am I right to think you would claim that anywhere from most of them to 100% of them understood those reports non-literally?

    Second, were metaphysical claims (and not just worldly claims, like the timeline of creation or the performance of miracles) supposed to be interpreted non-literally too? (e.g. the claim that consciousness is not eliminated by death – intended to be understood literally or non-literally?).

    And why wasn’t the Bible inspired by god? (it’s not clear from what you wrote immediately following your making that claim why you actually think that).

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  42. vmarko says:

    @ Tim:

    “1) any apparently factual claim in the Bible concerning the physical/material world should not be understood literally, because it was never intended by those who wrote the Bible to be understood literally.”

    Simply put, yes. That said, I cannot claim to know what the writers of the bible originally intended. However, the allegorical interpretations that came along afterwards are how the bible should be understood today. The “afterwards” covers a period of history during which various ecumenical councils were held, where the “official” interpretation of what Christianity means (and what it doesn’t mean) was ironed out.

    “2) somewhere along the way people forgot this, and started interpreting the Bible as intending to describe real truths about the physical/material world.”

    Again, yes. But of course — not all people, not everywhere, and not all the time.

    “1) Does this intention to be understood non-literally also apply to the metaphysical claims the Bible makes? E.g. when the Bible speaks about the continuation of people beyond their physical deaths, should that be understood literally or non-literally?”

    Sure, all metaphysical claims (like life after death) should be understood non-literally. In addition, most non-metaphysical claims should be understood non-literally as well. Thinking about it now, there are probably only a handful of claims in the bible (if any?) that are supposed to be taken at face value.

    “or is it only that which might actually be open to the purview of science?”

    My English is failing me here, I don’t understand the question. Please rephrase?

    “2) How many people at the beginning of Christianity took a non-literal view of the Bible concerning natural-world factual claims? As a rough percentage. So if you were an early Christian listening to Paul give a sermon, how likely would it be that you would understand anything he said that relates to worldly events as allegorical vs actual?”

    I couldn’t even begin to think of estimating a number. But just guessing, a fair share of people (say, more than half) would understand the allegorical meaning of the words. Note that back in those days abstract language was not well-developed, and people were used to communicating abstract ideas and concepts through examples and allegories. It was a common way of expressing ideas. Books were written in such style, speeches were given is such style, etc. The audience was more prone to understand the allegorical meaning back then than it would be today. So maybe 50% is even an underestimate.

    “3) Was the Bible still inspired by god in some way, even though only allegorical when it comes to the physical facts? But if the answer is yes, why didn’t god just speak plainly about the physical facts of the world?”

    Physical facts of the world are not the topic of the bible (with a caveat that I maybe misunderstood what you mean by “physical facts of the world”). So speaking neither plainly nor allegorically about physical facts was ever intended, in the first place. Any mention of anything that might come across as “physical fact of the world” was just a poor man’s tool to express something else, since the language of those days did not have better terminology available.

    That said, to answer the question — the official stance of Christianity is that bible is considered a “sacred text”. Whether or not this means exactly “inspired by god” I’m not sure and would need to check. Some parts of the bible certainly yes (inspired) but I’m not sure about the whole book, in total.

    HTH, :-)
    Marko

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  43. Tim: I’m no expert on early Christianity, and I know more about the Old Testament. I think it’s unclear when various miracle stories got added in to Christianity. Since I don’t believe in miracles, I think that the first disciples were attracted by charisma, moral teaching and implicit resistance to Rome. But I do also think that the 1st century was a time of desperation that gave rise to an unusually high level of superstition. There were definitely professional rain-makers and “miracle-workers” around.

    Ideas about the soul are more ancient than religion as we understand it, and there is a great variability within religion. Most of the authors of the Hebrew Bible didn’t have much interest in life-after-death, and the rare apparent counter-examples (e.g. Samuel) are arguably literary (that is, not taken literally by author or original audience). So again, there’s no single answer that would apply to all cases.

    But that’s really the point: boiling a vast literary tradition down to a set of “claims” (metaphysical or physical) is to miss it almost entirely.

    As for why I don’t think that the Bible is inspired by God, it’s because I don’t believe in the existence of a God. (Although I don’t mind using god-language, when everyone understands that it isn’t meant literally.) I am as much of a naturalist as Sean or anyone else here, despite the tendency of folks to assume that anyone who defends religion must hold supernatural beliefs

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  44. Tim says:

    Marko,

    Ok I have (I think) a pretty good idea of your non-realist stance, and I have a few objections to it. For example,

    1) I don’t see why our interpretation of the Bible today needs to follow that of the first few generations of Christians. Shouldn’t whatever was intended for them by those who actually wrote the Bible’s texts be what guides our interpretation?

    For example, suppose I write a book, and suppose it becomes wildly popular and sells many copies. It’s not clear whether all the events described in the book really happened, though – some seem a little too fanciful to have happened, perhaps – and people who read it typically believe that they are just artistic tools used to evoke emotion or make a symbolic point.

    Suppose, however, that I intended people to understand them quite factually – after all, the events really did happen (or so I believe). Shouldn’t what I intended for those stories be the deciding factor in how other people understand them? If so, why is the Bible different?

    2) Other people from other cultures appear to have taken their creation and religious stories quite seriously as reports about factual truths. While we speak of them today as ‘myths’, for example, to the Vikings the stories they told one another concerning the snow giants, the after life awaiting them, and so on were all genuine descriptions of what-is-really-the-case. The same goes for the Maya, or the Egyptians, or the Greeks. Why were many early Christians something of an exception to this tendency to believe things of this same nature, then?

    3) Perhaps most importantly, what is the key evidence that supports the non-literal understanding of Christian stories by early Christians? It is a claim I have heard made about early Christianity quite often, but frustratingly it is almost never defended – it is just asserted is true.

    And it seems to me that standing against it is the fact that being a non-realist about the meaning of any story is a pretty cognitively sophisticated thing, and the period from which Christianity derives was a deeply superstitious and ignorant time when people mostly lived at a subsistence level, hand-to-mouth, were poorly educated, and most couldn’t read or write. Saying they were all non-realists attributes them something pretty sophisticated!

    Moreover, you can read the Bible and never once get the impression that it intends to be understood non-literally. If that was how it really was understood by the majority of early Christians, where are statements from them to that effect?

    [I understand that the third question might well ask for an answer that is perhaps too long for a blog post or beyond your patience to give for just one person. If so, perhaps you might mention just one or two of the really key reasons for thinking that non-literalism about the Bible / Christian teachings was mainstream in the early church? I’ll be happy to take anything here!]

    Best,
    Tim

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  45. Tim says:

    Gabe:

    I guess my question is: what stopped early Christians from believing (for example) that the Garden of Eden was a real place/actual event? (when so many people from so many other cultures and times believed things that were no less silly?). I don’t see that the implausibility of the story can be used as a reason why it wasn’t literally believed, for it would have been quite plausible to people 2000 years ago. Heck, people genuinely believe it today, sadly.

    Best,
    Tim

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  46. sjn says:

    Gabe and Marko,

    Christians by definition believe in the divinity of Christ and that he died to atone for our sins, which stems from the doctrine of Original Sin. The vast majority of Christians also believe in the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection. Do you think Christians believe this is allegory? I don’t think so.

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  47. Tim: I think you’re wrong about how myths were understood by most cultures–I don’t see anything special about Christianity. Have you ever read Joseph Campbell, Elaine Pagels, et.al.?

    In the Talmud it is said that Rabbi Akiba (from roughly the same era as early Christians) entered the Garden of Eden. Do you think that is meant literally? Every interpreter I know thinks it means that he had a mystical experience; for that is the subject of the surrounding material. The Talmud writers felt free to speak this way because they didn’t regard Eden as a physical place, and didn’t think they were misleading anybody about some miraculous journey that Akiva undertook.

    What we’re finding here, I think, is that the vast heterogeneity of religions and religious literature make most generalities pointless; all we could profitably do would be to look at many examples in depth. Some would turn out to be superstition, some not, and a big gray area in between.

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  48. Tim says:

    Gabe,

    I haven’t read Campbell or Pagels, no (though I believe I have heard Pagels mentioned in other books). What do they argue?

    I don’t see how the Garden of Eden being a metaphysical place that one can mystically visit shows that it was only allegorically understood. In fact, understanding Eden as a metaphysical place supports my side of things: it was understood as a place that one could visit, even if mystically rather than physically, and not merely as a literary device useful for articulating a point.

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  49. The Garden isn’t a metaphysical place, it’s a PSYCHOLOGICAL place. And that’s what a mystical experience is, a psychological event. Like an epiphany. It’s been studied scientifically since William James, this is not news.

    Campbell researched the similarities among world myths, and explained them in psychological terms. Millions of people have watched his shows and are familiar with his non-literal interpretations.

    I also noticed two other misconceptions…

    1. “you can read the Bible and never once get the impression that it intends to be understood non-literally” — only if you read it very poorly. I already gave the example from Ezekiel, and many other such examples exist. Not to mention the poetry, songs, etc. Do you think that lions and lambs getting along is meant literally, or is it really about different kinds of human beings getting along? How many people do you think ever believed it was really about animals?

    2. “being a non-realist about the meaning of any story is a pretty cognitively sophisticated thing”–not at all, children do it easily. Taking all language as univocal and referential is the weird modern way of thinking. As Marko has been saying, in the ancient world people were more sensitive to multiple levels of meaning than they are today.

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  50. Tim says:

    Gabe,

    In the context of the discussion we’re having, it begs the question to say that mystical experiences are psychological rather than metaphysical – unless you can show that ancient Jews, Christians and Muslims all understood their mystical experiences as purely psychological and no more, that is.

    Re: misconception 1 – I can absolutely imagine lions and lambs getting along being meant literally rather than non-literally. There are people alive today who believe exactly that. And this is today – in 21st century. Now imagine taking a portal back in time to the bronze age when a far deal less was known. What are the chances of them being any more sensible about that?

    Re: misconception 2 – children will genuinely believe in the existence of Santa Claus and the tooth fairy simply because they are told about them.

    I promise I am not trying to be annoying, but all I see are assertions to the effect that people who lived in the bronze age were more sensible and cognitively sophisticated when it came to understanding the Bible than people today, in the sense that they were able to avoid believing it literally. I see this as a psychologically improbable claim, and if I am to accept it I am going to need some pretty good evidence to that effect. Whenever I do hear that claim made, though, I mostly only ever hear it just assert as true. And aside from the thing about the Garden of Eden thing you mentioned (which, again, I think actually supports realism over non-realism), I haven’t seen anything in this thread yet to back it up. Until I do, I am inclined to continue to look doubtfully upon it.

    I am more than happy to read anyone you might refer me to who you think makes the strongest case for religious non-realism – just tell me where to go for that.

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  51. Meh says:

    Gabe,

    like I said in my reply to you, there were a handful of people throughout history that did not take it literally. What good is winning a debate if you have to live in an alternate reality to do so? 99% of humans who have lived on earth in recorded history have taken religion as a literal translation of events. You were able to name less than 10 people out of tens of billions; what percentage is that Gabe? Like I said before, you are either completely ignorant of historical facts, or you are willfully deceptive. Either way, it’s pointless to continue the conversation.

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  52. Tony Rz says:

    Religion is about morality, science about the physical properties of the world around us. I suppose many Atheists disagree with the moral principles of Christianity and that may be the reason, for many, of their disbelief of a Creator God. Faith is a gift. If you don’t have it than you don’t.

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  53. Tony Rz says:

    Atheists must believe that humans are just intelligent animals and should be used and experimented on as any other species. Abortion and experiments on babies and other less intelligent people could be justified for the greater good.

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  54. Mark says:

    @vmarko

    To those of us who live in the real, physical world, there is nothing outside of that world; everything that exists does so in the real world, and nothing that exists is outside of it. The supernatural refers to something outside of that world. Therefore, it does not exist. That’s why Sean can say that religious belief is wrong (or perhaps “in error”). One might argue that the supernatural exists in the same way that a fictional world, like Middle Earth, exists, but surely you wouldn’t equate your religious beliefs with Lord of the Rings fandom.

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  55. Meh says:

    Tony,

    You’re comment shows that you know nothing about atheism. If you want to know why most atheists don’t believe in god, then feel free to ask. The reason I’m not automatically putting it out there for you is because it’s going to be a little insulting to you and others who are religious; just as claiming that atheists must not believe in god because they are morally bankrupt is an insult to atheists.

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  56. Mark says:

    @Tony Rz
    While I will ignore your offensive language about atheists, I will admit to believing that humans are just animals of some level of intelligence. Given that belief, it makes more sense to expect atheists to value all life more, rather than all life less.

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  57. Tony Rz says:

    There is nothing I could say to convince anyone of you Atheists that God exists, your minds are closed. It’s Atheism belief that the intellect is the pinnacle of creation, it’s the old temptation from Genesis, “Know and you shall be like gods who know what is good or evil”. The battle between the intellect and the power of Love. Thereafter man spent centuries searching for truth and true knowledge, not finding neither. So it will be with those who want to make man’s intellect godlike. It’s a battle between Love and the mind, and which should reign supreme. Sean is searching philosophy in the hopes that in some future time it may result in some new morality when in the here and now Christianity has what is the true morality, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. That’s why Christ came into world, to show us the way and the Truth, how few there are that follow His example. Without Love to guide knowledge, man will fall into a pit.

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  58. Michael Bacon says:

    Tony,

    “There is nothing I could say to convince anyone of you Atheists that God exists, your minds are closed. ”

    Tony, I’m afraid you are in the unenviable situation of a pot calling the kettle black . :)

    Anyway, for those who want a quick, fun read on this topic, here is a post some time ago from Scott Aaronson:

    http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=232

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  59. Mark P says:

    Tony, I started out as a believer, and only by opening my mind to the possibility that there really was no god was I able to think about and reach that conclusion. I spent a lot of time and effort tying to prove to myself that there was a god (like most religious apologists, who are not trying to convince you of the rightness of their beliefs, but themselves). I had to follow the facts and the logic to its conclusion. It was not a conclusion that I wanted to reach, but I could remain “religious” only by lying to myself.

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  60. Meh says:

    Tony,

    When you write these completely detached comments that have nothing to do with the conversation, well, it makes you seem batshit crazy. Take note from vmarko and make some sort of logical point rather than angrily rambling. All you do is talk about love yet you are so obviously full of hate for atheists simply because they don’t believe what you believe. By the standards you set, those few of us responding to you (who I assume are all atheists) are more christian than you are; and we think your religion is a fairy tale! Comments from crazies like you is what confirms atheism for most atheists.

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  61. Tony Rz says:

    The argument is about proving the existence of God, no I don’t hate you guys and gals just because we disagree. I don’t know you people personally, although Sean seems to be a really great guy, interesting as well, not to mention he has a great looking wife. A difference of opinion doesn’t mean one has to dislike the other, like so many politicians seem to do nowadays. When I say your minds are closed it means you have made up your minds and won’t change for whatever reason and that is your choice of course. When it comes to a proof of God there is no such thing, it comes down to faith and faith alone, although historically there have been instances of miraculous happenings, whether you accept those or not is up to you. I myself have had a few. However if someone says he has proof of God, he simply does not, there is no such thing. Science is science and religion is all about Love, or it should be and that’s why I talk about Love. I don’t know if Sean reads these posts or not, or merely amuses himself with all the quarreling.

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  62. Charles LaCour says:

    Tony Rz: Do you believe in Thor, Ra, Shiva, Ea, Frigg, Janus or any of the other thousands of gods that various religions believe in? Why don’t you?

    Just about any argument you can give why you believe in your god the religions that believe in the other gods give for their beliefs and you reject them when other use them. Why?

    Instead of being skeptical of all gods except one religions atheist apply their skepticism across the board.

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  63. Charles LaCour says:

    Tony Rz: When you say “When I say your minds are closed it means you have made up your minds and won’t change for whatever reason” you are very far from being accurate.

    Many of the atheist I have talked to are very open to changing their opinions, all it takes is evidence. Show them a documented verified event that can only be explained by god’s intervention and they are very likely to change their mind.

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  64. Dan says:

    Sean,
    I’m not really seeing your comparison between you being on the board of advisers of a magazine that is 100% funded by Templeton (as far as I can tell) and someone working for U of C or working with the World Science Festival, neither of which are anywhere near 100% funded by Templeton. If 5% of the funding for Nautilus was from Templeton and the rest from other people I’m not sure people would think you being on the board of advisers conflicts with your previous statements about Templeton.

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  65. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Charles LaCour,

    Nice to talk with you. You state the view that you’re sceptical across the board, and don’t believe in ANY of the gods, whereas the various religions are sceptical of all the gods except their own. (I hope that this is a fair paraphrasing of your position). Your position is a reasonable one, that I respect. But the Traditional Christian God, is not just one god among others. The Christian God is not one powerful empirical being, that is more powerful than anything else. He transcends all material objects, and is Being itself. He enables, all other contingent beings to exist. As Aquinas argued, every being, that exists in space/time is contingent; it depends on other contigent beings for its existence, but to prevent an infinite regress of contingent beings being the causes of the contingent beings that exist after them, (which really explains nothing, on an ultimate level), we need a being, that is Sufficient, that is not contingent; this being is God.

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  66. Riccardo says:

    @Charles La Cour
    Many of the atheist I have talked to are very open to changing their opinions, all it takes is evidence. Show them a documented verified event that can only be explained by god’s intervention and they are very likely to change their mind.
    Oh, come on! :D most hardcore atheists would change their mind about God only if it appeared in front of them at dinner with his white long beard and yelled “here I am, do you see me?” :D actually, they probably would ascribe such an experience to allucinations :) the point is that most of the time atheists (and new atheists à la Dawkins in particular) accept as decisive evidence for any given claim only empirical, (repeatable), third-person (objective) experiments. Anything that does not conform to this standard of evidence is essentially derubricated to illusion. Of course, a matter like the existence of God or the divinity of Christ is not something which you can provide evidence of this sort for. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with such a strong notion of evidence (although I think it is wrong :D), but to say “hey, just give me evidence of this sort for God and it’ll be fine, look how rational I am” is slightly preposterous.

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  67. Riccardo says:

    @Bret Lythgoe
    As Aquinas argued, every being, that exists in space/time is contingent; it depends on other contigent beings for its existence, but to prevent an infinite regress of contingent beings being the causes of the contingent beings that exist after them, (which really explains nothing, on an ultimate level), we need a being, that is Sufficient, that is not contingent; this being is God.
    (I) Kant has given good reasons in his Critique of Pure Reason why this argument does not work. To make a long story short, the concept of “cause” brings with it a necessary reference to the possibility of its application to the empirical world. An infinite series of causes might very well be thought, but since it is something which can never be given in experience, we cannot conclude that is has objective reality, i.e., that it describes something real.
    (II) I don’t see any problem with an infinite series which does not have a beginning. The integers make perfect sense even though they do not have a beginning, and there is nothing in the material world which supports the view that infinite series (e.g. of causes, or of interactions) are impossible.

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  68. Tony Rz says:

    If Sean should happen to change his mind would the rest of you consider it?

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  69. meh says:

    Tony,

    there are a few things that you don’t understand,

    1.) this is an argument about religion, not god. Christianity is a religion. God is the god of Christianity. Buddhism is is a religion. Buddha is the god of Buddhism. Yaweh is the god of the Jewish religion. Krishna is the primary god of the religion, Hinduism. A person who believes that the existence of a god is unknowable but equally likely is called agnostic. Basically someone who definitely does not believe in a religion, but does not refute the possibility of the existence of a god. Their religious classification is called agnosticism,

    2.) I don’t care what Sean Carroll’s religious beliefs are; and I seriously doubt anyone else does either except as a point for starting a debate. What I mean by that is that Sean’s beliefs have no influence on my beliefs; though they do influence the level of respect I may or may not have for him. In fact, I think Sean barely cares enough to mention it. He cares about whatever the truth is,

    3.) You are incredibly contradictory to all of you’re previous statements. You claim that you “KNOW that God the creator exists” but then say that anyone who says they have proof god exists, absolutely does not. This is why an argument over God and religion is such a boring argument to Sean; because there will always be people like you who are so irrational, closed minded, bigoted, and fucking stupid; who will make completely contradictory statements and then act like they said something profound instead of something that dribbled out of the mouth of a heavily sedated hospital patient. You immensely frustrate me Tony because I don’t know you, but you fit the stereotype of the bigoted, cognitively lazy, and ignorant religious nut 100% ; according to your comments. You are missing out on the true happiness that life has to offer people if they let go of their fears of death, struggle, and the fact that life is often times unfair. These are hard facts to face, but are absolutely necessary in order for life to continue to exist. Others, I have an intellectual disagreement with on this dead end debate; but you are intellectually lazy and intellectually immature when you don’t have to be. You are from the Kirk Cameron school of “here’s how to circumvent the logic of someone who doesn’t believe in god”. In other words “here’s how to spew bullshit until the debate is over”. Thank you for being my punching bag for a minute tony. My apologies for anything offensive.

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  70. Bob Iles says:

    @meh – slight correction
    Just wanted to point out that Buddha is NOT the god of Buddhism. The buddha was a human being just like everybody else. This is one of the reasons why Buddhism is sometimes called an atheistic religion – no gods. Otherwise, I agree with the rest of your post.

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  71. Charles LaCour says:

    Bret Lythgoe: You seem to be missing the point. I am not saying that Christian believe that their god is the most powerful or supreme being among a multitude. My point is that a believer in a religion is not applying skepticism impartially. They are giving preference to reasons that support their existing belief while dismissing a the exact same reason used by a person in another religion gives to support theirs.

    If there is no evidence or unique logical consistency how can one assumption be seen as more valid than another? In science if there are two theories that explain the same thing by different ideas and there is no test of observation that can be done to show one to be better or more accurate then bot are considered equally valid. This is not the case with religions.

    The point that the view of God as a transcendent being is not unique to Christianity. The Aquinas argument for the uncaused cause is a tautology since the premise of everything requiring a cause has the built in fault of infinite regression of events.

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  72. Tony Rz says:

    Without God religion would be a total waste of time and energy. Religion and God can not be separated, at least a religion based on a belief in a creator. Calm down Meh, your throwing a tantrum, it could be worse, meaning you could be right, sorry I said that. By knowing there is a God I mean I have had actual experience of His existence, nothing more, though there is no way I could prove it, especially to you, and I do forgive you. This is a debate that could go on and on to no ones favor, you against me and each against the other to no ones satisfaction and I do understand why many disbelieve considering all the carnage happening in the world.

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  73. Charles LaCour says:

    Riccardo: I can also say the same thing if Odin came down and showed himself the hardcore Christians or Muslims would say that it was a temptation to test them and not change their beliefs one bit.

    People who are atheist as a rational choice do so for rational reasons, if they are given rational reasons to believe they are likely to change their minds. People who are atheist because they angry about a religion or other non-rational reason will not be swayed by rational reasons.

    I fairly certain that even someone as hardcore atheist as Dawkins if presented with a documented verified event that can only be explained by god’s intervention he would change his mind.

    The comment in my last post about differentiating one assumption from another is relevant to your comment as well. The reasons people give for belief in the existence of a specific god are like: “without god there is no morality”, “I feel his love”, “he heals people” or “he answers my prayers”. Deciding by what feels better or sounds more poetic or based on inaccurate observations are not really what I would consider valid reasons. What would you suggest as a criteria to make these kinds of distinctions?

    From a rationalist perspective most if not all religions make claims that there have direct effects on the physical world that should be able to be observers and quantified by science. These are the points where the conflict between science and religion occur.

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  74. Charles LaCour says:

    Bob Iles: Buddhism may have started as an atheistic philosophy but it has evolved so that there are some segments of Buddhism that believe in celestial bodhisattvas that are incarnations of the Buda that have achieved enlightenment but refrain from completly trancentding samsara to help others on the path of enlightenment. They are prayed and sacrificed to making them in my mind pretty much the same thing as gods especially since the bodhisattvas have the aspects of the Hindu gods.

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  75. Tony Rz says:

    http://www.closertotruth.com is a great web site for believers or unbelievers.

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  76. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Riccardo,

    Good to talk with you. Kant was certainly a formidible thinker, perhaps as formidible as Aquinas. Whether Kant successfully refuted Aquinas’s contingency argument, I don’t know. You could be correct. Aristotle, (384 BCE- 322 BCE) argud that the universe has always existed. Aquinas, however, in a very sophisticated way, argued that the universe could indeed have existed forever. (we all can admire, theist, atheist or agnostic, Aquinas’s intellectual integrity) God is outside of space and time, and could have created the universe in such a way that it has always existed. (This may seem strange, but it demonstrates Aquinas’s brilliance, nuance, and, as mentioned, integrity).

    Kant, of course, was sceptical that we sense reality as it really is. We detect the worls through our sensory and intellectual filters. Aquinas, however, in agreement with Aristotle, saw no need to be sceptical of our senses, in principle. Sure, Aquinas knew, our senses can sometimes deceive us, but in principle they’re reliable. Kant’s scepticism here, and his devising of the “antonomies,” conundrums that we cannot intellectually resolve, e.g., whether the universe had a beginning or not, plays a fundamental role in his rejection of Aquinas’s argument.

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  77. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Charles Lacour,

    Good to talk with you. I see what you’re saying. You’re clearly right that we must apply our scepticism impartially. I’ve seen some people argue against the religious soundness of a given religion, and this same argument could render their own religion unlikely, at least! And this is, of course your point. I agree.

    Certainly empirical science, is impressively successful in coming to what we think is the truth about certain aspects of reality. But I think that, as successful as empirical science is, it’s a mistake to conclude that empirical science is necessarily the best way to know things, or even worse, the only way to know things. (I’m not suggesting that you’re advocating teither of these things) Postivism, the philosophy that only things that can be empirically verified are true, or justified in being believed, is self refuting. Peter Kreeft, the Catholic philosopher who has written a plethora of books on religion and philosophy, has pointed out that positivism is self refuting: to paraphrase him, he’s stated that if only what can be verifed empirically can be believed, then the proposition that what can be believed is only what can be verified empirically, cannot be believed, because it has not been empirically verified!

    You’re correct that there seems to be no method that one can use, that settles, for all rational people, as empirical science does, which religion, if any, is true. But we do have ways of decipering which religions seem more or less probable.

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  78. Bret Lythgoe says:

    oops, that’s Kant’s “antinomies,” sorry! Lol!

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  79. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Charles LaCour,

    If I could just add, with respect to Aquinas’s view on God being the first cause, Aquinas would argue that God is pure being itself; he does not need a cause, because he’s not an empirical object dependent for his existence on something else. He is the source of all causes. being omnipotent renders him not reliant on things, such as causes, outside of himself.

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  80. Meh says:

    Tony,

    I’m not throwing a tantrum, I’m just expressing the frustration of dealing with delusional people who completely abandon logic and reality. You happen to be one of those people. There is no point in having any sort of debate or conversation with someone like you because you have the mindset of someone who is completely brainwashed, e.g. a radical jihadist suicide bomber. For example, to you, it couldn’t possibly be that you have faults and are cognitively impaired when it comes to this argument; it must be that I’m throwing a tantrum because you’re right. Which is how people like you defend yourself in a debate, by being completely delusional and pretending to be intelligent via condescension; which is of course what a stupid person would think makes a person sound smart, to attempt to be condescending. I’m frustrated that there are people like you out there who can’t be reasoned with. But I’m not attacking you; my description is an accurate assessment of how closed minded and delusional you are. You are an extremist Tony, the language I use to describe you is what is necessary to fully describe you. I can’t just say ” you’re difficult to communicate with ” because that wouldn’t be accurate. What would be accurate is ” you’re impossible to communicate with because you’re both brainwashed and seemingly a fucking moron who has no idea what he’s talking about, even on the simplest topics “. But I don’t want to keep this up, Tony. For reasons I just mentioned; it’s pointless.

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  81. As a strong agnostic who thinks the very question of the existence or non-existence of a god is cognitively empty, I have no sympathy for the agenda driven Templeton Foundation or any of its minions. While the weakness of our human condition allows rationalization on any conceivable point, it seems at the nexus of science, religion, and money, we are the weakest. I try to make no lasting judgement, but am greatly disappointed with those respected scientists who do bend their knee before the JTF and its ideals of essentialism.

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  82. Meh says:

    I would like to add what a pathetic psychological projection it is to think that people who don’t believe in a religion or god, do so because there is a lot of carnage in the world or because life is difficult. Not only that, but the world is the least difficult it has ever been, so it’s also ignoring history. That is the ultimate narrow minded thought; that after looking at all the facts, the only possible reason someone might not believe is because of a grudge. The reason people don’t believe is because given the facts, we see definite correlations between the data that seem to recur over and over again throughout history in different religions. Scientists being individuals that have a career in observing correlations in nature’s data and then explaining and harnessing those correlations to the advantage of mankind, will of course notice those same patterns in society, of which religion is a part. Christianity for instance, is a blatant plagiarism of Mithraism and Egyptian Mythology. Given that Christianity is an expansion of Judaism, and the Jews were slaves of the Egyptians for a long period of time; it’s safe for a person to assume that Christianity is a product of some sort reflection on that period by a Jewish theologian who studied of theology from age 13 to 30. Or the simple correlation between the members of society who find themselves in hopeless conditions who happen to be the most religious of all. Or in the middle east, where women are forbidden to go to school (and most people don’t attend school anyway, if it exists), is it any surprise that they become extremely religious given that is the only thing they are allowed to do with their lives? That’s why many people don’t believe; because a wise and knowledgeable person notices that there are just too many recurring coincidences.

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  83. Meh says:

    speaking of correlations. You know how so many former drug and alcohol addicts become born again Christians? These are the 12 steps in a twelve step program. Step 1 is basically why the program fails 80% of the time. 7 of the steps are pretty much religious recruitment directly mentioning god; going after people who can’t be anymore hopeless.

    1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

    2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

    3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

    5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

    7. Humbly asked Him to remove our short-comings.

    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

    11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

    12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

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  84. Wes Hansen says:

    Dr. Carroll,

    In response to the critique of Mr. LaCour:

    “I find the argument that you need to be religiously mature enough to understand various writing like the Hebrew, Christian bible an empty and self-fulfilling argument. It is basically the same as saying if you really understood it you would agree with me so since you disagree you must not understand it.”

    This is a mischaracterization of my argument and is not in the spirit of what was meant at all; perhaps Mr. LaCour failed to peruse the links I provided at the conclusion of my comment. In any event, to clarify:

    • I take as an assumption that not every average Joe off of the street can sit in a frigid room draped in frigid wet sheets and, using only their mind, cause steam to rise from said sheets drying three successive sheets in less than one hour for each sheet. I would suggest not many people could even sit still for the time required.

    • I take as an assumption that not every average Joe off of the street can sit in the lotus seat, be doused with an accelerant, set on fire, and just sit calmly, “without moving a muscle, with uttering a sound,” while slowly burning to death. Recent photos in the international news media would support such an assumption (http://www.mintpressnews.com/in-tough-economic-times-self-immolation-spreads-from-middle-east-to-the-west/).

    • I take as an assumption that the ability to generate heat from physiological sources using only the mind and the ability to sit calmly while burning to death represent psychophysiological phenomena rather than simply psychological phenomena or simply physiological phenomena and, based on the prevalence of such psychophysiological phenomena amongst the community of contemplatives, assume that the wisdom inherent in such phenomena can be acquired.

    Based on the above assumptions I make a conservative, deductive inference:

    Those who are capable of engaging in such activities are informed by a wisdom which those not capable of such activities have yet to discover. I would further infer that it is this wisdom which is referenced in the classic Buddhist phrase, “The butterfly understands the caterpillar but the caterpillar doesn’t understand the butterfly.”

    “By saying that science is ruled over by a “priesthood” is laughable.”

    Define priesthood as a community of agents intent on maintaining the status-quo, the prevalent dogma. Priests in a priesthood tend to engage in such activities because their livelihood and degree of influence demand such. Following the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Pierce, there are no absolute truths in science; the best one can obtain is relative belief, belief being “an opinion on which one is prepared to act” (for the argument see: Peirce, C. S., Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, The Belknap Press, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1960). With the complexity involved in the modern scientific enterprise, scientific experts, submerged in an often politically charged and competitive intellectual environment, tend towards priest-like actions. To quote biologist Richard Lewontin’s review of Carl Sagan’s, The Demon Haunted World (which I encountered in Adam Crabtree’s, Position Paper on Theory, pgs. 10-12: http://www.esalen.org/sites/default/files/resource_attachments/crabtree_position_paper_on_theory.pdf):

    “Carl Sagan, like his Canadian counterpart David Suzuki, has devoted extraordinary energy to bringing science to a mass public. In doing so, he is faced with a contradiction for which there is no clear resolution. On the one hand science is urged on us as a model of rational deduction from publicly verifiable facts, freed from the tyranny of unreasoning authority. On the other hand, given the immense extent, inherent complexity, and counterintuitive nature of scientific knowledge, it is impossible for anyone, including non-specialist scientists, to retrace the intellectual paths that lead to scientific conclusions about nature. In the end we must trust the experts and they, in turn, exploit their authority as experts and their rhetorical skills to secure our attention and our belief in things that we do not really understand […] Conscientious and wholly admirable popularizers of science like Carl Sagan use both rhetoric and expertise to form the mind of masses because they believe, like the Evangelist John, that the truth shall make you free. But they are wrong. It is not the truth that makes you free. It is your possession of the power to discover the truth. Our dilemma is that we do not know how to provide that power […] It is repeatedly said that science is intolerant of theories without data and assertions without adequate evidence. But no serious student of epistemology any longer takes the naive view of science as a process of Baconian induction from theoretically unorganized observations […] As to assertions without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them, especially the literature of popular science writing. Carl Sagan’s list of the “best contemporary science-popularizers” includes E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market.”

    To conclude, mystics have a long history of demonstrating phenomena, such as telepathy, psychokinesis, the Rainbow Body (http://noetic.org/library/sets/audio/exploring-the-frontiers-of-consciousness-lecture-s/6/), etc., which many in the orthodox scientific community find dubious at best. But these demonstrations are not unsubstantiated claims, rather, they’re experiences shared by large communities of contemplatives; they’re side-effects, actually, of the meditative experience. Causal closure has never been a tenable position and I would suggest that expanding the scientific exploration of the mental aspect of nature is the primary objective of the Templeton Foundation. If scientists aren’t priests, how can this be objectionable? Allow me to give Nobel laureate, Murray Gell-Mann, the last word:

    “What is meant by claims of the paranormal? Of course, what most of us working in science (and in fact most reasonable people) want to know first about any alleged phenomenon is whether it really happens. We are curious about the extent to which the claims are true. But if a phenomenon is genuine, how can it be paranormal? Scientists, and many nonscientists as well, are convinced that nature obeys regular laws. In a sense, therefore, there can be no such thing as the paranormal. Whatever actually happens in nature can be described within the framework of science. Of course, we may not always be in the mood for a scientific account of certain phenomena, preferring, for example, a poetic description. Sometimes the phenomenon may be too complicated for a detailed scientific description to be practical. In principle, though, any genuine phenomenon has to be compatible with science.
    If something new is discovered (and reliably confirmed) that does not fit in with existing scientific laws, we do not throw up our hands in despair. Instead, we enlarge or otherwise modify the laws of science to accommodate the new phenomenon. This puts someone in a strange logical position who is engaged in the scientific investigation of claims of the paranormal, because in the end nothing that actually happens can be paranormal.” (Gell-Mann, M., The Quark and the Jaguar, W. H. Freeman and Co., New York, NY, 1993, pg. 281)

    Postscript:

    With regards to Joseph Campbell, in my original comment I state that all of the heroes from the world’s mythologies, from Wotan (Othin/Odin) to Shiva to Krishna to Buddha to Christ to etc., walked The Left Hand Path of VamaMarga. I also stated that heroes who only walk the nine month segment of The Left Hand Path are common; I’m quite certain Joseph Campbell was one of these. Shortly after Mr. Campbell met his future wife, Jean, she and her family left to travel in Europe for nine months and Mr. Campbell went on to write The Hero with 1,000 Faces (http://www.jcf.org/new/index.php?categoryid=83&p9999_action=details&p9999_wid=692) which basically describes The Left Hand Path of VamaMarga in a general sense.

    And regarding the question, “Metaphors for what?” The metaphors are meant to direct an acolyte’s focus to what is required in order for that acolyte to realize their full potential – to become an adept. Properly understood they provide a map to the realization of one’s transcendent self. Take, for example, the two angels at the gate to the Garden of Eden and the flaming sword between them. The two angels represent fear of death and desire for life, the two primary guardians or obstacles one must overcome for full realization. These obstacles are overcome using the sword of death and discrimination – spiritual discipline; spiritual discipline (spiritually directed mental fortitude) leads to the discrimination between the temporal and the eternal; it is the fire which destroys the profane (temporal) ego allowing the phoenix (divine ego) to emerge. The idea that humans are transcendent beings is not an assumption, rather, it’s a deduction derived from experience. This deduction is endorsed by a broad consensus amongst a diverse community of inquirers – contemplative adepts. And transcendence is not simply some psychological mind trip; it’s a complex psychophysiological phenomenon which, in order to manifest, requires extraordinary dedication on the part of individuals. I personally challenge anyone to provide a counterexample . . .

    With regards,

    Wes Hansen

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  85. Meh says:

    It was copied and pasted from an AA site, which is why it’s in past tense. I do find #1 hilarious. “we are powerless over alcohol”… alright, then what’s the point of trying to regain control of your life?

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  86. please make it stop

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  87. Bob Iles says:

    @ Charles LaCour
    Yes, you’re right about some segments of Buddhism & their relation to bodhisattvas but this doesn’t apply to all, of course. Some segments, such as Zen Buddhists, which I’m most familiar with, know that bodhisattvas are just metaphors, not sentient beings or gods or anything of the like. As for making sacrifices to them, I’m not familiar with Buddhists making sacrifices – I mean, they’re not Voodoo practitioners that put dead chickens on their altars. :) At the same time, I’d still call Buddhism a religion, not a philosophy, as the last I heard, philosophies don’t have priesthoods. Finally, regarding the similarities between bodhisattvas & Hindu gods, I’ll take your word for it as I don’t know much about the Hindu gods.

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  88. Tony Rz says:

    Supposing Meh, if you could create a universe, how would you do it and would you show yourself, HERE I AM, or would you let your created beings search for you, since you gave them an intellect that grows and thrives, through the search of knowledge. Just a speculation of course, but something to think about.

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  89. Meh says:

    Tony,

    If you can’t give me a conclusive answer, free of ambiguity, to the following question; then you’re ?statement/question? illustrates my previously described frustration with you:,

    What is a universe?

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  90. Thomas Walsh says:

    In Genesis it states that we, man, insisted on knowing the knowledge of good and evil – everything and nothing. Thus, we are here. And purpose is what ever we create it to be.

    To be fair, religious authority at one time was needed to serve the functions now
    served by institutes of health etc.. To a large extent, they served well – in their time.

    Give power to clerics, and more often religion is child abuse – psychological always and often physical.

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  91. Patrick says:

    The fundamental reason why science and religion are impossible to reconcile is that they are based upon two opposite ways to use our cognitive capacities: in religion, you have to *believe*, which means that you are *forbidden* to consider the possibility that your “working hypotheses” (called dogma) are erroneous. In science, you are always supposed to consider that possibility.

    In both cases, to get somewhere, you have to “accept” a certain set of working hypotheses (in science, that’s called a paradigm). But in religion, it is forbidden to consider intellectually the possibility that you have to change paradigm, while in science, that’s always an option.

    I’m not talking about the *content* of the working hypotheses. One might even, purely on the ground of philosophical arguments, argue that certain working hypotheses are utterly indifferent to anything we can perceive, objectively or subjectively, and so it doesn’t matter whether we accept them or not. But there’s a difference between “betting on them” (the scientific paradigm way), and “believing in them” (the religious way), that is, excluding any thought process (up to the point of becoming verbally or even physically agressive to anyone who suggests to do so) that puts into question the hypothesis.

    For instance, the working hypothesis that an objective reality exists is usually part of a scientific paradigm, but can be discussed. After all, following Descartes, the only thing I know really to exist is my subjective experience. I don’t know if there really is an outside reality, whether other people exist, whether my body exists. It might be just an illusion of an immaterial consciousness which I am. That’s solipsism in its hardest form. It is just that I take usually the working hypothesis that the real world DOES exist, simply because that is more practical to organize my subjective impressions. Physics and other fields of science are advanced ways of organizing my subjective impressions, and the very fact that that’s working is good enough to keep with the working hypothesis that after all, there might actually really exist an outside world outside of my subjective experience. But I keep in mind that that’s just a hypothesis, which can very well be wrong, but for the moment, I “bet” on it (except when doing immoral things, where the other point of view can come in practically to get my conscience calm down :-) ).

    In religion, that’s not allowed. You’re not supposed to put into question the hypotheses forwarded as dogma of your religion. You are obliged to “shut down your critical thinking” (and with that, often, your bullshit meter). And that’s why both don’t go together, except when having a schizophrenic attitude (which many people have no difficulties with).

    Religion is characterized, not by the contents of their dogma, but by the fact that you’re not allowed to put them in doubt.

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  92. Patrick says:

    @ people who say that religious texts are “of course” not to be taken literally.

    The question remains then, what is the difference between religious texts and other literature (like the “three little pigs” if you want :-) ).

    Because if “the world was created in 7 days” is to be taken as an allegory, then why doesn’t “I’m God’s son” or the resurrection or Mary’s divine conception have to be taken allegorically ? In other words, then what remains of religion, if its sacred texts are just a story with a morale ? Like any other great piece of literature ? And what remains of “life after death” and the “Last Judgement” (the main attraction of religious doctrines) ? Just a pictorial allegory not to be taken seriously either ?

    What’s the difference between the Bible and the The Count of Monte Cristo then ?

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