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Jul 09 2013

Boom times for delusionists

delusionist

True confession: I have not read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. I have a copy, I started it on the basis of recommendations from smart people, and…I couldn’t make it past the introduction. It’s 800+ pages long, and it’s a solid block of rambling philosopherese. You know how some philosophers think that saying something ten times in increasingly convoluted language is communication? That’s Charles Taylor. It’s also Stephen Meyer, another philosopher who babbles on for 800 pages, but that’s about evolution, so I feel compelled to force my way through the nonsense. Taylor is a Catholic writing about secularism (but with less bias than you’d think, I’ve heard!), and so I lacked the imperative to plow ahead.

But now I’m in luck — a NY Times op-ed writer, which we all know is a sign of quality, has written a summary of the book. Only it’s by David Brooks. So now I get to see what a badly-written, complex book is about, as seen through the comfortably muddled brain of a painfully shallow tendentious thinker and equally awful writer. Others will have to judge whether Brooks summarizes the book fairly; all I can see is Brooks cheerfully wallowing in ideas that he already “knew” were correct.

I can see glimmerings of stuff I agree with, but it all gets a final twist that is most disagreeable. It’s frustrating because I don’t know how much of it is Brooks’ gloss and how much is Taylor. For instance, Taylor rejects a common myth of secularism:

Taylor’s investigation begins with this question: “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?” That is, how did we move from the all encompassing sacred cosmos, to our current world in which faith is a choice, in which some people believe, others don’t and a lot are in the middle?

This story is usually told as a subtraction story. Science came into the picture, exposed the world for the way it really is and people started shedding the illusions of faith. Religious spirit gave way to scientific fact.

Taylor rejects this story. He sees secularization as, by and large, a mottled accomplishment, for both science and faith.

See, phrasing it as a “subtraction story” is what I find objectionable: it’s an additive story. Science and culture grew, adding more richness to society and the world of the mind, and making certain old ideas untenable but replacing them with many more. Why is it being called “subtraction”? I don’t know. At least Taylor is said to disagree with it too, although what the heck does he mean, “a mottled accomplishment” by “both science and faith”? Curse you, David Brooks, you cracked and sooty lens!

Advances in human understanding — not only in science but also in art, literature, manners, philosophy and, yes, theology and religious practice — give us a richer understanding of our natures. Shakespeare helped us see character in more intricate ways. An improvement in mores means we take less pleasure from bear-baiting, hanging and other forms of public cruelty. We have a greater understanding of how nature works.

These achievements did make it possible to construct a purely humanistic account of the meaningful life. It became possible for people to conceive of meaningful lives in God-free ways — as painters in the service of art, as scientists in the service of knowledge.

OK, where’s the “mottling”? This is secularism as an unalloyed good.

But, Taylor continues, these achievements also led to more morally demanding lives for everybody, believer and nonbeliever. Instead of just fitting docilely into a place in the cosmos, the good person in secular society is called upon to construct a life in the universe. She’s called on to exercise all her strength.

People are called to greater activism, to engage in more reform. Religious faith or nonfaith becomes more a matter of personal choice as part of a quest for personal development.

That’s the downside? That now we’re expected to be autonomous moral agents rather than unthinking servants of an established order? Sign me up for more of that. Brooks goes on to list doubt as a negative for religious people. I really don’t get it. I regard doubt as a virtue.

And then Brooks tells us about another problem: malaise.

Individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices. Common action, Taylor writes, gives way to mutual display. Many people suffer from a malaise. They remember that many people used to feel connected to an enchanted, transcendent order, but they feel trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity: Is this all there is?

Whenever a conservative uses that word, “malaise”, you know what’s coming: people are going to be said to be miserable because they aren’t living in a world exactly like the conservative’s ideal of the situation 50 to 100 years ago. That “enchanted, transcendent order” was the Catholic church that has spent the past few hundred years shaming healthy human sexuality while supposedly celibate priests were raping children. I suppose it was great if you were high up in the social ladder — hierarchies are always wonderful if you’re at the top of they pyramid of human misery — but imagine being a woman or poor in Western society at any time in the past: “trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity” is a good description.

Secularism has the potential to break the old order and allow a new flourishing. What sad-faced Brooks describes is not malaise, but a new hope that encourages a restlessness for change, one in which smug overpaid NY Times op-ed writers are probably going to lose a few privileges.

Brooks’ (and maybe Taylor’s) only consolation is that maybe people will successfully find new religious lies to believe in.

But these downsides are more than made up for by the upsides. Taylor can be extremely critical of our society, but he is grateful and upbeat. We are not moving to a spiritually dead wasteland as, say, the fundamentalists imagine. Most people, he observes, are incapable of being indifferent to the transcendent realm. “The yearning for eternity is not the trivial and childish thing it is painted as,” Taylor writes.

Yes, it is.

Maybe Taylor is unable to see it himself since he doesn’t personally share the secular mindset, but yeah, seeking justification for your life in imaginary wish-fulfillment and magic is the real dead-end. When you turn away from that immature dream and look at how wonderful life is, that’s when you’ve grown up and can hope to find deeper satisfaction. I’m reminded of the end of the epic of Gilgamesh, when the hero returns disillusioned from his quest for immortality and realizes how awesome the accomplishments of real people are.

But this refocusing on the real world is not for Brooks. Oh, no; the happy message he takes away is that we’re still spiritual.

Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.

I’m vastly oversimplifying a rich, complex book, but what I most appreciate is his vision of a “secular” future that is both open and also contains at least pockets of spiritual rigor, and that is propelled by religious motivation, a strong and enduring piece of our nature.

What the hell is a “spiritual achievement”? How can you have “spiritual rigor”?

I can imagine the relief that Brooks felt on reading a book about secularism and discovering that people are still buying the bullshit the priests and New Age wackos and other spiritual charlatans are selling. The kingdom still has employment opportunities for delusionists, his job is secure.

83 comments

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  1. 1
    Deen

    But, Taylor continues, these achievements also led to more morally demanding lives for everybody, believer and nonbeliever. Instead of just fitting docilely into a place in the cosmos, the good person in secular society is called upon to construct a life in the universe. She’s called on to exercise all her strength.

    It doesn’t even matter whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – it’s just false. A secular society has plenty of room for people who docilely accept their place in the cosmos. It’s just that that place will be described by scientists and humanist philosophers, not clergy. I’d prefer everyone thinking for themselves as much as possible, but I’d be willing to settle for a society where secularism was the commonly accepted wisdom.

  2. 2
    raven

    Taylor’s investigation begins with this question: “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?”

    One key reason is well known.

    Up until a few centuries ago, being an atheist was a death penalty offense.

    Xianity lost its best defense when it stopped burning people alive on stacks of firewood.

    You can tell right here that Taylor is an idiot and a liar.

    The history of mass murder and genocide in the xian churches is well known and one they would rather people forget. The number of alleged witches alone killed in various inquisitions isn’t too well known but it was up towards 100,000. The Albigensian genocide killed around 1 million people and was 100% “successful”. They spent a few centuries and killed every single one of them.

  3. 3
    kantalope

    Where is the delutionsist picture from?

  4. 4
  5. 5
    CaitieCat, getaway driver

    Yeah, gotta say, I’m reading the bits where he’s talking about the ways life is ostensibly “worse” since the 1500s, and thinking, “Hmmm…reliable birth control, antibiotics, the Internet, peanut butter, not being executed in a messy horrible way for not believing in the dieu du jour*…” Having a hard time seeing in what way my life is worse than it would have been in 1500.

    * In the opinion of this reviewer, always go à la carte. Dieu-du-jour is a real hit-or-miss proposition. You could get someone fun like Freya, or you could get Abraham’s Sadistic Trickster. I’ve also had good luck with the “farm-fresh local deity” section of the menu, but you can never be sure they’re organically grown, so it really is a bit of luck. The factory-farmed deities can be really unpleasant, whether imported or not.

  6. 6
    Dick the Damned

    How can you have “spiritual rigor”?

    You go, Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm” really hard. Then the resulting oxygen deficit in the brain does the rest.

  7. 7
    raven

    The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir. [Carl Sagan,

    I don’t know if Taylor and/or Brooks mentioned it, but secularism and science has freed us from the demon haunted darkness.

    Some xians, particulary the fundies, live in mental prisons, a demon haunted darkness. One of their own creation.

    They are surrounded by malevolent and evil spirits, countless demons that can possess them and cause illnesses like voting Democrat, the dark god satan, and of course, their Invisible Sky Monster god. They can end up in hell being tortured forever for guessing wrong and ending up in the wrong religion. The universe is a frightening place for them.

    To atheists, demons, satan, and the Sky Monster are just ficitional characters. Even half of all xians don’t believe in satan, demons, or hell any more.

  8. 8
    doublereed

    But, Taylor continues, these achievements also led to more morally demanding lives for everybody, believer and nonbeliever. Instead of just fitting docilely into a place in the cosmos, the good person in secular society is called upon to construct a life in the universe. She’s called on to exercise all her strength.
    People are called to greater activism, to engage in more reform. Religious faith or nonfaith becomes more a matter of personal choice as part of a quest for personal development.

    Wow. The downside is that we care about other people? Because that’s honestly what this sounds like to me.

  9. 9
    aaronbaker

    Well, I won’t, on principle, prejudge any book on the basis of Brooks’s vaporings. EVERYTHING for Brooks is yoked to his longing for a malaise-free world in which underlings have learned not to be too uppity.

    That said, the first question regarding spirituality (or whatever else you care to call it) is, and should be, do we have any strong reason to believe it gives a more accurate picture of the world we inhabit? Once you’ve answered No, unless you can make some sort of case for a greater benefit to be derived from consoling illusions than from their absence, there isn’t really a whole lot more to say.

  10. 10
    sebastianmarch

    I’ve stepped in puddles deeper than David Brooks.

    Common action, Taylor writes, gives way to mutual display.

    Another old man pissed off by Facebook.

  11. 11
    kantalope

    thanks chigau

  12. 12
    Glen Davidson

    Descartes was fighting atheism back in his day. It’s not that there weren’t atheists, it’s that they had to know how to fly under the radar.

    Of course it’s far easier otherwise to skip the god thing today as well, but that’s just because most people will more readily believe a fake “cause” of things than to simply say “we just don’t know.” While there are still many unknowns, they’re usually more obscure, like “what caused the big bang,” while science has pretty good answers to most more pressing issues, like “how did humans appear?” More importantly, it’s science that has given us answers, while the old religious “answers” did fail every time science could provide an answer.

    Religion just never did what it claimed, and it was usually science that demonstrated this to be so.

    Glen Davidson

  13. 13
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices. Common action, Taylor writes, gives way to mutual display. Many people suffer from a malaise. They remember that many people used to feel connected to an enchanted, transcendent order, but they feel trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity: Is this all there is?

    Oh, blah. This is the same damned notion I see sentimentalists expressing when they whine about how people send text messages and watch videos on their phones now instead of writing letters long-hand or having all those deep, meaningful face-to-face conversations that we were all apparently having until 10 years ago.

  14. 14
    Randomfactor

    Why is it being called “subtraction”?

    We used to have easily-understood reasons for things: Lightning? Sickness? Speciation?

    Goddidit.

    Now the easy answers have been taken away by people who know things Brooks doesn’t want to spend the effort to know.

  15. 15
    ChristineRose

    The Internet makes it a million times easier to connect with people I have a lot in common with and have meaningful conversations. Before the net, people complained that telephones were killing us. And before that it was the typewriter. People complained about trains, telegraphs, and (no kidding) the twice-daily mail service. Wasn’t life so much more meaningful when you had to walk twenty miles and stay a week to connect with the in-laws?

    Anyhow none of this, zilch nada, compares to quarantining yourself, your family, the whole bleeping town because of the latest outbreak of polio or swine flu or bubonic plague. The bloody measles vaccine alone has improved our social interactions more than all those church potlucks combined. I sure as hell don’t want to be connected to the enchanted, transcendent order that needed to burn people alive to fight off its witchly opponents.

  16. 16
    Eamon Knight

    When I was a Christian I (often) felt “connected to an enchanted, transcendent order”. Eventually, though, I figured out it was just a bunch of cardboard cutouts dimly glimpsed through technicolor fog — a divertingly pretty cheat, but still a cheat. Fortunately, reality is anything but “flat” (on the contrary, as the title of a Dawkins’ recent book says, it is the true vehicle of “magic”), and my dignity is as large or small as I construe it to be.

  17. 17
    Howard Bannister

    CaiteCat @ 5: I lolled.

  18. 18
    Gregory Greenwood

    “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy but even inescapable?”

    While there are certainly the many ways in which growing scientific knowledge has gouged ever deeper holes into the faltering credibility of notions of a magic sky fairy down the years, it seems likely that a factor that is at least as important, if not substantially moreso, is the weakening of theocratic power in some regions of the world. As Raven says @ 2, for many centuries making your atheism public knowledge almost anywhere on the planet was a sure way to wind up being burned alive or otherwise brutally murdered, and the mere accusation of godlessness was used as a political weapon to destroy the opponents of the particular clergy-approved tyrant of the day. Oddly enough, the threat of summary, agonisingly painful execution for espousing a particular belief (or lack thereof) has been known to have the effect of leading people to be less than chatty about holding those views.

    Even where the Emperor has no clothes, if telling him that means that you and your entire family will die, then pretty much everyone will agree on how wonderous his new robes are. Take away that threat, however, and he is just a foolish man wondering about in dire danger of catching a very nasty cold, and people won’t be shy about saying as much. The same applies to religion; when the church lost the power to burn its opponents at the stake, people were no longer forced to bow and scape and tell them how great their delusions are – that is the biggest change between the years 1500 and 2000 when it comes to the prevalence of public atheism, and it is the reason why there are no shortage of people in the church who would dearly love to get that power, or some analogue to it, back.

    Taylor rejects this story. He sees secularization as, by and large, a mottled accomplishment, for both science and faith.

    and;

    Individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices. Common action, Taylor writes, gives way to mutual display. Many people suffer from a malaise. They remember that many people used to feel connected to an enchanted, transcendent order, but they feel trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity: Is this all there is?

    Surprise, surprise – to the believer, scientific knowledge is only good so long as it doesn’t blow huge, gaping holes in unearned religious privilege and the (in the minds of some) comforting delusions it offers. They think a strangling intellectual straitjacket is the only route to a meaningful life, and will take the lies that offer them privilege over reality in a heartbeat. The rose-tinted glasses of their nostalgia for the supposed conservative ‘utopia’ of yesteryear don’t only alter their perception of colour balance – it blinds them to the suffering of the vast majority in the pursuit of the advancement of the very few indeed. Or more worryingly, they see that suffering, but think that only middle and upper class cis/het white men count, and so to them things were ‘better’ before the proles/black people/women/LGBT people got ‘uppity’ and started expecting to be treated as more than property or vermin to be exterminated

    But, Taylor continues, these achievements also led to more morally demanding lives for everybody, believer and nonbeliever. Instead of just fitting docilely into a place in the cosmos, the good person in secular society is called upon to construct a life in the universe. She’s called on to exercise all her strength.

    People are called to greater activism, to engage in more reform. Religious faith or nonfaith becomes more a matter of personal choice as part of a quest for personal development.

    Having the opportunity to think for oneself, rather than acting as a disposeable drone, seems like a boon to me, not the curse the rather worryingly authoritarian Brooks seems to view it as.

    We are not moving to a spiritually dead wasteland as, say, the fundamentalists imagine. Most people, he observes, are incapable of being indifferent to the transcendent realm. “The yearning for eternity is not the trivial and childish thing it is painted as,”

    Removing the toxic crutch of exploitative ‘spirituality’ (ever the snake oil salesman’s best friend) leads to a more functional and vibrant society, not some ‘wasteland’. And pursuing magical immortality is pretty childish, and when this supposed immortality comes as part of some horribly abusive eternal relationship with a sociopathic and genocidal monster in the sky, it is worse than merely foolishly immature, but strays into the territory of becoming dangerously delusional, particularly when the favour of this imaginary being is so often notionally garnered by seeking to do harm, of one type or another, to those who don’t share your weird beliefs in the here and now.

    Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.

    Where is the ‘magnificent spiritual achievement’ to be found when science demonstrates that there is nothing more supernatural or profound about a ‘spiritual’ experience than misfiring synapses and confirmation bias? The modern secular world has shown how utterly bankrupt theology anmd spiritualism are – socially, scientifically, and intellectually. I see little that can be considered a grand ‘achievement’ in the still twitching corpses of those outmoded beliefs.

    I’m vastly oversimplifying a rich, complex book, but what I most appreciate is his vision of a “secular” future that is both open and also contains at least pockets of spiritual rigor, and that is propelled by religious motivation, a strong and enduring piece of our nature.

    ‘Spiritual rigour’ is a meaningless term, and modern secular society is disinterested in the discredited mythology of religion, not driven by it. As for religious motivation being a ‘strong and enduring piece of our nature’, it is notable that children have to be indoctrinated into religion. They do not start spontaneously worshipping any god, still less specifically Yahweh, if left to their own devices. That a delusion is widespread and politically and culturally influencial does not transmute it into some unassailable ‘fact’, or engrave it as an indelible facet of our collective ‘nature’ – otherwise we would still think that the world is flat and lies at the centre of the universe.

  19. 19
    Bronze Dog

    Naked Bunny:

    Oh, blah. This is the same damned notion I see sentimentalists expressing when they whine about how people send text messages and watch videos on their phones now instead of writing letters long-hand or having all those deep, meaningful face-to-face conversations that we were all apparently having until 10 years ago.

    Christine Rose:

    The Internet makes it a million times easier to connect with people I have a lot in common with and have meaningful conversations. Before the net, people complained that telephones were killing us. And before that it was the typewriter. People complained about trains, telegraphs, and (no kidding) the twice-daily mail service. Wasn’t life so much more meaningful when you had to walk twenty miles and stay a week to connect with the in-laws?

    I find the “new media is evil” trope pretty annoying, myself. Combined with the decline of religion, I’m finding deeper conversations than I could when I was young since I can met up with atheists who cut through all the crap, talked plainly, and asked tough, honest questions. I live in Texas, so trying to have those conversations in meatspace is like navigating a mine field. My dad and the new guy at his office had to dance around each other for a while before they figured out that they’re both secularists.

    That said, I think the 24 hour TV news cycle has had a bad influence, but not because of anything inherent in television: The “journalists” seem to think they’re supposed to compete with Twitter for raw speed of breaking stories. The networks should instead be emphasizing local news and deeper analysis of world events. And, as always, they should have science journalists who actually know something about science.

  20. 20
    John Horstman

    But, Taylor continues, these achievements also led to more morally demanding lives for everybody, believer and nonbeliever. Instead of just fitting docilely into a place in the cosmos, the good person in secular society is called upon to construct a life in the universe. She’s called on to exercise all her strength.

    Given all the whining theocrats do about authoritarian secular governments (real or imagined), you’d think the flaw in this idea would be obvious. Granted, I loathe authoritarianism, so even if, say, Christianity somehow* turned out to be true, I’d be fighting with Lucifer against Yahweh. Still, what I find most confusing is that the people who crave authoritarian control of their lives the most also seem to have the hardest time recognizing or owning that fact. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, I guess.

    *Given the logical contradictions of every single brand of Christianity, this is impossible, so no worries. :-P

  21. 21
    Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff

    God and delusion. I watched today’s video by the three victims of the Cleveland kidnapper-rapist. I listened to the words of Berry and Dejesus. Then Michelle Knight, who had been kidnapped and raped the longest, who had been beaten into miscarriage perhaps multiple times spoke up and said, “We need to take a leap of faith, to know that God is in control.”, then later, “God has a plan for all of us.”

    It made me physically sick to hear that — to hear that she believes in and “leans on” (her words), a being who arranged for and controlled her kidnapping, imprisonment and several-hundred-times rape; who did this as part of a plan. And whom Ms. Knight now thanks and has more faith in because of her decade of torture.

    I can understand, intellectually, how a person of faith might pretzelize her interpretation of events in order to maintain her faith and her sanity when in a situation like that, but I cannot value that kind of reality-denial, that excuse for and support of outright evil in the name of good (God), or the acceptance of such by society. .

    I wish her the best in her recovery. And if I ever see her God, I will kick him in the balls on her behalf.

  22. 22
    Sastra

    These achievements did make it possible to construct a purely humanistic account of the meaningful life. It became possible for people to conceive of meaningful lives in God-free ways — as painters in the service of art, as scientists in the service of knowledge. … Many people suffer from a malaise. They remember that many people used to feel connected to an enchanted, transcendent order, but they feel trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity: Is this all there is?

    Isn’t this a contradiction? Or is the writer contrasting the people who can lead rich, warm, meaningful secular lives with the whiny People of the Malaise, pining wistfully for a self-important place in a grand, transcendent scheme of things and capable of surveying everything in the world — all the art, all the beauty, all the love, all the wisdom — and finding it “flat.” Not enough “enchantment.” Aw.

    What, you mean the stars move around in the sky and it all has nothing to do with me? Alas for the dignified days of astrology and woe is me for the poverty that is modern astronomy! And no, I’m not being a big baby here: I’m yearning for the Transcendent. Be impressed.

    No, I’m not impressed. I remember a time when I fervently sought to be Spiritual as hard as I could … and I remember a time when I finally decided to take it all seriously enough to put it to a test. IF there was a higher realm of meaning, a transcendent spirituality which gave shape and import to the material world, then this would have to be important. It would have to be so important that it would be impossible to live a good life without becoming aware of it. The truth would be inescapable to anyone of any refinement of feeling or depth of character.

    There’s the test situation then. If reality really had this dual nature then it simply would not be “possible for people to conceive of meaningful lives in God-free ways.” Not if they thought about it, considered it, and were honest and open to the spiritual transcendence — like I would be.

    So, fine. I’ll see if I can live happily as an atheist. If atheism is wrong then such a life would be hollow, shallow, empty, and missing emotional depth and meaning. It would just scream malaise. So let’s try it. Right?

    I told my believing friends of the time and they were soooo happy I was going to make this personal experiment. They knew, they just knew I would find God/Spirit. They were sure it would be soon and they so looked forward to my admission and inclusion in the loving circle of faith. But I think they didn’t factor in a few significant things — one of the major ones being that I was raised without religion. This would be no knee-jerk return to the unquestioned certainties of my infancy: it would be an honest intellectual journey, a rational one.

    Surprise, surprise. Humanism works.

    Another thing I think they failed to account for was the fact that the Spiritual Realm is not the same as the emotional, abstract realm of values and feelings and therefore … well … it’s not really true. You can’t just slide it in under another category. Like my friends, I suspect neither Taylor nor Brooks realize how very, very much of an impediment it is for the world of faith that God does not exist and the world really does.

  23. 23
    Eamon Knight

    @22: The Spiritual Realm is a fairy castle built on top of the abstract, but very real, realm of values and feelings. It claims to be what those things are about.

    It lies.

  24. 24
    unclefrogy

    right off the bat the passage quoted here stopped me. I think it would be more accurately stated that it would have very difficult to express doubt or disbelief in the existence of god in 1500. One would have to keep your personal thoughts to yourself. Questioning the established order was not a viable option. I do not think you can say that everyone believed in god in a time when it would have been a distinct hazard to your health to doubt, unless you were powerful enough to be protected from social sanction, certainly the peasants would be quiet about their doubt.

    Brooks sometimes expresses some surprisingly ‘liberal ideas” for a conservative but he still maintains his deference to the established power, a perfect courtier.
    uncle frogy

  25. 25
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re Glen @12:

    … while science has pretty good answers to most more pressing issues, like “how did humans appear?” More importantly, it’s science that has given us answers, while the old religious “answers” did fail every time science could provide an answer.

    But that’s the “flaw” theists are always harping on; “Science can only answer ‘How’, never ‘Why’!” “Science knows HOW humans came to be, but not WHY we exist. HOW the universe started, they say ‘Big Bang, yada yada, but they they never say WHY the Big Bang happened.” “Of all the questions science answers, it is never a ‘WHY’ question, only ‘HOW’ something happened”. “Clearly, to us who ‘Believe’, GOD is WHY we exist, WHY the universe exists, ’cause GOD wanted US to exist and needed the universe for us to live in”.

    That is our big problem, we atheists. How do we get around ‘their’ need for answers to WHY questions? Reading PZ’s review of Brooks’ essay, that is all I’m left with; he’s saying secularism is okay-but, it can’t answer WHY questions and theism (used to) provide the answers freely and commonly.

    WHY are people so hung up on WHY questions and HOW do we get around that?

  26. 26
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re me@25:

    farking blockquote fail

  27. 27
    Rutee Katreya

    That “enchanted, transcendent order” was the Catholic church that has spent the past few hundred years shaming healthy human sexuality while supposedly celibate priests were raping children.

    To be fair, in the renaissance, the monks, at least, were more interested in banging each other rather than raping women or children. Consensual sex with each other, because at least that was better for your soul than sleeping with women, those tarnished vessels, or some such rot.

    . Granted, I loathe authoritarianism, so even if, say, Christianity somehow* turned out to be true, I’d be fighting with Lucifer against Yahweh.

    That’s basically the plot to Shin Megami Tensei 2. At least, if you aren’t an asshole. You could also side with Satan (As in, God’s Prosecuting Attorney, from Judaism), who’s found God to be in violation of his own laws, or ‘neither’, but Lucy actually is probably the most ethical choice presented.

  28. 28
    Rutee Katreya

    Also, is it really still ‘boom times for delusionists’ if they’re this worried about their job? I mean, it’s probably not a recession for them, but…

  29. 29
    hypatiasdaughter

    Perhaps Taylor thinks there WERE there no atheists in 1500, not that they had to keep quiet about it for fear of burning?
    I suspect many people believed in their religion back in 1500 was because they were isolated from knowledge of competing beliefs. The church had to wipe out heresy and heretics before the contamination spread. Current fundy churches warm their followers against educating themselves about other religions -’cause satan can creep into their minds if them open them the least little crack.
    I know that reading up on Joseph Smith and Mormon beliefs was the last nail in the coffin for me. I laughed out loud at anyone who could buy the Umin and Thumin in the hat – 6 months later, I realized that the tenets of xtain religion were equally absurd.
    In 2,000 we are exposed to thousands of religions, all swearing they are true and all conflicting. It doesn’t take you long to realize that it isn’t that some are wrong but that they ALL are wrong.
    Besides, when my child has a fever of 104 deg, I would rather put my trust in a dose of ibuprofen than get on my knees to pray.

  30. 30
    Rob Grigjanis

    Taylor filtered through Brooks? Seriously? Why not just spend a couple of pleasant minutes poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick?

  31. 31
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    It occurred to me while out mowing the lawn after reading this that Brooks has the same higher-level delusion that believers in reincarnation usually do: that, if you could find his analogue in 1500, he’d be rich/high-born/successful/whatever. In reality, if the conditions of 1500 were around today, people like Brooks would be unnecessary and he would be reduced to poverty. When the ruling classes already have absolute power, and the public at large can’t read and doesn’t understand why they might want to do so, propagandists are not in great demand, and that’s pretty much Brooks’ role — a propagandist and apologist for those in power. The only reason he can pull down a paycheck is that those in power know that, unlikely as it may be, there’s always a possibility that the rest of us will get tired of them and whip out the guillotines. Brooks’ job is to try and calm down irritations as best he can. In 1500, he’d be raking the dirt, and living in a one-room hut, and dead of preventable disease by 40.

  32. 32
    Ichthyic

    a mottled accomplishment” by “both science and faith”?

    leaving out the muddle of “mottled”…

    is there anyplace in either the book or the review that documents the supposed “accomplishments” of faith?

    I’m betting there isn’t.

  33. 33
    Ichthyic

    But that’s the “flaw” theists are always harping on; “Science can only answer ‘How’, never ‘Why’!”

    that’s not because science does not answer “why” questions. it does. It’s because the religious are so ignorant they don’t even understand what a “why” question actually entails.

    “Why” simply is an ultimate explanation, as opposed to the proximate, causal one usually labelled as “how”.

    evolution is actually a successful attempt to indeed explain a “why” question. It addresses the ultimate explanation for the diversity and abundance of life on earth.

    The religious just don’t want to accept that. That has nothing to do with whether it does or does not answer an ultimate question.

  34. 34
    Rob Grigjanis

    that’s not because science does not answer “why” questions. it does.

    Bollocks. Science doesn’t presume to answer them. Religion does presume, and fails. There is no ultimate explanation for anything, yet, unless you’re hiding something.

  35. 35
    Glen Davidson

    Perhaps Taylor thinks there WERE there no atheists in 1500, not that they had to keep quiet about it for fear of burning?

    Descartes is over a century later, it’s true, but he did receive objections from atheists–although I don’t think that we know any of their names, what with the religious laws and all. Descartes writes:

    Besides these two objections, I have seen, indeed, two treatises of sufficient length relating to the present matter. In these, however, my conclusions, much more than my premises, were impugned, and that by arguments borrowed from the common places of the atheists. But, as arguments of this sort can make no impression on the minds of those who shall rightly understand my reasonings, and as the judgments of many are so irrational and weak that they are persuaded rather by the opinions on a subject that are first presented to them, however false and opposed to reason they may be, than by a true and solid, but subsequently received, refutation of them, I am unwilling here to reply to these strictures from a dread of being, in the first instance, obliged to state them. I will only say, in general, that all which the atheists commonly allege in favor of the non-existence of God, arises continually from one or other of these two things, namely, either the ascription of human affections to Deity, or the undue attribution to our minds of so much vigor and wisdom that we may essay to determine and comprehend both what God can and ought to do; hence all that is alleged by them will occasion us no difficulty, provided only we keep in remembrance that our minds must be considered finite, while Deity is incomprehensible and infinite.

    http://tinyurl.com/kcfhheh

    Of he didn’t give them much respect, and was pretty proud of his “proof of God” (ooh, I can sense the infinite, therefore it exists).

    But then you only have to go back to the Bible to recognize that doubts about gods occurred quite early. Why else would Psalms state that “the fool says in his heart that there is no god”? In his heart, because until recently it was dangerous to say aloud.

    A few people will always tend to notice when purported beings never appear–or do so only to priests and to those with “alternate realities.” But at least it wasn’t altogether unreasonable at one time to suppose that some sort of anima was responsible for observed movements, in spite of the lack of any obvious “mover of the winds,” say.

    Glen Davidson

  36. 36
    John Morales

    Rob, you’re confused by a semantic conflation of the senses of ‘why’ — that is, what purpose does it serve and how it happens.

    (Absent a presupposition of purpose to natural phenomena, they are both the same question)

  37. 37
    Rob Grigjanis

    John, I don’t think the confusion is mine, especially when someone is using terms like “ultimate explanation”. Science is about collecting data, and formulating theories to explain the data. Where the fuck does “why” come in, in that sense? Saying “my theory explains why” is no more than saying “my theory hasn’t been discarded yet”.

    For example; the nuclear force between two protons is (over a certain very important range) attractive. So is the gravitational force between two masses. Yet the electrostatic force between two like charges is repulsive. Quantum field theory says that the force between two like sources is attractive if the mediating particle has spin 0 (nuclear) or spin 2 (gravitation), and repulsive if the mediating particle has spin 1 (electromagnetic). So the theory is consistent with observation. Fantastic. Where does “why” come in?

  38. 38
    Rob Grigjanis

    By the way, the only correct usage of an “ultimate” word in science, IMHO, is

    “Ultimately, your theory will be proven inadequate”

    Guaranteed employment for future scientists as a bonus!

  39. 39
    John Morales

    Rob:

    Science is about collecting data, and formulating theories to explain the data. Where the fuck does “why” come in, in that sense?

    Explaining under what conditions a phenomenon occurs is tantamount to explaining why it occurs.

    (Why does a feather fall slower than a ball-bearing upon being dropped?)

    For example; the nuclear force between two protons is (over a certain very important range) attractive. So is the gravitational force between two masses. Yet the electrostatic force between two like charges is repulsive. Quantum field theory says that the force between two like sources is attractive if the mediating particle has spin 0 (nuclear) or spin 2 (gravitation), and repulsive if the mediating particle has spin 1 (electromagnetic). So the theory is consistent with observation. Fantastic. Where does “why” come in?

    Why don’t atoms fly apart?

    (Goddiddit!)

    Why do things fall down when they’re dropped?

    (Goddiddit!)

    Why can one float a magnet upon another?

    (Goddiddit!)

    Why do some things attract each other yet others don’t?

    (Goddiddit!)

  40. 40
    Rob Grigjanis

    Why don’t atoms fly apart?

    That’s lazy shorthand for “electrostatics is inadequate”, and the “Goddidit” is just gratuitous nonsense.

    But please, I’d love to hear your model-independent answer.

  41. 41
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    @Rob Grigjanis:

    As an outsider to this argument who is following along, it strikes me that either you aren’t very bright, or you’re being deliberately obtuse by refusing to recognize that “why” questions do not necessarily have to do with teleology.

  42. 42
    John Morales

    Rob @40, you seem to miss the point: is that or is that not a ‘why’ question that science can answer?

    (Why can people survive on fresh water but not on seawater?
    Why can mushrooms, soft as they are, push through asphalt?
    Why does a dish of water eventually evaporate?
    Why does heating a metal make it glow, and why does the colour change the hotter it gets?
    Why can people find buried bones of creatures no-one has ever seen?
    Why do volcanoes occur in some places and not others?
    Why is the moon bigger when it’s closer to the horizon?

    Shall I go on? ;) )

  43. 43
    Rob Grigjanis

    Vicar @41: My brightness is debatable, but my point is actually more about humility. “why” questions are always really “what is wrong/incomplete about my theory” questions, and are too easily read as teleological questions. I’m a bit confused (maybe it’s my dimness) that you have no problem with other folk talking about “ultimate explanations”. Clarify at your luminous leisure.

  44. 44
    Rob Grigjanis

    Shall I go on?

    Does a bear shit in the woods?

  45. 45
    John Morales

    Rob @44, I see you have ceased to attempt to sustain your silly claim that science doesn’t presume to answer answer ‘why’ questions when faced with a set of such questions which science has already answered.

  46. 46
    Ichthyic

    Bollocks. Science doesn’t presume to answer them. Religion does presume, and fails. There is no ultimate explanation for anything, yet, unless you’re hiding something.

    then you know fuck all about what an ultimate explanation in science is.

    good job maintaining that ignorance though.

  47. 47
    Ichthyic

    oh, and thanks for proving my point, even though your ignorance is not a result of religion itself, apparently.

  48. 48
    Rob Grigjanis

    John @45, I see you still implicitly accept Ichthyic’s “ultimate explanation” nonsense. I’m still waiting for one of those from you. The atoms not flying apart will do.

  49. 49
    Ichthyic

    John, I don’t think the confusion is mine, especially when someone is using terms like “ultimate explanation”. Science is about collecting data, and formulating theories to explain the data

    parading your elementary school level understanding of science is not helping you.

    and maybe this will help you with your understanding of the terms proximate and ultimate….

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proximate_and_ultimate_causation

    even general science courses at the uni level teach this stuff, btw.

  50. 50
    Ichthyic

    the problem is your projection of your ignorance, John, not the usage of terms to explain why vs how, or ultimate vs proximal.

    the confusion is all yours.

  51. 51
    Rob Grigjanis

    then you know fuck all about what an ultimate explanation in science is.

    Give me one example. You do know what “ultimate” means, right? Last word, no further argument, no further improvement, etc. Maybe you have your own definition.

  52. 52
    Ichthyic

    er, Rob I mean. not John, in the above.

  53. 53
    Ichthyic

    Give me one example.

    already did.

    in fact, it’s basically the same example used in the wiki, and also the first example I was taught to differentiate between ultimate and proximal… in high school, over 30 years ago.

    that you do not understand, even with a wiki level general explanation provided for you, is not my problem, it’s yours.

  54. 54
    Rob Grigjanis

    even general science courses at the uni level teach this stuff, btw.

    My bad for not taking general science courses, I guess.

    that you do not understand, even with a wiki level general explanation provided for you, is not my problem, it’s yours.

    My naïveté is inexcusable. How could “ultimate” not be a relative term?

    In most situations, an ultimate cause may itself be a proximate cause for a further ultimate cause.

    Sort of takes the oomph out of “ultimate” though, dunnit? “Distal” might be less confusing.

  55. 55
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    @Rob Grigjanis:

    Well, let’s see. The initial point you contested was that “science can answer some ‘why’ questions”. You took the distinction which one of the Big Name New Atheists — I forget which one — used of “why” questions meaning teleological ones, which isn’t accurate and leads to wrong statements, such as the one you asserted, that science has no business answering “why” questions. Examples have been provided of questions which use “why” which you admit science answers. You have not attempted to show that these answers are inadequate — which is a good thing, because it would just make you even more wrong than you already are. You were simply wrong to challenge that assertion in the first place, basing your assumptions on a categorization which was oversimplified to the point of falsehood.

    Now you have jumped onto nit-picking about terminology. This suggests that one of two things is true: (A) you are an insufferable pedant who is unwilling to admit that you were wrong on your initial assertion and are desperately hoping nobody will notice you have changed the subject, or (B) you are genuinely unable to see that you were wrong in the first instance, in which case you may not be an insufferable pedant but you really aren’t very smart. Neither of these options are good ones, but the harder you argue the more emphatically you reinforce the suggestion that one of them must be true.

    It looks like you’re in a pit, so please please please stop digging.

  56. 56
    eigenperson

    When theists say “science can’t answer ‘why’ questions”, they mean that science doesn’t provide teleological explanations. So it’s not unreasonable to say, in response, that science doesn’t purport to answer the “why” questions, and to mean that science does not, in fact, provide teleological explanations, and that this is a feature, not a bug.

    Of course, it’s far more reasonable to actually use the phrase “‘why’ questions” to refer to questions that start with the word “why”, and to patiently explain that science does answer “why” questions in the literal sense of the term, even though it doesn’t give you teleological answers to those questions, partly because that’s what science does but also because teleology is a load of steaming BS. But if you assume that theists (including stevem’s idealized straw theist that sparked this whole discussion) mean, literally, that science can’t answer any question starting with “why”, you’ll never get them to understand.

  57. 57
    Rob Grigjanis

    Vicar @55: I’ve been “nitpicking” about the meaning of the word “ultimate” from the beginning. I’ve stopped now because I accept Ichthyic’s definition, even though I’ve either never come across it, or never retained it, in my years of undergrad/grad/post-doc, and I certainly don’t like it. But if that’s what xe meant, it’s acceptable.

    But in case there’s any confusion on your part, I have indeed stopped now.

  58. 58
    Ichthyic

    When theists say “science can’t answer ‘why’ questions”, they mean that science doesn’t provide teleological explanations. So it’s not unreasonable to say, in response, that science doesn’t purport to answer the “why” questions,

    just like other terminology that actually has definable use, religion has coopted teleology itself to make it meaningless.

    religion serves up such delicious irony.

    better to say that science does not purport to answer meaningless questions. It’s that religion has convinced so many for so long that meaningless questions are somehow important.

  59. 59
    John Morales

    eigenperson, true enough — and of course, such teleological questions presuppose that there is some purpose to existence and its nature (heh) — they’re actually questions that beg the question!

    (Why do rainbows exist?)

  60. 60
    eigenperson

    Rainbows exist because God created them in order to promise that he would never again flood the earth. Duh! Haven’t you read the Bible?

    (Why did God promise that he would never again flood the earth?)

    God promised that he would never again flood the earth because God is great and merciful.

    (Why is God great and merciful?)

    … uh… because it is in God’s nature to be great and merciful.

    (Why is that in God’s nature?)




    …is it too late to change my answer to the rainbow question?

  61. 61
    ck

    chigau (違う) wrote:

    http://oglaf.com/delusionist/

    Strangely, last week’s strip would’ve probably worked, well, too: http://oglaf.com/sithrak/
    I mean, they’ve got a point. If this world was created by a Creator, it had to be one permanently angry at us and clearly not in their right mind. After all, who builds the entertainment centre on the same location as the waste disposal facilities?

  62. 62
    Menyambal

    Why are you people arguing?

    See, in written text, you can’t tell where the accent of that sentence is. I’m saying that any short, bumper-sticker statement is too short to convey nuance.

    Science doesn’t purport to answer any “why” question where the “why” is followed by “did God” but science can answer enough why questions related to the topic to show that there is no need for God. “Why does lightning strike?” can answer “Why did lightning strike Bob?” with “He was the highest point around.”

    Anyhow, what I popped in to say is that in engineering, there’s an idea that supposedly originated in Japan “If you ask ‘why” seven times, you might have learned something.” It’s like what Eigenperson was writing, but about machinery. “Why did production stop?” “Why did that machine break?” “Why did that sprocket come unflanged?” “Why do we buy parts from that supplier?” “Why do we think that saves money?” “Why is that person still working here?” “Why do you value their fellatio skills?” If engineers can ask why, so can scientists.

    But, yeah, it’s a silly discussion that only religion could even make possible. Damn those religious people.

    Why not?

  63. 63
    Ichthyic

    …is it too late to change my answer to the rainbow question?

    now I’ve got “Rainbow Connection” stuck in my skull.

    now u all must suffer….

  64. 64
    John Morales

    Is it yet time to argue secularism in the sense of non-religiosity versus secularism in the sense of separation of governance from religion?

    (The US constitution’s First Amendment is clearly secular in the latter sense)

  65. 65
    Ichthyic

    “Why do you value their fellatio skills?” If engineers can ask why, so can scientists.

    lol

  66. 66
    okstop

    Taylor is a widely-read and often-well-regarded hack, in my professional opinion. I’ve never read anything of his that didn’t inspire the urge to go at it with a red pen. “Sources of the Self” was a particularly vacuous and infuriating piece of shit, which forwarded an argument (using the term generously) that relied on tortured analogies and a badly distorted understanding of history, the purpose of which was to allow Taylor to rationalize clinging to his particular, parochial world-view while still condemning everyone else’s particular, parochial world-views. He can’t write, he can’t think, and he’s a jackass. I loathe Charles Taylor, personally and professionally. The only reason I would assign him in a class is to mock him. If I never read his work again, it’ll be too soon.

  67. 67
    John Morales

    okstop, he’s a Templeton prize winner.

    (Need any more be said? ;) )

  68. 68
    Anri

    PZ:

    See, phrasing it as a “subtraction story” is what I find objectionable: it’s an additive story. Science and culture grew, adding more richness to society and the world of the mind, and making certain old ideas untenable but replacing them with many more. Why is it being called “subtraction”? I don’t know.

    The term makes perfect sense to someone who considers religion the most important thing humans do.

    If you honestly believe that the world is wicked, and worship of god is mankind’s highest calling, things do indeed stink now compared to then.
    That kinda belief system is a hell of an albatross to lug around, though.

  69. 69
    jamessweet

    There’s a nugget of truth to the “malaise” argument, though it has nothing to do with secularism per se (only insofar as secularism tends to improve quality of life, I think). In a nutshell: It seems that when life doesn’t suck enough, people start to get kinda depressed. Ennui, as it were.

    I don’t think anybody in their right mind ought to want to go back… “Proliferation of mild depression” vs. “absurdly high infant mortality” is not a difficult choice in my mind. But it is something for a secular society to address… And I think we are addressing it!

  70. 70
    twas brillig (stevem)

    mea culpa! So sorry. My mistake to use the “slang” definition of WHY in my rant @25. When I said “science doesn’t answer WHY questions …” I didn’t mean it can’t answer any question that starts with the word “why”. Of course it can answer “why” when it is asking for the immediate event that “caused” the event being questioned. The “slang” use of “why” I was referring to is the “ultimate” cause of the event. Not so much “Why did X happen?” but “why did you do X?” That is, “why” implies “will”, not just a “random” event. That is what my rant was complaining about. Too often I hear people demanding to know “why” some event happened, like hurricane Sandy or the OK tornado, etc. They can’t accept these as just events of nature. Just ask Pat Robertson; Katrina destroyed New Orleans because of all the gays in NYC that GOD hates. (I just read a report of some evange from Co blaming the wildfires in Colorado Springs on women wearing pants and boys wearing “fairy shoes” and all the boobs he sees on TV. “And God put hair on men’s faces to distinguish them as not girls”, he says.) But my “rant” boils down to the “strawman” complaint that the “strawman” says “science only says A caused B, not WHY A happened.” but I’m starting to repeat myself, I don’t know how to explain myself better. I suppose I was using a single, narrow ‘use’ of the phrase “why question”, not the full, correct, actual, usage of the phrase. Sorry to have started any detour in the thread.

  71. 71
    Glen Davidson

    Really, it should be obvious what is meant when one opposes “how” questions to “why” question. Nevertheless, it’s not quite that simple, because naive people do ask “why” more or less in both ways. A kid asks “why is the sky blue?” and the answer potentially could be that smurfs like it blue, God made it so, light scattering, or whatever. A whole lot of “why” questions have always had “how” answers, while a whole lot of them have been given teleological answers because there was no “how” answer.

    When it’s “why are humans here?” the question has typically been teleological. I mean, we’re all about intentions, meanings, desires, etc., why should we suppose that our origin doesn’t involve these as well? Well, in a limited way, it does, since these intentions, meanings, and desires come from evolution and play into evolution, but the “ultimate” (yes, that’s a word with quite a range of meanings as well) answer really isn’t about these at all.

    But no, I don’t think that there’s any way of getting people to quit asking “why” humans arose, with that implicit teleological bias. One can only explain that there is no “why” in that sense, there’s just a fascinating story of how and why we evolved–yet many of the pieces of that story are missing. It won’t satisfy enough people in the US, it’s just the only story with evidence for it.

    Glen Davidson

  72. 72
    eigenperson

    In my experience, when kids ask “why is the sky blue?” they want an answer in practical, physical terms.

    Which maybe goes to show that theists are not as smart as five-year-olds, who are still looking for the right kind of answers.

  73. 73
    Mona Albano

    To me, it’s an advance that fewer people are diddled into the moral position of children, dependent on an outside authority for moral judgements.

  74. 74
    David Marjanović

    Fantastic. Where does “why” come in?

    Well, “why” means two different things.

    One is the question for causes. That’s what science answers all the time. The Haldane quote applies: “Everything is the way it is because it got that way.” How did it get that way? What were the influences on this? Typical scientific questions – all such “why” questions are in reality “how” and/or “what” questions.

    The other thing “why” can mean is “what for”. That begs the question: it fails to consider the possibility that there simply isn’t any purpose involved.

  75. 75
    Eamon Knight

    It seems to me that the linguistic equivocation over “why” is parallel to our known tendency to seek agency behind phenomena (and frequently get false positives). Distinguishing “shit that just happens” from “shit that someone did” requires a bit of cognitive sophistication (which many people seem to have difficulty achieving consistently), and this ambiguity is preserved in our language. (Admittedly, I don’t know if other languages make the distinction better).

  76. 76
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re Eamon et al @75:

    Is that “why” it is so hard to get around this problem, talking to those who don’t see (or refuse to see) any difference? It is all linguistics?[/rhetorical jibe, just yankin' your chain, y'all]

  77. 77
    Eamon Knight

    Can’t tell if @76 is disagreement or just a joke: It is all linguistics?

    Not at all. The linguistic ambiguity both reflects, and tends to preserve, an underlying cognitive confusion. If we’re looking for “ultimate” causes, I would say that cognition is prior to language.

    I wonder if work has been done on whether (and which) animals can distinguish between impersonal causes and intentional causes of phenomena.

  78. 78
    Ichthyic

    The “slang” use of “why” I was referring to is the “ultimate” cause of the event.

    that still doesn’t work.

  79. 79
    Ichthyic

    That is, “why” implies “will”, not just a “random” event.

    again, this imposes teleology where it does not necessarily apply. hence, why some “why” questions aren’t unanswerable by science, they are just the wrong questions to be asking to begin with.

    there really are stupid questions.

  80. 80
    Ichthyic

    One is the question for causes

    no, David.

    you’re confusing this as well.

    why and how questions BOTH address the issue of causality. One addresses proximal causes, the “how” of it, and the other, the ultimate causes, which is the “why” of it.

    it seems the point I was making needs to be repeated.

    consider this a repeat.

    Is that “why” it is so hard to get around this problem, talking to those who don’t see (or refuse to see) any difference? It is all linguistics?[/rhetorical jibe, just yankin' your chain, y'all]

    if we have no common definitions, how can we communicate? It’s not trivial.

  81. 81
    Ichthyic

    …as one of us, in his many responses to TexPiP often says…

    “Why, O Mighty Maker? WHY?”

    while sarcastic, this pokes fun at the very thing we are talking about here.

    it is a mocking of the very question type a theist considers to be an ultimate question, but, in fact, it is not an ultimate question at all. It is a nonsensical question. It is not an attempt to ask a question, the answer to which would provide an ultimate or proximal causal explanation for anything.

    this is what I am saying about religion… for so long, it has asked these nonsense questions, that people now think the role of religion IS to ask them, and thus they must be ultimate questions!

    it’s perception, filtered through millenia of nonsense!

    the question was never anything BUT nonsense to begin with. It’s not religion’s purview to address fundamentally ultimate questions of causality, because they never have, and never cognitively intended to.

    so, religion is not competing with science to answer ultimate questions. It was never in the game to begin with.

  82. 82
    okstop

    @John (#67)

    Oh, dear. That explains everything, doesn’t it? Ugh.

  83. 83
    David Marjanović

    and this ambiguity is preserved in our language. (Admittedly, I don’t know if other languages make the distinction better).

    German has two words that more or less explicitly ask for intent, wofür (literally “wherefore”) and wozu (literally “whereto”, meaning “to what end”). But the basic word for “why” is warum, which makes no such distinction, followed by wieso (literally “how so”), which doesn’t either.

    English once had wherefore, but it’s so extinct that lots of people apparently misinterpret wherefore art thou Romeo as “where art thou, Romeo”.

    why and how questions BOTH address the issue of causality. One addresses proximal causes, the “how” of it, and the other, the ultimate causes, which is the “why” of it.

    it seems the point I was making needs to be repeated.

    Yeah, well, by “causes” I meant causes other than intent. There doesn’t seem to be a term for that, unfortunately. And I was too stupid to remember the word intent, so no wonder I didn’t clear up the confusion…

    The ultimate cause of anything and everything is either the Big Bang or a(nother) quantum fluctuation. Asking for ultimate causes just brings us back to “it got that way”.

    if we have no common definitions, how can we communicate?

    1) By having overlapping definitions;
    2) by believing we have common definitions and consequently misunderstanding each other – to extents that don’t matter much in daily life. Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

    it is a mocking of the very question type a theist considers to be an ultimate question, but, in fact, it is not an ultimate question at all. It is a nonsensical question.

    It asks for what the intent was, begging the question that there was an intent in the first place.

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