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The Ethics of Belief
Posted: 08 October 2013 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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DarronS - 07 October 2013 08:08 PM

Thank you for completely derailing this thread, Chris. I was hoping this would be an interesting discussion.

You could have spent the time you spent on complaining to me, by giving something you think more relevant.

And while true, Lausten and I have fallen into a wrangle, it’s very relevant to this thread to speak of a major and influential popularizer of science who trashes other fields (who’s he to say philosophy is useless just because he’s innocent of philosophy? Is history useless to physics?), plays fast and loose with definitions to sell books and sound edgy, and calls experts who disagree with them ‘moronic’ and other nasty terms, and accepts without irony a ‘puff’ that compares a hash of yesterday’s physics with Darwin’s *Origin of Species*. That’s intellectual immorality. Even Dan Dennett’s unhappy; even Jerry Coyne shakes his head slowly. 

Here’s another example of possibly unethical behavior. Dawkins accepted the title (and the money - let’s not forget that) as the head of a ‘Center for the Public Understanding of Science’ or something like that. He was at that position for twenty years, supposedly doing something for the public understanding of science. Apparently this involved reminding us a lot about religion as he sees it.

When he stepped down a couple years ago he sadly shook his shaggy, handsome head to regretfully report that the public understanding of science had *decreased* since he took the job. He blamed, of course, religious folk and the general intellectual corruption of people who don’t get it. What’s shameful - and potentially, intellectually unethical belief as you put it - is that he didn’t blame himself: he took this job, accepted its grand title - and let’s not forget he took someone’s money - and at the end of two decades admitted he had nothing to show for it, but of course it’s all the *other* guys’ fault.

If he were the CEO of a company, the board of directors would be up in arms; especially the part about blaming the clients - for religious people are a big part of the public, and Dawkins in his tenure basically spit in their eyes for twenty years. It’s no surprise public understanding decreased (in his opinion) when you’ve told 40% or so of your clientele to stuff it.

Chris

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Posted: 08 October 2013 09:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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Chris;
I see your offer of peace, but then I see you expecting Dawkins to solve a problem that he did not create and that is much larger than any one man or one position. When we were putting men on the moon and curing polio, scientists had a pretty good reputation. Something happened, maybe it was the new way of fighting wars, maybe it was Francis Schaeffer and the dominionism movement, maybe it was just a lack of good marketing.

If you have a solution for how to better communicate the value of science, please offer it. Meanwhile, don’t make offers of peace, then toss grenades.

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Posted: 08 October 2013 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Lausten - 08 October 2013 09:29 AM

Chris;
I see your offer of peace, but then I see you expecting Dawkins to solve a problem that he did not create and that is much larger than any one man or one position. When we were putting men on the moon and curing polio, scientists had a pretty good reputation. Something happened, maybe it was the new way of fighting wars, maybe it was Francis Schaeffer and the dominionism movement, maybe it was just a lack of good marketing.

If you have a solution for how to better communicate the value of science, please offer it. Meanwhile, don’t make offers of peace, then toss grenades.

I did give one substantive point: one cannot claim to advance science among the ‘public’ by drubbing a very large proportion of that public and making most of the rest wonder what the fuss is about. (Most even non-religious people don’t see an obvious contradiction between believing in god and knowing biology.) For one thing, you shove that religious public into a false dichotomy, their churches or science, but not both. It’s a false choice, but many people don’t know that - and they eagerly make their choice. And then the supposed keepers of the scientific flame wonder what happened.

If Dawkins, or Dennett, or Coyne, or Hawking, or Harris, or Hitchens, really sincerely believes the natural sciences and the average man’s religous belief are mutually exclusive, then they just aren’t really fitted to be popularizers of science. At best - and good luck - their true role is destroyers of religion. The two are not identical. If I spent large chunks of a biology class, for example, fulminating about the dangers of religion, I would not really be a teacher of biology. If i claimed that most all of my religious students were abused by their parents, I’d be called crazy and removed angrily - unless of course I can get called the head of some Institute for the Public Understanding of Science.

Maybe that last point is whining about a truism; if you’re powerful enough in almost any area and run with the ‘right’ people you can get a pass on ten times the wickedness of ordinary men. But I’m assuming this thread is about what’s in fact unethical behavior, not who can get caught at it and punished.

Chris

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Posted: 08 October 2013 11:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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inthegobi - 08 October 2013 10:06 AM

If Dawkins, or Dennett, or Coyne, or Hawking, or Harris, or Hitchens, really sincerely believes the natural sciences and the average man’s religous belief are mutually exclusive, then they just aren’t really fitted to be popularizers of science. At best - and good luck - their true role is destroyers of religion.
Chris

Trying to look past your incendiary language and lack of acknowledgment that the debate of overlapping magisteria is old an unresolved. You probably just don’t see the internal debate within the atheist community regarding this issue, but it is going on.

Personally, I spent a couple years not understanding what the big deal was. I was a member of a very liberal church and saw only the good it did in the community. I didn’t like fundamentalist either and couldn’t understand what atheists were so angry about. How could teaching kids some old stories be wrong?

Well, long story short it is. Kids want to please, and you can teach them to repeat the right answer pretty easy. We used words like “creator” but we were still telling them that there is something out there controlling the world and you should believe that. That’s cruel. We should teach kids to observe and use their brains and tell them they can decide for themselves about creators and gods when they’re older.

The other thing that led me away from church was that they lied. I was UM, so we talked about John Wesley. But no one mentioned his prediction of the end of the world. We were liberals, so we only talked his serving the poor and what not. These are pretty mild lies, compared to many mainline churches that teach bad archaeology and bad history and generally ignore genocide and rules about eating lobster. It’s sad they feel they can’t repeat what they learned in seminary. It puts faith on shaky ground, so someone like me, with just a little free time, could accidentally happen on corrections to these falsehoods, while researching for a lay sermon, and bomb, I’m an atheist.

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Posted: 08 October 2013 03:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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inthegobi - 08 October 2013 10:06 AM

If Dawkins, or Dennett, or Coyne, or Hawking, or Harris, or Hitchens, really sincerely believes the natural sciences and the average man’s religous belief are mutually exclusive, then they just aren’t really fitted to be popularizers of science. At best - and good luck - their true role is destroyers of religion.
Chris


If that’s true then what theists say that is contradictory to science must mean that their true role is to destroy science (and reason and free thought). It works both ways.


Lois

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Posted: 08 October 2013 03:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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DarronS - 07 October 2013 08:08 PM

Thank you for completely derailing this thread, Chris. I was hoping this would be an interesting discussion.

I was thinking exactly that, Darron - except that Chris didn’t derail this thread on his own. He had to have help, and he got it. In my view, two things we secularists need are discipline and focus. The discipline has to come from within each of us but so long as we remain rudderless, we will be easy pickings for our adversaries.

Could that be construed as a comment on the ethics of belief? Not quite, probably, but I share your interest in getting back to the subject.

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Posted: 09 October 2013 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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PLaClair - 08 October 2013 03:18 PM
DarronS - 07 October 2013 08:08 PM

Thank you for completely derailing this thread, Chris. I was hoping this would be an interesting discussion.

I was thinking exactly that, Darron - except that Chris didn’t derail this thread on his own. He had to have help, and he got it. In my view, two things we secularists need are discipline and focus. The discipline has to come from within each of us but so long as we remain rudderless, we will be easy pickings for our adversaries.

Could that be construed as a comment on the ethics of belief? Not quite, probably, but I share your interest in getting back to the subject.

In a way, inthegobi may have led to something about ethics. The question he raises is; how do you get people to believe something without requiring that they dedicate their lives to the same pursuit of knowledge as you? For centuries, priests claimed that they had that privilege, and simply because of their dedication, you must believe. They also had the power to hand out the consequences of non-belief. So obviously setup for corruption, it’s amazing it lasted as long as it did.

An alternate university system was created to counter this. One with some checks on the quality of the knowledge, some ability to review it now and then, an openness to being questioned. At least it is supposed to work that way. And when it doesn’t work, it is considered unethical. The consequences of not believing in medical science are not always immediate, but can be lethal. The consequences of not believing in quantum psychics are almost non-existent. Global warming, dire, but long term.

So, getting people to believe in science requires showing results. Unfortunately, some people want the results of better weapons systems, and others want to live to be 150, and others just want clean drinking water. Science can only offer solutions to problems, and in its own time. Politics decides how to use them, but politicians then blame science when their decisions go bad.

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Posted: 09 October 2013 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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DarronS - 04 October 2013 03:07 PM

I was thinking about starting this thread a few days ago but was bogged down with school work, then a thread in the Religion forum drifted this way. I’ve pasted PLaClair’s post to start the discussion.

PLaClair - 04 October 2013 12:39 PM
inthegobi - 04 October 2013 10:50 AM

Darron,

The ethical stance is to look at the available evidence then decide, not reach a conclusion then look for rationalizations to support it.

No. You can logically start from any point. . . .
Why argue against people who are a minority? That hardly scratches at the vast thing that is Christianity across time and space. It seems insane to me. Is it a clever tactic I don’t understand?

Chris

Maybe you think you addressed Darron’s point but to me and I suspect to him, you missed the key word - ethical - and thereby missed the point entirely. Sure, you can start from any point you like, including a flying spaghetti monster but you’d be making it up. Darron can speak for himself but I think I understand what he’s saying, and I agree with him: in an ethical worldview people shape their opinions about facts based on what we can reliably know. This includes what we can see and measure, and also what we can deduce but it must be grounded in objective reality. You’re making it out as though we can appropriately learn about facts by mere assertion. Both reason and experience say that is not true. We should conform our fact claims to what we can reliably know, not insist that the universe must conform to what we wish to believe.

Humans have invented thousands of gods. The literalist Christian believes in one of them and disbelieves in the rest, which means that the literalist Christian admits the point by her actions.

There are many reasons why many of us secularists insist that belief in imagined gods - and all of them are imagined - is unethical:
1. It’s mere wish fulfillment, as Freud observed, which is a form of self-indulgence.
2. It leads to irresponsible thinking, which leads in turn to irresponsible acting. There can be no clearer proof of this than the plethora of ways in which people claim to know “the Word of God,” then use it to justify anything they want to do, including the enslavement or annihilation of entire peoples. You can say such actions are aberrational but in point of fact, they are not.
3. It severs the connection between values and reality. You couldn’t possibly be more anti-God than that, and here I’m using “God” as a word for what is ultimately real and true.

There probably are other reasons but those should more than suffice. I don’t think of myself as a radical at all. In fact, many of my fellow secularists think of me as too friendly to religion: I describe myself as a born-again Humanist, and a nephew by marriage - who I call the most Catholic man in Pennsylvania - says I am the most religious person he has ever met. I take religion very seriously, so when I see it bastardized by theism and theology, I get upset because theism and theology do violence to the human search for beauty and truth, and therefore for God.

Paul got my viewpoint right. I am attending a Catholic University in Austin, TX, and the school requires each student take a Critical Thinking class and an Ethical Analysis class. I have also taken Intro to Ethics at a local community college and Business Ethics at St. Edward’s. While researching a paper for my Ethical Analysis class I ran across William Clifford’s essay from 1877, The Ethics of Belief. Those who are interested can click the link. My takeaway from Clifford’s essay, and other ethical studies, is that believing something without evidence is harmful individually and to society as a whole. Clifford states this in his essay.

As Paul mentioned, believing things without evidence leads to irresponsible thinking, as we can see in our society with right wing Republicans denouncing AGW as a hoax. We saw it when the Bush administration concluded Saddam Hussein had WMDs, then built a case for war on dubious evidence while ignoring the CIA analysts’ recommendations. We see it now as our government is shut down by a few Tea Party elected Republicans who want to defund the Affordable Health Care Act, even though both houses of Congress approved it in 2010, the Supreme court affirmed it, and the American people reelected the President who guided the act into law.

Basing your beliefs on empirical evidence is the ethical stance versus basing your beliefs on what you want to be true.

Most Catholic universities,  surprisingly, teach critical thinking. It may be the Jesuit influence.  I wonder, though, what their response would be if critical thinking were applied to Christianity and Catholicism. Of course, Jesuits are notorious for twisting and arguing a point to death. They love the opportunity to display their argumentation “skills.”

Lois

[ Edited: 09 October 2013 10:25 AM by Lois ]
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Posted: 09 October 2013 11:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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Lois - 09 October 2013 10:21 AM

Most Catholic universities,  surprisingly, teach critical thinking. It may be the Jesuit influence.  I wonder, though, what their response would be if critical thinking were applied to Christianity and Catholicism. Of course, Jesuits are notorious for twisting and arguing a point to death. They love the opportunity to display their argumentation “skills.”

Lois

Jesuits schools are more secular than most universities affiliated with religious sects. Surprisingly, I’ve seen fewer evangelicals on St. Edward’s campus than at the local public universities and community colleges. But it would be interesting to see the believers applying critical thinking to their beliefs. I haven’t seen that, but I have seen a large percentage of self-declared atheists in my Environmental Policy classes. My Communication classes seem predominately Christian, but only a few students are outspoken about their religious beliefs; fewer than in the classes I took at Austin Community College.

As Lausten noted, inthegobi had inadvertently shown the ethical problems with reaching a conclusion without evidence, and the rhetorical skills to twist a conversation to s desired route. As I mentioned early in this thread, equating theoretical science with real-world beliefs is a category error. Having reached the conclusion that proposing a controversial theory is unethical, inthegobi has stretched logic past its breaking point to back that assertion. If Chris’ assertion were true then Albert Einstein would have been acting unethically when he challenged quantum mechanics. Einstein’s objections led to QM theorists refining the theory and making great discoveries in physics.

As many people have noted on these forums over the years, science is our best method of acquiring knowledge. This requires and open-minded approach to research, following the empirical evidence, rejecting theories which do not agree with experiments, and accepting those which experiments support. We have also seen over the years any theists who proclaim faith is somehow better than science because science changes but faith does not. They have that exactly backwards. Science’s greatest strength is new theories replacing old ones when new evidence comes available. Faith is a moral and intellectual failure.

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Posted: 09 October 2013 03:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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Lausten - 09 October 2013 08:42 AM

In a way, inthegobi may have led to something about ethics. The question he raises is; how do you get people to believe something without requiring that they dedicate their lives to the same pursuit of knowledge as you?

I’m not sure what “the same pursuit of knowledge” is but the general import of your question seems clear enough. I’m interested in what people believe are facts. There are established methods for verifying fact claims. There’s wiggle room within certain parameters but not to the extent of making up our own imaginary universe. That seems to be the method employed by Smith and others here: if x is your perspective, that’s entitled to as much consideration as a perspective grounded in known fact. Well, no, it isn’t. We’re entitled to expect that people will subject their fact claims to established methods of verification and falsification; and we are ethically obligated to conform our beliefs to the evidence instead of shaping our concept of reality around what we’ve chosen to believe.

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