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Dec 31 2011

An end of theology?

I very much like this insightful post; it points out that the big theological question of the ancient world was “where does the sun go at night?“, and that it was answered only relatively recently in human history — and answered with such resounding certainty that the question seems trivial to everyone now.

And how was it answered?

I think it’s an awkward fact for theology that, as far as I can see, a lot of theological issues have been conclusively solved, but all of them were solved outside the field. I don’t see this changing – one of the vibrant issues across a number of academic disciplines, including theology, is the very broad area of ‘consciousness’. I very strongly suspect we’ll see key breakthroughs in my lifetime, a real shift of understanding about what constitutes awareness, consciousness, intelligence, how these things can originate, how to define them and so on – but these breakthroughs will almost certainly come from the computer science departments, from the evolutionary biologists. It’s hard to see how they might even come from a theology department.

We’re just waiting for the theological corpse to rot away now. I don’t expect to see religion go away in my lifetime, but I don’t think it’s too much to hope that theology will get the disrespect and contempt it deserves.

174 comments

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  1. 1
    sumdum

    How indeed could Religion come up with anything new? If god exists only in your head, you’re not going to find any other answers than you already had.

  2. 2
    some bastard on the net

    I can’t wait to see how creationists are going to present their sideways brick-shits after reading this.

  3. 3
    Taz

    To quote Minchin:

    Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be
    ‘not magic’.

  4. 4
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    How indeed could Religion come up with anything new?

    Ah, well. The goddess Nut a.k.a. Newet, who swallows the sun every night to er, extrude it back at dawn from the other end of her body, was… an interesting effort! So was the scarab god Khepri, he who rolls the sun under the ground during the night and pushes it up at dawn, in the fashion of an ordinary scarab beetle going up slope with his pellet of dung before him.

    The ancient Egyptians came up with a lot of fascinating mythology!

  5. 5
    timgueguen

    People are awful good at ignoring or explaining away inconvient truths that interfere with their worldview, so it won’t matter to many what science says about concoiusness. They’ll just say “No, you’re wrong, here’s the real magic explaination. I know it’s true because my religious book/guru says so.”

  6. 6
    thewhollynone

    Theology really is a waste of time and money, but people who are not smart enough or diligent enough or educated enough to do science have to do something with their minds to keep themselves amused and to allay their anxieties about the unknown. Perhaps if scientists invested more time and money in educating the populace, particularly at the elementary school level, then more of the people would think scientifically and the market for theology would dwindle. I think that is a hypothesis worth testing, maybe in science and math oriented charter schools. Not that I think that charter schools are a good idea at all, but it appears that the theocrats and the “conservatives” are going to insist on them, so science-minded teachers might as well seize the opportunity to teach ordinary children something beyond magical thinking.

  7. 7
    Glen Davidson

    Wait a minute, what other than theology could explain, say, Plantinga and the other IDiots? Nothing but theology could explain why reasonably intelligent people can believe such BS.

    Oh, right, you’re talking about theology providing the answer, not as a source of confusion. Still, it is that.

    Glen Davidson

  8. 8
    anubisprime

    So that there ‘fistkated feelology’ did not quite sit up and bark for ‘em huh!

    Over 2000 long years…and…?

    Wot no cookie?

    No atheist devastating well thought out…tested and proven fact supporting theist claims?…

    Not one?

    Nuthin?

    Zero?

    Zilch?

    Nada?

    Oh!

  9. 9
    another

    Yeah, it’s not so much “god of the gaps” since, of course, there are no gods. It’s “theology of the gaps”. Science definitively answers a ‘theological’ question and theology scurries off to the next gap to survive a little longer.

  10. 10
    Sastra

    I don’t see this changing – one of the vibrant issues across a number of academic disciplines, including theology, is the very broad area of ‘consciousness’. I very strongly suspect we’ll see key breakthroughs in my lifetime, a real shift of understanding about what constitutes awareness, consciousness, intelligence, how these things can originate, how to define them and so on – but these breakthroughs will almost certainly come from the computer science departments, from the evolutionary biologists. It’s hard to see how they might even come from a theology department.

    And I don’t see any key breakthroughs in our understanding of ‘consciousness’ coming from mystics, ashrams, or any of the hoard of annoying new-agey liberal Spirituality pushers, hawkers, and aficionados, either. Though, to hear them talk about it (and talk and talk and talk about it,) we are right on the very cusp of a paradigm shift where science will finally, finally discover the important significance of consciousness and vindicate what they’ve always known strictly through their own undeniable experiences! Science and religion come together with a NEW way of understanding God! And it’s so different from the old way!

    It doesn’t look that way to me. But of course, I’m neglecting to take into account all the Brave Maverick Scientists and visionaries who are doing cutting-edge research on ESP, PK, NDEs, and the amazing cosmic truths available through deep meditation, prayer … and drugs. You can do science on those things, quantum science, even.

    It turns out that the universe is all, like, a big stream of consciousness and creative energy and we are all thoughts thinking themselves and matter is just the unfolding of dreams from a Higher Level. Whoa, Dude.

    Yeah. I’m going to wait for a formal expert consensus on that. Wait as long as it takes. Get lunch.

  11. 11
    joed

    The Humiliations Of Mankind: The term used to name three events said to have dealt severe blows to to the human self-concept:
    1. Copernican Revolution, which destroyed the concept of earth as the center of the universe;
    2. Darwinian Biology, which questioned the status of humans specially created and suggested they are animals evolved from lower life forms:
    3. Biblical Criticism; which indicated that the Bible cannot be regarded as the literal words of God.
    this info paraphrased from,
    The Philosophy Of Religion, Yeager Hudson,
    Mayfield Publishing, Mt. View California. 1991

  12. 12
    chigau (違う)

    How can Theology say anything new?
    Aren’t all the Holy Books God’s Final Word?

  13. 13
    montanto

    It will probably just be shunted into Cultural Anthropology and literature where it has always belonged.

  14. 14
    anbheal

    The other big dilemma of Antiquity was the Problem Of The Diagonal, which, in a square, could not be counted in the same units as the side. Thank Allah for the mathemeticians of Cordoba!

    Clearly, we must be at least halfway to halfway to halfway there.

  15. 15
    waylan

    Ah yes, well let’s see a breakdown of all the wonderful nerds that are going to save our society:

    Biologists: fond of torturing small animals to see how “they work”. Rarely support animal rights groups. It’s not their fault. Evolution is responsible for everything they think.

    Chemists: in their youth, they dreamed of blowing up stuff and synthesizing fun drugs. Many end up working for paint companies.

    Astronomers: pimply-faced geeks who watched too much star trek. Not one of them has ever even made officer grade on a starship.

    Mathematicians: spend their whole lives working on some arcane puzzle that no one else cares about. Prefer to retire in insane asylums.

    Computer Scientists: they dream of new ways to create an intelligent thinking being. What was the matter with the old fashioned way?

    Quantum Physicists: a bunch of solipsists, only one notch above philosophers.

    Philosophers: may be the worst of the lot. Some are so conceited, they actually think they know that they don’t know anything.

    There you have it. Despite their vaunted claims of altruism and objectivity, the geeks who inhabit these blogs are mostly self-absorbed antisocial wankers. I’d wager some have never even kissed a girl. They know who they are.

  16. 16
    Circe

    The earliest reference I can think of an answer to “where does the Sun go at night” is Aryabhata, c. 500 CE, who was already using the right model (earth or moon obscuring each other) to compute eclipse timings very accurately. I would presume the answer was therefore well known in India already. I also heard of at least one Greek reference from even earlier, though I cannot remember the name. Is 500 CE what you had in mind when you said “relatively recent”?

  17. 17
    Inaji

    waylan:

    I’d wager some have never even kissed a girl.

    Right, because everyone knows there are no women on the internet, there are certainly no female geeks and absolutely no women scientists, no sir!

    Your time would be better spent in eliminating your own idiocy, waylan.

  18. 18
    chigau (違う)

    waylan
    That was a bit over the top, even for the last Poe of the year.
    —-
    Does this even count toward a Bingo?

  19. 19
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    What was the matter with the old fashioned way?

    Occasionally, the old-fashioned way produces defecting non-thinking beings like yourself.

  20. 20
    Circe

    waylan:

    Biologists: fond of torturing small animals to see how “they work”. Rarely support animal rights groups. It’s not their fault. Evolution is responsible for everything they think.

    Yes, these are also the same fools who devised the eradication of small pox and polio, using their false beliefs in Evolution.

    Chemists: in their youth, they dreamed of blowing up stuff and synthesizing fun drugs. Many end up working for paint companies.

    Close cousins of the biologist fools described above. Always tinkering away to prevent and cure diseases. Also, the ones who keep trying to synthesize ever-more corrosion resistant paints for bridges. Who needs those bridges anyway?

    Astronomers: pimply-faced geeks who watched too much star trek. Not one of them has ever even made officer grade on a starship.

    Also the operators of satellites. Of course, just about anybody could compute satellite orbits, couldn’t they?

    Mathematicians: spend their whole lives working on some arcane puzzle that no one else cares about. Prefer to retire in insane asylums.

    Computer Scientists: they dream of new ways to create an intelligent thinking being. What was the matter with the old fashioned way?

    Of course, those wonderful search algorithms (and the math that goes into their design) Google maps uses have been around ever since Hammurabi. Also, who on earth needs Calculus and Relativity? Haven’t GPS devices been around since the times of the ancient Pyramid?

    Quantum Physicists: a bunch of solipsists, only one notch above philosophers.

    Yes, the solipsists who bring you your ultra dense storage on the iPod, for example (a Nobel prize was recently given for a discovery that led to that).

    I’d wager some have never even kissed a girl.

    Did you consider the possibility that a large fraction are actually “girls”?

  21. 21
    shanemckee

    Theology is the Queen of the Sciences and still has a massive amount to offer, as this post will surely demonstrate. Prof K Perry has addressed the above childish objections in full. Mr Proffeser Meyers, Sir, you are going to Hell unless you take these points seriously, and reject the False Doctrine of Evolutionismism.

  22. 22
    feralboy12

    @waylan:

    That’s pretty funny, trashing mathematicians and computer scientists in a comment on the fucking internet.
    Also hilarious is the idea that nerds don’t have sex. Where do you think nerds come from? I’m thinking you’re not the expert on kissing girls that you seem to want to claim. Actually, I don’t think you’re an expert on wiping your own ass, much less anything social or scientific.
    Hint: use paper.

  23. 23
    raven

    Ah yes, well let’s see a breakdown of all the wonderful nerds that are going to save our society:

    We scientists have created our modern civilization. Extended US lifespans by 30 years in a century. We feed 7 billion people.

    You, waylan, an internet troll, are just a minor parasite, sort of like a flea. Saying dumb things for a few seconds attention from your superiors.

  24. 24
    otrame

    @22
    Sandpaper works best.

  25. 25
    Circe

    feralbaoy12: I agree with all your comments, except for the Hint you posted against your question about posterior hygiene. Use of paper is not by any means a Global standard, and several cultures, with good reason, consider a manual irrigation of the bodily parts in question followed by a treatment of the hands with soap solution to be the more hygienic practice.

  26. 26
    EvoMonkey

    That is a very insightful post. After attending the Jerry Coyne vs. John Haught debate live at Univ of Ky and reading PZ’s criticism of Alvin Plantinga, I have seen how ridiculous “advanced” theology is. And Haught and Plantiga are touted as some of the best theologians today. Theology is a joke of of an academic discipline.

    I like the quote from Betrand Russell at the end of Lance Parkins’ post. It should be amended as follows: ‘Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know and theology is what you don’t know but you believe a bogus explanation for it anyway’.

  27. 27
    sc_8beb35d78212ab3450f42ba66f3d4caf

    I was wondering what you all thought about philosophy’s place in any “key breakthroughs” that might come about soon. Does it have a place? I’m not meaning to imply that it does or doesn’t, but it seems that science is largely eclipsing the importance of philosophy, or at least it is on it’s way.

    You could replace “theology” with “philosophy” in the quoted paragraph in the post, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if the new statements rang true.

    What do you all think?

  28. 28
    Ingdigo Jump

    Philosophy is good when it’s rooted to the real world rather than Aristotle pure reason clap trap and focuses on ethics and morality IMHO.

    Philosophy should never be to prove or demonstrate anything but should be talking about the implications of things.

  29. 29
    Ingdigo Jump

    Ah yes, well let’s see a breakdown of all the wonderful nerds that are going to save our society:

    Biologists: fond of torturing small animals to see how “they work”. Rarely support animal rights groups. It’s not their fault. Evolution is responsible for everything they think.

    Chemists: in their youth, they dreamed of blowing up stuff and synthesizing fun drugs. Many end up working for paint companies.

    Astronomers: pimply-faced geeks who watched too much star trek. Not one of them has ever even made officer grade on a starship.

    Mathematicians: spend their whole lives working on some arcane puzzle that no one else cares about. Prefer to retire in insane asylums.

    Computer Scientists: they dream of new ways to create an intelligent thinking being. What was the matter with the old fashioned way?

    Quantum Physicists: a bunch of solipsists, only one notch above philosophers.

    Philosophers: may be the worst of the lot. Some are so conceited, they actually think they know that they don’t know anything.

    There you have it. Despite their vaunted claims of altruism and objectivity, the geeks who inhabit these blogs are mostly self-absorbed antisocial wankers. I’d wager some have never even kissed a girl. They know who they are.

    Now as for myself, I’m a hobo. Nice honorable profession. CHANGE YOU GOT CHANGE!?

  30. 30
    Glen Davidson

    I’d wager some have never even kissed a girl.

    Gawd, the stereotyping, the presumptions you have about us.

    I’ve definitely kissed two girls. Well fine, they were my three and five-year old nieces, but they didn’t even scream. Much, anyway.

    So you can just shut up!

    Glen Davidson

  31. 31
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Waylan:

    I’d wager some have never even kissed a girl.

    Because, of course, we’re all het men here.

    *eyeroll* Blow it out your ass, would you?

  32. 32
    Ingdigo Jump

    Typical het Luddite troll

    Bet he’s never even been to a post graduation orgy

  33. 33
    dcg1

    Is it not time we also consigned Philosophy to the dustbin of history?

    Philosophy is no more likely to solve the puzzle of consciousness than theology.

    As Hawking alludes to/suggests, the last remaining questions will only be answered by hard data.

    As rational thinkers, should we be as much “Aphilosophers” as atheists???

  34. 34
    raven

    Typical het Luddite troll

    Bet he’s never even been to a post graduation orgy.

    I don’t think they have those for the 6th grade graduation. Not that he would know that.

  35. 35
    otrame

    We’re just waiting for the theological corpse to rot away now.

    Yep. And boy, does it stink.

  36. 36
    DLC

    Theology : when you want to stand around in church and bullshit.

  37. 37
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    shanemckee:

    Theology is the Queen of the Sciences and still has a massive amount to offer, as this post will surely demonstrate. Prof K Perry has addressed the above childish objections in full. Mr Proffeser Meyers, Sir, you are going to Hell unless you take these points seriously, and reject the False Doctrine of Evolutionismism.

    Great. Instead of being Rickrolled, we’ve been Perrywinkled.

  38. 38
    feralboy12

    Prof K Perry has addressed the above childish objections in full.

    I never realized Katy Perry was a professor.
    Well, we know she kissed a girl, anyway.

  39. 39
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    shanemckee:

    Theology is the Queen of the Sciences and still has a massive amount to offer…

    God did it.

    There! I summed up your theology in just three words! Shouldn’t I get some sort of prize for that?

    Mr Proffeser Meyers, Sir, you are going to Hell unless you take these points seriously, and reject the False Doctrine of Evolutionismism.

    Oh man, threats. Empty threats. Addressed to the wrong person, even!

    Come on, idiots, PZ’s name is at the top of each and every post. Why is this so difficult for you? (I know, I know, I shouldn’t have too much hope in someone who misspells “professor” and apparently ignores their spell-check.)

  40. 40
    Ingdigo Jump

    I never realized Katy Perry was a professor.
    Well, we know she kissed a girl, anyway.

    I love seeing beautiful thread synergy.

  41. 41
    Ingdigo Jump

    also False Doctrine?

    Yes I know I sometimes split on the Shift key and wind up putting a random cap I don’t catch but that was clearly deliberate.

    Is it like a super villain name? Tremble before FALSE DOCTRINE!?

  42. 42
    anubisprime

    #21 shanemckee

    Word of advice…
    learn to spell, or at least use spell checker, then maybe folks will read it…

    then work on content…

    but one thing at a time hey Einstein?

  43. 43
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Ing,
    Don’t forget “Evolutionismism”.

    I don’t quite know what that is, but it sounds delicious!

  44. 44
    Inaji

    Ing:

    Tremble before FALSE DOCTRINE!?

    No, no, it’s Tremble before FALSE DOC TRINE! Tremble, ya hear? C’mon, tremble already, it’s a false doctor. That’s scary, right?

  45. 45
    Inaji

    Audley:

    Don’t forget “Evolutionismism”.

    I don’t quite know what that is, but it sounds delicious!

    I’m going to pretend xe meant Evolutionismimosa. Mmmmmm, mimosa, evolved.

  46. 46
    chigau (違う)

    I have been known to become quite mimsy from drinking mimosas.

  47. 47
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Caine,
    What the hell, I’m drinking already. Time to see if I’ve got champagne!

    (I’m imagining champagne, OJ, and maybe a splash of pineapple juice with a pineapple chunk for a garnish. Or possibly a maraschino cherry. Mmmmmm….)

  48. 48
    opposablethumbs

    O roast them slowly, please, basted in their own unctuous exudations! – I’m sure the odour of burnt troll (burnt baby troll, perhaps, as these two do not appear to be fully developed) is pleasing to Cthulhu’s senses (and besides, it’s fun to watch).

  49. 49
    Inaji

    Audley:

    I’m imagining champagne, OJ, and maybe a splash of pineapple juice with a pineapple chunk for a garnish.

    Now that’s an evolved Mimosa!

  50. 50
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    This thread is hilarious. And I’d like to go ahead and make a plug for nerds being able to kiss girls. I’ve personally kissed six or seven.

    The nerd I’m sitting next to, whom I also kiss, has kissed 20-30 girls. There have, in fact, been tongues, especially when we weren’t kissing their faces. We collectively have three nerdlings, as well, soon to be soldiers in the great nerd uprising.

  51. 51
    kristinc, now with added ventilation

    I never realized Katy Perry was a professor.
    Well, we know she kissed a girl, anyway.

    I looked for the “like” button on this post.

  52. 52
    Kel

    It must really suck for theologians, dedicating their life to a discipline that can only give the veneer of significant answers. Their whole shtick is that they have some sort of higher purpose, and now they’ve not only been made redundant by disciplines that actually give insight, but they have those uppity new atheists calling them out on not having any real insight of their own.

  53. 53
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    More on topic for the post, however, the resistance to a physical explanation for consciousness is becoming self-evidently indefensible through the reasoning, which might actually lead to something of a surge for general spirituality, not churches. People seem to need the ideological cushion which believing that they are unique (which, considering the influence of market ideology and the confluence between ‘unique,’ ‘value,’ and the perceived need for individuals to ‘prove their worth,’ makes some sense). The idea that we are something more than the sum of out parts appears to be deeply comforting to people who struggle to prove their relative worth to the world around them.

    Personally, I find the fact that I am not unique in that sense comforting. Makes me feel less alone.

  54. 54
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Sigh. “…through reason”

  55. 55
    Circe

    Dr Audley: Was your reaction to the Shane McKee post some sort of super-duper-reverse-Poe?

  56. 56
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Double sigh. “…of our parts”

    All hail Tpyos, for it is with me today.

  57. 57
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Circe:
    Depends. Is a “super-duper-reverse-Poe” a good thing? If so, then yes.

  58. 58
    Circe

    Dr Audley: No. “Super-duper-reverse-Poes” are bad things. They, in fact, top the list of mega-super-duper-bad things.

  59. 59
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Circe:
    Uh… okay.

  60. 60
    joed

    @27 sc_8beb…
    actually, philosophy is not about any certain subject or subjects.
    philosophy is about being able to overcome the crap, cultural prejudices and nonsense we learn about the world. then the examination of a “subject” any subject with as much honest and logic we can bring to the situation.
    Philosophy is not about a certain subject but rather about how you approach the subject.
    I think Philosophy is critical thought applied to a subject.
    Philosophy and critical thought are starting places not the end game. the hard part is overcoming our own nonsense.

  61. 61
    joed

    and too.. Philosophy of Religion in not the same as Theology
    If theology were met with philosophical standards then it would have died many years ago.

  62. 62
    chigau (違う)

    Dr. Audley
    shanemckee was joking.

  63. 63
    madscientist

    Please call it ‘theoLOLgy’ and call the practitioners ‘theoLOLgians’ (to distinguish them from other bullshit artists). Hopefully these monikers will give the field and its practitioners their due respect.

  64. 64
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    chigau:

    shanemckee was joking.

    Oh! That makes sense.

    … I should just end every post tonight with “PS: I’ve been drinking”, shouldn’t I?

  65. 65
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    For the record, I’m not the only one who missed shanemckee’s point.

    But, then again, I’m probably not the only person drinking tonight, either.

  66. 66
    consciousness razor

    Dr. Audley:

    Cheers. *clinks glass*

  67. 67
    Moggie

    Kel:

    It must really suck for theologians, dedicating their life to a discipline that can only give the veneer of significant answers.

    It’s indoor work with no heavy lifting. And if you get tenure*, it’s more secure than many more useful professions. True, it’d be hard to feel you were achieving anything useful, but you could say the same about many jobs – it just means you’d need to pay attention to work/life balance, and get your validation outside your day job.

    * Does ‘theologian’ exist as a profession outside academia? I checked the yellow pages for 24-hour theologians (you know, for fixing your ontological emergencies), but there don’t seem to be any operating in my area.

  68. 68
    mouthyb, Vagina McTits

    Moggie: +1 on 24-hour theologians for fixing ontological emergencies

  69. 69
    klatu

    Is it not time we also consigned Philosophy to the dustbin of history?

    Philosophy is no more likely to solve the puzzle of consciousness than theology.

    As Hawking alludes to/suggests, the last remaining questions will only be answered by hard data.

    As rational thinkers, should we be as much “Aphilosophers” as atheists???

    Yeah. You’re right. We don’t need those tacky wankers with their stupid concepts of…
    concepts
    education
    ethics
    enlightenment
    freedom
    egalitarianism
    separation of powers
    democracy
    human rights
    falsifiability
    logic
    truth
    theories
    objectivity
    empiricism
    mathematics
    science
    skepticism
    …etc

    /sarcasm

    If all you want to be is an atheist, you are aspiring to be no more than a pebble. Or a twig. Or detritus. But it’s your prerogative to be boring.

  70. 70
    consciousness razor

    Does ‘theologian’ exist as a profession outside academia? I checked the yellow pages for 24-hour theologians (you know, for fixing your ontological emergencies), but there don’t seem to be any operating in my area.

    Only the most perfect form. For one can conceive of a most perfect form of theologian outside academia, and one which actually exists must be more perfect than one which is only conceived in the mind. Therefore, a theologian must exist outside academia. However, they may not be listed in your local yellow pages, for they work in mysterious ways. Dial the operator for assistance.

  71. 71
    chigau (違う)

    Dr.Audley
    I think klatu is serious.

  72. 72
    chigau (違う)

    I can’t start drinking for a few hours so I am available to do interpretations until then.
    I don’t do ontology.

  73. 73
    'Tis Himself

    Does ‘theologian’ exist as a profession outside academia?

    They’re also found in church headquarters. There’s a gaggle* of theologians hanging around the Vatican, in Salt Lake City, and suchlike places.

    *What should a herd of theologians be called? A sophistry of theologians? A muddle of theologians? A bombast? A density? A casuistry? An equivocation?

  74. 74
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    chigau:

    I think klatu is serious.

    I like having an interpreter.

  75. 75
    joed

    @69 klatu
    actually, philosophy is not about any certain subject or subjects.
    philosophy is about being able to overcome the crap, cultural prejudices and nonsense we learn about the world. then the examination of a “subject” any subject with as much honest and logic we can bring to the situation.
    Philosophy is not about a certain subject but rather about how you approach the subject.
    I think Philosophy is critical thought applied to a subject.
    Philosophy and critical thought are starting places not the end game. the hard part is overcoming our own nonsense.
    philosophical inquiry can be used any time with any subject/problem once we know how to apply the process and remain aware of our need to shed our personal prejuduces and beliefs as much as possible. working with other people who are aware of the process is helpful

  76. 76
    Inaji

    klatu:

    But it’s your prerogative to be boring.

    As it’s yours to be an arrogant, pretentious douchetart.

    As Daniel Dennett recently stated: For instance, I am of the opinion that only a few people should be philosophers, because we don’t need more philosophers.

    But what the fuck does Dan Dennett know? He’s just a philosopher.

  77. 77
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    klatu:

    We don’t need those tacky wankers with their stupid concepts of…
    concepts

    *boggled*

    truth

    What “truth”? What can a philosopher tell me about “truth”?

    You know, those theologians talk about “truth”, too…

  78. 78
    joed

    @69 klatu
    sorry i miss read your comment to another comment.
    yes, atheism is a beginning isn’t it!
    casting off unnecessary beliefs and becoming aware of our prejudices and the crap we learned as young people. this for me is a ongoing never ending process.
    is critical self awareness a blessing or a curse!?

  79. 79
    karimghantous

    I am not sure if anyone cares but atheism is theology. Any statement about God is in fact a theological one. We are all theologians here! No, I’m not religious FWIW. But I have no problem being seen reading (and appreciating) the New Testament. Textual criticism is fun stuff.

    #12:

    How can Theology say anything new?
    Aren’t all the Holy Books God’s Final Word?

    A good point but theology is not bound to religion. And judging by the valuable books by atheists over the past century, I’d say theology has given us quite a few insights.

    #33:

    Is it not time we also consigned Philosophy to the dustbin of history?

    Your philosophy is interesting. Do you care to expand on it? ;-)

    But seriously: any choice we make about what we ought to be doing with out lives is a philosophical choice, even if we don’t call it ‘philosophy’. Being pro-choice is philosophical; supporting free speech is philosophical; giving away vaccine patents for free is philosophical; objecting to wastefulness such as mammograms or wrong-headed airport ‘security’ is philosophical. And our motives for posting here… philosophical.

    #69:

    If all you want to be is an atheist, you are aspiring to be no more than a pebble.

    This is actually quite sound, because atheism is a component of a worldview, not a worldview on its own. Next time a Christian tells you that atheism is a hopeless worldview, kindly remind them that it isn’t a worldview to begin with.

  80. 80
    consciousness razor

    What can a philosopher tell me about “truth”?

    A philosopher could tell you he or she doesn’t know the truth, which is extremely useful and without which I would not aspire to be more than a pebble.

  81. 81
    Kel

    Is it not time we also consigned Philosophy to the dustbin of history?

    No.

  82. 82
    David Marjanović

    The goddess Nut a.k.a. Newet, who swallows the sun every night to er, extrude it back at dawn from the other end of her body

    …but not the way you think. She gives birth to the sun every morning.

    The ancient Egyptians came up with a lot of fascinating mythology!

    Yep. At a minimum, you left out the boring one where a god ships the sun across the sky in a boat – and then through the underworld on a river.

    The real fun comes when all these contradictory stories are depicted at the same time in the same place.

    Biologists: fond of torturing small animals to see how “they work”

    Ah. How many biologists have you ever seen?

    Many end up working for paint companies.

    Ooh! Godwin in the third paragraph! That was quick!

    Quantum Physicists: a bunch of solipsists, only one notch above philosophers.

    One word: photovoltaics.

    I was wondering what you all thought about philosophy’s place in any “key breakthroughs” that might come about soon. Does it have a place? I’m not meaning to imply that it does or doesn’t, but it seems that science is largely eclipsing the importance of philosophy, or at least it is on it’s way.

    What’s really going on, and this has been a trend for centuries now, is that more and more areas of investigation turn out to be science rather than philosophy.

    A few areas will continue to remain in philosophy. Science theory is one of them, and, well, it’s necessary for science.

    Depends. Is a “super-duper-reverse-Poe” a good thing? If so, then yes.

    Everyone who still hasn’t done so, please follow the link in comment 21. You will love it.

    Hint: Proffeser is over the top.

  83. 83
    chigau (違う)

    Dr. Audley
    I gotta run.
    Everything you see from now on is New Yars Eve Fun!

  84. 84
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    DM #82:

    …but not the way you think. She gives birth to the sun every morning.

    Yes, after swallowing it like a pill. Goddesses have the uterus connected to the stomach? I’m calling shenanigans ;-)

  85. 85
    Circe

    Yep. At a minimum, you left out the boring one where a god ships the sun across the sky in a boat – and then through the underworld on a river.

    The real fun comes when all these contradictory stories are depicted at the same time in the same place.

    Perhaps they just had a lot of court cases to discover whether the divine-excreta theory or the divine truck theory was the correct one, and it was decided that “we should give equal time” to “competing theories”?

  86. 86
    Marcus Ranum

    Goddesses have the uterus connected to the stomach? I’m calling shenanigans

    Goddesses are intelligently designed. Duh!

  87. 87
    Ingdigo Jump

    This thread is hilarious. And I’d like to go ahead and make a plug for nerds being able to kiss girls. I’ve personally kissed six or seven.

    At the same time?

  88. 88
    The Sailor

    Wait, what? Did I miss the part where philosophers actually proved anything? Ya know, like science does?

  89. 89
    'Tis Himself

    The real fun comes when all these contradictory stories are depicted at the same time in the same place.

    Dung beetles vs solar-gestating goddesses, teach the controversy.

  90. 90
    Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Actually, I don’t think you’re an expert on wiping your own ass, much less anything social or scientific.
    Hint: use paper.

    There are alternatives.

  91. 91
    ericpaulsen

    Eh, tide goes in, tide goes out. Who can really understand or explain the complex mysteries of the world?

  92. 92
    Anthony K

    There’s only one question I’d liked to see theology (and/or philosophy) answer tonight: why do the insufficiently coated parts of the wall only show up after I’ve washed the brushes and rollers and resealed the can?

    Upon further rumination, I suspect waylan’s nerdly arts of chemistry and physics are more likely to provide the answers I seek.

    Maybe theology can explain why ‘holiday’ to me means ‘sit on my ass and play Skyrim’ but to my girlfriend means ‘tackle the repainting we’ve been talking about for weeks now’. There’s an ancient apple involved, isn’t there?

  93. 93
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Maybe theology can explain why ‘holiday’ to me means ‘sit on my ass and play Skyrim’ but to my girlfriend means ‘tackle the repainting we’ve been talking about for weeks now’. There’s an ancient apple involved, isn’t there?

    Another of the many perils of the sick and boring life that is heterosexuality, Brownian. I can help.

  94. 94
    Inaji

    Brownian:

    There’s an ancient apple involved, isn’t there?

    Not quite, it was an ancient pomegranate. Those things are evil.

  95. 95
    Owlmirror
    The goddess Nut a.k.a. Newet, who swallows the sun every night to er, extrude it back at dawn from the other end of her body

    …but not the way you think. She gives birth to the sun every morning.

    The ancient Egyptians came up with a lot of fascinating mythology!

    Yep. At a minimum, you left out the boring one where a god ships the sun across the sky in a boat – and then through the underworld on a river.
    The real fun comes when all these contradictory stories are depicted at the same time in the same place.

    In Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids, wacky hijinks ensue, which results in the Gods of an Egypt-analog going from being ideal to real. The priests of the Gods strive to cope with the new situation.


    ‘O Dios,’ murmured the high priest of Ket, the This-Headed God of Justice. ‘What is the king’s command? The gods are striding the land, and they are fighting and breaking houses, O Dios. Where is the king? What would he have us do?’
    ‘Yea,’ said the high priest of Scrab, the Pusher of the Ball of the Sun. He felt something more was expected of him. ‘And verily,’ he added. ‘Your lordship will have noticed that the sun is wobbling, because all the Gods of the Sun are fighting for it and-’ he shuffled his feet – ‘the blessed Scrab made a strategic withdrawal and has, er, made an unscheduled landing on the town of Hort. A number of buildings broke his fall.’
    [...]
    ‘It would appear,’ said the high priest of Cephut, God of Cutlery, who felt that he could take a more relaxed view of the immediate situation, ‘that Thrrp has fumbled it and has fallen to a surprise tackle from Jeht, Boatman of the Solar Orb.’
    There was a distant buzzing, as of several billion bluebottles taking off in a panic, and a huge dark shape passed over the palace.
    ‘But,’ said the high priest of Cephut, ‘here comes Scrab again . . . yes, he’s gaining height . . . Jeht hasn’t seen him yet, he’s progressing confidently towards the meridian, and here comes Sessifet, Goddess of the Afternoon! This is a surprise! What a surprise this is! A young goddess, yet to make her mark, but my word, what a lot of promise there, this is an astonishing bid, eunuchs and gentlemen, and . . yes . . . Scrab has fumbled it! He’s fumbled it! . . .’
    The shadows danced and spun on the stones of the balcony.
    ‘. . . and . . . what’s this? The elder gods are, there’s no other word for it, they’re co-operating against these brash newcomers! But plucky young Sessifet is hanging in there, she’s exploiting the weakness. . . she’s in! . . . and pulling away now, pulling away, Gil and Scrab appear to be fighting, she’s got a clear sky and, yes, yes . . . yes! . . . it’s noon! It’s noon! It’s noon!’

  96. 96
    Circe

    Irene Delse:

    Yes, after swallowing it like a pill. Goddesses have the uterus connected to the stomach? I’m calling shenanigans ;-)

    A response in the spirit of this thread:

    Don’t you think the goddess would just be able to magically teleport the sun from her intestines to her uterus every morning? What’s the point of being a goddess without physics defying magical powers?

  97. 97
    Circe

    Owlmirror: I found myself waiting for the word “Goal!” but “Noon!” would do. :)

  98. 98
    John Morales

    The Sailor:

    Wait, what? Did I miss the part where philosophers actually proved anything? Ya know, like science does?

    Yup — and big-time, at that!

    When philosophical disciplines proved pragmatically useful, new disciplines branched off from them. Not all such, of course — I’m unaware of any pragmatic utility for theology, other than being useful for theory of mind and anthropology.

    Case in point: Science comes from natural philosophy, empiricism and logic — which in turn gives rise to the philosophy of science.

  99. 99
    LykeX

    Out of curiosity, has theology actually ever produced anything? I mean, anything at all? What useful or insightful ideas have come out of theology?

    I’m not at expert, so it’s possible that I’ve missed something, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single thing that theology has ever contributed.

  100. 100
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    There’s an ancient apple involved, isn’t there?

    Not necessarily an apple, but there are certain ancient inducements for cooperative behavior…

  101. 101
    Circe

    John Morales: Another case in point: The spectacular development of linguistics in ancient India was intimately tied to Philosophy. Same could be said of the mathematical work of the Pythagoreans, though I am a bit hazy about their history.

  102. 102
    Anthony K

    Another of the many perils of the sick and boring life that is heterosexuality, Brownian. I can help.

    Can you? I’m not sure. I think I might have been born this way.

    All is not lost, though. The new accent wall in the bathroom looks fabulous.

    What’s the point of being a goddess without physics defying magical powers?

    No need to go that far. Simply decree that Newet incurred divine sepsis on a daily basis through the mystery of her Holy Perforated Bowel and call it a day.

  103. 103
    John Morales

    Circe, let’s not forget the Pythagoreans had a thing about beans.

  104. 104
    Kel

    Maybe theology can explain why ‘holiday’ to me means ‘sit on my ass and play Skyrim’ but to my girlfriend means ‘tackle the repainting we’ve been talking about for weeks now’.

    I’d like an answer to this, too. Still got the Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, and military campaign to complete, but somehow that’s not a productive use of my time…

  105. 105
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    @ Owlmirror:

    Yay! Pratchett reference FTW :-)

  106. 106
    Circe

    No need to go that far. Simply decree that Newet incurred divine sepsis on a daily basis through the mystery of her Holy Perforated Bowel and call it a day.

    Nah, a story about a goddess with physics defying magical powers is much more interesting than one about a goddess with Holy Life-Threatening Health Conditions.

    Perhaps that’s just because of the kind of taste I acquired for mythology as a kid. It was the Indian kind, and believe me, gods and goddesses in that mythology are to their fellow deities in most other mythologies I have seen as Superman is to Green Arrow.

  107. 107
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Circe, let’s not forget the Pythagoreans had a thing about beans.

    Perfectly sensible if they routinely had a lot of people gathered in cramped quarters.

  108. 108
    Circe

    John Morales: I clicked on that link half thinking you used “beans” to mean “brains”. But this is just “WoW!” stuff.

  109. 109
    Anthony K

    Nah, a story about a goddess with physics defying magical powers is much more interesting than one about a goddess with Holy Life-Threatening Health Conditions.

    It’s my Catholic heritage, I’m afraid. ‘Mystery’ is code for “Because I said so, now stop asking questions and drop your twenty in the collection plate already.” And ‘interesting’ isn’t the first word coming to mind to describe a worldview that includes tens of thousands of stories about saints invented solely to make you feel bad about touching yourself.

  110. 110
    The Sailor

    Morales & Circe, so philosophy never proved any testable hypotheses, just started people to wonder. So did theologians.

    Bullshit is not science.

  111. 111
    Circe

    Also related to my comment #106 (perhaps pertinent to this thread, in as much anything at all can be pertinent to this thread), a recurring theme in Indian mythology is that the Great gods are called in to help only when the gods, humans and demons have messed up, but the Great goddess is called upon only when the the gods, the humans, the demons _and_ the Great gods have collectively messed up. Once she has been called in though, the story usually does not take long to fix things up and conclude.

  112. 112
    Alexandra (née Audley)
    Maybe theology can explain why ‘holiday’ to me means ‘sit on my ass and play Skyrim’ but to my girlfriend means ‘tackle the repainting we’ve been talking about for weeks now’.

    I’d like an answer to this, too. Still got the Thieves Guild, Dark Brotherhood, and military campaign to complete, but somehow that’s not a productive use of my time…

    God damn it. I can’t even get close to the teevee– Mr Darkheart is playing Skyrim and Saints Row the Third. I just want to finish up Assassin’s Creed!

    *grumble*

  113. 113
    Ingdigo Jump

    Also related to my comment #106 (perhaps pertinent to this thread, in as much anything at all can be pertinent to this thread), a recurring theme in Indian mythology is that the Great gods are called in to help only when the gods, humans and demons have messed up, but the Great goddess is called upon only when the the gods, the humans, the demons _and_ the Great gods have collectively messed up. Once she has been called in though, the story usually does not take long to fix things up and conclude.

    Please tell me I’m not the only one to think of Excel Saga

  114. 114
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Excel Saga

    Holy shit is Microsoft ever getting pretentious. O.o

  115. 115
    Circe

    The Sailor: I agree. I think however that getting people to wonder is also a valid contribution (somewhat similar to “asking the right question”), and the general collection of things we call “philosophy” has done this more often than the general collection of things called “theology”. I would be charitable and say that we should count the fact that many early scientific pioneers started out with their work based on philosophical questions, and that could be counted as a contribution of philosophy.

    Even today, in some fields such as Computational Complexity Theory, philosophical questions do play quite a role. One of the major questions in this field could be phrased as “Is randomness useful for computation?”. Now that’s a philosophical question, and that’s how it started. Of course, one then has to come up with the correct mathematical models for “randomness” as used in algorithms (which we only got quite recently, say in the last 30 years), and even that of computation (which was a breakthrough discovery of Turing). At that point, the question becomes a well-defined mathematical one. But the origins of the question could be qualified as “philosophical”.

    In fact, even the biggest question is the field, the celebrated P =/= NP conjecture, which could have lot of real world algorithmic consequences (ranging even to the use of credit cards) started off as a kind of philosophical question: “Is the ability to verify a proof significantly different from the ability to find it?” It was shown (of course, after a formalization of the notion of “proof” “verify” and “ability”) that this question has several real world implications for algorithms. Again, however, the initial impetus did come from a philosophical question.

    A lost of the motivation behind Quantum Computation is similarly what you could call “philosophical” in nature. The question there is “is the way we compute (with pen and paper, or with our computers) significantly slower than the way Nature computes (using Quantum Mechanics)?” and the formalization is the so called “BQP =/= P” conjecture.

  116. 116
    Circe

    The Sailor:

    However, I should concede that most of the philosophical questions I listed above were asked not by professional philosophers (unless you consider Godel a professional philosopher) but by professional mathematicians, computer scientists and logicians (like Church or Turing) or even physicists (like Feynman or David Deutsch).

  117. 117
    Michael Hawkins

    Theology is entirely useless in terms of knowing anything, but you’re an absolute idiot if you think the religious are going to abandon the area they feel is one of the most respectable aspects of their beliefs. Don’t be so naive.

  118. 118
    sc_cd4f86c5878bb713c3b8ec48454b3b83

    The target post here is just mind-numbingly stupid. For the vast majority of the time-scale the author imagines here, no coherent distinctions were drawn between what we would call, e.g., theological, cosmological, physical, scientific, cosmogonical, chemical, astronomical…questions. We can only even coherently *think* of that as a theological question from the vast benefit of hind-sight.

    Sadly, what that means is that it’s just as rhetorically effective to state the question in any other mode. So, e.g. we *could* reason as follows: The *major* cosmological question for the vast majority of human history has been X. X is now trivially answered. Therefore, we should totally expect the end of cosmology, right? Yeah. That’s just excruciatingly stupid. And you all should know better.

  119. 119
    Snoof

    It’s typical of your western, patriarchial viewpoint to insist that the question “where does the sun go at night?” has only One True Answer. Just like the Christian authoritarian movement, you’re insistent on a single set of “facts” to the exclusion of other possibilities.

  120. 120
    Circe

    “It’s typical of your western, patriarchial viewpoint to insist that the question “where does the sun go at night?” has only One True Answer. Just like the Christian authoritarian movement, you’re insistent on a single set of “facts” to the exclusion of other possibilities.”

    So what are the other “True Answers” to “where does the sun go at night?” Please do not say that the answer might be different for poets, or it might be a metaphorical question. We are talking about the orb we see during the day in the sky, “night” is what happens everyday (at least in most of the world) after this orb seems to go below the ground. With those definitions, what other “True Answers” are you going to offer for “where does the sun go at night?”

    Disclaimer: I am not a “western”.

  121. 121
    Snoof

    …yeah, I needed to put a winking smiley on that post. Sorry.

    Would it have been more obvious if I’d used the phrase “other ways of knowing”?

  122. 122
    John Morales

    [meta + OT]

    sc_cd4f86c5878bb713c3b8ec48454b3b83, you very much remind me of Matthew Segall.

  123. 123
    consciousness razor

    sc_cd4f86c5878bb713c3b8ec48454b3b83, you very much remind me of Matthew Segall.

    Nah. I would expect #118 to contain incoherent babbling if that were the case, not just scoffing at a strawman.

  124. 124
    mikeg

    I, for one, would like to suggest that Ing needs a Molly or two thrown their way. I may be in love with Ing, possibly because I am highly intoxicated. Oh yeah, happy Ano Nuevo,FtB!

  125. 125
    Circe

    Snoof: Yes, that’d have helped. Sorry, but you can’t really claim I was in on the joke, can you? :)

  126. 126
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Oh yeah, happy Ano Nuevo,FtB!

    Err, no. FTB distributes anos nuevos. :P

  127. 127
    John Morales

    [meta]

    mikeg, it is not the worst idea to first check the Molly list, before recommending any regular.

  128. 128
    Moggie

    Brownian:

    Maybe theology can explain why ‘holiday’ to me means ‘sit on my ass and play Skyrim’ but to my girlfriend means ‘tackle the repainting we’ve been talking about for weeks now’. There’s an ancient apple involved, isn’t there?

    I used to be an interior decorator like you, then I took an arrow in the knee.

  129. 129
    joed

    Theology is not Philosophy.
    Philosophy is NOT about certain subjects,
    Philosophy IS how any subject is looked at. Philosophy is how we approach a subject/problem.
    Science is Philosophy often.
    Theology is not Philosophy Of Religion.
    When Philosophical questions are asked about Theology then Theology breaks down to a fairy tale subject.
    The difficult part of Philosophy is being able to shed the prejudices and nonsense you learned as a young person. “The Unexamined Life…”
    So, if you want to remove philosophy from life then you will toss out science and other valuable methods of dealing with problems.
    Philosophy/Science/CriticalThought are all part of an attempt to pursue knowledge through human reasoning.
    If results are expected through just one of these then you will be disappointed.
    The truly difficult part of Philosophy is meeting the subject/any subject after shedding your prejudices and the nonsense you learned as a young person.
    Once a person starts down that road there is no going back. you are stuck with yourself. And the idea of getting rid of Philosopy is as absurd as the rest of human consciousness.

  130. 130
    McCthulhu, now with -25% less fat.

    Nigel @37: You bastige, you literally made me LOL.

  131. 131
    Kel

    And the idea of getting rid of Philosopy is as absurd as the rest of human consciousness.

    I like this statement. In either case, it’s getting rid of something integral to cognition – or at the very least that they are both somewhat crippled without.

  132. 132
    lanceparkin

    Hi, I’m Lance Parkin, the person who wrote the article Professor Myers linked to.

    Thanks to PZ for linking to it, and to everyone who took the time to read it. Looking at my hit count for the day, many, many of you did. I’ll definitely follow it up with articles on similar topics. I have been reading a lot of theology lately, purely because I hadn’t before and didn’t know much about it. As the saying goes, if you enjoyed this post, hopefully you’ll enjoy those, too. Theology is not what I assumed it was. It is a field of study that, back in the day, attracted the finest minds because it tackled the biggest questions.

    A lot of people explored other pages on my blog, and the most popular next destination was to click on ‘Fixing Jesus’ and be a bit baffled because it didn’t say anything – I’m a writer, that’s the title of a science fiction novel I’m working on, there’s not much else I can say about that at the moment. If you’re a publisher, my agent’s contact details are on my blog!

    I think we’ve got to be careful about lumping all of ‘philosophy’ in with theology. The point I’m making, the one PZ quotes, is simply that we’ve always had ‘god questions’, one where the best answer seemed to be ‘God’. God made earthquakes, disease, human beings, the universe. There have always been mysterious things, and the temptation has always been to say that there’s something big and intelligent and purposeful behind that mysterious thing. And theology was about reasoning what that purpose was. The problem, of course, being that every mystery we solved was solved by reframing the question so it *wasn’t* a ‘god question’. Hurricanes happen because a patch of sea gets warm, life happens because of a special type of acid.

    It does make me think that people who think consciousness or the basis of ethics or whatever are down to gods might be backing the wrong horse. Even if we decide consciousness is a simple mechanical process, it doesn’t *rule out* there being a god or gods. And it doesn’t mean we can alight on the first materialist answer and conclude, say, that every moral decision we make is down to monkey genes, or whatever. And it won’t mean the end to all mystery.

  133. 133
    lanceparkin

    “For the vast majority of the time-scale the author imagines here, no coherent distinctions were drawn between what we would call, e.g., theological, cosmological, physical, scientific, cosmogonical, chemical, astronomical…questions.”

    I’m sorry if I didn’t make my point clear: it was when people realised they could decouple ‘theological’ from ‘astronomical’ that they realised they could solve the problem. The equation balances without gods.

    There’s been some discussion of this in the comments, and I understand what you’re saying. People in ancient times believed in what we’d now call the supernatural and usually saw such things as part of the natural order. But they weren’t all superstitious, credulous morons. There were people using reason and sceptism and cynicism. People could distinguish between fact and fiction. They could recognise good and bad ideas, they could expose frauds.

    Your use of the word ‘coherent’ perhaps implies that they were incoherent. *Exactly the opposite*. Their worldview was detailed, complex and consistent, probably just as thoughtful and thought about as the modern scientific model. We now know that it was *wrong*, but it wasn’t idiotic or muddled.

  134. 134
    Anthony K

    @Moggie:

    +1

  135. 135
    David Marjanović

    Wait, what? Did I miss the part where philosophers actually proved anything? Ya know, like science does?

    Science cannot prove, only disprove.

    Not quite, it was an ancient pomegranate. Those things are evil.

    Day saved.

    In Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids

    I read that book once. I can’t remember this part at all. It’s been about 10 years, but… was the German translation a shortened version!?!

    Even today, in some fields such as Computational Complexity Theory, philosophical questions do play quite a role. One of the major questions in this field could be phrased as “Is randomness useful for computation?”. Now that’s a philosophical question

    …No, it’s a scientific question. An empirical one. One that could in principle be decided by trial & error.

    Sure, it may well have started as a philosophical question when science didn’t yet have an established subdiscipline that could work on it. But if so, it’s yet another case of a question that was thought to be philosophical and then turned out to actually be scientific.

    Science is Philosophy often.

    Science is an application of philosophy – of science theory, to be more precise.

  136. 136
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    Pomegranates have been given a bad rap since Persephone’s misadventure in the Underworld. Should have spit out the pips!

    Talking of knotty questions, one that defeated ancient philosophers is still debated today: the question of the finite or infinite nature of the universe. The difference is that astrophysicists have their say, now.

    I don’t remember who was the ancient Greek guy who defined the problem in these terms: “If we suppose that the universe is finite, like a field enclosed by a wall, what happen if I go to the extreme end of the universe and send an arrow over the ‘wall’?”

    (The neighbouring universe goes to war in retaliation? *Shudders*)

  137. 137
    Inaji

    Irene:

    Pomegranates have been given a bad rap since Persephone’s misadventure in the Underworld. Should have spit out the pips!

    The pips is all there is to a pom! :D I love pomegranate, used to scoop them out into a bowl and eat that instead of cereal.

  138. 138
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    @ Caine:

    A bit like passion fruit, then? Sounds yummy.

  139. 139
    shoeguy

    Klatu: I’d be glad to be a pebble. Pebbles are made of minerals formed billions of years ago in the hearts of supernovas as elements are made from lighter elements. Those minerals are drawn together in threads and clouds of inner-stellar dust and compressed by gravity and waves from nearby massive stellar explosions. Those elements combine to make minerals and are compressed to rock, metals and gasses. Melted inside a forming planet or colliding asteroids the minerals change form from to form in millions of years. Colliding planets and asteroids further mix the minerals and their form cooled to make primordial rock which was further compressed and broken apart by continental drift and vulcanism then buried under miles of layers of sediment only to be thrust up and folded again and again. Erosion and life’s tendrils of further break the stone. A pebble is smoothed in a glacier or on a beach only to be noticed by a sentient ape that thinks the pebble is worthless and commonplace. The bonds and internal structure of the various atoms that make up the structure of the lowly pebble are the life’s work of extremely smart people. Most of the forces that make up the pebble are unknown, yet. What is true is that theologians will never find out the true nature of these forces or explain and prove the nature of reality.

  140. 140
    Inaji

    Irene:

    A bit like passion fruit, then?

    Mmm, not quite. I don’t know how to describe it – sweet, tart and acidic. Once you scrape out the billion arils into a bowl, it is like eating cereal, and yes, yummy.

  141. 141
    The Sailor

    –>”Philosophy/Science/CriticalThought are all part of an attempt to pursue knowledge through human reasoning.”

    But only science provides answers.
    +++++++++++++++++++++
    –>”Science cannot prove, only disprove.”

    Wrong. e.g. science proved germ theory. I’ll leave the billions of other positive results as an exercise for the reader.

  142. 142
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    ”Science cannot prove, only disprove.”

    Wrong. e.g. science proved germ theory. I’ll leave the billions of other positive results as an exercise for the reader.

    Sorry, we all try to disprove our findings. Say I make a compound. I would run MS, H1 NMR, C13 NMR, HPLC, etc., and a host of other test to show I could be wrong. If I can’t show I am wrong, ergo, I must be close to right with my claim. But I do try to disprove my assertion.

  143. 143
    sc_cd4f86c5878bb713c3b8ec48454b3b83

    Hi Lance,

    Thanks for the response. Just a quick follow-up:

    “[W]hen people realised they could decouple ‘theological’ from ‘astronomical’ that they realised they could solve the problem. The equation balances without gods.”

    The problem with this line of thought is just that it’s empirically false. Our earliest known fairly advanced cosmological models come out of the age of fifth century Athens. By the time of Parmenides, they had figured out, e.g. that the moon was reflecting light; they had a general awareness well before Plato that the earth was spherical, and by the fourth century they had worked out the trajectory of the planets. The problem with your thesis is that the best known among astronomical thinkers–people like Plato and Aristotle, these models were explicitly theological in character. So there was no puzzle about “where the sun goes when it gets dark.” On the contrary, there was a *tremendous* puzzle about how regular motion could be maintained in the absence of some motivating force, and that force was often–though not universally–argued to be some god or gods.

    I’m convinced that this was a red herring, that this line of thought was a product of evolved intention-seeking behavior. But this is a great explanatory leap beyond mere conceptual de-coupling.

    Lastly, I wasn’t imputing incoherence to the ancients–though of course there were many incoherent thinkers in the ancient world (just like today!). This sort of thing can only be settled by looking at details, and there are clearly reasons, though not always good ones, why one system replaced another, and why different cosmologies vied for attention without any clear winners for hundreds of years at a time. But decoupling was neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the development of the theoretical claims that are now widely accepted in those havens in the world that have access to basic science education.

  144. 144
    joed

    I am probably beating a dead horse but knowledge/reality is the key factor which give atheism the edge over religious/magical/mystical thought, isn’t it.
    If Theology were not so driven by ignorance and stupidity I would find it funny. but, i see it as basic tragedy in human consciousness.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology
    Criticism [of Theology]

    Whether or not reasoned discussion about the divine is possible has long been a point of contention. As early as the fifth century BC, Protagoras, who is reputed to have been exiled from Athens because of his agnosticism about the existence of the gods, said that “Concerning the gods I cannot know either that they exist or that they do not exist, or what form they might have, for there is much to prevent one’s knowing: the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of man’s life.”[66]

    In his two part work The Age of Reason, the American revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote, “The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science, without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.”[67]

    The atheist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach sought to dissolve theology in his work Principles of the Philosophy of the Future: “The task of the modern era was the realization and humanization of God – the transformation and dissolution of theology into anthropology.”[68] This mirrored his earlier work The Essence of Christianity (pub. 1841), for which he was banned from teaching in Germany, in which he had said that theology was a “web of contradictions and delusions”.[69]

    In his essay “Critique of Ethics and Theology” the logical-positivist A.J. Ayer sought to show that all statements about the divine are nonsensical and any divine-attribute is unprovable. He wrote: “It is now generally admitted, at any rate by philosophers, that the existence of a being having the attributes which define the god of any non-animistic religion cannot be demonstratively proved… [A]ll utterances about the nature of God are nonsensical.”[70]

    In his essay, “Against Theology”, the philosopher Walter Kaufmann sought to differentiate theology from religion in general. “Theology, of course, is not religion; and a great deal of religion is emphatically anti-theological… An attack on theology, therefore, should not be taken as necessarily involving an attack on religion. Religion can be, and often has been, untheological or even anti-theological.” However, Kaufmann found that “Christianity is inescapably a theological religion”.[71]

  145. 145
    joed

    @133 lanceparkin
    Isaac Asimov has a wonderful book titled,
    The Relativity Of Wrong.
    It is several essays and the title essay really is excellent.

    Asimov says something to the effect that, when people thought the Earth was flat there wrong but not very wrong!
    their wrongness amounted to about 8 inches per mile which is not a lot–is it!
    Asimov make the wonderful point that thanks to science we have for the first time a pretty good idea of what the universe really looks like. we are at present simply fine-tuning our knowledge; Newton had the gravity of the solar system figured out and Einstein made a very very small adjustment to Newton in order to take Newton’s gravity beyond the solar System.
    As a basically self educated novice i find the book very useful for application all over the place.

  146. 146
    The Sailor

    Nerd, then you proved it worked, eh?

    Once scientists prove something works, they go on to other projects.

    +++++++++++
    joed, a simple link is sufficient.

  147. 147
    Ingdigo Jump

    Nerd, then you proved it worked, eh?

    Once scientists prove something works, they go on to other projects.

    No they go on to other projects when they run out of funding. There’s always ways you can improve the experiment and fine tune it to get more data.

  148. 148
    Circe

    …No, it’s a scientific question. An empirical one. One that could in principle be decided by trial & error.

    None of the questions that I pointed out can be resolved by
    “trial and error” as you put it, even in principle. Unless you call generating proofs “trial and error”. But this is just a minor point.

    Sure, it may well have started as a philosophical question when science didn’t yet have an established subdiscipline that could work on it. But if so, it’s yet another case of a question that was thought to be philosophical and then turned out to actually be scientific.

    My point was exactly that: several fields of inquiry owe their very origin to philosophical questions. I gave Computational Complexity as a concrete example. Saying that a scientific field came up later to attack those questions does not>i> take away from the contribution of coming up with an interesting question about the world in the first place. This is the main difference between traditional theology and philosophy. As a discipline, philosophy has come up with scientifically interesting questions, and still continues to do so. Theology: not so much.

    Of course, one has to keep in mind that these philosophical questions were often asked by people who were already in fields that had broken away from philosophy to a large extent (such as Godel and Church for classical complexity theory) or were not professional philosophers (such as Feynman).

    However, if you limit your definition of philosophy to “what is done in philosophy departments today”, then I agree: a lot of it seems to be genuinely incapable of giving rise to any new questions about the world.

  149. 149
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Nerd, then you proved it worked, eh?

    Well, if you consider proved it work to mean the molecular weight is consistent with the proposed structure, the C-13 NMR shows the right number of carbons with the chemical shifts consistent with proposed structure, the H-1 NMR shows the right number of hydrogens with the chemical shifts and coupling consistent with the proposed structure, etc., (notice the phrase consistent with the proposed structure) as proving it absolutely, no, as some of the stereochemical centers may not be defined yet. But almost all the alternatives have been removed, leaving a reasonable conclusion that the compound was made based on trying to show the conclusion was wrong. This is easier for chemists than some of the other disciplines.

    This could be one of a series of related impurities, or a one-off synthesis. Depends on the requirements for the stage of development the project is in.

  150. 150
    Owlmirror
    In Terry Pratchett’s Pyramids

    I read that book once. I can’t remember this part at all. It’s been about 10 years, but… was the German translation a shortened version!?!

    Quite possibly. I understand that some of PTerry’s earlier works were badly mangled in translation.

    ======

    I don’t remember who was the ancient Greek guy who defined the problem in these terms: “If we suppose that the universe is finite, like a field enclosed by a wall, what happen if I go to the extreme end of the universe and send an arrow over the ‘wall’?”

    One possibility that may not have occurred to them, is, “The arrow comes back over the wall 180 degrees away”, and similar higher-dimensional topological contortions.

    ======

    –>”Science cannot prove, only disprove.”

    Wrong. e.g. science proved germ theory.

    I think the response to that is that germ theory remains the best explanation of how disease propagates because all other explanations were disproved.

  151. 151
    rdmiller3

    There are no breakthroughs nor discoveries in theology.

  152. 152
    Circe

    ”Science cannot prove, only disprove.”

    I am always a bit worried when people state this almost dogmatically without any riders or qualifications. Logically, it is a perfectly meaningless statement, since a disproof of any hypothesis is also a proof. The Michelson- Morley experiment proved that Electrodymanics with Gallilean transformations is invalid. The Photoelectric effect proved that classical (non quantum) thermodynamics does not apply to photons. The anomalous precession of Mercury’s orbits proved that Newtonian gravity is wrong.

    Secondly, much of Theoretical Physics and Theoretical Computer Science is about proving logical consequences of what are currently believed to be physical laws, and also about formulating mathematical theories under which the currently available results can be mathematically “proved”. As is evidenced again and again in either of these fields, it is rather a lot of effort to do these “proofs”, and often the consequences are seldom obvious from the original hypotheses. Of course, it is sometimes the case that this process assists in the formulation of hypotheses which can be tested easily, but that is certainly not the only motivation for theoretical development. Whether or not you call that process “Science” is a matter of taste, not of the kind of dogma that the blanket statement indicates.

  153. 153
    Circe

    joed:

    Einstein made a very very small adjustment to Newton in order to take Newton’s gravity beyond the solar System.

    I suggest you go and tell this to some Physics undergrads who are taking or have recently taken a course on General Relativity. When yo do that, please take care to go with a hard-hat on, and in rotten-tomato proof clothing. :)

    True, the numerical change (at least for systems like the Solar System) was small, but GTR was a big big leap over Newtonian gravity. Also, the first anomaly to Newtoninan gravity was found within the Solar system: in the anomalous precession of Mercury.

  154. 154
    Michael Hawkins

    Say I make a compound. I would run MS, H1 NMR, C13 NMR, HPLC, etc., and a host of other test…

    Don’t worry. I’m sure everyone on the Internet is impressed now.

  155. 155
    'Tis Himself

    Don’t worry. I’m sure everyone on the Internet is impressed now.

    And I’m impressed with how you missed Nerd’s point.

    He wasn’t giving a list of chemical tests to impress you, he was explaining how he eliminates possibilities when doing science.

  156. 156
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Don’t worry. I’m sure everyone on the Internet is impressed now.

    I don’t care if they (or you) are impressed or not. I was showing how science operates, in particular in my field of organic chemistry, to eliminate alternative possibilities. And, how at the end of the day, I haven’t proven the structure to be absolutely correct, but there is a high probability it is correct.

  157. 157
    Nick Gotts

    blockquote>

    ”Science cannot prove, only disprove.”

    Wrong. e.g. science proved germ theory.

    I think the response to that is that germ theory remains the best explanation of how disease propagates because all other explanations were disproved.

    Sophistical quibbling. The smallpox virus caused smallpox. You know that and I know that, because medical science proved it. Of course you don’t, in science, get proof of the kind you get in maths or logic, but nor do you get that kind of proof in law, or history, or everyday life, in all of which contexts “proof” is used routinely and often appropriately. This tosh about science never proving anything is a kind of “vulgar Popperism” which I earnestly wish the sceptical community could get beyond. When coupled with “only disproves” it becomes absurd because, as already pointed out, a disproof of A is necessarily a proof of ~A.

  158. 158
    Nick Gotts

    Curses, blockquote fail.

    ”Science cannot prove, only disprove.”

    Wrong. e.g. science proved germ theory.

    I think the response to that is that germ theory remains the best explanation of how disease propagates because all other explanations were disproved.

    Sophistical quibbling. The smallpox virus caused smallpox. You know that and I know that, because medical science proved it. Of course you don’t, in science, get proof of the kind you get in maths or logic, but nor do you get that kind of proof in law, or history, or everyday life, in all of which contexts “proof” is used routinely and often appropriately. This tosh about science never proving anything is a kind of “vulgar Popperism” which I earnestly wish the sceptical community could get beyond. When coupled with “only disproves” it becomes absurd because, as already pointed out, a disproof of A is necessarily a proof of ~A.

  159. 159
    Michael Hawkins

    I didn’t question whether or not Nerd’s attempt to impress people was effective at making the intended point.

  160. 160
    Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD

    At least Nerd had a point to make Michael. You do not seem to.

  161. 161
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I didn’t question whether or not Nerd’s attempt to impress educate people was effective at making the intended point.

    Fixed that for you pointless one. I acknowledged I wasn’t trying to impress people, so you must perforce drop that inane and unsupported accusation that I was. Or you tacitly acknowledge you are a liar and bullshitter….

  162. 162
    Michael Hawkins

    “Acknowledged” and “claimed” are not the same thing.

  163. 163
    Ingdigo Jump

    I think the response to that is that germ theory remains the best explanation of how disease propagates because all other explanations were disproved.

    Sophistical quibbling. The smallpox virus caused smallpox. You know that and I know that, because medical science proved it. Of course you don’t, in science, get proof of the kind you get in maths or logic, but nor do you get that kind of proof in law, or history, or everyday life, in all of which contexts “proof” is used routinely and often appropriately. This tosh about science never proving anything is a kind of “vulgar Popperism” which I earnestly wish the sceptical community could get beyond. When coupled with “only disproves” it becomes absurd because, as already pointed out, a disproof of A is necessarily a proof of ~A.

    Science doesn’t PROVE because all of it’s findings are provisional. For example if it turned out that smallpox was actually caused by tiny nanites that use the virus as a transport medium then what was definitively proven would have changed.

  164. 164
    Nick Gotts

    We Are Ing,

    Absolute blithering tosh. The finding that the earth is roughly spherical is not provisional. Nor is the finding that the moon is smaller than the earth, while the sun is larger. Nor is the finding that hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water. In all these cases, we could only be mistaken if some factor were systematically distorting our perception and reasoning.

    For that matter, your own example is not credible: even if some smaller sub-entity was shown to be necessary to infection, it would still be the case that the smallpox virus caused smallpox.

  165. 165
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Acknowledged” and “claimed” are not the same thing.

    Tacit is the key word. Separates the trolls from those with something to say. And you point is???

  166. 166
    Ingdigo Jump

    @KG

    Ah but no it would only be that at the time it APPEARED that smallpox caused it. We would know that Smallpox was but one peice of the picture.

    It’s incredibly unlikely but it’s POSSIBLE to find evidence that somehow we were mislead into believing the size of the sun/earth or the shape of the planet when better tools become apparent. Wasn’t the point made that the people who thought the Earth was flat were only wrong by a slight slight calculation in slope? That’s the point, there’s always a chance we could be proven wrong with new data. As more and more data points to the same conclusion it becomes less and less likely because any new explanation would have to account for all the past data. So that with big things that have a lot of data like geocentrism the data that would over turn it would have to be a doozy (like discovering we’re in the matrix). But it still happens. The two slit experiment fundamentally changed what we had proved about physics for example. The FTL nutrino if conformed would be another one as so much data runs contrary to it.

    Also IIRC isn’t there the holographic theory for the universe’s shape which posits that a 2D universe could actually create the appearance of the 3D universe (in horrible layman terms) thus meaning that technically the earth IS flat?

    Nor is the finding that hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water. In all these cases, we could only be mistaken if some factor were systematically distorting our perception and reasoning.

    OR we could be mistaken in that there is more going on that our current explanation says. Like the smallpox example, the initial idea WAS mostly correct, but there was more to the picture we didn’t see.

  167. 167
    Michael Hawkins

    @165 Nerd,

    Pay attention to the specifics here. I used the past tense of “acknowledge” to match up with the instance in which you also used the past tense of the word. Moreover, if you replace your use of “acknowledge” (present tense) with “claimed” or “claim”, it doesn’t make any sense.

    At any rate, you claimed you weren’t trying to impress people. You did not acknowledge as much, as if that is just some fact available to everyone. And, no, it is not logical to claim that I am a liar and bullshitter because I don’t believe you. Just stop trying to impress people by getting into the specifics of things on which you have esoteric knowledge.

  168. 168
    Ingdigo Jump

    @Hawkings

    Out of curiosity, do you honestly think that that sort of pants wetting bullshit makes you look good?

  169. 169
    Michael Hawkins

    @We Are Ing,

    Maybe I should get welfare assistance so I can buy a new pair of pants. That will never affect anyone else because welfare budgets are infinite and it’s all the same pot.

  170. 170
    Nick Gotts

    We Are Ing,

    None of your examples really work. Some are more cases like the hypothetial smallpox sub-virus, where we could find out that there was more we didn’t know, but this would not change the fact that the original description of the situation was true (and if it had been proven true, that proof would stand). Others (like your example of quantum mechanics) are straightforward cases of finding out we were wrong – but that means we hadn’t proved* our former belief, we only thought we had; it’s quite possible to think you have proved something you haven’t, but that does not show that there are no cases where you think you have and you’re right. The rest are of the “Well maybe we’re in the matrix” type. Yes, and maybe some agent is systematically interfering with our reasoning so even what we take to be elementary logical and mathematical truths are false – but once you admit this kind of possibility (and yes, it is a conceivable possibility) you have to say that nothing can ever be proved in any domain, and you’ll soon need a word to distinguish those cases you used to call “proved” from the rest. In ordinary language terms, science does indeed prove things, as do law and history as well as maths and logic, and I see no reason at all to go against the ordinary language use of the word in this case.

    *Roughly speaking, I’d say “X has been proved” is equivalent to:
    1) X is true.
    2) There are adequate reasons to discount the possibility that X is false, i.e. to assume X’s truth in argument andor in practical matters.
    Of course, what amount to “adequate reasons” differ as between maths, science, everyday life, etc., and there is no assumption that we know whether our reasons are adequate. As I say, we can wrongly think we have proved something – and this happens in maths as well as science.

  171. 171
    Owlmirror

    Of course you don’t, in science, get proof of the kind you get in maths or logic, but nor do you get that kind of proof in law, or history, or everyday life, in all of which contexts “proof” is used routinely and often appropriately.

    Hm.

    How would you feel about:

    “Science doesn’t prove [absolutes that follow from basic axioms], it only [builds its case from the evidence by how it] disproves [everything that is inconsistent with or in contradiction to that case].”

    ?

    This tosh about science never proving anything is a kind of “vulgar Popperism” which I earnestly wish the sceptical community could get beyond. When coupled with “only disproves” it becomes absurd because, as already pointed out, a disproof of A is necessarily a proof of ~A.

    What’s wrong with trying to emphasize that there are different definitions of and shadings of meaning to the term “prove”, and using “disprove” as a better idea of the meaning intended in the narrowest scientific sense?

    The problem is that “a proof of ~A” doesn’t quite capture the sense in which “~A” is provisional. if “The Earth is flat” is A, consider that it’s been not only disproven that the Earth is flat, it’s also been disproven that the Earth is perfectly round (slightly flattened north and south), and it’s been disproven that the Earth is symmetrical with respect to the equator (slightly more mass south than north). Clearly, “~A” doesn’t cover everything that’s been disproven — or proven negatively, if you prefer — about the shape of the Earth.

    The finding that the earth is roughly spherical is not provisional. Nor is the finding that the moon is smaller than the earth, while the sun is larger. Nor is the finding that hydrogen and oxygen combine to make water. In all these cases, we could only be mistaken if some factor were systematically distorting our perception and reasoning.

    It’s not necessarily provisional in the sense that it could be completely wrong, but in the sense that greater refinement can be made with new measurements, or if the system under consideration changes over time.

  172. 172
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    And, no, it is not logical to claim that I am a liar and bullshitter because I don’t believe you.

    Fixed that for you liar, bullshit, and complete egotistical idjit.

  173. 173
    Circe

    Owlmirror:

    There are at least two cases to be made against the dogmatic statement that

    Science cannot prove, only disprove.

    I’ll quote from a comment of mine above that got eaten up in a blockquote fiasco.

    Firstly, logically, it is a perfectly meaningless statement, since a disproof of any hypothesis is also a proof. The Michelson- Morley experiment proved that Electrodymanics with Gallilean transformations is invalid. The Photoelectric effect proved that classical (non quantum) thermodynamics does not apply to photons. The anomalous precession of Mercury’s orbits proved that Newtonian gravity is wrong.

    Secondly, much of Theoretical Physics and Theoretical Computer Science is about proving logical consequences of what are currently believed to be physical laws, and also about formulating mathematical theories under which the currently available results can be mathematically “proved”. As is evidenced again and again in either of these fields, it is rather a lot of effort to do these “proofs”, and often the consequences are seldom obvious from the original hypotheses. Of course, it is sometimes the case that this process assists in the formulation of hypotheses which can be tested easily, but that is certainly not the only motivation for theoretical development. Whether or not you call that process “Science” is a matter of taste, not of the kind of dogma that the blanket statement indicates.

    As for the ongoing “debate” about the merits of mentioning 10s of acronyms (most of which don’t mean anything to people outside the field) in what was later described as a science-education post, I would (at the significant risk of being shouted down angrily without much reason by a “terminal degreed practitioner of a hard science for thirty years”) venture to suggest that the educational value of any statement purporting to inform a non-specialist about the workings of a field goes exponentially decreasing in the number of unexpanded and unexplained acronyms and jargon used.

  174. 174
    Circe

    ….at the significant risk of being shouted down angrily without much reason …

    … except perhaps for the very valid reason of adding the phrase “without much reason”. Sorry about that.

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