Friday, January 16, 2009

Art and Atheism 2

Lying at the centre of this issue is the status we accord to human experience. Say I have an aesthetic, religious or emotional experience of great, life-changing importance. Science has three primary accounts of this. Freud - not now regarded as a scientist, but his account was intended to be and, for some time, accepted as scientific - would describe the feeling as 'oceanic' and attribute it to the experience of the primitive ego. Neo-Darwinians would seek its roots in our evolved natures. Neuroscientists would locate the feeling in neuronal patterns of excitation. Freud we can discard. The evolutionary explanation remains speculative, though Neo-Darwinians will argue that it must be true. And neuroscience is in its early infancy. There is currently not even the shadow of an explanation of my feeling through the workings of my brain, we don't even have a coherent explanation of how matter becomes mind. All such arguments are, therefore, circular. It must be true, therefore it will be true. But what does true mean here? Even if I was offered final and complete Neo-Darwinian and neuroscientific accounts of my experience, what would that tell me? In effect, nothing. These would be accounts of the experience, not the experience itself. They would be based on the dubious conviction that there was something - scientific knowledge - that lay above the human experience. To accept these accounts as final would be to bow down before a disguised metaphysic, a concealed god. Of course, I could choose to do so. But why? What would I gain? Again nothing.

60 comments:

  1. Indeed, experience is irreducible. It is just itself. Any account of an experience, whether Christian or Dawkinsian, is just a description, though one's encounter with the description is itself an experience.

    There is a painting and there is a curator's description of the painting. Even if the description is true it isn't the painting, anymore than you can dismiss Shakespeare by saying where he got his plots from.

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  2. 'Family crisis' . . . . ah, it's all becoming horribly clear. Well, that's my experience of it . . .

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  3. Keats was right: "Philosophy will clip an angel's wings".

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  4. "The evolutionary explanation remains speculative, though Neo-Darwinians will argue that it must be true. And neuroscience is in its early infancy. There is currently not even the shadow of an explanation of my feeling through the workings of my brain"

    The distinction between evolutionary 'explanations' and neuroscientific ones is too sharp and the claim that there are no serious scientific hypotheses to explain the phenomenolgy of mind is just flatly wrong, although they are all controversial and may always be. But what is leading you wrong is the use of the word 'explanation'. Science may not explain the workings of the mind but it advances hypotheses that can be tested and contested in various ways. It is religion that provides flat, categorical 'explanations', and that one of the things about it that so many of us find so ugly. You experience an 'oceanic' feeling when looking at a painting and science provides you, as you have said, with several deeply complex and rich ways of describing and analysing that feeling. What does religion give you: 'It's god, now shut up'. A failure to find any evidence for supernatuiral beings in an intense experience of art does not mean that you must hold that there are no aspects of human experince that cannot be meaningfully explored or analysed through means other than science, far from it. This is a complete red herring, or straw man, or, possibly a straw herring.

    And I have to say again, that if your contention holds, it must follow that Phillip Larkin, for example, never had an aesthetic experience, but it boggles the mind that anybody could have read his poetry or his criticism (including his passsionate response to the works of Stanley Spencer) and really believe that.

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  5. "Keats was right: "Philosophy will clip an angel's wings"."

    Ah yes, the horrors of 'unweaving the rainbow'. But, honestly, how many of us would find a rainbow more moving or awesome if we didn't have some knowledge of Newton's theory of light?

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  6. How does neuroscience quantify a boggled mind ?

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  7. "How does neuroscience quantify a boggled mind ?"

    It needn't. How does religion?

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  8. i dare say the Vikings, who thought a rainbow was Bifrost, were sufficiently moved without recourse to Newton.

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  9. okay, so what do you gain by chosing god - is the experience itself not enough?

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  10. ''how many of us would find a rainbow more moving or awesome if we didn't have some knowledge of Newton's theory of light?''

    actually, I'll take my last comment back. knowledge can enhance the experience, certainly more than it detracts, and I guess even false knowledge will work to some degree.

    it may be better to be a knowledgeable agnostic then! but, intuitively, I know there is no god.

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  11. As with all experience the spiritual experience is private. Athiest frustration is understandable but, sorry, to repeat Brit, they just don't get it. Susan Greenfield sat in a church in Oxford trying to 'get it' but couldn't, wondered if it was a form of autism.

    The athiest worldview, based on science, can be learned and understood, but the other, the spiritual so-called 'enlightenment' has to be 'got'. The privacy of consciousness however means that it cannot be assailed and this frustrates and maddens the athiests. They use terms like 'delusion', 'flim-flam' and 'faith-head' to disparage it.

    The enlightened man or woman can accomodate the athiest's worldview but not the other way round.

    (Religious does not necessarily mean enlightened.)

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  12. "They use terms like 'delusion', 'flim-flam' and 'faith-head' to disparage it."

    David, there is some disparagement to be had but the reason words like 'flim-flam' get bandied about is because what you are saying about haveing just to 'get' the spiritual experience is literally meaningless, in the Wittgensteinian sense. It may be that there is such mystical experience but literally nothing can be said about it and so it can't form part of the conversation. The right, the only response is silence, anything else you attempt to say will have no meaning. So long as we are having a conversation about the world, science and reason is the only game in town.

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  13. Poor old science. "I have not one jot or scintilla of doubt" - judge dons black cap - "that the defendant is guilt of delusions of grandeur!" But one could argue that setting up an experience as "life-changing" is ascribing a spurious importance to it and bowing down before "a disguised metaphysic". Life is simply life, and the traps we come across we have usually made for ourselves. I wonder whether this Art thang will turn out to be a walk up a cul-de-sac.

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  14. John:

    Science may not explain the workings of the mind but it advances hypotheses that can be tested and contested in various ways

    That's the theory, but that isn't the way it actually works on these subjects. The way it works for the merry gang of angry scientific atheists is that they will assert and demand we accept prima facie any damn scientific hypothesis as superior to experience, common sense, spiritual insight or any other kind of hypothesis, regardless how implausible it is or how scanty the evidence is in support of it. The famous "just so" stories are a cottage industry for evolutionary biologists and some are so hilarious that one is left incredulous that they really believe them. My all time favourite is the scholar who opined that women evolved blond hair because they were competing for a reduced supply of hearty mammoth hunters who would give their children a survival advantage. He managed to be racist, sexist and preposterous all at the same time. No doubt he would have insisted indignantly that his theory was consistent with the evidence and should be accepted without question by us little people until an alternative competing scientific theory emerged to correct it.

    I highly recommend this incisive and hilarious takedown of Dawkins's theory of the altruistic gene and genetic affinity by the late Australian philosopher and atheist, David Stove. He savages it, not by offering an alternative based on his tested observations, but by showing the theory doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to how people actually live and act or ever have.

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  15. But why? What would I gain?

    Maybe something like the Truth? It's much more interesting than going around deceiving yourself. Aren't stars more amazing knowing that the light from them has been traveling for millions of years to reach you?

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  16. That last comment, John, burst my belief that you was Mr Dawkins, Sir. He'd never have admitted that lot!

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  17. To accept these accounts as final would be to bow down before a disguised metaphysic, a concealed god. Of course, I could choose to do so. But why? What would I gain? Again nothing.

    What do you gain by saying the scientific explanation isn't sufficient? You can say that there is some transcendent realm beyond the physical as a means for explaining human experience, but if you can't define what that realm is, you haven't explained anything.

    Transcendence doesn't equate to God. Transcendence poses a question, God answers a question. Belief in God doesn't open up transcendence, it closes it. It gives a tidy explanation, it fills in a blank with an assumed answer.

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  18. Consider the lilly... no, I'll start again.

    Consider the Mona Lisa. A chemist could describe the physical constituents of the paint and canvas in a certain way. This would be a very different kind of description of the Mona Lisa to that offered by an art critic. For the art critic or the chemist to tell the other that his description was wrong, or nonsense, would of course be absurd.

    Now consider John Meredith. Even though some of his posts suggest he seems to think I have been attacking his particular brand of secular rational non-belief, I have not and I largely share it. I have no religious convictions and I fully accept the modern Darwinist description of the path of natural history. What I have been attacking is the Militant Atheist's wholesale contempt for any kind of non-scientific, or if you like, religious worldview.

    If a scientist says that religious beliefs are 'wrong', he could mean two things: (a) that religious beliefs are outside the realm of rational scientific enquiry; or (b) that they have no validity of any sort.

    A reasonable scientist (and indeed, Believer) says (a) - because (a) is trivially, obviously true.

    A Militant Atheist says (b) ..(and probably goes on to say that all religion is evil and that giving a child a Christian upbringing is child abuse.)

    This Militant Atheist doesn't 'get it'. His statement is no more meaningful or useful than a chemist who insists that the art critic's description of the Mona Lisa is 'wrong'.

    So when I say that some people don't get it, I'm referring to those who think that it is possible or preferable to describe humans, or the world, in one way only.

    (Incidentally, to my mind the real villains in this debate are the Intelligent Designists like Michael Behe. Their attempts to crowbar religious concepts into the scientific process make a travesty of both. This is also where the otherwise masterful Peter B goes off the rails - in thinking that by picking at Darwinism he can somehow score points for religion. This is misconceived. Also, ID, I think, has been largely responsible for ramping up the viciousness of the debate, as the scientists get defensive about the clumsy wadings into their territory.)

    What I think I'm trying to say then, is that 'getting it' means realising that humans contain multitudes, and to say that one aspect of humanity is more meaningful to another is to put yourself on dodgy ground. The scientific outlook/description is a consistent and valid one, but to say it is the only or even the most important one is to deny everything about humans that makes them what they are.

    I disagree with Bryan that an aesthetic revelation is only granted to a few (I'm with Duck on that). I think the vast majority of people do 'get it', in one way or another and instinctively. Only a weird minority of oddballs don't, often because their cleverness has got in the way of wisdom or sense.

    Finally, some irresponsible and highly speculative pop psychology: I suspect Dawkins does 'get it', has a very high sensitivity to religious experience and over-eggs his pudding accordingly; while
    John Meredith strikes me as being someone who has relatively recently discovered Dawkins's clarity of vision, it sings to him and he's a bit overexcited about it, but really he's quite sound.

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  19. Evenin' all.

    As a number of commenters have pointed out, scientific explanations of the evolution of the brain, or the neurological mechanisms of experience, do not exclude the reality of aesthetic appreciation; within the philosophy of mind, the only credo which excludes the reality of mental experience is eliminative materialism.

    Bryan argues, correctly, that scientific accounts of experience are not the experience itself. However, scientific accounts of non-cognitive, unconscious phenomena are also just accounts and not the phenomena themselves. This is just the distinction between a description and the bearer of a description, and this distinction does not uniquely single out mental phenomena as ontologically special.

    Nevertheless, as I argued in my account of scientism, a worldview which includes a moral system based upon rationality rather than religious decree, a scientific understanding of the physical world based upon reason and evidence, and a fully-rounded population, appreciative of the arts, philosophy and literature as well as science and technology, is the means by which the human race will be capable of progressing.

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  20. Ok, now you're really scaring me Gordon.

    God save us from Progressing.

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  21. Consider the sun. It is an amazing nuclear furnace created by the force of gravity. It keeps us warm and supplies us with light. It is the source of all life on our planet. It is beautiful to behold sometimes and others can create melancholy when it glows through clouds of pollution. Its cosmic rays enter my body and provide me the ability to read the mind of god.

    OK, I'll admit that last bit is a bit silly. But saying that god exists because the Mona Lisa is nice to look at is a bit silly as well. We believe whatever we believe but that does not make it true.

    If the art critic says that the Mona Lisa is a perfect work of art because she is wearing a beautiful red and green polka-dot dress, then yes the chemist can certainly be called in to prove him wrong. He can analyze the paint and determine the wavelengths of light that are reflected from it, for example. If the art critic says that the Mona Lisa is beautiful to look at and anyone who disagrees is wrong, then the art critic is expressing an opinion that can be refuted by a psychiatrist. If the art critic says that the Mona Lisa proves that god exists then he is being as silly as I am. If the priest says that god exists because of the wonders of nature then I'm afraid he is in the same boat with me and the art critic.

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  22. I think its perfectly sensible to say that the Sun and stars as a whole are the outpourings of a form of God into the Universe.

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  23. If the art critic says that the Mona Lisa is a perfect work of art because she is wearing a beautiful red and green polka-dot dress, then yes the chemist can certainly be called in to prove him wrong. He can analyze the paint and determine the wavelengths of light that are reflected from it, for example.

    Tom, we religious types are badly divided on whether the Mona Lisa proves the existence of God, but we are unanimous that you secular materialists are losing your minds if you think you need a chemist to prove that.

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  24. I do try to be polite...but really Tom P, that is a lamer response to my comment than I could ever have predicted. What does proving the existence of God have to do with anything?

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  25. "Nevertheless, as I argued in my account of scientism, a worldview which includes a moral system based upon rationality rather than religious decree, a scientific understanding of the physical world based upon reason and evidence, and a fully-rounded population, appreciative of the arts, philosophy and literature as well as science and technology, is the means by which the human race will be capable of progressing."

    That sounds as ilogical and zany as the shite the fundy Christians in the Bible belt preach.

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  26. Tom, we religious types are badly divided on whether the Mona Lisa proves the existence of God, but we are unanimous that you secular materialists are losing your minds if you think you need a chemist to prove that.

    Well, the problem is that you religious types are constantly telling us what is right or wrong based on your understanding of god. Gay people shouldn't be allowed to marry. Why not? Because god says so. Abortion should be outlawed. Why? Because god says so. Since I can't refute something as absurd as "because god says so" I have no recourse except to prove how silly the whole religious thing is. If you want to keep your religious beliefs inside your church then I have no problem. But if you are going to tell me how I should live "because god said so" then please expect to be shown the absurdity of your beliefs.

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  27. I remember once having a discussion in which we tried to decide if there were a universal beauty. So we all named things we thought beautiful and things that weren't. We, mostly white males, had great agreement over all, but then someone named things that other times or cultures or religions or ??? considered beautiful and that stumped us. What would a Roman think of Pollack I wonder.

    midcan5

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  28. What I think I'm trying to say then, is that 'getting it' means realising that humans contain multitudes, and to say that one aspect of humanity is more meaningful to another is to put yourself on dodgy ground.

    I don't think anyone is saying that. What is being said is that self-deception helps no one. I can look at the clouds floating in a blue sky and appreciate the beauty of the day. Or I can discuss with my daughter why the sky is blue and what clouds are made of. Or I can discuss why the human mind sees the blue sky as something good. Or I can say that the blue sky was given to us by the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    Ramen.

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  29. May i suggest that when we talk of 'god' we don't necessarily mean YHVH? - there is a difference, you know.

    As a polytheist, most of what is said here has no real personal relevance to me, though it's of course intellectually interesting. But many of you, Christian and non-Christian, seem to assume that the only possible creator of things is a Semitic deity who left his commandments in Hebrew or Christian Bibles.

    The Christian God, as far as i'm aware, is pretty stingy about miracles. My gods, by contrast, are generous. Christians require faith because their God only grants miracles on rare occasions. i don't need faith.

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  30. As a refugee from the "Guardian" blogs and their unrelenting scientism (what is someone who "does scientism" called, by the way? A scientismist?) , where all discussions of religion seem to boil down to the non-question of whether the existence of God can be proven empirically or not, this place offers a refreshing and welcome change. Since however scientism it has made an appearance here I think I should point out that a) science is just one mode of experience and is not primordial over the others and b) what we call "morality" is essentially a matter of practice and accumulated wisdom and has its foundation in neither the precepts of religion NOR in "reason". The latter in particlar came about in attempt of enligtenment thinkers to put their inherited Judeo-Christian morality on another, secular footing, whereas in fact by working backwards, and making the "right" assumptions and simplifications, you could find a "rational" basis for any state of affair considered desirous.

    My only quibble with this thread is the assetion by Mr Appleyard and some of his chums that the world can be divided between thosse who have had a transcendental aesthetical experience ans those who have not. This is of course elitist tripe.

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  31. Precisely how is your article claiming anything other than that you clearly don't want the truth if it impinges on your current superstition-based world-view

    People can have hallucinations which are NO less real to them than any experience we might encounter. Yet we can (sometimes) prove that what they experienced was clearly not what happened.

    If the person thought that three aluminum gargoyles were holding their bed above the ground, then it might be easy to demonstrate their experience as not effectively based in reality.

    Thus, if science can provide a complete neuroscientific account of your experience, then you'd be unmoved.

    Science doesn't claim to provide experience, so you clearly had a misunderstanding. Nor does science claim to be "above" the human experience. Science, for those who wish to understand, attempts to remove the aspect of human experience as a criteria for general validation, whenever possible. So asking people "how much happier are you now" is typically of very little utility in any scientific study.

    Science does say human experience is fallible, unreliable and can be trusted ONLY when it can be verified via other means.

    With inhibitory neuroreceptors, every sense of your body INTENTIONALLY ignores a great percentage of your true potential for accurate experience. Via your senses, you typically receive only very minimal information when compared to what you believe that you "experience". Those are facts.

    We can test those neurological principles, and have tested those, repeatedly.

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  32. Well, the problem is that you religious types are constantly telling us what is right or wrong based on your understanding of god.

    Tom, I think I'm beginning to see your point. I certainly wouldn't be at all happy with people telling me what is right and wrong based on their belief that the blue sky was given to us by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But facinating as the theological ramifications of that are, I think our host's post is about the conflicts between doctrinaire materialism and human experience. I'm not sure that is necessarily the start of a slippery slope to the religious trying to take all the fun out of your life.

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  33. Hi John Meredith,

    You said:

    It may be that there is such mystical experience but literally nothing can be said about it and so it can't form part of the conversation. The right, the only response is silence, anything else you attempt to say will have no meaning.

    If Saul has a mystical experience, so moving that it changes his life and he changes his name to Paul, and talks about it and writes it down; and then someone else has a similar experience and talks about it and writes it down; and so forth and so on: then something can be said about it, and it can form part of the conversation. The right response has not been silence, and many meaningful conversations have come from such experiences.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  34. If Saul has a mystical experience, so moving that it changes his life and he changes his name to Paul, and talks about it and writes it down...

    And does L. Ron Hubbard and Tom Cruise fall into this category of human as well?

    Anyway, if you do start talking about your religious conversion don't expect anything from me other than asking if you saw the Giants-Eagles games last Sunday.

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  35. And I should add that PZ Myers (infamous among catholics for having thrown a host in the garbage) has written a fine article about the virtues of Bryan's writing:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/01/for_gods_sake_have_bryan_apple.php

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  36. Hi Code Sculptor,

    You said:

    Science, for those who wish to understand, attempts to remove the aspect of human experience as a criteria for general validation, whenever possible.

    Once the aspect of human experience is removed, a scientist cannot then enter it back in.

    A scientist can only speak scientifically from this limitation of needing scientific validation and postulation, to say, for instance, that the reason someone is happy is because certain hormones are being emitted, or to say from another scientific point of view that giving a subject what makes him happy, made him happy. Either way, it may be that the sun is shining, and this frequently causes a subject to report happiness. Scientifically, this can make sense to us from different angles, different scientific reasons, and it can conform to different science-based models, such as evolutionary theory, biological sciences, and social sciences. We may do the same for a subject who reports feeling groggy, tired, depressed, euphoric, confident, and so forth. Different scientists will see different scientific angles to take to explain the experiences. At a more basic level, there are physical explanations for how we see, that have to do with how the eye is made, and how light behaves, and similar scientific study goes for the other senses as well. We even have theories, that we continually work on fine tuning, for how humans developed these capabilities and aforementioned emotions.

    This is nothing more than realizing what most people have thought when young, what if each and every action I made, had a physical component to it. What if even my thoughts were in every way patterned after the neurons and activity in my brain and body?

    We are far from knowing this to be so, but let's say that it is. All we did was find out that this was so. The next step is a leap of faith. That step is to define us as physical only because it is so. This last step was never part of the bargain, to give up the spiritual inquirer, to become lost in science.

    We said: What if we hold the spiritual aspect of ourselves to zero, does the physical world that we behold and which we are "in", does it work anyway? Through this line of inquiry, we have been able to make many technological and medical advances.

    But we don't disappear if it does. It was never meant that we would give ourselves up if we would ever get that far.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  37. Hi Tom,

    No, I definitely did not expect anything from you more than the Giants-Eagles game. I will interject that these religious experiences have had interest for those who have not had them, vis a vis William James.

    But more importantly, it has occurred to me that if the Eagles win this coming week end, they either play Baltimore or Pittsburgh. Either way, we have a backyard brawl in the works.

    But the question remains, who is going to take down Baltimore? These guys are crazy the way they win. Really, the first team they took out was the Patriots whose winning streak and a 11-5 record couldn't get them past Baltimore and into the play offs as the wild card. Baltimore then takes down the other 11-5 team who took the division, Miami. Only to then take out the #1 seed.

    However, if they get by Pittsburgh, and Philly gets by Arizona, it would be great to see a second championship team be in Philadelphia. It'd be like New England's baseball and football mojo moved south. Hopefully, Boston still has the basketball thing going on.

    And by mojo, I mean the physical denotations and connotations of the term, and I do not mean to indicate that there is any synchronicity or any conscious or unconscious "material" to be concerned with.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  38. Tom P:

    When you are bring in PZ Myers - a man who is to intelligent debate what Vlad the Impaler was to needlepoint - you tend to lose sympathy for your argument.

    Gordon:

    "Nevertheless, as I argued in my account of scientism, a worldview which includes a moral system based upon rationality rather than religious decree.."

    That is possibly the most scary thing I've read in a while, because it is clear that you are serious. I'd love to see who gets to define rational, and what the lifespan of any given definition is.

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  39. Why isn't anyone talking about drugs here? The first time I had a major religious experience was when I woke up after surgery at age 16 and a priest was sitting next to my bed (I was raised Catholic). I was blissed out on painkillers and truly saw him as an emissary from God. Everything in the room was colored brilliantly, and one could feel the Holy Spirit in the air. Was that experience real or was I just stoned? Who knows?

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  40. I have temporal lobe epilepsy and I have had out of body experiences because of it. If I was a religious person I could imagine what I would be thinking.

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  41. Gordon said
    "Nevertheless, as I argued in my account of scientism, a worldview which includes a moral system based upon rationality rather than religious decree.."

    Recusant said:
    That is possibly the most scary thing I've read in a while, because it is clear that you are serious. I'd love to see who gets to define rational, and what the lifespan of any given definition is.


    And who gets to decide what is moral in the religious world? An 80 year old ex-Nazi from Germany? A 60 year old murderous maniac from Saudi Arabia? A 50 year old racist from Alabama?

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  42. Hi Susan,

    So if you have what you would consider to be a religious experience, and you can attribute it to drugs, your conversation about religious experiences stops there? Nothing's been proven, and such a case is always possible. It is as if you are saying, "If it's good enough for other atheists, then it's good enough for me."

    As I addressed in my comment, if we get really creative, we can attribute everything spiritual with a physical explanation. We can always creatively hypothesize. It may be that no matter what the experience, there is something physical we could detect, if we were advanced enough to detect it, but presume otherwise.

    None of this discounts that our first experience is not of the physical, that it is us on the quest for a unified model that might explain everything in physical terms, even from different angles, different scientific disciplines. At the end, you could say, "There, we have all been on drugs, veritable drugs, to have each and every thought and emotion we have ever had." Or Tom could say, "There, all religious experiences are veritable epileptic episodes." Someone else could say, "There, all religious experiences are psychologically escapist" or sexually based, or give humankind the creative juices that allow for survival, or are indications that we as a species are faltering and will not be surviving, or what have you.

    But the response the scientists would receive at the end of all the successful research by the millions throughout the years past and yet to come would be, "Good job, we thought it might be the case, that if we assumed we had no spiritual side, what appears as the physical world in which we find ourselves, would be a viable system. How very interesting. How very cool." Yet, no God would ever have been discounted, certainly our spiritual sides would not disappear in the process. None of us would suddenly become spiritless zombies once we had the "Aha". That would be like running off a cliff, and not falling to your death until you realize there was never any cliff beneath you in the first place.

    Even if we go so far and explain how it might be that this consciousness we have somehow appears to derive from the physical, we could never prove that it was not in fact quite the reverse, that the physical system we observe derives from the spiritual. Doesn't it?

    Without a conscious observer, nothing is observable. Yet, one nature of any aspect of the world we have ever studied scientifically, is that it is observable. That there would ever be a physical world without a spiritual observer is and always will be pure speculation.

    There used to be the idea that somewhere in the brain, the mind could act on the body to impose willful decisions. No place was found, as you know. But now we have the reverse proposition to contend with, the issue of where does the body or the atmosphere, or whatever it may be: What works on the mind to impose physical determinism? The question is not how do drugs make a subject report a religious experience, but how does anything in the physical world translate to our spiritual side such that we would ever subjectively consider a religious experience. We know our experiences exist as such.

    Ever since we could ponder, there has always been an atheistic answer for everything, an answer that takes into consideration all physical knowledge of the time concerned. However, atheism always has been, and it appears it always will be, unprovable by people who study the physical world--even though we have always had atheists who report how convinced they are of their positions based solely on such study.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  43. Bryan, I would say that this cuts both ways. Since you can't tell me what sort of thing this qualitative experience is that you're talking about, or even what SORT of explanation for it you're looking for, then it seems to me that everything you're saying about how scientific accounts of experience are vapid are just as premature and unjustifiably presumptuous as you seem to think a scientific explanation might be.

    Maybe if you could explain or give an example of what a "spiritual" alternative to scientific explanation is, you'd be on better ground. But most spiritualist terms seem to be nothing more than carefully rephrased statements of ignorance. You're totally sure that such and such phenomenon is NOT composed of a particular arrangement of matter... but what it is, you can't say. A "soul" is nothing more than a non-concept which expresses this ignorance, coupled with a resolute but equally empty assertion about what it cannot possibly be... because for some reason, you would find it unsatisfying.

    Most supernatural explanations boil down into such tricks. When someone says that God did something, what they are essentially saying is that a hypothetical being who can hypothetically do ANYTHING did it... in some unknown way. I've never understood how this is an improvement on simply saying "I don't know how it happened." The idea that we're gained or learned something from positing God as a cause is an illusion of sloppy logic.

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  44. As all theological debates go, so goes this one.

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  45. Your post is a conceptual shambles. You never give any reason why the fact that science can't explain what an experience is has some bearing on whether it can explain why you have an experience,or on whether that explanation can undermine the experience's justification. If the experience in question is a belief, then I'd think that an explanation of why you came to have the belief might be highly relevant to whether you are justified in having the belief.

    You also bandy about terms that you don't understand. You say that an argument to the effect "it must be true, therefore it will be true" is "circular." In fact there is nothing wrong with such arguments;

    1. It must be true that Jones either has two children or less, or more than two children.
    2. If x must be true then x will be true.
    3. Therefore, It will be true that Jones either has two children or less, or more than two children.

    (1)-(3) seems perfectly sound, and, more to the point, isn't circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is when you justify some conclusion C by citing some premise P, and they you justify P by citing C. So: "Abortion is wrong because it is wrong to kill fetuses. It is wrong to kill fetuses because abortion is wrong" is circular reasoning.

    Do evolutionary psychologists actually engage in circular reasoning? No, they argue that there is abundant evidence that we are evolved organisms, and if we are evolved organisms then we can give an evolutionary explanation for why we have (at least the capacity to have) most of the experiences we do. Maybe the argument is unsound, but where's the circularity?

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  46. To Anonymous:

    Here's what Bryan said:

    There is currently not even the shadow of an explanation of my feeling through the workings of my brain, we don't even have a coherent explanation of how matter becomes mind. All such arguments are, therefore, circular. It must be true, therefore it will be true.

    Darwin, different from his predecessor Patrick Matthew, asserted that all phenomena should be explained in relation to evolutionary principles and natural selection in one's quest for the truth of matters in life. He asserted that all should take up this bent. Although this may work reasonably well for the objective physical world, as we mold it with the evolutionary clay of our minds, it has not translated back to each of our subjective experiences.

    Begging the question would be to rephrase answers to queries such that Darwinism must be true, thus working more of the evolutionary clay, and this is what we have here:

    We say:

    1. Darwinism must be true, such that it can ultimately explain everything.

    2. Bryan's statement: There is currently not even the shadow of an explanation of my feeling through the workings of my brain, we don't even have a coherent explanation of how matter becomes mind.

    Therefore 3. Darwinism will ultimately explain Bryan's problem.

    That's called begging the question. There is no attempt to argue on the grounds the statement proffers. In this particular case, however, we have the further fallacy, the case of circular reasoning, in that we can add a fourth:

    4. Once again, Darwinism has prevailed against another argument.

    5. And we have confirmed that (1.) Darwinism must be true, such that it can ultimately explain everything.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  47. What on earth does this have to do with the existence or non-existence of a supernatural sky-daddy? Science does not have ready explanations for all forms of experience, therefore God? Please.

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  48. someone said

    "Different scientists will see different scientific angles to take to explain the experiences."

    but this is the exact "opposite" of what science is. Science works because it's about using methods where different scientists DON'T get different explanations. yes, you can find different lenses to look at effects and explanations, but to the extent they are different, they are also wrong.

    One other observation -- whenever these discussions occur, it is very interesting to look at the complexity and nuance of the two sides. Those that are pro-science tend to have much more complicated, logical and creative arguments. Why do you think that is?

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  49. I'm not sure the question of what you might personally have to gain really bears on what even by your lights ought to be a search for as complete and accurate an account as possible of the relationship of your experience to reality such as it is.

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  50. I have to agree with the others who ask, "what is gained by choosing God?" You've offered no explanation of how any experience is richer by attributing it to an unseen, unknown, mysterious God, or by weaving it into a particular mythology.

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  51. Hi even steven,

    You said:

    Science works because it's about using methods where different scientists DON'T get different explanations.

    This is incorrect. The phenomenon is agreed upon. The explanations are different. And this will be the case until all the different science disciplines are somehow unified. It is specifically the Darwinian umbrella that evolutionists would like science to follow in order to come up with explanations and hypotheses.

    So for instance, cognitive psychologists might look at the thoughts a depressed person has been having, what she has been "telling" herself in order to explain reports of a depressed mood. A psychiatrist might explain such a situation based on neural activity, or use some other aspect of a medical model. Treatment might include both approaches, medicine and psychological therapy sessions. A further explanation might have to do with how it is that depression has evolved in the human animal, and specifically how it has been passed down to this particular subject, possibly via genes.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  52. I am trying to follow the arguments of Paul Fidalgo and then David Bartoletti. Here's what Paul said:

    What on earth does this have to do with the existence or non-existence of a supernatural sky-daddy? Science does not have ready explanations for all forms of experience, therefore God? Please.

    No one said anything about "Science does not have ready explanations for all forms of experience, therefore God." I don't think anyone here had proffered such an argument. Where was this?

    And then David's just above:

    I have to agree with the others who ask, "what is gained by choosing God?"

    Where was that brought up? Or was it another thread. If it was brought up, what was it in response to?

    I'm thinking they are arguing with or against straw men, although David's could have been to ask what good is God to science? Science assumes no God until there would be reason to hypothesize that there is such a God. In the mean time, evolutionary theory says don't even go there.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  53. The subjective is usually more interesting than the objective, which atheists use to refute the wild subjective claims of Christianity and any idea of deity. Those subjective claims are much more fun than the dry refutations. And that's what it's all about, right? The freedom to be subjective makes us fun humans instead of boring robots. Who cares which is correct? The agnostic aspect is what makes life interesting - we don't know much more right now about meaning than we ever have. If we had it all figured out either way, what would be our motivation to keep thinking? Big, open questions keep freedom of thought alive. As far as moral codes go, neither secular nor non-secular ones have prevented genocide, so the idea is to maximize human empathy, and neither Christianity nor atheism does that. They're too divisive. A good mix of sex and bad philosophy and marijuana works pretty well for my commune.

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  54. You're talking about scientific reductionism, and arguing that Qualia disprove it.

    I don't think it's convincing, but it has nothing at all to do with God or atheism. Qualia might represent something beyond the physical description, with or without a God. Likewise, there could be a God but an explanation for qualia might still be found in the brain.

    In any case, just as the argument against reductionism is concerned, I think it's a bad one. My computer can, in theory, be described in terms of atoms and electrons, or even smaller phenomena. But such an explanation would be incomprehensible and unsatisfying. It doesn't mean that the computer has a soul. Your experiences perhaps could be something akin to that. The truth is, I don't know, science doesn't know, and either do you.

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  55. I'm still up and reading, and so will comment, enjoying this thread a lot.

    Todd,

    That injection of qualia is a very good addition to the thought processes going on here, and confirms this all to be so very thought-experimental.

    Qualia ideas have been brought up in the thread, but the initial post by Bryan is about "aesthetic, religious or emotional experience of great, life-changing importance," which supercedes our usual concept of what a quale is. However, it is possible that there is a quale that is also a religious experience, so let's make one up. This would be the case of a hyperquale.

    Let's say there is a certain greenness that once beheld, is life-changing. If you experience it, and I experience it, we can talk for days and nights on end about what this means for our lives. This very greenness shakes our foundations in a sense. It is also very otherworldly, and yet very this-worldly at the same time. We never read scripture from any source quite the same way again, and understand keenly that there is something about this greenness that is in everything we ever behold. None of this is in the greenness as such--greenness, after all is simply quale-grenness--but in the ramifications of this particular greenness once we apply this experience to all our others.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  56. Wow Rus (RE: your Darwin argument): look how powerfully you can satirize an argument when you get to make it up yourself for you to then knock down!

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  57. Please, spare me the rhetoric and mumbo jumbo fuzzy thinking: scientific thinking in now way attempts to claim that there is any kind of thing "above" human experience. Rather, scientific accounts claim that the type of human experience which is intellectually and empirically justifiable is the common experience which is observable by all and which is based on experimentation and reason. Science does not doubt that believers "believe" that they had experiences; they only ask that these accounts be subjected to tests of reason and scientific experimentation. If beleivers know how carbon, hydrogen, potassium, nitrogen, and other chemical elements are organized into neurons that can produce spiritual experiences, please let us all know. Or, if believers believe that there is magic at work in the brain, that there is some ineluctable quantity, some unmeasurable aspect of brain chemistry, the believers need to let us know how they know that. Merely because science has yet to fully explicate the mechanism of consciousness does not mean that the mechanism is non-biological or subject to physical laws. Newtown only proferred a detailed account of gravity about 300 years ago; yet, people did not fly off the planet haphazardly until he did. Also, merely because a scientific account is unsatisfactory does not mean that a religious or spiritual account can fill the void. Religious or spiritual accounts need to stand on their own two feet and not depend on lacunae in current scientific knowledge to buttress their case. If the believers have a well thought out basis for consciousness which does not depend on personal experiences that are not observable to all, I am sure the scientific community would be very interested in hearing about these ideas. I believe however that believers are actually lazy and ignorant thinkers who confuse their own laziness and ignorance (and possibly their cognitive deficiences) with enlightnment and self-delusion.

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  58. Hi Bad,

    Please elaborate. What do you see that I built up, and what do you see that I knocked down? I sense a good tangent here.

    Yours,
    Rus

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