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October 12, 2006

Reason and Religion: II

This -- by Tertullian, the first major theologian to write in Latin -- is a bold statement of Christianity's attempts to rise above reason:

The Son of God died; it must needs be believed because it is absurd. He was buried and rose again; it is certain because it is impossible.

Does not something of this "logic" lie at the heart of all religion?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at October 12, 2006 12:54 PM


Brings to mind the Babel Fish in Hitchhiker's Guide.

I guess God gave us these brains just to test our willingness to ignore them. Clever!

Absurdanity: the AA of thinking addicts.

Posted by: Jay Saul at October 12, 2006 1:20 PM

Broken record here: Actually "religion" lies at the heart of all logic. "Perception is reality" is pre-programmed in our minds by their God, Life.

Posted by: Jay Saul at October 12, 2006 2:42 PM

"I ate nothing but chocolate for a month, and yet I remained slender; it is certain because it is deliciously impossible."

Posted by: Anonymous at October 12, 2006 2:52 PM

This post and Jay Saul's comment remind me of a study I was reading about recently. They tested the behavior patterns of people who were emotionally impaired, incapable of feeling the full range of emotion. Based on our "intuition" about reason and emotion being competing opposites, one would assume the result would be that those who feel less would act more rationally than others. The results? They acted less rationally. The very thing that allows us to be irrational is also the basis of reason. Odd creatures, aren't we?

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 12, 2006 10:25 PM

Too often we think of emotion, as in emotional, as being an un-normal state where one is less rational. Actually we are always emotional, always in an emotional state. Emotion is the like an Operating System, it sets the way input is processed. One's "normal" feelings are just the normal, ordinary state of emotion.

Therefore being "emotionally impaired" means even the "normal" emotions are impaired, so based on that knowledge, ones intuition would expect someone whose everyday operating system is damaged to have difficulty in all consciousness construction.

The more you know, the better you are at intuiting.

Posted by: Jay Saul at October 13, 2006 8:36 AM

"The more you know, the better you are at intuiting."

I'd definitely agree with that. Personally, I wasn't very surprised. My logic professor in college explained the relationship between emotion and reason on probably the first day of class. The researchers who conducted the study, however, seemed a bit surprised by their own results. I think the false emotion-reason dichotomy is just one more common misunderstanding we'll be better off without.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 13, 2006 9:09 AM

Salon has an interview with Richard Dawkins today as its lead story. Very good read.


Posted by: Jay Saul at October 13, 2006 10:56 AM

Personally, I have so many problems with Dawkins, I wouldn't even know where to begin. However, one thing I think is ridiculous is the continued insistence that Einstein was an atheist. (Partly because it's logically irrelevant to the merits or truth value of atheism.)

As quoted in "Glimpses of the Great," Einstein himself said "I'm not an atheist..." As quoted by Prince Hubertus zu Lowenstein, Einstein said, "In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no G-d. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views." Obviously, Einstein did NOT believe in a person deity (which is only one pole on a vast religious spectrum). But neither was he an atheist.

He also would have disagreed with much of what Dawkins supports. Here's part of a written statement from 1937: Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind.

I'm also obviously a bit miffed with his theories about IQ/atheism. He uses the idea that if only 4 studies dispute the test results, then they must be or are probably valid. In science, those 4 independent studies CANNOT be dismissed as providing evidentiary proof that the theory is severely flawed.

Let's look at another type of study. One that has shown that levels of atheism drop precipitously after the age of 30. Does this mean that atheism is linked to immaturity? Hardly.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 13, 2006 12:01 PM

Sorry, that should have read that those studies cannot be dismissed because they may provide evidentiary proof that the theory is severely flawed.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 13, 2006 12:03 PM

Dawkins is just all right with me
Dawkins is just all right, oh yeah

It doesn't matter to me what Einstein believed. Obviously he made enough contradictory statements to confuse the issue. He was a genius very much enamored with his own certainties, like his refusal to accept Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle and Quantum theory.

And I believe, without any way to prove it one way or the other, Einstein would have sounded much more like Dawkins if he were living in our times.

Posted by: Jay Saul at October 13, 2006 4:49 PM

I don't think that what Einstein believed makes much difference to the larger debate, which is part of why the constant fighting over the matter gets on my nerves. Or should I say that people try to pin him as either an atheist OR religious in the traditional sense. He was neither, but does it matter?. Even if he was one or the other, the appeal to Einstein's "authority" would be logically fallacious and just plain dumb. After all, we can name all sorts of people on "both sides" as it were with whom none of us would want to be associated.

I think your point about Einstein's obsession with his own certainties is a great one. Even genius doesn't make one perfect, not even in one's own field of expertise. Einstein is one of my favorite scientists. Hawking being the other. But I think we go too far when we attempt to "deify" him.

However, Dawkins seems to me a man too obsessed with his own certainties as well. I know this is probably a "controversial" thing to say, but I find his "memes" theory to be complete pseudoscientific hogwash. I also think he's far too fond of biasing his samples towards his own point of view, such as his recent documentary that included only complete whackjobs on the religious side. I'm grateful to the many atheists who've criticized him for that very thing. And let's not get into his propensity for declaring religious upbringing of any sort to be worse than child molestation. I'm offended by that in so many ways, I can't even begin without Mitch kicking me off of here for typing waaaaaaaay too much.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 14, 2006 9:55 AM

Yeah, but we are all obsessed with our own certainties, even if they are of being uncertain.

I don't know much about Dawkins, just that interview and another. But I do know he was a close friend of one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams. I was lucky enough to have a one on one conversation with Adams the year before he died. We met at a computer graphics conference.
He was a big, charismatic, funny (duh!) man. And all he wanted to talk about was what I did.
So any friend of a famous person I adore who takes the time to talk to me is a friend of mine! (I'm easy).

But I agree with Dawkins that teaching children lies about superstitions is horrendous, even Santa Claus. It is molesting their construction of reality and often with permanent damage.

I think he is a courageous and articulate scientist; memes or not.

Posted by: Jay Saul at October 15, 2006 4:42 PM

Considering the tremendous damage wrought by ACTUAL child molestation, any "molestation" of their construction of reality pales by comparison. I'd like to see any studies you can come up with (or any logical proofs) that show that teaching a child about Santa Claus either a.) damages their construction of reality or b.) causes more damage than child molestation. You might also want to familiarize yourself with Dawkins claim that if molestation took the form of simple fondling, then a small child "should hardly notice that." One wonders what he'd say if his own daughter were subjected to "unnoticeable" fondling at a very young age.

As for Dawkins being a courageous and articulate scientist, articulate maybe. Courageous? Not hardly. How much courage does it take to a.) create an entirely new field of pseudoscience partly by ignoring ALL of the findings of mainstream science, then apply that "fake science" to attacking something you hate b.) misrepresent your opponents so horrendously, picking the easiest targets imaginable (avoiding the problems raised by more difficult ones) so as to bolster your own point of view c.) blather on in book form about something you know virtually nothing about because you don't really like that thing? I think Dawkins is just as guilty of undermining science and distorting it for his own purposes as the Discovery Institute. The damage wrought by supposedly respectable scientists with huge cult followings, however, is probably far worse than that wrought by people completely rejected by the scientific community. Only the scientifically illiterate are mislead by the latter. Even other scientists could be mislead by the former.

As for Douglas Adams, I'm unbelievably jealous.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 15, 2006 6:26 PM

By the way, if you want to know more about memes, I've posted a couple things on my blog about memetics with links to sites that go into detail about just how horrendously bad the science is, including an article from Michael Shermer's The Skeptic Encylopedia of Pseudoscience. It's an interesting read.

Posted by: Melinda Barton at October 15, 2006 6:34 PM

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