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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 4:26 am 
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kitoba wrote:
As someone committed to reconciling science and faith, I'm interested in what keeps them at odds. I wanted to explore the idea that part of the tension is that science is serving, however inappropriately, the function of a faith for a significantly non-zero number of people.


I think you've found one large thing that keeps them at odds; the debate has been polarized to the point that a number of otherwise perfectly sensible people (waffle forms a good example in this thread) lash out instinctively against anyone who even looks like they might be giving reasonable consideration to the other side.

This seems, however, to be a strictly regional thing; it only affects those regions where people are seriously trying to force creationism into schools. (As far as I know, that's only in part of America). For instance, it's not really a major debate here - people have heard of it, but there isn't the extreme polarization that can be seen on this thread. And a big part of that, I'd imagine, is because no-one's really trying to get it into schools here. Similarly, science and faith don't seem to be nearly as much at odds here as they are there.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:47 am 
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I don't see that as certain either. The place Dawkins has definitely attracted opposition is theists who believe in evolution. As for the creationists, I think things like the growth of fundamentalism, attacks on gay marriage, and so on show people of that sort were already galvanizing themselves. I see no reason to suppose they wouldn't be just as willing to battle someone more like Gould or Morris, as waffle's history suggests. It's not an important point, but it seems like you are allowing a lot of blame on him simply because his other goals are so repellent to yours.


I think we need to distinguish between kinds of "opposition." Dawkins and the "Creation Scientists" are in an oppositional relationship, but they actually share a lot of common ground. They both believe Christian faith and evolutionary science are incompatible. They both see irreducible design as the key question of existence. They both believe that science versus religion is a necessary battle that can and must have one and only one winner. In their back-and-forth volleys, they both can promote this shared ground with the marketing advantage of giving people the spectacle of a no-holds-barred fight.

Neither a Gould or a Morris serves the same purpose. It's the same reason no one on the other side is interested in theologians who embrace evolution.

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Well, if that's your interest, I think the discussion has shown something larger. You came in expecting people to need faith to move past very high confidence to philosophical certainty, but found that instead of using science for that, many of the people here are just fine without that move. Let me suggest the tension has more to do with this common difference than whatever non-zero people you find who do take science as faith.


But I think this actually supports my point. It's true that only a tiny minority of people are directly interested in the philosophical underpinnings of their belief systems. But that doesn't mean they aren't affected by them. The big thinkers of any movement --and I would definitely put Dawkins in that category --have an outsized impact because they are the ones who took the effort to actually wrestle with what they believe.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:48 am 
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kitoba wrote:
But I think this actually supports my point. It's true that only a tiny minority of people are directly interested in the philosophical underpinnings of their belief systems. But that doesn't mean they aren't affected by them. The big thinkers of any movement --and I would definitely put Dawkins in that category --have an outsized impact because they are the ones who took the effort to actually wrestle with what they believe.

I think you have entirely missed my point, though, if you think people who are interested in their philosophical underpinnings can't also be satisfied with exceptionally high confidence. My position, and I'm far from alone in it, is that's all you actually get; if I am honest I should always admit the theoretic possibility of a mistake, though it may be completely negligible in practice.

As an example, to me the most negligible would be the possibility that logic is wrong. Mathematical proofs for instance have value because, unless there is some error, they make their results as secure as logic. Earlier you mentioned proving first-order logic consistent, but to me that doesn't add anything more, because the proof wouldn't work without logic anyway. And I have been told there is the odd philosopher who thinks it may not, that either logic is a cultural construct, or that our reality actually contains self-contradictions.

But I don't see those. My whole experience, and it seems the experience of all humanity, is that while some ways people try to reason - for instance going from a statement to its converse - often fail, syllogisms never do. So I think we have discovered something special in them, and would consider the chance of them always working so close to 100% that I don't know how to measure the difference. Indeed, I have no idea how to reason at all in the case that it is wrong, having never come across anything even remotely similar.

Yet ultimately the only reason I can offer why the one rule works and the other doesn't is that experience. When a student wonders why assuming the converse isn't valid reasoning, it's their experience I use to persuade them otherwise, and it's the only answer I would have to those philosophers why I think they're missing something important.

The main example you've given of faith on this thread is to move from a very high confidence answer to absolute surety. You can let me know if you think this applies to what I think here, but my inclination is to say it doesn't, and not because I'm simply not interested in what underlies my philosophy.

Edit: small changes for clarity.


Last edited by LeoChopper on Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:51 am, edited 2 times in total.
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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:50 am 
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kitoba wrote:
But I think this actually supports my point. It's true that only a tiny minority of people are directly interested in the philosophical underpinnings of their belief systems. But that doesn't mean they aren't affected by them. The big thinkers of any movement --and I would definitely put Dawkins in that category --have an outsized impact because they are the ones who took the effort to actually wrestle with what they believe.


I think this is a bit condescending, kit. I think most people "wrestle with what they believe," if they are inclined to being faithful in, say, a higher power or other worldliness. In fact, it's an entire tenant of certain faith movements - moments of doubt, moments of searching, etc. And doubt is how religions change and people decide which of their own faith's tenants they can live with - when I was Catholic, a priest during the homily snidely called it "buffet Catholicism." It's framed as a weakness, as a desire to do what you want even if it's against God's will. But the buffet Catholics, I think, aren't weak, they simply doubt whether their god, for instance, would REALLY care that much if they use birth control.

And I think this is where religious zealotry comes from. When one reaches a conclusion, and no longer wishes to experience the doubt, they go all in. The earth is 6,000 years old, all religions lead to Hinduism, one must create war with the infidel, etc. because this is the Truth the zealot has reached and doubt has been banished in favor of the comfort of certainty. But the doubtful are far more plentiful. The doubtful are the ones who tweak their own faith's rules to be more lenient, to be less judgmental, to flow with the times. I think it's far more likely to find someone who regularly wrestles with their faith than the zealots who have come to their conclusion, and I'd rather the wrestler than the zealot.

Finally, from your argument, it seems you're equating certain scientists to these religious zealots - they've thrown all their chips in on recordable observations. However, I don't believe the scientist is like the religious zealot - they didn't wrestle with belief, they have their facts in front of them and they stand by their facts. They don't need to go all in, because all they're doing is presenting observable findings. And when they feel like their observations are being drowned out by doubt from those of faith, they get loud about their facts.

I'm not saying there aren't scientists who get stuck on certain ideas and stay with them, even though more current data proves their ideas incorrect. Mendeleev, for instance, did not think atoms existed, even though the proof was in the pudding*. Einstein REALLY hated quantum mechanics. Linus Pauling pushed the triple helix until Watson and Crick proved otherwise (Pauling was more gracious about his incorrect observation than the former two). I guess you could call them "zealots" for not accepting the observable data, but they at least continued to search for evidence that their visions of the universe were true rather than declaring truth full stop and declaring holy war.

I think this is why science can never be taken as an actual faith - there may be strong ideas about what's correct, but you have to back it up with data for it to be taken as Truth. One Truth can easily be killed by another if data comes along to disprove it. Again, there may be people who try to stick with the original Truth, and whole schools thay may stick with the Truth for an embarrassing amount of time, but if the data is overwhelming, that Truth is going to die. Individuals being incorrect is not the same as the whole shebang running on faith.

Faith does not work that way. One person can have an idea, based purely on a gut feeling, and without any sort of observable data can declare it as Truth and run with it. There need not be observable data - so long as the faithful feel that their faith helps them, or is of value, or is correct, then it is correct. There are some among the faithful that try to "prove" the Truth of their beliefs - miracles are a biggie, for instance. But miracles are slippery buggers. When observed scientifically, many miracles turn out to have perfectly natural explanations.

Still, that need for Truth runs strong, even in the faithful - which is why things like the Shroud of Taurin get tested regularly to figure out its authenticity, or why there are people who search for Noah's Ark or Jesus's tomb. Which goes back to my original point - being faithful goes hand in hand with being doubtful. People wrestle with faith regularly. They want observable truth as well as inner truth. Saying that the loud zealots are to be lauded because they found an "answer" denies the truth and regularity of doubt.

*Heh. Okay, so the pudding model was eventually disproven, but I couldn't help myself.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 2:33 pm 
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There are people, who don't particulary care about philosophic positions and they tend to gravitate to middle of the road positions, i assume mainly out of convenience, because there it does not happen that often, that they are forced to justify their positions. I think thats, what kitoba has thought about.

Theese people can be steered by aggressive extremists BTW. If being an atheist is considered extreme in their subculture, they tend to be christmas and easter religious. If actually going to church is considered quirky, they tend to be agnostics. If seperating religious from scientific views is considered the height of secularism, they tend toward throwing religious views in science classes some bones. If there is people, who loudly claim, that all religion is an unneccessary brainfart, becasue it's not scientific, then seperating science and religion becomes middle of the road.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 2:54 pm 
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LeoChopper wrote:
kitoba wrote:
As someone committed to reconciling science and faith, I'm interested in what keeps them at odds. I wanted to explore the idea that part of the tension is that science is serving, however inappropriately, the function of a faith for a significantly non-zero number of people.

Well, if that's your interest, I think the discussion has shown something larger. You came in expecting people to need faith to move past very high confidence to philosophical certainty, but found that instead of using science for that, many of the people here are just fine without that move. Let me suggest the tension has more to do with this common difference than whatever non-zero people you find who do take science as faith.


We have not even discussed just how high that high confidence is. Earlier in this thread, kitoba was talking about inductive reasoning giving an answer that one was 99.99% confident in, but he asserted it was an act of faith to move that final 0.01%. drachefly mentioned that the gap was smaller. Before we close out this thread, I thought I should mention what the actual value is for Quantum Electrodynamics.

QED does not match reality to 0.01%. Worst case, it matches it to 0.0000000001%. That is, the least accurate tests we have performed shows agreement between theory and reality to one part in one billion. Best case is even more accurate. Measurements of some technical features of the electron show agreement between QED and reality to one part in one trillion. An overview is here.

kitoba wrote:
I think we need to distinguish between kinds of "opposition." Dawkins and the "Creation Scientists" are in an oppositional relationship, but they actually share a lot of common ground. They both believe Christian faith and evolutionary science are incompatible. They both see irreducible design as the key question of existence. They both believe that science versus religion is a necessary battle that can and must have one and only one winner. In their back-and-forth volleys, they both can promote this shared ground with the marketing advantage of giving people the spectacle of a no-holds-barred fight.


This is incorrect. Dawkins focus on irreducible complexity is not because it is any key point. Irreducible complexity is an incorrect and, quite frankly, willingly ignorant argument against the Theory of Evolution. Dawkins focus on it is not because of the inherent strength of the position, but because of the number times it is brought up. Because, as history shows, no matter how many times a Creationist argument is disassembled, it keeps being advanced as fact. The argument itself first appeared, though with fewer ten dollar words, in 1802. It has been addressed and demonstrated lacking many, many times. But like a bad penny, it keeps turning up.

Dawkins aggressiveness is a direct result of the aggressive tactics of Creationist to enshrine their interpretation of Christianity in the school room. And like Tomas Huxley a century before him, the extreme dismissal of rational thought is provoking the development of a vociferous critic.

I mentioned the Gish Gallop before. Irreducible complexity is often folded in as part of a gallop. The tactic is to advance multiple good sounding, but long ago dismissed positions as facts, forcing your opponent to go back and refute these points again. To the uninformed public, it sounds like a back and forth between equal positions. But the technique is dishonest and will, over time, force the energetic and often preemptive response seen in Dawkins.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:06 pm 
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waffle wrote:
This is incorrect. Dawkins focus on irreducible complexity is not because it is any key point. Irreducible complexity is an incorrect and, quite frankly, willingly ignorant argument against the Theory of Evolution. Dawkins focus on it is not because of the inherent strength of the position, but because of the number times it is brought up.


I'm afraid I came prepared to cite chapter and verse on this one, waffle. It's the key point in a paper I'm writing on Dawkins. If you read the entire range of his work starting with the Blind Watchmaker, he works hard to place irreducible complexity at the center of the atheist-vs-theist debate --obviously because he believes he has a secure answer to the problem. ( As Alister McGrath points out, the problem isn't nearly as central to mainstream Christian theology as it is to Dawkins. )

1. Dawkins believes irreducible complexity is the best possible argument for God:

Quote:
We are entirely accustomed to the idea that complex elegance is an indicator of premeditated, crafted design. This is probably the most powerful reason for the belief, held by the vast majority of people that have ever lived, in some kind of supernatural deity.


2. Dawkins believes irreducible complexity is a real and important problem to solve

Dawkins wrote:
The problem is that of complex design... The complexity of living organisms is matched by the elegant efficiency of their apparent design. If anyone doesn't agree that this amount of complex design cries out for an explanation, I give up. (Blind Watchmaker, preface)


3. Dawkins believes that without a solution to this problem, one cannot be intellectually fulfilled:

Quote:
An atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: 'I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn't a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.' I can't help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.


4. Dawkins is willing to bet everything on the strength of the answer to this question:

Quote:
Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable. The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin's theory (GD 124-125)


Note: A lot of other posters made interesting points I would like to respond to, however I wanted to be sure to get this in particular in before the thread closes, given that I have such strong support for my position.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:57 pm 
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Speaking of thread closure, I encourage everyone who's participated to make a final summing-up post if they like to have a last say -- I'll make sure the thread stays unlocked until then -- but if you want to introduce any new angles, take it to a new thread. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Sat Mar 16, 2013 2:19 am 
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My take after all this:
  • We cannot observe God to prove His existence, nor can we accurately observe 100% of the universe to disprove His existence. Science therefore cannot say definitively that He does or does not exist, only that He has not been observed.
  • Since we cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God, any position other than agnosticism constitutes some element of faith (or, if you prefer, acceptance of a premise that, however well-supported you feel it to be, cannot be absolutely proven). Therefore, I would categorize both theism and atheism as faith-based positions. Agnosticism is not a faith-based position, as it is characterized by the lack of faith in either direction.
  • Given the previous statements, a person cannot honestly say that science proves a non-agnostic position. Personally, he or she can be a theist or an atheist if they so desire, but an appeal to science cannot make that personal choice concrete. At most, science might be able to say it has disproven some things people think about God.
  • Pure science, being agnostic, is not a faith, although individuals may attempt to twist it into becoming one. Individuals may appeal to science for evidence which supports or opposes God's existence, but it is evidence only, not proof.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Mon Mar 18, 2013 7:03 am 
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kitoba wrote:
I'm afraid I came prepared to cite chapter and verse on this one, waffle. It's the key point in a paper I'm writing on Dawkins. If you read the entire range of his work starting with the Blind Watchmaker, he works hard to place irreducible complexity at the center of the atheist-vs-theist debate --obviously because he believes he has a secure answer to the problem. ( As Alister McGrath points out, the problem isn't nearly as central to mainstream Christian theology as it is to Dawkins. )


None of Dawkins' quotes say what you claim they're saying

Quote:
1. Dawkins believes irreducible complexity is the best possible argument for God:

Quote:
We are entirely accustomed to the idea that complex elegance is an indicator of premeditated, crafted design. This is probably the most powerful reason for the belief, held by the vast majority of people that have ever lived, in some kind of supernatural deity.


He doesn'y say anything about irreducible complexity here. He's merely talking about the argument from design. He doesn't say best possible argument for God - he merely thinks this is the reason that's convinced most people of God's existence. I doubt he's right

Quote:
2. Dawkins believes irreducible complexity is a real and important problem to solve

Dawkins wrote:
The problem is that of complex design... The complexity of living organisms is matched by the elegant efficiency of their apparent design. If anyone doesn't agree that this amount of complex design cries out for an explanation, I give up. (Blind Watchmaker, preface)


Nor does he say anything about irreducible complexity here. He merely points out the obvious and incontrovertible fact that lots of features in the natural world look designed for a purpose. And this does require an explanation - one elegantly provided by natural selection.

Quote:
4. Dawkins is willing to bet everything on the strength of the answer to this question:

Quote:
Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable. The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin's theory (GD 124-125)


Of your four quotes, this is the only one that's actually about irreducible complexity. The others are merely about the appearance of complex design, which is not the same thing. The whole purpose of the Blind Watchmaker is to argue that teleologcial arguments for God are flawed (at least applied to living organisms), since evolution explains the appearance of design in living things.

The last quote actually is about irreducible complexity, and what he says is correct. An irreducibly complex organ would be one which, by definition, could not have a evolved in a stepwise, undirected fashion. The idea is that it is any structure which, if you remove or change any part of it, would be useless - meaning there is no predecessor from which it could have evolved. If such structures did exist in living things, then our concept of evolution would be hopelessley wrong. Thankfully, they don't.

If you're writing a paper on Dawkins and irreducable complexity, then you need to be careful and consider what irreducible complexity actually means. It's not a synonym for the appearance of complex design.

---------

As for my closing thoughts on the whole thread, I'll be honest that I don't think it really got anywhere, since you never defined 'faith'. Without agreeing on what you actually mean by this fairly vague term, the whole exercise of deciding whether science is a faith becomes pointless.

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 Post subject: Re: Science as a Faith
 Post Posted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 1:02 am 
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I think I'd have to agree with caffeine. There's been a lot of circles spoken around but they aren't moving the conversation.

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