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Atheism, Philosophy, and Science: An Interview with Dr. Michael Ruse

Michael Ruse 1

As a young undergraduate at Florida State University, studying mathematics and engineering, I had no idea that one of the world's leading philosophers of science worked just a couple buildings away. Had I known about Dr. Michael Ruse then, I would have jumped at the chance to meet him. He's since become one of my favorite atheist writers, displaying a sharp mind and a good will, free of needless polemics. (He's also not afraid to tattoo extinct marine arthropods on his arm if dared.)

This past December we finally had the chance to meet. The occasion was a special colloquium on contemporary atheism, hosted by Dr. Ruse in Tallahassee. I joined fellow Strange Notions contributor Dr. Stephen Bullivant and several other philosophers and theologians to discuss current research on unbelief. The event also featured the launch of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, the definitive tome co-edited by Stephen and Dr. Ruse.

As a philosopher, Dr. Ruse specializes in the philosophy of biology and is well known for his work on the relationship between science and religion, the creation-evolution controversy, and the demarcation problem in science. He was born in England, studied at the University of Bristol (1962), attained his master's degree at McMaster University (1964), and then returned to the University of Bristol for his Ph.D. (1970).

Dr. Ruse graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his experiences with faith, the debate between evolution and religion, and his favorite theologians.
 


 

Q: You once testified in court, under oath, that "I am not an expert on my own religious opinions." What did you mean by that?

Dr. Ruse: Basically, what I meant was that I would be very uncomfortable being pinned down to one clear statement about my own religious beliefs. It is certainly true that I do not accept Jesus as the son of God, and that, indeed, I have great deal of trouble with the whole notion of the Christian God. I think the Christian God is an uncomfortable amalgam of Jewish and Greek thought and does not withstand careful scrutiny. It does not stand up too well. I find the notion of necessary existence, which is an essential part of the Christian God, to be incoherent. I’m also very troubled by the problem of evil.

However, whether this means that I don’t believe in anything at all is something that puzzled me when I was in court and still puzzles me some 30 years later. I am inclined therefore say that existence, including humans and their consciousness, is something of a mystery. I don’t think this necessarily means that I’m going to enjoy eternal bliss. In fact, I don’t know what any of it means.

So in that sense, I’m not an expert on my own opinion. I suppose you could call me an agnostic or skeptic, who is atheistic about traditional religions. But I would not want to go much further than that.

Q: You were raised a Quaker, and often speak fondly of how that tradition influenced you. Some high-profile atheists today suggest that any religious upbringing is a form of child abuse. How does that jive with your experience?

Dr. Ruse: As I explained recently in a piece I wrote for the online journal Aeon, I feel very strongly that my Quaker background was incredibly important in forming my personality. I was shown love and attention by my parents and their coreligionists that has lasted me all of my life. In particular, I have been taught never to accept anything just because somebody told me.  I must always try to puzzle things out for myself.

At the same time I take very seriously the Quaker belief that God is in every person, interpreting this of course in a secular fashion. It has guided me through my life as a teacher, making me realize that even when I have not been particularly drawn towards certain students, nevertheless it is my obligation to treat them as being worthy of attention, no less than anyone else.

So clearly I don’t think all religious upbringing is a form of child abuse. At the same time I think sometimes it can be this.  To use an analogy, children who were brought up during the Nazi era were filled with views on Jews that I think makes this training akin to child abuse, just as much as if they had been beaten.  Analogously, I am inclined to think some views that children are taught in the name of religion are quite morally troublesome. I would include, for instance, views that homosexuality is in some sense evil, or if not evil in itself that the acts of homosexuals are evil. It seems to me that teaching this to a child is getting close to abuse. So yes I can think of some forms of religious training or indoctrination as forms of child abuse.

Q: One of your best known books is titled Can a Darwinian be a Christian? For those who haven't read it, what's your short answer to that question?

Dr. Ruse: As I say in my book, I think the Darwinian can be a Christian, but that it’s not easy. However, I also say that the more important things in life are never easy! I think one can find ways to reconcile Darwinism with Christian claims about Original Sin, the problem of evil, free will, and similar issues.

I think one of the biggest problems is the appearance of humans here on the Earth. I’m not sure that I solved the problem in my book. It seems to me that Christians have to accept that the appearance of humans was not pure chance, but that this was intended by God.  However I see a radical indeterminacy in evolutionary thinking and I am not sure that we can guarantee the appearance of any organism, including humans. I think now I would want to try to solve the problem by invoking the notion of a multiverse. Humans would eventually have evolved, if not in our universe then in some other.  Remember, God is outside space and time. So it is not as if he is waiting for any of this to happen.  Obviously this is all very speculative. As I said, I don’t think it is easy to reconcile Darwinism and Christianity.

I don’t think however that the only arguments pertinent to the truth of the Christian faith are those based on science. I think philosophy and theology also have a role.  I argue that when these are applied to Christianity, it can be seen that the overall position is not tenable.

An example of where I would see philosophy criticizing Christianity would be over the already-mentioned issue of necessary existence. I don’t think the idea of necessary existence makes sense. Hence, since it is so important for Christianity, I think Christianity has to be false. Notice, however, that an argument against the notion of necessary existence is not a scientific argument, but a philosophical argument. That is why I say that even if Christianity can be reconciled with science, it does not follow that Christianity is true.

Q: Many Christian theologians claim you as their favorite atheist philosopher. Who is your favorite Christian theologian?

Dr. Ruse: Well that’s a very big question. I think that if you are going to dig back in history, I’d probably want to put St. Augustine up top as my favorite theologian. I do have, however, a great respect for St Anselm. I only exclude St. Thomas Aquinas from this list because, to be honest, I don’t know enough about his writings to make a full judgment. Notice that I’m a philosopher and not a theologian so I’m not really at fault here.

If we take Christian theology closer to the present than I would certainly say I have great admiration for the English theologian of the 19th century, John Henry Newman. I think his ideas about the gradual revealing of Christianity is a most valuable tool of understanding. If you were to ask me about contemporary theologians, I was personally fond of Langdon Gilkey and much in sympathy with the kind of science-and-religion-separate view that he endorsed, often known as neo-orthodoxy.

Amongst living theologians, I am proud to call John Haught (the Catholic theologian, recently retired from Georgetown University) a good friend. I don’t think I endorse his evolutionary view of theology, influenced as he has been by Teilhard de Chardin and perhaps earlier by Alfred North Whitehead. But as an individual I like John a great deal and I find altogether admirable his determined effort to integrate evolutionary thinking into Christian theology.

Another theologian of today, of whom I am personally fond and for whom I have great admiration, is John Schneider, who used to teach at Calvin College. He lost his job for suggesting that Adam and Eve are not true and that therefore we need to reinterpret or rethink the Augustinian position on Original Sin. I think John is right about the nonexistence of Adam and Eve and I greatly admire his moral courage in asserting this, even to the point where he was dismissed from Calvin College.

Q: Let's talk about The Oxford Handbook of Atheism, which you co-edited with Strange Notions contributor Dr. Stephen Bullivant. The book is a 46-chapter, 750+ page compendium of contemporary scholarship on all kinds of topics relating to unbelief. How did the book come about?

Dr. Ruse: The Oxford Handbook of Atheism is easy to explain. I was approached by Stephen Bullivant, who was looking for a co-editor, perhaps one who was rather more established than he and who did not share his deep Christian faith. I don’t know how Stephen feels about me, but I can say that, from my perspective, it was a truly wonderful experience working with him. Stephen was an ideal editor, he knew far more about the topic than I, and we always worked harmoniously together. He did the bulk of the work, but I hope Stephen would agree that I did my share as and when required. I simply could not have done this book on my own, and I feel very privileged to have been allowed to work alongside Stephen on this project.

Q: You're very well-informed about the history and philosophy of atheism, but what new insights did you learn while compiling the Handbook?

Dr. Ruse: I’m not sure whether the real insights came from compiling the Handbook alone or more from a subsequent project that I have just completed, namely writing a single-author work for Oxford University Press entitled Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know. (This is part of a general series “what everyone needs to know.”)

The thing which came through to me most strongly was that the atheism debate is not just a matter of epistemology, that is to say of factually right and wrong. It is and always has been an intensely moral issue. People who argue for or against atheism are deeply committed to the moral worth of what they claim. Obviously this comes through with religious believers defending their faith against atheism. But it’s equally true of atheists. One sees this most clearly in the writings of the New Atheists. A work like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins as much a moral sermon as anything one might get from Jonathan Edwards. After all, anyone who says Christian education is child abuse is hardly stating brute empirical facts.

So I would say, as I bring this interview to an end, it is the moral dimension to the debate about atheism which strikes me most forcibly. I can also say, quite honestly, that before I started in on the Oxford Handbook and on the book I have subsequently written, I had no idea any of this would be so. I always say that the first person for whom I write is myself and never has this been truer than in the case of my writings and editing on and around the topic of atheism.
 
 
(Image credit: The University of Queensland)

Brandon Vogt

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Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • heidisaxton

    Fascinating! Of course, now I have a few MORE books to add to my ever-growing "to read" pile. Thank you, Brandon!

  • David Nickol

    So yes I can think of some forms of religious training or indoctrination as forms of child abuse.

    I would certainly agree, and I would hope there would be general agreement that when indoctrinating children (or adults, for that matter), teaching an evil idea in the name of religion does render the idea (or the teaching of it) morally acceptable. The problem is identifying which ideas that should never be taught, even in the name of religion.

    I would personally steer clear of the term child abuse in this regard, though.

    • "I would certainly agree, and I would hope there would be general agreement that when indoctrinating children (or adults, for that matter), teaching an evil idea in the name of religion does render the idea (or the teaching of it) morally acceptable."

      I assume you mean does *not* render the idea morally acceptable, and if so then I, too, hope we'd all agree. The question, though, is what constitutes an "evil" idea. Some atheists would claim that teaching children the basic tenants of Catholicism is more evil than child abuse, a claim which assumes, a priori, that the teachings of Catholicism are evil.

      Since this site is specifically designed to bring non-believers into dialogue with Catholics, as opposed to other religious groups, perhaps I can ask whether you think any Catholic teachings would qualify as evil if taught to children?

      • David Nickol

        [P]erhaps I can ask whether you think any Catholic teachings would qualify as evil if taught to children?

        I share Dr. Ruse's concerns about Catholic teaching regarding homosexuality (and sexuality in general), and it concerns me a great deal not merely what is taught to children, but how Catholic parents deal with their children, some of whom will inevitably turn out to be gay. How do teachers and parents teach Catholic views about sexuality to children in such a way that the children who later discover their orientation are not devastated?

        I think at one time (during my lifetime) Catholicism taught anti-Semitism of a certain kind, and I was taught a kind of anti-Protestantism. Both of these attitudes would probably seem quaint to school-age Catholics today, but I think they were very real in, say, the 1950s.

        This is a difficult question to answer without putting a lot of thought into it, but I think my most serious charge against Catholicism is not just that it claims certitude, but the way in which it claims that certitude. I think it undermines young people's trust in their own intelligence and leaves an indelible scar on people's thought processes. I should say on some people's thought processes. I does amaze me how easily some people who had the same indoctrination I did were (apparently) able to shrug it off, and this includes people who left Catholicism far behind as well as people who remain Catholic but seem to be able to rather blithely ignore teachings of the Church.

      • Michael Murray

        Since this site is specifically designed to bring non-believers into dialogue with Catholics, as opposed to other religious groups, perhaps I can ask whether you think any Catholic teachings would qualify as evil if taught to children?

        Evil is a a very strong word but I thought Ruse covered this in his interview

        Analogously, I am inclined to think some views that children are taught in the name of religion are quite morally troublesome. I would include, for instance, views that homosexuality is in some sense evil, or if not evil in itself that the acts of homosexuals are evil. It seems to me that teaching this to a child is getting close to abuse. So yes I can think of some forms of religious training or indoctrination as forms of child abuse.

        In short teaching your children that there is something wrong with Jocasta's two mummies is close to child abuse. I would add in the rest of Catholic sexual morality like "masturbation is bad", "sex outside Catholic marriage is bad" etc. Then there is the whole "which of my friends are going to be in heaven Daddy ?" issue.

      • Susan

        Some atheists would claim that teaching children the basic tenants of Catholicism is more evil than child abuse, a claim which assumes, a priori, that the teachings of Catholicism are evil.

        I'm not sure I've ever heard an atheist claim that teaching children the basic tenets of your church is "more evil than child abuse". That's a very strange claim. Can you give me some examples?

        I have heard some protestants claim that catholicism is evil, but not that many in my part of the world.

        I think David and Michael both make excellent points.

        • "I'm not sure I've ever heard an atheist claim that teaching children the basic tenets of your church is "more evil than child abuse". That's a very strange claim. Can you give me some examples?"

          Sure! The one I had in mind, which is perhaps the most famous example and the one that Dr. Ruse referred to, is Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. You can read a longer excerpt at the link below, but here's a succinct version:

          "I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell."

          http://www.richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2012/12/22/physical-versus-mental-child-abuse

          Earlier in the chapter Dawkins shockingly insinuates that teaching children about hell can "outclass" sexually abusing them.

          Dawkins isn't the only atheist to hold this position as his many agreeing commenters reveal.

          Would you agree with either of Dawkins' statements, Susan?

          • Susan

            Well, I'm certainly glad you linked to the article. I hope anyone reading this exchange takes the time to read it and consider it. I'm afraid I'm unable to access the comments right now. They aren't loading. For that reason, I can't deny that there are atheist commenters who are guilty of what you're trying to accuse Richard Dawkins of.

            http://www.richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2012/12/22/physical-versus-mental-child-abuse

            The reason I said that I found it a strange claim is that you said :

            that teaching children the basic tenets of your church is "more evil than child abuse".

            Is burning in eternal fire a basic tenet of your church? I've been told here that it isn't but as a child, it was taught to me by priests, teachers and laity. It is a terrible thing to tell a child. It kept me up more nights and distrurbed and distorted more of my development than maybe anything else I can describe and I'm human. I've encountered some abuse.

            Professor Dawkins wrote: I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe ­– in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.

            Well, I have and I would agree that his argument is plausible. Then, he continues:

            Anecdotes and plausibility arguments, however, need to be backed up by systematic research, and I would be interested to hear from psychologists whether there is real evidence bearing on the question. My expectation would be that violent, painful, repeated sexual abuse, especially by a family member such as a father or grandfather, probably has a more damaging effect on a child’s mental well-being than sincerely believing in hell. But ‘sexual abuse’ covers a wide spectrum of sins, and I suspect that research would show belief in hell to be more traumatic than the sort of mild feeling-up that I suffered.

            Is that what you meant when you said:

            Some atheists would claim that teaching children the basic tenants of Catholicism is more evil than child abuse, a claim which assumes, a priori, that the teachings of Catholicism are evil

            ?

            You really need to stop using the term "a priori" when it doesn't apply. He did not make assumptions nor assertions. He explored something that is reasonable to explore and did it carefully.

            Also, I'm going to be a pedant here and I'm sorry it falls on you, Brandon. It's tenets, not tenants. That is not personal or a criticism of your argument. I have read brilliant passages by people much more educated

          • David Nickol

            He said that to teach that to a child IS child abuse. I agree with him.

            Of course, someone who believes in God (or even hell) could say it is "child abuse" to teach a child there is no God (or no hell).

            I don't see how it helps to accuse people of child abuse who are no doubt doing the best they know how. Parents have a duty to teach their children the truth, and obviously they can only go by what they believe to be the truth, because nobody knows what the real truth is.

            I wish I had not been raised a Catholic, but I would never accuse my parents of "child abuse" for sending me to Catholic school.

          • Susan

            I don't see how it helps to accuse people of child abuse who are no doubt doing the best they know how

            I was not talking about the accusation, but about the effect. The harm to the child. Many of our ancestors led their children to be sacrificed because of their deep-felt convictions.

            Would it be unreasonable for someone to raise the discussion that perhaps this was child abuse?

            There are many accounts of sexual abusers of children who felt that what they were doing was out of love. Would you then argue that they were doing the best they knew how? It could be argued that they were if they sincerely believed it.

            We could go on all day. Children are harmed when they are told stories about eternal burning. Also, when people in positions of authority who are backed by the full weight of a deity who they can threaten them with eternal burning, and threaten the families of those children with eternal burning, it is all the more egregious.

            I am talking about harm to the child. Please read Brandon's post on the subject. I am not trying to create strawmen. I was responding specifically to Brandon's post.

          • Susan

            I wish I had not been raised a Catholic

            Amen, brother.

            I would never accuse my parents of "child abuse" for sending me to Catholic school.

            If it was just you and me sitting across a table, talking about the process, I doubt either one of us would have used the term "child abuse".

            I didn't bring it up. But now that it's up, it needs to be addressed.

          • David Nickol

            I didn't bring it up. But now that it's up, it needs to be addressed.

            My basic objection is accusing people of "child abuse." If you want to assert that raising children in certain ways does them harm, I have no problem with that. But to accuse parents of child abuse implies (to me) that they are knowingly doing something wrong, or if unknowingly, what they are doing wrong is so obviously wrong that they can be held responsible for deluding themselves into believing their behavior is acceptable.

            I don't think it is helpful in dialogue to accuse intellectual adversaries of deliberate wrongdoing unless (a) it is clear that what they are doing is wrong and (b) they know it, at least on some level. It seems to me that either side that says, "I am so right and you are so wrong that I accuse you of doing deliberate evil" is inviting the other side to respond in kind. To me, this is almost like name calling. It generates heat but no light.

            No doubt throughout history parents in all cultures have taught their children things that were not true and were even harmful. A great deal of medical treatment throughout the ages has been misguided and downright dangerous. Even today new medical findings come to light showing that old treatments or diagnostic procedures were harmful. It seems to me it is wrong to label as evil the intentions of those who did harmful things out of ignorance.

            And of course it seems to me that if there is a God, it is harmful to teach children that God doesn't exist. So I am not willing to accuse people of "child abuse" for raising their children the best they know how, even if they are wrong.

          • Susan

            My original response was to Brandon's statement that "Some atheists would claim that teaching children the basic tenants of Catholicism is more evil than child abuse, a claim which assumes, a priori, that the teachings of Catholicism are evil".

            Extremely inflammatory language in a loaded statement and he has yet to provide an example.

            As to the term "child abuse", I'm not sure exactly where to draw the line or how to define it. If parents let their children die a miserable death rather than get them medical treatment because they believe a god will heal that child, is that child abuse? Would suggesting that it might be child abuse be accusing an intellectual adversary of deliberate evil?

            What about female genital mutilation? Child marriage?

            It wasn't so long ago that people believed beating their children was good for the child. Classifying it as child abuse has changed the way we think about raising children.

            I would much prefer to discuss child harm in most cases.

            There are certainly nuances to consider but Brandon's statement doesn't seem to be interested in nuance.

          • Jeff Boldt

            If it's true that there is no real good or evil, then all of this is pure rhetoric. I know I'm late to the party, but nevertheless. How can you make an absolute statement like: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if
            there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing
            but blind, pitiless indifference." and then write an entire book on the evils of religion? He shot himself in the foot before he even started.

      • Susan

        Some atheists would claim that teaching children the basic tenants of Catholicism is more evil than child abuse, a claim which assumes, a priori, that the teachings of Catholicism are evil,

        So, it's been two days. Do you have any actual examples?

        Any chance you'll engage in this discussion or were you just baiting your traps and heading back to Croydon?

        • "So, it's been two days. Do you have any actual examples?

          Any chance you'll engage in this discussion or were you just baiting your traps and heading back to Croydon?"

          Thanks for the reply. First of all, as we've requested several times before with your comments, Susan, please cut out the snarkiness. It's unnecesary and hurts the general tone of the conversation. We've warned you several times now and will start deleting offending posts in the future.

          Second, I did reply to your original request. I didn't wait two days--I waited two hours. Didn't you see it?

          https://strangenotions.com/interview-with-atheist-philosopher-dr-michael-ruse/#comment-1316117014

          In that comment I quoted from the world's leading atheist, Richard Dawkins, from the world's bestselling atheist book, in which he insinuates that teaching children about hell (aka a "basic tenant of Catholicism") can "outclass" sexually abusing them. In the comment section of that post you'll find scores of other atheists agreeing with him, implicitly and explicitly. (You'll struggle to find any atheists in that combox calling him out on the absurdity--an implicit sign of agreement.)

          • Susan

            Second, I did reply to your original request. I didn't wait two days--I waited two hours. Didn't you see it?

            I did see it. Did you see my response?

            You've accused Richard Dawkins and "many atheists" of making claims they have not made.

            Some atheists would claim that teaching children the basic tenants of Catholicism is more evil than child abuse, a claim which assumes, a priori, that the teachings of Catholicism are evil

            Now, you say he "insinuated: it. He neither claimed it nor insinuated it in that article you linked to. What he did in that article was discuss the possibility that teaching children about a place where people burn forever and ever might be more damaging than the sexual violation he experienced as a child. A reasonable enough subject to consider, don't you think?

            I asked you if burning forever is a basic tenet of your church. If it is, then the article has raised for discussion the possibility that that might be deeply psychologically damaging to a child, possibly more damaging than the violation Richard Dawkins experienced as a child. It does not claim that teaching children the basic tenets of your church is "more evil than child abuse".

            If burning forever is not a tenet of your church, then the article has said nothing about your church.

            You original statement used loaded language that doesn't lend itself to clear and useful discussion and you have yet
            to provide a single example to support your original statement. It was misleading, inaccurate and dare I say, bordering on snarky.

            As far as the snark warnings go, I have been on this site on and off since the beginning. The first time you accused me of snark, it was in a comment I wrote trying to explain what theistic evolution seemed like from a non-catholic perspective. I was trying to describe through analogy and you deleted the comment as snark where none was intended.

            There might have been one or two warnings since, but I don't recall them. I accept this one as an official warning.

          • David Nickol

            It does not claim that teaching children the basic tenets of your church is "more evil than child abuse".

            It seems to me you have somewhat of a case that Brandon overstated a bit and that Dawkins did not say teaching a child to believe in hell was worse than child abuse, but rather that it was child abuse. But Dawkins goes on to say, "[I]t is entirely plausible that words could have a more long-lasting and damaging effect than deeds," thereby implying that while "deeds" (presumably physical and sexual abuse) are damaging, sometimes words (teaching about hell) can have more lasting damage.

            So while Dawkins isn't saying that teaching about hell is worse than child abuse, he is saying it is a form of child abuse that can be worst than what we conventionally think of as child abuse (physical and sexual abuse).

            It seems to me that there is really not much of a distinction to be made between what Brandon asserted and what Dawkins said. Dawkins did not say that teaching a child hell existed was "worst than child abuse." But he did say it could be a form of child abuse worse than other forms of child abuse.

            If you were the prosecutor and had Brandon on the witness stand, hammering him for a degree of imprecision might be an effective technique, but I don't think there is much to be gained by doing it here. He seems to me to have made a reasonable approximation of Dawkin's position. And in any case, harm done to a child (aside from murder, possibly) that is "worse than child abuse" really is just "worse child abuse." So it is hard to see a distinction.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Evil, however, is a moral assessment: irrespective of the consequences, Dawkins claims teaching a child to believe in hell is worse that beating them. That's how I understood Brandon to be saying. And I agree with Susan that that is a serious misrepresentation of what Dawkins actually said.

            Just my 2 cents.

          • David Nickol

            As I understand Susan, she agrees with Dawkins that teaching a child to believe in hell can be worst than beating him.

            I think a reasonable case can be made that teaching a child something that distorts his or her mind, something that the child may never be able to unlearn, could possible have worse consequences than physical or sexual abuse. It is somewhat insane, however, to try to rank these things. I think the reason why we react so strongly to sexual abuse of children is not so much that it is sex per se, but that it has potential for damaging their personality for the rest of their lives. So teaching a child anything that messes with their minds and emotions for the rest of their lives, even when done with the best of intentions, can have very serious consequences.

            But how do we know for a fact that there is no hell? Or no God. If there is a God, isn't it very serious to teach a child that there isn't?

          • Susan

            But how do we know for a fact that there is no hell?

            Hell is proclaimed as a fact. There is no evidence for it, whatsoever. Just a long history of humans asserting it. I understand what you mean about well-meaning parents, who were themselves exposed to those assertions. The fear passes from generation to generation.

            If there is a God, isn't it very serious to teach a child that there isn't?

            If there is any sort of god (whatever that means), what reliable methodology has been utilized by the people who perpetuate these ideas through children to exclude all the other gods and make sure they have the right one?

            They have had the fear of hell drummed into them. Hard to think straight when you're fed messages like that.
            So, the fear and (ack! justice) of hell is passed from generation to generation through children with not one iota of evidence to support it.

            This is not about accusing individual parents of child abuse. This is about examining an idea that genuinely harms children and not giving it special status because it is "religious".

            Should it never be challenged because people believe it? It is a self-perpetuating belief.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Sure. Which is why picking your religion the way you'd pick a college seems a little crazy.

          • Susan

            My goodness, David. I'm not nitpicking.

            To begin with, will someone PLEASE tell me whether eternal burning is a tenet of the RCC?

            To say that the article claims that teaching children the tenets of the RCC is more evil than child abuse, suggests that hell IS a place of eternal burning and that the article claims (later "insinuates") that teaching it is more evil than any behavior that would fall under the category of "child abuse".

            The article does none of those things. This is the one example Brandon provided. I asked for clarification and got none.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The catechism is quite clear on this point.

            1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire."617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

          • Susan

            Thank you, MSO. I have been given the impression here and elsewhere that burning forever is not necessarily what the RCC teaches officially about hell.

            I know it was taught to me.

            It was a sin to say "hell" when I was a child, (a very BAD thing to do, at any rate) but not a sin to threaten children with it.

          • David Nickol

            Although I believe it is dogma that there is "eternal fire" in hell, I don't think there is any definition of what "eternal fire" is supposed to be. Also, remember that hell is said to be a state, not a place. It seems to me it is difficult to understand something like "real" fire being in a state rather than a place. Also, if there is a hell, and if anyone is there right now, they exist as disembodied souls. Souls can't burn. And remember that people didn't even know what fire was until the 18th century.

          • Susan

            None of it is very clear to me as is the case with most of the statements I've tried to sort out about official dogma.

            But I was taught very clearly by teachers and priests that it was eternal agony by fire. Hard to sort out "states" and "places" when you're little.

          • Alypius

            David is mostly correct. There's a reason "eternal fire" is in quotes in the Catechism passage. The key thing is that it is absence from God, and the Church has never defined it otherwise (whatever the nuns & priests may have said...!)

            As
            to whether it is a place, it is more properly defined as a "state"
            although "place" has at times been used descriptively too. There has to be a "place"
            of some sort if embodied creatures like us can end up there.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_Hell#Hell_as_a_place_or_a_state

          • David Nickol

            David is mostly correct.

            Mostly? Didn't you mean always?

          • Susan

            I read that a long time ago and read it again now.

            It clarified nothing.

            I am not saying that to be dismissive.

          • David Nickol

            Hard to sort out "states" and "places" when you're little.

            Actually, I do remember as a child learning the idea of heaven and hell as states rather than places. There was a joke that went with it along the lines of it being easy to imagine a hell for dogs being a heaven for fleas.

            I remember a Jewish guy I chatted with some years ago saying what a powerful concept "Catholic hell" was. As a Jewish child, he said, he was convinced he would go to Catholic hell.

          • Susan

            As a Jewish child, he said, he was convinced he would go to Catholic hell.

            Why was that?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Ignatius of Antioch

            "Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him" (Letter to the Ephesians 16:1–2 [A.D. 110]).

            Second Clement

            "If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment" (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).

            "But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire, the righteous, who have done good, and who have endured tortures and have hated the luxuries of life, will give glory to their God saying, ‘There shall be hope for him that has served God with all his heart!’" (ibid., 17:7).

            Justin Martyr

            "No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments" (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).

            "We have been taught that only they may aim at immortality who have lived a holy and virtuous life near to God. We believe that they who live wickedly and do not repent will be punished in everlasting fire" (ibid., 21).

            "[Jesus] shall come from the heavens in glory with his angelic host, when he shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then he will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, he will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons" (ibid., 52).

            The Martyrdom of Polycarp

            "Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire" (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).

            Mathetes

            "When you know what is the true life, that of heaven; when you despise the merely apparent death, which is temporal; when you fear the death which is real, and which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the everlasting fire, the fire which will punish even to the end those who are delivered to it, then you will condemn the deceit and error of the world" (Letter to Diognetus 10:7 [A.D. 160]).

            Athenagoras

            "[W]e [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one. . . . Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul . . . or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated" (Plea for the Christians 31 [A.D. 177]).

            Theophilus of Antioch

            "Give studious attention to the prophetic writings [the Bible] and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God. . . . [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things. . . . For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire" (To Autolycus 1:14 [A.D. 181]).

            Irenaeus

            "[God will] send the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, and the impious, unjust, lawless, and b.asphemous among men into everlasting fire" (Against Heresies 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).

            "The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . [I]t is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,’ they will be damned forever" (ibid., 4:28:2).

            Tertullian

            "After the present age is ended he will judge his worshipers for a reward of eternal life and the godless for a fire equally perpetual and unending" (Apology 18:3 [A.D. 197]).

            "Then will the entire race of men be restored to receive its just deserts according to what it has merited in this period of good and evil, and thereafter to have these paid out in an immeasurable and unending eternity. Then there will be neither death again nor resurrection again, but we shall be always the same as we are now, without changing. The worshipers of God shall always be with God, clothed in the proper substance of eternity. But the godless and those who have not turned wholly to God will be punished in fire equally unending, and they shall have from the very nature of this fire, divine as it were, a supply of incorruptibility" (ibid., 44:12–13).

            Hippolytus

            "Standing before [Christ’s] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: ‘Just is your judgment!’ And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them" (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).

            Minucius Felix

            "I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment. . . . Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments. That clever fire burns the limbs and restores them, wears them away and yet sustains them, just as fiery thunderbolts strike bodies but do not consume them" (Octavius 34:12–5:3 [A.D. 226]).

            Cyprian of Carthage

            "An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life" (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).

            Lactantius

            "[T]he sacred writings inform us in what manner the wicked are to undergo punishment. For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding forever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fire, the nature of which is different from this fire of ours, which we use for the necessary purposes of life, and which is extinguished unless it be sustained by the fuel of some material. But that divine fire always lives by itself, and flourishes without any nourishment. . . . The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment. . . . Thus, without any wasting of bodies, which regain their substance, it will only burn and affect them with a sense of pain. But when [God] shall have judged the righteous, he will also try them with fire" (Divine Institutes 7:21 [A.D. 307]).

            Cyril of Jerusalem

            "We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We b.aspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past" (Catechetical Lectures 18:19 [A.D. 350]).

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The early church fathers were pretty definite on this whole "fire" thing.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Revelations is unequivocal on the lake of fire. And wasn't it Aquinas who spoke of one of pleasures of the saved the witnessing of the tortures of the damned?

  • Peter

    "However I see a radical indeterminacy in evolutionary thinking and I am not sure that we can guarantee the appearance of any organism, including humans"

    This is simply not true.

    The history of the universe from its very inception shows that matter is on an irreversible course from lesser to greater complexity. This includes successive generations of stars with greater metallicity leading to the inevitable formation of complex organic compounds in giant molecular clouds and planetary nebulae. Furthermore, within protoplanetary discs and exoplanetary atmospheres a new generation of telescopes will reveal organic compounds of even greater complexity which form the building blocks of life and may eventually lead to life itself.

    The complexification of matter towards the building blocks of life is an irreversible process built into the universe from its inception. To deny its progress and eventual outcome is a refusal to face scientific facts.

    • Turnabout is fair play:

      The history of the universe from its very inception shows that matter is on an irreversible course from lesser to greater complexity.

      This is simply not true.

      • Peter

        Sorry, I should have said baryonic matter as opposed to dark matter. Corrected.

        • And even with baryonic matter, it's not true for most of it. Not all matter is on an irreversible course from lesser to greater complexity. Most of the bayronic universe is hydrogen, and most of that is atomic, and thanks to the accelerating expansion of the universe, most of it will remain atomic. If I follow a proton from its baryogenesis into the future, there may be times in which it is more likely to be part of a complex structure, but the probability of this will not increase monotonically. It may go through various periods where there's a great amount of complexity. Eventually, all chemical complexity will be lost. In the far future, all chemistry ends.

          What sorts of complex structures result from a Big Bang like our Big Bang? Is life guaranteed? Probably not. Is it exceedingly likely? I don't know. No one knows until we find life somewhere besides Earth and work out some statistics. Maybe life is exceedingly unlikely anywhere.

          • Peter

            Most of the baryonic matter is hydrogen and helium because the universe is still young. Even though much of it will be lost to the accelerating expansion of the universe, there will still be plenty to go round for nucleosynthesis in the aeons to come.

            Although in the far future all complexity may be lost, there are many intervening aeons during which countless sentient species will inevitably arise, all representing fleeting instances of consciousness and self-awareness.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The rise of sentient species is not inevitable.

          • Peter

            In our case it must have been because what other outcome could there have been to the processes which formed us?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That makes no sense. Could you try again?

          • Peter

            if the processes which formed us are the inevitable laws of nature, what other outcome could we be?

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I think we're getting in to a philosophy of probability debate. O'Brien belongs to the "frequentism" school and Peter belongs to the objective Bayes school. I think Peter is right- we're here so the probability of us existing is 1.

          • But it would be a mistake to say that we are here, so our existence was inevitable.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I disagree. Your position implies other outcomes that don't exist while mine implies the only one we know about, this one. Of course our existence is inevitable because we are here. You'd have to make many other assumptions that we can't really test for to go by your theory. See: frequentism vs. Bayes probability.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            What "theory" are you referring to?

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            "The rise of sentient species is not inevitable."

          • Tim Dacey

            Hi Nicholas,

            I responded to Paul and would be interested in your response :)

          • I think there's a misunderstanding about Bayes's theorem on your part in there, but I'm not enough of an expert to say for sure. It seems that you are saying that "if I am certain that x exists, then x necessarily exists." In that case, people's actions are also inevitable, and there's no free will because there's no alternatives. Nothing could have been different. I'm very sympathetic to this idea (that everything is necessary), but I don't think it's required by Bayes's theorem.

            I suspect that the misunderstanding is between epistemic probability and metaphysical probability, but like I said, I'm no expert. But I'm with Michael Ruse, and don't think the human species is inevitable, even though I'm certain the human species exists. Maybe Peter is right, and sentient life is inevitable, but I don't know what evidence supports Peter's assertion.

            Then again, maybe you were suggesting something different?

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I am not saying because *something* exists that it is inevitable. I am only saying that in our data set there is only one existence and therefore it is inevitable. You can't assume other existences (or modes of it)- there's not any precedent for it and anything else is an assumption of knowledge without grounds.
            I'll be honest as well that I am not an expert and I am just learning about it, so I could be wrong as well.
            But I believe in this: http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=8211

          • Maybe I don't understand what you mean by the word inevitable. How would you define or describe "inevitable"?

            I don't know what to make of Matt Briggs's concerns. I think I agree with the spirit of it, but if by chance I happen to run into him in a pub somewhere, after a couple drinks I'll ask him about how he thinks the word "chance" should be used.

          • Tim Dacey

            Paul:

            I think you're right. It looks like the view that "if I am certain that x exists, then x is inevitable" clearly begs the question.

            Also, if what's above *were true*, it certainly shouldn't be welcoming news to a Theist like Nicholas (or myself) because (i) it seems to conflict with evolutionary, which is something I don't want to do. And (ii), it negates God's freedom. That is how can we reconcile the traditional Christian view (a) 'God freely created humans in his own image' with the view (b) 'humans are an inevitable result of natural laws'? It doesn't seem that we can believe both (a) and (b) unless on pain of some kind of cognitive dissonance.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            This isn't about philosophy. This is simple math. Given that we are here, the odds are 1. That tells us nothing about the odds that we would be here. It's not a good idea to talk probability without knowing what you're talkng about.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            Well, you are making assumptions that you know all of the premises of the logical probability -> there were many outcomes possible, but this one happened. Your data set is incomplete - do you have all of the possibilities known? Of course not. So how do you theorize that this is not the only possibility? This is at base, an assumption, a premise. And math relies on philosophy. You have to start with premises and then you move on to things deduced from those. As in, "this is one, and two is two ones..." and so on.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Lots of possible outcomes. Most not involving sentience.

          • Although in the far future all complexity may be lost, there are many intervening aeons during which countless sentient species will inevitably arise...

            How do you know this? What is your evidence?

          • Peter

            There are at least 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, so even allowing for one sentient species per galaxy per million years, and looking ahead for the next billion years, that gives us a hundred billion billion species in the near future in the small sphere of the universe we can observe.

          • Brock

            Is the assumption that since we have a sentient species here, one exists in all galaxies valid?

            It seems equally valid to assume that, until we discover another sentient species, no other sentient species exist.

          • Peter

            I would agree if the ingredients for life did not exist elsewhere. However, thanks to the arrival of more powerful telescopes, what we have witnessed in recent years is a revolution not only in finding complex organic compounds throughout the galaxy but also in discovering more and more likely planets.

          • Brock

            I guess the point I'm making is whether "sentience" as we experience here is a natural result of evolution from simple to complex beings.

            While there may be living creatures on other planets, I'm less apt to say there are "sentient" beings elsewhere until we find some.

          • Peter

            I'm not sure. If we find planets with living creatures it could mean that evolution is ongoing and will lead to sentience in the future. Just because sentience not present doesn't mean it is not inevitable.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Until you can show the actual math and evidence, you have nothing but a bare assertion.

          • Peter

            You don't need math, telescopes will do and they're doing a pretty good job so far.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Telescopes don't tell us the probability of life or sentience. For that, you need actual arguments and math. Where are yours?

          • Peter

            Then why are hundreds of billions being spent on next generation telescopes if they are useless in establishing the likelihood of extraterrestrial life?

          • Brock

            Under your own assumptions, isn't it likely that another more advanced sentient specie exists? It seems based upon everything you've said elsewhere that should be the case.

          • Brock

            Let's say we have uncovered the entire universe, and we've found 38 billion other planets with life, yet none are sentient. How long must we wait until we conclude that the existence of sentient beings on earth is unique?

            If life exists elsewhere, yet none of it is sentient, it would seem that your approach would indefinitely be a "wait and see" approach.

          • Peter

            The same natural complexifying processes which lead to the establishment of life on these planets will not stop dead as soon as life takes hold but will continue as evolution, resulting inevitably in increasingly complex life forms and culminating in the most complex lifeforms of all which are sentient.

            So, as I said above, it would be that complex life hasn't yet evolved on these planets, probably because the universe is still very young. We may be among the first sentient species in a galaxy which is teeming with planets where life has just taken hold or is in the intermediate stages.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            So what? That still doesn't mean that life or even sentient life is inevitable.

          • But maybe the number of sentient species in the universe is approximately one per trillion years, in which case we're it. Why use your odds?

          • Peter

            Because they are reasonable. Only one species out of 100 billion stars are incredibly low odds to star with.

            However, even one species per galaxy per trillion years would still be 100 billion species in a trillion years.

          • I think the 1 per universe per trillion years (re-read my previous comment) is equally reasonable. Maybe your odds are incredibly high. Why believe your statistics?

          • Peter

            One species per universe per trillion years is not likely when you consider the evidence gained from observation.

          • Susan

            One species per universe per trillion years is not likely when you consider the evidence gained from observation.

            But how do you calculate your own odds? What Is the math?

          • Peter

            I don't have any math but I know someone who does:

            http://www.seti.org/drakeequation

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The Drake equation actually indicates that you're wrong. Nor has it ever been verified. In short, you can't support your assertion.

          • Peter

            Just looking into the ultra deep Hubble field which is a few pixels of space next to the moon supports my assertion.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            How?

          • Peter

            Because it underscores the sheer vastness of space where the same laws and processes apply, and materials exist, which gave rise to ourselves.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            False. Until you can show that a sentient species us a high probability outcome, you are just making foolish and uninformed assertions. As indicated by several people, the Drake equation tells you nothing.

            Stop asserting. Demonstrate. Support your assertion with actual logic and evidence.

          • Peter

            The evidence grows all the time with the discovery of complex spacebound carbon-based compounds and, more recently, a vast and increasing array of exoplanets. Next decade the extremely large European telescope will peer into the atmospheres of these planets to spectroscopically search for life.

            The evidence is mounting that our galaxy is not only brimming with the building blocks of life but is extensively dotted with environments where it can potentially take hold.

            With these facts in mind, facts which become increasingly evident with time and technical advancement, it would be foolish to stick one's head in the sand and remain in denial with respect to the likelihood of sentient life.

            If the evidence is so powerful on our own doorstep, the probability of sentient life in the rest of the imaginably vast cosmos, either now or in the aeons to come, is virtually certain.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Show us the math. Show us the logic. All you are offering are your personal opinions - which, given that you think black holes emit x-rays to stimulate hydrogen combinations is clearly lacking - are without meaning.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            See this is where philosophy of probability comes in. Why do I have to show that my existence has a high probability? I am the thing that exists already. The burden is on you to prove that we are NOT probable, not us to prove that we are probable. This is like accosting people in the streets and telling them to prove who they are and then telling them that they probably aren't who they are if they couldn't come up with some ID. The truth is that they are who they are, whether they prove it or not. The truth cares nothing for your "opinion" on probability.
            You start with the information YOU DO KNOW and then work out from there.
            Where is the evidence that sentient life is not the probable outcome of the universe?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Let's get to probability in a minute. The first problem is that you and Peter are committing a logical fallacy: onus probani. You are the ones making absolute assertions about the emergence of sentient species; you have to defend your claims. Can you? We've seen nothing so far.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I think Peter is making a similar claim to you, and that I am on the other side of both of you. He is trying to prove that other possibilities can't be true, which I think is a waste of time. I am making assertions based on what we know. We know that we exist, and we don't know of any other existences.
            You are forcing me to "prove" a negative- other possibilities don't exist.

            I am telling you that that is not how philosophy of logic works. I can't prove other possibilities don't exist. You have to prove that they do.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            He is not trying to prove other possibilities are true. He is claiming, without providing evidence, that the development of sentient life is inevitable.

            You are not making assertions on what we know - you are committing a logical fallacy. A probabilistic fallacy. And believe me, I know a lot more about probability than you do.

            What are the odds that a randomly shuffled deck of cards has a particular configuration? 1 in 52! (in simplistic terms). You're essentially claiming that because a particular configuration exists, that it has a probability of 1.

            Nope.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Nor, by the way am I claiming that other possibilities don't exist.

            You might try rereading my posts - you're not correct about what you think I'm saying.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            There is much that is wrong with your post. Peter and I are not making similar claims: I am making no claim at all; merely pointing out that neither you nor Peter are even trying to support your claims.

            You are not making assertions on what we know. If you were, you would be able to quantify the probability that we exist as a sentient species. You have not even tried to do that.

            And you continue to offer only onus probani. A logical fallacy.

            Either you have evidence so support your claims or you don't. I'm happy to discuss your logic and your evidence - whenever you get around to presenting it.

          • Michael Murray

            Where is the evidence that sentient life is not the probable outcome of the universe?

            What is probable for you ? One per galaxy ? One million per galaxy ?

            If you look the facts we know you could take the number of known instances of sentient life

            1

            and divide by the number of stars:

            10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

            That will give you a very small number.

            Or you could look for radio signals -- none.

            Extra-terrestrials arriving on earth -- none.

            Alien probes seen in the solar system -- none.

            It has been estimated that self-replicating probes could spread throughout the entire galaxy in 500,000 years. But we see none.

            If you want an argument against it's the Fermi Paradox.

            There is also the whole rare earth hypothesis

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_Earth_hypothesis

            Now tell us your argument for the idea that sentience is the probable outcome of the universe ?

          • Susan

            I ripped this directly from Wikipedia but it articulates things well and is much more useful and appropriate than the response I was thinking about typing which was along the lines of "You've got to be kidding me."

            Criticism of the Drake equation follows mostly from the observation that several terms in the equation are largely or entirely based on conjecture. Star formation rates are on solid ground, and the incidence of planets has a sound theoretical and observational basis, but as we move from the left to right in the equation, estimating each succeeding factor becomes ever more speculative. The uncertainties revolve around our understanding of the evolution of life, intelligence, and civilization, not physics. No statistical estimates are possible for some of the parameters, where only one example is known. The net result is that equation cannot be used to draw firm conclusions of any kind, and the resulting margin of error is huge, far beyond what some consider acceptable or meaningful.

            One reply to such criticisms is that even though the Drake equation currently involves speculation about unmeasured parameters, it was intended as a way to stimulate dialogue on these topics. Then the focus becomes how to proceed experimentally. Indeed, Drake originally formulated the equation merely as an agenda for discussion at the Green Bank conference

          • Peter

            The point I was making is that there is no substitute for direct observation, and that's why governments and organisations are ploughing hundreds of billions into the development of next generation telescopes. Evidently they've done the math and found out it's worthwhile to make such mega investments.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Do you have any evidence?

          • Michael Murray

            If you look at something like the European Extremely Large
            telescope you will see the science it will do, goes far beyond extra-solar planets and possible alien life.

            Extremely Large Telescopes are considered worldwide as one of the highest priorities in ground-based astronomy. They will vastly advance astrophysical knowledge, allowing detailed studies of subjects including planets around other stars, the first objects in the Universe, super-massive black holes, and the nature and distribution of the dark matter and dark energy which dominate the Universe.

            https://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/e-elt/

            I assume they will help find more earth like planets rather than the small jupiters Kepler typically finds. There is also talk of being able to observe the atmosphere of planets around other stars. Amazing stuff for someone like me who grew up when there was only one planetary system we knew about. But a long way I think from proving your "sentient life is inevitable" claim.

          • Michael Murray

            We don't know the inputs to the Drake equation well enough to conclude anything. As the wikipedia article Susan quotes says

            " it was intended as a way to stimulate dialogue on these topics. "

          • And it succeeded.

          • What evidence from observation?

            Why just two ways? It seems possible that (a) there's no god and life is common, (b) there's no god and life is rare, (c) god exists and life is common, (d) god exists and life is rare.

            I'm agnostic about God and I'm agnostic about life elsewhere in the universe. I'd like there to be live elsewhere, but I don't know. So I don't know what likelihood to assign to (a), (b), (c) and (d).

          • Susan

            It seems possible that (a) there's no god and life is common, (b) there's no god and life is rare, (c) god exists and life is common, (d) god exists and life is rare.

            How about e) Gods are common and life is rare. ;-)

          • Ha ha! Very good point! So it's not just 4.

          • Peter

            Again we must look at the facts, not at hypotheses.

            The universe has no choice but to proceed from the outset from lesser to greater complexity. Black holes have no choice but to emit x-rays and in response to them hydrogen atoms have no choice but to change to molecules which radiate heat more effectively and therefore collapse more readily into stars.
            Stars have no choice but to increase in metallicity from one generation to the next, and then emit clouds which have no choice but to acquire organic complexity.

            More powerful telescopes will reveal what further complexifying processes these compounds undergo within the protoplanery discs and intense irradiation of accreting stars. But whatever processes they undergo, they will have no choice in doing so. Nor too will these complex compounds have any choice in establishing themselves as life on young planets and evolving to greater complexity culminating in sentience.

            It is becoming increasingly plain that the universe has no choice but to evolve from its inception towards life. The universe is configured for life which indicates that it has a purpose which is to achieve widespread consciousness and comprehension,
            and purpose denotes God.

          • It is not plain to me that the universe must produce life. It did, at least once. But I don't see why it must. I don't buy even the premise that things generally go from simple to more complex. Most of the time, they tend to go the other way. But certain pockets of matter will go from simpler to more complicated. Given the way these atoms and molecules behave, maybe those pockets are inevitable. I'm willing to grant that.

            So let's say that you are likely to get the ingredients for life. You are also likely to get the ingredients for Ebinger's Blackout Cake and for Paul B Rimmer and for Peter. Is it inevitable that the universe is full of Ebinger's Cakes and Paul B Rimmers and Peters? Probably not. Probably there is just one place where these amazing cakes, Paul B Rimmer and Peter exist. Earth. Ingredients are not enough. Is the mechanism taking non-life to life inevitable? Is it even probable? Hard for me to say, since I don't know what that mechanism is or how it works. Do you?

            So far on this topic I see from you a lot of wild assertions under the label "evidence", and so far no evidence. But I'm happy to wait. It would be very exciting if you could provide some evidence for the inevitability of life elsewhere in the universe.

          • Peter

            First, if you want to refer to all the galaxies and all the stars and nebulae in the cosmos as pockets of matter, that's fine.

            Second, the same natural processes exist throughout the cosmos, and therefore so too do the same complex carbon compounds that we observe in clouds and nebulae within our own galaxy. It is only the advent of powerful telescopes which has enabled us to detect these compounds and, more recently, other planets throughout the galaxy. We are therefore in a very early age of discovery and, with time, even more powerful telescopes will enable us to discover more.

            Given what we know already, based on our knowledge of the natural processes of the universe and our observations of nebulae and star systems, it is not unreasonable to predict that we will encounter signs of even greater organic complexity not only within the giant molecular clouds and planetary nebulae but also, with the aid of newer and better telescopes, within protoplanetary discs and exoplanetary atmospheres.

            We are limited by technology but until that arrives we can extrapolate with reasonable certainty what we will find. For example, organic compounds within protoplanery discs will be subject to millions of years of intense irradiation by the energetic baby star only to fall millions of years later into the newly forming atmospheres of nascent planets and react chemically with them. These developments can be predicted with reason given what we already know and suspect about our own solar system. They are hardly wild assertions.

          • We build the big telescopes and satallite observatories because we don't know what we will find. It's all the more exciting to look for life on distant planets because we don't know whether we will find any, or whether there's any more out there to find.

            We are limited by technology but until that arrives we can extrapolate with reasonable certainty what we will find. For example, organic compounds within protoplanery discs will be subjected to millions of years of intense irradiation by the energetic baby star only to fall millions of years later into the newly forming atmospheres of nascent planets and react chemically with them. These developments can be predicted with reason given what we already know and suspect about our own solar system. They are hardly wild assertions.

            None of the assertions quoted above are all that wild. Even better, all of the assertions above have evidence to support them. But none of that makes life inevitable. None of that even means there's life anywhere else in the universe Those are wild assertions, and that's what I'd like evidence for. Maybe one of the new telescopes, like the James Webb, will find it!

          • Peter

            I beg to differ. Astronomers build bigger and better telescopes nowadays because of what they expect to find, based on the findings of the older smaller telescopes, otherwise how would they get the billions in funding?

            For instance the extremely large European telescope, with its programme to observe protoplanetary discs and exoplanetary atmospheres, will build on the successes of the very large European telescope and other telescopes around the world.

            The new telescope has a set of specific programmes otherwise how would it attract the funding? One of it's main objectives is to look for signs of life. They wouldn't be spending billions if they didn't expect to find it or at least something near it.

          • This is the area of research that I work in and publish in. I can't say why every researcher does this work, but I can say why I do it. I do it because I want to find out more about what's out there, and not because I want to confirm what I already know beforehand. There's lots of good reasons to think life elsewhere in the universe is possible. No evidence that it's actual. Not yet.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            But Peter's not claiming possible. Peter is claiming that life - specifically sentient life is a certainty.

          • Right! And that's the problem I'm having with Peter's claims (that SENTIENT LIFE is CERTAIN). It would actually be a terrible thing to put into a grant proposal for a telescope "life is inevitable" or "life is everywhere". Such unqualified and unsupported assertions would undermine any proposed search for life. Present exoplanet characterisation proposals are far more modest. Kepler's goal was just to find an earth-sized planet about 1 AU away from a sun-like star.

          • Peter

            My original claim was that sentient life is inevitable in the aeons to come. I believe life, especially bacterial life, is virtually certain now and that sentient life, although highly likely at present, will be a certainty in the future. I never claimed that sentient life is a certainty now.

          • I already know what you think about the inevitability of sentient life elsewhere in the universe. You have failed to convince me about any of your claims, because you have failed to present any evidence.

          • Peter

            I can't present evidence for the existence of something which won't occur for another billion years. However, increasingly accurate observations of our galaxy reveal a superabundance of compounds which make up the building blocks of life and a plethora of new environments where it could take hold either on rocky planets or gas giant moons.

            I find this compelling evidence that life must be established elsewhere in at least a rudimentary form which, unless it dies out, has no choice but to complexify over the aeons to the point of sentience.

          • Michael Murray

            The universe is fertile for life which, sooner or later, in one form or another, will reach intelligence somewhere in the cosmos.

            So now we are reduced to at least one example of intelligence somewhere in the cosmos. But I thought we knew that ?

          • Susan

            I can't present evidence for the existence of something which won't occur for another billion years.

            Why a billion?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That's not evidence. That's personal opinion. And he's not asking for evidence of sentient beings NOW. He's asking for support for your claims that sentient beings are inevitable - something that you have not provided.

            Claiming that something is compelling evidence for you is of no value unless you explain how and why it's evidence and how and why it supports your claims.

            The burden of proof is on you.

          • Peter

            Those who deny that life certainly exists beyond the earth have chosen to bury their head in the sand:

            "Researchers have discovered prebiotic (pre-life) molecules in interstellar space that may have formed on dusty ice grains floating between the stars.
            The molecules were detected in a giant cloud of gas some 25,000 light-years from Earth, near the center of our Milky Way Galaxy — specifically, the star-forming region Sagittarius(Sgr) B2(N), which is the richest interstellar chemical environment currently known.
            One of the newly-discovered molecules, called E-cyanomethanimine (E-HNCHCN) is one step in the process that chemists believe produces adenine, one of the four nucleobases that form the “rungs” in the ladder-like structure of DNA. The other molecule, called ethanamine, is thought to play a role in forming alanine, one of the twenty amino acids in the genetic code.
            “Finding these molecules in an interstellar gas cloud means that building blocks for DNA and amino acids can ‘seed’ newly-formed planets with the chemical precursors for life,” said Anthony Remijan, of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)"

            http://www.kurzweilai.net/dna-and-amino-acid-precursor-molecules-discovered-in-interstellar-space

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            That is neither evidence nor argument - the fact that prebiotic molecules exist in space is well known. That tells us nothing about whether life exists elsewhere or whether sentient life is inevitable - which is your primary contention.

            Now can we please get some evidence and argument to discuss?

          • Peter

            Is space brimming with the building blocks of life? Yes.
            Is space teeming with rocky planets and moons on which life could take hold? Yes.
            Does the formation of life depend on natural processes? Yes.
            Do these natural processes follow laws which are the same throughout the universe? Yes.
            Has life already formed in at least one instance? Yes.

            With such powerful evidence in favour, the onus is on the sceptic to demonstrate in the face of such overwhelming evidence why life cannot have taken hold elsewhere.

          • Susan

            With such powerful evidence in favour, the onus is on the sceptic to demonstrate in the face of such overwhelming evidence why life cannot have taken hold elsewhere.

            No one has asserted that life cannot have taken hold elsewhere.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            With such powerful evidence in favour, the onus is on the sceptic to demonstrate in the face of such overwhelming evidence why life cannot have taken hold elsewhere.

            Absolutely false. You are making a claim; you have to support it; provide the probabilities and calculations.
            You need to look up logical fallacies - you're guilty of a fair number of them. Based on the evidence you've provided, there is a vanishingly small chance of life elsewhere.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            So we don't have any evidence of life elsewhere; we have no evidence that life will ever form elsewhere; and we have no way of finding that life even if it existed.
            Wow. No argument there.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Your original claim remains unsupported (and apparently unsupportable by you.)

            Your personal opinion that sentient life is a certainty in the future is valueless without actual logic and evidence to support your opinion. So far you've presented the Drake equation (which actually works AGAINST your claim) and a lot of hand-waving.

            Where is your evidence to support your claim?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And yet you claimed that folks are building telescopes because they think they will find sentient life.

            Please be consistent.

          • Peter

            I am claiming that it is a virtual certainty in the same vein as Richard Dawkins claims that God almost certainly does not exist.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Based on what? You can't even quantify the probabilities.

          • Peter

            Nor can Richards Dawkins.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Who cares? We're not talking about Dawkins and the lack of evidence for god.

          • Susan

            Who cares? We're not talking about Dawkins and the lack of evidence for god.

            in neither case does Peter seem to understand who has the burden.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Wait - you're the Paul Rimmer of Brown Dwarf atmospheric ionization"? Cool! I've read your stuff. You're at St. Andrews, yes?

          • Yes, I am! Now I feel ashamed. I don't know who you are. Do you work in this field also?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            No, no. Neuroendocrinology is my study field right now, but I'm a science geek. I get around.

          • More than I do.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Ah, but I have an advantage: I'm on a boat. My current major professor keeps telling me that if I don't focus on one subject, I'll never achieve scientific immortality. He's probably right.

          • "Wait - you're the Paul Rimmer of Brown Dwarf atmospheric ionization"? Cool! I've read your stuff. You're at St. Andrews, yes?"

            "Yes, I am!"

            Wow! That's awesome.

          • Peter

            There are plenty of good reasons to believe that life is possible elsewhere. One of them is the direct correlation between telescopic power and the discovery of life's building blocks in space. The more powerful the telescope, the more complex the organic compounds they have found.

            This empirically proven relationship has prompted astronomers to plan even more powerful telescopes in the reasoned assumption that by doing so they will discover organic compounds which are even more complex.

            The increasingly complex organic compounds which are found act like an arrow pointing towards life, and astronomers follow the arrow by using telescopes which are progressively more powerful in the reasonable expectation of eventually reaching their objective.

          • I'm sufficiently satisfied that we've now abandoned "inevitable" in exchange for "good reasons to believe that life is not only possible but highly likely." I think that in the interests of time and brevity, I'll stop there! Thanks for the discussion.

          • Peter

            You're welcome, although I originally said that sentient life was inevitable in the aeons to come, though it is still highly likely now.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            So your argument is bigger telescopes have better resolution therefore life exists elsewhere?

          • Peter

            Organic compounds in space are footprints of progressive complexity leading to life, but the trail of footprints is blurred by the current lack of resolution in our observations.

            Just as starts don't remain stars forever but transform wholly or partly into element rich nebulae containing organic compounds, these compounds don't remain compounds forever but transform to greater complexity.

            How can you say that the process towards complexity, evident throughout the universe, has to stop at the nebula stage? Of course it doesn't. The drive to complexity is relentless, not even stopping at life itself but going on to create complex sentient life.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And you continue to refuse to provide either evidence or argument for your claims. How do you know sentient life us a certainty?

          • Michael Murray

            The drive to complexity is relentless, not even stopping at life itself but going on to create complex sentient life.

            Only known in one case.

            Each step towards sentient life is difficult and makes it less likely. Looking at evolution on our own planet we see that it took maybe a billion years to transition from single cell to multicellular life. It took another couple of billion years to get to dinosaurs. Then it took an accident to get rid of them and another 60 odd million years to get to anything looking like us. I can see the universe has potential for sentient life (after all we are here) but I don't see the argument that it has to occur.

            When you say relentless how many cases of sentient life are you actually predicting in the universe? If it's one we can all agree.

          • Peter

            The universe is very young, and given the time it takes to develop us from scratch from the big bang, I'd say we are among the first in our galaxy and therefore it's not surprising that we've had no contact from other technological civilisations.

            What I do predict with reasonable certainty is that, among a significant proportion of the billions of planets in the galaxy, life will have taken hold and be at varying degrees of development. Most of it could simply be microbial whose signs we hope to detect in the planetary atmospheres, as you suggest in an earlier post.

            However, the processes which led from microbial life to the evolution of our own physical complexity are purely natural processes and, as such, exist identically throughout the entire cosmos, as does the process involving the formation and transformation of stars.

            These evolutionary processes will be working relentlessly in a manner peculiar to their environment wherever life has taken hold. Even though they may occasionally fail, as earth's early history shows, eventually they will win through and drive complexity even higher. The microbial planets of this aeon could be the technological civilisations of the next.

          • Michael Murray

            The universe is very young, and given the time it takes to develop us from scratch from the big bang, I'd say we are among the first in our galaxy and therefore it's not surprising that we've had no contact from other technological civilisations.

            We've had this discussion before! I disagree that we are young. I can make an argument we are really late starters. Dinosaurs started around 260 million years ago. If the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs had come shortly after they developed instead of 60 millions years ago we could be as much as 200 million years further along in our development. So there is no reason I can see from a development perspective that there couldn't be lots of civilisations in the galaxy vastly older than us and vastly more sophisticated in their technology. It takes 500,000 years to colonise the colony with self-replicating probes. Why haven't they done that?

            Even though they may occasionally fail, as earth's early history shows, eventually they will win through and drive complexity even higher.

            How do you know its "occasionally fail"? Your arguments aren't arguments but just assertions.

            Michael

          • Peter

            In answer to the Fermi paradox, one reason may be the sheer viscosity of interstellar space.

            Space is relatively clear within the solar system because of the gravitational pull of the sun and planets, but out in interstellar space with nothing to scoop them up there may be an invisible fog of gas and dust particles and probably even undiscovered components of dark matter, all of which prevent high velocity travel.

            I think you are making an unqualified claim in assuming that interstellar travel is straightforward even if we have the engines to drive it.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            What proof do you have that they are building bigger telescopes because they are certain life must exist? That's not how science works.

            Evidence, Peter, evidence. You have yet to present evidence.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            There is no reason to assume these processes exist everywhere.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Even if the latter is true, it says nothing about whether those processes will generate another sentient species.

            Nothing.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            "Eventually, all chemical complexity will be lost."
            This too, assumes that the big freeze is a proven theory. Many prominent scientists don't believe this is an inevitability.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            It doesn't depend on a big freeze. It depends on dispersion, which we observe.

          • Chemical complexity will eventually be lost, barring a miracle. The second law of thermodynamics requires it. Every physical cosmology predicts that chemistry eventually dies. Some predict that it will come back again, in a new universe, or in small pockets of our very old universe.

            I think most cosmologists project that the universe will perish in ice. It's accelerating apart right now. I'll try to come up with the statistics if you'd like. But you are right, nothing's for certain. Not even the Second Law.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I think that is why I eschew using science to try and prove God (as in this thermodynamics lends to the notion of God or any silly law we think we have a full understanding of right now and Lemaitre after being shown to be justified in his theory of a primeval atom says the same thing to the Pope himself who tried to extend a scientific discovery as philsophical proof).
            I go back to your own post on Kalam - our greatest argument will always be "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

  • Loreen Lee

    Quote:I was personally fond of Langdon Gilkey and much in sympathy with the
    kind of science-and-religion-separate view that he endorsed, often known
    as no-orthodoxy.

    I am pleased to find a term (neo/no-orthodoxy) which describes my dilemna which I guess could be called a 'demarcation' problem. So I was pleased that I could think of 'what is' with or without the context of God without calling myself an atheistic-Catholic.

    I found several misunderstandings, (according to mine) within this post, as in the example of Christian belief in a necessary God, when that 'necessary' God was first posited by the pagan philosopher, Aristotle. There are I believe many more possible subjects of controversy, and may I suggest error, in this article. So my reading of the comments should be educational, (as usual)

    With respect to the demarcation problem, recently with the insights I have received reading your comments, I have attempted to apply my non-understanding of theology, as per your arguments, to scripture, and just take the 'stories' as given within that context. Thus the miracles (or rather revelations) can even be accepted within the framework of 'another possible idealism/world', and even the Star of Bethlehem can be regarded as a theological/narrative necessity that would offer some explanation as to the how and why of the theological meaning of the trip to Bethlehem by the Magi, (nothing more!!).

    This comment only to emphasize the ever present difficulty of finding the line, the demarcation, between the empirically 'real' and the rational/idea/ideal. Are not even the cosmologists face to face with this difficulty.

    • "I found several misunderstandings, (according to mine) within this post, as in the example of Christian belie in a necessary God, when that 'necessary' God was first posited by the pagan philosopher, Aristotle."

      I agree with you there, Loreen. The metaphysical necessity of God is not an exclusively Christian idea.

      • Loreen Lee

        Thank you Brandon Vogt.

  • NicholasBeriah Cotta

    What a great interview. I think though that the scrutiny applied to the history of Christianity (which can be the materialist equivalent of our Good News) was refreshingly consistent to me and is why I converted to Catholicism. I struggled with so many questions, but thanks to Father Bob and the folks at Catholic Answers (and actually a contributor here, Matt Briggs for even better answers on the philosophy of probability), I always found that for a tradition as long and as complicated as Catholicism, it is remarkably consistent. Matter of fact, I feel intellectually like no other religion comes close, and I fell hopelessly in love with Jesus and his Church.
    Sue me for raising my three girls to love Him too - I wish someone raised me that way! Would've saved me bunches of time.

    • Loreen Lee

      No other religion, I have found, consistently deals with the philosophical difficulties, involved in relating the heaven and the earth (the ideal/ideal and the /empirical/cosmos) within a context that seeks to overcome the 'demarcation' problem. Unlike Buddhism, for instance, God called his creation 'Good', and the recognition of the element of transformation within both contexts is I believe unique to Catholicism/Christianity?

      • NicholasBeriah Cotta

        I wholeheartedly agree. I think the only philosophy that comes close to being correct is Judaism which always denounced the separation of mind/spirit/soul/body or in more binary terms, natural/supernatural. I would find it very tough to engage intellectually from any other position other than the Judeo-Christian one - the superiority of Christianity I find comes from Jesus and his one Church, a sole authority that continues his presence as a "mystical body" which becomes necessary for coherence through time.
        I ask anyone - has there ever been a single organization in history to stand for 2,000 years the way the Catholic church has? The Church carries that physical witness to ground so many of the claims about God and his presence in history.

        • cminca

          Pharaonic Egypt has 1000 years on the CC.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          While interesting, this irrelevant to the truth of its doctrine.

          • Susan

            While interesting, this is irrelevant to the truth of its doctrine.

            Completely. Nicholas hasn't even gone through the motions of ruling out the ways that ideas can be kept alive among humans. Military conquest and power, for instance. Human susceptibility to snake oil remedies. Families and culture. That sort of thing.
            It's simple. It's lasted for 2000 years, so it must be true and right.
            Slavery has lasted much, much longer.

          • Michael Murray

            Indigenous Australian religion goes back 50,000 years at least. So I think the Rainbow Serpent beats Jesus.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            There's no one piece of evidence that is a slam dunk for anything; I don't think it's fair to assume that I became Catholic solely because it has been around for 2,000 years.
            And it is not irrelevant because resonance amongst human population would imply some truth, whether it's a snake oil that has lasted for 2,000 years (or maybe the idea behind the snake oil).
            I'm just saying one of the falsified statements of Jesus is that his Church would last until the end of time. It's been 2,000 years and there has been a clear succession of rulers over it the entire time. The Egyptians did not have any such thing nor Australian aborigines. There is a stark difference between these culturally bound power structures and the consistent organization and doctrine of the Catholic Church.

          • cminca

            "And it is not irrelevant because resonance amongst human population would imply some truth, whether it's a snake oil that has lasted for 2,000 years (or maybe the idea behind the snake oil)."

            By that logic alone the Egyptian book of the dead and the aboriginal doctrines "would imply some truth".

            So which truths are you suggesting we believe? That the great god Ra descended and became the first Pharaoh?

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I am suggesting that you don't have to accept every part of an idea to think the idea has some truth. But an idea doesn't spontaneously generate from *nowhere*. If someone had an idea that spread, the idea was useful for *some* purpose. People don't just accept things and propagate them purposely - they always have a reason. If zoroastrianism lived for awhile, it must have had a use and even if you don't believe in Catholicism, it still should be remarkable that it has been such a cohesive institution for 2,000 years running in to the modern day- what else has? To discredit the whole thing isn't even scientific in the secular sense.

          • cminca

            You are now conflating "useful" with "true". They aren't the same thing.

            By that definition, any mythology that was useful--druids at Stonehenge, Aztecs with a calendar--would be "true". Yet I doubt you'd want us practicing the beliefs of either religion.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I don't think I am. I am not equating those terms, but using "useful" as a determiner for "true." Like if I have a statistical model that can successfully predict baseball games 80% of the time, it becomes useful and partially true. There must be more truth in my model than my method of randomly picking winners. I can believe my model is not the whole truth, but useful for ascertaining some of it.

          • cminca

            So the Aztec calendar could be used as an indicator that they were somewhat right that human sacrifice made the sun come up?

            Sorry.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            No but it is good to know that the rise of civilization and the rise of keeping track of time were coordinated.
            Also it is good to know that sacrificing humans can provide society peace by giving it an outlet of stress.
            You can't just keep directing the lessons of an organization in history toward any random tenet within that organization and then say, "See, there are no lessons to be learned here or else this [insert clearly illogical proposition here] would be true."

          • cminca

            In other words--you cannot equate the longevity of the CC (a political bureaucracy) with any random tenet with that organization (that the CC is the chosen religion instituted by Christ).

            We agree.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I agree in the sense that longevity does not prove any tenet within itself, but the initial claim was that longevity was "interesting" but had no bearing on its truth. This is not true- it is a piece of evidence for truth.
            The longer the Church goes, the harder it is to dismiss it for cultural/familial relations, the propensity for humans to buy snake oil, or any other simplistic statement to dismiss the message of the Church. There must be something in this religion different than the other as the cause to not only its longevity but its cohesiveness - we can name the succession of rulers for 2,000 years in to the modern day.

          • cminca

            As you can also name the all ruler/gods of Egypt and probably the rulers of the aborigines over an extensive time period.

            I get it--you want to use longevity and mass appeal as a reason to "prove" the CC it right.

            I'm sorry but your logic doesn't hold up unless you can/do use the same logic to "prove" pharaonic myths or aboriginal myths are also right.

            Since you are unwilling to do so, then you can't use that logic as your proof for the CC.

          • NicholasBeriah Cotta

            I am not establishing a "proof" for the CC, I am providing evidence for its truth. You have to weigh the evidence - I don't think that for a set of ideas as complicated as the Church, I could provide any one statement or "proof" of its truth like it's a math equation or something.
            And I don't think Egypt or the aborigines had the same consistent and cohesive history. They both had changing doctrines, changing groups that rules (even outside groups) and so on. The continuity in those things are vague at best- maybe regional or cultural but calling both of those groups an "organization" that is like the CC is silly. The analogy you are making doesn't hold because you are saying that I cannot offer the church's longevity as evidence because I reject the egyptians as evidence. I am saying that the CC is different than the Pharaohs and the aborigines in many ways, the most obvious being that they've died out and the Church is still going.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Another logical fallacy. Circa 2000 BC, nobody thought Egypt was going anywhere either.

            You're not offering evidence that the CC is true. You're claiming age and consistency as evidence of truth. We know that's not the case.

          • cminca

            Australian aboriginal people have died out?

            Hmmmm--I guess that will come as a surprise to them. http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/aboriginals

            Of course--the fact that any of them survives is a miracle when you consider how effectively the west, in all it's Christian wisdom, killed them off.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Why do you think longevity has any bearing on truth. We've had slavery for thousands of years; is it true?

  • People who argue for or against atheism are deeply committed to the moral worth of what they claim. Obviously this comes through with religious believers defending their faith against atheism. But it’s equally true of atheists. One sees this most clearly in the writings of the New Atheists. A work like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins as much a moral sermon as anything one might get from Jonathan Edwards. After all, anyone who says Christian education is child abuse is hardly stating brute empirical facts.

    This is something I hadn't thought about before either, but I think he's right. There's a lot of moral conviction in my decision about what to believe. Christopher Hitchens probably understood this better than any of the other New Atheists, or at least he expressed his moral outrage most clearly.

    • Loreen Lee

      Just from personal experience here, Paul. When in a confession, I casually mentioned a regret that I did not raise my children as Catholics, the priest brought me up on this, giving me a 'huge penance'. I accepted this, but with the proviso that as an individual in this world, you just can't do, know, be 'everything'. I am not a God. I wanted my children to have a knowledge of their cultural language, French, and I wanted them to be aware of scientific developments. On many occasions when I overhead teachers from the Catholic school mention for instance that the garbage trucks 'were' penance, I was only so happy, that the superstition inherent in my Irish Catholicism background was not a part of their early years. As far as morality goes, I could regard the perspective of my 'adult/children' as having greater depth than my own searching, but we never can know another's 'heart'. And indeed, when it comes to religious education, I find it very ironic that my study of the naturalist philosopher, Kant, allowed me to see certain structures which as parallel truths gave me insight into some fundamentals of Catholic orthodoxy, that I was not taught within my early childhood, and which I would never have 'seen' without my absorption in the modern/philosophic context.
      As far as the 'abuse' potentially involved in indoctrination rather than 'education' (the definition of which originally meant to draw out of a person), I generally offered suggestions, but always hoped that they would lead to their own discoveries, and cultivate an inquisitive mind. This has 'borne fruit', I believe, but I also received the complaint from my daughter, that if she had been given 'more guidance', she would not have felt as much insecurity as she said she felt. Please know that it is 'most difficult' to be a 'perfect parent'.

      • Please know that it is 'most difficult' to be a 'perfect parent'.

        I don't think I'll ever know how hard it is to be a perfect parent. It's too late.

        • Loreen Lee

          I don't know what you are referring to, but if there is need of consolation, please know that I direct e-mails to my son at least, giving him information on 'spiritual' practices, from Buddhist meditation, to Catholic posts, to what comes from my continuing interest in philosophy, the later of which was at least part of their -at home' discourse. Do they take time, or have they the time to read? I don't know. All I can do is continue to make an effort to develop as a 'person'. In that regard, hopefully, it's never too late.

          • Sorry to cause concern. I was just joking about how I don't know what it's like to be a perfect parent because I already ruined my chances by making mistakes. I've made a few dozen mistakes that I know about, and probably many more that I don't know about, and my kids are only 3 and 1. My kids are happy and healthy, in spite of some of my decisions.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Paul. My concern did provoke a drawn out response, granted. Sometimes it's as difficult to interpret people as it is to interpret scripture. Perhaps I was getting a little too 'theological' with your remark. Grin Grin. Now I'm off to learn something from your scientifically grounded comments!!!!

  • Tim Dacey

    Michael Ruse is an excellent philosopher. His "Dawkins vs. Gould" is the reason I became interested in evolutionary theory and philosophy of biology

  • Loreen Lee

    I am just a little disappointed that no one commented on the 'demarcation problem' as it has been variously defined in science and philosophy of science.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      Which demarcation problem? There are many.

      • Loreen Lee

        I went through the Wikipedia and Stanford Encyclopedia entries this morning to review what I read years ago, (at my level of understanding) There is for instance, the problem defined by the Positivists which would have eliminated all metaphysics. Their philosophy was later rejected. The relationship of science to religion is stated in the first paragraph: "As a philosopher, Dr. Ruse specializes in the philosophy of biology and
        is well known for his work on the relationship between science and
        religion, the creation-evolution controversy, and the demarcation
        problem in science."

        There are of course other criteria in this problematic, from Kuhn to Popper, but I have only read on an undergraduate level. I would therefore greatly benefit (hopefully) if some of these discussions about science would indeed be put within the context of religion, per se. I would ask, for instance, how the results of the discussion involving the possibility of life on other planets, and whether this is or is not inevitable, could possibly be related to some definition of 'necessity' (logical, or even as in the definition of God, ontological). This of course follows from my interest in the possible ways science is 'demarcated' or related to religion, either within human practical reason, (morals) or even conceptually, only, which is another context, I understand, in which the 'demarcation problem' is defined.

        Trusting I have answered your question. Thanks.

      • Loreen Lee

        I attempted to read the discussion again with more understanding. I note the final words were:

        NicholasBeriah Cotta

        Paul Brandon Rimmer

        3 hours ago

        I think that is why I eschew using science to try and prove God.

        But I can ask, can I not, if it could be possible to 'think scientifically' about religion? Could we even think scientifically, for instance, about how we comport ourselves for instance when we fall in love. (The moral question?). Would it be possible to 'demarcate' a scientific methodology with respect to life issues? (I make a distinction between a methodology and a 'proof' - correct?) What I don't follow in your discussions on cosmology, particularly, is the way you 'demarcate' or contest, or assert what constitutes evidence, and why?

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          The fundamental thing that makes science and religion incompatible, in my view, is the difference in what they regard as evidence. But note the difference: there is nothing that cannot be investigated scientifically (subject to the limits of experimentation). And we know science works pragmatically: we've tested it and seen the results. Equally, there are things that religion cannot investigate. We've also established that by sheer induction. Religion has not produced a single new fact about the universe in 500 years. Science has done wonders in the same timeframe.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you. After writing my last comment, I checked my FB link with Tom Rafferty and found a post on the distinction between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism. This helped. I shall continue to 'trust my instincts' in attempting to clarify, for me anyway, the distinction, or demarcation between mind/brain, outer/inner, etc. etc. I am somewhat aware of the MRI studies, for instance, and there is another post by TR about a physicist exploring 'interactions' between mind/brain. So even if there are areas which can be studied only independently by either science or religion, hopefully understanding will develop and even the possibility that evidence will be found that epiphenomenalism is balanced by the reverse process.
            In a way you are more optimistic in this regard than I. Please let me know what you refer to, if religion has indeed produced a 'fact' in the last 500 years. I would not have believed such!!!!! But I shall continue to 'trust my instincts/intuition', and rely on the process of 'judgment' or 'induction'.
            P.S. The constant demand for evidence on this site, directed both to scientists and theists might benefit from an analysis of what evidence is 'proper/acceptable' to each area. I have in this regard recently made a distinction/comparison between being a witness and giving evidence in a court of law for instance.
            Thanks for your attention to my inquiry. Hopefully, I now have a better understanding of the 'problem of demarcation'.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Religion has not produced any new knowledge about the universe in hundreds if years. I'm sorry if I implied otherwise.

          • Loreen Lee

            Quit the contrary, M. Solange O'Brien. I obviously do not have the credentials to involve myself in the dialogues on the cosmos and other scientific discoveries. I do however, research such topics on line on the basis of all of your comments. Based on this distinction I do not expect to find 'any (material) knowledge about the universe' produced by religion, AT ALL. In such debates, however, about the Star of Bethelehem, for instance, distinctions are often made about natural and 'theological' explanations, but such discussions are, may I suggest, usually speculative.

            I would however, state, despite many philosophical positions (eg. that of Daniel Dennett, et al.) that for instance consciousness is an illusion, I believe otherwise. Hegel, for instance defined three areas of 'unscientific thought': religion, art, and philosophy. Within that criteria, the contributions of 'mind', I would hold are continuous. I accept that only science informs us about the 'material world'.; only science gives us 'facts' defined within this context. Wittgenstein begins his Tractatus, however, (and I paraphrase) with that statement that everything that 'is' is a fact, I thus, consider ideas about God, philosophical truths, as well as all the poetry and paintings, and films etc.that are produced outside of the context of 'science' to be 'facts'. That is why I asked whether you think it would ever be possible to have a scientific methodology regarding such 'realities' as human insight. i am aware, however that science is making progress in tracing the origin of all of our thoughts to processes within the brain, but I do not think that complete 'reduction' is possible, or a credible 'scientific thesis'.. .

            Thus, although I follow to the best of my ability discussions on whether the material cosmos did or did not have a beginning, I can become most confused, for instance when such statements are made that the universe 'created' itself. for this implies for me an element called consciousness, that would exist prior to any evidence that it is produced by a 'brain'.: This recognition of the 'immaterial', even by scientists, I can only place within the context of a religious explanation. Within the context of religion, art and philosophy, I can only suggest that the contributions of 'mind' are continuous, and that religion is justified in the belief that the existence of a 'necessary being' (understood) as an intelligence, is a 'fact'. After all, science cannot explain why there is 'something' rather than 'nothing'.
            Hopefully, you may understand the importance to me of finding clear demarcation between the areas of thought that we call religion and science. Indeed, the clarification of such criteria would have particularly consequences even within my personal life. Thank you for your time.

            .

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Religions make some empirical claims that can be verified. Those which exist and have been checked are ok.

          • Loreen Lee

            My understanding is that accounts of miracles, etc. are tested according to tenets of reason. But, as far as the antimonies that cannot be avoided within the higher echelons of reason, Kierkegaard wrote about the possible interpretation of insanity regarding Abraham, the father of faith, in his book 'Fear and Trembling'. He characterized the situation of living in faith through his conception of the 'knight of faith' ever living within the contradictions of paradox.
            I think of this example when I read such remarks as that Quantum Physics explores realities that take us beyond the logical criteria of Aristotelian logic. It can be apparent even in life situations, as per example, two people in contest with one another, in which there is no evidence available to either party, and thus it is merely a case of one person's word against another. May I suggest that we live in such paradoxical situations more often than we may have awareness, and that thus there is 'natural' as well as 'theological' faith, just to contrast science and religion, once again. Thanks for your comment on possible valid empirical claims within religion. I am not sure that this is the case however. For instance it is easier for me to accept the 'idea' of the virgin birth as a necessary concept within the Theological paradigm, but my naturalistic tendencies 'come out' when I apply this thought to empirical reality!!!! That is why I distinguish belief from dogma, contrasting in this case, again, the empirical with the dogmatic or metaphysical and consequently infallible Truths, that are so because they are truths of reason which cannot be contested, as they are 'beyond the spheres of 'scientific evidence'.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Part of the issue is that religion used to serve a wider variety of functions: it was a one stop shop for history, morality, philosophy - all kinds of "explanatory narratives." But over time, certain disciplines have "peeled off". Philosophy became distinct from theology; and science from philosophy. ReL history and science took the place of origin stories and explanations for natural phenomena.

            In a way, all religion has left is morality - and even that is making less sense since we have come to grips with the fact that things aren't quite as simple as "insert rod A in hole B"

          • Loreen Lee

            This 'modern reality' is of course reflected in the 'absence' of even former Catholic from involvement in the Church. Clerics have expressed discomfort with pluralism, individualism, etc. etc. which characterize 'modernity'. Please understand that I am merely attempting to understand the situation from such an individual, personal perspective. Such traditional concepts as that of the 'mystical body' of Christ to characterize the communion of the church I find very appealing. On the issue of 'abuse' discussed in this post, when I studied Buddhism, I came away with the understanding that from a psychological perspective it was by far the 'gentler' philosophy. I thus agree that the issue of morality is not as simple as the discipline of following legality, and that each individual goes through different life experiences and are at different level of understanding and interpretation. My return to the Church is thus accompanied by perplexity regarding certain issues, and lack of knowledge regarding issues of authority, tradition, etc. etc. I do however believe in the principle of community, something which I believe distinguishes Catholicism from for instance Protestantism. Because of my 'personal' life history therefore, my return to Catholicism could be described as an attempt at reconciliation, not only in the religious sense, but as an attempt to reconcile the factors of my 'unique' experience in life, which includes not only immersion in the atheist philosophies of modernity, but my childhood as a Irish Catholic, including pain that I subjectively felt at that time in life. With respect to the Church, I believe I have conquered that difficulty, but it has involved for me the necessity to interpret Catholicism within the life experiences which were outside the framework of religious experience. But I shall continue, because I am finding my current experience, hopefully, one of personal growth.

          • "The fundamental thing that makes science and religion incompatible, in my view, is the difference in what they regard as evidence."

            How do you believe science defines evidence and how to you believe religion does?

            "But note the difference: there is nothing that cannot be investigated scientifically (subject to the limits of experimentation)"

            How can you scientifically investigate the claim "there is nothing that cannot be investigated scientifically"? Also, how can you scientifically investigate whether souls exist, if by souls we mean the immaterial, spiritual form of human beings?

            "Equally, there are things that religion cannot investigate."

            Indeed, I think all theists would happily agree with you. Theists in general have no problem recognizing the limits of religious knowledge and investigation. They only ask that proponents of the natural sciences recognize the inherent limitations of those fields, too.

            "Religion has not produced a single new fact about the universe in 500 years. Science has done wonders in the same timeframe."

            Religion isn't concerned with adjudicating natural questions about the universe. Therefore your criticism of religion in this quote is akin to criticizing meteorology for not producing a single new fact about piano concertos.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I only have time to reply to your last. Your position is not shared by most theists. Indeed, it's not even shared by most Catholics, unless you're willing to abandon Adam and Eve, for example. All religions make empirical claims.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Science accepts empirical data as evidence; religion accepts personal revelation and unconfirmable heresay.

            As for souls - you assert they exist. How do you know?

          • Loreen Lee

            I was just reading up on Leibniz, and I ran into a discussion on 'Fractals', which I could not comprehend within the mathematical context, but did suggest to my intuition, a description which is compatible with the idea of the reflective consciousness. (And therefore by logical extension, perhaps, to the concept of a Trinitarian interpretation of intelligence, or even 'first principle as in Aristotle'. Note I use my imaginative intuition, (I write literature) in the attempt to make sense of the mathematical/scientific matrix? But I am also aware of philosophical principles (as in Hegel) that not mathematics is but one explanatory tool, although I do not know whether progress in this field now includes the possibility of mathematical knowledge regarding 'the dynamic', a conclusion reached by Hegel who thus believed that even mathematics had it's 'limitations'. (as in the distinction between the 'extensive' and 'intensive' characteristics of mind???)
            Also I note you are a endocrinologist. Read what I could on that too. Although from my personal experience, I would give 'witness' to the 'fact' that my thoughts must surely influence my brain mechanisms,(I can't see anyone doing scientific scans in order to make available 'evidence') is there any reason why I should give up the belief that these thoughts may arise from a metaphysical/ontological context that is grounded on even a 'free association of ideas/free will' independent of the constraints which would exist within the naturalized ontology of brain function, only.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And how do we distinguish revelation from madness? That strikes to the heart of everything religion holds to be evidence for its case.

          • Loreen Lee

            A good point M. Solange. As the stoics put it however, (I quote) They decided that only a stoic sage could be considered to be sane, so they looked but couldn't find one. There is also a quote by Nietzsche (paraphrase) to the effect that the no one but the madman could hear 'the music' and it was on that basis that they considered him insane. There is thus, as per your point, what is referred to as divine madness, attributed even to the genius of Socrates.

          • David Nickol

            And how do we distinguish revelation from madness?

            In Catholicism, at least, revelation is public. It does not consist of information from isolated individuals who claim to have received personal communications from God. Also, how do we distinguish any human claims (even those of scientists) from "madness"? There is opinion (growing, I think) that string theory is so far removed from reality that it's "not even wrong."

            It seems to me you distinguish revelation from madness the same way you distinguish any other kinds of knowledge from madness. (And even severely mentally ill people, by the way, may still have insights into reality.)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            How do you understand public in this context? Surely the visions of the saints were personal inward experiences. And the church seems careful not to accept as doctrinal supposed public revelations such as medjugordje.

            The difference is that science accepts empirically verifiable data; and intuitions, such as the benzene ring are verified against the real world.

            How do we adjudicate the claims of Mohammed against the claims of st Therese of liseaux (sp?)

          • David Nickol

            How do you understand public in this context? Surely the visions of the saints were personal inward experiences.

            No Catholic is under any obligation to believe anything from the vision of a saint. Public revelation (according to Catholicism) is contained in scripture and Tradition and ended with the death of the last Apostle. Basically, public revelation ended almost 2000 years ago. A Catholic would weigh anything St. Thérèse of Lisieux said and anything Mohammed said against the teachings of the Church, which come from scripture and Tradition. Public revelation is considered to have been complete, but not necessarily completely spelled out. I think a Catholic might say the role of the Church with regard to revelation is a bit like the role of the US Supreme Court with regard to the Constitution. They can't invent new truths, but only apply the old ones.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            So no one living has any experience of public revelation. That's clear. But it begs the question: if the catholic religion is based on a record of revelation and tradition; how do weigh the contradictory claims of other religions, such as Islam, which claim precisely the same basis?

          • David Nickol

            [I]f the [C]atholic religion is based on a record of revelation and tradition; how do weigh the contradictory claims of other religions, such as Islam, which claim precisely the same basis?

            I would say no two major religions that I am aware of have origins that are precisely the same. The person of Jesus was the main source or revelation for Christianity. He had a public career. He had a following and a growing movement before anything was written about him. As I understand it, all of the Koran was revelation to Muhammad. Those seem to me significant differences. Of course, those who do not believe in any revelations will not take seriously religions that are allegedly based on revealed truths. But for those who do not reject the idea of revelation, it seems to me there are sufficient differences in the stories of (for example) Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism, and Islam for a person to make up his or her mind in favor of one or against all. Just because many religions claim to be based on revelation does not mean they must all be regarded as equally credible (or incredible).

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I wasn't talking about origins. And everything we know about this carpenter-turned-rabbi comes from these ancient texts and traditions. You seem to be claiming we know something of Christ external to these two sources. What is that?

          • David Nickol

            You seem to be claiming we know something of Christ external to these two sources.

            I do not claim there is anything significant about Jesus aside from the New Testament documents, but I believe there is some degree of historical reliability to the New Testament. It is not, after all, a single document produced under mysterious circumstances by one writer. Also, the New Testament emerged from an existing movement over a period of centuries. The New Testament is not the founding document of the Church, just as the Old Testament is not the founding document of Judaism.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Why do you think they are different enough? For a modern person is presented with texts that describe revelations and traditions. That's all we have - and are you telling me that "revelations" were given to the apostles "independently" of their witness to the life of Christ?

            Consider a disinterested observer without a religious upbringing. They are willing to accept the possibility of gods and revelations. They look at the religions of the world; what are they offered for evaluation?

            Texts and traditions. In every case. Where these texts and traditions make empirical claims, they can be evaluated. But that tells me nothing about the non-empirical claims - and they're the important ones.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And why does a particular origin story help support a claim of truth? If you're talking public ministry, we know far more about Joseph Smith than we do about Christ - from external sources anyway. And the Mormons are doing quite well. How we determine who's right?

          • David Nickol

            How we determine who's right?

            We use our best judgment, just as we do in determining what to study in college, whom (or whether) to marry, and any one of thousands of life decisions. How do we determine whether the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is right? There is no formula for deciding most questions. We are all perfectly free to decide which religion (if any) makes the most sense to us, which ethical theory makes the most sense, which music we like the most, and on, and on.

            Of course, religious indoctrination from the moment of birth and religious schooling into young adulthood (for some people) leaves you forever feeling—no matter what you rationally think—that you are probably wrong and that you can only hope that the God you don't believe in will be understanding and forgive you for not believing in him. Then thinking about religion, and particular things like hell, gives you panic attacks, because a little voice tells you that whether you believe in hell or not, it's where you are going to wind up. If that's how you feel, then I know where you're coming from.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            In short, there is no rational reason to be catholic, rather than Muslim, except on entirely non-empirical ground? Pure whim, as it were? I don't think it fits your other examples - there are pros and cons available for the others.

          • David Nickol

            Pure whim, as it were?

            No, not at all. Gut feeling would be more like it.

            I don't think it fits your other examples - there are pros and cons available for the others.

            I think you vastly overestimate how much of life is governed by rational choices based on empirical evidence. You don't believe in free will, do you? :P

            I think a huge amount of what we do—most of what we do—is not a matter of rational choice based on empirical evidence. The fact that you can articulate rational reasons for the choices you made doesn't mean those are the real reasons. I will be astonished if you disagree fundamentally.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Actually, I don't feel like that. I was raised in a completely areligious environment.

          • Loreen Lee

            I believe the ongoing discussion in the article on biblical text being posted might allow the opportunity to explore this question. I did however, attempt to read the Koran some years ago. It is a very difficult text, and there is possibly substance to the position they hold, that because of the poetic imagery, it is best understood in Arabic. Even if the claim that they share the same basis as the Judeo/Christian tradition is true as they are descendents of Abraham's 'other son'. (sorry can't remember name), they are certainly not in agreement with the Christian conception of the Divinity of Jesus.

          • Susan

            Theists in general have no problem recognizing the limits of religious knowledge and investigation.

            Your religion makes ultimate claims about origins, the place of humans in the only reality we know, consciousness, life, death, sexuality, morality and meaning. Exactly what are its limits?

            They only ask that proponents of the natural sciences recognize the inherent limitations of those fields, too

            Great. Now, I'm going to have to replace a perfectly good irony meter.

            Religion isn't concerned with adjudicating natural questions about the universe

            Show me a religion that has not made claims about the natural universe.

            Therefore your criticism of religion in this quote is akin to criticizing meteorology for not producing a single new fact about piano concertos.

            Piano concertos do not make ultimate existence claims and proceed from unjustified premises.