Questionable Motives

February 3, 2012

What does accommodating religion and science mean?

Filed under: accommodation,Critical Reasoning,Religion,revelation,Science — tildeb @ 10:45 am

It means we must suspend our confidence in the scientific method. Temporarily, at least.

It means we must put aside how we know anything about the reality we inhabit, put side our technologies that work based on this knowledge, put aside our trust and confidence in explanations about how reality operates, and politely make room for these conglomerations of fear and ignorance called religion to be welcomed guests on the stage of knowledge about reality.

It means we must conveniently forget that religious belief produces no equivalent knowledge itself but mounts whatever favourable notion is handy, rides piggyback, and claims this notion  – love, beauty, justice, fairness, altruism, compassion… you get the idea – as a causal effect of some divine source. In many religions, whatever notion is unfavourable – hate, ugliness, unfairness, selfishness, yada, yada, yada – is attributed to be a causal effect of man’s undertaking to live without divine guidance. Yet left to its own metaphysical devices, religious belief alone produces no insightful knowledge about reality and by no stretch of the imagination any equivalent knowledge about it.

Religious belief is saddled with a problem too many ignore: it produces no library of knowledge about reality’s workings… which is a clue that may explain why religious belief produces no practical applications that work. Its parasitic function is to assert, attribute, assume, and make truth claims about reality… claims that we are asked to politely accept, based on some other standard than on applicable and testable knowledge, by allowing these inspired and revealed claims to be immune from any reasonable equivalent requirement to produce equivalent evidence to link this believed-in cause with a believed-in effect. To do this, we are asked to put aside the method of science for these specific religious claims, receive a metaphorical pat on our head for being good little boys and girls for doing so, and expected to silence our critical faculties and keep our collective mouths shut in order to be considered polite. Anything more makes us angry, shrill, and militant.

That’s what accommodationism means in action: an intellectual capitulation that making shit up in the name of religious belief is to be privileged, held to a different standard, than the made up shit from other sources. We are to assume, assert, and attribute that doing so shows tolerance and respect for others (under different names, of course, like cultural traditions, ethnic sensitivities, worldview perspectives, etc). We are told by accommodationists that it is tolerance in action to allow others to believe these unfounded and untrustworthy truth claims without criticism because the metric for determining what is true through religious belief is necessarily different… but an equivalent way of knowing, to be sure.

This is simply a lie.

Accommodationsists fail to acknowledge that we gain no equivalent knowledge from inquiries that include supernatural and paranormal speculations equivalent to made up stuff… speculations which have a very long and ‘rich’ theological history of claims about reality being startlingly inaccurate, unnecessary in complexity, untrustworthy in results, and claims assumed to be true but without any means for independent verification. In fact, we gain zero knowledge once we accept causal effect from the supernatural. But this sad fact doesn’t seem to matter to accommodationists. We are to respect and tolerate without sustained criticism these non-knowledge producing faith-based beliefs to be imposed on the reality we share and, furthermore, to consider this imposition an equivalent method of inquiry to the scientific method that extracts evidence from reality to inform truth claims made about it, that produces knowledge, that informs practical applications that work for everyone everywhere all the time.

And when the inquiries from science and religion yield incompatible conclusions, what then? When among different religions comes opposing conclusions, how do we arbitrate? Easy! To the accommodationist, this is the icing on their cake: we throw away the notion that what’s true actually matters, that the foundation for knowledge requires one and only one coherent and consistent and reliable base! Everything’s equivalently true under the accommodationist’s tent, you see… relatively speaking. Incompatible conclusions are all equally true. Contrary conclusions are equally true. Knowledge plays no role here because belief alone is sufficient for respect.

If we have already rejected reality’s role in determining what is true about it in favour of respecting whatever made up shit people wish to believe about it, then what do we have left?  We have relativism. The price we pay for attaining this enlightened relativism comes directly from respecting both what is demonstrably true in reality and what can be demonstrably known about it. This is the sacrifice mewling accommodationists wish all of us to make in the name of religious tolerance and acceptance, and they want us to accept that the exchange for this ‘other way of knowing’ is peace in our time. But it’s not. It is the opposite. It is a way to guarantee the continued promotion of superstitious fear and ignorance under the religious label.

This is what accommodating religion and science means in practice: undermining what’s true and what’s knowable in exchange for protecting the sensitivities of those who like to believe in made up shit. I’m not willing to pay that price and I think those who are willing should be reminded of the final cost their Chamberlain-esque appeasement policy can bring about. That’s why accommodationsits need to be soundly and roundly criticized for their short-sightedness because at the end of the day what is true does in fact and practice matter more than offending people’s religious sensitivities.

December 18, 2011

Is religious revelation trustworthy?

Filed under: Neuroscience,Religion,revelation,Science,Supernatural — tildeb @ 11:34 am

Absolutely not.

I have written quite a bit about how holding faith-based beliefs can and usually does adversely affect one’s ability to perceive reality as it is, confusing attribution with causation. This problem of perception – of what comes from where – is nothing new, nor are faith-based beliefs the only guilty party. The tremendous success of consumer marketing, for example, relies on exactly this confusion: convincing consumers that values they themselves already hold come from, or can be enhanced by, owning the objects or ideas being offered for sale, values which are not inherent in these objects or ideas – in the thing itself – but can be experienced as if they were… by a process of attributing what we believe to the object.  For example,

We want to believe that pleasure is simple, that our delight in a fine painting or bottle of wine is due entirely to the thing itself. But that’s not the way reality works. Whenever we experience anything, that experience is shaped by factors and beliefs that are not visible on the canvas or present in the glass. (From the article, How Does the Brain Perceive Art? Wired)

These factors reside in the person doing the attributing and can be rather complex:

Our findings support the idea that when people make aesthetic judgements, they are subject to a variety of influences. Not all of these are immediately articulated. Indeed, some may be inaccessible to direct introspection but their presence might be revealed by brain imaging. It suggests that different regions of the brain interact together when a complex judgment is formed, rather than there being a single area of the brain that deals with aesthetic judgements.

In other words, we may not be aware of what it is within us that is influencing our value judgements and associated beliefs about the source from where that assigned value actually resides.

With this in mind, let us visit the central tenet of religious faith relied upon by so many christian writers on the web: revelation… a transforming personal experience that connects the person to the ‘reality’ of god, what the Encyclopaedia Britannica describes as the disclosure of divine or sacred reality or purpose to humanity. My question returns, as always, to the central point made by those who use revelation as evidence for god: Is it true and how can we know?

I find it really interesting that no one I’ve come across claims to have had a revelation of divine reality from Nergal. Why is that? Well, I’ve had theists explain to me that Nergal is a false god, you see, so it’s perfectly understandable that no one would have such a revelation; there is no Nergal. Well, duh. That no one has ever heard of such a god, aka Erra aka Meslamta-ea, doesn’t even merit any consideration when one is already sure that such a god is false. But is the god false because it doesn’t exist or is it false because I don’t believe it exists? This is not a trivial question and bears an important consideration for gods that people do believe exist, believed to be the very source of their revelation. Can one still have a revelation from a god that one does not believe exists?

The god that is revealed to christians just so happens to be the very same one inculcated throughout their culture. What are the chances that this god – and not an obscure Sumerian one like Nergal – just so happens to be the very one revealed? Might there be a better understanding of what it is that is actually being revealed than to assume a personal disclosure by an cosmic agency hiding in the supernatural? By golly, maybe there is! Maybe – just like is revealed in marketing – the source of this divine disclosure is in fact ourselves, which may explain with – with no need for supernatural personal visitations – why the best predictor of which particular religious belief an individual identifies with is geography. And history. And familiarity.

Whodathunk?

April 20, 2010

Why is attribution to link cause with effect so important to determining what’s true?

I would have thought this question was pretty easy to answer but I have come across many religious believers who have serious difficulty understanding why. For example, I am told repeatedly (and I presume honestly) with great assurance that testimonials and revelation lead to a transformative experience that itself is strong evidence that god (or some ‘outside’ agency) exists and intervenes in meaningful ways in our world. When we unpack the meaning of this claim, we find that the link is very tenuous between having an experience and attributing some outside supernatural agency to what caused it.

I have found that believers in supernatural agencies are quite willing to attribute to these supernatural agencies to whatever cause is currently unknown, misunderstood, or poorly informed – what many call the god of the gaps, referring to assigning god to whatever gaps we have in our knowledge. But it goes much further than that, I think.

From demonic possession to the building of the pyramids, from the ghostly squeak in the floorboards in the dead of night to the influence of the stars on our fate, far too many people attribute these things or events or imaginings to a single, easy, completely unjustified source: it was oogity boogity! (Fill in whatever name to some supernatural agency you may wish here)

So what’s the harm, right? If people want to believe oogity boogity links cause to effect, who cares? People have a right to believe in whatever they want, so the excuse goes. And I agree… as long as this belief stays within the private domain where it belongs. People are allowed to delude themselves and pretend that their attributions to supernatural agencies are as valid an explanation as any repeatable, testable, measurable, falsifiable and reliable explanation that clearly links cause to effect by means of a consistent mechanism, one that works here as well as there today and tomorrow. But when that supernatural explanation is inserted into the public domain and people support the insertion because they happen to agree with the attribution rather than causal truth value, then we are opening the door to lunacy.

Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media (brought to us by Yahoo News). Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader. “A divine authority told me to tell the people to make a general repentance. Why? Because calamities threaten us,” Sedighi said. Referring to the violence that followed last June’s disputed presidential election, he said, “The political earthquake that occurred was a reaction to some of the actions (that took place). And now, if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God’s power, only God’s power. … So let’s not disappoint God.”

Minister of Welfare and Social Security Sadeq Mahsooli said prayers and pleas for forgiveness were the best “formulas to repel earthquakes. We cannot invent a system that prevents earthquakes, but God has created this system and that is to avoid sins, to pray, to seek forgiveness, pay alms and self-sacrifice,” Mahsooli said.

When we allow attribution between a cause and effect to have no natural mechanism to measure its truth value but, instead, allow for whatever supernatural explanation people want to be inserted in its place, we are setting the stage for exactly this kind of lunacy. There is no known way to link dress to tectonic activities, so the attribution to god is as good as one that attributes the link to the nefarious deeds of intergalactic mushrooms.

So next time a politician tells you that he or she will support some oogity boogity to be inserted into public policy, take issue with it. Don’t allow your private preferences for assigning a favoured supernatural attribution to sway you; religious or not, your civic duty to all your neighbours is to keep all oogity boogity out of public policy altogether.

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