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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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! 😀 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?” 😀 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Tony Rz says:

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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. Tony Rz says:

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

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. Bret Lythgoe says:

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

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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

  35. 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?

  36. please make it stop

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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?

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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 ?