Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations


1:05 pm - January 22nd 2012

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contribution by Steve Hynd

‘Politics and religion should not mix’. This is the mantra that is lazily wheeled out by self congratulating lefties as they marvel in their own enlightened wisdom.

I come across social progressives who openly shun the role of faith based organisations (FBOs) as either an evangelical force that should be scorned, or, at best, a tool by which individuals can act out their selfish desire to please God.

This lingering stereotype of FBOs not only alienates billions around the world but also pragmatically restricts social movement’s ability to bring about the change they are so desperate to see.

Many, at this stage might assume that I am one of those rather smug Christian types who go around asking people to accept Jesus’ warm love into their hearts – I am not. I am however, excited about the truly radical potential of Christianity to bring about social change.

All around the world, we can see different denominations working progressively on a range of issues. Just think of The Salvation Army offering support to the homeless, the Quakers campaigning for peace or the Catholic Church fighting global poverty.

At this point, the sceptics out there will point to Christianity being used to discriminate against entire communities (LGBT for example) or the Catholic Church and their opposition to contraception. Religion, in the mind of many is the bringer of war, the perpetuator of hatred and an opium for the ill informed masses.

My response to this would be to point to the fallibility of all human organisations, including organized religion. There is nothing inherent within any faith to suggest that it will always work for a positive social agenda, neither is there to suggest it will always cause harm.

If we on the left are too smug to engage, we will leave ‘doing God’ to those who want to justify oil wars, invasions or subordinating an entire gender.

It has taken me a while to get to a position in my life where I can work comfortably with people of faith. When working for Amnesty International, I saw the myriad of backgrounds and experiences that had drawn people to become human rights activists. It is clear to me now that somebody’s faith is just one of those reasons. Why are many on the left happy to work with those of faith but not FBOs?

I am excited to be putting this theory into practice. In February I will be heading out to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel which is coordinated through the World Council of Churches. This is an organisation bringing different denominations, faiths and backgrounds together to work progressively for a non-violent solution to the conflict. It is an exciting example of a FBOs working inclusively with Israelis, Palestinians and the International Community on human rights issues.

We on the left need to incorporate faith based groups into all of our work. They unlock the door to millions in the UK and billions around the world. We need to show we are truly inclusive by illustrating that faith can be used positively.

If we fail to do this, we run the risk of George Bush and the like becoming the public face of Christianity. There are inspiring people out there from Archbishop Desmond Tutu through to the Archbishop Dr John Sentamu who are working on causes I would be proud to support.

Some on the secular left need get over these out-dated stereotypes of FBOs and embrace their progressive potential.

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Reader comments


“Many, at this stage might assume that I am one of those rather smug Christian types who go around asking people to accept Jesus’ warm love into their hearts – I am not. I am however, excited about the truly radical potential of Christianity to bring about social change.”

No – I just think you are some deranged idiot with a connection to the internet. Boring, boring shit like the piece of twaddle above shud be burned. The author should be put in prison or a straightjacket or both. The excrete of jumbled words (like religion(s) itself is nothing but the gas from a landfill site.

Nicely said. As a Quaker, socialist and feminist theologian, I get mightily frustrated by some of the knee-jerk faithophobia demonstrated by even some of my closest left-wing friends.

(Have to say, too, that I get mightily frustrated by some of my liberal Christian friends who don’t seem to make nearly enough of an effort to wrest their religion out of the control of the “Christian” Right)

“Many, at this stage might assume that I am one of those rather smug Christian types who go around asking people to accept Jesus’ warm love into their hearts”

No, I assumed you were one of those christian types who, rather curiously, manage to combine smugness with paranoia and proceed to whine endlessly about how no one listens to them and how christians and christianity are being increasingly marginalised.

That expectation came from reading the headline. Having actually read the article, I now see that I was wrong. Speaking purely from a personal perspective, I think the main barrier you need to overcome is one you identified in the question “Why are many on the left happy to work with those of faith but not FBOs?” There are a number of reasons for this but I think a big one is that, whilst it might seem easy enough to work with a religious group on a specific issue (homelessness, poverty, whatever) there may be concerns that, in doing so, you could be aligning yourself with an organisation which, on a whole range of other topics, adheres to a belief system which you don’t approve of. Basically, I suppose it comes down to which religious organisation you’re working with.

I agree with some of this and not with other bits. Put bluntly, the presentation is awful and is just absolutely begging for an angry response. Challenging viewpoints is all very well and good but calling anyone who disagrees with you smug is not the way to frame your argument. Some, but not all, of the content is better.

I am an atheist and I would stand by the statement that faith and politics don’t mix. I am sure that many religious politicians have very strong morals and a very strong sense of what is right, I’m also aware that probably even more are inflexible (as faith cannot really be debated), intolerant and see elected positions as a chance to push their faith on everyone else. If religious politicians could leave their faith at the door whenever they enter parliament then that would be fine, but they generally seem incapable of that. I would not suggest banning them but I do think that generally religious politicians are very detrimental to responsible governance.

Now, I accept that there are liberal Christians (particularly in the Quaker and Unitarian traditions) who would probably encapsulate far more of the potential positives of religious politicians without most of the negatives. So perhaps saying that faith and politics shouldn’t mix is a generalisation, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t hold true in the vast majority of cases.

Put bluntly, faith-based politics, in practice, achieves nothing positive. In theory it could but I suspect the negatives would outweigh the positives, as there are more intolerant fundamentalist types in politics than caring liberal Christian types.

You go on to talk about use of faith based organisations to do good. With this I agree with you. I don’t think there’s any reason why we should prevent them from doing what they can to help the unfortunate. I would be deeply uncomfortable with a heavy role of religious organisations in education, politics itself or if they used their good works as an opportunity to evangelise, but beyond that their helping the needy can only be a positive thing.

So, essentially, your post presented a good point badly and conflated religion mixing with politics with a role for FBOs in helping the needy. At the core of your post was a good, thought-provoking point – it’s just a shame it was presented in the way it was.

OP:

“My response to this would be to point to the fallibility of all human organisations, including organized religion.”

But only organised (note spelling) religion claims that it does what it does because of a thundering voice from the skies (or equivalent) telling it to do so (under pain of…well, pain), rather than them doing what they do out of genuine altruism and concern for others. Their motives must therefore remain somewhat suspect.

6. the a&e charge nurse

[2] “faithophobia” ……. dear, oh dear, enlightenment has been battling against religious dogma for centuries.

@The Judge

“But only organised (note spelling) religion claims that it does what it does because of a thundering voice from the skies (or equivalent) telling it to do so (under pain of…well, pain), rather than them doing what they do out of genuine altruism and concern for others. Their motives must therefore remain somewhat suspect.”

If you’re going to be a smartarse and try to pull people up on their spelling it’s probably better not to switch pronouns (“it” to “them” and “they” for organised/organized/orrrrganizzzed religion) when referring to something. It’s probably also a good idea to use commas appropriately (Their motives must, therefore, remain somewhat suspect). Otherwise you’re in danger of looking like someone who has a rather inflated view of their own abilities and knowledge. You wouldn’t want that, now, would you?

I’m perplexed by any foe of religious dogma who’s too hostile to the forms of Christianity they find in Britain. It’s about the meekest and most tolerant manifestation of religion that our species has ever encountered and I doubt the future will contain many more humble.

9. Just Visiting

Hi Steve

I looked back over LC and tho I saw you’d retweeted a few LC headlines, I couldn’t see you posting in the comments.

So maybe you’re unaware of the definite anti-christian world-view that not all but many LC folk demonstrate ?

Knowing that worldview here, it’s not surprising that your posting will provoke mostly an angry response – as per comment No 1 for example!

But actually, the abuse was restrained – and good points made:

eg ‘Not a liberal’
> Basically, I suppose it comes down to which religious organisation you’re working with.

And some here continue to mis-understand christianity: eg The Judge
>But only organised religion claims that it does what it does because of a thundering voice from the skies … rather than … out of genuine altruism and concern for others.

The Judge seems to not have bothered to read up on a main thread of christianity that says because god loves the individual, and the individual christian is not saved by having deserved that love through good works, that the christian is therefore to continue the work of Jesus, which was to show God’s love to others: christians point out that Jesus got into trouble in his society because he helped (and advocated helping) many groups that the religious organisations of the days thought he shouldn’t (women, prostitutes, Samaritans, tax collectors, roman centurions, etc)

10. Eddie Clarke

You seem to recognise that FBOs are not all companions on the road to progress. Even those who share a particular humanitarian goal – in eliminating injustice or poverty, or bringing peace – bring wider agendas to any collaboration they offer. I know the good work the Catholic Church does, or rather, the good work done by Catholics, out of sincere Christians belief. The world wide hierarchy is nonetheless a dangerous organisation when not restricted by the rule of law, particularly relating to human rights and freedom. Traditionally, we have relied on Christian princes to keep fanatical clerics from oppressing Christian communities. We still do, and so long as FBOs are prepared to work within the framework of law and human rights, of course we should welcome their contribution to making the world a better place. But we are right to be wary of the massive organisations, and the agendas they bring to any help offered. The left is not stupid to continue to be wary.

You’re absolutely right that there are faith groups doing brilliant things and that the left should pay attention to them.

But that said, this article simply comes across as incredibly ignorant of the reasons lefties (or in fact anyone) might be suspicious of faith groups.

“At this point, the sceptics out there will point to Christianity being used to discriminate against entire communities (LGBT for example) or the Catholic Church and their opposition to contraception. Religion, in the mind of many is the bringer of war, the perpetuator of hatred and an opium for the ill informed masses.”

Well…we do have thousands of years of irrefutable evidence for this proposition. To an extent, religions have dragged themselves into the 21st century, but in many cases extremely reluctantly. Very few of them actively dissociate themselves from their history, and in fact religions are at the forefront of most reactionary movements: Can you imagine just how much better the lives of LGBT people would be if the world’s religions left them alone, or how much less controversial women’s rights would be?

“If we on the left are too smug to engage, we will leave ‘doing God’ to those who want to justify oil wars, invasions or subordinating an entire gender.”

Here’s the thing. As an atheist who nevertheless has a lingering regard for Christianity, I’ve been waiting for all the Christian progressives to stand up and actually take a stand against the reactionaries. I’m still waiting, and I suspect I’ll be waiting for some time yet. Organisations like Ekklesia are notable exceptions, but are regarded as fringe within the Christian community (for daring to suggest that Christianity may be better off disestablished, among other things). After all the excitement about Rowan Williams, a liberal Archbishop of Cantebury, he has conformed to the pattern of liberal Christians and ceded to the conservatives on pretty much everything; you didn’t see George Carey bending over backwards to mollify his critics in this way.

You were talking about FBOs doing good work, and that’s indisputable. But once bitten, twice shy: Examples such as the Catholic adoption agencies show that they are not embarrassed to use their good works as blackmail to block progressive change.

So yes, there’s an argument to be made here. But there will need to be give and take on both sides. And articles like this which gloss over the extremely concrete reasons that cause people to be wary of faith groups don’t help.

Christians can’t even agree with themselves. Protestants and Catholics have been killing themselves for centuries. And that is before you bring in any other religions.

I take with a large pinch of salt people who talk about the “truth” when they can’t back it up with facts. You will never appease people who believe they answer to a higher authority. All of the main religions have one thing in common. They want to stick their noses into my private life and keep me living as a second class citizen.

If you want to do good work for poor people, or sick people, good for you. But don’t expect me to allow you to impose your patriarchal, anti woman beliefs on me.

13. Man on Clapham Omnibus

I think it is important to recognise what faith actually is.
Would I interact with someone who genuinely believed there were fairies at the bottom of the garden?
Probably not.
Would I interact with an organisation of folks believing there were fairies at the bottom the garden.
Most definitely not.

@9 Just Visiting

“So maybe you’re unaware of the definite anti-christian world-view that not all but many LC folk demonstrate ?”

Hmmnn… this old chestnut again. It would probably be more accurate to say that many but not all “LC folk” (tho’ I’m not sure if I’m authorised to speak on behalf of “my people” 😉 ) are intrinsically suspicious of the claims and “good faith” of faith groups due to some of the reasons people have talked about above.

Even those people of faith seen to be relatively benign, and/or those who undoubtedly do good things, are but the very nature of their adherence to a belief system requiring the suspension of disbelief, signing up for aspects of their faith of choice (or more often the faith chosen for them) which are repugnant, discriminatory or just plain woo-woo.

Much as it might please the C of E tendency to talk-up the good things religion can engender, faith for too many people amounts to a smorgasbord from which they cherry pick the bits that suit them, and reject the bits that don’t. On the one hand we’re supposed to make allowances for the fact that they make universalist claims, but on the other we’re supposed to understand or give them the benefit of the doubt when they tell us it isn’t always to be taken literally… except sometimes when it suits them, and then it IS supposed to be taken literally.

If you’re doing good things, that’s to be applauded… but don’t expect atheists to pull their punches and not criticise you or any other faith based group when we see you doing something wrong. Most of those on here lie me who are atheists are not anti-christian, or anti-Catholic or anti-Muslim….. we judge people of faith and the organisations they adhere to by their actions.

It’s not the faith that counts, it’s what you do. Christians have an important history in progressive politics. I’ve worked with faith groups who have done a lot of good with struggling families and young people. (I had my concerns about evangelism but in fact they were very low key.)

I think the Left has issues today because of the stridency of some religious conservatives (not just Christians) and their deeply reactionary agendas.

16. the a&e charge nurse

[8] “I’m perplexed by any foe of religious dogma who’s too hostile to the forms of Christianity they find in Britain. It’s about the meekest and most tolerant manifestation of religion that our species has ever encountered” – well, leaving aside the fact those in places like N Ireland might not necessarily have such a sanguine view you have to ask how such a state of affairs has come about?

I believe the relentless battering religion has been subject to in secular societies has diminished its worse excesses over time – where sufficient ignorance exists religion tends to take far less benign forms – and remember goodness and religious dogma are not mutually exclusive pursuits – a man who needs god to be good cannot be considered to be truly good.

Religious apologists like Blair are easily be taken to task by erudite commentators like Hitchens
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kj2ExnNv0o0

Part of the problem here is that there simply isn’t a clear definition of what a religion is or a clear division between the roles of faith and rationality in the construction of any world view (religious or otherwise). From a Catholic point of view, someone who is addressing social issues from (eg) a Marxist point of view is operating on as much a faith based, religious point of view as my own. (And many atheist naturalists would agree.)

In any social movements in complex modern societies, there is a need to construct coalitions from across many different worldviews. Steve Hynd is right to include FBOs among these worldviews.

NAL@7:

In boxing, I believe it’s called “leading with your chin”. 🙂

19. Albert Spangler

Is it me or is this just stating the obvious? Moderate and kind hearted people, regardless of their origins or beliefs, should be willing to work together rather than creating arbitrary divides amongst themselves.
Too many people in politics have a similar evangelical only-my-way-is-right attitude that some people involved in religion possess, and are derided for.

“Many, at this stage might assume that I am one of those rather smug Christian types who go around asking people to accept Jesus’ warm love into their hearts”
No, however I do think you are being rather optimistic.
I grew up in a mixture of very religious to liberal to communist family, in a country that experienced going from secular dictatorship to religious dictatorship in earlier years of my life, and lived in the UK and have seen the FBOs operating in the so called free world for the past 15 years. Talking from personal perspective I have to agree with Dunkhan “faith-based politics, in practice, achieves nothing positive”
The biggest barrier against progress and social change is ‘Ignorance’. We learn and progress all the time, technology and science, philosophy, social values and our understanding of the world around us are evolving all the time.
Religion in its core and by its very own nature is resistant and even intolerant of debate, progress and change, as well as being biggest source of division and conflict.
Although I don’t see any problem in uniting with people of faith in doing good, I see the involvement of religious organisation in politics is a step backwards, and not in the interest of social progress and change.

Not having a scrap of faith (I can’t remember what dealt it the final blow: the invasion of Iraq? The US right praying for Afghanistan to be nuked to a parking lot? Something closer to home, like the organised hatred on the part of Sunday-worshiping CofE types for immigrants and people on benefits?) I just don’t understand why people of faith should be assumed to have something so special about their point of view that this point of view should be considered privileged. Sorry, but all the examples above, together with many more from all faiths over millenia, just suggests that people of faith are really, really good at bedding down with the powerful and really, really bad at fighting for the poor and dispossessed. What Jesus Christ had to say on the subject (heavily disputed by “sincerely religious” banker types and government ministers) not withstanding.

22. Just Visiting

A&E 16

> a man who needs god to be good cannot be considered to be truly good.

This is interesting. So now you want to question the motives of those who are doing the good things you also do ?

Only atheist lefties are ‘good on the inside’ is what you are saying !

23. Dick the Prick

I like all Faith Based Orgs as long as they do what they say – it’s government’s that use religion not religion using governments. People need places to worship and sing and school kids – most faith is just admin.

24. Just Visiting

Briar

> Something closer to home, like the organised hatred on the part of Sunday-worshiping CofE types for immigrants and people on benefits?)

I must have missed that campaign. Certainly in my town, the local Refugee Action Network volunteers contain over 30% christians

> I just don’t understand why people of faith should be assumed to have something so special about their point of view that this point of view should be considered privileged.

Not sure Steve said FBO should be ‘privileged’ – just recognised that they have a role and should not be the enemy (for each group it depends of course on which faith and whether their objectives match our liberal ones.)

25. the a&e charge nurse

[22] if a secularist is good it is because he/she has freely chosen to do so, whereas christians are ordered by a higher authority to act in certain ways, their goodness, in other words is both prescribed, and pre-determined – nothing to do with being a lefty.

26. Just Visiting

afshin naghouni

> I see the involvement of religious organisation in politics is a step backwards

Bishop Desmond Tutu ?

Or Northern Ireland: A new book out:
“Religion, Civil Society, and Peace in Northern Ireland”
“Religion is traditionally portrayed as nothing but trouble in Ireland, but the churches played a key role in Northern Ireland’s peace process. This study challenges many existing assumptions about the peace process, drawing on four years of interviewing with those involved, including church leaders, politicians, and paramilitary members.

“Religion was thought to be part of the problem in Ireland and incapable of turning itself into part of the solution. Many commentators deny the churches a role in Northern Ireland’s peace process or belittle it, focusing on the few well-known events of church involvement and the small number of high profile religious peacebuilders. This new study seeks to correct various misapprehensions about the role of the churches by pointing to their major achievements in both the social and political dimensions of the peace process, by small-scale, lesser-known religious peacebuilders as well as major players. The churches are not treated lightly or sentimentally and major weaknesses in their contribution are highlighted. The study challenges the view that ecumenism was the main religious driver of the peace process, focusing instead on the role of evangelicals, it warns against romanticising civil society, pointing to its regressive aspects and counter-productive activities, and queries the relevance of the idea of ‘spiritual capital’ to understanding the role of the churches in post-conflict reconstruction, which the churches largely ignore. This book is written by three ‘insiders’ to church peacebuilding in Northern Ireland, who bring their insight and expertise as sociologists to bear in their analysis of four-years in-depth interviewing with a wide cross section of people involved in the peace process, including church leaders and rank-and-file, members of political parties, prime ministers, paramilitary organisations, community development and civil society groups, as well as government politicians and advisors. Many of these are speaking for the first time about the role of religious peacebuilding in Northern Ireland, and doing so with remarkable candour.”

27. Just Visiting

A&E

> whereas christians are ordered by a higher authority to act in certain ways, their goodness, in other words is both prescribed, and pre-determined

I think you mis-understand christian theology.
What comes first is that god’s love is received – by the undeserving individual. (read the lyrics to Amazing Grace).
Only after experiencing ‘being on the receiving end – being helped’ – is what motivates christian good works – to go out and help others

It’s the opposite of what you are suggesting – you’re suggesting that God says: ‘ obey me or I’ll punish you. By the way, the thing I want you to do is do good unto others – don’t be judgemental and punishment orientated like me”
! !!

Christianity is big on the theme that God helped us big time – he acted first, down here on earth among us, showing his love before anyone was interested in him

(if I’ve misrepresented christianity here – I’m open to correction – but please not by sally or the usual christian haters here…)

@26

I’d concur with Afshin sooner than your view; one swallow doesn’t make a summer, whatever you think of Desmond Tutu. Pope John Paul II may have had many good qualities, and certainly helped in Poland in their struggle with the Russians and fighting communist dictatorship, but does that make up for all negatives?!! No of course it doesn’t!!

a&e @ 25:

“if a secularist is good it is because he/she has freely chosen to do so, whereas christians are ordered by a higher authority to act in certain ways, their goodness, in other words is both prescribed, and pre-determined – nothing to do with being a lefty.”

So what do you think makes an action moral or otherwise?

The work of FBO’s has, in my opinion, always been underrated and undervalued.

We wouldn’t be giving council houses to pregnant teenagers if we still had Magdalen laundries. 🙂

31. the a&e charge nurse

[27] christians don’t have the option of standing outside their own paradigm (however the various factions choose to define the small print) in this respect their actions are never truly independent.

Pejar @ 11:

“At this point, the sceptics out there will point to Christianity being used to discriminate against entire communities (LGBT for example) or the Catholic Church and their opposition to contraception. Religion, in the mind of many is the bringer of war, the perpetuator of hatred and an opium for the ill informed masses.”

Well…we do have thousands of years of irrefutable evidence for this proposition.

We also have thousands of years’ irrefutable evidence for the proposition that governments often do bad things, but that doesn’t seem to stop many people here calling for the government to get involved in more.

33. the a&e charge nurse

Thank you all for some interesting comments.

As a general comment to a number of the comments, try thinking of religion as a relative subjective experience opposed to an objective thing that either exists or doesn’t. People of faith and no faith are often united in the mislead idea that a religion is one objective thing. I don’t think it can be. Just by looking at the diversity of faith united under a broad religion such as Christianity illustrates this.

A few specific comments:
@Demon – sod off

@Notaliberal – Of course, I would much rather work for the Quakers in the UK than I would for some other religious groups. I think part of what I am suggesting however is that those who want to can look for the progressive forces within most (note not all) faiths. I think you have to get over the potential embarrassment of people making false assumptions about what you think or believe as you stand alongside FBOs

@Dunkhan – I accept what you are saying. In practice I was talking more about the NGO world and confusingly did not make it clear when I was talking about politics, gov’t providing services, and NGO’s. You make a reasonable point although I too disagree with the way you make it. I see no problem of people of faith holding office.

@The Judge – Sometimes my Word autocorrects to American English, will you ever forgive me?

@Just Visiting – this is the exact reason I thought LC would be a good place for this post.

@Eddie Clarke – I would argue that FBOs need concepts like human rights as much as human rights organisations need people of faith.

@pejar – Just because there only a few established structures (such as Ekklesia) this does not mean that there are not many individuals within faith structures looking to engage and challenge.

@Sally – I think you missed the point of what I was saying. The nature of faith is that it requires ‘faith’. I don’t personally have ‘faith’ but this is not to say that others do not. Just because I have not experienced something does not mean it is true or not. There is nothing inherent about a faith and it interfering with your personal life.

@Galen10 – I am talking about working with, not being unquestioning. When things are done in the name of faith that you disagree with, it is important you voice that but that you also look to understand why whatever has happened happened.

@Albert – It is the obvious that is so often ignored

I would love to have answered more points in more detail. Sorry.

a&e @ 33:

All very well, but you haven’t actually answered my question.

@ 31:

“christians don’t have the option of standing outside their own paradigm (however the various factions choose to define the small print) in this respect their actions are never truly independent.”

I’m sorry?

Those of us on the progressive end of politics should applaud any good acts we come across and we should engage with people of faith as well.

It is a double edge sword, though, because religion is a power of both good and evil. One point though:

If a Christian is feeding the poor, you could say it is because his ‘God’ tells him to be a ‘good person’ and not acting of his free volition. I would suggest that being a ‘good person’ means he is more likely to hear/interpret the word of his ‘God’ (conscience? Could any of tell the difference?). Similarly, the nasty scum outside abortion clinics are nasty people even if they are members of the Church of the Fonz (with apologies to Peter Griffin).

Also, if anyone is interested, you can read the full unedited version on my blog here http://stevehynd.com/2012/01/22/why-the-left-needs-to-keep-the-faith/

Steve x

surely the real problem is when religion has power, Christianity started as a progressive underground movement that campaigned against the unjust treatment of the Roman Empire’s downtrodden, especially since Christians were!

Then a certain power junkie called Constantine adopted and used it as leverage to justify his personal takeover of that empire, consolidating his position by the ugly combination of murdering even his own nephew & brother-in-law, and setting up a committee of his own chosen clerics while emperor (making himself the chairman of course) to effectively rubber stamp his position in what became the bible! From that point what was previously progressive was perverted into a pseudo-militaristic and authoritarian ideology.

The slightly flawed Adam Smith/Karl Marx ecenomic notions were perverted in the same way by Stalin & today’s free marketeers…

Any kind of ideal can be perverted to the ends of those with power, can’t they.

34 “I think you missed the point of what I was saying. The nature of faith is that it requires ‘faith’. I don’t personally have ‘faith’ but this is not to say that others do not. Just because I have not experienced something does not mean it is true or not. There is nothing inherent about a faith and it interfering with your personal life.”

I have no idea what that means.

40. the a&e charge nurse

[35] OK – well for me morality has something to do with being free to choose and making the right choice, rather than choosing in a certain way because the big book says you should do so – that is what I mean by the christian paradigm, it is structure that governs morality irrespective of the actual evidence or experiences that may be contradict the basis for such beliefs.

More and more stuff is emerging about our planet’s history, and even the history of other planets – pre-enlightment thinking explained the unknowable by inventing various dieties (quite a long list actually) – such thinking is at odds with a more mature understanding of our existence, and this needs to be politely pointed out to those who say otherwise.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_deities

41. Tax Obesity, Not Enterprise

“Even those people of faith seen to be relatively benign, and/or those who undoubtedly do good things, are but the very nature of their adherence to a belief system requiring the suspension of disbelief, signing up for aspects of their faith of choice (or more often the faith chosen for them) which are repugnant, discriminatory or just plain woo-woo.”

Insert ‘socialist’ before ‘faith’ in the above and it’s even more true.

42. Just Visiting

Sally 39

Well done, it’s always a healthy sign to be willing to ask for clarification.

But as you didn’t say which bits you didn’t understand – can you be specific?

> The nature of faith is that it requires ‘faith’. I don’t personally have ‘faith’ but this is not to say that others do not.

I guess that bit you’re happy with.

> Just because I have not experienced something does not mean it is true or not.

And that too – seems uncontroversial enough.

> There is nothing inherent about a faith and it interfering with your personal life.

Maybe that is your stumbling block?

I certainly would disagree with Steve there – citing just one case: Islam. Islam is very much about a set of rules that intentionally do aim to ‘interfere’ with your whole life! Down to which hand you wipe your bum with and which animals you can’t have as pets, and what your children are not allowed to draw.

I think christianity too actually disproves Steve too.
Christians talk about the concept of ‘faith without works is dead’ – ie those who claim to have faith and be close to God should demonstrate that truth in their lives, by the help they provide others. That your internal faith is evidenced by how you treat people Monday morning at work not just sunday morning at church.

New Testament James 2:
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

43. the a&e charge nurse

[41] socialists may have their problems but at least they don’t believe in the bush
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8rLIT0RFGQ

44. Notaliberal

@18 Judge, I raise my metaphorical hat to you, sir, for your very sporting response to my own smartarse post.

Just Visiting, you seem to be unaware that you are exhibiting many of the traits that lead people to view religious organisations, and religious people, with a combination of amusement and suspicion. I doubt that telling you this will make any difference, though.

45. Just Visiting

Not a Liberal

Not quite sure ‘attitude’ you’re not happy with?

I described your earlier post as a “good point made”
And then commented to i

Did I say something you disagreed with ?

46. Just Visiting

A&E

My 42 in answer to Sally, also I think addresses your 40 – where again you seem IMHO to misunderstood christianity as simply blind obedience and acting “certain way because the big book says you should do so”.

Be interested to hear your comments to 42.

I think there are two separate issues

*Religion and politics

*Religion and the state

People from all religions should be welcomed on the left and I can’t see any problem with working with faith groups in campaigns. Peoples understanding of their faith can often inform a socialist and progressive world view and we should never be afraid of collaborating with people who think that way. I have more in common with the Christians who supported Occupy than an atheist like Nick Clegg.

The problem lies when the religion and the state get mixed up. The results are always horrifying.

To me secularism is about defending people’s religious expression but ensuring that religion and the state are rigidly separate. That is a line that the left should never cross.

@42 Just Visiting: “Christians talk about the concept of ‘faith without works is dead’ – ie those who claim to have faith and be close to God should demonstrate that truth in their lives, by the help they provide others.”

Compare this:

Dutch Catholic church sexually abused tens of thousands of children, panel says
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45696203/ns/world_news-europe/t/dutch-catholic-church-sexually-abused-tens-thousands-children-panel-says/

The policy implications for protecting children are transparently obvious, not least because there are similar reports in the international news about abuse by clergy of the Catholic chuch in Ireland, Belgium and the US – where hundreds of millions has been paid out in compensation to the victims. Of course, there has been much hand wringing:

“We’ve failed abuse victims, bishops admit at meeting”
The Tablet, 26 November 2011

I suspect the reason a lot of people on the Left (and also the statist Right) have an issue with religion is because it causes people to put loyalty to their belief above loyalty to the state and/or state ideology. The treatment of the Church in communist Russia is of course an extreme example but I suspect that even on the moderate Left in some quarters there is a degree of discomfort that people might put loyalty to God before loyalty to socialism/secular liberalism.

Just Visiting:

“Not quite sure ‘attitude’ you’re not happy with?”

I didn’t use the word attitude in my post so why do you write it in quotation marks as though I did? I don’t know what your attitude to anything is, only you do. I was commenting on some of the traits you have exhibited in your posts, specifically the ones that are likely to alienate people (the few who aren’t already alienated, that is) from religious groups. I also said that telling you about this will make no difference and it probably won’t.

@49 “I suspect that even on the moderate Left in some quarters there is a degree of discomfort that people might put loyalty to God before loyalty to socialism/secular liberalism.”

Well, that combined with incredulity and amusement at anyone who can hold the conviction, based on no evidence whatsoever, that the universe was created by an omnipotent being combined with enough historical knowledge to make them aware of the uses religion has been put to, over the past couple of millenia.

@49: “I suspect the reason a lot of people on the Left (and also the statist Right) have an issue with religion is because it causes people to put loyalty to their belief above loyalty to the state and/or state ideology.”

No so. My most frequent concern about religious institutions is regarding their rampant hypocrisy.

“The exact number of child migrants to Australia is not known, but estimates suggest that from 1947 to 1967, between 7000 and 10 000 children were sent to Australia. A feature of the scheme was the care of children in residential institutions rather than by foster care or adoption. Most were placed in the care of Barnardos, the Fairbridge Society, the Church of England and the Christian Brothers. The House of Commons Health Committee concluded that ‘children were placed in large, often isolated, institutions and were often subjected to harsh, sometimes intentionally brutal, regimes of work and discipline, unmodified by any real nurturing or encouragement. The institutions were inadequately supervised, monitored and inspected’.”
Report of the Australian Parliament, 11 November 2009
http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/bn/sp/childmigrants.htm

“Under the Child Migrants Programme – which ended just 40 years ago – poor children were sent to a ‘better life’ in Australia, Canada and elsewhere. But many were abused and ended up in institutions or as labourers on farms. ” BBC website 15 November 2009

53. the a&e charge nurse

[46] where again you seem IMHO to misunderstood christianity as simply blind obedience and acting “certain way because the big book says you should do so” – religion is prescriptive, and as you say in the case of islam especially so, that is my point – all of these religious streams emerge from the same sea of pre-enlightenment thinking and cannot be sustained intellectually.

54. Just Visiting

Bob

Oh dear – yet another thread where you want to raise the issue of catholic church and child abuse – valid issue but surely not one that needs to take over every tangential thread.

Bob – maybe these words of Kant explain why you should not always be looking for the worst examples in every grouping:

“Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be built.”

If you don’t agree with someone’s political stance, or with what they do, what difference does it make whether they are motivated by faith or not? Likewise, if you approve of someone’s politics or like what they do, does it matter if they believe in God?

I appreciate that many of the commenters here may have had negative experiences of organised religion. As a lesbian woman, so have I, but that doesn’t change my right to believe whatever I believe – and as it happens, I am a Christian and part of a Christian community that both accepts me as gay and does not dictate people’s political beliefs.

The point of this post seems to be that we should judge faith-based organisations by how they help people (or otherwise), not by the fact that they are faith based. I am quite shocked that there is so much resistance to this idea. I’m sure no one here would find it acceptable to judge people because of their sex, race or sexual orientation – how is religion any different? There is as much diversity in the Christian community as there is in any other group of people. To the person who said Christians can’t even agree – no, we can’t, and why is this presented as such a bad thing? Believing in God does not mean one is no longer capable of rational thought, and nor should it.

@54: “Oh dear – yet another thread where you want to raise the issue of catholic church and child abuse – valid issue but surely not one that needs to take over every tangential thread.”

Other religious institutions besides the Catholic church were implicated for decades in the child migrants programme.

The Education Act of 1870 created administrative structures to provide for universal primary schooling up to the age of 12 – and primary education was made compulsory in 1880. This became necessary as Parliament recognised that by leaving schooling to the churches and charities, educational standards in Britain were lagging those in other west European countries.

On the evidence, religious institutions are not to be trusted.

57. Just Visiting

Not a Liberal

50 – OK, I used the word attitude, you used the word trait.
Apologies.

So please, what traits are you unhappy with?

JV
PS – if we’re talking alienating traits – you should be aware that your 51 seems intended to belittle and mock the intelligence those who hold a faith.

58. Just Visiting

A&E 53

> religion is prescriptive, and as you say in the case of islam especially so, that is my point –

Well If your point is that Islam is prescriptive -say so.

But you had suggested all religions are the same.
They clearly are not, and it is lazy thinking to say so.

What is your view on the ‘faith without works’ meme from Christianity.

> all of these religious streams emerge from the same sea of pre-enlightenment thinking and cannot be sustained intellectually.

Again – this is lazy thinking.
It is as wrong as saying ‘all political parties are the same’ or ‘communisum and facism are the same’..

59. the a&e charge nurse

[58] It is as wrong as saying ‘all political parties are the same’ or ‘communisum and facism are the same’ – the fundamental psychological driver is universal even if form varies.

Just Visiting:

“OK, I used the word attitude, you used the word trait.
Apologies.”

It wasn’t your use of the word attitude, it was the fact that your use of quotation marks implied that I’d used it.

“So please, what traits are you unhappy with?”

I didn’t say I wasn’t happy. All things considered, I’m pretty much indifferent to what you write. As you may have surmised, I don’t profess any religion so, if you carry on alienating people it really won’t bother me at all.

“if we’re talking alienating traits – you should be aware that your 51 seems intended to belittle and mock the intelligence those who hold a faith.”

Of course I’m aware, I wrote it, although it was primarily intended to mock the intelligence of Richard in post 49. What’s wrong with mocking people for holding beliefs for which there is no evidence and no rational argument?

61. Leon Wolfeson

@58 – “the fundamental psychological driver is universal even if form varies”

Yes, intolerance like you’re showing is entirely universal.

Well I think the obvious point is to work with FBO’s that want to do good things and to not work with those FBO’s that wish to push their religion while pretending to do good things, or those who wish to restrict freedom based on their own dogma.

a&e @ 40:

“OK ? well for me morality has something to do with being free to choose and making the right choice, rather than choosing in a certain way because the big book says you should do so ? that is what I mean by the christian paradigm, it is structure that governs morality irrespective of the actual evidence or experiences that may be contradict the basis for such beliefs.”

Yes, but how do you determine what is the right choice? Presumably, if I decided that murdering whomever I felt like was morally OK, you’d have some strong words to say about that — but what would your basis be for criticising me?

“More and more stuff is emerging about our planet?s history, and even the history of other planets ? pre-enlightment thinking explained the unknowable by inventing various dieties (quite a long list actually)”

A rather simplistic analysis, given that most holy books don’t really spend much time detailing how the planet was made, preferring to concentrate instead on moral matters.

@ Bob B:

Yes, some Christians don’t act in a way fully compatible with Christianity. Perhaps you’d like to give me one ethical system whose adherents have never acted contrary to their professed ethical beliefs.

a&e @ 53:

“religion is prescriptive,”

Yes, ethical systems generally are. Your point is?

Notaliberal @ 60:

“What’s wrong with mocking people for holding beliefs for which there is no evidence and no rational argument?”

Yeah, Plato, Aquinas, Kant — all a bunch of irrational morons, eh?

67. So Much For Subtlety

In February I will be heading out to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel which is coordinated through the World Council of Churches. This is an organisation bringing different denominations, faiths and backgrounds together to work progressively for a non-violent solution to the conflict. It is an exciting example of a FBOs working inclusively with Israelis, Palestinians and the International Community on human rights issues.

There may be something to be said for Faith Based Organisations but there is nothing to be said for these FBOs. The World Council of Churches are the people who were funding ZANU-PF while they were busy murdering nuns. And the people in Palestine they will be working for will probably look a lot like Hamas.

So it is the unspeakable working on behalf of the unappeasable.

Any sensible person would keep away from both sides.

Stave @34:

Ego te absolvo, my son. Domino’s Gaviscon et cum Spirito St Louis. 🙂

NAL @44:

TheJudge’s First Law of pedantic correction: when correcting or being pedantic with others, you always commit a bigger solecism yourself.

Two points I tend to come back to:

1 – what passes for a ‘moderate’, ‘mainstream’ or ‘liberal’ position in a religious context (on homosexuality or abortion, say) may very well be quite extreme from a secular, political point of view – e.g. it may be at odds with what you believe are fundamental human rights. And it seems perfectly understandable to me that someone might be uncomfortable working on a homelessness project (say) with a group that opposes (what he sees as) fundamental human rights.

I think religious people sometimes struggle to see this because they take a rather sanitised view of some of their own beliefs. For instance, some Christians seem to think they’re terribly liberal because they don’t hate gay people, don’t want to see homosexual activity criminalised, but only want to support gay people by helping them to turn away from their sinful lifestyle and draw closer to God. But to someone who thinks homosexual relationships are precisely as sinful as (say) mixed race relationships, that view looks precisely as ‘liberal’ and ‘moderate’ as the view that white women who find themselves attracted to black men should be supported in overcoming those sinful desires.

2 – believing what they do, religious people typically attach great importance to people’s spiritual wellbeing as well as to their physical wellbeing. They might sincerely believe that the most important thing you can do for somebody, much more important than the ‘sticking plaster’ of feeding them and giving them a bed for the night, is to lead them to God and set them on a better path. So they might think they have a moral duty to do what they can on that front for the homeless people who come into their shelter, say. But again, this can all look very different from a secular perspective – a non-religious person might feel an FBO that took this approach was preying on the vulnerable, or offering charity with strings attached (‘before we eat, let us give thanks’). And they might worry that certain people in need of help (members of other faiths, say, or prostitutes, or homosexuals) would either not feel welcome or would find themselves being targeted as lost sheep to be brought into the fold.

70. the a&e charge nurse

[61] ‘intolerance’ is a slight improvement on ‘faithophobia …….. I think?

You are free to believe whatever you want to believe, Leon nowhere do I say that this should not be the case although I do think many children are religiously indoctrinated by their family or community – those who react most indignantly to secularists often come from such backgrounds.

Are people who don’t believe in the supernatural (ghosts, etc) intolerant for pointing out their skepticism to those who do – if people want to hang out in spooky houses with electronic gadgets designed to capture apparition activity then let them got on with it if it makes them happy?

[63] “Presumably, if I decided that murdering whomever I felt like was morally OK, you’d have some strong words to say about that — but what would your basis be for criticising me?”.
Now you are being silly – this is a blog, not a 10,000 word thesis – a discussion of morality cannot be covered in a few brief sentences and well you know it.

71. Just Visiting

Not a Liberal

> Of course I’m aware, I wrote it, although it was primarily intended to mock the intelligence of Richard in post 49. What’s wrong with mocking people for holding beliefs for which there is no evidence and no rational argument?

Because some people genuinely want to understand each others viewpoints.
Because some here may even change their own vewpoint after discussion – that’s rational debate.
So far on this thread at least your contribution has been solely criticism and mockery, and empty.
You criticised way back the ‘typical traits’ I was showing but even after asking you you’ve failed to spell out what you’re specifically you mean.

That’s called trolling.

You express your own ignorance when you say ‘no rational argument’.
There are many people globally who’d disagree with you – many of them are people that LC folk would find hard to put into the box of ‘ignorance’ – rational people, doing stuff that liberals would generally support.

Welcome to the world of grown up debate – where the spice of it is that not everyone comes from the same viewpoint.

72. Chaise Guevara

Someone was very excited to be excited about exciting things when they wrote this…

I applaud your sentiment, but I’m not sure who this is really aimed at. Can you point to a leftist group that refuses to work with FBOs of any kind? If a religious charity wants to help people, that’s brilliant. Although, all else being equal, I’d choose a secular organisation over a religious organisation, because the former is more likely to be focused on real-world issues (e.g. I’d prefer to give money to a famine charity that spends 100% of its money on food and infrastructure, than to one that spends 90% of its money on those things and 10% on Bibles and religious lierature).

73. Just Visiting

A&E

> the fundamental psychological driver is universal even if form varies

That is so simplistic a view of religion, it does not even reach 6-th form level!

But as you already ignored – the same simplistic approach would be obviously and equally wrong if applied to politics – it would be crazy to argue that “all political parties have the same fundamental psychological driver’.

A&E, it sounds like you may be among those on LC who want to firmly keep all religions stereotyped and catalogued into One Box – ‘they are all the same, all equally wrong’.

That view does save a lot of thinking!
But sadly in the real world, you just have to follow the news each night to see that it is wrong.
So if you’re willing to do the work of ‘comparing and contrasting’ religions – then you’ll discover lots of differences. That some are more in tune with a liberal mindset than others.

74. Chaise Guevara

@ 4 DunKhan

“Challenging viewpoints is all very well and good but calling anyone who disagrees with you smug is not the way to frame your argument.”

Huh. I was aware that the article was annoying me, even though I didn’t disagree with it in any major way, but I wasn’t sure why. I think you’ve identified the issue.

75. Just Visiting

GO

Your 69 does I think raise 2 very important points.

But the danger, is that if liberals only work with organisation who are 100% in tune – then it’s back to Monty Python and the Palestine Liberation Front sketch !

LIbDems may with hindsight think they want too far partnering with the Torys; but when I look across to Germany and the histiry of their political coalitions, they have even had coalitions of the equivalent to our Labour + Tory !
They seem less interested in 100% purity of view.
And more about working together where you can, with those you can agree some common ground on.

IMHO that’s not a bad model for working with FBOs.

76. Chaise Guevara

@ 69 G.O.

Well put. Religion is a risk factor, basically. An individual religious group may be absolutely fine, and even if a religious charity spends some time sermonising that may be preferable to there being no charity at all. But it explains why secularists are often wary of religious groups.

It’s not an issue specific to religion, either, it’s about having motives beyond what is agreed by all participants. I would also be suspicious of (e.g.) a homelessness charity that had political views that weren’t directly relevant to homelessness.

a&e:

“Now you are being silly – this is a blog, not a 10,000 word thesis – a discussion of morality cannot be covered in a few brief sentences and well you know it.”

Then why did you choose to bring up the topic of morality in your post @ 16: “a man who needs god to be good cannot be considered to be truly good”. I don’t think it unreasonable to ask what you would consider “truly good”.

a&e @ 70:

“although I do think many children are religiously indoctrinated by their family or community – those who react most indignantly to secularists often come from such backgrounds.”

Probably because of the patronising assumption that people from such backgrounds only believe because they were taught to by their parents, and cannot have any reasonable grounds for their belief.

79. the a&e charge nurse

[73] ‘they are all the same, all equally wrong’ – I would modify that proposition, I think they ARE all wrong, but wrong in their different ways.

We could talk about differences except this is not really the point of this thread.

I agree with Chaise perhaps the most pertinent question arising from the OP is whether or not political parties are refusing to engage with FBO – in the main I am sure most activists are perfectly content to involve religious groups so long as the doctrine of the believers does not get in the way too much?

80. Chaise Guevara

@ 77 XXX

Well, I’d draw a distinction between doing something because you feel it’s the right thing to do, and doing something because you think you’ll get rewarded in the afterlife for doing it.

The former might be a genuine moral sacrifice; the latter is simple self-interest. As Calvin said to Hobbes: “Does the fact that I behave myself so Santa will bring me presents mean that I’m good? All I’m really showing is that I can be bribed.”

I think it’s more complicated than that in terms of psychology. Some religious people claim that religion is the only source of or reason for morality, but if those people suddenly decided there was no god, I doubt they’d suddenly turn into amoral bastards who would steal and kill if it benefited them and they could get away with it.

81. the a&e charge nurse

[78] “Probably because of the patronising assumption that people from such backgrounds only believe because they were taught to by their parents, and cannot have any reasonable grounds for their belief” – well it can hardly be said that such beliefs were arrived at independently.

The preponderance of christians, buddhists, muslims or jews is more or less in proportion to those cultures where children are exposed to a dominant school of religious thought – that’s hardly a coincidence, is it?

Chaise @ 80:

You talk about “doing something because it’s the right thing to do”, but what exactly makes something the right thing to do? Are you advocating some sort of moral intuitionism here?

a&e @ 81:

And more people support democracy who were brought up in democratic countries. I suppose, then, that such people can’t back up their support for democracy with rational argument, given that they’re just copying the values of wider society?

84. Chaise Guevara

@ 82 XXX

First, to be clear, that’s a different issue. WHAT people consider to be moral is different to WHY they choose to obey said morality. You’re probably aware of that, I just don’t want the issues to get mixed up.

OK: intuitionism may not quite be the word; it sounds to me like it means I run off pure instinct. My morality is based off of a few intuitive beliefs: hurting people is bad, helping people is good, conscious life is valuable, plus my fundamental approaches to justice and freedom. Then reason and experience are used to apply these as best as possible within the world.

85. the a&e charge nurse

[83] “And more people support democracy who were brought up in democratic countries. I suppose, then, that such people can’t back up their support for democracy with rational argument, given that they’re just copying the values of wider society?” – you are right to point out childhood influences go way beyond religion and that political beliefs can also be transgenerational, however there is less chance that mechanisms such as the threat of eternal damnation (for non-belief) will be used to steer a child toward democracy, communism, fascism, or whatever political beliefs happen to be dominant in certain homes.

86. Chaise Guevara

@ XXX again

BTW:

“You talk about “doing something because it’s the right thing to do” ”

I talked about doing something because you feel it’s the right thing to do. Not quite the same thing.

“Demon @ 1” – How amusing! Demon demonstrates how he/she is no different in outlook and thought to the inquisitors of the Spanish Inquisition and the henchmen of Stalin.

Once again the left is embarrassed by such fools whose uncompromising arrogant zeal is no different to that of a religious fundamentalist – And of course they can’t see it!

Social progressives shunning FBOs? What a daft approach to take. And talk about cutting of your nose to etc etc.

@[85]

Not sure what eternal damnation has to do with democracy.

You could, equally irrelevantly, look at – say – different intelligence levels of people or wealth, or the number of butterflies on each bush, and conclude that 1 person 1 vote is not reasonable.

Or you could choose something that seems more comparable, like the Baptists from 1600 onwards who looked at the NT and therefore chose to run their community democratically.

@64: “Yes, some Christians don’t act in a way fully compatible with Christianity”

Which is a convincing reason for not reposing trust in Christian institutions when we look at the evidence of the harm those institutions have perpetrated or whitewashed.

I’d still like to know why an intelligent, omnipotent, benign creator didn’t foresee and do something to prevent earthquakes, tsunamis and pandemics. Nor am I clear why I should accept such an entity as a moral authority.

As GBS said of the Christian ethic: Don’t do unto others what you would have others do unto you – their tastes may not be the same. Btw remember those child migrants referenced @52.

90. Chaise Guevara

@ 87 Herbie

“Once again the left is embarrassed by such fools whose uncompromising arrogant zeal is no different to that of a religious fundamentalist”

Is this really a left/right thing? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there’s a statistical correlation between political leanings and religious belief, but you seem to be assuming someone’s a lefty purely on the basis of them not liking religion. Which seems odd given the number of right-wing atheists and left-wing believers in the world.

Demon says

“No – I just think you are some deranged idiot with a connection to the internet. Boring, boring shit like the piece of twaddle above shud be burned. The author should be put in prison or a straightjacket or both. The excrete of jumbled words (like religion(s) itself is nothing but the gas from a landfill site.”

Dear Demon, my (real) name Gareth. I am a Christian. I am also lobby Government on behalf of a Christian charity in order to improve the lives of the poor, for gambling addicts and those struggling with other problems that can lead to social exclusion.

I attend church on a Sunday, I volunteer with a “Night Pastor” scheme which helps young poeple on a night out stay safe. I hand out travel leaflets and carry water and foil blankets.

I do this from a position of being a Christian.

Sure I will try and give people an answer about my faith if they ask me, but surely any ‘preaching’ of mine could only be 1. up to the free will of the other person to weigh it 2. If what I believe in is such s***t anyway then who is listening?

I even have a Bsc in Politics…(not sure one can be ‘qualified’ to talk about politics but that must help?)

So I ask after 10 years of working in and around Westminister, debating with MPs who have a Faith and those who despise Faith, am I a “deranged idoit with a web connection” , should “I be put in prison” are my reasoned and sensible sentences above like “excrete of jumbled words”

Demon I must confess your comments did amuse me somewhat……

I can’t help but notice the irony in your post….

Call me a “smug Christian” but I think only your post fits your own label of a jumble of words!

Surely one could even say an offensive jumble!

Perhaps the meaning of being truly tolerent and liberal has passed your by……

92. the a&e charge nurse

[88] ‘Not sure what eternal damnation has to do with democracy’ – we were discussing threatening mechanisms imposed in childhood in order to get kids to toe a certain line – which bit don’t you understand?

Chaise @ 84:

“OK: intuitionism may not quite be the word; it sounds to me like it means I run off pure instinct. My morality is based off of a few intuitive beliefs: hurting people is bad, helping people is good, conscious life is valuable, plus my fundamental approaches to justice and freedom. Then reason and experience are used to apply these as best as possible within the world.”

Yes, but where do those intuitive beliefs come from? Do you think they’re socially-learned? Personal preference? Do you subscribe to some sort of JS Mill-type moral sense theory?

a&e @ 85:

“you are right to point out childhood influences go way beyond religion and that political beliefs can also be transgenerational, however there is less chance that mechanisms such as the threat of eternal damnation (for non-belief) will be used to steer a child toward democracy, communism, fascism, or whatever political beliefs happen to be dominant in certain homes.”

True, but then I’ve never seen any evidence that a significant number of parents use the threat of eternal damnation to stop their children from questioning their family’s beliefs. That’s one of those things which everybody just seems to assume without offering any evidence for.

Bob @ 89:

“Which is a convincing reason for not reposing trust in Christian institutions when we look at the evidence of the harm those institutions have perpetrated or whitewashed.”

Would you apply the same logic to governmental organisations and become an anarchist?

Also, I note that you’ve failed to answer my question of whether you can give me any examples of moral theories whose proponents have never acted in a way which their professed ethical systems would consider wrong.

“As GBS said of the Christian ethic: Don’t do unto others what you would have others do unto you – their tastes may not be the same.”

If the Silver Rule is as I suspect marching confidently towards this discussion, I’d just like to point out that your preferred ethic of “Don’t do unto others what you do not want them to do unto you” also fails to take into account individual taste.

96. Chaise Guevara

@ 93 XXX

“Yes, but where do those intuitive beliefs come from? Do you think they’re socially-learned? Personal preference? Do you subscribe to some sort of JS Mill-type moral sense theory?”

Hard to say, really. Probably a combination of the first two. There’ll be some evolutionary influence in terms of concepts like altruism and fairness. I’m not familiar with “moral sense theory”.

So I don’t think there’s a Cosmic Stone of Morality somewhere with “hurting people is bad, helping people is good” written on it, and even if there was that would be no reason to agree. I also don’t claim, as some others do, that these beliefs are the unarguably correct positions that someone would logically reach through pure reason. I think they’ve got everything to do with natural human bias. I do know that I would find it very difficult to ignore them.

Same question: where does your morality come from?

97. the a&e charge nurse

[94] “I’ve never seen any evidence that a significant number of parents use the threat of eternal damnation to stop their children from questioning their family’s beliefs” – there are myriad ways children can be given messages from both their parents, as well as other adult authority figures in the wider community about the importance of adhering to religious beliefs.

We might have a slightly watered down version of it in the west, but only because of the ascendency of rationalism after fighting a long battle against superstition, and illogical thinking.

Do you think children of the taliban, for example, are free to consider those points of view which directly contradict words laid down in their big book – of course, they’re not – obedience to their chosen deity is drummed into them from birth.

98. Chaise Guevara

@ 94 XXX

“True, but then I’ve never seen any evidence that a significant number of parents use the threat of eternal damnation to stop their children from questioning their family’s beliefs.”

It’s probably a very rare thing in the UK, whether on the part of parents, teachers in religious schools, local priests, Sunday School teachers etc.

However, I do wonder how many people grow up thinking that questioning their religion is a bad thing to do. Not “bad” as in “you will be punished for eternity”, but as in “only a faithless person would do that”. Obviously this is a big disadvantage to somebody’s chances of thinking rationally about the subject.

This is in no way specific to religion, it turns up all over the shop. But religions do lend themselves to it, as they often treat faith as a positive thing.

Chaise @ 96:

“Same question: where does your morality come from?”

From God.

@ 98:

“However, I do wonder how many people grow up thinking that questioning their religion is a bad thing to do. Not “bad” as in “you will be punished for eternity”, but as in “only a faithless person would do that”. Obviously this is a big disadvantage to somebody’s chances of thinking rationally about the subject.”

Possibly, but then there’s social pressure to do all sorts of things. For example, modern society thinks that racism is quite a bad thing. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t cogent reasons for being anti-racist, or that every anti-racist in Britain is only like that because of social pressure.

100. the a&e charge nurse

[99] “Same question: where does your morality come from?” – “From God” – is that the jewish, christian or muslim god?

@95: “Would you apply the same logic to governmental organisations and become an anarchist?”

Of course – but then I’m a confessed floating voter and the whole point of democratically elected governments is that they can be changed and do change depending on electoral preferences. Prevailing political values in democracies aren’t immutable. In Britain’s constitution, no Parliament can bind its successors.

“Also, I note that you’ve failed to answer my question of whether you can give me any examples of moral theories whose proponents have never acted in a way which their professed ethical systems would consider wrong.”

But most/all religions claim to have a monopoly on divine guidance for their professed moral values and some threaten divine retribution of varying degrees of severity on those who breach those values. Somehow, all that gets overlooked when religious institutions are guilty of the breaches. Persistent hypocrisy should at least prompt us to question either the sincerity of the religious institutions or the moral superiority of the moral values they profess.

As mentioned before, I go along with David Hume writing in 1748:

“All moral duties may be divided into two kinds. The first are those to which men are impelled by a natural instinct … which operates on them, independent of all ideas of obligation, and of all views either to public or private utility. Of this nature are love of children, gratitude to benefactors, pity to the unfortunate. … The second kind of moral duties are such as are not supported by any original instinct of man but are performed entirely from a sense of obligation, when we consider the necessities of human society, and the impossibility of supporting it, if these duties were neglected. …. We shall only observe, before we conclude, that though an appeal to general opinion may justly, in the speculative sciences of metaphysics, natural philosophy, or astronomy, be deemed unfair and inconclusive, yet in all questions with regard to morals, as well as criticism, there is really no other standard, by which any controversy can ever be decided.”
http://www.constitution.org/dh/origcont.htm

Recent research at Yale University shows that babies do make value judgements about equity.

102. Charlieman

@97. the a&e charge nurse: “Do you think children of the taliban, for example, are free to consider those points of view which directly contradict words laid down in their big book…”

As long as the children of the Taliban have brains, they will undoubtedly consider ideas that are contrary to those of the Taliban. Unless the children have a different physiology, youngsters will wish to bonk. Adults not only consider property crime but commit it and are punished in barbaric ways.

Ideas and thinking don’t go away. But the ideas behind liberal society are difficult to perceive independently. By denying citizens to independent sources of information, theocracies and dictators try to contain thought.

I use that to understand religious organisations and communities in the developed world. If access to knowledge or debate is restricted, I can have nothing to do with them. If they do not try to control thought, I’ll think about working with them.

103. Chaise Guevara

@ 99 XXX

“From God.”

That’s a statement that wants unpacking. Which god? How do you know he exists? How is the moral system transmitted from him to you? What made you decide that his version of morality was correct?

104. the a&e charge nurse

[102] “As long as the children of the Taliban have brains, they will undoubtedly consider ideas that are contrary to those of the Taliban” – but the extent to which they are able to explore, and certainly ACT upon such thoughts, will be constrained significantly by the paucity of alternative stimulus associated with repressive monotheist cultures – needless to say, once deeply embedded such patterns tend to be passed on to the next generation of children.

The basis for all the major religions cannot be squared with what we now know about our world.

105. Notaliberal

@66 ““What’s wrong with mocking people for holding beliefs for which there is no evidence and no rational argument?”

Yeah, Plato, Aquinas, Kant — all a bunch of irrational morons, eh?”

You’re going to have to explain what your post has to do with my post. Are you saying that Plato held beliefs for which there is no evidence or rational argument? Or were you just randomly listing the names of historical characters you’ve heard of?

Just Visiting, you should probably calm down:

“What’s wrong with mocking people for holding beliefs for which there is no evidence and no rational argument?

Because some people genuinely want to understand each others viewpoints.”

Mocking someone for holding an irrational belief doesn’t imply that you don’t understand them. It generally means you understand them pretty well.

“Because some here may even change their own vewpoint after discussion – that’s rational debate.”

Well no, it isn’t, is it? Arguing from a belief system which has no basis in evidence or rational argument is, by definition, pretty much the opposite of rational debate.

“So far on this thread at least your contribution has been solely criticism and mockery, and empty.”

You seem to be contradicting yourself. Presumably you mean apart from your quotation from my first post which you thought was a good point.

“You express your own ignorance when you say ‘no rational argument’.”

No, I express my recognition of the fact that there is no evidence or rational argument to support the idea that the universe was created by an omnipotent being. Of course, if you feel that you can present any such evidence or rational argument then you’re free to do so, rather than just telling me how many people think I’m wrong:

“There are many people globally who’d disagree with you”

Of course there are but so what? There are also many people globally who’d disagree with everything you’ve written. The number of people who agree or disagree with an idea is irrelevant to its truth or falsity. For someone who thinks they’re participating in a rational debate you seem to have a poor grasp of what rationality actually means.

Bob @ 101:

“Of course – but then I’m a confessed floating voter and the whole point of democratically elected governments is that they can be changed and do change depending on electoral preferences.”

It may have escaped your notice, but the Church of England doesn’t exactly go around sacrificing people in sacred groves or calling crusades. Religious organisations can and do change.

“But most/all religions claim to have a monopoly on divine guidance for their professed moral values and some threaten divine retribution of varying degrees of severity on those who breach those values. Somehow, all that gets overlooked when religious institutions are guilty of the breaches. Persistent hypocrisy should at least prompt us to question either the sincerity of the religious institutions or the moral superiority of the moral values they profess.”

Most/all ethical systems claim a monopoly on ethical truth. If they didn’t, the theory would be amended to take into account any other forms of ethical truth out there. So what?

Also, I’m not sure what the point about divine retribution is supposed to prove. Most religious people, if you asked them, would probably suggest that child-abusing priests would be punished for their behaviour, although I don’t see why you think this relevant.

“Recent research at Yale University shows that babies do make value judgements about equity.”

I’m sure they do. Your point is?

Chaise @ 103:

“That’s a statement that wants unpacking. Which god? How do you know he exists? How is the moral system transmitted from him to you? What made you decide that his version of morality was correct?”

There are lots of arguments for God’s existence, though personally I prefer the argument from religious experience and the argument from morality. As for how moral systems are transmitted to us, I agree with J. S. Mill that we have a moral sense akin to our physical senses, which helps us to perceive moral facts. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “decide that his version of morality was correct”.

Notaliberal @ 105:

“You’re going to have to explain what your post has to do with my post. Are you saying that Plato held beliefs for which there is no evidence or rational argument? Or were you just randomly listing the names of historical characters you’ve heard of?”

I’m saying that Plato, Aquinas and Kant all believed in some sort of god. They were all rational people, who were unlikely to hold beliefs for which they considered there to be “no evidence and no rational argument”. Therefore, if they believed in some sort of god, they must have considered there to be some rational, evidential basis for it. If pressed, I would take the opinion of some of history’s most distinguished philosophers on what is rational over that of some pseudonymous internet commenter who shows very few signs of actually having bothered to understand what he’s trying to criticise.

109. Just Visiting

Not a Liberal.

You do seem to be acting like a Troll.

> .. saying that Plato held beliefs for which there is no evidence or rational argument?

Do you own research, to see that Plato argued many things by reference to the divine.

You do seem just too keen on your mockery, to engage in a genuine dialogue.

110. Just Visiting

Not a Liberal

>> “Because some here may even change their own vewpoint after discussion – that’s rational debate.”

> Well no, it isn’t, is it? Arguing from a belief system which has no basis in evidence or rational argument is, by definition, pretty much the opposite of rational debate.

So no willingness to an open and honest debate with someone who’s views appear opposite your own, and finding a new mutual respect that comes from understanding each others’ views better?

@106 XXX: “It may have escaped your notice, but the Church of England doesn’t exactly go around sacrificing people in sacred groves or calling crusades. Religious organisations can and do change.”

Divine guidance on moral values is flexible and adaptable? Experience suggests that is true – few folk in Britain nowadays are calling for the stoning of unchaste damsels – but then fewer folk regard religious faiths, churches and religious institutions as constant beacons on moral values.

“I’m sure they do. Your point is?”

The Yale research showing that babies can make ethical judgements is consistent with what Hume was writing back in 1748 as quoted @101. It shouldn’t be surprising that humans have instinctive moral values, particularly regarding reciprocity, as a consequence of many thousands of years of evolutionary natural selection in social contexts. It is widely agreed that humans have an innate ability to speak langauges which conform with rules of syntax long before they can articulate those rules.

Can babies tell right from wrong?
http://video.nytimes.com/video/2010/05/04/magazine/1247467772000/can-babies-tell-right-from-wrong.html

112. Chaise Guevara

@ 107 XXX

“There are lots of arguments for God’s existence, though personally I prefer the argument from religious experience and the argument from morality.”

I have to say that I’ve heard many of these arguments and have yet to find one that makes me increase my probability estimate of God’s existence by one iota. I think I would have found Paley’s Watch convincing pre-Darwin.

I don’t know if you’re interested in my take on the two arguments you mentioned. If so:

Argument from religious experience: I find this unconvincing for two reasons. First, there are generally good materialistic explanations for apparent religious experiences, and I can’t directly access the evidence (i.e. I have no idea how many people are exaggerating or making it up). Secondly, as I understand it, I suspect the theory treats materialistic things as non-materialistic because they *feel* different to materialism, the way scientists used to believe in vitalism.

Argument from morality: given that material explanations for morality exist (we know much of the mechanics and have a good idea of why the impulses evolved in the first place) I simply can’t see why one would accept an alternative explanation which seems to have no evidence and invites another layer of recursion (i.e. the question of where God gets his morality from). The existence of morality simply isn’t a great mystery any more.

“As for how moral systems are transmitted to us, I agree with J. S. Mill that we have a moral sense akin to our physical senses, which helps us to perceive moral facts. I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “decide that his version of morality was correct”.

I don’t think it’s relevant, based on your answer. I asked the question on the supposition that you were going to say that you learned morality from the Bible or (less likely) that it was explicitly revealed to you by a religious experience. It doesn’t really apply to the moral sense argument, so disregard.

Bob @ 111:

“Divine guidance on moral values is flexible and adaptable?”

Divine guidance is the same, but it can be interpreted better if new information comes to light.

“The Yale research showing that babies can make ethical judgements is consistent with what Hume was writing back in 1748 as quoted @101.”

It’s also consistent with what most major world religions say.

Chaise @ 112:

“I think I would have found Paley’s Watch convincing pre-Darwin.”

Surely Darwin just pushes back the problem of design one stage further? Evolution might explain how complex life forms emerge, but it isn’t very helpful when it comes to how life arose in the first place, or how the physical laws of the universe came to say one thing and not another.

“Argument from religious experience: I find this unconvincing for two reasons. First, there are generally good materialistic explanations for apparent religious experiences, and I can’t directly access the evidence (i.e. I have no idea how many people are exaggerating or making it up). Secondly, as I understand it, I suspect the theory treats materialistic things as non-materialistic because they *feel* different to materialism, the way scientists used to believe in vitalism.”

It is certainly hard to access evidence for other people’s experience, although I think saying that people are “exaggerating or making it up” is a bit harsh, since I can’t see what most people would have to gain by lying about their religious experiences. Still, there are plenty of occasions when we accept other people’s experiences without having any first-hand knowledge about the things being experienced. I’ve never been to South Africa, for example, but I still believe that such a place exists, because lots of people say they’ve seen it and I see no compelling reason to doubt them.

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “good materialistic explanations” for religious experiences. I’m sure that if you hooked up somebody to a brain scanner while they were having a religious experience you’d see plenty of neurological activity. But the same would also be true of somebody who was, e.g., looking at a picture or listening to a piece of music, and nobody suggests that this proves that there is no such thing as an objective physical reality. And the idea that just because you can do so you’ve somehow explained all there is to explain about religious experiences has always struck me as faintly reductionist and question-begging.

“Argument from morality: given that material explanations for morality exist (we know much of the mechanics and have a good idea of why the impulses evolved in the first place) I simply can’t see why one would accept an alternative explanation which seems to have no evidence and invites another layer of recursion (i.e. the question of where God gets his morality from). The existence of morality simply isn’t a great mystery any more.”

Personally I’m a bit sceptical as to ideas about morality being just evolved behaviour. A society in which everybody were brave and self-sacrificing would be more likely to survive than one in which everybody were cowardly and selfish; but at an individual level it would be better to live amorally and only follow moral codes where convenient to you. Evolutionist (?) theories of morality also tend to throw up some counter-intuitive results. Stoning your adulterous wives, for example, makes sound evolutionary sense, since if your wife is too scared to cheat on you, the chances of you being tricked into raising somebody else’s child are slimmer, leaving you with more energy to expend on raising your own children, and therefore of ensuring the survival of your own DNA. Most atheists, thought, seem rather critical of societies which still follow such practices.

(I accept, though, that no one argument is completely watertight. Rather, arguments for God’s existence are — or ought to be — a cumulative thing. If I were to come home one day and find the door to my birdcage open, my budgie missing, some feathers lying on the carpet and my cat looking very full and contented, then individually none of these things would tell me very much. Taken as a whole, however, they would point rather strongly towards a certain conclusion. So it is with arguments regarding God’s existence.)

115. Chaise Guevara

@ 114 XXX

“Surely Darwin just pushes back the problem of design one stage further?”

No. Design and cause are not the same thing (that’s kinda the point).

The design argument was special because it really is inconceivable that a modern, complex animal would somehow be randomly assembled. That’s why I picked it out – without the concept of species evolving into other species, Paley’s Watch sounds like the best game in town.

Early forms of life would have been much simpler and thus possible to form by accident. In fact, it’s a grey area: even with knowlege of the entire history of the world, you couldn’t point to one thing and say with certainty: “That was the first living thing!” We have things now that sit in the hinterland between “alive” and “unalive”, e.g. viruses.

“It is certainly hard to access evidence for other people’s experience, although I think saying that people are “exaggerating or making it up” is a bit harsh, since I can’t see what most people would have to gain by lying about their religious experiences.”

Leaving charlatans (presumably a small minority) out of it, I’d say reinforcing your belief in a god you want to believe in counts as something to gain. People are forever convincing themselves that what they want to be true is the truth. It’s incredibly easy to do that with, say, a nice warm feeling you get when you think about god.

“Still, there are plenty of occasions when we accept other people’s experiences without having any first-hand knowledge about the things being experienced. I’ve never been to South Africa, for example, but I still believe that such a place exists, because lots of people say they’ve seen it and I see no compelling reason to doubt them.”

Yeah, but I have plenty evidence for the existence of cognitive bias and mental illness, and none for God. Accepting their experiences does not mean accepting their explanation for said experiences.

“I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “good materialistic explanations” for religious experiences.”

Along with personal bias, try schizophrenia, especially in times/countries where medicine isn’t all that hot. Epilepsy too. Pretty much any undiagnosed disease that seriously affects the mind. But those are the big dramatic cases; I’d say it’s mainly bias.

“And the idea that just because you can do so you’ve somehow explained all there is to explain about religious experiences has always struck me as faintly reductionist and question-begging.”

It is reductionist, much to its credit. Why question-begging?

“Personally I’m a bit sceptical as to ideas about morality being just evolved behaviour. A society in which everybody were brave and self-sacrificing would be more likely to survive than one in which everybody were cowardly and selfish; but at an individual level it would be better to live amorally and only follow moral codes where convenient to you.”

Not if it meant you abandoned your babies, it wouldn’t. Evolutionary solutions to problems use a “whatever works” approach: they’re not specifically targeted. This is really, really important, and a lot of people (including many proponents of evolution) aren’t aware of it. An instinct that makes you protect your children (with obvious selection advantages) could easily also lead you to protect other family members, or other children.

And there’s cross-over from other areas, too. Human-level intelligence probably evolved for different reasons to morality, but they obviously affect one another.

“Evolutionist (?) theories of morality also tend to throw up some counter-intuitive results. Stoning your adulterous wives, for example, makes sound evolutionary sense, since if your wife is too scared to cheat on you, the chances of you being tricked into raising somebody else’s child are slimmer, leaving you with more energy to expend on raising your own children, and therefore of ensuring the survival of your own DNA. Most atheists, thought, seem rather critical of societies which still follow such practices.”

You’re going to conflate an evolutionary explanation for the development of morality with social darwinism? You’re gonna switch the subject and the object around mid-conversation? Seriously, we’re actually going to do this?

Fine. To answer: saying “morality evolved” does not mean the same thing as “pursuing evolutionary advantage is the apex of morality”. And you’re treating evolution as if it’s targeted again. Finally: the truth or falsehood of a factual statement does not change based on whether or not you happen to like the consequences.

“I accept, though, that no one argument is completely watertight. Rather, arguments for God’s existence are — or ought to be — a cumulative thing. […] Taken as a whole, however, they would point rather strongly towards a certain conclusion. So it is with arguments regarding God’s existence.)”

Like I said before, the only one I’ve heard that ever had anything to it was disproved 100s of years ago. In my experience, stacking arguments for God’s existence requires multiplying by zero (well, nearly zero).

Chaise,

Like I said before, the only one I’ve heard that ever had anything to it was disproved 100s of years ago. In my experience, stacking arguments for God’s existence requires multiplying by zero (well, nearly zero).

But the ‘evidence’ for God’s existence varies from person to person, as every person has their own experiences which make a case for God or for his or her non-existence. The model of arguing with religion and scientific experience is not much use in understanding faith (which, speaking as someone who is ambiguous as to God’s existence, is something of a mystery to me).

117. Chaise Guevara

@ Watchman

Fair point RE evidence. We have different priors.

Not sure what you mean by this,though: “The model of arguing with religion and scientific experience is not much use in understanding faith”. What model? If you’re saying that science can’t help us understand faith, you’re wrong – faith fits comfortably into the categories of psychology, neurology, and history.

118. Leon Wolfeson

@117 – What rot.

I’m sure you’d like to categorise love and morals as something amenable to science as well.

No, they – and faith – are a matter of philosophy. You’re insisting on using the wrong tools, then wondering at the answers you get.

119. the a&e charge nurse
120. Leon Wolfeson

@119 – It can’t explain why two people, generally, fall in love. Outside GSA.

121. Chaise Guevara

@ 188 Leon

“I’m sure you’d like to categorise love and morals as something amenable to science as well.”

Yes, on account of them existing and everything.

“No, they – and faith – are a matter of philosophy. You’re insisting on using the wrong tools, then wondering at the answers you get.”

Wondering how?

Anyhoo, philosophy (real philosophy, not just making stuff up that sounds attractive) is part of science. Science is how we learn about reality through observation and rationality. You’re just insisting on putting religion, love and morality in a special category where the usual rules of causality don’t apply, because you think they’re special, or you don’t like what reality has to say about them. Like all that “seperate magesterium” crap; it’s an argument that isn’t even coherent, and it’s done for very obvious motives: “Please, let me pretend that what I want to believe is true!”

Science knows a lot about love, it’s not science’s fault that you haven’t bothered to find that out. In any case, you won’t discover anything objective about love or anything else if you refuse to use science (or, more to the point, come up with excuses not to believe the answers science gives you). You can come up with lots of subjective knowlege, though, i.e. opinions that only exist in the opinion-holder’s head.

This is a fundamental rule of rationality, Leon: “What is true is already so, believing in it won’t make it any worse”. You look at the universe to find out things about it, and you don’t reject the answers the universe gives you just because you don’t like them. Evidence, logic and all that jazz.

@ Chaise:

“Early forms of life would have been much simpler and thus possible to form by accident. In fact, it’s a grey area: even with knowlege of the entire history of the world, you couldn’t point to one thing and say with certainty: “That was the first living thing!” We have things now that sit in the hinterland between “alive” and “unalive”, e.g. viruses.”

Well, proteins, which are pretty important for life, are quite complex, and unlikely to just appear spontaneously (though I wouldn’t want to rule out the possibility entirely). But that still doesn’t account for the existence of the physical laws governing the universe, or why the universe exists at all.

“Leaving charlatans (presumably a small minority) out of it, I’d say reinforcing your belief in a god you want to believe in counts as something to gain.”

Maybe, but then you’re left with the issue of where that belief in God comes from in the first place. “Wishful thinking” is a bit hard to accept, to be honest, not least because many religious teachings are actually quite challenging, not really the things which you’d just wishfully think into existence.

“Yeah, but I have plenty evidence for the existence of cognitive bias and mental illness, and none for God.”

Probably I’m mistaken here, but it seems like you’re coming perilously close to saying “There’s no evidence for God. People who claim to have had personal experience of God are mad or biased. We know this because they claim to have had personal experience of God, who doesn’t exist.”

“It is reductionist, much to its credit. Why question-begging?”

Because it assumes that materialist explanations are the only explanations, and that, once you’ve found a materialistic explanation for something, that’s all the explanation you need. Which is kind of what the argument’s all about.

“Fine. To answer: saying “morality evolved” does not mean the same thing as “pursuing evolutionary advantage is the apex of morality”.”

Then what is? I don’t see how you can posit a different end to morality (as opposed to a different decision procedure) without also positing some sort of external source of morality, independent of human evolution.

“Finally: the truth or falsehood of a factual statement does not change based on whether or not you happen to like the consequences.”

When it comes to morality, the only evidence we have of something being moral is that people consider it so. If a moral theory implies that we ought to do something which we would find immoral, then that provides good grounds for rejecting that theory.

“If you’re saying that science can’t help us understand faith, you’re wrong – faith fits comfortably into the categories of psychology, neurology, and history.”

You seem to be begging the question again — assuming that faith can be totally explained by fields of enquiry relating to the physical world, when that’s precisely the point under debate.

“Anyhoo, philosophy (real philosophy, not just making stuff up that sounds attractive) is part of science. Science is how we learn about reality through observation and rationality.”

I would hesitate to put words into Leon’s mouth (or keyboard), but I’d guess that he’s defining “science” as something along the lines of “The systematic investigation of the physical universe using replicable experiment and/or observation and measurement, and the formulation of general, falsifiable and predictive laws based upon these experiments,” under which definition philosophy and theology wouldn’t be considered scientific. You, on the other hand, seem to be using it to mean something more like “Rational enquiry into the nature of the universe,” which is fair enough, but it is by no means the most common definition, and there’s no need to have a go at somebody just because they think you’re using the term to mean something different.

123. So Much For Subtlety

114. XXX

Personally I’m a bit sceptical as to ideas about morality being just evolved behaviour.

How do you feel about the idea that all morality has to encourage the passing on of genes otherwise it disappears from the gene pool in the end?

A society in which everybody were brave and self-sacrificing would be more likely to survive than one in which everybody were cowardly and selfish; but at an individual level it would be better to live amorally and only follow moral codes where convenient to you.

This is just kin selection. As J. B. S Haldane said, he would lay down his life for two brothers or four cousins. Your genes would get passed on if you saved the lives of your relatives. So a society in which everyone was brave would be one that would be ethnically homogeneous – so that we know the people we are dying for are related to us genetically, or at least they look like it and so we can be fooled. This is easy to test – you would expect a racially mixed country of immigrants like Brazil or the US to produce fewer brave soldiers than an ethnically homogeneous one like Japan or Germany (as they were) or Vietnam.

Evolutionist (?) theories of morality also tend to throw up some counter-intuitive results. Stoning your adulterous wives, for example, makes sound evolutionary sense, since if your wife is too scared to cheat on you, the chances of you being tricked into raising somebody else’s child are slimmer, leaving you with more energy to expend on raising your own children, and therefore of ensuring the survival of your own DNA. Most atheists, thought, seem rather critical of societies which still follow such practices.

There is nothing counter-intuitive about that. Makes perfect sense. Atheists just have not thought through the implications of what they want yet.

A better example of monogamy. Alien to most human societies. Only enforceable by religious irrationality posing as something else these days. And yet it overwhelmingly privileges the old, the rich and the powerful. We will slowly move back to a polygamous society, I expect, and we will become much more socially divided – and society will be more violent as it will be full of sex-starved young men with limited prospects a la Egypt. Democracy will be harder to maintain if at all. Polygamous societies are invariably autocratic.

And yet all these changes will be pushed by the Left acting in the name of rationality and the Enlightenment.

124. So Much For Subtlety

121. Chaise Guevara

Anyhoo, philosophy (real philosophy, not just making stuff up that sounds attractive) is part of science. Science is how we learn about reality through observation and rationality.

So philosophy is not a science then? As it is not the study of reality through observation and rationality and has not been for a long time. When philosophy was grounded in logic and there was a hope that logic could be shown to be a complete system, you may have had a point. But logic, as Godel showed, is flawed in that sense. It rests on a small number of untestable assumptions. By its very nature it rests of untestable assumptions. You can build entirely consistent and logical systems that rest on other assumptions if you like and there is nothing better or worse about them than the reality we claim to hold to.

You’re just insisting on putting religion, love and morality in a special category where the usual rules of causality don’t apply, because you think they’re special, or you don’t like what reality has to say about them.

I am not sure that you need to put religion in a separate category. Philosophy by its very nature is the rigorous application of thought to a small number of untested and untestable assumptions. Religion is too, except the number of assumptions is much larger. It is a lower quality base, but the amount of rigorous logical thought put into something like Catholic theology is impressive. And worthy of respect.

Like all that “seperate magesterium” crap; it’s an argument that isn’t even coherent, and it’s done for very obvious motives: “Please, let me pretend that what I want to believe is true!”

I agree totally.

125. Chaise Guevara

@ 122 XXX

“Well, proteins, which are pretty important for life, are quite complex, and unlikely to just appear spontaneously (though I wouldn’t want to rule out the possibility entirely).”

You’re talking about present-day things here, not things from billions of years ago. Part of the problem is that the first kinds of life would be extremely unlikely to fossilise (no bones etc.) so we don’t know much about them.

“But that still doesn’t account for the existence of the physical laws governing the universe, or why the universe exists at all.”

Are we talking about evolution here, or the entirity of scientific enquiry? Because this has nothing to do with evolution.

“Maybe, but then you’re left with the issue of where that belief in God comes from in the first place.”

Well, there’s loads of theories. I’m a layman, but I favour the idea that they evolved from campfire just-so stories, answers to questions like “Daddy, why does the sun come up?”

““Wishful thinking” is a bit hard to accept, to be honest, not least because many religious teachings are actually quite challenging, not really the things which you’d just wishfully think into existence.”

Yeah, but the reasons to want to cling onto those beliefs are even stronger. Examples: most believers are raised to believe, which makes the belief hard to shake (especially in cases where they’ve been told that questioning the belief is bad); abandoning the belief may mean distancing yourself from friends and family or having to lie to them; the idea that god exists seems to give many people a sense of meaning and purpose (indeed, one of the weirdest arguments for god is “but if it’s just physics, life is meaningless!); perhaps most of all, most religions promise or at least offer the possibility of your soul surviving your death.

“Probably I’m mistaken here, but it seems like you’re coming perilously close to saying “There’s no evidence for God. People who claim to have had personal experience of God are mad or biased. We know this because they claim to have had personal experience of God, who doesn’t exist.””

I can see where you’d get that impression, but it’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that the fact that people attribute certain experiences to god is not actually evidence of god. In any such case, there are at least two explanations on the table: let’s take the example of someone who says he can hear God talking in his head, which means the possibilities include God and schizophrenia. Aside from such experiences, we have very little evidence for God and lots for schizophrenia. So pending a different theory, more evidence for God or evidence against schizophrenia, schizophrenia wins this informal probabilistic assessment by a wide margin.

“Because it assumes that materialist explanations are the only explanations, and that, once you’ve found a materialistic explanation for something, that’s all the explanation you need. Which is kind of what the argument’s all about.”

If you can find a better explanation, one with more evidence, fine. But if you’ve got a rational explanation for something with solid evidence backing it, it seems odd to keep trying to introduce a much weaker explanation as an alternative – e.g. the “teach the controversy” initiative by US creationists.

I’ve yet to come across an explanation for anything that wasn’t reductionist, so I tend to trust that pattern.

“Then what is? I don’t see how you can posit a different end to morality (as opposed to a different decision procedure) without also positing some sort of external source of morality, independent of human evolution.”

With respect, I don’t think you’re listening to me. What I’m saying is that moral instincts created through evolution would not necessarily be directly about evolution. Your genes don’t look into the future and decide whether the specific action you are thinking about would boost or lessen your survival fitness. Instincts that are good overall may be bad in certain circumstances. Indeed, societal changes mean that some generally good instincts are now generally bad (physical aggression, for example. Once, punching weaker rivals would have helped you raise your status in the tribe, now it gets you jailed).

Or put it like this. Let’s say I advanced the idea that humanity’s love for games came from instincts and thought-patterns created by evolution. Would you then say: “But then how come we have games about spelling, fighting, making money, and answering trivia? Surely if your theory is true, then there’s only be one board game, it’d be called Evolution: the Game, and players would compete to raise their genetic fitness!” Would that not strike you as a non-sequitur? It’s precisely what you’re doing now.

I respect you as a commenter, XXX, and that’s giving me difficulty here. I find it hard to believe that you can’t tell the difference between “X” and “the process that created X”, so I’m starting to wonder if you’re winding me up.

“When it comes to morality, the only evidence we have of something being moral is that people consider it so.”

You’re conflating again. I’m talking about the truth or falsehood of the statement “morality evolved”, not the truth or falsehood of any given moral doctrine.

“You seem to be begging the question again”

See above.

“Anyhoo, philosophy (real philosophy, not just making stuff up that sounds attractive) is part of science. Science is how we learn about reality through observation and rationality.”

“I would hesitate to put words into Leon’s mouth (or keyboard), but I’d guess that he’s defining “science” as something along the lines of “The systematic investigation of the physical universe using replicable experiment and/or observation and measurement, and the formulation of general, falsifiable and predictive laws based upon these experiments,” under which definition philosophy and theology wouldn’t be considered scientific. You, on the other hand, seem to be using it to mean something more like “Rational enquiry into the nature of the universe,” which is fair enough, but it is by no means the most common definition, and there’s no need to have a go at somebody just because they think you’re using the term to mean something different.”

It’s the same thing: your second definition is basically the shorthand version of your first definition. Philosophy and theology are scientific when they seek to explain the real. They’re not if they invent the false. Astrology isn’t scientific, but that doesn’t mean that astrology proves that there are things that are beyond science, because *astrology isn’t real*. Science CAN explain the PROCESS of talking about non-real things: how these things are invented in the first place, the mechanisms by which some says them out loud or types them on a computer. But science doesn’t actually have to account for things that *aren’t actually real*.

126. Chaise Guevara

@ 123 SMFS

“There is nothing counter-intuitive about that. Makes perfect sense. Atheists just have not thought through the implications of what they want yet.”

Atheism is a belief, or something along those lines, not a desire. And accepting the evidence on evolution is not the same as deciding that social darwinism is good, nor does accepting one and rejecting the other make you a hypocrite.

Have I misread you here? The rest of your post @123 was pretty solid,

127. Chaise Guevara

@ 124 SMFS

“So philosophy is not a science then?”

Nnngggg… People’s definition of “philosophy” is all over the place, and I just KNOW that if I draw a firm line between philosophy and science, people are going to say things like “so rational thought is unscientific, is it?” and “be fair to the Greeks, they WERE trying to work out the nature of the universe”. So I don’t disagree with you in the slightest, but in my previous post I was using “philosophy” in a broad sense to avoid confusion.

“I am not sure that you need to put religion in a separate category.”

Not sure what you mean by this: obviously I don’t think religion should get a separate category. If (as the rest of your post suggests), you’re saying religion is an intellectual exercise into the hypothetical, i.e. a behaviour, then yes, I agree – but I was talking about people who claim that religion is more than that and then put it in the special No Rational Criticisms Of This Topic Allowed box so they don’t have to justify their statements.

Chaise @ 125:

“Are we talking about evolution here, or the entirity of scientific enquiry? Because this has nothing to do with evolution.”

Well, my original post @ 114 made reference to the physical laws of the universe as well as the origin of life. Basically I was wondering why you thought that “An amazingly intricate life-form, such as a human” is seemingly more improbable than “An amazingly intricate set of natural laws”.

“Well, there’s loads of theories. I’m a layman, but I favour the idea that they evolved from campfire just-so stories, answers to questions like “Daddy, why does the sun come up?””

Maybe, but then a lot of religious beliefs and practices aren’t really related to such questions. Most religions (that I know of) have more to do with moral codes than with explaining how the world got here.

Also, that doesn’t really explain a lot of the beliefs that tend to be associated with god. Why, for example, would one jump from “the sun comes up because God says so” to “God is the source of moral standards, and we ought to obey Him”?

“the idea that god exists seems to give many people a sense of meaning and purpose (indeed, one of the weirdest arguments for god is “but if it’s just physics, life is meaningless!); perhaps most of all, most religions promise or at least offer the possibility of your soul surviving your death.”

Maybe, but I can’t help but thinking that a religion which was created as the result of wishful thinking would make fewer demands of us. “Give up all your wealth to the poor” and “turn the other cheek” are both quite hard instructions to follow, and not the sort of thing you’d invent if you were just believing to make yourself feel better.

Also, whilst it may be the case that “most religions promise or at least offer the possibility of your sould surviving your death”, that’s not necessarily particularly comforting. The afterlife according to ancient Mesopotamian religions and early Judaism basically consisted of souls wandering around wishing they were alive again — hardly the product of wishful thinking. Ditto early Greek paganism. When Odysseus speaks to Achilles’ shade, Achilles says that he’d much rather be the poorest farmer on earth than king of all the dead. I personally don’t find that a particularly comforting vision of the afterlife, and nor I suspect would many other people.

“I can see where you’d get that impression, but it’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that the fact that people attribute certain experiences to god is not actually evidence of god. In any such case, there are at least two explanations on the table: let’s take the example of someone who says he can hear God talking in his head, which means the possibilities include God and schizophrenia. Aside from such experiences, we have very little evidence for God and lots for schizophrenia. So pending a different theory, more evidence for God or evidence against schizophrenia, schizophrenia wins this informal probabilistic assessment by a wide margin.”

FWIW I don’t think many religious experiences are actually like that. Also, is there any evidence that religious people are more prone to mental illness than irreligious people? I think that religion and depression are negatively correlated, although I can’t remember ever seeing any statistics on other types of mental illnesses.

“With respect, I don’t think you’re listening to me. What I’m saying is that moral instincts created through evolution would not necessarily be directly about evolution. Your genes don’t look into the future and decide whether the specific action you are thinking about would boost or lessen your survival fitness. Instincts that are good overall may be bad in certain circumstances. Indeed, societal changes mean that some generally good instincts are now generally bad (physical aggression, for example. Once, punching weaker rivals would have helped you raise your status in the tribe, now it gets you jailed).”

Sorry, I wasn’t explaining myself properly. Yes, it is possible that moral instincts evolved but are “directly about” something other than evolution. But that doesn’t explain what this something else is, how it got there, and why we should care about it. So saying “morality evolved, therefore we don’t need anything else to explain it” is a bit premature.

“It’s the same thing: your second definition is basically the shorthand version of your first definition.”

Only if you’ve already decided that materialism is correct and that replicable, controlled experiments are the only rational ways of enquiry about the universe. Which are both fairly controversial ideas, and you haven’t really given any reasons for accepting them.

129. Chaise Guevara

@ XXX

“Well, my original post @ 114 made reference to the physical laws of the universe as well as the origin of life. Basically I was wondering why you thought that “An amazingly intricate life-form, such as a human” is seemingly more improbable than “An amazingly intricate set of natural laws”.”

Not that they’re directly comperable, but I think any estimation of relative complexity would say a human being is almost obscenely more complex than natural laws.

Also: the parts of a human being are reliant on each other. Switch the arm with the head and it doesn’t work. Replace the blood with water and it doesn’t work. Make any one of a million changes and it doesn’t work.

Whereas we don’t know where natural laws come from, but it seems reasonable to guess that they either a) the value of one law helps determine the value of another, or b) they’re totally random, in which case there’s nothing to explain in terms of complexity: they could have come out in any other combination, we just happen to live in a universe (even if it’s the only universe) where they look like this.

“Maybe, but then a lot of religious beliefs and practices aren’t really related to such questions. Most religions (that I know of) have more to do with moral codes than with explaining how the world got here.

Also, that doesn’t really explain a lot of the beliefs that tend to be associated with god. Why, for example, would one jump from “the sun comes up because God says so” to “God is the source of moral standards, and we ought to obey Him”?”

I was offering an explanation of origins, not development. If I tell you all of my ideas for how religions developed, we’ll be here all day and most of it will be educated guesses. To answer that specific, question, though, here’s a simplified but sensible theory:

1) Parents ad-lib to their kids that The Great Zango makes the Sun rise.
2) The kids accept this like any other fact their parents taught them, and grow up believing it to be true and passing it into tribal lore.
3) The Great Zango becomes the default explanation for anything mysterious, including scary things like thunder and disease.
4) Next generation of kids: “Why did The Great Zango make me ill, Daddy?” “He is angry with you for not obeying your parents!” “Why did The Great Zango destroy our homes with lightening, Daddy?” “Because we have not offered our respects to him enough!”
5) A few generations on, a tribesman does not want his woman to leave him for another man, convinces himself that The Great Zango would disapprove, and uses this to persuade the rest of the tribe to enforce such a rule – possibly aided by a recent forest fire.

And so on. For the record, I imagine most old-school believers wouldn’t have realised there was a difference between “God says this” and “God says this, therefore it is the right thing to do” until you pointed it out to them. Religion used to be more visceral.

“Maybe, but I can’t help but thinking that a religion which was created as the result of wishful thinking would make fewer demands of us. “Give up all your wealth to the poor” and “turn the other cheek” are both quite hard instructions to follow, and not the sort of thing you’d invent if you were just believing to make yourself feel better.”

Well, that’s probably the politics of the author, and it did well to get in on the ground floor of a religion that was about to spread like wildfire. Plus it’s an attractive proposition if you yourself are poor.

“Also, whilst it may be the case that “most religions promise or at least offer the possibility of your sould surviving your death”, that’s not necessarily particularly comforting.”

Of the examples you give, note that one has died out, mainly in the face of a religion that DOES offer heaven, and the other lost many followers to that religion.

“FWIW I don’t think many religious experiences are actually like that.”

I was giving one example. The same applies to religion vs bias.

“Also, is there any evidence that religious people are more prone to mental illness than irreligious people? I think that religion and depression are negatively correlated, although I can’t remember ever seeing any statistics on other types of mental illnesses.”

No idea, although it’s not really relevant if non-religious schizophrenics just interpret their delusions in a non-religious way.

“Sorry, I wasn’t explaining myself properly. Yes, it is possible that moral instincts evolved but are “directly about” something other than evolution. But that doesn’t explain what this something else is, how it got there, and why we should care about it. So saying “morality evolved, therefore we don’t need anything else to explain it” is a bit premature.”

OK, cool. To answer the three questions.

1) We know what the something else is, or rather what the something elses are: altruism, love, empathy, any impulse that leads people to act in a way we would consider “moral” and doesn’t have a blindingly obvious selection advantage.

2) How it got there will differ for each one, and indeed each one may be composed of a number of different neurological developments, each with separate reasons for existing. Some may be coincidental cross-over of two or more separately evolved impulses. Others will be advantageous developments that sometimes “misfire” from a selection point of view (for example, if part of the reason we are so protective of our children is that we are programmed to find childish features like big eyes adorable, this will probably make us protective of other people’s children too, or even some baby animals, despite this not confering a fitness advantage). Others, as I’ve said, may have confered an advantage in the ancestoral environment that no longer exists. Basically, this is where you and I go and check 7 textbooks each out of the library.

3) Why we should care about it is a subjective question; it’s up to you. Evolution explains why we DO care about it. Remember we’re not discussing Absolute Moral Rightness here, just where our moral instincts come from.

“Only if you’ve already decided that materialism is correct and that replicable, controlled experiments are the only rational ways of enquiry about the universe. Which are both fairly controversial ideas, and you haven’t really given any reasons for accepting them.”

Discoveries made through these methods work. They can be used to create previously unthought-of technology. Discoveries made in other ways generally don’t.

More to the point, though, all we have to work with is the evidence of our senses. It’s entirely plausible that the entire world is an illusion and that I am a disembodied consciousness having one heck of a vivid dream. But I can’t tell the difference, so the proposition isn’t very useful to me even if it’s true. It make sense for me to continue to interpret evidence as best I can, which appears to be keeping me alive (e.g. my senses tell me to eat bread, but not rocks).

I doubt you reject that kind of evidence. I’m sure you don’t try to leave tall buildings via the fifth-floor window; you accept that the materialistic, evidence-based view (that you’d go splat on the pavement) is real, or at least work on the assumption that it’s real. Rejecting the very concept of evidence means rejecting basic causality, at which point you can believe anything you please, so you learn nothing.

I also think you generally accept rationality. If not, consider this my answer: “teapot hamster toodle pip, ergo I’m right”.

So what exactly ARE you calling into question here? The application of rationality to evidence? That’s what the scientific method is: a way of refining evidence that already exists

Again, I doubt this is reflected in what you believe. Or do you think that evidence and rationality are all well and good, but that certain topics are not bound by them: god, morality and so on? If so, how do you determine which topics are special, and how do you justify the change of rules on when evidence and rationality do and don’t apply? Or do you mean something else?

Chaise @ 129:

“Rejecting the very concept of evidence”

Whoa, whoa, when did anybody ever say we should do that? I don’t think that believing in God requires someone to disregard evidence, or reason, or the scientific method. I also don’t see why you seem to think that there’s some sort of dichotomy between “Materialists, who accept evidence and rationality” and “Non-materialists, who reject evidence and rationality”. It’s quite clearly possible to not believe in materialism and to be in favour of evidence and rationality. Just look at Plato, for example.

The scientific method might be “the application of rationality to evidence”, but that’s not all it is. It’s the application of rationality to a specific kind of evidence, and it’s quite easy to think of fields of intellectual inquiry which involve rationality and evidence but which aren’t scientific. History, for example.

The proposition that scientific enquiry is the only way of determining the truth, which is what you seem to be advancing, is also somewhat dubious. What scientific tests could you do to prove it? You can’t say “Other kinds of truth don’t exist, because they can’t be proved by science,” because that presupposes your conclusion in your premises. The only way you could prove it would be through philosophy — which would also invalidate the proposition.

131. Chaise Guevara

@ 130 XXX

I think we’re applying terms differently here. At its absolute core, my definition of the scientific approach would be “basing your beliefs on evidence”. I’d have a lot more to say about it than that, but mainly in terms of how to assess that evidence efficiently (blinded trials and so on). So when you talk about me not being able to prove that scientific assessment is the only way to find things out, I interpret that as meaning “Prove to me that we need evidence for things!” Apologies if that wasn’t what you meant.

History would definitely be scientific by that description. Your prior knowledge is evidence, and if you seek an answer to a question you do so by finding and assessing said evidence. Only for factual questions, of course, not subjective assessment.

I definitely don’t think replicable, controlled experiments are the only way to garner knowledge. They’re a good way to so when available and practical, but that’s often not the case. Taking history, if we have one scrap of paper suggesting strongly that Henry VIII was gay (or whatever), we can’t do double-blind tests to find out if it’s true or not. We just add it to the evidence pile. Likewise criminal trials.

Can you give me an example of something that isn’t materialistic but that counts as evidence?

132. Chaise Guevara

@ XXX

Also, could you give me the difference between “materialistic” and “something that exists”? I think this might be a semantic problem too.

133. Just Visiting

Chaise / XXX

Great debate guys – I’m enjoying the cut + thrust.

Chaise – I am perplexed by this view though:

> At its absolute core, my definition of the scientific approach would be “basing your beliefs on evidence”. ….History would definitely be scientific by that description

History’s only ‘evidence’ is the collection of historic documents, written by people of different perspectives, written thinking of their local contemporary readers.

Turning that into our ‘best guess’ of what really happened is extremely tricky.
History doesn’t work like science, by building on what is proved earlier, to go on to prove new things.

Hence history can do u-turns and contradict fundamental things that were once believed.

History requires the practioner to ‘get inside the head’ of another human being, by what the written words of that person are -without all the normal communication factors of body language, tone of voice etc.

How subjective!
No surprise therefore that history has a much much wider range of views within it than science does.

History just ain’t science.

134. So Much For Subtlety

125. Chaise Guevara

Indeed, societal changes mean that some generally good instincts are now generally bad (physical aggression, for example. Once, punching weaker rivals would have helped you raise your status in the tribe, now it gets you jailed).

I am unconvinced of that. It is not relevant to this discussion but when Asian communities came out to protect their property they were showing something. The rest of us are sheep who are unable to protect ourselves against even quite feeble threats. We are preyed on by the more aggressive both internally and externally. We can’t even arrest Somali pirates when we catch them with guns in their hands. They might sue. This is maladaptive. The law is the problem along with anything that teaches us the morals of sheep.

Philosophy and theology are scientific when they seek to explain the real. They’re not if they invent the false. Astrology isn’t scientific, but that doesn’t mean that astrology proves that there are things that are beyond science, because *astrology isn’t real*.

Science often takes a wrong turn and talks about the false and the unreal. Astrology is not a good analogy because it was always rubbish. But is something like psycho-analysis science or not?

Chaise Guevara

Atheism is a belief, or something along those lines, not a desire. And accepting the evidence on evolution is not the same as deciding that social darwinism is good, nor does accepting one and rejecting the other make you a hypocrite.

Well it is a lack of belief rather than a belief. But I will agree my terminology was sloppy – real, actual atheists seem to think that they can kick away one of the main pillars of Western society and everything else will go on as normal. This is obviously not true. Something like monogamy is unnatural and based on those irrational unscientific religious beliefs. As we move closer to Egypt in terms of marriage patterns, society will change radically. Presumably Mubarak is our future too. This is why so many atheists appear childish. They think they are clever, and some are, but perhaps not as much as they think.

Anyone who accepts Darwinism but does not accept at least a weak form of Social Darwinism is either unaware of what they believe or a hypocrite.

Chaise Guevara

Not sure what you mean by this: obviously I don’t think religion should get a separate category. If (as the rest of your post suggests), you’re saying religion is an intellectual exercise into the hypothetical, i.e. a behaviour, then yes, I agree – but I was talking about people who claim that religion is more than that and then put it in the special No Rational Criticisms Of This Topic Allowed box so they don’t have to justify their statements.

Well obviously religion should not be put in the No Rational Criticisms etc Box. Any more than, say, race should be. But people are like that – they get upset when their strongly held beliefs are challenged. So there is no scientific evidence that says people of African descent are as smart as people of Northern European descent (and in turn none that suggests East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews aren’t smarter still), but it would be foolish to point it out on LC. Can we have a sensible discussion of race on LC? Obviously not. We all have flaws and we are not as rational as we should be. I try to be forgiving.

As for religion, I am not sure I would say it was an exercise in hypothetical. Rather I would say that it takes as its basis a set of axioms which are not particularly susceptible to proof and builds a edifice on that basis. Catholics claim that their philosophy can be arrived at from first principles – it is an exercise in natural law. I am not entirely convinced. But at least they are consistent. Unlike, say, feminists who support the right to abortion but oppose sex selective abortion.

135. Chaise Guevara

@ 133 JV

“History’s only ‘evidence’ is the collection of historic documents, written by people of different perspectives, written thinking of their local contemporary readers.”

That’s simply not true. History isn’t totally reliant on verbal evidence. What about artifacts, buildings, bodies, fossils? You think we found out about the dinosaurs via records written by velociraptors?

“Turning that into our ‘best guess’ of what really happened is extremely tricky.
History doesn’t work like science, by building on what is proved earlier, to go on to prove new things.”

History doesn’t work like other brands of science that have that luxury. But comprehensive trials prove TRENDS, not single datapoints, and history tends to deal with datapoints.

If you’re dealing with a question like “Does this new pill reduce the strength of epileptic fits?”, you gather thousands of datapoints (results from each individual in a trial) and get a very good idea of the trend. When science is trying to answer a question about a single datapoint, it has to use best guesses (i.e. probability distributions), and a lot of historical questions are on single datapoints.

“Hence history can do u-turns and contradict fundamental things that were once believed.”

So can science (or what I assume you mean by the term), albeit more rarely. History is just a brand of science that suffers from a paucity of data, hence more liable to paradigm shifts.

“History requires the practioner to ‘get inside the head’ of another human being, by what the written words of that person are -without all the normal communication factors of body language, tone of voice etc.

How subjective!”

Indeed. But a good scientist works with the evidence he’s got.

“History just ain’t science.”

If you’re defining “history” and “science” in terms of how those subjects are divvied up in school, then no it’s not. If you’re talking about science as a PRINCIPLE, as the way of examining the world and optimising your chance of getting the right answer, then history is science, or rather it can be: obviously some historians are more interested in pushing an agenda than finding the truth. For that matter, plenty goes on in laboratories and scientific institutions that isn’t science. By history done competently is scientific. It has to be: it’s an attempt to learn about the world.

136. Chaise Guevara

SMFS, I got halfway through answering you and then my post vanished. I don’t know what happened, maybe you’ll see half the post turn up, maybe not. I don’t have time to start again now, so I’ll try to get back to you later. You’ve raised some interesting points.

137. Chaise Guevara

@ 133 JV (again!)

Re-reading your last comment and my reply, I’m growing more convinced that this is a semantic dispute. I imagine “science” is defined every which way from Sunday, but I think the following archetypes might at least be illustrative:

1) Science as cordoned off by the educational curriculum. Basically what we remember from school. If someone’s using this definition, then if the thing under discussion doesn’t at least resemble the sort of thing they covered in science lessons, they won’t call it science. Especially if it has its own subject, like history or RE.

2) Science as scientific best practice. Advance predictions, blinding, reproducible findings and so on. I think this is closest to how you’re using the term. Best practice is good when you can get it – but it doesn’t mean scientific enquiry should just stop where these approaches are not possible.

3) Science as the principle of learning about the world through observation and rationality. The sort of science that the Victorians would have awarded a capital letter. This is what I tend to mean when I talk about science in discussions like this.

Using definition 1 or 2, history is not science. Using definiton 3, it is.

I’m not saying that one definition is the correct one, they’re all valid. What bothers me is when people equivocate between different definitions: for example, categorising things as “scientific” or “non-scientific” based on definition 1 or 2, then using that to claim that science under definition 3 cannot tell us anything about other subjects. You’re not doing that, I’m just explaining where I’m coming from in this discussion, especially why I’m reacting with suspicion to claims that something or other isn’t science.

So the OP is going into a country with a group comprised of people from different faiths to try and solve a problem largely caused by the very existence of different faiths… good luck with that.

139. Just Visiting

Chaise

From your post – I wonder if you’ve heard the philosophy of science lectures at:
http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2009/01/02/how-to-think-about-science-part-1—24-listen/

Some good content there – but one thing I sensed in some of the lectures, and in your words too – is an attempt to make science merely just social science.

Sciences that do not have people under microsocope are much more rigorous: whereas social science is fraught with difficulty – because the act of asking a human being a question will change the answer you get: depending on the words used, the tone, the context: what the person had been doing just before you asked etc etc.

None of that applies to traditional science -the CERN guys who may have sent particals faster than light just don’t have to worry about that stuff!

History is even less certain than social sciences – as you can; even ask the people concerned what they think happened, saw or felt.

So your 3rd definition of science – saying that is also history:

> Science as the principle of learning about the world through observation and rationality.

Seems to miss the point – history after all cannot be observed!

History does have as you say bodies and artefacts that can be scientifically tested – but those tests tell us nothing about why king X followed king Y!

Human history still comes back to interpreting someone elses words.

Science is reproducible – history is not – to blur that distinction seems certain to lead to fuzzy thinking. Your 3rd definition used the word ‘rational’ – surely the rational (and honest) historian admits as their first premise, that they don’t know what happened, but do have thoughtfully prepared guesses.

Whereas a scientist (other than history of universe science) doesn’t need that: they can be more straightforward simply saying “if you prepare your silicon like this, and apply X volts, you;ve got an LED of colour Y – works every time.”

140. Chaise Guevara

@ 139 JV

“Some good content there – but one thing I sensed in some of the lectures, and in your words too – is an attempt to make science merely just social science.”

Honestly, I have no idea where you’re getting that impression. My preferred definition of “science”, as described above, is about as all-encompassing as you can get while remaining a solid concept.

[…]

“So your 3rd definition of science – saying that is also history:

> Science as the principle of learning about the world through observation and rationality.

Seems to miss the point – history after all cannot be observed!”

Ah. Another semantic confusion, and potentially quite a big one. “Observation” in the sense I’m using it in does not mean “looked at it as it happened”. It basically refers to empirical evidence. This INCLUDES looking at things as they happen, but is definitely not limited to it. It’s basically the alternative to “making things up”.

Reading Samuel Pepys’s diary would be a form of observation. Rationality kicks in too, and says that you have to weigh the evidence of the diary with the consideration that he could have been biased, or wrong, or lying, or indeed that the diary could be fraudulent. Plus that the diary is a single anecdotal source. All of this is why history tends to get far less precise answers than chemistry, for example: less available evidence.

“History does have as you say bodies and artefacts that can be scientifically tested – but those tests tell us nothing about why king X followed king Y!”

Firstly, yes it does, for example if King Y ruled over a land of huge, beautiful buildings that would have amazed and intimidated King X, who lived in a mud hut.

Secondly: all I said was that history has non-verbal evidence. Pointing out that said evidence is less useful for specific historical purposes is moving the goalposts rather hugely.

“Human history still comes back to interpreting someone elses words.”

You just agreed that this isn’t true. Artefacts and whatnot.

“Science is reproducible – history is not – to blur that distinction seems certain to lead to fuzzy thinking.”

I agree. That’s my whole point. That’s why I laid out the different concepts of science1, science2 and science3 above, to clarify such distinctions, because the English language has unhelpfully fuzzed them up for us with its tendency to cover multiple concepts with the same word.

“Your 3rd definition used the word ‘rational’ – surely the rational (and honest) historian admits as their first premise, that they don’t know what happened, but do have thoughtfully prepared guesses.

Whereas a scientist (other than history of universe science) doesn’t need that: they can be more straightforward simply saying “if you prepare your silicon like this, and apply X volts, you;ve got an LED of colour Y – works every time.””

As far as I can tell, this is you staking a claim to your preferred definition of “science” as the “correct” one. I’m simply not interested in that, it’s unanswerable and irrelevant. Usage backs all three definitions of the word and then some, and in any case semantic disagreements are worse than pointless, they’re quicksand. I have no problem with you preferring definition 2 – I myself prefer definition 3 – all I ask is that we don’t equivocate between these meanings, or get into pointless semantic rows.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Why the left needs to keep the faith | Hynd's Blog

    […] edited version of this blog was first published on Liberal Conspiracy […]

  2. Steve Hynd

    @sunny_hundal Pleased to see that it is getting a varied response – will respond later when I have a wee bit of time http://t.co/xxjCp6tq

  3. Steve Hynd

    @BritishQuakers thanks so much – have a read of some of the comments – very interesting http://t.co/xxjCp6tq

  4. Afshin Naghouni

    Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/xxjCp6tq via @libcon

  5. Max Dunbar

    Hmm, Salvation Army/Catholic Church probably not the best examples for the point this guy on @libcon wants to make http://t.co/GAT09Fpc

  6. Steve Hynd

    Haha – Nadine Dorries face comes up as the thumbnail for my @libcon article on faith based organisations http://t.co/xxjCp6tq @sunny_hundal

  7. Steve Hynd

    "The author should be put in prison or a straightjacket or both" – comment on my latest post http://t.co/xxjCp6tq via @libcon

  8. Steve Hynd

    "I assumed you were one of those christian types who..manage to combine smugness with paranoia" easy assumption to make http://t.co/xxjCp6tq

  9. Steve Hynd

    RT @libcon: Why we shouldn't be quick to dismiss faith organisations http://t.co/96X9pXOa

  10. Steve Hynd

    "Some deranged idiot with a connection to the internet" comments on my latest article http://t.co/xxjCp6tq

  11. NEWT GINGRICH WINS!

    #UK : Why we shouldn ’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations http://t.co/WshB728V

  12. Steve Hynd

    @Eugene_Grant Have a quick read if you have a sec http://t.co/xxjCp6tq Discuss over dinner tomorrow! 😉

  13. Steve Hynd

    Why the left should look to work with organisations like @EAPPI http://t.co/xxjCp6tq via @libcon

  14. Paul Brook

    Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations, by @steve4319 http://t.co/a3DrdDNp via @libcon

  15. Father Andrew

    Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations, by @steve4319 http://t.co/a3DrdDNp via @libcon

  16. neil fletcher

    Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations, by @steve4319 http://t.co/a3DrdDNp via @libcon

  17. Andy Turner

    "It has taken me a while to get to a position in my life where I can work comfortably with people of faith." http://t.co/Suq4yOlP

  18. Beth Shouler

    Quite. http://t.co/B84JwcZf

  19. Church Urban Fund

    "It has taken me a while to get to a position in my life where I can work comfortably with people of faith." http://t.co/Suq4yOlP

  20. Jo

    Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations, by @steve4319 http://t.co/a3DrdDNp via @libcon

  21. Col_Irrelevant

    "It has taken me a while to get to a position in my life where I can work comfortably with people of faith." http://t.co/Suq4yOlP

  22. Katherine Parker

    @RCYouthWorker “@jrf_uk: Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations, by @steve4319 http://t.co/oUR2WSvi via @libcon”

  23. Ruth Smith

    RT @libcon Why we shouldn't be quick to dismiss faith organisations http://t.co/2GWwhvD1 <with lively polarized ('note spelling') comments.

  24. Paul Bridges

    Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations, by @steve4319 http://t.co/a3DrdDNp via @libcon

  25. Steve Hynd

    Why we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss faith organisations, by @steve4319 http://t.co/a3DrdDNp via @libcon

  26. Anna Spencer

    Open minded article on Faith Based Orgs http://t.co/7x0XMTYg

  27. Andy Turner

    "It has taken me a while to get to a position in my life where I can work comfortably with people of faith." http://t.co/Suq4yOlP

  28. Steve Hynd

    "It has taken me a while to get to a position in my life where I can work comfortably with people of faith." http://t.co/Suq4yOlP

  29. Steve Hynd

    Open minded article on Faith Based Orgs http://t.co/7x0XMTYg

  30. Church Urban Fund

    "It has taken me a while to get to a position in my life where I can work comfortably with people of faith." http://t.co/Suq4yOlP

  31. Steve Hynd

    Quite. http://t.co/B84JwcZf

  32. Steve Hynd

    Hmm, Salvation Army/Catholic Church probably not the best examples for the point this guy on @libcon wants to make http://t.co/GAT09Fpc

  33. Steve Hynd

    Some good coverage for @EAPPI here http://t.co/BVcbf29F and http://t.co/xxjCp6tq

  34. Steve Hynd

    The longest comments feed that anything I have written has ever produced on religion and NGOs http://t.co/xxjCp6tq

  35. Steve Hynd

    The longest comments feed that anything I have had on one of my articles http://t.co/xxjCp6tq

  36. Steve Hynd

    Best comment I have had "I just think you are some deranged idiot with a connection to the internet" http://t.co/xxjxRwkg

  37. Steve Hynd

    This is what I wrote before I came out to #Israel/oPT with @EAPPI on working with faith organisations http://t.co/xxjxRwkg





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