Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Is Skepticism Good Science?

As a youngster in science classes, we were taught to observe nature, look for things about which we might find classification, causes, rules, laws, etc., construct hypothesis, construct and conduct experiments for testing those hypothesis, then make our conclusions. Such conclusions might lead to the establishment of theories, or show that we were on the wrong track, or suggest new hypotheses. At no time do I ever remember the teacher suggesting that we look at nature with the intent of overthrowing common sense. The goal was positive, not negative. Now, it seems that many in the science community seem as intent on destroying foundational beliefs in God as they are in discovering how nature works. Certainly there seems to be more joy when a new "discovery" carries with it some aspect that will tear greater holes in the fabric of Christianity.

Not to say that this doesn't work both ways. Christians are pretty happy when they think they have found a breach in the walls of science. Especially if those breaches are in evolutionary or astrophysical science. Thus we are skeptics of science in much the way that some scientists are skeptics of religion. Each group is less skeptical of its own dogma.

For the purposes of this blog, my concern is that naturalists look at things that are totally self-evident and work overtime to try and find bizarre explanations, which explanations usually require at least as much faith as faith in God, and usually have much less evidence of any type.

I will admit that there are times when Christians look at things which are pretty self-evident and work overtime to try and fit scripture into current scientific thinking.

Another idea in the middle of formation. Maybe you all can shoot me down or add to what I've started.

30 comments:

bernardo said...

"At no time do I ever remember the teacher suggesting that we look at nature with the intent of overthrowing common sense."

Quantum Mechanics isn't exactly "common sense". Even fluid dynamics and thermodynamics can be very counter-intuitive sometimes. "Overthrowing common sense" is not the primary goal of scientific investigation, but it is sometimes a byproduct.

Like I keep saying, the goal of science is to come up with naturalistic models that can explain how some phenomenon is the natural result of some previous conditions (or to use these models to figure out what the previous conditions were). This means that, if common sense tells you that the eye (or the bacterial flagellum, or DNA, or whatever) could not have evolved by natural selection, and must have been miraculously generated in one generation by a group of mutations that is essentially impossible... then the goal of science is to prove you wrong. Science is not out to destroy God. But it IS out to fill the "gaps" in natural understanding which most Christians fill with "God".

When Newton first modeled the orbits of the planes using his inverse-square model of gravitational force (standing on the shoulders of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler), he was asked if he had any explanation for why all the orbits are in the same plane. He said that he could not guess a cause for this, and that when God set up the universe he must have put all the orbits in the same plane, so that the beauty and unlikely elegance of the solar system would hint at its divine creation. But then, once we were able to mathematically model the behavior of particle clouds in space, we could see that a particle cloud with non-zero angular momentum (and you'd have to be pretty lucky for the angular momentum of all the particles to add up to zero) eventually (through collisions and tidal forces) flattens out to a disk, and that the particles eventually form rings, and that the rings coalesce into planets. These days, no one finds this model to be controversial, awkward, far-fetched, or against common sense.

I could tell you similar stories about many phenomena, from the weather to the inheritance of traits to the nature of disease. There are lots of gaps in our understanding of the physical world, and people always quickly fill them with supernatural ideas. It is the job of science to explore these gaps and provide some naturalistic explanation. You don't have to believe it. But you can't keep using those gaps as evidence that the world clearly must have been deliberately designed, any more than you can use the fact that the planets all pretty much orbit in the same plane.

(That is why "there seems to be more joy when a new "discovery" carries with it some aspect that will tear greater holes in the fabric of Christianity": Because if your faith depends on gaps in our understanding of the natural world, then this approach to faith is not a very good one, since it's probably only a matter of time until the gaps get filled by science. Many Christians think that some gaps will never get filled, so us naturalists do enjoy smugly pointing it out when a new gap is filled).

So I guess filling gaps is "positive", but filling gaps that people had previously filled with "God" is "negative"?

And religious people - like everyone else - should by all means be skeptics of science. They have every bit as much right to look at the evidence, look at the latest models, and explain why they think that the latest models do not account for all the observed phenomena. Evolution by Natural Selection does not explain everything, and it has some holes in it. Astrophysics also has some holes in it. (By "holes" I mean questions addressed by naturalistic models that are little more than guesses or speculation).

Of course, in my experience, creationists make the holes appear to be much bigger than they in fact are, by mixing in bogus/debunked/irrelevant arguments to the list of holes or the explanations of those holes. That's not to say that all creationists do it, but the most famous ones do, and this drives us naturalists crazy.

Yes, naturalistic explanations do sometimes require as much faith in the repeatable, understandable, and non-miraculous nature of the universe as your own explanations require faith in God. But just as you see the God interpretation to be self-evident and the naturalistic explanation to be bizarre, we see the naturalistic explanation to be self-evident and the God explanation to be bizarre. Do you not believe me when I say this?

"I will admit that there are times when Christians look at things which are pretty self-evident and work overtime to try and fit scripture into current scientific thinking."

There's nothing wrong with that. If the way you see the universe is primarily Bible-centered, if the Bible must be true in order for things to make sense, then it's natural and understandable that science must fit with what the Bible says.

My only "warnings" to someone taking that approach are

- Don't rely on the current lack of a naturalistic explanation to some phenomena (i.e. on a "gap") to support your belief in God. (i.e. Do rely on "Why" questions, not on "How" questions, since science can't touch the "Why" questions).

- Remember that, to someone who believes that the world is naturalistic, the "bizarre" or "far-fetched" naturalistic explanation seems much more likely, and explains a lot more, than the "God" explanation. And if you have any good, rock-solid evidence that the world is not naturalistic, then James Randi has a million bucks you can claim.

- Remember that naturalists and religious people look at different things when they look at an "explanation" or an "answer": Religious people often look at some quantity of "Why", and can find the answer to be lacking if it does not address or leave room for "Why". Naturalist people only care about the "How", and will not like any explanation that sacrifices some how (by saying "miracle" or "God did it") for the sake of some "Why", or just because "it's self evident".

Do I need to link to Stephen J Gould's "non-overlapping magisteria" article again? ;]

Cordin said...

There goes the Newton/Orbital Plane reference I wanted to use. I still reserve the right to use it on my own blog. ;)

Anonymous said...

For me the more I study science the more I appreciate God. Science confirms that God is a God of order. That order shows he purposed things a certain way. That a lot of thought was put into it. That is how many get the idea that God has a plan because of how orderly and predictable the universe is. We can rely on the sun coming up, the earth rotating, gravity working, God organized everything to work that way.

Like I had mentioned to Bernardo , it is interesting that God had the bay babies circumsized on the 8 th day. Now we know it to be the best time because the vitamin K is at it's highest in the body and will help the blood clot. It has only been in this century with the detailed testing equipment that we have been able to understand why.
Thus, I look forward to all the furture gaps filling in alot of the so called mysteries of God. Not mysteries per se, just us lacking knowledge or ability to discern how God works.
You must admit how great God is to devise such a universe.

bernardo said...

Hi Kathy! Glad you could join us.

Sorry, Cordin, I know the orbital plane thing is the classic example. I should have been more creative...

Ben Bateman said...

I think that point of science is to be correct. What many people today can't seem to understand is that "We don't know" is often the only correct answer.

A common assumption in evolution arguments, for example, is that science must have some theory about how new species arise. The assumption then grows into a mandate. It becomes vitally important that we argue about which theory best fits the available evidence.

But that urge to argue about the theory du jour is not science; it's a flaw of human nature that we should try to overcome with humility. I like Bernardo's story about Newton, because it demonstrates precisely this humility. Newton didn't reach into his pants and pull out a theory based on very little evidence. He just said that he didn't know. But when politics intersects science, no one wants to admit ignorance.

bernardo said...

Just because we don't know and no one has a good answer, doesn't mean we should quit looking.

To me, "God did it" sound very close to quitting.

Just because Newton did it, doesn't make it an attitude that is representative of science. Besides, in that case, he was wrong (his best guess was unnecessarily supernatural, and illustrates that what seems unlikely may have a perfectly natural explanation).

To me, filling the gaps in our understanding of the physical world with supernatural explanations is a flaw of human nature that we should try to overcome with creativity, critical thinking, research, and, yes, if necessary, faith in the idea that the world operates on unchanging laws.

But that's because I want to see good models of the natural world developed. If "God did it" is good enough for you, then I guess I can't tell you that that is wrong. But it's not thanks to "God did it" that we have computers, spacecraft, antibiotics, and MRI machines.

Cordin said...

Just wanted to share a quote from Hippocrates (the 'father' of medicine) from the fourth century B.C.:

"Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things."

How many people today suffering from mental illness would be labelled 'possessed' or 'witches' if we didn't try to find naturalistic reasons for the things we "do not understand."

I agree with Bernardo that Newton was wrong in attributing the organization of the planets to supernatural causes. He was a man just as obssessed with biblical prophecy as he was with the laws of the universe. Why was his default a 'God' explanation? No doubt it was a biased answer. An Agnostic "I do not know" would have been more correct. Regardless, we certainly cannot stop looking for naturalistic answers simply because it may seem to 'go against' the Bible.

Would Christians really care as much about the theory of evolution if the "Adam sinned, therefore Jesus gave a blood sacrifice for us' doctrine wasn't threatened?

Why do non-christians enjoy debunking believers? Although I feel wrong motives often come into play, the Christian faith teaches that those who do not accept their faith deserve death and eternal punishment. I believe a 'thinking' naturalist would accept all people following the 'Golden Rule' as worthy of life.

As I stated before, with such a lack of theological toleration, the burden of proof is on the Christian. The default answer should not be 'God did it.'

(Randy: Sorry about the 'mishap' on my blog. Everything has been returned to 'normal')

Anonymous said...

Yawn... How is your Iranian buddy?

Ben Bateman said...

Bernardo and Corbin, you two should learn to read. Where did "God did it" come from? You're just projecting your fears onto me because I don't agree with you.

Read the next sentence carefully: We don't know. That is the correct answer. Not that God did it, and not that scientific consensus says X and you must believe it or be considered a fool. If we don't know, then we should say that we don't know. And your difficulty in grasping that concept is precisely why we have so much rancor surrounding evolution, global warming, and other areas where science and politics intersect.

Cordin said...

Ben,

We may be getting off topic, but I've been told I was a fool and quoted Psalm 14:1 on more than one occasion.

Within just the last few days I received an email from a Christian showing how some of those who 'mocked God' received ,presumedly deserved, horrible deaths with the encouragement to pass it on to others if we were not embarassed of the truth in Christ.

I've been told "If you don't like God then get out of the country! This nation was founded on God."

I'm still working out the implications of Anon's Iranian comment.

And this regardless of how decent and loving a person is. (No, I do not claim to have perfected these qualties).

Perhaps I'm stereotyping based on the few? Are both sides possibly confusing the outspoken scientists and Christians as representative of the whole group?

I personally believe "we don't know" to be the correct answer (I do claim to be an agnostic). "We don't know' should also be the answer of scientists on subjects for which there is no factual evidence (I think we would disagree, however, on the trustworthiness of that evidence.)

Although they may not represent your beliefs, most 'Biblical' Christians I've spoken with (not on this blog so far) claim they "do know" because God has revealed "such and such" to be so in the Scriptures.

Ben, Randy, Anonymous,

Is it really just what seems self-evident to you, or is there an underlying fear as to the consequences of our real place in the world if the Bible is not true? I am being sincere.

bernardo said...

Ben,

we never "know" anything 100% for sure. We have models that try to explain what we observe, given how we think the universe works. Some of those models are more accurate, some are less. Some are supported by more evidence than others, some account for more observations than others (i.e. some have bigger gaps than others). Some different models fulfill different requirements in terms of what assumptions are made about how the universe work, and in terms of what "explaining" means.

We never "know" that our explanation is correct. It's all just guesses. I agree that "We don't know" is almost always the more honest answer. But science is a way to figure out whether these guesses can be compared and tested against one another. I can't know that I'm "right", but I can know that model A is better than model B.

It seems to me that what some religious people do is say "None of these models explains everything, so I will believe that God miraculously intervened to cause this phenomenon we are observing. We'll never have a good guess about how these conditions are just physical consequences of previous conditions, because they're not - they're a miracle". That's what ID seems to be all about. It's saying not only "We don't know" but "We can't know". That's a big difference.

Ben Bateman said...

Bernardo,

In your story, it was Newton who said that he didn't know why the solar system formed into a plane, so he supposed the God did it. That resort to God in the face of ignorance doesn't seem to have squelched Newton's scientific curiosity. So I think you're mistaken in assuming that "God did it" automatically stifles scientific inquiry.

I think you misunderstand ID if you say that the conclusion is "We can't know." I'm not an IDer personally, but I don't think that that's an accurate statement of their beliefs.

It's also curious that you would present "We can't know" as anti-scientific, as that would include both Chaos Theory and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Cordin,

You've assumed that you know my religious beliefs, and you're mistaken. I don't think that it matters whether you or I believe in God. I'm not even particularly interested in whether God really exists. To me, the really important question is: What beliefs concerning religion are best for our country and civilization?

No atheist society has ever flourished. Most don't even try. And many committed incredible atrocities in the 20th century. I probably wouldn't oppose atheism if it worked. But it doesn't.

Cordin said...

Ben,

On reading the following comment of yours on a previous post:

"Why, then, would it matter whether he believes in God? Why can’t he pick and choose among the parts of Christian morality that he likes, and leave the rest?"

I did mistakenly take you for being a Biblical Christian.

I also do not really care in whether or not a god exists. I do care if the Bible is accepted at face value as His infallible word, especially if it is advocated as 'the' guide for determining our laws.

I would argue that nations declaring a single state religion have also committed great atrocities. Perhaps we could discuss something known as the 'Dark Ages' where the threat of death was widely used in the spread of Christianity. The single teaching of an everlasting hellfire has allowed more than a few justification for torturing others since what awaits them is obviously 'so much worse.'

Skeptical science with the intent of overturning such literal beliefs is welcomed in my view.

Moderate religion may in fact be more beneficial if the majority of people need more than empathy to do 'the right thing'. I may have to concede on that point. I believe however that most civilizations and societies have come up with many of the same standards - not because of religion but because of the natural empathy found within the human animal. Religion may act as an enforcer but I do not believe it is the originator, or necceassry, to recognize 'good deeds'.

Fundementalism can certainly be as destructive as no belief at all. Q.E.D

>"To me, the really important question is: What beliefs concerning religion are best for our country and civilization?"<

I'm curious as to what you feel these beliefs should allow and exclude.

A more appropriate forum would be on Randy's other thread however: 'Is Atheism Irrational? How About Religion?'

Randy Kirk said...

Cordin,

Would you please stop being so logical and not testify against interest?!?! It makes you seem so reasonable. : )

No Christian I know wants a Theocracy in America or the declaration of a single "state" religion. However, I have debated with countless naturalists the reality of the Christian underpinnings of this nations laws and customs. And most of those who try to claim that our founding documents and conceptual framework are not based on the Bible are just plain intellectually dishonest.

I'm not sure that this particular blog should be the place where we investigate the political ramifications of religion's reach into lawmaking and such. But this much is clear to me: Our laws will always be at least partially based on somebody's faith. I want you to have a seat at the table, but I want to be certain that no one takes mine away.

Sally Lomax said...

Hi Randy!

I've found your blog on Norma's comments box!

I am not a very religious person, although I do believe that there is more to this life than meets the eye.

However, I went to two schools very firmly rooted in religious traditions, and I was taught maths and science by nuns.

They had no problem with that, and nor did we.

Years ago I can up with a theory that the reason that they could do this was because they didn't try to search too far for answers that weren't always immediately there. They were accepting of how they felt that God worked, and they were accepting of certain scientific facts. They made science work, and they kept within their own beliefs.

It worked for them!

Sally

bernardo said...

"you're mistaken in assuming that "God did it" automatically stifles scientific inquiry"

It doesn't, you're right. Just as ID does not stifle research in Biology. But the practice of using "God did it" to fill gaps in our understanding of the world is distinct from the practice of guessing and then testing naturalistic models.

"the conclusion is "We can't know"... I don't think that that's an accurate statement of their beliefs"

I think it's accurate. They might not put it that way, but "Irreducible Complexity" to me means "this could not possibly have been formed by unguided natural processes - no one can ever discover a mechanism by which this could have been formed naturally".

"that would include both Chaos Theory and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle"

Not exactly. Chaos theory just says that an outcome can vary greatly if the input parameters vary infinitesimally. In other words, it says that, within an envelope of outcomes defined by a mathematical model, we can't know which outcome will happen unless our sensors are infinitely precise. It's not so much "We can't know what could happen" but "We can't see sharply enough to predict which of a few understandable outcomes will happen".

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle only proves that, within a logical system (where certain things have certain properties and certain relationships), some relationships between relationships are unprovable. This only happens when the system is used to describe its own workings, its own precision. Besides, like I keep saying, we're not talking about logical systems, just about physical models. Physical models do not depend on "proofs". Sure, these models use math, but what we want to know is what math should be used to predict what behavior, not whether the equations we use are "provable".

I'll even help you make your point: Quantum theory goes one step further and says that, indeed, the best we can ever do is a probability distribution. It treats the knowledge about a particle's properties as a physical quantity like mass and charge. So quantum equations are, indeed, about how precise our knowledge can be. But, like Chaos theory, it says that a range of outcomes can be expected, and allows you to figure out very precisely how likely each outcome (or each sub-range within that range) is. So it gives you a probability distribution that is very, VERY accurate, a probability distribution that will be observed if you do an experiment trillions of times (or using trillions of particles). The shape of the probability distribution is given (and verified by experiments) more precisely than anything else science has ever predicted. We can know the probability distributions. We can't know the position of a particle, but that's because it occupies all possible positions at once (in relative intensities modeled by the distribution) until certain kinds of events cause the particle to "pick". Is it that "unscientific" to say that we cannot know the position of a particle that is effectively in multiple places at once?

So yes, science does tell us that we can't know everything. Well, it would be more accurate to say that science says we can't predict everything - we can know exactly how unpredictable it is. Some things are random, within ranges we can define very well. The limits on what we can predict are well defined by equations and are verified by experiments.

Just because the world is not deterministic, doesn't mean we can't know the rules.

As for church-and-state, what religious beliefs (if any) are necessary for a stable society, how much recognition Christianity deserves in the shaping of the American democratic system... That deserves a post/thread for itself, does it not?

(While I disagree with Ben that religion is necessary to sustain and motivate a society, I admit that my belief on this issue comes not from political/sociological studies but from my own optimism in the goodness of people. Besides, modern Europe is not very religious at all, and by many counts they're doing better than the US. And just because decisions can be made based on religion, doesn't mean these decisions don't have to be justified by secular arguments. I guess it's the inverse of Pascal's Wager: In case religion is false, you definitely don't want to base your government on it!)

Randy Kirk said...

Modern Europe, huh? I may have made this argument before, but I don't remember the response. Modern Europe is the perfect example of how society fails without religion. European folks are not reproducing fast enough to even replace themselves. The reasons are scientific (worry about overpopulation and "why would I bring up children in this horrible world), and selfish.

If we give in to secularism, we will depopulate the planet. You may think this is a good thing, but the consequences will be (are already) dramatic.

bernardo said...

Randy,

are you saying that, in order for a country to be successful, its population must be ever-increasing?

You see that this is not sustainable, right?

And how exactly is European society "failing"? (Feel free to just link to the answer, rather than explaining it yourself - I don't want to ask you to repeat yourself if you don't want to. But a short summary/list of points would be appreciated).

Randy Kirk said...

It is possible that a country could be successful if it was only staying at constant levels, and if the dependent population wasn't growing faster than those who need to work to support them.

I won't try to make the case that Europe is in decline, other than to have you contemplate where they would be without the US umbrella. You may also want to fast forward to how Europe will look if they continue to import labor at the rate they are, and not assimilate these individuals.

Finally, a country can be forever increasing in numbers. Nature, other humans or God tends to take care of the population when it gets out of whack compared to the environment that is there to sustain the human population.

Krystalline Apostate said...

Really.
Just as ID does not stifle research in Biology.
Oh, please. Scientists have to take time out of their busy schedules to refute an unfalsifiable pseudo-science.
& let's cut to the chase:
When has science EVER turned to the supernatural for an answer, & found 1?
Zero times.
Irreducible complexity has been thoroughly debunked.

Randy Kirk said...

So, then, in your perfect world, we would have no skeptics of science. As a businessman for 40 years, I have noticed that most companies and products do far better when they have competition. Not just work harder, but become more creative in their enterprise.

I'd like to see more skeptics within the ranks of the scientists, but as we have seen in global warming, those who are on the outside get slammed hard, threatend with loss of credentials, and potentially won't get hired, promoted, or win grants.

Ben Bateman said...

Cordin, I posted more on the Irrational Atheism thread.

Bernardo, we're miles apart on evolution/ID, but let's leave that for another thread.

"modern Europe is not very religious at all, and by many counts they're doing better than the US."

You must not be reading the same books that I am. The demographic trends are already irreversible in most of Europe. It will be predominantly Muslim by mid-century.

"I guess it's the inverse of Pascal's Wager: In case religion is false, you definitely don't want to base your government on it!"

I disagree. Religion could be false but still very useful, if your goal is life rather than truth.

bernardo said...

"I disagree. Religion could be false but still very useful, if your goal is life rather than truth."

I suppose you could be right. But I do still think that people would benefit more from truth. And besides, I think that such a system were false beliefs are valued is not fair to those who realize that the beliefs are false. I suppose maybe this is tolerable, and even better for everyone, but it just doesn't seem fair. I guess I might have to think about this more.

"So, then, in your perfect world, we would have no skeptics of science."

What do you mean by a "skeptic of science"?

If by "skeptic of science" you mean someone who thinks that current scientific theories do not explain the cause of every phenomenon we observe... then scientists already know this. Science is skeptical of itself. It it always trying to come up with better models to explain the observations that are not explained by current models.

If by "skeptic of science" you mean someone who thinks that the supernatural exists and that there is more to the world than naturalism... then such a person does not need to be skeptical of science, since science does not overlap with, or aim to disprove, the validity of those kinds of ideas (which I call "Why" questions). Science just models the physical world. You can believe that the universe was deliberately created as part of a plan, without being a skeptic of the models that science produces (or of the ability of science to produce better models that explain more things). Many scientists are religious.

If by "skeptic of science" you mean someone who thinks that some observable phenomena could never be explained by physical models... then I'm sorry to report that history keeps showing that such people are incorrect. The gaps do eventually get filled. And if you depend on some gap in our understanding of the physical world in order to sustain your beliefs, then that's just not very smart.

Religion should not be "competing" with science. More people should have a better understanding of where one ends and the other begins.

Randy Kirk said...

Ben,

I've done a huge series on the practical advantages of Christianity over on http://ideaplace.blogspot.com. I had planned to start bringing some of it over here, but there's so much going on already, I haven't been able to get it started. But you bring a new nuance. Does it matter if its false, if it works? Is that you theory? And I do hope Bernardo elaborates on his answer to you. I'll do some thinking on that, also.

My comments may be a little light for the next couple of days. Carry on without me. I'll have plenty to add by the weekend.

Ben Bateman said...

Yes, Randy, you've stated my position perfectly. I choose life over truth. I would rather see our country thrive believing a falsehood than die believing the truth.

Most atheists hold a particular conception of truth as an article of their faith. They believe that truth is knowable, communicable, and useful. And that belief is not only an unproven article of faith, there is substantial evidence against it.

Randy Kirk said...

I would go one step further. Some atheists I have been debating think that they are devoid of any beliefs at all. No matter how you phrase it, they refuse to call what they understand as truth on any subject to be belief.

Ben Bateman said...

I get impatient with atheists who try to deny that they hold beliefs not based on logic. Anybody who passed first-semester symbolic logic should be able to see the problem there: Every system of logic must have premises that are not provable within the system. So the idea of meaningful beliefs based on logic alone is self-contradictory.

The sidestep to this is to claim a basis in reason rather than logic. But then there's no explanation of what 'reason' means. My best guess is that it's logic plus some social assumptions, which best describes modern science.

Most damning of all is most atheists' complete lack of interest in the subject. When faced with something that they can't prove or observe, they usually just declare it self-evident, and go on. "Murder is self-evidently bad. Next question." That lack of introspection makes most atheists pretty shallow thinkers.

bernardo said...

I agree with you, Ben, up until the last part. Atheists are very interested in the subject, and are conscious of the fact that they have to be able to explain why some things are good and some things are bad. A big part of most atheists' problem with religion is that it arrives at "good" and "bad" from unsatisfactory premises and using what can be seen as a poorly-built structure of faith. Atheists know that they can replace theology with "no beliefs" and that they cannot replace morals/ethics/justice with "no beliefs". So they usually start with the premises "Compassion is important, everyone-s well-being should be valued, people should not get what they do not deserve" (which are unprovable from within the system) and build from there. This is called Humanism. I don't see why Humanists don't think about morals as carefully as religious people. (To a Humanist, it may appear that religious people don't think about morals as carefully as Humanists).

As to your claim that Humanism would not sustain a society as well as religious morals... Like I said, I still have to think about that. I would like to be optimistic and say that people can do what is good because it is good, but I suppose this optimism might be excessive and unfounded.

Randy Kirk said...

I think humanist can think about morals as carefully as religious folks, I only contend that they cannot possibly agree on the basic tennents you lay out. And if they do, they become their own religion. There is a need for a rock solid foundation upon which to build the moral code. One of my friends finds that rock in Ayn Rand. But not all my atheists friends think she's the answer.

bernardo said...

I've never read any Ayn Rand, but I suppose I probably ought to someday.

"only contend that they cannot possibly agree on the basic tenets you lay out."

Those tenets I laid out are the basis of Humanism. Not all atheists consider themselves Humanists, but those who do are the ones who value those tenets and their implications/consequences.

"f they do, they become their own religion"

That is a fair thing to say. But at least we have fewer and simpler tenets (and thus less room for confusion, contradiction, and things that go against our most basic principles) than that thousand-page best-seller you guys carry around. So our "religion" is a lot easier to be good at, to believe in, and to convince other of. No need for years and years of reading and discussion before one can be a good Humanist apologetic - it's pretty straightforward.